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Abbott History

Section V
Implementation, Diffusion and Innovation

Introduction

As we have seen in the preceding section, the external capacity of some of the Abbott districts to forward the reform can be questioned. One may ask the question to what extent is the lack of external capacity matched by a corresponding absence in internal capabilities. This section of the report discusses issues that relate to the internal capabilities of the districts. It begins the discussion with a general overview of some of the literature on implementation and diffusion.

Most responses to the call for educational reform have primarily focused on students mastering more complex knowledge, using standards to identify educational outcomes, and holding teachers more accountable for the academic achievement of their students (Banks and Banks, 1997). Increasingly, these efforts have been characterized by a period of intensive state involvement in reform efforts, and have been marked by research which has stressed sensitivity to local variability within the context of state oversight (Rossman & Wilson, 1996). Such variability, has sparked an interest in the implementation process as a major focus of reform research. Within this context, schools are viewed as dynamic systems where the issues of implementation are played out and where there is the increasing realization that the classroom setting has been almost impervious to external reform (Morris, 1996). This search for new solutions to recurring and long-standing problems has been coupled with a new interest in diffusion issues (Martinez-Brawley, 1995). Specifically, some researchers have added an interesting dimension to the issue of innovation by maintaining that it is the perception of innovation which is relevant rather than the actual newness of the idea or program (Slappendel, 1996). To facilitate our understanding of the districts’ responses we though it important to place these responses within the context of implementation, diffusion and innovation theory.

The literature dealing with innovation, diffusion and implementation often consider these three elements interchangeably, although the issues associated with innovation are concerned with the elements of creativity and newness. Implementation and diffusion research often consider the innovation as an integrated element of a comprehensive process (Ford, 1996). For purposes of the study, respondents were asked to indicate the relative innovation inherent in the Abbott initiatives, to comment on the relation of five capacity variables to the successful implementation of Abbott related programs, to identify implementation problems, to identify implementation facilitators and to respond in an open ended fashion to impediments to goal achievement. Although a full discussion of the survey is provided, it is interesting to note that implementation issues dominated respondents concerns. This is consistent with much of the research findings and reflects the uncertainty and difficulty that occur when new or different programs are in their beginning stages (Rogers, 1995). In an attempt to provide clarity and to assist in the interpretation of the findings, several operational definitions are necessary. Innovation is defined as the introduction to an applied situation of means and ends that are new to that situation, as perceived by the implementers (Gittell and Hollander, 1968, Zaltman, Duncan and Holbeck, 1973, Rogers, 1995). Diffusion is defined as the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of the organization (Rogers, 1995). Implementation is viewed as the successful development of the innovation in the organization as determined by the perceptions of the participants (Van de Ven, Angle, and Poole, ed., 1989).

In reviewing the Abbott initiatives, the Minnesota Studies identified several observations which appeared to be related to the present study. These studies found that innovation is stimulated by shocks, both internal and external to the organization, which both the Supreme Court decision and legislative fiat have precipitated in the Abbott context (Zaltman, Duncan and Holebeck, 1993). They also observed that an initial idea tends to subdivide into several ideas and that the innovation becomes modified and influenced by the system it attempts to influence. Finally, they pointed out that restructuring usually accompanies the innovation.

Research has also identified a decision making process which may be characterized as the innovation decision process (Rogers, 1995). This process which may lead to either adoption, rejection or discontinuation is one through which individuals and groups pass from a knowledge base, to attitude development, to ultimately the decision making stage (Rogers, 1995). From this process, four types of innovative decisions have been advanced to serve as a typology. These are optional innovation decisions which represent individual decisions made independent of the decisions of other members of the organization; collective innovation decisions, which are decisions made by consensus among members of a group; authority innovation decisions, which are decisions made by the power centers of a system or organization; and contingent innovation decisions, which are decisions made only after a prior innovation decision (Rogers, 1995). These useful typologies and definitions will be applied to the analysis of implementation responses in our questionnaire.

