Reflections on #CarnegieSummit V


Another April escape to the West Coast! With a snowstorm rolling in as my flight took off for San Francisco, I was relieved and excited to be on my way to my fourth Carnegie Summit, this time as a session and poster presenter.

In this post,

  1. Carnegie has the best keynotes
  2. How are we building educational systems for the future?
  3. Who should be recruited to participate in a NIC and how are they engaged?
  4. Games to teach improvement science? Yes!

1. The Carnegie Summit has the best keynotes. I have vivid memories of listening to Marshall Ganz, Hahrie Hahn, Bryan Stephenson, Peter Senge, and Jeff Duncan-Andrade. I’ve rewatched Tony Bryk’s talk from last year, in which he outlined the problems with educational research and reminded us that in a democracy, the production of knowledge cannot be relegated to an elite few, which is why improvement needs center the voices of teachers and students.

This year has been no exception. Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, drew the (shockingly straight) line between redlining in the 1930s and the district’s investments in schools today. Her challenge to us was to think of improvement WITH, rather than improvement TO, communities.  Dan Heath, author of The Power of Moments, challenged us to create space for POSITIVE variance, not just reduce NEGATIVE variance. This is exactly the tension I have been wrestling with in improvement science, and this reframing of variance has given me a new way to think about innovation vs./and improvement. Pedro Noguera, Professor of UCLA’s School of Education and Information Studies, closed out the summit with a call to action to address the real issues that schools face, and if improvement science isn’t addressing the broader vision, then it will be just another fad: “if we are not asking the right questions, we will keep doing the wrong things.”

Tony Bryk’s opening keynote had a different tone: more sobered and contemplative. At past summits, he would kick off with the vision of NICs and improvement science as the way forward in the unproductive morass of education reform. But as he began, going on and on about how wonderful improvement science was, I could sense he was setting up his critique, his caution, his warning: will improvement science become the next fad?Citing the work of Donald Peurach and others, reforms have a pretty bad track record of sustaining meaningful change, and even the best of reform ideas get watered down by “ritualized rationality.”  He shared the experience of an administrator telling him that “oh, we’re doing improvement science already,” and pointing to the school improvement plan.

So how do you protect improvement science from becoming another box to check? His keynote then shifted to focus on improving the quality, spotlighting organizations that exemplified what quality would look like. “This is the work of a profession getting better,” but it is also the work of digging in, moving beyond the early adopters, and focusing on the early majority. This echoes my comment in a UCEA session last November: “how do we know that improvement science won’t parallel the Total Quality Improvement in business and just become accountability?” We don’t, of course.

Interestingly, this reminds me of conversations around personalized learning. How do you draw the circle around what it is and isn’t? How do you develop the ethos, the mindset, the spirit? This leads me to thinking about social, not just technical, innovation.

2. How are we building educational systems for the future? Carole Basile, Dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, asked this question as the reflector for a session on the Program Design Network being run by UCEA. She used the 6 principles of improvement science to reflect on the role of higher education. In particular, she wondered, and was careful about how to word this, whether the research that has been done is relevant to the way education should be done in the future? The work of students, teachers, and leaders is changing – what should/could be best practice? And most importantly here, how can NICs be provocative about the kind of thinking we’re doing to build the next generation of learning environments? These questions spoke directly to the tension I have felt with PiPNIC, our project to adapt the NIC approach around emerging practices.

3. Who should be recruited to participate in a NIC and how are they engaged? I have heard variants of this question throughout the last few days. There was good interest in my social network analysis presentation, which I framed as a way to get formative data on how people are connected in the network and how this changes through participation. I had conversations about our listening phase, in which we talked to educators and leaders throughout Wisconsin, how we distilled to a focus on conferring, and the “dance” of recruiting participants who were willing, able, and committed.

A number of people brought up the question of how to design meaningful learning experiences for the participants in the network. This was something we wrestled with continuously throughout PiPNIC, but ultimately did pretty well, I think! Each Saturday of our 90-day cycle had specific tasks, but ones that required practitioner expertise. This is the approach of designing for design, and I think the participatory design field has much to offer. The trick will be finding where this jives with improvement science.

4. Games to teach improvement science? Yes! This was probably the best resource I will come away with. David Laird, Professor at Vanderbilt, demonstrated the butterfly effect game, and it is brilliant. I hope someday I can use these games with my future graduate students!

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