Thursday, August 31, 2006

America's News Alamo -- We Must Not Lose Again

One can see that this is for "discussion" purposes, but the nativist rhetoric is deafening. I am third-generation, U.S. born Mexican American and I am very offended by this. The newspaper, El Editor, wants discussion. I hope that this press is hearing about the stories and lives of those who come to this country out of sheer desperation, frequently escaping environmental and economic conditions that no one should suffer--a condition that Mr. Fobbs cannot begin to fathom. I hope the readership comes across The New American Pioneers: Why Are We Afraid of Mexican Immigrants? by Juan Hernandez instead of the hostile and inflammatory language that this opinion represents. -Angela
El Editor
Posted on 08-13-2006

America's News Alamo -- We Must Not Lose Again

This commentary is being posted for discussion purposes.

Kevin Fobbs
Sierra Times

Almost two centuries ago, a small band of national patriots joined Texans to launch a battle for freedom and sent a unifying rallying cry through out our nation “Remember The Alamo!”
Our nation is being threatened by a new Alamo, and the army is between 12 million and 20 million strong. The army is one that is creeping, walking, swimming and being driven in shadowy caravans across our nation’s state borders. Instead of being armed with weapons of violence, this army is simply overwhelming American health care, education, and justice systems by refusing to enter our country legally, but the damage being inflicted is real just the same.

Texas and other southern state border residents have been feeling the impact of this invasion for decades on their health care systems. For example, Parkland Memorial Hospital – the same historic Dallas, Texas hospital where doctors worked feverishly to save President John F. Kennedy’s life in 1963 is in the midst of a multi-million dollar budgetary meltdown. Hospital officials estimate that approximately 11,500 anchor babies being born to poor and uninsured illegal aliens coming through its doors are threatening it with millions of dollars of non-reimbursable costs and could well place it on budgetary life support due to ongoing escalating taxpayer subsidized care.

How would you feel, as a dad or mom as you rush your daughter or son to emergency care at Parkland -- or any neighborhood hospital -- expecting to receive quick professional health care for your toddler or young one, to be faced upon arrival with a hospital emergency room wait for hours only to learn eventually that your young one cannot be treated and must go elsewhere because there are literally dozens of illegals ahead of you? You’re just plain out of luck because people who are not even here legally have first precedence? Or worse yet, if you are in your car racing an expectant mother to the hospital only to find out that there’s no room at the inn and you better look elsewhere, because there are almost 11,000 illegal anchor babies and their illegal mommies ahead of you. How would you feel then?

This sounds tragically sad. Yet it can and does get sadder.

Last year, Dr. Madeleine Pelner Cosman authored a very critically acclaimed report in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons that exposed the dramatic costs and impact of illegal aliens on our American health care system. Her results were stunning. Cosman found that 84 hospitals were shutting their doors directly due to the exponential increase in illegal aliens giving births to anchor babies. Some try to shrug off the notion the families are illegal, saying that they are cheap labor who work to keep our produce prices down.

“There are uncalculated costs involved in the importation of such labor –- public support and uninsured medical costs -- by spreading previously vanquished diseases and threatening to destroy America’s prized health-care system,” noted Dr. Cosman, who died earlier this year.

Cosman also pointed out some very disturbing facts, “many illegal aliens harbor fatal diseases that American medicine fought and vanquished long ago, such as drug-resistant tuberculosis, malaria, leprosy, plague, polio, dengue, and Chagas disease."

Is America and its healthcare system willing to be destroyed slowly from within, only to succumb to another type of Alamo -- a battle that is entirely preventable? The answer has to be yes. The consequences are too dire to consider otherwise. But there is another preventable notch in the Alamo belt and it directly impacts our children’s education; it necessitates a parental call to arms.

This new call to arms should be blaring loudly in PTA meetings dotting the landscape of our nation. From elementary schools, middle schools and high school meeting rooms across America, parents are tackling their children’s educational program budget cuts and after-school events being slashed or shut down, while much-needed tax dollars are being spent on illegal alien children because of an ill-conceived 1982 U.S. Supreme Court Case called. Plyer v. Doe.

The Plyer v. Doe decision created a U.S. Constitutional Equal Protection right for illegal aliens that is not found in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. By fabricating a right for illegal aliens, it snatched away a right of our own children’s equal protection. After 24 years with illegal aliens and their children crushing our state and local education budgets, we must correct this misdirected and misapplied constitutional decision by the U.S. Supreme Court by going to the heart of the Plyer v. Doe decision. And America will do it.

The economic impact of this decision is staggering. It is annually costing American kids and their families billions! According to the Federation for Immigration Reform, “The total K-12 school expenditure for illegal immigrants costs the states nearly $12 billion annually, and when the children born here to illegal aliens are added, the costs more than double to $28.6 billion.”

For example, children of illegal immigrants in California, who represent nearly 15% of the kindergarten through 12th grade public school students, are costing PTA parents and other taxpayers $2.2 billion annually to educate illegal immigrant students in those grades. That’s enough to pay the salaries of 41,764 teachers, or 14% of California's teachers!

Our America is being taken apart, state-by-state, city-by-city, school-by-school, hospital-by-hospital and job-by-job. Meanwhile, we willingly extend an olive branch because we have been convinced, tricked, hoodwinked, or guilt-tripped into believing that as a nation of immigrants we are supposed to open our outstretched arms to all, including those millions who willingly break our legal immigration laws.

That is not the American Way, nor is it the American Dream that our children should be forced to accept. True, we are a nation built upon legal immigrants who are proud to have sacrificed much, fought against all odds in many ways and abided by the rules so the nectar of the American Dream would be that much sweeter, that much more meaningful and that much more satisfying because the legal immigrant followed the rules and proudly swore allegiance to his or her new nation.

Instead, that noble concept of the American Dream has been hijacked in plain view and in sight of every American who takes the time to look up and see we are being told our laws, which protect our citizens and legal immigrants alike, should be stretched and compromised to fit the illegal alien who boldly crosses the border and brings along his pregnant wife and children.

This twisted notion is to apply for everything with a double standard because the illegal alien from Mexico knows that he will be fed, clothed, educated, employed -- and even defended -- because our nation of laws and rules don’t apply to him and his fellow illegals. The exception, of course, is if the immigrant has the individual or collective misfortune to been found at our borders originating illegally from countries like Haiti, China, Africa, India, Italy, or any other nation.

But this protected class of illegals -- otherwise known as criminals -- gladly expects our nation to use its city budgets to take money away from our kids’ classrooms, take housing dollars away from our own poor or our own hard-working single-parent households, who live from paycheck to paycheck and who also have a dream -- yes, a legitimate American Dream, backed by the Constitution and guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, that if their American-born or legally naturalized son or daughter studies hard enough, works hard enough and keeps his or her grades high, he may have the opportunity to go to college or to a trade school, or own and build a small business.

But, not so fast…there’s more!

The U.S. Senate “Dream Act” which is advocated by the National Parents Teachers Association (PTA) and by the Act’s chief proponent, National La Raza (The Race), believe your child may have to give up his or her getting into the college of choice so the illegal alien student can go to the head of the class and get the benefits that he and his parents feel he deserves: scholarships, tuition credits, preferences, etc. because, after all, he kept his nose clean and didn’t get into trouble; i.e. he and his parents were able artfully to dodge the INS while here illegally. I ask you, should that accomplishment be rewarded while legal American children struggle on the sidelines, again being put out of line?

So, what are we left with?

Tax payers throughout America who are being asked to support illegal alien children who, along with their parents, were able to dodge the INS and enroll in American public schools. Local school officials are forced to deal with a large population of children who do not speak english, nor do they possess legal documentation required of American-born or legally naturalized citizens; and local doctors and nurses are required to treat illegal aliens, but cannot not tell INS that they were treating these illegals. They are all being told, that ethically or morally, one set of rules apply for our American kids and their parents and another set of fabricated morality rules apply for families and kids who, after all, are really invisible because they really aren’t here, according to the school officials who can’t report them and the doctors, nurses, social workers and all the other “officials” who they come across in their daily and weekly coming and going.

Where is the equal protection for the parents and the families of Americans? Where is our American “Dream Act” if it is not found in our U.S. Constitution?

There is a solution to this nightmarish attack upon our nation, and it is born out of Section One of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” It must be fully addressed now.

The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court Plyer v. Doe decision is a companion piece to this crisis and must also be readdressed and overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The outcome would result in that the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution will again truly apply to its citizens and will allow for the renewed preservation of America’s educational integrity. The new result in Plyer v. Doe would erase the Burger Court surrender of the U.S. Constitution to political correctness at the Constitution’s expense.

Former president Teddy Roosevelt is a favorite of many Americans, and he put it so succinctly almost 100 years ago, at the height of the mass European immigration. He said very poignantly “In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else.”

Coming to America in “good faith” is key to President Roosevelt’s remarks, because to do less -- by coming under anything less than legal means -- is to disrespect our nation and its good charitable will.

Roosevelt went on to say, “Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all.”

The illegal alien, who comes across our borders under a cloud of shadows, owes his or her allegiance to his country of origin and therefore America must draw the line in the sand between the notion that our citizenship, our borders, and our nation’s national language -- as well as our sovereignty -- is not up for barter, nor compromise, nor open to shadows.

So, let’s send a unifying rallying cry through out our nation: “Remember The Alamo!” We must not lose again, because our future depends upon it.


Kevin Fobbs is President of National Urban Policy Action Council (NuPac). View NuPac on the web at .

Kevin Fobbs is a regular contributing columnist to the Detroit News. He is also the host of The Kevin Fobbs Show -- see . Write him at

Perry challengers say TAKS isn't the answer

This is a good piece that compares the 3 gubernatorial candidates' views on high-stakes testing. What's interesting politically is that there appears to be no constituency FOR high-stakes testing. That is, it's not a political part issue, but rather cuts through them. -Angela

Perry challengers say TAKS isn't the answer

Governor's focus on testing poses a threat to learning, rivals say.

