ERIC Identifier: ED302899
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Bowers, Bruce C.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Policy Analysis for School Districts. ERIC Digest Series Number
In the most general sense the term policy has been used simply as a label for
a field of government activity, such as a nation's "foreign policy." At a
slightly deeper level policy may be viewed as an expression of overall
intentions, a formal authorization to accomplish a certain task, or even as a
specific, ongoing program. From the point of view of policy analysis, the
analyst is not concerned simply with the formal policy, nor even with the
specific decision or decisions that created it. Rather, the analyst views policy
as a process, beginning with an issue or set issues to be resolved and
culminating in the formation, implementation, and evaluation of a policy
intended to resolve the issue (Lindblom 1968).
This ERIC Digest focuses on educational policy analysis at the local school
district level. The Digest suggests how school boards can use policy analysis as
a tool for policy formation and implementation.
WHICH ROLE OF THE POLICY ANALYST IS MOST USEFUL TO POLICY-MAKERS?
Two mutually exclusive roles have been played by the
policy analyst: (l) that of the scholar, who, from the sidelines, analyzes the
policy-making process (often retrospectively) with the aim of developing a
greater general understanding of that process, that is, the "descriptive" policy
analyst; and (2) that of the advisor, who, working with a policymaking body,
helps clarify the options and advise the body on the many decisions that must be
made as it implements a policy, that is, the "prescriptive" policy analyst
(Hogwood and Gunn 1984). It is in this latter role that the policy analyst is of
greatest use to a policy-maker, such as a local school board.
IS POLICY ANALYSIS BEING DONE AT THE LOCAL LEVEL?
of the literature on policy analysis reveals that federal and state issues
receive most of the attention. Murphy and Hallinger (1984) suggest that this may
be due to the fact that the issues at these larger levels (for example, school
finance, discrimination, teacher salaries and benefits) are more susceptible to
the collection of quantifiable data. This is not to say that policy analysis may
not occur at the local school district level, but, if it does, very little of it
has been reported. Because this ERIC Digest is directed primarily toward local
school boards, an effort will be made to choose examples from that context.
HOW MAY POLICY ANALYSIS HELP THE BOARD IDENTIFY ISSUES?
some cases the issue has already been identified, as in the case of a mandate
from a higher authority (for example, legislatively imposed requirements on
educating the handicapped). Often, however, the board is interested in
attempting to forecast major issues facing the district in coming year. In the
latter situation, the policy analyst may be called upon to carry out a needs
analysis, a demand forecast, or some other formal analysis of future trends
(see, for example, Mecca and Adams 1985).
An additional task of the policy analyst may involve breaking down a larger
issue into subissues, which are often more amenable to resolution through the
implementation of specific policies. For example, Bolland and Bolland (1980)
posit a hypothetical district in which the issue of concern is the growing drug
problem in the schools. The analyst would ask whether this larger issue might
not be viewed in at least three different ways: (l) how to keep drugs out of
schools, (2) how to alert naive and/or ignorant students of the dangers of
drugs, and (3) how to make the school environment less alienating to students
who seem most prone to the use of drugs as a means of escape. Each subissue may
invite a radically different sort of policy for its resolution.
HOW CAN A POLICY ANALYST ASSIST IN FORMULATING POLICIES?
an objective observer, the policy analyst may consider options not obvious to
the more partisan players in the process. Again referring to the "drug problem"
example (Bolland and Bolland 1980), public discussion of the issue may have
become polarized to the extent that only "law and order" options have been
suggested: suspension/expulsion of offending students, placement of law officers
in the schools, locker searches, and so forth. The analyst might suggest a wider
range of options that, in addition to the above, could include teacher inservice
programs on drug abuse, an assembly series on drugs, or the development of a
peer counseling program.
The school board's limited resources mean that not all options for resolving
an issue can be adopted. In addition, some options may be in conflict with each
other, with other school policies, or with state or federal law. (For example,
locker searches have been found illegal in some states.) The role of the policy
analyst is to identify all such potential conflicts and to provide a comparison
of options along lines that are of particular concern to the school board:
relative costs, impact on the public, acceptance by key participants, and,
ultimately, the potential for resolving the issue. This stage involves the most
"guesswork" for the analyst, since it entails projections into the future for
each option, or set of options. Some tools that a policy analyst may rely on
here include cost-benefit analysis, decision analysis, program analysis and
review (PAR), and other types of futures analysis (see, for example, Pogrow
IS THE POLICY ANALYST'S MISSION COMPLETE, ONCE POLICY HAS BEEN FORMULATED?
If the analyst's role is to help develop an optimal
policy response to an issue, his or her job is not complete without an
examination of that policy's implementation. For example, the district may
provide inservice workshops on drug abuse to health science teachers, but no
subsequent curriculum on drug education is incorporated into the health science
coursework. In this case the policy itself has been improperly implemented, and
it may fall to the policy analyst to serve as a monitor and call attention to
On the other hand, the policy may be properly implemented, and yet the
outcomes do not meet expectations. Determining the effectiveness of a policy is
often seen as the province of the "program evaluator," as opposed to the policy
analyst. However, the distinction is a semantic one; the program evaluator is
simply a policy analyst who has been introduced belatedly into the process--more
as a "Monday morning quarterback." If the policy analyst, acting as evaluator,
determines that the actual outcomes do not match, at least to an acceptable
degree, the outcomes originally projected, then the evaluation results may be
used as a basis for discontinuing the current policy and instigating a new round
of policy initiatives in this issue area (Hogwood and Gunn 1984).
Bolland, John M., and Kathleen A. Bolland. "Program Evaluation and Policy Analysis: Toward a New Synthesis." EDUCATIONAL
EVALUATION AND POLICY ANALYSIS 6, 4 (Winter 1984): 333-40. EJ 314 639.
Dye, Thomas. UNDERSTANDING PUBLIC POLICY. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey:
Gray, Peter J. "The Use of Policy Analysis in Setting District Policy on
Microcomputers." EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 42, 2 (October 1984): 72, 74-77. EJ 308
Hogwood, Brian, and Lewis Gunn. POLICY ANALYSIS AND THE REAL WORLD. Oxford,
England: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Lindblom, Charles. THE POLICY-MAKING PROCESS. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey:
Mecca, Thomas V., and Charles F. Adams. "Policy Analysis and Simulation
System for Educational Institutions." Paper presented at annual meeting of
American Educational Research Association, Chicago, April 3,1985. ED 265 632.
Mitchell, Douglas E. "Educational Policy Analysis: The State of the Art."
EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION QUARTERLY 20, 3 (Summer 1984):129-60. EJ 306 663.
Murphy, Joseph A., and Philip Hallinger. "Policy Analysis at the Local Level:
A Framework for Expanded Investigation." EDUCATIONAL EVALUATION AND POLICY
ANALYSIS 6, 1 (Spring 1984): 5-13. EJ 298 924.
Pogrow, Stanley. "Shifting Policy Analysis and Formation from an
Effectiveness Emphasis to a Cost Perspective." EDUCATIONAL EVALUATION AND POLICY
ANALYSIS 5,1 (Spring 1983): 73-82.
Shapiro, Jonathan Z., and Terry R. Berkeley. "Alternative Perspectives on
Policy Analysis: A Response to Douglas E. Mitchell's 'Educational Policy
Analysis: The State of the Art'." EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION QUARTERLY 22, 4
(Fall 1986): 80-91.