Wednesday, November 30, 2005

'Revolution' in education learning a hard reality

This story provides a good critique of the Edison Schools Project. Check out this quote: "But critics call Edison a "nail in the coffin of public education as we've known it." "I mean, you don't help the public schools by starting private schools," author Jonathan Kozol said. "If you want to improve the public's water supply, you don't do it by selling champagne." -Angela

The for-profit corporation brought in to help failing schools in Philadelphia changed the way the schools worked, but students' improvement seems negligible.

By ANITA KUMAR, Times Staff Writer
Published November 27, 2005

PHILADELPHIA - In Room 202 of Anderson Elementary School, Claire Burris asks the three rows of squirming first-graders to identify the drawing on the large card she holds up.

"A pig," the dozen students say in unison.

And what sound comes from the first letter?

"Pa, Pa, Pa," they say.

The drawings keep coming as the students - some of the worst readers in one of America's worst school districts - begin to learn their letters and later, it is hoped, to read.

The classroom teacher sits quietly at her desk watching Burris, occasionally taking notes - refining her own skills by observing the school's reading coach.

The reading curriculum coordinator is mandated by Edison, a private management company hired to help lift sagging test scores and overall student achievement in this poor, once-failing school in southwest Philadelphia.

Edison - a for-profit business hired almost four years ago to manage two dozen of the lowest-performing schools in the district - is striving to radically change education in America. But the reality at the classroom level looks less than revolutionary.

The required reading and math coaches can be found in many public schools. The results of new monthly online tests are analyzed every which way in the hopes of improving annual state standardized test scores. Expensive curriculum and books, already available elsewhere, replaced the outdated ones.

There's no doubt Edison has brought accountability and business savvy to the classroom. A corporate culture pervades the mint-green concrete block halls of these 1960s-era schools, which are now called EMOs or Educational Management Organizations.

But in this large-scale experiment of using the profit motive to improve schools, the approach to education has been rather conventional. So conventional, in fact, the gains in student achievement recorded so far have been largely indistinguishable from improvements seen elsewhere in the Philadelphia school system, where schools are run the traditional way.

"What we've seen is that they're not a miracle cure," said Chad d'Entremont, assistant director for the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University's Teachers College. "We simply don't know the overall affect yet. Things haven't been made dramatically worse, but they haven't been made dramatically better either."

* * *

Edison Schools, the largest for-profit school chain in the United States, has risen with a decade-old phenomenon in public policy that seeks to mesh entrepreneurial concepts with educational goals as a fresh way to attack underperforming public education.

Republican leaders have fueled the movement with a series of initiatives - the federal No Child Left Behind law (which permits low-achieving schools to be turned over to private companies), Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's A-Plus plan and the growing use of vouchers for private schools. This year, 60 for-profit companies are managing more than 500 schools nationwide.

At the forefront is Edison, the brainchild of Chris Whittle, the eccentric entrepreneur who made his first splash in education with the controversial Channel One business that brought TV - and commercials - into schools. The communications executive who had restored Esquire magazine to fiscal health came up with the idea as he prepared a speech to a business group on ways to improve the nation's school system.

Edison's mission is to find a cheaper way to get better results with students.

The company and its supporters say troubled schools have failed long enough and a new approach is required. They boast of significant gains in student achievement. Critics say there have been gains, but the amounts are disputed as compared to other public schools, which they argue get less money and opportunity.

Whittle insists he can serve both those who want the company to turn a profit and those who want the children to learn.

"The two goals exist side by side," he said from his office in New York. "One won't work without the other."

This year, Edison works with about 61,000 students at about 136 public schools - down from almost 70,000 students at 157 schools a year ago. Founded in 1992, it runs some district and charter schools, and provides heavy support to others.

The company also sells services - professional training, classroom management, after-school programs, computerized testing and tutoring for schools that rate low on No Child Left Behind requirements.

In Florida, the Miami-Dade district ended a contract this year with the state's only Edison school - a poor inner-city elementary school in Miami. The state graded the school a D last year, down from a C the year before.

Much of Whittle's time is spent flying around the country looking for new customers. But he said he doesn't even try in Florida because the spending per student is so low - $1,580 below the $8,259 national average - it would be difficult to cover the cost of his program.

Edison, which went public in 1999 but has since gone private, turned its first profit last year, Whittle said. He won't disclose specific financial information, but the company does have a high-profile partner in Liberty Partners, the investment firm that Edison merged with two years ago that manages Florida's pension fund.

"We knew we would lose money," Whittle said. "With any venture, you expect to lose money for a substantial period of time. We just didn't think we would lose it for as long as we did."

Supporters of the Edison idea praise private companies for trying something - anything - to boost failing student achievement.

"Public education works well for a lot of kids. It does not work well for inner-city kids," said Matthew Ladner, director of state projects for the Alliance for School Choice. "We can't do any worse."

But critics call Edison a "nail in the coffin of public education as we've known it."

"I mean, you don't help the public schools by starting private schools," author Jonathan Kozol said. "If you want to improve the public's water supply, you don't do it by selling champagne."

The results are mixed.

The biggest study so far, released last month by the nonprofit RAND Corp., shows that most schools run by Edison post gains in student achievement that exceed those of comparable public schools over time if all the company's strategies are adopted and followed for several years.

But while test scores are increasing and some involved parents rave about the individualized attention their children receive, Edison and other companies have seen contracts canceled.

Just this year, Edison left the troubled urban Pennsylvania school district of Chester Upland where it operated most schools. Test scores improved a little, but the company lost $30-million.

No matter, Edison and similar companies expect to flourish as the demand for a new approach increases.

* * *

Edison came to Philadelphia at the invitation of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge in 2001, who asked the company to review the city's troubled school system. Edison recommend another entity - like itself - take over.

The Republican-run state seized control of the district and established a new board that, despite vigorous objections, hired private groups, including three for-profits, to manage about 45 schools the next year.

"We need to adopt and embrace as robust reform as possible," said James Nevels, an entrepreneur and chairman of the School Reform Commission.

Edison wanted a hand in running the whole district and to operate 45 schools. Instead it got a five-year contract to run 20 of the worst schools, some with less than 10 percent of students learning at grade level. This year, Edison was awarded two more schools.

"This is all political," said Jerry Jordan of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the union that represents 20,000 employees. "The Republican perspective on education is really to privatize it."

But as had happened elsewhere, to get the Philadelphia contract Edison had to forgo some of its key components, such as longer school days and pay incentives for teachers. The company brought in new equipment but teachers say some of the initial staff support was removed after the first year.

Some teachers left the schools. Others stayed and learned to adapt. For all the tried-and-true teaching approaches, an Edison school does look and feel different from a traditional school.

Edison managers have corporate, not education, backgrounds and are glued to BlackBerrys, cell phones and laptops. They talk about accountability, paradigm shifts and benchmarks - not your typical educator words.

The new manager of Edison schools in Philadelphia, Stephanie Nellons, came to the job after working at Sodexho food services and Ryder transportation company. With her business suit and ever-present dangling cell phone earpiece, she looks out of place in an inner-city school.

"I think they respect my business savvy," she says of the principals she supervises. "I'm tough and I don't care."

Sheila Stubbs, 38, who has been a teacher at Anderson Elementary for seven years, said the focus moved to reading and math tests - at the expense of other subjects - but, she acknowledges, the school's scores have improved.

She worries about the emphasis on Edison's monthly online tests called Benchmarks and state tests, but says she knows that is the way education is headed today in the United States.

Edison wanted $1,500 per student in Philadelphia but got $750. Paul Vallas, the CEO of the Philadelphia schools, has said he has directed more money to district schools to even out the spending, but some critics still say it's unfair.

"How do we know its working?" said Shelly Yanoff, executive director of Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth and an Edison opponent. "They are taking funds out of the schools. For-profit companies are getting more money."

Some of the more involved parents were worried about Edison at first but are content now. Many others don't care that Edison manages the schools. They - and their children - don't seem to know the difference.

"They have a lot of access to more things that public schools didn't," said Gerald Shaffer, 68, whose 11-year-old grandson attends sixth grade at Penn Treaty Middle School. "Even the books are better."

Times researchers Caryn Baird and Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Lawmakers have lofty goal for Texas schoolchildren: Adequate

The court ruled that funding is adequate despite Texas having the highest dropout in the nation. Also check out the Statesman's story that appeared on Sunday, Nov. 28. Only in Texas.... -Angela

by Cary Clack

11/28/2005 12:00 AM CST / San Antonio Express-News

A few years ago, the then pre-teen daughter of my colleague, Carlos Guerra, took apart the word extraordinary and asked, "Why would anyone want to be extra ordinary?"

An equally profound question for Texans, their legislature and governor is, why would anyone want just an adequate education?

Last week, the Texas Supreme Court declared the current funding system for education unconstitutional but denied claims that the legislature doesn't provide enough money to educate more than 4 million public school students.

The discussion and debate about the education of these students always centers on the word "adequate" and whether the state is meeting the requirements in Article 7, Section 1 of the state constitution to adequately provide the funds for adequate education for the students.

