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Performance And Potential: How State And District Education Leaders Perceive The Current Performance And Potential Role Of Educational Collaboratives In Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Governor of Massachusetts have identified the need to strengthen the state's education system through the development of regional centers of support. In 2007, DESE drafted a proposal for a Massachusetts system of support to improve student performance. The proposal called for the establishment of educational service cooperatives to provide targeted assistance to schools and districts and to serve as intermediaries between the Department and school districts. In 2008, the Governor's office assembled the Readiness Finance Commission and charged it with presenting a variety of alternative means to achieve sustainable education funding for current and future needs. The Commission recommended strategies that include significant restructuring measures to realize cost savings and efficiencies. These measures specifically delineate the enhanced use of educational collaboratives. This study examines the perceptions of education leaders at the state and local level regarding the current performance of educational collaboratives in Massachusetts and the potential role educational collaboratives could play in state and district efforts to improve educational effectiveness and increase efficiencies. Interviews and the Collaborative Evaluation Survey were used to analyze the programs and services that school districts purchase from educational collaboratives and the perceived quality and cost-effectiveness of collaborative programs. In addition to interviews with school superintendents, data from interviews with collaborative directors, state education agency leaders, and a state legislator were analyzed to explore the potential role that educational collaboratives could play in state and district education improvement efforts. The study found: (1) school districts in Massachusetts continue to use educational collaboratives for the same purposes as they did when collaboratives were first created; (2) the majority of school district leaders have positive perceptions of collaborative programs and services; (3) school district input, perceived cost-effectiveness, and collaborative responsiveness are major factors that influence school district utilization of educational collaboratives; and (4) unstable funding and the absence of a structured statewide network constrain the capacity of educational collaboratives. The study also identified the need for more research on the cost-effectiveness and impact of programs educational collaboratives offer. Without additional research, policy makers in Massachusetts risk creating duplicative regional systems of support. State leaders also risk assuming that collaboratives have the capacity to address problems when evidence may indicate otherwise.
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