• by Joe Vigil, M.S. • IDRA Newsletter • October 1998 • 

Speaking about the subject of schoolwide reform, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley stated, “It is time to reform our nation’s poorest schools, and the Title I program can contribute to this effort…particularly through innovative and comprehensive school wide projects focused on helping every child meet higher standards” (U.S. Department of Education, 1998). The schoolwide reform effort supports a framework for change based on: high standards, support for comprehensive planning and continuous development, flexibility to draw on all resources and clear accountability for results.

Two such projects are the comprehensive school reform program and the schoolwide program. A side-by-side comparison of these two projects shows how the newer comprehensive school reform program supports the schoolwide program (see box below). When schools shift to a schoolwide approach, they provide increased opportunities for enriching curriculum and instruction throughout the school, accelerating student learning, and achieving district and state performance standards.

The Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration (CSRD) program, new in 1998, will help raise student achievement by assisting public schools across the country to implement effective, comprehensive school reforms that are based on reliable research and effective practices and that include an emphasis on basic academics and parental involvement. Building upon and leveraging ongoing efforts to connect higher standards with school improvement at the state and local levels through Goals 2000 and Title I, this initiative will help expand the quality and quantity of schoolwide reform efforts that enable all children, particularly low-achieving children, to meet challenging academic standards (U.S. Department of Education, 1998).

Schools that receive Title I funds and have at least 50 percent of their students coming from low-income families can initiate schoolwide programs. In consultation with the school’s central office and with support from distinguished educators and school support teams, these schools must initiate a year of planning to determine how to best utilize all fiscal resources, facilities and materials to provide high-quality instruction. The instruction must be fully aligned with student strengths and needs and the academic standards established by the state.

Schools participating in a schoolwide program are not required to identify particular students who are eligible, and they are not required to provide supplemental services. Typically, federal funds must only pay for services that supplement the specific services provided with state and local funds. In a schoolwide program, however, the services provided do not have to be supplemental. Instead, the amount of funding provided must be supplemental (above and beyond the amount that would otherwise be provided). Schoolwide programs can combine Title 1 resources along with other federal resources to leverage local and state funding and tailor an educational program to the needs of the entire student body, as long as the intent and purposes of the federal programs are met.

Successful schoolwide programs incorporate a comprehensive assessment of strengths and needs, best-practice school improvement strategies and highly qualified instructional staff. Planners lead their schools through a self-study that results in a comprehensive plan for redesigning instruction in order to ensure that every student achieves high standards.

The concept behind the schoolwide program legislation is that special programs will be incorporated into whole school planning and that the federal resources will be used to enhance the educational effort of each campus. The planning process involves key stakeholders, including teachers, administrators, parents, community members and, if appropriate, students. District officials are crucial to the process, as are representatives from local or state technical assistance teams. A comprehensive assessment that identifies the academic, social and emotional strengths and needs of every student constitutes the starting point for planning teams in their goal-setting efforts.

The STAR Center (the regional comprehensive assistance center serving Texas) has hosted training institutes for such planners cooperation with various regional education service centers throughout Texas. Participants of these schoolwide institutes take with them a planning process that is coordinated with all of the school’s programs. The box below depicts a campus planning model that the STAR Center presents at schoolwide institutes in order to lead districts through the planning process. This model is described in the STAR Center’s A Toolkit for Assessing and Revising the Integrated Campus Improvement and Title I Schoolwide Plan (1997).

This toolkit addresses the eight components required to implement a schoolwide program. Each section includes federal and state requirements, as well as a column for the insertion of local requirements. Key questions are provided in each section to generate reflection and discussion of the contents of the plan and prompt considerations for revision that will enhance the achievement of all students. The eight components are as follows:

  • Comprehensive assessment;
  • Description of the schoolwide reform strategies that will help all children meet state performance standards;
  • Instruction by highly qualified professional staff;
  • Professional development for teachers and aides, and where appropriate, pupil services personnel, parents, principals, and other staff to enable all children in the school to meet the state’s students performance standards;
  • Strategies to increase parent involvement;
  • Plans for assisting preschool children in the transition from early childhood programs, such as Head Start, Even Start or a state-run preschool program, to the local elementary school program;
  • Strategies for ensuring the involvement of teachers in decisions about the use of additional assessments; and
  • Activities to ensure that students who, during the course of the school year, experience difficulty mastering any state academic standards shall be provided with effective, timely, additional assistance.

Making the transition to these programs may require considerable adjustments for schools. But, with commitment and sustained creative effort, these challenges can be overcome for the benefit of all students.

Side-by-Side Comparison of the Comprehensive School Reform Program and the Schoolwide Program

Components of a Comprehensive School Reform Program Components of a Schoolwide Program
Comprehensive design with aligned components Comprehensive needs assessment of the entire school, based on student performance in relation to the state content and performance standards.
Effective, research-based methods and strategies Based on effective means of improving achievement
Professional development Professional development to help students meet high standards
Measurable goals and benchmarks State standards, assessment and accountability system as required in Title I includes adequate yearly progress and school profiles*
Support within the school by school faculty, administrators and staff Support within the school is developed with the involvement of the community to be served and individuals who will carry out the plan
Parental and community involvement Strategies to increase parental involvement
External technical support and assistance Support from a state system of support teams*
Evaluation strategies include a plan for evaluation of implementation of school reforms and the student results achieved Evaluation strategies include state standards, assessment and accountability system as required in Title I includes annual assessments using multiple measures*
Coordination of resources: Identifies how other resources (federal, state, local, private) available to the school will be utilized to coordinate services to support and sustain the school reform Coordination of resources: Combines almost all federal education money with state and local dollars*
Plans for assisting preschool children in transition to local elementary schools

* schoolwide law, not one of the schoolwide program components
** schoolwide component that is related

STAR Center. A Toolkit for Assessing and Revising the Integrated Campus Improvement and Title I Schoolwide Plan (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1997).


U.S. Department of Education. Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration Program. Internet posting 1998.

STAR Center. A Toolkit for Assessing and Revising the Integrated Campus Improvement and Title I Schoolwide Plan (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1997).

Joe Vigil, M.S., is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be sent to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1998, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 1998 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]