A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

 Studies of Education Reform
In 1991, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement funded 12 studies to examine various aspects of reform, from assessment of student performance to the uses of technology. Each study has produced cumulative findings that provide a basis for forming broad and generalizable perspectives on reform. A thirteenth study called Fitting the Pieces looks across the 12 major studies to identify the essential elements of planning, implementing, and sustaining reform. Taken together, these lessons emphasize a comprehensive, strategic, and common-sense approach to school reform - one too often overlooked as reforms are rushed from design to implementation.

Fitting the Pieces
Assessment of Student Performance Student Diversity
Curriculum Reform Students-at-Risk
Early Childhood Education Systemic Reform
Parent and Community Involvement Professionalism of Educators
School-Based Management Technology
School-to-Work Transition Uses of Time
Availability of Products

FITTING THE PIECES

Successful education reformers develop practical strategies to manage change in a systematic way. School reform can be a complex undertaking that requires careful thought and administration, and nearly all reforms, regardless of their scope or intended target, share a number of characteristics. Drawing from the 12 major studies of education reform funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), the Fitting the Pieces study has produced a report which presents eight key lessons to guide prospective reformers. This study, conducted by MPR Associates, reviews the essential elements of planning, implementing, and sustaining school reform. It was designed to assist Policy makers and practitioners at the district, school, and community levels in creating strategies that will enable them to increase student learning.

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ASSESSMENT OF STUDENT PERFORMANCE

Assessment can produce and support a number of education reforms, particularly curriculum and instruction. It can benefit education reform most, if all involved thoroughly understand new approaches to student assessment. Performance assessments -- also known as "alternative" or "authentic" assessments -- are either augmenting or replacing norm-referenced multiple-choice tests on all educational levels, from the classroom to the state. They are also being proposed for possible national examinations. Conducted by Pelavin Research, this study combines the insights of organizational change theory with current information about the implementation of new performance assessments. The study evaluates the effects of new performance assessments and provides guidelines for those wishing to implement such changes.

After documenting performance assessments according to type, level, academic discipline, and purpose, the study identified the reasons for moving to performance assessments, including an analysis of the political, social, and economic forces driving the change. Both practitioners and researchers were commissioned to write papers on political and practical issues. A national invitational conference was held to consider the issues raised in the papers and listen to concerns from the field about performance assessments and their implementation. In addition, case studies were conducted at selected sites.

Findings from the study can be found in the report, Assessment of Student Performance, which will be available in the Department’s online library. Additional products and publications from the study are available through ERIC.

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CURRICULUM REFORM

The study on curriculum reform, conducted by the University of Colorado, Boulder, aimed to learn from pioneering curricular reform efforts in science, mathematics, and higher order thinking skills across the disciplines. Specifically the study focused on which reforms worked; which incentives for change were effective; and, which means of overcoming barriers to change were successful.

The backbone of the curriculum reform study is nine case studies of sites where reform was underway. The case studies were preceded by extensive preparatory work, including: literature reviews on curricular reform; commissioned papers on critical issues in the field, and a national conference to disseminate current understandings and gain the perspective of policy makers and practitioners on conducting the case studies. The case studies pertaining to science included sites similar in character to those initiating the reforms of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Project 2061 and the National Science Teachers Association's Scope, Sequence and Coordination Project. The mathematics sites were ones that have accomplished curricular reform or have implemented the Standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Curricular reform emphasizing higher order thinking skills across the disciplines may be found in a variety of programs, including some sites within the Coalition of Essential Schools. The case studies use a number of data sources, including student impact data, cost data, and the results of previous research conducted at the sites.

Findings from the study can be found in the report, Study of Curriculum Reform, which is available in the Department’s online library. Additional products and publications from the study are available through ERIC.

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EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

During the past decade, the federal government has expanded funding for child care, Head Start, family support efforts, and programs for young children with special needs. Many states and communities have developed new early childhood and family support initiatives. This early childhood study, conducted by National Association of State Boards of Education, focused on three types of innovative programs: (1) Parent education programs which provide information and support to parents on how to help their children's learning and development; (2) Child care programs which provide educational and social experiences to young children whose parents work; (3) Community-based partnerships which bring together health, human service, and early childhood agencies to provide more convenient, comprehensive and sustained services to young children and families.

The study looked at the factors that influenced how policy makers design innovative early childhood programs. For example, what strategies lead to the development of more comprehensive and family-responsive programs at the community level? The study also focused on implementation issues for early childhood programs in communities. For instance, what approaches support high quality services, and well-trained, effective staff members? Finally, an evaluation of the outcomes of the different types of early childhood programs for children, parents, and communities was conducted. In particular, how do specific early childhood programs contribute to achieving our first national education goal - to assure that all children start school ready to learn?

Findings from the study can be found in the report, Early Childhood Reform in Seven Communities, which is available in the Department’s online library. Additional products and publications from the study are available through ERIC.

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STUDENT DIVERSITY

Nearly one-third of U.S. school children now come from ethnic or racial minority groups (6.3 million come from homes where English is not the primary language). Schools need effective programs to meet this growing challenge. The Student Diversity study, conducted by National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning, evaluated exemplary programs for teaching language arts, science, and math in grades 4-7 to children from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. The study has also assessed reform efforts directed at the educational needs of America's increasingly diverse student population.

This study identified, analyzed, and encouraged the adoption of model programs for teaching language arts at the upper elementary level, and science and math at the middle school level. At these crucial stages, students must begin a transition from basic skills to mature literacy and scientific competence. The academic progress of language minority students often falters at this point, and they risk falling further behind each year.

The project team conducted intensive case studies of eight successful programs, selected from an initial pool of 200. They examined not only what teaching strategies are used in the classroom, but also how these programs were initiated and sustained by teachers, administrators, and parents.

Findings from the study can be found in the report, School Reform and Student Diversity, which will be available in the Department’s online library. Additional products and publications from the study are available through ERIC.

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PARENT AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT IN EDUCATION

The educational partnerships described in the national education goals, plus the growing number of state and local initiatives and mandates related to parent and community involvement, provide a climate of increased attention to the meaningful involvement of parents and the community in education at the state and local levels. In order to document and analyze useful practices for educational reform, this study, under the guidance of the RMC Research Corporation, looked at more than 25 years of research in this area and nine specific local initiatives.

To be helpful to policy makers, practitioners, and planners, including school staff, parents and community members, the study addressed research aspects of three cross-cutting reform themes in the area of parent and community involvement:

• What are the barriers to, and incentives for, reforming parent and community involvement? How may the barriers be overcome or avoided? How may the incentives be effectively used?

• How is the reform of parent and community involvement supported and effectively implemented, both at the level of implementation and in a larger policy environment?

• What is the source, nature, and content of information that plays a major role in the reform of parent and community involvement, particularly the role of research-based information?

The studied examined the quality parent and community involvement programs particularly those that focus on: helping parents strengthen home learning; restructuring schools to facilitate more parental involvement in the education of their children; or, comprehensive district wide parent and community involvement. A major emphasis of the study is to extend the research from early childhood and elementary level parent involvement to the middle grades. The research literature on the potential effects of parent involvement in early childhood education and at the lower elementary grades presents a favorable picture. Strong parent involvement programs are associated with increased levels of achievement and self-esteem for both the parent and child. Less is known, however, about these same effects on parents and students in the middle grades.

Researchers conducted a total of 18 visits to nine sites to gather data on context; program planning, design, and implementation; challenges faced by each site; supports necessary to undertake the reforms; outcomes; and within-site analyses, presented as "lessons" learned from each site.

Findings from the study can be found in the report, Parent and Community Involvement in Education, which is available in the Department’s online library. Additional products and publications from the study are available through ERIC.

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SCHOOL-BASED MANAGEMENT

Researchers with the Consortium for Policy Research in Education studied decentralized school districts and schools in the United States to find out what makes school-based management (SBM) work. The purpose of the research was to identify conditions in schools that promote high performance through SBM. For the purpose of the study, high performance SBM was defined as occurring in schools that were actively restructuring in the areas of curriculum and instruction. This group of successful schools were compared to schools that were struggling; that is, schools that were active with SBM but less successful in making changes that affected curriculum and instruction. This U.S. Department of Education funded research is part of a larger study of SBM that also included Canada and Australia.

The major research questions guiding the work were: (1) What factors are important to the successful implementation of SBM? (2) How do SBM reforms combine with reforms in the areas of curriculum and instruction to improve student learning and school performance in general? (3) What changes result from SBM and how is school performance affected?

