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Case Study

SchoolNET: A Case Study of Implementation in Three Schools

Between 2004 and 2006, researchers at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) studied the enactment and use of five high school reforms 1 in 15 schools across the country. These reforms were selected as representative of the types of external assistance found in high schools during previous CPRE research and included whole school reforms, targeted literacy initiatives, and data use strategies (see Gross & Goertz, 2005). To explore implementation of data use strategies, we studied how teachers and administrators in three high schools learned about and used their SchoolNet data management systems. Two schools were in their first or second year of implementation while the third school had a SchoolNet system for three years. The two early adopting schools were visited twice—in the spring of 2005 and 2006. The third school was visited once in 2005. Findings presented in this case study are based on 80 structured interviews with teachers, school and district administrators, and SchoolNet representatives; responses from two school-based surveys with 259 survey responses in 2005 and 173 responses in 2006; and SchoolNet literature about the reform.

SchoolNet is part of a growing industry that produces data systems and Internet programs to manage and make data accessible to teachers, parents, and school and district leaders. As its mission, SchoolNet seeks the use of data to increase academic achievement (SchoolNet, 2005a). SchoolNet offers modules that are intended to be user-friendly and can be tailored to meet the needs of a broad cross-section of district staff. As the reform evolves and needs are identified, SchoolNet offers an increasingly wide range of technical services and implementation supports (including professional development) to facilitate use of the system and foster data-driven practices. District leaders are the driving force in implementing SchoolNet. These leaders determine which SchoolNet products and services to lease or purchase, and then to whom, when, and how the data system will be introduced and used. In these initial decisions and subsequent implementation, SchoolNet serves as a supporting partner and advisor.

Interviews and survey data painted a complex portrait of SchoolNet implementation and use in the three study high schools between 2004 and 2006. For SchoolNet and leaders in the three district offices, thinking was still evolving regarding how to implement and foster use of SchoolNet throughout the school districts. SchoolNet representatives and administrators in each district viewed the full SchoolNet implementation as a lengthy process that would occur over years rather than months. District staff who worked closely with SchoolNet representatives shared a common understanding of the reform, how it supported district goals, and the overarching implementation plan. As end-users, teachers and other school-level staff typically did not have the same comprehensive understanding of the reform’s role in furthering district plans, the full capabilities of the technology, or the initiative’s value to their work. Teachers at the three schools reported their SchoolNet use to be relatively low, particularly when not mandated. By spring 2006, there were signs that SchoolNet use was moving in opposite directions at the two early adopting schools. While the reform’s future was widely questioned by teachers and administrators at one school, SchoolNet use at the other school appeared to be growing.

The SchoolNet data system and its individual products are essentially tools to facilitate teacher and administrator use of data in ways that will inform curricular and instructional decisions. While implementing the technology was labor-intensive and costly, fostering a culture in which teachers and administrators routinely accessed SchoolNet to analyze data to guide instructional practice proved to be an even more difficult process that required sustained commitment and focus. Our study identified three interrelated variables that seem to explain much of the enactment and use observed at the three high schools. First, the SchoolNet design relied heavily on each of the districts to direct this complex and lengthy implementation, and to supply (or fund) the necessary professional development and other supports. Second, the choices the three district offices made regarding SchoolNet implementation were therefore critical. These decisions were influenced by district understanding of what schools and teachers needed to use the system; commitment to SchoolNet as central to district efforts; and capacity to maintain the system and to institute carefully constructed mandates, supports, and monitoring. Finally, school leaders played a key role in facilitating or hindering the district expectations of SchoolNet use at each high school.

Publication Date

February 2007