Case study

State Initiatives Can Foster School Improvement

Beverly L. Anderson
Education Commission of the States
Allan R. Odden
University of Wisconsin–Madison


States can play substantive and important roles in helping local schools. The article in this section, which stems from a study by the Education Commission of the States (ECS), document those elements of the change process that work to transform schools into more effective organizations.

Since the late 1970s, well before the start of the current re­form movement in education, the states have been actively en­gaged in helping districts and individual schools to implement research findings on effective schools, effective teach­ing, and the processes of educational change. This article re­ports the findings of a study of the im­plementation and impact of these pro­grams in local schools conducted by ECS. The basic finding of the study is that states can play several substantive and impor­tant roles in helping local schools—and the students, teachers, and principals in them—to improve over time.

The study identified those elements of the local change process that work to improve the skills of teachers and prin­cipals and to transform a school into an effective organization. The study also identified the various roles that states can play in the change process.

The key elements, and their sequenc­ing and links over time, provide a gen­eral implementation structure that local schools can use as they put into place programs designed to improve the qual­ity of education. The findings of the ECS study, when combined with other recent research on successful school im­provement efforts, provide a relatively solid knowledge base on which local and state-level educators and policymakers can build strategies to imple­ment most of the objectives of current state-mandated education reforms.

The ECS study focused in particular on two important questions: What are effective school improvement strategies at the state level? And under what con­ditions do state-level strategies work ef­fectively in local schools? Using a case­ study approach, the researchers ana­lyzed data collected in some 40 schools in 10 states. The study began in late 1983, and the fieldwork was completed in early 1985.

This article was originally published in The Phi Delta Kappan by Phi Delta Kappa International and Journal Storage (JSTOR).

Suggested citationAnderson, B., & Odden, A. (1986, April). State initiatives can foster school improvement [Article]. Policy Analysis for California Education.