Thursday, November 29, 2007

NEW REPORT! The Reading Literacy of U.S. Fourth-Grade Students in an International Context

This report from the National Center for Education Statistics in the
Institute of Education Sciences summarizes the performance of U.S.
fourth-grade students on the Progress in International Reading
Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2006 assessment, comparing their scores with
their peers internationally.

On average, U.S. fourth-graders scored higher than their peers
worldwide, with average scores higher than the PIRLS scale average
(540 vs. 500), and a greater percentage of U.S. students reaching
each achievement benchmark compared to the international median

PIRLS is led by the International Association for the Evaluation of
Educational Achievement (IEA) and has been administered twice, in
2001 and 2006. The United States participated in both years. In
2006, 45 education systems participated, including 38 countries, 5
Canadian provinces, and the separate English- and French-speaking
education systems in Belgium.

The average score for U.S. students was:

* higher than the average score in 22 education systems

* lower than 10 education systems and>
* not significantly different from 12 education systems.

In 2001, the U.S. scored higher than 23 education systems, lower
than 3 education systems, and not significantly different from 8
education systems. Note that since 2001, several countries, as well
as subnational education systems, have been added to the overall
PIRLS participation.

Compared to 2001, the average score for U.S. students in 2006 was
not significantly different overall. On the 2006 assessment, the
average score for U.S. students in reading for literary experience
was 4 points higher than their average score in reading to acquire
and use information. In 2001, the difference was 17 points.

Other findings include the following:

* 12 percent of U.S. students reached the advanced benchmark,
compared to the international median of 7 percent.

> * 47 percent of U.S. students met the high benchmark, compared to
> the international median of 41 percent.

> * 82 percent of U.S. students met the intermediate benchmark,
> compared to the international median of 76 percent.

> * Average scores for girls on the combined reading literacy scale
> were higher than average scores for boys in 43 of the 45
> participating education systems, including the United States.

> To download, view and print the publication as a PDF file, please
> visit:

> For more information on PIRLS, visit .

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Goodfellows generosity taught professor as a boy

Joseph and I go back a long way. He won't mind me saying that he is "Rodrigo" in Chapter 3 of Subtractive Schooling." His story always touches me so—and it still does. It's so nice to see him grow up to continue being the wonderful, kind, smart, and giving human being that I knew when he was a teenager, surviving difficult circumstances in Houston's East End. His life and story are a continuing inspiration to me. -Angela

Nov. 26, 2007, 10:47PM
Goodfellows generosity taught professor as a boy
He remembers books for his home library, pogo stick, working puzzles


Joseph Rodriguez grew up in Houston's east end in the 1970s. His family was bilingual and working class.

The youngest of four children, Rodriguez was the son of a pipe fitter and a homemaker.

"My parents worked hard to provide the things that we needed; there simply wasn't money for much, if anything extra," he said.

But each holiday season his mother would encourage him, his brother and two sisters to write letters to Santa — in both English and Spanish. And, each year, a colorful postcard would arrive in the mail, inviting the family to pick up their holiday toys.

As a child, Rodriguez never really thought about where the toys came from, never realized that the family budget didn't allow for "extras."

"However, as I grew older I realized that the toys came from a community of Santa's helpers working behind the scenes very humbly, very low-key," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez and his siblings are four of the millions who have been served in the 95-year-old Goodfellows program, which Rodriguez now proudly promotes, including financially.

Goodfellows, which benefits needy children ages 2 through 10, is funded by contributions from the public. All the money collected is used to buy gifts. The Houston Chronicle pays other costs.

The director of the University of Houston's Language Acquisition Center, Department of Hispanic Studies and Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Rodriguez lauded the toys given by the program.

"The toys are all age-appropriate and promote learning. I remember receiving books that allowed me to begin my home library, and a pogo stick," Rodriguez said, adding that he truly appreciated the effectiveness of the toys while in graduate school and studying how play impacts child development.

Western-themed toys fueled his imagination and daydreams of life as a cowboy on the open range.

The professor also said he has cherished memories of the entire family sitting on the floor, working puzzles.

"That was the impressive thing — the toys taught problem-solving and allowed us to work together as a family," he said.

Rodriguez, the founder of the East End Education Project, said he has "worked in the schools and seen the need" for the Goodfellows program.

He added that his siblings also promote the program.

"My eldest sister publicizes Goodfellows at her church, at school," he said.

"Goodfellows gives hope to many families, helps them bring joy to children who otherwise wouldn't have as much," he said.

Recent contributors include:

Raymond M. Castillo, $25; Alyssa, Jordan & James McClure, $100; Michael Sorgenfrei, $150; Peggy J. Price, $25; Robert Holly, $100; Nancy Ballard, $20; George & Darlene Hirasaki, $100; Richard Scalzitti, $100.

John Watts, $200; Michael Colescott, $50; Wes and Marilyn Payton, $200; Alex Borrego, $40; Stuart Scarborough, $100; Lloyd & Beverly Battiste, $25; Mr. & Mrs. Norman Johnson, $50; Fred Soland, $100; Darla Dale Brown, $25; Dorsey Jones, $50; Charlotte King, $25; E. P. Cervantes, $25; Dr. & Mrs. Stanley R. Hamilton, $100; Robert L. Schwarz, $200; Russell Nordstrom, $50;

Houston Book Land Inc., $100; Peter & Nora Dorflinger, $500; Harvey Petter, $50; Thomas & Kathy Bacon, $15; Le Roy Krennerich, $25; David & Debbie Grogg, $200; Jean B. Cobb, $10; Ed and Fran Smith, $50; James & Karen Henderson, $100; Suzanne Mitchell, $100; Charles & Lou Ann Champ, $100; Marsha Montemayor, $400; Anita Handley, $200; Keith Bloom, $25; Ken & Marie Olive, $50; Polly Lee, $50; Allen K. Grady, $350.

Charles Schmitz, $50; Boots & Adelle Roberts, $25; R. G. Edwards, $100; Elinor Dixon, $50; Philip Dreessen, $100; June R. Chommie, $25; Pat Whitman, $25; Joan Galfione, $50; Ray & Jerry Davis, $100; Robert Elliott, $200; Franklin Newman, $25; Charles N. Grichar, $50; Mary Elizabeth & Thomas Dawson, $100; Norman & Elizabeth Bock, $50; David Angus, $15; W. Alan Smith, $50; David & Carol Willis, $250; Jennifer & Stephen Harper, $25; Virginia Sisson, $100; Trisha Hillman, $1,000.

Edward & Sharon Belcher, $150; Omar & Joan Bitar, $100; Marian W. Brown, $20; Mr. and Mrs. W. Gary Littlepage, $500; Leroy & Judy McMillin, $25; Nancy & Art Shelton, $100; D. P. Dampf, $25; Claudia Riedlinger, $100; Fairbanks Car Repair, $100; Gerald Kraynik, $150; Best Plumbing, $500; Claudia & Bob Fisher, $100; Diana & Dennis Litt, $20; Jon & Lesley Boultinghouse, $20; Ray & June Thompson, $100. Benjamin Torres, $25; John Green, $150; James & Diane Tidwell, $100; anonymous $910.


Checks for tax-deductible contributions can be mailed to Goodfellows, P.O. Box 4260, Houston, TX, 77210-4260, or made online at

Here is how to apply for Christmas presents from Goodfellows:
Contact us: Write to Goodfellows, care of the Houston Chronicle, P.O. Box 4260, Houston, TX, 77210-4260, or e-mail List a street address (no post office boxes, please), including ZIP code, and the names and ages of the children ages 2 through 10. Include a daytime telephone number, if available. Applications must be in Goodfellows' hands no later than 5 p.m. Dec. 11. If applicants wish to do so, they may include a brief description of the problems that prompted them to contact Goodfellows.
Collecting gifts: Families will be notified by mail with information about when and where to pick up gifts.

Where's evidence U.S. 'reading less'?

Great to have someone like Dr. Stephen Krashen keeping track of these things. There's so much alarmist stuff out there and it's hard to sift through it all. -Angela

Where's evidence U.S. 'reading less'?
USA Today, letters
Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus, University of
Southern California - Los Angeles
Nov. 27, 2007

There is very little evidence to support USA TODAY's
claim that Americans are reading less for pleasure
("Americans close the book on recreational reading,"
Life, Nov. 19).

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) report
claimed that reading was declining the most for 13-
and 17-year-olds.

The report quotes the Pew Research Center, which found
that in 2006 only 38% of adults said they read a book
the previous day. The NEA report fails to note that in
2002, Pew found that 34% of adults read a book the
previous day.

Also, when all kinds of reading are considered, such
as magazines, newspapers and material posted on the
Internet, young people report reading about an hour a
day, according to a 2005 Kaiser Family Foundation

American writers have been complaining about the
decline of literacy since 1874, when more than half of
Harvard's candidates flunked an entrance exam. There
was no clear evidence of a decline then, and there
isn't any now.

Comment added by S Krashen to USA Website,
In checking the 2002 Pew report, I discovered that in
1994, only 31% of adults said they read a book the
previous day. This is more evidence that the trend
since 1994 is up, not down, more reading, not less.
Read a book yesterday:
1991: 31%
1995: 35%
2000: 35%
2006: 38%

Weslaco East High scratched off ‘dropout factory’ list

Ryan Holeywell | McAllen Monitor
November 19, 2007

WESLACO — A local high school has been removed from a much-publicized list released last month labeling 23 Rio Grande Valley schools as “dropout factories.”

Since the list’s release, 15 schools from across the nation have been retracted, including Weslaco East High School.

The nationwide study, compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers, cited schools with poor retention rates, comparing freshmen enrollment to senior enrollment at the schools.

The study surmised that comparing freshmen enrollment to senior enrollment three years later was a good way of determining whether students were dropping out, since districts count and report dropouts differently. Critics said that method was an oversimplification of the issue.

In fall 2000, Weslaco East High School opened as the district’s campus for freshmen and sophomores, while Weslaco High School housed juniors and seniors.

Two years later, Weslaco East began the transition to a four-year high school, welcoming classes of juniors and seniors, with Weslaco High School taking back some freshmen and sophomores.

The timing of the transition created the appearance that many Weslaco East students had dropped out before reaching their senior year. In actuality, they had just transferred to the other campus.

“Nobody wants that title on your school,” said Weslaco East Principal Sue Peterson. “It’s extremely demoralizing.”

Peterson said the school contacted Johns Hopkins the day the study was released, and the correction was made about a week and a half later.

“I think it was a clear-cut case of it not being on (the list) justly,” said Mary Maushard, spokeswoman for the Center for Social Organization of Schools, which released the study. “That’s not something the researchers could know from just looking at the numbers.”

Maushard said despite the corrections, the study is still overwhelmingly accurate. The subtractions from the list are just a small fraction of the 1,700 schools originally on the list.

Despite Weslaco East’s removal, Peterson said the school doesn’t take the dropout issue lightly.

“We are fully aware that we do not have 100 percent of our students graduating from high school and take full responsibility for this issue,” she said.

ABQ tutoring program leads to graduation success

Las Cruces
By The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) Gabriela Dominguez wraps her arms around her cousins Adrian and Angel, encouraging them to study hard so they don't end up on Albuquerque's long list of dropouts.

The boys hug and kiss her back, even though she'll be "on their case" this afternoon at Washington Middle School about homework and grades.

The two 13-year-olds look up to 17-year-old Dominguez, who not only is their cousin but their mentor in ENLACE Los Companeros, a corps of volunteers who tutor and support families and children in seven Albuquerque middle and high schools.

The program started nearly seven years ago in hopes of boosting high school graduation rates in areas where dropout rates historically have been high.

The first ENLACE class of 215 seniors is on track to graduate in May.

Through the work of tutors such as Dominguez, ENLACE has startling results to report: 97 percent of the original group of midschoolers are expected to receive diplomas from Albuquerque, West Mesa and Valley high schools.

That is a phenomenal rate compared with districtwide longitudinal studies that indicate about 50 percent of ninth-graders will graduate from high school.

"We have a special dynamic, a special relationship" with the seniors who
started in the program as sixth-graders, said Antonio Gonzales, a former ENLACE mentor who keeps close tabs on the Albuquerque High group. "We've been able to grow together."

Many of the ENLACE seniors will be the first in their families to get a high school diploma and enroll in college.

ENLACE takes its name from Engaging Latino American Communities for Education, a partnership of the University of New Mexico and Albuquerque Public Schools to reduce the dropout rate, improve the graduation rate and get more students into college.

"ENLACE is one of the cheapest and best dropout prevention programs that our state has right now," Washington principal Cynthia Challberg-Hale said.

"What we are doing is actually working."

ENLACE officials said the program costs $128 per student per year.

In addition to Washington, ENLACE serves students at Garfield and Truman middle schools and four high schools, Albuquerque, West Mesa, Valley and Highland.

The Washington program serves 45 students with college and high school tutors and mentors. Not surprisingly, there's a waiting list at Washington for ENLACE tutoring and support, Challberg-Hale said.

Demographics for Washington would indicate a high dropout rate, but ENLACE students are succeeding despite poverty, language and other barriers in their lives, she said.

Of the original ENLACE students at Washington, 25 received intensive services, and only three of those dropped out, Gonzales said. One joined a gang and became a father; another got pregnant and didn't return to school; the third had to leave school to work to support herself, he said.

Gonzales, now the Albuquerque High activities director, was among the mentors in 2000 who helped recruit senior Dominguez into ENLACE Los Companeros when she was a sixth-grader at Washington.

Dominguez has come full circle at the school. She now tutors ENLACE students at Washington twice a week for high school elective credit.

"I think all of this is going to help me," Dominguez said. "I want to go into teaching and counseling."

Dominguez describes herself as a Mexican immigrant who struggled to learn English during third grade, her first year in the United States.

"I was 9 and afraid to go to school because I didn't speak English," she said.

In ENLACE, she found other Spanish-speakers who shared her fears, but the mentors helped them gain confidence, enjoy school and become bilingual, she said.

They were her support system outside of school, too. At age 16, when she was told she had cancer and had a tumor removed, she cried, though not because she was sick. "I didn't want to miss school," she said.

As an ENLACE mentor, she hopes Washington students will follow her example and appreciate ENLACE.

"We stayed together as a family," she said of her senior classmates.

"We are really close to our mentors, and we really trusted them, like they were our parents or our big brothers. But we had fun with them, and they made us do our homework."

She tutors as she was tutored.

"We're doing pretty much the same thing our mentors did for us," she said. "It's my turn to help."

Besides help with homework, mentors plan parties and field trips for the students. They also refer families in need for counseling and other social services.

At Albuquerque High, many of the ENLACE students are members of the Student Council, which Gonzales sponsors. Others are on the soccer team he coaches or serve as his office assistants.

Gonzales said he has mixed emotions about their day of separation in May when they graduate.

"I can't tell you how much these kids meant to me. This group will be special forever.

"These kids have done extremely well. When they were in middle school, I didn't think some of them would be here," he said.

'Dumb' student: 'Stop epidemic' of dropouts

Interesting article/testimony. A quote that stood out to me: "Programs don't change kids, relationships do." -Patricia

By Glenda S. Jenkins | Florida News-Leader
November 19, 2007

No one knew how to help him learn, so they asked him to leave school.

"I thought I was dumb. And they said the reason I was in so much trouble was I couldn't handle the work," he said. Later Bill Milliken discovered, "I learn differently, like a lot of kids do."

After receiving intervention from a caring volunteer, Milliken returned to school. The former "at risk" student has advised three U.S. presidents as an advocate for students who struggle academically as he once did. He founded Communities in Schools, the largest dropout prevention organization in the nation.

"I never thought I'd make it out of anywhere," he said. "It's a miracle. Nobody could have planned this thing."

Milliken spoke Tuesday during a Communities in Schools fundraiser at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. He recently published the book, The Last Dropout: Stop the Epidemic!

"We're losing a third of our kids and half that third are minorities," he said about students who fail to graduate with their class. "And half of them will never have a job in their lifetime, because you just aren't going to do it in today's global economy.

"I think it's the biggest justice issue in America," Milliken said. "Not only is it morally a huge issue. But economically it's a huge issue. And the combination of the two, we're going to be a second-rate nation," he said.

"When you have more male adults in prison than in jobs, you've got a huge problem. It's wrong," Milliken said. "Kids who get an education are going to be the haves and the kids who don't aren't. So it's that clear-cut."

The book outlines nine principles for giving students, particularly those in jeopardy of dropping out, the opportunity to focus on learning. The first principle, "Programs don't change kids, relationships do," is by far the most important, he said.

The foundation for that principle likely came from Milliken's personal experience. Milliken grew up when no educational alternatives existed to help a student behind in school.

His teachers were unable to identify or adapt to his learning style, "So I acted out," he said. "Instead of hurting myself, I hurt other people."

After he left high school, a volunteer from Young Life, a non-denominational Christian outreach program for students, came into his blue collar Pittsburgh neighborhood. "And I saw for the first time an adult who walked their talk . . . He loved us into change," he said. "It was through that, I committed my life. He got me back in school within three months.

"We can't ask our teachers to take on kids that . . . come into school angry, (without) basic needs met," Milliken said. "We can't ask our teachers to be mother, father, sister, brother, social worker."

Fewer than 2,000 schools in America are producing half of the dropouts, he said, referencing a recent study identifying such schools as "dropout factories."

"What that means to me is it's a solvable issue because we can concentrate on those," Milliken said. "All kids can learn. They'll go to the heights if you give them the resources."

