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What Makes "Success for All" So Successful?


More than 1,100 schools nationwide have chosen the Success for All program as their key to academic achievement. What makes Success for All so popular with so many educators?


In 1999,  the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered that schools in the state's 28 neediest districts undertake "whole school reform." The goal of the order was to improve educational opportunities for the state's poorest students. The Supreme Court gave school districts three years to implement reform. Leo Klagholz, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education, hoped that fifty schools would implement major changes in the first year of the order. To his pleasure, 72 schools volunteered to adopt reform measures; and 27 of those schools are implementing a program called Success for All.


More than 1,100 schools nationwide have chosen the Success for All program as their key to academic achievement. The plan is to add another 600 schools in 1999. What makes Success for All so popular with so many educators? First, let's define the basic Success for All program. The main components of Success for All are:

  • The Early Learning Program -- A prekindergarten and kindergarten program that "emphasizes oral language development using thematic units, children's literature, oral and written expression, and learning centers."
  • Reading Roots -- A reading program that integrates phonics with meaning.
  • Reading Wings -- For students reading at second through sixth grade levels, a program based on a school's existing novels, anthologies, or basals, which emphasizes improvement of strategic reading and comprehension skills.
  • One-to-One Tutoring -- Children having difficulty with reading receive one-to-one tutoring.
  • Family Support -- A team is created to help children with needs extending beyond the classroom.
  • Facilitator -- Every Success for All school has a certified teacher as a full-time program facilitator.
  • Professional Development -- All teachers participate in three consecutive days of training before the program is launched.

The Success for All mission statement is straight-forward: "By targeting prevention and early intervention, virtually every child can become a successful reader and student. Never again should a single girl or boy be allowed to 'fall through the cracks.'"


Robert E. Slavin was a researcher at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., when he created Success for All with his wife and colleague, Nancy Madden, and other colleagues at Johns Hopkins. Slavin and Madden have devoted years to determining how best to teach at-risk students. As of July 1998, the development and proliferation of Success for All, and its sister program, Roots & Wings, moved from John Hopkins to a new not-for profit organization, the Success for All Foundation (SFAF). Slavin remains the Co-director of the Center for the Social Organization of Schools at the Johns Hopkins University, in addition to his role as Chairman of the Board of Success For All.

Success for All was launched 11 years ago with a pilot program in one Baltimore, Md., elementary school, Abbottston Elementary, where 83 percent of students qualified for free lunch. That year, Slavin found, the Success for All students had much better reading scores than students not in the program, and special education placements decreased. The program was expanded to five other Baltimore schools. News of Success for All spread throughout the nation.


The essence of Success for All is a daily 90-minute period during which reading instruction takes place. During that segment, students are regrouped according to ability. Every certified teacher in the school teaches reading, so classes are smaller. Phonics is taught, along with context. "We try to get a balance between meaning and decodability," Slavin has stated. Has Success for All changed over the past 11 years? "The intent and the basics of the program have not changed," Tony Lewis, coordinator of communications at Success for All, told Education World. What has changed, Lewis explains, is the scope of the program. In addition to Success for All, another program, called Roots & Wings, has also been developed. Different schools select a particular program depending on their academic goals.


Roots & Wings is a "researched-based program that restructures education for children from birth to age 11, with the school, parents, community agencies, and others working together to see that children receive whatever they need to become competent, confident, and caring learners." Roots & Wings is a product of the Success for All Foundation. Its key elements are:

  • Early learning programs -- The school is a family development center that has an infants and toddlers program to ensure readiness for school as well as preschool and kindergarten programs.
  • Reading Roots/Reading Wings -- Reading features a fast-paced curriculum that combines phonics with meaningful text and includes cooperative learning activities.
  • Tutoring -- Students with serious reading problems obtain one-to-one tutoring.
  • MathWings -- The program, based on NCTM standards, engages students in cooperative learning to discover and apply math concepts.
  • Family support and integrated services -- Parent participation in school is enhanced through a family support team that coordinates health, mental health, and social services for families.
  • Neverstreaming -- Prevention and early intervention mean most children don't need remedial and special education services.
  • WorldLab -- Integrated simulations for grades 1 through 6 are rooted in the content of science and social studies and integrate reading, writing, mathematics, and fine arts with that content.


A packet of materials on Success for All and Roots & Wings includes an authoritative-looking brochure titled "Summary of Research on Achievement Outcomes." Results reported in the booklet can be summarized in these words: "The results of evaluations of twenty-three Success for All schools in nine districts in eight states clearly show that the program increases student reading performance. In every district, Success for All students learned significantly more than control students." Authors of the booklet are Robert E. Slavin, Nancy A. Madden, and Barbara A. Wasik. In addition to doing research on Success for All, Robert Slavin and Nancy Madden are founders of the program. Can they be objective? While many observers subscribe to the research spearheaded by Slavin, some others say it is self-serving. For example, Herbert Walberg, a professor of education and psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Rebeca Greenberg, a doctoral student at the university, wrote of Success for All in Education Week that "Though its own developers declare it a huge success, independent evaluators find essentially negative evidence." Walberg and Greenberg referred to a study of one Success for All school in Charleston, S.C., by three University of Maryland researchers. The program had "an average effect of near zero -- that is, Success for All students scored about the 50th percentile or the same as matched control groups," said Walberg and Greenberg. They also cited another study by Richard Venezky of the University of Delaware, which challenged the overall success of Success for All.


Slavin responded by charging that the Charleston school "never implemented the program adequately." If the program is not put in place as stipulated, even its supporters say it will not be as successful as it should. And Slavin pointed out that Venezky said the Success for All students "were substantially ahead of matched controls." So where does the truth lie? Well, if strength is in sheer numbers, then Success for All and Roots & Wings must have something very positive going for them. The clear majority of schools using the programs report satisfaction with the programs. As stated by Joe Stubbs, director of planning, assessment, and support services for the Houston Independent School District: "Success for All is exceptionally comprehensive. It really does an outstanding job of putting together for teachers the best of every proven approach to the teaching of reading. I've worked with a number of effective programs in the last 25 years. And this has the single largest impact because it affects every child in a school."