Findings

Model Adoption

Several sections of the survey dealt with implementation issues in the Abbott Districts (See Appendix). In order to facilitate the discussion, we have grouped related sections for analytical purposes. Our first set of findings focuses on the reform models chosen by schools. We asked districts to identify the models chosen by their respective cohort 2 schools, to characterize the training related to these models and to identify the decision making process undergirding the choice of a model. Of the twenty-two districts included in the study, seventeen responded affirmatively that they had one or more schools in the second cohort. According to the data provided by the districts, of the five models, the most prevalent whole school model selected by schools was Success for All. This was followed by Adaptive Learning, Accelerated Learning and Comer, and Modern Red School House.

With regards to the selection process, the data indicates some variation in the methods used by the districts. For example, about half of the districts reported that model selection was the fruition of input from teachers, principals and central office personnel thereby implying a more pluralistic process. However, roughly 37% of the districts reported that model adoption was attained solely on the basis of teacher vote with high level of teacher participation, which conforms to the guidelines promulgated by the NJDOE for model selection. In about 36% of the districts at least one or more of the models were already operating in their schools prior to the Abbott requirements mandating a selection of a whole school reform model. To a certain extent, one may say that in the latter districts the concept of innovation as the perception of the introduction of newness may not seem to hold.

Districts were asked to rate the adequacy of the training provided by the developers of each of the five models. Their responses are captured in Table 5.1. However, before we present the results a number of caveats have to be raised. First, this question elicited a high non-response rate. Although provisions were made in the response categories for districts to indicate if they had not undergone training in a given model we are not sure if a non-response simply meant that no training had occurred or that districts had simply overlooked the question. Second, when we factor out the number of non-responses, and the number of districts that had legitimately stated that their schools

Table 5.1
Perceived Adequacy of Training Provided by Model Developers

 

Adequacy of Training

 

Model

Very Adequate

 

Adequate

Somewhat Adequate

 

Inadequate

Very

Inadequate

Did Not

Receive Training

Success for All

--

5.9%

17.6%

35.3%

17.6%

23.5%

Modern Red School House

--

16.7%

8.3%

16.7%

--

58.4%

Comer

--

7.7%

15.4%

23.1%

15.4%

38.5%

Accelerated Learning

--

--

15.4%

30.8%

--

53.9%

Adaptive Learning

--

18.2%

18.2%

9.1%

--

54.6%

Number of districts rating adequacy of models- SFA (13); Modern Red School House (5); Comer (8); Accelerated Learning (6); Adaptive Learning/Community for Learning (5).

were yet to be trained in a given model, the number of districts actually rating the models was relatively small, with the largest number being 13 for Success for All. Given

the fact that training was not complete at the time of this study the results in Table 5.1 should be treated as preliminary and relevant only for those schools responding. Further, given the unevenness in the number of schools that each developer had trained up to the time of this study, we do not feel that comparisons among models are justified.

Turning to the data in the Table, one sees that districts tended to be dissatisfied with the training provided by the model developers. For Success for All, approximately 6% of the districts felt that the training was adequate compared to more than 50% who felt that it was inadequate. Seventeen percent of the districts felt that the training provided by the Modern Red School House developers was adequate, 8% somewhat adequate and 17% inadequate. However, at the time of the study, more than half of the districts responding had not yet received training in this model as was the case with Accelerated Learning and Adaptive/Community for Learning. The training associated with the Comer model was judged to be adequate by about 8% of the districts, somewhat adequate by 15% and inadequate by about 38%. With respect to Accelerated Learning, none of the districts felt that the training was adequate, with 15% noting that it was somewhat adequate and 31% inadequate. The training provided by the developers of Adaptive Learning was rated as being adequate by 18% of the districts, somewhat adequate by another 8% and inadequate by 9%. Although the information gleaned on training must be approached with caution, the trend one is seeing in the data suggests that districts were not satisfied with the training provided by the model developers.

Compliance with Requirements

The status of the school related positions required by the Abbott rulings is presented in Table 5.2a. At the time of this study, most districts had begun to comply with filling these positions. For example, the positions associated with the social worker, instructional facilitator, school nurse, counselor and technology coordinator were established in most schools in more than half of the districts. Positions that were not firmly established at the time of the study were parent laision, community facilitator and drop-out prevention coordinator. In fact in the case of the community facilitator position, only 12% of the districts responded that this position had been established in most of their schools, while a significant percent (41%) stated that the position not only did not exist but they were not , at the time of the study, in the process of creating it. It is possible that there may be some uncertainty about the role and function of this conceptually new position in the traditional school bureaucracy, which may explain its low compliance status.

