A Delicate Balance: District Policies and Classroom Practice

Lauren E. Allen, Eric Osthoff, Paula White, and Judy Swanson, Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform

This qualitative study provides commentary from school administrators, principals and teachers on the disconnect between districts' lofty reform agendas and teachers' understanding of how to translate them into everyday practice. After examining curricular reforms in three districts (Chicago, Milwaukee and Seattle), the authors conclude that front-line educators need more resources and support to implement superintendents' policies and improve instruction. So far, so good; policy makers are unwise to ignore the wisdom and experience of teachers and principals.  But for such a promising premise, the report disappoints greatly as it evolves into a screed against standardized testing. One Chicago principal complains, "We are taking tests all the time...The emphasis on testing is one that I sometimes question because the day that the children have to take the test - it's like a judgment day...you have to look at the whole child." In fact, the authors draw a sharp line between "improving instruction" and district administrators' "relentless focus on increasing standardized test scores." Perhaps for their next report the Cross City Campaign should visit some of the charter schools - such as KIPP, Amistad Academy, and NorthStar - that show how improving instruction and raising achievement can go hand-in-hand. The report weighs in at 104 pages, but you can glean the most important (if dubious) points from the slim executive summary. Both are available here.

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