Saturday, April 30, 2005

'Skill Gap' Between Races Stagnant

The gap is in the news again. ASCD has pretty extensive/scholarly coverage of this on their wesite. Check out both Part I and Part II in order to look at causes and strategies for closing it, respectively. This is a rather comprehensive examination. The piece below focuses on the Black-White Achievement Gap. The economist doesn't connect up any of this to either NCLB or what I call Texas-style accountability (which would have been logical since NCLB is based on the Texas experience). For resources that make these connections the gap and current policy, check out Many Children Left Behind or my book, titled Leaving Children Behind. Economists typically can only go so far with their analyses.


April 28, 2005
BY KATE N. GROSSMAN, Chicago Sun Times

The achievement gap between blacks and whites has stayed the same since 1990, and absent significant changes, the gulf could persist for much of the 21st century, according to new research by a University of Chicago economist.

This is in contrast to much of the 20th century, when the national achievement or "skill gap" between white and black students and young adults -- as measured by test scores, years of schooling and graduation rates -- decreased sharply.

"There are all kinds of things that could happen in the coming decades that could get us back on course, but if we extrapolate the current trends, things look really bleak," said Derek Neal, whose research will be published in the fall in the Handbook of Economics of Education. "We can't wait around and hope things get better."

Neal documented how the gap didn't narrow in the 1990s, and even grew slightly, and showed how African-American youth in urban centers lost significant ground relative to white students in test scores during the 1980s and 1990s.

Chicago statistics

In Chicago, for example, racial gaps in graduation rates increased between 1991 and 2001, according to the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. Between 1997 and 2004, the gap in reading and math scores also widened, a consortium analysis found. The consortium wasn't involved with Neal's study.

Neal laid out several variables that could explain these trends, though he did not endorse any theory. The factors disproportionately affected black parents and children starting in the 1980s.

These include dropping employment rates and wages for low-skilled workers, growing prison rates for black males, the crack epidemic, differences in black and white investments in their children and how they parent.

By 2000, for example, about half of the black males between 26 and 35 who dropped out of high school weren't working, and a quarter were institutionalized, usually in prison. Neal also reported a dramatic rise in mothers who never married among blacks with no postsecondary schooling between 1980 and 1990, as well as a drop in earnings for black parents of preschool kids. In 1980, blacks earned 68 percent as much as whites. By, 2000, it was 56 percent.

"What we have in the 1990s is very little progress in test scores and educational attainment for young [black] adults, who were born in the 1980s, in the middle of that chaos," Neal said. "I have no proof that the two are connected. What I do know is that I have identified in gory detail that there is a problem."

On a national test, black 9- and 13-year-olds made striking gains in reading and math from the late 1970s through the late 1980s, but then the gap stopped closing.

Family resources in a child's early years are especially crucial, Neal notes, because black children typically start first grade significantly behind whites.

In his paper, which culled data from the census, national labor and education statistics and from other researchers, Neal explores whether differing investments by blacks and whites in their young children are driven simply by economics and time or also by cultural norms.

Early teaching strategy

One tool Neal highlights to help reverse the current trend is quality early childhood education, an intervention well-established by research. The Chicago public school system, for example, has an academic-based preschool program that includes classes for parents at its "Child-Parent Centers."

A University of Wisconsin researcher, who wasn't profiled by Neal, has followed for nearly 20 years the low-income, mostly black kids who went to one of the centers in the 1980s. He found higher high school graduation rates, lower juvenile arrest rates and more total years of schooling than for kids in other preschool programs.

President Bush's 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which measures schools based on the performance of all subgroups, including blacks, was passed in large part to help close achievement data. Neal's data aren't relevant because they largely end in 2000.

Neal and colleagues who reviewed his work said they hope the trend since 1990 is only an aberration.

"There are a lot of things from the 20th century that I don't plan for the 21st, like Jim Crow and other things that retarded progress," said Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist. "I'm actually quite optimistic that we'll achieve parity. . . . But it's not crazy to look at those numbers and say [the gap could persist well into the 21st century]. Only time will tell."

Copyright © The Sun-Times Company

Friday, April 29, 2005

Edgewood Parents Hit Vouchers

Jenny Lacoste-Caputo
Express-News Staff Writer

AUSTIN — About 40 parents from the Edgewood School District rallied on the steps of the Capitol on Thursday to ask lawmakers to stop attempts to create a taxpayer-funded voucher program in Texas.

Lawmakers are considering three voucher bills currently pending in the House Public Education Committee. Two would create pilot programs which would affect several San Antonio school districts. The third would establish a statewide voucher program, affecting every school in Texas.

The only voucher program in the state now is a privately funded one in San Antonio's Edgewood School District.

Parents who oppose vouchers say they don't provide true school choice because private schools have the final say on who can attend. And, whether funded by private corporations or taxpayer money, vouchers siphon resources from public schools, opponents say.

"These vouchers exert an enormous financial drain on our school district, a tear in the fabric of our goals to educate our children," said Mike Espinoza, an Edgewood parent of an autistic son.

Kathy Miller, president of Texas Freedom Network, a group that advocates for public schools, said a voucher plan would drain between $600 million and $1.1 billion from public schools. Public school supporters cannot support vouchers, she said.

"The parents and teachers here today know firsthand the problems caused by voucher programs," she said.

"They have seen their schools lose precious dollars even while private schools cherry-pick certain students and reject others who have applied. At a time when legislators are struggling to fully fund our public schools, the last thing they should be doing is passing a voucher scheme that drains money from neighborhood schools to subsidize tuition at private schools."

Three weeks ago, nearly 500 voucher supporters rallied on the Capitol steps. They were greeted warmly by Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

One of the pending bills, House Bill 12, is sponsored by Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio. It would allow economically disadvantaged students from the state's six largest school districts, including Northside, to use a taxpayer-funded voucher to go to private school.

Corte argues that vouchers would force competition between public and private schools, and that competition will benefit students in both settings.

But Miller said the Edgewood parents in Austin on Thursday have a different story to tell.

"Their stories show that despite all the promises made by pro-voucher lobbyists, vouchers leave kids behind, fail families and hurt communities," Miller said.

A One Man Groundswell

A One Man Groundswell /

At the mid-Legislative session mark, the award for the slickest rally at the Capitol goes to the Hispanic Council for Education and Reform (H-CREO). On April 5, H-CREO, which bills itself as the largest Hispanic education group in the state, bused hundreds of parents to Austin to show that there is Latino grassroots support for school vouchers in Texas. Between 300 and 400 parents attended a pro-voucher rally—in plush style by public interest standards—prior to a hearing on voucher legislation in the House Public Education Committee that day. Organizers paid for a large white tent to stake out on the Capitol grounds, so the attendees could sit in the shade while having lunch served to them. They set up a professional sound system on the Capitol steps (it too had its own little white tent). The line-up of speakers was the power trifecta: Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, and House Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland). Before a bank of television cameras the three state leaders looked out into the brown faces gathered below and promised them that they heard their urgent cry to reform public schools by instituting vouchers. “School choice is one of the most important things we can do in this state,” Craddick told the crowd. “I assure you from the House side, we support choice.”

Organizers at H-CREO won’t reveal how much the rally cost. Marcela Garcini, a Texas parent coordinator for the group, says they organized the rally in just three days. (If they had started any earlier, it meant someone tipped them off about the hearing before it was publicly posted.) Garcini says the rally’s success was a reflection of H-CREO’s community organizing efforts in Texas since 2001. Organizers for the group go into public schools and churches to talk to parents, says Garcini. “When you really work with communities, when you really understand them, when you tell them the truth about how their kids are doing in the schools—this is the result you get.”

The rally, according to organizers, showed how much grassroots support vouchers have in the Hispanic community. Interviews in the crowd told a slightly different story. A majority of the parents present at the rally had children who were no longer in the public school system. They belonged to Children’s Educational Opportunity Fund, or CEO, a pro-voucher group in San Antonio that provides privately funded vouchers, or scholarships, for parents to put their kids into private schools. CEO San Antonio’s program director Jessica Sanchez estimates 250 parents from their parent organization, Las Comadres, attended the rally in Austin. Most of these parents already receive money to send their children to private schools through the CEO scholarship program.

But Carla Garcia, a parent who attended the rally and whose son has been on a CEO scholarship program since its inception in 1998, says the grants are ending. “Someone has donated the money for people needing it in San Antonio, but the money is running out. Once it runs out, people are going to have to pull their kids out of the schools they are in now because they are not going to be able to afford to keep them there.”

So who is this generous donor who doles out voucher money?

