Washington, D.C. – Low-performing schools receiving federal School Improvement Grants (SIGs) are likely to show improvement in more areas if the principal demonstrates elements of strategic leadership, according to a multi-year study led by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) on behalf of the Institute of Education Sciences. Strategic leaders are able to identify a school’s challenges, develop a theory of action and communicate a long-term vision for the school.
The Study of School Turnaround examined a diverse sample of 25 schools receiving SIGs from the first year of implementation, 2010-11 to 2012-13. Data were collected through on-site interviews and focus groups with teachers, principals and other school staff, as well as teacher surveys, fiscal records, and interviews with state SIG personnel. Mathematica Policy Research assisted in the study.
The 25 schools varied greatly with regard to their community and fiscal contexts, their performance and reform histories, and their interpretations of the causes of—and potential solutions for—their performance problems.
“As we visited SIG schools in the six states, we definitely saw a wide range of school characteristics,” said Dr. Kerstin Carlson Le Floch, a managing researcher at AIR. “There is a tendency to think of low-performing schools as large, urban high schools in neighborhoods with high crime rates, and while some SIG schools fit that profile, there are others in small towns and safe neighborhoods.”
Other notable findings include:
- For most schools, respondents did not see SIG as the primary impetus for change strategies often because these schools had been engaged in improvement efforts prior to receiving SIG funds. In 19 schools, the improvement strategies and actions implemented during the first year were reportedly a continuation of activities or plans that predated the grant.
- Approaches to leadership varied across case study schools with principals showing a mix of leadership qualities. The most commonly reported leadership approach was transformational leadership—principals who can develop leaders and motivate and engage their staff behind a strong organizational vision.
- Seven of 25 case study schools had experienced a visible disruption from past practice. The activities that constituted a disruption from the past included replacing the principal, changing the school governance structure, changing the physical plant of the school, or making symbolic changes.
- The size of the SIG award for each school varied greatly, from a five percent increase in per-pupil funds (over 2009-10 levels) to more than a 100 percent increase.
- Respondents identified 11 improvement strategies and actions during this first year. The three most noted in the greatest number of schools were: increasing professional development activities, replacing the principal and increasing learning time, all three of which are required by SIG.
- Respondents at 24 of the 25 core sample schools reported improvement in at least one area. The most common areas of perceived improvement were with regard to a safe and orderly climate, teacher collaboration, instructional practices, and quality of leadership.
Future reports will continue to track the progress of these schools, their improvement efforts, and the role of the SIG program.
To read the full report, visit http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20144015/pdf/20144015.pdf.
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity. For more information, visit www.air.org.