Creating Excellent Schools:
Education Reform as a
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
– 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.
– Challenging academic curriculum/college access in
– Culturally responsive teaching—multicultural
curriculum, bilingual education, “authentic”
• 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
• 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
• 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
– Strategic planning, message development, relationships with
Excellent & Equitable Schooling
equitable college going
access to high-quality learning
The educational system
An educated and
driven by a conception
presses for quality
of high-quality learning
focuses on ensuring
schools in defining
opportunities to learn
attends to all levels of
holds schools and
accountable for inserts the public voice
quality into education