||Professor Sizer was best known as the father of the Essential Schools movement, which he founded in 1984. The movement’s umbrella organization, the Coalition of Essential Schools, spans a diverse array of public and private schools united by their adherence to a set of common principles.
The principles hold, among other things, that a school is an egalitarian community and that the student is a valued worker in that community, with the teacher in the role of mentor or coach. Depth of knowledge is emphasized over breadth, with the mastery of a few core subjects preferred over the scattershot spate of electives the modern high school seems to favor.
Begun with 12 schools, the coalition now encompasses several hundred across the country, plus a handful overseas. Essential Schools active today include the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, Fenway High School in Boston, the Urban Academy Laboratory High School in Manhattan and University Heights High School in the Bronx.
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The Essential Schools movement sprang from Professor Sizer’s seminal book “Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School” (1984). In it, he created an archetypal hero, Horace Smith, a high school English teacher. Horace is devoted to his work but frustrated at every turn by the entrenched limitations of the American educational system, many of them holdovers from 19th-century pedagogic practice.