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Building Potemkin schools: Science curriculum reform in a STEM school

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‘Potemkin schools’ is used as the phrase to capture what a US science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) public speciality high school becomes as a result of its institutional branding. By way of an examination of the efforts of one teacher drawn into school branding through his ‘inquiry-based reform’ of an Advanced Chemistry course, this paper illuminates the tensions between the rhetorical intentions to engage in curriculum innovation and the reality of constraints and conflicting goals. The teacher, unable to resolve the tensions, was pushed into formalizing and routinizing his ideas into a reform project without understanding what was behind the rhetoric of the school’s self-image statements. The need to find and develop a ‘language’ to talk and think about ‘inquiry-based’ reform and its processes in meaningful terms and not in slogans is discussed. The irrationality and complexity of the reform which emerged from the findings contrast with the rationality of building Potemkin villages, hence illuminating the complexity in curriculum reform in STEM schools.

Keywords: Potemkin schools; STEM schools; inquiry-based reform; science curriculum reform

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 1, 2012

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