School & District Management Explainer

Comprehensive School Reform

By Lisa Staresina — September 10, 2004 6 min read

Comprehensive school reform, or CSR, is among the waves of improvement efforts that radiated from the 1983 report A Nation at Risk, a landmark indictment of U.S. public schools. CSR focuses on improvements schoolwide, encompassing everything from curriculum to school management. According to the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, as many as 5,453 schools are receiving federal funds this year to implemented reform models.

Comprehensive school reform emerged in the early 1990s after an examination of the policy options for improving the education of low-income students indicated that the federal Title I program for disadvantaged students (then referred to as Chapter 1) could “play a much more significant role in improving education in the country’s poorest communities by encouraging school wide improvement” (Rotberg, Harvey, & Warner, 1993).

The basic principle of CSR is that instead of a fragmented approach to addressing achievement issues, schools must overhaul their systems from top to bottom. Therefore, from a CSR perspective, a rigorous curriculum program is not the only element critical to raising student-achievement levels. Rather, efficient school management, ongoing staff development, frequent student assessment, and parent involvement are also vitally important. Because the strategies of this reform movement are wide-ranging and encompass all parts of a school’s operations, CSR is also referred to as “schoolwide” or “whole school” reform.

CSR was incorporated into the 1994 reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA. Schools in which at least 50 percent of the student population was disadvantaged were encouraged to implement schoolwide reforms. In 1997, Congress created the Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration program. CSRD required schools to address nine components in their school improvement plans to be eligible for program grants. Reform efforts under CSRD included elements such as:

  • Professional development for teachers and staff;
  • Greater parental and community involvement in school improvement activities;
  • Identification of resources to sustain the reform effort;
  • Measurable goals for student achievement; and
  • Annual evaluation of both implementation and student-achievement results.

In 2001, Congress approved the No Child Left Behind” Act, a new reauthorization of the ESEA, and incorporated CSRD components directly into Title I. Under Title I, schools identified as needing improvement must pursue strategies designed to improve achievement, including comprehensive school reform. In addition to incorporating the same nine components of the previous CSRD legislation, a new key element was that schools must choose reform models based on scientific research showing effectiveness.

Schools can implement comprehensive reforms through adoption of a specific model that addresses several of the CSR components. CSR models are replicable systems designed to organize classroom practice and school structure around a particular approach to teaching and learning. Training, technical assistance, and curriculum materials are provided, depending on the model or design (National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform).

Success for All and Direct Instruction are two of the more popular comprehensive school reform models. Direct Instruction is one of ten CSR designs used by New American Schools, which also funded the development of “Roots and Wings,” an offshoot of Success for All.

New American Schools, a nonprofit organization financed by private-sector donations, was formed in 1991, with the goal of developing CSR designs or models that could be easily adopted by low-performing schools. Today, NAS sponsors a total of 10 design teams providing technical assistance on a fee-for-service basis to approximately 4,000 schools using its designs (New American Schools, 2002). An independent evaluation of achievement in NAS schools revealed gains in mathematics and reading. Of the 163 schools studied where comparative data were available at the district or state level, 50 percent made gains in math, and 47 percent made gains in reading (Berends et al., 2002).

Success for All, established in 1987, has been adopted by approximately 1,500 schools. The prescribed curriculum focuses on intensive reading instruction, in which children are grouped by reading level for a 90-minute reading period. SFA focuses on ensuring that all children read in the early grades, and identifying and correcting reading problems early. The SFA model also includes assessment every eight weeks, cooperative-learning activities among students, tutoring for those in need of extra help, and a family-support team that works to increase parental involvement. A recent study of the long-term effects and cost-effectiveness of SFA found: “Relative to controls, SFA students completed 8th grade at a younger age, with better achievement outcomes, fewer special education placements, fewer retentions, and at the same educational expense” (Borman & Hewes, 2002).

The main goal of Direct Instruction, developed in 1968, is early mastery of the basic skills. The program comprises field-tested reading, language arts, and math curricula, scripted instructional strategies, extensive training, and schoolwide analysis of student performance data. The DI curriculum is highly “scripted,” using fast-paced teacher-directed instruction. For example, each day the teacher must ask at least 300 questions in six small-group sessions. Ability grouping is also a component of the reading and math portions of the curriculum, and schools conduct frequent assessment of student progress. Recent research on DI in an urban school district indicated that DI positively affected vocabulary test scores and oral reading ability, and achievement gains in reading comprehension were comparable to students receiving other forms of reading instruction (Mac Iver & Kemper, 2002).

Proponents of CSR contend that instead of “adding one program on top of another,” the holistic approach of CSR transforms the way an entire school functions, leading to the ultimate goal of greater student achievement. Rather than creating individual programs targeted at specialized student populations without a common thread connecting them, CSR affects all students, teachers, curricula, and school management (ECS, 1999).

