Since 2010, the Center on Education Policy (CEP) has issued two handfuls of reports on the reborn federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. These latest three (1) tackle the challenges related to SIG staffing requirements, (2) tackle the challenges related to increased learning time, and (3) profile the culture changes made in six SIG schools. The first and third reports are worth mentioning. In the first, surveyed state leaders explain that finding and keeping quality principals and teachers is difficult for SIG schools, especially those in rural areas. Yet just 21 percent broke the hiring mold and offered recruiting and appointment assistance to SIG schools and districts looking for qualified staffers. It’s unclear from the survey data how many states and districts are utilizing alternative recruitment pathways like New Leaders or Teach For America. Instead, some state officials interviewed called for the relaxation of SIG schools’ replacement mandates. Indeed, just 55 percent of those in states with schools undergoing the “transformation” model (where the school must replace the principal and implement other programmatic and structural reforms) felt that replacing the school’s leader was a key or “somewhat” key element in upping student achievement. (Of course, there are inherent flaws in state-official survey data.) In the third report, CEP explains specific strategies implemented to change schools’ cultures, including requiring uniforms, hiring behavior specialists, and improving teacher collaboration (via pay for instructional coaching, etc.). Interviewees, unsurprisingly, most often cited improvements in school climate as the greatest success after Year 1 of SIG implementation. Changing the culture of the school is surely a requisite for seeing growth in student achievement. But one wonders how effective, and sustainable, this climate shift can be without a new captain at the helm—something a disconcerting number of state leaders a) don’t find to be vital or b) aren’t helping districts find.
SOURCE: Jennifer McMurrer, Special Reports on School Improvement Grants (Washington, D.C.: Center on Education Policy, July 2012).