Theodore R. Sizer Essay

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Theodore R. Sizer is the founder and Chair Emeritus of the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES), a national network of schools and centers engaged in restructuring and redesigning schools to promote better learning. Sizer and his school-based colleagues have rejected top-down models of educational reform for reform that is shaped by the local school community and conforms to a set of ten common principles that emphasizes equity, personalization, and intellectual vibrancy for all children.

After receiving his BA from Yale in 1953, Sizer spent two years in active military duty and taught at the high school level before completing his Ph.D. in education and American history at Harvard University in 1963. He became Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1964 and, subsequently, Headmaster of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, in 1972. In 1981, he became a director of the project, “A Study of High Schools,” a five-year investigation of teaching, learning, and school history and design. This work led to his publishing of Horace’s Compromise (1984), the story of Horace, a fictitious high school English teacher who is deeply committed to teaching well, but is overwhelmed by the demands of a job that has curtailed his time with students.

In 1984, a group of twelve schools in seven states agreed to redesign themselves on the basis of Sizer’s ideas and formed the Coalition of Essential Schools. Sizer, who had relocated to Brown University the year before, formed a team of colleagues to support these schools in their efforts. Within a decade, more than 100 public and private schools had affiliated with CES, and the movement began to influence basiclevel educational reform strongly, and to a lesser degree, university partnerships and state educational policies. In 1992, Sizer published Horace’s School, which described the vision and general plan for the redesign of American high schools to become smaller, safer, more personalized learning environments.

In the third book of the series, Horace’s Hope (1997), Sizer reflects on his visits to several CES schools and on their progress in the adoption of common principles over a decade of reform. A national CES office, funded by the Annenberg Foundation, was established in the mid-1990s to develop regional CES centers throughout the country. By 2003, nineteen regional centers were offering direct support to schools in the areas of school design, classroom practice, leadership, and community connections.

Sizer, a founding director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, has continued his reform efforts by partnering with his wife, Nancy Faust Sizer, in coleading a CES charter school and publishing The Students Are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract (1999). In his memoir, The Red Pencil (2004), Sizer draws upon his fifty years in schooling to alert policy makers to heed the differences between learning and teaching, question who has authentic authority over the child, and challenge the prevailing fetish for order in schooling.


  1. Sizer, T. (2004). The red pencil. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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