The American Educational Research Association recently launched a new program of support for education research conferences intended to break new ground in substantive areas of inquiry, stimulate new lines of study on issues that have been largely unexplored, or develop innovative research methods or techniques that can contribute more generally to education research. The purpose of this program is to foster the accumulation of knowledge, to enhance dissemination, to encourage innovation, and to advance studies of the highest quality in education research.

The “Thinking Systemically: Improving Districts Under Pressure” AERA Research Conference was an intensive workshop held in Rochester, NY and facilitated by Alan Daly and Kara Finnigan.  The meeting involved approximately 20 scholars focusing on district improvement under high-stakes accountability policies, with a particular emphasis on the linkages between organizational learning, districtwide learning communities, and underlying social networks as districts try to bring about improvement under these policies. The main goal of this two-day workshop was to mobilize scholars from across the country and internationally to develop conceptual frameworks, methodological approaches, and innovative research strategies that are most likely to yield useful findings.  In addition, the workshop highlighted practices that research suggests are most effective for districts and identified the most pressing measurement issues relating to studies of district improvement.

The meeting’s primary outcomes were:
1)   to bridge groups of scholars and perspectives
2)   to engage what we know and how we know it related to district improvement under sanction
3)   to explore what we need to know and how we might find it out related to district improvement under sanction
4)   to disseminate our work