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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Activists protest FBI raids

By Serena Maria Daniels and Andy Grimm, Tribune reporter

Story posted 2010.09.27 at 09:39 PM CDT

About 350 anti-war activists, clergy members and trade union members demonstrated Monday outside the FBI's Chicago headquarters and condemned federal authorities for their raids last week of the homes of activists in Chicago and Minneapolis.

Signs read "Freedom to Dissent" and "One Nation Under Surveillance."

Others chanted into bullhorns, "Freedom of speech under attack/What do we do?/Stand up, fight back!" "It's not just our family. It's not just those that got the knock on Friday.

It's not just the many, many movement activists that are here today," said Stephanie Weiner, whose home in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood was the subject of a search warrant Friday.

Weiner and her husband, Joseph Iosbaker, were among several activists whose homes were searched in the two cities in an investigation into possible domestic links with alleged terrorist organizations.

Authorities also searched each of their sons' bedrooms, including the room of Tre Iosbaker, 17, who attended the rally in support of his parents.

The FBI also searched the Jefferson Park home of Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network.

Subpoenas issued to other activists sought records detailing their travel to countries in the Middle East and South America, as well as records of donations to Abudayyeh's group and two groups on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.

Special Agent Ross Rice, a Chicago-based FBI spokesman, has declined to discuss details of the investigation.

But he has noted that judges reviewed the warrants and found probable cause.

Jim Fennerty, an attorney representing Abudayyeh, who is an American of Palestinian descent, said Monday that lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild will represent those who are being investigated.

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Monday that the investigation into Abudayyeh's organization was "a waste of taxpayer dollars." "Hatem is a longtime, respected leader in the community. It is unthinkable that he would have any connections to terrorism," Rehab said. "This is a new low. Š This is an example of FBI overreach when it comes to activism or commentary on the (Middle East) conflict."

The Arab American Action Network has received federal block grants for training programs offered at its 63rd Street headquarters, according to its Web site, and offers assistance with citizenship, English classes and after-school programs.

Several of the people whose homes were searched or who were issued subpoenas are members of the Chicago-based Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

Groups Say ELLs Got Short Shrift in Race to the Top

This is so shameful.

Also check out the letter NALEO sent to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stating that “future competitive selection grants processes should place more weight on the ELL criteria in the scoring and review process.” The letter also mentions that they “are concerned that state applicants are not required to offer a comprehensive ELL strategy as part of their application for [Race to the Top] funds.”

-Patricia


Federal officials promise to do better when they provide technical assistance to states
By Mary Ann Zehr | Ed Week
September 27, 2010

Three civil rights groups contend the U.S. Department of Education failed to give adequate attention to the needs of English-language learners in the $3.4 billion Race to the Top state grant competition and say they plan to hold federal education officials accountable for promises they will give them more attention in the future.

“The applications [for winners] rarely mentioned English-language learners, except in passing and rarely fleshed out any thought to how they were going to close the achievement gap for ELLs,” said Roger L. Rice, the executive director of Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy of Somerville, Mass., in an interview last week.

Read on

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Anchía & Ellis: Immigration as an election ploy

State Rep. Rafael Anchía & state Sen. Rodney Ellis, Special Contributors | Austin American Statesman
Monday, Sept. 20, 2010

Make no mistake: The United States' immigration system is broken. Fixing it will require a concerted effort on the part of our nation's leaders to address what is an incredibly complex issue. What won't work, however, is using the children of illegal immigrants as a wedge issue leading up to November's elections.

Republican leaders across the nation have made public and vocal calls over the past month to either re-examine or outright repeal portions of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Specifically, they dislike the first sentence in section one: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

In other words, the 14th Amendment grants automatic citizenship to a child born in our country, regardless of the immigration status of the child's parents. More than a century of legal precedent has affirmed the tenet of birthright citizenship. In the 1898 case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, the U.S. Supreme Court held that "a child born in the United States, of parents of Chinese descent, who at the time of his birth were subjects of the emperor of China, but have a permanent domicile and residence in the United States," was, by virtue of his birth in the United States, a citizen of the United States. Subsequent decisions have upheld the court's standard and concluded that no person should be deprived of citizenship because of his parents' status as non-citizens.

Regardless, the goal of eliminating birthright citizenship, which long has existed on the fringe, suddenly has emerged as mainstream. Indeed, phrases like "anchor baby," "terror baby," and "drop a child" have become part of society's acceptable lexicon. But let us momentarily put aside the vocabulary of the debate and concentrate on its substance.

Despite claims to the contrary, denying citizenship to the children of undocumented parents would exacerbate our already broken immigration system by adding thousands of undocumented children to the system who would both be unable to work or easily assimilate into American culture. The practical effect of eliminating birthright citizenship would be the creation of a permanent underclass of stateless individuals in our society, the majority of them children. Further, there is no empirical evidence to prove that even passing such a measure would deter illegal immigration because most immigrants come to this country to work, and denying citizenship has no effect on those individuals already in the country.

So let's call this debate what it truly is: a cynical, election-season ploy to push a wedge issue to the front pages of the newspapers and the lead story on cable news. While we have seen this tactic time and time again, this year it involves potentially amending the Constitution — the same Constitution that amendment proponents publicly professes guides their principles. The 14th Amendment is an important part of American history, and it should not be changed simply to pursue a partisan agenda before an election.

Our country instead needs to come together to fix the broken immigration system via tough immigration laws that crack down on violent criminals and give law enforcement the tools it needs to secure our borders. We also need a system for earned status that is rational and reflects our country's ideals.

What we don't need, however, are attacks on constitutional values we hold dear.