BISD beats border districts on TAKS

Survey shows district at or above statewide average
By GARY LONG | The Brownsville Herald
November 18, 2007

Brownsville students scored higher on the TAKS than their counterparts in other school districts on the U.S.-Mexico border and close to the statewide average, according to research findings released earlier this month by the San Antonio-based Regional Educational Laboratory-Southwest.

The research report “La Frontera: Student Achievement in Texas Border and Non-Border Districts” analyzes Texas Education Agency data in an effort to show differences in student performance on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test between border and non-border districts.

It also reports how border and non-border districts differ in location, student demographics, teacher data and community economics.

The purpose is to provide policymakers with “a data-driven profile along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas,” an area the report defines as “La Frontera.”

“It’s a descriptive reporting out of the facts,” Kathy Shapley, senior researcher at REL-Southwest, said of the report. “It provides a high-level overview of the facts regarding border and non-border schools.”

The report uses the TEA data warehouse for the 2005-06 school year, which shows that students in the state’s 63 border school districts, those within 20 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, passed the TAKS in reading or English language arts and mathematics at a lower rate than their counterparts in Texas’ 908 non-border districts and 62 margin districts, those between 20 and 100 miles from the border.

“At each of the grade levels studied, students in the border region have lower pass rates ... than students in other regions,” the report’s summary says. “This is not surprising considering the unique regional characteristics summarized in this study and existing knowledge about factors related to student achievement. Academic achievement is a cumulative function of family, community, and school experiences. Research suggests that larger districts with lower family socioeconomic status levels and less experienced teachers — the profile associated with the La Frontera region — tend to have lower student achievement.”

However, TEA figures provided by the Brownsville Independent School District for its students show them passing the TAKS at a rate close to the statewide average and above the passing rates for border districts reported by the survey.

Raul Vasquez, BISD administrator for assessment, research and evaluation, said BISD’s scores show that “the capacity of students to learn is just as good on the border as it is anywhere else in Texas.

“There’s this misconception that if you’re on the border you’re going to have problems, that the farther you are from the border, the better off you are,” Vasquez said.

“This town sits right here next to Mexico, and yet the scores show that in almost all cases we’re at or above the state standard,” he said.

The report gives average percentage passing figures in third, fifth, eighth and 11th grades.

In third grade, 84.5 percent of border students passed the the reading or English language arts portion of the TAKS administered in spring 2006, compared to 87.4 percent in margin districts, 89.3 percent in nonborder districts and 88.9 percent statewide.

In math, the figure was 74.8 percent passing for the border, 76.2 percent in margin districts, 81.6 percent in nonborder districts and an 80.8 percent statewide average.

By comparison, 93.8 percent of BISD third-graders passed the reading/English language arts and 78.2 percent passed the math portion of the TAKS.

By the 11th grade, the figure was 84.2 percent for the border in reading/English language arts compared to to 87.1 percent for margin districts, 89.1 percent for non-border districts and 88.5 statewide. For BISD, the passing rate was 85.3 percent.

In math, the 11th-grade figure was 72.1 percent passing for the border, 76.1 percent in margin districts, 79.8 percent in nonborder districts and a 79.1 percent statewide average. BISD’s passing rate was 76 percent.

The survey also found that despite perceptions to the contrary, average base teacher salaries are somewhat higher along the border across all experience categories.

“This is significant because (earlier data) indicated that the leaders in border districts thought that their region offered uncompetitive salaries that posed a barrier to teacher recruitment,” the report stated.

The survey shows a $32,084 average annual salary for new teachers in the border districts, compared to $29,444 in margin districts, $29,458 in nonborder districts and a statewide average of $29,623.

BISD’s teacher salary schedule for the current school year begins at $38,000 annually for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience and rises based on experience and education to peak at $60,470 for a teacher with 27 years of experience and a doctoral degree.

Teacher salaries may have been lower on the border at one time but that’s certainly not the case now, said Susan Fox, BISD’S assistant superintendent for human resources.

“We’ve just finished our fall recruiting drive and we’ve gotten to where we do it like the chamber of commerce does recruiting businesses,” Fox said.

“Like the beach? Come and teach” is the slogan.

Fox said BISD employs a large number of Hispanic teachers, a predictable finding reported by the survey for all border districts.

The education schools at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College and the University of Texas-Pan American supply most of those teachers, who work mainly in the primary grades where a large number of students are still learning English.

The survey reports a 15 percent turnover rate for teachers in border districts, 18.1 percent for margin districts, 16.4 percent for nonborder districts and a statewide average of 16.4 percent.

Fox said BISD’s teacher turnover rate was 6 percent for the year reported in the survey, 2005-06.

Raising Children Behind Bars

NY Times Editorial
November 20, 2007

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 created a far-sighted partnership between the federal government and the states that agreed to remake often barbaric juvenile justice systems in exchange for federal aid. Unfortunately, those gains have been steadily rolled back since the 1990s when states began sending ever larger numbers of juveniles to adult jails — where they face a high risk of being battered, raped or pushed to suicide. The act is due to be reauthorized this year, and Congress needs to use that opportunity to reverse this destructive trend.

As incredible as it seems, many states regard a child as young as 10 as competent to stand trial in juvenile court. More than 40 states regard children as young as 14 as “of age” and old enough to stand trial in adult court. The scope of the problem is laid out in a new report entitled Jailing Juveniles from the Campaign for Youth Justice, an advocacy group based in Washington. Statistics are notoriously hard to get, but perhaps as many as 150,000 young people under the age of 18 are incarcerated in adult jails in any given year.

As many as half of the young people who are transferred to the adult system are never convicted as adults. Many are never convicted at all. By the time the process has run its course, however, one in five of these young people will have spent more than six months in adult jails.

Some jails try to protect young inmates by placing them in isolation, where they are locked in small cells for 23 hours a day. This worsens mental disorders. The study says that young people are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile facility. Young people who survive adult jail too often return home as damaged and dangerous people. Studies show that they are far more likely to commit violent crimes — and to end up back inside — than those who are handled through the juvenile courts.

The rush to criminalize children has set the country on a dangerous path. Congress must now reshape the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act so that it provides the states with the money and the expertise they need to develop more enlightened juvenile justice policies. For starters, it should rewrite the law to prohibit the confinement of children in adult jails.

California schools are failing all our kids

Focus on a state racial gap ignores some of the nation's worst overall test scores.
By John Rogers and Jeannie Oakes
LA Times
November 20, 2007

State schools Supt. Jack O'Connell hosted a summit in Sacramento last week of 4,000 educators, policymakers and experts. He asked them to confront California's "racial achievement gap" -- the persistently lower test scores of California's African American and Latino public school students compared with their white and Asian peers. In 125 packed sessions, participants probed causes of the gap and offered strategies to close it. O'Connell asked them to "honestly and courageously face this pernicious problem," and for two days, the capital was abuzz with ideas, energy and even some hope.

Strikingly, the state's other "achievement gap" was barely mentioned at the summit; this is the gap between California and the rest of the nation.

The most recent results from the National Assessment of Education Progress test (popularly known as "the nation's report card") place California's fourth- and eighth-graders below those in nearly every other state in math and reading achievement. (Although California's math scores have improved over the last decade, so have the scores in the rest of the country.)

This national achievement gap affects students across the state regardless of their race. If we don't address both the racial and national achievement gaps, it's hard to imagine solving either one

For example, for years, people have been describing and lamenting California's general decline in education. We've all heard it. Test scores of California's Latino and African American students are, on average, among the lowest in the country. However, white students don't do well either, and by a wide margin: California's white eighth-graders score below white eighth-graders in every state but West Virginia and Nevada on the NAEP reading test.

In other subjects and at other grades, California's white students score below white students in most other states.

Is there a problem with California's white students? Do they or their parents care less about education than white students in Connecticut or Iowa? No one asks these questions about white students. Yet many people have no qualms about offering "culture" or "family background" as the main reason for the underperformance of Latino and African American students.

In a report released this month by UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access, we offer a different explanation, one that covers the learning problems of minority students and white students, which we call the "opportunity gap." What this means is that California is significantly behind most other states in providing fundamental learning opportunities, period. Conditions here are bad for all students on average, no matter their race or ethnicity, and on top of that, they are worse for African American and Latino students. Yet these are problems that are readily identified and fixable.

On average, California middle and high school teachers are responsible for almost 50% more students than teachers across the nation. California has a critical shortage of well-trained math teachers even as it expects students to meet math curriculum standards that are among the highest in the country. And when students are struggling, they are unlikely to get help. Public high school students lack sufficient access to counselors -- on average, there is one counselor for every 556 students, the lowest ratio in the nation. Our middle school students have even less access to counselors, with one for every 753 students.

In addition, middle and high schools enrolling the highest proportion of Latino and African American students are far more likely to be overcrowded or lack college prep courses than majority white and Asian schools. Middle schools serving more than 90% Latino and African American students are 22 times more likely than majority white and Asian schools to experience a severe shortage of qualified teachers.

