13 March 2012

School Choice

Let's talk School Choice as prescribed by NCLB.  According to NCLB,
"Children are eligible for school choice when the Title I school they attend has not made adequate yearly progress in improving student achievement--- as defined by the state--for two consecutive years or longer and is therefore identified as needing improvement, corrective action or restructuring. Any child attending such a school must be offered the option of transferring to a public school in the district--including a public charter school--not identified for school improvement, unless such an option is prohibited by state law. No Child Left Behind requires that priority in providing school choice be given to the lowest achieving children from low-income families. As of the 2002-03 school year, school choice is available to students enrolled in schools that have been identified as needing improvement under the ESEA as the statute existed prior to the enactment of No Child Left Behind."
We do not live in a Title I school boundary.  Consequently, our school is regularly the recipient of students from other parts of our city whose parents have petitioned them in.  Here are concerns I have in general, and in specific at our school.

First, what many parents who petition their kids in do not realize is that Title I schools get LOTS of extra money and services.  Our school does not.  I have had teachers tell me that often the "School Choice parents" will come in at the first parent-teacher conference and want to know why their child isn't doing well.  The answer?  "Because we have classrooms at near capacity and no classroom aide.  We are attempting to teach the prescribed curriculum without the advantage of having the supplies and other resources provided for us because we are not Title I."  Or, in other words, if the child attended the school where they live they would be receiving more face-time with teacher, have the materials necessary for the curriculum being taught, and possibly have more instruction time (in our school district Title I schools have full-day kindergarten, others do not always).

Second, good test scores do not mean good teachers.  Yes, a good teacher is important and can inspire and encourage a child.  But, if a child shows up exhausted to take a standardized test because a parent had him out at 10pm grocery shopping, is that child's performance on the test truly a reflection of the teacher?

What I'm arguing here is that labeling a school as Title I does NOT mean that the teachers are not doing their jobs or are "bad" teachers.  Most teachers are doing their darndest to teach and help the children in their classes, despite reduced resources and ever changing requirements.  Instead, the thing that I propose is of greater concern is something that the school or teacher cannot control; the demographics.  It may not be PC to say so, but household income (largely dependent on parental education level) is one of the largest determiners of success in school.  I am arguing that the teachers/schools are not the culprits, but rather the level of involvement or emphasis on education in any given home is.  And, because neighborhoods tend to be made up of households of similar income/educational level, certain schools have large groups children who are fighting against the odds.  Moving your child out of a Title I school in order to have "better" teachers doesn't work because it's not the problem.  Choosing to be an involved parent, no matter the school your child attends, does.

Finally, I have personal, location specific, reasons for being against the NCLB School Choice provision.  Our school district does not bus kindergartners, half or full day.  However, if your child is a School Choice student the district must, by federal law, provide transportation to and from the school of choice.  I personally know of a kindergartener who is being bused all the way across town, an ~30 minute drive each way, for 2.5 hours of kindergarten each day.  One child.  On her own little bus.  My tax dollars are paying for that child's ride every day while my pocketbook has paid for me to drive to the school twice day, for two schools years, for my two oldest to attend kindergarten (next year I'll add a third year of driving for my youngest).

Also, the influx of School Choice students has meant that my children have larger classroom sizes.  One teacher I spoke to estimated each classroom at our school has 3-4 School Choice students, or about 75-100 extra students total in the school.  That means that my kids are in classrooms of 24 children instead of 20-21.  With no aides or additional resources.  The NCLB rules are directly affecting my child's education.

In my opinion, School Choice does not meet my minium standards for logic or feasibility.  It's an unfortunate arrangement that we are currently forced to adhere to.  Boo.


Shannon said...

Every school our children have ever attended has been Title 1 and only one was ever below standard. Our current school is one of the top three in the city. We have a very wide range of demographics, though and A LOT of parental involvement. There are also a lot of parents who choose to send their children to "better" schools. One reason is that some schools offer different language immersion programs and that doesn't bother me. I have all kinds of beefs about not attending or improving your own neighborhood schools just because you don't feel it's "good enough". Don't even get me started on charter schools. It does take parental involvement for a successful school and unfortunately some demographics- income and education of parents especially- don't allow for that as both parents are required to work to live. The problem comes when those parents who are able to be home and help at school pull their children out for the School Choice route. You are left with a school full of struggling students and teachers how now have even less help than there was before. And, amazingly, the scores don't go up. The funny thing is, if you'd stay at your neighborhood school and just help out at school a little each week, which you are probably doing at your new school anyway, it would help not only your child but the entire classroom. Everybody benefits and attitudes and grades will show that. The idea behind NCLB is good, but legislating something like this at a federal level is so ineffective. I'm with you- Boo!

La Yen said...

I have absolutely nothing good to say about NCLB. Nothing. It is the dumbest thing in education. Blech.

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