School districts across the country are tackling the toughest challenges in education, including kindergarten readiness, family engagement, and 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.
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. After transcribing and coding those interviews, we synthesized what we learned into shared education challenges.
We interviewed 40 additional school and district leaders, coaches, counselors, and teachers to ensure that that challenges were representative of their perspectives.
The resulting Challenge Map contains 38 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.
In spring 2019 we conducted a large survey, collecting data from a variety of school and district stakeholders to learn more about their priority challenges. These results, presented as an interactive data visualization, allow us to identify the central challenges that have great potential for impact if addressed in particular contexts.
Ideas and Resources Curation
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 Challenge Stats section highlights specific survey data about how urgent and widespread the challenge is, as well as how much progress has already been made towards addressing the challenge.
The Ideas from the Field section shares some emerging trends and interesting practices League districts are implementing. Specific district innovations are featured in the Innovation Portfolios section.
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
We’ll continue to refine and strengthen the Challenge Map. We are currently collecting data, via a priority challenges survey to learn about the most urgent challenges facing public education in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.
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.