Implementation of the school choice provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act has been stymied by a lack of space to accommodate transfers and unrealistic timelines for notifying parents of their options, a report by the Government Accountability Office concludes.
“No Child Left Behind Act: Education Needs to Provide Additional Technical Assistance and Conduct Implementation Studies for School Choice Provision” is available online from the Government Accountability Office. ()
Noting that fewer than 1 percent of the students eligible to transfer under the law did so in the 2003-04 school year, the GAO found that districts often do not give parents reliable information about their educational options until after the school year has started.
The congressional investigative agency also found that thousands of students were being denied transfers because their districts had determined that no spaces were available for them, even though federal officials have said that capacity problems are not an excuse for denying students the option of switching schools.
The report, released Dec. 10, urges the U.S. Department of Education to give states and districts more help in carrying out the choice provisions, which apply to schools receiving funding under the federal Title I program for disadvantaged students. It also calls on the department to conduct a study that examines the choice provision’s effects on students’ academic performance.
In a letter responding to the report, outgoing Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene W. Hickok said the department largely agreed with the GAO findings, and highlighted steps it had already taken to address them. The department will draw on the report “to improve its technical assistance to states and districts and to strengthen its own implementation studies,” Mr. Hickok wrote.
The GAO study examined the first two years of implementation of the choice requirements, both through national data and reviews of eight districts in seven states. Under the law, Title I schools that fall short of student-achievement targets for two years must give students the alternative of transferring to other public schools that do meet those goals.
Transfer Rates Vary
In 2003-04, an estimated 6,200 of the nation’s 52,500 Title I schools were required to offer such a choice, up from 5,300 schools in 2002-03, the report says.
Some 31,500 of the nearly 3.3 million eligible students actually transferred under the No Child Left Behind Act in the 2003-04 school year, the study found. Oregon had the highest percentage of transfers, at 17 percent, and New York state had the highest actual number, with 7,373. Five states, the largest of which was Texas, reported no transfers. Data were unavailable for eight states.
Seven of the eight districts studied failed to get final results on school performance from their states in time to meet the law’s requirement that they notify parents of eligible students by the start of the school year. So most used preliminary data, a practice that the report says “put districts at risk of incorrectly identifying schools as having to offer choice and consequently misinforming parents.”
“The compressed time frame for making school status determinations and implementing the choice option left parents little time to make transfer decisions,” the GAO says. And it notes that the tight timeline also forced schools to rearrange their staffing and scheduling at the last minute.
The study also found that many schools that were offered as transfer options had not met state performance benchmarks the previous year, so were in danger themselves of landing on the list of schools required to offer choice.
On the problem of lack of space for transfer students, the GAO recommended that the Education Department monitor the issue, particularly “the extent to which capacity constraints hinder or prevent transfers,” and then “consider whether or not additional flexibility or guidance addressing capacity might be warranted.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 05, 2005 edition of Education Week as NCLB’s Transfer Provisions Stymied, GAO Report Says