Some members of a panel brought together by the Brookings Institution in 2002 voiced concerns that CSR is a one-size-fits-all approach to a more complicated problem. Schools face different educational issues that can be dependent on their locations or the makeup of their enrollments, they said, and often schools within the same district have drastically different needs. School cultures are resistant to change, and that may be a hurdle that officials are underestimating (Sack, 2002).

Because CSR is relatively new, the findings on outcomes are limited (Desimone, 2000). A recent study of the 29 most widely used CSR models concluded that while there are current limitations in the quantity and quality of the research base, the results appear positive. Those schools that had implemented a model for five years or more showed considerable achievement gains. Further, CSR was found to be equally effective between high- and low-poverty schools (Borman, Hewes, Overman, & Brown, 2003). While some research has shown gains in math and reading in CSR schools, there is speculation that student test scores alone are not the best measure of the effectiveness of innovative school reforms (Berends, Bodilly, & Kirby, 2002).

Related Tags:

Sources
Berends, M. et al., “NAS Designs and Academic Achievement,” in Berends, M., Bodilly, S.J. & Kirby, S.M., (Eds.) Facing the Challenges of Whole School Reform: New American Schools After A Decade, pp. 123-141, Santa Monica, CA: Rand Education, 2002.
Berends, M., Bodilly, S.J. & Kirby, S.M., “The Future of Whole School Designs: Conclusions, Observations and Policy Implications,” in Berends, M., Bodilly, S.J. & Kirby, S.M., (Eds.) Facing the Challenges of Whole School Reform: New American Schools After A Decade, pp. 142-154, Santa Monica, CA: Rand Education, 2002.
Borman, G.D., Hewes, G. M., Overman, L.T., & Brown, S., “Comprehensive School Reform and Student Achievement: A Meta Analysis,” Review of Educational Research, 73 (2), 2003.
Borman G.D., Hewes, G.M., “The Long-Term Effects and Cost-Effectiveness of ‘Success for All,’” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 24 (4), 2002.
Desimone, L., Making Comprehensive School Reform Work, New York, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, 2000.
Education Commission of the States, “Comprehensive School Reform: Five Lessons From the Field,” 1999.
Mac Iver, M.A. & Kemper, E., “The Impact of Direct Instruction on Elementary Students’ Reading Achievement in an Urban School District,” Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 7 (2), 2002.
New American Schools, “Driven by Results: A Decade of Experience,” 2002.
Rotberg, I.C., Harvey, J., & Warner, K. E., “Federal Policy Options for Improving the Education of Low-Income Students. Vol. I, Findings and Recommendations,” RAND, pp. xviii, 1993.
To order the paper, click here.
Sack, J., “Experts Debate Effect of Whole School Reform,” Education Week, 21 (20), pp.6, Jan. 30, 2002.
Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, Comprehensive School Reform Awards Database.
The National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform, “CSR Models.”

How To Cite This Article
Staresina, L. (2004, September 10). Comprehensive School Reform Education Week. Retrieved Month Day, Year from https://www.edweek.org/leadership/comprehensive-school-reform/2004/09

Events

School & District Management Live Event Education Week Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Has COVID-19 Led to a Mass Exodus of Superintendents?
This year has been exhausting for superintendents. Some experts say they're seeing an unusually high number of resignations this spring.
5 min read
Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Janice K. Jackson, right, speaks on Feb. 11, 2021, during a news conference at the William H. Brown Elementary School in Chicago. In-person learning for students in pre-k and cluster programs began Thursday, since the district's agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union was reached.
Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Janice K. Jackson, right, announced earlier this week that she would depart the school system. Jackson, who assumed the superintendency in 2018, has worked for more than 20 years in CPS.
Shafkat Anowar
School & District Management Most Schools Offer at Least Some In-Person Classes, According to Feds' Latest Count
A majority of 4th and 8th graders had at least some in-person schooling by March, but inequities persisted.
3 min read
Image shows empty desks in a classroom.
Chris Ryan/OJO Images
School & District Management Opinion Education Researchers Should Think More About Educators: Notes From AERA
Steve Rees, founder of School Wise Press, posits AERA reflects a community of researchers too focused on what they find interesting.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management What the Research Says High Costs, Outdated Infrastructure Hinder Districts' Air-Quality Efforts
A national survey finds the pandemic has led districts to update schools' ventilation systems, but their options are limited.
3 min read
Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, checks the movement of a window inside a classroom at Bronx Collaborative High School, during a visit to review health safeguards in advance of schools reopening on Aug. 26, 2020, in New York.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, checks the movement of a window inside a classroom at Bronx Collaborative High School, during a visit to review health safeguards in advance of schools reopening earlier this school year.
Bebeto Matthews/AP