- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2006


About 1,750 U.S. schools that are falling short of requirements under President Bush’s education law have been ordered into radical “restructuring,” subject to mass firings, closure, state takeover or other moves aimed at wiping their slates clean.

Many are finding resolutions short of such measures, but there is growing concern that the number of schools in serious trouble under the No Child Left Behind law is rising sharply — up 44 percent over the past year alone — and is expected to swell by thousands in the next few years.

Schools are put on the list after falling short in math or reading for at least five straight years.

“It’s just a matter of time before we see upwards of 10,000 schools in restructuring,” said Michael Petrilli, a former enforcement official at the Education Department and current vice president for policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a school-change advocate.

For example, in Tucson, Ariz., the Lawrence Intermediate School for five years has failed to show enough reading progress among its students. So the district has ordered a total overhaul. All employees, from the teachers to the janitors, must reapply for their jobs.

The school’s plan also calls for a longer school day, expanded tutoring and bonus pay for instructors deemed to be master teachers.

“It’s actually a positive, something to be excited about,” said Ross Sheard, a supervisor of principals for the Tucson Unified School District. “We’re not being dictated to. We’re being told, ‘You come up with a solution.’”

Assistant Education Secretary Henry Johnson said he is not encouraged by the growing number of schools ordered to make a drastic change. But the trend also shows the law is working, he said, by identifying schools that have underserved their children, many of them poor and minority.

When a school reaches the end of the line, its district has five choices:

• Hire an outside organization to run the school.

• Reopen the school as a charter school, with new leadership and less regulation.

• Replace most or all of the school staff with any ties to the school’s failure.

• Turn operation of the school over to the state, if the state agrees.

• Choose any other major restructuring that will fundamentally reform the school.

Most districts are opting for the last choice, a wide-open category. It allows for approaches that are easier than firing teachers or reopening under new management.

“Most schools are not doing radical things,” said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, which has studied restructuring efforts in California and Michigan.

The Education Department monitors whether districts are restructuring schools and aims to assist them, but it does not get involved in how they do it.

“I don’t know that we have a preferred way,” Mr. Johnson said. “Whatever way that works is the preferred way.”

Yet some see an enormous loophole. Free to choose “any other major restructuring,” districts have opted for milder remedies that won’t turn schools around, Mr. Petrilli said.

“This is a credibility issue,” he said. “If parents get information that their school is failing for six straight years and everyone keeps their job, how is that a restructuring?”

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