Some researchers approach schools with a certain level of arrogance: ‘We know what’s right, and we think we’ll make your lives better if only you’ll let us.’ It’s well intentioned but it’s very misguided. We have a different mindset at EDC; we hold firm to the notion that our collaborations need to be done in partnership and that our work is not about importing knowledge into a district. Instead, our work is a process of simultaneous learning. We have something to contribute, but we also have a lot to learn—and our own work gets shaped by what we learn. Obviously, EDC has had a lot of success creating really interesting curriculum materials that work in lots of different schools. But we also recognize that there needs to be a lot of flexibility and openness in how local schools put those materials to use.
“When we think about developing programs for schools, we need to acknowledge up front that our educational system is fundamentally local. I don’t think you can have franchise models of reform or change. The process of localization is critical for any genuine innovation to take root. You can introduce promising programs and innovations, but you also need to allow room for people to shape the innovation in their own ways, in their own communities. That premise leads to a different way of thinking about sustainability. What gets sustained is not the program in its original guise, but interesting residues and other unpredictable things that spin off from it.
“Of course, some schools or districts are more ready than others to take advantage of programs or innovations. You might call it something like system functionality. They’re not dysfunctional or overly mired in bureaucracy. They have some of the pieces of the puzzle in place, so the process of localization can occur. In the area of technology integration, for example, I would say that in order to use technology in ways that really support learning, it is critical that you make fundamental decisions about your educational goals and priorities and be able to back those decisions up with resources, materials, and support.”
Originally published on May 31, 2002