On Changing One’s Mind about School Reform



By 10/07/2011

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I Used to Think … And Now I Think: Twenty Leading Educators Reflect on the Work of School Reform
Richard Elmore, ed.
(Harvard Education Press, 200 pp., $21.95)

I Used to Think…And Now I Think is an interesting compendium of twenty education notables’ views on school reform, responding to a prompt devised by Richard Elmore of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which doubles as the title of the book. Obviously, in the compass of a relatively brief review, it is impossible to do justice to all two, but here are some of their individual conclusions about the current status quo:

1) Genuine K-12 educational reform, while badly needed if American democracy is going to flourish in the contemporary world, is extraordinarily difficult to accomplish, given the intersection between schools and an increasingly incoherent society;

2) Our schools are extraordinarily disparate in their level of effectiveness, ranging from excellent in some of the more affluent suburbs to mediocre in many of the urban centers;

3) There is no one delivery system that can respond adequately to the needs of an increasingly diverse population. Our current system is entirely too bureaucratic and monolithic;

4) There is no one formula for special education students. “The child should attend the school he should attend if he were nondisabled” is too simplistic a notion to serve everybody’s needs.

5) Charter schools have an important role to play in the improvement of the public education sector;

6) Teacher unions, despite their traditional role as advocate of better conditions for teachers, could be instrumental in adding to their objectives, i.e. specific attention to student academic outcomes;

7) Teachers play a pivotal role in schools. No reform efforts can possibly succeed without their support.

While many of these conclusions might seem self-evident to those, like myself, who have been involved in the field of educational reform over a significant period of time, this is a useful volume because so many of the authors, like Larry Cuban, have taught in challenging circumstances before becoming policy analysts, which allows them to connect the two spheres in an illuminating fashion. Furthermore, the capacity for candid self-reflection and for change, in many cases from idealist to realist, is both sobering and enlightening. All in all, a thoughtful collection of essays.

-A. Graham Down




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