SUSTAINABILITY OF EDUCATIONAL CHANGE: THE ROLE OF
ABSTRACT. The paper examines the conceptual and strategic role of social geographies
in contributing to or undermining sustainable school improvement. It develops a four-
fold definition of sustainability as involving improvement over time, within available or
achievable resources that does not impact negatively on the surrounding environment
and that promotes ecological diversity and capacity more widely. A conceptual frame-
work of social geographies is developed along with its implications for sustainability.
This analysis is then applied to a further framework of seven strategic geographies of
educational change which deliberately try to arrange, order or exploit space in particular
ways to secure school change. These are market geographies, network geographies, virtual
geographies, geographies of scaling up, standardized geographies, differential geographies
and geographies of social movements. The paper concludes by reviewing the other contri-
butions to the volume on the theme of social geographies of educational change, and
describes the Spencer Foundation funded conference from which they sprang.
We live in a world of endless and relentless change. Change, the optimists
say, is learning (Fullan, 1993). It challenges us to come to terms with
and master new knowledge, skills and experiences. The developmental
psychologists tell us that change also involves loss (Marris, 1974). Itmeans
letting go of old routines and attachments in order to acquire new ones. In
public education, change is usually less and more than both these things.
Over time, for too many educators, change is a serial killer. Its repeated
actions defeat and destroy improvement instead of developing it.
Educational change often fails because individual change efforts are
poorly designed. The research literature catalogues the reasons why (e.g.,
Hargreaves, Earl & Ryan, 1996; Fullan with Stiegelbauer, 1991; Miles &
Huberman, 1984). The goals of the change may be unrealistic or unclear
so teachers cannot achieve what is expected of them. The perpetrators of
change may have low credibility; their reasons may be politically suspect;
the intentions regarding real improvement for students may be in doubt.
Changes may be too complex and overwhelming, requiring teachers to
work on too many fronts at once. What I have called the tone of change
may also be offensive, as it unsuccessfully tries to shame teachers into
submission (Hargreaves, in press).
Journal of Educational Change 3: 189–214, 2002.
© 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Educational change efforts also regularly fail because they are ineptly
implemented, especially beyond the initial rush of enthusiasm. Limited
resources often mean that ideas fail to translate into action, or that well-
funded pilot projects are followed by weakly resourced efforts to extend
the changes more widely. The frenetic pace of change often exceeds the
flow of resources that can support it. Professional development is often
inadequate and inservice training is rarely directed at the classroom in
combination with the collegial and coaching support that is needed most.
Technological hardware is normally not matched by continuous supplies
of software. The optimism surrounding model or beacon schools typically
fades when staff age, leaders leave and the focus and momentum shift
elsewhere (Fink, 2000).
In educational change and reform, history continually repeats itself.
This repeated failure becomes more than a set of disconnected episodes.
In the minds and the memories of teachers, the failure of change
becomes a cumulative phenomenon. The maturing memory of each failed
change deepens teachers’ cynicism about the prospects of future changes.
Disinvestment and disappointment follow early enthusiasm as surely as
night follows day. Since governments reverse their ideologies every decade
or so, trying to keep up with them is futile. As older teachers are prone to
remark, teach the same way all your career, and you will be in fashion at
least three times (Bailey, 2000). Initiatives may come and go, but the basic
structures, routines or “grammar” of schooling remain the same (Tyack &
It is for these reasons that change over time in education is a predictable
failure (Sarason, 1990), a serial killer of initiative and enthusiasm over
the duration of teachers’ careers. As a result, many writers and reformers
have begun to worry and write about not just how to effect snapshots of
change at any particular point, but how to sustain them, keep them going,
make them last. The sustainability of educational change has, in this sense,
become one of the key priorities in the field.
SUSTAINABILITY OF EDUCATIONAL CHANGE
Educational change theorists and change agents have been concerned for
many years with the problem of how to move beyond the implementa-
tion phase of change when new ideas and practices are tried for the first
time, to the institutionalization phase when new practices are integrated
effortlessly into teachers’ repertoires, and affect many teachers, not just
a few (Anderson & Stiegelbauer, 1994). To a large degree, more recent
discussions of sustainability in educational change repeat these traditional
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL GEOGRAPHIES
preoccupations with how to keep improvement going over time. In doing
so, however, these discussions trivialize the idea of sustainability. They
reduce it to maintainability – to the question of how to make improvement
last – and add little to the traditional analysis of institutionalization.
Sustainability is more than a temporal matter. It concerns more than a
change’s life and death. In line with its origins in the Brundtland Commis-
sion on the environment, sustainability is also a spatial issue. As my
colleague Dean Fink and I have argued elsewhere:
Sustainability does not simply mean whether something can last. It addresses how partic-
ular initiatives can be developed without compromising the development of others in the
surrounding environment, now and in the future (Hargreaves & Fink, 2000: 32).
Specifically, this implies several things. First, sustainable improvement
is enduring, not evanescent. It does not put its investment dollars in the
high profile launch of an initiative, then withdraw them when the glamour
has gone. Sustainable improvement demands committed relationships, not
fleeting infatuations. It is change for keeps, and change for good. Sustain-
able improvement contributes to the growth and the good of everyone,
instead of fostering the fortunes of the few at the expense of the rest. It does
not channel water to prosperous villages while their poorer neighbours
die of thirst. Neither does it promote model schools, magnet schools, or
schools with special emphases that raid scarce resources from the rest.
Second, sustainable improvement develops and draws on resources and
support at a rate than can match the pace of change. It does not let change
outrun its resource base and deplete the reserves that are needed by others.
Sustainable policies do not lavish resources on computer hardware when
long term spending commitments cannot support continuing maintenance
or updates in software. Supporters of sustainability do not make Easter
Islands of educational change where wanton years of plenty and beliefs
that the trees will last forever, suddenly lead to barren plains of famine
and drought. As Nicos Machiavelli warned in The Prince, “it is a common
defect in men not to consider in good weather the possibility of a tempest”
(Machiavelli, 1532). In this respect, sustainable educational policies don’t
squander all the resource on pilot projects, leaving little for everybody
else; or invest improvement funds in coordinators who disappear once
the money has dried up. Sustainable improvement requires investment in
building long term capacity for improvement, such as the development of
teachers’ skills, which will stay with them forever, long after the project
money has gone (Stoll, 1999).
