Developmental Studies Center

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Developmental Studies Center (DSC) is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Oakland, California that was founded in 1980 by Eric Schaps. DSC develops and disseminates literacy and community-building programs for use in elementary schools, and literacy, mathematics, and science enrichment programs for use in after-school environments, as well as provides professional development services tailored to each program. DSC develops its programs with the goal of helping schools and after-school sites create caring, supportive learning environments that help all children acquire the academic skills they need to be productive and successful, and as well as build and deepen their understanding of, and commitment to, values such as kindness, helpfulness, personal responsibility, and respect for others.

DSC reaches over 25,000 new classrooms each year and supports itself largely through earned revenues. DSC's programs have been adopted in over 4,000 schools and 5,000 after-school sites across the United States, including Title I schools serving low-income and minority youth. DSC’s lessons are designed so that the students are the ones doing the hard work of thinking, talking, and interacting in the classroom. Teachers learn how to increase student talk time, ask more and tell less, and acquire a broad cache of effective teaching strategies on which to draw. The lessons are designed to tap into students' innate motivation and curiosity and to engage 100% of the students 100% of the time. Rigorous evaluation studies have shown that DSC’s programs improve students’ academic achievement, strengthen their pro-social inclinations and skills, and reduce their involvement in problem behaviors including drug and alcohol use.[1]

Mission and Research[edit]

A nonprofit institution since 1980, DSC’s work has been supported by $85,000,000 in grants from over 60 different philanthropic and governmental sources. That funding has enabled DSC’s mission of developing educational materials that promote academic learning while also fostering children’s social, emotional, and ethical growth. Over the past ten years, the effectiveness and scalability of DSC’s programs have driven a 2000% increase in the rate at which the programs are adopted by schools and districts. In turn, that increased adoption rate has driven a near-complete reversal from grant dependence to organizational self-sufficiency. These programs have been extensively and rigorously evaluated and have been recognized as exemplary by, among others, the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Character Education Partnership, and the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Formative evaluation is key to the creation of all of DSC’s programs. Programs are developed with extensive feedback from panels of teachers who pilot program lessons. The lessons are revised based on feedback and on classroom observations. The revised lessons are then field-tested by entire faculties in a diverse set of schools, and are again revised before final publication.

Through questionnaires, surveys, interviews, and/or focus groups, DSC's research department conducts ongoing evaluations of staff development offerings and selected program implementation efforts. DSC also collaborates with third-party evaluators to conduct comprehensive outcome evaluations of its programs that assess the programs' effects on students' academic achievement and social/ethical growth. These evaluations have shown that when well implemented, DSC’s programs have powerful positive effects on students, including strengthening their motivation to learn, promoting their academic achievement, and fostering their growth as caring and principled human beings.

A major evaluation [2] of its community-building program for elementary schools (then called the Child Development Project; now called the Caring School Community program), conducted in the 1990s in six school districts nationally, found that students in high-implementing schools, relative to their comparison school counterparts, showed:

  • a greater sense of the school as a caring community
  • more liking for school
  • stronger academic motivation
  • more frequent reading of books outside of school
  • stronger commitment to democratic values
  • better conflict resolution skills
  • more concern for others
  • more frequent altruistic behavior
  • less use of alcohol
  • less use of marijuana

A summary of this study is reported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which helped fund the evaluation.[3]

Significantly, a follow-up study [4] tracked students from both program and comparison schools through the middle grades and showed that the program had lasting effects on school success and high-risk behavior: While in middle school (where there was no comparable program), former program students showed:

  • higher grades in core academic classes (English, mathematics, science, social studies)
  • higher achievement test scores
  • a greater sense of community
  • higher educational aspirations
  • more liking for school
  • greater trust in and respect for teachers
  • greater involvement in positive activities such as sports, clubs, and youth groups
  • less delinquent behavior

Programs and Services[edit]

DSC’s programs incorporate the latest research on effective teaching and learning and are aligned with national standards and those of key states. For in-school use, DSC has created language arts programs that focus on decoding (i.e., phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency), reading comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and writing. DSC has also developed reading, mathematics, and science enrichment programs specifically designed for use in after-school environments. Aligned professional development is offered for each of these programs.

The major finding of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health was summarized as follows: “Attachment to school and family serve as protective factors against drugs, alcohol use, and violence. The most powerful predictor of adolescent well being is a feeling of connection to school.” [5] The importance of “connectedness” and experiencing a strong “sense of community” in school has been amply documented. For example, compared to more affluent children, low-income children and children of color typically experience less of a “sense of community” in school—less of a sense of connectedness to peers and adults, and less sense of having “voice and choice” during the school day [6] Research further shows that having such feelings of belonging and connectedness are extremely important for all domains of learning. For example, strengthening sense of community significantly enhances academic motivation and achievement;[7] enhances ethical, social, and emotional development;[8] and reduces the tendency to engage in problem behaviors.[9] Strengthening sense of community also promotes school bonding—students’ affective commitment to the school and its goals and values.[10] Each of DSC’s programs integrates a focus on building academic understanding and skills with strategies for creating inclusive classroom and after-school communities characterized by caring connections among students, between teachers and students, and between school and home. Regular use of cooperative learning strategies—partner and small group work—offers students opportunities to work together and learn about, practice, and consciously reflect on values such as personal responsibility, respect, fairness, caring, and helpfulness. Cooperative learning activities also help students build connections to each other and foster their sense of belonging to a school community in which they experience themselves as valued and contributing members. DSC’s Program Principles guide its development of instructional programs that:

