Miscommunication Hindered Student Participation in Choice Programs Created by No Child Left Behind Act

Washington, D.C. - Student participation in school choice programs authorized by the No Child Left Behind Act was hindered because parents did not receive clear and timely communication from schools, according to a new report issued today by the U.S. Department of Education.

The report, conducted for the department by the RAND Corporation, the American Institutes for Research and the National Opinion Research Center, found that during the 2004-05 school year, nearly 6.2 million students were eligible for a school choice option offered under the No Child Left Behind Act that allows them to transfer to a higher-performing school, and as many as 1.8 million were eligible for supplemental educational services to enhance the achievement of students attending failing schools.

Nonetheless, only a small proportion of these eligible students actually took advantage of the options available to them. About 1 percent of eligible students participated in the school choice option and 17 percent of eligible students utilized the supplemental educational services.

Communication problems such as parents receiving notification too late or being unaware of the options, as well as limited availability of transfer schools, may have contributed to the low participation, according to researchers.

The report is part of an effort to examine the effects of the No Child Left Behind Act through two federally funded studies – the “National Longitudinal Study of No Child Left Behind” and the “Study of State Implementation of Accountability of Teacher Quality Under No Child Left Behind.”

The No Child Left Behind Act gives two educational options to parents of children attending schools that have failed to make adequate yearly progress toward state standards for two or more years.

The first option allows parents to transfer their children from a school identified for improvement to another school in the same district that is not identified for improvement, with transportation provided by the school district.

The second option permits parents to enroll their children in free supplemental educational services – such as tutoring and summer school – that are provided in addition to daily school instruction.

The study found that fewer than one-third of school districts required to offer the school choice option alerted parents of eligible students about the option before the start of the school year. “One reason is that many states released the lists of `identified for improvement’ schools in late summer or fall, making it difficult for schools to notify parents in time to exercise their option,” said Kerstin Carlson Le Floch, a principal research analyst at AIR.

Participation rates were higher in districts where parents were notified earlier of the program availability.

In those districts required to offer school choice, nearly all districts said they notified parents of the options available to their children. However, in a sample of eight urban districts, only 27 percent of parents of eligible students said they had been notified, despite the fact that all eight districts offered the choice options and provided copies of their parent notification letters.

Similarly, half of parents of students eligible for supplemental educational services said they were not notified.

Although some of the district letters were clear and informative about available options, many did not have all of the information required by the No Child Left Behind Act and lacked adequate information for parents to make an informed decision, according to researchers.

At the elementary level, 70 percent of districts with one or more elementary schools identified for improvement reported offering eligible parents the option to transfer their child to another school. However, “about two-thirds of districts with middle or high schools identified for improvement were not offering school choice at those grade levels because all of the district schools serving those grade levels were identified for improvement,” said Georges Vernez, a behavioral and social scientist at RAND.

At the middle school level, 20 percent of affected districts reported offering the school choice option to parents, while 17 percent at the high school level did the same. Researchers found that a significant number of school districts operate only one middle school and one high school. When this one school was identified for improvement, the district did not have an alternative school to offer to potential transfer students in secondary grades.

Most districts studied offered supplemental educational services to eligible elementary and middle school students, but only one-third did so for high school students. There were over 2,700 providers in 2005, a majority of which were private organizations. Participating students received an average of 57 hours of supplemental services.

In a sample of eight large urban school districts, parents of eligible elementary students said the main reason for participating in the school choice or supplemental educational services option was to better meet the educational needs of their children. Over half said they transferred their children because the quality of teaching at the new schools was better, and another 47 percent said the previous schools did not meet their children’s needs.

Sixty percent of parents who chose to use the supplemental services option said it was because their children needed additional help.

Meanwhile, 75 percent of parents of eligible students who chose not to transfer their children did so because the child’s current school was easy to get to, and 50 percent said their children wanted to stay at the original school.

Parents of students eligible for supplemental educational services who did not use those services, said their main reasons were because the service times were not good for the family (46 percent) and because their children did not need extra help (28 percent).

The full report, “State and Local Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, Volume IV – Title I School Choice and Supplemental Educational Services: Interim Report” is available on the Department of Education's Website.

RAND Education, a division of the RAND Corporation, is a leader in providing objective, reliable research and analysis on educational challenges that is used to improve educational access, quality and outcomes in the United States and throughout the world.

About AIR

Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is an independent, nonpartisan not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research on important social issues and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity.