A Plan To Give Students Who Want To Leave Failing Schools Better Options Than Currently Available Under NCLB

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In this Century Foundation study, “Can NCLB Choice Work?” Meredith P. Richards, Kori J. Stroub, and Jennifer Jellison Holme of the University of Texas at Austin suggest that, rather than jettisoning the transfer provisions, students in schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress should be given the ability to transfer to higher-performing schools outside of their district. The report draws on sophisticated research models that show both the feasibility and benefit of instituting programs like this across the country.

Contact: Christy Hicks ~ Phone: (212) 452-7723 ~ Email: hicks@tcf.org
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Ten years ago, the No Child Left Behind Act passed the Congress with broad bipartisan support, but elements of NCLB are now broadly criticized by members of both major political parties. Among the most disappointing features is the poorly conceived and underutilized “transfer” provision, which enables students in “failing” Title I schools to choose to attend another school within their district. Less than 2 percent of students avail themselves of this right to transfer, which has led to suggestions that the provision be scrapped.

In a newly released Century Foundation study, “Can NCLB Choice Work?” Meredith P. Richards, Kori J. Stroub, and Jennifer Jellison Holme of the University of Texas at Austin suggest that, rather than jettisoning the transfer provisions, students in schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress should be given the ability to transfer to higher-performing schools outside of their district. The report draws on sophisticated research models that show both the feasibility and benefit of instituting programs like this across the country.

The report, which draws upon data from forty-five states, finds:

  • It is unsurprising that few families use the within-school-district transfer right given the paucity of good choices available. The report finds that, under current policies, students in 94.5 percent of failing schools have “no meaningful access to higher performing schools,” because there are few schools within districts that are higher performing, and those that are higher performing are often filled to capacity.
  • Contrary to the findings of previous research, the authors, using a newer, more sophisticated model, conclude that expanding public school choice across school district lines “has the potential to meaningfully expand access to higher-performing schools for students in over 80 percent of eligible sending schools.”
  • The offerings available to students in inter-district choice programs not only would be more plentiful, they also would be of higher average quality.
  • Inter-district transfer programs would disproportionately benefit low-income students and students of color.

Unlike earlier research, which made arbitrary assumptions about how long students would be willing to travel and how much space is available in receiving schools, The Century Foundation study uses sophisticated techniques drawn from “gravity models” to assess how far students would be willing to go for superior educational alternatives. The study also employs actual student/teacher ratios in schools to assess space constraints.

Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, called the study “groundbreaking”. He noted: “A broad body of research suggests that perhaps the single best thing we can do for a low-income child is to give her a chance to attend a socioeconomically integrated school, where she is surrounded by higher achieving peers, a group of parents who are able to be actively involved in school affairs, and high-quality teachers. This new study suggests NCLB transfers could significantly increase access to good economically integrated schools if choice can be made across school district lines.”

In addition, Kahlenberg’s Commentary article in Education Week, entitled “The Potential of Interdistrict School Choice,” is available at http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/06/08/33kahlenberg.h30.html?r=953628716

Richards, Stroub, and Holme suggest that the receiving schools be provided financial incentives to accept NCLB transfer students, which, they believe, would address some of the political resistance to the proposal.

“Can NCLB Choice Work?” is available on The Century Foundation website.

For more information on this report and other issues in education, visit http://tcf.org/education. For media inquiries, contact Christy Hicks at hicks(at)tcf(dot)org or (212) 452-7723.

The Century Foundation conducts public policy research and analyses of economic, social, and foreign policy issues, including inequality, retirement security, health care reform, election reform, and international affairs. Century produces books, reports, and other publications, and convenes task forces and working groups in order to inform national policy discussions, to promote fresh ideas and best practices, and to correct myths and misunderstandings about policy reforms. With offices in New York City and Washington, D.C., The Century Foundation is nonprofit and nonpartisan. It was founded in 1919 by Edward A. Filene.

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