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A View From Within: Lessons Learned From Partnering for Continuous Improvement


by Christopher Harrison, John Wachen, Stephanie Brown & Lora Cohen-Vogel - 2019

Background: Traditional methods of implementing educational innovations face a number of critical challenges that have problematized efforts to improve practice, particularly at scale. Recently, continuous improvement approaches have gained attention, offering structured, iterative processes for developing innovations that incorporate the wisdom of practitioners, are responsive to individual school contexts, and promote organizational learning over time.

Purpose: The National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools (NCSU) is one purveyor of such an approach, working to enact partnership-based continuous improvement processes in two large urban school districts in the U.S. This study presents a systematic, empirical investigation of the NCSU’s work in order to offer recommendations for future efforts to study and implement such approaches in the complex environment of public schools.

Research Design and Methods: Drawing from an analysis of over 400 hours of recorded meetings, feedback forms, and cognitive interviews with participants, this study represents a detailed case study of the NCSU’s implementation of its improvement process in a large urban school district in the U.S.

Conclusions: Analysis of these data reveal 3 key lessons learned by the NCSU partners. First, engaging in collaborative, partnership-based continuous improvement demands that partners construct and adopt a new culture of improvement. Second, the evolutionary nature of continuous improvement work requires partners to respond to emergent and often difficult to predict demands for new capacities and resources. Finally, efforts to implement, adapt, and expand innovations are often interwoven, competing with one another and requiring an interlocking network of supports and structures to succeed.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 9, 2019, p. 1-38
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22782, Date Accessed: 11/13/2019 4:33:30 AM

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About the Author
  • Christopher Harrison
    Montana State University – Billings
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTOPHER HARRISON is an Assistant Professor of Educational Theory and Practice at Montana State University – Billings. Chris’s research interests center on understanding the ways that schools and districts leverage information as they develop, implement, and scale policies and practices. Prior to joining the faculty at MSU-B, Chris worked with both the National Center for Research in Policy and Practice and the National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools.
  • John Wachen
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    E-mail Author
    JOHN WACHEN is a postdoctoral scholar at the Chicago Alliance for Equity in Computer Science (CAFECS). His research interests include education policy implementation, assessment and accountability, and researcher-practitioner partnership models. Prior to his work with CAFECS, John worked with the Education Advisory Board, as well as the National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools.
  • Stephanie Brown
    York College of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    STEPHANIE BROWN is an assistant professor at York College of Pennsylvania (YCP) in the Department of Education. Stephanie’s research interests are rooted in her experience as an elementary teacher in Florida and include qualitative investigations of research-practice partnerships in education, intermediary organizations, and teacher policy and reform. Before joining YCP, Stephanie worked with the National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools and the National Center for Research in Policy and Practice.
  • Lora Cohen-Vogel
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    E-mail Author
    LORA COHEN-VOGEL is the Frank A. Daniels Professor in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As Associate Director of the National Center for Scaling Up Effective Schools, Lora helped lead research-practice partnerships that used the new science of improvement to raise schooling outcomes for traditionally underserved students in two of the nation’s largest school districts. Lora and her collaborators are among the first to have published on improvement research in peer-reviewed journals in education.
 
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