Case Studies of Schools Receiving School Improvement Grants: First Year Findings

Our nation’s lowest performing schools have traditionally struggled to offer students the instruction and supports they deeply need. The first phase of the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) Program, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, targeted $3.5 billion over three years toward the goal of turning around these schools and improving learning for students.

Case Studies of Schools Receiving School Improvement Grants examines the first year of SIG implementation (2010–11) in a diverse sample of 25 schools from 13 districts and 6 states.

Key findings include:

  • The 25 schools differed in their community and fiscal context, their performance and reform history, and their interpretation of the causes of—and potential solutions for—their performance problems.
  • Approaches to leadership varied across the 25 schools, with most principals exhibiting a mix of transformational, instructional, and strategic leadership qualities.
  • The 25 schools identified 11 improvement strategies and actions, most often increasing professional development activities, replacing the principal, and increasing learning time. Most of the schools did not perceive SIG as the primary impetus for change: just 7 of the 25 schools experienced a disruption from past practice, and in 19 of the 25 schools, the improvement strategies and actions in the first year of SIG were a continuation of activities or plans that predated SIG.
  • All but one of the 25 schools perceived improvement in at least some areas, most often a safe and orderly school climate, and teacher collaboration. Schools that perceived the most improvements were more likely to have experienced a disruption from past practice, and to have principals with higher levels of strategic leadership.