School Turnarounds: Evidence from the 2009 Stimulus

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) targeted substantial School Improvement Grants (SIGs) to the nation’s “persistently lowest achieving” public schools (i.e., up to $2 million per school annually over 3 years) but required schools accepting these awards to implement a federally prescribed school-reform model. Schools that met the “lowest-achieving” and “lack of progress” thresholds within their state had prioritized eligibility for these SIG-funded interventions.

Using data from California, this study leverages these two discontinuous eligibility rules to identify the effects of SIG-funded whole-school reforms. The results based on these “fuzzy” regression-discontinuity designs indicate that there were significant improvements in the test-based performance of schools on the “lowest-achieving” margin but not among schools on the “lack of progress” margin. Complementary panel-based estimates suggest that these improvements were largely concentrated among schools adopting the federal “turnaround” model, which compels more dramatic staff turnover.

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