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Exploring Coherence as an Organizational Resource for Carrying Out Reform Initiatives

by Christina L. Madda, Richard R. Halverson & Louis M. Gomez - 2007

Background/Context: School districts are responsible for helping schools improve learning for students. However, many district initiatives conflict with each other or with existing instructional practices in schools. Recent research on urban school reform points to the value of program coherence in sustaining school change. Our paper addresses an urban district’s efforts to design for instructional program coherence in its schools.

Purpose: This study explores the design process of how one urban school district developed and deployed a series of reports designed to communicate the results of student achievement testing across the district. The focus of this research is to understand the district’s efforts to design new programs that would fit coherently into existing initiative in local schools. We attempt to measure and characterize coherence within the district design team as a means to discern how district leaders can assist local actors in implementation of reform initiatives and foster local program coherence within schools.

Research Design: This paper presents a qualitative case study of how a district-level nine-member design team built and implemented a reform program to make student performance data reports accessible throughout their district. We used a policy-artifact-based perspective as our methodological framework to access the “program theories” in use by the designers in making the artifact. Our methods allowed us to contrast the differences in the designers’ perspectives on the fit between the designed artifacts and the local school environments.

Conclusions: The findings from this study revealed how designers developed a stakeholder-based process that helped them come to an agreement on common goals for the design. Their perceptions of the goals, actions, and resources that would drive these initiatives appeared to be aligned, but the actions suggested for local school leaders and teachers varied among designers. This incoherence at the level of design details and artifact implementation would come to threaten the successful implementation of the reform effort at a local level. The results of this work suggest that attention towards coherence throughout the design process can aid district leaders in facilitating instructional program coherence in schools.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 8, 2007, p. 1957-1979
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14074, Date Accessed: 1/24/2021 1:59:11 PM

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About the Author
  • Christina Madda
    University of Illinois at Chicago
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTINA L. MADDA has an M.A. in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University where she also worked for two years as a research analyst under the guidance of Louis M. Gomez. She is currently a doctoral student in Literacy, Language, and Culture at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests include family literacy and issues related to biliteracy. Her most recent publication with Kimberley Gomez, “Vocabulary instruction for ELL Latino students in the middle school science classroom,” appeared in the September 2005 edition of Voices from the Middle.
  • Richard Halverson
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    RICHARD R. HALVERSON is an Assistant Professor in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research develops conceptual frameworks based on cognitive psychology and classical philosophy to capture the complexity, expertise and situated nature of instructional leadership practice in schools and seeks to communicate findings to researchers and practitioners through developing online, multimedia cases of practice.
  • Louis Gomez
    Northwestern University
    E-mail Author
    LOUIS GOMEZ is Aon Professor of Learning Sciences and Professor of Computer Science. His current interests include understanding how to support urban school improvement with the aid of project-based curricula and new information technologies. His recent publications include, “Studying complex social practice to improve lives: Humanistic computing for learning”, which appeared in Mind, Culture, and Activity in 2003.
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