Table 5.2A
Status of School Related Positions Associated with
Abbott at End of First Year

 

Position

Does Not Currently

Exists

In The Process Of Establishing

Exists In Some Schools

Exists In Most Schools

Other

Instructional Facilitator

--

9.1%

36.4%

54.5%

--

Social Worker

--

--

16.7%

77.8%

5.6%

School Nurse

--

--

5.6%

94.4%

--

Counselor

--

--

--

100%

--

Parent Laision

16.7%

22.2%

16.7%

44.4%

--

Technology Coordinator

--

11.8%

17.6%

70.6%

--

Drop-out Prevention

Coordinator

--

12.5%

43.8%

43.8%

--

Community Facilitator

41.2%

17.6%

29.4%

11.8%

--

In the area of needs assessment (refer to Table 5.2b), most districts had complied with the requirements. Ninety percent of the districts had completed their early childhood needs assessment and all districts their facilities assessment by the end of the first year. However, only 45% of the districts had conducted an assessment of their students’ health and social needs. Although not reported in any of the Tables in response to the question regarding special education most districts noted that their special education programs were not changed significantly in terms of expected implementation requirements.

Table 5.2B
Status of Needs Assessment at End of First Year

 

Needs Assessment Area

Was Conducted

Was Not Conducted

Early Childhood

90%

10%

Facilities

100%

--

Social/Health

45%

55%

Number of districts responding: 22

School Management Teams

Changes in the governance structures of local schools have been an integral component of the reform initiatives in many states. The predominant shifts that have occurred have resulted in the opening up of school-based decision making to a broad constituent of school and community groups. The Abbott reforms make provisions for the establishment of school management teams comprised of school based as well as community based members. The school management teams are envisioned as playing an important role in the reform process in the Abbott Districts. According to Department of Education regulations, their responsibilities entail developing a school budget, approving a whole school reform model, conducting needs assessment, engaging in program evaluations, designing school level accountability systems as well as making recommendations for programs in the areas of technology and professional development. (Such a process ideally should facilitate what Rogers’ term the concept of collective innovation decision-making). Given these broad functions, the success of the teams in carrying out these tasks will be highly contingent on their level of competence and the quality of training to which they are exposed. In the study, we sought to obtain a measure of the teams in these two areas: their level of competence to make decisions and the kinds of training that they have been provided with. It should be stated, however, that given the timing of the study one would expect fairly low to moderate levels of competence in certain areas. Therefore, we view these findings from a baseline perspective, providing benchmark data against which the growing competence of the teams may be measured.

One of the first decisions which the School Management teams were expected to make concerned the development of the school budget. Schools in cohort 1 were required to engage in the zero-based budgeting process and to devise a school budget that had to be submitted to the Department of Education for approval. School districts were asked to indicate how prepared their SMTs were for this process. As can be seen from the pie chart in Figure 5.1, in 60% of the districts the school management teams were reported to be definitely not prepared, and only in 15% of the districts were the SMTs prepared to make decisions regarding their school budgets. In twenty-five percent or 5 districts, the teams were viewed as being somewhat prepared for making budgetary decisions. These results when placed within the context of training provided to the teams are not surprising. For example, only 42% of the districts stated that the SMTs had received training in zero-based budgeting.

The issue of adequacy of training for the teams looms large in the study, especially when the data in Table 5.3 is examined. The Table reflects insufficient training for the school management teams in areas that are critical to their functioning. In the two areas deemed critical to a team’s ability to function as a viable and cohesive decision-making body- consensus building and

 

Table 5.3
Level of Training Received by School Management Teams
With Respect to Team Functioning and Abbott Requirements

Level of Training

Critical Areas

None

Very Little

Some

Great Deal

Team Functioning
Decision Making

4.8%

19.0%

52.4%

23.8%

Consensus Building

4.8%

4.8%

66.7%

23.8%

Abbott

a) Abbott regulations

 

4.8%

 

14.3%

 

38.1%

 

