Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Educational Change/Outcomes

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What are the desired outcomes of educational change?

To understand the desired outcomes of educational change, one might first consider a working definition for the term “educational change.” For the purposes of this article, we will define educational change as innovations in schools. These innovations range from basic curriculum revisions to radical social change in school culture.

The desired outcomes of educational change are wide-ranging. On one end of the spectrum, an outcome might simply be improved student performance in middle school math. On the opposite end of the spectrum, another desired outcome might include schools becoming catalysts for large-scale social transformation. This would be educational change with the end being significant change in the greater culture.

On the most fundamental level, educational change looks for an outcome, which avoids resistance and in turn alters the deep structures of learning institutions (Gold, 1999, p. 2) Barry Allen Gold, in his article “Punctuated Legitimacy: A Theory of Educational Change,” argues that, “Innovations in schools frequently encounter problems after adoption and terminate a short time later—often within the first two years—without achieving full implementation” (p. 1). The desired outcome of educational change is to avoid failure and achieve “full implementation,” whatever that change may be.

Anecdotes from the Present[edit]

Brown v. Board of Education is an example of one of the earliest attempts at large-scale educational change.

Educational change is very much alive and well in our culture today. It only takes a brief search of the daily news to find the very term used by a variety of reporters, journalist and the educators they interview. An article posted on The Philadelphia Inquirer Web site on September 22, 2006 entitled “Not yet open, charter school calls it quits” details the struggle for educational change in one New Jersey School district. In this case the desired outcome of educational change was the birth of a new charter school, and the resistance to this change resulted in the schools closure before it even began operation.

The article notes that, “Once hailed as an educational wonder - a charter school in a suburban community with high-performing public schools - the TLC Charter School is closing its doors before it ever opened to students” (p. 1). In the article, Harriet Beckman, a veteran educator, makes it clear that the state is the resisting party to blame for the charter school's failure. She says that, “My frustration is with a system that too often seems stacked against educational change, a system that seems designed to thwart the efforts of educational entrepreneurs, trained and committed professionals, and families trying to find the best ways to give their children the best education possible” (p. 1). Its important to note her use of the key term “educational change.”

Educational change also figures prominently in our current political climate. Scott Leigh, in a recent op-ed in The Boston Globe makes his case for the winner of the last gubernatorial, primary debate on Wednesday, September 20, 2006. One of his reasons for declaring the winner was the candidate’s position on educational change. The losing candidate supports educational change in the form of charter schools, but does so only with caveats.

Scott Leigh, our political analyst, offers this breakdown of the hedged position, “Still, it's no surprise: It's awfully hard to make yourself the favorite of the educational establishment and remain independent enough to be a real catalyst for educational change” (p.1). Again, note the use of the term “educational change” and the resistance, which is in the form of the “educational establishment.” If one looks, one can find these important ideas all around.

Desired Outcomes in Broad Stokes[edit]

With a general understanding of Educational Change, one can move on to the idea of “desired outcomes.” To understand the desired outcome of educational change in the broadest terms, one might look at many of the political initiatives involving education in 2005.

Chester E. Finn, Jr., in an article published in Education Next, describes the unfolding political theatrics starting with the White House. He notes that, “The year 2005 began with high schools taking center stage in Washington’s continuing drama concerning education reform. President George W. Bush started things off…when he delivered a ringing address at a suburban D.C. high school about the urgency of reforming American high schools and offered a bold $1.5 billion plan for doing so” (p. 1).

This address was followed by an educational summit attended by forty-five governors, many educational leaders, and several major CEOs. This summit specifically sought to hash out and define the desired outcomes for the sweeping educational change that Bush proposed (p. 1). Microsoft chairman Bill Gates “pronounced current U.S. high schools ‘obsolete’ and said, ‘Even when they are working as designed, they can not teach all of our students what they need to know today” (Finn, 2006, p. 1). Following Gates, Margaret Spellings, the new secretary of education, argued that the desired outcome of reform is to make the American high school diploma something that is valuable once again. She said that, “We must make a high-school diploma a ticket to success in the 21st century.” In the broadest terms then, restoring value to the diploma is a desired outcome.

Punctuated Equilibrium: The Real Desired Outcome[edit]

To get a true understanding of the desired outcomes of educational change, one has to take a more academic look, in terms of educational institutions, at the process of change itself. The desired outcome in the mind of Barry Gold, who conducted 23 years of qualitative research in educational change, is something called punctuated equilibrium (p. 1).

This theory states that “over an extended time, innovation failure, instead of terminating change, creates punctuations that produce alterations between short periods of rapid change that reconfigure and transform the organizational deep structure…and long-term incremental change that refines transformation” (p. 1).

The heart of this theory is that short periods of revolutionary change and failure are naturally followed by longer periods of relative calm and incremental or small changes that refine and shape the revolution (p. 1). After a failed revolution one is forced to pick up the pieces and restore legitimacy. The long period of restoration, the “equilibrium,” is when significant organizational or educational change occurs (p. 14). This means that the true desired outcomes of educational change are the long periods of calm where educators seek to implement small changes that increase education’s legitimacy.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Educational change desires to avoid resistance and alter the __________ __________ of educational institutions.
A. Dress code
B. Racial composition
C. Deep structures
D. Building programs

C. Deep structures

What is one legitimate, desired outcome of educational change mentioned in the article?
A. The segregation of schools.
B. The development of a new charter school.
C. The devaluation of the high school diploma.
D. The placement of soda machines in suburban high schools.

B. The development of a new charter school.

Which important cultural figure recently argued that the American high schools are obsolete?
A. Steve Jobs
B. George W. Bush
C. Margaret Spellings
D. Bill Gates

D. Bill Gates

The theory of __________ __________ describes one possible, desired outcome for educational change.
A. Educational Goals
B. Punctuated Equilibrium
C. Incremental Reform
D. Random Revolution

B. Punctuated Equilibrium

Failure in educational change always leads to
A. More failure.
B. Wasteful government spending.
C. A period of calm were incremental change can occur.
D. A period of upheaval and the delegitimization of educational change.

C. A period of calm were incremental change can occur.

Essay Question[edit]

Propose one substantial educational change, such as the development of a charter school, and discuss how its failure might actually lead to the desired outcome of long-term educational change. Be sure to describe what resistances cause the schools failure, and don’t forget to consider the theory of punctuated equilibrium to argue your point.