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June 20, 2003

Report: Twenty-seven school districts, including all of the 'Big 5,' are called 'failing' by SED

Twenty-seven New York State school districts, including all of the so-called "Big 5" districts, have been designated as "in need of improvement" by the state Education Department (SED), according to a new analysis by an education reform group.

The list includes the school districts in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers, and New York City, as well as three Long Island districts and eight upstate districts, according to the analysis of "failing" districts by the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability, a nonprofit education research group based in Saratoga County. One school district is disputing its failing classification with SED.

"Parents deserve the right to know if the school districts their children attend are failing," said Jason Brooks, a senior research associate for the foundation. "Students currently forced to attend schools in these chronically low-performing school districts deserve more choices for a better education."

SED last September identified nearly 500 different individual schools as failing, which made students at those schools eligible to transfer to non-failing public schools or for tutoring and other extra educational help, the foundation noted.

Its report noted that the federal "No Child Left Behind" law requires assessments of schools and requires states to identify entire school districts that need improvement based on two consecutive years of low test results. Districts must develop plans that identify specific strategies and actions to improve, and then report on these plans and their progress to parents, the foundation said.

Districts designated as failing for two more years face various state sanctions, including funding cuts, school board abolition, replacement of the school superintendent and faculty members, and transfer of students to better schools in non-failing districts.

The Business Council has long advocated better state measurements of the performance of school and their students and the relationship (or lack of one) between school spending and performance. The Council has also championed and conducted widespread efforts to publicize information on school spending and performance, as well as aggressive steps to honor schools that meet the challenge of teaching students well.

For example, The Public Policy Institute, research affiliate of The Business Council, developed the prototype of the state's "school report cards." The Institute also publishes a "School Tax Watch" each year in the days before statewide school-budget votes. This analysis provides voters with information on proposed changes (usually increases) in school-tax levies and school spending.

The Business Council also awards its prestigious Pathfinder Award to two schools in each of 12 regions. To win, a school must have improved over its previous year's record more than any other school in its region. In addition, at least half of its students must meet or exceed state standards on the fourth-grade English Language Arts test.

The Pathfinder Award comes with an unrestricted gift to each winning school of $1,000, as well as a plaque, both of which are presented at well-publicized ceremonies at each winning school. The award program is supported by gifts from many of New York State's leading companies.

The Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability is is an independent education reform organization led by a coalition of business leaders, education reformers, and civic and cultural leaders. Its research and other activities focus on accountability, innovation, and choice. More information, and its newsrelease on the new study, are available from www.nyfera.org.