Thursday, February 26, 2009

Obama's Higher-Education Goal Is Ambitious but Achievable, Leaders Say

Sara Hebel and Jeffrey J. Selingo | The Chronicle of Higher Education
February 26, 2009

Before President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, the White House compared the purpose of the event to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats during the Great Depression. But for higher education, Mr. Obama was more like John F. Kennedy when he issued the challenge in 1961 to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

This president’s goal was equally daunting: for the nation to have the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. “That is a goal we can meet,” he said to applause in the chamber.

But is it?

College and university leaders were clearly delighted that Mr. Obama dedicated so much time in his speech to higher-education issues, which had for years taken a back seat to elementary and secondary education in presidential addresses. But, by Wednesday, the enormity of the task that has long been on college administrators' wish list became evident again.

“It’s absolutely achievable, but it’s ambitious,” Hilary Pennington, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s postsecondary program, said in an interview. “It’s a stretch goal.”

In November, the Gates foundation announced that it would spend several hundred million dollars over the next five years to double the number of low-income young people who complete a college degree or certificate program by age 26 (The Chronicle, November 21). Recognizing the difficulty of the task, the Gates foundation set a slightly longer time frame for its goal than the president did for his—2025 instead of 2020.

Ms. Pennington said President Obama’s speech might have helped in one of the biggest hurdles to achieving the foundation's goal of doubling college-completion rates: first, recognizing that a problem exists.

“The American public thinks that if you go to college, you finish,” she said. “The president has the unique ability to make sure we break through the noise and make people realize that many more countries are taking this more seriously than we are.”

Spotlight on an Issue

Efforts that have been under way to bolster the country’s educational attainment are now likely to get a lot more attention, thanks to Mr. Obama. For the Lumina Foundation for Education, the president’s challenge on Tuesday night was a perfect prologue to a 131-page document that the group is set to release today detailing steps institutions and the federal and state governments must take to increase the proportion of Americans with “high quality” degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025. It was a goal the foundation set about a year ago to guide its work.

“When we started the journey of our big goal, we knew that it would be seen as audacious,” Jamie P. Merisotis, president and chief executive of the foundation, said. “After hearing President Obama’s commitment in his speech … we see the positive energy and drive to move America in this direction.”

The foundation’s new report lays out an action plan that urges governments to bolster community colleges by focusing on improving completion and transfer rates and aligning their programs to meet the most critical work-force needs. It also advises states and the federal government to do more to increase educational opportunities for returning veterans and recent immigrants, and to increase need-based student aid.

To help begin to “turn the tide” fairly quickly, the Lumina report says, policy makers and leaders can focus first on finding residents who have some college experience but have not earned a degree and help them go back to complete their program.

One idea, Mr. Merisotis said, might be for more institutions and states to begin accelerated programs for associate degrees so adults and other students who are ready can complete their studies at less cost and in less time.

Leaders in Washington, he said, also need to motivate states and be a “driver” to help them adopt programs and policies that move them toward the specific national goal.

A Difficult Goal to Track

One stumbling block to reaching the goal—whether it is the one established by the president, Gates, or Lumina—is knowing when it has actually been accomplished. Ms. Pennington said data systems that track students must be improved. “It’s very hard to achieve a goal if you can’t measure your progress,” she said.

For now, the data set everyone seems to be using in establishing a goal is that of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. According to the Paris-based organization, 39 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in the United States have an associate degree or higher, ranking the nation 10th among 30 countries. In the top-ranking country, Canada, 55 percent of adults in that age group hold an associate degree or higher.

But if a larger pool of Americans are included, the United States actually performs much better. The nation is ranked fifth among 30 countries for the percentage of the population between 25 and 65 years old with an associate degree or higher.

Complicating the problem, said Joseph L. Marks, director of education-data services at the Southern Regional Education Board, is that the United States has a higher proportion of educated older people than do other countries. “It’s going to be challenging for us to move these numbers,” Mr. Marks said, "because the student groups that are growing the fastest [Hispanic students] currently have the lowest participation rate in higher education."

Even so, Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said the goal of putting the United States back on top is doable. For one thing, he said, the nation has enough institutions to educate greater percentages of its residents.

To reach the president’s objective, Mr. Callan said it will take more fundamental changes than adding more dollars to the Pell Grant or increasing income-tax credits for tuition costs. But it won’t necessarily require more money. The United States, he said, spends about 3 percent of its gross domestic product on higher education, roughly twice the percentage of virtually every other developed country.

“Sort of like the health-care system, we can’t spend our way out” of the problems, Mr. Callan said.

No Child Left behind found wanting by UCLA professor

Some really good points brought up by Orfield. I can't stress it enough for all of us in Texas to become well informed on the state accountability reforms being pushed this session. In Texas NCLB produces added pressures especially upon low-resourced and diverse schools. So we need to think about what/how we change the current state accountability system and become well informed on what's being advocated for this session.

Check out two previous posts on this blog:
Bad Education Bills Have Been Filed in the Texas Legislature That Will Reduce Math and Science Graduation Requirements

For the first time, Hispanic children are the majority in Texas’ first-grade classrooms


On Feb. 18, UCLA professor Gary Orfield visited UNH to discuss the No Child Left Behind federal education policy.

With an audience of students, educators and community members, Orfield covered topics such as the origin of the policy, signed by the Bush administration in 2001, its loopholes and the aspects of the policy which have not improved the overall standard of education in America's public schools the way it was meant to.

"No Child Left Behind teaches to the test, and that's the measurement of student learning," said Alison Rheingold, a doctoral student studying education. "I'm excited to hear about a more reasonable concept of reaching student equality."

The major point Orfield stressed was that the most crucial elements that affect a child's ability to learn and succeed in school begin before they ever set foot inside a classroom. Orfield pointed out that for students who are forced to move often, this causes them to have their education interrupted and that can cause serious issues.

Children who come from poverty are often moving homes and do not have a chance to settle in one location. This affects the success of students in school which is then reflected in their poor test scores.

"No Child Left Behind is an extreme ideology that is difficult to meet," said Orfield. "The policy assumes that schools have vast power and that inequality has little or nothing to do with external conditions and that equality can be achieved through testing, sanctions and market competitions."

Orfield stressed that schools cannot be expected to have their students do well without other types of support, yet this is the pressure put on them by No Child Left Behind.

In needy districts where excellent teachers are sought out the most, many are leaving as a result of the extreme pressure put on them to have their students meet the policy's irrational standards. These standards require high math and reading scores. With the emphasis on only these two subjects, other subjects such as science and social studies are being pushed aside for the sake of the school gaining high-test scores.

Any subjects outside the box, such as studying United States democracy, would not be considered because it is not on the test.

For the increasing number of students whose first language is not English, meeting the reading requirement is particularly difficult. The fear is that if the standards of a curriculum are raised too quickly, the students may fail. The schools then take the hit, and many schools are losing courses and funding.

"These kids are being forced to ignore their background and are expected to become proficient in English after a short period of time," said Orfield. "Testing is being used to fix problems rather than diagnose them."

What can be done to fix the problem and what will the Obama administration do?

Some solutions presented by Orfield included high school transition effort, dropout title funding and dropout counselors.

In the end, it all boils down to funding. The dropout rate has increased drastically since the 1980s and Orfield feels that bringing the country's rate down by 1,000,000 high school dropouts within President Obama's four years is a realistic goal. At this time President Obama has not made his position on No Child Left Behind known.

The core requirement of No Child Left Behind is to "provide students with a good education in order to make it in life. The policy seeks to ensure that all students be treated equally," according to Orfield's presentation.

The glitch with the policy is that while all students should be treated equally regardless of their backgrounds, not all students learn at the same pace or through the same methods. The No Child Left Behind policy does not take into account the specific struggles of what goes on within a classroom on a daily basis.

"I think the policy needs to be modified," said Mallory Sawyer, a senior Spanish and speech and language pathology major. "It's a utopian idea and theory but in reality it's ridiculous. It's a good idea, but it just doesn't work."

President Obama has promised additional funding for college scholarships through a $13 billion federal education stimulus. This would allow more students who struggle financially to continue their education at the post-secondary level.

Orfield stressed that with the high poverty levels in a growing non-white population, there needs to be more funding to keep these students motivated to stay in school and an incentive to keep excellent teachers in these schools.

Project Dropout: For Minorities, Especially Hispanic Boys, Dropout Rates Are Much Higher

This is awful. You can listen to the full story here

BOSTON - February 24, 2009 - The Massachusetts Board of Education today takes a look at the state's graduation rate standards.

The Commissioner of Education is asking for an increase in the minimum graduation rate for each high school. Mitchell Chester's proposal would also require school districts to lower the dropout rate for minority groups.

A state Department of Education report shows that only half of Hispanic male students graduate from high school in four years.

Professor Ronald Ferguson directs the Achievement Initiative at Harvard University. He spoke to WBUR about what's causing higher drop out rates for minority students -- particularly Hispanic males.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bad Education Bills Have Been Filed in the Texas Legislature That Will Reduce Math and Science Graduation Requirements

As stated in an earlier post, the "Common Ground"proposal mentioned in this press release is full of subtle and not-so-subtle prejudice. For example, on page 13, immigrants are referred to as “largely illiterate in both English and their native language.”

I would also alert you that there are discussions about revising the Texas Grant from needs-based to merit-based.

These changes would mean that eligibility would change from fulfilling one of the following criteria: a 2.5 GPA, Distinguished or Recommended track, SAT or ACT score)to TWO of the following four (revised) criteria:

a) 3.0 GPA
b) Top 1/3 of class
c) SAT Score (1070) / ACT (23)
d) Distinguished diploma

So this would mean that only ONE of the three diploma tracks proposed by the authors of Common Ground would provide eligibility for Texas Grant aid. Supporters of this change have also confirmed that African American and Latino youth WILL be negatively impacted.



For immediate release
2009 February 21

Steven Schafersman
Texas Citizens for Science

Bad Education Bills Have Been Filed in the Texas Legislature That Will Reduce
Math and Science Graduation Requirements

Report link:

Texas Citizens for Science, the advocacy organization that defends the accuracy
and reliability of science education in Texas, has published a new investigative
report on the attempt of six prominent Texans to reduce the high school science
and math graduation requirements for approximately 80% of Texas students. The
six gentlemen are Sandy Kress, Don McAdams, Mike Moses, David Thompson, Jim
Windham, and Bill Ratliff. Some of these gentlemen have in the past performed
outstanding services for Texas education and its improvement, but their new
proposal will damage math and science education for Texas high school students.

Currently, the Texas high school Recommended and Distinguished Graduation
Programs require a 4x4 curriculum, that is, four courses of English Language
Arts, Social Studies, Mathematics, and Science. The six gentlemen have proposed
a multiple graduation curricula plan that creates three curricula for the
Recommended and Distinguished High School Graduation Programs. The three
curricula are for students who wish to concentrate in humanities and liberal
arts, career and technology education, and math and science. Two bills filed in
the Texas House, HB 1216 and 1503, by Representatives Fred Brown and Marc
Veasey, contain the details of the proposed multiple curricula plan. Only the
math and science curriculum retains four years of math and science courses. The
humanities and career and technology curricula will go back to the pre-2006
graduation curriculum, three courses each of math and science. Texas Citizens
for Science believes about 20% of Texas students will choose the math and
science option.

The Texas Legislature originally passed the 4x4 curriculum in 2007 with great
bipartisan support. The Texas State Board of Education was also in favor of the
4x4 curriculum and implemented it in 2008. Math and science curriculum experts
and educators, mathematicians, and scientists were in favor of the 4x4
curriculum so that Texas high school graduates would be better prepared for
college and university success upon high school graduation. Curriculum
specialists who wrote the College Readiness Standards specified the curriculum
necessary for high school graduates to be prepared for postsecondary work. The
recommended curriculum requires four years of math and science. Also, students
need to take math and science courses during their senior year to prevent a gap
in learning which will affect their performance in college.

Steven Schafersman, President of Texas Citizens for Science, says, "If the
new legislation becomes law, Texas high school graduation requirements will
revert back to inadequate math and science curricula that have long been
ineffective in preparing students adequately for postsecondary academic
achievement. Student success in colleges and universities will continue to be
low in Texas as proved by the large numbers of students who require remediation,
drop out of college, and perform poorly in courses that require scientific and
quantitative skills. Texas students cannot continue to be shortchanged by
irresponsible meddling that lowers high school graduation requirements,
especially when we are facing immense global competition in industries that
require scientific and quantitative knowledge and skills. Texas is too wealthy
to not prepare our students better for higher education."

The full story of the House bills, the graduation requirements, and the
proposal to change the math and science curriculum to the detriment of Texas
student achievement is contained in an investigative report available on the
Texas Citizens for Science website at the address above.

Senate panel approves bill for greater oversight of state schools

Senate panel approves bill for greater oversight of state schools
Parent tells state senators about teen with mental disabilities who was abused by staff.

By Jim Vertuno
Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Karen Yeaman's autistic teenage son lived in the Austin State School for six months. That was long enough for her to see things that she didn't like and hear stories from parents worried that their children had been abused or neglected by staff in Texas' large homes for people with mental disabilities.

"You're treating them like dirt," Yeaman told state senators Tuesday, relaying stories of one teenager whose parents said he was yelled and screamed at and was smacked on the head.

Texas lawmakers are considering several bills to fix a system racked by reports of abuse and neglect. A federal Department of Justice report released in December found 53 deaths from preventable conditions in the past year.

On Tuesday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed a bill to create greater oversight, better investigations and training and deeper background checks into staff.

Texas houses nearly 5,000 residents with mental disabilities in facilities known as state schools, and Gov. Rick Perry has declared the need to fix the problems a legislative emergency.

"They need our protection, our oversight and our compassion," said Sen. Jane Nelson, the Flower Mound Republican who chairs the committee and sponsored the bill.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for debate. It does not include a moratorium on admissions, a call to close any state schools or bans on the use of restraints, which some advocates for the disabled have sought. Some of those issues are in other bills.

"This bill is a good start," said Garth Corbett, an attorney for Advocacy Inc., a group that has pushed to drastically reform the state schools. "It doesn't go far enough."

With the most explosive issues left out of Nelson's bill, Tuesday's testimony didn't touch on the abuses detailed in the federal report.

Though some families said their loved ones were treated well, Yeaman described an atmosphere of intimidation for a young man who was subjected to cursing, threats and theft. She said the boy's parents asked her to tell lawmakers about their son.

She said that the parents told her that staff routinely cursed and screamed at their son to get up in the mornings, threatened to flip his mattress if he moved slowly and flicked him on the head. Yeaman's son now lives in a smaller community home.

Adelaide Horn, commissioner of the Department of Aging and Disability Services, told lawmakers the agency has a "no tolerance" policy when it comes to confirmed cases of abuse.

"I would consider it abuse if they said 'shut up,' " Horn said.

Susan Payne, vice president of the Parent Association for the Retarded of Texas Inc. and a defender of the state schools, said families welcome the bill's safeguards.

Her 47-year-old sister lives in the Denton State School, and she thinks most residents are treated well. Additional training will help, but even that might not be enough, she said.

"I'm not sure any amount of training can prepare people for the type of work they will be doing," Payne said.

The Accountability Illusion

February 19, 2009
This study examines the No Child Left Behind Act system and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) rules for 28 states. We selected 36 real schools (half elementary, half middle) that vary by size, achievement, diversity, etc. and determined which of them would or would not make AYP when evaluated under each state's accountability rules. If a school that made AYP in Washington were relocated to Wisconsin or Ohio, would that same school make AYP there? Based on this analysis, we can see how AYP varies across the country and evaluate the effectiveness of NCLB.

National report:
Executive Summary | Foreword | Preface | Introduction & Methodology | Findings & Limitations | Discussion | Appendices | References

Press Release

Highlights from Achievement Effects of Four Early Elementary School Math Curricula: Findings from First Graders in 39 Schools

Many U.S. children start school with weak math skills, and there are differences between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds--those from poor families lag behind those from affluent ones--and these differences grow over time. The federal Title I program provides financial assistance to schools with a high number or percentage of poor children to help all students meet state academic standards. Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), Title I schools must make adequate yearly progress (AYP) in bringing their students to state-specific targets for proficiency in math and reading.

NCLB emphasizes the importance of adopting scientifically-based educational practices; however, there is little rigorous research evidence to support one math instructional theory or curriculum over another. The purpose of this large-scale study is to determine whether some early elementary school math curricula are more effective than others at improving student math achievement, thereby providing educators with information that may be useful for making AYP. A small number of curricula dominate elementary math instruction (seven math curricula account for 91 percent of the curricula used by K-2 educators), and the curricula are based on different theories for developing student math skills.

The Achievement Effects of Four Early Elementary School Math Curricula: Findings from First Graders in 39 Schools reports on the relative impacts of four math curricula on first-grade mathematics achievement. The curricula were selected to represent diverse approaches to teaching elementary school math in the United States. The four curricula are Investigations in Number, Data, and Space (published by Pearson Scott Foresman); Math Expressions (Houghton Mifflin Company); Saxon Math (Harcourt Achieve); and Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley (SFAW) Mathematics (Pearson Scott Foresman). The relative effects of the curricula are based on the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K) math assessment, which is an adaptive test tailored to a student's achievement level.

This report contains the following key findings:

Curriculum Implementation
All teachers received initial training from the publishers and 96 percent received follow-up training. Training varied by curriculum, ranging from 1.4 days for Saxon to 3.9 days for Investigations.
Nearly all teachers (99 percent in the fall, 98 percent in the spring) reported using their assigned curriculum as their core math curriculum, and about a third reported supplementing their curriculum with other materials.
Eighty-eight percent of teachers reported completing at least 80 percent of their assigned curriculum.
On average, Saxon teachers reported spending one more hour on math instruction per week than did teachers of the other curricula.
Achievement Effects
Student math achievement was significantly higher in schools assigned to Math Expressions and Saxon, than in schools assigned to Investigations and SFAW. The average adjusted spring math achievement of Math Expressions and Saxon students was 0.30 standard deviations higher than Investigations students and 0.24 standard deviations higher than SFAW students. For a student at the 50th percentile in math achievement, these effects mean that the student's percentile rank would be 9 to 12 points higher if the school used Math Expressions or Saxon instead of Investigations or SFAW.
Math achievement in schools assigned to the two more effective curricula (Math Expressions and Saxon) was not significantly different, nor was math achievement in schools assigned to the two less effective curricula (Investigations and SFAW). The Math Expressions-Saxon and Investigations-SFAW differentials equal 0.02 and –0.07 standard deviations, respectively, and neither is statistically significant.
This study is the largest of its kind ever to use an experimental design to study a variety of math curricula. This report is based on the math achievement of first-graders in 4 districts and 39 schools during the 2006-07 school year. The 39 schools in this report are in four districts that are geographically dispersed in four states and in three regions of the country. The districts also fall in areas with different levels of urbanicity—two districts are in urban areas, one is in a suburban area, and the other is in a rural area. However, this is not a representative sample of districts and schools in the U.S., because interested sites are likely to be unique in ways that make it difficult to select a representative sample. Eligible districts were willing to use all four of the study’s curricula and allowed the curricula to be randomly assigned to their participating schools.

A second report will be based on the math achievement of first- and second-graders in all 12 districts and 110 schools participating in the study-—another 71 schools joined the study during the 2007-08 school year (the year after the 39 examined in this report joined). The second report will also include information from classroom observations of fidelity to each curricula, as well as classroom practices across the curricula.
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Governors Endorse 'Common Core' of Standards, Leave Debate for Later

Governors Endorse 'Common Core' of Standards, Leave Debate for Later
Posted: 24 Feb 2009 05:34 AM CST
At the National Governors Association's winter meeting this weekend, most news organizations focused on some governors' reluctance to take portions of the stimulus money. (For examples of the coverage, see here and here.)
But the NGA took one significant vote that went unnoticed elsewhere. Its members approved a policy statement that could lead to a set of national standards.
The statement hasn't been released to the public yet. But governors told me that it advocates putting state leaders in charge of a national effort to establish a "common core" of standards defining what students should know.
The statement dovetails with the report released in December by the NGA, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve Inc., a group of governors and business leaders. That report called for a process of benchmarking the standards of high-achieving countries to determine what content they consider most important.
"We want states to improve their standards, and one way to look at that is through international benchmarking," Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, told me.
But he insisted that the process shouldn't "federalize education."
The setting of standards has "got to be done by the state and local governments," he said.
While the NGA statement is no surprise, given the organization's work with the CCSSO and Achieve. But it is noteworthy because:
1.) It adds momentum to the move toward national standards. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been saying national standards will be a priority for the Obama administration. "What I want to do is be the catalyst," Duncan said on C-SPAN this weekend on an interview show with my colleague Michele McNeil and Libby Quaid of the Associated Press. "I want to take all of the hard work and make it happen." Also last week, AFT President Randi Weingarten endorsed national standards in an op-ed in The Washington Post.
2.) The policy sailed through the NGA without any controversy or significant debate. Thirteen years ago at a summit of governors and business leaders, the biggest debate was whether states should volunteer to set their own standards. (See the Ed Week story on the meeting.) Now, all governors are willing to endorse a project that could lead to national standards.
After the NGA adjourned, I walked over to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for a panel featuring former Secretary of Education Rod Paige, former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education David Driscoll, historian and commentator Diane Ravitch, and Bruno Manno of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. They were convened to comment on Fordham's recent report documenting variability in states' expectations under NCLB's accountability rules. The panelists disagreed on exactly how to fix the accountability system. But they all agreed that our country should have national standards.
But don't be lulled into a false sense of security by the consensus, Fordham President Checker Finn told me afterword. If you scratch "a millimeter below the surface" on national standards, significant differences emerge on who should set the standards, what should be in them, and other hot-button issues.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Study: No Child Standards Vary Widely From State To State

Children very widely, too. As do schools, districts, demographics, etc. etc.


Study: No Child Standards Vary Widely From State To State
The Associated Press

Some schools deemed to be failing in one state would get passing grades in another under the No Child Left Behind law, a national study found.

The study underscores wide variation in academic standards from state to state. It was to be issued today by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which conducted the study with the Kingsbury Center at the Northwest Evaluation Association.

The study comes as the Obama administration indicates it will encourage states to adopt common standards, an often controversial issue on which previous presidents have trod lightly.

"I know that talking about standards can make people nervous," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently.

"But the notion that we have 50 different goal posts doesn't make sense," Duncan said. "A high school diploma needs to mean something, no matter where it's from."

Every state, he said, needs standards that make kids college- and career-ready and are benchmarked against international standards.

The Fordham study measured test scores of 36 elementary and middle schools against accountability rules in 28 states.

It found the schools failed to meet yearly progress goals in states with more rigorous standards, such as Massachusetts. But they met yearly progress goals in states with lower standards, such as Arizona and Wisconsin. Under No Child Left Behind, states have a patchwork of rules that vary from state to state, the study said.

No Child Left Behind is misleading, said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the nonprofit Fordham Foundation.

"It misleads people into thinking that we have a semblance of a national accountability system for public schools, and we actually don't," Finn said. "And it's produced results I would call unfair from one state to the next."

No Child Left Behind was championed by President George W. Bush and passed with broad bipartisan support, though it has since become hugely unpopular.

The law prods schools to improve test scores each year, so that every student can read and do math on grade level by the year 2014. It is up to states to set yearly progress goals — "annual yearly progress," or AYP — and each state has its own standards and tests.

It is unlikely the Obama administration or Congress will try to force states to adopt the same standards.

Rather, they favor a carrot-and-stick approach that offers states funding to develop new standards and tests or offers more flexibility under No Child Left Behind.

The House Education Committee chairman, Democratic Rep. George Miller of California, called for incentives when Congress prepared to rewrite the law in 2007, an effort that subsequently stalled.

In the Senate, Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander pushed legislation that offered to waive the rigid annual yearly progress structure in exchange for raising standards to national or international benchmarks.

And in the newly enacted economic stimulus bill, there is a $5 billion incentive fund for Duncan to reward states for, among other things, boosting the quality of standards and state tests.

Several states are moving in that direction; for example, 16 of them working with Achieve, a nonprofit founded by governors and corporate leaders, have adopted common math and English standards.

Any effort toward common standards is likely to have support from teachers' unions.

Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers, wrote an op-ed piece Monday in The Washington Post arguing for national standards.

Like Duncan, she used a football analogy, comparing the patchwork of standards to a Super Bowl where the Pittsburgh Steelers must move the ball a full 10 yards but the Arizona Cardinals must go only 7.

"Every other industrialized nation has national standards," Weingarten said in an interview. "When you start thinking about how are we going to create a school system throughout the United States that helps enable kids to be prepared for college, prepared for life and prepared for work, you have to start with common standards," she said.

Early Launch for Language

Early Launch for Language
Young Children Have Advantage, but Linguists Say Lessons Benefit All
By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 16, 2009; B02

One in an occasional series comparing two takes on teaching popular subjects.

Can kids learn anything if they are exposed to a subject for only half an hour a week, with no homework?

When it comes to learning another language, educators say yes.

"The kids getting it for 30 minutes won't become fluent, but that's not the point of those programs," said Julie Sugarman, research associate at the nonprofit Center for Applied Linguistics in the District. "It's to give them exposure to the language. Just because kids aren't able to do calculus in sixth grade doesn't mean we shouldn't teach math in elementary school."

Foreign language instruction is considered more important than ever as the nation's demographics and national security issues change and the world's economies become intertwined.

Although new brain research is revealing secrets about how people acquire language, complex questions remain about what constitutes effective teaching. In the No Child Left Behind era, which has focused on basic reading and math skills, some educators say time for teaching foreign languages is scarce. That means aiming for a goal short of fluency.

Spanish teacher Lisa Vierya emphasizes basic conversational skills in the half-hour a week she has with a second-grade class at Evergreen Mill Elementary School in Loudoun County.

Vierya wheels in a big cart packed with books, word cards and other materials. From start to finish, she speaks Spanish, even when the students don't understand her.

"¿Cuál animal es?" ("What animal is this?"), she asked her students after teaching them how to say "horse," "pig" and other farm animals. The students answered correctly until one confused a horse ("caballo") with the color gray, answering "gris."

"They eventually pick it up," she said later. No homework is required, but students are encouraged to practice. First- and second-graders receive 30 minutes of instruction a week; children in grades 3 through 5 have two 30-minute classes weekly.

Assessments in fifth grade, she said, show that the program gives students a grounding in the language that allows them to converse.

"Yes, I'd like more time. But there is value in this," she said.

A different approach is used in Susanna Winebrenner's second-grade classroom at César Chávez Spanish Immersion Elementary School in Prince George's County.

There, students receive instruction in Spanish and English virtually every day; subjects taught in Spanish are Spanish language arts and social studies.

It's called partial immersion, although down the hall in the kindergarten and first-grade classes, instruction is all in Spanish.

In immersion classes, students learn subjects in the target language through a variety of techniques. They differ from traditional methods, which emphasize vocabulary and grammar and often fail to produce proficiency.

"We are teaching literacy," said Principal José A. Taboada II. " We are not talking just about learning Spanish. When you learn a second language, you are also learning how to learn other languages, and not just the spoken language -- the language of mathematics, the language of computers. Your mind opens."

Asked about the chief obstacle to learning Spanish, Evergreen Mill's Vierya cited lack of time. At César Chávez, Taboada mentioned parents who fear that their own culture will be devalued.

"At the first open house of the year," he said, "I told the parents, 'Get out of the way.' "

Both programs aim to engage students at an early age.

"The younger they are, the more comfortable they are in acquiring language," Taboada said.

But parents who fear their child will miss the chance if they don't start by third grade can stop worrying.

Sugarman, of the linguistics center, said research shows that middle- and high school students often make faster progress learning languages than younger ones who are not cognitively ready for grammar rules and similar tasks.

Young children do well with language instruction, she said, not just because their brains are sponges but also because the material is the very stuff of elementary school: greetings, numbers, seasons, weather, days of the week and so on.

"If students start younger, it is much easier to match the language level with the student's development level," Sugarman said. "In kindergarten, you do colors and numbers and 'My name is.' That's what you do in early stages of foreign language learning. Student are doing things interesting and relevant to them.

"One of the reasons foreign language is less effective in upper grades is that students aren't able to do things at their cognitive ability, so they may be bored."

New research has yet to prove how the brain handles language, but many linguists agree that children and adults learn and retain second languages differently because the brain changes over time with knowledge and experience. Children learn inductively, by example and by interacting with the environment around them, and adults tend to learn analytically and deductively.

But people at both age levels can learn to speak. What a focused, older language student probably won't be able to do is pass as a native speaker; the ability to adopt a new accent appears to be age-related, experts say.

Ultimately, experts say, the real key is not the instructional method but the instructor.

"The quality of the teacher is the single biggest factor in foreign language learning," said Catherine Ingold, director of the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland at College Park.

Sticking with it is also crucial. Research shows that becoming proficient in a second language can take four to seven years. And skills not sharpened become dull.

"If you don't use it, you lose it," said Taboada.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Spring 2009 Total Enrollment at The University of Texas at Austin Increases for Hispanic, African American and Foreign Students

*Contact:* Robert D. Meckel, Office of Public Affairs,

*Date:* February 16

*Spring 2009 Total Enrollment at The University of Texas at
Austin Increases for Hispanic, African American and Foreign

AUSTIN, Texas --- Total enrollment in spring 2009 increased
slightly for Hispanic, African American and foreign students
compared to the 2008 spring semester at The University of
Texas at Austin, a preliminary report shows.

Kristi D. Fisher, associate vice provost and director of
the university's Office of Information Management and
Analysis, said the data are preliminary 12th class day
numbers. The report shows total enrollment for the spring
2009 semester is 47,334, a decrease of 234 students (-0.5
percent) from spring 2008. Fisher said the decrease is
primarily due to fewer continuing students at the
undergraduate level.

The number of Hispanic students for spring 2009 is 7,484, a
1.5 percent increase over spring 2008. African American
student enrollment for spring 2009 is 2,093 (up 4.2 percent)
and the foreign student total is 348 (up 1.5 percent).
Enrollment decreased for white students to 25,757 (a 1.9
percent decrease), for American Indian students to 197 (a
4.8 percent decrease) and for Asian American students to
7,199 remained about the same, with only two fewer students
than in spring 2008.

Fisher said proportional representation on campus for the
spring 2009 semester, based on the preliminary figures,
includes: white students, 54.4 percent compared to 55.2
percent in spring 2008; American Indian students, 0.4
percent unchanged; African American students, 4.4 percent
compared to 4.2 percent last year; Asian American students,
15.2 percent compared to 15.1 percent; Hispanic students,
15.8 percent compared to 15.5 percent; and foreign students,
9.0 percent compared to 8.8 percent. Students whose
ethnicity was not known remained unchanged at 0.7 percent.

The preliminary report also shows an increase in the
proportion of female students on campus. Preliminary figures
show that of the 47,334 students this spring, 51.1 percent
are female (up 0.2 percent) and 48.9 percent are male (down
0.2 percent). The figures do not reflect a pattern since the
proportion of male students had increased in spring 2008
compared to spring 2007 while the proportion of females had

The proportion of students from Texas remained relatively
stable at 80.8 percent in spring 2009 compared to 81.0
percent in spring 2008. Out-of-state students remained
stable at 10.2 percent.

New undergraduate enrollment is up by 41 students (4.9
percent) from spring 2008 totals, primarily due to an 11.5
percent increase in transfer enrollment. Fisher said there
was a decrease of 41 students (-34.7 percent) in first-time
freshman enrollment. She said the number of undergraduate
continuing students decreased by 215 (-0.6 percent) and
re-entering students decreased by 9 students (-1.1 percent).

Graduate enrollment (including special professional)
decreased by 51 students (-0.4 percent) and new graduate
student enrollment increased by 16 students (7.3 percent,
excluding special professional). There was a 14-student
(-0.1 percent) decrease in continuing graduate students
(excluding special professional) and a 10-student (9.9
percent) increase in re-entering students (excluding special

Wall Street's Disaster Has Spawned Our Greatest Terrorist Threat

Hmmm. One wonders about this rather scary prognosis. Something to think about. If this perspective is even partially correct, policymakers should take care to really develop policies that address the health, educational, and housing needs (etc.) of the general public lest these difficult times turn into unrest.


U.S. Intel Chief's Shocking Warning: Wall Street's Disaster Has Spawned Our Greatest Terrorist Threat

By Chris Hedges, Truthdig
Posted on February 17, 2009, Printed on February 18, 2009

We have a remarkable ability to create our own monsters. A few decades of meddling in the Middle East with our Israeli doppelgnger and we get Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaida, the Iraqi resistance movement and a resurgent Taliban. Now we trash the world economy and destroy the ecosystem and sit back to watch our handiwork. Hints of our brave new world seeped out Thursday when Washington's new director of national intelligence, retired Adm. Dennis Blair, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He warned that the deepening economic crisis posed perhaps our gravest threat to stability and national security. It could trigger, he said, a return to the "violent extremism" of the 1920s and 1930s.

It turns out that Wall Street, rather than Islamic jihad, has produced our most dangerous terrorists. We will see accelerated plant and retail closures, inflation, an epidemic of bankruptcies, new rounds of foreclosures, bread lines, unemployment surpassing the levels of the Great Depression and, as Blair fears, social upheaval.

The United Nations' International Labor Organization estimates that some 50 million workers will lose their jobs worldwide this year. The collapse has already seen 3.6 million lost jobs in the United States. The International Monetary Fund's prediction for global economic growth in 2009 is 0.5 percent--the worst since World War II. There are 2.3 million properties in the United States that received a default notice or were repossessed last year. And this number is set to rise in 2009, especially as vacant commercial real estate begins to be foreclosed. About 20,000 major global banks collapsed, were sold or were nationalized in 2008. There are an estimated 62,000 U.S. companies expected to shut down this year. Unemployment, when you add people no longer looking for jobs and part-time workers who cannot find full-time employment, is close to 14 percent.

And we have few tools left to dig our way out. The manufacturing sector in the United States has been destroyed by globalization. Consumers, thanks to credit card companies and easy lines of credit, are $14 trillion in debt. The government has pledged trillions toward the crisis, most of it borrowed or printed in the form of new money. It is borrowing trillions more to fund our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And no one states the obvious: We will never be able to pay these loans back. We are supposed to somehow spend our way out of the crisis and maintain our imperial project on credit. Let our kids worry about it. There is no coherent and realistic plan, one built around our severe limitations, to stanch the bleeding or ameliorate the mounting deprivations we will suffer as citizens. Contrast this with the national security state's strategies to crush potential civil unrest and you get a glimpse of the future. It doesn't look good.

"The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications," Blair told the Senate. "The crisis has been ongoing for over a year, and economists are divided over whether and when we could hit bottom. Some even fear that the recession could further deepen and reach the level of the Great Depression. Of course, all of us recall the dramatic political consequences wrought by the economic turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, the instability, and high levels of violent extremism."

