Schools are dragging themselves, ponderously for the most part, into the era of restructured organizations. For many large corporations, this has meant '…outsourcing, delayering, and deconstruction…a radical downsizing' (Burgess quoted in Naisbitt, 1994). In contrast, school restructuring is best characterized as a form of superficial tinkering often initiated by governments intent on being seen by the public to be 'doing something' in the name of greater accountability. Many of the changes advocated in the name of school restructuring involve either 'doing more of the same' only harder or in a marginally refined way (like setting student performance standards or replacing educational 'goals' with 'outcomes'!). Other school restructuring initiatives appear to be advocated for reasons that have little to do with improving the learning of students; involving parents in site-based decision making is probably the most widely advocated of this type.
Such superficial responses to a world of turbulent change could well spell the demise of public schooling as we know it, at least at the secondary level. Realistically, how can schools in anything like their present form withstand the onslaught of private competition, niche marketing, and a gradually declining share of public revenues? In their present form, how are they to cope with individual home access to the information highway? What will they do in response to the erosion of consensus about educational purposes and values brought on by a growing tribalism around issues of language, culture, religion, and ethnicity?
Few people claim to know the answers to these crucial questions and those who do probably will turn out to be wrong. But there is a compelling case to be made that schools redesigned as learning organizations would engage in processes likely to discover those answers. A learning organization is a group of people pursuing common purposes (individual purposes as well) with a collective commitment to regularly weighing the value of those purposes, modifying them when that makes sense and continuously developing more effective and efficient ways of accomplishing these purposes; this is a '…process of improving actions through better knowledge and understanding' (Fiol and Lyles, 1985, p. 803). The specific content of the answers resulting from these processes, however, would differ considerably across schools as they began to learn the lessons already discovered by other organizations of comparable size: large is cumbersome; one solution (or educational policy) does not fit all; the boundary between you and your customers should be seamless, and the like.
Very little is known about the design of schools as learning organizations or about organizational learning processes in schools and how those processes are enhanced or inhibited (indeed, Huberman, in this volume, expresses some skepticism about the concept itself). But there is an urgent need to fill these gaps in our knowledge and that is what the work reported in this book begins to do. In particular, this work starts from