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Tom Wilson

All About Practice-Based Inquiry® 

What are the uses for Practice-Based Inquiry?

Because it focuses on how well practice is actually going, Practice-Based Inquiry provides new and exciting possibilities for increasing the effectiveness of accountability and support systems.

There are a number of actual examples of these possibilities in public education:

Individual school visits. A school visit team constructs conclusions about how well an individual school is performing. The team seeks to identify the particular dynamic of the school under study so that its recommendations for how that school can improve its learning and teaching have a high potential for being effective and useful for the school.

School self-study and planning. The components of Practice-Based Inquiry provide the basis for a new approach to the way the faculty and staff in a school can work together to improve their daily practice. This transforms conventional school self-study paradigms from a "planning motif" to "an inquiry and improving action" motif. This change in approach and in the nature of the information generated greatly decreases the gap from self-study to action that matters—to what practitioners do in their daily practice.

Accountability systems. The rigor of a Practice-Based Inquiry visit makes it a new tool for public accountability of schools to augment conventional test based measuring systems.

School Accountability for Learning and Teaching (SALT), an initiative of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), shows that a Practice-Based Inquiry based visit does provide important new possibilities for effective support and accountability.

Click here for more on Catalpa's work with SALT.

Institution accreditation. Accreditation plays a major role in the accountability of a number of American professional practice organizations including education, medical and law enforcement institutions. The peer visit is the signature event of most of the processes that Americans use to accredit institutions of professional practice.

The technology of Practice-Based Inquiry provides an answer for accrediting agencies to use to respond effectively to the growing challenge that accreditation procedures are no longer adequate or sufficiently rigorous to ensure public accountability.

The story of the relationship between Practice-Based Inquiry and the
Commission on Public Secondary Schools of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) is an example of one accrediting association rising to this challenge.

Click here for more on PBI and American school accreditation.

Program evaluation. Conventional approaches to measurement usually leave program evaluators without a good way to assess the quality of actual practice. Foundations and other funders often face this inadequacy when trying to determine the value of their grant making policies.

In 2005, Catalpa worked with the Chicago Public Education Fund and the
Spencer Foundation to assess the program impact of a major teacher training program on the quality of learning and teaching in Chicago public schools serving poor neighborhoods.

Click here for more on Program and Policy evaluation.

Other examples of endeavors that would benefit from using Practice-Based Inquiry include:

  • Providing the skeleton of a process to test the accuracy of evidence in government regulation hearings in place of relying on inaccurate proxies, such as the word of certified experts (e.g. zoning boards)
  • Strengthening how accreditation visits are carried out in medicine or law enforcement
  • Providing new tools to ascertain public opinion on issues that effect election outcomes
  • Informing how to build better policy and organizational structures to support tricky areas of public and private professional practice such as journalists reporting and editors editing the news
  • Providing a new basis for teaching students how to use their judgment to build viable conclusions from the plethora of evidence and information that characterizes the 21 st Century.

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