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Published in Print: April 12, 2006, as Report: Schools Could Improve on NCLB Tutoring, Choice

Report: Schools Could Improve on NCLB Tutoring, Choice

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Students aren’t taking advantage of tutoring options under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools are faltering when it comes to notifying parents about school transfer options under the law, and the number of Title I schools identified as needing improvement has nearly doubled in recent years, according to a study released last week by the Department of Education.

The congressionally mandated report on Title I, the $12.7 billion federal program designed to improve education for disadvantaged students, was released April 5. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings highlighted the report the same day in a speech at a forum on school choice in Jamaica, N.Y.

The report found that only 17 percent of eligible students nationwide signed up for the free tutoring that Title I schools are required to offer after not meeting educational targets for three years in a row. However, the number of students receiving those supplemental educational services increased more than four-fold in the two-year period from the 2002-03 school year through the 2003-04 year.

Meanwhile, out of 4 million students eligible for the school choice option under the federal law, only 38,000—less than 1 percent—chose to transfer to a higher performing school, according to the report.

“More than half of school districts didn’t even tell parents that their children were eligible for these options until after the school year had already started,” Ms. Spellings said at the forum, based on her prepared remarks. “That delay makes it virtually impossible for students to transfer schools without disrupting their education. And that’s unacceptable.”

Taking Steps

School choice advocates were delighted that the secretary chose to highlight those aspects of the report.

Late last month, a team of legal scholars organized and filed a complaint with the federal Education Department charging that the 720,000-student Los Angeles and 31,500-student Compton, Calif., school districts had failed to offer school choice as required under the No Child Left Behind law. The legal advocates asked the department to withhold the districts’ federal funds. ("Complaint Targets NCLB Transfers in Calif.," March 29, 2006)

“This is a nationwide problem, and Los Angeles and Compton are simply the tip of the iceberg,” said Clint Bolick, the president of the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice, one of the groups that filed the complaint.

Ms. Spellings said during her speech at the school choice forum that said she had directed Henry L. Johnson, the department’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, to look into the matter, but she hinted that she would take a hard line against recalcitrant districts.

“There are a number of steps we can take to enforce these provisions, including withholding federal funds,” she said.

The Education Department’s Title I report also delves into how the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires that schools and districts make annual educational goals or face sanctions, is working. The report, by the department’s Institute of Education Sciences, concludes that many provisions of the law are working the way they’re intended.

The report found that most subgroups of students measured by the law—including African-Americans, Hispanics, low-income students, and students with disabilities—showed achievement gains in 4th and 8th grade reading and math from the 2000-01 to the 2002-03 school year. But those gains were often slight, the report said. State assessments also indicated slight reductions in the achievement gap between students from low-income families and all other students.

Though gains are being made, the report found that only four states, if they followed their current patterns, would get 100 percent of their poor-student subgroup to reach each state’s proficiency level by the 2013-14 school year, as prescribed by the federal law: Delaware, Kansas, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.

The report also found that 95 percent of schools in corrective action—those that failed to make annual achievement targets for four years in a row—were receiving some of the interventions, such as new curriculum or an outside expert to guide the school, required by the No Child Left Behind law.

More Information Needed

The report also found that the number of Title I schools identified as “in need of improvement” for failing to make adequate yearly progress, or annual education goals, has nearly doubled in one year. In the 2004-05 school year, 13 percent of all public schools nationwide were identified as in need of improvement. Of those, 9,028 were Title I schools, up from 5,963 the previous year.

Schools in large and urban districts with high concentrations of poor and minority students, as well as students with limited English skills, were more likely to be identified as in need of improvement. Just over a third of schools with 75 percent or more of their students from low-income families or minority groups were identified as in need of improvement in 2004-05.

Middle schools also were more likely to be in that category than high school or elementary schools, the report concluded. And schools that had more subgroups also were also less likely to make AYP.

The report found that most often, schools failed to make AYP because their overall category for all students did not reach the goal—not because one subgroup failed to make the target. Thirty-three percent of schools that did not make AYP missed it because of their “all students” group, and 18 percent missed the target because two or more subgroups came up short.

The report also found that students in schools identified as needing improvement were more likely to be taught by teachers who did not meet the law’s “highly qualified” criteria. The law calls for all teachers to be highly qualified by the end of this school year and says they must prove competency in one of a number of ways in the subjects they teach. Overall, 86 percent of classes in states surveyed were taught by highly qualified teachers in the 2003-04 school year.

While the report provides detailed information on Title I schools and achievement data, it doesn’t address whether programs required by Title I are really working as intended, said Paul Weckstein, a co-director of the Center for Law and Education, based in Washington.

“It’s not telling us whether schools are using … effective instructional methods, whether low-achieving kids are getting enriched development, whether there is high quality staff development,” he said. “That’s what you’d want to look at in an implementation study.”

Vol. 25, Issue 31, Page 31

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