42.9%

b) Student needs assessment

4.8%

23.8%

61.9%

9.5%

c) Program needs assessment

4.8%

14.3%

38.1%

42.9%

Note: Number of districts responding: 21

decision-making effectiveness- only five districts or 23.8%, reported that their SMTs were provided with significant or substantial training. SMTs in most districts received only some training in both areas, and 1 district reported that its SMTs was given no training support in either area. On the other hand, one sees from the data furnished in the Table that proportionately more districts engaged their teams in training around the Abbott regulations and program needs assessments. For example, 43% of the districts indicated that their SMTs received substantial training in both understanding the Abbott regulations and program needs assessment. One may surmise that both these topics were logical starting point for the SMTs given the early decisions that schools had to make around models for adoption. One would expect however that as districts become more involved in implementation, and as the SMTs engage in making other decisions and choices for their buildings that the level of training will increase appreciably.

Resource Constraints and Problems Experienced During the First Six Months into the Reform

There was an interest in the study to understand the constraints and problems encountered by the districts in their attempts to conform to the requirements of Abbott. We discussed earlier in Section 1 of this report how policy is affected by the variability at the local level and how such variability is related to resource, organizational, political and cultural differences. We further argued that policy implementation is susceptible to the impact of these variables. Hence, rather than having a unitary pattern of response to a mandated reform one could have varied responses among districts that are presumed to be similar. We take this notion of local variability up in this section by identifying the different issues surfaced by the districts during the first six months of implementation. The results are presented as three distinct sets of findings. First, we present data on the resource constraints that districts identified and the inter-relationship that exists among these constraints. Second, we examine the key issues districts grappled with during the start-up phases of implementation. Third we try to establish the degree of inter-connectedness among the issues.

Resource Issues

A necessary precondition for the implementation of any program is the availability of a key set of resources. These resources include, but are not limited to time, knowledge, finance, personnel and information. Districts were asked to indicate the extent to which each of these posed a barrier to their implementation efforts. Their responses are captured by the data in Table 5.4. The data indicates that the element of time was the most severe resource constraint that districts had to grapple with during the early stages of implementation. Seventy-six percent of the districts noted that time was a constraining factor as they sought to comply with the State directives. Both personnel and financial issues were cited by at least half of the districts as other major obstacles during the first year of implementation. Districts experienced difficulties in finding personnel to co-ordinate the reform process

Table 5.4
Level of Severity of
Resource Constraints Experienced by Abbott Districts
During the First Year of Implementation

Level of Severity

Resource Constraint

Low

Moderate

High

Time

14.3%

9.5%

76.2%

Knowledge

23.8%

38.1%

38.1%

Finance

9.1%

27.3%

54.5%

Personnel

14.3%

28.6%

57.1%

Information

14.3%

38.1%

47.6%

Number of districts: 21

* One district’s response fell outside the categories provided.

and had to use existing staff who already had other major responsibilities for other key areas of their school operations. Several districts complained about how overwhelming the process was. In contrast to these resource issues, districts were less inclined to feel that knowledge was a major obstacle, although the information which they received was viewed as being slightly more problematic.

A series of zero order correlation were calculated in order to explore more fully the degree to which these resource constraints were related to each other (See Table 5.5). The correlations indicate that information was the one resource that was consistently related to all of the other resource problems experienced. The magnitude of the relationships were .62 (with time); .86 (with knowledge); .55 (with finance); and .73 (with personnel). The nature of the relationships between this variable and the others implies that the problems which the districts experienced with information received from the NJDOE had an adverse and ripple effect on other organizational issues. The more difficulty districts perceived with the information they were getting from the NJDOE the more likely they were to indicate experiencing problems in other areas. Personnel issues were also significantly related to knowledge and finance which suggested that 1) problems with personnel and problems with knowledge about the reform were related, and 2) that personnel issues were also bound up with financial problems.

Table 5.5
Relationship Between Resource Constraints
(Inter-Correlations)

 

Knowledge

Finance

Personnel

Information

Time

.52**

.23

.40

.62**

Knowledge

 

.36

.65**

.86**

Finance

   

.71**

.55*

Personnel

     

.73**

**p<.01, *p<.02

The compounding effect of the problems associated with the quality and clarity of the information which the districts received during the start up phase of the reform cannot be overstated. Indeed, when we reexamined the relationship between the various resource issues, controlling for information problems, the original relationships changed dramatically. In all instances the correlations were significantly reduced. These findings suggest that many of the perceived related resource problems were in fact influenced by the communication difficulties between the DOE and the districts. The comments provided by the districts alluded to the fact that the information received from the state was confusing and inconsistent. In speaking to the inconsistency of information received from the state and its subsequent impact on knowing what to do, one district observed that their ‘knowledge is only as good as the rules in effect on any given day’.

