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The value of logic models in education

December 19, 2017
by Clare Irwin, Michael Strambler and Joanna Meyer

When educational organizations decide to implement a new strategy or program to support students, designing a logic model can help stakeholders to understand how they expect the new approach will improve outcomes. Logic models are especially useful for addressing the critical questions that educators commonly ask: does the new approach have the intended benefits for students? If so, what factors account for those benefits?

When problems are urgent and resources are scarce, educational organizations often feel pressure to try a new approach, which means they may implement new programs without a well-articulated plan for measuring the program’s effectiveness. This reality can contribute to some common pitfalls associated with the implementation of new educational strategies:

  1. Organizations may base judgements about the strategy’s effectiveness on individual perceptions and personal anecdotes about whether the program worked, rather than on systematic examination of data and evidence;
  2. If a formal evaluation of the strategy’s effectiveness is conducted, the approach may be evaluated too soon, before it has been fully implemented; and,
  3. The evaluation may not adequately examine the degree to which the strategy was implemented.

All three possibilities have the same implications for the program—the conclusions drawn about program effectiveness may be inaccurate, causing a promising new approach to be abandoned or an ineffective approach to be maintained. In the absence of information that is collected systematically, we are more likely to make conclusions based on our preconceptions instead of the evidence. If we formally evaluate a program before it has adequately taken hold, we may incorrectly attribute the lack of success to the ineffectiveness of the program, rather than to its insufficient implementation. If we make conclusions about a program’s effectiveness without having developed a clear theory about how the program works, we may discard the approach rather than addressing issues with implementation. Even when programs are implemented in the intended manner, it would be difficult to understand implementation quality without measuring it. In addition, it would be impossible to tease out which aspects of the program were most important in the case of program success.

Logic models address these concerns by detailing the important elements of a program and the anticipated outcomes prior to implementing the program. Logic models depict the theory of change that drives the program, and describe the resources available to implement the program, as well as the rationale behind the effort.

There are several different types of logic models. A theory approach logic model provides a big picture of the program and is useful for external communication about the program. The activities logic model is focused on the specific strategies and activities associated with the program. It is used to focus on the timing and sequence of program activities, as well as the expected relationship between activities and participant outcomes. The outcomes approach model is similar to the activities approach logic model, but it focuses particularly on outcomes and the process by which activities and strategies are responsible for generating desired program outcomes.

Developing a logic model takes time and requires the input of multiple stakeholders involved in the program. It is an iterative process that can be facilitated by an evaluator or another independent professional. Alternately, educators can work together to develop logic models on their own. In 2015, the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands developed the Logic Model Workshop Toolkit as a user-friendly resource for educators who want to develop their own logic models. The toolkit provides an overview of different kinds of logic models and their component parts (for example, inputs, outputs, outcomes), and offers an opportunity to practice developing elements of the logic model and evaluation questions based on a logic model. The REL also developed a free, online workshop called Developing Program Evaluations to Support Improvement, which includes information on developing logic models to support internal evaluations.

An important part of PEER’s mission is to support our partners in using data and evidence to guide decision-making. Although educational organizations often feel real pressure to jump into action, the development of a logic model can build a foundation for the successful implementation of new approaches and the evaluation of their success. PEER looks forward to continued conversations on this topic with early childhood education stakeholders in Connecticut.

Submitted by Joanna Meyer on December 20, 2017