States, districts, and technical assistance providers should consider whether they need to provide further assistance in assessing the alignment between school reform models/ programs and state and district school improvement plans, standards, and assessments.
The issue of "matching" in CSRD is not only about the relationship between schools and their chosen reform models; as important is the fit between the school's plan for reform and district and state priorities. Some models come with their own "standards" and attention may need to be given to how those standards fit with state content and student performance standards, particularly as schools are likely to be held accountable for performance based on state assessments. Other models have curriculum components that ought to be considered in the context of district or state expectations for student learning.
The alignment between a reform model and state standards should be considered as early as possible in order to avoid confusion and frustration later. One school visited discovered after implementation had begun that the instructional materials provided by the model were not aligned with state standards. The school, with assistance from the model, is taking steps to resolve this discrepancy. While this school is taking positive steps to correct this issue, it is preferable for issues of alignment to be examined and considered prior to model adoption and implementation.
Two of the districts visited as part of "CSRD in the Field" provide school reform facilitators for CSRD schools who help address such issues. These educators act as liaisons between the school and the district and are seen as a valuable resource in making sure that school and district efforts are aligned.
In one school, the external partner--a local university--assists all teachers in developing weekly instructional plans that address state and local standards. A portion of the professional development for implementing their chosen model includes expert staff from the university working with teachers in the classroom on successful teaching strategies designed to teach according to standards.
Resources on the State and District Role in Reform
Consortium for Policy Research on Education (CPRE)
States and Districts and Comprehensive School Reform
North Central Regional Education Laboratory
Making Good Choices: Focus on the District
New American Schools
How to Create and Manage a Decentralized Education System
States, districts, and technical assistance providers should support schools in integrating models into more fully comprehensive school reform plans that address all the key aspects of how schools function.
The CSRD legislation sets out nine components of comprehensive reform. But few models, if any, fully address all nine of these aspects of school operations. In some of the schools we visited, it was clear that staff saw their selected model as part of an overall effort - a piece of a larger reform vision. Some of the schools we visited are using CSRD as an opportunity to organize their reform efforts into a comprehensive, coherent effort.
An elementary school visited has worked with its facilitator, a local university, to specifically ensure that all nine components of the CSRD legislation are addressed in the school's reform effort. The university assisted with some of the more difficult elements by training new teachers, providing professional development and other technical assistance, and assisting with data collection and analysis. Additionally, the university draws upon its ties with business and state institutions to enhance the service provided to the school.
Changes in some other schools are primarily confined to implementing the models rather than addressing the entire operation of the schools. While this may be due, in part, to the early timing of our site visits, it is important for schools to understand the implementation of models as just a part of a coherent and broader reform plan.
Part of the issue requires schools to be attentive to including all students as part of reform efforts. In one high school implementing career academies, only about a quarter of students participate in the academies. For others, the curriculum and instruction remain very much the same as before the reform effort. Although the school plans to expand the career academies, it does not seem likely that the effort will expand to include all students and teachers.
Resources on the Components of a Comprehensive Reform Effort
U.S. Department of Education
CSRD program legislation and guidance
Hope for Urban Education: A Study of Nine High-performing, High-poverty Urban Elementary Schools
National Clearinghouse on Comprehensive School Reform
Northwest Regional Education Laboratory
Comprehensive School Reform Self-Assessment Tool for Schools
Although it may be necessary and desirable to combine two or more models in a school to achieve comprehensive reform, extra care must be taken to ensure that multiple models are really part of a coherent whole.
Some schools are implementing more than one model as part of their comprehensive reform efforts. As part of CSRD, some schools are implementing more than one new model from the start of their comprehensive reform efforts; in other cases schools are significantly expanding their reform efforts by implementing a new model in addition to existing models or programs in use. For example, one school we visited is using a process-oriented model in conjunction with a literacy program. While implementing multiple models may be an acceptable approach for some schools, a great deal of attention must be paid to the coherence and coordination among the models within the schools. Schools must be certain that the models complement their overall vision for reform. The point of CSRD is to help schools move away from piecemeal approaches to school reform that mix and match different programs and models together without an overarching vision and purpose.
One school we visited, just beginning to implement a model with its CSRD grant, is also implementing a reform model sponsored by a local university. While the two models do not necessarily conflict with one another, the model developers seem to know little of each other and there seem to be few efforts to coordinate implementation across the models.
Another school we visited is implementing a new reading program and a new computer-based program designed to improve literacy. Unfortunately, prior to adopting the computer-based program, neither the alignment between the computer program and state standards or coordination between the two literacy programs was considered. The facilitator of the reading program has only a basic awareness of the computer-based program and has not worked with teachers on the complementary nature of the two programs. Better communication between the parties responsible for each program could have strengthened implementation of the school's literacy program as a whole.
During this past year we have found a number of schools struggling with the integration of various programs and initiatives within their schools. In one school that created teams to deal with various aspects of reform, it is not clear if the faculty sees the teams as part of one larger effort or as separate efforts. However, we visited another school where faculty and administrators are attentive to the integration of multiple models. This school has two external assistance providers-one from a model developer and one from a local university. Both provide on-site facilitators to assist with professional development. In this case, the facilitators work together to further reform and their efforts are complementary.
A common thread among schools successfully integrating different models is the involvement of the school principal and awareness of program facilitator(s) of the strengths of each model component. Without this, it is unlikely that the different models will form a coherent, comprehensive program. The team visited a school well into the implementation stage of reform that was integrating several parts of different reform models to create a unified reform effort. The facilitator was aware of each of the different improvements underway and was able to maintain a focus on the vision and mission of the school as developed by the faculty and staff. The facilitator encouraged collaboration as well as provided feedback based on observations. A coherent set of reforms appears to have been implemented; it is difficult to tell where one model starts and another leaves off.
States and districts should support schools in planning the implementation of proposed reform efforts, particularly in terms of staffing, and arranging time and other support for professional development.
Time was a major challenge for virtually all the schools we visited and changes in uses of time are a major feature of reform in a number of CSRD schools. A key issue is how to find time for quality professional development without reducing instructional time or overly relying on substitute teachers.
The schools we visited this year are taking some unique approaches to making time for professional development. One district used Empowerment Zone and school improvement partnership funds from the state to provide extended time -- one hour each day -- for teacher planning and professional development activities. Another school has redesigned its faculty meetings into professional development study groups. One school has regular professional development dinners so that teachers can get together on a regular basis outside their classrooms. In order to encourage staff participation in summer professional development, another school arranged the model training with a local university so that participating teachers could get college credit for the activity.
In one school, grade clusters of children attend classes such as art, music, computer literacy, and library all on one day each week. This innovative scheduling allows grade level teams to spend a full day coordinating classroom instruction and sharing timely, practical information and teaching strategies. The full day is also used to observe teachers in other schools, attend district meetings, and participate in professional development sponsored by their external partner for CSRD. The effort to reorganize time in the school seems to be benefiting teachers, not only by creating time but also by fostering collaboration and a collegial atmosphere.
Many districts and schools use substitute teachers to make time for teachers to participate in professional development. The concern with this approach is that days with substitute teachers can be lost days for students - especially where the model being implemented requires specific skills and instructional techniques. One district we visited is addressing this concern by assigning three specific substitute teachers for a CSRD school. These substitute teachers are participating with regular staff in professional development activities on the reform model so that they are better able to step into classrooms at the school when they are needed without disrupting student learning.
States and districts may wish to consider helping schools sort through as many of these issues related to time and professional development as possible on the front end, before schools are in the middle of trying to implement reforms. States may also want to focus on these issues in the ongoing technical assistance they provide to districts and schools.
Resources on Allocating Time and Resources
Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE)
Karen Hawley-Miles and Linda Darling-Hammond, Rethinking the Allocation of Teaching Resources: Some Lessons from High-Performing Schools
North Central Regional Education Lab
Professional Development: Staff Learning for Student Results
New American Schools
Allan Odden How to Rethink School Budgets to Support School Transformation
U.S. Department of Education
Prisoners of Time