My colleague, Jim Salzman, inspired me to write this blog about program coherence. As part of my work with the Illinois Mathematics and Science Partnership, I developed a short seminar on the issues of logic models, implementation fidelity, and program coherence. This conversations targets program coherence.
Fred Newman, BetsAnn Smith, Elaine Allensworth, and Anthony Bryk co-authored an excellent summation of the issues related to program coherence to guide school policy (Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 2001, http://ccsr.uchicago.edu/content/publications.php?pub_id=39). They outline two key issues related to program coherence: 1) Too many unrelated, unsustained improvement programs; and 2) Scaling up beyond current participants to more fully incorporate the attitudes, knowledge and norms. Eleven years later, I still see local grant programs realized as some kind of educational practice soup kitchen. The fiscal agent (whether it be a regional office of education, a state board of education, or a federal program) hands out the resources, the district feeds the few teachers who are participating, then continues on with no interest or capacity to fully realize the potential of the program.
What are the policies at the federal, state, and local level that perpetuate this clearly ineffective implementation model? How can stakeholders provoke change in such an entrenched system? I propose that minimally, evaluators working with districts can “slay the beast” locally, if not nationally. Here are some practical steps to consider:
1) At the proposal writing stage, encourage your clients to incorporate collaborative activities that create meaningful connections between the grant work and the existing improvement and accountability initiatives.
2) Encourage clients to go beyond the “Report Card Needs Assessment” to hold at least one short meeting (virutally or face-to-face) to get stakeholder feedback on their needs as well as how this new initiative can complement and even support existing goals. Help them draw the connections between full participation and alignment with existing requirements.
3) Build in formative communication to stakeholders into the evaluation framework — make stakeholder participation matter to the progress of the grant.
There are often many untapped resources for aligning common goals locally as well as with state accountability requirements. The better informed stakeholders at all levels–from the classroom, to the district office, to the community — the more leverage and momentum for sustained improvement your grant will have.