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Ralph Tyler

Ralph Tyler graduated from the University of Chicago with a Ph.D in 1927. He would later go

on to serve in a prominent position as Director of Research for the Evaluation of Staff. It was

during this time that Tyler started formulating his ideas that successful teaching and learning

could be attained via the scientific method. As Madarus & Kellaghan (1992) note:

The idea that educational outcomes need to be defined in terms of identifiable behavior and
in operational terms was the keynote of Tylers Eight-Year Study initiative. Tylers
Rationale is depicted by a triangle, at the apex of which are the objectives that lead to the
development of learning experiences, which in turn lead to evaluation of the extent to which
objectives were realized (p. 121).

It was as a result of this Eight-Year Study that the birth of behavioral objectives came to

be. Because of Tylers preferred method of study (scientific method), he would be the initial

impetus behind a study based on behavioural objectives and their link to the idea of an

evaluation. Under this study hundreds of test were designed and refined in order to evaluate

students progress in achieving stated educational objectives. In volume III of the (5) volume

series entitled Appraising and Recording Student Progress, Tyler (1942) discusses the devices

used to measure student outcomes:

Any device which provides valid evidence regarding the progress of students towards
educational objectives is appropriate The selection of evaluation techniques should be
made in terms of the appropriateness of that technique for the kind of behavior to be
appraised (p. 114).

This was an innovative step that would re-shape the way we would look at curriculum

(Kliebard, 1986).
An additional plus that resulted from the Eight-Year Study was the highlight of the

progressive agenda and the progressive school model. It would be well over a decade later

before Tylers magnum opus The Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction was published.

Many in the field of curriculum have considered it to be the bible of curriculum making and an

influential text within the field of curriculum theory (Jackson, 1992). It was initially created as a

syllabus for a course Tyler was teaching at the University of Chicago.

Tyler (1949) notes: attempts to explain a rationale for viewing, analyzing, and

interpreting the curriculum and instructional program of an educational institution (p. 1). At

another point Tyler (1949) says: outlines one way of viewing an instructional program as a

functioning instrument of education (p. 1). With the publication of this work Tyler was in

essence expanding on concepts he had begun to formulate during the Eight-Year Study by

calling and establishing the more administrative aspects of the curriculum. In this study Tyler

called for the formulation of four basic principles:

(1) Defining appropriate learning objectives. Exactly what educational purposes should the

school seek to attain?

(2) Establish useful learning experiences. What educational experiences can be provided that

are likely to attain these purposes?

(3) Organizing learning experiences to have a maximum effect. How can these educational

experiences be effectively organized?

(4) Evaluating the curriculum and revising those aspects that do not prove to be effective.

How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained (Tyler, 1949: Quoted in

Jackson, 1992, p. 25).

Was this an improvement over Bobbitts previous work on curriculum? According to

(Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery & Taubman, 2004) it was:

Tyler extended and refined Bobbitts view by moving beyond Bobbitts two-step model of
(1) defining educational objectives and (2) devising learning experiences. Tyler added two
additional steps, one involving the organization of learning experiences and the other
requiring their evaluation.
Tyler further refined the first step of formulating objectives by including the development of
a school philosophy and for examination of psychological studies... (p. 34).

As to the popularity of Tylers Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction Jackson

(1992) notes: most notable among the [rhetorical] qualities is the strong appeal to common

sense (p. 27). What makes an additional appeal to distinction between Tyler and Bobbitts

theories on curriculum is that instead of just focusing solely on objectives and goals the teacher

or curriculust orientates to the scientific method. Through these four principles, Tyler is

essentially instituting the idea of using hypothesis.

Under his method, when developing the curriculum, hypothesis should be established in

direct relation to the expected learning outcomes for the students. As the curriculum is

transformed into action, the teacher himself becomes a scientist. They do so in order to observe

and determine whether or not their curricular hypothesis is in fact demonstrated by the student

via the method of evaluation. As a result once the evaluation has been conducted teachers are

better able to make adjustments so to ensure proper outcomes in the classroom. Therefore,

students are now seen as the object of study rather than a participant in creating the curriculum.

It was for this very reason that Tyler was made popular by the slogan The Tyler

Rationale. The Tyler Rationale was not just a more powerful evaluation tool, it was now an

integral part of the educational curriculum evaluation process.

