What is Comprehensive School Transformation (CST)?

Comprehensive School Transformation

The Approach and Its Development

CST is is an approach to school transformation that offers a holistic vision of healthy school climate in which all members of a school community are encouraged to engage. Founded on building competencies in the areas of social and emotional learning and development, CST addresses six key domains, including:

-- stakeholder engagement

-- policy development and implementation

-- data-informed decision making

-- professional development

-- student supports and services

-- restorative discipline

CST’s focus on transforming school climate by creating optimal conditions for effective learning and healthy development can reduce bullying and harassment against all students.

Research Basis

        In 2010, the Illinois School Bullying Prevention Task Force, composed of two dozen school stakeholders including researchers, high school students, community advocates, school administrators and others, was mandated by law to study bullying behaviors in school communities and develop a set of recommendations to effectively prevent it. Comprehensive School Transformation (CST) was its overarching recommendation.

        Early in its work, the Task Force heard from experts who conduct research on bullying prevention that pre-packaged, stand-alone, and single component prevention programs do little to reduce American students' bullying behaviors (Espelage & Horn, 2010; Merrell et al., 2008). The research suggests that these programs (many of which are marketed by for-profit companies as effective, fast, and easy to implement) demonstrate marginal impact because they do not account for certain factors that are critical to effective prevention efforts. For example, Nation et al. (2003) conducted a meta-analysis of the literature addressing effective approaches to preventing problems facing American youth generally (e.g., drug use, delinquency). They found that effective prevention approaches share nine principles. Effective prevention programs:

(1)   Are comprehensive (i.e., include multiple interventions that address the critical domains, such as family, peer groups, community, that influence the behaviors to be prevented);
(2)   Employ diverse teaching methods that focus on increasing awareness and understanding of the behaviors and on developing the skills necessary to prevent them;
(3)   Provide enough intervention (i.e., dosage) to produce and sustain the desired outcomes;
(4)   Are theory driven (i.e., based on accurate information and supported by empirical research);
(5)   Support the development of strong, positive relationships with adults and peers;
(6)   Are appropriately timed (i.e., developmentally appropriate);
(7)   Are socioculturally relevant (i.e., are tailored to the unique culture of the participants' community and provide opportunities for their participation in the program's development and implementation);
(8)   Have clear goals and objectives and document the outcomes relative to those goals; and
(9)   Employ staff who support the effort and are trained to implement the program.

Although the bullying prevention literature suggests that these same factors must be present for prevention to be effective, most programs do not account for them (or account for some, but not all, of them). Espelage (2011) notes that, often, bullying prevention programs are ineffective because they fail to recognize the impact of the peer group, family and community on bullying behavior and that bullying often co-occurs with other forms of aggression (e.g., sexual harassment, dating violence). She also asserts that bullying programs often fail to incorporate the social skill development students need to effectively respond to bullying or address the extent to which demographic variables (such as gender, sexual orientation and/or race) impact bullying behaviors in a particular school community (Espelage, 2011).

In contrast, the research literature suggests that when these factors are accounted for in bullying prevention efforts, those efforts demonstrate efficacy. For example, a meta-analysis conducted by Farrington and Ttofi (2009) suggests that the elements associated with effective bullying prevention programs were parent training/meetings, adequate duration and intensity of the program for children and teachers, and consistent and equitable intervention when bullying occurs. 


About PSVI