An important documentary about innovation, principals, teachers, parents, and pupils
Tales Out of School
Implementing Organizational Change in the Elementary Grades
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The author, who was the editor of Sociology of Education, spent a substantial period of time as a participant-observer in three public elementary schools. In this book she shows us successes and failures in innovation, strong and weak principals, skilled and not-so-skilled teachers, powerful and powerless parents, achieving and non-achieving pupils. The result is an important documentary for sociologists of education and those who study organizational change, educational administrators, teachers, and indeed everyone concerned with the dynamics of education.
The schools had very different kinds of pupils and parents. The first was a ghetto school, 80 percent black youngsters from the surrounding neighborhood and 20 percent white pupils who had agreed to be bused in. The second was an ethnically integrated urban school serving a district of white upper-middle-class students as well as students from low-income Black and Hispanic families. The third was an upper-middle-class white school in a suburban neighborhood. In spite of these differences, the schools had one common characteristiceach was innovative.
Comparing these schools led the author to several important generalizations. One of the more interesting suggests that several innovations which are superficially different had the same thrust in terms of changing the social organization of the classroom. Professor Sussmann postulates that this new, innovative classroom cannot survive at the upper grade levels because it presupposes abandonment of the selection functionthe sorting of "able" students who will be successful in school from those who will be mediocre of or fail. However, our society requires that the school system perform this selection function, though it need no longer do so in the primary grades.
The book also includes observations on subjects such as the prevalence of change in our school system, the relative importance of various staff levels in the innovation process, the importance of a realistic assessment of resources and the costs when innovating, and the impact of individualized instruction on the curriculum.
Professor Sussmann has assessed these schools' innovations with candor, and she reports her findings in a style that is free from jargon. Her work will add greatly to our understanding of how schools operate and how they can be improved.
Part I: The James Weldon Johnson: A Ghetto School
Part II: Southside: A School in a Complex Environment
Part III: Coolidge: An Upper Middle-Class White Suburban School
Part IV: Conclusion
Leila Sussmann is a professor of sociology at Tufts University. She has written three other monographs. Her other publications on education include Innovation in EducationThe United States and "The Roles of the Teacher in Selected Innovative Schools in the United States.