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Reading List: Districts as Learning Organizations

District Learning and Sustainability


**Supovitz, J. (2006). “Sustainability and Organizational Learning.” In: The Case for District-Based Reform.(pp.157-189). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Available for purchase at


In this chapter, Supovitz argues that organizational learning is the key to sustaining district wide reforms. By developing an “ethos of learning,” districts can deepen reform beyond key organizational leaders. Based upon research in Duval County, this chapter focuses on specific systems that were developed by district leaders to create and spread an ethos of learning. In particular, Supovitz highlights the “social and institutional aspects of the development of learning across an organization.”


Barber, M., & Fullan, M. (2005). “Tri-Level Development.” Education Week. Available at


In this commentary, the authors reflect upon recent work conducted around school improvement. Based upon work in five different sites, the authors argue that in order to sustain school improvement, reformers must invest in tri-level development, essentially focusing on what has to happen at the school and community level, the district level, and at the state level. This “systems action,” requires a need to integrate accountability with capacity-building. The authors provide eight guidelines to sustaining tri-level development.


Sitkin, S.B. (1996) Learning through Failure: The Strategy of Small Losses. Reprinted in Cohen, M.D. and Sproull, L.S. (Eds.) Organizational Learning. Thousand Oaks: SAGE, pp.541-577. Available at


This paper examines the benefits of failing and the liabilities of success. Refuting the traditional scholarly and managerial emphasis on failure avoidance, Sitkin argues that failure is an essential prerequisite for effective organizational learning and adaptation. Based on research across multiple fields, the author examines the processes by which failure can enhance learning, adaptation to changing environmental conditions, and systemic resilience.


Use of Evidence in Districts


**Coburn, C., & Talbert, J. (2006, August). Conceptions of Evidence Use in School Districts: Mapping the Terrain. American Journal of Education (pp.469-495). Available at


In this article, Coburn and Talbert explore how individuals in one urban school district understand evidence-based practice. Based upon interviews with district administrators at multiple levels and teachers and principals at a sample of district schools, the authors found that individual's conceptions of evidence-based practice varied widely. This variation was not random, as it correlated with the nature of work within the district and their involvement in different areas of district reform.


Woody, E., Bae, S., Park, S., & Russell, J. (2006). “Long Beach Unified School District: Data-Driven Decision-Making to Improve High School Achievement.” In Snapshots of Reform: Districts Efforts to Raise Student Achievement Across Diverse Communities in California. Berkeley, CA: Policy Analysis for California Education.


This report by PACE includes case studies of three California districts that have substantially narrowed gaps in achievement across subgroups. We have provided an excerpt of the report that includes the case study of Long Beach Unified. The excerpt summarizes LBUSD’s focus on data-driven decision-making to improve high school achievement. The authors highlight LBUSD’s efforts to collect assessment and observation data and to use these data to effectively develop policies and make decisions to improve instruction and student achievement.


Corcoran, T. (2003 November). The Use of Research Evidence in Instructional Improvement. CPRE Policy Brief RB-40. Philadelphia: CPRE. Available at


Learning of Individuals in Districts


Wilson, S. M., & Berne, J. (1999). Teacher Learning and the Acquisition of Professional Knowledge: An Examination of Research on Contemporary Professional Development. Review of Research in Education, 24, 173-209. Available at


Chapter 8: Teacher Learning in Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (Eds.) (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school., (pp. 190-205). Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Available at



**This document is considered a priority reading.