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How Much Extra Help Are SIG Schools Getting from States and Districts?

Congress and the Obama administration have poured more than $3 billion into the School Improvement Grant program—and it's unclear whether that has made a big difference in terms of actual student achievement, according to early (and flawed) data released by the U.S. Department of Education.

That means the outcome of the program is still unclear. But what about the "inputs"—the things that states and school districts were actually supposed to do with the money to fix the lowest-performing schools? A new report by an independent evaluator calls into question whether SIG schools are really getting assistance that's very different from schools that aren't part of the program.

The SIG program requires schools to choose one of four controversial turnaround models that called for dramatic actions, such as replacing staff, extending the school day, and putting in a whole new curriculum and instructional program. States and districts were supposed to offer schools a big assist—and the Government Accountability Office has already criticized the U.S. Department of Education's implementation of the program.

Now analysis by Mathematica Policy Research finds that SIG schools weren't any more likely to report getting help when it comes to working with parents, school improvement planning, and recruiting or retaining teachers, than non-SIG schools. SIG schools did, however, report getting an extra hand when it comes to identifying turnaround strategies and effective principals—and using student achievement data.

The Mathematica analysis also took a look at state supports and found that:

• All of the states surveyed (21 total) said they were monitoring low-performing schools, typically through analyzing student-achievement data and conducting site visits. But only 13 states reported giving districts a role in helping to monitor school improvement efforts—the lack of clarity on the role of school districts in turnarounds has been a major criticism of the SIG program.

• Districts reported giving schools more help in implementing school improvement plans by the spring of 2012, when the newly revamped version of the program was about two years old, than they did before it began, back in the 2009-10 school year. For instance, 46 of 60 districts surveyed said they provided low-performing schools with external consultants in the spring of 2012, compared to just 33 in 2009-10. And 18 districts had a turnaround office with designated staff in the spring of 2012, compared to just eight in 2009-10.

The report was based on a survey of 450 school administrators and interviews with administrators in 60 districts and 21 states. 

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