No wiggle room on Obama administration school reforms 

The Obama administration will not budge in its zero-tolerance approach to dealing with the nation’s lowest-achieving schools – 10 of which are in San Francisco, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller said during a visit Monday to a Mission district elementary school.

The 10 city schools that made a recent state list for persistently poor performers are being forced to choose from a short list of drastic, federally recommended reform measures. The reform options include sacking principals and staff, outright closure or becoming a charter school. The list includes 187 schools statewide.

The reform requirement is the result of state legislation that was recently passed in order to position California for the federal government’s Race to the Top funding. The state mainly used math and reading test scores during the last three years to identify schools performing in the bottom 5 percent, then said: Choose one of the fed’s reform measures or else.

Questions remain as to the consequences schools on the list will face for not adopting any of the measures — or when exactly the reforms would need to be implemented.

What is clear is that schools that don’t commit to the reform measures in the coming weeks for implementation in fall will not be eligible to receive federal funding to do so.

The jobs of principals at five San Francisco schools are protected since they have been at their posts for less than two years – which is an unreasonable amount of time to expect a school to turn around, Miller said.

Principals at the other schools, however, are on the chopping block and parents at some of those schools have been vocal at recent board meetings about keeping them.

The Obama administration is hoping to make the reforms a federal mandate rather than just an incentive for government funding.

“[These schools] are the dropout factories of this country,” Miller said. “The time for waiting is over.”

The San Francisco Unified School District has said that it is not convinced the feds’ reform measures would work at all schools. Also, the district says in some cases it is too early to say that its own reforms are failing.

Ultimately, it is the state and districts that determine which schools should be on the persistently lowest achieving list, Miller said. Mainly through test scores, the list identifies those consistently within the bottom 5 percent.

Schools on the “dropout factories” list include Cesar Chavez Elementary (Mission); Bryant Elementary (Mission); Horace Mann Middle School (Mission); Everett Middle School (Mission); Mission High School (Mission), John O’Connell High School (Mission); Willie L. Brown Jr. Elementary (Bayview), John Muir Elementary (Hayes Valley), Paul Revere Elementary (Bernal Heights), George Washington Carver Elementary (Bayview).

Miller made his comments during a visit to Marshall Elementary School, a school that is succeeding. He met with parents, teachers and administrators to learn what reform measures have worked at the school.

Earlier, he met with business group Bay Area Council. Tuesday, he was scheduled to attend a forum with parent organizations.

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