Parents Informed About School Choice?
The City Council
Education Committee, chaired by Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, recently
held a well-attended emergency public meeting on the subject of
school choice. Committee member Robert Jackson and Deputy Majority
Leader Bill Perkins were also in attendance.
Why the need for
an emergency meeting? Under the federal law “No Child Left Behind”
Act, 226,000 public school students are eligible to transfer out
of one of the City’s 331 Need of Improvement (NOI) schools. But,
according to the Council, the Department of Education (DOE) is
not in favor of this law and is “doing it’s level best to thwart
it,” according to Moskowitz. “The Department promised a major
outreach to parents,” said Moskowitz. “And that simply has not
happened. So far they sent out one letter, full of misinformation
or conflicting information.” One of the major points of confusion
was the deadline parents had to apply for a transfer. None of
the deadlines “give parents sufficient time,” said Moskowitz.
“We are going to ask the Department to extend it.”
Still, and in
spite of the signal lack of enthusiasm displayed by the DOE, 16,000
students ended up applying for transfers for the coming school
year so far, a far larger number than did so last year (3,670,
of which 1,507 were granted)—and a far larger number than was
anticipated. An additional 33,000 students requested free tutoring
services under the Act. Still, even these numbers remained open
for interpretation: “The facts speak for themselves,” DOE spokesman
David Chai said. “This is better than last year but still not
enough,” replied Moskowitz. “A 20 per cent response is not success.”
DOE officials disagree. They now say a deadline extension—in face
of such larger-than-expected response—has become unnecessary.
Not so, claims Bruce Ellis, director of the Community Advocates
for Educational Excellence. “Every school in Harlem’s District
5 is on the NOI list,” he said. “The city would have gotten a
better response from parents if educators conducted a more effective
outreach.” Ellis then urged parents to join Harlem Attorney (and
former Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor) Charlie King’s
class action lawsuit, as “another way to apply pressure on the
DOE and Chancellor Joel Klein to fully comply with the Federal
The suit, filed
in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleges that the city has:
unreasonably refused transfer requests and has a faulty process
for accommodating transfers. “This should be a wake-up call to
the Chancellor of the desperation thousands of parents are feeling
regarding their children’s education,” Ellis said about the larger-than-expected
number of requests to transfer. Meanwhile, each family that has
already applied in a timely fashion for a transfer will be offered
at least three choices under a new Citywide transfer system. The
Chancellor himself has taken over the transfer decisions from
the superintendents in order to meet the new requirements.#
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