SIG in Colorado

I’ve obviously made up my mind about SIG and other school turnaround efforts.

But I suspect many others are still wondering if turnaround attempts are a sensible strategy for creating more high-quality seats for kids in need. And I’m sure there are lots of folks curious why SIG has shown such paltry results so far.

If you’re in either camp, you really ought to take a look at a new report from A+ Schools and Democrats for Education Reform–Colorado, Colorado's Turnaround Schools 2010 - 2013: Make a Wish. It adds fuel to the fire of my anti-turnaround argument, but it also helps explain why $5 billion in SIG funds are producing so little.

According to the report, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) was virtually indiscriminate when handing out SIG grants. If a school applied, it won. At first, the state was evidently making awards without a rating system or even a scoring rubric. When it finally did develop a system, it didn’t have much of an effect—those seeking funds got awards no matter how flawed their applications or budgets. In year four (2013), CDE again approved 100 percent of requests.

In the report’s words, “Accountability at the state and federal level has taken a backseat to trying to spend the funds quickly and support schools.”

And so the results aren’t surprising. About a quarter of early winners are actually doing worse than they were pre-award. And based on student-growth measures, schools getting these huge sums of money are progressing at about the same rate as other schools in the state.

Here’s possibly the most jarring figure: To date, the program has spent about $145,000 for every student who has moved into the proficient or advanced categories.

Schools that saw the best growth scores were generally new schools. Charter and replacement schools have fared better than other turnaround strategies.

In total, this report is an important contribution because it suggests that SIG is failing both because turnarounds seldom work and because state processes for doling out funds have been unsound.

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