ERIC Identifier: ED425047
Publication Date: 1999-01-00
Author: Sherwood, Topper
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
A Practical Look at Comprehensive School Reform for Rural
Schools. ERIC Digest.
In fall 1997, Congress approved $150 million to implement proven models and
strategies for "whole-school restructuring." From this federal Comprehensive
School Reform Demonstration (CSRD) program money, $120 million is earmarked for
competitive grants to schools that receive Title I funds to provide academic
support and learning opportunities for children from low-income families.
Non-Title I schools may apply for $25 million in funding. Through CSRD, schools
receive at least $50,000 for the first year, with two additional years of
funding, to implement and assess comprehensive school reform (House Res. 2264).
This Digest explains CSRD and what it might mean to rural schools. The digest
examines research about whole-school reform and what rural educators can expect.
For more than three decades, the main
tool for raising educational performance nationwide has been the 1965 Elementary
and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), more specifically, Title I. CSRD's
relationship to ESEA-Title I could be important to rural areas, which tend to
have relatively high percentages of impoverished children.
Changes in 1988 and 1994 broadened Title I by supporting "schoolwide"
projects, enrichment programs for "all" students in schools with a majority of
Title I students. The assumption is that the most effective reform involves the
entire school, not individuals or classrooms. The 1997 legislation encourages
schools to reexamine how and how well they operate as a whole.
Congress left it to states and school districts to distribute CSRD funds. But
it did encourage states to fund regions, including rural communities, as well as
schools with different grade levels (U.S. Department of Education, 1998). CSRD
provides financial resources that enable rural educators to select from a
marketplace of programs whose consultants have developed research-based products
in pilot schools nationwide. The legislation lays out criteria for CSRD efforts,
but also gives states and schools wide latitude in determining which strategies
to fund, including "home-grown" models (Education Commission of the States,
In October, 1998, Congress provided another year of CSRD funding: $120
million under Title I and $25 million under the Fund for the Improvement of
Education. These funds will support the continuation of grants for schools'
second year of CSRD (United States House, 1998).
The 1998 CSRD funding reflects Congress' recognition that small schools
(especially in rural areas) may be in a better position to implement reforms if
they collaborate with other small schools. The minimum award may be granted to
individual schools or to school consortia that serve up to 500 students (United
States House, 1998).
Congress also budgeted $10 million for research into well-designed field
studies on the impact of various comprehensive school reform models on student
achievement. Some funding is to be used to design competitions for developing
new school reform models, particularly for middle and high schools (United
States House, 1998).
Congress also wanted to assure that all schools, particularly rural schools,
can implement the reform plan of their choice. It set aside $12 million for a
technical assistance program that could allow the formation of partnerships with
states, regional service centers, regional educational laboratories, and
consortia of local education agencies.
Congress specified that CSRD programs must
meet the following criteria: (1) use research-based innovative strategies and
methods; (2) have a schoolwide reform plan that enables students to meet state
standards based on a school needs assessment; (3) provide ongoing, high-quality
professional development for staff; (4) have measurable student goals and
benchmarks for meeting those goals; (5) maintain faculty, administrative, and
staff support; (6) nurture meaningful parent and community involvement; (7) use
high-quality external technical support; (8) include a plan for evaluating
implementation and student achievement; and (9) identify other resources
available and how they will be used to coordinate services to support and
sustain the reform (H. Res. 390, 1997).
FIELD RESEARCH ON WHOLE-SCHOOL REFORM
Studies suggest that,
in the poorest schools, it makes more sense to enrich all students' educational
experience than to provide supplementary services to individuals or single
classrooms; schoolwide projects increase at-risk students' achievement gains
(U.S. Department of Education, 1990, 1993; Schenck & Beckstrom, 1993; Wong,
Sunderman, & Lee, 1996; Stringfield et al., 1997).
