Transfers and Tutoring

K-12 Testing

Under the “No Child Left Behind” Act (NCLB), if a school receiving Title I funding has not made “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) for two years, its students must be allowed to transfer to another school in the district that is making AYP. Students in schools that have not made AYP for three years become eligible for supplemental services such as tutoring.


Implementation of these requirements has been uneven and controversial. It is also debatable whether these approaches will lead to better educational outcomes or instead will detract attention and resources from real school improvements.



In most districts, few students have transferred (see Examiner, Fall 2002). Some districts maintained they have no space available. Others apparently created obstacles to transferring. Many rural districts have no second schools for students to transfer into, or such schools may be many miles away. In other cases, it appears parents have little interest in moving their children.


Jack Jennings of the Center for Educational Policy, which recently issued a report on the first year of ESEA, suggests that over the next few years transferring will become more routinized and more parents will avail themselves of the option. However, as more and more schools are labeled “in need of improvement” (INOI) (see story, p. 23), there will be far fewer schools eligible for students to transfer to. Thus debates over transfers may become moot in many districts.


The U.S. Department of Education’s (DoE) regulations say the law “does not permit” schools “to preclude choice options on the basis of capacity constraints.” Health and safety regulations and state laws that disallow school transfers are the only acceptable bases for denying student transfer requests.


This provision sparked anger even from supporters of the law, such as Maryland education Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, who referred to the requirements as “a nightmare.” Los Angeles Superintendent Roy Romer said he saw no way to comply as Los Angeles is already 200,000 seats short and using its classrooms on staggered, year-round schedules. However, the DoE has not altered the regulation.


In addition, some states have class-size limits. Florida voters, for example, just approved a Constitutional amendment setting ceilings on the number of students in each classroom. It is not at all clear that the U.S. Department of Education can override such legal requirements. The DoE even tried to argue that NCLB transfer requirements trump union contracts with class size provisions. However, the federal law expressly states that it does not supercede either current or future contracts, so the DoE was forced to back down.


The DoE also claims that NCLB supercedes federal court desegregation orders, leading some critics to wonder if this was not part of a Bush administration effort to end school desegregation. One civil rights attorney observed that ESEA “cannot trump the 14th amendment.”


The law does not provide for interdistrict transfers except on
a voluntary basis. Few school boards are expected to welcome students from other districts who are likely to lower their average test scores.


Parents at Odds?

Transfers may also become a point of contention between different groups of parents. Choice options are to be given first to the lowest-scoring students from low-income families. Since the costs of transportation are taken out of Title I funds, students who do not transfer will have less money available for their schools.


“What this does is send a few kids out and leave all the rest behind,” said Madeline Talbot of Chicago ACORN, which opposed use of transfers and argued for using the money in the lowest performing schools.


Parents in New York City and Albany filed suit in New York state court in January to force districts to provide transfers or tutoring. But another group of New York City parents demonstrated in February to protest an influx of students to their schools, charging the transfers would lead to overcrowded classes.


Meanwhile, some analysts question whether there is any evidence that transfers will improve educational outcomes. Research does indicate that low-income children in middle-income schools do better than low-income children in low-income schools, but large-scale transfers of the sort allowed by NCLB are a new phenomenon. The transfer option could damage schools currently doing better by creating an influx of needy students the schools are not prepared to help.



Students in schools that do not make AYP for three years are offered supplemental services by providers approved by state departments of education. A wide array of test coaching and tutoring companies have jumped into this field in some locales.


The community organizing group ACORN, however, reported that three fourths of the 23 states it studied were not yet providing supplemental services. States argued that they have moved as quickly as they can, given late information from the DoE. In rural areas and even small cities, tutoring is often not available.


ACORN also noted that the money available for tutoring—5 to 15 percent—of a district’s Title I budget is inadequate to meet the need. Los Angeles, for example, will have some 150,000 eligible students, but funding will allow only 44,000 to actually receive services. Baltimore will have funds to serve only one-third of its 18,000 eligible students. Milwaukee this year will support only one-fifth, though it expects that number to grow rapidly next year as it devotes a larger share of its Title I budget to tutoring. Funds for tutoring come out of the money available for in-school programs and thus for school improvement. There are no requirements in the law that the tutoring demonstrate it is effective.


Teacher unions are angry over the government’s insistence that tutors do not have to be certified educators. Some states, such as Montana, require the tutors to be certified. Unions are pushing for similar requirements elsewhere, arguing that if the federal government insists that all teachers be “highly qualified,” which effectively means certified, tutors should be as well. The DoE says parental choice is more important.


In most cases, tutoring will amount to little more than test preparation, designed to boost scores. Tutoring cannot help provide a rich education to needy students because no state test incorporates the academic content of a high-quality education,


• ACORN report at