Harvard Educational Review
  1. Commissions, Reports, Reforms, and Educational Policy

    Edited by Rick Ginsberg and David N. Plank.

    Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995. 280 pp. $59.95

    In this comprehensive and insightful volume, Rick Ginsberg and David Plank bring together a diverse group of policymakers and academics to uncover the appeal and efficacy of nationally recognized commissions in influencing educational policy. The authors analyze the impact of blue ribbon panels and reform efforts, such as the 1966 Coleman Report; the 1983 landmark report from the National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk; and the much publicized school reform efforts in South Carolina, which helped propel former governor Richard Riley to become U.S. Secretary of Education.

    The authors view commissions as having two different perspectives: those that see their primary purpose and influence as beginning the process of school reform by generating public support for educational change, and those that see their role as having symbolic importance only. In both cases, commissions play an important role in shaping policy. The authors' perspectives, though, stand in contrast to Paul Peterson's foreword, which calls the very purpose of the book into question: "Why are educational commissions a dime a dozen? Why are they worth that but little more?" (p. ix). Peterson posits that a commission "gives the appearance of doing something and shifts the blame to someone else" (p. x), and that policy reports have not improved and show no promise of improving a "stagnant" educational system.

    Despite the thematic non sequitur from the foreword to the text of the book, this volume is important reading for policymakers, practitioners, and researchers interested in moving policy into practice.

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