How Will ESSA Be Different When it Comes to School Turnarounds Than SIG?
The U.S. Department of Education doled out $427 million for the very last round of School Improvement Grant funds Tuesday.
The program, which has gotten more than $7 billion over the course of the Obama administration, yielded decidedly mixed results when it comes to student achievement, was eliminated under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
So what will replace it? And how school improvement under ESSA be similar to or look different from SIG?
The key similarity:
- Under ESSA, states are still supposed to identify their bottom 5 percent of performers. And they still get some resources to fix those schools.
They key differences:
- Instead of having a dedicated pot of money, states instead are called on to set aside 7 percent of their Title I funding for school improvement, up from 4 percent under the previous version of the law. Most of that money has to go out to school districts. But it's up to states whether they want to run a competition, or send it out by a formula, to everyone.
- One of the biggest knocks on SIG was that it was too prescriptive and forced states to choose from a menu of turnaround options that didn't make sense for them. Under ESSA, states and districts can come up with whatever fixes they want for their lowest performing schools, as long as there is some evidence behind the idea. The feds are explicitly barred from telling them what to do.
- In the past, states were in charge of finding fixes for their lowest-performing schools. Under ESSA, districts are in charge of coming up with the plan. The state is supposed to monitor their efforts. If the school isn't getting better after a state-determined number of years (no more than four), the state is supposed to step in with its own plan.
So what does it mean for an idea to have evidence behind it? We're still figuring that out.
ESSA lays out four different levels of evidence. If a state or district decides to pay for an intervention using Title I money that's been set aside for school improvement, it needs to choose from one of the top three tiers. Districts that want to try out an intervention without using that money can pick something from one of the top tiers, too, or they come up with some rationale, based in research, for using the strategy. (My colleague, Sarah Sparks of Inside School Research fame, has a great breakdown of the different levels of evidence in this post.)
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