Both praise and criticism have been heaped on the federal No Child Left Behind education law since it took effect in 2002.
Of course, the most fundamental criticism of the law is that constitutionally, state and local governments -- not Washington -- should set public education policy.
But Congress has long involved itself in education, and one encouraging part of the No Child Left Behind Act is that it permits students in persistently under-performing schools to transfer to academically stronger schools.
In Hamilton County, most of the students who are eligible for those transfers have not chosen to take advantage of them. The Times Free Press reported recently that of the thousands of students who are entitled to transfer, only 474 did so this year. And some of those may wind up transferring back to their original schools.
However, the 474 who transferred this year were more than double the 198 who transferred last year -- and last year's number was about seven times the number who had transferred in 2009. So the local trend is moving upward.
Altogether, 17 Hamilton County schools are considered "high priority," so their students are eligible for transfers. Almost one in five of the students at Orchard Knob Middle School -- nearly 80 all told -- transferred this year to either Hunter Middle School or Ooltewah Middle School. And 130 left Brainerd High School to attend Ooltewah High or Sale Creek High. The numbers were lower at other schools.
Nationwide, the percentage of students who are transferring to better-performing schools under the No Child Left Behind Act is higher. In a recent year, about 672,000 students across the country were eligible for the transfers, and about 155,000 -- or 23 percent -- of those actually switched schools.
Why are fewer local students than students in other areas of the United States electing to transfer to stronger schools? That's hard to say. We hope it reflects justified satisfaction with the local schools -- or at least the belief that a currently under-performing school is getting better.
There are legitimate questions about the wisdom of parts of the No Child Left Behind Act. But the choice it gives students to leave low-performing schools and attend better ones is commendable.
Students tend to do better when they are attending good schools that they and their parents believe will enable them to reach their academic potential.