Money for Nothing: $3,500,000,0000 in SIG Grants Yield No Change in Test Scores
If the “reform” movement was interested in evidence based decision making, they have now learned that spending $3,500,000,000 on their key ideas yielded no changes in student performance based on test scores and survey results. Mathematica, a non-partisan research group, recently concluded a “…multiyear evaluation of School Improvement Grants (SIG) for the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. It examine(d) the practices used by schools that received grants and schools that did not, examine(d) whether SIG had an impact on student achievement, and examine(d) whether student achievement improved more with some school intervention models than with others.” The four SIG interventions are illustrated below:
As you can see, these intervention models reflect the ideas of reformers, who see the school personnel as the primary cause of “failure” as measured by test results and who also see more-of-the-same (i.e. a longer school day) as a means of improving a school. After implementing these intervention models, though, Mathematic found that nothing happened. Here are the findings in summary form:
Schools implementing a SIG-funded model used more SIG-promoted practices than other schools (23 versus 20, out of the 35 practices examined), but there was no evidence that SIG caused schools to use more practices.
Implementing a SIG-funded model had no impact on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.
Elementary schools had similar improvements in math and reading test scores regardless of which SIG model they implemented.
Secondary schools implementing the turnaround model had larger improvements in math test scores than those implementing the transformation model. In contrast, reading improvements were similar for all models. The differences in math improvements across models might be due to factors other than the model implemented, such as existing differences between schools before they received grants.
So… lots of money was spent and no improvements occurred. How might that $3,500,000,000 have been spent more effectively? It seems to me that using a RTTT model to establish wraparound services in “failing schools” would have been better than using the RTTT money to “blow up” traditional schools and replace them with ones using the existing model for schooling…. but that would require the “reform” crowd to acknowledge that exogenous factors (i.e. poverty, re-segregation, homelessness, absent or overworked single parents, etc.) play a role in the attainment of test scores that teachers cannot mitigate by themselves. By focussing everything on the school the RTTT grants overlooked the need for schools to link with parents, with the community, and with the array of social agencies designed to help children and families. It reinforced the silo mentality that separates agencies from each other instead of designing a means of having this agencies work together… and it also played into the notion that privatization would be superior to retaining the current governance model whereby school boards make decisions for children in their locale.
As much as I regret seeing President Obama leave office, I regret even more the opportunity squandered by RTTT. There was a moment in time when an injection of funds could have moved the needle toward interagency cooperation. Instead, we spent billions to show that “reform” doesn’t work… and now we have vouchers to reduce us.