Thursday, July 31, 2008

State Test Scores in Reading and Mathematics Continue to Increase, Achievement Gaps Narrow

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CONTACT: Kari Hudnell (202) 955-9450 ext. 324 or
State Test Scores in Reading and Mathematics Continue
To Increase, Achievement Gaps Narrow
Positive Trends in State Test Scores Seen Since 2002

WASHINGTON, D.C. – June 24, 2008 – Student scores on state tests of reading and
mathematics have risen since 2002, and achievement gaps between various groups of students
have narrowed more often than they have widened, according to the most comprehensive and
rigorous recent analysis of state test scores. These improvements have occurred during a
period when the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), state education reforms, and local school
improvement efforts have focused on raising test scores and narrowing achievement gaps.
The report, Has Student Achievement Increased Since 2002?: State Test Score Trends
Through 2006-07, was released today by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy (CEP). It
analyzes state test data from all 50 states as well as trends through 2007 on the National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the only federally administered assessment of
reading and math achievement. While expanding on a similar report from last year, this study
continues the focus on two main questions: whether reading and math achievement has
increased since 2002 and whether achievement gaps between subgroups of students have
narrowed. The number of states included varies depending on the type of trend being reported.
CEP excluded state data from years that should not be compared because a state introduced a
new test, changed the passing score on its test, or made other major test changes. CEP also
looked at two indicators of achievement on state tests – the percentage of students scoring at or
above the “proficient” level and a statistic called “effect size,” which avoids some limitations of
percentages proficient.

The report’s analysis found that, among the states with sufficient data, 21 states made
moderate-to-large gains in math in both percentages proficient and effect sizes at the
elementary level, while 22 states showed gains of this size on both indicators in middle school
and 12 states posted such gains for high school. In reading, 17 states had moderate-to-large
gains in percentages proficient and effect sizes at the elementary level, 14 states made such
gains for middle school, and eight states showed gains for high school. Additional numbers of
states made slight gains on one or both indicators or showed improvement on one indicator but
lacked data on the other.

In general, the overall trends on state tests and NAEP moved in the same direction, though
gains on NAEP tended to be smaller (NAEP tests are not aligned with any specific state’s
academic standards). The most agreement was in grade 4 math. Of the 33 states with sufficient
state test and NAEP data, 31 showed gains on both assessments.

Achievement gaps have also narrowed more often than widened on state tests and NAEP,
according to CEP. The exception to the pattern of more gaps narrowing was in grade 8 math,
where gaps widened on NAEP more than they narrowed. In general, NAEP tended to show
larger gaps between different demographic and economic groups than state tests.
It is impossible, notes the report, to determine the extent to which these trends in test results have
occurred because of NCLB. Since 2002, many different but interconnected policies and programs
have been undertaken to raise achievement and close achievement gaps – some initiated by
states or school districts on their own, and some in response to federal requirements. Other
possible explanations for increased test scores and narrowed gaps include, among others,
districts and schools devoting more instructional time to reading and math, and students and
teachers becoming more familiar with the content and format of state tests.

“Through NCLB and many state and local efforts, the nation has sought to raise test scores and
to narrow the achievement gap. These results show that we are making progress, although
much more work needs to be done,” said Jack Jennings, president and chief executive officer of
CEP. “Last year, we sought to determine whether NCLB had resulted in increased student
achievement, but discovered that it is not possible to make a causal connection. We know,
though, that NCLB required a vast expansion of student testing and we now have a better
understanding of whether students, in general, have achieved more.”

This year’s study builds on CEP’s 2007 appraisal of student achievement described in the
report, Answering the Question that Matters Most: Has Student Achievement Increased Since
No Child Left Behind? The study also draws on knowledge gained from CEP’s broader, six-year
study of state and local implementation of NCLB, published in a series of annual reports, From
the Capital to the Classroom, and over 30 special-topic reports. These reports and other
information from CEP are available online at
# # #
Based in Washington, D.C. and founded in January 1995 by Jack Jennings, the Center on Education
Policy is a national, independent advocate for public education and for more effective public schools. The
Center works to help Americans better understand the role of public education in a democracy and the
need to improve the academic quality of public schools. The Center does not represent any special
interests. Instead the Center helps citizens make sense of the conflicting opinions and perceptions about
public education and create conditions that will lead to better public schools.

Alonzo: Bilingual Education Task Force now needed

By Roberto Alonzo
Rio Grande Guardian
July 31, 2008

AUSTIN, July 31 - One of the most comprehensive legal decisions in education history has just been issued by U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice.

It concerns the civil rights of English language learners (ELL), a ruling which finds that Texas is failing to overcome language barriers in educating an estimated 140,000 Latino students in our secondary public schools.

I think it is imperative that both the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) and the Senate Hispanic Caucus (SHC) join forces and get prepared for what promises to be an interesting appeals process by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to overturn this decision.

While we must applaud Judge Justice for reversing his own decision of over a year ago (July 2007), not surprisingly TEA has already made it public that it will ask the Attorney General's Office to appeal the latest Justice ruling.

As such, I think it is critically important that members of the Legislature, particularly representatives of both the MALC and SHC, be well-prepared, educated on the issue, and well-versed on the statistical data to help support and keep Judge Justice's decision intact.

As chairmen of the two major Latino caucuses in the Legislature, I therefore appeal to you to jointly form some type of Bilingual Education Task Force to closely monitor the development of this important ruling and issue a report to all members when we convene for the 81st Regular Session in January 2009.

According to the 95-page court decision, the State of Texas, specifically TEA, has been given a deadline of January 2009 to address the issues of ineffective monitoring and poor ESL programs for secondary students, low test scores, high dropout rates among Latinos, graduation rates, and other educational flaws that violate the civil rights of ELL students.

If past history is any indication, there is no doubt that TEA will once again continue to use the same excuse as before by saying that they are "already addressing the issue," when in reality, we know that is not the case as the picture for ELL learners in Texas continues to look dismal. That seems to be a typical TEA response anytime a ruling like this is issued by a court.

However, keep in mind also that numbers and statistics do not lie. Most of the numbers and other verifiable data cited by Judge Justice in his court ruling come directly from TEA, and most of the accumulative historical records clearly show that our state-approved language programs for ELL students have not improved the performance of secondary students with limited English skills. And that is the bottom line - plain and simple.

If the state of Texas is to do an adequate job of closing that gap and have a skilled, educated workforce for future generations, we must take action now. And while Judge Justice's decision is a welcome invitation to action now, as well as a major wake-up call for all state and local policymakers, I am certain that the formation of a Bilingual Education Task Force made up of members from both the MALC and SHC is well in order right now, especially since the court's decision deadline of January 2009 will fall immediately after the start of the 81st Regular Session.

Roberto Alonzo is state representative for District 104, in Dallas. A Democrat, Alonzo co-chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus’s task force on higher education. The above column is based upon a letter Alonzo sent July 29, 2008, to the state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, and state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, chair of the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Unequal America: Causes and consequences of the wide-and growing-gap between rich and poor

This is an interesting piece that addresses aspects of decline in our country. Read on. -Angela

Harvard Magazine
(July-August 2008)

Unequal America
Causes and consequences of the wide-and growing-gap between rich and poor

by Elizabeth Gudrais

When Majid Ezzati thinks about declining life expectancy, he says, "I think of an epidemic like HIV, or I think of the collapse of a social system, like in the former Soviet Union." But such a decline is happening right now in some parts of the United States. Between 1983 and 1999, men's life expectancy decreased in more than 50 U.S. counties, according to a recent study by Ezzati, associate professor of international health at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), and colleagues. For women, the news was even worse: life expectancy decreased in more than 900 counties-more than a quarter of the total. This means 4 percent of American men and 19 percent of American women can expect their lives to be shorter than or, at best, the same length as those of people in their home counties two decades ago.


The United States no longer boasts anywhere near the world's longest life expectancy. It doesn't even make the top 40. In this and many other ways, the richest nation on earth is not the healthiest. Ezzati's finding is unsettling on its face, but scholars find further cause for concern in the pattern of health disparities. Poor health is not distributed evenly across the population, but concentrated among the disadvantaged.


Disparities in health tend to fall along income lines everywhere: the poor generally get sicker and die sooner than the rich. But in the United States, the gap between the rich and the poor is far wider than in most other developed democracies, and it is getting wider. That is true both before and after taxes: the United States also does less than most other rich democracies to redistribute income from the rich to the poor.


Americans, on average, have a higher tolerance for income inequality than their European counterparts. American attitudes focus on equality of opportunity, while Europeans tend to see fairness in equal outcomes. Among Americans, differences of opinion about inequality can easily degenerate into partisan disputes over whether poor people deserve help and sympathy or should instead pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The study of inequality attempts to test inequality's effects on society, and it is delivering findings that command both sides' attention.


Ezzati's results are one example. There is also evidence that living in a society with wide disparities-in health, in wealth, in education-is worse for all the society's members, even the well off. Life-expectancy statistics hint at this. People at the top of the U.S. income spectrum "live a very long time," says Cabot professor of public policy and epidemiology Lisa Berkman, "but people at the top in some other countries live a lot longer."


Much is still unknown in this dynamic field, where Harvard is home to pioneers who first recognized income inequality as worthy of study and younger scholars at the forefront of its study today. The variety of disciplines featured in presentations of the University's Multidisciplinary Program on Inequality and Social Policy-economics, sociology, political science, public policy, health, medicine, education, law, and business-highlights the field's broad importance.


Because of the subject's complexity and the scarcity of consistent data that would allow comparison between countries and across wide timespans, research findings are often highly specific or framed in the language of interesting coincidences, rather than as definitive conclusions. Even when discernable patterns exist, there tend to be counter-examples; for instance, the United States, with high inequality, has low life expectancy compared to Denmark and Finland, with very low inequality-but in Spain and Italy, with inequality somewhere in between, life expectancy is even longer.


But the coincidences are intrig-uing indeed. Research indicates that high inequality reverberates through societies on multiple levels, correlating with, if not causing, more crime, less happiness, poorer mental and physical health, less racial harmony, and less civic and political participation. Tax policy and social-welfare programs, then, take on importance far beyond determining how much income people hold onto. The level of inequality we allow represents our answer to "a very important question," says Nancy Krieger, professor of society, human development, and health at HSPH: "What kind of society do we want to live in?"


Keeping Up With The Joneses

The United States is becoming even more unequal as income becomes more concentrated among the most affluent Americans. Income inequality has been rising since the late 1970s, and now rests at a level not seen since the Gilded Age-roughly 1870 to 1900, a period in U.S. history defined by the contrast between the excesses of the super-rich and the squalor of the poor.


Early in the twentieth century, the share of total national income drawn by the top 1 percent of U.S. earners hovered around 18 percent. That share hit an all-time high in 1928-when top earners took home 21.1 percent of all income, including capital gains-then dropped steadily through the next three decades. Amid the post-World War II boom in higher education, and overall economic growth, the American middle class swelled and prospered, and the top 1 percent of earners took home less than 10 percent of all income through the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, the topmost 1 percent have seen their share rise again: it shot past 15 percent in 1996 and crested at 20.3 percent in 2006, the most recent year for which numbers are available.

To describe the distribution of income inequality in the United States, Allison professor of economics Lawrence F. Katz likes to use the analogy of an apartment building. "Over the last 25 years," he says, "the penthouse has gotten really, really nice. All sorts of new gadgets have been put in. The units just below the penthouse have also improved a lot. The units in the middle have stayed about the same. The basement apartment used to be OK, but now it's gotten infested with cockroaches and it's been flooding." (See graph, page 26.)


The argument that none of this matters as long as the overall economy is growing-that a rising tide lifts all boats, as President John F. Kennedy famously said-is the subject of vigorous academic review, with mixed results, but it may not be the most important question. Picture a buoyant luxury cruise ship surrounded by dilapidated dinghies, full of holes and on the verge of sinking. The fact that the tide has lifted them does not mean they are doing well.


This is a concept social scientists call relative deprivation. The idea is that, even when we have enough money to cover basic needs, it may harm us psychologically to see that other people have more. When British economist Peter Townsend developed his relative deprivation index in 1979, the concept was not new. Seneca wrote that to be poor in the midst of riches is the worst of poverties; Karl Marx wrote, "A house may be large or small; as long as the neighboring houses are likewise small, it satisfies all social requirement for a residence. But let there arise next to the little house a palace, and the little house shrinks to a hut."


Investigating whether relative deprivation and the negative emotions it engenders help explain why the poor have worse health than the rich in most societies began with epidemiologist Michael Marmot's study of British civil servants in the 1960s and 1970s. Marmot found that the lower-ranking bureaucrats had elevated levels of stress hormones compared to their high-status coworkers, even though the low-ranking workers still had job security, a living wage, decent hours, and benefits.

Others have found similar links. Examining health outcomes for identical twins raised together-pairs that shared genes and environment-Nancy Krieger found that when the twins became adults, if one was working class and the other professional, the working-class twin's health was, on average, worse.


There is little question that it is bad for one's health to be poor. Americans at the 95th income percentile or higher can expect to live nine years longer than those at the 10th percentile or lower. The poor are more likely to develop illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer, and there is evidence that relative deprivation and the stress it engenders are involved. When high inequality and rising top incomes shift society's accepted standards of living upward, it seems that people experience deprivation even when they have adequate food, clothing, and shelter. The official U.S. poverty rate-12.3 percent in 2006-is relatively low, but scholars agree that number is essentially meaningless.


The poverty threshold was developed in 1965 based on the cost of a grocery budget "for temporary or emergency use when funds are low," multiplied by three. It was "arbitrary," says Wiener professor of social policy Christopher Jencks, "but once it was adopted, it was politically impossible to change it." That threshold has been adjusted for inflation, but does not take into account the fact that housing prices, energy prices, and certain other costs have grown faster than the consumer price index (CPI). "Going to movies, eating out at restaurants, going on occasional vacations, having Internet access and a cell phone-none of these things are in the federal poverty level," says Ichiro Kawachi, professor of social epidemiology at HSPH and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS). "What matters for functioning in society is what the average person is able to do." During the same period, the Gallup Poll definition of the poverty line-based on asking people how much income they need not to feel deprived-has risen much more steeply than the CPI.


Kawachi, who grew up in Japan, believes a predominant consumption culture in the United States exacerbates relative deprivation. "The Japanese have a very strong culture against conspicuous displays of affluence," he says. "When I was a child growing up in suburban Tokyo, it was very difficult to distinguish, by dress or anything else, rich kids from poor kids-whereas in America, bring it on!"


As further evidence of a correlation between inequality and consumption culture, he points to national spending on advertising as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). The top-ranked countries on this measure, according to United Nations (UN) data, are Colombia, Brazil, and Venezuela-countries with inequality levels among the highest in the world-but also Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom (U.K.), and the United States, countries with higher inequality than similarly prosperous peers.


Japan comes second only to Denmark in terms of equal-income distribution among its inhabitants, according to United Nations data. And life expectancy at birth for the Japanese is 82.3 years, compared to Americans' 77.9 years, even though per-capita GDP in the United States is about $10,000 more than in Japan. "It's pretty clear that an egalitarian ethos runs along with the idea of having strong safety nets and protecting the health of the most vulnerable," says Kawachi, who also directs HSPH's Center for Society and Health. "And that's reflected in national health statistics."


The United States ranks twenty-first among the 30 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in terms of life expectancy, and twenty-fifth in terms of infant mortality. Kawachi and others have found that the U.S. counties with the most income inequality stack up poorly on health measures, and as mortality rates have fallen nationwide, they have fallen most slowly in states where income inequality increased the most-a cause for concern, whatever the explanation.


American Exception?

One widely used measure of inequality is the Gini coefficient, named for Italian statistician Corrado Gini, who first articulated the concept in 1912. The coefficient measures income distribution on a scale from zero (where income is perfectly equally distributed among all members of a society) to one (where a single person possesses all the income). For the United States, the Gini coefficient has risen from .35 in 1965 to .44 today. On the per-capita GDP scale, our neighbors are Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.K.; on the Gini scale, our neighbors include Sri Lanka, Mali, and Russia. (Even with this basic measure of inequality, it is difficult to get comparable data for all countries, and some other sources find a much wider gap between the United States and Russia. For instance, the Luxembourg Income Study ranks Russia at .43 and the United States at .37, and does not even list Sri Lanka and Mali.)

Source: United Nations Human Development Report, 2007/08

The recent increase in inequality reflects a migration of money upward as salaries have ballooned at the top. In 1965, the average salary for a CEO of a major U.S. company was 25 times the salary of the average worker. Today, the average CEO's pay is more than 250 times the average worker's. At the same time, the government is doing less to redistribute income than it has at times in the past. The current top marginal tax rate-35 percent-is not the lowest it's been-there was no federal income tax at all until 1913-but it is far lower than the 91-percent tax levied on top earners from 1951 to 1963. Meanwhile, forces such as immigration and trade policy have put pressure on wages at the bottom.

Source: The Race between Education and Technology, by Lawrence F. Katz and Claudia Goldin (Harvard University Press, 2008)

Tax policies and employer-pay practices affect income distribution directly. But what governs these pay practices, and why have American voters and politicians chosen the tax policies they have? One answer lies in Americans' unique attitudes toward inequality. Asked by the International Social Survey Programme whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement that income differences in their home country are "too large," 62 percent of Americans agreed; the median response for all 43 countries surveyed-some with a much lower degree of inequality-was 85 percent.


Americans and Europeans also tend to disagree about the causes of poverty. In a different survey-the World Values Survey, including 40 countries-American respondents were much more likely than European respondents (71 percent versus 40 percent) to agree with the statement that the poor could escape poverty if they worked hard enough. Conversely, 54 percent of European respondents, but only 30 percent of American respondents, agreed with the statement that luck determines income.


