Redesigning American Education

Redesigning American Education

Redesigning American Education

Redesigning American Education


Drawing on several principles of sociological theory, James S. Coleman & his colleagues construct a new design for American schooling. The authors present compelling evidence on the deficits of our educational system compared to other countries, arguing that the problems are the result of inappropriate incentives for teachers, students, & parents. Asserting that most American school systems are driven by administrative needs, the authors propose school designs that would shift the focus to student achievement output as the driving force behind public education.


Barbara Schneider

Despite more than a decade of intensive efforts at school reform, families, teachers, and policymakers continue to demand more effective strategies to improve the academic productivity of American schools. In this book we examine the current organizational structure of public schools and advance several principles for improving the educational system. These principles are based on the fundamental assumption that the present configuration of the public school system reflects traditional bureaucratic concepts of social organizations prevalent in the early part of this century. Arguably, this form of school organization is outmoded and lacks the capacity to accommodate many of the current efforts designed to raise academic performance.

In contrast to this bureaucratic model of schools, a new paradigm is suggested, one that is more congruent with increasing demands for raising academic standards. This model identified as output-driven, is constructed on the principle that the educational system needs to be reorganized and its resources directed toward increasing student achievement. It recognizes that most student learning occurs in the classroom and that the key to raising academic productivity is developing strong norms that stress student achievement. It would be nearly impossible to instill such norms without strong social ties among teachers and their students. An output-driven system encourages the creation of strong achievement norms by establishing external standards, evaluating school and student academic performance over time, and rewarding students, teachers, and schools for achievement gains.

The concept of an output-driven system as a means for reforming American schools was developed by James S. Coleman while he was a Fulbright Senior Scholar at the European University Institute in 1993. Having recently completed his major theoretical statement on sociology, Foundations of Social Theory (1990), Coleman returned to one of his primary interests in education; that is, how to form social norms in schools that . . .

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