Last, promoters of sustainability cultivate and recreate an educational
environment or ecosystem that possesses the capacity to stimulate ongoing
improvement on a broad front. Just as natural ecosystems need biodiversity
to thrive and progress in evolutionary terms, schools and school systems
need professional diversity if they are to make sustainable improvements
educationally. Professionally diverse environments create learning, adapta-
tion and cross-fertilization in complex, evolving systems (Capra, 1997).
They enable people to adapt to and prosper in their increasingly complex
environment. Rational, standardized scientific efficiency is the enemy of
healthy and creative diversity. It produces overly simple systems that are
too specialized to allow the learning and cross-fertilization that is neces-
sary for healthy development. Excessive specialization also makes species
exceptionally vulnerable to parasites and predators – an attack on one
member of the species eventually becomes an assault against all.
Standardized reform strategies make school systems less like rich,
biodiverse rainforests of cross-fertilizing influence that can achieve
sustainable improvement over time, than like regimented coniferous
plantations, whose super-efficient ugliness is exceeded only by their
limited capacity formutual influence and their lack ofcontribution towider
The evidence of research that we have undertaken with our colleagues
on the long-term impact of educational reform in Ontario and New York
State is that standardized reform is destroying diversity and seriously
endangering the lives and futures of the weakest members of the school
system – the poor, the marginalized, those who are learning through a
new language and those with special educational needs. Standardization
is endangering these students to the point of educational extinction where
failure to meet the regimented standards is denying severely disadvantaged
students the right to graduate. Similarly, high pressure improvement in
test results in the short run are being bought at the expense of a long-
term recruitment and retention crisis in teaching – since teaching driven
by short-term results is not the kind of teaching that teachers want to do
(Hargreaves, in press).
In education, one important addition to this discussion of sustain-
ability is that not anything or everything is worth keeping. In education,
it matters that what is sustained is what, in terms of teaching and learning
is itself sustaining. To sustain is to keep alive in every sense. Susten-
ance is nourishment. Sound education, good teaching and learning are
inherently sustaining processes. Supporting and maintaining those aspects
of teaching and learning that are deep and that endure, that foster soph-
isticated understanding and lifelong learning for all defines the core of
sustainable education. This includes not just knowing what, but knowing
why (deep understanding), knowing how (application) and knowing who
(building social networks and social capital) (OECD, 2001). Merely main-
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL GEOGRAPHIES
taining practices that raise test scores or produce easily measurable results
does not sustain these deeper aspects of teaching and learning.
To sum up, sustainability in educational change comprises five key and
interrelated characteristics. These are
improvement that sustains learning; not merely change that alters
improvement that endures over time
improvement that can be supported by available or achievable
improvement that doesn’t impact negatively on the surrounding
environment of other schools and systems
improvement that promotes ecological diversity and capacity
throughout the educational and community environment.
Clearly, this means that sustainability raises questions not only about
the endurance of educational and organizational change over time, but also
about its arrangement and articulation through space. Sustainable improve-
ment, in other words, is a matter of social geography as well as social
UNDERSTANDING SOCIAL GEOGRAPHIES
Social geographies of educational change encompass the ways that
changes or failures to change are located, distributed and redefined or
reconstituted as they move through space, from one place to another. While
social histories of educational change and other phenomena deal with what
Shields calls “regimes ofsuccession” over time,social geographies address
“regimes of articulation” across space (Shields, 1991: 274–275).
Social geographies of educational change encompass phenomena as
diverse as how initiatives in a classroom or department are influenced by
the surrounding context of the school, the district or the nation (Talbert &
McLaughlin, 1994); how innovation spreads or “diffuses” from one school
to another (Rogers, 1962); how and whether reforms can be “scaled up”
from a few schools to a whole system (Elmore, 1995); how seemingly
standardized reforms affect schools differently depending on where they
are located; how schools influence one another – for instance, innova-
tive schools and their traditional neighbours, beacon schools and those
in their shadows, magnet schools and others around them (Fink, 2000);
how policies spread across and are borrowed by different nations (Ball,
1993); and how the identities of and interrelationships among schools are
affected by technology, principles of market competition and choice, and
Underpinning all these trends and possibilities, to which I will return
in the next section, are a set of basic theoretical principles of social
geography that apply to them all and that I will review here. Social
geographies involve the study of physical space and human construc-
tions, perceptions and representations of spatiality as contexts for and
consequences of human interaction. More specific principles of a social
geographical perspective can be clarified and developed in relation to this
1. Space is a central, not a contingent feature of social organizations and
Harvey (1989: 141) notes that much classical social theory has tended to
“prioritize time and history over space and geography”. Yet, geography
does not merely modify or add contingency to generalized, time-based
trajectories of history, biography or evolutionary development (Soja, 1989:
14). Indeed, claims for generalized social explanations of time, history or
evolution have often been advanced from the presumed and unquestioned
superiority or generalizability of one single space – be this a broadly
Western, or a specifically European or North American one. Theories and
understandings of educational change, for example, are overly dominated
by Anglophone and Anglocentric traditions that do not apply so easily yet
are commonly exported to many other cultures and traditions – particularly
less developed ones – with damaging results (see the Big Change Ques-
tion later in this issue). Space itself is as important a feature of human
institutions and interactions as is time. As Giddens (1984: 363) has noted:
human beings ‘make their own geography’ as much as they ‘make their own history’. That
is to say, spatial configurations of social life are just as much a matter of basic importance
to social theory as are the dimensions of temporality.
2. Space is a social as well as a physical phenomenon
Giddens (1984: 110) again notes that, “most social analysts treat time and
space as mere environments of action ... social scientists have failed to
construct their thinking around the modes in which social systems are
constituted across time-space”. This issue, Giddens concludes, “is at the
very heart of social theory” (ibid.). There is more to the study of space
and its relationship to educational change than a naive view in which
buildings, spaces, and materially designed environments largely condition
and constrain the actions of educators. Spaces both constrain and provide
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL GEOGRAPHIES
opportunities for social interaction (Giddens, 1984). The organization of
social space is a social product. “It arises from purposeful social practice”
(Soja, 1989: 80; see also Lefebvre, 1976). Educational change agents and
reformers, in this sense, can create and recreate their own social spaces
without being totally constrained by and dependent on the spaces created
for them by others. For instance, in the highly deprived working class
communities of Kingston upon Hull in England, schools secure parental
participation not by bringing parents on to the school site but by holding
prize-giving and award ceremonies in the high profile professional sport
rugby club, complete with bar and optional tours of the stadium.
3. Space is both a medium and outcome of human interaction
Space both structures and is structured by our actions and relationships
(Giddens, 1984). Obvious though this may seem, space is often regarded
as containing and constraining human action in a more deterministic way.
Yet, as Soja (1989: 129) notes, in twisting a celebrated quotation of Marx’s
We make our own history and geography, but not just as we please; we do not make them
under circumstances chosen by ourselves, but under circumstances directly encountered,
given and transmitted from the historical geographies produced in the past.
Thus the status and social significance of educational change initiatives
are in part defined by the spaces that have been created for them over time.
Equally, therefore, attempts to change the status and social significance of
particular change initiatives must include deliberate and concerted efforts
to relocate and reconfigure the spaces they occupy – by making them less
peripheral and subject to marginalization. Policies to transform the poor
U.S. urban districts that are encircled by affluent communities, or efforts
to transport minority students to schools in neighbouring communities, for
example, are pursued on this terrain.
4. Spaces are often imbued with imaginary properties as well as physical
and social ones
In human interaction, spaces are accorded images or even myths that
become “metaphors we live by” (Lakoff & Johnson, 1979). Spaces in
this sense, can be invested with imaginary, even mythical properties – like
the Canadian “True North Strong and Free” (Shields, 1991; Lash & Urry,
1994). While beacon schools may be borne as torches by policy makers,
the neighbouring schools which are cast into their shadow typically find
these highly resourced examples unrealistic and impossible to emulate
Historian Simon Schama reflects on the nature of imaginary
geographies by critiquing the views of the founding fathers of modern
environmentalism, Henry David Thoreau and John Muir
the presumption was that the wilderness was out there, somewhere, in the western heart of
America, awaiting discovery, and that it would be the antidote for the poisons of industrial
society. But, of course, the healing wilderness was as much a product of culture’s craving
and culture’s framing as any other imagined agenda (Schama, 1995: 7).
The imaginary and mythical properties of social spaces leave their
historical traces of meaning long after the practices which gave rise to
them have passed away. No amount of ecological tourist excursions seem
to remove the sense of wilderness which their accumulating intrusions
destroy and deny. Similarly, even the most Herculean efforts by schools
with tarnished records of falling standards, faded progressivism, or special
education emphases can fail to raise their status, and invent a new reputa-
tion for rigour in the face of their historical legacies of stigmatization.
Educational reform, therefore, involves redefining the mythical spaces of
the imaginary geographies of schools and districts (Shields, 1991) as well
as redesigning the distanced and isolated spaces of their physical ones.
Making improvement means inventing new myths.
5. Space, time and being define the core of human existence
How we design our spaces has fundamental implications for how we
define our selves. Soja (1989: 25) writes that “spatiality, temporality
and social being can be seen as the abstract dimensions which together
comprise all facets of human existence.” Human selves construct and
occupy social spaces. They define their spaces’ social and physical bound-
aries which in turn define them. Proposals to reconfigure spaces therefore
pose fundamental challenges to people’s selves. Magnet schools increase
the status and strengthen the identity of teachers who are drawn to
them while consigning their colleagues to the insecurity of the periphery
(Hargreaves, in press). Successful collegiate high schools crown their
students and staff with distinction, while underperforming schools in
poor communities (which sometimes exist only because of adminis-
trative quotas) make their teachers and students the objects of contempt
and disgust. Urban economies of affluence and poverty create emotional
economies in schooling of distinction and disgust (Hargreaves, in press).
Attempts to redefine the borders of particular spaces through school busing
and detracking almost always threaten the boundaries of identity among
the occupants of those spaces (Douglas, 1966; Bernstein, 1971). It is
not just physical boundaries that are breached, but social and psychic
boundaries of self and identity as well.
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL GEOGRAPHIES
6. Distributions of social space reflect and reinforce distributions of
Cultural categories of high and low, central and peripheral are closely
bound up with geographical distinctions of the same kind (Stallybrass
& White, 1986). “Relations of power and discipline are inscribed into
the apparent innocent spatiality of social life” (Soja, 1989: 6). Emotional
economies of success and failure, distinction and disgust are created and
reinforced by policies of market competitiveness and parental choice in
schooling – separating those who have the power to choose and to move in
seeking out the best opportunities, from those who do not (Bauman, 1998).
7. Experiences, perceptions and representations of social spatiality are
undergoing profound changes in the age of information
Although space and spatiality are fundamental features of all human exist-
ence, they take on particular importance in the current age of instant
information and computer communication (Lash & Urry, 1994). Marshall
McLuhan (1973: 11) observed that
after three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical tech-
nologies, the Western world is imploding. During the mechanical age, we had extended
our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electronic technology, we have
extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and
The result is that “the globe is no more than a village” (pp. 12–13).
Mechanical, print-based technologies created differentiated, specialized
patterns of living and organization. Electronic technologies of mobile
phones and computer systems are undoing all this. In the pursuit of
profitability, technology has accelerated the turnover of producing and
consuming, money and markets, tastes and fashions. What has been
achieved, in effect, is the “annihilation of space through time” (Harvey,
1989: 299). In Michael Foucault’s words:
The great obsession of the nineteenth century was, as we know history: with its themes of
development and of suspension, of crisis and cycle, themes of the ever accumulating past,
with its great preponderance of dead men and the menacing glaciation of the world. ...
The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of
simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the
side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the
world isless that of a long lifedeveloping through timethan that of a network that connects
points and intersects with its own skein (Foucault, 1976: 22–27).
These transformations in our experiences of space are redefining how
organizations work. Successful organizations and especially corporations,
stay ahead of their competition by how they access information and
how well they process knowledge in order to out-invent and outwit
their competitors (OECD, 2001; Reich, 2001). Workplaces are becoming
more flexible: structures are undergoing continuous change. Organiza-
tional action in this new model “needs to be viewed in terms of clusters
of activity sets whose membership, composition, organization and goals
are constantly changing and in which projects rather than positions are
central” (Kanter, Stein & Jick, 1992: 12–13).
The knowledge society recreates and redefines the spatial relationships
of social geography in education and elsewhere. Traditional understand-
ings of social geography and educational change see the contexts of
teaching, schooling and change as a set of “nested” or “embedded” layers,
levels or concentric nodes of influence, extending from nations to states,
districts, schools and departments, that all affect the nature of teaching and
learning at the centre (Smith, Dwyer, Prunty & Kleine, 1987; Talbert &
While this explanation usefully differentiates between different policy
approaches, its functionalist, systems-theory conception of distinct layers
in an embedded system does not easily account for the highly complex,
spatially penetrating and rapidly shifting patterns of influence in today’s
knowledge society. Neither does the ‘nested system’ explanation address
how and whycontexts change, as, for example, inrelation to theemergence
of charter schools or the impact of informational technologies. As a spatial
theory, it is politically tepid and timeless.
Recent studies of in-school interaction have begun to develop more
sensitive and sophisticated approaches to understanding the social context
of schooling. These moresophisticated viewsof micro-macro relationships
avoid drawing conceptual boundaries between what is inside the classroom
and what is “out there” in the world beyond (Hargreaves & Fullan, 1998).
Acker (2000), for example, has described how streams of people are
forever moving in and out of the schools today and how educators have
to deal with all of them.
There was a constant interchange of people who went in and out of the school. It is
important to note their presence, because it contradicts that a school is an isolated society.
Although each school has its own culture, it is formed in contact with the wider society, in
the particular local context (p. 125).
The walls of schooling are breaking down and spatial understandings
of embedded layers of influence with clear boundaries between them do
not capture this new reality. Jan Nespor (1997) argues for an alternative
approach that explains contextual influences on education in terms of
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL GEOGRAPHIES
questioning conventionally defined boundaries, looking for flows rather than states,
focusing on networks and the layered connections that knot them together rather than on
simpler linear histories of circumscribed events or settings (p. xiv).
Flows and networks can be considerably more methdologically
challenging for theorists to trace than causal pathways. But this task
has been made somewhat easier in recent years because of the greater
politicization and therefore transparency of schooling. School councils,
charter schools, and the public listing of schools in comparative perfor-
mance tables are redefining the relationships between parents and profes-
sionals and making them more volatile and visible. The corporate world
is becoming more involved in defining the curriculum, sponsoring new
technologies, and setting the basic agendas and terms of educational
discourse through which reform is debated and decided (e.g., value-
added achievement, high performance learning communities, total quality
management). The boundaries around public schooling that gave it at least
an appearance of autonomy as an agent for the general public good have
been weakened by the willful intrusions of commercial and market forces.
There is a new terrain here for educational study, and while research on
schools and communities, education and enterprise, or computers in the
classroom already exist, few studies explore how all these forces and
influences interconnect in specific sites.
This task is a demanding one, calling for multiple forms and sites of
data collection. For example, Nespor (1997) shows how portfolio innova-
tion in one elementary school is occasioned and shaped by a whole range
of forces in complex, interactive ways. He describes how the school’s
principal gained permission from the authoritarian district superintendent
to deviate from standard procedures by gaining his ear; how the super-
intendent’s appointment followed on from a mandate to clean up the city;
how parents’ objections to the new assessment were assuaged by linking
portfolios to business discourses of skill development that were circulating
as a result of corporate interventions in education; and how, when the
school’s teachers could not develop their expertise in portfolio assessment
sufficiently well, they became uncertain and defensive about it, assailed as
they were by multiple school and district innovations and separated from
each other by classroom isolation. As a result, teachers used the complex
language and representation of portfolio assessment to obscure grading
hierarchies and communicate with fellow teachers rather than commu-
nicating clearly with the working-class parents of the students they were
supposed to serve.
Teachers, students, parents and others are now enmeshed in complex
networks, rather than embedded in clearly separated contexts of influence.
They are part of what Castells (1996) calls the new network society where
instantly in time and immediately across space people can access infor-
mation, ideas, advice and support from almost any source they choose.
Networks can be progressive as in networks of innovative schools, or
they can be formed and used to reassert the status quo as in networks
of high status parents who resist initiatives in interdisciplinary teaching
or mixed ability teaching because the social justice orientations of the
changes threaten the advantages of their own children (Oakes et al., 2000).
The key point in the knowledge society, though, is that one of the major
axes of social inequality is that which divides those who are networked
from those who are not (Castells, 1996); those who can access social
capital and the ideas and support of others, from those who cannot
(Coleman, 1988; Fukuyama, 2000).
Who can or cannot access networks, who has the capacity to be mobile
or the option to choose – these are the main markers of inequality in the age
of information. While globalization seems to have brought about the end
of geography, where instant communication means that space no longer
matters, where classrooms can be borderless and schools seem doomed, it
is important to remember the warnings of Zymunt Bauman (1998) that
Globalization divides as much as it unites; it divides as it unites. ... What appears as
globalization for some means localization for others; signalling a new freedom for some,
upon many others it descends as an uninvited and cruel fate. Mobility climbs to the rank of
the uppermost among the coveted values – and the freedom to move ... fast becomes the
main stratifying factor of our ... postmodern times (Bauman, 1998: 2).
