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September 1, 2001
Vol. 59
No. 1

Response / The Facts About Comprehensive School Reform

      In many areas of scholarship, some individuals devote their careers to trying to debunk information that everyone else knows to be true. In education, Stanley Pogrow has repeatedly attacked the validity of the Success for All program and comprehensive reform in general. In the May 2001 Educational Leadership, he published his sixth article ("Avoiding Comprehensive Schoolwide Reform Models") attacking Success for All and comprehensive reform. In the article, he repeats the criticisms of Success for All that I and other researchers have refuted many times (see, for example, Ross, 2000; Slavin & Madden, 2000a, b; Stringfield, 2000).
      For the record, Success for All has been evaluated in dozens of studies in districts across the United States and in five foreign countries, by 52 individual researchers, of whom 35 were at institutions other than Johns Hopkins University or the Success for All Foundation (Slavin & Madden, 2001). The program was identified as one of only two comprehensive reforms for elementary schools with the highest quality and rigor of evidence of effectiveness (Herman, 1999; Traub, 1999).
      The most selective journals in education have published articles demonstrating the program's effectiveness. Nothing Pogrow said in Educational Leadership or in any of his previous articles in other publications contradicts any of these easily verifiable facts. Instead, Pogrow implies that he alone has better judgment than all of those researchers, reviewers, and journal editors, as well as the thousands of educators who have adopted and maintained the program for many years, funders who have supported the research and development, and policymakers who have recognized the potential of comprehensive school reform.
      Although he is in effect a competitor who believes that his own program—Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)—has been slighted by the widespread adoption of Success for All and other comprehensive models, Pogrow maintains that he alone has the objectivity and insight to critique the enormous body of evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of Success for All. Although he has never published a single article comparing his own program to a control group, he frequently criticizes research that has met the highest standards of quality, objectivity, and fairness.
      Pogrow does bring up a few new criticisms in his May 2001 Educational Leadership article, but these are no more valid than his earlier critiques. First, he claims that an unpublished, unnamed internal report in Houston questions the effectiveness of Success for All. I know of no such report, but this conclusion contradicts publicly available evidence. Data from the Internet, which anyone can access and analyze, show that Houston Success for All schools have registered greater gains on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) reading scale in grades 3–5 than have other Houston schools and other Texas schools (Hurley, Chamberlain, Slavin, & Madden, 2001).
      Pogrow also blames schoolwide reform for the continuing gap between white and minority students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Title I schoolwide projects, however, are in fewer than 20 percent of elementary schools. Further, there is a big difference between run-of-the-mill schoolwide projects and comprehensive school reforms. During the 1990s, implementation of comprehensive school reform models increased from a negligible proportion of U.S. elementary schools to less than 9 percent, with Success for All representing less than 3 percent (Snyder & Hoffman, 2001). These reforms could not possibly account for the reading performance of the entire nation.
      Pogrow cites as evidence against the effectiveness of Success for All the number of schools that have dropped the program. Actually, this evidence supports the program's effectiveness and sustainability. More than 92 percent of all schools that have ever used Success for All over the past 14 years are continuing to do so today, including more than 200 schools that have used the program for six years or more, despite changes in superintendents, principals, staffs, district and state policies, and other events that usually cause innovations to disappear.
      Pogrow argues that other factors, such as teacher quality and class-size reduction, are more likely than comprehensive school reform to make a difference in student achievement, but this is not an either-or proposition. Once it has better teachers and smaller classes, a school still needs better programs for those better teachers to implement in those smaller classes. To imply that comprehensive reform inhibits investments in smaller classes or better teachers is irresponsible. For example, the nonpersonnel cost of Success for All in the first year is about $150 per student, and then diminishes to $60 per student in the second year, $50 in the third, and $30 beyond the third year. These sums would not buy much class-size reduction. In fact, class-size reduction for reading is part of the Success for All intervention, and teacher quality is arguably increased by the extensive on-site professional development provided to teachers.
      As I've said many times, it is true that Success for All does not work in every school, and it is certainly true that other reforms may also be effective. However, valid, widely known, and widely accepted evidence supports the achievement effects of Success for All. Endless repetition of empty charges does not change the facts.

      Herman, R. (1999). An educator's guide to schoolwide reform. Arlington, VA: Educational Research Service.

      Hurley, E. A., Chamberlain, A., Slavin, R. E., & Madden, N. A. (2001). Effects of Success for All on TAAS reading: A Texas statewide evaluation. Phi Delta Kappan, 82(10), 750–756.

      Ross, S. M. (2000). When a debate becomes a feud [Letter to the editor]. Phi Delta Kappan, 82(4), 339.

      Slavin, R. E., & Madden, N. A. (2000a). Research on achievement outcomes of Success for All: A summary and response to critics. Phi Delta Kappan, 82(1), 38–40, 59–66.

      Slavin, R. E., & Madden, N. A. (2000b). Success for All works [Letter to the editor]. Phi Delta Kappan, 82(4), 337.

      Slavin, R. E., & Madden, N. A. (2001). One million children: Success for All. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

      Snyder, T. D., & Hoffman, C. M. (2001). Digest of education statistics 2000. (NCES Publication No. 2001-034). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U. S. Department of Education. Available: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2001/digest/index.html

      Stringfield, S. (2000). A response and a hope for a better day [Letter to the editor]. Phi Delta Kappan, 82(4), 337–339.

      Traub, J. (1999). Better by design? A consumer's guide to schoolwide reform. Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

      Robert E. Slavin has contributed to educational leadership.

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