Beating the Odds: How State Education Agencies Can Better Support School Turnarounds

September 2011

This essay was written for the PIE Network 5th Annual Policy Summit, September 2011

Federal School Improvement Grants (SIGs) represent the latest shift toward deepening the role of the state education agency (SEA) in school turnaround work. A CRPE study on the implementation of SIGs in Washington provides an inside look into how this shifting role is felt at the school and district level.

This essay outlines early findings from the CRPE study and suggests ways that states’ efforts to expand and improve their support for turnaround work can be maximized, by:

  • Pushing for bold turnaround plans that are workable and likely to be successful
  • Providing more technical assistance
  • Helping districts to find and train leaders
  • Offering political cover

While it appears likely that the SIG program will produce some isolated successes, the CRPE work suggests that outstanding principals doing turnaround work prior to SIG investments primarily drive these successes. The financial and technical supports provided by either the state or district are having a marginal impact. If states hope to have large-scale improvement in their chronically lowest-performing schools, they will need to be more strategic and aggressive. Districts need strong supports tailored to their needs, quick answers to their questions and problems, and political cover in making tough decisions.