One of the most contentious provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act is the AYP transfer mandate in which students from schools deemed failing can transfer to schools judged as more successful.
The problem is that the wave of students transferring can tax the receiving school. Not surprisingly, no one in the state keeps track of whether students who exercise their right to transfer to another school end up doing better than their classmates who stay put.
In theory, you might assume that kids would do better at a “better” school, but they may lose ground if the classes are overcrowded or they have adjustment challenges to a new setting. If transportation home to their neighborhoods is a problem, then the students may be less likely to participate in after-school activities or evening programs.
And there is the overarching debate over whether the AYP designations are even remotely accurate in depicting “good” and “bad” schools.
There were so many transfer requests this year to Druid Hills High School in DeKalb that the county created an “annex” to the school in the empty Avondale High School building on the corner of Memorial and Columbia Drives, four miles from the actual Druid Hills campus. The district was responding to concerns of Druid Hills parents who complained that their school already had absorbed 200 students from Avondale High after it closed in May.
It is not just DeKalb parents who are concerned. As a Fulton parent noted in an e-mail to me: I think it would be nice if a follow-up story could be done about the transfers of south Fulton students all the way to Northview and Chattahoochee high schools. Many that I know are not pleased that these schools are now at capacity or almost over capacity. I am curious to know how this affects class size and morale among students and teachers. I also wonder how the teachers fare in understanding the issues with students that must travel so far to come to school. (tiredness, inability to fit in with the rest of the school community) I don’t like what DeKalb has done by putting all of those students in an annex. Sounds very strange to me.
More than half the transferring students in metro Atlanta’s core counties are in DeKalb County, where about 1,300 have asked to change schools this year. Amanda Glover, 14, is one of them. Her mother, Shelia, is willing to drive her to a school that has met the benchmarks established under the No Child Left Behind Act.
“It’s all about academics, 100 percent about that,” said Shelia Glover, whose daughter would have been a freshman at Towers High School had it not repeatedly failed to make those benchmarks. “Their scores in math and reading have really collapsed, and I absolutely want my daughter to go to college,” Glover said of Towers. “We had no choice but to send her to a better school.”
Her definition of better is Druid Hills High. The school was among the county’s leaders on the SAT in 2010, with an average score of 1513. Towers’ average score of 1134 was the lowest of DeKalb’s high schools and well below the state average of 1453.
But Amanda and about 300 other transfer students are attending an annex the school system opened on the grounds of the recently closed Avondale High after hearing complaints from Druid Hills parents about crowding. The transfer students, now housed four miles away from Druid Hills in the shadow of a Walmart in a less affluent part of the county, must take a bus to the main campus if they want to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities. Their testing scores will count toward Druid Hills’ scores.
It’s an example of the contortions forced on school systems and parents by No Child Left Behind. Each year, the law raises performance standards and the list of failing schools grows. This year 379 Georgia schools failed to meet those standards for at least a second year in a row, an increase of 74. Students at those schools are entitled to transfer.
The DeKalb school system has not studied whether transfer students do any better once they have changed schools. School officials say their role is simply to follow the law.
Twenty-two of DeKalb’s schools, about one in six, failed to make AYP for two years in a row, meaning their students are eligible to apply for transfers. About 6 percent did so, according to the school system. Students who wish to transfer can choose from four high schools, three middle schools and three elementary schools designated to receive them.
Because students who have already transferred do not have to reapply, the effect compounds over time. This year, about 14 percent of DeKalb’s roughly 100,000 students are attending a different school as a result of No Child Left Behind. DeKalb school board member Jesse “Jay” Cunningham said too many have abandoned their local schools.
“We need to quit thinking that the grass is greener on the other side,” he said. “We need to keep our kids in our neighborhoods. We need to give our local schools the tools they need to do their jobs.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog