To successfully develop or adopt new ideas, processes, and technologies to sustain its goal of transforming the entire educational system, the Resource Center for Science and Engineering proceeds through a series of phases which allows innovations to progress from inception to full scale dissemination and institutionalization into the system. These phases established by the RCSE take into account the following principles of systemic reform:
- it is necessary to understand the complex dynamics of educational systems, which are social systems that constitute the context in which innovations are implemented;
- reform resources are never commensurate with educational system's resources, therefore, it is necessary to seek strategies to optimize the use of available resources to achieve significant change;
- systemic reform is an institutional cultural transformation process that involves deeply held beliefs, values and attitudes;
- to begin the change process, it is most effective to define a specific unit of change within the system, that makes the change process feasible and scalable;
- to extend the effects of the change process to the systemwide level, it is necessary to conceive strategies for scaling-up and institutionalizing changes;
- assessment and accountability of change efforts are necessary to produce evidence and explain the change process that can serve as a force to drive the reform.
The RCSE follows a catalytic approach to reform. A unit of change is defined at a scale small enough where reform strategies can be pioneered, pilot tested, and assessment can be performed to make a valid case for attribution. The unit of change can be seen as the smallest unit in the system that still shows systemic characteristics and that can be used as the basic unit to disseminate and scale-up reform. In the K-12 science and mathematics reform, the RCSE selected the school as the unit of change.
Two elements that are critical to ensure the successful implementation of any reform are given special attention by the RCSE. The first is the scaling-up stage, where it is essential to harness the system's resources for the reform initiatives to succeed, and where it is necessary to carefully design and coherently implement a professional development program to train a cadre of qualified reformers who will be capable of disseminating the reform to an ever increasing number of units. The second element is the accountability and allocation of resources to meet the needs of the reformed schools or universities. The RCSE plays a key role in persuading the system’s authorities that have the power to control the accountability and allocation of resources that the pilot tested reform efforts are superior to standard practice. As such, the RCSE takes the positive results of the assessment of pilot projects and harnesses them into a coherent set of facts and information that can make a persuasive case for attributing success to the reform efforts or innovation.
Throughout this cycle, assessment of outcomes using systemic change measures is fundamental to drive progress from one stage to another.