Chris Cibelli, who wants to be an astrophysicist, applied to transfer from his low-performing San Jose high school to a school with space science classes and a planetarium. He was turned down, until a Mercury News reporter called James Lick High to ask why. Basically, the school didn’t want to lose a high-scoring student; already, one quarter of the freshman class has used the transfer option, guaranteed under No Child Left Behind, to choose another campus in the district.
The incident reveals one of the challenges inherent in the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001: How do you rescue a struggling school when so many students, often the more ambitious, want out?
“That’s the youngster that’s going to raise my test scores,” said (co-principal Rick) Esparza, part of a turnaround team that arrived six months ago hoping to lift James Lick from the lowest levels of test performance. James Lick is one of 18 schools in Santa Clara County where test scores have remained so low that students are allowed to transfer. “It’s hard to take, that there’s a law that says your child has a right to move on.”
That’s a remarkable sentence. It implies that students should be sacrificed for the good of the school.
Prodded by NCLB, Lick is changing its curriculum dramatically to teach reading and math skills — and nothing else — to students who are far behind when they enroll. It may become a good school for students who need to catch up, and remain a poor choice for students like Chris, who wants to major in physics and astronomy in college and then work for NASA.
John Wright, Chris’ stepfather, feels the family needed to focus on Chris’ future rather than the school’s survival.
“The Bible states that if a tree does not put off good fruit, that tree must die. This is how I feel about James Lick,” he said. “Maybe this tree deserves to die.”
The Mercury News includes a handy chart on how to request a transfer under NCLB — but the deadline was Aug. 8.