The largest contributor to the CEO program also happens to be the second largest campaign contributor in Texas, Dr. James Leininger. According to Sanchez, Leininger founded CEO and made a 10-year commitment to the organization. To date he has poured between $30 million and $50 million into the scholarship program. In the 2002 and 2004 election cycles, he gave a total of almost $2 million to Texas Republicans, according to figures from the Austin-based campaign watchdog Texans for Public Justice.

It’s not surprising that the large majority of attendees at the H-CREO rally were actually Leininger-funded CEO parents. Federal tax records further confirm that H-CREO and CEO are closely linked. Robert Aguirre, one of the original founders of the CEO program in San Antonio in 1998, is still managing director, but, according to Sanchez, is no longer on the payroll. Aguirre also helped to launch H-CREO in 2001 and now serves as chairman of the board of trustees. In 2003, he received over $100,000 in consulting fees from H-CREO, according to tax records.

H-CREO receives much of its funding from right-wing pro-voucher groups such as the Walton Family Foundation of Wal-Mart fame and Leininger’s own pro-voucher political action committee, Children First America. (See Political Intelligence, June 4, 2004). It’s a good time to be a Republican fat cat with a cause. In October, H-CREO received a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the Department of Education to inform the public about their options under the No Child Left Behind Act.

While refusing to reveal the origin of the money for the rally, organizers did insist that federal education dollars were not used. Chuck McDonald, serving as a spokesperson for the group’s efforts in Austin, says “they spent enough to attract enough people to get the press to come out” and that it probably fell somewhere in the couple of thousands of dollars. (McDonald was most recently in the media testifying in the Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) civil trial about his work creating more than four million mailers distributed to voters by the Texas Association of Business (TAB). Bill Cerverha, the defendant in the civil trial, was also at the rally in support.)

Garcini, the Texas parent coordinator for H-CREO, says she feels the organization is being unfairly targeted on money issues. “Who cares about the funds? Is the program working? Are the parents getting informed? Why, when they see the organization is working, when they have the proof, are they questioning the funds?”

Leininger has poured millions of dollars into the fight for school vouchers—including political contributions, but hasn’t seen the Lege give much movement to school voucher legislation. Nearly all the major contributors to the 2002 campaign that captured the Legislature—in a campaign currently under investigation by two grand juries—have already received something in return. Leininger and gambling interests appear to be the only ones left behind.

“I’m here to tell you, that there are people listening to you at the highest level of government,” Perry told the cheering parents at the rally.
And, Dr. Jim, that means you, too.

Lauren Reinlie is a legislative intern for The Texas Observer.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Lawmaker Says There's Too Much Emphasis on TAKS, Channel 8 News, Austin

This reporter below didn’t cover it, but my older daughter, Clara Zamora, spoke, as well, at the press conference today. She shared her views of the TAKS test and how it takes up too much instructional time and how it places too much pressure on children. She said that she doesn’t blame the schools but rather the government because it forces principals and teachers to make it (and the benchmarks) the center of schooling and how that’s unfair. She said that an education should be about learning and not about so much testing.

Though I’m hopelessly biased, Clara rocked! She’s so unassuming and understated that she exhibited, by all accounts, enormous credibility. She also made it clear that there’s nothing wrong with the test itself. The problem is the way it’s used.

As mentioned in an earlier message, Clara also wants to inform kids of their right to not have to take the test. She and some of her friends are signing an on-line petition that they created over the weekend to support State Rep. Dora Olivo’s bills. Hopefully, she’ll be able to use this as part of her testimony next Tuesday, May 3rd, when the Committee on Public Education plans on taking testimony on the legislation—barring any unforeseen contrivance by our unsupportive Chairman on Public Education. Having effectively joined the ranks of other known conscientious test objectors—Kim Marciniak and Mia Kang (both of San Antonio), Macario Guajardo (EdCouch-Elsa), and Emiliano Guajardo (Austin)—she’s in good company. Her parents are very proud about her principled stance and her willingness to speak on behalf of children in Texas. -Angela

News 8 Story

Lawmaker Says There's Too Much Emphasis on TAKS
4/26/2005 6:11 PM
By: Allie Rasmus 

It's a four-letter word that just about every parent with school-aged children knows - TAKS.

Texas students finished taking the standardized test last week.

The statewide exams test third through 11th graders every April on a variety of subjects.

In third, fifth and eighth grades, students who fail the TAKS fail the grade.

"When we get to one bubble-filling day and that makes the decision whether students pass or not, there's something wrong with that picture," Rep. Dora Olivo, D-Rosenberg, said.

Olivo wrote a bill that would make the TAKS test just one of several criteria to determine whether a student stays behind.

"The students' grades, the teacher opinion, plus the test to measure that student's performance," Olivo said.

The importance of TAKS
A bill would make the TAKS test just one of several criteria for determining student performance.

Elementary school teachers Marlee Criaco and Sue Calhoun say that's not a bad idea.

"It's very high pressure. There are kids who have never been sick before but they're so stressed out they're throwing up on the test, they're getting headaches," Criaco said.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with the TAKS test. We need to teach our children the skills that are in the TAKS test. But I think it's a sad thing that so much accountability is focused on one test," Calhoun said.

Olivo's bills, HB 1612 and HB 1613, weren't included to the House's education reform plan, but the Senate is expected to vote on its version of the House education bill on Thursday.

Olivo said there's still time this session to change the rules and decrease the pressure on Texas students. The bill is still pending in the House Education Committee. It's tentatively scheduled for a hearing on May 3.
I’ve never known Jerry Bracey, a good friend and colleague, to be “acerbic” as Mathews describes, but rather as a person of intellectual depth, principled and with a strong commitment to social justice. GMU needs him more than Bracey needs GMU and I hope that they come to their senses on their termination of his contract.

Don't Fire This Professor

By Jay Mathews

Early in 2003, shortly after he was hired as an associate professor of education at George Mason University, Gerald W. Bracey sat down for lunch at Chiengmai, a Thai restaurant in Fairfax City, with Jeffrey Gorrell, dean of the university's College of Education and Human Development.

It could have been a fruitful discussion about how to make America's schools better, since Gorrell oversaw an important training program for teachers and Bracey was one of the best-informed and articulate critics of education policy in the country. Instead, their conversation began a steady deterioration in relations between the two men that seems about to end with Bracey being fired. (A GMU spokesman said the university is not firing Bracey, just not renewing his contract, and that its action has nothing to do with the issues discussed at that lunch at Chiengmai.)

Deans and professors become irritated with each other all the time, and Bracey, 65, has only an untenured one-quarter-time contract, paying him about $20,000 a year. He is a popular writer and speaker, with a regular column on research in the monthly education magazine, the Phi Delta Kappan. Losing his GMU job will not cause him much financial stress or dim his reputation.

Yet, the events preceding Bracey's leaving are interesting, all the same, as an indication of the personal animosities generated by the ongoing argument over how to help ill-served schoolchildren and the difficulties the most outspoken advocates sometimes have. Bracey and Gorrell don't agree on why his contract was not renewed, so I want to tell their conflicting stories, which only increase my desire that Bracey stay at GMU.

Bracey said Gorrell told him at that lunch that there was a problem they needed to discuss. The dean had invited Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and a former assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration, to speak at the education school. In a letter to GMU President Alan G. Merten and Provost Peter Stearns, Bracey said Gorrell told him, "Finn said he would appear on one condition: That I not be in the room."

"Gorrell said that if I didn't agree, he would cancel the invitation," Bracey said. "I was stunned that the decision had been brought to me in the first place." Bracey said he felt the university's proper response was to use the expletive employed by Vice President Cheney in his famous 2004 exchange with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). "But, as a 25 percent employee on the scene for only a few months, I didn't think it was my place to deprive the rest of [the] faculty of their chance to hear Finn speak," Bracey said.

People reading this who know Bracey are guessing that he would not, despite that mild response, ever take such an insult without a vigorous response. One of the reasons Bracey is not running an education school or state education department himself, given his depth of knowledge and communication skills, is that he is one of the most acerbic people in his field, quick to take offense and not shy about telling people with whom he disagrees how much he thinks they have failed in thought and action.

Take for instance his annual Rotten Apple Awards, which identify journalists, pundits and educators who Bracey thinks have behaved like craven idiots in the previous 12 months. I haven't made the list yet, but I expect my time will come since Bracey and I disagree on many issues. Still, I cite him often in stories and columns because he is too smart and quotable to resist.

