Monday, December 31, 2007

Llano Grande continues to expand educational horizons of Delta area students

By Joey Gomez and Steve Taylor
Rio Grande Guardian
December 21, 2007

EDCOUCH, December 21 - The Delta area of the Rio Grande Valley may be one of the most impoverished parts of the nation but its record in sending students to Ivy League universities is the envy of many.

Many give credit to the pioneering work of the non-profit Llano Grande Center for Research and Development, which has worked to increase educational opportunities and expectations of young people in Edcouch-Elsa by developing effective, culturally relevant teaching methods and practices.

Llano Grande, which runs evening tutoring and mentoring in local high schools, believes students become better prepared for college by first becoming community-minded leaders and so teachers and students at the center organize a variety of community-based projects.

It has developed a college prep program based on four major pillars: academic support, understanding the application process, leadership development, and identity building.

“Our students have continued to expand their horizons, develop new skills, graduate with superior records, gain entry to America’s finest colleges and universities, and return to the Rio Grande Valley to pursue their lives and careers,” said Delia Pérez, program director at Llano Grande.

Pérez was one of the first students involved in establishing the annual East Coast college trips at Edcouch-Elsa High School. The project has led to more than 50 Delta area students attending Ivy League schools.

Pérez graduated from Yale University in 1997, returning to teach at Edcouch-Elsa High School. She later went on to earn her master's degree in public policy at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

“Enter Room A-1 at Edcouch-Elsa High School and you will not find your typical high school students,” Pérez said.

“Instead, you will encounter world travelers, entrepreneurs, park designers, movie producers, event planners, grant writers, and socially-conscious adults in the making.”

Pérez said the non-traditional teaching and learning experiences Llano Grande students actively participate in teaches civic responsibility and strengthens the fabric of the local community.

“Because students grow to understand the relevance of their learning to the world around them, students become motivated to set personal goals to do well in school and pursue a higher education,” Pérez added.

Francisco Guajardo is assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership in the College of Education at the University of Texas-Pan American. Before that he was a teacher and administrator at Edcouch-Elsa High School. He also directs the Llano Grande Center.

“At the Llano Grande Center, our mission is to give underprivileged students every opportunity to excel, and to change the way students, parents, and teachers think about college readiness,” Guajardo said.

While test-taking skills, rigorous classes, and good grades are important to students, Guajardo said, so is intellectual and social development through an exploration of self and community.

Guajardo won a “Heroes Among Us” award in November 2003 by People magazine, was named Southwest Region Teacher of the Year by Time Magazine for Kids in 2001, and was honored as finalist for National Teacher of the Year by Hispanic Magazine in 1998.

Corporate America is starting to acknowledge the work of the Llano Grande Center. In August, the AT&T Foundation, the corporate philanthropy organization of AT&T, awarded a $25,000 grant to the organization to purchase new technology.

Sergio Contreras, AT&T’s external affairs manager in the Rio Grande Valley, said the technology equipment will allow students to learn computer skills and use advanced equipment that will aid them in pursuing higher education or entering the workforce.

“The Llano Grande Center has such a rich history of helping students in the area to have the best opportunities for success, and we are proud to assist the center in this endeavor,” Contreras said.

This week, the Llano Grande received another $25,000 grant, courtesy of State Farm Insurance. State Reps. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen, and Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, were present for the check presentation.

Roel Villanueva, State Farm Insurance Agent, said his company’s donation would help Llano Grande continue its services to students and families of Edcouch-Elsa.

“State Farm Insurance is proud to award Llano Grande's service learning program and open this opportunity of service-learning to more people in the community,” Villanueva said. “Programs such as these allow the youth to learn civic responsibility and develop meaningful leadership and workplace skills. We applaud these students for their leadership and dedication to their future.”

Guajardo thanked the corporations for their generosity. He said the funding would help Llano Grande in its mission to develop new alliances in order to revitalize the Delta community and expand educational horizons.

New Thinking on Staff Development

Debra Viadero | Teacher Magazine
October 25, 2007

Back in the early 1990s, when Amy C. Orr started her teaching career in the Rockwood, Mo., school district, her colleagues dreaded the professional development workshops they had to attend.

“It was a lot of what we would call ‘sit and git’ workshops,” said Orr, now a reading specialist in the district’s Wild Horse Elementary School. “It was very fragmented, and there was no understanding that staff development could lead to student achievement.”

More than a decade later, the take on professional development has changed—and not just among Orr’s co-workers. Now many national policymakers and experts believe that professional development, if done purposefully and given greater allotments of time, can be an important tool for improving student learning.

As often happens in education, the research on such programs is still catching up with the rhetoric, but scholars are beginning to agree in broad terms on the kinds of professional development efforts that might translate into improved student learning.
Common Visions

Some of the current attention to professional development grows out of several studies in recent years that have highlighted the central role that teachers play in student learning.

A study of Texas districts in the early 1990s by Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson suggests, for example, that teacher expertise accounts for 40 percent of the difference in students’ scores on math and reading tests.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act reflects that recognition. Besides calling upon schools to staff classrooms with “highly qualified” teachers, the law says schools should annually increase the percentages of teachers in their buildings who receive “high quality” professional development.

The federal law defines high-quality professional development broadly, calling for programs that are “sustained, intensive, classroom-focused … and are not one-day or short-term workshops or conferences.” While that definition lacks specifics, it tracks closely with what researchers are discovering.

Experts know, for instance, that programs focused on the academic content that teachers must cover and on how students learn that content are more effective than those that impart generic teaching techniques.

They know that longer-lasting professional development tends to produce better results. They also know that such programs work best when they link to teachers’ daily classroom work—the tasks their students will have to do, for example, or the texts they will use.

To a lesser degree, researchers also have a hunch that it’s important for teachers to engage in learning sessions collectively—maybe with other teachers from the same department or grade—so that they can meet later to reflect on what they learned.

Agreement on many of these components is widespread enough that the Washington-based American Educational Research Association published them in a 2005 research guide for education leaders and policymakers.
Research Questions

Researchers can also point to particular models—such as the National Writing Project, a federally supported network based at the University of California, Berkeley, or Cognitively Guided Instruction, a program for teaching mathematics developed by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison—that have shown some success in changing classroom practices.

But they know less about particular aspects of staff development that might have more general applications. For instance, does it help for schools to have full-time “learning coaches” to work with teachers? Research on that fast-growing innovation is inconclusive, according to experts. The same goes for lesson-study teams, online professional development, and a myriad of other approaches.

Studies have been difficult to do because real classroom change is slow, expensive, and complicated to measure. And with multiple school-improvement strategies often taking place at once, experts say, the direct link between professional development and student achievement is not always clear.

Still, a number of reputable studies have identified links between certain types of professional development practices and positive changes in both teachers’ instruction and students’ achievement. While differing in scope and methodology, such studies tend to have some common themes—to the point that they seem to build on one another.
Time and Effort

In one prominent study, David K. Cohen, a researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and his research partner Heather C. Hill studied 559 California teachers learning to use a new state-approved math framework and new math curricula in the early 1990s that departed from practices then in use in the state. The teachers had participated in various kinds of professional development, from one- day workshops on cooperative learning to longer institutes where teachers worked with new curriculum units that state officials had developed.

Cohen and Hill found that teachers who had attended lengthier sessions that focused more on academic content tended to embrace curricular change more completely than those who hadn’t. More importantly, their students scored higher on state math exams than those of other teachers in the study. While the study could not prove cause and effect, the researchers ruled out some other explanations for the improvements, such as differences in classroom demographics or in teachers’ attitudes toward the new curricula.
Revamping Staff Development

Some research suggests that devoting adequate time to professional development may be the key.

In 1998, for example, a team of researchers led by Michael S. Garet of the American Institutes for Research in Washington surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,027 teachers on their staff development in math and science over the previous year. When teachers spent about the same amount of time in such activities, the study found, they made about the same progress in improving their knowledge and in making changes in their own classrooms. The improvements occurred regardless of whether the teachers had taken part in a workshop or in more innovative approaches, such as mentoring or study groups. The newer approaches, however, tended to be more sustained.

Indeed, a 2001 study by the Consortium of Chicago School Research found that professional development programs in Chicago public schools that were characterized by “sustained, coherent study; collaborative learning; time for classroom experimentation; and follow-up” had a significant effect on teachers’ instructional practices. The study also identified a reciprocal relationship between these types of professional development offerings and a school’s overall “orientation toward innovation,” suggesting the two feed off each other.

A 2000 study by the National Staff Development Council, meanwhile, examined the award-winning professional development programs at eight public schools that had made measurable gains in student achievement. The study found that in each of the schools, “the very nature of staff development [had] shifted from isolated learning and the occasional workshop to focused, ongoing organizational learning built on collaborative reflection and joint action.” Specifically, the study found that the schools’ professional development programs were characterized by collaborative structures, diverse and extensive learning opportunities, and an emphasis on accountability and student results.

