This past week my organization, CURE, along with the Alliance for School Choice, filed legal action in California against the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Compton Unified School District demanding compliance with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.
Specifically, our complaint demands these two major school districts implement provisions under NCLB requiring them to provide and publicize school transfer options for children in failing schools (those not meeting standards set in their own state for two consecutive years).
NCLB's provisions for choice, although limited, are vitally important for the success of the law. How can kids be protected and pressure put on schools to improve if the kids are trapped and can't leave and go somewhere else? Yet, this is what is going on, despite requirements of the law.
According to our suit, 250,000 kids in the Los Angeles system are eligible to transfer to a better performing school. Yet, there have only been 527 (.2 percent) transfers. In Compton, also a dismally performing school district, there have been a grand total of zero transfers.
We claim the Los Angeles district provides parental notification in a half-hearted manner that makes it almost impossible for parents to deal with the option to transfer in an informed, timely and prudent manner. It appears that in Compton parents have not been receiving any notification about school failing status and the transfer option.
The truth of the matter is that what we are seeing in Los Angeles and Compton represents a small sample of a grand nationwide failure in implementing the transfer option of No Child Left Behind.
A 2004 report issued by the General Accounting Office found that there were more than 3 million children nationwide in failing schools and eligible to transfer to better performing schools. Yet, only around 1 percent has transferred.
Despite the central importance to No Child Left Behind of allowing kids in failing schools to transfer, a number of factors make its efficient implementation an unlikely bet.
Because NCLB only provides the option to transfer to another better performing local public school, the universe of educational alternatives is, at the outset, severely limited. This reality is further exacerbated by the fact that the failing schools are overwhelmingly in poor inner city areas. The likelihood of a good alternative nearby public school, with space available, is slim.
According to a study in The New York Times a few years ago, Baltimore had 30,000 kids in failing schools and 194 places in better schools in the district; Chicago, 30,000 kids and 1,170 places; Los Angeles, 223,000 kids, zero available places.
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