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Comprehensive school reform

Health Factors: Education
Decision Makers: Educators State Government
Evidence Rating: Some Evidence
Population Reach: 10-19% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: Likely to decrease disparities

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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 to improve academic outcomes (Ed Week-CSR 2004). CSR promotes shared leadership and relies on support from teachers, administrators, staff, and outside agents experienced in CSR transformation. It also requires measurable student achievement goals, and regular evaluation to assess a school’s academic results and CSR implementation progress (Borman 2003). Congress incorporated CSR for schools that primarily serve low income students into the No Child Left Behind Act (Ed Week-CSR 2004) and is expected to continue it in some form in the next Elementary and Secondary School Act (ESEA) reauthorization (Peurach 2012).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Increased academic achievement

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that comprehensive school reform (CSR) improves academic outcomes (Borman 2003). 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, a CSR program to detect and prevent reading problems (SPTW), improves children’s reading skills (SPTW, IES WWC, BEE-CSRQ elementary, Borman 2003). The Direct Instruction program may also improve academic outcomes (Borman 2003, PPN, BEE-CSRQ elementary).

Implementation quality, rather than student or program characteristics, appears to determine CSR success (Borman 2003). 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).

CSR, on average, costs about $105,000 per year in 2012 dollars, although specific costs vary by program. Schools may be able to redirect Title I and other state and federal supplemental funds into CSR efforts (Borman 2003). 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).


United States

Research indicates that most schools pursuing CSR do not fully implement it. Teachers in CSR schools are usually offered a quarter of the professional development recommended, and may not be given adequate implementation time or leadership roles in the change process (RAND-Vernez 2006).

Implementation Resources

CSRI - Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement (CSRI). Accessed on January 11, 2016
NIFDI - National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI). The gold standard in direct instruction. Accessed on May 20, 2016
SFAF - Success for All Foundation (SFAF). Accessed on May 24, 2016

Citations - Description

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. Accessed on November 30, 2015
Ed Week-CSR 2004 - Education Week. Comprehensive school reform. 2004. Accessed on January 14, 2016
Peurach 2012* - Peurach DJ. Improving large-scale school reform. Education Week. 2012. Accessed on May 20, 2016

Citations - Evidence

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. Accessed on December 1, 2015
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. Accessed on December 1, 2015
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. Accessed on November 30, 2015
IES WWC - What Works in Education Clearinghouse (WWC). Find what works. Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Accessed on June 2, 2016
PPN - Promising Practices Network (PPN). On children, families and communities. Accessed on December 7, 2016
SPTW - Social Programs That Work (SPTW). Full list of programs. Accessed on September 28, 2017
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. Accessed on November 10, 2015

Citations - Implementation

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. Accessed on November 9, 2015

Page Last Updated

March 6, 2015

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