Sunday, August 31, 2008

Professor worries TAKS test breeds ignorant voters

This is very interesting. Check out Dr. Casye's article "What the TAKS Test Can Teach Us About Our Students"


Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Aug. 23, 2008

Kevin Jefferies may live in The Heights, but he's not a latte-sipping, arugula-munching elitist.

If he were, he wouldn't get so much pleasure out of commuting to Brazoria County for his job as head of the Economics and Government Department at Alvin Community College.

The 47-year-old University of Houston Ph.D. enjoys his students and works hard to figure out the best way to teach them.

"Since only a small fraction of my students will pursue political science, my objective is to train citizens," he wrote in a paper he presented last February at an American Political Science Association conference in San Jose, Calif.

No voter registration cards
That paper, "What the TAKS Test can Teach Us about Our Students," should be required reading for the Legislature's blue-ribbon panel that is studying whether Texas should revise its school accountability system with its heavy reliance on the controversial Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

About 90 percent of Jefferies' students are eligible to be first-time voters in a presidential election this year. The paper explains why that fact makes him nervous.

Too nervous, for example, to make it too easy for the students to vote.

"I don't have voter registration cards in my classroom," he said Friday. "I say if you can figure out how to register, then you can vote."

Although Jefferies' paper is a critique of the TAKS test, his research didn't start out as an attempt to assess the test. It began when he decided to use questions from the previous year's test (made available by the Texas Education Agency) at the beginning of a semester to see how much his students knew.

He was pleased to see they scored percentages in the mid-70s. It's not bad to start a course with the equivalent of a "C" on a test.

On some questions, the students did especially well. About 98 percent correctly answered multiple-choice questions about Miranda warnings.

More than 90 percent correctly said a section of the Declaration of Independence referring to King George's misuse of the military led to the Constitution's putting the military under the president.

But Jefferies soon discovered that the student's performance on TAKS questions didn't mean they understood the basic concepts that should provide the starting point for a college government course.

So the next semester he gave students an open-ended test on the same subject matter before giving them the TAKS questions.

Only seven in 10 knew what the Miranda warning was. Only 35 percent could say why freedom of speech was important, and 30 percent understood that King George's abusive use of the military led to the constitutional provision making the president commander in chief.

An aha! moment
As he looked closer at the TAKS questions, Jefferies saw that they were structured in such a way that the question suggested the answer.

The Miranda question, for example, presents the warning and asks the purpose. Only one of the choices mentioned protections for the accused. The other "answers" suggest that the warning is to promote job security for lawyers or limits the rights of judges.

The question on King George's use of the military gives a similarly obvious choice of answers. One suggests that it led to Congress's ability to legislate taxes, and another that it caused a provision that the vice president may be impeached. It's not to hard to figure that the president's role as commander in chief is the right answer.

"The answer to the question can easily be inferred from a close reading of the question itself," Jefferies wrote.

So not only does the constant drilling on facts for the TAKS test limit the time students can spend learning higher thinking skills and the ability to write, but the test may not even be measuring knowledge so much as an ability to glean clues from questions to get the right answers.

That the TAKS test wasn't measuring knowledge about government is further suggested by some of the definitions Jefferies' students offered.

Legislature? "Group within the government that is responsible for determining specified issues."

Unalienable rights? "Rights given to Americans," or, "Rights of non-citizens."

Jefferies concludes that one reason so many young people are alienated from politics is they don't even understand the language necessary to engage in it.

Still, he presses on.

"I'm not completely discouraged," he says. "But there's a lot of work to be done."

You can write to Rick Casey at P.O. Box 4260, Houston, TX 77210, or e-mail him at

Professor Protests Over Black Admissions at U.C.L.A.

This is ridiculous. I wonder if he's ever thought to check the files and qualifications of incoming white students who are children of alumni.


Published: August 30, 2008

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, resigned from an admissions committee Thursday, saying he suspected officials were cheating to illegally admit more black students but have blocked access to data that would prove it.

The professor, Tim Groseclose, who teaches political science classes, said he was concerned because “applicants often reveal their own race in the essay portion of the application,” according to an article in The Orange County Register. California’s public universities are banned from using race as an admissions criterion.

University officials said that admissions evaluators do not see the names, race or ethnicity of applicants and that they are following the law. Of the freshmen that will start classes next month, 235 students are black, or about 5 percent of the class. Two years ago, just 96 African-American freshman enrolled.

Professor Groseclose said he wanted to use statistical analysis to examine whether students were being admitted by race. He asked for 1,000 student files, including essays, with the names removed, which officials refused because of privacy issues.

Professor Groseclose said he supports offering preferences to recruit and admit more black students.

Friday, August 29, 2008

One-in-Five and Growing Fast: A Profile of Hispanic Public School Students

Check out the Full Report

by Rick Fry and Felisa Gonzales, Pew Hispanic Center

The number of Hispanic students in the nation's public schools nearly doubled from 1990 to 2006, accounting for 60% of the total growth in public school enrollments over that period. There are now approximately 10 million Hispanic students in the nation's public kindergartens and its elementary and high schools; they make up about one-in-five public school students in the United States. In 1990, just one-in-eight public school students were Hispanic.

Strong growth in Hispanic enrollment is expected to continue for decades, according to a recently released U.S. Census Bureau population projection. The bureau projects that the Hispanic school-age population will increase by 166% by 2050 (to 28 million from 11 million in 2006), while the non-Hispanic school-age population will grow by just 4% (to 45 million from 43 million) over this same period.1 In 2050, there will be more school-age Hispanic children than school-age non-Hispanic white children.

Using data from the 2006 American Community Survey (ACS), this report presents information on the demographic characteristics of Hispanic students in public schools. It compares Hispanic public school students with their non-Hispanic counterparts. The large sample sizes available in the ACS also enable detailed comparison of Hispanic students across generational groups.

Key findings from the report:

* The vast majority of Hispanic public school students (84%) were born in the United States.
* Seven-in-ten (70%) Hispanic students speak a language other than English at home.
* Nearly one-in-five (18%) of all Hispanic students speak English with difficulty.
* Nearly three-in-five Hispanic students (57%) live in households with both of their parents compared with 69% of non-Hispanic white students and 30% of non-Hispanic black students.
* More than seven-in-ten U.S. born Hispanic students of immigrant parents (71%) live with both parents. Smaller shares of foreign-born students (58%) and U.S.-born students of native parentage (48%) reside with both parents.
* More than a quarter of Hispanic students (28%) live in poverty, compared with 16% of non-Hispanic students. In comparison, more than a third of non-Hispanic black students (35%) reside in poverty and about one-in-ten non-Hispanic white students live in a poor household.
* Foreign-born Hispanic students (35%) are more likely than their native-born counterparts (27%) to live in poverty.

1The U.S. Census Bureau projects the size of the population age 5 to 17. The growth of public school enrollment will not exactly match the growth of the school-age population because some children are not enrolled in school, some children attend private schools and some adults are enrolled in public schools.

Deported Children Abandoned in Mexico

This should concern everyone!


Melissa del Bosque | Texas Observer
August 15th, 2008 at 2:45 pm

A new study finds that unaccompanied children are being abandoned on the Mexican side of the border at an alarming pace.

In the last seven months, U.S. authorities have deported at least 90,000 children to Mexico, according to a study by the Mexican Government’s Commission on Population, Border and Immigration Affairs.

At least 13,500 of these children ages 17 and under were deported to Mexican border states but never reconnected with their parents or legal guardians. Many of these children have resorted to begging with the hopes of crossing into the United States again to be reunited with family members, according to the study. Other abandoned children are being cared for by churches and non-governmental organizations.

Many of these children were caught while being smuggled into the United States. U.S. authorities typically funnel the children through an “expedited” deportation process — sending them back to Mexico in a matter of hours.

The study cites another disturbing statistic: for every three adults deported to Mexico, one child is left abandoned in the United States.

Mexican border governors met with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff about the deportations in February in Washington, D.C.

One of the biggest problems is lack of coordination between the U.S. and Mexican authorities. Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan, governor of Baja California, told Chertoff that many children end up homeless because Mexican authorities are not advised when the children will arrive and don’t have time to find appropriate housing for them.

Eugenio Javier Hernandez Flores, the governor of Tamaulipas, said that his state receives 35,000 deported immigrants a year, many of them children. “Our governments need to work on a procedure for these undocumented children,” he said.

The Mexican governors said that among the children there were also South American and Central American children being deported to Mexico.

Edmundo Ramirez Martinez, Secretary of the Commission on Population, Borders and Migrant Affairs, told Mexican legislators that the International Convention on the Rights of Children requires that children be “repatriated” to their home countries rather than “deported.”

Repatriation means that the United States would return the child back to his or her specific home rather than abandon the child at the border.

Repatriating children, however, would cost the U.S. more time and money.

Money and effort the Bush administration thus far isn’t willing to invest.

