The American Student Achievement Institute (ASAI) is a non-profit organization that establishes local school-community leadership teams and enables them to implement sustainable systemic change for the purpose of helping all students become career and postsecondary ready in a global economy.
Career and Postsecondary Ready: ASAI believes that education begins with each student having a personal vision for his or her future that includes a desired standard of living and a possible career that will support the desired standard. As students progress through school, this vision becomes more and more clear. With their vision in place, each student then identifies the level of postsecondary education that will move the student toward his or her personal vision. The appropriate postsecondary option may be a four-year college, two-year college, career college, apprenticeship program, occupational skill development in the military, or on-the-job training. Each students then engages in a rigorous K-12 curriculum (academic and technical) designed to prepare the student for career and postsecondary success.
Local Organizational Structure: The local improvement initiative is facilitated by a local Steering Team. Members of this team include representatives of key stakeholder groups and are the “worker bees” of the initiative. Their first task is to delegate responsibilities among themselves so each team member has a reasonable work load. Their second task is to convene a broadly based Improvement Council who serve as the “decision-makers” at various points in the improvement process. The Council usually includes all teachers, all students, economic development and business representatives, local government, community foundation, next educational level, youth-service organizations, faith-based organizations, the public library and service clubs.
The Improvement Process (Vision-to-Action): Once the organizational structure is in place, the local Steering Team begins to guide the Council through a series of data-driven discussions and helps them reach decisions about the school-community’s vision, achievement goals, root causes, and strategies.
In some initiatives, the goal is set. For example, in the Indiana College Success Coalition, all teams work to increase the percentage of local students who earn a postsecondary credential within four years of their high school graduation. In other initiatives, like the School Improvement Institute, teams work on achievement goals of interest to their Improvement Council.
After each discussion, the Steering Team creates a consensus document for consideration by the Council with edits made until the group reaches consensus. This process results for broad “buy-in” with regard to the vision, achievement goals, root causes and strategies. It also results in community-based as well as school-based strategies and a strong commitment to strategy implementation and accountability.
Steering Team Support: ASAI’s role is to provide Steering Teams with whatever they need to convene, organize and implement the Vision-to-Action process. ASAI uses a teach-try-feedback approach to its support for Steering Teams. ASAI meets with cohorts of Steering Teams in small learning communities each month for a minimum of two years where steering team members learn the Vision-to-Action process. Each month, team members learn what needs to happen during the next four weeks. This may be a task like collecting data or facilitating a local Council discussion. Following teach meeting, the teams do the assigned tasks. When the tasks are complete, the team submits their work to ASAI for review against ASAI’s Standards for School Improvement Planning. Schools receive written feedback within 48 hours. The support is provided by an online Improvement System which includes the initiative’s Steering Team Manual, Step-by-Step Improvement Process, and the Improvement Plan Template. Finally, ASAI provides on-call support and is known for being immediately available when Steering Team members need support.
ASAI’s Statewide Capacity: ASAI designs and manages change initiatives in single schools and districts as well as statewide and nationally. However, ASAI prefers to create statewide, grassroots movements where schools and communities have common goals and learn together and support one another on a voluntary basis. This approach produces a no-excuses, whatever-it-takes culture among participants and leads to strong implementation, accountability and sustainability.
All ASAI initiatives are initially designed for implementation on a statewide or national scale. ASAI’s largest initiative supports over 2,000 steering teams in 39 states. Another initiative provides a password protected online system for 75 county-based steering teams, 2,100+ community organizations, and one state agency. One unique aspect of this online system is that the improvement plans at all three levels are linked making it possible for each level to view, coordinate and communicate with the other levels. As part of these two initiatives alone, over 72,000 individuals took part in online surveys in 2015. Survey data were disaggregated by student group and aggregated at the county and state levels. These systems are also coordinated with related state and national policies.