By Jason Embry
Thursday, August 31, 2006

Here's a poll in the governor's race you can take to the bank: 80 percent of the candidates disapprove of the way Texas is using standardized tests.

Some of the details about what they would do instead are fuzzy, but Gov. Rick Perry's four challengers say the state needs to scale back its emphasis on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. They say the statewide test restricts teachers and puts undue pressure on students.

Candidates for governor also are talking about teacher pay, dropouts prevention and school vouchers. But their testing platforms would go furthest to shake up the state's $35 billion-per-year public education system.

"At some point, we're going to have to move away from the overall punitive nature of what we're doing in public schools," Democratic nominee Chris Bell said.

If voters go along, they'll change course on an issue that helped propel the previous governor to the White House six years ago.

"We live in a competitive world, and we are preparing our children for that competitive world with the testing program," Perry said. "We are teaching a curriculum, then we are testing that curriculum so we can measure their performance. That is the way the real world works."

The Legislature, pushed by then-Gov. George W. Bush, said in 1999 that students in certain grades would have to pass some sections of the state test to move on to the next grade. Bush billed it as a way to cut down on "social promotion," or the practice of moving students to the next grade regardless of whether they're prepared.

Students take the test in grades three through 11, and the state uses the scores to rank schools from exemplary to academically unacceptable.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, running for governor as an independent, said she wants to move the test from the spring to the fall so teachers use it to see students' strengths and needs and teach them accordingly. She said she wants schools held accountable for their academic and financial performance, but did not spell out how she would do so.

"Nobody knows better than educators, teachers and parents, and I want them all involved in the schools and any so-called rankings of the schools," Strayhorn said.

Bell said he wants to "step away from" using the test for promotion decisions, teacher pay and school ratings, saying that schools could use other factors.

Independent candidate Kinky Friedman wants to do away with the test, although that would put the state at risk of losing millions of dollars in federal education funding because the federal government requires some form of state testing.

"It's not hard to get rid of the test," Friedman said. "You do it with a bully pulpit. You do it the same way JFK put a man on the moon."

Libertarian candidate James Werner called the test a poor substitute for real learning. He wants to drastically reduce the state's role in education, instead giving parents vouchers to use at the private or public schools of their choice.

Perry said the test is one example of the state setting high standards. He also pointed to a requirement implemented by the Legislature earlier this year that high school students take four years of math and science classes to graduate.

State leaders celebrated national test results last year that showed Texas students in each ethnic group scoring above the national average for similar students on a national math and reading test.

"Every time we've raised the bar, the schoolchildren in the State of Texas, with the help of those teachers and administrators, have cleared that hurdle by and large," Perry said.

He said the state has raised teacher pay, offered extra programs for teachers who get extra training in math, reading and science and created a vast performance-pay plan to reward teachers.

Perry declined to elaborate on his education agenda for the next four years, saying he would do so later.

"Let's just let it go in saying that we will continue to have public education, K through 16, at the forefront of the efforts that we make legislatively," he said.

Texas spent $6,217 per student on education in 2000 — the year that Perry took office — and $7,229 in 2005, according to Moak, Casey and Associates, a consulting firm that advises school districts.

But when adjusted for inflation, those numbers represent a real-dollar decline of $235 per student, according to the consultants' analysis.

That analysis did not include the roughly $2 billion increase in education spending the Legislature approved this year when it was ordered to change the school finance system by the Texas Supreme Court.

The court said the state's school finance system relied too heavily on local property taxes, and lawmakers responded by reducing property taxes and replacing that money with other tax increases, including an expanded business tax.

A National Education Association study last year said Texas trailed the national average in teacher pay of $47,697 by more than $6,000 per teacher. Since then, Perry has signed a $2,000 across-the-board raise for teachers.

•Friedman's plan: Friedman said he wants Texas to pass that national mark, and he'd raise money to do so by pushing for casino gambling where local voters approve.

He also said he wants to create a program that sends nonteachers into schools to talk about careers, art, shop and life experiences, and he thinks corporate sponsors should pay for school sports stadiums and school athletic directors.

He supports the Ten Commandments in schools and said schools should have prayer in the spirit of "may the God of your choice bless you."

He also would like to see a new education commissioner.

"I tell you who would be a good one is Carole Keeton Strayhorn," Friedman said, praising his foe's toughness and zeal.

•Strayhorn's plan: Strayhorn wants an across-the-board pay raise of $4,000 for teachers with an automatic increase every two years. She also said she wants to bring back a $1,000 health care stipend for teachers that the Legislature cut in half, then rolled into teachers' salaries.

And she says the state should pick up the cost of tuition, fees and books for two years at a community college or public technical college for anyone with a high school diploma.

"This state and the Austin political establishment have failed our children and failed our teachers," she said.

She says she can pay for her plans with $7.7 billion in savings and money-raising ideas that she laid out in April. But those ideas are rife with questions. For one, they include a cigarette-tax increase that the Legislature has since passed to pay for property-tax cuts, plus a broadening of a business tax that the Legislature has since replaced. Her plan also calls on the next comptroller to find $3 billion in government savings.

•Bell's plan: Bell also said he supports a $4,000 raise for teachers. He wants to expand access to pre-kindergarten programs in public schools, and he thinks talking about birth control as part of sex-education classes can decrease teen pregnancies and curtail dropouts. He pledged to name a bipartisan panel of educators and business leaders to study school improvement.

To pay for his ideas, Bell said he'd look to a higher or expanded business tax, or casino gambling where voters have approved it, ideas that could be a tough sell in the Legislature.

•Voucher program: Perry supports a pilot program to allow students in low-performing, low-income schools attend private schools with public money. Friedman and Bell oppose such programs, known as school vouchers. Strayhorn indicated in earlier races that she could support vouchers but now says they're off the table.

Werner said the state should give the parents of every child a voucher equal to the amount of per-student spending in the state. He said state control would ease over time.

"Schools that meet people's expectations will thrive, and those that don't will fade away," Werner said.; 445-3654

Politics updates available at

Perry's record

Gov. Rick Perry touts several laws passed by the Legislature during his tenure as educational improvements:

•Third-graders must pass the reading section.

•Fifth-graders must pass reading and math.

•Starting in fall 2007, eighth-graders must pass reading and math.

•Students must pass the 11th-grade test to graduate from high school.

•Public and private funding to improve high schools and create math and science academies

•Up to $400 for teachers to help pay for classroom supplies

•New barriers to lawsuits against teachers

•Pay raises. Perry's office says teachers who were in the field in 1999 and stayed teachers until 2005 saw their salaries increase $11,500 on average. That does not include $2,000 pay raise approved by Legislature earlier this year.

•Performance-pay programs aimed at teachers who work in low-income schools that show improvement, take on extra duties or take hard-to-fill jobs

Testing requirements

Students in some grades must pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills to move onto the next grade. They get three chances, and if they fail all three, a parent, teacher and administrator can vote to promote them anyway.

Spellings Says No Child Law Near Perfect

Perfect for everyone? -Angela

August 31, 2006 - 12:27 p.m. CDT
Spellings Says No Child Law Near Perfect

AP Education Writer
WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said Wednesday the No Child Left Behind Act is close to perfect and needs little change as its first major update draws near.

"I talk about No Child Left Behind like Ivory soap: It's 99.9 percent pure or something," Spellings told reporters. "There's not much needed in the way of change."

Spellings' comments signal what amounts to the Bush administration's starting position as the law comes up for renewal. That is scheduled to happen as soon as next year.

It is unsurprising that Spellings strongly supports the law. She helped craft it as President Bush's domestic policy chief and now enforces it as the top education official.

Yet her view that the law needs little change is notable because it differs so sharply from others with a stake, including many teachers, school administrators and lawmakers.

Already, the House education committee is holding hearings on how to improve the law. So is a prominent bipartisan commission, which is touring the nation to gather opinions.

More than 80 organizations have signed a statement urging fundamental changes, in areas such as how student progress is measured and how schools are penalized when they fall short. And the National Conference of State Legislatures has given the law a scathing rebuke.

"You cannot ignore reality," said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country.

"The reality is that poll after poll speaks to the concerns that people have," Weaver said. "They are not arguing with the goals. They are not arguing with accountability. But they say something needs to be done to fix this law."

Signed by Bush in 2002, the law is widely considered the most significant federal education act since Congress approved its original version in 1965.

It aims to ensure that all children can read and do math at grade level by 2014, an aspiration that has placed unprecedented demands on schools. The law requires states to increase testing, raise teacher quality and give more attention to minority children.

Poor schools that get federal aid but don't make enough progress face consequences.

Spellings has made her mark as secretary by enforcing the law with flexibility.

In areas such as tutoring and testing, she has approved experiments to see what may work better — an approach that has won her praise.

"I think it would be foolhardy for me to sit up here and just say we're not going to react to anything that we're learning over time," she said in an interview with reporters at the Education Department.

Spellings said her job is to present Congress with good data to help lawmakers do their job. She said she is open-minded about ways to improve the law.

But when asked if she meant the law is truly "99.9 percent" close to working properly, she said, "I think it is that close."

She pointed as much to attitudes as test scores.

Now, she said, states and schools are debating how better to help children with limited English skills and students with disabilities.

"Just the level of sophistication of the conversation around these issues is, to me, the big news out of No Child Left Behind," she said.
Find this article at:

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

U.S. Test Developers Cashing In on Markets Abroad

Published: August 30, 2006
U.S. Test Developers Cashing In on Markets Abroad
Some regions of the world have no expertise in the assessment area.
By Mary Ann Zehr
A heightened global interest in education standards and accountability is helping U.S.-based testing organizations expand overseas in both K-12 and higher education.