“Being local in a globalized world,” says Bauman, “is a sign of social
deprivation and degradation” (p. 2). Today’s elites enjoy the freedom of
choice and mobility. They are the tourists of society, its conquerors of
space. They “are satisfied that they travel through life by their heart’s
desire and pick and choose their destination according to the joys they
offer” (p. 86). Those “low down” meanwhile, “happen time and again to
be thrown out from the site they would rather be in” (p. 86). They are
imprisoned by space. Instead of enjoying the pleasures of globalization,
they must endure enforced localization. They are not society’s tourists,
but its vagabonds – its refugees and homeless who are confined to the
hinterlands of housing projects and urban squalor.
For the inhabitants of the first world – the increasingly cosmopolitan , extraterritorial world
of global businessmen, global culture managers, or global academics, state borders are
levelleddown, astheyaredismantledfortheworld’scommodities, capital andfinances. For
the inhabitants of the second world, the walls built of immigration controls, of residence
laws and of ‘clean streets’ and ‘zero tolerance’ policies, grow taller (Bauman, 1998: 89).
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL GEOGRAPHIES
The abstractness of globalized space creates a paradoxical world for
society’s “tourists” –a world that is always open to the traveller but equally
vulnerable to the criminal and the terrorist in a world of insecurity (Vail,
1999). So the elite look for safe spaces – walled communities, schools
of choice, schools of special emphasis – where they choose their isolation
and pay for it lavishly. Meanwhile, the rest of the population is condemned
to enforced isolation and to the endless surveillance of watchfulness and
monitoring – security cameras in the parking lot; relentless inspection and
endless evaluation in “underperforming” schools; zero tolerance policies
and school exclusions.
Space shapes identity. It articulates opportunity. It releases or it traps.
The new social geographies of the knowledge society disguise hierarchies
with networks and segregate the mobile who have the flexibility to create
the knowledge economy, from the immobile, who are constantly watched,
denied choice and given zero tolerance. The immobile learn at best to
use their basic skills to cater to the knowledge economy in hotels and
services, rather than actively creating it at its highest levels. The new social
geographies of education in the knowledge economy are ones that divide
those who cater from those who create (Hargreaves, in press).
STRATEGIC GEOGRAPHIES OF EDUCATIONAL CHANGE
Strategic geographies of educational change involve deliberately recon-
figuring the spatial relations of schooling to bring about desired changes in
education. Until recently, many analyses ofeducational change highlighted
the gapbetween policy and practice that marked the repeated orpredictable
failure of implementation in educational reform (Sarason, 1990). A second
main strand of analysis concentrated on how successfully or not innova-
tions were “diffused” from the innovators to the schools, or from pilot
projects, model schools, or beacon schools, to the mainstream (Fullan,
1991). These conventional social geographies of educational change are
largely depressing catalogues of failed implementation where policy has
not translated into widespread classroom practice (Miles & Huberman,
1984), or of ineffective diffusion where innovations have failed to transfer
or spread from promising initial sites to having large scale impact across
many sites elsewhere (Fink, 2000).
In the past decade or so, frustration with conventional processes of
change alongside altered views, in some cases, about the changes that need
to occur, have generated new strategic geographies of educational change.
Six such strategic geographies appear to be educationally prominent.
Geographies of scaling up
Geographies of social movements
1. Market geographies
In education, geographies of the market operate more like quasi-markets
(Whitty, Power & Halpin, 1998). The quasi-market in public education
uses set performance criteria, norms and procedures that open up parental
choice of school, and published league tables ofschool results that supply a
basis for choice, to arrange schools so that they are in competitive relation-
ships with one another. Market geographies position contiguous schools in
competitive relationships in ways that are meant to improve learning and
achievement in each school, but that also prevent schools and their teachers
learning from each other – since knowledge that is shared is knowledge
that gives advantage to one’s competitor. Market geographies in schooling
are therefore political geographies which define and distribute differences
of status and opportunity between schools through complex processes of
consumer choice. In a world of compressed time and shrinking space,
market geographies also give the privileged who have the power to choose
a special sense of place; of a school space that is meaningful, distinct
and uniquely suited to them and their children – as represented in private
schools, magnet schools, schools in wealthy neighbourhoods or schools
with special emphases. Meanwhile, those who cannot move or are unable
to choose must endure the enforced localization and endless surveillance
of poor schools, underperforming schools, or schools with no special
emphases that the magnets repel.
2. Network geographies
A second strategic geography of educational change uses networks as a
basis for initiating and sustaining change efforts. Social and professional
networks connect people through complex webs of interaction and rela-
tionship in ways that develop shared knowledge as well as professional
support over time. They can be networks of schools such as the Beacon
Schools inthe United Kingdom, the Coalition forEssential Schools and the
League of Professional Schools in the United States (Hatch, 2002; Allen &
Glickman, 1998); as well asthe National Schools Network in Australia and
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL GEOGRAPHIES
the Thousand Schools Projects in Mexico and South Africa. Networks can
also comprise teachers beyond schools such as the thousands of teachers
involved every year in the National Writing Project in the United States
(Lieberman & Wood, 2002). Educational networks can be virtual and
electronic as well as face-to-face, but in either form, their purpose is to
use flexible formats of interaction and support that extend beyond single
institutions in order to promote improvement. Networks operate through
and aside from existing institutions, forming independent structures of
learning, influence and power in educational change. Network geographies
in education are not maintained by the principles of the market, but by the
investment of individuals in education who want to pursue common goals.
Networks are not necessarily progressive or in students’ best interests as
Oakes and Nespor’s papers in this volume both show, but they do bypass
structures of conventional power and interest, and are, in that sense, always
a force that promotes change. Professional networks, like professional
learning communities, however, tend to attract high capacity teachers
from more affluent school districts (McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001). Indeed,
some writers advocate that it is teachers in the most highly developed
schools who should have access to these networks (Hopkins, 2001). The
uncertified, casualized or low capacity teachers condemned to enforced
localization in the failing schools of inner cities, however, are usually out
of the loop and not in the net (Hargreaves, in press).
