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Operational Authority, Support, and Monitoring of School Turnaround

The federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) program, to which $3 billion were allocated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), supports schools attempting to turn around a history of low performance. School turnaround also is a focus of Race to the Top (RTT), another ARRA-supported initiative, which involved a roughly $4 billion comprehensive education reform grant competition for states. Given the size of these federal investments, in 2010 the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), began to conduct a large-scale evaluation of RTT and SIG to better understand the implementation and impacts of these programs. The SIG component, in particular, focuses on a purposive sample of SIG-eligible schools, including (1) a group of schools that received SIG to implement one of four intervention models specified by the U.S. Department of Education and (2) a comparison group of schools from the same districts that were not implementing one of these four intervention models with SIG support. Though the results from this evaluation of SIG are not necessarily generalizable to SIG schools nationwide, they are nonetheless important because they add to the limited knowledge base about the implementation and impacts of SIG-funded school turnaround efforts.

This brief focuses on the implementation of SIG by examining three interrelated levers for school improvement: (1) school operational authority, (2) state and district support for turnaround, and (3) state monitoring of turnaround efforts. SIG principles emphasize that school leaders should be given the autonomy to operate on matters such as staffing, calendars, and budgeting, but then also be appropriately supported and monitored by states and districts to ensure progress. It is thus of interest to document the actual policies and practices related to these three levers, and to see whether there are differences between study schools implementing a SIG-funded intervention model and comparison schools not implementing a SIG-funded intervention model. Findings are based on spring 2012 survey responses from 450 school administrators and interviews with administrators in the 60 districts and 21 of the 22 states where these schools are located. Key findings include the following:

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