Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Program to Deter High School Dropouts by Offering College Courses Is Approved

Published: October 24, 2007

Trying to improve New York’s high school graduation rates, state education officials are proposing to place 12,000 potential dropouts a year in college classes while they are still in high school. The plan, approved yesterday by the state’s Board of Regents, “would provide funding for students to take genuine college courses and receive credit for high school as well as for college,” said the state education commissioner, Richard P. Mills.

“Instead of a four-plus-four plan — four years of high school and four years of college — students could actually complete high school and a bachelor’s degree in seven years,” the commissioner said. “And they would not be taking just random courses, but a set of courses accepted by higher education”

“Schools and colleges will be working together to pull youngsters who never would have had a chance, never would have considered a college career, to pull them into success,” he added.

A recent study of dual-enrollment programs in New York and Florida found that students in them were more likely to earn high school diplomas, to enroll in postsecondary education and to stay in college for more than one semester. The study, by researchers at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, also found that low-income students benefited more from such programs than other students did.

No legislation is required to put the program in place. But the department will include the proposal as part of a presentation to the governor’s budget division and legislators today, and ask for $100 million to pay for the program, which it hopes will enroll students in the fall of 2009. Department officials said yesterday that they had also begun to seek private financing and hoped to start the program even if they did not receive state money.

“It’s such a good model that we would figure out some way to make it work,” said Johanna Duncan-Poitier, senior deputy state education commissioner, one of the program’s architects.

Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick of Manhattan, chairwoman of the higher education committee, called the proposal "a great idea” when it was described to her.

“Especially with the expense of college being what it is, if you can get kids from disadvantaged families to complete college work in high school, they would be saving substantial dollars," she said, and added that the program might eliminate “one of the most serious barriers to kids completing college.”

Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, which has worked with the New York City Education Department to create and run an early-college high school where students complete two years of college by the time they graduate, and plans to open a second such school soon, called the Education Department plan “a noble idea,” but expressed concern about its execution.

“The idea would be to improve the quality of teaching and the treatment of students as adults,” he said. “This is easier said than done. You can’t do it in the environment of the traditional high school. You need entirely different faculty. If you’re going to enroll disadvantaged students who are underperforming, you need people who have a mission to turn this around.”

Typically, high-achieving students do college work while still in high school, through course work at nearby colleges or in advanced classes in their schools.

But in the nationwide quest to reduce high school dropout rates, using a similar strategy for lower-performing students has been drawing growing attention. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for instance, has been a significant backer of high schools that also offer college work, including a growing number in New York City. Education officials pointed to several New York programs as models for their new proposal.

One model for the Regents’ proposal was the City University of New York’s “College Now,” which provided courses to more than 29,000 high school students last year. Nearly 300 city high schools participate.

Another model was the early college high schools, where students graduate from high school with a year or two of college credits, that have sprung up in New York City and elsewhere in recent years. Officials also pointed to programs for high school students offered by the State University of New York and some private colleges.

Joseph P. Frey, an associate education commissioner, said the department did not have a specific model in mind but hoped to attract many high schools and colleges into collaborations next year, when it solicits proposals.

“It is not clear that there is one best pathway,” he said. “We want a diversity of approaches here.”

“One of the critical intents is to get students excited about what they could do, and to get them to work at a highly competitive level,” Mr. Frey added. “That is something that would assist students to stay in school, and to not need remediation in college. And it will save money over the long term.”

Race-Based Aid, After a Statewide Ban

Andy Guess | Inside Higher Ed
October 24, 2007

State bans on affirmative action often leave public universities straining to reach out to minority students without falling afoul of the law. Whether inspiring changes in admissions policy, as Proposition 209 eventually did in the form of the University of California at Los Angeles’s “holistic” review system, or spurring a greater commitment to outreach programs, colleges seeking to keep their populations as diverse as possible often turn to methods that could indirectly boost minority enrollment.

The University of Michigan is the latest system to confront the effects of such bans. Proposal 2, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, passed by voter referendum last November and prohibits “state and local government from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any individual or group based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the areas of public employment, public contracting and public education.” In the views of administrators, who have fought the initiative at every turn, the law leaves the university’s hands tied both at the admissions stage and in the financial aid office, where scholarships can no longer be directed specifically to members of underrepresented groups.

But that doesn’t preclude outside, private organizations from stepping in. The Alumni Association of the University of Michigan — a private, nonprofit group that is legally separate from the university system — last week announced its plans to begin offering scholarships next fall that would consider race and gender in its selection process. The association sees the program as a way to bolster the campus’s minority recruitment efforts despite the legal restrictions imposed on the university itself.

“Our board of directors was very interested after Proposal 2,” said Catherine Niekro, the association’s vice president for marketing and communications, to “help maintain and build diversity on campus.”

By all accounts, the university isn’t complaining. “The University of Michigan welcomes all resources that support access to higher education and, specifically, those that have the potential to assist qualified admitted students to fulfill their dreams and potential at U-M,” Kelly Cunningham, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

The alumni association’s program is still in the planning stages; questions such as the specific admissions criteria and how many scholarships will be initially offered have not yet been settled. Niekro said the alumni board hoped to hash out the details over the next several weeks. The “seed money,” she said, will come in the form of $650,000 from the organization’s endowment, with subsequent donations — directed to the scholarship fund — expected not only from interested alumni but from corporations as well.

Niekro said the plan was not initiated with the university’s involvement. But “campuswide, the response has been pretty positive,” she said. “They’re our friends, but they’re not us,” said another university spokeswoman, who added that they’d first heard rumors about the alumni plan over the summer.

Initiatives by outwardly affiliated, but legally separate, alumni associations aren’t new. The University of Texas at Austin’s alumni group, the Texas Exes, began offering similar scholarships (such as the Black Texas Exes Challenge Grant Scholarship) after a federal appeals court ruled Texas’ affirmative action policies unconstitutional in 1996. Like the Michigan effort, the scholarships are privately funded; they factor in both need and academic achievement.

The UCLA Alumni Association also offers minority scholarships, but it can continue to do so only because its program was “grandfathered” in — that is, it existed before Proposition 209 passed in 1996 and could therefore remain in operation, although a legal web hampered any subsequent fund-raising efforts because the endowment is managed by the UCLA Foundation, which has explicit ties to the university system. Earlier this year, a private group of black UCLA alumni announced a $1.75 million fund for African-American students raised independently of both the university and the official alumni association.

Such private scholarships aimed at minority students serve as a way to attract students who might otherwise be tempted by generous financial-aid packages at competing private universities.

“My thought process is that ... individuals have found a way to support students that might not necessarily have the opportunities to be able to fund their education. And because Proposition 209 specifically focuses on institutions [not] being able to do it, these private organizations, that really can fund students for any criteria they want, become more important,” said George Brown III, the assistant director for alumni scholarships at UCLA’s alumni association. “Private institutions don’t have same problems,” he added, so as a result, “public institutions feel the brunt of trying to recruit viable minority students.”

The problem may be particularly acute in Michigan, suggested Edward P. St. John, a professor of higher education at the university. “The need for improvement in student aid is an artifact of the failure of the state of Michigan to invest sufficiently in need-based student aid,” he said in an e-mail. “Michigan ranks far below other states in the Great Lakes region and the national average for states on this funding of need-based grants. It is extremely difficult [for] prepared, low-income students to pay for public four-year colleges in the state; the net costs after Pell and state grants are far in excess of expected family contributions plus subsidized loans at federal lending limits for low-income students. This is a severe and extreme injustice specific to Michigan.”

Potential Legal Pitfalls

Whether the Michigan plan passes legal muster comes mainly down to whether it is, in fact, completely separate from any state-affiliated entities that would fall under the purview of Proposal 2. Roger Clegg, the president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes affirmative action, noted that in essence, neither the university nor the alumni association would be able to assist the other in administering the minority scholarship program.

Michigan’s association, as an independent 501©(3) organization, doesn’t appear to have such a connection with the university; still, its Web site does reside on the university’s domain, the Alumni Center is located on campus and its mission statement calls the group “a committed partner of the University.”

Beyond Proposal 2, Clegg said, the plan could violate federal law: “If the agreement with the recipients of the scholarship money amounts to a contract, then they are covered by 42 [United States Code] section 1981, which forbids racial discrimination in contracting.”

“If there’s no connection with the university ... and if the organization is itself not considered a part of the state, and if this is potentially a gift, if there is no contractual issue, then it might be able to do this,” he concluded.

On the potential legal issues involved, at least, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund agrees. Anurima Bhargava, the director of the fund’s education practice, pointed out that “scholarships are not immune under federal or state laws.”

Along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP filed a lawsuit last December seeking a “declaratory ruling” that Proposal 2 would not apply to policies at public universities that consider race in addition to other factors in admissions.

“Proposal 2 was not intended nor should it be interpreted to prohibit the efforts of alumni and other concerned citizens to ensure that students of color and women have access to higher education,” Bhargava said.

Meanwhile, St. John suggested that despite the current focus on financial aid and admissions, the post-affirmative-action landscape in the state will need to look earlier —- and concentrate on income groups — in order to increase access for underrepresented students.

“[Proposal] 2 has accentuated the need for increasing the university’s commitment to outreach, including partnerships with high schools, and to need-based student aid. However, these critical issues were evident long before [Proposal] 2 was put on the ballot. The passage of [Proposal] 2 has made it more evident that [the university] cannot afford to abdicate its responsibility to improve fairness in access,” he said.