Communicating Culture

Helping international refugees become part of the community

August 27, 2008

In a basement in downtown Boise, a bustling room filled with the hum of various languages. Refugees from Bhutan, Burundi and Burma shuffled in their chairs as interpreters explained how to fill out American job applications. Kids in glittery T-shirts tugged at their mothers' traditional, brightly colored sarongs. After the International Rescue Committee's weekly job-training class was over, Ganga Ram Gautam, a Nepali-speaking torture victim from Bhutan, asked an interpreter to explain how excited he is to finally be in America. Gautam—who was an interesting blend of east and west dressed in a black polo shirt with a South Asian red streak on his forehead—said that he used to be a farmer, but after being scarred by hot irons on his back, he is no longer able to do the heavy lifting required for the job. He's thankful to be learning English and hopes to get a job at a place like Wal-Mart.

"He is very happy to be here and wants to thank the IRC," explained interpreter Raj Shrestha. "Now he can sign his name and knows some of the alphabet so he can try to get a job."

With refugee families arriving year round, there are always new faces—and new languages—that need help assimilating into Boise's increasingly complex cultural tapestry. Though this can seem like an insurmountable task at times, the handful of dedicated community leaders and volunteers who work to educate incoming refugee families are completely committed to the cause. As the first people refugees meet when they get off the plane and the first people they turn to for help acclimating to their new homes, this group of agency directors, case workers, volunteers and community members work closely to ensure refugees are equipped with the necessary skills to pursue the American dream.

Right now in Boise, 93 languages are spoken from 101 different countries, with the majority of this dizzying diversity coming from the refugee community. Unlike migrants, who choose to come to America seeking a better life, refugees are people with no other choice.

According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is defined as someone who, "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."

In most cases, refugees are either returned home from the camps where they seek asylum, or resettled permanently in the country hosting the camp. Only 1 percent of all refugees are approved for resettlement in a third country like the United States. But before any of these people can set foot on American soil, they must maneuver through a complex system of verification. Asylum seekers who meet U.S. criteria for resettlement are first interviewed in their country of refuge by an Immigration and Naturalization Services officer. If they are approved, they are then matched with one of 10 resettlement organizations in the United States and assigned to a city. Boise is home to three non-profit resettlement organization offices: International Rescue Committee, World Relief and Agency for New Americans. Though all refugees receive some sort of formal American cultural orientation before they depart for the United States, the majority of cultural education—everything from reading clocks to navigating the health-care system—is provided at the local resettlement agency level.

Handling the Influx

"There's a natural cap in the town with the three agencies [handling] resettling here. There's only so many apartments, doctors' offices; the infrastructure can only handle so much flow," said Larry M. Jones, affiliate director of World Relief in Boise. "It's like putting water through a pipe. You can only get so much through."

Refugee populations in Boise fluctuate depending on international crises as well as local availability of trained interpreters, jobs, housing and medical facilities. Presently, Boise agencies are settling large numbers of Burundians, Burmese, Iraqis and Bhutanese, and late summer is their busiest time of year.

As the federal government scrambles to spend the money earmarked for refugee resettlement before the end of the fiscal year, local agencies are struggling to handle the surge of refugees who emerge wide-eyed and exhausted from the Boise Airport terminal. Though Boise has been distinguished as a city that can provide for the needs of these specific populations—with a low cost of living, available interpreters and ample religious institutions—resettlement staff and volunteers are still working around the clock to keep up with the weekly arrivals.

"Each agency has its very own unique personality and philosophy about how refugees are resettled. But in the end, we all receive the same federal funding and we all have to adhere to the same standards and requirements for resettlement," said Leslye Boban, director of IRC in Boise.

Federal funding for refugee resettlement flows into the Idaho Office of Refugees, a private contractor that is a part of the larger Mountain States Group. In addition to the money dispersed to the agencies, each refugee is granted a one-time amount of $425, a small sum referred to as "welcome money."

Ten years ago, refugee resettlement funds in Idaho were controlled by the State Department of Health and Welfare, but moving to a private contractor has helped shed the myriad layers of bureaucracy that can often clog state systems.

"Because of the smallness [of IOR], it gives us the ability to be a little more progressive and creative in providing services," said Steve Rainey, director of the IOR's English Language Center. "Frequently, Idaho is on the cutting edge of refugee services in the whole country."

Another thing that local agencies have in their favor is their incredibly close working relationship. Each of the agencies' directors meet once a month with Rainey to discuss successful resettlement strategies and to bounce around new ideas for combating problems. Whether it's finding solutions to apartment shortages for large refugee families or discussing employment opportunities for largely illiterate populations, the agencies rely heavily on one another.

"Generally, we have a very collaborative relationship," said Christina Bruce-Bennion, local director of ANA.

Home Away From Home

When refugee families first arrive, an agency staff member and an interpreter greet them at the airport and take them directly to their new, furnished apartments to sign a lease. Though there aren't any complexes in town that are designated solely for refugees, there are a few that have established close partnerships with the agencies to provide affordable housing.

"We are, I'm sure, one of the mainstays of their income because the three agencies are placing 400 to 500 apartments a year, Jones said. "[The refugees] walk in the door tired and confused, and there's sheets on the bed, there might even be flowers on the table, there's food in the refrigerator ... Their education starts the moment they get off the plane."

Some refugee populations, like the Burundians and the Bhutanese, have lived in refugee camps for the majority of their lives and have little or no experience with running water, modern appliances or even carpet.

Kary Burin, a volunteer with IRC, has spent the past few months assisting the Piyos family from Burundi. For a few hours every week, Burin teaches them English, takes them grocery shopping and helps answer general questions they have about American life.

"[IRC] likes the volunteers to go over to the house and look around and see if there are any problems," Burin explained. "Check the refrigerator, make sure that they're properly preserving their food, that they don't have any food sitting in cupboards. Because they're refugees, they don't waste any food, so they're never going to throw it away."

Before they get established and have a steady source of income, refugee families like the Piyos receive a food card from their resettlement agency with a monthly limit for groceries. Burin has taken the Piyos to WinCo a number of times and helped the family fill their cart with bulk basics like beans, rice, potatoes, bananas and meat.

"A real challenge is comparison shopping because the refugee camp always handed them stuff," Burin said. "They have no more concept that two similar things could sit side by side on the shelf and that, for some reason, you'd be paying twice as much for one as the other. So trying to explain that and to see if they understand it is very difficult."

But not all refugee families in Boise are entirely unfamiliar with modern living and a capitalist economy. Laura Corollo, an IRC volunteer who works with an Iraqi refugee family, explains that her family is adjusting rather quickly to their new way of life.

"Once I taught them the bus schedule, they were on the bus all the time. When I would come over for my weekly visits, they weren't saying, 'OK, can you drive us to the grocery store? Can you drive us here?' They had already done it," Corollo said.

The Iraqi family was forced to flee Baghdad after the father, a mechanical engineer, was persecuted for working for a U.S. company. Though Corollo describes the family as having updated cell phones and clothing, she notes that they still sometimes need help navigating cultural intricacies and adjusting to their new country's social norms.

"I was over [at their apartment] and somebody came by to sell them a cable plan. It was funny because they opened the door and they welcomed him in ... they thought that he was just a friend or neighbor," Corollo said.

One important cultural assimilation mechanism for refugees is television. By watching TV, refugees are able to observe American culture and pick up on English colloquialisms without the pressure of direct, face-to-face communication. Though some refugee families, like the Piyos, were unfamiliar with TV before resettling here, they have quickly taken to the entrancing technology.

"Television is a really great way to learn English, except—and I've heard this about other refugees, too—they like the Spanish language channel," Burin said with a laugh. "I speculated it had something to do with the over-the-top soap operas. Someone else said that they think it's because it's the soccer channel. The other day, one of the refugees said to me as I was leaving, 'manana.'"

Learning the Language

One of the main federal requirements for refugees is attending mandatory English language classes. Refugees from all three agencies attend class daily at the English Language Center near Jefferson and 16th streets until they find full-time employment. Since every refugee varies in his or her educational background and previous English experience, the ELC provides seven different levels of English classes ranging from a class for refugees who are illiterate in their native language to an advanced class that accommodates refugees with highly developed English skills.

But teaching English to refugees is more of a lesson in the nuances of American culture than it is a flash-card-filled romp through sentence structure and split infinitives.

"Most people, when they think of a language class, think grammar and vocabulary. For us, language is being able to navigate your environment. Whether it's riding the bus, whether it's finding out about a concert, all of that really is language," Rainey said. "A person can't become culturally integrated or culturally adept without language and they can't get the language without the culture."

To reinforce the language skills the refugees have learned in class, ELC teachers often take trips to neighboring North End stores and banks. From distinguishing between shampoo and conditioner at Rite Aid to making deposits at U.S. Bank, all of the vocabulary the students learn has practical and immediate applications in their everyday lives. The ELC hopes that, by structuring their learning environment less traditionally, the refugees will feel more comfortable appropriating and utilizing their newly acquired language skills.

"Our classes are very informal, in that, as much as possible, we'd like for them to reflect a social gathering and not a formal classroom. The type of language we use every day isn't academic. It's more like composing music than it is doing mathematics," Rainey said.

One of the major barriers affecting all aspects of refugee assimilation and education is the often unspeakable trauma that drove refugees from their homes in the first place.

