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THOMPSON: Hubris

Charlespayne Commenter Steve Andrews turned me on the So Much Reform, So Little Change, a marvelous book by Charles Payne. Payne calls for a "School Reformers’ Pledge of Good Conduct" which includes the following: "I will not overpromise. I will not disrespect teachers. I will not try to scale up prematurely. ... I will take seriously what field workers say. I will give school people realistic estimates of how much time and money it takes to implement my program."

The "hubris" of reformers did not begin with NCLB. By 2002, "there may have been 8 or 9,000 schools, representing a few million students, implementing a whole school model (and in some unhappy cases, implementing more than one), writes Payne, but it created "the situation [which] was made to order for learning what it took to build the capacity to implement." Not only did reformers seek to replicate "what works" at a rate that was "just delusional," but they expanded to "systemic reforms" which "mean ‘let’s pretend to do on a grand scale what we have no idea how to do on a small scale.’" A result was that NCLB-type accountability "did motivate educators but it motivated them to avoid sanctions by raising test scores ... which typically results in less ambitious teaching, especially for low performing students."

The "smugness" of the educational reform movement, writes Payne, "easily crosses into contempt

for school people. In Chicago, groups who could agree on little else had a high degree of consensus that educators were at the root of the problem." Consequently, the reform community remains "totally unaware that its initial models never should have been regarded as other than first approximations that would be found wanting ..."

"So we continue forcing underdeveloped reforms on already over-burdened teachers and then blaming those teachers when reforms fail to produce promised miracles. Just as teachers are too quick to conclude that nothing can be done with these children, reformers come to think that the reforms they advocate are right, they will work, just not ... [with] hard-headed teachers and untalented administrators. The reform movement, partly because of its sheer arrogance, its ideological rigidity, and its inability to enter into genuine partnerships with school people, has squandered much of its moral capital, much of its strategic positioning, that it held at the beginning of the 1990's." - John Thompson

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