Friday, June 30, 2006

No summer vacation for our failing schools

If you are aware of Lou Dobbs anti-immigration stance, then the irony here in this piece is that what gave impetus to legislation in Texas (and now 9 other states) that led to immigration-tuition waivers from having to pay out of state tuition, was the fact that close of half of valedictorians and salutatorians in Houston over a 10-year time period were immigrants, the very same group that he opposes.

When one considers the tremendous costs of NOT educating them, denying them this opportunity does no one any good. Plus, this legislation capitalizes on an important resource that demography has placed in our hands. My thoughts for today (smile).

I'm in Mexico right now. The elections are on July 2. The big question here is whether Mexico will vote left of center with the election of Lopez Obrador like other Latin American nations that have done so. We'll see....


No summer vacation for our failing schools
By Lou Dobbs

Wednesday, June 28, 2006; Posted: 6:53 p.m. EDT (22:53 GMT)
Editor's note: Lou Dobbs' commentary appears every Wednesday on

Lou Dobbs says we've failed a generation of public school students.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- School's out in nearly every part of the country, and students are delightfully spilling into their summer vacations with little, if any, thought of what September will bring.

But for just about a third of all high school students in this country, summer brings no respite from the failure of our public education system. Those students have already dropped out of high school, and they have left behind nearly all hope of furthering their education and assuring individual prosperity.

The failure is not theirs alone, and we all bear responsibility for failing an entire generation of students in our public school system. We must understand that our educational crisis will have long-lasting and profound effects on our national future.

Our elected representatives and educational administrators all but refuse to acknowledge that high school graduation rates for American public schools were higher nearly 40 years ago than today. And while one-quarter of white high school students drop out of high school, the problem is magnified for blacks and Latinos, about half of whom drop out of high school, according to the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University and the Urban Institute.

There's no question the economic fallout of these astonishing dropout rates will be devastating. High school dropouts have much higher rates of poverty, imprisonment and welfare enrollment. Even if these dropouts can get a GED and a job in our increasingly credentialed workforce, today's high school dropouts will make at least 35 percent less than high school dropouts of a generation ago. Worse, of those who are fortunate enough to graduate, too many lack the skills to enter college.

But a high-school diploma or college degree is as important as ever in our society, where our federal government and corporate America have combined to launch a full-scale attack on the middle class. Workers without so much as a high-school diploma earn on average $18,734 a year, according to the Census Bureau, about $9,000 less than their counterparts who have graduated high school. Armed with a bachelor's degree, the average worker earns nearly three times as much as a high-school dropout.

Those numbers indicate the critical need to mount a national attack on the crisis that is far worse than administrators and educators have reported. Whether schools and their administrators are lying or cheating, or they're simply incompetent, matters little. Without independent educational studies, we would have no idea as to the depth of the crisis that faces our public school students in this country.

These so-called educators and administrators may be trying to keep the graduation numbers high so that they can meet the high standards of the No Child Left Behind initiative. While that initiative has not shown nearly as much success as its proponents and advocates had promised, it's done better than most of its critics and opponents would have you believe. In any event, the program offers far too little and lacks urgency in dealing with this crisis.

And we're not talking only about money. Ironically, the United States spends a larger percentage of its total GDP on educating its students than just about any other country in the world. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development statistics also show that we expend more money per student for primary and secondary education than almost any other nation. And while the Bush administration has changed the formula for Pell Grants, leading to negative cutbacks for prospective students, more than $60 billion in federal student loans will be distributed this year. That's why it's so difficult to solve this systemic problem.

But we do have reason to hope. There is a growing movement to hire quality teachers and pay those teachers what they deserve. Voters in Denver, Colorado, last November approved a dramatic change in the way teachers' pay is structured, opting to boost their own property taxes by $25 million in order to offer bonuses for improvement in classroom performance and incentive pay for teaching in the city's under-performing schools. Already, it's having a measurable impact, and other cities like Chicago, Illinois, and New York are planning initiatives.

And a bold new educational program called the Kalamazoo Promise has begun in Michigan. Under this plan, students will receive free tuition at Michigan's state-funded universities and community colleges if they enter the Kalamazoo school system at kindergarten and remain in that school system through the 12th grade, maintaining certain established grade levels. Other students will receive substantial help with their college tuition as long as they enter the public school system by the ninth grade. Incredibly, it's all being funded by anonymous donors, and they need to be commended for their efforts.

Certainly none of us has all the answers to fixing our failing schools. But here are a few thoughts, just to add to what I hope becomes a national effort to assure the quality education of the next generation:

It is time to restore absolute discipline to our public schools and classrooms to eliminate every extraneous program in kindergarten through eighth grade that does not focus on reading, literature, writing, American history and civics, mathematics and natural sciences.
We should begin to redress the compensation of all public school teachers to ensure that we have the very best and brightest educating our next generation. For me, that means paying teachers far more and demanding far more of them.
The role of the federal government should be to provide, no matter what the cost, a scholarship program that provides a family stipend to economically disadvantaged students who demonstrate exceptional intellect and talent.
All graduating seniors in the top 10 percent of their class should be assured federally funded national scholarships to pursue university educations in mathematics, science and English. And stipend programs should be instituted, conditional on an educational commitment to teach in our public schools after their college graduation.
With the July Fourth holiday weekend approaching, restoring quality education to our public schools will help assure that every American celebrates every day as Independence Day.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Study Casts Doubt On the 'Boy Crisis'

Check out these news: "The real story is not bad news about boys doing worse," the report says, "it's good news about girls doing better. Guess it doesn't have to be zero-sum.... -Angela

Study Casts Doubt On the 'Boy Crisis'
Improving Test Scores Cut Into Girls' Lead
By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 26, 2006; A01

A study to be released today looking at long-term trends in test scores and academic success argues that widespread reports of U.S. boys being in crisis are greatly overstated and that young males in school are in many ways doing better than ever.

Using data compiled from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally funded accounting of student achievement since 1971, the Washington-based think tank Education Sector found that, over the past three decades, boys' test scores are mostly up, more boys are going to college and more are getting bachelor's degrees.

Although low-income boys, like low-income girls, are lagging behind middle-class students, boys are scoring significant gains in elementary and middle school and are much better prepared for college, the report says. It concludes that much of the pessimism about young males seems to derive from inadequate research, sloppy analysis and discomfort with the fact that although the average boy is doing better, the average girl has gotten ahead of him.

"The real story is not bad news about boys doing worse," the report says, "it's good news about girls doing better.

A number of articles have been written over the past year lamenting how boys have fallen behind. The new report, "The Truth About Boys and Girls," explains why some educators think this emphasis is misplaced and why some fear a focus on sex differences could sidetrack federal, state and private efforts to put more resources into inner-city and rural schools, where both boys and girls need better instruction.

"There's no doubt that some groups of boys -- particularly Hispanic and black boys and boys from low-income homes -- are in real trouble," Education Sector senior policy analyst Sara Mead says in the report. "But the predominant issues for them are race and class, not gender."

Black and Hispanic boys test far below white boys, the report notes. The difference between white and black boys in fourth-grade reading last year was 10 times as great as the improvement for all boys on that test since 1992. Still, the report notes, the performance of black and Hispanic boys is not getting worse. The average fourth-grade reading scores for black boys improved more than those of whites and Hispanics of both sexes.

Craig Jerald, an educational consultant who has analyzed trends for the federal government and the newspaper Education Week, said that "Ed Sector is right to call foul on all the crisis rhetoric, and we should stop using that word, though there are a few troubling statistics and trends that deserve further investigation." He noted a huge gap in writing skills between girls and boys, bad results in reading among older boys, and a sharp drop in high school seniors' positive feelings toward school that is worse among girls than boys.

Michael Gurian, a best-selling author who says boys are in trouble, said in reaction to the report: "I truly don't mind if everyone took the word 'crisis' out of the dialogue." But he said he thought the report "missed the cumulative nature of the problems boys face." The federal education data it cites, he said, are "just a small piece of the puzzle."

According to the report, reading achievement by 9-year-old boys increased 15 points on a 500-point scale between 1971 and 2004, and girls that age increased seven points, remaining five points ahead of boys. Reading achievement for 13-year-olds improved four points for boys and three points for girls, with girls 10 points ahead. Among 17-year-olds, there was almost no change in reading achievement, with girls up one point, boys down one point and girls 14 points ahead.

In mathematics achievement between 1973 and 2004, 9-year-old boys gained 25 points and girls gained 20 points, with boys ending up three points ahead. Thirteen-year-old boys increased 18 points and girls 12 points, with boys three points ahead. Among 17-year-olds, boys lost one point, girls gained four and boys were three points ahead.

The report notes that boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities. Two-thirds of students in special education classes are male. But, it notes, "the number of girls with disabilities has also grown rapidly in recent decades, meaning this is not just a boy issue."

To some, however, it's all about the boys. "At every level of education, they're falling behind," Newsweek reported.

Esquire proclaimed: "We're faced with the accrual of a significant population of boys who aren't well prepared for either school or work."

The Detroit News said that "every year, women increase their presence on campuses nationwide, while men do not."

Some of today's focus on boys might be backlash to legal remedies such as the 1972 Title IX law set up to ensure equality in education for girls, critics say. For several decades, school systems have worked to steer girls into more skilled math and science classes. Now girls in high school appear to be better prepared for college than boys, the report said. But, it adds, both sexes are taking more college-level courses, such as calculus, than ever.

More men are enrolling in college, and the share of men ages 25 to 29 with a college degree, 22 percent, is significantly higher than that of older men. The study did note that women are enrolling and graduating from college at higher rates than men.

The "boy crisis," the report says, has been used by conservative authors who accuse "misguided feminists" of lavishing resources on female students at the expense of males and by liberal authors who say schools are "forcing all children into a teacher-led pedagogical box that is particularly ill-suited to boys' interests and learning styles."

"Yet there is not sufficient evidence -- or the right kind of evidence -- available to draw firm conclusions," the report says. "As a result, there is a sort of free market for theories about why boys are underperforming girls in school, with parents, educators, media, and the public choosing to give credence to the explanations that are the best marketed and that most appeal to their pre-existing preferences."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

The birth control divide

I read a really good conceptual piece on the politics of this kind of situation in a book by Jim Wallis titled, God's Politics : Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. Ultimately, the poor and the marginal pay the price. -Angela

The birth control divide
Poor and uneducated women have higher rates of unplanned pregnancy. But why?
By Stephanie Simon
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

June 26, 2006

The students were giggling, trading gossip, but they stopped when Maria Elena Chavez dumped her stash of teaching aides on the table: Cola-flavored condoms. A cervical cap. An IUD. A diaphragm.

As the room quieted, Chavez unrolled a condom and stretched it over her hand.

"Many men will say they don't fit, but you can see how much this can stretch," she said. The students nodded, murmuring in surprise. One hand shot up, then another.

"Do they come in different sizes?"

"Should we put water in them first, to test them?"

"Can you use two at once for extra protection?"

These students in East L.A. were not inexperienced teens. They were women in their 30s and 40s, many of them married, all of them mothers — and, yet, still uncertain how to protect themselves from pregnancy.

They are far from alone.

A new statistical analysis, published this month, shows that poor and uneducated women have fallen farther behind their more affluent peers in their ability to control fertility and plan childbearing.

The nation's overall rate of unintended pregnancies held steady from the mid-1990s through 2001, the most recent year such data is available. But that stability masked huge disparities between demographic groups, according to the new analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group affiliated with Planned Parenthood.

Teenagers, college graduates and women in the middle or upper class dramatically reduced unintended pregnancy and abortion rates. Among poor women, though, the unplanned pregnancy rate jumped nearly 30%.

As a result, poor women are now four times more likely to face an unintended pregnancy than those who are better off. They're also three times more likely to get an abortion.

Analysts at the Guttmacher Institute blame the problem largely on a lack of access to affordable contraception. Prominent Democrats echo that theme, arguing that the nation has a moral responsibility to improve access, both to ensure women's health and to bring down the abortion rate.

"We have to make sure families have more options," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). "If you don't have the resources … they don't get the services."

But public health experts say more funding is not necessarily the answer.

California spends $124 on family planning for every woman in need, more than any other state except South Carolina and Alabama. The state's Family PACT program offers teens and low-income couples easy access to free or affordable birth control. Yet California has one of the highest abortion rates in the country — the same rate as Nevada, which spends only $32 per woman in need, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Nebraska presents the opposite scenario. The Guttmacher Institute ranks it worst in the nation at helping poor women avoid unintended pregnancies. Yet Nebraska has one of the country's lowest abortion rates.

On a national level, the jump in unplanned pregnancies came even as the federal government began offering to cover 90% of the cost if states would subsidize birth control for low-income women through Medicaid. At least 23 states, including California, have set up such programs. Details vary, but most offer exams and contraception to women earning up to twice the federal poverty level.

Former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher applauds such subsidies, but warns that free birth control alone won't bring down the unintended pregnancy rate. He calls instead for broad social change: Low-income women must build self-esteem and confidence in a better future. Only then, he said, will they be motivated to protect themselves. "To gain control of these issues, you really have to get beyond sex," said Satcher, who worked in the Clinton administration. "You have to dig deep and look at what's happening in their lives, their relationships and their minds."

Laura Gaydos came to a similar conclusion after holding recent focus groups with low-income women of all ages and races in cities across Georgia. A health researcher at Emory University in Atlanta, Gaydos said many of the women she interviewed simply didn't see the urgency in going out of their way to prevent pregnancy. "There's never going to be a perfect time to get pregnant," she heard again and again. And: "Might as well let what happens, happen."

Even when low-income women take the initiative to pick up birth control, they are often ambivalent about using it — or too disorganized to remember. Nearly half of all women who get abortions say they used birth control at some point during the month they conceived. In some cases it failed. In many others, they just didn't use it correctly or consistently.

"To get people to use contraceptives is an effort," said Cynthia Harper, an assistant professor at the Center for Reproductive Health Research and Policy at UC San Francisco. "It's really hard for people to take care of themselves in the area of sexuality."

They fear the birth control pill will make them fat, so they stop taking it. The patch irritates their skin, so they peel it off. They put a half-hearted faith in one of the many urban myths that pass from friend to neighbor: If a man drinks enough Mountain Dew before sex, his sperm will die. If a woman takes a bath, or jumps around, or douches with vinegar, she won't conceive.

Chavez runs through several of those myths during her two-hour class in an East L.A. elementary school. It's part of a six-month program — Promotoras Comunitarias — sponsored by Planned Parenthood. Taught in Spanish, the class trains Latinas to be health educators for their neighborhoods, with sessions on domestic violence, prenatal care and sexuality. The idea is to empower the women to push for healthier habits in their families and their communities.

During the session on contraception, Alicia Mendoza, 32, understood for the first time why she had conceived her son just a few months after giving birth to her daughter.

She had figured she couldn't get pregnant again so soon, but her teacher told her firmly that wasn't true; even nursing a baby would not fully protect her. "No one told me I had to be careful," Mendoza said.

Many of the students had never heard of newer forms of birth control such as the ring and the patch. Even more common methods drew quizzical stares: When Chavez held up a vaginal suppository filled with spermicide, one student looked at the large white capsule with alarm. "Where do you put it?" she asked.

"You don't swallow it, if that's what you mean," Chavez said, laughing. Patiently, she explained — then took question after question:

"Does it hurt?" "Does it protect you from disease?" "If you use it often, does it make you infertile?"

Planned Parenthood runs similar programs in Arizona, Colorado, New York and Texas. Overall, however, the organization and its affiliates devote just 30% of a $49-million educational budget to women 20 and older. The rest is aimed at teens.

The federal government too, focuses most of its sex education resources on teens, with a strong emphasis on abstinence.

Though women 20 and up account for nearly 80% of all unintended pregnancies, "you'll find almost no intervention or prevention programs targeted at older women," Gaydos said.

In part, that's because such programs tend to get tangled in ideological disputes. Though liberals urge more classes and cheaper birth control, some conservatives warn that expanded access will only encourage reckless behavior.

This spring in Missouri, for instance, state Rep. Susan Phillips shot down a proposal to subsidize birth control for low-income women. That would be like subsidizing promiscuity, she argued.

Phillips, a Republican, explained by e-mail: "It is my hope that reducing access to contraception for recreational users and those not prepared to parent will give them time to consider the consequences" of having sex.

That "sex has consequences" message is pushed on teens through TV shows, magazines, movies and schools; some experts say it's time to extend that campaign to adults as well.

"People don't worry about problems they don't know exist," said Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.



Unintended pregnancy rate

Rate per 1,000 women*

1994 2001
Below poverty line 87* 112*
Poverty level to less
than twice poverty level 65 81
At least twice poverty level 37 29
Less than H.S. diploma 71 76
H.S. diploma/GED 47 54
Some college 43 47
College graduate 33 26
White 37 35
Black 101 98
Hispanic 78 78
15-19 82 67
20-24 105 104
25-29 66 71
30-34 38 44
35-39 21 20
Over 40 7 6

Source: Alan Guttmacher Institute. (Published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Vol. 38, No. 2, June 2006

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Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Redistricting Ruling Imminent

The US Supremes will decide on this soon. Interesting how all of this is happening at the same time that the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act is being deliberated. Whatever the court decides will have far-reaching implications.

