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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

School improvement flop: $7 billion = 0

After seven years and $7 billion in School Improvement Grants, low-performing schools showed no improvement, concluded a federal analysis. The final evaluation found “no evidence that SIG had significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment” compared to similar low-performing schools that didn’t receive grants.

To receive up to $2 million per year for three years, school had to adopt one of four Education Department models.

School Improvement Grants could “change the lives of tens of millions of underserved children,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Half of SIG schools chose the “transformation” model, which called for replacing the principal and adopting new instructional strategies, teacher evaluations and a longer school day. Nearly all the rest adopted the similar “turnaround” model, which included firing half the teachers.

Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington-Bothell, studied SIG schools in the state. “Not much had really changed,” she told Ed Week‘s Sarah D. Sparks. “They were being asked to do different things, but the fundamental culture of the school, organization of the school, the fundamental design wasn’t reorienting toward dramatically higher intervention strategies, dramatically higher expectations, or dramatically better teacher training and support.”

The SIG failure aligns with earlier research showing that money can’t save dysfunctional schools and systems, Andy Smarick, an American Enterprise Institute fellow and president of the Maryland Board of Education, told Emma Brown of the Washington Post. “I can imagine Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump saying this is exactly why kids need school choice,” he said.

Smarick predicted the debacle he writes.

On December 6, 2009, I wrote: The Obama administration’s Department of Education recently launched what I believe will become its most expensive, most lamentable, and most avoidable folly.

In a 2010 Education Next article, The Turnaround Fallacy, Smarick  “recommended a different approach to helping kids assigned to failing schools (namely, new schools, a diversity of options, and parental choice).”

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