Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0126EducationReview.html

Fleeing struggling schools not a popular choice, study finds
Associated Press
Jan. 26, 2004 08:00 AM

WASHINGTON - Few students eligible to flee their underperforming schools for better ones have taken up the offer, a research group supporting public education said after surveying school districts.

The finding reflects a range of factors, from parents' uneasiness about moving their kids to widespread problems schools have in offering transfers as promised under federal law, according to a report released Monday by the Center on Education Policy.

Only 2 percent of students eligible to transfer did so this school year, the center found in surveying 402 school districts and getting answers from about two-thirds of them. The center's research also included state surveys and case studies of districts nationwide.

"To have such a small percentage of kids transfer shows that most parents are not really interested in having their kids move," said Jack Jennings, the center's director. But the research also underscores that many districts are struggling to make choice available, as only half the schools that were supposed to offer transfers met that mark in 2003, he said.

Schools that receive federal low-income aid must offer transfers if they fail to make adequate yearly progress for two straight years. Making yearly progress means schools must show sufficient gains among all groups of students, including the poor or disabled.

The schools that fall short get extra help, but they also must let any student transfer, under a law passed by Congress in 2001 with strong bipartisan support.

School systems say they've run into many hang-ups, including schools lacking room to accept transfers or no schools close enough to make a transfer feasible. Officials in Alaska and Hawaii, for example, said that making such an option work would require a plane ride for students.

But Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, which advocates school choice, said the real problem is "deliberate foot-dragging and overly complicated communication with parents" by districts.

"It's beginning to change, in part because this data is getting publicized," Allen said. "First, parents have to become aware of what's available, and they, in turn, will pressure districts to be responsive."

More parents have embraced the offer of tutoring for their children, said the report by the Center on Education Policy. That provision kicks in when schools receiving poverty aid fail to make enough progress for three straight years, although some have offered it earlier.

Overall, the center found that many state officials are confident that the law's accountability push will help student achievement increase over time. But school officials also expressed concern about the financial impact of the law and the testing requirements on children with disabilities and those who speak limited English.

In practical terms, the current school year is the first one in which the No Child Left Behind law is in place, and demand for school choice and tutoring will only grow, said Ron Tomalis, counselor to Education Secretary Rod Paige.

The Education Department is stepping up monitoring of all aspects of the law. "We would like to see districts become much more upfront with their parents about the options available to students," Tomalis said.


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