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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response


April 2020


What research is available on the role of school leadership in leading through change effectively for continuous improvement?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and policy overviews on the role of school leadership in leading through change effectively for continuous improvement. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L. M, Grunow, A., & LeMahieu, P. G. (2015). Learning to improve: How America’s schools can get better at getting better. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “As a field, education has largely failed to learn from experience. Time after time, promising education reforms fall short of their goals and are abandoned as other promising ideas take their place. In ‘Learning to Improve,’ the authors argue for a new approach. Rather than ‘implementing fast and learning slow,’ they believe educators should adopt a more rigorous approach to improvement that allows the field to ‘learn fast to implement well.’ Using ideas borrowed from improvement science, the authors show how a process of disciplined inquiry can be combined with the use of networks to identify, adapt, and successfully scale up promising interventions in education. Organized around six core principles, the book shows how ‘networked improvement communities’ can bring together researchers and practitioners to accelerate learning in key areas of education. Examples include efforts to address the high rates of failure among students in community college remedial math courses and strategies for improving feedback to novice teachers. ‘Learning to Improve’ offers a new paradigm for research and development in education that promises to be a powerful driver of improvement for the nation’s schools and colleges.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

DuFour, R., & Marzano, R. J. (2011). Leaders of learning: How district, school, and classroom leaders improve student achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In their first coauthored book, Dr. DuFour and Dr. Marzano have combined their passions to articulate how effective leaders foster continuous improvement at the district, school, and classroom levels. The book focuses on district leadership, principal leadership, and team leadership and addresses how individual teachers can be most effective in leading students—by learning with colleagues how to implement the most promising pedagogy in their classrooms. The authors argue that no single person has all the knowledge, skills, and talent to lead a district, improve a school, or meet all the needs of every child in his or her classroom. Instead, it will take a collaborative effort and widely dispersed leadership to meet the challenges confronting schools. Benefits include: (1) Combines the authors’ expertise and many years of experience into one comprehensive volume on leadership; (2) Provides proven strategies for school improvement based on the most up-to-date research; (3) Focuses on how district and school leaders create the conditions to support the collaborative culture of a PLC; and (4) Examines the specific work that teachers undertake as members of PLCs.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Edwards, D. (2019). Cultivate, create and connect: Virtual network builds community and sparks continuous improvement. The Learning Professional, 40(5), 56–60. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “A networked improvement community can be a tremendous resource for people who share a common interest and desire to learn from each other, and, thanks to technology, this can occur even when participants are separated by a large distance. This article discusses Virginia Advanced Study Strategies’ Rural Math Innovation Network, a four-year project funded by a U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) grant. The Rural Math Innovation Network is a virtual networked improvement community of middle and high school math teachers. Participants collaborate to share and learn best practices for helping students develop growth mindsets and self-efficacy in mathematics, specifically pre-algebra and algebra 1. Experience with participating teachers and leaders as well as an evaluation study have supported the hypothesis that connections across geographic boundaries are valuable for teachers and, ultimately, for students. This article discusses how Virginia Advanced Study Strategies developed the Rural Math Innovation Network to address major challenges to professional learning in rural districts, where teachers are often isolated both professionally and geographically (Beesley & Clark, 2015). Further, it describes how Virginia Advanced Study Strategies built their network in 18 school divisions in southwest and southside Virginia and what made it successful for participating teachers and administrators in this area.”

