Upcoming Event: Education Stakeholders Forum on School Turnarounds and the School Improvement Grant (SIG) on Thursday, April 26

Please join us for the next Education Stakeholders Forum, which will focus on the progress of the School Improvement Grant as grantees work to turn around low-performing schools across the country.

The forum will feature educators and practitioners including:

  • Ann Chafin, Assistant State Superintendent, Division of Student, Family, and School Support, Maryland State Department of Education
  • Kelvin Adams, Superintendent, St. Louis Public Schools
  • Michael Haggen, Associate Superintendent, Office of Innovation, St. Louis Public Schools
  • Roy Sandoval, Principal, Alchesay High School, Whiteriver Unified District, Arizona

ED’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Michael Yudin and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and School Turnaround Jason Snyder will also share their take on the program’s national impact.

DATE & TIME: Thursday, April 26, 2012, from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m.

LOCATION: ED’s Barnard Auditorium in the LBJ Building, 400 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, DC, 20202

RSVP: To ensure building access, please RSVP with your name, organization, and title to EDStakeHolder@ed.gov no later than COB Tuesday, April 24th.

In addition, for those who are not in the DC area, this forum will be available on our USTREAM channel for live viewing on the 26th. ED’s USTREAM link is http://www.ustream.tv/channel/education-department.

SIG Baseline Report, Database and Map Now Available

I’m pleased to announce that IES has released the Department’s first report on the revamped School Improvement Grant (SIG), called “Baseline Analyses of SIG Applications and SIG-Eligible and SIG-Awarded Schools“. This report uses publicly-available data from State Education Agency (SEA) websites, SEA SIG applications, and the National Center for Education Statistics’ Common Core of Data to provide initial information on SIG-related policies and practices that states intend to implement, and the characteristics of both SIG-eligible and SIG-awarded schools. We’re also making available the entire database of SIG data to the public — you can find links to the database and documentation below. Finally, a mapping tool for the SIG data is available at http://data.ed.gov/grants/school-improvement-grants.

Some of the key highlights of the analyses in the report on SIG-eligible and SIG-awarded schools include the following:

  • 15,277 schools, or 16 percent of all schools nationwide, were eligible for SIG.
  • Given the program’s intent, SIG-awarded schools were, as expected, more likely to be high-poverty (75 percent), high-minority (86 percent), urban schools in comparison to elementary and secondary schools nationwide.
  • SIG-awarded schools are more likely to be high schools: high schools constitute 21 percent of schools nationwide and 19 percent of SIG-eligible schools, but constitute 40 percent of SIG-awarded schools.
  • The average total award among Tier I and Tier II schools was $2.54 million.
  • The majority of districts with SIG-awarded schools (62 percent) have only one SIG-awarded school.
  • Forty-three districts (7 percent of the 576 districts with SIG-awarded schools) across 24 states and the District of Columbia have 5 or more SIG-awarded schools.

SIG Funding to States and Schools

  • The average state award was $65 million, and the median state award was $39.7 million.
  • Among the different intervention models, turnaround schools received the largest total awards ($2.96 million per school).
  • By school level, high schools received the largest total allocation ($2.37 million), whereas non-standard schools (i.e. schools with a grade configuration not falling within the elementary, middle or high school categories) received the highest per-pupil grants ($1,880).
  • Schools in eleven states will receive an increase in per-pupil funding of 30 percent or more as a result of SIG.

The report also analyzes State SIG applications in fiscal year 2009, including how State Educational Agencies defined and identified what they meant by “persistently lowest achieving schools,” what types of monitoring strategies they would be using to monitor progress toward SIG goals, and other measures of support and technical assistance States are supporting SIG implementation.

Among the SIG-eligible schools:

  • Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia defined secondary school as including both middle and high school levels, or those schools serving 6th through 12th grade.
  • Seventeen states will prioritize Tier III schools that commit to implementing one of the four intervention models.

