Sunday, November 29, 2009

DPS warns parents: Mexican cartels and gangs recruiting in Texas schools

This is really scary stuff and it's gotten to a level to where parents have to receive an official DPS warning. -Angela

DPS warns parents: Mexican cartels and gangs recruiting in Texas schools

November 17, 2009
DPS warns parents:
Mexican cartels and gangs recruiting in Texas schools

The Texas Department of Public Safety is warning parents across the state to be aware of efforts by Mexican cartels and transnational gangs to recruit Texas youth in our schools and communities. These violent organizations are luring teens with the prospect of cars, money and notoriety, promising them if they get caught, they will receive a minimal sentence.
The Mexican cartels constantly seek new ways to smuggle drugs and humans into Texas are now using state based gangs and our youth to support their operations on both sides of the border.
For example, Laredo natives Gabriel Cardona and Rosalio Reta were recruited in their teens to be hit men for the Zetas. The Zetas, composed primarily of former Mexican military commandos, originally served as the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel, but have since become their own cartel. El Paso teens have been recruited to smuggle drugs across the border, many with the packs taped to their bodies.
While such recruitment is growing across Texas, juveniles along the Texas-Mexico border are particularly susceptible. In 2008, young people from the counties along the Texas-Mexico border accounted for just 9 percent of the population in Texas, but 18 percent of the felony drug charges and gang-related arrests.
“As these dangerous organizations seek to co-opt our children to support their criminal operations, it is more important than ever that parents be aware of these risks, talk to their children and pay attention to any signs that they may have become involved in illegal activities,” said Steven C. McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
To protect our communities and our children from these powerful and ruthless criminal organizations, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and the District Attorneys in Texas border counties are working together to detect, disrupt and deter Mexican cartel-related crime along the Texas-Mexico border.
### (PIO 2009-81)

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David Bacon asks this essential question as we embark on immigration reform.


By David Bacon
TruthOut, 11/23/09

One winter morning in 1996, Border Patrol agents charged into a Los Angeles street-corner clinic where 40 day laborers had lined up to be tested for AIDS. One worker, Omar Sierra, had just taken his seat, and a nurse had inserted the needle for drawing the blood. As agents of the migra ran across the street and sidewalk, Sierra jumped up, tore off the tourniquet, pulled the needle out of his vein and ran.

Sierra escaped and made it home. Shaken by his experience and determined never to forget his friends who were deported, he wrote a song.

I'm going to sing you a story, friends
that will make you cry,
how one day in front of K-Mart
the Migra came down on us,
sent by the sheriff
of this very same place . . .

We don't understand why,
we don't know the reason,
why there is so much
discrimination against us.
In the end we'll wind up
all the same in the grave.

With this verse I leave you,
I'm tired of singing,
hoping the migra
won't come after us again,
because in the end, we all have to work.

Working - A Criminal Act

Sierra states an obvious truth about people in the U.S. without immigration papers: "We all have to work." Yet work has become a crime for the undocumented. That Hollywood raid took place 13 years ago, but since then immigration enforcement against workers has grown much more widespread, with catastrophic consequences. In the last eight years of the Bush administration in particular, a succession of raids treated undocumented workers as criminals.

A year ago in Los Angeles, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents ("the migra") arrived at Micro Solutions, a circuit board assembly plant in the San Fernando Valley. Unsuspecting workers were first herded into the plant's cafeteria. Then immigration agents told those who were citizens to line up on one side of the room. Then they told the workers who had green cards to go over to the same side. Finally, as one worker said, "it just left us." The remaining workers - those who were neither citizens nor visa holders -- were put into vans, and taken off to the migra jail.

Some women were later released to care for their kids, but had to wear ankle bracelets, and couldn't work. How were they supposed to pay rent? Where would they get money to buy food?

On May 12, 2008, ICE agents raided the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. They sent 388 Guatemalan young people to the National Cattle Congress, a livestock showground in Waterloo, two hours away. In a makeshift courtroom workers went in chains before a judge who'd helped prosecutors design plea agreements five months before the raid even took place. The workers had given the company Social Security numbers that were either invented, or belonged to someone else. The judge and prosecutor told workers they'd be charged with aggravated identity theft, which carries a two-year prison jolt, and held without bail. If they pleaded guilty to misusing a Social Security number, however, they would serve just five months, and be deported immediately afterwards.

Many of these young people spoke only Mam or Qanjobal, the indigenous language of the region of Guatemala from which they came, so even with Spanish translation they understood little of the skewed process. They had no real options anyway, and agreed to the five months in a federal lockup and were then expelled from the country. One of them was a young worker who'd been beaten with a meat hook by a supervisor. Lacking papers, he was afraid to complain. After the raid, he went to prison with the others. The supervisor stayed working on the line.

As in Los Angeles, women released to care for their children couldn't work, they had no way to pay rent or buy food, their husbands or brothers were in prison or deported, and they were held up to ostracism in this tiny town. Had it not been for St. Brigida's Catholic Church and local activists, the women and children would have been left hungry and homeless as they waited months for their own hearings and deportations.

They say it's just "illegals" - that makes this politically acceptable.

A year ago, ICE agents raided a Howard Industries plant in Laurel, Mississippi, sending 481 workers to a privately-run detention center in Jena, Louisiana, and releasing 106 women in ankle bracelets. Workers were incarcerated with no idea of where they were being held, and weren't charged or provided lawyers for days. they slept on concrete floors, and went on a hunger strike after a week of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Patricia Ice, attorney for the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA), called the raid political. "They want a mass exodus of immigrants out of the state," she declared. "The political establishment here is threatened by Mississippi's changing demographics, and what the electorate might look like in 20 years."

She means that African-Americans are moving back to Mississippi, and now make up over 35% of the population. In ten years, immigrants will make up another 10%. MIRA and the state's legislative black caucus have a plan - combine those votes with unions and progressive whites, and Mississippi can finally get rid of the power structure that's governed in Jackson since Reconstruction.

The Howard Industries raid was intended to drive a wedge into the heart of that political coalition - to stop any possibility for change.

ICE says these raids protect U.S. citizens and legal residents against employers who hire undocumented workers in order to lower wages and working conditions. But very often immigration raids are used against workers efforts when they organize and protest those same conditions. At the big Smithfield plant in Tarheel, North Carolina, where workers spent 16 years trying to join the union, the company tried to fire 300 people, including the immigrant union leadership, saying it had discovered that their Social Security numbers were no good. Workers stopped the lines for three days, and won temporary reinstatement for those who were fired. But then the migra conducted two raids, and 21 workers went to prison for using numbers that belonged to someone else. The fear the raids created was compared by one organizer to a neutron bomb. It took two years for the union campaign to recover.

Since the end of the Bush administration, immigration authorities say they will follow a softer policy. Instead of raids, they say they'll implement a system for checking the legal status of workers - an electronic database called E-Verify. People working with bad Social Security numbers will be fired. In October, 2000 young women in the Los Angeles garment factory of American Apparel were fired. And in November 1200 janitors were fired in Minneapolis.

The Department of Homeland Security says it's auditing the records of 654 companies nationwide, to find the names of undocumented workers. Will hundreds of thousands more get fired? What kind of economic recovery goes with firing thousands of workers?

Workplace raids, firings and E-verify are all means to enforce employer sanctions - the part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 that said, for the first time, that employers had to check the immigration status of workers. The law essentially made it a federal crime for an undocumented person to work. Those who call for stricter enforcement say sanctions were never implemented, and point out that only a handful of employers were ever fined. But tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of workers have been fired for not having papers. No one keeps track of the number - these people don't count.

ICE says sanctions enforcement targets employers "who are using illegal workers to drive down wages," -- those who pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them to endure intolerable working conditions.

Curing intolerable conditions by firing or deporting workers who endure them doesn't help the workers or change the conditions, however. And that's not who ICE targets anyway. American Apparel pays better than most garment factories, although workers had to work fast and hard to earn that pay. In Minneapolis, the 1200 fired janitors at ABM belong to SEIU Local 26 and get a higher wage than non-union workers - and had to strike and fight to win it.

ICE is still targeting the same set of employers the Bush raids went after - union companies like Howard Industries, or organizing drives like those at Smithfield. The Agriprocessors raid came less than a year after workers there tried to organize. At Howard Industries in Mississippi, the migra conducted the biggest raid of all in the middle of union contract negotiations. ICE is punishing undocumented workers who earn too much, or who become too visible by demanding higher wages and organizing unions. And despite the notion that sanctions enforcement will punish those employers who exploit immigrants, at American Apparel and ABM the employers were rewarded for cooperation by being immunized from prosecution. So this policy really only hurts workers.

What purpose does criminalization serve? In part it serves a huge bureaucracy. With 15,000 agents, ICE has become the second largest enforcement arm of the Federal government. Private detention centers have been built across the country, operated by companies like Geo Corporation, formerly called Wackenhut, and before that, Pinkertons. Janet Napolitano, DHS secretary, recently announced plans to build two new detention supercenter. About 350,000 people were detained for immigration violations last year, and at any one time about 35,000 people were in detention (read: prison).

