Panel Paper: The Longitudinal Effects of School Improvement Grants

Friday, November 8, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Governor's Square 14 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Min Sun1, Alec Kennedy1 and Susanna Loeb2, (1)University of Washington, (2)Brown University

Governments making substantial investments aimed at building public organizations’ capacity can often be controversial. To justify those expenditures, the evidence should include not only the positive changes of the grantee organizations’ performance during the funding period, but also whether these positive changes persist or fade out after the withdrawal of this influx of funds.

The School Improvement Grants (SIGs) are one good example of this type of capacity-building investment. In an effort to incentivize dramatic school transformations of the nation’s persistently lowest performing public schools, Congress appropriated 3.5 billion dollars for the first cohort of SIGs through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and continued the investment to a total of 7 billion in subsequent cohorts of SIGs. These funds typically doubled the grantee schools’ regular budget and were available to schools for at least three years.

In this paper, we examine the effects of SIGs in the first two cohorts of 99 schools from two states and two large urban districts, which represent a great geographical diversity. Moreover, the current paper constitutes the first study that comprehensively documents the longitudinal effects of SIGs on school performance over more than six years. We compiled data three years before the SIG award and 6 or 7 years after the award. This longitudinal analysis is more aligned with the policy intent and design—building schools’ capacity for long-run success. Moreover, we analyze SIG effects for subgroups of students to better understand the SIG effects for historically underserved students of color and for students from low socio-economic families. Lastly, we conduct a battery of sensitivity analyses and robustness checks to rule out other possible explanations for the identified SIG effects.

We find that elementary and middle schools (grades 3-8) had a gradual increase in student achievement in math and reading during the reform years, with larger effects in years 2 and 3 than year 1. The positive reform effects then gradually decreased three years after the funds ended; but the positive policy effects had not completely faded away. Additionally, turnaround schools that adopted more dramatic reforms show larger positive effects than schools adopting the transformation model during the reform period. These positive changes were mostly sustained in turnaround schools three years after the reform. Moreover, the graduation rates in high schools show a different pattern: no fade away in the post reform period. Rather, we observe a steady increase throughout the six or seven years. The SIG effect in the first year is about a 5 percentage point increase, and climbs to an effect of about 14 percentage points in year six or seven.

Regarding heterogeneous effects, we observe generally similar patterns across these four locations, but variations in the magnitude of the effects. More importantly, SIG effects on student achievement are slightly larger for historically underserved students of color than the overall effects. The findings help state and school leaders to select programs to promote student learning in these struggling schools under the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).