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Article of Interest - Michigan Schools

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Bridges4Kids LogoDetroit Students to Finally Get Transfers From Failing Schools
by Chastity Pratt, Detroit Free Press, March 15, 2004
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Detroit Public Schools has finally figured it out. It may have taken all school year, but within a week the Detroit district will send letters letting parents of students at poorly performing schools know which better ones their children may attend, officials said Friday.

Nearly 1,000 students who have waited a year to be transferred from academically struggling schools will get a response from the district.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, public school districts must allow students to switch to better schools if theirs fails to meet annual yearly progress standards. The district also must provide busing if necessary.

It took so long to resolve the situation because officials had to figure out which schools had space to accommodate the requests, said James Humphries, interim executive director who oversees spending for special programs that help low-income children in the district.

"This wasn't an easy process," Humphries said. "We've gotten it pretty much under control. It should be a lot faster" next year, he added.

Students whose parents want them moved should be in new schools by the end of next month, Humphries said.

In August, the district sent letters to 78,000 homes, notifying parents that their children qualified for busing to a better school because theirs failed to meet standards. By September, parents of 942 students requested a transfer and busing.

Since then, officials have looked for schools for those students who attend 130 failing middle and elementary schools.

After reviewing data, officials recently identified 50 better-performing schools with enough space to take the transfers, Humphries said.

Compared to other U.S. urban districts, Detroit lags when it comes to figuring out this process. This school year, in 41 cities required to transfer students, 40 percent of those requesting a transfer were moved by January, according to a report by Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools in Washington, D.C.

San Diego, a district of 138,000 students had 39,000 eligible for transfers. Detroit's district has 151,000 students.

Sandra Robles, manager of enrollment options in San Diego said of the 484 transfer requests officials received last spring and the 200 received in the fall, most of the students were placed in new schools within two months.

"I wouldn't say it's impossible," Robles said of placing the students. "But it is more difficult once school starts."

Michigan State researcher David Plank, who studied the transfer issue in Detroit, said the slow response means Detroit risks losing students to charter, private and suburban schools; the district has lost 20,000 students during the past decade.

But if parents leave because the transfer process is too slow, the exodus won't be significant because there are so few requests in the first place, Plank said.

"In the grand scheme of things it's not a big deal," Plank said of Detroit's delay. "But with an individual kid who would like to go to a different school and finds herself not being able to, then that's a cause for alarm."

Natasha Anderson was so alarmed by the district's slowness to transfer her son and brother -- a third- and an eighth-grader -- that she took them out of the district.

She asked for the transfers from their failing schools during the 2002-03 school year and never got a response, so she enrolled them in school in Pontiac last fall.

"They never got to me. They said they were going to send something to me in the mail; they never did," Anderson said.

Linda Brown, assistant director in the Office of School Improvement at the Michigan Department of Education, said the state won't know for sure until June how many students moved to better schools due to the law.

That's when the state will collect the data on the transfers and report it to the federal government, Brown said.


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