Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/1222edpunish-ON.html

School-reform law's mandates penalize diverse schools, study says
Gannett News Service
Dec. 22, 2003

WASHINGTON - The federal school-reform law  championed by President  Bush unfairly punishes integrated schools, a new study by California researchers concludes.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, all public school students must become proficient in reading and math by 2014, regardless of family income, English proficiency, race or ethnicity. All but a tiny fraction of disabled students also must meet the standard.

Schools face tough sanctions if any of these subgroups of students fail to meet yearly targets toward the goal.

More than 3,000 California schools - about four in 10 of the state's public schools - fell short of the federal standards this year, said researchers with Policy Analysis for California Education, a think tank affiliated with several California universities.

Their analysis found that schools with highly diverse student populations - those that include minority, disabled and poor students or students still learning to speak English - were more likely to miss the federal targets than were more homogeneous schools, even if their average test scores remained strong.

About half of California middle-class high schools that served only one student subgroup, such as Hispanic children, met the federal goals,  researchers said. But that was true of only one in five similar schools that served four diverse groups of students.

"It was certainly the earnest intention of Washington to shine a bright light on these student subgroups," said study co-author Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.

"But what was not anticipated was the fact that the schools with more subgroups face these longer odds of hitting their targets," Fuller said. "Tens of thousands of schools (nationwide) are affected by this so-called diversity penalty."

Fuller and co-author John Novak, a statistician at the University of Southern California, said the law should be changed. Schools should have to make public the test scores of diverse groups of children but shouldn't be punished if those groups don't make adequate yearly progress toward proficiency, they said.

Under the law, schools that repeatedly fail to meet the targets for student subgroups face sanctions, including the firing of teachers and principals.

But schools also get extra federal money to help improve schooling for struggling students.

Supporters of No Child Left Behind say the law is working as designed because it unmasks the often lagging academic performance of poor, minority and disabled students and forces schools to take action. Federal officials say they have no plans to change the law.

School districts may not focus on the neediest students unless they face consequences, said Ron Tomalis, an acting assistant secretary of education.

"For years no one paid attention to these children," Tomalis said. "It's only when you put the light of day on it that these children are getting the attention they deserve."

California accounts for nearly one in seven students in the nation, and the study released Monday could fuel more debate about the law. The study also echoes earlier findings by Dartmouth and UCLA researchers who predicted that integrated schools and those in southern and western states with high minority populations would be hardest hit by the federal law.

In Delaware, where nearly six in 10 schools missed the federal targets, some educators blame a decades-long push to end school segregation that has made the state's schools among the most racially integrated in the nation.

But advocates of No Child Left Behind say educators should seize on the results to improve the schooling of poor, minority and disabled students.

"Kids going to the same school get sorted and tracked and provided with very different educational opportunities," said Ross Wiener, of the Education Trust, which advocates for poor and minority children. The group supports the federal law.

"It's not enough to pay attention to averages," he said. "We've got to concentrate on whether public education is serving all groups of kids."


On the Web:

http://pace.berkeley.ed, Policy Analysis for California Education.

www.edtrust.org, The Education Trust.