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Denying Transportation Could Place Transfer Students in Academic Bind

Baltimore County Public Schools is considering cutting transportation for a program that moves students out of struggling schools.

Maryland’s waiver from a federal education mandate could put some Baltimore County students into what their parents call unfit schools.

The Baltimore County Public Schools system is debating whether or not to provide transportation for students partaking in the Title I transfer option, federal funding for which was cut when the state opted out of the No Child Left Behind Act in May. Title I schools receive additional federal funding to reduce the achievement gap because of high populations of low-income and at-risk students.

"This is something we’ll need to figure out quickly," said Charles Herndon, a school system spokesman.

The act afforded students at Title I schools across the country that failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress for two consecutive years the option to transfer to another school—designated by their respective school systems—that is meeting standards. Adequate Yearly Progress is a measurement under No Child Left Behind that mandates all students at every school score proficient levels in reading and math by 2014.  

All Baltimore County students who applied for transfer were granted admission, provided they were officially enrolled at a designated struggling school and were not transferred to a different school because they were already accepted into a magnet program, he said. Based on those stipulations, of the 328 students who applied for the transfer option since its inception in 2010, only 15 were denied.

William Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said that he suspects more counties will face this issue as the state moves away from the stipulations of No Child Left Behind.

"This will probably be something all counties are phasing out," he said.

Reinhard said a primary reason the state asked for the No Child Left Behind waiver is so it no longer has to abide by the Adequate Yearly Progress standard. Instead, the state is requiring every school to reduce the percentage of students who didn't pass standardized tests in half by 2017. These new target goals are called Annual Measurable Objectives.

"The standards [of No Child Left Behind] were just not realistic," he said.

A Difficult School Year

Charlene Oliver pulled her son from the Halstead Academy of Science and The Arts in Parkville—one of the sending schools in the transfer program—after his second grade year because she said he struggled to reach his "academic potential."

"That school year was difficult," said Oliver, a Parkville resident who works in the banking industry. "There were long-term substitutes. The entire class was recommended for summer school."

The boy had previously attended a private school, but enrolled in Halstead for the 2009-2010 school year after the Oliver family faced financial hardship following the 2008 economic collapse.

Oliver said she saw tremendous improvement in her son's school performance when she took advantage of the opportunity to transfer him—and later, her younger son—to the high-achieving Jacksonville Elementary School, a receiving school in Phoenix.

Receiving schools in Baltimore County are identified based on criteria including school improvement status, capacity and distance from sending school, Herndon said.

A school bus transported them from their home to the school each day, at no additional cost to the family.

"The first day at Jacksonville, we were so behind," Oliver said, adding that basic aspects of Baltimore County Public Schools curriculum were not taught at Halstead.

School System Mulls Transportation Decision

As a result of the waiver, Baltimore County Public Schools no longer accepts new students into the transfer program. The 218 currently enrolled locally will be able to stay at the receiving schools through graduation, according to the school system.

In a June 2012 letter sent to affected families, Roger Plunkett, who at the time was the assistant superintendent of the department of curriculum and instruction, strongly implied that a decision had already been made. Plunkett is now the executive director of student services.

"Since Title I can no longer support the costs of transportation, [Baltimore County Public Schools] will support transportation for one year (school year 2012-2013), as a transition year, from local revenues for existing participating students," Plunkett wrote in the letter. "This transitional year is intended to give parents sufficient time to make accommodations for the 2013-2014 school year and beyond."

The system is evaluating transportation options for transfer students beyond the 2012-2013 school year now that federal revenue sources have dried up. In the meantime, Baltimore County Public Schools is footing the bill. 

The cost of transportation for the current school year is $719,400, and is being funded through the fiscal year 2012 school improvement fund and carryover funds, according to figures provided by the school system. The cost for the 2013-2014 school year is estimated to be $584,100.

Besides Halstead, Baltimore County listed the following as designated sending schools:

  • Baltimore Highlands Elementary School
  • Edmonson Heights Elementary School
  • Featherbed Lane Elementary School
  • Hawthorne Elementary School
  • Hebbville Elementary School
  • Lansdowne Middle School
  • Middlesex Elementary School
  • Riverview Elementary School
  • White Oak Elementary School

Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance said at a December 2012 Board of Education meeting that the discussion is ongoing, and a final determination will be made early next year.

'An Undue Burden'

Oliver, who works full time, said it would be impossible to continue sending her younger son to Jacksonville if transportation isn't provided. The older child, a fifth grade student, is expected to graduate this school year.

Jacksonville Elementary is approximately an 11.45-mile drive from Halstead. Oliver said that even with transportation, it is still about an hour-long trip to get her boys to school.

Other schools meeting standards that are closer to Halstead are currently over capacity, Herndon said.

"When I received that letter [from Plunkett], I thought it was a total injustice," Oliver said. "I have been involved in efforts to make Halstead better, but right now, it isn't an option."

Oliver isn't the only parent frustrated by the policy change.

Michelle Persad is a Parkville resident and single mother who works in downtown Baltimore for the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. She has a son in third grade who also attends Jacksonville instead of Halstead through the transfer option.

"To abruptly pull him from his environment would be detrimental," she said. "He's always attended Jacksonville, it's his community. It's an undue burden."

Persad said her son currently performs above average in academics at Jacksonville. She is supportive of efforts to improve Halstead, but doesn’t feel comfortable sending her child there until tangible progress is made.

"I don’t want him to become a casualty in the process," she said.

Herndon said that even if the transfer students had to return to their home schools, their education needs would still be met.

"The superintendent has said that while no decision has been made, our expectation and goal is that every child receives a quality education regardless of which school they attend," he said.

