The recent extension given by the State Education Department to the Buffalo Public Schools for submission of an acceptable teacher evaluation plan has left many in the community wondering whether an agreement will ever be reached. At stake is $5.6 million in school-improvement funds for six of the nine persistently low achieving schools. Also at stake are the lives of thousands of students who are stuck in failing institutions. While the adults at the district and state levels try to figure it all out, families seem to be left with few choices for quality schools and a better future.
However, what many parents may not know is that they have rights under No Child Left Behind that they can use to access better options. According to the NCLB regulation, schools in need of improvement are those that fail, for two consecutive years, to make adequate yearly progress. If a school falls into this category, the local school district must provide all students enrolled in the school with the option to transfer to another public school in the district.
That option may only include another public school in good standing, or a public charter school. The district must give priority to the lowest achieving children from low-income families and cannot use lack of capacity to deny students the option to transfer. Additionally, if a student exercises the option to transfer to another public school, the district must permit the student to remain in the school until the student has completed the school's highest grade.
In Buffalo, every public high school in good standing is selective and criteria based. In other words, students must meet an entrance requirement in order to be accepted. For many students, this is a barrier for entry, and most of these schools are at capacity.
Likewise, charter schools have extensive wait lists, making entry difficult, if not impossible. There just aren't enough quality choices for families whose children are stuck in PLA schools even though by law the district must provide those choices. The right provided to parents through NCLB may offer some a way out, but is not a workable solution for most, given that all non-criteria high schools are PLA schools. However, parents must understand that they have a legal right to demand better options for their children.
Parents clearly have responsibility for their children and that responsibility begins with understanding their parental rights. Holding the district accountable is an important step to an improved school system.
Blaming poverty, lack of parental involvement or chronic absenteeism for poor student performance does little to address the problems of failing schools. Our city, nation, economy and national security are at risk if our children are uneducated. It is our collective responsibility to support parent rights and ensure that every child is afforded a high-quality education.
Amy Friedman is a board member of Buffalo ReformED and co-founder of Tapestry Charter School.