Networks for School Improvement: When schools learn, students learn

July 15, 2019

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   This page has been updated following our NSI Year One event in July of 2019.

NSI Year One Review
We’re excited to share a report that highlights what our grantees are doing to date and what we are learning
from their NSI efforts.

In August 2018, we awarded grants to 21 Networks of School Improvement (NSI) to identify and solve problems in middle and high schools across 13 states. The goal is to improve outcomes for Black, Latino and low-income students.

These grants are part of our K-12 education strategy, which seeks to ensure that all students in the U.S. can learn, grow, and get ahead. Our education and economic systems don’t work well for everyone, particularly Black, Latino and low-income Americans. Our NSIs are partnerships between organizations and groups of schools working together to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable students.

These NSIs use data-driven continuous improvement—schools look at data to identify a problem, select a strategy to address the problem, set a target for improvement, and iterate to make the approach more effective and improve student achievement. This approach is based on the idea that while no two schools or classrooms are the same, there’s a lot they can learn together about how to solve challenges. When schools learn, students learn.

Important lessons are emerging from the work. Here are eight:

Intermediaries Are Taking Different Approaches to Structuring the Work

  • Networks are taking different approaches to structuring opportunities for school teams to meet and learn from each other. Approaches include weekly site visits, virtual one-on-one meetings, and monthly in-person sessions for principals and coaches.
  • Intermediaries are using different approaches to help schools develop and select ideas for change. By providing school teams with tools, research, and frameworks to focus their work, intermediaries are seeking to assist schools in selecting changes without overwhelming them with complexities and unnecessary work.

Data Analysis Builds New Skills

    • Using data to identify the root causes of the issues and systems that produce inequitable student outcomes has required school teams and intermediaries to develop new skills. While this type of approach might feel unfamiliar to school teams, they will have the chance to refine their root-cause analyses over time.
    • Schools have drawn on support to look at new sources of data to tell if their change efforts are working. While schools are used to looking at student assessment data, they’re less accustomed to other types of measures—such as attendance data, student surveys, and focus groups with families—and understanding how these data can help them define a challenge or reveal the impacts of their change efforts.
    • Schools might not be used to dealing with new amounts of data and sometimes need help drawing meaning from the data to inform their strategies. Intermediaries have addressed this challenge by developing data visuals, narrowing the datasets provided to school teams, creating a “storyboard template” to guide schools in reporting on change ideas and outcome data, and holding “data days” to help schools unpack data.

Stakeholder Engagement and Leadership Buy-In Is Critical

  • Many networks and schools are incorporating student and stakeholder voice into their continuous improvement processes. For example, one network conducted interviews with students and community members, and another network engaged students in its root-cause analyses to ensure their voices were part of the improvement process.
  • It’s critical for the improvement work to align with school and district priorities. To help build alignment, intermediaries have identified specific roles for key district personnel in network activities or established separate, routine check-ins with them.
  • There has been greater uptake and use of continuous improvement tools and methods in schools where the principal or another senior team member has strong buy-in and foundational knowledge of continuous improvement and regularly engages in the work. In addition to strong school leaders, intermediaries report that strong school teams are generally more data-focused and have specific routines and protocols for regularly scheduled meetings.


What’s in the Future

Through our investments in the Networks for School Improvement, we plan to share our findings on the following questions in the next five years:

  • Can schools use data-driven continuous improvement to drive change that improves student outcomes?
  • How do schools draw upon evidence-based solutions and adapt them to maximize their impact in a local context?
  • How are intermediaries working with schools to implement a continuous improvement strategy?
  • What are the characteristics of effective networks and intermediaries and how do they support school-led efforts?
  • What is the current capacity of the field to engage in continuous improvement?
  • What conditions in the larger district and state environment should be in place for schools to engage in continuous improvement?

We encourage you to download the full overview of the Networks for School Improvement below.