But the driving force behind enforcement is deeper than contracts and jobs.

Open the Front Door, Close the Back Door

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said "there's an obvious solution to the problem of illegal work, which is you open the front door and you shut the back door." Chertoff means by "opening the front door" that he wants people to come to the U.S. as contract workers, recruited by employers using visas that say a worker can only come to work. This is the logic and requirement for every guest worker program, going back to the braceros. And to make people come only through this employment-based system, he'll "close the back door," by making walking through the desert across the border, or working outside of this contract labor system, a crime punished, not just by deportation, but by detention and prison.

People coming as contract labor never become citizens, vote or hold power. That's very convenient in Mississippi, for instance, where employers need the labor of immigrants, but are afraid of what will happen if they vote. And by no coincidence, the state employs more guest workers per capita than any other. Mississippi recently passed a state employer sanctions law, with a $10,000 fine and five years in jail for working without being "authorized."

E-Verify, the high-tech immigration database endorsed by both the Bush and Obama administrations, is only the latest idea for enforcing this kind of criminalization. The purpose of E-Verify, raids, firings and every other kind of workplace immigration enforcement, is the basic criminalization of work -- if you have no papers, it is a crime to have a job.

So you stand on the street corner, a truck stops to pick up laborers, and you get in. You work all day in the sun until you're so tired you can hardly go back to your room. This is a crime. You do it to send money home to your family and the people who depend on you. This is a crime too.

How many criminals like this are there? The Pew Hispanic Trust says there are 12 million people without papers here in the U.S.

But it's not just here. Manu Chao wrote a whole CD of songs about this: Clandestino. He sings about people going from Morocco to Spain. Turkey to Germany. Jamaica to London. There are over 200 million people, all over the world, living outside the countries where they were born. If all the world's "illegal workers" got together in one place there would be enough people for ten Mexico Cities or fifteen Los Angeleses.

If working is a crime, then workers are criminals. And if workers become criminals, proponents of this system say, they'll go home. That's the basic justification for all workplace immigration enforcement.

But is anyone going home? No one is leaving, because there's no job to go home to.

Since 1994, six million Mexicans have come to live in the U.S. Millions came without visas, because it wasn't possible for them to get one.

All over the world people are moving, from poor countries to rich ones. The largest Salvadoran city in the world is Los Angeles. More than half the world's sailors come from the Philippines. More migrants go from the country to the city in China than cross borders in all the rest of the world combined.

So many people from Guatemala are living in the U.S. that one neighborhood in Los Angeles is now called Little San Miguel. San Miguel Acatan was the site of the worst massacre of indigenous people by the U.S.-armed Guatemalan Army in that country's civil war, in 1982. Now more San Migueleños live in Los Angeles than in San Miguel.

The economic pressures causing displacement and migration are reaching into the most remote towns and villages in Mexico, where people still speak languages that were old when Columbus arrived in the Americas - Mixteco, Zapoteco, Triqui, Chatino, Purepecha, Nahuatl. There is no community in Mexico that does not have family members in the U.S.

Why Are So Many People Displaced?

NAFTA is just one element of the changes that have transformed the Mexican economy in the interests of foreign investors and wealthy Mexican partners. The treaty let huge U.S. companies, like Archer Daniels Midland, sell corn in Mexico for a price lower than what it cost small farmers in Oaxaca to grow it. Big U.S.. companies get huge subsidies from Congress -- $2 billion in the last farm bill.. But the World Bank and NAFTA's rules dictated that subsidies for Mexican farmers had to end. This was not the creation of a "level playing field," despite all the propaganda.

In Cananea, a small town in the Sonora mountains and site of one of the world's largest copper mines, miners have been on strike for two years. Grupo Mexico, a multinational corporation that was virtually given the mine in one of the infamous privatizations of former President Carlos Salinas, wants to cut labor costs by eliminating hundreds of jobs, busting the miners' union, and blacklisting its leaders. If miners lose the strike and their jobs, the border is only 50 miles north.

If you were a miner with a busted union and no job to support your family, where would you go? When Cananea miners lost the last strike against job cuts in 1998, over 800 were blacklisted, and many wound up working in Tucson, Phoenix and Los Angeles. No wonder the current strike has been going on for over two years. Miners are fighting to stay home, in Cananea, in Mexico.

The Mexican government just sent in the army to occupy all the power plants in Mexico City, dissolved the state-owned Power and Light Company (Luz y Fuerza), and fired its 44,000 employees. This act threatens to destroy the union there, one of the country's oldest and most democratic. This is a step towards selling off Mexico's electrical grid to foreign, private investors, just as the telephones, airlines, ports, railroads and factories have all been privatized over the last two decades. Where will the fired electrical workers go? If they don't win their current battle with the government, they'll follow many of their predecessors north.

NAFTA, and the economic reforms promoted by the U.S. and Mexican governments, helped big companies get rich by keeping wages low, by giving them subsidies and letting them push farmers into bankruptcy, by privatizing state enterprises and allowing cuts in the workforce and working conditions. But those are the changes that make it hard for families to survive: Low wages. Can't farm any more. Laid off to cut costs. Factory privatized and union busted.

Salinas promised Mexicans cheap food if NAFTA was approved and corn imports flooded the country. Now the price of tortillas is three times what it was when the treaty passed. That's great for Grupo Maseca, Mexico's monopoly tortilla producer (and Archer Daniels Midland sits on its board. And it's great for WalMart, now Mexico's largest retailer. But if you can't afford to buy those tortillas, then you go where you can buy them.

The advocates of economic liberalization said an economy of maquiladoras and low wages would produce jobs on the border. But today, hundreds of thousands of workers there have lost their jobs - when the recession began in the U.S., people stopped buying the products made in border factories. Even while they're working, the wages of maquiladora workers are so low - $4-6/day - that it takes half a day's pay to buy a gallon of milk. Most live in cardboard houses on streets with no pavement or sewer system. When they lose their jobs, and the border is a few blocks away, where do you think will they go? If you had no job or food for your family, what would you do?

And when people protest, the government brings in the police and the army to protect order and investment. People are beaten, as the teachers were in Oaxaca in 2006. After the army filled Oaxaca's jails, how many more people had to leave?

When Honduran President Manuel Zelaya simply raised the minimum wage to give families a better future, not as migrants, but in Honduras, the U.S.-trained military kidnapped him in his pajamas, put him on an airplane and flew him out of the country. How many people will leave Honduras, because the door to a sustainable future at home has been closed?

The lack of human rights itself is a factor contributing to migration, since it makes it more difficult, even impossible, to organize for change. Unequal trade agreements and military intervention don't stop the flow of migrants - they produce it by displacing people - making it impossible for them to survive without leaving home. Immigration laws then regulate this flow of people.

Migration is not an accidental byproduct of free trade. The economies of the U.S. and wealthy countries depend on migration, on the labor provided by a constant flow of migrants. Congress and the administration aren't trying to stop migration. Nothing can, not with trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA and the economic policies they represent. Immigration enforcement does not keep people from crossing the border, or prevent them from working. Instead, immigration policy determines the status of people once they're here. It enforces inequality among workers in rights, and economic and social status. That inequality then produces lower wages and higher profits

U.S. immigration policy has historically been designed to supply labor to employers, at a manageable cost, imposed by employers. And at its most overt, that labor supply policy has made workers vulnerable to employers, who can withdraw the right to stay in the country by firing them.

This is not an extremist view. Recently that gang of revolutionaries, the Council on Foreign Relations, proposed two goals for U.S. immigration policy. "We should reform the legal immigration system," it advocated, "so that it operates more efficiently, responds more accurately to labor market needs, and enhances U.S. competitiveness." This essentially calls for using migration to supply labor at competitive, or low, wages.
"We should restore the integrity of immigration laws," the Council went on to say, "through an enforcement regime that strongly discourages employers and employees from operating outside that legal system." This couples an enforcement regime like the one at present, with its raids and firings, to that labor supply system.

To employers, this system is not broken - it works well.

About 12 million people live in the U.S. without immigration documents. Another 26-28 million were born elsewhere, and are citizens or visa-holders. That's almost 40 million people. If everyone went home tomorrow, would there be fruit and vegetables on the shelves at Safeway? Who would cut up the cows and pigs in meatpacking plants? Who would clean the offices of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Chicago?

Immigrants are not the only workers in our workforce, the only people willing to work, or the only people who need jobs. Our workforce includes African American, Native American, Asian American and Chicano families who have contributed their labor for hundreds of years. The vast majority of white people - the descendents of European immigrants - are workers too. We all work. We all need to work, to put bread on the table for our families. But without the labor of immigrants, the system would stop.

