The challenges inherent in VMP's loosely coupled-tightly coupled process of developing annual work plans with partner school sites should not be underestimated. The process is foreign to how school-based teams generally work together, and requires collaboration among people who are not used to doing so. Tensions regarding allocation of resources emerge, especially when addressing questions of "equity" vs. "sameness" across the partnership. The roles of all involved can be quite complex; the process requires detailed coordination and skilled facilitation.
This inquiry-based approach to site work plan development and implementation has distinct advantages that make the challenges worth the effort. A broad range of site participants engages in sustained complex problem-solving about helping all children succeed in mathematics. This focus and the subsequent "custom tailoring" of the work plan are frequently cited as contributing to significant improvements in teaching, learning, and school culture. Most importantly, schools are seeing positive changes in student learning.
Evaluating this strategy also presents challenges, including how best to make comparisons between sites with unique models and interventions, how to document efficacy and fidelity to goals in each setting, collection of data across the partnership, and informing revisions, improvements and adjustments within and across settings.
Because VMP's six partner districts were not randomly selected, the matched pair comparison group design presents the best option for this quasi-experimental study. Nonetheless there are numerous threats to internal validity. Both VMP sites and the comparison group schools are involved in teaching and learning activities other than those related to VMP. By definition, the loosely coupled - tightly coupled model manifests different experiences from site to site. Moreover, other VMP and non-VMP experiences, such as nature and quality of interventions and fidelity of implementation, also impact teacher and student results.
The authors conclude that the loosely coupled-tightly coupled strategy is worthy of consideration and further research as an important element in engaging K-12 school teams in long-term, sustainable improvements in mathematics teaching and learning.