Amy Orr’s district, the 22,000-student Rockwood school system outside St. Louis, adopted some of the newer approaches when it revamped its own staff-development practices several years ago.

Now, teachers at her school meet in teams regularly to analyze the school’s test results. Through the analyses, they pinpoint students’ knowledge gaps and what the teachers need, as a team, to fill the holes.

The teams might visit classrooms where students score better in a targeted area; recruit speakers; consult district specialists; study available research; and try new approaches and reflect on how they worked.

“If something interrupts our staff-development time now, we are not happy,” Orr said.

She believes this kind of training has had an impact both on student achievement and teacher satisfaction.

Some researchers warn, however, that new strategies are only as good as the content they incorporate.

The problem, says Thomas B. Corcoran, a co-director of the Consortium for Policy Reesearch in Education, is that fads, ideology, or charismatic staff-development “gurus” often dictate content choices.

Instead, he said, educators should look for programs grounded in solid research and tempered by clinical knowledge. When the research base comes up short, he says, schools should systematically study and evaluate their own efforts.

The Write Stuff

Researchers have cited the National Writing Project, a federally supported network based at the University of California, Berkeley, as one effective model of professional development. Here are the group’s core principals:

•Teachers are the agents of reform; universities and schools are partners for investing in that reform through professional development.

•Professional development programs provide opportunities for teachers to work together to understand the full spectrum of writing development across grades and across subject areas.

•Effective professional development programs provide frequent and ongoing opportunities for teachers to write and to examine theory, research, and practice together systematically.

•Teachers who are well informed and effective in their practice can be successful teachers of other teachers as well as partners in educational research, development, and implementation.

•A reflective and informed community of practice is in the best position to design and develop comprehensive writing programs.
SOURCE: The National Writing Project (

Points for Policy

In 2005, the American Education Research Association published a research guide on teacher professional development directed at policymakers. The guide offers the following recommendations:

•Make sure that professional development focuses on the subject matter that teachers will be teaching.

•Align teachers’ professional development activities with their work experiences, using actual curriculum materials and assessments.

•Provide adequate time for professional development and include opportunities for observing and analyzing students’ understanding of the subject matter.

•Make sure that districts have reliable systems for evaluating the impact of professional development on teaching and learning.
SOURCE: American Education Research Association

Debra Viadero is an associate editor of Education Week. This article was originally published, in a different version, in Education Week.
Vol. 01, Issue 01, Pages 15-17

Sunday, December 30, 2007

No debate: the No Child Left Behind Act has not worked

New York Times, Dec. 29, 2007

No debate: the No Child Left Behind Act has not

“Democrats Make Bush School Act an Election Issue”
(front page, Dec. 23) notes that “policy makers debate
whether the law has raised student achievement.”

There is no debate among those who have looked at the
data. The law has not produced improvements on state
or national reading tests, nor have achievement gaps
been narrowed. There has also been no change on
American fourth graders’ scores on the Progress in
International Reading Literacy Study tests from 2001
to 2006. (No Child Left Behind was introduced in the
2002-3 school year.)

Despite huge increases in instructional time and
billions of dollars spent, there have been no

Stephen Krashen
Los Angeles, Dec. 23, 2007
The writer is professor emeritus of education at the
University of Southern California.

In many Delaware districts, the gifted are left behind

In many Delaware districts, the gifted are left behind
State offers no funding to teach brightest students
By ALISON KEPNER, The News Journal

Posted Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sofia Romanoli shows amazement at a set of nested dolls in a class for gifted first-graders at Mount Pleasant Elementary School. In the Brandywine district, gifted kindergarten through third-grade students attend Mount Pleasant, then move on to Claymont Elementary. (Buy photo)The News Journal/ROBERT CRAIG
Noah Hann-Deschaine looks at a bulletin board for information to answer a question posed by teacher Ellen Forbes in a class for gifted first-graders at Mount Pleasant Elementary School.(Buy photo)The News Journal/ROBERT CRAIG
They are bored -- so much so that they may not pay attention in class or will act out in frustration.

Some make poor grades, either because they no longer care or because they have spent so many of their younger years unchallenged that when they suddenly face a rigorous course in middle or high school, they don't know how to study.

They are the nation's gifted children, those with abilities beyond other children their age. Too many of their abilities, advocates argue, remain untapped by U.S. schools that don't serve them as they focus instead on lifting low-achieving students to meet the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Statistically, 20 percent of U.S. school dropouts test in the gifted range, said Jill Adrian, director of family services at the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a nonprofit founded by philanthropists Bob and Jan Davidson out of a concern that the nation's most gifted and talented children largely are neglected and underserved.

"Clearly there's a problem there," Adrian said. "If we don't meet the needs in the classrooms, they often tune out."

Delaware is one of six states that neither mandates gifted instruction nor provides gifted education funding, a Davidson review found.

No Child Left Behind, now up for reauthorization, requires all students to be proficient in core school subjects by 2014. While supporters and critics alike credit the law for forcing needed attention on underperforming children, an oft-cited flaw is the lack of incentives for educators to boost advanced students.

NCLB "just teaches to the minimums, so it leaves behind the average and the above-average students," Adrian said.

Even schools that offer some services, such as weekly pull-out enrichment classes, need to do more, she said: "Gifted students are gifted 24/7. They are not just gifted one hour a week."

Only 10 of the state's 19 school districts and one of its 17 charter schools offer gifted education: Appoquinimink, Brandywine, Capital, Caesar Rodney, Christina, Colonial, Indian River, Lake Forest, Red Clay Consolidated, Smyrna and The Charter School of Wilmington. The models and extent of their programs differ greatly, ranging from schoolwide enrichment for all students to pull-out classes to full-time, self-contained gifted programs.

"As we follow local control on so many other issues, we've deferred to local districts to develop programming," said Mike Stetter, Delaware's director of curriculum. "Other states have enacted programs funded by state dollars. Delaware has not done that. Instead, it has gone by way of [gifted teacher] certification and support out to the district."

A November Delaware Public Policy Institute report estimated the cost of an elementary-level gifted program at $3,000 to $4,000 per participating student.

Even without state funding, some Delaware districts are trying to meet gifted students' needs.

In Brandywine, gifted elementary school students attend cluster buildings where they are placed in all-gifted classrooms. Kindergarten through third-grade students attend Mount Pleasant Elementary, then move on to Claymont Elementary for fourth to sixth grades.

About 215 of Mount Pleasant's 541 students are in gifted classes. They follow the same curriculum as those in regular education classes but often study more in-depth and at a faster pace. Gifted students also do more project work.

Thinking differently

On a recent morning in Christine Szegda's third-grade gifted class at Mount Pleasant, students split into three groups to sort individual packs of word cards. Szegda, who previously assessed the children in their related skills, grouped them according to their needs. Some looked at vowel sounds, noting what determines whether words have long or short "e" sounds. Others looked at what effect syllables coming together have on vowel sounds. A third group studied base words and what happens when adding suffixes and prefixes, with an emphasis on Greek and Latin roots. Later, the groups would share what they learned with classmates through a game similar to "Jeopardy!"

"Gifted children, they just think differently. They think outside the box," Principal Joyce Skrobot said. "They are able to assume more responsibility and independence for what they are learning. We as a school district have a responsibility to meet the needs of all our students."

To ensure that all students are challenged -- and that regular and gifted students interact more -- the school recently started a schoolwide enrichment program, offering students classes ranging from cricket and karate to jewelry making and cooking.

Mount Pleasant mother Kate Tullis said she appreciates the education her daughter, Tully Liu, is receiving in Kim Griffith's first-grade gifted class.

"She's challenged by the other kids, by the level of conversations and interaction," Tullis said. "It's not just zooming ahead, but it's making bigger, longer, [more diverse] stories."

Students whose schools don't have gifted programs still have some options available to them, particularly in high school. Some schools offer dual enrollment programs, allowing students to take college classes for high school credit. Advanced Placement programs also offer college-level courses, and the state Governor's School of Excellence offers summer enrichment opportunities.

What, if any, effect NCLB is having on advanced students is hard to determine: Few states have tests that show the growth of students working above grade level. Delaware has no such testing program.

Stetter points to some good news for Delaware's highest-achieving students, noting that the number of Advanced Placement courses offered in schools across the state has about doubled since NCLB went into effect. State testing results indicate some growth, too, he said. In 2001, the percentage of 10th-graders who scored 5 in math -- the top mark -- was 7.5 percent. By 2007, the percentage had almost doubled.

The effect on gifted-program funding is easier to see, according to a Time magazine report earlier this year. In 2003 -- a year after NCLB became law -- Illinois cut its gifted education by $16 million and Michigan's funding dropped from $5 million to $500,000. Meanwhile, federal commitment has shifted from $11.3 million in 2002 to $7.6 million today, Time found.

Parents and other advocates for gifted student across the country are pushing for more resources and better testing. In Utah, the Utah Association for Gifted Children wants state lawmakers to devote $5 million next year to training teachers in gifted instruction. The Davidsons founded the Davidson Academy of Nevada in Reno, a public, tuition-free school chartered by the state to serve "profoundly gifted" students. Students must have SAT, ACT or IQ scores in the top tenth of 1 percent and perform academically at the middle or high school level.

