Engaging District, School, and Teacher Leaders in Improvement

Year of publication: 
January 2019
Publication: 
Policy Analysis for California Education

California’s shift towards continuous improvement in education makes understanding how districts and schools can learn to improve a more pressing question than ever. The CORE Improvement Community (CIC), a network of California school districts engaged in learning about improvement together, is an important testing ground to learn about what this work entails. 

This report continues drawing lessons from the CIC’s second year as its districts work together towards a common aim: to improve the mathematics achievement of African American and Latinx students in Grades 4–8. The CIC applies a specific continuous improvement approach, called improvement science, to support teams in reaching the aim. Improvement science, unlike many approaches to reform, is not a specific “program” designed to fix educators’ performance in a particular aspect of their work (e.g., mathematics instruction). Instead, it is an approach and tools through which educators can better understand the causes of lagging performance, select ideas that they believe will lead to improvement, test them, and collect and analyze data from those tests to systematically see if their ideas indeed yield better outcomes. In 2016–17, the work of the CIC consisted of building district teams that conducted systems analysis to understand the achievement gap in their respective contexts. In 2017–18, the CIC launched local improvement teams (LITs) at schools, which used tools and protocols of improvement science to identify strategies that could impact the problem of practice, test those ideas, and gather data about the impacts of those change ideas.

The first section of the report briefly explains the policy context in California and the history of the CORE districts’ collaboration. The second part of the report details four major lessons learned from the CIC this year:

  1. The simultaneous goals of improving math achievement while building capacity for continuous improvement offer both benefits and challenges for the CORE Districts.
  2. Districts have a pivotal role to play in supporting and sustaining continuous improvement efforts focused on classroom instruction.
  3. Context matters. Preexisting structures and processes, time for educator collaboration, and supportive leadership all influence continuous improvement efforts.
  4. District and school leaders are excited about the potential of continuous improvement to spur deep and lasting improvement.

The lessons learned from CORE’s second year of implementing the CIC have broad implications throughout the state and the nation as educational organizations seek to bring continuous improvement to bear on problems that have been intractable to date.

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