Diane Massell

Document Type

Policy Brief

Date of this Version



Over the past decade or more, state policymakers have concentrated on putting the architecture of standards-based reform in place: setting challenging academic content standards and performance standards for all students; and instituting compatible tests, incentives, and accountability systems to reinforce these ambitious outcomes. Many states and districts have also restructured their governance systems to delegate more authority to local decision-makers.

But clearly defined learning goals and accountability systems do not by themselves yield continued improvement in student learning. Some states with high standards and related assessment and accountability programs in place are finding that their early gains in student achievement have plateaued in certain academic areas. Furthermore, achievement gaps between students from majority groups and those from minority groups continue to exist, and students with disabilities still have poorer educational outcomes than other students.

Acknowledging that clear standards and strong incentives alone are not sufficient to dramatically change teaching and learning, policymakers and policy analysts have started to talk about and implement “capacity-building” strategies. “Capacity” in this policy context refers to the wherewithal needed to translate high standards and incentives into effective inby Diane Massell struction and strong student performance. This issue of CPRE Policy Briefs examines capacity-building strategies used in eight states, and analyzes their promise and continuing challenges.

One way of defining capacity is to ask what elements are needed to support effective instruction. People often think of capacity in terms of teachers’ knowledge and skills. But effective classrooms also require quality instructional materials and students motivated and ready to learn. And, classrooms exist within larger contexts—the school, the school district, and the state education system—that provide educational direction and leadership, and influence social norms as well as access to resources and knowledge.

The capacity of classrooms and of organizations that support classrooms fall into seven areas we think are essential to generating improvement in teaching and learning.



Date Posted: 29 June 2015