The DeHavilland Blog

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ruffled feathers

So often when people talk about education reform, they do so in the abstract, debating policy and change platforms without facing the real-world implications of the changes they're proposing. What you don't hear much about is the strength and the will required to actually implement major change. It can be rough going in practical terms: in order to do new things, the old things have to be broken up and changed, and people on the receiving end of reform won't necessarily like the changes (particularly when they find themselves out of a job).

That's why it's good to see articles like this one in The Boston Globe, which tells the story of an on-the-ground reformer in Arlington VA. A few lessons shine through:

  • Any real change is going to face resistance. Plan for it; be strong enough to see it through.
  • Communication is a huge part of successful change. People inside the system need to hear loudly, clearly, and repeatedly what's happening and why. And people outside the system need to hear it as well: they're your source of support, and ultimately your customers.
  • The challenges you face will rarely, if ever, be head-on. People won't challenge you based on the issues: no one's going to argue against a goal of 100% literacy for example. They'll argue about how you implement your plans, or take you on in an unrelated area.

It would be great to create a plan for substantive change that everyone can get on board with, but it's just not realistic. As one of the sArlington chool board members states in the article, "In any model of change, those who bring about change will encounter people who are resistant." Reformers would be wise to anticipate resistance and know how they're going to deal with it.

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