Has the U.S. government’s $3.5 billion School Improvement Grant (SIG) program delivered as promised? The data from Ohio indicates that the answer is no—but with a glaring exception.
SIG is a federal grant program, which has been funded heavily through the 2009 stimulus act. Its goal is to improve the academic performance of persistently low-performing schools. In March 2010, Ohio received a three-year, $132 million grant; the Ohio Department of Education then allocated funds to eligible schools based on a competitive grant process. In spring 2010, over 200 schools applied, and 35 schools received funding.
In return for the funds (up to $2 million per year for a school), the grantee is required to implement one of four intervention models: turnaround—replacing the principal and 50 percent or more of the staff; restart—closing a school and reopening under new management, possibly a charter school; school closure; or, transformation—leaving staff in place but implementing plans to improve instructional effectiveness, extend learning time, et cetera. Most schools in Ohio and across the nation have selected the transformation model, what we have argued is the “easiest” model.
Given the sizeable cash infusion, together with the required interventions to turnaround the school, we might expect to see strong and positive gains in school-level performance.
But one does not observe across-the-board improvements in achievement.
The chart below shows the change in achievement scores for Ohio’s first cohort of SIG schools, from 2009-10 (pre-SIG) to 2011-12 (the second year of SIG funding). Each dot represents a school; the color of the dot represents the intervention model. Along the horizontal axis is the average per-pupil grant amount for FY 2011 and FY 2012. The vertical axis is the percent change, from 2009-10 to 2011-12, in each school’s performance index—a weighted proficiency rate, with greater weight given to higher test scores.
We see that a few schools did dramatically improve (over 20 percent, even), but that an even greater number of schools improved less than the state average. Moreover, 12 schools went backward in achievement; and, one school’s performance—Odyssey High School (now called University Project Learning Center) in Youngstown—dropped 10 percent, all while receiving over $8,000 per pupil.
A few other observations from the data worth noting (for more detail, see the interactive chart):
- 3 of the 5 schools that had +20 percent gains were Cincinnati Public Schools (the exception to the rule);
- 18 of the 34 schools (53 percent) had gains below the state average;
- 1 of the 7 turnaround schools experienced gains above the state average;
- 9 of the 11 of the Cleveland Metropolitan schools had below-average gains;
- There is no relationship between the per-pupil grant amount and the percentage gain/loss.
Chart: Majority of Ohio’s SIG schools had below-average achievement gains – Percent change in performance index (2009-10 to 2011-12) versus average per-pupil SIG grant (FY 2011 and 2012)
SOURCE: Ohio Department of Education NOTE: Black dots denote “transformation” model; red dots denote “turnaround” model. For more information about the schools, click here.
The chart is descriptive, of course, as any number of other factors independent of the SIG program may have affected the performance changes. And yes, it is plausible that the impact of SIG may not be felt immediately; and, we also cannot surmise what a school’s performance would have been without the SIG funds.
Nevertheless, the data here suggest that SIG has likely been at best a wash for Ohio’s schools, and that injecting financial resources to turnaround struggling schools doesn’t necessarily equal success. To be sure, a handful of SIG schools showed large gains in a short period of time. (If the U.S. Department of Education wanted to crow about SIG, it would make a beeline for Cincinnati.) But, neither can one easily dismiss the notion that SIG grants may have had, in the aggregate, zero impact on school-level achievement—or worse, had a negative impact.
 SIG includes what are called “Tier III” schools. These are eligible schools, but are given less priority than “Tier I and Tier II” schools. They are not required to implement an intervention model. Tier III schools (there were 6 in the first Ohio cohort) are not included in this analysis.
 One school closed—it was not of the “closure” model—subsequent to receiving SIG dollars. The school is not shown on the chart.