Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Montgomery Aims to Fill In Gaps for Teen Immigrants

Montgomery Aims to Fill In Gaps for Teen Immigrants

By Daniel de Vise

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 27, 2007; B01

Gerber Lisama started school at age 6. At 7, he was working in Salvadoran cornfields. Toiling in the morning, studying in the afternoon, he needed three years to complete first grade.

Now 17, Lisama is a freshman at Gaithersburg High School. But after a year in the United States, he speaks almost no English, writes choppily in Spanish and cannot compute beyond simple arithmetic.

Yesterday, Montgomery County school officials announced a pilot program tailored to the specific needs of students such as Lisama: recent immigrants who have had little formal education although they are reaching the age when most native-born Americans graduate from high school.

"Over there, people don't think school is a big deal," Lisama said. "Even if people get their degree, there's no work."

The program, Students Engaged in Pathways to Achievement, would begin this summer at Wheaton High School, a campus serving a large immigrant population, and focus initially on about 15 students in their late teens. Students would be taught functional English, with an emphasis on career-specific vocabulary. Other classes would explore careers, including horticulture, cosmetology and hospitality. Students also would be taught to read and write fluently in their native Spanish.

The program confronts the realities facing teenage immigrants who escape poverty and upheaval in El Salvador and other Latin American nations for a better life in the Washington suburbs. They arrive unable to speak much English, unable to read or write well even in Spanish, with vast gaps in their formal education and too near adulthood to make up for lost schooling.

Lisama, who lives with a brother and a cousin in Montgomery Village, counts on his fingers the number of times he repeated the first, third and fifth grades in his Salvadoran village. He recalls odd lapses in his patchwork of an education; for one thing, he does not remember taking a social studies class, because the village school didn't offer one. He lived 10 months in the United States before enrolling in school, working full time as a mechanic to cover the cost of his journey.

He would like to earn a diploma and go to college. "I have to be positive," he said. But a more pressing goal is to learn enough English to move beyond fixing cars.

Hispanic leaders and parents approached the school board last spring with a request for three broad changes to address the achievement gap that has separated Hispanic students from whites and Asians, especially in high school. One was to better serve immigrants who arrive as teens with a limited formal education; the others were to increase Latino parent involvement and to improve the "competency" of school-system staff and programs in handling the Spanish language and the Latino culture.

Immigrants who enter U.S. schools with sparse English skills are typically steered into such programs as English for Speakers of Other Languages, where the goal is to teach students enough English to function in school and society.

This model falls apart, Hispanic leaders say, with older immigrants who have had little formal education. There isn't time for them to compensate for years of lost schooling, and the students know it. So they tend to focus on more practical goals.

"They want to get a job, they want to learn English, and they want a better life," said Michael Cohen, director for instructional programs in the Montgomery schools.

Antonio Quintanilla, 17, was an eighth-grader on paper when he left El Salvador for the United States last year. But his education was fraught with interruptions. His aunt held him back in the first and second grades to keep him in the same classes with a struggling cousin. He lost a year of schooling at age 12 to care for his dying father and tend the family's cattle. Upon his arrival at Gaithersburg High last year, Quintanilla tested at the second-grade level in math. He has since progressed to fourth grade.

Cohen and other Montgomery educators said they searched the nation's immigrant-rich school systems and found few examples of programs designed specifically for older teenage immigrants such as Lisama and Quintanilla.

The closest equivalent in Montgomery is called Multidisciplinary Education, Training and Support, or METS. About 340 students ages 9 and older are taught in small classes -- the goal is about 15 students -- by teachers who specialize in basic literacy, in lessons that employ simple terms, visual cues and body language. They also get help adjusting academically and socially to the school setting.

Fairfax County schools offer a similar program, and schools in the District offer a battery of courses to new immigrants that focus on life skills and interpersonal communication.

But immigrant leaders are dissatisfied with METS. Classes are too large and serve too broad a range of ages and educational attainments, said Candace Kattar, executive director of Identity Inc., a Gaithersburg nonprofit group serving the immigrant community. She faults the program, too, for accepting only students who report, in conversations or through school records, that they have missed two or more years of school.

An independent analysis of the program last year by the Latino Education Coalition, a new collaboration among local groups, found students enrolled in METS were dropping out at a rate of 40 to 50 percent in a single year at some schools.

"Basic things, like how to function in a school, overwhelm them," said Margaret Van Buskirk, an ESOL teacher at Gaithersburg High who is writing curriculum for the pilot program.

The $155,000 pilot program was approved as part of the school system's nearly $2 billion budget request for the fiscal year that begins in July and will go forward unless cut from the final spending plan. If successful, it would be expanded to other high schools, such as Gaithersburg, with large concentrations of Latin American immigrants.

"We don't rule out any options," said Karen Woodson, director of ESOL programs in the county school system. A high school diploma, she said, "is our ultimate goal. But let's keep some things in perspective. There may be cases where we know a high school diploma is not reasonable. So we want to provide meaningful options to them as well."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

Texas reviews scandal-plagued juvenile prison system

I'm glad to see that this very important story appeared in the Chicago Tribune. I'm so glad that this is getting exposed. But how tragic for these children and their families. -Angela

Texas reviews scandal-plagued juvenile prison system
By Howard Witt
Tribune senior correspondent

March 26, 2007, 8:02 PM CDT

HOUSTON -- The sentences of many of the 4,700 delinquent youths now being held in Texas' juvenile prisons might have been arbitrarily and unfairly extended by prison authorities and thousands could be freed in a matter of weeks as part of a sweeping overhaul of the scandal-plagued juvenile system, state officials say.

Jay Kimbrough, a special master appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to investigate the system after allegations surfaced that some prison officials were coercing imprisoned youths for sex, said he would assemble a committee to review the sentence of every youth in the system.

The goal, Kimbrough said, is to release any youth whose sentence was improperly extended without justification or in retaliation for filing complaints. In his initial review of sentences, Kimbrough said, he had found many questionable extensions, adding that some experts estimate that more 60 percent of the state's youthful inmates might be languishing under wrongful detention.

Such a mass emptying of a state's juvenile jails would be unprecedented, experts said.

Among the leading candidates for early release is Shaquanda Cotton, a 14-year-old black girl from the small east Texas town of Paris, who was sent to prison for up to 7 years for shoving a hall monitor at her high school while other young white offenders convicted of more serious crimes received probation in the town's courts.

Shaquanda's story was the subject of a March 12 Tribune article that triggered hundreds of Internet blog articles and thousands of message board postings and led to a nationwide letter-writing campaign to the Texas governor decrying perceived racial discrimination in her case.

Cotton, now 15, has been incarcerated at a youth prison in Brownwood, Texas, for the last year on a sentence that could run until her 21st birthday. But like many of the other youths in the system, she is eligible to earn earlier release if she achieves certain social, behavioral and educational milestones while in prison.

But officials at the Ron Jackson Correctional Complex have repeatedly extended Shaquanda's sentence because she refuses to admit her guilt and because she was found with contraband in her cell--an extra pair of socks.

"I do have an interest in that case," Kimbrough said. "Based on what I've already seen and heard, that's exactly the kind of thing I want to know more about, if that typifies in some way why sentences are being extended."

Will Harrell, executive director of the Texas chapter of the ACLU, attended a meeting in Austin on last Friday where Kimbrough outlined his sentence review plan and invited civil rights groups to nominate members to the special review panel.

"Everybody in the room thought we should take Shaquanda's case first," Harrell said, because of its high profile.

But if the teenager is released, Kimbrough noted, the decision will have nothing to do with whether she was the victim of racial discrimination in the schools and courtrooms of Paris, as civil rights groups have alleged. Instead, it will be based on whether she has been treated arbitrarily by prison officials since she has been incarcerated.

Texas' juvenile prison system, known as the Texas Youth Commission, was first rocked by scandal last month after revelations surfaced that two administrators at a youth prison in west Texas had allegedly coerced sex from inmates for years and that prison officials and local prosecutors chose not to pursue the cases.

Since then, the scandal has widened as reports surfaced of cover-ups and alleged sex abuse by guards and administrators at other prisons. More than a thousand investigations have now been opened. Meanwhile, Kimbrough discovered that 111 employees of the youth agency had felony arrests or convictions and another 437 had misdemeanor arrests or charges.

The top leadership of the youth commission was forced out, the board overseeing the agency resigned and Perry essentially placed the commission into receivership when he appointed Kimbrough to clean up the mess.

Texas state legislators are rushing to pass bills to overhaul the juvenile prison agency.

Civil rights advocates have long been concerned that Texas' system of indeterminate sentences for youths places too much discretion in the hands of prison authorities, who retain the power to hold or release youths at will. Now the sex scandal--and the concern that some victimized youths may have been threatened with longer detentions to keep them quiet--has prompted Kimbrough to examine the entire practice.

Nearly 90 percent of juveniles incarcerated inside Texas youth prisons were sent there on indeterminate sentences that could run as long as their 21st birthdays. But many of those inmates become eligible for release after serving only nine months, if prison authorities are satisfied that they have completed all the steps, or "phases," of an elaborate behavioral modification program.

"The system is wide open for abuse and corruption," said the ACLU's Harrell. "How difficult would it be for a 12-year-old kid to file a complaint on an assistant superintendent of a facility when that assistant superintendent is actually the one who is sexually abusing her and that same person gets to decide when she gets out? Basically the official gets to say, 'Comply and keep quiet or I'll keep you here until you're 21.' "

Harrell, who will serve on Kimbrough's sentence review panel, said the members intend to be careful not to release truly violent youths who ought to remain behind bars.

"If kids have behaved violently, then those are the ones that may very well have a justification for their sentence extension," Harrell said. "But most of the cases I have heard about have to do with petty instances, like Shaquanda's contraband socks."

The "phases" system also contains a built-in Catch-22 for youths, like Shaquanda, whose legal appeals are still making their way through the courts. One of the first phases that must be satisfied is a requirement that youths admit their guilt--an admission that would instantly compromise their appeals.

For his part, Kimbrough says he feels a sense of urgency about his review.

"As fast as we can do this, that's my goal," said Kimbrough, a former deputy attorney general. "Any time the government is holding somebody that ought not be held, that's urgent to me."
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune,1,1122206.story?coll=chi-news-hed

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

State lawmaker: Leave most immigration issues to the feds

"Although Swinford didn't elaborate on measures unlikely to make it out of his committee, he said he expects the House to consider two: a concurrent resolution telling the federal government to shape up on immigration enforcement and his House Bill 13, which in part would allow the governor to help law enforcement agencies pay for personnel, equipment and support for homeland security.

