In a recent blog, “Make No Small Plans,” I proposed a system innovators could use to create very effective schoolwide programs. I defined these as programs capable of making a difference in student achievement large enough to bring entire schools serving disadvantaged students to the levels typical of middle class schools. On average, that would mean creating school models that could routinely add an effect size of +0.50 for entire disadvantaged schools. +0.50, or half a standard deviation, is roughly the average difference between students who qualify for free lunch and those who do not, between African American and White students, and between Hispanic and non-Hispanic White students.
Today, I wanted to give some examples of approaches intended to meet the +0.50 goal. From prior work, my colleagues and I already have created a successful schoolwide reform model, Success for All, which, with adequate numbers of tutors (as many as six per school) achieved reading effect sizes in high-poverty Baltimore elementary schools of over +0.50 for all students and +0.75 for the lowest-achieving quarter of students (Madden et al, 1993). These outcomes maintained through eighth grade, and showed substantial reductions in grade retentions and special education placements (Borman & Hewes, 2003). Steubenville, in Ohio’s Rust Belt, uses Success for All in all of its Title I elementary schools, providing several tutors in each. Each year, Steubenville schools score among the highest in Ohio on state tests, exceeding most wealthy suburban schools. Other SFA schools with sufficient tutors are also exemplary in achievement gains. Yet these schools face a dilemma. Most cannot afford significant numbers of tutors. They still get excellent results, but less than those typical of SFA schools that do have sufficient tutors.
We are now planning another approach, also intended to produce schoolwide effect sizes of at least +0.50 in schools serving disadvantaged students. However, in this case our emphasis is on tutoring, the most effective strategy known for improving the achievement of struggling readers (Inns et al., 2019). We are calling this approach the Reading Safety Net. Main components of this plan are as follows:
Like the most successful forms of Success for All, the Reading Safety Net places a substantial emphasis on tutoring. Tutors will be well-qualified teaching assistants with BAs but not teaching certificates, extensively trained to provide one-to-four tutoring. Tutors will use a proven computer-assisted model in which students do a lot of pair teaching. This is what we now call our Tutoring With the Lightning Squad model, which achieved outcomes of +0.40 and +0.46 in two studies in the Baltimore City Public Schools (Madden & Slavin, 2017). A high-poverty school of 500 students might engage about five tutors, providing extensive tutoring to the majority of students, for as many years as necessary. One additional tutor or teacher will supervise the tutors and personally work with students having the most serious problems. We will provide significant training and follow-up coaching to ensure that all tutors are effective.
Attendance and Health
Many students fail in reading or other outcomes because they have attendance problems or certain common health problems. We propose to provide a health aide to help solve these problems.
Many students, especially those in high-poverty schools, fail because they do not attend school regularly. Yet there are several proven approaches for increasing attendance, and reducing chronic truancy (Shi, Inns, Lake, and Slavin, 2019). Health aides will help teachers and other staff organize and manage effective attendance improvement approaches.
My colleagues and I have designed strategies to help ensure that all students who need eyeglasses receive them. A key problem in this work is ensuring that students who receive glasses use them, keep them safe, and replace them if they are lost or broken. Health aides will coordinate use of proven strategies to increase regular use of needed eyeglasses.
Asthma and other health problems
Many students in high-poverty schools suffer from chronic illnesses. Cures or prevention are known for these, but the cures may not work if medications are not taken daily. For example, asthma is common in high-poverty schools, where it is the top cause of hospital referrals and a leading cause of death for school-age children. Inexpensive inhalers can substantially improve children’s health, yet many children do not regularly take their medicine. Studies suggest that having trained staff ensure that students take their medicine, and watch them doing so, can make a meaningful difference. The same may be true of other chronic, easily treated diseases common among children but often not consistently treated in inner-city schools. Health aides with special supplemental training may be able to play a key on-the-ground role in helping ensure effective treatment for asthma and other diseases.
The Reading Safety Net is only a concept at present. We are seeking funding to support its further development and evaluation. As we work with front line educators, colleagues, and others to further develop this model, we are sure to find ways to make the approach more effective and cost-effective, and perhaps extend it to solve other key problems.
We cannot yet claim that the Reading Safety Net has been proven effective, although many of its components have been. But we intend to do a series of pilots and component evaluations to progressively increase the impact, until that impact attains or surpasses the goal of ES=+0.50. We hope that many other research teams will mobilize and obtain resources to find their own ways to +0.50. A wide variety of approaches, each of which would be proven to meet this ambitious goal, would provide a range of effective choices for educational leaders and policy makers. Each would be a powerful, replicable tool, capable of solving the core problems of education.
We know that with sufficient investment and encouragement from funders, this goal is attainable. If it is in fact attainable, how could we accept anything less?
Borman, G., & Hewes, G. (2003). Long-term effects and cost effectiveness of Success for All. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 24 (2), 243-266.
Inns, A., Lake, C., Pellegrini, M., & Slavin, R. (2019). A synthesis of quantitative research on programs for struggling readers in elementary schools. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Madden, N. A., & Slavin, R. E. (2017). Evaluations of Technology-Assisted Small-Group Tutoring for Struggling Readers. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 1-8.
Madden, N. A., Slavin, R. E., Karweit, N. L., Dolan, L., & Wasik, B. (1993). Success for All: Longitudinal effects of a schoolwide elementary restructuring program. American Educational Reseach Journal, 30, 123-148.
Shi, C., Inns, A., Lake, C., & Slavin, R. E. (2019). Effective school-based programs for K-12 students’ attendance: A best-evidence synthesis. Baltimore, MD: Center for Research and Reform in Education, Johns Hopkins University.
This blog was developed with support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.