“The University of Michigan is now responding to critical needs in the state by taking steps to equalize enrollment opportunity for admitted students across income groups. Many students — whites and minorities — will benefit from these new efforts.”

Friday, October 26, 2007

Court hears appeal on Capitol surveillance video

Update on the release of the Leininger capitol video during the 2003 voucher battle. -Angela

Oct. 24, 2007, 10:33PM
Court hears appeal on Capitol surveillance video

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN — It's a legal case that joins conservative Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott with a liberal political magazine against the Department of Public Safety over what a surveillance camera saw in a back hall of the state Capitol.

Lawyers for the Texas Observer argue that the camera is clearly visible and that the videotape is subject to scrutiny under the state's Public Information Act because it does not betray any confidential security measures.

Lawyers for DPS argue that bad guys, including potential terrorists, might be able to detect blind spots and weaknesses in the security system if the agency is forced to share video with the public.

"It's a very interesting case ... a very tough case," said Third Court of Appeals Justice David Puryear, who presided Wednesday over a three-member panel hearing the dispute.

The Observer wants to look at only one tape in an effort to validate reports that political mega-donor James Leininger of San Antonio camped out behind the House chamber May 23, 2005, to lobby legislators on a school voucher bill.

"We thought it was important that the public know that one of the largest campaign contributors in the state was talking to state representatives and trying to get them to change their vote on an issue of paramount importance to the future of the state," Observer executive editor Jake Bernstein said after the hearing.

The Observer has won the early rounds, including an attorney general's opinion that the tape contents belong to the public and a district court ruling along the same lines. But the nonprofit investigative publication has not yet seen the tape.

"We still want to know if, in fact, (Leininger) was on there or not," Bernstein said.

It could take the appellate court months to rule, with the losing party possibly petitioning the state Supreme Court. So far, DPS has spent at least $165,000 of to defend its position.

"The whole key of this case is the precedent that it would set," said Austin lawyer Raymond White, a partner in the law firm of Diamond McCarthy, which represents the agency.

Allowing the public to see the videotape from one surveillance camera means that every tape in each part of the Capitol would be subject to public scrutiny, he said.

Collectively, the videotapes show how the Capitol security system works, White told the justices.

New TEA chief has done his homework, but real test is ahead

AUSTIN Robert Scott comes into the top job at the Texas Education Agency with a political resume many would covet. But his first tests will require at least as much expertise in education as politics.

New TEA chief has done his homework, but real test is ahead
08:09 AM CDT on Thursday, October 25, 2007
By KAREN AYRES SMITH / The Dallas Morning News

The strong ally of Gov. Rick Perry has come into one of the most powerful jobs in Austin vowing to crack down on TAKS test cheating, craft new curriculum standards and build new tests in core subjects to replace the state's controversial graduation exam.

First up, Mr. Scott says, is to attack cheating on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests more aggressively. Potential steps include putting monitors in schools with questionable scores and punishing educators who cheat, including by pulling their credentials. Fifty-three such cases are pending. He also would consider revoking a school's accountability rating over TAKS cheating.

With criticism still lingering that TEA's response to past allegations of cheating was too lax, Mr. Scott said he is determined to find the best way to use statistics and on-the-ground investigations to snag cheaters.

"It's a matter of public trust and public confidence in the system," he said.

His plans pose an ambitious agenda for someone who has never taught or led a school. It's also likely to regularly throw him in the middle of intense controversies. But the 38-year-old lawyer has shown he can weather tough situations.

He finished law school while working as a key adviser to the head of TEA and raising two kids on his own after a divorce. Back at TEA in 2003, he laid off 200 people to fill a budget gap.

Mr. Perry appointed him to his current job after telling former Commissioner Shirley Neeley that she was no longer needed. Mr. Scott had been her chief deputy, and it's no secret the two had their differences in the nearly four years they worked together, including over how to handle allegations of TAKS cheating.

Mr. Scott also starts his new job with an ethics investigation hanging over him about accusations that he steered a lucrative TEA contract to a friend. Mr. Scott denies those claims. State Auditor John Keel is investigating, but he won't comment on the probe or say when he will finish.

Mr. Scott's selection offends some who say the state's top education official ˆ setting policy for 1,033 districts, 197 charter operators and 4.6 million students ˆ should be an educator. Mr. Scott responds with typical directness: He's already run TEA's day-to-day operations, and he knows education policy better than most.

The true test will come in the next few months.

"His leadership style is to be discovered," said Mavis Knight, a state board of education member from Dallas. "It's one thing to be second in command. It's an altogether different thing to be the first-in-command individual."

Policy fascinates him

At 38, the intense new commissioner looks younger than most on his staff. He considers the label "policy wonk" a compliment and says he reads education research that interests him at home at night. After hours, he often e-mails back and forth with staff.

Mr. Scott first fell for government work as a college freshman when he read an article titled "Redundancy, Rationality and the Problem of Duplication and Overlap," about how organizations operate.

"It just turned me on in terms of policy and government," he said.

After he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, Mr. Scott landed a job as a messenger in the state Senate and then as an aide to then-state Sen. Gene Green. After earning his bachelor's degree in government, Mr. Scott worked on school finance issues for Mr. Green. It was his introduction to education policy.

"I am certainly no expert in the field of statistics, what you would normally call a wonkish person," Mr. Scott said. "If you want to say I'm someone who enjoys spending all of his days and nights thinking about education policy then, yes, that is pretty accurate."

Kids and law school

When Mr. Green was elected to Congress, Mr. Scott joined his staff in Washington. There, he became immersed in a battle over federal funding for schools, sparring with the powerful likes of Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy. He was only 24.

When his marriage ended a few years later, Mr. Scott took primary custody of his children, Jonathan and Katie, who are now in ninth and eighth grades in Austin public schools. He worked as an executive assistant to then-TEA Commissioner Mike Moses and enrolled in UT law school at the same time. His children would later walk across the stage with him at graduation in 2000.

"It almost killed me," Mr. Scott said. "I look back at that point and it was pretty much just running on adrenaline for two years. I really loved law school. In terms of mental engagement, it was a lot of fun."

On the job, Mr. Scott worked on rewriting curriculum standards that dictate the all-important content of everyday lessons and tests. The rewrite touched nerves when it dealt with such controversial issues as sex education.

"He handled all the tension and anxiety that went with that very well," said Dr. Moses, who later became superintendent of Dallas schools.

In 2001, Mr. Perry hired Mr. Scott as an education adviser. Two years later, the governor named him interim TEA commissioner after former Commissioner Felipe Alanis left.

Within months, Mr. Scott and his team faced the unpopular job of having to cut 200 TEA employees to help avert a budget shortfall.

Mr. Scott said he has assured his staff that TEA is in a different position today than 2003 and he intends to work collaboratively with agency leaders.

Mr. Scott became TEA's chief deputy commissioner when Ms. Neeley was named commissioner in 2004. They came at their jobs from different perspectives.

"He would always look at things from a policy standpoint and the governor's standpoint, and I would look at it from how it would impact that classroom teacher, that school, that superintendent and more importantly that student," Dr. Neeley said. "We were very open about it. It was never a secret."

Shortly before Dr. Neeley left TEA, a report by the agency's inspector general found several problems with contracting practices. The report suggested that Mr. Scott steered a $100,000 contract to a friend.

Mr. Scott said it's a case of mistaken identity. He said the contract was negotiated by an employee with the same name who works in the agency's regional service center in Waco.

The other Robert Scott, who goes by the nickname Rob, declined to discuss the investigation this week.

The state auditor's office began investigating the report and was still working on the probe when the governor named Mr. Scott TEA commissioner last week.

When asked about the timing of the appointment, a governor's office spokeswoman said only that Mr. Scott was the most qualified candidate for the job.

Not a teacher

Mr. Scott's appointment was controversial for some.

Linda Bridges, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, said her group would have preferred that an educator take the helm.

"We always have felt that if you've toiled in the field, you understand what it takes to get the job done," she said.

But state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said she believes an education background isn't necessarily required. She is a former teacher.

"I really do think you weigh that experience, but you have to base the decision on whether the individual can handle that type of job," she said.

Mr. Scott said his lack of experience in the classroom will lead him to listen closely to others.

While some policies are under his control, others are not. For example, he said he would support a pilot voucher program, but he said such a plan would have to come from the Legislature.

"If you've got an at-risk student and there is something you can do for that kid, and they're not being served well now, we would be crazy not to try it," Mr. Scott said.

Whatever the issue, Mr. Scott remains, foremost, a student of policy.

"You know you're cut out for politics when you walk by the Capitol and you get goose bumps, and you know it's time to go when you walk by and get hives," Mr. Scott said. "I haven't gotten to the hives stage yet and I'm still just amazed I get to work in that building."

Mr. Scott faces several critical tasks in his new job. Here are the details of some of his plans:

TEA reorganization

Mr. Scott plans to reorganize the agency to better serve programs that have been mandated by the Legislature, including a Virtual Schools program that will provide for online courses.

TAKS cheating

Mr. Scott said that he wants to tackle the problem more aggressively and that he has asked his staff to begin examining what steps the agency might take. Possibilities include putting monitors in schools with suspicious scores, punishing educators who cheat by possibly pulling their credentials and conducting statistical analyses of scores. He said he would also consider revoking a school's accountability rating for cheating.

