CSOS Earns Grant to Assist Students Who Are at Risk By Steve Libowitz The U.S. Department of Education has awarded the Johns Hopkins Center for Social Orgaand Howard University a five-year, $27.7 million grant to establish and jointly operate a research center dedicated to improving education, specifically for students most at risk of failing or dropping out of school. The award, the department's largest ever given for research and development--providing $4.7 million in the first year--will establish the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk. CRESPAR was created to research and develop school reform programs that will transform schools serving students most at risk of failing or dropping out, whether they live in poor urban neighborhoods, depressed rural areas or on impoverished Indian reservations. The grant also marks the first time a historically black university has been included in an education research project of this magnitude. The award comes on the heels of a recent national survey conducted by the research group Public Agenda. The survey found that the general public does not think much of recent approaches to education reform and prefers students learn the old-fashioned way. But education researchers at CSOS believe they are in a position to show that their new models for schooling can make a real difference in students' lives. The new center, which builds on the work of a CSOS research center whose contract expired Sept. 30, will be the cornerstone of the department's new National Institute on the Education of At-Risk Students under the recently reorganized Office of Educational Research and Improvement. CSOS was selected to establish this center because it has a 26-year history of applying rigorous scientific methods to its research and resisting the temptations of reform-minded fads or investigative intuitions that draw the suspicion of the public and of policy makers. The center has built a national reputation for systematically addressing and helping to solve many of the problems that most concern educators such as tracking, ensuring effective reading instruction, involving families and communities in the education process, and understanding the benefits of students working together in the classroom. "A lot is riding on this grant," said CSOS director James McPartland. "The public wants schools that work, and we promise to deliver nothing less than that." "Improving education for at-risk students, actually for all students, is like preparing for a moon shot," said CRESPAR co-director Robert Slavin. "NASA had the primary objective of getting a man on the moon, and to achieve that goal, a lot of different problems had to be worked on simultaneously, like how to successfully launch, how to land without crashing, how to live in space, what kinds of experiments should be done. "CRESPAR's primary objective is to have each child reach 12th grade confident, successful and ready for college. To achieve that will take many individual projects." The center will support seven projects ranging from birth through high school and including bilingual learning, school-based violence and public policy. Eight universities and research organizations across the country will contribute to these Hopkins/Howard initiatives. CRESPAR's work, Dr. Slavin said, is built on the theory that every child born in America can and must grow up to become a capable, creative and contributing member of society. "Every child has the capacity to succeed in school and in life," he said. "Our mission is to develop ways for schools, families and community agencies to work together more effectively to make sure all students are no longer placed at risk." Past research has shown that one reason students are placed at risk in the first place is that schools have traditionally served to sort students into tracks based on social and cultural backgrounds, Dr. Slavin said. "For example, a poor minority student tends to get steered toward a vocational curriculum while a white student from the suburbs tends to be tracked in college preparatory courses. Neither process automatically serves the best interest of either student. "What CRESPAR will emphasize is the idea that schools must provide whatever it takes to ensure that all students succeed in demanding and high-expectations curricula," he said. "We call this the 'talent development' perspective, which eliminates ability grouping, remedial instruction and other practices that have been shown to stigmatize students and cause them to fall behind in other classes. "There may be public concern or confusion about education reform, but education is heading away from preparing students to take standardized tests that demand they fill in a bubble on a computer sheet in response to multiple choice questions," Dr. Slavin said. "Education reform, even teacher education reform, is focusing on developing analytical skills that will serve a student in any line of work and in any pursuit of continued education. And there is a lot of hard scientific work to be done in understanding how best to create this kind of activist environment. "CRESPAR intends to be on the leading edge of this process," he said. ------------------------------------------------------------ Center promotes, examines academic success ------------------------------------------------------------ The Center for Social Organization of Schools was established at Hopkins in 1966. It was first underwritten by a federal grant that called for the creation of a national network of university-based research centers to study the problems of education. Since that time, CSOS has remained true to its founding mission to promote academic achievement and develop potential and later-life career success for students at risk of failing or dropping out of school due to their social or economic situation. To accomplish this goal, CSOS maintains a staff of full-time sociologists, psychologists and other researchers who study how changes in the social organization of schools-- the way students, teachers and administrators interact in the classroom, the school and the community--can make them more effective for all students. CSOS is an umbrella organization, functioning much as an academic division of education might. But instead of specific departments, it is made up of funded research projects. Many of these projects exist on limited grants, which makes it imperative for the organization to apply regularly for either continuation of existing grants or completely new ones. Much of what is included in CRESPAR, for example, is based on research and development conducted under the Center for Research on Effective Schooling for Disadvantaged Students, whose funding expired Sept. 30. CSOS continues to receive funding because it remains one of the most active and well-respected education research institutes in the country. This is true, in part, because it has maintained as its guiding principle the belief that education research must be rigorous science, not based on fads and intuitions. The results of this research method have led CSOS researchers to make significant contributions to the way educators understand and use such concepts as cooperative learning, ability grouping, tracking, teaching teams, improved grading processes, the use of computers in schools, the effects of parent involvement in their children's schoolwork and the effects of education on later-life employment. Besides the newly funded CRESPAR, CSOS supports the Center on Families, Communities, Schools and Children's Learning, a consortium of researchers from six universities and institutes nationwide focusing on how families, schools and communities influence student motivation and how they can better work together to improve student outcome. CSOS also houses Roots and Wings. Funded by the New American Schools Development Corp., it is one of nine national projects working to break the mold of current education practices and develop new ways to organize schools and teach students. Additional CSOS projects are supported by other federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, and by private foundations, such as Carnegie, Pew, Lilly, Spencer and Abell. An important aspect of CSOS projects is to regularly publish research reports and newsletters, summarizing the results of their work. To receive CSOS publications, or for more information about the work of CSOS, contact John Hollifield, at 516-8800.
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