School Improvement Grants: Implementation and Effectiveness

Lisa Dragoset, Jaime Thomas, Mariesa Herrmann, John Deke, and Susanne James-Burdumy, Mathematica Policy Research
Rachel Upton
Jessica Giffin

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included $3 billion for School Improvement Grants (SIG), one of the Obama administration’s signature programs and one of the largest federal government investments in an education grant program. The SIG program awarded grants to states that agreed to implement one of four school intervention models—transformation, turnaround, restart, or closure—in their lowest-performing schools. Each of the models prescribed specific practices designed to improve student outcomes.

Given the importance of the SIG program and sizable investment in it, the Institute of Educations Sciences (IES) commissioned this evaluation to focus on three primary questions:

  • Did schools implementing a SIG-funded model use the improvement practices promoted by SIG, and how did that compare to use of those practices by schools not implementing a SIG-funded model?
  • Did receipt of SIG funding to implement a school intervention model have an impact on outcomes for low-performing schools?
  • Was the type of school intervention model implemented related to improvement in outcomes for low-performing schools?

The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA) made changes to the SIG program that gives states and districts much more flexibility in determining how to turn around their lowest-achieving schools. This final report examined the extent to which SIG grantees and other schools reported using practices in four main areas: (1) adopting comprehensive instructional reform strategies, (2) developing and increasing teacher and principal effectiveness, (3) increasing learning time and creating community-oriented schools, and (4) having operational flexibility and receiving support.

Key Findings

The findings in this report suggest that the SIG program did not have an impact on the use of practices promoted by the program or on student outcomes, at least for schools near the SIG eligibility cutoff.

  • Although schools implementing SIG-funded models reported using more SIG-promoted practices than other schools, no evidence was found that SIG caused those schools to implement more practices.
  • Across all study schools, use of SIG-promoted practices was highest in comprehensive instructional reform strategies and lowest in operational flexibility and support.
  • There were no significant differences in use of English Language Learner (ELL)-focused practices between schools implementing a SIG-funded model and other schools.
  • Overall, across all grades, implementing any SIG-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.
  • When comparing student achievement gains from different models in elementary grades (2nd through 5th), no evidence was found that one model was associated with larger gains than another. For higher grades (6th through 12th), the turnaround model was associated with larger student achievement gains in math than the transformation model.