School Improvement Grants have become a point of contention in Washington and across the country. Many believe that the $4 billion program, which provides grants to help turnaround struggling schools, has become too rigid and represents intrusive federal meddling in local affairs. But few proponents or opponents of the program ever discuss in detail where the funds are actually being used and what the schools receiving them look like. Today, Ed Sector released a report, accompanied by a new data tool, which fills in some of those details. The tool, which provides an interactive map of School Improvement Grant (SIG) recipients, is based on a wealth of data on the 843 schools that have received SIG grants so far. In addition to the tool, Ed Sector has made these data available to the public so we can find out even more on our own.
The Ed Sector report, A Portrait of School Improvement Grantees, gives a great run down of the basics. Of the 843 grantees so far, more than half – 58 percent – are in urban areas. Of the remaining schools 18 percent are rural, 17 percent suburban, and 7 percent in towns as defined by the National Center for Education Statistics. Nearly half of the recipients are high schools – a new pattern for SIG recipients because most high schools do not receive Title I funds. Twenty percent are middle schools, 24 percent are elementary schools, and 6 percent are “other” types of schools like K-8 or 7-12 schools. And the vast majority of grantees – 73 percent – selected the transformation model for their improvement strategy. This model is considered the least rigorous of the options. Twenty-one percent chose the turnaround model, 4 percent are restarting, and 2 percent are closing entirely.
Using the data provided by Ed Sector, we can look deeper into these patterns. For example, we find that of the 19 schools that chose closure as their improvement model, 9 are high schools (47.4 percent), 8 are middle schools (42.1 percent), and 2 are primary schools (10.5 percent). Of the schools that chose the turnaround model, 67 are high schools (38.7 percent), 40 are middle schools (23.1 percent) and 60 are primary schools (34.7 percent). This shows that the distribution of schools within each improvement model varies significantly by school level.
The Ed Sector data also includes some information on the demographics of students who attend the SIG recipient schools (data are from 2008). The average free and reduced price lunch rate at high schools that received a SIG grant is 67.6 percent. This is significantly less than the FRPL rate at middle and primary schools, which is 80.0 percent and 81.2 percent, respectively. However, high schools typically under identify students eligible for free or reduced price lunch, which could explain why the FRPL rate at these schools is so much lower. Unsurprisingly, the FRPL rate was also higher at rural and urban schools - 71.2 percent and 76.0 percent respectively - than at suburban schools – 68.9 percent.
Finally, we can explore some details about the size of the SIG grants different types of schools will receive. For example, the average size of a total SIG grant is $2,409,716 for a high school, $2,376,471 for a middle school, and $1,972,235 for a primary school. Urban schools get the largest SIG grants, an average of $2,494,640, and rural schools get the smallest, an average of $1,708,965. Interestingly, this does not directly follow school enrollment patterns. While rural schools are by far the smallest – an average enrollment of 411 students, suburban schools are the largest with an average of 912 students.
Ed Sector’s new data tool provides an important resource as the SIG discussion continues. It provides valuable information on which schools are receiving grants and their characteristics. Hopefully data will continue to be available on SIG grantees, continuing expenditures, and even measures of success. This is the information that should determine the future of the School Improvement Grant program, not complaints over federal intrusion.
To download a spreadsheet containing this data, click here.