The actual language in the section talks about "the duty of the Legislature and State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools."

"Suitable" is a synonym for "adequate" and if you knew that, then you received at least an adequate education.

But who wants to be adequate in anything? "Adequate" is such a weak, vague, and wishy-washy word that it's less than adequate. It's one of the lamest and least-inspiring words in the English language.

Who aspires to adequateness?

Maybe one reason Texas schoolchildren aren't doing as well as they should is that we've set such a low bar for success for them and the state. How many parents tell their children, "Today, you're going to do adequate on that big test, continue to have an adequate thirst for education and do adequately well in school, get an adequate job and go out and make the world not a better place but an adequate place."

What politician on the campaign trail promises to work adequately hard to create an adequate education system? Were you hoping for an adequate Thanksgiving meal, and are you looking forward to an adequate Christmas?

The next time you run into a friend and his family are you going to say, "Jim, good to see you. Your wife and kids are looking adequate. Have an adequate day."

Does anyone want to hear, "Honey, you were, well, adequate."

When talking about the financing and quality of education we want for the state's children, we should upgrade from "adequate" to "superb," "excellent" or "outstanding."

The way language is used in education can be confusing and limiting.

Programs that challenge exceptionally successful students are indispensable but when labeled as "Gifted and Talented," what's being said to the students not in them is that they are only adequate.

Special ed programs are also indispensable but one of the special things they can do is stigmatize a child.

The legislature has until June 1 to devise a new school finance system. For the sake of the untapped gifts and talents of this state's schoolchildren, here's a special wish that the legislature is extraordinarily dutiful in producing something more than adequate.

Editor's Note: This column by Gary Clark was adequate, which is a considerable improvement for him.

To leave a message for Cary Clack call (210) 250-3546 or e-mail at His column appears on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

School champions held ground in Austin

by William McKenzie

They want funding to back higher student standards

04:57 AM CST on Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Texans of the Year?


The school groups that stared down the mighty Texas Legislature on school finance. They surprised Austin by shunning the pennies-on-the-dollar lawmakers tried to give them. They forced legislators to go home this summer with no solution, tails dragging for all their constituents to see. And seven Texas Supreme Court justices helped their cause yesterday by giving Austin until June 1 to create a better way of funding schools.

God love these groups for their steadfastness. And God love 'em because that High Noon courage contrasted sharply with the school groups' past performances, when they fell prey to legislators' entrapments.

Wily lawmakers would tantalize rural districts with money for transportation needs, as long as those districts supported the school funding bill on the table. Or legislators would throw poor districts, or rich ones, a bone to entice them into backing the package.

This year, during one regular session and two special ones on school finance, school groups stood firm and refused to let anyone pick them apart. They unanimously told the governor, speaker, lieutenant governor and all 181 legislators that, this time, peanuts wouldn't do.

Catherine Clark of the Texas Association of School Boards attributes the unity to a decision the groups made during a meeting back in 2003. "We knew that breaking us apart would divide and conquer us," she said. As the funding debate wore on, "there was a lot of temptation, but big principles held us together."

Those principles began and ended with a belief that state government should invest enough money in its public schools so students could meet the new demands lawmakers had placed on them. Like some business leaders, the coalition wanted $8 billion in new money for the next two years.

The GOP-run Legislature didn't come close. The higher-ups started at $3 billion; by the time the last special session imploded, the leadership was down to offering only $2.4 billion.

Neither figure even kept pace with inflation, much less made up for the deep budget cuts many districts had to make since reaching the maximum tax rate they could charge property owners. About 70 percent of Texas school districts are close to maxing out, from the Lower Rio Grande Valley to West Texas to suburban North Texas.

That's what gave the coalition its backbone. School groups representing urban, suburban, rural, poor, rich, black, brown and white students stood together – and fought back.

Wichita Falls schools Superintendent Dawson Orr was a notable spine-stiffener. He led the coalition as members met every other week during the regular session, keeping his group focused. Similarly, members kept their game faces on through this summer's two special sessions.

The coalition "clearly played a role in denying legislative leaders access to a positive constituency," says Bill Allaway of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. Lawmakers couldn't flank them to rally local support because these groups, after all, represented those very people. They did their job so well that a group of parents is fielding Republican candidates to run against some GOP incumbents next year.

The school groups also balanced out the many Republicans who were loath to raise taxes to help schools. Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist was pressing from Washington to not raise one cent, and without the coalition pressing for more aid, lawmakers likely would have passed a puny package and gone home.

Maybe that's why some in Austin, mostly House Republicans, came to refer to the coalition members as the "Whiny Ass School People." (I started not to include that vulgarity in a family newspaper, but it reveals the contempt some elected leaders have for those who run our schools.)

Fortunately, the WASPs didn't budge. Our state is better off for their uncommon leadership and independence, which is what this editorial board seeks in bestowing The Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year award.

It would be best if legislators and the education groups could work out a common solution when Austin takes up school finance again. But if Republican leaders keep offering higher standards and little funding, someone has to force the Legislature to give students the means they need to achieve higher ends.

I nominate the WASPs for that job and for Texans of the Year. It's not easy wrestling the Capitol to a draw, but they did it with brilliant courage and independence.

William McKenzie is a Dallas Morning News editorial columnist. His e-mail address is

Saturday, November 26, 2005

"Acting White" by Roland G. Fryer

This published piece on "Acting White" tests Fordham and Ogbu's framework that connects to oppositional identities that they maintain minority youth develop. To see what the latest is on this, it's worth checking out.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

School tax system unconstitutional

Check out Greg Moses' summary in theTexas Civil Rights Review, and also MALDEF's response (scroll down), as well as that of the Statesman's titled, 'Schools need more than tinkering'.


State Supreme Court wants a fix by June 1.

By Jason Embry
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
The Texas Supreme Court declared the state's school finance system unconstitutional Tuesday because school boards lack control over the tax rates they set, handing a partial victory to school districts and prompting what could be major changes to Texas' tax structure.

But the court also ruled that the system does allow enough overall spending on public education to meet the state and federal demands students and teachers face and that money is distributed fairly enough to satisfy the Texas Constitution. Although that decision on overall spending is an immediate setback for school officials who have pressed lawmakers for significantly more money, the high court did warn that the school system is drifting toward an underfunded state.

"The court recognized, as all Texans recognize, that we can and should do a better job of educating students in Texas," said Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office defended the system in a lawsuit brought by more than 300 districts. "But just because we can do a better job does not mean that the job being done now is unconstitutional."

The court, in its 7-1 opinion, gave the Legislature a June 1 deadline to restructure the tax system, which now relies heavily on local property taxes to pay for public schools. The Legislature is likely to meet in a special session next spring.

In the meantime, the decision will have little immediate effect on the daily operations of the state's $33 billion-a-year school system and its 4.3 million students.

"For the past decade, the Legislature has been shifting the responsibility of funding Texas schools onto local districts and onto the local property tax, but the local property tax can no longer bear this heavy burden," said David Thompson, a lawyer for some of the school districts, including Austin, that sued the state. "The Supreme Court's decision makes clear that it is time for the Legislature to step up to the plate and pay for the high academic standards it has imposed on districts and students."

The court was acting on a ruling last year by state District Judge John Dietz of Austin that the system was unconstitutional for three reasons: because school boards had lost control over their tax rates, because the system lacked enough funding for schools to meet constitutional standards and because districts did not have equal access to money to build and renovate schools.

The Supreme Court did not specifically address the "Robin Hood" nature of the system, meaning the state can continue to require districts that have high property values relative to their student populations to share some of their local tax money with districts that have lower values per student.

But if lawmakers reduce schools' dependence on property taxes to pay for education — a likely outcome of Tuesday's decision — most, if not all, wealthy districts will keep a higher percentage of the dollars they collect, proposals made earlier this year showed.

Forbidden state tax

Under the current school finance system, districts may not set tax rates for the portion of the revenue they use to maintain and operate existing schools any higher than $1.50 per $100 in assessed property value. They may exceed that cap to pay for construction.

Because of a lack of state funding to balance out the local dollars, school districts argued, they have had little choice but to tax at or near the $1.50 cap, robbing them of the tax-setting discretion that prior court decisions have said they must have.

The Texas Constitution forbids a statewide property tax, but the court said Tuesday that that's effectively what the current cap has become. More than 80 percent of Texas students are in districts that tax within 5 cents of the $1.50 cap, including Austin, up from 6 percent of students in 1994.

The court pointed out that districts are spending more than 97 percent of the revenue that would be available if every district taxed at maximum rates, up from 83 percent in 1994.

"The current situation has become virtually indistinguishable from one in which the state simply set an ad valorem tax rate of $1.50 and redistributed the revenue to the districts," said the court's majority opinion, written by Justice Nathan Hecht.

The Legislature, anticipating that the court would order changes in the tax system, tried repeatedly this year to cut property taxes and replace those taxes, dollar-for-dollar, by increasing taxes on consumers and businesses, such as the sales tax and a proposed payroll tax. Most of the plans benefited higher-income Texans, according to legislative analyses.

