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EDUCATION REPORT – July 18, 2002: School Choice Program - 2002-07-12

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

The United States has about ninety-thousand public schools. The Department of Education reported this month that nine percent of these schools have failed to meet learning requirements. Education Department officials say they had not expected so many schools to perform poorly.

States identified more than eight-thousand schools as failing to provide a good education. They did so after students in these schools did not perform well on tests for two years. Many of the failing schools are in poor areas of big cities.

There are about forty-seven-million students in public schools in the United States. Most of these students must attend the school closest to their homes. Now, a law approved earlier this year provides a new choice.

President Bush signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in January. The act says children in failing public schools can choose to attend better schools in their local school area. The school systems must help pay transportation costs for students who choose to attend other schools.

The law also calls for all students in grades three through eight to be tested each year in reading and mathematics. Department of Education officials praise the law as especially helpful to poor families who live in areas with failing schools.

The law is to take effect in the fall when the new school year begins. Some states, however, are having difficulty deciding how and when to enact it. Massachusetts, for example, says it will not know until next winter which schools it should identify as failing. That is when the state will receive the results of the most recent student tests.

Other school systems have already put the law into effect. Montgomery County, Maryland, for example, has completed the process. Ten of its schools were judged as failing. About six-thousand children attend these schools. More than half of the students come from poor families.

School officials communicated with the families of all students at the ten schools. They wrote letters to the parents in several languages. However, only about one-hundred children have changed schools. And, almost none of them are from poor families.

A guidance official in Montgomery County says she believes the law is a good idea. But she says she hopes it can be used to help more poor children in the future.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.