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					Creating Excellent Schools:
  Education Reform as a
   Democratic Process
     A Research & Theory

     Jeannie Oakes, UCLA
             What to take away?

• Reforms for high-quality, equitable schooling for
  poor children and children of color rarely take
• Flawed assumptions and inadequate change
  strategies are partly to blame.
• Democratic schools require democratic reform.
• Community-based groups bring different and
  powerful assumptions and methods.
• Engaging these groups brings new power to
      Conventional reform assumptions
• Low quality schooling for poor children and
  children of color is largely a function of technical
  problems—structure, practice, etc.
• Quality and equity can be achieved by working
  within the system.
• More knowledge and better strategies will
  improve schools and close gaps.
• Inequality is at odds with basic values;
  Americans will welcome more equitable
      Conventional reform strategies

• R,D,D&A:
  – Research, develop, and disseminate effective
  – Decision makers adopt them
• Organizational development strategies:
  – Establish a a “learning culture” in schools
  – Develop professional “buy in” and ownership
  – Provide leadership, time, appropriate resources, and
    professional capacity building (technical assistance,
    professional development, coaches).
What’s wrong with conventional reform?

• Equity reforms are seldom adopted or sustained
  – Integration (racial or social class)
  – Equalized resources--$, teachers, facilities, etc.
  – Detracking
  – Challenging academic curriculum/college access in
    low-income schools
  – Culturally responsive teaching—multicultural
    curriculum, bilingual education, “authentic”
    assessment, etc.
• Adopted equity reforms are superficially
  implemented or distorted
       Wrong assumptions; inadequate strategies;
               naïve view of inequality

• Changes are not simply technical, schooling
   – Huge shifts in normative beliefs
   – Significant political negotiations
• “Expert-driven” insider strategies focus mostly
  on getting the techniques right
• Movement away from inequality triggers
  powerful cultural and political resistance both in-
  and out of school.
        Engaged Communities Bring New
       Assumptions, New Strategies, Less
                 Naïve Views
•   Inequity stem from cultural and political
    unwillingness, as well as technical problems.
•   Reform is more like democratic social
    movements than corporate change—cultural
    and political, as well as technical.
•   Strategies confront resistance directly
    – Create new images & identities
    – Assert democratic purposes of schooling
    – Alter balance of power
                    Key Benefits
•   Changes respond specifically to students’ and
    communities’ cultures and contexts.
•   Powerful “outsiders” create political “space” in
    which educators can act.
•   Prepares an educated, activist community to
    hold schools accountable
•   Power developed can address other systemic
    problems—the lack of decent housing, living-
    wage jobs, health care, etc.
•   Process itself is democratic, educative, &
    integral to high quality, equitable schooling
        Making Community-Engaged Reform
               Powerful & Effective
•   Capacity building
    –   Infrastructure support
    –   Develop leaders among parents & young people
    –   Training to map players, power, and processes
•   Coalition building
    –   Networks among groups across communities and states
•   Research collaboration
    –   Identify issues and solutions
    –   Tools for engaging community members and decision makers
•   Communications
    –   Strategic planning, message development, relationships with
              Excellent & Equitable Schooling

                               Every child
                         high-quality education
                         equitable college going

                           Every school
                   access to high-quality learning

                        The educational system
                            high standards
                          adequate resources
                           qualified teachers

                                               Democratic and
   An educated and
                                          transparent accountability
   activist citizenry
                                          driven by a conception
 presses for quality
                                            of high-quality learning
 engages with
                                          focuses on ensuring
   schools in defining
                                            opportunities to learn
                                          attends to all levels of
 holds schools and
                                            the system
   the system
   accountable for                        inserts the public voice
   quality                                  into education

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