"It's not like a hostile takeover. We're going to work with those schools. It's not about punishing anyone. It's about working together," said Gov. Schwarzenegger.
Collectively, the 97 low-performing school districts educate a third of California's 6.3 million students -- nearly half in those districts are poor; a quarter of the students there do not speak English fluently.
Firing administrators and replacing the curricula are among the sanctions the state could impose.
Ravenswood City Elementary in San Mateo is one of the seven schools facing the harshest punishment. Seventy percent of students there are English language learners.
"Our test scores have been moving up -- slowly, but they have been moving in a positive direction," said Maria De la Vega, the Ravenswood Schools superintendent. "Again, we have lots of new teachers. So it's going to take time."
No question, it'll be a tough road for schools to work their way off the low-performing list. But at Northwood School, the principal says there is hope. After years of being an under-performing school, it finally turned itself around last year.
Teachers targeted the 40 percent of students for whom English is a second language.
"We set up intervention programs specifically for them. We focused on non-linguistic representations. That means using pictures, graphics organizers," said Renee Scott-Femenella, the Northwood School principal.
The question is, can the governor keep that list from growing as he readies to cut $4 billion from all schools in the coming budget year?