Same content, varying levels

Historically, gifted children were pulled out of classrooms for enrichment activities or advanced instruction. But out of concern for equality in education, many educators shifted to differentiated instruction, meaning teachers present the same content to all students but with lessons or activities geared for multiple levels. That is Appoquinimink's approach.

"In language arts, teachers may have one group reading a particular book that others were not ready to handle," said Debbie Panchisin, Appoquinimink's director of elementary curriculum.

Gifted and talented classes are offered building-wide through enrichment electives in the elementary and middle schools.

"We believe that all students have the potential, they have their gifts and their talents. So through our Talent Development Program, we try to expose them to things they might be interested in," Panchisin said.

Offerings range from quilting and dance to German lessons and Delaware wetland study. Most classes meet one day a week for 60 to 75 minutes.

Although teachers already are strapped for time to prepare students for state testing in core subjects, they make time for the enrichment, Panchisin said.

"If you are reinforcing writing through storyboarding, through claymation, they are not sitting in a writing class but we are coming through the back door and reinforcing those skills," she said. "We aren't doing something 'instead of,' we are enhancing what we are doing."

Contact Alison Kepner at 324-2965 or

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Democrats Make Bush School Act an Election Issue

A letter on this piece by Dr. Stephen Krashen. -Angela
Sent to the New York Times, Dec. 23, 2007
No debate: NCLB hasn’t worked

Sam Dillon (“Democrats make Bush school act an
election issue,” Dec 23) notes that “policy makers
debate whether [No Child Left Behind] has raised
student achievement.”

There is no debate among those who have looked at the
data. NCLB has not produced improvements on state or
national reading tests, nor have achievement gaps been
narrowed. Also, there has also been no change on
American fourth graders’ scores on the international
PIRLS reading tests between 2001 and 2006 (NCLB was
introduced in 2002-2003).

There has been no improvement, despite huge increases
in instructional time and billions spent.

Stephen Krashen

Democrats Make Bush School Act an Election Issue
By Sam Dillon, NY Times, December 23, 2007

WASHINGTON — Teachers cheered Senator Hillary Rodham
Clinton when she stepped before them last month at an
elementary school in Waterloo, Iowa, and said she
would “end” the No Child Left Behind Act because it
was “just not working.”

Mrs. Clinton is not the only presidential candidate
who has found attacking the act, President Bush’s
signature education law, to be a crowd pleaser — all
the Democrats have taken pokes. Gov. Bill Richardson
of New Mexico has said he wants to “scrap” the law.
Senator Barack Obama has called for a “fundamental”
overhaul. And John Edwards criticizes the law as
emphasizing testing over teaching. “You don’t make a
hog fatter by weighing it,” he said recently while
campaigning in Iowa.

This was to be the year that Congress renewed the law
that has reshaped the nation’s educational landscape
by requiring public schools to bring every child to
reading and math proficiency by 2014. But defections
from both the right and the left killed the effort.

Now, as lawmakers say they will try again, the
unceasing criticism of the law by Democratic
presidential contenders and the teachers’ unions that
are important to them promises to make the effort even
more treacherous next year.

“No Child Left Behind may be the most negative brand
in America,” said Representative George Miller of
California, the Democratic chairman of the House
education committee.

“And there’s no question about it,” Mr. Miller added.
“It doesn’t help to have people putting themselves
forward as leaders of the party expressing the same
disenchantment they hear from the public, saying ‘Just
scrap it.’ Congressmen read the morning papers just
like everybody else.”

Democrats had long dominated the issue of education
until Mr. Bush seized it in his first presidential
campaign, making frequent stops at schools to condemn
the “soft bigotry of low expectations” for minority
children and to pledge that schools in poor areas
would improve test results or face federal sanctions.
The No Child law passed in his first year of office
with the support of a strong centrist coalition.

Seven years later, policy makers debate whether the
law has raised student achievement, but polls show
that it is unpopular — especially among teachers, who
vote in disproportionate numbers in Democratic primary
elections, and their unions, which provide Democrats
with critical campaign support.

“There’s a grass-roots backlash against this law,”
said Tad Devine, a strategist who worked for the past
two Democratic presidential nominees. “And attacking
it is a convenient way to communicate that you’re
attacking President Bush.”

These political realities are making it extremely
difficult to rebuild the bipartisan majorities that
first approved the law during Mr. Bush’s first year in
office, when he worked on the legislation with Mr.
Miller and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts
Democrat who is now the chairman of the education
committee. Mr. Miller, a passionate advocate of school
accountability, took the lead this year in trying to
draw up a bill that would change troublesome
provisions but preserve its core goals.

He faced obstacles from the start, including
opposition from many Republican lawmakers, who say the
law intrudes on states’ rights, and from Democrats,
who say it labels schools as failing but does too
little to help them improve. And by all accounts Mr.
Miller worked doggedly to build consensus.

But virtually every proposed change in the law ignited
fierce battles, and when Mr. Miller released a draft
bill for comment in late August, it pleased no one.

“His bill got creamed,” said Amy Wilkins, a vice
president of Education Trust, a group that advocates
for disadvantaged children, who has worked closely
with Mr. Miller’s staff.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings also threw
herself into the effort, meeting with scores of
congressmen and barnstorming through Ohio and Indiana
in a school bus, seeking Republican support.

“I killed myself,” Ms. Spellings said. But she
acknowledged that the effort now faces tremendous
obstacles. “It’s a minefield. If I were George Miller,
I’d be saying, ‘How can I put Humpty Dumpty together

Mr. Kennedy now plans to take the lead with the bill
early next year. “We have to convince people that the
bill we introduce, that this will not be a rubber
stamp of the current law,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Kennedy tried to clear the air last month by
quietly inviting Mr. Miller and the presidents of the
two largest teachers’ unions to a meeting on Capitol
Hill. All four pledged to strive for agreement, but
both union presidents said later that it remained
unclear whether Congress could produce a bill
acceptable to union members.

“I don’t think you recognize the magnitude of the
anger that’s out there,” said Reg Weaver, president of
the National Education Association. “My members are
driving me, and if they think I’m not doing everything
I can to change this law, they’ll take me to the

What is not acceptable to union members is unlikely to
be acceptable to Democratic presidential candidates.
The teachers’ unions have little influence with
Republicans, and several Republican presidential
candidates, including Mitt Romney, Rudolph W. Giuliani
and John McCain, have voiced support for the law. But
the Democratic candidates can hardly ignore unionized
teachers in Iowa and New Hampshire, who are calling
for sweeping change.

Alan Young, president of the National Education
Association affiliate in Des Moines, got some
television exposure about a year ago when he addressed
Mrs. Clinton during a town-hall-style meeting.
Pointing out that she was on the Senate education
committee, Mr. Young urged her “not to be too quick to
reauthorize the law as is,” but rather to rework its
basic assumptions.

In the months since, Mr. Young said he has spoken
about the law personally at campaign events with Mr.
Richardson, John Edwards and Senators Barack Obama and
Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“We want them to start over with a whole new law,” Mr.
Young said.

Three of the Democratic presidential candidates, Mrs.
Clinton, Mr. Obama and Senator Christopher J. Dodd,
are on the education committee. Mr. Kennedy
acknowledges that campaign criticism of the law could
complicate his effort, but pointed out that even
though the candidates have criticized the law, most
have also expressed support for its core goals.

Mr. Obama, for instance, in a speech last month in New
Hampshire denounced the law as “demoralizing our
teachers.” But he also said it was right to hold all
children to high standards. “The goals of this law
were the right ones,” he said.

When Mr. Edwards released an education plan earlier
this year, he said the No Child law needed a “total
overhaul.” But he said he would continue the law’s
emphasis on accountability.

And at the elementary school in Waterloo, Mrs. Clinton
said she would “do everything I can as senator, but if
we don’t get it done, then as president, to end the
unfunded mandate known as No Child Left Behind.”

But she, too, added: “We do need accountability.”

Even though the candidates hedge their criticism of
the law with statements supporting accountability, it
is hard to imagine their accepting revisions that fall
short of a thorough overhaul — and that could be
difficult for Mr. Bush to stomach, said Michael J.
Petrilli, a vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham
Foundation. Even Mr. Bush’s catchy name for the law is
likely to disappear in any rewrite, he said.

“I can’t imagine that Democrats could write a bill
that would satisfy their caucus but not be vetoed by
President Bush, at least in the current environment,”
Mr. Petrilli said.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

DISD tries online courses for students deficient in English

Immigrant secondary students will learn subjects in Spanish

By STELLA M. CHÁVEZ | The Dallas Morning News
December 26, 2007

When Rogelio Teran's English as a Second Language teacher asks her class if dinosaurs are extinct, he is stumped at first.

Is it, he asks in Spanish, the same as extinción?