Elgart, M. A. (2017). Can schools meet the promise of continuous improvement? Phi Delta Kappan, 99(4), 54–59. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Continuous improvement is ‘an embedded behavior within the culture of a school that constantly focuses on the conditions, processes, and practices that will improve teaching and learning.’ The phrase has been part of the lexicon of school improvement for decades, but real progress is rare. Based on its observations of about 5,000 institutions a year, AdvancEd Improvement Network has found that there are strong relationships between effective continuous improvement practices and the following characteristics of high-performing schools: a clear direction, healthy culture, high expectations, impact of instruction, resource management, efficacy of engagement, and implementation capacity.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Evans, L., Thornton, B., & Usinger, J. (2012). Theoretical frameworks to guide school improvement. NASSP bulletin, 96(2), 154–171. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “A firm grounding in change theory can provide educational leaders with an opportunity to orchestrate meaningful organizational improvements. This article provides an opportunity for practicing leaders to review four major theories of organizational change—continuous improvement, two approaches to organizational learning, and appreciative inquiry. These four theories were selected because of their emergence within the field of education, possible adaptability to school systems, and potential to support organizational change. Such theories can provide clear guidelines for successful organizational transformation, promote effective change management, and facilitate operative decision making.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Flowers, N., Carpenter, D. M., & Begum, S. (2018). Middle-grades Leadership Development (MLD) Project: A US Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) development grant final evaluation report. Champaign, IL: Center for Prevention & Research Development at the University of Illinois. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Middle-Grades Leadership Development (MLD) Project was designed to develop principal leaders and leadership teams who create high-performing middle-grades schools. Designed by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, the four-year project was funded from 2013 to 2017 by a U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) development grant. The project was implemented in 12 middle-grades schools in rural and small town areas of Kentucky and Michigan. Schools received an extensive set of school improvement supports, including: creating a vision using the Forum’s Schools to Watch (STW) criteria; engaging in an assessment and planning process for improvement; STW leadership coach; principal mentor; STW mentor schools; leadership team; networking opportunities; and focused professional development. The evaluation of the MLD Project used a quasi-experimental design (QED) with matched comparison schools (12 treatment schools and 38 comparison schools) to examine the impact of the project on intermediate outcomes such as culture, collaboration, work climate, and teaching efficacy, as well as the long term outcomes of principal effectiveness and student achievement. Results showed that MLD treatment schools significantly improved their collaboration practices, teaching efficacy, middle-grades instructional practices, and their implementation of the STW criteria for high performance. There was significant improvement in the long-term outcome of principal effectiveness among treatment principals, with nine of the twelve principals improving their leadership skills and behaviors to the proficient or distinguished levels by the end of the grant. Although there was no overall intervention effect on ELA/reading or math student achievement, seven treatment schools displayed larger growth than the state average for some groups of students. The results provide unique insight into a middle-grades program focused on principal leaders and collaborative leadership. A roadmap that depicts the key supports, activities, and practices implemented at MLD schools that were the most impactful on building middle-grades leadership effectiveness were articulated. These include school-level practices (i.e., guiding vision, continuous improvement practices, reflective practices), principal-level practices (i.e., knowledge of young adolescents, commitment to developmentally appropriate practices, instructional leadership), collaborative leadership practices (i.e., developing teacher leaders, shared capacity), and teaching practices (i.e., student centered, high expectations, rigorous instruction) that combined, result in middle-grades leadership that is more effective.”

Gallagher, H. A., & Cottingham, B. W. (2019). Learning and practicing continuous improvement: Lessons from the CORE Districts. Stanford, CA: Policy Analysis for California Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The education sector is embracing the hope that continuous improvement will lead to more beneficial student outcomes than standards-based reform and other approaches to policies and practice in prior decades. This report examines attempts in California to realize the potential of continuous improvement in some of the state’s largest districts. Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) and the ‘CORE Districts,’ a nonprofit collaborative of eight urban school districts, have been engaged in a research-practice partnership since 2015. This report presents lessons learned from their collaboration in 2018-19, and is accompanied by three case studies that provide a more in-depth discussion of exemplary practices in two districts and one school. The report opens by briefly defining continuous improvement and tracing the history of the ‘CORE Districts.’ It then focuses on two questions that are central if California’s schools and districts are to realize the potential of continuous improvement. Six lessons gleaned through interviews, observations of professional learning events and team meetings, and analysis of artifacts created through learning events and improvement work are then described. The remainder of this report explains these lessons and implications for broader continuous work in California and beyond.”

