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Welcome to The Futures of School Reform

By Jal Mehta

Over the next two months, this blog is going to serve as an open forum in which to debate what should come next in school reform. Each week will feature an argument for a different approach, authored by a mixed team of leading researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.

Each of these approaches will challenge some prevailing assumptions: one seeks to make a data-based case for the need to integrate schooling and social services; another challenges "factory model" schooling and asks for a transformation towards a "knowledge profession"; a third seeks to challenge our current desire to find more teachers who are "superpeople," and instead suggests we should "unbundle" teaching into a more manageable job. These pieces will be published as regular commentaries in Education Week, and we will link to the online versions here.

These commentaries are part of a project, The Futures of School Reform, which has been a three year effort convened by Jal Mehta and Robert Schwartz at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Our premise was straightforward: If we keep doing what we're doing, we're not going to get there. We have some amazing schools, but few if any districts that consistently produce strong results for all of their students, particularly for high poverty students. We have some exceptionally strong charter schools and charter networks, but even the staunchest members of the entrepreneurial movement would acknowledge that there are serious questions about scale. We have many, many, talented and committed people across the sector, but we would submit, that if they continue to do their work in the same ways in the same institutions, the collective result is likely not to be too different from what it is today.

At the same time, we know that more is possible. Examples from abroad (to be explored in more detail in the weeks to come) show that it is possible to have systems that are both higher performing and more equitable than ours. This is true in Confucian dominated countries in East Asia, but it is also true in Nordic ones like Finland. And while Finland has the advantage of the Scandinavian welfare state and associated child poverty rates, our neighbor to the North, Canada, also substantially outperforms us on the PISA despite being in many ways not that dissimilar. We also will look to other fields and sectors, as well as to promising examples within our sector, to think about what might be possible. Read more about the project here.

The goal here is to discuss, not to opine from on high. Bring to the discussion your ideas, your arguments, and your examples. Tell us where you are struggling--what don't you have that you need. Tell us what's working someplace that should be scaled. Let's argue, respectfully, but also build on each other's ideas.

To get us started, agree or disagree with our opening premise: If we keep doing what we're doing, are we going to get there? And, if we need to change to improve, is there some group who already has a vision that would get us there? If so, tell us about it.

Jal Mehta is an Assistant Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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