781 schools in Cal­i­for­nia listed as low per­form­ing

Law re­quires state to ID them, and dis­tricts must im­prove them

The Mercury News - - Local News - By John Fen­ster­wald

With­out fan­fare or ad­vance no­tice, the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion re­leased the list of the state’s poor­est-per­form­ing schools last month for the first time in four years.

The 781 schools in­clude 481 out of about 6,600 schools get­ting Ti­tle I fed­eral aid for low-in­come stu­dents and 300 high schools where fewer than two-thirds of stu­dents grad­u­ate. Un­der a fed­eral ed­u­ca­tion law that re­quires states to iden­tify the low­est per­form­ing schools, dis­tricts with these schools will get a mod­icum of fed­eral aid — about $150,000 per school per year — along with the obli­ga­tion to fig­ure out how to make the schools bet­ter. Only this time there will be fewer dic­tates from Wash­ing­ton and less in­ter­fer­ence from Sacra­mento.

Their new-found au­ton­omy has left some school lead­ers op­ti­mistic but also un­cer­tain over what to do next. Some stu­dent ad­vo­cacy groups, mean­while, are am­biva­lent. They are sup­port­ive of the rea­son­ing be­hind more flex­i­bil­ity but skep­ti­cal it will be ef­fec­tive.

“There is sense of con­fu­sion,” said Alameda County Su­per­in­ten­dent Karen Mon­roe. “The new sys­tem is im­per­fect and in­com­plete.” But she said if it en­cour­ages a more “holis­tic” ap­proach to school re­form than in the past, “then I have to be­lieve we will be bet­ter off.”

“The big ques­tion mark is whether the new the­ory of ac­tion will lead to im­prove­ment for stu­dents. That re­mains to be seen,” said Efrain Mer­cado, di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion for the ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion Chil­dren Now. “We know that the heavy-handed (ap­proach) didn’t work. With a softer touch, the onus shifts to dis­tricts and schools.”

The state’s de­ci­sion to qui­etly pub­lish the names is an at­tempt to en­cour­age a pa­tient process of “con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment” with­out the stigma of be­ing la­beled a bad school. It re­flects Cal­i­for­nia’s new lo­cally driven but un­proven strat­egy of chang­ing stu­dent per­for­mance through col­lab­o­ra­tion, not by de­cree, as well as Congress’ shift away from fed­er­ally dic­tated so­lu­tions when it passed the Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act in 2015.

Par­ents no longer will get let­ters telling them their school is on the School Im­prove­ment list and giv­ing them the right to trans­fer to a bet­ter per­form­ing school. Dis­tricts will no longer be handed a lim­ited menu of op­tions to turn a low-per­form­ing school around, like be­com­ing a char­ter

school, re­plac­ing the prin­ci­pal or fir­ing half the staff. And teach­ers and prin­ci­pals will no longer face mov­ing “ad­e­quate yearly progress” tar­gets of higher test scores to exit from fed­eral sanc­tions, hard­en­ing their re­sent­ment that Congress was mak­ing an al­ready dif­fi­cult chal­lenge im­pos­si­ble.

These were the hall­marks of the 2001 No Child Left Be­hind law, which mem­bers of Congress came to rec­og­nize wasn’t work­ing but took years to agree on how to re­place it.

Like NCLB, the Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act re­quires that states iden­tify and set per­for­mance goals for the low­est-per­form­ing 5 per­cent of schools get­ting Ti­tle I money and for the low­est-per­form­ing stu­dent groups within schools. But it re­quires that states mea­sure schools by more than test scores alone and gives flex­i­bil­ity about what to mea­sure, how to help schools im­prove and calls for stronger sanc­tions if schools fail to show progress. The State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, in de­sign­ing the state’s plan, went one step fur­ther and put dis­tricts in charge of fix­ing their own

trou­bled schools.

The state used the Cal­i­for­nia School Dash­board to iden­tify the low­est-per­form­ing schools, just as it has for the low­est-per­form­ing dis­tricts. The multi-col­ored dash­board rates achieve­ment on a range of in­di­ca­tors, in­clud­ing test scores and grad­u­a­tion, sus­pen­sion and chronic ab­sen­teeism rates. All schools with all red in­di­ca­tors, des­ig­nat­ing the low­est of five rank­ings, or a com­bi­na­tion of red and or­ange, the sec­ond­low­est, were des­ig­nated to re­ceive sup­port.

The 481 schools make up 7 per­cent of Ti­tle I schools — about 150 more than the 5 per­cent that must be iden­ti­fied un­der fed­eral law. In­creas­ing the num­ber of schools will cut into each school’s share of the $130 mil­lion in Cal­i­for­nia’s Ti­tle I fund­ing man­dated for school im­prove­ment.

