Panel: No Child act hurts poor schools

Tina Peng

The essence of the No Child Left Behind Act rightfully demands accountability, but its method of switching low-income, low-achieving students out of low-achieving schools is flawed, a panel of Chicago Public Schools administrators agreed Wednesday night.

The panel was the first event in this fall’s Undergraduate Lecture Series on Race, Poverty and Inequality, sponsored by the Institute for Policy Research and the Office of the Provost.

Dan Feinstein, principal of Chicago Academy, told an audience of 70 in an Annenberg classroom that he liked two aspects of No Child Left Behind — its emphasis on accountability and its titular mention of “child” — but he was strongly opposed to nine other aspects, most importantly with switching children from one urban school to another.

“If we really want to talk about equality, why don’t we transfer kids from the cities to the suburbs?” Feinstein asked.

Feinstein was the principal of an inner-city school for 17 years before transferring to the higher-achieving Chicago Academy, which is a recipient school for students taking advantage of No Child Left Behind. He said switching children into better schools does not solve any fundamental problems.

“The irony of that is, they think they’re fixing that school by transferring out one or two students,” Feinstein said. “They’re evacuating that school. They’re not fixing it.”

More than 6,000 students applied for the 444 spaces in higher-achieving schools last year, said Sean Lopez, a project coordinator for Chicago Public Schools.

Walt Disney Magnet School was also a recipient school. Principal Kathleen Hagstrom said her school originally was planning to take in eight No Child Left Behind children; 18 ended up enrolling and staying. With them came additional personnel, but under No Child Left Behind’s strict regulations, all of the new personnel were geared toward the needs of the special education and lowest-achieving students. Hagstrom said she was disappointed that only the school system’s lower-achieving students were being targeted.

“I think it’s unfortunate that children who are only low-performing had the choice (to switch schools) with NCLB,” she said. “If it’s an under-performing school, then why couldn’t the smarter children have had a chance?”

Jeanne Nowaczewski, director of Chicago Public Schools’ office of small schools, said improving education may be more effective by splitting large schools into a few smaller ones.

Music sophomore Bri Zika said her previous knowledge of No Child Left Behind was media based, but the panel allowed her to “understand the effect of the law on education from an administrator’s and teacher’s perspective.”

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