In order to obtain firsthand information about models of school-to-work transition reform, AED conducted case studies in fourteen communities across the United States. Preparation for the case studies required four major activities: interview protocol development, review of documents and materials, staff training, and site selection. Semi-structured, open-ended interview protocols were developed to guide the interviews and focus groups, and observation guides to document activities and events observed by the research team. The research team for each site visit analyzed the field work notes, using the principle of data triangulation to ensure that every finding was affirmed by more than one source.
The major research questions that guided the study focused on the nature and impact of school-to-work transition reform initiatives. The research team sought to learn about the contexts in which reform occurred, its planning and design, implementation, and impact, especially on students:
Contexts of reform:
Planning and design
Structure of reform
Structure of program
Impact and outcomes
In selecting fourteen communities, AED sought out school-to- work programs that were different and somewhat innovative. We looked for evidence of reform both in curriculum and in delivery of education, including the location and scheduling of learning. Ultimately, we hoped that an examination of exemplary programs would lead us to the elements that compose effective systems for school-to-work transition.
Initially, the research team cast the net for nominations broadly, reviewing the school-to-work literature and soliciting recommendations from a wide range of individuals, including the project advisory group and OERI study group. In all, about 200 programs made up this initial nomination pool. AED staff wrote or telephoned these programs, of which about sixty provided additional information.
As the first step in winnowing out nominees, the research team eliminated those that had already been evaluated by another research organization.1 Secondly, programs were reviewed in order to eliminate those that were (a) not examples of education reform and (b) not primarily secondary school reforms. Thirdly, programs operating less than two years were eliminated.
Of the remaining sites, we narrowed our focus to those that showed evidence of (a) some type of strong connection with business, as well as (b) some degree of effectiveness, or promise of effectiveness, in terms of positive outcomes for students. From among this group we selected a group of sites that offered variety in terms of:
Subsequently, we added two sites that met all our criteria and primarily served students with disabilities. The rationale for this step was two-fold: first, to ensure that the research was inclusive in terms of target populations, and second, because the field of special education has a long history in providing transition services to students, it offers a body of experience from which, as our case studies have confirmed, other educators have a great deal to learn.
AED submitted a list of potential sites for case studies to the OERI, along with program descriptions, a matrix of the programs by criteria, and staff recommendations. From this process of review and consultation, fourteen were ultimately selected:
The advantage of case study methodology, characterized by intensive and focused field work, is that it provides for the collection of a rich amount of data from which to draw a comprehensive portrait of a reform initiative and its dynamics. The research teams wrote 25-30 page case studies of each initiative, describing their findings about its design, implementation, impact, and barriers faced by program developers. The case study reports reflect the emphasis on description rather than on evaluation. The primary purpose of AED's study was to document and analyze useful models and practices from which others could learn as they sought to reform education in their communities. Having determined that the sites offered an exemplary approach, the direction of the case study analysis was to describe as meaningfully as possible the operation and impact of the school- to-work reform, rather than to evaluate its individual components or the relative merits of the sites. From the description of the reform, the research team sought to draw the critical elements of that initiative, so that practitioners reviewing the case study could adapt elements to their local circumstances.Judgments that are offered in the case studies reflect the self- assessment of local players, rather than the judgments of the visiting research team.
Throughout the case study process, the research team convened to discuss cross-cutting elements, relating and synthesizing the findings of their individual case studies. The teams considered the elements identified as critical at each site, explored similarities across sites, defined variations, and arrived at agreement that an element was present and important in at least four or five sites.
The result of these discussions is this cross-case comparison report. Its basic purpose is two-fold: (1) to document and analyze the outcomes of school-to-work reform, so as to educate practitioners and policy makers about the results that can be documented; and (2) to document and analyze the critical elements common to many or all of the communities studied, so as to make their models and practices accessible and useful to others seeking to reform education in their communities. Despite the variety of the communities, our study has not encountered the usual frustration facing those who compare different programs or initiatives that have little in common. The diversity of the fourteen sites only makes more vivid the elements that they share.