It’s time to check the reality of comprehensive reform

August 25, 2010 •

How does change happen in a large system?

Michael Lind wrote in the Washington Post last month that comprehensive reform is overrated. In it he talks about the tendency of D.C. policy makers toward large, grand many-step plans in health care, financial reform, and energy legislation—when instead the right approach may instead be much less heavy, and more strategic.

The root of his argument is that large systems are complex, and their behavior is the result of many different pressures ultimately having to do with its design. He outlines three particular problems with comprehensive efforts at reform:

  • They concentrate excessive leverage in the hands of politicians and special interests.
  • They assume an ability to foresee problems and fix them in advance.
  • They have a tendency to define every issue as a problem with a certain answer.
  • Further, comprehensive reform plans tend not to work: they are worked on, put together, voted on with the best of intentions—but soon in implementation interests conflict, initiative ebbs, circumstances change.

    E|E asserts that problems do not arise themselves but are the result of conditions. Instead of trying to foresee all possible problems, and seeking to know all answers, wouldn’t it be more effective to create the best environment at the school level for self-improvement, and to productively identify and work on problems as they occur?