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Tom Wilson

All About Practice-Based Inquiry® 

Where did it come from?


The peer visit is more than a century-old tradition for assessing professional performance.

Practice-Based Inquiry is based on five years of focused field research and study about how the visit actually works as a methodology of inquiry.

Practice-Based Inquirywas tested and shaped by seven-years of ongoing work in implementing the SALT school visit as part of Rhode Island's state-wide strategy for school accountability and support. The SALT visit is based on Practice-Based Inquiry and has resulted in 290 reports prepared for Rhode Island public schools.


American school accreditation and British school inspection made essential contributions to the development of Practice-Based Inquiry.

American School Accreditation. In 1871, the University of Michigan wanted to determine the quality of the high schools attended by students, who sought admission to the university. That was the beginning of a movement to accredit public schools. Almost all American schools and universities are now accredited. The professional peer visit is the signature method of accreditation not only for education institutions but also for medical and law enforcement institutions.

British School Inspection. In 1839, when it provided the first public money for education, the British Parliament decreed that schools should be inspected. The English still use inspection as a national, systemic way to know about what it is happening in its schools.

From 1992 to 1997, Thomas A. Wilson, founder of Catalpa Ltd, conducted careful field studies on how the school visit is conducted within these two traditions.

Based on this research, Practice-Based Inquiry transforms the school visit into a modern, rigorous method for knowing and judging schools that maintains many of the benefits of the old traditions. It is formulated so that it can be applied in arenas other than schools.

From 1997 to 2006, as part of its comprehensive accountability plan, the Rhode Island Department of Education has supported 290 teacher dominated teams in carrying out SALT School Visits to Rhode Island public schools. These SALT visits contributed a great deal to the development of the procedures and theory of Practice-Based Inquiry. Click here for more information on SALT.

Practice-Based Inquiry is now constructed to provide the conceptual framework for legitimate visit applications beyond the school visit.

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