California's educational standards were designed to produce a highly educated workforce for a technology-based economy and a well-informed citizenry. But achieving these standards is not a simple matter of motivating teachers, students and parents to "try harder." California has not invested in its schools at a level commensurate with its standards, and our core educational infrastructure is incapable of providing the opportunities these goals demand.

Truly closing the racial achievement gap and the national achievement gap will require directing new resources to those students who are most deprived of fundamental learning opportunities.

John Rogers and Jeannie Oakes are the co-directors of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access.

Monday, November 26, 2007

NAFTA and Migration - Part of the Same System

The following are links and articles discussing NAFTA, migration and US-Mexico politics. -Patricia

Speech by David Bacon at the international conference on the North American Free Trade Agreement organized by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
October 23, 2007
Minneapolis, MN

This speech seeks to answer these and other questions about the relationship between the economic policies promoted by the U.S. in Mexico and other developing countries, and the second-class status of migrants in the U.S.

click here to watch video

For more articles and images on immigration and trade, click here

See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004)
Click Here

For David Bacon, Photographs and Stories click here

So what will go down in the Valley?

Great article by Dr. Acevedo that helps paint a picture of the circumstances and realities of far too many Texans. -Patricia

Sun, Nov. 18, 2007
Special to the Star-Telegram

The Rio Grande Valley comprises the counties of Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy -- roughly the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined.

These four counties make up one of the most economically and socially disenfranchised regions in not only Texas but the whole United States. Former Texas Comptroller John Sharpe said in 1998: "If South Texas was the fifty-first state, it would rank last in all social indices."

It also is my area of research.

It is a region ignored by both Washington and Austin, an incubator that provides a regressive environment for its population -- 90 percent of which are Mexican-Americans who are related by one or two degrees of sanguinity from relatives in Mexico.

The population also is one that, according to regional scholars such as Chad Richardson and Rosalva Resendiz of the University of Texas-Pan American, uses Spanish as the primary language in its social, cultural, political and economic interactions.

This reliance on Spanish might be a curse and a blessing to this population -- a curse in that it curtails the ability to fully benefit from educational development and economic resources in the region, and a blessing in that it provides for a connectivity that reinforces cultural and linguistic heritage along a border that runs more than 750 miles from Brownsville to El Paso.

The challenges are similar to those that Douglas J. Besharov of the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy addressed at a macro level for Hispanic immigrants in the United States in a recent article in The New York Times headlined "The Rio Grande Rises."

Besharov focused on the economic development of the immigrant Hispanic community but never intended to touch base with the region between northern Mexico and the southwestern United States.

According to the Intercultural Development Research Association, there is a cumulative 46 percent dropout rate in the region's public schools; 62 percent of children have no health insurance and might have even more limited access to health resources as a result of the president's veto of the SCHIP legislation. A continuing economic impediment is that the region's median income is, on average, 35 percent below the median of $37,000 for the balance of Texas as reported by the Texas comptroller's office.

All of this activity falls within an inordinate demographic growth that is, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, at a minimum of 13 percent above the national rate. And the bureau also reported a 34 percent cumulative poverty rate for the region in its American Community Survey of 2002.

Something is out of balance here, and it requires the attention of government in Washington and Austin.

The area is bedeviled by a misguided and ill-advised immigration policy. The region resembles a martial state. Of 13,000 border agents (the "Greenies," as they are called here), 85 percent are assigned to posts along the U.S. border with Mexico, and the balance to the Canadian border and other ports of entry.

Additionally, there are plans to build a wall to separate and protect the region's Mexican-Americans from a mirror-image population on the south side of the Rio Grande.

Of course, none of the Homeland Security policy wunderkinder seem to recall that the only potential terrorist entries to the United States that the American people know about were via the Canadian border.

Did the Great Wall of China keep out the Mongol invaders? Did the Berlin Wall keep communism intact? Are such barriers in Israel engendering good will between the Jewish and Arab communities?

Another continuing and debilitating situation is the erosion of the environment and physical infrastructure brought on by the expanded land traffic resulting from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

What are some possible policy actions to be considered?

First, the policy brokers in Washington and Austin need to make better use of mid-decade census data and stop relying on the old 2000 census data to guide their thinking. That is akin to keeping a milk carton in your refrigerator way past the expiration date.

Second, it is time to realize that the future of Texas, as noted by state demographer Steven Murdock, is linked to the continued development of the educational and economic capacity and welfare of its Mexican-American community.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, this population is on average seven to eight years younger than the majority population and will account for 60 percent of all public school enrollments in Texas by the fall of 2008.

It is not difficult to discern that this group will represent the majority of Texas' employees, military personnel, taxpayers and Social Security contributors. The continued regression of this population, as a result of inadequate knowledge capital, will hurt the greater society and its continued welfare.

The corresponding challenge to the majority stakeholders is how to maximize the potential of Mexican-Americans to be fully engaged in the state's economy.

Further, the Rio Grande Valley is the nexus for the balance of our nation's Latin American foreign policy. If we cannot devise a reasonable immigration policy, where will we ground our relationships with the balance of the Western Hemisphere?

The Rio Grande will indeed rise as more stress is placed on this region as it attempts to respond to its challenges while swimming against the bad policy streams that originate in Washington and Austin.

This region links the futures of the United States and Mexico -- but it cannot and will not fulfill its potential in its current state of disenfranchisement.

Baltazar Arispe y Acevedo Jr., Ph.D., is a professor of educational administration and research director of the Center for Applied Research in Education in the College of Education at the University of Texas-Pan American, Edinburg.

Test and Switch

"In nearly all of the states studied, students did noticeably worse on federal tests than on state tests." What the editors/authors of this piece fail to consider is the more systemic impacts of tests. What's created here are testing systems that narrow curriculum and marginalize students. Another improved test within this same system will likely yield similar results due to systemic impacts. -Angela

Test and Switch / November 26, 2007

Congress hoped that if it required the states to give annual tests in return for federal education aid, state politicians would be encouraged — or at least embarrassed — into improving dismal schools and closing the achievement gap between rich and poor children.

That’s not how things have worked out. Many states have gamed the system — and misled voters — devising weak tests, setting low passing scores or changing tests from year to year to prevent accurate comparisons over time. The charade will continue, and children will continue to be shortchanged, until the country develops a rigorous national test keyed to national standards.

This problem is highlighted in a recent study by Policy Analysis for California Education, a research center run by Stanford University and the University of California, that analyzed the testing practices of a dozen states between 1992 and 2006. States that performed swimmingly on their own weak math and reading tests tended to score dismally on the more rigorous federal National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as NAEP.

In nearly all of the states studied, students did noticeably worse on federal tests than on state tests. In Oklahoma, the gap in scores was a shocking 60 percentage points in math and 51 percentage points in reading. In Texas, that gap was 52 percentage points in math and 56 points in reading. The state that came closest to the federal standard was Massachusetts, where there was a modest 1 percent gap in math and 10 percent gap in reading.

New York was not included in this study. But the same issue emerged here earlier this month when NAEP scores for the state’s students turned out to be strikingly lower than scores achieved on the state-level test.

Advocates of the mediocre status quo will oppose any requirement for a national test. Congress could get the process started by instructing the NAEP board, an independent body created by the federal government, to create a rigorous, high-quality test and offer it to the states free — if they use federal scoring standards. Congress might push things further if it published a list of states that still insisted on using their own weaker tests. Americans need an accurate picture of how this country’s students are doing.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Friday, November 23, 2007

College Admissions as Conspiracy Theory

This is worthwhile reading. -Angela

College Admissions as Conspiracy Theory

We in higher education have struggled to uphold a social contract that
requires us to serve the public good when, at the same time, our success
is often measured by the number and qualifications of the applicants
we exclude. We will never escape that conundrum because the demand for
access to our best institutions is far greater than the supply. With
growing frequency, reports that analyze admissions practices are
highlighting the inequities inherent in selectively dispensing precious
seats in the classrooms of elite colleges and universities.

Four books about access to higher education have recently been released,
and each has much to say about what is wrong with college admissions.
all successfully support their themes and are worth the read, especially
for those not familiar with the grave sociological impact of admissions

Peter Schmidt's Color and Money (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) does just
its subtitle says: It describes "how rich white kids are winning the war
over college affirmative action." It offers refreshing honesty, a
disregard for political correctness, and the effective writing of an
experienced and skilled reporter. (Schmidt wrote Color and Money while
leave from The Chronicle.) He is at his best during his provocative
overview of affirmative action and the debates that led to the Supreme
Court's 2003 decisions in cases involving the University of Michigan.

