Sunday, March 20, 2011

Elmore (1996): Getting to scale with good educational practice

Elmore, R. F. (1996). Getting to scale with good educational practice. Harvard Educational Review, 66 (1), 1-26.

Abstract: How can good educational practice move beyond pockets of excellence to reach a much greater proportion of students and educators? While many children and young adults in school districts and communities around the country have long benefited from the tremendous accomplishments of successful teachers, school, and programs, replicating this success on a larger scale has proven to be a difficult and vexing issue. In this article, Richard Elmore addresses this problem by analyzing the role of school organization and incentive structures in thwarting large-scale adoption of innovative practices close to the "core" of educational practice. Elmore then reviews evidence from two attempts at large-scale school reform in the past — the progressive movement and the National Science Foundation curriculum reform projects - to evaluate his claims that ambitious large-scale school reform efforts, under current conditions, will be ineffective and transient. He concludes with four detailed recommendations for addressing the issue of scale in improving practice in education.


1. Develop strong external normative structures for practice (p.18)

2. Develop organizational structures that intensify and focus, rather than dissipate and scatter, intrinsic motivation to engage in challenging practice. (p.19)

3. Create intentional processes for reproduction of successes (p.20)

4. Create structures that promote learning of new practices and incentive systems that support them. (p24)

"Evaluations of the NSF-sponsored curriculum development projects generally conclude that their effects were broad but shallow. Hundreds of thousands of teachers and curriculum directors were trained in summer institutes. Tens of thousands of curriculum units were disseminated. Millions of students were exposed to at least some product or by-product of the various projects. In a few schools and school systems, teachers and administrators made concerted efforts to transform curriculum and teaching in accord with the new ideas, but in most instances the results looked like what Cuban (1984) found in his study of progressive teaching practices: A weak, diluted, hybrid form emerged in some settings in which new curricula were shoe-horned into old practices, and, in most secondary classrooms, the curricula had no impact on teaching and learning at all. While the curriculum development projects produced valuable materials that are still a resource to many teachers and shaped peoples’ conceptions of the possibilities of secondary science curriculum, their tangible impact on the core of U.S. schooling has been negligible (Elmore, 1993; Stake & Easely, 1978)." (p13)

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