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A Cautionary Tale on SIG in Colorado

Folks following the implementation of the School Improvement Grant program should check out this story in The Denver Post, which took a look at a handful of SIG schools run by Global Partnership Schools.

GPS was started by Rudy Crew, the much-celebrated, superintendent in New York and later Miami, as well as Manual J. Rivera, the former superintendent of New York's Rochester School District. (Crew left the company this past fall.) The company was tapped to help implement a more-than $7 million, three-year grant to completely revamp six schools in Pueblo City, Colo.

A year and a half in, achievement is flat at one school, and the rest have slipped further, the Post reported.

Rivera noted that the data snapshot referenced in the story was taken just seven months after GPS came into the schools. That's not nearly enough time to draw conclusions about GPS' impact, he said in an email.

Some of the most respected researchers in America concur that transforming or turning around a chronically low-performing school is a multi-year process. Changing an ingrained culture, developing effective leaders, strengthening curriculum, building a system of data-based decision-making and supporting teachers in reaching disengaged students is difficult and time-intensive work. We believe that every school has the capacity to be a great school, and we are committed to achieving this in the schools we are supporting in Pueblo.

GPS, which also has contracts in Baltimore and in Bridgeport, Conn., is listed in this Great City Schools report as a vendor schools districts would be willing to hire again.

From the beginning of the SIG program, some folks have floated the nightmare scenario of inexperienced or ineffective organizations that would step in, take districts' money, and not do much to move the needle on student progress. The program has been operating for two years, but so far, there's been a dearth of data on whether or not it actually works.

But even without lots of stats to back up the criticism, SIG has been about as popular on Capitol Hill as lunchroom lima beans.

Republicans in the House tried to defund it entirely in a recent spending bill. U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., left it completely out of his legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Senate education committee added three new models—to its ESEA reauthorization bill, including one that would allow states to submit their own turnaround ideas to the U.S. Secretary of Education.

And even Rep. George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the House education committee and an Obama administration ally, has questioned program's approach.

Stories like this one in Pueblo could fuel arguments that the four models spelled out in SIG aren't the right way to go. But there have been also been some successes, like this high school in Louisville, Ky., one of several in the district that posted double-digit gains in student achievement. It will be interesting to see, which, if either, of these examples lawmakers choose to focus on as they figure out the next iteration of SIG.

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