I spent all day Saturday at the Comparative Education Society of Hong Kong 2013 Conference at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The theme was “Educational Reform and Social Change: East-West Dialogue.” I had originally planned to present some of my research findings, but changed titles to present instead on “Situation in Resilience in the Context of Educational Reform: Lessons for Planners and Curriculum.”
I’ve been intrigued by the idea of adaptive cycles, and thought I could argue that the the rise and fall Michelle Rhee‘s reforms in the DC school district could be seen in that context. This starts by seeing the conditions of school failure and concurrent entrenchment of old regime actors as being an educational system in “late K” – unable to adapt to increasing demands for higher performance, and the costs of maintaining the system extremely high (externalized to student learning, morale throughout the system, paying for entrenched but ineffective teachers and administrators). This created the conditions for a release stage with the election of a mayor who ran on a platform of comprehensive reforms of the school district.
During a short reorganization phase, old actors were politically marginalized while new school district chancellor Rhee set in motion sweeping, radical reforms. She made it to a growth stage, pushing ever more radical (in comparison to the prior regime) reforms and firing hundreds of teachers. But popularity for the reforms plummeted and the system went back into a release phase, where the old regime actors took over the system again when the mayor lost re-election. A few years later, we’re either in the conservation or growth stage of a hybrid system with some of Rhee’s reforms still in place.