Wednesday, November 10, 2004

"High achievers leaving schools behind"

Found this MSNBC article via a great blog, The Untergeek.

....Umaid, now a third-grader at Oak Hill Elementary in Herndon, is one of 112 Fairfax students who changed schools this year under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The legislation is intended to give struggling students the chance to move from high-poverty, low-performing schools, but Fairfax school officials have found that the students who take the transfers generally aren't the ones who need extra help.

Instead, they are like Umaid: higher-scoring students from middle-class homes. The trend, evident in suburban school districts nationwide, means that the receiving schools don't have to augment their remedial programs or worry about test scores dropping. It also means that resources spent on transfer students aren't going to the students who need them most, some educators said....

But, you know, what’s so wrong with that?

As most of the people reading this know, I used to teach 7th grade in one of these failing schools – I was a Teach For America corps member for two years in a rural southern school. And I definitely told some of the parents of my brighter students – the parents who actually cared enough about their children’s education to come to conferences and answer the phone – that they should consider trying to get their kids into other area schools that could better meet their needs. My responsibility was to the kids, not to the school.

The tragedy of failing schools manifests itself in many ways: the most obvious, of course, is that many students fail to acquire the most basic skills; but the arguably worse result, in my opinion, is that many students with enormous potential are essentially trapped in schools that do not have the resources or will to tap into that potential.

Both results suck, and we’d like to change them both. We need to work to change them both, and NCLB accountability is the first step. But we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good – if failing schools continue to fail, I believe it is our moral obligation to allow students to escape. The best students, almost invariably, are the ones whose parents care enough to make them do their homework every night and come to parent-teacher conferences, and these are the parents who will take advantage of the vouchers. But the alternative – making those brighter students go down with the sinking ship – is worse.


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