Star Schools Program

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Program Evaluation

The following represents the highlights of the first formal evaluation of the Star Schools Program:

  • More than 30 full courses were offered through the program that otherwise would not have been available to participating students across the country. Foreign language courses comprise the largest number of full-course offerings including Spanish, Russian, Japanese, and Latin, followed by mathematics, science, and advanced placement English.

  • Full courses and instructional modules delivered through the program support and extend state and local educational reform efforts. The full courses enable students to meet high school graduation and college entrance requirements; the instructional modules, electronic field trips, and special targeted programming are aligned with current standards-based systemic reform efforts.

  • Teachers reported changes in their behavior as a result of participating in the program which ranged from using different and varied curriculum materials, increased use of cooperative learning, and an increase in the use of multiple technologies.

  • Curriculum experts rated Star Schools mathematics and science curricula highly with regard to their content and the instructional processes used. Teachers were provided with models of exemplary instructional practices.

  • Staff development - Despite providing teachers with models of exemplary instructional practices, staff development efforts tended to be single teleconference presentations. Greater attention needs to be paid to developing more effective and long-standing models of staff development for teachers, administrators, and others including parents.

  • Equity and longevity of services - One of the critical needs remains to provide more students with continuous and equitable access to engaging and challenging learning models which distance learning technologies can offer.

  • Increased interaction among students - In spite of increased interest in the use of telecommunications, interaction among distance education students is minimal, particularly as class sizes across schools increase.

An evaluation of the Star Schools Program was conducted from October 1992 through December 1994 under a two-year contract with the Southwest Regional Educational Laboratory (SWRL). Below is the Executive Summary.

Executive Summary

Congress enacted the Star Schools Program Assistance Act in FY 1988. When Congress reauthorized the program in 1991, it also required that the program be evaluated. This report is responsive to that mandate.

The intent of the legislation was to capitalize on new interactive communication technologies. By so doing, educators would be able to improve instruction in mathematics, science, foreign languages, adult literacy, and other subjects, especially to traditionally underserved students.

The Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) of the U.S. Department of Education administers the program. At the time of data collection for this report, three successive cycles of two-year Star Schools projects had been funded from annual appropriations that have ranged from $13 million to $22 million. During the first three cycles of funding, 10 Star Schools projects were funded.

This report describes the activities of the Star Schools projects funded between 1990 and 1994, with particular emphasis on the projects funded in the third cycle. Information was obtained through project records and interviews with project staff, as well as by site visits to the funded projects and 34 schools that participated in Star Schools activities. In addition, a group of curriculum experts reviewed curricula offered through the Star Schools Program.

Pluses and Minuses of the Star Schools Program


  1. Over 30 separate full courses are offered that otherwise would be unavailable to participating students. These courses include Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Latin, mathematics, science, and advanced placement English. Foreign languages comprise the largest number of full-course offerings.

  2. Students in 10 major urban areas, as well as in other communities, have access to curriculum and instruction that supplement their classroom experiences. These supplemental courses, mainly in mathematics and science, involve students in hands-on activities and provide models of best practice to their teachers.

  3. Both supplemental and full courses offered through the Star Schools Program support and extend state and local educational reform efforts. The full courses enable students to meet higher high school graduation and college entrance requirements; the supplemental courses and modules are aligned with current standards-based systemic reform efforts.

  4. Star Schools activities were generally more successful in schools and districts that were committed to the success of distance learning. Even full courses that do not require a certified teacher benefited from a facilitator who invested in the distance learning program. The statewide program, although in the early stages of implementation when the evaluation took place, focused primarily on building local capacity for distance learning.

  5. In schools in which they received support for involvement in Star Schools, teachers reported changes in their behavior ranging from the use of different curriculum materials, increased use of cooperative learning, and an increase in the use of multiple technologies.

  6. Curriculum experts rated Star Schools mathematics and science curricula highly with regard to their content and the instructional processes used.

  7. Participating teachers and facilitators cite exposure to students in diverse communities as a value of the distance learning program.


  1. The two-year funding limitation continued to present a severe limitation on project activities. Particularly for new projects, the first year was spent building the necessary support for the technological infrastructure, including providing equipment, training teachers, and gathering materials. The time constraint was particularly problematic for complex projects using multiple technologies, those developing new applications of existing technologies, and those seeking to reach new audiences.

