Student Agency Improvement Community

The Student Agency Improvement Community (SAIC) is a networked improvement community dedicated to equipping students to persist in the face of rigorous learning challenges.

SAIC brings academic research on the psycho-social factors that affect learning together with the discipline of improvement science methods to design classroom experiences that have value to students, promote academic mindsets, and build a sense of belonging, and support students developing the learning strategies they need to succeed.

The organizations in SAIC include Harrisonburg City Public Schools (VA), Summit Public Schools (CA), New York City Department of Education, the Productive Persistence Network of the Pathways, Schools that Lead, and High Tech High (CA). The Carnegie Foundation serves as the “central hub” for this improvement community by providing a common theoretical framework and measures, as well as analytics and network support. Carnegie also supports the integration of improvement science into this project.

Carnegie will ensure that recent academic knowledge is accessible to the improvement community and that the improvements developed within SAIC are consistent with the latest, most rigorous scholarly research. SAIC will directly partner with scholars in the Mindset Scholars Network, an interdisciplinary research network based at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences to shorten the lag time between disciplinary insight and the use of promising findings in classrooms and schools.

"I thought a researcher was someone who collected data, wrote about it, and told me what worked. Then I was the person who took the information and used it. Now I see that I’m a researcher too. I can collect data and use it in my teaching to make it better." – Jackie Funkhouser, SAIC member and fifth grade teacher at Harrisonburg City Public Schools

Impact of the Student Agency Improvement Community

Each of the member organizations in SAIC will combine the rigor of academic research with improvement science in classrooms to rapidly and iteratively progress toward solving locally-identified, high-leverage problems of practice. In addition, as a network, SAIC will:

  • learn how to make student agency interventions go hand-in-hand with new, more rigorous curricula,
  • build the practical know-how for teachers to make student agency interventions useful day-to-day, and
  • create a culture of empowering teachers to improve their own practice.

Ultimately, SAIC will develop and disseminate a rigorously tested student agency “change package” (a repository of student agency interventions, instructional processes, protocols, etc.) to assist kindergarten through post-secondary settings to solve major problems of student underperformance and reduce educational inequality.

Background of the problem

Students are currently being asked to engage in more complex subject matter than ever before. Under these more challenging expectations, many students will struggle and question their ability to succeed. Inevitably, many will fail.

Absent deliberate attention to the psycho-social factors necessary to foster deeper learning, the new academic regime will fail far too many students, particularly those who are already struggling.

Fostering more adaptive mindsets will kickstart self-reinforcing cycles of increased motivation, improved academic behaviors, increased and more sustained effort, and better performance that enable students to be ongoing agents in transforming their academic trajectory. Student agency is malleable and responsive to light-touch, low-cost interventions. These approaches seem to have the greatest benefit for students who have a history of low performance and those who are members of groups that are negatively stereotyped.

Several important barriers stand in the way of harnessing promising social-psychology findings into reliable educational practices. Practitioners are disconnected from the research literature and unable to translate these insights into educational routines. Researchers are disconnected from classrooms and have not established methods to contextualize psychological approaches to classroom.

In response to these challenges, Carnegie is bringing together researchers and practitioners in networked improvement communities to build the interventions, tools, measures, and practices necessary to reliably develop students’ academic mindsets and learning strategies in classrooms at scale. Bridging this gap not only requires researchers and practitioners to come together – it also requires a method of translation. Improvement science offers a discipline for evidence-based adaptive integration of best practices into a local context.