In today’s standards-based environment, state and federal governments have set clear, quantifiable educational goals for individuals and institutions (schools, school districts, and states).
Officials monitor performance relative to those goals and publicize the results for purposes of transparency and public accountability. The most robust accountability systems also create consequences for results—rewards for success and interventions aimed at improving the performance of schools and districts that are not succeeding.
California developed a system of rewards and interventions in 1999
When California first enacted the Public Schools Accountability Act (PSAA) in 1999, the program included monetary awards to schools that met growth targets based on the state’sand to teachers working in schools that made especially dramatic gains. These programs were controversial within the Legislature and were abandoned after 2000–01 when the state began facing fiscal difficulties.
Somewhat less controversial, and more long-lived, were intervention programs designed to help improve struggling schools.
From 1999 to the present, the state has experimented with various approaches. The original PSAA included a voluntary intervention program for schools in the lower half of the API rankings that had not met their API growth targets. Called the Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program (II/USP), it provided funding to participating schools for an external evaluator to help identify weaknesses and draw up an improvement plan, as well as funding to implement the plan over two to three years. Under the original design of the II/USP, participating schools that did not demonstrate improvement faced several possible serious sanctions, including state takeover.
In 2001, state leaders revamped the consequences for not making progressBefore the state took over any schools, lawmakers created a different option for sanctions that required a school to work with a school assistance and improvement team (SAIT). These teams assessed schools’ implementation of the and called for corrective actions to help them improve.
At the same time that lawmakers created the SAIT option, they established another intervention program—the High Priority Schools Grant Program (HPSGP)—which focused on schools in the bottom 10% of the API rankings. Similar to the II/USP in expecting improved performance, this new program was more specific about schools’ and districts’ responsibilities to provide basic inputs, such as textbooks and credentialed teachers. The HPSGP also provided more funding and more time for participating schools to turn around their performance. It also put more emphasis on the involvement of district offices in the school improvement process.
The research firm hired to evaluate the II/USP and HPSGP found that both programs had little effect on schools’ test scores. Although a few schools still technically participate in HPSGP, California has shifted its attention to yet another intervention program created by the enactment of NCLB in 2002.
NCLB’s “Program Improvement” has become the focus
Under NCLB, all schools are expected to make “adequate yearly progress" (California’s Accountability). The performance targets have escalated steadily, as required by federal law. In recent years, thousands of California’s schools have entered Program Improvement, and thousands more are likely to join the “PI” ranks as the targets become even harder to reach. Thus since 2002, the state’s schools have focused less on API growth targets and more on making AYP and avoiding PI.), and all schools, which constitute about 63% of the state total, enter if they fail to make AYP for two years in a row on the same indicator (English or math). (See
Program Improvement involves a succession of interventions that become more severe with each year that a school does not make AYP:
After not making AYP for two years in a row on the same indicator, a school enters Year 1 of Program Improvement. The school must revise its Title I spending plan within three months and use 10% of its Title I funds for staff professional development. The school district (or county office of education) in charge of the school also receives additional duties. It must provide technical assistance to help the school improve its scores; notify parents of the school’s status; set aside 5% of its Title I Basic Grant to help the school meet NCLB’s “highly qualified teachers” requirements; offer students the choice of transferring to a school within the district’s boundaries that is not in PI and pay the transportation costs; and establish a peer review process for assessing the school’s revised Title I plan.
After a third year of not making AYP, a school moves to Year 2 of Program Improvement. The school must continue to implement its revised Title I plan and provide staff professional development. And the district must continue its extra duties and provide “supplemental educational services” to students from low-income families. Those services typically consist of tutoring.
In Year 3 of PI, the district or county office of education must take one of the following corrective actions with the school:
- Replace school staff;
- Implement new curriculum;
- Decrease management authority at the school;
- Appoint an outside expert;
- Extend the school year or day; or
- Restructure the internal organizational structure of the school.
If a school reaches Year 4, it must work with its district to prepare a plan for restructuring the governance of the school.
Finally, after six years of not making AYP, the school enters Year 5 of PI and must implement the restructuring plan, which includes at least one of the following:
- Reopening the school as a charter school;
- Replacing all or most staff, including the principal;
- Contracting with an outside entity to manage the school;
- Having the state take over the school; or
- Implementing any other major restructuring.
Effective January 2010, state regulations call for the bottom 5% of schools among those in PI to also face one of four specific interventions. These were instituted in response to the federal Race to the Top program ().
If a school in PI makes its goals one year, it retains its current PI status. If the school makes AYP for two years in a row, it is released from PI.
Entire districts and county offices of education can also enter Program Improvement
Although California’s original intervention programs shared some common elements, several provisions of the federal Program Improvement approach were a departure. The student-transfer and tutoring provisions, for example, had not been part of California’s approach. Another new element under NCLB was a set of interventions for school districts.
Much like the program for schools, Program Improvement for school districts (and county offices of education) is triggered by failure to make AYP for two years in a row on the same indicator. However, a district can avoid PI if students in any of three specific grade spans (3–5, 6–8, or 10) have in either year met the AYP indicator that the district as a whole failed.
And as with schools in PI, consequences for districts (and county offices) in PI grow more serious over time:
The first year of PI is primarily a planning year, with the agency required to revise its existing plan for Title I dollars. In addition, 10% of Title I funds must be set aside for the staff’s professional development, and parents must be informed of the reasons for entering PI.
If the agency again fails to make AYP, it enters Year 2 and must implement its revised Title I plan. In addition, the California Department of Education () is to provide technical assistance.
In Year 3, the district enters the “corrective action” phase, and the CDE must take one of the following actions:
- Defer programmatic funds or reduce administrative funds;
- Institute new curriculum and professional development for staff;
- Replace the district staff;
- Remove individual schools from district jurisdiction and arrange for governance;
- Appoint a trustee in place of the superintendent and school board; or
- Abolish or restructure the district.
In fall 2009, 174 districts and five county offices of education had entered the corrective action phase. These districts are required to document that they are instituting a curriculum based on state standards and to provide professional development on using standards-aligned instructional materials. Beyond that, the state is providing tiered technical assistance, with stronger assistance given to the agencies that need to make the most improvement. The State Board of Education required some of the districts to work with district assistance and intervention teams (DAITs), which were modeled after the SAITs. The work of the DAITs is targeted to helping district-level systems support school improvement.
Settlement of a school finance lawsuit in California led to the creation of yet another intervention program
In 2006, the state created a $2.7 billion, seven-year intervention program as part of a settlement of a lawsuit over funding for K–12 schools and community colleges. Fully implemented in 2008–09, the Quality Education Investment Act () provides $500 for each K–3 pupil, $900 per pupil in grades 4–8, and $1,000 for each high school student. In return, participating schools (only those in the bottom 20% of the API rankings are eligible), must meet annual benchmarks for:
Ratios of pupils to teachers and counselors;
Teacher qualifications and experience; and
API growth targets.