Whatever Happened to J. Lloyd Trump?

School reformers’ names are often forgotten. Except for John Dewey who died in 1952. His name continues to resonate among supporters and opponents of his ideas about school, society, curriculum, and teaching. But Dewey is an exception, not the rule.

Save for historians of education, few educators could recall the reforms Superintendent William Wirt engineered in Gary (IN) in 1906 that made him a nationally known reformer. His Platoon Schools became the basis of the modern elementary school. Or former teacher, superintendent, and professor David Snedden whose writings helped establish the modern vocational high school during the early decades of the 20th century. Seldom do their names pop up a century later.

And even recent school reformers’ names disappear from media and conversations. For those high school principals and teachers, for example, who cut their teeth on reform as novice educators in the 1970s and 1980s, the name Ted Sizer and the Coalition of Essential Schools would be remembered. But in 2022, few 30-something high school teachers or principals could say anything about Sizer’s ideas and accomplishments as teacher, principal, college professor or reformer.

And that is what happened to J. Lloyd Trump (1908-1985). Trump was a nationally known secondary school reformer in the 1960s and 1970s. A prolific writer, professor at the University of Illinois, and active in national educational organizations for decades, Trump was the go-to person for high school reform. Today, he would be known only to the few scholars who track the history of high schools in the U.S.

While Trump’s favored reforms to redesign the secondary school (e.g., team teaching, large group instruction mixed with small groups and independent student work, and flexible scheduling) would still ring bells with many current national and state educational policymakers, principals, and high school teachers, dropping his name today would cause puzzled expressions and shrugs. Trump is forgotten–except that he shares a similar name with a former U.S. president (no relation, however).

So in the multi-layered history of school reform, individual policymakers, practitioners, and researchers have lent their names to sustained efforts to improve tax-supported public schools. Yet within a few decades, their names slipped from sight although the ideas and the reforms they pressed for have often remained alive and well. Names come and go, memories soften, but reforms these men and women fought for remain on the radar screens of a current generation of high school reformers.

That includes reforms J. Lloyd Trump championed in the 1960s and 1970s. Here is one summary of his influence:

During the 1960s and 1970s, Trump’s contemporaries
saw him as the leading authority on change in secondary
education. His early work to redesign secondary schools
became known as the Trump Plan. Thousands of schools in
the U.S. and Canada implemented its basic elements: team
teaching, use of teacher assistants, large-group instruction,
small-group instruction, independent study, flexible scheduling, and attention to the individual differences of students and teachers. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Trump
served as project director of the [National Association of Secondary School Principals] Model Schools Project (MSP), a national effort in some 36 American and Canadian schools to bring comprehensive, research-based change to middle-level and high school education.

For the many high schools that adopted the Trump Plan, daily schedules changed. No more a succession of 50-minute periods. Scheduling under the Trump Plan meant that blocks of time were set aside for whole group instruction, small group work, and periods when students would work independently. Trump also created “flexible modular scheduling” as a way of redesigning the high school experience for both students and teachers.

According to critics of the Trump Plan, however, deep concerns developed among those high school leaders who had adopted the innovation. Administrators worried that too many students had scheduled stretches of time where they were supposed to work alone or in pairs but could not manage that independence.

Today, were one to mention the “Trump Plan” in high schools, an association with former President Donald Trump would probably occur, not the efforts of this nationally known but forgotten school reformer over a half-century ago.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Whatever Happened to J. Lloyd Trump?

  1. My son graduated in 2020 from a public high school in San Jose. They use some of these ideas, like block scheduling, group projects, and study time for individual work and consulting with any teacher. It seems to be highly successful with the population, which ranges from at-risk to middle class.

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