Monday, May 11, 2015
Are School Improvement Grant programs best approach for turning around low-performing schools?
A recent report from the Center for American Progress claims to offer clear lessons about research-based, effective methods for turning around low-performing schools. A new review, however, concludes that these lessons are not supported by rigorous research.
Tina Trujillo of the University of California, Berkeley reviewed Dramatic Action, Dramatic Improvement: The Research on School Turnaround for the Think Twice think tank review project. The review is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.
Trujillo, an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, studies the political dimensions of urban district reform and trends in urban educational leadership. The report Trujillo reviewed was written by Tiffany D. Miller and Catherine Brown and published by the Center for American Progress.
Dramatic Action, Dramatic Improvement argues that the body of available research determines that bold actions are necessary for schools to improve measurably. The authors advocate for the School Improvement Grant (SIG) federal program to bring about the most effective methods for turning around low-performing schools.
The SIG program’s policies have a superficial appeal, given the unsatisfactory outcomes at these schools. But those policies, like the report, are based on unwarranted claims, are unsupported by rigorous research, and are in fact contradicted by the empirical evidence, Trujillo writes.
She points, for instance, to the claim that dramatic changes in staffing and management can spur fast and sustainable improvement. Such disruptions often lead to poor school performance, but this readily available research is not mentioned or addressed in the report.
In her review, Trujillo finds the authors’ rationale “narrow, incoherent, and misleading.” The report, she asserts, fails to incorporate lessons learned from plentiful research on school improvement, high-stakes accountability, and federally funded turnarounds.
“In the end,” Trujillo states, “schools, districts, and states that follow the report’s advice stand only to reproduce the unequal conditions that have led, in part, to their need for dramatic turnaround in the first place.”