New to this country, Rogelio, 15, is like many newly arrived immigrants. He struggles to understand basic concepts presented to him in English.

But what if those concepts were taught in Spanish?

Beginning in January, Rogelio and other students in the Dallas Independent School District will be able to take courses such as algebra, biology, geometry, chemistry and world history online and in Spanish.

The approach is unlike anything tried before in Texas school districts, which traditionally teach older immigrant students in English. Bilingual education and the use of Spanish has long been the practice in elementary schools, but the dearth of qualified bilingual teachers has made it nearly impossible to replicate those efforts at the secondary level.

The problem with the current system, some educators say, is that students aren't learning new material quickly enough – if at all – because they don't understand English, the instructional language. The result: Students fall behind or drop out.

"They've had nothing like this before," said Felipe Alanis, associate dean for the division of continuing education at the University of Texas at Austin, which is spearheading this initiative dubbed LUCHA, the Spanish word for fight. "It's either sink or swim, so it's very difficult" for immigrant students.

Exams in English

Students will continue to learn the material in English and eventually must take exams on the courses in English.

"You can kind of think of LUCHA as an online tutoring class," said Marianne Martin, director for secondary English as a second language programs in DISD.

Angel Noe Gonzalez, a bilingual education expert, said the concept sounds promising and historic" but he is concerned about how and when students would be tested. He is in favor of students learning in their native language. Otherwise, they sit lost in class, he said.

But he argues that students won't do well on the English version of an exam soon after having learned the material in Spanish.

"It doesn't make sense to be taught in Spanish and then take an exam in English," he said. "All of the research I have ever read or understand is that it takes five to seven years to gain proficiency enough to learn English."

Ms. Martin said that the district is still hammering out details and that adjustments likely will occur along the way.

So far, about 10 Texas school districts, including Houston and Austin, have signed up to participate in LUCHA. Oregon, Washington, California and other states have implemented similar efforts under a partnership with Mexico's Colegio de Bachilleres and National Institute for Adult Education.

Educators around the country are struggling to come up with new and innovative ways to address the growing dropout rate among Latino immigrant students. According to a 2003 Pew Hispanic Center study about dropout rates among Hispanic youths, about 20 percent of Mexican immigrant students educated in U.S. schools drop out. A lack of English-language skills is a prime characteristic of Latino dropouts.

Tim King, director of Clackamas Web Academy and Clackamas Middle College in Oregon, said he is not convinced that offering courses in Spanish is enough to keep immigrant students in school. So his school supplements the Spanish online instruction with English-language learning software and programs that teach core courses such as math and science in English.

The Web academy launched its pilot program in the fall for 27 students who had either dropped out or not enrolled in school.

"It is pretty early [to know the results], but one thing that is clear to us is that we have groups of young people – all of whom were not in school before – who appear to be excited. They appear to be motivated," he said. "They're completing a significant amount of work."

Mixed reaction

Reaction to Oregon's pilot program has been mixed. Critics, including numerous bloggers, have blasted it for catering to immigrants, arguing that students should learn only in English.

Mr. King disagrees.

"The problem with that particular argument ... is that it's already been tried with these kids and that's what failed the first time," he said.

Ms. Martin said she believes students will eventually have a better grasp of English.

"The goal of our program is to help these students transition into our general ed classes, and I think this will expedite this process," Ms. Martin said. "In my opinion this is going to make a big difference in their English acquisition."

DISD has selected 10 schools that have a high percentage of limited-English proficient students to participate in LUCHA.

In the 2006-2007 school year, DISD had 49,503 students who were classified as limited English proficient, or about 31.2 percent of the district's entire student body. While that number includes students from various countries, the majority of students are Spanish-speaking.

UT-Austin is offering different components of the program and districts can elect to participate in one or all of them. For example, Dr. Alanis' staff will coordinate with districts to administer diagnostic tests to students who are planning to take the online courses. The tests will help determine the academic level of a student.

In addition, the university will help districts obtain and interpret transcripts from a student's school in Mexico in order to place students in the appropriate grade level.

The program is not cheap. It can cost a district anywhere from $30 to $500 per student, depending on the services.

DISD has designated $175,000 for the pilot project. The money will come from Title III funds, which are dollars allocated for limited English proficient students.

Sonya Gilb, ESL department chair for DISD, said she's excited about trying something new with her students, many of whom have difficulty with math or science.

"We have them in an algebra class where they don't really understand what is going on and the teacher is doing his best to modify [instruction] so they can understand," she said. "I feel so sorry for them. It's not that they're not smart. They are smart. It's just the language barrier."

After class, Rogelio explains he's eager to learn English so he can move on to more advanced classes.

"Everything that I'm learning, I learned in Mexico," he said. "I need to learn English more quickly."


What: Beginning in January, DISD students identified as limited English proficient will be eligible to take classes such as algebra and biology both online and in Spanish. Students will continue to learn the material in English and must eventually takes exams in English.

Who: Ten schools and about 200 students will participate in the pilot program called LUCHA, which means "fight" in Spanish. It's also an acronym, Language Learners at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Hispanic Achievement.

Why: The idea is that recent immigrant students will learn concepts more easily and not fall behind if taught in their native language.

How: The University of Texas at Austin is administering the program under a partnership with Mexico's education agencies. Similar efforts are underway in other Texas school districts, Oregon, Washington and California.

For more information:

Engaging a Distant Teenager With Extended Hours

What a wonderful story. A part of this also seems to be a result of the school's support for teachers. This could benefit more students if our public school teachers were also afforded similar experiences. -Patricia

December 26, 2007

THE PROBLEM When Andrew Coburn, a teacher at the Met High Schools in Providence, R.I., met his new ninth grader, a Cambodian immigrant, she spoke fluent English but read at a third-grade level. Her slender frame seemed to radiate depression. School, Mr. Coburn thought, seemed a place she wanted to get away from as soon as she could. Even if she lasted for four years of high school, she would have nine years of academic ground to cover. But first the teacher needed to get her to stay in school.

THE SOLUTION Mr. Coburn, who has taught for eight years at the Met, a network of six small public high schools that serve primarily a low-income and minority population, said many of the students lack academic skills, and just as many hate school. But figuring out how to help has to be tackled student by student.

This ninth grader had come to the United States as a baby with her mother and five siblings. “My sisters and I take care of our brothers,” she said in class one day. “My mother’s not really there. Let’s just say, she’s not really mother material.”

The Met schools encourage strong relationships between teachers and students, on the theory that these can help underachieving students succeed. Mr. Coburn, like all the teachers, has the same students from ninth grade until graduation.

Mr. Coburn’s first step was to make sure that within the first 30 minutes of each day, he had either a brief conversation with the girl or a look at her work. She would often answer in angry monosyllables. He didn’t give up. He included her in the jokes, plans and reviews that occurred during the group morning meeting, even if she seemed unwilling to contribute and uninterested in interacting with other students. She remained angry and tuned out. She often kept her iPod in her ear, as if to let everyone know she did not want to talk.

By early spring, Mr. Coburn realized this wasn’t enough. The girl would not budge.

“At some point, when nothing was changing,” he said, “I knew I had to do more to connect to her. I discussed it with the other teachers. Together we decided I’d have to cover her with love. I started to talk to her in the evenings. I talked to her like I was a teenage girl — 11 at night on the phone I was like: ‘Your aunt said that to you? She did what?’ I had to build trust with her.”

Although it may seem an unusual approach for a teacher, it fit in with the philosophy of the Met schools. Still, Mr. Coburn said, it wasn’t always convenient for him to make time for those calls. He’s married with young children. After he and his wife put their kids to bed, he would grade papers and call his student while his wife sat nearby reading.

The calls seemed to work. Within a few weeks, Mr. Coburn felt sure the girl would return to school each day. Although he continued the calls in her sophomore year, he began focusing more on improving her academic skills. He decided that a key was to persuade her to learn more about her birth country, which she never seemed to want to talk about but which he thought was something she could connect to.

“Cambodia just seemed like this big closed door for her,” Mr. Coburn said. “I felt that her reluctance to talk about Cambodia was part of her problem. Her curiosity and longing to know about her birth country would be part of the solution.”

So during her junior year, Mr. Coburn suggested that for her senior project, a graduation requirement, she should plan her first trip to Cambodia. He hoped her curiosity about Cambodia offered a path to her mind.

In the spring of her junior year, the girl studied a map and read about Cambodia. In the fall of her senior year, she tracked down an aunt who still lived there and arranged to stay with her on a visit. She called a travel agent to find out about flights, and she made plans to raise money for the trip by running in the annual all-schools marathon. She raised $1,300 in pledges, and began running with Mr. Coburn in preparation. The running also transformed her mood, the teacher said. Three months after she ran her first mile, she was running nearly every day, and inexplicably suddenly reading almost every day as well.

By her senior year, at age 18, she read at a ninth-grade level. “She’s not able to write a 15-page research paper,” Mr. Coburn said. “But now she’s willing to try. She wants to go to college. Once they trust you, they open up to you. And that’s when the work really begins.”