New curriculum standards

The agency has started reviewing the state curriculum. Mr. Scott said new curriculum guidelines must be clear and more grade-specific to better prepare students for college. The goals must be measurable, he said. Instead of telling students just to write a persuasive essay, for example, the state should direct students to write an essay that uses research, anticipates counterarguments and includes proper citations.

End-of-course tests

The Legislature recently directed the agency to develop tests to measure high school students' performance in core subjects. The students must pass those tests to graduate. The tests will replace the current exit TAKS test in 2011. Mr. Scott said the agency will conduct pre-tests to measure the new tests before they are given to students.


Mr. Scott says he would support a pilot voucher program, but authorization for any such program would have to come from the Legislature. He said it would be worthwhile to see whether vouchers would help at-risk students, but he believes public schools would remain the schools of choice for most parents.
Age: 38

Family: Single with two children, ages 14 and 13, who attend Austin public schools

Education: Bachelor's and law degrees, University of Texas at Austin

Professional experience: Legislative aide to Rep. Gene Green, a former state senator and current Democratic congressman from Houston; adviser to former TEA commissioners Mike Moses and Jim Nelson; senior adviser to Gov. Rick Perry for public education; chief deputy commissioner, Texas Education Agency. He served as interim TEA commissioner twice ˆ in 2003 and 2007.

Summer reading: The Road by Cormac McCarthy and an almanac of Texas history

TEA salary: $180,000

TEA term: Expires January 2011

Fixing the Milwaukee Public Schools: The Limits of Parent-Driven Reform

This is a bombshell. This report out of a Wisconsin conservative think tank called the Policy Research Institute titled, Fixing the Milwaukee Public Schools: The Limits of Parent-Driven Reform," takes the wind out of the sails of pro-voucher advocates. It argues that the limits of vouchers to create the competitive, free-market environment that conservatives seek. However, this is unlikely to deter advocates who nevertheless feel that they are double-taxed whenever they have to pay for other children's public education while they pay for their own children's private education.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Turning back the clock on education reform

Lois Meyer (see earlier post) refers to Navarrette's recent column. I tracked it down so others could read this, too.
Navarrette hasn't spent time in schools and it shows. -Angela

Turning back the clock on education reform

September 30, 2007

This could be the end of the line for No Child Left Behind. And some educators couldn't be happier.

The 5-year-old education reform law – one of the most important of its kind in the last half-century – is controversial, though it should not have been. After all, what it proposes is fairly tame. It requires that all students perform at grade level in reading and math by 2014 and relies on regular tests to gauge how well students – and by implication, teachers and administrators – are doing toward reaching that goal. It also separates data by racial and ethnic subgroups to get a sense of which groups of students are in the greatest distress. Lastly, it helps students with limited English by preventing schools from testing them in their native language in perpetuity.

That's NCLB in a nutshell. The law is up for reauthorization this year, and it has the misfortune of having to get through a Congress that is now controlled by Democrats, who get their assignments from teachers unions that ply them with campaign cash.

Those unions would like to see NCLB ground into itty-bitty pieces. They're so desperate to maintain control over the educational process and help their members duck accountability that they're willing to put their own interests before those of children. That isn't new. Public schools have, for generations, crafted an environment that caters to the needs and wants of the adults who work in the schools rather than those of the children who attend them.

How many days should there be in the school year? How long should the school day be? What tests should we give, and when should we give them? And what should be the consequences when students don't do well?

Does anyone really believe that when the grown-ups sit down in school board meetings or state legislatures to make these decisions and others about how schools operate that what's top of mind is the interests of children who don't vote, or give money, or twist arms, or pay union dues? If so, they need to grow up.

Interestingly, the law is also encountering token resistance from some Republicans who represent suburban school districts for whom the main issue is local control. These districts want Uncle Sam to butt out of the educational system and leave schools, teachers and administrators to run things as they see fit.

With critics on the right and the left, it's no wonder that NCLB is in trouble, at least in its current form. By current form, I mean with teeth, brains and a heartbeat.

Democrats don't have the guts to kill the law outright because they don't want to advertise to voters that they're the party that rolled back education reform. So they'll have to settle for watering down the law and making it easier for schools to hide how poorly they're doing by burying low-performing students under mounds of loopholes and a lack of transparency.

Luckily, NCLB has a ferocious defender in the form of U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. As someone who is obviously committed to the law and to preserving its intent, Spellings isn't afraid to square off against powerful opponents of NCLB such as Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

When Miller joined last month with Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, the committee's ranking Republican, to put together a “discussion draft” of changes they'd like to see made to NCLB, Spellings took a look at what they had in mind and then – on Sept. 5 – fired off a letter of her own laying out her concerns with what they had in mind. Among them: that the proposed changes would make it harder to disseminate information about how students were doing while making it easier for low-performing schools to avoid having to make improvements and offer options to students and parents. Letting schools off the hook in this way would, Spellings wrote, undermine a “bright-line principle of NCLB” and cripple the law.

Which, of course, would be fine with those who want to return to the old status quo. For the good of our children and the future they will visit upon us, let's hope that Spellings can stop them. If she can't, and No Child Left Behind is dismantled, we'll all pay the price – and for many years to come.

Navarrette can be reached via e-mail at

Find this article at:

© Copyright 2007 Union-Tribune Publishing Co. ? A Copley Newspaper Site

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A college diploma in every hand

Bob Lenz | SF Gate
October 22, 2007

As Congress considers an update to the No Child Left Behind Act, here's a piece of advice: Scrap the title.

Designing educational policy to leave no child behind is the equivalent of driving forward by looking in the rear view mirror. If our policymakers want to move America's children along the road to success, they should make earning a college degree a defining goal and remake "No Child Left Behind" into "A College Diploma in Every Hand."

The single biggest ticket to a life of opportunity is a college degree. Americans with a bachelor's degree earn roughly twice as much as those with a high school diploma. For young people who are the first in their families to graduate from college, a degree has the potential to dramatically change their life outcomes and end generations of poverty.

If college success is a measure of our education system's success, however, America just is not making the grade. Half of all students who enroll in four-year college drop out, and rates for black and Latino students are even more dismal. We have designed elementary and high school education to get kids into college, but we haven't taught them what they need to succeed once they get there.

It is necessary - but not enough - for students to be able to pass the California high school exit exam (the CAHSEE), which requires, at best, an eighth-grade standard for math, reading, language and writing. Passing the required college-prep curriculum approved by the University of California and California State University systems does little more to prepare students to succeed in college.

Studies show that the lack of self-management, critical thinking and effective communication skills are major reasons why students drop out of college in their first year. Students also don't get far in college without problem-solving and technology skills, as well as the ability to collaborate and be creative. Meaningful college preparation is less about teaching facts than empowering students to think.

By redesigning our education system so that most students have become proficient in reading, writing and math by eighth-grade, high schools could focus more on the skills needed for college success. High school students would not just learn history or science; they would practice being historians and scientists.

We could give students more opportunity to work individually and in teams to investigate, analyze and synthesize information - putting skills to work to enhance true learning - and to present their findings with new technologies. And we can rigorously assess performance to ensure that each meets clearly defined academic goals.

Critics argue that schools are barely teaching to existing testing standards, so adding additional college performance requirements is not feasible. The truth is that a well-designed college-prep curriculum can actually improve test scores. Consider two charter public high schools in San Francisco: City Arts & Technology and Metropolitan Arts & Technology. Both were founded by Envision Schools to provide underserved students with a rigorous college-performance curriculum, and both boasted the largest test-score gains of any San Francisco public high school in each of their second years. Of course, small schools and large schools are different, but City Arts ranked at the top when compared against similar schools in 2006, and both schools are expected to rank well when the similar-school scores for 2007 are released.

The schools accomplished these results despite the fact that two-thirds of their students tested at a fifth-grade level when they entered ninth grade. When you challenge students to put their mark on a subject, they will be more motivated to master the facts.

Rather than use standardized testing as the sole measure of learning, Congress should use college attendance and achievement rates for accountability in any comprehensive education bill. And California policy-makers, who have touted 2008 as a Year of Education Reform, should allow student portfolios and other performance assessments to be considered as part of the formal admissions process for the state's university system.

You are what you measure, and if the federal government and the state universities aren't actually measuring college performance, then the vast majority of schools won't have the incentive to evolve. And if our schools aren't giving it the old college try, we'll never empower students to do so.

Bob Lenz is the chief education officer and founder of Envision Schools, which operates four public high schools in the Bay Area.

Hungering for Educational Justice

I'm happy to post this editorial by Dr. Lois Meyer who wrote this upon hearing Jonathan Kozol speak at her campus.

Hungering for Educational Justice
Lois M. Meyer
University of New Mexico

National Book Award-winning author and educator Jonathan Kozol recently explained to an almost overflow audience at the University of New Mexico (UNM) why he appeared thin and weak. For three months he has been on a hunger fast for educational justice. Why? Because he can no longer stomach the gross injustices he witnesses in classrooms and schools across the nation. Last July 1, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Brown vs. Board of Education, the historic 1954 decision that outlawed segregated schools and mandated school integration, Kozol began his hunger fast against “the racist agenda inherent in the federal education reform act [No Child Left Behind} signed into law by President Bush in 2001”. His hunger strike is partial – he supplements a liquid diet with some solid nourishment at his doctor’s request to sustain life. But, he added, “I’m old now so I’m not afraid to do or say what I believe is right.”

