OKLAHOMA'S dismal performance in placing a record number of schools and districts on the federal needs-improvement list has one redeeming factor: More students than ever have an opportunity to transfer to a better school in their district.
We're a proponent of school choice in providing students the opportunity to improve their education either through attending a charter school or a higher-scoring school in the district.
Sixty-one school districts — six times more than ever — are on the state's list of districts in need of improvement based on student performance during the 2010-11 school year. The list of individual schools in need of improvement has grown to 227, up from 90 in the 2009-10 school year.
That number likely will decrease considerably if the state's application for a waiver from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act is approved. A draft of Oklahoma's waiver application shows the state aims to shift the focus of its school accountability system onto individual student growth. The foundation of the new system will be “A” through “F” grades for every school and district, which will replace the Academic Performance Index scores in 2012.
Federal standards under the No Child Left Behind Act have gotten tougher each year. Schools and districts land on the needs-improvement list not for overall poor performance, but if one of 24 subcategories of students (poor, black, English language learners, special education, etc.) fails to score high enough on state exams two years in a row. Districts are deemed in need of improvement if one of those subcategories at each grade level — elementary, middle, high school — fails to score proficient on state exams.
Federal law requires districts in need of improvement to set aside 20 percent of the federal funding for school choice and tutoring at schools in need of improvement. An additional 10 percent is allotted for extra training of teachers at schools with low-income students.
Unfortunately, few students are taking advantage of the transfer option. About 16,000 state students were eligible in 2010 to attend a different public school. Of those, 194 students — about one-tenth of 1 percent — actually transferred.
The lack of participation isn't due to transportation problems as school districts are required to transport students to the new school. Many parents are either ignorant or apathetic about the available choices for their children and others also would prefer to stay in neighborhood schools.
The transfer provision has become a headache for districts in locking up much-needed federal money, which they can't spend.
The state's waiver, if approved, likely will result in fewer schools landing on the needs-improvement list. The drawback for students will be that fewer will be eligible to take advantage of the transfer and tutoring options in the current law.