ERIC Identifier: ED344329
Publication Date: 1992-05-00
Author: Conley, David T.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Five Key Issues in Restructuring. ERIC Digest, Number 69.
Five key issues can serve to summarize the complexity of the restructuring
process and some of the challenges being faced. The first issue consists of
developing a vision that unites projects. Identifying outcomes that will be
assessed is also crucial, as is obtaining the active support of the community at
large. Also important is principals' ability to redefine their roles by becoming
facilitators. Finally, changing basic organizational practices to better meet
the needs of at-risk students is another issue that requires attention.
SYSTEMS THINKING: FROM PROJECTS TO VISIONS
begin restructuring by developing a project or projects. Examples include new
governance models, block scheduling, integrated curriculum, or technology labs.
Educators are coming to realize that restructuring requires a systems
perspective. Projects may be important first steps, but restructuring is rarely
accomplished through a series of disconnected projects, no matter how
innovative. A vision must overarch and unite these projects. Beyond such
agreement, schools have little guidance as they undertake vision development.
In general, vision seems to be built by creating an environment in which all
participants in the school have access to information about current practices
and shortcomings within the school, to current journals and articles from
education and the world at large, and to innovative school sites where they can
see new approaches in practice. Using this information, they construct a vision.
This approach to vision building is bottom-up. The leader does not possess the
vision; it is developed and owned by everyone in the organization. The leader
facilitates, guides, and supports the process (Conley and others 1991).
Readiness for change is also a systems issue. Some schools have found wisdom
in bypassing an attractive project in order to build further support for a
guiding vision or philosophy.
MOVING TO OUTCOMES
There is a movement at the federal,
state, and district levels to focus on educational outcomes, on what students
can do, not merely what they have been taught. Numerous states including Oregon,
Vermont, California, and Connecticut are developing learner outcomes and
assessment strategies that require students to apply their learning to a task or
to create a product.
The process of identifying the outcomes that will be assessed is perhaps the
most important 'next step' in restructuring nationally and at the state and
local level. These outcomes will drive curriculum and instructional methods, and
will establish de facto the purposes of schooling. When schools focus solely on
new projects and structural modifications, they overlook this critical
The effects will be profound. Curriculum battles will be fought over what
content all students should know. The emergence of "applied academic" courses
will strain traditional distinctions between "vocational" and "academic"
dimensions of the curriculum. Attempts to define which combinations of behaviors
students should master will lead to intensified debate over the degree to which
schools function to prepare students for the world of work, for college, as
citizens in a democracy, or to develop each student's potential abilities.
An emphasis on outcomes desired by employers, such as teamwork,
problem-solving, communication and interpersonal skills, will lead to more focus
on the process of learning, not just the content being taught. Instructional
techniques where students are passive learners will be replaced by ones where
students are more actively involved in constructing meaning out of information
(Brooks 1990). This represents a marked departure from behaviorist philosophies,
where teachers define and control learning.
SCHOOLS AS OPEN SYSTEMS
Restructuring is not occurring
primarily because educators simply want to improve schools. External pressure
and demands are important motivators. The business community, in particular, has
become vocal and articulate in its call for fundamental change in education.
Schools are not "closed systems" that can decide what they want to do and set
their standards for success in isolation from their constituents.
As educators respond to these external pressures, it becomes clear that
schools cannot accomplish their mission without the active support of the
community at large, including parents, businesses, and governmental agencies.
Guthrie (1991) summarizes this call for greater integration of services,
particularly between social service agencies and schools: "Now is the time to
look at the full range of functions that schools are being asked to perform and
identify which of those the school is best suited to handle, which can best be
provided by other institutions and agencies, and which can best be accomplished
by joint effort. The challenge is not simply to divide up responsibilities, but
to reconceptualize the role of the school and relationships among the school,
the community, and the larger society. The new arrangement must be designed so
that it shifts the emphasis of each agency away from itself and toward the
client: the child."
PRINCIPALS AND POWER
Hallinger and others (1991) report
that "principals viewed the effects of restructuring on themselves almost
exclusively in terms of power. They forecast new roles with fewer decisions to
make by themselves leading to a loss of control and power." Goldman and others
(1991) found principals who were learning to redefine their roles in
restructuring schools by becoming facilitators. These principals actually
perceived an increase in their power and influence as they came to employ new
skills such as directing data to teachers to enable them to develop a vision and
make decisions, creating new leadership roles and decision-making structures,
and allocating resources to achieve the vision.
The ability of principals to make this transition from one leadership style
to another, to perceive power as something that is multiplied rather than
reduced when it is shared, seems to be one of the key issues affecting the
long-term success of restructuring. The issue is not solely governance
structures, such as site councils, but the principal's leadership style in
relation to such councils.
THE CHALLENGE OF THE AT-RISK STUDENT
causing schools to ask a basic question: How much failure is acceptable? Frymier
and Gansneder (1989) concluded that between 25 percent and 35 percent of the
22,018 students in their national study were seriously at risk.
National and state policies are establishing expectations that essentially
all students will graduate from high school. As schools begin to adjust their
goals accordingly, they find most of their basic organizational practices must
change. At-risk students demand personalized education, meaningful material,
success-based tasks, continuous contact with trusted adults, and a stable peer
Traditional grouping and grading practices do not facilitate success for
at-risk students. Teachers have a very difficult time accepting the notion that
all students can succeed without standards being lowered. There is increasing
tension between meeting the needs of both "gifted" and "at-risk" students within
the traditional organizational paradigm.
Restructuring schools are using cooperative learning strategies, project
centered learning, learning teams, schools-within-schools, block scheduling,
advisor-advisee programs, enhanced parental involvement, expansion of learning
into the community, and an increasing integration of vocational and academic
curricula into "applied academics" courses as strategies to meet the needs of
diverse groups of students.
One should not assume that most schools are
actively involved in restructuring. If restructuring can be defined as "activities that change fundamental assumptions, practices and relationships,
both within the organization, and between the organization and the outside
world, in ways that lead to improved and varied student learning outcomes for
essentially all students" (Conley in press), then it is probable that not more
than 10 to 20 percent of American schools are involved in serious restructuring.
Most are engaged in some form of incremental improvement of practices (Meyer and
others 1990) through the development of many projects, what Kirst (1991) calls
The jury is still out on whether incremental changes will be adequate to
allow schools to adapt rapidly enough to meet society's changing expectations
for public education. There are many indicators, however, that at least in some
schools, educators are attempting to rethink education and are beginning to
identify and deal with many of the key issues for successful restructuring.
These five issues highlight some of the hurdles they must clear in order to be
David T. Conley is an associate professor of education in the Division of
Educational Policy and Management, College of Education, University of Oregon.
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