Carnegie Summit 2016 Reflections: Improvement Science for Social Justice?

The first Carnegie paper I read was Getting Ideas into Action (2011). This led to reading on the Carnegie website, reading Organizing Schools for Improvement and Learning to Improve, eventually getting into Engelbart’s original address to Bootstrap, and attending the Carnegie Summit in 2015… which is all to say that I did not come at this from a social justice perspective. I thought the networks were cool and the results were compelling. But as I was sitting in the closing keynote by Marshall Ganz, surrounded by an audience of mostly white people concerned with practical measurements and driver diagrams, I thought to myself, “Why is a civil rights community organizer giving the closing keynote at this summit?”

Over the past year, I’ve taken two classes which have dramatically shifted my graduate school path: Legal Issues of School Choice with Julie Mead and Ideology and Curriculum with Michael Apple. Both have challenged me to ask questions about power, equity, justice, and race as it relates to the public educational system. Though my awareness of white privilege and race traces back to the Klingenstein Summer Institute and the Intercultural Competencies work as OES, a year ago I still saw it as something auxiliary to my core work. Now, while I may not convert to being a critical theorist, my view of the world has been challenged and perhaps reoriented to more complex understanding of the systems we live and act within.

This year, the theme of social justice was even stronger:

  • A quote from Kim Gomez (which I saw on Twitter): “It is a social justice issue to teach with curriculum that doesn’t give all students access.”
  • Keynote speaker, Hahrie Han: building the power for change is about engaging people that recognizes their humanity; instantiate networks that recognizes our humanity and keeps the child at the center; peace and justice are a struggle
  • Louis Gomez introduced the final keynote with the line, “The quest for equity takes many paths.”
  • Closing Keynote speaker, Bryan Stevenson: Get proximate with the people who are excluded, change the narratives that sustain the problems, stay hopeful, be willing to do uncomfortable things.

This has all led me to be skeptical of improvement science and its promises. Is it an interruption or perpetuation?


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