Archived Information

Tools for Schools - April 1998

Roots and Wings

What Is It?

Roots and Wings is a comprehensive, whole-school reform model designed to place a high floor under the basic skills achievement of all students while building problem-solving skills, creativity, and critical thinking. It builds on the extensively evaluated Success for All program, which provides research-based curricula for prekindergarten, kindergarten, and grades one through six reading, writing, and language arts; one-to-one tutoring for primary grade students struggling in reading; and extensive family support services. To these, Roots and Wings adds MathWings, a practical, constructivist approach to mathematics for grades one through five, and WorldLab, an integrated approach to social studies and science emphasizing simulations and group investigations.

Why Did It Get Started?

Roots and Wings was designed to complete the development of Success for All, extending it into all elementary subjects and grade levels. The program was initially funded by the New American Schools Development Corporation, a private foundation. This support enabled the project to develop and pilot MathWings and WorldLab, and to revise Success for All materials. Success for All is being used in more than 750 schools in 37 states; of these, about 80 add to Success for All either MathWings, WorldLab, or both.

How Does It Work?

Specific elements of the program are described below.

Reading, Writing, and Language Arts

During daily 90-minute reading periods, students are regrouped by reading level across age lines. This eliminates the need for reading groups within the class. Tutors are used as reading teachers during reading time to reduce the size of reading classes. The reading program in kindergarten and the first grade uses phonetically regular storybooks supported by instruction that focuses on phonemic awareness, auditory discrimination, and sound blending.

At the second through fifth grade levels, students use school- or district-selected reading materials in a structured set of interactive opportunities to read, discuss, and write. This program emphasizes cooperative learning activities built around partner reading, story summarization, writing, and direct instruction in reading comprehension skills.


Specially trained certified teachers work one-on-one with any students who are failing to keep up with their classmates in reading. Priority is given to first grade students.

Eight-Week Assessments

Students in grades one through six are assessed every 8 weeks to determine whether they are making adequate progress in reading. This information is used to assign students to tutoring, to suggest alternative teaching strategies in the regular reading classroom, and to make changes in reading group placement, family support interventions, or other means to meet student needs.


MathWings is a constructivist approach to mathematics for grades one through five. It is based on National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards and emphasizes mathematics concept development and problem-solving, as well as developing fluency in calculating. Cooperative learning is used at all levels to provide opportunities for students to develop their understanding of concepts by explaining them to each other in heterogeneous problem-solving groups and to enable feedback among students in teams. At the intermediate grade levels, Power Math allows students to work at their own pace on individualized units to reinforce learning in specific areas or to accelerate students into new areas.


WorldLab is an integrated curriculum for social studies and science, grades one through five. In WorldLab, students work in small groups to engage in simulations and group investigations. Students take on roles as people in history, in various countries, or in various occupations. For example, they may experience, as early Americans, the conflicts that led to the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Cooperative Learning

This is the vehicle that drives all Roots and Wings curricula. Students work together in partnerships and teams, helping one another to become strategic problem-solvers. Emphasis is placed on individual accountability, common goals, and recognition of team success.


A full-time facilitator works with teachers in each Roots and Wings school to help them implement the reading program. The facilitator also helps implement the 8-week assessments, assists the Family Support Team, plans and implements staff development, and works with teachers to ensure that every child is making adequate progress.

Family Support Team

The Family Support Team, composed of the principal or assistant principal, facilitator, social worker, and other building personnel, works with parents to help ensure the success of their children. The team focuses on promoting parent involvement, developing plans to meet the needs of students having difficulty with tardiness and attendance, and integrating community and school resources to benefit students.

What Are The Costs?

Roots and Wings is typically funded by reallocations of existing Title I, state compensatory, and special education funds in high-poverty schools. The program facilitator and tutors required by the program generally come from existing school personnel, such as Title I-funded teachers. Costs for materials and training vary according to school size and other factors, but average $60,000 to $70,000 during the first year for a school of 500 students.

How Is The Model Implemented In A School?

The elements of Roots and Wings are typically phased in over a 3-year period. Most schools begin with Success for All in the first year, then add MathWings and WorldLab, although schools can begin in any order and can, if they choose, implement Success for All, MathWings, or WorldLab without the other elements. For each component, all teachers receive detailed manuals supplemented by 3 days of in-service at the beginning of the school year provided by Roots and Wings trainers. Throughout the year, follow-up visits are made to the school by project trainers, who visit classrooms, provide coaching, meet with school staff, and conduct in service presentations on such topics as classroom management, instructional pace, and cooperative learning.

Prior to adopting Roots and Wings, district and building administrators, teachers, and parents are encouraged to review program materials, view videotapes, and visit nearby Roots and Wings school sites. A school entering the program must have a vote of 80 percent or more of its staff in support of adoption.

What Is The Evidence That The Model Is Successful?

Research on Roots and Wings has found substantial positive effects of the program in all curricular areas. On the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP), students in four high- poverty pilot schools in rural St. Mary's County gained significantly more than other Maryland students in reading, writing, language, social studies, and science from 1993 to 1996. These schools, in which 48 percent of students qualified for free lunch, began far below state averages, but by 1996 were scoring at or above state averages in all subjects at grades three and five.

In addition, a substantial body of research has established the effectiveness of Success for All, the reading, writing, and language arts components of Roots and Wings. The results of these evaluations indicate that the program clearly increases reading performance, especially for students who perform in the lowest 25 percent of their class. Evaluations over time in 11 school districts find that, on average, Success for All students score about 3 months higher than control groups in first grade, and 1.1 years higher in fifth grade on reading measures. Studies of MathWings in Texas, Florida, and Maryland have found positive effects of that program component.

Roots and Wings has been implemented successfully in schools with very diverse student populations. It is being employed by schools with 100 percent African-American student bodies, and schools with predominantly Hispanic, limited-English-speaking populations. The model is being used in inner-city schools in several large cities, as well as a broad range of rural schools.

Where Can I See It?

Demonstration sites are available in many parts of the United States. Contact the Roots and Wings program for the nearest sites.

Whom Do I Contact?

Roots and Wings Program
Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk
Johns Hopkins University
3505 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21218
Telephone: 800-548-4998; Fax: 410-516-0543
E-mail:; Website:

The Research Base

Roots and Wings is composed of elements that have been researched and are known to be highly effective. The reading, writing, tutoring, early childhood, family support and assessment elements of Root and Wings are adapted from Success for All, a whole school reform model which has been extensively evaluated and found to consistently increase achievement and reduce special education placements. Both the WorldLab and MathWings curriculum are designed around research suggesting that the elementary curriculum should be useful and relevant to children's everyday lives, and should foster active learning and the development of higher order thinking skills.

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