Monday, May 24, 2010

Transformation vs. Reform

A few weeks ago I was discussing the difference between school reform and school transformation with someone from the Knowledge Works Foundation . I have thought about this difference a lot in the past few weeks and I want to share with you my ideas of school transformation and what I think it means for Ridgway Area School District. I will discuss the specifics of why I think a transformative period in public education is occurring in a later blog; this blog will be concerned about the difference between reform and transformation.

Reform has become a “tired” word in education. Books have been written explaining why reform efforts in public education have not worked. The best of these, in my opionion, is Tinkering Toward Utopia by David Tyack and Larry Cuban . In the past, reforms have been created and developed in a “cookie cutter” model. Usually a well meaning researcher or organization creates programs that works well in one locality then “scale-up” the reform and offer it to the rest of the country. Oftentimes the reforms are forced on school districts through either the state or national departments of education. The result is that there is not a “buy-in” from the local school districts and the reform (no matter how viable it is) is not implemented with fidelity. The end result is a muddled process of reform that does not really change anything within the school district.

The contrast to reform that is forced on a school district is transformation of a school district created by the stakeholders of the school district. It seems obvious that if one wants a system like public education to actually change, then there must be input from the people in the local school district. A community and school district must have leadership that believes that a radical transformation can take place and then nurture the change to make sure it occurs. With transformation there is no “cookie cutter”, one size fits all solutions. Rather, there are thousands of permutations of what change can look like in the school district. I believe that all change must be focused on the question “what is in the best interest of the student”. Transformation cannot occur for the benefit of administrators, teachers or well meaning reformist. The students in the schools must be the focus of transformation. Tomorrow I will discuss transformation more deeply. I hope this blog helped delineate the difference between reform and transformation.  I hope that we are positioning Ridgway to move forward and start the process of true transformation.  Our initiatives that have been implemented will assist in this process.

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