Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Principal Fernando Yanez talks to Michele Megliorino (left) at Cox Elementary in Oakland, which has yet to meet its targets.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008 | 02:20 PDT -- If the system mandated by No Child Left Behind to fix thousands of failing schools were subjected to its own rigorous standards, it too could fail.
That's the conclusion of the first large study examining whether school-restructuring programs required by the federal No Child Left Behind education act are actually working.
The study, released today, found that the number of schools failing to meet achievement goals nationwide under No Child Left Behind jumped by 50 percent since last year - with California leading the way.
California now has more than 1,000 persistently failing schools forced to undergo drastic restructuring, the study found. That's more than any other state, yet few are being helped by the mandated process.
"We think the federal law is like a first draft of a paper - and we don't think it's developed very well," said Jack Jennings, president of the independent Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C., which has studied No Child Left Behind for years and has now turned its attention to "school restructuring" efforts in five states, including California.
The study name says it all: "A Call to Restructure Restructuring."
Little guidance from feds
The U.S. Department of Education "has offered little guidance on what to do about persistently struggling schools," according to the report.
As a result, the study found that local efforts to comply with the law and turn schools around are often poorly focused and tend to lack a key ingredient: qualified teachers.
"I would agree," said Jack O'Connell, California's elected schools chief. "You have to question your entire accountability program when you're setting all your schools up for failure."
The idea of No Child Left Behind is that 100 percent of students will score "proficient" in reading and math by 2014. To get there, a rising percentage of students at every school has to score proficient each year.
Schools failing to meet those annual proficiency goals two years in a row enter Program Improvement. The first few years include carrots: free tutoring for kids, extra training for teachers and other technical help. Schools that still don't meet the goals after three years face drastic restructuring measures: reopening as a charter school, replacing all staff, being operated by an outside agency or - the most popular - "any other major restructuring" they choose, such as changing the curriculum.
More than 3,500 schools across the country are in the restructuring phase of Program Improvement this year. That's a 50 percent increase from last year, when about 2,300 schools had to restructure, the study says.
The problem is that even those drastic measures don't help in most cases.
Success is measured by whether a school meets academic goals. (Last spring, about 35 percent of California students had to score proficient in reading and math at each school. Next spring, it will jump to about 45 percent.) If a school succeeds for two years in a row, it can exit Program Improvement.
Schools stuck in phase
But once in Program Improvement, the study found, schools rarely exit.
For example, in 2007, when just 25 percent of students had to score proficient at each school, only 14 percent of restructuring schools in California met the academic goals.
Cox Elementary in Oakland entered Program Improvement years ago, before the ink was dry on the No Child Left Behind law.
By 2005, it had failed so many times that drastic restructuring was required. Cox chose to reopen as an autonomous public charter school that could make its own decisions - an idea embraced by the U.S. Department of Education as a good move for troubled schools.
Three years later, the school has yet to meet its academic targets.
"Program Improvement does nothing for me," said Principal Fernando Yanez, who works for the nonprofit Education for Change, which now operates Cox.
"Program Improvement is a stigma that's placed on a school. There's no funds - No Child Left Behind is great political rhetoric. But is it really realistic that 100 percent of our students will get there by 2014?"
Money is a big problem, the study found.
Funding drops dramatically
Each state is required to set aside 4 percent of its federal Title 1 funds for low-income children specifically to help schools in Program Improvement. Two years ago in California, that was $69 million.
But last year, it plunged to $33 million because a clause in the law says states can't set aside the full amount if doing so would deprive other schools of money they are entitled to.
The study also found that "dramatic flourishes" such as transformation into charter schools really didn't help with achievement.
For example, replacing the staff - one of the law's recommended approaches - often had the unintended consequence of leaving the school with no qualified replacements.
Focus on better instruction
"These methods satisfy the adults because you can walk away and say, 'I really kicked ass - I made them abolish their school,' " said Jennings, president of the group that conducted the study. "But instead of shaking up the school, it may be that we need to improve instruction."
The study found more success at schools that focused intensely on improving instruction, extending the school day and tutoring.
Written by consultant Caitlin Scott, the study offers several recommendations for "restructuring restructuring." These include expanding the list of strategies that work, better monitoring of schools and their plans, and replacing teachers only if there are enough experts to take their place.
How restructuring works
Schools enter Program Improvement if they miss No Child Left Behind's academic targets for two years in a row, and if they receive federal Title 1 money for low-income schools. In California, more than 6,000 schools are eligible, and more than 4,500 are in Program Improvement.
Schools exit Program Improvement by making targets two years in a row.
During the first two years of Program Improvement, schools receive help from the school district. This ranges from free tutoring for certain students to professional development for teachers. In the third year, the district steps in with greater oversight. If the school still fails to meet targets, it enters the Restructuring phase of PI. Here's what happens:
The district continues providing technical assistance and professional development, and it must notify parents of the school's status; children have the right to transfer to a higher-performing school, and to receive tutoring. The district and school must choose which restructuring method they will implement:
-- Reopen school as a charter.
-- Replace all or most staff, including principal.
-- Contract with outside entity to manage school.
-- State takeover.
-- Any other major restructuring.
The school and district carry out restructuring. The school remains in Program Improvement until it meets academic goals for two consecutive years.
