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


English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
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.
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

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 Nearly a Million Kids Vaccinated in Week 1, White House Says
Experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
4 min read
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Education How Schools Are Getting Kids the COVID Shot, and Why Some Aren’t
Some district leaders say offering vaccine clinics, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to helping overcome hesitancy.
5 min read
A girl walks outside of a mobile vaccine unit after getting the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine, outside P.S. 277, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Education Biden Administration Urges Schools to Provide COVID-19 Shots, Information for Kids
The Biden administration is encouraging local school districts to host vaccine clinics for kids and information on benefits of the shots.
2 min read
President Joe Biden, and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Education Civil Rights Groups Sue Tennessee Over Law Against Transgender Student Athletes
The state law bars transgender athletes from playing public high school or middle school sports aligned with their gender identity.
3 min read
Amy Allen, the mother of an 8th grade transgender son, speaks after a Human Rights Campaign round table discussion on anti-transgender laws in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2021.
Amy Allen, the mother of an 8th grade transgender son, speaks after a Human Rights Campaign round table discussion on anti-transgender laws in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2021.
Mark Humphrey/AP