Redistricting Ruling Imminent

Supreme Court's Decision
Could Be Felt Far Beyond Texas
June 22, 2006; Page A10

WASHINGTON -- Republican Texas lawmakers didn't like the electoral map that a federal court adopted after the 2000 census, so they redrew it -- and gained six seats in the state's delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives.

As early as today, the U.S. Supreme Court could say whether that mid-decade redistricting, which former Rep. Tom DeLay orchestrated to solidify control of the House, is constitutional. If the answer is yes, the implications could be felt far beyond Texas as Democrats and Republicans rush to embrace the technique of strategically reallocating voters among congressional districts after each election.

"If the Supreme Court decides that it's legal, not doing it would constitute a unilateral surrender," says Howard Wolfson, a former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Democrats see the necessity of fighting fire with fire."


Battleground States Poll:2 Good news for the White House in June hasn't had much impact for GOP candidates in tight Senate races.
At the same time, Republicans could themselves export the tactic to other states they control. In Georgia, Republicans already have used mid-decade redistricting to dilute Democratic strength in the university town of Athens.

"If we win, it will affirm there's no ban on mid-decade redistricting and there's no serious constraint against partisan gerrymanders," says Michael Carvin, a Republican lawyer involved in the Texas case. But while Democrats have "made noises" about retaliating in their states, he says they will run into a problem peculiar to their own membership: Squeezing more Democratic-leaning districts from a map would almost certainly require splitting minority voters into multiple districts, undercutting their strength as a voting bloc. "They would really have to violate the Voting Rights Act to change the map," Mr. Carvin says.

Of course, Republicans can't be sure of a win at the Supreme Court. The court could rule the DeLay map unconstitutional on one-person, one-vote grounds, forcing a remapping in Texas that would almost certainly benefit Democrats.

Even if the court finds no constitutional bar to the DeLay map, it could strike it down for violating the Voting Rights Act. At oral arguments, Justice Anthony Kennedy -- who is emerging as the court's new swing vote -- seemed sympathetic to arguments that the DeLay plan had diminished Hispanic voting strength in South Texas.

The Constitution requires that congressional seats be reapportioned among the states after each decennial census. Under Supreme Court rulings dating to the 1960s, congressional districts must be equal in population. The federal Voting Rights Act protects minority populations from diminution of their electoral strength.

Some states have their own provisions to deter repeated partisan remaps. New Jersey and Washington state, for instance, have independent commissions that redraw lines. Others put limits on the legislature: Colorado Republicans redrew their lines in 2003, but the Colorado Supreme Court said repeat redistricting violated the state constitution.

Federal law has been silent, however, on the question of repeated redistricting of congressional seats -- largely, perhaps, because it was such a rare occurrence. Mr. DeLay's innovation may have changed that.

Outraged by the DeLay maneuver, in 2003 some Democrats openly pondered redrawing electoral maps to boost their candidates' chances in states they controlled. But party leaders urged that such plans be shelved, for fear of undercutting legal arguments against Mr. DeLay's mid-decade redistricting.

That concern would vanish if the Supreme Court upholds the technique. Still, there are only a handful of states where conditions are ripe for a possible Democratic retaliation.

"You need a place where the Democrats are fully in control and where there are more seats to be squeezed out if the districts are redrawn," says Richard Pildes, a New York University law professor who filed a brief against the Texas plan. The states that best fit the target, Mr. Pildes says, are Illinois, Louisiana and New Mexico, all of which have more Republican representatives than their population's partisan breakdown would suggest.

Still, even as national Democratic leaders might seek to play tit for tat, local conditions could interfere with plans to redraw maps. In California, Democrats controlled both the Legislature and the governorship in 2001 -- but declined to squeeze the map for maximum partisan advantage.

"In California, it was a bipartisan conspiracy that involved both Democrats and Republicans to solidify the lines so that all incumbents were safe," says Garry South, a Democratic political consultant in Santa Monica, Calif.

Write to Jess Bravin at jess.bravin@...3 and Ben Winograd at benjamin.winograd@...4

Thursday, June 22, 2006

On Spirituality and (Mis)education

This piece below and responses to it--as summarized by Boggs below--are getting circulated. I concur that insufficient attention is accorded to education and spirituality. I appreciate how spirituality is front and center in a lot of American Indian Studies' examination of education.

Nel Noddings in her book, THE CHALLENGE TO CARE IN SCHOOLS also finds an appropriate place for spirituality in schools. I, too, advocate in my own work that caring authentically for youth involves both socially and politically conscious awareness and also a thoughtful and sincere disposition toward youth. These connect both to social justice and our children's right to be treated humanely and with dignity.

I've been really busy and so I've not posted much these days so forgive me if you sent me something to post that I somehow overlooked. I'm the director of a new education policy studies center at UT called the Education Policy Alliance and it's been a time-consuming, creative endeavor. The best part is the wonderful team of students and faculty who are associated with "The Alliance," as we call ourselves. We inaugurate in the Fall. More on this later.



ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The Moral & Spiritual Miseducation of America's Youth

By Grace Lee Boggs

A reader recently sent me an article with this title by Svi Shapiro who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I reprint it (slightly edited for length) in the hope that it will generate widespread discussion and struggle.

"A colleague of mine," Shapiro writes, "often asked his students two questions. What do you consider some of the most serious issues facing human beings today? To what extent are students in schools being prepared to address such concerns?

"Typical answers to the first question included violence, the materialistic culture, inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunity, sense of powerlessness among ordinary people, emphasis on celebrity, fame and exploitation of sexuality in every part of our society, and the environmental crisis.

"The second question brought the collective acknowledgement that schools offer little to prepare young people to make the critical decisions that face us all in this century.

"While liberals argue that schools ought to be places that provide a value-neutral space for young people, conservatives have, correctly I believe, recognized that schools are places that transmit a powerful agenda of values. These views remain deeply imprinted in our identities long after we have forgotten how to solve quadratic equations, the words of a poem or the dates of a battle.

"What schools relentlessly teach is a belief in the importance of personal success, individual achievement, the competitive race for recognition, the inequitable distribution of human worth, the belief that only things that 'can be counted count' and that education's true importance is as a vehicle to sort and select winners and losers.

"What schools do is compare and search for winners and losers. Education becomes more rote and increasingly shallow. What matters is the well-rehearsed performance on the test, not about the curiosity awakened or the joy of discovery released. A shallow and instrumental conformism is substituted for a willingness to think imaginatively and to question boldly and critically.

"The real crisis of education is the withering of our children's souls inside our classrooms. Put aside the divisive banner of religion for a moment. It is surely a spiritual crisis when education offers young people little that might direct them towards a meaningful or purposeful life. Schools increasingly fail to contribute to a moral vision of a worthwhile existence beyond grubbing for better grades and playing the grade-point average game. It's not surprising that cheating and cutting corners are so pervasive among our most 'successful' students as they learn to work the system to their best advantage.

"Do we need an alternative moral and spiritual vision for the way we educate our young? The prophetic impulse that is found in our great religious teachings might be a good place to start. We need human beings who learn to see all human beings as made in the image of the divine; human worth is intrinsic to us and not something that depends
on our success in the marketplace or in how much we can impress others.

"An authentic existence is found in our service to others and in the improvement of our world, not in consumerism and materialism. A full human life means both agency and responsibility--the capacity to think about and question needless suffering, indignity and injustice, and the commitment to make changes where needed. And beyond the debates on evolution and intelligent design we surely can agree that Creation--the earth and life in all its forms--is a source of awe and wonder. In acquiring this reverence for creation we ensure the next generation's concern with a planet that can sustain and nourish the extraordinary chain of existence.

"Our challenge is to ask ourselves what kind of vision we want schools to offer our children. Of course in our culturally divided society this no easy task. Yet in spite of all our apprehensions and suspicions there is one thing that stands out; we as a society are increasingly aware of the shallowness and shabbiness of our dominant culture. There is growing alarm at the degrading and callous egotism that shapes our kids world and whether we call it spirituality, religion, morality or wisdom--there is increasing recognition that our children need and deserve an education that awakens them to a life of greater purpose and meaning than the one schools currently offer."

Source: Michigan Citizen, June 18-24, 2006

posted 16 June 2006

Honoring our Children's Souls
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, June 25-July 1, 2006

The responses to last week's column in which I reprinted Dr. Svi
Shapiro's article on "The Spiritual and Moral Miseducation of America's
Youth " suggest that the escalating crisis of our public schools may
finally be forcing more people to honor the "souls" of our children, as
Dr. DuBois once honored "the Souls of Blacks Folks."

"The real crisis of education is the withering of our children's souls
inside our classrooms," according to Shapiro.

One reader who works with young people at the Rosa Parks Institute for
Self-Development called the article "excellent" and promised to "share
it with as many people as I can."

Another, who teaches education at the University of Michigan, found
the piece "provocative " and intends to share it with "the graduate
and undergraduate students that I will be working with this year."

At the same time the response from a Wayne State University
professor of education deserves closer examination because I suspect it is
more typical. "While I do not disagree with what you or Shapiro says, "
he wrote, "good public schools do teach values such as hard work,
responsibility, clear thinking and often ask students to reflect on what is
happening around them. The problem of directly bringing spirituality into
schools is the question of whose spirituality (religion) and do we have to
believe it or practice it to get a good grade in the class. After all, one
may privately pray in public schools and teach about religion."

This professor has no difficulty in acknowledging conventional
values like hard work and responsibility. But he seems reluctant to
encourage discussion among his students of more spiritual (and more
controversial) questions like striving for a more cooperative, less
competitive and less unequal society or whether achieving success justifies
any means to that end. This is in part because he assumes (in my
opinion, mistakenly) that only religious people believe questions like
these matter, and like other public employees, he is (justifiably)
fearful of being drawn into discussions or arguments about religion.

Yet it is impossible to educate children without recognizing that,
like all human beings, they consist not only of minds and bodies but of
souls. In other words, they are constantly faced with making choices or
decisions that stem from competing values. For example, despite the
large number of inner city youth who sell drugs, the great majority do
not - not only because they fear the consequences to themselves but
because they reject involvement in an activity that is so destructive of
human lives.

Meanwhile, sixteen freshmen were recently expelled from a
prestigious suburban school for hacking into the computerized grading
system and changing their own and other students' grades. Isn't this Enron
in the making a byproduct of too much testing, and not paying enough
attention to children's souls?

If , on the other hand, we acknowledged and honored our children's
souls, our schools would engage them in community-building activities with
the same audacity with which the civil rights movement engaged them in
desegregation activities 40 years ago: planting community gardens,
recycling waste, organizing neighborhood arts and health festivals,
rehabbing houses, painting public murals. By giving our children and young
people a better reason to learn than just the individualistic one of
getting a job or making more money, by encouraging them to exercise their
Soul Power, we would get their cognitive juices flowing. Learning would
come from practice which has always been the best way to learn.

Instead of trying to bully young people to remain in classrooms
organized to prepare them to become cogs in the existing economic
structures, we need to recognize that the reason why so many young people
drop out from inner city schools is because they are voting with their
feet against a system which sorts, tracks, tests, and rejects or certifies
them like products of a factory. They are crying out for another kind of
education that values them as human beings and gives them opportunities to
exercise their Soul Power.

Criticism from Texas Republicans halts renewal of Voting Rights Act

Hmm. So there's a debate in Congress from at least two Texas representatives on whether there is any "racial bias" or discrimination in Texas. Never mind our segregated schools or our racially/ethnically stratified occupational structures. Why was the voting rights act necessary in the first place? -Angela

June 22, 2006, 9:09AM

Criticism from Texas Republicans halts renewal of Voting Rights Act
The lawmakers decry pivotal law's extra oversight of states with history of discrimination
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - The House abruptly dropped plans Wednesday to vote on a renewal of the Voting Rights Act, a seminal law from the civil rights era, after criticism from Republican lawmakers from Texas.

A bill to extend the law for 25 years has support from the White House, top legislative leaders of both parties and a key, GOP-controlled committee that passed it 33 to 1.

But the bill was delayed after objections from the Texas lawmakers to the requirement that the state must get permission, or "preclearance," from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes to voting standards, practices or procedures.

The rule was aimed at states with a history of discrimination in voting. Six states were targeted when the law was originally passed in 1965: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia. Texas, Arizona and Alaska were added in 1975, when the law was expanded to protect people who have limited knowledge of English.

"I don't think we have racial bias in Texas anymore," said Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock.

"It would be dumb to discriminate," said Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio. "That is the last thing anyone is trying to do."
If Texas must still get pre-clearance, the lawmakers feel that all states should have to do the same. They were angered when House leaders declined Tuesday to allow a debate on an amendment to that effect, which was introduced by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler.

Some lawmakers are also seeking an amendment allowing the Justice Department to decide every year whether states need preclearance.

The lawmakers also pressed the leadership to delay renewing the law until the Supreme Court finishes its review of the disputed Texas congressional district lines that were drawn in 2003.

Democrats and some minority groups allege that the GOP-friendly lines violated the Voting Rights Act's prohibitions on discriminating against minority voters. The court could hand down its decision as early as today.

Several Texas Republicans also objected to the law's requirement that jurisdictions print ballots in other languages if 5 percent or more of their voting-age populations have limited English skills.

"I simply believe you should be able to read, write and speak English to be a voter in the United States," Carter said.

'Committed' to act

House Republican leaders said they "have time to address (lawmakers') concerns" and are "committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation as soon as possible."

The Senate has not voted on it yet.

House lawmakers are mistaken if they think bilingual aid is meant only to help immigrants, said Peter Zamora, a legislative attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The provisions were designed to help native-born, U.S. citizens who did not receive adequate schooling in English reading comprehension, he said. Zamora added that it is harder to understand a ballot than demonstrate the English-language proficiency required of naturalized citizens.

Congressional Democrats and civil rights leaders lashed out at the House delay.

"Those members who held up today's vote represent retrogressive forces that America hasn't seen at this level since the 1960s," said Wade Henderson, the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. He noted that the bill was introduced by a large bipartisan group of lawmakers.

"It is shameful what they are doing," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which approved the bill last month by the vote of 33-1.

She added that she opposes the idea of applying the preclearance rules to all 50 states. It would inevitably result in several states suing for relief from the provisions, she said, leaving the law to languish in the courts.

Effect on voters

The actions of Texas Republicans are unlikely to cause them problems at the polls, said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.

"Republicans in Texas recognize that they get elected on Anglo votes, a few Hispanic votes, and almost no black votes," he said.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Alarming dropout rates in US schools

India Post News Service

"America's high schools are obsolete. By obsolete, I don't just mean that
our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded-though a case
could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean that
our high schools-even when they're working exactly as designed-cannot
teach our kids what they need to know today. This isn't an accident or a
flaw in the system; it is the system."
- Bill Gates

Even as Indian American kids continue to amaze the world with their
dominance in education and the 'Bee' competitions, a simultaneous drop
in Native American education has reached alarming proportions.
About 30 years ago, American educationists would have sworn by the
system and its products. Their students were the best, making their mark
worldwide. They were a source of pride for USA.

The scenario today is however not satisfactory. According to the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the
world's richest country's students are ranked 24th for math. Not only
are they placed lower than advanced countries like Canada, Germany,
France and South Korea but also under developing and poorer countries
like Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.

The question arises, what purpose does an educational curriculum
designed in 1956 serve students passing out in 2006.
On the Oprah show, Bill Gates said, "Millions of kids are dropping out.
Of minorities, half drop out. Overall it's about a third (of the total

This should be a bigger concern than Iraq for the Americans. What good
is fighting for your people in foreign lands if you cannot be sure they
can take over that responsibility from you?

A dropout is bound to face some serious problems of unemployment. As
Gates put it, "There won't be jobs for those kids. It's a bad thing for
them. It's a bad thing for the country." His wife, Melinda Gates
reiterates that America's standing in the world will slip with an
undereducated workforce. Overall, it's not a concern for just USA; other
countries like India, Israel, China and Russia will face a bigger
disaster. India and Israel look to the US for enhancing trade and
regional security. A fallow American workforce and leadership will not
be able to prevent the propagation of fundamentalism and anarchy in most
developing nations since they, too, depend largely on the US for
stability, security and finance. The part of the world that currently
despises America's 'policeman attitude' will swear they were better off
with it.

Even those making it to college are involved in some kind of 'remedial
work'. They account for over 40 percent of total college students. They
are ill prepared for college and have their basics wrong.

A Time magazine report underlines some alarming facts. More than one
million American students drop out of school per annum which means one
student drops out every nine seconds!

According to an Oprah Show poll, 62 percent of the respondents said the
government should forbid students who are under 18 from dropping out. In
most states, 16-year-olds are legally permitted to dropout. To counter
dropout rates in the state of Indiana, a new law will strip driver's
licenses and work permits of children under the age of 18, who dropout
unless they have legitimate health, financial or legal reasons for
leaving school.

