New Mathematica Brief Examines Adoption of Practices Promoted by School Improvement Grants

New Mathematica Brief Examines Adoption of Practices Promoted by School Improvement Grants

Schools Reported Adopting More than Half of 32 Practices Examined
Oct 28, 2014

Turning around our nation's low-performing schools is a national policy priority. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 allocated $3 billion to the U.S. Department of Education's School Improvement Grants (SIG), in addition to the $546 million already appropriated for SIG that year. The SIG program aims to improve student achievement by promoting the implementation of four school intervention models: transformation, turnaround, restart, and closure, each with its own specific improvement practices. Research has shown that low-performing schools adopt some practices promoted by the models, but little is known about how schools combine these practices.

A new Issue Brief and In Focus from Mathematica Policy Research's multi-year evaluation of SIG for the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, shed light on which individual SIG practices (and what combinations of practices) low-performing schools adopted.

In spring 2013, researchers conducted surveys of school administrators from 480 low-performing schools, located in 60 districts from 22 states. Each state and district included a mix of low-performing schools that were either implementing a SIG model or not. The study found:

  • Schools adopted more than half of the improvement practices examined (20 of 32), on average.
  • No school adopted all practices required by the transformation or turnaround models.
  • The three most commonly adopted practices (see box above) were each adopted by over 96 percent of schools.
  • For half of the practices examined, schools implementing a SIG model were more likely than schools not implementing one to adopt that practice.  
  • Almost every school adopted a unique combination of practices, but some practices, such as the three most commonly adopted ones listed above, were much more likely to be included in these combinations.

"Examining the combinations of practices used by low-performing schools may help illuminate why some schools might successfully turn around and others might not," explains Susanne James-Burdumy, Mathematica senior fellow and director of the evaluation. "Educators and state administrators who are thinking about how to combine improvement practices may be interested in the findings presented in this brief."

Future research will examine the impact of the SIG models—and the relationship between practices and outcomes—in low-performing schools.