Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Investment in defense editorials

Wed, Aug. 31, 2005

Investment in defense editorials

Gov. Rick Perry reached for the headlines last week with his executive order aimed at forcing schools to spend at least 65 percent of their money on "direct classroom instruction," but there was more to the order than that.

He also wants school districts to report how much they spend on dues to organizations, including money spent for the purpose of lobbying, and how much money they devote to legal services, "including legal fees spent on lawsuits against the state."

These issues were considered but not passed during the many recent legislative debates on school finance. Unlike the "65 percent solution," they're things that the governor might have some authority, through the commissioner of education, to require. They would add to the information provided to taxpayers about how their money is being spent, and that's a good thing.

The negative that they carry, of course, is an implication that school district spending for lobbying or for lawsuits against the state is inherently wrong. It's spending taxpayer money on things that end up costing taxpayers more money, some say.

But when public schools are being abused or neglected by the Legislature, who is more suited to put up a fight than the districts themselves?

Anyone who thinks that the Legislature is not fully capable -- even inclined -- to abuse the public schools need only look at recent history. The long string of Edgewood lawsuits in the 1990s detailed that abuse as a Texas Supreme Court-certified fact.

And neglect? Look at the West Orange-Cove lawsuit currently before the Supreme Court. School districts filed that suit when the Legislature and the state's top political figure wouldn't pay any attention to their complaints that they were being forced to collect an unconstitutional state property tax. The case has blossomed with detailed proof that Texas does not provide adequate funding to meet education mandates.

Yes, report school district spending to parents and other constituents and let them decide whether it's right. But assume that spending on lobbying and lawsuits is wrong? Let's not stick our heads in the sand.

Texas Trails National Average in College Entrance Exam Scores

This report is consistent with Linda McNeil's chapter, "Faking Equity," in my book, LEAVING CHILDREN BEHIND. However unfortunate, these news are consistent with what we've already observed here in Texas where the only thing that's been going up are the students' test scores. Every other indicator—ACT, SAT, TASP, high school completion—runs diametrically in the opposite direction. Yet we continue pursuing the same path and leading the nation down it, as well.... -Angela

State's class of 2005 scored 502 compared with U.S. average of 520
By April Castro
Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Although college-bound high school students across the nation scored higher than ever on the math portion of the SAT, Texas students lagged significantly with scores that have remained stagnant over the past decade.

The Texas class of 2005 scored an average of 502 on the math portion of the college entrance exam, below the national average of 520. The math and verbal sections of the SAT are each graded on a 200 to 800 point scale.

For the past decade, Texas scores on the math portion have teetered around 500 while the national average has improved consistently. Nationally, this year's math scores are the highest ever on the test, which has been in use since the 1940s. Scores from individual school districts were not available Tuesday.

More students taking advanced courses such as pre-calculus, calculus and physics led to widespread higher math scores, according to the College Board, which owns the test.

Texas test takers also lagged on the verbal portion, scoring an average of 493. The national average was 508. The average verbal score did not change in the past year but fell slightly from the average of 495 a decade ago.

"The relatively flat trend in verbal scores indicates what we have observed for years: the need to redouble efforts to emphasize the core literacy skills of reading and writing in all courses across the curriculum, starting in the earliest grades," said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board.

The number of Texas students who took the test rose 4 percent to 133,115, continuing a decade-long increase, said Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman. That means 54 percent of graduating seniors took the test, which most Texas universities consider in determining admissions.

Some open-enrollment community colleges do not require tests from students.

Nationally, the number of SAT takers rose to an all-time high of more than 1.4 million, a 4 percent increase over the previous year.

In Texas, 48 percent of test takers were minorities. Of those, Hispanics and black students scored lower than those groups nationally.

Though the test now includes a writing section, the class of 2005 was not required to take that version.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Education Order Fits Group's Agenda

This piece ties the 65% rule to the privatization agenda. This is pretty illuminating. Read on. -Angela

Effort seeks 65% of money for classsrooms, as Perry has decreed
By Jason Embry
Tuesday, August 30, 2005

In a television commercial that has run in Arizona, a teacher points toward a chalkboard, children diligently flip through notebooks and a narrator says the state needs to spend more money in its classrooms.

Halfway across the country, a commercial urging more spending in Minnesota classrooms featured the same teacher, the same children and almost the same message.

A little-known group called First Class Education paid for the commercials in both states as part of its nationwide effort to see that school districts spend at least 65 percent of their budgets on classroom expenses, such as teacher salaries, student computers and after-school activities. But documents obtained by the Austin American-Statesman indicate that the group also hopes that the issue will create rivalries between teachers and administrators while boosting Republicans' political credibility on education issues, making it easier for them to build support for charter schools and private school vouchers.

Nowhere does the effort to limit nonclassroom spending have more momentum than in Texas.

Gov. Rick Perry ordered last week that the state require schools to meet the 65 percent threshold, phased in over several years, and Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley quickly assembled a panel of school superintendents to help determine what that means. Although officials in other states have discussed a 65 percent rule, Perry is the first governor to use an executive order to get there.

Politically, it is an easy sell: Instead of raising taxes to put more money into classrooms, schools should spend less on administrators' salaries and other costs that are not directly tied to teaching.

"Until we have the 65-cent solution in place, voters and parents are not going to support more money without some (assurance) that the increase in money is going to be properly spent," said Tim Mooney, an Arizona political consultant who works for First Class Education.

But critics say the plan takes power away from local school boards, risking that they will spend too little on counselors, libraries or security. In Texas, the debate comes at a time when a state judge has said the state spends an unconstitutionally small amount of money on schools.

"Applying an arbitrary standard to 1,000 school districts across a state as diverse as Texas is a mistake," said Brock Gregg of the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said the "starting point" for the superintendents trying to determine what constitutes classroom instruction will be the definition used by the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the U.S. Department of Education. That definition includes salaries for teachers and their aides, classroom supplies and school activities such as football and band.

The center's statistics focus on operating expenses and not capital projects such as new schools.

Using the national center's numbers, Texas spends 60.4 percent of its operating dollars on instruction. According to First Class Education, that ranks Texas 33rd in the nation.

The Arizona-based group, saying only four states now meet the 65 percent threshold, says every state and Washington, D.C., should make that threshold a requirement by 2008. And the group has made some headway. The Louisiana legislature passed a resolution this year encouraging state officials to implement the 65 percent requirement, and Mooney said he hopes that the issue will be on the ballot for public approval in at least 10 states next year.

A First Class Education memo obtained by the Austin American-Statesman lists a series of "political benefits" of putting the 65 percent plan on the ballot. The memo says the plan will create divisions within education unions as dollars flow from administrators to teachers, and it says the plan will divert dollars away from other political goals of the "education establishment."

Citing voter trends, it also says the plan can help build support for voucher and charter school proposals, which critics say take money away from public schools.

"Women in particular want public education fixed, not replaced," it says. "Once additional fixing and funding of public education can be achieved via the First Class Education proposal, targeted segments of voters may be more greatly predisposed to supporting voucher and charter school proposals, as Republicans address the voting public with greater credibility on public education issues."

The document speaks specifically to the political benefits of having the 65 percent rule on a public ballot, which is not an immediate issue in Texas because Perry has already ordered the change.

Mooney would neither confirm nor deny Monday that the document came from his group.

Aware that education is always a key issue in elections, Mooney said he took the 65 percent idea earlier this year to Patrick Byrne, the 42-year-old president of Inc., an online retailer. Mooney said he chose Byrne because he had been a vocal supporter of "school choice," a term frequently used by advocates of vouchers and charter schools.

Byrne has contributed at least $100,000 to the group and become its public face. Mooney would not pinpoint the amount or identify other funders.

Officials with the group and said Byrne was unavailable for comment.

The 65 percent proposal was part of legislation in the Texas House and Senate this year to change the state's school finance system. That effort ultimately failed.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said Monday that she had no interaction with Mooney's group and that she heard about the 65 percent rule from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which advocates smaller government. Her House counterpart, Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, said he did not recall any interaction with First Class Education and that a House colleague first suggested the 65 percent cap a couple of years ago.

"This is an idea that comes from our constituents, our Rotary clubs, our service clubs," Grusendorf said.

Mooney said he worked with a Texas small-government group called Americans for Prosperity to promote the idea here and that, once he heard it was moving in Texas, First Class Education sent Perry some information about the idea. He said that the group talked to Perry's staff but that it was the governor's idea to issue the executive order.

Perry spokesman Robert Black stressed the same point. "We have numerous conversations with numerous different education stakeholders," Black said. Among the issues that superintendents could grapple with when setting the rule is whether to make exceptions for school districts with many low-income students who require spending on federally funded meal programs or for large districts in rural regions that have high transportation costs.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said he sees the 65 percent rule as part of an effort to paint other education expenses as wasteful, making it more difficult for schools to build political support for spending increases.

