Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better is a book written by a group of researchers (Anthony S. Bryk, Louis M. Gomez, Alicia Grunow, and Paul G. LeMahieu) and is the culmination, in their own words, of “learning from six years of pragmatic activity at The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.” One of my supervisors gave me this book when I was put on a new project at work doing some tasks with the New York City Department of Education. Since I had never worked with or studied how central teams function within a school district and I hadn’t spent any time in New York schools, I had quite a learning curve ahead of me. (Side note to the clueless like Past Bri: central teams are basically administrators who usually work for a school district and not individual schools.)
This book helped provide me with a lot of necessary insight and served as a great introduction to understanding how districts function and the relevant language used in the field. However, the book would probably be redundant to anyone who has studied or experienced how district-level reforms impact American schools. For a newbie like me, the best parts of this book are the pieces that felt like a deep literature review, such as the vignette that discussed the role of instructional coaches within the Los Angeles Unified School District or the concise explanation of the how the Danielson Framework evaluates educators. All of this information on how districts choose to evaluate practitioners in order to hopefully increase student learning gains was a terrific aid to me and helped me more easily navigate the terms and references related to my project at work.
While I learned quite a bit from reading this book, I could have done without all of the constant references to Networked Improvement Communities, or NICs, which is the term created by the authors for their new form of “educational [Research & Design] which joins together the discipline of improvement science with the dynamism and creative power of networks organized to solve problems.” Even though I found the frequent mention of the NICs to be monotonous, the authors’ desire to make NICs a common term is likely the reason they compiled this book in the first place. I mostly skimmed the last chapters (6 and 7) as they primarily revolved around deeper discussion of the importance of NICs and weren’t particularly relevant to me.
Overall, this book was a great read for me and my supervisor really knew what they were doing when they recommended it to me. However, I don’t think Learning to Improve is written in an accessible or interesting way for someone who doesn’t work in my field.
Publication Date: 1 March 2015 by Harvard Education Press. Format: Paperback.