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Program Profile: Comer’s School Development Program

Evidence Rating: No Effects - More than one study No Effects - More than one study

Date: This profile was posted on March 23, 2015

Program Summary

A school-based intervention that focuses on improving school climate and student achievement. The program is rated No Effects. The evidence base shows that the program had significant impacts on student reports of lack of anger and acting out. However, there were mixed results on disapproval of misbehavior and substance use, and no significant differences found for petty misbehaviors or friends’ problem behaviors.

Program Description

Program Goals/Theory
Comer’s School Development Program is based on the premise that a range of student skills can be developed by improving interpersonal relationships and social climate in a school, as a prelude to enhancing a school’s academic focus. To achieve success, each school should determine its own academic and social goals. Overall, the goal of the program is to improve child development within six domains (physical, speech and language, moral, social, psychological, and academic) while creating a positive school environment to improve motivation and opportunities for learning.

James Comer developed this program as a part of his empirical work with elementary schools serving students of color in urban communities.

Key Personnel
There are three teams that are central to Comer’s School Development Program. The first is the school planning and management team. This team is integral to developing a school improvement plan, gaining support from the entire school community, monitoring progress toward program goals, and proposing midcourse modifications. This team includes school administrators, teachers, other school staff, parents, and on occasion, students.

The second is the social support team, which provides support to students with special needs and disseminates information to staff and parents on child development and the influence of social and racial factors. This team includes counselors, nurses, social workers, special education teachers, and psychologists.

The third team is the parent team, which attempts to create close community bonds and encourages parents to participate in school governance, support the school by volunteering (in the classrooms, hallways, and libraries), chaperone school trips, and participate in fund-raising events.

Program Components
There are three operations that are integral to the Comer’s School Development Program: (1) a comprehensive school plan, (2) staff development, and (3) assessment and modification. The comprehensive school plan focuses on both the social environment and academics. Staff development trains and assists school staff in delivering the curriculum as intended. Finally, assessment and modification of the school plan and curriculum are conducted as needed.

Additionally, there are three process principles on which the program operates. The first principle is that adults should cooperate with one another and put the needs of the students above their own. The assumption is that competition distracts adults from successfully serving students. The second principle is that schools should operate with a problem-solving approach rather than a fault-finding approach in order to foster teamwork. The third principle is that all decisions should be reached by a consensus, which requires adults to listen to each other and respect different views, rather than by a vote, which polarizes voters into winners and losers.

The three teams, three operations, and three principles are important for the implementation of the Comer’s School Development Program.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Cook and colleagues (1999) found that only one cohort of students in the Comer’s School Development Program treatment schools reported significantly lower illicit substance use compared with students in the control schools. However, there were no significant differences between treatment and control schools on measures of petty misbehaviors and friends’ problem behaviors. Cook, Murphy, and Hunt (2000) found significantly lower reports of anger and acting out, but found no significant differences on measures of substance use and disapproval of misbehavior. Overall, the preponderance of the evidence suggests the program did not have a significant impact on treatment group students.

Study 1
Petty Misbehaviors
In their analysis of Comer’s School Development Program in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Cook and colleagues (1999) found no significant differences between treatment and control school students’ reports on petty misbehaviors.

Friends’ Problem Behaviors
There were no significant differences between treatment and control school students’ reports on friends’ problem behaviors.

Illicit Substance Use
The study found treatment school students in the first cohort reported significantly lower illicit substance use compared with the control school students in early 7th grade, but the effect disappeared by 8th grade. The other remaining cohorts’ reports on illicit substance use were not significantly different.

Disapproval of Misbehavior
The study found that treatment school students in the first cohort reported a significant increase in reports of mainstream beliefs expressing disapproval of misbehavior, as compared with the control students in late 8th grade. The remaining cohorts’ reports on disapproval of misbehavior were not significantly different.

Valuing Temper Control
There were no significant differences between treatment and control students’ reports on valuing temper control.

Anger Control
There were no significant differences between treatment and control students’ reports on anger control.

Study 2
Lack of Anger
In their analysis of Comer’s School Development Program in Chicago, Cook, Murphy, and Hunt (2000) found a significant decrease in reports of anger for treatment schools compared with control schools. This difference was only seen in the last 2 study years (grades 7 and 8).

