Failing schools will now be required to transfer children to other schools if
parents request it, according to the new No Child Left Behind Act signed by
President Bush last January. This is just one of many provisions in the new law,
designed to give parents more of a choice in the education their children
According to No Child Left Behind, schools must make "adequate yearly progress"
(AYP) in reading and math achievement, a measure determined by the state board
of education. While each state can determine what constitutes AYP, the federal
government demands that all schools report a 100 percent proficiency in reading
and math by the 2013-14 academic year. Schools that fail to meet their annual
goal for two or more years in a row risk a number of increasingly harsh
Earlier this year, the Michigan Department of Education published a list of
1,513 schools that are failing according to the Bush requirements, the greatest
number of any state in the nation. The list represents over one-third of all
Michigan's public schools.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, school districts must notify parents if
their children are in failing schools and that they have the option to transfer
their children to other district schools. If parents choose to transfer their
children, the failing district must pay for the attendant transportation costs
by using part of their allotment of federal education dollars.
Schools that cannot admit all students from failing schools who wish to transfer
must give first priority to the lowest achieving students from low-income
Failing schools also must develop a two-year school improvement plan, and a
portion of the school's federal funding must be allocated to professional
development for teachers. Failing schools also will be provided technical
assistance for academic improvement.
If a school does not meet the Bush requirement for adequate yearly progress for
three consecutive years, students become eligible for "supplemental services,"
which include tutoring and other services outside the school, aimed at improving
a student's achievement. Each state must establish an objective procedure for
certifying qualified providers of supplementary services, and districts must use
a portion of their federal funding to pay for these services.
To comply with this mandate, the Michigan Department of Education's Office of
Field Services has developed a supplementary services application process that
requires prospective providers to demonstrate how their program will improve
reading and math achievement. Providers must have the goal of improving
students' Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) scores.
If a school fails to demonstrate AYP for four consecutive years, the sanctions
become more severe. In addition to continuing to provide a transfer option and
supplementary services to students, the school district must take greater action
to improve the school, which they can do in a number of ways. For example, they
may replace relevant school staff, implement new curriculum, decrease management
authority at the school itself, appoint an outside expert to advise the school
on how to improve, extend the school day or school year, or restructure the
If a school fails to meet AYP for five consecutive years, the school must be
restructured, which can be accomplished by reopening it as a charter school,
replacing the staff, contracting with a management company to operate the
school, or turning the school over to the state.
While the changes outlined above are significant, they may not be implemented in
a timely fashion. The first problem is that, by the beginning of this school
year, some of the federal regulations regarding how states were to implement the
new law had yet to be issued. This occurred in spite of the fact that the law
demands that school improvement plans be in effect beginning with the current
This federal foot-dragging is having a domino effect in the states. In fact, in
advising them of their obligations under the Act, Michigan Superintendent of
Public Instruction Tom Watkins recently told local superintendents by letter
that their school districts "will not be expected to implement" the school
improvement provisions of the new federal law. To comply under these conditions,
wrote Watkins, would be "a little like trying to land an airplane as the runway
is being built."
But even as the foot-dragging spreads, don't expect states to pass up the
additional federal dollars that come with the No Child Left Behind Act.
According to the White House, Michigan will see its federal education funding
jump by more than 30 percent between 2000 and 2002, for a total of $1.4 billion
What changes this new money will bring to education in Michigan remains to be
seen. Advocates of school choice hope it will be used to expand public school
choice programs and educate parents about their rights under the Act.
But some administration officials are doubtful that the current Michigan
Department of Education will go to great lengths to improve education and
provide more options for parents and students, since Michigan already boasts of
limited charter school and public schools-of-choice programs.
In fact, Susan Shafer, spokeswoman for Gov. John Engler, recently told The
Detroit News, "The way we see it, nothing much changes."
There can be no doubt, however, that the No Child Left Behind Act will codify
limited public school choice into federal law. And that will be a positive
change, not just for students in Michigan, but across the country.
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