SCHOOLS RESTRUCTURING PROJECT
PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: Dr. Cynthia Hudley
CO- PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: Dr. Vishna Herrity
The Gevirtz Secondary Schools Restructuring Project was initiated in 1999-2000, with support from the Wells Fargo Foundation, as a joint effort to improve academic performance in secondary schools by implementing an effective reform process supported by research and based on cooperative planning and implementation.
The project was designed to develop school-based programs that measurably improve literacy and learning outcomes and promote academic success for middle and high school students. The Gevirtz Research Center (GRC), in collaboration with the faculty of the Gervirtz Graduate School of Education (GGSE) and Carpinteria Unified School District (CUSD) secondary teachers and administrators, engaged in an extensive planning process and needs assessment at secondary schools in Carpinteria.
In developing an initial agreement for collaboration, participating faculties of CUSD and the GGSE arrived at a fundamental consensus: the district must successfully engage more secondary students in academically rigorous activities to better prepare them to access a range of post-secondary educational opportunities. The initial series of planning and development activities examined principles and strategies for increasing students’ literacy, learning, and achievement motivation across all disciplines at Carpinteria Middle School and Carpinteria High School. The collaborating groups of faculties ultimately agreed to begin assessment and implementation activities that focused on literacy development and the development of a climate that more fully motivates students to engage in challenging academic curricula. This selection of emphases was grounded in two assumptions. Success in academically rigorous curricula at the secondary and post-secondary levels requires excellent literacy skills. Further, academic offerings, even those of the highest quality, will not benefit students who are not motivated to develop their intellectual competence and persist in schooling.
The Gevirtz Secondary Schools Restructuring Project’s objective was to improve academic performance by implementing a teacher training process supported by research and based on cooperative planning and implementation.
Initially, the Gevirtz Research Center facilitated a series of discussions between the Superintendent of CUSD and the Dean of the GGSE to assess the possibility of a mutual collaboration. Dr. Vishna Herrity, GRC Executive Director, and Dr. Cynthia Hudley, a professor in GGSE, John MacIntosh, principal of Carpinteria Middle School, and Shirley Shaw, Assistant Principal of Carpinteria High School comprised the initial organizing group. In October 1999, 44 faculty members (18 from the GGSE, 26 from the CUSD) convened at UCSB to begin the process.
The group first prioritized a list of specific educational concerns and issues. The resulting interrelated themes around which the planning process organized itself were: administrative/ organizational change, student motivation, needs of English Language Learners, math/science learning, and literacy across the curriculum.
Faculties then divided into five working groups, each agreeing to analyze and address one emergent theme. Working groups were tasked with developing plans of action in the following format:
Teams met regularly from November 1999 to May 2000. CUSD administration and the project team at GGSE provided support to all groups in assembling relevant information. Background material included recent scholarship in the fields of school reform, achievement motivation, and literacy development; presentations and reports from CUSD administration; and reports and discussions with teachers and parents from CUSD. Drawing on this initial shared body of knowledge, each team next identified specific targets to be addressed in a restructuring project and assembled available evidence for developing a specific set of recommendations. The teams then met in June of 2000 to begin planning specific and responsive activities for the school sites.
The GRC conducted an extensive needs assessment of the secondary program, examining what aspects needed to be strengthened to better engage students in more rigorous academic activities, to support higher level of academic achievement, and to increase preparation for postsecondary education.
Motivation and engagement in secondary school were also investigated under the direction of Dr. Cynthia Hudley, P.I. on the collaborative planning process, who examined indicators of student engagement and success in school, student aspirations, student perceptions of the classroom, and student self-perceptions of efficacy. Teacher perceptions of student engagement were also examined.
The high school sample represented about 25% of the school population. The middle school sample represented about 20% of the school population. All students completed a 53-item questionnaire that tapped aspirations, intrinsic motivation, perceived academic ability, perceived racial climate at school, and perceived support from teachers. Teachers filled out a 3-item questionnaire for each participating student that assessed perceived interest in school and appropriate behavior. Teachers also filled out a 52-item survey tapping their generalized perceptions of behavior, attitude, and motivation among the students at their school. Archival data on students’ attendance, disciplinary actions, and GPA were also collected.
An analysis of the needs assessment indicated the need for teacher professional development. The top priority was training for teachers in the area of literacy across content areas. As an outgrowth of the Gevirtz Secondary School Restructuring Project, the GRC addressed this finding by joining with the South Coast Writing Project’s IIMPaC (Inquiry, Inservice Workshops, Models, Practice and Coaching) program to provide professional development to Carpinteria Middle School teachers on literacy development across content areas. IIMPaC focused on teaching strategies to improve academic reading and writing and vocabulary development which students need to master by high school in order to participate successfully in college preparation courses, college entrance exams, and introductory college level courses. In Fall 2004, the training was expanded to four Carpinteria elementary schools: Aliso, Main, Canalino, and Carpinteria Alternative School. By the Fall of 2006, the project was fully embedded within Carpinteria’s schools. Research shows that the most powerful way to improve student performance overall is to develop successful learning strategies for the early grades that are reinforced in middle and high school.
Findings from the motivation and engagement data highlighted several potential areas of intervention to be considered in future plans for schoolwide efforts to enhance students’ motivation and persistence with academically rigorous curricula.
The motivation work group’s project identified several dimensions of school climate and services, including transition support in high school, increased academic support services (e.g., tutoring, after school clubs, homework assistance), and additional training for teachers in the unique needs of Latino students, may indeed have a positive effect on students’ motivation, engagement, and achievement.