School choice: Stick or switch?
by Lori Higgins and Kim North Shine, Detroit Free Press,
May 28, 2003
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Patricia Duncan has never felt her 7-year-old daughter was
challenged to excel at Bellevue Elementary School in Detroit.
She said she did all she could to change that.
She kept on top of Jasmine's studies.
And she kept in touch with teachers -- trying to be the
But that wasn't enough, she said.
"She wasn't learning what she should be," Duncan said Tuesday
outside the school on Detroit's east side.
She became more frustrated last month after learning that
Bellevue was among 216 middle and elementary schools that had
received failing marks for continual poor performance on annual
standardized tests. Of the schools deemed to have fallen short
of the state's Adequate Yearly Progress standards, 96 were in
Bellevue made the list four straight years.
Duncan said her anger eased when she learned that she had
recourse. Now she is among the parents from those schools making
a critical decision about their children's future.
Their choice: stick with the struggling schools they're at now,
or take advantage of the option to send their children to
That choice is available to them through the No Child Left
Behind Act, the sweeping federal legislation that demands more
accountability of schools.
This fall, Jasmine will move to Butzel Elementary School, a
Detroit public school Duncan has confidence in. Butzel is not
among the schools identified as not making adequate yearly
"She's ready to leave. It's not fun for her. She wants to
learn," Duncan said of her daughter.
Duncan said she's grateful for the No Child Left Behind Act,
which requires states to identify schools that need improvement
and forces those schools to adhere to an improvement plan. But
its hallmark gives parents whose children attend those schools
an option to transfer within their district, with the district
picking up the transportation costs.
Michigan has identified underachieving schools based on scores
on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program test.
For now, Bennie Buckley plans to keep her son Darius, a
second-grader at Pepper Elementary School in Oak Park in the
school because she's encouraged that the school will make
progress. Her proof? The school plans to provide extra reading
help for struggling students.
Buckley said she believes the blame for the school's low reading
scores can't rest solely on the shoulders of staff. Parents also
are responsible for making sure their children are prepared,
"We have a job, too. It all cannot be done in the classroom,"
The Michigan Department of Education expects parents like
Buckley to be the norm. "I don't anticipate a mass exodus of
students out of one building and into another," said T.J.
Bucholz, the department's spokesman.
That's mostly because Michigan already has a strong law that
allows parents to choose their child's school, even if it's in
another district. Since that law hit the books in 1996, and
since charter schools became part of the educational landscape,
Michigan parents have become savvier about picking their child's
school, Bucholz said.
"They're learning that traditional public schools aren't the
only game out there and there are more choices available to
them," Bucholz said.
But the Michigan law doesn't require schools to provide
transportation, a key sticking point for parents.
Dr. Georgia Hubbard, superintendent for the Woodward Academy,
said no students have decided to leave -- even though the school
has failed to meet adequate yearly progress for four years in a
The academy is a Detroit public school chartered as a school of
choice by Central Michigan University in 1996.
"My impression is, parents feel we've been through a number of
transitions, and they are willing to stick with us," Hubbard
The changes have already begun.
There will be summer school classes this year. There will be
more tutoring, and plans are under way to train parents to teach
their children. For the first time, curriculum specialists will
be on staff, Hubbard said.
"No Child Left Behind is forcing us to have higher standards and
to be more accountable," she said.
More parents have expressed interest in another option: The law
requires schools to provide extra help for students, such as
tutoring outside the school day.
Contact LORI HIGGINS at 248-591-5625 or