Better oversight of support and improvement plans is needed at all levels, GAO finds

Oversight of comprehensive support and improvement (CSI) plans meant to serve as a guide for underperforming schools’ improvement processes is lacking, according to a Jan. 30 study released by the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Just 42 percent of CSI plans were found to be in compliance with certain federal requirements, which include elements such as needs assessments, evidence-based interventions, resource inequity identification and more. Nearly 30 percent of plans reviewed addressed only one or none of these issues.

Among the districts that did address the required elements, the GAO found wide variation, with many appearing to miss the point. For instance, some CSI plans discussed resource inequities that schools face but have limited opportunities to address including youth poverty and homelessness rates, rather than evaluating whether school resources were being inequitably distributed. Only 52 percent of CSI plans identified resource inequities at all.

This is problematic because, in addition to being among the lowest-performing schools in the nation, CSI schools are much more likely to serve predominantly Black and low-income students, children not proficient in reading or math, and have higher student-teacher ratios than other schools, the GAO noted.

While the U.S. Department of Education paused CSI and other support and improvement statuses during the pandemic, more schools have been put on improvement plans since identification resumed. According to the GAO, approximately 2.5 million students attend CSI schools.

Although CSI plans overseen by states and districts were often found by the GAO to be lacking, the report also determined that the federal Education Department’s local compliance monitoring should be improved.

The report noted that five of the nine states monitored by the federal Education Department from February 2020 through July 2023 failed to enforce Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) requirements for CSI plans and were required to take corrective action to address these issues.

Unfortunately, the department’s ability to identify these and other compliance issues may be limited due to the fact that the department relies on monitored states and districts to select the CSI plans it reviews, rather than independently selecting the documents. Doing so “would help Education better ensure that it is identifying and responding to compliance risks through this key part of its monitoring strategy,” according to the GAO.

In response to the report, Mark Washington, deputy assistant secretary for the Education Department’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, wrote that “although the Department believes that its monitoring has adequately identified areas of non-compliance, it will begin selecting the CSI plans that are submitted as part of consolidated monitoring beginning spring 2024.”