We’ve long cast doubt on
the efficacy of school-turnaround efforts, notably
those championed
(and funded) by the federal school-improvement-grants
(SIG) program. This new report from the Council of the Great City School offers
a welcome primer on SIG—but does little to allay our concerns. The report first
details the history, participation, and look of the SIG program: It was written
into NCLB but got a makeover (and a boatload more cash) with the passage of
ARRA. Now, SIG prioritizes schools (bucketing them into three “tiers”—I, II, or
III—with Tier I being the neediest) and doles out dollars to districts
accordingly. To be eligible for SIG, districts must choose one of four
interventions for each funded school. In general, the “turnaround model” asks
that schools replace their principal and half their staffs. The “transformation
model” only requires a changing of the principal guard. The “restart model”
converts the school to a charter—or hands the management reins off to an
outside agency. The “closure model” is self-explanatory. There’s much more background
on SIG here, but what’s interesting is the forty-three member-district survey
the CGSC conducted as part of this report. From this, we learn that districts
seem to be less aggressive with their turnaround efforts post ARRA (though many
more are embarking on them). Before ARRA pumped $3.5 billion into SIG, only 24
percent of schools utilized the “transformation” model, the least disruptive of
all. After ARRA, that jumped to 74 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of
schools that undertook the more dramatic (and likelier-to-spur-change) restart
or closure models plummeted. (Hat tip to the CGCS: Council districts opted for
the “restart” and “closure” models more frequently than the national average.)
What this seems to show is that, overall, districts are more interested in
pocketing as many SIG dollars as possible than in embarking on real—and
necessarily jarring—efforts to jumpstart failing schools.

Jonathan Lachlan-Hache, Manish Naik, and Michael Casserly, School Improvement Grants 2010-2011: The
School Improvement Grant Rollout in America’s Great City Schools
(Washington, D.C.: Council of the Great
City Schools, February 2012).

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