It makes intuitive sense that those who view poverty as a personal failing don't feel compelled to redistribute money from the rich to the poor. Indeed, Ropes professor of political economy Alberto Alesina and Glimp professor of economics Edward L. Glaeser find a strong link between beliefs and tax policy: they find that a 10-percent increase in the share of the population that believes luck determines income is associated with a 3.5-percent increase in the share of GDP a given nation's government spends on redistribution (see "Down and Out in Paris and Boston," January-February 2005, page 14).

These attitudes, in turn, are rooted in U.S. history, says Christopher Jencks, whose 1973 book Inequality examined social mobility in the United States. Jencks has been studying inequality and social class since the 1960s, and has written dozens of journal articles, essays, and book chapters, as well as four more books, on the subject. He looks back to the Constitution's framers, who enshrined property rights as sacred and checked the government's ability to control the national economy. "The founding fathers didn't want the government to do that much," he says.


The Constitution is structured in such a way that it is harder to change than the constitutions of Europe's welfare states, where left-leaning groups have succeeded at writing in change. By and large, Alesina and Glaeser write, the U.S. Constitution "is still the same document approved by a minority of wealthy white men in 1776." And the "vestiges of feudalism" in European society make leftist arguments appealing there, whereas American politicians' rhetoric has emphasized individual agency since the time of George Washington (who wrote in 1783 that if citizens "should not be completely free and happy, the fault will be intirely their own"). The authors cite a 1980s history curriculum for public schools in California ("hardly the most right-wing of states," they note) that instructed, "A course should assess the role of optimism and opportunity in a land of work: the belief that energy, initiative, and inventiveness will continue to provide a promising future."


An alternative, and possibly complementary, explanation points to the United States's particular place in geography and history. Jencks also finds this persuasive. "The highest levels of inequality are found in the New World and not the Old, for reasons we don't understand," he says (see chart above). Societies with higher inequality also tend to have higher crime rates, although it's not clear which way the causal arrow runs, or if it exists. "These are societies built on conquest, many of them on slavery," Jencks adds. "A lot of the inequality may just be the legacy of those things."


Former colonies such as Haiti and Namibia inhabit the top end of the Gini scale, with coefficients of .59 and .74, respectively. But there are exceptions to the pattern: the low end of the scale includes transitional economies that are far from rich (Belarus and Moldova, with coefficients of .30 and .33), and former colonies (Ethiopia and Laos, with coefficients of .30 and .35). For all the scholarly study, consensus on whether the Gini coefficient can, in and of itself, say something good or something bad about a country is still lacking. Still, scholars are using what evidence does exist to ask, and test, whether the United States has things in common with Sri Lanka, Mali, and Russia, as it undoubtedly does with Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.K.

The excesses of the Gilded Age led, in the decades that followed, to a backlash in the form of the minimum wage and other labor laws to protect workers, business and financial-market regulation to protect consumers, social safety-net programs-Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid-and infrastructure investment to benefit all. But as the United States moves from a period of relatively balanced income distribution back into higher inequality, it remains to be seen whether these twentieth-century developments will enable the country to escape the problems that often accompany high inequality.


Left Out At The Bottom

An argument commonly made in inequality's defense is that it serves to motivate. Here, Kawachi cites evidence from the sports world. A 1990 study of golfers found that they performed best in professional tournaments, where the spread in the size of the prize money is widest. Similarly, a study of professional auto racers found that performance improved as the spread in the size of the various prizes widened.


So inequality may act on the human psyche to elicit hard work and high achievement-but it also may make us more individualistic. In a study of baseball players, teams with wider pay dispersion performed more poorly-and so did individual players within those teams. "In a world in which each individual is looking out for themselves, players will tend to concentrate on improving their own performance to the exclusion of team goals, since their own performance is what matters for moving up the pay scale," Kawachi and Bruce P. Kennedy (a former HSPH professor who passed away this year) wrote in The Health of Nations: Why Inequality Is Harmful to Your Health. "Concentrating on trying to hit more home runs or improving one's own hitting average are not necessarily the tactics that lift team performance-as opposed to, say, practicing great defense."


This gets at the ways inequality may affect the fabric of society. Perhaps motivated by inequality and the prospect of getting ahead, Americans work longer hours than their European counterparts-about 200 more hours per year, on average, than the British, and 400 more hours per year than the Swedes. Again, there are counter-examples (the Japanese work almost as much as Americans do, just 50 hours less a year), but in any case, time spent at work is time not spent with friends or family, and this has its own implications for health.


As an outreach worker in San Francisco in the 1970s, Lisa Berkman noticed that her clients in the North Beach and Chinatown neighborhoods-poor or working-class, but with the strong social connections typical of immigrant communities-had far better health than her clients in the gritty Tenderloin district, who were much more socially isolated and disconnected from one another. The link between social integration and mortality risk became the subject of Berkman's dissertation at Berkeley, where she earned her Ph.D. in 1977. At the time, the idea that social ties could protect health was radical. Now it is accepted wisdom-and a factor that, Berkman believes, helps to explain the extraordinarily high life expectancy in Spain and Italy.


But the danger of disconnectedness may go beyond being less happy or even less healthy. Kawachi and Kennedy cited a wealth of evidence that increasing income inequality goes hand in hand with a decrease in "social capital," a concept akin to community involvement that incorporates, among other things, social relationships, trust, reciprocity among friends and neighbors, and civic engagement. (Malkin professor of public policy Robert Putnam made a similar argument in his seminal 2000 book Bowling Alone.) Letting social capital atrophy means a less cohesive populace that, at the extreme, leaves entire classes of people disadvantaged and excluded. "The big worry," says Lawrence Katz, "is creating something like a caste society."


As American neighborhoods have become more integrated along racial lines, they have become more segregated along income lines and, some research indicates, with regard to all manner of other factors, including political and religious beliefs. (The Big Sort, a new book by journalist Bill Bishop, examines this evidence.) What's more, even along racial lines, American society is still far from integrated. Sociologist David R. Williams, Norman professor of public health and professor of African and African American studies, has examined racial discrimination and health in the United States and elsewhere, including South Africa, where in 1991, under apartheid, the "segregation index" was 90, meaning that 90 percent of blacks would have had to move to make the distribution even. "In the year 2000," says Williams, "in most of America's larger cities-New York City, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee-the segregation index was over 80." Only slightly lower, that is, than under legally sanctioned apartheid.


When a society is starkly divided along racial or ethnic lines, the affluent are less likely to take care of the poor, Glaeser and Alesina have found. Internationally, welfare systems are least generous in countries that are the most ethnically heterogeneous. Those U.S. states with the largest black populations have the least generous welfare systems. And in a nationwide study of people's preferences for redistribution, Erzo F.P. Luttmer, associate professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), found strong evidence for racial loyalty: people who lived near poor people of the same race were likely to support redistribution, and people who lived near poor people of a different race were less likely to do so. Differences in skin color seem to encourage the wealthy to view the poor as fundamentally different, serving as a visual cue against thinking, "There but for the grace of God go I."


Alesina's work investigates this cognitive process as an explanation for the high crime rates in less equal societies. Rather than following the common-sense explanation that the poor see what the rich have and covet it, leading to burglary and violent crime, Alesina argues that as the incomes of the rich and poor diverge, so do their interests. Members of a relatively equal society find it relatively easy to reach agreement about what the purpose and priorities of a legal system should be. But if the rich favor protecting property, while the poor care more about preventing and punishing interpersonal violent crime, the lack of consensus will produce a weak system that fails to meet the desires of either group. In one essay, his colleague Glaeser offers this apocalyptic prediction: "Great gaps between rich and poor mayŠhurt democracy and rule of law if elites prefer dictators who will protect their interests, or if the disadvantaged turn to a dictator who promises to ignore property rights."


This doesn't seem possible in a democracy such as the United States, where each citizen's vote carries the same weight regardless of income (the electoral-college system notwithstanding). In fact, given the shape of the income distribution, it seems that Americans would elect leaders whose policies favor the poor and middle class. Mean household income in 2004 was $60,528, but median household income was only $43,389. More than half of households make less money than average, so, broadly speaking, more than half of voters should favor policies that redistribute income from the top down. Instead, though, nations-and individual states-with high inequality levels tend to favor policies that allow the affluent to hang onto their money.


Filipe R. Campante, an assistant professor of public policy at HKS and a former student of Alesina's, thinks he's discovered why. After investigating what drives candidates' platforms and policy decisions, Campante has concluded that donations are at least as influential a mode of political participation as votes are.


Previous research has shown that voter turnout is low, particularly at the low end of the income spectrum, in societies with high inequality. Again, this is counterintuitive: in unequal places, poor people unhappy with government policies might be expected to turn out en masse to vote, but instead they stay home. Campaign contributions may provide the missing link.

