Driving Down the [Wrong or Right] Road

PaperCoverEvery once-in-a-while you come across and article or book that really gets you thinking. As you read you find yourself engaged in a conversation between the article and your experience and you start to nod your head as arguments resonate with you. I’ve recently found an article that sparks just such a reaction with me. It’s a couple of years old and you might have read it. In fact, I vaguely can recall hearing about some of the language of it in the not-too-distant past. Nonetheless, this article was new to me and made quite the impression.

The prolific Michael Fullan, of Ontario education fame, did some work in Australia and as part of that work he employed his construct of “Drivers” of change as a way of thinking about systemic reform. It has been published as: Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform (Centre for Strategic Education, 2011). You should read it.

Drivers are the levers of change. Many we have heard of and many drivers are being employed by our State and Federal leadership. We feel the impact of these drivers this year, more than ever. Fullan argues, however, that there are right drivers and wrong drivers. As you’d imagine, right drivers do have a long-lasting and positive impact on the system. Wrong drivers are things that are done to change a system that don’t work and sometimes actually backfire to have a negative net result on the system.

Fullan looked at the countries in the world which have tied to reform their system of education and was able to make conclusions about which are the right drivers and which are the wrong drivers:

Right Drivers

Wrong Drivers

Capacity building


Group work

Individual teacher and
leadership quality



Systems Thinking

Fragmented strategies

Egad! The drivers of education reform in our country and our state are absolutely the wrong drivers. Fullan explains why accountability alone is a wrong driver (although accountability does have a place) – massive external pressure simply does not work and there isn’t a single case where enduring change has occurred as a result of punitive systems of accountability. Similarly, no nation has achieved systemic change as a result of a focus on individual teachers and leaders. Rather, efforts to impact the entire teaching profession have worked. The research actually suggests that teachers working together have a greater impact on achievement than teachers working alone. This is even true for low-ability teachers! It is the combination of social capital (group) and human capital (individual) that achieves systemic change. Technology, I think we know, doesn’t have any impact on learning without good pedagogy. If you take a look at New Tech High Schools you can see the impact that technology has as an integral part of good, meaningful, engaging instruction. Lastly, all parts of the education system have to work in concert, systemically and deliberately, to have any shot at educational reform. Heavy-handed piecemeal solutions never have worked to change a system and there is no evidence to suggest that such an approach suddenly will.  We now see different interests going head to head about different aspects of our educational systems. Most recently it’s been about testing and the Common Core.

Read the paper if you haven’t already done so. If you did read it, take another look. Fullan’s research and advice are sound. If you agree with me, encourage others to take a look at these arguments as well. And when you encourage others to take a look, why not encourage our National and State leaders to take look, too. Maybe it’s not too late.

Craig,-Jeff_WEBJeff Craig
Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES
Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Support Services

One thought on “Driving Down the [Wrong or Right] Road

  1. Thanks, Jeff. I admire Fullan, who is among the more credible spokespersons for what works in education around the world, He’s right on target–our state and most of the nation, powered by Federal education policy and a few big money foundations led by non-educators, are careening blindly down the reform highway. Unless we regain control of our school buses, American will be just another example of failed reforms in Fullan’s next book.

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