Friday, August 28, 2009

Guidelines for School Improvement

School Improvement Grant proposed guidelines were recently posted on the Federal Register. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is using the federal Title I programs to focus on low-performing schools.

The administration is certainly putting the money behind the program -- a $125 million investment in FY 2007, an investment of $545 million in FY 2009, PLUS another $3 billion for efforts that focus on addressing low-performing schools. This infusion of funding and recent changes to Kentucky testing programs will require KDE to review our strategies for addressing low-performing schools. Let me share just a few highlights of the proposed guidelines.

Low-Performing School Identification – Kentucky will have to change its methods for identifying low-performing schools to a focus on the federal definitions. The proposed guidelines are as follows:
Tier 1 schools – this is the lowest-achieving five percent of Title I schools in improvement, corrective action or restructuring in the state. Funds must be utilized in this category first.
Tier 2 schools – these are low-achieving middle or high schools that qualify for Title I programs, but are not classified as Title I schools.
Tier 3 schools – those Title I schools in improvement, corrective action or restructuring that are not in the lowest five percent of Title I schools.

The dollars behind this effort to schools and districts range from a minimum of $50,000 to a maximum of $500,000 for three school years each. The funds must be spent within four options that are being proposed.
Option 1 – Turnaround model : includes replacing the principal and at least 50 percent of staff with a new governance structure and new instructional program.
Option 2 – Restart model: requires closing the school and reopening under a charter school management or other educational management organization.
Option 3 – Close school model: simply means that the school is closed and students sent to another school.
Option 4 – Transformation model: four very specific components with 11 non-negotiable standards.

This program, along with our Race to the Top application, can provide a new approach to supporting low-performing schools. The program requires academic goals that must be met within the three-year period and annual progress goals.

Over the coming months, I will be working with KDE staff, the Kentucky Board of Education, legislators and other interested parties to focus on our statewide strategy to address low-performing schools. A child’s opportunity to attend a high-performing school should not depend on the family’s zip code. We must work to continue to raise achievement and close academic performance gaps. Our children deserve no less.


  1. Dr. Holliday,

    I assume your blog above refers to the August 26, 2009 Federal Register item on “School Improvement Grants--American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009; Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965,” available here:

    It appears from this NPRM that the US Department of Education is serious about requiring governance changes in each state’s lowest performing schools regardless of which of the four options for improvement in the NPRM a state chooses to implement.

    The requirement for governance changes is obvious in Options 1 to 3 as you list them.

    The requirement in Option 4 isn’t apparent in your brief description. You cannot see that until you read pages 43109 and 43110 in the Federal Register. While this very specific and detailed set of requirements is aimed at the “Local Education Agency” (LEA), which is the local board of education in most cases, it is clear under Option 4 that each LEA is required to,

    "(2) Identify and reward school leaders, teachers, and other staff who improve student achievement outcomes and identify and remove those who do not; and
    (3) Replace the principal who led the school prior to commencement of the transformation model."

    So, as you also mention, regardless of which option is selected, it looks like we will have to make fundamental changes to the state’s current method of handling its lowest performing schools to qualify for the federal funds involved in the NPRM.

    It is also seems likely that the lack of governance actions in Kentucky’s present NCLB program, which I discuss in the new Bluegrass Institute report on NCLB Tier 5 schools, (available here: very well prevent us from qualifying for this new federal money if we keep to our present course.

    At some point, in the best interests of our students, we have to address hard decisions concerning school staff in chronically under-performing schools. Thus, I am pleased by your openness to explore new options in handling Kentucky’s most challenging schools. As you say, in the end, “We must work to continue to raise achievement and close academic performance gaps. Our children deserve no less.”

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