Slow starts, false starts abound across country

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Chicago and Illinois aren’t the only places trying to minimize the impact of No Child Left Behind during the first year of implementation. Here is a glimpse at what’s happening in other cities and states, according to recent newspaper reports.

BALTIMORE

Only 200 get to go. Only 11 elementary and middle schools met the School Board’s criteria for receiving schools. The criteria included distance limits, a minimum achievement level and excess capacity that, contrary to federal directives, took class size into consideration. Baltimore has 83 failing schools enrolling 30,000 students. The 11 receiving schools have fewer than 200 open seats.

NEW YORK CITY

Little early interest. The nation’s largest public school system put relatively loose limits on school choice for the some 400,000 students attending the almost 400 schools, a third of the total, deemed to be failing under NCLB. Children who want to transfer must choose another school in the same subdistrict, which typically have about 30 schools each. In one subdistrict, parents of only 20 children expressed an interest.

LAS VEGAS

One school loses 70. Only 109 children asked to transfer out of this city’s five failing schools, but 70 were from the same school. Some 4,500 students were eligible. Officials gave parents just one choice, based on proximity and available space. Two of the five failing schools are managed by the for-profit Edison Schools Inc.

CAMDEN, N.J.

Do it yourself. The district told parents that no schools had available slots and that they should scout their own options at charter schools and schools in neighboring districts. No open slots were found.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.

Choosing blind. Initially, the district gave parents at 17 failing schools four days to indicate whether they wanted to transfer their children, but it did not identify the receiving schools. Instead, the district planned to assign children to new schools later in the summer. “Low-income kids and families should have the same opportunities for choosing what schools their kids go to as anyone else in Albuquerque,” a critic told the Albuquerque Tribune. The district subsequently paired each of the 17 with three receiving schools. It also gave parents a choice of any school with openings, so long as they transported their children. The district would reimburse them at 35 cents a mile. These children got priority over students wanting to transfer from non-failing schools.

GREENVILLE COUNTY, S.C.

Pressure expands choice. Initially, the School Board restricted transfers to just two receiving schools. Following criticism from the community, it increased the number to six. Four schools were deemed to be failing in this district of 62,000 students.

KENTUCKY

January transfer. For Kentucky, the U.S. Department of Education used scores from two years ago to identify failing schools. The state protested and won permission to use more recent scores. However, those scores will not be released until September. As a result, the state would like to hold off on student transfers until semester break in January, but does not know whether the feds will permit that, according to a spokesperson. Kentucky was one of the first states to set long-term goals for bringing all students to proficiency.

GEORGIA

High standards. Georgia set a relatively high standard, requiring improvement among various demographic subgroups, not just the student body as a whole. As a result, 437 of its 1,607 elementary and middle schools, or 27 percent, were found to be failing under NCLB.

LOUISIANA

Recalibrating standards. In Louisiana, the state renamed the performance levels on its required graduation test. The highest level had been “advanced,” followed by “proficient,” “basic,” “approaching basic” and “unsatisfactory.” The state had set a goal of bringing all students to basic in 10 years and to proficient in 20 years, meaning by 2019. The federal legislation requires that students be “proficient” in 12 years. To maintain its own timetable without risking the loss of federal money, Louisiana converted “proficient” to “mastery.”

ARKANSAS, WYOMING

No failing schools. There is wide variation among states on the number and percentage of schools deemed to be failing under NCLB. For example, Arkansas and Wyoming have none this year. Michigan has the most, 1,513. The reason is that the federal law allows states to set their own standards. To discourage states from setting low standards, NCLB requires them to administer the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to a sample of students every two years. By comparing those scores with NCLB results, judgments can be made on the rigor of state standards. In the most recent round of testing, Arkansas scored below the national average of NAEP, and Wyoming scored above.