New England Secondary School Consortium

Theory of Action

Over the past two decades, a growing body of research has revealed what works in schools: strong instruction in every classroom every day guided by high expectations for every student. Research has also provided compelling evidence that the most effective, cost-efficient, and sustainable strategy for improving instructional quality is a teacher-driven professional learning community. When teachers talk to other teachers, when they share what works and what doesn’t, and when they build strong professional relationships that motivate and inspire, instruction improves, student performance rises, and schools become better places to work and learn. In short, the League of Innovative Schools is taking what we know works within a school and replicating it among schools. The League is a regional professional learning community for educators working to improve their schools. It is designed to foster collaboration, professional support, and best-practice exchange.

Our theory of action is also based on the belief that ambitious educational goals will only be met if we attend to both policy and practice simultaneously. The Consortium’s policy work recognizes that—despite the significant progress that has been made in recent years—far too many state and local policies present barriers to high school improvement or fail to put in place the necessary support or incentives required to strengthen schools, motivate leaders, and improve student performance and outcomes. By working collaboratively across state lines, the Consortium is advocating for new, more focused, and better utilized policies at both the state and local levels that can advance and sustain school improvement.

Yet policies alone will not be sufficient. For this reason, the Consortium convened teachers, principals, superintendents, and state education agency staff members from each of our member states to develop a regional support strategy for New England’s secondary schools. Over several months, this diverse team created the League of Innovative Schools to provide a new system for collaboration, peer-to-peer accountability, and networked professional development across the region.

The League of Innovative Schools is in many ways a major departure from existing initiatives. Historically, school redesign has followed one of two major pathways: (1) an open-invitation, limited-accountability network that any school can join or (2) an intensive support model in which significant resources are committed to a small number of schools with the intention of replicating successful practices in other settings.

While both of these approaches have achieved success, they have each failed to realize sustainable, large-scale, systemic improvements across states or regions—which is the Consortium’s goal. Far too often, broad support networks embrace such a wide variety of ideas that breadth is prioritized over depth, and significant change fails to materialize. Alternatively, the progress made by model schools is rarely reproduced at scale or replicated in schools that lack similar levels of funding and support. The League of Innovative Schools is designed to bring together the best features of these disparate transformation models, while striving to overcome the limitations of each.

While every member school will make the same commitment to improve, the League recognizes and embraces the fact that schools progress in different ways and at different rates, and that no two great schools need to look alike.