Comprehensive school reform

Comprehensive school reform (CSR), also called school-wide or whole school reform, is a coordinated effort to overhaul all parts and systems of a school’s operation. It integrates curriculum, instruction, professional development, parental involvement, classroom management, and school management efforts (Ed Week-CSR 2004). CSR promotes shared leadership and relies on support from teachers, administrators, staff, and outside agents experienced in CSR. It also requires measurable student achievement goals, and regular evaluation to assess a school’s academic results and CSR implementation progress (Borman 2003*).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased academic achievement

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that comprehensive school reform (CSR) improves academic outcomes (Borman 2003*, Walpole 2017*, NBER-Bonilla 2017*, Blueprints-SFA). Additional evidence is needed to determine which programs and implementation methods are most effective.

CSR programs can modestly improve student achievement in most circumstances (Borman 2003*, BEE-CSRQ elementary, BEE-CSRQ middle and high). Effects appear strongest after CSR has been implemented for several years (Borman 2003*).

Some programs have demonstrated stronger effects than others, particularly in elementary schools (Borman 2003*, BEE-CSRQ elementary). Success for All (SFA), a CSR program to detect and prevent reading problems, improves children’s reading skills (SPTW, IES WWC, BEE-CSRQ elementary, Borman 2003*). Positive reading effects may depend on early exposure to SFA; students initially exposed to SFA later, in grades 3 to 5, do not improve reading achievement (Hanselman 2013*). The Direct Instruction program may also improve academic outcomes (Borman 2003*, BEE-CSRQ elementary). Oregon’s CSR program, Reading First, is associated with improved student reading in general; however, students in special education and those at risk for reading failure who need more intensive instruction and assessment demonstrate less improvement (Sanford 2011*).

Research suggests that schools can best implement CSR by fitting it to their circumstances (Borman 2003*), selectively pursuing cohesive reforms, and building time and resources for CSR into regular operation (Waldron 2010*). The professional development component of CSR appears most effective when teachers and administrators share leadership and focus on evidence-based practices (Waldron 2010*). Teacher beliefs, self-efficacy, professional development, and buy-in can support positive attitudes toward school reform (Donnell 2015*). Principals’ use of data-informed practices to support CSR can increase teacher buy-in (Yoon 2016*), and over time increased teacher buy-in is associated with improved student achievement (Lee 2017b*).

High costs and maintaining political will and buy-in from school districts, principals, and teachers are challenges to implementing and sustaining CSR programs over the long time horizon needed for change (Brookings-Levesque 2016). Research indicates that most schools pursuing CSR do not fully implement it. Teachers in CSR schools are not usually offered the full amount of professional development recommended, and may not be given adequate implementation time or leadership roles in the change process (RAND-Vernez 2006).

CSR costs vary by program. Success for All typically costs elementary schools $100,000 in the first year, $37,000 in the second, and $26,000 in the third year (SPTW). Direct Instruction costs $284,000 for a school of 500 students in the first year (PPN).

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

Several CSR programs have been widely implemented. For example, Success for All has been implemented in schools in 48 states and 4 other countries (SFAF) and Direct Instruction has been implemented in schools in 22 states, Guam, and Australia (NIFDI).

The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model uses a CSR or whole school approach with support from the community to build on the relationship between education and health and improve each child’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development; the WSCC model is being implemented at the national, state, and school district level (ASCD-WSCC implementation 2016).

Implementation Resources

NIFDI - National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI). The gold standard in direct instruction.

CSRI - Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement (CSRI).

SFAF - Success for All Foundation (SFAF).

AIR-SSL SCI resources - American Institutes for Research (AIR). Safe supportive learning (SSL): School climate improvement (SCI) resource package.

AIR-School improvement - American Institutes for Research (AIR). District and school improvement.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Borman 2003* - Borman GD, Hewes GM, Overman LT, Brown S. Comprehensive school reform and achievement: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research. 2003;73(2):125-230.

Walpole 2017* - Walpole S, McKenna MC, Amendum S, Pasquarella A, Strong JZ. The promise of a literacy reform effort in the upper elementary grades. The Elementary School Journal. 2017;118(2):257-280.

NBER-Bonilla 2017* - Bonilla S, Dee T. The effects of school reform under NCLB waivers: Evidence from focus schools in Kentucky. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). 2017: Working Paper 23462.

Blueprints-SFA - Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV). Blueprints for healthy youth development: Success for All (SFA).

BEE-CSRQ elementary - Best Evidence Encyclopedia (BEE), Comprehensive School Reform Quality Center (CSRQ). CSRQ center report on elementary school comprehensive school reform models: Educator’s summary. Washington, DC: Comprehensive School Reform Quality Center (CSRQ), American Institutes for Research; 2006.

BEE-CSRQ middle and high - Best Evidence Encyclopedia (BEE). CSRQ center report on middle and high school comprehensive school reform models: Educator’s summary 2008.

SPTW - Social Programs That Work (SPTW). Full list of programs.

IES WWC - What Works in Education Clearinghouse (WWC). Find what works. Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Hanselman 2013* - Hanselman P, Borman GD. The impacts of Success for All on reading achievement in grades 3-5: Does intervening during the later elementary grades produce the same benefits as intervening early? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 2013;35(2):237-251.

Sanford 2011* - Sanford AK, Park Y, Baker SK. Reading growth of students with disabilities in the context of a large-scale statewide reading reform effort. The Journal of Special Education. 2011;47(2):83-95.

Waldron 2010* - Waldron NL, McLeskey J. Establishing a collaborative school culture through comprehensive school reform. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation. 2010;20(1):58-74.

Donnell 2015* - Donnell LA, Gettinger M. Elementary school teachers’ acceptability of school reform: Contribution of belief congruence, self-efficacy, and professional development. Teaching and Teacher Education. 2015;51:47-57.

Yoon 2016* - Yoon SY. Principals’ data-driven practice and its influences on teacher buy-in and student achievement in comprehensive school reform models. Leadership and Policy in Schools. 2016;15(4):500-523.

Lee 2017b* - Lee SW, Min S. Riding the implementation curve: Teacher buy-in and student academic growth under comprehensive school reform programs. The Elementary School Journal. 2017;117(3):371-395.

Brookings-Levesque 2016 - Levesque EM. School turnaround under ESSA: Progress, but not a silver bullet. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution; 2016.

RAND-Vernez 2006 - Vernez G, Karam R, Mariano LT, DeMartini C. Evaluating comprehensive school reform models at scale: Focus on implementation. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2006: Monograph Report 546.

PPN - Promising Practices Network (PPN). On children, families and communities.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

SFAF - Success for All Foundation (SFAF).

NIFDI - National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI). The gold standard in direct instruction.

ASCD-WSCC implementation 2016 - Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). The whole school, whole community, whole child model: Ideas for implementation. 2016.

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