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IES Grant

Title: Systems Leadership in Middle School: A School Policy Intervention With Random Assignment
Center: NCER Year: 2009
Principal Investigator: Murphy, Scott Awardee: University of South Florida
Program: Education Leadership      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $4,482,506
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A090481

Co-Principal Investigator: Brian Rowan (University of Michigan)

Purpose: This project will conduct a cluster randomized field trial assessing the efficacy of a fully-developed, whole-school improvement program known as Systems Leadership in Middle Schools (SLMS) developed by the Modern Red Schoolhouse.

Project Activities: Approximately 44 middle schools across three Florida districts will be randomly assigned to one of two conditions: the SLMS treatment group and a "business as usual" control group. Using existing administrative data, survey data collected by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, and qualitative data collected by the University of South Florida, the research team will: (1) estimate the effects of the SLMS program on middle school students' reading, mathematics, and science achievement (as measured by the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test); and (2) investigate factors that both mediate and moderate program effects on student achievement.

Products: The products of this project will be published reports identifying the efficacy of the SLMS program on student achievement.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will take place in traditional, neighborhood middle schools serving grades 6–8, in three Florida school districts.

Population: The students attending the neighborhood middle schools in the three Florida school districts are somewhat diverse. In the seventh largest district in Florida, approximately 40% of the students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch and over 20% were members of a non-white racial/ethnic group.

Intervention: The SLMS program was developed by the Modern Red School House Institute (MRSH), a not-for-profit organization located in Nashville, Tennessee. The program is built around a coherent set of professional development modules and school improvement benchmarks that are supplemented by sustained on-site facilitation by MRSH trainers. Program delivery occurs over a three-year period and involves the entire professional staff at a school. MRSH field personnel first make a "diagnostic" visit to the school. Through the provision of professional development and coaching, they work with the principal to both restructure the organization of the school's leadership (through a school leadership team and six action teams focused on data analysis, curriculum and instruction, professional development, technology use, and parent and community partnerships) and the school's culture (with a focus on workplace norms and how students learn). This work is to improve both school outcomes (create a professional community and instructional coherence) and teacher outcomes (stronger commitment and better instruction) leading to improved student outcomes.

Research Designs and Methods: An experimental design will be used. Approximately 44 neighborhood middle schools will be recruited, formed into pairs based on pre-treatment covariates (primarily racial/ethnic composition and school-average achievement scores), then one member of each pair will be randomly assigned to the treatment group and the other to the control group. For the next three years, treatment schools will work with MRSH to enact the SLMS program and control schools will engage in their "business as usual" practices.

Control Condition: Half of the middle schools will be randomly assigned to the control condition and will continue with their own chosen practices regarding school leadership organization and climate.

Key Measures: Administrative data on the participating middle schools will be obtained from the Florida State Department of Education to provide student outcomes (reading, mathematics, and science achievement scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test), student-level characteristics (racial/ethnic background, federal free lunch status, education program participation) and school-level characteristics. MRSH records will provide the services received by each school and which school personnel took part on each particular topic for what length of time. An administrator survey and a teacher survey given at the beginning of Year 1 and end of Year 3 will be used to measure the change in the underlying constructs of the SLMS intervention (e.g., the expected changes in leadership organization, school culture, and school and teacher outcomes). Fourth, a qualitative study using observations, individual interviews, focus group interviews and a network study of knowledge diffusion will identify factors that affect the fidelity of implementation of the SLMS intervention and its effects as well as monitor activities that occur at control schools that may have similar impacts.

Data Analytic Strategy: Multilevel models will be used to examine mean differences in service delivery across treatment and control schools, teacher and school climate outcomes, student outcomes, and the impact of mediators (the proximal impacts expected) and potential moderators. The qualitative data collection will both contribute to the quantitative analysis as well as support a qualitative analysis aimed at understanding of how reform progresses at the school level.

*This grant was originally funded through the Education Policy, Finance, and Systems topic in the 2009 Education Research Grants (84.305A) program.