Most disturbing is his declaration that, "unable to come up with solid
evidence to back its claims that affirmative action yielded educational
benefits, the higher-education establishment settled on an alternate
It would make such assertions anyway, and use spin, exaggeration, and a
false sense of certainty in its assertions to pull the wool over the
justices' eyes." Schmidt doesn't specifically identify who he means by
"higher-education establishment," but if an individual or identifiable
group did such a thing, it raises important legal and ethical questions.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor depended on studies that demonstrated the
importance of diversity in higher education to declare unambiguously
educational benefits were "not theoretical but real." For institutions
that reinstated race-conscious admissions and used educational benefits
justification, Schmidt's claim is an astonishing one.

Elsewhere Schmidt offers glimpses into the unintended tragic
of preferences: One-fifth of all students who borrow money to attend
eventually drop out, leaving college as failures and in debt. Presuming
those students met some criteria of financial need, they are the people
all four authors strenuously argue should have greater access. Being an
advocate for the underprivileged is a laudable goal, but when giving
preferences, institutions should take great care not to do harm.

Schmidt also does a memorable job of pointing out the ironies:
action was saved in Michigan by representatives of the establishment
capitalist giants like General Motors, and admirals and generals in the
armed forces who filed amicus briefs in support of it as an admissions
policy. There is much more, but the book's message is that working-class
students, of all races, are shut out.

The Power of Privilege (Stanford University Press, 2007), by Joseph A.
Soares, an associate professor of sociology at Wake Forest University,
an excellent "sociological account" of a highly selective institutional
gatekeeper: Yale University. The premise of Power of Privilege is that
Yale and other Ivies and elite colleges and universities promote a
meritocratic myth, but in fact are places that embrace and sustain
privilege and affluence.

Soares's history of Yale admissions is tragically amusing. He chronicles
an embarrassing past that includes Yale's enthusiasm for the early SAT
a tool of eugenics and the college's participation, until 1968, in the
League practice of taking nude pictures of freshmen men to study the
relationship between body type and ability.

Of all the authors, Soares is the best at explaining the statistical
applications of the numerical measures used in the admissions process
why a student's ACT or SAT scores are not good predictors of his or her
predicted freshman GPA at the most-competitive colleges. Students
to those institutions are self-selected, largely through very high SAT
scores. Because of the restricted pool of applicants, such colleges
need statistical equations to determine who gets in; they can safely
a great deal of weight on intangibles like personal characteristics
because all applicants are highly qualified academically.

Soares is also good at applying Pierre Bourdieu's theory of "elite
reproduction," or the idea that human capital (what individuals do to
improve themselves) is earned while cultural capital (the accouterments
privilege) is a gift as important as money and property. Cultural
includes access to contacts that complement a person's educational
experiences; by way of clich, "It's not what you know, it's who you
Soares argues that "elite colleges and their alumni families are
in an association for the reproduction of educational privilege."

In Tearing Down the Gates (University of California Press, 2007), Peter
Sacks, an author and essayist, also applies Bourdieu's concept of
capital. Sacks argues that injustice, educational and otherwise, is
directly the result of a social-class divide. Unlike the other books,
Tearing Down the Gates uses the stories of real students facing
challenges common to their social and economic backgrounds.

He begins with a withering attack on the exclusionary nature of
high-school honors courses and segregated classes for the gifted and
talented, which he considers proxies for the affluent. Sacks views such
segregation as a sinister "alliance of equals." Similarly, in higher
education, he sees "enrollment management" as conspiracy of a
"prestige-driven nature." Undoubtedly, that is news to admissions
which spend a great deal of time, energy, and money reaching out to poor
and minority students who have a reasonable chance of success at their

Sacks is more on target with his discussion of early-decision schemes,
winners of whom are students unconcerned about the availability of
financial assistance and who have access to sophisticated and astute
guidance offices. He also does well lambasting of the U.S. News & World
Report rankings of colleges and universities, which he maintains are
merely a measure of selectivity not educational excellence of any kind.
(Schmidt did the same in Color and Money and was equally effective.)

Sacks closes with an impassioned plea for readers to stop dwelling on
and gender in favor of embracing the more palatable issue of class
differences a powerful idea affluent right-wingers derisively call
warfare." He urges middle-class and low-income people both white and
minority to form a new coalition demanding greater access to higher

John Aubrey Douglass's The Conditions for Admission (Stanford University
Press, 2007) begins with a good history of the University of California
system. Particularly memorable is his discussion of practices like the
indefensible attempts by California universities to rank their feeder
schools, which led to large-scale protests once the rankings were
Douglass, a senior research fellow at the Center for Studies in Higher
Education at the University of California at Berkeley, is also
when he confronts feel-good terms like "disadvantaged" and
"underrepresented" that defy precise definition. Like Schmidt's,
Douglass's commentary on affirmative action is not always politically
correct: "The advocates of affirmative action ... often manipulated the
concept of the social contract as solely a matter of race and racial

Toward the end of his book, Douglass gets to the heart of the issue: The
"politicization" of admissions is the natural outcome of increasing
for a scarce public good. In 2004, Berkeley received 38,000
more than 20,000 from students with GPA's in required courses of 4.0 or
higher, for an entering class of about 4,800. Every year selective and
flagship institutions deny admission to thousands of highly qualified
applicants, while college-bound Americans defy economic theory: Rising
tuition and fees have not lessened the demand, desire, or passion for
admission to those elite and flagship campuses. The point of the book is
that our popular belief in the social contract that America has with its
colleges, that such institutions exist for the public good, is imperiled
by dwindling government support.

The four authors do a good job, from each of their perspectives,
describing the inequities in the admissions process. But a glaring
omission in all the books is the lack of any example or discussion of
effect of successful parenting, sacrifice, and instilling in children
value of an education and the courage to persevere. I could not help but
think of my own experience: a Louisiana Cajun from a poor rural
headed by a father with only a seventh-grade education and a mother who
went no further than ninth grade. Both of my parents spoke better French
than English. They could not contribute a nickel toward my college
education. I married right out of college and greeted my bride with a
National Defense Student Loan debt (a precursor to the Perkins Loan).

Since then we've had four children, each of whom worked 20 to 30 hours a
week while attending flagships as full-time students. Within the next
years, our family will have paid for six undergraduate and three
diplomas all as a family with our collective earned income. Except for
one son's earned GI benefits, we never asked for or received a dime's
worth of scholarships, grants, or loans.

So it irks me to read four books telling me that my children are
"privileged" or that I'm part of an "alliance of equals" oppressing the
poor. In these books my children are "privileged" because my wife and I
stayed married, have good jobs, paid attention to what our children did,
bought them books, got involved in their schools, and shared the
of an education we earned all of which resulted in our kids' not being
poor and not getting Pell Grants (which apparently makes them rich). I
don't remember seeing any distinction drawn between a "privileged"
like mine and one with five generations of Yale graduates in its

One also wonders why it is such an outrage to these authors that poor
students don't do as well on standardized tests as their affluent peers
especially when, in different ways, each book expertly documents the
undeniable inequality of opportunity the underprivileged face from birth
to the college-admissions process. Poor students are far less likely to
to good schools, they are taught by fewer certified teachers, they have
fewer AP courses available, they have outdated textbooks, they are more
likely to be malnourished and in poor health, they are more likely to
violence, and their parents are far less likely to be educated. Aren't
disparate test scores evidence of inequality rather than inequality

In these books we also learn that the performance, persistence, and
graduation rates of underprivileged students are not as high as those of
other students, and, of course, that is tragic and unacceptable. The
authors did not delve deeply enough into whether those differential
were consistent with the ACT and SAT scores submitted by those students.
Most likely, they would have discovered what many admissions officers
already know: Test scores are useful, but in the real world of college
admissions, trying to predict someone's freshman-year GPA is an
extraordinarily difficult task, and no independent variable is so good
that it can be used just by itself. Yet much of the criticism I've seen
test scores, in these books and in general, assumes that scores are all
that matter in admissions decisions.

In an August issue of the American Sociological Review, Sigal Alon of
Aviv University and Marta Tienda of Princeton University argue that the
ideal of equal opportunity can be best served if test scores are
considered in admissions decisions but interpreted using an applicant's
background information. Of course, that's true. I know of no admissions
process that has ever used a test score as a sole criterion for
acceptance, nor have I known anyone in admissions who has ever advocated
such a policy.

Those in charge of the ACT and SAT have always been candid about how,
most institutions, the high-school record, whether GPA or class rank, is
the best predictor of freshman-year GPA. Yet even the high-school record
by itself performs only slightly better than test scores. To date, I
not seen a usable prediction model that consistently accounts for a
greater variance in the freshman-year GPA than the combination of those
two independent variables, and that is how they are commonly used.
Skewering the ACT and SAT is cheap and easy because no one likes tests
not even those who get high scores. Finding a standardized, usable, and
more valid and reliable replacement is the hard part.

