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Charting the Progress of Education Reform: An Evaluation of the Recovery Act's Role

Contract Information

Current Status:

This study has been completed.


August 2010 – September 2016



Contract Number:



Policy Studies Associates
Chesapeake Research Associates
University of Wisconsin


The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided an unprecedented $100 billion of funding for the U.S. Department of Education. While the initial goal of this money was to deliver emergency education funding, ARRA was also used as an opportunity to spur innovation and reform at different levels of the education system. In turn, ARRA provided a unique opportunity to foster school improvements and to learn from reform efforts. The purpose of this study was to describe the recipients of ARRA funding and what strategies and supports were implemented with the funding. Although funds were disbursed through different grant programs, their goals and strategies were meant to be complementary, if not overlapping, as were likely recipients of funding. For this reason, data collection and analysis were integrated across grant programs, rather than separately for each set of grantees, allowing for a broad implementation study of ARRA as a whole.

  • At the state and local levels, who were the recipients of ARRA funds? To what extent did child poverty, state fiscal condition, student achievement, and other variables relate to funding?
  • Was ARRA associated with the implementation of the key reform strategies it promoted? At the state, district, and school levels what was the pace and scope of implementation as reform activity took place over time?
  • Which implementation supports (e.g., state assistance to districts and schools) and challenges (e.g., community opposition) were associated with ARRA?

Data were collected from all 50 states, DC, and a nationally-representative sample of districts and schools through the administration of surveys in spring 2011 and spring 2012. Descriptive and correlational analyses made use of both survey and extant data, in order to answer the study's research questions.

  • The Recovery Act K–12 education funding provided an average of $1,396 per pupil to individual states, with amounts ranging from $1,063 to $3,632 per pupil. States with the largest budget shortfalls and states with the highest student achievement received more per pupil than did states with the smallest budget shortfalls and lowest student achievement.
  • On average, 81 percent of Recovery Act K–12 funding was awarded to districts. Districts with the highest child poverty rates received, on average, twice as much per pupil ($1,369) as did districts with the lowest child poverty rates ($684).
  • At the state level, there was progress from 2009–10 to 2011–12 in each of the four areas of reform examined. Progress was greatest for state support for use of student achievement gains for principal evaluation (from 6 in 2009–10 to 22 in 2011–12). However, in 2011–12 many more states were carrying out reforms related to standards and assessments than were carrying out reforms related to educator evaluation and compensation or improving low-performing schools.
  • At the district and school levels, progress was uneven and varied by reform area. During the study period, there was an increase in the percentage of districts and schools that reported implementing standards-and-assessments-related reforms. However, there was a decrease in the percentage of districts that reported implementing reforms related to educator evaluation and compensation, and at the school level, implementation of these reforms largely remained flat. School-level but not district-level progress was seen for data-system-related reforms.
  • Across all levels, the most frequently reported reform implementation challenges were related to educator evaluation and compensation.