We don’t hear much about hunger strikes these days. Obesity, sure, bulimia, maybe, but not hunger strikes. Our appetite for the likes of American Idol and Desperate Housewives seems insatiable, while the idea of self-inflicted hunger as a principled act of political protest and personal conviction causes us intellectual if not gastric distress. Fasting for justice seems way more extreme than Extreme Makeover. Non-violent hunger fasts may have helped Gandhi and Cesar Chavez tumble colonial empires and unionize California lettuce fields, but that was decades ago. Today both nonviolence and hunger fasting seem to have been deleted from our consciousness and from our menu of possible political actions.

And fasting for educational justice? How would that improve the test scores of low achieving children, or help failing schools meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)? In this age of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), even our concept of educational justice is so shrunken and deformed by government spin that we act as though test scores - rather than children’s creativity and excitement about learning, or the priorities and cultural rights of parents and communities - are what matter.

Many in the UNM crowd of new and experienced teachers, school administrators, university students and professors, and concerned parents, were familiar with what Kozol has said and done in the past. He has worked in inner-city schools for more than 40 years, giving voice to children’s experiences of public schooling in disturbing books such as Death at an Early Age, The Shame of the Nation, and Savage Inequalities. His newest book, Letters to a Young Teacher, recounts his year-long dialogue with an inexperienced first-grade teacher in a segregated Black school in his home town, Boston. In it he promises to describe “the joys and challenges and passionate rewards of a beautiful profession” – teaching.

Kozol made good on his promise, and in doing so, he fed a deep hunger in the audience that night. Public school teachers are hungry to hear a public figure of Kozol’s stature commend them with awe and pride and gratitude for their skills and commitment to teaching. NCLB lays the blame for children’s poor test scores on teachers and schools, and by implication, on parents and communities, especially poor communities of color. It ignores mounds of data that document the increasing inequalities among communities and social classes in family income, health supports, even basics like adequate food and housing, all factors that influence performance on achievement tests and students’ opportunities to learn. Instead, NCLB’s single-minded and simplistic solution to educational inequalities is to hold educators, children and parents “accountable”. In other words, they are blamed and shamed as the “cause” of the educational “failure” of the very children our society refuses to insure and opts instead to segregate, underfund, push out of school, and ignore.

In stark contrast, Kozol celebrated the contributions of education professionals as the strength and soul of public education. He encouraged especially young teachers and those who are preparing to teach: “Teachers I meet today are some of the most gifted and enthusiastic I have ever seen. Especially those who teach young children should not permit themselves to be drill sergeants of the State or trainers for corporate global capitalism.”

Children command most of Kozol’s attention, real children with names like Pineapple and Ariel and Shaniqua who populate the classrooms where he visits and volunteers time. He denounced the educational injustices these children endure in the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth – resegregated schools; overcrowded classrooms; narrow, test-driven curricula; rote, drill-and-kill teaching methods. Though labeled by NCLB as “failures”, the spirit of these children is inspiring – most still hunger to learn.

The federal law’s misplaced, child-damaging priorities are masked in deceptive rhetoric about “standards” and “excellence” and “global competitiveness”. NCLB pretends to address quality education for children but its real concerns are different. “Why should kindergartners care about the global marketplace?” Kozol demands. “They care about bellybuttons and elbows and furry caterpillars.” Curiosity about their world and joy in discovery, not test scores or world markets, are what propel young children to learn.

Some words never appear in NCLB at all, “words like curiosity, creativity, laughter, and delight.” Some parents and communities, and undoubtedly legislators, can demand for their children the best education money can buy, an education that still challenges and delights. But too many Black and Hispanic and Native American kids, and those with special needs or those who are still learning English, are force-fed a stripped down, debased and test-driven curriculum. Kozol’s conclusion was unflinching: “It is deeply hypocritical to hold 8 or 9 year olds accountable for their academic achievement but not hold Congressional delegates and the president accountable for not providing poor kids with the same education they themselves insist on giving to their own kids.”

Syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrete Jr.’s recent column (“Dismantle No Child Left Behind and Watch us Fail”, Oct. 1) is a stark example of the deceptive education talk fueled by NCLB. Navarrete claimed to speak in defense of the needs and wants of children “who don’t vote, or give money, or twist arms, or pay union dues”. Yet Navarrete never talked about children at all, not about their feelings, their interests, their dreams, or their reaction to being labeled as “failures”. Instead, Navarette’s column berates teachers unions, the Democratic-controlled Congress, and “certain Republicans” for seeking to eliminate the most punitive NCLB requirements. Navarrete applauded U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings as a “ferocious defender” of NCLB.

Ferociously defending NCLB is a far cry from defending children and quality instruction and educational justice for all. Kozol understands, as did Gandhi and Chavez before him, that hunger for educational justice demands principled political action if we are to dismantle federal education legislation that intellectually starves our neediest children.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Spanish proficiency helps student to go far

Star-Telegram staff writer
October 21, 2007

HURST -- L.D. Bell High School sophomore Mady Escamilla is one of hundreds of native Spanish-speakers in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford district.

But unlike most of her peers, Escamilla scored a 5 -- the highest possible score -- on an Advanced Placement Spanish exam while she was a freshman at Hurst Junior High School.

The course and the exam, typically given to high school juniors and seniors, requires students to do college-level work, school officials said.

Escamilla's score was high enough to earn her college credit.

It's all part of the state AP Spanish Language Middle School Program.

"The purpose of the class is to encourage students who would never think of taking an AP class, and to give them that confidence once they do well," said Bettye Edgington, H-E-B advanced academics coordinator.

The passing rate of native Spanish-speakers taking the AP Spanish exam is much higher than the passing rate of Anglo students taking the AP English exam, Edgington said.

Escamilla, 14, arrived in the U.S. from Mexico about nine years ago knowing no English. Today, one cannot tell that she was not born and raised here.

"It was pretty tough getting used to everybody and the brand-new culture," she said. "It made it easier that we were in bilingual classes."

Escamilla said an older brother, then in middle school, struggled more than she did because there was no formal program for Spanish-speakers.

At Hurst Junior High, teachers noticed Escamilla's talent for writing and higher-level thinking skills, such as those required in the AP curriculum.

Early in the ninth grade, teachers encouraged her to switch to the AP Spanish class.

"They told me they were going to work with me, and by the end of the year, I would take the [AP] exam," Escamilla said. "I spoke Spanish at home every day, but it's not like I practiced writing and everything."

The end-of-course exam covers grammar, correct verb usage, and writing and speaking Spanish, Escamilla said. Those who score high can receive college credit.

"I really wasn't worried throughout the whole year, but when the day came, and everybody was expecting so much, I wondered, 'What if I don't really meet their expectations?'" she said.

But she exceeded them.

"She was exhausted," said Billie Grawunder, a Spanish teacher at Hurst Junior High. "It was mentally very challenging for her."

Escamilla was among 20 students chosen for the pilot year of the program last year. This year, the district has added 26 ninth-graders, Grawunder said. Scores from the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills are used to select the students.

This year, Escamilla is taking classes that will prepare her for the district's International Baccalaureate program, and she may take the IB exam in Spanish this year, allowing her the chance to earn additional college credit.

Escamilla was also among about 20 students from Dallas-Fort Worth who were chosen to meet former Mexican President Vicente Fox when he traveled to the area this month.

"I do owe a lot to my teachers," she said. "I've had some pretty good ones."

Mady Escamilla

Age: 14

Hometown: Hurst

Education: Sophomore at L.D. Bell High School

Family: Mother, Lorena; stepfather, Eliseo; two brothers, Rodrigo, 17, a senior at Bell; and Misael, 18, a college student

Hobbies: Art and photography

Monday, October 22, 2007

Border schools on new course

Jenny LaCoste-Caputo | San Antonio Express-News

An unprecedented effort to re-create high schools is under way along the South Texas border, where just 52 percent of students graduate in four years.

Six high schools debuted the new approach this fall, and four more are in the planning stages. In five years, a total of 18 schools from Brownsville to Laredo will implement the high school redesign project, affecting more than 31,500 students.

The program, First Things First, requires students to choose an area of study for their four years of high school.

It will provide a more personalized educational experience by creating small learning communities at each high school, and assigning each student a family advocate.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is underwriting the program to the tune of $12.1 million. New Jersey-based Institute for Research and Reform in Education, which developed First Things First, is providing training and support.

The border is a crucial testing ground. Nearly 90 percent of the roughly 363,000 school-age children in the region come from poor homes, and 40 percent come to school speaking little or no English — both contributing factors to the low graduation rate.

At Weslaco East High School, Principal Sue Peterson welcomed 500 ninth-graders three years ago. This year, the school has 335 seniors. Her school is one of the six participating in the high school redesign program.

"We know we have a problem when we have 500 incoming ninth-graders, and then four years later, where are they?" Peterson said. "But it's not just about dropouts, it's about being college ready. Too many of our kids are taking remedial courses when they go to college."

Proponents acknowledge the program is an experiment, but note it has helped schools in Kansas City, Kan., and, closer to home, at Houston's Lee High School.

Supporters also say it's something of a corrective measure at a time when school districts — especially in Texas, where high school football is nearly a religion — aren't likely to turn back from building bigger and bigger traditional high schools.

Steve Amstutz, principal of Lee High School in Houston, said the connection between teachers and students is the linchpin of the program. His school on Houston's southwest side faces tough challenges, including this year enrolling 200 students newly arrived from other countries. His students speak 40 different languages and hail from 70 different countries.

The fastest-growing minority group on campus is made up of refugees from African nations, Amstutz said.

