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Last Updated: 02/23/2018

 Article of Interest - NCLBA

The big lie: 'No child left behind'

By Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe, 8/2/2002

Article submitted by Kim Murphy - Thank you!

When President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in January, he said: ''There must be real consequences. There must be a moment in which parents can say, `I've had enough of this school.''' Bush added, ''Any school that does not perform, any school that cannot catch up and do its job, a parent will have these options - a better public school, a tutor, or a charter school. We do not want children trapped in schools that will not change and will not teach.''

Bush's declaration was easy to make back when there were no consequences to hand down. A half-year later, the parents of failing schools and their children remain as trapped as ever.

In Chicago, where 179 elementary schools with 125,000 students have been classified as failing, school officials announced this week that students in only 50 of those schools will be allowed to seek transfers to a better-performing school. That means that only 29,000 students of the 125,000 in failing schools will be eligible to seek transfers.

More insidious is that the CEO of Chicago's public schools, Arne Duncan, announced that students will not be able to select a school more than 3 miles from home. That means that students on the beleaguered south and west sides of Chicago will have no chance at enrolling in better-performing schools to the north, northwest, and southwest.

With all the restrictions Duncan has put in place, there will be only 2,900 transfer slots. Chicago will keep between 97 and 98 percent of its 125,000 students in their traps in failing schools. Duncan said he will spend $35 million of federal money on the failing schools. But the odious whiff of enforced segregation in his plan makes you wonder if the dreamy rhetoric of ''neighborhood schools'' is just another South African pass law.

''We fully support the spirit of the law, but there is a practical reality to deal with,'' Duncan said. ''If every student in every school exercised choice, there would be a great deal of chaos in the system. We simply don't have enough space for the students.''

The spirit is willing, but the enrollment is weak. Some 30,000 children in Baltimore's failing schools have a grand total of 194 slots in better-performing schools in which to transfer. Some 40,000 students in Memphis's failing schools have been told that they must duke it out for 1,500 transfer slots. In South Carolina, some districts, claiming they are too small, are using loopholes in Bush's act to refusing transfers altogether.

The way this is going, No Child Left Behind should be recast as No Child Ever Seen Again. In Memphis, one parent, Tanya White, said, ''With all the schools vying for the same spots, I feel as if I'm wasting my time.'' In Cincinnati, where 17,000 students languish in failing schools, a School Department spokesperson, Jan Leslie, said: ''I don't know that we will have a lot of vacancies, perhaps only in the hundreds. We will not overcrowd or drive up pupil-teacher ratios at schools that are successful.''

Some observers of public schools are not at all worried about the lack of transfer seats for students because in many locales, low-income parents historically do not come out in droves to transfer their children. But what seems to be a lack of interest in education may actually be like the reaction of someone who is constantly told that a concert or sports event is sold out. At some point, all but the most desperate - those who are willing to pay a scalper - give up the hunt for seats.

When Bush signed No Child Left Behind, he and his education team had to know how vast a gulf would emerge between the number of students at failing schools and transfer slots. The cynicism is similar to that regarding vouchers. Bush hailed the Supreme Court decision upholding vouchers, knowing all the while that most wealthy suburbs would not take them and their value would be worthless for elite private schools. Bush has waged no campaign to increase the value of vouchers.

As the weeks pass, many more school systems will announce that tens of thousands of children are sinking in failing schools with even fewer lifeboats than the Titanic. Without any serious attempt to make the consequences real, No Child Left Behind is a trap of its own. When parents like Tanya White are already saying they feel as if they are wasting their time, education remains a game that is sold out for the season.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is


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