Abell Salutes: Success for All

August 2014 / Salutes / Education

After a decade’s absence, the Success for All program is back in the Baltimore school system.

For about 10 years, beginning in 1986, students in the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS) enjoyed significant benefits from the demonstrably effective program called Success for All. Then, lost in the tangled history of the system, the program was dropped. Now, for reasons Dr. Robert Slavin, chairman and founder, knows well and explains carefully, the program has returned—and there is good reason to welcome it back.

“Success for All,” he says, “is a full-school reform model, designed to try to make sure that kids don’t start the process of falling behind, that they are successful, particularly in reading, and really across the board. We use everything we know—in instruction, in curriculum, in parent involvement, in assessments—everything to try to make sure that the kids are going to be successful.”

The model contains no magic bullet, and is a mix of the familiar: small classes that engage students in active cooperative learning, one-to-one and small group tutoring, expanded reading, individual academic planning, resource support, frequent testing, and home-school collaboration. Its success is in the sum of its parts.

Success for All is now implemented in 46 states. “In the BCPSS today,” says Dr. Slavin, “we are in 21 schools, but by the late 90s, the program was no longer functioning in Baltimore City. Various superintendents had other plans and so we took the program to other states. Although we—our group at the Johns Hopkins’ Center for Social Organization, later changed to the Center for Research and Reform in Education—managed to hang on, it was clear the goals we originally had in mind would be difficult to accomplish in Baltimore. So we started to offer Success for All elsewhere— Philadelphia, Alabama, and other states.

“We are now coming back in the Baltimore City public schools in a big way.”

The Return of Success for All

The reinstalling of Success for All back into Baltimore City public schools has its genesis in Henderson-Hopkins, a K-8 school operated by the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, in partnership with Morgan State University’s School of Education and Urban Studies. (The school is officially a contract school of the Baltimore City Public School System.)

“In 2010, Henderson-Hopkins brought Success for All back into that one school,” recalls Dr. Slavin. “Commodore John Rodgers decided independently to adopt Success for All the same year. Word started getting around, and three other schools—Margaret Brent, Steuart Hill, and Dr. Rayner Browne—adopted the next year. At this point, district staff noted the success that schools were having, how effective Success for All was proving to be, and then they thought, well, this is a program we can use for other schools.”

In an initiative led by chief academic officer Sonia Santilises, BCPSS then offered the program to 26 additional schools, with the attractive arrangement that the system itself would pay for operating the program.

Success for All was selected by the Baltimore City Public School System not because it is promising but because it is proven to be predictably successful. According to Dr. Slavin: “Many studies of Success for All have been done, starting in Baltimore and then all over the country, going back to its first five years, including testing at Abbottson and four other elementary schools. We looked at gains in those schools and compared them with gains in five matched schools. Every grade showed the positive difference that Success for All was making, and by the end of the fifth grade, the tests, cumulatively, showed that the students had gained the equivalent of a whole grade. So by the fifth grade, Success for All students were a whole year ahead in reading.”

Equally important is the finding made by a group from the University of Wisconsin. It followed students through the eighth grade of middle school, and found that at that level, not only were the students still scoring substantially above their grade level, but among them, assignments to special education were cut in half, and the number of failures was reduced by 50 percent.

Money to support Success for All in Baltimore comes from the federal Title One program. As that money filters down, each school then makes its choice of how best to put that money to work. A grant from Investing in Innovation, a U.S. Department of Education program, also provided funds for professional development to get schools started.

The Abell Foundation salutes the Baltimore City Public School System, for reinstalling the designed-in-Baltimore and now nationally renowned Success for All program—and for recognizing the success of Success for All, then and now.