Learning Policy

Learning Policy: When State Education Reform Works

DAVID K. COHEN
HEATHER C. HILL
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1nq0dz
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  • Book Info
    Learning Policy
    Book Description:

    Education reformers and policymakers argue that improved students' learning requires stronger academic standards, stiffer state tests, and accountability for students' scores. Yet these efforts seem not to be succeeding in many states. The authors of this important book argue that effective state reform depends on conditions which most reforms ignore: coherence in practice as well as policy and opportunities for professional learning.The book draws on a decade's detailed study of California's ambitious and controversial program to improve mathematics teaching and learning. Researchers David Cohen and Heather Hill report that state policy influenced teaching and learning when there was consistency among the tests and other policy instruments; when there was consistency among the curricula and other instruments of classroom practice; and when teachers had substantial opportunities to learn the practices proposed by the policy.These conditions were met for a minority of elementary school teachers in California. When the conditions were met for teachers, students had higher scores on state math tests. The book also shows that, for most teachers, the reform ended with consistency in state policy. They did not have access to consistent instruments of classroom practice, nor did they have opportunities to learn the new practices which state policymakers proposed. In these cases, neither teachers nor their students benefited from the state reform. This book offers insights into the ways policy and practice can be linked in successful educational reform and shows why such linkage has been difficult to achieve. It offers useful advice for practitioners and policymakers seeking to improve education, and to analysts seeking to understand it.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13334-9
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 POLICY, TEACHING, AND LEARNING
    (pp. 1-12)

    America is alive with efforts to improve its schools. Governors, state legislatures, business leaders, presidents, members of Congress, and educators have all urged improvement of schools through reform legislation and new academic standards and assessments. This remarkable reform effort began with the publication ofA Nation at Riskin the early 1980s and has grown ever since. Standards-based reforms have been enacted in most states, and several states took quite aggressive action. By the early 1990s, school improvement was a leading political issue in many states; most had enacted new standards, and many had tried to put schemes into place...

  6. Chapter 2 THE NEW NEW MATH IN CALIFORNIA
    (pp. 13-30)

    California’s attempt at reform was as inventive as it was ambitious. One reason was that the reformers worked from a weak base. Politically, the state government’s influence on local schools was modest, and its technical and professional capacity to encourage and support local change was meager. If reform was to have much effect in classroom practice, something more than the standard approach would be required. That led state officials and professionals outside government to collaborate in devising several unusual approaches to linking policy and practice.

    Reformers’ ambitions were another reason that the reforms were innovative. They wanted to greatly improve...

  7. Chapter 3 LEARNING ABOUT REFORM
    (pp. 31-56)

    California reformers argued that teachers’ conventional practice and superficial treatment of mathematics were central reasons that students’ mathematics learning was so routine and mechanical. Teachers would have to perform quite differently if students’ learning was to improve. If teachers were to teach as the framework proposed, however, and if most teaching was as conventional as reformers argued, implementation of the state reform would depend on many teachers learning a great deal (Cohen and Barnes 1993; Guthrie 1990). According to this view, teachers were both a source of the policy problem and a key to its solution. Their learning could turn...

  8. Chapter 4 TEACHERS’ IDEAS AND PRACTICES
    (pp. 57-86)

    California teachers had an unusual range of opportunities to learn. Public and private agencies deployed several innovative instruments to encourage professionals’ learning, meanwhile using several others that were more conventional. These opportunities varied considerably in depth and extent. Though many elementary teachers had a range of relatively modest opportunities to learn about what reform might entail for classrooms, a much smaller number had relatively more substantial opportunities to learn.

    The fact that teachers had some opportunities to learn about the new state math policy, however, tells us nothing about what they learned, nor does it tell us whether teachers used...

  9. Chapter 5 TEACHERS’ OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN AND CLASSROOM PRACTICE
    (pp. 87-126)

    Teachers responded differently to the new mathematics policy. The evidence that we have presented so far suggests that some teachers used new curricula and instructional practices in their classroom, but others did not. Some seemed to invest heavily in the reforms, but others invested much less. Many teachers adopted some reform ideas but rejected others. In traditional approaches to studying implementation this policy might be judged part success and part failure, as many teachers moved a short way, and others further, toward implementation.

    In this chapter we propose another way to gauge the success of this policy. We ask whether...

  10. Chapter 6 LEARNING AND POLICY
    (pp. 127-152)

    The chief reason reformers sought to change mathematics teaching was to improve mathematics learning. We have shown that California’s mathematics reform was a learning policy in the sense that some teachers learned new classroom practices. We now take the next step in probing the effects of instructional policy and ask whether California’s mathematics reform became a learning policy in the sense that students’ learning improved. Reformers aimed at this effect and designed their efforts with it in mind. They created and distributed new student curriculum units, encouraged professional development around these units, and used the state assessment program to prompt...

  11. Chapter 7 MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
    (pp. 153-182)

    Teachers are not independent operators; they work in schools and districts, complex organizations situated within states, professions, markets for schooling, and the like. These organizations could encourage or inhibit the sorts of change the California mathematics policy sought to effect. That is especially important because the success story we have told thus far was atypical. The policy did lead to the creation of new opportunities for teachers to learn, rooted either in improved student curriculum or in examples of students’ work, or both; but only a modest fraction of California elementary teachers—roughly 10 percent—had those opportunities. Most other...

  12. Chapter 8 POLICY AND LEARNING
    (pp. 183-190)

    Research has not been a source of great hope about policymakers’ efforts to improve schools. Most studies report failures of implementation and insubstantial effects on classroom practice. This study departs from that pattern, for we found significant positive effects of California’s effort to improve mathematics teaching and learning. Those effects did not occur across the board, though. The policy had a range of influences on classrooms, depending on the ways in which it was mediated by arrangements that professionals created. In order to understand the influences, we had to distinguish those arrangements.

    Two things enabled us to do that. One...

  13. Appendixes
    (pp. 191-204)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 205-212)
  15. REFERENCES
    (pp. 213-220)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 221-226)