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Discussion: Exploring a Case Study

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posted by: Ruth Von Blum on May 26, 2000 at 4:13PM
subject: Introduction and critical points
Hi. I'm sorry to join you so late. I'm Ruth Von Blum, lead evaluator for
SUMS, a K-8 math LSC in Santa Ana, CA. I was intrigued by the notion of
using case studies in professional development because we are in the second
year of conducting two case studies in Santa Ana. The points raised so far
in the discussion are excellent for those designing professional development
programs, to help them analyze the complexity involved in such enterprises.

In response to Brian's question about "critical points," it seems to me
that many of the problems facing this project (inadequately prepared
teachers and professional developers, busy principals, recalcitrant
superentendants, etc.) are common and could/should have been anticipated as
the project was being conceptualized. No professional development exists in
a vacuum. All are embedded in real-world environments facing real-world
problems. As much as possible, these need to be laid out and analyzed early
in project design. For example, the problem of ineffective (or in this
case, almost counter-effective) professional development leaders can be
helped by pre-selecting individuals with some experience in this area and
conducting extensive training of these people, followed by ongoing coaching
and observation. Such observation is one of the jobs of the project
evaluator, to constantly keep the project apraised of what is working and
what is not and to suggest improvements.

Our experience also suggests that another critical point is the principal.
Mr. Mann's concerns, especially about increasing test scores, could torpedo
the project's effectiveness. Of course, he's busy (as are all principals).
But his buy-in and leadership represent a very critical point if any
school-wide change is to occur. Our project has tried to bring principals
"on-board" by obtaining their commitment in writing, conducting frequent
"principals' meetings," requiring that all principals attend at least some
of the professional development sessions, and even making them responsible
for doing certain "articulation assignments." Even with all this, the
commitment from principals is uneven. Moreover, as I observed in one case
study school, a principal very dedicated to the project and math reform can
be replaced in a flash by another whose priorities lie elsewhere.
Nonetheless, it's critical to reach principals and get them to understand
what all of this reform business is all about (while truly acknowledging
their real problems and pressures). Maybe a "case study approach" to getting
them involved might be a good way to start!

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