The SIG database contains 15,518 SIG-eligible schools across 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), including 1,247 SIG-awarded schools across 49 states. The database has information on all the SIG-related data you may be curious about, from information on award allocations, to SIG model selection, to demographic information on SIG-awarded schools. For more informtaion on SIG, please visit http://www2.ed.gov/programs/sif/index.html

Attachment Size
SIG Database Documentation.pdf 150.46 KB
sig_database.xls 8.91 MB

Supporting Rural Schools

Colonial BeachAs I’ve mentioned in this blog before, we in OESE are taking a new approach to working and helping districts build capacity, especially those who serve diverse groups of learners. So, one of our priorities is working specifically with rural schools and communities to ensure they have the appropriate resources and support to address the unique challenges they face.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a rural school in Colonial Beach, Virginia – specifically, a rural SIG school.  Colonial Beach High School is one of two schools in the Colonial Beach district, and it serves a population of 3,000 citizens. The school received SIG funds last year and they’ve adopted the transformation model to turn around the school, with a lot of support from the district and its superintendent, Dr. Carol Power.

During my visit, I met teachers, saw some classrooms, and spoke with the dedicated School Board and the Lead Turnaround Partners team, which is made up of six educational experts that are working with Colonial Beach to implement the school turnaround process. The school has made some encouraging progress, but what was really interesting for me to see was how Colonial Beach was dealing with some of its challenges as a rural school. For example, the school has only one algebra teacher – that certainly makes it difficult to form a professional learning community at the school! The solution for Colonial Beach has been to use technology to connect teachers to colleagues in other areas.

The Department recognizes that many of our nation’s rural schools face particular challenges like this one, and we are working to provide technical assistance and other forms of support, including our upcoming SIG Conference focused on rural and Native American students, to be held on May 24-25 in Denver. We want to offer a forum for rural educators to build a professional network, to learn from one another, and to celebrate the unique strengths offered by rural communities. I’m interested in learning even more about strategies and successes in rural schools across the country, so I encourage you to share your experiences directly with me at AskDrT@ed.gov.

Photo Credit: Reza Marvashti/The Freelance Star | Read coverage on the visit from Fredericksburg.com

Building Capacity for School Turnaround: The 2011 School Improvement Grant Regional Conferences

This entry is cross-posted from the ED.gov blog.

This morning, I’m excited to help kick off the 2011 School Improvement Grant Eastern Regional Conference in Washington, DC – an intensive, two-day event for school, district, and state leaders who are working to turn around their lowest-performing schools. The conference, hosted by ED’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) in partnership with our Comprehensive Centers, is the second of four regional capacity-building sessions that will take place over the next two months. The conferences are a key part of OESE’s efforts to provide our grantees with support and technical assistance as they implement the School Improvement Grant (SIG).

From the beginning of his administration, President Obama has made the commitment to turn around America’s lowest-performing schools a centerpiece of his cradle-to-career education agenda. Through our newly redesigned SIG program, we have provided an unprecedented amount of funds to help turnaround this country’s 5,000 lowest-performing schools over the next five years.

In addition to providing unprecedented resources for school turnarounds, ED is working in partnership with schools to ensure student success. Having been a Superintendent, I know how much support is needed on the ground to implement reforms, and how difficult it is to actually turn around failing schools. But, I also know that school turnaround can be done, with the right supports.

This is why these conferences are especially important. In the next two days, grantees at the Eastern SIG Conference will have opportunities to learn from their colleagues and other education leaders on what’s working, and what looks promising, in school turnaround efforts across the country. The conference will address not only structural and organization reforms for turnaround, but also instructional best practices to meet the needs of students in schools. And perhaps more importantly, school, district, and state leaders will build new relationships, strengthen existing ones, and begin building communities of practice that will allow them to continue to share promising practices and successes they see with SIG in their schools and districts.

I’m confident that this conference – like the Western conference, held just last week, and the Central and Midwest Conferences coming up in May – will be just the beginning of continued conversations and learning among grantees and all stakeholders invested in the success of school turnarounds. And, it’s my hope that all participants will return to their states and districts re-energized and equipped with new information, resources and networks that will help transform our struggling schools into world-class centers of teaching and learning.

