September 4, 2011

Cupertino Union School District: Fail!

imageIf you’ve been reading this site for more than a few months, you’ve heard about the world-famous Cupertino Union School District, and how foreigners with suitcases full of cash will pay anything to buy a house with Cupertino Schools.  You’ve also heard about Palo Alto schools and the Mission San Jose area of Fremont.

The state API test results are in, and Cupertino has two of the highest scoring schools in the state.  They, along with Palo Alto and Fremont, also have been marked for Program Improvement, which means they have failed to make their required targets.

Santa Clara County schools tops in state scores, yet feds see failure

By Sharon Noguchi, San Jose Mercury News
Posted: 08/31/2011 12:00:17 PM PDT, Updated: 09/01/2011 03:45:45 PM PDT


(Photo, left) Second-graders work on their reading skills in their class, taught by Lisa Gregoire at Cesar Chavez Elementary School, in San Jose, on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. The K-5th grade school has vaulted 63 points this year on API — the state’s measurement of academic achievement — after climbing 64 points last year. (KAREN T. BORCHERS)

In contrasting scenes of celebration and chagrin on Wednesday, South Bay schools again topped the state in annual test scores, while more of them than ever before are being labeled failures by the federal government.

Two schools in the Cupertino Union School District, Faria and Murdock-Portal, tied for first in the state, with 998 on the Academic Performance Index, among elementary schools. Yet simultaneously the district fell into the feds’ failing category. It’s among plenty of surprising, and surprised, company. Santa Clara Unified’s Millikin placed second with 997, Fremont Unified’s Mission San Jose placed third with 996 and Palo Alto’s Hoover placed fourth with 995 among elementary schools on API. Yet all three school districts landed in "program improvement," the federal equivalent of a report card "F."

Meanwhile several districts with students that traditionally have struggled — Alum Rock, Gilroy and Sunnyvale elementary — posted strong gains. They’re still on the federal watch list, but teachers were elated to see their progress.

So with rising scores at the top and bottom schools, and in a valley known for stellar public education, how is it that 19 of Santa Clara County’s 31 school districts, plus the County Office of Education, appear poised to suffer federal sanctions and embarrassment?

imageHow can this be?  19 out of 31 districts in the county synonymous with Silicon Valley not meeting federal goals?

This graph (right) from the Merc helps tell the story.

No Child Left Behind required all subgroups, not just the school district as a whole, to maintain increasing proficiency levels, and for 2011, schools and every subgroup need to hit 67% proficient on all state tests.  The reasoning behind it made sense: help all students, not just the ones who had money and college-educated parents.

The graph shows California schools were improving their test scores.  They just didn’t improve them as fast as the goals were going up.

By 2014, all students are supposed to be proficient in every school district everywhere.  How is such a goal going to be met?  When some students have parents who work two or three jobs and aren’t home to read to them or help with homework, why is this the schools’ fault?  When some students don’t get fed regularly, or live in the middle of a gang turf war, or don’t actually have a regular place to live, are they somehow magically going to score “proficient” on a state test?

imageThat’s a wonderful goal, but expecting schools to make all children proficient without putting programs in place to support the students who most need it is insane.  In fact, programs shown to help student results in poor families, such as Head Start, have been cut.

This is the equivalent of demanding all students be proficient at track events, but not providing track facilities to schools that didn’t have them, or excusing students from track meets who have to work to help their family pay the monthly rent check.

imageNow, where do Cupertino, Palo Alto, and Fremont school districts come in?  The first two had excellent API scores.  But some of the subgroups didn’t hit that 67% proficient mark. Now, if you know anything about statistics, you know that the smaller your data sample, the more scatter your see.  What do you think will happen if you start measuring small subgroups of a school district population and demand that every single one of these various smaller samples, many of which are chock-full of the kind of students who don’t test well, all hit the overall goal?  These subgroups include economically disadvantages, English language learners, and students with disabilities, and yes, every one one of those groups with these academic, financial, and societal challenges are expected to score as well as the overall school district, or to put things more bluntly, their target is the same as the groups with all the advantages.

Now what will happen if the goal is moved up 11 percentage points a year?  How many schools are capable of moving all groups up at that rate?  How realistic is it to demand that all English-language learners score 100% proficient in 2014, or all students with learning disabilities, or all students that qualify for reduced-lunch prices?

As the graph shows, it’s going to be more and more difficult for schools to “pass” the NCLB standards in the next three years, since if any subgroup “fails,” so does the entire district.  Unless the standards are changed within the next year or two, any school district large enough to have disadvantaged subgroups will be accorded an NCLB Program Improvement school.