In the debate over fixing schools, Bracey opposes the federal No Child Left Behind law, thinks we have put too much faith in testing and calls for more support and money for teachers. He argues frequently that opinion leaders such as Finn, who supports No Child Left Behind, have distorted data and made American public schools look much worse than they are. I think Finn, whom I also quote frequently, is right to support No Child Left Behind, and I think Bracey is right that American schools are better than they are often made out to be, although unlike Bracey I do not think anyone in this debate is acting in bad faith. I admire both men, which neither of them can understand.

Finn's account of the prelude to his speech at GMU is only slightly different from Bracey's, and like Bracey he does not deny the contempt they have for each other. "I distinctly recall saying to Jeff Gorrell, after I learned that he had been inexplicably moved to hire Bracey, that if Bracey was going to be in the audience I'd rather not come to lecture at his institution," Finn said. "That's all I know except that Bracey didn't turn up. I've no idea what transpired between Gorrell and Bracey."

Finn said he thought Bracey was "nothing but a self-aggrandizing spoiler-kvetcher-troublemaker-naysayer."

Although Bracey stayed away from Finn's speech, he made known his feelings about it. "I considered going in disguise," he said, "but settled for preparing and distributing to the faculty 13 questions I thought the faculty should address to Finn. As appalled as I was at the situation, I was then equally appalled that only two faculty members saw Finn's stipulation as a major academic freedom issue and talked to Gorrell about it. The most common reaction was a shrug."

"Dean Gorrell called me on the carpet for using the faculty mailing list to disseminate the questions, saying that in them I had put forth some ad hominem arguments about Finn," Bracey said. "It apparently didn't occur to Gorrell that Finn's ultimatum was predicated on a nothing but ad hominem argument."

Bracey said Gorrell recently told him his contract, which expires at the end of this academic year, will not be renewed. In a March 22 letter to Bracey, Gorrell said, "As I have explained to you several times over the past year or so, the College's contracts with you were associated with a desire to find a good fit between your skills and the needs of the College. I regret that at this time I do not have an assignment for you that would lead to another contract. However, if a project surfaces in the future where we can use your evident abilities, I will be happy to contract for your services again."

He told Bracey the decision had "no relationship to issues of academic freedom" and "while I do not agree with much of your characterization of the events of two years ago, I do recognize your right to hold to your interpretations."

GMU spokesman Dan Walsch noted that Bracey's contract was renewed for two years after the Finn speech, although Bracey contends that the university was looking for ways to remove him each of those years. Academic freedom, Walsch said, "is the bedrock of our institution. Over the years, George Mason has proudly brought many different voices to campus, including Cornell West, J. Gordon Liddy, Margaret Thatcher, Thomas Ridge, Madelyn Albright and John Kerry."

Walsch said that "only several weeks ago, the university's Faculty Senate passed a resolution that reinforced its unshakable belief in free speech. The Faculty Senate's action spoke for all of us. Academic freedom remains alive and well at George Mason University."

That is commendable. But without Bracey the vibrancy of the debate over educational issues at the university is likely to suffer. During his three years at GMU, Bracey gave more than 45 speeches in 23 states, wrote 30 Phi Delta Kappan columns, 17 articles and six books, not counting his upcoming work, "How to Read Research and Avoid Being Duped by Data." He was given the John Dewey Award by the Vermont Association for the Study of Education and the Interpretive Scholarship Award by the American Educational Research Association. The Horace Mann Society named him Educator of the Year. His GMU connection was mentioned in nearly all these publications and occasions.

Bracey, without question, can be a pain, but he plays the same energizing role in the American educational debate that is played by Al Franken, Ann Coulter, Al Sharpton and other passionate and entertaining advocates in our political debates.

Figuring out how to make schools work is hard enough without having a sharp, well-argued discussion of the most difficult points. Bracey has often offended experts by exposing us to alternate interpretations of statistics and trends, but what's wrong with that?

House Approves Gay-Marriage Ban

According to the Quorum Report (4/25/04), -- “Rep. Sefronia Thompson (D-Houston) asked, tongue-in-cheek, whether Chisum also was willing to outlaw adultery, fornication and incest, which were all threats to marriage. She later gave a fiery speech paralleling the intolerance against gay marriage with the intolerance against interracial marriage of her childhood. Thompson told the House that HJR 6 was about hate and fear and discrimination.

"I know something about hate and fear and discrimination. When I was a small girl, white folks used to talk about ‘protecting the institution of marriage’ as well. What they meant was if people of my color tried to marry people of Mr. Chisum's color, you'd often find the people of my color hanging from a tree," Thompson said. "That's what the white folks did back then to ‘protect marriage.’ Fifty years ago, white folks thought inter-racial marriages were a ‘threat to the institution of marriage.’"

This is sad. I imagine that the Supreme Court will ultimately weigh in on this issue of legalized discrimination in Texas. -Angela

House approves gay-marriage ban

Proposed constitutional amendment still needs Senate, voter approval.
By Michelle M. Martinez
> Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Efforts to add a ban on gay marriage to the state constitution advanced Monday when the Texas House of Representatives approved the measure with a necessary two-thirds vote.

Critics were particularly concerned about an amendment to the resolution that they say would ban gay and straight couples from civil unions.

In Texas, same-sex marriages are forbidden, and civil unions are not recognized.

The 101 members who voted in favor of the resolution, which was sponsored by Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, would let Texas voters decide whether the constitution should be amended to say that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

"The Texas Legislature continues to push policies that hurt real Texas families by denying children of placement in loving homes and by closing the door on loving, committed couples from the ability to care for one another and their family," said Heath Riddles, communications director for the Lesbian-Gay Rights Lobby of Texas.

Riddles was referring to a House amendment that was tacked on to a Child Protective Services reform bill last week. That amendment, by Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, would ban gays and lesbians from being foster parents.

The bill voted on Monday must be approved one more time before it can clear the House and go to the Senate, where it will need approval from two-thirds of the senators to pass. It then would need to be approved by voters.

In 2003, lawmakers made marriage between two people of the same sex and civil unions void in Texas. That measure included a provision that the state would not recognize such unions. When the Legislature passed the bill, also known as the Defense of Marriage Act, state law already prohibited issuing marriage licenses to people of the same sex.

The bill approved Monday would take the issue a step further by amending the constitution — if voters approve. If the Senate agrees, the measure would be put on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Chisum said the move to put the language in the constitution would help should a legal challenge to the marriage act arise.

"I think it's something that's going around in the different areas, and we can prevent all of that by putting this into the constitution, by placing that question in front of the people of the state," Chisum said.

Fifteen states have constitutional amendments defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman, and voters in three others have yet to decide.

Some lawmakers questioned Chisum's motive for wanting to amend the constitution and accused him of playing politics.

"I want the body to clearly understand here that we are not doing anymore with this amendment than what exists now in the state of Texas," Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said before abstaining from the vote. "We are making a political statement just for the point of making the statement."

Lawmakers were particularly concerned about the amendment that says the state or a political subdivision of the state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage. The proposal would ban civil unions in the state, but there was some confusion as to the effects it would have on common-law marriages. Chisum assured lawmakers it would not affect such marriages.

Kelly Shackelford, president of the Free Market Foundation, agreed. He said the amendment was meant to prevent a situation such as the one in California, where the legislature passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage between a man and a woman and then created domestic partnerships — not considered marriages — for same-sex couples.

"The other side has been very ingenious in trying to do end runs around the people's wishes," said Shackelford, whose Plano organization pushes for less government, lower taxes and "solid family values."

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, said the measure limits the rights of all unmarried Texans and is a diversion from the real issues facing families.

"It will do nothing to lower property taxes, fully fund our public schools, provide health insurance for children of the working poor and protect abused and neglected kids," she said in a prepared statement. "Shameful votes like this one . . . are designed simply to play politics at the expense of a vulnerable minority in our state."; 445-3633
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Proceed with Caution by Diane Ravitch

Ravitch responds to Bill Gates' proposal to make all high school students college ready. She argues that this will be difficult because they inherit the deficits incurred earlier at the elementary and middle school levels. She suggests a bifurcated tracking system that prepares children for different destinies earlier--some toward college and others through technical careers. She also unfairly derides reforms that I believe can get at the heart of the problem of the gap, namely, reforms that address issues of race & class, an area that she accords little weight or attention to in her writings. I suppose she knows what's best for our minorities.

In any case, what she proposes has its own limits. I, for example, didn't know that I would go to college until I was a senior in high school. I was victimized by institutionalized racism and sexism (combined) with teachers never regarding me as college material and tracking me into lower courses without me or my parents being fully aware of the consequences. Under the system she proposes, unwitting "late bloomers" like myself would get routed in the wrong direction too quickly.

