A closer look at schools receiving $3.5 billion to improve

Education Sector released “A Portrait of School Improvement Grantees” today, with an interactive map that allows readers to sort federal grant recipients by state or improvement model. The map provides details on the grants that have gone to over 800 struggling schools, serving nearly 600,000 students, across the nation. The Obama administration has set aside $3.5 billion for this work.

States identify their lowest-performing schools and then ask districts to apply for the grant money, which then goes to individual schools over a three-year period. Each school must follow one of the four improvement models specified by the U.S. Department of Education:

  • Turnaround Model: Replace the principal, screen existing school staff, and rehire no more than half the teachers; adopt a new governance structure; and improve the school through curriculum reform, professional development, extending learning time, and other strategies.
  • Restart Model: Convert a school or close it and re-open it as a charter school or under an education management organization.
  • School Closure: Close the school and send the students to higher-achieving schools in the district.
  • Transformation Model: Replace the principal and improve the school through comprehensive curriculum reform, professional development, extending learning time, and other strategies.

The last of these — “transformation” — has proven most popular, with 73 percent of SIG recipients choosing it, according to Ed Sector’s analysis. “Closure” and “restart” were significantly less popular options, with only two and four percent of grantees, respectively, choosing to employ them. For a detailed look at a school that has gone the rare “restart” route, see our story from February 2011 on Mastery Charter Smedley Elementary in Philadelphia that also appeared in Politics Daily.

Among the other findings of Ed Sector’s analysis: “while most federal dollars are usually funneled to elementary schools, nearly half of the SIG grantees are high schools—signaling a shift in federal spending and an urgency to reform America’s ‘dropout factories.’ Many of the SIG grantees are low-performing urban schools, but there is a surprising amount of diversity: 18% are rural, 17% suburban, and the grantee list includes dozens of charters and many more magnet schools.”

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