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Moving Toward a Continuous Improvement System

**Nayfack, M., Park, V., Hough, H., & Willis, L. (2017). Building systems knowledge for continuous improvement: Early lessons from the CORE districts. Available at PACE website: sites/default/files/building%20system%20knowledge.pdf

This report examines early efforts of the CORE Districts in California to collectively tackle a shared problem of practice by applying the networked improvement community model of continuous improvement. The CORE Districts are in the beginning stages of a focused approach to close the math achievement gap for African American and Hispanic/Latino students in grades 4-8. This report details four lessons learned from the CORE Districts’ use of a continuous improvement framework to address this problem of practice: (1) effective systems analysis starts with creating an improvement team set up for success; (2) the systems analysis process enables district leaders to revise, refine, and expand their theories about the reasons behind their problem of practice; (3) accessing and interpreting different types of data are critical to building a complete understanding of a problem of practice; (4) teams getting started in continuous improvement benefit from expert facilitation and learn-by-doing activities. The report concludes with a description of challenges and roadblocks identified by the CORE District members and recommendations for educators looking to incorporate continuous improvement principles into their work.

Hough, H., Willis, J., Grunow, A., Krausen, K., Kwon, S., Mulfinger, L., & Park, S. (2017). Continuous improvement in practice. Available at PACE website: CI%20in%20Pratice.pdf

A small group of California education decision makers have started a working group in order to (1) define continuous improvement in the context of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and (2) identify how to scale continuous improvement so that it is embraced and practiced statewide. This brief draws on existing literature as well as interviews with California education stakeholders to provide policy background and context for those participating in the continuous improvement working group. The authors outline four challenges with the pursuit of continuous improvement: First, varying conceptions of the term “continuous improvement” suggest there is a need to arrive at a common definition. Second, the authors argue for the development of strategies and support for deepening the capacity of stakeholders to engage in continuous improvement. Third, districts struggle to prioritize continuous improvement efforts due to constrained resources and time. Fourth, timely and relevant data—necessary to drive continuous improvement—is not always available to district leaders. The authors suggest that building a continuous improvement system and culture will take time but that staying the course will yield better outcomes for students and educators alike.

Bryk, A. S. (2017, March). Redressing inequities: An aspiration in search of a method. Keynote speech presented at Fourth Annual Carnegie Foundation Summit on Improvement in Education in California, San Francisco, CA. Available at Carnegie_Bryk_Summit_17_Keynote.pdf

Anthony Bryk’s keynote at the Carnegie Foundation’s Summit on Improvement in Education advocates for transformative ways of thinking and acting in the name of redressing educational inequities. He argues that in order shift from Deming’s characterization of the education field as “a system of miracle goals and no methods” to a system of effective practice and effective action, practitioners and researchers must partner to embrace an approach of continuous improvement powered by systems thinking and collaboration. To move past the repeated cycles of inequities, these leaders, practitioners, and decision-makers must start by focusing on predictable failures, investigating root causes of these failures, and taking on a full systems thinking approach to address shortfalls and develop new strategies to improve outcomes for students. Bryk closes by challenging those in the education field to explore how their current thinking and approaches may act to sustain the disparities they seek to solve.

We included a hard copy of this piece in the Meeting 33 briefing binder. You may also access it at the link above and on the Dropbox site. 

**This document is considered a priority reading.