Hindsight Improves the Picture for Obama-Era School Improvement Program

In Education On
- Updated

A decade after the Education Department launched its $7 billion school improvement grants and four years after Congress killed the program, the most comprehensive longitudinal study to date  of the much-maligned program paints it in a potentially better light.

While studies of  the School Improvement Grants, or SIG, program over the years have produced mixed results, researchers Min Sun of the University of Washington and her colleagues Susanna Loeb of Brown University and Alec Kennedy of the San Francisco Unified school district find the grants built up the capcity for improvement in their schools. The study suggests student achievement accelerated after SIG schools had a few years to implement their improvement plans, and schools were able to sustain their growth for as much as seven years after first receiving the grants.

Using money from the federal economic stimulus in 2009, the Obama administration turned a smaller Bush-era grant into a competitive grant intended to build capacity to reinvent chronically struggling schools. Schools received money that in many cases doubled their annual budgets, but had to adopt one of four turnaround models with dramatic requirements, such as replacing the principal and half of the teachers, implementing new teacher evaluation systems, overhauling school governance or student learning time, or other major interventions.

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