In Oprah's report, Russlynn Ali, director, Education Trust West, warns
that factory jobs (the biggest availability for dropouts) won't be
around much longer. Many companies are moving their factories to foreign
countries and outsourcing jobs because American workers are lacking
basic job skills. "Poorly trained workers and high school dropouts are
products of the "cycle of low expectations" in America's public
schools," Ali says. "Students rise to expectations, and they fall to

Schools with leaky roofs, exposed steam pipes, crumbling ceilings and
inoperable bathrooms might be something Americans expected to find only
in a third world country. CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper, reported
from a school where these deplorable conditions are commonplace. This
school is just minutes from the White House. The sign in front of this
Washington, D.C., high school reads 'The Pride of Capitol Hill'. An
'American Story', is this? Certainly not the one that Brad Pitt mentions
in 'The Devil's Own'.

"I believe, just as I know all of you watching believe, that every
American child deserves the best school," Oprah says. "If you've watched
this show today, and you realize that your child is one of the children
who is not getting the best that this nation has to offer or if you are
concerned about what's happening to other kids in this country, go to"

Jonathan Kozol, an author, educator and activist, is one of public
education's most vocal critics. In his book, The Shame of the Nation,
Kozol compares the current state of the American school system to South
African apartheid.

"We are now operating a school system in America that's more segregated
than at any time since the death of Martin Luther King," he says.
"Racial segregation has come back to public education with a vengeance."
Going by Kozol, the average African-American and Latino 12th grader
currently reads at the same level as the average white seventh grader.

The blame game has started. The poll suggests no clear consensus on who
is most to blame. About 24 percent blame lack of funds. About 21 percent
put the blame on parents.

The movement to defeat the 'silent epidemic' may has gathered momentum
due to the efforts of Oprah and Bill Gates but the real results depend
on the federal government's action. This is a problem that needs to be
solved soon enough since the new generation might be getting ready to
ride the horses that lead the American arrangement.

Only 67% of eligible Texans graduated in '03, study says

June 21, 2006

Only 67% of eligible Texans graduated in '03, study says
Education Week report contradicts TEA's 83% claim
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

Only two-thirds of Texas' eligible students earned a high school diploma in
2002-03, 16 percentage points lower than the 83 percent graduation rate
touted by the Texas Education Agency that year, according to a study
released Tuesday by Education Week magazine.

Like much of the dispute over dropout and graduation rates, discrepancies
arise because of the different formulas used to calculate the percentage.

Each state counts and tracks students differently; this report uses numbers
from the U.S. Department of Education and uses a "cumulative promotion
index," which estimates the probability that a ninth-grader will earn a
standard diploma in four years.

According to the study, Texas' graduation rate of 67 percent lagged just
behind the national average of 70 percent.

Texas students are 20 percent more likely to live in poverty and 60 percent
more likely to be English-language learners than national averages,
according to the report.

The study, Diplomas Count, shows that 1.2 million U.S. students failed to
graduate with their classmates in 2006.

"This is a virtually universal thing we're seeing here," said Christopher
Swanson, director of editorial projects at the Education Research Center.

Most dropouts leave school in the ninth grade, including 40 percent of
dropouts in low-income districts including Houston, officials said.

Texas measured up well in other standards.

The state requires students to earn 22 credits to graduate, slightly higher
than the national average.

It's one of 23 states that requires student to pass an exit-exam to
graduate, and Texas also requires students to attend school until they're
18, a year longer than the national average.

A Third of U.S. Dropouts Never Reach 10th Grade

June 21, 2006

A Third of U.S. Dropouts Never Reach 10th Grade

WASHINGTON, June 20 — More than a third of high school dropouts across the
nation leave school without ever going beyond the ninth grade, according to
a report released here on Tuesday.

The report, "Diplomas Count: An Essential Guide to Graduation Rates and
Policies," by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center of
Education Week newspaper, also estimated a 39 percent graduation rate for
students in New York City, 25 percent lower than the city has publicly

The report found that nationwide, 69.6 percent of the students who enter
ninth grade graduate in four years with a regular diploma. It found both the
most and least successful states in the New York metropolitan region, with
New Jersey, at 84.5 percent, having the highest graduation rate in the
country, and Connecticut, with 79.3 percent, coming in fifth. New York
State, which demands that students pass exams in five subject areas, had the
ninth lowest graduation rate, at 62.5 percent.

Education researchers as well as state and local officials vary widely in
their assessments of graduation rates and even who counts as a graduate. For
example, a report earlier this year from the Economic Policy Institute,
estimated that 82 percent of all students nationwide graduated from high
school. The Education Week study, with some of the lowest graduation rates
ever reported, will likely fuel the debate. The Education Week study used
data from the 2002-3 school year. Its figures for states were slightly lower
than figures the federal Education Department also released here on Tuesday,
which found that nationally, 73.9 percent of high school students made it to
graduation that year. The following year, the federal report said, 75
percent of students graduated.

Both reports relied on figures that the department collects from states,
known as the Common Core of Data. The newspaper's report, however, tracked
promotions by grade to also estimate the probability of graduation on time
with a regular diploma.

Lori Mei, the head of testing for New York City's schools, defended the
city's figures, saying New York tracked individual students and so did not
rely on estimates, but produced actual graduation figures. In 2003, the city
reported a 54.3 percent graduation rate.

But she also said that New York counted students who received high school
equivalency diplomas as graduates. Excluding them would have produced a
graduation rate of about 50 percent, she said. She said that in New York,
virtually all the students who drop out never get past 9th or 10th grade,
largely because of poor preparation in the lower grades.

In the coming days, the study, posted at, will provide
graduation rates for every school district in the country.

Charter schools joining mainstream

Tue, Jun. 20, 2006

Charter schools joining mainstream
By Dana Hull / San Jose Mercury News

A decade ago, charter schools existed largely on the fringes. Many were start-ups operating out of rented church basements -- alternatives to failing urban schools that struggled to teach the basics.

Now more than 200,000 California students are enrolled in 574 charters -- independently operated public schools that have wide latitude in what they teach and how they teach it.

While charters are still most popular in big cities and among low-achieving students, they're starting to take root in bedroom communities and affluent suburbs, creating stiff competition for regular public schools and drawing students from highly regarded private schools as well.

``We shop around to find the right mechanic for our car, but a lot of time we don't take the same approach when it comes to choosing schools,'' said Wanny Hersey, a skilled pianist and principal of Bullis Charter School in Los Altos. ``Once parents realize that school choice is out there and that one size doesn't fit all, they can evaluate different programs.''

Bullis was founded three years ago by parents outraged after their neighborhood elementary school was closed during a budget crunch.

The K-6 school lacks a permanent campus; it's housed in a dozen portable trailers on the parking lot behind Egan Middle School. But families are flocking to the young school's small classes, rich drama and instrumental music programs and individual learning plans for each student.

One measure of parent interest: 180 students applied for 40 kindergarten slots available this fall. Sustainable cooking, public speaking and conflict management are among the electives. Numerous projects, including an environmental education partnership with Hidden Villa, a 1,600-acre wilderness preserve in Los Altos Hills, are in the works.

For Steve Johnson, moving his daughter Sophia, 12, from a private school to Bullis last year was like moving from a house to something that really feels like home. Sophia graduated from sixth grade last week.

``She has learned faster and better here,'' he said. ``It's challenging, but she's rising to the occasion. I wish they would expand.''

Charter schools are by no means a magic bullet for the numerous challenges of public education. Some stumble, fail to meet community expectations, lose students and ultimately close. The California Charter Academy, a statewide chain of schools, fell to pieces in 2004, and a state audit found millions of dollars in questionable spending.

Some schools never make it through the approval process. RAICES, a proposed K-8 charter school in San Jose's Alum Rock neighborhood, recently had its petition rejected by the Santa Clara County Board of Education.

``The curriculum hadn't been thought through, and it felt slapped together,'' said Bill Evers, who serves on the county board and is generally supportive of charter schools. ``The charter didn't look ready, and I couldn't in good conscience approve it.''

The research on charter schools is also mixed. A May report by EdSource found that charter elementary and middle schools were more likely than non-charters to reach their goals when it came to improving test scores, but that charter high schools lagged.

There are 18 charter schools in Santa Clara County serving more than 5,400 students. Roughly half were founded to help struggling students from low-income families. Two more are scheduled to open this fall, and others are in the planning stages.

Downtown College Prep in San Jose got enormous statewide attention when its standardized test scores shot up 90 points in 2004-2005. It focuses on students who would be the first in their families to go to college; the vast majority speak Spanish at home. Entire classes go on field trips to colleges and universities.

But charters are also drawing families who are frustrated with the teach-to-the-standardized-test pressure facing many public schools, as well as parents shopping for specific programs.

``With No Child Left Behind, many schools are focusing just on reading, writing and arithmetic,'' said Caprice Young, president of the California Charter Schools Association. ``Parents of all kinds are looking for schools that still offer music and science and a diverse, enriched curriculum. Charter schools are a direct response to that.''