Getting back to Cupertino, two of the 25 schools in the district had subgroups missing the targets.  That’s right, even if a school district has a 92% success rate in meeting these difficult targets, the whole district is a failure.  One of the schools has the most transitional population in the district (Nimitz).  The other is an alternative school whose philosophy embraces an integrated curriculum with small group projects, and many parents refuse to let their children take the state tests (McAuliffe).  Amazingly, Cupertino didn’t get dinged for insufficient compliance overall (95% of a district and all subgroups must be represented on the tests.)  They met 33 of 37 criteria.

In Palo Alto Unified, the only school failing to make the “grade” was Escondido, and again, the problem was not API scores.  They met 25 of 34 AYP criteria. In particular, not enough students with disabilities participated in testing.

And in Fremont, also finding itself in Program Improvement for the first year, a whopping 19 out of 33 schools failed to meet the requirements.  Fremont Unified met 37 of 46 criteria.

Here’s the list of school districts in Santa Clara County that aren’t in Program Improvement:

  • Lakeside Joint (one elementary school)
  • Loma Prieta Joint (one elementary, one middle)
  • Los Altos Elementary (7 elementary, 2 middle)
  • Los Gatos Union (4 elementary, 1 middle)
  • Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union (2 high schools)
  • Luther Burbank (one elementary)
  • Orchard Elementary (one elementary)
  • Saratoga Union (3 elementary, 1 middle)
  • Union Elementary (6 elementary, 2 middle) Since this district has both middle schools marked as not meeting all requirements, I think this is a mistake saying the district is NOT in PI

What do these school districts have in common? They’re SMALL. The more schools in a district, the higher the odds one of them is going to miss a requirement somewhere, pulling down the entire district. That’s a guaranteed recipe for failure, and seems to be exactly what some people wanted.

This year, over 4000 California schools have “failed.”  What will happen when almost every school district is considered “failing” by these insane standards, statistically guaranteed to make almost everyone a loser?  And who were the idiots who agreed to them?

Comments (14) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:14 am

14 Responses to “Cupertino Union School District: Fail!”

  1. Petsmart groomer Says:

    > What will happen when almost every school district is considered “failing” by these insane standards, statistically guaranteed to make almost everyone a loser?

    A new generation of realtors will be born.

  2. SEA Says:

    …and the world cannot have too many realtors.

  3. madhaus Says:

    Here’s another (unfunny) thought. Remember my other schools TL;DR column on SC County Grand Jury wanting all those school districts to merge? If they took that advice, an even greater percentage of school districts would be failing now!

  4. SEA Says:

    “If they took that advice, an even greater percentage of school districts would be failing now!”

    Simpson’s paradox in the unfavorable direction, maybe?

  5. madhaus Says:

    That’s an interesting article, but it’s got nothing to do with it. This is more analagous to the “one drop of blood” Jim Crow laws; any one school that blows its targets pulls the whole district out of compliance. That last district in my list where both middle schools are on program improvement but the district supposedly isn’t may show I’m misinterpreting how this works, but I suspect it’s an entry error.

    Some schools would be sanctioned if they received Title I funds. These federal funds are given to schools with at-risk students. Schools listed as “Not Title I” in the charts I linked to might be dinged for missing AYP goals but there aren’t any Title I funds to take away or reallocate.

  6. * Says:

    i can’t believe i learned about dunning-kruger and simpson’s paradox on a real estate blog.

    keep up the good work.

  7. SEA Says:

    madhaus- I wish I had more interest in analyzing the schools and the metric spaces. Can this situation be gerrymandered? If so, would it be to the gerrymander’s advantage to have the larger, combined district?

  8. Mr. Bee Says:

    Actually, Headstart: Fail.
    USA Today: The latest indication: a study of 5,000 students earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which found virtually no difference in academic achievement by the end of first grade between those who attended Head Start and those who were eligible to attend but didn’t.

  9. madhaus Says:

    Mr. Bee, that’s interesting. What I’d heard about Head Start and the like was an interesting result which might even be another Simpson’s Paradox issue: preschool made no difference in elementary school outcomes for middle-class children, but did make a difference for low-income children. The theory to explain this was if you had parents who read to you, it didn’t matter if you went to preschool or not. And if your parent(s) didn’t, then you got some of the intellectual benefit at preschool you weren’t getting at home.

    So I am wondering if this study broke out different subgroups as well. Also, if this is a recent study, as far as I know Head Start has been having their funds cut for years, so that could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  10. SEA Says:

    We all really know what the problem is: The non-RBA.

