Response to Representative Judy Chu’s SIG Framework

As you know, the School Turnaround Group at Mass Insight has consistently stated that to be effective, school turnaround must be dramatic in nature.  History has shown that light-touch interventions only result in marginal impact.

The federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) requirements, while not perfect, are aligned with this notion of dramatic reform.  However, Congresswoman Judy Chu has recently proposed a new framework for the SIG program that would abandon the well-known school intervention models – turnaround, restart, closure, and transformation – in favor of light-touch school improvement strategies.  While we believe that the SIG requirements need improvement, we are concerned about the potential impact – or, rather, lack of impact – of Congresswoman Chu’s recommendations on chronically low-performing schools.

Please read our full statement below or on our website.

Be sure to also read Rick Hess’s related post on Ed Week, Assessing Rep. Chu’s Attach on School Improvement Grant Program.



Framework Attempts to Turn Back the Clock on School Reform

In December 2009, the U.S. Department of Education released a new set of priorities for the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program in response to years of unsuccessful, light-touch school intervention strategies promoted by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. The revised priorities give districts four intervention options for their chronically lowest-performing schools: turnaround, restart, closure, and transformation.

“The Department developed these intervention models to maximize the impact of an unprecedented $4 billion in SIG funds available to states and districts this year, instead of wasting these dollars on the failed school improvement strategies of the past,” stated William Guenther, President of Mass Insight Education.

Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA 32nd), member of the House Education and Labor Committee, takes a markedly different stance on the revised program. Chu recently proposed a new framework for SIG that attempts to remove any “stick” associated with the current intervention models – including removing school staff, introducing management organizations, or implementing teacher evaluation systems – in favor of handing schools a bigger “carrot” in the form of community engagement, professional development, and behavioral support services.

“It’s important to remember that the schools eligible for SIG are those schools where nothing we’ve done in the past has worked,” said Justin Cohen, President of The School Turnaround Group at Mass Insight. “None of the recommendations proposed in Chu’s report were prohibited under NCLB’s school improvement framework, and yet the number of underperforming schools has continued to grow.”

Dramatically changing academic performance in an underperforming school requires a shift in the school’s culture. This should include contracting with a Lead Partner to implement a turnaround plan and giving the Lead Partner greater autonomy over staffing; this flexibility is necessary to ensure that every teacher and administrator in a school is unequivocally committed to that school’s particular change process. Without giving principals or school operators more authority over who works in their buildings, outdated human resource policies, such as the notorious “last in, first out” rule, will ensure that our most vulnerable schools and children rarely have access to our most talented and experienced educators.

Said Cohen, “Flexibility for schools is critical to drive change, but flexibility without real accountability is a recipe for maintaining the status quo. Doing away with the turnaround, restart and closure models, instead of strengthening them by incorporating elements of Chu’s framework, will mean taking a giant step backwards in school reform.”


One Response to Response to Representative Judy Chu’s SIG Framework

  1. john thompson says:

    Couldn’t you agree that its time to slow down the clock? Can’t we all agree that this reform is happening much too fast?

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