School Improvement Also Needs Time, GAO Report on Grants Concludes
July 29, 2011 3:59 p.m.
How much improvement can you make at a failing school when you only have a month or two to plan and implement your reform?
Not too much, at least in six states, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a report released July 25 about the federal School Improvement Grants program,which awards $2 million a year to the lowest-achieving, highest-poverty schools.The SIG program has grown from $125 million in 2007 to $3.5 billion in 2009.
It’s difficult to implement rigorous reform strategies if you don’t have the time to attract reform-minded principals and talented teachers, the report noted. For instance, some state applications -- due in February 2010 -- were not approved by the U.S. Department of Education until summer 2010.
The GAO recommended the Education Department move up the application deadlines to ensure more timely implementation. In fact, the education department had, although not early enough, both the GAO and the Department of Ed reported. By late June, six states hadn’t received their approvals for the 2011-12 school year.
Other questions arise from the report–mainly whether some states were selective enough when dispensing the money. Delaware used a competitive process and only gave the dollars to only 20 percent of the Title I schools that applied. Virginia, Nevada and Rhode Island, on the other hand, doled out dollars to all the eligible Title I schools that applied.
Some rural districts also complained that the timeframe and the rules made it difficult for them to receive SIG funding. However, in the ED response to the findings, staff pointed out that while rural schools represented 16 percent of the eligible schools, 24 percent actually received the funds.