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Education Reform: How Traditional and Capacity-Building Approaches Differ

Capacity-building approaches to change offer an alternative to traditional approaches to education reform. While the aim of improving student achievement is the same, the source of answers to achievement problems and the goals of capacity-building approaches are quite different.

Traditional reforms focus on replicating externally developed methods. Capacity-building approaches center the change effort on organizational learning in which the goal is to build the organization's capacity for adaptation and innovation to meet the challenges of unsatisfactory student achievement. Educational practices and underlying organizational conditions that have been successful in other settings are investigated and assessed in terms of those that best fit the needs of local students and the local context. Outside experts, reform models, and best practices inform local action; they do not prescribe them. In this sense, educators build their own reforms.

Figure 1 presents a comparison of traditional reform and capacity-building approaches to professional and organizational learning.

This post includes excerpted material from Michael Palmisano's Taking Inquiry to Scale: An Alternative to Traditional Approaches to Education Reform (NCLE & NCTE, 2013).

In this clip from her 2011 Keynote at NCTE's Annual Convention, Linda Darling-Hammond discusses two different approaches to reform: capacity building and incentive-based reform. She describes how countries noted for having high-achieving students use capacity building models.

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