School Improvement Grants Data Draws Positive Picture

The U.S. Department of Education School Improvement Grants program, an initiative promoted by President Obama and passed by Congress in 2009, is starting to bear fruit, the DoE reports. The program, which has disbursed more than $4 billion towards efforts to turn around the bottom 5% of U.S. schools, has now paid out grants to over 1,200 schools nationwide.

According the Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the department-collected SIG data, covering the first year of the program, has shown marked improvements in educational outcomes in targeted schools.

In year one under the new SIG:
Nearly one in four schools saw double digit increases in math proficiency.
Roughly one in five schools had double-digit increases in reading proficiency.
In nearly 60 percent of SIG schools, the percent of students who were proficient in math or reading went up in the first year.

Although a certain level of excitement is warranted, Duncan was careful to point out that it's hard to draw conclusion on the program's effectiveness based on data from just one academic year. He expects that it will take a few more years before there can be a definitive ruling on the program's success.

Duncan made the SIG update the focus of his panel at this year's Grad Nation Summit and took the opportunity to give credit to those whose efforts have contributed the most to getting the program off the ground.

"At the heart of all these successes," Duncan explained, "are teachers and school leaders who are excited about the prospect of change." Before joining a panel at the Summit, Duncan closed by reminded those in attendance that, "Children only get one chance at an education," and that there isn't time to wait for reform to happen.

This is a rare win for the Obama administration when it comes to education. During his first term, the President has struggled to make his mark on the U.S. school system. While there has been improvement in some educational metrics nationwide, the challenges of implementing last administration's No Child Left Behind continue to grow. Nearly every state has now requested and has been granted a waiver from the Adequate Yearly Progress requirement mandated by the NCLB, and U.S. students continue to struggle in the rankings against their peers from around the world.

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