• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Tuesday 11th December, 2007

Co-operative learning makes things better all round

The question that launched the Success for All program in 1987 involved us in a return to basics. We wanted to discover if it would be possible to design a primary school in such a way that every child who went there would be successful from their very first day.With our colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, Robert Slavin and I began the experiment in five of the most impoverished schools in Baltimore, Maryland. The idea was to anticipate and then, by using rigorously evaluated approaches, prevent every conceivable problem children might encounter during their early education.As a result, in its developed form, Success for All incorporates language-focused preschool and kindergarten approaches, a fast-paced phonetic start to reading, and comprehension strategies for the upper primary grades. It emphasizes co-operative learning in all grades. It provides one-to-one tutoring for struggling first graders, constant assessment of children’s progress and proactive classroom management strategies.Each school has a “Solutions Team” that works to recruit parent support for their children’s success, solve attendance and behavior problems and ensure that community agencies are dealing with issues to do with vision, hearing, and nutrition.After Baltimore in 1987, Success for All spread rapidly throughout the US, where it is now used in about 1,200 schools in 47 states. In 1997 it began to work in Britain, and it is now in about 100 schools across England.From the first, Success for All has been extensively evaluated. Over several years, more than 50 studies quasi-experimental studies have compared its influence with control schools. One that followed students to age 14 found substantially higher achievement, lower retention and lower special education rates among former SFA pupils compared to former control pupils.In 2000, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Wisconsin collaborated in the first experimental evaluation of Success for All. This three-year longitudinal evaluation randomly assigned 35 high-priority schools across the US to use the program in kindergarten to Grade 2 or in Grades 3-5. The Grade 3-5 schools served as controls for the K-2 schools. On individually-administered Woodcock-Johnson tests of reading, Success for All children were performing significantly better than control children on all four measures, with a mean effect size of +0.28. The randomized evaluation’s findings were similar to those of the earlier matched studies, but were crucial in ruling out selection bias as an explanation for the earlier findings.Today, Success for All continues to take on new challenges in the US and in Britain, adding additional schools to its network each year. More importantly, continuing research and development indicates that change is possible in high-poverty schools. It shows that evidence-based reform can produce concrete changes in hard-to-reach communities anywhere dedicated educators choose to make a difference.ReferencesBorman, G., Slavin, R.E., Cheung, A., Chamberlain, A., Madden, N.A., & Chambers, B. (2007). "Final reading outcomes of the national randomized field trial of Success for All". American Educational Research Journal, 44 (3), 701-731.Borman, G.D., & Hewes, G.M. (2002). "Long-term effects and cost effectiveness of Success for All". Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 24, 243-266.Slavin, R.E., & Madden, N.A. (Eds.) (2001). One million children: Success for All. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

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