The research on academic mindsets shows significant promise for addressing important problems facing educators. However, the history of educational reform is replete with good ideas for improvement that fail to realize the promises that accompany their introduction.
As a field, we are quick to implement new ideas but slow to learn how to execute well on them. If we continue to implement reform as we always have, we will continue to get what we have always gotten. Accelerating the field’s capacity to learn in and through practice to improve is one key to transforming good ideas into tools, interventions, and professional development initiatives that achieve effectiveness reliably at scale.
If we continue to implement reform as we always have, we will continue to get what we have always gotten.
With contributions from several of our colleagues, we wrote a white paper, Improvement Research Carried Out Through Networked Communities: Accelerating Learning about Practices that Support More Productive Student Mindsets. It was recently presented at a White House meeting on “Excellence in Education: The Importance of Academic Mindsets.” This meeting, held in mid-May, was co-hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Education and sponsored by the Raikes Foundation.
The goal was to bring together a diversity of experts interested in academic mindsets. The Carnegie approach presented in the white paper was an introduction into a way to ensure the good ideas presented at the conference could scale with consistency.
In the paper, we discuss the function of networked communities engaged in improvement research and illustrate the application of these ideas in promoting greater student success in community colleges.
Specifically, this white paper:
- Introduces improvement research and networked communities as ideas that we believe can enhance educators’ capacities to advance positive change.
- Explains why improvement research requires a different kind of measures—what we call practical measurement—that are distinct from those commonly used by schools for accountability or by researchers for theory development.
- Illustrates through a case study how systematic improvement work to promote student mindsets can be carried out.
The case is based on the Carnegie Foundation’s effort to address the poor success rates for students in developmental math at community colleges.
Specifically, this case details:
- How a practical theory and set of practical measures were created to assess the causes of “productive persistence”—the set of “non-cognitive factors” thought to powerfully affect community college student success. In doing this work, a broad set of potential factors was distilled into a digestible framework that was useful to practitioners working with researchers, and a large set of potential measures was reduced to a practical (3-minute) set of assessments.
- How these measures were used by researchers and practitioners for practical purposes—specifically, to assess changes, predict which students were at-risk for course failure, and set priorities for improvement work.
- How we organized researchers to work with practitioners to accelerate field-based experimentation on everyday practices that promote academic mindsets (what we call alpha labs), and how we organized practitioners to work with researchers to test, revise, refine, and iteratively improve their everyday practices (using plan-do-study-act cycles).
While significant progress has already occurred, robust, practical, reliable efforts to improve students’ mindsets remains at an early formative stage. The ideas presented in the paper are meant as an instructive starting point for new efforts that might attempt to address other problems facing educators, most notably issues of inequality and underperformance in K-12 settings.