Annotated Bibliography of Resources for Educational Reform, Coherent Teaching Practice, and Improved Student Learning

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  • Cohen, D. K. (1995). What is the system in systemic reform? Educational Researcher, 24 (9), 11-17, 31.

Systemic reform advocates promote the creation and alignment of new policy instruments (standards, frameworks, assessments, and curricula) to change teaching. Cohen states that, while systemic reform has had significant effects, it has not yet made guidance for instruction more "coherent." He suggests that reforms that seek more coherence in instructional policies have actually helped create more variety and less coherence by sending mixed or conflicting messages about instruction. New policies are generating more awareness, positive attitudes, and dialogue on the part of teachers. However, the incorporation of new ideas into practice has been more limited. Cohen argues that three elements of practice are crucial to the progress of systemic reform. These are teachers' knowledge of academic subjects, teaching and learning; their professional values and commitments; and the social resources of practice. These three elements are distinctively weak in U. S. education. The systemic reform approach assumes that instruction is a homogeneous and unified system that can be driven by policy. In reality, instruction includes several related systems, and changes in one may not produce changes in the others. Cohen concludes that coherence in policy is different from coherence in practice.

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