Printable syllabus – REVISED


Through this course, I hope to enable people from many different backgrounds to develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that can help them to make productive contributions to the design, pursuit, and assessment of school improvement efforts of all kinds. Although the course is designed primarily for students at Teachers College, I am also exploring ways that the course might continue to serve as a source of support as alumni from the course move on in their careers. For example, this semester we are experimenting with using a public wordpress blog as the main course website so that current students, as well as alumni and others interested in issues of school design and educational change can have access to course discussions, resources, and activities. Correspondingly, I expect to send out an email to course alumni inviting them to check out the site and follow along if they’d like to, and I will also be inviting last year’s students to share some of their school designs with this year’s students. At the same time, with the help of Deirdre Faughey who will serve as TA, over the past year, we are trying to make the course more self-directed for students and experimenting with ways to incorporate more online activities. Thus, I’m approaching this year’s course as a pilot that could lead to the development of something like a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) in the future.


This effort has several important implications for students: First, although this is a pilot, supporting the learning and development of the students enrolled in the course remains the primary concern. In many ways, the changes are inspired by previous experiences with the course that have reinforced my belief that one semester of work can provide an important foundation for learning but that long-term learning and reflection is also required in order to achieve the goals of the course. Second, because of all the changes being made at the same time, the course this year will only be offered pass/fail. Students who complete the requirements for the course outlined in the syllabus will receive a passing grade. Third, I hope that the course is engaging and challenging, but I also expect it will be a lot of work for all of us and will require some flexibility and patience as we experiment with new technologies, activities, and assignments. Fourth, I also hope students will contribute to the shaping and development of the course and share their reflections, ideas and feedback (in constructive and productive ways) throughout the semester and in the future. Finally, students should be aware that the class blog and other aspects of the course will be public. This may also include videos of “mini-lectures”, in-class activities, and discussions, which might be posted online. We are currently exploring what kinds of permissions might be required for these kinds of activities, but please let us know if you have any questions or concerns about these possibilities, and we will be happy to discuss them with you. Students can take this course without making their work public or being video-taped; and whether or not students choose to grant permission for public, non-commercial uses of their work will have no bearing on the assessment of their performance or their ability to get credit for the course.


Course Goals

Broadly, the purpose of this course is to support the development of more effective school improvement efforts, including efforts to improve existing schools as well as efforts to create new schools and new forms of schooling. To fulfill this purpose, the course is designed to help students develop their capacity to contribute productively to school improvement initiatives in a variety of educational contexts. Specifically, I hope the course will help students:


  • Develop their awareness of some of the key issues and debates in school improvement
  • Deepen their understanding of why some improvement efforts have led to changes in schools while others have not
  • Build the skills and abilities they need to analyze the underlying logic of school improvement efforts; to explain how those efforts work (and, often, fail to work as designed); and to design productive schools and school improvement efforts of their own
  • Develop the dispositions and sensibilities that enable them to advance constructive discussions and debates about school improvement more widely


To achieve these goals, the course is designed in two sections. The first section provides a general introduction to some of the key issues and concerns in past and current school improvement efforts in the United States. The second section provides an overview of some of the main aspects of school design.  To guide the work in the course, the readings and assignments are also organized to shed light on several key questions related to school change and school design:


  • What is change? Why do some things change and not others?
  • What are some of the key theories of action underlying previous and current approaches to learning, schooling, and change?
  • What are your theories of action about learning, schooling and change?
  • What are the problems and missing elements of predominant theories of action? Of your theories of action?


Through the investigation of questions like these, students will have opportunities to develop their understanding of the school improvement efforts of others as well as to develop their own perspectives and approaches to learning, schooling, and school improvement.


Primary Responsibilities

Primary responsibilities for students include:


  • Regular and constructive participation in class and in class activities
  • Participation as a “discussion leader” for one class (including posting a short reflection and discussion question before class and a brief discussion summary after class)
  • Completion of a personal letter or reflective journal entry (3-4 pages) describing their vision of an “ideal” school
  • Production of a critique of an organizational improvement effort or of a policy or program related to school improvement (4-5 pages) and feedback on the critiques of 2-3 classmates
  • Development of a design for a school in collaboration with a small group of peers and feedback on a draft of one peer design
  • A reflection on their work in the course, what they will take away from the course, and ways the course could be improved in the future


Students will also be expected to post the work they produce in an online folder (password protected through Blackboard).



All required and recommended readings will be available on electronic course reserves, but students are also highly encouraged to buy Tyack & Cuban’s Tinkering Toward Utopia from online or other sources. Students will also be asked to read a book related to learning and might want to consider getting access to a copy of their book of choice early in the semester. A number of chapters from my book Managing to Change are included as recommended readings. It is not necessary to buy the book, but those who are interested may be able to find it for sale online. Similarly, we will read several chapters from Cohen & Moffit’s The ordeal of equality, but the rest of the book is also relevant for the class, particularly for those who are not familiar with, or have a particular interest in, the history of federal education policy in the United States.