"If you're just looking at language acquisition, nothing else, because of the trauma refugees have been through, and because they didn't choose to come here, it creates a different set of needs than any other language learner has," Rainey said. "A lot of times people will seem disinterested, not motivated to learn the language, and that's a very common symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."

Though all of the resettlement agencies in town provide resources for refugees to cope with their mental anguish and trauma, IRC has developed a unique pilot program for smaller children that they hope can be expanded and used with their parents also.

"There's a technique called EMDR—Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. It's a simple technique that activates both sides of the brain," Boban explained. The technique has patients focus on their trauma while an external stimulus, like tapping, is applied to the head. "We're combining it with art therapy to help them release traumas without actually having to talk about the trauma. We're working with a counseling group to also do the same technique with the parents, because you can't work with the kids and open them up like that and go home to a chaotic, unstable environment."

Another community member working closely with refugee children is Ann Farris, director of Boise School District's English Language Learners school. The school, which opened in its new location this year in the old Jackson Elementary, specializes in education for refugee and immigrant students who don't speak English as a first language.

"We're right at 200 [students] already. We found last year that we were at about 66 percent refugees, so it's probably close or might have crept up even higher to 70 percent this year," Farris said.

Students in seventh through 12th grades are eligible to attend the English Language Learners school for four semesters. The students then transition into their neighborhood schools, where interpreters assist them in integrating into the required curriculum. Elementary-aged students, on the other hand, transition into the regular classrooms soon after they arrive.

"The kids become what we call 'cultural brokers' and they become the helpers of their families in so many ways, helping them navigate how things work and, of course, they're acquiring the English language, typically at such a rapid pace," Farris said. "Some of the parents, they're taking English classes, too, and certainly trying, but [the children] really are the information sharers."

Rights and Responsibilities

In addition to daily language classes at the English Language Center, refugees also attend a weekly job-training class offered by their agency. Because of the limited amount of funding and staff support at the agencies, economic self-sufficiency is their most pressing goal. Each agency spends a considerable amount of time instructing refugees in the expectations and skills required to succeed in the American workplace.

At a recent job-training session held by World Relief at Crossroads Church on Cole Road, the conference room bustled with an assortment of refugee populations. Each time job developer Lindsay Keban explained things like how to look for jobs in classified ads or proper phone habits when speaking to potential employers, the room blossomed with a litany of languages.

With seven interpreters at this session, translating for populations ranging from Arabic-speaking Somalis to Karen-speaking Burmese, the church sounded like a break room at the United Nations. Just like the English language classes, job-training classes tend to have a wider scope than just employment.

"At some point in the last few years, we had had refugee groups that were so far removed from American culture that we realized we just needed to spend that much more time with them. So the classes have become 12 weeks," Keban said.

Other agencies in town have also noticed an educational divide with recent incoming refugee populations. IRC developed a job training program specifically for Burundian women, many of whom are pre-literate, pre-numerate and have never been employed.

The program works with local hotels like Shiloh Inn and Hotel 43 to train these women in the skills they would need to be housekeepers—everything from working the hotel's elevators to identifying various cleaning chemicals.

"Eighty percent of refugees are women and children. A lot of the women that are coming are single moms. These women have to work, there's no choice and there's no support network for them. So the faster we can get them employed, the less vulnerable they are, the less vulnerable their children are," Boban said.

Though ANA has a similar program for Burmese women, it also focuses on helping more highly educated refugees get new credentials. People who were history teachers or doctors before they were forced to flee their country often have a much harder time adjusting to the more menial jobs they're required to initially accept as refugees.

"We have a lot of Iraqis coming, some of them are very highly educated, speak English very well and have very high expectations of employment," Bruce-Bennion noted.

Each of the job training classes offered by the agencies covers a specific topic, from riding public transportation to filling out job applications to the importance of punctuality. Though these lessons are covered at the English Language Center's cultural orientations, which happen every eight weeks, repetition is regarded as the most important way for refugees to solidify new information.

"Everybody agrees that the more times the information is given, in different ways, at different junctures of someone's experience when they first come in, the better it is going to be for them. They're going to be better prepared," explained Jamie Delavan, a volunteer who has partnered with Idaho Women's Network to put together a new, agency-spanning Refugee Education Training Program.

Delavan has worked closely with Ronna Parish, Pam Twilegar and Erika Molchan to develop a cultural training manual for refugees and the volunteers who work with them. Though they initially began working on the program with IRC, the group hopes their five-part "Know Your Rights" program will soon be integrated into the cultural orientations of all three agencies.

The program places a strong emphasis on culture-specific education, dividing classes into single-language groups so that the usual cacophony of interpreters isn't so distracting. The group's program also focuses heavily on human rights, stressing that all people are guaranteed certain rights regardless of their sex, race, religion or nationality.

"We wanted to set it up so we could focus on, 'Here are the rights that you have living in the United States,' and then, 'Here are the responsibilities that go along with those rights. So, you have the right to religious freedom, but you have to obey the laws. You have the right to an education, but here's the system that you have to work within in order to get that education,'" Parish said.

Another part of the group's program is an orientation to Idaho law. For this session, Boise Police officer and refugee liaison Shelli Sonnenberg explains everything from what to do when a police officer pulls them over, to how much it costs to call 911. Since many refugees are accustomed to dealing with corrupt cops who operate on a system of bribes and kickbacks, it can be hard for them to accept police officers in a non-threatening role.

"When the new Americans get here, I teach them about the laws of this country and focus on the ones that are really different from where they're from. The big ones are probably domestic battery, child abuse, statutory rape. Depending on the countries that they come from, those are completely different laws that don't even exist," Sonnenberg explained.

She has been instrumental in creating understanding between the police department and refugees. Sonnenberg developed a refugee orientation class for new police hires and instructs them in cultural sensitivity for the various refugee populations living in Boise.

Though a lot of the police calls Sonnenberg receives from refugees don't fall under her traditional jurisdiction, she's happy to respond to all the calls that she can, if only to show refugees that the police department is there when they are in need.

"Maybe they didn't have running water, or maybe they didn't have electricity, which may not be a police problem, but when they think that their landlord has turned off their power, not realizing that maybe a light bulb has burned out, then they call me. I had one little boy call 911 because his mom wouldn't make him pizza. To him, that actually was an emergency," Sonnenberg said.

A Permanent Home

Though each agency aims to have refugees settled and self-sufficient within six to eight months of arrival—when food stamps and Medicaid start to run out—they are now working with community organizations to develop educational programs with a more long-term reach. Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center received a $500,000 grant to open a center to provide reproductive health and infant care for non-English speaking women. The center is called Care Maternal and Child Health Clinic and will open in St. Al's next year.

"Our desire is to get health advisers from every cultural group so they can give us input on how we can improve services within their culture. We're working with different community agencies to solidify and make sure that we are doing what we can and not reinventing the wheel," said Judy Hobbs, manager of the St. Al's Family Center.

Also, the Boise Police Department is developing an interpreter program in which refugees who speak English and are familiar with American culture will be trained to accompany police officers on some of their more serious calls. The interpreters will be able to act as liaisons between non-English speakers and the police in times of crisis.

"They'll go through law enforcement training so that they have an idea what's expected of them. Using those individuals as our interpreters, then maybe we'll get to have some insight into the way their culture works and how—in those high stress situations—how we can handle it better," Sonnenberg said.

By becoming interpreters, refugees are given the opportunity to help those in need. Most of the interpreters who work with the three agencies in town have gone through one of the resettlement programs. As more refugees acclimate to American life, become proficient in English and train to be interpreters, they open doors for other refugees to resettle in Boise.

"Many times, former refugees become interpreters. Maybe they've gone through the resettlement process or they might have [spoken] good English to begin with. Each of the agencies really engages bilingual people and provides training opportunities for them to become effective interpreters," said Jan Reeves, director of the Idaho Office of Refugees.

Raj Shrestha, a Nepali interpreter from Bhutan, is one of those who has successfully made the transition into American society. At IRC's job-training session, Shrestha was the interpreter for a long table of Bhutanese refugees. Dressed in casual western clothing, Shrestha explained the nuances he's learned since he's been here—like shaking his head from side to side is a sign of disagreement, not approval like in his culture. He's also mastered the art of looking into people's eyes while they're speaking, an action that is seen as highly disrespectful in Bhutan.

When Gautam approached to tell his story of torture due to mistaken identity and to show the painful scars that run down his back, Shrestha interpreted his words. As Gautam spoke, Shrestha waited patiently for him to finish, then said:

"Everything the IRC is doing is really helping [the Bhutanese refugee community] get where they need to be. He wants to thank them for all they do."

Similar Impacts Found in Study Of Immigration Crackdowns

By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 28, 2008; Page PW01

Prince William County may have one of the nation's toughest enforcement laws against illegal immigration, but a recent examination of largely less stringent measures across the country found that their impact on communities is often the same.

Five years ago, immigration enforcement wasn't on the radar of most local law enforcement agencies, according to James Pendergraph, director of state and local coordination for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The 287(g) program, which is named for the section of the law authorizing it and allows local law enforcement officials to assist ICE in processing illegal immigrants, was first authorized in 1996. Yet the law sat unused for most of a decade. In 2003 Alabama became the first state to implement an agreement.

