Once you understand this premise, it is very easy to understand why schools and school districts have such a hard time evolving. The system in most places in the United States includes an elected school board that works in tandem with a superintendent of schools. Elected board members MUST care what others think. In order to get elected, they must have the support of the majority of the voters. They simply can't afford to take social risks, even if those risks will eventually lead to important changes in the system. However, most board members of districts in need of change understand they must facilitate change. When hiring a new superintendent, they will often seek one who is a "change agent" in order to push the district forward. They want somebody who is open, conscientious, and disagreeable. They do understand that people impacted by the change often have a tough time adjusting to the change. But what is often difficult for board members is the push back they will experience personally. Since board members can hire and fire a superintendent, people in the community who don't want change will look to the board for protection. They may revolt against anything that is upsetting the status qro, demanding the board get rid of the superintendent whom they perceive as the problem. If a particular board member is about to face an election, she will be particularly susceptible to criticism. She will have a need to be more agreeable than usual. In a typical board of education, with nine members, there are always three members who are in an election year. These three can swing the majority opinion one way or the other, and almost always will swing the way that will meet their reelection needs. This means the superintendent will need to make huge concessions and compromises in order to keep her job. Making such concessions and compromises is often impossible for a superintendent who has a strong session of mission and a need to improve the district.
With these two conflicting needs - the "change agent" superintendent needing to be disagreeable to move the district forward, and the board members needing to be agreeable to get reelected - it is no wonder that the average superintendent will be gone within two and a half years. This is even more pronounced in urban districts, which tend to have complex political structures and socioeconomic realities. There is no easy solution to this dilemma. But if state or federal governments are serious about school reform, they will eventually need to consider different structures that will be inherently less prone to this conflict.