Researchers addressed these questions in a sample of ten U.S. school districts and thirty schools known for their strong school-based management reforms. All the sites selected for the study had school-based management underway for three or four years; schools had significant budgetary and personnel authority; and there had been a push for curricular and instructional reform.

Findings from the study can be found in the report, Assessment of School-Based Management, which is available in the Department’s online library. Additional products and publications from the study are available through ERIC.

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SCHOOL-TO-WORK TRANSITION

The focus of this comprehensive assessment is on the planning and design, implementation, and impact of school-to-work transition reforms. By documenting the design and integrity of model programs and by assessing their experiences and impacts, this study offers critical lessons for others interested in adapting or adopting programs that effectively link schools with the business community to improve the transition from school-to-work, primarily for young people trying to enter the labor market.

Conducted by the Academy for Educational Development, this study identified key issues using the following conceptual framework: community and institutional context; key elements in the design of school-to-work reform efforts; critical elements in implementing the reform; and anticipated and actual outcomes. Anticipated long-term outcomes include: for students - better school performance, enhanced employment/work roles, and assumption of adult roles and responsibilities; for schools - better retention and attendance for non-college bound students, improved collaboration with business, greater alignment of curriculum and instruction with the workplace, and restructuring of school organization and management; and for business - a better-trained and more productive work force.

The study included a review of the current state of the art related to both the theory and practice of school-to-work transition programs, including published and unpublished reports, evaluations, and program descriptions. The review examined specific reform programs and approaches as well as various district and state level reform strategies, focusing on the impact on student learning, student transition to adult roles and the workplace, and the needs of the business community. In addition, papers were commissioned around critical issues related to school-to-work transition such as: school-to-work transition as a part of youth development; systemic change for effective school-to-work transition; the role of parents in the transition; the role of teachers in successful transition programs; perspectives of employers on the transition; critical roles and preparation of mentors at the work site; and contextual learning.

Fifteen sites were selected to illustrate a wide range of school-to-work transition reform initiatives including model school-based (public, private, proprietary, and vocational) and work-based (employer and union) programs, district or community-wide efforts, and state-level strategies. In addition to individual case study reports, a cross-case comparison was prepared which identified common themes, elements, and factors that are related to the effective design, implementation, and assessment of model programs.

Findings from the study can be found in the report, Study of School-to-Work Initiatives, which will be available in the Department’s online library. Additional products and publications from the study are available through ERIC.

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STUDENTS AT RISK

Over the past several decades, significant amounts of money, effort, and thought have been devoted to developing better instructional programs for students at risk. Conducted by the American Institutes for Research, this study brings together what has been learned during this time. The study's primary purpose was to provide information that will help the development, implementation, maintenance, and replication of effective programs for students at risk. Specifically, the study aimed to augment what is already known about the levels of effectiveness of selected programs for diverse student populations, including an analysis of what is already known about specific program components that seem most closely related to effective student performance. In addition to identifying the systemic factors which may contribute to program success, the study also explored the conditions and characteristics of school contexts that may affect successful program implementation and students' performance, social skills, and sense of community within and outside school.

Findings from the study can be found in the report, Education Reform and Students At Risk, which will be available in the Department’s online library. Additional products and publications from the study are available through ERIC.

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SYSTEMIC REFORM

The study of systemic reform, particularly its design, implementation, and impact, was conducted by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, in cooperation with the National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. As used in this study, and in developing approaches in a number of states, systemic reform embodies three integral components: the promotion of ambitious student outcomes for all students; integration of policy approaches and the actions of various policy institutions to promote such outcomes; and restructuring the governance system to support improved achievement.

This study, which builds on current studies of systemic reform undertaken by CPRE in nine states, has expanded the number and type of state approaches to systemic reform currently under study. As part of an overall state reform strategy, it has focused on linkages between K-12 curriculum development and teacher professional development.

Intensive case studies of 12 schools, in six school districts, in three states, that have components of systemic reform, have linked some of these activities to teacher preservice and/or inservice, and are not part of the current CPRE study of systemic reform. Project staff used document reviews, limited classroom observations, and extensive interviews with state policy makers, teacher educators, district and school staff, and teachers, to: describe the scope, substance, and coherence of state reform policies; examine the development and implementation of these policies; and explore the impact of systemic reform on what gets taught, how it is taught, and on how student learning is assessed. Key information learned includes: model approaches to the design and implementation of systemic reform; key incentives for, and barriers to, reform; and, the kinds of state and local policies needed to support and sustain systemic reform.

