“On a national level, educators, policymakers and reformers need to shift the focus from the quick implementation of a constantly changing roster of initiatives to the development and support of the basic organizational functions that enable schools to manage the demands and opportunities around them”
(Hatch, 2009, p. 152)

In order to create the conditions to support large-scale improvements, policymakers and reformers need keep in mind the paradox that it takes capacity to build capacity and recognize that well-intentioned efforts that fail to address what it actually takes to improve schools can be counterproductive. That means coming to terms with a series of long-standing myths that can promote a simplistic view of school reform and confronting the conventional expectations that make it hard to develop more supportive conditions for sustained and long-lasting improvements in schooling:

MYTH 1: The educational system in the United States has the capacity to
significantly improve instruction for all students; people just need to figure out
how to unleash it.

The reality:
The American educational system does not yet have the expertise, resources, and other means to address many of the basic challenges of teaching and learning on a large scale. However, even if schools and teachers do not have all the support they need, that does not mean that every school is working at “full capacity”—working as efficiently and effectively as they could be with the available resources. Improving schools takes both greater efficiency and greater capacity.

MYTH 2: If a school makes some improvements and hits some performance
targets in one year, the school has the capacity to continue to make meaningful
improvements in instruction over time.

The reality: There are many different ways to reach short-term goals and outcomes, and some of them can actually undermine the ability of an organization to sustain performance and to reach long-term performance goals. Short-term pressures may make it particularly difficult for low-performing schools to make the long-term investments in the basic organizational practices of managing staff, maintaining a productive work environment, and developing common understanding that contribute to a school’s capacity to make improvements and sustain them.

MYTH 3: The way to improve the system as a whole is to “scale up” the successes
of individual programs and schools around the country.

The Reality: Successful schools often manage to escape from burdensome requirements and inflexible monitoring and captured scarce resources including such things as effective teachers, strong leaders, high-quality professional development, capable external assistance, adequate facilities, political influence, and foundation support. In most cases, these are not resources or programs that can be scaled up. Any attempt to scale up successful programs has to be accompanied by a concerted effort to create more favorable economic, organizational, social, and political conditions that will give all schools a better chance to manage the external environment and make improvements.

MYTH 4: School choice and competition for students will create conditions
that lead to innovation and improved performance in many schools.

The reality: Regardless of whether or not students and parents have a choice of schools, limited resources, difficult external conditions, and public perceptions of what counts as “real” school constrain schools’ abilities to provide innovative alternatives. Furthermore, successful schools – “regular” schools as well as schools of choice – often capture scarce resources that give them a competitive advantage over others. That advantage reinforces a system in which a small number of schools can excel but does little to build the capacity for large scale improvements.