Governor elect Branstad recently announced Jason Glass as next Iowa Education Chief. Looks like a solid choice - someone touting innovation and freeing schools of the bureaucracy that weighs them down. Glass has experience in dealing with new pay schemes for educators - which I'm all for - and it caused me to spend some time thinking about the critical difference between "transformation" and "reformation" and how I may help contribute to ensure we are all spending time in transformation so as to not waste valuable time, ideas, and expertise.

I took the opportunity over the recent Holiday break to listen to some critical YouTube videos from the late, great Russell Ackoff. In one of his speeches he identified and discussed the seemingly simple, but rarely understood distinction  between "reforming" and "transforming." He argues, and I agree, that most efforts at improvement and change are reformational in nature. It is important to note that he doesn't attack or question individual ideas but the implicit assumption that these ideas operate relatively independently of other system elements. Performance-based-pay, formative evaluation, standards-based grading, experiential learning - all are wonderful ideas that seem to fit most people's beliefs about what 21st century education should look like but if dealt with as "reforms" we will be right back to the 90's when groups of educators were working to get these things introduced into schools - and we know how that turned out! So, here goes. . .

Ackoff defines "REFORM" as "to leave a system as it is and try to change its behavior through a modification of the means it employs."  This, he says, is about "doing things right." Reforming teacher pay would be to attempt to change behavior by changing the means by which teachers get paid.

He defines "TRANSFORM" as " to change a system's objectives or ends and the means it employs to acheive those ends."  This, he says, is about "doing the right things." Tranforming teacher pay would be to match the pay system with the explicit outcomes of the new education system.

You may be thinking: "Yeah, great, same difference Pickering!" But is it? Let's use this idea to further explore Ackoff's idea remembering it is always better to make a mistake doing the right thing than doing the wrong thing right.

For years the "pay-for-performance" argument has been playing itself out. Virtually anyone taking even a minor amount of time to read research and study educational history knows that the experience & education pay matrix is outdated and ineffective. So why is it so hard to get rid of?  Well, fear of the unknown for sure, tradition, and all sorts of implicit assumptions about vindictive principals, etc, etc. 


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    Dr. Trace Pickering, Coordinator of Innovation & Organizational Effectiveness at Grant Wood Area Education Agency. Consultant and leader in Social Systems Design and applying that to the redesign of American Education.


    January 2011
    September 2010