Charting the progress of education reform: An evaluation of the Recovery Act's role

The Challenge 

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) provided an unprecedented level of $70 billion in funding for elementary and secondary education. In return for Recovery Act funds, recipients were required to commit to four specific core reforms:

  • Adopting rigorous college-ready and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments
  • Establishing data systems and using data to improve performance
  • Increasing teacher effectiveness and the equitable distribution of effective teachers
  • Turning around the lowest-performing schools

The U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) Institute of Education Sciences asked Westat and its partners to carry out this multiyear evaluation to help policymakers understand how states, districts, and schools implemented the Recovery Act reforms and to examine the supports provided to guide and stimulate ongoing efforts.

Our Solutions 

  • We carried out an in-depth review of publicly available data, including Recovery.gov, to find out
    • How much states and districts received in the Recovery Act K–12 education funds
    • Whether and how the distribution of funds varied by key characteristics (such as child poverty rates) of the recipient states and districts
  • This information provides context for examining the progress of reform implementation.
  • We also did a baseline survey in 2011 and a 2012 follow-up survey of all 50 state education agencies (SEAs) and the District of Columbia, and nationally representative samples of 1,700 school districts and 3,800 schools. We used the survey data to learn about the extent to which policies and practices promoted by the Recovery Act were reported at the state, district, and school levels and whether there was an increase in these policies and practices over time.

The Results 

  • Our analyses of Recovery Act funds reveal that
    • The Recovery Act K–12 education funding provided an average of $1,396 per pupil to individual states, with amounts ranging from $1,063 to $3,632 per pupil.
    • On average, 81% of Recovery Act K–12 funding was awarded to local education agencies, either through subgrants from states or through direct grants from ED. In total, 93% of all districts in the nation received Recovery Act funds from at least one program.
    • Districts with the highest child poverty rates received, on average, twice as much per pupil ($1,369) as did districts with the lowest child poverty rates ($684). Similarly, districts with the highest percent of persistently lowest achieving schools received considerably more ($1,525) than did districts with no such schools ($867).
  • Regarding state implementation of key education reform strategies funded by the Recovery Act in the 2010-11 school year, our analyses found that:
    • State implementation varied across the reform strategies assessed.
    • Almost all SEAs provided guidance for choosing and implementing one of the four school intervention models ED recommended to improve low-performing schools.
    • Only two SEAs reported supporting teacher evaluation models that included the complete set of criteria (such as use of student achievement gains) that the Recovery Act promoted.
    • The majority of SEAs reported that measuring student growth for teachers of nontested subjects was a challenge.
  • The final report extended the analysis of the state reports of reform implementation to include the 2011-12 school year and described the status and progress in reforms promoted by the Recovery Act for districts and schools for the 2009-10, 2010-11, and 2011-12 school years. Key findings include
    • The prevalence and progress of reform implementation from 2009-10 to 2011-12 varied by core reform area and level (state, district, or school). At the state and school levels, implementation of reforms increased in multiple assurance areas, while at the district level, only one reform area showed increased activity. Across all levels, progress was seen most often in the standards and assessment reform indicators and least often for indicators of educator effectiveness and workforce development.
    • The most frequently reported major challenges in 2011-12 at all levels were in the area of educator workforce development.

Our Client 

U.S. Department of Education (ED)