Now in its seventh year with the program, Lee High School has seen gains. In 2001, Amstutz's students scored at the seventh percentile in reading on a nationally norm-referenced test. Now, they score in the upper 20s.

"That still stinks, but it's a lot better than it was," he said. "We're making steady progress."

A six-year evaluation of schools in Kansas City, where First Things First is in place at all grade levels, found it had significant impact. After four years, researchers with Youth Development Strategies, Inc., a nonprofit research organization based in New Jersey, found higher reading test scores at all levels, higher math scores at elementary and middle schools, higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates.

How it works

In South Texas, teachers, administrators, students and parents all had a say in what the small learning communities would focus on.

At Weslaco East, students can choose one of six areas of study: health science; technology, media and communications; design and engineering; government, law and criminal justice; arts and education; or business and finance. Peterson rearranged classes so each learning community has its own wing — much like a college setup.

Jim Connell, president and co-founder of IRRE, said small learning communities foster a close-knit feeling and ensure that several adults know each kid.

"There are structural reasons to do this, to get to the smaller numbers, and then there are functional reasons," Connell said. "Here's an area that these kids have some interest in, and the adults in the area have an interest in, too."

Another telling statistic? Six years ago, Amstutz needed eight police officers on his Houston campus full time. Today, he needs one.

"Now teachers know these kids and know them well over a long period of time," he said. "We feel that's the pretext for doing good instructional work."

Students will see teachers for two or three years, much like what happens at a small school. Because all the school's English teachers are spread throughout several learning communities, for instance, no one teacher will work at only one level, which means they'll see the same kids again in 10th or 11th grade.

Teachers from all disciplines also meet together regularly, a switch from traditional planning in which all the math teachers meet together or all the science teachers meet together.

"You've got teachers committed to improving their practice and you've got them sharing the same kids," Connell said. " Instead of one person responsible for screwing a screw in over and over, you've got a team of people responsible for building a car."

Family advocacy also is critical. Each teacher, librarian, counselor, coach and, in some cases, principal, has a group of about 15 kids they are responsible for shepherding through four years of high school.

The groups meet once a week and get to know each other and share problems or concerns. The advocate contacts each student's parents and becomes a liaison with the school.

At Weslaco High School, JROTC instructor Roberto Rodriguez said the family advocacy component and the small learning communities mean every student will have the benefit that kids in programs like JROTC or athletics get.

"There are a lot of kids that teachers didn't know in the past. They were just a number, just paperwork," he said. "Having someone know your name and know what you're going through makes a difference. I've seen it work."

Facing new challenges

Major change doesn't come without opposition. Officials with the Texas Education Agency's Region One district said they've had to do a fair amount of convincing to get some school leaders and faculty on board.

Originally, seven border high schools were to open under the redesign this year, but the school board in Edcouch-Elsa ISD pulled its lone high school out of the agreement.

Some veteran teachers also have balked at the changes, which included going from a schedule of seven classes a day to block scheduling, which consists of 90-minute classes on alternating days.

"A lot of the older teachers are concerned. They've seen so many changes come and go," said Carlos Garza, a theater arts teacher at McAllen ISD's Memorial High School, which is scheduled to make the switch in 2008. "We're getting a lot of training on this, though. I think it's going to be interesting to try something new."

The new program also stumbled over football after IRRE researchers explained how the schools would need to redesign their schedules.

Because athletic programs, especially football, often get their own class periods in Texas public schools, scheduling academic classes, as well as figuring out how to keep from pulling athletes out of their small learning communities to go to practice, became a problem.

"This was something we had never encountered. It was a learning experience for us," Connell said. "We got beat up a little over that."

The compromise was to pilot different models at the six high schools on the border and four high schools in Austin, which are also implementing the program this year. At Weslaco East, for example, football players meet every other day during a class period. On the days they don't meet during class, they come to school early to meet with their team. Austin uses a similar model.

Connell agrees that sports often keeps kids in school. But, he said, all kids need to benefit from the kind of attention focused on athletes.

"The fact is, not all kids are athletes. Even though there are more kids in extra-curricular activities here (in the Valley) than in any other district we've seen, it's still less than half the kids," he said.

Baltazar Herrera, 15, a football player at Weslaco East, often has to be at school at 7:20 a.m. for football practice. He's not a fan of the scheduling change.

"The classes seem really long," he said. "They're 90 minutes, and that seems like a long time to spend on one thing."

Baltazar's mom had a different take, he said: "She likes it. She said it sounds a lot like college."

Cassie Torrez, 15, said she enjoys the new way of doing business and she thinks classmates who don't like the changes will come around. She especially likes the once-a-week meeting with her family advocate.

"Our group leader told us she was our mother away from home," Cassie said. "I like that concept."

Kent Ewing, Austin ISD's executive director for the office of redesign, is convinced the new approach is making a difference in his district, where the stakes are high. All four high schools in the program — Reagan, Travis, Lyndon B. Johnson and Johnston — are struggling, and Johnston is facing closure if test scores don't improve.

"At Johnston we're seeing a huge improvement in attendance," Ewing said. "You can just feel the difference on campus. Everything is more focused."

Too many Latino men are living in prison

Add to that the collateral consequences from a felony conviction.

July 30, 2007

Largely obscured by the rancorous debate surrounding U.S. immigration policy is the emergence of a trend that should be a cause of concern to all Latino communities: the explosion of the number of Latinos in prison.

There were 55,000 Latinos doing prison time in the United States in 1985. That figure has increased by more than 400 percent in 20 years, a substantially steeper rate of increase than for whites or blacks.

Currently, there are more than 450,000 Latinos in U.S. prisons or jails.

With one-in-six Latino males born today expected to spend some time in prison during their lives, the future portends devastating consequences for Latino communities.

This incarceration data stands in stark contrast to a growing body of research suggesting that Latinos, who now make up more than one of every five persons held behind bars, are less likely than other groups to commit crime and that the immigration of the 1990s may have been partially responsible for the historic declines in crime.

Causes for rising Latino incarceration are complex, but an important explanatory factor is the "war on drugs." Despite using drugs at a rate proportionate to their share in the general population, Latinos are twice as likely as whites to be sentenced to a state prison on a drug charge. Nearly one in four Latinos sitting in prison has been convicted of a drug offense.

Differential patterns in law enforcement -- where the police choose to pursue the war on drugs -- play a greater role in determining who is arrested and sentenced to prison than general trends in drug use.

Add to that the collateral consequences from a felony conviction.

These can include barriers to employment, denial of certain licenses, lack of access to education and housing aid, loss of voting rights, and, in some cases, deportation.

Such "invisible punishments" create substantial obstacles to a successful re-entry to the community and increase the likelihood of recidivism.

Despite this spate of distressing news, there are efforts that can be undertaken to stem the tide of disproportionate Latino incarceration.

First, lawmakers should heed the growing chorus of public officials, including high-ranking criminal justice practitioners, and revisit the wisdom of our current drug control strategy. This "lock 'em up" approach has resulted in a half-million people behind bars.

It takes a toll on communities of color while doing little to address the underlying causes of drug abuse. Investing in proven prevention and treatment strategies is far more productive than warehousing people. It's a much more effective tool to enhance public safety.

Secondly, state legislaturesshould expand upon the reforms implemented in 22 states since 2004 and reconsider such punitive sentencing provisions as mandatory minimums that expose individualsto punishments grossly disproportionate to the conduct for which they have been charged.

Restoring discretion to sentencing judges would permit full consideration of the circumstances of the offense. This could prevent the reoccurrence of cases like that of first-time offender Weldon Angelos, who, because of inflexible sentencing enhancements, was sentenced to prison for 55 years.

His offense? Three marijuana sales while possessing a weapon he never used.

The criminal justice system does not exist in a vacuum. Crime and its associated costs generally reflect a failure to provide equal access to resources such as education, employment, housing and health care. Inequalities in the criminal justice system extend far beyond policing, courts and corrections.

True reform can be achieved only when we seek to bring a broad range of community stakeholders to the table, and invest not merely in police and prisons but in neighborhoods and people.

King is a policy analyst with The Sentencing Project. E-mail him at Arboleda is associate director, criminal justice policy, with the National Council of La Raza. E-mail her at

Report critiques how Texas districts send students to alternative schools

Referrals depend on where kids live, not their behavior, group says.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit public interest group, said Thursday that 167 school districts in Texas refer students to disciplinary alternative education programs at a rate that is more than twice the state's average, even when they have the option not to. Texas has 1,037 school districts.

"More than 100,000 students are referred to (alternative education programs) each year," said Ron Lewis, a Houston lawyer and the incoming Appleseed chairman. "Two-thirds of those students are referred at the discretion of school districts."

The report documents disparities among districts in how students are treated and recommends more standardized rules and increased state oversight.

"Where you go to school, and not your behavior, dictates whether you'll be referred" to an alternative education program, Lewis said.

Researchers for the group said that a history of disciplinary referrals is the single most important factor in determining whether a student will drop out of school. The alternative programs are often the last step for troubled youths before they enter the criminal justice system.

The report found that alternative education students are five times as likely to drop out as their peers in mainstream schools.

Appleseed Executive Director Rebecca Lightsey said that numerous studies have established a link between school dropouts and incarceration. Eighty percent of all Texas prison inmates are school dropouts, and one in three Texas Youth Commission inmates is a dropout, according to the Appleseed report.

When a student is suspended or removed from a classroom for violating school conduct policies, officials can refer that student to an alternative classroom. But in many cases, such placements are not required, and districts have the choice of imposing other sanctions, such as in-school or at-home suspensions.

