Core Purpose


To seek out, study, and spread school design best practices to the educators who need them the most.

SPI is on an ambitious mission to create more gap-closing schools- those that are able to close the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers.  Teacher and principal effectiveness are the biggest factors, among those that schools can control, impacting a student’s academic performance.   

Many believe that when schools struggle, it is because the teachers and principals are ineffective.  We believe that in the vast majority of struggling schools that this isn’t the case.  Instead, we believe that there are two types of issues that prevent schools from getting the desired results.  In the first type of struggling school, there is a “knowing-doing gap”.  In schools with a knowing-doing gap, school leaders and teachers know the basic elements of gap closing schools, but struggle with turning that knowledge into action.  In the second type of struggling school, staff may lack prerequisite knowledge about the foundational elements to running a gap closing school.

Based on these beliefs, our theory of change is that in either case, if schools have the prerequisite will, SPI can assist them on their journey to improve.  The goal of this journey is not to fix the people, but instead to create the systems necessary for success.  We start this journey by asking “Why can’t you…?” as opposed to “Why aren’t you…?”


Core Values


Our core values are essential to accomplishing our mission. They define what we do. Living these values is essential to our work at the School Performance Institute.


Core Value 1 | Get Proximate


Our golden rule is to observe and consult the people on the ground who know the most about the problem we are trying to fix. It is very difficult if not impossible to Find the Bright Spots without being proximate to the work. Too many education reforms come from people who haven’t spent much time in schools. Failing to fully appreciate the significance of context is one of the primary reasons good ideas fail. We approach issues of context not as externalities, but rather as the next critical problem to solve.


Core Value 2 | Do the Right Thing

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We get excited by the opportunity to help others and in the process learn how to be better in this work. Our approach is as servant leaders who create long-term solutions for our clients, even if this is a much tougher road than easier, short-term fixes.


Core Value 3 | Think Small, Start Small


Big breakthroughs most often flow from small innovations, small designs, and small habits. In education, we often do the opposite; that is, rapid large-scale change under conditions least likely to produce success. We go fast and big and learn slowly. At SPI, we propose an alternative strategy of learning fast to implement well.


Core Value 4 | Find Bright Spots


Even in the most challenging environments, there are bright spots. In education, these are the teachers and school leaders who get results far exceeding what would be expected given the demographics of their students. We build on the capabilities of these bright spots by sharing with others who work within the same context and who face similar challenges.


Core Value 5 | Be Humble, Share Generously


To improve education, we need to commit to do two things: measure ourselves and be more open about what we are doing. We see failure as an opportunity to learn rather than a reason to cast blame. We see success as an opportunity to share and spread best practices to improve educational outcomes for all children.


Theory of Change


Schools must be purposefully designed for improvement.

Schools are complex systems, and improving them requires coherent, orchestrated action across a number of important areas if they are to improve. At the School Performance Institute, we have spent more than a decade learning how to organize our own schools for improvement and success.

To accomplish our mission, we rely on a framework developed by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research over the course of seven years of work with Chicago Public Schools. This team of researchers identified five organizational features of schools that interact with life inside of classrooms and are essential to advancing student achievement. These five essential supports for school improvement include the following:

  1. Effective Leaders

  2. Collaborative Teachers

  3. Involved Families

  4. Supportive Environment

  5. Ambitious Instruction

High poverty schools often face significantly higher barriers to success than those in wealthier areas. Even within high poverty schools, the barriers to improvement can vary greatly from one community to the next. At the same time, there is far more capacity for improvement in the adults working in struggling schools, but it is often smothered under organizataional dysfunction. When we get organization right, however, the people working in schools right now could get dramatically better results.

SPI can help you systematically improve the essential supports most crucial to your school’s success.