Four Questions to Ask of Any Program or Policy

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It sounds ridiculous. How can you dare to question a new program or curriculum your school district's experts want to implement when you don't have all the facts you need? The answer is: It's easy - and you won't even look like a fool. To the contrary, you will be helping your school district achieve excellence.

Here are four questions you can ask when any new program is proposed. If school officials can satisfactorily answer them, that's wonderful. You can support the change. If they evade the questions, watch out. If they stumble in their answers, you know there's a problem. You shouldn't ask these questions to sabotage a program. You should ask them to spur the district on to excellence and greater accountability.

1. What will success look like? 

You want the district to give you measurable definitions of how the program will be called successful. Is success defined as increased scores on tests? What measurable increase can be considered successful? Is success defined as increased graduation rates or decreased vandalism? What percentage of increase or decrease is considered successful? Ultimately, how is student performance increased by this change?

2. Where has this program been implemented successfully? 

Get the names and telephone numbers of school districts where the program has been a success. Call up the superintendent's office in each district. Explain that you are a parent at another school district exploring the pros and cons of the program. Then, ask what they like and dislike about the program. What would they do differently?

3. What are the success benchmarks set up by the district? 

How does the district intend to tangibly measure the success or failure of the program over time? What will be the 6-month measure of success? What will be considered success after having implemented the program for one year? Who will measure it? How will they measure it? When will they measure it?

4. If the program doesn't work well, at what point will it be deemed a failure and greatly modified or removed? 

Once the measure of success is established, you'll want to know how long the district will push for success. Most programs take some adjusting once implemented. That's understandable. But at what point will the district stop chasing after success if it is clear that the previously set measures of success are not being met? One year? Two years? Five years?

These four questions will help you and the community hold the district accountable. They'll also help the district be more successful in establishing clear goals.

© 2002, Eric Buehrer