In Silicon Valley, the charter school movement has largely grown by word of mouth -- parents talking to other parents at soccer games and birthday parties.

However, local school districts, which can approve or deny charter school proposals, are not always as enthusiastic as parents.

``The fact is that getting a charter approved is still difficult, and a number of districts have signaled `Over my dead body,' '' said Eric Premack, co-director of the Charter Schools Development Center in Sacramento.

Other districts are wholeheartedly in favor: Cambrian School District in west San Jose converted four of its five elementary schools to charters so each could have more autonomy. Charter schools are governed by their own boards, have fewer regulations and work rules and have greater flexibility when it comes to raising and spending money, hiring staff and developing curriculum.

The first years of a charter school are reminiscent of dot-coms in the early days: It's a mad scramble to find classroom space, and charters often outgrow their facilities within weeks. There's enormous energy and excitement, along with near-constant retooling.

``It's like a full-time start-up job. This is pretty much my obsession,'' said Barbara Eagle, a parent who has helped drive Discovery Charter School, scheduled to open this fall in Campbell with a student body drawn from 25 public and private schools. ``It's really hard, but I knew we could do it.''

Contact Dana Hull at or (408) 920-2706.

© 2006 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

It's Not Really About Immigration, Is It?

by Marta Donayre, New America Media, Jun 08, 2006

EDITOR'S NOTE: A green card, even U.S. citizenship, is no guarantee from harassment by immigration authorities, because the current controversy isn’t really about immigration but about race.

OAKLAND -- I've developed a pet peeve lately. I get antsy with statements like "I have no problem with legal immigrants, it’s the illegals that I have a problem with."

Marta Donayre

Phrases like this raise the hair on the back of my neck. How can someone on the street tell the difference between an undocumented alien and me, a legal resident?

Is it through my English-language skills? I don't think so. I've met undocumented immigrants with far better English than mine.

Could it be the way I look? But I've known way too many blond, blue-eyed Latinos and non-Latinos who are undocumented.

Maybe it's because I act more "American" than recent immigrants? Nope. There are undocumented immigrants who seem like they were born and raised here. They've absorbed American fashion and ways much better than I have.

There's really no accurate way to tell the difference just by looking at us or listening to the way we speak.

To really figure it out, an inquisitor would have to open my wallet to see my green card, which I'm required to carry with me at all times. It looks pretty much like a driver's license, but with a much thicker magnetic strip. If I were to lose it, I'd be in very serious trouble. The thought of losing my wallet terrifies me.

The mere thought that this piece of plastic differentiates me from someone so many deem unwanted, exploitable and deportable lets me know how vulnerable I am. At times I imagine what it must've been like for a freed slave to lose his or her freedom papers, or to have someone take them away.

Deportation is nothing like being sent to a plantation to be whipped and exploited, but I can't help but imagine an empathy across time for those freed slaves. I too need to carry my "free to live in the U.S." card with me all the time. I also risk losing it, having it stolen, or snatched out my hands.

Ironically, my green card provides little protection in an anti-immigrant environment, because people and authorities DO judge your legal status often by your looks and accent, no matter how inaccurate these standards are.

At a Mother's Day event in San Francisco, I heard a woman tell her story. She was a naturalized American citizen, in her 60s, married to an American, and she was nearly deported to Mexico. She wasn't even Mexican. Her near-deportation was caused solely by the fact that she was a Latina. As a full-blown citizen she wasn't protected from deportation. She's not alone.

A decorated war veteran told me that when he was 12 years old, immigration authorities came out of nowhere and seized a friend he was playing with and speedily deported him to Mexico. Unable to speak Spanish, with no money and no family in Tijuana, the American-born Latino child had a really hard time contacting his family and returning home. He was lucky his experience didn't end tragically.

These stories were a rude wake-up call for me. If U.S. citizenship didn't protect these people, having a green card won't protect me either. Which brings me back to the question, how do they know by looking at me if I'm here legally or illegally?

Should I wear a green rectangle on my clothing? During World War II Jews, Czechs, Polish people, political enemies, criminals, gays and lesbians, men and women who "defiled" their race and religious minorities had to wear identifiable badges in concentration camps.

Should I now visibly identify myself as "legal" in order to protect myself from our current state of immigration fascism? How else would they know not to deport me?

In reality, the green badge will protect me just as much as citizenship has protected my friends. The reason is that this hot debate is not really about immigration status but about race relations. If one is brown, one is unwanted. This is why there is a well-documented history of the deportation of Americans to Mexico.

This is why I shudder when I hear people say that it is not "legal immigrants" that they have a problem with. From where I am standing, the "problem" is with all of us.

It moves me to hear anti-immigration advocates arguing that it's unfair to me, a legal immigrant, that lawbreakers cut in line. I appreciate your indignation on my behalf, but if I weren't able to see right through this "divide and conquer" tactic I would be inclined to believe that you're really concerned about me when you're not.

Sorry guys, your tactics won't work. You're not pitting this immigrant against any other. After all, it's not really about immigration, is it?

Marta Donayre, a co-founder of Love Sees No Borders and member of the Leadership Council of the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition. She can be reached at or

Those taking GED to count as dropouts

This is a positive move since most people who take the GED do so because they've dropped out. -Angela

Sun, Jun. 18, 2006

Those taking GED to count as dropouts
The new policy is likely to increase the official dropout rate and could
result in lower rankings for many schools in Texas


Texas has broadened its definition of high school dropouts to include
students who take the GED and those who can't pass the TAKS exit exam.

The change will take effect when the dropout rate for the Class of 2006 is
calculated. It is part of the Texas Education Agency's effort to pressure
school districts into keeping more students in the classroom and seeing to
it that they succeed. The change is likely to increase the state's high
school dropout rate and could pull down school ratings.

The rule change puts Texas in line with federal standards for counting
dropouts, and it also recognizes the differences in the success of high
school graduates and those who obtain a General Educational Development

"Getting a GED is not the same as getting a diploma, and we know that
because outcomes for students are dramatically different," said Daria Hall,
a senior policy analyst for Education Trust of Washington, D.C., an
independent nonprofit organization concerned with improving education.

"That's why it's important to hold schools accountable for making sure that
students get a regular diploma," Hall said.

Test pressure

In recent years, a considerable number of Texas teens have sought a GED
rather than a high school diploma. Of those taking the GED between 2000 and
2004, 144,337 -- about 40 percent -- were teens, according to the latest
data available from the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C.,
which administers the exams.

State officials acknowledge that in recent years, as standardized tests have
become more difficult, there have been reports of school officials
encouraging students to drop out rather than drag down test scores. The new
rules are meant to deter this.

Students who quit high school, can't pass the TAKS or opt for a GED will all
be considered dropouts, or "non-completers." To earn an "acceptable" rating
from the state, 75 percent of a district's or a school's students must
complete high school.

"There's no question that there's more pressure on the schools," said Chuck
Boyd, a secondary schools management director in the Fort Worth district.
"I'm not trying to diminish the good qualities of the GED, but it's more
important for students to get their diplomas. We're working very hard with
our students to get that idea across."

Critics of the state's approach say it places too much emphasis on passing
the TAKS rather than on overall performance and gives struggling students
little incentive to stay in school.

"There's going to be more and more kids dropping out because they know they
can't pass the test," said Bob Kimball, a professor at the University of
Houston-Clear Lake. The former Houston school district administrator made
national headlines in 2003 by saying that the district under-reported its

David Holland, director of accountability and testing for the Birdville
district, notes that the TAKS exit exam, which is first given in the 11th
grade, trumps four years of class work.

"If I'm a student and in four years I complete all of my credits, and the
only thing keeping me from graduating is passing the TAKS, and I don't pass
it over the summer, then in the following fall I'll be counted as a
non-completer because I'm not enrolled," Holland said.

In May, the Texas Education Agency reported that 89 percent of seniors in
the state, or 201,491, have passed all portions of the TAKS exit exam.

"About 25,000 students still need to pass it," said DeEtta Culbertson, a TEA

Graduating seniors who don't pass the test by August will be counted as
dropouts under the 2007 state ratings. The state rates schools and districts
as exemplary, recognized, acceptable or unacceptable.

Schools can also boost their student completion rates by factoring in
students who return to school for a fifth year, even if they take only a
single class, state officials said.

GED pros and cons

The GED provides a way for people who didn't graduate from high school to
get into college or get a better-paying job, according to the American
Council on Education.

For years, passing the battery of tests has been considered the equivalent
of earning a high school diploma. It consists of 7 1/2 hours of exams on
subjects such as mathematics, science, social studies, writing, and
interpreting literature and the arts.

