Education Policy Theory and Practice Paper

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Public policy touches all aspects of our lives, some in ways we appreciate and others in ways we do not (Edmondson, 2005 p. 2). But it is a necessary aspect of our democracy that we have to contend with. Education policies directly affect educators as we are the ones at the receiving end of the intervention programs. History has shown that education policies have far more reaching effects in that it touches almost every youth in the country (Cooper, Fusarelli and Randall, 2004 pp166-169).

The goal of education had always been to provide students with adequate knowledge and life skills that would help them become better and functioning members of society. In this context, it is but natural that policies should be assessed to determine its usefulness in the light of its outcome. A vital component of any policy or program is evaluating its effectiveness, this component would provide evidence of the results of the policy, in the light that the policy may be scrapped, continued or improved.

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In education reforms, policy evaluation has not been that successful, the primary problem is that in the past, evaluation results were not clearly disseminated or presented to the stakeholders in education, it is costly and fundamental questions as to what to evaluate and how to go about it abound. However, despite these, policy evaluation is still a must and is part of a scientific process that would lead to better policies in education. According to Cooper et. al. 2004, p101), the process of evaluation comes toward the end of the education policymaking process, furthermore, three questions frame the evaluation process in education (1) to what extent was the policy implemented and conceived (2) how effective was Education Policy Theory and Practice Paper Page #2 the policy in reaching its goals and (3) what can be done to improve education through better policies and programs. This framework provides us with a guide in evaluating any education policy or program, may it be in the national, state or local level.

Generally, policy evaluation was concentrated on federal policies though educators should be able to conduct their own evaluations from time to time. The framework provided though is not enough, proponents of policy evaluation said that it should have a multidimensional view (Fry & Tompkin, 1978 in Cooper et. al 2004 p. 103). Looking at evaluation with different viewpoints would give us a better picture of what the policy is about, and with the dimensions of policy theory provided by Cooper et. al (2004 pp. 105-106) we could better examine education policies.

The four dimensions are normative, structural, constituentive and technical. These dimensions would enable us to conduct a policy evaluation that is all encompassing, form its conception and much more revealing that doing a simple evaluation based on outcomes only. In policy evaluation, the normative dimension refers to the ideological and value underpinnings of the policy, usually a policy is a reflection of the ideologies and values of its proponents, thus making it more of an expression of one’s beliefs in what should be good and right.

In policy evaluation, the normative dimension would guide us in asking what values where present in the conception of the program, what outcomes did it hoped to achieve, was it fair and equal to all, and what importance will we give its results? The structural dimension refers to the organizational structure of the policy, therefore in evaluating education policies, we can consider the interrelationships of the hierarchy involved in the formulation of the policy, the members of

Education Policy Theory and Practice Paper Page #3 the implementing body and the receivers of the program, moreover, did the organizational set-up facilitated or blocked the effectiveness of the policy, and finally what do the different groups in the structure have to say to improve the policy. The constituentive dimension is the political aspect of the policy, the interest groups involved or affected by the policy, these may be the educators, teachers, students and parents or other groups that feel strongly about the policy.

In policy evaluation, the constituentive dimensions would consider the roles that the different interest groups have on the formulation and implementation if the policy, as well as their experiences and views about the program as to its effectiveness and chance for improvement. The technical dimension is the practical side of the policy; it means how the resources were allocated in view of the outcome of the program. In evaluation, this would mean who should conduct the evaluation, what should be evaluated and what will be the objective of the evaluation.

By demonstrating the importance of policy evaluation in the process of policymaking and the ways in which we can conduct evaluation using the four dimensions of policy theory, the operational question is to what end do we use policy evaluation results? Logically, it is for assessing the effectiveness of a certain program or policy and used as a basis for the continuation or discontinuation of the program. However, in the micro level, policy evaluation would result to changes in the curriculum, instruction and assessment of the schools under the new policies.

Most of the education policies had been conceived out of the concern on the academic Education Policy Theory and Practice Paper Page #4 performance of our students based on international standards especially in math and science (National Center for Education Statistics, 2004). Thus, naturally the goal of education policy is to improve educational effectiveness and this can be demonstrated based on the type of curriculum, the instructional methods and assessment policies of the school.

Various theories about change abound (Senge 1990; Fullan and Stiegelbauer 1991 in Van Tassel-Baska, 2000 p1), but most writers agree it is a complex process involving top-down and bottom-up movement. Schools are difficult contexts within which to enact change for several reasons, including their resistance and entrenchment, their chaotic daily operation that is more responsive than active to issues, and the lack of content and related pedagogical expertise of teaching and hierarchical models of administration that may inhibit positive change.

Clearly the task of making implementation work is daunting. Recent studies of reform projects in math and science have exploded many of our myths about what works (Cohen and Hill 1998; Kennedy 1999). Issues like contact hours, the model of implementation, and even broad based involvement appear to be unimportant. Primary to the enterprise, however, is the emphasis on what students need to learn in a specific subject area and those strategies that best help them learn it.

If these findings continue to hold up across new studies as well, it would influence both how schools organize for instruction and also how they prepare teachers to continue being effective. Policy evaluation can improve the curriculum of schools since the evaluation would identify the strengths and weaknesses of the present curriculum. Which, would in turn give school administrators and state officials an objective basis on what to improve and do, with Education Policy Theory and Practice Paper Page #5 ontinued evaluation and feed backing, schools would be able to transform and improve curriculum that would better suit the clientele of the schools. Curriculum is changing in American schools, there are numerous attempts to redesign curriculum so that learners can be actively involved in constructing meaning (Brooks, 1990 in ERIC Digest, Number 67), as opposed to basing it only on the teacher or the textbooks. Moreover, with policy evaluation, the content of the curriculum is also under scrutiny, is it relevant, accurate and meaningful?