They never approved a final plan because House and Senate leaders could not agree on whether businesses or consumers should bear the brunt of the increase. But the proposals floated during the regular legislative session and two special sessions generally gave voters the option of adding slightly to their school districts' tax rates — an option intended to make sure communities are able to raise more money if they want.

Some school officials argued that schools would need that extra money just to meet minimum standards on such things as the state tests that students must pass to graduate or be promoted. The court decision warned against that, which school lawyers interpreted as a call for larger funding increases than state leaders have pushed.

"The state cannot provide for local supplementation, pressure most of the districts by increasing accreditation standards in an environment of increasing costs to tax at maximum rates in order to afford any supplementation at all, and then argue that it is not controlling local tax rates," the court's opinion said.

Warning on adequacy

On the question of whether Texas students are receiving an adequate education, Dietz had ruled that there was not enough money in the system overall to provide the "general diffusion of knowledge" that the constitution requires.

But the Supreme Court said in its ruling Tuesday that Dietz did not find that such a diffusion is impossible in the current system, just that the state has not provided enough money to get there.

The court warned that "substantial evidence" suggests that continued improvement will not be possible without significant change, although it did not limit its definition of change to an increase in spending. School district lawyers said the court's warning was another call for more education spending.

Gov. Rick Perry downplayed talk of spending increases.

"The court also made note of an important point: While the $10 billion in increased funding Texas has provided for education since 1999 has had a positive and measurable impact on our schools, it is possible for the Legislature to implement new reforms that will improve student success without necessarily spending additional dollars," Perry said.

The governor did not say when he would call lawmakers back for a special legislative session. The fact that a Perry-appointed commission studying the state tax system held its first meeting Monday suggests such a session is several months away, perhaps after the March political primaries. Perry is among the incumbents running for re-election.

The Supreme Court rejected the state's argument that judges should stay out of this discussion and bow completely to the Legislature on questions of adequate funding for education.

"Had the state won that argument, adequacy would have been off the table forever," said Mark Trachtenberg, a lawyer for school districts. "When the Legislature meets again, it is going to meet knowing it has a constitutional duty to provide an adequate education that is enforceable in the courts."

Next: more litigation?

Dietz had also called the school finance system unconstitutional because some property-poor school districts don't have the same access as other districts to money to build facilities.

School construction is paid for primarily by passing bond initiatives, which rely on local taxes. The state does not attempt to equalize funding to build facilities the way it does for operating expenses such as teacher salaries and utilities.

The court ruled that property-poor districts did not prove that they must have more buildings to educate students in a way that complies with the constitution. That finding might have opened the door to more litigation, one observer said.

"With regard to equity in funding facilities, the court in essence invites further litigation by ruling only that necessary evidence was not presented," said Scott McCown, a former district judge who has ruled on school finance cases. McCown now heads the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which pushes for additional spending on education.

Justice Scott Brister, in the lone dissenting opinion, said the court should not find that school districts are forced to tax at the maximum rate just because some of them do. He also questioned whether school districts, instead of students or parents, should have brought the lawsuit, and he said the majority opinion did not demand the "efficient" system of school funding the constitution requires.

The lawsuit decided Tuesday began in 2001, when a small group of districts sued over the question of whether the property tax cap had become, in effect, a statewide tax. Other districts later joined as the questions of adequacy and fairness were added. The districts that were plaintiffs in the suit included some that had been on opposite sides of prior school finance battles in the courts.; 445-3654
November 22, 2005 CONTACT: David Hinojosa (210) 224-5382
(210) 473-1935 cellular
J.C. Flores (213) 629-2512, ext. 124

MALDEF Decries Latest Decision of Texas Supreme Court:
Ruling Abandons Low-wealth Districts and
Upholds Glaring Inequities in the System

(AUSTIN, TEXAS) More than 16 years after declaring the school finance system
unconstitutional in Edgewood I, the Supreme Court of Texas refused to remedy persistent
inequalities in the present school funding system. As a result, property-poor districts face
the prospect of even greater inequities in a new system that will not contain a property tax
MALDEF represented the Edgewood Districts∗, a group of 22 property-poor
school districts, many of which filed the original landmark school finance suit in 1984.
Despite a trial record consisting of 655 Findings of Fact and 24 Conclusions of
law based on over 7,000 exhibits and testimony from dozens of witnesses, the Supreme
Court refused to address the issues and, instead, deferred to the Legislature’s discretion.
Although the Supreme Court found that the State violated the Texas Constitution by
forcing district’s to tax at the maximum rate, the Court failed to address the gross
inequities in the system.
“MALDEF is very disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said MALDEF
President and General Counsel Ann Marie Tallman. “This case is not about money but
rather about lost educational opportunities for the 2 million-plus students attending
schools in property-poor districts. Unfortunately, the Court has failed to act and protect
the interests of those children.”
David Hinojosa, MALDEF Staff Attorney and lead counsel in the case, added:
“Fifty years after Brown v. Board, our undisputed evidence at trial showed that the
quality of education for certain Texas children still suffers as a direct result of which side
of the tracks they live on. Despite the glaring disparities between the haves and have-
nots, the Court refused to confront the issues head on.
He continued: “The lone victory for our districts was that the Supreme Court did
not state that the recapture (wealth-sharing) system needed to be eliminated. With that in
mind, there is every reason for the Legislature to address the inequities in the system
when creating its new school finance plan.”

∗ The Edgewood District consist of the following Independent School Districts: Edgewood, Brownsville,
Edcouch-Elsa, Harlandale, Harlingen, Jim Hogg County, Kenedy, Laredo, La Feria, La Vega, Los Fresnos,
Monte Alto, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, Raymondville, Roma, San Benito, San Elizario, Socorro, Sharyland,
South San Antonio, United, and Ysleta.

"The fact that the Supreme Court ruled that the system is constitutional does not
mean that we have a quality school system that can support the economic future of Texas.
MALDEF looks forward to working with the Legislature to provide a funding system that
is fair and equitable for all Texas children," commented Luis Figueroa, MALDEF
legislative staff attorney.

A national nonprofit organization found in 1968, MALDEF promotes and protects the
rights of Latinos through advocacy, community education and outreach, leadership
development, higher education scholarships and when necessary, through the legal

Trust power of bilingualism

“Where bilingual education has failed, it has failed mainly because affluent Americans do not want to use
their tax dollars to support a high-quality education for the poor.”

Posted on Tue, Nov. 22, 2005

From: The Tribune (San Luis Obispo)
By Johanna Rubba

Once again, Victor Davis Hanson (Commentary, Nov. 20)
pontificates beyond his area of expertise, declaring
English "our common bond" and claiming bilingual
education "eroded first-generation immigrants'
facility in English."

He also makes the typical, right-wing appeal to the
non- existent "good old days" in referring to the "the
inclusivity that once worked" prior to the 1960s.
Those were the days when blacks were restricted to
inferior schools, neighborhoods and jobs; Jews were
not welcome at posh country clubs; and more than half
the population, viz., women, were acceptable in the
workforce as long as they did not aspire to men's jobs
and accepted sexual comments and advances from their
bosses. Very inclusive.

All of these people spoke English. Blacks and whites
shared English in the South for hundreds of years, but
the bondage of slavery seems to have trumped the
"bond" of a common language. Speaking English did not
help Irish immigrants in the 19th century, who
suffered serious discrimination, in large measure
because they were Catholic. Oh, and the sovereign
against whom American colonists revolted in the 1770s
spoke ... English. Language certainly can be a common
bond, but that bond is easily overridden by divisive
forces such as racism, sexism and religious

Hanson refers to Quebec, perhaps with the strife
between French and English speakers in mind.
Language-based strife generally arises when those in
power suppress a language. The English imposed
restrictions on French in Quebec long before the
Quebecois turned the tables; strife in Sri Lanka,
eastern Turkey and apartheid in South Africa resulted
partly or mainly from language oppression (remember
the Soweto massacre, in which white South Africans
shot and killed children who were marching for the
right to be schooled in a language they understood).

Immigrants come to America because they share values
like economic opportunity, freedom of speech and
religion and a superior education for their children
(sadly, only some reap these benefits). The great
majority of immigrants want to learn English and want
their children to learn English. Historically, the
languages of immigrant groups cease to be used by
those groups by the third generation born on American
soil; the current wave is following suit.

Where bilingual education has failed, it has failed
mainly because affluent Americans do not want to use
their tax dollars to support a high-quality education
for the poor. Bilingual education comes in many forms,
and there are forms that work: resource-intensive
programs that give children five to seven years to
master English while cultivating academic proficiency
in their native language. Tell me who has better
potential for "economic security" in today's global
economy -- a monolingual person or someone literate
and fluent in two or more languages? Isn't there a
certain irony in the fact that we encourage or require
middle-class children to study a second language in
high school or college, but we do our best to
discourage bilingualism in immigrant children?

