Week 4

Power Point: wk 4 toa 14

Assignment for September 24th:   What should change?

This week’s assignment focuses on “theories of action” (or “logic models”). To get a general idea of what theories of action are and how they can be used to analyze and explain reform initiatives, policies, and programs please read: 


Hatch, T. (1998). “The differences in theory that matter in the practice of school improvement,” American Journal of Education 35: 3-31.

Cohen, D. K., & Moffit, S. (2009). “Title 1” & “Epilogue” (pp. 179-231) in The ordeal of equality: Did federal regulation fix the schools? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Coffman, J. (1999). Learning from logic models: An example of a family/school partnership program. Cambridge MA: Harvard Family Research Project. http://www.hfrp.org/publications-resources/browse-our-publications/learning-from-logic-models-an-example-of-a-family-school-partnership-program

Due in class: Please bring a 1-page or less description of a reform effort with which you are familiar (ideally one you participated in, but, if you don’t have a personal experience to draw upon, talk to us about other options). These descriptions should also serve as the basis for the reform critique due later in the semester.

For the readings:

First, get a general understanding of theories of action and how they can be used to analyze reform efforts and evaluate programs by reading “The differences in theory…” (and the Coffman article if you like and see the notes on theories of action below). Second, please read the chapters in Cohen & Moffit. As you read, please think about the theories of action that underlie the federal programs they describe (Title 1, NCLB etc.). What problems does each program focus on? What strategies/activities do they pursue and what resources do they use to address the problems?

In class, we will go over the theories of action behind these programs and begin to explore the theory of action behind the Common Core Learning Standards. If you are not familiar with the Common Core, please take a look at http://www.corestandards.org/ before class.

Notes on theories of action

Key things to remember about theories of action:

  • People use the term theories of action and “logic models” in different ways; don’t assume that there is one right definition.
  • Policies and reform efforts reflect theories of action about many different things, particularly theories of learning (how students and teachers learn and develop); theories of schooling (how schools should be organized and what role schools should play in society as a whole); and theories of change (how improvements can be made).
  • Policies and reform efforts are complex, collective, and often political, products; as such, they often involve many different aspects of schooling and reflect the theories of many different people.
  • People in the same organization may have different theories. In fact the same person may actually seem to believe different theories at different times…
  • What a policy or reform effort says should happen is not always what happens in practice; thus, the theories of action reflected in the written materials, descriptions and plans of a policy or a reform effort (the “espoused” theories) may be different from the theories of action that are reflected in the activities and actions of people in the field.

Things to think about when trying to determine the theories of action underlying a policy, proposal, program, organization or initiative:

  • The goal is to understand the general logic of an initiative – how it is supposed to accomplish what it sets out to accomplish – regardless of whether every detail is worked out. (Remember “ready, fire, aim,” – is the “logic” reasonable enough to begin work in a productive direction? Will it be possible to make corrections/adaptations down the road)
  • Initially, it can be helpful to begin by trying to take an “insider’s” perspective and looking at how the model is supposed to work—what are the key elements? What elements need to be “filled in” or detailed to make the model work? – regardless of how you feel about that initiative.
  • After developing that “insider’s” view, it may be useful to step back and take an “outsider’s” view and look at what the model is supposed to accomplish: what will happen if the model is successful? What goals will actually be achieved? How will it solve the problem(s) the model is supposed to address? What other issues or problems are left unaddressed? (and in the process you may be able to help “insider’s” understand some of the problems with their model even if you have very different assumptions or beliefs about what should happen…)

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