Gallagher, H. A., Gong, A., Hough, H. J., Kennedy, K., Allbright, T., & Daramola, E. J. (2019). Engaging district and school leaders in continuous improvement: Lessons from the 2nd year of implementing the CORE Improvement Community. Stanford, CA: Policy Analysis for California Education, PACE. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “California’s shift towards continuous improvement in education makes understanding how districts and schools can learn to improve a more pressing question than ever. The CORE Improvement Community (CIC), a network of California school districts engaged in learning about improvement together, is an important testing ground to learn about what this work entails. This report continues drawing lessons from the CIC’s second year as its districts work together towards a common aim: to improve the mathematics achievement of African American and Latinx students in Grades 4-8. The CIC applies a specific continuous improvement approach, called improvement science, to support teams in reaching the aim. Improvement science, unlike many approaches to reform, is not a specific ‘program’ designed to fix educators’ performance in a particular aspect of their work (e.g., mathematics instruction). Instead, it is an approach and tools through which educators can better understand the causes of lagging performance, select ideas that they believe will lead to improvement, test them, and collect and analyze data from those tests to systematically see if their ideas indeed yield better outcomes. In 2016-17, the work of the CIC consisted of building district teams that conducted systems analysis to understand the achievement gap in their respective contexts. In 2017-18, the CIC launched local improvement teams (LITs) at schools, which used tools and protocols of improvement science to identify strategies that could impact the problem of practice, test those ideas, and gather data about the impacts of those change ideas. The first section of the report briefly explains the policy context in California and the history of the CORE districts’ collaboration. The second part of the report details four major lessons learned from the CIC this year: (1) The simultaneous goals of improving math achievement while building capacity for continuous improvement offer both benefits and challenges for the CORE Districts; (2) Districts have a pivotal role to play in supporting and sustaining continuous improvement efforts focused on classroom instruction; (3) Context matters. Preexisting structures and processes, time for educator collaboration, and supportive leadership all influence continuous improvement efforts; and (4) District and school leaders are excited about the potential of continuous improvement to spur deep and lasting improvement.”

Hitt, D. H., & Meyers, C. V. (2017). Prioritizing talent in turnaround: Recommendations for identifying, hiring, and supporting principals and teachers in low-performing schools (The Center on School Turnaround). San Francisco, CA: WestEd. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Identifying and maintaining talent is important in any organization, but in a low-performing school, it is perhaps ‘the’ most important component to achieving turnaround. Given the importance of teachers and leaders for students and schools, districts and states are wise to hone their efforts related to identifying, attracting, retaining, and sustaining capable and committed talent. The University of Virginia Partnership for Leaders in Education (UVA/PLE) works with school systems to establish the conditions for change and to build transformative leadership capacity to achieve improved systems and schools for students. Given the importance of hiring and retaining high-quality principals and teachers in turnaround schools, this report provides lessons learned by UVA/PLE about strategic talent development in a turnaround environment. Specifically, this report conveys what UVA/PLE researchers and field team members have learned from a project examining how districts prioritizing their lowest-performing schools attract and recruit high-potential candidates for principalships and teaching positions. The report also describes what was learned from the project in terms of districts’ strategic and innovative approaches for identifying the fit between an applicant and a school, and for supporting talent in the long term. Along with illustrative stories of promising practices from schools and districts engaged in strategic talent development, recommendations are provided based on the project’s findings regarding concrete steps and actions districts and states can take to support innovative and effective talent development in low-performing schools.”