Acting Out
The study found a significant decrease in reports of acting out for treatment schools compared with control schools. While both treatment and control schools reported more acting out as students aged, the rate of increase was less steep for treatment schools. This difference was only seen in the last 2 study years (grades 7 and 8).

Substance Use
The study found no significant differences on reports of substance use (drugs, tobacco, and alcohol) between treatment and control schools.

Disapproval of Misbehavior
The study found no significant differences between treatment and control schools on reports of mainstream beliefs expressing disapproval of misbehavior.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Cook and colleagues (1999) conducted a 4-year randomized experiment to examine the effect that the Comer’s School Development Program had on school climate and student behaviors in 23 middle schools in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Two of the 23 schools were used as pilot-program sites for a year and were retained as program schools once no obvious differences were found. Remaining schools were matched by racial composition and achievement test scores and then randomly assigned to treatment or control status. Students were studied in three cohorts, beginning in 7th grade, in 1991, 1992, or 1993.

The study sample included 22,314 male and female students whose parents provided active consent to participate. Students were black (66 percent), white (24 percent), Asian (4 percent), or of another ethnic background (6 percent). The majority of the student sample lived with both biological parents (63 percent).

Yearly questionnaires were given to staff to assess program implementation and school climate. Student questionnaires were used to measure school climate and students’ reports of social and psychological development. School records were used to gauge students’ school performance.

Study 2
Cook, Murphy, and Hunt (2000) conducted a randomized experiment on the effect of Comer’s School Development Program on school climate and student behaviors in 24 inner-city Chicago middle schools.

The program was implemented over 4 years with a pilot year and two phases. The pilot year included four treatment schools. Phase 1 included 8 middle schools, which were matched for 2 prior years on academic achievement and racial composition, before being randomly assigned to treatment or control status. Phase 2 included 12 middle schools, using the same matching technique. For various reasons, 5 of the 24 schools dropped out of the study, leaving a final sample of 19 schools. Three schools were pilot-program schools, 5 were Phase 1 schools (1 treatment and 4 control), and 11 were Phase 2 schools (6 treatment and 5 control).

The study sample included 10,306 male and female students whose parents gave passive consent to participate. A letter was sent home giving parents the option not to participate; however, few parents chose not to participate. Students were mostly minority (black, Asian, or Hispanic), came from a low-income background, and lived with at least one biological parent.

School staff completed an annual questionnaire that covered school climate and quality-of-program implementation. Only students from grades 5 through 8 were sampled for this study because of the need to complete written questionnaires on outcome measures and school climate. Student outcome measures were organized into four domains: mental health, negative social behaviors, positive social behaviors, and academic achievement.
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Cost

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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Cook, Thomas D., Farah-Naaz Habib, Meredith Phillips, Richard A. Settersten, Shobha C. Shagle, and Serdar M. Degirmencioglu. 1999. “Comer’s School Development Program in Prince George’s County, Maryland: A Theory-Based Evaluation.” American Educational Research Journal 36(3): 543–97.

Study 2
Cook, Thomas D., Robert F. Murphy, and H. David Hunt. 2000. “Comer’s School Development Program in Chicago: A Theory-Based Evaluation.” American Educational Research Journal 37(2): 535–97.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Comer, James P., and Norris M. Haynes. 1999. “The Dynamic of School Change: Response to the Article, “Comer’s School Development Program in Prince George’s County, Maryland: A Theory-Based Evaluation,” by Thomas D. Cook et al.” American Educational Research Journal 36(3):599–607.

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Related Practices

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Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated practices that are related to this program:

School-Based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs
Designed to foster the development of five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies, in order to provide a foundation for better adjustment and academic performance in students, which can result in more positive social behaviors, fewer conduct problems, and less emotional distress. The practice was rated Effective in reducing students’ conduct problems and emotional stress.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Multiple juvenile problem/at-risk behaviors
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Internalizing behavior
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Program Snapshot

Age: 9 - 15

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, White, Other

Geography: Suburban, Urban

Setting (Delivery): School

Program Type: Classroom Curricula, School/Classroom Environment

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide