A Portrait of School Improvement Grantees


Click to access Portrait of School Improvement Grantees databaseThis nifty new policy brief and interactive map from Education
Sector offer up a focused look at where the $3.5 billion in federal School Improvement
Grant (SIG) money is going and what it’s being spent on. Through new high-tech
software, the interface lets users investigate trends and patterns in the 843
SIG schools, including their location and the type of intervention strategy being
implemented in them. The SIG program marks the largest pot of federal funds
ever targeted to America’s failing schools, with an average of about 4.2
million offered up to each school. (For more information on SIG, look here
and here.)
From the report, we see that some grantee schools may not be among the neediest
in the country, some are managed by companies with poor track records, and some
should have been closed long ago. While these school-level factoids are
interesting, it’s the big picture that is most fascinating, especially for
policymakers charged with determining SIG’s impact and future. For instance, of
the four ED-approved turnaround models—transformation, closure, turnaround, and
restart—seventy-three percent of SIG grantees chose “transformation.” (This is
arguably the easiest of the available options. It demands only that schools
replace the leader and implement some small-scale shifts, rather than close, replace
the majority of the staff, or convert to a charter school, as the respective other
models require.) In fact, SIG grantees in fifteen states used this model
exclusively. These numbers are even more telling when broken up by level of
urbanization. SIG schools in cities chose transformation 65 percent of the
time, whereas rural SIG schools chose that model 97 percent of the time. Why?
The report posits: “Urban districts are better able to relocate students in
another school. Schools in more remote locations face limited pools for hiring
and fewer partnership opportunities and are left with only one real practical
option—transformation.” Kudos to Ed Sector for making transparent how states
are using these three billion-plus federal-education dollars.

Padmini Jambulapati, “A Portrait of School Improvement Grantees,” (Washington,
D.C.: Education Sector, April 26, 2011).