A 2001 state law allowing certain illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities could also be revisited."


State lawmaker: Leave most immigration issues to the feds
Most bills might not pass constitutional muster.

By Juan Castillo, W. Gardner Selby
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Although once it seemed almost certain that the Texas Legislature was headed for a bruising showdown over illegal immigration, a key lawmaker signaled Monday that the place for that battle is a national stage.

Texas is "not in the immigration business. We don't have any authority," said Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas.

Swinford is the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, which will decide the fate of most of the 30-plus immigration bills filed in the 80th Legislature. He said he was briefed Friday by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's staff on the "parameters of what we need to be worried about" regarding immigration-related legislation.

What he learned, Swinford said, is that federal law pre-empts state law.

"When you put that screen over that, there's a lot of (bills) that don't make it through," Swinford said.

Although Swinford didn't elaborate on measures unlikely to make it out of his committee, he said he expects the House to consider two: a concurrent resolution telling the federal government to shape up on immigration enforcement and his House Bill 13, which in part would allow the governor to help law enforcement agencies pay for personnel, equipment and support for homeland security.

A 2001 state law allowing certain illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities could also be revisited. Everything else is unresolved, Swinford said.

In February, Swinford asked Abbott's office to review immigration bills referred to his committee, saying he didn't want to pass anything that didn't clear a constitutional bar.

Reacting to Swinford's comments Monday, Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, who wrote the tuition law, said Swinford recognized that state leaders need to focus on things they can change. "I think people also recognized that a lot of the emotion for this issue was predominantly a carryover from the election season," Noriega said. "It was just a campaign hot button."

With congressional inaction on how to confront the issue, state lawmakers have filed legislation making it harder for illegal immigrants to live in Texas.

One of the most prominent, House Bill 28, would deny state services to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. Its author, Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, hopes it becomes a test for the U.S. Supreme Court to interpret the 14th Amendment, which provides birthright citizenship.

Another Berman bill would tax money transfers to Mexico and Latin America, and other measures, including Swinford's, would enable local law officers to enforce federal immigration laws.

The State Affairs and Border and International Affairs committees will meet Wednesday to hear invited testimony on immigration.

On Monday, a coalition of political, civil rights and business leaders called on lawmakers to consider immigrants' contributions to society and the economy when evaluating legislative proposals.

"We really need to understand what (the immigrant) population means to our economy and how our economy could collapse without this much-needed labor force," said Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, a member of the State Affairs Committee.

Farrar appeared at a Capitol news conference by a group calling itself TRUST, Texas Residents United for a Stronger Texas. The coalition includes members of the Texas Association of Business, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Texas Apartment Association and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The coalition issued 15 principles it said lawmakers should consider in evaluating immigration bills, including creating accountability measures for border security programs and rejecting efforts to require employers, landlords, businesses or private individuals to, in effect, be immigration agents.

Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, said the Legislature "should take no action with immigration unless and until Congress acts on this very important issue."

Hammond also sought to underscore the importance of immigrants to the economy, noting a Texas comptroller's report last year that found undocumented immigrants added $17.7 billion to the gross state product in 2005.

Hammond said many businesses, particularly agriculture, depend on immigrant labor to function.; 445-3635

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bilingual classes 'raise results'

This is consistent with the research. -Angela

Bilingual classes 'raise results'

March 15, 2007

Bilingual children who learn in their family's language as well as English do better at school, research suggests.

Even second and third generation immigrant children with English as their stronger language could benefit.

A team from Goldsmiths, University of London, analysed some primary school children in England using two languages in maths and English lessons.

They found that, far from confusing them, having two languages deepened their understanding of key concepts.

Grasping concepts

Lead researcher Dr Charmian Kenner said children who led bilingual lives could access their lessons through both languages.

"Learning a mathematical concept in Bengali and English, for example, deepens understanding as ideas are transferred between languages.

"Or children can compare how metaphors are constructed in a Bengali poem and its English equivalent.

"The children in our project expressed a strong desire to use their community language in school and teachers were able to tap into their pupils' full range of cultural knowledge."

It is very important that parents continue to talk to their children in their first language and then they can transfer the key ideas they learn to their new language
Dr Charmian Kenner
Dr Kenner worked with four small groups of children aged between six and 10 at two primary schools in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

She watched them learning their mother tongue in community language classes, after school or at weekends, and observed them in bilingual activities in mainstream classes.

When the children were allowed to use their mother tongue as well as English they seemed to grasp mathematical concepts such as division and multiplication more easily, she said.

A separate research project carried out by Tower Hamlets community language unit found children who attended mother tongue classes did better in their national curriculum tests.


Schools which have a high proportion of children with English as a second language are generally expected to do worse than those that do not.

But this research suggests that bilingual pupils do better than those with just one language.

Dr Kenner warns that many second and third generation children are in danger of losing their bilingual skills if they do not have the chance to develop their mother tongue through their schoolwork.

She now wants multilingual children to be allowed to use their mother tongue in mainstream classes.

Her call comes soon after the government urged schools to ensure Britishness was at the heart of citizenship lessons.


The argument that classes should be only in English is based on assumptions that run contrary to all the research findings, Dr Kenner said.

"The other thing is that people think that, in order to be British, children of immigrants have to distort parts of their identity ... but we found it was the other way round.

"The children wanted to be able to use Bengali at school as it was part of them. For them being British included being Bangladeshi. They are British Bangladeshi."

The Department for Education and Skills has recently funded a research project aimed at spreading best practice from bilingual schools.

'Missed opportunity'

Dr Kenner said: "The advice has changed quite a lot. When the first wave of people arrived in the 1960s and 1970s people were told only to speak English to their children.

"But we can see that it is very important that parents continue to talk to their children in their first language and then they can transfer the key ideas they learn to their new language which would be English at school."

The findings come after the centre for languages, Cilt, found bilingual pupils do better at GCSE.

Cilt patron Sir Trevor McDonald said: "In our haste to ensure they acquire good English, we frequently miss the opportunity to ensure they maintain and develop their skills in their other languages too.

"Rather than thinking in terms of an 'English-only' culture, we should be promoting 'English plus'."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/03/15 10:26:52 GMT


Once a slave in the US, still fighting for her freedom

This builds on my previous post on slavery. This is an incredible story. -Angela

March 22, 2007 edition - Once a slave in the US, still fighting for her freedom

María Suárez survived life as a sex slave for five years in Los Angeles. There are thousands more like her.

By Jane Lampman | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
For María Suárez, a young Mexican, America turned out to be anything but the land of opportunity. When the 15-year-old came to the United States legally in 1976 to stay with her sister in Los Angeles, she was full of dreams. But those dreams turned into a nightmare within two weeks, when the teen was sold into slavery.

Thirty years later, the courageous woman is still confronting the consequences of that domestic servitude and is fighting for the freedom and opportunity to remain in America, where all her family resides.

Ms. Suárez became the sex slave of an older man who had bought other young girls before her. Thousands of women are living in similar circumstances in the US today, often invisible though sometimes in plain view. Yet Suárez's story is unique in that her five years of violation and beatings led to a longer incarceration.

The young girl arrived from her village in Michoacán a bit overwhelmed by the new country. Her sister, Rita, had lived in Los Angeles for years, but María knew no English and admits she was naive "and ignorant."

"A [Spanish-speaking] woman approached me on the street – she was very friendly – and offered me a job cleaning house and answering phones," Suárez says in a telephone interview. "It sounded like a good idea, and I was very happy."

Since her sister wasn't home at the time, she agreed to the woman's urging that she just come see the house where she would work. But the drive took more than an hour, and María never went home again.

At the house of Anselmo Covarrubias, a man in his late 60s, she was allowed to call her sister to say she had a job and would be back later. But a lock was then put on the phone, and she learned otherwise.

"He told me he had paid $200 for me and that I was his slave," Suárez says. She was shown a tiny room with a bed and an altar with a picture of Jesus Christ above it but many other strange items on it. He then raped her.

"He told me he was a witch, that he knew where my family lived, and I'd better not tell anyone or he would kill my family, burn down their house," she adds. "From then on, my hell started. He abused me mentally, emotionally, physically, and sexually."

Suárez's ordeal began in the '70s, but such ordeals continue today. Some 17,000 people are trafficked into the US each year – many of them teenagers and children – for purposes of forced labor or sex, says the US Justice Department. An untold number are picked up and trafficked domestically, as Maria was. The government is just beginning to get a handle on the problem.

During those five tragic years, Suárez was not wholly confined to the house. Covarrubias got her a factory job on an electronics assembly line and drove her to and from work each day. On Fridays, he would take her paycheck from her when she got into the car. Yet, terrified and superstitious, she told no one. "People asked me about who picked me up, but I was afraid for my family," she says. He would take her to secondhand stores for clothes.

For those not familiar with such situations, it may be difficult to grasp why someone would not just run away. "It speaks to the psychological coercion, the way people are controlled by fear," says Kay Buck, executive director of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), in Los Angeles. "People are told over and over that if they tell anyone, they will be killed, or worse, family members will be killed. Coupled with violence on a regular basis, it wears down self-esteem."

CAST has worked with hundreds of slavery survivors in the past decade. The group was created after the 1995 case in El Monte, Calif., where 72 garment workers were found in an apartment complex where they'd been held captive for seven years. The workers had been trafficked from Thailand, yet when freed, were treated as illegal aliens and thrown in jail.

Community groups came together to try to help with services; CAST was formally created in 1998 and began pushing for appropriate legislation. Today it provides a range of services for slavery survivors and serves on a metropolitan trafficking task force with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and others, to make the police and public more aware of the growing trafficking problem.

Capt. Kyle Jackson of LAPD says the police never thought about the problem since they had no authority until the state penal code changed last year.

"You might look at a two-bedroom apartment with 20 people in it and think they're undocumented individuals – which local law enforcement doesn't get involved in – whereas it might in fact be trafficking," he says. Now they're training all LAPD officers and providing resources for other departments in the state.

Human trafficking is fast approaching drugs and the illegal arms trade as the most profitable criminal activities globally. In 2000, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), to enlist the government in prosecution of traffickers and provision of victim services. At least 22 states have passed laws, but law enforcement is scrambling to train their people about the problem and how to identify situations correctly.

The failure to do so was extremely costly for Suárez. Her captor had rented an apartment in his garage to a young couple. But he began bothering the young woman, Suárez recalls. "One morning, I heard him screaming outside," she says. As she tells it, when she rushed out, she found the young man had hit Covarrubias with a piece of wood and killed him. When the man told her to wash the wood and put it under the house, she did what he said. Soon, they were all arrested.

In shock and still not understanding English, Suárez had what was later acknowledged to be terrible representation by a lawyer who was eventually disbarred. At 21, she was convicted of first-degree murder and sent to prison for 25 years to life, even though the man who committed the crime said she was not involved. Remarkably, she made the best of it – learning English, getting her GED, leading counseling sessions, and running marathons in prison for charity.

"She's an amazing person," says Charles Song, CAST's legal services director. "I expected to meet a bitter, angry woman who hated men, but she was totally different, very forgiving. She refused to sue anyone and said she just wanted a little justice."

Released from prison in 2003 after 22 years, Suárez's tribulations did not end. She was immediately placed in federal detention. Immigration law mandates the deportation of any noncitizen convicted of certain crimes, regardless of whether they were wrongly convicted. A judge ordered her deported, but Suárez was saved when she received a "T visa."

The TVPA provides special visas to trafficking victims for three years, after which they may apply for a green card. But regulations governing that transition have never been completed by the Department of Homeland Security. Her T visa expires in May, and unless she can win a pardon from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, she is again threatened with deportation.

Mr. Song is seeking a meeting with the governor and is also filing a writ challenging her conviction. Both police and the lawyer who represented her have supported efforts to change the conviction.

Meanwhile, Suárez has taken college courses with the aim of becoming a social worker and has a part-time job counseling domestic violence cases. She's also learning to drive. But what means most to her right now is time with her family, who visited her regularly in prison.

"The most beautiful thing is to be free – just to wake up and take my shower ... and go visit with them in the park, have a hamburger – that's what I treasure."

She also works with CAST, speaking at conferences to educate law-enforcement officials and community groups about slavery.

"It's very painful when you feel you are in a cage.... And so many people are still going through what I went through," she says.

Yet until she wins a pardon and gets a green card, she's still in a cage of sorts, reporting to a parole officer. "The only thing I want is for them to let me be free and to let me do something good for this country," Suárez adds.

How many slaves live in the United States? Estimates range widely.

Trafficking in persons is one of the modern forms of slavery andacrime that frequently targets teenagers and children. SincetheTrafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the United Stateshascommitted to fighting it globally and domestically.

Some 800,000 to 900,000 people are forced across borders eachyear,the US State Department says, with about 17,000 trafficked intothe USfrom elsewhere.

As for home-grown trafficking, no one has "any hard numbers tobasean estimate on," says Mark Motivans of the Department ofJustice'sBureau of Statistics. The department has begun research todevelopdata-collection methods for victims and perpetrators.

Others organizations working on the issue suggest anywherefrom50,000 to 200,000 people are now enslaved in the US. A 2004 studybyFree the Slaves, in Washington, D.C., and the Human Rights Centerofthe University of California, Berkeley, said that in the US,anenslaved individual stays in slavery for three to fiveyears.(Captivities ranged from one month to 27 years.) Kevin Bales,presidentof Free the Slaves, says a conservative estimate based on the17,000annual arrivals and the lower three-year figure suggests thereareabout 50,000 people enslaved here.

Yet that doesn't take domestic trafficking into account and isbasedon already freed individuals, says David Batstone, author of "NotforSale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It."Heargues for a much higher figure since freed slaves aren't likely toberepresentative and prosecutions in the US remain very low.

The 2004 study found that forced-labor operations had beenreportedin at least 90 US cities in the previous five years.California,Florida, New York, and Texas had the largest incidence ofslavery.

Forced labor was most prevalent in five sectors of the USeconomy:prostitution and sex services (46 percent), domestic service(27percent), agriculture (10 percent); sweatshop/factory work (5percent),and restaurant and hotel work (4 percent).

The Justice Department is trying to ramp up prosecutions. InJanuary,it created a new human trafficking prosecution unit. Last yearitobtained 98 convictions.

As states pass laws, local communities and police are alsobecomingmore active. In Los Angeles, for the next five years, all cityvehicleswill carry bumper stickers calling attention to humantrafficking.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Billionaires and How They Made It: Meet the Global Ruling Class

March 21, 2007

The Billionaires and How They Made It:
Meet the Global Ruling Class

Even as the world's billionaires grew in number from 793 in 2006 to 946 this year, major mass uprisings became commonplace in China and India. In India, which has the highest number of billionaires (36) in Asia with total wealth of $191 billion, Prime Minister Singh declared that the greatest single threat to 'India's security' were the Maoist-led guerrilla armies and mass movements in the poorest parts of the country. In China, with 20 billionaires with $29.4 billion net worth, the new rulers, confronting nearly a hundred thousand reported riots and protests, have increased the number of armed special anti-riot militia a hundred fold, and increased spending for the rural poor by $10 billion in the hopes of lessening the monstrous class inequalities and heading off a mass upheaval.

The total wealth of this global ruling class grew 35 per cent year to year topping $3.5 trillion, while income levels for the lower 55 per cent of the world's 6-billion-strong population declined or stagnated. Put another way, one hundred millionth of the world's population (1/100,000,000) owns more than over 3 billion people. Over half of the current billionaires (523) came from just 3 countries: the US (415), Germany (55) and Russia (53). The 35 per cent increase in wealth mostly came from speculation on equity markets, real estate and commodity trading, rather than from technical innovations, investments in job-creating industries or social services.

Among the newest, youngest and fastest-growing group of billionaires, the Russian oligarchy stands out for its most rapacious beginnings. Over two-thirds (67 per cent) of the current Russian billionaire oligarchs began their concentration of wealth in their mid to early twenties. During the infamous decade of the 1990's under the quasi-dictatorial rule of Boris Yeltsin and his US-directed economic advisers, Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar the entire Russian economy was put up for sale for a 'political price', which was far below its real value. Without exception, the transfers of property were achieved through gangster tactics ú assassinations, massive theft, and seizure of state resources, illicit stock manipulation and buyouts. The future billionaires stripped the Russian state of over a trillion dollars worth of factories, transport, oil, gas, iron, coal and other formerly state-owned resources.

Contrary to European and US publicists on the right and left, very few of the top former Communist leaders are found among the current Russian billionaire oligarchy. Secondly, contrary to the spin-masters' claims of 'communist inefficiencies', the former Soviet Union developed mines, factories, energy enterprises were profitable and competitive, before they were taken over by the new oligarchs. This is evident in the massive private wealth that was accumulated in less than a decade by these gangster-businessmen.

Virtually all the billionaires' initial sources of wealth had nothing to do with building, innovating or developing new efficient enterprises. Wealth was not transferred to high Communist Party Commissars (lateral transfers) but was seized by armed private mafias run by recent university graduates who quickly capitalized on corrupting, intimidating or assassinating senior officials in the state and benefiting from Boris Yeltsin's mindless contracting of 'free market' Western consultants.

Forbes magazine puts out a yearly list of the richest individuals and families in the world. What is most amusing about the famous Forbes magazine's background biographical notes on the Russian oligarchs is the constant reference to their source of wealth as 'self-made' as if stealing state property created by and defended for over 70 years by the sweat and blood of the Russian people was the result of the entrepreneurial skills of thugs in their twenties. Of the top eight Russian billionaire oligarchs, all got their start from strong-arming their rivals, setting up 'paper banks' and taking over aluminum, oil, gas, nickel and steel production and the export of bauxite, iron and other minerals. Every sector of the former Communist economy was pillaged by the new billionaires: Construction, telecommunications, chemicals, real estate, agriculture, vodka, foods, land, media, automobiles, airlines etc..

With rare exceptions, following the Yeltsin privatizations all of the oligarchs quickly rose to the top or near the top, literally murdering or intimidating any opponents within the former Soviet apparatus and competitors from rival predator gangs.

The key 'policy' measures, which facilitated the initial pillage and takeovers by the future billionaires, were the vast and immediate privatizations of almost all public enterprises by the Gaidar/Chubais team. This 'Shock Treatment' was encouraged by a Harvard team of economic advisers and especially by US President Clinton in order to make the capitalist transformation irreversible. Privatization led to the capitalist gang wars and the disarticulation of the Russian economy. As a result there was an 80 per cent decline in living standards, a devaluation of the Ruble and the sell-off of invaluable oil, gas and other strategic resources at bargain prices to the rising class of predator billionaires and US-European oil and gas multinational corporations. Over a hundred billion dollars a year was laundered by the mafia oligarchs in the principle banks of New York, London, Switzerland, Israel and elsewhere ú funds which would later be recycled in the purchase of expensive real estate in the US, England, Spain, France as well as investments in British football teams, Israeli banks and joint ventures in minerals.
The winners of the gang wars during the Yeltsin reign followed up by expanding operations to a variety of new economic sectors, investments in the expansion of existing facilities (especially in real estate, extractive and consumer industries) and overseas. Under President Putin, the gangster-oligarchs consolidated and expanded ú from multi-millionaires to billionaires, to multi-billionaires and growing. From young swaggering thugs and local swindlers, they became the 'respectable' partners of American and European multinational corporations, according to their Western PR agents. The new Russian oligarchs had 'arrived' on the world financial scene, according to the financial press.

Yet as President Putin recently pointed out, the new billionaires have failed to invest, innovate and create competitive enterprises, despite optimal conditions. Outside of raw material exports, benefiting from high international prices, few of the oligarch-owned manufacturers are earning foreign exchange, because few can compete in international markets. The reason is that the oligarchs have 'diversified' into stock speculation (Suleiman Kerimov $14.4 billion ), (Mikhail Prokhorov $13.5 billion ), banking (Fridman $12.6 billion ) and buyouts of mines and mineral processing plants.

