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No Child Left Behind Mandates School Choice: Colorado’s First Year

IP-9-2003(June 2003)
Author: Pamela Benigno

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Executive Summary

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) created a mandate that poorly-performing schools (placed on a “School Improvement” list and receiving federal dollars for low income students) are required to notify parents of specific information outlined in federal law, including the parents’ option to transfer their children to a higher-performing school.

This strong accountability program places pressure on educators to increase student performance. Additionally, it creates two measures of accountability for parents: One, it places the responsibility on parents to decide if their children should move to another school. Two, the notification to parents must explain how parents can be involved in addressing the educational problems within the school. The success of the NCLB reform is dependent on the effectiveness of communication between the school and the parents.

This Issue Paper examines letters of notification that were provided to parents with children in Colorado public schools that were placed on School Improvement status. In addition, this paper discusses the results of a survey sent to schools about methods of parental notification. The objective in the first year of this project was to determine whether the format and contents of the parental notification incorporated essential elements required by law and to determine if the required information was imparted in a neutral manner or was improperly biased so as to dissuade parents from opting to transfer their children to another school.

The findings show that in the first year of implementation, many districts and schools did not completely inform parents of their rights, and in some cases misled parents or attempted to deter them from exercising their rights to transfer their children to a higher-performing school. The law is precise about what is required. There is no excuse for confusing, misleading, or intimidating notification.

The following recommendations will aid the success of this educational reform:

1. The Colorado Department of Education should establish a subcommittee dedicated to the NCLB choice provision within its Communication Committee. This Committee already addresses many elements of NCLB.

2. School districts need to not only fulfill the requirements of the law but also live up to the spirit of the law: informing parents of their rights under the law with a neutral tone.

3. Parents must become informed educational consumers. Before parents move their children to a higher-performing public school, they should investigate the school of their choice. And parents whose children remain in their current school need to take seriously their responsibility to become involved in increasing student achievement.

4. The U.S. Department of Education should revise its Draft Non-Regulatory Guidance about NCLB Public School Choice. The parental notification section does not include the requirement that parents must be notified that transportation is to be provided by the school district.