Action Plan


An action plan is a plan created to organize a district- or school-improvement effort. It may take the form of an internal school document or a website that can be viewed publicly. Action plans may be reviewed and revised annually—based on progress made over the course of the preceding year or to reflect evolving school goals and values—but multiyear action plans are also common.

Action plans typically include information such as the following:

  • A school’s improvement goals, such as targets for improved student test performance or graduation rates
  • The specific actions or strategies a school will undertake to achieve its goals
  • The roles and responsibilities assigned to staff members
  • The project timeline or the deadlines to be met
  • The resources allocated to its execution
  • The milestones or growth targets expected to be achieved at specific stages of the plan’s execution
  • The data or other forms of evidence that will be collected for the purposes of action research or project evaluation

While the “plan of action” concept is straightforward, the design, use, and purpose of action plans may differ significantly from district to district or school to school. That said, there are generally two basic forms of action plan:

  • A systemic action plan is designed to organize a comprehensive or multifaceted educational-improvement plan focused systems-level changes—major redesigns of the structure and operations of a district or school, particularly its academic program. A systemic plan would map out and organize the complexities of coordinating such an initiative, typically for the purpose of making sure that the plan is coherently designed (all the parts are feasible and work together), aligned in both purpose and execution (all the parts make sense and are focused on achieving the same goals), and understood and agreed on by all those responsible for its execution.
  • A project-specific action plan is similar in all major features to a systemic action plan, except that its scope would be limited to a district program, grant-funded initiative, academic department, or some other subordinate part of a school system. The potential downside of a project-specific action plan is that it may fail to take into account potential effects on the larger system, or its execution may result in redundancies or other unforeseen conflicts with preexisting plans or programs.


In many cases, action plans are a required component of a state program, a grant-funded initiative, or a government policy. For example, schools that are determined to be “low performing” by a state education agency may be required to create and implement an action plan. In these cases, districts and schools may be required to report on action-plan progress over the course of a school year and account for any unmet goals. Many plans, however, are voluntarily developed and undertaken by schools committed to improvement and to achieving better educational results for students. Action plans are also used to help maintain fidelity to the commitments described in a school’s vision and mission statements, or the obligations that accompany the acceptance of a public or private grant.

In many schools, a leadership team will oversee the development and coordination of the plan, but committees of students, parents, and community members may also participate. Schools may also hire outside organizations or school coaches to help them develop their action plan, monitor progress, and make in-process adjustments. For a related discussion, see shared leadership.


Action plans may be debated, viewed with skepticism, or criticized if they are perceived to be poorly constructed, overly ambitious or infeasible, inconsistent with the school’s stated values and commitments, or biased in favor of some students over others, among many other possible concerns. Top-down or unilateral action plans created “behind closed doors” without the involvement of teachers, students, parents, and other members of the community may be more likely to become objects of criticism, particularly if poor communication also gives rise to confusion or misunderstanding in the community. Some may also question whether an action plan will actually effect positive change in the school, particularly in situations where previously developed plans either failed or were prematurely abandoned. Like any proposed course of action, the effectiveness and benefits of an action plan rely entirely on the quality of the design and execution.

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