Chris Lehmann on In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization

I read Deborah Meier’s In Schools We Trust for the first time in 2005 as I was starting Science Leadership Academy. As someone embarking on my career as a principal and school founder, the book was a bible to me. Reading the book was to engage what I can only call “Cheer Reading” as I found myself underlining, writing notes, and often bothering my wife to read aloud to her because I just had to share what Deborah had written with someone.

I wish I could say that, thirteen years after its publication, In Schools We Trust has become the accepted wisdom – that create small communities of learning where students and adults (teachers, admins, parents alike) work together to make schools more authentic, more democratic, more empowering, but we know that it has not. In fact, to re-read In Schools We Trust today is to be reminded of its vibrancy, and the boldness and importance of the vision of school and society that Deborah has laid out for us.

Deborah Meier has given us a gift with In Schools We Trust. It is a powerful mix of policy and pedagogy that urges us every day to make the kinds of changes at every level–school, district, governmental–that will make schools more powerful places for the children we serve.

Chris Lehmann is the founding principal of Science Leadership Academy and the School District of Philadelphia’s Assistant Superintendent for the Innovative Network. He’s also the co-author of Building School 2.0: How to Create the Schools We Need and dad to Jakob and Theo.

In Schools We Trust


In 2002, Deborah Meier published In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization, her follow-up to The Power of Their Ideas. In Schools We Trust‘s scope broadens from the daily work at Meier’s schools in New York City to the broad American education landscape, looking at those factors that could create or are impeding opportunities for “small and rooted” school communities able to provide meaningful teaching and learning to all young people. Meier uses trust as her lens, particularly noting the ways that standardized testing–which as the result of No Child Left Behind’s adoption–was rapidly depleting trust in teachers, students, and families. After analyzing testing’s deleterious effects on education, access, and equity, Meier concludes with ways to scale up the successes that emerged from the small schools movement, and with an entreaty to keep democracy at the center of public education.