School Improvement Grants 2010-2011: The School Improvement Grant Roll Out in America’s Great City Schools
We’ve long cast doubt on the efficacy of school-turnaround efforts, notably those championed (and funded) by the federal school-improvement-grants (SIG) program. This new report from the Council of the Great City School offers a welcome primer on SIG—but does little to allay our concerns. The report first details the history, participation, and look of the SIG program: It was written into NCLB but got a makeover (and a boatload more cash) with the passage of ARRA. Now, SIG prioritizes schools (bucketing them into three “tiers”—I, II, or III—with Tier I being the neediest) and doles out dollars to districts accordingly. To be eligible for SIG, districts must choose one of four interventions for each funded school. In general, the “turnaround model” asks that schools replace their principal and half their staffs. The “transformation model” only requires a changing of the principal guard. The “restart model” converts the school to a charter—or hands the management reins off to an outside agency. The “closure model” is self-explanatory. There’s much more background on SIG here, but what’s interesting is the forty-three member-district survey the CGSC conducted as part of this report. From this, we learn that districts seem to be less aggressive with their turnaround efforts post ARRA (though many more are embarking on them). Before ARRA pumped $3.5 billion into SIG, only 24 percent of schools utilized the “transformation” model, the least disruptive of all. After ARRA, that jumped to 74 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of schools that undertook the more dramatic (and likelier-to-spur-change) restart or closure models plummeted. (Hat tip to the CGCS: Council districts opted for the “restart” and “closure” models more frequently than the national average.) What this seems to show is that, overall, districts are more interested in pocketing as many SIG dollars as possible than in embarking on real—and necessarily jarring—efforts to jumpstart failing schools.
Jonathan Lachlan-Hache, Manish Naik, and Michael Casserly, School Improvement Grants 2010-2011: The School Improvement Grant Rollout in America’s Great City Schools (Washington, D.C.: Council of the Great City Schools, February 2012).
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