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There's a Reason that New York City, Unlike Chicago, Hasn't Refused Any NCLB Transfer Requests

New York City school officials, already struggling with overcrowding as a result of transfers from failing schools, are looking for ways to avoid giving thousands more students the opportunity to transfer this year.

Under the new federal No Child Left Behind act, the city is supposed to let students in failing schools move to better ones. Already this year about 8,000 students have chosen to transfer, causing class sizes to balloon in some of the city's better performing middle schools.

A new wave of transfers could be coming. On the third day of school, 43 additional schools that receive federal poverty money were labeled as failing to meet standards. If the city responds to the new federal law this fall the way it did last spring, thousands of new students would be eligible to move.

City officials say such movement would be disruptive to both the schools and the students, and education officials are now examining the federal law to see whether it allows other remedies. One alternative being considered is offering students tutoring instead of transfers.

"We're weighing the alternatives at this point and have not been able to come to a decision on exactly what options to follow at this juncture," said Peter Kerr, a spokesman for the city's Department of Education.

New York has gone further than many other school systems in following the federal law. In Chicago, 19,000 students requested transfers from failing schools but only 1,100 were allowed to move, apparently without the city suffering sanctions.

In New York, officials said no transfer requests were rejected, although the 8,000 who chose to transfer were only a small part of the roughly 300,000 students in 315 schools who were eligible.

Some children's advocates believe that many parents did not know about the transfer option last school year or misunderstood how it worked, and that more parents would pursue transfers if they are offered again this school year.

Faced with that prospect, city officials were considering what to do when they noticed a recent statement by the federal education secretary, Rod Paige, that seemed to offer some solutions.

In an online chat with educators, Dr. Paige was asked what could be done for students who would like to transfer when a district's high-performing schools are at capacity. In his response, as in other recent public remarks, Dr. Paige was less clear-cut about the matter than he had been in the past.

"The school district can come up with innovative ways to meet the students' needs," Dr. Paige responded. "They can use supplemental services sooner, can create charter schools, and can create schools inside of schools. They can even use technology to provide choices and options for students. The district can also work with other nearby districts to provide more options to parents. All of these choices can be accomplished by effectively utilizing Title I funds. The bottom line is these students need extra assistance to attain the education they deserve."

Mr. Kerr said Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and the department's lawyers "have taken into account the secretary's comments and are looking at all options so that the school system will fully comply with the law but also will take into account the needs of the many children affected by No Child Left Behind."

"Some of the factors that are under consideration are the capacities of the schools which would receive transfers, the disruptive nature of transfers during the middle of the school year, and the ability to provide appropriate choices to students and their families going forward," Mr. Kerr said, adding, "We are very concerned about the disruptive nature of transfers on a school system where there may be limited capacity to absorb more transfers in midyear in some grades."

Some officials have questioned why New York City made such an effort to comply with the transfer provision.

In Chicago, for example, transfers were only offered to 1,100 of the 19,000 students who applied because "we refuse to overcrowd schools," said Joi M. Mecks, a spokeswoman for the Chicago public schools. "Any school, regardless of how well the school is doing, if they get an influx of students, there's definitely some things that have to be adjusted."

In New York, Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, suggested the city was trying hard to show compliance with the law for political reasons.

"Unlike Chicago, in New York you had a Republican mayor who was trying to get the Republican convention and was trying to show that they were being more compliant with No Child Left Behind than anywhere else," Ms. Weingarten said.

In a telephone interview, Dan Langan, a spokesman for the federal Education Department, echoed Dr. Paige's remarks, saying that when the department advised state and local districts with capacity problems, it discussed a variety of acceptable programs that can be considered "choices," from transfers to distance learning. He said the counseling did not reflect a change in policy. "That's the guidance the Department of Education has offered for some time," he said.

City and state education officials seemed surprised, though. Eva S. Moskowitz, chairwoman of the City Council's Education Committee, said the notion that large school districts could deny parents transfers in favor of other remedies "appears to be a step backwards from their earlier commitments."

She said that she believed the city was obligated to allow students to transfer from schools deemed to be failing, but that she would not insist the city do this in the middle of the school year.

"It's awfully inconvenient that the state announces these things in the middle of the year, but I would say that at a minimum they need to offer parents a choice in January or February at the latest for the following September," Ms. Moskowitz said.

Assemblyman Steven Sanders, a Manhattan Democrat who is chairman of the Assembly's Education Committee, said the State Education Department had taken the position that students in the 43 newly listed schools in need of improvement must be allowed to transfer this school year.

"I've heard that the city is not convinced that they are required to offer parental choice in the first year," Mr. Sanders said.


— Elissa Gootman
New York City's Schools Fear a Wave of Transfers
New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/30/education/30SCHO.html?tntemail0


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