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Friday Churn: New SIG dollars

Updated – Colorado will receive another $5.7 million in School Improvement Grants in the ongoing effort to turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools, federal officials announced today.

According to a news release from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s office:

The award provides new funding as part of $535 million included in the fiscal year 2011 budget and made available to states under the program. To date, Colorado has received $51.4 million since the SIG program was redesigned in 2009.

“We’ve stood on the sidelines for too long as our lowest-performing schools failed our children year after year,” said Duncan. “The School Improvement Grants program is providing courageous school leaders and teacher teams in more than 1,200 schools nationwide with the means to accomplish the very difficult work of turning around some of our hardest to serve schools.”

In Colorado, 27 schools have been identified to date to participate in the SIG program. Learn more about them on this Colorado Department of Education webpage.

And in other news, here’s Education Week’s take on the study showing an estimated one in 88 children has autism spectrum disorder, which is making headlines today.

What’s churning:

The nation’s most ambitious effort to improve its lowest-performing schools appears to be showing some preliminary progress but concerns about implementation remain, according to a recent spate of reports.

Since 2009, more than $4 billion in federal School Improvement Grants have gone into more than 1,200 schools with long histories of poor performance. In Colorado, 27 schools have received three-year grants worth up to $2 million annually.

Earlier this month, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan released the first data from the massive school turnaround effort. In a March 19 speech, Duncan gave a brief outline:

We had about 850 schools in the first SIG cohort. We now have preliminary achievement data from 43 states, covering about 700 of those schools in their first year of the program.

In year one, roughly one in four schools saw double-digit increases in math proficiency. About one in five schools had double-digit increases in reading proficiency. All told, in roughly 60 percent of SIG schools, the percent of students who were proficient in math or reading went up in the first year of the program.

Thursday, Jason Snyder, the deputy assistant secretary overseeing the implementation of the SIG program, released some more details in a blog post on the department’s website:

In 63 percent of SIG schools, math proficiency increased, compared to 33 percent of schools where math proficiency declined—meaning that increases in math proficiency were almost twice as common as declines.

In 58 percent of SIG schools, reading proficiency increased, compared to 35 percent of schools where reading proficiency declined.

Plenty of questions remain, however, about what the raw data shows. It’s unclear when federal officials will release more information.

Also Thursday, researchers at the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education released a critical look at how the SIG program has played out in the state. They found, for the most part, that districts failed to make aggressive reforms.

“Teachers are working very hard in these schools, but their efforts are largely being wasted because districts didn’t have a good plan,” said Sarah Yatsko, lead author of the study.

In Colorado, a Denver Post investigation found mixed achievement results for the 19 schools in the first cohort of SIG grants, those receiving their first major dollars in 2010-11. Two of the schools were closed, three changed structure so no comparison was available and eight schools saw their scores drop or remain flat. The other six schools saw small improvements.

For more information, read this story by our partners at Education Week, SIG Efforts Post Promising Early Results. And see this teacher’s take on the federal turnaround efforts.

What’s on tap:

The State Board of Education holds a public hearing at 1 p.m. today to take public testimony on proposed regulations for appeals in cases of ineffective evaluations under the new educator evaluation system. The board also will discuss legislative matters. The session will be in the boardroom at the Department of Education, 201 E. Colfax Ave. See this page for draft rules, comments submitted to date, more information and an email link for submitting comments. Read our background story.

Good reads from elsewhere:

Districts unite: Fourteen small school districts in the San Luis Valley are pooling their Race to the Top grant dollars as they create a curriculum and strive to meet other state and federal education requirements, according to this story in the Valley Courier.

The EdNews’ Churn is a daily roundup of briefs, notes and meetings in the world of Colorado education. To submit an item for consideration in this listing, please email us at EdNews@EdNewsColorado.org.

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