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School Districts Under Attack

YOU KNOW there is something amiss when a school district, which has higher academic test scores than all but 15 of the state's 1,056 school districts, is told that it is failing because it hasn't met all the bureaucratic requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

Compounding the absurdity is that if this school district doesn't continue to satisfy myriad requirements of the law by the 2006-2007 school year, then it could be abolished under a little-noticed section of the controversial legislation that is pitting state educators against federal regulators.

We are referring to the 15,800-student Cupertino Union School District. One of its schools, Faria Elementary, received a perfect 1,000 on the state's Academic Performance Index. Despite its stellar achievements, the district has become ensnared in the federal legislation that President Bush almost daily declares as one of the great achievements of his presidency.

Washington is requiring that Cupertino, like other districts, meet testing and other requirements on 33 subgroups of students in order to receive federal funds to help poor children. In Cupertino, 32 of the 33 subgroups satisfied all the requirements. But the district fell short because only 94 percent of its special-education students took the math portion of the state's proficiency test -- 12 students short of the 95 percent required by federal law. The reason it did not meet the 95 percent benchmark was because some parents "opted out" of having their children take the test, as they are permitted to do under state law.

So far, the State Department of Education has placed 14 districts on the watch list of those that have failed to meet all the requirements of the federal law for two years in a row. These are school districts where students on average scored below 560 (out of 1,000) on the state's Academic Performance Index. But the U.S. Department of Education is telling the state that it is not applying the federal law rigorously enough, and is threatening to begin trimming federal education funds as an initial punishment. If the state were to bow to its demands, as many as 310 school districts -- nearly one-third of all school districts in the state -- could be added to the watch list.

They include an extraordinary array of school districts, ranging from the struggling to the superlative. They include, for example, the Berkeley, Hayward, Walnut Creek Elementary, Campbell, Los Altos Elementary, Palo Alto and Saratoga school districts.

Federal regulators disregard the fact that California instituted its own rigorous testing and accountability regimen long before the federal legislation went into effect. Its proficiency standards are among the nation's highest. Under state law, nearly 1,300 schools have been designated as "underperforming schools," which are "in need of immediate intervention" and face a range of sanctions if they don't meet yearly improvement goals.

But threats by Washington to abolish entire school districts with closure represent an audacious attack on the edifice of public education. California's education leaders should stand their ground. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who went to Washington this week to get more money for the state, should tell overzealous federal regulators to lay off California's schools.

— Editorial
San Francisco Chronicle


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