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IES Grant

Title: Efficacy Study of Foundations, School-wide Positive Discipline for Middle Schools
Center: NCER Year: 2016
Principal Investigator: Sumi, W. Carl Awardee: SRI International
Program: Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Context for Teaching and Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (9/1/2016 – 8/31/2020) Award Amount: $3,283,424
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A160005

Co-Principal Investigator: Michelle Woodbridge

Purpose: The purpose of this project was to evaluate the efficacy of Foundations, a positive and proactive approach to school-wide discipline developed by Safe & Civil Schools (SCS). Foundations provides tools and strategies to help K–12 school staff establish proactive, nonpunitive school-wide discipline policies, manage student misbehavior, foster student motivation, and create a positive and productive school climate. More than 5,000 schools across the U.S. have implemented Foundations; however, rigorous evidence supporting this widely used intervention has been limited, especially in secondary schools. Findings from previous studies indicated that although intervention schools scored significantly higher on measures of positive behavior support than comparison schools at posttest (i.e., educators in intervention schools implemented Foundations with an acceptable level of fidelity), (1) there were no meaningful differences between intervention and comparison schools on school achievement or behavior metrics at posttest; and (2) there was no significant main impact of Foundations on student or staff perception of school climate; however, there were some significant moderation effects based on student characteristics (e.g., grade, race/ethnicity, proficiency on standardized tests).

Project Activities: In a school-level randomized controlled trial, the researchers assessed the implementation and efficacy of Foundations under routine conditions in a diverse set of 42 middle schools (i.e., grades 6–8), and assessed critical factors (e.g., setting contexts, students' latent profiles) that mediated its effects on school climate and students' behavioral and academic outcomes. Through the course of the project, researchers recruited school staff to participate in the project, randomized schools to intervention or control conditions, collected baseline and posttest implementation and outcome data (i.e., school discipline practices, school climate, academic achievement, schoolwide behavioral incidences), coordinated training and coaching of Foundations with intervention developers, compiled cost data for initial launch and maintenance of Foundations, and analyzed and disseminated project findings.

Key Outcomes: The main findings of this project will be shared once they are published and publicly available.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study took place in middle schools serving students in grades 6–8 in California (n = 25 schools), New York (n = 8 schools), and Oklahoma (n = 9 schools). 

Sample: Forty-two middle schools across multiple districts in three states participated in the study. The schools were diverse in geographic location, degree of urbanicity, size, and student characteristics. 

Intervention: As a Tier 1, universal intervention, the Foundations program focuses on guiding members of an entire school staff in developing a school-wide environment that is safe, civil, and conducive to learning. The Foundations intervention is typically implemented over a 2-year period, and includes professional development (e.g., training, videos, workshops), ongoing technical assistance, and program materials for members of a school's leadership team. The Foundations program guides the team through the step-by-step process of designing a positive and proactive school-wide discipline plan for all students in all school settings. Over the course of two years, leadership teams from multiple schools participate in 1-, 2-, or 3-day training sessions, for a total of 15 days of training each year by on-site, SCS-certified consultants. The program also provides 36 hours of video and 6 volumes of printed matter (approximately 1,800 pages of content) that systematically guide educators through 6 modules and can be used individually or presented to a group. There are accompanying module study guides, sample forms for data collection, lesson plans to teach expected behavior, and hundreds of real-life examples of specific applications from successful schools.

Research Design and Methods: The research team stratified schools within districts on key variables (e.g., discipline climate, size, academic achievement) and then randomly assigned schools to implement Foundations (21 intervention schools) or continue with business-as-usual practices (21 control schools). Schools assigned to the intervention condition implemented Foundations for two years. The researchers collected data using a variety of methods (e.g., surveys, observations, records extraction), sources (e.g., school records, educators, students), and measures, including annual assessments of school-wide discipline practices, climate, behavior incidences (e.g., discipline referrals, suspensions), and academic achievement (e.g., state test results) in both the intervention and control conditions. Furthermore, schools implementing Foundations completed training surveys and detailed progress monitoring tools, including quarterly implementation checklists and annual implementation rubrics, to gauge the level of exposure and adherence to the school-wide model.

Control Condition: Schools that were randomly assigned to the control condition continued with their business-as-usual practices.

Key Measures: Measures of school staff discipline practices included the School-Wide Evaluation Tool and common area observations in the school (e.g., hallways, cafeteria, playground). Researchers collected administrative school records data including attendance rates, office discipline referrals, and state standardized assessments in math and English Language Arts to assess students' engagement and social and academic competence. The research team also administered a School Climate Survey to assess staff and student perceptions of school climate. 

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers examined whether Foundations schools exhibited a greater rate of improvement over comparison schools by fitting a two-level hierarchical linear model, where the first level was year/time and the second level was school. The researchers also used school-level analyses to examine the effects of Foundations on grade-level scores on state reading and math accountability tests, outcome measures from the Effective Behavior Support Survey, school observations, and behavioral outcomes. In addition, the research team conducted exploratory analyses of potential moderators and mediators.

Cost Analysis: The researchers conducted a cost analysis using the ingredients method (Levin et al., 2017) in three study sites (i.e., Central Los Angeles, Southern Los Angeles, and Oklahoma); due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team could not collect cost data in the New York site. The researchers surveyed members of the leadership teams at participating schools about the required costs and resources to implement Foundations. The researchers also compiled regional cost data and national price averages from publicly available sources (i.e., Occupational Employment and Wages from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Digest of Education Statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics). Then, the researchers calculated and analyzed both opportunity costs – the value of a resource that is used for one purpose and thus cannot be used for another – and net costs – expenditures unique to implementing Foundations and beyond a school's standard operating budget. Findings documented that local prices for Oklahoma were slightly below national prices and were considerably lower than local prices at both California sites, even when accounting for the differences in number of participating schools. In local prices, opportunity costs were $203,253 per school in Central Los Angeles, $111,883 per school in South Los Angeles, and $107,907 per school in Oklahoma. In local prices, net costs were substantially lower than the total opportunity costs across sites, because program training and implementation took place during the school day. Average net costs per school were $7,147 in Central Los Angeles, $5,554 in South Los Angeles, and $4,944 in Oklahoma.

Products and Publications

Pre-registration site:, Registry #1756

Publicly available data: The research team archived de-identified data dictionaries and data files for all study outcomes, implementation data, and schools randomized with the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). All data are publicly available on the ICPSR website:

Project website: