Grant to expand KU education tool to meet the needs of students and teachers in rural schools

A federal agency has granted the University of Kansas a $15 million award to expand coaching and training to rural schools for an education tool that has been proven effective at boosting engagement and reducing disruptive behaviors in the classroom.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project, part of the KU Life Span Institute, the grant to support expansion of the Class-Wide Function-related Intervention Teams, known as CW-FIT. The five-year grant, “CW-FIT Rural Expansion: Gaining More Time to Learn and More Time to Teach in Rural Schools,” was provided through the Education Innovation and Research Program and builds on previous funding.

“This grant expands a proven program that improves academic engagement and achievement to help high-needs students in rural elementary and middle schools,” said John Colombo, Life Span Institute director. “Teachers deserve everything we can do to help improve student engagement. This project will do that.” 

Students raise their hands to be called on in class while sitting in a circle

The research will be led by Howard Wills, professor and senior scientist at Juniper Gardens. The project includes multiple partners including seven national rural education state affiliates and 72 rural local education agencies throughout California, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Tennessee, and Texas. 

Working with rural partners, the team will expand the evidence-based CW-FIT intervention to rural schools through a micro-credentialing program. Rural coaches will be trained by CW-FIT regional directors who will then, in turn, train teachers. Teachers will then implement CW-FIT.   

“CW-FIT is an evidence-based classroom management program that helps teachers gain time to teach and focuses on increasing student academic engagement,” said Wills. “Rural teachers who are often known for being dedicated, resilient professionals, are struggling to support high-needs students in the presence of declining academic engagement, and increases in academic deficits, absenteeism, conduct and mental health issues. This project is an important investment in supporting rural teachers and schools with a cost-efficient program. Further, CW-FIT is widely adaptable as it can be implemented with existing resources across curricula, subject matter, and K-8 grades.”

WestEd, an independent evaluator, will compare outcomes for rural students in CW-FIT classes to students in classrooms implementing usual supports for improving student academic engagement and achievement. That data will assist researchers in identifying school-level assets and barriers, informing future expansions of the program.