At the primary and secondary levels, international-development groups that underwrite education projects are pushing countries to establish academic standards, and the assessments to go with them. Increased globalization is also encouraging countries to pay closer attention to student performance as a measure of their countries’ economic competitiveness. In both cases, such countries are turning to U.S. expertise in student assessment.

Meanwhile, the increased sale and export of U.S. college-admissions tests is due to more movement of students across regions to attend school—and the goal of universities and students to legitimize their academic records with standardized tests, such as the SAT or ACT, experts say.

Officials from American testing organizations decline to give dollar figures for the amount of their business overseas, but acknowledge that their international business is growing.

“We are moving in a much more concerted and deliberate way to create organizations to work with other organizations around the world,” said Richard L. Ferguson, the chief executive officer and chairman of the board of ACT Inc., the nonprofit publisher of the ACT admissions test.

Precollegiate Focus
Much of the impetus for paying more attention to standards and assessments is coming from such major agencies as the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.

Partly because of the encouragement of international funders, for instance, Egypt is moving away from giving one high-stakes examination at the end of secondary school and toward assessing learning several times before the end of high school, according to Frank Method, the senior adviser for the education and systems group of RTI International, a nonprofit international-development firm based in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

The push for more student assessment “certainly is coming from the funding agencies, who are beginning to put outcome measures in their program-management and -monitoring criteria,” said Mr. Method, who was the director of education for the USAID in the mid-1990s.

The Educational Testing Service, based in Princeton, N.J., has been particularly active in working with foreign governments to devise K-12 tests.

In 2003, the nonprofit organization, best known for producing and administering the SAT admissions exam for the College Board, signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Middle Eastern country of Qatar to develop assessments for Arabic and for English as a second language for about 85,000 students in grades 1-12.

CTB-McGraw-Hill, a commercial testing company in Monterey, Calif., has a contract with Qatar for crafting tests in mathematics and science.

The tests in all four subjects were given for the first time in all grades in 2005, according to J. Enrique Froemel, the director of the office of student assessment for the Evaluation Institute of the Supreme Education Council in Qatar.

“There are no testing companies whatsoever in Qatar or the whole Arabic Gulf region, neither in the Arab world, and consequently ETS and CTB provided needed and nonexistent expertise,” Mr. Froemel wrote in an e-mail to Education Week, explaining why Qatar hired U.S.-based test developers. He said the assessments are part of a standards-based reform of the country’s school system.

The reform initiative was started in an effort to move away from rote learning and to help Qatari students become more competitive in the global arena, Mr. Froemel added.

In other countries as well, increased globalization has prompted closer examination of how education relates to economic competitiveness, according to Alan R. Ruby, a senior fellow for international education at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.

As a result, some countries are becoming more concerned about their students’ performance on international achievement tests, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, and the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, he said.

“As governments look at their results on those kinds of tests, some say, ‘We’re not doing so well. We need to do better. We need better testing materials to see how our students are doing,’ ” Mr. Ruby added.

College Admissions
Meanwhile, the export of U.S.-made college-admissions tests is also growing as student mobility across regions increases, and as universities and students seek the academic legitimacy they believe such exams confer.

In the past two years, the Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT Inc. has created two for-profit corporations—ACT Education Solutions Limited, with headquarters in Sydney, Australia, and ACT Business Solutions BV, in Madrid, Spain—to promote its products and expertise abroad.

ACT Education Solutions is working with 55 schools in 13 countries to deliver a course called the Global Assessment Certificate Program, which prepares young people in non-English-speaking countries to attend college in countries where English is the dominant language. The course culminates with the students taking the ACT.

Other testing organizations or companies that have had subsidiaries or branches operating abroad for decades are also expanding their reach.

The ETS, for example, has subsidiaries in Canada and the Netherlands. ETS Global BV, which is based in Amsterdam, has for a long time also had offices in Berlin and Paris. Last year, it opened offices in London, Warsaw, and Amman, Jordan. This year it opened offices in Beijing, Madrid, Seoul, Singapore, and Hyderabad, India. All market a new test called the Test of English for International Communication; some are involved in the development of large-scale assessments.

International Orders
More than 40 years ago, the New York City-based College Board began selling a college-admissions test in Spanish that was similar to the English-only SAT.

“We developed the test because colleges in Puerto Rico needed an instrument to systematize the admissions process,” said Janning Estrada, who directs the work of the College Board in Latin America out of an office in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “Each university had its own test at that time, similar to what happened in the U.S. when the College Board began.”

Spanish Version
More than 40 years ago, the College Board started selling a college-admissions test in Spanish that was similar to the English-only SAT. While the test was initially devised for students in Puerto Rico, it is now used by universities in a number of Latin American countries.

• Bolivia
• Costa Rica
• El Salvador
• Guatemala
• Mexico
• Panama
• Uruguay

SOURCE: College Board
Today, Ms. Estrada works with universities all over Latin America that purchase and implement the Spanish-language admissions test each year.

The largest client for the test, Prueba de Aptitud Académica,is the University of Guadalajara, a public university in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, which administers it to more than 50,000 students each year.

Ms. Estrada said the test in Spanish has helped many institutions make their admissions process more fair. “Probably the most important contribution of this office,” she said, “is to make conscious that [universities] need something more structured to tell the student that you are admitted or not than only the perception that you are the son or daughter of X.”

The College Board also does a brisk business in selling the English version of the SAT abroad.

Canada buys the most English-language SAT exams, followed by Singapore, Egypt, and Lebanon, according to Brian O’Reilly, a College Board spokesman. “Lebanon is a small country and shouldn’t have more SAT-takers than in France or England, but it does,” he said. “That’s primarily because the colleges within Lebanon have an SAT requirement.”

The American University of Beirut, for example, has required the SAT in its admissions process since the early 1990s. The university has found that the combination of student grades and the SAT is the best predictor of how students will perform in college, said Salim Kanaan, the university’s director of admissions, who was interviewed before the recent conflict between the Lebanon-based Muslim group Hezbollah and Israel.

“The Lebanese baccalaureate tells us what the students know—what the schools are giving in terms of information,” Mr. Kanaan explained. The SAT helps, he said, because “we need more on the reasoning part of the students, how he thinks—this is where aptitude comes in.”

Mr. Kanaan added, though, that university officials put more stock in the math-reasoning part of the SAT than the verbal-reasoning section, particularly because of concerns over cultural bias on the verbal section, such as the use of unfamiliar English idioms.

Vol. 26, Issue 01, Page 10

Friday, August 25, 2006

Mason exempts top applicants from SAT

Mason exempts top applicants from SAT

By Matthew Barakat
Published August 24, 2006

George Mason University is becoming one of the nation's first four-year public universities to drop the SAT and other standardized tests from its admissions requirements for certain students.
High school seniors with at least a 3.5 grade-point average (GPA) and who are in the top 20 percent of their class can opt against submitting an SAT or ACT score in their application to George Mason beginning this year, dean of admissions Andrew Flagel said.
After three years of study, George Mason concluded that SAT scores are a poor indicator of collegiate success for high-achieving high school students. Applicants who don't have at least a 3.5 GPA will be required to submit a test score.
Dozens of private schools have stopped requiring applicants to take the SAT or ACT because of concerns that the test is not an accurate gauge of an applicant's potential for success.
Mason's stance is unique among public schools. It is the first public school in Virginia to drop the standardized test requirement for some of its applicants.
Several public universities across the nation, including the University of Texas, will guarantee admission to students who achieve a certain GPA or class rank in high school, negating the requirement to submit an SAT or ACT.
GMU's policy is different: It is not guaranteeing admission to anyone.
Applicants who do not submit an SAT or ACT score will be evaluated by the admissions committee. Those who do not submit test scores are required to submit two additional letters of recommendation.
Students interested in participating in intercollegiate athletics also must submit test scores, which are used by the NCAA to help determine eligibility.
Mr. Flagel said he is not aware of any other schools that have crafted a policy identical to Mason's.
The change sends the message to prospective students that the most important item on their transcript is grades and that fretting over the SAT is unnecessary, Mr. Flagel said.
At the same time, it ensures that admissions counselors at GMU won't place undue emphasis on bad test score for otherwise worthy applicants.
Mr. Flagel acknowledged that even though admissions counselors know intellectually that an SAT score is just one part of an applicant's profile, "it can be exceptionally hard for the committee to ignore" a low score on a transcript.
The SAT has come under fire in recent years by those who feel it is overemphasized and is biased against minorities.
Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which opposes use of standardized tests in the admissions process, said that Mason is one of the first public schools to join the trend of private schools dropping the SAT.
Mr. Schaeffer's organization lists hundreds of schools that do not require the SAT or ACT scores for admission, though a spot check of his list revealed numerous errors and includes many schools that do indeed require applicants to take the SAT or ACT.
Mason, which has one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation, found that the SAT was a weak predictor for all races when applied to students with high GPAs, and Mr. Flagel said that racial and minority issues had nothing to do with the school's decision.
Caren Scoropanos, a spokeswoman for the College Board, which administers the SAT test, said that both GPAs and SAT scores can be good predictors of collegiate success, but evaluating both is the best way to gauge an applicant's prospects.

Copyright © 2006 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Improving Achievement for English-Learners

Improving Achievement for English-Learners [EdWeek Commnetary]
Wed, 23 Aug 2006 16:54:28 -0400
Author Claude Goldenberg writes that the growing number of and the lack of adequate progress among English-learners is of critical concern given that some estimates predict that by 2025, one in four public K-12 students will come from a home where a language other than English is spoken. Goldenberg is the executive director of the Center for Language Minority Education and Research at California State University-Long Beach, where he is also an associate dean of the college of education. He was a member of the National Literacy Panel.

