Standards Deviation: How Schools Misunderstand Education Policy
Standards Deviation: How Schools Misunderstand Education Policy, by James P. Spillane (Harvard University Press).
Spillane argues that problems in implementing education policy are due primarily to insufficient attention to the “sensemaking” needs of educators, by which he means the ability of teachers and administrators to understand the task assigned to them. He reaches this conclusion after interviewing administrators and surveying teachers about the implementation of new math and science curricula and other instructional material introduced in Michigan between 1989 and 1996.
The author makes sense when he notes that people find it easier to implement ideas with which they are familiar and that they commonly interpret new policies through a lens conditioned by existing routines. But he ignores what previous studies have repeatedly shown: Local self-interests and perverse institutional incentives are the main obstacles to reform. The author instead takes the naive view that roadblocks are merely “cognitive” and can be overcome by more training and trust.
Unfortunately, Spillane does not sufficiently acknowledge that the lessons learned from Michigan are limited to just a few of the needed reforms. It is easier to change curricula than to alter administrative or teaching practice.
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