Wednesday, November 29, 2006

In a language children can understand

Debates similar to ours in the area of bilingual education in Africa. -Angela

29 November 2006
In a language children can understand
Marco MacFarlane

EDUCATION Minister Naledi Pandor recently announced that her department was working on a plan to teach children in their mother tongue. Mother tongue will now be the language of instruction for the first six years of primary education, as opposed to the current policy of three years. Given the importance of English as the “international language of business”, critics of mother-tongue education have argued that children should be immersed in English as early as possible. They worked on the assumption that the longer children are exposed to the English language, the better their outcomes would be when tested in this language.

To teach learners exclusively in English (or any second language) is known as “immersion” teaching. There is a huge body of evidence that shows that this form of teaching actually has deleterious effects on the first language and hinders progression in the second. Immersion teaching is now well known to cause a condition known as “subtractive bilingualism”, in which the first language is actually eroded by the learning of the second, and both languages remain relatively underdeveloped.

If children who are still grappling with the complexities of their mother tongue are educated almost exclusively in a language that they do not understand, the first few years of instruction in this new language have little educational value other than to force them to acquire this new lexicon. Maths taught in English means little to a child who speaks only Xhosa, and the lesson at best teaches the child something about English but nothing about mathematics.

Worse still, the basic language manipulation skills of children who have not yet mastered their mother tongue are retarded, and they may leave the educational institution with reduced proficiency in all languages.

There are, broadly, two types of language use, basic communication and academic communication. Basic communication is mostly oral, and incorporates gestures, facial expressions, changes in intonation, and is rich in contextual meaning. Academic communication is mostly textual, relies almost solely on the written word, and operates in a context- reduced setting in which the language alone must convey meaning. Thus when children are observed as they communicate with peers and teachers, it can seem as if they understand English very well. When their academic results are examined, however, it is usually immediately clear that the second-language learners are at a severe disadvantage when compared with their first-language peers. It seems that a generalised type of language proficiency needs to be attained before those developed language skills can be transferred to a second language.

In other words, for English-speakers to learn Zulu effectively, they need to be proficient in their mother tongue first. As people learn a second language, they construct thoughts in their home language, and then substitute words of the second language as and when they learn them. So we begin wanting to say: “Today I’m going home.” We then substitute Zulu words for the English. “Namhlanje I’m going home.” Then: “Namhlanje I’m going ekhaya.” And later: “Namhlanje ngiyahamba ngiya ekhaya.”

The point is that without the mother tongue framework to build upon, I could never have constructed the sentence in Zulu. Without my mother tongue, I cannot hope to successfully learn a second language.

A growing body of research indicates that this relationship goes even deeper, as it seems there is a direct correlation between the level of proficiency in the mother tongue and the subsequent level of proficiency that can be attained in a second language.

So if a child has not attained proficiency in its mother tongue, it is immediately crippled when trying to cope academically with a second language.

The minister’s plan of more comprehensive mother-tongue education is thus a good one, and fits in exactly with the accumulated knowledge on language learning. Ironically, the best way to teach Zulu kids to speak English is to teach them in Zulu.

‖MacFarlane is a researcher at the South African Institute of Race Relations. This article is based on research conducted during his masters degree.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ruling: Classes divided by race

Significant ruling in case you missed this. -Angela

Ruling: Classes divided by race
At Preston Hollow, principal tried to appease affluent parents, halt white flight, judge says
09:14 AM CST on Saturday, November 18, 2006
By KENT FISCHER / The Dallas Morning News
For years, it was an open secret at North Dallas' Preston Hollow Elementary School: Even though the school was overwhelmingly Hispanic and black, white parents could get their children into all-white classes. And once placed, the students would have little interaction with the rest of the students.
The result, a federal judge has ruled, was that principal Teresa Parker "was, in effect, operating, at taxpayer's expense, a private school for Anglo children within a public school that was predominantly minority."
Judge Sam Lindsay's opinion paints an unflattering picture of the elementary school and a principal who was so desperate to appease the school's affluent white parents that she turned back the clock on school desegregation 50 years.
In April, Hispanic parents sued, claiming illegal segregation. The three-week trial concluded in late August. On Thursday, Judge Lindsay declared that the school's principal violated the rights of minority children by assigning them to classrooms based on race.
The judge ordered Mrs. Parker to pay $20,200 to Lucrecia Mayorga Santamaría, the lone named plaintiff, who sued on behalf of her three children.
Although the judge did not find the Dallas school district liable for Mrs. Parker's actions, he strongly criticized DISD administrators for being "asleep at the wheel."
"The court is convinced that several of the area superintendents knew, or should have known, about the illegal segregation at Preston Hollow," the judge wrote in his 108-page ruling.
The district has until Jan. 17 to remedy the segregation at the school. Mrs. Parker did not return messages left at her home and school Friday.
District spokesman Celso Martinez said Mrs. Parker would remain the school's principal "until further notice."
Mr. Martinez said the school has undertaken steps to comply with the court order, namely relying on student language scores to place students.
"The truth is we have initiated quite a few changes at the school already," he said. "We need to compare those changes with the court order. We may well be in total compliance."
However, when asked if there are still classes at Preston Hollow containing only white students, Mr. Martinez replied: "That's a good question. I don't know the answer to that."
Desegregation plan
In 2003, a federal judge released the district from its court-ordered desegregation plan. That plan, however, focused on the allocation of resources and treatment of black students. In the 30 years the district operated under the order, whites fled and Hispanics have grown to become the majority. Blacks make up less than a third of the district; whites about 6 percent.
Preston Hollow's unwritten policy of clustering whites together was known for years among parents and teachers, according to testimony. In fact, Mrs. Parker's subordinates ˆ including teachers and her assistant principal ˆ raised concerns about it multiple times. One even wrote a letter to Superintendent Michael Hinojosa about it. Those complaints fell on deaf ears, the judge wrote.
"I began to see something very strange," Ms. Santamaría said in Spanish. "The difference was that the Anglo students would go to lunch together while the Latinos went with the Asians and the African-Americans." That, she said, raised a question in her mind "because the children don't know what segregation is."
Once the Hispanic families sued, Mrs. Parker tried to cover her tracks, according to testimony. For example, on the day an investigator was to observe classes at the school, Mrs. Parker "reshuffled" the student's classroom assignments, according to assistant principal Robert McElroy.
Mrs. Parker also asked members of her staff to sign confidentiality agreements about how students were assigned to their classes, and paperwork detailing the classroom assignments was destroyed under mysterious circumstances, according to the judge's ruling.
Principal uncooperative
The judge also took exception to Mrs. Parker's apparent unwillingness to cooperate with the court. At one point during the trial, the judge noted, Mrs. Parker testified that she didn't know whether Preston Hollow is a predominantly white neighborhood.
"The court finds it astounding that Principal Parker, who has served at Preston Hollow for five years, would testify that she knows nothing about the ethnic makeup of the immediate neighborhood surrounding her school."
The school's attendance zone is mostly north of Northwest Highway, east of Preston Road, south of Royal Lane, and just east of North Central Expressway. It includes affluent, mostly white single-family homes, as well as middle-class homes and apartments that are predominantly minority.
The judge also had sharp words for the district's attorneys, who argued that segregation would cause no harm to the minority students because their teachers used the same curriculum as those teaching white students.
"The court is baffled that in this day and age, that [DISD relied] on what is, essentially, a 'separate but equal' argument," the judge wrote.
Mr. Martinez, the district spokesman, said the district doesn't believe Mrs. Parker was segregating students, but he acknowledged that classrooms at the school need to be better integrated.
"It's our opinion that we were not segregating students at all," Mr. Martinez said. "In fact the judge found that we were not violating the constitutional rights of anybody. Do we need to integrate the classrooms? Yes, and we're doing precisely that."
Although the judge ruled against the school's principal in her personal capacity, he did not find the district, its trustees or Mrs. Parker liable in their "official capacities."
David Hinojosa, the parents' attorney from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said he apparently didn't convince the judge that the district knew the segregation was happening.
"You just have a certain legal standard you have to meet, and unfortunately, the court didn't find that," he said. "We might appeal the issue if need be ... but we got the ultimate relief we wanted. The parents wanted to stop the segregation that was going on there."
PTA chief criticized
Judge Lindsay also criticized Meg Bittner, the school's PTA president, who wanted to lure more affluent white families out of private schools and back to Preston Hollow.
More white families would result in a healthier PTA, she testified, bigger fundraisers and, ultimately, more money for the school. The best way to lure back white families, teachers and others testified, was to put white children together in the same classrooms.
Teacher Janet Leon told the court that "neighborhood classes" were predominantly made up of white students because "the people who live in the Preston Hollow neighborhood, who are the majority being white, would want their children grouped together."
To aid in the recruitment of more affluent whites, the school's PTA created a brochure for parents that featured almost all white students. Hispanic parents had shown up at the school the day photos were being taken for the brochure, but the principal blocked their entry into the classroom where the photos were being taken, the judge's ruling states.
Additionally, the PTA, in conjunction with the school, held separate open houses and kindergarten recruitments for white parents. And when PTA members gave prospective parents tours of the school, they were never taken down the "Hispanic halls" where the minority classes were housed, teachers testified.
Mrs. Bittner and other PTA officers did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.
Sergio Chapa of Al Día contributed to this report.

Court Rejects Maine School Vouchers Case

"Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and President Bush's homestate of Texas weighed in, saying in filings to the Supreme Court that the state of Maine is unconstitutionally discriminating against religion.." -Angela

Court Rejects Maine School Vouchers Case

By PETE YOST 11.27.06

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to take up the issue of school choice in Maine, where a state law bars the use of public funds to send students to private religious schools.

The case could have provided a platform for a court battle over school choice and the separation of church and state.

In Maine, school districts in 145 small towns with no high schools offer tuition for 17,000 students to attend high schools of their choice, public or private, in-state or out-of-state. But religious schools are no longer on the list.

Asking the court to take the case, a conservative group, the Institute for Justice, is representing eight Maine families who would receive public tuition funds but for the fact that their children attend religious schools.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and President Bush's homestate of Texas weighed in, saying in filings to the Supreme Court that the state of Maine is unconstitutionally discriminating against religion.

Vouchers are championed by the president. And many conservatives who call them a ticket out of dismal and dangerous public schools, while champions of public education, say that vouchers divert already-scarce resources from a system badly in need of repair.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What It Takes to Make a Student

November 26, 2006
What It Takes to Make a Student

On the morning of Oct. 5, President Bush and his education secretary, Margaret Spellings, paid a visit, along with camera crews from CNN and Fox News, to Friendship-Woodridge Elementary and Middle Campus, a charter public school in Washington. The president dropped in on two classrooms, where he asked the students, almost all of whom were African-American and poor, if they were planning to go to college. Every hand went up. “See, that’s a good sign,” the president told the students when they assembled later in the gym. “Going to college is an important goal for the future of the United States of America.” He singled out one student, a black eighth grader named Asia Goode, who came to Woodridge four years earlier reading “well below grade level.” But things had changed for Asia, according to the president. “Her teachers stayed after school to tutor her, and she caught up,” he said. “Asia is now an honors student. She loves reading, and she sings in the school choir.”

Bush’s Woodridge trip came in the middle of a tough midterm election campaign, and there was certainly some short-term political calculation in being photographed among smiling black faces. But this was more than a photo opportunity. The president had come to Woodridge to talk about the most ambitious piece of domestic legislation his administration had enacted after almost six years in office: No Child Left Behind. The controversial education law, which established a series of standards for schools and states to meet and a variety of penalties for falling short, is up for reauthorization next year in front of a potentially hostile Congress, and for the law to win approval again, the White House will have to convince Americans that it is working — and also convince them of exactly what, in this case, “working” really means.

When the law took effect, at the beginning of 2002, official Washington was preoccupied with foreign affairs, and many people in government, and many outside it too, including the educators most affected by the legislation, seemed slow to take notice of its most revolutionary provision: a pledge to eliminate, in just 12 years, the achievement gap between black and white students, and the one between poor and middle-class students. By 2014, the president vowed, African-American, Hispanic and poor children, all of whom were at the time scoring well below their white counterparts and those in the middle class on standardized tests, would not only catch up with the rest of the nation; they would also reach 100 percent proficiency in both math and reading. It was a startling commitment, and it made the promise in the law’s title a literal one: the federal government would not allow a single American child to be educated to less than that high standard.

It was this element of the law that the president had come to Woodridge to talk about. “There’s an achievement gap in America that’s not good for the future of this country,” he told the crowd. “Some kids can read at grade level, and some can’t. And that’s unsatisfactory.”

But there was good news, the president concluded: “I’m proud to report the achievement gap between white kids and minority students is closing, for the good of the United States.”

This contention — that the achievement gap is on its way to the dustbin of history — is one that Bush and Spellings have expressed frequently in the past year. And the gap better be closing: the law is coming up on its fifth anniversary. In just seven more years, if the promise of No Child Left Behind is going to be kept, the performances of white and black students have to be indistinguishable.

But despite the glowing reports from the White House and the Education Department, the most recent iteration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the test of fourth- and eighth-grade students commonly referred to as the nation’s report card, is not reassuring. In 2002, when No Child Left Behind went into effect, 13 percent of the nation’s black eighth-grade students were “proficient” in reading, the assessment’s standard measure of grade-level competence. By 2005 (the latest data), that number had dropped to 12 percent. (Reading proficiency among white eighth-grade students dropped to 39 percent, from 41 percent.) The gap between economic classes isn’t disappearing, either: in 2002, 17 percent of poor eighth-grade students (measured by eligibility for free or reduced-price school lunches) were proficient in reading; in 2005, that number fell to 15 percent.

The most promising indications in the national test could be found in the fourth-grade math results, in which the percentage of poor students at the proficient level jumped to 19 percent in 2005, from 8 percent in 2000; for black students, the number jumped to 13 percent, from 5 percent. This was a significant increase, but it was still far short of the proficiency figure for white students, which rose to 47 percent in 2005, and it was a long way from 100 percent.

In the first few years of this decade, two parallel debates about the achievement gap have emerged. The first is about causes; the second is about cures. The first has been taking place in academia, among economists and anthropologists and sociologists who are trying to figure out exactly where the gap comes from, why it exists and why it persists. The second is happening among and around a loose coalition of schools, all of them quite new, all established with the goal of wiping out the achievement gap altogether.

The two debates seem barely to overlap — the principals don’t pay much attention to the research papers being published in scholarly journals, and the academics have yet to study closely what is going on in these schools. Examined together, though, they provide a complete and nuanced picture, sometimes disheartening, sometimes hopeful, of what the president and his education officials are up against as they strive to keep the promise they have made. The academics have demonstrated just how deeply pervasive and ingrained are the intellectual and academic disadvantages that poor and minority students must overcome to compete with their white and middle-class peers. The divisions between black and white and rich and poor begin almost at birth, and they are reinforced every day of a child’s life. And yet the schools provide evidence that the president is, in his most basic understanding of the problem, entirely right: the achievement gap can be overcome, in a convincing way, for large numbers of poor and minority students, not in generations but in years. What he and others seem not to have apprehended quite yet is the magnitude of the effort that will be required for that change to take place.

But the evidence is becoming difficult to ignore: when educators do succeed at educating poor minority students up to national standards of proficiency, they invariably use methods that are radically different and more intensive than those employed in most American public schools. So as the No Child Left Behind law comes up for reauthorization next year, Americans are facing an increasingly stark choice: is the nation really committed to guaranteeing that all of the country’s students will succeed to the same high level? And if so, how hard are we willing to work, and what resources are we willing to commit, to achieve that goal?

In the years after World War II, and especially after the civil rights reforms of the 1960s, black Americans’ standardized-test scores improved steadily and significantly, compared with those of whites. But at some point in the late 1980s, after decades of progress, the narrowing of the gap stalled, and between 1988 and 1994 black reading scores actually fell by a sizable amount on the national assessment. What had appeared to be an inexorable advance toward equality had run out of steam, and African-American schoolchildren seemed to be stuck well behind their white peers.

The issue was complicated by the fact that there are really two overlapping test-score gaps: the one between black children and white children, and the one between poor children and better-off children. Given that those categories tend to overlap — black children are three times as likely to grow up in poverty as white children — many people wondered whether focusing on race was in fact a useful approach. Why not just concentrate on correcting the academic disadvantages of poor people? Solve those, and the black-white gap will solve itself.

There had, in fact, been evidence for a long time that poor children fell behind rich and middle-class children early, and stayed behind. But researchers had been unable to isolate the reasons for the divergence. Did rich parents have better genes? Did they value education more? Was it that rich parents bought more books and educational toys for their children? Was it because they were more likely to stay married than poor parents? Or was it that rich children ate more nutritious food? Moved less often? Watched less TV? Got more sleep? Without being able to identify the important factors and eliminate the irrelevant ones, there was no way even to begin to find a strategy to shrink the gap.

Researchers began peering deep into American homes, studying up close the interactions between parents and children. The first scholars to emerge with a specific culprit in hand were Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, child psychologists at the University of Kansas, who in 1995 published the results of an intensive research project on language acquisition. Ten years earlier, they recruited 42 families with newborn children in Kansas City, and for the following three years they visited each family once a month, recording absolutely everything that occurred between the child and the parent or parents. The researchers then transcribed each encounter and analyzed each child’s language development and each parent’s communication style. They found, first, that vocabulary growth differed sharply by class and that the gap between the classes opened early. By age 3, children whose parents were professionals had vocabularies of about 1,100 words, and children whose parents were on welfare had vocabularies of about 525 words. The children’s I.Q.’s correlated closely to their vocabularies. The average I.Q. among the professional children was 117, and the welfare children had an average I.Q. of 79.

When Hart and Risley then addressed the question of just what caused those variations, the answer they arrived at was startling. By comparing the vocabulary scores with their observations of each child’s home life, they were able to conclude that the size of each child’s vocabulary correlated most closely to one simple factor: the number of words the parents spoke to the child. That varied greatly across the homes they visited, and again, it varied by class. In the professional homes, parents directed an average of 487 “utterances” — anything from a one-word command to a full soliloquy — to their children each hour. In welfare homes, the children heard 178 utterances per hour.

What’s more, the kinds of words and statements that children heard varied by class. The most basic difference was in the number of “discouragements” a child heard — prohibitions and words of disapproval — compared with the number of encouragements, or words of praise and approval. By age 3, the average child of a professional heard about 500,000 encouragements and 80,000 discouragements. For the welfare children, the situation was reversed: they heard, on average, about 75,000 encouragements and 200,000 discouragements. Hart and Risley found that as the number of words a child heard increased, the complexity of that language increased as well. As conversation moved beyond simple instructions, it blossomed into discussions of the past and future, of feelings, of abstractions, of the way one thing causes another — all of which stimulated intellectual development.

Hart and Risley showed that language exposure in early childhood correlated strongly with I.Q. and academic success later on in a child’s life. Hearing fewer words, and a lot of prohibitions and discouragements, had a negative effect on I.Q.; hearing lots of words, and more affirmations and complex sentences, had a positive effect on I.Q. The professional parents were giving their children an advantage with every word they spoke, and the advantage just kept building up.

