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NCLB Outrages

NCLB Zaps Improved Florida Schools

Ohanian comment: Florida educators are discovering that if one Bush doesn't zap them the other one will. Over the next few years, every state will experience this NCLB double whammy: No matter how much you improve, it's never good enough.

More than 4,000 Palm Beach County students -- all of the high school students in the Glades and nearly all of the elementary students in Riviera Beach -- are eligible to transfer to better public schools this August because of a federal law.

District officials said they were surprised at the news late Wednesday. Even though the former F schools earned better grades from the state Department of Education -- three jumped to C's this year -- they still did not meet the standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The schools affected are West Riviera, Lincoln and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune elementaries in Riviera Beach, Glades Central High School in Belle Glade and Pahokee Middle/Senior High School. Students from West Technical Education Center in Belle Glade, which received its second F on Wednesday, can either transfer to public schools or use tuition vouchers to attend private schools. The latest ratings mean that now more than 5,000 students can search for better education.

Forty-eight former F schools statewide will have to offer their students the option to transfer to better schools because of the federal law. In some cases, the schools made big gains, raising their grades from an F to a C.

But the federal law says students in nine different "subgroups," such as poor children, black children, students who don't speak fluent English, must all make "adequate yearly progress." In Riviera Beach, even though the schools earned C's, some of those groups of students did not improve enough.

It was a disappointment for school officials.

"I am so happy over the fact that these schools are no longer classified by the state as F's and it makes me so upset to have to do this under the federal law," said Joe Orr, the district's former chief academic officer who now works as a consultant.

Mary Helen Arbogast, director of magnet programs and school choice, said she was trying to find a way to rebut the findings, but she wasn't hopeful.

"I was working late yesterday to appeal this because everyone is celebrating," she said.

School officials must send letters now to every student at the six schools, telling them about their options. At Glades, students could transfer to the new Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington or John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres. Other closer high schools, such as Wellington High and Royal Palm Beach High, are too crowded. If the district allowed more students to go to them, it would be violating its own policies.

But on Wednesday, state officials said they weren't sure that school officials could restrict choices based on crowding issues. By late Thursday, state officials said they still didn't know.

In Riviera Beach, school officials are still working on a list of options. The public schools must be C-graded or better and could be in nearby towns or counties. Transportation would be free and parents would have to decide by July 1.

It's too early to predict how many students would be interested in transferring. Pahokee Jr./Sr. High School is moving in the right direction with competitive programs such as International Baccalaureate, said Principal Reed Bain. Besides, it would take his students nearly an hour to get to Greenacres by bus.

In Riviera Beach, parents had a choice of schools, and many preferred their neighborhood schools. When the school board approved a choice plan for Riviera Beach schools in 1999, which allowed them to leave higher-performing schools in Palm Beach Gardens, many chose to return to Riviera Beach.

— Kimberly Miller
4,000 eligible for schools switch
Palm Beach Post
June 20, 2003


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