Ed. Dept. Analysis Paints Mixed Picture of SIG Program

Ed. Dept. Analysis Paints Mixed Picture of SIG Program

Monday, November 19, 2012

Excerpt from Alyson Klein's article in Education Week.

Analysts, Researchers Split

Researchers and analysts who have studied SIG and turnarounds offered radically different interpretations of what the early results might mean when it comes to the program's effectiveness.

Diane Stark Rentner, the deputy director of the Center on Education Policy, in Washington, said the data looked rosier than she expected.

"I'm surprised that the numbers were so positive. I would have thought we'd see more stagnation," she said. "What we found in our research was that schools were focusing on climate" in the first year of the program and saving their "achievement-focused efforts for the second and third year."

SIG schools have gone through "a lot of turmoil and churn," including finding new principals and teachers, she noted. While those steps can lead to achievement gains down the road, they might have an impact on initial data. (Check out the Center's research on SIG here.)

But Andrew Smarick, a partner at Bellwether Education in Washington, who has written about school turnarounds, called the data "heartbreaking."

"We spent several billion dollars, and more than a third of schools went backward," said Smarick, who recently was the deputy commissioner in the New Jersey Department of Education, and served in the federal Education Department under President George W. Bush.

Smarick said that, in his experience, schools are most likely to post gains in the beginning years of a turnaround. The trouble, he said, is sustaining the turnaround. If schools in the program "couldn't even see a bump in year one, what is that going to tell us about future years? This just shows hope is not a strategy."

And Robin Lake, the director of the Center of Reinventing Public Education, at the University of Washington in Seattle, said it's pretty tough to tell if SIG schools are living up to the program's promises because the department never laid out a clear vision for what success should look like.

"They've talked about bold, dramatic change, but never really defined it," she said. It's unclear, she said, whether schools will be able to sustain the gains they've made after the first year of the program. Policymakers should think carefully about whether the SIG models are the best use of scarce federal funding for improving schools, she added. (Lake's Center has also looked closely at the SIG program. Its report here.)

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