Published Online: November 23, 2004
Published in Print: November 24, 2004, as Latest ‘Blue Ribbons’ Bestowed on Schools With Better Records

Latest ‘Blue Ribbons’ Bestowed on Schools With Better Records

Four years ago, a hotly disputed study concluded that schools were being recognized under the popular federal Blue Ribbon Schools Program despite unimpressive academic records.

A follow-up analysis by the Brown Center on Education Policy, released last week, concludes that recent changes to the program have greatly reduced the number of “glaringly undeserving winners.”

The percentage of Blue Ribbon Schools with lackluster academic records, based on state test scores from schools in seven states, fell from 24 percent during the 1999 award cycle to 9 percent in 2003, the study concludes. The number finishing in the top percentile climbed from 27 percent in 1999 to 31 percent last year.

“The misfires have really been reduced,” said Tom Loveless, the study’s author and the director of the center.

The study credits changes the Bush administration made to the program in 2002, which placed more emphasis on academic achievement in the award process. The new selection criteria adopted by the U.S. Department of Education, which sponsors the program, placed greater value on schools serving a significant percentage of disadvantaged students and their performance on state tests. ("Paige Revamps Blue Ribbons, Basing Awards on Testing," Aug. 7, 2002.)

Still, the study continues to be critical of California, which, like other states, nominates candidates to the federal government, saying the Golden State relies on a “rubric embracing a number of trendy educational practices.”

A ‘Misunderstanding’

But William L. Padia, the director of policy and evaluation for the California education department, strongly disputed that finding, saying it was based on a selective review of only a few state criteria and ignored the state’s evaluation of schools’ academic records. “It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of our program,” Mr. Padia said.

When the 2000 Brown Center report was issued, critics argued that it overlooked the possibility that simply participating in the Blue Ribbon program would help foster academic improvement among the selected schools, Mr. Loveless said.

In response, Mr. Loveless has re-examined how those original schools have performed since the 2000 report came out. He concludes that they have not improved academically, based on reading and math scores.

Vol. 24, Issue 13, Page 14

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