Rapid District Improvement

How can districts initiate, support, and sustain rapid improvement?

Recent studies of district improvement and district transformation provide the key characteristics of improving districts (Sykes et al., 2009) and the strategies used by effective district leaders (Waters and Marzano, 2006). Various district improvement frameworks, both academic (Rorrer et al., 2008) and action-oriented (Childress et al., 2006; Connell, 2000; Marsh, 2005), are beginning to show how, when strategically implemented, district improvement strategies can together to initiate and sustain rapid improvements in district capacity, instructional quality, and student performance. 

The core of our work involes the integration of research on district improvement into actionable tools, guidance, and principles as used by states, districts, and schools. While recent research on district improvement tells us much about the characteristics of improving districts, it does not provide much guidance on how districts actually initiate and sustain rapid improvement. 

Our Framework for District Capacity Building and Improvement recognizes that rapid district improvement is a pathway that: 

  1. Requires catalysts (e.g., the opportunities, incentives, and capacity) to jump-start improvement efforts and;
  2. Requires that districts implement specific strategies once improvement efforts are initiated.

Developed in partnership with the Nationl Center on Innovation and Improvement, the Framework advances ongoing work around district improvement by clarifying relationships among the core functions of a district, the capacity of a district to leverage its core functions to focus exclusively on improving all aspects of the district, including instruction, and those key drivers(e.g., triggers, events, incentives, opportunities, and a threshold of capacity) that must be present if a district is to embark on the path towards rapid improvement. The Framework builds directly upon a review of the research on district improvement (in particular, five recent studies that capture the full extent of what it means for a district to engage in a dramatic and sustained improvement effort) and our own research on district and school turnaround

Framework for District Capacity Building and Improvement: *Click to Download*  

District Capacity Building Indicators: *Click to Download*

A supplemental set of district capacity building assessments and diagnostic tools are available for use in consultation with INSTLL's district capacity building program of work. 

If you our your organization is interested in learning more about how these tools can be used to support ongoing improvement efforts, please contact us for more information.


The five studies used extensively to inform the Framework for District Capacity Building and Improvement include:

Leithwood, et al. (2004). Review of research: How leadership influences student learning.

Marsh, J. et al. (2005). The Role of Districts in Fostering Instructional Improvement: Lessons from Three Urban Districts

McLaughlin, M. & Talbert, J. (2003). Reforming Districts: How Districts Support School Reform. A Research Report.

Snipes, et al. (2002). Foundations for Success: Case Studies of How Urban School Systems Improve Student Achievement.

Rorrer, A., Skrla, L, & Scheurich, J. (2008).  Districts as institutional actors in educational reform. 

Additional References:

Connell, J. P., & Klem, A. M. (2000). You Can There From Here: Using a Theory of Change Approach to Plan Urban Education Reform. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 11(1), 93-120.

Childress, S., Elmore, R., and Grossman, A.  (2006).  How to manage urban school districts.  Harvard Business Review, 84(11), 55-68. 

Marsh, J., Kerr, K. A., Ikemoto, G. S., Darilek, H., Suttorp, M., Zimmere, R. W., Barney, H. (2005). The Role of Districts in Fostering Instructional Improvement: Lessons from Three Urban Districts Partnered with the Institute for Learning. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

Rorrer, A., Skrla, L, & Scheurich, J.  (2008).  Districts as institutional actors in educational reform.  Educational Administration Quarterly, 44(3), 307-358.

Sykes, G., O’Day, J., & Ford, T. G. (2009). The District Role in Instructional Improvement. In Handbook of Education on Policy Research, New York: Routledge.

Waters, J. T., & Marzano, R. J. (2006). School District Leadership that Works: The Effect of Superintendent Leadership on Student Achievement, A Working Paper. Denver, CO: MCREL

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