CSRQ Center Report on Elementary School Comprehensive School Reform Models

In 1998, education researcher Sam Stringfield observed, “There is no shortage of programs that promise to turn around low-performing schools, but how can you tell which ones will live up to their claims?” Since those words were written, more than 500 distinct comprehensive school reform (CSR) approaches have been adopted in more than 5,000 schools across the country. How many of these CSR models were chosen based on a rigorous review of the evidence? The answer is unclear. To date, education stakeholders at the national, state, and local levels have had few objective and rigorous sources to turn to when making important school improvement choices. With notable exceptions — such as An Educators’ Guide to School Reform, issued by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), and the meta-analysis performed by Borman, Hewes, Overman, and Brown in 2002 —researchers have provided little help in rating the effectiveness and quality of CSR options available to education decision makers. Sam Stringfield’s advice, to treat selection of an improvement model “as an important and complicated consumer decision,” is as relevant today as when he issued it nearly a decade ago.

This report is intended to serve as a consumer guide that helps decision makers sort through claims about which approaches could truly meet the needs of students. It is the most extensive and comprehensive review of elementary school CSR models ever issued.

To prepare this report, the Comprehensive School Reform Quality (CSRQ) Center reviewed more than 800 studies on 22 widely implemented elementary school CSR models. We used rigorous standards that are aligned with the requirements for scientifically based research established by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. Each model is rated on a number of dimensions, including evidence of raising student achievement. The reviews of the individual models are written to provide education decision makers with profiles of each model and the evidence they need to make decisions to meet locally defined needs.