Education Writers Association

Leadership & Management

New York

Nationally, federal turnaround funding generates mixed reviews

New York City's controversial school turnaround proposals represent a tiny piece of a sweeping effort, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, to overhaul the country's lowest-performing schools. In the first of three articles about the reform effort produced by Education Week, The Hechinger Report, and the Education Writers Association, Alyson Klein examines the effects of federal School Improvement Grants on districts across the country — and the grants' uncertain future. GothamSchools was one of a dozen news organizations to contribute to the reporting. After two years, the federal program providing billions of dollars to help states and districts close or remake some of their worst-performing schools remains an ambitious work in progress, with roughly 1,200 turnaround efforts under way but still no verdict on its effectiveness. The School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, supercharged by a $3 billion windfall under the federal economic-stimulus program in 2009, has jumpstarted aggressive moves by states and districts. To get their share of the money, they had to quickly identify some of their most academically troubled schools, craft new teacher-evaluation systems, and carve out more time for instruction, among other steps. Some schools and districts spent millions of dollars on outside experts and consultants. Others went through the politically ticklish process of replacing teachers and principals, while combating community skepticism and meeting the demands of district and state overseers. It’s not at all clear if the federal prescription can cure the most ailing schools and lead to long-term improvements, but preliminary student achievement data for the program offer some promise. The U.S. Department of Education looked at about 700 of the schools in their second year of the program and found that a quarter of them posted double-digit gains in math during the 2010-11 school year. Another 20 percent showed similar progress in reading. A collaborative reporting project drawing on the efforts of more than 20 news organizations and affiliated journalists paints a mixed picture of how the SIG program is playing out on the ground. The major findings show:
New York

Feds correct Klein on how to talk about the achievement gap

A statistic that Joel Klein, Al Sharpton, and Mort Zuckerman have all recently employed to bemoan the racial achievement gap appears to be wrong. Here's the statistic, as Klein and Sharpton recently summarized in the Wall Street Journal (and Mort Zuckerman used it here): "today the average 12th-grade black or Hispanic student has the reading, writing and math skills of an eighth-grade white student." The problem isn't the principle behind the claim; America definitely has a racial achievement gap. The problem, according to an official at the National Center for Education Statistics, is in the specific way that Klein et al describe the gap. The best available measure we have to compare all American kids is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or the NAEP test. But the NAEP test, which is given only to a sample of students across the country, not to every child, does not permit the kind of detailed comparison Klein's statistic would demand, Arnold Goldstein, the NCES official, said. "It would be great if we could. It's kind of frustrating not to be able to make these sorts of statements," said Goldstein, who is program director for design, analysis, and reporting at NCES's assessment division. "But that’s a limitation of the data." I contacted the Department of Education several times for comment but got no response this week. UPDATE: A spokesman, Andrew Jacob, wrote to say that Klein got the statistic from "No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning," a book by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom.