- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

More than 12 million children are stuck in low-performing public schools nationally as the new academic year gets under way.

For the second consecutive year, nearly half the public schools in the District failed to make “adequate yearly progress” under provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.

School districts in just 19 states, including Maryland and Virginia, gave parents complete report cards about school performance in their communities, as required by accountability provisions of the two-year-old NCLB, according to the Education Commission of the States (ECS).

Thirty-one states and the District provided only partial reports.

As the nation’s 48.5 million schoolchildren began returning for the 2004-05 academic year, federal education officials say state reports show that at least 24,000 public schools — a quarter of the 96,500 nationwide — failed to meet “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) last year, based on student reading, mathematics test results and other factors.

Those schools predominantly served minority and economically disadvantaged students.

The NCLB’s goal is to have every child reading proficiently and doing math at grade level by 2014. Yearly progress under state plans, in return for federal funds, is required to reach that goal and eliminate the wide achievement gap between white students and some minorities.

The gap between white and black students in the District is 70 points on standardized tests — meaning that the average white student in the city’s public schools scores a full year ahead of the average black student in the same grade.

Schools that fail to meet AYP for two consecutive years are listed as being “in need of improvement” and receive additional federal funds for supplemental tutoring, transportation of students to other schools, and other remedial services to help get off the probation list.

Schools that persist beyond three years in failing their state’s AYP targets can be taken over by the state, restructured or closed.

“If after all this support a school continues to fall short, students should not be shortchanged,” Education Secretary Rod Paige said in a back-to-school message last week

“Under No Child Left Behind, the needs of the child, not the ‘system,’ come first,” he said. “Parents may transfer their children to another public or charter school of their choice, with free transportation. Children trapped in persistently dangerous schools are also eligible to transfer. And economically disadvantaged children may receive free tutoring, after-school instruction or other academic assistance if their school continues not to make progress.”

But school systems such as the District’s, where 68 of 149 schools, or 46 percent, failed to make the AYP in reading and math for the second year in a row, find it practically impossible to grant transfers to all those entitled to switch schools — almost half the capital’s 64,000 students.

The District daily buses many of the city’s children to and from schools in suburban Maryland and Virginia, under contract, because its schools cannot serve children adequately, according to statutory mandates.

Only two of the District’s 20 traditional middle and junior high schools and three of 15 traditional high schools are not on the probationary substandard schools list, so there are few available slots for transfers.

In Maryland, about 200, or 14 percent, of 1,385 schools statewide failed to meet AYP for a second year in a row to make the probationary need-improvement list.

Eighty-two of Baltimore’s 177 schools, 46 percent, and 35 of Prince George’s County’s 197 schools, 18 percent, make up more than half the state list. No other Maryland district had more than 10 schools flagged as persistently substandard.

Virginia reported that 506, or 28 percent, of its 1,831 schools did not make AYP in the 2003-04 school year, with 91 on the list for the second year in a row that must offer student transfers to better schools.

Fifteen suburban Virginia schools needing improvement made the list — six in Arlington; four in Alexandria; two in Fairfax County; and one each in Prince William and Stafford and Warren counties.

Failure of school districts to provide children in substandard schools federally funded supplemental tutoring or a chance to move to a more successful public school under the NCLB looks like an education establishment “conspiracy” to foil parental school choice, says Chester E. Finn Jr., assistant education secretary under President Reagan and current president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

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