Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Berman in the middle of controversial voting, immigration proposals

Berman (R- Tyler) wants to cut off state benefits (like education & health care) to the children of undocumented immigrants who are born in Texas. He's among other right-wing folks that want the 14th Amendment re-interpreted. -Angela

Berman in the middle of controversial voting, immigration proposals
Retired Army officer doesn't shy away from a good fight

By By Laylan Copelin
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Rep. Leo Berman, a retired U.S. Army field artillery officer, is trained for a good, loud fight.

He'll probably get several. As the new chairman of the House Elections Committee, the Tyler Republican will be heard on issues ranging from voter fraud to requiring photo IDs of voters to moving Texas' primaries to February and campaign finance and ethics.

Outside his committee duties, Berman already has led on getting elderly and disabled Texans their share of school property tax cuts and hopes to steer Texas into federal court in a constitutional fight over state benefits for the children of illegal immigrants born here.

Berman spent 22 years in the Army, but the political bug bit after spending four of those years as a military liaison to Congress. When he retired, he returned to Texas. He lost a close race for Congress in 1978 to U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, a prominent Democrat, before serving as mayor pro tem of Arlington. After moving to Tyler, Berman was elected to the Legislature in 1998.

A Brooklyn native, Berman is half of the Texas House's New York City Caucus, as he and the other half, Austin's Elliott Naishtat, like to joke.

Berman says he's about as conservative as Naishtat is liberal. But the two joined together last year — and again this month — to champion legislation giving elderly and disabled Texans the same property tax cuts granted to other Texans last year. The constitutional proposition concerning that oversight should go to the voters in May.

Berman said his proposal to move Texas' primaries from March to February might draw the most bipartisan support. The move is aimed at giving Texas more clout in the presidential election.

"Why should a state like New Hampshire or Iowa preclude Texas voters from having a bigger say in their party's nominee?" Berman asks.

The chairman favors a February primary even in non-presidential years to avoid confusing voters. He dismisses the notion that campaigning over the year-end holidays — and necessarily making for a shorter primary campaign — is a problem.

Berman also is concerned about voter fraud and the reliability of electronic voting machines.

His committee already has heard legislation to add a paper trail to the voting machines, a prospect Berman deems too expensive (unless Congress wants to pay for it) and is not the best solution to the human errors involved in programming and managing the machines.

"You probably shouldn't be buying something and attaching it to a machine no one has confidence in," he said.

Without action by Congress, Berman said, the Legislature should study the issue between now and the 2009 legislative session.

That makes Berman's colleague on the committee, Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, wince.

Burnam, who favors going back to paper ballots immediately, asks, "What price is democracy?"

The two also differ on the prospect of voter fraud in Texas.

Berman favors legislation requiring voters to produce photo identification at the polls.

"We don't know if illegal aliens are voting in Texas or not," Berman said. "But if we do nothing, we encourage fraud."

Burnam said there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud and that the push for photo identification is a ploy to intimidate minority voters — as a national study by Rutgers and Ohio State university scholars suggested in research released last month.

"The problem is how my voters get turned away because their skin is too dark," said Burnam, who represents a district with a majority of minorities.

Berman dismissed the intimidation argument, saying photo identification is routinely required in daily life.

Although some lawmakers will be offering legislation to limit campaign donations by wealthy donors to $100,000 per election cycle, Berman said he's heard no complaints from his constituents or most members.

On the issue of legislative conduct, Berman said it "smells" that some lawmakers are using campaign donations to buy Austin homes in their spouses names. (Berman parks his motor home at Camp Mabry — a perk of being retired military — and said he wouldn't dream of using campaign money to buy his motor home.)

His most contentious issue, however, is likely to be Berman's quest to cut off state benefits to the children of illegal immigrants who are born in Texas.

The U.S. Supreme Court already has ruled that the children are entitled education and health care.

"We're giving the children U.S. citizenship while (their parents) are breaking immigration law," Berman complained.

He admits he only has a 50-50 chance of passing legislation curbing state benefits and he know the law immediately would be challenged in federal court.

"That's exactly what we want!" Berman said.

He argues that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was meant to apply only to the children of freed slaves. The more conservative U.S. Supreme Court, he believes, might reconsider the matter.

"If they go back and look at the law and the congressional record," Berman said, "it doesn't apply to foreigners."

Find this article at:

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Forum on Educational Accountability

Check out the executive summary of the Forum on Educational Accountability. They write: "The Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA) is a working group of some of the national education, civil rights, religious, disability and civic organizations that have endorsed the Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The FEA has prepared the following
report to promote the ideas in the Joint Statement, to provide concrete policy recommendations for
implementing the principles of the Joint Statement, and to contribute to discussions about the
reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Joint Statement itself has been
signed by more than 100 national organizations."

Here are some of their recommendations:

Recommended chAngeS in nclb
Progress Measurement
1. Replace the law’s arbitrary proficiency targets with ambitious achievement targets based on rates of
success actually achieved by the most effective public schools.
2. Allow states to measure progress by using students’ growth in achievement as well as their perfor-
mance in relation to pre-determined levels of academic proficiency.
3. Ensure that states and school districts regularly report to the government and the public their prog-
ress in implementing systemic changes to enhance educator, family, and community capacity to
improve student learning.
21Redefining Accountability: improving Student learning by building capacity
22 forum on educational Accountability february 2007
4. Provide a comprehensive picture of students’ and schools’ performance by moving from an
overwhelming reliance on standardized tests to using multiple indicators of student achieve-
ment in addition to these tests.
5. Fund research and development of more effective accountability systems that better meet the
goal of high academic achievement for all children.
6. Help states develop assessment systems that include district and school-based measures in
order to provide better, more timely information about student learning.
7. Strengthen enforcement of NCLB provisions requiring that assessments must:
• Be aligned with state content and achievement standards;
• Be used for purposes for which they are valid and reliable;
• Be consistent with nationally recognized professional and technical standards;
• Be of adequate technical quality for each purpose required under the Act;
• Provide multiple, up-to-date measures of student performance including measures that
assess higher order thinking skills and understanding; and
• Provide useful diagnostic information to improve teaching and learning.
8. Decrease the testing burden on states, schools and districts by allowing states to assess stu-
dents annually in selected grades in elementary, middle schools, and high schools.
Building Capacity
9. Ensure changes in teacher and administrator preparation and continuing professional devel-
opment that research evidence and experience indicate improve educational quality and stu-
dent achievement.
10. Enhance state and local capacity to effectively implement the comprehensive changes
required to increase the knowledge and skills of administrators, teachers, families, and com-
munities to support high student achievement.
11. Ensure that improvement plans are allowed sufficient time to take hold before applying sanc-
tions; sanctions should not be applied if they undermine existing effective reform efforts.
12. Replace sanctions that do not have a consistent record of success with interventions that
enable schools to make changes that result in improved student achievement.
13. Raise authorized levels of NCLB funding to cover a substantial percentage of the costs that states and
districts will incur to carry out these recommendations, and fully fund the law at those levels without
reducing expenditures for other education programs.
14. Fully fund Title I to ensure that 100 percent of eligible children are served.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Study says students are learning less

Study says students are learning less
By Mitchell Landsberg
Times Staff Writer

7:52 PM PST, February 22, 2007

U.S. high school students are taking tougher classes, receiving better grades and, apparently, learning less than their counterparts of 15 years ago.

Those were the discouraging implications of two reports issued Thursday by the federal Department of Education, assessing the performance of students in both public and private schools. Together, the reports raised sobering questions about the past two decades of educational reform, including whether the movement to raise school standards has amounted to much more than window dressing.

"I think we're sleeping through a crisis," said David Driscoll, the Massachusetts commissioner of education, during a Washington news conference convened by the Department of Education. He called the study results "stunning."

Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said he found the results "dismal." After years of reforms aimed primarily at elementary schools, Fuller said the studies "certainly support shining the spotlight on the high school as a priority for reform efforts."

The reports summarized two major government efforts to measure the performance of high school seniors as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. One was a standardized test of 12th graders conducted in 2005. The other was an analysis of the transcripts of students who graduated from high school that year.

The transcript study showed that, compared to students in similar studies going back to 1990, the 2005 graduates had racked up more high school credits, had taken more college preparatory classes and had strikingly higher grade point averages. The average GPA rose from 2.68 in 1990 to 2.98 -- close to a solid B -- in 2005.

That was the good news -- or so it seemed. But the standardized test results showed that 12th grade reading scores have generally been dropping since 1992, casting doubt on what students are learning in those college prep classes.

Math scores posed a different sort of mystery, because the Department of Education switched to a new test in 2005 that wasn't directly comparable to those used before. Still, the results of the new test didn't inspire confidence: Fewer than one-quarter of the 12th graders tested scored in the "proficient" range.

The reports also showed that the gap separating white and black, and white and Hispanic students, has barely budged since the early 1990s. And while the results were not broken down by state, a broad regional breakdown showed that the West and Southeast lagged well behind the Midwest and, to a lesser extent, the Northeast.

David Gordon, the Sacramento County, Calif., superintendent of schools and a participant in the Department of Education news conference Thursday, said he found it especially disturbing that the studies focused on "our best students," those who had made it to 12th grade or who had graduated.

"It's clear to me from these data that for all of our talk of the achievement gap among subgroups of students, a larger problem may be an instructional gap or a rigor gap, which effects not just some but most of our students," Gordon said.

The reading and math test was given to 21,000 high school seniors at 900 U.S. schools, including 200 private schools. The transcript study was based on 26,000 transcripts from 720 schools, 80 of them private. The reports did not give separate results for public vs. private schools.

Policy analysts nationwide said the studies were gloomy news for the American economy, since the country's educational system already measured poorly in international comparisons.

"What we see out of these results is a very disturbing picture of the knowledge and skills of the young people about to go into college and the workforce," said Daria Hall, assistant director of the Education Trust, a Washington-based nonprofit dedicated to improving education especially for poor and minority students.

Among other things, Hall said the transcript study provided clear evidence of grade inflation, as well as "course inflation" -- offering high-level courses that have "the right names" but a dumbed-down curriculum.

"What it suggests is that we are telling students that they're being successful in these courses when, in fact, we're not teaching them any more than they were learning in the past," she said. "So we are, in effect, lying to these students."

Although the reports came out five years after passage of President Bush's signature education reform initiative, No Child Left Behind, Hall and others said it would be unfair to blame that program for the students' poor showing. They were already in high school when No Child Left Behind was enacted, and it is primarily aimed at elementary and middle schools.

Driscoll recalled an earlier president's contribution to education reform -- the Nation at Risk report that seemed to galvanize the educational establishment when it was issued by President Reagan in 1983.

"That was a shocker," said Driscoll. "But here we are, 25 years later (and) ... we've just been ignoring what it's going to take to really change the system."

Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times

US Economy Leaving Record Numbers in Severe Poverty

Friday, February 23, 2007
McClatchy Special Report

US Economy Leaving Record Numbers in Severe Poverty
by Tony Pugh

The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.
A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 - half the federal poverty line - was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.
The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That's 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period. McClatchy's review also found statistically significant increases in the percentage of the population in severe poverty in 65 of 215 large U.S. counties, and similar increases in 28 states. The review also suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn't confined to large urban counties but extends to suburban and rural areas.

The plight of the severely poor is a distressing sidebar to an unusual economic expansion. Worker productivity has increased dramatically since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged behind. At the same time, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries. That helps explain why the median household income of working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years.

These and other factors have helped push 43 percent of the nation's 37 million poor people into deep poverty - the highest rate since at least 1975.

The share of poor Americans in deep poverty has climbed slowly but steadily over the last three decades. But since 2000, the number of severely poor has grown "more than any other segment of the population," according to a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"That was the exact opposite of what we anticipated when we began," said Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, who co-authored the study. "We're not seeing as much moderate poverty as a proportion of the population. What we're seeing is a dramatic growth of severe poverty."

The growth spurt, which leveled off in 2005, in part reflects how hard it is for low-skilled workers to earn their way out of poverty in an unstable job market that favors skilled and educated workers. It also suggests that social programs aren't as effective as they once were at catching those who fall into economic despair.

About one in three severely poor people are under age 17, and nearly two out of three are female. Female-headed families with children account for a large share of the severely poor.

Nearly two out of three people (10.3 million) in severe poverty are white, but blacks (4.3 million) and Hispanics of any race (3.7 million) make up disproportionate shares. Blacks are nearly three times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be in deep poverty, while Hispanics are roughly twice as likely.

Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, has a higher concentration of severely poor people - 10.8 percent in 2005 - than any of the 50 states, topping even hurricane-ravaged Mississippi and Louisiana, with 9.3 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively. Nearly six of 10 poor District residents are in extreme poverty.


A few miles from the Capitol Building, 60-year-old John Treece pondered his life in deep poverty as he left a local food pantry with two bags of free groceries.

Plagued by arthritis, back problems and myriad ailments from years of manual labor, Treece has been unable to work full time for 15 years. He's tried unsuccessfully to get benefits from the Social Security Administration, which he said disputes his injuries and work history.

In 2006, an extremely poor individual earned less than $5,244 a year, according to federal poverty guidelines. Treece said he earned about that much in 2006 doing odd jobs.

Wearing shoes with holes, a tattered plaid jacket and a battered baseball cap, Treece lives hand-to-mouth in a $450-a-month room in a nondescript boarding house in a high-crime neighborhood. Thanks to food stamps, the food pantry and help from relatives, Treece said he never goes hungry. But toothpaste, soap, toilet paper and other items that require cash are tougher to come by.

"Sometimes it makes you want to do the wrong thing, you know," Treece said, referring to crime. "But I ain't a kid no more. I can't do no time. At this point, I ain't got a lotta years left."

Treece remains positive and humble despite his circumstances.

"I don't ask for nothing," he said. "I just thank the Lord for this day and ask that tomorrow be just as blessed."
Like Treece, many who did physical labor during their peak earning years have watched their job prospects dim as their bodies gave out.

David Jones, the president of the Community Service Society of New York City, an advocacy group for the poor, testified before the House Ways and Means Committee last month that he was shocked to discover how pervasive the problem was.
"You have this whole cohort of, particularly African-Americans of limited skills, men, who can't participate in the workforce because they don't have skills to do anything but heavy labor," he said.

Severe poverty is worst near the Mexican border and in some areas of the South, where 6.5 million severely poor residents are struggling to find work as manufacturing jobs in the textile, apparel and furniture-making industries disappear. The Midwestern Rust Belt and areas of the Northeast also have been hard hit as economic restructuring and foreign competition have forced numerous plant closings.

At the same time, low-skilled immigrants with impoverished family members are increasingly drawn to the South and Midwest to work in the meatpacking, food processing and agricultural industries.

These and other factors such as increased fluctuations in family incomes and illegal immigration have helped push 43 percent of the nation's 37 million poor people into deep poverty - the highest rate in at least 32 years.

"What appears to be taking place is that, over the long term, you have a significant permanent underclass that is not being impacted by anti-poverty policies," said Michael Tanner, the director of Health and Welfare Studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, disagreed. "It doesn't look like a growing permanent underclass," said Sherman, whose organization has chronicled the growth of deep poverty. "What you see in the data are more and more single moms with children who lose their jobs and who aren't being caught by a safety net anymore."

About 1.1 million such families account for roughly 2.1 million deeply poor children, Sherman said.

After fleeing an abusive marriage in 2002, 42-year-old Marjorie Sant moved with her three children from Arkansas to a seedy boarding house in Raleigh, N.C., where the four shared one bedroom. For most of 2005, they lived off food stamps and the $300 a month in Social Security Disability Income for her son with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Teachers offered clothes to Sant's children. Saturdays meant lunch at the Salvation Army.

"To depend on other people to feed and clothe your kids is horrible," Sant said. "I found myself in a hole and didn't know how to get out."
In the summer of 2005, social workers warned that she'd lose her children if her home situation didn't change. Sant then brought her two youngest children to a temporary housing program at the Raleigh Rescue Mission while her oldest son moved to California to live with an adult daughter from a previous marriage.

So for 10 months, Sant learned basic office skills. She now lives in a rented house, works two jobs and earns about $20,400 a year

Sant is proud of where she is, but she knows that "if something went wrong, I could well be back to where I was."


As more poor Americans sink into severe poverty, more individuals and families living within $8,000 above or below the poverty line also have seen their incomes decline. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University attributes this to what he calls a "sinkhole effect" on income.

"Just as a sinkhole causes everything above it to collapse downward, families and individuals in the middle and upper classes appear to be migrating to lower-income tiers that bring them closer to the poverty threshold," Woolf wrote in the study.
Before Hurricane Katrina, Rene Winn of Biloxi, Miss., earned $28,000 a year as an administrator for the Boys and Girls Club. But for 11 months in 2006, she couldn't find steady work and wouldn't take a fast-food job. As her opportunities dwindled, Winn's frustration grew.

