Collaborative Strategic Planning as Illustration of the Principles of Systems Change

Article excerpt

Abstract. Mandates through legislative and policy changes for increased student outcome accountability have intensified demands for meaningful school reform and an emphasis on scientifically based practices. However, there continues to be a major disconnection between an ever-growing body of research on effective educational practices and what is actually occurring in many schools. Whether an innovation is implemented and sustained is more often related to features of the school as a system than to features of the innovation. This article describes a collaborative strategic planning model that is grounded in understanding schools as systems and guided by principles of organizational change. The model is explained and examples of its application are provided using a statewide school-based change program as an illustration.


The publication of A Nation at Risk by the National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983) served as a stimulus for widespread demands for school reform across the United States. Parallel to the evolution of policy changes relating to special education, beginning in the mid-1980s, successive versions of federal legislation reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 have led to significant changes in general education policy as well. The most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB; 2002), mandated that schools must provide not only equal educational opportunities, but a high-quality education for all students (i.e., the use evidenced-based practices, instruction by highly qualified teachers). To demonstrate that a high-quality education is provided for all students, schools must establish a timeline of benchmarks with the U.S. Department of Education for demonstrating that 100% of their students are making adequate yearly progress in academic subjects by 2014, as measured by statewide achievement tests. In addition, NCLB also requires states to report progress toward achieving those benchmarks annually in disaggregated form, according to several specific categories (e.g., students with disabilities, students with limited English proficiency). In other words, federal education policy has shifted from holding schools accountable for providing services for students with disabilities to holding schools accountable for improving educational outcomes for all students, including those with and without identified disabilities. What began with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as education policy for general education students, now has become education policy for all students.

For those who have long advocated for the merging of regular and special education service systems, legislative policies such as Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (2004) and NCLB offer renewed opportunity and promote that development. The high standards and expectations of NCLB are highlighting the needs of a growing number of at-risk students and students with disabilities (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 2004) and are raising awareness of the discrepancies in academic performance across students. Evidence-based practice is identified in both acts as the accepted means to provide instruction and intervention. With the most recent reauthorization of Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (2004), for example, the local education agency may determine if a student has a specific learning disability based on whether a student responds sufficiently to a scientific, research-based intervention.

Although there is an ever-growing body of research on effective educational practices (Stoner, Shinn, & Walker, 2002), what may be missing in many schools is the intersection of two bodies of knowledge. In other words, there is a need for familiarity with relevant evidence-based practices and understanding of the systems change principles needed to facilitate accommodation of those practices in a specific school culture (Carnine, 1999). …


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