Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Five Steps Forward in Implementing Educational Reform in Your District

By now, it should come as no surprise that the recent proliferation of new educational policies and funding at federal and state levels is designed to facilitate a new era of reform in America. The overall effort to channel American education in new and innovative directions has presented an array of challenges and opportunities at all levels of the education continuum. Yet, when all is said and done, it is within the local community and school district where the broad sweeping ideas of educational reform are carefully vetted in the context of local reality. It is here where the local school board, administrators, educators, students, families, volunteers, and community partners systematically work together to develop plans for implementing reform.

It is axiomatic that within this local context, success in implementing and sustaining reform efforts over the long-term is best achieved when districts and governing boards exercise local control across a broad range of decision-making activities. Among the most salient of these decision-making activities is the selection and adoption of technology-based instructional improvement systems that provide a “best fit” with the district’s educational reform and student achievement goals. An instructional improvement system is generally conceived of as a technology-based, data-driven, standards-aligned, integrated system comprised of assessment, reporting, and instructional tools that can be used to support district efforts to elevate student achievement.

As you engage in the process of selecting a new instructional improvement system or replacing an old one, here are five fundamental steps you can take to help pave the way:

Building Consensus and Identifying Roles

As the old adage goes, “buy-in is critical.” In this regard, consensus building will need to take into consideration a variety of factors including district stakeholder interests, skills and expertise, and the impact of instructional improvement system adoption on established routines, to name a few. For some stakeholders, integration of an instructional improvement system into daily routines might represent a welcome enhancement. For others, it may initially evoke a sense of uncertainty about what specific kinds of changes will likely occur within the classroom and concern about how these changes may affect established routines and approaches to ongoing instruction. Consensus building in support of efforts to select and adopt an instructional improvement system helps to ensure that the course of action is one that everyone is generally comfortable with. At the outset, consensus building activities help to identify common ground for the importance of these efforts. Moreover, consensus building activities provide a collaborative context for: 1) identifying realistic and relevant goals in relation to system use; 2) developing an agreed to set of plans and procedures for implementation; 3) managing and monitoring implementation over time; and 4) evaluating and utilizing results to inform ongoing decision-making and implementation revisions. To get thing going, formulate some basic questions:
• How will input from stakeholders be gathered and taken into consideration?
• How will stakeholders be informed of the instructional improvement system options available?
• Will there be a formal review committee or will administrators seek stakeholder input?

Determine District Goals

In order to effectively evaluate an instructional improvement system for local deployment it is essential to identify immediate and long-term educational reform goals. A starting point for this process is the formulation of a few basic questions:
• What are the overall goals of our district in using an instructional improvement system?
• What are our assessment and reporting goals?
• What are our goals for the students?
• Teachers? Administrators?
• What are our goals related to providing educational content and monitoring curriculum implementation?

Develop Criteria for Consideration

Criteria to be considered in evaluating the “best fit” between an instructional improvement system and district goals might include taking a close look at the system’s assessment, scoring and reporting, and instructional capabilities. Consideration should also be given to the extent to which the system can accommodate professional learning communities and provide flexibility both in system implementation options and adaptability to changes in standards and government requirements. Finally, the security measures, data management features, and technical requirements of the system should be thoroughly vetted.

Establish Timelines and Determine the Selection Process

Timely implementation of a new instructional improvement system is the key to promoting successful outcomes. Consequently your district will want to work backwards from the desired implementation date in planning a realistic timeline for evaluating options and selecting an instructional improvement system. To facilitate this process, a number of questions might be considered:
• Will the selection process require a request for proposal (RFP) and if so, how much time is needed to review RFP responses and move the process through district channels?
• If an RFP is not required, what selection process will be used, who is involved, and how much time is needed?
• How will our governing board be included in the process and how will their role impact the timeline?
• What post-selection tasks and customization (district pacing calendar aligned benchmarks) might impact the timeline?

Compare Technology Solutions
Local control and empowerment over educational reform is fully exercised during the evaluation of the instructional improvement system options available and the eventual decision to select and adopt a particular instructional improvement system. Becoming fully informed about the options available, their strengths and limitations is essential to the success of this process. This can be accomplished in a number of ways:
• Gather information and materials including background research and referrals.
• Interview each organization offering an instructional improvement system solution and request an online walkthrough. This will allow you to preview systems and create a short list for presentations at the district.
• Request on-site presentations so that you can see firsthand the extent to which the various options meet your district’s needs.
• Ask for access to the system and assign staff to “try out” the system.
• Carefully review written proposals and cost estimates against your criteria and talk to other districts that use the instructional improvement system under consideration.