Borman and Hewes (2003) carried out a longitudinal evaluation of Success for All outcomes in Baltimore. They compared eighth graders who had attended one of five SFA schools to eighth graders at five control schools. They examined outcomes on standardized achievement measures and the differences in retentions and special-education placements. Based on these, they compared the cost-effectiveness of Success for All to that of reducing class size (from the Tennessee Class Size study) or implementing the Perry Preschool or Abecedarian Preschool interventions. They found the long-term educational effects per $1,000 spent to be substantially greater for SFA than for the other programs.
Many Success for All schools have substantially reduced their rate of retentions (Borman & Hewes, 2003; Slavin et al., 1992). Reduced retentions has an important effect on educational costs. A retained child is receiving a very expensive intervention: one more year of school, which averages $11,000 per student. Every time an elementary school retains twenty-five to thirty students, it must eventually hire an additional teacher, supply an additional classroom, and so on. When Success for All started in 1987, retention rates in many urban districts often approached 20 percent, and with the current trend toward grade-to-grade promotion standards, retention rates are once again rising. This makes the cost saving brought about by Success for All’s reduction in retention rates particularly important.
Success for All schools have been able to reduce special-education placements for learning disabilities by about half (see Borman & Hewes, 2003; Slavin, 1996). The additional cost of serving such students averages around $4,000 a year. If, over a period of years, the number of children in special education for learning disabilities could be cut from 8 percent to 4 percent, the annual savings in a school of 500 students would be $80,000. In addition, reducing the number of assessments for special education (a national average of about $2,000 per year, per child, per assessment) from 8 percent to 4 percent would add a savings of about $40,000 per year. Most SFA schools report few referrals, and the referrals they do receive tend to be more accurate, thereby reducing unnecessary assessments (see Slavin, 1996).
Supplanted Training and Materials
Success for All materials and training often take the place of other staff development and materials. For example, Success for All reading replaces basal text for kindergarten and grade one, and workbooks for all grades. Therefore, the costs of Success for All are rarely additional costs to the school, but instead replace other expenditures for the same purposes.
The preceding discussion only dealt with short- to mid-term savings realized by the schools or school system. To these savings must be added the likely savings to society over the long term in costs of welfare, police, prisons, and so on. The link between school success and life success, and between these and the need for expensive social services, is well established. To the degree that Success for All ultimately reduces delinquency, dropout rates, teen pregnancy, or other problems strongly associated with school failure in low-income communities, its savings to society could far outweigh any costs of implementation (see Barnett & Escobar, 1977; Borman & Hewes, 2003). Research on prevention suggests that the links between early school achievement and positive mental health are strong.
Success for All is a practical, replicable, and effective program for improving the performance of disadvantaged elementary students. It is expensive, but with reallocations of Title 1, special education, and other funds, most school districts serving many disadvantaged students can afford a credible form of the model. Immediate and long-term savings introduced by Success for All may ultimately offset most of the program’s initial costs. For these reasons, Success for All is a cost-effective means of bringing all children in disadvantaged schools to acceptable levels of reading performance.
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