"If you don't want taxes to go up, what do you do?" Coleman said. "You shift the money internally. But you can't shift the money internally and have a system that's whole."; 445-3654

What counts as classroom instruction?

Federal guidelines that Texas will use as a starting point in deciding what qualifies as classroom instruction.


* Salaries and benefits for teachers and instructional aides

* Textbooks

* Computers

* Supplies


* Transportation

* Curriculum development

* Administration

* Salaries for nurses, counselors, librarians

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

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Tug-of-War That Went Nowhere

So pleased to be reading these frank analyses of the school finance debate, revealing the not-so-hidden agrenda of those wanting to privatize our public schools. (NOTE: See today's other post regarding the privatization interests behind the 65% rule that I've been covering.) State Representative Dunnam expresses: "Had it become law, House Bill 2 could have subjected over 800 Texas campuses to privatization. That's not just vouchers; it's vouchers on steroids." They agenda, according to Dunnam, is lifted from the pages of the California-based, Koret Task Force.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Jim Dunnam Guest column

Bipartisan solution is there if GOP leadership will yield

“The enemy of public education” -– that's what Devine, Texas, School Superintendent Rickey Williams, a self-described Republican, wrote this month about his party's conduct in Austin.

Based on the party's actions in the last five special and regular sessions, it is hard to dispute his claim.

Although Republicans control all branches of Texas government, they have not offered a single school finance plan that was really about improving education or cutting taxes for all Texans.

The nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board reports that the Republican tax plans would have slapped a net tax increase on 90 percent of all Texans, with only those making over $100,000 a year getting a net tax cut. Everybody else would pay more.

Gov. Perry talks a lot about property tax relief. But when the taxman takes more from your pocket than he puts in your hand, it is a tax increase.

While the GOP plan asked 9 out of 10 Texans to pay more, not one penny of those tax increases would go to improve our schools, revealing the fundamental flaw in the Republican House Bill 2 school plan.

In fact, the “reforms” in House Bill 2 literally were lifted from recommendations made by a California think tank's “Koret Task Force,” a group of private school voucher advocates.

The Republican leadership actually ignored the advice of Texas educators and listened to these California crazies.

The real goal of their plan was revealed this May by Rep. Kent Grusendorf, who “led” the Republican school finance effort. During the House floor debate, Grusendorf said:

“We have gone through over the last two or three decades of airline deregulation, trucking deregulation, electric deregulation, telephone deregulation. The only thing we haven't addressed is deregulating our schools.”

So when Republicans say “reform,” they mean treating our public schools like a deregulated industry.

I think most Texans agree that neither Enron nor the insolvent United Airlines pension fund is a model for improving public education.

Consider one House Bill 2 “reform” that would have allowed the state to turn over neighborhood school campuses to private companies.

Privatization problem

Local voters and school boards would have had no say in the matter, because the decision to privatize a campus would be made by the non-elected Texas commissioner of education in Austin.

Had it become law, House Bill 2 could have subjected over 800 Texas campuses to privatization.

That's not just vouchers; it's vouchers on steroids.

Fortunately, this misguided agenda was too much for the House majority to stomach.

A number of Republican House members broke ranks with their party leaders and joined Democrats to adopt a real plan offered by Democratic Rep. Scott Hochberg.

Although it cost no more than the Republican plan, this alternative earned bipartisan and educator support because it provided more property tax relief for middle class home-owners, $2 billion more in state dollars for our schools and a real teacher pay raise.

Shortly after the Hochberg plan was adopted, Speaker Craddick pulled the plug on the session rather than allow a majority to move forward.

Although we were disappointed, defeating dangerous House Bill 2 was a good move.

The Republican leadership must accept responsibility for their failure, a fact that seems to elude them.

They are even trying to shift blame to our educators and school leaders.

Apparently, the courts will have to force those in charge to fix our schools.

Meanwhile, no taxpayer is getting a property tax cut, and no additional support is being provided to improve test scores.

A bipartisan House majority voted to do those things, but leadership blocked our way.

For Texas students, teachers and taxpayers, defeating Republican tax and school bills was the right thing to do.

But before we start the meter running on another costly special session, those who really believe in public education must demand that our priorities are the basis for a real school finance solution.

Hopefully, the Republicans in charge will not stand in the way next time. Our schoolchildren's future should not be shortchanged by “the enemy of public education” in charge in Austin.

State Rep. Jim Dunnam, a Waco Democrat, represents District 57.


Perry's order on spending says more about own failings than about school districts'

Aug. 30, 2005, 8:49PM

Perry's order on spending says more about own failings than about school districts'
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

The movie critic A.H. Weiler once remarked that nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it himself. Few things bring that observation to mind with more alacrity than Gov. Rick Perry's order on school spending.

Having failed to lead state government toward fulfillment of its first duty — to provide an adequate and equitable system of public schools — the governor ordered the Texas Education Agency to see to it that school districts spend 65 percent of their budget on classroom instruction. The attorney general apparently forgot to inform Perry that the executive powers of Texas governors border on the nonexistent.

Taken alone, the guideline of devoting most of a school district's resources to classroom instruction seems reasonable. In an ideal world, the state would fund schools so generously that 35 percent of the budget would cover construction, maintenance, debt service, buses, meals and all administration expenses, leaving 65 percent that could be lavished on teachers and classroom equipment. That is not the case in Texas, where pleasing campaign contributors trumps providing children an adequate education.

Perry's order is particularly highhanded at a time when school energy costs are going through the poorly maintained schoolhouse roof. If Perry wants schools to cut back or end school bus service to meet the budget goal, let him say so.

The problem with school funding is not waste. The problem is that the state pays only 40 percent of public education's cost. In Houston, the state covers a ridiculous 12 percent, yet Perry wishes to dictate how 100 percent of the money will be apportioned — one of the most grotesque unfunded mandates since the term came into use.

The director of a group of tax resenters argues that the Houston Independent School District has an excessive 2,000 nonteachers — one for every 100 students. HISD Trustee Harvin Moore counters that the best private schools in Houston have 10 or more counselors, librarians and other support staff per 100 students. Perhaps that's one reason private schools get so much better results.

Low tax proponents claim that more money won't cure what's wrong with the schools. There is an ideal cost-benefit ratio, but Texas schools are nowhere near it. The money the state provides is not enough to cover yesterday's needs, much less tomorrow's. The cost of providing education is rising, because of higher enrollment, higher energy and construction costs and the need to pay teachers more to attract qualified staff.

No one would argue that paying more at the pump won't put gasoline in your tank. No one should assert that adequate school funding won't help.

Under Perry's order, school districts would have to account for what they spend on lobbyists and lawyers to sue the state for a constitutional school finance system. If Texas had responsible leaders and legislators, the school districts would have no need to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Gov. Perry's order serves two useful purposes. It demonstrates his indifference to the plight of public education, and it draws a bold diagram of how desperate that plight grows in Texas' leadership vacuum.

This article is:

Listening to Teachers of English Language Learners

This should be read in tandem with my other previous post on a district taking the state to court over the validity of the state's current assessment system. Here we read in depth about a dearth of professional development activities for such teachers. -Angela

JULY 2005

Listening to Teachers of English Language Learners
Their Challenges, Experiences, and Needs

California’s classrooms are changing. Will teachers be up to the task of ensuring all students, including English language learners, meet the state’s high academic standards?

A new survey of more than 5,000 teachers finds few professional development opportunities targeted on working effectively with second language learners. A lack of time and instructional resources also hamper teachers’ ability to reach the nearly 1.6 million students designated as English learners in California’s public schools. The teachers surveyed also said their efforts to teach English learners are complicated by their struggle to effectively communicate with the parents and families of English learning students.

California’s English Learner Population

Students in California’s public schools come from a wide variety of ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. Almost 1.6 million, approximately 25%, are classified as English learners or “EL” and require special assistance from their teachers and schools to meet the state’s rigorous academic content standards while also learning English. The vast majority of teachers, over 80%, have one or more EL students in their classroom. California, with 32% of all EL students in the country, has a higher concentration of English learners than anywhere else in the U.S. California’s growth in EL student enrollment is also greater than the rest of the nation. The most recent language census data lists 57 different primary languages spoken by students in the state’s schools. Most of the state’s English learners, 85%, are Spanish speakers, with only five other language groups (Vietnamese, Filipino, Cantonese, Hmong, and Korean) even reaching the level of 1%-2% of the EL student population. An additional one million students come from homes where a language other than English is spoken, making students who speak a language other than English at home account for 40% of California’s K-12 school population.
English Learners in California Public Schools

With regards to student learning, only 10% of those identified as English learners passed the California English Language Arts Standards Test in 2004. Moreover, only 39% were able to pass the English Language Arts portion of the California High School Exit Exam in 2004, compared with 81% of English speakers. Only 49% of EL students passed the math portion of the exam compared with 78% of their English-only peers.

Surveying Teachers of English Learners

Because of the escalating numbers of English learning students in California’s classrooms, the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning partnered with Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) and the University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute (UC LMRI) to conduct a large-scale survey of teachers from across the state. We set out to learn what challenges these teachers face with regard to educating English learners, and to analyze how these challenges vary according to factors such as teacher experience, training, and student need. The report, Listening to Teachers of English Language Learners, documents the responses of over 5,000 California teachers regarding their challenges, experiences and professional development needs.

Survey Findings

* Over the last five years, many EL teachers had little or no professional development designed to help them teach these students, and the quality of training was uneven.
* Greater preparation for teaching English learners equaled greater self-rated ability to teach these students successfully.
* The majority of teachers expressed the desire and need to gain greater expertise for teaching English language learners.
* Communication with students and their families was of utmost importance to teachers.
* Finding the time to teach EL students all of the required subject matter, including English language development, presented the second greatest teaching challenge for elementary teachers.
* Teachers expressed frustration with the wide range of English language and academic levels often found in their classrooms.
* Teachers were challenged by the lack of tools to teach, including appropriate assessment materials and instruments.
* The more teachers knew about working effectively with English learning students, the more likely they were to cite shortcomings in instructional programs for their students.

Top 5 Challenges Faced by Elementary and/or Secondary Classroom Teachers
% Elementary
% Secondary
Teacher-parent/community communication
Lack of time to teach ELs
Variability in student academic needs/levels
Lack of appropriate tools and materials
Teacher-EL communication
Encouraging/motivating ELs

Frequently Cited Problems With EL Teacher Professional Development
% Elementary
% Secondary
Poorly planned and executed presentation by uninformed presenter with little or no EL experience
Not appropriate to teachers' needs for skills and knowledge; provided information that was not new
Not applicable or appropriate for teaching EL students
Not practical for use in the classroom and did not provide follow-up showing teachers how to implement what they learned


The Center View

Until the release of the important information taken from Listening to Teachers of English Language Learners, teachers of English language learning students who are on the front lines of California’s education system were seldom, if ever, asked about the challenges they faced in their classrooms or what they needed to ensure that every child meets the state’s rigorous academic standards. Using the best advice from the classroom, education policy-makers at the local, regional and state levels can strengthen teaching that affects the learning outcomes of a major portion of the state’s student population. As first steps we recommend that:


The governor and the leadership of the Legislature convene a summit of policy-makers, educational experts, and most of all, classroom EL teachers on “Teaching for California’s English Learners.” The purpose of this summit would be to carefully review and analyze the results of this survey and to chart a course of action that ensures high quality preparation and professional development for all teachers of English learners.


The California Department of Education should develop and make available to local school districts a package of evaluation tools and instruments to assess the quality of local programs for English learners and identify areas in need of improvement. We further recommend that as part of this process CDE identify state, federal, and other resources that local school districts can use to assist them in making program improvements.


Local school districts give high priority to the professional development needs of teachers of English learners as they implement the Teacher Credentialing or Professional Development Block Grant, recognizing the differing needs of teachers at the elementary and secondary levels identified in this research.

Increased attention to the needs of teachers of English language learners is warranted given the findings from this study: professional development is not targeted to meet the needs of English language learners; teachers are facing barriers to communication with their students and their students’ parents; and they are constantly accommodating for a lack of appropriate materials and resources to reach their students. Policy-makers and professional development providers across the state would be well advised to consider this fresh voice from the classroom when planning improvements for California’s teacher development system.

Excerpted from:
Gándara, P, Maxwell-Jolly, J, & Driscoll, A. (2005). Listening to teachers of English language learners: A survey of California teachers’ challenges, experiences, and professional development needs. Santa Cruz, CA: The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning.

The full text of this report is available for download from


Language Test

Are state assessments fair to English language learners? One California district takes the question to court.

by Naomi Dillon / American School Board Journal

Coachella Valley Unified School District couldn’t be farther from Coachella Valley, even though it’s right next door. The valley is home to acres of golf courses, high-end retail centers, and luxury resorts like Palm Springs. The school district encompasses an area of mostly arid and dusty land, where the median family income hovers around $30,000.

Many families can scarcely afford to hover, instead migrating in and out of the district as they follow the crops. Education -- the key to escaping the cycle of poverty -- is valued, but it’s secondary to survival.

The daily reality for these migrant families is felt within the Coachella school district, which is caught between state and federal accountability measures as it tries to educate a growing population of students whose native language is not English. Making ends meet academically has become an increasingly improbable task for Coachella, where 70 percent of the students are classified as English Language Learners or ELL.

Under California law, all ELL students must take state tests in English after only one year of instruction -- a requirement that perpetually leaves districts like Coachella “in need of improvement.” Under NCLB, districts can omit scores of ELL students for three years and even up to an additional two years after that, while the students learn English.

“The language in No Child Left Behind is pretty clear: There need to be accommodations that yield valid and reliable results,” says Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, president of Californians Together, a consortium of 16 statewide organizations seeking an equal and high-quality education for ELL students. “We don’t have that here. We assess in English. It’s the same test for everyone.”

Coachella’s school board -- joined by nine other school districts and civil rights organizations such as Californians Together -- has sued the state over how it tests ELL students. While the lawsuit focuses on getting new tests developed and modified instead of getting more money, its outcome promises to be no less influential in how states and communities assess the knowledge of the nation’s 5.1 million English Language Learners.

“The fact is, you need to have highly qualified teachers, tutoring programs, teachers’ aides, and smaller classes if you want any chance of these kids learning English, let alone learning core subjects and meeting academic standards,” says Tim Hogan, executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, which won its case against the Arizona legislature over ELL funding.

Why the conflict?

Nationwide, the number of ELL students has almost doubled over the past decade and now makes up a little more than 10 percent of the estimated 49.5 million schoolchildren in the U.S. Almost 30 percent of the nation’s ELL students -- 1.6 million -- attend schools in California.

If current trends continue, the Urban Institute predicts, immigrant children will make up 30 percent of the nation’s total student population by 2015. And the migration pattern is spreading to nontraditional states such as Arkansas, Kansas, and Nebraska, which saw its ELL population increase by 320 percent from 1993-94 to 2003-04.

In Coachella Valley, the growth of the ELL population has been even more pronounced. Of the 14,621 students the district educated in 2003-04, a total of 9,813 are designated ELL and 2,557 are classified Fluent English Proficient. In the elementary and middle grades, 13.6 percent of all Coachella students met or exceeded state English and language arts standards, while 16 percent passed math tests in 2003-04. Twelve percent of high school students met standards in English and language arts; a slightly higher percentage -- 12.8 -- met math standards.

“Despite pretty clear research that it takes somewhere between five to seven years to acquire English sufficient to be able to test academics, California tests all kids regardless of language and proficiency in English,” says Marc Coleman, one of the attorneys representing Coachella and the other plaintiffs. “The only provision they make is that they won’t count scores for the first year.”

California’s accountability system, enacted in 1999, uses an Academic Performance Index to measure growth. Unlike the Adequate Yearly Progress provision in NCLB, which requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, the API rewards progress and improvement.

Bob Barnes, an administrator in the academic accountability unit of the California Department of Education, says NCLB requires all subgroups of students to meet the same standards. “The API is designed to get students off the bottom level and up the ladder. The AYP doesn’t do that. We’re much more caring here in California.”

Coleman concedes that API is a better form of measuring student progress. The sticking point is that a district’s API score is used in calculating whether it meets NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress requirements. Because ELL students are forced to take the tests in English after only one year, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit believe the test unfairly prevents them from meeting AYP.

Coachella’s statistics seem to bear this out. Slightly more than half of the district’s ELL students qualify for the NCLB exemption, and when their scores on the state test are excluded for three years, Coachella’s performance closely trails and in some cases exceeds the state average.

“When we look at this we’ve done a good job of teaching our kids English,” says Superintendent Foch “Tut” Pensis. “For us to be labeled as educational failures is absolutely wrong.”

Finding qualified teachers

Besides sharing a name, the only thing the school district and the valley have in common is the city of Indio. In this crossroads town, which is where the district’s boundaries begin and then extend eastward, one can see the area’s past and future in a series of murals clustered along Indio Boulevard. The Cabazon Indians, who still reside in nearby reservations, dominate the side of a building along Indio Blvd., while migrant farmworkers look suspended in time on the side of a department store around the corner.

Despite heavy gang presence, neither picture has been defaced or vandalized. “That shows you the level of respect people have,” says Chauncey Veatch, a Coachella Valley educator who was named 2002 National Teacher of the Year.