Gates (see article below) proposes college readiness for ALL students while Ravitch proposes college readiness for SOME students. Whatever their respective limitations, of the 2 proposals, the latter one depends on ever more sorting, tracking, and segregation—all of which will surely cluster anew by race and class. Wonder what others think?


Education Researcher Diana Ravitch Questions the National High School Reform Movement
Just because Bill Gates is ready to pour millions of dollars into a big new idea doesn't make it a good one

Some high schools get high grades
Rush to reform may miss the mark
By DIANE RAVITCH,, April 16, 2005

Everybody who is anybody seems to have decided that the American high school is responsible for the failings of American students. The Bush administration, many governors and even Bill Gates have now called for radical reforms.

Reflecting this growing consensus that the high school is, in Gates' words, an "obsolete" institution, the governors of 13 states have pledged an overhaul of the high school system, and more are expected to jump on the bandwagon of reform.
Let's slow down here. American education is famous for inspiring crusades, and the history of the 20th century is littered with dozens of failed movements. This 21st century campaign will fall flat, too, unless the proponents are clear-headed about the nature of the problem and willing to rethink their proposed solutions.
It is true that American student performance is appalling. Only a minority of students - whether in 4th, 8th or 12th grade - reach proficiency as measured by the Education Department's National Assessment of Educational Progress. On a scale that has three levels - basic, proficient and advanced - most students score at the basic level or even below basic in every subject.
American students also perform poorly when compared with their peers in other developed countries on tests of mathematics and science, and many other nations now have a higher proportion of their students completing high school.
While the problems of low achievement and poor graduation rates are clear, however, their solutions are not. The reformist governors, for example, want to require all students to take a college-preparatory curriculum and to meet more rigorous standards for graduation. These steps will very likely increase the dropout rate, not reduce it.
To understand why, you have to consider what the high schools are dealing with. When American students arrive as freshmen, nearly 70 percent are reading below grade level. Equally large numbers are ill-prepared in mathematics, science and history.
It is hardly fair to blame high schools for the poor skills of their entering students. If students start high school without the skills needed to read, write and solve math problems, then the governors should focus on strengthening the standards of their states' junior high schools.
And that first year of high school is often the most important one - many students who eventually drop out do so after becoming discouraged when they can't earn the credits to advance beyond ninth grade. Ninth grade is often referred to by educators as a "parking lot." This is because social promotion - the endemic practice of moving students up to the next grade whether they have earned it or not - comes to a crashing halt in high school.
It makes no sense to blame the high schools for their ill-prepared incoming students. To really get at the problem, we have to make changes across our educational system. The most important is to stress the importance of academic achievement.
Sorry to say, we have a long history of reforms by pedagogues to de-emphasize academic achievement and to make school more "relevant," "fun" and like "real life." These ideals have produced whole-language instruction, where phonics, grammar and spelling are abandoned in favor of "creativity," and fuzzy mathematics, where students are supposed to "construct" their own solutions to math problems instead of finding the right answers.
Besides, in many ways our high schools are better than our primary system. They are the part of our educational system where students are most likely to have teachers who have a degree in the subject they are teaching.
In the lower grades, most teachers are likely to have majored in education, not in mathematics or science or history; some even have both a major and a minor in pedagogy, yet end up teaching core academic subjects.
This does not mean, of course, that our high schools are ideal. To some extent, the present-day comprehensive high school, in which most American students are enrolled, tries and fails to be all things to all students.
It does not adequately challenge high-performing students, who get low scores when compared with their peers in other nations. It does a poor job preparing average students, nearly half of whom need remedial courses when they enter college. And it loses low-performing students, who are likely to drop out while still lacking the skills they need for gainful employment.
A report released last month by the National Association of Scholars, an independent group of educators, outlined proposals more sensible than those endorsed by the governors. Written by Sandra Stotsky, a former associate commissioner of education for Massachusetts, it proposes that students entering ninth grade be given a choice between a subject-centered curriculum or a technical, career-oriented course of study.
The former would look like a traditional college-preparatory curriculum, with an emphasis on humanities, sciences or arts. The latter would include a number of technologically rigorous programs and apprenticeships.
All students, regardless of their concentration, would be required to complete a core curriculum of four years of English and at least three years of mathematics, science and history. Students graduating from either program would be well-educated and prepared for higher education.
The report also recommends that teachers of core subjects have a solid background - at least an undergraduate major - in the main subjects they teach, that teachers of technical subjects have either solid academic training or work experience in their fields, and that American schools have a longer school day and school year.
In addition, contrary to the philosophy of Gates' foundation, which has spent millions to create hundreds of small high schools with no more than 500 students, the National Academy of Scholars report recommends that schools should have a minimum of 500 students.
Larger schools provide better staff depth and stability - imagine how disruptive it is to a tiny high school if just a couple of teachers leave over the summer - and have a broader range of music, art, drama, debate and sports offerings.

And research by Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania has shown that small high schools are more likely than large ones to have out-of-field teachers - that is, teachers who have neither a major nor a minor in their subject.

Our officials should be lauded for their concern about high school graduation rates. But the governors should scrutinize with great care the popular reforms of the day before imposing them on their states' schools.
Just because Bill Gates is ready to pour millions of dollars into a big new idea doesn't make it a good one.

Ravitch is a research professor of education at New York University and the author of "Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms."
The K-12 Committee of The National Association of Scholars:
Recommendations For Reforming the American High School

Flunking Out, by Bill Gates

April 17, 2005, 1:51AM


Our high schools just aren't doing the job we need to create an effective 21st century work force. We have to reinvent them.


Our high schools are obsolete.

By obsolete, I don't just mean that they are broken, flawed and underfunded — although I can't argue with any of those descriptions.

What I mean is that they were designed 50 years ago to meet the needs of another age. Today, even when they work exactly as designed, our high schools cannot teach our kids what they need to know.

Until we design high schools to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting — even ruining — the lives of millions of Americans every year. Frankly, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow. The idea behind the old high school system was that you could train an adequate work force by sending only a small fraction of students to college, and that the other kids either couldn't do college work or didn't need to.

Sure enough, today only one-third of our students graduate from high school ready for college, work and citizenship.

The others, most of whom are low-income and minority students, are tracked into courses that won't ever get them ready for any of those things — no matter how well the students learn or how hard the teachers work.

In district after district across the country, wealthy white kids are taught Algebra II, while low-income minority kids are taught how to balance a checkbook.

This is an economic disaster. In the international competition to have the best supply of workers who can communicate clearly, analyze information and solve complex problems, the United States is falling behind. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world.

In math and science, our fourth-graders rank among the top students in the world, but our 12th-graders are near the bottom. China has six times as many college graduates in engineering.

As bad as it is for our economy, it's even worse for our students. Today, most jobs that pay enough to support a family require some post-secondary education. Yet onlyhalf of all students who enter high school enroll in a post-secondary institution.

High school dropouts have it worst of all. Only 40 percent have jobs. They are nearly four times more likely to be arrested than their friends who stayed in high school. And they die young because of years of poor health care, unsafe living conditions and violence.

We can put a stop to this. We designed these high schools; we can redesign them.

We have to do away with the outdated idea that only some students need to be ready for college and that the others can walk away from higher education and still thrive in our 21st century society. We need a new design that realizes that all students can do rigorous work.

There is mounting evidence in favor of this approach. Take the Kansas City, Kan., public school district, where 79 percent of students are minorities and 74 percent live below the poverty line. For years, the district struggled with high dropout rates and low test scores. In 1996, it adopted a school-reform model that, among many other steps, requires all students to take college-prep courses. Since then, the district's graduation rate has climbed more than 30 percentage points.

Kansas City is not an isolated example. Exciting work is under way to improve high schools in such cities as Oakland, Chicago and New York.

All of these schools are organized around three powerful principles: Ensure that all students are given a challenging curriculum that prepares them for college or work; that their courses clearly relate to their lives and goals; and that they are surrounded by adults who push them to achieve.

This kind of change is never easy. But I believe there are three ways that political and business leaders at every level can help build momentum for change in our schools:

• First, declare that all students must graduate from high school ready for college, work and citizenship. Every politician and chief executive in the country should speak up for the belief that children need to take courses that prepare them for college.
• Second, publish the data that measure our progress toward that goal. We already have some data that show us the extent of the problem. But we need to know more: What percentage of students are dropping out? What percentage are graduating? And this data must be broken down by race and income.
• Finally, every state should commit to turning around failing schools and opening new ones. When the students don't learn, the school must change. Every state needs a strong intervention strategy to improve struggling schools.
If we keep the system as it is, millions of children will never get a chance to fulfill their promise because of their ZIP Code, their skin color or their parents' income. That is offensive to our values.

