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NCLB Outrages

In Chicago, Only 1,035 Spaces Open for NCLB Transfers

Ohanian Comment: Rig a formula that declares 240,000 children are attending failing schools and strongly imply that they should move to schools judged more successful by that formula. Then say that there's only room for 1,035 of them to transfer. Sounds like a good plan to make the public feel that public education is broken and they'd better get vouchers fast.

Chicago CEO Arne Duncan is right. Time will tell what the Feds will do.

Only a little more than a thousand Chicago students will get a chance to switch schools this fall under federal education reforms that were supposed to give families a chance to flee schools with bad test scores, even though an estimated 240,000 students in the city qualify for the transfers.

With the start of the new school year only 18 days away, Chicago Public Schools officials scrambled to release a list Friday of 38 schools that they say have enough room to accept students this fall from 365 schools identified as "failing" under the federal guidelines.

The number of seats offered Chicago parents this year, 1,035 at 38 schools, is actually fewer than the 1,165 available at 48 schools last year when fewer students qualified for the transfer option. Arne Duncan, chief executive officer of the Chicago schools, said no more transfer spots could be identified without aggravating overcrowding or hurting schools where test scores are improving.

"I am not for putting money into yellow school buses when I can put it into teaching and learning," Duncan said. "I am not going to overburden schools that are improving. Where the law does not make sense, I am not going to do anything to jeopardize the progress we are making."

State and U.S. Department of Education officials said it was too early to say whether Chicago's plan meets the letter and the spirit of the No Child Left Behind law.

But Dan Langan, spokesman with the U.S. Department of Education, said the agency would not allow districts to use overcrowded schools as an excuse to limit options for students. He said districts must find other alternatives, such as free tutoring, long-distance learning or even transfers to better schools in neighboring districts.

"We are very serious about making sure this law is carried out and, if it is determined that a district or a state is not in compliance, I promise we will take the necessary action," Langan said.

Expanded choice of schools

The major change in Chicago's plan compared to last year is that families no longer have to pick a transfer school close to their home. No matter where children live, they can apply for a seat at any of the 35 elementary schools and three high schools on the list.

In an unusual approach, the school district plans to reimburse some parents for mileage if they drive their children to their new schools. Other families may be provided with CTA passes so parents can accompany small children on public transit. Still, many children are expected to be accommodated on existing school bus routes.

"School officials will personally call parents (who receive transfers) to consult about the best transportation option," said Joi Mecks, deputy director of communications for the Chicago Public Schools.

Although there are fewer schools open for transfer this year, the academic caliber of the schools is markedly better, according to a Tribune analysis.

At the 38 schools, the average pass rate on the 2002 state reading and math exams was more than 55 percent, compared with 30 percent at the failing schools.

Deadline next week

Parents face an Aug. 22 deadline to apply for transfers, which gives them a week to try to choose a school from the list. Still, parent advocates and others aren't expecting a rush of mothers and fathers vying for the few available spots for their children.

Some will look at the odds of getting one of the few seats and won't bother with an application effort that they view as futile. Others won't want their children traveling long distances.

"Most parents want their local schools to be made better. They don't want their students moved. People buy into community schools, into schools that are within walking distance," said Derrick Harris, founder and president of the North Lawndale Local School Council Federation. "We need to fix the schools that aren't performing. The solution is not to move children around like checker pieces."

Last year, only 2,407 of the 29,000 students offered a transfer ended up applying to move. Only half had their requests granted, and one-third of them ended up returning to their original schools, officials said.

While the number of children eligible to move this year is about eight times greater than last year, school officials are not expecting a huge surge in demand. Duncan said federal standards "unfairly stigmatize" the schools as failing even though most are improving their test scores.

"We are expecting the vast majority of families to want to stay in their neighborhood schools and be part of the progress," Duncan said,

Lottery to choose students

The demand for transfers still is expected to exceed the supply. School officials will hold a lottery Aug. 26 for schools that receive more transfer applications than they have seats.

The transportation costs associated with the plan also remain unknown because school officials do not know who will apply and where they will want to go. One worst-case budget estimate prepared by Chicago school officials said busing costs could increase by $9 million if new bus routes must be added to serve all 1,035 children. Duncan said he expects a more realistic budget to be about $1 million through the use of the mileage reimbursements and CTA passes.

Duncan also is pledging to provide $2.6 million in additional funding to the 38 schools receiving students so they can hire extra teachers and staff and buy textbooks and supplies for the influx of students. Most schools that accepted transfer students last year experienced a decline on a local standardized test.

Chicago school officials said they already are planning to lobby for a change in the federal law that would mandate districts to offer tutoring and extra support for a year before they are forced to offer choice in the form of busing and transfers. Right now, support services are added in the second year, after choice.

"That's illogical, to move kids before you've tried giving them extra help," Duncan said.

But Langan, from the U.S. Department of Education, said the law allows Chicago to offer free tutoring to students who do not want to transfer to another school.

- - -

Chicago schools open to transfers

Parents at 365 Chicago public schools are receiving letters in the next few days informing them that test scores at their children's schools failed to meet state standards. Their youngsters can seek a transfer to one of 38 other schools across the city.

Accepting schools

Failing schools


About 240,000 students are eligible for transfer, but only 1,035 slots are available at the receiving schools. To qualify, parents must apply by Aug. 22. At schools with more applications than space, the Chicago Public Schools will conduct a lottery on Aug. 26 for available slots.

SCHOOL SLOTS 1 Bennett 68 2 Overton 58 3 Stockton 57 4 Chappell 53 5 Dyett HS 52 6 Greene 50 7 Ward, J 47 8 Mayo 47 9 Everett 44 10 McCosh 44 11 Audubon 43 12 Disney 42 13 Kenwood HS 36 14 Evers 35 15 Lincoln Park HS 27 16 McClellan 28 17 Burr 29 18 Burley 30 19 Mayer 31 20 Ashburn 32 21 Blaine 33 22 Rogers 34 23 National Teachers Acad. 35 24 Chicago Acad. 36 25 Sayre 37 26 Kellogg 38 27 Sheridan 12 28 Talman 12 29 Salazar 11 30 Colemon, J. 11 31 Cassell 9 32 Mt. Greenwood 6 33 Turner-Drew 6 34 Kipling 5 35 McDowell 5 36 Saucedo 4 37 Vanderpoel 4 38 South Chicago Community 4 Source: Chicago Public Schools Chicago Tribune

— Lori Olszewski and Stephanie Banchero
Only 1,035 spaces open for city school transfers
Chicago Tribune



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