No Choices Left Behind: Competitive Models to Restructure California's Lowest-Performing Schools
Publication Date: December 2006
Publisher(s): Reason Foundation
Author(s): Lisa Snell
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.
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.