A requirement mandated by the Michigan Department of Education for schools with large gaps in performance will mean the possibility of substantial student-shifting for Dearborn Public Schools.
As part of a set of requirements for state-named "Focus Schools," districts will–beginning in the 2012-13 school year–have to allow a number of students to move out of any school in that category and into another designated school within the district.
The requirement only applies to schools that are receiving Title I dollars–a federal program that helps to fund schools with high percentages of students from low-income families. Districts are left to decide how many spots will be open for each school, but must provide transportation for these transferred students to the new school.
The district is required to set aside 10 percent of its Title 1 funding for these transportation costs.
For Dearborn, this will mean that the district has to set aside $1 million to cover transportation for students that transfer out of one of the district's Focus schools, Superintendent Brian Whiston said.
According to Vanessa Keesler, the head of Evaluation, Research and Accountability for the Michigan Department of Education, this school-of-choice policy has always been in place for schools that have not achieved AYP status.
But the Focus School designation–applied to 358 schools in 176 districts across the state–is one of three new categories identified by the MDE, .
Reward Schools are the top five percent of all Michigan schools and the top five percent making the greatest academic progress; Priority Schools are the lowest achieving schools in the state; Focus Schools are the 10 percent of schools with the widest academic disparity between the top 30 percent of students and the bottom 30 percent.
Six Dearborn schools received the Focus School designation: , , , , and .
All of those but DuVall are receiving Title I funding, meaning that the district must allow for a certain number of students to opt to transfer schools for the other five.
Whiston , as they include some schools that are high-achieving, such as Bryant–the district's top-performing middle school.
"I'm frustrated that good school districts are potentially getting a black eye," he said at a press conference on Thursday.
Regardless, Whiston said the district is making preparations to comply with MDE guidelines for district schools.
That includes informing parents of the choice to move by Aug. 21–something Whiston said would be done individually through each school. The number of students that will be allowed to transfer is still being decided, as well as which schools the students will move to.
Parents will be able to put their child's name on a list. If more than the allotted number of students sign up, the lowest-performing students will be moved.
District spokesman David Mustonen said that they don't expect all spots on the list to be filled, but that they must set aside funding for it.
Beyond allowing some students to transfer schools, Focus Schools must utilize an MDE-provided District Toolkit, plus MDE-trained and paid-for District Improvement Facilitators. Both are aimed at closing the achievement gap.
Districts will have one year to self-diagnose and self-prescribe customized changes in their supports to the Focus Schools and their students, according to the MDE. There are escalating supports and consequences for Focus Schools that do not close their achievement gaps.
“We are committed to closing the achievement gaps in all of our schools for all of our students,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan said of Focus Schools. “With this measure of transparency, schools will be identified and held accountable for the achievement of all of their students.”