  2. Aside from the staff development benefits accrued from providing teachers with models of exemplary instructional practices, staff development remains a problem for Star Schools projects. Most staff development consists of "one- shot" teleconference workshops, which appear underused. Projects have little information about who participated and benefited. Alternative, more focused, and more effective models of staff development are seldom used in the Star Schools Program.

  3. Successful implementation and positive impact of Star Schools activities are largely influenced by conditions at the district and school levels. Star Schools projects do not attend sufficiently to school-site concerns and, therefore, are not as successful as possible.

  4. Curriculum experts in mathematics, and science rated Star Schools curricula as low in the attention to students' learning how to learn and communication. There was great variability in the extent to which curricula could be used with diverse learners.

  5. Although Star Schools distance learning providers have developed approaches to increasing interactivity using satellite-based distance learning, other technologies are less widely used. Such technologies, although expensive, show great promise for fostering meaningful interaction across sites without simultaneous participation.

  6. Star Schools activities seldom involve interactions among students across sites. Despite this, participating teachers and facilitators cite exposure to other students as a value of the distance learning program.

  7. Projects provided little data on program effectiveness, particularly regarding student outcomes. Limited evidence indicates that Star Schools distance learning in full courses is as effective as other means of instruction. Efforts to evaluate programs in terms of their effects on teaching practice exist and show positive outcomes, albeit with low response rates.

  8. Star Schools activities tend to replicate existing classroom structures and processes rather than explore uses of distance learning to create classrooms that enhance students' opportunities to construct knowledge.


The following recommendations are offered:

  1. OERI should continue support for full-course distance learning activities, supplemental courses and modules, and building local capacity for distance education. The evaluation indicates that the impact of involvement in distance learning takes time, and federal support is required for continuous activity.

  2. Simultaneously OERI should examine incentives or requirements for Star Schools grant recipients to offer both full and supplemental experiences equitably. Students in schools serving largely minority, economically disadvantaged populations should have access to advanced courses, particularly if they have received strong preparation through earlier participation in Star Schools supplemental courses. Similarly, students in isolated rural areas should have the opportunity to experience the enriched curriculum offered through the supplemental courses.

  3. OERI should encourage - through funding decisions, regulations, and incentives - grantees to collaborate closely with others involved in standards-based systemic reform. As Star Schools has increased attention to reform, projects have taken on a greater role as curriculum developers. As such, grantees should work closely with other individuals and organizations concerned with curricular and instructional implications of standards-based systemic reform. Star Schools projects, state education agency personnel, recipients of related grants, regional educational laboratories, and national professional organizations could all benefit from such collaboration.

  4. Either through the Star Schools Program or other technology- oriented programs, OERI should encourage increased adoption of multiple technologies. Technologies that lend themselves to interaction more easily than satellite-based systems are more likely to fit with current reform efforts.

  5. Greater attention should be paid to the context in which Star Schools programs are received. For projects, this may mean focusing on fewer sites and providing support for stronger implementations than at present and reallocating money to support local sites more fully. Projects can encourage district and school administrators to select teachers and facilitators who are likely to be successful. For OERI, this may mean equal attention in making grants to proposed recipients as to proposed activities.

  6. In line with the previous recommendation, at least one Star Schools research study should focus on describing the local conditions that enhance successful implementation and impact. Further, Star Schools dissemination grants should include disseminating information to projects and potential sites about the support required for success in distance learning.

  7. Star Schools Program grant recipients and their evaluators should attend more carefully to developing an information base. The information should include data concerning the characteristics of participating students and teachers as well as information about impact. OERI should provide leadership to ensure that the same types of data are collected across projects.

Project Evaluation Highlights
  • Teachers reported that undeserved and disadvantaged students, including minority and learning-disabled students, were better served by the distance learning curriculum/programs than by the regular or traditional curriculum/programs.

  • Many teachers reported changing their approach to teaching as a result of the Program, including using and valuing more open-ended, collaborative teaching; interdisciplinary team- teaching; and new evaluation methods.

  • Ninety-six percent (96%) of the science teachers in one project indicated that they had little competence in science prior to their participating in the program, and therefore, relied almost exclusively on the classroom textbook when teaching a science lesson. Because of the support received during the telecast staff development classes and the science classes for students, teachers indicated that they became more confident in presenting their own lessons and less dependent on the textbook.

  • Students often take advanced placement classes for college practice rather than for college credit. Having an opportunity to take difficult and challenging courses in a familiar environment gave students in small, rural schools additional confidence in their own academic abilities and reassurance that they could survive in more competitive post-secondary educational environments.

