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Ernest Boyer (1928–1995)

D.C. Washington, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Reports and Publications

An innovator of secondary and postsecondary education, Dr. Ernest L. Boyer served as U.S. Commissioner of Education from 1977 to 1979 and president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching from 1979 to 1995. Born in Dayton, Ohio, Boyer finished high school early to study at Messiah Academy in Grantham, Pennsylvania. He completed his studies in Illinois at Greenville College in 1950, and received master's and doctoral degrees in speech pathology and audiology at the University of Southern California, in 1955 and 1957, respectively. He began his teaching career at Loyola University in California while a graduate student, and then served as a professor of speech pathology and audiology at Upland College in California.

In 1960 Ernest Boyer moved from teaching to administration and leadership. He accepted a position with the Western College Association, as director of the Commission to Improve the Education of Teachers. Two years later he became the director of the Center for Coordinated Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In this position Boyer was free to administer projects for the improvement of the California education system, from kindergarten to college.

In 1965, eight years after earning his doctorate, Boyer moved to Albany, New York, and joined the new State University of New York (SUNY) system as its first executive dean. Three years later he was named vice president and, two years after that, chancellor. He was intent on creating new connections in the system between the many independent colleges.

One of his most significant accomplishments as chancellor was the creation of the Empire State College in Saratoga Springs, New York. This college allows adult students to earn degrees without attending classes on campus. The students earn degrees via workshops, reading, television, and hands-on experience. Boyer also created the rank of "Distinguished Teaching Professor" to emphasize the importance of teaching and learning, not merely research. He established an experimental three-year degree program for the brightest students so that they could move quickly toward graduate work. While chancellor of SUNY, Dr. Boyer unified sixty-two campuses. He established a dialogue between the campuses and called for cooperation and community. He initiated a statewide art program and equal opportunity centers for the minority students. Boyer remained with the SUNY system until 1977, when President Jimmy Carter invited him to become the U.S. Commissioner of Education.

D.C. Washington

As Commissioner of Education, Boyer vowed to give priority to basic education, skills, and educational reform. During his tenure, Boyer created a service-learning program enabling students to get hands-on experience in their communities. He also became increasingly aware of the troubles of Native American education systems, and set up programs and conducted studies on the improvement of the Native American school system. In addition to helping the nation's less-privileged students, Dr. Boyer also managed to increase federal funds for education by 40 percent over three years.

Regarding the challenges of working in Washington, Boyer remarked: "I became informed about the issues of public education, got involved in the discussions about excellence and quality, and confronted more directly the crisis that may overwhelm us in the end: the gap between the haves and the have-nots" (Goldberg, p. 47). His mission in Washington focused on the government's obligation to bridge the gap that separates those who are challenged by economic disadvantage and prejudice. Toward the end of his term as commissioner of education, Boyer was offered the position of president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a post he assumed at the end of 1979.

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

Boyer moved the foundation center to Princeton, New Jersey. He did, however, keep an office in Washington to maintain his connections to political agendas related to education. He expanded the Carnegie Foundation to include public education: "My top priority at Carnegie will be efforts to reshape the American high school and its relationship with higher education …. I'm convinced that the high school is the nation's most urgent education problem." Dr. Boyer's main goal as president was not to create programs but to initiate dialogue concerning education issues. His speeches and writings conveyed ideas on education, and are a testimony to the impact that he had on the nation's education system.

Reports and Publications

One of Boyer's major accomplishments was creating a dialogue between teachers and administrators about teaching methods and programs. While at the Carnegie Foundation, he wrote several reports that changed the face of education. By addressing certain issues including secondary and primary education, Boyer was able to generate discussions about issues facing education reform.

High School: A Report on Secondary Education in America (1983) was the result of a fifteen-month study of the nation's high schools. Here Boyer recommended adopting a "core curriculum" for all students and tougher foreign language and English requirements; he also called for community service before graduation, and stressed excellence for all students and teachers.

Boyer's next report, published in 1987, College: The Undergraduate Experience in America, found that many faculty members of undergraduate institutions placed more emphasis on research than teaching. Boyer claimed that the students were not getting the full attention of their instructors, contending that the nation must put more resources into undergraduate education, expand orientation and faculty mentoring for new students, and create community service programs for students. With both High School and College, Boyer connected students with their teachers and professors and the worlds outside the institutions. The development of community service programs in many high schools and colleges around the nation has benefited all involved.

Boyer persisted in his commitment to stimulate the debate about education practices. In 1990 the Carnegie Foundation published Campus Life: In Search of Community. Boyer realized that the old ideas of campus communities were disappearing due to the diverse backgrounds of many students, writing "if a balance can be struck between individual interests and shared concerns, a strong learning community will result" (Perrone, pp. 22–23). Many colleges and universities have since created programs to rebuild their campus community using Boyer's ideas.

