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Poor performing states to receive 'turn around' federal funding

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 04, 2014 17:04 PM

The U.S. Department of Education will issue grants to seven states to help turn around the lowest performing schools in the country. In January 2014, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that the government will award more than $39 million to drive efforts aimed at improving the ratings of schools that are persistently low-achieving. The schools will receive the grants through the DOE School Improvement Grant (SIG) Program. States involved in the program include Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Kansas, Utah and Washington.

Accepting responsibility for public education
According to Duncan, the failure to properly educate children remains everybody's failure, and the responsibility of improving education lies with the American public.

"When schools fail, our children and neighborhoods suffer," Duncan said in a statement. "Turning around our lowest-performing schools is hard work but it's our responsibility. We owe it to our children, their families and the broader community. These School Improvement Grants are helping some of the lowest-achieving schools provide a better education for students who need it the most."

The grants are awarded to the state education agencies (SEAs). These agencies will divide the federal funds into subgrants that districts can apply for. Schools will need to show why they should receive the grant by demonstrating a lack of educational equipment, making a strong commitment to the community and children's education, supporting the Common Core State Standards, or displaying sound strategies designed to raise students' standardized test scores and overall achievement.

Ways school districts can use the federal funds
Although all these states have schools at or near the bottom of national achievement ranking, some are much further behind than others. In 2012, for example, Colorado had more than two dozen schools that had to face curriculum restructuring. Many needed to reopen with new teachers or completely shut down. Some schools had ranked near the bottom of the rankings for almost a decade. According to the Denver Post, despite various attempts at improvement, schools in Colorado had a graduation rate that stayed below 60 percent. The number of students in Colorado performing at grade level remained less than 30 percent

Low-performing schools like the ones in Colorado have three options: They can replace 50 percent of their staff, turn over control of the school to education management organizations, provide professional development for teachers and staff, or completely shut down. According to a 2012 survey conducted by the Council of the Great City Schools, the majority of schools opted to use funds to provide professional development to educators and staff.