A majority of Pittsburgh Public Schools parents are literally unmoved by one of the biggest provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The 2002 federal law is the first of its kind that allows any child attending a school where state test scores fall short of No Child goals for two years to transfer to another public school -- at district expense. No longer, it was then said, would students be "trapped" in their home schools.
Yet few students are actually making a switch. In Pittsburgh, students at six elementary schools and seven middle schools -- roughly 6,900 students, or about one-fifth of district enrollment -- are eligible to be transported elsewhere, according to Pittsburgh's No Child compliance officer Teresa Romano. This year, only about 170 students, or less than one percent of the district's 34,000 students, left their home school; last year, the first time the school choice provision applied, only about 150 students switched.
Pittsburgh's experience of few transfers is mirrored elsewhere -- but not always for the same reasons.
In Washington, D.C.'s city schools, only 106 students applied for transfers out of about 30,000 -- half the city's public-school enrollment -- who were eligible. Of these, only 68 transfers were granted, according to the Washington Post. Very few slots were actually available in schools with higher test scores, and most of these openings were in elementary schools.
In New York City's public schools, Chancellor Joel I. Klein limited the number of transfers to 5,000 (out of 300,000 eligible students in a district of more than a million kids) to avoid overcrowding the schools meeting test-score requirements. Last week, a Queens parent filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that the restriction was unlawful, The New York Times reports.
After the final state test scores were certified in August, Pittsburgh school officials mailed letters to all the students in "School Improvement" list schools. Many parents called Romano's office immediately; others called their schools directly. "We talked about choices, about options, but only ended up with that many transfers," Romano says.
Much of the appetite for school choice may be sated by options that predate the No Child law, such as the popular magnet schools, created to achieve voluntary racial integration but which are now as well known for their academic programs.
For some parents, free transportation wasn't enough make a commute to a higher-scoring school worth the trouble -- especially for those with younger children. Many others simply ignored the "School Improvement" label, choosing instead to trust their kid's teachers and principal, Romano says: "It was phenomenal -- the parents' response to their schools."