Archived Information

Tools for Schools - April 1998


The 27 research-based school reform models described in this publication either have been or are currently being supported by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Institute on the Education of At-Risk Students, in the United States Department of Education. As part of its mission, the Institute supports the development of research-based knowledge and strategies promoting excellence and equity in the education of children and youth placed at risk of educational failure. Many of the research programs supported by the Institute have included the development, expansion, adaptation, evaluation, or analysis of components of school reform models. This publication is a compilation of information about those models. It is not the Institute's intent to endorse or promote any of these models, but merely to provide information about them. Further, we recommend that, before any serious consideration is given to the use of a model, a more in-depth review of the model be undertaken.

Background On School Reform Models

Thirty years of research and development on how to improve educational outcomes for schools serving significant numbers of students placed at risk of education failure have yet to result in any large scale improvement of educational outcomes and opportunities for these students and their schools. The Federal Government's Title I program in its successive iterations has become progressively more specific with regard to guidance offered to schools serving large numbers of educationally and economically disadvantaged children. To date, there is little evidence to suggest that the changes in educational practices resulting from the most recent Title I legislation directives, which include the elimination of pull-out programs, reduction of class size in the primary grades, high standards for all students, and greatly increased staff development activities, have been effective in raising student achievement.

There is emerging evidence that some research-based models of school reform, which provide clear guidance on specific changes schools and classrooms must make, can result in significant improvement in achievement outcomes for schools with large numbers of students placed at risk of educational failure. A recent study commissioned by the United States Department of Education to examine 10 promising strategies being used in Title 1 Schoolwide Project schools found that several of the programs, when well implemented, can make a difference in the academic achievement of students served by Title I.(2)

Perhaps one of the best known efforts to explore the use of school reform models to transform schools into places where all students can reach high standards of performance is the work of the New American Schools Development Corporation (NASDC).(3) Following a nationwide competition, NASDC awarded grants in 1993 to 11 developers of comprehensive school reform models. The purpose of the grants was to enable the refinement of the models and to provide a vehicle for testing them in schools across the country. The NASDC experience and the on-going evaluation of this effort are providing growing evidence that comprehensive school reform models, when supported with a well thought through program of implementation, can help schools become high performance learning environments in which all students succeed. It should be noted, however, that the NASDC program does not specifically address itself to students placed at risk of education failure but articulates a focus on all students.

While comprehensive research-based school reform models vary widely in terms of their processes and content, there are several characteristics that successful models hold in common:(4)

Another characteristic of comprehensive research-based school reform models is that they provide educational policymakers with more accountability mechanisms. Thus, it is easier to determine whether or not schools are making the stipulated changes and to determine which changes are having an impact on student achievement outcomes.

Models Supported by the National Institute on the Education of At-Risk Students

The National Institute on the Education of At-Risk Students defines a school reform model as a research-based comprehensive school reform, classroom or curriculum redesign, or professional development reform program that entails substantial changes in the ways schools function. The school reform models contained in this publication have been designed based on research conducted over the last three decades focusing on the changes that need to be made in order to improve the performance of schools serving significant numbers of children and youth placed at risk of educational failure.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that there are many other promising school reform models which are not covered in this publication, for the simple reason that they at no time received funding from this Institute. Additionally, there may be models that have received support from the Institute but were inadvertently overlooked. If so, we would encourage the developers to contact us at the address provided in appendix B, so that the model may be considered for inclusion in any future updates of this publication.

The reader is invited to consider three important factors when reviewing the model descriptions.

Based on the different foci of the 27 school-reform models, the publication is divided into three sections. The first section contains comprehensive school reform models which focus on changing the organizational climate of the school but also extend to influence changes in classroom instruction. The second section contains classroom or curriculum redesign models which are focused on changing classroom management, instruction or curriculum. The third section contains inservice professional development reform models whose primary focus is to strengthen the knowledge and skills of teachers and other staff working in schools serving large numbers of students at risk of educational failure. In cases where a model has multiple foci, an attempt has been made to include it in the section where there is the best fit.

Each model is outlined in a self-contained, easy-to-read four-page format. Each model description contains the following information sections:

The publication also contains two appendices. Appendix A groups the models according to three different subject categories. First, the models are grouped according to the National Institute on the Education of At-Risk Students research program or center with which they are affiliated. Second, the models are listed according to the grade levels upon which they focus. Lastly, a cross referencing system matches each model with specific educational priorities which research has shown are important in improving achievement for students placed at risk. A table depicting the cross referencing system also is included.

Information about the National Institute on the Education of At-Risk Students and its mission, programs, and staff is contained in appendix B.

2 Stringfield, S., Millsap, M.A., and Herman, R. April 1997. Urban and Suburban/Rural Special Strategies for Educating Disadvantaged Children. U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC.

3 Stringfield, S., Ross, S., and Smith, L., Ed. 1996. Bold Plans for School Restructuring: The New American School Designs. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: Mahwah, New Jersey.

4 LaPoint, V.; Jordon, W.; McPartland, J.; and Towns, D. September 1996. The Talent Development High School: Essential Components. Report No. 1. Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; and Howard University, Washington, DC.


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