NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States are Defining Down Failing Schools

September 18, 2002

The new federal education law lets students leave failing high-poverty schools -- and requires the states to provide free transportation to better schools.

But with states in the position of defining failure, states with high standards are punished by having to bus thousands of children to other schools -- while those with low standards aren't, critics observe.

  • Low-income eighth-graders in Arkansas, for example, are among the nation's worst readers -- but the law mandates not a single school there to bus children out this year.
  • Meanwhile, New York's low-income eighth-graders score seventh-highest in the nation on the national reading test, but because of its high standards federal rules require 19 percent of the state's low-income schools to spend money on transportation to a different school.
  • Massachusetts's low-income eighth-graders score about in the middle of the nation in reading, but 24 percent of the state's low-income schools are deemed failures -- so many students are now being bused from "failing" schools that are actually better than schools in other states that are deemed successful.

The federal rules require busing from any school that does not make steady progress toward the state goal, whatever that might be.

In Ohio, bizarrely, students could be bused from a school where 70 percent of students were reading-proficient two years in a row to one that showed "progress" by increasing the number of proficient students from 15 percent to 20 percent.

So Ohio changed its rules. Now a school just needs 42 percent of its students to reach proficiency. That cut the number of schools subject to the federal busing requirement nearly in half.

Source: Richard Rothstein, "Lessons: How U.S. Punishes States With Higher Standards," New York Times, September 18, 2002.


Browse more articles on Education Issues