Systemic Change: School Reform in Memphis

When Memphis City Schools began restructuring their 164 schools in 1995, they might have benefited by using the Concerns-based Adoption Model of Reform (CBAM). CBAM was developed at the University of Texas-Austin after the curriculum reforms in United States schools failed in the early 1960’s. CBAM develops data that tells reform project leaders how teachers are reacting to and using reform innovations. The three key areas of the CBAM include: configurations, stages of concerns, and levels of use. These key areas would have been helpful in Memphis’s attempt at systemic school reform.

Memphis public schools wanted to improve student achievement. They hired new superintendent Gerry House in hopes that her site-based management style she used in North Carolina will transcend well in Memphis. However, most school staffs had neither the time nor expertise to conduct the research and perform the professional development required to make significant change.

There are six ideas concerning the concept of change. These concepts are supported by the CBAM and state: change is a process and not an event, is accomplished by individuals, highly personal experience, involves developmental growth, best understood in operational terms, and the focus of the facilitator should be on the individuals and innovations.

The first key element of the CBAM reform is called “Innovation Configurations”. Innovation configuration is a tool that represents how teachers are making change happen. It also provides vital information for the facilitator who can use the information collected to state his/her expectations more clearly. It is also a moment for the facilitator to clarify their program and it allows more time to better monitor the overall project.

The project in Memphis made great strides early in its exception, however, by the time Superintendent House had required full systemic reform, the efforts and progress began to wane. The large number of restructuring schools and the multiple models being used appeared to weaken the cities’ already stretched ability to offer support to each individual school. This lack of support began a chain of events that slowed the support of the reform. This also created a period of growing concern over what schools needed reform and what model to use.

The second element and most important of the CBAM reform is called “Stage of Concern”. This part is the most important because it deals with the feelings of individual people. The stage of concern measures the overall atmosphere and reaction of how people feel about the innovations they are expected to implement. CBAM identifies seven stages of concern that include: awareness, informational, personal, management, consequence, collaboration, and refocusing. These seven stages exist within three dimensions called impact, task, and self.

The teachers of Memphis experienced stages of concern. Many teachers believed that the central administration was favoring certain reform models over others and that certain models were being overlooked on purpose. This level of concern is consistent with CBAM’s dimension of self, where members question the affects and implementation of certain innovations. It was also evident that certain members of Memphis’s administration did not anticipate that the support for the reforms would diminish. Memphis teachers went from self-dimension of concern to impact-dimension of concern expressing discourse and asking how the innovations would impact their schools directly? Others felt that the resources provided were not being used effectively and because of this it hindered any progress or support.

The final element of CBAM is called “Levels of Use”, and it measures exactly how people are using the innovations provided. It also provides a map as to why a certain objective is not being fulfilled. A lot of times the members of the reform team can hinder its progress due to behaviors that negatively impact the innovation. The levels of use include: non-use, orientation, preparation, mechanical, routine, refinement, integration, and renewal. An effective reform must have team leaders willing to refine, integrate, and renew innovation. However, in many cases, as what happened in Memphis, team members tend to spend more time non-using, orientated, preparing, and routinely going about their business waiting for reform to happen without them.

Memphis saw growth early and tried to transfer the success they had in fifteen schools to the remaining. However, as noted by CBAM, the configuration of innovation was not used effectively and schools were unable to monitor the projects and the schools that were unwelcome to change. Additionally, the stages of concern in Memphis were never identified in time to change the self-dimension and task-dimension to an impact-dimension where members collaborate and refocus their ideas together. Lastly, Memphis did not properly assess how people were using the innovations provided. According to CBAM’s “Levels of Use”, the Memphis teachers were behaving in a way that became routine where members typically make few or no changes using an established pattern of behavior.

CBAM is a tool to measure how teachers are reacting to and using innovations. Project leaders need to recognize that CBAM is essential and knowing the members of the school. Without the support of the staff, no innovation or reform will be effective. Teamwork is essential. Some people don’t welcome change and some embrace it. The purpose of CBAM is to recognize how each member feels towards change and to implement an innovation that works for everyone. Memphis could have benefit from using CBAM to recognize that not all of their 164 schools would feel the same way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 + = six