Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Organizing for school change

There are more than 14,900 school districts in the nation, and almost one thousand in California, yet researchers and advocates can not identify more than a handful of districts that have achieved substantial school reform. We can find a school or a grade level, but seldom an entire district. Part of the reason is simply mathematical. At least half of the districts serve primarily middle class students and do not need reform.. But, what about the other half?
Nationally, some 40 % of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch , a standard measure of poverty. And, 38 % of African American and 39% of Hispanic 4th. Graders attended a school that was at least 90 % minority in 2003. (NCES, 2004). These are most often the schools needing reform.
Since there are only a few reformed school districts ( and these may be cooking the books), after twenty years of so called school reform, it is reasonable and legitimate to say that the current school reform efforts are not working. Hundreds of consultants and experts are writing about school reform in the professional literature, but very few are producing reformed schools and reformed systems.
Testing and accountability models are the most common and frequent efforts at reform. Inspired by conservative business interests and advanced by federal and state legislation, school leaders have imposed testing and control of curriculum decisions.
Research on these systems indicate that when they work, they work at best based upon voluntary compliance by teachers – and the effects last for only a few years.
When the reform narrows the curriculum, ignores language minority populations, takes the joy and relevance out of schooling, we should not voluntarily comply. Instead we should resist. There repressive system depends upon our voluntary compliance, instead we should organize for justice and educational equity.

Duane Campbell
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