Ellwood P. Cubberley Essay

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Ellwood Cubberley was instrumental in founding both school administration and the history of education as professional fields of study. He joined the faculty of Stanford University in 1898 and subsequently served as dean of its School of Education from 1917 to 1933. As editor of the Riverside Textbooks in Education series for Houghton Mifflin, Cubberley edited more than 100 monographs and general textbooks in a wide range of educational fields. He wrote textbooks in the fields of school administration (for both the principal’s and superintendent’s positions), history of European and American education, and introduction to teaching and education as well as school survey reports. His classes and seminars attracted men who would go on to positions of leadership in education at the state, regional, and national levels.

Cubberley’s particular gift was as a synthesizer of an emerging literature within a social efficiency movement in education that drew on the business model of organization and production characteristic of an emerging corporate economy, on scientific management theory, and on behavioral theories of learning and measurement of learning. Using this literature, he developed an influential rationale and design for a bureaucratic organization of schooling at the state and school district levels characterized by an emphasis on ideological and vocational preparation of students for entry into the various class strata in a corporate capitalist economy, on governing boards comprised of leading businessmen and professionals, on administration by professionally educated experts, and on decision making based on quantitative data. Cubberley advocated increases in public school funding as well as such organizational reforms as consolidation of rural school districts and the development of junior high schools. He stressed the need to develop curricular tracks that would prepare students efficiently for their markedly differing adult social and economic roles.

Ideologically, Cubberley argued for schools to develop in students a social consciousness characterized by a sense of interdependence among the various social classes and a belief that interests of social classes within a corporate capitalist society are compatible. Sharing ethnic and racial prejudices that infused the social efficiency literature, he was a vigorous proponent of school Americanization programs that would replace what he perceived to be the deficit values and beliefs of southern and eastern European immigrant families with what he defined to be AngloTeutonic political and cultural values, beliefs, and behaviors. Hence, schools were to serve as central institutions for maintaining social cohesion and suppressing class conflict as well as for vocational preparation.

In terms of shaping teachers’ and administrators’ beliefs through strengthened professional education and development, Cubberley advocated a controlled professional freedom that combined acquisition and use of a knowledge base commensurate with one’s position in the school system hierarchy as teacher, building administrator, or central office administrator, on one hand, with a clear understanding of the limits on the decisions that one in that particular position is authorized to make, on the other. His extensive work as author and editor of textbooks in a range of developing fields of professional education suggests an understanding on his part that, within bureaucratic school systems, control of professional knowledge bases within schools of education and related professional development programs in schools could serve as a source of considerable power.


  1. Cremin, L. (1957). The wonderful world of Ellwood Patterson Cubberley. New York: Teachers College Press.
  2. Cubberley, E. (1916). Public school administration. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  3. Cubberley, E. (1919). Public education in the United States. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  4. Cubberley, E. (1920). The history of education. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  5. Sears, J., & Henderson, A. (1957). Cubberley of Stanford. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  6. Tyack, D., & Hansot, E. (1982). Managers of virtue. New York: Basic Books.

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