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«ED 427 057 TM 029 438 AUTHOR Dannis, Jacqueline; Colombo, Marie; Sawilowsky, Shlomo TITLE Lessons in School Reform: An Evaluation of a ...»

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ED 427 057 TM 029 438

AUTHOR Dannis, Jacqueline; Colombo, Marie; Sawilowsky, Shlomo

TITLE Lessons in School Reform: An Evaluation of a

University-operated Charter Middle School.

INSTITUTION Wayne State Univ., Detroit, MI. Coll. of Urban, Labor, and

Metropolitan Affairs.

SPONS AGENCY Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ED), Washington, DC.

PUB DATE 1996-12-00 NOTE 66p.

CONTRACT R117E40242 PUB TYPE Reports Evaluative (142) EDRS PRICE MF01/PC03 Plus Postage.

DESCRIPTORS Academic Achievement; *Charter Schools; *College School Cooperation; Educational Change; Higher Education;

Intermediate Grades; Junior High Schools; *Middle Schools;

Minority Groups; Program Evaluation; Public Schools; *School Organization; *Urban Schools IDENTIFIERS *Ad Hoc Strategy; Reform Efforts; *Wayne State University MI


The Wayne State University Public School (UPS), Detroit (Michigan), a university-operated charter middle school, is strongly influenced by the educational reform movement. The evolution of UPS is documented as a case study of educational reform in the 1990s, focusing on the 1994-95 school year. The school is in an urban area marked by poverty and crime. It has implemented an extended-day format and provides educational and enrichment activities from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. The school also provides counseling and medical services through grant-funded projects. The 340 students in the 1994-95 school year, nearly all of whom were African American, came from all over Detroit. The school had an "adhocratic" organizational structure, with an organizational structure that empowered teachers. Teachers developed their own classroom curricula, and the lack of development of an innovative, interdisciplinary, school-wide curriculum was sometimes apparent. Student achievement at UPS varied significantly, with improvements linked to teachers' experience with middle school students and the teachers' ability to keep students engaged. Parents appeared to be satisfied with UPS, and students particularly appreciated the feeling of safety in the school. In line with current educational reform, the UPS has developed an innovative organizational structure that allows for flexibility and responsiveness to student needs, empowered teachers for decision making, and worked in collaboration with a university. Implications for additional improvements are discussed. Three appendixes discuss the evaluation instrumentation and methodology, the parent, staff, and student survey responses, and Wayne State University and UPS collaborative programs.

(Contains 7 figures, 5 tables, and 30 references.) (SLD) *************************

–  –  –

Parent and Student Assessment Summary and Conclusions References Appendixes Lessons in School ReformPage ii


Educational reform today is largely focused on developing new organizational structures, collaborative relationships between universities and schools, and innovative instructional strategies designed to meet the individual needs of students. The Wayne State University Public School (UPS), a university-operated charter middle school, is strongly influenced by the educational reform movement. This report documents the evolution of UPS, and serves as a case study of the educational reform movement of the 1990s.

The Center for Urban Studies (CUS) at Wayne State University has been involved in the evaluation of UPS since funding was awarded in 1992. The current evaluation focuses on the 1994-95 school year, UPS' second year of operation. Figure 1 presents a model used to complete this evaluation, and this report incorporates information from each component of the model. A summary of the findings is provided below.

–  –  –


School Setting and Funded Services The school, housed in the Michigan Center for High Technology building, is located in an urban area marked by poverty and crime. Extensive renovation and adaptation were completed on the site. The school implemented an extended day format, and provided its students educational and enrichment activities from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. In addition to the academic and extended day activities, the school provided counseling and medical services through grant-funded projects.

Lessons in School ReformPage iii

Administration and Staff Characteristics School administration consisted of the principal, who had been involved with UPS from its inception, and two assistant principals. All had considerable teaching and management experience. There were 14 full-time teachers and most, except for the lead teachers, were new to UPS in the 1994-95 school year and had relatively few years of teaching experience; eight of the 14 teachers had less than three years of teaching experience.

Student and Family Characteristics The 340 UPS students came from throughout Detroit. There was an equal number of male and female students, and nearly all were African American. Sixty-one percent of the students qualified for the free or reduced lunch program. Incoming achievement test scores indicated a range of academic performance. Students scored in the average range of performance in reading, language, and social studies. In science, only the seventh grade students performed in the average range; the sixth and eighth graders performed below average. Students in all three grades performed below average in math.


Organizational Structure The University Public School created an adhocratic organizational structure: a less hierarchical, more decentralized, and "innovative" structure responsive to the needs of the students. This method of organization is in alignment with the charter school movement as a whole, and is supported by current literature. Organizational theorists purport that future organizations will be more ad hoc in their approach (Drucker, 1988). Organizations more adhocratic in structure are, in theory, more flexible and responsive to the changing environment (Robbins, 1990).

The current educational reform movement also calls for empowered decision-making and collaboration among schools, universities and community members. UPS has shown much success in implementing its organizational structure around the empowerment of teachers in the decision-making process. At the end of the school year, teachers believed themselves to be empowered, and reported high job satisfaction. However, UPS was less successful in involving UPS students, parents, WSU faculty, and community members in the educational decision-making process. Although the UPS parents believed themselves to be involved in their children's education, their involvement in the decision-making process at the school was quite limited.

