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How My Thinking about School Reform Has Changed over the Decades (Part 1)

June 30, 2013

How often do you change your mind about something you know well, something you believe deeply? It’s a question of interest to me as an educator, partly because it has to do with learning, and also because advocacy for education is partly about changing people’s minds. I wrote a blog post on the topic a few years ago, and I was glad to see Larry Cuban take up the same question in this blog post. If you’re not familiar with Larry Cuban, I encourage you to read up about him. It’s always interesting to see what he thinks about education, and even more interesting in a way to see where his thinking has changed.

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

A few years ago, Richard Elmore asked me to write a piece about how my ideas have changed over the years. Daily experience in schools as a teacher, administrator, and researcher (and the reflections and writing that I did about those experiences)  altered key ideas I had about the nature of reform and how reform worked its way into districts, schools, and classrooms. He included my piece in a book called I Used to Think… And Now I Think (Harvard Education Press, 2011). I have divided the piece into two parts. Part 1 follows. 


I used to think that public schools were vehicles for reforming society. And now I think that while good teachers and schools can promote positive intellectual, behavioral, and social change in individual children and youth, schools are (and have been) ineffectual in altering social inequalities.

I began teaching high school in 1955 filled with the…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa Alva Wood permalink
    July 2, 2013 4:05 pm

    Cuban wrote: “While well intentioned federal and D.C. policymakers attacked the accumulated neglect that had piled up in schools over decades, they adopted these reform-driven programs haphazardly without much grasp of how to implement them in schools and classrooms.”
    This is putting a huge finger on the huge problem. My poor little third-tier school is undergoing its 9th significant structural change in 10 years. Anyone who’s got the next Great Idea in Ed Reform brings it and wants to try it out on us. This seems to be okay because no one ever gets a critical mass of folks together (families, community members, alumni, staff, students) to examine and ask questions. Reform is just done to us as a matter of hierarchical fiat, anyone with connections or a title seems to be able to get their program adopted by whoever it is that says, “Roosevelt? Sure! It’s a dropout factory anyway.” And then a year later, efforts are abandoned and new ones come along.
    Haphazard, indeed.

  2. July 3, 2013 6:48 am

    What I used to think, and what I think now? It’s a dark subject.

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