SIGs—What Really Matters?

By Carolyn W. Getridge

The dire statistics regarding student achievement in our nation’s schools compel us to take action to improve education. School Improvement Grants (SIGs) provide funding to improve the lowest-performing schools.

States are required to identify the lowest 5 percent of persistently low-performing schools and establish a competitive process that allows school districts to apply for funding to support these schools. Districts use the funds to implement one of four models: Turnaround, Restart, Transformation, or Close/Consolidate.

  • The Turnaround model replaces the principal and at least 50 percent of the staff, adopts a new governance structure, and implements a new or revised instructional program.
  • Restart models actually close schools and restart them as charter schools or with an educational or charter management organization.
  • The Transformation model focuses on leadership and teacher effectiveness, comprehensive instructional reform strategies, extended learning opportunities, and increased operating flexibility and support.
  • School Closure/Consolidation models close the schools and enroll students in higher-performing existing schools.

Since 2009, Congress has appropriated almost $4 billion to support state and local school improvement efforts. Thousands of schools across the nation are implementing these models with the goal of “robust and comprehensive reforms to dramatically transform school culture and increase outcomes.”

In most districts, the primary focus is on working with parents, unions, and the community to reach consensus on the model that has the greatest odds of changing the trajectory of student achievement and best serving the schools and community. Most often, this process is characterized by intricate procedures, broad stakeholder involvement, and sometimes contentious debate. But ultimately, a model is selected.

While the U.S. Department of Education has provided guidance to districts regarding the requirements of each model, developing comprehensive plans of action to achieve the goals of the program is more challenging. Each model has elements that will result in some improvement, but as we embark upon an era of educating a more diverse population to achieve college and career readiness (CCR) standards, what really matters in school improvement?

Leadership Matters

It is the principal of the school who is expected to lead instructional change and promote a culture of continuous improvement. The process begins with the data—what does the data tell us about the school, each classroom, and each student—and how this information can be provided in a comprehensible format to staff, parents, and the community.

Based on data, the principal:

  • Sets clear, measurable goals
  • Implements instructional strategies to improve student performance
  • Establishes targets for improvement
  • Monitors progress to ensure accountability for achieving the goals

Although the role of the principal has expanded to encompass an overwhelming array of responsibilities and increased accountability, providing leadership for the change process and facilitating teaching and learning are the key functions in school improvement.

Quality Teachers Matter

Research validates that the classroom teacher has the greatest impact on student achievement. To ensure teacher success, we cannot assume that even “effective teachers” have the depth of knowledge and skills to address the needs of all students.

Critical to school improvement efforts are comprehensive professional development programs that recognize the various capacities of teachers. These programs provide coaching and mentoring to build a common framework for understanding research and implementing best practice. Ultimately, the goal is to build the capacity of the teacher to effectively use research-based instructional practices as well as targeted data to address the needs of all students.

Standards-Based Instruction Matters

The Common Core State Standards Initiative has raised the bar in terms of what content is taught, how it is taught, and how it is assessed. These robust, evidence-based standards define what students need to know and be able to do to be prepared for college and the workforce upon graduation from high school. This movement will require massive shifts in the acquisition of instructional materials and the training of teachers.

The selection of school improvement partners substantially affects both the school’s approach to improvement and the probability of success in achieving its goals. Whether it’s leadership, quality teachers, or standards-based curriculum and instructional materials, the school improvement process should be viewed as an incubator to demonstrate that what matters works. If effective, these practices can be scaled to ensure success for all children in all schools. Let’s focus on what matter

Written by Carolyn W. Getridge, a Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Urban Development at Cambium Learning Group.   After a distinguished 30-year career as a public schools teacher and administrator, she joined Voyager as a member of the team that launched the company.   Prior to joining Voyager, Ms. Getridge served as Superintendent of the Oakland (CA) Unified School District.  She was also Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in Oakland and Director of Education Programs for the Alameda (CA) County Office of Education.   Ms. Getridge’s responsibilities at Cambium include supporting school districts in developing systemic reform initiatives to address the needs of all students.

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