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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.

School Choice & Charters Opinion

Stanford’s Big Brains Get the Boot

By Rick Hess — April 19, 2010 1 min read

In my recent book Education Unbound, I argue that a big problem with “best practices"-style reform is that good ideas often don’t play out as intended. Even pedigreed ideas that are cooked up by big-brained professors and prove successful at hand-picked pilot sites often fail to deliver at scale.

Most involved in K-12 schooling, of course, are much more enamored of expertise than I. Those in schools of education, in particular, are generally confident that they can identify the right recipes for professional development, instruction, and curricula--and aren’t shy about urging those on policymakers and educators.

This is what made the Stanford University Graduate School of Education’s charter school such an interesting test case. After all, here was an acclaimed school of education, stuffed with credentialed experts and spending an extra $3,000 per pupil above the state average. Clearly, as Stanford intended when its first charter opened in 2001, this was a chance for Stanford Ed to showcase its faculty’s far-reaching prescriptions. Turns out, not so much.

In a truly brutal lead, Carol Pogash wrote last Thursday in The New York Times, “A charter school created and overseen by Stanford University’s School of Education was denied an extension of its charter on Wednesday night after several members of the school board labeled it a failure.” Citing poor academic performance and lousy classroom behavior management, the trustees of the Ravenswood City School District voted 3-2 to deny Stanford New Schools a new charter. Talk about getting mugged by reality...

Rather than dwell at length on this, as terrific and terrifically jaundiced posts have already been offered up by colleagues including Alexander Russo and Andy Rotherham, I’ll just urge that we keep these results in mind when sorting through insistent expertise on classroom management, instruction, and professional development. Perhaps, as we’ve seen of late with the big brains in financial services or real estate in the past few years, the reputed experts may know less than we presume or than they’d have us believe.

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