Coherence and Alignment: Reflecting on Two Decades of Research on Educational Reform

This week, Elizabeth Leisy Stosich discusses her interview with IEN’s Thomas Hatch, published in the new Cornerstone Series from the CPRE Research Minutes podcast.  This will be our last post of 2019, as we will be on hiatus until January 7th. Happy New Year!

Last week, I had the chance to speak with Thomas Hatch from Teachers College about  two articles that I have drawn on in my own work on coherence and standards-based reform. In the interview Hatch discusses his 2002 article “When Improvement Programs Collide” and his co-authored 2004 study, led by Meredith Honig, “Crafting Coherence: How Schools Strategically Manage Multiple, External Demands.”

I was interested in doing this interview to share it with the students in my course, Leading Educational Policy and Reform, for experienced educational leaders in Fordham’s Ed.D. program. Often, when discussing policy, we only consider one policy at a time rather than examining it in the complex policy environment that educational leaders must navigate on a daily basis. In the interview, we discuss how Hatch’s work on coherence has evolved, our common interests in the social process of interpreting and making sense of policy, and connections to the work of other scholars in the field including Richard Elmore and Karen Seashore Louis.

In our conversation, Hatch describes the challenge of policy alignment as “a technical issue”; whereas, policy coherence is an issue of meaning. He was motivated to pursue this line of research when working to support educational reform in the 1990s. As he explains, “Even if all of the efforts of systemic reform in the 1990s were successful and we produced all these aligned policies, there could be so much work and so many demands on people that they’d still feel overwhelmed and fragmented. And it’s that sense of overwhelmingness and fragmentation that we were trying to address, particularly in thinking about that article around crafting coherence where I think we really emphasize that this is an issue of learning and meaning making that people and organizations like schools are engaged in.” Over time, his work has reinforced the importance of understanding the challenge of “crafting coherence” among external policies and internal goals from a collective perspective, one that takes into account the fact that educators are engaged in this meaning making process simultaneously but from their own unique perspectives.

In the interview, Hatch also shares practical advice for educational leaders at the school- and district-level who face the difficult task of leading policy implementation. As he explains, educational leaders should “recognize this is a part of the job. It’s not a sign that you’re not doing well if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s a reality of the circumstances in which the work is done, and you have to recognize that you’re facing conflicting incentives.” My recent article, “Principals and Teachers ‘Craft Coherence’ Among Accountability Policies,” examines how educators respond to the demands of the Common Core and a new teacher evaluation policy and reinforces how challenging maintaining this balance can be in the face of high-stakes accountability policies. In fact, the pressure from standards-based accountability policies can lead some leaders to abandon their local school goals to focus on external demands. To be successful in the long run, leaders must both respond to the requirements imposed by external mandates but also maintain a focus on the goals that matter most to the community they serve.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s