Catalyzing School Improvement Communities
A partner organization is seeking to establish improvement communities within schools it partners with across Philadelphia. For the organization, it is critical to identify "early-warning" indicators to show that a school is improving, such as the district's "9th-Grade On-Track" metric. This prompts two research questions. First, what are the conditions for TFO portfolio schools that indicate capacity for schoolwide student support using early warning indicators such as 9th-grade On-Track? Secondly, what trends and patterns exist among member schools, which might point to high-leverage areas for TFO to focus on in the next iterations of collective learning? The goal of this paper is to situate those questions into a more targeted framework of Multi-Tier Systems of Supports (MTSS), which can lead to a clearer picture of what portfolio schools are experiencing as the crux of MTSS is a way to analyze student support systems in schools to improve student achievement. The literature reviewed focuses on MTSS, school capacity analysis, and successful improvement community work such as organized by the University of Chicago's "To & Through" Institute. The research is qualitative in nature, using semi-structured interviews with school leaders working in schools partnering with the focal organization. The overall findings indicate that a robust analysis of school capacity could be used via a number research instruments designed for this purpose, building distributive leadership models within schools, and fostering a data infrastructure to increase accessibility and familiarity with formative data for school improvement. Such conditions would help plant the seed for communities to develop by providing common language for capacity, leadership, and data - three key areas for any improvement initiative to truly take root.