When students have more time to focus on class material and are not interrupted by inappropriate behavior, it stands to reason teachers will have more time to engage them and boost achievement. Researchers at the University of Kansas have secured an $8 million grant to expand a program that has been proven effective at boosting engagement and reducing disruptive behaviors to schools across the nation.

Juniper Gardens Children’s Project, part of the Life Span Institute at KU, has secured a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education to expand a program called Class-Wide Function-related Intervention Teams, known as CW-FIT. The grant, part of the Education Innovation and Research-Mid-Phase Program, will be for three years and $4 million, and it is renewable for two more years for a total of five years and nearly $8 million. KU Researchers and partners will work with nearly 10,000 students in grades three through five in Kansas, Missouri and California schools.

The grant program, Supporting High-Needs Elementary Students with the CW-FIT Program: Building for Scale and Sustainability, will develop a more efficient and cost-effective way to train schools to use the CW-FIT intervention. The system has been proven effective in nearly 25 peer-reviewed studies, but this grant will allow for the program to be expanded nationally.

“We want to foster broad adoption of CW-FIT. The program is evidence-based and effective, but we haven’t been able to get it to as many schools and teachers as we’d like,” said Howard Wills, assosciate research professor at Juniper Gardens and principal investigator of the grant. “Our plan with this grant is to develop a district coach program that can work as a model for school districts to cost-efficiently implement a proven intervention.”

Researchers will train district personnel to implement CW-FIT and test methods to scale it up nationally. District coaches will learn how to train teachers in the model and use new technologies such as remote video coaching to develop their skills using the method. CW-FIT helps teachers improve classroom management by addressing positive behaviors and reducing time spent on handling disruptive behavior. Teachers split classrooms into several teams and periodically assigns points to the teams for their positive behaviors and attention spent on class material. Teams set goals for points and earn rewards when they are met. Evaluation has shown it boosts student achievement by giving teachers more time to teach and helping students reduce class time lost to principals’ office visits, disciplinary action and lost focus. Teachers deliver lessons on appropriate ways for students to get a teacher’s attention, following directions and how to ignore minor disruptive behavior from fellow students.

“We’ve had teachers tell us that when they use CW-FIT, they can spend their time teaching, not managing classroom behavior,” Wills said.

The KU team includes Jackie Millin, who will lead the local and national training efforts; and Jay Buzhardt, associate research professor, who will direct technology development to support coaching. They will partner with Peter Alter of St. Mary’s College of California and Carl Sumi at SRI International, a prominent educational research group.

In the first year, KU will partner with schools in the designated states to identify people who can be coaches as well as test and refine procedures and technologies such as the Today’s One Room School House, or TORSH, the video coaching system. In the second year, partners will continue a usability study of district coach-led efforts and develop manuals and materials for teachers. A randomized control trial of the scaled-up CW-FIT model will take place in years three and four. Year five will be devoted to dissemination activities and continued support for partnering districts. By completion, nearly 10,000 students will have been taught in CW-FIT classrooms, and a model for implementing the system without outside consultants will be available for schools anywhere in the United States.

Wills said the research team is excited to develop a model to help schools implement CW-FIT on their own and help create systems to keep the program sustainable.

“We’ve intentionally set up CW-FIT so teachers are spending more time addressing positive behavior than in dealing with inappropriate behavior. We’ve found engaged students are going to learn more, cover more material and do better in testing. Our slogan for CW-FIT is more time to teach, more time to learn,” he said. “The team at KU is ready to launch into this important work, improving outcomes for students in Kansas and throughout the country.”