The Western media have focused on the falling out between a handful of Yeltsin-era oligarchs and President Vladimir Putin and the increase in wealth of a number of Putin-era billionaires. However, the biographical evidence demonstrates that there is no rupture between the rise of the billionaires under Yeltsin and their consolidation and expansion under Putin. The decline in mutual murder and the shift to state-regulated competition is as much a product of the consolidation of the great fortunes as it is the 'new rules of the game' imposed by President Putin. In the mid 19th century, Honoré Balzac, surveying the rise of the respectable bourgeois in France, pointed out their dubious origins: "Behind every great fortune is a great crime." The swindles begetting the decades-long ascent of the 19th century French bourgeoisie pale in comparison to the massive pillage and bloodletting that created Russia's 21st century billionaires.

Latin America
If blood and guns were the instruments for the rise of the Russian billionaire oligarchs, in other regions the Market, or better still, the US-IMF-World Bank orchestrated Washington Consensus was the driving force behind the rise of the Latin American billionaires. The two countries with the greatest concentration of wealth and the greatest number of billionaires in Latin America are Mexico and Brazil (77 per cent), which are the two countries, which privatized the most lucrative, efficient and largest public monopolies. Of the total $157.2 billion owned by the 38 Latin American billionaires, 30 are Brazilians or Mexicans with $120.3 billion . The wealth of 38 families and individuals exceeds that of 250 million Latin Americans; 0.000001 per cent of the population exceeds that of the lowest 50 per cent. In Mexico, the income of 0.000001 per cent of the population exceeds the combined income of 40 million Mexicans. The rise of Latin American billionaires coincides with the real fall in minimum wages, public expenditures in social services, labor legislation and a rise in state repression, weakening labor and peasant organization and collective bargaining. The implementation of regressive taxes burdening the workers and peasants and tax exemptions and subsidies for the agro-mineral exporters contributed to the making of the billionaires. The result has been downward mobility for public employees and workers, the displacement of urban labor into the informal sector, the massive bankruptcy of small farmers, peasants and rural labor and the out-migration from the countryside to the urban slums and emigration abroad.

The principal cause of poverty in Latin American is the very conditions that facilitate the growth of billionaires. In the case of Mexico, the privatization of the telecommunication sector at rock bottom prices, resulted in the quadrupling of wealth for Carlos Slim Helu, the third richest man in the world (just behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffet) with a net worth of $49 billion . Two fellow Mexican billionaires, Alfredo Harp Helu and Roberto Hernandez Ramirez benefited from the privatization of banks and their subsequent de-nationalization, selling Banamex to Citicorp.

Privatization, financial de-regulation and de-nationalization were the key operating principles of US foreign economic policies implemented in Latin America by the IMF and the World Bank. These principles dictated the fundamental conditions shaping any loans or debt re-negotiations in Latin America.

The billionaires-in-the-making, came from old and new money. Some began to raise their fortunes by securing government contracts during the earlier state-led development model (1930's to 1970's) and others through inherited wealth. Half of Mexican billionaires inherited their original multi-million dollar fortunes on their way up to the top. The other half benefited from political ties and the subsequent big payola from buying public enterprises cheap and then selling them off to US multi-nationals at great profit. The great bulk of the 12 million Mexican immigrants who crossed the border into the US have fled from the onerous conditions, which allowed Mexico's traditional and nouveaux riche millionaires to join the global billionaires' club.

Brazil has the largest number of billionaires (20) of any country in Latin America with a net worth of $46.2 billion , which is greater than the new worth of 80 million urban and rural impoverished Brazilians. Approximately 40 per cent of Brazilian billionaires started with great fortunes ú and simply added on ú through acquisitions and mergers. The so-called 'self-made' billionaires benefited from the privatization of the lucrative financial sector (the Safra family with $8.9 billion ) and the iron and steel complexes.

How to Become a Billionaire
While some knowledge, technical and 'entrepreneurial skills' and market savvy played a small role in the making of the billionaires in Russia and Latin America, far more important was the interface of politics and economics at every stage of wealth accumulation.

In most cases there were three stages:

1. During the early 'statist' model of development, the current billionaires successfully 'lobbied' and bribed officials for government contracts, tax exemptions, subsidies and protection from foreign competitors. State handouts were the beachhead or take-off point to billionaire status during the subsequent neo-liberal phase.

2. The neo-liberal period provided the greatest opportunity for seizing lucrative public assets far below their market value and earning capacity. The privatization, although described as 'market transactions', were in reality political sales in four senses: in price, in selection of buyers, in kickbacks to the sellers and in furthering an ideological agenda. Wealth accumulation resulted from the sell-off of banks, minerals, energy resources, telecommunications, power plants and transport and the assumption by the state of private debt. This was the take-off phase from millionaire toward billionaire status. This was consummated in Latin America via corruption and in Russia via assassination and gang warfare.

3. During the third phase (the present) the billionaires have consolidated and expanded their empires through mergers, acquisitions, further privatizations and overseas expansion. Private monopolies of mobile phones, telecoms and other 'public' utilities, plus high commodity prices have added billions to the initial concentrations. Some millionaires became billionaires by selling their recently acquired, lucrative privatized enterprises to foreign capital.

In both Latin America and Russia, the billionaires grabbed lucrative state assets under the aegis of orthodox neo-liberal regimes (Salinas-Zedillo regimes in Mexico, Collor-Cardoso in Brazil, Yeltsin in Russia) and consolidated and expanded under the rule of supposedly 'reformist' regimes (Putin in Russia, Lula in Brazil and Fox in Mexico). In the rest of Latin America (Chile, Colombia and Argentina) the making of the billionaires resulted from the bloody military coups and regimes, which destroyed the socio-political movements and started the privatization process. This process was then even more energetically promoted by the subsequent electoral regimes of the right and 'center-left'.

What is repeatedly demonstrated in both Russia and Latin America is that the key factor leading to the quantum leap in wealth ú from millionaires to billionaires ú was the vast privatization and subsequent de-nationalization of lucrative public enterprises.

If we add to the concentration of $157 billion in the hands of an infinitesimal fraction of the elite, the $990 billion taken out by the foreign banks in debt payments and the $1 trillion (one thousand billion) taken out by way of profits, royalties, rents and laundered money over the past decade and a half, we have an adequate framework for understanding why Latin America continues to have over two-thirds of its population with inadequate living standards and stagnant economies.
The responsibility of the US for the growth of Latin American billionaires and mass poverty is several-fold and involves a wide gamut of political institutions, business elites, and academic and media moguls. First and foremost the US backed the military dictators and neo-liberal politicians who set up the billionaire-oriented economic models. It was ex-President Clinton, the CIA and his economic advisers, in alliance with the Russian oligarchs, who provided the political intelligence and material support to put Yeltsin in power and back his destruction of the Russian Parliament (Duma) in 1993 and the rigged elections of 1996. And it was Washington, which allowed hundreds of billions of dollars to be laundered in US banks throughout the 1990's as the US Congressional Sub-Committee on Banking (1998) revealed.
It was Nixon, Kissinger and later Carter and Brzezinski, Reagan and Bush, Clinton and Albright who backed the privatizations pushed by Latin American military dictators and civilian reactionaries in the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's . Their instructions to the US representatives in the IMF and the World Bank were writ large: Privatize, de-regulate and de-nationalize (PDD) before any loans should be negotiated.

It was US academics and ideologues working hand in glove with the so-called multi-lateral agencies, as contracted economic consultants, who trained, designed and pushed the PDD agenda among their former Ivy League students-turned-economic and finance ministers and Central Bankers in Latin America and Russia.
It was US and EU multi-national corporations and banks which bought out or went into joint ventures with the emerging Latin American billionaires and who reaped the trillion dollar payouts on the debts incurred by the corrupt military and civilian regimes. The billionaires are as much a product and/or by-product of US anti-nationalist, anti-communist policies as they are a product of their own grandiose theft of public enterprises.
Given the enormous class and income disparities in Russia, Latin America and China (20 Chinese billionaires have a net worth of $29.4 billion in less than ten years), it is more accurate to describe these countries as 'surging billionaires' rather than 'emerging markets' because it is not the 'free market' but the political power of the billionaires that dictates policy.
Countries of 'surging billionaires' produce burgeoning poverty, submerging living standards. The making of billionaires means the unmaking of civil society ú the weakening of social solidarity, protective social legislation, pensions, vacations, public health programs and education. While politics is central, past political labels mean nothing. Ex-Marxist Brazilian ex-President Cardoso and ex-trade union leader President Lula Da Silva privatized public enterprises and promoted policies that spawn billionaires. Ex-Communist Putin cultivates certain billionaire oligarchs and offers incentives to others to shape up and invest.

The period of greatest decline in living standards in Latin America and Russia coincide with the dismantling of the nationalist populist and communist economies. Between 1980-2004, Latin America ú more precisely Brazil, Argentina and Mexico ú stagnated at 0 per cent to 1 per cent per capita growth. Russia saw a 50 per cent decline in GNP between 1990-1996 and living standards dropped 80 per cent for everyone except the predators and their gangster entourages.

Recent growth (2003-2007), where it occurs, has more to do with the extraordinary rise in international prices (of energy resources, metals and agro-exports) than any positive developments from the billionaire-dominated economies. The growth of billionaires is hardly a sign of 'general prosperity' resulting from the 'free market' as the editors of Forbes Magazine claim. In fact it is the product of the illicit seizure of lucrative public resources, built up by the work and struggle of millions of workers, in Russia and China under Communism and in Latin America during populist-nationalist and democratic-socialist governments. Many billionaires have inherited wealth and used their political ties to expand and extend their empires ú it has little to do with entrepreneurial skills.

The billionaires' and the White House's anger and hostility toward President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is precisely because he is reversing the policies which create billionaires and mass poverty: He is re-nationalizing energy resources, public utilities and expropriating some large landed estates. Chavez is not only challenging US hegemony in Latin America but also the entire PDD edifice that built the economic empires of the billionaires in Latin America, Russia, China and elsewhere.
The primary data for this essay is drawn from Forbes Magazine 's "List of the World's Billionaires" published March 8, 2007.
James Petras most recent book is The Power of Israel in the United States .(clarity 2006 third printing)

His essays in English can be found at And in Spanish at

Monday, March 19, 2007

From Sex Workers to Restaurant Workers, the Global Slave Trade Is Growing

Amazing statistic: "Attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice have prosecuted 91 slave-trade cases in cities across the United States and in nearly every state of the nation." This means that this is only the tip of the ice berg as this article suggets. -Angela

From Sex Workers to Restaurant Workers, the Global Slave Trade Is Growing
By David Batsone, Sojourners
Posted on March 15, 2007, Printed on March 15, 2007

This article is an excerpt from David Batstone's new book, Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade -- and How We Can Fight It. Learn more about the book and the campaign it has launched .