3. Virtual geographies
Virtual geographies harness the power of computer and other technologies
to vanquish the tyranny of space. Virtual geographies give parents and
students independent access to the prescribed curriculum. They also open
up access toknowledge farbeyond thesetcurriculum anditsrecommended
texts. Virtual geographies have fuelled rapid increases in home schooling.
They are breaking down the walls of schooling and threaten, literally, to
put teachers in their place or deny them their place altogether (Hargreaves
& Fullan, 1998). But virtual geographies also exclude outsiders; put them
beyond the net; and pose the problem of the digital divide.
4. Geographies of scaling up
The intensity of interest in educational reform at the turn of the century,
and in “scaling it up” (Elmore, 1995) so it affects very many schools,
not just an innovative few, has created new governmental geographies
of educational change (as well as resurrecting some older ones). In the
United States, the Comprehensive School Reform movement used the
incentive of allocating federal funds to school districts which adopted one
or more of a small number of federally approved models of reform. These
models, such as the Success for All Literacy program, were regarded as
having a research-proven record of success in raising student achieve-
ment – although primarily in schools that had volunteered to participate
in reforms. In other words, Comprehensive School Reform took existing
voluntary networks of successful reform and sought to extend them
through the financial incentive of federal intervention.
Geographies of scaling up have received mixed reviews in education.
Schools and districts tend to select the reform patterns that suit their demo-
graphics – with the more flexibly designed ones being adopted by affluent
districts, and the prescriptive programs being adopted in poor communities
(Datnow, Hubbard & Mehan, 2002). Some of the models seem to make
few improvements in practice (Prestine, 1998) The combination of finan-
cial incentive, district pressure and voluntary school commitment bestows
questionable status on what it means to volunteer in a climate where time
is short and not everyone is knowledgeable about the options (Datnow,
Hubbard & Mehan, 2002). Not surprisingly, successes in scaling up from
local to large-scale change are uneven at best.
5. Standardized geographies
In response to the problems of scaling-up, impatient governments have
imposed a “new orthodoxy” of educational change (Hargreaves, Earl,
Moore & Manning, 2001) on their schools, insisting on widespread
and wholesale compliance with detailed national or statewide curricula,
tightly prescribed performance standards, and closely aligned, high-stakes
assessments on which the futures and even survival of teachers and
schools depend. These measures represent what Michael Fullan (2000)
calls the return of large-scale reform which is characterized by legis-
lative force, comprehensiveness, and scrupulous attention to detail in
imposing highly prescriptive and tightly scripted literacy programs (as in
the United Kingdom’s National Literacy Project), or detailed standardized
tests (McNeil, 2000; Falk & Drayton, 2001). Here, the effort to gener-
alize school reform is pursued through legislative insistence, scrupulous
attention to detail, all-encompassing coverage, and relentless surveillance
to ensure compliance. This approach represents the creation of a policy
space in which teachers are forever watched, always monitored, and have
no hiding place from the ubiquitous gaze of governmental control.
More than a decade of legislated reform dominated by cultures of
command and control over teachers, has yielded disappointing results in
many Anglophone countries. In a recent OECD study of literacy results at
age 15 among 31 countries, the United Kingdom appears only just in the
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL GEOGRAPHIES
top third, and the United States is barely half way (OECD, 2001). Worse,
the United Kingdom ranks third from the bottom of the 31 nations in terms
of differences in achievement between children from wealthier and poorer
homes. At the same time, the stress and disillusionment among teachers
created by years of micro-managed reform (Troman & Woods, 2000),
combined witha massive demographic turnover in the teaching force asthe
Boomer generation of teachers reaches the age of retirement, has created a
worldwide crisis of recruitment and retention in the profession.
More recent patterns of large-scale literacy reform show early but
often limited success. Results are stronger in elementary schools than
secondary schools where improvements are almost non-existent. They also
tend to plateau after the first 2–3 years. Large scale literacy reforms with
prescribed programs, intensive coaching and heavy leadership investment
can often achieve striking short-term results in relatively basic skills, but
have difficulty securing longer-term sustainable improvements in more
sophisticated levels of learning. Large-scale reform has yet to prove itself
the master of sustainable improvement across many different kinds of
school and district settings (Hargreaves, in press).
6. Differential geographies
In the face of a crisis of recruitment in teaching, many governments,
through gritted teeth, are beginning to concede space back to teachers
themselves, replacing direct governmental regulation with patterns of
indirect rule through the profession that have not been seen in many
places since the early 1980s. The most recent government policy state-
ment of a second term Labour Government in the United Kingdom (DfES,
2001) provides striking examples of this new turn. The teaching profession
is offered greater opportunity for flexibility and creativity. The National
Curriculum is being dramatically reduced. There is talk of ending testing
in the earliest years of schooling and Wales and Northern Ireland have
already abolished educational league tables.
There is increasing understanding in the social geography of school
improvement that “one size doesn’t fit all” in educational change and that
levels of government intervention in schools should be inversely related
to their success (Barber, 2001; Hopkins, 2001). Schools which persist-
ently perform well will be allowed to break free of National Curriculum
prescription as they follow their own creative pathways to continuing
This differential approach to school improvement takes the strategic
geography of educational change beyond the unenforceable voluntarism
of networks and scaling on the one hand up, and beyond the inflexibilities
of enforced standardization on the other. But in doing so, it underpins
social division with educational differentiation. It offers freedom to change
to the affluent and fear of failure to the rest. Successful test scores in
affluent districts get schools “earned autonomy”, but there is no freedom
to manoeuvre in schools at the bottom where standardized solutions
and heavy-handed intervention repeatedly fail or enjoy only temporary
success. There is a real danger that these differential geographies of
improvement and change will degenerate into educationally and socially
7. Geographies of social movements
All of the social geographies of educational change described so far
encounter serious difficulties in achieving large-scale success, especially
in relation to goals and principles of social justice and equity as well
as sustained standards. Markets divide the mobile from the immobile;
differential strategies of school improvement give more creativity and
flexibility to the affluent than the rest. Locally inspired initiatives along
with face-to-face and virtual networks create communities of learning
among change enthusiasts, but offer little pressure to change or support for
change among cynics and skeptics. Large-scale standardization overrides
teachers’ capacity to withdraw from change, but its legislative force and
uniformity are blunt instruments that fail to accommodate local variations
and that exclude schools serving the most marginalized students – those
with special needs, or who are still struggling with the dominant language,
Strategic geographies of educational change are therefore repeatedly
undermined by social and political geographies in the wider society that
separate people by status and enmesh them in relations of power. These
social and political geographies lead to dramatically unequal allocations
of resources to schools in richer and poorer communities respectively,
to voting populations who pursue their private educational interests and
abandon their commitment to a broader public good, and to an easily
influenced electorate that is vulnerable to developing jaundiced views of
public education and its teachers.
