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National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

Evaluation Studies of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

Implementation and Impact Evaluation of Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants

Contractors: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.; American Institutes for Research; Social Policy Research Associates

Background/Research Questions:

Race to the Top (RTT) is an ED-sponsored competitive grant program that funds states and districts planning to implement comprehensive education reform in one or more core areas. Since 2010, RTT has funded a general state competition, as well as a state competition focused on early learning and a district competition focused on personalized learning. With funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), the general state competition awarded $4 billion to states in support of comprehensive K–12 education reform in four core areas: teachers and leaders, standards and assessments, data systems, and school turnaround.

The School Improvement Grants (SIG) program is authorized through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and provides 3-year awards to support turnaround in the nation's persistently lowest-achieving schools. In fiscal year 2009, the $546 million SIG appropriation was supplemented by $3 billion through ARRA, for a total of $3.5 billion. SIG funds are disbursed to states by formula based on Title I allocations. States then competitively award funds to districts applying on behalf of their eligible schools. Schools receiving SIG must implement one of four prescriptive intervention models: turnaround, transformation, closure, or restart.

RTT and SIG are signature ED programs in the Obama Administration, and both programs received substantial funding through ARRA. As part of OMB's FY 2010 Evaluation Initiative, IES proposed to conduct an impact evaluation of the Race to the Top and School Improvement Grant programs, focusing on the initial general state competition for RTT and the first cohort of SIG schools implementing intervention models beginning in the 2010-11 school year. In consultation with OMB, IES is planning to address five evaluation questions:

  • Which policies and practices promoted by the RTT program do RTT states report adopting, and how do they compare to the policies and practices that non-RTT states report adopting?
  • Is receipt of an RTT grant related to improvement in student outcomes?
  • Are SIG-funded schools adopting the improvement or turnaround strategies promoted by the four SIG intervention models, and how do they compare to strategies in schools not implementing a SIG-funded intervention model? How are states and districts supporting such efforts?
  • Does receipt of SIG funding to implement a school intervention model have an impact on outcomes for low-performing schools?
  • Is implementation of the four school intervention models and the strategies prescribed by those models related to improvement in outcomes for low-performing schools?


The RTT sample will include all 50 states and DC. Data from interviews with all states and DC will inform the first evaluation question. The second evaluation question will be addressed using a short interrupted time series design with state-level National Assessment of Educational Progress data comparing, before and after the RTT competition, states that were awarded an RTT grant to states that applied for but were not awarded an RTT grant.

The SIG sample will include about 525 schools in 60 districts from 22 states. This sample will be purposively selected to support a regression discontinuity design to address the fourth evaluation question, exploiting cutoff rules that states used to identify their persistently lowest-achieving schools as eligible for SIG to implement one of the four intervention models. Data from state and district interviews, as well as school surveys from the SIG sample will inform the third and fifth evaluation questions. Student- and school-level achievement data will also be collected from administrative records up to the 2012-2013 school year to inform the fourth and fifth evaluation questions.

It is expected that RTT and SIG requirements will be implemented over a number of years. Therefore, the evaluation plans to focus on implementation at the state, district, and school levels in the early years of the study. We also anticipate that additional years of data collection beyond the scope of this contract will be needed to fully describe the implementation and impact of these efforts.

Cost/Duration: $18,266,464 over 5 years (September 2010–September 2015)

Current Status:

The first year of implementation and outcomes data has been collected. The second and final year of implementation data has been collected, with collection of corresponding outcome data in progress. Two evaluation briefs were recently released, one on January 8, 2014 entitled "Operational Authority, Support, and Monitoring of School Turnaround" (see, and one on April 30, 2014 entitled "State Requirements for Teacher Evaluation Policies Promoted by Race to the Top" (see Work is underway on preparing the first report and two descriptive evaluation briefs focused on state capacity for school turnaround and common improvement practices adopted by low-performing schools. The first report and two briefs are scheduled to be released in late 2014. Release of all reports and briefs will be announced on