Candidates, naturally, target voters with money because they need funds for their campaigns. And since the poor gravitate toward parties that favor redistribution and the wealthy align themselves with parties that do not, campaign contributions end up benefiting primarily parties and candidates whose platforms do not include redistribution. By the time the election comes around, the only candidates left in the race are those who've shaped their platforms to maximize fundraising; poor voters, says Campante, have already been left out. In a study of campaign contributions in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, he found that higher income inequality at the county level was associated with fewer people contributing to campaigns, but contributing a larger amount on average-so the haves participated, and the have-nots did not.


The solution, he says, is not to scrap the system altogether in favor of full public financing, but to enact contribution limits strict enough to level the playing field. He views contributions not as bribery or buying policy, but as a legitimate form of civic engagement. "The ideal system," he says, "would be a system where you have a really broad base of contributors that are contributing relatively small amounts.ŠYou want parties to be responsive to voters. Donations are a way in which parties are made responsive to voters."


Buffers Against Inequality

The effects of relative deprivation can come in a form more tangible than stress or low self-esteem. Krieger uses the example of a job interview. In a society where the average person has a cell phone, it can hurt one's job chances not to have one. Wearing old clothes to a job interview might be interpreted as a sign of not taking the interview seriously, when in fact the problem is inability to afford a new outfit. Bad teeth, which require money to fix, can trigger disgust in prospective employers and even hold people back from making friends. "Your income," Krieger says, "can decline to a point where you're no longer able to participate meaningfully in society."


Stress can also make people behave in ways they otherwise wouldn't. David Williams believes that the "hierarchy of needs" framework helps explain why, the poorer people are, the less likely they are to take care of their health. The framework, developed in 1943 by psychologist Abraham Maslow, defines the needs that motivate human behavior and the priority people assign to those needs. Physiological needs (eating, sleeping, breathing) form the foundation; not until those needs are met can people pursue needs in the higher categories (in succession: safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization). "If people are worried about their basic needs of survival and security and food and shelter," says Williams, "they cannot worry about the fact that a cigarette, which is providing relief from stress now, is going to cause lung cancer 20 years from now. If you can address the basic needs so people are no longer worried about them, you free them to consider those larger, higher-level needs that have long-term consequences for their well-being."


Lisa Berkman's latest project aims to let low-wage workers focus on such higher-order needs. In a study of nursing-home employees, Berkman found that nursing assistants, janitors, and kitchen workers had far less flexibility than higher-status workers in terms of being able to leave work if a family member fell ill, and that this lack of flexibility was related to increased risk of heart disease and chronic sleep problems. Now she is following nursing homes and retail establishments to see what happens when they implement more flexible policies. If workers in high-demand, low-wage jobs can spend more time with their families and stop worrying about getting fired if they need to handle an emergency, she says, "workplace policies may have a profound effect on health."


Improving living conditions in poor neighborhoods is another way to alleviate poverty's ill effects even in the absence of income redistribution, says Williams. The poor are more likely to smoke, to eat poorly, and to lead sedentary lives. These are personal choices-but every choice is made in context, and one's surroundings affect the choices one makes. "When people live in areas where there aren't supermarkets that sell fresh fruits and vegetables, their intake of fresh fruits and vegetables is dramatically lower," he says. "If people live in areas where there aren't sidewalks, where there aren't safe bike paths and places to walk and playgrounds, or where the rate of crime is so high that it's not safe to go outside, then their level of exercise is much lower and their rates of obesity are higher." Building parks and sidewalks and bringing farmers' markets to poor neighborhoods, then, makes it easier for residents to make healthy choices.


Another category of initiatives aims at improving living conditions for poor people by giving them vouchers to move to better neighborhoods, but the details are important, says Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, an HSPH associate professor of society, human development, and health. She is helping design the public-health component of one such program. Stemming from a landmark 2005 desegregation court case, it has already enabled about 1,300 former tenants of Baltimore public housing to move to suburban communities. "What people are expecting," she says, "is that if people move to a new neighborhood, they're automatically going to do better. Well, in fact, a lot of this is about connecting people to resources": for example, helping them find landlords who will rent to them-not the easiest thing in an unfamiliar neighborhood.


The aid doesn't stop there. Many doctors in affluent communities don't accept Medicaid; Acevedo-Garcia's proposal would have case workers help clients find doctors who do, and in some cases persuade doctors to start. "People may be used to doing their shopping at a convenience store or a liquor store," she says; case workers will tell them which grocery store has good produce at low prices, and where to catch the bus that will take them there. Something as simple as taking the new residents to a park can make a difference, she says: "They may not be used to the idea of exercising outside if they came from a neighborhood that was not safe."


Unequal Chances

"Adults' economic status is positively correlated with their parents' economic status in every society for which we have data," write Christopher Jencks and Laura Tach, a doctoral student in sociology and social policy, "but no democratic society is entirely comfortable with this fact." The prospect of upward mobility forms the very bedrock of the American dream, but analyses indicate that intergenerational mobility is no higher in the United States than in other developed democracies. In fact, a recent Brookings Institution report cites findings that intergenerational mobility is actually significantly higher in Norway, Finland, and Denmark-low-inequality countries where birth should be destiny if inequality, as some argue, fuels mobility.


In the United States, the correlation between parents' income and children's income is higher than chance: 42 percent of children born to parents in the bottom income quintile were still in the bottom quintile as adults, and 39 percent of children born to parents in the top quintile remained in the top quintile as adults, according to the Brookings analysis. But it is difficult to see whether mobility is increasing or decreasing, because it would require comparing specific individuals' incomes to their parents' incomes, against the wider backdrop of income distribution across society at that time. Because data with that level of detail do not exist for earlier periods, scholars can't say with certainty whether the results represent an increase or a decrease in mobility from other periods in American history.


Americans' steadfast belief in mobility probably stems from increases in absolute, rather than relative, mobility. As the overall economy mushroomed throughout the nation's history, the majority of people exceeded their parents' income. Recall Katz's apartment building analogy; rather than tenants moving from one floor to another, the entire building was shifting ever higher on a hill. But "if anything," Alesina and Glaeser write, "the American poor seem to be much more 'trapped' than their European counterparts," in the sense that fewer people who start life in the bottom quintile ever make it out.

This is puzzling given American society's emphasis on fairness and openness. Lee professor of economics Claudia Goldin and Katz detect an explanation in the increasing cost of collegetuition. In 1950, the average tuition price at a private college was roughly 14 percent of the U.S. median family income; public college tuition was even lower (only 4 percent). Percentages for both types of institutions fell further in the ensuing decades, bottoming out around 1980, but then rising steeply ever since. In 2005, the cost of attending the average public college was 11 percent of median family income; for private colleges, the average was 45 percent. There is financial aid, but not enough, and the system "can be harder to crack than Fort Knox," Katz and Goldin write in their new book, The Race between Education and Technology.


For most of the twentieth century, the average American exceeded his parents' education level by a significant margin: between 1900 and 1975, the average American's educational attainment grew by 6.2 years, or about 10 months per decade. Then, between 1975 and 1990, the authors find that there was "almost no increase at all"; from 1990 to 2000, there was a gain of just six months. Although college graduation rates for women are still rising steadily, for men they have barely increased since the days of the Vietnam draft.


At the same time, the "college wage premium" has also increased. In 1975, the average college graduate's hourly wage was 24 percent higher than the average high-school graduate's. By 2002, that number had risen to 43 percent. Katz and Goldin say this increase indicates higher demand for workers with college degrees, even as computers have eliminated the type of jobs a high-school-diploma recipient or mediocre college graduate would have done 25 years ago: clerical work, basic accounting, middle management. Technology has exerted downward pressure on those workers' pay, explaining stagnating wages at the middle and bottom of the income distribution.


The United States once led the world in the rate at which its citizens finished college; it now falls in the middle of the OECD pack. It could lead again if Americans made a decision to fund higher education the way they chose to fund universal public high-school education early in the last century. "If you had made people borrow money to go to high school in the early twentieth century," says Katz, "you wouldn't have seen the same sort of expansion." But as technology continues to advance, if Americans do not break down barriers to higher education, the authors foresee an even more acute shortage of highly trained workers-and, other things being equal, a further increase in inequality.

Elizabeth Gudrais '01 is associate editor of this magazine.

Copyright ©1996-2008, Harvard Magazine, Inc.

Growth of For-profit Education Management Organizations Now Leveling Off


Growth of For-profit Education Management Organizations Now Leveling Off
July 30, 2008

CONTACT: Gary Miron -- (269) 599-7965;
Alex Molnar -- (480) 965-1886;

TEMPE, Ariz and BOULDER, Colo. (Wednesday, July 30, 2008) -- The 10th annual "Profiles of For-Profit Education Management Organizations: 2007-2008" released today finds that the growth of for-profit Education Management Organizations (EMOs) appears to be leveling off. The report was released by the Commercialism in Education Research Unit and the Education Policy Research Unit at ASU, and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Key findings of the new report include:

1) In 2007-2008 the number of for-profit EMOs is substantially unchanged from 2006-2007. The report documents a net increase of two new companies profiled, bringing the total in the U.S. to 50 for-profit EMOs.