In the years since Hart and Risley published their findings, social scientists have examined other elements of the parent-child relationship, and while their methods have varied, their conclusions all point to big class differences in children’s intellectual growth. Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, a professor at Teachers College, has overseen hundreds of interviews of parents and collected thousands of hours of videotape of parents and children, and she and her research team have graded each one on a variety of scales. Their conclusion: Children from more well-off homes tend to experience parental attitudes that are more sensitive, more encouraging, less intrusive and less detached — all of which, they found, serves to increase I.Q. and school-readiness. They analyzed the data to see if there was something else going on in middle-class homes that could account for the advantage but found that while wealth does matter, child-rearing style matters more.

Martha Farah, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, has built on Brooks-Gunn’s work, using the tools of neuroscience to calculate exactly which skills poorer children lack and which parental behaviors affect the development of those skills. She has found, for instance, that the “parental nurturance” that middle-class parents, on average, are more likely to provide stimulates the brain’s medial temporal lobe, which in turn aids the development of memory skills.

Another researcher, an anthropologist named Annette Lareau, has investigated the same question from a cultural perspective. Over the course of several years, Lareau and her research assistants observed a variety of families from different class backgrounds, basically moving in to each home for three weeks of intensive scrutiny. Lareau found that the middle-class families she studied all followed a similar strategy, which she labeled concerted cultivation. The parents in these families engaged their children in conversations as equals, treating them like apprentice adults and encouraging them to ask questions, challenge assumptions and negotiate rules. They planned and scheduled countless activities to enhance their children’s development — piano lessons, soccer games, trips to the museum.

The working-class and poor families Lareau studied did things differently. In fact, they raised their children the way most parents, even middle-class parents, did a generation or two ago. They allowed their children much more freedom to fill in their afternoons and weekends as they chose — playing outside with cousins, inventing games, riding bikes with friends — but much less freedom to talk back, question authority or haggle over rules and consequences. Children were instructed to defer to adults and treat them with respect. This strategy Lareau named accomplishment of natural growth.

In her book “Unequal Childhoods,” published in 2003, Lareau described the costs and benefits of each approach and concluded that the natural-growth method had many advantages. Concerted cultivation, she wrote, “places intense labor demands on busy parents. ... Middle-class children argue with their parents, complain about their parents’ incompetence and disparage parents’ decisions.” Working-class and poor children, by contrast, “learn how to be members of informal peer groups. They learn how to manage their own time. They learn how to strategize.” But outside the family unit, Lareau wrote, the advantages of “natural growth” disappear. In public life, the qualities that middle-class children develop are consistently valued over the ones that poor and working-class children develop. Middle-class children become used to adults taking their concerns seriously, and so they grow up with a sense of entitlement, which gives them a confidence, in the classroom and elsewhere, that less-wealthy children lack. The cultural differences translate into a distinct advantage for middle-class children in school, on standardized achievement tests and, later in life, in the workplace.

Taken together, the conclusions of these researchers can be a little unsettling. Their work seems to reduce a child’s upbringing, which to a parent can feel something like magic, to a simple algorithm: give a child X, and you get Y. Their work also suggests that the disadvantages that poverty imposes on children aren’t primarily about material goods. True, every poor child would benefit from having more books in his home and more nutritious food to eat (and money certainly makes it easier to carry out a program of concerted cultivation). But the real advantages that middle-class children gain come from more elusive processes: the language that their parents use, the attitudes toward life that they convey. However you measure child-rearing, middle-class parents tend to do it differently than poor parents — and the path they follow in turn tends to give their children an array of advantages. As Lareau points out, kids from poor families might be nicer, they might be happier, they might be more polite — but in countless ways, the manner in which they are raised puts them at a disadvantage in the measures that count in contemporary American society.

What would it take to overcome these disadvantages? Does poverty itself need to be eradicated, or can its effects on children somehow be counteracted? Can the culture of child-rearing be changed in poor neighborhoods, and if so, is that a project that government or community organizations have the ability, or the right, to take on? Is it enough simply to educate poor children in the same way that middle-class children are educated? And can any school, on its own, really provide an education to poor minority students that would allow them to achieve the same results as middle-class students?

There is, in fact, evidence emerging that some schools are succeeding at the difficult task of educating poor minority students to high levels of achievement. But there is still great disagreement about just how many schools are pulling this off and what those successful schools mean for the rest of the American education system. One well-publicized evaluation of those questions has come from the Education Trust, a policy group in Washington that has issued a series of reports making the case that there are plenty of what they call “high flying” schools, which they define as high-poverty or high-minority schools whose students score in the top third of all schools in their state. The group’s landmark report, published in December 2001, identified 1,320 “high flying” schools nationwide that were both high-poverty and high minority. This was a big number, and it had a powerful effect on the debate over the achievement gap. The pessimists — those who believed that the disadvantages of poverty were all but impossible to overcome in public schools — were dealt a serious blow. If the report’s figures held up, it meant that high achievement for poor minority kids was not some one-in-a-million occurrence; it was happening all the time, all around us.

But in the years since the report’s release, its conclusions have been challenged by scholars and analysts who have argued that the Education Trust made it too easy to be included on their list. To be counted as a high-flier, a school needed to receive a high score in only one subject in one grade in one year. If your school had a good fourth-grade reading score, it was on the list, even if all its other scores were mediocre. To many researchers, that was an unconvincing standard of academic success. Douglas Harris, a professor of education and economics at Florida State University, pored over Education Trust’s data, trying to ascertain how many of the high-flying schools were able to register consistently good numbers. When he tightened the definition of success to include only schools that had high scores in two subjects in two different grades over two different years, Harris could find only 23 high-poverty, high-minority schools in the Education Trust’s database, a long way down from 1,320.

That number isn’t exhaustive; Harris says he has no doubt that there are some great schools that slipped through his data sieve. But his results still point to a very different story than the one the original report told. Education Trust officials intended their data to refute the idea that family background is the leading cause of student performance. But on closer examination, their data largely confirm that idea, demonstrating clearly that the best predictors of a school’s achievement scores are the race and wealth of its student body. A public school that enrolls mostly well-off white kids has a 1 in 4 chance of earning consistently high test scores, Harris found; a school with mostly poor minority kids has a 1 in 300 chance.

Despite those long odds, the last decade — and especially the last few years — have seen the creation of dozens, even hundreds, of schools across the country dedicated to precisely that mission: delivering consistently high results with a population that generally achieves consistently low results. The schools that have taken on this mission most aggressively tend to be charter schools — the publicly financed, privately run institutions that make up one of the most controversial educational experiments of our time. Because charters exist outside the control of public-school boards and are generally not required to adhere to union contracts with their teachers, they have attracted significant opposition, and their opponents are able to point to plenty of evidence that the charter project has failed. Early charter advocates claimed the schools would raise test scores across the board, and that hasn’t happened; nationally, scores for charter-school students are the same as or lower than scores for public-school students. But by another measure, charter schools have succeeded: by allowing educators to experiment in ways that they generally can’t inside public-school systems, they have led to the creation of a small but growing corps of schools with new and ambitious methods for educating students facing real academic challenges.

In the early years of the charter-school movement, every school was an island, trying out its own mad or brilliant educational theory. But as charter-school proponents have studied the successes and learned from the mistakes of their predecessors, patterns, even a consensus, have begun to emerge. The schools that are achieving the most impressive results with poor and minority students tend to follow three practices. First, they require many more hours of class time than a typical public school. The school day starts early, at 8 a.m. or before, and often continues until after 4 p.m. These schools offer additional tutoring after school as well as classes on Saturday mornings, and summer vacation usually lasts only about a month. The schools try to leaven those long hours with music classes, foreign languages, trips and sports, but they spend a whole lot of time going over the basics: reading and math.

Second, they treat classroom instruction and lesson planning as much as a science as an art. Explicit goals are set for each year, month and day of each class, and principals have considerable authority to redirect and even remove teachers who aren’t meeting those goals. The schools’ leaders believe in frequent testing, which, they say, lets them measure what is working and what isn’t, and they use test results to make adjustments to the curriculum as they go. Teachers are trained and retrained, frequently observed and assessed by their principals and superintendents. There is an emphasis on results but also on “team building” and cooperation and creativity, and the schools seem, to an outsider at least, like genuinely rewarding places to work, despite the long hours. They tend to attract young, enthusiastic teachers, including many alumni of Teach for America, the program that recruits graduates from top universities to work for two years in inner-city public schools.

Third, they make a conscious effort to guide the behavior, and even the values, of their students by teaching what they call character. Using slogans, motivational posters, incentives, encouragements and punishments, the schools direct students in everything from the principles of teamwork and the importance of an optimistic outlook to the nuts and bolts of how to sit in class, where to direct their eyes when a teacher is talking and even how to nod appropriately.

The schools are, in the end, a counterintuitive combination of touchy-feely idealism and intense discipline. Their guiding philosophy is in many ways a reflection of the findings of scholars like Lareau and Hart and Risley — like those academics, these school leaders see childhood as a series of inputs and outputs. When students enroll in one of these schools (usually in fifth or sixth grade), they are often two or more grade levels behind. Usually they have missed out on many of the millions of everyday intellectual and emotional stimuli that their better-off peers have been exposed to since birth. They are, educationally speaking, in deep trouble. The schools reject the notion that all that these struggling students need are high expectations; they do need those, of course, but they also need specific types and amounts of instruction, both in academics and attitude, to compensate for everything they did not receive in their first decade of life.

