Nonprofit and for-profit organizations today are peddling dozens of “whole school” designs intended to improve student achievement. Now, a blue-ribbon panel has taken on the task of helping schools separate the wheat from the chaff.
The panel, created by New American Schools, a nonprofit group in Arlington, Va., plans to set “standards of quality” for providing schoolwide assistance. The aim is to help consumers decide which designs and providers would be right for their schools and which are most likely to yield results.
The 16-member panel, which includes the heads of national organizations representing teachers, principals, school boards, superintendents, governors, and major employers, expects to complete its work and release a set of standards in June.
More than 10 percent of public schools nationwide, educating more than 5 million students, now have contracts with providers of such design-based assistance. The offerings range from nonprofit models such as Success for All, developed at Johns Hopkins University, to the for-profit Edison Schools Inc.
“We believe that comprehensive school reform needs some better definitions of what quality is to help schools make selections,” said Donald M. Feuerstein, the president of New American Schools, which itself supports the creation and dissemination of model programs.
“We don’t want to make comparative ratings of designs,” he added. Rather, the panel will try to identify criteria that, if met, indicate a design has reasonable objectives, the capacity to deliver, and proven results.
Over the past decade, New American Schools has awarded $150 million to support the development of seven whole-school designs. This year, Congress has appropriated $170 million to subsidize the adoption of such designs by schools.
In addition, Title I, the main federal program for disadvantaged students, has placed more emphasis in recent years on the use of whole-school strategies. And some districts and states have also proposed the adoption of such designs for their schools.
“People are so committed to reform and are reaching out,” said Joe B. Wyatt, the chairman of the new panel and the chancellor of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. “So there’s a real danger of spending a lot of time and money and not getting the job done, and we really can’t afford to do that.”
New Design Added
Milton Goldberg, the executive vice president of the National Alliance of Business and a representative to the panel, said the idea of drafting a set of criteria to help schools choose among whole-school designs makes sense. “The trick, of course, is to do this well,” he added.
New American Schools has commissioned the American Productivity & Quality Center, a nonprofit group based in Houston, to work with the panel to gather information and help shape the standards. The center works with schools and businesses on strategies for improving work processes and performance.
Late last month, NAS hosted a conference of more than 30 providers of design- based assistance to get their views on the form and substance such quality standards should take. The blue-ribbon panel, which met for the first time last week, plans to hold public-awareness and comment sessions this spring.
New American Schools has already drafted a set of standards to facilitate its own work that will serve as a starting point for the panel’s discussions.
In a related announcement late last month, NAS said it had added a new design to its portfolio. Turning Points, a program focused on middle schools, is one of eight now advocated by New American Schools, and the first addition beyond the original design teams the group has supported since 1991.
Turning Points was created by the Boston-based Center for Collaborative Education, a nonprofit group.
The other members of the standards panel are:
Anne L. Bryant, executive director, National School Boards Association; Gaston Caperton, president, College Board; Bob Chase, president, National Education Association; Sandra Feldman, president, American Federation of Teachers; Vincent L. Ferrandino, executive director, National Association of Elementary School Principals; Chester E. Finn Jr., president, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation; James W. Guthrie, director, Peabody Center for Education Policy, Vanderbilt University;
Kati Haycock, executive director, Education Trust; Roberts T. Jones, president and chief executive officer, National Alliance of Business; Diana Lam, superintendent, Providence, R.I., schools; Floretta Dukes McKenzie, president, McKenzie Group; Raymond G. Scheppach, executive director, National Governors’ Association; Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director, National Association of Secondary School Principals; Jane Walters, former Tennessee commissioner of education; William Wulf, president, National Academy of Engineering.
A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2000 edition of Education Week as Blue-Ribbon Panel To Set Standards For Reform Models