Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Reframing the School Reform Agenda; Developing Capacity for School Transformation

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Reframing the School Reform Agenda; Developing Capacity for School Transformation

Article excerpt

Over the last decade the rhetoric of school improvement has changed from a language of school reform to a language of school restructuring. Efforts to make our current education system more efficiently have shifted to initiatives that aim for the fundamental redesign of schools, of approaches to teaching and learning, and of goals for schooling. Just as the last century's transformation from an agrarian society to an industrial one made the one-room schoolhouse obsolete, replacing it with today's large school bureaucracies, so this century's movement into a high-technology Information Age demands a new kind of education and new forms of school organization.

There is little room in today's society for those who cannot manage complexity, find and use resources, and continually learn new technologies, approaches, and occupations. In contrast to low-skilled work on assembly lines, which was designed from above and implemented by means of routine procedures from below, tomorrow's work sites will require employees to frame problems, design their own tasks, plan, construct, evaluate outcomes, and cooperate in finding novel solutions to problems.[1] Increasing social complexity also demands citizens who can understand and evaluate multidimensional problems and alternatives and who can manage ever more demanding social systems.

These changes signal a new mission for education - one that requires schools not merely to "deliver instructional services" but to ensure that all students learn at high levels. In turn, the teacher's job is no longer to "cover the curriculum" but to enable diverse learners to construct their own knowledge and to develop their talents in effective and powerful ways.

This changed mission for education requires a new model for school reform, one in which policy makers shift their efforts from designing controls intended to direct the system to developing the capacity of schools and teachers to be responsible for student learning and responsive to student and community needs, interests, and concerns. Capacity-building requires different policy tools and different approaches to producing, sharing, and using knowledge than those traditionally used throughout this century.

COMPETING MODELS OF POLICY MAKING

Over the last decade, hundreds of pieces of legislation have sought to improve schools by adding course requirements, increasing testing requirements, mandating new curriculum guidelines, and requiring new management processes for schools and districts. Similar reforms during the 1970s had tried to "teacher-proof" schooling by centralizing textbook adoptions, mandating curriculum guides for each grade level and subject area, and developing rules and tests governing how children should be tracked into programs and promoted from grade to grade.

These efforts are the most recent expressions of a model of school reform put into place at the turn of the 20th century - a model grounded in the view of schools as bureaucracies run by carefully specified procedures that yield standard products (students). Based on faith in rationalistic organizational behavior, in the power of rules to direct human action, and in the ability of researchers to discover the common procedures that will produce desired outcomes, 20th-century school reform has assumed that changing the design specifications for schoolwork will change the nature of education that is delivered in classrooms - and will do so in the ways desired by policy makers.

This model fits with a behavioristic view of leaming as the management of stimulus and response, easily controlled from outside the classroom by identifying exactly what is to be learned and breaking it up into small, sequential bits. However, we now know that, far from being "blank slates" waiting to accumulate pieces of information, learners actively construct their own knowledge in very different ways depending on what they already know or understand to be true, what they have experienced, and how they perceive and interpret new information. …

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