Funding & Policy | News

Federal Grants Target Leadership in 'Low-Performing' Schools

The United States federal government is making a push to train, place and retain competent leaders in an effort to turn around some of the country's lowest-performing schools.

Through a relatively new discretionary grant program, called the Turnaround School Leaders Program (operated under the banner of the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program), the U.S. Department of Education this week awarded about $20.5 million to 12 districts, state agencies, universities and other organizations to "develop, or enhance, and implement a leadership pipeline that selects, prepares, places, supports and retains school leaders — including leadership teams — for SIG schools." The awards total about $6.5 million more than the original estimate of funds available for the program.

The SIG program in general provides federal funding to state agencies that then channel the funds, through a competitive process, to districts that demonstrate the need, the will and the ability to raise the achievement level of students in the poorest-performing schools in their states. SIG funds are targeted toward only the lowest-performing schools (as measured by standardized test scores) — those that have been in the bottom 5 percent for an extended period of time.

"Effective leaders who are trained to lead turnaround efforts in the lowest-performing schools are essential to improving student outcomes," said Arne Duncan, U.S. secretary of education, in a statement released to coincide with the awards. "These grants will provide the resources for states and districts to select, train and place great leaders in the schools - and with the students - that need them the most."

According to ED, the 12 grants will be put toward the development of "systems at the district level to recruit and select prospective and current school leaders with the skills necessary to turn around a SIG school or SIG-eligible school; to provide high-quality training to selected school leaders to prepare them to successfully lead turnaround efforts; to place school leaders in SIG schools and provide them with ongoing professional development and other support that focuses on instructional leadership and school management based on individual needs; and to retain effective school leaders—using financial or other incentives—and replace ineffective school leaders."

Recipients of the awards included:

  • Alabama State Department of Education, $1.99 million;
  • Board of Trustees of The University of Illinois, $1.97 million;
  • Center for Leadership and Education Equity in Rhode Island, $1.6 million;
  • City of Paterson Board of Education in New Jersey, $1.5 million;
  • Cleveland Municipal School District in Ohio, $0.8 million;
  • New Leaders Inc. in Maryland, $1.5 million;
  • North Carolina State University, $2 million;
  • Rocky Mountain College in Montana, $1.5 million;
  • School Board of Miami-Dade County in Florida, $2.1 million;
  • Special School District #1 in Minnesota, $1.93 million;
  • Syracuse City School District in New York, $1.6 million; and
  • Western Michigan University, $2 million.

Further details can be found on the Turnaround School Leaders Program portal.

About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 29-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEDavidNagel (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).