Susan Engel is a psychology professor and director of the teaching program at Williams College. Contact her at if you have a teaching problem to share.

Gloria Padilla: Program vital to creating a college culture in Texas

San Antonio Express-News | Commentary
December 21, 2007

Some political decisions just make no sense.

Such is the case with Gov. Rick Perry's veto this summer of $500,000 to fund a Bexar County-based pilot program to monitor the transition of high school students to college.

Parents of school-age children will be glad to learn that despite Perry's veto of the higher education funding, the study will commence as planned.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board is funding the project for up to $200,000 to get it started in 2008.

The Bexar County pilot is being modeled after the California Partnership for Achieving Student Success, or Cal-PASS. Florida has also had great success with a similar program.

If successful, this important program could result in savings of thousands of dollars to future college students who graduate from public schools in Texas.

Regrettably, the state is not doing a very good job of graduating high school students who can step into a college level course and succeed.

Too many students, even some graduating at the top of their high school class, are finding themselves in need of remedial classes before enrolling in their first college credit course.

It shouldn't be that way, and the pilot program that the higher education board is funding will attempt to find out what can be done about this decades-long problem.

State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, who sponsored the legislation to fund the pilot program, was caught by surprise when the governor vetoed it. She plans to bring the issue back up in the 2009 session for the full funding.

The pilot program will be carried out by the Alamo Community Colleges in partnership with the Northside, North East, Judson, Edgewood and San Antonio school districts and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

The project is an important step in the state's goal to close education achievement gaps.

The Texas Education Agency and Higher Education Coordinating Board both spend a lot of time and money collecting data.

TEA has a wealth of information on student performance and accountability. The higher education board has large databases on retention rates and graduation.

Unfortunately, a lot of this data is never used collectively to determine what is happening to students as they transition to college or as they go from a community college to a four-year university.

One of the primary goals of the local research will be to identify gaps in the high school curriculum that will improve student success.

Academics are calling this a vertical alignment, but in simple terms it just means making sure students graduate high school with the skills necessary to allow them to immediately start taking college level courses.

For many students, the first semester or two of college are spent in noncredit development courses.

The longer a student spends in remedial classes, the less likely he or she will ever graduate from college.

Aligning high school courses so they coincide with what is needed for college sounds simplistic. One would think this would have been addressed long ago, but it is not surprising that it has not been. Up until a few years ago, TEA and higher education board folks did not visit with each other very much.

That entire culture is changing, and that is a positive step.

It was refreshing to see new Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott and State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy at the higher education board's meeting in October.

Each rung of the education ladder is dependent on each other, and success requires major communication among the parties.

If the state is going to develop a college-going culture where families' thoughts are about where the children will attend college — not if they will go — the work needs to start early.

Accountability in education cannot be just about making sure a student passes from one grade to the next and gets through the exit exams.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Plan would redirect freshmen in need of remedial work to community college

By MATTHEW TRESAUGUE | Houston Chronicle
December 10, 2007

CORRECTION: A proposal before the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board would not require high school graduates who are unprepared for university-level work to attend community colleges. A description of the proposal in a story on Page A1 Monday was unclear. Correction published 12/11/07.

AUSTIN - For the first time, Texas is making elaborate plans to reduce the embarrassingly high number of freshmen who arrive at the state's colleges and universities needing remedial work.

A 104-page proposal, which is scheduled to come before the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board next month, outlines what students should learn before enrolling at one of the state's public universities. Those who do not meet the standards will be directed to community colleges (SEE CORRECTION), where they can get extra help at a lower cost to themselves and the state.

As it stands, more than half the entering freshmen at Texas colleges and universities need remedial classes, which don't count toward a degree. Educators are optimistic the collaborative effort ultimately will ensure more students earn bachelor's degrees, and in less time.

"This would be the Texas equivalent of putting a man on the moon," said Raymund Paredes, the state's higher education commissioner.

The dismaying lack of preparation prompted the state Legislature to order the new standards during a special session in 2006. Since then, teams of high school teachers, university professors and education experts have worked to draft the sweeping proposal, which defines necessary skills to do college-level work in English, math, science and the social sciences.

Still, the plan has exposed fissures over how much high school graduates should be expected to know, based on comments submitted to the coordinating board.

Divided expectations

One high school teacher said the proposed standards are so high that graduates should get a Ph.D. with their diplomas. A university professor said, however, that students should master the proposed set of skills by the eighth grade.

Some educators explained the divide as one of expectations. For years, the nation's high schools pushed most students toward graduation, not college. Though state law requires students to take certain classes to graduate, the requirements don't necessarily prepare them for higher education.

"Being college-eligible doesn't mean you're college-ready," said Paula Roe, scholarship programs coordinator for Project GRAD, a nonprofit school reform group that works with about 5,000 Houston students.

She considers the proposed standards "a good beginning" toward preparing more students for college.

"We've lost sight of what is acceptable," Paredes said. "Readiness is about rigor. You can require schools to teach Faulkner and Hemingway, but the question is: What do you expect students to say about those works?"

What they should know

Under the proposed standards, students would be expected to understand such subjects as quadratic equations, the laws of thermodynamics and the effects of an author's choice of style and words.

The proposal does not specify whether the standards are meant to prepare students for a community college or a research institution. Paredes said he wants students prepared to attend a mid-level member of the Association of American Universities, the prestigious clique of 62 schools that includes Rice University, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin.

"If we did that," Paredes said, "every student in Texas would be prepared to succeed."

In anticipation of the new standards, Texas Southern University is taking steps to increase the number of students transferring from community colleges. TSU has a long-standing commitment to accept anyone who wants to pursue higher education, but roughly 70 percent of first-time freshmen arrive without the skills needed to do college-level work. More than half do not make it to their sophomore year.

Once the college readiness plan clears the coordinating board, the state Board of Education will consider corresponding changes in the curriculum, working backward from 12th grade to kindergarten. Those talks could lead to big debates.

Brock Gregg, director of governmental relations for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said teachers are concerned that the state will prescribe a one-size-fits-all curriculum. "Teachers want students to have multiple pathways to college," he said. "They want access to courses that allow them to show the required skills in a different way."

Nine-week course helps parents navigate college readiness process

I don't know too much about PIQE but this sounds like a great method for providing parents access to useful tools for college readiness. Maybe the UC system will follow and offer guaranteed admissions as well. -Patricia

December 8, 2007

SANTA CRUZ -- Mexico-born handyman Hugo Palafox knew the best way to prepare his teenage children for college was to go back to school himself.

"I wanted to give them something better that I never had," said the father of four, who was among 29 others to graduate Thursday night from Harbor High School's first-ever class designed to help multicultural parents navigate the transition to college.

The nine-week Parent Institute for Quality Education, or PIQE, which Harbor High officials launched primarily to reach out to Latino families, taught parents how to prepare their students for college-placement exams and weave through the complicated college financial aid and admissions processes.

Parents who graduate from the course guarantee admission for their student into the California State University system if they meet the entrance requirements, Michel said. The guarantee is helpful when students apply at CSU campuses made competitive by popularity.

"The main thing is to get kids in schools," said Palafox, who works as a maintenance man at an apartment complex.

Assistant Principal Henry Michel implemented the PIQE program -- taught in English and Spanish -- as a way to make parents whose primary language is not English "feel more welcome to the school and just being more involved in the education process." The class also taught parents and some of the students who attended how to resolve conflicts at high school and excel at reading.

The tab for the class was $15,000, which Michel said the school paid through a mix of corporate donations and state funds. There were several Caucasian parents, and one Vietnamese parent who also participated.

Even though she didn't speak Spanish, parent Huong Bui said she felt like she fit right in.

"Many students in this class are so nice and friendly," she excitedly told fellow graduates. "I will never forget this class."

To appeal to a wide variety of parents, Marisa Escalera, an instructor with the San Diego-based PIQE program, said the company can teach classes in 10 languages. "We give them the confidence they need because of the language barrier," she said.

Santa Cruz City Schools Superintendent Alan Pagano told the parent graduates that they had made an important commitment toward helping their children succeed. In Spanish, he exclaimed, "Tonight, you are the stars."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Judge Supports Arizona Law on Immigrants

Judge Supports Arizona Law on Immigrants
Published: December 22, 2007

A new Arizona law considered among the nation’s toughest against employers who hire illegal immigrants will go into effect on Jan. 1 after federal judges on Friday refused to block it.

Both a United States district judge in Phoenix and a federal appeals court in San Francisco, ruling on separate lawsuits by business and civil rights groups, declined to stand in the way.

The law calls for suspending the license of an employer found to have knowingly hired an illegal worker, and revocation for a second offense.

First, Judge Neil Vincent Wake of Federal District Court in Phoenix issued a sharp defense of the rights of lawful workers and said the law would not burden businesses in the short run.

Then on Friday night, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit deferred a decision on an injunction until after a hearing by Judge Wake on Jan. 16, provided a “decision is reached with reasonable promptness.”

