U.S. Dept of Education’s School Improvement Grants Had Nothing to Do With Common Core

The Department of Education released a study on its school improvement grant (SIG) initiative yesterday, a program started under President George W. Bush in 2001 that received a large increase of funding under the Obama Administration directing money to struggling schools, including those with low student achievement and graduation rates.

However, the report found that – despite billions of dollars spent – the program had no significant impact on student achievement.

The study has been shared by a number of news outlets, including Fox News and many commenters on social media have confused the findings as proof that “Common Core isn’t working.”

Here’s where they are wrong:

First: The Common Core State Standards weren’t a federal program.

It is important to note that the writing of the Common Core State Standards occurred free of any federal involvement. No federal officials served on the working teams or feedback groups, nor were any federal funds used to support the creation process at any point.

Unfortunately, in 2010 the Obama administration made adoption of “a common set of K-12 standards” a factor in the application for Race to the Top funds—which some interpreted as an endorsement of the Common Core. (It’s important to remember that work on the Common Core began long before President Obama was in office, and before this grant program was created. Both the National Governors Association and CCSSO also opposed the inclusion.) Additionally, adoption of these standards accounted for less than 10 percent of a state’s application, and states could satisfy the requirement without adopting the Common Core specifically. Moreover, nearly half the states adopted and continue to implement the Common Core despite having never been awarded Race to the Top funds.

Second: The School Improvement Grant program is about intervention strategies, not a set of learning goals.

The SIG program was about implementing a wide variety of intervention strategies, including efforts such as improving community engagement, expanding learning time, converting schools into charters, and improving the quality of the teaching corps with SIG funds. The learning expectations states adopt (such as Common Core) are completely separate from these individual SIG-funded efforts.

Third: High Standards are working.

In a majority of states across the country, students made significant improvements in math and English language arts proficiency. Simply put, these findings suggest that higher standards are helping more students achieve to higher levels.

Our analysis earlier this year (see ImpactofHigherStandards.org for more information) underscored another important finding: While much hay has been made about “fuzzy” or “new” math—early introduction to conceptual math, and a focus on showing students multiple ways of solving problems, is benefiting our nation’s students.

Not only have scores increased, but more third-graders are on grade-level than in previous years. While math has been much maligned on social media, third-graders—who have had most, if not all, of their instruction aligned to the increased rigor of the Common Core—are proving that they are up to the challenge, with proficiency rates improving by nearly four points across the country. Similarly, fourth-graders improved by just over three points.