Monday, September 28, 2009

Hispanic Heritage Month: Watching Latino Politics Disappear

Hispanic Heritage Month: Watching Latino Politics Disappear
by Randy Shaw

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor threw out the first pitch at Saturday's Yankees-Red Sox game in the Bronx. Sotomayor's appointment was a signature achievement for the nation's Latinos, and represents President Obama's leading accomplishment for a constituency that helped elect him. But after Latino voters gave Democrats back the House in 2006 and victories in key states in 2008, it's rather remarkable how coverage of their concerns and viewpoints have almost disappeared. On health care, the stimulus bill, climate change and virtually every issue other than immigration, Latino faces are not seen and their voices are not heard. The television news media is so averse to Latinos that we even have a lesbian hosting a major political show (the brilliant Rachel Maddow), while pundits from the Latino community are ignored. Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept 15-Oct 15) without highlighting the media's treatment of one of the nation's largest and most potent political constituencies is like the National Secretaries Day promotion of raises, not roses - and seems to confirm that Latino power remains ground zero of the nation's culture war.

As we celebrate the annual Hispanic Heritage Month, let's hope the media uses this time to ask itself some hard questions. Because its ignoring of Latinos as a political community over the past year has been inexcusable, and its only getting worse.

Signs in 2008

During the 2008 Democratic Presidential primaries, early contests in Nevada, Texas and California brought national interest in Latino voting. This led to hopes that the long dormant "sleeping giant" Latino vote would emerge in November, and that Latinos would reap the political benefits of electing Barack Obama and a more progressive Congress.

But as the fall 2008 campaign ensued, I noticed a disturbing pattern. The media repeatedly visited bars in suburban Ohio and Pennsylvania to assess the feelings of the "white working class voter," but was completely ignoring Latino voters in the equally swing states of Nevada, Colorado and Florida. The lack of interest in Florida's non-Cuban Latinos was particularly odd, considering that the state was long considered a tossup and had been the chief focus of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

After the election, Obama's ability to capture white voters in the above Rust Belt states was analyzed to death, and often described as key to his overall victory. Yet the story of how an African-American candidate won record voter support among Latinos - remember all the stories that said Latinos wouldn't vote for a black! - was almost entirely ignored.

It was as if the Latino role in electing Barack Obama was being downplayed, if not erased. As if pro-Obama activists had been so successful at turning out Latino voters in states Bush won in 2004 - Florida, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico - that the media forgot that they had labeled all four to be "red" states prior to 2008.

Unfortunately, this pattern of media ignoring Latino voters and concerns has continued. Despite Latinos being significantly impacted by health care and the other issues shaping the national debate, our traditional news media employs right-wing hate mongers like Pat Buchanan while shutting all Latinos out.

Latino Power: The Real Culture War

For all of the media focus on whether right-wingers hate Obama more because he is African-American, the real "third rail" racial issue in the United States involves Latinos. This helps explain why a constituency that has become the nation's largest ethnic minority nevertheless remains in the shadows when it comes to virtually every national issue other than immigration.

Take the long-running health care fight.

The media has run so many stories on the drive for health care reform that even the most avid political newshounds are tired. Yet how many national stories in print or on television can you recall where either a Latino expert was quoted, or a Latino family interviewed?

There has been a virtual "brownout" of Latino health stories, despite this constituency being as impacted by the lack of health care as much if not more than any demographic group. The only time I recall Latinos becoming the focus of health care reform was when Republican Joe Wilson said President Obama was "a liar" when he claimed that "illegal immigrants" would not benefit from health care reform.

Suddenly, the White House was all over the Latino health issue - namely, to emphasize that not only could undocumented immigrants not access the President's new health plan, but would not even be able to purchase such health insurance with their own money. Rather than focus any discussion on Latino families health needs, the only time a Latino angle emerged concerned denying coverage.