During trial runs, six out of 10 high school seniors could not pass the GED
exams, according to the council. But some local teens said the GED program
is less demanding than high school.

"It's pretty easy," said Tiffany Lundgren, 17, who dropped out of Richland
High School in the Birdville district and earned a GED certificate. "You can
finish it in four to five weeks if you try. It's basically just practice

But the same problems that limited a student's success in high school don't
just go away because they enter a GED program.

"There are barriers with child care, transportation, illness in their
families or even their own illness," said Sofia Zamarripa, an Adult Basic
Education supervisor in the Fort Worth school district.

On average, just 35 percent of students who enter Arlington's GED program
receive a certificate, according to district data.

Sometimes students' reading levels are too low for the test, and they get
frustrated and quit, said John DeMore, principal of Venture High, one of
Arlington's alternative high schools.

"To keep kids in this class, they have to really believe that the teacher
cares about them and that they are getting a credit that is useful so they
can go to work or go to a junior college," DeMore said.

The odds for success are stacked against students who earn a GED.

Just 1 percent of GED recipients will go on to earn bachelor's degrees, and
about 2 percent will earn associate's degrees, said Hall, the senior policy
analyst for Education Trust.

By contrast, about 36 percent of high school graduates go on to earn
bachelor's degrees and 6 percent will earn an associate's degree, Hall said.

High school graduates will earn more money than dropouts. And college
graduates are far more likely to earn more money over their lifetimes than
those who go no further than high school.

"I hope we never hold a GED in as much regard as a high school diploma,
which should have more weight and be more valuable," said state Sen.
Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, who has served on state and national education
committees. "In today's society, you can't get a job and raise a family, or
participate in the business world, without it."

Defining a dropout

In Texas school ratings, dropouts refer to seventh- and eighth-graders who
don't return to school, a figure that is typically less than 1 percent and
has little impact on ratings.

Completers are students who join a freshman class and graduate four to five
years later.

In 2004, the Texas Education Agency reported that 84.6 percent of seniors
graduated and 3.9 percent -- equal to 9,627 students -- dropped out. Other
students received GEDs or continued high school for a fifth year.

If GED students are added in, the figures grow to 8.1 percent, or 19,995
dropouts. Starting in 2007, students who drop out and take their GEDs will
be considered dropouts.

Some studies cite even higher dropout numbers. The Alliance for Excellent
Education in Washington, D.C., estimates that more than 124,000 students
failed to graduate on time from Texas high schools in 2004. In their
lifetimes, the dropouts will cost the state some $32 billion in lost wages,
taxes and productivity, according to the study released in March.

SOURCES: Texas Education Agency, the Alliance for Excellent Education

Who is more likely to drop out

Those with low grades.

Those who miss or skip classes.

Dropouts tend to be older than other students in their grade.

Boys are at a higher risk. Girls are likely to drop out because of

Risk is higher for students from low-income or single-parent families or
families with unemployed parents.

Rates are higher for blacks, Hispanics and American Indians.

Rates are also higher for non-native English speakers.

Dropping out is more likely to occur in the southern or western United

Frequent use of suspension and increasing academic standards without
providing support can increase the risk.

SOURCE: The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

Terry Webster, 817-685-3819 Eva-Marie Ayala,

English initiative advances (in Colorado)

Some folks in Denver are calling for pulling kids out of the regular academic program for one year. There is no research base for this kind of intervention. If anthing, this will put kids on an even slower track relative to their peers who have learned only in their firs language. I hope that this proposal doesn't get any further. -Angela

English initiative advances
LANGUAGE: A group proposes immersing non-English-speaking students in English classes for a year, with no other area of study.
By Karen Rouse /

Immigrant advocates who celebrated a major victory before the Colorado Supreme Court on Monday suffered a lesser-known defeat on another ballot issue, this one affecting English learners in public schools.

The state's highest court - which ruled Monday that a proposal to ban state services to illegal immigrants would not go before voters in November - also gave the green light to another group that has been pushing a measure to accelerate English language instruction for non-English-speaking students.

English for Colorado, a group of Weld County citizens that includes Commissioner William Jerke, is promoting proposed ballot issue No. 95, the "Education of English-Language Learners."

Under the proposal, students who are not proficient in English would get to spend up to one year in English-instruction classes before they are returned to a regular mainstream classroom.

During that year of English instruction, students would primarily be taught in English, and they would not participate in other content areas such as math, science or social studies, said Bill Garcia, a lawyer from Weld County who is backing the measure.

"The kids would focus on learning English first, and they would be able to get back and focus in classes," said Garcia, who also is seeking election to the Weld County Commission. The proposed initiative is not an "English-only" measure, he said.

"It's not English only. It's English primary," Garcia said. "There probably needs to be some assistance provided" in the foreign language.

Manolo Gonzales-Estay, campaign manager for English Plus - the group that in 2002 led the defeat of Amendment 31, an English-only ballot initiative, and is now fighting No. 95 - said the proposal takes away choice from school districts.

"We now have multiple choices parents can take," said Gonzales-Estay, who works for a political consulting firm, Welchert & Britz Inc. "There's English immersion. There's dual language. Not every child is the same."

English Plus last month challenged the initiative, saying its language did not make clear enough to voters how restrictive it is.

But on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the state's Title Board, which oversees ballot language, acted properly last month when it approved the language.

Proponents of No. 95 now have until Aug. 7 to collect 67,829 signatures, said Dana Williams, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office. Under the proposal, some students - such as those who are 10 or older or have special needs - could apply for waivers to get bilingual instruction.

Also, if 20 or more students in the same grade at one school get waivers, the school would have to provide those students with a bilingual-education option, he said. If there are fewer than 20 students, the district could offer its own bilingual program for students but would not be required to. If there is no bilingual program, students could transfer to another school or district - at district expense if the alternative is more than 2 miles away.

There are about 98,000 students in Colorado public schools identified as English-language learners, said Barbara Medina, director of the state's English Language Acquisition Unit.

Instruction can range from mainstreaming, where students are in a class with other English- fluent students, to pull-outs, where students are pulled out for a portion of the day for instruction in English or instruction in English and Spanish, officials said.

Medina said there are students representing 143 languages in Colorado schools, but 86 percent come from a Spanish-speaking background.

Richard Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, a student advocacy group, said the English proposal would segregate students.

"So you segregate them for one year, and you teach them English, and what happens to that content area," he said. "They're going to lose ... content."

Bill Garcia, the initiative's proponent, said students need to master English first so that they can grasp content in other subjects. "Children are not able to fully engage in the classwork and engage in the teaching if they don't have a grasp of the language," he said.

Jane Urschel, associate executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, is concerned the proposal interferes with the right of districts to local control. "It is very restrictive, and kids learn differently, and it's a disservice to kids to say this can be accomplished" in a year.

The proposal also would require that the students be tested annually in English.

Staff writer Karen Rouse can be reached at 303-820-1684 or

Friday, June 16, 2006

Perhaps Not All Affirmative Action Is Created Equal

I primarily take issue with Professor Armor's statement that "We have racially imbalanced neighborhoods and cities based on where people choose to live. What's wrong with racially imbalanced schools?" For poor, and even middle-class families on a fixed income, there are limits to the choices that they can make. -Angela

June 11, 2006

Ideas & Trends
Perhaps Not All Affirmative Action Is Created Equal


NOW that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases challenging racial
balancing in public schools, some conservatives hope the end of affirmative
action is near.

After all, they say, why would the Supreme Court suddenly agree to hear
cases about racial balancing in Seattleand Louisvillewhen the court ? with
Sandra Day O'Connor still serving ? refused last December to hear a similar
case from Massachusetts? It must be, the thinking goes, that the court,
with two new and more conservative justices, John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel
A. Alito Jr., wants to overturn affirmative action.

That optimism may be premature, and not because there is a hidden liberal
streak on the court. Instead, there is a vigorous debate among prominent
Republican judges and legal scholars about whether racial balancing in
public schools is an acceptable form of affirmative action. Some
conservatives believe that racial balancing plans, while not colorblind,
are still constitutional.

The unexpected fissures among conservatives about how colorblind the
Constitution should be suggest that certain forms of affirmative action
might be more acceptable to conservatives than liberals had feared.

The Seattleand Louisvillecases, which the Supreme Court will hear next
fall, involve challenges to plans known as "managed choice" or "open
choice." In Seattle, parents can apply to send their children to any public
high school in the district.

If a school is oversubscribed, students are chosen based on a number of
"tie-breakers," including racial targets designed to ensure that each
school's racial makeup doesn't differ by more than 15 percent from the
racial composition of the Seattle public schools as a whole.

