In response to questions about policy implementation or “putting a policy in action,” state Departments of Education were identified in all states as the agency responsible for implementation of many of the policies related to PE or PA. However, in 7 states, informants indicated that implementation of PE happened at local levels, including regional or local education agencies, school districts, or at schools themselves. For example, 1 informant suggested that implementation is “...done like an umbrella, the Department of Education is over everyone, and then it varies from district to district. So it's kind of more on a local level... schools within the district would actually be different.” The types of support provided for implementation of policies primarily included communication about requirements, standards, policies, and resources; professional development; and technical assistance when requested.
Most respondents reported some role in communicating policies, with Departments of Education identified as being the agency responsible for key communication activities in all 9 states. State PE professional organizations and advocacy groups also played roles in communication. Specific communication roles often included provision of technical assistance and communication of requirements, standards, and best practices. Professional development events were described as opportunities for communicating about policy in 8 states. Information about policies was most commonly communicated not only through Web sites and workshops but also through e-mail, webinars, stakeholder groups, listservs, and mass media. In some instances, the Department of Education was also a source of information about programmatic implementation for policy makers and state board members.
Monitoring and enforcement
Respondents were queried about agency roles in monitoring whether policies were being implemented as intended and enforcement efforts to ensure that local education agencies abided by policies. The most common monitoring method, reported among 6 of the 9 states, was to review documents provided by schools or school districts. Reported monitoring schedules varied. In 6 states, monitoring was conducted on a schedule ranging between 1 and 5 years. Other monitoring strategies included the collection of data (n = 6 states), sometimes in response to complaints, and performance of on-site reviews (n = 4 states). In practice, when established monitoring strategies were present, monitoring and enforcement were tightly linked. Efforts varied across states on the basis of resources and requirements. For example, 1 respondent noted: “...we really only monitor if there's any sort of questions or complaints. We really don't have the staff to do a very in-depth monitoring of everything that's going on.” While in another state, the informant described established procedures: “...we do a document review online and then for those districts chosen for on-site monitoring we actually go on-site to confirm that the documentation provided is accurate.”
Most respondents reported no role in enforcement. However, Department of Education respondents reportedly had a role in enforcement in all 9 states. Regional or local education agencies were also responsible for enforcement in 5 states. Respondents reported that no consequences were imposed on schools or districts found out of compliance with existing policy (n = 5 states), or else noncompliant schools or districts were required to submit a plan to achieve compliance with the policy (n = 4 states). Respondents identified reviewing compliance or corrective action plans and reporting noncompliance to state boards or legislatures as frequent enforcement methods (n = 5 states). As 1 informant noted, “...we have plenty of policy. Our issues are implementation of policy.... We try to monitor and provide assistance, but there's really no teeth in some of the policies, no consequences...”
Informants also reported on their role in evaluating policies, specifically about the processes their organizations used to determine whether a policy was impacting PE or PA in the way it was intended. Frequently, respondents reported no role in evaluating policies and no policy evaluation activities occurring in their state, sometimes citing lack of personnel or funding. Some respondents noted that evaluation was not a priority for their state because the PE program was not part of state-mandated testing, performance measures, or standards. A common theme was illustrated by 1 respondent: “...we used to actually have a state testing for [PE], but we dropped that because of funding issues... we kind of lost all means of evaluation.”
In some instances, program evaluation was reportedly conducted by and/or in collaboration with outside partners, including funded evaluation research teams. Respondents' roles in evaluation included reviewing and communicating results of evaluation projects conducted by other organizations (n = 7 states). Four states used fitness assessments such as FitnessGram to measure student outcomes. One respondent described how his or her state made evaluation results more tangible:
...the Department of Education collects [FitnessGram] data per school and that is compiled into a yearly report that we post on our website that has each school's score, each county's score and what the state score is. So a school can match up how they did in relationship to their county and the state.
Key informants reported multiple supportive policies and practices to promote implementation of PE and PA policies. State Departments of Education were often key players in implementation, communication, monitoring, and enforcement of PE and PA-related policies. Partnerships, collaborations, or coalitions across state agencies and organizations were described within the domains of communication and evaluation of policies. Information about policies was communicated through multiple channels and often accompanied professional development opportunities. Electronic modes were standard communication practices, with e-mail, webinars, and Web sites some commonly noted mechanisms for sharing PE and PA policy information. Monitoring and enforcement emerged as linked activities in states that had comprehensive plans or standards for them. Otherwise, enforcement authority and subsequent consequences for schools or districts found to be out of compliance were described as weak or nonexistent.
Professional development opportunities and electronic media were reported here, as in prior studies,16 as common channels for communication. In some states participating in this study, implementation of PE and PA policies happened locally (ie, “local control”26), suggesting the need for local communication and implementation plans. Research suggests that the method of communicating policy requirements may impact how and whether specific policies are implemented.16 Departments of Education served as a source of information for policy makers and state board members and as a resource for examples of successful local implementation. Bi-directional processes of information transfer, which have been shown to contribute to effective program transfer,27 may help bridge disjuncture between state and local practitioners.
As reported elsewhere, factors, such as lack of specific plans for implementation, difficulty in monitoring for compliance,17 and competing priorities including academic performance17 , 28 , 29 and staffing considerations,15 , 29 were also described as barriers in the states in this study. Staffing and funding shortages emerged as important obstacles to implementation of compliance monitoring and evaluation, in particular. State agencies responded to these shortages both reactively, by “responding to inquiries,” and sometimes proactively, by securing outside funding, monitoring districts and schools on a cyclical basis, and partnering with other state programs. Each of these strategies allows for more accountability and monitoring of policy implementation but differs in sustainability over time. Greater compliance with existing policy has been linked with beneficial student fitness levels.5
Here, key informants described the mechanisms and techniques used by state-level stakeholders involved in the implementation of PE and PA policies, an important component of public health law research.18 Differential interpretation of existing policy was perhaps due to differences in interpretation of what formal laws and regulations exist compared with policies the states are implementing in practice. This distinction is important for evaluation and compliance efforts. This study described perspectives of state agencies and organizations but not those of key stakeholders at other levels of educational administration who may hold different views and may play primary roles in how and whether PE and PA policies are implemented.17
States have an opportunity to positively impact PA levels of students and improve health. Supportive school-based PE and PA policies, a formal PE program with adequate frequency, trained teachers, and curricula that ensure sufficient active time are all recommended approaches,7 many of which were in place in some form in the states included in this study. The critical next steps include ensuring that existing policies are communicated effectively and implemented successfully with strategies to monitor, enforce, and evaluate their impact.
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Keywords:© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
communication; physical activity; physical education; policy evaluation; policy implementation