Usable Innovations – “WHAT” are we trying to do?

To provide education and leadership effectively, we have to know WHAT we are doing to be effective.  Then we can do that on purpose in each classroom and school to reach all students.

WHAT is it?

  • Education of students occurs in classrooms and schools.  Given the increasing numbers of students and the shortage of funds, there is a premium on effective instruction.  WHAT is effective instruction?
  • Multi-tiered systems of supports and multi-component innovation packages call for individualizing instruction based on data.  WHAT is data-based decision making?
  • Leadership is an essential part of effective education for students.  WHAT is engaged and effective leadership in support of instruction?

WHAT we are trying to do for instruction, school and district supports for instruction, and leadership are important.  When it works, we want to be able to do it again and again.  To improve student outcomes on a useful scale, WHAT we are trying to do needs to be teachable, learnable, doable, and assessable in typical education settings.  Usable Innovation criteria define WHAT we are trying to do.  Usable Innovations provide the content that is the focus of selection, training, coaching, and fidelity assessments.  Usable innovations provide the reasons for changing roles, functions, and structures in schools and districts to more efficiently, effectively, and persistently produce intended outcomes.

Research and Rationales: Usable Innovations

In education there are standard practices and there are innovations.  Standard practices are what teachers, staff, administrators, and leaders do every day in education settings.  Innovations are, by definition, practices that are new to teachers, staff, and others (Carrizales-Engelmann et al., 2011).  Some standard practices are effective and others are not.  The same is true for innovations.  New does not necessarily equal better.

Standard practices and innovations have two things in common:

1. Typically they are poorly defined and, therefore, difficult to repeat from one educator to the next and from one cohort of students to the next.

Lack of consistency is a major problem in education and a major impediment to producing progress on purpose.

2. Without evidence to support their effectiveness, using resources (intelligence, time, money) to continue standard practices or encourage the use of an innovation may or may not produce good outcomes.

Lack of evidence wastes resources that are invested in practices and innovations that add little value to education and reinforce the notion that nothing works, so why try.


The lack of definition of practices and innovations occurs in human services generally, not just in education.  Dane & Schneider (1998) and Durlak & DuPre (2008) summarized reviews of over 1,200 outcome studies.  They found that investigators assessed the presence or strength (fidelity) of the independent variable (the innovation) in about 20% of the studies.  In addition, only about 5% of the studies used those assessments in analyses of the outcome data.  Without information about the presence and strength of the practices being studied, it is difficult to know what the innovation is and it is difficult to know what produced the outcomes in a study (Dobson & Cook, 1980).  For outcome studies showing positive results, the lack of definition of WHAT was done means success is not repeatable.

Crosse and colleagues (2011) surveyed a national representative sample of 2,500 public school districts and 5,847 public schools.  In response to the survey, principals reported using an average of 9 innovations per school.  Crosse and colleagues investigated the innovations attempted in the sample of schools and found that fewer than 8% of the innovations had evidence to support their effectiveness.  They further found that only 3.5% of those innovations met minimum standards for fidelity (adult use of innovations as intended) in schools.  To improve student outcomes, educators need to know WHAT to do and know that it is worth doing, so that they can use it as intended in interactions with all students.