A New Era of School Reform: Going Where the Research Takes Us

This 105-page study, prepared by Robert J. Marzano of the McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) regional lab under contract to the U.S. Department of Education, is an important, albeit rather technical, synthesis of 40 years of research on the characteristics of effective schools and effective teaching. Marzano writes that early studies were pessimistic about the impact schools could have. The 1966 Coleman Report and a 1972 study by Christopher Jencks and colleagues concluded that achievement is primarily a function of student background, but later studies found that schools could make a significant difference in student achievement, particularly schools with strong leadership, high expectations for students, an orderly atmosphere, an emphasis on basic skills, and effective monitoring of student achievement. Daringly, Marzano estimates that the percentage of variance in student achievement accounted for by different variables can be quantified as follows: 80.00% student background, 6.66% school variables, and 13.34% teacher variables. Marzano claims that his model finds that "[E]xceptional performance in terms of school-level factors overcomes the average performance of teachers, but not the ineffective performance of teachers" and that "[E]xceptional performance on the part of teachers not only compensates for average performance at the school level, but even ineffective performance at the school level." In addition, the author suggests that even background characteristics might be altered in a way that enhances student achievement by (1) providing parents with information, resources, and techniques to make the home environment more conducive to academic achievement; and (2) providing students with interventions aimed at increasing their understanding of a general academic knowledge base.  Marzano's calculation of the explanatory power of different variables aside, this report is worth having on your bookshelf as a reference guide to four decades' of student achievement research.  To order copies, contact Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, 2550 S. Parker Road, Suite 500, Aurora, Colorado 80014; phone (303) 337-0990; fax (303) 337-3005; e-mail info@mcrel.org.  You can also download the report at http://www.mcrel.org/products/school-improve/new_era.pdf.

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