Why fixing education policy isn't enough: The "culture of can't" in K–12
Bradley Lecture by Frederick Hess

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When it comes to reforming America's public schools, we hear a lot about what educational leaders cannot do. Indeed, contracts, laws, and regulations assuredly handcuff school and system leaders, and, claimed Rick Hess of AEI during his Bradley Lecture on Tuesday night, education reformers often respond with policy fixes.

Hess argued that rather than focusing exclusively on using education policy to achieve meaningful and sustainable improvement in US education, we should dramatically rethink leadership in K–12. He explained that leaders actually have far more freedom to transform teaching, learning, and schooling — without legislative action — than is widely believed. As Hess has stated in his new book "Cage-Busting Leadership," the "culture of can't" in K–12 — in which leaders do not take advantage of existing opportunities to better serve students — is a product of structures and substantial incentives to avoid creating conflict or triggering lawsuits; little exposure to the world beyond K–12 education; and preparation, training, and culture that is almost entirely focused on instructional leadership rather than transforming organizations.

To equip leaders and encourage what Hess calls "cage-busting leadership," education reformers should welcome the know-how and ingenuity of "lawyers for education reform," the business and philanthropic communities, and new leadership preparation programs.

Event Description
When it comes to reforming America’s public schools, there is a lot of discussion over what educational leaders cannot do. Much of the policy debate revolves around the contracts, laws, and regulations that make it hard to reward excellence and address mediocrity.

Equally significant is the failure of system leaders to take advantage of existing opportunities. Rick Hess, AEI education policy scholar and author of the forthcoming “Cage-Busting Leadership” (Harvard Education Press, 2013), believes the problem stems from K–12 training and culture, incentives to avoid conflict and lawsuits, and the pervasive “culture of can’t” that fails to serve kids well.

In this Bradley Lecture, Hess will suggest how reformers should complement their focus on policy with a careful attention to the successes and shortfalls in K–12 leadership, and how to tackle the “culture of can’t.”
Copies of “Cage-Busting Leadership” will be available for purchase at the event.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.

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About the Author

 

Frederick M.
Hess
  • An educator, political scientist and author, Frederick M. Hess studies K-12 and higher education issues. His books include "Cage-Busting Leadership," "Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age," "The Same Thing Over and Over," "Education Unbound," "Common Sense School Reform," "Revolution at the Margins," and "Spinning Wheels." He is also the author of the popular Education Week blog, "Rick Hess Straight Up." Hess's work has appeared in scholarly and popular outlets such as Teachers College Record, Harvard Education Review, Social Science Quarterly, Urban Affairs Review, American Politics Quarterly, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Phi Delta Kappan, Educational Leadership, U.S. News & World Report, National Affairs, the Washington Post, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic and National Review. He has edited widely cited volumes on the Common Core, the role of for-profits in education, education philanthropy, school costs and productivity, the impact of education research, and No Child Left Behind.  Hess serves as executive editor of Education Next, as lead faculty member for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program, and on the review boards for the Broad Prize in Urban Education and the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. He also serves on the boards of directors of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and 4.0 SCHOOLS. A former high school social studies teacher, he teaches or has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University and Harvard University. He holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Government, as well as an M.Ed. in Teaching and Curriculum, from Harvard University.


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  • Email: rhess@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Sarah DuPre
    Phone: 202-862-7160
    Email: Sarah.DuPre@aei.org

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