Schools setting limit on transfers

194 of 30,000 students eligible will be allowed

July 10, 2002|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Baltimore school officials said yesterday they will offer 194 places this year for 30,000 students who are in schools designated as low-performing and are eligible to transfer to a better school.

The city, like other school districts around the nation, is required to give parents whose children are in schools that have been classified as "failing" the choice of moving them to another school or providing extra help, such as tutoring after school, on Saturday or with a private company.

The school choice option is being offered for the second year, but this is the first time the federal government has required school districts to provide transportation for students to get to their new schools.

So few spaces are available, according to Chief Academic Officer Cassandra Jones, because schools that the city designated to accept the students were nearly full. School officials also pointed out that only 22 students took advantage of the option last year. If more than 194 students apply for a transfer, the city school system will randomly select students Aug. 8 and parents will be notified Aug. 12.

Michael Hamilton, president of the Council of PTAs, was not satisfied by the number of spaces allotted. "By sheer numbers alone, we know this is not adequate," said Hamilton. He believes that many more parents will want to take advantage of the option this year.

"Any concerned parent will want their children in an effective school," Hamilton said. "So there are going to be a lot of parents who are disappointed because they won't be one of the 194 picked."

State officials declined to comment on whether the city is meeting the requirements of the new No Child Left Behind Act. However, they said they would be monitoring the progress in each district.

In a letter to school superintendents around the country, Education Secretary Rod Paige said school districts are "required to provide all students enrolled in [a failing] school with the option to transfer to another public school." When school choice is not possible, Paige told school superintendents, they "are encouraged to establish cooperative ... agreements with nearby school districts to allow transfers."

Baltimore City schools have made no such agreement with nearby districts.

Baltimore has 83 schools that have been classified as low-performing based on 2-year-old test scores. However, some of those schools have improved their scores significantly in the past two years. Still, 30,000 students are eligible to transfer. School officials limited the number of transfers, they said, because they designated only 11 elementary schools -- and no middle schools -- as schools that could receive transfers.

Jones said the system decided that only schools that had improved over the past two years, had a combined score of 40 or above on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program and had space for more students could accept transfers.

The 11 schools that pupils can move to are: Hilton, George Washington, Dallas F. Nicholas Sr., Hampden, Franklin Square, James Mosher, Bentalou, Patapsco, Thomas Jefferson, Armistead Gardens and Leith Walk elementaries.

While the city is not allowing many students to transfer, Jones said the school system has promised to go beyond the law and offer extra services to all eligible students and to pay for them. While city schools hope to offer most of the services themselves, the law says parents have the option to choose from a list of approved tutors. That list is not yet available.

The city is one of the last districts in the Baltimore area to notify parents of their rights to transfer their children. Letters went out to parents Friday informing them of their options and giving them three weeks to make a decision. Jones said the city school system did not begin the process sooner because it was waiting for more details of the law and its implications from the U.S. Department of Education.

The school system plans a media campaign in the next three weeks to notify parents, using radio and newspaper advertisements, radio shows, information on the school system's Web site and two public forums next week.

However, Hamilton, of the Council of PTAs, said he is concerned that parents may not find out about their rights until it is far too late to take advantage of them. He said he hopes the school system will have information about what additional tutoring services are available by the beginning of the school year.

Parents who have questions about the transfer options or want more information can attend the two public forums. They will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday at the school headquarters at 200 E. North Ave., and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Edmondson-Westside High School, 501 Athol Ave.

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