For too long, much of the public has been prone to nostalgia in an age
of uncertainty, impressionable in the face of political and media-driven
derisions of schools and teachers today, and too easily bought by the
market-ideology of parental choice which helps them believe that in times
of chaos, at least their own private, individual choices can benefit their
own children in their own schools (Crozier, 1998). These factors and their
consequences for how educational resources are accumulated and distrib-
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL GEOGRAPHIES
uted repeatedly defeat educational reform efforts that put an emphasis on
equity. One task of educational change, therefore, is not to ignore these
influences but to turn them around; to work in partnership with the public
and create a vigorous social movement (Touraine, 1995) of acting subjects
who work together to improve the quality of and increase the equity in
public education, rather than a set of fragmented individuals who act as
clients only in their families’ private interest. Social movements are an
especially creative strategic geography of social and educational change.
When I describe the potential contributions of social movements in
education, what I have in mind is similar to the environmental, peace or
women’s movements. Such social movements are driven neither by the
self-serving market nor entirely provided by the sometimes dependency-
creating state. They are not managed through official organizations or
political representation (like Parent-Teacher Associations) but may be
supported by such things. Social movements may begin through reaction
and resistance (like the Zapatistas in Mexico) but can and, at their best,
also do become extremely proactive (like the environmental movement).
In both cases, they challenge the existing order of things. Social move-
ments have a wide-ranging repertoire of strategies incorporating informal
networks, lobbying, protest marches, media campaigns, lifestyle choices,
sometimes formal organizational bodies and much more. Relationships are
at the heart of them.
As Byrne (1997) argues, “Social movements are expressive in that they
have beliefs and moral principles and they seek to persuade everyone –
governments, parents, the general public, anyone who will listen – that
these values are the right ones.” They are rooted not in self-interest but
in a clear moral purpose which ultimately benefits the universal good of
all. Despite many differences and conflicts within social movements (for
example among different feminisms), this high level of unity of purpose
is what drives the movement and holds it together. In that sense, social
movements are uncompromising – their principles must remain unadulter-
ated and not be compromised for short-term tactical gains (Byrne, 1997).
Lastly, social movements are embedded in what Lash and Urry (1994: 243)
as well as Castells (1996: 126) call glacial time – in the creation of and
commitment to a long term future that protects and preserves the interests
not of one single group but that advances the good of all our children and
grandchildren for generations to come.
Social movements arise in response to the fragmentation of consumer
society, the abstractness of globalization and information technology, and
the exhaustion and emptiness of official politics. Globalized economies
erode the capacity of governments to exercise national policy control and
reduce such governments to the electronically monitored and digitally
massaged politics of opinion polls, focus groups, personal style and public
scandal (Castells, 1996). Social movements provide ways beyond these
official politics for people to find meaning and hope in projects whose
values resonate with groups and individuals far beyond them.
Social movements are empowering for their adherents. They acknowl-
edge that those who stand aside from social change are “those who
consume society rather than producing and transforming it (and) are
subordinate to those who are in charge of the economy, politics and infor-
mation” (Touraine, 1995: 233). They are “purposive collective actions
whose outcome, in victory as in defeat, transforms the values and insti-
tutions of society” (Castells, 1996: 3–4).
These social movements, says Castells (1996: 361) are “the potential
subjects of the Information Age”; they are perhaps our best hopes for a
democratic, sustainable and socially just future. It is in these diffuse and
subtle networks that our best hopes for positive change may rest – even
when the possibilities for such change seem most remote. As Touraine
(1995: 241) puts it:
It is in moments of solitude and desolation, and in the face of a seemingly inevitable future
that theconsciousness of certainindividuals comes tofeel itselfresponsible forthefreedom
What better candidate for a social movement than public education?
When governments remain under the sway of market fundamentalism
and have minimal commitment to public education and public life –
then teachers and others can by-pass governments, and capture the public
imagination about education and teaching today, on which governments
and their electability ultimately depend.
In Ontario, Canada, for instance, sweeping reforms in public education
reduced budgets, eliminated much of secondary school teachers’ out-of-
class time to meet with colleagues, halved the numbers of department
heads, reduced counseling and guidance staff by up to two thirds, imposed
new high stakes test requirements and implemented sweeping curriculum
changes at a pace that was impossible to manage. These actions provoked a
small group of mothers to create a network, a social movement, in eventual
alliance with university expertise, to collect evidence about the negative
impact of the reforms, and publicize these models articulately. This small
social movement of engagement in public education for the public good
helped to sway the sentiment of the electorate against the government’s
educational reforms and their impact on the teaching force, and slowed the
pace as well as altering the tone of implementation (Hargreaves, in press).
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL GEOGRAPHIES
Social movements can be powerful strategic geographies of educational
INVESTIGATING SOCIAL GEOGRAPHIES
The combined issue of this journal and the remaining papers in it,
are dedicated to understanding and discussing the social and strategic
geographies of educational change at the start of this new century. The
papers selected for this collection were presented to the Spencer Founda-
tion funded invitational Conference on Social Geographies of Educational
Change: Contexts, Networks and Generalizability which took place in
Barcelona, Spain on 12, 13 and 14 of March 2001. The conference was
also co-sponsored by the University of Barcelona (Divisions I and V), the
Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology, the Catalan Department of
Universities, Research and Information Society and Octaedro Publishing
House. The conference was organized by Drs. Juana Sancho and Fernando
Hernandez of the University of Barcelona.
