As a wise old superintendent used to say, “A school board isn’t a governing body, at all; it’s a parade.” And you know as well as I do that school board members aren’t the only ones marching off into the sunset.

I worry, for example, about what will become of the bold initiatives now under way in San Diego (see our Special Report, “Reinventing Education”), now that Superintendent Terry Grier is heading off to Houston.

Leaders wander, but what never seems to stray is the entrenched special interests, those legions who perceive their security and fortunes comfortably cocooned in the way things have always been. Such legionnaires–in management as well as labor, and in the community as well as the academy–have for a hundred years succeeded in thwarting ubiquitous school reform.

All these forces are still present and accounted for. So what’s new now? Two things are different, it seems to me. First, a consensus now exists in every quarter that things must change. That, by itself, can’t carry the day, but it doesn’t hurt.

The second thing is what technology now allows. Hardware, software, the internet, and the whole nine yards now enable learning to snap the constraint of the status quo. Thanks to rapidly developing and swiftly proliferating technologies, the hidebound sticks in the mud that have always managed to beat reform to a standstill eventually will be powerless to thwart it. The avalanche of change already can be heard rumbling in the distance, and short of doomsday, I don’t think it can be stopped.

Terry M. Moe and John E. Chubb in their new book called Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education spell it out:

“What sets technology apart from other sources of reform is that . . . it also has a far-reaching capacity to change politics–and to eat away, relentlessly and effectively, at the political barriers that have long prevented reform. Technology, then, is a double-barreled agent of change. It generates the innovations that make change attractive, and at the same time it undermines the political resistance that would normally prevent change from happening. It pushes for change–and opens the political gates.

“This is not to say that the triumph of technology will come easily, because it won’t. There will be struggles and setbacks, and the process will take decades. But the forces of resistance will ultimately be overcome, leading to a transformation of the American school system. This will mean real improvement, and real benefits for the nation and its children. It will also mean something still more profound: the dawning of a new era in which politics is more open, productive ideas are more likely to flourish–and learning is liberated from the dead hand of the past.”


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