Last October, no one was surprised when the famously liberal United States
Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the Seattleplan. It cited a
2003 Supreme Court opinion, by Justice O'Connor, which held that classroom
diversity was a compelling governmental interest for law schools and

But it was eye-opening that Judge Alex Kozinski, a conservative libertarian
on the Ninth Circuit, wrote an unexpected concurring opinion. "That a
student is denied the school of his choice may be disappointing, but it
carries no racial stigma and says nothing at all about that individual's
aptitude or ability," he wrote.

And Judge Kozinski quoted the opinion of Chief Judge Michael Boudin of the
United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, another Republican
judge, who upheld the use of racial balancing in a Massachusettsschool
choice plan. Unlike "modern affirmative action," Judge Boudin had written,
these plans do not "seek to give one racial group an edge over another."

Some conservative scholars suggest that there may be significant
differences between racial balancing for public elementary and high schools
and racial preferences for competitive public universities.

"When you're talking about public schools, everybody's got to go somewhere,
and it's not as if some schools are necessarily better than others," said
Charles Fried, a conservative law professor at Harvard. "At some point, the
government has to have some basis for breaking the tie."

Professor Fried said he had not made up his mind on the issue. "I think
Roberts and Alito are both men who are open to arguments, and I would trust
them to think long and hard about this," he said.

Conservatives have also long emphasized the importance of deferring to
local school officials, a reaction in part to judicially imposed busing

In the Seattleand Louisvillecases, the plans were designed by local

"This is not the result of some liberal master plan; it was adopted from
the ground up, " said Samuel Issacharoff, a liberal legal scholar at
Columbia LawSchool. Judicial deference is as deeply held a conservative
principle as the importance of a colorblind society, and conservative
judges and activists are conducting a vigorous internal debate about how
these principles should be reconciled.

Last year, for example, the Supreme Court, in another opinion by Justice
O'Connor, struck down California's policy of racially segregating new
prisoners to prevent gang violence. Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice
Antonin Scalia, ordinarily fierce champions of colorblind policies, argued
that an exception should be made in this case because of the importance of
deferring to the expertise of local prison officials.

Opponents of affirmative action don't buy conservative arguments that
racial balancing is acceptable. Parents don't view all public schools as
equal, they argue, so racial tie-breakers force some parents to send their
children to worse schools farther from home because of their race.

"In some ways, the damage may be greater than in the university context,
since this may limit the ability of black families to escape inferior
schools by transferring to schools where the authorities deem there to be
too many blacks," says Peter H. Schuck of Yale Law School, author of
"Diversity in America," a prominent critique of affirmative action.

In the Seattlecase, the conservative dissenting judges wrote that the
educational benefits of diversity for university students were less obvious
for lower-school students. The dissenters quoted David J. Armor, a George
Mason professor who has reported finding little connection between racial
integration and student achievement.

"Where we have had very substantial long-term desegregation, we did not
find the achievement gap changing significantly," Mr. Armor said in an
interview. "I did find a modest association for math but not reading in
terms of racial composition and achievement, but there's a big state

Professor Armor estimated that "at least dozens or maybe hundreds of school
districts still use race in some way" and said he hoped that the Supreme
Court would put an end to all race-conscious assignment plans. "We have
racially imbalanced neighborhoods and cities based on where people choose
to live. What's wrong with racially imbalanced schools?"

IF the court agrees with him, it might require districts to consider
"race-neutral alternatives," like a lottery, to decide which students gain
admission to popular schools. But given segregated housing patterns, that
might mean the end of integration.

Chief Justice Roberts, in his first term, has shown a skill in persuading
his colleagues to join unanimous opinions decided on narrow grounds. The
race cases may test his leadership abilities more than any he has
confronted so far. And the fact that conservatives disagree so vigorously
about how to apply the principle of colorblindness in different contexts
makes the outcome especially hard to predict.

Jeffrey Rosen's latestbook is "The Most Democratic Branch: How the Courts
Serve America."

Thursday, June 15, 2006



Claire Campbell (202) 293-1217 ext. 351
Charis Granger (202) 293-1217 ext. 361


(Washington, D.C.) – A report out today from the Education Trust provides new information on the impact of teacher quality on student achievement and offers specific steps states should take to remedy the persistent practice of denying the best teachers to the children who need them the most.

The report, Teaching Inequality: How Poor and Minority Students Are Shortchanged on Teacher Quality, comes as states prepare their plans to ensure that low-income students and students of color receive their fair share of experienced, qualified teachers. Those equity plans must be delivered to the U.S. Secretary of Education by July 7 -- and mark the first time that the federal government has demanded that states confront and fix the unfair distribution of teacher talent in their states.

The report also offers some key findings of soon-to-be released research in three states – Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin – and major school systems within them. Funded by The Joyce Foundation and conducted with policymakers and researchers on the ground, the research project reveals that schools in these states and districts with high percentages of low-income and minority students are more likely to have teachers who are inexperienced, have lower basic academic skills or are not highly qualified -- reflecting troublesome national teacher distribution patterns.

Among the most alarming evidence in the project came from Illinois, where researchers developed an index of teacher-quality. This index, based on factors like teachers’ performance on college-admissions tests, the selectivity of the college they attended and the percentage of teachers in a school who failed the state’s certification exam on the first try revealed a painful truth: Illinois students in the highest-minority and highest-poverty schools are assigned teachers of significantly lower quality than their counterparts in schools that serve few low-income students and students of color.

The Illinois research also demonstrates the clear link between teacher quality and student achievement. In the highest-poverty high schools with high teacher-quality indices, twice as many students met state standards as did students in other similarly high-poverty high schools with low teacher-quality indices.

Researchers also found stunning differences in students’ readiness for college depending on the quality of teachers in their schools. Students in Illinois who attended schools with average teacher quality and only completed math up to Algebra II actually were more ready for college than their peers who completed calculus but went to schools with the lowest-teacher quality.

"For a very long time, we've allowed the public to believe that poor and minority children are performing below other children simply because they enter school behind,” said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust. “As the data in this report make clear, however, much of the achievement gap is not about the kids and their families after all.

“Rather, we take the children who come to us with less and give them less in school, too--including less of the very resource they need the most: high-quality teachers," Haycock said.

Among other selected findings from the Midwest research:
· In Chicago, one out of every eight teachers in the highest-poverty schools failed the test of basic skills at least once – twice the rate of teachers at low-poverty schools.
· In Wisconsin, low-performing schools have approximately twice the percentage of novice teachers as high-performing schools.
· At high-minority elementary schools in Ohio, one in eight teachers are not “highly qualified” compared to one in 50 teachers at elementary schools serving the smallest proportion of students of color.

“This research shows once again that good teachers can have an enormous impact on student achievement,” said Ellen Alberding, President of the Joyce Foundation. “Midwest states and districts have taken a courageous first step by documenting the inequities in the way our schools are staffed. Now we need to implement strategies that promise to attract and retain strong teachers for our highest-need schools.”

The Ed Trust report recommends a range of strategies to end the unfair distribution of teacher talent, including:
Scaling back prerogatives that allow experienced teachers to pick their assignments.
Providing salary incentives to attract high-quality, experienced principals to work in schools that serve high concentrations of poor and minority students and linking their pay to improved conditions and improved achievement.
Identifying effective teachers and paying them more to teach in schools with shortages.
Taking a cue from professional sports and start using a “draft strategy,” which would put high-poverty, struggling schools at the head of the hiring line, allowing them to have the first pick of teaching talent.
Giving teachers who work in the poorest communities fully paid sabbaticals.
Reserving tenure for those teachers who demonstrate effectiveness at producing student learning.
Banning unfair budgeting practices that allow the most advantaged schools to “buy” more than their share of the most highly paid teachers.
The equity plans that states will submit to the U.S. Department of Education must describe the specific steps policymakers will take to ensure that poor and minority students are not taught disproportionately by inexperienced, unqualified or out-of-field teachers.

“This step is long overdue and reflects growing recognition that we can’t close achievement gaps without also addressing gaps in teacher quality,” said Heather Peske, who co-authored the report and coordinated the research project. “Accountability by itself doesn’t improve student achievement. Expectations and standards are important, but nothing is more important than the quality of the classroom teacher.”

The need for equity plans is evident in both state-reported numbers on the distribution of highly qualified teachers and the most recent and reliable federal data. A state-by-state chart in the report highlights these disparities.

“These persistent inequities in teacher quality mock this nation’s commitment to equal opportunity,” said Ross Wiener, policy director of the Education Trust. “Instead of organizing our schools to close achievement gaps, we have created a caste system that metes out opportunity based on wealth and privilege and ignores the needs of students.

“Educators and policymakers must confront these destructive practices and work to give low-income students and students of color equal access to effective teachers,” Wiener said.