Readers should not assume that I am a shill for the testing
I am a former employee of both ACT Inc. and the College Board, and I
no illusions about what their priorities are. In these books, not all of
what the authors say about college-admissions testing is off-base.
and Douglass's coverage of the events surrounding the now infamous 2001
speech by then-president of the University of California, Richard C.
Atkinson, calling for an end to the use of the SAT reasoning test,
be read by everyone in secondary and higher education. Like Atkinson,
Sacks and Douglass advance the argument that admissions testing should
reflect what a student can do with what he or she has been taught.

I repeat: Soares, Sacks, Schmidt, and Douglass produced four very good
books. At the same time, while much of their focus is on class
differences, a discussion of Bill Cosby's controversial views about
for the troubled condition of young black America, or Juan Williams's
devastating indictment of black leadership and a "culture of failure" in
his book Enough (Crown Publishers, 2006), or the writings of Shelby
and John H. McWhorter about "white guilt" and going "beyond the crisis
black America" could have added controversial but important insights.

Does the single-parent birth rate in the different social classes
differences in college-going rates better than admissions policies do?
the crime rates of poor neighborhoods? Or the incarceration rates? Or
high-school-graduation rates? And what of those in the lower
classes who do get in and are successful? Are they different? If so,
Where are they from? Do they go to church? How much time did they spend
studying while in high school? Listening to music? Watching television?
Were they raised by both parents? Moreover, other than Soares's
of Yale and some European institutions after World War II and Sacks's
chapter about "gate-crashers," there is little memorable discussion or
elaboration of admissions routines that actually do what the authors

I return to the two issues I started with. First, is the issue of access
to highly selective colleges really one of injustice, or does it have to
do with capacity? Harvard denies about 50 percent of the applicants who
present perfect SAT scores. As Douglass points out, in America,
and growth of junior and community colleges is encouraged and expected
as to assure space for all who want to attend. Yet the state support
would be necessary to increase the number of elite campuses appears to

While quoting the late Christopher Lasch, a prominent social historian,
Schmidt reminded us that both sides of the affirmative-action debate are
so focused on the question of who gains access to highly selective
institutions that they fail to see how much we would all benefit if such
learning experience was made available to all. Admittedly, prestige and
those "qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which
make for greatness," first described in Sweatt v. Painter (1950) and
reinforced by Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978)
Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), cannot be created out of thin air. But
we can increase our capacity to satisfy the reasonable demands of highly
qualified students. We must move away from the debate about "who gets
to one about how to provide elite-like quality to many more. All sides
the access argument can easily present thousands of highly qualified
students who could succeed in the environment of a demanding, highly
selective university.

At the same time, too many people, on all sides affix too much of their
self-worth on whether they get into their first-choice college. I have
seen applicants and their parents collapse with grief after an
unsuccessful appeal of an admission decision. We must ask ourselves why
are those who are not getting in so crushed? The groups those families
represent evidently feel no other institution can sustain their dreams.
it because there is a real gulf between the educational experience
by the highly selective compared with all other institutions, or have
these people spent too much time reading U.S News and World Report
rankings and books about elite colleges only to become convinced that
a few institutions are worthy of attending? I wish I knew.

Second, and while this does not neatly apply to the books reviewed here,
in this debate we should treat each other with respect and not descend
into demagoguery: All parents, even the rich ones, want what is best for
their children. The parents considered "privileged" in these books
spending their time forming alliances to oppress others. What are they
supposed to do? Not use what they have, nor do what they can, to achieve
what is best for their children? Not long ago Sacks wrote in The
Review that "there are no easy answers or obvious villains." I wish all
four of those authors had spent a little more energy saying that.

The authors are right: Compared with the general population, elite
colleges are overpopulated with affluent young people, but it is
undeniable that such students are qualified to be there and are
successfully earning diplomas. We need more acceptable alternatives for
all who have demonstrated they can perform at such a high academic level
at a probable cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. Instead, with
legislative session we watch general appropriations increasingly account
for a lower portion of total revenue that supports our institutions.

But I refuse to despair. Right now I am writing a book about the 1950
Supreme Court case Sweatt v. Painter. In 1946, Heman Sweatt entered the
room across the hall from the office that I now occupy in the University
of Texas Tower and became the first African-American student to submit
application to the university's law school. Almost immediately the Texas
attorney general announced that "Heman Sweatt will never darken the
of the University of Texas."

Every time I think about what access to higher education was back then
compared with what it is now, I marvel at how far we've come. I've had
faculty members and administrators tell me that we've made "no progress"
since Brown v. Board of Education, and I wonder how anyone can possibly
believe that. Today I know of no selective institution, and certainly no
public flagship, that does not have elaborate recruiting and outreach
efforts that encompass the kind of schools Heman Sweatt came from. I
at least one of those authors had conceded that, even if the results are

Every day at 7 a.m., I walk through the shade of UT-Austin's Battle Oaks
toward the Main Building and Tower, satisfied that inside are good
trying to do what is right. I can't think of a single college where the
same is not true. And every day I see thousands of "privileged" students
sent to our campus by their once-underprivileged parents. It wasn't easy
for many of them to get there. They don't deserve a guilt trip. For
millions of us, social mobility is alive and well in capitalist America.

Or maybe I'm just a reflection of what Patrick Henry said in his famous
"Liberty or Death" speech in 1775: "It is natural to man to indulge in
illusions of hope."

Gary M. Lavergne is director of admissions research and policy analysis
at the University of Texas at Austin.
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 54, Issue 11, Page B10

A juggling act on No Child Left Behind

A juggling act on No Child Left Behind
Democrats, Republicans and teachers see flaws in Calif.'s Rep. Miller's proposal to renew the 2001 education law. He's not giving up.
By Nicole Gaouette
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

October 30, 2007

WASHINGTON — Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) has never been one to back away from a brawl -- he once warned an adversary that if he wanted to fight, it was going to take a while, so he'd better bring lunch. But as Miller pushes to renew the landmark education law known as No Child Left Behind, he faces so many fights that the fate of the bill is increasingly in doubt.

As chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Miller is sparring with Republicans who see his proposed changes as an unacceptable watering down of the law's core standards.

Teachers object to his proposal to link pay to performance.

Even his fellow Democrats -- particularly freshmen who campaigned against it and members of the Congressional Black Caucus -- are giving him a hard time, largely for not doing enough to soften the law's most rigid requirements.

Some critics of the law say the emphasis on math and English testing has squeezed teaching time for history, science and other subjects. Others say that the law is too strict and punishes schools that are doing a fairly good job.

"People have a very strong sense that the No Child Left Behind Act is not fair, that it is not flexible and that it is not funded," Miller said in a recent speech. "And they are not wrong. The question is what we are going to do next."

The 2001 law, President Bush's hallmark domestic achievement, is supposed to be renewed every five years, although it remains in effect even if lawmakers fail to do that.

Democrats pledged to rewrite it this year, but time is short and political tensions are high. Congress plans to adjourn for the year in a few weeks. And some Democrats are loath to give Bush a victory on No Child Left Behind when he refused to compromise on the Iraq war.

The administration has also made clear it wants just minimal changes.

No Child Left Behind was designed to end what the president called the "soft bigotry of low expectations" by forcing schools to track data on low-income and minority students and holding the schools accountable if those pupils did not do well. Schools also have to show that all students are making adequate yearly progress in math and English, or face tough sanctions.

Miller drafted 1,036 pages of proposed changes with the committee's lead Republican, Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon of Santa Clarita. But as Miller has tweaked that proposal to appeal to Democrats and teachers, he has lost Republicans.

The balance he seeks is between those who think the law's standards are too rigid and those who want them as tightly defined as possible.

A 33-year veteran of the House, Miller is known for his pragmatism, his ability to make a deal and his close ties to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), all of which may help him find an answer in the few weeks he has left.

"We're certainly not in full agreement," Miller said, mentioning talks with committee Republicans. "Not between my caucus and their caucus, not between Mr. McKeon and myself. Whether we can reach an agreement remains to be seen. We're pushing as hard as we can."

McKeon said he was hopeful that he and Miller could reach a compromise, but he expressed concern "that some provisions in the draft would weaken accountability, allowing schools to mask a lack of achievement in the fundamentals of reading and math and obscure the information provided to schools and communities."

For Miller, who has made children a focus of his career and has long advocated greater teacher accountability, working on the first No Child Left Behind bill was a natural cause. A staunch liberal, he was an odd partner for Bush, but they worked closely enough for the president to dub the burly former football player "Big George."

In the five years since Miller and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) helped write and pass No Child Left Behind, they complain, the administration has never fully funded the law in a way that would help schools meet their additional burdens. Republicans counter that few laws are fully funded.

The law has frustrated some parents and teachers who dislike its effect in local schools.

Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has told Miller that his draft continues to overemphasize standardized tests.

The cost, Wynn says, includes "extraordinary pressure placed on students and the loss of important instruction in music, art and other elements of a well-rounded education."