Implementation Difficulties Experienced During First Six Months

In trying to get a more definitive understanding of the concrete problems that they faced during the early start-up phase of the reform, districts were asked to identify with more specificity the problems they experienced during the first six months into the reform. Their responses are presented in Table 5.6. As can be seen from the Table, the most serious problems were a) lack of clarity from the DOE; b) lack of time to plan effectively; c) insufficient funding, and d) problems in linking or co-ordinating aspects of the reform with other organizational needs. In all instances, over 70% of the districts indicated that these problems posed great challenges to them and their schools in their implementation efforts.

Table 5.6
Problems and their Perceived Difficulty During
the First Six Months of Implementation

 

Degree of Difficulty

Problem

Little to None

Some

Great

Lack of clarity from State Department of Education

--

19.0%

81.0%

Lack of understanding on how to implement certain elements of the reform

--

33.3%

66.7%

Lack of time to plan effectively

4.8%

19.0%

76.2%

Insufficient funding*

4.8%

14.3%

71.4%

Lack of facilities

--

31.6%

68.5%

Problems in linking or coordinating aspects of the reform with other organizational needs

 

9.5%

 

19.0%

 

71.4%

Lack of support or resistance from groups within district

55.0%

20.0%

25.0%

District responding: 22

*One district provided a response that did not fall in any of the categories provided.

Two-thirds of the districts also revealed that facility issues and not understanding how to implement certain elements of the reform created serious difficulties during the early stages of implementation. Table 5.7 shows the interconnectedness between the problems which districts experienced during the first six months of implementation. The data reveals that the perceived lack of clarity from the state significantly impacted on understanding what to do, on organizational issues and funding problems. Funding problems were also related to perceived difficulties with understanding how to proceed with implementation, organizational needs, and the time factor.

Table 5.7
Association Between Problems Experienced During
The First Six Months Of Implementation

 

X1

X2

X3

X4

X5

X6

X7

X1 Lack of clarity from State

1.00

.80**

.56*

-.02

.22

.22

.64**

X2 Lack of understanding regarding implementation  

 

1.00

 

.58*

 

.07

 

.25

 

.17

 

.55*

X3 Problems in linking reform to organizational needs    

 

1.00

 

.22

 

.36

 

.05

 

.67**

X4 Lack of internal support       1.00

.35

.35

.16

X5 Lack of time to plan        

1.00

.37

.55*

X6 Lack of facilities          

1.00

.22

X7 Lack of funds            

1.00

**p <.01

*p <.05

Conclusions

Districts and their schools confronted several capacity and resource issues as they started their implementation of whole school reform. Perhaps the most salient were the issues of time, information flow and funding. With respect to time, the reported findings underscored the fact that districts and schools had very little time to engage in quality planning or other meaningful capacity building efforts. Further, several of the resource problems shared a significant relationship with the problems which districts experienced in the flow and quality of information received from the NJDOE. Thus the quality, timeliness and accuracy of information were mitigating factors in the ability of districts and schools to successfully begin the process of change. As stated earlier, organizational strain emerged during the first year of implementation. Districts reported that they experienced difficulties in coordinating aspects of the Abbott reforms with other organizational needs. Finally, funding continued to be a major source of problem plaguing the district’s reform efforts.

Much of what we have learnt from the districts in the study tend to support the literature concerning implementation, diffusion and innovation. In a climate where schools are becoming increasingly accountable to external agents to improve their outcomes, the present findings should inform the practice of those responsible for the facilitation of the implementation of the Abbott decision. There is ample evidence that successful implementation can occur when appropriate attention is paid to context and perception. Particularly as the NJDOE continues to decentralize the reform to local schools who often lack internal expertise and capacity, implementation will continue to be problematic unless these inadequacies are addressed.