Due to the passage of the Alabama Accountability Act, all of a sudden everybody wants to find out which schools are failing and the children who are not being educated in our schools and the lack of choices they have.  These lists are being used to frighten school boards and superintendents across the state.

An important piece of the conversation has been ignored:  Students in “failing” schools receiving Title I funds already have the opportunity to choose a different school in their district under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) with the cost of transportation being borne by the school district. Granted, the choices aren’t always stellar, but the choice is there.  And keep reading to find out how many families actually choose to move their children to a higher-performing school.

The “Title I” label is important because it is only those children that have the options to move schools.  Children in non-title I schools who continually fail to make AYP do not have the same options.  A school is eligible to receive Title I funds from the federal government if more than 40% of the student population is eligible for free or reduced lunches.

Over the course of the next couple of days, I will share lists of schools that have failed to make AYP (adequate yearly progress, the benchmark under No Child Left Behind that measures how well students test on a particular day of the year).  But right now, I want to share what choices are given currently to students in schools commonly called “failing” under NCLB.

One list to share now:  here is the list of Title I schools in school improvement from the ALSDE.  144 schools are on the list. Here is the list re-ordered by how many years they have been in “school improvement” status.  How many children do these schools house?  How many students are eligible to move out of their school into a higher-performing school?

Tracking down the number of students eligible for school choice wasn’t simple.  There is no data on the ALSDE site, nor in the Alabama media.  But luckily, there’s this cool thing called EdData Express, with just the numbers I needed.

School Choice Options Under NCLB

To repeat, under NCLB, if a school receiving Title I funds fails to achieve AYP for the second year in a row, students and families are required to be offered the opportunity to transfer to another school within the district, with transportation provided by the district.  That only helps, of course, if other schools in the district are not failing also.

Districts were encouraged by the U.S. Department of Education to create reciprocal agreements where students could cross district lines and attend higher-performing schools, but I know of no Alabama school district that took that initiative to do so.

Given that there is a choice that the parent and family make for the student, guess how many students actually transfer out of their failing school.  C’mon.  Guess.

and doing the math, that makes

[If I had any idea how to make that a flashing GIF, I would.]  682.  682 students out of nearly 750,000 in Alabama’s schools in the 2010-2011 school year.  That is less than 1/100 of 1 percent of the total school population.  For real. 682 students of the 42,887 eligible.  What happened to the other 42,200 students?  They chose to stay in their “failing” school.

Why didn’t their parents and families choose to move them? These folks surmise that parents are just happier in their own community schools, more comfortable with their neighbors. Or maybe it’s that the Devil You Know is better than the Devil You Don’t.  Regardless of why, the fact is that most parents and families don’t choose to take advantage of the opportunity to move their child to a better school.

So how does this relate to our present situation?  First, more facts

Tutoring and Supplemental Educational Services Offered Under NCLB

In addition to being offered the choice to move a student to a higher-performing school within the district, students also have the opportunity to take advantage of supplemental educational services (SES), a.k.a. tutoring, if they are attending a school receiving Title I funds that fails to make AYP for a second year in a row. Note: prior to the 2012-2013 school year, SES was only offered after the Title I school failed to make AYP three years in a row, which is what the numbers below reflect.

So how many of those students take advantage of SES?  C’mon.  Guess.

No flashing GIFs here, either.  17.5% of the 30,980 students eligible, or 5,432.  What happens to the other 25,000 children?  Maybe they seek tutoring elsewhere, paying for it out of their own pockets when they are able. Or maybe they just fall farther behind.

Here’s the simple version of who can transfer out of their school or receive SES at what point in the school improvement process:

AYP Status - Title I SchoolChoice Offered?Supplemental Educational Services Offered?
Made AYPNoNo
Did Not Make AYP - 1st timeNoNo
Did Not Make AYP - 2nd time School Improvement - Year 1YesPrior to the 2012-2013 school year: No BUT Beginning with the 2012-2013 school year: Yes (Alabama is piloting a program that requires SES to be offered at this stage)
Did Not Make AYP - 3rd time School Improvement - Year 2YesYes

Quick History of Choice and SES Under NCLB

The ability to transfer has been a part of the NCLB law since 2002.  Tracking whether parents and families received adequate notice and were truly informed of their choices is impossible.  The low participation does lead me to wonder just how many districts actually comply with the federal law to offer choice and SES.

In 2006, a Birmingham advocacy group, Citizens for Better Schools, sued the Birmingham City School district to force them to offer the choice of transferring to a higher-performing school because the district refused to comply with federal law.  No data is available to show how many students took that opportunity.  What a shame it took a federal order to make the district comply.

Participation in Choice and Tutoring in Other States and Nationally

Alabama isn’t the only state with low participation in current school choice offerings. Here’s a look around the Southeast of the percentages of students who took advantage of school choice under NCLB:

You do notice that the upper end of the scale is 6 percent, right? And here are the percentages of students who took advantage of the opportunity for Supplemental Educational Services in 2010-2011:

Many more families appear to be taking advantage of tutoring for their children.  At least in other states.

Why Do I Bring This Sobering News to You?

In part to counteract the “the sky is falling and all these kids in failing schools are gonna leave the public schools and we’re gonna lose hundreds of millions of dollars in the Education Trust Fund” rhetoric.

But mostly in an effort to add to the collective voice that says we are not doing enough with the tools we already have to help children and families that are currently stuck in “failing” schools.

Unless something drastically changes in the next couple of years, the students who are actually currently in “failing” schools won’t be going anywhere, using any tax credits, taking any money out of the Education Trust Fund.  If history is any indication, that is.

We already have tools in place that were designed to help students and families in failing schools.  Why don’t we use them?