Lily January 17, 2013 at 06:10 PM
Hell would freeze before I'd send my kid to Halstead. I'd homeschool. I do anything... but I wouldn't go there. BCPS needs to decide how they are going to handle these sending schools or expand the magnet program in Towson to provide more options. With the Lutherville school that's scheduled to open in 2014, why don't they move the entire catchment zone for Lutherville magnet to the new school then both students from over crowded schools and title 1 sending schools would have options currently unavailable to them and busing from Parkville to Lutherville would not be that bad. There would be no waiting lists for magnet CVE or Lutherville magnet if Lutherville busing were slightly expanded and Lutherville catchment zone were rezoned to the new mays chapel school in it's entirety. Alternatively they could dezone Halstead and make it like CVE. Then rezone the current Halstead kids to three different other more successful area schools. A dezoned, re staffed Halstead magnet would be a lot more appealing to the current situation because the poverty would be redistributed and not as extreme and Halstead would be made more acceptable to people who are currently boycotting it.
Lily January 17, 2013 at 06:20 PM
So if they did that Towson area overcrowding would still be decreased by the 700 seats of the new school but the magnet program would get all 400 seats at Lutherville magnet for county wide placement (which would include all applicants in the lottery so it's likely some Towson students as well as Title 1) when right now the zone population of Lutherville magnet leaves almost no seats for countywide placement even though it's a magnet program that advertises for countywide applicants. The zone is overcrowded so in reality there are hardly any county wide placements available. This results in waiting lists at both Lutherville and CVE making it difficult to get into either because they are so close together. Expanding the magnet program could be a good way to deal with unsatisfied people at title 1 schools who would not stay in the public school system if there is no other option. It also occurs to me that CVE fascilities could probably also be expanded to be able to increase capacity. Is anyone else talking about this? Is there some reason we can't do this?
Lily January 17, 2013 at 06:28 PM
BCPS also needs to do more audits to find children who are going to schools contrary to were they should be as a result of having relatives in the "zone" of the school they like better than where they live. They need to study this so they can come up with a solution to meet these parents concerns. I know at least four people who get on the morning bus with my son who do not live on our street but are dropped off every morning by their parents at extended families homes so they can catch the bus. We are so close to the halstead zone that it wouldn't surprise me if these are Halstead kids who parents are so unhappy they are finding a way for them to go to Pleasant Plains even if they have to drive them to a family members house. If the magnet where expanded they wouldn't have to do that.
Towson4Now January 17, 2013 at 09:32 PM
"the poverty would be redistributed"...no thanks, we have enough of that already.
Lily January 18, 2013 at 12:40 AM
Towson has fewer FARM kids in it's schools than anywhere else. Halstead is 60% FARM kids. Concentrating poverty in certain schools is a good way to insure failure.
NottinghamFamily January 18, 2013 at 11:16 AM
When my son was young, we lived in an area where his public school was Title 1. He thrived at that school. They had more money for better equipment, free breakfast every day for the kids and even though we both worked full time, he thrived at that school. I found the families I met during those early years to be caring, hard working parents who were just scraping by for whatever reason. They cared deeply about their children and were there for every event and chance they could. At the Perry Hall school one of my children is now attending, it's overcrowded and the grades are getting lost in the crowd. There's only so much teacher to go around when there are that many children in the school and it's most certainly not a Title 1 school. It's sad that everyone equates poverty with poor learning and parenting. It's not always a blanket opinion for everyone. There are many struggling families that care deeply and to assume like that is very sad.
FritoBandito January 18, 2013 at 02:37 PM
"Reinhard said a primary reason the state asked for the No Child Left Behind waiver is so it no longer has to abide by the Adequate Yearly Progress standard. Instead, the state is requiring every school to reduce the percentage of students who didn't pass standardized tests in half by 2017. These new target goals are called Annual Measurable Objectives. "The standards [of No Child Left Behind] were just not realistic," he said." So, the State opts of NCLB because we can't meet standards, thus cutting off a funding source to help lift children out of failing schools. The County knows it has a significant number of failing schools, and yet they are still stating they will only pay for one more year to send children to non-failing schools, where, if the data is accurate, most of those children previously suffering and underperforming in failing schools, now thrive. Hmmm, does anyone else see the complete and utter ridiculousness in this. For spokesperson Herndon to insinuate that these children will do just fine back in a failing school is ludicrous and fallacious thinking and not supported by any data whatsoever. Unfortunately, it was these types of battles that forced me to pull my own child out of the public school system and into private school; at a great financial burden to my family. I was running out of time fighting with a dysfunctional school system; our childrens time in school goes by too fast.
FritoBandito January 18, 2013 at 03:46 PM
No, I absolutely do not think it is realistic! But, I also do not think it is realistic to expect a child to continue to be "educated" in a failing school because it is easier and cheaper (in the short term) for the County. I admit to only making a cursury read of the new AMO guidelines, but I did not see any penalty or incentive to the County to actually meet the requirement that schools are to reduce the percentage of students who didn't pass standardized tests in half by 2017. So, while the schools struggle with even this difficult mandate, students will be "stuck" in failing schools. And please, don't go down the path of, "a parent can always move, or a parent can put their child in private school" we know that those are just statements to draw away from the fact that we have schools in Baltimore County that are failing their students. Instead we should be concentrating on doing what we know we can do: transport to better schools while the failing school is being brought up to standards.
Lily January 18, 2013 at 05:03 PM
You all misunderstand what I'm actually saying about poverty vs. the success of a school as a whole. If you look at the MSA scores of schools in Baltimore County as a whole you will see that there is a direct correlation between the percentage of FARM children at the school and how well the school does as a whole. If you don't believe me run the numbers for yourself. It's almost a perfect diagonal line. So it would seem that the high concentration of many people in poverty in one place seems to be a problem for children's test scores even more so than over population because all of the Towson schools are over populated some to the extreme and those children still score very well.
Lily January 18, 2013 at 05:05 PM