Veatch, who continues to work in the area as a teacher on assignment for the Riverside County Office of Education, illustrates both the impact a teacher has on the success of ELL students and the difficulty districts with large ELL populations have in finding qualified instructors. He has taken many of his students under his wing and shown them how they can succeed despite the odds.

“I have the opportunity to find these gifts in the kids and I build on these gifts,” Veatch says. “It doesn’t always happen at the same pace.”

Veatch, a retired U.S. Army colonel, was encouraged to try education by his siblings, both of whom are teachers. Without certification or background, he went to Coachella’s administrative building to apply for a substitute teacher’s position. He left the office with a full-time teaching position on an emergency credential basis.

Most of California’s ELL students are taught by teachers without the required certifications, the result of a national shortage of instructors in specialized fields like English as a Second Language. In fact, the latest U.S. Department of Education Schools and Staffing Survey discovered that only one-third of the ESL teachers received special training in their field.

Emergency credentials allow teachers to step into a classroom with only the promise of obtaining the required training within two to three years, a dangerous practice to employ in one of the most challenging areas of instruction, says Carla Meskill, an associate professor of educational theory and practice at the State University of New York in Albany.

“Imagine yourself as a 10-year-old kid and you are put in a French-speaking country without any French and some person tries to come off the street and teach you French,” says Meskill, who specializes in language and technology, particularly within ELL populations. “How effective do you think that’s going to be?”

Veatch has managed to be very effective, with a combination of unflagging energy, humility, and a love for what he calls “my kids.” In three years, he earned his certification and quickly garnered the respect of his peers, his students, and the community. Seven years after he started his second career, he earned the respect of the entire profession when he was honored as the nation’s top teacher.

“I don’t know why I was picked,” Veatch says, noting that his teaching style came from a combination of immersion in the culture and his fellow staff members showing him the ropes. “They made me the teacher that I am. I really feel like I was trained by the best.”

Indeed, it would be negligent to call Veatch an anomaly in the 1,200 square-mile school district. Dedication is a prerequisite for teaching in a place that has so many challenges -- language issues, poverty, high dropout rates, and gangs.

“That’s why you have to love them,” Coachella Valley High School Principal Manuel Arredondo says of the students. “Because we go above and beyond.”

Serving English language learners

Going above and beyond is arguably the only way to reach the underprivileged. With economic security and stability often absent in the home, ELL students are among the neediest of any subgroup. Logic follows that they require the most help.

From medical and dental services, to parent education classes and homework clubs, the Coachella school district does all it can to improve the students’ chances -- in many instances even before they arrive.

Because so many students enter the system with a weak education base, the district operates the Latino Family Literacy program, a 10-month countdown for parents and students that leads up to the child’s first day of kindergarten.

Each month, pre-kindergarten children and their parents receive two new books. While the student reads the English version in class with the teacher, the parent is instructed to go over the Spanish version at home. A disposable camera is included to document the process, and the pictures form a nostalgic scrapbook while they promote learning.

The district also spends its fair share on traditional methods of school improvement, investing in academic coaches, tutoring programs, and other forms of professional development. Every Wednesday at Coachella Valley High School, classes end shortly after lunch so teachers can take in-service courses on how best to instruct their diverse student population.

“Our teachers have to work doubly hard,” Pensis says. “Not only do they have to teach English, but they have to teach content.”

But even when schools have the proper funds, trained staff, and effective materials, most state and government classifications of ELL students often make them appear substandard. Students who have attained English proficiency are moved out of the subgroup, only to be replaced by someone who doesn’t speak English. That is the situation Coachella finds itself in daily.

“They have a stacked deck, and they have no way of overcoming it,” says attorney Coleman, adding that the long-term consequences of being labeled underperforming are pretty severe. He then lists several: “White flight, bright flight, poor teacher morale, students being stigmatized. It’s a bad reputation to have and an inescapable one in California.”

In its 2004 report, California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office warned that inattention to this growing group could have serious ramifications for everyone.

“The success of ELL students is a critical issue for the state’s K-12 system and for the state’s economy,” the report said. “If our schools are not successful with this group, we will have failed not only the students, but also failed to adequately provide a trained workforce for the state’s economy.”

Assessing the situation

Just as any discussion about improving student learning has to include instruction, any discussion about teaching English to non-native speakers always goes back to which model to use.

English immersion. Dual language. Bilingual. Each camp has its own supporters and detractors, the debate spawning articles, studies, and research. It’s a Pandora’s Box that never will truly be closed.

Still, California voters slammed it shut in 1998 with the passage of Proposition 227, which banned school districts from using the bilingual education model. Proposition 227 had its roots in the state’s disastrous performance in the 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress, where California ranked at the bottom among 37 participating states in reading. Both events had huge implications for the accountability system the state implemented in 1999.

“Kids are instructed in English, they are expected to master English, so they are tested in English,” explains Linda Lownes, a consultant with the education department’s Standards and Assessment Division, summing up the fairly straight and narrow path that California officials expect all students to tread.

NCLB leaves it up to the states to decide which language instruction program to use, mandating only that the selected model has proven research behind it. And some researchers, such as Jamal Abedi of the University of California in Los Angeles, say English immersion doesn’t work.

“It’s not effective,” he says, referring to findings from two major studies on immersion programs. “These are extreme measures that some policymakers make without paying attention to the outcome.”

Unless hard evidence and strong research drive policies, Abedi and others say, legislators can’t possibly expect to find sound and reliable results in classrooms. “Assessment is a consequence of instruction,” he says. “If instruction is not effective, you really cannot test [students].”

After studying the results of the state’s 2002 English-proficiency tests, California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office determined that the broad diversity within the ELL population makes it impossible to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction.

And, on an anecdotal level, four seniors at Coachella Valley High School arrived at much the same conclusion.

As part of a History Channel-sponsored project, Alejandro Hernandez, Sergio Ceja, Jahaira Duarte, and Silvia Torres entered ELL classrooms and documented the different models of instruction used to teach English. After winning at the local and regional level, their film is currently in contention for a state award.

“It’s hard to say what is the most effective way,” Ceja says, “because kids learn differently.”

Seeking remedies

Plaintiffs in the Coachella case are quick to note that the case does not focus on instruction. It is not, as Coleman says, “an attempt to debate whether bilingual education is best or how to teach.”

“This case is just about leveling the playing field,” he says. “There’s an unfairness in the law, and it needs to be changed.”

Specifically, the lawsuit asks the state to develop primary language tests for students who have recently arrived or enrolled in bilingual classrooms. Currently, only 13 states provide translations of their standardized tests, with New York offering its tests in 52 languages. The suit also calls for a new standardized test that reduces unnecessary linguistic features that can cloud the true assessment of an ELL student’s knowledge base.

Abedi, who has studied whether accommodations can affect ELL students’ performance on standardized tests for more than a decade, says his research shows that modified exams are more reliable. In a few case studies, he says, simple changes -- such as using active voice instead of passive voice and eliminating idioms and unfamiliar words that aren’t related to content -- have dramatically improved ELL students’ scores.

California’s Department of Education plans to try out a new Spanish exam next spring that would supplement, not replace, the current standardized test. The test would be available for second-, third-, and fourth-graders by spring 2007. But Deborah Short, director of language education and academic development for the Washington, D.C.-based Applied Linguistics Center, says it is unrealistic to think that non-English speakers can master core subject areas in another language in the short time frame California now has.

“Standardized tests do have a place in ELL, if they are appropriate,” she says. “We need to learn what [students] know. But I don’t think it’s appropriate if they’ve only been here for one year.”

That’s what Coachella district officials think, too, which is why they agonized but ultimately decided to go to court. “If we want our kids to learn, we need to stand up to the state,” Pensis says.

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the district who didn’t stand behind the decision, although there’s a feeling that it’s a shame the situation has come to this.

Just before class breaks and the hallways flood with students, Arredondo stands in relative silence near Coachella Valley High School’s entrance. The principal hesitates and then stands stiffly.

“We are not whiners. We don’t complain,” he declares. “We do our job and we keep on trucking. These kids will succeed. The problem is the language.”

Naomi Dillon ( is associate editor of American School Board Journal.

Photo by Michele Sabatier

Copyright © 2005, National School Boards Association. American School Board Journal is an editorially independent publication of the National School Boards Association. Opinions expressed by this magazine or any of its authors do not necessarily reflect positions of the National School Boards Association. Within the parameters of fair use, this article may be printed out and photocopied for individual or educational use, provided this copyright notice appears on each copy. This article may not be otherwise, linked, transmitted, or reproduced in print or electronic form without the consent of the Publisher. For more information, call (703) 838-6739.

© 2005, NSBA

Monday, August 29, 2005

Left Behind, Way Behind

I agree that we are in a crisis due to macro-structural shifts in the economy as suggested below.

