Reflecting on School Reforms: Scaling Up versus Short, Happy Life or Hanging in

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

For decades, under the influence of efficiency-minded policymakers the “wisdom” of reform has been as follows:

To solve serious school problems federal, state, and district policymakers take “good” ideas, find the right people to implement them faithfully on a small scale (e.g., pilots, “experimental” projects), and then, spread the results across a larger playing field to reach the largest number of students. Or scaling up, in policy-talk. That is how reform should be done.

That policy “wisdom”–so rational on its surface (often called a research and development strategy to jump-start innovation)–has dominated reform for the past half-century. The results, however, have been sometimes disappointing, and occasionally disastrous.  Unanticipated issues arose. Faulty implementation occurred.  Unexpected consequences popped up. Sufficient resources went unallocated. Educators lacked capacity. The list of reasons documenting the failure of scaling up innovations from pilots to entire districts or states gets longer as reforms entered the public…

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