Hough, H., Willis, J., Grunow, A., Krausen, K., Kwon, S., Mulfinger, L. S., et al. (2017). Continuous improvement in practice. Stanford, CA: Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE). Retrieved from

From the summary: “Calls for ‘continuous improvement’ in California’s K-12 education system are central to current discussions about school improvement in the state. Yet, definitions of continuous improvement vary, and knowledge of what continuous improvement looks like in practice is limited. To advance the conversation, this brief helps to define continuous improvement both in theory and in practice. As part of this work, we discuss the extent to which California policymakers and practitioners are engaged in continuous improvement efforts, how they define continuous improvement, and the barriers and gaps in support for this work. First, the brief presents a review of the literature on continuous improvement from education and from other fields. Based on this review, the authors identify several distinguishing characteristics of continuous improvement organizations. These characteristics include shared, evidence-based processes and practices; shared responsibilities, organizational goals and priorities; a common, shared improvement methodology; a data infrastructure that provides feedback tied to organizational outcomes; a culture and discipline of learning from failures and near-failures; and leadership practices that build and sustain a continuous improvement culture. Next, the brief includes findings from interviews with leaders from state education agencies, county offices of education, school districts, technical assistance providers, education advocacy organizations, and education associations across California. Echoing the literature review, education leaders interviewed for the brief acknowledged that continuous improvement requires a change in culture, while also noting the importance of capacity building at all levels of the system in order to engage in continuous improvement at scale. They also viewed data use as central to continuous improvement. However, the education leaders interviewed for the brief also identified several barriers to the implementation of continuous improvement…”

Ikemoto, G., Taliaferro, L., Fenton, B., & Davis, J. (2014). Great principals at scale: Creating district conditions that enable all principals to be effective. New York, NY: New Leaders. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “School leaders are critical in the lives of students and to the development of their teachers. Unfortunately, in too many instances, principals are effective in spite of—rather than because of—district conditions. To truly improve student achievement for all students across the country, well-prepared principals need the tools, support, and culture that enable them to be the best. New Leaders and the Bush Institute’s Alliance to Reform Educational Leadership (AREL) launched the Conditions for Effective Leadership Project and partnered with leading researchers and practitioners to generate a comprehensive and research-based framework outlining the conditions necessary for transformational school leaders to succeed. The project used a combination of literature review, empirical data collection, and expert convenings to build consensus and bundle the disparate ideas into a single framework that is accessible to school system leaders. This report describes that set of conditions that effective school systems have in place that enable principals to be successful. The conditions include four strands developed as follows: Strand 1: Alignment among goals, strategies, structures, and resources; Strand 2: Culture of collective responsibility, balanced autonomy, and continuous learning and improvement; Strand 3: Effective management and support for principals; and Strand 4: Systems and policies to effectively manage talent at the school-level.”

Jones, C. M., & Thessin, R. A. (2015). A review of the literature related to the change process schools undergo to sustain PLCs. Planning & Changing, 46(1–2), 193–211. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This literature review examines the existing literature on the role of the principal in the change process to create a context for change to both develop professional learning communities (PLCs) and sustain a context of continuous improvement over time. The Brown and Anfara (2003) framework was used as a theoretical lens to analyze the literature on leadership of PLCs initially through Fullan’s (1991) three phases of change: initiation, implementation, and institutionalization. No other studies have examined the existing literature on leadership of PLCs through these three phases of change. Using online databases and reference lists of key literature, over 125 sources were researched to identify the process of moving out of isolation and into collaboration. We found that PLCs in a learning organization operate at various stages of development, implying the leader’s need to constantly reflect, assess, monitor, adjust, and ultimately revisit each phase accordingly to ensure that continuous improvement is the focus of PLC work.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Kennedy, K., & Gallagher, H. A. (2019). Leadership that supports continuous improvement: The case of Ayer Elementary. Palo Alto, CA: Policy Analysis for California Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The ‘CORE Districts’ (‘CORE’) is a nonprofit organization created in 2010, which works to foster collaboration between eight of California’s largest districts. In 2018-19, ‘CORE’ provided a range of supports to participating districts including programs to develop continuous improvement capability for district and school leaders tailored to their various roles (e.g., senior district leaders, improvement team facilitators) and coaching for school-based improvement facilitators and Local Improvement Teams (LIT). This case examines continuous improvement work within one of the CORE districts, Fresno Unified School District (FUSD), from the perspective of Ayer Elementary School, starting with the range of external supports it received and drilling down from school leaders to teachers to examine the nature of the improvement work.”