Curriculum The University Public School did not use the school-wide curriculum developed by WSU faculty during the school's planning process, nor did the curriculum committee or other organizational entities assume the responsibility of developing an alternative schoolwide curriculum. Teachers were expected to develop their classroom curriculum with the assistance and support of the teaching teams; however, based on observation there appeared to be less meeting time devoted to this endeavor than anticipated. Unfortunately, the teams also did not develop an interdisciplinary curriculum. Finally, the teaching staff generally did not look to the instructional leaders (the principal and teaching team leaders) for advice or guidance. It is apparent that an important goal of the current educational reform movement, the development and use of a core curriculum which allows for Lessons in School ReformPage iv interdisciplinary educational experience, was not a priority for UPS in the 1994-95 school year, and therefore was not achieved.

Instruction The Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development (1989) recommends that middle schools provide young adolescents with a core academic program for all learners. Teachers felt that UPS had provided the opportunity for students to acquire basic skills. Yet, through the eyes of the faculty and the evaluation team, the school had taken a "traditional" approach to educational instruction. There was little use of innovative instructional techniques like interdisciplinary instruction and cooperative learning in the classroom, and no extensive use of technology in the instruction process. Furthermore, there was limited individualization of instruction, through the use of learning centers or independent study.

Without individualization of instruction, it was difficult to provide an academic program appropriate for all learners.

Generally, the teachers' instruction and assessment of learning largely reflects the lack of development of an innovative, interdisciplinary, school-wide curriculum. The school had not developed or utilized integrated, sequential, school-wide learning objectives, making it difficult to establish an innovative system of assessing student learning. The school established instead a traditional assessment of learning represented by the grading system, which was perceived to be inconsistent and unfair by students. If the school's core belief is that all students can learn, the grading system and students' and teachers' perceptions of the learning assessment should mirror that belief. Most importantly, the current reform movement recommends that schools work to provide successful educational experiences for all students.


Student Engagement Research suggests that the differences in the length of school days and school years have a minor impact on student achievement (Slavin, 1991; Karweit, 1981). What matters is engaged time, or time on task: the number of minutes actually spent learning is the time measure most frequently found to affect achievement (Slavin, 1991; Karweit and Slavin, 1981). Generally, the UPS students were engaged in learning activities, and evaluation team observations revealed that the average percentage of engaged time was comparable to a standard "good" school. Yet there was variation among the classes: some teachers generated a high percentage of engagement time, while others generated a low percentage.

Students' Psycho-social Development The UPS faculty focused on providing a safe environment in which the students could learn, and they established strategies to protect students from a harsh urban neighborhood.

They also established a strict code of conduct, and enforced it strongly. Generally, they were successful in these endeavors. There was only one serious infringement of the code of conduct, and only two students were expelled. Most enlightening, with respect to the school's environment, was the following student comment: "[at UPS] I don't have to worry about getting shot." As research suggests, the experience or threat of violence can strongly interfere with learning (Garbarino, 1992), and the faculty at UPS has worked effectively to weaken this barrier to education. What the faculty has not done is involve students in the process, for as another study suggests, "fewer problems of student discipline and antisocial behavior as well as greater student satisfaction are associated with

Lessons in School ReformPage v

opportunities to participate in decision making" (Laguarda, Hightower, Leighton & Weiner, 1995).

The faculty has also worked to address the specific social and psychological needs of adolescent students. Collectively, the UPS faculty had limited professional experience with the adolescent population; only two of 14 teachers had five or more years of experience working with middle school students. Regardless of this fact, the school's small size and the organizational structure of grade level teaching teams allowed the teachers to be responsive to the students' individual needs and create "small communities for learning."

Furthermore, other grant-funded programs provided support for children with special needs, and the WSU School of Social Work initiated and worked to maintain an advisory program. Assessment measures reveal that the UPS students' self-esteem, both in general and specific to the areas of home, peers and school, was average and stable. There were no changes in self-esteem scores from fall to spring, and students' scores were slightly above the norm.


Student Achievement Student achievement gains at the UPS varied significantly. It appears that the improvements are linked to teachers' experience with middle school students, and their ability to keep students engaged in learning activities. Further observations suggest that gains in achievement test scores occurred when instruction focused on acquiring basic skills. These two issues -- teachers experienced in middle school pedagogy and attention to core curriculum -- are supported by middle school educational philosophy. As often cited in the education research literature, there is also an association between high student expectations and achievement test score gains.

Parent and Student Assessment The parents appeared to be satisfied with UPS, and praised aspects of the curriculum.

In fact, it appears that they appreciate the traditional educational approach of UPS. Parents also noted the enrichment activities and co-curricular involvement as strengths of the curriculum. The school's attention to students' psycho-social development was also viewed as an asset. Some characteristics of the school setting, such as school and class size, were viewed as strengths, while some, such as location and lack of a gym, were criticized. Students were less positive in their assessments, perhaps reflecting their perceptions of an arbitrary grading system and a lack of voice in school policy.

What can we learn from the evaluation of the University Public School? First, there can be educational reform: reform in line with the charter school movement. The University Public School as a charter school developed and implemented an innovative organizational structure, an ad hoc structure more flexible and responsive to the needs of students.

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