Saturday, November 09, 2013

Note from Marion Brady


 Although I have not met Marion Brady in person he and I have known each other for several years. We first met on the defunct K12Admin listserv. 

Marion is a thought-leader in education. He has an education column in the Washington Post. His views on what is required to transform the education paradigm are profound and provocative (for those who embrace the outdated Industrial Age paradigm of education).

Marion asked me to share with you four premises that he believes, if enacted, would transform the education paradigm.

His note appears below.

I hope you will engage Marion in a dialogue about his premises.



 I've been trying for decades, with minimal success, to promote a simple idea acceptance of which would have major consequences on the institution. I'm wondering how you'd feel about distributing it and encouraging dialogue.

Stripped to essentials, I argue that:
(1) Good mental organization is the key to maximum intellectual performance.

(2) The core curriculum is a poor mental organizer. 

(3) All humans, from birth, use a far better one.

(4) Helping learners lift this organizer into consciousness and make deliberate use of it radically improves academic performance in ALL subjects.

Our natural organizer doesn't REPLACE school subjects, just makes them SUB-organizers.


Friday, July 19, 2013


Yesterday (July 18, 2013), Dr. Jan Jones posted this query in response to the latest issue of The F. M. Duffy Reports (Volume 18, Number 3).

Excellent article!  Here's the standard issue that innovators face:  I can't move  my system into one that is innovative for students, staff, parents because my funding is tied to the moronic, punitive funding portioned out to us from the Feds and the state.  

We will be meeting with a new Supt. in Texas next week.  He wants to create a district that is innovative and earns state and national recognition....However, due to his great financial limits, all he can do is dance the NCLB dance and the Texas two step....... The frustration of innovators is that their talents lay fallow due to regulations that control them and again, importantly, their options to use the limited funds they do get.

Any suggestions from the authors or you or our esteemed colleagues regarding this critical issue?   

Dr. Jan Jones 
If you have some suggestions for Dr. Jones, please post them in this Blog Roll.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Transform, Not Reform

School reform is once again on the national agenda put there by a new documentary called “Waiting for Superman.” Given what is being offered by President Obama, the U.S. Department of Education, education pundits, and critics as solutions to the problems our school systems are facing I felt a need to respond.

So, here we go again! One more time politicians, pundits, and critics calling out school systems for failing to provide America’s children with the education they need and then offering their worn, tired, and failed recommendations for education reform: a longer school year, fire incompetent teachers, create charter schools, dump more money into failing schools, practice school-based continuous improvement, and others.

None of these “fixes” can do what needs to be done to provide America’s children with the education they need to succeed in our 21st Century knowledge economy. We need to transform our school systems, not reform them.

Education reform is a failed strategy because it focuses on fixing the broken parts of America’s more than 14,000 school systems (which is pejoratively referred to as piecemeal change) while sustaining the underlying paradigm that drives teaching and learning in those systems. Fixing the broken parts of any school system is a failed change strategy because the underlying paradigm has outlived its usefulness and effectiveness and nothing can be done to fix it—it has to be replaced.

A paradigm is a set of theories, models, beliefs, and so on that influence the performance of an entire profession. The dominant paradigm influencing the performance of school systems is one that emerged at the beginning of the Industrial Age in the late 1700s-early 1800s. This Industrial Age paradigm created a factory model for educating groups of students by requiring them to learn a fixed amount of knowledge in a fixed amount of time. That paradigm continues to control the performance of school systems throughout the United States.

There is no place in the controlling paradigm for providing each child with an educational experience that is tailored to his or her needs, interests, and abilities. Because of this significant feature, that paradigm always has and always will leave children behind. Leaving children behind is an unavoidable consequence of the Industrial Age design of America’s school systems. The systems are perfectly designed to get the results they are getting.

Providing America’s children with an education that satisfies the requirements of our 21st Century Knowledge Age society requires a paradigm-shifting revolution that drives out the dominant Industrial Age paradigm by making four inter-connected transformations:

  • Transform the way teachers teach and how children learn by replacing group-based, teacher-centered instruction with personalized, learner-centered instruction (if a child receives a personalized learning experience that is customized to respond to his or her needs, interests, and abilities and if that child is given the time he or she needs to master the required content, how can that child ever be left behind?);
  • Transform the quality of work life for teachers, administrators, and support staff by transforming a school system’s organization culture, its reward system, job descriptions, and so on, to align with the requirements of the new teaching and learning processes (if teachers and staff are de-motivated and dissatisfied, they will not use the new teaching and learning paradigm effectively. The quality of work life has a direct and significant impact on motivation and satisfaction);
  • Transform the way school systems interact with external stakeholders by moving away from a crisis-oriented, reactive approach to an opportunity-seeking, proactive approach (if a school system wants to transform as many of us change-minded advocates believe they should they will need political support and financial resources from their communities); and,
  • Transform the way in which educators’ create change by replacing piecemeal change strategies with whole-system change strategies (piecemeal change cannot create transformational change).

