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Volume 12, Number 4
July/August 1996

Idealists and Cynics

The Micropolitics of Systemic School Reform


What makes school reform on a large scale so difficult? This may be the central question vexing education theorists and policymakers today. Optimistic visions of remaking America's schools have given way to the sober recognition that systemic reform—changing what goes on in classrooms across districts, states, and the country as a whole—is much harder than anyone imagined it would be.

"A significant body of circumstantial evidence points to a deep, systemic incapacity of U.S. schools, and the practitioners who work in them, to develop, incorporate, and extend new ideas about teaching and learning in anything but a small fraction of schools and classrooms," says Richard Elmore of Harvard's Graduate School of Education. "Innovations that require large changes in the core of educational practice seldom penetrate more than a fraction of schools, and seldom last for very long when they do."

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

R. Elmore. "Getting to Scale with Good Educational Practice." Harvard Educational Review 66, no. 1 (Spring 1996): 1-26.

R. Hampel. "The Micropolitics of RE:Learning." Journal of School Leadership 5, no. 6 (November 1995): 597-616.

R. Heifetz. Leadership Without Easy Answers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.

B. Honig. "How Can Horace Best Be Helped?" Phi Delta Kappan 75, no. 10 (June 1994): 790-796.

D. Tyack and W. Tobin. "The `Grammar' of Schooling: Why Has It Been So Hard to Change?" American Educational Research Journal 31, no. 3 (Fall 1994): 453-479.