More schools facing No Child Left penalties
May. 10, 2006
WASHINGTON - Falling short of requirements under President Bush's education law,
about 1,750 U.S. schools have been ordered into radical "restructuring," subject
to mass firings, closure, state takeover or other moves aimed at wiping their
Many are finding resolutions short of such drastic measures. But there is
growing concern that the number of schools in serious trouble under the No Child
Left Behind law is rising sharply, up 44 percent over the past year alone, and
is expected to swell in the next few years.
Schools make the list by falling short in math or reading for at least five
In perspective, the total amounts to 3 percent of roughly 53,000 schools that
get federal poverty aid and face penalties under the No Child Left Behind law.
"It's just a matter of time before we see upwards of 10,000 schools in
restructuring," said Michael Petrilli, a former enforcement official at the
"Unless all of these schools suddenly turn themselves around, or the states
continue to find ways to finagle the system, you're going to see the numbers
accelerate," said Petrilli, now vice president for policy at the Thomas B.
Fordham Foundation, a school-change organization.
The Associated Press reported last month that schools were deliberately not
counting the test scores of nearly 2 million students, mostly minorities, when
they measure progress by racial groups. Those exclusions have made it easier for
schools to meet their yearly goals.
Still, more than a quarter of the nation's schools have failed to make adequate
yearly progress for at least one year. Many will keep moving along the law's
penalty timeline. A district must choose an overhaul plan for a school by the
fifth year, then act on it in the following year.
For example, in Tucson, the Anna Lawrence Intermediate School for five years has
failed to show enough reading progress among its students. So the district has
ordered a total overhaul. All employees must reapply for their jobs.
The school's plan also calls for a longer school day, expanded tutoring, and
bonus pay for instructors deemed to be master teachers.
"It's actually a positive, something to be excited about," said Ross Sheard, a
supervisor of principals for the Tucson Unified School District. "We're not
being dictated to. We're being told, 'You come up with a solution.'"
Anna Lawrence is one of 12 Arizona schools that receive federal poverty funding
and failed to pass Adequate Yearly Progress for a fifth year in 2005. As of
2005, 234 of 1,781 district and charter schools had missed the federal
requirement for at least one year.
That's down from 304 schools in 2004. But the U.S. Department of Education may
require Arizona to include the test scores of more English-language learners in
their calculations for 2006 and, for the first time, the state will add reading
and math test scores from fourth-, sixth- and seventh-graders.
In past years, Adequate Yearly Progress was calculated using only third-, fifth-
and eighth-grade scores. Assistant Education Secretary Henry Johnson said he's
not encouraged by the growing number of schools ordered to make a drastic
change. But the trend also shows the law is working, he said, by identifying
schools that have underserved poor and minority kids.
Of the directions districts are forced to take, most choose a general reform
option that allows for approaches that are easier to pull off than firing
teachers or opening under new management.
"Most schools are not doing radical things," said Jack Jennings, president of
the Center on Education Policy, which has studied restructuring efforts in
California and Michigan.
"They are offering professional development, rethinking the curriculum, bringing
coaches in, and trying to improve the school without wiping the slate clean," he
The Education Department monitors whether districts are restructuring schools
and aims to help them assist. But it does not get involved in how they do it.
"I don't know that we have a preferred way," said Johnson, the Education
Department official. "Whatever way that works is the preferred way."
Yet some see an enormous loophole. Free to choose "any other major
restructuring," districts have opted for milder remedies that won't turn schools
around, Petrilli said.
"This is a credibility issue," he said. "If parents get information that their
school is failing for six straight years, and everyone keeps their job, how is
that a restructuring?"
Each year a school falls short, the consequences grow, from letting students
transfer to offering tutoring to installing a new curriculum or some other major
step. Then comes the order to restructure.
Nationwide, the number of schools in the final penalty phase varies widely
because states started the countdown at different times.
The law has been in effect for four school years. Yet some states list schools
as failing for five or six years based on testing and data reporting that began
before the law.
California, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania
account for almost 70 percent of all schools ordered to restructure.