Instructional Improvement Study

Principal Investigators

David Cohen, University of Michigan
Deborah Loewenberg Ball, University of Michigan


This study focuses on instruction and its improvement. Funded by OERI (through CTP and CPRE), foundations, and private sources, it builds on a study of whole-school interventions, which is designed to build capacity for instruction in high-poverty elementary schools. Here, in particular, we focus on instruction, teachers' practices in reading and mathematics, and students' opportunities to learn, and we probe relations among teachers' learning, their teaching, and student performance. Our premise is that in order to understand efforts to change instruction we must focus on teachers' opportunities to learn, how they use those opportunities, what they actually learn, and how that learning affects their practice. We seek to understand ways in which the environments in which schools and intervenors operate shape instruction and efforts to improve it. The research involves longitudinal case studies in 12 schools associated with four different reform approaches in several different environments. Using several rounds of surveys, interviews, and teacher logs in a broader range of environments, we also study about 125 schools involved in the same interventions. We plan to collect student achievement data for three cohorts of students in those schools over six years.

Main Research Questions

  • What elements in the design of school improvement interventions are most likely to contribute to improved instruction and student performance?
  • What features of state and local policy environments are most likely to support or impede effective intervention?
  • What features of intervention implementation—including community involvement, instructional coordination, new instructional roles, leadership, or teachers' opportunities to learn—bear most directly on instruction and student learning?
  • What are the costs—in human and social resources, political commitment, organization, and money—of effective intervention implementation and improved student performance?


Longitudinal case study, survey research, teacher logs


Ongoing (anticipated completion, 2006)


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  1. New Tools for Research on Instruction and Instructional Policy: A Web-based Teacher Log
    A Working Paper by Deborah Loewenberg Ball, Eric Camburn, Richard Correnti, Geoffrey Phelps, and Raven Wallace, December 1999.

    This Working Paper reports on the initial development and pilot-testing of a web-based instrument designed to collect daily data on instruction, which then could be aggregated to create portraits of content emphasis and pedagogy. The instrument was developed for use in the Study of Instructional Improvement and although it is not currently being used, the authors think there are elements of its design that may be of use to those interested in instructional tracking tools.

    PDFAbstractOriginal Study
  2. Resources, Instruction, and Research
    A Working Paper by David K. Cohen, Stephen W. Raudenbush, and Deborah Loewenberg Ball, December 2000.

    This Working Paper looks at resource use in schools and discusses research designs that would be appropriate to identify resource effects. Whereas education policymakers have long believed that conventional resoures, i.e. books, bricks, class size, and teacher qualifications directly affect student learning and achievement, the authors here argue it's all about how those resources get used in instruction. How resource use is influenced by the management of certain key problems of instruction, including coordination, incentives to use the resources, and management of instructional environments, is also discussed.

    PDFAbstractOriginal Study