Critical choices in school reform

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When schools and school systems adopt reform programs, the values and meanings inherent in those programs create and perpetuate powerful forms of discourse that characterize the projects themselves, evoke loyalty and commitment. This paper focuses on a recent study and proposes that genuine school improvement requires one to step outside the circle of discourse engendered by reform programs that promote a 'single minded' discourse about themselves and what schools should do. When schools are expected to accept particular programs in their entirety, an 'officially' sanctioned way of thinking about school reform and teaching is created and perpetuated. Proponents of reform programs may argue that such sanctions are a necessary feature of whole school reform as they provide a focus for energy and activism, for winning people's support, and for conveying to parents and the wider school community a sense of purposeful action and rational planning. However, these dominant discourses and the salvation that they sponsor seem to obscure other perspectives, disallowing critique and preventing reflective discourse and analysis. Indeed, this paper holds that genuine school reform requires schools to break out of the imprisonment of dominant discourses and remain open to critical reflection. This paper challenges popular conceptions that school reform programs inherently engender school improvement. The theoretical position of this research is based on variations of discourse analysis as interpreted by Gee (2005).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-35
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Critical Pedagogy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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