It is still too early in the history of this nascent movement to say which schools are going to turn out to be the most successful with this new approach to the education of poor children. But so far, the most influential schools are the ones run by KIPP, or the Knowledge Is Power Program. KIPP’s founders, David Levin and Michael Feinberg, met in 1992, when they were young college graduates enrolled in Teach for America, working in inner-city public schools in Houston. They struggled at first as teachers but were determined to figure out how to motivate and educate their students. Each night they would compare notes on what worked in the classroom — songs, games, chants, rewards — and, before long, both of them became expert classroom instructors.

In the fall of 1994, Levin and Feinberg started a middle school in Houston, teaching just 50 students, and they named it KIPP. A year later, Levin moved to New York and started the second KIPP school, in the South Bronx. As the KIPP schools grew, Levin and Feinberg adhered to a few basic principles: their mission was to educate low-income and minority students. They would emphasize measurable results. And they would promise to do whatever it took to help their students succeed. They offered an extended day and an extended year that provided KIPP students with about 60 percent more time in school than most public-school students. They set clear and strict rules of conduct: their two principles of behavior were “Work Hard” and “Be Nice,” and all the other rules flowed out of those. At the beginning of each year, parents and students signed a pledge — unenforceable but generally taken seriously — committing to certain standards of hard work and behavior. Teachers gave students their cellphone numbers so students could call them at night for homework help.

The methods raised students’ test scores, and the schools began to attract the attention of the media and of philanthropists. A “60 Minutes” report on the schools in 1999 led to a $15 million grant from Doris and Donald Fisher, the founders of the Gap, and Feinberg and Levin began gradually to expand KIPP into a national network. Two years ago, they received $8 million from the Gates Foundation to create up to eight KIPP high schools. There are now 52 KIPP schools across the country, almost all middle schools, and together they are educating 12,000 children. The network is run on a franchise model; each school’s principal has considerable autonomy, while quality control is exercised from the home office in San Francisco. Feinberg is the superintendent of KIPP’s eight schools in Houston, and Levin is the superintendent of the four New York City schools.

KIPP is part of a loose coalition with two other networks of charter schools based in and around New York City. One is Achievement First, which grew out of the success of Amistad Academy, a charter school in New Haven that was founded in 1999. Achievement First now runs six schools in New Haven and Brooklyn. The other network is Uncommon Schools, which was started by a founder of North Star Academy in Newark along with principals from three acclaimed charter schools in Massachusetts; it now includes seven schools in Rochester, Newark and Brooklyn. The connections among the three networks are mostly informal, based on the friendships that bind Levin to Norman Atkins, the former journalist who founded North Star, and to Dacia Toll, the Rhodes scholar and Yale Law graduate who started Amistad with Doug McCurry, a former teacher. Toll and Atkins visited Levin at the Bronx KIPP Academy when they were setting up their original schools and studied the methods he was using; they later sent their principals to the leadership academy that Levin and Feinberg opened in 2000, and they have continued to model many of their practices on KIPP’s. Now the schools are beginning to formalize their ties. As they each expand their charters to include high schools, Levin, Toll and Atkins are working on a plan to bring students from all three networks together under one roof.

Students at both KIPP and Achievement First schools follow a system for classroom behavior invented by Levin and Feinberg called Slant, which instructs them to sit up, listen, ask questions, nod and track the speaker with their eyes. When I visited KIPP Academy last month, I was standing with Levin at the front of a music class of about 60 students, listening to him talk, when he suddenly interrupted himself and pointed at me. “Do you notice what he’s doing right now?” he asked the class.

They all called out at once, “Nodding!”

Levin’s contention is that Americans of a certain background learn these methods for taking in information early on and employ them instinctively. KIPP students, he says, need to be taught the methods explicitly. And so it is a little unnerving to stand at the front of a KIPP class; every eye is on you. When a student speaks, every head swivels to watch her. To anyone raised in the principles of progressive education, the uniformity and discipline in KIPP classrooms can be off-putting. But the kids I spoke to said they use the Slant method not because they fear they will be punished otherwise but because it works: it helps them to learn. (They may also like the feeling of having their classmates’ undivided attention when they ask or answer a question.) When Levin asked the music class to demonstrate the opposite of Slanting — “Give us the normal school look,” he said — the students, in unison, all started goofing off, staring into space and slouching. Middle-class Americans know intuitively that “good behavior” is mostly a game with established rules; the KIPP students seemed to be experiencing the pleasure of being let in on a joke.

Still, Levin says that the innovations a visitor to a KIPP school might notice first — the Slanting and the walls festooned with slogans and mottos (“Team Always Beats Individual,” “All of Us Will Learn”) and the orderly rows of students walking in the hallways — are not the only things contributing to the schools’ success. Equally important, he says, are less visible practices: clear and coherent goals for each class; teachers who work 15 to 16 hours a day; careful lesson planning; and a decade’s worth of techniques, tricks, games and chants designed to help vast amounts of information penetrate poorly educated brains very quickly.

Toll and Levin are influenced by the writings of a psychology professor from the University of Pennsylvania named Martin Seligman, the author of a series of books about positive psychology. Seligman, one of the first modern psychologists to study happiness, promotes a technique he calls learned optimism, and Toll and Levin consider it an essential part of the attitude they are trying to instill in their students. Last year, a graduate student of Seligman’s named Angela Duckworth published with Seligman a research paper that demonstrated a guiding principle of these charter schools: in many situations, attitude is just as important as ability. Duckworth studied 164 eighth-grade students in Philadelphia, tracking each child’s I.Q. as well as his or her score on a test that measured self-discipline and then correlating those two numbers with the student’s G.P.A. Surprisingly, she found that the self-discipline scores were a more accurate predictor of G.P.A. than the I.Q. scores by a factor of two. Duckworth’s paper connects with a new wave of research being done around the country showing that “noncognitive” abilities like self-control, adaptability, patience and openness — the kinds of qualities that middle-class parents pass on to their children every day, in all kinds of subtle and indirect ways — have a huge and measurable impact on a child’s future success.

Levin considers Duckworth’s work an indication of the practical side of the “character” education he and Toll and Atkins are engaged in: they want their students to be well behaved and hard-working and respectful because it’s a good way to live but also because the evidence is clear that people who act that way get higher marks in school and better jobs after school. To Toll, a solid character is a basic building block of her students’ education. “I think we have to teach work ethic in the same way we have to teach adding fractions with unlike denominators,” she told me. “But once children have got the work ethic and the commitment to others and to education down, it’s actually pretty easy to teach them. ”

The schools that Toll, Atkins, Levin and Feinberg run are not racially integrated. Most of the 70 or so schools that make up their three networks have only one or two white children enrolled, or none at all. Although as charter schools, their admission is open through a lottery to any student in the cities they serve, their clear purpose is to educate poor black and Hispanic children. The guiding principle for the four school leaders, all of whom are white, is an unexpected twist on the “separate but equal” standard: they assert that for these students, an “equal” education is not good enough. Students who enter middle school significantly behind grade level don’t need the same good education that most American middle-class students receive; they need a better education, because they need to catch up. Toll, especially, is preoccupied with the achievement gap: her schools’ stated mission is to close the gap entirely. “The promise in America is that if you work hard, if you make good decisions, that you’ll be able to be successful,” Toll explained to me. “And given the current state of public education in a lot of our communities, that promise is just not true. There’s not a level playing field.” In Toll’s own career, in fact, the goal of achieving equality came first, and the tool of education came later. When she was at Yale Law School, her plan was to become a civil rights lawyer, but she concluded that she could have more of an impact on the nation’s inequities by founding a charter school.

The methods these educators use seem to work: students at their schools consistently score well on statewide standardized tests. At North Star this year, 93 percent of eighth-grade students were proficient in language arts, compared with 83 percent of students in New Jersey as a whole; in math, 77 percent were proficient, compared with 71 percent of students in the state as a whole. At Amistad, proficiency scores for the sixth grade over the last few years range between the mid-30s and mid-40s, only a bit better than the averages for New Haven; by the eighth grade, they are in the 60s, 70s and 80s — in every case exceeding Connecticut’s average (itself one of the highest in the country). At KIPP’s Bronx academy, the sixth, seventh and eighth grades had proficiency rates at least 12 percentage points above the state average on this year’s statewide tests. And when the scores are compared with the scores of the specific high-poverty cities or neighborhoods where the schools are located — in Newark, New Haven or the Bronx — it isn’t even close: 86 percent of eighth-grade students at KIPP Academy scored at grade level in math this year, compared with 16 percent of students in the South Bronx.

The leaders of this informal network are now wrestling with an unintended consequence of their schools’ positive results and high profiles: their incoming students are sometimes too good. At some schools, students arrive scoring better than typical children in their neighborhoods, presumably because the school’s reputation is attracting more-engaged parents with better-prepared kids to its admission lottery. Even though almost every student at the KIPP Academy in the Bronx, for example, is from a low-income family, and all but a few are either black or Hispanic, and most enter below grade level, they are still a step above other kids in the neighborhood; on their math tests in the fourth grade (the year before they arrived at KIPP), KIPP students in the Bronx scored well above the average for the district, and on their fourth-grade reading tests they often scored above the average for the entire city.

At most schools, well-prepared incoming students would be seen as good news. But at these charter schools, they can be a mixed blessing. Although the schools have demonstrated an impressive and consistent ability to turn below-average poor minority students into above-average students, another part of their mission is to show that even the most academically challenged students can succeed using their methods. But if not enough of those students are attending their schools, it’s hard to make that point. North Star’s leaders say this problem doesn’t apply to them: the school’s fifth-grade students come in with scores that are no higher than the Newark average. At KIPP, Levin and other officials I talked to say that their schools do what they can to recruit applicants who are representative of the neighborhoods they serve, but they also say that once a class is chosen (and at all the charter schools, it is chosen by random lottery), their job is to educate those children to the best of their ability. Dacia Toll is more focused on the issue; she says that she and her principals make a special effort to recruit students from particularly blighted neighborhoods and housing projects in New Haven and Brooklyn and told me that it would “absolutely be a cause for concern” if Amistad seemed to be attracting students who were better-prepared than average.

