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Number of "Persistently Dangerous" Schools Goes Down

Ohanian Comment: It seems interesting that states are willing, even eager, to categorize schools as academically deficient but very reluctant to name them dangerous.

The small number of schools that states are willing to identify as ''persistently dangerous'' is getting smaller.

Starting this fall, President Bush's No Child Left Behind education law lets students transfer from any persistently dangerous school. But it lets each state define persistently dangerous.

A USA TODAY/Gannett News Service survey last month found that of 92,000 public schools nationwide, only 52 in six states were labeled persistently dangerous. This month, officials in two of those states -- Nevada, with eight, and Texas, with six -- reviewed their statistics and now say they have no such schools. And Pennsylvania officials say students in the 28 schools it designated persistently dangerous aren't entitled to transfers this year.

Texas will honor transfer requests at its six cited schools, at least for this school year. Even so, that reduces the number of schools allowing transfers to 16, which also includes seven in New Jersey, two in New York and one in Oregon.

Critics of the law say more schools should be on the list. ''Quite frankly, it's a travesty,'' says Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo. In Colorado, the number of violent incidents a school needs to be called persistently dangerous is so high that ''not even several dozen murders in one school would meet the benchmark,'' she says.

Musgrave says Colorado has reclassified the word ''fight,'' which now refers only to an incident resulting in serious injuries.

Under the law, victims of violent crime in any school may still get a transfer, regardless of the number of incidents at the school.

Critics say states are downplaying the number of dangerous schools to avoid embarrassment, but state officials say their revisions were the result of bad or missing statistics.

''We didn't want to have schools labeled incorrectly because of a data problem,'' says Suzanne Marchman of the Texas Education Agency. She didn't know how many parents requested transfers.

Marchman says schools mislabeled data, classifying some incidents as more severe than they were. In one case, a student threw a pencil at a group of people, and it was logged as an assault.

Jack McLaughlin, Nevada superintendent of public instruction, says his state's original number was based on incomplete data. Nevada requires three years' worth.

The system may not be perfect, but ''it's what we have,'' he says.

— Greg Toppo
States label fewer schools dangerous
USA Today


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