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Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

The Futures of School Reform

By Rick Hess — September 28, 2012 2 min read
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Cool new book out that I think you might want to eyeball. It’s the product of a terrific collection of thinkers gathered under the auspices of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. After three years of thought and discussion, ably steered by Harvard University’s Bob Schwartz and Jal Mehta, the crew has produced a book that sketches six (sometimes complementary - and sometimes not) visions of school reform. The book is The Futures of School Reform, just published by Harvard Education Press last week. (Full disclosure: I’m the third editor on the volume, and coauthored the introduction and one of the chapters.)

The volume is organized around a simple, if radical, premise: Almost all of the ideas currently on the mainstream table leave the basic structure of American schooling fundamentally unchanged. For reasons that I have addressed in The Same Thing Over and Over and Common Sense School Reform, reformers have failed to rethink schooling in ways that would be transformative and largely productive. The group came to the conclusion that if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re never going to get there.

The various contributors (with the possible exception, I suppose, of yours truly), are all generally recognized as really smart, really interesting people. In chapter 1, Ben Levin, Bob Schwartz, and Adam Gamoran draw on international evidence to argue that attracting, retaining, and developing teachers and leaders; high expectations; connections between school and the workforce; and a culture of trust are the right ticket. In chapter 2, Jal Mehta, Louis Gomez, and Tony Bryk make the case for developing a “networked improvement community” to boost collaboration between practitioners. In chapter 3, Terry Moe and Paul Hill imagine a model of schooling in which money follows the students, online offerings proliferate, and districts lose their geographic monopoly as students’ primary providers. In chapter 4, Olivia Meeks and I argue that the future lies in “unbundling” schools and systems. Chapter 5 features Jeff Henig, Helen Malone, and Paul Reville arguing that addressing non-school factors is crucial to increasing academic achievement, and that cross-sectoral collaborations may provide the crucial bridges. In chapter 6, Liz City, Richard Elmore, and Doug Lynch suggest that governance and assessment functions need to be rethought, and that student mastery in domains that students care about is the right standard for evaluating learning in the future.

Finally, Jal Mehta provides a terrific conclusion in which he argues that American education is unlikely to significantly improve without a change to at least one major dimension of its structure. He sketches five pathways for the future, arguing that we can transform the system by 1) changing who is doing the teaching and what they know, 2) replacing the institutions that currently compose the system with new institutions filling the same functions but performing them better, 3) reassembling the system by changing its roles, structures, elements, and incentives, 4) expanding the system by integrating school and non-school factors, or 5) dissolving the system by providing students with more direct access to the ever-growing universe of knowledge.

Anyway, if you’re interested, I think it’s well worth checking out.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.