No Child Left Behind and your home
by Alan Haskvitz

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If you are like many parents today, you looked around for a good school district to place your children. You were willing to pay extra for this privilege. And one of the most important criteria was the school’s state rating on tests. Another may have been word of mouth. It is so important that in one California district, you pay nearly $100,000 more to live on the side of the street where the schools have been more highly touted.

So how does this pertain to President Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation? Well, all schools must show continued improvement in all subgroups. The subgroups are: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American students; limited English proficient students; students with disabilities; and economically disadvantaged students.

There are no exceptions; even students who are in special education classes are included in these tests. In fact at most schools, the students who cannot read have the test read to them. Regardless of how well you think your school is doing, if it does not improve test scores in all subgroups, it becomes a low performing school. In other words, if any one subgroup doesn’t improve, the entire school is labeled in need of improvement.

Do you think people will pay extra money to live in a district where the school is not improving? Would you? That extra money you paid will be in jeopardy for another reason. While I don’t want to scare you, I want to point out why this legislation is so controversial despite the good name.

As I stated above, all special education and other students must improve. By 2014, all students must show proficiency in reading and math. But what taxpayers are probably not aware of is the fact students with special needs who do not improve must get additional help. They must pass the same test other students take regardless of their disability. Funding for this program has come under review because the states have raised considerable doubt about the federal government’s ability to fund NCLB, especially in regard to special education.

This is cause for concern. In the case of low-performing or schools that have not raised special education students’ scores, including fully disabled students, the school must provide Supplemental Educational Services such as: tutoring, remediation and special help to all students. That is why school districts have been begging President Bush to fully fund NCLB. A tutor can easily cost $50 an hour, and when you expand that across the district, you get some idea of the expenses in just this area.

If President Bush does not fund the program, the state must make up the difference. This means funding must come from local taxpayers and, in some places, that means your property tax. Since property taxes are based on assessed value, if you paid more to live in a “good” school district, you may pay even more money to augment the school’s efforts to meet NCLB’s requirements.

If any school in your area does not make its Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), there is also the very real possibility students will transfer from that school. If the schools do not improve for two years, districts must pay for students to go to better performing schools. That may mean, for example, the district must pay to have students transported into your school when funds are limited, especially if they are low-achieving students from low-income families. Again, we are talking about a school that has not shown enough improvement in one of the eight sub-groups.

Here is the real kicker for those of you who paid extra to have your children in that quality school. A district cannot deny any student the right to transfer to your child’s school regardless of space if that child is attending a low performing school. Can you say “overcrowded?”

After three years, low-income students from schools that do not perform up to standards must be offered, in addition to a school of their choice, supplemental educational services, including private tutoring. So money that could be spent for computers, music, sports and teacher salaries may now go for these required programs. After four consecutive years, more corrective actions must be taken. This includes replacing the staff, changing the curriculum and hiring outside consultants.

Under NCLB, a real possibility is your school’s best teachers could be transferred to an under performing school. The schools most impacted are those taking Title One Funding. However, experts agree nearly all schools will eventually be rated “In Need of Improvement” because of the way Adequate Yearly Progress statistics are calculated. A California study confirmed other research findings that the more diverse a student body, the more likely schools or districts will fail to make sufficient progress and be sanctioned. However regardless of where you live, it is almost a certainty your local school will eventually fall short of the improvement requirements.

After five consecutive years of not improving, and again, we are not talking about the whole school improving, just subgroups, there must be plans made for restructuring and, after six years, the school must undergo major changes including a state takeover.

Schoolteacher unions and school districts have raised many questions about NCLB both in terms of funding and reality. However for parents and other taxpayers, the real concern isn’t just that your child is going to spend most of the year being taught how to take the test. (Some districts have already considered abandoning fine arts for more remedial reading and math classes.) It’s overcrowding and the investment they have in their homes.

Those parents who send their children to private schools should also be concerned about their land values as only one tenth of the 76.7 million school children attend private school. That means public school performance will continue to be a leading indicator of real estate values.

I encourage you to take a long look at NCLB and decide if you should be involved in supporting it, changing it or eliminating it. There is a lot, literally and figuratively, at stake here for your children and your finances. And of course, as more parents think they can avoid public school problems by going to private schools, remember the law of supply and demand and note tuition has increased steadily. You should also find out what you get for your money.

For example, a very expensive private school in California charges $25,000 a year for day students. Despite this high fee, the school’s web site reports just over 80 percent received 3 or better on their Advanced Placement (AP) exams, even with class sizes well under 20. As a comparison, at least one public high school in the Seattle area district had 89 percent score 3 or better on AP tests, and many other public schools report superior scores. In the district where I teach, one school did better on the AP calculus test than any other school in the world. So it is essential parents do not associate expensive schools with high test scores.

Whatever you decide to do, it is of paramount importance to become more informed, regardless of your political convictions. To that end, if you would like to write your federal elected officials, can connect you.