The specter of social unrest was raised at the U.S. Army War College in November in a monograph [click on Policypointers' pdf link to see the report] titled "Known Unknowns: Unconventional 'Strategic Shocks' in Defense Strategy Development." The military must be prepared, the document warned, for a "violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States," which could be provoked by "unforeseen economic collapse," "purposeful domestic resistance," "pervasive public health emergencies" or "loss of functioning political and legal order." The "widespread civil violence," the document said, "would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security."

"An American government and defense establishment lulled into complacency by a long-secure domestic order would be forced to rapidly divest some or most external security commitments in order to address rapidly expanding human insecurity at home," it went on.

"Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States. Further, DoD [the Department of Defense] would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance," the document read.

In plain English, something bureaucrats and the military seem incapable of employing, this translates into the imposition of martial law and a de facto government being run out of the Department of Defense. They are considering it. So should you.

Adm. Blair warned the Senate that "roughly a quarter of the countries in the world have already experienced low-level instability such as government changes because of the current slowdown." He noted that the "bulk of anti-state demonstrations" internationally have been seen in Europe and the former Soviet Union, but this did not mean they could not spread to the United States. He told the senators that the collapse of the global financial system is "likely to produce a wave of economic crises in emerging market nations over the next year." He added that "much of Latin America, former Soviet Union states and sub-Saharan Africa lack sufficient cash reserves, access to international aid or credit, or other coping mechanism."

"When those growth rates go down, my gut tells me that there are going to be problems coming out of that, and we're looking for that," he said. He referred to "statistical modeling" showing that "economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they persist over a one to two year period."

Blair articulated the newest narrative of fear. As the economic unraveling accelerates we will be told it is not the bearded Islamic extremists, although those in power will drag them out of the Halloween closet when they need to give us an exotic shock, but instead the domestic riffraff, environmentalists, anarchists, unions and enraged members of our dispossessed working class who threaten us. Crime, as it always does in times of turmoil, will grow. Those who oppose the iron fist of the state security apparatus will be lumped together in slick, corporate news reports with the growing criminal underclass.

The committee's Republican vice chairman, Sen. Christopher Bond of Missouri, not quite knowing what to make of Blair's testimony, said he was concerned that Blair was making the "conditions in the country" and the global economic crisis "the primary focus of the intelligence community."

The economic collapse has exposed the stupidity of our collective faith in a free market and the absurdity of an economy based on the goals of endless growth, consumption, borrowing and expansion. The ideology of unlimited growth failed to take into account the massive depletion of the world's resources, from fossil fuels to clean water to fish stocks to erosion, as well as overpopulation, global warming and climate change. The huge international flows of unregulated capital have wrecked the global financial system. An overvalued dollar (which will soon deflate), wild tech, stock and housing financial bubbles, unchecked greed, the decimation of our manufacturing sector, the empowerment of an oligarchic class, the corruption of our political elite, the impoverishment of workers, a bloated military and defense budget and unrestrained credit binges have conspired to bring us down. The financial crisis will soon become a currency crisis. This second shock will threaten our financial viability. We let the market rule. Now we are paying for it.

The corporate thieves, those who insisted they be paid tens of millions of dollars because they were the best and the brightest, have been exposed as con artists. Our elected officials, along with the press, have been exposed as corrupt and spineless corporate lackeys. Our business schools and intellectual elite have been exposed as frauds. The age of the West has ended. Look to China. Laissez-faire capitalism has destroyed itself. It is time to dust off your copies of Marx.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter, is a Senior Fellow at the Nation Institute. His latest book is Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians.

© 2009 Truthdig All rights reserved.
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A repackaged education proposal

This piece critical of Dr. Linda Darling Hammond pays no attention to the opportunity to learn standards that she and others call for. Since the achievement gap correlates so highly with other gaps, real reform needs to incorporate these, and yes, hold the state accountable for the inputs.


A repackaged education proposal
by Kathleen A. Madigan | February 14, 2009

A DEBATE is raging about the future of academic standards in American
public education. On one side, University of Virginia Professor E.D.
Hirsch and organizations like Democrats for Education Reform are
working to extend standards-based reforms. On the other side is
Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, once
considered a top candidate to be President Obama's education
secretary. She blames detailed standards testing and their focus on
discrete facts for wide achievement gaps and the nation's failure to
perform better on international assessments. Instead, she proposes
allowing teachers to interpret broad curriculum guidelines and develop
their own student assessments.

Darling-Hammond's approach largely reflects where Massachusetts was
prior to the enactment of education reform in 1993. The only statewide
high school graduation requirements were a year of American history
and four years of physical education. State SAT scores were barely at
the national average.

Today, the picture is much brighter. Bay State students were the
country's best on "the nation's report card" - the National Assessment
of Educational Progress - the last two times the tests were given.
They shook up the education world when results released in December
showed the Commonwealth outperforming most of the international
competition on the Trends in International Math and Science Study
(TIMSS) tests.

Massachusetts achieved success by following the rich academic content
and objective testing espoused by E.D. Hirsch and Democrats for
Education Reform.

Research on reading comprehension test results shows that knowledge of
the subject referenced in a passage is the key to students'
understanding. Similarly, the most effective way to get students to
master important "real-world" skills is to teach them the knowledge
that is prerequisite to those skills.

Just a decade ago, Massachusetts had lower reading scores than
Connecticut. But while the Commonwealth's reading scores improved more
than any state's between 1998 and 2005, Connecticut experienced some
of the nation's most significant declines.

Leaders in Hartford chose to focus on "how to" skills like critical
thinking and problem-solving over academic content; Massachusetts
chose rich content and objective assessments. Connecticut has recently
seen the error of its ways. It has discarded the focus on how-to
skills and joined the growing number of cities and states adopting
Massachusetts' academic standards as their model.

Importantly, research also shows a strong correlation between raising
verbal scores and narrowing achievement gaps. The states that saw the
most significant gains in reading scores during the 1998-2005 period -
Massachusetts, Delaware, and Wyoming - also made the most progress at
narrowing achievement gaps. Conversely, achievement gaps widened in
states like Connecticut and West Virginia that saw the largest reading
score declines.

According to Hirsch, that's because the achievement gap is really a
knowledge gap. Advantaged students have access to far more of it
outside school than do less-fortunate ones. Massachusetts' focus on
exposing all students to the same rich liberal-arts content is the
surest way to narrow the knowledge gap.

We still need to do better. That means introducing more specificity to
the grade-by-grade academic content students learn in core subjects,
particularly in the early grades.

Further narrowing achievement gaps will also require urban districts
to align their curricula with state frameworks. A sobering 2006 study
from the Pioneer Institute found that more than a decade after
education reform, curriculum in a majority of the Commonwealth's urban
districts still wasn't aligned with the frameworks, which means urban
students are being tested on content they haven't been taught.

At a recent event that featured Professor Hirsch, former Senate
president and co-author of education reform Thomas Birmingham sounded
the alarm, saying he is worried that Patrick administration proposals
to shift the focus from clear standards and objective assessments to
how-to skills threaten to "drive us back in the direction of vague
expectations and fuzzy standards." He added that he fears "a watering
down of clear expectations with vague aspirations."

Darling-Hammond's proposals repackage the skills-over-content approach
Massachusetts employed for decades prior to 1993. Fifteen years of
moving in a different direction have yielded historic academic gains.
By passing over Darling-Hammond as education secretary, Obama has
correctly decided not to turn his back on standards-based reform. In
Massachusetts, Governor Patrick would be wise to follow that lead.

Kathleen A. Madigan, founder and former president of the American
Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, is a member of the
Pioneer Institute's Center for School Reform Advisory Board.

Monday, February 16, 2009

For the first time, Hispanic children are the majority in Texas’ first-grade classrooms

This is a good piece worth reading. One of the many good points made here is for us all to think about who will be making decisions for the growing number of Latina/o (mainly Mexican) youth in Texas schools.

Here's a bit of insight:

Recently, the proposal "Common Ground" was released calling for reforms to the current state accountability system. This report that is riddled with grammatical errors and vague sentence constructions, as well as subtle and not-so-subtle prejudice. For
example, on page 13, immigrants are referred to as “largely illiterate in
both English and their native language.”

Anyone concerned about this should seriously take the time to read the Common Ground proposal as well as the following accountability proposals that have been made public:

Texas AFT's "Beyond TAKS (and NCLB): Putting Texas School Accountability Back on Track

"Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas"

"The Texas Star System: An Improvement Model For Public School Accountability

TPPF's Texas Accountability Standards 101

Texas Institute for Education Reform (TIER) "Creating the Schools We Need for the 21st Century: The Next Generation of Accountability


BUD KENNEDY | Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Monday, Feb 16, 2009

We have known for years that Texas will soon again be predominantly Hispanic.

What we have not known so clearly — until a couple of recent reports — is that the white population is dwindling.

In a new report on population trends in public schools, the Texas Education Agency reports that Texas now enrolls 130,000 fewer white children than 10 years ago.

