Thursday, March 31, 2005


CALL THE CAPITOL MONDAY & TUESDAY! LULAC is part of this Coalition. Consider attending this meeting. It'll be the spectacle of the session—at least in the area of education. Consider testifying as well. And if not testifying, at least signing a card stating your (or your organization's) position on school vouchers. -Angela

The Coalition for Public Schools is having a "virtual rally" in opposition to private school vouchers on Monday and Tuesday, April 4 & 5. We need thousands of public school supporters to participate by making phone calls to the Capitol in opposition to the three private school voucher bills—H.B. 12, H.B. 1263, and H.B. 3042. It's easy, quick, and your calls will make a big difference! Timing is important, because there will be a public hearing on the three bills Tuesday, and one or more of the bills could be passed out of committee Tuesday night.

1. Call your state representative's office, and you will typically talk with an assistant. Tell him or her you are a constituent who is calling to urge the representative to oppose any private school voucher bill or floor amendment. Then give any reasons why you passionately oppose vouchers! (Of course the best reason is that we can't afford to take money away from neighborhood public schools to fund private school tuition.) The legislative assistant will listen politely and record your name and your opposition to vouchers on a tally of incoming calls. To find out who represents you in the Texas House of Representatives and the phone number, go to this site:

2. Call members of the Texas House Committee on Public Education and urge them to oppose the voucher bills when they come before the committee Tuesday. Committee members' names and phone numbers are:

Chairman Kent Grusendorf (R-Arlington): 512-463-0624
Vice Chairman Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville): 512-463-0640
Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas): 512-463-0367
Rep. Diane Delisi (R-Temple): 512-463-0630
Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr. (D-Houston): 512-463-0510
Rep. Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands): 512-463-0797
Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston): 512-463-0492
Rep. Bill Keffer (R-Dallas): 512-463-0244
Rep. Anna Mowery (R-Fort Worth): 512-463-0608

If you live in one of the school districts that would be included in a voucher program proposed under H.B. 12 or H.B. 1263, be sure to mention that your neighborhood schools would be harmed when voucher money is siphoned away! The school districts in the proposed voucher pilots are: Houston, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, Cypress-Fairbanks, San Antonio, Northside (San Antonio), Edgewood, South San Antonio, and Masonic Home (Fort Worth).

Our anti-voucher "Virtual Rally" needs to have TONS of participation to compete with the real PRO-voucher rally that is taking place Tuesday on the south side of the Capitol. The monied special interest groups promoting vouchers are paying for chartered buses to bring to the Capitol minority parents and those whose children are already enrolled in private schools.


The public hearing before the House Committee on Public Education on all three voucher bills has officially been set for Tuesday, April 5 at 2 p.m. or upon adjournment of the House. The hearing is posted to be held in E2.036 in the Texas Capitol extension, but we anticipate a possible change of location to the auditorium in E1.004 (which is directly across from the cafeteria entrance in the extension). The auditorium can hold 350 people. We'll send out a subsequent email if the location changes.

1. WE NEED AT LEAST 35 PEOPLE TO TESTIFY AGAINST THE VOUCHER BILLS. Please respond to this email if you intend to testify or could recruit someone from your organization to speak out against the voucher proposals. We also need the names and contact information on people who will testify, as we are attempting to loosely coordinate the points that will be made.

2. Audience Members of Color. Help us in recruiting minority parents and grandparents who are willing to attend the hearing and sit in the audience for several hours wearing an anti-voucher button (they do not need to present testimony). Please respond to this email with the names, phone numbers, email addresses of persons willing to be audience members.

3. Seat Holders. We need 25+ people in Austin who could stand for an hour at the locked door of the auditorium where the voucher hearing will be held so they can be the first in the door to grab seats. The seat holders would then give up their seats to persons scheduled to testify as they arrive. (NOTE: This is an ideal role for staff assistants or student interns at association headquarters who would like to come to the Capitol for a short while to help out the cause, but then they could return to their offices after giving up their seats) Please respond to this email with the names, phone numbers, email addresses of persons willing to be seat holders.

4. Interested Audience Members Wearing Buttons. We also need people who want to sit in the audience and wear "STOP VOUCHERS" buttons. Our hope is that voucher opponents can be comparable in numbers to the voucher supporters who are being bused to Austin. Please pick up a button from a friendly volunteer as you enter the auditorium (or if crowded there probably will be an overflow room).


A summary of the three voucher bills is attached to this email. H.B. 1263 is expected to be the lead bill, and it even has a promotional web site:

You could read the text of the three bills at these links:
H.B. 12

H.B. 1263

H.B. 3042

Thank you for making it a priority to speak out against vouchers and in support of our Texas public schools!

School Vouchers Popular in New Poll

Carolyn Boyle is correct. The poll on Hispanic support for vouchers is bogus. -Angela

March 30, 2005, 12:47AM

School Vouchers Popular in New Poll
But critics blast group's survey of Hispanics voters as 'totally bogus'
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - In a poll sponsored by a group working to pass a school voucher bill, almost 73 percent of Harris County Hispanics support the proposed legislation for at-risk children.

"This poll unequivocally verifies what we have known for a long time: Hispanic parents, particularly those in Texas' largest, inner-city school districts, understand school choice offers their children a better future," said Rebeca Nieves Huffman, president and CEO of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, the group that sponsored the poll.

The poll of about 1,000 Hispanic voters in Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Travis counties shows that almost 76 percent favor a pilot voucher program in Texas' largest, inner-city school districts.

The poll was conducted between Feb. 23 and March 2, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Carolyn Boyle, coordinator of the Coalition for Public Schools, said Tuesday the poll is "totally bogus," because it didn't give the full story.

"The people who promote private school vouchers always want to ask nebulous questions, and they never ask about the cost," she said. "Had they asked, 'Do you think we should spend a couple of hundred million dollars taken away from neighborhood schools?' they would have said no."

In a Scripps Howard Texas Poll earlier this year, 55 percent said they were opposed to using taxpayer-funded vouchers to allow public students to attend private schools, and 39 percent were in favor.

House Bill 1263 would create a school voucher program in the five largest urban school districts. There are at least two related bills the committee may consider, HB 12 and HB 3042.

Boyle said the respondents also aren't identified as parents.

"It's hard for Jose Q. Public to know the quality of the public schools if they don't have a child in public schools," Boyle said. "This is just a push poll to push a bill."

Even so, Marcela Garcini, Texas parent coordinator for the Hispanic group, said the poll should send a strong message.

"When 76 percent of Democrats favors school choice, it's time for our elected officials in Austin to listen to their constituents and to implement a pilot program," Garcini said.

Comment: HB 2 Would Sharpen School Results

Grusendorf makes the following comment: "It is not true that HB 2 would be a vehicle for profit-making companies to take over schools. Nothing could be further from the truth...." I find it so problematic that a state official can be so openly far from being truthful to the public. This bill needs to be read in the context of voucher legislation that Grusendorf supports. -Angela

Comment: HB 2 Would Sharpen School Results
03/31/2005 12:00 AM CST

by Kent Grusendorf
Chair, House Committee on Public Education

I've read with amazement editorials and articles slamming House Bill 2, education reform legislation that I authored and call a Roadmap to Results.

In most cases, the writers attended few public hearings where we discussed innovative measures to improve education. They didn't contact me or HB 2 supporters to gain insight into the intent of the legislation. They seemingly relied on criticism generated by lobbyists with financial interests.

As chairman of the House Public Education Committee, I opened the hearings to any interested individuals with ideas or concerns about how we should deliver the best education to more than 4 million children. We heard from hundreds of Texans who testified in writing or in person. No point of view was ignored.

It is not true that HB 2 would be a vehicle for profit-making companies to take over schools. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our legislation would ensure no child is trapped in a school that is doing a poor job.

Under HB 2, the state would crack down on low-performing campuses by requiring the commissioner of education to send in a team to turn around bad schools after the first year of poor performance. If a school continued to fail children a second year, the commissioner could move more aggressively and assign a new management team with a proven record for improving academic performance. Qualified nonprofits, including teams of teachers, parents or university professionals, would be among those considered for the turnaround efforts.

A mandate for getting tough with failing schools is among many HB 2 reforms that would create efficiency and accountability.

HB 2 would add more than $3 billion in new money for education, one of the greatest state increases in history. More important, we would spend those dollars more wisely.

Too many education dollars are spent on top-heavy school bureaucracies. HB 2 would require new financial reporting and accountability so parents will know how much money is spent in classrooms and funneled into management. Parents and taxpayers would be able to look at a Texas Education Agency Web site and see exactly how their money is being spent.

Our legislation would empower taxpayers by requiring administrators to justify the need for more money when they ask voters to approve higher school property taxes. We would encourage greater participation in school board elections by moving them to November, when voter turnout is higher.

