Localities are using widely differing definitions of “persistently dangerous” schools under a new federal law. Philadelphia lists 28 such schools, more than the rest of the nation combined, Education Week reports. No such schools were identified in places like Los Angeles, Detroit, Miami and Chicago. Across the nation, only 54 schools were identified persistently dangerous by states, which use their own criteria under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Students in the identified schools must be allowed to transfer to safer schools in the same district. Students victimized in violent crimes on campus also must be allowed to transfer.
With so many states failing to identify even one school, does the federal mandate mean anything? “It does not pass the laugh test, or maybe I should say in this case, the cry test,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
A Philadelphia official said, “Clearly, we’re the victim of our own aggressiveness” in abiding by the law. In neighboring New Jersey, seven schools were identified as persistently dangerous. There, too, the process may have penalized schools and districts that were the most aggressive in reporting incidents.
The fact that California, the nation’s most populous state, has no persistently dangerous schools has raised eyebrows. “The reaction, I think, among most of the people I’ve talked to is incredulity that the [state] board could adopt a definition that includes no schools,” said Christopher Cross, a California-based consultant to the Center on Education Policy, a research and advocacy organization in Washington.
U.S. Department of Education official is not roubled. “The bottom line is that this is not a federal standard,” said William Modzeleski, the associate deputy undersecretary for the department’s office of safe and drug-free schools. “I don’t think it’s up to the federal government to [judge definitions].”