Teacher helping students with a project
March 3, 2015
The Science of Tapping Teacher Insights to Build Learning Mindsets and Skills

Often when people talk about innovating in the education sector, they focus on ideas or solutions they want to import into classrooms. But what if the most effective innovations are already there?  What if the people who work day-to-day with students—teachers and administrators—are the ones designing, testing and sharing innovative practices?  How can we tap their wealth of knowledge to transform learning as it happens?These questions are at the heart of a promising new approach to identifying and scaling education innovations known as “improvement science.” 

Originally pioneered by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in the 1980s and 1990s, improvement science is an approach to change that empowers practitioners to identify their most pressing problems, test improvements and iterate on solutions in a focused—but highly sharable—way.  As articulated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, improvement science has six core tenets:

  • Make the work problem-specific and user-centered.
  • Variation in performance is the core problem to address.
  • See the system that produces the current outcomes.
  • We cannot improve at scale what we cannot measure.
  • Anchor practice improvement in disciplined inquiry.
  • Accelerate improvements through networked communities.

Carnegie, which is holding its second annual Summit on Improvement in Education this week in San Francisco, has dedicated much of its mission to improvement science.  Like in education, the health care field learned that the most immediate, elegant, and testable improvements often come from the people working in the system day-to-day.  At the Raikes Foundation, we believe improvement science is a potent way to partner with teachers to identify, test, refine and share innovative approaches to building learning mindsets and skills in the classroom, an intuitive place to develop student attitudes and beliefs about learning.

That is why the Raikes Foundation last year provided a grant to Carnegie to launch a national “networked improvement community”—including sites in New York, Virginia, Delaware, California and Washington—that will yield new, teacher-designed and tested approaches for building learning mindsets and skills.  These approaches, to be shared across the network, will be designed to address specific problems such as low Algebra I completion rates.  We are excited about the promise of the network and look forward to sharing updates on its progress in the coming year. 

We’re energized by Carnegie’s work to tap practitioner insights for measurable, sustainable improvement and we encourage you to learn more about Carnegie’s work in improvement science.  You can track many of the discussions at this week’s conference on social media by following #CarnegieSummit.