Robert Slavin, 1951 – 2021: In Appreciation

Robert Slavin professional headshotBob Slavin is an important part of the history of the Center for Social Organization of Schools (CSOS).

From a graduate student in the mid-70s to a program director through 2004, he was instrumental in establishing the signature focus of CSOS—the research-development-dissemination continuum.  Programs at CSOS aim to grow from conducting rigorous research on challenges of educating under-served students, to developing and validating effective interventions to improve educational policy and practice for these students, to establishing technical assistance and training to help educators build their capacities to implement the effective interventions.

As a Ph.D. student at the Johns Hopkins University Department of Sociology (then called Social Relations), Bob started as a Research Assistant at CSOS on a program studying and developing cooperative learning. This evolved under Bob’s leadership of elementary school level research programs to Success for All and, then, Roots and Wings.  His work influenced colleagues at CSOS who researched and developed programs at the middle and high school levels (Talent Development Middle and High Schools), Early Learning research and interventions at the preschool level, and preK-12 studies of School, Family, and Community Partnerships — National Network of Partnership Schools.

Bob played major leadership roles in the five-year federal R and D centers that funded all CSOS work throughout the 1980s and 90s, culminating in the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk (CRESPAR, 1994-2003), an 80 million dollar, 10-year effort in partnership with Howard University to develop evidence-based strategies to improve the quality of high-poverty schools and results for students in partnership with Howard University. Slavin served as Co-Director along with Wade Boykin at Howard. In many ways, CRESPAR strengthened the idea and practice of whole school improvement, and showed that significant educational improvements required a wholistic effort to improve district leadership, school organization and climate, teaching and learning, student support, and family and community engagement in an integrated fashion driven by the evidence of what works.

Bob also was aware of the importance for schools to effectively implement whole school reform models, they would need access to expert technical assistance. He was a pioneer in learning how to do this, ultimately leading to the formation of the Success for All Foundation.  SFA brought evidence-based school improvement strategies to thousands of schools, and influenced policy leaders to create federal funding streams to support school improvement, most notably the Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration Grants. These grants started in the late 1990s and, for the first time, provide schools with additional federal funding to implement comprehensive school reforms. This new direction led to addition federal efforts, including School Improvement Grants (SIG during NCLB) and Comprehensive School Improvement funds (CSI under ESSA).

At CSOS and thereafter, Bob Slavin was a creative, highly productive, and effective force who helped to define the imperative connection of research and school improvement and how schools could be supported to use what works.

See a full celebration of Bob Slavin’s life and productive work: Robert Slavin: Obituary in Education Matters, 4-26-21

Robert Balfanz, Joyce L. Epstein, Doug J. Mac Iver
Co-Directors, Center for Social Organization of Schools