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It’s Not Just Connecticut: Problems with “Educational Reform” Come Directly from Washington

A new study has found that across the country has found the the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program treats our lowest-performing schools as corporations and fails to engage educators and families in the most racially and socio-economically segregated communities. Their success or failure is tied mainly to the performance of their students on standardized tests, a new research brief finds.

Democratic School Turnarounds: Pursuing Equity and Learning from Evidence evaluated the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, which began under the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind Act and was substantially expanded by the Obama Administration as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009.

“The market-based character of turnaround policies diverts public attention from fundamental questions about adequate, equitable funding and the insidious effects on schools of socioeconomic and racial isolation,” the authors wrote.

Struggling schools identified in the program – mainly by student test scores – are required to implement one of four intervention models: Turnaround, Transformation, Restart or School Closure. Transformation constitutes 74 percent of the SIG schools, with turnarounds accounting for another 20 percent.

Research has continued to find standardized test scores are not a reliable measure for student growth and are only a snapshot in time. They are even more problematic as a measure for whether a turnaround was successful or not, because test scores ignore social, civic and broader academic aspects of schooling.

“The absence of community voices in the SIG policy and its literature also speak volumes about the lack of democratic input into both the development of these policies and their implementation,” the authors wrote. “The result is a federal program that is based on inconsistent definitions of successful turnarounds, that relies on faulty, test-based measures of effectiveness, and that continues to base high-stakes decisions on these measures.”