Definitions, Benefits, and Barriers of K-12 Educational Strategic Planning

Article excerpt

This comprehensive literature review seeks to define strategic planning in a K-12 setting. Principally, it asks, what characteristics distinguish educational strategic planning from other planning approaches? What follows is a content analysis of the educational strategic planning literature detailing the critical attributes of various planning models designed specifically for K-12 educational entities. The study focuses on the issues related to K-12 strategic planning. A purposive sampling of selected literature sources was conducted. The authors analyzed 66 books, 29 journal articles, 28 research presentations from national conferences and the ERIC data base, 6 doctoral dissertations and several miscellaneous sources completed the data pool. Each evidence piece was interpreted through documentary analysis and a constant comparative approach (Glaser and Strauss, 1967, Strauss and Corbin, 1990, and Merriam, 1998). First, the data was used to develop definitions, benefits and barriers to K-12 strategic planning. Second, a comparison was made of all models of strategic planning to determine critical attributes. Finally, the elements of strategic planning were explored, listed and explained.


Strategic planning in an educational context was defined in a variety of ways in the relevant literature. Basham and Lunenburg (1989) asserted that strategic planning was not a well-defined concept; however, there exists a number of definitions pertaining to educational strategic planning. Perhaps, more specifically, Basham and Lunenburg referred to the lack of a uniform, discrete definition of educational strategic planning amongst the various prescribed planning models. From the reviewed literature, Table 1 depicts some of the various definitions associated with the concept of educational strategic planning.

The educational strategic planning definitions found in Table 1 provide insights into the concept's underlying premises. What characteristics distinguish educational strategic planning from other planning approaches? To answer this question, Cooper (1985) provided this description:

   ... typical planning is generated by internal
   organization goals and priorities.
   The typical plan charts a course of action
   to achieve these goals, accounting for
   external forces primarily as obstacles
   or incentives to their achievement. The
   process is often formal and the product
   is schematic, documenting and projecting
   current activity in relation to stated
   objectives of the organization. (p. 1)

Valentine (1991) provided a more detailed differentiation between typical long-range planning and strategic planning approaches. The differences between the two planning approaches are highlighted in Table 2.

Another differentiation between traditional planning approaches and strategic planning is the impetus from which the plans are developed. Strategic planning is considered to be a "grass roots" or "bottom-up" approach, where planning is accomplished with input from a variety of organizational constituents or stakeholders, as opposed to the traditional "top-down" planning typically employed and directed by central office administrators (Rieger, 1994). Mecca and Adams (1991) contended that strategic planning processes "required administrators to confront district issues which might otherwise be overlooked with conventional planning approaches" (p. 16).

Educational entities using strategic planning found that participative forms of management (e.g., decentralized decision making, shared power, shared decision-making, site-based decision-making, devolved management) were compatible and viable with this chosen planning approach (Bryson, 1995; Conley, 1994; Cook, 1995; Frese, 1996; Mauriel, 1989; McCune, 1986). Clay et al. (1989) asserted that educational strategic planning features the best features of 'top down' and 'bottom up' management. Top management maintains its responsibility for over-all direction, but the [strategic] planning team includes broad representation of stakeholder groups. …


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