The Austin school district was cited in the report for referring a disproportionate number of African American, Hispanic and special education students to alternative education programs.

But it was praised for beginning a program that emphasizes early, intensive intervention for some students that is meant to reduce disciplinary referrals.

The report said the Austin, Bastrop, Leander, Lockhart, Round Rock and Taylor school districts referred a disproportionately high percentage of special education students to alternative schools.

For instance, in Austin, special education students make up 12 percent of the total enrollment in the district. But special education students made up 38 percent of all alternative education referrals between 2001 and 2006.

The state average for all referrals is 2 percent of students, the report said.

Some school districts were criticized for sending prekindergarten and kindergarten students to alternative programs. State law says children younger than 6 can be referred to such programs only for taking a firearm to school.

The report listed districts that sent more than 10 prekindergarten and kindergarten students to alternative education and those that sent more than 40 first-graders.

The Leander school district was the only Austin-area district listed. Between 2001 and 2006, Leander referred 19 prekindergarten and kindergarten students and 40 first-graders, according to the report.

A copy of the report is at


Spotlight on shady ranking of schools

Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 16, 2007

No one has done a formal study, but the circumstantial evidence is there: Some California high schools are quietly boosting their statewide academic ranking by sending their lowest-scoring students into alternative programs that have separate tests.

On Monday, supporters of a law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said it offers a way to stop the practice while giving educators stronger incentives to keep students from dropping out of school.

The law won't take effect for at least four years. But it will require that test scores of students who are sent to alternative schools be counted in the original school's Academic Performance Index, the school-ranking system that now relies only on test scores.

In addition, dropout rates for eighth- and ninth-graders will be used to help calculate each school's API.

Although there are no hard data to prove that schools boost their rankings by shunting the lowest-scorers to alternative schools, continuation schools or other dropout prevention programs, anecdotal evidence suggests the practice is widespread.

And the system itself invites the habit, said state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, the Sacramento Democrat who wrote the new law.

"I believe the vast majority of public educators are well-intentioned, but the system provides a perverse incentive," Steinberg said. "Your scores are likely to go up if you move kids with significant challenges on."

Almost 300,000 students - nearly 15 percent of the state's 2 million high school students - attend an alternative program, says the California Legislative Analyst.

Jan Treff, president of the California Association of Supervisors of Child Welfare and Attendance, whose members work on behalf of truants and expelled students, had urged Schwarzenegger to sign Steinberg's bill, SB219.

"Now no one is going to get shoved in a corner to play with a puzzle while everyone else takes the test," Treff said. "This gives us more teeth to monitor what's happening."

The state's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst bluntly described the problem in a report in February called "Improving Alternative Education in California."

The report said: "The state's accountability system allows schools and districts to use referrals to alternative schools as a way to avoid responsibility for the progress of low-performing students."

Holding the original school accountable for students' progress in an alternative program encourages schools to make a referral only if it would benefit the student, the report said.

The California School Boards Association opposes the new law because of its provision adding dropout rates to the Academic Performance Index, said Executive Director Scott Plotkin.

As it is now, the API relies only on math and English scores to rank schools. Plotkin said there's no point in "loading up the API" with non-academic measures.

"We'd like to have additional indicators, but we'd rather have them focused on student achievement," he said - such as history scores.

The new law goes into effect on July 1, 2011, at the earliest. The state would first have to have a data system in place that would let schools calculate their dropout and graduation rates accurately.

Now, educators merely guess at those rates because they can't track the thousands of students who leave school without telling administrators where they're going.

The problem creates ripple effects in the state's ability to allocate funds and create effective programs for needy students. And it's been the subject of growing scrutiny.

Schwarzenegger allocated $65 million in his spring budget to develop the data system, but the funding was cut during budget negotiations over the summer.

Charter school plans to open nine Austin campuses

KIPP Austin hoping to build on success by serving more students.

By Raven L. Hill
Thursday, October 18, 2007

An East Austin charter school is launching a $4.6 million expansion plan that will add nine schools in as many years.

KIPP Austin College Prep's plan will bring the enrollment to more than 5,000 students in kindergarten through high school by 2016. The charter school received money from the Charter School Growth Fund in Colorado.

KIPP Austin, which stands for the Knowledge Is Power Program, currently has 360 children in the fifth through eighth grades, mostly African American and Hispanic students from families with low incomes.

"Our mission is to get kids on track for success in four-year universities," said Jill Kolasinski, KIPP Austin's founder and chief executive officer.

KIPP Austin pulls students from five school districts: Austin, Del Valle, Manor, Pflugerville and Round Rock. It hopes to open five schools at its current location and others across the city, adding a grade a year, Kolasinski said.

The school, housed at the former Travis State School on FM 969 near Decker Lane, is part of a growing national network of KIPP academies, started by two Houston teachers in 1994.

The Houston chain plans to expand from eight to 42 schools in the next decade under a $100 million plan. Nationwide, the 57-school KIPP network expects to expand to 100 campuses.

Known for offering a longer school day and week, small classes and teachers who take homework questions at all hours, KIPP academies are frequently lauded as examples of quality charter schools.

KIPP Austin previously announced plans to open a high school with 90 ninth-graders, adding a grade each year through a $700,000 grant from the Texas High School Project, a consortium of public and private groups.

After deciding to open the high school, KIPP Austin officials said, they realized that they could better serve students with more resources and more campuses, Kolasinski said.

About 150 students are on the waiting list for admission.

Officials said that they have successfully appealed an "academically unacceptable" rating the campus received in August for special education students' performance and that since opening in 2002, the campus has been rated "academically acceptable."

Kolasinski said the grant money will also allow the school to decrease its focus on fundraising.

"Employees won't always be in startup mode," she said.

Austin school district officials said they plan to remain competitive. The district's enrollment is expected to reach up to 101,329 students in the next decade.

The district opened an all-girls academy this year and has been exploring the possibility of a boys school as well. A districtwide high school reform effort is under way as officials try to enhance specialized and magnet programs.

"We're going to keep doing everything that we can to provide a diverse, effective, meaningful education that prepares our kids for productive, well-paying jobs," district spokesman Andy Welch said.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

No Child Left Behind dilemma: What does 'proficient' mean?

Thu, Oct. 18, 2007

No Child Left Behind dilemma: What does 'proficient' mean?

Halimah Abdullah | McClatchy Newspapers, Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Getting all students working at grade level, or “proficient,” in reading and math by 2014 as the No Child Left Behind law mandates is the new Holy Grail of American education.

But some education experts say that provisions in the five-year-old law that allow states to set their own proficiency standards for their standardized tests — a critical component of measuring “adequate yearly progress” toward No Child Left Behind's reading and math goals — undermine that quest.

“There’s a huge problem in that the level of difficulty varies so differently from state to state,” said Michael Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based education organization. “They (students) are all going to go to college and compete for the same jobs, and they are getting a different education based on an accident of zip code.”

In some cases, differing definitions have meant that states such as California and South Carolina, which have some of the highest proficiency standards, have lowered the scores needed to pass, according to a recent Fordham Institute study. In other states, it's meant that after years of taking relatively easy tests in elementary schools, students stumble when faced with more difficult tests in middle school, the report found.

The concerns over setting proficiency standards are part of a broader and age-old American debate over who — the federal government or state and local entities — should have primary control over education.

According to the Fordham report, fourth-graders in Wisconsin are expected to know the difference between fact and opinion after reading simple sentences. Fourth-graders in Massachusetts, however, are expected to understand fact vs. opinion after reading passages with the same level of difficulty as those found in the works of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy.

Wisconsin Department of Instruction officials questioned the methodology of the Fordham report, which compared the proficiency standards of 26 states that administer both their own exams and tests by the Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit testing group. Fordham’s findings on Wisconsin’s relatively lower fourth-grade reading standards are echoed in a report published in July by the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Fordham “wants a national standard, so of course their research is going to reflect this,” said Patrick Gasper, a communications officer with Wisconsin’s Department of Instruction. “We don’t necessarily believe it’s in the best interests of the states to have a national standard. While we’re open to guidance from the federal government, we believe the states know best what’s in the best interest of their students.”

No Child Left Behind is a major expansion of federal authority over state and local educational policy, said Andrew Rudalevige, an assistant professor of political science at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

In order for Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, then chair of the House education committee, to persuade Republican members to vote for the bill, “he had to argue that it respected state autonomy,” Rudalevige said. “National standards of proficiency were sacrificed to the principle of local control over education.”

Five years later, No Child Left Behind, which faces a contentious reauthorization, has weathered similar scrutiny over whether some states have set the bar too low for students or if the law defines “proficiency” too narrowly by relying so heavily on standardized tests.

“There is recognition on Capitol Hill that the standards are too low,” said Amy Wilkins, a vice president of Education Trust, a Washington-based research and educational advocacy group. “But in the American psyche there is ingrained this idea of local control. The question is, how do you reconcile the two?”

As one of the law’s authors, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, is concerned that the public's trust in Congress’ ability to legislate education matters has been eroded.

“Chairman Miller feels that has diminished the credibility of Washington in the minds of the American public,” said Tom Kiley, Miller’s spokesman. Lawmakers “don’t have the credibility to say here’s where the national standards will be.”

The U.S. Department of Education is in a similarly complicated position when it comes to proficiency standards. The department approves states’ accountability plans for meeting the mandate, but steers clear of gauging the rigors of standardized tests used to meet those goals or monitoring the passing score needed to be considered proficient on math and reading tests.

