Study: No Child Left Behind sets state schools up to ‘fail’

A NEW STUDY from the Public Policy Institute of California predicts that a majority of the state’s schools will fail to reach No Child Left Behind’s impossibly high goals for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) next year. “Very soon almost every public school in California will be labeled a failure,” the study’s authors write.

The program mandates that schools and districts receiving Title I federal funds make satisfactory yearly improvement toward an established individual goal in math and English. A school which consistently misses its goal over several years is eventually subject to major restructuring. These efforts are costly and their success has been mixed.

The study identified many factors behind its findings but suggested that the larger problem is a  system which does not account for the significant differences in challenges between schools. “Fifty percent of elementary schools with the highest share of low-income students made AYP in 2007, whereas 98 percent of elementary schools with the lowest share of low-income students made AYP,” according to the PPIC.

“As a result, a school that inherits many high-achieving students but teaches them very little can be labeled a success, whereas a school that inherits many low-achieving students and teaches them a great deal can be labeled a failure,” the authors write.

California has a high percentage of disadvantaged students.

The situation will not likely improve given the economy and severe cutbacks and larger class sizes California’s schools face next year as a result of state budget negotiations.

WHAT CAN BE DONE besides a complete overhaul of the NCLB rules? The study makes many worthwhile suggestions:

Invest in preschool. High-quality programs can help close the achievement gap.

Re-evaluate programs which are not working. The study points to a remedial program for students who have failed the high school exit exam as one which has been ineffective, yet the governor’s current budget allocates $73 million to it.

New, innovative programs which work should be nurtured, piloted and implemented statewide.

Reform school finance by replacing it with a weighted formula more closely tied to the actual costs of educating students. Schools which have more students from low socioeconomic background should naturally receive more funding, but those with higher regional costs should also receive more dollars.

While few would argue many reforms are needed in California’s education system, NCLB has had an unhealthy effect on the education community nationwide, something Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the American Federation of Teachers conference last week:

“This idea of labeling and stigmatizing schools as failures — it is unbelievably demoralizing to faculty; it’s confusing to parents.”

Marie Lakin is a community activist and writes the Making Waves blog for the Ventura County Star