Louis Gomez: New Book Examines Educational Improvement

Professor and Chair of UCLA Ed co-authors book on disciplined inquiry that can lead to effective interventions in education.

Throughout his career in educational research, Louis Gomez has sought to improve the life chances of students with a focus on improving educational innovations. In his latest book, “Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better” (With A. S. Bryk, A. Grunow, and P. G. LeMahieu. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press, 2015), the UCLA Chair and Professor of Education and Information Studies and his co-authors examine how the process of disciplined inquiry – borrowed from the field of Improvement Science – can help educators create, identify, adapt, and reliably use promising educational innovations.

“In other sectors like manufacturing and health care, people have understood that improvement can be the focus of organizational work,” says Gomez. “What inspired ‘Learning to Improve’ is a desire to bring an improvement focus to education.”

Gomez, Louis
UCLA Ed Professor Louis Gomez is the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning.

Organized around six core principles, “Learning to Improve” shows how educational improvement communities can bring together researchers and practitioners to accelerate learning. Examples include efforts to address the high rate of failure among students in community college remedial math courses, and strategies for improving feedback to beginning teachers. Gomez says that while educational research has for decades zeroed in on academic theory and accountability, there is still more work to be done at the level of improving actual practice.

“Because you build better academic theories or hold teachers accountable, doesn’t mean you improve practice,” he says. “The historical and current aim of educational reform is improvement. However, just because you create a reform or institute a change doesn’t necessarily mean the reform or the change will lead to improved practice. For example, No Child Left Behind was well intentioned but underperformed when it came to improved practice that changed lives on the ground. What is needed are disciplined techniques to help you know if the change you have instituted is really an improvement.

Gomez also points out that reform and disciplined techniques associated with reform, must be specific and targeted.

“In education today we say, ‘I’m engaged in reform to improve policy and practice,’ as though improving policy is the same as improving practice,” he says. “It is not. Working on practice improvement is a thing unto itself. Reformers might correctly say, ‘We’d like to see the world be different in these ways,’ but their reform goals are often silent on the details of the actual practices to make the change happen reliably.”

Professor Gomez holds the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning as well as a joint appointment as a professor of information studies at UCLA Ed & IS. He says that UCLA’s unique combination of education and information studies in the same graduate school “is a really marvelous opportunity. The intersection is really important. There are so few examples in the country where you have these two disciplines together. At UCLA we have the opportunity to create new pedagogies and social practices and join them to new information technologies. There very few other organizations on the landscape of academic institutions in the United States that have such a rich opportunity.”

Professor Gomez is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in Palo Alto. He also serves on several boards and has held committee appointments in government service and private philanthropy. In 2009, he held the Helen S. Faison Chair in Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was also director of the Center for Urban Education and a senior scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center. From 2001 to 2008, he held a number of faculty appointments at Northwestern University, including the Aon Chair in the Learning Sciences at the School of Education and Social Policy.


Photo by Jennifer Young