The Mountain View Whisman School District has decided not to accept Title I federal funding next year. Taking the money would put certain district schools between a rock and a hard place -- requiring them to meet unrealistic standards or else face unfair penalties, said Superintendent Craig Goldman.
"Basically schools are penalized for having a large percentage of low-income kids if they choose to accept federal money to help those kids," Goldman said, explaining the Catch-22 of Title I funding.
Five schools in the district currently accept Title I funds -- Landels, Castro, Monta Loma, Theuerkauf and Crittenden.
By giving up Title I, the district will lose $450,000, about 1 percent of its operating budget. Though it may not sound like much, it is still money, Goldman said. "But in light of the alternatives, it's the right thing to do."
The first of 10 "titles," or sections, within the no Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the purpose of Title I, according to the language of the bill, is "to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards and state academic assessments."
However, when crafting the rules governing Title I, legislators made some rather significant oversights -- chief among them, according to Goldman, "is that it ties penalties to impossible goals."
Under No Child Left Behind -- or NCLB, as it is commonly called -- schools that accept Title I funds must meet continually rising proficiency standards, which are measured by state standardized tests, such as California's STAR exam. By the 2013-14 school year, all Title I schools will be expected to have a proficiency score of 100 percent in all subjects and in all statistically significant sub-groups, or else they will face penalties, such as being classified as a "program improvement" school.
To expect that every sub-group within a school -- especially traditionally low performing sub-groups, such as low-income students and special education students -- would be able to consistently attain 100 percent proficiency is unrealistic, Goldman said, noting that just about everyone in the field of public education agrees. "Everybody knew in the long term that it would have to change," he said.
It would seem that Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, along with the Obama administration, recognize that need for change and are making steps to amend NCLB. In preparing to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act, the Department of Education has released an official report explaining how the legislation will be revamped to address criticisms such as Goldman's.
"NCLB has many flaws," says the report, "A Blueprint for Reform." "It provides states with incentives to lower standards. It mislabels schools as failing and imposes one size fits all interventions. It doesn't do enough to recognize student growth or school progress."
According to Goldman, many schools within his district have been unfairly categorized as failures because of the faulty legislation. Theuerkauf and Monta Loma are in what is known as "program improvement" this year. But that is because low-income, English-learners at Theuerkauf and special education students at Monta Loma -- all of whom traditionally perform below grade level -- did not meet the proficiency standards at those schools.
The designation, besides putting the schools at risk of losing out on Title I funds, also has what Goldman called a "segregating effect."
Under the NCLB law, parents have the option of moving their students out of "program improvement" schools to another school within the district. "The families who have chosen to transfer are not typically the ones who are the basis for the program improvement identification," he said.
Consequently schools that are slapped with the program improvement label often end up with greater proportions of low-income, English-learners and special education kids.
The movement of students adds to transportation costs, as bus routes are altered or new special routes are created, Goldman said. It also forces the district to reallocate resources, which is costly and can cause confusion.
Goldman said that his district believes that at its core NCLB was intended to produce positive results. "Accountability is a good thing," he said. "Continuous improvement is a good thing as far as we're concerned."
But considering the difficulties that have arisen from taking the funding, it simply isn't worth it, Goldman said.
Fortunately, the decision to accept Title I funds is made on an annual basis, Goldman said, and if the Obama administration along with the Department of Education make appropriate changes to the legislation, Mountain View Whisman can start accepting funds again in 2012-13.