School reform is almost always born out of big dreams and well-meaning desires to change the status quo. But between lofty reform legislation and the students whose education is at stake, there are numerous additional policies and policymakers who determine how reforms operate. Even in the best cases, school reform initiatives can perpetuate problems created by earlier reforms or existing injustices, all while introducing new complications. In Reforming the Reform, political scientist Susan L. Moffitt, education policy scholar Michaela Krug O’Neill, and the late policy and education scholar David K. Cohen take on a wide-ranging examination of the many intricacies of school reform.
With a particular focus on policymakers in the spaces between legislation and implementation, such as the countless school superintendents and district leaders tasked with developing new policies in the unique context of their district or schools, the authors identify common problems that arise when trying to operationalize ambitious reform ideas. Their research draws on more than 250 interviews with administrators in Tennessee and California (chosen as contrasts for their different political makeup and centralization of the education system) and is presented here alongside survey data from across the United States as well as archival data to demonstrate how public schools shoulder enormous responsibilities for the American social safety net. They provide a general explanation for problems facing social policy reforms in federalist systems (including healthcare) and offer pathways forward for education policy in particular.