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Lots of Smack in Final School Improvement Regs

The U.S. Department of Education put out the final version of the regulations on the School Improvement Grants. And even though there were 180 comments filed on the draft regulations, not much has changed, or at least not substantially.

If you'll remember, the draft regulations, released back in August, provided a lot specificity on what had been a pretty loosey-goosey program. The School Improvement Grants got $3 billion under the stimulus and another $546 million in the fiscal year 2009 budget, making it a pretty hefty program by Department of Education budget standards.

The regulations offered four possible models for fixing the lowest-performing schools in the state. (Read all about it in Michele's story).

Those models are still there, and they're still the only options. The department isn't allowing for much, if any, additional district discretion, even though some folks asked for it. The regulations explain their reasoning on that--and it comes as close to a smackdown as you're going to get from a 230-plus-page document put out by the federal government.

Here's a snippet from the regs, explaining why they didn't offer more local flexibility:

After nearly a decade of broad State and local discretion in implementing, with little success, the school improvement provisions of the ESEA, the Department believes, for the purpose of this program, it is appropriate and necessary to limit that discretion and require the use of a carefully developed set of school intervention models in the Nation's lowest-achieving schools.

And here they are explaining why they didn't allow for a fifth, more flexible turnaround model:

Over the course of the past eight years, States and LEAs have had considerable time, and have been able to tap new resources, to identify and implement effective school turnaround strategies. Yet they have demonstrated little success in doing so, particularly in the Nation's persistently lowest-achieving schools, including an estimated 2,000 "dropout factories." [States] have thus far helped no more than a handful of these schools to successfully restructure and exit improvement status, in large part, we believe, because of an unwillingness to undertake the kind of radical, fundamental reforms necessary to improve the persistently lowest-achieving schools.

Politics K-12 translation: "We're stepping in and telling you what to do because you have been breathtakingly incompetent so far."

And the Department isn't allowing any extra leeway for rural school districts, who wonder where they are going to find qualified principals and teachers to replace those who are leaving failing schools, something most of the models require.

We understand that some rural areas may face unique challenges in turning around low-achieving schools, but note that the significant amount of funding available to implement the four models will help to overcome the many resource limitations that previously have hindered successful rural school reform in many areas.

Politics K-12 translation: We're giving you a lot more money than we ever have before; we're sure you'll come up with something.

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