Source: California Department of Education
Number of California schools required to restructure
Number of restructured schools in the state that met academic goals
A Call to Restructure Restructuring: Lessons from the No Child Left Behind Act in Five States
This report synthesizes findings from CEP’s research on how the No Child Left Behind Act’s school restructuring requirements are being implemented in Michigan, California, Maryland, Ohio, and Georgia. Document reviews and interviews with state officials were conducted in the five states, and case study research was carried out in 19 districts and 42 schools. Among the report’s finding are that more schools have entered restructuring and many remain in that status for multiple years; the “any other” restructuring option is the most popular option in the states studied; and the five states varied greatly in the supports they offered restructuring schools. View Materials
CEP Press Release
EMBARGOED: Not for Release before 12:01 a.m. EDT, Sept. 23, 2008
CONTACT: Kari Hudnell at (202) 955-9450 ext. 324 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Number of Schools in Restructuring under No Child Left Behind Increases by More than Half in 2007-08; Many Schools Stay on List
States Urged to Step up Efforts to Monitor Schools in Restructuring
WASHINGTON — Sept. 23, 2008 — The Center on Education Policy (CEP) released its most comprehensive report to date on how states and school districts implement school restructuring, the ultimate sanction for chronically low-performing schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The report finds that the number of Title I schools in restructuring during last school year, 2007-08, increased by 56 percent to an estimated 3,599 schools, or about 7 percent of all Title I schools in the nation. This total is up from the 2,302 schools, or 4 percent in 2006-07.
The report, A Call to Restructure Restructuring: Lessons from the No Child Left Behind Act in Five States, is a culmination of CEP’s study of NCLB restructuring in California, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, and Ohio, and reviews other state and national data. These five states were chosen because they have relatively large numbers of schools in restructuring and well-established accountability systems, and represent a variety of geographic areas. To gather data for the study, CEP conducted interviews with state officials and district and school staff in 19 districts and 42 restructuring schools within these states.
The report finds that many schools have remained in restructuring for multiple years, with little guidance from the federal government on what to do about persistently struggling schools. In the five states studied, only 19 percent of the schools implementing restructuring made adequate yearly progress based on 2006-07 tests.
“This report shows that current restructuring policies and practices are flawed,” said Jack Jennings, CEP’s president and CEO. “Many restructuring schools have done everything the law requires but they still haven’t raised achievement enough to exit restructuring. It’s time to revamp the sanctions and supports for these struggling schools.”
While the results of restructuring varied significantly among the five states in this study, the results did not vary by federal restructuring strategy. Significantly larger percentages of restructuring schools in Michigan and Georgia made AYP than in the other states, but it was not possible to determine the precise reasons for these variations. CEP’s analysis showed that none of the five federal restructuring options were associated with a greater likelihood of a school making AYP overall or in reading or math alone.
“We can’t say which strategies do the most for schools in restructuring, but we can say that Michigan and Georgia had the largest percentage of schools make AYP based on 2006-07 testing,” Jennings added.
Most restructuring schools in the five states (86 to 96 percent) used the “any-other” restructuring option in the NCLB law, which allows schools and districts to take any major action, aside from the four more specific options, to change school governance. However, state interpretations of this option varied widely. Michigan and Ohio encouraged schools to employ “turnaround” specialists, while Maryland has barred schools entering restructuring after 2006-07 from choosing a turnaround specialist.
The five states also varied in the supports they offered restructuring schools. Four sponsored extra professional development events, and three provided on-site technical assistance and gave more intense support and monitoring to schools that have been implementing restructuring plans for multiple years. States also have very different methods of distributing the 4 percent of funds from Title I that are specifically set aside for school improvement. The amount of funding available to each school also varies widely since it largely depends on the number of low-income children in the state, not on the number of Title I schools in improvement.
District- and School-Level Findings
Regardless of the federal restructuring option they chose, schools used some common strategies to raise student achievement. All of the 42 case-study schools reported using data for instructional decision-making. Most schools provided tutoring to struggling students and employed an instructional or leadership coach.
Many schools that missed AYP targets solely because of the performance of student subgroups still directed considerable resources to all students. Principals and teachers at schools that have raised student achievement enough to exit restructuring remained concerned about maintaining progress, particularly as AYP targets will keep rising until they reach the ultimate goal of 100 percent proficiency. Meanwhile, some principals at schools that replaced staff reported unintended negative consequences, such as being unable to fill positions with qualified teachers and having little time to plan for the new school year after spending the summer hiring.
The report makes several recommendations to improve the current restructuring process. First, policymakers should expand and define the federal options based on strategies that have been cited as effective in school improvement research. States can then create state-specific options for restructuring. States also need to better monitor schools to ensure adequate implementation and to determine which strategies work.
In addition, federal and state officials need to consider policies to address schools that remain in restructuring. While these policies should not require schools to make changes every year, they should require monitoring implementation of school plans, giving promising strategies time to work, and changing course when strategies are clearly ineffective.
Restructuring schools should only choose to replace staff if districts have the capacity to help schools advertise and interview for open positions, the region around the schools has enough qualified candidates who may apply, and the district can negotiate with the teachers’ union to remove potential obstacles. Finally, states and districts need to help maintain student achievement in schools that exit restructuring and continue to funnel funds and services to these schools until they maintain achievement.
The Center on Education Policy has conducted a series of analyses of the school restructuring efforts in California, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, and Ohio as part of its comprehensive, multiyear study of the No Child Left Behind Act. A Call to Restructure Restructuring: Lessons from the No Child Left Behind Act in Five States, individual state restructuring reports, and other CEP publications on NCLB are available at www.cep-dc.org.
Based in Washington, D.C., and founded in 1995, by Jack Jennings, the Center on Education Policy is a national independent advocate for public education and for more effective public schools. The Center works to help Americans better understand the role of public education in a democracy and the need to improve the academic quality of public schools. The Center does not represent special interests. Instead, it helps citizens make sense of conflicting opinions and perceptions about public education and create conditions that will lead to better public schools.