"Some days I feel like the world is mine and I can create my own destiny," she said. "Other days I feel a desperate feeling. Like I gotta' hurry up. Like my career is at a stop. Like I'm getting nowhere fast. And that's not me because I've always been a positive person."

After relocating to New Jersey for 10 months after the storm, Winn returned to Biloxi in September because of medical and emotional problems with her son. She and her two youngest children moved into her sister's home along with her mother, who has Alzheimer's. With her sister, brother-in-law and their two children, eight people now share a three-bedroom home.
Winn said she recently took a job as a technician at the state health department. The hourly job pays $16,120 a year. That's enough to bring her out of severe poverty and just $122 shy of the $16,242 needed for a single mother with two children to escape poverty altogether under current federal guidelines.

Winn eventually wants to transfer to a higher-paying job, but she's thankful for her current position.

"I'm very independent and used to taking care of my own, so I don't like the fact that I have to depend on the state. I want to be able to do it myself."

The Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation shows that, in a given month, only 10 percent of severely poor Americans received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in 2003 - the latest year available - and that only 36 percent received food stamps.

Many could have exhausted their eligibility for welfare or decided that the new program requirements were too onerous. But the low participation rates are troubling because the worst byproducts of poverty, such as higher crime and violence rates and poor health, nutrition and educational outcomes, are worse for those in deep poverty.

Over the last two decades, America has had the highest or near-highest poverty rates for children, individual adults and families among 31 developed countries, according to the Luxembourg Income Study, a 23-year project that compares poverty and income data from 31 industrial nations.

"It's shameful," said Timothy Smeeding, the former director of the study and the current head of the Center for Policy Research at Syracuse University. "We've been the worst performer every year since we've been doing this study."
With the exception of Mexico and Russia, the U.S. devotes the smallest portion of its gross domestic product to federal anti-poverty programs, and those programs are among the least effective at reducing poverty, the study found. Again, only Russia and Mexico do worse jobs.

One in three Americans will experience a full year of extreme poverty at some point in his or her adult life, according to long-term research by Mark Rank, a professor of social welfare at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

An estimated 58 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 75 will spend at least a year in poverty, Rank said. Two of three will use a public assistance program between ages 20 and 65, and 40 percent will do so for five years or more.
These estimates apply only to non-immigrants. If illegal immigrants were factored in, the numbers would be worse, Rank said.

"It would appear that for most Americans the question is no longer if, but rather when, they will experience poverty. In short, poverty has become a routine and unfortunate part of the American life course," Rank wrote in a recent study. "Whether these patterns will continue throughout the first decade of 2000 and beyond is difficult to say ... but there is little reason to think that this trend will reverse itself any time soon."


Most researchers and economists say federal poverty estimates are a poor tool to gauge the complexity of poverty. The numbers don't factor in assistance from government anti-poverty programs, such as food stamps, housing subsidies and the Earned Income Tax Credit, all of which increase incomes and help pull people out of poverty.

But federal poverty measures also exclude work-related expenses and necessities such as day care, transportation, housing and health care costs, which eat up large portions of disposable income, particularly for low-income families.

Alternative poverty measures that account for these shortcomings typically inflate or deflate official poverty statistics. But many of those alternative measures show the same kind of long-term trends as the official poverty data.

Robert Rector, a senior researcher with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, questioned the growth of severe poverty, saying that census data become less accurate farther down the income ladder. He said many poor people, particularly single mothers with boyfriends, underreport their income by not including cash gifts and loans. Rector said he's seen no data that suggest increasing deprivation among the very poor.

Arloc Sherman of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argues that the growing number of severely poor is an indisputable fact.

"When we check against more complete government survey data and administrative records from the benefit programs themselves, they confirm that this trend is real," Sherman said. He added that even among the poor, severely poor people have a much tougher time paying their bills. "That's another sign to me that we're seeing something real and troubling," Sherman said.

McClatchy correspondent Barbara Barrett contributed to this report.


States with the most people in severe poverty:
California - 1.9 million
Texas - 1.6 million
New York - 1.2 million
Florida - 943,670
Illinois - 681,786
Ohio - 657,415
Pennsylvania - 618,229
Michigan - 576,428
Georgia - 562,014
North Carolina - 523,511
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Critics: Testing is going too far

Tue, Feb. 20, 2007
Critics: Testing is going too far


Testing students to measure their progress is necessary, Birdville schools Superintendent Stephen Waddell says.

But the number of state and federally required tests that will be given to students this year and the amount of time it takes to prepare for and administer those tests have gotten out of hand, according to Waddell and other educators.

"We've gotten to a point where if a little bit is good, a lot more ought to be better," Waddell said.

Critics also say that too much emphasis is being placed on test results, which can determine teacher pay and even the amount of money the state sends to school districts.

"This system was to measure academic performance," said Larry Comer, spokesman for the Association of Texas Professional Educators. "Now it's being used for everything. It's something politicians can grab onto. Everybody agrees that the system is broken; we just have to figure out how to fix it."

This year's Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills begins today with reading and writing tests for students in the third, fourth, fifth, seventh, ninth and 10th grades. In addition, exit-level English language arts tests will be given; students must pass them to graduate. Testing will continue through the end of the school year, with retests well into July. Some tests take only a few hours. Others, like today's high school English language arts tests, are untimed, and some students may work well into the night.

During the 2002-03 school year, school districts were responsible for giving 110 kinds of tests, Fort Worth schools Superintendent Melody Johnson said.

That number has steadily increased, she said. This year, 203 kinds of exams will be given to students, including the TAKS in English and in Spanish and a variety of forms for bilingual and special-education students.

The assessment program is a byproduct of the accountability systems set up by the state and federal governments. They each require different tests in different subjects.

"Everybody embraces accountability and acknowledges the fact that you have to have good information and data to measure if students are learning," Johnson said.

But the current programs put tremendous pressure on educators to focus more on scores than on curriculum.

"There are a lot of diversions from the teaching and learning process on the way to the test that are detrimental," Johnson said.

Muffet Livaudais, communications director of the student assessment division of the Texas Education Agency, said her office understands the frustration the system creates.

"We don't have a lot of choice," she said. "By law, our job is to implement the testing program that we are assigned."

Waddell said many superintendents are concerned about the number of tests that some students have to take.

For example, a fifth-grade bilingual elementary student could take up to nine tests between now and the end of the year, Waddell said. That number could include retests, likely for a bilingual student.

"We have to rethink what we're trying to accomplish with these tests," Waddell said. "The volume has gotten carried away."

Last year, 25,941 pounds of testing materials -- close to 13 tons -- were delivered to warehouses in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district. And as more tests, such as state end-of-course examinations, are likely to be added, that amount could grow.

Every new exam must be tried out on students to assess the fairness of the questions. And with each new test, teachers will give more practice tests to ensure that students are hitting the benchmarks that will be measured.

Comer said he has heard anecdotes from across the state about students who are punished for poor TAKS performance and about beleaguered teachers losing the ability to provide creative and inspiring instruction:

In El Paso, a reading specialist was pulled from her classes to provide math tutoring for struggling fifth-graders, Comer said.

In Houston, poor reading performance by third-graders at an inner-city school resulted in all students, including kindergartners, being deprived of recess.

"Everyone feels the pressure," Comer said. "Teachers have all this knowledge they want to share. But if it's not tested, it's not taught."

The solution is to convert to one streamlined system that measures "value added," or the progress that children make from year to year, Johnson said.

Wally Carter, director of institutional research and testing for the Arlington school district, agrees that a value-added system would bring about the changes in public education that legislators are looking for.

"Somehow, they think that setting the standards high is what's really going to reform schools and reform teaching," Carter said. "There should be other things in place that have much more to do with the actual leadership and management of teaching."

And while change does not appear to be on the horizon, Waddell hopes that "common sense" will eventually prevail.

"A test has never taught anybody anything. It's designed to figure out what people have learned," Waddell said. "The end result is, we're doing less teaching and more testing."


Q: What is the Student Success Initiative?

A: Enacted in 1999, the SSI applies to grade three reading and grade five reading and math. Students can advance to the next grade level only by passing those tests or by unanimous decision of their grade placement committee. Next year, eighth-graders must pass the math and reading tests to advance. The SSI's goal is to ensure that all students receive the instruction and support they need to succeed in reading and mathematics.

Q: Are charter schools required to give state assessments?

A: Yes, just like all public schools.

Q: Can students use highlighters during the test?

A: Students in grades four through 10 and exit-level may use highlighters in the test booklets. Third-graders may not use highlighters, crayons or colored pencils.

Q: Can students use cellphones during the test?

A: Use of cellphones and other communications devices during testing is not permitted.

Q: What if students become ill during the test?

A: If they feel better later in the day and haven't discussed the test with anyone, they may complete the test. They will not be allowed to take the makeup test because they will have seen the test, and they may not receive a score for the part they completed.

Q: What about students suspended from school on the test day?

A: Students can take the test on the makeup day.

SOURCE: Texas Education Agency


TAKS testing calendar

Here are some major testing dates for the rest of the school year. This list does not include assessments for bilingual or special-education students.

Today: Grade three reading, grade four writing, grade five reading, grade seven writing, grade nine reading, grade 10 English language arts, exit-level English language arts

Wednesday: Exit-level math retest

Thursday: Grade 10 English language arts makeup, exit-level science retest

Friday: Exit-level social studies retest

April 3: Grade five math

April 17: Grades three-four math, grades six-eight math, grade 10 math

April 18: Grade four reading, grades six-eight reading, exit-level math, grade three reading retest, grade five reading retest, exit-level math retest

April 19: Grade five science, grade eight science, grade nine math, grade 10 science, exit-level science

April 20: Grade eight social studies, grade 10 social studies, exit-level social studies

May 15: Grade five math retest

June 26: Grade five math retest

June 27: Grade three reading retest, grade five reading retest

July 10: Exit-level English language arts retest

July 11: Exit-level math retest

July 12: Exit-level science retest

July 13: Exit-level social studies retest

SOURCE: Texas Education Agency

Katherine Cromer Brock, 817-685-3813

© 2007 Star-Telegram and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 19, 2007

As TAKS begins, concerns increase

The move against TAKS is gaining strength. The move toward end of course exams is coming. -Angela

As TAKS begins, concerns increase
Many parents and teachers doubt value of state's achievement test, according to survey.

By Laura Heinauer
Monday, February 19, 2007

As TAKS season begins this week, opposition to the state's high-stakes test from parents, teachers and lawmakers is mounting.

Parents have become more vocal about eliminating the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, saying that their children face considerable stress and that teacher creativity is stifled by too much testing.

Less than 15 percent of Texas teachers and 30 percent of parents think the TAKS accurately measures student learning or increases the quality of the educational system, according to a report released in 2006 by University of Texas research associate Edward Fuller.

The study, which involved a phone survey of 1,000 randomly selected teachers and parents, was paid for by the Association of Texas Professional Educators and shows "fairly negative" views about the test, Fuller said. The survey has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

This year's TAKS, administered in Texas since 2003, will begin Tuesday.

"It's not that they don't want any testing; they want this information, but they want it at the beginning of the year to use as a diagnostic tool," Fuller said. "What really came across is that people are starting to think, maybe the pendulum has just swung too far.

"And it has resulted in a strong feeling that it's just not having a positive effect on the Texas educational system," Fuller said.

Some politicians seem to have taken note.

In November, high-stakes testing gained a new level of political prominence when it became a potent issue in several gubernatorial races across the country, including in Florida, Ohio and Texas.

With President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act up for reauthorization this year, the debate has continued.

In Texas, where accountability standards are tougher than those required by No Child Left Behind, the backlash is being reflected by state lawmakers this legislative session.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, is planning to file a bill that would replace the TAKS with end-of-course exams, which she says would allow more in-depth exploration of subject matter.

According to Fuller, about 45 percent of teachers and parents suggested replacing the TAKS with end-of-course exams.

"This type of assessment also provides teachers and districts a better understanding of a student's grasp of a particular subject, and it tests students' knowledge on a topic in close proximity to the time it was taught," Shapiro said.

For now, as schools continue to prepare for the upcoming TAKS, teachers are feeling the pressure.

Fuller said his study found that about 60 percent of teachers and parents feel that because of the TAKS, teachers are teaching students to become test-takers rather than critical thinkers.

A majority of those surveyed expected the dropout rate to increase because passing the test is a condition of graduation.

In Austin, TAKS troubles kept more than 400 seniors from donning a cap and gown in May; by August, about 320 still hadn't passed the exam.

Parents say they and their students are feeling the pressure as well, particularly as certain sanctions for not meeting standards are beginning to hit home.

Amarillo parent Chantelle Heiskell started the group Oppose TAKS — Organization of Proud Parents Opposing State Enforced TAKS — in 2005 after her daughter's first experience with the exams in fifth grade.

"You're watching your child deteriorate before your eyes," Heiskell said. "There's no possible way that their ability can be measured, because they're so worried they're going to fail. The shame that accompanies that is overwhelming, and it doesn't matter if you're a third-grader or 12th-grader."

Heiskell's group tries to step up the pressure on lawmakers by sending letters and organizing protests.

She said she's somewhat encouraged by the consideration of end-of-course exams.

"I don't know if that would be better or worse," Heiskell said. "Just to get TAKS out of the schools would be a step up, I would think."

At recent forums, Austin Superintendent Pat Forgione's proposed closure of Webb Middle School because of three consecutive years of low test scores drew an angry response from parents.

David Delgado, the school's PTA president, said the proposal has made students more anxious this spring.

"I'm pretty sure they are under pressure," said Delgado, whose son is a sixth-grader at Webb. "They're hearing: 'The school's going to close. The school's going to close.' "

Whether Texas will see any change is unclear, Fuller said.

He pointed to the outcry that erupted when Anderson High in Northwest Austin failed to meet federal standards.

Austin was able to successfully appeal the rating, but as standards continue to increase, Fuller said, reform will depend not just on the number of people who show opposition to high-stakes testing, but who.

"You look at the outcry from (the Anderson) community, and if that starts happening more and more, those are the parents that have the influence to make the political change," he said.

Test tips

Austin school district officials offered the following tips to help students prepare for test day.

•Children should get adequate rest the night before a test. The National Sleep Foundation ( recommends nine to 11 hours of sleep.

•A healthy breakfast helps children focus. Breakfast is available at every Austin school.

•Attendance on test dates is critical. The Texas Education Agency requires a test participation rate of 95 percent for a school to be in compliance with Texas' accountability system.

TAKS testing set to start

The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills is given each spring; this year's schedule continues through April. More dates are listed inside.


Grade 3 reading*

Grade 4 writing

Grade 5 reading*

Grade 7 writing

Grade 9 reading

Grade 10 English language arts

Grade 11 English language arts**

April testing dates

April 3

Grade 5 math*

April 17

Grades 3, 4, 6-8, 10 math

April 18

Grades 4, 6-8 reading

Grade 11 math**

April 19

Grade 5, 8, 10, science

Grade 11 science**

Grade 9 math

April 20

Grade 8, 10 social studies

Grade 11 social studies**

* Must pass to be promoted to the next grade

** Must pass to graduate; 445-3694

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Schools strive for 'no parent left behind'

Mom helps us learn, too: Monique Taylor with her daughters Raynique Taylor (left) and Amira Patterson (right) at the Maurice J. Tobin School in Boston. Ms. Taylor stays involved in her daughters' education by keeping in close touch with their teachers.

February 15, 2007
Schools strive for 'no parent left behind'

Public schools facing pressure to perform are working to help parents be more engaged in their children's educations.

By Stacy A. Teicher | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

With schools increasingly held accountable for the performance of every student, the demand to partner with parents has intensified. School plays and fundraisers supported by moms, dads, and grandparents are still staples of American public schools. But in the spirit of "it takes a village," families now might find such activities paired with a workshop on test-prep or a briefing on how to read state accountability reports.

When "no child left behind" became the mantra of federal education officials five years ago, it was touted as a way to empower parents to ensure their children received a good education. If schools are chronically failing academically, children can receive tutoring or transfer. But there have been barriers to parents taking advantage of those offers. In 2003-04, only 1 percent of eligible students chose to transfer, and only 19 percent participated in supplemental services such as tutoring, according to a recent report by Appleseed, a nonprofit organization in Washington.

Such escape valves give parents leverage, but it's perhaps more important for family members to be brought in as allies as local schools plan improvement, experts say.

"The revolution of [the No Child Left Behind Act] is it really institutionalized parent involvement in schools in a way that says, 'Your contribution is more than just sending your kids and baking cookies,' " says Edwin Darden, director of education policy at Appleseed. But, he adds, "there's a long way to go in terms of parents really understanding fully what the rights and the opportunities are of No Child Left Behind." The vision of the law, the group reported, "remains unfulfilled."