Those companies using that labor, however - the grape growers in Delano or the owners of office buildings in Century City, or the giant Blackstone group that owns hotels across the country - do not pay the actual cost of producing the workforce they rely on. Who pays for the needs of workers' families in the towns and countries from which they come? Who builds the schools in the tiny Oaxacan villages that send their young people into California's fields? Who builds the homes for the families of the meatpacking workers of Nebraska? Who pays for the doctor when the child of a Salvadoran janitor working in Los Angeles gets sick? The growers and the meatpackers and the building owners pay for nothing. They don't even pay taxes in the countries from which their workers come, and some don't pay taxes here either. So who pays the cost of producing and maintaining their workforce?

The workers pay for everything with the money they send home. Structural adjustment policies require countries like Mexico or the Philippines to cut the government budget for social services, so remittances pay for whatever social services those communities now get. For employers, that's a very cheap system.

Here in the U.S. it's cheap too. Workers without papers pay taxes and Social Security, but are barred from the benefits. For them there's no unemployment insurance, no disability pay if they get sick, and no retirement benefits. Workers fought for these social benefits, and won them in the New Deal. For people without papers, the New Deal never happened. Even legal residents with green cards can't get many Social Security benefits. If they take these benefits away from immigrants, it wont be long before they come after people born here.

Why can't everyone get a Social Security number? After all, we want people to be part of the system. All workers, the undocumented included, get old and injured. Should people live on dog food after a lifetime of work? The purpose of Social Security is to assure dignity and income to the old and injured. The system should not be misused to determine immigration status and facilitate witch-hunts, firings and deportations for workers without it.

Wages for most immigrants are so low people can hardly live on them. There's a big difference in wages between a day laborer and a longshoreman -- $8.25/hour minimum wage in San Francisco, where a dockworker gets over $25, plus benefits. If employers had to pay low wage workers, including immigrants, the wages of longshoremen, the lives of working families would improve immeasurably. And it can happen. Before people on the waterfront organized the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, they were like day labors. hired every morning in a humiliating shapeup where each person competed for a job with dozens of others. Dockworkers were considered bums. Now they own apartment houses. It's the union that did it.

But if employers had to raise the wages of immigrants to the level of longshoremen, it would cost them a lot. Just the difference between the minimum wage received by 12 million undocumented workers and the average U.S. wage might well be over $80 billion a year. No wonder organizing efforts among immigrant workers meet such fierce opposition.

But immigrants are fighters. In 1992 undocumented drywallers stopped Southern California residential construction for a year from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. They've gone on strike at factories, office buildings, laundries, hotels and fields. Those unions today that are growing are often those that have made an alliance with immigrant workers, and know that they will fight for better conditions. In fact, the battles fought by immigrants over the last twenty years made the unions of Los Angeles strong today, and changed the politics of the city. In city after city, a similar transformation is possible or already underway.

So unions should make a commitment too. In 1999 the AFL-CIO held an historic convention in Los Angeles, and there unions said they would fight to get rid of the law that makes work a crime. Unions said they'd fight to protect the right of all workers to organize, immigrants included. Labor should live up to that promise. Today unions are fighting for the Employee Free Choice Act, intended to make it easier and quicker for workers to organize. That would help all workers, immigrants included. But if 12 million people have no right to their jobs at all, and are breaking the law simply by working, how will they use the rights that EFCA is designed to protect? Unions and workers need both labor law reform and immigration reform that decriminalizes work.

Employers and the wealthy love immigrants and hate them. They want and need people's labor, but they don't want to pay. And what better way not to pay than to turn workers into criminals?

Creating Illegality

This is an old story. The use of migration as a supply of criminalized low-paid, or even unpaid labor began when this country began. Who were the first "illegals"? They were Africans displaced by the most brutal means, kidnapped, chained and marched to the coast, put on ships and taken across the middle passage to the Americas. And for what purpose? To provide labor on plantations, but not as equal people - not even as people at all. When the U.S. Constitution was adopted, a slave was counted as three-fifths of a human being, not because planters intended to give them three-fifths of a white person's rights, but so that slave masters could get more representatives in Congress.

Some of the nation's first laws defined who could be enslaved and who couldn't. The "drop of African blood" defined who was legal and who wasn't. When Illinois and Indiana came into the Union, as free states, their first laws said a person of African descent couldn't reside there. Were there no free Black people living in those territories? Did they not therefore become "illegal"?

That concept of illegality was then applied to other people, for the same purpose. Chinese immigrants were brought from Toishan under contract to work on the railroad, and drain the Sacramento/San Joaquin River delta. Then the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act forbade their continued immigration, because under U.S. nationality law, they could never become citizens. At the time the law said the Chinese had no right to be here, there were already thousands of Chinese migrants in California, and even Idaho.

In the early 1900s California's grower-dominated legislature made it a crime for Filipinos to marry women who were not Filipinas. At the same time, immigration of women from the Philippines to the mainland was very difficult. For the Filipino farm workers of the 1930s and 40s and 50s, it was virtually a crime to have a family. Many men stayed single until their 50s or 60s, living in labor camps, moving and working wherever the growers needed their labor.

During the bracero program from 1942 to 1964 growers recruited workers from Mexico, who could only come under contract, and had to leave the country at the end of the harvest. They called the braceros legal, but what kind of legality has people living behind barbed wire in camps, traveling and working only where the growers wanted? If braceros went on strike, they were deported. Part of their wages were withheld, supposedly to guarantee their return to Mexico. Half a century later they're still fighting to recover the lost money.

But everyone fought to stay. The Chinese endured the burning of Chinatowns in Salinas and San Francisco. Filipinos had to fight just for the right to have a family. Many braceros just walked out of the labor camps, and kept living and working underground for thirty years, until they could got legal status from the amnesty of 1986.

Immigration policy based on producing a labor supply for employers always has two consequences. Displacement of communities abroad becomes an unspoken policy, because it produces workers. And inequality becomes an official policy.

Almost two hundred years after the civil war eliminated much of dejure inequality written into law, defacto inequality is still very much with us. But today immigration law, with its category of illegality, is reinstituting inequality under law. Calling someone an "illegal" doesn't refer to an illegal act. It's not the border that makes people illegal any more than the middle passage made people slaves. Slavery was created on the slave block and in the plantation. Today's illegality is also created within the borders, by a legal system that excludes people from normal rights and social benefits.

Illegal status is created here. All the immigration reform bills in congress share the assumption that immigrants, even those with visas, shouldn't be the equals of the people in the community around them, with the same rights. For those without visas, the exclusion and inequality is even fiercer. And this is not a defacto exclusion or denial of rights. It is dejure denial, written into law, that justifies the raid in Laurel, the firings in Los Angeles, or the ankle bracelets in Postville.

Today the U.S. faces a basic choice in direction for its immigration policy. There is a corporate agenda on migration, promoted by powerful voices in Washington DC, like the Council on Foreign Relations and the employers' lobby, the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition (think Wal-Mart, Marriott, or Tyson Foods). They propose managing the flow of migration with new guest worker programs, and increased penalties against those who try to migrate and work outside this system. Some of their proposals also contain a truncated legalization for the undocumented, but one that would disqualify most people or have them wait for years for visas, while removing employer liability for the undocumented workers they've already hired.

But, Washington lobbyists ask, wouldn't guest worker programs be preferable to what we have now? The Southern Poverty Law Center's report, Close to Slavery, documents that today's braceros are routinely cheated of wages and overtime. Workers recruited from India to work in a Mississippi shipyard paid $15-20,000 for each visa. The company cut their promised wages, and fired their leader, Joseph Jacobs, when workers protested. If workers do protest, they're put on a blacklist. The Department of Labor under Bush never decertified a guest worker contractor for labor violations, and said the blacklist is legal. When Rafael Santiago was sent by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee to Monterrey to monitor hiring by the North Carolina Growers Association, to eliminate the blacklist and end contractor corruption, his office was broken into, and he was tied up, tortured and killed.

No employer hires guest workers in order to pay more. They hire them to keep wages low.

That's one possible direction - away from equality and the expansion of rights..

Undoing Inequality

Our own history tells us that a different direction is not only possible, but was partially achieved by the civil rights movement. In 1964, heroes of the Chicano movement like Bert Corona, Ernesto Galarza, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta forced Congress to end the bracero program. The next year, Mexicans and Filipinos went out on strike in the fields of Coachella and Delano, and the United Farm Workers was born.

The following year, in 1965, those leaders, together with many others, went back to Congress. Give us a law, they said, that doesn't make workers into braceros or criminals behind barbed wire, into slaves for growers. Give us a law that says our families are what's important, our communities. That was how we won the family preference system. That's why, once you have a green card, you can petition for your mother and father, or your children, to join you in the U.S. We didn't have that before. The civil rights movement won that law.

That fight is not over. In fact, we have to fight harder now than ever. Native-born workers and settled immigrant communities see the growth of an employment system based on low wages and insecurity as a threat. It fosters competition among workers for jobs, and expands the part of the workforce with the lowest income and the fewest rights. It's not hard for people to see the impact of inequality and growing poverty, even if they get confused about its cause.

But we don't have to assume that fear is hardwired into us, or that we can't overcome it. Mainstream newspapers said people applauded in the Laurel plant when the immigrants were arrested and taken out in handcuffs. But after the arrests, Black workers came out of the gate and embraced the immigrant women sitting outside in their ankle bracelets, demanding their unpaid wages. African American women offered to bring food to Mexican mothers, and supported their demand for back wages.

At Smithfield in North Carolina, two immigration raids and 300 firings scared workers so badly that their union drive stopped. But then Mexicans and African Americans together brought the union in. They found a common cause by saying to each other that they all needed better wages and conditions, that they all had a right to work, and that they union would fight for the job of anyone, immigrant or native-born.

Unions know that immigrants can be fighters, like other workers. In 1992 drywallers stopped home construction for a year with a strike that extended from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. Immigrants, including the undocumented, have gone on strike at factories, office buildings, laundries, hotels and fields. Some unions today are growing, and they're often those that know immigrant workers will fight for better wages and conditions. The battles fought by immigrants over the last twenty years are helping to create political power in cities like Los Angeles.

In recognition of that process, and of their own self-interest, unions made a commitment at the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles. They said they would fight to get rid of the law that makes work a crime, and to protect the right of all workers to organize. Labor should live up to that promise.

So What Do We Want?

First, we want legalization, giving 12 million people residence rights and green cards, so they can live like normal human beings. We do not want immigration used as a cheap labor supply system, with workers paying off recruiters, and, once here, frightened that they'll be deported if they lose their jobs.

We need to get rid of the laws that make immigrants criminals and working a crime. No more detention centers, no more ankle bracelets, no more firings and no-match letters, and no more raids. We need equality and rights. All people in our communities should have the same rights and status.

We have to make sure that those who say they advocate for immigrants aren't really advocating for low wages. That the decision-makers of Washington DC won't plunge families in Mexico, El Salvador or Colombia into poverty, to force a new generation of workers to leave home and go through the doors of furniture factories and laundries, office buildings and packing plants, onto construction sites, or just into the gardens and nurseries of the rich.

Families in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador or the Philippines deserve a decent life too. They have a right to survive, a right to not migrate. To make that right a reality, they need jobs and productive farms, good schools and healthcare. Our government must stop negotiating trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, and instead prohibit the use of trade and economic policy that causes poverty and displacement.

Those people who do choose to come here to work deserve the same things that every other worker does. We all have the same rights, and the same needs - jobs, schools, medical care, a decent place to live, and the right to walk the streets or drive our cars without fear.

Major changes in immigration policy are not possible if we don't fight at the same time for these other basic needs: jobs, education, housing, healthcare, justice. But these are things that everyone needs, not just immigrants. And if we fight together, we can stop raids, and at the same time create a more just society for everyone, immigrant and non-immigrant alike

Is this possible?

In 1955, at the height of the cold war, braceros and farm workers didn't think change would ever come. Growers had all the power, and farm workers none. Ten years later we had a new immigration law protecting families, and the bracero program was over. A new union for farm workers was on strike in Delano.

We can have an immigration system that respects human rights. We can stop deportations. We can win security for working families on both sides of our borders.
Yes, it's possible. Si se puede!

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Monday, November 23, 2009

The Higher Education Fiscal Crisis Protects the Wealthy

The Higher Education Fiscal Crisis Protects the Wealthy
Written by Peter Phillips Media Nov 22, 2009

By Peter Phillips

Police are arresting and attacking student protesters on University of California (UC) campuses again. "Why did he beat me I wasn't doing anything," screamed a young Cal Berkeley women student over KPFA radio on Friday evening November 20. Students are protesting the 32% increase in tuition imposed by the UC regents in a time of severe state deficits. The Board of Regents claims that they have no choice. Students will now have to pay over $10,000 in tuition annually for a public university education that was free only a few decades ago.
The corporate media spins the tuition protests as if we are all suffering during the recession. For example, the San Diego Union Tribune November 20 writes, "These students need a course in Reality 101. And the reality is that there is virtually no segment of American society that is not straining with the economic recession. With UC facing a $535 million budget gap due to state cuts, the regents have to confront reality and make tough choices. So should students."
Yet, the reality is something quite different. Our current budget crisis in California and the rest of the country has been artificially created by cutting taxes on the wealthiest people and corporations. The corporate elites in the US, the top 1% who own close to half the wealth, are the beneficiaries of massive tax cuts over the past few decades. While at the same time working people are paying more through increased sales and use taxes and higher public college tuition.
The wealthy hide their money abroad. Rachel Keeler with Dollars & Sense reports that over the years, trillions of dollars in both corporate profits and personal wealth have migrated offshore in search of rock-bottom tax rates and the comfort of no questions asked. Offshore banks now harbor an estimated $11.5 trillion in individual wealth alone, and were a significant contributing factor to the international economic downturn in 2008.
According to the California Budget Project, tax cuts enacted in California, since 1993, cost the state $11.3 billion dollars annually. Had the state continued taxing corporations and the wealthy at rates equal to those fifteen years ago there would not be a budget crisis in California. Even though a budget deficit was evident last year, California income tax laws were changed in February of 2009 to provide corporations with even greater tax savings-equal to over $2 billion per year. California is similar to the rest of the country where the wealthy and corporate elites enjoy economic protection through increased costs to working people.
Higher education has been cut in twenty-eight states in the 2009-10 school year and further, even more drastic cuts, are likely in the years ahead. California State University (CSU) system is planning to reduce enrollments by 40,000 students in the fall of 2010. The CSU Trustees have imposed steep tuition hikes and forced faculty and staff to take non-paid furlough days equal to 10% of salaries.
The students who are protesting tuition increases know they are being ripped off. They know that we are bailing out the rich with hundreds of billions dollars for Wall Street and massive budget cuts for the rest of us. The corporate media doesn't explain to over-taxed working families how they are paying more while the rich sock it away.

The current economic crisis is a shock and awe process designed to undermine low-cost higher education, force labor concessions from working people and protect the wealthy. We need higher taxes on the corporations and the top 1%, combined with free public college education and tax breaks for working families. And, we must have a media that tells us the truth about inequality and wealth. A true economic stimulus increases spending from the bottom up not the to
Peter Phillips is a professor of sociology at Sonoma State University, President of Media Freedom Foundation, and recent past director of Project Censored.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

'Affirmative Action for the Future'

Inside Higher Ed
November 18, 2009

While the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions, the future of affirmative action is far from certain. Some states have barred it and critics continue to look for ways to challenge it. In his new book, Affirmative Action for the Future (Cornell University Press), James P. Sterba offers a defense of affirmative action. Sterba is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and his analysis mixes philosophical and legal arguments. Via e-mail, he responded to questions about his book.

Q: How do you define affirmative action?

A: Affirmative action is a policy of favoring qualified women, minority, or economically disadvantaged candidates over qualified men, nonminority or economically advantaged candidates respectively with the immediate goals of outreach, remedying discrimination, or achieving diversity, and the ultimate goals of attaining a colorblind (racially just), a gender-free (sexually just) and equal opportunity (economically just) society.

Q: How vulnerable is affirmative action in higher education today?

A: The constitutionality of affirmative action in higher education has been endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Bakke (1978) and then 25 years later even more firmly by a much more conservative U.S. Supreme Court in Grutter (2003). So affirmative action in higher education is not vulnerable at all from the courts. It has, however, been shown to be vulnerable to deceptively designed referendums as in California (Proposition 209) and Michigan (Proposition 2). When people in California were asked whether they would still favor Proposition 209 if it outlawed all affirmative action programs for women and minorities, support for 209 dropped to 30 percent while those opposed rose to 56 percent. But deceptively designed Proposition 209 was the referendum that legally banned affirmative action programs for women and minorities in California!

Q: Why do you distinguish in the book between "outreach," "remedial" and "diversity" affirmative action?

A: Outreach affirmative action has the goal of searching out qualified women, minority or economically disadvantaged candidates who would otherwise not know about or apply for the available positions, but then hire or accept only those who are actually the most qualified.

Remedial affirmative action attempts to remedy discrimination. Here, there are two possibilities. First, a remedial affirmative action program can be designed simply to put an end to an existing discriminatory practice, and create, possibly for the first time in a particular setting, a truly nondiscriminatory playing field. Second, a remedial affirmative action program can attempt to compensate for past discrimination and the effects of that discrimination.

Diversity affirmative action has the goal of diversity, where the pursuit of diversity is, in turn, justified either in terms of certain educational benefits it provides, or in terms of its ability to legitimately create a more effective workforce in such areas as policing or community relations, or in terms of achieving equal opportunity. Here it might even be said that the affirmative action candidates are, in fact, the most the most qualified candidates overall, since the less diverse candidates would not be as qualified.

Q: Do you view the moral arguments you make and the legal arguments you make as distinct? Which are more important to you?

