Getting Better at Getting Better through Statewide Networks

By Gary Colletti

According to NASBE’s State Board Insight database, many state boards of education in 2017 explored how to enhance and scale school improvement efforts by networking schools and districts statewide. While types of statewide efforts vary, they share common features. All networked improvement communities (NICs) convene researchers and diverse stakeholders to tackle a specific problem of practice, they surface root causes of these problems that can be reengineered to address inequities, they use improvement science methodology to home in on the processes that produce current outcomes, and they analyze as they make changes, with an eye on well-selected measures.

State boards are playing a convening role in the creation of NICs.

  • The Michigan State Board of Education helped launch the Michigan Focus Networked Improvement Community to identify gaps in math achievement.
  • The California State Board of Education approves program plans for NICs, and the board’s statewide chartering of High-Tech High helps scale such NICs as the Mathematical Agency Improvement Community and a community focused on college, career, and civic readiness.
  • The Vermont Agency of Education encourages improvement efforts statewide through its education quality team, which organizes and manages systems NICs to test and revise improvement theories, as well as share promising practices.
  • The Virginia Board of Education approved the Profile of a Virginia Graduate, and a statewide NIC that focuses on students as stakeholders in assessments supports this initiative. It plans to implement student-led learning in ways that align with districts’ strategic plans.
  • The Connecticut State Board of Education approves school membership in the Commissioner’s Network Plan, which serves as a vehicle for new initiatives, a platform for sharing practices, and a model for schools and districts.
  • In Nebraska, the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties Community Achievement Plan enables districts and community organizations to demonstrate, share, and implement practices.
  • The Hawaii state board and the education department’s ESSA team began exploring NICs in 2016. The state plan it submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in September 2017 expressed interest in implementing complex innovations effectively, reliably, and at scale.
  • The Tennessee Early Literacy Network focuses on early literacy and developing a sustainable process for enacting and sharing practices.
  • The Minnesota Statewide System of Support Networked Improvement Community engages stakeholders through needs assessments and data analyses.
  • The Nevada Board of Education co-leads the Nevada Ready! Network, and it convenes stakeholder groups to examine instructional practices and professional learning opportunities aligned to student data.

Networks can also cross state borders. The Student Success Learning Network, a collaboration with Learning Forward and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, connects approximately 2,000 schools across 11 states: Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, New York, and Indiana, Florida, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, California, and Texas. The network focuses on factors that predict graduation and college success. Another such network is AdvancEd Research and Innovation, part of a series of improvement efforts that engages states such as Kentucky, Alabama, Michigan, Indiana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

Gary Colletti is a NASBE policy associate. He can be reached at