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Reforming Alone: Barriers to Organizational Learning in Urban School Change Initiatives

A review and synthesis of findings from evaluations of nine separate professional development initiatives implemented in urban schools. This article identifies school and district policies and structures that have the unintended effect of depleting or preventing the formation of social capital among staff in a school building. Evaluations from these initiatives show that entrenched policies and practices converge to prevent or break up the norms, networks, and social trust required for reforms to take root. Specifically, program implementation is often frustrated by the frequent turnover and lack of support from principals, the disruption of faculty teams, and union work rules that increase rates of teacher transfers and limit time for faculty to meet and work together. The solitary nature of teachers’ work is reinforced through these practices – a phenomenon that inhibits the creation of a culture of reflection and renewal that is desperately needed in inner-city schools..