After receiving turnaround grants from the Obama administration for the wholesale overhauling of schools, the nation's lowest-performing schools have yet to show dramatic improvement, according to information released Thursday by the U.S. Education Department. And some have actually shown declines.

Statistically, though, it may be too soon to draw any conclusions from the numbers.

School Improvement Grants, a signature program of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, have poured about $4.6 billion into roughly 1,500 schools, at a cost to the government greater than the entire Race to the Top competition. Duncan has prioritized an agenda that focuses on "turning around the bottom five percent" of America's schools. "We want transformation, not tinkering," Duncan said in a 2009 speech describing the program. The program allows schools to choose from four turnaround models: closing schools, turning schools over to a charter school management organization, shifting evaluation and curriculum, or replacing some staff.

According to the new information, on average, two-thirds of schools that received SIG funding in the first possible year posted increases. In reading, 45 percent of students at schools in their second year of the grant were proficient, up from 40 percent two years earlier; and 41 percent were proficient in math, up from 33 percent two years earlier.

But scores in the other third of schools actually decreased.

Similar shifts occurred among schools that received funding in the 2011-12 school year, as 55 percent of schools posted math improvements while 38 percent showed decreases; in reading, 61 percent of those schools increased their scores, and 34 percent showed decreases. Among those whose scores improved, student proficiency in math rose from 47 percent to 49 percent, and average reading proficiency hovered at 55 percent, up from 54 percent.

To calculate the results, the department compared average proficiency rates on state tests in the 2011-12 school year to earlier scores. But the information is preliminary: For some schools, the report only reflects two measurements of performance. Moreover, variations in scores over such a short amount of time could reflect shifts that have little to do with instruction, such as demographic changes. And the results do not control for factors unrelated to SIG that differentiate schools from one other.

Still, Duncan sounded cheerful in a statement released to accompany the report. "The progress, while incremental, indicates that local leaders and educators are leading the way to raising standards and achievement and driving innovation over the next few years," Duncan said in a statement. "To build on this success in our disadvantaged communities, we must expand the most effective practices to accelerate progress for students and prepare them for success in college and careers."

Others were less upbeat. "After another year and billions of spending, a third of them either went backwards or made no progress at all," Andy Smarick, a former Bush education official, said of the results. "We're spending billions of dollars on the program. Even where there is progress, it doesn't come close to the turnaround a lot of people were hoping for. It appears to be a very, very small improvement." Smarick called the results for the more recent grant recipients "sad."

Duncan overhauled School Improvement Grants dramatically in 2009, expanding it with new cash from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Last year, when Duncan released the first wave of results, they were similarly mixed. During the first year of the program, two-thirds of SIG recipients saw some increases in math and reading scores, while a third showed decreases. One-quarter of SIG schools had seen scores decrease, then increase after getting the grants. Another quarter saw the opposite: Scores increased before SIG, then dropped.

At the time, Duncan asked for patience. "In the long-term process of turning around the nation's lowest-performing schools, one year of test scores only tells a small piece of the story," Duncan said. "But what's clear already is that almost without exception, schools moving in the right direction have two things in common: a dynamic principal with a clear vision for establishing a culture of high expectations, and talented teachers who share that vision."

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  • Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)

    "I wish to God she had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids," Gohmert said of slain principal Dawn Hochsprung on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/louie-gohmert-guns_n_2311379.html"><em>Fox News Sunday</em></a>. He argued that shooters often choose schools because they know people will be unarmed.

  • Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)

    "If people were armed, not just a police officer, but other school officials that were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would be an opportunity to stop an individual trying to get into the school," he <a href="http://www.wtop.com/610/3162096/Gov-Is-it-time-to-arm-school-officials">told WTOP's "Ask the Governor" show</a> Tuesday, warning that Washington may respond to such a policy with a "knee-jerk reaction."

  • Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) & State Sen. Frank Niceley (R)

    Gov. Haslam says he will consider a Tennessee plan to secretly arm and train some teachers, <a href="http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/12/tennessee-armed-teachers.php">TPM reports</a>. The legislation will be introduced by State Sen. Frank Niceley (R) next month. "Say some madman comes in. The first person he would probably try to take out was the resource officer. But if he doesn’t know which teacher has training, then he wouldn’t know which one had [a gun]," Niceley told TPM. "These guys are obviously cowards anyway and if someone starts shooting back, they’re going to take cover, maybe go ahead and commit suicide like most of them have."

  • Oklahoma State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) & State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R)

    State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) <a href="http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=336&articleid=20121217_336_0_OKLAHO168827">told the Tulsa World</a> he plans to file legislation that would bring guns into schools, calling their absence "irresponsible." “It is incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended – to allow mad men to kill dozens of innocents when we have a very simple solution available to us to prevent it," he said. "I’ve been considering this proposal for a long time. In light of the savagery on display in Connecticut, I believe it’s an idea whose time has come." Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) told the Tulsa World that teachers should carry concealed weapons at school events. "Allowing teachers and administrators with concealed-carry permits the ability to have weapons at school events would provide both a measure of security for students and a deterrent against attackers," he said.

  • Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R)

    Baxley, who once sponsored Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, <a href="http://politics.heraldtribune.com/2012/12/17/florida-legislator-allow-guns-in-schools/">told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune </a>that keeping guns out of schools makes them a target for attacks. “We need to be more realistic at looking at this policy," he said. "In our zealousness to protect people from harm we’ve created all these gun-free zones and what we’ve inadvertently done is we’ve made them a target. A helpless target is exactly what a deranged person is looking for where they cannot be stopped.”

  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)

    At a Tea Party event Monday night, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/rick-perry-guns-in-schools_n_2322185.html">Perry praised a Texas school system that allows some staff to carry concealed weapons to work</a> and encouraged local school districts to make their own policies.

  • Minnesota State Rep. Tony Cornish (R)

    Cornish <a href="http://www.kdlt.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=22736&Itemid=57">plans to introduce legislation that would allow teachers to arm themselves</a>, according to the AP.

  • Oregon State Rep. Dennis Richardson (R)

    In an email <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/oregon-state-rep-dennis-richardson-teacher-guns-stopped-connecticut-shooting_n_2317444.html?ir=Education">obtained by Gawker</a> and excerpted below, Richardson tells three superintendents that he could have saved lives had he been armed and in Sandy Hook on Friday: <blockquote>If I had been a teacher or the principal at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and if the school district did not preclude me from having access to a firearm, either by concealed carry or locked in my desk, most of the murdered children would still be alive, and the gunman would still be dead, and not by suicide. ... [O]ur children's safety depends on having a number of well-trained school employees on every campus who are prepared to defend our children and save their lives?</blockquote>

  • Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett

    "And I'm not so sure -- and I'm sure I'll get mail for this -- I'm not so sure I wouldn't want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing," Bennett, who served as education secretary under Ronald Reagan, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/bill-bennett-education-secretary-connecticut-shooting_n_2311774.html">told <em>Meet the Press</em> Sunday</a>. "The principal lunged at this guy. The school psychologist lunged at the guy. It has to be someone who's trained, responsible. But, my god, if you can prevent this kind of thing, I think you ought to."