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NCLB Outrages

Palm Beach Transfer Option Could Affect 50,000 Students

As many as 50,000 students at 64 of the poorest schools all over Palm Beach County could choose another school this fall if they don't make adequate progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Parents whose children attend those schools will be sent a letter next week advising them of the choice option. In mid-April, the superintendent will send another letter asking them to select alternate schools or decide to stay where they are.

The school district projected the number based on the schools where at least half the students receive free or reduced-price meals and didn't perform well last year. Those schools get extra federal money and are the only ones required to provide choices when students don't meet the standards.

The district must pay for the costs of school choice, including transportation.

Penalties escalate each year the school does not progress, with the addition of free tutoring programs in the third year and ultimately a state takeover or forced reopening as a charter school.

The 2-year-old No Child law requires all students to perform on grade level by 2014 regardless of race, disability or newness to the country.

"On the state level, we've got the FCAT. On the national level, we've got No Child Left Behind and adequate yearly progress," School Board Chairman Tom Lynch said. "It's very difficult to serve two different masters. It's almost impossible to keep them both happy. They're not compatible at all."

But Superintendent Art Johnson expects the state FCAT grading system to supercede the federal one in parents' minds, warding off a major shuffle.

"Ninety-six percent of our schools are rated A, B or C," he said Friday. "Most parents are pleased with their schools."

Last year, six schools that previously scored low on FCAT had to provide alternate schools for their students. Only about 300 of 4,000 students eligible asked for a switch.

School board members will meet Monday to talk about the possibility of a much larger movement this fall. Palm Beach County won't know for sure which schools didn't show enough gains until the summer. What they do know: Every student must get more than one alternative, and the poorest students with the lowest test scores have priority for changing schools. That means siblings might not attend the same schools.

But parents won't get to choose any school in the district and have only two weeks to decide whether they want children to attend other schools.

Schools with special requirements, such as auditions, may be off limits, and the district wants to keep children close to their original school to control transportation costs, Johnson said. A crowded school can't be eliminated automatically, however, and that could tank a district agreement with municipalities and builders to limit new home construction where schools are full.

Logistics aside, school board member Debra Robinson said the district has bigger problems if as many as 50,000 students can transfer.

"Unfortunately, we haven't taught the children. That's the primary thing," she said. And putting students in schools with a track record of success -- possibly crowding that school -- doesn't guarantee improvement.

"There is an assumption made that there are good schools and bad schools. You have some outstanding progress happening in schools that have a bad reputation. You also have kids that aren't learning a thing that have a good reputation," she said. "Just because a child is not doing well, a change in location is not (necessarily) going to cause them to be accelerated academically."


— Nirvi Shah
Palm Beach Post


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