States Struggle With Next Step for Failing Schools
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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As NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports, Michigan is one of the first states to face this problem, and soon others will be in the same situation.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ: Randall Moody is the principal.
RANDALL MOODY: Last year we scored in reading 59 percent.
SANCHEZ: That means six in ten kids at Barber are reading at grade level.
MOODY: When we look at mathematics, we were at 56.4 percent. That would be proficiency.
SANCHEZ: But now with Barber in Phase Six, its sixth year on the state's list of failing schools, the law offers no guidance.
YVONNE CAAMAL CANUL: Yep. We didn't get much guidance on what Phase Six would look like.
SANCHEZ: Dr. Yvonne Caamal Canul, heads the Office of School Improvement at the Michigan Department of Education. She says half a dozen schools in Michigan are in Phase Six. So Caamal Canul, along with her counterparts in several states, have asked the United States Education Department for advice.
CAAMAL CANUL: We said, well, what sanction options are you considering for Phase Six, or are people just in a holding pattern after they restructure? How long do they get to stay in a restructured mode if they continue not to make adequate yearly progress? What happens?
SANCHEZ: Nobody seems to know. So, we're on our own, says Caamal Canul.
NPR: But education groups that have been monitoring state's compliance with No Child Left Behind say the Department's technical assistance does not cover Phase Six schools. With so many schools across the country about to enter their fifth and sixth years of inadequate yearly progress, United States Education Secretary Margaret Spellings seems concerned.
MARGARET SPELLINGS: Thank you for tuning in. As I assume everybody knows, now that No Child Left Behind is maturing, and as we see --
SANCHEZ: That's Spellings in a conference call with reporters earlier this month.
SPELLINGS: We are now in our five-years into implementing No Child Left Behind. We have seen good progress, but, you know, without consequences, accountability is hollow. And there are still intractable educational situations where parents need options.
SANCHEZ: Yvonne Caamal Canul says vouchers and other drastic measures, like handing schools over to private management companies or turning them into charter schools, are not good options. Michigan's 436 failing schools need help, not a death sentence, says Caamal Canul.
CAAMAL CANUL: We're going to watch. We're going to come in, and we're going to ask you questions. We have the option at the state level to shut you down and that's not the option we're interested in taking.
SANCHEZ: You don't feel you are, you the state, are under a lot of pressure to do something more radical?
CAAMAL CANUL: I think we are under pressure to do things that are more radical. But we want to hear their story.
SANCHEZ: And the story at Barber Middle School, says Caamal Canul, is hopeful.
CAAMAL CANUL: Barber has done incredible things. They really have done just about everything they could possibly do.
SANCHEZ: Moody says everybody at Barber has raised their scores on the state tests, or MEAP, except one group, special education students. Barber has 144, a fifth of the school's total enrollment.
MOODY: We have children who are emotionally impaired, we have students that are learning disabled, we have students that are POHI, which are physically or otherwise health-impaired. Many of these students have severe deficits and are required, by the law, that they take the MEEP test.
SANCHEZ: Few though can handle the state's math and reading tests, says Moody. So --
MOODY: The entire school was identified as being a failing school and moved from Phase Five to Phase Six.
SANCHEZ: Linda Mulberry, a reading specialist, says everybody at Barber works hard to help disabled students. But she says kids and teachers here have been waling around for the last six years wit a big F stamped on their foreheads.
LINDA MULBERRY: And we're not F by any means, and that's not wishful thinking. We are an excellent school.
SANCHEZ: So what is it exactly that you want the state and federal government to do with schools like Barber, I ask? Are you saying, give us more time, leave us alone, is that what you're saying? No, says Moody.
MOODY: I have an excellent staff, and we're working as hard as we possibly can.
SANCHEZ: Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.
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