Sunday, February 03, 2008

Left in dark over No Child Left Behind

Sunday, February 3rd 2008

Less than 2% of the 181,000 children eligible to transfer to higher-performing schools under NCLB actually did this year, according to education department figures.

"In a city as large as New York, obviously the public school choice part of NCLB presents logistical challenges," said schools spokesman Andrew Jacob. "But we've been doing it several years, and I think we're improving."

Only 9,200 students even applied to leave their failing schools, and of those just 3,090 ultimately enrolled in a different school.

Some parents of kids in failing schools told the Daily News they weren't even aware they could transfer out, and some were turned away from better schools that are already overcrowded.

And still other parents like their children's schools just fine, even if they are labeled as failing, or think transferring kids will only make the institutions worse.

"I definitely don't think the NCLB system is fixing the problem. It's a band-aid, and it's a temporary band-aid," said Stephanie Pryor, who threw out the application to transfer her daughter out of P.S. 93 in the Bronx.

The controversial law was passed six years ago to sanction schools with low test scores and allow parents to transfer their children out. Critics, though, charge that the law punishes struggling schools and encourages educators to teach to the test.

As members of Congress wrangle over whether to reauthorize NCLB, President Bush declared it a success in his State of the Union address and called on legislators to strengthen it.

But while school choice has been held up as a hallmark of the law, the percentage of children transferring nationwide is just as low as it is in New York City. Last school year, only 120,000 kids transferred out of 5 million eligible - just 2%.

With 283 city schools deemed failing - about 20% of all schools - education officials acknowledge the difficulties faced by parents who may want to transfer.

The education department received a $2.4 million federal grant to create a team of advisers that will help parents use the new report cards and other data to decide which school works best for their child.

"Ultimately, that decision is a personal one for parents," Jacob said.

Additionally, under the mayor's "fair student funding" formula, schools earn $2,000 for every child they accept under NCLB.

At some schools, the extra information is needed. Even though she's PTA president at Acorn High School in Brooklyn, Dawn Beckles didn't realize that she could transfer her three children out. She says, though, that she wouldn't have anyway.

"They have teachers that are there for them. For me, to just move them, it wouldn't be fair," Beckles said.

But for some parents who successfully transferred their children, NCLB has been a ticket to a better future.

Until she secured a transfer in 2005, Carol Boyd applied for charter school lotteries and variances to move her son out of failing P.S. 64 in the Bronx, which she said had no school yard and focused heavily on test prep to lift poor scores.

Boyd said she is thrilled with the school where her son, Zachary, landed - Ella Baker in Manhattan. The 13-year-old now walks to Central Park for science classes and plays percussion instruments during concerts at Columbia University's Miller Theater.

"I did a lot of research and I said, 'A-ha! This is the place for him,'" she said. "It makes for a difference."

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