Education Week, The Hechinger Report, and the Education Writers Association have teamed up with newspapers around the country for an in-depth look at School Improvement Grants, the $3 billion federal program to improve some of the country’s poorest performing schools.
In this excellent overview of the two-year-old program, my colleague Alyson Klein examines the consulting groups that school districts hire to advise them on how to spend SIG money. It turns out few states track how much SIG money goes to consultants, and a Denver Post analysis found that among 15 states that do, an average of 25 percent of SIG money was spent on private consulting.
No one suggests this is an inherently bad thing; education consultants have been around for years. But there is concern over the accountability of these groups and their ability to help schools meet ambitious and fast-moving school turnaround requirements. The federal government doesn’t require states to review contractors hired for school turnarounds and transformations and many don’t do it on their own.
One consulting group, New York City-based Global Partnership Schools, received a $7.4 million contract to operate in six schools in Pueblo, Colo. In Colorado, 35 percent of the $26.6 million in SIG grants awarded was spent on consultants. Student performance at five of those six schools has gotten worse, the Denver Post found. (Global Partnership Schools was co-founded by Rudy Crew, who has since left the company; read my February interview with Crew here.)
Of course, school turnaround work is difficult, and requires time. There are success stories among private consultant-aided turnarounds, like Global Partnerships Schools’ work at Harding High School in Bridgeport, Conn., where attendance and engagement are up.
But in a study on SIG grants released last week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office called for more consistent reviews of outside contractors from states. The U.S. Department of Education claims there is a rigorous screening process already in place; some states even provide a vetted list of outside consultants. As the SIG program moves forward and concrete results are expected, will that screening process continue to be left up to the districts?
Read the entire series on school turnarounds here.