Confessions of a College Reformer, a brand new guide by emeritus Stanford schooling professor Larry Cuban, nonetheless going robust at eighty-eight, combines private memoir with a historical past and evaluation of U.S. college reform efforts over the previous century, searching for to point out how his personal life and profession have been entangled with that historical past and the teachings he has drawn from that junction. It’s an formidable endeavor that’s finally illuminating and sobering.
The private saga is attention-grabbing so far as it goes, not a lot as a result of Cuban held a lot of high-wattage jobs—seven years as Arlington, Virginia, superintendent was essentially the most highly effective—however as a result of his entanglement with ed-reform has spanned all three of what he depicts as its main eras, and his reflections on what they did and didn’t obtain are price taking severely.
The kid of working-class Jewish immigrants from Czarist Russia, he attended public faculties in Pittsburgh through the despair and World Struggle II and was the primary in his household to attend school. All through these youth, he was surrounded by the progressivism—old style progressivism, not immediately’s model—that dominated American schooling on the time and that comprised the primary of the three reform eras. Boyhood recollections embody loads of “hands-on, learning-by-doing” in lecture rooms, and his time on the College of Pittsburgh’s college of schooling included a lot Dewey, together with that influential thinker’s elegant confidence that schooling is a strong engine for reforming society itself. But as Cuban displays on his personal schooling, he’s powerfully struck—a key theme of this guide—by how way more influential in a single’s life are forces apart from formal college and the extent to which education is itself formed by the forces round it:
[T]he inescapable truth stays that over 80 % of kids’s and youngsters’ waking time is spent exterior of faculty, within the household, the neighborhood, the corporate of pals, spiritual settings, and the office. Too usually, I consider, formal education…is given way more weight than it deserves in assessing how kids and youngsters develop into adults. Household, pals, and bigger occasions go properly past formal education in shaping character and conduct over a lifetime. Life educates.
Section two, each for ed-reform and for Cuban, was the civil rights motion, which he associates with the Nineteen Fifties by Seventies. It was then that he taught highschool historical past in de facto segregated Cleveland and in a Washington, D.C., scuffling with the challenges of ending de jure segregation. Whereas within the nation’s capital, Cuban additionally stepped into roles as a grasp instructor, within the central workplace’s workers growth workplace, and for a time, within the federal authorities’s Civil Rights Fee. Reflecting on these years, with what appears like a mix of honesty and sorrow, he recollects being:
[F]illed with a ardour to show historical past and assist college students discover their area of interest on the planet whereas working towards making a greater society. That assured Deweyan perception within the energy of faculties (and sure, lecturers, too) to reform society introduced me to Washington, D.C., in 1963…. Trying again, I see way more clearly now…that nationwide political, financial, and social occurrences (e.g., recession, conflict, presidential adjustments) rippled throughout districts and faculties, additional weakening my preliminary beliefs that higher faculties might make a greater society. As a substitute, I realized that societal results flowed over districts, faculties, and lecture rooms. I had the causal path mistaken: Societal adjustments alter faculties way over faculties remake society.
Cuban went on to the Arlington superintendency, which lasted till native political shifts turned out the liberal school-board majority that had employed him and changed them with “a set of political conservatives whose appointments had been aimed toward a set of insurance policies totally different from those that earlier boards and I had adopted.” County leaders now wished a “low-profile, fiscally cautious superintendent” who would curb prices and never rock boats.
So Cuban and his household headed west, the place he picked up a doctorate from Stanford, grew to become pals with the distinguished schooling historian David Tyack, and launched into a brand new life as college professor and prolific creator. (Maybe his finest recognized guide, coauthored with Tyack, was 1995’s Tinkering Towards Utopia: A Century of Public College Reform.)
By then, as Cuban sees it, America had emerged from its civil rights period and entered into the third part of schooling reform, which envelopes us nonetheless. He typically calls it the “standards-based reform motion” and typically “systemic reform,” and (to my shock) he contains college alternative in its many flavors beneath that heading together with requirements, testing, and college accountability. Apart from vouchers, he writes, that mode of ed reform, “initially pushed by enterprise leaders, was largely embraced by states and districts by the early 2000s,” then grew to become “de facto nationwide coverage” with NCLB and ESSA, and “its life span as a reform motion now challenges the half-century reign of Progressive schooling.”
In Cuban’s view, this model of reform, like its predecessors, maintains the “over-confident expectation that formal schooling will remodel society in accordance with the reformers’ blueprint”:
Public confidence in what faculties can do for each people and communities has grown prior to now decade, even through the Covid-19 disaster. Such rising public confidence—an all-important political truth—reveals once more a cast-iron religion in faculties as escalators taking people to the place they wish to go and, of equal significance, as an avenue for renewing these American beliefs discovered within the Declaration of Independence.
But Cuban now not buys it. What he’s realized over an extended, full profession, each from the on-the-ground parts and from a substantial interval in academe, “has blended into a mixture of what faculties can and can’t do in a decentralized nationwide system of education pushed by an abiding religion in faculties as an all-purpose solvent for particular person, institutional, and societal issues.”
The brief model is that “faculties, somewhat than altering a capitalist democratic society, replicate it.” He’s not saying they don’t matter. Children be taught heaps beneath their roofs that they should know by the use of expertise and information. Incremental change in education stays potential and, Cuban believes, will proceed. (He cites ongoing tech-driven improvements as examples.) However the fundamentals haven’t modified a lot and aren’t prone to. “Progressives, civil rights reformers, and standards-based promoters have all left their thumbprints on public faculties, but, within the remaining evaluation, these fervent reformers modified solely floor options….” And with the core parts of education as we all know it, additionally basically unchanged, go the sturdy societal issues—inequality, mediocrity, and many others.—that led to these reform actions within the first place.
This sober-verging-on-glum evaluation can’t be termed encouraging, however it’s primarily based on quite a lot of expertise, reflection, and hard-won knowledge. Chances are you’ll wish to see for your self.