Preserving a White and Black Nation

This exclusion of Latinos from the health debate, and from all public policy issues other than immigration, is neither coincidence nor accident. It is part of the same strategy that sees Latinos excluded from the cable political news shows, and from the Sunday interview shows on the traditional networks.

Simply put, United States media owners do not feel that presenting Latinos as equal members of the body politic, either as pundits or as interviewees, is good for ratings. They apparently see it as bad business to show the United States as having a politically influential Latino population, but good business to give Lou Dobbs a nightly show in which he is free to portray himself as the white bulwark against the invading brown menace.

While African-Americans do not host any of the top political news shows, and are grossly underrepresented throughout, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post regularly appears and CNN has Senior Analyst Roland Martin and other pundits. And Barack Obama does provide a daily African-American face to lead news shows.

But except when discussing immigration, Latino experts or pundits are nowhere to be found. It is as if the media is trying to invent a "Second Life" United States where Latinos do not comprise a sizable minority, do not impact local, state and national politics across the nation, and do not shape the outcomes of presidential elections.

Rejecting a "Wise Latina Woman"

For all of the justifiable excitement over Sotomayor's appointment, recall how the Republicans' main line of attack was her often-repeated comment that she brought to the bench the perspective of a "wise Latina woman." Both the White House and the nominee herself had to backtrack from this statement, as it raised the troubling notion - for the white-dominated media world - that Latinos may bring a set of experiences and perspectives otherwise lacking.

How can a traditional media that itself excludes Latinos, and that limits its signature political talk shows to white men, countenance a claim that a Latina has special insights about public policies?

Sotomayor's comment hit a bit too close to home, which is why the media harped on it repeatedly, eventually forcing her to recant.

Such is the state of affairs as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in 2009.

Randy Shaw is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Secretary Duncan Says Rewrite of 'No Child Left Behind' Should Start Now; Reauthorization Can't Wait

Next Version of the Federal K-12 Law Should Drive School Reforms That Prepare Students for Success

September 24, 2009
Contact: John White, Press Secretary
(202) 401-1576 or

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today said that the $24.8 billion in federal funds available annually to the nation's schools should support reforms that prepare students for success in college and careers.

"Today, I am calling on all of you to join with us to build a transformative education law that guarantees every child the education they want and need—a law that recognizes and reinforces the proper role of the federal government to support and drive reform at the state and local level," Duncan told more than 200 leaders of major education groups in his first major speech about the future of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

The ESEA was reauthorized most recently in 2002 in what is known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

In his speech, Duncan said that the NCLB law has significant flaws and that he looks forward to working with Congress to address the law's problems. He said the law puts too much emphasis on standardized tests, unfairly labels many schools as failures, and doesn't account for students' academic growth in its accountability system.

"But the biggest problem with NCLB is that it doesn't encourage high learning standards," Duncan said. "In fact, it inadvertently encourages states to lower them. The net effect is that we are lying to children and parents by telling kids they are succeeding when they are not."

Duncan credited NCLB for highlighting the achievement gap in schools and for focusing accountability on student outcomes, and said he is committed to policies that work toward closing that gap while raising the achievement of all children.

He said he wants the next version of ESEA to create tests that better measure student learning and to build an accountability system that is based on the academic growth of students. He also wants the law to create programs to improve the performance of existing teachers and school leaders, to recruit new effective educators, and to ensure that the best educators are serving the children that are the furthest behind.

"Our role in Washington is to support reform by encouraging bold, creative approaches to addressing underperforming schools, closing the achievement gap, strengthening the field of education, reducing the dropout rate and boosting college access," Duncan said.

After Duncan's speech, the two senior staff members who will coordinate the department's effort to reauthorize the ESEA invited members of the audience to outline proposals for the next version of the law.

The session was the first in a series of events where education stakeholders will offer input about the law. Carmel Martin, assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and program development, and Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, will host the events in the Barnard Auditorium at the department's headquarters in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Building, 400 Maryland Ave. S.W., Washington, D.C.