Education Week
July 26, 2006,
Vol. 25, Issue 43, Pages 34-36
Improving Achievement for English-Learners: What the Research Tells Us
By Claude Goldenberg
The education of language- minority children has long been controversial and politically charged. Its challenges will grow in proportion to the numbers. Five million public school students—nearly one in nine—are limited in their English proficiency, an increase of 150 percent over the last decade. In some sections of the country, the increase has been staggering: In Southeastern states, the population of English-language learners grew by more than 400 percent between 1993-94 and 2003-04. By 2025, some estimates claim, one in four public K-12students will come from a home where a language other than English is spoken. Many will be limited in their English proficiency when they begin school; some will remain less than completely fluent for years.
In part because many English-learners never fully master their new language, they fare poorly in school when compared with children who are English-speakers. English-language learners consistently perform worse on tests of academic achievement—not just English proficiency—and score lower on critical state and national exams. This discrepancy bodes ill for the society as a whole, since the costs of large-scale underachievement among large sectors of the populace are very high. The growing number of and the lack of adequate progress among English-learners—even many who were born in the United States or have lived here for years—should concern us all.
Two major, government-funded reviews of the research on English-language learners have recently been completed, one by the 13-member National Literacy Panel ("Education Department Won’t Put Its Stamp on English-Learners Report," Aug. 31, 2005), the other by researchers from the Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence, or CREDE. Three of the main conclusions from these reports can help forge a foundation for large-scale improvement in the education of these students.
1. Instruction in the primary language aids achievement. Academic instruction in the students’ home language should be part of the educational program of English-language learners, if at all possible. The National Literacy Panel conducted a meta-analysis of experimental studies and concluded—as had four previous meta-analyses—that teaching reading skills in the first language is more effective in terms of second-language achievement than immersing children in English. No other educational practice with which I am familiar can claim support from five separate meta-analyses conducted by researchers across the ideological spectrum.
The effects of instruction in the primary language are modest but real. The average “effect size” is around 0.40 (estimates range from about 0.20 to about 0.60). This means that primary-language instruction can boost student achievement in the second language by about 12 to 15 percentile points. To provide some perspective, the separate, congressionally mandated National Reading Panel estimated that the average effect size of phonics instruction is 0.44, only somewhat larger than the most likely average effect size of primary-language instruction. Let’s be clear: Primary-language instruction is no panacea, just as phonics instruction is no panacea. But, in general, it makes a meaningful contribution to cognitive and academic growth.
Beyond this, however, there is little we can say with confidence about the role of the primary language in English-language learners’ education. Is more instruction in the primary language, and for more years, more beneficial than less? (The CREDE report concluded yes; the NLP report concluded that we do not know.) Is primary-language instruction more beneficial for some learners than for others? In an English-only situation, what is the most effective way to use the primary language to support children’s learning in the second language? We cannot say.
The NLP review found that Spanish and English reading can be taught simultaneously (at different times in the school day), with mutual benefit to literacy development in both languages. “Transfer” is the likely explanation for this finding, and for the more general finding that primary-language instruction promotes achievement in a second language. Most people find this contrary to common sense: How can instruction in one language lead to better achievement in another? But this is why we do research. If we relied solely on common sense, we would still think the earth is flat.
In point of fact, evidence suggests that literacy and other skills and knowledge transfer across languages: If you learn something in one language (which is easiest to do in the language you know best)—phonological or comprehension skills, for example, or a concept like democracy—you either know it or can more easily learn it in a second language. There is also the added benefit that primary-language instruction helps maintain the first language (which studies have resoundingly demonstrated is an outcome of bilingual education). Being biliterate and bicultural confers clear advantages intellectually and economically.
2. Good instruction for English-language learners is similar to good instruction for other, English-speaking students. Primary-language instruction is often not feasible for any of several reasons. But educators still have some important principles and findings on which to base practice. The best evidence we have suggests that English-language learners learn much the same way as their non-English-learning peers, and that good instruction for students in general tends to be good instruction for English-language learners in particular. Even when taught in English, a language they are simultaneously learning to speak and to understand, English-language learners do well with instruction that is similar in important respects to what is effective instruction for non-English-learners.
Policies that block use of the primary language and limit instructional accommodations for English-learners are simply not based on the best scientific evidence available.

Just as their English-speaking peers do, ELL students benefit from clear goals and objectives, well-designed instructional routines, active engagement and participation, informative feedback, opportunities to practice and apply new learning and transfer it to new situations, periodic review and practice, opportunities to interact with other students, and frequent assessments, with reteaching as needed. Existing studies suggest that what is known about effective instruction in general ought to be the foundation of effective teaching for English-learners. But accommodations are needed when instructing these students in English.
With regard to learning to read, English-learners benefit from instruction in discriminating and manipulating the sounds of the language (phonemic awareness), decoding words (phonics), and instruction designed to enhance vocabulary, reading fluency, and comprehension—all of which are components of effective literacy instruction for English-speakers, as the National Reading Panel reported in 2000. Writing instruction also makes a contribution to English-language learners’ literacy development.
Progress in the development of literacy seems to be similar among English-learning and English-speaking students. Phonological skills, including phonological awareness and decoding, are foundational. With good, structured, explicit teaching, English-language learners can make progress comparable to that of other students in the early stages of learning to read. Their language limitations begin to slow their progress as vocabulary and content knowledge become increasingly important, around the 3rd grade. It is thus critical that, from the very beginning, teachers work to develop these students’ English-language skills, particularly vocabulary. Vocabulary development is important for all students, but particularly for English-language learners. What constitutes effective vocabulary instruction for ELLs is not well understood; but there can be little doubt that explicit attention to vocabulary development—everyday words as well as more specialized academic words—should be part of English-learners’ school programs.
3. English-language learners require instructional accommodations. While general principles of effective instruction should be the basis for instructing English-learners, these students do need certain accommodations. An important finding from the National Literacy Panel was that the impact of instructional interventions is weaker for English-learners than it is for English-speakers, suggesting that additional supports, or accommodations, are needed in order for ELLs to derive as much benefit from effective instructional practices. These additional supports or accommodations, which have not yet been adequately validated by research, might include the following:
• Strategic use of the primary language;
• Predictable, clear, and consistent instructions, expectations, and routines;
• Extended explanations and additional opportunities for practice;
• Redundant information, such as visual cues and physical gestures;
• Focusing on the similarities/ differences between English and the native language;
• Building upon students’ knowledge and skills in their native languages;
• Identifying and clarifying difficult words and passages;
• Consolidating text knowledge through summarization;
• Providing extra practice in reading words, sentences, and stories;
• Targeting vocabulary and checking comprehension frequently; and
• Paraphrasing students’ remarks and encouraging expansion.
Providing English-language-development instruction and opportunities to extend oral English skills is critical for ELL students. This places an increased burden on students and teachers alike, since every lesson should target both content and English-language development. It is essential for students to make rapid progress in their oral English skills if they are to enter the educational mainstream and derive maximum benefit from classroom instruction delivered in English. Unfortunately—and surprisingly—the CREDE report reveals that research to date can tell us very little about how to accelerate progress in oral English-language development among ELL students, or which English-language-development approach is most effective.
What is known about effective instruction in general ought to be the foundation of effective teaching for English-learners.

Accommodations must also be made because of ELL students’ different experiential bases. The National Literacy Panel found that when students read texts with more-familiar material, their comprehension improved. (Readers’ proficiency in the language of the text, however, influenced comprehension much more than readers’ familiarity with passage content did.) Given the formidable language challenges English-language learners face, teachers should be especially aware of how they can help these students experience additional success by regularly providing reading matter with some degree of familiarity.
Many educators have also suggested that effective instruction for ELL students must be tailored to the cultures of the students, that is, incorporate the behavioral and interactional patterns rooted in students’ cultures. Although some studies have indicated that culturally accommodated instruction can promote engagement and higher-level participation during lessons, the NLP found no research demonstrating that culturally compatible instruction enhances the achievement of English-language learners.

What do these findings, collectively, mean for the education of this growing segment of the school population? In numerous areas, there is insufficient research on which to base policy and practice. We can, nonetheless, lay claim to some things that matter. Chief among these are that (1) primary-language instruction enhances English-language learners’ academic achievement; (2) in many important respects, English-learners learn in the same way as non-English-learners; and (3) certain accommodations must be made when ELL students are instructed in English, and these accommodations probably must be in place for several years, until students reach sufficient familiarity with academic English to permit them to be successful in mainstream instruction.
Local or state policies, such as those in California, that block use of the primary language and limit instructional accommodations for English-learners are simply not based on the best scientific evidence available. As a profession and as a society, we have useful starting points for a renewed national, state, and local effort to improve the achievement of this fastest-growing segment of the school-age population. We must insist that practice and policy be based on the best evidence we have, rather than on politics or predilections.
Claude Goldenberg is the author of Successful School Change: Creating Settings to Improve Teaching and Learning (Teachers College Press, 2004). He is the executive director of the Center for Language Minority Education and Research at California State University-Long Beach, where he is also an associate dean of the college of education. He was a member of the National Literacy Panel.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Schools preparing for bilingual world

Schools preparing for bilingual world

(From left) Sally Roig-Flores helps Rosita Gonzalez pick out borders for Gonzalez' English as a Second Language board with Gonzalez' daughter, Gina, at Brady Elementary School in Aurora. Both Gonzalez and Roig-Flores are kindergarten bilingual teachers, and have the task of teaching their students to read and write in English and Spanish by the end of the school year. The majority of students at Brady School can speak Spanish.

By Justina Wang and Tim Wagner

AURORA — U.S. Census Bureau numbers released last week show that 44 percent of Aurora's residents speak a language other than English at home.

Those who have worked in Aurora's school districts for many years have long watched as surging numbers of bilingual students flowed into their classrooms.

Now, teachers say their English as Second Language programs are changing, and bilingualism may one day become the standard of education.

