This paper presents highlights from a synthesis of research findings associated with schoolwide projects. The synthesis focuses on three aspects: (a) characteristics of faculties and districts with a comprehensive education; (b) programmatic and organizational components of educational achievement and (c) evidence of the effectiveness of organizing operations, particularly in terms of student performance. Additionally, several precautions associated with the interpretation of those findings are presented. Finally, implications are discussed for future evaluation and for administrators in schools and districts with top academic standards. The new education programs have provided supplementary resources to schools with large numbers of low-income students for over three decades. Recent federal legislation has encouraged schools to adopt new projects which permit schools to use funds more flexibly and strengthen their overall capacity to develop more comprehensive strategies to assist disadvantaged children. Funds are often employed by schools to enhance their entire program instead of targeting services to satisfy the requirements of the foremost disadvantaged populations. Despite the dramatic increase within the number of educational standards, however, there remain a variety of questions on their effectiveness relative to traditional programming. The new projects have operated in elementary schools in large, urban districts and have had high concentrations of poverty and academic disadvantage. School districts and state education agencies have frequently played a central role within the initiation and establishment of coordination and integration and most faculties spent a comparatively short period of time within the process of designing and wishes assessment.
New academic standards have allowed schools to introduce new activities and programs also as strengthen existing ones. Emphasis has been placed totally on strengthening existing programs and schools have designed assistance for it. However, a variety of common components have emerged, including reduction of class size through hiring of additional staff and increased staff development activities, revised decision making structures (e.g., teacher input into decisions affecting the school), and increased efforts to involve parents. Within the majority of schools, services became indistinguishable from the regular program at the school, which indicates that the traditionally fragmented or categorical approach to providing services is becoming less common. Some schools have introduced or strengthened aspects of classroom instruction or curricula, frequently incorporating components associated with effective schools. There’s also evidence that the planning process increased the capacity of schools and teachers to supply instructional services more flexibly, as particular student needs arise. These preliminary findings lend some insight into the components which are included as elements of support and start to make the idea for an understanding of what rises a typical implementation of the academic standards.
Principals report a variety of both advantages and drawbacks associated with schoolwide projects. The overwhelming majority of principals, operating for a minimum of three years, reported that evidence favored the new projects. Further, of these schools considered to comprise the primary group of projects, only 9% did not show the achievement gains required to continue. Although these broad indicators are generally positive, information about the impact on student achievement remains limited. The richest information about student performance derives from a couple of studies which are conducted within particular school districts. These district-level studies focus on comparison of bell-shaped curve equivalent reading and math scores for schools with and without new projects. Their designs, measures, and analytic methods vary widely, however, creating difficulties in drawing conclusions and comparing findings across studies. Of those studies that conduct tests of statistical significance, most report only a couple of serious differences in measures of student performance between schools. The findings from these district-level studies suggest mixed effects (both positive and negative) on student achievement scores that tend to be small. Further, several cautions must be considered within the interpretation of those findings, including the project implementation, the methodological difficulties inherent to the study, and therefore the limited district-level studies.
Evaluation of the new projects must continue beyond the initial phase of implementation and will be longitudinal and to capture effects which will not be fully apparent during the primary years. Because there are a variety of methodological challenges inherent to the study (e.g., varying implementation strategies across sites), evaluation design must be particularly thoughtful. Further, subsequent evaluations should still explore the role of school districts and to pursue a far better understanding of the mechanisms through which particular characteristics of educational standards cause changes in educational outcomes. The comprehensive plan has the potential to deal with three interrelated challenges within the nation’s most disadvantaged schools. First, to supply flexibility to our teachers to deal with the disadvantaged students. Second, to scale back curricular and instructional fragmentation within the classroom. Third, and of immediate interest to national policymakers, to be designed to enhance accountability at a time when there’s growing public concern over the overall quality of public education. Because the starting points incorporate a stronger accountability component, they provide the organizational potential to satisfy new federal legislative expectations for the new programs. Further, schools and districts implementing new projects can take the chance to travel beyond basic accountability requirements and consider broadening the ways the evaluation and the assessment are used. For instance, student assessment may additionally be used to guide instruction and improve teaching practice. Schoolwide projects also create a context during which roles of principals and district staff could be expanded or redefined. District staff might emphasize methods for phasing out pullout programs or for integrating traditional reading and math curriculum for the entire school. The chance to redefine decision-making roles at the school can also facilitate the creation of structures which better serve students. For instance, professional networks among teachers within the school could be fostered which encourage teachers to “buy into” aspects of the new project approach and cultivate changes at the classroom level. Similarly, new projects offer opportunities to explore broader governance issues. New alternative approaches to the functions of and relationships between the district, school, and classroom are often explored alongside parental involvement.
The research on the effectiveness of the new projects in terms of student performance has yielded mixed and largely inconclusive results. Nonetheless, the very fact that perceptions by district and school staff about continuation of the latest projects suggest that subsequent evaluations may begin to indicate more positive effects. It should be noted that these reflect only some of the tutorial standards within the nation; it’s therefore critical that reliable, longitudinal evaluations still be conducted beyond this first phase.