Some critics say that too many schools are sanctioned under the law. Schools that fail to meet goals for three years must offer students free tutoring or the chance to switch schools. After five years of failure, the law mandates, a school must be restructured with a new staff or new leadership or be converted to a charter school.

Miller's draft bill would broaden measurements of students and schools -- for instance, letting states measure how much students improve over a year and not just whether they meet the bar set by No Child Left Behind.

Miller also wants to expand the standards by which schools are judged beyond math and English scores -- a shift McKeon strongly opposes. Under Miller's proposal, up to 15% of an elementary school's evaluation could be based on assessments of history, science, and civics and government classes. For high schools, rates for graduation, dropouts, attendance and college enrollment could be considered too.

Some of the strictest sanctions would be relaxed under Miller's bill. For example, it would loosen a rule that puts an otherwise successful school on probation if a small group within it -- such as learning-disabled children -- fails to meet the standards.

The draft would also change the way English-language learners are evaluated, allowing them to be tested in their native language for up to five years instead of the current three years, and permitting a two-year extension for some. Republicans say this would mean a child who spoke no English could enter the public school system in fifth grade and graduate from high school without ever being evaluated in English.

Teachers unions have objected to Miller's proposal to allow high-needs school districts to give $10,000 bonuses to outstanding teachers and up to $12,500 for teachers of math, science, special education and other subjects that are short of instructors. Criteria for the awards would be developed with input from the unions.

Critics of the unions say teachers are trying to avoid accountability. The unions say Miller's plan -- which McKeon backs -- is not workable.

"You can be a better teacher than I am, but based on conditions that you have to work in, it makes it much more difficult for you to do the same job," said National Education Assn. President Reginald Weaver. "Plus, paying teachers based on student performance hasn't really made a difference in how students achieve."

In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans are in talks about the bill, and Kennedy hopes to begin formal discussions in the education committee in the next few weeks.

Miller, meanwhile, continues to search for a compromise that can win enough support to pass the House.

"We would be wrong to waver when it comes to the existing goals and standards of the No Child Left Behind law," he said. "We would also be wrong if we failed to respond to the serious concerns with the law raised by people who sincerely care about America's educational future."

Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service

Number of low-income schools 'needing improvement' rose in 26 states

Number of low-income schools 'needing improvement' rose in 26 states
By LEDYARD KING / November 14, 2007
Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON — About one-fifth of schools in the nation's poorest communities were flagged as poor performers last year, and more are expected to make the list as a 2014 performance deadline approaches under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The number of high-poverty, or Title I schools identified as "needing improvement" last year rose in 26 states and the District of Columbia, according to federal education statistics recently obtained by Gannett News Service.

Experts predict thousands more schools nationwide will stumble unless Congress changes the law's emphasis on test score proficiency as the sole way to measure a school's worth. No Child Left Behind requires every student — whether low-income, disabled or non-English speaking — to pass grade-level math and reading tests by 2014.

School officials say that's an impossible standard to meet because children vary in ability and background and there always will be some who struggle. Without greater flexibility to measure student growth, thousands more schools will be labeled as failing even if 99 percent of the kids at each school score well on standardized tests, they say.

"If we allow that to happen, we'll have a revolt in our nation," said schools Superintendent Jack Dale in Fairfax County, Va.

Signed by President Bush in 2002, the No Child Left Behind law requires states to test students on math and reading in grades three through eight and once in high school.

Schools not only have to meet overall achievement goals set by their state, they also must show that students in certain subgroups — those who are black, enrolled in special education classes or non-English-speaking, for example — are making adequate progress. If enough students in any subgroup don't score at grade level for two consecutive years, the school gets flagged.

There are more than 51,000 high-poverty — or Title I — schools in the country. According to the Education Department statistics, about 10,700 of those schools, or 21 percent, failed to meet the No Child Left Behind standard last year. That's up about 8 percent from the year before.

Students at schools that have not made adequate progress for at least two consecutive years are permitted to transfer to a better school. If a school falls short for at least three years in a row, students there qualify for free after-school tutoring.

Some Title I schools face closure or removal of staff if student scores don't improve over time.

In three states — Florida, Hawaii and Nevada — more than half the Title I schools were identified as below standard last year, according to the federal education statistics.

But experts say that doesn't mean those schools are inferior to schools in other states. It may simply mean those states hold schools to a higher standard.

Differences in state standards and the huge diversity in student populations make it difficult to compare states based on percentages of schools that miss the mark, said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based think tank.

"The simple answer is to go to national standards and national tests, but the solution to one problem creates other problems," he said. "And the problem with national standards is: Who sets the standards?"

Congress is considering proposals to soften sanctions imposed on schools that miss the mark for one or two student groups.

How schools fall short

A school can miss making "adequate yearly progress" if:

Its students, as a whole, fall short of targets on state math and reading tests.
Individual subsets of students fall short. Those subsets consist of students who, for example, are low-income, don't speak English as a first language, have disabilities or belong to a distinct racial or ethnic group.
More than 5 percent of students eligible to take the tests fail to do so.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Place at the Table

Here's a suggestion on alternative forms of assessment from the perspective of a teacher - the people who actually know the students we code as numbers. A quote that stuck out to me while reading: "Education has a long red-pen tradition of how we measure achievement." -Patricia

By Susan Graham | Teacher Magazine
November 18, 2007
This is a Test, This Is Only a Test….

Or is it an assessment?

Assessing and testing issues are on my mind a lot lately. They’ve been hot topics at school, on the Web, in Education Week and around the dinner table at our two-teacher home.

But this brain dump is not brought on by first-quarter grades and the parent conferences we are having tonight at my middle school. You may think that I’m going to talk about No Child Left Behind , but I’m not. Nor is this about the recent release of National Board for Professional Teaching Standards assessment scores, or the new “Trial Urban District Assessment” results from NAEP - the Nation's Report Card. It’s more big-picture than any of that.

Testing and assessment are terms we throw around a lot in education. We have a love/hate relationship with them. But are TEST and ASSESSMENT interchangeable terms and tools?

Well, you’ll have to take my test.

Type TEST and then right-click to find a synonym. Microsoft Word will offer you: examination, experiment, check, analysis, trial, assessment and ordeal. So TEST and ASSESSMENT mean the same thing.

Now try this: Type ASSESSMENT and right-click. The synonyms offered are: appraisal, estimation, measurement, judgment, review, consideration, or opinion. TEST isn’t an option. So ASSESSMENT and TEST don't mean the same thing.

Trick question? No. The problem is that too many people are trying to dress up some pretty dull graduate school reports and policy white papers by using the MS Word thesaurus to find synonyms. While a TEST may be a form of ASSESSMENT, an ASSESSMENT is more than just a TEST. They are two different words that may, on occasion, be correctly interchanged. Here is how I see it:

A TEST measures what the test designer chooses to find out about what the test taker knows. Testing is negative in that it identifies what is not known about a definable body of content. It tells what has been mastered, where there are gaps, and can be analyzed to identify patterns for improved instruction. The underlying assumption, of course, is that the test maker knows what is critical information and has the authority to determine the correct answers.

An ASSESSMENT is a more complex process that attempts to capture what the assessment taker knows or can do. It is a positive model that tries to determine how effective the assessed person is at identifying critical information and communicating a justification of how and why his response addresses the question. The assessor is not empowered to impose his interpretation of what the assessment-taker implied or meant but did not state. An assessment is not about what is wrong; it is about (and only about) what the assessment taker sees as right. While it gives more power and control to the assessment taker, it also demands more. The primary responsibility lies with the person taking the assessment.

Education has a long red-pen tradition of how we measure achievement. What most of us remember of our own school assessment process was the opportunity to demonstrate what we did or did not remember about what we were asked to learn. It was safer. It was faster. And it was more defensible. It required less from both parties. Determining real achievement is more complex. It involves more risk on both sides. As the assessment-taker, I am taking the risk that I can demonstrate my achievement effectively. As the assessment-creator, I am going out on a limb and saying that I can can recognize your achievement if you demonstrate it effectively.

This same discussion about tests and assessments that my science-teacher husband and I have at the dinner table is taking place at policy tables as well. In a recent Education Week commentary, Accountability Tests’ Instructional Insensitivity: The Time Bomb Ticketh, assessment expert James Popham describes the current testing process as an accountability time bomb because it is instructionally insensitive.

How could American educators let themselves get into a situation in which the tests being used to evaluate their instruction are unable to distinguish between effective and ineffective teaching? The answer, though simple, is nonetheless disquieting. Most American educators simply don’t know that their state’s NCLB tests are instructionally insensitive. Educators, and the public in general, assume that because such tests are “achievement tests,” they accurately measure how much students have learned in schools. That’s just not true.