Only six more agreements were made from 2004 to 2006. The number has jumped since, with 55 state and local law enforcement agencies entering into agreements. An additional 80 are in the pipeline.

Prince William signed on last summer. Part of what distinguishes it from other jurisdictions is that it works with ICE in its jails and through a special task force of police officers on the street. But as in other communities, its law has divided the community and raised fears among immigrants.

"Prince William has been the catalyst for the expansion of the 287(g) program across the U.S.," said Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large).

"There were just a handful doing it before us. The pioneering jurisdictions, Prince William principally among them, have been the impetus for this proliferation."

Randy Capps, a senior research associate with the Urban Institute, studied the evolution of the program and its potential effects on communities.

"It coincides with the concerted effort, by a well-coordinated group of like-minded people, to put pressure on authorities to get involved in immigration enforcement," he said of the agreements.

Most of the participating 287(g) jurisdictions are in the Southeast; Virginia had the most, with nine, followed by North Carolina, with eight.

More than 60,000 suspected illegal immigrants have been identified through the program in the past two years, Capps found. Statistics ICE provided to the Virginia State Crime Commission show that in fiscal 2007, law enforcement agencies in the state made 12,073 reports to the federal agency, which resulted in 694 detentions.

The Urban Institute also conducted a case study on how the program was implemented in four jurisdictions in northwestern Arkansas. It found a steady but moderate number of arrests, about 15 per week. Yet the fear level increased among immigrants. Many were scared to drive or leave their homes.

All of that should sound familiar to Prince William residents.

"If you are an illegal immigrant, you should be anxious and concerned about driving," Stewart said. "To the extent that we have caused anxiety among the illegal community, I think that's a good thing, because we don't want them here in the first place."

Among the potential effects of arrests on communities, Capps cited increasing distrust between the community and police and a decrease in the number of immigrants reporting crime. Capps made his presentation last week to several hundred police and local officials at a conference on immigration policing and civil liberties in the District. The conference was sponsored by the Police Foundation, a private national group.

At its Sept. 9 meeting, the first after a month-long recess, the county board is expected to get an update on illegal immigration enforcement.

U.S.: End Beating of Children in Public Schools

Violation of dress code can be a matter of not tucking in your shirt according to students I've talked to in a high school that practices paddling. Crazy!


Abusive, Discriminatory Punishment Undermines Education


DALLAS – More than 200,000 US public school students were punished by beatings during the 2006-2007 school year, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union said in a joint report released today. In the 13 states that corporally punished more than 1,000 students per year, African-American girls were twice as likely to be beaten as their white counterparts.

In the 125-page report, "A Violent Education: Corporal Punishment of Children in U.S. Public Schools," the ACLU and Human Rights Watch found that in Texas and Mississippi children ranging in age from 3 to 19 years old are routinely physically punished for minor infractions such as chewing gum, talking back to a teacher, or violating the dress code, as well as for more serious transgressions such as fighting. Corporal punishment, legal in 21 states, typically takes the form of "paddling," during which an administrator or teacher hits a child repeatedly on the buttocks with a long wooden board. The report shows that, as a result of paddling, many children are left injured, degraded, and disengaged from school.

"Every public school needs effective methods of discipline, but beating kids teaches violence and it doesn't stop bad behavior," said Alice Farmer, Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, and author of the report. "Corporal punishment discourages learning, fails to deter future misbehavior and at times even provokes it."

The report found that in the 13 southern states where corporal punishment is most prevalent, African-American students are punished at 1.4 times the rate that would be expected given their numbers in the student population, and African-American girls are 2.1 times more likely to be paddled than might be expected. There is no evidence that these students commit disciplinary infractions at disproportionate rates.

"Minority students in public schools already face barriers to success," said Farmer. "By exposing these children to disproportionate rates of corporal punishment, schools create a hostile environment in which these students may struggle even more."

Students with mental and physical disabilities are also punished at disproportionate rates, with potentially serious consequences for their development. In Texas, for instance, 18.4 percent of the total number of students who were physically punished were special education students, even though they make up only 10.7 percent of the student population.

"A Violent Education" is based on four weeks of on-the-ground research in Mississippi and Texas in late 2007 and early 2008, including more than 175 interviews with children, teachers, parents, administrators, superintendents, and school board members.

The report documents several cases in which children were beaten to the point of serious injury. Since educators who beat children have immunity under law from assault proceedings, parents who try to pursue justice for injured children encounter resistance from police, district attorneys, and courts. Parents also face enormous, sometimes insurmountable, obstacles in trying to prevent physical punishment of their children. While some school districts permit parents to sign forms opting out of corporal punishment for their children, the forms are often ignored.

In the report, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch cite experts on best practices in school discipline, who emphasize traditional approaches such as detention, and modern approaches such as positive behavior support systems. Positive behavior support systems, which are school-wide discipline systems that stress a clear structure of rewards and consequences for student behavior, have been effectively implemented in major U.S. school systems. States and school boards that fail to implement best practices allow the status quo, or school beatings, to remain in place.

Human Rights Watch and the ACLU call upon the U.S. government to prohibit corporal punishment in all public schools and urge state governments, school boards, superintendents, and administrators to eliminate physical punishment in their schools.

Selected Witness Accounts:

"He took me into the office and gave me three licks. … He made me hold onto the wall and he paddled me. … It hurt for about two hours, it felt like fire under my butt."
– Matthew S., who was paddled in second grade for throwing food in a school cafeteria in the Mississippi Delta.

"The other kids were watching and laughing. It made me want to fight them… When you get a paddling and you see everyone laugh at you, it make you mad and you want to do something about it."
– Peter S., a middle school student in the Mississippi Delta.

"What made me so angry: he's three years old, he was petrified. He didn't want to go back to school, and he didn't want to start his new school. I was so worried that this was going to constantly be with him, equating going to school with being paddled."
– Rose T., mother of a 3-year-old boy in Texas who was bruised from physical punishment after he refused to stop playing with his shoes in class.

"I went into the principal's office. … He gave me a chair and said hold onto the chair. The paddle had holes in it. Then he just did three swats. … I was hit on my buttocks. … There were holes in the paddle to make it go faster. … It hurt very much. There were definitely red marks and then swelling… almost welt-like markings. It didn't last for more than a couple days. … It left me feeling very humiliated. I think there were several levels of emotion. Physical pain, mental humiliation. … And being a female at that age, it was like there was this older man hitting me on the butt. That's weird… even at that age I knew it was inappropriate."
– Allison G., a recent graduate punished as a teenager in Texas for being late to class multiple times.

"I've heard this said at my school and at other schools: ‘This child should get less whips, it'll leave marks.' Students that are dark-skinned, it takes more to let their skin be bruised. Even with all black students, there is an imbalance: darker-skinned students get worse punishment."
– Account of Abrea T., former teacher in rural Mississippi.

"I see corporal punishment as a form of slavery. Beating on the slaves was how the headman got them to do something… we're focused so much on making kids do what we want. Think about the mental capacity that this kind of treatment leaves our children with. We are telling them we don't respect them. They leave that principal's office and they think, ‘they don't consider me a human being.' That young person loses self-respect."
– Account from Doreen W., school board member in a Mississippi Delta town.

To read the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch report, "A Violent Education: Corporal Punishment of Children in U.S. Public Schools," please visit:

Focusing on Immigration at the DNC

A notable line from this article: And because the government cannot deport millions of people, what they do is to make people’s lives miserable so they will leave on their own,” Sharry said. “The New York Times calls it a ‘strategic misery.’ We call it non-violent cleansing.


New America Media, News Report, Anthony D. Advincula
Aug 26, 2008

Editor’s Note: Immigration is a hot button issue at the DNC in Denver and many participants are clamoring for comprehensive reform, reports NAM New York-based editor, Anthony D. Advincula.

DENVER, Co—Before the opening gavel hit the sounding block at the convention’s opening ceremony, Democratic leaders and supporters here did not waste time and took the immigration issues to stage yesterday afternoon.

The Democrats described the current immigration system as dysfunctional, affecting the economy and moral fiber of American society, and reiterated that the Democratic Party strongly recommends a comprehensive immigration reform law to fix the problem.

“Everything with our current immigration enforcement is a failure, starting with ICE,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said in an almost three-hour immigration panel discussion at downton Hilton Inn. “Roughly 30,000 ICE workers lack qualifications.”

Lofgren lashed out at the government for appointing ICE Assistant Secretary Julie Myers, who had no previous experience relating to immigration. “At 46, after working for the Department of Commerce and at the Office of Independent Counsel under Kenneth Starr, the government asked her to do this job. We need to have qualified individuals to handle immigration issues.”

With a rising number of skilled immigrants, U.S. military service personnel being denied legal status, as well as immigrant families who have been entangled in complicated legal bouts and continue to be separated, Lofgren added that the administrative and legal aspects of immigration are clearly discombobulated.

“What kind of system is this when we want a sailor who served for our country to just remain in Iraq because he has a conditional immigration status and is facing a 3- or 10-year ban?” she said. “Detainees have been denied proper healthcare and we declined due process.”