The dates and times for upcoming ESEA stakeholder meetings are as follows:

* Wednesday, Oct. 7 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
* Wednesday, Oct. 21 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
* Wednesday, Nov. 4 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
* Friday, Nov. 20 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
* Wednesday, Dec. 2 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The forums are part of the department's "Listening and Learning" tour seeking public input about changes to the ESEA. By the end of the year, the secretary or a senior staff member will have led a listening and learning event in all 50 states.

Caging Children

Caging Children

BY RICHARD WHITTAKER / Austin Chronicle Aug. 28, 2009

Children under the age of 18 can't vote, serve as jurors, or join Blockbuster, but in the U.S. -- the only developed nation with such a policy -- they can be tried in adult courts and imprisoned in facilities designed for adults. A groundbreaking study from the University of Texas' LBJ School of Public Affairs could kick-start a national discussion about the foolishness of that policy.

The report, "From Time Out to Hard Time: Young Children in the Adult Criminal Justice System," was compiled by Michele Deitch, an adjunct professor at the LBJ School, and her students. Its roots were tragic: Deitch and her group worked with the UT Law School Supreme Court Clinic on the case of Christopher Pittman, who, at age 12, was charged with killing his grandparents. He received a 30-year sentence -- the mandatory minimum in South Carolina. After the Supreme Court rejected his appeal, Deitch explained, "we were sitting on a ton of research that we had done, so we thought it was vital to get it out there."

The complete report is available on the LBJ School website at

Monday, September 21, 2009

Report: Hispanic Achievement Gap Persists


Report: Hispanic Achievement Gap Persists

Hispanics two to three times less likely than Whites to receive baccalaureate degree

Princeton, NJ [CapitalWirePR] September 18, 2009 – Hispanics’ participation in higher education continues to rise, yet their likelihood of graduating high school underprepared for college; their propensity to attend two-year schools; low levels of parent education; and limited financial resources pose formidable obstacles to achieving a baccalaureate degree, according to a new report released today by Educational Testing Service and the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE).

The 2009 Tomás Rivera Lecture, Hispanicity and Educational Inequality: Risks, Opportunities and the Nations’ Future, documents Hispanic demographics, growth trends, educational attainment and various road blocks leading to Hispanic underrepresentation in higher education. The report was authored by Marta Tienda, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at Princeton University, and reproduces the keynote address she delivered at the annual AAHHE conference in March 2009, in Texas.

“AAHHE is delighted that ETS’s Policy Information Center decided to publish and distribute Professor Tienda’s Tomás Rivera Lecture,” Loui Olivas, AAHHE president says. “The data she has amassed must be understood by educators, administrators and policymakers if together we are going to address Hispanic educational attainment systematically.”

In her report, Tienda argues that the United States is more diverse ethnically and racially than at any time in its history. Hispanics account for more than one third of the 100 million persons added to the U.S. population between 1976 and 2006. This increase, she says, coincides with a period of rising socioeconomic inequality with the majority non-Hispanic White population. For example, only one in 20 Hispanic students completes a four-year program — roughly half the number of similarly situated White students.

Tienda points out that because Hispanics will comprise a larger segment of the labor force in the future, America’s global competitiveness “will be impacted significantly by the progress that Hispanics make at all levels of the educational system, but especially college completion.”

“Hispanics falling behind in their educational attainment is worrisome not only because advanced schooling is becoming ever more important for labor market success and meaningful civic engagement, but also because the offspring of Latin American immigrants are the fastest-growing segment in U.S. schools,” Tienda writes.

Tienda’s report examines the growing Hispanic presence through the lens of education, along with the challenges and promises of Hispanics’ educational futures. Included is the pace of population growth and diversification; the generational transition; and the aging of the majority White population. In addition, Tienda presents a broad overview of recent educational trends and differentials. The concluding section discusses the social and economic significance of the burgeoning second generation Hispanic population.

Tienda concludes that in the future Hispanics will drive U.S. diversification through the first three decades of the 21st century, with Hispanics comprising at least one in five U.S. residents in roughly a generation.

Download Hispanicity and Educational Inequality: Risks, Opportunities and the Nations’ Future free at Copies also are available by writing to the Policy Information Center, c/o ETS, MS 19-R, Rosedale Road, Princeton, NJ 08541-0001; by calling 1-609-734-5694; or by sending an e-mail to

About the Tomás Rivera Lecture
Since 1985, a distinguished scholar or prominent leader has been selected to present the Tomás Rivera Lecture. In the tradition of the former Hispanic Caucus of the American Association for Higher Education, AAHHE is continuing this lecture at its annual conference. It is named in honor of the late Dr. Tomás Rivera, professor, scholar, poet and former president of the University of California, Riverside. Rivera was a Trustee of ETS from 1980 to the time of his death in May, 1984. This is the first such lecture to be published and distributed.

About ETS
At nonprofit ETS, we advance quality and equity in education for people worldwide by creating assessments based on rigorous research. ETS serves individuals, educational institutions and government agencies by providing customized solutions for teacher certification, English-language learning, and elementary, secondary and post-secondary education, as well as conducting education research, analysis and policy studies. Founded in 1947, ETS develops, administers and scores more than 50 million tests annually — including the TOEFL® and TOEIC® tests, the GRE® test and The Praxis Series™ assessments — in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide.

Informe: Persiste la brecha en el rendimiento educativo hispano

Los hispanos tienen entre dos y tres veces menos probabilidades de obtener títulos universitarios

Princeton, NJ (CapitalWirePR) 18 de septiembre de 2009 – Aunque la participación de los hispanos en la educación universitaria sigue aumentando, la probabilidad de que terminen la escuela secundaria sin una preparación adecuada para la universidad, su propensión a asistir a universidades comunitarias (dos años de cursos), los bajos niveles de formación de sus progenitores y la falta de recursos financieros suponen obstáculos tremendos para obtener un título universitario, según un nuevo informe publicado hoy por Educational Testing Service y la American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (asociación estadounidense de hispanos en la educación superior), o AAHHE.

La Ponencia Tomás Rivera de 2009, titulada Hispanicity and Educational Inequality: Risks, Opportunities and the Nation’s Future, presenta datos demográficos, tendencias de crecimiento, rendimiento académico y los diversos obstáculos que conducen a participación tan exigua de latinos en la educación universitaria. La autora del informe es la Dra. Marta Tienda, profesora de sociología en la Universidad Princeton de New Jersey, y reproduce la ponencia que presentó con ocasión de la conferencia anual de la AAHHE, celebrada en marzo de este año en San Antonio, Texas.

“La AAHHE se complace enormemente en saber que el Policy Information Center de ETS haya decidido publicar y divulgar la ponencia Tomás Rivera de la Profesora Tienda”, afirma Loui Olivas, presidente de la AAHHE. “Los educadores, administradores y legisladores tienen que comprender la importancia de los datos que ella ha acumulado si pretendemos afrontar de manera conjunta y sistemática las necesidades educativas de los hispanos”.

En su informe, la Profesora Tienda sostiene que, en cuanto a diversidad étnica y racial, Estados Unidos se encuentra en el momento álgido de su historia. Los hispanos comprenden más de un tercio del aumento de 100 millones en la población de Estados Unidos entre 1976 y 2006. Dicho aumento, señala, coincide con un período de creciente desigualdad socioeconómica con respecto a la población blanca no hispana. Por ejemplo, solo uno de cada 20 estudiantes latinos llega a terminar un programa universitario de cuatro años, lo que equivale aproximadamente a la mitad del número de estudiantes blancos en situaciones equiparables.

La Profesora Tienda señala también que, debido a que en el futuro los hispanos tendrán una participación mayor en el mercado laboral, la competitividad global de Estados Unidos “dependerá en gran medida del progreso que los hispanos logren en todos los niveles del sistema educativo, pero especialmente en la conclusión de estudios universitarios”.