Folks should check out the report referred to herein by Herbert titled, Getting Smarter, Becoming Fairer by the Campaign for America's Future. In light of my other morning's post by George Schmidt of Substance, we should keep in mind that "educational reform" must also be accompanied with social policies addressing housing, poverty, and the social ills, including gangs, that often emerge from these. So yes, the Campaign offers a helpful starting point for reform, but care must be take to NOT continue along the present high-stakes testing and accountability trajectory and to expand broadly instead beyond the school in order to address the fundamental, frequently abysmal, inequalities that threaten our fragile democracy.

Moreover, in light of the failed, corporate model, our communities must also organize in order to gain control over our public schools. I encourage folks in Texas to support one such effort by the name of Texas Parent PAC. The public is shown time and again to support public schools but too many of our elected officials are beholding to the corporate interests that contribute heavily to their campaigns. For this reason, among others, the principle of representative democracy is thwarted with astounding regularity.

One hates to see a critique of either NCLB or of education generally, yet again get hijacked by a corporate definition of reform. So consider supporting the Texas Parent PAC. Do read the George Schmidt piece.


August 29, 2005

Left Behind, Way Behind

First the bad news: Only about two-thirds of American teenagers (and just half of all black, Latino and Native American teens) graduate with a regular diploma four years after they enter high school.

Now the worse news: Of those who graduate, only about half read well enough to succeed in college.

Don't even bother to ask how many are proficient enough in math and science to handle college-level work. It's not pretty.

Of all the factors combining to shape the future of the U.S., this is one of the most important. Millions of American kids are not even making it through high school in an era in which a four-year college degree is becoming a prerequisite for achieving (or maintaining) a middle-class lifestyle.

The Program for International Assessment, which compiles reports on the reading and math skills of 15-year-olds, found that the U.S. ranked 24th out of 29 nations surveyed in math literacy. The same result for the U.S. - 24th out of 29 - was found when the problem-solving abilities of 15-year-olds were tested.

If academic performance were an international athletic event, spectators would be watching American kids falling embarrassingly behind in a number of crucial categories. A new report from a pair of Washington think tanks - the Center for American Progress and the Institute for America's Future - says an urgent new commitment to public education, much stronger than the No Child Left Behind law, must be made if that slide is to be reversed.

This would not be a minor task. In much of the nation the public education system is in shambles. And the kids who need the most help - poor children from inner cities and rural areas - often attend the worst schools.

An education task force established by the center and the institute noted the following:

"Young low-income and minority children are more likely to start school without having gained important school readiness skills, such as recognizing letters and counting. ... By the fourth grade, low-income students read about three grade levels behind nonpoor students. Across the nation, only 15 percent of low-income fourth graders achieved proficiency in reading in 2003, compared to 41 percent of nonpoor students."

How's that for a disturbing passage? Not only is the picture horribly bleak for low-income and minority kids, but we find that only 41 percent of nonpoor fourth graders can read proficiently.

I respectfully suggest that we may be looking at a crisis here.

The report, titled "Getting Smarter, Becoming Fairer," restates a point that by now should be clear to most thoughtful Americans: too many American kids are ill equipped educationally to compete successfully in an ever-more competitive global environment.

Cartoonish characters like Snoop Dogg and Paris Hilton may be good for a laugh, but they're useless as role models. It's the kids who are logging long hours in the college labs, libraries and lecture halls who will most easily remain afloat in the tremendous waves of competition that have already engulfed large segments of the American work force.

The report makes several recommendations. It says the amount of time that children spend in school should be substantially increased by lengthening the school day and, in some cases, the school year. It calls for the development of voluntary, rigorous national curriculum standards in core subject areas and a consensus on what students should know and be able to do by the time they graduate from high school.

The report also urges, as many have before, that the nation take seriously the daunting (and expensive) task of getting highly qualified teachers into all classrooms. And it suggests that an effort be made to connect schools in low-income areas more closely with the surrounding communities. (Where necessary, the missions of such schools would be extended to provide additional services for children whose schooling is affected by such problems as inadequate health care, poor housing, or a lack of parental support.)

The task force's recommendations are points of departure that can be discussed, argued about and improved upon by people who sincerely want to ramp up the quality of public education in the U.S. What is most important about the report is the fact that it sounds an alarm about a critical problem that is not getting nearly enough serious attention.


Corporate School Reform

Thanks George, also on this list, for this helpful analysis of Chicago inner-city schools. It sheds light on the limits and harmful effects of high-stakes, corporate-based reform. If you are not a Substance subscriber, you can join the fun by sending $16 for a one year (ten issues) subscription to

5132 W. Berteau
Chicago, IL 60641



August 28, 2005
>One of the reasons we can speak with such clarity here from Chicago
>is that every ploy of "standards and accountability" based on
>high-stakes uses of multiple choice tests has already been tried
>here since Mayor Daley took over the schools in 1995, and every one
>of them has failed.
>These ploys have not "failed" in the eyes of my colleagues in the
>Chicago media or the corporate apologists who dominate discourse in
>our town, but they have failed if the interests of the majority of
>the children (especially the poorest children in our more than 300
>racially segregated all-black schools) and improving schools are
>concerned. We've just wasted a prosperous decade and the lives of
>thousands here in a wretched orgy of propaganda, deception, and hypocrisy.
>But let me try to be specific, since a lot of people want to just
>parrot the corporate propaganda script. Let's just take one high
>schhool located in a community so poor and gang infested that the
>only justice for those who preach "school reform" would be if they
>(the people here who prattle in defense of "school reform"; the
>leaders of Achieve and the Education Trust, etc) had to live for
>years in that community and raise their own children in that
>community on the income available to residents of that community
>under the conditions of the people of that community. Englewood.
>Chicago. Since 1990. Savage Inequalities, USA-style.
>In the summer of 1997, Chicago's Englewood High School, in the heart
>of one of the city's poorest communities, was "reconstituted". The
>principal and many of the teachers were replaced, and the world was
>assured in the pages of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times
>that the school had "failed" and that this massive overhaul (done
>because Englewood had "failed" the "standard" -- in those days, the
>scores on the TAP tests, the high school version of the Iowa Tests
>of Basic Skills) would solve the problems and improve Englewood.
>There was a slight nod to the fact that the USA had failed to solve
>the problems of housing, crime, health care, and poverty in the area
>surrouding Englewood, but only a brief nod. Teachers, principals and
>kids were going to be sanctioned. An extreme makeover before "reality" TV.
>The Gangster Disciples is one of the largest drug gangs in the USA.
>Don't take my word for it, Google them or Google "Larry Hoover". The
>GD gang was selling drugs nearby in the community. The poverty
>continued unabated. The housing continued to rot and crumble. But
>Chicago was doing "School Reform" by ranking and sorting children
>and teachers based on multiple-choice "standardized" tests and
>getting rid of the "bad" teachers from the "failing" schools
>according to "the bottom line".
>Since "reconstitution", over the next eight years, Englewood has
>been "reengineered" and otherwise overhauled several additional
>times. Last year, the administration of "CEO" Arne Duncan (likewise
>appointed, like the administration of Paul Vallas, by Richard M.
>Daley, our mayor) announced that Englewood High School would again
>be reorganized, this time under the name "Renaissance." (We in
>Chicago don't know why the ruling class keeps using these "RE" words
>every time it does this, but maybe it's just lack of imagination).
>So here is the way it looked from bottom up:
>If a child -- let's call her "RE" -- entered Englewood High School
>in September 1997 as a 9th grader, in 1998 she was in 10th grade; in
>1999 11th grade; and in 2000 12th grade. In June 2000, she
>graduated, having been part of the first wave of "RE"
>(reconstitution and reengineering) under Richard M. Daley's
>dictatorial rule over the Chicago Public Schools and evaluations
>based on ranking and sorting kids and teachers based on standardized
>test scores.
>But in 2000, when "RE" graduated, Englewood was still at the
>"bottom" on standardized tests. By then, however, Chicago had
>changed tests. Another trick of the testocracy is changing tests
>every so often, then announcing that the scores kept going "up"
>counting on the fact that your media friends wouldn't notice. If you
>change the tests, it's harder for an inattentiive public to follow
>the track of scores, and if you lie about the results of those tests
>-- as the public relations teams of our mayor do every year -- you
>can get away with a lot of trickery for a long time.
>Anyway, in June 2000 "RE" graduated (although her two brothers both
>dropped out, because of the problems in the community around
>Englewood, not because of the teachers, who, by the way, had all
>been replaced --- "RECYCLED"? -- at least once).
>And the Gangster Disciples continued to sell drugs nearby in the
>community, and the poverty continued unabated. And the housing
>continued to rot and crumble. But Chicago was doing "School Reform"
>by ranking and sorting children and teachers and getting rid of the
>"bad" teachers from the "failing" schools.
>In September 2000, "RE-RE" -- RE's play cousin -- entered the
>Reconstituted Reengineered Englewood High School as a 9th grader. In
>September 2001, RE-RE entered 10th grade. Every year, Englewood High
>School continued to score at the "bottom" on the ranking and sorting
>machine (the high-stakes tests), even though every year the Board of
>Education was doing another "RE" something to another low scoring
>high school somewhere. In September 2002, RE-RE was entering 11th
>grade. And in September 2003, RE-RE entered 12th grade, graduating
>in June 2004 (while, like RE, she watched her two brothers become dropouts).
>By the time of RE's graduation, Englewood had been reconstituted and
>reengineered. By the time of RE-RE's graduation, Englewood had also
>been Small Schooled once or twice.
>And the Gangster Disciples continued to sell drugs nearby in the
>community, and the poverty continued unabated. And the housing
>continued to rot and crumble. But Chicago was doing "School Reform"
>by ranking and sorting children and teachers and getting rid of the
>"bad" teachers from the "failing" schools.
>One of the things they teach you in AA and other "12-step" programs
>is that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting
>the results to be different.
>If we want to make schools better for kids, we have to do a lot more
>than rank and sort kids and schools based on standardized test
>scores. We have to have some idea of what schools can (and can't) do
>and promote rather than denigrate our public schools and their
>teachers. Continually "RE-ing" the public schools that serve poor
>children in the nation's poorest and most segregated communities is
>like prescribing Jack Daniels for the treatment of alcoholism. Only
>someone so ignorant as to be undeserving of any attention or so
>vicious as to want to destroy the "patient" would do so.
>And that's why I've concluded that those promoting corporate "school
>reform" here in Chicago are actually the heirs of all those who
>segregated and miseducated our poorest (usually minority) children
>for generations. I think they know exactly what they are trying to
>do and credit them with having had an ingenrious plan to do it over
>the past ten years.
>A small flicker of hope might have arrived yesterday. On page one of
>both daily newspapers, it was reported that our mayor, one of the
>most corrupt politicians ever to run a major city, has been
>inverviewed by representatives of the U.S. Attorney's Office. I'm
>not going to hope that justice will be done after all the racism and
>injustice Chicago has seen under two mayors named Daley, but who
>knows? I was surprised when so many corporate CEOs got caught and
>brought to justice for their crimes, so maybe within the next few
>years, Richard M. Daley will be tried for his.
>Sadly, from the point of view of all those teachers and children his
>version of "school reform" has destroyed, it will have been too
>late. But at least the hypocritical historical record will have been
>(partly) corrected.
>Meanwhile, though, the Daley administration continues to prescribe
>Jack Daniel to treat the ciirrosis our poor communities are
>suffering from, and since the passage of "No Child Left Behind" the
>whole country has begun to get a taste of what we've suffered here
>in Chicago since 1995.
>George N. Schmidt
>Editor, Substance

