How We Know It Works


We have testimonials from educators all over the country who tell us that the IFL's work has been instrumental in their professional growth and to the growth of the students and educators they work with. They consistently say that when they work with IFL Fellows around IFL resources they are challenged, engaged, and enriched by those experiences.


Over the past twenty years, we have collected thousands of artifacts from the students and educators we have had the pleasure to work with. These artifacts tell us several things.

  • The IFL's work makes a difference in daily practice. We see teachers asking students to work on complex texts, tasks, and projects. We see educators using Accountable Talk practices in classrooms and in professional settings. We see evidence of leaders' unrelenting focus on the instructional core. In other words, we have evidence of educators using what they've learned from their work with us to ensure that all students have access to quality instruction.
  • The IFL's work results in growth over time. We see this growth in the contributions and responses students make in writing and discussions. We see it in the texts, tasks, and projects teachers assign to students. We see it in the improvements district leaders make in organizing for learning. And we see it students' achievement on standardized tests.


Numerous external evaluators have studied and continue to study the IFL's work. These studies show that our tools, programs, and services make a difference in the work of students and educators. Download a summary of the research on the impact of our work.

Adaptive Assistance for Learning Improvement Efforts: The Case of the Institute for Learning

Conducted over a five-year period, this largely qualitative study investigation of how the IFL collaborated with multiple urban districts to help build district capacity for district-wide learning improvements. Findings elaborate specific features of the IFL’s adaptive assistance-based relationships and conclude with implications of the practice of district-wide learning improvement efforts and the role of intermediary organizations in the process.
Honig, M.I. & Ikemoto, G.S. (2008). Adaptive assistance for learning improvement efforts: The case of the Institute for Learning. Peabody Journal of Education, 83: 328–363.

Evaluation of IFL Disciplinary Literacy Program

This study-evaluated Austin Independent School District's efforts to institute professional learning communities related to IFL's Disciplinary Literacy initiative.
Talbert, J.E., David, J.L. & Lin, W. (2007, September). Evaluation of the disciplinary literacy-professional learning community (DL-PLC) initiative in Austin Independent School District: Interim report. Palo Alto, CA: Center for Research on the Context of Teaching, Stanford University.

Evaluation of the Grand Rapids Public Schools Partnership with the Institute for Learning

This study evaluated Grand Rapid's work with the Institute for Learning.
The Role of Districts in Fostering Instructional Improvement Lessons from Three Urban Districts Partnered with the Institute for Learning This study analyzed three urban districts' efforts to improve instructional quality and school performance and assess the contribution to those efforts made by an intermediary organization, the IFL. Data collected through extensive field interviews and focus groups conducted over a two-year period: RAND-developed surveys of elementary, middle, and high school principals and teachers; district and IFL documents; and demographic and student achievement databases.
Marsh, J.A., Kerr, K.A., Ikemoto, G., Darilek, H., Suttrop, M. Zimmer, R., et al. (2005). The role of districts in fostering instructional improvement lessons from three urban districts partnered with the Institute for Learning. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from

Designing Learning Organizations for Instructional Improvement in Mathematics

This study investigated, tested, and refined a set of conjectures about support structures in schools and districts that enhance the impact of professional development on mathematics teachers' practices and student achievement. The overall product of the research is a content-specific framework for guiding, monitoring, and assessing school and district-wide improvement in mathematics.
Cobb, P., & Smith, T. (2008). The challenge of scale: Designing schools and districts as learning organizations for instructional improvement in mathematics. In B. J. T. Wood, K. Krainer, P. Sullivan, & D. Tirosh (Eds.), International handbook of mathematics teacher education. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.

Instructional Leadership, Teaching Quality, and Student Achievement: Suggestive Evidence From Three Urban School Districts

This study gathered evidence of the efficacy and usefulness of an intervention centered on leadership and aimed at improving teaching and learning among low-income underachieving students.
Quint, J.C., Akey, T.M., Rappaport, S., & Wilner, C.J. (2007, August). Instructional leadership, teaching quality, and student achievement: Suggestive evidence from three urban school districts. Oakland, CA: MDRC.

