Learning From Practice to Improve Practice

In a keynote address at the annual meeting of the Association of Community College Trustees in Dallas recently, Carnegie President Tony Bryk outlined for the Trustees how Carnegie is using improvement research in our work to improve the success rate of students in developmental math.

“We need to rethink how we innovate,” he said. “As educators, we are pragmatists. We see problems and we want to move quickly to solutions. But we also know from past experience that many solutions are rarely tested against evidence and we rarely rely on evidence to continuously improve them. We tend to put new programs in place and then move on.”

Bryk explained that Carnegie is challenging this way of working. He said that we know from 50 years of history at educational innovation that few things actually work as originally designed. That failures may occur is not the problem; that we fail to learn from them is.

In response, Carnegie embraces a quality improvement orientation, encouraging rapid cycles of change. If something doesn’t work, the process is to change it until we find something that does. “This entails a mind shift from seeing change as principally about managing the dynamics of large scale roll out toward seeing change as opportunities to learn to improve,” he said. “This learning from practice to improve is the surest mechanism for success.”