Shifting From a Plan to a Process: School Improvement Plans in the Cambridge Public Schools
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CitationEttinger, Robert S. 2015. Shifting From a Plan to a Process: School Improvement Plans in the Cambridge Public Schools. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractAlthough school improvement plans (SIPs) are common in American school systems, they are widely viewed as compliance documents that have little connection to the daily work of improving teaching and learning. In this capstone, I describe and reflect on my experiences as a resident in the Cambridge (MA) Public Schools. My goal was to build district- and school-level systems and structures to shift the role of the SIP away from a document that sits on the shelf and towards a component of an on-going process of improvement.
To achieve this goal, I collaboratively designed SIP templates that focused on shorter-term outcomes and actions, developed a protocol for school teams to reflect on progress towards those shorter-term outcomes, facilitated the collaborative development of district feedback about SIPs, and piloted the Data Wise Improvement Process in two schools to promote the connection between SIPs and daily instruction.
The results of these strategies were generally promising. Most principals and non-teachers (e.g. coaches) reported that this year’s SIP process was more likely to improve teaching and learning than last year’s process. However, principals were more positive than teachers about the improvements to this year’s SIP process, suggesting that the gains in shifting from a plan to a process had not yet reached classroom teachers. This pattern is problematic because it is classroom teachers who must change their practice in order for student learning to improve.
My analysis led me to expand my initial theory of change to include the role of accountability in addition to the focus on support in my original design. My implications for Cambridge and the sector as a whole focus mainly on promoting the development of “internal accountability,” defined as an agreement about the norms, values, and expectations (Elmore, 2004) between teachers, principals and instructional coaches. In addition, my experience suggests that district leaders should create “external accountability” by holding schools accountable not just for writing the plan, but using it continuously with structured reflections. Finally, this capstone suggests that district leadership teams should also develop internal accountability for engaging in an on-going process of improvement.
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