Most on ‘worst’ schools list pursue fed grants
Sixty percent of the state’s 188 “worst” schools ended up applying for federal money to turn their schools around this fall.
The 113 schools – among the persistently lowest performing 5 percent of schools statewide – are more than some predicted would apply, given districts’ anger and frustration over the selection and application process, the tight deadlines, and restrictions on using the money. Many schools could get far less than the amount they’re requesting. Nonetheless, the possibility of getting as much as $2 million per year for the next three years ultimately was enough to lure many cash-strapped districts to apply by last Friday’s deadline.
California has $416 million to distribute under the School Improvement Grant program. However, Julie Baltazar, the administrator in charge of the program said this week that the state must reserve a quarter of that for next year’s program, leaving $311 million to be split up within the next month. Depending on their size and reform plans, a school could get as little as $50,000 per year. The State Board of Education will vote on Aug. 2 how much each school will receive; for most districts; that’s less than a month before they’re supposed to open with reforms in place.
All 113 applicants from 58 districts are low-income schools receiving or eligible for Title 1 aid. An additional 50 non-Title I schools that have been designated as needing improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind law also applied for the SIG money, though the odds are slim that they’ll get any.
In including an unprecedented $3.5 billion for the SIG program in the stimulus program, the Obama administration is demanding that schools choose among four options, including closing down and sending students to better nearby schools, converting to a charter school or firing the principal and at least half of the staff, called a turnaround option.
Author Diane Ravitch, a leading critic of the administration, has accused Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with attempting to shut down 5,000 schools. But if California is an indication, that’s vastly overstated. Seventy-one schools, nearly two-thirds of the 113 applying, have chosen the fourth and least onerous “transformation” option, which will require an extended school day, performance evaluations of teachers as well as other strategies that schools will now have money to fund. In many cases, the principal will be replaced, and teachers starting next year will have to reapply for their jobs. For an excellent story on one San Diego elementary school’s transformation strategy, go here.
Under federal rules, districts cannot choose transformation for more than half of their schools if they have more than 11 schools on the lowest performing list. Some districts like Los Angeles Unified fall under that restriction. As a result, 32 of the 113 schools are pursuing the turnaround model. Critics charge that firing half the staff is a vindictive and unproven strategy. Advocates assert that most chronically low-performing school have been struggling for years and need a fresh start, under new leadership and teachers who want to be there. This week, Fremont High in Los Angeles reopened under the turnaround model.
Eight schools plan to convert to a charter school, known as the restart model. And two schools plan to shut down.
(Note: Numbers of schools in different models have been updated.)