Findings from the study can be found in the report, Systemic Reform, which is available in the Department’s online library. Additional products and publications from the study are available through ERIC.

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PROFESSIONALISM OF EDUCATORS

This study examined partnerships among schools/districts, institutions of higher education, and others as a way to rethink learning for pre K-12 students, as well as the roles and responsibilities of educators in schools, districts, and institutions of higher education, including their preparation and ongoing professional development. Conducted by The NETWORK, Inc., the Professionalism of Educators study examined those efforts which focused on creating total learning environments that foster the development of all youngsters as successful learners and that support the professionalism of adults who must command the vision, knowledge, and skills to create such a learning environment. As these partnerships operated, The NETWORK, Inc, examined not only their programs but their structure and operating routines. While the study concentrates on educator roles, it also paid attention to interdisciplinary training, which seeks to break down the barriers between education and related fields such as social work and the health professions.

Prime audiences for the study are policy makers and the general public at the local, state, and national levels, educators and others whose work is with pre K-16 students, and last but not least, young people who are considering careers in education and related fields. As part of this work, The NETWORK, Inc has conducted a literature review and commissioned papers. The study also includes case studies, cross-case analysis, and profiles of promising efforts.

Findings from the study can be found in the report, Systemic Reform in the Professionalism of Educators, which will be available in the Department’s online library. Additional products and publications from the study are available through ERIC.

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TECHNOLOGY

This study, under the guidance of SRI International, examined how technology can serve as a catalyst for changing schools in ways that will better support the acquisition of higher-order skills by all students. The study also focused on the ways in which distance learning technologies can provide access to a broad array of information and learning activities.

In the past, applications of technology to education were often motivated by a desire to implement "teacher proof" instruction. Technology was often a "black box," bestowed on schools and classrooms from above. The technology was designed to convey the content knowledge or practice opportunities without any active involvement on the teacher's part. An increasing body of literature on technology implementation efforts suggests that this goal was not only unrealistic but also fundamentally misguided.

The study by SRI investigated models for incorporating technology into education that provide new ways for students and teachers to work with each other. In these models, technology serves the goals of education reform by contributing to: (1) student learning through involvement with authentic, challenging tasks; (2) professionalization of teachers; and (3) creation of a culture that supports learning both in the classroom and beyond the school walls. Nine case studies of schools using technology to support their education reform efforts highlight the challenges confronting such efforts and a variety of school strategies for addressing them.

Findings from the study can be found in the report, Technology and Education Reform, which is available in the Department’s online library. Additional products and publications from the study are available through ERIC.

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USES OF TIME

The Uses of Time study was conducted by Policy Studies Associates. It examined promising practices in the uses of time for teaching and learning. For the purposes of the study, time was defined in three ways:

Quantity of time in school -- reforms that affect the total number of hours, days, weeks, and years that students spend in school;

Quality of time in school -- practices that rearrange the scheduling, sequencing, or delivery of curriculum and instruction within the school day or year;

Quality of time out of school -- uses of nonschool time that complement and expand learning opportunities.

The conceptual framework for this study was both broad and complex. An early research review examined existing evidence on the prevalence and potential effectiveness of various quantity and quality of time-related educational innovations including: year-round schooling; extensions of the traditional school year and day; nongraded organizational structures; flexible scheduling (particularly in secondary schools), including A.M. and P.M. schools, Saturday schools, evening schools; pacing and grouping strategies; various strategies for structuring students' after school time.

Drawing on this research review, the study team identified 14 sites for in-depth study. At most sites, innovations involved both quantity and quality of time factors, e.g., a school with an extended school day, flexible scheduling, and smaller than average class size for its district. The sites included a special substudy of residential or greatly extended day (i.e., until 10:00 p.m.) programs for economically disadvantaged children and youth.

A theme that permeated all aspects of the Uses of Time study was the issue of teachers' professional time in a reform context. In each of the 14 case study sites, innovations that alter the quantity or quality of educational time for students have profound implications for teachers' work lives. In addition to an analysis of the teacher time issues at these sites, the study also supported (1) the development of a case book on teacher time for use in pre-service and in-service teacher education settings and (2) the preparation of commissioned papers that examine teacher time issues in national and international perspective.

Findings from the study can be found in the report, The Uses of Time for Teaching and Learning, which will be available in the Department’s online library. Additional products and publications from the study are available through ERIC.

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