Julie A. Pace, a lawyer for the groups challenging the law, said they accepted the decisions and would now focus on Judge Wake’s hearing, but she predicted that having the law go into effect, with the possibility it could later be rejected, would cause more confusion.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Commentary: The Drive to Oust the Middle Class from Inner City Public Schools

In my experience this has been a growing opinion among many education researchers and even some practitioners for quite some time. -Patricia

By Margot Pepper | The Berkeley Daily Planet
December 21, 2007

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was signed into law in 2001 by President George Bush, backed by both Democrats and Republicans. The backbone of the program, allegedly designed to hold schools accountable for academic failure, is standardized state testing for students and educators. Rather than improve public education, however, there is now ample evidence that NCLB testing is part of a systematic effort to privatize diverse urban public schools in the United States. The objectives of privatization have been threefold: first, to divert taxpayer money from the public sector to the corporate sector; second, to capture part of the market, which would otherwise be receiving free education; and third, to drive out middle class accountability, leaving behind a disposable population that won’t have a voice about the inappropriate use of their tax dollars, nor the bleak outlook on their futures.

“As a for-profit venture, public education represents a market worth over $600 billion,” notes Dr. Henry A. Giroux, in Z Magazine.

“The emergence of HMOs and hospital management companies created enormous opportunities for investors. We believe the same pattern will occur in education,” observes Mary Tanner, managing director of Lehman Brothers.

“Bush’s proposal for national standardized testing is helping to pave the way for these EMO’s,” says Project Censored in their annual collection of most censored stories. “While the aptly named Educational Management Organizations are being promoted as the new answer to impoverished school districts and dilapidated classrooms, the real emphasis is on investment returns rather than student welfare and educational development.”

For over a century, norm-referenced test results have been misinterpreted in the United States to support racist campaigns. IQ tests were used as an argument against integration of schools, the passage of the Civil Rights Law of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1969, Arthur Jensen used his so-called “findings”—that average African-American IQs were significantly lower than those of Euro-American or white children—to attack educational programs which benefit the poor, like Head Start.

An influential study by Elizabeth Peal and Wallace Lambert in 1962 found that the higher the subjects’ economic status, the higher scores would be on norm-referenced tests. Similarly, higher achievement scores on the NCLB tests have been predicted according to zip codes, used by economists to sort by economic status.

Randy L. Hoover and Kathy L. Shook note that a study of 593 Ohio School Districts show the district’s high stakes tests “to correlate with Social Economic Status to such a high degree as to virtually mask any and all actual academic achievement claimed to be measured by these tests.”

They observe that students were “visible victims of sorting by socio-economic status… by high stakes tests that fail to meet recognized, scientific standards of test validity.”

Now, the standardized tests that are part of the NCLB campaign are being used to lend legitimacy to policies that lead to a cheap, uneducated labor pool and increased profits in the private sector. The effect of NCLB has been to dismantle public education by funneling public tax dollars directly to corporations through penalties, private tutoring companies, and vouchers. Once more, the populations paying for this policy are students of color and the poor, since the poorest schools with limited resources comprised primarily of such students perform the worst on the tests. The schools are then reconstituted by the school district, outsourced to private companies like Edison, or a portion of their federal funding is diverted to “parental choice” tutoring programs. According to Ben Clarke in a article entitled “Leaving Children Behind,” public school money was thus diverted to the company Educate, which runs the Sylvan Learning Centers, whose revenues, Clarke states, “grew from $180 to $250 million in the past three years [2001–04] and whose profits shot up 250 percent last year.” And, writes Clarke, since the introduction of NCLB, sales of printed materials related to standardized tests nearly tripled to $592 million, money that was drained from the public schools, since Bush provided no funding for the increased costs.

False Reports of NCLB Success

A 2006 study by Harvard University Civil Rights Project found that the successes reported by NCLB proponents “simply do not show up on an independent national test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the ‘nation’s report card.’”

A comparison of public high-school graduation rates over the course of the implementation of NCLB seems to confirm that the policy is actually damaging students of color. The public high school graduation rate for African Americans and Latinos nationwide has sunk from 56 percent and 54 percent respectively in 1998—before NCLB policies took their toll—to about 50 percent in 2005, according to a March 2005 report by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. The authors, Dan Losen and Johanna Wald, point out that “because of misleading and inaccurate reporting of dropout and graduation rates, the public remains unaware of this educational and civil rights crisis.”

In California, looking at the inverse—or dropout rates—according to statistics provided by the California Department of Education and published by Ed-Data, from 2000 to 2005, the four-year dropout rate for California went from 11.1 percent to 12.7 percent, with dropout rates for African Americans increasing nearly four percentage points from 18.1 percent to 21.8 percent. Latino dropout rates also increased from 15.3 percent to 16.6 percent during that same period.

Middle Class Flee to Private Schools

The dismantling of the public schools is forcing those who can afford to pay for private schools to give up their right to free, equal education. Driving the entitled middle class out of the public schools furthers yet another goal of privatization, namely that of decreasing accountability, reports Dr. Giroux.

Dr. Giroux points out, that while an increasing number of students of color may not graduate under NCLB, their failing public schools are more than willing to provide them with “the appropriate attitudes for future work in low-skilled, low-paying jobs.”12 Pat Wechsler reported in Business Week that thanks to partnerships with businesses, such as McDonald’s, in under-funded schools, students “learned how a McDonald’s works, and how to apply and interview for a job at McDonald’s.”

It is no coincidence that one of the largest contributors to President Bush’s drive to institute vouchers, tuition tax credits, and charter schools is the Walton family—founder of Wal-Mart—who has dedicated at least $250 million to such efforts over the past six years, according to USA Today. Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the United States, with more than one million workers. Wal-Mart’s wages and benefits are significantly below retail industry standards, according to a report entitled, “The Hidden Cost of Wal-Mart Jobs,” by Dr. Arindrajit Dube, Ph.D. and Ken Jacobs. According to Anthony Bianco, who wrote a 2006 biography of the man, Walton “preferred uneducated workers.” Such workers are unlikely to question low pay, or unionize.

School failure is a product of “the political, economic, and social dynamics of poverty, joblessness, sexism, race and class discrimination, unequal funding, or a diminished tax base,” summarizes Dr. Giroux.

NCLB Requirments Lower Quality of Education

An illustration of class and race discrimination leading to school failure is the use of McGraw-Hill’s Open Court program by schools afraid of NCLB penalties, even though the phonics program has been proven to damage students. According to a study by Margaret Moustafa and Robert E. Land at California State University in Los Angeles, “schools using Open Court are significantly more likely to be in the bottom quartile of the SAT 9 [state] assessment than comparable schools using non-scripted programs.”

The president’s educational program mandates any district wishing to qualify for government funding to implement “approved” reading curricula. It is not surprising that McGraw-Hill’s Open Court has a majority of these contracts, given the fact that the McGraw-Hill and Bush family connections go back three generations, notes Stephen Metcalf in the Nation: “The McGraws are old Bush friends, dating back to the 1930s, when Joseph and Permelia Pryor Reed began to establish Jupiter Island, a barrier island off the coast of Florida, as a haven for the Northeast wealthy.”

Similarly, Neil Bush, George W.’s brother, also used his political influence to solicit contributions for his educational software company, Ignite. “In February 2004, the Houston school board unanimously agreed to accept $115,000 in charitable donations from businesses and individuals who insisted the money be spent on Ignite. The deal raised conflict of interest concerns,” reported Cynthia Leonor Garza in the Houston Chronicle. More recently, former first lady Barbara Bush donated to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, with specific instructions that the money be spent on Ignite.

Perhaps a more apt name for Bush’s NCLB is, No Corporation Left Behind, particularly if that corporation has strong ties to the Bush family—though we must be careful not to confuse the Bush “dynasty” with a long-term, systemic illness. Ronald Bailey, a former fellow at the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, and Chicano Scholar Guillermo Flores have identified these deliberate historic campaigns to exclude people of color from the political and educational system as a product of “internal colonialism.”

“Internal colonialism,” they write, “is nothing more than the domestic face of world imperialism.... The use of racial minorities brought surpluses to white society that contributed to the growth of monopoly capitalism.” In other words, cheap labor and raw materials led to huge profits for monopolistic firms, which today have become supra-national corporations. These larger forces are the real source of legislation like NCLB. Educators and activists who want real change must recognize and address this fundamental reality if they are serious about winning equal access to education for all.

Margot Pepper is a Mexican-born writer published frequently in journals such as Utne Reader, Monthly Review, Z-net, Counterpunch, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. You can find links at

Friday, December 21, 2007

New GAO Report Examines College Enrollment Among Minority Students

This is from a forwarded email. If you're interested in downloading the report click here -Patricia

News: U.S. House of Representatives
Congressman George Miller, Chairman
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Press Office, 202-226-0853

New GAO Report Examines College Enrollment among Minority Students Report Also Looks at Tuition Increases by Type of College

WASHINGTON, D.C. - College enrollment among minority students has grown rapidly since the 2000-01 school year, though African-American and Hispanic students are increasingly likely to enroll in two-year colleges rather than four-year colleges, according to a new report prepared for U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA).

