Saturday, February 27, 2010


By John Fensterwald | The Educated Guess

February 25th, 2010 -- State and federal education officials are continuing to haggle over which low-performing schools should be restructured, leading to yet another delay in releasing a much-anticipated list of schools that makes superintendents shudder.

The state Department of Education had planned to release the list of 187 schools when the state submitted its Race to the Top application in January. Then Superintendent of Public Instruction  Jack O’Connell announced it would be today and sent out a letter this week to superintendents whose schools made the list explaining the process. But the feds still disagree on which schools made it, so everything is on hold.

One disagreement continues to be over which alternative schools, serving at-risk students and schools in county juvenile halls should be included. The state wants to exclude many of them, in part because they serve a transient population. The feds apparently disagree.

States that accept Title I money must now agree to restructure the lowest performing 5 percent of schools that are facing sanctions under the No Child Left Behind law, along with high schools with less than a 60 percent graduation rate. Out of these 3,759 schools, the state will pick 5 percent with the lowest scores on state standardized tests.

But there’s another factor that could be problematic. In the rush last month to include the federal restructuring requirement in SBX5-1, the law to make the state more competitive for the Race to the Top competition, the Legislature added an exemption that may come back to bite it. Schools that have gained 50 points on the API scale over the last five years would be removed from the restructuring list. Doug McRae, a retired test publisher from Monterey who has followed the issue closely, believes that was a bad call, for it will exempt some of the lowest performing schools and ensnare schools that shouldn’t be on the list.

He cites, as an example, a school with an  API score of 500 out of the 800 scale five years ago. Even under the state’s own minimum requirements, it would have to gain at least 15 points per year or 575 over five years to stay out of trouble. But under the new law, it would escape severe federal sanctions if it scored only 560. And a higher scoring school that didn’t gain 50 points may be pulled into the list instead. McRae estimates that two of three dozen schools may be affected.

One of four alternatives

Schools on the list will have four options: to close down the school, to replace the principal and no fewer than half of the teachers, to invite in a charter operator, or a “transformation” – the most likely option that districts will choose – involving a number of strategies, such as replacing some staff and extending the academic day.

Unless the state wins a Race to the Top grant, districts will have to come up with the money, out of Title I funds or what’s left of their stimulus dollars, to do whichever option they choose.

The State Board of Education will have final say over which schools are on the list. It was to take up the issue next month, but that too may be delayed.


Comments on State delays list of lowest performers

  • John, you wrote that "unless the state wins a Race to the Top grant, districts will have to come up with the money, out of Title I funds or what’s left of their stimulus dollars, to do whichever option they choose." This is not correct. Schools required to implement one of the intervention models will get significant resources from the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. If CA wins a a Race to the Top grant, it will augment the SIG funds at participating Race to the Top districts.
    - Hilary McLean
  • Thanks, Hillary, for the funding information.
    - John Fensterwald

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