Bio for William Reese



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William Reese

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William Reese

Carl F Kaestle WARF Professor
Educational Policy Studies (EPS)

223 Education Building  binoculars icon
1000 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706-1326
Office: 608/262-1760
Fax: 608/262-0460

Curriculum Vitae

Personal Biography

William J. Reese is the Carl F. Kaestle WARF Professor of Educational Policy Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a member of the National Academy of Education, and a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association. He teaches courses on the undergraduate and graduate levels on the history of American education and the history of childhood and adolescence. His books include Power and the Promise of School Reform: Grassroots Movements during the Progressive Era, The Origins of the American High School, America’s Public Schools: From the Common School to ‘No Child Left Behind,’ History, Education, and the Schools, a co-edited volume entitled Rethinking the History of American Education, and Testing Wars in the Public Schools: A Forgotten History. Current research projects include the history of the public schools of Washington, D.C., and the history of child prodigies.


Ph D, Educational Policy Studies (History and Philosophy of Education),
University of Wisconsin at Madison

MA, History
Bowling Green State University

BA, History, Summa cum laude
Wilkes College

Scheduled Teaching

  • Spring 2016 - Seminar- American History 1900-1945
    Course Number: 940
    Course Syllabus
  • Fall 2015 - EPS 906/History 906: History of School Reform
    Course Level: Graduate
    Course Syllabus

Research Interests

Over the last few years, my research has continued to focus on different aspects of the history of public school reform and educational policy. Projects have ranged across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and led to a variety of articles and a few books, most recently Testing Wars in the Public Schools: A Forgotten History (2013).
My current research focuses on two very different topics: the history of childhood and childhood prodigies in the nineteenth century, and the history of Washington, D.C.’s public schools from their origins to the recent past.


  • Reese, W.J. (2013). Testing Wars in the Public Schools: A Forgotten History. Harvard University Press.
    Online Publication/Abstract
    Abstract: Written tests to evaluate students were a radical and controversial innovation when American educators began adopting them in the 1800s. Testing quickly became a key factor in the political battles during this period that gave birth to America’s modern public school system. William J. Reese offers a richly detailed history of an educational revolution that has so far been only partially told.

    Single-classroom schools were the norm throughout the United States at the turn of the nineteenth century. Pupils demonstrated their knowledge by rote recitation of lessons and were often assessed according to criteria of behavior and discipline having little to do with academics. Convinced of the inadequacy of this system, the reformer Horace Mann and allies on the Boston School Committee crafted America’s first written exam and administered it as a surprise in local schools in 1845. The embarrassingly poor results became front-page news and led to the first serious consideration of tests as a useful pedagogic tool and objective measure of student achievement.

    A generation after Mann’s experiment, testing had become widespread. Despite critics’ ongoing claims that exams narrowed the curriculum, ruined children’s health, and turned teachers into automatons, once tests took root in American schools their legitimacy was never seriously challenged. Testing Wars in the Public Schools puts contemporary battles over scholastic standards and benchmarks into perspective by showcasing the historic successes and limitations of the pencil-and-paper exam.

    O.L. Davis, Jr., Distinguished Book Award, American Association for Teaching and Curriculum
    Outstanding Book Award, History of Education Society
  • Reese, W.J. (2008). Rethinking the History of American Education: Essays on the Post-Revisionist Era and Beyond. In Reese, William (co-editor) (Eds.), Palgrave Macmillan.
    Abstract: Co-author of introduction and epilogue. Original essays commissioned on the state of the field.
    Paperback edition, 2012
  • Reese, W.J. (2007). History, Education, and the Schools. Palgrave Macmillan.
    Abstract: Hardbound & Paperback
  • Reese, W.J. (2005). America’s Public Schools: From the Common School to ‘No Child Left Behind'. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
    Abstract: (Hardbound & Paperback)

  • Reese, W.J. (1998). Hoosier Schools: Past and Present. In Reese, William (Eds.), Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
    Abstract: (Hardbound & Paperback), Wrote introduction and two chapters.
  • Reese, W.J. (1995). The Origins of the American High School. New Haven: Yale University Press.
    Abstract: (Hardbound & Paperback)
  • Reese, W.J. (1988). The Social History of American Education. In Reese, William (co-editor) (Eds.), Urbana: The University of Illinois Press.
    Abstract: (Hardbound and paperback)
  • Reese, W.J. (1986). Power and the Promise of School Reform: Grassroots Movements During the Progressive Era. Boston and London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.


  • Reese, W.J. (2019). The Mysterious World of Prodigies in an Age of Wonder, Keynote Lecture, British History of Education Society, London, England.
  • Reese, W.J. (2019, October 10). The Calculating Boy, Urban History Seminar, University of Kansas–Lawrence.
  • Reese, W.J. (2018, December 6). Zerah Colburn: America’s First Child Celebrity, Graduate and Postgraduate Workshop, University of Zurich.
  • Reese, W.J. (2016). Backstory, History of Testing, University of Virginia.
  • Reese, W.J. (2013). Learning Across National Borders/on history of assessment, International Symposium for World Heritage Inscription/Seminar at National Institute of Education, Ashikaga, Japan/Tokyo, Japan.
  • Reese, W.J. (2013, October 23). Frank L. Bixby Lecture, Spencer Foundation.
  • Reese, W.J. (2011). History of education conference, Monte Verita, Switzerland.
  • Reese, W.J. (2011). Great Lakes Historical Association annual conference, Great Lakes Historical Association, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  • Reese, W.J. (2009). Edgar W. Couper Lecture, Binghamton University.
  • Reese, W.J. (2008). Saul O. Sidore Lecture, University of New Hampshire.

Awards and Honors

  • Other
    Organization: Other
    Date(s): 2019 - 2022
  • Other
    Organization: Other
    Date(s): 2018
  • Other
    Organization: Other
    Description: Spring 2009
    Date(s): 2009
  • Other
    Organization: Other
    Date(s): 1999 - 2001
  • Other
    Organization: Other
    Date(s): 1999 - 2000
  • Other
    Organization: Other
    Date(s): 1998 - 1999
  • Other
    Organization: Other
    Date(s): 1991 - 1993
  • Other
    Organization: Other
    Date(s): 2015
  • Fellow
    Organization: American Educational Research Association (AERA)
    Date(s): 2008
  • Other
    Organization: Other
    Date(s): 2007
  • Other
    Organization: Other
    Date(s): 2004
  • Other
    Organization: Other
    Date(s): 2002
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