No Choices Left Behind

Policy Study

No Choices Left Behind

Competitive Models to Restructure California's Lowest-Performing Schools

Executive Summary

The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires states to show that students in every subgroup, including minorities, low-income, and special education students are proficient in reading and math. In 2005, each subgroup in elementary and middle school had to have at least 24.4 percent of students proficient in reading and 26.5 percent proficient in math. In high school each subgroup needs 22.3 percent of students proficient in reading and 20.9 percent of students proficient in math.

A total of 2,215 schools are listed as “needs improvement” under NCLB and have entered program improvement status in California. Of these, 355 have been chronically low-performing for more than five years. Process improvements such as class size reductions, bigger budgets, or threatened sanctions have failed to address the problem.

California needs school improvement legislation requiring schools with five or more years of failure to choose a competitive model that offers students meaningful alternatives to the current low-performing public school including:

  1. offering opportunity scholarships to students in failing schools;
  2. competitively bidding out low-performing schools to outside operators;
  3. restructuring the district to a weighted student formula system where a student could choose any school in the district, or
  4. converting the low-performing school to a charter school.

Students need the right of exit from these low-performing schools. School funding needs to be put into the backpacks of children and follow them into the school of their choice. Offering parents and students “buying power” will help inspire excellence in low-performing schools if they have to compete for students in order to receive funding.

The weighted student formula is a simple and equitable per-pupil funding system that allows money to follow each child. This reform wins out over other competitive reforms because it allows California to develop a stable school funding stream and would put every school provider- whether public, charter, or private-on a level playing field in California.