In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Conceptualizing, Measuring, and Evaluating Improvement Networks

  • Introduction
  • Cases of Improvement Network Evaluations

Education Conceptualizing, Measuring, and Evaluating Improvement Networks
David Sherer, Richard Paquin-Morel, Adrian Larbi-Cherif, Jennifer Russell
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0271


Educators and education-related organizations are increasingly joining and forming networks to improve learning opportunities and outcomes for students. The turn to networks reflects growing recognition in the education field that problems in education are too complex for any one educator or organization to solve on their own and that collaboration has the potential to accelerate improvement. While there is a history of networks in education to support informal sharing and collaboration, improvement networks are intentionally designed and structured to organize systematic inquiry that enables educators to learn how to better respond to a specific problem of practice. For example, Tony Bryk, Louis Gomez, and Alicia Grunow from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching introduced the concept of the “networked improvement community” to the educational field. These networks bring together communities of educators, reformers, researchers, and leaders, and they provide a structure for organizing inquiry into the root causes and potential solutions to high-leverage problems, such as inequities in student achievement and college access. This article explores the improvement network concept and ways to measure and evaluate these networks. It is organized into four sections, three of which are further divided into subsections. The first section explores how to conceptualize improvement networks. It makes a crucial distinction between the social organization and technical work of networks, and this distinction is preserved and highlighted in subsequent parts of the article. The second section explores approaches to evaluating improvement networks. This is followed by a section on measuring the technical and social organization of networks. The article concludes with a selected set of cases of improvement network evaluations.

Conceptualizing Improvement Networks

Improvement networks in education follow a number of forms and models (e.g., networks for school improvement, networked improvement communities, some integrated charter networks), but, broadly, they include groups of schools or educational organizations working together to pursue a shared goal using continuous improvement methods. What distinguishes improvement networks from prior efforts to promote collaborative improvement in education is a focus on systematic, data-based experimentation with new practices, and structured opportunities for participating organizations to learn from inquiry across organizational boundaries to support the spread of evidence-based changes. In this section, we explore the roots of the improvement network concept and offer a conceptualization of improvement networks as sociotechnical systems, which provides a framework for investigating improvement networks in practice.

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