Mountain View Voice

Opinion - September 10, 2010

Parents abandon 'doghouse' schools

The innocuous-sounding words "program improvement" carry a dreaded connotation when applied to local school districts, which are struggling to meet the ever-more-difficult guidelines of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Two schools in the Mountain View Whisman elementary school district, Monta Loma and Theuerkauf, slipped into "program improvement" status last year, and remain there this year.

And even though school district officials say that the two schools received passing grades in virtually all areas, shortcomings in special education test scores at Monta Loma and English language learners at Theuerkauf tripped up both schools, leading parents to request 62 transfers to other district schools.

District officials are not surprised that the rigid "No Child" system of required annual improvements caught Monta Loma and Theuerkauf, schools that otherwise made their grades last year. But Superintendent Craig Goldman worries that the designation will give parents the impression that the entire school is under program improvement status, which is not the case.

That is the rub with the entire No Child program, which pays out big bucks but requires schools to hit higher and higher goals each year in each statistically significant subgroup. In 2014 all schools are expected to achieve 100 percent student proficiency in English language and math skills.

When the program began about a decade ago, the required annual progress was only a few percentage points a year. But in 2008, the progress targets jumped 11 percent, more than double the advancement required in prior years. Most local educators believe that such a target is virtually unattainable, especially among special education students and those who lack basic English language skills.

No matter how good the teacher or curriculum might be, it is extremely difficult for students who must learn English as a second language to keep up with the increasingly difficult targets assigned by the state under the direction of No Child Left Behind.

That is why we hope the current administration and the Congress will seriously consider modifying some parts of the No Child legislation so that schools are not assigned a failing grade overall if only small parts of their subgroups are not making their targets. Educating special needs students is difficult enough without adding a layer of bureaucracy that does little to improve student outcomes.

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