a report from the California legislative analyst's office
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June 10, 2008 - California currently operates two systems designed to turn around low–performing schools—one for state purposes and one for federal purposes. The two systems are uncoordinated and often duplicative, in addition to being poorly structured. We recommend replacing the two systems with an integrated system that serves both state and federal purposes. Under the new system, the state would support district reform efforts. Districts would receive different levels of support depending on the severity of their underlying performance problem and be given short–term funding linked to specific short–term district reform activities. By virtue of being integrated and district–centered, the new system would cost substantially less than the existing system and could be supported entirely with federal funding.
California, like most states, continues to grapple with how to improve schools that are failing to meet performance expectations. It continues to struggle despite widespread participation and substantial investment in its school improvement programs. Currently, over 2,400 schools in California (about one quarter of all schools) participate in school improvement programs. Since 1999, the state and federal government have invested $2.5 billion in these programs. Despite these efforts, more schools in California are deemed in need of improvement today than a decade ago.
The state and federal government has each devised its own school improvement system. They differ in important ways—measuring performance differently, setting different performance expectations, and taking different approaches to supporting low–performing schools. Taken individually, each system has its own inherent flaws. Taken together, the state and federal systems form a labyrinth of duplicative and disconnected program requirements that send mixed messages to teachers, parents, schools, and districts. As listed in the figure below, we think this dual system of school improvement has major problems.
Given the shortcomings of the current systems, many have acknowledged the need for a new system. In an effort to move toward an improved system, the administration presented a budget plan in January 2008 that entails a restructuring of the federal school improvement program. Although the administration’s budget plan contains some promising components, it leaves intact many of the fundamental problems of the existing dual system.
In this report, we provide a comprehensive reform plan that unifies the state and federal systems and attempts to overcome the various problems mentioned above. Compared to the existing school–centered system, the new system would be district centered. It would distinguish among districts based on the magnitude of their performance problems and link short–term funding to specific short–term reform activities. Because of the substantial overlap in participation that now exists among state and federal school improvement programs and the substantial federal funding that California now has available for school improvement efforts, the new system could be supported entirely with federal funds. Indeed, given available federal funds exceed the estimated ongoing cost of the new system, our reform plan includes a companion one–time initiative centered around improving the quality of student data in California.
Eight Major Shortcomings of
Dual School Improvement System
Having two sets of performance measures and expectations sends mixed messages to schools.
State decile rankings mask large differences in school performance.
Federal indicators of progress mask large differences in school performance.
School-based approach to reform shown to be ineffective.
School-based approach ignores critical role of districts.
School-based approach is unsustainable.
Having multiple interventions is confusing and can be counterproductive.
Neither state nor federal funds tightly linked to reform.