COVID-19's Lasting Impact on Education

Report: How to Get the Good Changes to Last

How much of the innovation that's taking place right now in education will still be around when the instability of the pandemic has slowed down? That's a question that the Christensen Institute has tried to understand in a new paper published today.

The positive changes taking place in schools aren't simply the ones that have to do with the virus, the report noted. They're also tied to the other one confronting America right now: systemic racism, which "perpetuates inequality and injustice." Both types of pandemics "deeply challenge our education system."

"Will Schools Change Forever?" used a framework developed by the late Harvard professor Clayton Christensen and his colleagues to describe the four essential elements--value propositions, resources, processes and a revenue formula--needed to make lasting change in any organization. As the paper explained, "these four components form a highly interdependent system, meaning they act on each other and respond to changes like predictable chemical reactions."

Report: How to Get the Good Changes to Last

The elements of a school's organizational structure. Source: "Will Schools Change Forever?" from the Christensen Institute

The problem is that as organizations--including schools and districts--mature, those four components making up the model begin to "calcify." When changes are introduced, "friction" is generated with the existing resources and processes. The changes struggle to "gain traction." If there's a hit to the revenue formula, the change "withers on the vine." When changes pose threats to values held closely by staff, people resist.

According to authors Chelsea Waite and Thomas Arnett, both research fellows at the Institute, resources on their own aren't enough to generate lasting change, but resources powering new processes can. To have lasting effect, new processes need to beat out the "old ones" in meeting schools' "prevailing priorities." New priorities need to embed themselves for enduring change because that's how resources and processes are committed. And change efforts must continually win out over ever-present legacy processes and competing priorities to overcome organizational inertia.

The report offered a number of recommendations for "cultivating innovation that persists." Among them are these:

  • For states to give schools the flexibility they need to get rid of old processes holding back the new ones; and

  • For district leaders to sort out the "desired long-term changes" from those introduced to deal with emergencies.

There's also a worksheet and discussion guide that school leaders can use to work their way through their own organizational model as part of their change management process.

The 32-page report is openly available on the Christensen Institute website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.