Dr. Popham is right, in part. Testing as an assessment of student achievement is inaccurate. But I would argue that Dr. Popham is also wrong about one thing. He has made an inaccurate assumption that teachers don’t get it. Teachers deal with living, breathing children who are our nation's favorite test subjects, and we are very sensitive to the limitations of trying to capture 200 days of learning with a single multiple-choice, end- of-course test. We get it! But whenever we point out this abuse of good assessment practice, we are accused of being unwilling to be held accountable because we are (a) lazy; (b) well intended but incompetent; and/or (c) unwilling to believe all children can learn.

I respectfully point out that Dr. Popham's biography indicates that he has been out of the K-12 classroom for more than 30 years. While testing, rather than assessing, may have been standard procedure during his years in the high school classroom, things have changed in most schools. Just as cybermetrics and learning theory have evolved, teachers' practices have also evolved to include multiple measures in differentiated formats. Many teachers know what good assessment looks like -- and we practice it. The fact that -- when accountability time comes around -- we are not judged by "instructionally sensitive" tools dismays us, but it is not our fault.

As professionals, our hands have been tied by decision making processes that, to a great extent, have excluded practicing classroom teachers from the conversation on accountability. I'll make an offer: Invite me to the policy table and I'll be more than happy to describe ways in which we and our students might be more fairly and accurately assessed. In return, I'll invite you to my dinner table, where we can continue the conversation over pie and coffee.

Susan Graham has taught family and consumer science (formerly "home ec") for 25 years. She is a National Board-certified teacher, a former regional Virginia teacher of the year, and a Fellow of the Teacher Leaders Network. She invites readers to pull a chair up to her virtual table as she offers her voice-of-experience perspective on teaching today, with a special focus on teacher leadership and continuous professional growth.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Study Links Drop in Test Scores to a Decline in Time Spent Reading

Interesting negative correlataion between reading and test scores. The "reading at-risk" crisis mentioned here is a good way to frame what we've been seeing for years: Declining test scores by the middle-school years. -Angela

November 19, 2007
Study Links Drop in Test Scores to a Decline in Time Spent Reading

Harry Potter, James Patterson and Oprah Winfrey’s book club aside, Americans — particularly young Americans — appear to be reading less for fun, and as that happens, their reading test scores are declining. At the same time, performance in other academic disciplines like math and science is dipping for students whose access to books is limited, and employers are rating workers deficient in basic writing skills.

That is the message of a new report being released today by the National Endowment for the Arts, based on an analysis of data from about two dozen studies from the federal Education and Labor Departments and the Census Bureau as well as other academic, foundation and business surveys. After its 2004 report, “Reading at Risk,” which found that fewer than half of Americans over 18 read novels, short stories, plays or poetry, the endowment sought to collect more comprehensive data to build a picture of the role of all reading, including nonfiction.

In his preface to the new 99-page report Dana Gioia, chairman of the endowment, described the data as “simple, consistent and alarming.”

Among the findings is that although reading scores among elementary school students have been improving, scores are flat among middle school students and slightly declining among high school seniors. These trends are concurrent with a falloff in daily pleasure reading among young people as they progress from elementary to high school, a drop that appears to continue once they enter college. The data also showed that students who read for fun nearly every day performed better on reading tests than those who reported reading never or hardly at all.

The study also examined results from reading tests administered to adults and found a similar trend: The percentage of adults who are proficient in reading prose has fallen at the same time that the proportion of people who read regularly for pleasure has declined.

Three years ago “Reading at Risk,” which was based on a study by the Census Bureau in 2002, provoked a debate among academics, publishers and others, some of whom argued that the report defined reading too narrowly by focusing on fiction, poetry and drama. Others argued that there had not been as much of a decline in reading as the report suggested.

This time the endowment did not limit its analysis to so-called literary reading. It selected studies that asked questions about “reading for fun” or “time spent reading for pleasure,” saying that this could refer to a range of reading materials.

“It’s no longer reasonable to debate whether the problem exists,” said Sunil Iyengar, director of research and analysis for the endowment. “Let’s not nitpick or wrangle over to what extent is reading in decline.”

In an interview Mr. Gioia said that the statistics could not explain why reading had declined, but he pointed to several commonly accepted culprits, including the proliferation of digital diversions on the Internet and other gadgets, and the failure of schools and colleges to develop a culture of daily reading habits. In addition, Mr. Gioia said, “we live in a society where the media does not recognize, celebrate or discuss reading, literature and authors.”

In seeking to detail the consequences of a decline in reading, the study showed that reading appeared to correlate with other academic achievement. In examining the average 2005 math scores of 12th graders who lived in homes with fewer than 10 books, an analysis of federal Education Department statistics found that those students scored much lower than those who lived in homes with more than 100 books. Although some of those results could be attributed to income gaps, Mr. Iyengar noted that students who lived in homes with more than 100 books but whose parents only completed high school scored higher on math tests than those students whose parents held college degrees (and were therefore likely to earn higher incomes) but who lived in homes with fewer than 10 books.

The new report also looked at data from the workplace, including a survey that showed nearly three-quarters of employers who were polled rated “reading comprehension” as “very important” for workers with two-year college degrees, and nearly 90 percent of employers said so for graduates of four-year colleges. Better reading skills were also correlated with higher income.

In an analysis of Education Department statistics looking at eight weekly income brackets, the data showed that 7 percent of full-time workers who scored at levels deemed “below basic” on reading tests earned $850 to $1,149 a week, the fourth-highest income bracket, while 20 percent of workers who had scored at reading levels deemed “proficient” earned such wages.

The new report is likely to provoke as much debate as the previous one. Stephen Krashen, a professor emeritus of education at the University of Southern California, said that based on his analysis of other data, reading was not on the decline. He added that the endowment appeared to be exaggerating the decline in reading scores and said that according to federal education statistics, the bulk of decreases in 12th-grade reading scores had occurred in the early 1990s, and that compared with 1994 average reading scores in 2005 were only one point lower.

Timothy Shanahan, past president of the International Reading Association and a professor of urban education and reading at the University of Illinois at Chicago, suggested that the endowment’s report was not nuanced enough. “I don’t disagree with the N.E.A.’s notion that reading is important, but I’m not as quick to discount the reading that I think young people are really doing,” he said, referring to reading on the Internet. He added, “I don’t think the solutions are as simple as a report like this might be encouraging folks to think they might be.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Sunday, November 18, 2007

REFRAMING THE VISION: Addressing the Needs of Urban Youth

It's great to see California coming together! I hope the "joint use facilities" initiative mentioned provides a level of priority to programs and services specifically serving the communities and people many of the facilities are in. -Patricia

California Mayors' Education Roundtable
Policy Statement

November 16, 2007

Mayors from many of California's largest cities have formed the California Mayors' Education Roundtable with the purpose of addressing education and youth- related issues that confront our cities and the state.The Roundtable has been made possible with support from The James Irvine Foundation.

Mayors are held responsible for the health, safety, economy, and education of their cities whether or not they have legal authority or responsibility for these areas. The time is appropriate for mayors to join with the leaders of education systems in their cities and the state to help improve the lives of the children.

We have come together because the educational needs of our children and youth are not being adequately met.Meeting the educational and social needs of our children and youth is more than just a school issue. Mayors need to take an active role in state and local conversations as new policies, programs, and practices are discussed and developed.

The current conversation about improving education has not addressed the broader issues that affect our youth, and their attendance and performance in school. From our perspective, the focus has been too narrow to successfully improve education in our cities and the state.The vision for education in this state must be expanded beyond a goal of improving test scores of children in K-12 to increasing educational attainment, and providing integrated and comprehensive support for youth.

We need to examine the policy barriers-legislation, rules, guidelines and practices-that prevent flexibility in the use of state and local funds to address the needs of our children and youth; increase the capacity of cities to address their needs; link funds and programs across agencies and authorities; and encourage partnerships, joint ventures, and working relationships between and among agencies and organizations.

Some of the strategies we plan to investigate and address include:

* Integrating policies, programs, practices and funding for education, health care, workforce development, social and human services, out-of-school time, and community initiatives including joint use facilities;

* Creating more flexible funding streams that reflect the changes in policy and practice, by not only utilizing the old smokestack solutions of categorical funding to address problems;

* Providing adequate, transparent and flexible funding to address the developmental needs of all children and youth, and the resources and services that affect their development; and

* Enabling mayors to implement comprehensive youth support programs and systems in conjunction with school and county services to address the social and safety problems confronting our urban centers.

We therefore call for reframing the vision for educational and school improvement in ways that acknowledge that if students are to be successful in education and the workplace a more comprehensive set of policies, programs, services and practices need to be put into place.Our focus at the Mayors' Roundtable will be to work together within and across cities as well as with state leaders to achieve these goals.

Signed by the following California Mayors:

* Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates
* Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox
* Fresno Mayor Alan Autry
* Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster
* Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
* Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour
* Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums
* Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard
* Riverside Mayor Ronald Loveridge
* Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo
* San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris
* San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom
* Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido
* Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum