New SIG guidance is out…Now what?

The wait is over. The U.S. Department of Education on Friday released a final version of updated School Improvement Grant (SIG) guidance, bringing to a close months of review and anticipation. The SIG rules were revised in order to improve implementation and use of SIG dollars. After a 2012 report found SIG was only effective in approximately two-thirds of schools (more on that in a previous blog post here), Congress and others began pushing the federal government to use SIG money on activities, programs, and systems that would be more likely to improve student and overall school performance.

At face value, the guidance seems rather similar to the initial draft released in September, with the biggest change being the addition of a state-determined improvement model in addition to the classic four options of turnaround, transformation, closure, and restart. State education agencies and districts and schools receiving (or hoping to receive) SIG funding have approximately one month to digest the changes; they go into effect on March 11.

The final updated guidance still includes many additions that will place more accountability on the local education agency (LEA) to monitor school performance, engage the local community, monitor and support intervention and implementation at the schools, and review the performance of external providers. It also includes an early education intervention model, which comes after many early education advocates and researchers have encouraged a greater focus on school improvement investments that offer preventative options to increase student performance at an early age.

Meanwhile, the state-determined model provides an opportunity for non-ESEA waiver states to expand turnaround model options for SIG schools. The guidance explains that this addition is still under review, but that for now, states will have the opportunity to submit one new turnaround model that addresses a “whole-school reform model” to the U.S. Secretary of Education for review. The guidance clarifies that states will not have the ability to require LEAs to implement a specific turnaround model for specific schools. It seems in relation to the state-determined model, state education agencies have a lot to think about.

With the release of the new guidance, states are given an opportunity to rethink the way they use their SIG funding, a process that will hopefully result in more dramatic increases in student achievement from this significant investment. We also hope that within education departments, we will see ongoing and increased collaboration across offices and units of school support to create models and systems that best support school improvement.