Educational change is a broad term that refers to both shifting paradigms within education and efforts of reform within education. The former is often a part of the latter, since most change within the field of education is initiated for the improvement of the institution. Similarly, shifting perspectives within the field of education are most often a result of an awareness of new ideas and new needs. The efforts taken to adjust to those new ideas and meet those needs can be categorized as educational change.
According to a study conducted by educational researcher Robert Marzano, there are two kinds of educational change. First-order change refers to any surface level change that is a response to new ideas. In this level of change the response as well as the new ideas must fit into the current conceptual framework within education. If it does not, the change is rejected in favor of maintaining the current framework. This change does not drive reform as it is only accepted if it is compatible with accepted norms.
Second-order change refers to what more closely resembles reform and actual change within the field. It concerns itself with the accepted norms and current conceptual framework but works with those for change rather than change to those norms. The current paradigm is part of the change process, but compatibility with it does not determine the success of the change.
The findings of Marzano's research suggest that second-order change is the more substantive and genuine change and that failed reform is usually a result of a failure to address second-order change.
Change at a Local Level
In addition to orders of change, there are levels of change. Change at the local level addresses the daily needs and realities of education. This would refer to change effected at the school or district level. This local change, although limited to specific location, can reflect the successful reform that is the goal of second-order educational change since the change is tailored directly to a specific community.
Change at the National Level
This level of change is of a broader, top-down variety. Educational change at the national level involves governmental mandates and initiatives and often originates outside of the field of education itself and in the hands of policymakers. Since this level of change is large and seeks to effect broad sweeps of change, it may fail to result in genuine reform and may instead fall into the category of first-order change.
Change as Related to Trends
Many changes within education are results of national initiatives born outside of the world of education. That they are external does not invalidate them; however, it does often make these initiatives harder to realize. These moves toward educational reform are direct responses to trends within education by policymakers outside of education. The difficulty is that when this change is activated it often takes time to trickle down to the regional and local level. Occasionally, by the time it does, it is no longer as relevant and vital as it first was. This results in shelved initiatives and failed reform.
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