The expanded School Improvement Grant (SIG) program represented an ambitious federal plan to stimulate rapid improvement of our nation’s chronically low-performing schools. In 2010, more than 1,000 schools nationwide received the first installment of a $4 billion federal effort to turn around schools consistently in the bottom 5 percent in student achievement levels and graduation rates.
SIG was infused with substantial new funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. With these new funds came new requirements to implement SIG “models.” Broadly, schools receiving SIG awards were required to replace the principal, extend the instructional day or year, promote continuous use of data, provide social-emotional supports, engage teachers in job-embedded professional development, and, in some cases, replace up to half of its teachers. Although all SIG schools received additional funds, for some the amount represented a mere 3 percent per-pupil increase. Elsewhere, the SIG constituted a 58 percent increase per pupil.
Over SIG’s first three years, as part of the Study of School Turnaround, my colleagues and I visited 25 SIG schools to interview district officials, principals, teachers, instructional coaches, parents, and students. We wanted to learn about SIG as it was being implemented, to understand efforts to reverse histories of low performance, and to let schools tell their stories.
So what have we learned? The full story of SIG’s impact has yet to be written – for that, we must wait for the release of the final national impact evaluation report later this year. But important lessons—some encouraging, some sobering—do emerge from our case study schools.