Examples of sustained instructional improvement across an entire school district are rare, but a five-year research-practice partnership between the University of Washington College of Education and a mid-sized urban district highlights the power of networked educators.
Jessica Thompson, associate professor of education, shared results of the partnership during the 2018 meeting of the American Educational Research Association in the session "Designing for the Next Generation of Teaching Practices With a Networked Improvement Community: A Longitudinal Study of Local Adaptation and Improvement."
UW researchers ran an in-depth, job-embedded professional development program in partnership with all secondary schools in the district, focused on building expertise about science teaching and instruction for English learners. After two years, the performance of 8th and 10th grade students on state science tests rose significantly, and with each additional year of participation in the project, the percentage of students passing the test rose by another 8 percent. The improvement also held for students regardless of socioeconomic status.
"Behind those numbers, the teacher learning story is pretty exciting," Thompson said. "We did some social networking analysis to look at how teachers come together to work on the improvement of instruction and one of the strongest new ties that we saw being formed and persisting was around teachers talking together about the improvement of EL instruction in their science classrooms."
The research team's findings foreground analyses of learning and improvement across levels—classroom, school and network—in the Networked Improvement Community, and provide a holistic view of the improvement work that took place across all parts of the network. The sustainability of the Networked Improvement Community is particularly notable, Thompson said.
"Even though we're out of grant funding, the school district is completely funding the same structure, so coaches are remaining and doing the same kinds of activities that we as researchers initially started and co-developed with the coaches," Thompson said. "I think that's exciting to develop a model that goes beyond the life of a grant and is making some amazing changes in the quality of classroom experience for kids and for how teachers learn together."
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