Schoolwide Reform Models: What Works?

Article excerpt

The 1994 Title I reauthorization enables high-poverty schools to turn their Title I dollars into markedly better achievement for children. Models to facilitate this process are replicable and widely available, the authors point out, and these models provide a standard against which homegrown approaches to schoolwide reform can be assessed.

The education of disadvantaged students is at a crossroads. On one hand, the recent release of Prospects, a national evaluation of Chapter 1/Title I - at a cost of more than $7.2 billion the largest federal program for disadvantaged students in elementary schools has called into question the effectiveness of the entire program.(1) At a time of budget cutting and downsizing of government, this finding has potentially disastrous implications for this critical funding source, the fuel for virtually all innovations in high-poverty schools. In addition, the long-term reduction in the achievement gaps between African American and Latino students and white students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test has been reversed. On the 1994 assessment, the gaps grew for the first time since NAEP began in 1972.(2)

On the other hand, a number of developments have created the potential for fundamental reform in the education of students who are at risk. One of the most important of these also relates to Title I. This is the change in the Title I law, introduced in 1994, that makes it much easier for high-poverty schools to become schoolwide Title I projects and so be allowed to use Title I funds for schoolwide change, not just for changes that serve individual students having difficulties. At present, any school with at least 50% of its students in poverty can become a schoolwide Title I project. Recognizing how much more effective this model can be, many school districts have been concentrating their Title I resources in these schoolwide project schools.

The potential that has been created by these developments is not well understood outside of the Title I world, but it is revolutionary nevertheless. What the changes mean is that a substantial category of schools, approximately 20,000 of them by one estimate,(3) have the freedom, the resources, and in most cases the motivation to fundamentally change their practices by adopting or developing schoolwide strategies to meet the needs of all their students.

Special Strategies for Educating Disadvantaged Children, a companion study to the national evaluation of Title I, investigated several promising alternatives to traditional Chapter 1 programs.(4) The most effective of these were schoolwide projects: James Comer's School Development Program and our own Success for All model.(5) Yet there was nothing magical about the schoolwide opportunity. Several homegrown schoolwide programs as well as some other nationally disseminated models did not increase student achievement. Even among schools that implemented the two most successful models, the quality of implementation varied and was strongly related to outcomes. Clearly, Title I will be no better than Chapter 1 unless schools today use more effective methods than they were using under Chapter 1. With the new Title I emphasis on schoolwide projects, this is the area on which the search for effective methods must focus.

How can Title I schoolwide projects take advantage of this opportunity? At present, most schoolwide projects are using their resources and freedom to provide the same services found to be ineffective in Prospects and many other studies: classroom aides and remedial services for small groups of students. Some are using the opportunity to reduce class size across the board, although Title I funding is usually not enough to bring about a large enough reduction in class size to make a meaningful difference.

Yet Title I schoolwide projects are beginning to see schoolwide status as a real opportunity for reform. In fact, whenever a high-poverty school is involved in any kind of reform program, the costs of that program are highly likely to have been covered by Title I. …