Parents skip on school choice

In Baltimore County, 89 of 1,347 eligible pupils to use transfer option

August 05, 2002|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Roslyn Brogden's two children attend schools in southwest Baltimore County that consistently score near the bottom on standardized tests, which gave her the option of sending them to better-performing schools this fall.

But after thinking about transferring her children, Brogden decided against it: They would be spending the day far from home and she doesn't own a car.

"My son is an asthmatic. How would I get to him if I need to?" Brogden asked.

In Baltimore County and throughout the Baltimore region, most children who are eligible to transfer to better-performing schools in their district under the so-called Title I option are sticking with neighborhood schools.

Baltimore County school officials announced last week that 89 students - 7 percent of the 1,347 eligible - are taking advantage of the law and switching schools. Of the 6,800 students eligible for transfers in four suburban counties, 244 applied.

Brogden's case offers a window into parents' decisions on the Title I option, which the federal government made mandatory last year as part of a movement to provide greater school choice.

Brogden, a single mother who is unable to afford a car, said she takes public transportation to her office manager's job. She was afraid that if she moved her children, she would miss PTA meetings or teacher conferences at schools across the county from her home. In addition, the county is not required to provide transportation home for children who stay after school, and it does not.

So next month, Brogden's 12-year-old daughter will enter the seventh grade at Woodlawn Middle School - the only county school in danger of being taken over by the state. And her son, 9, will start fifth grade at Powhatan Elementary, where 27 percent of pupils had satisfactory scores on the state reading test last year and 14 percent of pupils had satisfactory math scores.

The 89 students scheduled to transfer next month are a small fraction of the 107,600 in the county public school system. School officials interpret that as a sign that parents are satisfied with their neighborhood schools or, at least, satisfied that those schools are taking steps to improve performance.

The latter was true for many parents at Powhatan Elementary, said Kimberley West, PTA president there. "It was because of the rise in [Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills] scores and the so-called progress in the school," she said. "A lot of parents are waiting" to see how the school performs this year before deciding to transfer their children.

CTBS scores rose in reading, mathematics and every other subject for fourth-graders at Powhatan last year, although they declined in most areas for second-graders.

In Baltimore County, pupils at three schools - Woodlawn Middle, Powhatan Elementary and Winfield Elementary - were eligible to transfer. They could move to any school in the district that had higher test scores, was not crowded and did not have special curricula, such as magnet schools and schools for the handicapped.

Early on, some parents from schools eligible to receive transfers reacted with alarm, fearing the new students would overwhelm their schools.

Parents whose children were going to enter Dumbarton Middle School, for example, worried that the school would become crowded and wondered whether they should have sent their children to private schools. But Jo Ann Swick, president of Dumbarton's PTA, said fears abated after the principal assured parents that few pupils would be transferring in, and that they would be spread throughout the school. Nine pupils will transfer to Dumbarton.

"Everybody's fine with it," Swick said. "We look at it as an opportunity to make a difference in someone's life."

Michael Franklin, president of the PTA Council of Baltimore County, said that reaction was typical across the county.

According to the final numbers, 27 of the transfer students are from Powhatan Elementary, 20 are from Winfield Elementary and 42 are from Woodlawn Middle.

The transfer students are scheduled to go to 10 elementary and seven middle schools. Summit Park Elementary and Loch Raven Academy, a middle school, will receive 14 pupils each, the most of any school. Arbutus Middle will take 12 pupils.

Bedford Elementary will take eight transfers, and Hillcrest Elementary and Westchester Elementary will take six each. No other school will have more than five. The other schools taking pupils are: Catonsville Elementary, Fort Garrison Elementary, Lutherville Elementary, Riderwood Elementary, Stoneleigh Elementary, Woodbridge Elementary, Cockeysville Middle, Hereford Middle, Perry Hall Middle and Ridgely Middle.

Four pupils from Woodlawn Middle School who had applied to transfer decided against it.

Last year, the program got off to a rocky start in Baltimore County. It did not get under way until well into the first semester, and parents who wanted to switch schools had to find their own transportation. About a half-dozen pupils participated.

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