The most persistent critic of KIPP’s record has been Richard Rothstein, a former education columnist for The New York Times who is now a lecturer at Teachers College. He has asserted that KIPP’s model cannot be replicated on a wide scale and argues that the elevated incoming scores at the Bronx school make it mostly irrelevant to the national debate over the achievement gap. Although Rothstein acknowledges that KIPP’s students are chosen by lottery, he contends in his book “Class and Schools” that they are “not typical lower-class students.” The very fact that their parents would bother to enroll them in the lottery sets them apart from other inner-city children, he says, adding that there is “no evidence” that KIPP’s strategy “would be as successful for students whose parents are not motivated to choose such a school.”

In some ways, the debate seems a trivial one — KIPP is clearly doing a great job of educating its students; do the incoming scores at a single school really matter? But in fact, KIPP, along with Uncommon Schools and Achievement First, is now at the center of a heated political debate over just how much schools can accomplish, and that has brought with it a new level of public scrutiny. Beginning in the late 1990s, KIPP, Amistad and North Star were embraced by advocates from the right who believed in the whole menu of conservative positions on education: school choice, vouchers, merit pay for teachers. In 2001, the Heritage Foundation profiled the KIPP schools in a book called “No Excuses: Lessons From 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools,” which set out to disprove “the perennial claims of the education establishment that poor children are uneducable.” Two years later, Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, the well-known conservative writers about race, borrowed the Heritage Foundation’s title (which was itself borrowed from a slogan popular at KIPP and other schools) for their own book on education, “No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning”; the book used the success of Amistad, North Star and, especially, KIPP to highlight the failings of the public-school system in serving poor children. If KIPP can successfully educate these kids, the Thernstroms asked, why can’t every school?

The Thernstroms argue that if we can just fix the schools where poor children are educated, it will become much easier to solve all the other problems of poverty. The opposing argument, which Rothstein and others have made, is that the problems of poor minority kids are simply too great to be overcome by any school, no matter how effective. He points to the work of Hart and Risley and Lareau and argues that the achievement gap can be significantly diminished only by correcting, or at least addressing, the deep inequities that divide the races and the classes.

Levin and Toll sometimes seem surprised by the political company they are now keeping — and by the opponents they have attracted. “I’m a total liberal!” Toll said, a little defensively, when I asked her recently about this political divide. Many charter advocates claim that the views of Democratic politicians on charter schools are clouded by the fact that they depend for both money and votes on the nation’s teachers’ unions, which are skeptical of charter schools and in some states have taken steps to block them from expanding. In Connecticut, the state teachers’ union this year lobbied against a legislative change to allow for the expansion of Amistad Academy (it later passed), and the union’s lawyers filed a Freedom of Information Act request that required Amistad to turn over all of its employment and pay records. The union’s chief lobbyist told reporters in April that the state’s charter law was intended only “to create incubators of innovation. It was never to create a charter-school system.” Amistad was acceptable as a small experiment, in other words, but there was no reason to let it grow.

Even if schools like KIPP are allowed to expand to meet the demand in the educational marketplace — all of them have long waiting lists — it is hard to imagine that, alone, they will be able to make much of a dent in the problem of the achievement gap; there are, after all, millions of poor and minority public-school students who aren’t getting the education they need either at home or in the classroom. What these charter schools demonstrate, though, is the effort that would be required to provide those students with that education.

Toll put it this way: “We want to change the conversation from ‘You can’t educate these kids’ to ‘You can only educate these kids if. ...’ ” And to a great extent, she and the other principals have done so. The message inherent in the success of their schools is that if poor students are going to catch up, they will require not the same education that middle-class children receive but one that is considerably better; they need more time in class than middle-class students, better-trained teachers and a curriculum that prepares them psychologically and emotionally, as well as intellectually, for the challenges ahead of them.

Right now, of course, they are not getting more than middle-class students; they are getting less. For instance, nationwide, the best and most experienced teachers are allowed to choose where they teach. And since most state contracts offer teachers no bonus or incentive for teaching in a school with a high population of needy children, the best teachers tend to go where they are needed the least. A study that the Education Trust issued in June used data from Illinois to demonstrate the point. Illinois measures the quality of its teachers and divides their scores into four quartiles, and those numbers show glaring racial inequities. In majority-white schools, bad teachers are rare: just 11 percent of the teachers are in the lowest quartile. But in schools with practically no white students, 88 percent of the teachers are in the worst quartile. The same disturbing pattern holds true in terms of poverty. At schools where more than 90 percent of the students are poor — where excellent teachers are needed the most — just 1 percent of teachers are in the highest quartile.

Government spending on education does not tend to compensate for these inequities; in fact, it often makes them worse. Goodwin Liu, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has compiled persuasive evidence for what he calls the country’s “education apartheid.” In states with more poor children, spending per pupil is lower. In Mississippi, for instance, it is $5,391 a year; in Connecticut, it is $9,588. Most education financing comes from state and local governments, but the federal supplement for poor children, Title 1, is “regressive,” Liu points out, because it is tied to the amount each state spends. So the federal government gives Arkansas $964 to help educate each poor child in the state, and it gives Massachusetts $2,048 for each poor child there.

Without making a much more serious commitment to the education of poor and minority students, it is hard to see how the federal government will be able to deliver on the promise contained in No Child Left Behind. The law made states responsible for turning their poorest children into accomplished scholars in a little more than a decade — a national undertaking on the order of a moon landing — but provided them with little assistance or even direction as to how they might accomplish that goal. And recently, many advocates have begun to argue that the Education Department has quietly given up on No Child Left Behind.

The most malignant element of the original law was that it required all states to achieve proficiency but then allowed each state to define proficiency for itself. It took state governments a couple of years to realize just what that meant, but now they have caught on — and many of them are engaged in an ignoble competition to see which state can demand the least of its students. At the head of this pack right now is Mississippi, which has declared 89 percent of its fourth-grade students to be proficient readers, the highest percentage in the nation, while in fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that only 18 percent of Mississippi fourth graders know how to read at an appropriate level — the second-lowest score of any state. In the past year, Arizona, Maryland, Ohio, North Dakota and Idaho all followed Mississippi’s lead and slashed their standards in order to allow themselves to label uneducated students educated. The federal government has permitted these maneuvers, and after several years of tough talk about enforcing the law’s standards, the Education Department has in the past year begun cutting one deal after another with states that want to redefine “success” for their schools. (When I spoke to Spellings this month, she said she would “appeal to the better angels of governors and state policy makers” to keep their standards in line with national benchmarks.)

The absence of any robust federal effort to improve high-poverty schools undercuts and distorts the debate over the responsibility for their problems. It is true, as the Thernstroms write in their book, that “dysfunctional families and poverty are no excuse for widespread, chronic educational failure.” But while those factors are not an excuse, they’re certainly an explanation; as researchers like Lareau and Brooks-Gunn have made clear, poverty and dysfunction are enormous disadvantages for any child to overcome. When Levin and Feinberg began using the slogan “No Excuses” in the mid-1990s, they intended it to motivate their students and teachers, to remind them that within the context of a KIPP school, there would always be a way to achieve success. But when the conservative education movement adopted “No Excuses” as a slogan, the phrase was used much more broadly: if that rural Arkansas public school isn’t achieving the success of a KIPP school, those responsible for its underachievement must simply be making excuses. The slogan came to suggest that what is going wrong in the schools is simply some sort of failure of will — that teachers don’t want to work hard, or don’t believe in their students, or are succumbing to what the president calls “the soft bigotry of low expectations” — while the reality is that even the best, most motivated educator, given just six hours a day and 10 months a year and nothing more than the typical resources provided to a public-school teacher, would find it near impossible to educate an average classroom of poor minority students up to the level of their middle-class peers.

The evidence is now overwhelming that if you take an average low-income child and put him into an average American public school, he will almost certainly come out poorly educated. What the small but growing number of successful schools demonstrate is that the public-school system accomplishes that result because we have built it that way. We could also decide to create a different system, one that educates most (if not all) poor minority students to high levels of achievement. It is not yet entirely clear what that system might look like — it might include not only KIPP-like structures and practices but also high-quality early-childhood education, as well as incentives to bring the best teachers to the worst schools — but what is clear is that it is within reach.

Although the failure of No Child Left Behind now seems more likely than not, it is not too late for it to succeed. We know now, in a way that we did not when the law was passed, what it would take to make it work. And if the law does, in the end, fail — if in 2014 only 20 or 30 or 40 percent of the country’s poor and minority students are proficient, then we will need to accept that its failure was not an accident and was not inevitable, but was the outcome we chose.

Paul Tough is an editor at the magazine. He is writing a book about the Harlem Children’s Zone, a community organization.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

A Catch-22 for Language Learners

Check out Wayne Wright's recent publication titled, "A Catch-22 for Language Learners." His pieces urges us to reconsider NCLB by focusing on its effects on a population whose needs are at best, unfortunately not very well addressed in current policy, and at worst, is regarded in a dismissive fashion. To read article, click here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Other Face of Globalization

This piece by photojournalist, David Bacon, identifies the source of migration: "Because of the political and economic crisis they create, free trade policies produce more migration to the United States, while more production leaves at the same time, looking for low wages across the border. Through bailout and loan conditions, the US government enforces a low-wage policy on the Mexican economy, with the Mexican government's active cooperation, in order to encourage maquiladora construction." I recommend reading Bacon's new book COMMUNITIES WITHOUT BORDERS.

