Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Implementation, Sustainability, and Scaling Up of Social-Emotional and Academic Innovations in Public Schools

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Implementation, Sustainability, and Scaling Up of Social-Emotional and Academic Innovations in Public Schools

Article excerpt

Abstract. Many attempts at bringing successful educational programs and products "to scale" as part of school reform, particularly in urban districts, have been disappointing. Based on the experiences of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and reviews of literature addressing implementation failures, observations about failures to "scale up" are presented. These include persistent structural features in educational settings that are too often unrecognized, the perpetuation of a narrow and decontextualized "programs and packages" perspective, poor management of time and other resources, and inadequate attention to characteristics of the adults who must carry out planned reforms. Several assumptions essential for success are identified, including the need to incorporate social and emotional learning as an integral part of academics and the ways in which diversity provides an ever-changing context for implementation. Concluding thoughts center around three points: the need to prepare professionals with the array of skills needed to lead efforts at scaling up school reform, the importance of an action-research perspective, and the need to better document the stories of educational innovation and scaling up efforts so that contextual details can enrich an understanding of what is required for success.


   Rather than being seen as exceptions to the
   rule that schools cannot change, the development
   of a small number of innovative
   practices and schools may instead reflect the
   rule that schools can only change through
   the monumental effort, unusual resourcefulness,
   and strong leadership of key individuals
   or groups. (Hatch, 2000, p. 581)

The impetus for this article is the continuing discussion, in both the educational literature (e.g., Adelman & Taylor, 1997; Apacki, 2003; Cuban, 1998; Elmore, 1996; Lantieri, 2003; Odden, 2000) and mass media (e.g., New York Times stories about New York Mayor Bloomberg's attempt at system-wide reform), of the daunting challenge of expanding successful examples of school innovation and reform into widely replicated procedures. It is our view that bringing pilot programs, demonstration projects, or promising school reform practices to scale (i.e., "scaling up") requires special considerations too rarely discussed, including recognition that academic success rests on a foundation of social-emotional competencies that must be nurtured as part of mainstream education.

Use of analogies such as "scaling up," which conjure images of mass production of a tangible product so one can go from a local to a regional or a national market, create illusions about the nature of the processes necessary. Psychoeducational innovations are predominantly dependent on human operators, rather than technologies, for their implementation. Hence, analogies such as preparation for a sailing voyage (Elias, Bruene-Butler, Blum, & Schuyler, 2000) and that of orchestral or jazz composition and conducting (Elias, 1994; Kelly, 1979) may be more useful than those based on factory production (Elias, 1997).

In a similar way, the focus on standardized test scores in reading and math has clouded an understanding of the interrelationship between academic and social-emotional learning. Zins, Weissberg, Wang, and Walberg (2004) have gathered impressive evidence that school reform efforts dedicated to improving test scores at the expense of social-emotional development opportunities do little to serve children. A report commissioned by the U. S. Department of Education over a decade ago indicated that narrow approaches to academic instruction could lead to improved test performance among economically disadvantaged elementary school-aged youth, but did so at the expense of skills that are generalizable (Knapp, Shields, & Turnbull, 1992). That is, these children did not show corresponding gains in the practical, everyday, and higher order use of their test-linked skills in such areas as mathematical reasoning, reading with true comprehension, and writing text that clearly communicated their ideas. …

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