Instruction is the heart of the learning process, it is through this that exchanges of ideas are facilitated and knowledge is verified. The more appropriate the instruction methods and strategies to the content and material, the better students learn. Thus, in policy evaluation, it determines the interrelationships of students and teachers and how they are affected by a certain policy both in the classroom climate and the learning process. With evaluation, it generally brings to light the best practices in instruction and would therefore be available to the different schools in the country as instructional models.

By adapting the learning process to the learner’s needs, the emphasis in instruction is on success of the learner. Alesia Montgomery and Robert Rossi (1994, Chapter 8) in their report regarding the education reforms and students’ at risk reported that “changes in traditional forms of instruction are underway, in general, these instructional strategies entail a movement away from the passive teacher-lecture/student-listen mode of instruction to a more active arrangement of learning activities”.

They (Montgomery & Rossi, 1994) also suggest that effective “instruction” can take place within and outside the Education Policy Theory and Practice Paper Page #6 classroom and that a personal connection with a “teacher” can make a difference in whether a student succeeds or fails. Specific strategies include the involvement of nontraditional teachers such as mentors and race-sex role models, adult and cross-grade peer tutoring, and integrating technology as a tool for instruction. Assessment is the last link in the chain, it completes the learning process.

Policy evaluation determines educational effectiveness largely on the test scores of students who usually take more than one state-wide tests, a national standard is set to be accomplished by schools, and the nearer they are to it, the better the school’s performance. Assessment is becoming an integral part of the teaching/learning process as opposed to evaluation, it provides larger amounts of feedback to students allowing them to improve their performance continuously, rather than judge performance at some arbitrary point (Conley, 1992).

Christopher Tienken and Michael Wilson (2001, p13) reported that many states around the country have curriculum standards and state developed assessments to monitor the implementation of those standards, most of these define expected outcomes, what students need to know and be able to do. Thus, with a standard to live up to, school officials would be more likely to devote their resources in living up to it. A study conducted in Ontario secondary schools following the education reforms of 1999 found that during the year teachers were beginning to rethink the relationship between assessment and instruction.

The changes they were making nudged them closer to assessment reform ideals in four ways: 1) Assessment was more frequent and integrated more closely with instruction. 2) A greater variety of methods were in use, including those recommended by assessment reformers Education Policy Theory and Practice Paper Page #7 such as portfolio, performance, and self-evaluation. 3) Evaluation was becoming demystified as teachers provided explicit displays of assessment criteria and overtly taught these criteria to students.

Teachers felt that rubrics, especially when constructed by teams of teachers, increased the defensibility of assessment by reducing teacher bias. For example, “evaluation in the arts is very, or has always been thought to be, very subjective, and I like this… It’s much more objective. It is in print. ” Assessment was becoming more transparent for parents as well as students. For example, “parents at parent-teacher interviews are really interested in my mark book in my Grade 9s…they’re not so much in my other classes. 4) By involving students in the assessment process, the purpose of assessment was shifting to a greater emphasis on student improvement (Ross, J. A. , Hannay, L. Hogaboam-Gray, A. 2000). This goes to show that education policies are important and should not be faced with resentment and negativity, with policy evaluation we can know what works and what does not. Educational reforms are like pebbles dropped in a lake, it creates ripples and waves and affects millions of people in the education sector, any policy implemented will have an impact on the curriculum, instruction and assessment frameworks of schools in the country.

Education policies are always conceived in good faith, what political officials deem to be appropriate and good for the sector at that time, however as with anything, our educational system will continue to evolve, and a policy might work for some time, without evaluation the policy would not be able to keep abreast with the changing times.


Cohen, D. , and H. Hill, H. 1998. Instructional policy and classroom performance: The mathematics reform in California (Research Report No. RR39). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Consortium for Policy Research in Education. Conley, D. T. (1992) Some emerging trends in school restructuring. ERIC Digest, Number 67. Retrieved on January 2, 2006 available at http://www. ericdigests. org/1992-4/school. htm Cooper, B. S. , Fusarelli, L. D. , and Randall, E. V. (2004) Better Policies, Better Schools: Theories and Applications. Allyn and Bacon Edmondson, J. (2005) Policymaking in Education: Understanding Influences on the Reading Excellence Act.

Education Policy Analysis Archives, Vol 13 (11) Ross, J. A. , Hogaboam-Gray, A. , & Hannay, L. (2000). The impact of secondary school reform on student assessment. Final Report of Ontario Ministry of Education & Training Transfer Grant. Peterborough, ON: OISE/UT Trent Valley Centre. Tienken, C. & Wilson M. , (2001). Using state standards and tests to improve instruction. Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation, 7 (13). Retrieved January 1, 2006 from http://PAREonline. net/getvn. asp? =7&n=13 U. S.

Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2004) International Outcomes of Learning in Mathematics Literacy and Problem Solving: PISA 2003 Results From the U. S. Perspective. (NCES 2005-003). VanTassel-Baska, J. (2000) Curriculum policy development for secondary gifted programs: A prescription for reform coherence National Association of Secondary School Principals. NASSP Bulletin. Retrieved on January 2, 2006 from http://www. findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_qa3696/is_200004/ai_n8884029/

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