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Secondary School Principals in Curriculum Reform: Victims or Accomplices?

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The Shanghai Municipal Education Commission convened an important conference in early 2010. A major focus of the conference was the apparent failure of the New Curriculum Reform to take root in schools. One of the conclusions presented at the conference was that school principals were responsible for the gap between the intent and effect of the curriculum reform. This article uses data collected from a group of Shanghai secondary school principals to examine the state of the curriculum reform from “the inside.” The main purpose of the article is to identify why the principals themselves believe that the reform is not working as intended and indeed whether they are in some way complicit in the slow rate of reform implementation. Principals involved in the study suggest the contradictory messages they receive from government officials about how principals’ work should be formally and informally assessed do little to promote meaningful reform implementation. Therefore, it is suggested that one of the main reasons why curriculum reform has so far not been able to bring about deep change at secondary school level is the enduring cultural norms which continue to underpin societal expectations and accountability, rather than a lack of curriculum leadership on the part of school principals.


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