For the first time, Hispanic children dominate first-grade classes, adding about 4,000 children last year to become the outright majority with 50.2 percent of students.

But Hispanic children would have become dominant without even one new student, because white first-grade enrollment dropped by about 2,000.

White children are now fewer than one-third of the first-graders in Texas.

If this is a surprise to us, it’s not one to Karl Eschbach of the University of Texas-San Antonio, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry as the official state demographer.

"What people don’t realize is the sheer inevitability of this change," Eschbach said Friday.

It isn’t about immigration, he said. It’s about native-born Texan and American children growing up.

Some white conservatives — not all of them but certainly all the ones with radio shows — fear the "Latinization" of Texas. No reason to fear.

"It’s already happened," Eschbach said.

In a separate new report on population projections, Eschbach and the Texas State Data Center now predict that Texas will become predominantly Hispanic within 10 years, and that the current white population of about 11.5 million is near its peak and will begin shrinking as baby boomers die out between 2020 and 2040. (The African-American population will grow, but more slowly.)

If you’re wondering why all this is important, it’s because aging white Texans will face decisions about taxes and education for a generation of mostly minority children.

"If the state is going to be healthy, we have to invest in children," Eschbach said, repeating part of the presentation he gives across the state. "We have to invest in education. We have to invest in preparing children for a global economy."

In other words, Texas’ future depends on how well we prepare today’s minority children.

Eschbach was blunt.

"The children who don’t 'look like us’ will have the greatest say in the state’s future success," he said.

If Texas were surrounded by a wall tomorrow and all illegal immigrants were removed, the result would be the same.

(According to federal estimates, only 1 in 4 Hispanic schoolchildren in Texas is the child of an illegal immigrant, and only a small percentage are illegal immigrants themselves.)

"If you live your life in the Anglo-majority-dominated world" — like suburban North Texas, one of the whitest parts of the state — "then you might not see the change," Eschbach said.

"But it would be tough to find a schoolchild who thinks of Texas as Anglo. With every passing year, Texas is going to be more Hispanic."

This isn’t about how we teach the Texas Revolution, or whether our 4.7 million schoolchildren learn more than one language.

It’s about our shared future as Texans.

Bills in the Texas lege affecting immigrant youth in higher education

There is a policy move in Texas to impact opportunities for immigrant youth in higher education as follows:

HB 50 by Riddle - Relating to information required to establish resident status in connection with tuition and fees charged by public institutions of higher education.
HB 255 by Berman - Relating to prohibiting admission by public institutions of higher education of applicants who are not lawfully authorized to be present in the United States.
HB 262 by Berman - Relating to information regarding the citizenship status of students.
HB 418 by Brown, Betty - Relating to the determination of resident status of students by public institutions of higher education.
HB 577 by Sheffield - Relating to requiring public institutions of higher education to notify the federal Student Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS) regarding the withdrawal or nonattendance of certain foreign students.

Does improving education reduce poverty or does reducing poverty improve education?

Below is Dr. Stephen Krashen's response to the Kristoff piece. The short answer is that reducing poverty improves education, strongly pointing to the limits of the educational system itself in turning poverty around. Not that the school is entirely helpless since we already know that a good or great teacher can make an enormous difference in children's lives. Here's where equitable public policies related to health, housing, school finance, and a more expansive opportunity structure in general, can make all the difference in the world. -Angela

Sent to the New York Times, Feb 15, 2009

Does improving education reduce poverty or does reducing poverty
improve education?

Nicholas Kristoff thinks that education is the key to reducing
poverty and that our schools are "Our greatest national shame" (Feb
15). There is, however, strong evidence that poverty is the major
cause of low academic achievement.

US schools with fewer than 25% of children in poverty outscore all
countries in the world in Math and Science (Gerald Bracey, Huffington
Post, July 22, 2007). US children only fall below the international
average when 75% of more of the students in a school are children of
poverty. Studies also show that poor diet and lack of reading material
seriously affect academic performance.

There is room for improvement in education, but when all our children
have the advantages that children from high-income families have, our
schools will be considered the best in the world.

Susan Ohanian puts it this way: Instead of No Child Left Behind, how
about No Child Left Unfed?

Stephen Krashen

The New York Times, February 15, 2009

Our Greatest National Shame


So maybe I was wrong. I used to consider health care our greatest
national shame, considering that we spend twice as much on medical
care as many European nations, yet American children are twice as
likely to die before the age of 5 as Czech children — and American
women are 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as Irish women.

Yet I’m coming to think that our No. 1 priority actually must be
education. That makes the new fiscal stimulus package a landmark, for
it takes a few wobbly steps toward reform and allocates more than $100
billion toward education.

That’s a hefty sum — by comparison, the Education Department’s
entire discretionary budget for the year was $59 billion — and it
will save America’s schools from the catastrophe that they were
facing. A University of Washington study had calculated that the
recession would lead to cuts of 574,000 school jobs without a

“We dodged a bullet the size of a freight train,” notes Amy
Wilkins of the Education Trust, an advocacy group in Washington.

So for those who oppose education spending in the stimulus, a
question: Do you really believe that slashing half a million teaching
jobs would be fine for the economy, for our children and for our

Education Secretary Arne Duncan describes the stimulus as a
“staggering opportunity,” the kind that comes once in a lifetime.
He argues: “We have to educate our way to a better economy, that’s
the only way long term to get there.”

That’s exactly right, and it’s partly why I shifted my views of
the relative importance of education and health. One of last year’s
smartest books was “The Race Between Education and Technology,” by
Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, both Harvard professors. They
offer a wealth of evidence to argue that America became the world’s
leading nation largely because of its emphasis on mass education at a
time when other countries educated only elites (often, only male

They show that America’s educational edge created prosperity and
equality alike — but that this edge was eclipsed in about the 1970s,
and since then one country after another has surpassed us in

Perhaps we should have fought the “war on poverty” with schools
— or, as we’ll see in a moment, with teachers.

Some education programs have done remarkably well in overcoming the
pathologies of poverty. Children who went through the Perry Preschool
program in Michigan, for example, were 25 percent less likely to drop
out of high school years later than their peers in a control group,
and committed half as many violent felonies. They were one-third less
likely to become teenage parents or addicts, and half as likely to get

Likewise, the KIPP program, the subject of a fine book by Jay
Mathews, has attracted rave reviews for schools that turn low-income
students’ lives around.

There are legitimate questions about whether such programs are
scalable and would succeed if introduced more broadly. But we do know
that the existing national school system is broken, and that we’re
not trying hard enough to fix it.

“We have a good sense from the data where there are big
opportunities,” notes Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth
College who studies education.

The hardest nut to crack is high schools — we don’t have a strong
sense yet how to rescue them. But there’s a real excitement at what
we are learning about K-8 education.

First, good teachers matter more than anything; they are
astonishingly important. It turns out that having a great teacher is
far more important than being in a small class, or going to a good
school with a mediocre teacher. A Los Angeles study suggested that
four consecutive years of having a teacher from the top 25 percent of
the pool would erase the black-white testing gap.

Second, our methods to screen potential teachers, or determine which
ones are good, don’t work. The latest Department of Education study,
published this month, showed again that there is no correlation
between teacher certification and teacher effectiveness. Particularly
in lower grades, it also doesn’t seem to matter if a teacher has a
graduate degree or went to a better college or had higher SATs.

The implication is that throwing money at a broken system won’t fix
it, but that resources are necessary as part of a package that
involves scrapping certification, measuring better through testing
which teachers are effective, and then paying them significantly more
— with special bonuses to those who teach in “bad” schools.

One of the greatest injustices is that America’s best teachers
overwhelmingly teach America’s most privileged students. In
contrast, the most disadvantaged students invariably get the least
effective teachers, year after year — until they drop out.

This stimulus package offers a new hope that we may begin to reform
our greatest national shame, education.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Together We Can Create World-Class Schools for All Texas Children

I urge all of you to critically read the full proposal Common Ground.


Together We Can Create World-Class Schools for All Texas Children

By Sandy Kress, Don McAdams, Mike Moses, David Thompson, and Jim Windham

Many education leaders have lamented the lack of consensus and sharp disagreements that have characterized Texas education policy discussions in recent years. In December 2007, the five of us, though we have different views on significant policy issues and have shared in some of these sharp disagreements, agreed to begin the search for common ground and set a different tone for discussion.

Many meetings and many drafts later, we have reached consensus. We are now placing before state education leaders and all Texans interested in world-class public schools Common Ground: A Declaration of Principles and Strategies for Texas Education Policy. We hope our compromise document will serve as a starting point for conversations among a wide range of education leaders and that from these conversations Texans can reach common ground on core education policy issues for the next session of the Legislature and beyond.

What are we proposing? First, we determined to not produce just another laundry list, but rather answer the question: "What is at the heart of the state's responsibility to provide a free, efficient public education for all children?"Four issues stand out: standards, accountability, capacity, and control.