Twenty-seven million slaves exist in our world today. Girls and boys, women and men of all ages are forced to toil in the rug loom sheds of Nepal, sell their bodies in the brothels of Rome, break rocks in the quarries of Pakistan, and fight wars in the jungles of Africa.

Go behind the façade in any major town or city in the world today and you are likely to find a thriving commerce in human beings. You may even find slavery in your own backyard. For several years my wife and I dined regularly at an Indian restaurant located near our home in the San Francisco Bay area. Unbeknownst to us, the staff at Pasand Madras Indian Cuisine who cooked our curries, delivered them to our table, and washed our dishes were slaves. Restaurant owner Lakireddy Reddy and several members of his family had used fake visas and false identities to traffic perhaps hundreds of adults and children into the United States from India. He forced the laborers to work long hours for minimal wages, money that they returned to him as rent to live in one of his apartments. Reddy threatened to turn them into the authorities as illegal aliens if they tried to escape.

The Reddy case is not an anomaly. As many as 800,000 are trafficked across international borders annually, and up to 17,500 new victims are trafficked across our borders each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. More than 30,000 additional slaves are trans-ported through the U.S. on their way to other international destinations. Attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice have prosecuted 91 slave-trade cases in cities across the United States and in nearly every state of the nation.

Like the slaves who came to America's shores 200 years ago, today's slaves are not free to pursue their own destinies. They are coerced to perform work for the personal gain of those who subjugate them. If they try to escape the clutches of their masters, modern slaves risk personal violence or reprisals to their families.
President George W. Bush spoke of the global crisis of the slave trade before the United Nations General Assembly in September 2003. "Each year 800,000 to 900,000 human beings are bought, sold, or forced across the world's borders," he said. "The trade in human beings for any purpose must not be allowed to thrive in our time." Of those individuals extracted out of impoverished countries and trafficked across international borders, 80 percent are female and 50 percent are children, according to the U.S. Department of State's "2005 Trafficking in Persons Report."
The commerce in human beings today rivals drug trafficking and the illegal arms trade for the top criminal activity on the planet. The slave trade sits at number three on the list but is closing the gap. The FBI projects that the slave trade generates $9.5 billion in revenue each year, according to the U.S. Department of State's "2004 Trafficking in Persons Report." The International Labour Office, in the 2005 report "A Global Alliance Against Forced Labor," estimates that figure to be closer to a whopping $32 billion annually.
"Ten Million Children Exploited for Domestic Labor" -- this title for a 2004 U.N. study hardly needs explaining. The U.N.'s surveys found 700,000 children forced into domestic labor in Indonesia alone, with staggering numbers as well in Brazil (559,000), Pakistan (264,000), Haiti (250,000), and Kenya (200,000). The U.N. report indicates that children remain in servitude for long stretches of time because no one identifies their enslavement: "These youngsters are usually 'invisible' to their communities, toiling for long hours with little or no pay and regularly deprived of the chance to play or go to school." UNICEF estimates that 1 million children are forced today to sell their bodies to sexual exploiters. In a single country, Uganda, nearly 40,000 children have been kidnapped and violently turned into child soldiers or sex slaves.

We may not even realize how each one of us drives the demand during the course of a normal day. Kevin Bales, a pioneer in the fight against modern slavery, expresses well those commercial connections: "Slaves in Pakistan may have made the shoes you are wearing and the carpet you stand on. Slaves in the Caribbean may have put sugar in your kitchen and toys in the hands of your children. In India they may have sewn the shirt on your back and polished the ring on your finger."
Widespread poverty and social inequality ensure a pool of recruits as deep as the ocean. Parents in desperate straits may sell their children or at least be susceptible to scams that will allow the slave trader to take control over the lives of their sons and daughters. Young women in vulnerable communities are more likely to take a risk on a job offer in a faraway location. The poor are apt to accept a loan that the slave trader can later manipulate to steal their freedom. All of these paths carry unsuspecting recruits into the supply chains of slavery.
"The supply side of the equation is particularly bleak," says Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas. "While there are 100,000 places in the developed world for refugee resettlement per year, 50 million refugees and displaced persons exist worldwide today. This ready reservoir of the stateless presents an opportunity rife for exploitation by human traffickers."
During the era of the American plantation economy, the slaveholder considered slave ownership an investment. The supply of new recruits was limited. The cost of extracting and transporting the slave, and ensuring that they would be serviceable by the time they reached their destination, was considerable. In the modern slave trade, the glut of slaves and the capacity to move them great distances in a relatively short period of time drastically alters the economics of slave ownership. Kevin Bales' description of modern slaves as "disposable people" profoundly fits: Just like used batteries, once the slave exhausts his or her usefulness, another can be procured at no great expense.
Notwithstanding these emerging trends in global markets, traditional modes of slavery also persist. Bonded labor has existed for centuries and continues to be the most common form of slavery in the world today. In a typical scenario, an individual falls under the control of a wealthy patron after taking a small loan. The patron adds egregious rates of interest and inflated expenses to the original principal so that the laborer finds it impossible to repay. Debt slaves may spend their entire lives in service to a single slaveholder, and their "obligation" may be passed on to their children. Of the 27 million people worldwide held captive and exploited for profit today, the Free the Slaves organization estimates that at least 15 million are bonded slaves in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
In my journey to monitor the rise of modern global slavery, I had prepared myself to end up in the depths of depression. To be honest, I made some unpleasant stops there. But my journey did not end at despair. The prime reason: I met a heroic ensemble of abolitionists who simply refuse to relent. I felt like I had gone back in time and had the great privilege of sharing a meal with a Harriet Tubman or a William Wilberforce or a Frederick Douglass. Like the abolitionists of old, these modern heroes do not expend their energy handicapping the odds stacked against the antislavery movement. They simply refuse to accept a world where one individual can be held as the property of another.
Kru Nam is one of those abolitionists who operate on the front lines in the fight against sex slavery. She is a painter with a university degree in art who launched a project to reach street kids in Chiang Mai, the second largest town in northern Thailand. Once she turned the kids loose with paintbrushes, they created a series of disturbing images that added up to a horror story.
Kru Nam soon realized that most of the kids did not come from Thailand. Most came from Burma, with a sprinkling of Laotians, Vietnamese, and Cambodians tossed in the mix. The Burmese boys spoke of a well-dressed Thai gentleman who had visited their village in the south of Burma. Accompanying him was a 14-year-old Burmese boy who wore fine-tailored clothes and spoke Thai fluently. The man told parents that he was offering scholarships for young boys to attend school back in Thailand. "Look how well this child from your region is doing," he said, pointing to his young companion. "If you let me take your son back to Chiang Mai, I will do the same for him." Many families agreed to let their sons go with the Thai man. Once they reached Chiang Mai, the Thai man immediately sold them to owners of sex bars and brothels.

The boys living on the streets were the lucky ones; they had escaped. They told Kru Nam that many more boys remained captive. Her blood boiled. She could not stand by and do nothing.
Kru Nam did not exactly have a plan when she marched into the sex bar for her first raid. Only her mission was clear: rescue as many of the young boys as she could find. One by one she approached a table where a boy sat and calmly said, "Let's go, I'm taking you out of here." Several moments later, she was leading six little boys out the door and to her safe house in Chiang Mai.
Kru Nam made several more impromptu raids. Eventually, owners put the word out that they would kill her if she walked into their bars. Deploying a fresh strategy, she organized street teams to scour the night market of Chiang Mai and connect with young children recently off the bus from the northern Thai-Burmese border. Recruiters for the sex bars also trolled the streets on the hunt for vulnerable kids. It became a life-and-death contest to find them first.
One day it struck Kru Nam that if she moved upstream before the kids hit Chiang Mai she would have an edge over the recruiters. So she moved about 40 miles north to the border town of Mae Sai, a major thoroughfare for foot traffic between Burma and Thailand.
In Mae Sai she set up a shelter to take in kids on the run. Nearly 60 boys and girls today find safe refuge each night at Kru Nam's shelter. She has had to move her safe house several times. Neighbors on each occasion have forced her out; they do not want "these dirty kids" living on their block. So Kru Nam purchased a block of land some 15 miles outside of Mae Sai. She does not have the money she needs to buy a proper residence, so for the time being Kru Nam and the children will live on the land in temporary shelters.
Kru Nam is irrepressible. She does not have a large organization standing behind her -- a skeletal staff of three assists her and she receives modest funding from a tiny nongovernmental agency based in Thailand. What she does have is a burning passion to rescue young boys and girls so that they do not fall into the treacherous control of slaveholders. Her passage from a single act of kindness to fighting for justice on a grander scale is the quintessential story of the abolitionist.
The abolitionists working today are truly extraordinary, but they cannot win the fight alone. They are overwhelmed and beleaguered. The size and scope of Kru Nam's project is about the norm for abolitionist organizations. They sorely need reinforcements, a new wave of abolitionists, to join them in the struggle.

All of us wonder how we would have acted in the epic struggles of human history. Imagine we lived in rural Tennessee in 1855 and Harriet Tubman came to our door, asking us to join the Underground Railroad. Would we have stood up and been counted among the just?
There are times to read history, and there are times to make history. We live right now at one of those epic moments in the fight for human freedom. We no longer have to wonder how we might respond to our moment of truth. Future generations will look back and judge our choices, and be inspired or disappointed.
This article is adapted from David Batsone's new book Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade -- and How We Can Fight It (HarperSanFrancisco, © 2007).

David Batsone is a Sojourners contributing editor.

