School choice under ‘No Child’

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“I honestly believe that the best way to fix these schools is to fix these schools.”

Arne Duncan, CEO,

Chicago Public Schools

The law

No Child Left Behind is the name of sweeping federal legislation aimed at bringing all students to proficiency in reading and math by the 2013-2014 school year.

It requires schools to make adequate yearly progress toward that goal. Average test scores must improve not only for the student bodies as a whole, but also for individual subgroups that include major ethnic groups, low-income students, students with disabilities, students with limited English proficiency and migrant students. State tests and standards are used to measure failure and success.

Children at schools that fail to make “adequate yearly progress” two years in a row may transfer to better-performing schools, transportation provided. Children at schools that fail to make their progress goals three years in a row also may use their share of federal Title I money to purchase tutoring. Eventually, schools that fail to make progress could be closed or converted to charter.

To help schools improve, Congress substantially boosted education funding, especially to urban and rural districts with dense concentrations of low-income students. City, state action

Across the country, states and cities moved quickly to limit choice. Illinois and Chicago moved further than many. For example, the General Assembly approved legislation requested by Chicago to exempt magnet schools and crowded schools from the list of “receiving” schools.

Chicago ended up with 179 “failing” elementary schools. However, it offered choice to students at only 50 of these schools and restricted the choices within a three-mile radius. Schools CEO Arne Duncan said that a broader busing program would have increased costs “exponentially.” With a quarter of elementary students already attending school outside their neighborhood, he added, “We have more choice than any other big city in America, including New York, Boston and Los Angeles.”

Following two open houses at each of the receiving schools, 2,407 children applied for transfers. After matching requests with openings, CPS approved 1,165 transfers for 2002-03.

Odd outcomes

Since success and failure are measured by improvement in tests scores, not absolute scores, some schools deemed to be failing have higher scores than schools judged to be OK.

For example, Haugan Elementary in Albany Park, considered failing under NCLB, has higher 2002 reading scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills than do 55 of the non-failing “receiving” schools.

More money

Title I funding for CPS will rise 27 percent to $216 million, according to school officials. Of that, $125 million—the same as last year—will be distributed to 481 schools through a formula that reflects the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price student lunches and federal family assistance.

Another $35 million will be used for additional programs at the 179 failing schools, including professional development, school-based reading specialists, additional classroom teachers, after-school tutoring, diagnostic testing and the like. CPS says it is going to allocate the extras based on need. Other programs supported by Title I include child-parent centers and summer school.

Reaction

The School Board received widespread praise for its plans for the federal funds and scant criticism for the choice restrictions.

More resources

The following web sites provide additional information on No Child Left Behind:

Chicago Public Schools

Illinois State Board of Education

U.S. Department of Education

Education Week