Networked improvement communities. The discipline of improvement science meets the power of networks

Pages5-25
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/QAE-12-2016-0084
Publication Date06 Feb 2017
AuthorPaul G. LeMahieu,Alicia Grunow,Laura Baker,Lee E. Nordstrum,Louis M. Gomez
SubjectEducation,Curriculum, instruction & assessment,Educational evaluation/assessment
Networked improvement
communities
The discipline of improvement science
meets the power of networks
Paul G. LeMahieu and Alicia Grunow
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Stanford,
California, USA
Laura Baker
New Teacher Center, Santa Cruz, California, USA
Lee E. Nordstrum
RTI International, Edina, Minnesota, USA, and
Louis M. Gomez
The University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles,
California, USA
Abstract
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to delineate an approach to quality assurance in education called
networked improvement communities (NICs) that focused on integrating the methodologies of improvement
science with few of the networks. Quality improvement, the science and practice of continuously improving
programs, practices, processes, products and services within organized social systems, is a still-evolving area
in education. This paper is the rst of seven elaborating upon different approaches to quality improvement in
education[1]. It delineates a new methodology called the NICs model. Developed by the Carnegie Foundation
for the Advancement of Teaching, the approach is aimed at continuously improving the quality of practices,
processes and outcomes in targeted problem areas in education systems.
Design/methodology/approach The paper presents the historical development, theoretical
foundations, core principles and adaptation of key elements of the NICs model for quality improvement in
education. A case study specically examines the problem of fostering new teacher effectiveness and retention
in large public school systems in the USA.
Findings The six principles underlying the NICs model are as follows: make the work problem-specic
and user-centered, focus on variation in performance, see the system that produces outcomes, improve at scale
what you can measure, use disciplined inquiry to drive improvement and accelerate learning through
networked communities.
Originality/value Few theoretical treatments and demonstration cases are currently available that
examine the application of common models of quality improvement in education. This paper elaborates on one
promising approach. In addition to examining the NICs model, the paper derives added value by allowing
comparisons with seven widely used quality improvement approaches treated in this volume.
Keywords Quality improvement, NICs
Paper type Research paper
Introduction
Quality improvement, the science and practice of continuously improving programs,
practices, products, processes or services within organized social systems, is a still-evolving
area in education. This paper delineates a new methodology called the networked
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
www.emeraldinsight.com/0968-4883.htm
Networked
improvement
communities
5
QualityAssurance in Education
Vol.25 No. 1, 2017
pp.5-25
©Emerald Publishing Limited
0968-4883
DOI 10.1108/QAE-12-2016-0084
improvement communities (NICs). Developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the
Advancement of Teaching in the USA, the approach is aimed at continuously improving the
quality of practices, processes and outcomes in targeted problem areas in education systems.
The Carnegie Foundation’s NICs are a relatively recent arrival to the eld of quality
improvement in general. Its origins date back to 2008, when Anthony Bryk assumed the
presidency of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. However, its
relative youth belies the extensive history of ideas and methods that undergird it. In essence,
it combines two main ideas: “improvement science”, a formal methodology for pursuing
improvement as a part of an organizational system’s continuous quality management
practices (after Deming, 1994); and “networked science”, the notion of collective social
learning toward solving complex problems (Engelbart, 2003;Nielsen, 2011).
Like other quality improvement methods, NICs focus on addressing gaps between the
aspirations of an education system and its capacity to deliver a high-quality education to all
its communities, in every classroom and for every child. NICs aim to address persistent
problems of practice that have resisted previous reform efforts by linking diverse kinds of
expertise from research, educational design and practice in a joint quality improvement
effort. NICs are scientic learning communities distinguished by four essential
characteristics. Well-functioning NICs, in theory, are:
(1) focused on a well-specied, common aim;
(2) guided by a deep understanding of a targeted problem, the system that produces it,
and a shared working theory of how to improve it;
(3) disciplined by the rigor of “improvement science” principles and methods; and
(4) coordinated as networks to accelerate the development, testing and renement of the
interventions, their rapid diffusion out into the eld and their effective integration
into varied educational contexts (Bryk et al., 2015).
History of Carnegie’s networked improvement communities
Carnegie’s NICs come from combining two lines of thought: the discipline of improvement
science and the power of networked science. The underlying ideas from these two schools of
thought are executed through NICs. This section discusses the history of both of these
essential ideas.
Networked improvement community. The term, NIC, was originally coined by the
American engineer and inventor Engelbart (1992,2003). Engelbart articulated the NIC as a
model of social learning that could augment collective human intelligence to solve complex
problems (Figure 1). Carnegie’s NICs adapt Engelbart’s tiered model of organizational
Figure 1.
Schema for social
learning
QAE
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