One Third of Schools Receiving Stimulus-Funded 'Student Improvement Grants' Showed Declines

Susan Jones | November 23, 2012 | 12:41pm EST
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Joe Biden, President-elect Barack Obama and Education Secretary-designate Arne Duncan visited a Chicago school in December 2008. (AP Photo)

( - Three years ago, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that the Obama administration would spend $3.5 billion -- including $3 billion in stimulus funding -- on Student Improvement Grants. The money, he said, would "support the transformational changes that are needed to turn around the nation's lowest-achieving schools."

Now, after the Obama administration spent up to $2 million per school at more than 1,300 of the nation's lowest-performing schools, the data shows that one third of schools receiving SIG funding had declines in achievement -- a "not surprising finding," the Education Department said, "given the steep institutional challenges that these schools face."

“There’s dramatic change happening in these schools, and in the long-term process of turning around the nation’s lowest-performing schools, one year of test scores only tells a small piece of the story,” Duncan said on in a Nov. 19 news release.

But the Education Department says in three main areas, there are signs of "positive momentum" and progress:

The first year of data (beginning in the 2009-2010 school year and ending in the 2010-2011 school year) shows the following:

-- Two thirds of schools showed gains in math, and two thirds showed gains in reading.

-- A larger percentage of elementary schools showed gains than did secondary schools-- "suggesting that it is easier to improve student performance at a young age than to intervene later."

-- Seventy percent of elementary schools showed gains in math, and seventy percent showed gains in reading, a higher percentage of improving schools than was found in middle or high schools.

-- Some of the greatest gains have been in small towns and rural communities.

Because this snapshot covers only a single year of SIG implementation, and because many factors contribute to student proficiency rates, it is too early to establish a causal connection between SIG funds and school performance, the Education Department said.

Federal School Improvement Grants are described as a key component of the Education's Department’s blueprint for helping states and districts turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools, the Education Department says.

Duncan said that almost without exception, schools showing achievement gains had two things in common, including a "dynamic principal with a clear vision for establishing a culture of high expectations" and talented teachers with a "relentless commitment to improving instruction."

Other studies of the SIG program are ongoing; and in January, the Education Department said it will publicly release all school-level assessment data, including state-by-state SIG assessment data, once protections to ensure privacy of students are put in place.

The Department also is collecting data on items such as student attendance, teacher attendance, and enrollment in advanced courses "that will give a more complete picture of performance in SIG schools." It plans to publish that data  in early 2013.
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