Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Why do most history teachers (past and present) use teacher-directed ways of teaching with a small minority diverging from their colleagues?

One answer looks at how external testing, state academic standards, federal accountability regulations, teacher certification, and the unofficial national curriculum of Advanced Placement influence what teachers present. These largely unnoticed structures in the policy landscape set the boundaries within which teachers teach. To answer the above question on why teachers tilt toward “traditional” teaching, then, I also want to identify other factors that often go unmentioned by those eager to improve the teaching of history in K-12 schools.

Consider that cultural beliefs about the function of public schools to socialize children and youth into the dominant civic and social values (e.g., honesty, respect for others’ values, cooperating) are anchored in age-graded school structures. They become a powerful organizational mechanism for carrying out societal expectations (i.e., kindergarten prepares children for…

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