In 2001, the United States Congress passed a sweeping piece of education legislation known as “No Child Left Behind”. The law established an unprecedented emphasis on the relationship between federal funding and test scores.
There has been much talk over the last decade about the law, most of which has centered around the pros and cons of tying dollars to test results. We often hear catch-words such as “accountability” and “growth”.
However, a new phrase has emerged in the education discussion — “school choice”. Many are claiming that too many of America’s children are “trapped” in “failing schools” when, in fact, according to No Child Left Behind, children who are enrolled in “low-performing” schools are free to leave at any time.
I’ve been familiar with this part of the law for some time, but I recently decided to dig a little deeper, at least from a local perspective. I wanted to know:
1) How many of my city’s schools qualified for NCLB’s “school choice” provision in 2011-2012?
2) Of the students who were eligible, how many took advantage of it?
I contacted MPSD’s central office and discovered the following:
— Two out of the District’s ten schools qualified for school choice in ’11-’12: George W. Carver Middle School and Magnolia Middle School. Each were labeled by the State Department of Education as “Low-performing” or worse for two consecutive years.
— G.W. Carver showed a total enrollment of 370 students. Nine(9) of these students chose to enroll in a different school; about 2% of the school’s total population.
— Magnolia showed a total enrollment of 371. Like Carver, nine(9) Magnolia students chose to enroll in another school; about 2% of the school’s total population.
— In a school district with 6,254 students, 741 were eligible for school choice. However, of that 741, only 18 individuals chose to switch(2%).
— Keep in mind that the school choice provision has been available since 2001.
— I went on to ask the person at central office if space was limited to students wishing to transfer. Her answer was “No. We would be required to provide choice regardless of the capacity of the receiving school.”
My investigation was complete. I learned a lot from it.
However, nagging questions remain:
If “school choice” is so wonderful, and if it already exists as an option, why aren’t more families taking advantage of it?
Perhaps many of our children’s “low-performing” schools aren’t truly deserving of a “low-performing” label?
Perhaps some schools face bigger challenges outside of the classroom than other schools?
Perhaps these challenges are partially reflected in test scores?