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Visiting Washington, D.C.
In Event: Connecting Research and Practice: Regional Educational Laboratory Partnerships to Improve Data Use in Education
REL Midwest initiated a networked improvement community in Michigan involving state agency personnel and district and regional administrators working to improve their statewide system of supports for focus schools. Iterative cycles of root cause analysis, intervention, and measurement are critical components of the collaborative partnership between this network and REL Midwest.
In 2015, the School Turnaround Alliance for REL Midwest created a research agenda focused on improving state supports to persistently low-performing schools. During this agenda-setting process, one state member of the Alliance, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), indicated to REL Midwest its desire to improve supports provided to focus schools in the state (focus schools are the 10 percent of schools with the largest within-school achievement gap). However, as focus schools were a relatively new designation stemming from the 2012 Elementary School Education waiver process, MDE had limited knowledge about the extent to which current supports addressed the root causes of within-school inequality.
Data Sources and Methods
REL Midwest worked with MDE to design a continuous improvement model to improve statewide supports for focus schools, as delivered by district and intermediate school district administrators. This project signals a shift from prior work in this area in two important ways:
1. The project focuses on high-inequality schools, not low-performing schools (which had been receiving supports from the department over many years).
2. The project employs rapid cycles of diagnosis, intervention, and measurement to improve supports for focus schools in lieu of an evaluative research study.
The goal of designing and implementing a model of continuous improvement to refine supports provided to focus schools is to help MDE systematically learn about and implement changes that benefit schools. This approach is useful because continuous improvement models focus on identifying a specific root cause, developing a corresponding intervention, and measuring change to determine efficacy in short, four- to eight-week cycles. REL Midwest has been working with MDE to identify a subset of three districts that provide varying levels of support to focus schools. A team of district administrators and administrators from the intermediate school districts that provide support to districts with focus schools has been convened to develop a networked improvement community. The purpose of this community is to discuss data collected from focus schools about school organizational structures and supports provided to better understand the root causes of inequality in their school contexts. Then, the team decides on an intervention and a measure to track changes.
By participating in this project, MDE will develop a process for collecting and analyzing information from key stakeholder groups in a systematic manner geared toward improvement. The ultimate goal of the project is to create and sustain a process in which actionable data about the implementation of statewide supports for focus schools are continuously collected, analyzed, and utilized to ensure continuous program improvement.