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How Well Did Schools Implement School Improvement Grants?

Back in 2010, the U.S. Department of Education pumped more than $3 billion into the country's lowest-performing schools and gave them very specific instructions about how to use the money. So did schools actually implement every aspect of the federal turnaround models?

Not really, according to a research brief on the program just released by the Institute of Education Sciences, the Education Department's statistical arm. The report relied on a survey of administrators at low-performing schools, including some that were implementing SIG and some that were not. The survey was conducted in the spring of 2013.

The most interesting finding: None of the schools participating in the survey that used the most common turnaround models available under the Obama administration's SIG program—"turnaround", which calls for getting rid of the principal and half the staff; and "transformation" which calls for a broad basket of strategies, including extended learning time and performance pay for educators—did absolutely everything they were encouraged to do.

The researchers also found that:

  • More than 96 percent of schools in the survey have tried the most popular turnaround practices, which include using data to inform instruction, using technology to bolster teaching and learning, and giving educators time to collaborate.
  • Schools were not inclined to use teacher evaluation results to inform compensation. Just a quarter of schools tried that. And less than 24 percent of schools had autonomy over issues like budgeting, the length of the school year, hiring, or discipline.
  • The least popular intervention was using extra compensation to attract turnaround principals. Just under 7 percent of schools attempted this.

The SIG program has posted somewhat middling results. Two thirds of schools improved, although some only marginally, after two years in the program. But another third actually slid backwards. Could less-than perfect implementation of the models have been the issue?

Maybe. It's also notable that the SIG money was pumped out too quickly for schools, districts, and states to really do any kind of careful planning on how to use the dollars, according to a 2012 report on the program by Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm.

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