The overall purpose of the conference was to bring together a wide
range of international expertise to examine the contemporary social
geographies (Hargreaves, 1995) of educational change, i.e., the importance
of contextual, spatial and geographical factors in the reform process. The
objectives of the conference included the following:
To build an international conceptualization and understanding of
social geographies of educational change; of how educational
changes are developed and transformed across different contexts.
To bring together, compare and refine different theories of contexts
in terms of educational change (e.g. “embedded context”, “network
theory”, “scaling up”).
To determine the implications for school-level, regional, national and
international approaches to change and reform.
To draw on international expertise in order to examine the relation-
ships between ‘variable geometries’ of globalization and localization
in educational change and reform.
To explore the most promising forms of qualitative and quantitative
inquiry that are appropriate for investigating social geographies of
educational change in complex times.
Toraise awareness ofhow different cultural and educational traditions
inform and inflect variations in approach to educational research and
inquiry on change.
The key themes addressed in the conference were:
The globalization of reform patterns
Relationships between globalization and localization in educational
The impact of markets and quasi-markets on inter-school relations
and systemic coherence
Changing patterns of social inclusion and exclusion in education
The importance of new technologies for the changing social
geographies of schooling
The increasingly permeable relationships between schools and the
world around them
Different ways of conceptualizing and investigating the nature and
influence of ‘context’.
By drawing together an international range of current researchers
on these topics, the conference represented a significant contribution
to developing more sophisticated understandings of social-geographical,
contextual influences on the nature and impact of educational change.
This also facilitated an exploration of different research strategies and
methodologies for investigating these significant matters.
In addition to this conceptual introduction, eight other papers are
presented in this special issue. Amanda Datnow describes her research
on the impact of the Comprehensive School Reform movement in the
United States and examines the difficulties of achieving sustainable change
over time, and effective transplantation of reforms from the local settings
where they emerged to wider systems of use. Contextual differences in
educational change are explored on an international basis by Birte Ravn
and Kirsti Klette. Birte Ravn compares the educational systems and very
different historical and cultural traditions of England, France and Denmark
and shows how degrees of centralization, attitudes to students, approaches
to care and community and other factors affect the instigation and imple-
mentation of educational change. Kirsti Klette emphasizes the importance
of such differences even within the apparently similar settings of the
Nordic countries where educational reforms also vary in their design and
impact according to the cultural and bureaucratic traditions of the different
nations. Later in the collection, Joan Talbert shows how important vari-
ations in culture and context also exist between mathematics departments
in different secondary schools – each one reflecting how reforms influence
teaching and learning in the schools.
These four papers all point to the immense significance of social
geographies of contextual difference by department, school, system and
nation on the impact of educational reform that together make a mockery
of any efforts to achieve standardization, or any claims to universalist
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL GEOGRAPHIES
theories of educational change that are predominantly based on one or two
particular educational contexts.
The remaining five papers all deal in different ways with the social
geographies of networks of influence in educational change. Brian Rowan
analyzes the hitherto neglected influence of a loosely connected set of
corporate entities, such as textbook publishers, on educational change in
what he calls an ecology of the “school improvement industry”. Lieberman
and Wood present their research on the educationally positive influence of
self-conscious professional networks on teaching that focus on improving
teaching and learning. They concentrate on the case of the National
Writing Project in the United States. The dilemmas and tensions that are
to be found in all professional networks are at the heart of their research
Talbert, Nespor and Oakes draw attention to more sinister aspects of
network geographies and their role in educational change. Talbert docu-
ments the lineage of public assaults on creative, constructivist reforms
in mathematics education which challenged conventional forms of high
status mathematics learning that traditionally favour the affluent. Nespor
provides a fascinating archaeology of the move from outcomes-based
education to standards-based reform in one state in the U.S., and of
how this shift arose from a powerful network of middle class influence,
advocacy andlobbying that originated inonemiddle class parent’s dissatis-
faction with her own child’s education. Finally, Oakes and Lipton examine
case studies of the collapse of creative reforms in middle school educa-
tion for early adolescents because of political pressures that reformers are
reluctant to address. They argue instead for the creation of social move-
ments that will challenge the political dominance of elite groups against
equity driven educational reforms.
These papers are followed by a debate on this issue’s Big Change Ques-
tion – “Are School Effectiveness Measures Suspect in Helping Us Identify
What is Needed to Transform Teaching and Learning” – between Ward
Heneveld of the World Bank, and Alma Harris of Warwick University in
England. Finally, the issue closes with a featured book review of Media,
Education and Change by Lesley Johnson.
Together, these papers and other contributions, and the Spencer
Foundation funded conference from which they arose, highlight the
importance of social geographies as a significant part of the project of
sustainability in educational change. They also cast light on the delib-
erate strategic geographies that are designed to reconfigure the spatial
relations of education and change, and examine their impact on equity,
quality and sustainability. If we want to understand and promote greater
sustainability in educational improvement, we must not only recognize the
significance of social histories of educational change over time, but also
start to consider the nature and impact of social geographies of educational
change across space.
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Andy Hargreaves is the Thomas More Brennan Chair of Education at Boston
College. Previously, he was co-Director of the International Center for Educa-
tional Change at the Ontario Institute forStudies in Educationof the Universityof
Toronto. Andy is leading editor of The International Handbook for Educational
Change (Kluwer, 1998). His most recent books are Teaching in the Knowledge
Society, published by Teachers’ College Press, 2003; and Learning to Change:
Teaching Beyond Subjects and Standards (with Lorna Earl, Shawn Moore and
Susan Manning) published by Jossey Bass, 2001.
School of Education
Chestnut Hill, MA 02167