San Francisco schools face sanctions unless No Child Left Behind waivers granted

Behind: Paul Revere Elementary was in its fifth year of No Child Left Behind. In 2010

Behind: Paul Revere Elementary was in its fifth year of No Child Left Behind. In 2010

The vast majority of San Francisco public schools may be in trouble this year unless California gets a waiver from a controversial federal law that requires sanctions for schools that don’t meet test-score targets.

Last week, California schools chief Tom Torlakson pleaded with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to spare California from No Child Left Behind, the 2002 law that set up a nationwide system of standardized testing.

“Relief is needed immediately before more schools suffer for another school year under inappropriate labels and ineffective interventions,” Torlakson wrote.

Schools that receive Title I funding, or federal money for needy students, face sanctions if they fail to meet requirements for what the law terms “adequate yearly progress.”

Torlakson said that without a waiver, 80 percent of California’s Title I schools — which constitute about 60 percent of all state schools — could be marked as failing this year as test-score targets continue to rise.

San Francisco Unified School District Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh said the district would welcome a waiver.

“For us to adopt what are supposed to be focused strategies on two-thirds of our schools is sort of nonsensical,” he said.

Rather than forcing schools to meet arbitrary targets, Leigh said that an accountability system should take improvement into account.

Sixty percent of SFUSD schools did not meet last year’s targets, and twenty-eight schools were marked for intensive transformation after failing to make adequate yearly progress for three years or more. The changes can involve such drastic measures as replacing the faculty, state takeover or school closure.

After seven years of poor performance, Willie Brown Jr. Academic College Preparatory School was closed this year. Horace Mann Middle School, also in its seventh year, was folded into a nearby elementary school.

District officials will be following Torlakson’s waiver request, but Leigh said that if Duncan allowed school districts to apply on their own, SFUSD would probably do so.

Duncan, who for several months has been calling on Congress to rewrite No Child Left Behind, said in June that the Obama administration would only grant waivers to states that made certain reforms, including tying teacher evaluations to test scores and requiring students to be “college- and career-ready.”

Torlakson balked at those conditions, noting that California’s budget crisis would make it difficult for the state to pay for any new federal requirements.

“Our basic thrust is they shouldn’t go beyond the thrust of No Child Left Behind,” California Department of Education spokesman Paul Hefner said. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we do X, Y and Z, only to have that rug pulled from under us when Congress gets its act together.”

California’s school report cards were scheduled to be released on Wednesday.

Not measuring up

Last year, 67 San Francisco district and charter schools failed to meet test score or graduation rate targets, including:

37 elementary schools

12 middle schools

14 high schools

4 alternative schools

In addition, 28 San Francisco campuses that receive federal Title I funds faced federally mandated sanctions, including:

20 elementary schools

6 middle schools

2 high schools

Source: California Department of Education

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