A: I do see the legal and moral arguments for affirmative action as distinct, but sometimes they are intertwined. For example, showing that the U.S. Supreme Court has always interpreted diversity affirmative action to be in accord with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides both moral and legal support for this form of affirmative action because these fundamental U.S. laws are at the same time also taken to be morally justified.

Q: How is the success of some Asian American groups in higher education changing the debates on affirmative action?

A: The success of some Asian American groups is a proven success of affirmative action. At the time of Bakke (1978) members of these groups did receive affirmative action. Today they no longer need affirmative action in order to be enrolled in top-flight colleges and university in sufficient numbers to bring the benefits of diversity. If affirmative action continues for members of minority groups who are still disadvantaged and steps are also taken to improve the still inferior K-12 educational systems that service these groups, in the not too distant future affirmative action as we know it will come to an end.

Q: Do you think opponents of affirmative action can be convinced to change their views?

A: Most opponents of affirmative action can be convinced to change their minds because they have formed their opinion about affirmative action knowing no more than half the facts and half the arguments that are relevant to an assessment of the practice. Once they get a fuller picture of what is relevant to an assessment of the affirmative action, they are confronted with good reasons to change their view. For example, once opponents do a comparative evaluation of diversity affirmative action against two other preference programs in higher education – legacy preference and athletic preference – each of which is twice the usual size of the college or university affirmative action program, it is difficult for them not to see the superior moral and educational justification of diversity affirmative action.

Q: Why is affirmative action important today?

A: My book begins by chronicling study after study showing present day racial and sexual discrimination in the U.S. Since direct government action against this continuing discrimination is both sporadic and weak, affirmative action programs still remain one of the more effective tools for undermining the racial and sexual prejudice that fuels this discrimination, thereby helping to diminish its frequency and severity.

Defining Accountability

Inside Higher Ed
November 18, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Given the sprawling terrain covered by the American Enterprise Institute's forum here on "Increasing Accountability in American Higher Education" Tuesday, it was probably inevitable that the conversation would touch on so many topics as to be almost incoherent.

Accreditation. Finance. Scholarly research productivity. College rankings. Governance. Tenure. Standardized tests. With papers and presentations on those topics and more, the daylong discussion was, not surprisingly, all over the map. But if a major theme emerged from the assembled speakers, most of whom fall clearly into the pro-accountability camp, it was that as policy makers turn up the pressure on colleges to perform, they should do so in ways that reinforce the behaviors they want to see -- and avoid the kinds of perverse incentives that are so evident in many policies today.

This is especially true, several speakers argued, on the thorniest of higher education accountability questions -- those related to improving student outcomes. While the event looked at times like a reunion of Margaret Spellings' Commission on the Future of Higher Education, with an agenda that featured not just its former chairman but several advisers to the panel, it unfolded very much focused on President Obama's call for increasing the proportion of Americans with a postsecondary credential.

Many of the speakers framed their remarks around changes that they saw as essential to helping the country ratchet up the number of young people and adults who not only enter higher education but emerge with what they need to enter the work force. (Oh, and one or two people actually talked about how nice it would be if policy makers still envisioned college as a place where people learn about citizenship or just become educated for education's sake.)

Peter Ewell, vice president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, focused his formal presentation on the growing network of state-based data systems that, in his eyes, present the best chance of producing good information on how students are faring in postsecondary education and beyond. Ewell has long been a leading advocate of such data systems, which will be most effective, he argued, if they are linked to databases of employment records and then stitched together to create regional networks.

But better data systems (which he acknowledged will take years to develop in this way, and are opposed in some quarters of higher education) will help only if the information they seek to collect is intelligently framed, which the most widely used current measure -- graduation rates -- is not, Ewell and others agreed. Ewell called for the development of a set of measures of "milestone events" in a student's academic path -- things like a "basic skills conversion rate" (capturing those who get to credit-worthy work after developmental courses), definitions of "transfer ready" and "work force ready" (to describe those who get meaningful academic or career skills but leave a community college short of an associate degree), etc.

And he said higher education leaders and state policy makers could make a shorter-term change that could start to alter the incentives for, and ultimately the behavior of, institutions: shifting state funding formulas so that colleges receive money based on how many students are still enrolled by the end of academic terms, rather than at the beginning.

"We have a performance funding scheme now -- it's called 'pay to enroll,' " he said. "One of the simplest things we can do is to reimburse for courses completed rather than courses attempted" by their students, he said. Added Stan Jones, former commissioner of higher education in Indiana and now president of the National Consortium on College Completion: "If we could make that change, counting courses at the end of the semester rather than the beginning, that would have powerful implications. Everybody would drag out their [list of] courses and say, 'Where are we having problems?' " (It was acknowledged that such an approach could create perverse incentives of its own, by discouraging institutions from enrolling academically underprepared students who might be unlikely to succeed -- a potential risk of the entire emphasis on "completion" that is increasingly in vogue.)

Many of the other speakers presented time-honored (read: familiar) approaches to what AEI called "the multifaceted accountability equation in higher education." Naomi Schaefer Riley, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's Taste page and author of God on the Quad, argued for reining in tenure for groups of professors who she argued no longer warrant it -- including instructors in vocational fields who don't need the protection of academic freedom, gender and race studies professors with openly political agendas, and scientists who, she said, have forfeited their right to academic freedom by entering into corporate research arrangements that limit their ability to publish.

"Obviously we can‟t revoke the contracts of these professors now, but going forward, there is no justification for continuing to offer lifetime contracts to people in these fields." Riley said. "Whether because they have a political agenda or their subjects do not necessitate the freedom to ask big questions or because they seem happy to voluntarily give up their right to ask big questions for the right price, these professors do not need their academic freedom protected. And they don't need tenure.

Countering Riley's argument that tenure impedes accountability, Gary Rhoades, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, argued that tenure allows professors to "hold the line" on academic standards against administrators who encourage instructors to raise the grades of complaining students because they "don't want unhappy customers... Accountability is not quite as straightforward as we think," said Rhoades, who described himself as "not a 'just say no' guy" about accountability. "It's not a question of whether [colleges and faculty should be held accountable], but how, and by whom," he said. "It's about who's developing the measures, and what behaviors do they encourage?"

Among other issues raised at the AEI session:

* Kevin Carey of Education Sector and Charles Miller, former chairman of the Spellings Commission, both called for a national/federal body to take over some or all of the quality control responsibility that now falls to the regional accrediting agencies. "Regional accreditors should continue to be in the business of peer review, but the federal government needs to be the objective protector of taxpayers' dollars," Carey said. Judith Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, said that government regulation would be a major mistake, but said that accreditors needed to come to agreement on "community-driven, outcomes-based standards" to which colleges should be held.

* Miller and Ben Wildavsky of the Kauffman Foundation defended the existence and encouraged the proliferation of more rankings of colleges, on the theory that the more information that exists in the public realm about colleges and their operations, the better positioned citizens and policy makers will be to make the choices they need. Higher education officials regularly talk about the "uniqueness of each college" and the dangers of standardization. But while they complain when policy makers seek to develop measures that compare one institution against another, colleges "keep lists of peers with which they compare themselves" on many fronts, Miller said.

The Research/Policy Divide

Inside Higher Ed
November 5, 2009

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- It's not usually a good strategy for moderators at conference sessions to make it clear at the start that the topic to be discussed is anything but new; doing so could have a tendency to suppress audience interest. But in introducing a session here Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study in Higher Education, Joni Finney had a method to her madness in acknowledging that the question at its core -- why don't public policy makers use scholarly research more? -- has a long history.

She recalled a similar event "many, many years ago," early in the group's history, "in which fingers were pointing each way," with researchers saying they were doing good work only to find it ignored by politicians who might actually do something with it, and policy makers accusing "academics of just talking to themselves, in a world all unto their own."

Finney's point, of course, was that the issues, while age-old, are still worth discussing because if anything, the stakes are even higher today than they were back then, elevated along with the growing recognition of the importance of postsecondary education as a driver both of individual economic and social mobility and of societal change.

And while the spirited discussion that followed generally avoided outright finger pointing, the scholars and policy wonks on the panel did not see entirely eye to eye on either the extent of the disconnect, the causes behind it, or potential fixes. But there was widespread agreement that it would be better for all involved if those who study higher education were regularly contributing analyses and even potential answers to those responsible for setting the policies and making the laws that govern it. (That's a theme that has been hit at other conferences of scholars this year, in various disciplines.)

That happens all too rarely now, both because of researchers' methods and their subject matter choices, argued Patrick M. Callan, founding president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. "There's a major mismatch between the way that problems are framed [by most academic researchers], and what is considered 'rigor' [from a theoretical standpoint] almost eliminates the likelihood that the research will be applicable to the kind of real world problems" policy makers deal with, he said.

And even more importantly, Callan said, "much of academic research isn't interested in the same things that policy makers are interested in." There is a "paucity of research," for instance, on what happens to students at "broad access" institutions (such as community colleges and urban public universities) that serve the largest number of students, even though that's where most of the public policy questions in recent years, and especially now, are focused. But most scholarly research examines practices at major research universities, Callan said, because "most researchers are in R1's -- or want to be."

Legislators and other policy makers are particularly interested right now in such issues as "how to change intractable institutions in ways that serve public purposes better," institutional and faculty productivity, and "whether we've learned anything from the last few recessions" about how to manage higher education -- but scholarly work from inside the academy on those topics is hard to find. (Think tanks, on the other hand, are often a fount of studies on topics of interest to lawmakers, Callan said.)

Paul Lingenfelter, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers group, generally shared Callan's view that there is a disconnect between the desire of social scientists to craft the perfect "empirically justified," randomized experimental model and "by George, come up with real knowledge," and the more complex, messier world in which public policy is made.

Finney, who has joined the academy (as a "practice professor" at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education) after many years as a state higher education analyst, said that it was no surprise that many researchers were focused on the theoretical over the practical and the scientifically pure over the publicly accessible, given the reward structure in higher education.

"There is great pressure on faculty to make theoretical contributions, no matter how important, or unimportant, they might be," she said. That may lead some young scholars to wait until they are tenured to do research that might end up spurring legislation or generating an op-ed rather than tucked quietly away in a refereed journal, said Laura Perna, another member of Penn's education faculty.

With dozens of graduate students in the audience, Pennsylvania State University's Donald E. Heller said he did not want to leave future scholars with the impression that the academy is inhospitable to professors interested in doing public policy work. (See Heller's Views piece today on one hot public policy topic.)

"There are institutions that are very well respected that strongly value research that can be used" by policy makers, he said. "And there are institutions that value that very little at all."

Schools’ Grades Reflect Persistent Disparity

Published: November 17, 2009

Over the last three years, high schools that received the lowest marks from the city have been the ones with the highest percentages of poor, black and Hispanic students, despite an evaluation system that was meant to equalize differences among student bodies, according to an analysis by The New York Times of school grades released this week.

Blacks and Hispanics make up on average 77 percent of the student population in the 139 schools that received A’s this past year, compared with more than 90 percent of the schools that received C’s or worse. While the vast majority of A schools have a high minority enrollment, 14 of the 15 largest high-performing schools in the city have drastically lower black and Hispanic enrollment.

As a result, black and Hispanic students over all are more likely to attend a school that scored lower under the city’s grading system: 34 percent of black and Hispanic students attend a high school that received a C or worse, compared with 15 percent of whites and Asians.

The analysis found a similar grade distribution in 2007 and 2008.

Philip Vaccaro, who helped design the progress reports as a member of the Department of Education’s accountability office, said grades were designed to be as “demographically neutral” as possible. To keep schools with a predominance of lower-achieving students from being measured only against those with a predominance of high-performers, schools are compared with those whose students scored similarly on eighth-grade standardized tests.

The lower grades reflect the fact that graduation rates are lower for blacks, Latinos, special education students and those still learning English. Schools with more special education students and those who are overage when they enter high school also did poorly, even though the grading system accounts for those differences as well.

“The way we have tried to deal with the issue is by building an incentive to help these students graduate,” Mr. Vaccaro said. “Over time we hope these will have an impact and that schools will redouble their efforts to help students because there’s a large payoff for them. These are really graduation outcomes and to change that we know that is going to take some time.”

While the majority of A schools do have a significant population of black and Hispanic students, those schools are relatively small.

Several of the city’s largest high schools that have struggled for years received low grades on the progress reports, and those schools have a high population of black and Latino students, as well as special education students and English language learners.

One high school principal in Queens, who declined to be named for fear of punishment, said that the school had received more needy students in recent years and that it was difficult to help them catch up.

“I don’t disagree with holding us to a higher bar, but not all schools are being asked to do the same thing,” the principal said.

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein has closed a number of poor-performing large high schools and replaced them with smaller schools, often several in one building. A report this year by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School asserted that the push for smaller schools put more strain on the remaining larger schools.

“One of the effects of opening up so many new small schools was that the remaining large schools became ever more burdened with the students least able to navigate the system,” said Clara Hemphill, who wrote the report. “Once a school goes into a downward spiral, it is very hard to come out of it, and adding a couple of high-needs students certainly doesn’t help.”

Norman Thomas High School in Murray Hill, Manhattan, a school of more than 2,000 students, 96 percent of them black or Hispanic, received a D for the third year in a row.

“We deserved a better grade,” said one student, Christian Rodriguez, 15, from the Bronx. “Everything is changing; everything is changing slowly. The environment is getting better for the students to learn. They’re cracking down on lateness, cutting classes.”

Colin Moynihan contributed reporting.

Gates Foundation gives $335M for teacher quality


SEATTLE — Three school districts and a coalition of charter schools have agreed to be test kitchens for some radical ideas for improving teacher quality — from paying new teachers to spend another year practicing before getting their own class to letting student test scores affect teacher pay.

In exchange, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is handing them the biggest pile of cash it has spent on education reform in about a decade.

The foundation announced $290 million in grants to the four groups on Thursday, plus another $45 million for education research aimed at uncovering what exactly is an effective teacher.

The grants include $100 million to Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Fla., $90 million to Memphis City Schools, $60 million to a coalition of charter school organizations in Los Angeles, and $40 million to Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Vicki Phillips, director of the foundation's K-12 education program, said the investment is big, the ideas are bold and she hopes the impact could rock every school and every district in the nation.

The foundation purposely picked four diverse organizations to work with: from the four corners of the U.S., of a variety of sizes and ethnic mixes, all with existing problems and some successes meeting the educational needs of their students.

A fifth district was in line to join the others, but Omaha Public Schools dropped out at the last minute after decided it could not meet the matching requirement of the grant during these tough economic times.

Smaller grants to other districts will be announced later, Phillips said.

The various reform projects have a number of central themes.

They will focus on teacher training, put the best teachers in the most challenging classrooms, give the best teachers new roles as mentors and coaches while keeping them in front of children, make tenure a meaningful milestone, get rid of ineffective teachers, and use money to motivate people and schools to move toward these goals.

"If you could boil what we know in education down to one sentence, it truly would be, 'Nothing is as important as an effective teacher,'" Phillips said.

MaryEllen Elia, superintendent in Hillsborough County, believes these experiments will be closely watched by everyone running a school district.

If the results are close to expectations, other districts won't have a choice but to find the money to make similar changes, she said.

"We owe it to the children," Elia said.

She hopes her Tampa district can set an example for other large districts dealing with similar challenges. It's the eighth largest in the nation with 190,000 students spread out over an area the size of Rhode Island.

Kriner Cash, superintendent in Memphis, expects to be watched very closely by everyone who cares about equal opportunity. In her district, 86 percent of the 108,915 students are African American and 83 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

"All professionals involved in guiding and educating children have a stake in this work," Cash said.
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Congress takes up expansion of Troops to Teachers

By Rob Hotakainen | McClatchy Newspapers
November 7, 2009

WASHINGTON — Frank McBryde says there are plenty of parallels between serving in the U.S. military and teaching.

"You're not going to become rich, you need loyalty and you need to be dedicated to a task," said McBryde, 54.

After a 23-year career in the Navy and retiring as a senior chief operations specialist, McBryde is now teaching math to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in suburban Sacramento, Calif.

The federal government aided in his transition, giving him a $10,000 stipend because he agreed to teach in a school where at least half of the students were poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

McBryde is one of more than 12,000 service members nationwide who've participated in the program since it began in 1994.

Now Congress is considering a huge expansion: Under a pending bill, the an estimated 98 percent of U.S. schools would be eligible to hire troops-turned-teachers.

McBryde, who grew up in Los Angeles and now lives in Antelope, Calif., said he planned to work in business after his military career, but then he decided to switch gears.

"I wanted my next career to mean something," he said.

Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., said the program helps schools by providing them with more highly qualified math and science teachers while giving veterans "the opportunity to serve their country again."

She's one of a handful of members of Congress promoting the legislation, along with Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, Republican Rep. Tom Petri of Wisconsin and Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut.

"Right now our country is grappling with an aging teaching workforce," Matsui said. "And we have a definite need for qualified schoolteachers, particularly those that can provide mentorship and leadership."

Petri said the Education Department in recent years has restricted the eligibility of schools far beyond what Congress ever intended. As an example, he said, only 13 of the 420 school districts in Wisconsin qualified earlier this year.

Bennet said the program needed to be expanded to attract younger troops, noting the current law requires six years of military service for eligibility.

"Unfortunately, many men and women coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are ineligible to participate in the current program because of burdensome restrictions," he said.

"What we should be saying is, if you want to continue to serve your country, if you want to make a difference in a student's life, there is a place for you in the classroom," Bennet added.

The program began when J.H. "Jack" Hexter, a history professor at Washington University in St. Louis, saw two problems that he wanted to fix: helping inner-city schools find qualified teachers, and helping large numbers of retired military personnel find jobs after their early retirements.

