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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Looking Inside the Black Box of School Improvement

Dennis McDougall, Claude Goldenberg.

Although whole-school reform proliferated in America during the past decade, the empirical basis for most reform efforts is very limited (American Institutes for Research, 1999; Slavin & Fashola, 1998). Few studies have examined the effects of reform models within experimental or quasi-experimental research designs. Moreover, few researchers have looked into the ‘black box’ of reform or examined prospectively the dynamics and processes that lead to school improvement. Fullan (2000) reviewed research on schools with effective collaborative school cultures and noted, "We know nothing about how these particular schools got that way, let alone how to go about producing more of them” (p. 582). A few researchers have begun to examine more systematically the processes and outcomes of school improvement efforts (e.g., Berends, Kirby, Naftel, & McKelvey, 2001).

This conference presentation contributes to the literature on school change via a qualitative prospective look at the internal workings of whole-school reform, within a quasi-experimental design. The presenter describes how elements of the Getting Results (GR) school change model, including goals, indicators, assistance, leadership, and settings, impacted teachers’ instructional behaviors and attitudes, and produced more rapid gains in academic achievement, at GR versus comparison schools, from 1997-2002 (Goldenberg & Saunders, 2002). The presenter: (a) reports key findings from a comprehensive, external, process evaluation conducted throughout the 2001-02 academic year (McDougall, 2002); (b) describes the how and why of school change processes and achievement gains at seven, demographically similar, case study schools – four of nine GR schools plus three of six comparison schools; and (c) describes research methods used (e.g., comparative case studies, GR rubric-based ratings, and other qualitative and quantitative tools) to answer six major research questions.


Dennis McDougall  (United States)
Associate Professor of Special Education
Department of Special Education
University of Hawai'i

Claude Goldenberg  (United States)
Professor and Associate Dean
College of Education
California State University, Long Beach

  • School Improvement
  • School Reform
  • Elementary Schools

(30 min Conference Paper, English)