Education Reform: How Traditional and Capacity-Building Approaches Differ

In a recent Perspective,  “Powerful Conversations about Education Reform,”  Sharon Roth described a discussion of education reforms that she and others shared in a conference setting, and how adding the frame of capacity building brought the conversation to an “Ah Hah” moment.

Capacity-building approaches to change offer an alternative to traditional approaches to education reform. While the aim of improving student achievement is the same, the source of answers to achievement problems and the goals of capacity-building approaches are quite different.

Traditional reforms focus on replicating externally developed methods. Capacity-building approaches center the change effort on organizational learning in which the goal is to build the organization's capacity for adaptation and innovation to meet the challenges of unsatisfactory student achievement. Educational practices and underlying organizational conditions that have been successful in other settings are investigated and assessed in terms of those that best fit the needs of local students and the local context. Outside experts, reform models, and best practices inform local action; they do not prescribe them. In this sense, educators build their own reforms.

Figure 1 presents a comparison of traditional reform and capacity-building approaches to professional and organizational learning.

















This Perspective includes excerpted material from Michael Palmisano's Taking Inquiry to Scale: An Alternative to Traditional Approaches to Education Reform (NCLE & NCTE, 2013).

Related Resources

Linda Darling-Hammond shared her own thoughts on this subject during her 2011 Keynote at NCTE’s Annual Convention.

If you and your team are interested in assessing the degree to which you are operating in a capacity-building model, plan to take the Asset Inventory.  The Asset Inventory is a part of NCLE’s free portfolio of supports available to groups. Participating groups on the Literacy in Learning Exchange website receive a complimentary report based on their group's results. (See a sample here .) 

The report will help you and your group identify specific strengths to build on, as well as areas in which to strengthen your collaborative practice. This report does not do the interpretation for you—instead, it provides points of discussion for your group to consider as you continue down the path of professional learning in collaborative teams.

Most Recent: September 9, 2016

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