No Child Left
Behind Puts School Districts in a Bind
by Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle, September 16,
For more articles like this
parents in the Bay Area and millions nationwide are receiving
letters from their school districts saying their children have a
right to transfer immediately from their low-achieving schools
to better ones.
The transfer option is a cornerstone of the federal Education
Act, dubbed "No Child Left Behind," meant to hold schools more
accountable and offer more choices for parents. The act mandates
new tests, new rating systems and even state takeovers as
methods to improve low-performing schools.
The transfer letters, required by the act for the first time
this year, go to families at 1,135 California schools that fail
to meet state testing standards two years in a row and that
receive federal Title I money earmarked for poor kids (parents
can find out if their children qualify for transfer by checking
their school's performance on the California Department of
Education Web site,
Many districts are struggling to cope with the demands of the
act, and the transfer letters often contain inconsistent, vague
and sometimes contradictory details that may reflect the
district officials' own confusion about the new requirements.
"It's a good idea, but it's not really working," said Linda
Lewis, director of special projects with the Vallejo City
Under the law, districts may not claim overcrowding to deny
students the right to transfer. And by law, districts are
supposed to communicate the transfer option to parents in an
But districts and parents are finding that there's nothing easy
about the transfers.
"Parents are overwhelmed with information from the schools,"
said Marin Trujillo, social services director at Dover
Elementary School in the West Contra Costa school district. "My
opinion is that most parents probably did not read the letter.
They should hold a meeting and explain it."
And most districts -- given that potentially all the students at
low- performing schools could demand a transfer -- would rather
play down the option.
A sampling of Bay Area letters shows that some districts bury
the key information about transferring under many paragraphs of
glowing praise about a student's current school.
Some districts, such as Oakland Unified, warn parents that "only
a limited number of students" will be allowed to transfer. Some,
such as Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto, say
students can transfer only "where there is space available."
Others fail to tell parents whom to contact if they do want to
move. And many letters arrived late -- or have not yet arrived
-- even though the law says they must be sent before school
starts. At least one district, Vallejo, originally had planned
to deny transfers altogether this year.
Parents of children at Enola Maxwell Middle School, one of 30
San Francisco schools whose students are eligible for transfer,
will find no information about the option until the bottom of
"The letter is insulting," said Karen Reiter, whose daughter,
Barrett, 11, attends Maxwell in the city's Potrero Hill
neighborhood. "They should be straightforward -- say, 'This is
the law,' and stop with the build-up."
In Vallejo, director Lewis intended to send a letter Thursday to
families at five elementary schools without mentioning the
transfer option. But the district has been able to reverse that
"Our enrollment is down so much that I'm finding I have openings
we hadn't anticipated," Lewis said, adding that a revised letter
would go out in about two weeks.
FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
The U.S. Education Department requires that districts "must make
choice available for students not later than the first day of
the school year" and that "parents should be notified well
before the beginning of the school year."
The federal government may be a bit starry-eyed about that,
state educators say. With thousands of districts struggling to
implement the myriad rules, problems are inevitable, said Maria
Reyes, of the California Department of Education, head of the
office responsible for compliance.
For example, California used to wait until mid-year to figure
out which schools to place in the state's improvement program.
But now that districts have to notify parents in those schools
about transferring, the state rushed to compile the data by
"Even though we made a valiant effort to move the time line, we
know it's just impossible to notify parents before school
starts," Reyes said.
In another possible bending of federal law, Oakland school
district officials told parents that they were limiting
transfers because of overcrowding.
But the U.S. Department of Education says "every student" who
attends an eligible school and wishes to transfer "must have
that opportunity." If the demand for transfers is too great, the
district "must create additional capacity or provide choices of
Yet, in what may be the most confusing interpretation yet of the
new law, Reyes said that as long as districts notified families
about their right to transfer, they did not have to actually let
"A school district can't say we have no room, sorry," Reyes
acknowledged. "However, the law does not say that you have to
create space for every child. What we tell school districts is
to document that they made the effort."
The effort may be all that's required by most parents anyway.
An informal survey of parents who received letters suggests that
many appreciate their children's schools, regardless of
"It's really been good for my daughter to walk to school," said
Reiter, whose daughter attends Maxwell in San Francisco. "She
owns a piece of this neighborhood now."
Felisha West of Oakland got one of the district's letters but
said she had no intention of transferring her second-grader,
Nicole, from Brookfield Village Elementary.
"I know that our school didn't meet our (academic) target," West
said. "But it's a very good principal here. We all work
West said she and many other families were comfortable with the
schools in the flatlands, where lower-performing schools are
"Parents should be careful when they make the move," West said.
"But you have to know your child's needs and how the school is
run. You can't expect your child to succeed just because it's a
back to the top ~
back to Breaking News
~ back to