This report examines the ways two seemingly opposite theories of educational reform converge in three New York City middle schools. Using in-depth case studies, the authors look at what happened when a theory of centralized, standards-based instructional improvement was introduced into these schools on top of an existing theory that emphasized small schools, distinctive programs, and close relationships among students and adults. The result, a surprise to some, is that the two theories can coexist, even complement each other, but not without some tension.
A Research Report by Chrysan Gallucci, Michael S. Knapp, Anneke Markholt, and Suzy Ort, July 2003.
<p>The convergence of two apparently opposite theories of urban educational reform is analyzed as it occurs in three middle schools in a New York City school district. The first theory, emphasizing small schools of choice, promotes close relationships between students and adults in distinctive school programs. The second—centralized, standards-based instructional improvement—seeks to standardize instruction through demanding curriculum, an emphasis on standard-bearing work, and investment in professional learning. Using in-depth case studies developed over three years, the authors argue that the reform theories complemented one another in this case, but their coexistence varied based on how the schools organized themselves for professional learning, knowing their students well, and taking joint responsibility for learning outcomes. The sophistication and flexibility of the district's policies facilitated the convergence process. The authors conclude that, although tension producing, the first set of reform ideas can create the conditions in which rich and complex versions of standards-based practice can develop.</p>