BoardDocs President and Creator Ari Ioannides poses the question: "District level strategic plans are an attempt to adopt a business practice in school management, but are they effective?"
What is interesting is that most studies have found that there is no correlation between the strategic plan and the improvement of student performance. Then why even go through the process?
The primary value in developing a strategic plan is how engaged the community becomes in the district. When large groups of constituents are involved in the development of the plan, it fosters involvement and provides a direct way for the district to hear the concerns of the community. So the process is actually more important than the plan itself. Even more interesting, is that the process of putting together the plan usually is just the start of engaging the community in the schools.
David Conley, a professor at the University of Oregon, found that "community relations" was the top objective cited on the strategic plans he studied. While it may appear as the last item on some district plans, to my mind it should be the first. Without comprehensive two-way dialog the district has no idea how to respond to the needs of stakeholders.
Most plans do a good job articulating the district goals to all stakeholders. Often, many groups play tug-of-war with new programs and initiatives that are implemented in the schools. Lack of direction can lead to a plethora of programs to implement and administer. This can be costly and in most cases overwhelming to the classroom teacher. Getting everyone on the same page is also a huge plus for strategic planning.
While the plan may focus on the future, it is important to evaluate and measure the success of existing programs. Any programs that are not effective or are too costly from resource perspective should be eliminated. This will give breathing space for the new plans and allow the district to focus on doing a few things well, rather than shot-gunning problems and hoping something works.
Finally, strategic plans are valuable because they identify key indicators. By tracking a broad set of key indicators for each area in the plan, the district can foster an environment of continuous improvement. One of the most important indicators is perception of quality among parents and teachers. Relying on test results alone will not give the district the entire picture.
While strategic plans may not good for student achievement, it does provide a process for establishing good dialog, setting shared goals and measuring performance.