Founding CUEL Director Dr. Steven Tozer has co-edited a significant new book examining the roles of district-university partnerships to improve American schools. The volume, a collection of 11 case studies with critical commentary, is titled Improving America’s Schools Together: How District-University Partnerships and Continuous Improvement Can Transform Education (2023, Rowman & Littlefield). It is one of several recent efforts by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to document the application of Improvement Science and continuous learning methods to education reform. Dr. Tozer co-edited with four other recent senior Carnegie staff and fellows, including Louis M. Gomez, Manuelito Biag, David Imig, and Randy Hitz.
The case narratives document the diverse experiences of the current members of Carnegie’s iLEAD network, “a collaborative of 11 district-university partnerships from across the United States” (p. 3). These include the long-standing partnership between the University of Illinois Chicago and the Chicago Public Schools. Several CUEL affiliates collaborated on that case study, including lead author Dr. Tozer, Cynthia Barron, Shelby Cosner, David Mayrowetz, Sam Whalen, and Paul Zavitkovsky, along with former CPS leaders Dr. Janice Jackson and Zipporah Hightower, and CUEL co-founder Peter Martinez.
In their introduction, Louis Gomez and Manuelito Biag point to three “key assertions” that guide the 11 case investigations. First, each partnership managed over time to move beyond merely transactional relationships to create sustained opportunities for “mutual benefit partnership,” marked by a “shared commitment to all actors being better off for the experience” of joint work and collaboration (P. 1). Drawing upon Social Learning concepts, the cases demonstrate how mutuality entails building a shared space for joint work and intellectual trade that matures into “an imperative to share across organizational boundaries” (p. 3). Second, the cases illustrate ways in which “continuous improvement thinking” can translate into effective routines of shared learning and action that break down “siloing” in each organization and build confidence in the efficacy of the partnership. Third, the cases all testify to the essential roles of leaders at all levels of partnership, and in particular, the empowerment of “boundary spanners” capable of repairing routines and relationships within the “trading zones” where new knowledge is created and shared. In addition, the volume presents a four-level “Developmental Progressions Framework” for understanding evolving levels of capacity within a partnership across 23 areas of shared work. The Center’s Chicago case makes extensive use of this Framework to explore how the UIC/CPS partnership has evolved from a contractual relationship around principal preparation into a research-practice partnership to deepen principal capacity to advance the District’s ambitious equity-centered goals.