Problem Formation and Problem Resolution in American Schools

Matthijs Koopmans



Educational systems are known to be difficult to transform. We need to better understand the reasons for this difficulty. This article focuses on public education in the United States, and it discusses the successes and failures of urban school reform efforts in terms of Watzlawick et al.’s (1974) theory of problem formation and problem resolution, including the distinction between first and second order change. The compatibility of this framework with contemporary ideas about the dynamics of change, such as self-organized criticality and emergence is also discussed, and it is shown how these ideas enhance our understanding of what constitutes educational change, and its facilitating and inhibitory processes. The article focuses on two types of school reform: structural reform and financial reform and presents reform efforts in San Diego and Newark as cases in point.

Keywords: public education, second-order change, self-organized criticality, emergence, school reform