Analysis of GAO’s SIG report (part 1)

Last week, the General Accountability Office released a new review of the federal School Improvement Grant program, and the report includes several important findings. Much of the report is consistent with the strengths and weaknesses of the SIG program that I see and hear in the field, and some of the recommendations align with my own for states and districts. A few statements in the report indicate major issues in our education system that represent larger problems and must also be addressed.

The report brings up several issues that should be discussed and should be used to inform changes at the federal, state and district levels. One of the first issues is the lack of state capacity – districts and schools need additional supports from state education agencies and SEAs lack that capacity for a number of reasons, including:

  • The ability to hire staff who understand school turnaround (as compared to standard or more traditional improvement). Simply shifting staff from the old improvement office to a new turnaround office is not sufficient. The revised SIG program requires additional and different skills from the school building to the U.S. Department of Education.
  •  The fact that state budgets are not pretty right now. For example, the report states that California politicians reduced the amount of SIG funding that could be used for state administration of the program, from the allowable 5%, down to .5%. While the majority of funds should go directly to the schools and districts, SEAs must have the adequate resources to provide support and oversight — .5% is likely insufficient, and the consequences are being felt in the districts.
  • SEAs are implementing too many large programs right now with too few people, most notably Race to the Top. Often times, states are using staff in charge of SIG to also run various aspects of RTTT. While alignment of the various initiatives is absolutely crucial, running two large federal programs is not feasible for one staff (or a few staff) members. The potential of combining RTTT with the revised SIG program could result in major improvements, but doing so well requires a great deal of time, staff, and political will — three things in short supply in many states.
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2 Comments »

  1. […] To continue the analysis of a recent GAO report…. See Part 1 here. […]

  2. […] and finally part 3. Click here for parts 1 and […]

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