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) actually requires schools that need improvement to inform and involve parents in their strategies, but federal and state monitors haven't been paying much attention to that part of the law, says Anne Henderson, a senior fellow at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and coauthor of "Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships."

Parents tend to have widely varied interactions with school staff, partly because of factors such as their socioeconomic background or ability to speak English, Ms. Henderson says. For white, middle-class parents, it's generally easier to walk into a school and advocate for a child to take particular classes to be on track for college. For low-income, less-educated families, "they don't know 'educationese'.... There are class and cultural differences that make it difficult for them to relate easily and comfortably to school staff – and school staff may look down on those families," she says.

When Baruti Kafele, principal of Newark Tech high school in New Jersey, hears educators lamenting that certain groups of parents just won't get involved, he tells them, "That is an excuse, and it is unacceptable."

The author of "A Black Parent's Handbook to Educating Your Children (Outside of the Classroom)," Mr. Kafele is often called upon to give talks to parents and educators. One creative solution he heard about at a school in Charlotte, N.C.: The staff took a bus tour of the communities the students live in, mostly impoverished areas where the teachers generally didn't venture. "Until you get into the community, you don't even know the child.... You can't fear the student, nor the community, nor the parent," he says.

Parent-teacher partnerships

Research shows that students do better when teachers and parents get past their misunderstandings and work together. Henderson mentions one study of schools with large portions of low-income students, for example, which found that when teachers did a three-part outreach – getting to know families, sending home assignments that parents could do with kids, and phoning routinely to talk about students' progress – there was a 40 to 50 percent faster rate of student improvement in reading and math.

Monique Taylor is the kind of parent who doesn't have much time to attend group meetings at school, but she appreciates that her daughter's teachers talk to her about any concerns.

"When she was kind of dropping in her reading, you know, they gave me a call, and between me and her teachers, we kept with her," she says as she's picking up her fifth-grade daughter, Amira Patterson, at the Maurice J. Tobin school in Boston. Soon mother and daughter will be attending orientation for a summer program that Amira's teachers suggested, to help the family plan for college.

Even this school, which tries hard to connect with parents, finds it difficult at times to keep them engaged in broader decisionmaking, say staff members who attend a monthly parent-council meeting at Tobin. About 15 parents usually attend, but on this frigid February night, the staff sat for nearly an hour munching on a dinner that's provided, waiting in vain for any parent to show up.

Approaches to involving parents at school

A state legislator in Texas, frustrated by what he sees as parents' lack of engagement, is taking a hard-nosed approach. Rep. Wayne Smith (R) proposed a law recently that would fine parents for failing to show up at a parent-teacher conference without a legitimate excuse. Schools would have to send a certified letter proposing three dates for the meeting.

Organizations like the National PTA, on the other hand, prefer the carrot to the stick. It has designated this week as its second annual Take Your Family to School Week. Hundreds of parent-teacher associations responded with ideas ranging from a parent-teacher basketball match to parents shadowing their children in abbreviated classes.

One bright note as awareness on this issue grows: The percent of parents who participated in a general school meeting rose from 75 percent in 1993 to 85 percent in 2003, according to a recent report by the national Center for Education Statistics.

By the time students are in high school, it's particularly difficult to get parents to participate, says Michelle Walden, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Central High School in Capitol Heights, Md., a participant in the "family" week.

"A lot of the parents just truly don't know" of the activities going on, she says. Sometimes they refuse to be on e-mail lists because they're unsure what kind of e-mails they'll receive, or their kids forget to give them announcements. "A lot of them are kind of like, 'I don't get involved,' unless it relates directly to them," she says.

When it comes to giving parents options if schools are failing, one key is for them to receive clearer and more timely information.

The Appleseed study looked at reports on school performance that go out to parents and found "some that were, frankly, truly awful," Mr. Darden says; they were packed with statistics and jargon. "A parent shouldn't have to pick up the phone to ask someone to decode [the report]," he says.

Work still to be done

Other reasons for low transfer and tutoring rates cited by various experts include a lack of better performing schools into which students could transfer; a strong desire to stay in neighborhood schools; and poor communication with parents about tutoring options.

The US Department of Education acknowledges the need for improvements in these areas. "There are about 1,800 schools today ... in this chronic underperformance category," said Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in a conference call last month unveiling proposed changes to NCLB, which is up for reauthorization in Congress this year. "We all have to answer the question ... what are we gonna do about that? No Child Left Behind must be a promise that is lived out and met for these families."

Her proposals include providing more money for supplemental services for students who live in rural areas, have disabilities, or are learning English – three groups that have been particularly underserved. "Promise Scholarships" would give an additional $2,500 to $3,000 to eligible students to help them to transfer to better public schools (even outside their district) or private schools, or to receive intensive tutoring.

Federal education officials are planning to visit 14 districts to focus attention on parental involvement and supplemental services.

An independent bipartisan commission also released recommendations for improving NCLB this week. They include a requirement that public school districts create an office or designate a contact person for parents to talk with about options for their children.

Meanwhile, some grass-roots groups around the country have already been advocating for schools to do more to include parents in their decisionmaking. The Boston Parent Organizing Network, for example, lobbied for the district to hire a family coordinator for each school. Two years ago, 15 were hired, says assistant director Myriam Ortiz, but the group is still fighting for full implementation of the plan by bringing parents to every budget meeting to voice their demands. | Copyright © 2007 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.

Texas colleges made a deal with the devil

Waco Times-Tribune Writer, John Young’s editorial appearing in the Austin American-Statesman today, also appeared earlier this week in the Waco Times-Tribune. This piece responds to the Feb. 2, 2007
“Texans and Their Tests” report out of Inside Higher Education .

- Angela

Texas colleges made a deal with the devil

Saturday, February 17, 2007
Warning to students at Texas state colleges: You are about to get used again. Actually, your term for it might be more anatomical.

Students got used four years ago when, to reduce its share of college funding, the Legislature deregulated tuition. That pleased college administrators, who jacked up college costs.

It was another hurtful wrinkle by which lawmakers could balance the budget with "no new taxes." But a tax on students is what this was.

Now with a new Legislature, colleges stand to play the foils again. Students again stand to be on the receiving end of a royal scam.

Gov. Rick Perry proposes to spend $362 million more on higher education. As a key condition, Perry wants to implement standardized exit-level tests. Yes, standardized testing, that mesmerizing yo-yo of one-trick education reformers.

He wants to tie funding to test scores and graduation rates. He also proposes an initiative to move students through college faster.

Not surprisingly, the idea of new dollars tweaks college administrators' salivary glands. New tests? Where do we sign? We'll just make students pay for them, $25 a pop.

While administrators appear onboard, tongues wagging, those in college faculties have raised an alarm.

Texas Faculty Association president Charles Zucker told Inside Higher Ed, "We've had massive amounts of teaching to the test (in public schools).. . . Now there's a consensus that that has failed, the governor wants to institute the same plan for higher education."

His use of "consensus" is open to debate. If education's quest is to roll out drones who, when drilled under threat of retention, will do certain state-assigned tasks, maybe "accountability" is a success. But we all thought higher education was, well, higher.

As proposed, the plan would not require college students to pass the state exams to graduate. A no-stakes test. So, no over-emphasis, right?

Listen, folks. If money is attached, those tests will be high-stakes faster than Deutsche Bank can convert rubles to yen.

What kinds of tests are we talking about?

Well, let's ask Education Testing Service. It has exit-level tests for college seniors in several disciplines. But a host of disciplines don't have anything. Sounds like new business for what surely will leap-frog cellular phones as the nation's largest growth industry.

This should trouble just about anyone who isn't on the cash end of the transaction.

Standardized testing has become a dead weight on our nation's schools with far less benefit per time and dollars spent than anyone wants to acknowledge.

With Texas leading the way, states have shown they can increase test scores, but not necessarily produce thinkers or innovators.

Speaking to Inside Higher Ed, Bob Schaefer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing warned that with state-imposed testing and economic incentives attached, colleges would "narrow their curriculum to test preparation for the exit exam."

"Test scores may soar, but education quality will be undermined."

The result, said Schaefer, would be "another phony 'Texas miracle.' "

One of two things will happen under this proposal: (1) Time and money will be spent on tests that students know don't matter but which the state says are important in "rating colleges." (2) The state would impress on colleges how important the tests are, and more and more classroom content would be dictated by some far-off test maker.

Presto. You have homogenization and standardization of a once-vibrant creature, American higher education, long the envy of the world.

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How Pearson is making a mint in education

From The Sunday Times / February 11, 2007
A lesson for all media groups
Dominic Rushe in Texas on how Pearson is making a mint in education

LIKE many students, Alfred Mora had found concentrating in class difficult and the 17-year-old was in danger of failing history and not graduating. “Sometimes there just seemed to be too much going on,” he said.
But Mora didn’t seem to be having trouble finding his focus sitting at a computer terminal in a quiet classroom at Austin High School in Texas last week. Clicking through a series of questions about the first world war, he said: “I find it a lot easier to concentrate in here. It’s explained in a different way and I can go at my own speed.”
Mora is one of half a dozen students taking what the school calls Delta, and the scheme is making millions for the British media and publishing group Pearson. With Delta, lessons are taught online; pupils can flick back and forth to make sure they understand what they are being taught. They can catch up at their own pace and if they have any questions, there is a teacher on hand to help.
Like Mora, Mayra Barrios, 17, often finds classes “too distracting”. She is taking English, maths and psychology in Delta and hopes to study criminal justice.
“Students in here have failed for lots of different reasons and I’ll guarantee it’s not because they can’t do it,” said John Garcia, the teacher supervising the Delta students.
Austin High School may have more than the average number of famous alumni — including George Bush’s daughter Jenna and Kinky Friedman, the musician, politician and crime novelist — but it is a fairly typical school.
Its 2,200 pupils make up a diverse cross-section of Texas’s economic and social backgrounds. As is normal, two armed police officers patrol the grounds. And, like all US high schools, Austin is undergoing a teaching revolution.
Ever since the rise of Japan in the 1980s, America has been worried about losing its competitive edge.
Education has long been seen as the tool best suited to sharpening that edge and America spends $440 billion (£226 billion) a year on schooling. But until recently nobody has tried to measure how effective that spending has been.
Now, thanks to a combination of technology and legislation, the country is keeping tabs on it. And it is proving a bonanza for Pearson.

Educators talk of a “teach and learn cycle” that technology can create. The British government calls it “personalised learning”. Children can be taught, then tested and the results used to identify areas where individuals are having difficulty.
Austin pupils may know the course as Delta but it is known as Novanet to Pearson, which counts Penguin books and the Financial Times among its assets.

Novanet is part of a rapidly growing portfolio of high-tech education programs Pearson is selling to the US schools market.
Pearson now stores the school records of some 50% of US school students. Everything from age, race, sex and attendance to grades goes through its computers. Long a provider of text books, Pearson is remodelling itself as a “solutions provider”, hoping to combine its traditional text book content business with its high-tech test scoring and information-gathering arms.
It seems to be a winning formula. In California, the company recently won the contract to provide a new high-tech text book and computer program teaching kindergarten and junior school children history and social science. Alongside the book, inter-active computer programmes offer songs and video as well as options for teachers to conduct the lesson in Spanish or other languages. It is the first of its kind, and unlikely to be the last.

Even the exam marking is high-tech. Tests are scanned and then sent digitally to examiners, allowing more than one person to work on the test at the same time. Pearson has computer programmes that can assess essays — analysing content and style.

All this technology means education packages that were once stuck in one country, and perhaps even one state, could now make their way across the world.

This summer Pearson’s Ed-Excel, which marks GCSEs and A-levels, will start testing out computer marking as a back-up to the usual human-scored checks.

When the initiative was announced, Sir John Mortimer, the dramatist and Rumpole crea-tor, described computerised essay-marking as “lunacy”. “How can a computer listen to the sound of words? How can it decide whether ideas are original or not?” he said.

Somewhat later than their pupils, schools are embracing technology. But not for its own sake, said Darlene Westbrook, Austin’s chief education officer. Before Delta and other schemes were introduced, “we had too many kids dropping out simply because they hadn’t gained the [school] credits they needed to graduate,” she said. Austin’s school district is 57% Latino, and 20% are characterised as “English language learners”.

The first step to improving education in the area was to create standards for everyone and to test for them regularly, said Westbrook. “Our preference is not for a virtual school, it is to keep them in school,” she said.

But more than that, all these initiatives must be accountable, she said. “We are in a global economy. We produced 70,000 engineers last year, China produced 90,000. We have fewer kids than the Chinese. We are losing ground. If we are going to be a world leader we need to ask ourselves how long can we continue to be a country that doesn’t learn another language?”
“The US used to be No 1 in the percentage of kids that went to college, No 1 in college graduates and so on and so on,” said Steve Dowling, president and chief executive of Pearson School Companies. “Now we are No 14 in college graduates and we’ve dropped down the list in so many other areas.”

Before the terror attacks of 2001, George Bush’s ambition seemed to be to go down in history as “the education president”. Across America, poor children lag far behind their advantaged peers in school achievement, and the former Texas governor ran his presidential campaign pledging to close that gap. Six years on it seems unlikely history will remember Bush for his education reforms, but he has had a profound impact.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 promotes testing and achievement with the promise of extra support to needy schools and students. NCLB’s effectiveness continues to be a matter of controversy, but it has brought the idea of accountability in education under the spotlight and is part of a wider movement towards measurable standards.

For Pearson the act came just in time. Dame Marjorie Scardino, Pearson’s Texan-born, London-based chief executive, has focused the British company on education in her 10-year tenure. In 1998, Pearson spent $4.6 billion to buy Simon & Schuster’s educational assets and in 2000 spent $2.5 billion on National Computer Systems (NCS). Some analysts criticised Pearson for overpaying in what was then the largest-ever UK rights issue.

Before the purchase “we weren’t a testing company”, said Scardino. “What we had was a lot of great content that we could only deliver in book form. We needed the ability to marry that content with student data to make it relevant for each child.”
The extent of Pearson’s testing ability is on show a few miles from Austin High School at NCS’s enormous test-marking site close to the airport. The facility is capable of handling 3m paper tests a day.

It is an impressive — and expensive — business. Analysts estimate Pearson’s education business will make an operating profit of £396m in 2006. In 2000, before the NCS acquisition, it made £237m and in 1998, before Pearson bought Simon & Schuster, the figure was £99m.

As American education is increasingly driven by technology and accountability, NCS’s ability to offer high-tech testing and measuring combined with Pearson’s skills in text books has proved a winning formula.

Pearson’s strategy has its risks. With all this investment, losing a big contract in Texas, Florida or California would be a serious blow. But, as many other media companies are finding, there is a greater risk in failing to embrace the future.
Educational publishers have “a stark choice: invest in technology and systems that power interaction ... or exit the business now while valuations remain attractive,” Dresdner Kleinwort analyst Usman Ghazi said recently.

This week Reed Elsevier releases its results, and its education business, Harcourt, is again expected to drag. There has been speculation that Reed may sell off its education assets. The company refused to comment.

Canadian giant Thomson is selling its higher-education business and Holland’s Wolters Klu-wer has also put its schools business on the block. And last year Dublin-based educational software maker Riverdeep bought America’s fourth-largest textbook publisher, Houghton Mifflin.

Just like the children they help to instruct, the world’s education businesses are undergoing a “teach and learn” cycle. If they can’t keep up with Alfred Mora, they may not make the grade.


Pearson Education
1 Lake Street Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458

Bryan, Beth Ann (00055189)
300 West 6th Street Suite 2100 Austin, TX 78701
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client - Start: 01/19/2007 Term Date: 12/31/2007

Carter, Janis L. (00039065)
401 Congress Avenue Suite 2100 Austin, TX 78701
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: $10,000 - $24,999.99
Client - Start: 01/10/2007 Term Date: 12/31/2007

Foster, Wendy M. (00056685)
401 Congress Ste 2100 Austin, TX 78701
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: $10,000 - $24,999.99
Client - Start: 01/22/2007 Term Date: 12/31/2007

Kress, B. Alexander (00032037)
300 West 6th Street Suite 2100 Austin, TX 78701
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client - Start: 01/08/2007 Term Date: 12/31/2007

Valenzuela, Joe D. (00050742)
401 Congress Ste. 2100 Austin, TX
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: $10,000 - $24,999.99
Client - Start: 01/10/2007 Term Date: 12/31/2007

Kress, B. Alexander (00032037)
300 West 6th Street Suite 2100 Austin, TX 78701

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
300 West 6th Street Suite 2100 Austin, TX 78701
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client Start Date: 01/08/2007
Client Term Date: 12/31/2007

D.H. Texas Development L.P.
c/o Darryl Hammond 326 Calhoun Plaza Port Lavaca, TX 77979
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client Start Date: 01/08/2007
Client Term Date: 12/31/2007