Anchía is a Democrat from Dallas; Ellis is a Democrat from Houston.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Merit Pay Found to Have Little Effect on Achievement

Published Online: September 21, 2010
Merit Pay Found to Have Little Effect on Achievement
By Stephen Sawchuk / Ed Week

The most rigorous study of performance-based teacher compensation ever conducted in the United States shows that a nationally watched bonus-pay system had no overall impact on student achievement—results released today that are certain to set off a firestorm of debate.
Nearly 300 middle school mathematics teachers in Nashville, Tenn., voluntarily took part in the Project on Incentives in Teaching, a three-year randomized experiment conducted by researchers affiliated with the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University. It was designed to study the hypothesis that a large monetary incentive would cause teachers to seek ways to be more effective and boost student scores as a result. Read more here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Response by Stan Karp to the "Waiting for Superman" movie

Stan Karp wrote this excellent commentary in reaction to the "Waiting for Superman" movie. Folks need to see this.

Angela



Dear Friends,

On Sept. 24, a new film, "Waiting for Superman," will draw media attention to public education across the country. Unfortunately, most of it will be negative. So we've started a project to talk back to the film and the message it promotes. We hope you will join us at NOTwaitingforsuperman.org .

The message of the film is that public schools are failing because of bad teachers and their unions. The film's "solution," to the minimal extent it suggests one, is to replace them with "great" charter schools and teachers who have less power over their schools and classrooms.

This message is not just wrong. In the current political climate, it's toxic.

The film was made by the Academy-Award winning director of "An Inconvenient Truth," a documentary that helped awaken millions to the dangers of global warming. But this film misses the mark by light years. Instead of helping people understand the many problems schools face and what it will take to address them, it presents misleading information and simplistic "solutions" that will make it harder for those of us working to improve public education to succeed. We know first hand how urgently change is needed. But by siding with a corporate reform agenda of teacher bashing, union busting, test-based "accountability" and highly selective, privatized charters, the film pours gasoline on the public education bonfire started by No Child Left Behind and Race To the Top.

Rethinking Schools has never hesitated to criticize public schools. We do it in every issue. We've been working for over 25 years to bring social justice and racial equality to our classrooms, our schools, our districts—and our unions. We know many of you have been doing the same. But this film does not contain a single positive image of a non-charter public school or a teacher. Despite a lot of empty rhetoric about the importance of "great teachers," the disrespect the film displays to real teachers working on the ground in public schools today is stunning. Not one has a voice in the film. There are no public school parents working together to improve the schools their children attend. There are no engaged communities. There is no serious discussion of funding, poverty, race, testing or the long and sorry history of top-down bureaucratic reform failure.

It's as if someone made a film about global warming and did not mention cars, oil companies, or carbon dioxide.

The film has an undeniably powerful emotional impact, and the stories of the children and families it highlights are compelling to all of us. But the film uses these stories to promote an agenda that will hurt public schools and the communities that depend on them. It's time to speak up for ourselves, our students, and our schools.

Please join us at NOTwaitingforsuperman.org or email us at notwaiting@rethinkingschools.org and let's get to work.

[Right now, the link will take you to a Facebook book page that anyone can view, though only those with a FB account can post. In a few days, the same link, NOTwaitingforsuperman.org http://NOTwaitingforsuperman.org , will take you to a brand new NOT Waiting for Superman website that's almost ready to launch. Both sites will remain active for the duration of this campaign.]

Stan Karp
for the editors of Rethinking Schools
http://www.rethinkingschools.org/
stan@rethinkingschools.org

Monday, September 20, 2010

High-poverty Irving elementary school is rich in success, earns exemplary rating

High-poverty Irving elementary school is rich in success, earns exemplary rating
11:15 AM CDT on Wednesday, September 15, 2010

By KATHERINE LEAL UNMUTH / The Dallas Morning News
kunmuth@dallasn
ews.com

High-poverty schools face an uphill battle in achieving an "exemplary" state rating by meeting the 90 percent passing standard required without the generous aid of loopholes.


JIM MAHONEY/DMN
Specialized teachers such as math specialist Suzanne Kline, working with third-graders Carlos Alfaro (left) and Aaron Villatoro, play a significant role in the success of students at Irving's John Haley Elementary School.
View larger More photos Photo store
But at Irving's John Haley Elementary, children exceeded that TAKS score bar for 2010.

"There's a whole lot of determining factors that make a school successful," said Haley principal Robyn Bowling. "Hiring the right people – and those people have to have compassion as well as passion for making students successful."

In 2009, 89 percent of children at the school were classified as economically disadvantaged and 63 percent as limited English proficient. Both of those factors place children at risk for lower academic achievement. Most students are Latino.

The school is also unusual because Bowling is a veteran and has led the school for 15 years. Her office is filled with stuffed animals, children's books and inspirational mottos. "We believe! Pigs Can Fly!" and "Sí, se puede," (Yes, we can).

Reaching such an achievement isn't because of one single factor. Bowling said she's selective in her hiring. Many teachers will stay as late as 5:30 p.m. to work with children.

There are other traits she points out as she walks quickly through the hallways – a fifth-grade teacher dedicated only to teaching science, an active parent education program offered for the past five years in Spanish and English, and small group help.

The twice-monthly parenting lessons address topics such as preparing children for the transition to middle school and teaching the adults math lessons so they can teach their children.

The school also has received grant funding from the state for several years to provide after-school homework help and activities Monday through Thursday until 5:30 p.m. Unfortunately, the money for that program could soon run out.

Also Online
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The principal's also an enthusiastic leader. Last year, she pledged to skydive if the school reached exemplary status. It did, so she jumped.

Formula for success
Bob Sanborn, president of Children at Risk, a Texas-based research and advocacy group, said many factors go into successful poor schools. He calls such campuses "outliers" because of their rarity.

"We tend to see they have good leadership," he said. "It's either very experienced leadership that knows the community or engages parents or very young and energetic with lots of ideas. It's not normal leadership – it's extraordinary for many reasons."

Other factors he listed are strong parent involvement, small class sizes, good hiring practices and high attendance rates. The group ranks schools on additional factors such as commended rates.

The group ranked Haley in "Tier 1," indicating that it is in the top 25 percent of schools in the state. Researchers ranked the school 591 statewide out of 3,127 elementary schools examined.

