• by Adela Solís, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • November- December 1999

Dr. Adela SolisThere is yet another source of aid for schools struggling to make widespread changes. For almost two years, school districts across the country have been implementing school reform efforts with assistance from the federally-funded Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration (CSRD) program. Some Texas schools have been receiving CSRD assistance since the spring of this year (1999).

The CSRD was signed into law in November 1997. Sponsored by Representatives David Obey (D-Wisc.) and John Porter (R-Ill.), the “Obey-Porter” legislation (administered by the US Department of Education) provides funding to help schools adopt successful, research-based comprehensive school reform models. This three-year program supplied about $150 million to state education agencies to issue grants to school districts to conduct this type of school reform. Most of the funds ($120 million) were available for Title I schools.

Purpose of the CSRD Program

The US Department of Education delineates the purpose of CSRD as a program to provide financial incentives for schools (particularly Title I schools) that need to substantially improve student achievement to implement comprehensive school reform programs that are based on reliable research and effective practices and that include an emphasis on basic academics and parental involvement. These programs are intended to stimulate schoolwide change covering virtually all aspects of school operations, rather than a piecemeal, fragmented approach to reform.

Thus, to be considered comprehensive, a program must coherently integrate specific components listed in the legislation. Through supporting comprehensive school reform, the program aims to enable all children in the schools served, particularly low-achieving children, to meet challenging state content and student performance standards.

Comprehensive school reform programs integrate all nine of the following components.

Effective, research-based methods and strategies – A comprehensive school reform program employs innovative strategies and proven methods for student learning, teaching, and school management that are based on reliable research and effective practices and that have been replicated successfully in schools with diverse characteristics.

Comprehensive design with aligned components – The program has a comprehensive design for effective school functioning (including instruction, assessment, classroom management, professional development, parental involvement, and school management). It aligns the school’s curriculum, technology and professional development into a schoolwide reform plan to enable all students (including children from low-income families, children with limited English proficiency and children with disabilities) to meet challenging state content and performance standards and that addresses needs identified through a school needs assessment.

Professional development – The program provides high-quality and continuous teacher and staff professional development and training.

Measurable goals and benchmarks – A comprehensive school reform program has measurable goals for student performance tied to the state’s challenging content and student performance standards, as those standards are implemented, and benchmarks for meeting the goals.

Support within the school – The program is supported by school faculty, administrators and staff.

Parental and community involvement – The program provides for the meaningful involvement of parents and the local community in planning and implementing school improvement activities.

External technical support and assistance – A comprehensive reform program utilizes high-quality external support and assistance from a comprehensive school reform entity – which may be a university – with experience or expertise in schoolwide reform and improvement.

Evaluation strategies – The program includes a plan for evaluating implementation of school reforms and the student results achieved.

Coordination of resources – The program identifies how other resources (federal, state, local and private) available to the school will be utilized to coordinate services to support and sustain the school reform.

CSRD Program in Texas

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) coordinates the CSRD program in Texas, including the awarding of grants to schools. These competitive grants are referred to as Improving Teaching and Learning (ITL) grants. They were awarded in early spring 1999. Schools began implementing their programs on March 1, 1999, and are expected to continue through June 30, 2000.

Information from TEA indicates that 137 campuses in 31 school districts were awarded grants: 62 are elementary schools, 51 are middle schools, and 24 are high schools. Over 90 percent of the schools are Title I schoolwide campuses.

The following school reform models are being implemented:

  • Accelerated Schools Project,
  • Coalition of Essential Schools,
  • Co-NECT,
  • Core Knowledge Foundation,
  • Edison Project,
  • Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound,
  • Modern Red Schoolhouse,
  • Roots and Wings, and
  • Success for All.

A number of schools also are implementing locally developed models, which is permitted by the program.

STAR Center Assistance

The STAR Center is the comprehensive regional assistance center funded by the U.S. Department of Education to serve Texas. It provides technical assistance to Texas school districts to help implement school reform within Title I schoolwide programs. The CSRD program was designed to support in a coordinated fashion comprehensive education improvement strategies to enable all children – including children from low-income families, children with limited English proficiency, and children with disabilities – to reach challenging academic standards. Thus, coordination is particularly important between Title I schoolwide programs and the CSRD program.

Schoolwide Planning

Schools participating in the CSRD program in Texas (i.e., those implementing ITL grants) may take advantage of STAR Center assistance that is available to all Title I schoolwide campuses in schoolwide planning. This service is assisting school districts and campuses to plan, develop and revise schoolwide plans, as required by statute. Schools may also utilize A Toolkit for Assessing and Revising the Integrated Campus Improvement and Title I Schoolwide Plan. This document may be obtained through the STAR Center or through the Title I or school support team coordinator at an education service center.

Awareness Sessions on Reform Goals

Upon request, the STAR Center can provide sessions to campus and district level school personnel to address principles of school reform inherent in the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994 (which funds the Title I program) and their relationship to the school reform models being implemented in their schools.

Assessing Success of CSRD

A survey of low performing campuses awarded ITL grants revealed a need for guidance in evaluating their implementation of school reforms and the achievement of student results. To this end, the STAR Center is preparing a workbook for assessing and reporting progress in school reform. The intent is to give Texas schools a tool to more easily map their strategies, critically assess their progress, make needed adjustments, and prepare the evaluation report as required by TEA.

Assessing Success of CSRD with Special Populations

The STAR Center will soon provide a report on the success of CSRD programs in addressing the needs of limited-English-proficient, migrant, homeless, Title I, and disadvantaged students and the degree of impact these reform models have on the achievement of these students, as reported by the model developers. This information is intended for use by local education agencies in selecting the research-based model that is most appropriately aligned with the unique characteristics of the student population.

Information on STAR Center support may be obtained by contacting the STAR Center at 1-888-FYI-STAR.

The 10 educational laboratories also have received CSRD funds to provide information and support to schools in selecting, designing, implementing and evaluating reform programs. The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) in Austin provides services to Texas schools. The SEDL web site and that of other regional laboratories can be accessed via the STAR Center web site.

Program information also is available from TEA’s web site (www.tea.state.tx.us) or by calling the division of student support programs (512/463-9374).

Adela Solís, Ph.D., is a senior education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November- December 1999 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.]