I recommend that Mr. Hanson consult the large body of
scholarly research by language experts on bilingual
education and language policy. An excellent resource
is James Crawford's substantial Web site, including
the page "Ten Common Fallacies About Bilingual
Education" (
/crawford01.html) and the site "The Effectiveness of
Bilingual Education," hosted by the Center for Applied
Linguistics, (
He will then have standing to express an opinion on
these issues.
Johanna Rubba is associate professor of linguistics at
Cal Poly.

Monday, November 21, 2005

3rd-graders who fail state test often promoted anyway

What this piece does not acknowledge is that the current system of testing violates professional ethics. Most fundamental is the ethical argument advanced by national reputable associations like the American Educational Research Association, the National Research Council, the American Psychological Association, and the National Academy of Sciences - alongside the makers of the tests themselves - that no single test be used as the basis for any high-stakes decision like retention, promotion or graduation. I do not accept the premise implicit in this piece below that the testing system either serves the interests of the children or that it is used in an appropriate manner. It is unfortunate that our official leadership is apparently unaware of the decades of research that demonstrates that retaining students in grade is a backward, not to mention morally reprehensible approach to student achievement. -Angela

3rd-graders who fail state test often promoted anyway
Educators say review process allows a look at each failing student's situation before making decision to promote them.

By Jason Embry
Monday, November 21, 2005
For three years, Texas has used a statewide test to help determine who is ready to move from third grade to fourth and who needs to stay behind for another year. But the handful of students who fail the test often move on to fourth grade anyway.

During the first two years that the state required third-graders to pass the reading section of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, about 3 percent of them, or 8,600 students per year, neverdid. Slightly more than half of that group, including many students who failed the test three times, advanced to fourth grade at the start of the next school year, according to data from the Texas Education Agency.

The fact that third-graders are jumping to the next grade without meeting the testing requirements raises questions about the effectiveness of a policy that was supposed to end so-called social promotion and ensure that students would not advance through school without the proper skills.

"I don't know whether that number is too high," Sandy Kress, an adviser to then-Gov. George W. Bush who helped push for the testing requirement in 1999, said of the total number of promoted students. "It's certainly high enough to wonder if youngsters who might not be able to do the work in the next grade are going on to the next grade. So I worry without knowing I have the right to be worried."

According to state and local records:

•In 2004, at least a third of those who failed and were promoted moved on after a committee of one of the child's parents, one teacher and one principal reviewed their academic records and decided that they should advance despite having failed three times. That ratio was roughly the same in 2003.

•Several districts in Travis County, as well as the Round Rock district, chose more often than not in 2004 to promote students who repeatedly failed the test, according to data provided by the districts.

•About 38 percent of failing students who moved on to fourth grade in 2003 did so by taking a different test, which state law allows because their teachers identified a disability. Numbers are not available for 2004.

Still other students took other tests deemed more appropriate for them after two TAKS failures, and for some, records of why they were promoted are not clear because they changed schools, state officials said.

Yet state data indicate that fewer than one-third of failing students whom a committee moved on to the next grade in 2003 went on to pass the fourth-grade state reading test.

The education agency report released at the end of October also shows that the promotion policy that began in 2003 has done little to affect the overall rate of students who have to repeat third grade. In 2004, 2.6 percent of third-graders were kept there an extra year for any reason, from low grades to poor attendance.

The rate has hovered between 2 percent and 3 percent since 1998.

Educators say the overall retention rate has remained low because, in the years leading up to the new test, the state spent hundreds of millions of dollars on small-group instruction, extra teacher training and other programs designed to ensure that students could read at a third-grade level. As a result, finalpassing rates on the English version of the third-grade reading test have been above 95 percent for several years.

"We've made a profound difference on the issue of kids being able to read," said Linda Bridges, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers.

Promoted; then what?

Locally, the Austin, Round Rock, Pflugerville and Del Valle school districts all promoted more third-graders who failed the TAKS three times than they kept back in 2004. Educators say those decisions reflect careful scrutiny of each student's classroom work, attendance and progress on the state test.

ThePflugerville district held back eight out of 11 TAKS failures in 2003 but promoted eight out of 11 in 2004.

"You're looking at a lot of student performance data to make that decision, and you know that student," said Romelle Parker, an assistant superintendent in the Round Rock district. "If you promote them and it's the wrong thing to do, they're going to fail next spring. And we're going to be held accountable for that. So it wouldn't behoove us to promote someone if they're just going to fail the next time."

But, statewide, many of them do fail the next time.

Among third-graders who were promoted by a committee after the first year of TAKS testing, 2003, just 29 percent passed the reading test in fourth grade, state figures show. Similar data for the 2004 test have not been released by the state.

The TAKS is given in almost every grade to gauge how well schools are teaching the curriculum that the state requires. The reading section in third grade measures vocabulary, comprehension and other areas of instruction.

Bush called for the state to tie promotions to test scores in the late 1990s to reduce "social promotion," or students moving to the next grade without the requisite skills. The jump from third grade to fourth, it was thought, brings a major change in the difficulty of classwork and the reading skills children need.

The promotion requirement has since been added to the fifth-grade math and reading tests, and it will extend to the eighth-grade tests in those subjects in 2008.

Little change in rate

Kress said proponents of the policy created the appeals committees late in the 1999 legislative session to win support from some Democrats. He could not recall talk at the time of how many students who go before the committees should be promoted.

"We foresaw the day when it might be used widely or maybe too easily," he said. "But legislatively, it was the price we had to pay to get the bill. And it wasn't as if there would be no justification for it."

Third-graders must answer about two-thirds of the questions correctly to pass the reading test. Those who fail the test on the first try must have extra small-group instruction at school. If they fail a second time, the school must form the grade-placement committee made up of a parent, a teacher and a principal.

After the third test failure, the student is kept in third grade unless the parent asks the committee to consider promotion. If all three members of the committee approve, the student can move on. Students who are promoted without meeting the testing requirements must continue to receive extra help in fourth grade.

"The whole reason for having a grade-placement committee is, you want to avoid making a significant and comprehensive decision based on only one data point," said Maria Whitsett, executive director of accountability in the Austin district.

The fact that there has been little change in the retention rate since the testing policy was set raises the question of whether social promotion was a major problem in the first place.

It was, said the teacher federation's Bridges. In 1995, fewer than 80 percent of third-graders passed the state reading test, which was an easier exam than the one used today. But only 1.3 percent of third-graders were held back that year.

Bridges credited the money the state spent on extra programs in kindergarten through third grade between 1999 and 2003 and pointed out that lawmakers cut funding for some of those programs when confronted with a state budget shortfall two years ago. Additional funding will be crucial now that testing plays into promotion decisions in fifth grade and soon will in eighth, Bridges said.

"We've made significant gains over time based on the investment that was made," Bridges said. "Will we stay the course and continue the investment to continue to make gains? That's an issue I'm a little nervous about."; 445-3654

Panel on education, taxes is all business

School finance is back in the news with the Texas Supreme Court making a decision on school finance shortly. Stay tuned. -Angela

Critics note slant, but leader says members can make finances work

12:00 AM CST on Monday, November 21, 2005

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Awaiting only final marching orders from the Texas Supreme Court, a high-profile committee of business leaders headed by a prominent Democrat is poised to tackle the divisive issues that roiled three sessions of the Legislature this year:

John Sharp rejects criticism that his business-based panel would favor consumer taxes. 'We'll try to develop something that produces a long-term, stable and fair tax system,' he said.

The 24-member Texas Tax Reform Commission, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry and led by his one-time political rival, Democrat John Sharp, will begin work today on recommendations for cutting school property taxes and raising new revenue for education through higher business and consumer taxes.

The issues dominated Austin while lawmakers struggled and squabbled, but they have receded as policymakers await the high court's ruling on a lawsuit by school districts over the state's funding system. But they are no less divisive, as shown by an outcry over the Sharp panel's lack of labor, education or consumer representatives.

Mr. Sharp said the panel would examine potential increases in sales taxes, higher cigarette and alcohol taxes, along with a redesigned state business tax.

"We are open to everything except an income tax," the former state comptroller said, adding that even expansion of gambling in Texas, which failed to pass the Legislature, will be on the table.

At the same time, Mr. Sharp said, the panel will respond to calls from state leaders and taxpayers to significantly cut back school property taxes.

"I take 'significant' to be at least a third," Mr. Sharp said. The current maximum school property tax rate is $1.50 per $100 assessed value. Cutting the rate to $1 would save property taxpayers about $5.5 billion a year.

"If you go less than a third, it becomes hard for homeowners and businesses to see any real relief," he said.

Three failures
It's too early to tell whether the Legislature will accept any recommendations the committee may make or what effect the proposals would have on individual taxpayers.

Disagreement between the House and Senate, along with strong opposition from school districts and business groups, derailed the Legislature's efforts to overhaul the state's school finance system in a regular session and two overtime sessions called by Mr. Perry. Proposals offered by Republican leaders would have decreased local property taxes and boosted consumer taxes and some business levies to compensate.

Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court is expected to rule any day on the state's appeal of a lower court decision that found the $33 billion-a-year school finance system unconstitutional. If the justices agree, they could set a deadline for the Legislature to change it, which could prompt Mr. Perry to call another session next year.

Mr. Sharp said his commission will scrutinize the tax legislation drafted this year and look elsewhere, even other states, in the search for tax alternatives.

"We'll try to develop something that produces a long-term, stable and fair tax system," he said. There will be an emphasis on changes in the state's main tax on businesses – the corporate franchise tax – now avoided by five of six businesses because of loopholes in the law.

Mr. Sharp said having so many business leaders on the panel will make it easier to find a replacement for the franchise tax. But critics see no voice for consumers and average Texans on the commission. Some noted that several members of the panel made big campaign contributions to Mr. Perry in the past.

"Where is the mother working two jobs to provide for her family? Who represents the family that is trying to pay one of the highest property taxes and the third-highest sales tax rate in the country?" asked Sen. Eliot Shap- leigh, D-El Paso.

Mr. Shapleigh predicted the commission would resort to the same approach that was popular among legislative leaders, particularly in the House: heavy on consumer taxes that would raise the overall tax burden for all but the wealthiest Texans, according to state research.

Mr. Sharp rejected the criticism, saying his panel is similar to those appointed by past Democratic and Republican governors, including Ann Richards, Bill Clements and Mark White.

He also insisted the commission will have an open mind and try to be fair to consumers and businesses alike.

Another panel
Any recommendations face the legislative gantlet, though, and reaction among lawmakers has been polite if not enthusiastic.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick have already agreed to appoint seven members from each chamber to seek a compromise once the Supreme Court has ruled. Unlike the Sharp panel, the House-Senate committee will look at not just taxes, but also school reforms and new funding rules for education.

Asked if the legislative committee might duplicate the work of the tax reform commission, Mr. Dewhurst said: "If the commission comes up with a concept that we haven't considered in the past, then we will be pleased to consider it." He added, though, that there is only a "finite" number of ways to attack the problem.

'Fresh eyes'
Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said having a panel of business leaders endorse a new package of business and consumer taxes could make it easier for the Legislature to reach agreement next time around.

"We have been looking at this for quite a while, but it's always good to have fresh eyes look at an old problem," he said.

"Their work could lead to broader support from the business community in Texas, something we didn't have before," he added.

Today's hearing will include testimony from experts on the state tax system and a briefing on the legislation considered by the House and Senate earlier this year. They will also set a schedule to develop recommendations for the Legislature.

Mr. Sharp said his panel could ultimately help legislators with public support.

"We will go from one end of the state to the other, educating the public, including business leaders, on what is in the tax code and what the unfairness in the tax code is, and try to build support from there so it will be easier for members of the Legislature to come to a consensus," he said.


Gulf Coast officials worry that feds won't pick up recovery tab

Mon, Nov. 21, 2005
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON -- The federal government has spent or obligated through contracts more than $18 billion in Hurricane Katrina relief, meaning that in just over two months, storm recovery costs have already drawn even with the record spending package the United States has been using to fund Iraq reconstruction for the past two years.

But local, state and federal officials say that number pales in comparison with the ultimate price tag for rebuilding the Gulf Coast. Until now, major expenses have come in the form of debris removal, temporary housing and direct assistance to those victimized by the storm. The real big-ticket items, they say, will not come until months and years down the line as the government attempts to re-create a public infrastructure network -- including roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, sewers, power lines, ports and levees -- that was decimated when Katrina swept in at the end of August.

"I hate to use the term 'drop in the bucket,' but that's pretty much what it's been," said Arthur Jones, who heads Louisiana's disaster recovery division. "This is going to be expensive. My mental calculator doesn't go that high."

No one else has come up with a definitive estimate, either. Guesses tend to range well above $100 billion but vary wildly from there.

Rebuilding the levees in New Orleans to the level that state and local leaders want is expected to cost $20 billion or more. Many roads, including a bridge that forms part of Interstate 10, have to be rebuilt entirely. Labyrinths of underground cables, wires and pipes that spent weeks corroding in the dank floodwaters have to be replaced. And thousands of buildings have to be leveled to make way for fresh construction.

There is widespread agreement on who will end up receiving that money: the companies that make their living doing architecture, engineering and construction work for the government. Less clear is who will pay.

It is yet to be determined, for instance, just how much of a role the federal government will play in picking up the tab. "It depends on a threshold question: What are you going to rebuild? What is the federal responsibility for rebuilding a city, a metropolitan area or a region? This is where it gets really confused," said Bruce Katz, director of the metropolitan policy program at the Brookings Institution. "Federalism is a messy business."

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Congress rushed to approve more than $60 billion in aid. President Bush offered assurances in a nationally televised address from New Orleans that the federal government would bear much of the financial burden.

Yet since then, fiscal conservatives in the Congress have begun to question whether the United States can afford to take on such an enormous expense at a time of mounting deficits. They knocked down legislation pushed by members of Louisiana's congressional delegation that would have authorized $250 billion in additional storm-related funding.

With the nation's attention shifting away from Katrina, the Bush administration has given indications it is listening to conservatives' concerns. When the White House late last month wanted $17 billion primarily to rebuild federal facilities and highways in the Gulf Coast, it requested that Congress take that money out of the existing reconstruction budget.
Meanwhile, state and local officials say they are growing increasingly concerned that the federal government will not put in the kind of money needed to rebuild the region. "We've always been a poor state, so this is something that can't be done without federal help," said Mark Drennen, president and chief executive of Greater New Orleans Inc. "For local businesses to survive, there's got to be a basic infrastructure in place. And that infrastructure is gone."

© 2005 Star-Telegram and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

My Mother's Obituary

I want to share with blog readers my Mom's obituary link in the San Angelo Standard-Times, Nov. 12, 2005, as well as a November 20, 2005 story on her.

We had her funeral on Monday and it was a sweet and peaceful experience. She had many friends and she was very loved.
Click on the obit and you can see her picture. I'm told by many that I take after her though I actually look like both of my parents.

To this, I'll add that her very last words to my father and me in Spanish were 'No hicimos bastante' ('we didn't do enough'). He lovingly told her, 'No, we didn't do enough. But you still did do a lot. You helped a lot of people. And we will continue the work that we began. Have no doubt or concern over that. (My father is a minister, as were my mother's parents before her.)

I've always been concerned that this would be my concern at life's end. Now I know that that's okay since God's work still gets done. Still, life is so very brief.

Bye again, Mom. I'm blessed to have had a Mom like you.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Activist to Ask Judge to Punish State in English-Learner Suit

Just came across this. Not sure of what’s happened since in Arizona, but this is really interesting. What is not said is also significant, namely, that this state is and has been doing very poorly with their non-English-speaking population. What's interesting is that this is happening in a state that is so dead-set against bilingual education.

There's concerns about taking away monies from highway funds. And the real, long-term effects of not educating, or mis-educating Latino children is what seems to be moving things here. I wish I knew the politics behind this.


The Arizona Republic
October 30, 2005
Arizona Funds Imperiled
Activist to Ask Judge to Punish State in English-Learner Suit


On Monday, a federal judge will consider halting Arizona's freeway construction to force the state to do more to help educate immigrant children.

The state's most powerful public-interest attorney will ask that up to $500 million in federal highway funds be withheld until Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and the Republican-controlled Legislature agree on a spending plan to improve children's English skills.

The English-learner program could cost the state an extra $200 million a year and boost the skills of as many as 160,000 Arizona children, most of whom are U.S. citizens but whose parents generally are immigrants.

Tim Hogan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest is targeting highway funds because he believes the sanctions would get lawmakers' attention without penalizing needy children. Opposing attorneys say withholding up to $500 million in federal money would have an "immediate and devastating" effect on Arizona's economy.

The funds, which account for at least half of the Arizona Department of Transportation's budget, flow into the state as needed to pay for ongoing construction projects. If the money were stopped, it could have an immediate effect on freeway projects that include the widening of Interstate 17 from Loop 101 to the Carefree Highway; the construction of carpool lanes on the Pima freeway; and, in the East Valley, the widening of U.S. 60 from Val Vista Drive to Power Road.

Attorneys for the construction industry said that shutting off federal funds would not only stop or delay freeway projects, but also make traffic congestion and air quality worse, and force "significant layoffs" among construction workers. Contractors, who front money for building and wait for the federal government to reimburse, would immediately face massive debts.

An order to withhold the highway money would be unprecedented. The request will be heard by U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins, who already has found Arizona's spending on students learning English to be "woefully inadequate." Because of their lack of English skills, such children are considered high risks to drop out of school. Their numbers are growing rapidly as Arizona's Latino population continues to swell.

Hogan will also ask the court to exempt English learners from having to pass the high-stakes AIMS test to graduate from high school next year because of the state government's failure to comply with the court's order.

Hogan said the request to deny federal highway money is "the cleanest and most efficient way to do this."

"If the court is reluctant, we've alternatively asked the court to impose fines of $1 million a day. You want to give the court flexibility and helpful here, but by the same token, I'm convinced the threat of federal highway funding is substantial and will result in compliance," he said.

