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Failing San Diego Schools Work to Meet Standards

A number of failing schools in the San Diego area are adjusting their practices to meet standards under the No Child Left Behind law. Special correspondent for education John Merrow continues a series of reports on the law and how it is affecting U.S. education.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, the second story in our series on the No Child Left Behind law. Tonight is on what some failing schools in San Diego are doing to meet the law's standards. Once again, the reporter is the NewsHour's special correspondent for education, John Merrow.

  • COMMUNITY ACTIVIST:

    You cannot kill our momentum. You cannot stop or kill our spirit. And you will not stop our determination.

    JOHN MERROW, Special Correspondent for Education: January 7, 2005, a school board meeting in San Diego, California.

  • COMMUNITY ACTIVIST:

    We will clean the house you refuse to clean.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    These impassioned parents were fighting to fix their children's schools, schools that were not only failing, but had been allowed to keep failing year after year after year. Schools like Keiller Middle School, where in 2004 Patricia Ladd took over as principal.

  • PATRICIA LADD:

    My first day here, I thought, "Oh, my goodness, what am I in for?" At any point in time, I would see 20 to 100 students just roaming the campus, many stories of setting fires in the bathrooms, destroying property, a campus of chaos.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Violence also plagued Gompers Middle School just a few miles away, where in 2004 Vincent Riveroll took over as principal.

  • VINCENT RIVEROLL, Principal:

    I remember meeting my first student who came up to me and said, "Why are you wearing a suit? It's just going to get ripped when you break up a fight."

  • JOHN MERROW:

    At both schools, more than half the teachers were leaving every year. Many of those who stayed, says Gompers teacher Tracy Johnston, had simply stopped caring.

  • TRACY JOHNSTON, Teacher:

    They had been doing the same thing for 35 years. They didn't like our kids; they liked the paychecks.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    What it all added up to was students who weren't learning. On California's state proficiency tests, three-quarters of the students at Gompers and Keiller were consistently failing.

    The federal law called No Child Left Behind says that, after five straight years of failing test scores, schools have to make major changes in the way they're run. It's a process the law calls "restructuring." The law spells out restructuring options that include taking control of the school away from its local school district. At most of the 1,300 schools nationwide that have had to restructure so far, that hasn't happened.

  • RALLY SPEAKER:

    I'd like to thank the board of directors for being here today…

  • JOHN MERROW:

    But in San Diego, the frustrated parents, teachers, and principals at Gompers and Keiller saw the radical restructuring options of No Child Left Behind as a golden opportunity…

  • RALLY SPEAKER:

    Open the gates of wisdom! Congratulations.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    … that they used to turn their schools around. They were supported by a reform-minded and controversial superintendent, Alan Bersin.

  • ALAN BERSIN, Former Superintendent, San Diego City Schools:

    It was an opportunity to start a process from the bottom up, to say, if you give the facts to parents and to the community, and you create a genuine process of involvement and education, that perhaps people would make a decision that, in fact, their needed to be more dramatic change than ordinarily is the case. And that's what happened.

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