She illustrated the massive ICE arrest of Latino workers in Postville, Iowa, where they were not only denied legal representation, but also charged with robbery. Lofgren alleged that even the judge there scripted the workers’ pleas. She also claimed that about 70 percent of undocumented immigrants in the country are highly skilled and could certainly bolster the U.S. economy.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, admitted that immigration is the biggest challenge for Democrats.

“Republicans always say that we have good laws with bad people violating these good laws. And because the government cannot deport millions of people, what they do is to make people’s lives miserable so they will leave on their own,” Sharry said. “The New York Times calls it a ‘strategic misery.’ We call it non-violent cleansing. This is what they (Republicans) do to try to take control of the system.”

Immigration is indicative to this year’s presidential election, he added. “It’s the defining issue. This is the reason that Senator John McCain had to change his position on comprehensive immigration reform to get the people around him and put him as the party’s candidate.”

For people who say that undocumented immigrants should wait in line, Sharry’s response is: “Where’s the line that they can get into?” He pointed out that there is no effective system that allows immigrants to wait, because they are waiting for nothing. “Believe me, anyone would want to take the airplane to come to this country, rather than crossing the river.”

Democratic leaders also assured that their party would continue to endorse elements of comprehensive immigration reform – and that it will be the position of the national party no matter what the Congress does.

“I’m confident that during the first term of Barack Obama, we will have comprehensive immigration reform,” Lofgren said. “What we need to do is to make it public.”

Marco Lopez, Jr., director of the Arizona State Department of Commerce, concurred. “Immigration reform is the only way to end the violence at the border. It will solve crimes relating to human smuggling.”

Lopez, who was the former mayor of Nogales, Arizona, said that 50 percent of immigration-related arrests in his state happen in a 20-mile stretch between Nogales and Tucson, where organized smuggling rings operate.

“We should stand up to bullies. We should stand up to people hijacking the immigration debates. We should stand up to those who exclude people based on their race and where they come from,” Sharry said. “It’s ridiculous to hear people rejoicing when there are few people who speak Spanish in their schools. I hope this all ends soon.”

Immigration: Too Hot for the Dems?

By Roberto Lovato, New America Media.
August 27, 2008.

America's brutal immigration detention network is getting little attention from Democratic reformers and their institutional allies in Denver.

DENVER, Colo. -- On the eve of the official nomination of presidential candidate Barack Obama, the son of an immigrant, some of the leading voices shaping the Democratic Party's immigration reform platform reveal a mix of reserved optimism and pragmatism.

While the Blue Dog Democrats -- a group of 47 moderate and conservative Democratic Party members of the United States House of Representatives -- support a position on immigration that bears more than a passing resemblance to the "enforcement only" approach of many Republicans, other Democrats support a combination of legalization and major reforms as alternatives to the raids and detentions that defined the Bush era of immigration.

In between these two positions are a significant number of Democrats and their supporters, who want to focus primarily on legalization without including any significant changes to the policies that enable raids and massive detention like this week's raid in Mississippi.

Outside of the Pepsi Convention Center are hundreds of immigrant rights groups planning a major mobilization this Thursday -- the day of Obama's acceptance speech. They will protest what they believe is the unwillingness of Democrats and their Washington-based immigrant rights allies to seriously support what the press release of the March 25th Coalition calls "human legalization and a moratorium on raids and deportations."

As she anxiously awaits the end of Bush era, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, says she sees real change on the immigration horizon. "I'm confident that with an Obama presidency we will have comprehensive immigration reform in the first term -- but it's not going to be easy."

Lofgren, a former immigration attorney, and other panelists speaking at one of the few events on immigration among the hundreds at the convention, were cautiously optimistic. But they also expressed a number of different interpretations of what the types of policies define "comprehensive immigration reform."

For her part, Lofgren, who did not support the McCain-Kennedy bill -- which combined policies legalizing the more than 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States with policies increasing the number of ways to persecute, prosecute, jail and deport future undocumented immigrants -- believes that "an important part of the answer is not to have so many people who do not have legal status." But at the same time, she believes that something must be done to bring an end to a "whole (detention) system that is wrong and causing lots of suffering." Lofgren and a number of other Democrats in Congress cite the recent case of the Chinese immigrant Hui Lui Ng, who died in immigration detention just two weeks before the DNC.

Though he, too, decries the raids, detention and deportation cited by Lofgren and others as the "least humane part of the broken immigration system," Simon Rosenberg, President and Founder of the New Democrat Network (NDN), which sponsored the panel, is not optimistic that these issues will be included in whatever reform package gets introduced next.

"Although desirable, I think it would be difficult to include fixing the detention and (immigration) judicial system in comprehensive immigration reform, because it really wasn't a critical part of what came about last time," said Rosenberg. "It doesn't mean that it shouldn't get done. I'm just not sure if that's the best vehicle for it. If the goal is to include these issues in comprehensive immigration reform, then we have lots of work to do to make them front and center in this debate."

Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a Washington-based immigration reform group, admitted that he and other supporters of the McCain-Kennedy legislation failed because they "made concessions" on detention, enforcement and other issues in order to woo Republicans, who, Sharry said, "failed to bring any votes."

"We knew the Senate bill was deeply flawed, but we believed the legalization component for the 12 million immigrants was decent, and the family reunification provisions could be fixed before the final passage," Sharry said.

Sharry also stated that he and others were "hopeful" they could change some of the more than 700 pages of enforcement language in the McCain-Kennedy legislation.

For his part, Congressman Raul M. Grijalva, whose district in McCain's home state of Arizona was referred to during hallway talk at the DNC as "ground zero" for the immigration reform debate, said he has been pushing for his colleagues to place a priority not just on legalization, but on detention and raids as well. "We can't wait any more when it comes to demilitarizing and improving enforcement and detention," Grijalva said, as he received word of the ICE raid in Mississippi. "It's what I hear in my district all the time; all the time. And things have gotten better for us (Democrats) in the past five years. Our side has to get tougher. We can't afford to be as muted this time."

Poverty rate fell in 2007, census data show

Other Southern California counties also show slight declines. The effects of the sharp economic downturn and rising unemployment since last year are unclear.

By Rich Connell and David Pierson | LA Times
August 27, 2008

Poverty across Southern California declined significantly during the first seven years of the decade, a period marked by a booming economy, gentrifying neighborhoods and soaring housing prices, according to census data released Tuesday.

Bucking a national trend, Los Angeles County's poverty rate dropped notably between 2000 and 2007, the data showed, with the percentage of residents living below the federal poverty level falling from 17.9% in 2000 to 14.7% last year. Similar declines occurred in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. By contrast, the national poverty rate rose slightly during the same period.

The new figures from the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey reflect broad economic and demographic changes occurring in Southern California, analysts say.

"The population is getting older, and older people have higher incomes," said Dowell Myers, a USC professor of policy, planning and development. Also, immigration rates are continuing to decline, and it is the most recent newcomers who tend to have the highest poverty rates, he said.

"We have an immigrant population that is settling in, and that is raising their incomes," he added.

The figures do not reflect the effect of the sharp economic downturn that took hold this year, and researchers said it is unclear whether declines in poverty will continue in 2008.

For Brigitte Erickson, the first half of this decade was marked by comfortable personal finances that allowed her a nice apartment, dinners at restaurants and other entertainment. But two years ago, the 58-year-old Azusa woman's circumstances began to change. A big rent increase forced her to move out of her Arcadia apartment, and the rising cost of gas and other consumer goods prompted her to go out less often. "My only luxury now is having cable TV," said Erickson, who works in the women's clothing business. "I never go anywhere."

And some advocates for the poor argue that the declining poverty numbers don't tell the whole story.

For example, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, the census survey shows that despite the drop in the poverty level, the number of workers in Los Angeles County who earn less than $25,000, 30% of the full-time workforce, has dropped only slightly from 2006. "We have a lot of low-wage jobs," said Jessica Goodheart, research director for the alliance. "It impacts every aspect of our civic life."

Falling poverty rates also have not necessarily meant rising household incomes, the census found.

Median household incomes have risen in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. But in the region's two more affluent counties, Ventura and Orange, median incomes declined when adjusted for inflation. The median income in Ventura and Orange counties -- the point at which half of households earn more and half earn less -- is about $73,000, while in the other counties the figure is about a third lower.

Uneven trends are also affecting families at the middle and bottom of the economic ladder, where median incomes fell from 2006 to 2007, according to a study by the California Budget Project, a nonpartisan research group.

"It took six years for low- and middle-income Californians to regain ground lost from the 2001 recession. But those gains were too little, too late," said Jean Ross, the research group's executive director.

Marianne Haver Hill, executive director of MEND, the largest charitable group in the San Fernando Valley, said the decrease in poverty rates also may be a product of federal efforts to encourage welfare recipients to find jobs. But whatever gains have been made are rapidly being reversed for many families now that the economy is slipping, she said.

"We have families renting and living in unfinished garages for $500 to $600 a month, and even that's a huge chunk of their income, let alone the increased cost of food and" transportation, she said.