  • set high expectations for children
  • provide important and engaging learning opportunities
  • create a caring community of learners
  • systematically scaffold teachers’ learning
  • assist the principal in providing effective leadership
  • tightly align with professional development services

In-School Learning[edit]

DSC has created research-based in-school programs that are designed to support teachers’ learning as well as students’, so that teachers with varying levels of experience can implement them successfully. These programs include:

  • The Making Meaning® reading comprehension program for grades K–8
  • The Making Meaning® Vocabulary program for grades K–6
  • The Being a Writer™ program for grades K–6
  • The SIPPS®—Systematic Instruction in Phoneme Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words—decoding intervention program for struggling readers in grades K–12, that is also used as a basic instructional program at grades K–3
  • The Guided Spelling™ program for grades 1–6
  • The Caring School Community® community-building program for K–6. Caring School Community has been designated as a “select” social and emotional learning program by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) [11] and as a research-based drug abuse prevention program by The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).[12] The program is also included in the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices and endorsed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (SAMHSA).[13] As reported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, two evaluations funded by the federal Department of Education (one in San Francisco and one in St. Louis) found that schools implementing the program reported significant positive change in students’ academic achievement, feelings of belonging, sense of classroom as a community, and significant drop in discipline referrals, compared to schools that had not implemented the program.[14]

Learning After School[edit]

DSC offers after-school enrichment programs that are focused on reading, math, and science. Specifically designed for out-of-school settings, these programs provide opportunities to build academic skills in ways that don’t feel like school. These programs include:

  • AfterSchool KidzLit® reading enrichment program for grades K–8
  • AfterSchool KidzMath™ mathematics enrichment program for grades K–6
  • AfterSchool KidzScience™ science enrichment program for grades 3–6, developed by The Lawrence Hall of Science
  • Math Explorer for grades 6–8, created by the San Francisco Exploratorium
  • Science Explorer for grades K–3, also created by the San Francisco Exploratorium

Professional Development[edit]

DSC supports each of its programs with tailored professional development services that have been fashioned to be seamlessly integrated. Professional development is provided by educators who themselves are experienced, skilled program implementers, providing workshops, follow-up visits, and online courses that offer both conceptual and practical guidance.


DSC has been funded by the following:


1. Solomon, D., Battistich, V., Watson, M., Schaps, E., & Lewis, C. (2000), “A six-district study of educational change: Direct and mediated effects of the Child Development Project,” Social Psychology of Education, 4, 3–51; and Munoz, M.A. & Vanderhaar, J.E. (2006). “Literacy-embedded character education in a large urban district: Effects of the Child Development Project on elementary school students and teachers.” Journal of Research in Character Education, 4, 27–44.


  1. ^ Solomon, D., Battistich, V., Watson, M., Schaps, E., & Lewis, C. (2000), “A six-district study of educational change: Direct and mediated effects of the Child Development Project,” Social Psychology of Education, 4, 3–51; and Munoz, M.A. & Vanderhaar, J.E. (2006). “Literacy-embedded character education in a large urban district: Effects of the Child Development Project on elementary school students and teachers.” Journal of Research in Character Education, 4, 27–44.
  2. ^ Solomon et al. (2000) [above]
  3. ^ “Fostering a Sense of Community in the Classroom Lowers Alcohol and Marijuana Use and Delinquency.” Robert Wood Johnston Foundation Publications and Research. (
  4. ^ Battistich, V., Schaps, E., Wilson, N. (Spring 2004).”Effects of an Elementary School Intervention on Students’ ‘Connectedness’ to School and Social Adjustment During Middle School.” Journal of Primary Intervention, Vol. 24, No. 3.
  5. ^ Resnick, M. D., Bearman, P. S., Blum, R. W., Bauman, K. E., Harris, K. M., Jones, J., Tabor, J., Beuhring, T., Sieving, R. E., Shew, M., Ireland, M., Bearinger, L. H., & Udry, J. R. (1997), “Protecting adolescents from harm: Findings from the national longitudinal study on adolescent health.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 278, 823–-832
  6. ^ Battistich, V., Solomon, D., Kim, D., Watson, M., & Schaps, E. (1995), “Schools as communities, poverty levels of student populations, and students’ attitudes, motives, and performance: A multilevel analysis.” American Educational Research Journal, 32, 627–658
  7. ^ Bryk, A. S., & Driscoll, M. E. (1988), “The school as community: Theoretical foundations, contextual influences, and consequences for students and teachers” (Madison: National Center on Effective Secondary Schools, University of Wisconsin); and Solomon et al. (2000) [above]
  8. ^ Solomon et al. (2000) [above]
  9. ^ Battistich, V., & Hom, A. (1997), “The relationships between students’ sense of their school as a community and their involvement in problem behaviors.” American Journal of Public Health, 87, 1997–2001; and Battistich, V., Schaps, E., Watson, M., Solomon, D., & Lewis, C. (2000), “Effects of the Child Development Project on students’ drug use and other problem behaviors,” Journal of Primary Prevention, 21, 75–99.
  10. ^ Solomon et al. (2000) [above]; Battistich et al. (2000) [above].
  11. ^ Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (
  12. ^ National Institute on Drug Abuse, Examples of Research-Based Drug Abuse Prevention Programs (
  13. ^ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices. (
  14. ^ “Caring School Community Program Goes National With Focuses on Community Building to Promote Healthy Behaviors,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (

External links[edit]