Sanborn argues that a label of exemplary doesn't mean as much if the school doesn't meet the passing bar.

The state has ways for schools that fall short to obtain an exemplary label. That includes a controversial formula known as the Texas projection measure, or TPM, that gives schools credit if failing students are predicted to pass in the future.

In addition, schools can be given credit if students meet "required improvement" goals over the previous year. They can also be granted other exceptions even if students don't meet the passing standard for the test.

"The TPM scores are really sort of meaningless," Sanborn said. "For us to use them as part of the ranking system makes the system have no credibility."

Dedicated staff
Walking down a hallway at Haley, the principal stops in one room where a math specialist helps five struggling students.

In another room, another specialist works with two students who are dyslexic. A fifth-grade science teacher works with students on graphing data they've collected.

Inside a first-grade classroom, veteran bilingual teacher Virgie Chavez works on an ESL lesson with the children learning English. They're building their vocabulary by focusing on seasons.

"What comes after summer?" she asks.

"Winter?" one boy volunteers.

"Fall," another child responds.

Next, they break into groups to work on reading.

"Today you're going to practice reading to yourself," Chavez tells them. "Do you remember the rules?"

"Whisper."

A cluster of four children sit on the floor, reading aloud to themselves softly in Spanish. Another group plays a computer game. Chavez works directly with another small group. The children will practice the same exercise with English-language books later.

At the sound of a bell tone, they rotate to a new station. It's the beginning of the school year, but they already know the routine. Student work already lines the hallway outside.

First-grader Kezia Guzman has written a story and "El ambiente fue en la escuela," or the environment was in the school.

A veteran teacher, Chavez has worked at the school for 12 years. She said the principal has led the school instructionally, even tutoring children herself.

"She knows what's supposed to be going on in the classroom," Chavez said.

All administrators and other staff such as the librarian also work with small groups of children before, during and after school hours.

Sanborn added that it's always important to take a closer look at high-performing schools to determine why they've reached their level of success.

He said it's particularly important to look at schools that are successful not just because they have magnet programs or are stronger charter schools. Those schools sometimes pick and choose the best students.

"There's always something unusual about these schools," Sanborn said.

HALEY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
Haley Elementary's 2010 TAKS accountability passing rates

Reading: 91 percent

Writing: 98 percent

Math: 97 percent

Science: 99 percent

About Haley (2008-09)

Enrollment: 764 students

Economically disadvantaged: 89 percent

Limited English Proficient: 63 percent

Hispanic: 86 percent

Black: 5 percent

White: 8 percent

Asian: 1 percent

Texas' top charter schools demand more from students, parents, teachers | News for Dallas, Texas

Check out these Texas charter school ratings, too.

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/091910dnmetcharterrange.2a6c0b4.html

Angela


Texas' top charter schools demand more from students, parents, teachers
11:55 AM CDT on Monday, September 20, 2010

BY HOLLY K. HACKER / The Dallas Morning News
hhacker@dallasnews.com
Students at Richland Collegiate High School take a full load of college classes and conduct a year-long research project.

KIPP school students commit to nine-hour days during the week, plus two Saturday and month and three weeks in the summer.

Yes Prep students agree to do all the work needed to get into a four-year college.

The missions and methods may vary, but these campuses have something in common: They're Texas charter schools that earn high academic marks year after year.

Recently released 2010 ratings and TAKS scores show that Texas charter schools are more likely to earn either the very best or worst state ratings – exemplary or unacceptable – than regular public schools. This also holds true for the more than 120 charter schools in North Texas.

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Given these extremes, it is little wonder researchers have reached no consensus on whether charter schools – public schools run by private groups and freed of many state rules – outperform traditional public schools.

Charter schools, by design, vary too much in their missions and kinds of students served. While regular schools serve everyone, one charter campus may cater to motivated college-bound students and another to struggling former dropouts.

Still, politicians and philanthropists want to understand why some charter schools do so well so that their success stories can be replicated across Texas and the rest of the country.

A closer look at local top-rated charter schools shows there is no one secret, but one thing is clear: They demand more from their students, parents and teachers.

"This is not for the faint of heart," Richland Collegiate High superintendent Donna Walker said of the charter school's grown-up expectations of its students.

Getting challenged
Walker's school, located at the Richland College campus in far northeast Dallas, gives juniors and seniors the chance to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate's degree.

There is no separate high school campus. Richland Collegiate students take classes taught by Richland College instructors, often alongside college students. While a typical college load is 12 to 15 credit hours, these students take 19 to 21. They're expected to be on campus every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"You have to be really mature to be in this program," said Aash Bansal, a senior from Plano.

No administrators roam the halls ordering students to class. No dress codes ban body piercings or flip-flops. Students can leave campus for lunch.

Bansal said she was plenty challenged at Jasper High School in Plano. But her mother learned about Richland Collegiate from a friend. Bansal liked the idea of getting two years of college free. (By law, charter schools cannot charge tuition, and Richland provides all textbooks.)

Senior Alecsander Lopez said he was bored at his old school, Bryan Adams High in Dallas. He said he loved the school, especially playing drums in the marching band, but he didn't put in much effort and still earned A's.

Lopez learned about Richland Collegiate from a cousin and jumped at the chance.

"I wanted to see what I could do," he said. "I really had to push myself to another level."

Lopez said some of his Richland classmates returned to their old high schools because they couldn't keep up with the work, which includes three or more hours of daily homework and a senior research project.

This spring, 98 percent of Richland juniors passed their TAKS exams in all four subjects. And nearly half of them scored at the higher "commended" level in reading and math. The school has been rated "exemplary" every year since 2006, when it opened.

Common traits
Not every charter school demands such maturity of its students, but experts say the highest-performing charters typically require more from families than do traditional campuses.

Common traits include:

More classroom time. Houston-based KIPP schools, which include KIPP TRUTH Academy in Dallas, run from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, with four hours on some Saturdays and three extra weeks in the summer.

