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A Tool for Tracking School Improvement Grants

States and schools are working through ambitious projects to turn around low-performing schools, with the help of billions in federal aid. Now there's a new tool to help educators, researchers, and the otherwise curious follow the money, and the progress, school by school.

An online tool designed by Education Sector, a Washington think tank, allows the public to review the strategies being tried though the $3.5 billion federal School Improvement Grant program, broken out on a Web-based map. (See below.)

The SIG program gave states funds to turn around low-performing schools. States have the flexibility to select schools based on their own measures of academic strengths and weaknesses.

Schools in the program choose from four models for school improvement: closing a school; turning it over to a charter operator or school management group; turnaround, or replacing the principal and part of its staff; and transformation, which involves changing school leadership, putting in place more supports for teachers and more demanding academic standards, among other options.

Ed Sector's initial analysis, "A Portrait of School Improvement Grantees," finds that 73 percent of SIG schools are using the transformation approach—not surprising, given that it's widely regarded as the most flexible approach. Transformation is the exclusive model in 15 states. (Education Week has reported on the popularity of the transformation option, and the challenges facing states and schools through the SIG program.) Restarts and school closure were unpopular, Ed Sector found, also probably not surprising, given the volatility of taking those steps.

One intriguing piece of Ed Sector's analysis focuses on charter schools, which make up 56 of the 843 participating SIG schools. The relative autonomy of charters might suggest that it would be easier to close those schools if they're struggling, but the SIG data suggests that the step is rarely chosen.

Ed Sector notes that 75 percent of the identified SIG charters choose the "transformation" model. In doing so, they were agreeing to adopt many of the same strategies, like extended learning time, that charters "often deploy to differentiate themselves from public schools in the first place," the report observes.

Of 56 charters receiving SIG funds, 22 are in Texas, which has seen big growth in charters, but where charters have "varying degrees of performance," Ed Sector says.

Once you've had time to play with the SIG tool—just hover and click—you'll be able to offer an analysis of your own.

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