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

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  • Cuban, L. (1998). How schools change reforms: Redefining reform success and failure. Teachers College Record, 99, 453-477.

Judging the success or failure of an innovation is not an easy task. Cuban sets the stage by telling the story of a reform of the 1900sÑthe Platoon School or Gary PlanÑthat is largely forgotten. Core notions of this reform, however, became persistent features of elementary education. Was it a success or a failure? It depends on what criteria are used. The author states that it is crucial in evaluating reform to identify what criteria are used to judge the reform, whose criteria they are, and how schools change reforms as they implement those reforms. From the point of view of policymakers, the criteria for the success of a reform program are effectiveness, popularity, and fidelity. These criteria reflect a top-down view of authority and a technical view of knowledge and teaching practice. On the other hand, practitioners use the criteria of adaptiveness and longevity. These criteria are based on the view that organizations need to cope with a wide range of problems in order to survive. Cuban uses the example of the Effective Schools reform to demonstrate how the use of these criteria plays out. Depending on the criteria used, the Effective Schools reform was successful (popularity, adaptiveness, longevity), partly successful (effectiveness), or a failure (fidelity). Cuban challenges policymakers and researchers to understand how the journey of school reform is a story of adaptation that ultimately undermines the common criteria used to judge success or failure.

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