Jailing Immigrant Mothers in El Paso

What a nightmare for these women, mothers, and daughters, and their families. -Angela

March 17 / 18, 2007
"Mothers are Rounded Up in Massachusetts and Sent to a Texas Jail Without Saying Goodby to Their Families"
Jailing Immigrant Mothers in El Paso
"We are drawing attention to a humanitarian crisis," says Penny Anderson, speaking from a Saturday morning protest outside the El Paso immigrant jail (March 17). She is the first person to take the cell phone being passed around by activist Amber Clark.
Among the prisoners in the nearby 800-bed jail are about one hundred women flown in from New Bedford, Massachusetts following an immigration raid at a manufacturing shop. Immigration authorities have reported that 116 of the women, believed to be mostly from Guatemala, were brought here to the El Paso Service Processing Center (EPC) on Montana Street. Another 90 were reportedly taken to another immigrant jail in Texas.
"We have heard horror stories of women rounded up at work in Massachusetts and sent to jail in Texas without being given a chance to say goodbye to their families--children coming home from school and not knowing where their mothers were," says Anderson who is president of the El Paso Borderlands Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
Word of the raid reached the Borderlands Chapter from NOW national offices, explains Anderson. And several news reports have followed the response of Massachusetts officials. Last Saturday, Massachusetts social workers visited both jails in Texas and managed to get nine mothers released on humanitarian grounds.
Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy visited New Bedford and described the situation as Katrina-like, with family members missing and nobody knowing where they were or if they were okay. The response of Massachusetts state workers and elected officials is an embarrassing contrast to the silence and inactivity that has accompanied news of Texas families rounded up by immigration authorities in recent years.
On Montana Street in El Paso Saturday morning, 20 protesters drew most of the local media, along with honks of support from passing cars, says Anderson. "The larger picture shows that current immigration system is broken," she says. "The Bush administration claims to be pro family, but when they allow this to happen, it shows they are tearing families apart."
Joining the protest is Kathy Staudt of the Coalition against Violence toward Women and Families at the US-Mexico Border (CAV). "We see this as part the structural problem of violence against women," she says. "Many of the families affected by the immigration raid in Massachusetts were in the US for five or ten years working at the factory. All of a sudden there was this raid. Women were sent away. And people were frantic to find out what happened to them."
CAV was formed in 2001 to address the issue of femicide in Juarez, where 370 women were killed between 2000 and 2003. "They think in Mexico there has been some limited institutional response to the issue, but many killers remain on the loose," says Staudt. "And Mexico is only recently taking violence against women as a serious issue at the national level."
Staudt says the problem of stopping violence against women in Mexico is made more difficult by a widespread distrust of police, because of a feeling that police are corrupt and can act with impunity.
As Staudt speaks we think of 20-year-old Suzi Hazahza and her sister Mirvat, two immigrant women rounded up with their family at gunpoint by Dallas immigration authorities in early November, 2006, now serving hard time at the Rolling Plains prison in Haskell, Texas, for the crime of allegedly missing an appointment-an appointment they claim not to have known about.
"There is a whole structure of violence and lack of respect for women that transcends borders," says Staudt. It is a structure that the militarized posture of border enforcement will only continue to make worse.

Next at the cell phone is John Boucher of El Paso's Annunciation House. "We are a house of hospitality," he explains. "We work with undocumented immigrants in the area and with student groups in the USA. We have Catholic origins. I'm just a volunteer."
For Boucher, the treatment of Massachusetts workers is connected to what he sees closer to the border, "from the economic policies that force people to be displaced, continued in our country by a lack of acknowledgement that people who work cheap subsidize our lives." Boucher sees fewer undocumented workers crossing the border these days, but he sees evidence that "people are being forced into more desperate situations."
As the border is militarized, migrants are relying on paid help to get across. "Coyotes and smugglers are in the family reunification business, too," explains Boucher. "And their involvement makes crossing the border more dangerous for everyone."
With her cell phone returned, Amber Clark promises to email photos and media links.
"The treatment of the factory workers differs sharply from the treatment of the factory owner who had abused undocumented workers for years by underpaying and overworking them while reaping profits from lucrative government contracts," says a press release circulated by Clark. "The factory owner is free on bail and was allowed to take a trip to Puerto Rico."
If an image of corrupt and arbitrary law enforcement is not actually what immigration authorities are trying to convey by their recent activities in Texas and Massachusetts, you'd be hard pressed to say why.

Educators split on bilingual classes

Legislators proposed legislation that would institute English language immersion in Texas. To read the scoop on how this was averted, read Jesse Romero’s notice below. Kudos to the Texas Association for Bilingual Education (TABE) for their successful efforts. -Angela

Educators split on bilingual classes
Irving dilemma: English immersion or both languages at once?

03:31 PM CDT on Sunday, March 18, 2007

By KATHERINE LEAL UNMUTH / The Dallas Morning News

IRVING – In a school district with the region's highest percentage of children with limited English skills, a rift has emerged over the best way to educate them.

Last fall, Irving school board president Randy Stipes proposed a pilot program in English immersion. But his idea – pitched at a board meeting – was quickly shot down. Superintendent Jack Singley told him it was against the law. The state requires bilingual education.

That seemed to be the end of it. Then word of the exchange reached state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving. She filed a bill this legislative session that would give school districts the option to offer English immersion or ESL programs for students learning the language.

"I'm trying to make something happen that the superintendent was unsure could happen," Ms. Harper-Brown said.

When she asked Mr. Singley for his support in a letter, he wrote back that she shouldn't propose the change on his behalf or the school district's unless the trustees requested it.

"I told her I know of no research of immersion working, but if she has some research to please share it," he said. "I never got a response."

Mr. Singley said he takes no position on immersion but noted that bilingual classes succeed if a child enters the system early.

Mr. Stipes said he didn't know about Ms. Harper-Brown's bill, "but I'm glad she did it."

Since 1973, Texas has required bilingual education whenever 20 or more children in a grade share another language. While bilingual programs instruct children partly in their language and partly in English so they can understand the content, immersion programs use only English.

The tensions in Irving illustrate the ongoing controversy over bilingual education, despite its long-standing use in the state. The state's population of students with limited English skills continues to grow rapidly. They made up nearly 16 percent of students last year.

This legislative session, Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, has also filed a bill that would do away with requiring bilingual education. On the other side, Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, filed a bill supporting more scholarships for bilingual teachers in training, and Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, sponsored a bill promoting the growth of dual-language programs.

But perhaps no school district in North Texas faces the issue to the degree of Irving, where 36 percent of children are classified as limited English proficient – a higher percentage than even Dallas public schools. Most of these students are Hispanic.

The district, under pressure to improve lagging test scores and slow the high dropout rate, is in search of remedies.

"It's just another option ... to reach some kids we aren't reaching now to keep them from falling behind or dropping out," Mr. Stipes said of English immersion. "What works for one student might not work for another."

Results in California

Ms. Harper-Brown simply points to successes in California. Since voters eliminated bilingual education in 1998, children spend a year in structured English classes before being mainstreamed. Test scores for English-learning children have since increased, although all scores have risen.

"California has shown that the test scores are getting better for those students who go into total immersion," Ms. Harper-Brown said. "I think this is a first step to see if it works in Texas."

But a five-year study commissioned by the California Legislature found no conclusive evidence that English immersion is more effective than bilingual education or vice versa.

The report, released in February 2006, found that the performance gap between English language learners and native speakers remained constant. Student performance depended on the quality of instruction, not the language of instruction, it stated.

Irving primarily uses the transitional model for bilingual education, in which younger children learn mostly in Spanish and then use more English as they progress into the upper grades.

"They do learn English," Irving's bilingual director Dora Morón said. "But they're also learning the content so they don't fall behind."

But a growing number of Texas school districts are moving toward dual-language education, in which children learn for half the day in English and half in Spanish. The goal is to develop literacy in both languages. The Dallas school district switched its program last fall. Irving has a pilot dual-language program.

"We try to read as much as we can about the programs in California," Carrollton-Farmers Branch Superintendent Annette Griffin said. "But research right now shows our best efforts need to be in two-way dual language."

Texas has never seen a significant challenge to its bilingual education program. The chairman of the House's Public Education Committee, Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said there doesn't seem to be much support for a major change, but he could see a pilot English immersion program.

State Rep. Jim Jackson, R-Carrollton, said he supports the English immersion bill but acknowledged it might not get very far. "I'd like to see it tried at least in a pilot case," he said.

But Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, noted that parents already have the right to opt out of bilingual education and put their children in regular classes.

"That decision should be made by parents," he said.

Some Hispanics see the bill as part of the rising sentiment against illegal immigrants among some conservative legislators who have also proposed denying birthright citizenship and want to withhold social services for illegal immigrants.

"We don't expect them to be taken too seriously," said Luis Figueroa, a legislative staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Conservative allies

Ms. Harper-Brown is allied with some of the most conservative Republicans in the state. She served as immigration chair of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute.

In a speech available online that she gave last year, she spoke of illegal immigrant children being a drain on the education system and said that the 1982 Supreme Court decision giving illegal immigrant children the right to public education should be reconsidered.

"Our children must either share their schools with scores of illegal aliens – most not English-speaking – or parents must take on the double burden of sending their children to private school," she said in the speech.

Though Mr. Figueroa opposes the English immersion bill, he conceded that there are problems with the current bilingual system. MALDEF is awaiting a ruling on a lawsuit that alleges that the state has failed to monitor the quality of bilingual programs and that students are failing the TAKS at unacceptably high rates as a result.

Critics of the system also point out that some children still aren't proficient in English by the time they advance to middle school.

Nationally, children who learn English fail standardized tests at much higher rates than native speakers. In Irving, although the district passing rate for fifth-graders taking the reading TAKS test in English was 72 percent, for limited English proficient children it was 52 percent. Statewide, 81 percent of fifth-graders passed reading in English, and 48 percent of limited English proficient children passed.

There's also a severe shortage of qualified bilingual teachers. According to the Texas Education Agency, 167 school districts asked to offer ESL instead of bilingual education in certain classes because they couldn't find teachers.

Diana Shaw teaches second-graders at John R. Good Elementary in Irving. Most of her students are children of immigrants from El Salvador and Honduras who often lack formal education.

So the children are learning to read in their native language only at school. Bilingual theory says that if children become literate in their first language, they will have an easier time learning the second.

Ms. Shaw, who is Hispanic, attended parochial school in South Texas, where she wasn't allowed to speak any Spanish.

"Do we really want to put that fear in children?" she asked. "It doesn't have to be so harsh."

