Costly Miami whole school reform program deemed a failure

A costly whole-school reform program in Miami-Dade County Public Schools that included an extended school day and school year failed to raise student achievement, according to a report by the County’s Office of Program Evaluation.

The initiative, called School Improvement Zone, was in operation for 3 years at a cost of $100 million to taxpayers, says The Miami Herald. To boost the performance of 39 schools in the county, the school day was extended by one hour four days a week and the school year by about 10 school days to, says the report. Other features of the initiative included a core literacy program from pre-K through grade 12, a structured curriculum with instructional strategies that bridged grade levels and schools, and enhanced professional development for teachers.

The ambitious initiative failed to result in achievement gains with the exception of some reading improvement at the elementary level that was similar to improvement seen in Reading First schools, the researcher reports. Reading First schools produced these improvements at a much lower cost, the author says.

Differences in achievement were greater between classrooms within the same schools than between the schools themselves, calling into question the notion of whole-school reform, says principal evaluator Steven Urdegar.

“This implies that policies that address student achievement through strategies oriented toward improving schools such as whole school reform or school choice may have less impact than those (i.e., teacher choice, professional development, or merit pay) that focus on teachers (Nye et al.),” Urdegar says.

The Extended Day activities for the School Improvement Zone included remedial instruction for students in need of reading and other skills. Students who were performing well in school participated in enrichment activities. Teachers and administrators complained of fatigue and burnout as a result of the extended calendar, the report says, and many students left the schools because of the schedule.

The Miami Herald reports that some students stopped going to school after school ended for summer break at the other local schools. “Principals and teachers also reported that proficient students felt stigmatized by the mandatory additional time, which was viewed as a punishment rather than an enhancement,” the report says.

“Miami-Dade County Public Schools, School Improvement Zone, Final Evaluation Report,” By Steven M. Urdegar, May 2009, Office of Program Evaluation.

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