Colleges of business would teach principals and superintendents to spend money more efficiently through advanced management programs. An online, best-practices clearinghouse would allow districts to share success stories so they don't waste time and money duplicating efforts.

The state would improve high school learning and college readiness by paying for SAT and ACT testing and phasing in end-of-course exams.

Right now, we teach children and assess their progress much as we did in the 1950s. HB 2 would change that by trading pencil-and-paper exams for online testing that allows teachers to more quickly evaluate student progress. We're adding money to help schools pay for new, computer-driven materials.

One of our most critical missions is to close the achievement gap for minority students. This bill would provide $100 million to do that. The money would be used as an incentive for our best teachers to work on campuses with a majority of at-risk students.

Under HB 2, school districts would use 1 percent of their budgets to reward exceptional teachers through performance pay plans. Teachers would help design the plans to spend the money in three ways: on bonuses for experienced teachers who serve as mentors for beginning instructors; on bonuses for outstanding teachers at educationally disadvantaged campuses; and to recognize exceptional teachers or employees who improve student performance on a campus or grade level.

The bottom line for our Roadmap to Results is this: Money is important, but how the money is spent is even more important. HB 2 would direct schools to use education dollars more effectively. It would empower taxpayers, propel academic achievement and lead to results. And results are what we're all after.

Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, is chairman of the House Public Education Committee.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Federal Data Show Gains on Language

Federal Data Show Gains on Language
But Most States Miss English-Learner Goals
By Mary Ann Zehr
Published: March 23, 2005

The U.S. Department of Education’s first-ever evaluation of how states are meeting requirements for English-language learners under the federal No Child Left Behind Act can be looked at two ways.

One view of the report, which was released to Congress last week, is that states have made great strides in laying the groundwork for schools to teach English-language learners. That’s the view of Kathleen Leos, the associate deputy secretary and senior policy adviser for the Education Department’s office of English-language acquisition, a researcher for the evaluation.

“Given where the states started, there’s been significant progress made in all states at varying levels,” she said in an interview. The evaluation shows all 50 states plus the District of Columbia have developed standards for English proficiency and aligned them with their academic-content standards, she noted. Before the 3-year-old law was enacted, only seven states had such standards, and they were not connected to academic content.

“It’s absolutely going to impact instruction in the classroom,” Ms. Leos said.

For More Info
"Biennial Evaluation Report to Congress on the Implementation of the State Formula Grant Program" is available online from National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition.

But another interpretation of the findings in the 503-page evaluation, which covers the 2002-03 and 2003-04 school years, is that states have largely failed to meet the law’s requirements to ensure that English-language learners master academic content. Only two states—Alabama and Michigan—met “adequate yearly progress,” or AYP, goals last school year for such students in both reading and mathematics.

Moreover, not a single state both reported all the data required by the federal law and met all the mandated targets for English-language learners.

“This report certainly accentuates the positive, and to learn the bad news about how the No Child Left Behind Act is working out, you have to read the fine print of a 503-page report,” said James Crawford, the executive director of the Washington-based National Association for Bilingual Education, who was a reporter for Education Week in the 1980s.

The news, according to Mr. Crawford, “shows that this is a dysfunctional system of accountability. No one has sat down to do the math to see that it’s impossible for most schools with significant numbers of English-language learners to meet their AYP targets as the targets get more stringent. This subgroup by definition will never go very far in meeting the full-proficiency target.”

While states that didn’t make adequate yearly progress goals could lose federal funds, Ms. Leos said the federal government doesn’t plan to punish states for failing to meet requirements for English-language learners, because states have made so much progress in such a short period of time.

The report was released to Congress March 15.

“States should be commended for making significant progress in implementing these provisions in three short years,” said Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House education committee, in an e-mail. “However, there is still much work that must be done before we achieve our long-term goals of ensuring all students are proficient in reading and math.”
Two States Stand Out

Though the Education Department’s summary of the evaluation’s findings fails to point out that no state met all of its English-proficiency and academic goals for English-language learners, Ms. Leos acknowledged that conclusion in interviews last week.

In addition, the summary provides analysis only for how states met their goals for English proficiency, but not for how the states did at meeting goals for English-language learners in reading and math.

For instance, the summary says that “of the 42 states that provided target and performance data, 33 report meeting at least some of their [annual measurable achievement objective] targets regarding progress in English-language proficiency.” The department counts the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico as states.

As far as helping second-language learners gain fluency in English, the success rate for states’ achievement of their goals is even better, the department points out: Of the 45 states that provide one or more targets as well as performance data, 41 met some or all of their goals.

The Fine Print

But readers of the report will have to look beyond the summary and wade through more than 400 pages of data about individual states to draw conclusions about the states’ progress in meeting academic goals for English-language learners. The findings are much less impressive than states’ record on helping students learn English.

Buried in the data is the fact that only Alabama and Michigan met their AYP goals last school year for English-language learners’ test scores in bothreading and math. Alabama set a goal of having half its 11th graders who were tested in math reach the cutoff score for “proficient and advanced.” Michigan set the target of having 33 percent of its 11th graders land in the category of “proficient and advanced,” though each state has different tests.

Mississippi, Missouri, and Virginia met their goals for math, but not for reading. None of the other states met their projected targets for English-language learners in either subject. Altogether, 36 states reported the data fully for math, and the same number of states, though not the same exact group, did so for reading.

“Those who have studied second-language acquisition wouldn’t be surprised by those findings,” said Deborah J. Short, a language researcher at the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics. “It takes four, seven, or even nine years for some students to reach academic proficiency.”

Ms. Leos said the Education Department’s decision not to spell out whether states had met AYP goals for English-language learners wasn’t an “edict coming from a political standpoint.” Rather, she said, it was an “internal decision” grounded in a belief that it was hard to make comparisons between states.

“I don’t think you can make any conclusive statements about what achievement gap exists between limited-English-proficient children and native English-speakers,” Ms. Leos said.

Ms. Short countered that the department should have taken a stab at characterizing second-language learners’ academic results in reading and math. Annual testing of 3rd through 8th graders in those subjects is a key gauge of success under the federal law.

“They should have reported how students were doing on math and reading to the extent they could so we could understand the challenges these students face when asked to perform in a language they are not proficient in,” Ms. Short said.

At the same time, she cautioned against reading too much into whether states make their targets or not because each state sets targets differently.

California, for example, reached its goal for helping students attain fluency in English by bringing 38 percent of English-language learners to fluency last school year. Delaware, at the same time, met its goal by having just 5.6 percent of such students attain fluency.

States’ definitions for fluency in English also vary.
New Level of Data

Experts on second-language learners who had read the summary of the evaluation last week said the report reflects positive change for how schools and states view English-language learners.

“The approach in the program suggests that the states or the feds are recognizing that limited-English-proficient kids are here to stay, and they need a systematic approach,” said Charlene Rivera, the executive director of the Center for Equity and Excellence in Education, located at George Washington University.

“One of the main points of the report is to show Congress the data are being collected,” said Randy Capps, a senior research associate at the Washington-based Urban Institute, who is conducting a study about the impact of the federal education law on English-language learners. He said the federal government has never collected data on such students to the extent that it is now.

Most states had some gaps in the data that they were required to report to the Education Department.

New York, for example, did not provide information on whether it had made AYP for English- language learners in reading. Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the state education department, said last week that New York was unable to provide the data because of difficulties in matching up test scores used previously with scores on a test introduced last school year.

Elsewhere, Irene Morena, Arizona’s deputy associate superintendent for English acquisition said in an e-mail message she couldn’t say why data about her state’s targets and student performance in English proficiency didn’t make it into the federal report. It was, she said, submitted to the federal department on time.

Ms. Rivera of the Center for Equity and Excellence in Education said the report was lacking in information that would help states improve instruction in academic content for English-language learners.

“The report doesn’t really discuss how instruction in reading and math and other content areas is being delivered,” she said. “That needs to be thought about more. Language is one thing, but you need to really focus on content.”

The report’s findings show that all states have English-only programs for children to learn the language, while 40 have at least some bilingual education to teach the language. Thirteen states provide assessments in students’ native languages.

An official at the Alabama Department of Education credits teacher training in strategies for working with English-language learners as helping her state meet its academic goals.

“The more we provide professional development, the better off we are,” said Dely Velez Roberts, the state agency’s specialist in English-language learners.
Vol. 24, Issue 28, Pages 1,25

The Center for Applied Linguistics offers research resources on student language acquisition and proficiency.

The Center for Equity and Excellence in Education has launched the Promoting Excellence Initiative, a "national effort to improve K-12 education for English language learners."

Tuesday, March 29, 2005



VOUCHERS – Public hearing on vouchers set for April 5
Three voucher bills are headed for public hearing on April 5 in the House Public Education Committee. This will be the one-and-only chance the public can speak out against private school vouchers. We expect a large turnout from the pro-voucher camp – two years ago bus loads of parents currently receiving a voucher from James Leininger packed the hearing room.

We need our side of the story told. Please make plans to come testify. It’s important that the committee hear from parents, teachers, school board members, business owners, etc. That means you! Please contact Heather Alden,, if you can testify and to get more details!

Following are the proposed House bills on vouchers:

· H.B. 12 by Rep. Corte, R-San Antonio, is a pilot voucher program that would drain money from neighborhood public schools to pay for tuition at private and religious schools in urban areas. Not only would the bill take hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars from our neighborhood schools, private schools receiving the money wouldn’t even have to be accredited by a recognized organization.

· H.B. 1263 by Rep. Harper-Brown, R- Irving; Jodi Laubenberg, R-Parker; and Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, creates a pilot voucher program for educationally disadvantaged students in counties with a population of more than 800,000 people. Those counties include Harris (Houston), Dallas, Tarrant (Fort Worth), Bexar (San Antonio) and Travis (Austin).

· H.B. 3042 by Rep. Riddle, R-Tomball, opens up private school vouchers to any student in the state who is eligible for public school. This is the most far-reaching of the three voucher bills.


Today the Senate Education Committee began hearing testimony on H.B. 2, the omnibus school finance and education reform bill by Rep. Gruesendorf, R-Arlington. The chairman of the committee, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said that there will be a much different version of H.B. 2 coming out of the Senate. Besides the pitiful lack of funding, the House bill also includes provisions to privatize and erode state education standards. One provision in H.B. 2, for example, would allow exemplary schools to ignore quality education standards like small class sizes, teacher certification and early reading intervention that have helped students make progress over the past two decades. Another provision in the bill would allow private companies (such as Edison Schools) to run low-performing public schools. Studies have shown, however, that many public schools run by private education companies have a poor record of improving academic performance.


· H.B. 1445 by Rep. Madden, R-Plano, creates a “virtual school network” to allow local school districts and charter schools to develop online courses to be taken by any school-age child in Texas, including home-school kids. H.B. 1445 would create a de facto virtual voucher program because it would allow school districts and charter schools to contract with private companies to develop and administer these online courses at state expense. A substitute bill to H.B. 1445 is expected this week.


· NEW! H.B. 2534 by Rep. Chisum allows the State Board of Education (SBOE) to determine content requirements and limitations for facts and theories (theory of evolution), citizenship, patriotism and free enterprise (history and social studies), divergent individuals and groups (“may not encourage lifestyles that deviate from generally accepted standards of society”). This bill would set into law the kind of textbook censorship TFN has fought at the SBOE for the last 10 years. The bill has been referred to committee, but a hearing has yet to be scheduled.

· H.B. 220 by Rep. Howard, R-Sugar Land, would give the SBOE the authority to reject a textbook or require its revision simply because it did not conform to the political or religious beliefs of SBOE members. This same bill was filed in the Senate last week as S.B. 378. H.B. 220 and S.B. 378 have both been referred to committee, but hearings have yet to be scheduled.

· H.B. 973 by Rep. Madden, R-Plano, would give the SBOE broad authority to change the state’s social studies curriculum by allowing the SBOE to decide whether or not textbooks “focus in an unreasonably negative manner on American values, culture, or history.” This bill has been referred to House Public Education Committee, but a hearing has yet to be scheduled.

· H.B. 2576 by Rep. Grusendorf is the Texas Education Agency Sunset bill. This bill opens up a door to vouchers, virtual charter schools and lessening of school standards. The bill has been referred to committee, but a hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Make a donation to support our work to stop private school vouchers and textbook censorship. Donate online: .

Please contact me with any questions or comments.

Best Regards,

Heather Alden
Outreach Director
Texas Freedom Network
512.322.0545 telephone
512.322.0550 facsimile

The Texas Freedom Network advances a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the radical right.

Hot NPR News Items on Education

Below is an important report on education based on recent U.S. Census Bureau analyses. The latter is another report by NPR’s Claudio Sanchez on the Houston dropout problem. Side-by-side, one gets a sense of the severity of the problem both for society and the students and their families, as well.

Education-Earnings Gap Widens
by Jack Speer 

Morning Edition, March 28, 2005 · The earnings gap between high-school and college graduates continues to widen, the Census Bureau says. On average, college graduates now earn just over $51,000 a year, almost twice as much as high-school graduates. And those with no high-school diploma have actually seen their earnings drop in recent years.

NPR: Scandal Surrounds Dropout Rate in Houston
Morning Edition, March 29, 2005· Authorities in Houston investigate the tracking of the dropout rate in Houston high schools. Some observers claim 42 percent of Houston's ninth-graders never make it to their high school graduations. School officials say the number is closer to 25 percent.

Monday, March 28, 2005

State of the Beat: How Are the Kids?

by LynNell Hancock

The author, former education editor at Newsweek, is an assistant professor
in the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She observes that
the scandal in Houston shines a Texas-sized spotlight on the new world
facing education reporters around the nation, reporters too tied to top-down
reporting habits.
Columbia Journalism Review
March-April 2005

"We have no dropouts!” Robert Kimball declared in a sarcastic e-mail to his
boss, the principal of Houston’s Sharpstown High School, in November 2002.
Sharpstown had just reported that none of its 1,650 students had left
without graduating or transferring elsewhere, and the assistant principal
could not believe the math. “Amazing! We go from 1,000 freshmen to less than
300 seniors with no dropouts.”

Kimball soon learned that Sharpstown’s strange statistics were no anomaly.
Two other inner-city Houston high schools that ordinarily lost about half
their students by graduation also reported zero dropouts. A dozen more
schools reported losses of less than 1 percent. His suspicion grew when he
calculated that Sharpstown’s teachers and administrators had received
$75,000 in bonuses as accountability rewards for keeping children in school.

In February 2003 a local television station checked out Kimball’s worst
fears. Investigative reporters at the CBS affiliate KHOU-TV tracked down
several actual dropouts, including a seventeen-year-old student who
Sharpstown officials claimed was enrolled in a private school. In fact, she
was working behind the counter at a Wendy’s. Following up on the story,
Texas state auditors discovered that the district including Sharpstown
falsely recorded nearly 3,000 high schoolers as “moved away” or
“transferred” instead of as “dropouts.”

Months later, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and 60 Minutes
weighed in with their own analyses of Houston’s dropout data, finding more
inconsistencies along the way. The big media were attracted to the story
because Houston was at the epicenter of the “Texas Miracle,” the standards
and accountability reform movement championed by former Governor George W.
Bush. Their stories revealed that scores of mostly black and Latino students
in Houston were held back in the ninth grade for several years, enabling
them to avoid taking the tenth-grade graduation exam, a test that had been
diluted over time to include many questions better suited to sixth- through
eighth-graders. Children who repeated ninth grade ended up dropping out in
large numbers, and only half the students who did graduate went on to higher
education. Not exactly the stuff of miracles.

The tricks and truths were buried by the numbers, and all but ignored for
years by The Houston Chronicle. The city’s only remaining daily paper should
have owned the story, and years earlier, but its coverage habits were
cemented in a model that kept reporters out of classrooms. Education
reporters were conditioned to cover “schools” instead of “education,” to
come at the beat from the top down by reporting on district policies without
comparing them to real-life results or assessing their classroom relevance.
So the Chronicle’s initial dropout stories simply repeated the district’s
1.5 percent rate, and gave critics the token, brush-off-for-balance
treatment at a story’s end.

The scandal in Houston shines a Texas-sized spotlight on the new world
facing education reporters around the nation. It’s a complex beat, in flux,
under new scrutiny. Old top-down reporting habits — never adequate to begin
with — become even more dangerous when used to analyze the impact of such
far-reaching, top-down reforms as the elimination of social promotion and No
Child Left Behind, the landmark federal act that brings President Bush’s
twin philosophies of accountability and market competition to bear on the
messy business of education. Not surprisingly, these reforms, which have
more to do with managing school systems than teaching kids, work best when
they operate in a centralized, businesslike manner. Since management systems
depend heavily on measuring tools, the standardized test — education’s most
popular assessment measure — takes on added importance. All this exacerbates
the press’s tendency to rely on official sources, and on the seductive power
of the test score as the sole measure of success. To avoid the trap of
oversimplification, reporters need a working knowledge of everything from
psychometrics to education theory in order to untangle where the numbers end
and the truth begins.

At the same time, education reporters are continually trying to figure out
who’s really in charge as they negotiate a changing bureaucratic terrain. At
least seven big-city mayors have assumed control over their school systems
from school boards in recent years. And as their appointees, often
tight-lipped lawyers and corporate executives, replace educators as school
superintendents, accessible sources such as principals or school board
members have become scarce. Parents, often the most credible school sources,
have been effectively pushed further down in the pecking order.

Ironically, just when some reporters are losing touch with their true
subjects — children — many parents are becoming more curious about what
exactly is happening in the classroom. In wealthier districts, so-called
“helicopter parents” hover over every aspect of their children’s lives,
scouring relevant reports as they groom their offspring for success in the
world of high-stakes testing and college admissions. In low-income
neighborhoods, parents rely on the media to help them negotiate the new
rules and new tests, along with the new possibilities for tutoring or
transferring as they angle to keep their children from being left behind.
Both groups of parents want to know the difference between standards and
standardized tests, between reading scores and real knowledge. But such
stories don’t lend themselves to simple answers, and so are too often missed
by reporters who come at the beat from the wrong end.

Education reporters at The Houston Chronicle could have provided their
readers with trustworthy coverage of the high school dropout paradox had
they looked for stories in closer proximity to the blackboard. A simple head
count of freshmen and seniors in homerooms on any given day would have
confirmed suspicions. How could there be so many more ninth-graders than
twelfth-graders? Where had all those kids gone? Any high school student or
teacher would have been able to tell a reporter about one or two people who
had left school before graduating, thereby disproving the zero-dropout

But no one was there to tell.

It’s always tempting to say that today’s pressures on journalists are more
overwhelming than those of the recent past. But in the world of public
education, the evidence is stark. The story has branched off into broader
and more complex directions in a relatively short span of time. Large-scale
school reforms in the works for more than two decades are becoming more
prevalent, the tools that measure them more potent, and the punishment for
failure more dire. Voters and parents demand more and better information in
order to know where their kids and their schools stand. At the same time,
the high-level politicians in charge have a pressing interest in keeping a
lid on unfavorable school data, and in keeping journalists away from the
schoolhouse door. Their political lives are at stake.

President Bush’s signature No Child Left Behind Act is one such politically
charged management plan that has altered the reporting landscape. The
federal government has never played such a powerful monitoring role in the
life of individual public school students, even though it still contributes
less than 10 percent of total school funding. The measure glided through
Congress with unprecedented bipartisan back-slapping during the tumultuous
months following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Both sides of the aisle were
eager to find something positive to unite them, and in No Child Left Behind
— the fruit of decades of growing centralization — they found goals that few
could reasonably debate. No Child is based on the premise that all children
in public schools should receive a high-quality education from a
well-prepared teacher, and that schools should be accountable for serving
every child, regardless of race or disability. Children in failing schools
are technically eligible to transfer to better ones or receive free
tutoring. The law seeks to close the achievement gap between whites and
minorities by requiring schools to openly report their data by race and
ethnicity, and by imposing a variety of sanctions on any school that fails
to improve learning for all students.

But the devil is in the solutions, which have little to say about proven but
expensive goals like reducing class size or offering incentives for highly
qualified teachers. The act recognizes standardized test scores alone as
measurements of achievement; it ignores performance assessments that can
include students’ writing skills and teachers’ views. (Close to $400 million
was added to No Child Left Behind for testing companies to design new
high-stakes exams, and a burgeoning $2 billion test-preparation industry has
moved into a place of national prominence.)

The second part of No Child Left Behind reflects Bush’s belief that the
private sector is best equipped to carry out public reforms. Schools that
don’t report adequate test scores over time could face being taken over by
for-profit companies or charter schools. Students in failing schools can
technically transfer to better ones or receive tutoring, preferably from
private test-prep companies. Other hidden line items betray the law’s
politically conservative agenda. Federal money to train history teachers can
be used only for “traditional” American history, meaning a fact-based
curriculum about national leaders, and not a multicultural approach about
social movements. Sex education must emphasize abstinence even though no
scientific data show that this curriculum approach helps reduce AIDS or teen
pregnancy. The public was largely unaware of these consequences when the
bill passed.

If No Child Left Behind raised the stakes for school districts, it also
raised the stakes for those who cover them. The education story became a
national political story (read: more important) the day the bill passed, and
its initial handler was the Washington press corps. The coverage underscored
the benefits of the unusual Democratic-Republican alliance that helped push
the bill into being. It heralded the importance of imposing high standards
and requiring full disclosure for schools that can no longer hide the
failure of their most vulnerable students. And it forecast four years of
welcome attention to the public schools. In other words, the news was good.
But Washington reporters did little to shed light on the 1,000-page
measure’s finer points, at least initially, preferring instead to parse its
political implications.

Now that the law’s full effects are settling into elementary and middle
school classroom reality, more critics are speaking out against it, and
talking to reporters. The Department of Education was so concerned about the
growing bipartisan wave of criticism that it paid $700,000 to a public
relations firm to promote No Child and rank individual reporters’ coverage
of it. Then, in January, USA Today broke the story that the department had
paid Armstrong Williams, a conservative black pundit and radio host,
$240,000 to shill for the Bush administration’s main education initiative.

Everyone agrees that quality standardized tests can be useful as one of many
measures of success, or of failure, but they’ve been given an elevated role
that they cannot sustain. Under No Child Left Behind, mandatory testing for
third- through eighth-graders will be used to make decisions that the test
makers agree their products were never meant for — whether a child passes, a
teacher fails, a principal is rewarded, or an entire school is shut down.
During the next four years, the Bush administration plans to spend another
$1.5 billion to expand this testing strategy into the nation’s high schools.

Assessing the meaning and validity of such tests requires a pool of
sophisticated reporters who can navigate the world of statistics, business,
human development, teaching and learning methods, neuroscience, politics,
race, and culture. A few news organizations, like the Baltimore Sun, are
responding to the changes wrought by the federal act by redesigning the
education beat as an investigative challenge. And the Chicago Tribune now
employs five reporters to cover a beat with more than 400,000 students. Less
impressively, The New York Times deploys just three writers to cover a local
school system more than twice the size of Chicago’s. Most papers, though,
like The Houston Chronicle, have undergone cutbacks, leaving their education
reporter, if they even have one, with little time for much more than chasing
the latest press release. Lisa Walker, executive director of the Education
Writers’ Association, estimates that newspapers lost as many as 15 percent
of their reporter positions nationwide over the last five years, up to 30
percent at some larger papers. “We’re concerned,” she says. “With fewer
people, are they going to be able to go beyond the surface?”

National education reporters such as Sam Dillon and Diana Jean Schemo of The
New York Times have made the new federal law a natural focus within their
beat, contributing insight into the general knowledge of its impact on
education. Each has probed the law’s positive impact as well as chronicling
the games states play by lowering their passing grade or finding ways to
keep disabled and new immigrant children from taking the tests at all.
Dillon wrote movingly about the absurdity of holding troubled children to
the same standards as those whose parents do not routinely lose their jobs
and move their families from school to school. For some of those children,
it’s a triumph to get them inside the school building, without further
traumatizing them as test failures.

Still, by far the best No Child Left Behind stories have percolated straight
up from local schools, where the voices of teachers and children bring the
national policy home to readers. The Chicago Tribune has devoted rare energy
to such a project. Its city and metro staff have produced more than 400
stories on the subject since the act was passed, many of them memorable.
Instead of battling a torrent of numbers or playing poker with test
rankings, Tribune reporters dug behind the data, analyzing their origins and
putting a human face on their percentages.

Tracy Dell’Angela told the story of a public elementary school in the suburb
of Aurora that had turned around its failing school, pouring efforts into
new reading specialists and extra programs. Morale at Rollins elementary was
high, as children began responding and Rollins’s reputation grew. But then
low results from a test for new-immigrant children, required by No Child
Left Behind, pummeled the school into a failing category. “We celebrated our
scores. We know we did well. But we’re still considered a failure,”
Principal Karen Hart told Dell’Angela. “It’s just hard to put on your game
face and keep going when it’s not recognized beyond our four walls.” The
Rollins school, Hart explained, now faces the “painful prospect of setting
aside money that once went to reading specialists and after-school programs”
for tutoring and transportation costs.

Another Tribune reporter examined the fruit of moving children out of
failing schools. Stephanie Banchero followed third-grader Rayola Carwell
from her South Side Chicago home in the morning until she arrived, two hours
later, tired, hungry, and late at a better school thirteen miles away.
Banchero illustrated through the experience of a nine-year-old why only 500
out of 270,000 eligible children transferred out of their failing Chicago
schools last year, and why 37 percent who left ended up leaving their new
schools as well.

Media coverage in Chicago was not always this probing. During the
mid-nineties, when the dynamic ceo Paul Vallas was running the schools,
reporting hewed more closely to his aggressive agenda. Vallas, who now heads
Philadelphia’s schools, understood that strategic media relations would be
vital to his success. Reporters complained they could not get him off the
phone, an odd phenomenon for big-city beat reporters. And the coverage in
the heady early years of reform in Chicago was held captive by Vallas’s
announcements, rarely leavened by the reality, or analytic research, on the

Vallas was pushing a top-down, high-stakes policy that has become popular
with the new breed of mayors and businessmen leading public schools:
preventing “social promotion” by holding underperforming students back a
grade. The strategy appeals to educational bureaucrats because it advertises
their zero tolerance for mediocrity. And it appeals to bored education
reporters in search of stories charged with the drama of sink-or-swim

Unfortunately, like No Child Left Behind, the story of social promotion is
rarely reported from a student’s or school’s perspective. Even more
surprising, stories about the campaign against social promotion barely hint
at the raft of research showing that retention in grade does more harm than
good. Philadelphia has tried it, as have Baltimore, Houston, Washington,
D.C., and New York City (three times), along with about twenty-one other
school districts nationwide, all with similar results. Instead of infusing
coverage with knowledge of the past, reporters hungry for some excitement on
the beat tend to embroider official pronouncements, writing as if the policy
is a new idea.

Just last year, New York City residents were subjected to yet another ritual
of misleading stories about grade-retention policies. New York’s education
reporters should be well schooled on the subject, but they’re not. In the
early 1980s, the city school system installed a massive “Gates” program that
held back students in the fourth and seventh grades who failed a
standardized test. In other words, the test serves as a “gate” that opens
and closes for fourth- and seventh-graders, depending on the scorer. The
program was eventually scrapped as an ineffective waste of money. Then, more
than fifteen years later, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani famously and ambitiously
revived the practice late in his second term, imposing grade retention in
six consecutive grades, third through eighth, at a cost estimated at $564
million a year. At the time, most reporters seemed too absorbed in the
squabbles between the mayor and his chancellor to pay much attention to
behind-the-scenes program details. The “Gates” fiasco was almost never
mentioned. Education research assessing grade retention was not considered
in the coverage. Few in the media revisited Giuliani’s big initiative after
the initial burst of confetti was swept away.

The clearest indication that Giuliani’s idea was an academic bust came five
years later, at a March 2004 press conference held by his successor, Michael
Bloomberg. The current chancellor, Joel Klein, a former antitrust lawyer and
Clinton White House deputy counsel, lamented that 37 percent of the city’s
ninth graders were failing. “We can’t continue the way we’re going,” Klein
told reporters, “which is pushing children through the elementary schools.”
The chancellor was endorsing the mayor’s idea, announced a few weeks
earlier. Bloomberg, the first mayor in more than 130 years to have direct
control over the school system, said he would launch a program to hold
failing third-graders back. No one in the press noted that the same
ninth-graders whose failure Klein deplored had already been subjected to a
far more sweeping grade retention plan for six straight years — which
apparently hadn’t done much good. “It’s as if collective amnesia had
overtaken everyone,” lamented Noreen Connell, executive director of
Education Priorities Panel, a New York City research group. “Reporters and

The New York Daily News has since clambered onto Bloomberg’s grade retention
plan as a civic cause, printing editorials extolling the “glorious” numbers
of third graders passing out of mandatory summer school. News stories about
the plan in the tabloid, meanwhile, tend to be free of analysis and barely
mention the conflicting research. Both Daily News editorials and news
stories framed the policy as a political volley: a “win” for the mayor and a
“loss” for status-quo critics. Only The New York Times examined this third
attempt to hold third graders back with a data-based glance at the past. A
Times education beat reporter, David Herszenhorn, dug up a seminal 1998
study by the National Research Council on the issue. He spoke to a range of
respected education experts. In the midst of the controversy a University of
Chicago research group released a long-term study showing that Chicago’s
aggressive eight-year practice of holding third-graders back did more harm
than good.

Herszenhorn needed only to pull the clips of a predecessor’s 1997 school
coverage to understand the complexities of teaching a class of
eight-year-olds to read, mysteries that remote test results could never hope
to capture. Nearly a decade ago, after convincing his editors at the Times
that an immersion approach would be the best way to document the new era of
high-stakes testing among those who were supposed to matter most, Jacques
Steinberg spent a full year ducking in and out of Ted Kesler’s third-grade
class at Public School 75 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The result was a
potent glimpse into the stew of human triumphs and tragedies in the city’s
public school classrooms.

Steinberg followed Kesler from home to work, brambling through the nine-year
teaching veteran’s whims and tragedies. He entered the homes of many of the
third-graders, watching one eight-year-old vie for homework space with her
five siblings. An immigrant boy struggled with kindergarten-level books. The
series of stories showed on a profound level the daunting daily journey of
thirty children, all at different stages of reading, with varying capacities
and passion for English. Their education was far more daunting and far more
miraculous than an end-of-the-year test could gauge, yet the test loomed
like the story’s villain, waiting to deliver its defining judgment.

Of course, blending this level of depth and color into education stories
requires that educators open their classrooms to reporters, an invitation
that has grown even rarer under the new era of top-down management regimes.
In New York City, Joel Klein heads a newly centralized school system that
tries to shield itself from public scrutiny more scrupulously than any
previous administration. Most principals now routinely tell reporters they
need permission from central headquarters before speaking to the press —
permission that rarely materializes, and certainly not on deadline.
Herszenhorn said a story he wanted to pursue on changes, including the new
standardized math and reading curriculum, was put on hold because the
chancellor’s office initially insisted on choosing which schools he could
observe — obviously, an unacceptable bargain. By the time the Department of
Education relented, the Times had dropped the idea.

Access to public school systems should be a given in a democracy (a right
that demands a large helping of media responsibility). Narratives from
inside and outside the classroom are powerful testaments to a shared sense
of civic values, and an understanding of the role of education in sustaining
a democracy. The best coverage confronts the complicated world of education
not as a managed system of test results and ordered reforms, but as a busy
intersection of culture, race, child development, pedagogy, neuroscience,
and politics.

Ira Glass painted on such a canvas last October with a piece on This
American Life he called “Two Steps Back.” Glass focused on a gregarious
Chicago public school teacher on the verge of quitting because of changes
wrought in her school by the city bureaucracy.

The piece is distinguished by a ten-year journey back into the archives.
Glass dug up tapes he compiled in 1994 when he spent a year for NPR’s All
Things Considered inside two schools, including Washington Irving Elementary
School, which had transformed itself into a model of urban success amid
Chicago’s ambitious reforms. Glass had wanted to know how. It had no extra
money, no special status as a magnet. What he learned about Washington
Irving was this: kids simply wrote all the time and read all the time. The
crusading principal was a master at fending off bureaucratic mandates.
Teachers took over the curriculum. They made sure the parents came to school
at least three times a year. The faculty designed elaborate narrative report
cards that guided their curriculum. They stayed late, came in early, and
found ways to keep respect for learning and for each other alive in the

Ten years later, Glass found the exemplary Washington Irving teacher, Cathy
La Luz, in her classroom, near tears on his first day of reporting. La Luz
was watching helplessly as the teachers’ carefully honed programs were
slowly unraveling. Mandates from central headquarters were flooding in, and
the new principal was doing little to divert them. Little indignities, like
a new requirement to turn in daily lesson plans, were eroding the teachers’
sense of autonomy. Their self-designed report cards were scrapped. Teachers
were required to write the state education goal of the day every day on the
blackboard. The demand for uniformity from Chicago Public Schools
headquarters had become overbearing. Officials were setting goals that La
Luz felt were vague and lower than the school’s own.

Glass took listeners inside La Luz’s classroom, where children’s voices took
over as they hashed out new endings for a book they were reading. We hear La
Luz coax a daydreaming child to find where his attention had disappeared to.
We hear the children banter with her about her new hairstyle and her new
outfit. Then we hear the despair in her voice as she agonizes over whether
she can endure the slow erosion of the profession she deeply loves. It is
education journalism at its best, rich with nuances and context, alive with
children’s voices and conflicts. The story said as much about the future of
high-stakes, top-down reforms as it did about the future of urban teaching.
Glass noted that the X factor in school reform is the chemistry between
teachers and children, a fragile eloquence that can easily be garbled if it
is not respected by outside contractors, outside authorities, outside
monitors. “Not that anybody wants to hear that,” Glass commented at the end.
“They don’t want to hear it.”

But perhaps they do.


TEA Plan Would Fail More Schools

I somehow forgot to post this earlier. This story is very important because under HB2 (currently under review by the Texas senate), a new rating scheme will 1) markedly increase the number of low-performing schools via a revised definition of what it means to be low performing (or "academically unacceptable"; 2) these schools could be taken over by for-profit corporations with up to five-year contracts to run the schools. ALL schools in the bottom 10 percent could potentially be contracted out to the private sector. The current accountability rating scheme would thus be less profitable. If this legislation doesn't expose private-sector interests, then no legislation does. -Angela

92 rated unacceptable now; number could climb over 1,000

01:10 PM CST on Wednesday, March 23, 2005

By JOSHUA BENTON / The Dallas Morning News

The number of "academically unacceptable" schools in Texas could grow by a factor of 10 under a tougher set of standards approved by a Texas Education Agency committee.

There are now 92 Texas schools labeled unacceptable, the state's lowest rating. But if the proposed new rules had been in place last year, more than 1,100 schools would have earned the label and faced possible state intervention.

"We're going to have to go after more schools," said Sandy Kress, the former Dallas school board president and Bush adviser who is among the new standards' supporters. "We're going to have to go to a place we have not gone yet if we really want youngsters to succeed in these ineffective schools."

But some educators question whether it's a good idea to change the state ratings system for the expressed purpose of making some schools look worse.

"I think it's setting up schools to fail," said Mac Bernd, superintendent of the Arlington district. "I am a strong accountability supporter, but some people have this idea that just because something worked before that more of it will work better."

The proposal – awaiting approval by Commissioner Shirley Neeley – would raise the TAKS passing rate required for a school to be academically acceptable.

For a school to be acceptable under current law, a school must have at least a 50 percent passing rate in reading, writing, and social studies, a 35 percent passing rate in math and a 25 percent passing rate in science.

According to the proposal approved Monday by the commissioner's Accountability Advisory Committee, each of those passing rates would increase by 10 percentage points in 2006, and most would march up five more points each year until 2010.

"We can't be happy with half the students not passing," said Catherine Clark, associate executive director of governance services for the Texas Association of School Boards and a member of the advisory committee.

The higher required passing rates alone will knock hundreds of schools from the ranks of the acceptable to "academically unacceptable" – the state's new term for what used to be called "low performing."

But when combined with other changes already planned to debut in the next year – like a higher passing standard on the TAKS and new restrictions on how schools calculate their dropout rate – the number of newly unacceptable schools could be staggering.

TEA officials haven't yet estimated how large that number is. That's because the advisory committee's recommendations were more extreme than any of the proposals TEA staff had prepared for.

Under the most extreme proposal TEA researched, 1,100 Texas schools would have been rated unacceptable last year. The advisory committee's proposal would likely tack several hundred more onto that total because it requires higher passing standards in four of the five TAKS subjects.

Hardest hit would likely be the state's large urban districts, like Dallas and Houston, where dozens of schools would likely be considered unacceptable under the tougher standards.

Those estimates all assume that test scores in 2006 – when the changes would take effect – will be the same as they were in 2004, the last year of complete data. That's unlikely, since test scores tend to go up every year as schools figure out how to improve performance.

But no matter how fast the improvement, it's likely these changes would result in a record number of schools being labeled unacceptable. Since the debut of the school ratings system in 1994, the number of low-ranked schools usually has been 100 or fewer.

"I worry about the pressure we're putting on children and on educators in this state," said Michael Motheral, superintendent of Sundown schools in the Panhandle. "It's somewhat inevitable when you have a system that rates kids and schools. But there's going to be some heartache if we move at this pace."

Mr. Motheral sits on TEA's Educator Focus Group on Accountability, a group of school administrators who also advise the commissioner on school ratings issues. His group recommended a slightly smaller change – only increasing required passing rates by five points next year instead of 10.

"I think everybody wants to make sure the kids are challenged," said Billy Espino, a principal in Fort Stockton who also sits on the educator focus group. "But we also don't want to shoot ourselves in the foot."

But Mr. Kress said the Texas system needs to be more aggressive about identifying weak schools. He cited one high school where nearly three-quarters of students failed at least one section of the TAKS last year – but was still rated acceptable.

Mr. Kress, who sits on the 27-member advisory committee recommending the 10 percentage-point jump, said he would be happy with a system that identified about one in 10 Texas schools as underachievers each year. (Texas has about 7,700 public schools in total.) Schools have generally done better than expected on the TAKS test since the test's debut in 2003, and that's pushing many to advocate tougher standards.

Dr. Bernd, the Arlington superintendent, disagrees. "We shouldn't assume that when people are doing well the standard's too low," he said. "The standards ought to be based on how much we want students to learn, not some pre-set idea of how many schools should fail."

He also said he believed raising standards too quickly would encourage some educators to cheat on state tests.

Possible penalties

Schools that are rated unacceptable for multiple years are subject to a number of sanctions, including stiff state intervention. Under some proposals being considered in the Legislature, schools that remain unacceptable for several years could be subject to private management.

The debate over passing rates partly is being governed by federal law. The No Child Left Behind law, passed in 2001, requires all schools to march their passing rates steadily north toward 100 percent by 2014. The proposed tougher state standards largely mirror the passing rates required by the federal law.

Now Dr. Neeley will have to decide whether to accept the more ambitious proposals of her advisory committee or the more modest recommendations of her educator focus group – or do something else entirely. On one hand, political and business figures generally want standards to get tougher quickly. On the other, superintendents – aware of the power of a poor label – generally favor a slower approach.

"It is really tricky," said TEA spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe. "You want to set goals that are challenging but reachable for most schools. We've got some people saying the system's not hard enough and some saying don't go too fast."

Dr. Neeley is expected to make her decision in the next few weeks.

Online at:

Senator questions heavy charter school transfers

It seems to me that "dumping" kids into charter schools to skew public school ratings isn't an either/or kind of thing, but rather we should be asking the extent of this? In a previous post, Nichols & Berliner reveal the great ends that many schools/districts will go in order to preserve their viability. -Angela
March 24, 2005, 11:22PM
Senator questions heavy charter school transfers
Mario Gallegos asks for an inquiry into possible 'dumping' during testing time
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
AUSTIN - A state senator wants to know why more than 400 Houston-area charter school students moved to traditional schools in a four-month period leading up to February's state testing.

Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, wrote a letter to Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley this week asking for an investigation into possible "student dumping."

"This figure appears inflated to me, and it is almost as if students are being dumped off onto school districts for the sake of ratings," Gallegos said. "Texas relies heavily on students' academic performance, and this alleged trend could have a profound affect on a school's academic rating."

Gallegos is asking for an audit of student migration trends, whether there was a spike in enrollment in the months leading up to the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, and how charter schools report student migration.

Last year, 43 percent of charter schools and 3 percent of regular schools were not included in the state system as an alternative education rating system was being developed. This year, they will be measured.

"It is a key year," said Carolyn Boyle, coordinator of the Coalition for Public Schools, which includes a number of education and public advocacy groups.

Charter schools are public schools that are privately managed and exempt from many of the regulations governing traditional schools.

'Burden' on public schools

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Abe Saavedra told Gallegos that 407 children moved from charter schools to HISD between Nov. 1, 2004, and Feb. 22, 2005, the week of the testing. Officials with the school district did not return telephone calls.

Gallegos said it isn't fair for a public school to take on a child just weeks or days before the testing is done. He said if it is happening in the Houston area, it is probably going on around the state.

"It's just astonishing," he said. "The (public) school has had to take on the burden of the charter, and the teachers haven't had a chance."

A spokeswoman for the education agency said Neeley is reviewing Gallegos' letter before deciding if any action should be taken.

Boyle said the education agency should conduct an investigation into the allegations, but said there could be other explanations.

"It could have been that the parents and the students chose to leave the charter school and return to the public because the public school offers a much better educational program," Boyle said.

She pointed out that the numbers could be skewed because 76 of the migrants came from the Harris County Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program, a course that accepts students for a certain period of time and then sends them back to their regular school.

Schools losing students
At the American Academy of Excellence, 14 students migrated to traditional schools during the four-month period. The charter has been rated academically unacceptable in three of the four previous years and could have moved the students to avoid getting a similar rating this year, Boyle said.

Even the highly regarded Yes College Preparatory School, one of the only charter schools in the state given an exemplary rating last year, lost 19 students.

Chris Barbic, founder of Yes, said he doesn't think Gallegos' allegations hold water.

"We never try to identify kids who aren't going to pass the test and have them check out," Barbic said. "Almost 100 percent of our kids pass the test anyway."

Still, Gallegos is looking for an investigation. He said if the charter schools want to be in the business of teaching, they should be held responsible for their own actions.

"We are talking about keeping a child up to a certain point and then dumping that child due to low performance," he said. "Any way you paint it, that is wrong."

This article is:

Debriefing on Public Hearing on taxpayer funded home-schooling and private schooling...

TO: Coalition for Public Schools Organizations
FROM: Carolyn Boyle

SUBJECT: Debriefing on Public Hearing & Background Information
This email is intended to provide background information on H.B. 1445, a risky expensive proposal to offer taxpayer funded home-schooling and private schooling. A "what to do" email will follow that covers both virtual vouchers and the three private school voucher bills.

The public hearing on H.B. 1445 was held Tuesday, March 22, before the Texas House Committee on Public Education. It lasted 3 hours (approximately 7:30-10:30 p.m.) Bill sponsor Rep. Jerry Madden (R-Plano) explained that the virtual school bill was designed to benefit a variety of students, including those who: are home-schooled, need an extra course to graduate, are sick or in the hospital, are overseas with military parents, or desire courses not available at their high school (like career and technology courses, foreign languages, or advanced math and science).

There was some discussion of the fiscal note, which gives a projected cost of $26 million for the first biennium and then $52 million each year by 2009. Major new expenses would be for students who currently are home-schooled or enrolled in private schools. You could read the fiscal note at this URL:

There were 9 persons who testified in favor of H.B. 1445, including John Fleming (whose wife Cheryl Fleming is vice president-education at Questia Media America, Inc., ); two home-schooling moms; a woman who was an online kindergarten-first grade teacher in Wisconsin; two coordinators from the SUPERNet Consortium, which is comprised of 17 school districts in East Texas participating in the current virtual school pilot; a representative of the conservative group Texans for Texas; Forrest Watson representing the Alliance for Sound Education Policy* and Miss Texas.** (see "OF NOTE" below).

The 11 persons testifying against the bill did a terrific job explaining all the problems. They included: Lindsay Gustafson, Texas Classroom Teachers Association; Ted Melina Raab, Texas Federation of Teachers; Kathy Miller, Texas Freedom Network; Karen Miller; Tim Bacon, Texas State Teachers Association; Jo-Hannah Whitsett, Association of Texas Professional Educators; David Watson, Texas Association of School Boards and Texas Association of School Administrators; Kimberly Baxter, Texas Association of Secondary School Principals; David Priddy, Texas Association of Secondary School Principals; Charlotte Coffelt, Americans United for Separation of Church & State; and Paul Colbert.

You could listen to the hearing on H.B. 1445 at the following URL.
[Note: I was asked to explain how to do this by some individuals who had not listened to an archived hearing before, so here goes: Click on the URL above, which should take you to the Texas House Audio/Video web site with recordings of Committee on Public Education meetings. Click on the one that says 3/22/05. If you have RealPlayer on your computer (and if you don't you can download a basic version for free at this site: ), audio/video of the hearing should appear on your RealPlayer screen. Under the screen there is a horizontal line with a circle in it. You can click on the circle and drag it to any particular time in the hearing. There also is a fast forward arrow which can advance the time by clicking on it and holding it down. The testimony on H.B. 1445 begins at 4:55:47 (which is 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 47 seconds into the hearing). Note: If you have difficulty following my online teaching, feel free to give me a call or ask your children or grandchildren!]

* Alliance for Sound Education Policy. Some Coalition leaders asked me for background information on Forrest Watson's Alliance for Sound Education Policy. Watson has testified on behalf of the Alliance on several bills, but there is no information about the group available via internet search engines. Watson was one of the founders of Eagle Academies of Texas, a chain of 18 charter schools in Texas, and he continues to be associated with Eagle providing contract management through Planagement, Inc. In August 2003, Eagle Academy of Texarkana closed, and Watson changed the name of the nonprofit corporation holding the charter for that campus to "Alliance for Sound Education Policy." This is reflected in documents on file at the Texas Secretary of State's office. The amended and restated articles of incorporation say the Alliance for Sound Education Policy corporation has no members. Four individuals serve on its board of directors: Dr. Forrest E. Watson and his wife Betty of Cedar Park; Earl "Buster" Renfrow of Cedar Park; and Charles S. Cook of Lewisville. Cook is president of Pathway Publishers Inc., which produces the Odysseyware software used by Eagle Academies and the new Texas Virtual Academies, which the web site says is "Coming Soon":

** Miss Texas. One surprise witness testifying in favor of H.B. 1445 was the reigning Miss Texas, Jamie Story, and she even placed her crown on the podium while she spoke to prove she is Miss Texas. Her main point was that students in rural areas need access to online Advanced Placement courses (she may not be aware that there are distance learning and electronic courses for such students in Texas now). Ms. Story explained she is earning her Miss Texas scholarship through speaking fees, and in answer to a question she said the fee to hire her to speak depends on the "booking party." Unfortunately, no one asked if there was a "booking party" who paid her to speak in favor of H.B. 1445! You could hear Ms. Story's testimony at 1:24:30 at the following URL:

WHAT NEXT? This week Rep. Jerry Madden is expected to develop a committee substitute for H.B. 1445. We'll keep you informed about any changes to the bill, and a subsequent email will include a specific call to action.

Coalition for Public Schools, 1005 Congress Avenue, Suite 550, Austin, Texas 78701-2491, (512) 474-9765, Fax: (512) 474-2507, Carolyn Boyle, Coordinator

Civil Rights Analysis Without Civil Rights Numbers: Change of Data Sources Yields Anomalies

By Greg Moses

A Texas agency charged with taking over Civil Rights analysis has decided to
stop basing its civilian workforce report on data collected by the federal
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Instead of basing its analysis on data collected for civil rights purposes,
the Division of Civil Rights at the Texas Workforce Commission in its debut
report this year used less precise figures reported by the Bureau of Labor
Statistics (BLS).

In the past, noted the report, the Texas Commission on Human Rights had
compiled the civil rights report from data provided by the EEOC. As a result
of the switch in data sources, the first table of the Texas Equal Employment
Opportunity Report shows some civil rights anomalies.

For example, Caucasian Americans, African Americans, and Hispanic Americans
collectively represented 128 percent of all Texas workers; and all three
categories of race-ethnicity cited were under-represented in Administration
jobs. While these anomalies are common in reports from the BLS, they make a
poor basis for analyzing civil rights.

Since the civil rights report is supposed to compare state agency employment
figures with civilian workforce numbers, the choice of BLS data as a
baseline raises further questions about the "comparison charts" presented in
the report.

Chart One for instance (not Table One) presents numbers on the employment of
African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Females in the Statewide Civilian
Workforce. Numbers used in the chart for race and ethnicity are taken from
the overlapping BLS categories.

Chart One in turn is compared to employment of protected classes in state
agency employment. From attachments, it appears that state agency employment
is calculated according to more rigorous EEOC standards, where protected
classes do not overlap.

Throughout the report, numbers are presented in such isolation that it is
difficult to scan for internal consistency. Why does no chart present a
complete spectrum of protected classes, with comparisons to Anglos and
Males? Why are women rarely considered as various races and ethnicities? Why
are discussions, analyses, and footnotes so scarce?

In the end, the reader wants to know, what purpose is this report intended
to serve beyond simply complying with some law that says a report is to be
issued? Do the laws themselves not have a civil rights context that can
serve as the basis for stating the purposes, findings, and recommendations
of this report?

Perfunctory is the word that would most charitably describe this report.
Evasive is the word I would rather use. From start to finish, the reader
gets the impression that no one has really set out to show her the state of
equal opportunity in Texas in a way that the plain language of civil rights


The Texas Equal Employment Opportunity Report(pdf)

The EEO-1 Aggregate Report for 2002

The BLS distribution of employment report 2003 (pdf)

The Concept of Managed Instruction...

I personally don't like this phrase, "managed instruction," but we can expect to be hearing it in greater frequency. I do agree though with providing add'l resources to low-performing schools and "guiding, supporting, and improving instruction at the building level." No mention, however, whether test scores the sole or primary indicators behind "data-driven success." Moreover, certain districts are improving achievement, but are they creating life-long learners? There's a lot to digest here. -Angela
You probably won't find the term "managed instruction" in a Google search yet, but the expression is popping up  with increased frequency in educational literature.
The basic idea is that instruction needs to be "managed," too, in the same way  urban districts effectively manage human resources, finance, facilities construction, or transportation.  The Council of Great Cities Schools 2002 report, "Foundations for Success, " offers a framework that identifies practices in ten areas, including goal-setting, curriculum, assessment, and professional development, found to be common among urban districts that are effectively improving student achievement.  Making sure the curriculum is aligned with standards and statewide assessments, and is both coherent and comprehensive, is part of more aggressively managing curriculum and instruction.

The report summarizes case study districts' approaches to reform by identifying the following elements shared in common:

They focused on student achievement and specific achievement goals, on a set schedule with defined consequences; aligned curricula with state standards; and helped translate these standards into instructional practice.

They created concrete accountability systems that went beyond what the states had established in order to hold district leadership and building-level staff personally responsible for producing results.

They focused on the lowest-performing schools. Some districts provided additional resources and attempted to improve the stock of teachers and administrators at their lowest-performing schools.

They adopted or developed districtwide curricula and instructional approaches rather than allowing each school to devise their own strategies.

They supported these districtwide strategies at the central office through professional development and support for consistent implementation throughout the district.

They drove reforms into the classroom by defining a role for the central office that entailed guiding, supporting, and improving instruction at the building level.

They committed themselves to data-driven decision-making and instruction. They gave early and ongoing assessment data to teachers and principals as well as trained and supported them as the data were used to diagnose teacher and student weaknesses and make improvements.

They started their reforms at the elementary grade levels instead of trying to fix everything at once.

They provided intensive instruction in reading and math to middle and high school students, even if it came at the expense of other subjects.

An executive summary of the report is available at: Foundations for Success  The complete report (224 pages) may be downloaded as a PDF file.
Douglas S. Fleming
P.O. Box 597  Lunenburg, MA 01462
(978) 582 4217 voice&fax  (978) 807 4095 cell

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Bills That Would Create Virtual School Network, Allow Companies to Take Over Failing Schools, Pending in Legislature

Privatization efforts are very HOT this session. Folks need to express their views to legislators. Educating children and making a profit should not mix. As we consider where we are headed in this state, I quote Thomas Jefferson's famous 1820 letter to William Jarvis:

“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves and if we think [the people] not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”

If the link between education and democracy is foundational, as Jefferson indicates, control of education must remain in the hands of the people rather than in the corporate sector. This hardly means that lots of schools aren't in trouble, rather that market solutions to educational problems amounts to loss of citizen control of public schools, where the control should reside. -Angela

Proposed privatization and virtual classrooms among debated issues
By Jason Embry, David Kassabian
Saturday, March 26, 2005

Groups who for years have fought to limit the role of private companies in Texas public schools see some of their fiercest battles yet looming over the next nine weeks.

The major education bill passed by the Texas House and now being considered in the Senate would allow outside entities, including for-profit companies, to manage the state's worst-performing schools.

A House committee also is considering a bill that would allow public schools to contract with private companies to create virtual classes where students, including those who go to private or home schools, would take classes over the Internet.

"We know we need to find funding for our neighborhood schools," said Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors social conservatism in government. "They're struggling to find the money they need to barely keep pace with enrollment growth and inflation. At the same time, (lawmakers) want to carve out pieces of those dollars to give to private companies."

Supporters of giving businesses a crack at reviving failing schools say school boards and administrators should not retain control of schools that have suffered on their watch. They also champion the virtual schools as a way to reach students who have dropped out or whose local schools offer a basic menu of classes.

"A lot of people are in a comfort zone with the status quo," said Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, chairman of the House Public Education Committee. "But our kids are just too important to make decisions for the purpose of protecting the status quo."

Several lawmakers also have filed bills to create voucher programs that would give students public money to attend private schools. Those bills have not yet been heard in committees, but they're likely to receive heavy consideration in the GOP-run Legislature.

House Bill 2 calls for the state education commissioner to hire an outside entity to take control of a school if, for two years in a row, it does not meet federal guidelines and lands in the bottom 5 percent of the Texas Education Agency's ratings. Both the state and federal requirements are largely based on standardized test scores.

Five percent of the campuses translates to nearly 400 of the state's 7,800 schools.

Defenders of the takeover provision point out that the commissioner could name nonprofit groups of parents or teachers, as well as local colleges and universities, to run the schools.

"If a school is not performing well, we have to be aggressive in making a change," Grusendorf said. "Two years is a long time in a kid's life."

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said she wants to include a similar provision in Senate school reforms. But instead of focusing on schools that rank in the bottom 5 percent, she would apply the provision to schools that are rated "academically unacceptable."

One percent of the schools in the state received that rating last fall, but state officials are reviewing the ratings criteria and are likely to make them more stringent by the fall of 2006.

Shapiro said the state should, after the first year, thoroughly review any group or company that takes over a school. She also said she wants the state to provide more help to schools after one year of low ratings so they never become subject to takeover.

"What happens now is we wait two or three years down the road to ever intervene," she said.

But Carolyn Boyle of the Coalition for Public Schools said school districts should continue to use scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills to see where to focus their resources, not to justify the use of for-profit companies.

"The TAKS test is helping communities to know which groups of children need more help and more tutoring, and people are working on it," Boyle said. "Plus there's no proof that if you turn over a school to a for-profit corporation the student achievement will improve."

Opponents of bringing in private companies to run the schools point to Dallas, where the school board voted in 2002 to end a contract with the for-profit Edison Schools Inc. after two years. District officials said the schools failed to match the performance of other campuses with similar student populations, according to published reports.

Also stoking privatization fears is House Bill 1445. It would allow school districts, charter schools and education service centers to hire companies to develop online education programs. The schools that administer the programs would receive money from the state for educating those students. But Miller said she worries that most of that money would be passed through to private vendors to develop the online tools needed to offer the classes.

While schools regularly buy textbooks and other materials from for-profit companies, "what schools typically contract out for is not the wholesale education of the student," Miller said.

Grusendorf, whose committee heard testimony on the bill last week but did not act on it, said he hopes the panel will send it to the full House for a vote.

GOP Rep. Jerry Madden of Richardson, the author of the bill, said students enrolled in the programs would use class materials from the Internet, computer software, video and traditional textbooks. Teachers would instruct students and answer questions over the Internet and the phone.

Students could enroll in virtual programs if they are unhappy with their local schools or if they're trying to pick up a course or two that is not offered nearby.

"This is an opportunity program for any kid to get the best teacher in this state and the best course in this state," Madden said.

Shapiro said she supports a virtual-learning program because it has worked well at her local schools, in Plano. But she said she has not studied the specifics of the Madden bill.

The Legislative Budget Board projects that more than 10,000 students from private or home schools would enroll in virtual programs, which has raised concerns among teacher groups.

"You're talking about adding a significant number of (private and home-schooled) students into an already stretched funding system," said Lindsay Gustafson, a staff attorney with the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. "We want more transparency and accountability. Really, this is a step back."

It's Time to Give School Choice a Chance

The presupposition below that socioeconomic class differences won't worsen if we move toward vouchers does not make sense. Clearly, the education that a middle class person will be able to purchase with their voucher will be better than that which a working class person can purchase. Why? Because the private school sector is stratified by class and the amount that they'll charge folks with the SAME voucher amount will logically correspond to their purchasing power. -Angela

Sat, Mar. 26, 2005

It's Time to Give School Choice a Chance
By Gavin W. Pate
Special to the Star-Telegram

If you are unhappy with your choice of grocery stores, you might try another one. If you disliked the product selection at Kroger, you might go to Whole Foods. If you were dissatisfied with the pricing at Tom Thumb, you might get a membership at Costco.

However, if you are unhappy with your local government-operated schools, you cannot take your spending power and go elsewhere.

You are truly stuck.

Of course, you have the option of working hundreds of hours to pay your local property taxes, then working overtime and taking odd jobs to save enough to send your youngster to a private school. You want the best for your kids, but you are left with no viable choice but to hope that your school district doesn't go downhill.

That's not right, nor is it acceptable for the residents of Texas.

A school voucher program that would allow families to choose where their hard-earned dollars go is a critical step toward the future.

Harvard economist Carolyn Hoxby's study of voucher programs found an increase in academic performance of not only the students who chose to attend the private schools, but also in the students who chose to stay in the public schools.

We all stand to benefit since children would have more specialized attention in a setting where schools see the direct value of competition. The end result is a platform for educational success where young Texans have more of the tools they need to surpass expectations.

In 2004, Texans spent more than $10,000 per student who attended class regularly. A highly competitive private school can cost as little as $6,000 per year.

Certainly there are advantages to both schooling environments, and families should always have the opportunity to choose whichever benefits their children the most. But what we have now in Texas is a system that severely penalizes those with the smallest incomes.

Many families want a stable home environment and believe that a single-income family is the way to go. They then limit their choices of housing to what is within their budget. If dad works as a carpenter and makes $35,000 per year, they might live in a $75,000 house. This may be a less than prestigious ZIP code -- and that's fine. But you have now forced the children of this family to go to a school that may be mediocre in its approach to education.

Neither mom nor dad has a college degree. They both dream of more options for their children, but without a path to success, there is no reasonable choice.

The myth that if vouchers were allowed the wealthy will yank their children from public schools and the schools will become desolate wastelands for our boys and girls is not true. When Hoxby studied the effect of widespread vouchers, she found significant improvement in the public schools that faced the most competition.

This isn't to say that public schoolteachers don't care. Most of them do. But some are faced with the unenviable choice of entertaining children who don't want to be there, meeting standards that aren't properly funded and dealing with a cookie-cutter approach to education that is outdated for today's specialized economy.

When shopping for groceries, you have an endless number of choices. Some of us prefer to eat what tastes good, some of us prefer to eat what's healthful. Others choose to dine somewhere in between. But the bottom line is that we all have a choice. We are not forced to pay for something that we don't want.

Shouldn't we all have a choice on something so much more important?

But we must proceed cautiously. There are some heavy hitters in Texas who don't want to see such a program succeed.

The National Education Association is completely against vouchers on the grounds that they will pull money from public education. While this may be true, the goal of an educated society should not be to feed a government monopoly. It should be to find the most economical way to ensure the highest levels of education for all people that choose to pursue it.

In Texas we are all paying for an outdated approach to education that is not sustainable. We are dooming our low-income families to a poor set of choices: bad, mediocre or average. That is unacceptable and stands to limit the future of Texas.
Gavin W. Pate of Arlington is a member of the Star-Telegram community columnist panel.

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