ERIC Identifier: ED427388
Publication Date: 1998-12-00
Author: McChesney, Jim
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Whole-School Reform. ERIC Digest, Number 124.
In recent years, a new generation of programs has become available to
educators with a promise that they will help all students, even those on the
margins, succeed in school. These programs have in common the assumption that
school reform, to bring about measurable improvement, must embrace the whole
Don't try these programs, warn their developers, if you want only piecemeal
improvements or if you can't wean yourself from the notion that reform is a
one-time event. Be prepared to reexamine and change all parts of school life,
from attitudes and culture to leadership, parent and community involvement,
curriculum, facilities, and, of course, financing.
Many schools have implemented whole-school reform models, and evidence on the
programs' performance is mounting. Interest in the models is certain to grow now
that Congress has appropriated $150 million for the Comprehensive School Reform
Demonstration Program (CSRD). Almost 3,000 schools will receive awards of at
least $50,000 each to implement whole-school models or to develop their own
research-based reforms aimed at helping all children meet challenging state
This Digest describes several of the programs that have been designed to
bring about whole-school reform, spells out the factors that determine their
success, and takes a closer look at the Comprehensive School Reform
WHAT IS WHOLE SCHOOL REFORM?
Whole-school (or comprehensive
school) reform is a broad brush that covers a diverse set of nationwide and
local programs. In their most visionary expression, these reform programs are
cross-disciplinary efforts that involve home, school, and community in the
intellectual development and personal nurturing of all children.
"This new approach," says Brent Keltner (1998), "takes an integrated view of
the reform process. It is based on the concept that the way to successfully
improve school performance is to simultaneously change all elements of a
school's operating environment so as to bring each element into alignment with a
central, guiding vision."
Robert Slavin, founder of Success for All, is quoted as saying, "We do a
heart-lung transplant. One of the things we learned is that if you don't deal
with both instruction and curriculum and school organization, things start to
slide back. In a Success for All School, there's nothing to slide back to--it's
all gone" (Lynn Olson 1998).
Essential to the policies and practices of these reform efforts is the belief
that gains in student outcomes require a reconceptualization of traditional
notions of teaching and learning (Robert Cooper and colleagues 1998).
WHAT ARE THE "NEW AMERICAN SCHOOLS" PROGRAMS?
the programs receiving attention in the whole-school reform movement are being
promoted by New American Schools (NAS). This private organization was formed in
1991 as the New American School Development Corporation (Glennan 1998). With an
initial goal of creating designs to enable students to reach high educational
standards, NAS has evolved into a program that offers training and
NAS emphasizes the need for professional development that is consistent with
the scope and content of the designs. Because NAS initiatives require at least a
three-year effort to implement supportive operating environments, design teams
also work with jurisdictions to establish adequate funding, which includes
access to CSRD money.
Eight designs represent the diversity of approaches within NAS. They are
America's Choice Design Network, ATLAS Communities, Co-NECT Schools,
Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound, Modern Red Schoolhouse, Purpose-Centered
Education--The Audrey Cohen College System of Education, Roots and Wings, and
Urban Learning Centers (Educational Research Service 1998). Although the designs
have differing emphases, they share several characteristics:
* They aim to help all students reach high academic standards.
* They are comprehensive in their approach; address all core academic subject
areas, all types of school organization, and all grade levels; and align all
resources (human, financial, and technological).
* They incorporate best-practices research and are the subjects of ongoing
evaluation aimed at continuous improvement.
* They provide faculty and community with a shared vision, focus, and
organizing framework that shapes and directs reform efforts.
* They provide high-quality professional development for teachers and
* They offer innovative and effective ways to involve parents and community
WHAT ARE SOME OTHER PROMISING WHOLE-SCHOOL PROGRAMS?
comprehensive programs, some local and some nationwide, are attempting to bring
improvement in public schools. Several prominent ones are reviewed by Schaffer
and colleagues (1997):
* "Comer Model (School Development Program)." Developed by James Comer and
the Yale Child Study Center, this program creates a cadre of significant adults
in students' lives--at home, in school, and in the community--who work together
to support and nurture each child's total development.
* "Success for All." Developed by Robert Slavin and associates at The Johns
Hopkins University, this research-based schoolwide program uses prevention and
intensive early intervention to achieve and maintain success through the
* "Paideia Program." A development of Mortimer Adler and others in
association with the Institute for Philosophical Research, Chicago, this program
focuses on high academic achievement for all students, regardless of background,
with goals including the acquisition of basic knowledge, development of basic
intellectual skills, and enlarged understanding of universal ideas and values.
* "Coalition of Essential Schools." Developed by Theodore Sizer, CES is a
high school restructuring program that aims to get students to use their minds
well by simplifying curriculum so each student will master a limited number of
essential skills and areas of knowledge. Site personnel control the program's
* "Schoolwide Projects." Funded with Title I money, these programs include
schoolwide strategies for all students in schools with a poverty ratio of as low
as 50 percent. Typical projects have reduced class size, eliminated pullout
instruction, increased staff development, and acquired new classroom materials.
