Transformation Education: A Case Study of the Children`s Guild

Transformation Education: A Case Study of the Children’s
Guild Organizational and Program Variables Related to
Outcomes for Children with Emotional or Behavioral
Esther S. Merves, Ph.D. Lead Investigator
Elisabeth Hess Rice, Ed.D., Lead Investigator
Amanda McKenna, MA, Research Assistant
David E. Emenheiser, MA, Research Assistant
George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
December 2009
The investigators gratefully acknowledge the funding for this study by Alfred Moses and
Amalie Kass in recognition of their mother, Helene Lobe Moses, who previously served
as board chair of the Children’s Guild.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to explore the impact of an organizational philosophy,
Transformation Education, on a multi-service organization, The Children’s Guild, and
two of its program groups, therapeutic group care and special education. The
integration of Transformation Educational philosophy throughout The Children’s Guild
distinguishes it from other organizations providing group care and nonpublic special
education services to children with severe emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD).
What is Transformation Education
Transformation Education is defined as an organizational philosophy and operating
system used to create a pro-social mindset in children who have EBD, and to promote
and sustain flexible thinking in schools, other child-serving organizations, and the staff
that is employed. Transformation Education achieves this through aligning an
organization’s systems, physical environment, program/curriculum, and employee’s
mindsets and behavior with the avowed mission, values and expectations of the school
or child-serving organization. Given that culture is learned through experience, children
become acculturated through everyday life to its way of thinking and acting. Likewise
acculturation is also used to develop flexible mindsets and creative thinking skills in the
employees of schools and child-serving organizations so that they possess the
mindsets needed to adopt change, innovation, best practices and so that the
organization is managed with the flexibility it needs to grow and prosper.
The key indicator for determining growth and change in a child, employee or an
organization is flexibility. Flexibility is the key indicator because the children referred to
group care and nonpublic special education schools with EBD exhibit arrested social,
emotional and/or academic growth and are resistant to change or modify their behavior,
hence the reason for referral. In order to be successful in life these children need to
adopt a way of thinking that fits the context of the situation they encounter rather than
meet every situation with responses that served as a coping strategy to tolerate or
negotiate a difficult situation which led to their adopting dysfunctional behavior.
Study Results
This exploratory study collected and analyzed measures concerning the functioning of a
program educating students with the most severe EBD. These measures were collected
and analyzed in order to assess the effect of Transformation Education on
organizational, academic and student outcomes. This study is unique in that it collected
a multitude of data points for present and future analyses from multiple vantage points
within the organization. Three areas of data collection of note were: (1) student
academic outcomes, (2) school satisfaction measures, (3) organizational health (4)
therapeutic group home outcomes. The following highlights from the analysis done are
noted below.
Student Academic Outcomes
o The school length of stay decreased approximately 7 months over a 12
year period and the group home length of stay decreased 9 months over
an 8 year time period indicating that The Guild was able to achieve its
goals of returning children to a less restrictive environment (LRE) more
efficiently over time.
o Students with EBD are placed in a restrictive setting in order to help them
achieve better success behaviorally and academically. When students
have progressed in the program they are referred to a less restrictive
setting. The five year result of returning students to a less restrictive
environment nationally is 52.7% of students enrolled in a restrictive
placement. The result for return to public schools for The Children’s Guild
during the same five year period was 57.1%. The return rate to a LRE for
students at the Children’s Guild was 8.4% higher than the national
average. This is noteworthy given the national comparison group was
significantly more advantaged economically and socially than The
Children’s Guild group.
o Critical incidents defined as exclusions from class, seclusions from peers in
a room without a locked door or physical restraint, demonstrated a constant
decline as each student spent time in The Children’s Guild program. On
average students reduced the number of critical incidents per months from
1.84 in their first month of enrollment to 0.42 in their 39th month. Lower
critical incidents mean more time for learning in the classroom and
makes the students return to a LRE possible.
o In the academic year 2007-2008 across all three school sites students
improved as measured by the Northwest Evaluation Assessment System.
School Satisfaction
o Parent satisfaction surveys in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008, showed that ninety
percent or more of the respondents gave positive responses (strongly agree or
agree) to twenty-five of the twenty-eight questions. The three questions not
receiving at least a 90% positive response rate exceeded a 70% positive
response. This data is based on 38% of parents responding in 2006-2007 and
72% of parents responding in 2007-2008.
Organizational Health
o Staff turnover rates in the 8 years studied improved from a high of 58% in FY 02
to 13% in FY 09.
The Academy: Therapeutic Group Home Outcomes
o For five out of eight years at least 80% of students living in a therapeutic group
home returned to a LRE after attending the Children’s Guild. The return to a LRE
for seven out of eight years was above 60%.
o Property destruction costs declined from over $6,000 per bed to under $200 per
bed over the years studied.
