Continuous Improvement in Practice

Legislation & Policy

(Policy Analysis for California Education)

This policy brief presents research-based information on “continuous improvement” and identifies characteristics present in organizations that are successful in building a culture of continuous improvement. It also identifies some areas that district and school administrators have identified as challenging within the current context.
While acknowledging that continuous improvement holds promise as a means for improving educational outcomes, the brief states,
“However, the education leaders interviewed for the brief also identified several barriers to the implementation of continuous improvement. Three barriers include 1) a lack of clarity about the what continuous improvement looks like in practice and how to get there, 2) insufficient strategies and supports to grow internal capacity for continuous improvement, 3) difficulty prioritizing continuous improvement in a resource-constrained environment, and 4) variation in the availability and use of data to support continuous improvement.”
The brief goes on to identify key features of a continuous improvement approach:
● Taking a systems perspective. Continuous improvement assumes that it is the system and not individuals that produces current outcomes and accordingly focuses attention on system design and operation. It also assumes that systems can be reengineered to address inequities in educational outcomes. 
● Being process-oriented.  Improvement efforts focus on the processes that produce the outcomes as opposed to focusing exclusive attention on the outcomes themselves. 
● Using a disciplined methodology to solve problems. Assumptions about cause and effect are made explicit and tested in practice. 
● Engaging the “front line .” Those directly responsible for implementation (e.g., classroom teachers) are actively involved in experimentation). 
While the brief consistently identifies the intent of recent state education policy to move away from punitive accountability toward a growth-oriented system, one with greater capacity to innovate, collaborate and respond appropriately to student-level data through collective inquiry, better understanding of how the state, county offices of education, and support providers can effectively support continuous improvement is needed.
Access the full report HERE:

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