2) The overall number of schools managed by EMOs declined by 11 over the past year. In 2007-2008 a total of 533 schools were managed by for-profit EMOs. Edison Schools Inc. had the largest net decrease in the number of schools that it reported managing, from 97 to 80 schools.

3) Although the number of schools operated by EMOs decreased in 2007-2008, the total enrollment in the EMO-managed schools increased to 254,413. The report documents an overall increase of 16,000 students over the last two school years.

4) Most EMO-managed schools are charter schools (85%). A small but growing number (8%) are virtual schools.

5) Eighty-four percent of for-profit schools are managed by large EMOs (those managing more than 10 schools). Schools run by large EMOs account for 89 percent of students enrolled in for-profit schools.

6) Most EMO-managed schools are primary schools (60%). Primary schools run by large EMOs have a higher median enrollment than primary schools run by medium- and small-size EMOs.

Arizona State University Professor Alex Molnar, the lead author of the Profiles report, says, "while new smaller companies continue to enter the market, the for-profit school management industry continues to be dominated by larger EMOs that concentrate on primary schools enrolling relatively large numbers of students."

Co-author, Western Michigan University Professor Gary Miron points out "although the data suggest that the growth of EMOs has slowed and is leveling off, many of the medium and large-size EMOs have been diversifying and expanding into new service areas, such as the provision of supplemental education services -- a sector that is less regulated and shows growth potential."

Gary Miron, Professor
Western Michigan University

Alex Molnar, Professor and Director
Commercialism in Education Research Unit
Education Policy Research Unit


Why do Asian students generally get higher marks than Latinos?

Interesting piece that needs to get un-packed. The immigration policy and pre-immigration socioeconomic status and schooling differences together with the present discriminatory landscape in the U.S. needs to get figured into this analysis. These are hinted at but are largely unexplored.


Why do Asian students generally get higher marks than Latinos?
Trying to bridge the grade divide in L.A. schools: Lincoln High students have candid ideas.
By Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 16, 2008
The eight students walked into a room at Lincoln High School prepared to discuss an issue many people, including some of their teachers, considered taboo.

They were blunt. Carlos Garcia, 17, an A student with a knack for math, said, "My friends, most of them say, 'You're more Asian than Hispanic.' "

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"I think Carlos is Asian at heart," said Julie Loc, 17, causing Carlos to laugh good-naturedly. Asian students who get middling grades often get another response, she said.

"They say, 'Are you really Asian?' " Julie said.

"It's sad but true," said Eliseo Garcia, a 17-year-old with long rocker hair, an easy manner and good grades. "I had an Asian friend, but he didn't necessarily get that great a grades. We used to say, 'He's Mexican at heart.' "

What accounts for such self-deprecating humor? Or the uneven academic performance that prompts it?

The state's top education official, Supt. Jack O'Connell, called for that kind of discussion last fall when he decried the "racial achievement gap" separating Asian and non-Latino white students from Latinos and blacks.

At The Times' request, the Eastside students gathered to talk about this touchy subject.

Lincoln Heights is mostly a working-class Mexican American area, but it's also a first stop for Asian immigrants, many of them ethnic Chinese who fled Vietnam.

With about 2,500 students, Lincoln High draws from parts of Boyle Heights, El Sereno and Chinatown.

Both the neighborhood and student body are about 15% Asian. And yet Asians make up 50% of students taking Advanced Placement classes. Staffers can't remember the last time a Latino was valedictorian.

"A lot of my friends say the achievement gap is directly attributable to the socioeconomic status of students, and that is not completely accurate," O'Connell said. "It is more than that."

But what is it? O'Connell called a summit in Sacramento that drew 4,000 educators, policymakers and experts to tackle the issue. Some teachers stomped out in frustration and anger.

No Lincoln students stomped out of their discussion. Neither did any teachers in a similar Lincoln meeting. But the observations were frank, and they clearly made some uncomfortable.

To begin with, the eight students agreed on a few generalities: Latino and Asian students came mostly from poor and working-class families.

According to a study of census data, 84% of the Asian and Latino families in the neighborhoods around Lincoln High have median annual household incomes below $50,000. And yet the Science Bowl team is 90% Asian, as is the Academic Decathlon team.

"Look at the statistics. It's true," said George De La Paz, 17, whose single mother works as a house cleaner.

Asian parents are more likely to pressure their children to excel academically, the students agreed.

"They only start paying attention if I don't do well," said Karen Chu, 15, whose parents emigrated from Vietnam. "They don't reward me for getting straight A's. I don't get anything for that. But if I get a B, they're like, 'What's this?' "

If her grades slipped, she said, her parents laid on the guilt extra thick. "My parents are always like, 'If you don't do well in school, then it's all going to be worth nothing,' " Karen said, laughing nervously.

Julie Loc, the daughter of a seamstress and a produce-truck driver, said that if she gets a B, her parents ask whether she needs tutoring. She said her father used to compare her to other people's children, noting their hard course loads or saying, "They have a 4.3 [grade-point average]. Why do you only have a 4.0?' "

Julie said her mother, Kin Ho, finally told her father to stop making comparisons. Ho, in an interview, said with a slightly embarrassed smile, "My daughter has embraced American culture, where she expects my reassurance and approval. Our children, if they did something well, they would ask us if we were proud of them, if they did good. They ask if we love them."

George said his mother, a Mexican immigrant, has high expectations for him too, but she is not so white-knuckled when it comes to school. She wants him to do well -- he's now thinking of college -- but the field of endeavor is up to him.

"She said, 'I came here to do better for you,' " he said. "But that's about it. Being happy and getting by, that's what she wants."

For Carlos Garcia, the one with the knack for math, the message from his parents was to focus on school. Neither got to finish grade school in their native countries.

His mother, Maribel, from El Salvador, is a homemaker; his father, Santos, a Mexican immigrant, is a drywall finisher who once took Carlos and his older brother to work with him -- to scare them away from manual labor. Two of their children have college degrees, one is still in college and Carlos, the only Latino on Lincoln's Academic Decathlon team, wants to attend Caltech.

Ericka Saracho, 16, an A student, said her Latino family did not push her to do well in school. When she got a rare B, "they're like, 'Oh, wow, Ericka finally got a B! How do you feel about that?' " she said. She is one of the few Latina students on Lincoln's Science Bowl team.

The students talked not just about parental expectations, but also about those of peers. Karen drew laughter when she said of other students, "They expect me to be smart. Even if, like, I do everything wrong on purpose, they still copy off of me -- as if I'm right just because I'm Asian."

She said expectations came into play in an even odder way in Lincoln High's hallways.

"In our school we have tardy sweeps, and normally the staff members let the Asians go," Karen said. "They don't really care if we're late."

The group, nodding, erupted into laughter. "They don't even ask them for a pass sometimes," George added.

"Generally speaking -- like it's stereotypical that Asians all do better -- I also think there's a stereotypical view that Asians are usually late," Julie said. "They'll come to school late, but they'll get to class and do their work."

This drew more laughter.

Many factors influence academic performance: class size, poverty, and school and neighborhood resources. But as the discussions at Lincoln show, expectations loom large.

Fidel Nava, a coordinator for English learners at Lincoln, said some Latino students say that Asians get higher grades simply because, well, they're Asian.

"In a sense, they have come to believe that it's OK for Asians to be smart and not for Hispanics," said Nava, who immigrated from Mexico at 14.

Nava, the only one of six siblings to go to college, said he was once like many of his students. His parents wanted the children to finish high school, but there also was an expectation that they get jobs and help the family.

"A lot of my relatives don't see my job as a stressful job at all," Nava said. "If I tell them I'm tired, they say, 'Why? You're not doing any labor. You're not doing anything.' "

Rocio Chavez, 18, said that even though her older sister graduated from high school, their mother didn't really expect her to go to college.

"I guess she didn't expect that from me, either," Rocio said. "And now that I'm going to move on to college, she's kind of scared. She gets kind of sad I'm leaving. She's like, 'You're supposed to graduate from high school, go to work and help me out.' "

Frank D. Bean, a professor of sociology at UC Irvine's Center for Research on Immigration, Population and Public Policy, has studied the Mexican work ethic and found that work and education occupy the same pedestal, and in some cases, work is even more valued.

Bean said his research shows that children of Latino immigrants, if they drop out of school, are more likely to be working than most other students who leave school.

"In Latino families, being able to work to provide defines your manhood, your worthiness," said Min Zhou, a UCLA sociology professor who has studied working-class Korean and Chinese communities.

Latino and Asian families in Lincoln Heights were essentially in the same socioeconomic boat, she said, but Asian immigrants were more likely to have been more affluent and had better education opportunities in their native countries.

Of course, there are exceptions to stereotypes at Lincoln. "My mom just wants me to pass," said Thin Lam, 17.

But Thin said counselors assumed he wanted to take a slew of AP classes, and a counselor urged him to take AP calculus.

"I said, 'Yeah, sure, I want to take it,' " he said. "In the end, I dropped it."

