November 9, 2006
Schools that embrace comprehensive reform models designed to improve student achievement frequently do not fully adopt all practices recommended by the model developers, according to a RAND Corporation report issued today.
The findings call into question whether the comprehensive school reform model approach that has been adopted by more than 8,000 schools nationally can become a key strategy to help improve student performance.
A survey of 250 schools from Florida and Texas that embraced comprehensive school reform models found that none had adopted all of the changes the models called for to boost student achievement, according to the study by RAND Education.
The reason most often cited for failing to adopt all aspects of the reform packages was a shortage of support for needed improvements and investments such as teacher training.
“At the current level of implementation, comprehensive school reform models are likely to have only modest or no effect on student achievement,” said lead author of the report Georges Vernez, who is a senior social scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Without substantially more support, it is not likely most schools will be able to faithfully adopt these models of school improvement.”
Comprehensive school reform is based on the idea that a school should have a coherent educational strategy that addresses every aspect of its operation. More than $2 billion in federal funds have been used to implement the approach at schools nationally.
Studies assessing the success of comprehensive school reform models have been mixed, with some showing a modest improvement in student achievement and others finding no impact. Most of those studies assumed schools had adopted all aspects of the reforms.
RAND researchers surveyed principals and teachers at the schools in the study, and visited a number of campuses in order to more closely assess adoption of the chosen comprehensive school reform model.
Researchers found some types of changes were embraced more often than others. Schools were most likely to adopt the curriculum prescribed by the model developer, but were less likely to adopt the recommended instructional practices. Practices designed to increase parental involvement were the aspect least likely to be adopted.
Most of the schools in the study did not have the level of support recommended by developers of the models. Teachers reported receiving about half of the recommended initial training and only one-quarter of the recommended ongoing professional development, according to RAND researchers.
In general, teachers reported a lukewarm commitment to adopting their school's reform model and most felt the training they received was not adequate. However, in schools where the level of support increased, so did adoption of the developer-recommended practices, according to researchers.
RAND researchers also surveyed a number of similar schools in Florida and Texas that had not embraced a formal reform program and found those schools had adopted many of the same changes in curriculum, instruction and governance as those schools following comprehensive school reform.
“Every school is trying something to improve student achievement, even if they have not embraced one of the many formal reform models,” Vernez said.
However, schools that embraced comprehensive school reform models were more likely to follow certain practices, such as having students work collaboratively in groups, having teachers follow word-for-word scripts, grouping students by performance, assigning daily homework and obtaining parent signoff on that homework.
Vernez said the RAND findings show that studies designed to measure the impact of school reform models also must examine the extent to which schools have embraced the details of the model.
“Research examining the success of educational reform efforts cannot be valid unless you first examine the extent to which the reform model has been adopted,” Vernez said.
The RAND study focused on schools in Florida and Texas because those states have a large number of schools that have adopted comprehensive school reform models.
Researchers focused on four models that have been used widely across the nation, but differ from each other significantly. The models were Accelerated Schools, Core Knowledge, Direct Instruction and Success for All.
Although each program is based on a different philosophy and set of practices, each generally emphasizes six core areas of schooling: curriculum, methods of instruction, appropriate student grouping, student assessments, parent involvement, and governance (such as establishing a school steering committee and working groups).
Funding for the study, titled “Evaluating Comprehensive School Reform Models at Scale: Focus on Implementation,” was provided by the U.S. Department of Education. Other authors of the report are Rita Karam, Lou Mariano, and Christine DeMartini of RAND.
RAND Education conducts research and analysis on a variety of topics, including school reform, educational assessment and accountability, and trends among teachers and teacher training.