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Improving Instruction: An Examination of a Network Improvement Science Effort to Support Instructional Change


Improvement science is a promising framework for school efforts at improving classroom instruction. However, there is scant documentation on actual attempts to apply improvement science principles to better K-12 teaching practices. This research attempts to fill that gap by reporting the results of a two-year improvement science professional development effort undertaken by a five-school network, explicitly focusing on secondary math teaching practices. Through interviews with nine of 29 participating teachers, as well as the facilitators, there was clear consensus about which improvement science principles did and did not support the network’s learning efforts. Observations were conducted over the two-year period. Document analysis included the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) logs of the participating teachers, as well the network’s measures for improvement. Teachers reported positively on several improvement science principles. These include keeping their work problem-specific and user-centered and engaging disciplined inquiry. Additionally, teachers reported value in the distinct improvement science principle of framing their efforts in terms of systems thinking and the concept of using measures for improvement to collect data on the ability of their efforts to impact important drivers of effective classroom instruction. However, both facilitators and teachers expressed concern about the ability to create accurate, responsive, and common measures for improvement in order to inform their decision-making. Additionally, the teachers reported intense time/bandwidth concerns about gathering and using measures for improvement to inform changes in their work processes. Finally, facilitators allowed teachers to change their driver of focus and to use qualitative, rather than quantitative, data to inform their PDSA cycles. Teachers appreciated this autonomy, but this decision hindered the network’s ability to test a common hypothesis informed by data on a shared measure. These findings have important implications for any educational organization attempting to use improvement science principles, particularly measures for improvement, in an effort to reform classroom instructional practices.

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