Studies also show that schools vary greatly both in implementation and
outcomes of reform strategies (Stringfield et al., 1997). Schools whose at-risk
students make the greatest academic gains tend to pay attention to both initial
and long-term stages of school improvement effort, and to incorporate new
methods and programs into regular operations. Programs that concentrate on early
grades tend to have larger achievement gains than do programs that spread
resources across all elementary grades or in secondary schools. Effects on
student achievement are most dramatic where (1) faculty and administration
consider diverse options to match a program with local needs; (2) principals and
central administrators sustain a focus on full implementation, with intelligent
local adaptation; (3) technical assistance and staff development are ongoing and
targeted to specific school issues and problems; and (4) curriculum is demanding
(Stringfield et al., 1997).
Research by the RAND Corporation has identified four barriers to
comprehensive reform: (1) difficulty in implementing new professional
development models; (2) varied perceptions of school autonomy, which is
important, but may not be well understood; (3) culture clashes between schools
and external design teams; and (4) inability of design teams and schools to
involve and engage the public (Bodilly et al., 1996). These barriers suggest how
important local politics are within the school and the district. In rural areas,
where a school may well be the central institutional force, issues of autonomy
and politics are crucial.
In an alternative view, Tyack and Cuban (1995) support grafting thoughtful
reforms onto healthy parts of an existing system. When educators completely
scrap old programs, schools are more likely to revert back to them. Innovations
that seem to solve problems for, or raise the status of, schoolteachers and
administrators also tend to survive.
To date, whole-school reforms have concentrated on elementary schools. But a
5-year study of Wisconsin secondary schools suggests impressive achievement
gains in mathematics, reading, history, and science linked to instruction that
emphasizes higher-order thinking, disciplined inquiry, and the value of
education for solving community problems or adding to students' personal
experience (Newmann & Wehlage, 1995).
Educators seeking appropriate ways to redesign schools should realize that
few school districts and no states have tried widespread implementation of
comprehensive school reform designs. There is limited data on whether these
designs can be implemented across many schools or how the designs change when
adopted in different schools. Results also can change over time in the same
school (Stringfield et al., 1994). Therefore, reformers must have a clear vision
and be able to articulate that vision, offer leadership, and then build
consensus for reform. Rural educators should ensure that their reforms have
widespread public input and support, are well planned, and are sustainable in
the long run, given the relatively small sum of federal funding.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM CSRD AND REFORM MODELS
applicant schools to commit to proven whole-school reform practices. Any
successful reform requires substantial investments of time, teacher and
administrator resolve to complete the program, community input, and care about
how the reform fits rural community needs. The guidelines also require some
promise of replicability and an infrastructure for delivering successful reform
practices and innovations to other schools via coaching or technical assistance.
Quality technical assistance, one of the CSRD criteria, will likely be a
vital consideration for small and rural schools where resources may be scarce.
Comprehensive school reform is supported by active involvement of outside
experts who advise and help school personnel to retool schools with new skills,
roles, and methods. To help assure success in rural communities, each reform
design should be a functioning program with documented success in small towns
and rural areas. Also, successful models and their associated experts should
help administrators and teachers in a detailed way with the real-life problems
and challenges of reform.
As such, schools need a great deal of autonomy, principals' roles must be
redefined to give parents and teachers a central part in ongoing decision making
and evaluation, and school administrators need to build consensus between
teachers and community members. Support from the superintendent and school board
CONCLUSIONS FOR RURAL SCHOOLS
Sustaining school reform is
difficult, and rural school officials should be fully aware of its implications.
Congress clearly gave local schools a wide range of reform choices, and changes
made to CSRD in 1998 are intended to give small and rural schools improved
access to different reform plans. Much still depends on how federal and state
officials interpret CSRD guidelines. There are, however, opportunities for rural
school leaders to craft whole-school reforms that fit local needs and can be
tailored for other communities.
Prudent policymakers and rural educators should be aware that existing
whole-school reform models are generally in the early stages of development and
implementation, and many are urban based. Elements of teacher time and school
resources must be matched with community needs, resources, and expectations.
Note: Detailed information about various CSRD models is available from
Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (see reference) or Appalachia
Educational Laboratory's Web site, http://www.ael.org/rel/csr/catalog.htm.%20
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
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House Res. 2264, 105th Cong., 1st Sess. (1997).
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