The Power and Peril of Idea-Driven Reform
In dreams begin responsibilities, as the poet Delmore Schwartz once said. The educators profiled in these pages recounting the century's philosophical debates in education wanted to see their ideas take hold. They knew it might require a decade or more for schools to put the principles into practice. Stamina had to accompany passion. Publication often marked the start, not the end, of the work. One upshot is that many of the best-known books on education reform this century have one or more sequels where "implementation" is the story.
I put implementation in quotes because the word misrepresents what happens in reforms where ideas are central. Whenever broad concepts are at the heart of a coalition, the teachers who use them will adapt, not adopt, those notions. Each site is encouraged to interpret the ideas to suit local needs. A central staff will offer advice, host conferences, and generate materials to explain the concepts, but there are no models to imitate slavishly or detailed procedures to follow unswervingly. Idea-driven reform respects teachers and honors their ability to read, talk, and link theory with action.
Idea-driven reform is practical rather than quixotic in that other approaches rarely work. Cajoling schools with legislative mandates, shackling teachers with minutely scripted curricular packages, replacing staff with the latest technology: All have been tried and none went very far. Without honoring the wit and will of the people closest to students, new initiatives falter. The history of school reform indicates that agendas pushed down from above telling schools what to do eventually get set aside unless the teachers understand...
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- Superintendent of Schools
- Orleans Parish School District, New Orleans, LA
- Randolph, MA Superintendent
- NESDEC, Randolph, MA
- Grand Center Arts Academy, St. Louis, MO
- Senior Content and Curriculum Leader
- BrightBytes, San Francisco, CA
- Chief Schools Officer - International Baccalaureate (IB)
- International Baccalaureate, Bethesda, MD