Improvement Science as a Frame for the Dissertation in Practice: The Johns Hopkins Experience




Applied Dissertation, Dissertation in Practice, Improvement Science, Scholar Practitioner


The Johns Hopkins University Doctor of Education program was developed with the expressed program outcome of developing leaders who possess the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to rigorously examine educational problems of practice with stakeholders within their context of professional practice using a social justice lens. The purpose of this article is to describe how improvement science principles depicted by Bryk et al. (2015) served as a frame for our Applied Dissertation to support scholar-practitioners to partner with their colleagues in educational institutions and to independently take on the challenges and opportunities they will encounter in their future work. We outline the dissertation through a discussion of these principles and provide four examples of the resulting dissertations and their impact on the scholar-practitioner’s context of professional practice and on them as educational leaders.

Author Biography

Stephen J. Pape, Johns Hopkins University

Dr. Stephen Pape is Professor of Education and Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Doctor of Education program. Dr. Pape previously held Associate Professor positions at the University of Florida (2006-2012) where he served as Mathematics Education Coordinator and The Ohio State University (1998-2006). He received his doctorate with a focus in Educational Psychology from the City University of New York following serving as a middle school mathematics and science teacher in New York City. His research focuses on technology-enhanced classroom contexts that foster mathematical understanding and the development of strategic behaviors.


Bronfenbrenner, U. (1994). Ecology models of human development. In T. N. Postlewaite & T. Husen (Eds.), International encyclopedia of education (2nd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 1643-1647). Elsevier.

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (2006). The biological model of human development. In W. Damon & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Theoretical models of human development (6th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 793-828). John Wiley & Sons.

Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L. M., Grunow, A., & LaMahieu, P. G. (2015). Learning to improve: How America's schools can get better at getting better. Harvard Education Press.

Cabrera, D., & Cabrera, L. (2015). Systems thinking made simple: New hope for solving wicked problems. (2nd ed.). Plectica Publishing.

Cabrera, D., Cabrera, L., & Powers, E. (2015). A unifying theory of systems thinking with psychosocial applications. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 32(5), 534-545.

Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (n. d.). The CPED Framework.

Danielson, C. (2013). The 2013 Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument. Charlotte Danielson.

Desimone, L. M. (2009). Improving impact studies of teachers’ professional development: Toward better conceptualizations and measures. Educational Researcher, 38(3), 181-199.

Farrell, T. S. C., & Ives, J. (2015). Exploring teacher beliefs and classroom practices through reflective practice: A case study. Language Teaching Research, 19(5), 594-610.

Guskey, T. R. (2002). Professional development and teacher change. Teachers and Teaching, 8(3), 381-391.

Miles, M.B., Huberman, A. M., and Saldaña, J. (2020). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook. Sage Publications, Inc.

Neal, J. W., & Neal, Z. P. (2013). Nested or networked? Future directions for ecological systems theory. Social Development, 22(4), 722-737.

Ng, P. T., & Tan, C. (2009). Community of practice for teachers: Sensemaking or critical reflective learning?. Reflective Practice, 10(1), 37-44.

Perry, J. A., Zambo, D., & Crow, R. (2020). The improvement science dissertation in practice: A guide for committee members, and their students. Myers Education Press.

Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner-how professionals think in action. The Basic Books, Inc.


Additional Files


2022-01-14 — Updated on 2022-11-17

How to Cite

Pape, S. J., Bryant, C. L., JohnBull, R. M., & Karp, K. S. (2022). Improvement Science as a Frame for the Dissertation in Practice: The Johns Hopkins Experience. Impacting Education: Journal on Transforming Professional Practice, 7(1), 59–66.