"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, July 24, 2006

Year 4 and 5 Sanctions: Avoiding the AYP Hammer

After four years without making AYP, districts are required to choose at least one of the following:
  • Replace school staff relevant to the failure (i.e., scapegoat and fire "bad" teachers, identified as those with the lowest test scores).
  • Put in place a new "scientifically-based" curriculum (e.g., Open Court).
  • Decrease management authority at the school (i.e., fire or undermine the principal).
  • Appoint outside experts to advise the school (i.e., when in doubt, hire a consultant).
  • Extend the school year or the school day (KIPP anyone?)
  • Restructure the internal organization of the school (i.e., huh?)
After five years, districts are required to choose at least one of the following:
  • Reopen as a charter school.
  • Replace all or most of the staff.
  • Contract with an outside entity to operate the school.
  • Turn over operation of the school to the state.
  • Institute other significant governance and staffing changes likely to improve the school.
In all states, districts must continue to offer the transfer option and supplemental educational services.

Fordham Foundation's Michael Petrilli calls sanctions under Year 4 and Year 5 a loophole. Petrilli charges that districts are free to choose "any other major restructuring" and have opted for milder remedies that won't turn schools around. Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy agrees that most schools in California and Michigan are not doing radical things. According to Jennings, districts are "offering professional development, rethinking the curriculum, bringing coaches in, and trying to improve the school without wiping the slate clean," he said. Jennings also said that in Michigan, many schools improved their test scores by using a mix of strategies -- a good lesson for other states, he said.

Here's what's amazing to me: districts are allowed to make these choices. And, as Petrilli bemoans and as Jennings celebrates, the districts are not choosing to turn their schools over to the Huns.

I spoke to Jennings and confirmed this story. I asked him if this power given to local education associations was an oversight on the part of ED. According to some of his sources, the conversation regarding Year 4 and Year 5 sanctions was very intentional, i.e., it was consciously decided that local districts should have the final say over what happened to their schools if they hit Years 4 and 5 without AYP.

Upon reflection, this appears to me to be the second major compromise that was made while the law was being written. The other, of course, was over the use of vouchers after Year 2 without AYP: the Dems balked, and the Reps. gave in.

And upon even further reflection, this degree of local control would explain why so few suburban school administrators are up in arms over NCLB. If, at the end of the day, all they need to do is "restructure the internal organization of the school" in Year 4 and "institute other significant governance and staffing changes likely to improve the school" in Year 5, what do they have to worry about?

Jennings also mentioned that Year 6 and Year 7 are starting to get more attention. He referred to the legislation proposed last week by Alexander, et al, to give $4,000 in vouchers to poor kids. He speculated that this kind of thinking seems to characterize what a lot of folks are talking about, i.e., what happens when AYP does not lead to improvement?

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