Sharp Decline in Transfers to New Schools
Ohanian Comment: Transfer options seem to range from difficult to impossible in New York City.
Two months into the school year, only 140 New York City public school children have transferred out of failing schools under the federal No Child Left Behind law, a sharp decline from last year, when close to 7,000 students transferred under the law.
The 140 students who have switched schools so far are among 640 who were given the opportunity to transfer last month. In addition, 921 students have been sent letters in recent days offering them the chance to transfer, and 3,437 are still waiting to hear whether their transfer requests will be granted.
Most of the students who have been offered transfers are elementary school students, with preference going to low-performing children from poor families. This year, unlike last, no high school students are allowed to transfer under the law. Few middle school students have been given the opportunity to move to better schools because city officials say there are too few seats; almost half of the city's 315 middle schools are classified as failing under the law.
LaVerne Srinivasan, the department's deputy chancellor for operations, suggested several reasons that 500 students asked for transfers in September only to reject them in October. Parents may not have wanted their children to travel far from home, she suggested, and some may have felt that the schools where the children were offered seats - each student was given two new schools to choose from, and the option to stay put - were not much better than their original schools.
In addition, she said, some parents remain hopeful that Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein's efforts to overhaul public education in the city will improve conditions at their children's original schools.
"We've put in the curriculum and the coaches," Ms. Srinivasan said, referring to a new standardized curriculum and literacy and math coaches. "There are a lot of things happening in these schools that might be different than a year ago."
The department declined to provide a list of students who have been offered transfers, citing privacy concerns. Officials also refused to provide a list of schools that students have transferred into and those they have transferred out of, saying they would release this information only when the process was complete.
Other education experts and children's advocates, however, said they believed the large number of declined transfers was a product of the department's decision to offer transfers well after school started. They also questioned the quality of the new schools where the transfer seats were offered.
"If I were guessing, I would say it was something unpalatable in the choices," said Diane Ravitch, an education historian who has studied the New York City schools. "Most probably it was very inconvenient, or they looked at the two schools and decided it was not a better choice."
Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said that she had not been happy with the department's reaction to No Child Left Behind last year, but that this year's response was also lacking.
"They overzealously read the law last year, and now they've underzealously read the law," Ms. Weingarten said. "In their overzealous interpretation, they overcrowded a lot of schools. And now they went in completely the opposite direction. There has to be a middle ground that makes sense."
Ms. Weingarten said that given the timing, she was not surprised that 500 families rejected the opportunity to transfer. "Either there is this glaring indifference to the tempo of a school schedule, or they wanted this to be the outcome," she said. "I'm surprised they had any transfers, given the way in which they timed it and phased it."
The No Child Left Behind law requires states to monitor schools' progress closely, tracking factors such as test scores and attendance. Schools that receive Title I poverty money and that fail to meet performance targets two years in a row are labeled "in need of improvement," or failing. According to the law, students at those schools must be given the option to transfer to other schools unless health and safety concerns make that impossible.
School districts throughout the country have struggled to comply with the transfer provision of the law. Last year, New York was unusual in offering transfers to everyone who was eligible. In New York, as elsewhere, most eligible students do not seek transfers. In fact, while 5,000 students requested transfers this year, more than 300,000 were eligible.
Last year, 220,000 students were given the option to transfer before school started, but the offers were based on data from the 2001-2 school year. This year, the city waited until the State Department of Education released the list of schools deemed failing based on last year's data - which happened just before school started.
Ms. Srinivasan, the deputy chancellor, defended the decision to use the updated information and said that given the circumstances, the city was moving as quickly as it could to offer seats.
The transfers are being offered in waves this year, she said, to ensure that the city's better schools are not overcrowded, as many principals complained last year.
Betsy Gotbaum, the public advocate, called the low number of No Child Left Behind transfers "another example of the Department of Education's inability to work with parents effectively."
Eva S. Moskowitz, chairwoman of the City Council Education Committee, said that last year's transfers should not have overwhelmed a system of 1.1 million schoolchildren and that it was unrealistic to think that parents would want to move their children months into the school year.
"This is no choice, by design, to me," Ms. Moskowitz said. "They orchestrated, in effect, a cap." She added: "Would the deputy chancellor of operations pull her kid out of a school in the middle of the year and go to some other location?"
New York Times
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