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Author talk: Reforming the Reform: Problems of Public Schooling in the American Welfare State

October 25, 2023 @ 5:30 pm - 6:30 pm

Susan Moffitt – Reforming the Reform: Problems of Public Schooling in the American Welfare State


5:30pm – 6:30pm EDT


Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs


Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, 111 Thayer Street


Joukowsky Forum (155)



An expansive study of the problems encountered by educational leaders in pursuit of reform, and how these issues cyclically translate into future topics of reform.

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.

Conversation with the Authors

Susan Moffitt

Professor of Political Science and International and Public Affairs, Director of Academic Programs, Brown University

Michaela Krug O’Neill

Research Investigator, University of Michigan


October 25, 2023
5:30 pm - 6:30 pm
Event Category:


Brown University: Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
111 Thayer Street
Providence, RI 02906 United States
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