New Proposed USED SIG Regulations Encourage “Increased Learning Time”

Over the past four years, the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program has been an important catalyst for increasing learning time at struggling schools. The U.S. Department of Education proposed new rules in September that would give states more flexibility to design a new turnaround model, while strengthening its focus on increased learning time, and making significant improvements in how the program is implemented. The proposed rules encourage a planning year as part of increasing the maximum grant length to five years, and add flexibility for states to design a new model that would have “increased learning time” as the only fixed requirement. 

The proposed rule would allow every state to design one “State-determined” model for approval by the Secretary. In the rule, the Department relied on NCTL’s work, and the many high-performing expanded-time schools with which we work and whose successes we have documented, to justify using “increased learning time” as the only requirement for the State-determined model, by specifically citing NCTL’s The Case for Improving and Expanding Time in School: A Review of Key Research and Practice. The proposed rule is very clear in its support of comprehensive school redesigns that add significantly more time for all students in order to provide a well-rounded education, including time for core academics and enrichment as well as time for teachers to collaborate, plan, and receive professional development. 

Further improving the program for all SIG schools, and especially important for schools that add significantly more learning time, the proposal includes allowing for a planning year at the beginning of the grant timeframe, which has been increased from three to five years.  Lack of sufficient planning has been an issue for many SIG schools and evaluations of the program have shown that the quality of implementation of longer school days has varied. The Department also has proposed a year of “sustainability” funding to encourage a smoother transition off federal funds, hopefully enabling more schools to explore cost-effective models and to maintain expanded schedules after the grants end. 

The U.S. Department of Education solicited comments on their proposed changes to the SIG program and is reviewing those comments now. NCTL submitted comments recommending a few minor changes to build on these crucial improvements to the program. We expect that final rule will be released later this fall or early in the winter, and we are looking forward to working with states and districts as they think through how to leverage School Improvement Grants to improve schools through the implementation of best practices through high-quality expanded learning time.