A few hours after the eight students concluded their discussion, some teachers gathered in Principal James Molina's office.

"I feel a little bit uncomfortable talking about racial and ethnic generalizations," said Cynthia High, a 20-year teaching veteran now in charge of teachers' aides and other programs.

"In some situations, it sparks a good conversation. In others, it's more taboo-ish to talk about it," said William Olmedo, who teaches AP physics.

Barbara Paulson, who coordinates Lincoln's magnet program and teaches AP biology, said it had been understood for a long time that teachers needed to try harder to recruit Latino students for AP classes because "the Asian kids come on in droves."

Gilbert Martinez, who teaches AP government, said he didn't think the school did as good a job as it could to raise expectations among Latino students and to get them into AP classes.

"But I do," Paulson said.

"I'm not saying you, Barbara. I'm saying all over."

Olmedo said many capable Latino students refused to take AP classes or join other academically rigorous activities.

Teachers said they were saddened by self-defeating attitudes.

"I think the thing I always hear from the Latino kids is, 'Oh, well, Miss, he's Asian, she's Asian. Of course they do well,' " said Alli Lauer, who teaches English. "It's frustrating to hear them do it to each other."

But as one student said in a separate interview, many Latino students are responding to cues. Johana Najera, 17, said the Academic Decathlon offers a not-so-subtle cue about who belongs.

"We already know that it's Asian, and they kind of market it more for Asians," Najera said. She noted that the shirts for the Academic Decathlon team have a logo done in the style of anime, Japanese animation. "It appeals more to Asian students," she said.

Martinez turned the conversation toward parents' attitudes, summarizing a discussion from one of his Chicano studies classes.

"Let's say a Latino student is studying and an Asian student is studying," Martinez said. "The Latino parent will often say, 'Hey, come help me out real quick, then you can go back to your studying.' Where the Asian parent will say, 'Oh, you're doing your homework. OK, you finish, and then after you're done, you come help me.' "

High recalled a good Latino student she had a few years ago. He also was a gang member.

"He would wear baggy pants, and he would load up his pants with books," she said. "He looked around to make sure no one was seeing him so he could look like the baddest kid in the block."

The teachers were then asked about tardy sweeps, the topic the students had found so amusing. Was it true that Asians could wander outside class without a hall pass?

"My Asian kids laugh at that," Olmedo said. "I say, 'Take the pass.' They say, 'I'm Asian. Who's going to ask an Asian student for a pass?' "

"Oh, you're kidding!" High said with a gasp.

"I'll send one of my [Latino] boys out just to get water, and here comes the security, 'Please make sure you send him out with a pass,' and I'll say I will," Olmedo continued. "And the Asian kid will walk around the whole campus, the whole day, the whole week, for a whole month!"

Don Brewer, an English teacher, said some Latino students were allowed to slide by without hall passes, including athletes and others involved in school activities.

"But you know," Brewer said, "when you're looking down the hall and you see that one kid pop out, you go, 'OK, he's Asian. I can go back in.' You know, I think that happens. It's obvious it happens."

High shook her head. "But I must say I don't feel comfortable with that. And if we're doing that, that's not OK. That's just not OK."

"Oh, it's happening," Olmedo said. "It's happening."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Judge orders Texas to fix secondary-school bilingual ed

This is big step in a positive direction!

Associated Press
July 26th 2008

DALLAS — A federal judge on Friday gave the state of Texas until the end of January to come up with a plan to improve education programs for secondary school students with limited proficiency in English, criticizing the state education agency for "failing to ensure equal education opportunities in all schools."

U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice said the Texas Education Agency is violating the civil rights of Spanish-speaking students under the federal Equal Education Opportunity Act. Furthermore, the state's monitoring of programs for students with limited English-language skills is "fatally flawed" because of unqualified monitors, undercounting of students with limited English proficiency and arbitrary standards, Justice said.

The 1981 Bilingual and Special Education Programs Act, a measure passed by the Texas Legislature 27 years ago that staved off court action addressing discrimination in Texas schools, has not improved the schooling of secondary students with limited English proficiency, Justice ruled.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, an organization that helped litigate the case on behalf of other advocacy groups, said primarily Spanish-speaking students in Texas have higher dropout rates, lower graduation rates and lower achievement rates than their English-speaking counterparts.

"The clear failure of secondary LEP students unquestionably demonstrates that, despite its efforts, TEA has not met its obligation to remedy the language deficiencies of Texas students," Justice wrote. "After a quarter century of sputtering implementation, defendants have failed to achieve results that demonstrate they are overcoming language barriers for secondary LEP students. Failed implementation cannot prolong the existence of a failed program in perpetuity."

The ruling gave the TEA until Jan. 31, 2009, to come up with plans to improve secondary school programs for students with limited English proficiency and the monitoring of those programs. Those plans must be implemented by the 2009-10 school year.

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe declined to comment Friday night, saying she hadn't seen the ruling.

In a statement, MALDEF hailed the ruling as the "most comprehensive legal decision concerning the civil rights of English language learners in the last 25 years."

Justice's ruling affects "every single high school in Texas," Luis Figueroa, a MALDEF attorney, told the Associated Press. "Every school district is going to have to realize the TEA is going to be looking at their accountability of English language learners."

Justice did say in the ruling that the problems in secondary schools are not seen in the state's elementary school programs.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

More Shop, Get News Online -- Yet Digital Divide Widens

Check out the full report: PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians and Information Technology


As Californians Broaden Use of Web, Latino and Low-income Residents Left Behind

SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 25, 2008 — At least half of Californians go online to get news, make purchases, look for health information, or visit government websites. But as the state’s residents integrate the Internet into their daily lives, there are signs that the digital divide is widening for some groups, particularly Latino and low-income residents. These are among the key findings in a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) in collaboration with the California Emerging Technology Fund.

Californians value access to the web: Nearly all Internet users (92%) say it is at least somewhat important in everyday life, and even 56 percent of those who don’t go online agree. But disparities in Californians’ use of technology reveal a digital divide: Residents who are white, black, or over age 55 have significantly increased their use of computers and the Internet since 2000, while Latinos, Asians, and low-income residents have not.

“Many Californians go online to research the decisions they make as voters, taxpayers, and consumers,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Yet there are tremendous differences in access to critical information that put many at a disadvantage in their everyday lives. At a time when technology’s role is growing and in a state that has led the way, this poses a major policy challenge.”

Computer Use Similar in California and Nation

Three in four Californians (75%) use a computer at home, school, or work, a statistic that has held steady since 2000. A 2008 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found similar results (74%) nationwide. The percentage of Californians who use the Internet has increased since 2000, from 65 percent to 70 percent. Today, Californians and adults across the nation are equally likely to have Internet access at home (63% vs. 62% in the 2008 Pew survey) and a broadband connection (55% each).

White, Black, Older Californians Increase Use

Differences emerge in the way demographic groups use technology.

* Race/ethnicity: Since 2000, computer use has grown among whites (79% to 85%) and blacks (76% to 83%), as has Internet use (70% to 81% for whites, 60% to 82% for blacks). Among Latinos, computer use has declined (64% to 58%) and Internet use is unchanged (47% to 48%). Asians have seen declines in both their use of computers (91% to 81%) and the Internet (84% to 80%).
* Age and income: Internet use has grown sharply among those age 55 and older (42% to 58%), but not among adults with household incomes less than $40,000 (47% to 49%). Adults under age 35 are more likely to use the Internet (78%) than older adults. Almost all adults with household incomes of $80,000 or more use computers (94%) and the Internet (92%).

Fewer Latinos Have Computers, Web Access at Home

A digital divide is also apparent among ethnic/racial groups, income levels, and regions when comparing rates of computer ownership, Internet access, and broadband connections at home.

* Race/ethnicity: Less than half of Latinos (48%) have a home computer compared to about eight in 10 or more for whites (86%), Asians (84%), and blacks (79%). Just four in 10 Latinos (40%) have Internet access and a third (34%) broadband connection at home. In contrast, majorities in other racial or ethnic groups have both Internet access and broadband.
* Income: Among households with incomes under $40,000, half have home computers, but only four in 10 (40%) have home Internet access and just a third (33%) have broadband. At higher income levels, overwhelming majorities of Californians have home computers, Internet access, and broadband.
* Region: Majorities in each region of the state say they have home computers and Internet access, but Los Angeles residents report lower rates of broadband connection (48%) than residents in the San Francisco Bay Area (65%), Orange County/San Diego (58%), Inland Empire (56%), and Central Valley (53%). Rural residents are somewhat less likely than urban residents to have a computer (65% vs. 73%), Internet connection (58% vs. 63%), or broadband (51% vs. 56%).

What Are Californians Doing Online?

