Teacher Collaboration: The Missing Link in School Reform

The Missing Link in School Reform is a must read. Using research, Carrie R. Leana identifies the predominant ideology (human capital) in public school reform (Power of the Individual; Wisdom of the Outsider; Principal as Instructional Leader) and outlines the reality (social capital) of how sustained, successful reform (The Power of the Collective; Reform from Within; and Principal as Protector) can be designed.

She writes:

These three beliefs—in the power of teacher human capital, the value of outsiders, and the centrality of the principal in instructional practice—form the implicit or explicit core of many reform efforts today. Unfortunately, all three beliefs are rooted more in conventional wisdom and political sloganeering than in strong empirical research. Together they constitute what I call the ideology of school reform. And although this, like all ideology, may bring us comfort in the face of uncertainty and failure, it is unhelpful and perhaps dangerous if it leads us to pursue policies that will not bring about sustained success. Our research suggests that there is some truth to the predominant ideology. Teacher competence does affect student learning. Outsiders can bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm to tired systems. And principals do have a role in reform efforts. At the same time, our findings strongly suggest that in trying to improve public schools we are overselling the role of human capital and innovation from the top, while greatly undervaluing the benefits of social capital and stability at the bottom.


Her findings will not surprise teachers, who are very often marginalized from school reform policy development and understand the power of collaboration. However, the results may cause those who hold the predominant ideology to become defensive and dismissive.

What are your thoughts? Do the research results surprise you? Would you add another item to the list of successful school reform based on social capital?

Running the digital river of learning with you,

Emily Vickery

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