Standards define the goals: "What should a high school graduate (and children at each grade level) know and be able to do?" Accountability defines the methods by which taxpayers know to what extent schools are reaching these goals and prescribes consequences that are appropriate to foster improvement. Capacity describes the resources, technical support, and policymaking structures and processes that the state provides so that schools can do what they have been asked to do. And control clarifies what decisions are made at the state level and what decisions are left to local school boards, schools, and parents.

We have made recommendations in these four areas, attempting to link them together in a coherent policy framework that balances standards with resources and accountability for results with local control. Our paper shows how all these elements must be aligned to promote high student achievement.

Specifically, we are recommending the following to make Texas schools the best in the nation:

Texas must establish college/workplace readiness as the standard for all high school graduates, with three diplomas and multiple curriculum paths within the recommended diploma.Texas high schools must recognize the varied interests of students and meet the needs of the workplace. However, all diplomas and curriculum paths must be rigorous and all high school graduates must be prepared for postsecondary success without remediation.

Legislators must adopt an accountability system with easily understood principles that fairly evaluates and promotes greater effectiveness in school districts and schools toward reaching high standards.The focus of the accountability system should be college and workplace readiness.

The statemust provide adequate resources to cover enrollment growth and inflation plus new funds for high-leverage investments as well as supportive state systems for policymaking, technical assistance, and information management.Standards are linked to capacity.High standards require commensurate resources, financial and other.

State policy should promote a shared partnership between the state and local districts in which the districts have the primary authority and responsibility for implementing the state's system of public education.State oversight must be balanced with local control.

Our paper examines these issues in some depth, but it is not a blueprint for legislation.It sets forth principles and strategies as a framework for dialogue.We hope that it will stimulate wide discussion among policymakers, educators, and citizens and that from this discussion a statewide consensus can be reached on next steps for building in Texas the best public school system in the nation.

Compromise is the essence of democracy.The future of Texas depends on education leaders working together to reach common ground.Students can't afford to have their education and future stymied by acrimonious fighting. We can deliver solutions for their futures by realizing the promise of our common ground.

Published December 20, 2008

Campaign for High School Equity Statement on the Role of Education Reform in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Campaign for High School Equity (CHSE) acknowledges the necessity of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and commends President Obama and Congress for moving quickly to address the nation's economic challenges. The civil rights coalition is pleased that the Act provides much-needed relief for states to help all students, including students of color and youth from low-income neighborhoods, stay on the path to high school graduation.

Notably, the House-passed and Senate committee-passed bills contain requirements that move toward holding schools, school districts and states accountable for student achievement. The provisions that require states to develop and use longitudinal data systems and improve assessments for English language learners (ELLs) and children with disabilities are important steps. We are pleased to see that the Senate bill included a provision to encourage states to align their state standards with college- and work-ready expectations. We are also pleased that both bills recognize the importance of ensuring that low-income and minority students are taught by effective teachers at the same rate as high-income students. However, the House-passed bill takes a stronger approach to solving this problem.

On their own these policies do not fully address America's education crisis. Of incoming ninth graders, only one-third will graduate with the skills they need to be successful in college and work.(i) Among high school graduates, students of color and low-income students are underrepresented, with some subgroups achieving a lower than 50 percent graduation rate. And as students of color and ELLs continue to grow as a proportion of the total student population, improving their educational outcomes must be a national priority.

CHSE is concerned that states will not target sufficient stimulus funds to the communities where help is needed most. The group is also "disappointed by the omission of funding for high schools, Title III, Title VII, TRIO, GEAR UP, and other programs that directly support students of color and ELLs," according to Michael Wotorson, CHSE's executive director. "To improve student outcomes," Wotorson continued, "we need long-term funding and policy solutions to ensure that all students have the support they need to succeed."

Even more dramatic improvements in federal support for education are needed to restore long-term economic viability. Too many American high schools fail to engage, educate and develop the young adults who should soon assume roles as business and community leaders. If we set ambitious goals for education and raise the graduation rates of students of color to the levels of white students by the year 2020, and if these new graduates go on to postsecondary education at similar rates, the potential increase in personal income would add more than $319 billion to the American economy.(ii)

Our nation's long-term economic health requires structural reforms to public education. U.S. education policy must change now, and a prime opportunity exists through the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. A full NCLB reauthorization process during the 111th Congress is necessary to guarantee students of color and youth from low-income neighborhoods access to a high-quality high school education that prepares them for college and the workplace. It is critical that we maintain our focus on improving educational opportunities for all students, or we risk long-term economic decline and the creation of a permanent underclass.

CHSE is a coalition of leading civil rights organizations representing communities of color that is focused on high school education reform. Members include the National Urban League, National Council of La Raza, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, League of United Latin American Citizens, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, Alliance for Excellent Education, National Indian Education Association, and Southeast Asia Resource Action Center.

CHSE is a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Standardized testing leaves collateral damage


Friday, February 13, 2009

It shouldn't take a Ph.D like David Berliner to tell us what's wrong with the way we do accountability in schools. He sees parallels in baseball, too, and he's no Joe Dimaggio.

Sporting analogy: When you put too much emphasis on home runs, he points out, you strike out more.

When you put too much emphasis on anything at the exclusion of other things, players adjust in ways that make them one-dimensional.

Berliner isn't an expert on baseball. A regents' professor at Arizona State University, he is an expert on education. With University of Texas-San Antonio professor Sharon Nichols, he wrote "Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts American Education."

Berliner recently spoke at Baylor University, his theme being how high-stakes testing makes America less competitive.

"Any time you invest a lot of value in an outcome measure you get a corruption of the measure," said Berliner, in a true academician's phrasing.

Texas being a proving ground for high-stakes testing and the federal No Child Left Behind law, it's notable that its schools have become poster children for "gaming the system to lie," Berliner said.

This includes not just outright cheating, but any number of maneuvers to make sure low-achievers aren't tested.

Beyond that is the problem of "narrowing the curriculum" to meet the task of passing a test on core subjects.

In Texas and across the country, we've seen schools with low math scores become slaves to computation at the exclusion of everything else.

"If you are going to gauge a school based on a test, then you're going to prepare kids for the test," he said.

Yeah, we need a Ph.D. to tell us this. Even Berliner sees the absurdity therein.

"What you get is really boring curriculum heavily favoring reading and math, and a drop in (emphasis of) almost everything else" — recess, music, arts, social studies, science.

Berliner said this problem is most pronounced in urban schools with more than their share of poverty cases, and with low-low test scores.

For many students in those situations, education is drained of its Technicolor in favor of dry work sheets and test-based drills.

Once again, it shouldn't take a Ph.D. to tell us this, but:

"Anyone who looks at the future of the American work force knows it needs to be more adaptable than it is today. We're developing a curriculum that's very narrow, a one-size-fits all approach.

"Instead, we need a broad approach, one that's wide so we have lots people who can adjust quickly when (economic) shifts happen."

Success demands that schools emphasize such traits as creativity, collaboration and problem-solving, he said.

Back to Berliner's warning about a too-boring curriculum. Some traditionalists would consider that a weak complaint of the "touchy-feely" crowd that doesn't want to crack the whip.

Well, Berliner cites a study in which 47 percent of those who dropped out cited boredom as the reason. It wasn't that they couldn't do the work. It was that they didn't see any reason.

I know that the martial-law crowd can't understand this, but: You know, schools ought to give children a reason to want to learn — other than passing a test.

It doesn't take a graduate degree to see that we need to stop examining our measuring cups and examine what we're putting in them. One idea would be to treat teachers as educators and not as vessels.

What you emphasize you'll get, or at least lunging efforts at it. In the age of test-driven "accountability," we are getting training and conditioning, but not education.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The challenges of a “giant, young Hispanic population”

The challenges of a “giant, young Hispanic population”

By Juan Castillo | Tuesday, January 27, 2009, 12:00 PM

In sports, coaches are fond of saying that statistics are for losers. In government, numbers carry considerable weight, often driving policy-making decisions. Whether the wealth of data to emerge from City Demographer Ryan Robinson’s analysis of socioeconomic indicators for Hispanics in Austin will lead to new government policies remains to be seen. But even Robinson, who cranks out numbers for a living, thinks some of the findings are stunning. Like this one: Hispanic youths now comprise 50 percent of all persons younger than 18 in Austin. That Austin’s soaring Hispanic population is young has been known for some time, but the new census estimates that form the basis of Robinson’s analysis convey a greater sense of urgency. “If you have a giant, young Hispanic population here, you need to educate them, prepare them to be fully integrated into the workforce and to participate economically,” Robinson said. “If you don’t, you’re selling the city as a whole short.”

Robinson prepared his 35-page analysis for the city’s new Hispanic Quality of Life Initiative, which will explore whether socioeconomic gaps exist for Latinos in Austin, and what if anything the city can do.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Saavedra’s big regret? HISD’s dropout rate

By JENNIFER RADCLIFFE | Houston Chronicle
Feb. 8, 2009

The embarrassing high school dropout problem that HISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra inherited and that he fought to rectify will almost certainly be passed along to his successor, the outgoing schools chief acknowledges.

