NCLB Choice Option Boosts Learning In Chicago

Published June 1, 2004

A groundbreaking analysis by the Chicago Board of Education, conducted at the request of the Chicago Sun-Times, found Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students who transferred to new schools under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) improved their academic performance.

Under NCLB, students at schools that do not meet state standards in reading and math for two consecutive years may transfer to better-performing schools.

The study, which tracked students using Iowa Tests of Basic Skills scores, also found that transferring students did not adversely impact the academic achievement in “receiving” schools, which continued to progress.

Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan told the Sun-Times, “It’s a win-win-win. I couldn’t have asked for better results.”

The study tracked students who transferred in Fall 2002 and their peers in both “sending” and “receiving” schools. Of the 120,000 students eligible to transfer in 2002, only 26,000 were allowed to seek 2,500 seats in better schools. Ultimately, only 737 students enrolled in new schools. Last year the district provided even fewer transfer seats–1,100–in 38 higher-performing schools. Seven percent of eligible students applied.

Although some students returned to their old schools, students who remained in the new schools improved in reading and math, achieving 8 percent more than the expected gain in both subjects. While in their “sending” schools, the transfer students had posted 24 percent less than the expected gain in reading and 17 percent less than the expected gain in math.

Although students who remained in their original schools showed some improvement, transfer students had higher gains. Parents told the Sun-Times the teachers at the new schools were more challenging and communicated with them more often.

One parent whose 10-year-old son transferred to a new school told the Sun-Times she was happy she switched because her son had made a significant turnaround. At his old school he was not engaged, but “Now, he enjoys school,” said Tammie Summerville.

Despite the success of the program, CPS will provide only 457 transfer slots this fall–less than half the number made available last fall. The district estimates 82 percent of the city’s 602 schools will fail to meet state academic standards. The number of underperforming schools will rise to 493 if all of the 130 schools that failed to meet standards last year do not improve. Some of these schools have appealed their designation.

Of the schools meeting state standards, officials say only 20 have space to receive students. There are no seats available in the district’s higher-performing high schools. Only 10 of the district’s 90 high schools are performing at state standards, and these are either selective admission schools or are at capacity.

“The fact of the matter is that there really isn’t choice in the school district,” Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago) told the Chicago Tribune.

Given these constraints, CPS has decided to grant supplemental tutoring to eligible students who will not have the opportunity to transfer. Next year, 20 vendors will be available to tutor students. The district is also making efforts to better inform parents and to give them more time to complete the application process. Parents will have a month to respond to a letter detailing the transfer and tutoring options.

Chicago parent Joei Johnson applied for transfers for her children last year but was denied. Disappointed with the tutoring one of her children received, she told the Chicago Tribune she may move out of the area.

“I’m not seeing any fruits of labor with No Child Left Behind,” she told the Tribune. “We haven’t been offered anything basically.”

Krista Kafer is senior policy analyst for education at The Heritage Foundation. Her email address is [email protected].

For more information …

Rosalind Rossi’s April 25, 2004 Chicago Sun-Times article, “Early results on ‘No Child’: Progress,” is available online at

Ana Beatriz Cholo’s April 23, 2004 Chicago Tribune article, “School Reform Pinch: Only 457 spots open for city students to transfer,” is available for purchase online at,1,2772929.story.