Evaluation of the Networks for School Improvement Initiative

Teachers collaborating together in library, photo by Monkey Business Images/Adobe Stock

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation established the Networks for School Improvement (NSI) to increase the proportion of Black students, Latino students, and students experiencing poverty who are on track for high school graduation and college enrollment. The initiative supports networks of schools in using continuous improvement (CI) methods to identify and test strategies that improve teachers’ practices and student supports. Each NSI consists of an intermediary organization leading a network of about 20 schools (ranging from fewer than 10 to more than 50 schools) and supporting teams of school staff in conducting CI. These intermediaries have partnered with almost 800 schools across approximately 150 districts and charter networks to identify, test, refine, and scale strategies to improve students’ academic and behavioral outcomes.

The foundation sponsored an evaluation to build evidence on the NSI approach. The evaluation addresses three main research questions: How do intermediaries design and implement their NSI? To what extent do participating schools implement CI activities? What is the impact of the NSI on student outcomes? What aspects of the NSI approach are related to impacts on students?

Each research question is addressed by a different evaluation partner: RAND leads work on the first research question, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) leads work on the second research question, and Mathematica leads work on the third research question.

RAND’s Study Objectives

The NSI initiative provides the opportunity to study an exceptionally large and diverse group of school improvement networks. Although there are studies of specific networks, there is no existing research that looks at a large group of varied school improvement networks. We anticipate that the study results will help network developers, districts, and schools consider their options and make well-informed decisions on how to best improve schools through collaboration and improvement science.

The RAND team’s focus so far has been on the operation of school improvement networks, challenges in implementing such networks, and strategies for operating networks well. RAND explored these areas using three research sub-questions stemming from the first research question:

  1. How do intermediaries design and implement school improvement networks intended to improve the educational outcomes of Black and Latino students and students experiencing poverty?
  2. How and under what conditions do networks and intermediaries evolve?
  3. What intermediary strategies and contexts are associated with more-cohesive networks?

Starting in the 2023–2024 school year, the RAND team will add the following topics, to be reported on through a second set of reports in 2026:

  • Change over time (fueled by additional years of data)
  • Activities of network members after the end of the grant period
  • Intermediary activities that correspond to greater sustainability


In spring 2024, the evaluation partners published individual interim reports summarizing findings from their research to date. This first set of evaluation reports (interim reports) describe implementation of NSI through the 2022–23 school year (research questions one and two) and impacts on student outcomes through the 2021–22 school year (research question three).

RAND Publications

A second set of reports in 2026 will follow up on themes identified in the interim reports and dig more deeply into the connections among intermediary supports, school use of CI, and, ultimately, student outcomes.