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.
This was a hands on approach, working with teachers biweekly to review data and discuss changes to their instructional plan. Plan, Do Study, Act (PDSA) cycles were 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.
In the spring of 2017, six more schools were added to the Early Literacy Innovation Network, creating a Networked Improvement Community (NIC) of ten schools in Baltimore City all aimed at increasing student achievement in early literacy. The six additional schools, like the original 4 schools, displayed variation in student achievement, location and demographic data. All ten schools now share the same aim of achieving a 20% increase in students meeting grade level standards by the end of the 2017-2018 school year. To support the addition of the six schools, two coordinators joined the Improving Education team.
Improving Education continues to test ideas and make changes that support the acceleration of student achievement in early literacy. A total of 1,200 students in kindergarten and first grade are supported through this work in Baltimore City Schools.