The Approach

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Improvement Research

Carnegie is developing and promoting a Research and Development (R&D) infrastructure that we call Improvement Research that allows us to cull and synthesize the best of what we know from scholarship and practice, rapidly develop and test prospective improvements, deploy what we learn about what works in schools and classrooms, and add to our knowledge to continuously improve the performance of the system. Beyond leading the co-development of the Statway Networked Improvement Community and the Quantway Networked Improvement Community, we are orchestrating a common knowledge development and management system to guide network activity, and make certain that whatever we build and learn becomes a resource to others as these efforts grow to scale. We believe that this approach will not only produce powerful solutions to the challenges of developmental mathematics, but will also offer a prototype of a new infrastructure for research and development. Carnegie’s aim is to support system reforms that will simultaneously impact community college instruction, the field of developmental mathematics and the process of continuous educational improvement.

The Six Core Principles of Improvement

  1. Make the work problem-specific and user-centered.
    It starts with a single question: “What specifically is the problem we are trying to solve?” It enlivens a co-development orientation: engage key participants early and often.
  2. Variation in performance is the core problem to address.
    The critical issue is not what works, but rather what works, for whom and under what set of conditions. Aim to advance efficacy reliably at scale.
  3. See the system that produces the current outcomes.
    It is hard to improve what you do not fully understand. Go and see how local conditions shape work processes. Make your hypotheses for change public and clear.
  4. We cannot improve at scale what we cannot measure.
    Embed measures of key outcomes and processes to track if change is an improvement. We intervene in complex organizations. Anticipate unintended consequences and measure these too.
  5. Anchor practice improvement in disciplined inquiry.
    Engage rapid cycles of Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) to learn fast, fail fast, and improve quickly. That failures may occur is not the problem; that we fail to learn from them is.
  6. Accelerate improvements through networked communities.
    Embrace the wisdom of crowds. We can accomplish more together than even the best of us can accomplish alone.




Using Improvement Science to Tackle Practical Problems in Education
On September 19-20, 2013, the Carnegie Foundation brought together a group of leading voices on the use of improvement science in education at the Foundation’s Washington, DC, offices. This national convening, an initiative of Carnegie’s Advancing Teaching – Improving Learning (ATIL) program, was supported by the Institute for Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education.
Watch videos and read the meeting summary (PDF) from the event.

Improvement Research Carried Out Through Networked Communities: Accelerating Learning about Practices that Support More Productive Student Mindsets
This white paper was recently presented at a White House meeting on “Excellence in Education: The Importance of Academic Mindsets.” The meeting, held in mid-May, was co-hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Education and sponsored by the Raikes Foundation. The goal was to bring together a diversity of experts interested in academic mindsets. The Carnegie approach presented in the white paper was an introduction into a way to ensure the good ideas presented at the conference could achieve effectiveness with reliability at scale. With contributions from several colleagues, the paper was written by Carnegie President Anthony S. Bryk and David Yeager, an assistant professor of developmental psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a Carnegie fellow.
Read paper (PDF) »

Getting Ideas into Action: Building Networked Improvement Communities in Education
This essay builds off an earlier piece by Bryk and Gomez, “Ruminations on Reinventing an R&D Capacity for Educational Improvement," prepared for a 2007 American Enterprise Institute conference. By Anthony S. Bryk, Louis M. Gomez and Alicia Grunow. Winter 2011.
Read paper (PDF) »

Schooling as a Knowledge Profession
Carnegie President Anthony S. Bryk, Senior Partner Louis M. Gomez (also professor of urban education at the University of Pittsburgh) and Harvard Assistant Professor Jal D. Mehta write in Education Week: Our thesis is straightforward: Schools need to transition from the bureaucratic industrial-age structures in which they were created a hundred years ago into modern learning and improvement organizations that are suitable to the needs of today. To do so will be excruciatingly difficult, because it will require a change in mind-set, creation of new infrastructure, and changing patterns of authority and power. But this change is what is required if we truly seek to achieve our goal of educating all students to high levels.
Read essay (external link) »

Webinar: Bryk, Gomez on Building Networked Improvement Communities in Education
On January 27, 2011, Carnegie hosted a webinar titled, "Getting Ideas Into Action: Building Networked Improvement Communities in Education." In this one hour audio and video presentation, panelists Anthony Bryk and Louis Gomez argued that the social organization of the research enterprise is badly broken and a very different alternative is needed. They instead support a science of improvement research and introduced the idea of a networked improvement community that creates the purposeful collective action needed to solve complex educational problems.
More info »

Bryk, Gomez Blog on Futures of School Reform
Carnegie President Anthony Bryk and Senior Partner Louis Gomez are among a list of leading thinkers organized by the Harvard Business School as a Futures of School Reform Group. This group are contributing a seven-part series on education reform for Education Week. They are also expanded on their essays through a blog.

Read posts:

90-Day Cycle: Exploration of Math Intensives as a Strategy to Move More Community College Students Out of Developmental Math Courses
A report that uses the 90-day cycle process to explore the potential of math intensive programs as a strategy for addressing the failure rates of developmental mathematics students in community colleges. By Jennifer Zoltners Sherer and Alicia Grunow. Summer 2010.
Read report (PDF) »

Networked Improvement Communities: the Time is Right for the Ties that Bind
In an April 2010 Carnegie Perspectives piece, Carnegie Senior Partner Louis Gomez explores the tools and routines of networked communities for educational improvement.
Read more »

Support a Science of Performance Improvement
In the April issue of the Phi Delta Kappan (Vol. 90, No. 08 ), Carnegie President Anthony S. Bryk writes, “Both how we carry out educational R&D and the institutional environs in which this work occurs must be reengineered toward more productive ends.” Bryk argues that a Design, Educational Engineering and Development (DEED) infrastructure “must emerge if we are to confront successfully the educational challenges that lie ahead.”
Read more »

Ruminations on Reinventing an R&D Capacity for Educational Improvement
This paper, by Carnegie President Anthony S. Bryk and Louis Gomez of the Northwestern University School of Education, was drawn from a presentation given by Bryk at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research on Oct. 25, 2007.
Download PDF »

The Future of Education Research
Carnegie President Anthony S. Bryk’s speech at a Nov. 19th American Enterprise Institute event in Washington, D.C. is now available online. He discusses his vision for research and development in American schooling, the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the Foundation, and the lessons they hold for the future of school reform.
Visit the AEI site »