Hexter eventually convinced former Missouri Republican Sen. John Danforth to try to get funding his proposed Troops to Teachers program. And Danforth was successful in getting money included in the 1993 defense spending bill. In 2008 and 2009, Congress appropriated $14 million for the program each year. The new bill would authorize the program for as much as $50 million a year, Matsui said. Since 2002, Congress has spent more than $134 million on the program.

As currently designed, the program offers troops up to $5,000 to help them pay for their education. And then they can get a $10,000 bonus by agreeing to teach in a school with a majority of low-income students for at least three years.

The program has strong backing from the Obama administration. At a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee in May, Education Secretary Arne Duncan promised to "push very hard" to sell the program.

"I'm a huge fan of Troops to Teachers," Duncan said. "I think it's a phenomenal pool of talent."

McCain said the challenge will be to get the House of Representatives and the Senate to consider the bill during a very busy time, with Congress nearing votes on health care and soon to tackle climate-change legislation, among other things.

He's not expecting much opposition when it comes time to vote, however.

"There may be opponents of this legislation out there," McCain said. "I just don't know who they are."

Texas board seeks to close gap in Latinos attending college

By KATHERINE LEAL UNMUTH / The Dallas Morning News
Sunday, October 18, 2009

State higher education officials are developing a plan to address the lagging college attendance of Latinos and to close the gap within that group – where men are behind.

"Latino males are vanishing from our higher education ranks," said Victor Saenz, an assistant professor of education administration at the University of Texas. "Our culture has a certain motivation to work right away to contribute to the family."

According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's most recent "Closing the Gaps by 2015" report, Hispanics are the least likely group to attend college and are "well below" meeting improvement goals.

Four percent of the state's Hispanic population participates in higher education, compared with 5.6 percent of blacks and 5.5 percent of whites. Improving that figure is vital to the state's economic health, state officials say, because Latinos are rapidly becoming the majority in Texas public schools.

State figures point to a second gap: In 2008, about 39 percent of Latino graduates earning bachelor's or associate's degrees were men: 15,879, compared with 24,757 women. Across all races, male graduates have been lagging behind women for years.

Later this month, the higher education board will consider approving the plan to improve Latino performance. Board members are considering ideas like starting a pilot program to increase the number of counselors at certain high schools, reaching out to more Spanish-speaking parents and expanding "bridge programs" to prepare students the summer before they begin college.

Personal sacrifice

According to a report by Saenz, "sacrificing the individual over the needs of the family is commonplace" among Hispanic males. Other challenges, he notes, are a greater likelihood of being labeled at-risk or placed in special education and higher high school dropout rates.

Hispanic children in Texas public schools have higher poverty rates than white or black students. That adds pressure to work to support family at home or even children of their own.

"When you're in a low-income situation, there's a real trade-off if they can make money right away," said Deborah Santiago, vice president for policy at Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization focused on improving college attendance.

In addition, many Hispanics are leery of taking out loans, she said.

While traditional stereotypes hold that a culture of "machismo" would favor men going to college, it is women who are advancing more. However, that doesn't mean they don't face challenges of their own.

The National Women's Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund recently released a report noting that Hispanic women are held back by many factors, including the pressure to become caretakers for younger siblings and elderly family members and having the highest teen pregnancy rates of any group. They also face double discrimination based on ethnicity and gender.

Staying near home

And Santiago points out that heavy emphasis on family means students will often opt to live at home and attend community college rather than attend a university that is farther away.

Latinos are more likely to begin at community college, but those who do have a much lower chance of finishing their degrees than students who begin in universities. Experts say that's often because they don't feel as connected to college life.

According to a recent Pew Hispanic Center survey, 88 percent of Hispanics believe a college education is important. But a separate Pew study shows about 40 percent of Latinos who graduate from high school enroll in college, which doesn't mean they graduate.

Alberto Lara, who graduated from Townview Magnet last year, is taking four courses at El Centro College while working more than 40 hours a week as an assistant manager at Burger King. He helps support his father, who is on disability, and his younger sister.

He would like to transfer to a university and become a bank examiner, but his workload is a burden.

"It has affected my grades. I'm usually too tired, and I'm always taking naps in classes," Lara said. "I think I do need to cut my hours. But right now this is what I have to do."

Ernesto Cardoso, 20, is taking courses at Mountain View College and is trying to get out of his remedial math course to move into college-level math. He took a year off after high school and works at Walgreens.

"I don't think I'll drop out unless there's like a death in the family or I have to be the remaining caregiver," said Cardoso, whose parents are immigrants from Mexico who never finished middle school. "Or just if I don't want to go anymore."

State education board cuts number of PE credits graduates can use

November 21, 2009

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – State Board of Education members moved Friday to close a loophole that would have allowed high school students to take up to seven credits – or 14 semester courses – in athletics and physical education to meet graduation requirements.

Instead, under the board decision, students will be able to take up to four credits in PE and PE substitutes, such as football, dance or cheerleading. That is still double the number that has been allowed in previous years.

A law approved by the Legislature this year increased the number of electives students can take in high school, but it put few restrictions on what classes can be taken as electives.

That opened the door to students taking more than a fourth of the 26 credits required for graduation in PE and PE substitutes.

"It's a loophole that needs to be closed," said board member Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas, who had predicted that the new law would provide a "real temptation" for students to game the system by loading up on PE classes and sports. "Seven credits for PE courses is way too many and would lead to abuses in the system."

The Legislature approved the new graduation requirements as part of a massive school accountability bill. The new rules were intended to give students more course options in preparing for college or post-secondary training programs.

"The Legislature had heard for years that they needed more flexibility in the Recommended High School Program, so they gave more flexibility and it wound up having unintended consequences," said state Education Commissioner Robert Scott, who noted students will still be able to count more PE and PE substitute courses toward graduation than in the past.

Students have been limited to two credits in PE during their four years in high school.

For the past several months, education board members have been studying a plan backed by Texas High School Coaches Association to allow student athletes to get twice as much credit toward graduation for playing football, baseball, basketball and other sports. The plan called for allowing four years of sports to count toward graduation instead of the current maximum of two years, or two credits.

The new law authorizing more electives enabled the board to essentially implement the high school coaches' proposal while shutting off the possibility of students getting more than four credits in sports.

"I appreciate all that athletics does for kids. It's really important," said board member Don McLeroy, R-College Station, who strongly backed the coaches' proposal. "The argument for counting four years of athletics toward graduation is pretty persuasive now that the state" requires four years of math, science, English and social studies to graduate.

Noting that many athletes are among the best students at their schools, McLeroy added, "Coaches have a good impact on the kids they work with."

Under another new provision affecting PE, all students will now be required to take a minimum of one credit – or two semesters – in physical education. Previously, the minimum was 1.5 credits.

Board members also deleted requirements for two semesters of computer technology and a semester of health education for students who follow the "minimum" or "distinguished achievement" graduation plans. The courses had already been eliminated by the Legislature for students in the "recommended" plan, which most students follow, but lawmakers did not change the other two plans.

The goal is to give all students more electives. Most can now take six credits of elective courses, although one semester of speech – either "communication applications" or "professional communications" – counts.

While the new law was aimed at incoming freshmen this year, the commissioner decided to extend the new course options to all high school students this summer. He noted that the measure passed both the House and Senate with two-thirds majorities, the threshold for laws to take immediate effect.

The decision bothered many school district officials, and many adopted policies that keep health or computer technology as locally required courses.

"It's a significant messaging problem in school districts," Scott said. "The law says students are not required to take health education and yet some school districts are still requiring them to take it."

However, he added, it is the prerogative of local districts to require certain courses for students to graduate beyond what the state requires. School superintendents said they had already hired teachers and planned course schedules based on the required health and computer technology classes – and it would have been disruptive to drop those classes this school year.

In addition, some districts want to maintain health education as a required course, citing its importance to the well-being of their students.


The state's recommended high school program, which most students follow:
Subject Credits
English 4
Math 4
Science 4
Social studies 4
Foreign language 2
Physical education 1
Fine arts 1
Electives 6*
Total 26

* No more than three elective credits can be in physical education or PE substitutes, such as football or another sport.

NOTE: Seniors in the 2009-10 school year need only three years of math and science, for a total of 24 credits, to graduate.

SOURCE: Texas Education Agency

Mass. immigrant tuition bill to get new push

Lawmakers revisiting whether to allow in-state tuition for illegal residents

Sun., Nov . 15, 2009

CHELSEA, Mass. - It seemed like a given that Mario Rodas would go to college.

The Guatemalan-born student certainly had the academic credentials, going from English as a second language classes to taking advanced placement exams for college credit his senior year at Chelsea High School.

But paying for it was another matter. As an undocumented immigrant in 2005, Rodas would have had to pay out-of-state tuition fees to go to a public college in Massachusetts, and he couldn't afford that. If he had lived in Texas or Utah, states that allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates, Rodas, now 22, might have graduated already.

