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Lots of blame, but less accountability with state’s School Improvement Grants

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, July 15th, 2011 at 1:22 pm in California, Education.

Glenbrook Middle School students gather in the school library. The Mt. Diablo school district received a $1.7 million three-year School Improvement Grant to help boosts test scores, but forfeited nearly $1.2 million after trustees decided to close the campus.

Glenbrook Middle School students gather in the school library. The Mt. Diablo school district received a $1.7 million three-year School Improvement Grant to help boosts test scores, but forfeited nearly $1.2 million after trustees decided to close the campus.

The state Board of Education meeting on Wednesday showed that when it comes to failing schools, there’s a lot of blame to go around, but seemingly less accountability.

BLAME

As the board considered about $500 million in federal School Improvement Grants, discussion included blaming the U.S. Department of Education for failing to communicate clear and consistent guidelines, blaming California Department of Education staff for lax administration and oversight of the grants, blaming the state Department of Finance for denying a request for more money to send staffers on school site visits and blaming school districts for failing to reform their schools as promised.

Blameless in the discussions were the people the grants were supposed to help: struggling students. Yet, these students could suffer as result of failures by the agencies entrusted with helping them.

Although the discussions revealed several flaws in the process, the overriding failure by all agencies appeared to be one of communication.

If the federal government had communicated its expectations and grant requirements consistently and clearly from the beginning of the grant process, the state would have been better able to communicate those requirements to districts. But since the state wasn’t clear on the requirements, it gave often confusing advice to districts.

Districts wrote up applications based on this advice, trying to meet the requirements as they understood them. For 2010-11, the state approved 41 applications and disbursed the first year of more than $400 million in three-year grant funding, with the expectation that districts would follow through on their plans.

In March, the federal government sent representatives to three districts that received the grants to see how the money was being spent. The visits revealed that many schools had not done what they promised, such as replacing principals or other staff, increasing instruction time for all students and providing time for teachers to collaborate on lesson plans and other improvement strategies.

This led the U.S. Department of Education to send the state a highly critical report, outlining four areas in which California failed to administer and monitor the grants appropriately. Stung by the criticism, the state reviewed all 41 applications based on this new feedback and found that in most of schools, the plans didn’t meet federal requirements or weren’t being implemented on time.

Yet, the state didn’t officially inform districts of this until Monday, when it published a list of schools that needed “corrective plans” to come into compliance with the grant program in order to receive the second year of funding they were expecting for 2011-12.

In a stunning move, the state also denied all 25 applications it received for up to $69 million in new funding intended to help additional schools starting in the fall, saying the planned reforms weren’t rigorous enough. Since most districts wrote their new applications based on what worked the first time around, many felt blindsided by the denials.

Some district reps showed up to the meeting to oppose the denials, but were unable to explain why they thought their applications should be approved, because the state hadn’t yet given them any feedback.

Everybody was frustrated.

Trustees were frustrated by the “searing” report from the U.S. Department of Education. State Department of Education staffers were frustrated by being caught in the middle without fully understanding the rules. Districts were frustrated from being pushed and pulled one way, then the other, only to be told in the end that they hadn’t adequately followed directions.

A few earnestly insisted they were doing what was required and were being unfairly punished by the state. Others laid low, quietly waiting and watching to see if they’d get another chance to make things right.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Despite all the finger-pointing, the state Board of Education ultimately decided to dispense what amounted to “tough love” to districts. Trustees informed districts that the leniency to which they had grown accustomed has ended.

Now, districts throughout the state are scrambling to ramp up their efforts the get the money. If they succeed, the students they are supposed to be helping may receive much-needed instructional improvements.

But if districts are unable to comply with federal requirements by the first day of school, they won’t get more money and students may not get the help they were promised.

Are you satisfied that the board’s actions will prompt schools to implement required reforms as promised?

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  • g

    It will take some really close watching to make sure they don’t try to count the 65 people they just picked up from Bay Point’s Ambrose Park & Rec . That move is so recent, I think it should be kept out of the current AB 114 equation, but fear they will try to count them as replacement hours and positions for things like Spec Ed.

  • Doctor J

    @Theresa, #50. So any word from our CFO if MDUSD will project the flat funding and restore the cuts ? BTW, isn’t Elk Grove, the subject of the article, the District that Chris Nugent is at ?

  • Doctor J

    @G #51, Is this just another shell game sleight of hand ? How on the one hand can MDUSD cry poor mouth and cut the Special Ed assistants, and then hire the Park and Rec before and after school assistants ?

  • Doctor J

    @MDUSD Board Watcher #49 What’s your guess on the “profound change” ? What will be the catalyst ?

  • g

    Dr J: and…hire them without doing their own background checks. Hopefully they are 65 great and wonderful people, but it’s deals like this that bring to mind the term “buying a pig in a poke”.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Yes, Chris Nugent is back at Elk Grove: http://www.egusd.k12.ca.us/schools/sims.cfm.
    I just spoke to Rose Lock and she said the district is working with a CDE staffer to try to rewrite its SIG plan. The district still hasn’t received any written feedback from the CDE regarding its Cohort 2 applications, however.
    Lock said she wasn’t sure how furlough days affected instructional learning time last year and wasn’t sure whether the district could negotiate no furlough days at SIG schools with unions.
    She said the district wants to retain the grants to help needy students, but got the money late last year and wasn’t clearly advised by the CDE regarding the need to provide increased instructional time to all students.

  • MDUSD Board Watcher

    Oh sure rose, it’s all the CDE’s fault.

    LMFAO!

  • Doctor J

    Lets look at the SIG certifications signed by Lawrence, and probably by Rose Lock — Theresa we really need you get to copies of the certifcation pages for both the July 2010 and Nov 2010 submissions. Here is what the SIG Certifications said:
    “CERTIFICATION/ASSURANCE SECTION: As the duly authorized representative of the applicant, I have read all assurances, certifications, terms, and conditions associated with the federal SIG program; and I agree to comply with all requirements as a condition of funding. I certify that all applicable state and federal rules and regulations will be observed and that to the best of my knowledge, the information contained in this application is correct and complete.
    Name of Superintendent or Designee
    Superintendent Steven Lawrence”
    I believe Rose Lock may as well have signed the certifications as well as others. What did those who signed “certify” to the US Government and to California:
    1. I have read all . . .terms and conditions . . . with the Federal SIG program.
    2. All . . . Federal and State regulations will be observed
    3. The information in the application is correct and complete.
    Steve and Rose: Did you read all . . .terms and conditions . . . with the Federal SIG program ?
    Steve and Rose: Were All . . . Federal and State regulations observed ?
    Steve and Rose: Was the information in the application correct and complete ?
    If anyone did not tell the truth on the SIG application certification, the next document you should sign is your resignation from MDUSD. How can you be an example to the children of MDUSD ?
    What are the consequences of giving false statements to the Federal Government and State Government ? This is serious business. Ask Barry Bonds. Ask Roger Clemmons.

  • MDUSD Board Watcher

    I predict that before this is over multiple administrators and board members will be doing the perp walk with hand cuffs on.

    I can’t wait, maybe then MDUSD will turn the corner and be a responsible district.

  • Doctor J

    @BoardWatcher, that’s quite a prediction. Film at 11.

  • Another Voice

    @MDUSD Board Watcher # 49

    You mean that Lawrence just resigned?

  • Theresa Harrington

    I have just called the district office and confirmed that Lawrence has not resigned.

  • Doctor J

    Theresa, I think post #61 was being funny. However, post #59 might be serious. I hope you get the scoop on the story, and pics to go with it.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I can’t let rumors like that go unanswered.
    I am certainly trying to follow up on the budget and SIGs.
    On a positive note: There is now a sign outside Northgate HS explaining to the public what is going on in the parking lot. I assume the same is true at other solar construction sites, but I haven’t checked.

  • Doctor J

    So where is Lawrence ? MDUSD is in crisis mode and the Supt is no where to be found. What is with that ?

  • MDUSD Board Watcher

    Dr. J.,

    When you get paid as much for doing as little as Lawrence does, it takes lots of time to spend that money.

  • Doctor J

    @MDUSDBW, Maybe someone can clip one of the GPS units to his car and we can see where he is spending his time. Probably would be better to drop one in the bottom of his golf bag. :-) Anyways, MDUSD burns, and Lawrence fiddles.

  • g

    Speaking of where MDUSD vehicles are spending their time… at 9:15am this morning there were (7) seven MDUSD official cars and trucks lined up at Holbrook Elementary, and (8)eight private vehicles. How many people is Measure “C” Solar really paying for?

    It’s starting to look like we should call it Pedersen Incorporated.

  • Doctor J

    State Board of Education webcast reply is now on-line. If you watch the several segments on the SIG funds you will appreciate the BOE. Check the agenda first and then you can pick which segment you want to watch. It is also useful to see what a fair and balanced school board meeting looks like. You will also appreciate the great video and sound system. Enjoy ! http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/ag/ag/sbewebcastarchive.asp

  • Theresa Harrington

    Rose Lock told me that no one from MDUSD attended the meeting.

  • Doctor J

    @Theresa, no wonder they are having a hard time figuring out how they need to correct their PRACTICES and GRANT LANGUAGE. All they had to do was turn on their computers and watch a free webcast.

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