Fuzzy SIG process upsets schoolsState Board one-year delay for Cohort II
The 58 schools expecting to learn if they’ll receive up to $2 million in School Improvement Grants (SIGs) for the fall term may have to wait until next spring for an answer. They may also have to reapply for the program, or just rework their current proposals. Either way, it’s possible the requirements will be more extensive. No one seems to know for sure what’s going on, and they’re hoping for answers when the State Board of Education (SBE) meets tomorrow in Sacramento.
The State Board has three items on its agenda dealing with the SIG program. The most contentious is whether to ask the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for a one-year waiver in allocating money to the schools in Cohort II, those that didn’t make the cut a year ago and are seeking funds for the 2011-12 academic year.
The SBE also wants permission to roll over the funds and combine them with the 2012-13 SIG allocation. California has $69 million in SIG money for the upcoming school year.
Julie Baltazar, the administrator in State Department of Education’s accountability and improvement division, said that a waiver would give the state time to help Cohort II schools revise their applications, and give Cohort I schools time to implement changes based on clarifications made by ED since the program started.
School and district officials say the changes aren’t simple explanations; they’re entirely new requirements that weren’t in the initial application guidelines.
“We’re not supporting the request for a waiver” said Sherry Griffith, legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA). Following a conference call with superintendents and principals on Monday afternoon, Griffith said they want the SBE to put several options on the table. “Our position will be to provide conditional approval to current applicants who meet all of the criteria they were told.”
In the meantime, she said the state should work with the U.S. Department of Education to reach an understanding on some of the outstanding problems.
Federal monitoring reveals poor compliance
The big push for a waiver began after ED sent a 21-page letter and report to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, with results of a monitoring team’s visit to three SIG schools in California. The team went to San Gorgonio High School in the San Bernardino Unified School District, Gompers Middle School in Los Angeles Unified School District, and Everett Middle School in San Francisco Unified. Each school represented one of the school improvement models (with the exception of school closure): transformation (San Gorgonio), restart (Gompers), and turnaround (Everett).
Based on conversations with school and district officials, the ED team identified seven areas where the state was out of compliance. The problems addressed are both broad and specific to individual schools, and date back to the start of the program in California, which was marked by accusations that the selection process was sloppy (Read TOP-Ed’s reports here and here).
- The State Board of Education did not ensure that its application process was carried out consistent with its approved SIG application.
- The CDE did not ensure that award amounts were made consistent with the SIG requirements.
- The CDE did not ensure that schools implementing the turnaround model rehire no more than 50 percent of the staff.
- The CDE did not ensure that SFUSD replaced the principal in a school implementing the turnaround model.
- The CDE did not ensure that SFUSD implemented extended time in Everett Middle School, as required for the turnaround model.
- It’s not clear how a summer program planned for some students in SFUSD will contribute to turning around the schools involved.
- The CDE is not monitoring SIG implementation as outlined in its approved application.
Even though item 5 refers to just one of the schools visited, the issue of extended time could have sweeping impact and is causing extreme anxiety for Cohort II schools.
Changing the rules midstream
Craig Wheaton said he learned just two weeks ago, during a phone conference with the CDE and all Cohort II applicants, that SIG schools must provide extended learning for all students, whether they’re working on grade level or not, and in all subjects, including enrichment courses. At least, that’s what he thinks the CDE is requiring. Wheaton is superintendent of Visalia Unified School District, which has one school applying for a Cohort II award.
“They had no criteria of what that meant, how much extended time would be acceptable,” said Wheaton. When superintendents asked for specifics, the answers were “very vague because none of that was in the application process. Their rules have changed.” There were several people from CDE on the call and Wheaton said a couple of times when a question stumped them “they huddled up and came back to the phone to say, ‘We don’t really know, we’ll have to find out.’”
But what really bothers Wheaton is that after all the effort put into preparing application, the district may have to start all over again. Visalia went so far as to change principals and work out a voluntary transfer program with the union’s consent to move two-thirds of the teachers into other schools in order to meet the requirements for the turnaround model.
ACSA’s Griffith said either the CDE failed to get the full details about extended learning and tell the districts, or federal education officials are coming up with new rules. Wherever the buck stops, the vagaries of the process are creating tremendous apprehension and some superintendents and principals are reconsidering whether they even want to remain in the competition.
“It’s like a Chinese water torture kind of feeling,” said Griffith. “The next problem just sort of arises.”
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