Lessons from the Carnegie Summit: How New Visions’ Staff Members are “Learning to Improve”

In late March, more than two dozen New Visions staff members joined over a thousand other attendees in San Francisco for the “2016 Carnegie Summit on Improvement in Education” to learn about how improvement science can be applied to their own work.

Improvement Science, which Anthony S. Bryk, President of the Carnegie Foundation, outlines in his book, “Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better,” involves making small, iterative changes with repeated evaluation to refine an area of work over time.  Bryk argues, “you can teach people about the ideas and introduce them to the tools, but you only learn it by doing it.”

According to Bryk, using improving science is really about asking, “What’s the problem?  What change are you going to introduce and why?  And then in some form or another you constantly test your change theory against data.”  (Check out this overview for more detailed information on improvement science and the guiding principles.)

Although this was just the third annual Summit, Bryk sees a natural evolution to the conference.  In the beginning, “people wanted to come and learn about improvement science in general, but by the third Summit they want to know how do we leverage improvement science better” in their own work.  The Summit featured workshops and sessions where various organizations shared how they are applying improvement science to a particular problem they face.

New Visions is dedicated to continuous improvement and our staff are living proof.  Below you will find key takeaways from New Visions staff as they work to apply lessons from the Summit to their own work:

Scaling is smart subtraction.  Improvement at large can only happen when the capacity to change the day-to-day exists.  Instead of adding responsibility, we should make the burden on our actors lighter.  Hayagreeva “Huggy” Rao cited the “100,000 Lives Campaign,” an initiative led by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.  Part of the campaign focused on implementing research-based practices such as moving hospital beds to a 45 degree angle in order to accelerate recovery from pneumonia.  Instead of adding this practice to the list of a thousand things nurses juggle daily, the campaign urged hospitals to do one simple thing: paint a 45 degree line on the wall next to the hospital bed.  This is smart subtraction of the cognitive load at it’s best.

Angel Zheng
Policy Analyst
Structure need not be binding, Innovation need not be Chaos.  Innovation does not mean “do whatever you want.”  In the session, “Growing a Culture of Innovation,” semi-structured practices were set to facilitate innovation with some minimum requirements of focus and evidence.  This “room to run” was intentionally designed to balance a reasonable level of structure (e.g. defining a specific goal) with enough room for adaptation and customization (e.g. how do we get there?).

Terence Kennedy
Service and Support Manager
MIT Professor of Media, Arts and Sciences Alex `Sandy’ Pentland encouraged attendees to get out there, meet new people, and ask them about their work.  He argued that it was in these conversations, perhaps even more than in the planned sessions, that we would learn and grow.  As I spoke to practitioners from New York, San Francisco and Malaysia, I found more colleagues who were willing to share both their successes and their struggles...These educators were not merely using failure to improve their own outcomes, they were publicly revealing their outcomes so that all of our students might improve as a result.

Jeremy Greenfield
Deputy Director of MicroCertifications
I was most interested in the use of routines, also known as standard work processes.  How does an improvement team decide on which routine(s) should be the focus of their work?  How is non-standard work standardized?  Who decides what becomes standard work that should be routinized?  Within my own work in curriculum at New Visions, improvement science will help us to extend a shared sense of “standard work.”  Teachers often use the word “routines” to name tools that manage student behavior; we need to extend that word to name tools that organize student thinking and learning.  This will require teachers to confront the idea that correct answers should be valued above the process.  In its place, we should think about learning that is situated in routines that make the learning visible and arises from mistakes, from the correction of mistakes and the understanding of where the mistake came from.

Russell West
Deputy Director of Instruction
The most powerful moment of the Summit for me came in the last hour when I sat rapt, moved, and humbled by Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative.  The “Power of Proximity,” he reminded the audience, matters a great deal.  He urged us to get closer to the problem—to get in the muck of the problem—no matter how uncomfortable that may be, because proximity allows for deeper understanding and with deeper understanding comes sounder decisions.  I would argue that proximity enabled some of the finest work showcased in the Summit, just as it enables an excellent teacher to meet the various social emotional and academic needs of her students.  So while we puzzle out scaling up, we must also always connect to the young people, educators, and families that we serve.  How else could we possibly hope to break the cycle of poverty?

Marina Galazidis
Instructional Specialist, ELA



Learn more about the Carnegie Summit, including information about the 2017 Conference, by visiting the Carnegie Foundation’s website.

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