Friday Churn: New SIG dollars

Updated – Colorado will receive another $5.7 million in School Improvement Grants in the ongoing effort to turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools, federal officials announced today.

According to a news release from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s office:

The award provides new funding as part of $535 million included in the fiscal year 2011 budget and made available to states under the program. To date, Colorado has received $51.4 million since the SIG program was redesigned in 2009.

“We’ve stood on the sidelines for too long as our lowest-performing schools failed our children year after year,” said Duncan. “The School Improvement Grants program is providing courageous school leaders and teacher teams in more than 1,200 schools nationwide with the means to accomplish the very difficult work of turning around some of our hardest to serve schools.”

In Colorado, 27 schools have been identified to date to participate in the SIG program. Learn more about them on this Colorado Department of Education webpage.

And in other news, here’s Education Week’s take on the study showing an estimated one in 88 children has autism spectrum disorder, which is making headlines today.

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

The nation’s most ambitious effort to improve its lowest-performing schools appears to be showing some preliminary progress but concerns about implementation remain, according to a recent spate of reports.

Since 2009, more than $4 billion in federal School Improvement Grants have gone into more than 1,200 schools with long histories of poor performance. In Colorado, 27 schools have received three-year grants worth up to $2 million annually.

Earlier this month, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan released the first data from the massive school turnaround effort. In a March 19 speech, Duncan gave a brief outline:

We had about 850 schools in the first SIG cohort. We now have preliminary achievement data from 43 states, covering about 700 of those schools in their first year of the program.

In year one, roughly one in four schools saw double-digit increases in math proficiency. About one in five schools had double-digit increases in reading proficiency. All told, in roughly 60 percent of SIG schools, the percent of students who were proficient in math or reading went up in the first year of the program.

Thursday, Jason Snyder, the deputy assistant secretary overseeing the implementation of the SIG program, released some more details in a blog post on the department’s website:

In 63 percent of SIG schools, math proficiency increased, compared to 33 percent of schools where math proficiency declined—meaning that increases in math proficiency were almost twice as common as declines.

In 58 percent of SIG schools, reading proficiency increased, compared to 35 percent of schools where reading proficiency declined.

Plenty of questions remain, however, about what the raw data shows. It’s unclear when federal officials will release more information.

Also Thursday, researchers at the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education released a critical look at how the SIG program has played out in the state. They found, for the most part, that districts failed to make aggressive reforms.

“Teachers are working very hard in these schools, but their efforts are largely being wasted because districts didn’t have a good plan,” said Sarah Yatsko, lead author of the study.

In Colorado, a Denver Post investigation found mixed achievement results for the 19 schools in the first cohort of SIG grants, those receiving their first major dollars in 2010-11. Two of the schools were closed, three changed structure so no comparison was available and eight schools saw their scores drop or remain flat. The other six schools saw small improvements.

For more information, read this story by our partners at Education Week, SIG Efforts Post Promising Early Results. And see this teacher’s take on the federal turnaround efforts.

What’s on tap:

The State Board of Education holds a public hearing at 1 p.m. today to take public testimony on proposed regulations for appeals in cases of ineffective evaluations under the new educator evaluation system. The board also will discuss legislative matters. The session will be in the boardroom at the Department of Education, 201 E. Colfax Ave. See this page for draft rules, comments submitted to date, more information and an email link for submitting comments. Read our background story.

Good reads from elsewhere:

Districts unite: Fourteen small school districts in the San Luis Valley are pooling their Race to the Top grant dollars as they create a curriculum and strive to meet other state and federal education requirements, according to this story in the Valley Courier.

The EdNews’ Churn is a daily roundup of briefs, notes and meetings in the world of Colorado education. To submit an item for consideration in this listing, please email us at [email protected]

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”