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U.S. DOE says it will continue to invest millions in improving Memphis schools

Nine Memphis-area schools will continue to receive millions of special federal dollars to improve  their schools for the next two academic years as long as student performance improves, the U.S. Department of Education said this week.

The School Improvement Grant program gives 1,500 of the nation’s lowest-performing schools up to $2 million each to revamp its teacher evaluation system, hire new employees and change its curriculum, among other things.  At least $4.6 billion has been distributed since 2009.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a press statement this week that the School Improvement Grants are helping some of the lowest-achieving schools provide a better education for students who need it the most.

“When schools fail, our children and neighborhoods suffer,” Duncan said in the release. “Turning around our lowest-performing schools is hard work but it’s our responsibility. We owe it to our children, their families and the broader community.”

The 2015-16 school year is the final year for the School Improvement Grant.

The four schools in the Shelby County school district that will continue to receive funding are Douglass K-8, Riverview Middle, Sherwood Middle and Treadwell Middle.   The schools in the Achievement District to receive SIG funds are Aspire Elementary, Georgian Hills Elementary, Whitney Elementary, Kipp Preparatory and Klondike Preparatory Academy.

The five local schools in the Achievement School District will be awarded more than $7 million over the course of the grant while the four schools in Shelby County will receive more than $5 million over a three-year period.

Seven states, including Tennessee, will receive more than $43.4 million to continue improvement efforts at low-performing schools.

Tennessee will receive $9,214,423 in School Improvement Grant funds.

Early indicators are showing positive momentum and progress at many of the impacted schools with much of the gains recorded in small towns and rural communities, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

In 2012, several reporters working with The Hechinger Report concluded that there was no clear indication that the additional funds were making a wide-sweeping impact, though there were some bright spots:

It’s not at all clear if the federal prescription can cure the most ailing schools and lead to long-term improvements, but preliminary student achievement data for the program offer some promise. The U.S. Department of Education looked at about 700 of the schools in their second year of the program and found that a quarter of them posted double-digit gains in math during the 2010-11 school year. Another 20 percent showed similar progress in reading.