It helped ensure a tighter alignment between the experience in the classroom and the

pedagogical objectives of the classroom teacher. He felt that a schools curriculum should be

responsive to three central factors that constituted the students educational experience. These

factors noted by Strickland (1986) were:

(1) The nature of the learners (developmental factors, learner interacts and needs, life

experiences, etc.); (2) the values and aims of society (democratizing principles, values and

attitudes); (3) knowledge of subject matter (what is believed to be worthy and usable knowledge)

(p. 89).

As a result of synergistically linking up his four principles with these three central tenants

Tyler was able to present a more readable, organized, and systematic discussion of issues related

to the development of goals and objectives and the selection and organization of the learning

experience. As Jackson (1992) alluded to earlier, by adding the fourth area of evaluation and

tying it to other steps in the process, he was able to complete the basic steps in planning which to

this very day are routinely included in modern curriculum planning. Tylers work had a lasting

influence on the practice of curriculum from pre-k to secondary higher education. His theories

on curriculum have had a lasting application in the classroom and institutions of higher learning

over the last sixty-five years.

Strickland (1986) attributes his influence to: (1) acceptance of the idea that objectives

should be clearly stated and should in turn refer to expected outcomes in student behavior. (2)

that these very objectives themselves should transcend knowledge of the subject matter and

include such attributes as skills, attitudes, etc... (p. 89). Its obvious that Tyler was a titan in the

field of curriculum building and his theories according to Strickland have been influential in

even more additional ways.

Strickland (1986) points to additional influential aspects: (3) that these objectives should

serve to form the foundation for evaluating a program. (4) that evaluation of any curriculum is

fundamental to any aspect of the planning process (p. 89). Strickland (1986) goes on to point

that by evaluating a school or programs curriculum one could in essence discover strengths or

weaknesses inherent in the existing practice of the institution in question. All of these influential

impacts point to the fact that his ideas and policies are functioning and being practiced in todays

schools as well as in accreditation boards.

A more important aspect to Tylers methodology is that curriculum planning should

primarily be done at the local level and not at the state or national level. This is so that local

needs can be met first antecedent to state or national concerns over curriculum design. His

emphasis on the evaluation process is ultimately the driving engine behind his theories on

curriculum. In Tylers view, the evaluation process is an ongoing process that should be able to

link the efforts by educators in regards to the curriculum and instruction to that of learning

(Strickland, 1986). Tyler thought that in regards to this evaluation process more than one

instrument could be used when evaluating the students performance in the classroom.

He also felt that the instruments themselves could be modified or changed into different

instruments and not just your average standardized test that many were accustomed to at that

time. For Tyler, evaluation wasnt just about measuring a student or teachers success or failure

in the classroom, it was the integral process or the driving force behind the idea of alignment in

the classroom. In 1954 Tyler would go on to become the founding director of a Ford

Foundation-sponsored think tank called The Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral

Sciences located in Stanford California.

It was during this time that Tyler started playing the advisory role in the White House

after having founded the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of

Chicago several years earlier. In 1952 he advised U.S. President Harry Truman on curriculum

reformation for the service academies and served under President Dwight Eisenhower as

chairman of the Presidents Conference on Children and Youth. Under President Lyndon B.

Johnsons administration, Tyler welded his influence to help shape future education bills with a

special emphasis on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

In this bill Tyler was given the responsibility of writing the section on the development

of the regional educational research laboratories. While at the Advanced Center for Behavioral

Science at Stanford, Tyler utilized his educational expertise to push his ideas on curriculum even

further by creating a team of social scientists that he had helped fund with the aid of private


The center earned a name for producing a highly selective fellowship program that would

go on to have a significant impact on educational policy over the ensuing decades. Tyler would

also be responsible for forming an assessment now known as the National Assessment of

Educational Progress (NAEP). He also served on the Association for Supervision and

Curriculum Development (ASCD). During this time, he was instrumental in publishing the

institutions guide on Fundamental Curriculum Decisions in 1983. His policy formation and

legislative influence are still felt in our school systems to this very day.

Critique of Tylers Theories on Curriculum Theory and Design

Although Tylers influence on the curriculum field is evident in every school district across

America, there were critics who have found systemic problems with regards to his ideas

regarding curriculum theory design.