Also worthy of note, "HR 2092, has been introduced by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congressional Black Caucus members. It would legalize people already here, and outlaw discrimination based on migrant status."


t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Tuesday 21 November 2006

In 1998, workers at the Han Young factory started the most famous strike on the border in the twelve years NAFTA has been in effect. After firings, wildcat work stoppages, and a campaign in cooperation with activists here in the US, they won legal recognition for their union. In Mexico and Central America, during a legal strike, workers can put up flags across the doors, and the company must remain closed until the strike is over. No one can go in to work. The problem, of course, is that it's very difficult for most workers to get legal status for their unions and strikes.

In the US, unions don't have to be registered with the government, and anyone can form one. But there's no real legal protection for unions, and we have few rights. A company can legally break a strike.

Behind these differences are different conceptions of rights. In the US, property rights are paramount, and overrule labor rights. In Mexico, the legal and political tradition of the Revolution still means something. Labor has important legal and social rights, at least on paper, and the state is supposed to honor and uphold them. Unfortunately, those rights often remain on paper, unenforced in real life.

There's a right to food and housing, but people go hungry and have no place to live. There's a right to strike effectively, but that right is unenforced, and in practice, independent and democratic unions are repressed.

Despite winning legal status for their union and the legal right to strike, Tijuana authorities brought in strikebreakers. A federal judge ruled the strike was legal, but authorities ignored the decision.

Because of the existing development policy of encouraging foreign investment at all cost, authorities were unwilling to allow the existence of an independent union at Han Young. The same thing has happened time after time along the border - Duro Bag, Sony, Compania Desarmadora, AutoTrim/CustomTrim, ITAPSA, Sara Lee are just some of the factories where workers have had the same experience. The number of workers fired in these efforts count in the hundreds, and many have been beaten.

The rule of law, as it has protected workers' rights in the past, has been undermined.

Because of the political and economic crisis they create, free trade policies produce more migration to the United States, while more production leaves at the same time, looking for low wages across the border.

Through bailout and loan conditions, the US government enforces a low-wage policy on the Mexican economy, with the Mexican government's active cooperation, in order to encourage maquiladora construction.

From the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1920 through the early 1970s, the Mexican government encouraged economic development by Mexican producers, making products for sale in Mexico. Foreign investment was strictly limited.

But under pressure from an accumulating foreign debt, the Mexican government created an investment climate that depends on a vast number of low wage earners. This sacrifices the ability of people to buy what they produce.

Well before NAFTA's passage, the disparity between US and Mexican wages was growing. Mexican salaries were a third of those in the US up to the 1970s. They are now less than an eighth, even a 12th or 15th, even during a period in which US wages have declined in buying power.

Over the last two decades, the income of Mexican workers has lost 76% of its purchasing power. Under pressure from foreign lenders, the Mexican government has ended subsidies on the prices of basic necessities, including gasoline, electricity, bus fares, tortillas and milk, which have risen dramatically. It estimates that 40 million people live in poverty, and 25 million in extreme poverty.

What happened in the same time in the US? By 2002, the US Department of Labor had received claims for NAFTA-related unemployment assistance from 507,000 workers. President Bush ordered the Department of Labor to stop counting, since the job loss figures were an embarrassment as he was trying to get Congress to give him fast track authority to negotiate CAFTA and FTAA.

NAFTA accelerated the export of capital, not the export of goods and services. These economic reforms transformed the Mexican economy and were imposed on Mexico by the International Monetary Fund, backed up by conditions on US bank loans and bailouts.

The CONASUPO stores, which purchased corn at higher prices from farmers to help them stay on the land, and sold tortillas, milk and food to poor urban consumers, were discontinued. Meanwhile, the ejido land reform system itself was abolished, allowing the reconcentration of land and rural wealth. Government businesses were sold to private investors. US companies were allowed to own land and factories anywhere in Mexico, without Mexican partners.

Mexico was a laboratory for economic reforms that have transformed the economies of developing countries, away from policies encouraging national development, toward ones opening up the economy for transnational investors.

This is the same plan being implemented in Iraq, enforced through war and occupation. The Bush administration sees Iraq as a beachhead into the Middle East and south Asia, a chance to transform the state-dominated economy of what was once one of the region's wealthiest countries. A free-market Iraq will then set new ground rules for the rest of the area, much as Mexico's economy became a prototype for the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

On September 19, 2003, the CPA published Order No. 39, which permits 100% foreign ownership of businesses, and repatriation of profits. The CPA set a new salary schedule for Iraqi workers - Order 30 on Reform of Salaries and Employment Conditions of State Employees. This lowered the bottom wage rate from $60 a month to $40, and eliminated all previous house, food, family, risk and location subsidies.

With 70% unemployment, the economic policies of the occupation create more hunger among Iraq's working people, transforming them into a pool of low-wage, semi-employed labor, desperate for jobs at almost any price.

In 1987, Saddam Hussein issued a law declaring that workers in state-owned enterprises (which includes most Iraqi workers) had no right to organize unions or bargain. Today the Iraqi government, under US occupation, is still enforcing that 1987 law. If workers have no right to bargain, privatization and huge job losses will face much less organized resistance.

In countries like Mexico and Iraq, with mixed economies, a large percentage of workers historically were employed by state enterprises. Unions had their greatest strength in the state sector.

Over the last ten years, most important Mexican labor struggles have been fought over the privatization of that sector, by workers at airlines, railroads, the telephone system, and many other industries. In February of 1998, one battle was fought by the copper miners in Cananea, one of Mexico's oldest mines and site of the historic battle that initiated the Mexican Revolution. Hundreds of miners lost their jobs after the mine was privatized, and the threat of military occupation was used to end their strike.

Since there's almost no other work in Cananea, a small mountain town, the jobless miners had to leave. Many of them crossed the border, just fifty miles north, to find work and a new economic future in the United States.

They're not alone.

Migrant Rights International estimates that over 170 million people today live outside of the countries in which they were born. They're not just moving from Mexico to the US, but from developing countries to developed ones all over the world.

What do they find when they arrive with dreams of a better life?

They become part of an immigrant workforce with conditions and wages at the bottom, denied the most basic rights - no unemployment insurance, no medical care, no social benefits of any kind.

They have no right to a job. Not only can they be fired at a moment's notice, like most workers, but for them the very act of working is a crime. They are denied the right to be a resident of a stable community, to live here at all.

And the irony is that they often wind up working for the same corporations whose operations in their countries of origin are part of the reason why they're here to begin with.

Transnational corporations want to invest in the developing world, moving production to whatever area the wages are lowest. And in developed countries, they seek the migrants who have been displaced by high unemployment and falling wages they themselves cause.

In this system, corporations are aided by US immigration laws. While they're are always presented in the media as a means of controlling borders, and keeping people from crossing them, for the last hundred years, they've been the means of regulating the supply, and consequently the price, of immigrant labor.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 made the very act of working illegal for undocumented immigrants. This was a gift to employers - when working becomes a crime, it becomes very difficult for workers to organize unions, go on strike, and fight for better conditions.

Immigration agents now check documents workers must fill out to get a job, and require employers to fire those whose documents are in question. In Washington State, they did this in the middle of a union drive among apple workers, and fired 700 people. That effort was broken.

There has always been a conflict in US labor about immigration. Some sought to restrict unions to the native born, to whites and to men, and saw immigrants as the enemy. Others, however, from the IWW through the CIO to many unions today, see the labor movement as inclusive, with a responsibility to organize all workers, immigrant and native-born alike.

In 1986, the AFL-CIO supported IRCA and employer sanctions. Fourteen years later, in 1999, that position was changed by grass-roots immigrant rights coalitions and labor councils around the country. The AFL-CIO called for an end to employer sanctions, and for a new amnesty program to legalize workers already here.

Immigrant workers make up an increasing percentage of the work force in building services, health care, manufacturing and food processing, construction, and hotel and restaurant work. This change is going on everywhere, including in states that historically haven't had many immigrants.

Today most immigration is spontaneous, but there are many visa categories employers use to bring workers to the US as contract laborers, often called guest workers. They have programs for high tech and health care workers, farm workers, garment workers, and others. And often the workers displaced by these programs, or threatened with displacement, as in Silicon Valley, are other immigrants and people of color who lose jobs with higher wages and job security.

Workers often have to go thousands of dollars into debt to come to the US under contract. To repay the debt, they work long hours and take dangerous risks.

When any worker stands up for better conditions or organizes a union, she or he can be easily fired, immigrant or not. But when contract workers are fired, they lose not only their jobs but their ability to stay in the country. That effectively gives the employer the power to deport as well as fire workers, and makes people in these programs vulnerable.

That's why employers are making proposals for new programs. Congress is now debating an enormous expansion, in which employers would recruit hundreds of thousands of contract laborers every year. Behind these proposals are some of the largest industries in the US - the National Association of Chain Drugstores (think Wal-Mart) and the American Meat Institute. Democrats and Republicans both propose new guest worker programs

These industry-based visa programs are all based on the idea that immigration law should be used to supply workers to employers. This was the same logic behind the old bracero program, which Ernesto Galarza and Cesar Chavez fought for 22 years to end. Bush says that there will be no amnesty for the undocumented. Only one bill in Congress, by the Congressional Black Caucus, would grant real amnesty to people here without papers.

The work of migrants is indispensable to many industries, from agriculture to construction. But so is the work of people born here. Everyone needs a job.

Deporting or denying work to migrants does not create a single job for anyone else. When sanctions are heavily enforced, union organizing is undermined and employers use the law to push income down and threaten those who demand workplace rights.

No matter how many walls are built on the border, no matter how many troops or National Guardsmen or helicopters patrol it, workers will still cross it looking for a future.

