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Ralph W. Tyler (22 April 1902-18 February 1994) is often referred to as “The Father of Evaluation or Father of Behavioral Objectives.” He is associated with curriculum theory and development and educational assessment and evaluation.

Tyler was born in April 22, 1902, in Chicago while his father was in a theological seminary. When was two years old, his father graduated and they moved to Nebraska, where Tyler was raised under his minister father. He was one of the eight children, though only four who survived. Tyler’s atmosphere of his first formal schooling was one of inquiry and experimentation (Ryan, et al 1977).

Tyler’s boyhood was full of activity, including his curiosity and interest to know how skunks made an awful smell, causing him to extract the juice from their glands and pour it in a paint can that was being used to refill the school radiators. He reportedly was motivated to do this because he disliked attending school and thought of a way that school could be cancelled. Tyler quit school — because he thought he was getting nothing out of attending—and went to school part time while working a full day at the local creamery (Buell 1994). In college, Tyler went to school during the day and worked as a telegraph operator for the railway at night. 

At the age of 19, Tyler graduated from Doane College in Crete, Nebraska with a bachelor’s degree with majors completed in philosophy, physics and mathematics. After graduation, he departed to Pierre, South Dakota, the state capital, to teach science in a high school, teaching Native American children and the children of South Dakota ranchers, state government officials and local businessmen. Although good at it, Tyler found teaching more difficult than he has expected.

Tyler later enrolled in science courses at University of Nebraska at Lincoln. By the end of the summer, Tyler was asked to remain in the university so that he could help train the science teachers. While at Nebraska, Tyler earned a master’s degree and was initiated into Kappa Delta Pi (Ryan, et al. 1977).

Tyler subsequently enrolled at the University of Chicago and got a doctorate in Educational Psychology in 1927. Tyler’s dissertation title was “Statistical Methods for Utilizing Personal Judgment to Evaluate Teacher Training Curricular” (Nowakowski 1981). His doctoral level graduate work at University of Chicago made him know notable educators, including Charles Judd and W.W Charters. These educators’ ideas also influenced Tyler’s later work in curriculum development and evaluation.

Tyler was appointed at the University of North Carolina, where he worked with teachers in the state on improving curriculum. While at University of North Carolina he was also in charge of the testing program for the State of North Carolina. Tyler left North Carolina to join W.W Charters at Ohio State University in order to head the Division of Accomplishment Testing. At Ohio State University, Tyler was responsible for assisting Ohio State University faculty in improving their teaching and increasing student retention at the University. Tyler reported that he went to Ohio “because the legislature was concerned that half of the students who were enrolling in the freshman year never came back for sophomore…” (Nowakowski 1983, 25). Tyler built a respected reputation by showing the faculty how to generate evidence that spoke to their course objectives. This is when he came up with the term evaluation in regard to education. When Ralph was asked why he was called “the father of education literature,” he answered “I invented the term evaluation when applied to educational procedures; so if naming the child, as the godfather names babies, makes you father, then I am” (Nowakowski 1981, 21).

Tyler’s work in evaluation led him to the evaluation staff of a national, eight-year study involving 30 secondary schools and 300 colleges and universities. The study was a response to concerns about the narrowness and rigidity of high school curriculum. The findings of the study questioned the tradition of supporting only one set of high school experiences for success in college hence, it created a way for alternative thinking about secondary school curriculum. College entrance requirements began to move from mastery of specified subject matter to a demonstration of the ability to do college work.

Tyler moved to University of Chicago in 1938, and there served as head of the Education Department and of Board of Examinations. The appointment to the Department of Education was the first of Tyler’s major administrative posts. His reputation as an expert in education was cemented when he published his book Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction (1949). Although the book was only 83 pages, it made an impact on the field of curriculum and teaching practices in America, and was originally the syllabus for one of his courses at the University of Chicago. Tyler expanded upon the concepts he had formed during “The Eight Year Study” and in his work he called for application of four basic principles when developing any curricular project. The principles were: defining appropriate learning objectives, establishing useful learning experiences, organizing learning experiences to have a maximum cumulative effect and evaluating the curriculum and revising those aspects that did not prove to be effective. In 1952 Tyler provided direct counsel to U.S President Harry S. Truman advice about reforming the curriculum at the National Service Academies.

Tyler was also known to be a good administrator. He believed that an administrator should be a facilitator; a person to help people accomplish (Nowakoski 1981). Hence, Tyler’s interpretation of all the activities he had been involved in is “To help people work out their own philosophies” (Ryan, 1977, 547). Tyler was involved with the founding of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, and was the first director for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University in 1953. He held this position for 14 years until 1967, when he formally retired.

After Tyler’s retirement, continued to maintain a busy schedule. When Tyler was asked what he was doing after retirement, he responded, “I had wanted to die with my boots on” (Buell 1994, 1). He served on various committees, commissions and foundations in both the United States and abroad, and almost immediately after Tyler retired, he took on the job of designing the assessment measures for the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). The NAEP study provided extensive data about students’ achievement in school. Tyler remained active as a lecturer and consultant until dying of cancer at the age of 92 in 1994. 

A valuable Tyler interview, conducted by Malca Chall is available at the Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, and through UCLA’S Department of Special Collection.

Contributed by Anna N. Mukhongo, Clemson University.

Buell, D. H. 1994. No limit to the possibilities: An interview with Ralph Tyler. Phi Delta Kappan 75(10):86–89.

Ryan, K., J. Johnston, and K. Newman. 1977. Ralph Tyler: Education’s Mr. Fix-It. Phi Delta Kappan 58(7):540–43.

Ryan, K., J. Johnston, and K. Newman. 1977. An Interview with Ralph Tyler. Phi Delta Kappan 58(7):544–46.

Nowakowski, J. R. 1981. An interview with Ralph Tyler. Occasional paper series No. 13.

Nowakowski, J. R. 1983. On educational evaluation: A conversation with Ralph Tyler.  Educational Leadership 40(8):24–29.

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