A SIG-Filled Week, and a New SIG Resource for Supporting Adolescent Literacy

I’m in Los Angeles to speak at the 2011 Western Regional Capacity-Building Conference for School Improvement Grant (SIG) recipients. This is the first of four conferences we are holding for grantees across the country, and I’m really excited to be here to kick off these learning sessions that will offer support to states, districts, and schools as they undertake the difficult but necessary work of school turnaround. Tomorrow, I’ll also be visiting two SIG schools to better see how turnaround work is progressing on the ground. I’ll provide a more detailed update on the conference and the visits when I return to DC, but in the meantime, I wanted to share with you new SIG resources that grantees may find helpful.

Last week, the Center on Instruction posted a series of 5 webinars, produced in conjunction with Doing What Works, on topics related to adolescent literacy.  These are recorded professional development webinars designed for SIG grantees, with content from the Center on Instruction and handouts and activities from the DWW adolescent literacy website. This is a valuable resource for SIG schools and districts who may be looking for more resources on improving literacy, and I encourage you to take a look.

Here are the available webinars in the “Using Doing What Works (DWW) Resources to Support SIG Grantees in Adolescent Literacy” series:

State Turnaround Teams Share SIG Experiences

In our new issue of the School Turnaround Newsletter, turnaround teams and directors from four states reflect on their first year implementing the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, and what they’ve learned from their experiences so far. We also share new resources for school turnaround in the newsletter, along with a reminder to register for our Spring 2011 Regional SIG Conferences, which are fast approaching!

You can read the new issue here. If you’ve missed previous issues, you can find them here.

Parent Academy Resources from Miami Dade County

After our superintendent call and webinar last week on SIG implementation, some of you asked for more information on The Parent Academy (TPA), a parent and family engagement strategy used by Miami Dade County as part of their turnaround efforts. Nikolai Vitti was kind enough to share with me some additional information on this initiative, and I wanted to pass along these resources to you. In the documents attached here, you’ll find more information on how Miami Dade runs their Parent Academy, as well as some supporting research from the National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group. If you have questions, I encourage you to contact the district directly to find out more!

Attachment Size
TPA Overview.pdf 122.33 KB
TPA Curriculum Calendar.pdf 300.79 KB
TPA Request for Class.pdf 90.68 KB
WorkingGroupInnovations.pdf 119.01 KB

December Issue of School Turnaround Newsletter

School Turnaround Newsletter - December 2010I have another resource to share with all of you today — the December 2010 issue of our School Turnaround Newsletter.This issue features an innovative parent-teacher partnership model in Arizona as well as district strategies for turning around multiple schools. I hope you find the information helpful!

If you’ve missed previous issues of the School Turnaround Newsletter, you can find it on our School Turnaround Newsletter page here. I encourage you to let me know if you find these resources helpful in your work with school turnarounds, or if there are other ways that we at the Department can help support you.

Grad Nation Report and School Turnarounds

In case you haven’t heard, America’s Promise Alliance released their Building a Grad Nation Report last week. While the report gives us some good news, it also lets us know that we have a long way to go before the US can reclaim its position as number one in the world in terms of educational attainment. In short, too many of our students continue to drop out of high school, and we still have too many “dropout factories” across the country.

The Department of Education is already investing heavily in turning around our lowest performing schools through our School Improvement Grants – and a bulk of this money is going to our high schools. According to our latest data, 730 schools are currently undergoing school turnarounds, and 48 percent of those schools are high schools. This is great news for our high schools, which have historically been underserved by Title 1. The data also shows that our money is being spent where it’s needed most.

Of course, we need great schools at all levels – elementary, middle, and high schools. But we know that secondary schools face unique challenges, and therefore require more complex solutions and supports. Our investment in turning around lowest performing schools is one piece of the puzzle in helping our secondary schools become centers of excellence for all of our students.

School Improvement Grants at Work in Miami-Dade

This entry is cross-posted on the ed.gov blog.

It’s not every day I get a first-hand look at the transformation that’s taking place in our schools as dedicated school and district leaders undertake the difficult work of turning around the lowest performing schools around the country. But last week, I had the pleasure of visiting three Miami-Dade County Public Schools high schools that have begun this effort. It was a wonderful opportunity to see our School Improvement Grants (SIG) at work on the ground, and I’m excited to share with others some of the great work that is being done by the teams in Miami-Dade County.

