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Case Studies of Schools Receiving School Improvement Grants

Contract Information

Current Status:

This study has been completed.


September 2009 – May 2016



Contract Number:



American Institutes for Research
Mathematica Policy Research
Decision Information Resources
Education Northwest


The federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) program was authorized by Title I, Section 1003(g) of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The purpose of the grants was to help turn around the nation's persistently lowest-achieving schools. States received SIG funds from the U.S. Department of Education based on Title I funding formulas. They then competitively distributed the funds to districts applying on behalf of their eligible schools. The first cohort of SIG, which is the focus of this study, received funding beginning in the 2010–11 school year. To qualify for the three-year grant in the first cohort, schools must (among other requirements) have been willing to implement one of four prescribed intervention models: turnaround, restart, closure, or transformation. About $546 million were allocated in FY 2009 for SIG with a supplement of $3 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. With the possibility of rollover funds, this amounted to an initial $3.5 billion injection into the SIG program during the 2010–11, 2011–12, and 2012–13 school years. This study sought to provide descriptively rich and qualitative information for a small but diverse set of schools receiving SIG in the first cohort to implement an intervention model beginning in the 2010–11 school year.

  • What were the background and context of these persistently lowest-achieving schools?
  • What leadership styles did the principals of these persistently lowest-achieving schools exhibit? How did the leadership and staff in these schools define the performance problem, and to what did they attribute their problems?
  • What actions did these schools engage in to try to improve their history of low performance?
  • What was the change process in these persistently lowest-achieving schools, particularly in terms of developing the school's organizational capacity and human capital?
  • What improvements did school stakeholders perceive during the three years of SIG, and did these improvements appear to be sustainable?

This study employed a case study design. A core sample of 25 SIG schools was purposively selected from 13 districts and 6 states to represent a range of geographic regions, urbanicities, school sizes, racial/ethnic compositions, socioeconomic statuses, SIG intervention models, and SIG funding levels, among other factors.

Data collection took place over three school years, beginning in spring 2011 and concluding in spring 2013. Data collection included interviews with each state's SIG leaders, a teacher survey, as well as site visits to the case study schools that included analysis of fiscal records, as well as interviews and focus groups with district officials, principals, teachers, parents, union officials, external support providers, and students. There also were two sets of approximately 10 schools selected for special case studies, with one set focused on SIG schools with a high proportion of English Language Learners (ELL) and another focused on rural SIG schools.

Together these case studies provided rich, cross-site, qualitative information to address the study's research questions. They also helped describe the change process in schools implementing one of the SIG intervention models, as well as identify potential leading indicators of successful implementation of the models, which may be informative for policymakers, schools that are implementing or considering implementing intervention models, program staff, and other key stakeholders.

The final report, titled Case Studies of Schools Receiving School Improvement Grants: Final Report, presents findings from all three years of SIG implementation and was released in April 2016.

The first report, titled Case Studies of Schools Receiving School Improvement Grants: Findings After the First Year of Implementation, was released in May 2014.

Other publications from this study are listed below.

Descriptive Background Reports That Provide Context for SIG

Briefs on Special Topic Case Study Schools

Blog Posts

Two data files containing publicly-available information on SIG-eligible and SIG-awarded schools are available for the purposes of secondary analysis.

  • Most case study schools (22 of 25) replaced their principal at least once in the year before SIG or the first two years of SIG. Two of the four SIG intervention models required the principal to be replaced. About half of the new principals were described by school staff as an improvement over their predecessor.
  • Twelve of the 25 case study schools replaced at least half of their teachers by the second year of SIG. Respondents in more than half of the 12 schools characterized the change as positive. All but one of the 25 schools created new non-teaching positions in the first two years of SIG, with the most frequent positions being instructional, technology, or data coaches and additional school administrators.
  • In 15 of the 25 case study schools, most of the teacher professional development was job-embedded. According to teacher survey responses, professional development more often focused on math, literacy, or data use than classroom management or improving instruction for English learners and special education students. In most schools, teachers reported changing their practice after participating in professional learning on math, literacy, or data use.
  • Sustaining improvements may be challenging. In more than half of the 12 schools the study followed for all three years of SIG, teachers felt their school had changed in primarily positive ways. However, just two of these schools show strong prospects for sustaining improvement, while six show mixed prospects, and four show weak prospects. The schools that had higher organizational capacity by the third year of SIG had higher sustainability prospects.