This study focused on organizational and school measures because of their importance
to stakeholders, donors, educators, administrators, and society.
measures are important as they determine staff stability and the resources available to
enrich the programming for students with EBD.
The literature underscores the importance of a stable school environment for children
(Demie, 2002, Ruberger, 2002) and researchers have demonstrated the link between
volatility in school environments and poor academic performance for general education
students (Fowler-Finn, 2001).
Returning Students to an LRE
For many stakeholders, the critical outcome variable is whether a student returns to a
LRE, i.e., public school in the educational setting and step down service to a lower level
of care such as a regular group home service, a foster home, return to own home or
independent living in the child welfare setting. .
During the five year time frame (1999-2004), The Children’s Guild returned 224
students of which 128 (57.1%) entered a LRE. These results are 8.4% better than the
national average during the same five year period. What is the true impact or
meaning of the 8.4%? This difference is substantial when one considers that in the
NAPSEC (National Association of Private Special Education Centers) study of the
national population only 37% of the students qualified for a free or reduced lunch,
compared to 80% who qualify for receiving free or reduced lunch in The Children’s Guild
population. The Children’s Guild served more disadvantaged children and received
better results than the national population using Transformation Education.
Staff Turnover and Organizational Growth
A key measures of organizational stability studied was staff turnover. Low staff turnover
is key because the more stable the staff the more consistent the educational
environment is for the children. The results of deploying Transformation Education did
create higher staff retention.
Academic Achievement
Academic achievement, school absenteeism, disruptive incidents, and suspensions are
major problems at urban schools. Within special education settings, therapeutic holds
(key component of critical incidents data reported) are a key concern given the
September 2009 policy brief issued by the Council on Exceptional Children on Physical
Restraint and Seclusion Procedures.
It is here, precisely in the school measures, where we find additional good news.
Attendance, during the two years (20 months) of study, averages in the high 80% range.
Critical incidents demonstrated a constant decline as each student spent time in The
Children’s Guild program. What this suggests is that students are engaged in
learning, as shown by the measures of academic progress. For example, of the
students who participated in the testing at the Baltimore campus, 82% improved from
fall to spring in Math in 2006-7, and 85% improved in Language Arts at the Anne
Arundel campus in 2007-8. This also indicates progress in the acquisition of a prosocial mindset.
Parent and Student Satisfaction
Both parents and students are satisfied with The Children’s Guild. For example,
average response means on the 14 item parent survey range from 2.9 to 3.5 on a 4
point scale for the 3 campuses in 2006-7, and from 2.9 to 3.6 in 2007-8. In fact, 90%
or more of parent survey respondents gave positive responses to 25 to the 28
questions asked over the 2 year period. And return rates are very impressive for
Anne Arundel and Baltimore in 2008: 76% and 94%, respectively.
Student agreement in 2006-7 (77% agree or strongly agree) at the Anne Arundel
campus is highest on the items, “I am learning important things,” “I am treated fairly at
school,” and “I feel safe at school.” Student agreement that they are learning, that
they feel safe, and that they feel treated fairly shows strong evidence of a
therapeutic psycho-educational setting. In 2007-8, Anne Arundel campus students
scored highest agreement (78%) on the item, “My class has done new and fun things
this year.” During 2006-7, the Baltimore lower school children were unequivocal in their
positive ratings, from 76% on the item, “I like to come to this class,” to 89% on the item,
“My teacher shows me how to do new things.” Other highlights from 2007-8 include:
95% agreement with, “My class has done new and fun things this year,” at the Baltimore
campus (both lower and upper schools); 86% agreement on two items at the Prince
George’s campus, “I have a good teacher,” and “I am learning important things.”
The Academy: Therapeutic Group Homes
The Children’s Guild Therapeutic Group Homes, known as the Academy, have a return
to a LRE that varied from 63% to 100%, during the years of 2003 – 2009. Property
destruction costs declined from over $6000 per bed to under $200 per bed over the
years studied. These organizational indices further support the stability of the
environment and the positive impact of Transformation Education on the organization’s
culture and in turn on student outcomes. Comparable data to use as a benchmark for
return to LRE for the group home population could not be located.
About the Research Team
Lead Investigators
Esther S. Merves is Research Scientist of Special Education at the George Washington
University, and collaborates with Dr. Elisabeth Rice on research projects..
Elisabeth Hess Rice is Associate Professor of Special Education at the George
Washington University. Dr. Rice coordinates teacher training programs that prepare
master level teachers to work with students with learning and EBD.
Research Assistants
Amanda McKenna received her BA from Yale University, and graduated from GWU with
a MA in Special Education-EBD. She has been teaching for 10 years, and has worked
extensively with high school aged students who are performing far below grade level,
and who face both academic and social/emotional struggles.
David E. Emenheiser, after nearly a decade of experience as a nonpublic special
education principal, returned to GWU to study for the doctorate in special education.
For a copy of this study in its entirety contact Susan McFaul at or 410-444-3800, ext 118