Class Schedule

Please bring a laptop/ipad that you can use for work in each class


Part 1 – Key issues and concerns in school reform and school change


September 3rd: Why change? Why not?

Overview of the course and introduction to key issues in school change


September 10th: What’s involved in change?

The nature of change and the complexity of the “change process.”


Students should read both chapters by ONE of the following authors:

Christensen, C., Horn, M., & Johnson, C. (2008). “Why schools struggle to teach differently” & “Making the Shift: Schools Meet Society’s Needs.” In
Disrupting Class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the world. New York: McGraw Hill.


Fullan, M. (2007). “The meaning of educational change” & “Insights into the change process.” In The new meaning of educational change. Teachers College Press.


Hargreaves, A., & Shirley, D. (2009). “The crisis of educational change” & “The paradox of innovation and improvement.” In The global fourth way: The quest for educational excellence.   Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press


Senge, P. (1990). “The laws of the fifth discipline” & “The art of seeing the forest and the trees.” In The fifth discipline. New York: Doubleday.


For additional background, explore other chapters/works by your author


Due: 3-4 page Ideal school descriptions


September 17th: What has changed? What hasn’t?

A brief history of key events and issues in school reform: “Incremental” vs. “radical” change; how reforms change schools and schools change reforms; predictable failures; and the grammar of schooling.



Tyack, D. & Cuban, L. (1995). Tinkering toward utopia: A century of public school reform. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Chapters 1-4.



Hatch, T. (2009). “It takes capacity to build capacity” & “Changing conditions, changing times.” Chapters 1 & 2 from Managing to change: How schools can survive (and sometimes thrive) in turbulent times. New York: Teachers College Press.

Kober, N. & Usher, A. (2012). A public education primer. Washington D.C.: Center on Education Policy


September 24th: What should change?

An examination of the theories and assumptions behind school reform efforts.



Hatch, T. (1998). “The differences in theory that matter in the practice of school improvement,” American Journal of Education 35: 3-31.

Cohen, D. K., & Moffit, S. (2009). “Title 1” & “Epilogue” (pp. 179-231) in The ordeal of equality: Did federal regulation fix the schools? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Recommended: Coffman, J. (1999). Learning from logic models: An example of a family/school partnership program. Cambridge MA: Harvard Family Research Project.


Due in class: 1-page description of an organizational improvement effort with which you are familiar (ideally one you participated in, but, if you don’t have a personal experience to draw upon, talk to me about the options for critiquing an improvement program or state or federal policy). These descriptions should also serve as the basis for the critique due later in the semester.


October 1st : How can schools change?

An exploration of the theories behind a variety of approaches that seek to redesign schools and/or learning (such as Core Knowledge, Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound, KIPP, the Big Picture Company)



Websites and selected program documents and evaluation reports from Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound, KIPP, and possibly other school designs or charter management organizations


October 8th: Why don’t schools change? The perils and the promise of school reform.

A consideration of key critiques of the problems with current reform efforts.



Cohen, David (1990). “A revolution in one classroom: The case of Mrs. Oublier.” Educational Evaluation Policy Analysis, 12.

Elmore, R. (2003). “Change and improvement in education.” In David Gordon (Ed.). A Nation reformed? Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.

Payne, C. (2008). “I don’t want your nasty pot of gold From social demoralization to organizational irrationality” In So much reform, so little change. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Recommended: Evans, R. (1996). “Reach and realism, experience and hope.” In The Human side of school change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 289-299.


Part II – How can we design new schools?


October 15th: What can new schools look like?


Exhibition of previous school designs



Selected school proposals and designs (TBD).

New York City New Schools Application process


Due: 4-5 page reform critiques.


Due in class: Lists of group members for school design project


October 22nd: Theories of learning

What theories of learning underlie the design of a school? What are the goals? How will they be achieved?


Students will be responsible for meeting on their own in “Book clubs”. Clubs/discussion groups can decide to meet together during class, at another time, and/or virtually.



Resnick, L. & Hall, M. (1998). “Learning organizations for sustainable organizational reform.” Daedulus, 127, 89-118.


And one of several books:

Garcia, O. & Kleifgen, J. A. (2010). Educating emergent bilinguals: Policies, programs, and practices for English Language Learners. NY: Teachers College Press.

Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

Hehir, T. & Katzman, L. (2012). Effective inclusive schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Jackson, Y. (2011). Pedagogy of confidence. New York: Teachers College Press.

Thomas, D. & Seely-Brown, J.S. (2011). A new culture of learning. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Tough, P. (2013). How children succeed. Mariner Books


October 29th: Purposes, key elements and approaches to school design

Why have a school? What purpose does it serve? Who does it serve? How will it be designed?



