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ED240A--Example of exemplary essay

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					Education 240 A

Example #2 of short essay: Marshall Smith and Jennifer O’Day. (1991). Systematic
School Reform. In Susan Fuhrman and Betty Malen (eds.) The Politics of Curriculum
and Testing. Philadelphia: Falmer Press, pp. 233-267.


Major Thesis:

        Although this article by Marshall Smith and Jennifer O’Day was written over ten

years ago, its message is as relevant today as it was in 1991. The authors focus on an

issue that was and continues to be at the center of educational reform in California and in

other states across the county. As a nation, we still have a need to significantly improve

student achievement, and to do so,not just for a handful of children in a few schools, but

for all children in all schools (p. 235). To improve student academic achievement for all

students in all schools, Smith and O’Day recommend a coherent systematic reform that

will “combine the vitality and creativity of bottom-up change at the school site with an

enabling and supportive structure at more centralized levels of the system” (p.245). In

particular, the authors propose that if we hope to change more than a few schools or

districts, the reform efforts must be initiated and mandated at the state level because it is

the states that have the constitutional responsibility for educating all children in all parts

of the system K-12 (p. 246).

        Smith and O’Day further argue that it is the “chaotic, multi-layered and

fragmented educational governance system” in the United States that is the cause of our

mediocre and conservative curricula and instruction in K-12 schools (p. 261).

Consequently, their strategy for significantly increasing the quality of education for all

students is for the states to use their authority and responsibility to create and implement

challenging student achievement goals, a progressive curriculum frameworks with high



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quality assessments, and a comprehensive system of professional development for all

teachers (pre-service through veteran).

Types of Evidence:

       In this chapter, the authors present their argument for state-wide systemic reform

by introducing four major discussion topics: first, a picture of a successful school;

second, an analysis of the barriers to effective schooling in the United States: third, a

strategy for transforming the educational system at all level with particular emphasis on

the state level; and fourth, the relationship between their proposed strategy and other

educational reform issues and proposals (p. 235).

       The authors use two primary sources of evidence to support their argument: the

educational research about the effectiveness of current education polices and observations

about the development of policy systems in different states around the country. The

research cited in the chapter draws from a wide range of scholars who have extensive

experience and credibility within the field of educational reform and educational policy.

In particular, the work of D. Cohen, L.Cuban, L. Darling-Hammond, R. Elmore, P.

Peterson, L. Resnick, and G. Sykes were noteworthy because they were identified as

leaders in the field when I was completing my doctoral program at Michigan State

University (1989-1994). The observational data is drawn from the research conducted by

the authors, their professional experiences in the field of education reform and policy,

and an extensive review of the literature in the field. The authors do not provide specific

citations for their observational data; however, the Acknowledgements, the Notes, and

the extensive Reference list confirm the validity and authenticity of the observational

information presented.




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Assessment of Strength and Weaknesses

       The strength of this chapter lies in the authors’ ability to present a comprehensive

plan, based on solid research and convincing observational data, for the implementation

of a dual strategy focused on increasing the quality of education for all students in all

schools. The authors effectively weave together notable research findings (current for the

time) and detailed observations into the four sections of the chapter. The sections

provide the reader with a vision of a “successful school,” a discussion of the barriers that

have prevented the creation of “successful schools,” followed by a possible strategy for

transforming the educational systems at all levels in most areas across the county. As an

experienced K-12 educator, researcher, and professional development consultant, I

support the authors’ assessment of the barriers that have prevented all schools from

becoming “successful schools.” The lack of specific numerical data and statistics from

actual statewide programs makes it difficult for me to disagree or question the evidence

provided by the authors.

       Since the purpose of this chapter was to address the “issues of the generalizability

and the content of productive and enlightened school reform,” the authors provide only

generalizable evidence and global observations that are applicable to all states and all

schools (p.234). The lack of specific examples of how the implementation of this

comprehensive strategy has resulted in the creation of “successful schools” with high

quality student achievement by all students is a weakness. I realize that it was not the

intent of the authors to provide specific evidence, in the form of state-level numerical

data or case studies. An example of how their model would produce a change at the

classroom level would strengthen their argument and convince many readers (myself




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included) that their proposal could improve the quality of education for students in all

schools and all states.

Implication for policy Design or Implementation:

       If I had read this article in 1991, I would be less skeptical than I am today and

perhaps more optimistic that a systemic state-level strategy could and would transform

the system at all levels of the K-12 education. At the present time, California is

implementing many of the components of the model proposed by Smith and O’Day and

doing so with the State as the “critical actor.” We do have State adopted Content

Frameworks and Content Standards that are used for the selection of textbooks and

curriculum materials and the development of the current assessment system. The

“Learning to Teach System” (SB 2042), adopted in 1998, will be fully implemented by

2003 and requires changes in the credentialing process to strengthen the ability of new

teachers to help all students demonstrate high levels of academic achievement. The State

Department of Education, the California Commission on Teacher credentialing and the

State Legislature are working together and appear to be implementing programs and

policies that are consistent and interconnected.

       Unfortunately, I am still doubtful that state-level initiatives will change what

happens at the classroom level where the real teaching and learning occurs. The State of

California is in financial crisis and unable to adequately fund many of the policies

designed to improve educational for all students. We likewise have the greatest shortage

of “high qualified teachers” in the fifty states and the most diverse student population in

the country. The complex mix of educational issues facing this State (and perhaps all

states) continues to create administrative, governance, resource and policy barriers that




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prevent effective educational reform from occurring in all schools. I agree with the

authors that the states must be one of the “critical actors” in the reform movement. They

are not, however, the only critical actors. Teacher, administrators, school board

members, parents, business and industry and the voting public must also become critical

actors if we are to ensure that all students in the State of California have a high quality

education.




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