Turning Around Low-Performing Schools: New Findings on School Improvement Grants

New Brief Focuses on Operational Authority, Support, and Monitoring of School Turnaround in 450 Schools Across 22 States
May 19, 2014

A key goal of the U.S. Department of Education’s School Improvement Grants (SIG) initiative is to support implementation of four intervention models designed to improve struggling schools and boost student achievement. A large-scale evaluation offers new evidence on the implementation of these models.

Mathematica compared low-performing schools that implemented one of the four SIG-funded intervention models to those that did not, examining the schools’ operational authority or responsibility for decision making, supports received for school turnaround, and monitoring of their turnaround efforts. Researchers found few differences between the two groups of schools, but they noted significant differences in two aspects of operational authority:

  • Schools implementing a SIG-funded intervention model were more likely than schools not implementing such a model to have primary responsibility for: (1) setting requirements for professional development, and (2) determining the length of their school day.
  • The two groups of schools also differed significantly in their receipt of supports for turnaround, with more SIG-funded intervention model schools reporting that they received help identifying turnaround strategies, identifying and supporting effective instructional leaders, and using data to improve instruction.  

Other key findings include the following: 

  • In almost all operational areas examined, less than half of both groups of schools reported having primary responsibility for decision making. Budgeting was the most common area in which schools implementing and not implementing a SIG-funded intervention model reported having operational authority (55 percent and 54 percent). 
  • Most states, districts, and schools reported providing or receiving some type of turnaround support. According to states, the most common supports they provided involved helping schools develop improvement plans (20 of the 21 states interviewed) and identify effective improvement strategies (19 of the 21 states interviewed). 
  • Most states reported that monitoring involved site visits and analysis of student data, and most reported that monitoring was also used for formative purposes. State-level monitoring may help to inform states when stronger action is needed, such as taking over failing schools (which 11 states reported having the authority to do) and placing struggling schools in a special district focused on school improvement (which 5 states reported having the authority to do).

Using a sample of 450 low-performing schools from 60 districts across 22 states, Mathematica and its subcontractors from the American Institutes for Research and Social Policy Research Associates conducted surveys of school administrators and interviews with state and district administrators. One state did not participate in the state interviews, so only 21 of the 22 states were interviewed. The team then compared information reported by two groups: (1) low-performing schools implementing one of four SIG-funded intervention models and (2) low-performing schools from the same districts not implementing a SIG-funded model. Although not necessarily generalizable to SIG schools nationwide, the study findings contribute to the limited knowledge base about the implementation of SIG-funded school turnaround efforts. View the fact sheet or full evaluation brief.


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