Monday, December 25, 2006

Low ratings put more schools on transfer list

This came out earlier. Most kids don't take care of transfer options suggesting the limitations of so-called "choice."


Low ratings put more schools on transfer list
Few students likely to use choice law; state may try to help
06:59 AM CST on Tuesday, December 19, 2006

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – The ranks of low-rated public schools swelled again this year under Texas' education choice law, giving hundreds of thousands of students at the state's worst campuses the right to transfer to a better school – though few are expected to do so.

The Texas Education Agency identified 924 campuses across the state Monday where students will be able to bail out and enroll at another public school if their parents wish. The total was up 12.5 percent from a year ago and constitutes about 12 percent of the state's schools.

The Dallas Independent School District had the second-most campuses at 78, one more than last year. District officials could not be reached for comment. Houston had 112 schools, and Fort Worth had 30.

The Public Education Grant program allows for students to transfer, but the state provides no funding for transportation to a new school, and districts aren't required to provide busing. Only 321 students exercised their option to move last year, education agency officials said Monday.

Since the program began in the late 1990s, fewer than 2,500 students have used it to transfer to a new school.

Also Online
See the complete list of underperforming schools

That issue, though, could be up for review by the Legislature. The Senate Education Committee, in a report this month, called on lawmakers to explore transportation funding. Officials have said the lack of transportation is one of the biggest obstacles for students and parents interested in another school. The report did not address what that might cost.

Voucher debate
The program may also play a prominent role in the debate on private-school vouchers expected in the upcoming legislative session. Schools on the transfer list would be primary candidates for a pilot voucher plan or another school choice program, and Republican leaders may argue that with the number of failing schools continuing to rise, parents need new options.

Voucher opponents, though, say that removing students and funding from public schools will make it harder to fix them.

The number of low-performing schools on the list has jumped significantly three years in a row. Three years ago, just 126 schools were eligible for the grant program.

Tougher standards
State education officials attributed the large increase to tougher performance standards that have been used to rate schools in recent years, particularly in science and math.

"Science and math continue to be a challenge for schools across the state," said TEA spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman. More students had to pass both subjects on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills for a school to be rated acceptable.

Even though the passing standards were not demanding this year – requiring at least 35 percent of each student group to pass in science and 40 percent in math – those percentages were up from the previous year.

"It looks like science was the larger hurdle for schools to clear, and that is a key reason we saw more schools on the list this year," Ms. Marchman said, noting that passing standards will climb again next year.

"As the passing standards continue to increase, it is very likely we will see the number of schools on the list increase as well," she added.

The names of eligible schools are being published now because most districts consider transfer requests several months before the start of each school year. Parents must be notified of the option by Feb. 1, with students allowed to enroll at a new school for the next fall.

Students can transfer to another public school in their own district or another district – if that district agrees to accept them. Those that do enroll students under the program receive a financial incentive from the state – an extra 10 percent in funding per pupil.

That financial incentive has not been enough to spur participation in the program, particularly when no transportation funding has been available. In addition, school districts are not required to accept transfer students from neighboring districts.

Thousands affected
On Monday, officials didn't say exactly how many students will have the transfer option, but as many as 600,000 students may be enrolled at the 924 campuses.

Other school districts in the Dallas area that had campuses on the list were Arlington, Birdville, Cedar Hill, Denton, DeSoto, Garland, Grand Prairie, Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Irving, Lancaster, Lewisville, Mesquite and Richardson.

Schools on the list had to have more than 50 percent of their students fail the TAKS in two of the last three years or have had an "academically unacceptable" rating in any one of the last three years.

Other than transportation concerns, education officials also cite other reasons for low participation, including the many school options that students already have.

Among those are independent charter schools, magnet schools and open enrollment schools in many districts that accept students who live anywhere within the district.

Low-rated charter schools are not included on the list because students attend those campuses voluntarily and may transfer back to their home district at any time.


How the state's Public Education Grant system works:

Students can transfer out of any school where more than half the students failed the TAKS test in any two of the last three years or where the school was rated academically unacceptable any of the last three years.

Students can move to another school in the district or to another district if the district accepts them.

Parents must be notified of the right to switch by Feb. 1. Transfers take effect the next fall.

Transportation is not provided.


Here's how the number of schools that students were allowed to leave has grown:

2000: 207

2001: 191

2002: 205

2003: 126

2004: 420

2005: 821

2006: 924


Since the Legislature's last regular session in 2005, the Senate Education Committee has been studying ways to improve school choice. Among its recommendations:

Consider providing money for school districts to transport to different campuses those students who want to leave bad schools.

Allow parents to consider choosing a different school more quickly, even in the same academic year.

SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co.

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