Potential Winners and True Losers
Earlier this week the California Department of Education awarded (though only temporarily) $315 million in School Improvement Grants to over 100 schools in 31 districts. These grants are designed to reform persistently low-achieving schools, so this is great news, right? Over 100 low-performing schools have a better chance to improve.
The problem is that California identified 188 persistently low-achieving schools back in March, which means that not all the schools that need this money got it.
Now, this was a competitive grant program. Districts containing schools identified as persistently low-achieving applied for the funds to reform them, knowing that the state would decide whom to fund. So we knew going in there would be winners and losers.
The kicker is how they chose the winners:
[S]tate officials gave priority to those [districts] that requested grants to help turn around all campuses on the list. Districts that didn’t request money for each of their lowest-achieving schools were placed behind others for funding, even if the other districts didn’t score as highly on their grant application.
What this ultimately meant: No district that did not include all its persistently low-achieving schools got money, regardless of its application score. Take Pajaro Valley Unified. They requested funds to reform three of their five persistently low-achieving schools but received none, despite scoring a 98.00 on their application (the highest score was 100), better than 21 districts that did receive funding. (See the list of proposed winners and losers [.doc*] for more details).
While it was apparently clear from the application guidelines that a district would get “priority” status for applying for funds to reform all its persistently low-performing schools, the fact that no district would get money without including all its schools was not. And so it seems many districts did what Los Angeles Unified (another loser, whose application scored higher than nine districts receiving funds) did: “chose schools that would benefit the most from reform and submitted applications that were well thought-out.”
A good strategy, in my opinion. Districts that know they lack the capacity to reform all their struggling schools should not promise the world. They should make actionable plans that are truly likely to produce results. Particularly in tough economic times, districts need to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. While I haven’t seen the reform plans, according to what I’ve read that is what some of the losers in this competition did.
Of course, the true losers in this competition are not the districts that did not receive funding. The true losers are the students in the persistently low-achieving schools that did not get funding: for example, students at Roosevelt Elementary in the Stockton Unified School District, which applied for funds to reform three of seven low-achieving schools. The reform plan for Roosevelt included increased instructional time, a new computer lab, tying teacher evaluations to student performance and after-school tutoring. The principal was also looking forward to bringing in a counselor, which the school currently does not have. According to this principal, “[T]he more I think about it, the more sad I am for the students who won’t be getting all of the resources that were in that grant.”
Of course, in competitive grant programs, there will always be winners and losers. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be competitive grants—limited resources should be concentrated where they will do the most good. But in designing these programs, we have to be clear what the standards are. Those applying for funds need to know what is expected of them. And we have to ensure that the best proposals win. Competitive funds should to go to those most likely to get the best results from them, based on as objective a system as possible. That does not seem to have been the case in California.
The silver lining here is that the state Board of Education has postponed the award decision and is holding conversations with the U.S. Department of Education about the award process. So children in Pajaro Valley, Los Angeles and other districts may have another chance at these school improvement funds.
(Hat tip to Alice Mercer for sending out this news)
(*available from http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/ag/ag/yr10/agenda201008.asp as Item 4 Addendum Attachment 8).
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- National PTA President Otha Thornton on the Common Core
- 2013 School Counselor of the Year Mindy Willard on the state of her profession
- Supervisor of Administration John Swang on saving money in energy costs
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
Inspiring Students to Do Their Best
At Fox C-6 School District in Missouri, an emphasis on a character initiative is helping students thrive. District performance outranks the state in math and ELA in grades 3 through 8, and graduation rates are over 90 percent. Learn more...
- AACTE's Ed Prep Matters
- ISTE Connects
- PTA's One Voice
- PDK Blog
- The EDifier
- School Board News Today
- Legal Clips
- Learning Forward’s PD Watch
- NAESP's Principals' Office
- NASSP's Principal's Policy Blog
- The Principal Difference
- ASCA Scene
- Always Something
- NSPRA: Social School Public Relations
- Transforming Learning
- AASA's The Leading Edge
- AASA Connects (formerly AASA's School Street)
- NEA Today
- Lily's Blackboard
What Else We're Reading
- DQC's The Flashlight
- Center for Teaching Quality
- The Answer Sheet
- Politics K-12
- U.S. Department of Education Blog
- John Wilson Unleashed
- The Core Knowledge Blog
- This Week in Education
- Inside School Research
- Teacher Leadership Today
- On the Shoulders of Giants
- Teacher in a Strange Land
- Teach Moore
- The Tempered Radical
- The Educated Reporter
- Taking Note
- Character Education Partnership Blog
- Why I Teach