Study Shows School Improvement Grants Spur Progress in Urban Schools

While many of the current grant programs from the Department of Education have been targeted for cuts in proposed 2015 ESEA legislation, School Improvement Grants (SIG) still appear to be included in the Senate’s plan. According to a new report from the Council of Great City Schools, the continued investment is warranted since 70% of low-achieving urban schools that have received federal SIGs have shown progress over the past three years. School Improvement Grants: Progress Report from America’s Great City Schools found that SIG-award schools increased the numbers of students at or above proficient levels on state assessments in reading and math; schools in urban districts also demonstrated significant reductions in the numbers of students in the below-basic performance level in both subjects.

Key characteristics that lead to improvement:

  • A coherent and coordinated district plan for supporting and turning around the lowest-performing schools;
  • Interventions focused on instructional improvements with high-quality programming and materials;
  • Coordination and integration of instructional interventions and strategies;
  • Professional development that built staff instructional capacity;
  • Principals who were invested in a vision for improvement and conveyed these priorities to teachers, students, and the community;
  • Principals who were given the flexibility to make staff changes or remove ineffective teachers and staff; and
  • The ability to leverage data to identify the specific academic needs of struggling students, determine needs for professional development, and decide on intervention strategies.

The report also examines reasons why SIG plans do not work, including:

  • A lack of coordination of instructional interventions among state, local, and school officials resulted in SIG schools having multiple intervention strategies of mixed quality or interventions that clashed instructionally;
  • States bypassing the district and working directly with schools on their turnaround approaches, at times encouraging SIG schools to opt out of their districts’ curriculum;
  • States, districts, or schools using SIG funds to retain organizations and supports that were not likely to improve academic outcomes on their own; and
  • SIG schools that were less adept at the use of data did not appear to improve as fast.

Read the report, School Improvement Grants: Progress Report from America’s Great City Schools.

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Education Policy