The Comprehensive School Reform program, a $1.1 billion federal grant program designed to enable schools to put in place proven schoolwide models for improving learning, has yielded disappointing results, according to a federally funded evaluation of the program.
Researchers for WestEd, a research group based in San Francisco, and the Washington-based American Institutes for Research found that, of the 7,000 high-poverty and low-achieving schools that received funding under the program between 1998 and 2006, only a third put all the required components in place. As a result, the achievement gains in the CSR-funded schools were no larger, overall, than those in demographically similar comparison schools. Test-score improvements were nonexistent in CSR elementary schools, marginally lower than comparison schools in middle school mathematics, and no different from comparison schools in middle school reading, the report says.
That’s not to say some schools didn’t significantly improve. In a separate study, researchers present case studies for 11 such schools, including some that turned around in one or two years and others with “slow and steady” improvement. They found that, regardless of whether the transformation was rapid or slow, all 11 schools had made strides in the same four areas: leadership, school climate, instruction, and external support. Apart from those areas, though, the schools all followed their own distinctive paths to success.
“These findings suggest that, while the basic ingredients may be the same, there is no single recipe for attaining school improvement,” said Dan Aladjem, the AIR researcher who led the case studies.
But success can also be fleeting, the study found. Two of the fast-gaining schools later showed considerable academic decline. Even schools that sustained their growth reported that student mobility, maintaining a sense of urgency, and turnover among teacher-leaders presented continuing challenges for them.
A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 2010 edition of Education Week as No Learning Boost Found for Federal Grant Program