Developing and Implementing Core Secondary Instructional Program in English Language Arts

This study evaluated the IFL's efforts to help Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) build and implement its core secondary school instructional program and professional development system focusing on 9th and 10th grade English.
David, J.L., & Green, D. (2007, August). Improving English language arts instruction in Los Angeles high schools: An evaluation of the Institute for Learning-LAUSD ELA pilot program. Palo Alto, CA: Bay Area Research Group.

Developing and Implementing Core Secondary Instructional Program in Mathematics

This study evaluated the IFL’s efforts to help LAUSD build and implement its core secondary school instructional program and professional development system focusing on algebra and geometry.
David, J.L., & Green, D. (2007, August). Improving mathematics instruction in Los Angeles high schools: An evaluation of the PRISMA pilot program. Palo Alto, CA: Bay Area Research Group.

Content-Focused Coaching® for High-Quality Reading Instruction

In a longitudinal group-randomized trial, we explore the key role of the quality of classroom text discussions in mediating the effects of Content-Focused Coaching (CFC) on student reading achievement (2983 students, 167 teachers). Schools in the United States serving large numbers of minority and English language learning (ELL) students from low-income families were randomly assigned to participate in the CFC literacy-coaching program or to continue with the literacy coaching that was standard practice for the district. The findings identified a positive effect of the CFC program on observed classroom text discussion quality. Supporting the theory underlying CFC, the positive effect of the program on student reading achievement was mediated through the quality of classroom text discussions. Students' language status moderated the direct effect of the program, with stronger effects for ELL students compared to their English-proficient peers.
Matsumura, L.C., Garnier, H.E., Spybrook, J.K. (2013). Literacy coaching to improve student reading achievement: A multi-level mediation model. Learning and Instruction. 25 , 35-48.

Content-Focused Coaching® and Principal Leadership

This study investigated the relationship between principal leadership and variation in teachers' participation in a new literacy coaching program: Content-Focused Coaching® (CFC). Research design: Twenty-nine schools were randomly assigned to participate in the CFC program or to serve as a comparison. Interviews were conducted with elementary school principals and coaches, and teachers completed surveys describing their experiences with their new coach. Correlation analyses investigated the relationship between the categories of principal support and the frequency of teachers’ participation in individual coaching activities. Principals' actions and beliefs were also compared across schools, with teachers' relatively high and low participation in coaching, to identify patterns in principal leadership. Findings: Principal leadership was significantly associated with the frequency with which teachers conferred with their new CFC coach and were observed by their new coach as teaching reading comprehension lessons. Principal behaviors associated with teachers’ increased engagement with coaches included actively participating in the CFC program and publicly endorsing the coach as a source of literacy expertise to teachers. Principal beliefs regarding a literacy coach's role and responsibilities were associated with the frequency with which teachers opened their classrooms to the new coaches. Implications: This study provides insight into the features of principal leadership that may support coaches in engaging with teachers and gaining access to their classrooms. Observing teachers' lessons is a critical dimension of effective coaching and a difficult task for coaches to accomplish. Learning how principals can positively contribute to this process could help schools and districts make more effective use of their literacy coaching resources.
Matsumura, L.C., Sartoris, M., Bickel, D.B., & Garnier, H.E. (2009). Leadership for literacy coaching: The principal's role in launching a new coaching program. Educational Administration Quarterly, 45(5), 665-693.

The Role of Language in the Teaching and Understanding of History

The study examined the role of language in the teaching and understanding of history and designed effective ways to teach history literacy to English learners (ELs). The study documented the creation and implementation of a new approach to teaching history literacy to ELs in the urban high school setting based on current research in history literacy and English learners' education.
From Schleppegrell, M., Achugar, M. & Oteiza, T. (2004). The grammar of history: Enhancing content-based instruction through a functional focus on language. Tesol Quarterly 38(1), p. 87.

Learning Leadership: Kernel Routines for Instructional Improvement

This randomized intervention study tested the efficacy of a new strategy for developing school leaders that centered on developing leadership practice through the structured and scaffolded implementation of a kernel organizational routine: The Learning Walk® Routine. The Learning Walk® Routine is an organizational routine for building a shared instructional vision, developing staff capability, and developing the school organization to support improvement in classroom teaching and student learning.
Spillane, J.P. & Resnick, L.B. (2008). Learning leadership: Kernel routines for instructional improvement. Unpublished manuscript. Northwestern University and University of Pittsburgh.