  11. nomadic Says:

    #9, didn’t Malcolm Gladwell refute the usefulness of Head Start in one of his books? Basically, IIRC, his argument was that the IQ points lost by low-income children over the summer negated any short term benefit.

  12. Infinite Loop Says:

    The performance of this web site: Fail!

  13. Cupertino Union School District Fails NCLB Rating | Education | Says:

    […] but it is true that if only one school fails in a school district, the whole district fails. As this excellent blog on the subject points out, that basically guarantees that larger school districts will fail. Cupertino had 2 out of 25 […]

  14. Ann Gaydos Says:

    My family left Cupertino in part because we thought the school district was unusable. While a student at CUSD. my frail, then 8yo daughter was abused by her special education teacher (picked up and driven headfirst into the ground.) I’m generally very tolerant, but I did expect some sort of explanation as to why my daughter had come home bruised and battered with a description of the incident that fitted the nature and location of her injuries. I couldn’t get anything out of anybody! Obviously, I had to keep her out of school until we got some sort of explanation. Nobody would tell me anything. Eventually I wrote to the board and superintendent (Lucey. Cheng, and McCue were then on the board; Bragg was superintendent) explaining that I had to keep my daughter out of school as it was unsafe and asking what to do. The only person to respond was Ben Liao. I sent followup letters. No response. My daughter lost 8 months of schooling as we tried to sort things out. Eventually we made CUSD place her in a private school at almost $60K a year (at that stage, they would still provide no explanation and there was no documentation made available to us, which is of course illegal.) At the private school, we immediately met another mother whose son had been abused by the same teacher a year earlier. She had raised Cain within the district, but the teacher was left there to hurt my child! Her son was also placed at private school — at similar expense — because his mother could not trust CUSD with him. I was horrified and wrote to the board and superintendent again. Again — no response whatsoever. They did not even acknowledge receipt of my letter.

    Prior to this child’s abuse, another parent had filed a complaint with the state about the same teacher’s abusive behavior. A teacher’s aide said she complained repeatedly to the principal and the senior administration about this particular teacher’s abusive behavior — both to her and to the children — but that none of them was receptive, and she was told not to warn parents about the teacher or else she’d be fired (?!). The aide ALSO wrote to the board. Again, there was no response from any of the board members except Ben Liao. The teacher, meanwhile, was sent on to another district where there were continued complaints of abuse. This district was not warned about her behavior.

    We eventually filed a lawsuit against CUSD, which we won handily. We would never have filed the suit if the board and administration had responded to us. CUSD exhibited truly appalling ethics throughout the suit. They hired a lawyer to re-victimize CUSD’s little victims (there were many!) and to hurt children and families who had already been through horrible ordeals due to callousness and poor management by the CUSD administration and board. CUSD wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of public money trying to lie its way out of culpability. The power of the board and administration to damage the majority of the district (as in the children of the district) because of their own selfish concerns needs to be brought into question. The case went to trial and would have been funny had it not dealt with such a tragic subject as child abuse. Thy lying by CUSD’s witnesses was jaw-dropping. Their stories kept changing on the fly. Their lawyer even brought in an obviously mentally ill mother from the classroom, whom we suspect was co-abusing. She was extremely enmeshed with the abusive teacher. It appears that her paranoia was manipulated to make her come in and blatantly lie on the teacher’s behalf. I do not believe CUSD’s lawyer or the administration did not know that her story was untrue. Fortunately for our side, it was very obvious that she was lying. The jurors dismissed her as crazy and malicious and were furious that CUSD had stooped so low as to present her. The ruthlessness and dishonesty with which CUSD and its lawyer dealt with child abuse was quite horrifying. Personally, I think all board members from that time frame should resign in disgrace, and the lawyer in question (Mark E. Davis) should never be allowed to represent a school district again. I strongly suspect that both his and the district’s behavior fell into the criminal range. Certainly, there was widespread perjury by CUSD witnesses, both in deposition and at the trial, and imo the lawyer was perfectly aware that he was lying through his teeth.

    In its handling of child abuse, CUSD behaved just as badly as did the Catholic Church and Penn State. If possible, CUSD was even more vindictive in trying to point the finger at the victims and their families and in attempting to silence a whistleblower.

    For parents with children at CUSD, I would advise you to be aware of the following three red flags of child abuse, all of which were present in my daughter’s case: 1) No explanation of injuries to the child is provided; there is no documentation; 2) once an explanation is demanded (in our case, this happened during the course of the lawsuit), the explanation keeps changing; 3) the explanation, once provided, does not match the nature and location of the injuries.

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