Californians are far more likely than they were in 1999 (PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians and Their Government, September 1999) to report that they go online to shop (52% vs. 30% in 1999) or get news about current events (55% vs. 43% in 1999), and slightly more likely to seek information about their work or jobs (49% vs. 45% in 1999). Half of Californians (50%) look for health information online or visit government websites. Less than half (47%) bank or manage finances online or look for community events and activities (47%). Fewer go online to use government resources, such as downloading forms (43%); get housing or real estate information (40%); engage in education activities, such as taking a class (27%); or use social networking sites (26%), such as Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn.

Stark differences emerge in the way demographic groups use the Internet. Latinos are more likely than they were in 1999 to go online for news (35% vs. 28%), but far less likely to do so than whites (67%), blacks (62%), and Asians (61%). Comparing age groups, most people under age 35 (62%) and between ages 35 and 54 (61%) get news online, compared to 41 percent of residents age 55 and older.

While more Latinos report shopping on the web today (29% vs. 16% in 1999), they are far less likely than whites (67%), blacks (63%), or Asians (58%) to research or make purchases online. Among other differences:

* Health information: While half of Californians say they get health information online, lower income adults (30%) and Latinos (31%) are the least likely to do so.
* Social networking: Half of residents under age 35 use social networking sites, compared to 20 percent in the 35-54 age group and 8 percent of adults over age 55.
* School websites: More than half of parents (56%) visit their children’s school websites. However, only 30 percent of those with household incomes under $40,000 do so, compared to 84 percent of those with incomes of $80,000 or more.

Who’s Texting?
Some experts have suggested that mobile devices may be the platform to bridge the digital divide because a phone and service plan costs less than a computer and Internet connection. In California, 75 percent of all adults and solid majorities in all demographic categories have cell phones. Whites (83%) and blacks (78%) are more likely than Asians (72%) and Latinos (63%) to have cell phones.

Nearly six in 10 use their cell phones to send or receive text messages, and younger residents (87%) are the most likely to do so. They are also most likely to use their cell phones for email or to access the Internet. Overall, one in four Californians uses cell phones for email (26%) or to go online (25%).

More Key Findings:

* More have DSL connections – Page 12
To access the Internet, 29 percent have DSL, 19 percent have cable modems, 5 percent have wireless, and 2 percent have fiber optic or T-1 connections. Just 7 percent have dial-up connections.
* Most say cities should provide free wireless – Page 19
As local governments consider the benefits and difficulties of providing free wireless Internet access, 67 percent of Californians say it is a good idea and 26 percent say it is a bad one.
* Comfort with technology, worries about security – Pages 20, 21
Internet users are comfortable using technology but less confident that they can keep viruses and spyware out of their computers. They’re even less confident about the security and privacy of financial transactions online.
* Californians concerned about digital divide – Page 22
Two-thirds (65%) think Californians in lower-income areas are less likely to have broadband Internet access, and nearly as many (62%) are at least somewhat concerned about the disparities.

About the Survey

This is the first survey in a series on public opinion and information technology conducted with funding from the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) and ZeroDivide. The report is based on a telephone survey of 2,503 California adult residents, including 2,253 interviewed on landline telephones and 250 on cell phones, conducted between June 3 and June 17, 2008. Interviews were conducted in English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Vietnamese, and Korean. The sampling error for the 2,503 adults is +/- 2%. The sampling error for subgroups is larger. For more information on methodology, see page 25.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey which he has directed since 1998. This is the 87th PPIC Statewide Survey in a series that has generated a database that includes the responses of more than 185,000 Californians.

PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.

Poll: 63% of Californians say they're worse off than year ago

Here's the link to check out the full report

By Karen de Sá | Mercury News

In a half-century of polling, the independent, non-partisan Field Research has never recorded so many Californians reporting woeful financial conditions as this month: A record 63 percent now say they are worse off than they were a year ago.

Eighty-six percent of registered voters surveyed this month feel California is in "bad" economic times, but those are only the numbers. The reality behind them affects the young and old, with retirees lining up for handouts for the first time ever, and children at risk of hunger.

Survey respondent Milton Cadena of San Jose has his own worries at home, then goes to work to face even greater desperation. As a manager for Catholic Charities, his salary from a non-profit agency has remained flat, forcing his wife to seek work instead of caring full time for the couple's two small children. The family gave up on new clothes, and no longer visits Santa Cruz and Monterey on weekends - instead walking to local parks to save on gas.

Arriving at work at the Eastside Neighborhood Center in Alum Rock, Cadena is among the fortunate. The number of senior citizens showing up for free lunches each weekday has doubled in the past year from 50 people to more than 100.

Young mothers and children have been turned away so often from the elders-only lunch that the agency launched an informal food handout with donations from local grocers. Now, more than 100 people regularly line up for eggs, tortillas, milk and juice.

"They are outside waiting for that food at least once a week," Cadena said.

In the latest of a series of survey results released this month, the Field Poll - which began polling in 1961 - found unprecedented expressions of economic hardship.

Low-income residents reported the greatest hardship in this month's random sample of 422 registered voters statewide, with 72 percent saying they were worse off than last year. But even the more comfortable classes reported taking hits: 66 percent of middle-income residents reported an income loss, and 49 percent of those with household incomes of more than $100,000 did as well.

Almost half of all respondents expected no improvement in their crumbling financial state and nearly a quarter think it will get worse.

"This is really showing that the economic downturn is affecting a broad base of people, broader than we've seen in previous downturns," said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo, noting gas prices and the plunge in stocks and home values as drivers of the economic woes. "People are seeing a lot of their assets deteriorate."

Even the relatively comfortable expressed concern.

Laura Dingler, a self-described stay-at-home mom, said life in unincorporated Menlo Park is fine - for now. Dingler and her partner, a lawyer representing area school districts, are raising their two daughters with no significant income reduction over last year.

But there's plenty keeping the couple "in a fog of nervousness," Dingler said.

Schools are so strapped they could soon cut back on lawyer services. And the couple's mortgage is with IndyMac Bank, which collapsed this month in a major bank failure.

The Field Poll found still others whose trouble had already blown indoors.

Menus have changed this year for Elizabeth B. Williams of Oakland, who retired from the dry-cleaning industry and at age 81 is raising an 11-year-old adopted daughter on a fixed income. For the first time in her life, she is relying heavily on charity.

"A year ago, I could afford to buy what I needed," Williams said. "Now everything is just sky-high."

Williams no longer can pay for a much-needed paint job on her house, and she can't fix a broken toilet. Dinner was sometimes steak or roast; now it's only beans and meatloaf, or the chicken legs occasionally handed out at the food bank she visits each week.

After a lifetime of work, it's humiliating, Williams said. "I feel very small. Very inadequate."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Immigrant Rights Groups Challenge ID Theft Arrests

This is outrageous. Yet another example of the negative effects of Homeland Security's overtaking of immigration and its treatment of undocumented workers.

You can also read more about the interpretor mentioned in this article from a previous post on this blog entitled "An Interpretor Speaking up for Migrants"

Here's the link to check out the "Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act of 2004"


by Jennifer Ludden
NPR Morning Edition
July 24, 2008

· For years, the chief punishment for immigrants caught working illegally in the United States has been deportation. But prosecutors are now bringing criminal charges that include aggravated identity theft, which can bring a hefty prison sentence. Immigrant rights groups and some members of Congress are challenging the practice.

A congressional panel is meeting Thursday to look at the controversial fallout from an immigration raid on an Iowa meat-packing plant in May. Not long ago, illegal immigrants swept up in such raids faced administrative charges and swift deportation. But in recent years, the Bush administration has started bringing criminal charges against immigrants who use fake documents, including stolen Social Security numbers.

After the raid at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, more than 250 workers were sentenced to five months in prison. Rights groups, defense lawyers and even some judges are questioning the Bush administration's strategy.

Iowa immigration attorney Dan Vondra says he was stunned to see immigrant workers from the plant charged with aggravated identity theft. Congress created that law in 2004 to toughen penalties for the growing problem of identity theft.

Still, Vondra said, "When you think of identity theft, what you really want to target is somebody getting credit cards in your name, ruining your credit, using your name to commit crimes, things of that nature."

The immigrants had bought stolen Social Security numbers to help them find work, Vondra said. In fact, one of the translators at the court proceedings has said the mainly Guatemalan immigrants he encountered had no idea what a Social Security card was — let alone that the numbers on it belonged to real people.

Challenges In The Courts

Last year, another Iowa attorney used that argument in court. Gary Koos' client had been arrested at a concrete company after buying an ID off the street in order to fill out employment forms. Koos didn't think that fit the crime of aggravated identity theft.

"If you want to think of it in legal terms, it would be that a person has to be put upon notice of what the crime is," Koos said. "And in this case, it's knowingly to use someone else's identity. My client didn't know he had someone else's Social Security number, he just had a number."

Koos lost the case on appeal, and his immigrant client is now serving five years in federal prison. But Koos' argument has been backed by other appeals courts — and he thinks the Supreme Court may need to resolve the dispute.

The issue is coming up more often because of another part of the Bush administration's immigration crackdown. More and more companies are using a federal computer program that can detect fake Social Security numbers. But it can't tell when real numbers are used by another person — which has fueled a growing market for stolen IDs.

