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Research Questions

  1. What lessons could be learned from variation among schools within the IP sites that could account for more improvement in some schools than others?
  2. What conditions during the implementation of the IP initiative were correlated with improved school-level outcomes?
  3. Were staff perceptions of the initiative correlated with improved school-level outcomes?
  4. How can the design of school-improvement initiatives and evaluations of these initiatives be improved so as to learn more about the causes of outcome variation within an initiative?

In 2018, The RAND Corporation and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) published an evaluation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching (IP) initiative, which was designed to improve achievement among low-income minority (LIM) students. The initiative provided support for several reforms that were theorized to result in improved teacher effectiveness, such as teacher workforce conditions (e.g., hiring, retention, dismissal), teacher-evaluation policies, individualized professional development (PD), strategic compensation, and career ladders. However, the study found that the initiative did not meet its goals of improved teacher effectiveness and greater access to effective teachers among LIM students.

Although, on average, there was little improvement, the Gates Foundation, along with researchers from RAND and AIR, speculated that lessons could be learned from variation among schools within the IP sites because some schools had improved more than others. To investigate the factors that might be associated with positive student outcomes at the school level, researchers conducted a qualitative study and a survey study. For the qualitative study, the authors selected 11 pairs of schools from the original study that were similar at the beginning of the initiative but showed differing levels of improvement during the initiative. Researchers interviewed teachers and administrators at these schools and analyzed their responses to identify ways that improving and nonimproving schools varied from the staff perspective. In the survey study, the authors used teacher surveys that were administered in the spring of each year from 2013 through 2016 to look for relationships between staff beliefs and school-level improvement over the course of the IP initiative.

Key Findings

In both the qualitative and the survey study, leadership was related to schools' success

  • Schools where certain leadership behaviors were reported, such as principals fostering collaborative environments or offering opportunities for teachers to take part in decisionmaking, were more likely to have improved.

The qualitative study found that unity among staff was associated with school improvement, while staff perceptions of contextual factors beyond their control were associated with nonimprovement

  • The qualitative study found that schools were more likely to improve where interviewees reported a sense of unity among staff.
  • Schools were less likely to show improvement if interviewees reported that factors outside their schools' control influenced their success. However, there is some evidence that these factors did not vary among schools; the main difference was the degree to which the staff focused on them.
  • Interviewees at improving schools were more likely to report feeling that they had control over their classrooms and school experiences than those at nonimproving schools.

Unlike the qualitative study, the survey study found that several factors associated with the IP initiative were significantly related to improvement

  • Factors related to improvement were the relevance and impact of PD, support for the evaluation system, and the perceived validity of its student achievement component.

Although an after-the-fact examination of variation among schools that undertook a reform initiative can be useful, planning ahead for such a study would be beneficial

  • Some ways to plan ahead include designing implementation variation among schools into the initiative and collecting more qualitative information from schools during the initiative, especially about implementation.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education and Labor and the American Institutes for Research (AIR). It was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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