The Decision: The Palm Lane ordeal will soon end. This week, Judge Andrew Banks ordered the Anaheim City School District and its school board to reverse a previous decision, accept the petition initiated by Palm Lane parents, and begin the process to establish a charter school. (Read the entire decision here.) Judge Banks labeled the school district’s decision to reject the parents’ petition as arbitrary, capricious, unfair, and unreasonable, stating, “Clearly, the Respondents [the school district and the board of education] did not meet their obligations of good faith cooperation [with parents].” The actions of the district and school board likely constitute administrative malfeasance.

The School: Judge Banks labeled student achievement at Palm Lane Elementary School as abysmal.  In fact, Palm Lane is one of hundreds of so-called abysmal public schools in California, schools within which students have not recorded satisfactory progress on state tests, principally reading and math tests. Why? Because many students attending California’s public schools lack English fluency. Their native language is not English. Approximately 55% of the 3.3 million students in California’s public schools are Hispanic. A federal law, No Child Left Behind, imposed higher curricula standards each year, ensuring that students would score poorly on state test and imposing penalties on schools that failed to achieve impossible goals. A commitment to high-stakes testing has continued throughout the Obama Administration.

The Students: Among the 516 students at Palm Lane whose test scores were used to calculate the most recent API score, the metric used by Judge Banks to label students’ achievement as abysmal, 442 (86%) students were Hispanics. (The “non-failure API score” for all California public K–12 schools is 800.) Test scores are not likely to change significantly. A revision of No Child Left Behind, Every Child Achieves, is currently under consideration by Congress. (No Child Left Behind expired in 2007.) The final version of the bill that will be signed into law this year will likely lessen the emphasis on school testing, but not by much. Politicians, Democrats more than Republicans, continue to extol school accountability and argue for the necessity of annual student testing. Few voices are heard who oppose rigorous and multiple assessments—despite the lack of relationship between test scores and school performance.

For many years federal and state governments have regarded school testing as indispensable. Yet a review of test scores of several decades reveals that increased testing has not resulted in improving student achievement. Reading and math scores have remained flat for decades. Behold: National Assessment reading scores of students aged 9, 13, and 17 years since 1971.

scores naep

 

The Future: No plan or proposal has been presented that provides a basis to believe that converting Palm Lane Elementary School to a charter will make a difference in students learning to read English successfully—the single most important skill Palm Lane students need to acquire. The focus has always remained on power and control, neither factor which contributes to language learning. Because the same teaching methods will undoubtedly prevail for teaching English language learners whether Palm Lane is a charter school or a regular public school, there is no reason for optimism about a change in students’ language proficiency.

During the months ahead, the Palm Lane school community will be seriously disrupted. The gifted students now attending Palm Lane will likely be displaced. Parents and children alike will pay a high price for change. My guess is that the cost for this change will not be worth the price that students, parents, teachers, and the community will pay. Round 1 of the ordeal at Palm Lane will end in a month. Round 2 begins with initiating the conversion of Palm Lane into a charter school. This bout will go the distance, disrupting lives of children and parents for several years to come.

The Conclusion: To change the designation of Palm Lane to charter masks the principal factor that accounts for the difference in school performance among students who lack proficiency in speaking and reading English. This educational problem is not new. Before No Child Left Behind there was the Reading Excellence Act, signed into law by President Clinton on 1998. Among its goals: Teach every child to read before Grade 4, and use research-based teaching methods. Because legislating school success, imposing penalties for substandard student performance, and testing insatiably to prevent school failure have never worked, do not be surprised in 2025 when scores on state reading and math tests at Palm Lane (and at other schools) are about the same as they are now.