The report, from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, found that overall, college enrollment among Hispanic students grew by 25 percent between 2000-01 and 2006-07; among African-American students, it grew by 15 percent; among Asian-American/Pacific-Islander students, it grew by 15 percent; and among white students, it grew by 3 percent.

Last year, African-American and Hispanic college students were more likely to attend two-year public colleges than they were ten years ago. According to the report, between the 1995-96 and 2006-07 school years, Hispanic student enrollments in two-year schools increased by four percentage points, while enrollments in four-year schools declined by two percentage points. During the same time, African-American student enrollments in two-year schools increased by three percentage points, while enrollments in four-year schools decreased by three percentage points.

Today, nearly 60 percent of all Hispanic students are enrolled in two-year colleges, as are 50 percent of African-American students and 43 percent of white students.

"These significant increases in minority college enrollment are welcome news. But whether they choose to attend a two-year or four-year-college, we must ensure that qualified students are able to afford the tuition," said Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. "Already this year, we have enacted legislation to help students pay for college and succeed there. And we are working on additional legislation to ensure that college prices are within reach of all qualified students."

Miller expressed concerns about whether college tuition prices were leading to this distribution shift. "Students should be free to choose the college that best suits their needs - whether two-year or four-year - irrespective of the price," said Miller. He also said that the Committee intends to hold hearings on this topic next year.

Report Looks at Tuition Increases

According to the GAO, while tuition and fees rose among all institutions of higher education over the past twelve years, tuition and fees at two-year public colleges increased by the smallest dollar amount, while tuition at two-year private colleges increased by the smallest percentage.

The report also found that between the 2000-01 and 2005-06 school years, private colleges and universities spent more on average on education-related expenses than did public schools. At private institutions, tuition increases correlated with higher expenditures on education-related services, such as academic and instructional support, student services, and administrative needs. At the same time, spending on education-related services lagged behind tuition increases at public institutions.

"This report further highlights the need for fair and full information about increases in college prices and where those tuition hikes are being spent," said Miller. "Students and their families deserve to know whether or not price increases are justified, and whether they are getting the best possible education for their investment."

Miller is the author of legislation that would address rising college prices by encouraging colleges to rein in price increases, ensuring that states maintain their commitments to higher education funding, and providing students and families with consumer friendly information on college pricing and the factors driving tuition increases. That bill, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act (H.R. 4137), is expected to be considered by the House early next year.

He is also the author of a recently-enacted law that helps more low-income and minority students go to college. Among other things, the law increases the maximum Pell Grant scholarship by $1,090 over the next five years; makes need-based student loans more affordable; and restores critical funding for the Upward Bound program, which helps low-income and first-generation students access and complete college.

For a copy of the GAO report, please email

Dumb down class, asks principal memo

I think it's possible that situations similar to this are occurring in struggling schools but few instances have written documentation. Very sad. -Patricia

December 13th 2007

The principal of an East Harlem high school last month stunned his staffers by suggesting they dumb down their classes.

"If you are not passing more than 65% of your students in a class, then you are not designing your expectations to meet their abilities," Principal Bennett Lieberman wrote in a Nov. 28 memo to teachers at Central Park East High School. "You are setting your students up for failure, which in turn, limits your success as a professional."

The memo, obtained by the Daily News, urges teachers to review their homework and grading policies, and reminds them that "most of our students ... have difficult home lives, and struggle with life in general. They DO NOT have a similar upbringing nor a similar school experience to our experiences growing up."

One teacher who received the memo said she and her colleagues were "outraged," especially because the school is one of 200 where teachers will receive $3,000 bonuses if their schools improve.

"It's like bribery," she said. "It's not the achievement. It's just the grades."

Lieberman, a graduate of Mayor Bloomberg's elite Leadership Academy, defended the memo and denied he was advocating lower standards.

"I pretty confidently stand by my words and don't expect my teachers to dumb things down at all," he said. "The goal is to find where a student is at and work with them from that point forward."

His school was in danger of being closed several years ago but has bounced back after showing improvement on test scores. "Really good things are happening here," he said.

Students shown the memo Wednesday were insulted.

"Why are they going to let some pass who don't deserve it? It's not fair to those who want to work," said Estevan Cruz, 16, an 11th-grader.

Senior Richard Palacios, 17, said 65% of his classmates don't even show up for school. "It's already too much of an easy ride," He said. He estimated that only three or four of the 15 kids in his math class routinely appear.

Teaching experts said he should be ashamed.

"I'm just appalled," said Deborah Meier, the educator who founded Central Park East High School in 1985 as an alternative school where, she said, "our expectations for all our children were the same."

Back when Meier ran the school, she said, "We would have used the example of the letter you are quoting as exactly what we were trying to fight against. I'm horrified."

Now a New York University professor, Meier said she's worried the memo came as a response to the city's new A-to-F grading system, which factors how many credits students accumulate per year. If more kids pass their classes, the school, which got a B this year, will get a higher grade.

"This is so wrong, I could cry," Meier said. "What's embarrassing ... is that he could have put that in writing and not understood what he was saying."

High standards for all

Susan Sandler | SF Gate
December 13, 2007

What grade would you give a student who has all the knowledge he or she needs to succeed but repeatedly fails to act on that knowledge? California's government is that kind of student when it comes to making our school system work for students of color. The knowledge is there, but policy makers don't act on it.

Now is the right time to issue grades on the job our policy makers are doing in serving students of color. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has dubbed 2008 the Year of Education. Major studies have been completed, and the governor's Committee for Education Excellence will soon be issuing recommendations for how to fix our broken school system.

We actually know what it takes to provide a high quality education to students of color that enables their success in college, career, and community leadership. Some schools are already doing it. Justice Matters, a research and policy organization focused on racial justice in education, recently collaborated with the Stanford University School Redesign Network on a study of such schools. High Schools for Equity: Policy Supports for Student Learning in Communities of Color examines five California high schools that successfully provide students of color with high quality learning. In the words of a student at one of these schools, they are learning "how to learn, not just what is in the textbook." "I developed into an intellectual at this school," explained another student. These schools provide students with an engaging, relevant learning experience that is intellectually rigorous, and they give students the support they need to succeed. They send more than 80 percent of their students to college, more than twice the state average.

Unfortunately, there are very few such schools. Our research sheds light on the reason why. Educators in the High Schools for Equity schools have to contend with a policy environment that provides them with little support and creates many obstacles to the kind of work they are doing. The state's uneven teacher preparation system turns out too few teachers with the skills to carry out these school's sophisticated teaching practices. Once teachers get to a school, they are not given the time to do the kind of quality planning and ongoing learning that is needed to provide learning that is exciting, challenging, and supports the success of all students. The standardized high-stakes tests do not get at the more challenging skills the schools are teaching, and preparing for the tests takes a lot of time away from quality learning. The schools do not have enough funding to implement the practices they know will make the most difference for their students. And on and on.

The discussion of California policy needs to be informed by knowledge of what it takes to provide high quality learning. This is a general issue for California schools, and it is also a racial justice issue. When policy makers talk about the education of students of color, they often set the bar especially low - if students of color develop minimum competency in basic skills, that is good enough. It is thought to be too much to ask that students of color have an opportunity to think deeply, find the connections between academic subject matter and relevance to their lives, or learn the problem-solving skills that will make a difference in addressing the complex challenges our society faces.

Justice Matters has developed a Racial Justice Report Card on California Education Policy based on the High Schools for Equity study. We will be issuing grades for the recommendations of the Governor's Committee on Education Excellence. We will also be grading what both the governor and state Superintendent Jack O'Connell propose to do in 2008. We need to see whether their rhetoric about improving education translates into the kind of bold action that we need to give California students of color the education they deserve but have not had.

Susan Sandler is president of Justice Matters.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Green Light for Institute on Creation in Texas

Published: December 19, 2007
HOUSTON — A Texas higher education panel has recommended allowing a Bible-based group called the Institute for Creation Research to offer online master’s degrees in science education.

The action comes weeks after the Texas Education Agency’s director of science, Christine Castillo Comer, lost her job after superiors accused her of displaying bias against creationism and failing to be “neutral” over the teaching of evolution.

The state’s commissioner of higher education, Raymund A. Paredes, said late Monday that he was aware of the institute’s opposition to evolution but was withholding judgment until the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board meets Jan. 24 to rule on the recommendation, made last Friday, by the board’s certification advisory council.

Henry Morris III, the chief executive of the Institute for Creation Research, said Tuesday that the proposed curriculum, taught in California, used faculty and textbooks “from all the top schools” along with, he said, the “value added” of challenges to standard teachings of evolution.

“Where the difference is, we provide both sides of the story,” Mr. Morris said. On its Web site, the institute declares, “All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the creation week” and says it “equips believers with evidences of the Bible’s accuracy and authority through scientific research, educational programs, and media presentations, all conducted within a thoroughly biblical framework.”

