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 Article of Interest - Charter Schools

Federal Regulations Could Push Up Charter Schools

from Gongwer News Service, November 27, 2002
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When the No Child left Behind Act was first signed by President George W. Bush earlier in the year, the U.S. Department of Education said school districts would not have to offer transportation to from a school failing to meet standards to one meeting those criteria. But that loophole in the school choice language went out the window Tuesday with the release of the department's final regulations implementing the act.

School buildings not meeting adequate yearly progress standards for at least two years on state standardized tests used must offer students the choice of supplemental tutoring or transportation to another school that is making adequate yearly progress. And under the new regulations, those successful schools must make room even if they are already full or have class size reduction plans in place.

School officials in Michigan said the change in policy could lead to creation of more charter schools by school districts and intermediate school districts as schools try to find places for the children who decide to leave the potentially hundreds of schools that are not meeting adequate yearly progress standards.

Some national groups feared the policy could be the opening to again propose vouchers as an option for students in schools not making adequate yearly progress, but federal officials said that idea, originally part of the president's proposal, would not be resurrected.

But state education officials said the policy could lead to development of more charter schools, especially by ISDs, to provide space for those children looking for a choice.

"If you're a school district that doesn't have room, you should start a charter school with your ISD," said Michael Flanagan, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators. "That's just a natural for the ISD to work out something that's a little different than the traditional school."

Tony Derezinski with the Michigan Association of School Boards said charter schools are an option as schools look for choice alternatives. "That is a possibility," he said. "The districts themselves could do it."

But he said the option would only work if the charter school is providing a stronger educational base than the other schools in the district. "The results would have to be affirmative in order for that to be more than a one- or two-year fix," he said.

If the new charter is not making adequate yearly progress on its test scores, it also could be forced to allow students that choice to move to another school.

But Mr. Derezinski said the first reaction of most districts to the new regulations will be panic, especially over the size of the document, which easily tops 300 pages.

The reality of the need to take some action will not likely begin to settle until the State Board of Education completes its work on the issue sometime after the first of the year, Mr. Derezinski said. "When the State Board of Education finalizes the components of adequate yearly progress and the Education YES accreditation program, districts will realize that this is huge and now," he said.

At that point, he said he expected concerns to be raised over the standards of No Child Left Behind, because he said many schools are going to be on the list needing improvement because of the performance of a minority group within the school. The law provides that adequate yearly progress is based on the improvement of the lowest of either the school as a whole or any minority racial, ethnic or economic group within that school.

"The disturbing thing would be to find that because of one subset underscoring you are       consequence. That unfairness alone will bring a lot of uproar from districts."

The requirement for supplemental services such as tutoring also will challenge schools as they try to determine which are the best programs, he said. The state Department of Education is currently compiling a list of approved supplemental service providers.

A final list of schools in need of improvement is expected early next month as the department sorts out the schools that did not make adequate progress based on the standards approved by the board earlier this month but that improved the lowest group by at least 10 percent, which under the federal act grants the school a one-year reprieve from sanctions.

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