"I think there is a lot of parent interest in educating their children in both languages," said Sally Roig-Flores, a bilingual kindergarten teacher at East Aurora's Brady Elementary School. "I think, in the future, our whole society will be learning to be bilingual."

When Rosita Gonzalez, who team teaches with Roig-Flores, started teaching in the East Aurora School District in 1987, there was only one bilingual class in most elementary grade levels.

But at Brady last year, kindergarten and first-grade classrooms where lessons were taught predominantly in Spanish outnumbered regular English sections three to one.

East Aurora's director of bilingual services, Anne Benavides, said she's seen the trend repeat itself throughout the district during her career.

When Benavides left the bilingual program 13 years ago to serve in other district positions, there were only about 1,700 students in the program. This summer, she ended the school year with a count of more than 4,200.

In the West Aurora School District, almost 900 students partake in the English Language Learners program. The program has grown over the years, "but it's not unmanageable," said Cynthia Latimer, assistant superintendent for student services.

Of those students, nearly 700 are enrolled in the Self-Contained/Instructional Bilingual Program. It is a K-12 program where Spanish serves as the students' first language. The goal is to implement English into the curriculum and exit those students, especially the younger ones, through the program in three years, when they're mainstreamed into general education.

"But it's important to remember that students progress at their own rate," Latimer said.

More than 100 students are in the Itinerant Transitional Bilingual Program (K-8), which means they're participating in general education taught in English, but still have one or two hours per week of bilingual study — used as a contact for support.

More needs

With tremendous growth comes surging needs. District officials often have a tough time finding enough highly qualified bilingual teachers to keep up with the growing number of classrooms and now they also need nurses, speech therapists, psychologists — "a whole gamut" of specialists — who know Spanish, Benavides said.
As part of his recently introduced Teaching and Learning Plan, West Aurora School Superintendent Jim Rydland has conducted audits on the entire district. Every program is receiving attention, and the Bilingual Program this school year falls in the evaluation stage. Should changes be suggested or required, based on student progress, they'll be developed and implemented in 2007-08.

"I'm excited about the growth we've had, but I'm also looking forward to making more improvements," Latimer said.

Preparing for a bilingual society

As more students enroll in the program, district administrators have redefined how to teach English as a Second Language.
Whereas teachers in the East Aurora School District used to focus on training the student to speak English as quickly as possible before teaching them to read and then write in the language, Benavides said they now take a "balanced literacy" approach where students learn reading, writing and speaking in English at the same pace.

Teaching bilingual education is often a tricky task, Benavides said, because students need to learn more than conversational skills and learn the "academic language" needed to study subjects like science and higher-level mathematics.

Critics have argued that self-contained ESL classes only hinder students who should be mainstreamed into regular classrooms in order to pick up the language rapidly, but many bilingual educators say there are significant benefits to teaching younger students predominantly in their native languages.

"The reason, I believe, we use a transitional program is because it works," Latimer said.

The current bilingual program coordinator at West Aurora's Hill Elementary School, Claudia Rubio, moved to Aurora from Mexico in 1985 before the start of her freshman year at West High School. She spoke limited English, "just enough to have a conversation," she said.

During her first two years at West, Rubio studied in the bilingual program, while partaking in ESL daily. By her junior year, Rubio was a member of the National Honor Society, taking general education classes taught in English, "but still had the support of the bilingual program," she said.

"My goal was to become bilingual," Rubio said. "It really worked for me."

Maria Ponce, now a first-grade teacher in West schools at McCleery Elementary, is a product of the system. She partook in the bilingual education program in seventh grade at Jefferson Middle School and emerged in just a year and a half.

"Our teacher not only taught us English, but also about the culture," Ponce said. "I had a good base in Spanish, I knew how to develop my first language in both reading and writing, and it helped me in being able to transition it to English."

In East Aurora, young pupils just entering the bilingual program are first taught to read in their native language because educators have learned that it helps pupils develop the same skills needed to read in English. It also gives their parents, who often speak very little English, a chance to get involved and help with their students' school work, said Roig-Flores.

East Aurora administrators also have talked about one day exploring dual-language programs that would teach both Spanish and English in one class to students who are native speakers of either language.

"It's becoming more important for all individuals to be bilingual," Benavides said. "A person who is bilingual and biliterate will have greater opportunities."


Voucher support weaker, poll finds

August 23, 2006

Voucher support weaker, poll finds
Question, used since the '90s, was slanted in Gallup survey for educators, critics say
By Staci Hupp
August 23, 2006

Public support for sending children to private schools at taxpayer expense has eroded at a time when more states have paved the way for vouchers, says a poll by an international professional educators' group.
Critics moved quickly to dismiss the report as a political ploy.

About 36 percent of Americans polled by Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa International, which is based in Bloomington, backed the voucher concept this year. The number plunged from nearly 1 in 2 Americans who supported vouchers in 2002.

Sixty percent of the 1,000 poll participants this year said they oppose vouchers, up slightly from last year.

"I think the answer is that what people want at the present time is to help the kids in the schools that we have," said Lowell Rose, a poll author who also lobbies for the Indiana Urban Schools Association, a vocal opponent of vouchers. "And that is not a good climate for vouchers."

Vouchers have caught on in many states as an option, particularly for poor students in failing public schools, but legislative attempts to launch them in Indiana have failed. The issue is expected to surface again in the next General Assembly, which begins in January.

Critics say vouchers siphon money from public schools, violate the constitutional separation between church and state and threaten to ruin the prestige of private schools. In Indiana, critics have ranged from public school supporters to lobbyists for Jewish Hoosiers.

Voucher supporters took aim at the poll, released Tuesday.

Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation officials said the voucher question was "slanted in a way that would encourage respondents to oppose choice."

The question -- "Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?" -- has not changed since the poll findings showed growing support for vouchers in the 1990s, Rose said.
Robert Fanger, a Friedman Foundation spokesman, described Phi Delta Kappa as having "a vested interest in preserving the status quo" and said polls from the news media, including USA Today and CNN, showed majority support for vouchers.

About 21 percent of respondents gave the nation's schools an A or B grade. Nearly half, however, gave their own local schools high marks.

• Those who want the school day extended by an hour jumped from more than a third in 1982 to 67 percent.

• Support has jumped for charter schools, which are financed by taxpayers but have more flexibility with curriculum and hiring than public schools. About 53 percent approved of charter schools, up from 42 percent six years ago. But the public has a foggy perception of charters. About half said they are not public schools -- they are -- and that they are free to teach religion -- they're not.

• Twenty-four percent said the biggest problem in public schools is a shortage of money, not crowded classrooms, lack of discipline or drugs.

• Thirty-nine percent said schools focus too much on testing. The percentage was higher -- 45 percent -- among public school parents.

Source: Phi Delta Kappa

Changing Face of Western Cities

An Aug. 21 article about immigration incorrectly said that Hispanics make up 48 percent of Phoenix's population, up from 34 percent five years ago. Hispanics constitute 41.8 percent of the city's population.

Here's the prediction: "Whites will become a minority in Arlington, Tex.; Charlotte; and Las Vegas within two years and in Austin within four years." I hope that we can as a city and state address these changes in an instruction (rather than in a fearful) manner. -Angela

Changing Face of Western Cities
Migration Within U.S. Makes Whites a Minority in 3 More Areas
By Anushka Asthana
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 21, 2006; A03

Anushka Figueroa recently decided to make a change. She gave up her life in California's Silicon Valley and headed to Phoenix to work in marketing. The 37-year-old, who is originally from Puerto Rico, said she was searching for a better quality of life.

Her new home, she says, offers all the benefits that California did when her family moved there in the '70s. "California became too expensive," she said, "and Phoenix has advanced dramatically. It is the best decision I have ever made, and I would not go back."

An influx of Hispanics such as Figueroa has reshaped many urban areas' demographics; demographers say white people soon will be a minority in 35 of the country's 50 largest cities.

An analysis of census data released last week has shown that the white non-Hispanic population in another three of America's 50 largest cities has become a minority. In Phoenix, Tucson and Denver, the white population has recently fallen below 50 percent, according to William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.

He predicts that another four cities will soon follow. Whites will become a minority in Arlington, Tex.; Charlotte; and Las Vegas within two years and in Austin within four years, he said.

Although these changes were once driven by "white flight," Frey said, something else contributed in the cities that most recently reached the tipping point. While they were still losing some whites, the more dramatic shift was the increase in Hispanics, some of whom were moving from California and elsewhere in the United States in search of a better -- and more affordable -- life.

Figueroa is part of a Hispanic population in Phoenix that has increased from 34 percent of the population to 48 percent in just five years.

"For years, Phoenix has been a retirement magnet, but now the big gain is immigration and secondary migration from California," Frey said. "Phoenix is still West but more affordable. All three cities are influenced by the exodus from California, and Hispanics are part of that."

He said Phoenix and Denver were "new-West cities" where economic change and new industries had created jobs.

Harry Garewal, president of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said part of the explanation for the growth in the Hispanic population is the area's "very robust economy."

Speaking from his Phoenix office, he said growth has created a greater demand for labor, particularly in construction. He said Arizona has 35,000 Hispanic-owned businesses, adding that the "Hispanic population in the state of Arizona have $26 billion in buying power." The local white population, he said, has benefited from a Hispanic-driven boost to the economy.

The demographic shift has social as well as economic consequences. Schools have to cope with more children who don't natively speak English, and politicians have to accept that their constituencies have changed.

"They will wake up one morning, and it will be a different city," Frey said.

The policymakers in Phoenix, Tucson and Denver could soon face issues similar to California's. Frey gave the example of Orange County. In 1996, after the population had become half Hispanic, Republican Robert K. Dornan was nudged out of the House seat he had held for 12 years by Democrat Loretta Sanchez. When he took her on again, Dornan tried to pitch himself as the "real Latino."

