Why should educators care about implementation science? Because implementation is the missing link in current efforts to improve education outcomes for all students. The knowledge base for implementation science has grown exponentially in recent decades. It helps to explain why only some education improvement efforts succeed and why only some improvements are sustained. The Formula for Success reflects the growing science of implementation:
Effective Instruction X Effective Implementation X Enabling Contexts = Educationally Significant Outcomes
The Formula points to three components that interact over time to produce intended outcomes. In an extreme case where Effective Implementation is zero, the Educationally Significant Outcomes will be zero. Thus, attention to any one or two components is insufficient. A substantial literature on student learning has accumulated over the decades to inform Effective Instruction. Efforts to create Enabling Contexts have been the focus of federal and state legislation for decades, especially since the advent of No Child Left Behind and the dramatic increases in federal funding for education.
Until policy makers and educators account for Effective Implementation, the results of improvement efforts likely will be disappointing. The NAEP data for literacy of 9-year olds has hovered about a score of 215 on a 500-point scale since 1971 despite the best efforts of generations of educators. It is time to change. Attention to improving the implementation component can provide substantial leverage in attempts to improve education outcomes.
Understanding of the implementation component has increased dramatically. Since the 1960s implementation specialists and researchers have produced a deeper and more complete understanding of what it takes to purposefully produce significant outcomes on a useful scale. Implementation Teams bring expertise to support teachers’ use of Effective Instruction, support administrators’ efforts to establish hospitable environments for teacher instruction and student learning, and support leaders who engage in organization and system change specifically designed to create adaptive learning organizations.
To reach all schools and teachers, Implementation Teams help create readiness to change among staff, leaders, and administrators. Implementation Teams help establish data and communication links to bring about greater alignment and coherence among policies and practices. Eventually, every region in each state will have implementation specialists to augment the current work of curriculum and instruction specialists and administrative specialists to purposefully and proactively support effective instruction in each classroom, school, and district.
Implementation Teams are not just names for groups of individuals. Implementation Team members are experts with respect to implementation science as applied in education settings. Implementation Teams can be thought of as the hardware that supports the use of many software applications. Software (Effective Instruction; Enabling Contexts) is not very functional in the absence of the hardware (Effective Implementation) required to load it and use it. Like computer science, implementation science is universal and applies to all human services, including education. This is good news, since what is learned in one field can be applied to all other human services. Educators can contribute to the development of implementation knowledge and can benefit from a growing and global understanding of implementation.
Implementation Teams are not common in human services. They must be developed in education in such a way that they become self-expanding and re-generating if they are to leverage benefits for all students. The work has begun in some states and the intensive learning will continue until the task of developing Implementation Teams is well known and can be repeated in states and districts. At that point, all three components of the Formula for Success will be in place and Educationally Significant Outcomes can be realized on purpose for the coming generations of students.
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