NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Adding Up Failing Schools

June 16, 2000

In 1994, as part of its reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Congress ordered states to write learning standards and to begin testing their students by 2001. A major objective was to identify schools which were failing. But since the states can adopt whatever standards they choose, the definition of a failing school varies widely.

Then in 1997, the Education Department asked the states how many of their schools were failing state standards.

  • The states identified 7,616 failing schools -- or one out of every 12.
  • When the list is updated this year, the department expects the numbers to be even higher.
  • While comparisons are not valid due to varying standards, Ohio counted 660 schools failing in the 1996-97 school year and Michigan says it had 641.
  • Arizona, Texas and Louisiana, on the other hand, could identify fewer than 50.

Baltimore's Abbottston Elementary School has been cited as an example of just how bad things can get. Last year, not a single third-grader there passed the Maryland mathematics exam. None passed the social studies test. Only 2 percent passed science and only 5 percent -- perhaps three children in all -- were deemed satisfactory readers.

Source: June Kronholz, "Baltimore Public School Struggles to Improve Its Scores," Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2000.


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