Learning to Improve

Learning to Improve How America's Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better

Anthony S. Bryk, Louis M. Gomez, Alicia Grunow, and Paul G. LeMahieu
cloth, 280 Pages
Pub. Date: March 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-792-7
Price: $70.00

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ebook, 280 Pages
Pub. Date: March 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-793-4
paper, 280 Pages
Pub. Date: March 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-791-0
Price: $35.00

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As a field, education has largely failed to learn from experience. Time after time, promising education reforms fall short of their goals and are abandoned as other promising ideas take their place. In Learning to Improve, the authors argue for a new approach. Rather than “implementing fast and learning slow,” they believe educators should adopt a more rigorous approach to improvement that allows the field to “learn fast to implement well.”
Using ideas borrowed from improvement science, the authors show how a process of disciplined inquiry can be combined with the use of networks to identify, adapt, and successfully scale up promising interventions in education. Organized around six core principles, the book shows how “networked improvement communities” can bring together researchers and practitioners to accelerate learning in key areas of education. Examples include efforts to address the high rates of failure among students in community college remedial math courses and strategies for improving feedback to novice teachers.
Learning to Improve offers a new paradigm for research and development in education that promises to be a powerful driver of improvement for the nation’s schools and colleges.


In this hopeful and accessible volume, Bryk and his colleagues describe six tenets for addressing vexing problems of educational practice. Yes, systematic actions guided by serious scientific inquiry can lead to improvements in a vast array of contexts, topics, and settings. Drawing on numerous real life examples and illustrations, the authors demonstrate how to develop and then critically execute good ideas to produce reliably positive outcomes. — John Q. Easton, distinguished senior fellow, Spencer Foundation

Learning to Improve is the best book on the market on improving education. The authors have done a masterful job of pulling together the critical ideas and weaving them into a compelling story. I wish every educational researcher and every state, district, and school leader would be required to read this book. I'm recommending it to all my colleagues. — James Hiebert, professor, School of Education, University of Delaware

Extremely interesting throughout, the text suggests a plan-do-study-act cycle in which reform starts small and then gradually expands as educators study their failures and learn from those mistakes. — J.D. Neal, Choice Magazine

Guided by 'improvement science' pioneered in the medical field, Learning to Improve shows how education could finally stop its reform churn...The book's vision is ambitious--and far more likely to succeed than the reform churn we've tolerated for decades. — Lisa Hansel, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Learning to Improve is a content-rich, thoughtful, practical and well-organized resource for anyone committed to improving schools. It inspires practitioners, researchers, and policy analysts to work together in networked improvement communities to 'learn fast to implement well.' — Mary B. Herrmann, School Administrator

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About the Authors

Anthony S. Bryk is the ninth president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, where he is leading work on transforming educational research and development, more closely joining researchers and practitioners to improve teaching and learning. Formerly, he held the Spencer Chair in Organizational Studies in the School of Education and the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University from 2004 until assuming Carnegie’s presidency in September 2008. He came to Stanford from the University of Chicago, where he was the Marshall Field IV Professor of Urban Education in the sociology department, and where he helped found the Center for Urban School Improvement, which supports reform efforts in the Chicago Public Schools. He also created the Consortium on Chicago School Research, a federation of research groups that have produced a range of studies to advance and assess urban school reform. He is a member of the National Academy of Education and was appointed by President Obama to the National Board for Education Sciences in 2010. In 2011, he was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is one of America’s most noted educational researchers. His 1993 book, Catholic Schools and the Common Good, is a classic in the sociology of education. His deep interest in bringing scholarship to bear on improving schooling is reflected in his later volume, Trust in Schools, and in the most recent book, Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago (Chicago Press, 2009.) Bryk holds a BS from Boston College and an EdD from Harvard University.

Louis M. Gomez holds the MacArthur Chair in Digital Media and Learning in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California Los Angeles. Gomez has served since 2008 as a senior partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, where he leads the Network Development work. Beginning in 2009, he held the Helen S. Faison Chair in Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was also director of the Center for Urban Education and a senior scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center. From 2001 to 2008, he held a number of faculty appointments at Northwestern University, including the Aon Chair in the Learning Sciences at the School of Education and Social Policy. Prior to joining academia, he spent fourteen years working in cognitive science and person–computer systems and interactions at Bell Laboratories, Bell Communications Research Inc., and Bellcore. His research interests have encompassed the application of computing and networking technology to teaching and learning, applied cognitive science, human–computer interactions, and other areas. Gomez received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1974 and a doctorate in cognitive psychology from UC Berkeley in 1979.

Alicia Grunow is a senior partner and codirector of the Center for Networked Improvement at Carnegie. In that role, she oversees the core capacities that support all networked improvement communities: analytics, developmental evaluation, design and development, program technologies, and improvement research.

Grunow completed the Improvement Advisor program at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in 2011 and currently leads the foundation’s efforts to adapt these methodologies for the field of education. To this end, she teaches improvement workshops and coaches improvement teams both in and outside the organization.

Before coming to Carnegie, Grunow was an instructor in Stanford’s Teacher Education Program (STEP), where she taught practices to support the academic achievement of English language learners. Her research at Stanford used a range of quantitative methodologies to examine policy issues regarding English language learners. Grunow received her BA in psychology from Reed College. She has a master’s degree in economics and a doctorate in educational administration and policy analysis from Stanford University. Before graduate school, she taught for seven years in transitional bilingual and dual language elementary school programs in both Denver and New York City. She completed the Bilingual and ESL Teachers Leadership Academy at Bank Street College. At the core, she will always identify as a practitioner.

Paul G. LeMahieu is the senior vice president for programs at the Carnegie Foundation. Previously, he directed the work of the Carnegie Hub, which supports the networks the foundation convenes to engage problems of education practice in the field. He is also graduate faculty at the University of Hawai’i, Mānoa. LeMahieu came to Carnegie from his post as director of research and evaluation at the National Writing Project (NWP) at the University of California, Berkeley. He has also served as Superintendent of Education for the state of Hawai’i, the chief educational and executive officer of the only state system in the United States that is a unitary school district. He has held the top educational research position for the state of Delaware as Undersecretary for Education Research, Policy, and Development and professor at the University of Delaware. He also served for eleven years as Assistant Superintendent for Research, Evaluation, and Student Assessment in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. LeMahieu has published extensively on issues as diverse as testing policy and practice, educational accountability, issues in data analysis and use, staff development, school effectiveness, nontraditional work roles for women, minority achievement issues, science education, and vocational education. He has a BA from Yale College, an EdM from Harvard University, and a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh.

Table of Contents

E-book available through online booksellers

Other books in School Reform

Not Paved for Us

Camika Royal, Foreword by Gloria Ladson-Billings

Other books in School Reform

Systems for Instructional Improvement

Paul Cobb, Kara Jackson, Erin Henrick, Thomas M. Smith, and the MIST team, Afterword by Michael Sorum

Other books in School Reform


Doris A. Santoro, Foreword by David C. Berliner