Under our redesigned SIG program, the U.S. Department of Education has committed roughly $4 billion to help turn around the nation’s 5,000 lowest performing public schools over the next five years. Schools receive these funds in exchange for a commitment to dramatically change the culture and learning environment to make a difference for students.

In Miami-Dade County, the district created the Education Transformation Office (ETO) to support their 19 persistently low achieving schools, dubbed the “Rising 19.” The ETO offers these schools intensive, individualized support on areas ranging from operations, to curriculum and instruction, to professional development, to family engagement. As Miami-Dade’s Assistant Superintendent Nikolai Vitti explained to me the overall district plan for school turnarounds, led by Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, I saw a clear theory of action emerge – one that’s above all focused around improving teaching and learning in the classroom.

But what does this model, and this district plan, actually look like in schools?

To find out, I spent some time observing classrooms, visiting common planning time sessions, and talking with school leadership at Miami Edison, Miami Southridge, and Miami Jackson Senior High Schools. Despite the fact that each high school has its own distinct personality, and its own set of challenges, I saw several common themes run through all of the schools’ turnaround efforts:

  1. A culture shift in the school to emphasize respect and high expectations for all.
    In 2009-10, Miami Edison brought in a new principal, who in turn recruited a strong new administrative leadership team. The team focused on changing the culture of the school to ensure that students of Miami Edison felt respected and supported. The team created small academies for the school, each with its own “crest” to develop school pride.  The staff also decided to reinstitute small high school milestones – some of which students hadn’t had for almost 10 years – like the homecoming dance and a school yearbook to boost student morale.The drive to turn around the school, however, isn’t just shouldered by the principal, or the leadership team – it’s a true team effort that includes all staff members.  As part of his new team, the principal, Dr. Pablo Ortiz, recruited a new custodian to the school, who was dedicated to keeping the school well maintained to reflect the learning that was happening in the school.  The custodian is now training other custodial staff at different schools!
  2. A focus on building professional learning communities.
    Another common theme I saw in the three schools was the intense focus on professional development and support for teachers. The ETO customizes professional development for its teachers based on school and student needs. Both the leadership and the teachers themselves are using the teacher evaluation system to hone in on areas for improvement, then providing direct support to teachers. This support is constant throughout the year, as Assistant Superintendent Vitti conducts classroom walkthroughs with principals on a regular basis.Teachers do lesson studies, where they work together to plan, then teach, then watch others teach, then provide feedback to each other. This way, each teacher continues to learn from one another. Professional collaboration time is built into the school day.  At Miami Southridge, a plan is underway to improve teacher attendance. All of this work underscores a philosophy that I strongly believe in: teaching is a craft, and excellence requires hard work, discipline, and constant learning.
  3. Intensive support to ensure students graduate from high school.
    All three schools offered extensive programs to make sure that every single student was on track to graduate from high school. Incoming freshmen are required to take a “freshman experience” course, where they are matched with adults, or “trust counselors,” who support their transition into high school and develop comprehensive plans to ensure that they have enough credits to graduate.
    Schools also offer Saturday programs and credit recovery programs to help students who are currently behind. Miami Edison, for example, had a simple fix to increase the number of students taking credit recovery courses. Realizing that students couldn’t get to the adult school for these courses due to transportation issues, the school staff moved the adult school instructors right to Miami Edison’s campus – a simple solution with great benefits to their students.

The schools are obviously in the early stages of their transformation efforts, but I was so encouraged to see the progress they were making, and impressed with the initial improvement made by all the schools.  This is not to say that these schools don’t have a long way to go – they still face many challenges, including their need for improvement in reading. But as indicated by the movement in their leading indicators, these schools are on the right track.

I was also impressed by the Miami-Dade district’s approach to school turnarounds. For the leaders of the ETO, it’s not about “checking the box” to make sure that the different SIG models are being implemented. Instead, the district and school leaders have created a plan that incorporates the SIG models within broader reform efforts centered on improving teaching and learning. I look forward to keeping in touch with Superintendent Carvalho, Assistant Superintendent Vitti, and the various school leaders to learn more about their schools’ progress and success stories, and sharing them with the wider community of educators around the country.