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The science of improving education

How the process of continuous improvement creates meaningful change in schools, from the ground up.

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What do schools have to do with health care or making cars? Turns out, they all use a similar process called continuous improvement to help them get better results. A high-quality education is a bridge to opportunity like no other, and while progress is happening in many ways, from increased high school graduation rates to strides in more access to pre-K, challenges remain.

Fortunately, the process of continuous improvement has shown promise as an approach that can drive improvement in schools, as well as in other sectors. Continuous improvement is an ongoing process of identifying challenges, putting in place approaches to address them, and measuring change. Then, it is assessed whether the approach should be adopted permanently, adapted and tried again, or discarded. This process has been used in fields as diverse as manufacturing, healthcare, and education. With roots in 20th-century industry, continuous improvement was pioneered by statisticians, engineers, and quality control experts who saw how a hands-on, iterative approach could deliver major improvement.

One key factor to using continuous improvement in schools? Empowering students, teachers, and researchers who often know the systems best. Through discussions about what’s going on in the system, problem-solving, and data, these groups work together to identify ways to change.

What makes continuous improvement so different from other methods is the focus on rapid cycles of learning, led by those closest to the work: Instead of always starting from scratch, participants can take small actions every day to test ideas and propel each change. As solutions are developed on the ground level, they can then be adapted and scaled to improve student outcomes and school performance across the country. These tried-and-tested improvements can have results that last a lifetime, like improved critical reasoning skills in elementary students and increased applications to Federal Student Aid. Get a peek behind the science that is changing education from the ground up.