Andres Cruz used to put in 50 hours per week at $12 per hour building granite and marble countertops for new and remodeled homes. For added income, he would peddle Popsicles for a few hours on weekends at MacArthur Park. But in January, the 48-year-old Westlake resident was laid off.

Now, he competes against more than a dozen other Popsicle vendors at the park, making $40 on a good afternoon. A second job at $8 per hour maintaining a coin laundry helps, but overall he takes in about half his previous pay. "I'm working a lot more and making a lot less," Cruz said.

The census data also show that child poverty remains a major problem in Los Angeles County. More than 1 in 5 residents younger than 18 were living below the poverty line in 2007, which is about $21,000 for a family of four. The county rate did not change significantly from the year before, according to Tuesday's report.

Now, job losses, housing problems and the rising cost of goods and services are weighing heavily on the economic tier above the poverty line, social service agencies said.

The census report offers "a bright moment that has a dark lining to it," said Alicia Lara, vice president of community investment for United Way of Southern California. "We're concerned because the middle class is being squeezed."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Small school superintendents must be creative to fill all teaching positions

By Mark Coddington
The Grand Island Independent
Posted Aug 23, 2008 @ 10:29 PM

When Superintendent Amy Malander advertised for an art teacher at Cedar Rapids public school in 2006, she didn't exactly get overrun with applications.

Actually, she didn't get any.

Not that it was much of a surprise -- it had happened a few years before with a family and consumer science opening. She advertised for a science teacher the same year as the art job and got a single applicant. This year, she got two applications for a math position.

So Malander improvised. She persuaded an elementary teacher certified to teach K-8 art to tack on high school art, too.

The lack of a certification certainly wasn't desirable to Malander or the state, but in a district with about 135 K-12 students and no other options, it would have to do.

Superintendents of small schools across Central Nebraska can rattle off survival stories like Malander's. It has always been difficult to recruit teachers for specialized positions such as music and industrial arts, they said, but never more difficult than it is today.

And the shortage of qualified applicants is hitting small districts, with their rural settings and lower salaries, the hardest.

"You used to have a job open in social studies, and you'd get 15, 16, 17 applicants," said Mike McCabe, superintendent of Ansley and Arcadia school districts, with 195 and 118 students, respectively. "Now you'd be lucky to get four or five."

At Hampton public schools, Superintendent Holly Herzberg considers herself largely insulated from a teacher shortage. Her 147-student district is close to Grand Island, Aurora and York, giving teachers several options of places to live and employers for their spouses.

She was excited about the number of applications she got recently for a vocational ag position: four.

To a man, the superintendents said they were still able to find high-quality teachers despite the shallow pool of applicants.

But they also described themselves as lucky for just that reason.

"We got some darn good people. We kind of came out of this (year) in excellent shape," said Bob Brown, superintendent of Sargent and Arnold districts in Custer County. "That's not always going to happen."

Social lives and salaries

One explanation for the shortage is simple: a generation of young people who have embraced higher salaries and big-city life in Lincoln, Omaha or outside the state.

It's essentially Nebraska's long-lamented "Brain Drain," played out in teaching.

McCabe said he has seen that older applicants with a spouse and family tend to find small towns appealing as a place to raise children. But recent college graduates tend to dismiss small schools out of hand, because as singles in their early 20s, they see rural areas as a social dead-end.

"I don't think they're looking at the school so much as they're looking at the town's environment and atmosphere," McCabe said.

John Poppert, superintendent of Giltner public schools, said he can understand that concern.

"They're 23, 24 years old," Poppert said. "There's not much to do in Giltner compared to Grand Island or Hastings."

The state's teacher's union, the Nebraska State Education Association, agrees that teachers are leaving the state for what seem to be greener pastures.

NSEA officials cite statistics from the state Department of Education that revealed that only about half of the people of who received teaching certificates from the state in 2005 were teaching here two years later.

But their explanation is different: Teachers are leaving the state not necessarily for more populated areas, but for higher pay, said Jess Wolf, NSEA's president and a former teacher and principal in Arlington.

Wolf noted that the state ranks 45th in the country in teacher pay and cited several examples of colleagues who left for higher pay in Iowa, Kansas or Wyoming.

Several superintendents acknowledged that their districts couldn't pay as much as larger districts -- let alone other fields.

"If you're graduating in math and the sciences, you're going into engineering and not into education because of the low salary," Malander said. "The business world is just outpaying us."

Wolf acknowledged, too, that fluctuation in small schools' state aid limits the amount districts, particularly small ones, could spend on their teachers' salaries.

Still, he said raising salaries significantly could be feasible.

"It takes some gut decisions on the part of school districts to decide where they're going to spend their money," Wolf said.

A proactive approach

This staffing shortage doesn't mean, though, that superintendents are relegated to advertising a position, then praying for applicants.

Many are diligent in building relationships with education departments in the state's colleges, then relentless in pursuing the graduating students in those departments.

Dan Bird, superintendent of Burwell public schools, said it's not unusual for him and his colleagues to call coveted students directly with a sales pitch for their district.

That's a significant change from years past, when the onus was more on candidates to make themselves stand out to districts.

"Instead of waiting for them to come to you, you're making the call, asking them to come," Bird said.

He said he also tries to determine early in the school year which of his teachers aren't planning on returning, so he can advertise earlier and get a better crop of candidates.

"Early" used to mean April, Bird said. Now, it usually means before Jan. 1.

Bird also partners with Burwell Economic Development to give out a recruiting CD highlighting the community's assets to potential candidates.

Others try to include incentives outside their salary limitations.

The Giltner district owns five homes in town that it rents out to young teachers for a low cost.

McCabe said he has reached an agreement with the local teachers' union to allow him to count years of experience that a new teacher doesn't have toward the state's pay scale.

Wolf noted that such arrangements are only legal if the local union representatives sign off on them. He said the NSEA generally disapproves of them, as they leave less funds for other teachers in future negotiations.

Other districts try a more homegrown approach. Malander said she's working to help a Cedar Rapids woman get a foreign language teacher's certificate through a University of Nebraska at Kearney program, and the brightest Cedar Rapids students are told about the opportunities to come back and teach in their hometown.

"You have to start doing your own recruiting," Malander said.

Hundreds of Workers Held in Immigration Raid

This is outrageous! I really do hope that this issue comes up during tonight's closing of the Democratic Convention. -Patricia

August 25, 2008

LAUREL, Miss. — In another large-scale workplace immigration crackdown, federal officials raided a factory here on Monday, detaining at least 350 workers they said were in the country illegally Numerous agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement descended on a factory belonging to Howard Industries Inc., which manufactures electrical transformers, among other products.

As of late Monday afternoon, no criminal charges had been filed, said Barbara Gonzalez, an agency spokeswoman, but she said that dozens of workers had been “identified, fingerprinted, interviewed, photographed and processed for removal from the U.S.”

The raid follows a similar large-scale immigration operation at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, in May when nearly 400 workers were detained. That raid was a significant escalation of the Bush administration’s enforcement practices because those detained were not simply deported, as in previous raids, but were imprisoned for months on criminal charges of using false documents.

The mass rapid-fire hearings after the Postville raid took place in a temporary court facility on the grounds of the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa. An interpreter was later sharply critical of the proceedings, saying the immigrants did not understand the charges against them.

An immigrant rights group in Jackson, Miss., the state capital, was critical of Monday’s raid, saying families with children were involved.

“It’s horrific what ICE is doing to these families and these communities,” said Shuya Ohno, a spokesman for the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance. “It’s just hard to imagine that this is the United States of America.”

In Laurel on Monday afternoon, several dozen family members of immigrants waited for news of their relatives at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. There were several small children. A priest at the church who identified himself only as Father Sergio refused to allow interviews with the families or answer any questions, saying only: “People are afraid. We need to calm them. There are mothers and children involved.”

Entrances to the sprawling plant, in an industrial section south of town, had been blocked off by ICE. A nearby fast-food restaurant was full of the blue-shirted agents, one of whom would say only that a “little inspection” was under way at the facility.

A woman entering the church grounds with four small children said several of the youngsters’ parents had been detained. The woman, Mary Troyer, said she was a translator for many of the families.

“I don’t like this at all,” Ms. Troyer said. “I don’t understand it. They have come here to work. It’s very sad.”

The ICE spokeswoman, Ms. Gonzalez, said the workers would be taken to an ICE detention center to “await the outcome of their cases.” She said 50 would be “released into the community” instead of being sent to the center, for “humanitarian reasons,” including medical difficulties or the need to take care of children.

She said no lawyers were present while the workers were being interrogated. “Everyone will have due process under law,” Ms. Gonzalez said.

Late Monday afternoon, the grim-faced workers, some of them handcuffed, were lined up near white and silver buses as the rain poured down.

In a statement issued after the raid, Howard Industries, one of the largest employers in the region, acknowledged that it was “visited” by immigration agents trying to determine if its employees were citizens or otherwise legally authorized to work in the country.

“Howard Industries runs every check allowed to ascertain the immigration status of all applicants for jobs,” the statement said. “It is company policy that it hires only U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.”

Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, called the Laurel raid a violation of human rights.

