States Vary Widely in How They Target Federal Title I School Improvement Grants, According to Report Offering the First Examination of the Program

Washington, D.C. – States that awarded federal Title I School Improvement Grants (SIG) vary widely in their approach to implementing the grants and in distributing the funds to schools, according to a new report examining state strategies for issuing and monitoring the school turnaround funding program.

The report, Baseline Analyses of SIG Applications and SIG-Eligible and SIG-Awarded Schools, was released May 9, 2011 by the Institute for Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education. The effort was lead by researchers for the American Institutes for Research (AIR), who collected and analyzed state applications, data on SIG-eligible and SIG-awarded schools, and how the funds have been distributed. The grant program, which will distribute $3.5 billion over the next three years, administers federal funds that are authorized under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools.

Schools and districts identified as in need of improvement by their state decide if they want to apply for SIG funds. When a school is classified as either Tier I or Tier II because of its low-achieving status or low graduation rate, the local education agency applying for SIG funding must select one of four models to use – the turnaround model, which requires replacing the principal and at least 50 percent of the staff; the restart model, which puts the school under the control of a charter operator or management organization; school closure, which closes the school and reassigns students to higher performing schools; and the transformation model, which replaces the principal and requires significant reforms. Seventy-four percent of SIG-awarded schools will implement the transformation model.

Highlights from the study, written by AIR researchers Steven Hurlburt, Kerstin Carlson Le Floch, Susan Bowles Therriault and Susan Cole, include:

  • Among Tier I and Tier II SIG schools, the average total grant is $2.54 million. The average annual per pupil SIG award is $1,330 nationwide, among Tier I and Tier II schools. In two states the average per pupil award exceeded $7,000, while in two other states the per pupil award was less than $500.
  • A total of 15,277 schools, or 16 percent of all schools nationwide, were eligible for SIG. The schools receiving grants were more likely to be high-poverty, high-minority, urban schools in comparison to elementary and secondary schools nationwide.  They also were more likely to be high schools.
  • The proportion of schools eligible for the grants varies widely by state, ranging from 2 percent of schools in Oklahoma and South Carolina to 56 percent of schools in the District of Columbia. California has the largest number of eligible schools, with 2,720 schools.
  • SIG funds do not always constitute a substantial infusion of funds: in four states, Tier I and Tier II SIG funds represent an increase of six percent or less in annual per pupil funding in receiving schools. In contrast, Tier I and Tier II SIG schools in eleven states will receive an increase in funding of 30 percent or more as a result of SIG.
  • States differed in their approach to distributing the funds to schools. In Kentucky, 105 of 108 eligible schools received funding, while Illinois focused on funding 10 of their 738 eligible schools.
  • Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia used three years of achievement data to identify persistently lowest-achieving schools, eight states used two years of data and 10 states relied on one year of data to identify schools. One state, Florida, used seven years of data.
  • State strategies for monitoring local implementation of the funds vary in both frequency and depth. For example, eight state education agencies (SEA) plan to monitor local education agencies (LEA) on a monthly basis, while 33 state agencies will monitor local agencies annually. Arizona will conduct site visits, designate staff for monitoring, hold check in meetings, and use electronic/online tools, while Delaware’s plan is limited to the use electronic/online tools.

The full report is available on the U.S. Education Department and AIR’s websites.

About AIR
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

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