Included within the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) program was implemented by the Obama administration “as a means to push – and evaluate – four models to turn around chronically failing schools.” This $7 billion policy distributed funds to states to provide to their lowest performing schools– up to $2 million annually for three years for those with low graduation rates and test scores–on the condition that they adopt one of the four models supported by the administration: transform the school by replacing the principal and adopting a teacher evaluation system; fire the principal and at least half of the teachers to initiate a turnaround; change the school into a charter organization and restart it; or close the school altogether.
This past week, the U.S. Department of Education, with assistance from the Institute of Education Sciences and the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, released an updated report on the results of the SIG program, and the results are mixed, at best:
- “There were no significant differences in use of English Language Learner (ELL)- focused practices between schools implementing a SIG-funded model and other schools.”
- “Overall, across all grades, we found that implementing any SIG-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.”
- No clear pattern as to what model worked best to implement change, and if improvement had anything to do with the program (funds or model), as funds were not tracked.
Unfortunately, the high expectations and costs did not result in dramatic changes. As Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, points out: “they didn’t hit dramatically different; unfortunately, they didn’t even hit better.” However, this does not mean that the program has been a failure. Although the program has yet to see the results match the financial investment, something good happened in many of these schools, and some of the changes may take more time to show traceable results as additional analysis occurs. As a whole, these data show the difficulty in improving underperforming schools and programs by providing federal aid, and it may pave the way for alternative approaches – such as school choice – as a new administration takes over.
For advocates looking for more information on these results, and what they mean, please contact me.