Every kid can graduate ready for college. Every kid should have the chance.

Let's redesign our schools to make it happen.

Gates, chairman of Microsoft, is co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

HISD: "Third of 5th-Graders Fail Harder-to-Pass Math Test"

It's amazing to hear all the praises that are sung about the accountability system at the Texas legislature, as well as in the press, when the state's own data belie this very reality. If one soley relied on the TEA's press releases for information on the condition of education in our state (see Hot Topics for TEA's version of events), one wouldn't immediately grasp this reality.

Sure, 89 percent of the 226,939 students tested passed all their tests, but this rate is in turn is "achieved" through BOTH racial/ethnic disparities AND differences between those who are economically disadvantaged versus their counterparts who are not.

Among 3rd graders, for example, 95% of Anglos met the standard in reading while 85 and 82% of Latinos and African Americans, respectively, did so (March 2005, Statewide Preliminary Report, TEA). Similarly, 95% of economically advantaged in comparison to 83% of their disadvantaged counterparts met this standard.

At the 11th grade level, matters are even more bleak, with only 64% of all students meeting the standard in language arts. That is, while 75% of Anglos met the L.A. standard, only 60% of Latinos and 60% of African Americans did so (December 2004, Statewide Preliminary Report, TEA). Similarly, 69% of economically advantaged in comparison to 60% of their disadvantaged counterparts met this standard.

So, the 3rd grade achievement levels are not only NOT replicated at later grade levels, but the racial/ethnic and socioeconomic gap persists across ALL levels despite 14-plus years of Texas-style accountability. Now, if only our legislators will stop being cheerleaders for the system and start paying attention to those of us who welcome a more constructive and less punishing approach to school reform. -Angela

April 26, 2005, 9:57AM

HISD chief Saavedra says the scores show progress
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Houston's fifth-graders posted the lowest passing rate among the state's five urban school districts on the TAKS math test. Here's a list of the districts and the percentage who passed the exam.
• Austin: 76 percent
• Fort Worth: 73 percent
• San Antonio: 69 percent
• Dallas: 68 percent
• Houston: 67 percent
• State: 79 percent
Source: School districts

A third of Houston's fifth-graders failed the state's math exam, the school district announced Monday, meaning 4,500 students face the threat of summer school, and perhaps another year in elementary school, if they don't manage to pass by August.

This is the first year that fifth-graders are required to pass the math and reading portions of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exam in order to move on to the sixth-grade.

Those who haven't passed both subjects after the third try in June can still be promoted if their parent, teacher and principal unanimously agree that promotion is in the child's best interest.

Even fewer Houston Independent School District fifth-graders — 62 percent — passed the reading exam on the first try, according to results released last month.

HISD's math passing rate — 67 percent — was the lowest among Texas' five urban school districts and 12 percentage points below the state average.

Still, HISD Superintendent Abe Saavedra said the scores show progress.

Students had to correctly answer 30 of 42 math questions this year to pass, compared with 28 of 42 last year, when 76 percent of HISD's fifth-graders passed.

If last year's weaker standards had been used again this year, 78 percent would have passed, he said.

"We're proud of the improvement in our test scores," Saavedra said.

"But we still have a long way to go to have every child in HISD learning at the highest level."

Students who haven't passed the TAKS test will get extra tutoring to prepare for their next shot at the exam in May, Saavedra said.

They'll have another opportunity in late June.

Saavedra said he expects scores to improve under his new teaching-focused management structure that goes into effect at the end of this school year.

On Monday, he named 18 of the 19 people who will serve as executive principals, each overseeing a high school and all the elementary and middle schools that feed into it.

A few will oversee two feeder patterns.

"These strong academic leaders will focus with laser-like intensity on improving academic performance in every school in HISD," Saavedra said, as the executives stood behind him at the school district headquarters.

Each executive principal will earn a base salary of $95,000 with a potential incentive bonus of up to $30,000. Who gets those bonuses will be determined at least in part on TAKS scores.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

NYTimes Editorializes for NCLB

If testing were the answer to our problems, they would have all been solved by now. -Schaeffer of FairTest appropriately recommends that we all respond to the NYTimes on this. -Angela

From: "Bob Schaeffer"
To: "ARN Main List" ; "arn2-strategy"

New York Times editorial writers (primarily Brent Staples) continue to
confuse identification of a very real problem -- inequity and the educational achievement gap that results -- with NCLB's counter-productive "solution." Letters to the editor should be emailed
to or faxed to 212 556-3622. Remember to limit
comments to 150 words or so in order to increase the odds that they will
be printed.

New York Times Editorial -- April 22, 2005
The Bush administration jeopardized the most important education reform
of the last 100 years when it failed to fully finance the No Child Left
Behind Act, which requires states to improve scholastic achievement for
poor and minority children in return for federal dollars. The shortfall
in funds has not only made it more difficult for some states to comply,
but has also provided a handy excuse for those who don't believe that
the achievement gap between white and minority children can ever be
closed - or don't want to make the effort to try.

Right now, when the law is under attack from all sides, it's important
to divide the critics who want to make it work better from those who
simply want to see it go away. It can't be a coincidence that the states
most actively opposed to No Child Left Behind have poor records when it
comes to the very issues the federal law is supposed to address.

The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers'
union, made headlines this week when it engineered a lawsuit asserting
that No Child Left Behind illegally requires states to spend their own
money on enforcing new federal requirements. The N.E.A. has
misrepresented the law to the public from the start, and the primary aim
of its suit is to throw out the baby with the bath water. The union
doesn't want a better No Child Left Behind Act; it wants to make the law
disappear entirely.

The new law has also drawn protests from Connecticut and Utah, two
states where the achievement gaps between white and minority children
are among the largest in the nation. Secretary of Education Margaret
Spellings, who has been working to fix some of the genuine problems with
the administration of the law, struck the right tone this week when she
notified Utah that if it insisted on substituting a weaker system of its
own choosing for the federal rules, it could potentially lose federal

That same warning should apply to Connecticut, which has threatened to
sue the federal government over the portion of the law that requires
annual student testing in grades three through eight. The testing is
necessary to ensure that the states are actually closing the achievement
gap between white and minority children.

Connecticut, which already tests in some grades, argues that testing
every year in the grades required by the law would be of no value. But
it would be extremely valuable to the parents of at-risk children, who
should not have to wait two years to find out whether the schools are
actually helping their children.

The No Child Left Behind law has been a success on many levels -
particularly in reorienting the thinking of the school districts that
used to average out success by letting the stellar achievements of
middle-class students wipe out the failures on the bottom. But it will
take years, and far more work and money, before the public sees the kind
of improvement it has a right to expect. Right now, everyone who cares
about quality education for all children should be working to make that
happen, not to dismantle what has already been done.

Secretary Spellings should make it clear that Congress meant business
when it declared an end to educational inequality and required the
states to actually teach impoverished children in exchange for getting
federal aid. Money is clearly crucial, but the argument over funds
should not be allowed to derail the new law, which is already showing
that achievement gaps can be narrowed if the schools apply themselves.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Texas Fined for No Child Defiance

------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- | Section: Local & State

April 23, 2005, 12:00AM

Toe the line, education chief warns the agency she once headed
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Education Secretary Margaret Spellings fined Texas $444,282 Friday for the state's continued defiance of the No Child Left Behind Act.

For the last two years, the Texas Education Agency has exceeded the federal cap on how many students with learning disabilities can be exempted from regular state testing, mandated by the act, in favor of an easier exam.

In a stern letter addressed to Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley, Spellings said "the TEA has not shown cause why" she should not withhold the money from the agency's 2004 federal grant.

"The TEA's proposed amendment was not consistent with the law and the regulations, and something the Education Department could not approve," Spellings wrote.

It is only the second fine ever levied against a state under the 2001 landmark education law. It is also the steepest.

Minnesota was fined $113,000 by Spelling's predecessor, Rod Paige, for not testing an adequate number of students in 2003.

In January, Paige threatened to fine Texas for noncompliance, but he gave the state time to submit a defense.

Spellings, formerly of Houston, who took over later that month, was not convinced by the state's justification of its actions.

Texas' fine comes a little more than two weeks after Spellings announced that she would offer more flexibility in meeting No Child Left Behind requirements to states that otherwise adhere to federal rules.

But Texas had flouted the federal guidelines.

Neeley's defiance touched off a public dispute between her and Spellings, who helped design the original No Child Left Behind Act in Texas when she advised then-Gov. George W. Bush from 1994 to 2000.

