Former state senator Gloria Romero and her supporters labeled Palm Lane Elementary School a chronically failing school, filing a petition last April for a writ of mandate in the Orange County Superior Court. The petitioners, five Palm Lane parents and the Center for Parent EmpowerELA MATH CAment (established by Romero), seek to obtain an order from the judge to require the Board of Trustees of the Anaheim City School District to approve the petitioners’ request to convert Palm Lane into a charter school.

The noun phrase failing school is an anthropomorphism. Humans fail—students, teachers, and parents—not schools. To regard Palm Lane Elementary School, or any other school, as a failing school, represents an extremely limited meaning of the word failing, a favorite term used in No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2002) to identify schools that did not record mandated annual yearly progress (AYP). Because impossible instructional goals were set by Congress in NCLB, student failure was guaranteed. In this context, failure means only that students did not record satisfactory yearly scores, principally on reading and math tests, thereby not fulfilling the requirements of this federal law. NCLB resulted in adding new measures of academic achievement to California’s Public Schools Accountability Act, enacted in 1999, which resulted in the Academic Performance Index (API). The number 800 was set as the goal for each state school to achieve each year. (API scores ranged from 200 to 1,000). The implementation of Common Core Standards and a new testing program ended the calculation of API scores.

A principal goal of NCLB, that each student read proficiently by 2014, required setting increasingly more difficult yearly goals in reading (and higher API scores), which quickly became impossible to achieve. Locally, a harebrained idea was “Above the Mean,” instituted in Santa Ana public schools by Al Mijares, its former superintendent. The very definition of mean guarantees that on any task, 50% of students will score below the mean (below average). In other words, half of any student population will always read below average. NCLB mandated that all students become proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014. The goals set in NCLB and by Mijares were analogous to ordering that all students high jump 6 feet. The majority of children can never jump this distance, regardless of how many hours and years they practice.

Behold the “success” of NCLB (California Department of Education, 2014). The year 2014 has come and gone. Among the 911 public schools in California whose students completed assessments in mathematics and English language arts, 180 schools (20%) qualified as proficient in mathematics, and 731 schools (80%) remained failures. In English language arts, 79 schools (9%) qualified as proficient, and 832 (91%) remained failures. Despite these dismal results from legislating school performance, Congress is posed again to pass new national testing legislation.

According to the writ of mandate by petitioners and Romero, Palm Lane Elementary School is a failing school because its API remained below 800. In fact, there were hundreds of schools in California whose API score was below 800. Romero’s website lists 1,000 “below-800” public schools. For unknown reasons, the most recent API score for Palm Lane Elementary School (746) is absent from this list, although it includes Henry, Lincoln, and Mann, three elementary schools in Anaheim with lower API scores than Palm Lane’s unlisted score.

The argument and proposal to “fix” Palm Lane Elementary School, “a chronically failing school,” has been based principally on its low API score, which converting Palm Lane to a charter school was expected to improve. Now that API scores are not calculated, the petitioners are demanding change based upon an academic measure that no longer exists. Yet no plan or vision for a charter Palm Lane School has ever been proposed that addresses a different curricula nor has any compelling evidence been presented that changing the school type would result in more effective instruction than currently provided by the fully credentialed teachers at Palm Lane.

Based upon the same data cited in the writ of mandate, the overwhelming majority of California public schools are failing schools—and will continue to fail based upon the limited scope of criteria used to assess school success. A brief look at Palm Lane’s demographics helps understanding why test scores would not change if this school were converted to a charter school. These factors are never affected by changing the type of school, its name, or school tests.

Among the 516 students at Palm Lane whose scores were part of the final API Index, 442 (86%) students were Hispanic or Latino. Among this same student population, 492 (95%) students were regarded as significantly socioeconomically disadvantaged. Among this same student population, 392 (76%) students were regarded as English language learners. Approximately 25% of Palm Lane parents were high school graduates.

Converting Palm Lane to a charter school is an effort to seize control and power, not a means to improve the educational success of Palm Lane students. Academic achievement for students whose first language is not English will improve to the extent they develop English proficiency. The so-called Parent Trigger Law, co-sponsored by Romero and three other state senators, was enacted in January 2010. Since then, how many California public schools have been transformed into a charter school? One school. In addition to the words dud and unneeded, does success or failure better represent the effect of this law as a means to reform public education in California?

The judicial consideration of the writ of mandate resumes in the Orange County Superior Court on June 30.