The dislocation of communities worldwide, forced to migrate in search of work, has never been a voluntary process. But the migration of people is as much a product of the global economy as the migration of capital.

Another product is inequality. Washington's current immigration proposals all assume that immigrants should not be the equals of those around them, or have the same rights. The proposals fly against a 400-year history of struggle in the US to expand the rights of all people.

The roots of this inequality lie in slavery. Even the current concept of the "illegal" person has its roots in the Black Codes, used to define who could be enslaved and who couldn't. Chinatowns and Manilatowns owe their existence, not simply to the desire for community and group identity, but to a century of social segregation.

US immigration policy doesn't deter the flow of migrants across the border. Its basic function is defining the status of people once they're here. A policy based on supplying workers to industry, at a price it wants to pay, has inequality built into it from the beginning. It denies community. It undermines workplace rights. It inhibits the development of families and culture.

Other alternatives are urgently needed. In 1999, the AFL-CIO proposed a freedom agenda that included legalization, repeal of employer sanctions, increased availability of family reunification visas, and enforcement of workplace rights. Community coalitions around the country have proposals that advance immigrant rights without tying them to guest worker or enforcement schemes.

The last amnesty, in 1986, legalized over 4 million people, who are now active members of our communities. A similar proposal, HR 2092, has been introduced by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congressional Black Caucus members. It would legalize people already here, and outlaw discrimination based on migrant status.

Piling guest-worker programs and increased enforcement on top of unemployment and job competition is an explosive mixture, producing insecurity and low wages. Instead of promoting a bitter fight over jobs, Congress should make reducing unemployment federal policy. Common ground means fighting for jobs for everyone. People will still cross the border, looking for work. Increasing the number of green cards, or resident visas, would ease the pressure to cross illegally, and give migrants a status more equal to everyone else. People could reunite families without waiting decades.

Meanwhile, changing US trade and economic policies abroad would decrease the pressure for migration. Treaties like NAFTA promote poverty and low wages as incentives for corporate investment. In Hong Kong, the WTO even proposes a new international guest worker program, to exploit the workers free trade displaces.

Instead, to keep small Mexican farmers on the land, the US could provide rural credit, and stop cheap NAFTA-facilitated corn exports. US policy could stop boosting privatization of manufacturing and services, which lead to declining wages and huge layoffs. When the US promotes dumping, privatization, and unemployment, where do we think those affected will go?

Congress will never consider pro-immigrant, pro-labor proposals if its current push for guest workers and increased enforcement isn't defeated first. A strong coalition between immigrants' rights groups, churches, unions, civil rights organizations and working families can build a movement powerful enough to win legal status and rights for migrants - and jobs and better wages for everyone. It can not only stop the rightward push, but also win something much better.

It's time to fight for what we want.


David Bacon, Photographs and Stories.

Activist encouraged by Latino voter turnout

Activist encouraged by Latino voter turnout
- Tyche Hendricks, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, November 18, 2006

The immigration debate has unified Latinos politically, and last week's election results shows they were mobilized, the head of the nation's oldest Latino civil rights group said Friday.

"I see a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of people wanting to get involved," said Rosa Rosales, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Rosales stopped in Berkeley as part of a nationwide tour she began after the Nov. 7 election. She credits the polarizing debate over illegal immigration with motivating more Latinos to go to the polls, and said the results were a repudiation of many Republicans' enforcement-only approach to immigration reform.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., and Republican congressional candidate Randy Graf of Arizona "all made an issue of immigrants, a very punitive type of thing, and they all lost," Rosales said in an interview before she addressed several dozen students and faculty at UC Berkeley's Center for Latino Policy Research. "It sent a strong message to them that immigrant-bashing is not the way to go."

A pre-election poll by the National Council of La Raza and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials found that immigration was energizing Latinos to vote, though they ranked education, the economy and the war in Iraq as their biggest concerns.

A national exit poll by the William C. Velasquez Institute in Los Angeles found that almost 6 million Latinos cast ballots, fewer than in the 2004 presidential election but 1.1 million more than in the last midterm election in 2002.

After Republicans lost ground among Latino voters, President Bush recommended Florida Sen. Mel Martinez to be chairman of the Republican National Committee. Rosales applauded the move but added, "I think both parties need to move a lot more Latinos into power positions. We're not to be taken for granted."

Like most national Latino organizations, Rosales' group, known by its acronym LULAC, favors comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.

An equally urgent priority for the group, however, is education, said Rosales, a flamboyant 62-year-old labor organizer from San Antonio.

"We are in a state of crisis," she told the UC Berkeley audience. "Graduation rates for Latinos are dismal. It's so important as college students for you to go and reach out to high school students."

Rosales said her own path to college, which didn't begin until she was a 30-year-old mother of three, transformed her from a timid housewife into an outspoken activist.

The 77-year-old LULAC has a history of fighting discrimination and racial segregation. Its legal challenges included the 1946 Mendez vs. Westminster decision, in which the federal courts banned school segregation in California, paving the way for the Brown vs. Board of Education case in the U.S. Supreme Court eight years later.

But the group's membership has been declining in recent years. Young Latinos these days are likely to think, "Why would I join LULAC? That's my grandparents' organization," said Maria Echaveste, a lecturer at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law who was deputy chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.

"It's the only real membership organization in the Latino community and it's got a great history," Echaveste said. "There's a lot of hope that with Rosa's leadership it can re-energize itself."

Rosales said she aims to triple the group's membership of 150,000, and credited a recent appearance on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight" for a burst of publicity. Dobbs is known for his antagonism toward illegal immigrants.

"Lou Dobbs did me a favor," she said. "They're calling me every day and asking to join."

E-mail Tyche Hendricks at

Page B - 1

©2006 San Francisco Chronicle

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Just Whose Idea Was All This Testing?

Just Whose Idea Was All This Testing?
Fueled by Technology, Nation's Attempt to Create a Level Playing Field Has Had a Rocky History
By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 14, 2006; A06

Second in a series of occasional articles on testing.

In ancient Greece, Socrates tested his students through conversations. Answers were not scored as right or wrong. They just led to more dialogue. Many intellectual elites in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. cared more about finding the path to higher knowledge than producing a correct response. To them, accuracy was for shopkeepers.

Today, educators often hold up the Socratic method as the best kind of teaching.

So how did we go from that ideal to an educational model shaped -- and perhaps even ruled -- by standardized, normed, charted, graphed, regressed, calibrated and validated testing? Students in the Washington area are likely to know more about the MSA (Maryland School Assessments), the SOL (Virginia's Standards of Learning) and the D.C. CAS (D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System) than they do about Socrates and his illustrious student Plato.

Critics say standardized testing has robbed schools of the creative clash of intellects that make Plato's dialogues still absorbing. "There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all," said educational psychologist Gerald W. Bracey, research columnist for the Phi Delta Kappan education journal.

Historians call the rise of testing an inevitable outgrowth of expanding technology. As goods and services are delivered with greater speed and in higher quantity and quality, education has been forced to pick up the pace.

Standardized exams have many sources. In imperial China in the A.D. 7th century, government job applicants had to write essays about Confucian philosophy and compose poetry. In Europe, the invention of the printing press and modern paper manufacturing fueled the growth of written exams.

By 1845 in the United States, public education advocate Horace Mann was calling for standardized essay testing. Spelling tests, geography tests and math tests blossomed in schools, although they were rarely standardized.

At the outset of the 20th century, educators began to experiment with tests that took shortcuts around the old essay methods. French psychologist Alfred Binet developed an intelligence test about 1905. Frederick J. Kelly of the University of Kansas designed a multiple-choice test in 1914. Scanning machines followed. Many Americans accepted these tests as efficient tools to help build a society based on merit, not birth or race or wealth.

Still, modern testing had a clumsy start as psychologists experimented with exams to help employers, schools and others rate applicants. In one early case, testing expert H.H. Goddard identified as "feeble-minded" 83 percent of Jews, 80 percent of Hungarians, 79 percent of Italians and 87 percent of Russians among a small group of immigrants assessed at Ellis Island.

"Consider a group of frightened men and women who speak no English and who have just endured an oceanic voyage in steerage," Harvard University science historian Stephen Jay Gould wrote of the Goddard study. "Most are poor and have never gone to school; many have never held a pencil or pen in their hand." Yet Goddard's interviewers expected them to sit down with a pencil and "reproduce on paper a figure shown to them a moment ago, but now withdrawn from their sight."

Eventually, testing experts focused on standardizing the measure of learning, not of innate intelligence.

The College Entrance Examination Board, founded in 1900, played a huge role. Now called the College Board, it "created the best, most consistent and most influential standards that American education has ever known," New York University educational historian Diane Ravitch wrote in March in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The board's early exams were written and graded by teachers and professors and had no multiple-choice questions. These essay exams, Ravitch wrote, led "everyone who went to high school, whether they were the children of doctors or farmers or factory workers . . . to study mathematics, science, English literature, composition, history and a foreign language, usually Latin."

Many educators who value depth and rigor lament what followed. In 1926, the multiple-choice SAT was introduced as a much faster way of testing college applicants. On Dec. 7, 1941, several members of the board, during a previously scheduled lunch, decided that the outbreak of world war would require faster decisions and less leisurely testing. They eventually canceled the board's old exam format. The SAT ruled.

Essay questions, however, made a comeback in 1955 when Advanced Placement exams began.

