Washington Schools Waste SIG Money

Eighteen state schools in Washington received in excess of $40 million from the School Improvement Grants program, money which was intended to radically turn their fortunes around. Instead most of the schools are making marginal changes, according to a report from the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education.

A handful of the 18 schools in Washington receiving multimillion-dollar School Improvement Grants (SIG) are making bold changes, according to the study, but most are implementing marginal or unfocused changes, such as a slightly longer school day.

The report only deals with Washington and acknowledges that it is too early to analyze any increase in test scores, so it is merely examining the ways in which schools are spending the money. However the difference between how the money is being spent and the purpose for which it was originally given is leading some to view it as an indictment of the Obama Administration’s flagship program.

In receiving the grant money, schools agreed to make changes under one of four models: permanently closing; restarting under the control of an outside organization; reopening with a new principal and mostly new staff or replacing the principal and implementing broad curriculum changes.

The final and least disruptive, called “transformation,” was the choice of a majority of school districts across the country

The report’s lead author, Sarah Yatsko, has said that the changes made under the transformation option, as chosen by 14 of the 18 schools receiving grants in Washington, were too timid and essentially wasted the opportunity to help students. SIG has so far awarded $3.5 billion nationwide so if the general inference is correct that the spending data shows it to be a failure then it would be a huge blow to Obama’s reform program, especially as Yatsko lays most of the blame on a government error in requiring too tight a deadline.

“Despite the hard work on the part of many district administrators, principals and especially teachers, the overwhelming majority of the schools studied so far exhibit little evidence of the type of bold and transformative changes” envisioned by the program, the report concluded.