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Daily Dish: U.S. Department of Education Releases New Data on School Improvement Grant and Race to the Top Programs

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November 12, 2015 04:21 pm

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Today brought the release of two reports from the U.S. Department of Education on two major federal programs: the School Improvement Grant program (SIG), which provides support to the nation’s lowest-performing schools, and Race to the Top.

In response to the SIG report, Alliance President Bob Wise said: “Today’s results show that dedication and dollars are leading to diplomas; after three years of implementation, SIG schools are increasing their graduation rates at three times the national average…The SIG program is not a complete cure for what ails the nation’s lowest-performing high schools, but it is a vitally important program…I urge Congress to continue funding this important program that is helping local practitioners drive improvements in the nation’s lowest-performing schools.”

The Washington Post notes that SIG data shows that “students in about two-thirds of the schools studied posted gains on math and reading tests, but one-third showed no improvements or even slid backwards.”

The Post gives some background on the program, noting that SIG marks the largest federal investment ever targeted at low-performing schools. When a school accepts SIG funding, they must adopt one of four strategies: “Replace the principal and at least 50 percent of the staff; close the school and enroll students in another, better-performing school; close the school and reopen it as a charter school; or transform the school through new instructional strategies and other techniques.” As the article notes, the majority of schools chose the least disruptive option, and selected to transform the school through new strategies and techniques.

As Education Week reports, the new information arrives just as Congress works to decide the future of the SIG program. A bill in the House of Representatives to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) would eliminate SIG, as would a House budget bill. And the Senate’s ESEA legislation includes resources for the lowest-performing schools, but not in the form of SIG.

The U.S. Department of Education also released a report on the Race to the Top competitive grant program, which gave $4.3 billion in federal money to schools to be focused on policy initiatives including new teacher evaluations and a commitment to new standards, says Ed Week. The report shows that schools used the money to make significant progress in areas including state data systems and instructional resources for teachers, the article notes. The report highlights success stories related to changing practices among teachers, rising graduation rates, and increased passing rates on Advanced Placement courses. Learn more: “Fundamental Change: Innovation in America’s Schools Under Race to the Top.”

Today in Massachusetts, departing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered a speech about both Race to the Top and SIG. He spoke at a high school that received SIG funding in 2011 and is now no longer considered “failing” by the state’s rating system, explains Politico’s Morning Education.  Watch the speech, “Unleashing America’s Energy for Better Education: The Legacy of Race to the Top,” here: https://youtu.be/-VbiCo7X-NM?t=19m40s.

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