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Ted Sizer: Schools and school systems should always be in flux

The final chapter in “Those Who Dared,” which I’ve been excerpting all week, is by Ted Sizer, the education policy giant whose influence was palpable during my stint at Brown University’s education department, where he held an appointment for many years as the head of Brown’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform. Sizer also founded the Coalition of Essential Schools, a national network of progressive schools that includes two dozen schools in New York City.

In his essay, Sizer consolidated his life’s work into four major lessons learned, and I am sharing those. For those who are concerned that yesterday’s announcement of an internal reshuffling at the city Department of Education is a sign of trouble ahead, keep in mind Sizer’s third lesson:

Lessons learned? First, that an idea, or ideas, can drive reform and the practice that reflects that reform. One does not need specific “practices” that are to be learned and “put into place” (in unlovely contemporary jargon).

Second, that there is both joy and challenge in this sort of effort to knock off soem of the professional barnacles that all of us professionals inevitably get. (“This is what we do. We must do it. If we do not do it, we will jeopardize our jobs and may tangle with our union contract.”)

There can never be a permanent “pure” design of a school (or school system). All must be in movement, gathering the best of emerging experience and new research.

Fourth, that strong organizations can ally with other such enterprises sharing common commitments.

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