Education Secretary Arne Duncan told rural education reporters today that the Obama Administration would support ending the requirement that forces districts to give students in “failing” schools to have a choice of attending another school.
Duncan also said he would propose ending the federal mandate for “supplemental services” in failing schools, such as free tutoring.
Duncan was silent, however, on the other major issue facing rural schools — restoring balance to the formula used to distribute Title 1 funding.
So-called “school choice” has been a centerpiece of school reform advocates, including Secretary Duncan. If a school is “failing” according to whatever measurements are chosen, students should be given the chance to go to another school.
School choice has been impractical in many rural districts. There simply aren’t other schools nearby for students to attend.
Secretary Duncan appears to have realized that his urban-based reliance on school choice falls apart in rural areas. “Public school choice may make sense in an urban area,” Duncan said, but it doesn’t when the nearest alternative school is 30 or 40 miles away.
Similarly, federal law requires failing schools to give supplemental services to students, but since those services (such as tutoring) can’t be provided by employees of the failing schools, rural districts have few ways to provide such help.
Duncan said he is asking Congress to provide “flexibility” as it begins to discuss reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, the Bush-era education act. He would like to get rid of the highly technical measures of “yearly progress” that tended to affect small schools more severely than larger institutions. Duncan said he would like federal law to “set a high bar,” but to be “much looser in how you get there.”
Secretary Duncan ignored the issue of how the formula used to divide Title 1 funds affects rural schools. Title 1 is a federal program that provides additional funding to schools with large numbers of poor or disadvantaged students.
The way the formula for Title 1 works, however, larger urban schools receive more money per student than smaller schools that have higher percentages of poor students.
In one example, Richmond County School District in rural North Carolina, has a 32% poverty rate and received $1,209 per Title 1 student in 2008-9. A a nearby urban school district with a 16% poverty rate, however, received $1,398 per Title 1 student.
Chicago receives $2,273 per Title 1 student, even though it has a lower poverty rate than Richmond County. And Colchester, Vermont, a Burlington suburb, has a 7% poverty rate but received $2,546 for each Title 1 student.
Simply, the formula penalizes rural schools. A good explanation of the problem can be found here.
There is now a “formula fairness” campaign, organized by rural schools.
There were no questions asked about formula fairness in the half-hour press conference and Duncan didn’t bring it up. A Department of Education official told the Daily Yonder laer that the administration would work with Congress on the “formula fairness” issue. “It is an issue we are working on,” the official said.
Duncan is only talking about changing rules that are still in place. That will take an act of Congress.
Meanwhile, the realities of rural education grind on under the existing rules. Earlier today, Shannon Price wrote to the Daily Yonder about what is happening in her rural Illinois school district:
Unfortunately, I missed the President’s State of the Union Speech because I was attending a parent meeting at our local high school in west central Illinois.
We were officially notified that our high school had failed to meet the adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets for the third year and is now required to offer public school choice and supplemental educational services.
According to the letter we received, “The No Child Left Behind Act provides you, as a parent, the option to transfer your child to another public school within the district with transportation provided by the district. However, at this time we do not have a school within the district to which your child can transfer.”
Since we are a small, rural district, there is NO other high school. The supplemental educational services cannot be provided by local teachers because they are employed by the “failing” school system and there are no approved providers in the county.
How will small rural schools survive when the remedies offered by NCLB are based on an urban model that does not reflect the reality of the rural educational experience?