In my rant a couple of posts back, I noted that very few of the students who chose to move from two "failing" schools in our district were those who were actually doing poorly. And I implied that these students were diverting resources from others who actually needed them.
In a comment to the entry, Dave Shearon asks a good question about the schools and, in many ways, it points up one of the major flaws of No Child Left Behind.
…to what extent do you think the underperformance of these schools is a result of lack of resources rather than poor leadership from the principal, high concentrations of less-effective teachers, poor or even hostile adult relationships and other such factors which could be addressed if the system tried?
Compare the school profiled in the article from our district with a "failing" schools in DC (or even another large suburban system) and I’d bet the answers would be very different. Two different buildings (the one in our system is about three years old), two different neighborhoods, two different staffs, two different groups of kids. Two different sets of factors that led to the "failing" label.
The NCLB law, however, operates on the assumption that all schools – and all students – are exactly alike. All students learn at the same rate and, if they don’t pass the tests, the causes must also be identical. What’s worse, the law assumes that the staff at a "failing" school must be doing nothing to help students improve and that simply moving students to a new school will change everything. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work when it comes to teaching kids and it won’t work for school reform either.
Finally, entries about the Post article on some other sites implied that the non-failing kids choosing to transfer was nothing more than school choice at work. Wrong! There was no real choice involved here. Parents got to choose from two schools that had programs almost identical to the ones the kids were leaving. They were simply the closest schools with space for the transferring students.
A real choice system would offer several different types of programs for the students to select from. It would offer an education program for parents so they could fully understand their choices. It would make sure that the qualifications of the teachers fit with the program at their school. Regardless of NCLB, that kind of choice needs to be offered to the students in our system – and probably everywhere else.