Strategic Planning for a New Generation of American Schools: Or How to Turn a Very Large Supertanker into a Very Small Harbor

Article excerpt

Changing the structure of schooling is as difficult as trying to turn a supertanker in a very small harbor. Yet advocates of school reform argue that if we don't figure out how to do it successfully, we have little hope for reversing our nation's declining ability to prepare students for success in a rapidly changing world.

Unfortunately, going beyond mere rhetoric to make true systemic changes is no easy matter. For better or worse, our education system has become a very stable institution that is highly resistant to change. Is there any way to overcome the inertia that threatens to destroy it? After more than a decade of trying, one thing is crystal clear--there will be no quick fix, no panacea, no overnight solution.

Most leading educators agree that strategic planning is the key to reforming American education. But what exactly is strategic planning? How do we do it? And what does it have to do with educational technology?

Basically, strategic planning means skillful planning. It means integrating short-term plans with long-term objectives. It means putting yourself in the most advantageous position for achieving desired results. Strategic planning is a process for answering three basic questions: Where do you want to go? How are you going to get there? and How will you know when you've arrived?

Where does technology fit in this scenario? To begin with, computer technology, perhaps more than any other single factor, has created the need for strategic planning. In a single generation, computer technology has catapulated us from the industrial age into the information age. Almost daily, in the worlds of transportation, communication, banking, manufacturing, retail, and virtually every other segment of our society, new technology-based systems are replacing old systems that seem to have been rendered obsolete overnight.

Yet for the most part, K-12 education has failed to make the transition; we continue to use the methods and materials of the industrial age to prepare our children for life in the rapidly changing information age. Ironically, although technology is a primary cause of the current crisis in education, it can also be a key ingredient in its solution.

In the pages that follow, we will offer some guidelines for strategic planning in districts that are committed to using computers and related technologies to help power school improvement. This article is a two-pronged appeal to everyone involved in planning for the future in K-12 education. First, it is an appeal to consider carefully, at all levels of planning, how technology might be applied to improve education. Second, it is an appeal to avoid isolating educational technology planning from planning for other important school improvement initiatives.

Building Your

Strategic Planning Team

The first step in strategic planning is to put together a planning team to determine the overall direction in which the district will move with regard to everything from curriculum to school organization. Most strategic planning models emphasized the need for a strong planning team, but they differ considerably with regard to the makeup and function of the group. A synthesis of several strategic planning models designed for education reveals several key factors to consider in building a strategic planning team.

Scope of the Plan: Strategic planning needs to occur at a variety of levels (e.g., society/community, school district, individual school). Generally, planning should begin at the highest or broadest level. For example, planning should occur with regard to the overall needs and goals of the community before a specific strategic plan is developed for an individual school. This is not to say that planning shouldn't occur concurrently at more than one level, but that the specific goals at lower levels should be consistent with the broader goals at higher levels. …