Horace’s Mailbox: On ‘Lessons Learned’

To the Editor:

There’s too much wisdom here [“What Works, What Doesn’t: Lessons Learned from Essential School Reform,” HORACE Vol. 9, No. 2] for it to be lost in the telling. And too much need for reformers to understand what we could do wrong and hence participate in undoing what we are specifically trying to do.

Isn’t there some sense of order to be made from your “jottings from the field”? Don’t your “jottings” also include what to do first? And what to reveal early? And what not to reveal until it’s an inescapable pattern? Then what to do second?

Yes, support from “all key stakeholders” is key to a firm start; but in what way? Support for a goal, yes? Support for change to reach the goal, yes? But support for system change based on requirements of the goal, no? For example, key stakeholders wouldn’t agree to a new goal if they understood how deep and how sweeping are the changes which need to be made.

There’s no reason at all, for instance, for the vast majority of school administrators to welcome the change which would have clerks assigned to handle bus schedules, building use permits, purchasing, and budget control, and for them, instead, to deal primarily with cutting-edge academic concerns. But it is possible, of course, to get support for leadership in each building to be given time and support to keep on the cutting edge of change, even from administrators bogged down in clerk-like chores and sure to lose their jobs to creative, problem-solving thinkers.

In other words, to get “support of all key stakeholders” subtlety is required. Perhaps you think you cannot say such things in a newsletter going to the field; but you have to. We need specific guidance. You know a heck of a lot more than you tell us, and you leave out the parts which will make our work succeed.

Cynthia Parsons
Coordinator ConserVermont
Students in Community Service
Chester, Vermont

To the Editor:

I think the latest issue [Vol. 9, No. 2] is the best single issue of HORACE I’ve read. The issues you address are critically important for all of us in education to read and understand.

It has long seemed to me that educators have been foolishly remiss in not being better historians — we have not paid attention to past efforts at reform, and we continue to pay a high price for that neglect.

The School Ethnography Project, and your efforts to publicize it, are very significant as we struggle to improve our schools. I hope that those working in the Clinton administration will heed all that is being learned from the Coalition.

Congratulations on producing such a clearly written and important journal.

Alan Guma
Assistant Headmaster
The Dalton School
New York, New York