“We’re very disturbed at what’s happened,” Mr. Chandler said. “It’s a real contradiction between our proclaimed values of hard work and family in Mississippi and the actions of local law enforcement, and ICE. I think it’s a real affront to our values. They’re creating their own terrorism by going after workers.”

After the Iowa raid, the federal interpreter said many of the immigrants did not understand the charges to which they pleaded guilty. But federal officials said the judges in the cases believed that the guilty pleas had been made freely and voluntarily.

Immigration Issue Sparks American Racism ln Indian Country

This is worth taking the time to read...

Immigration issue sparks American racism
by: Editors Report / Indian Country Today
August 15, 2008.

Perhaps the flare-up of the immigration issue started out more legitimately. Certainly there are serious problems with waves of hundreds of thousands of people entering any country illegally. But like the head of a monstrous snake coming out of a thorny bush, the issue has grown its own nasty viper. Immigration has become the new magnet of American racism.

It's time to recognize this evil trend, and confront it.

From the oh-so-patriotic ''Minutemen,'' with their potential overlap to vigilante violence, to the actual rise in incidents of race crime against dark-skinned Mexican and other Hispanics, the evidence is that a climate of disdain and potential race and/or ethnic hatred is being generated in North America. This is very evident in the type of language and self-definition put up by not-so-unconsciously race-based pundits and politicians.

The issues generated by the inevitable trend to northern migration among people from Mesoamerica and South America are complicated. As usual, the North American mass media is loath to dig too deeply into its roots. Images of Mexican Indians jumping fences and crouch-running across open desert fields permeate the senses while the public is bombarded with way too many ill-informed and ill-conceived reports of major ''threats,'' all designed to keep viewers and readers titillated. Ignorant ire seems to dominate as a result. In this age of super-vigilance, the issue of Mexican Indians coming north in waves of humanity whose bottom line or social safety net has been ripped out is ripe for alarmist warnings by pundits and politicians alike, too many of whom like to charge Mexican and other Latin American migrants with causing all kinds of malignancy to America's economy, culture and social character.

Legitimate debate points include the inherent right of countries to secure their borders; reading the actual impacts of a million new Latin American immigrants per year for the next 20 years on various job sectors, on costs of additional social services, on crime rates and criminal justice systems, very specifically on border communities; and considering what would constitute a humane, fair and sound long-term solution to the situation of the many undocumented migrants already in-country. When these types of questions are thought about rationally and fairly, progress can be made toward resolutions.

Tragically, this is not the trend of the national discourse. Instead, the knives are flying. In the national discourse, the migration north is equated with the threat of terrorist violence, with crime, with all manner of potential diseases and, worst of all, with the threatened disintegration of the national culture. Thus, the proponents of the English-only movement, who perceive the English language to be under assault by, primarily, Spanish, but by extension, all other languages - Native and non-Native - spoken by families in neighborhoods across the United States. In an era when most of the world has already accepted English as the lingua franca of business and science, and at a time when all immigrants to the United States clearly understand the importance of speaking English even though it is difficult for many adults, the rising wave of anti-Spanish language hysteria is indeed troubling.

Racism within the immigration issue is primarily directed at Latin American migrants coming north in search of economic opportunity. The shorthand language used has to do with the sense by Anglo-Americans that the country is changing as so-called Hispanics or Latinos make up an ever-larger proportion of the minority population which, combined with blacks and Asian-Americans, now threatens to become established as the ''new majority'' and make the Euro-American population essentially the minority. Thus one can hear the likes of pundit and erstwhile presidential contender Pat Buchanan bemoan the fact that ''we are losing our country,'' shorthand in this case being that crucial ''we'' and all that such possessiveness implies.

Xenophobia directed at Mexicans has a long history in America. Anglo-America, after all, warred first with Spain and, later, Mexico for a century over more than a third of present-day U.S. territory. Stereotype and racial hatred, ethnic insults (Mexicans as a ''mongrel race,'' etc.) - apparent requirements of war - layered into the social consciousness of Anglo-Americans.

Salient points of this history not told by the conqueror were articulated in a recent New York Times essay by Tony Horwitz. To be faulted for too brazenly bypassing the indigenous perspective, Horwitz recounts accurately that North America's first European explorers and settlers were not English-speaking, but were from Spain. Horwitz: ''Four of the sample questions on our naturalization test ask about Pilgrims. Nothing in the sample exam suggests that prospective citizens need know anything that occurred on this continent before the Mayflower landed in 1620.''

So who led the first confirmed European landing on North America? Horwitz: ''A Spaniard, Juan Ponce de Leon, who landed in 1513,'' more than a century before the Pilgrims, ''at a lush shore he christened La Florida.'' Horwitz reminds us that ''the Spanish became the first Europeans to reach the Appalachians, the Mississippi, the Grand Canyon and the Great Plains. Spanish ships sailed along the East Coast, penetrating to present-day Bangor, Me., and up the Pacific Coast as far as Oregon.''

There is much history - centuries old and some quite recent - that does not enter the national discourse. Fast-forward to 2006, 12 years after NAFTA. It was the North American Free Trade Agreement, memory recalls, which ushered in the Zapatista Army of Indian peoples in 1994. The Zapatistas challenged even the federal army of Mexico militarily, while pointing out that loss of lands was displacing Indian peasants, who were migrating north in droves.

What's the connection? Since the advent of the lopsided, so-called free trade agreement, where U.S. corn and bean producers get to keep their government subsidies while poor and modest Mexican Indian farmers lose theirs, the bottom has fallen out of the regional and local farming villages. While these Indian villages have always experienced poverty, most have been self-sufficient, at least in producing and providing and sustaining from the basic Indian foods of corn, beans and other produce, chicken and pigs, the occasional cattle. That's the traditional Indian homestead for most of southern Mexico, Guatemala and elsewhere among agricultural communities in Mesoamerica and South America. This is the stalwart bastion of the mostly self-sufficient safety net upon which the people have depended for millennia. Indian people, real Mexican Indians - Maya, Zapoteca and other indigenous peoples, with distinct languages and varieties of ethnicity and oral tradition - have been severely displaced and dislocated over the past decade. U.S. trade policy has a whole lot to do with it.

These are the bulk of the millions of new migrants inexorably making their way north. These are the Indian refugees displaced from their lands by the destruction of the old ejido systems, the privatization of water and lands, and the demolishment of a national economy that, up to 10 years ago, could make sense of the ancient Indian agricultural and gastronomic complex of the corn tortilla and the bean, grown and consumed locally and regionally. This is the dislocation of replacing this kind of agriculture - as foundation and safety net of rural peoples - with export-oriented agri-business, such as is more possible in the north of Mexico where, generally, the mestizo and Spanish identity have rolled over most of the Indian consciousness of land self-sufficiency.

The climate of fear and loathing in the United States against this mass of dislocated humanity - a direct result of one-sided trade deals that dismiss the needs of whole regions - is presently fueled nightly most prominently by CNN's Lou Dobbs. Dobbs' program is regularly preoccupied with the troublesome illegality of the northward migration and its growing demographic. Dobbs' reporting is mostly accurate, but his tone and point of view heighten the potential for virulence. With violence against Mexicans and other Hispanics on the rise in the United States, it behooves commentators of Dobbs' caliber to provide the fullest possible understanding of the forces at work that drive so many Mexican Indian people to migrate at this time in history.

Dobbs reports on opinion and impacts in the United States but has yet to wonder on the causes of this constant northbound stream of people, how it originates in the indigenous southern region of Mexico and into Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. And, most importantly, why? Why are these American indigenous people - traditionally attached to their places of origin - so driven these days to pick up and trek north in larger and larger numbers, consistently facing violence, starvation, dehydration and death? What are the conditions they are leaving behind? Who caused those conditions that callously condemn whole peoples to severe economic misery?

We say a better understanding of this complex issue is required before we allow racists to pit good people against good people, as if different mother tongues must necessarily be a source of insult and injury.

This editorial, by Jose Barreiro, originally appeared in Indian Country Today on July 19, 2006 [Vol. 26, Iss. 6]. It received a 2007 Unity Award in Media in the Editorial Writing in the Minority Audience division. The awards are given annually by Lincoln University. The former senior editor of ICT, Barreiro is now director of the Office of Latin America at the National Museum of the American Indian.

BACK TO SCHOOL: Schools separate ninth-graders

A small but significant excerpt from this article: "In Texas in the 2005-06 school year, 16.5 percent of ninth-graders — the highest rate of any grade — didn't complete requirements to advance, according to a Texas Education Agency report."

That percentage is of ALL students, and is much higher for some schools than others. Not really sure though if ninth-grade-only schools are the solutions, and if they're really addressing ALL of the factors that contribute to ninth grade student progress.


August 24, 2008

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Ninth grade, often the first year of high school, is a critical time when many students sink or swim while coping with new academic responsibilities and learning the oh-so-important social hierarchy.

Some educators are turning to ninth-grade-only schools to separate 14- and 15-year-olds from older kids and make the transition easier.