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Florence Shapiro: Don't dwell on legislature's failure

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Collin County Opinions asked local lawmakers – including state Reps. Jodie Laubenberg, Ken Paxton, Brian McCall and Jerry Madden – to answer the following question. Only Sen. Florence Shapiro offered a response for publication.

Question: Many voters are angry that there still is no new plan to fund schools. Should they be angry? At whom?

Answer: Voters are frustrated and disappointed that the Legislature was unable to pass a bill to reform school finance. I share in that frustration and disappointment, but not anger. I don't blame any one party for this failure, but the combination of competing forces at play in the process with different interests and priorities.

Property taxpayers would like relief from high tax rates and are frustrated that there is no relief in sight. Educators and parents would like to see more money flow to schools and are frustrated that they will not see an increase this year. And the business community is understandably concerned about what new revenue or tax might replace local property tax, and how much the cost will be. With all of those forces at play and a school finance case pending before the Texas Supreme Court, the political reality was that we failed.

Dwelling on anger and blame doesn't move us toward a resolution. We must instead assess the situation, learn lessons from the experience we have gained thus far and build toward a solution that achieves our goals.

As the official elected to represent Collin County in the Texas Senate, I have voiced our community's desires and concerns and passed school finance reform legislation out of the Senate four times now. I have worked with my colleagues in the House to build compromise and consensus that members in both chambers could support.

I will continue that work until the job is done. In the immortal words of baseball legend Babe Ruth: "Every strike brings me closer to the next home run."

State Sen. Florence Shapiro represents District 8, which includes Collin County and parts of Dallas County. Her e-mail address is Florence.Shapiro@

Online at:

Saturday, August 27, 2005


This is a powerful and rather pathetic statement made by the editors of the Houston Chronicle. -Angela

Aug. 25, 2005, 9:10PM


Philanthropy should enrich public schools, but winds up having to provide basic support.

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Texans are generous with their money and time, and education is a prime beneficiary. In a state with an adequate and equitable system of financing the public schools, philanthropy would enrich the learning of Texas children. As it is, private corporations and foundations are struggling just to keep the wheels from coming off the school bus.

According to the National Center for Education Information, 40 percent of the nation's teachers plan to leave the profession in the next five years, almost twice the rate for 1990-1995. Retirement will account for the bulk of the departures from a teacher corps that has aged considerably. But many teachers will leave because they can't make a living or burn out. Every time a teacher leaves, it costs some school district an estimated $11,500 to recruit, hire and develop a replacement.

The Texas Legislature's response to these conditions has been a failure to give teachers a raise and the refusal to provide public schools adequate funding. Fortunately, private charities have been more constructive.

The Houston-based Fund for Teachers gives direct grants to teachers for summer sabbaticals of their own design. The grants have sent teachers abroad to sharpen language skills and experience cultural immersion. They have underwritten research to find better ways to teach children with learning disabilities.

The result: retention of experienced and talented teachers; improved classroom teaching; and more student excitement for learning.

H-E-B, the grocery company, supports education across Texas. In the Houston area, the company, its corporate partners and its customers have raised more than $1 million to pay for school supplies for needy children. The need is so great, the National Education Association reports, that modestly paid teachers spend an average $1,200 of their own money on classroom supplies.

Every year, H-E-B also provides 50 teachers, principals and school districts with grants ranging up to $100,000 in recognition of excellence.

These are but two of the many organizations providing support for Houston-area public schools. Think of how much good they could do if Texas politicians had the decency to provide the basics.

Johnny Can Some States


Johnny can‚t read ... in South Carolina. But if his folks move to Texas,
he‚ll be reading up a storm. What‚s going on?

It turns out that in complying with the requirements of No Child Left Behind
(NCLB), some states have decided to be a whole lot more generous than others
in determining whether students are proficient at math and reading. While
NCLB required all states to have accountability systems in place, it did not
say specifically how much students should know at the end of 4th or any
other grade.

Some states have risen to the challenge and set demanding proficiency levels
for their students, while others have used lower standards to inflate
reported performance. Not only is the disparity confusing, but, perversely
enough, the states with the highest expectations often stand accused of
having the most schools said to be in need of improvement˜even when their
students are doing relatively well.

Because of such disparities, the states with the highest standards will be
tempted to lower their threshold for determining proficiency, especially
when NCLB teeth begin to bite. With the passage of time, states may be
tempted to race to the bottom, lowering expectations to ever lower levels so
that fewer schools are identified as failing, even when no gains are being

Because each state selects its own testing system and sets its own passing
scores, there is no direct way to compare the proficiency levels established
by one state against the others. However, NCLB does require each state to
administer the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to a
sample of students in 4th and 8th grade in reading and in mathematics.
Comparing the percentage of students achieving proficiency on state tests
with the percentage achieving proficiency on the NAEP suggests how demanding
each state‚s standards are.

For instance, if only 50 percent of a state‚s 4th graders are proficient by
the nationally determined NAEP standard, but the state claims proficiency
for 80 percent, then the state should be given an F for its failure to
establish high expectations for its students. But if a state with an
equivalent score on the NAEP says only 45 percent are proficient, then it
should be given an A for having standards that exceed even those of the

In practice, only five states˜South Carolina, Maine, Missouri, Wyoming, and
Massachusetts˜deserve the A grade. A lot more deserve Ds and Fs, the worst
grades going to Tennessee, Texas, and Oklahoma.

To help citizens of every state know whether their state is maintaining high
expectations for its students, Education Next plans to issue periodic
assessments of how the states compare with one another. Figure 1 shows
initial results for the 40 states for which both state and NAEP proficiency
levels are currently available. In the future, it will be possible to
compare all states with one another.

By reporting this straightforward, objective grading system, we hope to help
eliminate some of the murkiness that still prevails. It would be even better
if, as Caroline M. Hoxby recommends elsewhere in this issue (see „Inadequate
Yearly Progress,‰ page 46), the federal government issued its own grade for
each state.

Paul E. Peterson and Frederick M. Hess are editors of Education Next. Mark
Linnen provided research assistance.

Friday, August 26, 2005

SAVE THIS DATE --March against Racism at the Capitol on Sept. 17

Jovenes Inmigrantes por un Futuro Mejor: March Against the Minutemen

Embrace your Culture, Fight Racism, & Defend the Future of our Children
6th Annual Mexican Independence Day Parade
Stand up against racism and ignorance. The arrival of anti-immigrant
vigilante groups like the Minutemen threatens to provoke more senseless
violence from these fringe groups in Texas. March against prejudice,
anti-immigrant groups, and racism; defend the future of our children. Our
silence will continue to promote injustice if we fail to take action.

* Date: Saturday, September 17, 2005
* March Time: 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
* March Location: Riverside and Congress
* Rally Time: 5:30 pm -7:00 pm
* Rally Location: State Capitol Building in Austin, Texas

Join the Texas United Latino Artist, TCJC, UFW, NAACP, ACLU, CIME,
CDI-Dallas, UT Longhorn League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
Council, Jóvenes Inmigrantes por un Futuro Mejor de UT Austin, and grass
roots groups from across the Lone Star State for a march to the south steps
of the state Capitol.

Contacts: Joe Perez: 512-940- 4493 Julieta Garibay: 512-873-0576; Rebecca
Acuña 956-206-5853; Manuel Rodela; 214-330-0970 or 214-282- 1475 Ana
Yañez-Correa; 512-441-8123 x103 or 512- 587-7010; Miguel Reyes 214-914-6288;
Ray Ibarra; 520-440-2976.

MARCHA EN CONTRA DEL RACISMO Luchemos contra el racismo y la ignoracia,
debemos de promover soluciones reales al sistema de inmigración como el
DREAM Act. Grupos racistas estan tratando de promover el odio y los
sentimientos contra inmigrantes. Las acciones racistas de estos grupos han
causado la preocupación en todos los sectores desde grupos que protegen la
constitución Americana, grupos religiosos, hasta miembros de grupos que
protegen la seguridad pública y la dignidad humana.
Marchemos en contra del odio, en contra de los grupos anti-inmigrantes, y en
contra del racismo. Defendamos el futuro de nuestros hijos. Nuestro silencio
ayuda a la injusticia. No hoy excusa, APOYANOS!!!
Unase a la lucha contra el racismo y en la celebración de nuestra cultura
con el Texas United Latino Artist, TCJC, UFW, NAACP, ACLU, CIME, CDI-
Dallas, Concilio de LULAC en UT, Jóvenes Inmigrantes por un Futuro Mejor en
UT, y otras organizaciones del estado de la estrella solitaria.
Día: sábado, 17 de septiembre del 2005 Hora de la Marcha: 4:00 p.m. a 5:30
p.m. Sitio de la Marcha: Riverside y Congress Avenue Hora del Rally: 5:30
p.m. a 7:00 p.m. Sitio del Rally: Capitolio de la Ciudad de Austin, Texas

Local discontent with 'No Child Left Behind' grows

This is a major news story that I am only now posting. What's significant is that even strong supporters of the law say that more funding would be helpful. I heard this discussion on education policy with the Civil Society Institute and one person aptly maintained that it's out of line for 14% of education funding from the federal government(I think this figure is right)determining 100% of the policy is unjustifiably skewed.


'Hot spot' states could expand to eight, a new report finds. But supporters of the law still say it's effective.

By Alexandra Marks | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Just as students are heading back to school, frustration with the federal No Child Left Behind education law is hitting new heights at the grass-roots level from Maine to California.

Three states are already in open rebellion: Connecticut, Utah, and Colorado, which have either planned lawsuits or passed laws that trump the federal mandates. At least five other states - Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, and Virginia - are deemed "hot spots" that could join the revolt in the coming school year. And a total of 21 states are now considering some kind of legislation critical of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), according to a study released this week by the Civil Society Institute, a nonpartisan advocacy group in Massachusetts.

It rounded up a report of this dissatisfaction to call attention to what it says is a disconnect between the federal government and the educators, students, parents, and local lawmakers that live with NCLB every day.

The law's supporters counter that it is working, with test scores going up. They acknowledge there's frustration, but they contend it has more to do with the level of federal intervention in what used to be a primarily state and local issue. They also praise the federal Department of Education (DOE) for being flexible in dealing with state concerns.

But several independent education experts, as well as state legislators from both the Republican and Democratic sides of the aisle, say that even with this flexibility, frustration is on the rise.

"There is a palpable increase in the level of dissatisfaction that I see, but it's not being translated into legislation in Congress," says Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy in Washington. "There's really a disjuncture here between a growing dissatisfaction and the lack of a political response."

The roots of frustration

The frustration on the local level has to do with what educators call the rigidity of the law, which requires high-stakes, standardized testing and penalizes schools deemed as failing to make "adequate yearly progress." They're also concerned about a lack of funding to pay for the testing and the remedial services needed to ensure students make the grade.

For instance, Connecticut estimates it will cost the state $41.6 million more to implement NCLB than the federal government is providing. Local communities will bear additional costs, too.

The White House and the DOE dispute that. They point to two studies done by the Government Accountability Office in New Jersey and Massachusetts that found those states had enough federal resources to implement the law. They also note that since NCLB was passed, federal education spending has increased more than 30 percent.

"It is unfortunate that some appear to think that reform is more trouble than it's worth," says DOE spokeswoman Samara Yudof. "No Child Left Behind is working: Evidence from both the Nation's Report Card and the states' own data prove it."

Although test scores are going up, they were before NCLB was passed, as well. That's because of state education reforms and testing protocols put into place over the past 25 years. Indeed, there's been no research to determine which reforms get credit for the increasing scores. But many teachers and local legislators credit the earlier state improvements, and they're concerned that NCLB mandates are actually undermining their students' long-term success.

They argue that the high-stakes nature of NCLB's test encourages "teaching to the test" and actually undermines learning and critical-thinking skills. At the same time, they contend, NCLB mandates drain resources from key enrichment programs.

"The consequences especially for minority students are more and more tragic, and you see it in the data," says Sylvia Bruni, assistant superintendent of the Laredo, Texas, Independent School District. "We have enormous dropout rates, in my community as many 30 percent of all students.... Statewide there's a marked decline in the number of students who are prepared for higher education."

Ms. Bruni says that one of the biggest indications of NCLB's failure comes from the business community, which has found that students are "graduating as poor communicators, really weak critical thinkers, weak problem solvers."

But other states and school districts maintain that the law is having its intended effect of raising not only test scores, but also students' overall preparedness for the global economy.

For example, every single jurisdiction in the state of Maryland improved in performance in the past year, according to State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick. She credits NCLB, which she says forces schools to be in a "mode of continual improvement, raising the bar."

"In the past, even in some of our best schools, we've hidden behind the averages, and there were children who were not making substantial progress," she says. "The law ... now requires us to look at every subgroup. I actually think that's an extremely positive thing. We're never going to overcome an achievement gap ... until we do this."

NCLB's advocates also note the DOE has reached out to states to understand their concerns. Of the 40 states that have asked for waivers recently, more than 35 have been granted, according to the DOE.

More dollars

But even strong supporters of the law say that some of the regulations "need adjustment" and more funding would be helpful. Superintendent Grasmick notes that part of Maryland's success was a result of the state legislature approving an additional $1.3 billion in funds to help implement the program over five years.

"I know that's not true in a lot of states," she says. "They've actually experienced cuts in funding."

Several US representatives and senators are reportedly working on bills to amend NCLB in the upcoming legislative session, but few education experts believe it will happen before 2007, when the law comes up for reauthorization. But as the calls for change increase on the local level, that may change.

"I think the dissatisfaction will continue to grow," says Reggie Felton, director of federal relations with the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va. "That will result in a stronger sense of urgency in congressional districts, which will then result in members of Congress saying, 'We can't wait. We must act now because I'm up for reelection."

Highly qualified teachers on the way — or are they?