McCauley, C., & Cashman, J. (2018). The engagement playbook: A toolkit for engaging stakeholders around the four domains of rapid school improvement. San Francisco, CA: WestEd. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “As researchers, decision-makers, and practitioners focus on continuous improvement in education, local-level change is gaining importance. Yet, many local school improvement efforts fail to be fully implemented. Even those that are fully implemented often fail to sustain improvements because the schools are embedded in systems that face multiple challenges. Can decision-makers and everyone who is responsible for implementing school improvement efforts come together to build a better, more sustainable approach to local improvement? This toolkit attempts to support such coming together by combining a powerful framework for school turnaround with a focus on the human side of change. The toolkit is built on the intersections between ‘Leading by Convening’ (ED584148), a blueprint for authentic engagement in school improvement developed by 50 national organizations and adopted by the National Center for Systemic Improvement, and the ‘Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement’ (ED584107), a framework developed by the national Center on School Turnaround. In this document, the authors explore the touch points between the ‘Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement’ and ‘Leading by Convening.’ The toolkit is organized by the domain areas listed in the ‘Four Domains’ framework. This toolkit emphasizes alignment across the system by focusing first on school-level change, and then back-mapping district and state efforts to create coherent approaches and permit learning across sites and levels. Included in each domain section are pointers to tools from ‘Leading by Convening,’ the ‘Four Domains,’ and other resources that may be used to build capacity and engage stakeholders, as well as reflection questions drawn from the ‘Four Domains’ framework.”

Meyers, C. V., Redding, S., Hitt, D. H., McCauley, C., Dunn, L., Chapman, K., et al. (2017). Four domains for rapid school improvement: A systems framework (The Center on School Turnaround at WestEd). San Francisco, CA: WestEd. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Center on School Turnaround at WestEd has developed a framework to assist states, districts, and schools in leading and managing rapid improvement efforts. The framework shares, in practical language, the critical practices of successful school turnaround in four domains, or areas of focus, that research and experience suggest are central to rapid and significant improvement: turnaround leadership, talent development, instructional transformation, and culture shift. At a more fine-grained level, the framework then offers examples of how each practice would be put into action at each level of the system.”

Park, V., Daly, A. J., & Guerra, A. W. (2013). Strategic framing: How leaders craft the meaning of data use for equity and learning. Educational Policy, 27(4), 645–675. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Although there is an emerging body of research that examines data-driven decision making (DDDM) in schools, little attention has been paid to how local leaders strategically frame sensemaking around data use. This exploratory case examines how district and school leaders consciously framed the implementation of DDDM in one urban high school. Leaders strategically constructed diagnostic, motivating, and prognostic frames to promote a culture of using data for continuous improvement. Our findings demonstrate that leaders developed (a) diagnostic frames centered on the need to confront student achievement and opportunity gaps; (b) motivating frames concentrated on school improvement as shared collective responsibility; and (c) prognostic frames focused on making incremental change to sustain reform efforts and the creation of common goals to monitor progress. The findings suggest that framing is an important leadership tactic that needs careful consideration when reforms are introduced and implemented.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Proger, A. R., Bhatt, M. P., Cirks, V., & Gurke, D. (2017). Establishing and sustaining networked improvement communities: Lessons from Michigan and Minnesota (REL 2017-264). Washington, DC: Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “There is growing interest in the ability of improvement science—the systematic study of improvement strategies to identify promising practices for addressing issues in complex systems (Improvement Science Research Network, 2016)—to spur innovation and address complex problems. In education this methodology is often implemented through collaborative research partnerships in which researchers and practitioners work together to systematically test and refine theories of change in real-world settings. A networked improvement community is a collaborative research partnership that uses the principles of improvement science within networks of organizations to learn from varied implementation of new ideas across contexts. While the central work of a networked improvement community is to identify a specific and actionable problem and collectively address it through an iterative process of designing, implementing, testing, and redesigning promising new practices, the learning from these iterative cycles can be brought back and applied to the local contexts of the networked improvement community participants (such as classrooms, districts, and states), potentially affecting education practices more widely. Although there is practical guidance for how networked improvement communities should structure this work, few published accounts describe the process of forming a networked improvement community. This report describes the process of forming networked improvement communities in Michigan and Minnesota after state education agency leaders requested assistance from Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest to support state-led efforts to use improvement science to raise student achievement and narrow achievement gaps in schools with the widest achievement gaps (focus schools). The resulting collaborations led to the establishment of two networked improvement communities during the 2015/16 school year, one in Michigan and one in Minnesota, focused on improvement in schools identified as needing support under their accountability systems. The REL Midwest project team used guidance from the literature and other improvement science efforts (for example, Bryk, Gomez, Grunow, & LeMahieu, 2015) to direct its activities. Each networked improvement community has a slightly different history and emphasis. The Michigan Focus Networked Improvement Community works across five focus schools —schools with the largest achievement gaps—in two districts to address disparities in student achievement within schools. The two districts are each part of an intermediate school district, a regional education service agency that provides consolidated support services to districts in an assigned service area and thereby plays an important role in providing professional development and supporting pilot programs in districts.”

