ELEMENTARY & SECONDARY EDUCATION
Key Policy Letters Signed by the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
August 26, 2009

August 26, 2009

Dear Chief State School Officers:

I am pleased to announce that the U.S. Department of Education published today a notice in the Federal Register seeking comments on proposed requirements that would govern the fiscal year (FY) 2009 School Improvement Grants authorized under section 1003(g) of the ESEA (20 U.S.C. 6303(g)).  As you know, State educational agencies (SEAs) currently award funds received under these grants to local educational agencies (LEAs) to implement reform strategies in Title I schools identified for improvement, corrective action, or restructuring so that the schools exit improvement status. 

The appropriation for School Improvement Grants has grown from $125 million in FY 2007 to $545 million in FY 2009.  Moreover, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides an additional $3 billion for School Improvement Grants for FY 2009.  This large increase in funding affords LEAs an unprecedented opportunity to implement intensive interventions in the State’s lowest-achieving schools on a scale never before possible.  For this reason, I am asking every State to drive school improvement funds to LEAs with the lowest-achieving schools in each State in order to infuse those schools with sufficient resources to implement rigorous interventions designed to significantly improve educational outcomes in such schools. 

Specifically, I propose that States identify three tiers of schools to be served:

  • The lowest-achieving five percent of Title I schools in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring in the State, or the five lowest-achieving Title I schools in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring, whichever number of schools is greater (Tier I schools);
  • Equally low-achieving secondary schools (both middle and high schools) that are eligible for, but do not receive, Title I funds, which would be served through a waiver under section 9401 of the ESEA (Tier II schools); and
  • Other Title I schools in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring (Tier III schools).

Further, because strong interventions are essential if LEAs are to reform their lowest-achieving schools, I propose that States award school improvement funds to LEAs that commit to implementing one of four specific rigorous interventions aimed at improving educational outcomes for students in these persistently low-achieving schools:  (1) a “turnaround model” that includes, among other actions, replacing the principal and at least 50 percent of the school’s staff, adopting a new governance structure, and implementing a new or revised instructional program; (2) a “restart model” that requires closing the school and reopening it under the management of a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an educational management organization; (3) closing the school and enrolling the students who attended the school in other, high-performing schools in the LEA; or (4)  a “transformation model” that addresses four specific areas critical to transforming low-achieving schools.

Implementing intensive interventions that would dramatically turn around the lowest-achieving schools in a State requires substantial planning at the LEA and school levels.  Although the proposed definitions in this notice are being published for comment and are not likely to be final by the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year, they do set out my expectation that school improvement funds be used to support careful and comprehensive preparations for rigorous interventions in the lowest-achieving Title I schools and equally low-achieving secondary schools that are eligible for, but do not receive, Title I funds.  Because the identity of these schools likely would not change significantly from this year to next year, I strongly encourage you to allocate the funds you must reserve from your FY 2009 Title I, Part A allocation under section 1003(a) of the ESEA to LEAs with the lowest-achieving schools in order to provide the resources to ensure that those LEAs are ready to implement the proposed interventions.  For example, an LEA might use section 1003(a) funds to develop a rigorous intervention strategy for these schools by reviewing student achievement outcomes; evaluating current policies and practices that may support or prevent reform; assessing the strengths and weaknesses of school leaders, teachers, and staff; recruiting and training effective principals capable of implementing the interventions proposed; or screening and identifying necessary outside partners.

Although not every LEA and school participating in this planning process would likely receive section 1003(g) funds, all of those LEAs and schools can become better positioned to implement interventions that improve student achievement through their participation in the process.  Moreover, using section 1003(a) funds to set the conditions for reform would also allow participating LEAs and schools that actually receive section 1003(g) funds to move more quickly in implementing the interventions as soon as they receive their funds. 

I know you share my commitment to doing everything possible to improve the achievement and learning of students attending our Nation’s lowest-achieving schools.  I look forward to receiving your comments on the draft notice and to working with all of you on this endeavor in your efforts to advance educational opportunities for all students.  Comments should be submitted via www.regulations.gov or by mail or hand delivery to the address listed in the notice.  Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff if you have any questions about the uses of Title I school improvement funds.

  Sincerely,
 
/s/
  Arne Duncan

 
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Last Modified: 08/26/2009