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Mismatch: Historical Perspectives on Schools and Students Who Don't Fit Them


by Sarah Deschenes, David Tyack & Larry Cuban — 2001

There have always been students who do not meet the educational expectations of their time—students outside the mainstream mold who do not fit dominant notions of success. The differences between schools and these students can be thought of as a “mismatch” between the structure of schools and the social, cultural, or economic backgrounds of students identified as problems. In this essay we examine the history of these students who have not been able to do what educators wanted them to do. We look at how educators have labeled poor school performers in different periods and how these labels reflected both attitudes and institutional conditions. We then summarize four major historical explanations for why children fail in school—individual deficits or incompetence, families, inefficiency in schools, and cultural difference. Finally, we explore what implications this history has for students in the current standards-based reform movement, including implications for social promotion and the age-graded school. To avoid a mismatch in the standards movement, we argue that educators should focus on adapting the school better to the child, addressing social inequalities that extend beyond the classroom, and undertaking comprehensive changes that take no features of current schools for granted.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 103 Number 4, 2001, p. 525-547
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10773, Date Accessed: 7/20/2017 4:38:25 PM

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About the Author
  • Sarah Deschenes
    Stanford University
    E-mail Author
    Sarah Deschenes has a master’s degree in American history and is a doctoral candidate in education policy at Stanford University. She is writing her dissertation on neighborhood reform for youth in San Francisco.
  • David Tyack
    Stanford University
    David Tyack is a professor of education and of history at Stanford University. He is co-author, with Larry Cuban, of Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform and author of The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education.
  • Larry Cuban
    Stanford University
    E-mail Author
    Larry Cuban is professor of education at Stanford University and editor (with Dorothy Shipps) of Reconstructing the Common Good in Education: Coping with Intractable Dilemmas (Stanford University Press, 2000).
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