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Tina Trujillo, (510) 642-6272,
Michelle Renée, (310) 745-7885,
Dan Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

School Improvement Grant Program In Need Of Reform
Forcing schools to act like corporations runs counter to progress

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Oct. 1, 2012) – While schools may have been established as democratic institutions, the lowest-performing campuses are quickly treated like corporations and tied mainly to the performance of their students on standardized tests, a new research brief finds.

Democratic School Turnarounds: Pursuing Equity and Learning from Evidence evaluated the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, which began under the Bush Administration's No Child Left Behind Act and was substantially expanded by the Obama Administration as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009.

The brief was produced by the National Education Policy Center, with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice and the Ford Foundation.

Tina Trujillo of the University of California-Berkley, along with Michelle Renée of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, found the SIG program treats our lowest-performing schools as corporations and fails to engage educators and families in the most racially and socio-economically segregated communities.

"The market-based character of turnaround policies diverts public attention from fundamental questions about adequate, equitable funding and the insidious effects on schools of socioeconomic and racial isolation," the authors wrote.

Struggling schools identified in the program – mainly by student test scores – are required to implement one of four intervention models: Turnaround, Transformation, Restart or School Closure. Transformation constitutes 74 percent of the SIG schools, with turnarounds accounting for another 20 percent.

Research has continued to find standardized test scores are not a reliable measure for student growth and are only a snapshot in time. Trujillo and Renée said they are even more problematic as a measure for whether a turnaround was successful or not, because test scores ignore social, civic and broader academic aspects of schooling.

"The absence of community voices in the SIG policy and its literature also speak volumes about the lack of democratic input into both the development of these policies and their implementation," the authors wrote. "The result is a federal program that is based on inconsistent definitions of successful turnarounds, that relies on faulty, test-based measures of effectiveness, and that continues to base high-stakes decisions on these measures."

Model Legislation for an Equitable, Democratic School Turnaround Program by Tara Kini is a companion report to the legislative brief and presents model state legislation to create a state-level school improvement grant program that fosters equitable, democratic, and sustainable school turnarounds in persistently low-performing schools.

Find the brief and model legislation on the Great Lakes Center website at:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) produced both reports with funding from the Great Lakes Center (GLC) for Education Research and Practice.  In addition, the Ford Foundation provided funding for Democratic School Turnarounds: Pursuing Equity and Learning from Evidence.

Also find the brief on the National Education Policy website at:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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