"The issue is whether people using false identifications should be held accountable for that," said Bob Teig, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in northern Iowa, which prosecuted the Agriprocessors case.

Teig said he didn't know whether any of the workers charged with aggravated ID theft had used Social Security numbers for anything but work. But that's not the point, he said.

"The point is, by the time it happens it's too late. The statute is not just designed to punish, the statute is designed to prevent," Teig said.

A Stiff Mandatory Sentence

To be clear, the Agriprocessors employees did not plead guilty to aggravated ID theft. But because the charge carries a two-year prison sentence as its mandatory minimum, it put pressure on them to accept a plea deal on lesser charges.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has called for a hearing to look at that procedure. She's also an immigration attorney, and she questions whether due process was upheld.

"Hundreds of people were convinced to plead guilty to a crime without really an adequate opportunity to see if they had any remedy under immigration law," Lofgren said. "And of course, now that they've pled guilty to a crime, they have no remedies that they might otherwise have had."

Not all arrested immigrant workers are being sentenced to jail time. But federal immigration officials say incarceration can be an important deterrent. And Julie Myers, head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says that some victims of this kind of ID theft suffer financial and legal hardships.

"We think it's tragic and unfortunate when people break the law by coming here," Myers said, "and then break the law again by actually stealing the identity of U.S. citizens."

So far this year, the immigration agency has made more than 900 criminal arrests.

THE TROUBLE WITH ABSTINENCE: Texas keeps a tight lid on sex ed

In the little time I've spent working with Austin HS students (young women) I can say that talking about sexuality is a major topic of discussion for them. A policy that places stringent limits their ability to discuss and gain information on this issue is very counterproductive to preparing youth for life. My personal opinion.


Area schools differ in what they tell teens about sex, but not by much.

Monday, July 14, 2008

When it comes to sex, what kids are taught in school varies widely from state to state and often from school district to school district.

In Texas, the education code treats human sexuality differently from the rest of the public school curriculum. Unlike subjects such as English or history, course materials dealing with sexual issues are reviewed by local advisory councils of parents and community representatives, with the specific content of what's taught to be decided by each school board.

But local latitude goes only so far, thanks to Texas' appetite for federally funded abstinence programs — it leads the nation in spending for abstinence instruction— and the state's restrictions on what teachers may tell their students about sex and contraceptives.

In the Austin Independent School District, high school teachers routinely leave pamphlets and brochures about teen pregnancy, contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases on a table in the classroom. But their health textbooks omit information on contraceptives, which is relegated to an optional supplement.

As in all public schools in Texas, Austin district teachers are forbidden to hand out condoms, and the district does not allow instruction on proper use. The state requires that information about condoms be given "in terms of human use reality rates" — an estimate that condoms are effective, on average, only 85 percent of the time, with failures usually due to improper handling or inconsistent use.

That's in contrast to some schools in California, where teachers can demonstrate how to wear condoms by rolling them onto bananas. And in Portland, Maine, school board members approved a measure last year that allows middle school students, who range from 11 to 15 years old, to get birth control prescriptions from the school's health center.

Twenty years ago, Texas teachers had more freedom to talk about condoms and birth control methods as part of health courses that covered a broad range of sexual, reproductive and family issues. That is now considered "comprehensive" sex education. With few exceptions, it is a thing of the past in Texas public schools.

That dismays state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who co-authored abstinence legislation in 1995, believing it still gave school districts room to fully inform students about condom and contraceptive use. Instead, he said, conservatives have used the education code to limit what students are taught.

"Abstinence should be discussed like a method of birth control, but that's where they're not following the law," Coleman said. "I think they're just saying, 'Don't have sex.' "

Indeed, individual school districts could have a broader discussion about sexual matters in the classroom if they want to, said Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency. And though Texas schools are not required to teach sex education, state curriculum standards (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) set expectations regarding knowledge of sexual matters, she said.

"We set the ultimate goal so that students will know about sex education and abstinence, but we don't tell districts how to achieve that goal. We give them the flexibility to decide how," Ratcliffe said.

Few school districts have done so, leaving some teachers uncertain how much information they can give their students.

"That's something (the Hays school district) is looking at right now. How far can we go when we're talking about contraception?" said Whitney Self, a health teacher at Chapa Middle School.

'It breaks my heart'

Some parents say that more information about sexual matters is better than none.

Magdalena Cano said that while she was growing up her mother made her "scared to death to talk about sex." So Cano, now 40, vowed to be honest and open with her own daughter about sex. It's especially important to her now that her 16-year-old daughter, Jessica Enyioha, a Crockett High School student, is dating for the first time.

Cano said she wants schools to teach everything about sex.

"Condoms, birth control, STDs, everything," said Cano, who sees many pregnant teens in her job as a family support worker with Healthy Families Travis County.

"Unfortunately, in the program I work with, we're seeing the moms younger and younger, so I really feel like the more information, the better," said Cano. "It's not to say (getting pregnant) won't happen, but hopefully they'll make informed decisions."

The same goes for Mary Galer, a grandmother to three teenage girls, one of whom is eight months pregnant.

"She'll have the baby while she's 16," Galer said of her granddaughter, who recently graduated from Crockett. "It breaks my heart."

Galer said she recently enrolled her 14-year-old granddaughter, the youngest of the three, in teen pregnancy prevention classes at the University of Texas campus. "With the youngest," Galer said of her granddaughter, "there's still hope."

But Monica Reyes, the mother of two boys in Hyde Park Baptist School, said instruction on sex and contraceptives should take place at home, not school, and that discussing these subjects with her children is her "right as a parent."

A 2006 national survey reported that 82 percent of parents want sex education that teaches students about not only abstinence but other methods of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, such as condoms and birth control methods. The survey, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, showed that 68.5 percent of parents want schools to teach proper use of condoms. Years before, another survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found similar results.

Abstinence proponents hail their own study, done by Zogby International in 2003, which found that the majority of parents support values taught in abstinence-only programs, teaching, for instance, that sex should be linked to love and intimacy, which are most likely to occur in the context of marriage.

'A no, no, no thing'

Texas leads the nation in the amount of federal funding it gets for abstinence programs (almost $17 million, matched with $3 million in state funds last year), which trickles down to more than 1,200 school districts and charter schools through direct grants and grants to private contractors. The money has a single purpose: teaching "the social psychological and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity."

Even school districts that don't take the money, such as Austin, may contract with companies that do, and that abstinence instruction is defined by federal strictures. School districts that do neither are still bound by the state education code, which is similarly restrictive.

Ten school districts in Central Texas, including Austin, Eanes, Hays and Leander, have policies emphasizing that abstinence be taught as the only sure protection from pregnancy and STDs and limiting instruction on contraceptives. The Austin district's policy does allow "spontaneous class discussions generated by student questions."

Rita Gonzales, a health teacher at Bowie High School, said she is comfortable having discussions about contraceptives with her students. "We're hoping that the kids would stay abstinent until they are married, but we're not stopped from talking about birth control. We just can't show them how to use it."

However, she said talking about condoms was "like a no, no, no thing" in the mid-1990s when she taught at Leander High School. "We weren't told either way, but it was assumed we couldn't," Gonzales said.

In the six years that Jan Halstead has been executive director of abstinence programs in the Leander schools, she does not remember a time when teachers couldn't discuss contraceptives, though she said the district's sex education policy changed about the time she started.

"The way it's generally presented is, if you're in a relationship — if you're married — and you don't want to have a baby, here are some preventative methods," Halstead said. "If you use this method, this is the percentage of times that it works and here's the time it doesn't work."

The abstinence message is not only about sex. It also emphasizes self-empowerment, self-respect and being comfortable with setting physical boundaries. The idea is that choosing to refrain from sex will not only prevent a pregnancy or an STD, but lead to a healthy lifestyle, with fewer distractions from school and a better relationship with parents.

As a component of the health course that's required for high school graduation, abstinence programs are the only portion of the academic curriculum routinely taught by outside contractors instead of accredited teachers.

"The law is broad enough that any course could be contracted out, but it's still a rarity," said the TEA's Ratcliffe.

Tracy Lunoff, the Austin district's school health coordinator, said there's a difference between teaching a class and presenting one, and abstinence contractors simply add to information teachers already have given students.

"We assume that (the contractors) have done their own pre-screening of their volunteers," she said., 246-0043


Curriculum content shall ... include the most current and scientifically accurate information regarding child and adolescent health issues, contraception and accurate information on failure rates, and risk reduction of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including HIV.

Abstinence shall be taught as the only sure protection from risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection.

Contraceptive devices shall not be demonstrated nor disseminated in district facilities.

Spontaneous class discussions generated by student questions shall not be precluded by this policy.

The Texas Education Code

Any course materials and instruction relating to human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases or Human Immunodeficiency Virus or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome ... must teach contraception and condom use in terms of human use reality rates instead of theoretical laboratory rates, if instruction on contraception and condoms is included in curriculum content.