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How Do We Get More Good Schools?

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How Do We Get More Good Schools?

Larry Cuban

In his third and last Sachs Lecture, Professor Larry Cuban said what really matters in public schools "is not the promise of success but doing something that is worthwhile." He called for "restoring the centrality of civic engagement to American public schools and reducing social inequities," which he said is worthwhile work.

While setting out other criteria for "good schools," Cuban zeroed in on the fundamental purpose of tax-supported schooling in the U.S., which has been to produce literate, self-reliant, socially responsible graduates who display democratic behaviors and attitudes.

"When I use grand phrases like ?self-reliant adults' and ?democratic attitudes,' listeners desperately try to stifle yawns. It seems so boring to note the strong linkage between public schools and voting, serving on juries, and joining neighbors to improve a community. Boring or not, these behaviors are the forms of civic engagement that most Americans, regardless of their views about goodness in schools, desire for themselves and their children."

In defining democratic attitudes and behaviors, Cuban listed:

  • Participation in, and willingness to serve local and national communities.

  • Open-mindedness to different opinions and a willingness to listen to such opinions.

  • Respect for values that differ from one's own.

  • Treating individuals decently and fairly, regardless of background.

  • A commitment to reason through problems and struggle toward openly-arrived at compromises.

    "What matters in judging whether schools are ?good,' then, is not whether they are progressive, community-based, or traditional, but whether they are discharging their primary duty to provide a common education in helping students think and act democratically," Cuban said.

    But how can educators, parents, and taxpayers ever determine whether schools have achieved these important outcomes and are "good" schools? Cuban set out his criteria for "good" schools. They are:

  • Are parents, staff, and students satisfied with what occurs in the school?

  • Is the school achieving the explicit goals that it has set for itself?

  • Are democratic behaviors, values, and attitudes evident in the students?

    What, then, is the answer to the question of how to get more ?good' schools?

    According to Cuban, "Pursue civic engagement as the primary purpose of tax-supported public schooling; cultivate a variety of ?good' schools to respond to the academic, social, motivational, and individual diversity among students; encourage decentralization, local autonomy and parental choice to become the basis for producing a bumper crop of ?good' schools."

    "These are my answers to the question of how to get more ?good' schools. Improving urban schools requires community-based, economic, and social reforms. What I propose, of course, is out of sync with current trends toward state and national centralization of authority over local schools and standardization of curriculum, management and organization. What I propose is also out of sync with current reform thinking that schools are solely responsible for academic achievement."

    Nevertheless, Cuban calls for mobilizing reform efforts outside of schools in tandem with in-school reforms to get at the sources of the test score gap between whites and minority students.

    "Current efforts at state litigation to secure more funding for schools enrolling low-income minority children, expanding federal housing vouchers to let poor families relocate to suburbs, and providing adequately-paying jobs for the working poor are only a few out-of-school initiatives that need broader political support."

    Cuban was emphatic when he said, "the long-term evidence of a positive linkage between desegregation and academic achievement, between decreasing poverty and test scores can no longer be ignored by school reformers."

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