Education Reform Support Today

Traditional projects in education introduce innovations at the school level, sometimes improving learning in a defined number of schools. The hope is that somehow piloted successes can be replicated or taken to scale. But too often they are not. Dissatisfied with this, donors may choose policy-level interventions that promote resource reallocations, specific policy reforms, and investments in administrative and management capacity to effect system-wide change. But the record of policy reforms having impact on learning at the school level is disappointing. If we fund school-level projects, the challenge lies in how to create policy and institutional reforms that support replicable school-level success. If we support policy-level interventions, the challenge lies in how to ensure that national reforms lead to changes in the day-to-day practice of schools. Both approaches require effective programs of what we call reform support. Why is reform support needed? Ten years ago USAID published the Education Reform Support (ERS) series to answer just this question. ERS recognizes that the existing arrangements in the education sector—urban-rural inequities, management environments skewed by bureaucratic concerns, teaching improvements constrained by union prerogatives—are not accidental. Powerful political forces benefit from, shape, and defend the current situation. Changes within the system cannot realistically be implemented without first dealing with the preexisting institutional environment. Altering that environment means recognizing who stands to win or lose from pro-posed reforms, and what incentives signal them to either work for change or defend the status quo. The literature supporting such an understanding of education reform is rich. ERS draws on that literature and goes one step further to outline the tools and techniques for sup-porting and strategically managing the reform process.