The Lifecycle of Comprehensive School Reform


The range of activity related to comprehensive school reform (CSR) is impressive. Thousands of schools have implemented CSR models over the past decade, using either self-developed models or externally developed models. In September 2000, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a grant to AIR to conduct the National Longitudinal Evaluation of Comprehensive School Reform (NLECSR). The NLECSR is a quantitative and qualitative study of behavior, decisions, processes, and outcomes. It employs a quasi-experimental design with matched treatment and control schools. We examine CSR through a series of phases, from adoption to implementation to sustainability. We describe (a) the birth of school reform; that is, the process whereby schools adopt CSR models; (b) the design of and findings from our survey measure of implementation; (c) changes to the reform process within schools; that is, the process of implementation and the contextual factors affecting implementation; and(d) the sustainability of reform within schools as well as a critical indicator of "school health"—the relationship between model implementation and student academic achievement. Thus, we employ the metaphor of a lifecycle of reform. Several key findings are discussed.