School district letters inadequately notify parents about their federal right to school choice and free tutoring
School administrators across Washington are sending letters this week informing parents that families may now have the right to choose a better school and get free tutoring for their children under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Many school officials, however, are reluctant to explain the matter clearly to parents.
The public education operates as a monopoly, so administrators are fearful about any family choices that might disrupt their protected position in the system. If a school is doing well, administrators leap at the chance to trumpet the fact, celebrating an A rating earned under the State Board of Education’s official Achievement Index. If a school rates poorly, school administrators do whatever they can to keep parents from finding out.
This year the federal government is forcing school districts to notify parents about school performance. Since they must send letters to parents, many school administrators are using blocks of thick bureaucratic text to discourage parents from learning about new education options for children.
Here are some examples:
The Seattle School District, the largest in the state, has sent 33 different letters to parents whose children attend low-performing schools. The two-page single-space letter looks like the routine welcome-back-to-school-we-are-committed-to-your-child’s-education notice parents receive every year. The parents who wade through it find it raises more questions than it answers. Few parents will discover they now have the choice under federal law to transfer their child to a better school and get free tutoring.
The Everett school administrators sent a letter that does not directly tell parents they have a right to free transportation to a better school and to receive free tutoring for their child. Instead school officials complain they will lose control over money that parents use to seek better education choices for their children.
The Lake Stevens school administrators sent parents a formidable four-page letter called the Achievement, Accountability and Actions letter, filled with rosy generalizations about their own performance. In the envelope with the letter is a separate single-page notice titled “Federal Regulations.” How many parents are likely to even see this notice, much less read it? And even fewer parents will soldier through to the very bottom of the page, where it finally states that parents have the right to choose a better school and free tutoring.
So, if you are a public school parent and local schools are performing well, administrators will give you a letter trumpeting their success. If local administrators are doing a bad job educating children, you will be given a multi-page letter filled with incomprehensible jargon. What they are trying to avoid is giving parents the choice to send their children to a better school and get free tutoring. Administrators of poor-performing schools know that family choice in education means public money might go to better schools where children will be taught by someone else. The reason they are sending confusing letters to parents is to keep that money in their own budgets.