"People just really value having our ninth-graders have a chance to develop intellectually, emotionally and socially outside of the context of a large comprehensive high school setting," said Kenneth Graham, superintendent of Rush-Henrietta Central School District near Rochester, N.Y. "They don't have upperclassmen in the halls picking on them and teasing them."

There were 127 ninth-grade-only public schools in the 1999-2000 school year. By the 2005-06 school year, that number had jumped to 185, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.

In San Antonio, the Southside Independent School District is opening a ninth-grade school this month. Another district plans to open one next year.

"I think that most of us in the state have always been looking for ways of addressing the dropout issue and ... keeping our students engaged," said Juan Antonio Jasso, superintendent of Southside. "It didn't take a great deal of convincing that this was a most positive approach to take with the student population."

The ninth-grade year is crucial to success in high school. If students don't get the credits needed to move on to 10th grade, they can fall insurmountably behind. In Texas in the 2005-06 school year, 16.5 percent of ninth-graders — the highest rate of any grade — didn't complete requirements to advance, according to a Texas Education Agency report.

Ninth grade is also when most problems start to appear, said James Kemple of MDRC, a New York-based social policy research organization.

"It's the point where you can very clearly predict who's eventually going to drop out," said Kemple, director of the group's K-12 education policy area.

There are more ninth-graders in U.S. high schools than any other class. That's because many students either aren't promoted to 10th grade or drop out before they get there.

In 2003-04, there were nearly 4.2 million ninth-graders nationwide. But by the next year, just 3.75 million were in the 10th grade, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National High School Center.

Ninth-grade-only schools make some sense, said Joseph Harris, director of the center. But simply moving students to another campus, building or wing isn't enough.

"It isn't replicating the practices of a large comprehensive high school in a stand-alone ninth grade," Harris said. "The key there is making sure that you're facilitating the communication between teachers and administrators in ninth grade who are preparing students for eventual promotion."

Some districts, like Madison County Schools in Huntsville, Ala., and West Fargo Public Schools in North Dakota, opened ninth-grade centers to relieve overcrowding in high schools. Rush-Henrietta started its ninth-grade school, with an enrollment of 500, for the same reason in 2000 and has kept it ever since.

"From all quarters it was a resounding success," Graham said. "We're delighted with it, it's worked out really well."

Aldine Independent School District in the Houston area has four ninth-grade centers with enrollments of about 900 each.

"The whole philosophy behind it was to separate the younger kids from the older kids. To give an opportunity to work with them one more year ... as opposed to cutting them loose in high school," said superintendent Wanda Bamberg.

Tasnim Mohamed graduated from Aldine's Eisenhower Ninth Grade School in the spring. She said it provided her the personal attention she wanted. At the same time, extracurricular activities helped her become familiar with Eisenhower Senior High School, where she'll start 10th grade this month.

"You get a sense of knowing everybody that you're going to school with" in the ninth-grade school, she said. "But it's not like you're secluded from everybody else. You still get to interact and see how it will be next year (in high school) when you go there."

Educators acknowledge there are some drawbacks.

For many students, it means attending three schools in as many years as they progress from the eighth grade to high school.

"This is now another step in there in terms of kids transitioning from one school to the next and all that that implies," said Sandra Spivey, director of secondary education for Madison County Schools in Alabama.

West Fargo superintendent Dana Diesel Wallace wonders if exposure to older students is a part of the maturation process that ninth-graders don't get. "They can be a little more silly without that older peer influence," she said.

Still, she noticed significant GPA improvements among students attending her district's Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center.

Kemple, the K-12 education policy researcher, said it's important to not lose focus on older students.

"Giving special attention to ninth grade is the first order of business," Kemple said. "But then apply the same general principles to grades 10 through 12 so students aren't faced with the same problems, but just a year later."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Plan to Test the City’s Youngest Pupils

This is crazy! -Patricia

August 26, 2008

The Bloomberg administration, which has made accountability the watchword of its overhaul of public education, is asking elementary school principals across the city to give standardized tests in English and math to children as young as kindergartners.

In an e-mail message sent on Monday evening, the Education Department’s chief accountability officer, James S. Liebman, urged principals to join a yearlong pilot program with five testing options for kindergarten through second grade, including timed paper-and-pencil assessments in which students record answers in booklets for up to 90 minutes, as well as ones in which teachers record observations of individual students on Palm Pilots.

Mr. Liebman, the architect of the city’s much-debated program of assigning schools letter grades of A through F, said in his message that because New York — like most of the country — now begins formal testing in third grade, the system does “not give schools credit for this foundational work or provide you with the means to evaluate the effectiveness of your K-2 programs.”

The pilot program, which will cost $400,000 and was not publicly announced, is already inciting outrage among some educators and advocates who worry that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s efforts to overhaul the school system have been overly focused on standardized testing.

While the federal No Child Left Behind law has required schools nationwide to administer tests starting in the third grade since 2002, Mr. Bloomberg has gone further, using test scores to determine school grades as well as bonuses for teachers and principals. The administration has also expressed interest in using test scores to determine teacher tenure, an idea that is being blocked by legislators in Albany.

Throughout the city and across the nation, teachers and parents have protested the increasing time spent on testing — and test preparation — particularly in elementary grades, where critics say that development of children’s creativity has suffered. Some experts question the effectiveness of such assessments for very young children, where lessons about sharing and socialization are sometimes considered as important as facts and figures.

“It sounds like a downward extension of whatever’s good, but also what’s bad about standardized testing in the higher grades, with more risk because we know that standardized testing isn’t appropriate at those ages,” said Lorrie Shepard, dean of the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “Now they’re venturing into territory where many more people say that the negative will far outweigh any positive.”

In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Liebman stressed that the pilot program was voluntary — he said 50 of the city’s 700-some elementary principals had already expressed interest — and that the tests were not high-stakes. They would not, for example, determine whether students moved to the next grade, as is the case with older children.

Mr. Liebman also pointed out that kindergartners and first and second graders are already evaluated by their teachers. Most schools use a system called the Early Childhood Literacy Assessment System, which takes teachers a long time to administer because they must meet with every child individually.

The new testing methods combine results in English and math for a single cumulative score for each child, he said, making comparisons across classrooms and over time easier.

“This is a substitute for something that is already taking place and has been for years, and which schools have found to be very powerful but want to be more powerful because they want to be able to measure progress,” he said. “If you told a doctor, ‘I want you to treat me but I do not want you to take my temperature, I don’t want you to take any blood samples, I don’t want you to do any diagnosis, just treat me,’ the doctor would be at a loss to know what to do.”

He said this year’s experiment could include up to 12,720 of the city’s 200,000 or so kindergarten through second graders, and that depending on the results, the city could mandate a single test to be used next year, allow principals to choose which tests they prefer or go back to doing things the way they were done before. His e-mail message to principals promised that their feedback “will provide an important basis, among others, for deciding whether it would be appropriate in coming years to measure progress in grades K-2 and, if so, how best to do so.”

Mr. Liebman said that in future years, elementary school principals might be able to request that their kindergarten through second-grade scores be incorporated into their overall report card grades. Asked whether all school report card grades might someday include the youngest children’s scores, he said: “We just haven’t been thinking about that. We’ve talked about the option possibility.”

In fact, Mr. Liebman said the new pilot program was developed after principals complained that the A through F grades, which judge schools largely on the basis of yearly progress on standardized tests, did not reflect the progress they had made with their youngest children.

But Jane Hirschmann, the founder of Time Out From Testing, a New York City anti-testing group, called the pilot program “criminal behavior,” saying of the Bloomberg administration, “They’re committed to turning curriculum into a testing regime.”

“They knew they were going to be up against a very big movement saying, now you’ve gone way too far, so what do they do?” said Ms. Hirschmann. “They wait until the summer, and they sneak it in the back door.”

Tovah P. Klein, director of the Barnard Center for Toddler Development, said that even if the tests were not intended to have real consequences, they would.

“Once you have a number behind a kid, it becomes high stakes because teachers make judgments on kids — ‘Oh, this kid needs remedial help, this kid’s not learning as well.’ It ranks kids,” she said. “What these tests do is say to the teachers, ‘This is what matters, that kids know this single decontextualized piece of information.’ ”

Among the options that principals may choose from are two written exams — designed by the well-known testing companies CTB/McGraw-Hill and Pearson — one of which will be given twice a year in English (55 to 70 minutes per test) and math (40 to 65 minutes), the other three times a year in both subjects (60 to 90 minutes each). Two other options involve 10-minute assessments, given three times a year, in which teachers record student observations based on a scripted dialogue. The fifth has students complete a test online, for 20 to 35 minutes, three times over the course of the year.

Virginia Pepe, the principal of Public School 163, Alfred E. Smith, on the Upper West Side, said she would send someone to learn more about the testing at a coming information session.

“We’ll be going in as critical consumers and we will be making, I think, thoughtful decisions about what’s going to be best for the children in our school,” Dr. Pepe said. “Working in a very targeted way with children based upon assessment information can really have very positive results, if it’s not used to shackle instruction but it’s used to enrich the learning opportunities.”

But she noted that parents might balk at some of the options, saying: “If you’re selling a 60-minute test in kindergarten, I’d be hard-pressed to make that sale.”