A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Fitting the Pieces - October 1996


Nearly all education reforms, regardless of their scope or intended target, share a number of basic characteristics. This report has drawn upon 12 studies of education reform funded by the Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), to describe eight key lessons that underlie successful reform efforts. Taken together, these lessons offer a comprehensive approach to reform that can guide policymakers and practitioners in planning, implementing, and sustaining school reform in their own communities. These lessons address the following topics:

Planning Leadership - Goals - Timing
Implementing Training - Flexibility - Infrastructure
Sustaining Managing Resources - Self-Assessment

While the specific aspects of reform differ widely among projects, the OERI studies on reform agree on at least one point -- succeeding at reform requires much more than having a "good idea." Ultimately, reform is about collaboration and collegiality, on gathering a core group of people together to agree on a particular approach for improving education and learning. Successful reformers identify and train individuals who are participating in the change process, and arrange an organizational structure that reinforces reform goals. Simply put, education reform is about using resources in ways that create better learning environments and better schooling results for students.

Perhaps equally important, the OERI studies describe a role for practitioners that must be fully understood by reformers. While a high-level administrator or policymaker may embrace a particular reform strategy, it is those closest to the classroom, teachers, families, and community members, who will ultimately determine whether or not the reform will succeed. This raises a series of issues. For instance, if teachers are the engine of the reform process, there must be a mechanism in place to assure that they have the necessary skills to accomplish what is being asked of them. It is equally important that parents and students be empowered to assume new roles and responsibilities. Given the "local" nature of reform, one must ask: what will be required - of schools, communities, professional organizations, and others-to support teachers so that they can meet the challenge of reform? Student learning is not just about test results; it is also about engagement. Without the necessary commitment, the products or results of reform may be hopelessly compromised.

Although the eight lessons described above define the important elements that underlie successful reform efforts, readers are cautioned not to treat the lessons as separate components that might be adopted in a piecemeal fashion. Each lesson described in this report is a piece of a larger puzzle that is called school reform. It would be wise for potential reformers to take a moment before beginning a project to examine the pieces in order to see if all the necessary elements are present so that a complete picture can be assembled. For just as one might hesitate before trying to put together a puzzle with missing pieces, so too should any school reformer deliberate before attempting a reform that is missing one of the eight lessons identified above.

Since not all readers are at the same stage in their reform effort, this report has been designed to offer something for everyone. If you are a school reformer presently in the process of implementing a reform, this report may help you to reflect on your efforts, and perhaps to identify some additional issues that you may need to address. If you are in the process of planning or undertaking a reform, or simply have an idea that you would like to explore, use the enclosed planning guides and worksheets to help formulate and structure your initial reform efforts. Keep in mind that these tools are intended to help you think about some of the larger issues that will affect your reform proposal, and provide an initial framework to organize your thoughts.

Remember that in your initial planning you do not have to devise a single approach to reform or accomplish all the steps at once; rather, it is more important to lay out a potential course of action to which others may add their ideas. Good luck in your reform efforts.


[Lesson 8: Self-Assessment] [Table of Contents] [Appendix A: Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together]