Psencik, K., & Brown, F. (2018). Learning to lead: Districts collaborate to strengthen principal practices. Learning Professional, 39(3), 48–53. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This article describes a learning partnership between district or county leaders and school leaders to create a system of principal professional learning that came to life in principal learning communities across a district or multiple-district region. For more than a decade, Learning Forward has engaged with district-level leaders as learning partners. Partners’ efforts focus not only on improving support for principals, but also on changing the role of district and county leaders. District and school leaders have shifted their relationship from compliance to collaboration, moving closer to sharing a vision of themselves as a learning community and developing collective responsibility for the success of all learners. While there is great diversity of ideas and varying degrees of successful implementation, common elements of support include: (1) Creating conditions for learning; (2) Taking a systematic approach to learning; (3) Engaging in principal professional learning communities; (4) Focusing on a problem of practice through a complete cycle of continuous improvement; and (5) Assessing impact.”

Redding, S., McCauley, C., Ryan Jackson, K., & Dunn, L. (2018). Four domains for rapid school improvement: Indicators of effective practice (The Center on School Turnaround Four Domains Series). Sacramento, CA: Center on School Turnaround at WestEd. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In recent years, rapid school improvement—known most commonly as school turnaround—has emerged as the chief focus of dramatic and systemic efforts aimed at giving students better schools. To assist states, districts, and schools in leading or managing these efforts, in 2017 the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd developed ‘Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement: A Systems Framework’ (ED584107). That framework identifies four areas of focus that research and experience point to as central to rapid and significant improvement: ‘turnaround leadership,’ ‘talent development,’ ‘instructional transformation,’ and ‘culture shift.’ Within each domain, the framework also identifies three critical practices for taking action. The intent was to organize and frame the field’s learning about rapid school improvement efforts and how improvement decisions made at any one level could have a lasting impact across all levels of a system comprising the state education agency (SEA), the local education agency (LEA), and the individual school. This subsequent document, which is intended to facilitate educators’ ability to take and track action within each domain, provides the specificity of indicators for each practice identified in the framework. An indicator of effective practice is what Redding (2013) calls a concrete behavioral expression of a particular professional practice that research has shown to contribute to student learning. The indicators presented in this document are expressed in plain language so school, district, and state teams can identify with greater certainty whether a relevant practice from the four domains is standard and routinely operational or whether more work is needed.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Leaders “continuous improvement”

  • Principals “continuous improvement”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2005 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.