Is There a Formula For School Improvement?

Assess, Plan, Implement, and Monitor.

Every educator who has contributed to a school turnaround initiative knows that there is no simple solution to school improvement. But while each challenge is inherently complex, and the work is most certainly long and hard, the process for achieving positive outcomes is both familiar and universal: assess, plan, implement, monitor, (and repeat). If there is a formula for school improvement, this is it.

As a company that has supported school improvement for over 20 years, SchoolWorks is committed to this formula. In fact, it serves as the theory of action that underlies all of our engagements with schools.

Theory of Action

If schools engage in a cycle of: 1) assessing practices against research-based criteria; 2) action planning to address real cultural, instructional, and operational challenges; 3) implementing improvement initiatives with proper supports; and 4) receiving feedback on both implementation and outcome measures, then the school’s culture and achievement results will improve while the capacity of its administrators and teachers grows.

Over the past few years, SchoolWorks has had the opportunity to support several privately funded school improvement efforts. Within these “Good to Great” initiatives, independent funding organizations identify schools that meet their criteria for funding, connect school leadership teams with vetted improvement partners, and fund structured improvement-focused programs with targeted outcomes. The scope and longevity of these partnerships differs, but in each case, the school elects to participate in the prescribed course of action and makes a commitment to engage fully in the effort in order to receive funding. The resulting engagement, which may span up to three years in length, is rooted in some or all parts of the “assess, plan, implement, and monitor” formula:

Assess: Identify school strengths and areas of need via an intensive School Quality Review.

Plan: Co-create/refine a School Improvement Plan that best addresses the areas of need that present the greatest levers of change respective of the environment.

Implement: Establish a Coaching Plan for the school leader to ensure proper supports are in place to achieve milestones. Train instructional leaders in evidence-based instructional best practices to create a unified understanding of high-quality instruction. Elevate use of effective practices by introducing a cycle of observation and formative feedback and analyze data to define needs and administer targeted professional development.

Monitor: Continually assess progress against benchmark data and monitor ongoing improvement. Engage in annual strategy sessions to analyze the current state and pivot actions, as necessary.

In most cases, the key questions of the SchoolWorks School Quality Review Protocol can be used to frame the performance metrics in the resulting improvement plan. The protocol assesses school performance across four domains: Instruction, Students’ Opportunities to Learn, Educators’ Opportunities to Learn, and Leadership and Governance. It is aligned to an evidence base, SchoolWorks School Quality Criteria, wherein each key question, criterion, and indicator is linked to multiple documented research studies of best practices associated with positive student outcomes. The protocol also includes a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Indicator, which enables review teams to provide evidence-based feedback to schools about the effectiveness of their practices in support of diverse, equitable and inclusive school environments in order to foster positive change. By using the review protocol as a framework for planning and plan implementation, SchoolWorks ensures that all feedback, planning, and support that are implemented within schools are fully aligned to proven best practices as documented by research.

The Formula In-Action

Since 2018, SchoolWorks has served as a “Good to Great” improvement partner on behalf of The Detroit Children’s Fund (Detroit, MI), The Cullen Foundation (Buffalo, NY), and a private funder with focused efforts in Connecticut and New York. All of these engagements use a form of this prescriptive improvement model.

SchoolWorks partnership with the Detroit Children’s Fund (DCF) focused on two charter schools: Escuela Avancemos and Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. After conducting reviews at each school, SchoolWorks facilitated on-site action-planning sessions to help the schools develop actionable improvement plans with measurable outcomes that were approved by funders. SchoolWorks and DCF then collaborated with both schools to structure an intensive partnership focused on on-site leadership coaching and instructional training and the implementation of a regular cycle of teacher observation and feedback. Coaches visited schools regularly, providing on-site training and skills development support, and modeling observation and feedback for administrators and instructional leaders. Administrators at both schools were trained to independently conduct classroom observations at the schools, while coaches supported the cycle of regular observations and feedback to classroom teachers.

The Cullen Foundation, a non-profit funding organization supporting schools in Buffalo, New York, enables funded schools to choose improvement partners for focused portions of their improvement efforts. In partnership with the foundation, SchoolWorks regularly completes needs assessments and subsequent action-planning sessions with school teams. To date, engagements have included Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School, Enterprise Charter School, Tapestry Charter School, and Buffalo Collegiate Charter School.


In all of these partnerships, SchoolWorks used the “assess, plan, implement, and monitor” formula to build capacity among school leaders and instructional staff. Despite the fact that all of these partnerships spanned the COVID-impacted 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, these multi-year Good to Great engagements resulted in student achievement and growth, as measured by NWEA MAP scores. While we cannot yet formally measure the extent of the impact of this ongoing work, our initial findings are noted in the case study for the Detroit Children’s Fund partnership here.

At SchoolWorks, we’re excited about these partnerships, and we believe in their long-term ability to have a positive effect on student learning. Assess, plan, implement, and monitor. Is your team ready?

Assess. Plan. Implement. Monitor.

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