How will COVID-19 impact school reform movements?


Turns out, emergency remote instruction is far from new. In 1937, when a polio epidemic was raging in the United States, Chicago public schools produced lessons that were broadcast on local radio stations.

The system allowed students to continue learning during a three-week shutdown period. But this did not lead to a revolution in radio education. Will things be different now in a longer health crisis, and internet technology and more robust iPads and smartphones?

Questions about what we can learn from the history of education are familiar to longtime educational historian and school reformer Larry Cuban. He looks back on nearly a century of change in his new book, “Confessions of a School Reformer.”

The book is part history, part memoir, as Cuban looks back on his career and the various reform movements he was a part of, and offers some thoughts and thoughts on where things might go after this current period of disruption. .

Cuban is Emeritus Professor of Education at Stanford University. He began his career teaching high school social studies for 14 years. At one point, he ran a teacher training program that prepared returning Peace Corp volunteers to teach in inner-city schools. And for 7 years he was district superintendent of Arlington County Public Schools outside of Washington, D.C. Over the years he has weighed in on major school reform issues in books and on his blog , which has the simple title: “Larry Cuban on school reform and classroom practice.

EdSurge reached out to Cuban last week to ask if he thinks online education is here to stay in schools.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher or anywhere you listen to podcasts, or use the player on this page.

EdSurge: I’m curious about the title of your book, “Confessions of a School Reformer.” What are you confessing?

Larry Cuba: He comes from an early 20th century reformer who was a progressive, and he wrote a book, “Confessions of a Reformer.” [by Frederic C. Howe]. … I was very impressed with this book because as a progressive reformer, [Howe] was very active and made substantial contributions in the early 20th century to progressive thought and action, especially in different states. And what he confessed was, “Hey, this is a much bigger and more complex thing than I ever thought it would be.” This is one of the confessions I make in my book. Schooling is complicated and very complex. And when I say schooling, I mean the governance, the organization and the curriculum and the teaching itself, all of this together is far more complex than most people realize.

I spend a lot of time trying to sort out this complexity because everyone was a student once, and they think school isn’t that complex.

You note at some point in the book that you are a “marked” school reformer, and I’m curious what that is, what those scars are. What does it mean?

As I progressed through the different phases of my career – as a teacher, school site administrator, district administrator and then professor – I had to let go of some ideas that I thought were great, but I since they weren’t. didn’t materialize, or they had what I would call unintended consequences that were perverse.

[For instance,] although I still believe in the importance of teachers developing their own curriculum, I don’t think it’s a panacea, as I used to. And I used to think that you change the school and it will make a difference in a district, a state and a nation. And while I still think it’s very important – comprehensive school reform – it’s not the answer I once thought it was. I went through these phases, and this is where the scars accumulate.

What advice would you give to a reformer starting out today?

The first thing I would say is to teach. You must be able to have had the experience of being the teacher if what you are looking for is modifying teaching.

Many policy makers haven’t taught a day in their lives. Closest to the classrooms, they sat behind desks and faced the teachers. I add a shaker full of salt to anything such a decision-maker recommends regarding teaching because he has never experienced it.

What do you see as the legacy of COVID 19 in various school reform efforts, and where do you think things go from there?

I don’t see COVID producing a lot of reform. On the contrary, it produces this enormous public and professional need to take back the school as it was. I think schooling has a lot more stability than change. And that’s the historian’s point of view.

There have been changes in schooling over the last century, but stability has been dominant from my perspective. And I think a lot of people underestimate the importance of stability. I think COVID has reminded us that all parents want is a return to face-to-face teaching and letting teachers teach the lessons they had before schools closed. Let them do what they do best.

As for those who say that online education will be the next big reform, I do not accept it. I think I think [emergency] distance education is now part of the toolbox of administrators and teachers, when things stop, there will be other stops. That is just about everything.

Listen to the entire conversation on the EdSurge podcast.


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