There is some skepticism regarding the effectiveness of School Improvement Grants (SIGs) on the part of those districts that are not eligible to receive them, according to a new study released in November by the Center on Education Policy (CEP). SIGs are competitive grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to districts identified as persistently lowest achieving, a designation that applies to 15 percent of the nation’s districts. Based on the survey results, only 16 percent of ineligible districts felt the grants have been effective. In contrast, 58 percent of eligible districts felt the grants have been effective.
The uncertainty regarding the grants’ effectiveness may be, in part, because schools that did receive the grants are still in their first year of implementation and some results are yet to be seen, says Diane Retner, director of national programs at CEP. Districts applied for the grants in spring 2010, and those who received money began implementing their projects during the 2010-2011 school year. The CEP survey went out in January 2011 when SIG projects were still underway.
Eligible vs. Ineligible
Retner also feels that because the grants are targeted toward the lowest 15 percent of schools, 85 percent of districts had little knowledge of the program and are therefore not as aware of its results. Some may also have had a problem with being eligible for the program.
“If you have the 17th-lowest district, you hit some gray area,” says Retner. “They’re not the lowest, but still not doing so great.”
Should this model of reform, favoring competitive grants over formulas, become legislative commonplace, more research and communication on its effectiveness must be carried out, says Retner.
“If this is a new federal policy, that we are going to target more resources toward the lowest-performing schools, there needs to be more gumption as to why that’s important,” says Retner. “There needs to be more awareness of the program. Do districts think this is the right policy even though they’re not eligible?”