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Education Funding

Arne Duncan’s $3.5 Billion Lever for Turning Around Failing Schools

By Michele McNeil — August 26, 2009 2 min read

Education Secretary Arne Duncan today spelled out how he wants states to spend $3.5 billion in Title I school improvement money over the next three years.

This grant funding ($3 billion from the economic-stimulus package and $546 million from fiscal 2009 appropriations) will flow to states based on the Title I formula for aid to disadvantaged students, but states will have discretion in how they award the money. The U.S. Department of Education, in its regulations, however, prescribes how the money would be awarded. States would award grants to districts that agree to adopt one of these four models (with some exceptions):

*Turnaround Model: This would include among other actions, replacing the principal and at least 50 percent of a school’s staff, adopting a new governance structure and implementing a new or revised instructional program.

*Restart Model: School districts would close failing schools and reopen them under the management of a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an educational management organization selected through a rigorous review process. A restart school would be required to admit, within the grades it serves, any former student who wishes to attend.

*School Closure: The district would close a failing school and enroll the students who attended that school in high-achieving schools in the district.

*Transformational Model: Districts would address four specific areas: 1) developing teacher and school leader effectiveness, which includes replacing the principal who led the school prior to commencement of the transformational model, 2) implementing comprehensive instructional reform strategies, 3) extending learning and teacher planning time and creating community-oriented schools, and 4) providing operating flexibility and sustained support.

In a nod to how important Duncan thinks school leadership is, all of these would put the school principal on the chopping block.

It’s also worth noting school districts have a big incentive to adopt the “turnaround” or “restart” model. If they choose one of those two models, the regulations would allow states to seek a waiver to allow those districts to restart the NCLB school improvement clock and no longer be required to provide public school choice or supplemental education services.

This money could be a significant lever for school improvement, especially since Duncan has made turning around the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools a priority.

It’s important to put this dollar amount in perspective. It is almost as big as the $4 billion Race to the Top Fund, and it’s far bigger than the new i3 Investing in Innovation Fund. Also, the fiscal 2009 appropriation for school improvement grants is just $546 million.

What do you think of these proposed regulations?

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