The following is a company-submitted press release and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of School Planning & Management magazine.

U.S. Department of Education Awards $427 Million in School Improvement Grants to States, Territories to Turn Around Lowest Performing Schools

Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Department of Education today announced more than $427 million in School Improvement Grants (SIG) to help turn around America’s persistently lowest-achieving schools in nearly every state and U.S. territory.

“When the President entered office he laid out an ambitious agenda to transform our lowest performing schools as a means of improving outcomes for all students, but especially those who most need additional support,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. “We are seeing the impact of SIG and other initiatives through historic increases in high school graduation rates and narrowed achievement gaps in public schools, which ultimately translate to better opportunities for all students to succeed. We have made significant progress but the job is not done yet and efforts like SIG will keep us moving in the right direction.”

Robert Balfanz, senior research scientist at Johns Hopkins University who has been honored as a White House “Champion of Change” for his efforts to further education among African Americans, echoed King’s remarks.  Balfanz said, “Turning around low-performing schools is difficult work. The SIG program has provided urgency and resources to providing our most vulnerable students with the schools they need to succeed. It's heartening to see the impact it has had and how key lessons learned have been incorporated into (the Every School Succeeds Act).”

The Department awards grants to states, which then award competitive subgrants to school districts that demonstrate the greatest need for the funds and the strongest commitment to substantially raising student achievement in the lowest-performing schools. States are also given flexibility to develop their own state-determined intervention model that focuses on whole-school reform and is designed to improve student achievement. In schools that have received funds under this program, up to 80 percent of students are from low-income families – 28 percentage points higher than the average school.

While turning around chronically low-performing schools, which have been failing students for decades and possibly generations, is some of the hardest and most important work in education and progress has not been universal, data show that SIG schools are improving faster than other schools, including gains in mathematics and reading proficiency and improved graduation rates. These efforts helped contribute to a decline in dropout rates, and over the last decade, dropout rates have been cut dramatically for Latino and African American students, while the number of high schools where fewer than six in ten students graduate on time has been cut by more than 40 percent. Among the first three cohorts of high schools that received support though SIG, increases in graduation rates out-paced the national average. SIG and similar programs have contributed to improved high school graduation rates nationally, which last week President Obama announced reached a record high of 83.2 percent.

Since 2009, the SIG program has invested over $7 billion to transform more than 1,800 of the country's lowest performing schools. While this is the last year that the Department will award funds under the current program, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), continues this work. Consistent with the Administration’s SIG program, ESSA requires that states identify and support the lowest-performing schools, including schools that are failing to graduate one-third or more of their students or where subgroups of students are falling behind, and to implement evidence-based interventions to turn around these schools. To support this critical work, ESSA also requires that states set aside funds under Title I specifically for these schools to invest in activities that we know support low-performing students and low-achieving schools, similar to SIG.

For more information, visit www.ed.gov.

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