“NCLB gives states and local governments the power to solve their own problems,” said Jo Ann Webb, an Education Department spokeswoman. “It encourages local control.”

Some educational experts point to such tests as the Nation’s Report Card, given biennially to a sampling of fourth- and eighth-graders across the country, as a way to gauge how students are doing. But while NCLB requires that all states participate in the Nation’s Report Card, the material tested isn’t aligned with any state’s curriculum, and the standard for proficiency is higher than NCLB standards in many states.

At least 30 states have joined with Achieve Inc., a bipartisan, nonprofit organization that works to help states raise academic standards, in an effort to link proficiency standards, testing and other measures of student performance to what will be expected of kids when they graduate high school and enter either college or the workforce. The effort, dubbed the American Diploma Project, also has gained support among state and federal lawmakers for its focus on what students will need to know to compete globally.

According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics of mathematics and science achievement of fourth-graders in 25 countries, in 2003 American students ranked in the middle of the pack behind students from Chinese Taipei, Japan and Singapore.


The Fordham Institute's study can be found here.

The National Center for Educational Statistics study (PDF) is here [pdf].

To view Achieve Inc.'s American Diploma Project Network, go here.

To see how U.S. students rank worldwide, see here.

McClatchy Newspapers 2007

Friday, October 19, 2007

DPS argument over tapes is weak and waste of money

The tapes should be made available to the public, period. -Angela

DPS argument over tapes is weak and waste of money
By The Editorial Board | Tuesday, October 16, 2007, 03:35 PM

The Texas Department of Public Safety says its refusal to turn over videotapes of goings-on in a back hallway of the Capitol during a legislative session is a matter of state security. It’s a weak argument, and both Attorney General Greg Abbott and a state district judge have rightly rejected it.

But DPS continues to waste taxpayer money, paying $165,000 in legal fees so far to fight disclosure of the videotapes, shot from security cameras in the back hall behind the Texas House chamber at the Capitol.

The Texas Observer, the liberal publication, filed an open records request for copies of the tape in connection with a May 23, 2005, legislative battle over a bill to enact a pilot school voucher program, as American-Statesman staff writer Mark Lisheron reported in Sunday’s editions. The Observer wants to see if James Leininger, a wealthy advocate for school vouchers from San Antonio, was in the back hallway lobbying and, if so, with whom he met.

Jake Bernstein, the executive editor, said the magazine is engaged in “an exercise to see what we can find out” - a basic mission of a free press.

Citing the Homeland Security Act, DPS refused access to the videotapes. DPS and its lawyers aren’t saying much. But in court filings the department has claimed that the tapes “contain critical, sensitive information” regarding details of Capitol security.

Bernstein said he believes the department is worried most about setting a legal precedent that would make it easier for others under different circumstances to force it to give up more information about security procedures and plans.

The department’s position hasn’t passed muster with the attorney general, a conservative Republican who understands the importance of openness in government.

Abbott’s office told the department that it had “not adequately shown how the submitted video taken from Capitol security cameras relates to the specifications, operating procedures, or location of a security system used to protect public property from an act of terrorism.”

But the department persisted, even hiring private attorneys to pursue its case in the courts once the attorney general said it was wrong. A state district judge, Stephen Yelenosky of Austin, ruled against the department. The department then took its case to the 3rd Court of Appeals, which has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 24, and the department appears willing to go to the Texas Supreme Court, if necessary. The American-Statesman has filed a brief in support of disclosure.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, has criticized the department’s resistance to disclosure, saying it was “simply wrong on this issue. This has nothing to do with security. I can think of no conceivable reason why DPS should be using taxpayer funds to hire private attorneys” to fight the attorney general’s ruling.

Carona, the attorney general and the judge are right, and DPS ought to back down on this issue. There may be some security information that truly needs protection, but videotapes of people moving about in a public hallway in the Capitol during a legislative session don’t qualify.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

PUT TO THE TEST: Newcomers program giving non-English speakers a leg up

By KENT JACKSON, Staff Writer
Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Eric Medina grew up in the Dominican Republic and attended a five-room schoolhouse.
When he was 14, he moved to Hazleton and entered Hazleton Area High School, that has 88 classrooms.

“When you come to the big school, you are afraid to talk,” Medina said.
Unfamiliarity with English also added to his reluctance to speak.
“I went right to English class. I didn’t know nothing about English,” he said. “I worked to learn English. It was so difficult to me.”
The work paid off.

Medina made the honor roll and graduated from Hazleton Area last year with a scholarship from the Migrant Education Program that helps him attend Luzerne County Community College.

Reflecting on high school, Medina said he liked the idea of students teaching each other and also thinks teachers of English as a Second Language should know Spanish.
His comments point to a weakness that educators at the high school seek to address to meet goals of No Child Left Behind, a federal law.

Overall, students at the high school met the goals of the law as measured by their scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment or PSSA, a standardized test.
Latinos, however, missed the target – as did students from families with low incomes and students with special needs.

On the PSSA, 25.2 percent of Latinos at the high school were proficient in math, whereas the target was 45 percent.

In reading, 30.7 percent of Latinos scored proficient, but the target was 54 percent.
“The students who do speak English here – they don’t want to help the new student,” Medina said.

He also said teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL), should know Spanish, at least in the newcomers program.

In the newcomers program, students with limited knowledge of English stay together for hours, learning science, history, math and English from teachers certified to teach those subjects.

A teacher certified in English as a Second Language also stays with the class.
The high school didn’t have the program when Medina arrived.
Instead, he was excused from a portion of regular classes for English as a Second Language class.

About a dozen students were in the ESL classes, which Medina liked because his teacher also knew Spanish.

“That way she could help us with the homework,” Medina said.
Last year, Medina’s younger brother was in the newcomers program.
“The problem was (the students) were speaking Spanish in class and did not understand the teacher,” Medina said.

English as a Second Language classes, however, aren’t just for students who grew up speaking Spanish.

Although Spanish is the native language for the majority of students trying to learn English in Hazleton, the ESL classes over the years have included students from Switzerland, Vietnam, Egypt, Sudan, Albania, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslavia, Russia and Italy.

Patty Cassarella said the ESL program has grown during her 16 years as a teacher.
The program, which had two teachers then, has 26 now and more structure.
As soon as students enroll, they complete a survey and if necessary take a placement test to measure whether they should be in an ESL program.

After students advance from the newcomers program, they progress through four different levels of ESL classes.

They take yearly tests to measure their progress and are monitored after they leave the program for regular classes.

“It takes from seven to 10 years until they really do know their academic language as close to a native speaker as they’re going to get,” Cassarella said.
In the shelter of the newcomers program, teachers also get familiar with students, build on what they know and learn about their goals.

We “try to determine what their needs are and whether they need (English) for their work, to go to college, to raise their children and hone in on that subject matter,” Cassarella said.

Parents can talk to a bilingual secretary to learn what will be expected of their children in the high school and what they must do to prepare for college.
“The parents are very interested in being involved. It’s very important for them to understand the needs of their children,” Cassarella said.

Seniors help younger students as a service project required for graduation.
Latino students also can work on assignments and English skills in after-school and summer sessions like the Migrant Education Program that awarded a scholarship to Medina.

Now that Medina is in college and majoring in computer science, he joins in more readily.

“I know a little bit of English I can talk. I can participate in class,” he said.
History is his hardest class.

“You have to remember the date, who did this, who did that,” said Median, who also has to comprehend and write English for the history class.

“I guess the math is the very easy class. You only have to deal with numbers,” he said.

Panel Rejects Detention Center for Illegal Immigrants

October 17, 2007

RICHMOND, Va., Oct. 16 — A Virginia state panel on Tuesday rejected a controversial proposal to create the country’s first state-run facility where illegal immigrants arrested for certain crimes could be held until federal officials deport them or while awaiting trial.

Instead, the panel recommended that the state provide additional money so local officials could build more jail space to house immigrants awaiting deportation. It also called on local jail officials to check the immigration status of all inmates and deny bail to most illegal immigrants who committed crimes.

In recent years, Virginia has become a testing ground for some of the strictest policies in the nation to curb illegal immigration.

This week, officials in Prince William County, Va., were weighing proposals to deny county services to illegal immigrants and to direct the police to jail those immigrants who could not show documentation proving they were in the United States legally.

This year, state lawmakers submitted a proposal to fine employers who hired illegal immigrants $10,000 and to revoke the business licenses of anyone in the state convicted of hiring illegal immigrants. In 2003, the state was the first to pass a measure making it a crime to give illegal immigrants driver’s licenses.

“Residents of our state are really frustrated when an illegal alien commits a crime and that person is let go after serving time, and we’re trying to correct that problem,” said State Senator Ken Stolle, Republican of Virginia Beach, who is chairman of the panel that acted on Tuesday, the Illegal Immigration Task Force of the State Crime Commission. “These measures are not targeting all immigrants, just those who commit crimes.”

In Virginia, local jail officials keep only about 25 percent of the money that federal immigration officials pay per bed for illegal immigrants waiting to be deported, with the rest going to the state. The panel called for that amount to be increased to 100 percent and to increase the amount the state provided to counties to build new facilities. This extra revenue would enable local jail officials to add jail beds for illegal immigrants and eliminate the need for a centralized facility.

But immigration advocates say they worry that toughening immigration enforcement would have a chilling effect on crime victims and witnesses who may be in the country illegally, and they questioned whether increasing the amount of money available to county officials would create a financial incentive to round up people who are suspected of being illegal immigrants.

