Crisis in California’s Chronically Underperforming Schools Continues

OAKLAND, CA –(May 13, 2010) The state released its API base rankings today and one thing is clear, California’s schools continue to demonstrate vast disparities in achievement, particularly among chronically underperforming schools serving thousands of Latinos, African-Americans, and English learners.

Across the state, the 2009 API base data from the spring 2009 statewide tests reveal a familiar picture:

  • African-American and Latino students substantially trail their white and Asian peers across all grades.
  • Roughly 150 points separate African-American students from their white peers (670 compared to 827, respectively).
  • API scores decrease for all subgroups from elementary to middle and high school.

API scores and rankings for California’s persistently underperforming schools, which serve high concentrations of students of color and students in poverty are even more discouraging. These schools are almost exclusively Latino (75%) and African-American (14%), with 78% of students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch. After an infusion of state dollars in both good and bad economic times, these schools should have improved outcomes for our most vulnerable students.

“The API data demonstrate that schools on California’s list of 188 lowest performing schools continue to produce minimal gains despite the investment of more than $265 million in state school improvement dollars over the last six years,” stated Arun Ramanathan, executive director of The Education Trust—West.

The API data reveal that these schools have only skimmed the surface of school improvement:

  • 86% (152 schools) of the state’s 177 persistently underperforming schools with rankings for 2008 and 2009 had no change in statewide rank over the last year.
  • 9.5% (17 schools) of persistently underperforming schools decreased in statewide rank.
  • Only 8 schools (4.5%) increased in statewide rank.

Sadly, the majority of these schools failed to improve their ranking even when compared to schools with matching student demographics. Of the 177 persistently underperforming schools with similar school rankings for 2008 and 2009:

  • 76% (135 schools) either failed to improve their similar schools rank or ranked lower in 2009, with some schools dropping as much as 4 ranks.
  • Only 23% (41 schools) improved in their similar schools ranking.

The Obama administration has set aside $3.5 billion for states willing to identify and aggressively reform their chronically underperforming schools.  The California Department of Education will soon be flooded with proposals seeking funding from the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program.  The Education Trust—West calls on state education leaders to establish a rigorous application process for these dollars and turn down applications that recycle failed school-improvement strategies from the past.

For more details about the crisis in our persistently underperforming schools and the aggressive strategies needed to turn them around, see Keeping the Promise of Change.



About The Education Trust—West

The Education Trust—West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, kindergarten through college, and to forever close the achievement gaps separating low-income students and students of color from other youth. Our basic tenet is this— All children will learn at high levels when they are taught to high levels. 


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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.