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Scaling Up to Effectiveness

Posted by on Monday, November 29, 2010 in Around the Mall, Winter 2010.

Thomas Smith will serve as principal investigator and director of the Developing Effective Schools Center, currently located at Peabody.

Identifying and developing a process for transferring key elements that make some high schools in large urban districts more effective at improving outcomes for low-income and minority students as well as English language learners is the focus of a new national center at Peabody.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES), a research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, has awarded $13.6 million over five years to fund the Developing Effective Schools Center, a national research and development center on scaling up effective schools.

The center’s goal is to identify programs, practices, processes and policies that make some high schools more effective at reaching certain students. The center also will develop ways to transfer those methods to less effective schools in the same districts. Florida State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Education Development Center, headquartered in Newton, Mass., are partnering with Vanderbilt in the project.

This is the third national research center funded by IES to be located at Peabody, joining the National Center on Performance Incentives and the National Center on School Choice.

“We have universal agreement that schools are in need of reform, and there are innovative programs that have been shown to improve student outcomes,” Dean Camilla P. Benbow said. “The problem is that these successes often occur under particular conditions that are challenging to replicate across a range of schools. This new center will help educators figure out how to extend promising reforms to help more students.”

“Despite ambitious reforms over the past three decades, high schools today have shockingly low rates of student retention and learning, particularly for students from traditionally low-performing subgroups,” said Thomas Smith, associate professor of public policy and education. Smith will serve as principal investigator and director of the new center.

“Prior attempts to reform high schools have often failed because they did not sufficiently address the contexts of the districts and the schools in which they were implemented,” Smith said. “Our goal is to design a model where researchers, developers and school and district practitioners co-design methods of transferring effective practices from one school to another.

“By the conclusion of the center’s work, we will have developed, implemented and tested new processes that other districts will be able to use to scale up effective practices within the context of their own goals and unique circumstances,” Smith said.


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