Voices in Education

Looking Back, Looking Forward
Volume 1, No. 1—the first-ever issue of the Harvard Education Letter—looks older than its 25 years. The well-thumbed issue we keep in our makeshift archive (a plastic three-ring binder) is slightly tattered, the words worn where the issue was folded in three for mailing. All three holes in its three-hole punch are ripped.

Still, in my biased opinion, the issue has aged well. The cover story on homework is timeless. It manages to distill 75 years of research on the utility of this age-old tradition into a mere three pages. Inside, there’s an interview with Harold “Doc” Howe II, a former U.S. Commissioner of Education and founding member of the HEL editorial board; a short piece on literacy skills and sharing time; and a report on why high schools should add a community service requirement.

As it has throughout its 25-year history, this first issue of HEL mixes data, analysis, and anecdotes from real classrooms to bridge the worlds of knowledgeable researchers and practitioners—never an easy task—in order to answer fundamental questions like: “What does homework (or fill in the blank) accomplish?” and “Where do we go from here?” And it doesn’t take many paragraphs to get to the meat of the matter.

As we enter a new decade in a new century, we at HEL—or the Ed Letter, as we affectionately call it—would like to invite you to celebrate this 25th anniversary with us. Check back often in the months ahead for a number of special features, including interviews with former HEL editors and retrospectives by contributors about the past 25 years in education and what’s to come.

This month HEL faculty editor Richard Elmore kicks things off by undertaking an exercise he often recommends to others. In a provocative essay in the January/February issue, Elmore challenges educators (and himself) to reflect on their own learning by drawing two columns on a piece of paper, labeling one “I used to think” and the other “And now I think.” In Elmore’s case, 40 years’ experience in policy, academia and schools has led to some pretty fundamental shifts in his own beliefs, especially when it comes to school reform.

Not everyone wants to join him in this exercise, however, he writes. “Recently, at a seminar on the future of school reform, I asked my colleagues—a group of people who have long been active in various strands of school reform—whether they would be interested in doing this exercise as part of our work together. My suggestion was greeted with nearly universal rejection. The possibility that one’s work might have changed one’s mind over a long period of time seemed just a bit over the edge for that group,” he notes.

So what about you? What has changed in your field in the past 25 years? How has your thinking changed? Why? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please add your comment below.

About the Author: Nancy Walser is assistant editor of the Harvard Education Letter and the author of The Essential School Board Book.