A central tenet of Improvement Science is that “every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” Continuous improvement is a set of principles, practices, and tools that enable educators to work together to improve systems of education in their communities. The way we, here at Marshall, use the tools of continuous improvement begins by identifying those students who are positioned furthest from opportunity within a given system, and then partnering with young people and the community members closest to those inequitable outcomes to improve the system. This approach marries the technical and adaptive expertise of improvement science with the philosophy of targeted universalism to drive systems improvements that produce more equitable learning environments and outcomes.
The Continuous Improvement team at Marshall Street currently supports a multi-year Networked Improvement Community (NIC) to make dramatic gains for Black, Latinx, and low-income students with disabilities. Made possible by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and alongside technical assistance providers SWIFT Education Center, NIRN, RTI International, and SRI International, the project’s goal is to systematically improve the way our education system serves students with disabilities and bring these solutions back to school systems everywhere. The pilot community is made up of 10 charter management organizations that collectively serve more than 75,000 students around the country.
Public schools across America struggle to meet the diverse needs of students, particularly those farthest from opportunity such as Black, Latinx, and low-income pupils. When marginalization intersects with disability, students often face low expectations, are systematically segregated and denied access to college and career curriculum, and do not receive sufficient support to obtain a high school diploma and pursue their dreams. Nationwide, students with disabilities represent 13.7% of all enrolled students — totaling almost 7 million students in the 2017-18 school year.
As a network, we have the opportunity to change that story for these students by applying the science of improvement to identify positive deviants, share best practices, and scale solutions across the system.
The Pilot Community Hub centralizes resources, learnings, and document-sharing across the Networked Improvement Community for Students with Disabilities.
For those facing school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, our Virtual Resource Toolkit includes practitioner guides and best practices for accessibility, accommodations, and instruction in the virtual setting.
Our work in Continuous Improvement has allowed us to develop a strong stance on what it takes to structure and implement engines of improvement successfully. Because all contexts and communities are different, Continuous Improvement must be flexible and adaptive to a range of needs.
The specific roles and responsibilities, systems and structures, and processes and protocols must be tailored to the people they serve. Additionally, each community’s context brings assets in the form of working norms and processes, knowledge and expertise, relationships, and localized best practices that must be built into the Continuous Improvement process.
All improvement efforts start with an Aim, a mutually agreed upon, specific, and measurable goal that guides our collective effort. We bring people together around commonly understood and constantly revised Theories of Action. Through rigorous testing and measurement, we codify those learnings into Change Packages so that others can more easily enact the changes as they spread and scale.
Summit Public Schools has always valued research-based model design and improvement. In the 2013-2014, we began formally learning about improvement science through working with the Carnegie Foundation’s Student Agency Improvement Community (SAIC).
Two years later, we conducted our first fully-embedded internal improvement efforts to reduce the inequity in academic outcomes for our English Learners, which resulted in a 50% reduction in the “gap” of incomplete course grades across the network. This impact was recognized with the Carnegie Spotlight on Quality in Continuous Improvement.
Through our work with English Learners, we realized there was a more foundational issue to address. As we continued to grow our expertise in systems and structures for improvement, data collection and analysis, and synthesizing and disseminating actionable knowledge, we refocused our efforts on the population of students furthest behind grade-level in literacy and numeracy.
Today, we are honored to have the opportunity to provide support to others as they are beginning, or taking the next steps in, their own improvement journeys.
In the Fall of 2016, Summit launched a continuous improvement initiative focused on English Language Learners, resulting in a 50% reduction in the achievement gap. We share our learnings in this brief, originally published for the Aspen Institute.
Director of Continuous Improvement
Marshall Street’s approach to Continuous Improvement is unique in the field of education because we have married the tools and practices of improvement science with the principles of targeted universalism to better address the structural inequities in our educational system. Students and educators are always at the center of this work of improvement.
Kyle has worked with Summit, and now Marshall Street, for over a decade as a founding math teacher at Everest Public High School, an instructional coach, and program/project manager. He has taught abroad in Indonesia and Ecuador, holds a Masters in Education from Stanford University, and is a National Board Certified Teacher and Math for America Master Teacher Fellow. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, cooking, and being with friends and family.
Megha provides operations and planning support across Marshall initiatives, leveraging her experience launching a multi-tiered system of supports at Summit Public Schools. Megha was a management consultant at Boston Consulting Group, worked in strategy roles at Green Dot Public Schools and the DeBruce Foundation, and earned an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley. As an immigrant shaped by public schools, Megha is driven by a desire to see public education deliver on its promise to all students.
Marco works with partner school networks as an Improvement Advisor at Marshall Street, bringing with him a decade of experience in education technology, classroom teaching, and nonprofit operations. Prior to this role, Marco managed technical services at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and was a Curriculum Developer at Summit Public Schools. Marco holds a Masters in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor’s in English Literature from the University of California, Berkeley.
A seasoned education administrator, Paula brings two decades of experience in program management, teaching, and administration to her work as an Improvement Advisor at Marshall. Most recently, she supported school improvement teams at the Utah Education Policy Center and was a Title I Coordinator in the Salt Lake City School District. She holds a MEd in Educational Leadership and Policy from the University of Utah and a BS in Elementary Education from Utah State University. Outside of work, Paula is passionate about community advocacy and service.
A veteran Special Educator, Stephanie brings her classroom expertise to her work everyday as an Improvement Advisor at Marshall. Previously, she served as a K-5 Resource Specialist and Lead Teacher for the Special Education team in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, where she was also a Board-appointed voting member of the Community Advisory Committee. Before that, Stephanie worked as a Tier III Interventionist at Aspire Public Schools. Outside of work, Stephanie is passionately involved with the Junior League of Oakland-East Bay, most recently serving as Membership Advisor.
A former Special Education teacher and Site-Based Research Manager, Giovanna is an Improvement Advisor collaboratively working alongside CMOs as they launch new initiatives of research-based practices to increase positive outcomes for students in Special Education. She joined Summit in 2014 and holds a Bachelor’s in Elementary and Special Education and is currently working towards a Master’s in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with family and friends.
Daria Zhao is leads content marketing at Marshall Street, where she is responsible for creative, content, and communications. She also co-founded CreativityBox.org, a public-benefit corporation focused on democratizing technology education. Their first product, Learn With Mochi, has been used by thousands of children in 55 countries to build with technology. Prior to creative, Daria worked in investment banking in New York and San Francisco.