Why ‘System Transformation’ Is Likely A Pipe Dream
May 2023

Why ‘System Transformation’ Is Likely A Pipe Dream

I can’t count the number of times people at an education conference have approached me and said something to the effect of, “But how do we transform the education system?” or “We need to focus on system transformation” or “How do we scale system transformation?”

I get why they share these sentiments with me. Ever since I wrote Disrupting Class in 2008, I’ve been publicly in favor of transforming education, not merely reforming it (although I do work in both spheres). But when I hear calls about transforming existing systems, I recoil a bit and grow suspicious. There are many reasons for my reaction.

Foremost among them is this: Despite all the fancy models and white papers around what are all the levers to pull in order to transform a system, system transformation almost never happens by changing the fundamental tenets of the system itself. Instead, it comes from replacing the system with a brand-new system.


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