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The Grass Is Greener Approach To Education

One of the key provisions of the No Child Left Behind legislation holds that if a school has been declared a "failure", the parents have the right to have their children transferred to a better-performing school. But what happens if there is no "better-performing" school available? That’s the situation of a small school system in North Carolina where the only transfer option is to send the students to another district – and that district refused to accept the students. Since most schools are under local control, the concept of students "escaping" their poor schools is yet another poorly thought out provision of NCLB.

The experience in Weldon suggests the depth of entrenched local opposition to school choice, as the Bush administration refers to its plan for offering parents an alternative to failing schools. It also illustrates the formidable practical difficulties in implementing the concept, particularly in small school districts.

Although the obstacles to school choice may be greater in Weldon than elsewhere, the number of students changing schools under the No Child Left Behind law is minuscule nationwide. In rural areas, it is often difficult for parents to find more acceptable schools without traveling great distances. Even in urban areas, good schools are often crowded and reluctant to accept students from "failing" schools.

The obstacles to providing school choice are likely to grow significantly next year as more schools fail to meet the goals of No Child Left Behind for the second successive year. North Carolina officials project that as many as 488 schools in the state could be required to offer school choice, up from 36 this year. In many districts, there will be no alternative to the "low-performing schools."

There is much more in the article about the history and experience of the two North Carolina districts. In the end, however, a parent in Weldon has the right approach to no child left behind (the idea, not the law).

Edwards, the Weldon meat cutter unhappy with the education his children are receiving, says he does not want to send them to a school system he perceives as "unwelcoming." Rather than push for school choice, he is looking for ways to ensure they can receive a quality education in Weldon.

A "quality education" in every school. What a great concept! However, it will take more time, work and money – not to mention major alterations to the structure of public education – than this short-term plan to move kids around like pawns on a chess board.


  1. J.P. Laurier/Catholic School Blogger

    It would appear that in Weldon’s case, the problem is not the lack of availability of a good nearby school, but that school’s unwillingness to take on transferring students. The Post article describes a long history of race-based decision making in the two towns involved; looks like the well down there was poisoned a long time ago. I suspect the situation is similar throughout the South, and that any attempt to force wealthier districts to take on the socioeconomic problems that transfers from poorer schools would bring will make NCLB blow up in lawmakers’ faces.

    I don’t think this situation is what those who wrote NCLB had in mind when they thought about potential transfers, either. They probably envisioned pressuring or shutting down poorly performing schools by letting kids transfer to better schools within the same district, where better results were being achieved with basically the same kind of population. It’s interesting that the Weldon/Roanoke Rapids situation fits the bill as well…definitely a development worth watching.

  2. Tim

    I agree that race seems to play a part in this story but I think the same situation will be played out in many different areas. There are thousands of small school systems in this country and it’s likely that parents wishing to move their kids will be rejected by the next system over for a variety of reasons.

    Even in the large system I work for, parents who want their kids moved from “failing” schools will find the nearby schools in the same district already overcrowded. The nearest opening for many students is likely to be a long bus ride away.

    Interestingly, even if parents in this area had the option of moving their kids to local private schools, they wouldn’t find openings since most of them are at capacity as well.

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