Change without reform

After all the education reforms, what’s really changed in classrooms? Not a whole lot, writes Larry Cuban in his new book, Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice: Change Without Reform in American Education.

Cuban looks at a 1:1 laptop program in a Bay Area high school in 1998-99 and 2008-10,   writes Mark Bauerlein in an Education Next review.  The project started with generous federal and state grants and funding from Silicon Valley donors, Cuban writes. Teachers were enthusiastic. But problems soon emerged.

The principal who’d spearheaded the idea left just as it was getting started; the school went through four principals from 1998 to 2010. Faculty turnover was high too and some teachers made little use of technology. Those who did rarely changed their teaching.

The school’s test scores fell, pressuring teachers to focus on test prep.

“Connections between student achievement and teacher and student use of laptops are, at best, indirect and, at worst, nonexistent,” Cuban concludes.

It’s not just a problem with digital learning, Cuban writes. Changes in governance, school size, curriculum, and organization “have had few effects on classroom practices and, consequently, students’ academic outcomes,” he concludes.

Encouraging teachers to collaborate and easing test-based accountability might change inside-the-box teaching for the better, Cuban suggests. But he makes no claim to have the answers, Bauerlein writes.

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  1. Anonymous Math Teacher says:

    Mooresville, NC posted major test score and graduation rate gains when they went to 1:1 laptop use, and the superintendent has received awards galore. I suspect, though, that the massive gains in such a short time are statistically unlikely to be related to laptop usage. Perhaps a third variable — say, demographic changes — can explain it. Has anyone on this site looked into this?

    • Here’s a story from the New York Times but it’s from last February –

      I think I’d wait for the other shoe to drop.

      Where there are incentives there are people who’ll cheat to obtain them. Education’s proven to be vulnerable to short-cutting so I’d look for some independent verification before I announce the arrival of the educational utopia.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Especially a “reform” which includes fat commissions to…somebody.

      • Anonymous Math Teacher says:

        Thanks…I’ve actually read that article before. The most interesting thing to me was the number of students and recent graduates of the Mooresville schools who entered the fray in the article’s comments. I suppose the article was of great local interest, and certainly their perspective is to be valued, but I wonder if they weren’t encouraged to participate and defend the program, which makes me wonder if their commentary is at all representative. (Then again, what schoolkid wouldn’t want their own laptop to take to and from school.)