What's New

New transfer law kicks in

WASHINGTON – School districts across the United States are getting their first taste of a new federal law that allows students at 8,652 struggling schools to transfer, often at taxpayer expense, to other public schools.

Since states set the requirements that determine a school's status, however, the number of underperforming schools varies widely. In Texas, which has 4.1 million students, officials say there are only 46 underperforming schools. But Michigan, with only 1.7 million students but more rigorous tests, has 1,513 underperforming schools. And Arkansas says it currently has no "failing" schools, but with another year of data it will be able to measure schools' performance.

Are charter schools really better?

WASHINGTON – Students in charter schools, often seen as an alternative to failing neighborhood schools, are anywhere from a half year to a full year behind their public school peers, researchers at the Brookings Institution concluded after reviewing 1999-2000 reading- and math-achievement test scores of 376 charter schools in 10 states. The study found that 59 percent of students at traditional public schools scored better than charter school students.

But the findings don't necessarily reflect poorly on charter schools, which often attract students who are looking to improve their skills, the authors caution. In some states, such as Texas, the schools actively seek low-achieving pupils.

Pilot program to test for drugs

RALEIGH, N.C. – Officials in a handful of districts – in North Carolina, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Virginia – will test students for illegal drugs using a new method being tried out this fall as part of a federally funded pilot program. Unlike some drug-detection methods, such as urine testing, these tests work quickly. Litmus paper is rubbed on surfaces such as book bags or hands; then a spray is applied. If even tiny amounts of drugs are present, the paper changes color. But the ACLU has raised concerns, questioning the tests' accuracy and whether they will uncover actual drug use.

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