"Every year, we have more and more students in limbo here," Rodas said. "And every year, we have more and more students taking advantage (of in-state tuition) elsewhere. I don't understand."

Nearly three years after Massachusetts House lawmakers soundly rejected a bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to attend college at in-state tuition rates, lawmakers are preparing to revisit the issue.

Activists say 10 other states, some dominated by conservative lawmakers, have passed legislation with bipartisan support, and advocates see no reason why Massachusetts, a state controlled by Democrats, can't do the same.

That has been a frustration for advocates in this left-leaning state, which was the first to legalize gay marriage and the only so far to require health insurance for all its residents.

Broad support for in-state tuition
"Massachusetts is out in front of so many things," said Harris Gruman, executive director of the Service Employees International Union Massachusetts State Council. "But Massachusetts is behind on this."

Undocumented students say they plan to launch a campaign by lobbying key lawmakers and sharing their stories in face-to-face meetings. Meanwhile, activists have cultivated a broader coalition of supporters that includes union members, business leaders and academics — something lacking in 2006.

State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, said the state's Higher Education Committee is expected to hold hearings on the matter later this year or early next. Chang-Diaz, a co-sponsor of the bill, says it stands a better chance this time, with increased lobbying efforts and support from Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick. Former Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, opposed the measure in 2006.

"Time is our friend here," Chang-Diaz said. "We've had more time to talk to more people collectively ... and get them more comfortable with it."

10 states allow lower fees
On Tuesday, the governor is scheduled to release a list of recommendations from his Advisory Council for Refugees and Immigrants that is expected to include in-state tuition for undocumented students. Patrick sent the panel around the state last year to take public comment and to come up with suggestions for new immigration policy.

Currently, 10 states — California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin — have such in-state tuition laws for undocumented students. Oklahoma repealed its law in 2008.

Meanwhile, four states — Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina — have passed laws specifically banning undocumented students from being eligible for in-state tuition.

Steve Kropper, co-director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform, a group that seeks immigration restrictions, said Massachusetts residents have shown to be generally sympathetic to immigration. But he said the public remains resistant to granting illegal immigrants in-state tuition or driver's licenses.

"It doesn't make economic sense to us," Kropper said. "If they can't get a job when they're done (with college), then it doesn't make sense for the state to invest in them."

‘We need a balanced approached’
Gruman said advocates are optimistic in Massachusetts because some of the more vocal opponents are now gone.

For example, former Rep. Marie Parente, D-Milford, who was an outspoken opponent of the bill in 2006, was ousted by John Fernandes later that year. Still, Fernandes has not committed to support the bill and questions whether it should also include provisions for assimilation or enforcement.

"It only speaks to one side of the issue," said Fernandes, a Democrat. "I think we need a balanced approached that speaks to comprehensive immigration reform."

Others who voted against the measure last time also remain opposed. Rep. Demetrius Atsalis, D-Barnstable, still opposes the bill because he believes it will make the state's college fee structure meaningless and will take away the incentive for undocumented students to legalize their status, said spokesman Tom Bernardo.

A possible $2.5 million in extra revenue
Rodas, who was granted asylum in the United States after becoming a poster child for the bill in 2006, said most of the immigrant students who would benefit from the proposal arrived in this country when they were young and are culturally American already.

"Most of these students speak English better than their native language now," Rodas said.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimates that 400 to 600 students might enter Massachusetts schools as a result of the bill and that it likely would result in $2.5 million of extra revenue.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, current average in-state tuition at state universities is $9,704 compared with out-of-state tuition of $22,157. Average in-state tuition at state community college is $4,305 compared with out-of-state tuition of $10,811.

Stella Flores, a professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University, said one of the reasons the bill has struggled in Massachusetts is because the foreign-born population is younger than in other states, and because a large percentage of the state's Latinos are Puerto Ricans who aren't concerned about immigration issues since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory.

She said states that have adopted in-state tuition laws have seen a small number of immigrants take advantage of the opportunities, mainly at community colleges.

"It's usually a small jump," Flores said, "but over time, as news spreads through word of mouth, you'll see an increase."

Teacher shortage gives way to teacher glut

USA Today

By Heather Hollingsworth, The Associated Press
LAWRENCE, Kan. — When Lilli Lackey started college, talk of a growing teacher shortage gave her confidence that a job would be waiting for her when she got out.

Now, six months after graduating, she considers herself lucky just to find work as a substitute.

SEC. DUNCAN: 'Revolutionary change' needed in teachers colleges

Across the country, droves of people like Lackey are unable to find teaching jobs, in large part because the economy is forcing school systems to slash positions. The teacher shortage that many feared just a few years ago has turned into a teacher glut.

"I always thought that if I didn't find a job, I would be able to sub. And then once that started to be more difficult, it was really kind of devastating," Lackey, an art teacher, said during a career fair for educators at the University of Kansas.

Since last fall, school systems, state education agencies, technical schools and colleges have shed about 125,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At the same time, many teachers who had planned to retire or switch jobs are staying on because of the recession, and many people who have been laid off in other fields are trying to carve out second careers as teachers or applying to work as substitutes to make ends meet.

In Texas, the Round Rock school district had more than 5,000 applications for 322 teacher openings this year and saw its pool of subs almost double to 1,200, about 2{ times as many as it needs even on a particularly bad day during flu season, said spokeswoman Joylynn Occhiuzzi.

"It is a tougher job market, and you get applicants that you might not normally have because of the economy," she said.

Just a few years ago, before the recession hit, several reports had projected a big shortage of teachers across a wide range of subjects over the next several years as baby boomers retired from the classroom and the strong economy lured college graduates into fields other than education.

But the nationwide demand for teachers in 60 out of 61 subjects has declined from a year earlier, according to an annual report issued this week by the American Association for Employment in Education. Only one subject — math — was listed as having an extreme shortage of teachers. In recent years, more than a dozen subjects had extreme shortages.

"We don't see a teacher shortage now," said Neil Shnider, executive director of the association. "The school districts aren't hiring."

Just a few years ago, "we were recruiting really, really hard just to get people to take a look at us and take a look at our profession," said John Black, deputy superintendent of the Augusta, Kan., school district, who was at the job fair even though he was already being deluged with applications for a midyear kindergarten opening. "Now we have these great applicants wanting to teach, and we don't have jobs to offer them."

Substitute teaching rolls have grown so large that some districts have increased their requirements or stopped accepting applications altogether.

Already schools like the one at the University of Kansas have been urging their education graduates to be more flexible about where they are willing to work and to receive training in areas that are still hard to fill, such as special education, said Rick Ginsberg, dean of the school of education.

Lackey took the advice and is planning to become certified to teach math. Although she is beginning to get more work as a sub, the job search remains frustrating.

"Teaching isn't really the place to go into," she said. "A few years ago it seemed like the place to be if you wanted a job."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The ‘Highly Qualified Teacher’ Dodge

NY Times Editorial
November 12, 2009

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been widely held in high regard since he was appointed in January, but no honeymoon lasts forever. Mr. Duncan’s came to an abrupt end earlier this week when he issued long-awaited rules that the states must follow to apply for his $4.3 billion discretionary fund, known as the Race to the Top Fund, and the second round of federal financing under the $49 billion federal stimulus package known as the state fiscal stabilization fund.

The rules for the Race to the Top Fund, which is designed to reward states that embrace reform and bypass those that do not, are generally sound and have been greeted with enthusiasm. But some school reform groups and some in Congress have reacted with dismay to the part of the stabilization fund that was supposed to require the states to end the longstanding and reprehensible practice of shunting unprepared and unqualified teachers into the schools serving the poorest students.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 was clear in requiring states to remedy situations in which high poverty schools were being disproportionately staffed by teachers who were inexperienced, unqualified or teaching in fields that they had not majored in.

The country would be much further along on the reform trail had the Bush administration followed the law. Instead, it allowed the states to define away the problem by re-labeling the existing, inadequate teacher corps as “highly qualified.”

Congress tried to discourage the use of inexperienced and unqualified teachers a second time when it passed the stimulus act. Education advocates inside and outside Congress expected that the stabilization fund application would be explicit and ambitious on the issue of teacher equity. They were understandably disappointed to find the issue couched, once again, in euphemistic language that asks the states to describe in vague terms whether the teacher corps is “highly qualified.”

The Congressional Black Caucus is unhappy with this approach. The Education Trust, an influential research group that deals with reform issues, accused Mr. Duncan of papering over a serious problem and squandering an opportunity to force “truth-telling about unfair teacher-assignment practices.”

The language in the application reflects timidity at the White House and in Congress, where some voices wanted to delay the fight over this issue until next year when Congress will likely reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The language also reflects the sometimes excessive influence of boutique alternative certification programs, which want to keep doors open for teachers who might be shut out under traditional criteria.

But the facts on the ground remain inescapably clear. Children in poor neighborhoods will continue to be poorly served at school until Congress pushes the states to provide them with better, more effective teachers.