Keeping the Promise of Change: Why California's chronically underperforming schools need bold reform
Albert Einstein once defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." If his assertion is true, then the recent history of California’s school-improvement efforts paints a picture of sheer madness.
For more than a decade, California has tossed hundreds of millions of dollars at low-performing schools in a series of unproductive "reform" initiatives. Instead of drilling down to fix the conditions that create a cycle of under-performance, these programs have skimmed the surface of school improvement and produced minimal gains.
Now, California is poised to repeat history. In March 2010, the state revealed its list of 188 persistently underperforming schools. Our analysis finds that over the last six years, 70 percent of these schools have accessed significant state dollars—more than $265 million—for school improvement efforts. They are now eligible for millions of additional dollars under the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. Unless our state leaders direct these new funds to bold, high-impact reforms, they have virtually guaranteed that the epitaph for these new grants will echo that of past efforts: "No significant impact."
That’s too bad for California. But it bodes even worse for the nearly 200,000 mostly Latino, African-American, and low-income students—and English-language learners—who are trapped in the 188 persistently underperforming schools. There is, however, a saner approach, which we lay out in this brief.