Early Care and Education Consortium
805 15th Street NW Suite 700 Washington, DC 20005
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client Start Date: 01/08/2007
Client Term Date: 12/31/2007

Edvance Research Inc.
9901 IH-10 West Suite 700 San Antonio, TX 78257
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client Start Date: 01/08/2007
Client Term Date: 12/31/2007

Governor's Business Council
515 Congress Avenue Suite 1780 Austin, TX 78701
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client Start Date: 01/08/2007
Client Term Date: 02/05/2007

MGT of America Inc.
2123 Centre Point Boulevard Tallahassee, FL 32308
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client Start Date: 01/08/2007
Client Term Date: 12/31/2007

Mobile Satellite Ventures L.P.
10802 Parkridge Boulevard Reston, VA 20191-4334
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client Start Date: 01/08/2007
Client Term Date: 12/31/2007

Pearson Education
1 Lake Street Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client Start Date: 01/08/2007
Client Term Date: 12/31/2007

Texans for Excellence in the Classroom
515 Congress Avenue Suite 1780 Austin, TX 78701
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: $25,000 - $49.999.99
Client Start Date: 02/05/2007
Client Term Date: 12/31/2007

Kress, B. Alexander (00032037)
300 West 6th Street Suite 2100 Austin, TX 78701

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
300 West 6th Street Suite 2100 Austin, TX 78701
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client Start Date: 01/27/2006
Client Term Date: 12/31/2006

D.H. Texas Development L.P.
c/o Darryl Hammond 326 Calhoun Plaza Port Lavaca, TX 77979
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client Start Date: 08/10/2006
Client Term Date: 12/31/2006

Early Care and Education Consortium
805 15th Street NW Suite 700 Washington, DC 20005
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client Start Date: 12/11/2006
Client Term Date: 12/31/2006

Governor's Business Council
515 Congress Avenue Suite 1780 Austin, TX 78701
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: $10,000 - $24,999.99
Client Start Date: 04/07/2006
Client Term Date: 12/31/2006

Kaplan Inc.
888 7th Avenue New York, NY 10106
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client Start Date: 01/27/2006
Client Term Date: 12/31/2006

Mobile Satellite Ventures L.P.
10802 Parkridge Boulevard Reston, VA 20191-4334
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: Less Than $10,000.00
Client Start Date: 08/10/2006
Client Term Date: 12/31/2006

Pearson Education
1 Lake Street Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
Type of Compensation: Prospective
Amount: $10,000 - $24,999.99
Client Start Date: 01/27/2006
Client Term Date: 12/31/2006

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Joining education debate is clearly smart business


Thursday, February 15, 2007
Over the years, the most common lament about the legislative and social debate over the future of Texas public education hasn't been about low performance. Neither has it been about bloated administrative salaries nor the salvation promised by vouchers, charter schools or other variations.

It has been that the "business community" — a shorthand term, and a most ambiguous one — is not fully engaged. For sure, there have been active players in the ongoing public discourse who are also business people, but none has commanded the visibility or the clout of the commission Ross Perot headed in the 1970s. The highly quotable Perot, a Dallas multi-millionaire, boldly challenged the status quo and put the state on the road to educational accountability. Since then, business leaders have been hit or miss in the education debate.

There is no doubt that the state's businesses have a direct stake in the way Texas children are educated. Today's students, after all, are tomorrow's employees. That is not to mention the direct link between levels of income and levels of education. The more education customers have, the more they have to spend. So, which business owner wouldn't welcome a fully educated, fully employed customer base?

That is why we all should welcome the entry into the discussion by high-profile business leaders, including Charles Butt, the chief executive officer of H-E-B, and the highly respected Bill Ratliff, who served as a state senator and lieutenant governor. Butt and Ratliff are part of a group of business leaders calling themselves "Raise Your Hand." Also signed on are executives from Continental Airlines, AT&T and Temple-Inland.

In announcing the formation of the group, Ratliff said accountability measures alone won't improve Texas public schools. In fact, overemphasis on performance measures may damage performance.

"Accountability only goes so far. Weighing a cow does not make it heavier. You have to feed it," Ratliff said.

Among suggestions Ratliff and "Raise Your Hand" offered are state-funded, full-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs available to all 4- and 5-year-olds. That would be one way of addressing an achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent counterparts.

Ratliff isn't really saying anything new. That concept and the idea of investing more into the public school system have been advocated on these pages and others for years. Nonetheless, there is an unbreakable link between message and messenger.

This group should be an example to Texas business owners about their stake in the public education system. What happens in Texas classroom is, literally, their business.

Find this article at:

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Reactions to Aspen Institute Report, "Beyond NCLB"

BEYOND NCLB [pdf]. -Angela

From: "U.S. Department of Education"

Date: February 13, 2007 9:14:12 AM CST

To: "U.S. Department of Education"


U.S. Department of Education
Office of Communications & Outreach, Press Office
400 Maryland Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20202

Feb. 13, 2006

Chad Colby
Katherine McLane

(202) 401-1576


U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today made the following statement on the release of the Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind “Beyond NCLB: Fulfilling the Promise to Our Nations’ Children” report:

Every child in America deserves a good education, regardless of race, income or zip code. That is why lawmakers from both sides of the aisle came together to craft the No Child Left Behind Act five years ago, shining a spotlight on our achievement gap and creating accountability for the schools that serve our students.

The Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind report “Beyond NCLB: Fulfilling the Promise to Our Nations’ Children” released today illustrates the broad, bipartisan commitment to improving our nation’s schools that was behind the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The Commission’s recommendations recognize the solid foundation built by NCLB and reaffirm the law’s core principles including accountability, high standards and having all students reading and doing math at grade level by 2014.

The report supports many of the key proposals advanced in President Bush's “Building on Results: A Blueprint for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act” that was released last month. I am encouraged that the Commission addressed embedding growth models in the law to measure student achievement over time, the pressing need for highly qualified teachers in every classroom, and more significant interventions and critical resources for schools that are chronically underperforming.

Co-chairs Secretary Tommy Thompson and Gov. Roy Barnes have my gratitude for their dedication to reauthorizing and improving the law. I welcome their help in moving the renewal process forward. I also look forward to working with them and their colleagues in the coming weeks and months as we urge Congress to reauthorize the law. There is no better time than now to recommit to educating all of America’s students.

This morning the Aspen Institute Commission on NCLB released its report on reauthorizing the law. It is quite awful. Below is FairTest's react we are just now sending to the media. The report has many, many other flaws.
- you can access the report at - if you don't have lots of time, look for recommendations (75 of them) down the list of chapters you can download, as well as the exec summary.
Here is the FT news release:
FairTest____________________                                            National Center for Fair & Open Testing
                                                                                                for more information:
                                                                                                Dr. Monty Neill   (617) 864-4810
                                                                                                Robert Schaeffer  (239) 395-6773
The Aspen Commission's recommendations for reauthorizing the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, released today, amount to little more than NCLB on steroids.
Their predictable side-effect will be the further reduction of education to coaching for narrow exams that fail to support or assess high-quality student learning.
While the Commission claims that the public now accepts NCLB, numerous state and national surveys find that educators overwhelmingly reject the test-and- punish dictates of the law while parents reject the side effects of teaching to the test. The more the public knows about the law, the more they oppose it.
The Commission report contains numerous examples of flawed logic, unreasonable requirements and bad policy. These include:
- Using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers and principals. This will only intensify teaching to the test, narrowing and dumbing-down education most severely for the nation’s neediest children.
-  Creating multiple additional ways for schools to fail by mandating that science scores count in AYP and that subgroup scores count toward accountability when subgroup size reaches 20 – a number so small as to guarantee statistically inaccurate results.
-  Making assessment and accountability for students with disabilities more rigid, countering a demand by parents that their children be included in ways that are flexible and reasonable.
-  Encouraging uniform state tests, which will pave the way to reducing education to preparation for one national test instead of many different state tests
Our nation deserves a federal law that encourages a rich education for all rather than mindless test-preparation. A more rational approach is found in the Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind, now endorsed by 106 national education, civil rights, religious, disability and civic organizations. Follow-up reports with detailed recommendations will soon be released by the Forum on Educational Accountability, a working group of the Joint Statement signers.
The Joint Statement and other information on the failures of NCLB may be found at

Monty Neill, Ed.D.
Executive Director
342 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139
617-864-4810    fax 617-497-2224

High school dropouts costing Texas big money, report claims

Rod Paige, former U.S. secretary of education and Houston Independent School District superintendent, speaks Monday morning at the Capitol about the need for reform in the Texas education system.

High school dropouts costing Texas big money, report claims

Joseph Boone

Posted: 2/13/07

Each year, high school dropouts in the state of Texas cost taxpayers about $337 million in lost tax revenue, increased incarceration costs and increased Medicaid costs, according to a study released Monday by the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, the National Center for Policy Analysis, and the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options.

The study, "The High Cost of Failing to Reform Public Education in Texas," found that the class of 2005 failed to graduate more than 119,000 Texas students based on U.S. Census Bureau data. Texas has a 67-percent graduation rate, the second-lowest rate in the country after Mississippi, according to the study .

Each dropout costs taxpayers about $3,168 each year after dropping out, a figure slightly higher than the $3,004 provided by the state government for each year the student is in school, according to the study.

To help combat this problem, Texas should implement a school-choice program allowing parents to choose which school their children attend, said Rod Paige, chairman of the Chartwell Education Group LLC and former U.S. Secretary of Education. School-choice programs would allow parents to choose between their zoned public school, a neighboring public school or a private school, he said. The program would increase competition between public and private schools, which have a more successful graduation rate, resulting in a decreased dropout rate, according to the study. The study claims this would save taxpayers billions of dollars.

Public schools are grossly underfunded, and school-choice programs would only take more funding away from the schools, said Linda Bridges, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers. With parents given the option of sending their children to private schools without having to pay tuition, some state funds would have to be given to these private schools, she said.

"We have been fighting this battle for many sessions," she said. "This is just another tactic to raise support for school choice."

School-choice programs would not harm public schools by decreasing their funding, Paige said. The same amount of money would still be available for educating Texas students, he said.

"The money is not for the system," he said. "The money is for the child."

School-choice programs have been successful in decreasing dropout rates in cities such as Milwaukee and Phoenix, said Rebecca Nieves-Huffman, president and CEO of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options.

"School choice is a lifesaver for students in this program," she said.

Previous efforts in the Texas Legislature to pass bills relating to school choice programs have failed, said Toni Falbo, a UT educational psychology professor. Advocates of school choice have mostly given up because a legislative decision is unlikely, she said.

"The problem with school choice is that some parents choose and some parents don't," Falbo said. Parents may not have the money and resources to help their child into a better school system, she said.

The Texas Education Agency reported the class of 2005 graduated 84 percent of its students as opposed to the 67 percent published in the study. The study used a different method from the state to determine its 67 percent graduation rate, said Greg Forster, director of research for the Friedman Foundation and editor of the study.

A rally at the Texas Capitol last Wednesday in favor of school choice brought together about 1,000 Texas students, parents and teachers.
© Copyright 2007 The Daily Texan

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Counterterrorism and the Latino Community Since September 11

This is an important read. It illustrates how restrictive immigration policies have an over-flow effect, affecting, in particular, the Latino community, generally, since many Latinos live in mixed-status households


Faculty Diversity: Too Little for Too Long

Check out this piece that came out awhile back 2002 in the HARVARD MAGAZINE. I doubt much has changed though. These statistics are rather glaring. -Angela

Top U.S. Immigration Official defends practices at Taylor detention Center

"Mead said about 170 children are confined at the detention center, and about 75 families are involved in asylum proceedings. The immigrant population typically numbers about 400 people, and about 29 nationalities are represented. Most people who are not seeking asylum are deported, usually after about 40 days, Mead said."-Angela


Official: Supervised release for families typically not considered
Media tour offers rare glimpse into life inside Taylor immigrant detention center

By Juan Castillo
Saturday, February 10, 2007

TAYLOR — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials typically don't consider supervised release for people apprehended on immigration violations if they believe the immigrants are likely to be removed from the country in 20 to 50 days, a top official with the agency said Friday.

"Our basic approach is detention," said Gary Mead, assistant director for detention and removal at Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "But we are using alternatives, and we've gotten increased funding to use them."

Mead led local, state and national journalists on a tour Friday of the T. Don Hutto Residential Center as federal officials sought to show that it is family friendly and not, as a growing number of critics have described, a prisonlike facility that harms the physical and mental well-being of families and children.

The 512-bed Taylor detention center, which opened in May, is one of two in the country that confines families on noncriminal immigration violations. It is at the heart of a controversy over a 2006 immigration policy allowing for detention of families, including children and infants, who are in immigration, asylum or deportation proceedings.

Critics say the practice is inhumane and have urged the agency, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, to consider alternatives. Congress called on immigration officials to strongly consider alternatives when it approved 2007 funding for homeland security.

Asked why officials don't consider alternatives, Mead said: "We don't know who's coming and going, and we don't know who will apply for asylum. Not all who apply get it."

Barbara Hines, who directs the University of Texas Law School's Immigration Clinic, called the argument untrue, saying that many detainees have passed a screening indicating that they have a credible fear of persecution or torture in their home country.

"That means they're not just leaving; it means they're going to pursue their asylum claim," Hines said.

Mead led reporters in a hurried and controlled 80-minute tour of the facility's living quarters, dining area, classroom, computer lab, medical unit and outdoor recreational area. Immigration agency officials prohibited reporters from interviewing detainees.

Mead said about 170 children are confined at the detention center, and about 75 families are involved in asylum proceedings. The immigrant population typically numbers about 400 people, and about 29 nationalities are represented. Most people who are not seeking asylum are deported, usually after about 40 days, Mead said.

In recent weeks, attorneys and advocates, citing accounts from current and former detainees, have offered complaints about the center's conditions, including inadequate health care and education, inedible food, weight loss among children and guards yelling at detainees.

In a news conference outside the detention center, Vanita Gupta, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said it is investigating allegations of human rights violations and reports of a recent hunger strike. Marc Moore, director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in San Antonio, denied that a hunger strike took place.

"We've done a number of things to soften the facility and make it family friendly," Mead said, later adding that barbed wire surrounding the center will be removed.

Mead said doors to detainees' cells are not locked, and family members are usually placed in adjoining cells, two to a cell. Guards don't carry guns or weapons, he said, and population counts are conducted four times a day for safety reasons.

Dr. Leroy Soto, the detention center's clinical director, said officials found no significant weight loss among children. He said medical staff typically see children for routine illnesses like colds. Inmates are "getting very good nutrition," Soto said.; 445-3635

Voucher plan is not best for Texas students


Voucher plan is not best for Texas students


Thursday, February 08, 2007
Voucher proposals that spend taxpayers' money to send students to private schools would have not fared well in Texas.

A sizeable majority of Texans wants their tax money going to the local public schools, not private academies and religious schools. The huge rally at the Capitol on Wednesday to lobby the Legislature for a pilot voucher program isn't going to change that dynamic.

Legislators answer to voters in their home districts, not the organized lobby pushing a voucher project that takes money from public schools and spends it in private ones. Lawmakers have rejected voucher plans in the past and should do so with the one being proposed for this session.

San Antonio physician James Leininger has spent millions of dollars over much of the past two decades trying to launch a voucher project in Texas, so far without success. He has invested huge amounts of his own fortune in two voucher — he calls them scholarship — programs in San Antonio. He has also given millions to political campaigns aimed at electing pro-voucher candidates and defeating anti-voucher ones. He lost big on that gamble last year when five candidates he supported were defeated at the polls.

Leininger's personal philanthropy in San Antonio is admirable. And his dedication to the cause he has given so much of his life and resources to — school choice — is unquestioned. He seems to genuinely care about the education of disadvantaged, inner-city students.

But his tactics are questionable, and Leininger acknowledges that his efforts to manipulate the Legislature through large campaign donations backfired. More to the point, the school choice system he is pushing does not work for millions of Texas students.

Leininger, whose business fortune helped fund Wednesday's Capitol rally, fervently believes students trapped in failing schools should have the option of a better public school or a private one. And he just as fervently believes that the state should provide at least some of the money for those who seek a private education.

Urban districts do have problems, and far too many Texas students are trapped in failing schools. But sending tax dollars away from those schools and into private ones will not help troubled schools improve. Leininger's heart is in the right place, but the course he has chosen is wrong.

The best answer for the more than 4 million Texans in public schools is to use state and local expertise, dedication and resources to improve those schools. A voucher program that gives part of those resources to private entities will, in the long run, harm the public schools.

A vital part of the social compact we all live with is the system of public schools. Our focus, locally and nationally, should be on making that system work as well as it possibly can. Pulling the best and most motivated students from the public schools through a voucher program eventually will cripple the system, possibly beyond repair.

That may be what some of the school choice advocates would like to see. But for most Texans, that is a future too bleak to imagine, much less support.