Our society cannot afford to carry its old education paradigm forward. It does no good to dream of an idealized future for education if that future is just a projection and continuation of the past. Instead, change-minded educators should imagine that the dominant paradigm controlling the design and performance of school systems was destroyed last night and now they must invent brand new school systems. To align with the requirements of our society’s 21st Century Knowledge Age those new systems must be designed in response to the learning needs of individual children if we truly never want to leave any child behind.

The time is now. The need is great. The past before us is not the future. We need to create a brand new future for America’s school systems—a future created through transformation not reformation. The education reform recommendations we are hearing and reading about—one more time—cannot and never will be able to achieve this vision for the future of education in the United States.

Francis M. Duffy, Ph.D. is the author of Dream! Create! Sustain!: Mastering the Art & Science of Transforming School Systems published by Rowman & Littlefield Education. He is also the co-director of FutureMinds: Transforming American School Systems—a nationwide initiative sponsored by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology to transform school systems for success in the 21st Century. He can be reached at

Thursday, May 31, 2007

When Is Systemic Change Not Systemic?

Hello everyone,

I was reminded of a question I have addressed repeatedly since I started writing, teaching, and speaking about systemic change back in 1984: "When is systemic change not systemic"?

There are many often conflicting definitions of systemic change. The definitional confusion still confuses practitioners and policymakers today and I see this confusion appearing in publications on school improvement; for example,
  • When I read articles about examples of systemic change and the articles are about high school reform, I cringe.
  • When I read articles about systemic change and they are all about building-level change, I cringe.
  • When I read articles that claim that curriculum improvement, introducing new instructional technology, or creating a new management information system are examples of systemic change, I cringe.

All of the above changes can be part of a systemic change initiative, but, by themselves, they are not examples of systemic change.

The "system" is the intact school district. In fact, a school district is one of the few organizations in the world that is actually often called a system (as in, "school system"). The school system is all the programs, buildings, activities, people, etc. that must be aligned and coordinated to deliver educational services to students. If you draw a circle around all those elements everything inside the circle is the system to be improved and everything outside the circle, including state departments of education, comprises the system's external environment (this notion comes from Fred and Merrelyn Emery, early pioneers of the systems approach to improving organizations as systems).

Russell Ackoff (another early pioneer of systemic change) tells us that it is pure folly to try to improve parts of a system (as in focusing improvement only on a school building or a level of schooling like high school reform). He says that not only won't the entire system improve by focusing on the parts, but it is likely that the piecemeal focus will actually cause the system's performance to deterioriate.

Systemic change must also follow three paths: Path 1--improve the system's relationship with its external environment; Path 2--improve the system's core and supporting work; and Path 3--improve the system's internal social infrastructure. If efforts labeled systemic change do not follow those three paths, those changes are not systemic.

So, to answer my opening question, "When is systemic change not systemic"?, the answer is , "When it focuses on anything less than the whole-system."

Monday, May 21, 2007

What Systemic Transformational Change Means to Me

Dear Colleagues,

The Association for Educational Communication and Technology (AECT) recently launched the FutureMinds: Transforming American School Systems initiative ( Dr. Charles Reigeluth of Indiana University and I are the co-directors of that initiative. The vision for FutureMinds is to develop the capacity of state departments of education to create and sustain transformational change within entire school systems in their states.

I'd like to share a few thoughts with you about what systemic transformational change means to me.

Systemic transformational change creates a substantially different organizational reality in a school system. Creating and sustaining that new reality is not an easy task because within each school district there are multiple realities encased in the mindsets of the educators working in those districts; not to mention in the mindsets of key external stakeholders who think they know what’s best for a school system.

The existing multiple realities need to be blended into a shared reality of a desirable future for a school system. But it is insufficient simply to create a unified and shared vision of a desirable future. The literature on transformational change repeatedly reinforces the need for people in organizations to change the way they think and act (i.e., to change their paradigms or mindsets) with regard to three change paths:
  • Path 1--their system’s relationships with its external environment,
  • Path 2--their system's core and supporting work processes, and
  • Path 3--their system's internal social infrastructure (which includes organization culture, organization design, job descriptions, reward system, etc.).
The way that educators currently think and act along those three paths represents their current mindsets or paradigms. If educators want to create and sustain transformational change, then they need to shift the way they think and act with regard to how they relate to their environment (Path 1), how they do their work (Path 2), and the quality of their system's social infrastructure (Path 3). Thus, three paradigm shifts are required.

