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Rethinking the 'Unsafe School Choice Option'

An interesting essay in the current issue of Educational Researcher critiques a little known—and probably even less used—provision of the No Child Left Behind law. Under the law, states are required to identify "persistently dangerous schools." It also says students who attend those schools or who have themselves been victims of violent crime at school are eligible to transfer to another public school.

In her article, University of Massachusetts researcher Billie Gastic suggests, however, that the provision does an inadequate job of protecting students from harm for three reasons:

1) The transfer option is currently restricted only to those students who are victims of violent crime at school, which is a very, very small group. (Fortunately.) In 2007, such students accounted for 2 percent of 12- to 18-year-olds.

2) As has been reported, states have identified very few persistently dangerous schools, vary widely in the numbers of schools they identify, and tend to point to the same schools year after year.

3) The law ignores the fact that some students are more at risk than others. Five percent of female high school students, for instance, have been threatened or injured with a weapon at school, compared with 10 percent of high school males.

Gastic offers suggestions for improving the law, including expanding the definitions that most states use to identify which schools are "persistently dangerous" and broadening the transfer provision to include more than just students who have been victims of violent crime. New Jersey, for example, includes bullying in its definition. Yet, at the same token, experiencing bullying does not trigger the NCLB transfer provision in that state.

Would a more aggressive interpretation of the Unsafe School Choice Option have saved Massachusetts bullying victim Phoebe Prince from killing herself? It's something to think about, anyway.

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