Restructuring is, arguably, the most overused word in the lexicon of school reform. It is an umbrella for so many ideas, concepts, and practices that teachers can be forgiven if they are uncertain and confused about what it means. Indeed, in its most comprehensive sense, restructuring is almost a synonym for school reform, meaning to change substantially the ways schools are organized and operated. Under that definition, most of the specific reform efforts described below, from Theodore Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools to James Comer's School Development Program, are restructuring projects.
Some schools have tinkered a bit with their curriculum or their schedule and declared themselves to be restructured. But the essentials of genuine school restructuring are:
- Changes in traditional roles and relationships. Teachers participate in decisionmaking, especially in areas involving curriculum, instruction, scheduling, and professional matters. Principals are less authority figures than instructional leaders who share power with their colleagues. Students are viewed not as passive recipients of instruction but as workers or consumers. Parents are invited to share in the decisionmaking and to participate in the academic and social life of the school.
- Changes in curriculum and pedagogy. A careful assessment of what is taught and how it is taught should lead to significant changes in the organization of the school day and school year, how teachers and students spend their time, and the nature and frequency of student assessment. Ungraded primary schools, for example, keep children together with the same team of teachers for the first three or four years and allow them to move forward in the curriculum at their own pace. In the upper grades, subjects like writing or mathematics may be taught across the curriculum. Interdisciplinary courses taught by teams of teachers may meet for longer periods to allow more concentrated time on task. Changes in curriculum and the use of new educational technologies often prompt changes in instructional practice, encouraging teachers to function more like coaches and guides than dispensers of knowledge. Students assume more responsibility for their own education and teach each other.
- Changes in the workplace. Different roles and relationships and altered curricula and pedagogies lead naturally to restructuring of the working/learning environment. Teachers need time for planning, reflection, and communication with colleagues; continuous professional development becomes essential; adequate physical space and support services are given high priority. The school is viewed as a learning community in which both students and teachers are nurtured.
Such restructured schools are radically different than the factory-model schools that have symbolized American education for most of this century. The changes are so sweeping that they cannot be undertaken without the blessing of state and district authorities and substantial deregulation of individual schools. At first, a number of states and local districts attempted--mostly unsuccessfully--to mandate school restructuring from the top. In recent years, states and districts have instead sought to encourage restructuring by creating procedures and incentives for schools to begin the process on their own.