USDOE Proposes Overhaul of School Improvement Grant Program

The good news in 2010 was that the U.S. Department of Education was going to put a major new investment of federal funding on the table for school improvement. Under No Child Left Behind, schools that had been identified as needing to improve did not have access to funds to support their improvement efforts. The School Improvement Grant (SIG) program was born. The lowest performing 5% of schools (Priority School) and the lowest performing 15% of schools (Focus School) were eligible based upon state assessment data.

The bad news in this was the use of the funds came with significant restrictions on how they could be used. For a school to be eligible, they had to agree to adopt one of four improvement models identified by the U.S. Department of Education. These are:

· Closure: Close the school and move impacted students to nearby higher performing schools

· Restart: Close the school and reopen it under the management of a charter school provider

· Turnaround: replace the principal and screen and rehire no more than half of existing teachers

· Transformation: Replace the principal, alter the instructional program and evaluate teachers in part on the basis of student performance.

In addition, grants are limited to three years, including one year for planning and professional development. This significantly limited the amount of time for program improvements to be implemented to demonstrate measurable results, or to provide sufficient time for program changes to be fully implemented.

These restrictions made it difficult for districts to apply for badly needed funds if they did not intend to close the school, or convert it to a charter, or to replace up to half of their staff. Oregon districts have developed good proposals, but it is also clear that broadening the way these funds could be used would be helpful.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Education has begun that process of adding more flexibility to the use of these funds. A proposed set of new regulations for SIG grants has been posted in the Federal Register and are open for public comment and input until October 8th. This is a very good opportunity for anyone interested in improving the SIG program to learn more about the proposed changes and to provide feedback and comments to USDOE.

Here are some of the major proposed changes:

  • · Allowing five-year SIG awards;
  • · Adding improvement models identified by the State;
  • · Adding evidence-based, whole –school reform strategies;
  • · Allowing rural districts to modify one SIG intervention model element;
  • · Expanding SIG targets to include educational outcomes in preschool and early grades;
  • · Inclusion of family and community engagement throughout the grant period;
  • · Adding support for local district monitoring and supporting the implementation;
  • · Requiring the local district to review performance of any external providers and to hold them accountable for performance;
  • · Eliminate the “rule of nine” which currently restricts districts with more than nine eligible schools from using the transformation model in more than half of them;
  • · Aligning the teacher and administrator evaluation criteria in SIG to that which is being used by the state in the current ESEA flexibility requirements. This simplifies the application process and criteria for districts.

The intent of these changes is to make SIG funding more flexible, less restrictive and, most importantly, more realistic in its timelines for developing, implementing and monitoring implementation of meaningful school reform strategies.

You can get complete information and submit a formal comment on the proposed changes and submit a statement if you wish at the link below:

Information on SIG grants in Oregon is available at:

Pat Burk, Ph.D.

Department of Educational Leadership and Policy


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