Also published in 1990, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate challenged the current views of faculty priorities and the true meaning of scholarship. Calling for a new approach to teaching, Boyer categorized four kinds of scholarship: discovery, integration, application, and teaching. This report has fueled debates in many circles around the country and has influenced many colleges and universities to assess their faculty differently. In 1997 Charles E. Glassick, Mary Taylor Huber, and Gene I. Maeroff wrote a response, Scholarship Assessed: Evaluation of the Professoriate. Their preface stated, "the effort to broaden the meaning of scholarship simply cannot succeed until the academy has clear standards for evaluating this wider range of scholarly work."

In Ready to Learn: A Mandate for the Nation (1991) Boyer emphasized the importance of preparing young children for school. Education of the parents of preschoolers was essential so that they might know "all of the forces that have such a profound impact on the children's lives and shape their readiness to learn." This study led to educational television programs such as Sesame Street, and landmark legislation such as the Ready to Learn Act of 1994.

In 1995 the Carnegie Foundation published a groundbreaking report, The Basic School: A Community for Learning. This report emphasized the importance of the first years of formal learning. Boyer wanted the general public to understand that the school is a community with a vision, "teachers as leaders and parents as partners." He also called for a "powerful voice for the arts in education." This report led to the Basic School Network, as outlined by Boyer himself in the report. A trial program consisted of sixteen schools, public and private, including the Tiospa Zina tribal school in North Dakota. Boyer worked closely with school administrators and staff on the tenets of the Basic School, including new ways to create a curriculum, the importance of language and the arts, and the involvement of parents. Unfortunately, Boyer did not live to see his dream come true. However, the Basic School Network now boasts centers and affiliates around the country and is a successful tool for improving elementary education.

International Achievements

Boyer spent a great deal of time examining the U.S. education system, and his interest extended outside our nation as well. He set up a learning program with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, an unheard of accomplishment due to the consequences of the cold war. He also set up a similar agreement with Israel. Boyer established a partnership with the National Center for Education Development Research (NCEDR) in Beijing, China. This partnership has created a discourse between the People's Republic of China and the United States on all levels of education. He worked on various international committees under Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan. Under President Ronald Reagan he was appointed chair of the U.S. Department of State's Overseas Schools Advisory Council.


Dr. Boyer has received honorary degrees from colleges and universities around the world, including the University of Beijing and Tel Aviv University. He served as senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, where he also taught public policy courses. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, Columbia University–Teachers College; the Horatio Alger Award; The Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education; and countless other awards.

Values and Principles

Boyer's focus was on the people who were involved in all aspects of education. He saw education not as the policy behind it or buildings that house it, but he saw it as the students, parents, faculty, and staff. Boyer's main idea and philosophy of life centered on unity and cooperation. All the analyses and studies that he conducted promoted cooperation within the education system.

Dr. Boyer was a man with a heart and head for public speaking. People describe him as charismatic and persuasive but never overbearing. His main principles were simple yet profound: schools are a community; focus on the children; serve others; and knowledge and learning are a continuous journey. As Boyer once wrote, "In the end, our goal must not be only to prepare students for careers, but also to enable them to live with dignity and purpose; not only to give knowledge to the student, but also to channel knowledge to humane ends. Educating a new generation of Americans to their full potential is still our most compelling obligation."

As Dr. Doug Jacobsen discusses in his article, "Theology as Public Performance: Reflections on the Christian Convictions of Ernest L. Boyer," "a small act of care or kindness could transform a life from despair to hope. Boyer's personal faith was journey towards holiness, but that journey was never solitary. The straightest path to heaven was the path that took the most detours to serve others" (p. 9).

After a three-year battle with cancer, Ernest Boyer died in 1995. In 1997, the Boyer Center at Messiah College, Grantham, Pennsylvania, was established. This center houses Boyer's letters, papers, and speeches, in addition to photographs, awards, and other memorabilia. The Boyer Center fosters the enrichment of learning for students and teacher through implementation of the educational vision of Ernest Boyer.


BOYER, ERNEST. 1983. High School: A Report on Secondary Education in America. New York: Harper and Row.

BOYER, ERNEST. 1987. College: The Undergraduate Experience in America. New York: Harper and Row.

BOYER, ERNEST. 1990. Campus Life: In Search of Community. A Special Report. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

BOYER, ERNEST. 1990. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

BOYER, ERNEST. 1991. Ready to Learn: A Mandate for the Nation. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

BOYER, ERNEST. 1995. The Basic School: A Community for Learning. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

GOLDBERG, MARK F. 1995. "A Portrait of Ernest Boyer." Educational Leadership 52 (5):46–48.

PERRONE, VITO. 1996. "Ernest L. Boyer: A Leader of Educators, An Educator of Leaders, 1928–1995." The Ninety-First Annual Report of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

PERRONE, VITO. 1996. "The Life and Career of Ernest Boyer (1928–1995)." Educational Leadership 53 (6):80–82.


BOYER, ERNEST L. Papers. <www.boyercenter.org>

JACOBSEN, DOUGLAS. 2000. "Theology as Public Performance: Reflections on the Christian Convictions of Ernest L. Boyer." Messiah College-Presidential Scholar's Lecture, February 17, 2000. <www.boyercenter.org>



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Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineEducation Encyclopedia: AACSB International - Program to Septima Poinsette Clark (1898–1987)