Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), school districts must offer students who attend low-performing schools a choice to transfer, with free transportation, to another public school in the district that is not low performing. According to Choosing Better Schools: A Report on Student Transfers Under the No Child Left Behind Act, a new report from the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, this transfer option is more widely used than previously reported-in fact, almost 70,000 students exercised public school choice in the 2003-04 school year. The report also found that parents of middle and high school students sought transfers more frequently than their counterparts in elementary schools.
While studies on the program’s impact on student achievement have not been conducted, the report cites major congressionally authorized studies that show high concentrations of poverty in public schools have a negative impact on student learning. According to evidence from the report, low-income transfer students under NCLB generally are placed in a less-disadvantaged environment.
“An extraordinary number of parents are seeking transfers,” said William L. Taylor, chair of the commission and a member of the Alliance’s national advisory board, “and they are doing so because they know the new schools will provide a better opportunity for success.” Taylor also noted that NCLB school choice is helping to promote racial and economic diversity in a significant number of school districts in states like Alabama and South Carolina, “places that were once highly resistant to Brown v. Board of Education.”
However, the report also discovered that many education officials are negative about the NCLB choice option, and are placing barriers to allowing parents to transfer their children. While virtually all schools informed parents of their option to seek a transfer, the “quality of implementing the choice program and communication with parents varied widely.” Very few school districts encouraged parents to exercise their options, and most did not meet the parental notification criteria outlined by NCLB. Many other districts informed parents of their opportunity for a transfer so late in the process, and with so little time to make a decision, that the option was virtually moot.
As the NCLB choice program begins to gain a foothold in schools, the number of students seeking the transfer option may be increasing, but the number who are actually permitted to transfer is still much smaller than the number of requests. In the 2002-03 school year, 2.4 percent of students transferred to higher-performing schools. One year later, only 1.7 percent of eligible students transferred, “less than half of the 5.6 percent of eligible students who had requested transfers,” according to the report.
The report attributes this low percentage in part to the fact that many districts continue to use lack of school capacity to deny transfers. This practice ignores language in NCLB that makes it clear that capacity cannot be a barrier to accepting transfer students. In many cases, a student’s ability to transfer is hampered in rural and urban areas because there are not enough successful schools from which to choose.
In other cases, especially in metropolitan areas, more advantaged school districts are unwilling to accept transfer students from neighboring, lower-performing districts. According to the report, “the impact of this flabby policy is severe because in a great many cases, school districts with large numbers of low-performing schools are often surrounded by more affluent districts with higher-performing schools.”
“As the number of schools in need of improvement increases,” the report notes, “there will be fewer choice options and more reliance on supplemental educational services-especially in urban areas.” It argues that the number of choice options could be increased through more interdistrict transfer opportunities and an increase in charter schools.
To better serve parents and students and to help improve the school choice provision in NCLB, the report puts forward a detailed set of recommendations for federal, state, and local school officials and parent and community groups, and calls for future amendments to NCLB. It also asks the U.S. Department of Education to collect more data from states and districts on transfer requests and denials.
The complete report is available at http://www.cccr.org/ChoosingBetterSchools.pdf.
|Pell Grants for Kids: New Voucher Proposal for K-12 Students Modeled After Successful Pell Grant Program
A new $15 billion proposal by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) would provide every middle- and low-income child in the nation-defined as being in a family whose income is below their respective state’s median family income-with a $500 scholarship. If fully funded, approximately 30 million, or 60 percent, of school-age children in kindergarten through twelfth grade would be eligible for the scholarship. Although Alexander compares his scholarship to a Pell Grant, the maximum Pell Grant award is $4,050 and helps a student pay for a full year of college. Alexander’s scholarship would be a little more than ten percent of that amount.
Alexander, who served as U.S. secretary of education under President George H. W. Bush, says his proposal uses the same idea that helped create the best colleges: letting money follow students to institutions of their choice. “Armed with new purchasing power, parents could directly support their school’s priorities, or they could pay for tutoring, for lessons, and other services in the private market,” Alexander said. “Parents in affluent school districts do this all the time.”
Introduced on the fiftieth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, Alexander says his proposal would help to reduce inequality in educational opportunity by giving middle- and low-income children more of the same opportunities that wealthier families already have. While America’s colleges and universities rank among the best in the world, Alexander noted that our elementary and secondary education lags greatly behind. This is particularly true for minority populations, which make up the vast majority of middle- and low-income students. In the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress results (NAEP), while nearly half of eighth-grade African-American and Hispanic children scored at below basic levels, more than 80 percent of white students scored at or above basic.
Senator Alexander has not formally introduced his proposal and expects to spend the next several months looking for cosponsors from both sides of the aisle in the House and the Senate. He anticipates introducing the legislation when Congress convenes in early 2005.
Read Senator Alexander’s Senate-floor remarks at http://alexander.senate.gov/news/205761.html.