Failing schools usually are
Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews has performed a useful service for folks dissatisfied with NCLB's accountability system, which often penalizes schools that enroll significant numbers of disadvantaged students even if those students are making academic progress. He has located and highlighted Barcroft Elementary in Northern Virginia. The school and its educators are straight from central casting--Barcroft serves lots of poor immigrants, the principal is a dynamo, and the teachers are terrific--but the school nonetheless failed to make "Adequate Yearly Progress." Measuring individual student gains (what NCLB doesn't do) would probably show that Barcroft's kids are in fact making tons of progress. It's a great story, but unfortunately it's not representative. In North Carolina, for example, when the state moved to a "growth model" (allowed by a federal pilot program) that measures individual achievement gains over time, only a handful of schools in the state improved their status. Most schools in the country that are considered "in need of improvement" by the first permutation of NCLB would remain so under an improved, growth-model version. The Barcrofts of the world are simply few and far between.
"The Wrong Yardstick," by Jay Mathews, Washington Post Magazine, April 13, 2008