Lorraine Lee, an executive of the Tucson service organization Chicanos por la Causa Inc., said the demographic shift creates a new reality not only for politicians but also for the private sector.

"I think they realize we are here and that they need to take us into consideration," she said. "But to what extent will they go to address our needs?"

She said the huge increase in the Hispanic population is natural and should not cause alarm. "I think the people are drifting towards those communities that are more receptive to families, more receptive to diversity, and don't have populations that all fit into a box."

But Tucson has also suffered tension. Lee pointed to the rise of the Minuteman Project -- a group in the United States that has worked for the past year to deter illegal crossings from Mexico. "One thing that has changed is the overt demonstration of racism," she said. "The element itself is very small but can be intimidating."

But it is unlikely to stop the trend. James P. Allen, a professor of geography at California State University at Northridge, said this is a trend that will not stop in the West. He foresees a time when the 50 largest cities all will have whites in the minority.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company
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My reading of this is not that TAKS will be abolished like the title suggests, but that it would count as one criterion among other multiple measures of student achievement when high-stakes decisions (graduation, retention, promotion) are made on students' behalf. This would be more valid and fair. -Angela

NO MORE TAKS: Frustrated by standardized test, Raymond develops legislation to dump it

Worried about the growing amount of time and resources spent by school districts on getting students to pass the TAKS, state Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, said Tuesday he has drafted legislation that would abolish it as we know it today. "It's gotten to the point where every year the TAKS has done more harm than good," Raymond said from his downtown Laredo office at a press conference.

He was flanked by the superintendents of the Laredo and United independent school districts, as well as teacher union representatives, all of whom agree that the Texas accountability system, and its high-stakes standardized test, is shortchanging millions of students.

"We now spend a full six weeks preparing and testing students on the TAKS," UISD Superintendent Bobby Santos said. “And every year, the state comes up with additional tests."

Daniel Garcia Jr., LISD superintendent, agreed.

"Each year, unfortunately, we lose our way because the focus on the TAKS causes instruction to come to a standstill," Garcia said.

For weeks, classrooms are transformed into centers for TAKS worksheets and TAKS skillsheets, depriving students of developing "a strong foundation and knowledge base in a subject area," Garcia said.

The pressure to pass the TAKS has become severe, with stricter state and federal penalties imposed on schools with low TAKS scores. Students must pass TAKS to pass to the next grade level.

Campuses must now meet a certain overall score, or else face sanctions, state intervention teams, new principals, new teachers and possible reconstitution.

Raymond and Garcia said the pressure is unwarranted since TAKS is not an accurate measure of how much a student knows.

Studies show that just because students pass TAKS does not mean they are reading on grade level, or that they have good comprehension and thinking skills, Garcia said.

"Yet we continue to see that more effort, days and money are spent on a child passing a single test, rather than increasing their knowledge," Raymond added.

His legislation would require that multiple criteria be used to determine if a student can pass to the next grade level, such as six-weeks tests and teacher and principal evaluations.

It would not abolish TAKS completely because, according to the Texas Education Agency, the state would lose $2 billion to $4 billion in federal funding if the test is not administered at all, Raymond noted.

Because standardized testing in Texas and the rest of the country has become a billion-dollar industry, Raymond knows he faces an uphill battle.

"So?" he said, unfazed.

"This needs to be a priority. The system isn’t working," Raymond said. "I know there is support to change it.

"It’s going to happen. If not this session then the next," he said. "We just need a big enough uprising from the rest of the state to do it."

Previous attempts

This is not the first time such legislation has been introduced, and it has gained steady support over the years. Last session, it failed passage in the Texas House of Representatives by just a few votes.
Raymond is confident he will get a large number of legislators to sign on and pass the legislation.

"Look, we all want the education system to be better," Raymond added. "I supported former Gov. George W. Bush on his state accountability system, but we’ve had this system long enough to see that it’s become counter-productive."

(Tricia Cortez may be reached at (956) 728-2568 or by e-mail at

©Laredo Morning Times 2006

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Residents clash over illegal immigrant plan

Texas is starting to sound like Pennsylvania where such measures are behing considered. It is unfortunate that we do not seek binational solutions to common problems. -Angela

Residents clash over illegal immigrant plan
Farmers Branch: Backers cite quality of life; foes call measures racist

07:54 AM CDT on Tuesday, August 22, 2006
By STEPHANIE SANDOVAL / The Dallas Morning News

FARMERS BRANCH ˆ City Council members had little to say Monday night about suggestions from two of their colleagues that they adopt measures that would make it harder for illegal immigrants to live and work in the city.

But their constituents had plenty to say in a work session marked by heckling and interruptions by both sides. Many opponents cried "racism," and many supporters said the measures had nothing to do with race and only aimed to make the city less attractive to people who are here illegally.

Several dozen residents crowded into the council chambers to discuss whether the city should restrict illegal immigrants through such measures as making it illegal for landlords to lease property to them; fining businesses that employ them; making English the city's official language; and halting funding for children of illegal immigrants to participate in Summer Funshine and other youth programs.

Those ideas, by council member Tim O'Hare, were borrowed from ordinances adopted by Hazelton, Pa., and under consideration by cities in California, Florida and elsewhere.

Mayor Pro Tem Ben Robinson had more ideas. He suggested that the council also consider prohibiting the assembly of day laborers; requiring contractors to abide by all federal laws, including immigration laws; and having police who question the residency papers of people they encounter on traffic stops or accidents make copies of those documents and submit them to immigration officials.

The issue was only an item for discussion during the council's work session, with no action scheduled or taken.

If and when the council will take the matter up for discussion again was unclear Monday night.

Council member Charlie Bird said he supported the proposal.

But he said the city can't arrest and have deported every illegal immigrant, even if it does adopt the local ordinances.

"It will take time to do what the council wants to do," he said. "We've got work to do."

Mayor Bob Phelps said the council will take action.

"It's going to happen," he said. "I don't know when, but it will happen."

Will Harrell, director of the ACLU of Texas, said earlier Monday that the organization would sue if the city does pass such ordinances.

Representatives from the League of United Latin American Citizens and other groups last week also threatened lawsuits upon learning that Farmers Branch was considering ordinances restricting illegal immigrants.

"We definitely are going to engage this one," Mr. Harrell said. "It's painfully unconstitutional, hateful and grotesquely poor public policy. ... Hopefully, City Council reason will prevail. If not, we will meet them squarely in the courtroom."

Mr. Phelps said Monday night that he was not afraid of threats of lawsuits but didn't think it prudent to spend hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of taxpayer dollars on lawsuits.

He has said that before the council takes any action, it should wait until after proposed changes in federal immigration law have been adopted.

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Those who addressed the council during the workshop were about 2-to-1 in opposition to the proposals. But the overall audience was largely supportive, often yelling comments to speakers in opposition, interrupting them and prompting Mr. Phelps to bang his gavel several times to call for order.

"I want to live, Mr. Mayor, in a city that is resistant to lawbreakers," one resident said. "I want to live in a city that's not a haven for them. I want them to know in advance it will be tough for them to live in our city."

Opponents said the proposed measures would put undue hardships on people who were here working hard to make a living.

"We wouldn't want to do business with a city that is so racist," said Elizabeth Villafranca, whose husband owns Cuquita's Restaurant in Farmers Branch.

The nature of the debate concerned resident Kathleen Matsumura.

"The terrorists can go home and rest. We'll kill ourselves," she said. "We'll just fight each other."


Mexico teachers extend protests

Mexico teachers extend protests
By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Mexico

Aug. 22, 2006

Striking teachers seized 12 private radio stations in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca and set buses on fire, as a long-running protest worsened.
They acted after unidentified gunmen opened fire on a government radio station already under their control.

The strikers used the stations to tell parents to ignore Monday's start of the school year and keep children at home.

Teachers have been striking since May to demand higher wages and Oaxaca Governor Ulises Ruiz's resignation.

Roads blocked

The shooting began at a government-owned radio station already in the hands of the striking teachers.

A number of rounds were fired by unknown gunmen, and the teachers say one of their members was injured.
The attack prompted a violent retaliation by the teachers, and a number of buses were overturned and set on fire.

Dozens of the protesters also took over the privately-run radio stations and started broadcasting messages of defiance.

Others armed with crude weapons blocked off some of the main roads into Oaxaca.

A spokesman for President Vicente Fox blamed the state government for attempting to take back the radio station by force.

He said the attack was carried out without consulting the federal authorities and described it as a unilateral decision by the governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz.

Widening protest

Governor Ruiz has become a key target for the teachers.

Although their dispute started out in May as a campaign for more pay, it has since transformed into an attempt to get the governor to resign from office.

The teachers say he is guilty of rigging the state election two years ago and of using heavy-handed tactics to deal with the strikers.

The governor, who belongs to the former ruling party, the PRI, has refused to step down.

Last week a number of people were taken hostage by activists after gunmen opened fired on a teachers' march.

They were later released.

The protests have also taken on a much wider context and have become woven into the continuing row over who won Mexico's presidential election.

Four months into this round of tension and parts of Oaxaca are starting to look ungovernable, and that could be a real challenge for the country's new leader.

Story from BBC NEWS:

State budget looks tight despite surplus

Read reactions to the Perry's state budget involving funding for education. I quote F. Scott McCown of the Center for Public Policy Priorities who offers: "the governor's overall figures amount to "irresponsible budgeting. ... It's exactly like an employee dreaming that his boss is going to give him a bonus at the end of the year, and then spending money all year long based upon the dreamed-up bonus." McCown has been a real champion for the poor in our state.


Aug. 22, 2006, 9:37AM

State budget looks tight despite surplus

Lawmakers need to find ways to pay for the new school finance plan and property tax cuts

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN — Despite a strong economy and billions of surplus dollars, state leaders looking toward the next budget face a tight money situation driven by the need to fund the new school finance package, including a cut in property tax rates.

