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Searching for a Comprehensive Reform Model? Skip the Sales Pitch, Now There's an Independent Review

If you've ever been on a school or district team charged with selecting a comprehensive school reform model, you know just how confusing it is: Slick brochures, flashy PowerPoint presentations, and anecdotes of success abound. There's some real research mixed in, but it sure is hard to find. Fortunately, the Comprehensive School Reform Quality (CSRQ) Center has done the digging for you.

In two new reports, one on elementary school models and one on middle- and high-school models, the CSRQ Center distills that heap of papers down to thorough, trustworthy, useful guides for educators and administrators who are seeking a comprehensive reform model. Both reports rate the models on their evidence of having produced gains in student achievement and four other criteria, including their services to schools to enable successful implementation.

Because the CSRQ Center holds the models to very high standards, no model has yet achieved the top rating, "very strong," on evidence of positive effects on student achievement. In the elementary school report, two of the 22 models reviewed came close: Direct Instruction and Success for All were rated as having "moderately strong" evidence. In the middle- and high-school report, the highest rating on evidence of positive effects on student achievement was "moderate"—and that went to just four of the 18 models reviewed: America's Choice, School Development Program, Success for All–Middle Grades, and Talent Development High School.

In both of these reports, the reader is asked to keep in mind that many of the models are aiming to turn around low-performing schools with high percentages of students from low-income homes. When these models do produce strong evidence of effectiveness, it means they've succeeded in very challenging conditions.

Where the models are very strong is in demonstrating that they offer professional development and technical assistance during implementation.

To read the CSRQ Center's reports, go to www.csrq.org/reports.asp.