Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

The shame that many teachers and principals feel at being made responsible for a school’s low academic performance is a recent phenomenon. Historically, policy elites and educators explained poor academic performance of groups and individual students by pointing to ethnic and racial discrimination, poverty, immigrants’ cultures, family deficits, and students’ lack of effort. School leaders would say that they could hardly be blamed for reversing conditions over which they had little control. Until the past quarter-century, demography as destiny was the dominant explanation for unequal school outcomes.

Things began to change by the mid-1970s. Other explanations for low academic performance among different groups of students gained traction: The school—not racism, poverty, family, culture, or even language differences–caused disadvantages in students. This explanation grew from research studies of urban elementary schools with high percentages of poor and minority students that did far better on national tests than researchers would have…

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