School improvement in the real world
Stanford University researcher Larry Cuban long ago proved himself among the most daring of pundits, willing to disparage the most popular education policies---like loading schools up with computers---when the data showed they weren't as effective as advertised. In his latest book he questions an even bigger assumption---that school reform will happen if we pursue it energetically and sincerely.
The book's title, "As Good As It Gets: What School Reform Brought to Austin," makes it sound narrower than it is. Looking carefully at what happened in the state capital's schools over several years is a terrific way to judge the whole course of school improvement in Texas, one of the top five states in its emphasis on raising achievement over the last three decades.
What he finds is that no matter how well-meaning and well-organized are state level, or even district level, reformers, the drag of poverty, local tradition and the peculiarities of principals and school staff leave the affluent schools still far ahead of the poor ones.
His suggestions are interesting---raise the ceiling for successful schools, raise the floor for unsuccessful ones, increase school choice for middle and high schools, regularly monitor reforms and support community efforts to attack poverty in all of its forms. The book itself is a welcome splash of reality on our often feverish assumption that if we want change enough, it will come. Maybe, Cuban says, but we have to work at it consistently for a long time.
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