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Mark Clarke, PhD

School of Education and Human Development

Fulbright Scholar

Barcelona, Spain 2009-2010


Globalization and Local Implementation of Educational Reform: The Problem of Coherence in Policy, Program, and Practice

Do Denver and Spain share similar systematic constraints on educational reform? And, if so, what can be learned to improve reform in both countries? During 2009-10, Mark Clarke, professor of language, literature and culture traveled to the Autonomous University of Barcelona with members of the DEHISI research team (Grupo de Investigacion en Desarollo Humano, Intervencion Social, e Interculturalidad) to collaborate with his Spanish colleagues in developing research. Like Denver, Barcelona struggles to provide quality education for immigrant, low-income, minority youth and, as in many efforts at educational reform, positive results can be frustratingly slow to emerge. DEHISI recognizes that all participants are well-intentioned and working hard, but they also believe that reformers contribute significantly to the problems they are committed to solving. The group collaborated on a multi-level action research project to investigate the assumptions and daily practices of key individuals whose roles and responsibilities involve different levels of organizational scale. This comparative study of ongoing innovations benefited both projects and contributed insights into the daunting challenges posed by educational innovation in a global context.

Research teams in Denver and Barcelona have collaborated over the past nine years to address this problem. The Denver and Barcelona team have approached the work with common goals but from different directions, each with some success. In Denver, the team created school-university partnerships to promote inter-institutional collaboration around teacher preparation. Barcelona researchers have worked with teachers in their classrooms to develop activities that nurture technological skills and academic prowess among low-income minority and immigrant students. The former is a large-scale action research effort in which institutional structures and processes of the school districts and the university have been adjusted to provide professional development activities for teachers; the latter is a micro-ethnographic endeavor which focuses on the more nuanced interactions between teachers and students.

The familiar adage of “Think globally, act locally” continues to ring true, but it proves to be far easier said than done. Although broad policy is important and effective programs are essential, Clarke thinks that we cannot escape the fact that the success of educational reform ultimately comes down to individuals – people must change the way they go about their daily work if there are going to be changes in outcomes. Everyone with significant roles in education – policy makers, administrators, teacher educators in addition to teachers – must adjust comfortable rhythms and routines, overcome anxieties about role changes, and learn to see beyond familiar cultural assumptions if enduring reforms are to be achieved. Regardless of the wisdom of policy or the soundness of programs, if individuals at different levels of the educational hierarchy are not “in synch,” reforms will not have the desired impact on student learning. Through the efforts of Clarke and his colleagues, a greater understanding about effecting policy reform is possible.


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