MERC Publications

Document Type

Research Report

Original Publication Date


Date of Submission

June 2016


The question of why school improvement efforts have not been as effective as we would hope is a complicated one that could be addressed from a number of perspectives. The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the underlying problems that prevent current school reform effort from achieving sustained impact, and to describe a promising model of school improvement, called the Networked Improvement Community (NIC). The NIC model – which has just started gaining traction in the world of K-12 school reform – establishes small inquiry groups within organizations to engage in cycles of improvement that involve implementing strategies designed to improve outcomes, collecting data on the effects of the strategies, reflecting on the data, and then planning next actions (Bryk, Gomez & Gunrow, 2010). In addition, the NIC model Rethinking School Improvement 4 supports the sharing of information about the effects of initiatives across networks (e.g. schools, school districts), and uses this shared learning to thoughtfully scale up successful practices. While the NIC model shares some principles and strategies with other popular school reform efforts, in its fully-realized form it represents a significant departure from the way that school improvement efforts have traditionally been approached. To some extent it is model that seems to have developed out of an understanding of both the strengths and the weaknesses of prior organizational improvement efforts. This paper will be guided by three questions: (1) What are the qualities of current school improvement efforts that have prevented them from achieving broad and sustained success across the system? (2) What is the Networked Improvement Community model and how does it respond to the weaknesses of prior reform efforts? (3) What are the key recommendations for integrating the Networked Improvement Community model into K-12 school improvement efforts?

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VCU MERC Publications

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