NCLB & Student Transfers

This morning’s Knoxville News-Sentinel reports that hundreds of families are exercising their option to transfer out of “high priority” schools, or those not meeting standards established by No Child Left Behind.

It’s not difficult to see that most of the transfers are out of East Knoxville schools, and into West Knoxville schools — Farragut High is particularly hard-hit, with 155 new transfer students.  Since Hardin Valley Academy opened, Farragut no longer suffers the extreme overcrowding that was a problem in years past, but they do have a shortage of staff to accommodate that many new students.  What will they do with the surplus of teachers in other schools?  Transfer them to Farragut, where more teachers are now needed?

If that’s the case, will anything really change?

I have a lot of unanswered questions about this whole process.  One of those is, if the students transferring out of failing schools are the ones whose parents are most interested in education, does that leave behind the students whose parents are least interested, thereby making the danger of the failing schools falling further behind, much greater?

Another question is, will the transfer numbers sufficiently change the demographics of the school such that it raises the sub-group numbers at the receiving school to the level where they “count,” will the receiving school fail next year?  For those not well-versed in the mechanics of NCLB, a sub-group (economically disadvantaged, african-american, hispanic, native american, asian/pacific islander, English as a second language (ELL), or special education students) only counts for NCLB purposes if there are 45 or more students in that sub-group.  So, if Acme High School only had 35 English language learners last year, but due to transfers, has 50 this year, then those students’ performance will count this year where it didn’t last year.

Those aren’t all of my questions, but it’s enough of a start to make one’s head hurt.

Lastly, Knox County is offering transportation to the transfer students.  Given the distance from, say Carter High School in Northeast Knox County to Farragut in deep West Knox County, it’s probably at least a 30-minute ride by car (without morning traffic).  That means it’s probably a 1.5 hour bus ride… and a whole lot of extra transportation cost for the school system.

NCLB brings some very positive changes to education, most notably, close tracking of data for all students, and making that data very public.  Unfortunately, it also brings more sticks than carrots, and I’m not at all certain that the “sticks” being used are truly going to effect meaningful improvement.   Change, yes — but not all change is good.