Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 10, 1994

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
    "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
    "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
    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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