Darling-Hammond, L. (1997). “Structuring learner-centered schools” and “Staffing schools for teaching and learning.” In The right to learn. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 148-210.

Hatch, T. (2009). “Key practices for managing change.” Introduction to Part II in Managing to change: How schools can survive (and sometimes thrive) in turbulent times. New York: Teachers College Press. (Note: This introduction can be found at the end of Chapter 2 “Changing conditions, changing times”)


Hatch, T. (2009). “Developing common purposes and shared understanding.” Chapter 3 in Managing to change: How schools can survive (and sometimes thrive) in turbulent times. New York: Teachers College Press.

Meier, D. (1999). “Habits of mind: Democratic values and the creation of effective learning communities” in Common schools, uncommon futures: A working consensus for school renewal. New York: Teachers College Press.


Recommended for discuss in design teams: Draft description of proposed school’s purpose, location, and students/community




November 5th: Culture and Community, Professional Development; Or Assessment and Accountability


For the remaining classes, students will primarily work in their design groups on their school design and in working groups exploring issues of culture and community, professional development, or assessment and accountability. Students can choose which working group to join, but design group members are encouraged to spread out among the different working groups so that each design group can develop expertise in different areas.  Each week, all three working groups will meet at the same time and will be expected to read the readings associated with their working group. However, for simplicity’s sake, each topic and required readings are listed on a separate week on the syllabus.


Culture & Community:

What kind of school culture(s) reflect your purpose and the learning you hope to support? Who is your community? How are culture and community related?



Berger, R. “The radon project.” In A culture of quality. Providence, RI. Annenberg Institute for School Reform, 13-51.

Stoll, L. (1998). School culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin, 9.

Hatch, T. (1998). How community action contributes to achievement. Educational Leadership, 55(8), 16-19.

Warren, M., Hong, S., Rubin, C. & Uy, P. (2009). Beyond the bake sale: A community-based relational approach to Parent Engagement in Schools. Teachers College Record, 111(9), 2209-2254.


Evans, R. (2001) “The culture of resistance.” In L. Iura (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass reader on school reform. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Recommended for discussion in design teams: Initial draft/outline of the school’s curriculum.



November 12th:

Students can choose to complete readings on Community Organizing/Engagement; Professional Development; or Assessment & Accountability (readings are listed in the current syllabus but will be changed slightly)


Recommended for discussion in design teams: Initial draft/outline of the school’s curriculum & a (rough) estimate of the # of teachers needed


Due Monday November 17th at 6 PM: Drafts of the executive summary and supporting documents for key elements of the design (such as curriculum and instruction materials or hiring criteria and professional development plans, etc.)


November 19th:

Discussion of Initial Design Proposals.


Required: Executive summaries and supporting documents of group designs.


Due in class: Peer feedback for designs


November 26th:

No class (Thanksgiving)


December 3rd : Culture and Community, Professional Development; Or Assessment and Accountability (Cont.)


Readings TBD


Recommended for discuss in design teams: Drafts of staff development and assessment and accountability plans.


December 10th: Exhibitions

            Multimedia design exhibitions and discussions


Due in class: School designs


December 17th: No class


Due by 7 PM: Portfolios (with elements of the design completed and posted)


Due by 9 PM: Reflections


Structure of the assignments

Responses to all assignments should be posted to each student’s personal folder on Blackboard. School designs should be posted in their own folders.


Ideal school descriptions

These descriptions should describe your vision of an ideal school. What does it look like? Who will you find there? What are they doing? Why do you think this is ideal? Is this vision based on evidence, research, readings, your own experiences, your values, your imagination?

The descriptions can be produced in the form of letters, memos, reflective journal entries, multimedia or other formats; written products should be no longer than 3-4 pages. The products could be directed to your classmates or interested others; or you can choose to make this a personal reflection (recognizing that your classmates will also have access to it). Please upload your descriptions to the appropriate discussion forum on Blackboard and bring 3 hard copies to class or post a link to your work and prepare to share it in class.

This assignment is designed to give participants a chance to share their initial thoughts on schooling and school improvement and introduce themselves to the instructor and other class members. Participants are encouraged to make their products as engaging and creative as they wish. The letters will be shared with classmates and the instructor. All descriptions that are completed on time and are in good order will be considered satisfactory, but please note that these can be considered as reflections or “drafts” and should not take longer than an hour or two to produce.


Leadership for 1 discussion

Each student will take responsibility for helping to lead discussions of readings for part of one class period. In general, serving as discussion leader involves reading the readings and posting a response on the class website to a brief set of questions in advance of class:

  • What are one or two key ideas or quotes from the readings that you think school designers should remember?
  • What statements or ideas did you find confusing and that require further clarification?
  • What questions or issues would you like to pursue further?

