Comprehensive School Reform Quality Center Report on Elementary School Comprehensive School Reform Models

Liam Julian

American Institutes for Research
November 2005

"Comprehensive school reform" as an education improvement strategy dates back to the early 1990s, when Lamar Alexander and David Kearns launched the New American Schools Development Corporation. New American Schools is gone now, merged into the American Institutes for Research (AIR), but comprehensive school reform (CSR) lives on, and this report from AIR reviews 22 models suited for elementary schools. (Long-minded readers may recall an earlier AIR study of CSR models [order the report here], as well as Fordham's own take.) Each model examined "serves a minimum of 20 elementary schools in at least three states and is available" for implementation "in almost all states." Collectively, these 22 represent a major portion of elementary CSR strategies. AIR aims to provide helpful information to education administrators seeking to select the best one for their circumstances, though the report avoids picking "winners and losers." Still, the report rates each CSR model's effectiveness in boosting student achievement using seven categories ranging from "no rating" to "very strong." None received a rating of "very strong," and only two (Direct Instruction and Success for All) were rated "moderately strong." On the plus side, no model was found to negatively affect student performance. Beyond student achievement, the study also evaluated each model on four other dimensions: additional outcomes, such as attendance; effects on parent, family, and community involvement; the link between research and the model design; and services and support provided to schools to enable successful implementation. The report has drawbacks, however. It's based on a review of past studies, not on any new evidence. The authors also note that CSR models are constantly evolving. Thus, for example, the Integrated Thematic Instruction program evaluated by studies feeding into this report may be significantly different from the version used in schools today. And, of course, programmatic variation from school to school is inevitable. Still, readers will find much information and analysis. Check it out here.

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