High and Low at S.B. High

School Earns 'Newsweek' Accolades But Struggles with No Child Left Behind

Paul Wellman (file)

Santa Barbara High School earned a gold star last month as Newsweek magazine ranked it among the top 500 public high schools in the country. College prep, graduation rate, and the number of Dons bound for higher education factored into the accolade. But a few weeks before the announcement, parents received a letter from Principal John Becchio explaining that they could request to transfer their children to a better-performing school because of S.B. High’s “two consecutive years of not making adequate yearly progress … in language arts, math, and graduation rate.”

While such a favorable national ranking wouldn’t seem to share the same educational universe as inadequate classroom performance, the apparent dichotomy can be traced to a hotly contested federal law called No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Since its 2002 inception, No Child ​— ​with its ostensible aim of improving student performance through high standards and measurable goals ​— ​has shifted the national focus “away from student learning and opportunity toward testing, labeling, and punishing the educators and schools serving our most vulnerable students,” according to the National Education Association (NEA).

“NCLB was a bad law,” said John Houchin, president of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association. “Its aspirational goals of having all students proficient in reading and math by 2014 was unattainable, and [its] sanctions … did not improve teacher or student performance. [NCLB] will hopefully be repealed and replaced in the fall when Congress reconvenes.”

On that front, earlier this year the U.S. Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act, while the House of Representatives passed its counterpart, the Student Success Act. Both must be forged into a final bill that, according to NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, replaces No Child and ends “a woeful chapter in American education policy.”


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