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L.A. Unified, other school districts seek new measures of success

Nine California school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, will apply to the U.S. Department of Education for relief from rules that, over time, have labeled most schools that receive federal funds as failing, officials announced Thursday.

In exchange, the districts pledged to adopt a broader system of measures that officials said would lead to better outcomes for students.

“We are not seeking this waiver in any way, shape or form … to escape accountability,” said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy. Instead, he pledged “a new and more robust system,” one that is “built on the right drivers.”

“We’re ready to be held to a much higher standard,” Deasy said.

Under rules established during the George W. Bush administration, nearly all students in schools that receive federal funds must test at grade level or better in math and English by 2014. Schools not meeting aggressive targets toward that goal have fallen into “program improvement” status, which has been widely translated to mean that a school is failing.

Students aren’t helped by being labeled as failures, but “that’s what we do to schools,” said Richard Carranza, superintendent of San Francisco Unified, which is part of the consortium.

The proposed substitute formula would take into account whether a school is improving. It also would incorporate additional measures, such as suspension, expulsion and graduation rates and levels of chronic absenteeism as well as student and parent satisfaction.

California, which was unable to obtain a waiver from the rules, would continue to define the success of schools according to existing rules, but schools in the nine districts would not be subject to sanctions on that basis. Even so, schools in those districts could face harsh interventions, according to standards set by the consortium. It would still be possible, for example, for a district to replace a struggling school’s staff or turn the campus over to an independent charter school.

But the deeper goal is to launch a collaboration that would enable schools and teachers to learn from each other and improve, officials said.

A successful application also would free funding that currently must go to outside tutoring services, which frequently have a poor record, officials said. That change could mean an additional $80 million a year for L.A. Unified, the nation’s second-largest school system.

The education department has encouraged the application effort. If successful, new metrics could be in place by next fall.

About 1 million students are enrolled in the six districts that make up the consortium, which also includes  Long Beach Unified, Santa Ana Unified, Sacramento City Unified, Oakland Unified and three Fresno-area school systems.

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-- Howard Blume

 
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