The Meaning of Educational Change


326 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7744-0249-0




Reviewed by E.R. Campbell

E.R. Campbell was a higher education consultant who lived in Toronto.


Michael Fullan is professor of sociology in education and Assistant Director (Academic) at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. He has served as an educational consultant in many educational change projects with school systems, research and development institutes, and government agencies in North America and abroad.

This is an exceptional work on educational change. The publisher’s blurb puts it most succinctly: “Professor Fullan has written a most comprehensive analysis of discrete studies of efforts at educational change. He puts this analysis in a most thoughtful theoretical framework and manages extraordinarily well to make it interesting to the reader. That is no small feat.”

The book covers just about everything concerning educational change and, for a Canadian book, has a most comprehensive coverage of change efforts in the United States. The work is divided into three parts: 1) understanding educational change, 2) educational change at the local level, and 3) educational change at the regional and national levels. The author’s preface defines educational change (i.e., organized common sense in education) and lists many people in the educational change field — useful as a contact point for persons interested in further pursuit of the ideas contained in the book.

As a study of the sociology of educational change, this work’s central issue concerns that which has actually changed in practice as a result of change agents, as well as how to recognize problems and make an effective change. Seymour Sarason’s The Culture of the School and the Problem of Change (1971) and his other writings helped shape the author’s thinking.

There is an abundance of footnotes, mostly content, thus assisting the reader by expanding on the topic discussed in the text. The book concludes with a chapter on the future of educational change. The appendix lists 15 selected major innovative programmes and research studies in the United States. Each item in the list is briefly annotated.

A major difficulty with this book is that it has been written by a Canadian, presumably for Canadians, and published in Canada; yet over twice as much space (25 pages to 11 pages) is devoted to American federal and state departments of education as to Canadian departments. I suspect the reason is to increase the book’s marketability. Certainly there should be some coverage of American education; but could not the U.S. material be condensed to half as much?

The author makes a good point in stating that the civil servants who will implement the change usually do not understand all the intricacies of the problem or the ideas prompting a particular solution. Since they do not have an adequate understanding the change is not properly implemented.

This is a well-written and well-organized work, and anyone who is directly connected with education could only benefit from studying it.


Fullan, Michael, “The Meaning of Educational Change,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024,