Rigorous classes. North Hills School, part of Irving-based Uplift Education, and Westlake Academy, run by the town of Westlake, offer the International Baccalaureate program from elementary through high school. It's one of the most demanding courses of study a student can undertake.

Extra commitment from families. KIPP, Yes Prep and Uplift schools are among college-prep charters that ask parents and students to sign pledges. For instance, students promise to finish all homework on time. Parents agree to attend all parent-teacher conferences. And while charter schools cannot legally expel students if, say, their parents skip a school meeting, those pledges make a school's expectations clear.

Extra demands of teachers. Teachers in charter schools often work longer days. Many college-prep charters encourage students who need homework help to call teachers on their cellphones. Charter schools also have more leeway to fire teachers.

Private donations. Unlike traditional public schools, Texas charter schools receive no state money for buildings. But big donors like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the Communities Foundation of Texas have given millions of dollars to help promising charter systems build schools and cover other expenses.

School culture. "The culture of the school is the most important factor that teachers, principals and students talk about," said Robin Lake, associate director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. "The curriculum or teaching style might vary, but the mission is the same. It's about norms and expectations.

Clear and concrete missions. Devora Davis, research manager at Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes, said effective charter schools have goals that can be measured, like sending every student to college.

Slapping a catchy slogan on school letterhead doesn't count.

"It's in the conversation on a regular basis. It's not just something that's in the mission and gets buried," said Davis, who spent two years with KIPP as an information analyst.

Higher student churn
By law, charter schools must accept all students who apply and hold a random lottery if there are more applicants than available spots.

But charter school student bodies can reflect the types of students and families they target, and who are drawn to the mission. Some charters also lose more students along the way than traditional schools do.

"At best they lose as many kids as a typical neighborhood school. At worst they lose significantly more," said Ed Fuller, an education researcher at the University of Texas at Austin.

For instance, Harmony Science Academy in Dallas began with 69 freshmen in 2006-07 and ended with 24 seniors in 2009-10. The school has been rated exemplary four of the past five years.

Peak Preparatory School in Dallas, part of Uplift Education, celebrated this spring because all 26 seniors – its first graduating class – were college-bound. But that class started with 43 freshmen, which translates into a 40 percent attrition rate.

Uplift officials said that most students who leave their schools say the family moved and can no longer provide transportation to school, or because students want a more-typical high school experience.

"We don't have these huge athletic programs or extracurricular activities that your traditional high schools do," said Deborah Bigham, Uplift's chief development officer. "You lose a little bit of that in a public charter school."

Charter districts such as KIPP, Yes Prep, Idea, Harmony and Uplift show amazing results with low-income students, but they tend to attract more motivated students and parents, Fuller said.

"They're not enrolling the kid who's significantly far behind," he said. "They don't serve the same kids as the typical neighborhood school."

Other researchers point to charters that take students who have chronically failed in regular schools.

"There's no evidence that charter schools systematically take more-advantaged students and leave the district with the most difficult kids," said Lake, the University of Washington researcher. "In urban districts, the opposite is often true."

Monday, September 13, 2010

When Does Holding Teachers Accountable Go Too Far?

What is concerning here is that these big, very consequential systems are comfortably premised on the false assumption that these tests are valid. For starters, the tests are language dependent in the case of English language learners and they're a significant population in many of our nation's schools--including L.A..

Angela

September 1, 2010
When Does Holding Teachers Accountable Go Too Far?
By DAVID LEONHARDT


The start of the school year brings another one of those nagging, often unquenchable worries of parenthood: How good will my child’s teachers be? Teachers tend to have word-of-mouth reputations, of course. But it is hard to know how well those reputations match up with a teacher’s actual abilities. Schools generally do not allow parents to see any part of a teacher’s past evaluations, for instance. And there is nothing resembling a rigorous, Consumer Reports-like analysis of schools, let alone of individual teachers. For the most part, parents just have to hope for the best.

That, however, may be starting to change. A few months ago, a team of reporters at The Los Angeles Times and an education economist set out to create precisely such a consumer guide to education in Los Angeles. The reporters requested and received seven years of students’ English and math elementary-school test scores from the school district. The economist then used a statistical technique called value-added analysis to see how much progress students had made, from one year to the next, under different third- through fifth-grade teachers. The variation was striking. Under some of the roughly 6,000 teachers, students made great strides year after year. Under others, often at the same school, students did not. The newspaper named a few teachers — both stars and laggards — and announced that it would release the approximate rankings for all teachers, along with their names.

The articles have caused an electric reaction. The president of the Los Angeles teachers union called for a boycott of the newspaper. But the union has also suggested it is willing to discuss whether such scores can become part of teachers’ official evaluations. Meanwhile, more than 1,700 teachers have privately reviewed their scores online, and hundreds have left comments that will accompany them.

It is not difficult to see how such attempts at measurement and accountability may be a part of the future of education. Presumably, other groups will try to repeat the exercise elsewhere. And several states, in their efforts to secure financing from the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, have committed to using value-added analysis in teacher evaluation. The Washington, D.C., schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, fired more than 100 teachers this summer based on evaluations from principals and other educators and, when available, value-added scores.

In many respects, this movement is overdue. Given the stakes, why should districts be allowed to pretend that nearly all their teachers are similarly successful? (The same question, by the way, applies to hospitals and doctors.) The argument for measurement is not just about firing the least effective sliver of teachers. It is also about helping decent and good teachers to become better. As Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, has pointed out, the Los Angeles school district has had the test-score data for years but didn’t use it to help teachers improve. When the Times reporters asked one teacher about his weak scores, he replied, “Obviously what I need to do is to look at what I’m doing and take some steps to make sure something changes.”

Yet for the all of the potential benefits of this new accountability, the full story is still not a simple one. You could tell as much by the ambivalent reaction to the Los Angeles imbroglio from education researchers and reform advocates. These are the people who have spent years urging schools to do better. Even so, many reformers were torn about the release of the data. Above all, they worried that although the data didn’t paint a complete picture, it would offer the promise of clear and open accountability — because teachers could be sorted and ranked — and would nonetheless become gospel.

Value-added data is not gospel. Among the limitations, scores can bounce around from year to year for any one teacher, notes Ross Wiener of the Aspen Institute, who is generally a fan of the value-added approach. So a single year of scores — which some states may use for evaluation — can be misleading. In addition, students are not randomly assigned to teachers; indeed, principals may deliberately assign slow learners to certain teachers, unfairly lowering their scores. As for the tests themselves, most do not even try to measure the social skills that are crucial to early learning.

The value-added data probably can identify the best and worst teachers, researchers say, but it may not be very reliable at distinguishing among teachers in the middle of the pack. Joel Klein, New York’s reformist superintendent, told me that he considered the Los Angeles data powerful stuff. He also said, “I wouldn’t try to make big distinctions between the 47th and 55th percentiles.” Yet what parent would not be tempted to?

One way to think about the Los Angeles case is as an understandable overreaction to an unacceptable status quo. For years, school administrators and union leaders have defeated almost any attempt at teacher measurement, partly by pointing to the limitations. Lately, though, the politics of education have changed. Parents know how much teachers matter and know that, just as with musicians or athletes or carpenters or money managers, some teachers are a lot better than others.

Test scores — that is, measuring students’ knowledge and skills — are surely part of the solution, even if the public ranking of teachers is not. Rob Manwaring of the research group Education Sector has suggested that districts release a breakdown of teachers’ value-added scores at every school, without tying the individual scores to teachers’ names. This would avoid humiliating teachers while still giving a principal an incentive to employ good ones. Improving standardized tests and making peer reports part of teacher evaluation, as many states are planning, would help, too.

But there is also another, less technocratic step that is part of building better schools: we will have to acknowledge that no system is perfect. If principals and teachers are allowed to grade themselves, as they long have been, our schools are guaranteed to betray many students. If schools instead try to measure the work of teachers, some will inevitably be misjudged. “On whose behalf do you want to make the mistake — the kids or the teachers?” asks Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust. “We’ve always erred on behalf of the adults before.”

You may want to keep that in mind if you ever get a chance to look at a list of teachers and their value-added scores. Some teachers, no doubt, are being done a disservice. Then again, so were a whole lot of students.

David Leonhardt is an economics columnist for The Times and a staff writer for the magazine.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Feds: Arizona is violating the rights of its ELL students

CONTENTS
* "Feds: Arizona is violating the rights of its ELL students" by Kerry Fehr-Snyder, The Arizona Republic (September 10, 2010)
* "Feds probing bias claims against Arizona's non-native English speaking teachers" by Kerry Fehr-Snyder, The Arizona Republic (September 8, 2010)


Feds: Arizona is violating the rights of its ELL students
by Kerry Fehr-Snyder
The Arizona Republic (September 10, 2010)

Two federal investigations have concluded that Arizona is violating the 1964 Civil Rights Act by shortchanging thousands of students whose first language is not English.

Unless remedied, the violations could lead to a loss of federal funding for education in Arizona.

One of the complaints alleges that the Arizona Department of Education has reclassified "many thousands" of children as proficient in English even though tests indicate they aren't. The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice concluded this deprives students of services they need to succeed.

The federal agencies found that Arizona violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funding. A loss of federal funding is a penalty for a violation of Title VI.

The federal officials proposed an agreement calling for Arizona to come up with a more effective way to test and reclassify students who need special instruction in English. The reclassifications come after students take tests to demonstrate English proficiency. The Arizona English Language Learner Assessment, or AZELLA, and the scoring of it "deem students proficient in English even when they are not proficient in each language domain," investigators found.

Once students are deemed proficient in English, educators "exit them from all ELL services," which violates their right to equal educational access.

Under the proposal, a temporary plan for English language learners would go into effect during the first semester of 2011-12 and a permanent plan during the second semester.

In the second complaint, the federal departments found that the state eliminated two questions from its home-language survey in 2009. The result was that students who are eligible for English-language services "are not being served because they are not being identified," investigators determined.

The findings come as federal agencies have launched a probe into whether Arizona's Education Department has discriminated against teachers who are not native English speakers.

Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction, said Thursday that the state Department of Education is working with federal investigators on the home-language survey.

"We're not going to change it back, but we're negotiating with them," he said. "We won't change it back, but we might make changes that will satisfy their needs and our needs."

Horne also said he is working with federal officials to evaluate the test Arizona educators used to classify ELL students as proficient in English.

Arizona buys the test from one of three companies that devise them, he said. He said the state is trying "to see what, if anything, needs to be done to satisfy what they need without compromising our principles."

Mary Lou Mobley, director of the U.S. Department of Education's Enforcement Office in Denver, which issued the findings, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Molly Edwards, spokeswoman for the Arizona Attorney General's Office, which represents the state Education Department, declined to comment on any penalties the state could face.

Horne said the recent federal findings are part of ongoing attacks against Arizona ever since it passed Senate Bill 1070, a tough anti-illegal-immigration law.

"I do think this is a lot of nonsense we're dealing with over 1070" and a report by U.N. human-rights experts condemning the law, Horne said.

"This is why I'm running for attorney general, because we need someone to fight against these things," he said.

Meanwhile, Horne's office is defending itself against a long-running federal court case involving Arizona's approach to teaching English-language learners.

Tim Hogan, executive director for the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, said the federal government's recent findings against Arizona regarding policies for ELL students bolsters his argument that the state isn't treating all students fairly as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act and Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The home-language survey and the reclassification of ELL students have "artificially reduced the number of kids the state is counting as English-language learners," Hogan said.

The department's test also "allows students to move on even though they are not proficient in English," he added.

--------------------------
Feds probing bias claims against Arizona's non-native English speaking teachers
by Kerry Fehr-Snyder
The Arizona Republic (September 8, 2010)

The federal government is investigating whether Arizona has discriminated against teachers who are not native English speakers, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne confirmed Tuesday.

The state Department of Education for years has been monitoring English fluency of teachers who instruct English learners, but in April began instructing districts to fire teachers who weren't proficient in the language.

The probe was launched by the U.S. Department of Justice in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education.

Hundreds of public-school teachers statewide instruct students who need special assistance in learning English.

Horne said federal officials disclosed details of the investigation in a letter sent to the Arizona Attorney General's Office. Federal officials could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Horne predicted that the federal agencies will conclude that the state has done nothing wrong.

"I'm sure they're going to find everything is fine," Horne said. "Teachers who are teaching English need to be fluent in English, and if kids can understand what they're saying, it's not an issue."

At issue is a push by the state Department of Education to get tough on teachers who lack basic English skills or whose grammar is considered so poor that it could detract from children's ability to learn.

Critics of the state's policy have said that it could eliminate talented teachers who have a positive influence on students struggling to learn English and that criticisms of teachers often are based on minor grammatical errors.

Audits by the agency in the past have uncovered examples of teachers who had spoken ungrammatically in class, including a teacher in Phoenix's Creighton Elementary District who asked her kids, "If you have problems, to who are you going to ask?" As part of that study, state school officials visited 32 districts and found such problems in nine.

Some believe the Arizona Department of Education singled out Latino teachers when it audited classes taught by bilingual teachers, criticizing them for their pronunciation, grammar and not speaking English well.

The federal investigation is the most recent of several aimed at Arizona, which has been in the spotlight for its anti-illegal-immigration law, Senate Bill 1070. Arizona also attracted attention for another law Gov. Jan Brewer signed in May, which banned an ethnic-studies program in Tucson. That prompted a report by U.N. human-rights experts condemning the measure.

In addition to suing Arizona over SB 1070, federal officials have named the state in a federal court case over its programs for English-language learners.

The federal government has brought a case against the Maricopa Community Colleges for asking legal immigrants to show their green cards before employment.

And federal civil-rights officials recently sent a letter to state education officials saying two state practices - identifying which students require English-learning services and for how long - violate federal law.

"It may be that the Senate Bill 1070 issue is causing some sort of campaign, I don't know, by the federal government against Arizona," Horne said.

Arizona is following the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act by requiring all children to be fluent in English, including oral and written communication skills, Horne said. That requires teachers to speak and write in English, he said.

"This is common sense," he said. "If you want to teach math, you need to know math. If you want to teach English, you need to be fluent in English."

Teachers are required to prove they are proficient in English before earning a teaching certificate.
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Lost Opportunity 50 State Report

Texas ranks VERY low at 43rd on the Schott Foundation's Opportunity to Learn Index.

-Angela


Lost Opportunity 50 State Report
Publication Date: Wed, 09/23/2009

Type: Reports
Short Description:

In Lost Opportunity: A 50 State Report on the Opportunity to Learn in America, the Schott Foundation for Public Education establishes a metric for determining the opportunity to learn for students. Providing a state-by-state comparison of both academic proficiency (percentage of students scoring at or above proficient on the eighth grade NAEP reading exam) and equity (as measured by the Schott Foundation’s Opportunity to Learn Index, or OTLI), Lost Opportunity identifies the four baseline minimum resources that are necessary for a child – regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status – to have a fair and substantive Opportunity to Learn.

In the United States, every student should have the equal right to a high-quality education. But as our most recent data demonstrates, for far too many students, quality and equity are aspirations, not realities. Few states are providing public school educations that result in academic proficiency for students. And even fewer states are providing access to a high-quality education to all students, particularly those from historically disadvantaged groups.
As we look at school system improvement in the United States, what resources do our systems need to improve? What are the benefits of further investment in our education systems? Lost Opportunity provides a look at the data points that answer those questions, while offering specifics on the action steps necessary to provide a high-quality, high-equity education for all students.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

How to Create a Problem-Solving Institution

By Holden Thorp and Buck Goldstein | NY Times Commentary
August 29, 2010

Big, complex problems require the work of multidisciplinary teams. Consider prostate cancer. Decades of research and billions of dollars have led to the understanding that neither doctors, chemists, biolo­gists, nor engineers can arrive at a cure on their own. That multifaceted approach is gaining acceptance among the vari­ous individuals and organizations concerned with solving great problems. When giving research money to colleges, founda­tions and government agencies often require that investigators come from multiple academic disciplines as a condition of financial support.

Yet inside higher education, it's hard to talk about a college's impact on the world's great problems without getting im­mersed in a conversation about institutional structure and faculty rewards. The silo mentality and viciousness of academic infighting in higher education are legendary. Discussions of innovation and how to attack big problems often bring up questions about how the college should be organized, whether the new pro­gram ought to report to a dean or the provost, or if the leader should be a center director or a department chair.

Of course, actually dealing with the issue of global warming is more important than determining who gets credit for it or whether to create a new unit to house the project. Creating the right culture and the right team with the expertise, resources, and passion to tackle a problem will certainly have greater impact than arguing about de­velopmental structures or the overhead allocation for a particular grant or contribution. But while academics usually agree in the abstract that solving crucial problems is more im­portant than debating organizational issues, putting that belief into practice is difficult.

Unfortunately, many of the traditional ways that institutions have tried to avoid a silo mentality do not work. The conventional responses are fundamentally flawed. Consider the following common examples and stories:

Creating permanent interdisciplinary structures. An entrepreneurial faculty member decides to tackle global warming. To do so, she has to bring together colleagues—chemists, biologists, and physicists—who have the technical expertise to pro­duce new energy sources. She must also have the participation of those who have the ability to understand environmental impacts: marine scientists, climate specialists, and computer modelers. People who recognize the policy implications—political scientists, policy- studies faculty, sociologists, and even philosophers—are also needed.