“Even without any new measures, this chilling effect is a problem,” said Jeanne L. Smoot, director of public policy for Tahirih Justice Center, an advocacy group in Falls Church, Va., for battered women, adding that women were more than twice as likely not to report violence against them if they were illegal immigrants.

The proposals in Virginia are further indications of how state and local officials are getting ahead of the federal government on the immigration issue and sometimes pushing measures that federal officials are unwilling or unable to support for legal, logistical or financial reasons.

Illegal immigrants who are arrested are currently placed in local jails, federal facilities or private prisons, and once they finish their sentences, those convicted of nonviolent offenses are often released because federal immigration officials say they lack the resources to detain them.

Last year, the state police in Virginia notified federal immigration officials of about 12,000 illegal immigrants in their jails. But the federal officials only picked up about 690, according to state officials.

State Delegate David B. Albo, Republican of Fairfax County, who is co-chairman of the state immigration task force, said that Virginia had an estimated 300,000 illegal immigrants.

Hope Amezquita, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, testified before the task force that the proposal to deny bail to virtually all illegal immigrants accused of committing crimes might be unconstitutional.

It would create a whole class of people who are exempted from due process, Ms. Amezquita said, adding that the Constitution guaranteed that each criminal defendant, regardless of status, get an individualized review of their case.

Before the panel’s recommendations can be adopted, the Crime Commission, the General Assembly and the governor must act on them.

Critics say the proposals are being driven by politics in a year when all 140 seats of the General Assembly are up for election.

“In Washington, here in the state Capitol, and even here in this building, illegal immigration is a debating exercise,” William Campenni, 67, a retired engineer, said at the task force hearing. “In towns like my Herndon, it is a drive-by shooting, a D.U.I. fatality, a drug turf battle, a serial killing sniper, a deteriorating neighborhood.”

Mr. Campenni added that though he had never been a victim of crime at the hands of an illegal immigrant, his wife was afraid to go to areas of their town that she used to visit regularly.

Mr. Albo said that illegal immigrants who committed violent crimes or felonies usually received sentences of more than a year, which gave federal immigration officials enough time to process their deportation. But illegal immigrants convicted of lesser charges, like drunken driving or domestic violence, often are released on bond and never return for their court date, or serve just days or weeks and are released.

The panel wants to hold most illegal immigrants and only release them on bail if lawyers can prove they are not a flight risk.

Asked why he had abandoned his idea of creating a centralized facility, Mr. Stolle said that countless people had told him the idea sounded too much like “a concentration camp” for immigrants.

Lifers as Teenagers, Now Seeking Second Chance

Published: October 17, 2007

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In December, the United Nations took up a resolution calling for the abolition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children and young teenagers. The vote was 185 to 1, with the United States the lone dissenter.

Indeed, the United States stands alone in the world in convicting young adolescents as adults and sentencing them to live out their lives in prison. According to a new report, there are 73 Americans serving such sentences for crimes they committed at 13 or 14.

Mary Nalls, an 81-year-old retired social worker here, has some thoughts about the matter. Her granddaughter Ashley Jones was 14 when she helped her boyfriend kill her grandfather and aunt — Mrs. Nalls’s husband and daughter — by stabbing and shooting them and then setting them on fire. Ms. Jones also tried to kill her 10-year-old sister.

Mrs. Nalls, who was badly injured in the rampage, showed a visitor to her home a white scar on her forehead, a reminder of the burns that put her into a coma for 30 days. She had also been shot in the shoulder and stabbed in the chest.

“I forgot,” she said later. “They stabbed me in the jaw, too.”

But Mrs. Nalls thinks her granddaughter, now 22, deserves the possibility of a second chance.

“I believe that she should have gotten 15 or 20 years,” Mrs. Nalls said. “If children are under age, sometimes they’re not responsible for what they do.”

The group that plans to release the report on Oct. 17, the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Ala., is one of several human rights organizations that say states should be required to review sentences of juvenile offenders as the decades go by, looking for cases where parole might be warranted.

But prosecutors and victims’ rights groups say there are crimes so terrible and people so dangerous that only life sentences without the possibility of release are a fit moral and practical response.

“I don’t think every 14-year-old who killed someone deserves life without parole,” said Laura Poston, who prosecuted Ms. Jones. “But Ashley planned to kill four people. I don’t think there is a conscience in Ashley, and I certainly think she is a threat to do something similar.”

Specialists in comparative law acknowledge that there have been occasions when young murderers who would have served life terms in the United States were released from prison in Europe and went on to kill again. But comparing legal systems is difficult, in part because the United States is a more violent society and in part because many other nations imprison relatively few people and often only for repeat violent offenses.

“I know of no systematic studies of comparative recidivism rates,” said James Q. Whitman, who teaches comparative criminal law at Yale. “I believe there are recidivism problems in countries like Germany and France, since those are countries that ordinarily incarcerate only dangerous offenders, but at some point they let them out and bad things can happen.”

The differences in the two approaches, legal experts said, are rooted in politics and culture. The European systems emphasize rehabilitation, while the American one stresses individual responsibility and punishment.

Corrections professionals and criminologists here and abroad tend to agree that violent crime is usually a young person’s activity, suggesting that eventual parole could be considered in most cases. But the American legal system is more responsive to popular concerns about crime and attitudes about punishment, while justice systems abroad tend to be administered by career civil servants rather than elected legislators, prosecutors and judges.

In its sentencing of juveniles, as in many other areas, the legal system in the United States goes it alone. American law is, by international standards, a series of innovations and exceptions. From the central role played by juries in civil cases to the election of judges to punitive damages to the disproportionate number of people in prison, the United States is an island in the sea of international law.

And the very issue of whether American judges should ever take account of foreign law is hotly disputed. At the hearings on their Supreme Court nominations, both John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they thought it a mistake to consider foreign law in constitutional cases.

But the international consensus against life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders may nonetheless help Ms. Jones. In about a dozen cases recently filed around the country on behalf of 13- and 14-year-olds sentenced to life in prison, lawyers for the inmates relied on a 2005 Supreme Court decision that banned the execution of people who committed crimes when they were younger than 18.

That decision, Roper v. Simmons, was based in part on international law. Noting that the United States was the only nation in the world to sanction the juvenile death penalty, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said it was appropriate to look to “the laws of other countries and to international authorities as instructive” in interpreting the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

He added that teenagers were different from older criminals — less mature, more susceptible to peer pressure and more likely to change for the better. Those findings, lawyers for the juvenile lifers say, should apply to their clients, too.

“Thirteen- and 14-year-old children should not be condemned to death in prison because there is always hope for a child,” said Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, which represents Ms. Jones and several other juvenile lifers.

The 2005 death penalty ruling applied to 72 death-row inmates, almost precisely the same number as the 73 prisoners serving life without parole for crimes committed at 13 or 14.

The Supreme Court did not abolish the juvenile death penalty in a single stroke. The 2005 decision followed one in 1988 that held the death penalty unconstitutional for those who had committed crimes under 16.

The new lawsuits, filed in Alabama, California, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin, seek to follow a similar progression.

“We’re not demanding that all these kids be released tomorrow,” Mr. Stevenson said. “I’m not even prepared to say that all of them will get to the point where they should be released. We’re asking for some review.”

In defending American policy in this area in 2006, the State Department told the United Nations that sentencing is usually a matter of state law. “As a general matter,” the department added, juvenile offenders serving life-without-parole terms “were hardened criminals who had committed gravely serious crimes.”

Human rights groups have disputed that. According to a 2005 report from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, 59 percent of the more than 2,200 prisoners serving life without parole for crimes they committed at 17 or younger had never been convicted of a previous crime. And 26 percent were in for felony murder, meaning they participated in a crime that led to a murder but did not themselves kill anyone.

The new report focuses on the youngest offenders, locating 73 juvenile lifers in 19 states who were 13 and 14 when they committed their crimes. Pennsylvania has the most, with 19, and Florida is next, with 15. In those states and Illinois, Nebraska, North Carolina and Washington, 13-year-olds have been sentenced to die in prison.

In most of the cases, the sentences were mandatory, an automatic consequence of a murder conviction after being tried as an adult.

A federal judge here will soon rule on Ms. Jones’s challenge to her sentence. Ms. Poston, who prosecuted her, said Ms. Jones was beyond redemption.

“Between the ages of 2 and 3, you develop a conscience,” Ms. Poston said. “She never got the voice that says, ‘This is bad, Ashley.’ ”

“It was a blood bath in there,” Ms. Poston said of the night of the murders here, in 1999. “Ashley Jones is not the poster child for the argument that life without parole is too long.”

In a telephone interview from the Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Ala., Ms. Jones said she did not recognize the girl who committed her crimes. According to court filings, her mother was a drug addict and her stepfather had sexually molested her. “Everybody I loved, everybody I trusted, I was betrayed by,” Ms. Jones said.

“I’m very remorseful about what happened,” she said. “I should be punished. I don’t feel like I should spend the rest of my life in prison.”

Mrs. Nalls, her grandmother, had been married for 53 years when she and her husband, Deroy Nalls, agreed to take Ashley in. She was “a problem child,” and Mr. Nalls was a tough man who took a dislike to Ashley’s boyfriend, Geramie Hart. Mr. Hart, who was 16 at the time of the murders, is also serving a life term. Mrs. Nalls said he deserved a shot at parole someday as well.