Advocates for lower-income Texans say those who need programs such as health care and who struggle to pay college tuition are among those who could pay the price and won't benefit from the tax changes.

Republican leaders say the package will benefit Texas and they'll still meet state priorities, although a top senator acknowledges it will be close.

Unofficial estimates from Gov. Rick Perry's office identify money totals — factoring in "conservative" revenue growth, an economic boost from tax changes and the balance in the state contingency fund — that come close to covering his staff's estimates of major spending needs in the coming two-year budget period. The needs, identified in May, include such things as Medicaid growth but not recently high-profile issues such as parks funding.

For the two-year budget period after that — the one lawmakers won't write until 2009 — forecasts are more uncertain.

In that period, the state would be $300 million short of paying just for the school and tax package under what Perry budget director Mike Morrissey called conservative revenue projections. He said the estimates don't fully account for factors such as potential economic growth.

Partisan disagreement

Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, House Democratic Caucus chairman, dismissed the figures from Perry's office as "ludicrous estimates."

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, Senate Finance Committee chairman, said: "The budget is going to be tight. But I don't think it's going to be anything that we can't manage.

"I think we're going to be fine. I'm not 100 percent sure," Ogden said. "I think the next biennium, we're going to be OK. I'm not ready to speculate on the biennium beyond that."

Even before the school and tax package championed by Perry was approved, many Democrats and Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn — an independent challenging Perry — voiced concern that it would dig the state into a big hole.

The package used state surplus funds and expanded state taxes, including business levies, to lower local school property taxes. The higher state taxes don't cover the entire cost of the property tax cut because leaders wanted to pass a net decrease.

Strayhorn estimated the effort would create a shortfall of $23 billion over five years. The nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board put it at $25 billion.

The comptroller is the only one who can make official revenue estimates, a point Morrissey noted. The comptroller is required to make such an estimate for the next Legislature, which returns in January 2007.

'Proof is in the pudding'

Deputy Comptroller Billy Hamilton emphasized that point when asked about Morrissey's figures, and he disputed the idea that there would be a huge economic response to the tax changes.
"You can come up with all sorts of scenarios, but really, the proof is in the pudding," Hamilton said. "And right now, the pudding says $23 billion to $25 billion short in the plan. That's $5 billion a year, and that takes a lot of economic growth to make up."

Ogden plans budget hearings starting after Labor Day. State agencies already have been told by Morrissey and Legislative Budget Board director John O'Brien to prepare spending requests that are 10 percent less than currently appropriated. There are some exemptions and agencies can seek to justify additional spending. A 10 percent cut would amount to about $1.5 billion, Morrissey said.

F. Scott McCown of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for programs for lower-income Texans, said the governor's overall figures amount to "irresponsible budgeting. ... It's exactly like an employee dreaming that his boss is going to give him a bonus at the end of the year, and then spending money all year long based upon the dreamed-up bonus."

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said leaders' priorities benefit the state, including cutting property tax rates to help people afford homes.

"The Center for Public Policy Priorities has never seen a dime of your money it didn't want to spend on government programs," Walt said.

McCown disagreed and shot back at Perry's priorities, saying his center wouldn't spend money on "giveaways to corporations through so-called tax incentives that don't provide jobs at good wages."

Spending vs. revenue

State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, House Ways and Means Committee vice chairman, said his biggest worry is the budget lawmakers will write in 2009. He said the state doesn't "have a tax system that is adequate to cover the bill."
Higher property appraisals still will affect the taxes people pay, he said, despite the billions spent to lower local tax rates.

"Anybody who wants to send their kid to a state college, anyone who sends their child to a public school, anyone using health insurance from the state, anybody who drives on a highway, and anybody who wants to keep prisoners locked up and completing their full term, all these folks are going to be impacted" by the budget, he said.

Chief economist Byron Schlomach of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which supports limited government, said revenue isn't the problem.

"If there is any issue with a shortfall, it would be due to spending, not a lack of tax revenue," he said.

Bipartisan coalition backs new school funding model

This merits a close reading. My sources tell me that this is a massive privatization ploy with minorities’ so-called interests legitimating this. Presumably, EMO’s (Education Management Organizations) will “help” our nations’ principals to manage all of this. Go to this link to see who has signed on. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this.


Bipartisan coalition backs new school funding model

WASHINGTON, DC—Key state and national education leaders, including three former Secretaries of Education, showed their support for a new school funding proposal released today by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signaling a breakthrough in the decades-old war over the financing of public education in America.

“Closing the achievement gap is the civil rights issue of our time,” said former Secretary of Education Rod Paige, a trustee of the Fordham Institute. “Nearly everyone agrees that all young Americans should achieve at high levels regardless of class or special needs. But innumerable studies and plenty of direct experience show that a quality education costs more for some than it does for others. Under today’s school-funding arrangements, however, the children who need the greatest education resources frequently end up with the least.”

The proposal, Fund the Child: Tackling Inequity and Antiquity in School Finance (visit, is a “manifesto” that offers a comprehensive solution to the most pressing problems in American education, including funding disparities on many levels:

Between districts: 36 states have a funding gap between high poverty and low poverty districts that averages almost $900 per student, according to the Education Trust.
Within districts: The ten largest school districts in California alone have spending gaps between high- and low-minority schools that range from $64,000 to $500,000 per school (Education Trust).
Between school options: Students who opt out of their assigned district school (26 percent of students nationwide) often choose schools (e.g., charter schools) that receive markedly less—as much as 40 percent less—funding per child.

This new model, known as Weighted Student Funding (WSF), has three key elements that level the playing field for low-income students while widening their educational opportunities:

Funding follows the child to the public school that he/she attends.
Per-student funding is weighted to provide more resources based on a student’s specific needs and circumstances.
Resources arrive at the school as real dollars (not teaching positions, etc.) that can be spent flexibly with emphasis on results, not programs, activities, or other inputs.
“In this age of accountability,” Paige added, “school leaders need the authority to get the job done. Giving them more control over their budgets is a big part of the puzzle.”

In tandem with the release of the proposal, Fordham launched a new web site today,, where readers can learn more about Weighted Student Funding, add their name to the growing list of supporters, and see how this system stacks up against the so-called “65 percent solution,” which adds new regulations and further ties the hands of school leaders.

“The 65 percent solution is a gimmick that doesn’t begin to solve the biggest problems in school funding, much less education writ large,” remarked Fordham Institute president Chester E. Finn, Jr. “Weighted student funding isn’t a complete answer to every challenge that public schools face but it will eliminate the biggest funding disparities, foster equity, empower school leaders, and catalyze school choice. Reasonable folks from left, right, and center are rallying around WSF as the first serious, practical proposition to revolutionize the financing of U.S. public education for the 21st Century.”

To view the entire list of signatories, click here. To read the full proposal, visit

For hard copies, media requests for interviews, or further information, please contact Jennifer Leischer, Communications Manager, at 202-223-5452.

Nationally and in our home state of Ohio, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute strives to close America's vexing achievement gaps by raising standards, strengthening accountability, and expanding high-quality education options for parents and families. For more information about the Institute’s work, visit

The Future of D.C. Public Schools: Traditional or Charter Education?

This piece is fueling the debate over charters. -Angela

The Future of D.C. Public Schools: Traditional or Charter Education?
By Lori Montgomery and Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 22, 2006; A01

Ten years after Congress imposed charter schools on a reluctant city, the District has emerged as one of the nation's most important laboratories for school choice and one of the first to confront a central tenet of free-market theory: Will traditional public schools improve with competition? Or will charters take over?

Both sides agree that the District is approaching a critical juncture. With public confidence in the schools at an all-time low, more than 17,000 public school students -- nearly one in four -- have rejected the traditional system in favor of 51 independently run, publicly funded charter schools. That share is one of the largest in the nation and is expected to rise when six more charter schools open their doors this fall.

As charters have proliferated, the number of students attending traditional schools has plummeted from 80,000 a decade ago to 58,000 last school year. Because tax dollars follow the student, charters now claim at least $140 million a year that might otherwise flow to neighborhood schools. That has led traditional schools to cut programs, lay off teachers and, for the first time in nearly a decade, close.

Powerful forces in the national debate are watching closely to see whether D.C. schools can win those students back.

"The hope has always been that the traditional school system would respond by getting better, by doing things that are politically painful, but we've never had a good test of it until now," said Michael Petrilli, a former Bush administration education official who is a vice president of the pro-charter Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

"We're going to see whether D.C. can compete," Petrilli said. "If that doesn't happen, you'll see charters continue to open. And you could wind up with the first system entirely composed of charter schools."

This month, D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey called for a moratorium on new charters, saying they threaten the traditional system while failing to offer a high-quality alternative. The chairman of the city's independent chartering authority rejected the idea, but Janey plans to press his point with city officials, educators and other civic leaders.

"We should stop growing just for the sake of growing," Janey said. "Charter schools were never conceived to replace a school district. They were conceived to add quality."

Charter advocates argue that D.C. Public Schools rank among the worst in the nation in student achievement and that charters, which are tuition-free to students admitted through lotteries, are a vital alternative.

Comparing achievement is difficult, because charter test scores cover a relatively brief period. But two recent studies show D.C. charters outperforming traditional schools.

Still, the District's charters -- like its traditional schools -- score well below the national average. D.C. officials said the most recent results under the federal No Child Left Behind law are equally disappointing for charters and other public schools. Nationally, studies have shown no significant difference in test scores between charters and other public schools.

Tired of seeing money siphoned from neighborhood schools into the uncertain hands of charter operators, a group of public school parents filed a lawsuit in 2004, accusing city and federal officials of "creating a two-track system" of education that favors charters and impoverishes children who remain in the D.C. school system. The lawsuit accused the city of promoting the Two Rivers Public Charter School east of Capitol Hill so white and middle-class parents could escape neighborhood schools that are "too black."