Rather than simply assemble the team, the entrepreneurial faculty member proposes to the provost the creation of a new School of Cli­mate Change. He protests that the administrative costs of the program will be high because a new dean and development staff as well as lab and office space are required.

But our enterprising young faculty member gets a big oil company to provide a $50-million gift, creating the new School of Climate Change. The provost relents because there's now enough money to support the new project and attendant costs for ad­ministrators and faculty members. The president agrees because a high-visibility project has been created on his watch, and the development staff gets to count the big gift in its campaign total.

A high-profile dean for the new school is recruited with great fanfare, but the appointment triggers the need for more ad­ministrative infrastructure than the big gift provides. Years later, the $2.5-million in revenue from the endowment gift has generated a new vice pro­vost and scores of new nonacademic employees. Meanwhile, the earth is still getting warmer.

Reorganizing existing units. A new president comes to a university. In her initial listening tour, she hears of growing frustration from students who are interested in solving the world's great problems but fail to see a correlation between the academic disciplines and their social concerns. As a result, many of the best students spend huge amounts of time and energy on causes they believe in at the expense of the classroom experience.

Other people are also frustrated. The alumni of the university hire recent graduates and conclude they cannot write. For some reason, those graduates have not taken "Introduction to Shakespeare," which the alumni think everyone should study. In their view, the great problems of society are the result of the erosion of tra­ditional academic values. Faculty members also express frustration. Humanists believe it is obvious that theory is where the action is; social scientists are stampeding to quan­titative models; and the scientists are harshly divided between those who want to work on multidisciplinary problems and those who want to protect the core of their disciplines.

The conversation escalates to the trustees. The president announces that she is appointing a blue-ribbon panel to examine the organization of the university. There is much infighting and politick­ing over who is to serve on the panel. After a year, the panel produces a list of recommendations that involve the reorganization of the institution into new units such as life sciences, humanistic theory, environ­ment, and quantitative behavior. The new plan is put in place, but the faculty members and chairs in the traditional disci­plines never buy into it because it does not reflect any funda­mental change in the way teaching and research are undertaken. At the first hint of an economic downturn requiring university budget cuts, the traditionalists assert their point of view under the auspices of fiscal discipline, and the old organization predominates once again.

How can colleges avoid such situations? What can and should be done instead? Some suggestions include:

Focus on culture, not structure. Colleges should create a culture that values solving problems over organizational self-interest. Such cultural change will not come without sustained effort from academic leadership. Presidents and provosts cannot put "make the university more problem-focused" or "break down the silos" on their to-do lists and then hope to cross it off after the completion of a short-term effort. Institutions can become more problem-focused only with a sustained commitment and broad support from leaders throughout the campus.

In 10 interviews we conducted at Stanford University, the conversation invariably began with the statement that Stanford's mission was to deal with the world's biggest problems, a message that is consistently heard from the president's office. Equally important, virtually all of the collabo­rative programs we learned of at Stanford received early moral and financial support from the president's office. In short, with a consis­tent message over a significant period of time and strategic encour­agement, cultural change can take place even in an institution as com­plex and diverse as a research university.

Beware of the quick fix. Making leadership appointments almost always generates enthu­siasm and optimism in organizations. But it is unlikely that a single person has the ability to solve what university leaders have struggled with for years. A president committed to a problem-solving culture needs help from the deans of the various schools, and those deans must be committed to the mission and have a mind-set that values collabora­tion. Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, asked Michael Porter, a professor at Harvard Business School, to run a session at a dean's retreat that focused on the com­petitive advantage that "being part of Harvard University" gave to each member of the university. The idea was to build a collaborative mind-set based on mutual self-interest. In making leadership appoint­ments, universities must put more emphasis on such an institutional mentality.

Use task forces sparingly. As a means of seeking communitywide consensus, task forces are a great temptation for university leaders. When a difficult problem arises, it is easy to name a panel to examine it and produce recommendations. That provides a respite for six months or a year while the task force does its work. But the recommendations can be difficult or impossible to put in place because the people making the recommendations are not re­sponsible for carrying them out. The end result is often another report that sits on the shelf, with little follow-through. Meanwhile, months or years elapse while important problems remain unsolved.

Focus on the mission, not external rankings. Colleges will be ranked as long as producing lists sells magazines and draws readers to Web sites. But unfortunately, performance that is driven by external rankings can produce unintended consequences inconsistent with the institutional mission and conducive to a silo mentality. Most ranking formulas provide external measures that are unlikely to encourage a focus on the world's great challenges. The alternative to being driven by external rankings is to devise measures that are consistent with the university's mission and clearly measure the objectives of the institution. This allows the creation of a mind-set that says, "Here's what we want to do," instead of, "Here's how we get ahead of Universities X, Y, and Z in the rankings."

Encourage temporary combinations as alternatives to permanent structures. Colleges should work to assemble problem-based, multidisciplinary teams to attack issues without encumbering the in­stitution with a major long-term commitment every time such a team comes together. These teams would be assembled to carry out projects, not to make recommendations on new initiatives for the university. If administrative support and recognition can be achieved without creating something new and permanent, or re­organizing some existing department or school, people can direct their energy to solving problems and away from protecting their turf.

Such problem-­oriented teams could have five years to demonstrate their utility and could generally be supported with expendable, one-time resources during that time. The assumption should be that most of such groupings will maximize their use and sunset at the end of that initial period. That is what happens with most start-up ventures.

A few of the undertakings will survive the first five years and become candidates for more-permanent status based upon the achievement of clearly articulated, measurable goals. In the second phase, which might reasonably be expected to span another five years, the enterprise would attempt to reach sustainability through whatever means made sense. Of course, the second phase will, in all proba­bility, look quite different from the first, but what exists will have stood the test of time and have a much higher likelihood of long-term suc­cess.

At Stanford, for example, seed funding for Bio-X, a major interdisciplinary program in life sciences that has stimulated more than 200 scientific partnerships and spawned many biomedical innovations and scientific discoveries, was completely accomplished with one-time money. When we asked John L. Hennessy, the president of the university, what would have happened if Bio-X had failed, he said, "Well, I would have had a very nice building that I could do something else with."