The launch of Sputnik, the Soviet space satellite, in 1957 fueled a space race and increased pressure on U.S. schools to show improvement. But rating schools through tests did not advance much until the mid-1970s, when the College Board revealed that average SAT scores had been falling since 1963. Then, in 1983, a national commission declared in the report "A Nation at Risk" that public school standards were too low. Over the next two decades, testing took off.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, several governors argued that they had to test all their students to raise school standards and improve their economies. Among them were Democrats Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Richard W. Riley of South Carolina, who would soon become president and U.S. education secretary, respectively. (Later in the 1990s, Republican Gov. George W. Bush of Texas also was a big proponent of testing.)

Some educators said a better way to improve schools was to spend more on teacher training, salaries and smaller classes. They dwelled on educational inputs; the politicians, on outputs.

The politicians prevailed. In 1988, Congress created the National Assessment Governing Board. It established new standards for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test that has been given to a sampling of students since 1970. In 2002, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind law. For the first time, it required annual testing of all public school children in certain grades and required states to use results to help rate schools.

The National Education Association and other teacher organizations argue that it is unfair to rate schools through such tests when teachers lack adequate training and pay. In a 2004 essay for the Hoover Digest, Ravitch wrote that the advocates of inputs and the champions of outputs "are in constant tension, with first one and then the other gaining brief advantage."

"How this conflict is resolved," she wrote, "will determine the future of American education."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Schools Slow in Closing Gaps Between Races

Sent by Stephen Krashen to the New York Times, November 20

Re: "Schools Slow in Closing Gaps Between Races," Nov.20

Assistant Sec. of Education Johnson claims that "as a
whole student performance is improving" thanks to No
Child Left Behind (NCLB). The claim is based on an
increase in fourth grade reading scores on the NAEP
test from 1999 to 2004. As the Times notes, in 2004
NCLB had been in effect only one year.

It should also be pointed out that children taking the
tests were fourth graders, and few, if any, had been
subjected to NCLB's Reading First instruction. Also,
the 1999-2004 analysis is based on "trend" scores,
equivalent tests given in 1999 and 2004. A look at the
regular NAEP tests suggests that the jump occurred
between 2000 and 2002, before NCLB and Reading First.

The administration has wasted over $100 billion on
NCLB, and now they want to waste more and extend NCLB
to high schools. This is good news for test and
workbook publishers, but bad news for students and for

Stephen Krashen

November 20, 2006
Schools Slow in Closing Gaps Between Races

When President Bush signed his sweeping education law a year into his presidency, it set 2014 as the deadline by which schools were to close the test-score gaps between minority and white students that have persisted since standardized testing began.

Now, as Congress prepares to consider reauthorizing the law next year, researchers and a half-dozen recent studies, including three issued last week, are reporting little progress toward that goal. Slight gains have been seen for some grade levels.

Despite concerted efforts by educators, the test-score gaps are so large that, on average, African-American and Hispanic students in high school can read and do arithmetic at only the average level of whites in junior high school.

"The gaps between African-Americans and whites are showing very few signs of closing," Michael T. Nettles, a senior vice president at the Educational Testing Service, said in a paper he presented recently at Columbia University. One ethnic minority, Asians, generally fares as well as or better than whites.

The reports and their authors, in interviews, portrayed an educational landscape in which test-score gaps between black or Hispanic students and whites appear in kindergarten and worsen through 12 years of public education.

Some researchers based their conclusions on federal test results, while others have cited state exams, the SATs and other widely administered standardized assessments. Still, the studies have all concurred: The achievement gaps remain, perplexing and persistent.

The findings pose a challenge not only for Mr. Bush but also for the Democratic lawmakers who joined him in negotiating the original law, known as No Child Left Behind, and who will control education policy in Congress next year.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Representative George Miller of California, who are expected to be the chairmen of the Senate and House education committees, will promote giving more resources to schools and researching strategies to improve minority performance, according to aides.

"Closing the achievement gap is at the heart of No Child Left Behind and must continue to be our focus in renewing the act next year," Mr. Kennedy said in a statement.

Experts have suggested many possible changes, including improving the law’s mechanisms for ensuring that teachers in poor schools are experienced and knowledgeable, and extending early-childhood education to more students.

Henry L. Johnson, an assistant secretary of education, said: "I don't dispute that looking at some comparisons we see that these gaps are not closing--or not as fast as they ought to. But it's also accurate to say that when taken as a whole, student performance is improving. The presumption that we won’t get to 100 percent proficiency from here presumes that everything is static. To reach the 100 percent by 2014, we'll all have to work faster and smarter."

The law requires states, districts and schools to report annual test results for all racial and ethnic groups, and to show annual improvements for each. It imposes sanctions on schools that do not meet the rising targets.

Many experts and officials, including the president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, have supported the goal of raising all students to academic proficiency, but they have also called it unrealistic to accomplish in a decade.

But President Bush, who put education at the center of his 2000 campaign, has been insisting that it is not only feasible but that the gaps are already closing.

"There are good results of No Child Left Behind across the nation," Mr. Bush said last month at a school in North Carolina. "We have an achievement gap in America that is--that I don’t like and you shouldn’t like."

"The gap is closing," he said.

The researchers behind the reports issued last week in Washington, D.C., New York and California were far more pessimistic, though.

"The achievement gap is alive and well," said G. Gage Kingsbury, an author of the report issued in Washington by the Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit group based in Oregon that administers tests.

Examining results from reading and math tests administered to 500,000 students in 24 states in the fall of 2004 and the spring of 2005, the study found: “For each score level at each grade in each subject, minority students grew less than European-Americans, and students from poor schools grew less than those from wealthier ones.”

Minority and poor students also lost more academic ground each summer, the study said.

Ross Wiener, a principal partner at the Education Trust, a group that works to close achievement gaps and has consistently supported the federal law, called those findings “profoundly disturbing” and said it showed that schools continued to be a “significant source of disadvantage for minority students.”

“The Bush administration wants to hang a ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner over N.C.L.B., but a fair assessment is that progress thus far in closing achievement gaps is disappointing,” Mr. Weiner said. He pointed to financing and teacher assignment systems that lead to schools with mostly poor and minority students getting less money, offering fewer advanced courses and having weaker teachers.

The 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a battery of reading and math tests administered to thousands of students in every state, showed some rising scores for all ethnic groups, and the black-white score gap narrowed in a statistically significant way for fourth-grade math. But on fourth-grade reading, and on eighth-grade reading and math, the black-white and Hispanic-white gaps were statistically unchanged from the early 1990s.

Over the past three decades, the gaps narrowed steadily from the 1970s through the late 1980s but then leveled out through 1999. Since then, some have narrowed again, but at a rate that would allow them to persist for decades. That picture showed up in a separate National Assessment test devised to measure long-term trends, administered in late 2003 and early 2004.

That test showed that regardless of race, scores increased a bit over three decades for 9- and 13-year-old students, with the best gains coming between 1999 and 2004.

Test administrators warned against attributing those gains to the federal law, because it had been in effect for about only a year when the 2004 test was given. Prekindergarten programs, higher standards and increased testing carried out by many states during the 1990s also contributed, they said.

But Bush administration officials have routinely credited the law for the improved scores on that test.

A group that has supported the federal law, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, whose leaders include former officials from the Reagan and the current Bush administrations, conducted a review of state exams and other indicators and issued a report this month. It found that none of the 50 states had made widespread progress in narrowing the gaps, and that eight states, including New York and New Jersey, had made “moderate gains.”

Chester E. Finn Jr., the foundation president, said, “Poor and minority students are doing very poorly, and in most states are not making significant gains — and this in spite of N.C.L.B. and all the other reforms of the last 15 years.”

Suggestions abound for ways to narrow the score gaps faster. Since scholars have documented that minority children enter kindergarten with weaker reading skills than white children, some experts advocate increased public financing for early education programs.

No Child Left Behind provides money for tutoring in schools where students are not succeeding, but critics say it does not provide sufficient financing to help states and districts turn the schools themselves around.

Several of the new reports urged better provisions to ensure that poor and mostly minority schools have quality teachers, to reward teachers who help struggling students improve, and to keep good teachers from leaving city schools for higher-paying suburban ones.

“If I’m in a bad school and make serious progress, I need a reward,” Dr. Nettles said. “If you perform on Wall Street, you get a bonus.”

But the news is not all bad. Individual schools in some states have made progress in narrowing the gaps between black and white, Hispanic and white, and the poor and more affluent, according to a Standard & Poor’s unit that analyzes school performance.

The unit credited Morgan County Elementary School in Madison, Ga., with significantly raising the scores of black fourth and fifth graders. The principal, Jean Triplett, attributed that success in part to after-school tutoring by volunteers in black churches.

Edwin E. Weeks Elementary School in Syracuse was singled out for narrowing the gap between black and white students. Dare Dutter, the principal, credited a prekindergarten program and a school health clinic that helped keep poor students from missing class.

Standard & Poor’s has sifted test data from 16,000 schools in 18 states, identifying 718 schools making significant progress toward the national goal.

"They are the classic diamonds in the rough," said Paul Gazzerro, director of analytics at Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services. “But in general, schools are not closing achievement gaps.”

One of the exceptions, the unit said, is Hoover Middle School in Lakewood, Calif., a community in Los Angeles County where the aircraft manufacturing industry has been hit by job losses. The school has raised Hispanic scores so much that in the spring of 2005 Hispanic students outperformed whites, said the principal, Michael L. Troyer. He said the progress resulted from focused instruction, frequent diagnostic testing and several tutoring programs.

“Some of it’s after school, teachers do it at lunch, and we have people who tutor in the morning before school, too,” Mr. Troyer said.

Across California, however, achievement gaps have not narrowed, and in some cases they have widened since 2001, according to a study of California test results released last week by Policy Analysis for California Education, a research center run jointly by the University of California and Stanford.

“Not only have all boats stopped rising, but the boats that are under water are sinking further down,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who contributed to the study.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company