  • Several students at a Louisiana high school received college credit based on their scores on an AP economics exam. The facilitator at the school stated that the satellite course prepared their students for the entrance exam.

The following are examples at the local level which demonstrate the impact that the Star Schools program has made:

  • Leckie Elementary School in Washington, DC, has integrated technology into its total academic program. The school receives cable, fiber optics and closed circuit transmissions as well as an ethernet system. Through the coordination of the TEAMS Washington Star Schools Office, Leckie receives instructional programming and staff development activities from four Star Schools grantees. One of the special programs which was produced by the School District of Philadelphia was used to teach elementary school students about the brain, its physiology, mental operations and other complex aspects. By employing the aid of several medical science experts, a classroom teacher, and modern technology, the project staff was able to present this subject in an interactive Teaming mode that was not only understandable to the students but appreciated by the teachers who participated the presentation. Students and teachers in major urban schools across the country were able to pose questions during the presentation. Following the on-air presentation, students at Leckie and other schools across the nation continued to talk about what they had learned through computerbased networks.

  • Teachers at schools like Steele Elementary School in Harrisburg, PA, and Meadowvale Elementary School in Sunbury, PA, are using an exciting multi-media telecommunications technology and easy navigational software to connect to other teachers around the country and to resource databases around the world via the Internet. Using the Explorer software, created under a Star Schools grant, teachers point and click on curriculum content, classroom objectives, and grade level to local multi-media materials and lesson plans that match specific topic areas and learning outcomes. Materials on the Explorer resource database have been matched to the national math and science curricula standards. Teachers can add material to the database on a continuing basis and develop original curriculum to be included in the database.

  • Prior to 1990, the local junior high school in a small working class town in Massachusetts had a departmentalized, homogeneously grouped program. Through participation in and with support from the Star Schools program, students at the junior high school became involved in a major change effort that ultimately transformed teaching and learning for the entire community. Following intensive preparation by the teachers, students became actively involved in various telecommunications activities. During the Christmas break, students came into school nine out of twelve days to work on their science projects, videotaping their reports for later class presentation. One parent told his child's teacher, "I never before heard what the kids did at school, but now my daughter's talking about science on the phone." Teachers across the curriculum are working together -- for example, English teachers now work with science students to help them with their research reports. In 1993, team teaching and "hands-on" strategies were introduced throughout the junior high school program. The school intends to move block scheduling. Students will spend half the school year in intensive science/math programs and half the year focusing on English/social studies. Now, all of the town's schools have access to the satellite downlink and the programs are hooked into the local cable channel so that the entire community has access as well.

  • In March 1994, Col. Fred Gregory, a veteran of three space shuttle missions, fielded calls as about 3,500 fourth, fifth, and sixth-graders in schools across the Northwest participated in the Education Service District 101's Young Astronaut program, a partnership effort with the Young Astronauts Council. In November 1994, NASA Astronaut Dick Richards also participated in a live broadcast with students as part of the course which provides an overview of science topics framed by the experiences of people who travel in space.

  • Students in Georgia who participated in a Star Schools-funded Japanese class taught by a native speaker in Nebraska, won a statewide language competition and then went on to win first, second, and third place in a national foreign language competition.

  • Through the Great Lakes Collaborative, one teacher was able to bring his students into the exciting world of telecommunications by accessing the Ask A Scientist project, sponsored by the Argonne National Laboratory. The class was able to pose questions to a host of scientists electronically and then to receive the responses directly from the scientists. In an effort to involve the community in this project, the teacher made the communications network available to parents and other community members as they attended the local Science Fair.

  • In February 1994, 25 schools in three States participated in an effort which linked math, science, social studies and language arts for grades K-9. Participating classrooms were provided with a weather kit, activity master worksheets, and extension ideas prior to the exercise. During two of the hardest, coldest winter weeks this century, students reported the temperatures at their sites several times daily and sent their results electronically to an online server. Information from all the sites was then collated and sent back to them electronically as raw data for charts, weather mapping, essays, penpal exchanges and special reports by the students.

  • Workplace Basics, a class offered via satellite, is designed to help participants develop and assess their abilities to deliver the skills employers seek. When a student in north central Washington was hired into a position over several adults with previous experience, he attributed his success to interviewing, resume writing, and communication skills sharpened during Workplace Basics activities which bring the global economy to a local level, and in most instances, offer options never imagined by students in rural and remote locations.

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Last Modified: 06/19/2012