Three stories of education reform

by Michael Fullan


In this article, Michael Fullan discusses the idea that many school reform efforts fail because, while the inside story of the school – the internal change processes – might be understood by schools, many do not take account of the critical impact external factors can have on these efforts. He looks at this idea using the framework of three stories:

…the 'inside story' [is] what we know about how schools change for the better in terms of their internal dynamics. The 'inside–outside' story [is] what effective schools do as they contemplate the plethora of outside forces impinging on them. …the 'outside–in' story [is] how agencies external to the school organize themselves to be effective in accomplishing large-scale reform at the school level.

He suggests that schools need to understand and manage how these three stories work in concert, 'inside/out reciprocity', if they are to achieve change that is sustainable.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide your reading of the article:

  • Of the five external forces that Michael Fullan says schools must contend with – parents and community, technology, business, government policies, and the wider teaching profession – which would you begin with, and how might you go about it?
  • Which force could have the greatest long-term impact?
  • What level of consultation is involved in the construction of new ideas/pathways at your school?


Fullan, M. (2002). The Three Stories of Education Reform. Phi Delta Kappan. April.

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