Can NCLB Choice Work? Modeling the Effects of Interdistrict Choice on Student Access to Higher Performing Schools

Alicia Goldberg

Although NCLB says that students in failing
Title I schools are supposed to be able to transfer to better options within
their districts, few families have opted to make the switch, often because of a
dearth of quality alternatives within those districts. In response, the Obama
administration’s blueprint for overhauling ESEA proposes an inter-district
transfer option for eligible students, fueled by competitive grants to
participating school systems. This new modeling study from the Century Foundation
tries to determine whether such a policy would increase student access to
high-quality schooling. Its methodology is complex and more than a little
confusing, but its findings are clear: Based on data from forty-five states, analysts
estimate that interdistrict-choice programs could potentially expand access to better
schools for 80 percent of students in eligible low performers nationwide. (In
the current system, only 5.5 percent of students stuck in failing schools have
access to adequate alternatives.) Further, they report that students in the
Northeast and Midwest would benefit the most, likely due to, in part, the
higher levels of district fragmentation in these regions. Unfortunately, this
is mostly a pie-in-the-sky thought experiment, because it’s unlikely that
suburban school districts are going to open their doors to underperforming city
kids anytime soon—or that Uncle Sam can persuade or tempt or browbeat them into
doing so.

Meredith P. Richards, Kori J. Stoub, and
Jennifer Jellison Holme, “Can NCLB Choice Work? Modeling the Effects of Interdistrict
Choice on Student Access to Higher Performing Schools
” (Washington, D.C.:
The Century Foundation, 2011).

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