State Journal

March 26, 2003 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Words Matter

Taking a break from the state’s ever-present budget crisis, the California legislature earlier this month turned to a semantic issue for schools.

A measure in the Assembly, the lower house, would change portions of state education law to rename “low-performing” schools “high priority” schools.

The bill passed, 53-22, on March 13 after short-but-intense debate over a few hours. Several lawmakers, mainly Republicans, said the change was irrelevant and would do nothing to spur academic improvement or bring more money to schools. Since the state’s testing system began in 1999, about 430 schools each year have been labeled “low performing” and targeted for remedial action.

But the bill’s sponsor, freshman Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, a Democrat from the Los Angeles area, told his colleagues that negative words can damage the self-esteem of those involved in the schools.

“Using the phrase ‘low-performing’ school is a derogatory term used to categorize a school and its students,” said Mr. Bermudez.

“Words can have a dramatic impact on the children that attend that school, teachers who teach in that school, and the community that surrounds that school.”

He argues that the label “high priority” would focus more energy and attention on the needs of those schools, and also make it easier to attract well-qualified teachers.

But an analysis of the bill by Republican aides for the Assembly education committee said that calling a school low-performing or using a similar term should indeed be a stigma.

In addition, adds the analysis, such a stigma might motivate students and teachers to work harder to shed the label.

The bill “makes confusing use of language to obscure reality with the intent of avoiding a stigma and preventing hurt feelings,” according to the analysis.

The measure still has to pass the Senate and be signed by the governor before becoming law.

Brian Malone, a spokesman for Mr. Bermudez, said he was “fairly confident” that the Senate would pass the bill quickly, and that it would be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.

—Joetta L. Sack


Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Boosting Student and Staff Mental Health: What Schools Can Do
Join this free virtual event based on recent reporting on student and staff mental health challenges and how schools have responded.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Practical Methods for Integrating Computer Science into Core Curriculum
Dive into insights on integrating computer science into core curricula with expert tips and practical strategies to empower students at every grade level.
Content provided by

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: October 11, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: September 27, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated: September 20, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education From Our Research Center What's on the Minds of Educators, in Charts
Politics, gender equity, and technology—how teachers and administrators say these issues are affecting the field.
1 min read
Stylized illustration of a pie chart
Traci Daberko for Education Week