It also says “the harmful consequences of evolutionary thinking on families and society (abortion, promiscuity, drug abuse, homosexuality and many others) are evident all around us.”

Asked how the institute could educate students to teach science, Dr. Paredes, who holds a doctorate in American civilization from the University of Texas and served 10 years as vice chancellor for academic development at the University of California, said, “I don’t know. I’m not a scientist.”

He said he had no ready explanation for the panel’s recommendation. “I asked about the decision,” Dr. Paredes said Monday in a phone interview from Austin. “I got a three-inch-thick folder an hour ago. We’re going to give it a full review.” But, he said, “If it’s approved, we’ll make sure it’s of high quality.”

Approval would allow the institute, which moved to Dallas this year from near San Diego, to offer the online graduate program almost immediately while seeking accreditation from national academic authorities like the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges within two years.

In California, the only other state where Mr. Morris said the institute was offering degrees, it won recognition from the state superintendent of public instruction in 1981 but was denied license renewal in 1988. The institute sued and in 1992 won a $225,000 settlement that allowed it to continue offering degrees; it now operates under the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Dr. Morris said his program was accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, which is not recognized by Texas.

Last month, in a sign that Texas was being drawn deeper into creationism controversy, Ms. Comer, 57, was put under pressure to resign as science director after forwarding an e-mail message about a talk by a creationism critic, Barbara Forrest, a professor at Southeastern Louisiana State University.

Lizzette Reynolds, a deputy commissioner who called for Ms. Comer’s dismissal, later told The Austin American-Statesman she was surprised she resigned. Ms. Reynolds did not respond to a message left at her office.

The Texas Education commissioner, Robert Scott, told The Dallas Morning News that Ms. Comer was not forced out over the message, adding, “You can be in favor of science without bashing people’s faith.” He did not return phone calls to his office.

Ms. Comer said the commissioner should show her where she was bashing anyone’s faith. “He just doesn’t get it,” she said.

Virgin or Slut: Pick One

The sentence: "We've constructed a polarized culture that gives teenagers edifice, not education" stuck out to me while reading, and I was reminded of a wonderful discussion between Dr. Patricia Zavella and Dr. Michelle Fine on the missing discourse of sexuality and desire. You can find it in Chicana Feminisms: A Reader (Arredondo, 2003). -Patricia

By Courtney E. Martin, AlterNet
December 20, 2007.

Why teenagers are so screwed up about sex and their bodies.

As the middle-aged gym teacher in a track suit stands in front of the class and reads a health book out loud in a monotone voice -- "Intercourse can lead to unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, such as ..." -- a couple of girls swap the latest issue of US Weekly and a Gossip Girls novel, all the juicy parts underlined in pink pen. Welcome to contemporary American adolescence, where sexuality is either up for sale or moralized into nonexistence.

On the one hand we have a hypersexualized and pornified pop culture -- thongs marketed to tweens, Victoria's Secret ads with models who don't look a day over 13, and reality shows like A Shot at Love on MTV, where both men and women will do anything -- including jump in vats of chocolate and discuss their sexual histories on national television -- all for instantaneous love with a petite model. The message to young women is loud and clear: Your body is your power. Flaunt it. Use it. Get attention. The message to young men is also unmistakable: Your gaze is your power. Your role is to judge and comment on women's bodies. As a man, you are inevitably obsessed -- sometimes stupidly so -- with the female form.

On the other hand, we have a federally funded (over $1 billion thus far) abstinence-only sex education program in this country. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly half (46 percent) of all 15- to 19-year-olds in the United States have had sex at least once. According to the government's most comprehensive survey of American sexual practices to date, more than half of all teenagers have engaged in oral sex -- including nearly a quarter of those who have never had intercourse. Regardless of this reality, health teachers from Nacogdoches, Texas, to Newark, N.J., are taught to emotionlessly repeat -- as if pull dolls of the Bush administration -- "The only guaranteed way to avoid pregnancy and STDs is abstinence. The only guaranteed way to avoid pregnancy and STDs is abstinence. The only guaranteed way to avoid pregnancy and STDs is abstinence."

Here, the message to young women is also resolute: Your body is dangerous. Control it. Ignore it. Don't ask any questions. Teen girls are cast as asexual princesses happily trapped in towers, guarded by their Bible verse-spouting fathers. The message to young men is more subtle. In this fairy tale written, produced and directed by abstinence-only advocates, teenage guys are both potential villains -- the oversexed, hormone-crazed young men who must be refused continuously by good girls -- or potential knights in shining armor -- saving enough money from their summer jobs to buy sparkling rings that will save their sweeties from the hell of slutdom.

In between pornified culture and purity balls, in between the slut and the virgin, the stupid, lascivious dude and the knight in shining armor, in between the messages directed at young women -- your body is your power vs. your body is dangerous -- and young men -- your gaze is your power vs. your gaze is dangerous -- are real young people trying to develop authentic identities and sexual practices. And they are struggling mightily.

Too many of them are diseased, disordered, and depressed -- participating in inauthentic performances of sexual bravado, cut off from their bodies' true appetites and desires, and hurt because they can't seem to identify or communicate their own boundaries.

How could we be surprised? We've constructed a polarized culture that gives teenagers edifice, not education. We've sent them out into the wildly complex country of contemporary adolescence without the essential weapons -- sexual literacy, communication strategies, self-reflection exercises, and at the very least, accurate information about anatomy and contraception.

We've let the increasingly conglomerated raunchy mass media pollute the visual world with plastic, codified images of "sex" and the increasingly out-of-touch, religious and righteous federal government play Pollyanna -- deaf, dumb and blind. As the schools relinquish responsibility for educating American teens about sex, the advertisers and networks step in, providing an airbrushed, inauthentic, unrealistic view of sex and the bodies that are "doing it." They're happy to play sexy nanny while our government officials and educators are out to lunch; it guarantees ratings and the next generation eager to fork over cash on products marketed to their effectively socialized inadequacy.

And what kind of education do we provide to help negotiate this onslaught of messages? A curriculum based on three little empty words: "Just say no." Even federally funded studies of abstinence-only sex education confirm that it is ineffective. Half of those who have abstinence-only sex ed end up having sex by the time they're 15 years old. Multiple peer-reviewed studies also confirm that purity pledges actually lead teenagers into having more oral, anal and unprotected sex. Another longitudinal study of 13,000 teenagers found that 53 percent of those who commit to purity until marriage have sex out of wedlock within the year.

The consequences are devastating, diverse and rampant. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, every two and a half minutes, somewhere in America, someone is sexually assaulted. About 44 percent of rape victims are under age 18, and 80 percent are under age 30. According to the Guttmacher Institute, of the 18.9 million new cases of STDs each year, 9.1 million (48 percent) occur among 15- to 24-year-olds. Seven million girls and women in this country have eating disorders; clinicians estimate that as many as 80 percent of those with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder are victims of sexual assault.

And harder to pin down with numbers, most college (and some high school) students experience campuses characterized by random, unsatisfying hookups, stunted emotional growth and the private hell of loneliness, guilt and shame. So many young adults don't know how to deal with the messiness of sex without being sloppy drunk.

We could make such a difference by doing so little. First and foremost, we must replace abstinence-only sexual education with comprehensive curriculum that teaches teenagers accurate, useful and wide-ranging information. They are welcome to save intercourse for marriage, of course, and should certainly be taught that -- indeed -- it is one of only two ways to absolutely prevent pregnancy, though not STDs. (The method of sexual exploration that guarantees both no STDS and no pregnancy is, of course, masturbation!) But they must also be given the tools -- informational, emotional, communicative -- they need should they choose otherwise. We need to teach both young women and men about sexual desire -- that it varies widely and is not shameful but can be overwhelming.

We must also provide our kids with the media and consumer literacy needed to face the pornified culture that we live in and advocate -- through letter writing, boycotts, and public pressure -- that schools, playgrounds, and other public spaces remain advertising-free. As artists, filmmakers, writers, actors, producers etc., we must strive to provide a more enlightened and inspiring view of human sexuality, to create work that involves love and sex without codifying both into unreality. Think Jane Campion.

And finally, we must stop treating teenagers as if they are either dangerous or idiots. When I was recently on The O'Reilly Factor with conservative pundit Laura Ingraham, she shouted, in response to my apparently blasphemous idea that girls deserve to be educated about their bodies: "Twelve-year-olds can't even pick out what color shirt they want to wear in the morning!" It made me wonder if Laura had ever met a 12-year-old, ever had a real conversation with one about her dreams, her thoughts, her desires.

I've had the pleasure of interacting with many teenagers -- 12 years old and older -- and I'm continually amazed at their insight, maturity and earnest need for more information. They aren't adults yet -- sure -- but they are aching in that direction. They need those of us who are done with the journey to provide some fundamental tools on how to make it through. We need to ask them about what they're experiencing and how we can be helpful as they make their way. Instead of luring them in, selling them out, condemning or indoctrinating them, we need to meet them face to face with compassion and information.