Fullan Challenges Reformers to Think About Whole System Reform

on May 16, 2011 in Blog by

Seminar Series 204: Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform The aspiration to “close the gap” in test scores between students of color and whites has been the focus of public policy makers for some time.  Policy makers have established the expectation that schools must do more to ensure that all students of every income, race/ethnicity, language background, and disability status graduate from high school ready for college and a career. Schools and the institutions that support schools are under pressure to improve the achievement of all students by improving teacher quality, providing information and supports to parents, establishing standards and assessments, providing intensive supports and interventions to low performing schools, and other reform strategies. There has been an increasing emphasis on closing the gap by improving the quality of teachers and leaders through reforms to educator effectiveness systems including preservice preparation, teacher and leader evaluation, and professional growth systems.  In a recent publication, Michael Fullan challenges reformers to think carefully about the way to set the course for these reforms.  Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform describes how school leaders and policy makers are selecting the wrong drivers to accomplish the changes needed to increase achievement and close the achievement gap. The article prescribes an alternative set of drivers that have been found to be more effective in accomplishing, what Fullan calls, the moral imperative of raising the bar for all students and closing the gap for lower performing groups. For all students to attain the higher order skills and competencies required to be successful world citizens, drivers need to be pursued as part of a coherent whole and be implemented in a highly interactive way.

As part of the recent National Summit on Educator Effectiveness hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) State Consortium on Educator Effectiveness, Fullan discussed the concept of effective drivers and the need for whole system reform in a webinar and a keynote address. He challenged the reformers in audience to think about whether the priorities they have set will:

1. foster intrinsic motivation of teachers and students;

2. engage educators and students in continuous improvement of instruction and learning;

3. inspire collective or team work; and

4. affect all teachers and students – 100 per cent?[1]

I believe that the initial response to Fullan’s presentation has been striking. Individuals who were part of the Summit and read his article are now asking questions such as, “Are we aiming at the whole system or tinkering with selected elements?” “What are the drivers we are investing our time and money in, and should these be replaced with more powerful drivers?” “How can we be more collaborative in our work?” Who are the right stakeholders?”

Some questions I thought of include: If ensuring that all students are able to compete in a global economy is really our goal, what can we learn from Fullan about designing reforms that take on issues of inequity? What would it take to launch a whole-system reform that pushes the deeper changes needed to make a difference for those students who are currently not learning at the level needed to be successful in a changing world? What might happen if we involved more teachers of color in leadership roles for designing reforms? How can we capture the voices of students of color to help design learning experiences that are more motivating and have more real world applications?  What factors contribute to collective team work in a diverse workforce?  How might implementing  the drivers Fullan talks about make a difference in the graduation rates, particularly among Black African American males?

I am looking forward to ongoing discussion about this publication. I am hopeful that it will be the catalyst for important changes in the way we go about influencing the work of policy change in the future.

U.S. Department of Education. (2010).Blueprint for reform: The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development.


[1] Fullan, M. (2011). Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform.

Centre for Strategic Education Seminar Series Paper, 204. East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

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