Collins is not expected to deliver his decision Monday. The outcome ultimately could compel Napolitano and Republican legislative leaders to end their stalemate by crafting a bipartisan plan to spend millions more on teacher training, individualized instruction and smaller classrooms.

Collins had given Arizona's leaders until the end of last spring's legislative session to comply with his order in the Flores vs. Arizona lawsuit, which was first filed in 1992 on behalf of a family in Nogales. But that deadline blew up in May in a hail of partisan name-calling and finger-pointing. Napolitano vetoed a Republican legislative plan that she said did not meet the court's demand for adequate funding for English instruction.

Cartwright Elementary School District Superintendent Mike Martinez, who worked with Hogan on Arizona's landmark case about school construction financing, said going after highway funds could persuade lawmakers to act. "With the climate at the Legislature so hostile and skeptical, Tim recognized he had to go to an extreme level," Martinez said. "The history in Arizona has been that sometimes you need to do that to get things done."

The state's attorneys will argue that Napolitano and lawmakers have made a "good faith" effort to pass a spending plan and, despite Napolitano's veto, should be given more time to work out their differences.

"The (vetoed) bill was a good-faith effort to meet the requirements of the court and that, in fact, did meet the requirements of the court," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, a defendant in the case. "(Hogan) urged the governor to veto it and then he turns around and asks for sanctions because it never became law."

Horne plans to argue that, without Hogan's meddling, Napolitano would not have vetoed the Republican plan.

That plan would have spent about $42 million next year for English-language-learner programs and teacher training, although only $13.5 million would be new funding. Future spending increases would be uncertain because the approach would become a grant program subject to approval by the Department of Education and the Legislature. After Napolitano's veto, she unveiled her own plan that would increase spending for English learners by $185 million a year, but legislators have refused to discuss it.

Lawyers for the state will also argue that overall spending for English learners has increased from $150 per student to more than $350 a year, so there is no evidence of ignoring the court's order. Part of the delay will be pinned on a court-ordered cost study finished in February that said lawmakers should spend more than $1,000 per pupil, or $200 million a year, to help students overcome language barriers. Legislative leaders dismissed that study as flawed.

Hogan believes that, without sanctions, lawmakers will choose to dismiss any cost study that shows a need for substantial new spending.

The AIMS test

Horne also hopes the judge will dismiss Hogan's request to exempt English learners from passing the AIMS test to graduate from high school

"The worst thing that you could possibly do for Latino kids is take away their motivation to study," Horne said.

Parent activist Norma Alvarez of Glendale thinks Hogan is mistaken to try and exempt immigrant children from passing AIMS. Alvarez, a daughter of immigrants who spoke no English when she entered school over 50 years ago, is active with Hispanics for Better Education, an advocacy group pushing to consolidate school districts to improve funding for instruction.

"I didn't know a word of English when I entered school and I did fine," Alvarez said. "Our brain works the same as a White brain. To say, OK, you don't have to pass the AIMS test is like telling us we're dumb. (Hogan) is maybe trying to do us some good, but he's hurting us even more."

As for increased funding, administrators in school districts with large immigrant populations have said they need the extra money to shrink the size of classes, update materials and equipment, provide more individual instruction, and better train teachers. For example, instructors say Spanish-speaking children tend to speak in longer, run-on sentences and must be taught to streamline their writing. Those skills aren't addressed by normal textbooks.

In the Isaac School District, more than 60 percent of the students grow up in homes where English isn't spoken and Telemundo is favored over news in English. About 5,000 of the 9,000 students are classified as English-language learners. Isaac Superintendent Kent Parades Scribner said the task is more challenging today because America has evolved from a service-based economy to a technology-driven economy.

"My grandfather from Mexico City came to this country and did very well without an education because he could get into the economy by doing construction," Scribner said. "The tool of the day is the brain. We need to invest in that so Arizona can have a productive, taxpaying citizens."

Erminda Garcia, a first-grade teacher at Morris K. Udall Elementary, has been teaching children who struggle to learn English for nearly 30 years. Garcia, an upbeat, energetic teacher, sums up the challenges like this:

"They are learning language and content. Can you imagine trying to learn German and biology at the same time?" Garcia asked. "They are busy trying to make sense of a new language and doing math problems at the same time."

Legislature OKs school takeover

Legislature OKs school takeover
Senate, House bills give control to state
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
By Laura Maggi
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE -- Signaling the overwhelming frustration in the Legislature with the New Orleans school system, both the House and Senate voted Monday to approve Gov. Kathleen Blanco's proposal to shift responsibility for reopening and running most of the city schools to the state Department of Education.

The House went a step further, also approving a competing bill by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, that calls for the state to take over every school in New Orleans.

Blanco has made the takeover of most New Orleans schools a priority during the legislative session that ends Nov. 22, winning wide support from legislators who have been increasingly unhappy in recent years with the system's poor academic performance and financial mismanagement. Sixty-eight of 117 schools in the system qualify as failing under the state's accountability program, while another 34 have school performance scores below the state average.

"We have a unique opportunity to have a true change," said Sen. Ann Duplessis, D-New Orleans, who sponsored Senate Bill 49, one version of Blanco's legislation, which would leave just about a dozen schools in the care of the Orleans Parish School Board. Some of those schools, which are the best in the city, have already been converted to charter schools by the School Board.

Both of Blanco's proposals were approved by large margins, with the Senate passing Duplessis' bill 34-4 and the House backing its version 89-16.

But Scalise argued it didn't make any sense to leave any school in the School Board's hands.

"There are about nine schools that have been left out here hanging that would be left to wither on the vine if we left them to a system that most of us agree is not able to provide quality education," he said. Scalise's legislation, House Bill 93, was approved by a 67-36 vote.

No public schools have reopened in Orleans Parish since Hurricane Katrina. Milestone SABIS Academy and the James Singleton Charter School, both Uptown charter schools and so not under School Board control, reopened Monday. A group of five recently chartered schools in Algiers are slated to open in mid-December to serve children from all over the city. Other charter schools, such as schools with selective admissions such as Benjamin Franklin High and Lusher School, could open in January.

If either proposal becomes law, the state would largely be in charge of deciding which schools to reopen as students come back to New Orleans. The bill was amended to affect only the Orleans Parish school system.

A vocal critic

The pockets of opposition to both proposals have come from different camps, including some who usually support efforts to revamp the New Orleans school system. Rep. Karen Carter, D-New Orleans, who has supported efforts to strip power from the Orleans School Board in the past, has criticized the timing of the bill when so many community members are scattered across the country.

Carter has argued that proponents should reach out to displaced citizens and then come back with a proposal, perhaps during the January special session.

Teachers unions have also complained that critics of the system aren't acknowledging the recent improvements in the New Orleans schools' test scores.

They also have decried the fact that the legislation would effectively strip teachers of their collective bargaining agreement with the School Board, which would normally guide which teachers would be hired back as schools are reopened.

In her remarks to the Senate, Duplessis exhorted her colleagues to put aside any concerns they have about issues raised by any "special interest" groups.

"I say it is time for the grown-ups to stop studying this issue and time for the grown-ups to take the test so our children can pass," Duplessis said. "This is not the method to address teacher pay issues and teacher collective bargaining issues."

In 'recovery'

After all the debates were over, Brenda Mitchell, president of the United Teachers of New Orleans, said those remarks and the possibility that teachers will lose some of their contracted benefits sends a negative signal to educators, people the system will eventually need back.

"This sends a message to people that we represent: We don't care about what you have done so far," she said.

Blanco's legislation, Senate Bill 49 and House Bill 121, would strip the Orleans Parish School Board of its authority over the 102 schools with performance scores below the state average. The state Department of Education and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would be given the responsibility of running those schools.

Both proposals would give the state education department six months to come up with a plan for running the schools, although it could open schools earlier if necessary. State officials have said they would likely oversee some schools themselves, but would look for independent foundations or universities to run others.

The legislation would move the substandard schools into a "recovery district" run by the state. This recovery district for failing schools was approved by the voters through a constitutional amendment several years ago.

Because this district was created for poor-performing schools, it might be unconstitutional for all New Orleans schools -- even those that are doing well as directed under Scalise's bill -- to be moved into recovery district, said House Education Committee Chairman Carl Crane, R-Baton Rouge.

With both the House and Senate passing versions of Blanco's proposal, it will be up to legislative staff to decide whether the language is similar enough that they are duplicates. If so, that means just one chamber would need to approve a version of the bill before it could be sent to the governor for her signature. If not, the bills will have to continue through the opposite side's committees, as well as be approved by both floors.

Scalise's House Bill 93 heads to the Senate Education Committee. If the proposal eventually wins the favor of the whole Senate, Blanco could decide to go with the alternative proposal to take over all the schools or to veto it.

. . . . . . .