I think it's also significant that two of the parents in this article noted a significant difference in what was being taught on the same grade level at two different schools in the county. I thought there was supposed to be uniformity amoung grade levels throughout all the county schools. How can you say they are all getting a good education when they are not all being taught the same things the same way. I don't get that.
Al Day January 18, 2013 at 05:20 PM
Just curious. Wouldn't it be easier and less expensive to move the administrators and teachers than the students? Instead of the worst solution why not try the best one?
M. Sullivan January 18, 2013 at 05:55 PM
Because, Al, as it is becoming more and more obvious, the least important part of the BCPS machine is the student. The machine needs to worry about its overpopulated, overpaid, and ever expanding Administration, and the will of the teachers union before any concerns of students or quality of education.
sgor January 18, 2013 at 06:02 PM
al day-------i have read through all these comments waiting for someone to make the point that "failing schools" are just a misnomer for failing teachers----the problem is that moving unquilified teachers to other more succesful school will only poison the well of where they will fail again at teaching----i have seen many people state that firing someone in the school system is next to impossible so we sacrifice the children to protect the unquilified-----i'm grateful that my children got through the system before incompetency became the accepted norm
You January 18, 2013 at 06:19 PM
Question: "The act afforded students at Title I schools across the country that failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress for two consecutive years the option to transfer to another school" I am not familiar with this program, but curious to learn. 1) Is this defined as an "individual" student that cannot pass the AYP at his/her present school; has the right transfer to a "better" or "higher" preforming school? OR 2) Is this defined as an "entire" school which as a whole cannot pass the AYP based on all the student's averages; then, an "individual" student at that school (who performs well above the failing others) has the right to transfer to a "higher" performing school?
Paul Amirault January 18, 2013 at 06:25 PM
Is there something that can be done about the failing parent? Isn't that the coordinates of the problem?
You January 18, 2013 at 06:44 PM
In 1983, I graduated from a private school (K-8th) with strict standards, values and discipline codes. I was one of the top students in my class. My parents could not afford private high schools; so I was bumped into the city public school system. I had to attend Northern High for 9th grade. I instantly could no longer focus on learning, because surviving the daily hell given to me (beings I was a nerdy white male in a predominate black school). It proved to be devastating to my education. I failed my first year and the guidance counselor begged my parents to get me out of there any way they could. He wished to help us, because he feared for my safety and educational losses. Fortunately, we had to play some games about faking addresses and such to get me into Loch Raven High. It was a big game for us to keep me in there for 4 years, but I graduated and was accepted well by the students. I wish in those days we had transfer options; it would have saved me a mentally and physically damaging year at NHS. Busing: I of course could not take a bus. So I had to get dropped off and picked up every morning by my grandfather or an old neighbor. If no busing is available...if the family truly cares about their child...they will find a way to get them to school.
sgor January 18, 2013 at 06:57 PM
Paul-------ny suggestion would have me barred from responding----no it isn't RACIAL
Liz January 18, 2013 at 09:39 PM
White Oak School should not be included. It is a level 5 Special Education school and the school's population is not consistant from year to year. This school wants its students to be suscessful to they can return to a less restrictive school enviroment.
James January 19, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Some of these comments are unbelievable. So the solution to the problem is to spend a lot of money to avoid fixing the root cause, which are failing schools? Straight socialism it is? Anyone should be able to go to school anywhere for any reason, at any cost, out of fairness? If they're going to be bused 1-2 hours from their home each way, why not bus them to Howard County for that matter? Or Montgomery? Wouldn't that be more fair? Jacksonville or Sparks are not much closer in traffic from areas like Halstead than Ellicott City or Columbia. "Spreading the problems" is not a workable solution either. Ever wonder why so many kids in the Towson/Lutherville area go to private school? It's not because their parents enjoy paying 10k in tuition per kid per year. Too many transfer or title-1 or section 8 kids will destroy a school and turn it bad. Go look at the data on a school like Pot Spring if you don't understand what I mean. It used to be like Jacksonville, and now it's 2/3 of the way to being a Halstead. Almost 2/3 of the kids there are on FARMS. Anyone concerned about their kid sent them to private school. All the middle schools in the county are a disaster at this point too. Same reason.
Lily January 22, 2013 at 03:31 PM
To be honest, I don't know how you help the failing schools. We would first need to find out exactly why they are failing. The problem is that if your kid isn't going to a failing school then you are not going to put the effort into pushing BCPS into finding that out and there are two few parents in failing schools who have the knowledge, understanding, will, etc to do the activism necessary. Every wonder why Towson parents get everything they want but other areas don't? It's because the parents are mobilized. The poor don't mobilize partly because they have no idea the immensity of the disparity between the school they go to and some of the other schools. If there are children causing problems in schools then we need a way to deal with that but if it's a case of teachers not teaching (I know some teachers I'd like to fire) Then we need a way to deal with that as well.
Lily January 22, 2013 at 04:14 PM
@Spring Heeled Jack The title 1 transfer option was mandated by the federal government if federal funds where taken. MD took federal funds. So any school that failed to meet AYP for three consecutive years had to offer all of it's students special transfer options to schools selected by BCPS that met certain criteria. What's amazing to me is how few students actually took advantage of that given the number that could have. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that many of the parents who are poor may have transportation issues and don't want to be that far away from their child because if they have to be picked up for some reason they don't have a way to do that. I don't think the school system wanted that many kids to take advantage of the transfer option. Basically what it comes down to is if you are poor... you are backed into a corner and societal conditions are likely to keep you there even if you are motivated. This I know from experience. I brought up the part about the FARM kids not because I think they are the cause of the problem but to point out the correlation and the need for study as to the cause. It's not the kids though because when you take these kids and send them to a school that is not failing they do well. But as soon as you concentrate them in one school the school suffers. Why?

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