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Published in Print: March 18, 2009, as Title I Turnaround Programs Due for Big Cash Boost

Title I Turnaround Programs Due for Big Cash Boost

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In the seven years since enactment of No Child Left Behind Act, the number of academically troubled schools identified for turnarounds has grown steadily.

The federal money for the work of turning around them hadn’t—until now.

The change came last month when President Barack Obama signed the economic-stimulus measure into law. The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will give states a previously unexpected $3.4 billion to spend on improving the schools that are farthest from reaching the NCLB law’s goal that all children be proficient in reading and math by the end of the 2013-14 school year.

“With these kind of revenues, you can do some things that had been on the table but weren’t attainable,” said Peter McWalters, Rhode Island’s commissioner of education. He listed options such as summer professional development for teachers, leadership training for principals, and academic and leadership coaches for struggling schools.

Help on the Way

Federal money for school improvement projects will rise dramatically this and next fiscal year.

Other state leaders are mulling similar ways to use the $3.4 billion in stimulus money for school improvement over the next two years.

Such comprehensive approaches are important, one researcher said, because schools identified for help under the program need comprehensive and sustained interventions for them to succeed.

“It’s a really complex problem, and no single thing ... is guaranteed success,” said Caitlin Scott, who has studied states’ school improvement efforts for the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research and advocacy group that is tracking implementation of the NCLB law. “There’s not just one thing you can purchase.”

Big Pay Day

As with several other K-12 programs, the so-called school improvement section of the NCLB law will receive a sudden infusion of money that many in the education field could not have expected before the nation’s economy fell into crisis, prompting the stimulus package.

The new measure appropriates $6.5 billion in fiscal 2009 and again in fiscal 2010 for the NCLB law’s Title I program, which serves schools with high numbers or percentages of disadvantaged students. In each fiscal year, $1.5 billion is reserved for the so-called school improvement program under Title I.

And of the $5 billion remaining each year, the No Child Left Behind law requires states to reserve 4 percent for improving schools that have persistently failed to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under the 2002 law and to provide other technical assistance to districts.

In all, that will give states $1.7 billion in fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010 for school improvement.

What’s more, states will receive another $1.1 billion for school improvement efforts under the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill that President Obama signed last week. ("Winners vs. Losers In 2009's Budget," this issue.)

With a total of $2.8 billion allocated in fiscal 2009, and probably at least that much again in fiscal 2010, states’ school improvement efforts will receive a dramatic influx of cash over spending levels from two years ago.

Using that money to fix struggling schools will be a key part of the Obama administration’s efforts, federal officials say, to reduce the dropout rate and increase the number of students earning college degrees.

“Stemming the tide of dropouts will require turning around our low-performing schools,” President Obama said in a March 10 speech at a meeting of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

And in guidance released March 7 on how to spend the stimulus money available for education, the U.S. Department of Education underscored the emphasis on school improvement efforts by saying it would not grant states’ requests to spend the improvement money on other priorities in the Title I program.

Working With Districts

Under the NCLB law, states must allocate 95 percent of such improvement money to districts. So far, states have taken several approaches to spending it, according to Ms. Scott of the Center on Education Policy, who has studied such efforts in five states.

Most states send a team of experts to review a school who recommend and monitor changes. In that process, the team or other consultants provide professional development for teachers and principals. Some states hire academic coaches for teachers or mentors for principals, with the aim of helping them improve their instructional strategies and leadership.

Arkansas, for example, is using America’s Choice, a school improvement model developed by the National Center for Education and the Economy, based in Washington.

But critics say such approaches have been inadequate so far.

“By and large, most cities feel that [states’ help] isn’t meeting their needs, is weak, is not focused, and is not terribly effective,” said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington group that represents about 60 of the nation’s largest urban districts.

Big Task

At the end of the 2007-08 school year, about 3,600 public schools—or 4 percent the total—had failed to make adequate yearly progress for five or more years. That number had doubled by 2008-09. ("Schools Struggling to Meet Key Goal on Accountability," Jan. 7, 2009.)

And states may end up considering drastic steps in schools failing to show signs of improvement.

Those steps could include closing poor-performing schools and converting them to charter schools, or using school interventions that have proved successful elsewhere, said Alex Medler, the vice president of research and analysis for the Colorado Children’s Campaign, a Denver-based advocacy group that helps run school improvement programs.

Without such aggressive moves, improvement efforts could result in little change or progress, said Rae Belisle, a member of the California board of education.

“We keep doing the same old thing out there,” said Ms. Belisle, who is the chief executive officer of EdVoice, a Sacramento-based nonprofit organization that links donors with parent groups working to improve California schools.

“They piddle this money away,” she said of her state’s efforts under the NCLB law and state programs.

Vol. 28, Issue 25, Pages 13,15

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