Laura Maggi can be reached at or (225) 342-5590.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Every State Left Behind

This piece by Diane Ravitch titled, "Every State Left Behind" is getting a lot of attention. Her central point is the following: The current President Bush, with a friendly Congress in hand, did not pursue that goal because it is contrary to the Republican Party philosophy of localism. Instead he adopted a strategy of "50 states, 50 standards, 50 tests" - and the evidence is growing that this approach has not improved student achievement. Americans must recognize that we need national standards, national tests and a national curriculum.

Arguing that the NAEP tests are the "gold standard," discrepancies are found in the scores on this test as compared to those produced by the states themselves. She cites, for example, Texas' reported 83% passing rate in contrast to its 26% passing rate on the NAEP's eighth-grade "proficiency" level in reading. She regards this and other discrepanices across the states as reflecting "grade inflation."

What her analysis fails to take into account is the dumbing down of the testing system itself that works primarily through its high-stakes testing focus. She also thinks that we need to get the politics (at the state level) out of this by relying not on state tests but rather on national standards, national tests, and national curriculum in order to reliably meet the gold standard.

Readers need to discern all of this in light of their own experiences with high-stakes testing and also to consider Elaine Garan's cogent criticism of the federal law's untenable assumptions (read recent post of her argument). These are worth reiterating here:

(1) Teachers and schools are responsible for 100 percent of student learning, regardless of individual differences in children's cognitive abilities or their emotional problems;
(2) the standardized tests that determine a school's passing or "needs improvement" status are 100 percent
valid as indicators of student learning and of school and teacher performance; and
(3) the goals of the law are about closing achievement gaps and improving public education.

Regarding her latter point, less discussed though of significant import is the culturally and linguistically homogenizing effects of both state and federal policies. This is a central point in my edited volume, LEAVING CHILDREN BEHIND. For culturally and linguistically diverse students, such assimilationist policies might improve test scores in the short run (though they often do not) but in the long run are quite devastating. -Angela

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Will Katrina Topple the No Child Left Behind Law?

This is a must read. Garan effectively argues how Katrina exposes the flawed premises of the NCLB federal legislation. This sentence rests at the heart of her argument: "The Bush administration cannot afford to concede that personal trauma can confound the validity of test scores for Katrina's victims, because to do so is to concede that the same factors can affect any student in any school, albeit less visibly and with a less resounding outcry from the public than we've witnessed for the evacuees." Read on. -Angela

Education Week
November 9, 2005

Will Katrina Topple the No Child Left Behind Law?
By Elaine M. Garan

The support that greeted the federal No Child Left Behind Act when it was signed into law almost four years ago is eroding exponentially. Even before the nation was buffeted by Hurricane Katrina in late August, a backlash against the law had erupted from a number of sectors, addressing a variety of issues.

In the past year alone, the revolt has included suits filed by the state of Connecticut and the National Education Association, as well as state legislation in Utah that seeks to trump the federal law. Dissatisfaction with the No Child Left Behind Act covers a wide range of issues, from complaints that it is underfunded to allegations that it is unconstitutional. There are objections to the inequities of standardized testing and its restrictions on the curriculum, and to the unfair penalization of teachers and schools for factors outside their control. There also have been questions about flaws in the scientific research determining the programs schools can use, as well as alleged conflicts of interest surrounding the awarding of grants, for the law's Reading First initiative.

In this chaotic year for the No Child Left Behind law, the Bush administration has expended enormous time and energy scrambling to put out brush fires of resistance and keep angry states and districts under control. Then, on top of the already burgeoning rebellion, along came Katrina, bearing with it nearly insurmountable problems in enforcing accountability
standards. These challenges may well signal the end of No Child Left Behind.

There should no debate about whether or not to grant waivers from federal accountability requirements for schools and states affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and now Wilma. The No Child Left Behind legislation provides for one-year waivers in the event of natural disasters. Section 1111(b)(3)(C)(vii) of the law states:

“…the Secretary may provide the State 1 additional
year if the State demonstrates that exceptional or
uncontrollable circumstances, such as a natural
disaster or a precipitous and unforeseen decline in
the financial resources of the State, prevented full
implementation of the academic assessments by that
deadline and that the State will complete
implementation within the additional 1-year period.”

Despite this language in the statute, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings initially expressed unwillingness to grant waivers to schools affected by Katrina. For weeks, schools waited in limbo until she reluctantly agreed to allow automatic one-year waivers from accountability standards—but only for those Gulf Coast schools that were completely destroyed or
severely damaged. In effect, the secretary's compassionate flexibility amounted to this: Schools that no longer exist and have no students to teach, much less test, will not be punished by the federal government for failure to meet their adequate-yearly-progress targets.

In spite of the exemptions for some Gulf Coast schools, Secretary Spellings insists that students who are victims of Katrina—no matter where they are, no matter how disrupted their lives may be, and regardless of how they have suffered—will still be
forced to take high-stakes, standardized tests. Moreover, those schools that have taken in student evacuees, thereby straining their own fiscal resources and jeopardizing their own AYP ratings, will not receive automatic exemptions from federal punishment.

Rather, Ms. Spellings has said that she will decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to waive requirements. It is yet another empty concession, since there are more than 370,000 student evacuees, who could be in any of hundreds or even thousands of schools, scattered across all 50 states.

The Bush administration has been severely criticized for its slow and inadequate response to Katrina. It could, perhaps, regain credibility by exhibiting an understanding of the hardships children and schools are experiencing as a result of the disaster. Why then, given that the law itself allows waivers for “unforeseen declines in the financial resources of States,” is the administration so reluctant to grant them? Why the dogged insistence on testing all displaced and traumatized children and the relentless advance of the “No Child” law in the face of an unprecedented catastrophe?

The answer, I believe, is this: To acknowledge that Katrina can and will affect the validity of the law's accountability criteria is to admit that the law itself is inequitable.

Consider that the No Child Left Behind law is based on three central assumptions: (1) Teachers and schools are responsible for 100 percent of student learning, regardless of individual differences in children's cognitive abilities or their emotional problems; (2) the standardized tests that determine a school's passing or “needs improvement” status are 100 percent
valid as indicators of student learning and of school and teacher performance; and (3) the goals of the law are about closing achievement gaps and improving public education.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina assails each of these assumptions. Before Katrina, the law did not acknowledge, much less forgive, any extenuating,outside factors such as poverty, physical or emotional abuse, motivation, or even the ability to speak and read English—all factors that could compromise student performance on standardized tests. Consequently, the Bush administration cannot afford to concede that personal trauma can confound the validity of test scores for Katrina's victims, because to do so is to concede that the same factors can affect any student in any school, albeit less visibly and with a less resounding outcry from the public than we've witnessed for the evacuees.

If the federal government agreed to exempt from testing those children who lost a family member as a result of Katrina, wouldn't it also be pressured to exempt children not affected by Katrina who have suffered a similar life-altering trauma—or others who have suffered from abuse or the challenges of a physical or mental disability?

And if the administration agreed that being ripped from a familiar setting and put into a strange school is an extenuating factor for the victims of Katrina, wouldn't it also be pressured to apply the same standard to the children of migrant workers, or children who have been moved from one foster home to another, or, for that matter, children who are homeless? Then, by logical extension, wouldn't the federal government be forced to admit that schools with large numbers of transient and homeless students cannot be held to the same standards that more-affluent suburban schools with relatively stable
populations are?

Katrina has put federal policy squarely between a rock and a hard place. The government cannot appear to be compassionate, and yet adhere to a rigid policy of standardizing education. Compassion is personal. Standardization is not.

If the Bush administration exempted Katrina victims from the additional pressures of testing, consider another policy conundrum it would face: Since the No Child Left Behind law is premised on standardization, how would the government standardize compassion? How would it quantify degrees of trauma in order to legislate a timeline for the emotional, academic, and economic recovery of children and for schools?

Would a child who has lost two parents have a longer reprieve from the extra pressure of standardized testing than a child who has lost only one? Would the death of a grandparent count for less than that of a parent? Should a child who has lost a beloved pet merit only a quarter of the sympathy that we extend to one who has lost a family member and a home? A tenth
of the sympathy? None at all? And if a student lost her home and all her belongings, what degree of
compassionate dispensation would be legislated for her? The same as for those who have lost family members? Less? None at all?

While we're at it, who would explain to students exactly how long federal policy would allow them to “get over it” before a return to the important business of taking tests? Such decisions truly canonly be made on a case-by-case basis. They cannot be standardized, decided, and enforced by remote federal bureaucrats. So for Katrina's victims, as for all students, the administration must continue to ignore the problems that consistently confound the validity of test results for many American children, including those not directly affected by the Gulf Coast hurricanes.

For the administration to do otherwise would be to negate its own policy by conceding the fundamental flaws in two assumptions at the very heart of the No Child Left Behind Act: that teachers are 100 percent responsible for student learning, and that AYP figures and the standardized-test scores on which they are based are 100 percent accurate.

Education is part of a system. That system is based on the relationship and the respective roles of local,state, and federal agencies that should all work together to do what's best for children. Within that system, there must be at least some degree of cohesiveness and some measure of trust among the constituents—between the districts and the states and between the states and our federal government.