 -----Original Message-----
Sent: Fri, 16 Mar 2007 9:24 AM
Subject: Fwd: TABE Legislative Brief
Note: forwarded message attached.
Attached Message


TABE Legislative Brief


Fri, 16 Mar 2007 9:15 AM
Members of the Board, the 80th Regular Session has seen the filing of many anti-immigrant / anti-Latino legislation.  From trying to gut Bilingual education, denying citizenship to babies born in the U.S. to immigrant parents, restricting college admissions, ending in-state tuition for students not yet citizens, to denying food stamps and medical care to those who can not provide original copies of birth certificates, this was going to be one of the worst anti-Latino sessions ever.  The intention for the Conservatives was to make this their strategy for the 2008 elections.  A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum, however, and other events have forced them away from their intentions.  Events like the Governor's executive order on the pamploma virus, the whole accenture contract disaster where a private company based in the Bahamas collected hundreds of millions of dollars to deny Texans chip and other social benefits, and most recently, the horrible scandal of child sexual abuse at the Texas Youth Commission, just to name a few.
Amidst all this TABE began to quietly and under the Radar work with key House members and Rep. Rob Eissler who chairs House Public Education to keep anti-Bilingual bills from even getting a hearing and therefore dying in committee.  At this writing, I am happy to inform you that the strategy has worked and we do not anticipate that any of the anti-Bilingual bills will even get a hearing.  Just yesterday, Rep. Linda Harper-Brown's chief of staff, whose grandfather is a close friend with Dr. Izquierdo's father (I know, small world), informed us that they will not be asking for a hearing on their Immersion bill and recently we were told the same from Rep. Zedler's staff on their bill to make Bilingual "permissive" and not required as is current law.
I also write to say that we have been also busy in the Senate.  Just yesterday, TABE President-elect, Dr. Elena Izquierdo testified in favor of Sen. Shapleigh's Dual Language pilot program bill, SB 553.  Let me just say that it was an eye opening experience for Dr. Izquierdo when Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) went off on the bill and Latinos in general.  In his anti-Latino monologue, he actually said that one Mexican told him "what you gringo Americans do not understand is that as a people and a culture, Hispanics do not value education"!  Well, this set off alot of words and Sen. Patrick back peddling.  Still, the hearing was very positive for us as Sen. Shapiro (R-Plano) who chairs Senate Education, vowed to explore Dual Language in an interim study and this would pave the way for a committee recommendation for the 81st Legislature in 2009.
As I report all this, I will also say we are still very active with the coalition of civil rights groups, businesses and chambers of commerce, and the religious community that we helped put together at the start of this session to combat all the anti-latino legislation.  We  still advise them and help them on strategy, talking points and tactics to employ on bills, while testifying and with Legislators and their staffs (shouldn't there be a contract in here somewhere?).
Oh, and we've also been talking to our allies in the press about all this as background information for the San Antonio Express-News, the Dallas Morning News and the El Paso times and on stories that are being developed by El Diario, the Texas Observer and Amarillo Globe-News.
Bottom line:  I don't think we'll have to worry about any anti-Bilingual bills, but we still have much work to do in trying to pass the Dual Language bill, the Bilingual monitoring bill by Sen. Zafirini and Sen. Van de Putte's bill to correct the mistake Legislators made during the last special session in allowing exiting in the 1st grade.
"We have come a long way, but still have far to go" (an original quote from your humble narrator).  As your legislative consultant, all I've ever known is attack, and continue the progress forward, and that is what I / we will continue to do.  Peace out, homies.

School vouchers lose champions with Bush's exit

School vouchers lose champions with Bush's exit
By S.V Date
Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau
Saturday, March 17, 2007

TALLAHASSEE — A year ago: After a state Supreme Court ruling struck down school vouchers, Republican leaders moved heaven and earth in an attempt to revive them with a constitutional amendment, all to please a governor who considered them his personal legacy.

Without the strong personality of former Gov. Jeb Bush pushing a particular policy in the Capitol, "school choice," as proponents call it, is generating much less enthusiasm this year than it has in the previous eight.

A handful of pro-voucher bills have been filed in both chambers, but nothing as sweeping as Bush's proposal - ultimately unsuccessful - to insert wording into the state constitution specifically permitting the spending of public money at private schools.

The Florida Supreme Court in January 2006 struck down Bush's first voucher plan, the Opportunity Scholarship Program. When he pushed the idea through the legislature during his first months in office in 1999, it became the first statewide voucher plan in the country and gave parents of students at failing public schools state money to send their children to private schools, including religious schools.

While most participants in the issue expected the court to rule on the basis of language in the state constitution prohibiting public money from going to religious institutions, justices deciding the Bush vs. Holmes lawsuit instead found that the state had no authority to set up an education system outside of the system of free public schools specifically mandated in the constitution.

That broad approach appeared to immediately threaten the two other statewide voucher programs created after the Opportunity Scholarships - the McKay Scholarships for disabled children and the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarships for poorer children - but no lawsuits challenging those programs have been filed. The two remaining programs enroll a total of 34,513 children, compared with 734 getting the Opportunity vouchers at the time of the court ruling.

Bush's proposed constitutional amendment had strong support in the House but failed to get the three-fifths support it needed in the Senate by a single vote after Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, and two of his allies bucked Bush and voted with the 14 Democrats in the chamber.

This occurred even after Bush and his staff tried in their final year to install their supporters and allies in positions of influence in the legislature, the Department of Education and outside interest groups in hopes of continuing his education politics. A new position at the Education Department was even described as a "protect legacy issues" job in an e-mail to Bush.

But since taking office in January, Republican Gov. Charlie Crist has aggressively put his own stamp on state government through new appointments to executive branch jobs and advisory panels, new budget recommendations and new policy priorities.

During his campaign for governor, Crist said he supported vouchers - a stance he repeated last week. But he said the court ruling makes the issue much more difficult to address.

"The courts have weighed in on that," he said. "What I'm trying to do now is, number one in education, pay our teachers more.

"There's only so much time and only so much energy. And I'm trying to do things that are as productive as possible to improve education, public education."

House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, the state leader who many assumed would be Bush's ideological heir, said he still supports vouchers but has his own battles to win.

"I'm a tax cutter. I'm doing property taxes," Rubio said.

"It's always a priority," he said of school choice. "It's just that other issues have kind of captured the attention. Property tax is an all-consuming deal, you know, and it's taking up a lot of our time."

Legislative leaders said privately that voucher proponents and Bush harmed their own effort by aggressively trying, but failing, to unseat Villalobos in his Republican primary bid last September.

Further, the most vocal supporters of vouchers in the House supported Crist's primary opponent, Tom Gallagher, last summer, thereby losing potential leverage with the new governor.

Bills that would expand the corporate income tax voucher program to 500 foster children and the disabled school voucher to children with a diagnosis of autism have sponsors in both chambers, although neither bill addresses the more fundamental question of how these programs square with the January 2006 Supreme Court ruling.

"There seems to be some bills that expand vouchers as though there were no Bush vs. Holmes," said Ron Meyer, the teachers union lawyer who successfully shepherded the nearly six-year lawsuit through the various courts.
The lack of any further lawsuits challenging the remaining two programs could be a reason, he said.
"Perhaps they're feeling emboldened by that," Meyer said.

Voucher proponents and their legislative allies acknowledge the threat of additional lawsuits, however, in their bills. Included in the proposal to expand the corporate tax credit vouchers is a section protecting corporate donors who receive credits from the state from having to give them up in the event the program is struck down.

And former Senate President Jim King, who after three years managed to impose some oversight and safeguards on the remaining two programs after a string of publicized abuses, has sponsored a bill creating an 18-year "transition" program to pay for the continued schooling of children in the McKay program, should it be struck down.

Webster, R-Winter Garden, pushed a bill last spring that would have created a new tax credit program to pay for failing school vouchers in lieu of the Opportunity Scholarships, but he was unable to win House approval. He has refiled the bill this year but so far lacks a House sponsor.

Meanwhile, Democrats said they are aware of the voucher proposals and will be on the lookout for attempts to dramatically expand the programs by using the usual legislative tactic of filing amendments on the chamber floors in the frenzied final days of the spring session.

"I'm not sure how that succeeds," said Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, citing the tight budget year as well as the Supreme Court ruling. "We'll be watching."

Find this article at:

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bilingual classes 'raise results'

BBC News

Bilingual classes 'raise results'

Bilingual children who learn in their family's language as well as English do better at school, research suggests.
Even second and third generation immigrant children with English as their stronger language could benefit.

A team from Goldsmiths, University of London, analysed some primary school children in England using two languages in maths and English lessons.

They found that, far from confusing them, having two languages deepened their understanding of key concepts.

Grasping concepts

Lead researcher Dr Charmian Kenner said children who led bilingual lives could access their lessons through both languages.

"Learning a mathematical concept in Bengali and English, for example, deepens understanding as ideas are transferred between languages.

"Or children can compare how metaphors are constructed in a Bengali poem and its English equivalent.

"The children in our project expressed a strong desire to use their community language in school and teachers were able to tap into their pupils' full range of cultural knowledge."

It is very important that parents continue to talk to their children in their first language and then they can transfer the key ideas they learn to their new language
Dr Charmian Kenner
Dr Kenner worked with four small groups of children aged between six and 10 at two primary schools in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

She watched them learning their mother tongue in community language classes, after school or at weekends, and observed them in bilingual activities in mainstream classes.

When the children were allowed to use their mother tongue as well as English they seemed to grasp mathematical concepts such as division and multiplication more easily, she said.

A separate research project carried out by Tower Hamlets community language unit found children who attended mother tongue classes did better in their national curriculum tests.


Schools which have a high proportion of children with English as a second language are generally expected to do worse than those that do not.

But this research suggests that bilingual pupils do better than those with just one language.

Dr Kenner warns that many second and third generation children are in danger of losing their bilingual skills if they do not have the chance to develop their mother tongue through their schoolwork.

She now wants multilingual children to be allowed to use their mother tongue in mainstream classes.

Her call comes soon after the government urged schools to ensure Britishness was at the heart of citizenship lessons.


The argument that classes should be only in English is based on assumptions that run contrary to all the research findings, Dr Kenner said.

"The other thing is that people think that, in order to be British, children of immigrants have to distort parts of their identity ... but we found it was the other way round.

"The children wanted to be able to use Bengali at school as it was part of them. For them being British included being Bangladeshi. They are British Bangladeshi."

The Department for Education and Skills has recently funded a research project aimed at spreading best practice from bilingual schools.

'Missed opportunity'

Dr Kenner said: "The advice has changed quite a lot. When the first wave of people arrived in the 1960s and 1970s people were told only to speak English to their children.

