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High school change: a reflective essay on three decades of frustration, struggle and progress

Andy Hargreaves (Lynch School of Education, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA) (Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 3 May 2022

Issue publication date: 10 May 2022




The purpose of this essay is to honor, position and reflect on key themes related to high school reform within the careerlong scholarship of Karen Seashore Louis. It is presented in relation to my own and others' key studies and book-length arguments regarding educational change, knowledge utilization, professional communities and innovation, over the past 30 years and up to the present time.


The article examines and interprets major works by Karen Seashore Louis and other educational change theorists that address repeated systemic failures, and episodic outlier efforts, at transformational change in high schools.


High school change has only failed if it is judged by the overarching criterion of system-wide transformation. Fair assessments of high school change must also examine accumulated incremental innovations. In light of the need for transformational aspirations in schools to mesh with transformational directions in society, the global pandemic and its aftermath may provide five key opportunities for long-awaited transformation.


There are different levels and degrees of innovation. Incremental innovation is as important as wholesale transformation. The growing number of networked outliers of innovation raises questions about the false equation of whole system change with bureaucratic state reform. Although the influential literature on whole system change is rooted in a small number of English-speaking countries, transformational change on a system-wide basis already exists in Northern Europe and parts of the Global South. Last, the pandemic and other major disruptions to the global social order have produced conditions that are highly favorable to transformational change in the future.



Hargreaves, A. (2022), "High school change: a reflective essay on three decades of frustration, struggle and progress", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 60 No. 3, pp. 245-261.



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