The Role of Districts in Fostering Instructional Improvement

Lessons from Three Urban Districts Partnered with the Institute for Learning

by Julie A. Marsh, Kerri A. Kerr, Gina Schuyler Ikemoto, Hilary Darilek, Marika Booth, Ron Zimmer, Heather Barney


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The current high-stakes accountability environment brought on by the federal No Child Left Behind Act places great pressure on school districts to demonstrate success by meeting yearly progress goals for student achievement and eventually demonstrating that all students achieve at high standards. Many urban school districts, in particular, face great challenges in meeting these goals. This study analyzes three urban districts’ efforts to face these challenges and assesses the contribution to those efforts made by an intermediary organization, the Institute for Learning. It describes the districts’ work in four areas: promoting principals’ instructional leadership; supporting teachers’ professional learning, in particular through school-based coaching models; specifying curriculum; and promoting data-based decisionmaking for planning and instructional improvement. For each area, it identifies constraints and enablers of district success, assesses the nature and effect of district-intermediary partnerships, and makes recommendations for districts undertaking similar instructional reforms.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Research Background, Framework, and Methods

  • Chapter Three

    Setting the Stage: Overview of Study Districts and the IFL

  • Chapter Four

    District Strategies to Improve Instruction: Implementation and Outcomes

  • Chapter Five

    Overarching Findings About District Instructional Improvement: Common Constraints and Enablers

  • Chapter Six

    Impact of the Institute for Learning

  • Chapter Seven

    Conclusions and Lessons Learned

  • Appendix A

    Survey Instruments

  • Appendix B

    Technical Notes on Research Methods

  • Appendix C

    Student Achievement Trends

  • Appendix D

    Principles of Learning

The research described in this report was conducted within RAND Education and supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

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