Launching Improvement Work

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Note: Here’s part one in our 2019-2020 Learning to Improve series which is the primary focus of the School Performance Institute (SPI) blog this year. In it, we spotlight issues related to building the capacity to do improvement science in schools while working on an important problem of practice.

We’ve spent the last year learning how to use improvement science to increase the high school readiness rates of our 8th graders. Currently, we're gearing up to spread this improvement work from one middle school improvement team to a second middle school team at United Schools Network. During our upcoming launch day, we'll spend time creating team norms, studying improvement science, and digging into each school's on-track indicator system data. Thoughtful planning and a strong start to this work makes it much more likely that we’ll achieve our ambitious goals this school year.  

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Theory of Action

Before we dive into our launch training agenda, it may be helpful to understand our Theory of Action, which describes how the project is designed and set up. It articulates the mechanisms through which the project activities are being delivered and the processes our teams follow to carry out the improvement work. Our 8th Grade On-Track Project Theory of Action has four components:

  • SPI serves as the improvement advisor and project manager of 8th Grade On-Track.

  • Our on-track indicator system clearly defines the students who are off-track for high school readiness.

  • School-Based Improvement Teams (SBITs) meet at least twice per month with SPI.

  • During SBIT meetings, improvement science techniques and tools are used in order to increase the rate of 8th graders that are on-track for high school readiness.

School-Based Improvement Teams

SBITs are a critical component of our Theory of Action because all attempts to improve schools are social and human resource intensive activities. The critical question for these activities is not “What works?” but instead “What works, for whom, and under what set of conditions?” We believe that School-Based Improvement Teams working with an improvement advisor are in the best position to answer these questions. When deliberately assembled and trained in improvement science methodology, these teams can function as the engines that drive improvement work within schools. School-Based Improvement Teams are largely made up of teachers and other school-based staff who serve the students on which the improvement work is focused. They are asked to be researchers who engage in rapid cycles of learning in which change ideas are tested under the conditions and with the students that they would ultimately be used.

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Launch Meeting

Our launch meeting is an all-day training with the purpose of equipping our two 8th Grade On-Track teams with the mindset, improvement tools, and data they’ll need to be successful. During the training, the SPI team will lead participants through six modules that will serve as the foundation for the teams’ twice monthly improvement team meetings during the school year. Each module, along with the objectives for each module, are listed in the table below.

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More on How We’re Learning to Improve

School Performance Institute serves as both the improvement advisor and project manager for School-Based Improvement Teams working to improve student outcomes. Through an intensive study of improvement science as well as through leading improvement science projects at the four schools that make up United Schools Network, we’ve gained significant experience with its tools and techniques. If you are interested in learning more about our improvement science work, please email us at  

We’re also opening our doors to share our improvement practices through our unique Study the Network workshops that take place throughout the school year. At the School Performance Institute, we are studying what works in schools both within United Schools Network as well as at high-performing, high-poverty schools across the country. We’re opening our doors to learn from others and to share what we’ve learned at our first Study the Network workshop of the year at Columbus Collegiate Academy on September 19th. And, be sure to follow our progress this year as we share what we learn during our improvement journey.

John A. Dues is the Managing Director of School Performance Institute. The School Performance Institute is the learning and improvement arm of United Schools Network, an education nonprofit in Columbus, Ohio. Send feedback to

John A. Dues