In July of 2015, Improving Education initiated an early literacy pilot project in four schools in Baltimore City focusing on significantly increasing first grade and kindergarten achievement using an Improvement Science approach to the work. The schools ranged in academic performance, geographic location and demographic data, which allowed for learning in different contexts and conditions. Variation in performance was a key problem to solve and by linking the schools around a common aim, common work, and common framework, we believed we could accelerate learning across the network.
We take a hands on approach, working with teachers biweekly to review data and discuss changes to their instructional plan. Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycles are used to identify changes and measure results of the proposed change. The data was closely monitored and after a year’s worth of work, the network of schools exceeded the goals set, which resulted in performance that was four times greater than the growth in the rest of the District. We had identified a better way of improving student learning and empowering teachers to make change.
Over the past two years, our Networked Improvement Community (NIC) has become the cornerstone for school innovation and instructional design in Baltimore and a model for the nation. Our classrooms are hubs of activity where instructors develop and test new ideas for educational improvements tailored to their students’ needs. We provide direct support to instructional staff by facilitating team meetings, modeling lessons, providing support during testing, and generating data visualizations that help schools and teachers learn about the improvements they are implementing and the changes they are creating. We also facilitate learning across the NIC through collaborative Professional Development meetings and school visits. Our ultimate aim is to improve student outcomes across the district by developing universally scalable interventions and protocols for successful improvements that can then be shared within and spread across the district.
In the 2018-19 School Year, we expanded our Networked Improvement Community (NIC) of 11 schools into 2nd Grade across all sites to follow the progress from our 1st Grade students into a new grade. This was a purposeful decision to act as an on-ramp for the City Schools Blueprint that begins with 3rd Grade, complementing District-wide priorities. In order to learn more about how students learn and are instructed before Kindergarten, we also added Pre-K classrooms to two schools within the NIC.
This expansion of grades represents an increase of more than 900 students through our work. We are now working with 92 teachers and over 2,500 students, which is almost 10% of the student population in Baltimore City Schools in these grades.We have also completed 167 school visits from individuals on our team to lead team meetings, support with instructional changes, and analyze data. We continue to refine our protocols for grouping students, reliably providing interventions, and adjusting instruction based on data.
In addition to managing the NIC, we’ve added additional staff capacity to focus on the following:
Developing teachers’ professional knowledge of Early Literacy
Spreading what we learned to other schools through a Kindergarten Acceleration project at all 14 Intensive Learning Sites in the Baltimore City Public School System.
Aligning our work with other organizations providing resources and services to the schools within our NIC to improve efficiencies towards mutual outcomes