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Why California’s School Accountability Laws No Longer Work

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Students work on a project identifying countries in North, Central, and South America during a history class.

When a school showed up on the state’s list of lowest-performing schools in years past, parents had several options spelled out in state law: They had the right to shake up the school’s staff or change its curriculum if they gained enough signatures; they were also automatically notified their school was on the list, and provided with options for their child to attend a higher-performing school.

Those laws remain on the books, but changes to the state’s evaluation system—which grades schools across several categories—have made them unusable.

Political winds have swung wildly against charter schools, which drained money from cash-strapped local school districts, in recent years. And as pressure has mounted to increase accountability for charters, which have been subject to little oversight, accountability for traditional public schools has quietly ratcheted down.

At the core of the changing policy landscape sits an essential question: Is it possible for educators to eliminate the achievement gap for black, brown, and poor kids to give them an equal shot at success? The ultra-high pressure accountability of the federal No Child Left Behind law did not do the job. Will the light touch of no accountability work any better?

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