"But we can see that it is very important that parents continue to talk to their children in their first language and then they can transfer the key ideas they learn to their new language which would be English at school."

The findings come after the centre for languages, Cilt, found bilingual pupils do better at GCSE.

Cilt patron Sir Trevor McDonald said: "In our haste to ensure they acquire good English, we frequently miss the opportunity to ensure they maintain and develop their skills in their other languages too.

"Rather than thinking in terms of an 'English-only' culture, we should be promoting 'English plus'."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/03/15 10:26:52 GMT


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bush Claims About NCLB Questioned

Bush Claims About NCLB Questioned 

Data on gains in achievement remain limited, preliminary. By David J. Hoff and Kathleen Kennedy Manzo Printer-Friendly Email Article Tag This Digg This Is the No Child Left Behind Act working? President Bush says it is, pointing to student-achievement results from a single subsection of the National Assessment of Educational Progress and tentative Reading First data. But the evidence available to support his claim is questionable. "Fourth graders are reading better," the president said during a March 2 visit to a school in New Albany, Ind. "They’ve made more progress in five years than the previous 28 years combined." In mathematics, he said, elementary and middle school students "earned the highest scores in the history of the test." The data Mr. Bush cited at that event are from just the "long-term trend" NAEP in reading and math, researchers say. All available data, they add, show modest improvements that can't be attributed to the 5-year-old law. Instead, progress in achievement is more likely a continuation of trends that predate the law. "There’s not any evidence that shows anything has changed," said Daniel M. Koretz, a professor of education at Harvard University’s graduate school of education. Other researchers suggest that the standards and accountability system of the NCLB law is drawing attention to achievement gaps and other inequalities and is causing educators to change their practice. But it's too early to say whether the federal law will result in achievement gains, they contend." The law's "mechanisms are just coming into play, and not enough time has passed to establish a trend," said Adam Gamoran, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 'I'm Lobbying Congress' Portraying the No Child Left Behind law as a success is a critical element in President Bush's argument that Congress should renew it on schedule this year. The president signed the legislation, an overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, with much fanfare in January 2002 and has cited it as his most important accomplishment in domestic policy. "I'm not only speaking to you, I'm lobbying," Mr. Bush said at the Silver Street Elementary School in New Albany earlier this month. "I'm lobbying Congress. I'm setting the stage for Congress to join me in the reauthorization of this important piece of legislation." Congress is laying the groundwork for reauthorizing the measure. This week, the Senate education committee held a hearing on the law's teacher-quality requirements. Next week, the House and Senate education committees plan to hold a joint session on an overview of the law. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairmen of the education committees and two of the architects of the bipartisan law, say they hope to renew it this year. But many observers expect the process will be delayed until next year or even after Mr. Bush leaves office in 2009. At the New Albany school, Mr. Bush highlighted the gains on the national assessment's long-term-trend tests in reading and mathematics. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings pointed to the same NAEP data on the law's fifth anniversary in January, and during several other recent speeches. Citing One Set of Numbers ... President Bush likes to cite the "long-term-trend" NAEP as proof that the No Child Left Behind Act is working. The gains are significant only for 9- and 13-year-olds in math and 9-year-olds in reading. What's more, the gains fall into a five-year testing window, and only two of those years occurred after the law took effect. Between 1999 and 2004, the reading scores of 9-year-olds climbed from 212 to 226 on the test’s 500-point scale. The gap between African-American and white students that age narrowed to 26 points in 2004, compared with 35 points five years earlier. The gap between Hispanic 9-year-olds and their non-Hispanic white peers tapered from 24 points to 21 points in that same time period. ... While Relying Less on Another On the "national" NAEP, meanwhile, researchers say the advances in math reflect a continuation of student-achievement progress since 1990. Fourth graders are dead-even with where they were in reading when the law took effect in 2002. The slight decline in 8th grade reading scores is not statistically significant. On the math test, 9-year-olds' scores rose by 9 points, and the gaps between Hispanics' and African-Americans' scores and whites' scores narrowed slightly as well. Although the results for 9-year-olds on the reading test are positive, researchers say they can't be linked to the law. The testing window extends back to 1999--three years before President Bush signed the NCLB legislation into law and even before he was president. "With some of the claims that Spellings has made, for most of the time period there was no NCLB, so she can’t really say [any improvement] is because of the law," said Gerald W. Bracey, the author of Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered,who runs a LISTSERV, or e-mail forum, tracking what Mr. Bracey calls the administration's "disinformation." Mr. Bracey, a frequent critic of testing programs, points out that implementation of the law began in 2002, but didn’t start to fuel significant change in schools until the 2003-04 school year. "So I guess [the Bush administration] should be sharing some of the credit with the Clinton administration," he said. In math, the gains since 2002 are the extension of an upward trend that dates back more than 20 years, researchers say. “They just pay attention to what happened after NCLB,” said Jaekyung Lee, an associate professor of education at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “Part of it is just a continuation of a trend from pre-NCLB.” The administration appears to ignore other data that suggest the law has had little or no positive effect on achievement. On a different NAEP exam, gains haven’t been as significant, Mr. Lee said. What is known as the “national” NAEP, as distinguished from the long-term-trend tests, shows 4th grade reading scores the same in 2005 as three years earlier, when the law was signed. Math scores rose 1 point between 2003 and 2005. While that increase was statistically significant, it was smaller than the 9-point gain between 2000 and 2003. The scores on the “national” NAEP demonstrate that the NCLB law’s impact is incomplete, said Katherine McLane, the U.S. Department of Education’s press secretary. “The secretary is the first to say we have more work to do,” Ms. McLane said in response to the criticisms. “That is one of the issues we have to look at in education.” Regardless of whether NAEP scores go up or down, it’s almost impossible to link those changes to the NCLB law without a well-designed research study, said Mr. Koretz of Harvard. That would compare a group of students who were exposed to NCLB policies against one that hadn’t participated in the testing and accountability measures in the law. Those are the types of studies that the Bush administration says must be presented as evidence to select reading materials for the Reading First program and to win approval for research grants from the department. Also, scores in the upper grades on both versions of the national assessment are for the most part unchanged from before the law’s passage. NAEP is given to a sampling of students nationwide. Scores on states’ own tests, however, are used to determine whether schools have made adequate yearly progress under the federal law. Mr. Gamoran of the University of Wisconsin said the debate over NAEP scores is probably irrelevant. Even in 2005, the law’s most significant policies weren’t fully phased in. Those include the requirements that all teachers be “highly qualified” and that all states annually assess math and reading achievement in grades 3-8 and once in high school, said Mr. Gamoran, the director of the university’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research. ‘Reading First’ Results In addition to speeches citing the NAEP long-term-trend data, members of the Bush administration have lauded the success of the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program, the largest new initiative in the NCLB law. In the administration’s blueprint for the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, unveiled in January, the Education Department described Reading First as “the largest, most focused, and most successful early-reading initiative ever undertaken in this country.” Few disagree that it is the largest and most focused. The initiative, which requires that participating schools use “scientifically based” materials and assessments, includes more than 5,600 schools in 1,600 districts. An estimated 100,000 teachers have had some kind of professional development associated with the program, according to the blueprint. But there is scant empirical evidence showing the program’s effect on student achievement. An independent interim study on Reading First implementation, released last year, included survey results from state officials. It showed that the program had led to significant increases in the time participating schools spent on reading instruction, as well as more substantive professional development and support for teachers, and the use of assessment data to inform instruction. A later survey, conducted by the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, indicated that states were generally pleased with the program, with most claiming some improvement in student scores on state tests. President Bush’s blueprint includes preliminary results showing some gains in students’ reading fluency. “For the 2004-05 school year, students in Reading First schools demonstrated increases in reading achievement across all performance measures,” Education Department officials wrote in the blueprint. “The percentage of 2nd grade students who met or exceeded proficiency in reading on Reading First outcome measures of fluency increased from 33 percent in 2003-04 to 39 percent in 2004-05 for economically disadvantaged students; from 27 to 32 percent for [limited-English proficient] students; from 34 to 37 percent for African-American students; from 30 to 39 percent for Hispanic students; and from 17 to 23 percent for students with disabilities,” the document adds. Those gains, however, are based on a compilation of all test results in annual state reports for Reading First. That compilation includes results from the DIBELS assessment, or Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, developed by researchers at the University of Oregon and used in more than 35 states to monitor student progress on fluency and other measures. But they also include results from a variety of other assessments, including the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and Terra Nova. “The results show that more kids in the early grades are making great progress on learning the basic components of reading under Reading First,” Ms. McLane, the department’s press secretary, said of the data reported in the blueprint. Although such an assemblage of test scores can provide a general view of student progress, some researchers question whether the compilation says much about reading proficiency. “If the goal is just to see if students are improving, I think there is nothing wrong with using different tests as long as it is established that the tests are reliable and valid, and reasonably comparable,” Stephen D. Krashen, an education researcher and linguist at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, wrote in an e-mail. However, “many [researchers] feel that DIBELS is not valid.” Critics of DIBELS cite the tendency of some educators to teach to the tests or give the measures too much weight in judging reading ability. They also question whether a test that gauges how many words a student can read accurately in a minute, as DIBELS does, is a valid indicator of their proficiency. ("National Clout of DIBELS Test Draws Scrutiny," Sept. 28, 2005.) According to Mr. Bracey, fluency—the ability to read a text accurately and quickly—is not a good indicator of reading mastery, which requires comprehension. “Kids can be very fluent and not have a clue about what they just read,” he said. Success of Standards While most researchers say it’s too early to measure the NCLB law’s impact on achievement, many are beginning to see evidence that educators are changing their behavior as a result of both the federal law and policies that took root in the 1990s at the onset of the movement for higher standards and greater accountability in education. “The big success of No Child Left Behind so far is to galvanize attention to the challenges we face, particularly the challenges of inequity,” Mr. Gamoran said. But critics of the law question, in any case, the central place it gives to test scores. They say it puts too much emphasis on the negative consequences of failing to meet annual student-performance targets and glosses over the professional development and other interventions needed to improve struggling schools and get to the heart of elevating student achievement. “What’s troublesome about it is the idea that you can eliminate [achievement] gaps by putting pressure on schools and nothing else,” said Gary A. Orfield, the director of the Civil Right Project at Harvard and the University of California, Los Angeles. “It’s making a bad situation worse.” Vol. 26, Issue 27, Pages 1,26-27