Of the 481 schools, 34 are char­ter schools and the rest are dis­trict schools. The list in­cludes 182 el­e­men­tary, 120 mid­dle and 38 tra­di­tional high schools.

Al­ter­na­tive and con­tin­u­a­tion high schools, county com­mu­nity schools and court schools com­prise most of the low-per­form­ing high schools on the list. They also are the bulk of the 300 schools named be­cause of low grad­u­a­tion rates. These

schools, serv­ing ex­pelled and in­car­cer­ated youths, tran­sient stu­dents and those at risk of drop­ping out, were ex­cluded from the ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem un­der the No Child Left Be­hind Act, but now they will get more at­ten­tion and re­sources. On­line schools make up many of the 91 char­ter schools des­ig­nated for low grad­u­a­tion rates.

Most of the listed 481 low-per­form­ing schools should not have been a sur­prise; 83 per­cent are in dis­tricts that sep­a­rately were iden­ti­fied un­der the state’s ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem for com­pre­hen­sive as­sis­tance for dis­trictwide low-per­form­ing stu­dent groups.

In many cases, the stu­dents are clus­tered in schools in low-in­come neigh­bor­hoods. In Vallejo Uni­fied, which has sev­eral low-per­form­ing sub­groups dis­trictwide, about a third of its 22 schools are on the list; a quar­ter of Oak­land Uni­fied’s 87 schools will get com­pre­hen­sive sup­port. The 47 Los An­ge­les Uni­fied schools on the list com­prise 6.5 per­cent of the dis­trict’s 723 schools.

In the state plan for fed­eral com­pli­ance, the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion de­cided the dis­trict of­fices should take the lead role in school im­prove­ment, not just for the dash­board-de­fined low­est-achiev­ing schools but

also for schools with big gaps in achieve­ment among stu­dent groups.

“Prior laws of­ten over­looked the im­por­tant role that a dis­trict has to sup­port schools,” said David Sapp, deputy pol­icy di­rec­tor and as­sis­tant le­gal coun­sel for the state board.

Treat­ing in­di­vid­ual schools also ig­nores con­di­tions and per­son­nel de­ci­sions that af­fect all schools. In their work with dis­tricts, county of­fices of ed­u­ca­tion do “root-cause” analy­ses that look be­yond low dash­board scores to teacher turnover pat­terns, la­bor man­age­ment is­sues and prin­ci­pals’ ex­pe­ri­ence, said El Do­rado County Su­per­in­ten­dent Ed Manansala, who is pres­i­dent of the or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing the state’s 58 coun­ties, the Cal­i­for­nia County Su­per­in­ten­dents Ed­u­ca­tional Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion. “That’s why co­her­ent work with dis­tricts and schools be­comes im­por­tant.”

Va­lerie Cuevas, a board mem­ber of the West Con­tra

County Uni­fied School Dis­trict, which has 11 schools on the list, agreed that changes in staffing pat­terns that in­di­vid­ual schools can’t con­trol “are part of the so­lu­tion” and said she hopes teach­ers will show flex­i­bil­ity around con­trac­tual restric­tions af­fect­ing in­di­vid­ual school sites. Teach­ers should be part of the process un­der lo­cal con­trol and their par­tic­i­pa­tion “can be em­pow­er­ing,” she said.

A dis­trict must list the schools by name in a new sum­mary por­tion of its an­nual plan­ning doc­u­ment, the Lo­cal Con­trol and Ac­count­abil­ity Plan. It must also state a dis­trict’s strate­gies for im­prove­ment in those schools and how it will mon­i­tor progress.

A county of­fice of ed­u­ca­tion, which must ap­prove a dis­trict’s LCAP ev­ery year, can in­ter­vene only if a des­ig­nated school has shown no progress.

The state board as­sumes that lead­ers in dis­tricts des­ig­nated for in­ten­sive as­sis­tance will ap­ply the train­ing

they are learn­ing from county of­fices to school im­prove­ment and their work with par­ents and the com­mu­nity through the LCAP.

Juan Cruz, su­per­in­ten­dent of the FranklinMcKin­ley School Dis­trict, a 10,000-stu­dent K-8 dis­trict in San Jose with one of its 16 schools on the low­est-achieve­ment list, said it’s too soon to see how the new process will work for McKin­ley El­e­men­tary, which faced ear­lier sanc­tions un­der NCLB. Its pre­dom­i­nately His­panic stu­dents live in one of San Jose’s poor­est neigh­bor­hoods.

But Cruz, a for­mer high school prin­ci­pal of a school un­der NCLB’s School Im­prove­ment pro­gram, said he can sense a dif­fer­ence. “I’m op­ti­mistic. NCLB felt like you were be­ing crushed; this feels less puni­tive. There’s an op­por­tu­nity to rally be­hind a school with un­der­served stu­dents.”

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