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Illinois ranks 2nd in schools ordered to 'restructure'



Washington, DC – More than 200 schools in Illinois and seven in Missouri are among the more than 1,700 nationwide falling short under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The schools have been ordered into radical "restructuring." That could mean mass firings, closure, or state takeover.

Only California has more schools being ordered to restructure than Illinois. Schools make the list by falling short in math or reading for at least five straight years.

States listing schools in trouble began keeping track of such schools before President Bush signed the law in 2002. Nine states listed zero schools, but that might be because they don't have five straight years of test data, the amount needed to determine whether an overhaul is required.

Many schools, though, are finding resolutions short of such drastic measures. There is growing concern, however, that the number of schools in serious trouble under the No Child Left Behind law is rising sharply, up 44% over the past year alone, and is expected to swell by thousands in the next few years.

The total schools on the list, though, amounts to 3% of roughly 53,000 schools that get federal poverty aid and face penalties under the No Child Left Behind law. "It's just a matter of time before we see upwards of 10,000 schools in restructuring," said Michael Petrilli, a former enforcement official at the Education Department.

"Unless all of these schools suddenly turn themselves around, or the states continue to find ways to finagle the system, you're going to see the numbers accelerate," said Petrilli, now vice president for policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a school change advocate.

The Associated Press reported last month that schools were deliberately not counting the test scores of nearly 2 million students, mostly minorities, when they measure progress by racial groups. Those exclusions have made it easier for schools to meet their yearly goals.

Still, more than a quarter of the nation's schools have failed to make adequate yearly progress for at least one year. Many will keep moving along the law's penalty timeline. A district must choose an overhaul plan for a school by year five, then act on it in year six.

For example, in Tucson, Ariz., the Lawrence Intermediate School for five years has failed to show enough reading progress among its students. So the district has ordered a total overhaul. All employees, from the teachers to the janitors, must reapply for their jobs.

Assistant Education Secretary Henry Johnson says while he's not encouraged by the growing number of schools ordered to make a drastic change, he also says the trend shows the law is working by identifying schools that have underserved their poor and minority kids.

When a school reaches the end of the line, its district has five choices:

- Hire an outside organization to run the school.
-Reopen the school as a charter school, with new leadership and less regulation.
- Replace most or all of the school staff with any ties to the school's failure.
- Turn operation of the school over to the state, if the state agrees.
- Choose any other major restructuring that will fundamentally reform the school.

Most districts are opting for the last choice, a wide-open category. It allows for approaches that are easier to pull off than firing teachers or opening under new management. "Most schools are not doing radical things," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, which has studied restructuring efforts in California and Michigan.

"They are offering professional development, rethinking the curriculum, bringing coaches in, and trying to improve the school without wiping the slate clean," he said.

The Education Department monitors whether districts are restructuring schools and aims to help them assist. But it does not get involved in how they do it. "I don't know that we have a preferred way," said Johnson, the Education Department official. "Whatever way that works is the preferred way."

Yet some see an enormous loophole. Free to choose "any other major restructuring," districts have opted for milder remedies that won't turn schools around, Petrilli said.

"This is a credibility issue," he said. "If parents get information that their school is failing for six straight years, and everyone keeps their job, how is that a restructuring?"

Seven states (California, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania) account for almost 70% of all schools ordered to restructure.

Eight other states and the District of Columbia list no schools in critical trouble.

Education Department officials caution that the current numbers are still being verified.

No Child Left Behind
Schools ordered to restructure

State Schools
1. California 400
2. Illinois 231
3. New York 189
24. Missouri 7
Total Nationwide 1,744


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