A beginner’s guide to Professor Larry Cuban
Where does he work?
Cuban is a professor of education at Stanford University. He began his career as a high school social studies teacher, working up to district superintendent and finally university professor. He gained his PhD from Stanford University in 1974.
What is he best known for?
Cuban blends his practical knowledge with scholarly research. His research focuses on the history of instruction, educational leadership and the uses of technology in classrooms. He has published articles and books on topics varying from the history of school reform and how policy is translated into practice, to the most effective ways for teachers and pupils to use technology.
What is his work about?
Cuban's extensive background in teaching prior to becoming a professor means that his academic work often focuses on the practicalities of being a teacher. He excels in asking questions that few politicians and school reformers want to touch, such as whether schools are really able to overcome class and ethnic differences in academic performance; and whether school policies and practices really put all pupils at the same academic level.
One of Cuban's most recent research projects studied school reform in Texas between 1954-2009. The findings of this study, outlined in his book As Good As It Gets, suggest that while the overall schooling district experienced a vast improvement over the five decades – better test scores, more high school graduates and more qualified teachers – those improvements were unevenly distributed. Cuban found that while elementary schools did improved, along with high schools in affluent, well-educated, largely white neighbourhoods, there were fewer improvements in areas that most needed change. He concluded that this disparity in success raised tough questions for education leaders in urban areas.
Although sceptical about some claims made about technology's ability to transform learning, Cuban has been encouraged to see that some schools have shifted their focus to using technology to support learning, with teachers using it to better organize and teach lessons, rather than simply adopting technology for technology's sake. He remains doubtful though, given the lack of supportive evidence, that technology will dramatically reshape learning, transforming, as he sees it, the "factory model" of education.
What he says:
"The history of reform is littered with the debris of once-glittering innovations that top district leaders unilaterally decided upon and delivered to schools. Such failures conspicuously lacked teacher and parent involvement. Ignoring both is a recipe for failure. Why? Because schools are political institutions highly dependent upon these two groups to provide critical support and muscle for any instructional policy aimed at altering how teachers teach and students learn enter classrooms."
What others say:
Cuban is a popular figure with education bloggers – his accessible style and relevant research mean that he often crops up in online discussion, and his work has been praised by Chris Woodhead, a former chief inspector of schools.
Why you should consider reading more:
While Cuban's writing around leadership and the impact of policy reform will be of general interest to teachers and school leaders, his recent blog posts have also focused on the politics of teaching in Trump's America. Focusing on the difficulties of teaching in a highly volatile political climate, his reflections may be interest to teachers navigating tricky topics in classrooms in the UK.