In particular, they cite issues with his concept regarding behavioural objectives as there is

disagreement with the idea of selecting behavioural objectives prior to developing the

curriculum. For others, Tylers Rationale (curriculum design based on evaluation and

behavioural objectives) has seemed to grip the educational field in the form of a dogma that few

seem willing to poke holes at.

There are few who questioned his ideas concerning curriculum design due to his large

foot print in the field of curriculum & instruction. It is estimated that during his lifetime Tyler

published over seven hundred articles and at last count sixteen books. Controversy surrounding

Tylers work on curriculum theory has been slow in gathering momentum. Scholars like

Kliebard (1970) admit that Tylers Rationale has been raised almost to the status of a revered

doctrine (p. 259). He goes on to further state, Ralph Tyler deserves to be enshrined in whatever

hall of fame the field of curriculum may wish to establish (p. 270).

Whats important about Kliebards criticism of Tylers work on curriculum is that there is

not just one universal model of how curriculum should be designed, as this is in large part how

he felt the field of curriculum theory had developed to that point in time. Kliebard (1970) notes

Ralph Tylers version of how a curriculum should be developed not the universal model of

curriculum development (p. 270). What Kliebard found worth noting was that Tyler in his

preoccupation with his curriculum design, failed to provide any kind of boundaries in deciding

what should be included in the design of the curriculum.

Kliebard (1970) writes the Rationale offers little by way of a guide from curriculum-

making because it excludes so little (p. 267). There were other movements in the field of

education that also found Tylers ideas to narrow in scope.

Reconceptualists criticized it for being too restrictive when it came to many of his

curriculum ideas or thought modelling. (Pinar, 1975) writes that even though Tylers Rationale

and his ideas on the foundations for curriculum theory were sound, there was still room for

improvement. This improvement was to be in the form of a more creative thought process as

related to Tylers ideas on evaluation methods and behavioural objectives.

Hlebowitsh notes that these very same reconceptualists are in essence arguing against a

curriculum that they feel is undermined by Tylers Rationale itself. Hlebowitsh (1992) writes

The Tyler Rationale is tyrannically behaviouristic in its quality and is logically anchored in a

line of thought that celebrates superimposing an industrial mentality upon the school of

curriculum (p. 533). Additional criticisms levelled at Tylers ideas on curriculum are his

conceptual scheme of creating behavioural objectives prior to developing the intended

curriculum and the idea of potentially leaving curriculum decision-making and development in

the hands of less-competent people at the local school level (McNeil, 1990).

As alluded to earlier in Kliebards criticism of Tylers Rationale, Hlebowitsh (1992)

notes, Tyler, while acknowledging what he believes to be a misperception of his Rationale,

never responded substantively to Kliebards 1970 re-appraisal nor to the radical criticism which

followed it (p. 533-34). He did note that several years after requesting a response from Tyler

himself in regards to Kliebards criticism, Hlebowitsh was able to summarize the following reply

from Tyler:

Because Tyler saw his Rationale as an outline of questions that must be considered in
developing a curriculum and because his critics framed no alternative method for studying
questions relevant to curriculum planning, Tyler declined to criticize the positions taken
against him (p. 533-34).
Other critics like Elliot Eisner have derided Tylers Rationale as a grand over

simplification of what curriculum-model building ought to be. Eisner (1994) states, What Tyler

(1950) has given the field of curriculum through his monograph is a powerful, although in my

view oversimplified, conception of what curriculum planning entails (p. 17).

According to Eisner the problem he sees with Tylers conception of curriculum is that its

at times a no-nonsense, straightforward systematic conception of what is alternatively viewed as

a complex, fluid and at times halting activity (Eisner, 1994). Krisel and Bullough (2007) state

that Tylers Rationale was never really meant to create or develop a curriculum theory of what

curriculum ought to be. Instead Tyler just wished to create an outline of the kinds of questions

that should be asked by the practitioner of the institution who is actively involved in shaping the

scope of the curriculum.

Tylers success in having produced a canonized curriculum building method is that he did

not offer any alternative to this form of system building. His method has withstood the test of

time and managed to successfully deflect any attacks made by his critics. Yet the fact remains

that it has not shown itself to be an inferior form of building curriculum for the sole reason that

any standardized alternative system of curriculum design has ever born to fruition. To be sure

there has never been a shortage of critics regarding his design and construction of curriculum

building. Yet the fact still remains that the critics alternatives have been inauspiciously absent

when it comes to offering an alternative model.