School districts across the country are tackling the toughest challenges in education, from kindergarten readiness, to family engagement, to school redesign. To address these challenges, we need to understand how they are experienced in different settings — from small, rural districts to large, urban districts — and we need to learn from educators and researchers who are working to solve these challenges.
The Challenge Map was created to communicate shared challenges that League of Innovative Schools (League) districts are addressing in order to surface promising approaches and bring educators and researchers together around high priority issues. We will continue to update the Challenge Map by refining the challenges and continuing to share research-based resources and ideas from League districts.
Challenge Surfacing Process
To discover shared challenges faced by League districts, the Digital Promise Research team undertook a rigorous process of data collection and analysis. First, we facilitated interactive sessions with more than 100 League leaders to identify root-causes of several of their top-of-mind problems of practice. Using what we learned in these sessions, we identified broad challenge areas — including academic achievement, technology, and equity — and reviewed artifacts such as district strategic plans to deepen our understanding of each broad area. We then selected a sample of 20 districts representative of the League in terms of district size, type of community, and proportion of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch and conducted in-depth interviews with leaders regarding district goals, initiatives, and challenges related to the broad themes. Finally, we transcribed and coded those interviews and synthesized what we learned into shared education challenges.
The resulting Challenge Map contains 35 specific challenges that are broadly relevant (i.e. not just faced by a one or two districts), well-defined, and distinct from the others. The challenges are organized within 9 themes, starting with student- and classroom-focused challenges on the left and moving towards systems- and community-focused challenges on the right. Within each theme, challenges are organized by frequency, with the most common challenges reported within each theme at the top of the column.
Ideas and Resources Curation Process
The Challenge Map is designed for education leaders who are looking for resources, from innovative approaches to research syntheses, to help address common education challenges.
For each challenge, the Ideas from the Field section shares some emerging trends and interesting practices League districts are implementing.
The Resources section includes links to summaries and tools which were identified based on the extent to which they are research-based and aligned with the specific challenge. This section is not a comprehensive review of research and initiatives related to each challenge, but rather a starting place to explore approaches for addressing these shared challenges.
Project Next Steps
Over the next two years we’ll be working to refine and strengthen the Challenge Map.
In early 2019 we facilitated additional interviews with 40 individuals tackling challenges at every level within League school districts – including principals, teachers, instructional coaches, and counselors – to ensure we’re getting the full perspective, and a more nuanced understanding, of the challenges. Analyzing data from these interviews will also help us to surface any missed challenges.
This spring we conducted a large survey, collecting data from a variety of school and district stakeholders to learn more about their priority challenges. These results will allow us to systematically identify catalysts – the central challenges that have great potential for impact if addressed.
We know that many educators and researchers are already tackling some of these challenges, so we’ll continue to gather and share existing research and evidence-based resources and approaches aligned with the challenges. We’ll create a sortable database so that stakeholders can visit one central site to learn about shared education challenges, access existing research related to these challenges, see what solutions innovative districts are implementing, and get connected to practitioners already engaged in this work.
In addition to identifying shared challenges in innovative school districts, Digital Promise is committed to tackling a subset of these challenges through League Challenge Collaboratives. Challenge Collaboratives bring multiple districts together with researchers around an identified need in order to develop shared solutions – products, programs, tools, and practices. With more resources to expend than a single school district or organization, and the ability to scale up what works, collaboratives leverage the potential of networks to make a greater progress towards solving big challenges. Learn more about Digital Promise’s Challenge Collaboratives here.
If you have any questions about the Challenge Map project, or want to suggest a challenge-related resource to add to the site, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.