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Reports from Policy Analysts

Considering School Improvement Grants

Submitted On: Friday, May 2, 2014

Analyst: Janangelo, Dr. Joseph

An ED Review from the Department of Education recently published an article entitled, “U.S. Department of Education Announces Awards to Five States to Continue Efforts to Turn Around Lowest-Performing Schools:” This post presents excerpts from the release followed by questions that invite you to consider the tacit assumptions within such opportunities. I bolded words that merit special consideration:

“U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced that five states will receive more than $85 million to continue efforts to turn around their persistently lowest-achieving schools through awards from the Department's School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. ..

…School Improvement Grants are awarded to State Educational Agencies (SEAs) that then make competitive subgrants to school districts that demonstrate the greatest need for the funds and the strongest commitment to provide adequate resources to substantially raise student achievement in their lowest-performing schools…"

Questions for Consideration

Illinois has a $22,060,358 grant. Whether you are considering making an application, or discussing this opportunity with your colleagues, it raises important questions about the assumptions and goals within such opportunities. These include:

-How can we demonstrate “need” in ways that don’t devalue the work we are doing?

-How can we show “commitment?” 

-How can we think creatively and responsibly about defining and providing “adequate resources?”

-What is meant by “student achievement” and what artifacts can best demonstrate it? 

-How, how much, and how soon will we be expected to raise student achievement?

-What are the most valued markers for demonstrating momentum and progress? How do those markers relate to professional best practices?

-In terms of assessment, what is meant by the words “substantially raise?”  Are there particular benchmarks and models? How can we find them? How can we bring those models into meaningful conversation with the work of our students, teachers and administrators?

-Thinking about our own schools, which aspects of the curriculum are the most poised and competitive for these grants? Conversely, which need the most attention and improvement?

To brainstorm the possibilities, let’s canvas widely with our colleagues and students to consider the English language arts, literacy, English studies, and humanities teaching and learning.

 -What role might technology, and requests for technology, play in our teaching, curriculum and proposals?

-How can we use this opportunity to build solid and sustainable collaborations among classroom teachers, administrators, and writing, literacy and learning center directors? 

-As we look toward the end of the school year, what opportunities– for professional, pedagogical, curricular and instructional development—come to mind?


Conclusion: Such opportunities offer us a chance to see how we might do our work differently. They also communicate the goals and beliefs of those who sponsor them, especially about what should happen, and how soon it should happen, in American schools. Along with the opportunity, both the goals and beliefs merit careful, ongoing scrutiny and thought.

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