But there is a fourth paradigm shift that’s required--there is a need for educators to change the way they think and act with regard to creating and sustaining change. Their dominant, controlling paradigm for change is what we call piecemeal.

So, now we are faced with the challenge of helping educators shift from four existing paradigms to four new paradigms for creating and sustaining systemic transformational change along three change paths:
  • Paradigm Shift 1: shift from a reactive stance in response to the environment to a proactive stance (Path 1: improve the system's relationship with its external environment).
  • Paradigm Shift 2: shift from the Industrial-Age paradigm of schooling to an Information-Age paradigm; and, include the supporting work processes in a school system within this shift (Path 2: improve the system's core and supporting work processes).
  • Paradigm Shift 3: shift from a command and control organization design to a participatory organization design (Path 3: improve the system's internal social infrastructure; which requires changes to organization culture, communication practices, job descriptions, reward systems, and other elements of the social infrastructure).
  • Paradigm Shift 4: shift from a piecemeal approach to change to a systemic transformational change approach (by moving along the three change paths to create unparalleled opportunities to improve student, faculty and staff, and whole-system learning that are substantially different than what is currently being done in the system).
Our first challenge in our efforts to stimulate and support four paradigm shifts is to convince educators that these shifts are needed. Telling them that they are needed will not be enough. They have heard these kinds of calls for change before. We need compelling data that not only point out the need for change, but also shine a bright flood light on the opportunities that systemic transformational change provides. “Need data” push people toward change. “Opportunity data” draw people toward change. Both kinds of data are critical for motivating people to make their mindsets malleable and therefore capable of changing.

In addition to the need and opportunity data, we will need to use an integrated set of communication strategies that have been documented as effective in promoting transformational change (see Nevis, Lancourt, & Vassallo, 1996).

These communication strategies are:

  1. Persuasive communication (the rah rah, let’s get going communication)
  2. Participation (involving people in setting a course to a desirable future)
  3. Expectancy (communicating to people our expectation that they can succeed in systemic transformational change)
  4. Role modeling (providing educators with real life examples of school systems and other organizations that have transformed or are transforming)
  5. Structural rearrangement (helping change leaders make key changes to the organization design of their school systems)
  6. Extrinsic rewards (helping change leaders re-tool their districts’ reward systems to reinforce desirable behaviors that unequivocally support their transformation journey)
  7. Coercion (communicating to change leaders that all examples of successful transformation have been shown to start with the use of positive coercion applied by senior leaders in the system).

Nevis, E. C., Lancourt, J. L., & Vassallo, H. G. (1996). Intentional revolutions: A seven-point strategy for transforming organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

I hope all this makes sense.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The AECT FutureMinds: Transforming American School Systems Initiative

Two pieces of information that are exciting for me to share...

1. The national Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) has a Division of Systemic Change. Members of that division teach, write about, and facilitate systemic change in school systems and other organizations. I recently (March, 2007) became the president-elect of that division.

2. A group of us within the AECT Division of Systemic Change submitted a proposal to the AECT board of directors to launch a new, nationwide initiative to collaborate with selected state departments of education to help them create and sustain systemic transformational change in selected school systems within their states.

Last week, that proposal was accepted unanimously by the AECT board of directors. I am one of the co-directors of this new nationwide initiative, which will be called "FutureMinds: Transforming American School Systems." The other co-director is Dr. Charles Reigeluth from Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

The methodology we will be using to help selected state departments of education transform selected school systems in their states is a modified version of my methodology for creating and sustaining transformational change in school systems (called Step-Up-To-Excellence--SUTE). SUTE was blended with Dr. Reigeluth's methodology to create a hybrid methodology that we are calling "The Duffy-Reigeluth School System Transformation Protocol." Dr. Reigeluth has been using an earlier version of this blended methodology to facilitate whole-system change in the Metropolitan School District of Decatur, Indiana (you may visit the website for their transformation journey at

The new SST Protocol will be described in my 9th book on whole-system change that I am currently writing with the working title "Dream! Create! Sustain!: Mastering the art & science of school system transformation." The book will become part of my Leading Systemic School Improvement Series published by Rowman & Littlefield Education (you may visit the website for the Series by going to and then clicking the link for the series).

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The F. M. Duffy Reports

In 1995 I started publishing The F. M. Duffy Reports. These are quarterly reports distributed free of charge that focus on helping change leaders in school districts learn about the challenges of creating and sustaining whole-system change in their districts. The reports are distributed to an international audience of educators, state superintendents of schools, school board members, education agency executives, consultants, professors, state and federal politicians with an interest in improving schooling, graduate students, and others.

If you would like to subscribe to these Reports, please send me an email at