School & District Management

Research Group, New American Schools Merge

By Lynn Olson — May 05, 2004 4 min read
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New American Schools, the group that spearheaded the adoption of whole-school reform models nationwide, plans to unite with the much larger American Institutes for Research, with the full merger effective next Jan. 1.

“This is the logical time in the evolution of our organization to develop this type of alliance with a premier research organization,” said Mary-Anne Schmitt, the president of the Alexandria, Va.-based New American Schools.

The nonprofit corporation was formed in 1991 by the chief executives of some of the country’s leading businesses to establish a “new generation of American schools.” During the past decade, the organization has evolved from a developer and supporter of specific whole-school improvement models to one that promotes their wider and more effective use.

The Washington-based AIR, founded in 1946 as an independent, nonprofit research organization in the behavioral and social sciences, has also grown. At the end of its 2003 fiscal year, it had revenues of $133 million and nearly 900 employees, compared with an estimated NAS budget of $7 million for next year and a staff of about 25.

Both organizations’ boards were expected to sign the final papers approving the merger late last week. New American Schools will essentially become a subsidiary of the AIR, but the smaller organization will maintain its brand-name identity for the foreseeable future.

“That’s one of the assets that AIR believes we’re bringing to the table,” said Ms. Schmitt.

“It has value as does AIR’s name,” said Sol H. Pelavin, the president and chief executive officer of the AIR. “It’s better known in school districts at the moment, but AIR is still the mother name.”

‘Good for the Field’

Commenting on the merger, President Jim Kohlmoos of the Washington-based National Education Knowledge Industry Association, a trade group for education research ventures, said, “Overall, I think it’s probably good for the field.”

He added: “AIR is a great organization. It’s big. It reaches out in all sorts of different directions. And I think it will be positive for the comprehensive-school-reform movement.”

Both Ms. Schmitt and the other members of her team will make the transition to the AIR over the course of the next eight to 10 months, with Ms. Schmitt reporting directly to Mr. Pelavin.

He said the AIR board has been “very interested in our having an additional focus on affecting schools and education more directly. I think that this merger with New American Schools will jump-start that process.”

“People can debate whether or not the models they support revolutionized American education,” he added of the smaller group’s work so far, “but I think anyone would admit that they’ve affected what’s going on in schools today.”

Conversations between the two groups began a few months ago, driven by their common interest in bringing evidence- and research-based practices into schools and districts.

Ms. Schmitt says her goal is for the new venture to become the top management-consulting firm in education, particularly for those who want to learn how to develop school improvement programs effectively, take them to scale, and make them last. She hopes to expand the “professional-services practice” to about 100 consultants in the next few years, she said.

“In giving up a little bit of autonomy,” she said, “we’re going to be able to have a much more dramatic impact on children’s lives and communities.”

NAS brings to the merger a range of projects and grants, including an $11 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to NAS and the San Diego school system to build smaller learning communities. The AIR is taking the lead in evaluating the foundation’s efforts in education, and is also participating in two longitudinal evaluations of the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act for the federal government. In addition, the research organization won the contracts to design Ohio’s testing program for grades K-8.

“We think of ourselves as the leading research organization in school reform,” said Mr. Pelavin, “and this is a major step toward attempting to apply some of that research.”

New Coalition Formed

In a separate move, the representatives of nearly a dozen whole-school-reform models planned to announce the formation of a new coalition late last week to work with districts and schools and to represent their interests on Capitol Hill.

Coalition Members

Accelerated Schools
ATLAS Communities
Co-NECT Schools
Different Ways of Knowing
Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound
High Schools That Work
Modern Red Schoolhouse
Quality Education Systems
Success for All
Talent Development High Schools
Turning Points

<---------Table Ends Here--------->

Though discussions about establishing the Coalition for Comprehensive School Improvement have been ongoing, said Sally Kilgore, the chief executive officer for the Modern Red Schoolhouse, one of its founding members, the AIR- NAS merger prompted the group to move forward.

The coalition will help districts and schools combine the strengths of various whole-school models “without coming into conflict,” she said. James M. McPartland, the director of Talent Development High Schools at Johns Hopkins University, another coalition member, said that while some places continue to adopt the models in their entirety, districts increasingly are putting together parts of various models to create a customized fit.

The coalition also hopes to produce annual reports for the field, in part to overcome the lag time between research on the effectiveness of such models and its publication.

Mr. McPartland said it’s particularly important to get the word out given that the federal Comprehensive School Reform program has been “zeroed out” in President Bush’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. “People are having a tougher and tougher time convincing legislators that this is not something whose need has passed,” he said.

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