Few use school transfer option

Only 39 pupils switched from lower-performing facilities, board is told

`Most parents do not want to'

With academic progress, chance to change may end

Howard County

October 24, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Of the 2,200 pupils eligible to transfer from six struggling Howard County schools, fewer than 2 percent exercised the option this year, Board of Education members learned during their meeting last night.

"Most of the parents do not want to [transfer]," said move coordinator Rae Ellen Levene, adding that the school system does not try to sell the option.

"We don't discourage, and we don't encourage," Levene said. "We just trust our parents to do what's best for their children."

This is the second year such switches have been allowed under the Public School Choice section of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which states that parents may pull their children from certain schools with low test scores.

Last year, 43 Howard children moved to new schools. This year, 39 pupils left their eligible elementaries -- Dasher Green, Guilford, Swansfield, Talbott Springs, Bryant Woods and Phelps Luck -- to enroll in others, including Atholton, Waterloo, Thunder Hill and Worthington.

Priority for the changes is given to low-performing, low-income students, but so few request the moves in Howard that prioritizing has not been necessary, Levene said.

Still, more than half of those who moved have done well in school and come from stable economic backgrounds. That prompted the newest board member, Joshua M. Kaufman, to ask Levene if she is working on ways to increase participation by poorer families.

"We will never do anything to recruit one family over another," answered Levene, who expressed confidence that the choice option won't even be available in the county by next school year.

Each of the participating schools has made one year of progress, she said, and if they repeat the performance this year, they will be released from the program.

"I'm extremely optimistic," she said, that all six of the schools listed as underperforming will have that status lifted because of improvement, Levene told the board. "So, this could be the last year we offer it [transfers]."

The school board also unanimously approved a phase-in plan for the county's new academy-style career education program, although some members said they had doubts about some components.

"I'm concerned about the regional academies and equal access and equity," said member James P. O'Donnell, referring to programs that are recommended at four county high schools but available only to students who provide their own transportation to the classes.

"We provide transportation to students for virtually everything we do, except this," O'Donnell said.

Members agreed to discuss the issue further once the regional centers are closer to being developed.

This year, the system plans to focus on marketing the new programs to the public and revising the curriculum. The first academies -- focusing on areas such as culinary science, construction technology, finance and computer repair -- will begin in 2004.

In other business, a discipline report presented to the board showed that, although African-Americans make up about 18 percent of the county's students, they accounted for 71 percent of expulsions last school year and 44 percent of suspensions.

Middle school suspensions are on the rise, the report also noted, but have decreased at the high school and elementary levels.

Fighting remains a big reason for suspensions, with 594 such incidents in 2002-2003, but other causes include weapons possession (62 cases), attacks on staff members (100), vandalism (52) and theft (107).

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