These responses are intended to be short – ranging from a sentence or two for each question or less than ½ a page for the whole response. Responses should be posted no later than 6 PM the Tuesday before the assigned reading. Discussion leaders will also be responsible for reviewing any comments that classmates make on the class website; for coming prepared to lead a discussion on one of the questions or topics selected by their classmates and the instructors; and for briefly summarizing and posting the results of the discussion.


Critiques of an organizational improvement effort

The critiques of an improvement effort should draw on the readings from the first part of the course to succinctly analyze the successes and failures of a reform effort with which students are familiar. What changed? What didn’t? How would two or three of the authors we are reading this semester view this reform effort? What would you do differently next time? Why? Students are strongly encouraged to focus on an improvement initiative that directly involved or affected them. The critique should build on a 1-page description of the initiative, with the final paper between 4-5 pages in length (not counting the 1-page description). Students who are interested in presenting their critique in a different format should contact the instructor. Those who have never been involved in an educationally-related improvement effort, may, with the permission of the instructor, focus on another improvement initiative (such as the design or implementation of a particular policy, reform approach, or reform program).


School designs

Because of the complexity of developing a school design, the need for a variety of kinds of expertise and background knowledge, and the limits on time, all students are expected to work in groups of 3-4 to complete the school design. The key elements of the design will be discussed in class (including items such as an executive summary, a schedule etc.). The structure of the design is based on the application used for opening a new school in New York City, but should be useful for other contexts. Due dates for the drafts of many of the elements of the design are suggested in the syllabus, but groups can develop their own timelines for completing the key parts of their design portfolios. (Drafts will not be handed in to the instructors). The draft of the 4-5 page executive summary should be a collaborative product and will be turned in for feedback from the instructors and from peers. The goal of the school design is to get the go-ahead to spend a year developing the school. Thus, the design documents should demonstrate that the design is original, thoughtful, and has the potential for success in the future; designs are not expected to be ready for immediate implementation. Students will be asked to create an exhibition drawn from the materials in their design portfolio that they can share with other members of the class.



As a final element of the class, students are asked to complete a 3-4 page reflection on their work in the course, what they will take away from the course, and ways the course could be improved in the future. Students should be able to complete this reflection during class time on the last day of class. Class will not be held at that time.


Expectations and Assessment

This course is designed to build the knowledge and understanding of each participant and to develop a deeper collective understanding of key aspects of school-based reform. Throughout, participants will be expected to share their work and observations with the rest of the class.


Due to the collaborative nature of the projects and the course, no incompletes will be given.


The class also relies on several norms and expectations that can help to support productive work and collaboration. These include:

  • Respect for people and diverse ideas,
  • Responsibility for preparing for class; for contributing regularly and constructively to the class website, class activities, and class discussions; and for facilitating the participation of others
  • Regular and prompt attendance for class and for group meetings (in person and electronically) outside of class
  • Use of electronic devices in class and in meetings outside of class primarily for class-related work


In order to pass the course, students need to:

  • Demonstrate that they are fulfilling the class norms and expectations
  • Make a significant contribution to the development of a school design
  • Complete and post all elements of their online portfolio (including the personal letter, critique, discussion leader reading response and discussion summary, and their reflection)


All written papers are expected to be produced double-spaced, with standard margins, in APA style.


Criteria for the major assignments will be discussed in class.



Information for students with disabilities

The College will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Students are encouraged to contact the office of Access and Services for Individuals with Disabilities for information about registration (166 Thorndike Hall; , 212-678-3689). Services are available only to students who are registered and submit appropriate documentation.


Attendance policy

The Department of Curriculum and Teaching expects students to attend all classes, to be on time and to attend the entire class session. You may not receive credit for a course if you miss more than two sessions.   Please let the instructor know by email if you will need to miss a class or will be late. If it is not possible to provide advance notice, please email the instructor as soon after the class as you can so that you can get the next week’s assignment.


Responsibilities for email

Teachers College students have the responsibility for activating the Columbia University Network ID (UNI), which includes a free Columbia email account. As official communications from the College – e.g., information on graduation, announcements of closing due to severe storm, flu epidemic, transportation disruption, etc. – and notices about this course will be sent to the student’s Columbia email account, students are responsible for either reading email there or for utilizing the mail forwarding option to forward mail from their Columbia account to an email address that they will monitor.


Statement regarding religious holidays

It is the policy of Teachers College to respect its members’ observance of their major religious holidays. Students should notify instructors at the beginning of the semester about their wishes to observe holidays on days when class sessions are scheduled. Where academic scheduling conflicts prove unavoidable, no student will be penalized for absence due to religious reasons, and alternative means will be sought for satisfying the academic requirements involved. If a suitable arrangement cannot be worked out between the student and the instructor, students and instructors should consult the appropriate department chair or director. If an additional appeal is needed, it may be taken to the Provost.





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