WHAT GOVERNS THE SUCCESS OF WHOLE-SCHOOL REFORM?
all efforts to improve schools, success is not automatic. A Rand Corporation
researcher told Olson, "We're basically, in our analysis, providing a cautionary
tale about how difficult it is to grow reform quickly." She went on to say, "We
want to have a 'buyer beware' sign out there. Don't think you can just buy this
off-the-shelf technology, plug it into a school, and then things are going to
Two factors are critical to success, states the RAND report: "Schools where
educators felt that they adopted a design without fully understanding it or that
they were forced to adopt a design showed lower levels of implementation than
schools that were well-informed and had freedom of choice" (Glennan and
Measurable success, the report noted, came in districts that "had stable
leadership that strongly supported the designs, were free of political crisis,
had a culture of trust between schools and the central office, provided some
school-level autonomy in such matters as budgets and hiring, and provided more
resources for professional development and planning."
Failure of reform, as well, can be traced to several issues: (1) financing;
(2) leadership; (3) commitment to the program; (4) perceptions of the general
public, parents, and students; (5) staffing; (6) curriculum; (7) political
pressures; (8) racial problems; (9) insufficient facilities; and (10) problems
of management and scheduling students and staff communication (Schaffer and
Success, then, depends on many factors. Patricia Wasley and her colleagues
(1997) say that the school's staff must share a common image of a different,
more rigorous kind of schooling, be able to deal directly with difficult and
often controversial issues, and be willing to receive and act on critical
feedback from external sources. In addition, the faculty must have or develop
self-analysis skills to monitor data on student achievement, as well as be able
to deal simultaneously with multiple aspects of school redesign-curriculum,
pedagogy, assessment, and school culture. Involvement of parents is also
HOW DO SCHOOLS APPLY FOR FEDERAL FUNDS?
Those schools and
districts that see the need and choose to pursue a whole-school approach to
reform will find a wide range of choices. For many schools, an important
consideration will be the program's cost. Thus the recent availability of funds
from the Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration Program (CSRD) is expected to
make whole-school reform more attractive to many schools.
To qualify for CSRD funds, schools must select or develop a program that
thoughtfully integrates such key elements as curriculum and instruction, student
assessment, teacher professional development, parent involvement, and school
management (U.S. Department of Education 1998). Then, through their local
districts, schools can apply for funding through their state education agencies,
which have been allocated the funds by the U.S. Department of Education.
A key feature of the funding requirements is its encouragement of schools to
examine well-researched, externally developed models that have been replicated
with proved results. However, locally developed programs that have
research-based evidence of effectiveness are also eligible for CSRD funding.
Funds became available to states on July 1, 1998, and will remain available
until September 30, 2000. Funding requirements are available on the U.S.
Department of Education's website (see below). Schools need not be eligible for
Title I to qualify. To contact the U.S. Department of Education, call
Beyond need, will, and funding, the best advice seems to be to choose a
program with a proven record that fits your school's particular needs.
Cooper, Robert; Robert E. Slavin; and Nancy A.
Madden. Success For All: Improving the Quality of Implementation of Whole-School
Change Through the Use of a National Reform Network. Baltimore: The Johns
Hopkins University, January 1998.
Educational Research Service. Blueprints for School Success: A Guide to New
American Schools Designs. Arlington, Virginia: Author, 1998. 160 pages.
________. Comprehensive Models for School Improvement: Finding the Right
Match and Making It Work. Arlington, Virginia: Author, 1998. 114 pages.
Glennan, T. K. New American Schools After Six Years. Santa Monica,
California: RAND, 1998. 90 pages.
Herman, Rebecca, and Samuel C. Stringfield. Ten Promising Programs for
Educating All Children. Educational Research Associates, 1997.
Jenkins, L. Improving Student Learning: Applying Demming's Quality Principles
in Classrooms. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: ASQC Press, 1997.
Keltner, Brent R. Funding Comprehensive School Reform, RAND, 1998.
Olson, Lynn. "Study: Schoolwide Reform Not Easy." Education Week 22, 3 (April
Schaffer, Eugene C.; Pamela S. Nesselrodt; and Samuel C. Stringfield.
Impediments to Reform: An Analysis of Destabilizing Issues in Ten Promising
Programs. Baltimore: Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At
Risk; and Arlington, Virginia: Educational Research Service, 1997. 29 pages.
U.S. Department of Education. The Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration
Program. Washington, DC: Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S.
Department of Education, March 13, 1998.
Wasley, Patricia; Robert Hampel; and Richard Clark. "The Puzzle of Whole
School Change." Phi Delta Kappan 78, 9 (May 1997). EJ 544 328.
- The Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown
University. Comprehensive School Reform page:
- New American Schools home page:
- "Thomas" Website, Library of Congress:
- U.S. Department of Education: