Jerry Wartgow, who served as the superintendent for Denver Public Schools from 2001 to 2005, considers himself an optimist when it comes to public education. He's certainly not a blind one, though. In Why School Reform Is Failing and What We Need to Do About It: 10 Lessons From the Trenches, a new book he'll introduce tonight, he decries what he describes via e-mail as "the frenzied quest to find a silver bullet through the rapidly escalating number of 'flavor of the month' reforms that are cascading down on our schools." In his view, "the obsession with showing quick improvements in student achievement at any cost" has fueled the education-reform industry, but it hasn't done enough to boost the performance of the average pupil at troubled facilities.
For his part, Wartgow believes in the slow-and-steady approach. Throughout chapters about changing the educational culture, encouraging collaboration among stakeholders and keeping theory and practice in the proper perspective, he regularly warns against unrealistic expectations or knee-jerk reactions, and emphasizes that all parties must buy in to a given approach before moving forward. As he puts it, "introducing new reform initiatives into the schools prior to developing the civic and institutional capacity to understand, manage and support those reforms is a recipe for failure." So, too, is a lack of creativity the tendency to repeat past mistakes rather than taking the time to find an innovative path forward. "The leadership challenge is not one of simply organizing to implement known solutions to known problems," he notes. "Rather, it is one of motivating people to find new solutions to complex problems for which there are no known solutions."
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Wartgow begins teaching his Lessons at 7:30 p.m. at the Tattered Cover, 2526 East Colfax Avenue. There's no charge to attend. Learn more at 303-322-7727 or www.tatteredcover.com.
Tue., Jan. 22, 2008