Operational Authority, Support, and Monitoring of School Turnaround

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on turning around our nation’s low-performing schools, with substantial investments from the U.S. Department of Education into new and continuing awards under the federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. Some studies suggest that low-performing schools are rarely able to produce substantial and sustained achievement gains.

This brief focuses on the implementation of SIG by examining three interrelated levers for school improvement: school operational authority, state and district support for turnaround, and state monitoring of turnaround efforts. SIG principles emphasize that school leaders should be given the autonomy to operate on matters such as staffing, calendars, and budgeting, but then also be appropriately supported and monitored by states and districts to ensure progress.

It is thus of interest to document the actual policies and practices related to these three levers, and to see whether there are differences among the study districts, as well as between study schools implementing a SIG-funded intervention model and comparison schools not implementing a SIG-funded interve ntion model.

Findings are based on spring 2012 survey responses from 450 school administrators and interviews with administrators in the 60 districts and 21 of the 22 states where these schools are located.

Key Findings

  • Schools implementing a SIG-funded intervention model on average reported having primary responsibility in 2.5 out of 8 operational areas examined (2.3 for non-implementing schools).
  • There was variation across districts in the average number of areas in which schools reported having operational authority, as well as variation across districts in the extent to which schools in the same district reported having similar levels of operational authority.
  • The most common turnaround supports that states reported providing related to developing school improvement plans and identifying effective improvement strategies.
  • All 21 of the states interviewed reported being responsible for monitoring low-performing schools, although just 13 of them reported that districts were also responsible.