Dylan Scott is a GOVERNING staff writer.E-mail: email@example.com
After undergoing a major expansion under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program is funneling more money to underachieving urban schools, which are in turn pursuing more intervention initiatives, according to a report released Friday by the Council of Great City Schools.
The SIG program was established as part of No Child Left Behind. These grants are targeted toward lowest-achieving schools in the nation, which are ranked as Tier I and Tier II (which are prioritized for funding) and Tier III. Receiving a grant usually requires a school to commit to one of four improvement initiatives laid out by the federal government: replacing a principal and implementing reforms, replacing a principal and half of the staff, or shutting down a school -- either permanently or reopening as a charter school.
Initially, the funding for SIG was limited. In 2007, Congress appropriated $125 million for the grants. The Obama administration greatly increased funding for the program, asking for $3 billion under ARRA as well as $546 million as regular budget appropriations in 2009.
The Council of Great City Schools report, based on a survey of 43 of the nation’s 65 largest urban school districts, attempted to quantify the impact of the SIGs on urban, poor and minority-heavy schools, which were more frequently identified as low-achieving compared to the national average.
In the 2010-2011 school year, the first year of the revamped SIG program, 298 Tier I and Tier II council schools (out of 831 nationwide) received an SIG. Their average award was $2.87 million over three years, up from a national average of $2.54 million. In total, 56 percent of eligible Tier I council schools earned a grant, and 25 percent of eligible Tier II council schools did.
The 298 council schools receiving SIGs in 2010-2011 was more than the number of awarded grants in the last five years combined, said Mike Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, in a conference call with reporters.
“These grants are enormously important to urban school districts across the country because they complement our broader strategy to improve student performance,” Casserly said. “It is unique set of grants that focuses our energies on our lowest-performing schools.”
However, the council also found that about a third of the schools given grants were awarded less than they applied for (an average of $763,000 less), and 18 percent of Tier I and Tier II council schools did not receive any funding. The timeliness of the grants was another concern: when asked about six reform measures supported by SIGs, between 40 and 58 percent of council schools said they didn’t have enough time to plan and implement the reforms.
Of the council SIG grantees, 54 percent pursued the “transformation” intervention model, which involves replacing the principal and instituting instructional reforms. Another 36 percent opted for the “turnaround” model, which includes replacing the principal and half the staff. Five percent chose to close the school and reopen as a charter school, and another five percent closed the school entirely.
The report noted that, while these figures indicate the amount of reform being undertaken because of the SIG program, it is too early to determine the long-term effect on student achievement. There was optimism, though, that improvement would be seen, according to the survey: 78 percent of districts said the program gave them enough autonomy and flexibility to implement reforms; 88 percent said SIGs “had a strong chance of significantly improving” low-performing schools.
“This work is tough. It is hard. There is nothing easy about it. It’s at times controversial,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said during the conference. “I would also argue it’s some of the most important work going on in education in the country.”
Below is a copy of the council's report.