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Reform of and by the System: A Case Study of a State’s Effort at Curricular and Systemic Reform


by Philip A. Cusick & Jennifer Borman — 2002

The article tells the story of Michigan’s effort to create a language arts curriculum. Our story is embedded in an attempt by the governor, legislature, Department of Education, and (sometimes) the State Board of Education at state systemic reform. The focus of the article is that part of the overall effort that was directed toward the language arts curriculum. Although funded by the USOE and initiated by the state, the language arts work was undertaken by a loosely connected but long-associated set of language arts professionals who, although suspicious of the state’s motives and authority, cared a great deal about what they called best practice in language arts and embraced the state initiative to push their views. Working from Parsons’s (1949) conception of a system as “a network of collectivities, side by side, overlapping, and larger-smaller” (p. 101), we describe the overlapping of this group with the state and with other collectivities that emerged as the effort went along. Finally, we argue that although the state’s educational system remains loosely linked, democratic, contentious, and noisy, this language arts effort heightened the mutual awareness and interdependence of the system’s separate parts and so served the purposes of systemic reform.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 104 Number 4, 2002, p. 765-786
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10892, Date Accessed: 10/19/2017 5:18:24 AM

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About the Author
  • Philip Cusick
    Michigan State University
    PHILIP CUSICK is professor and chair of the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University. He is the author of Inside High School, The Egalitarian Ideal and the American High School, The Educational System: Its Nature and Logic, and a coauthor of Selling Students Short. He is currently writing a book on lives of learning.
  • Jennifer Borman
    Brown University
    E-mail Author
    JENNIFER BORMAN is a research and development specialist with the Education Alliance at Brown University. She is currently researching professional development outcomes in high-poverty schools as part of the Northeast and Islands Regional Education Laboratory. Her interests include curriculum policy, teacher learning, and literacy. She is the author of “Practitioners’ Learning and School Reform: Lessons from ‘Extension with Parallel Block Scheduling’ in the Journal of Educational Policy and recently finished working on "Voices of English Language Learners," a video.
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