Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 10, Issue 2–3, pp 101–113 | Cite as

Large-scale reform comes of age

  • Michael FullanEmail author


This article reviews the history of large-scale education reform and makes the case that large-scale or whole system reform policies and strategies are becoming increasingly evident. The review briefly addresses the pre 1997 period concluding that while the pressure for reform was mounting that there were very few examples of deliberate or successful strategies being developed. In the second period—1997 to 2002—for the first time we witness some specific cases of whole system reform in which progress in student achievement was evident. England and Finland are cited as two cases in point. In 2003–2009 we began to observe an expansion of the number of systems engaged in what I call tri-level reform—school/district/government. As Finland, Singapore, Alberta, Canada, Hong Kong, and South Korea continued to demonstrate strong performance in literacy, math and science, Ontario joined the ranks with a systematic tri-level strategy which virtually immediately yielded results and continues to do so in 2009. The nature of these large-scale reform strategies is identified in this article. It can be noted that very little productive whole system reform was going on in the United States. Aside from pockets of success at the level of a few districts since 2000, and despite the presence of a ‘policy without a strategy’ in the form of No Child Left Behind the US failed to make any progress in increasing student achievement. In the final section of the paper I consider the early steps of the Obama administration in light of the ‘theory of action’ of whole system reform identified in this article and predict that there we will see a great expansion and deepening of large-scale reform strategies in the immediate future, not only in the U.S. but across the world.


Large scale reform Capacity building Leadership for change Whole system improvement 


  1. Barber, M. (2008). Instruction to deliver. London: Methuen. (revised paperback).Google Scholar
  2. Barber, M. (2009). From system effectiveness to system improvement. In A. Hargreaves & M. Fullan (Eds.), Change wars (pp. 71–94). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.Google Scholar
  3. Barber, M., & Mourshed, M. (2007). How the world’s best performing systems came out on top. London: McKinsey & Co.Google Scholar
  4. Cisco, Intel, & Microsoft. (2009). Transforming education: Assessing and teaching 21st century skills. Author.Google Scholar
  5. City, E., Elmore, R., Fiarman, S., & Teitel, L. (in press). Instructional rounds in education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  6. Darling-Hammond, L. (2009). Teaching and the change wars. In A. Hargreaves & M. Fullan (Eds.), Changes wars (pp. 45–68). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.Google Scholar
  7. Datnow, A., Hubbard, L., & Mehan, H. (2002). Extending educational reform: From one school to many. London: RoutledgeFalmer Press.Google Scholar
  8. Datnow, A., & Stringfield, S. (2000). Working together for reliable school reform. Journal of education for students placed at risk, 5(1–2), 183–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Drucker, P. (1999). Managing challenges for the 21st century. Oxford: Butterworth-Heineman.Google Scholar
  10. Earl, L., Fullan, M., Leithwood, K., & Watson, N. (2003). Watching and learning: OISE/UT evaluation of the national literacy and numeracy strategies. London: Department for Education and Skills.Google Scholar
  11. Elmore, R. (1995). Getting to scale with good education practices. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 1–26.Google Scholar
  12. Fullan, M. (2000). The return of large-scale reform. Journal of Educational Change, 1(1), 5–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change (4th ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  14. Fullan, M. (2008). The six secrets of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  15. Fullan, M., & Pomfret, A. (1997). Research on curriculum and instruction implementation. Review of Educational Research, 47(1), 335–397.Google Scholar
  16. Fullan, M., & Scott, G. (2009). Turnaround leadership in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  17. Goldin, C., & Katz, L. (2008). The race between education and technology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Goodlad, J., Klein, M., & Associates. (1970). Behind the classroom door. Worthington, OH: Charles A. Jones.Google Scholar
  19. Gross, N., Giacquinta, J., & Bernstein, M. (1979). Implementing organizational innovations. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.Google Scholar
  20. Hargreaves, A. (2009). The fourth way of change. In A. Hargreaves & M. Fullan (Eds.), Change wars (pp. 11–43). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.Google Scholar
  21. Hargreaves, A., Halász, G., & Pont, B. (2007). School leadership for systemic improvement in Finland. Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.Google Scholar
  22. Hargreaves, A., & Shirley, D. (in press). The fourth way. Thousands Oakes, CA: Corwin.Google Scholar
  23. Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. International Education Dialogue. (2008). Report of the third annual IED. Melbourne, Australia: Department of Education.Google Scholar
  25. Levin, B. (2008). How to change 5000 schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  26. Levin, B., Glaze, A., & Fullan, M. (2008). Results without rancor or ranking: Ontario’s success story. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(4), 273–280.Google Scholar
  27. Neuman, S. (2009). Changing the odds for children at risk. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.Google Scholar
  28. Oakes, J., & Lipton, M. (1999). Teaching to change the world. Boston: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  29. Rohlen, T. (1999). Social software for a learning society. In D. Keating & C. Hertzgran (Eds.), Developmental health and wealth of nations (pp. 251–273). New York: The Gilford Press.Google Scholar
  30. Sarason, S. (1971). The culture of the school and the problem of change (2nd ed., 1982). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  31. Schleicher, A. (2009). International benchmarking as a lever for policy reform. In A. Hargreaves & M. Fullan (Eds.), Change wars (pp. 97–115). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.OISE/University of TorontoTorontoUSA

Personalised recommendations