In a one-on-one interview after last week’s surprise announcement that he will step down by spring 2010, Saavedra claimed significant victories in raising test scores, narrowing the achievement gap and installing an aggressive performance pay system for teachers. But Saavedra also acknowledged that his inability to stem Houston’s dropout problem after nearly five years on the job is his biggest disappointment.

“We’ve saved a lot, but the flow is so great, we’re barely make a dent,” Saavedra said Friday, two days after he announced his plan to resign. “That’s probably the major regret I would have.”

Saavedra’s first major initiative as interim superintendent in 2004 aimed to coax dropouts back to campus. He spearheaded the now annual and highly publicized Reach Out to Dropouts Walk. He hired 10 specialists who work full time convincing students that they should stay in school.

Still, as many as 40 percent of Houston Independent School District freshmen don’t graduate on time.

School board President Larry Marshall agreed that HISD’s next superintendent needs to make major strides at its high schools.

“We have go to refocus at the secondary level,” he said. “We need a new vision for the district. He gave it a shot. He gave us five years, and five years is a long time.”

As he works until the school board finds his replacement, Saavedra said he will look for ways to help struggling students keep up with their peers.

The most common characteristic shared by HISD dropouts is that they’re older than their classmates by an average of 1.6 years. Rather than making fifth-graders who failed math repeat all subject areas, Saavedra suggested, HISD needs to offer such children extra help in math while promoting them to the next grade level with their peers.

The district’s push to create a college-bound culture may have impeded progress with dropouts, he said.

“It’s a question of so many hours in the day and what you can do,” said Saavedra, who admits to regularly clocking 14-hour workdays.

Saavedra contends that dropout prevention and college-readiness efforts compliment one another. He has emphasized programs that allow students to simultaneously earn high school and college credit and encouraged the creation of several unique high schools, including a campus for new immigrants and an international school.

“When you lift the ceiling, the floor comes up with it,” Saavedra said.

HISD leaders tout huge increases in the number of students who are considered college-ready based on their Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills scores.

In 2008, 38 percent of students scored high enough on both the reading and math tests to earn that designation, up from 17 percent in 2006.
Parents express thanks

In many cases, HISD’s black and Hispanic students pulled ahead of their peers statewide.

That progress hasn’t gone unnoticed by parents and community members.

“Dr. Saavedra and actually the school board of the last five or 10 years deserve thanks from the Houston community because of the academic achievement in HISD,” said West University parent Burt Ballanfant.

Saavedra aggressively expanded full-day prekindergarten and beefed up science instruction at elementary schools with an emphasis on teacher training and by installing science labs at every elementary school. He trimmed the district’s mid-level management and reorganized HISD’s career and technology department.

Like administrators across the nation, though, Saavedra has struggled with high school reform.

“From the ages of 4 to 11, over the last five years, the Houston Independent School District has not only held their own, but probably moved forward to be competitive with like districts,” said Scott Van Beck, a former Westside High School principal and regional superintendent who now heads a non-profit school reform group called Houston A+ Challenge. “From ages 12 and forward, I think that is for the next superintendent the big challenge.”
Legacy of bonus pay

Van Beck and others expect incentive pay to become Saavedra’s legacy. Last month, HISD paid out a record $31.4 million in bonuses, including awards of up to $8,580 to teachers who improved student test scores.

While HISD leaders credit incentive pay with increasing student achievement and fostering a college-bound culture, Van Beck said there is no definitive proof that scores wouldn’t have risen without such a pay plan in place.

Districts nationwide, however, are following HISD’s lead to reward teacher performance.

“It’s an incomplete puzzle,” Van Beck said. “But at least he has started that conversation. I think that’s where his legacy is going to be.”

University of Houston professor Augustina Reyes, a former HISD board member, credited Saavedra for taking the heat as details of the controversial performance pay plan were hammered out and as he championed an $805 million bond that was strongly opposed by the black community.

“This is probably the first superintendent that I know in Houston ISD who sees kids first,” she said. “He brought HISD out of the dark ages and out of the dark ages where all we did was play games with how you hide the scores, how you hide the dropout rates.”

When Saavedra took over, HISD was still reeling from a national embarrassment caused by the disclosure that previous administrators had manipulated figures to make the dropout rate appear much lower than it really was.

Saavedra said that aside from his lack of progress on the dropout rate, he has few regrets. He doubts he’d even change how he handled a number of proposals ­— including tax-rate increases, the bond, school closures and magnet school cuts — that upset trustees and community members.

“There is a balance in the urgency of change and better opportunities for kids with how long you take to get buy in,” he said. “I erred on the side of getting results as quickly as possible.”

Saavedra said he knows without a doubt that his next job will not be in politics. Meanwhile, he remains focused on the task at hand: lowering the dropout rate.

“Frankly, it’s not over,” he said. “I’ve got a year left. That will be one of the things I really will focus on.”


Here are some of the highlights from Saavedra’s four years as superintendent:

SAT: The percentage of students taking the test increased from 65 percent in 2004 to 74 percent in 2007. The mean score increased from 934 to 953 in that span.

Community : $16.9 million was raised from community partners since 2004

Four-year high school completion rate: HISD’s rate fell from 75.8 percent in 2004 to 64.3 percent in 2007.

Sources: HISD and Texas Education Agency

Monday, February 09, 2009

UT pick good news for excluded groups

I think that what this piece demonstrates is how arguments for inclusion are made. There's always a degree of mystery of how this happens from the outside looking in. One might be tempted to think that opportunities simply trickle down. The history of minority-majority relations demonstrates something else. On the one hand, you need good, qualified candidates. On the other, you need good politics that additionally may include (though certainly not always), persons from within who can do the advocating and make the arguments and in so doing, structure the outcomes they and others seek. Welcome to UT, Dr. Cigarroa.


Web Posted: 12/20/2008

UT pick good news for excluded groups

by Carlos Guerra - Carlos Guerra

The Obama team has provided three weeks of great news for women and minorities, who have long complained about being systematically excluded from top leadership posts. In the next administration's highest levels will be five women, four blacks, three Hispanics and two Asian Americans.

Closer to home, the great news is that Francisco Cigarroa will be the next chancellor of the University of Texas System.

In a sense, the globally recognized pediatric and transplant surgeon has been preparing for this for most of his adult life.

But some doors didn't start opening for him — and others like him — until 2000, when the UT regents were looking for a new president of the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. When Laredo businessman Tony Sánchez — one of two Latino UT regents at the time — learned about who was on the search committee, he said, “I became very alarmed.”

In a letter he fired off to the board's then-Chairman Don Evans, he detailed his concerns: “One glance at the makeup of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee ... convinced me that this institution, founded as the medical school of South Texas, will never — of its own accord — provide the opportunity for a Hispanic to become (its) president,” he wrote.

“In addition to the flagrant personal prejudice, (a) more subtle and effective institutional discrimination prevents inclusiveness through ... policies, guidelines, job descriptions and committee assignments.

“After almost 30 years, no Hispanic has earned a permanent seat on the UTHSCSA Executive Committee and none of the school deans are Hispanic,” he continued. “No qualified Hispanic has been found to head a department, and even non-health related executive positions seem barred to Hispanics (who) comprise 70 percent of the (center's) service area and over 90 percent of the population of its outreach efforts in the (border region).”

The regents' rules, he pointed out, dictated that the search committee be made up of two regents, two community leaders of the regents' choosing, two students, two presidents of other UT health science centers, three faculty members, one administrator, one alumnus and one “classified employee.”

As a result, the 14-person committee included only two Hispanics — the alumnus and the classified employee.

Shamed after the letter became public, Evans added more Latinos to the committee. And Cigarroa went from being a midlevel med school faculty member (where he had been denied several promotions) to becoming the nation's first Hispanic to head a medical school.

He wasn't exactly unqualified. The third-generation surgeon graduated from Yale and the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where he began to build his stellar credentials in the operating room. At Harvard's primary teaching hospital, he was chief surgery resident, and he became a fellow at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital.

But questions arose about Cigarroa's lack of administrative experience. These were answered after he took the helm in San Antonio and started overhauling the center's institutional culture with such changes as conducting deans meetings while making hospital rounds, expanding the center's reach into underserved border areas, and emphasizing academic medicine and original research.

For those who recall whenall Texas medical schools admitted fewer than a dozen Latinos students each year, it is encouraging that Cigarroa will now head a UT System where minorities are still significantly underrepresented among the 194,000 students and 81,000 employees. And his promotion is a hopeful sign that our state will better prepare a wider array of young Texans for the 21st-century challenges they will face.

And there are two lessons in Cigarroa's long journey: One is that nothing will change until people speak up. And the other is that there is no substitute for sterling qualifications.
© 2009 San Antonio Express-News.