Anatomy of Schools System Improvement: Performance-Driven Practices in Urban School Districts

Project Start Date: 

This study examined how urban school districts across the country have begun to adopt performance-driven practices that aim to raise student achievement levels. Specficially, it looked at the exisitence of clear and rigorous student achievement goals, efforts to gather and assess information, action plans based on performance results, and the existence of ongoing feedback loops to improve their effectiveness.


Our Role: 

ISKME studied 28 medium and large urban school systems. Selected districts had relatively high poverty rates and relatively large populations of English Language Learners, and they were identified by others in the education sector as having used performance-driven decision making within their organizations. The research team conducted 112 interviews with four members of senior-level leadership from each of the 28 selected school districts.


Image Attribution: 
Photo credit: Licensed CC-BY-NC-2.0 ( by Steven S. (

The study found that performance-driven practices offer states useful insights as they engage in rigorous improvement efforts that are connected to statewide standards but are driven by local context. The study found that becoming a performance-driven organization has as much to do with managing people and processes, that is, shaping the culture and practices of the organization, as it does with the particular goals,and policies that they have in place; that professional development is a crucial tool in the adoption of performance-driven practices; and that discontinuity of leadership, fragmentaion among departments, lack of technology infrastructure, and the organizational culture of many school districts has not been geared toward the sharing and analysis of student achievement results in order to improve instruction and programs.

Service Areas: