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Articles: Grants

The Obama administration has grand hopes for turning around the nation's lowest-performing schools, in part by allocating $3.5 billion for School Improvement Grants. Unfortunately, there simply aren't enough qualified principals to replace those mandated to be fired under two of the four school improvement models that the federal government says districts must follow to tap into that funding.

A nationwide survey of forty-two states and the District of Columbia examined how states are using the $3.5 billion in School Improvement Grants, part of the federal Title I program. Early State Implementation of Title I School Improvement Grants under the Recovery Act, conducted by the Center on education Policy and released in late February, found that changes in the guidelines implemented for these grants were intended to funnel more resources toward those high schools most in need.

"We want a grant for 20 computers."

This was my directive from district administrators nearly 25 years ago. As a district grants specialist, I dutifully wrote the grant for computers so that the schools would be prepared for the 21st century. Back in the late 1980s, the computers themselves were the crux on the federal grant application.

"We are knowingly administering tests to children that we know cannot do well on them because they don't speak English," says Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), echoing the concerns of many administrators nationwide regarding assessment tests for English language learners (ELLs).


Anti-Bullying Warning

Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education, said the department received 800 harassment complaints in the last year. The DOE warned schools in a letter Oct. 27 not to tolerate bullying.

The federal approach to school safety is shifting. This shift was first seen at the federal summit on bullying, held August 12, with the announcement of the Safe and Supportive Schools grant, a program under the Successful, Safe and Healthy Students program in the Blueprint for Reform that focuses on the overall environment of a school. Climate surveys are the cornerstone of the grant, as the Department of Education is—for the first time—asking students and families to provide feedback on their school atmosphere.

The eight-year-old No Child Left Behind Act established for the first time a federal benchmark for student achievement. When the Obama Administration took office last year, the new president promised to stay true to the goals of NCLB while upgrading what critics have termed simplistic, "fill in a bubble" testing to create a more comprehensive assessment of student learning.

Spurred by the prospect of being awarded millions in Race to the Top grants, several states have removed or raised caps on the number of charter schools they will allow to be authorized. And financial support for charters has been flowing in from various foundations and corporations—including most notably a recent $325 million commitment from JPMorgan Chase.

The education community has rightly identified teacher quality as the key factor in improving student achievement. Most people would now agree that students must have top quality teachers if students are to reach their potential. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) made teacher quality and accountability central in the debate on education.


School Shooting Hero

David Benke, a math teacher who tackled a school shooter at Deer Creek (Colo.) Middle School in February, was honored at the National School Safety Conference on July 26. The school is just blocks from Columbine High School.

The word "globalization" doesn't often conjure images of the U.S. heartland, but one Oklahoma district is going global through an innovative approach to teaching foreign language. Jenks Public Schools Superintendent Kirby Lehman is a strong supporter of foreign language and cultural integration. His appreciation for Chinese education led him to create Chinese language and exchange programs for Jenks Middle School and Jenks High School.

When Tim Marquez graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in the Denver Public Schools, he was clueless on how to get college scholarships. He eventually attended the Colorado School of Mines, where he received a degree in petroleum engineering and became highly successful.

In 2006, he decided to give back to his city by establishing a $50 million challenge grant (it meets every dollar that Denver schools raise) to provide every needy student who applies with a scholarship of up to $6,000 for as long as five years to any Colorado-based university.