Reflecting on Sputnik:  Linking the Past, Present, and Future of Educational Reform
A symposium hosted by the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education

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Introduction
Differing Paradigms
Ecological Paradigm
A Personal Odyssey

 

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J. Myron Atkin
Rodger W. Bybee
George DeBoer
Peter Dow
Marye Anne Fox
(John Goodlad)
Jeremy Kilpatrick
Glenda T. Lappan
Thomas T. Liao
F. James Rutherford

 

 

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Symposium Main Page

 

 Current Paper Sections
Introduction
Differing Paradigms
Ecological Paradigm
A Personal Odyssey 

 

Other Papers J. Myron Atkin
Rodger W. Bybee
George DeBoer
Peter Dow
Marye Anne Fox
(John Goodlad)
Jeremy Kilpatrick
Glenda T. Lappan
Thomas T. Liao
F. James Rutherford

 

 

 

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Beyond McSchool: A Challenge to Educational Leadership (continued)
John I. Goodlad, Institute for Educational Inquiry

Advancing the Ecological Paradigm

Time and space restraints prevent me from mounting to my own satisfaction a comprehensive argument for rejecting as failed and unpromising for the future the corporate model of systemic school reform. One is faced, then, with the alternatives of either buttressing in some way the ecological, grassroots movement or of exhorting a plague on both houses and seeking a third possibility. Some people would claim that a third already exists in the growing interest in charter schools of choice. I am not yet ready to treat this development as a third movement for two reasons. First, it is at this stage more a rejection of the systemics enmeshing schools in bureaucratic standardization than it is an affirmation of renewed schooling. In this sense, there is a rejection of the corporate paradigm. Second, this rejection pushes the desired school conditions to be attained toward the ethos of renewal that characterizes a substantial array of current local initiatives within the system against which many advocates of school choice and charter now rail. Consequently, I do not see here a new paradigm but, rather, concern of considerable import regarding primarily the same organizational matters with which those working within the ecological paradigm deal or must ultimately deal.

The continued existence of politically driven reform persuasion must be credited with stimulating local initiatives and funnelling a measure of financial support to them. An accompanying criticism arises out of what often appears to be nonproductive messing around, sometimes characterized by uncompromising disagreement, recrimination, and disillusionment. The notion that well-intentioned people will come together in democratic civility, resolve their ideological differences, and come together around an agenda turns out to be naive. Yet, the increasing evidence, coming in from all regions of the country, supports much school-based renewal that must not be shrugged off as scattered examples of charismatic leadership. It behooves us to look deeper for common explanatory elements.

It turns out that there now is a critical mass of individual schools across the nation loosely tied to initiatives that are, in turn, attached to specific names--hence, "Sizer's" Coalition of Essential Schools and "Levin's" Accelerated Schools Project. Look a little closer at these and several other initiatives frequently cited as warranting commendation and perhaps even replication and one finds in their strategies essentially the same principles of change drawn from a stream of inquiry spread over several decades that leads to the paradigm of school renewal that I have contrasted with the corporate reform model.

Look still deeper and one finds in each ideas that apparently connect with the daily business of teaching and keeping school. Howard Gardner's concept of multiple intelligences, Theodore Sizer's nine programmatic principles, and James Comer's design of school-community action scarcely overlap, but their belief in and respect for those whom their ideas attract and engage do overlap considerably. The more the ideas can be unpeeled for meaning and implications, the less necessary the presence of their creators, even though the desire for personal association with these leaders must never be underestimated. What has been grossly overestimated in post-Nation At Risk school reform is the galvanizing power of panaceas tied to purposes poorly reflecting human aspiration. Perhaps this is why we have had such a succession of them and so much failure that the drumbeat of local apathy and schools' ineffectiveness must be sustained.

An observation deserving of further inquiry is that school-focused initiatives and their leaders such as those mentioned above, frequently cited in the reports of well-intentioned state and federal reform committees caught up in the corporate geist, rarely are the beneficiaries of public funds emanating from such activity. The beginnings of these promising initiatives and, frequently, their continuation have depended on the private philanthropic community. The downside to this is that the foundations are besieged with requests and, understandably, have a time line in mind for expecting public funding to take over. Until recently, this time line for the work funded to become institutionalized was almost uniformly underestimated. Even the most promising, well-conceived initiatives, exhibiting a robust first half-life, reach a point where ideas quite widely accepted but only modestly implemented struggle for supremacy over long-standing regularities that are not only powerful in their preservation of established routines but also vigorously defended by people threatened by change. This usually is where more rather than less discretionary money is required--for such costly necessities, for example, as maintaining two programs, one being phased out and the other phased in. It is difficult for foundation program officers, often sympathetic to the needs, to justify to their boards work that appears to be routine. It is here that public funds could and should enter for maximum return, but the record is woefully thin.

Even in the presence of supplementary money to push forward with the new, the old regularities are powerful obstacles, for such reasons as the comfort of habit, ennui-producing fatigue from juggling new and old simultaneously, and the self-deception of cultivating belief that the intended changes actually have occurred. The answer to this familiar phenomenon is clear but not easily attained: the ideas and the conditions that accompany them must be institutionalized, not just as new and better regularities but as a continuing process of renewal involving collective reflection, conversation, decisions, actions, and evaluative revisitation.

There is a considerable literature on this process, some of it under the rubric of critical inquiry. Success necessitates the deliberate development of a growing corps of leaders who are believers and skilled in the process, a corps that must expand exponentially as that robust first half-life approaches the predictable phase where either renewal becomes an institutional way of life or scarcely questioned regularities once more take over and become the norm.

A Personal Odyssey


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