An Ongoing Conversation on School Change

THEODORE R. SIZER describes his new book, "Horace's School," as the next step in an ongoing conversation.

That conversation began in 1984 with the publication of "Horace's Compromise" and the founding of Mr. Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools, a network of about 200 schools working to fundamentally change their approach to education.

"People read books and they get a sense of what you mean," Sizer said in an interview over lunch recently. "They know what to push against."

"Horace's School" clearly lays out what this educator means when he talks about reforming American high schools. But Sizer has always rejected the notion that schools can follow a specific model.

Is he concerned that people will take the fictional Franklin High School as a model? "Yes, I am," he responds. "I thought long and hard of that, but we have been criticized - I and my colleagues - for not having examples that are nitty-gritty."

Other than Sizer's coalition, there are few organized, large-scale efforts to promote educational change at the high school level. Most efforts concentrate on elementary schools.

"If it's hard at the elementary school, it's geometrically harder at the high school," Sizer says. "The high school has resisted rethinking and restructuring for 90 years. As soon as you get into the inside of schools, it gets very messy and it gets very political and the chances for failure get high. So people sort of shy away from it," Sizer says.

But this long-time educator insists that change must spring up from inside schools rather than come from outside forces. "My view is that unless you get into the belly of the beast you're not going to get the beast to change its habits."

Will Sizer write a sequel revealing whether Horace Smith gets the school envisioned by his committee? "That's possible," he says. "But I'm still recovering from this one."

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