We ask schools to improve as organizations,

but do we help schools function as organizations?

Traditionally, school improvement strategy focuses on providing underperforming schools with instructional interventions designed to increase student learning. What we fail to acknowledge with this approach is that struggling schools often lack the ability to summon the organizational response necessary for an intervention to affect student learning in all classrooms, over time. Without this organizational capacity, not even the most powerful intervention will result in improved outcomes at the school level. External pressure to improve or the threat of sanctions will similarly fail to drive improvements in schools unable to harness the collective resources of the organization in the service of achieving collective goals.

We define Internal Coherence as a school’s capacity to engage in deliberate improvements in instructional practice and student learning across classrooms, over time. The work focuses on three common patterns of organizational features the school improvement literature associates with schools’ capacity to improve: leadership focused on the support for instructional improvement, individual and collective efficacy beliefs of faculty related to instructional practice and student learning, and the whole school and team-level organizational structures and processes that support improved instruction and student achievement over time.

Each of these factors has a rich research base, and each bears a strong relationship to school performance. Taken together, they enable us to construct a developmental theory that places schools on a continuum on each dimension. Further, we suggest that these factors embody a general theory of how schools improve; a provisional causal order that can help practitioners carve out a sensible path to building this capacity in their organizations.

This project is designed to focus attention on the critical juncture between the system, the school, and the classroom around the organizational conditions that support instructional improvement. By building schools’ level of Internal Coherence, we seek to build their capacity to continuously grow, adapt, and increase their knowledge, skill, and integrative functions over time.


Can we offer schools a pathway to improvement?

SERP works to integrate the current research.

View video of Dr. Elmore introducing the diagram above at a meeting of Boston School leaders:


The Internal Coherence project is anchored in an assessment process which generates a profile of a given school’s existing capacity to engage in deliberate improvements in instructional practice and student learning across classrooms. The ICAP is designed to provide school leadership, and potentially system-level supervisors, with a structured body of information about a school’s capacity on each of the three dimensions of Internal Coherence: leadership focused on the support for instructional practice, individual and collective efficacy beliefs, and whole school and team-level organizational structures and processes. ICAP data profiles are designed to drive professional development supports tailored to the particular needs of an individual school, and guided by the provisional causal order which underlies the work.

The ICAP consists of a teachers’ survey, a series of protocols for interviews and focus groups with teachers and principals, and a brief protocol for classroom observations.

Michelle Forman describes the launch and the evolution of SERP's Internal Coherence Project with the Boston Public Schools:

Because the Internal Coherence project espouses the belief that school improvement is an ongoing developmental process rather than a “turnaround” or event, ICAP data profiles locate schools on a developmental spectrum for each factor. IC facilitators also present practitioners with data from specific survey items which point to broad disagreement across the faculty.

Principal Andrew Bott at Boston's Orchard Gardens Pilot School comments on how participating in the Internal Coherence shed light in a number of helpful areas:

The Internal Coherence Assessment and Protocol was developed by a team consisting of Richard Elmore, Michelle Forman, Elizabeth Leisy Stosich, and Candice Bocala.


Strategic Education Research Partnership
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