Last month, in a rare legal victory for anti-charter forces, a federal judge allowed the case to go forward, ordering D.C. officials to respond to the claim.

Meanwhile, charters, which once focused mainly on rescuing children from the worst schools in the city's poorest neighborhoods, are expanding to more affluent areas and appealing to middle-class families.

Next month, the Washington Latin School, a charter for grades five through 12, is scheduled to open in the same Northwest Washington neighborhood as St. Albans, Sidwell Friends and other exclusive private schools. Washington Latin will offer a "classical education" that is "rich in antique and global literary sources," according to its Web site.

"What will be difficult is if the next wave of charters ends up attracting essentially middle-class families, the people who bought into the District five years ago [and] want to stay in the city but can't afford private schools," said Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund. "If that's the next wave of growth, then DCPS will lose the middle class. And when you lose the middle class from this universal public institution, you lose the quality control."

Individual public schools are fighting back. Each spring now brings a battle for students, with dueling open houses and recruitment drives. This year, Ross Elementary near Dupont Circle bought ads in community papers touting its new art program.

Charter operators have proven equally aggressive. When M.C. Terrell Elementary in Southeast was targeted for closure in the spring, the founder of Nia Community Public Charter School showed up on Terrell's doorstep with fliers.

The outcome is crucial not only for today's schoolchildren, but also for the future of a city where troubled schools have long sent families fleeing to the suburbs. A recent Washington Post poll found that 15 percent of D.C. voters have confidence in the regular school system, the lowest recorded in a Post survey.

A Success Story
Lisa Koker made her decision without looking back. When the time came for her daughter, Sierra, to start school, Koker didn't bother to visit the public school in their Northeast Washington neighborhood.

"The public schools don't have the best reputation," Koker said. "You see them featured on '60 Minutes' and '20/20.' "

So Koker, a human resources manager, went shopping for a charter. Word of mouth led her to Capital City Public Charter School, one of the District's most popular. Founded in 2000 by middle-class parents frustrated by administrative problems and crumbling facilities at Hearst Elementary in Northwest, Capital City has about 225 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade -- and a waiting list of more than 600.

Unlike traditional schools, charters have access to special facilities funds created by the city, Congress and nonprofit groups that allow them to borrow large sums. As a result, Capital City's founders were able to raise about $6 million to buy and renovate an imposing brick church in Columbia Heights.

The colorful, light-filled space has a state-of-the-art computer lab, a well-stocked library and a music room -- extras that have proven difficult to maintain in many traditional schools. Most classes have two teachers and access to a team of special education instructors, who offer discreet help in the regular classroom.

Free to control its budget and curriculum, the school follows an instructional model that organizes academic subjects around a broad theme each semester. Students studying the Chesapeake Bay, for example, might analyze water samples in science and read about the bay's history. When the semester ends, the students make a presentation to parents, who are strongly encouraged to attend and applaud their children.

That's what Koker was doing on a sunny afternoon near the end of the school year: waiting for Sierra, 6, to join other first- and second-graders in an oral report on the life cycle of bugs. Although the school produces excellent test scores, Koker said, she most appreciates the warmth and energy of the staff.

"Every day, I ask Sierra, 'Did you have a good day?' And she says, 'No, Mommy. I had a wonderful day,' " Koker said. "It puts one at ease as a parent."

About half of Capital City's students are black, a quarter are white and a quarter are Latino. Just over half come from low-income families, making it far more diverse than most traditional and charter schools, both of which are predominantly black and poor.

When Capital City opened, "there were no white students at all in charter schools. We were really worried we would be accused of creating a white school," said Anne Herr, one of Capital City's founders. But diversity has been a selling point among parents of all races, who praise the school as a model of integration.

"I've watched neighbors and friends say, 'I'm leaving Washington because of the schools,' " Herr said. "Now I think there are people who are coming to the city or staying in the city because they're happy with the school their child's in."

Some Excellent, Some Incompetent
The District's charters were approved by a Republican Congress in April 1996 over the objections of many school officials. Viewed as a politically palatable alternative to private-school vouchers, the legislation won bipartisan support, and President Bill Clinton signed it.

But the first year was not auspicious. Just two charters opened with a total of 160 students. One of those quickly made headlines when Mary A.T. Anigbo, principal of Marcus Garvey Public Charter School, was accused of assaulting a news reporter she had ordered out of the school. Marcus Garvey eventually closed amid allegations of financial mismanagement.

In the past 10 years, 12 D.C. charter schools have closed. Charter advocates say that is not a sign of failure but a willingness to end experiments that aren't working, a stark contrast to the bureaucratic barriers that make it difficult to address problems in traditional urban schools.

"We bury our dead," said Malcolm Peabody, founder of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a D.C. charter advocacy group.

After the 1997 appointment of an independent chartering authority, the movement began to take off. Charter advocates and their critics have since bickered over how best to measure performance, a task complicated by the wide variation among schools and a lack of extensive test data.

Looking at test results from the 2004-05 school year, the Progressive Policy Institute found that 54 percent of D.C. charter school students were reported as proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of students in traditional schools. Charter students also did better than their counterparts in reading.

On the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress, D.C. charters once again outperformed non-charters, according to an analysis by Todd Ziebarth, senior policy analyst for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Overall, Ziebarth said, D.C. charters -- like schools across the country serving low-income students -- produce subpar scores.

More than 70 percent of D.C. charter students are from low-income homes, compared with about 60 percent of students in traditional D.C. schools. And hidden behind the averages are individual charters that range from excellent to incompetent.

One middle school, the KIPP DC: KEY Academy in Southeast, has the highest test scores of any middle school in the city and has recorded some of the largest gains in achievement by low-income students in the nation.

But other charters have been plagued by fraud and mismanagement. For example, the New School for Enterprise and Development in Northeast had its charter revoked in the spring as charter officials and D.C. auditors raised questions about board member Charles E. Tate.

Tate, who also served as school president, was receiving an annual salary of $100,000 and had a contract that required the board to pay him $500,500 for work he had done before the school's 2000 opening. In addition to alleging financial improprieties, teachers and other staff members said the school's principal tried to alter transcripts to inflate academic performance. The school closed in June, shortly after it was raided by federal agents.

The problems extended into the classrooms, according to teachers and students, who described a school plagued by violence, disorganization and a lack of textbooks. Twelve percent of students tested "proficient" in reading, and 24.5 percent met that standard in math. The principal blamed the problem on the poor schools that students previously attended.

Then in July, the independent charter board closed Sasha Bruce, a school serving grades seven through 11 on Capitol Hill, saying the school had overspent its budget in three years and was projected to have a $150,000 deficit this year. Also, reading and math test scores didn't meet annual standards under federal law.

"The charters stink, too. That's what nobody wants to talk about," said Gina Arlotto, an activist whose children attend public schools on Capitol Hill and whose organization, Save Our Schools, is the lead plaintiff in the Two Rivers lawsuit. Parents with children in charters "are wearing it as a badge of honor -- 'Well, I'm going to the charter school' -- as if this was a really good decision. And, man, it's not. People really are choosing very blindly."

Working to Improve
Supporters argue that charters are spurring improvements in the traditional school system.

This spring, Janey and the Washington Teachers' Union signed a new contract with a number of innovations, including pilot programs at up to 10 schools where teachers will work longer hours and earn bonuses tied to student performance. Union officials said they agreed to the changes to help traditional schools compete with charters.

Meanwhile, KIPP's newest middle school charter, the WILL Academy, is sharing space with Montgomery Elementary in Northwest, where the two staffs will collaborate on teaching practices, discipline and curricula.

And Janey last year promised more autonomy to the principal and parents at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in Tenleytown after parents upset about budget cuts discussed converting the school to a charter.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who supports the expansion of charters, said he has tried to protect the traditional system by increasing its budget and authorizing $1 billion to modernize aging facilities.

Still, some public school parents look at the gleaming facilities, freshly hired teachers and other amenities at charters and complain that officials are doing little to help traditional schools compete.

"What I'm angry about is why is it so easy for them to get funding when it's so hard for us to get funding at the local schools, the schools that are working, the schools that are doing well," said Maureen Diner, a parent at Ross Elementary who is on the waiting list at Capital City. "Parents aren't going to charter schools because of the philosophy. Parents are going to charter schools because they know there will be art and phys ed and no teaching to the test."

The notion that traditional schools are being shortchanged is at the heart of the Save Our Schools lawsuit. The suit claims that school officials helped the mainly white and middle-class founders of Two Rivers avoid predominantly African American neighborhood schools. In addition to other support, school officials permitted Two Rivers to move into half of a building occupied by Eliot Junior High, an underenrolled school near RFK Stadium.

When the charter opened in 2004, the contrast was stark: Two Rivers students, many of them white, passed through a bright blue door to a freshly renovated space filled with art, bright lights and highly motivated teachers. Eliot students, all of them black, passed through a separate door into a dim and dingy building with roaches in the cafeteria and a stench in the bathrooms.

Two Rivers Principal Jessica Wodatch, a D.C. native who attended city schools, denies that the school was founded for white children. Instead, she said, parents wanted to create a place free of bureaucratic red tape where teachers could focus on educating children.

Two Rivers has attracted a diverse student body of about 200 children, about half black and a third white, and has a waiting list of 400. Among the students are Sondra Phillips-Gilbert's two children. She said she pulled her son out of nearby Gibbs Elementary after classmates assaulted him three times. The school was also plagued by mold and mildew, she said.

At Two Rivers, Phillips-Gilbert said, her son is thriving and the school welcomes her involvement.

"I don't have money for a private school. If you get rid of charter schools, you're telling the poor children that they're going to have to be locked up in this incompetent school district that doesn't care about them or their parents," she said. "Don't punish the charter schools because our children have an option. If you don't like to see thousands of students leaving DCPS, then do something."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company