It is certainly easier for academic leaders to make a commitment to a project that is battle-tested and has proved its viability as opposed to one that is merely a glimmer in the eye of a promising young fac­ulty member—even if it has been converted into a spectacular Power­Point presentation. The major advantage of a temporary approach is that it places time, energy, and focus on tackling problems and rele­gates organizational structure to the back of the room—at least in the initial stages of a new enterprise. At some point, such matters must be dealt with, but only when new ideas have become viable concerns.

University presidents, deans, and provosts hear good ideas every day. Turning the right ideas into reality and empowering the people who create them requires sustained leadership and management qualities like compassion and empathy. At bottom it demands leadership that will stay the course with a commitment to creating a culture that places solving world challenges ahead of organizational structure, rules, and regulations.

Holden Thorp is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Buck Goldstein is an entrepreneur in residence and a senior lecturer in the department of economics at the university. This essay is adapted from Engines of Innovation: The Entrepreneurial University in the Twenty-First Century, being published next month by the University of North Carolina Press.

Deal Would Provide Dialysis to Illegal Immigrants in Atlanta

Beneath the negative, anti-immigrant sentiments it's nice to see that people who are care about human rights making are touching people's lives.

-Patricia


KEVIN SACK and CATRIN EINHORN | NY Times
August 31, 2010

ATLANTA — Thirty-eight end-stage renal patients, most of them illegal immigrants, would receive the dialysis they need to stay alive at no cost under a rough agreement brokered Tuesday among local dialysis providers and Atlanta’s safety-net hospital, Grady Memorial.


The deal, if completed, would end a yearlong impasse that has come to symbolize the health care plight of the country’s uninsured immigrants and the taxpayer-supported hospitals that end up caring for them. The problem remains unaddressed by the new health care law, which maintains the federal ban on government health insurance for illegal immigrants.

Grady, which receives direct appropriations from Fulton and DeKalb Counties, ultimately agreed on Tuesday to help pay for continuing dialysis for most of the immigrants. Others would be distributed among local dialysis providers as charity cases.

Last fall, Grady’s new management closed its money-losing outpatient dialysis clinic in a move intended to demonstrate fiscal toughness to the city’s philanthropic community. The closing displaced about 60 uninsured illegal immigrants who depended on free thrice-weekly treatments at the clinic to survive.

Illegal immigrants, and legal immigrants newly in the country, are not eligible for Medicare, the federal program that covers most dialysis costs for American citizens with end-stage renal disease.

Grady volunteered to transport the patients to other states or their home countries and pay for three months of treatment. Thirteen accepted the offer. But in response to a patient lawsuit and news media scrutiny, the hospital eventually contracted with a commercial dialysis provider to treat the others in Atlanta for one transitional year.

That contract, with Fresenius Medical Services, expired on Tuesday.

Vital details of the agreement remain to be negotiated, including precisely how the patients will be distributed, how much Grady will pay and whether the arrangement will extend for patients’ lifetimes. But all parties said after meeting Tuesday morning that they were optimistic that they would reach an understanding and that patients would see no lapse in treatment.

“That would make me feel real happy because continuing with my dialysis, I need it to live,” said Ignacio Godinez Lopez, 24, who crossed into the United States illegally as a teenager and has been treated at Grady’s expense for four years. “I’m young, and without dialysis it would be taking my life.”

The patients in Atlanta have gambled that American generosity, even at a time of hostility toward illegal immigrants, would prove a surer bet than uncertain care in their home countries. Several said that the fates of those who returned home had reinforced their fears about leaving Atlanta.

Five of the 13 patients who left for Mexico with assistance from Grady or the Mexican government have died, according to Matt Gove, a Grady senior vice president. Most died while still receiving dialysis, although not always as regularly as recommended.

One patient, Fidelia Perez Garcia, 32, apparently succumbed in April to complications from renal failure after running out of Grady-sponsored treatments in Mexico. Patients with end-stage renal disease can die in as little as two weeks without dialysis, which filters toxins from their blood.

Ms. Perez’s mother, Graciela Garcia Padilla, said by telephone that her family was able to raise money for three additional dialysis sessions, at a cost of about $100 each. Ms. Perez then went 12 days without dialysis and persuaded a hospital to treat her only when she was close to death, Ms. Garcia said.

“They sent her to me just to die,” Ms. Garcia said. “Here, they let people die.”

At the same time, regular treatment in Atlanta has not guaranteed survival. Four of the 45 patients who were receiving dialysis at Fresenius clinics have also died, Mr. Gove said.

Nationally, about one in five dialysis patients die within a year of starting treatment, and about two in three die within five years, according to government figures.

The hospital, which has recently begun a financial turnaround after years of multimillion-dollar losses, has spent more than $2 million on repatriation and dialysis since closing its clinic, Mr. Gove said. As the expiration of Grady’s contract with Fresenius loomed, each sought to shift responsibility to the other. Larry L. Johnson, a DeKalb County commissioner who prodded and mediated the negotiations, said there was movement only when Grady agreed to contribute financially to the patients’ care.

Under the broad outlines of the agreement provided by Mr. Johnson and other participants, Fresenius, DaVita Inc. and Emory University’s health system would each treat a small number of patients — most likely three to five — as charity cases. Fresenius would care for the rest with financial assistance from Grady.

Fresenius and DaVita are the country’s largest commercial dialysis providers, with combined net income of more than $1.3 billion last year.

The agreement would not address the broader concern of how to care for illegal immigrants in the region who have developed renal disease since the Grady clinic’s closing, or those who will do so in the future. At the moment, their only option may be to wait until they are in distress and then visit hospital emergency rooms, which are required by law to provide dialysis to patients who are deemed in serious jeopardy.

Kevin Sack reported from Atlanta, and Catrin Einhorn from New York.