Author: Samantha Slade

Marinating in Data—My Experience Working on Six Lessons to Facilitate Deep Ownership of Ambitious Instructional Reforms

Six Lessons to Facilitate Deep Ownership of Ambitious Instructional Reforms

For several years, Research for Action and the Consortium for Policy Research in Education have been studying Philadelphia schools’ take-up of an instructional reform that has demonstrated positive impacts on teacher knowledge and student learning in math. The Ongoing Assessment Project (OGAP) is designed to deepen teachers’ understanding of foundational concepts in math and engage them in regular formative assessment of their students’ problem-solving strategies. Implementing an ambitious educational reform such as this one is notoriously challenging, as project staff, district personnel, and school leaders struggle to move from initial professional development—where so much money is invested—to deep, routine engagement in schools and classrooms. Teachers’ instructional practices are difficult to change, and it is particularly hard to engender reform ownership in contexts full of competing demands.

Our brief, Six Lessons to Facilitate Deep Ownership of Ambitious Instructional Reforms, shares six lessons we gathered from the experiences of one school that engaged deeply with OGAP.


While analyzing data from a larger study of OGAP implementation in Philadelphia, we realized that one school had a unique story to tell. Cedar Elementary’s* faculty appeared to really own the instructional reform, and we heard about supports for OGAP that were enacted in conjunction with one another. It wasn’t the story of one lone wolf championing a project, but of a system of mutually-reinforcing supports that engendered deep engagement.

So, we dove deep into our data from the school, re-analyzing it and triangulating our impressions from interviews with data from other sources. We don’t really discuss our methods in the brief—in the interest of keeping it brief! But it was a joy to marinate in transcripts describing one school; think about how best to tell its story; and rework the approach in response to invaluable feedback from team members and colleagues. We decided to emphasize implications for reform developers, district leaders, and school leaders. We wanted to underscore lessons that people in these roles could transfer to other reforms and other school contexts.

The Cedar faculty gave so generously of their time to provide the details—and the promising story of reform ownership—that we share in this brief. I want to thank the hard-working educators at that school, and the OGAP partners who helped to support them!

*The school name is a pseudonym.


Jill Pierce, Research Associate

Research for Action

Dear Pittsburgh-Area Education Stakeholders!

If you don’t already know us, I’d like to introduce you to Research for Action (RFA) and tell you about an exciting new project we’ve launched called “ACER”: the Allegheny County Education Research project.

RFA is a Pennsylvania-based research organization that uses research to drive improvements in educational opportunities for historically underserved children. For 25 years we have conducted research and evaluations of educational initiatives all around the country.

For several years, with the generous support of The Heinz Endowments, we have operated PACER (Pennsylvania Clearinghouse for Education Research), a project to inform state education policy discussions through rigorous, objective research; regular policy briefs; and research-based commentaries statewide. Check out of our recent PACER work, including a new Equity-Focused Charter School Authorizing Toolkit, a brief on Trauma-Informed Education, or two briefs on teacher diversity: one to highlight strategies for Patching the Leaky Pipeline to expand the benefits of more teachers of color and a second to analyze New Data on Teacher Diversity in Pennsylvania. These and other PACER projects have effectively informed policy and practice all across the state.

This year, to better understand promising educational practices and challenges faced by students and schools in the Pittsburgh-area, RFA launched the ACER project, again with Heinz support. Allegheny County is ripe for such a project! Home to the second largest school system in the state where RFA recently researched the innovative mixed-delivery system for early childhood education, the county also boasts a robust cross-sector collaboration between public schools and its Department of Human Services. The Allegheny County DHS has a strong reputation for data sharing and its Data Warehouse is a national model of an integrated data system. Among other topics, we hope ACER can contribute research around the intersection of public education and child welfare in the county.

The goal of ACER is to help local education policymakers, practitioners, families and the community at large better understand what is and isn’t working for youth and inform system-wide improvements.

In the coming year, ACER will release analyses of new data on students experiencing homelessness and students living in foster care in Allegheny County. The Pennsylvania Department of Education recently made this data available for every public school in the state. There’s a lot to unpack, including the fact that the county has among the highest rates in the state of identifying and serving these needy student populations. And unlike in most other communities, Pittsburgh’s charter school sector appears to more equitably serves students experiencing homelessness and students in foster care compared to the local school districts. We hope to explore some reasons why Pittsburgh is leading the state in identification and how schools can further improve services to this needy population.

A PLEA FOR HELP: What can you do to support Allegheny County Education Research? Much of the success of this work will depend on whether ACER is asking the right questions and searching the right places for answers.

SEND US YOUR IDEAS: We would love to hear from local education stakeholders on what research could be most helpful to strengthen public schools in Allegheny County. If you have suggestions or just want to learn more about the project, please reach out to me directly by email at or by phone at 267-295-7761.

SEND US YOUR RESUME: One last thing, we are seeking talent to help on the ACER project. We hope to hire a local researcher who can contribute to projects and serve as an on-the-ground resource to local policymakers and practitioners. Please encourage qualified candidates to apply to join the ACER team as our Policy Research Fellow by forwarding this job posting, which can also be found on our website at We highly value diversity at RFA!

With your help, the ACER project can use “research for action” to improve public schools.

David Lapp, Director of Policy Research

Research for Action