Late last year, the U.S. Department of Education’s independent research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), released a preliminary but highly informative report on the School Improvement Grant program (SIG). Its findings help explain why the program is failing so badly and foreshadow IES’s much-anticipated comprehensive analysis of this multi-billion dollar program.
This report focuses on inputs, three “levers” for school improvement: school-level operational authority; state and district support; and state monitoring. Its findings are based on a survey and interviews of school, district, and state administrators.
The most notable finding is that there is very little difference between the goings-on of SIG schools and similarly low-performing schools that didn’t receive SIG funding. SIG schools were marginally more likely than non-SIG schools to have authority over professional development and the length of the school day, but there were no statistically significant differences in other areas. Moreover, in most areas studied (such as student discipline and curriculum), the majority of SIG and non-SIG schools both reported that they lacked primary authority.
Similarly, SIG and non-SIG schools reported receiving generally the same types of district and state supports.
The report is careful to point out that the sample studied was not randomly selected, meaning these results don’t necessarily reflect SIG as a whole.
But when you consider these findings alongside the state-level implementation findings and the dismal student-achievement results released so far, the picture comes into focus: SIG was a terribly expensive misadventure.
Given that SIG schools are behaving and being treated much like low-performing non-SIG schools, we need to brace ourselves for the IES study on SIG’s influence on student achievement. Based on what we know to date, it appears that the safe bet is that SIG will be found to have had no or a very small effect.
In other words, we probably spent billions of dollars to get the same outcomes as if this program had never existed.
And yet, these dollars continue to flow.