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'Effective-Schools' Efforts Taking Root in the States

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Although the "effective-schools" movement is a relatively recent phenomenon, virtually all 50 states have developed school-improvement strategies that are consistent with elements of that research, a new survey by the Education Commission of the States (ecs) has found.

The survey was conducted in May and June of 1982 by Allan Odden and Van Dougherty, researchers with the nonprofit, Denver-based consortium. (See Databank this page.) They drew also on an earlier study of the same topic, conducted by the Rand Corporation.

In their report, "State Programs of School Improvement: A 50-State Survey," the researchers identified seven broad areas in which many states had created programs, most within the last five years:

Improving the skills and training of teachers, administrators, and other members of the "education workforce";

Creating new statewide curricula that focus on basic skills but cover other academic topics as well;

Developing new school-accreditation standards;

Creating broad school-improvement programs, sometimes by identifying successful schools and using them as models;

Improving technical assistance, information dissemination, and program adoption procedures;

Developing new tests for students and new ways to use the test results; and

Involving parents and community members in public education.

The efforts range from comprehensive, multifaceted approaches to narrower, highly specific programs. California, Colorado, and Connecticut, for example, have started programs in all seven areas; Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, and Pennsylvania also have relatively wide-ranging programs.

Other states, such as New Mexico, have focused on testing both students and teachers. Mississippi and several other states have chosen to work through improved accreditation systems, the researchers report.

Although markedly diverse, many states' efforts have common themes, the researchers found. And, they note, the three general characteristics that apply to most states' programs are consonant with the "effective-schools" research carried out in the 1970's.

First, schools, rather than individual classrooms or entire districts, are the "unit of education improvement," according to the survey. Second, many state programs require clear academic goals that focus on basic skills. Local curricula are then shaped to match the goals.

And finally, many programs involve collecting data on students' achievement over time. These longitudinal data are used to identify students' weaknesses and to modify curricula.

Although diverse in content and design, the school-improvement programs have similar origins, according to the researchers. Demands by the public for better education, they say, probably constituted the key impetus. As an outgrowth of these "accountability pressures," 38 states have created minimum-competency tests for students, according to the survey.

But the improvement efforts seem also to be secondary effects of other changes that occurred during the 1970's, the researchers suggest. The "years of debate and policy analysis related to school-finance reform" strengthened many state agencies' capacity for policy analysis in general, according to the report.

"The next logical question after the enacting of expensive school-finance reforms was the payoff to the state in terms of better education quality," the researchers write. "Policy initiatives related to education improvement often followed."

The exigencies of administering complex federal and state programs, many of which were initiated within the last 10 years, may also be a factor in the development of the school-improvement plans. Administrators have grown more sophisticated and now deal with issues of program quality as well as with the fiscal and administrative aspects of the programs, according to the survey.

The report (No. 182-3) is available for $3 from the Publications Desk, Education Commission of the States, Suite 300, 1860 Lincoln St., Denver, Colo. 80295.--sw

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