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How do cities keep their best and brightest students in the public school system?

The public school system in Oakland, Calif., is experiencing something of a middle school brain drain. According to the school district, 28 percent of all its fifth graders go on to private schools for the sixth grade. Of the students who leave the public school system, 40 percent scored “advanced” on this year’s reading test.

This brain drain of advanced-scoring students is the reason for the drop-off in district test scores at the middle and high schools, said Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Tony Smith.

It’s a problem for the Oakland school system, which is trying to raise test scores while facing the loss of the highest scorers. “The middle schools are saying, ‘Come on. We're supposed to get these kids,’” Smith said.

The federal policy of “No Child Left Behind” has four pillars aimed at improving schools through accountability. The pillars are:

Stronger Accountability for Results
Each year, students are tested and the results are published in the schools report card. Schools that receive failing grades are required to provide after-school assistance and other corrective actions or they are closed.

More Freedom for States and Communities
States and districts receive grants from the federal government to be spent as they feel necessary.

Proven Education Methods
No Child Left Behind emphasizes proven teaching methods and allows teachers to access these messages.

More Choices for Parents
Parents of low-performing schools have the option of sending their students to better performing schools.
The flight of students from the public school system to private schools has many adverse effects on the public school system. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal government gives money to schools based on test scores. Schools with declining test scores receive less money from the federal government and are required to take corrective measures or face further funding losses . So if a school is experiencing large numbers of high-scoring students leaving, then the test scores will probably go down. That means less money for resources, which can lead to more gifted students leaving for private schools or better-performing schools in other districts.

And the issue of advanced-scoring students leaving public schools for private schools is not only occurring in Oakland. Across the country, in urban and rural schools alike, students are leaving public schools for private.

There are drains on athletic talent, too. North Carolina public school systems have experienced an exodus of talented high school athletes, mainly basketball players, to private schools that recruit players to create nationally recognized high school teams.

“This is really a difficult conversation to have and it’s really a big topic nationally, or it should be,” said Dave Telep, a senior college basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN and one of the premier high school basketball authorities in the United States. “We happen to be in a fishbowl here in North Carolina because we have so many good players, but this is not restricted to our state. This is happening all across the country.”

While talent drains have many public school systems scrabbling for solutions, others view the loss of students as the painful but necessary process of determining and dealing with failing schools. Supporters of No Child Left Behind argue that the system makes schools accountable, and if schools are having a problem keeping their talented students, it is because of a failing of the school that the system makes visible. If the school cannot correct the problems, then it will ultimately be shuttered, and the student will be sent to schools with proven results in higher test scores.

What do you think?

How should schools deal with a drain of talent? Or should they? How would the loss of a large number of students with high test scores affect your school? If it becomes a major problem, how should the school address the issue? What effect would having a star athlete switch schools have on your school? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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Schuylerville Central School, Schuylerville
The public schools need to get their smarter kids more involved. The dregs of society will always try to bring the rest of us down but if there was a way to have a merit-based honor system where only the gifted would be together gaining the special attention that all of the sabotaging kids get. I have had to do absolutely no work in high school but I am in honor society and I have an A average throughout high school but I truly don't deserve it. I shouldn't be able to coast through and be considered a superb student because I am not. I don't know if there is a way to keep the smart kids but we can try. We must try.


Sidney High School, Sidney, MT
I think that the intelligent students are smart for leaving their schools if they can get a better education at a private school. The public schools need to come up with new ways to get their students more involved. Some kids in high school really just don't care and they take free public school for granted. I think that the public schools need to come up with a better way to get these students to try harder and to start getting better test scores.


Sidney High, Sidney MT
Their is probably a reason those kids are leaving and gonig to private schools. Maybe is the enviornment of the school, the classes are really easy. I dont go to a large school myself so I cant talk from experience. But i have a sibling that attended a highschool with about 2000 kids in it and from her experiences some things that happen there would never ever happen in a school my size. If i had the choice to get out I would.


Sidney High School, Sidney MT
I think that the schools need to offer more advanced classes for the smarter kids and let the parents know that their kid will get the same schooling as a kid in private school.


Bradley/Nimitz, Irving, TX
There are many things that the schools can do to deal with the brain drain. My school recently changed the grading system to a more college-like grading system, although we still have more grades than college students do. It challenges students, to do their homework and study well for tests, many don;t like the new grading system including myself but at the same time it will help students get better study habits once they get to college. Fortunately many of the intelligent students are still at my school not much have left, although I would understand their reason for leaving to go to a better recognized school. If the high-scoring students were to leave the school they administrators would probably require everybody to try and do better and would push and push more study hall time and more tutoring. A star athlete switching schools actually has happened at my school just this year as a matter of fact. The starting kicker for our varsity football team decided to switch schools for his senior year, he decided to go to a school that has won the state championship more than once, and I don not blame him for doing that. His switching of schools did affect the football team a bit but not the school in general, the football coaches just got over it and decided to work the players hard and practice a lot, and it payed of, we went to playoffs for the second year in a row. When a student switches schools it affects the school of course, it just depends were that student stands in the high school rank.


LaPlace, Columbus
i believe that public schools should offer more options for their students.. like more advanced classes to let the students who need a challenge, get the challenge


centennial, columbus
I think that alot of the public schools curriculums aren't challeging enough. Public schools should higher up their standers so students can be motivated to do well.


La Place/Centennial High School, Ohio
Public schools should offer more advanced or specialized courses, so that private school is not the only option for the advanced students.


LaPlace/Centennial High School, Columbus
How should schools deal with a drain of talent you ask? Well, by setting there standards high! I believe that the public school system doesn't really challenge the talented students! To them every student is the same and their curriculum only focuses on only a certain students; the not so talented ones. Public schools should have regular, honors, and advanced placement classes to accommodate each students.

Related News
Oakland’s middle school ‘brain drain
The Education Report

Top students fleeing Oakland public schools
San Francisco Chronicle

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