One-fifth of all California public schools need money for improvement

Nearly one-fifth of all California public schools face the threat of sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, although not as many as state leaders had feared earlier in the year.

Figures released Tuesday show that 320 more schools this year entered the federal probationary program known as Program Improvement - with its stated goal of ensuring that the country's most vulnerable students aren't ignored. That brings the total number of schools in the probation program to 1,772, out of the state's 9,223 schools. State leaders had worried that more than 600 new schools would fail to measure up, according to San-Francisco Chronicle.

Only schools that receive federal money to educate poor and minority children can land on the list for failing to meet annual federal academic benchmarks required under the No Child Left Behind law. This year, the federal targets rose, and 105 schools were branded "program improvement" campuses, up from 88 last year and 72 two years ago.

Initially, schools on the list must allow students to attend another campus. Those that miss their targets for a second consecutive year must offer tutoring as well. Schools that habitually fall short of federal goals must overhaul their management structure, and that could mean replacing the staff, converting to a charter school or employing other solutions.

Reforms like these aren't cheap, however. The price tag is $1.1 million.

A contradiction in Tuesday's report is that more than three out of four county schools, cited for missing federal benchmarks met their annual state schoolwide goals. That's because the state's accountability system only asks schools to show improvement each year, while the federal No Child Left Behind law demands that all schools hit the same targets regardless of their starting point.

The federal bar is lifted nearly every year, so that by 2014 every student at every school will be expected to be proficient in language arts and math.

Statewide, 30 percent of 5,886 schools that receive federal anti-poverty money were designated in need of improvement, compared with 25 percent of 415 county schools.

Union Tribune reports, that the main goal established by the federal government under No Child Left Behind is for schools to demonstrate that a certain percentage of their students are proficient in language arts and math, not only schoolwide but in student subgroups such as Latinos, blacks and English learners.

This year, 24.4 percent of elementary school students on each campus are expected to be proficient in English, for example, and 26.5 percent must show mastery of grade-level math. The expectations will rise nearly every year, so many educators predict that as time goes on, many more schools will make the federal needs-improvement list.

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