Anyone who is concerned with what schools and colleges teach and how their students learn will be interested in the oral history memoir of Ralph W. Tyler, whose innovative approach to curriculum design and evaluation has made him one of the most influential men in American education. The comprehensive 466-page volume of interviews, Education: Curriculum Planning and Evaluation,was produced by the Regional Oral History Office of the University of California at Berkeley.
Born in Chicago in 1902, reared and schooled in Nebraska, the 19-year-old college graduate Ralph Tyler became "hooked on teaching" while filling in as a science teacher in South Dakota and switched his career plans from medicine to education. Many years later, he became an octogenarian "guru," criss-crossing the country to advise teachers and administrators on how to set objectives that foster the best teaching and learning within their schools.
The interviews chronicle his life in the intervening years - as teacher, scholar, administrator, creator of institutions, policy maker, advisor to presidents and foreign educational institutions, and always student. For his master's thesis in 1923, Tyler designed a science test for high school students and "came to see the holes in testing only for memorization." He departed early from the view of testing as largely a statistical process of finding questions that would "place people along the line of normal distribution." Instead he reasoned that evaluation had to start with objectives: "What were they trying to teach the children, how to memorize or to understand and use the material?"
Tyler's deceptively simple insight - elaborated in what has come to be known as the Tyler Rationale - is recognized as having created the field of educational evaluation and dramatically affected the lives of generations of students whose performance and potential are subject to assessment.
Graduate work at the University of Chicago connected him with notable educators Charles Judd and W.W. Charters, whose concepts of teaching and testing influenced his own later work. In 1927, he joined the faculty of Ohio State University where he further developed his innovative approach to testing.
Tyler's work in educational evaluation placed him at the helm of the Evaluation Staff of the Eight-Year Study (1933-1941). This unique national study, involving 30 secondary schools and 300 colleges and universities, was a response to concerns about the narrowness and rigidity of high school curriculum, which in the 1930s was strictly geared to college entrance requirements. Participating school teachers experimented in curriculum revision and instructional improvement and worked with the Evaluation Staff to develop new appraisal instruments to measure student performance. This landmark educational research convinced the educational community that schools could develop programs that were interesting and useful to their students and prepare a large proportion of them for success in college. It convinced colleges that they could find high school graduates who could succeed in college on the basis of their interest in education and ability to read and handle quantitative problems.
Tyler becme visible nationally in 1938, when he carried his work with the Eight-Year Study from Ohio State University to the University of Chicago at the invitation of Robert Hutchins. There he joined the faculty, first as university examiner and chairman of the Department of Education, and later as dean of the Division of Social Sciences. He vividly recalled his contacts with Hutchins and other faculty notables and his work with graduate students, many of whom, now emeriti, have had significant careers in major universities.
Tyler was the first director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, a position he held for fourteen years. There, he firmly established and sustained the principle that scholars selected as Fellows would be free to pursue their inquiries without interference of any kind.
Tyer's influence on educational policy, especially at the national level, was particularly significant. He served on or advised a number of bodies setting guidelines for the expenditure of federal funds and contributed to the innovative structure underlying policy as spelled out in the momentous Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. He was a founding member and the first president of the National Academy of Eduation.
Although Tyler formally retired from the Center for Advanced Study in 1967, he never actually retired. He served on an impressive list of committees, commissions, and foundations in the United States and abroad, including the National Advisory Council on Education for Disadvantaged Chidlren, a panel to study SAT scores, the Science Research Associates, the System Development Foundation (as president), and the Exploratory Committee on Assessing Progress on Education (as chairman).
The Tyler interview documents all of these assignments, and discusses the outcomes of studies, the debates, the participants, and personalities. The volume's index reads like a who's who of the most notable educators and political leaders of the 20th century.
The Ralph Tyler interview, conducted by Malca Chall, is available for study at The Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, and UCLA's Department of Special Collections.