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Students read to each other at Centennial Elementary School in Mt. Vernon, Washington.

A Comprehensive School Reform program focuses on improving the whole school top to bottom – addressing all the subjects taught, all the teachers in the school, the management of the school, and engaging the community and the parents. These are different from models that target a specific subject such as reading or math, or a population like bilingual students.

Generally, comprehensive school reform programs have similar components that include: a commitment and/or buy-in from the school, specific programmatic elements and structure, professional development/training, community/parental outreach, and evaluation/follow-up. Each of these components, however, can vary dramatically between programs. Some models are prescriptive while others are more collaborative and process-oriented. Some provide specific curriculum developed by their organization. Others require extensive and on-going training; and some include frequent – even daily – support from trained staff. They all charge a fee.

Since there are a lot of models available with widely divergent approaches, evaluators suggest considering the following things when selecting a whole school reform program:

Sound Design

The basic design of the model should be based on research, tested, and proven to be effective. Be aware of who has tested the model. Studies of the model that have been done by an unbiased third party can be more reliable than evaluations done by the model developers or their staff who naturally have something to gain by publishing positive outcomes. Also look for studies that compare results with control groups (schools or students that did not participate in the model) in order to see the impact the model had on achievement.

Solid Design Team Or Implementing Organization

This refers to the staff that assist schools and districts with implementing the model. Models that have solid, well-trained staff are more capable of providing reliable and continuing support to schools and districts. Be cautious of models that have frequent staff turnover. Request references of other schools in your area that are using the model and contact them to find out their experience with the design or implementation team.

Good Fit Between School And Design Model

Reform programs are either highly structured, with a prescribed strategy and pre-determined curriculum, or relatively flexible, with general guidelines that allow for school choice and decision-making around specific goals and strategies. The design of the model must fit the needs of the school and the personality of the staff. For example, the most structured and scripted models, like Success for All, work best in inner city schools where teachers have minimal or modest training and the students tend to have greater obstacles to learning. A school with low reading achievement might do better with a model that has a strong reading component. The educational philosophy of the design must also suit the school's approach. A more prescriptive model, for instance, may not work as well in a school that makes decisions by consensus. Finally, the personnel fit must be compatible between the school staff and the design/implementation team.

Supportive District And State Policies

The policies at the state and district level need to support and not hinder the school reform strategy. Money may need to be reallocated in order for schools to implement reform models, and schools may require more on-site control over their resources. District staff should be reoriented toward support and accountability, rather than a top-down emphasis on school compliance with central regulations and requirements. District level professional development should also be geared to support specific models being used in the schools.


Information on School-by-School Reform

The Catalog of School Reform Models

Designed to help educators find a reform model, the catalog provides descriptions of whole school models that includes an analysis of the model's general approach, results with students, implementation assistance, and costs. It is updated regularly as models are added or removed. Produced jointly by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL) and The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement.

An Educators' Guide to Schoolwide Reform

This 1999 publication examines the claims of 24 schoolwide approaches to reform. Drawing on the expertise of the American Institutes for Research (AIR), each reform model is described and evaluated along a number of dimensions, and rated by their effectiveness in raising student achievement.

Comprehensive School Reform Quality (CSRQ) Center

Operated by the American Institutes for Research and funded by the U.S. Department of Education in 2003, this organization provides tools and resources to help educators determine which comprehensive school reform model will meet their specific needs.

The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement

Their mission is to help schools and districts engaged in comprehensive school reform and improvement by providing reliable information about research-based strategies and assistance. The center also provides support for the Department of Education's Comprehensive School Reform Program.

CSR Awards Database

This is a nationwide database of schools that have been awarded Comprehensive School Reform funds from the U.S. Department of Education to implement whole school reform programs. Searches can be done by school name, location, or reform model. The database is managed by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

Federal Funding Opportunities

Revenue for public schools come from federal, state and local sources as well as contributions from foundations, corporations and individuals. While federal funding provides a small percentage of the overall revenue, it generally targets low-income populations and also provides incentives for reforms and special projects.

Title I (Part A)

This program provides financial assistance through State educational agencies to local educational agencies and public schools with high numbers or percentages of poor children to help insure that all children meet challenging academic achievement standards. Funding is allocated based on a formula. Title I funds typically pay for additional teachers, materials and other resources that are mostly used by disadvantaged students.

Comprehensive School Reform Program (Title I, Part F)

Created in 1998 by the U.S. Department of Education, the Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) program is designed to increase student achievement by assisting public schools across the country with implementing comprehensive reforms that are grounded in scientifically based research and effective practices. The program targets high-poverty and low-achieving schools, especially those receiving Title I funds, by helping them to increase the quality and accelerate the pace of their reform efforts. Eligible schools can each receive at least $50,000 of CSR funds a year, renewable for up to three years through a competitive grant process.

School Funding Services

This online grants research tool developed by New American Schools is designed specifically for the K-12 public school market. The core service is an interactive on-line database with comprehensive information on federal education dollars. While there is an annual subscription fee, they do offer a free trial to explore the database and other services.

Articles and Reports

“Comprehensive School Reform and Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis,” (2002), by Geoffrey D. Borman, Gina M. Hewes, Laura T. Overman, Shelly Brown, Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk (report #59)

This report evaluates the validity of the studies that have been done on the achievement effects of 29 comprehensive school reform programs. The analysis examines how various components of comprehensive school reform, contextual factors, and methodology of the studies can impact results. The appendix lists each model along with a description of the main features, the cost, and a narrative of the research base on the model. (PDF - Adobe Reader Required)

“Making Good Choices: A Guide for School and Districts,” (2002), by Bryan Hassel, Ph.D, revised edition updated by Maria Ferguson, North Central Regional Education Laboratory

This guide is intended to help schools make good decisions about comprehensive school reform. It is about how to choose a research-based model and how to develop a common vision of change with the power to sustain the school community through the hard work of school reform. This is one of several booklets in the Making Good Choices series.

“Comprehensive School Reform: Five Lessons From The Field,” (1999), Education Commission of the States

This booklet presents relevant information on the role of legislators, state departments, and teachers in comprehensive school reform. It also addresses the importance of evaluation of reform models as well as a model's effectiveness in an individual school. (PDF - Adobe Reader Required)

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