The No Child Left Behind law has blown apart those fundamental relationships as relentlessly as a Category 5 hurricane, shattering what little trust remained. But this federal legislation is not an act of nature, it is the result of deliberate acts of
incredible arrogance.

Because of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, it is now clear that the callous, remote imposition of impossible standards on traumatized children and overburdened schools promises nothing but the withdrawal of financial and emotional support from the very schools and children that need it most. And thus, we see the challenge to the third basic premise of No Child Left Behind: that the law's goals are to close achievement gaps and help public schools.

The No Child Left Behind law was in trouble and facing a popular rebellion from angry states and districts even before Katrina. What that massive natural disaster has done is to sharpen our focus. It has forced us to look at the inequities schools all over the country must deal with on a daily basis, with or without a hurricane. These are inequities that the law simply ignores. Katrina has reminded us that schools are made up of students who are unique and who have very human problems—every last one of them.

The obvious inequities within the system and the unimaginable suffering of so many have converged into the perfect storm and may well deliver the death blow to the already critically wounded policy of No Child Left Behind.

Elaine M. Garan is the author of In Defense of Our
Children: When Politics, Profit, and Education
Collide. She teaches reading courses at California
State University-Fresno, and can be reached at

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Missing: 20,000 standardized tests

I'm certain that if we were talking about the SAT that the apparent lack of concern by officials over lost tests would be appalling. With so much riding on TAKS scores, it's not unreasonable for questions about these tests to be raised. -Angela

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Missing: 20,000 standardized tests
Of statewide total, DISD leads in exams lost, mostly TAKS

By JOSHUA BENTON / The Dallas Morning News

More than 20,000 copies of state tests – supposedly kept under lock and key – disappeared from Texas schools this spring, according to state data. Dallas schools lost more than 7,000 test documents, more than any other district in the state.

State officials say they are reconsidering their testing security policies after some experts said having Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, questions floating around the state could put the integrity of the testing system at risk.

"We probably need to look at some ways to strengthen our security," said Susan Barnes, associate commissioner of standards and programs at the Texas Education Agency.

In all, 26,998 secure test documents from spring 2005 were missing as of Oct. 28. That total includes documents such as test coordinator manuals, but the vast majority are the test booklets.

That's a small percentage of the more than 12 million secure test documents the state produces each year for a range of subjects and grade levels, state officials said.

"We have accounted for 99.78 percent of the documents," said Lisa Chandler, TEA's director of assessment. "We're not concerned by that rate."

But some say loose test documents can be a threat, even in small numbers.

"Every time you lose even one, it's potentially a problem," said John Fremer, former top test developer of the SAT and a founder of Caveon, the Utah company that Texas has hired to analyze its test results for signs of cheating. "Whenever you have a large operation where you send out millions of tests, you're going to have some shortage."

The number of missing tests statewide was first reported by KHOU-TV in Houston on Monday. KHOU is owned by Belo, which also owns The Dallas Morning News.

Dallas schools spokesman Donald Claxton said Monday that he did not yet know any details about the missing test documents. "We're looking into it," he said.

Evelyn Reed, Dallas' director of systemwide testing, did not return a phone message Monday.

Normally, having test booklets unaccounted for would not be a major security concern in Texas. For the last several years, the state has released complete copies of its tests to the public shortly after they were administered. The releases were intended to increase public confidence in the tests and to help educators prepare students.

Recycled questions

But those annual releases meant the state had to rewrite all of its tests each year at substantial cost. As a cost-cutting measure, the Texas Education Agency now plans to release its tests every other year and recycle test questions in between releases.

In other words, the 2006 TAKS test will include questions already used on the 2005 TAKS – which means having loose copies of the 2005 test floating around is not a good thing.

"Anytime you don't have entirely new items every year, you have a greater security risk," Dr. Fremer said.

He said that if too many copies of the test are unaccounted for, a state might have to adjust how many questions it reuses on future tests. State officials said they would not discuss how many questions they will reuse next year.

Each spring, testing documents are shipped to school districts from Pearson, the company that Texas hired to administer its major state tests. The documents are supposed to be stored in a locked location until test day.

When students are finished testing, the answer sheets are shipped immediately back to Pearson for grading. The test booklets are sent back from individual campuses to district officials, who then ship them back to Pearson.

Districts receive more test booklets than they expect to use, Ms. Chandler said. That's in case more students than expected show up on test day. But if schools have more test booklets than they need – and school officials know that missing test booklets will not result in any serious sanction – it could tempt some educators to look at test booklets ahead of time and help students cheat.

In recent years, as allegations of educator-led cheating have hit some Texas schools, several teachers have said that copies of the TAKS test are sometimes circulated around schools before test day.

Dr. Barnes said she doubted that scenario would happen. "We have people signing oaths, and they know that people could report them" if they do something wrong, she said.

But she said that, to her knowledge, no Texas school has been investigated or sanctioned in recent memory for not returning all its test booklets. TEA does not ask schools with large numbers of missing test booklets to explain their disappearance.

According to Texas Education Agency data, 7,084 test booklets from this spring's state testing in DISD have disappeared.

That's many more than other large districts in the state. Houston lost 1,111, Austin lost 436, and Fort Worth lost 384.

Of the lost Dallas test documents, the largest number – 5,989 – were from the state's main exam, the TAKS. The remainder was from other tests, such as the alternative assessment the state gives to special-education students.

Largest disappearance

The state's single largest disappearance of testing documents came in Dallas after the TAKS tests administered on Feb. 22 and 23. Those tests covered reading in grades 3, 5 and 9, writing in grades 4 and 7, and English language arts in grades 10 and 11.

Two of those tests – the reading tests in grades 3 and 5 – carry high stakes for children, because students must generally pass them in order to move on to the next grade.

Of the 64,883 test booklets distributed to DISD for those tests, 5,150 have gone missing, according to state data. That's more than eight times the number of tests to disappear from the next biggest document loss: 627 tests that disappeared from a Houston ISD special-education test session.

Several other area districts also had test documents missing, according to state data. Carrollton-Farmers Branch was missing 100 documents. Plano had 154, Richardson had 136, and Irving had 105.

TEA asked University of North Carolina professor Gregory Cizek to evaluate Texas' test security measures this year, but he did not delve into the issue of lost test documents. As part of his report, he surveyed district testing administrators about their thoughts on weaknesses in the system.

"Tracking secure materials in large districts that have very small staff is like herding cats," one anonymous administrator wrote. "The volume is overwhelming to handle without the chance of something being misplaced. Imagine 63,000 test booklets and three to four people in central trying to keep track of all of it."


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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Some See TAKS as Failing Gifted Kids

The system is highly problematic as well for the most challenged students who need as well to be taught higher-order thinking while engaging life and their studies meaningfully in a critical manner and in ways that connect to their experiences outside of school.


Web Posted: 11/03/2005 12:00 AM CST

Karen Adler
Express-News Staff Writer

Since President Bush's federal education law took hold of American schools five years ago, educators have been forced to focus on those students most likely to fall through the cracks.

So the casualties of emphasis on standardized testing may be the best and brightest students, advocates for high-achieving students say.

About 4,500 educators and parents of gifted and talented students from across Texas are in San Antonio this weekend for the annual conference of the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented.

"The whole emphasis is on the test, and the test is a minimum skills test," said Nancy Hopkins, a gifted and talented teacher and facilitator for the Harlandale School District. "If you look at that as a measure or an end-all, what you're doing is limiting everyone to the minimum standard."

José Laguna, the father of two gifted children in the Judson School District, said too much time is spent on preparing students for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

"We have become performance oriented and not children oriented," he said. "We need to challenge everyone."

Gifted children have as many needs and challenges as special education students, just on the other end of the spectrum, said Marcy Voss, special programs coordinator with the Boerne School District.

More emphasis on testing has resulted in more rote learning, she said. That's not good for any student, she said, and especially bad for gifted students.

In Texas, all school districts must identify and serve gifted students at all grade levels. Districts get state funding for gifted students, but typically kick in local funds too.

It's up to the school districts to decide how to serve gifted students. An elementary student may go to "gifted and talented day." Other schools have labs for students who can use more challenging lessons.

In middle or high school, students can take advanced classes, or college courses.

When Max Carduner was a student at Castle Hills Elementary, his mother said, he always got up early on gifted and talented days, but during the rest of the week, the alarm clock woke him up.

"I loved the GT program because we built all kinds of stuff," said Max, now a seventh-grader at the Krueger School of Applied Technology in the North East School District. "We had logic problems that really challenged me and I thought they were really interesting."

Lamenting troubles of gifted students doesn't earn sympathy.

People think that if kids are smart, they'll learn for themselves, said Priscilla Lurz, coordinator of gifted and talented and enrichment programs for the Northside School District.

But brushing aside gifted and talented kids has serious implications, said Rick Peters, the president-elect of the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented. If America wants to compete in the global economy, it's crucial that schools and lawmakers help gifted students reach their potential, he said.
Online at here