This USA - Today piece questions a centerpiece of Bush's domestic agenda,namely, the No Child Left Behind Act and one of its aims to dramatically improve learning through the hiring of "highly qualified teachers." This goal, however, is incredibly corruptible with states defining who is qualified in questionable ways. Read on.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


From Donna Garner. -Angela
Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued an executive order which directs 65% of school spending to go to the classroom.  On August 24, 2005, the Texas Commissioner of Education set up a task force to decide exactly what is considered the "classroom."  Since then the membership of the task force has been questioned.  For instance, where are the classroom teachers on this 65% rule task force?  Where are the Texas State Board of Education members?  Where are the common everyday taxpayers who pay the bills for these school districts?  Why are they not represented on this task force?  If wise spending is what this new executive order from Gov. Rick Perry is all about, then are these appointed members (listed in the second enclosure) the best ones to make those decisions? 
Also attached is an article (dated 7.23.04) from The Dallas Morning News entitled "Superintendents Get $2000 Consulting Fees To Hobnob with Vendors."  This article plus many others which have been published in the last several years about the misspent dollars in the public schools have made the citizens of Texas a little squeamish about allowing the "foxes to guard the henhouse."
Please notice that such members as Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD Superintendent Annette Griffin is a member of the task force and is also on the Rancho Mirage list. Several of the school districts from which task force members come are also noted on the DMN article. The Dallas ISD is presently embroiled in a controversy over possibly misspent government-regulated e-Rate funds which are tied to technology vendors. A number of the superintendents on the 65% task force make exhorbitant salaries themselves. These particular task force members may not be the best ones to represent the taxpayers who desperately want wise and transparent fiscal management in our states' public schools.
Donna Garner

This Week -- The Lone Star Report -- 8.24.05

Superintendents dominate spending task force
8/24/2005 4:59:34 PM

The Texas Education Agency has appointed a task force to craft rules to implement Gov. Rick Perry's rule to direct 65 percent of school spending to the classroom.
The 15-person task force includes two executive directors of regional service centers and 13 school superintendents. Several of the superintendents are currently suing the state, arguing that the state does not adequately fund Texas schools.
"This task force will build a consensus about the appropriate way to measure resource allocation in Texas public schools so that parents, taxpayers, and policymakers can apply a common standard for holding school districts accountable for their spending practices," said TEA Commissioner Shirley Neeley.
Among the members of the task force are Austin ISD Superintendent Pat Forgione and Houston ISD Superintendent Abe Saavedra.
Some conservatives are criticizing the move. Peggy Venable, the Texas Director of Americans for Prosperity - one of the key groups that pushed the 65 percent rule, called the task force makeup a "collossal mistake."
"I am surprised that it has been established and disappointed at the appointments made to the taskforce," Venable said. "The TEA Commissioner appointed 15 education bureaucrats. There are 13 school superintendents, and superintendents have almost universally opposed the 65% initiative."
Moreover, any taskforce should be focused on providing schools with suggestions on how to achieve the 65% standard and should include representation from the State Board of Education, teachers, parents and taxpayers," Venable said.
LSR has contacted Gov. Rick Perry's office for comment.
© 2003, The Lone Star Foundation
10711 Burnet Road, Suite 333 • Austin, TX 78758 • (888) 472-6051
These members were appointed to the 65% rule task force on August 24, 2005, by Texas Commissioner of Education Shirley Neeley:
Members of the 65 percent rule task force are:
Superintendent David Anthony, Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District
Executive Director John Bass, Region 16 Education Service Center, Amarillo
Superintendent Carol Ann Bonds, Livingston ISD
Superintendent Cathy Bryce, Highland Park ISD, Dallas
Superintendent Bonny Cain, Pearland ISD
Superintendent Pat Forgione, Austin ISD
Superintendent Annette Griffin, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD
Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, Dallas ISD
Superintendent Robert Nix, Midland ISD
Superintendent Patricia Pickles, Pflugerville ISD
Superintendent Thomas Randall, Lamar Consolidated ISD
Superintendent Abe Saavedra, Houston ISD
Superintendent Jesus Sanchez, Eagle Pass ISD
Superintendent Carrol Thomas, Beaumont ISD
Executive Director James Vasquez, Region 19 Education Service Center (El Paso) 

Superintendents get $2,000 consulting fees to hobnob with vendors

07:24 PM CDT on Friday, July 23, 2004

By SCOTT PARKS / The Dallas Morning News

I had already posted this before. It's an eye opener. -Angela

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Education Chief (M. Spellings) Criticizes Connecticut

Published: August 24, 2005

Filed at 8:01 p.m. ET

ATLANTA (AP) -- Education Secretary Margaret Spellings on Wednesday called claims that the No Child Left Behind Act isn't fully funded ''a red herring,'' and suggested states that are balking may simply fear seeing the test results.

Connecticut filed a lawsuit Monday that claims the federal government has not provided enough money to pay for the testing and programs associated with the 2001 law.

Spellings, speaking to the Atlanta Press Club, said the lawsuit ''does trouble me a little bit'' and, afterward, suggested states that oppose the law simply fear the results of its accountability measures.

''I just see that as a red herring,'' she said of Connecticut's claim that this year's federal funds will fall $41.6 million short of paying for staffing, training and tests for No Child Left Behind.

''What are they afraid of knowing, I guess, is one of the things I'd like to know.''

Connecticut officials responded sharply to Spellings's comments.

''Three words for federal officials -- read the law,'' said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. ''Under the law, the federal government must pay for any additional testing. They have not done so.''

Connecticut was the first state to sue, but lawmakers in other states have complained about its funding and experts expect that other states could join Connecticut's lawsuit or sue on their own.

The National Education Association, a national teacher's union, filed a lawsuit last spring on behalf of local districts and 10 state union chapters, including Connecticut.

Spellings said annual testing is a cornerstone of the federal program and needed to assess student achievement and help struggling students catch up with their peers.

''Parents want to know where their children stand,'' she said. ''That's a reasonable expectation for Connecticut and Georgia and Texas and every other state in the land.''

Connecticut Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg said the testing prescribed by No Child Left Behind doesn't add to data that already exist.

''We already know where the problems are and we're aggressively working to solve them,'' she said. ''So additional testing isn't going to tell us more than we already know.''

Spellings plans to visit several cities promoting national test results she said have improved since the inception of No Child Left Behind.

You're (Gov. Perry) Doing What?

Also check out this related editorial titled Candidate Perry Changes the Subject in the Austin Am-Statesman. Perry really can't legislate the 65% rule. -Angela

Wed, Aug. 24, 2005

You're doing what? editorials
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Hand it to Gov. Rick Perry and his advisers: They know how to run an election campaign.

Got a tough election ahead? Come out swinging, early and often.

Got legislators who won't cooperate? Make them scapegoats.

Don't have the laws on the books that you want? Write them yourself.

Wait a minute. Exactly where in the Texas Constitution does the gov-ernor get the authority to make laws? Perry assumed that authority Monday when he announced that he was ordering school districts to spend 65 percent of their money on "direct classroom instruction."

That might make dynamite campaign material. (Perry and Comptrol-ler Carole Keeton Strayhorn are in a slug match for the gubernatorial nomination in the Republican primary next March.) For months, part of the rhetoric about school funding in Texas has been an allegation that too much money goes to non-classroom expenditures -- an issue raised in many other states as well.

In fact, the Legislature considered setting classroom spending requirements during its regular session and two failed sessions on school finance this year. But that's the point: The Legislature did not act. Perry wants to take over from there: "Even though the Legislature did not act, I will."

It's not a good thing for a governor in the heat of a re-election campaign to bypass the Legislature.

Says Perry: "I will continue to use my constitutional authority to ensure that the education reforms mandated by the people are implemented according to their will."

It is regrettable that the state senators and representatives elected directly by the people haven't found their way to a better school finance system, but that's no clear sign that the governor knows better than they what their constituents want.

And Perry's claim of constitutional authority is a sham.

The Texas Constitution's Article 2 divides state government into executive, legislative and judicial branches and says that "no person, or collection of persons, being of one of these departments, shall exercise any power properly attached to either of the others."

Article 7 directs the Legislature to "establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools" and gives the Legislature authority "to pass laws for the assessment and collection of taxes in all school districts and for the management and control of the public school or schools of such districts."

No mention of the governor there.

Robert Scott, deputy commissioner of education and Perry's right-hand man on education issues, says that the Legislature ceded authority to the governor on education spending requirements in 2001 when it directed the education commissioner to devel-op and implement a financial accountability rating system for school districts.

But that law only discussed a reporting system for how money is spent, not requirements as to how it must be spent.

On average, Texas school districts spend about 60 percent of their money in the classroom. But that figure can vary according to how classroom spending is defined, and some people put the current figure closer to 50 percent.

There are valid questions about setting a single spending figure to be met by the 1,000-plus diverse school districts across the state, and the Legislature heard many of them when it considered this requirement.

School leaders point out, for instance, that expenditures for counselors, librarians, food service, transportation and teacher training typically aren't classified as part of direct classroom instruction, but all are essential in a well-run school. Spending on school security also is not counted, but it is a huge cost for large urban districts.

What Perry says he is ordering may sound good, and it undoubtedly will resonate with the people whom he counts as his core voters. But the Texas Constitution does not rest lawmaking power in the hands of one person -- and, importantly, not one who is fighting for re-election.

Lawmaking power rests in the Legislature's deliberative process. There is good reason for that.
© 2005 Star-Telegram and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.