The Indianapolis Star/July 22, 2006
Our position: School districts must do a better job informing parents about poor-performing schools.
Are school officials really serious about informing parents of their right to remove children from failing schools under the No Child Left Behind Act? There's reason for doubt. The evidence: Indianapolis Public Schools' advertising campaign for Crispus Attucks magnet school.
IPS spent some $3,300 to tout the legendary school on billboards along main corridors such as Keystone and College avenues, even though students registering now won't be able to attend until the 2007-08 school year.
Meanwhile, the district didn't get word out to some 9,700 families that their children were eligible to transfer from its worst-performing schools to better ones until July 7. Parents had only two weeks to make the switch, almost no time to make intelligent choices on their children's behalf.
There are other reasons for the low response, ranging from a desire by parents to keep their children close to their neighborhoods to the lack of familiarity with school choice. But school districts must improve what has been poor communication to parents about their children's educational options.
Part of the problem lies with the state Department of Education's slow turnaround on getting out adequate yearly progress reports. Two years after The Star Editorial Board highlighted this problem, the process remains time-consuming, with months spent calculating ISTEP scores against attendance data and handling appeals from objecting schools.
IPS and other districts can overcome that problem and inform parents far earlier and more effectively.
Districts get ISTEP results, used to determine which schools are failing, by December; they get a preliminary list of schools not making adequate yearly progress by March. They can keep parents in the loop early on by detailing those reports.
Advertising, as shown by the Crispus Attucks promotion, could also be used effectively. School officials could easily borrow a page from the Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation, which in May began its own billboard campaign touting options under No Child Left Behind featuring Colts players Mike Doss and Tarik Glenn.
Parents deserve to know more about how schools measure up. They need adequate time to study their options, even if it means having their children stay in underperforming schools and pitching in to turn them around. It starts with communication, which school districts must improve.