Neeley was accused of exempting the extra students to falsely inflate state scores. In response, she said the Education Department was out of touch with needs of students in Texas.

Texas may be subject to further sanctions.

The federal limit on the number of students who can take the special exam remains capped at 1 percent, and Texas again exempted nearly 9 percent of its students during the current school year.

"We're going down another path where there's going to be another standoff," said Patty Sullivan, director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington. "They're probably going to fine the state again this year."

But education experts said the penalties were not severe enough to force Texas to change its guidelines.

The $444,282 fine represents a fraction of Texas' $1.1 billion federal allocation, and a sliver of the state's $33 billion annual public education budget.

"Texas got a slap on the hand for breaking a fundamental principle of No Child Left Behind. Now any other state that doesn't comply is going to expect a similar financial penalty," said Scott Young, a policy adviser for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"Texas called their bluff. Apparently, the department's not going to jeopardize public education in Texas and the individual students there. I can only imagine what Utah and Connecticut are thinking right now."

On Tuesday, Utah's Legislature passed a resolution that declares federal education laws subordinate to state policy.

Last week, Connecticut officials announced plans to sue the Education Department for the right to disregard federal rules, saying the federal government fails to provide enough money.

It is unclear how Texas will return the money from its 2004 federal allocation, all of which has been spent. Officials at both TEA and the Education Department were unavailable for comment when the letter was released Friday at 7:20 p.m. EDT.

Friday, April 22, 2005


*************URGENT TFN ACTION ***************

The House Public Education Committee will hear testimony at 2 p.m., Tuesday, April 26, on two bills that would swing open the door to widespread censorship of our children's textbooks. These bills would effectively repeal legislation passed in 1995 to prevent the State Board of Education (SBOE) from censoring content in Texas textbooks. By permitting SBOE members to insert or delete content based on their own political and religious ideology, the bills would give far-right censors free rein to target textbooks discussions on such topics as the theory of evolution, slavery, the civil rights struggle, women's rights and the separation of church and state.

H.B. 2534 by Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, allows the SBOE to determine content requirements and limitations for facts and discussions about theories (such as the theory of evolution), citizenship, patriotism and free enterprise, and 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 before the SBOE for the last 10 years.

H.B. 220 by Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, would give the SBOE the authority to reject a textbook or require its revision simply because the book did not conform to the political or religious beliefs of SBOE members. The bill author tried to attach this bill as an amendment to H.B. 4 on technology and instructional materials for schools earlier this week. Rep. Howard said far-right SBOE members Terri Leo and David Bradley asked him for this bill. Both Leo and Bradley have led efforts to censor school textbooks for years and have frequently called on the Legislature to restore the state board's authority over textbook content.



Give the House Public Education Committee and the media first-hand accounts of how far-right censors on the SBOE have put responsible science, history and health education on trial during battles over the adoption of new textbooks.

Please contact Heather Alden, or 512-322-0545, to get more details about testifying Tuesday. e can try to accommodate your schedule with a cell phone call before testimony is starting.


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

To make a donation, go to

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Bill Seeks to Open Classes to Home-Schoolers

What this article doesn't mention is that none of these home-schooled children would be subjected to having to take the TAKS exam--which is itself responsible for many of the lousy conditions of schooling that forces families into home-schooling in the first place. So, they get the best of both worlds. With this picture, I DO see lots of families resorting to homeschooling if given such options. And as stated below, at tremendous cost to our already fiscally challenged public school system. -Angela

Families, Plano push for access to subjects, activities, funds

12:52 PM CDT on Thursday, April 21, 2005

By TERRENCE STUTZ and KIM BREEN / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Thousands of home-school families have struck an unlikely alliance with Plano school officials in a push to allow their children to participate in some classes and extracurricular activities for the first time.

Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, submitted a bill early Wednesday that would let home-schoolers pick and choose classes, such as chemistry or a foreign language, or play on sports teams or the band at their neighborhood schools.

DMN file
The bill proposes in return for letting home-schooled kids attend some district classes, the schools would get extra money based on the additional enrollment.

In return, the schools would get extra money based on the additional enrollment.

"It allows parents who choose to home-school to also have the opportunity for their children to participate in certain things that public schools offer, such as chemistry labs," Mr. McCall said.

"They're taxpayers. They pay property taxes for the schools, and if they choose to participate in part of what their local schools have to offer, they should be able to."

Among critics are the state's four teacher organizations, the only lobbyists to testify against the bill before the House Public Education Committee.

"We are opposed to home-school students having any access to public schools," said Johannah Whitsett of the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

"They can already enroll in public schools at any time. There are finite resources in public schools, and allowing these students to come and take classes part time could limit class space for regular, full-time students."

Bill sponsors addressed the biggest obstacle – a hefty price tag – by proposing initial limits on the number of students and tax dollars dedicated. A fiscal analysis indicated that allowing the home-school option without limits would cost more than $116 million over two years.

Mr. McCall said the study far overestimated the number of students who would take advantage of the new law, but he proposed an initial limit of about 2,000 students and $5 million in funding. Enrollment limits could be increased or dropped altogether in future years, he said.

He said the bill has gotten a favorable reaction from House colleagues, and he is hopeful it will pass out of the chamber in coming weeks. Republicans, in particular, have been sympathetic to the concerns of home-school families. Gov. Rick Perry addressed a Capitol rally of home-school parents a few weeks ago.

Mr. McCall said he was asked to sponsor the measure by the Plano school district, where a significant number of home-schooled children live.

The extra revenue could stack up for districts, considering the state's estimate that at least 160,000 children in Texas are taught at home. A group that represents home-school families and backs the legislation said the actual number is closer to 250,000. There is no estimate of how many live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Most important to Plano school officials is part of the bill that would allow home-schooled students to take district online courses for academic credit. The district has been trying for years to get state reimbursement for students who take courses via computer. Those students pay tuition now.

Plano Superintendent Doug Otto said he hopes the bill would be a step toward state reimbursement for those courses, which would make them more affordable to all Plano students, whether they're home-schooled or not.

While state rules limit participation in sports and other extracurricular activities to full-time students, the bill would allow home-schoolers to join the school band or choir, or try out for the football or basketball teams. Residency requirements would be the same as for other kids: Students must attend their assigned neighborhood schools.

A revision to the bill would subject home-schooled students to the state's no pass-no play rule – even if it's their parents giving the grades – for participation in extracurricular activities.

Home-school parents sometime hit a wall when a student's learning exceeds the parent's knowledge or the family home lacks the right equipment. Some of the more elaborate extracurricular activities, such as marching band, aren't available in the home-school setting.

Opening up public school sports teams could be a selling point to some home-school families.

"In my view, the more opportunities the better," said Chuck Hendricks, president of the Home School Athletic Association, which formed a decade ago to give area home-schoolers an opportunity to compete with private school teams.

Mr. Hendricks, father of seven home-schooled children, said legislative change would give some competitive student-athletes the chance to play on Class 5A teams, for example, and have exposure to college recruiters and other opportunities they might not have otherwise.

But some home-school parents predicted there wouldn't be a surge of children into public school classes if the bill becomes law.

Caryl Adams, a Plano mother who home-schools her three children in Plano, said she and her circle of friends shun public schools for a reason.

A biology class in the public schools, for example, wouldn't offer the creationist viewpoint many home-school families seek, Ms. Adams said. And the home-school community has developed so many academic, athletic and social alternatives that they don't need the public school options. She is also leery of developing ties with public schools.

"If we step our foot in the door I think it opens a Pandora's box down the road to become accountable to them," she said.

The Texas Home School Coalition, which represents about 60,000 families, has identified the bill as its top priority for the legislative session. Members of the group have been lobbying senators and House members as they seek the bill's passage before the session ends May 30.

"Nobody is forced to do anything, but it does give public schools a way to reach out to the home-school community and give home-schoolers an opportunity they don't have now," said Tim Lambert, president of the coalition.

Mr. Lambert said his group believes the vast majority of students would be of junior high or high school age.

"It's a fairness issue," Mr. Lambert said. "These families support schools with their tax dollars, both locally and across state."

He noted that Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, has agreed to carry the bill on the Senate side if it passes the House.



Districts and Teachers' Union Sue Over Bush Law

April 21, 2005

Opening a new front in the growing rebellion against President Bush's signature education law, the nation's largest teachers' union and eight school districts in Michigan, Texas and Vermont sued the Department of Education yesterday, accusing it of violating a passage in the law that says states cannot be forced to spend their own money to meet federal requirements.

Some legal scholars said that the union, the National Education Association, had assembled a compelling cause of action. Still, they added, since the case has few close precedents, it was difficult to judge the suit's prospects.

But it was clearly another headache for Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education, who is trying to resolve a federal-state conflict over the law, known as No Child Left Behind, that has taken on new forms in recent days. A day before the suit was filed, Utah's Republican-dominated Legislature approved the most far-reaching legislative challenge to the law.

Both the Utah measure, which requires educators there to spend as little state money as possible in carrying out the federal law's requirements, and the union lawsuit rely heavily on the same section of the federal law, which prohibits federal officials from requiring states to allocate their own money to fulfill the law's mandates.

This month, Connecticut's attorney general also announced the intention to sue the department on the same grounds, saying that the testing the law requires costs far more than the money the state is given to pay for it.

"If the facts about educational spending are as the plaintiffs allege, then this lawsuit has good prospects of winning," said David B. Cruz, a constitutional law professor at the University of Southern California. "It is a strong case because the statutory language is clear. The law says nothing in the act shall be interpreted to impose requirements that aren't being funded."

Since Ms. Spellings took office in January, she has pledged to improve relations with the nation's educators, which had frayed partly because of the law's demands for sweeping changes in local education practices.

The law requires that every racial and demographic group in every school must score higher on standardized tests every year. Falling short can bring sanctions, including the closing of schools.

Ms. Spellings has promised more flexibility, but those assurances have failed to blunt resistance to the law, even in strongly Republican states like Texas, which is defying a federal ruling on the testing of disabled children.

"If I were sitting in the White House, I would be concerned about the backlash against the law," said Patricia Sullivan, who tracks education politics closely as director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington group. "It's growing, and it's breaking out in many states."

In Utah yesterday, Tim Bridgewater, an aide to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican, said that the governor would sign the bill that was approved on Tuesday. During the debate, several lawmakers protested the growth of federal influence on Utah's schools, asserting that while Washington paid 8 cents of every education dollar in the state, the law had given it virtually total control.

In a statement yesterday, Secretary Spellings said that though most school decisions should be made locally, "the federal government plays an important role" by keeping educators' attention on minority students who lag behind.

"States across the nation who have embraced No Child Left Behind have shown progress," she said. "The same could be true in Utah, whose achievement gap between Hispanics and their peers is the third largest in the nation and has not improved significantly in over a decade."

"Returning to the pre-N.C.L.B. days of fuzzy accountability and hiding children in averages will do nothing" to help Utah students, she added. Ms. Spellings did not comment on the lawsuit filed and financed by the National Education Association, but her spokesman, Susan Aspey, called it "regrettable."

"President Bush and Congress have provided historic funding increases for education, and yet we continue to hear the same weak arguments from the N.E.A.," Ms. Aspey said. "Four separate studies assert that the law is appropriately funded and not a mandate."

The union suit was filed in Federal District Court in Detroit, which has jurisdiction over one of the plaintiff school districts, in Pontiac, Mich., an urban system with 21 schools and 11,000 students, most of them blacks.

Other districts in the suit were Laredo, Tex., a mostly Hispanic district with 23,000 students and 30 schools; and six rural Vermont districts with a total attendance of about 1,500 students, most of them white.

In the complaint, the union argues that the law has already obligated the nation's schools to face "multibillion-dollar national funding shortfalls." The Bush administration contests this assertion, citing significant raises in federal education aid since President Bush took office.

The complaint seeks a court order notifying states and districts that they are not required to spend their own money to comply with the federal requirements.

"The law says that you don't have to do anything it requires unless you receive the federal money to do it," said Robert H. Chanin, the union's lead counsel. "There's a promise in the law, and it is unambiguous."

Robert W. Adler, a University of Utah law professor, said he was skeptical about the suit's prospects, because "generally, the Supreme Court has not been receptive to the unfunded federal mandates argument."

But the wording of the law, Mr. Adler said, might provide the plaintiffs a firmer legal standing than similar cases have enjoyed in the past.

Sylvia Bruni, superintendent of the Laredo schools, which have an annual budget of $170 million, said that her district this year had been obligated to spend $8.2 million of its own funds to comply with the federal law. Mostly, she said, those funds were spent to lengthen the school day and year, and to offer Saturday classes for students who had fallen short on standardized tests.

"It's all focused on passing the tests," she said.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Thurday Video-conference, Textbooks Update & My Daughter's Principled Stance Against the TAKS Test

Dear Students, Friends, and Colleagues:

You are invited to participate tomorrow in a statewide video-conference—Thursday, April 21st at 6 pm to continue the dialogue on the transition from high-stakes testing to accurate assessment. We will be joined in Austin via video-conference by teachers, parents, students, superintendents, school board members in Dallas, El Paso and the Panhandle. The video-conference will be simulcast on the web and you can watch it live with the link available on Representative Olivo’s website . Please sign up. I will be moderating this event. Also, you should know that...

House Bill 220 is making it through the legislature now (see text below). The bill was tabled yesterday evening with some of us suspecting—at least in part—because LULAC was present to testify against this bill at the wee hours of the morning (Tuesday, April 20, Committee on Public Education Hearing).

All of this can and should be interpreted in light of the pieces of legislation listed below, as provided earlier by the Texas Freedom Network (see below).

Incidentally, Dora Olivo’s anti-high-stakes testing bills (HB1612 and 1613) were supposed to have been heard yesterday evening (Tuesday, April 19), but Chairman Grusendorf decided to postpone a hearing on her legislation until next Tuesday because he allegedly had “too many bills” to hear yesterday—one of which was supposed to be HB220 by Charlie Howard (see for a complete update on her multiple measures/accurate assessment legislation).

In the meantime, we hear the voices of children who are feeling abused by our state’s testing system—including, presently, my own twelve-year-old, 6th grade daughter—who is protesting the TAKS test (we’ve had a wonderful past 2 days together, by the way [these were TAKS-testing days]).

What’s very sad is that Chairman Grusendorf and his colleagues are supportive of bills that are anti-public education (e.g., privatization and school vouchers) and now he’s prioritizing the erasure of minorities’ already anemic representation in children’s history textbooks (HB 220) over the pleas of children who are suffering because of the negative psychological and social impact of these exams on which so much hinges (retention/promotion & graduation/non-graduation).

My daughter is not exactly “suffering” as she is an exceptional student in a very good elementary school. However, she does think that the many tests that students take, take up too much valuable class time while scaring kids unfairly. She hopes to inform children of the nonsensical impact of a single exam and also of their right to protest.

It’s interesting as a parent to now be on the receiving end of all of this with my daughter herself wanting to be counted in that number of students who are refusing to take the test. Yesterday, she shared with me the following: “Before, I only protested (she’s attended rallies, written to President Bush, and submitted testimony to the Texas state legislature [two years ago at the age of 10]); and now, I’m actually doing something about it.” Anyone who knows her knows that she doesn’t like to draw any attention to herself. So it’s neat to see her stand firmly right now on principle—given that hers is indeed a position that will surely draw attention in her direction. Her parents are, of course, very proud of, and inspired by, her principled decision and stance.


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.
?79R903 BDH-D
By: Howard H.B. No. 220



relating to the State Board of Education review of public school
SECTION 1. Section 31.023, Education Code, is amended by
amending Subsection (b) and adding Subsection (c) to read as
(b) Each textbook on a conforming or nonconforming list
(1) be free from factual errors, including errors of
commission or omission related to viewpoint discrimination or
special interest advocacy on major issues, as determined by the
State Board of Education; and
(2) comply with textbook content guidelines adopted by
the board under Subsection (c).
(c) The State Board of Education shall by rule adopt
guidelines that define general textbook content standards under
this subchapter, including standards related to curriculum
requirements under Section 28.002. The board shall reject any
textbook that does not comply with the textbook content standards
adopted under this subsection.
SECTION 2. Section 31.023(b), Education Code, as amended by
this Act, applies only to textbooks adopted by the State Board of
Education on or after September 1, 2006.
SECTION 3. This Act takes effect September 1, 2005.

Utah Bucks Feds on Schools

Wow! Utah is complicated, though, because based on a conversation with a colleague at the University of Utah, they also resist keeping data on ethnicity and how minority groups are faring within the system. -Angela


No Child: Lawmakers defy Bush mandate and pass HB1001; they disdain possible funds loss
By Ronnie Lynn / The Salt Lake Tribune

Saying they don't take kindly to federal threats, Utah legislators defied President Bush on Tuesday and approved a measure that challenges his No Child Left Behind education initiative - despite warnings it could cost the state $76 million.

    House Bill 1001 cleared the House 66-7 and the Senate 25-3, just a day after a letter from U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings noted the potential loss of $55 million in federal funding for disadvantaged students, $19 million for teacher training and $2 million for parental-choice programs.

    All of the opposing votes came from Democrats.
    Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. probably will sign the bill this week, possibly today, education deputy Tim Bridgewater said.
    "I am so relieved because this has been a serious issue for Utah," said HB1001 sponsoring Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem. "We now have the option to focus on our own priorities."
    For many GOP lawmakers, Spellings' letter reinforced their resentment of what they maintain is federal intrusion into the state's responsibility for education.
    "I'd just as soon they take the stinking money and go back to Washington with it," said Rep. Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan. "Let us resolve our education problems by ourselves. I will not be threatened by Washington over $76 million."
    Spellings wrote that Dayton's bill itself doesn't jeopardize the money, but it may encourage Utah to defy No Child Left Behind provisions. Noncompliance would be costly, she warned.
    HB1001 directs state school leaders to put Utah's education priorities ahead of NCLB mandates and authorizes them to ignore provisions that conflict with state priorities or cost state dollars.
    NCLB requires schools to show annual test-score gains for all students, regardless of ethnicity, native language, disability or family income.
    State school leaders and policy-makers want to use Utah's accountability system - called the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students (U-PASS) - to measure school quality.
    Sen. Karen Hale, D-Salt Lake City, questioned whether lawmakers' priorities are in the best interest of students.
    During the general session, the Legislature rejected the state Office of Education's request for $6 million to pay for tutoring of students who risk not getting a diploma because they failed the high school exit exam.
    "That's part of our U-PASS system," said Hale, who ended up voting for Dayton's bill. "And yet we didn't prioritize it. We didn't fund that. So I'm really concerned that we are saying things are important and we have a great system, but we're not willing to fund it."
    Bridgewater and other officials have spent the past few months negotiating with the feds for more flexibility under NCLB, namely to use U-PASS as Utah's accountability system.
    HB1001's passage shouldn't threaten those discussions, Bridgewater said.
    "We expect negotiations to continue," he said. "HB1001 has been helpful in getting the attention of the federal government. Now, it's about making sure states determine how they want to handle their own education systems."
    That philosophy dominated floor debate, which lasted 90 minutes in the House.
    House Majority Leader Jeff Alexander, R-Provo, said the bill cleans up a mess created when Congress passed NCLB in 2001. "I'm disappointed with our congressional delegation," he said. "Why did they pass it, and why don't they fix it? You start doing your work so we don't have to do it for you."
    Lawmakers shot down proposals by Rep. Duane Bourdeaux, D-Salt Lake City, to add language that would ensure Utah tracks, reports and addresses the achievement gap.
    Minority groups have stepped up their demands that the state do more to improve the academic performance of minority and disadvantaged students. They fear Utah's anti-NCLB sentiment could hinder that effort.
    The House soundly defeated Bourdeaux's amendments, with many representatives calling them unnecessary.
    Tribune reporter Rebecca Walsh contributed to this story.

Competition Isn't Driving Out Lousy Charter Schools

Sunday, April 17, 2005
by KENT FISCHER / The Dallas Morning News

One of the big problems with our current system of education is the monopoly it holds over the market, particularly in rural areas and the inner cities where education options are few and often expensive. With a captive audience and no real competition, public schools are fat, lazy and slow to change, or so the theory goes.

Enter charter schools, the conservative school reform movement's most successful effort to shatter that monopoly and "deregulate" American public schools.

Charters, funded by taxpayers, operate outside the boundaries of traditional school districts. The idea is to open the education marketplace and let the "invisible hand" of competition spur innovation and boost quality. Indeed, the school-choice movement is largely based on the notion that, like pizza parlors, schools would have to put out a good product or they'd go out of business for lack of customers – because parents won't leave their children in lousy charter schools.

Turns out, they do.

Nine years after the first charter school opened in Texas, policy-makers have realized that charter schools don't go out of business, even when they offer a demonstrably inferior product, as judged by test scores and graduation rates. Thousands and thousands of parents appear perfectly willing to leave their children in questionable charter schools.

"I don't know why, but they do," said state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. The market "isn't working."

It certainly isn't a Texas-only issue. Charter schools exist in virtually every state. One recent report estimated 3,400 charters serve nearly 1 million school children in the United States. In Texas, 275 charter campuses enroll more than 60,000 kids and pull in an estimated $350 million from taxpayers. One report estimated that less than 1 percent of charters close for academic reasons.

"Around the nation there are certain number of charter schools that clearly are not performing, but they remain open," said Nelson Smith, head of the Washington, D.C.-based Charter School Leadership Council. "It doesn't appear that the model is working the way we thought it would."

Texas has granted a total of 235 charters over the years. Of those, 34 have closed. The state shut down 11 for financial and academic mismanagement. That leaves 23 charters that closed on their own. Eleven of those closed before they ever even opened their doors; another closed over a dispute with its landlord. The remaining 17 charters opened but were unable to survive "in the market" and, accordingly, closed without state intervention. Those 17 charters equate to a 7 percent failure rate.

Consider that many economists claim that more than 50 percent of new businesses dry up within three years. Yet Texas charters boast a 93 percent "success" rate.

Martin Carnoy, an economics professor at Stanford University and a research associate with the Economic Policy Institute, said the fatal flaw with school-choice theory might be the assumption that public school systems are inherently inefficient.

If public schools aren't as inefficient as many assume, then important principles of market theory begin to break down, he said. And that could lead to bad charters staying in business.

"It's complicated, but perhaps this idea that there's room for improvement through competition is the wrong assumption," Dr. Carnoy said.

Enter Ms. Shapiro, who's offered up to lawmakers a complete rewrite of the state's charter school law. In it, the state would be required to shut down low-performing charters in two years. No more waiting around for "the market" to regulate itself, she said.

"Those schools that are doing a good job need to be freed [from state bureaucrats], but those that aren't need the hand of government to come in" and shut them down, Ms. Shapiro said.

Ms. Shapiro's bill, submitted as a rewrite of the House Bill 2 – the proposal to restructure Texas school finance, could move out of committee this week.

If it becomes law, the state could close dozens of charters within two years. And, in Texas at least, the notion that the market drives quality would be history.


Last Shot at TAKS Grad Test

This week's exam will be make or break for 11 percent of state seniors
Tuesday, April 19, 2005

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Nearly 11 percent of high school seniors in Texas – about 25,000 students – are still sweating out whether they'll receive a diploma next month because they have yet to pass the state's high school graduation exam.
The Texas Education Agency reported Tuesday that a significant number of seniors still have not passed one or more of the subject area tests on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills after four tries dating to the spring of their junior year. Their fifth and final chance will occur this week.
Although Texas students have been required to pass a graduation exam to earn a diploma since the late 1980s, the Class of '05 is the first that is being called on to pass the new TAKS graduation exam – a much more rigorous test than its predecessors.
Also Online
The percentages of Texas high school seniors passing all four subject area tests of the TAKS – English, math, science and social studies – after four tries (the final chance to pass is this week):

African-Americans, 82%
Hispanics, 83%
Whites, 95%
All students, 89%
SOURCE: Texas Education Agency

The good news is that 89 percent of the Class of '05 has cleared the TAKS hurdle.
"These are very encouraging results for our first class of TAKS graduates," state Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley said Tuesday.

"They are living up to the state's higher standards and expectations. Our school districts are again offering intense instruction to the students who are still attempting to pass one or more parts of the TAKS. The overall passing rate is sure to increase by the end of the school year."

Students have had the most difficulty with the science test, which has been passed by 94 percent. Identical percentages – 95 percent – passed the English and math tests. The fourth subject area test – social studies – has been passed by 99 percent of students.
Black and Hispanic students have passed in lower percentages than white students, according to an analysis of test results by the TEA.

The passing rate was 82 percent for black students and 83 percent for Hispanic students after four testing dates. About 95 percent of white students have passed the graduation test.
Among economically disadvantaged students, the passing rate was 82 percent, while for limited-English-speaking students it was 54 percent.

The TAKS graduation test was introduced in high schools in the spring of 2004, replacing the old Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. Because the TAKS is a more difficult exam that measures knowledge in two additional subject areas – science and social studies – the State Board of Education voted to set a lower passing standard in the initial years of the test.
This year's seniors had to correctly answer fewer than half the questions to pass the test under a phase-in plan approved by the board. Juniors this year have to get more answers correct to pass, and the cutoff score will increase even further for juniors next year.