Ohio schools winning School Improvement Grants select easiest model

Ohio recently?announced the 42 schools who won School Improvement Grants (SIGs) to fund efforts to turn themselves around. Three are charters and the rest are district schools in 11 districts; their awards total $95 million.

These persistently low-performing schools who, year in and year out, fail to deliver students to proficiency, are receiving millions of dollars to help them determine how to fix themselves.

SIG is a federal grant program that allocates money directly to states; states then selected eligible districts and charters on a competitive basis (there are three ?tiers? of low-performers eligible). To apply, schools had to indicate which of the four turnaround models they would use: turnaround- replacing the principal and 50 percent or more of the staff; restart ? closing a school and reopening in under new management, which might include a charter or educational management organization; school closure?closing the school and redistributing kids to other schools in the district; or transformation ? leaving staff in place but implementing plans to improve instructional effectiveness, extending learning time, etc.

If you're thinking that of those four models, two sound pretty stringent ? you're right. Shut ?em down and do something different sounds like the US Department of Education and Sec. Duncan ? who has pushed the concept of school turnarounds pretty hard ? mean business. But if you're scratching your head trying to figure out what ?transformation? actually means, and thinking that sounds kind of squishy, you're certainly not alone.

In Ohio, the vast majority of schools opted for the transformation model (27) including all of Columbus' SIG schools. Nine chose the turnaround model, the second-to-least rigorous model. And six ?Tier 3? schools will be devising their own strategies for to lift student performance. None chose restart or closure.

In other words, these persistently low-performing schools who, year in and year out, fail to deliver students to proficiency, are receiving millions of dollars to help them determine how to fix themselves. After years of gross academic inadequacy, you'd think that if they knew how to fix the problem they'd have done it by now. (To further illustrate my cynicism, one of the winning Columbus schools opting for transformation is one of the lowest performing? schools in the city with 21 percent and 27 percent proficiency in third-grade reading and math.)

I should also note that this chronic level of under-performance among charter schools typically results in their closure. (Except, of course, for the three charters who won the money; see Terry's post on how doling out dollars to chronically underperforming charters totally flies in the face of the concept of holding them accountable for results.)

I'd be remiss not to mention Andy Smarick's prophecies on SIG. Andy has written a great deal on school turnarounds and has been critical about whether School Improvement Grants will lead to meaningful change. He wrote in February:

So, if experience is any guide, how will this all play out? Expect districts to max out their use of the ?Transformation? model. Most remaining schools will opt for a weak version of the ?Turnaround? option. The closure and restart options will scarcely be used. And results will parallel those from previous decades: The vast majority of low-performing schools will remain low performing.

In Ohio at least, this prediction was spot on. Flypaper readers, are the majority of your schools winning these grants doing the same thing ? selecting the fluffiest turnaround model? Is it hypocritical to shut down charters for abysmal performance while rewarding district schools with millions for similarly terrible results, while letting them get away with minimal turnaround efforts?

?Jamie Davies O'Leary

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