“Es preocupante que los hispanos se queden académicamente rezagados, no solo porque las titulaciones superiores se están volviendo cada vez más importantes para el éxito en el mercado laboral y en la participación cívica, sino también porque los hijos de inmigrantes latinoamericanos constituyen un segmento creciente de la población escolar de este país”, escribe la Profesora Tienda.

El informe examina la creciente presencia latina desde la perspectiva de la educación, junto con los retos y las promesas del futuro educativo de los hispanos. También analiza la tasa de crecimiento y la diversificación de la población, la transición generacional y el envejecimiento de la población blanca mayoritaria. Presenta asimismo una síntesis amplia de las tendencias educativas recientes y de sus diferencias. La sección de conclusiones describe la relevancia socioeconómica de la pujante segunda generación de la población hispana.

La Profesora Tienda concluye que, en el futuro, los hispanos serán el motor de la diversificación en Estados Unidos durante las tres primeras décadas del siglo XXI, llegando en apenas una generación a representar al menos el veinte por ciento de la población.

Descargue gratuitamente el documento Hispanicity and Educational Inequality: Risks, Opportunities and the Nation’s Future en Se pueden solicitar copias impresas escribiendo a Policy Information Center, c/o ETS, MS 19-R, Rosedale Road, Princeton, NJ 08541-0001, llamando al +1-609-734-5694 o enviando un mensaje de correo electrónico a

Acerca de la ponencia Tomás Rivera
Desde 1985, se ha escogido a un académico distinguido o líder prominente para presentar la ponencia Tomás Rivera. Siguiendo la tradición del antiguo Hispanic Caucus de la American Association for Higher Education, la AAHHE presenta esta ponencia en su conferencia anual. Su nombre honra la memoria del fallecido Dr. Tomás Rivera, profesor, investigador, poeta y ex presidente de la Universidad de California en Riverside. Rivera fue miembro de la Junta Directiva de ETS desde 1980 hasta su muerte en mayo de 1984. Ésta es la primera vez que la ponencia se publica y se divulga.

Acerca de ETS
En la organización sin ánimo de lucro ETS pretendemos mejorar la calidad y la equidad de la educación para todas las personas del mundo mediante evaluaciones basadas en rigurosas investigaciones. ETS presta sus servicios a personas, instituciones educativas y agencias gubernamentales, proporcionándolas soluciones a la medida para la certificación de maestros, aprendizaje del idioma inglés, educación primaria, secundaria y postsecundaria, así como realizando investigaciones sobre educación, análisis e informes sobre políticas públicas. Fundada en 1947, ETS desarrolla, administra y evalúa más de 50 millones de exámenes anualmente, entre ellos los exámenes TOEFL® y TOEIC®, el examen GRE® y las evaluaciones The Praxis Series™, en más de 180 países y en más de 9.000 lugares de todo el mundo.

Jason Baran
609 683 2428

Note: To view this release and high resolution pictures on the web, click on the link below:

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Transmitted on 9/18/2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Eager Students Fall Prey to Apartheid’s Legacy

Published: September 19, 2009

KHAYELITSHA, South Africa — Seniors here at Kwamfundo high school sang freedom songs and protested outside the staff room last year because their accounting teacher chronically failed to show up for class. With looming national examinations that would determine whether they were bound for a university or joblessness, they demanded a replacement.

“We kept waiting, and there was no action,” said Masixole Mabetshe, who failed the exams and who now, out of work, passes the days watching TV.

The principal of the school, Mongezeleli Bonani, said in an interview that there was little he could do beyond giving the teacher a warning. Finally the students’ frustration turned riotous. They threw bricks, punched two teachers and stabbed one in the head with scissors, witnesses said.

The traumatized school’s passing rate on the national exams known as the matric — already in virtual free fall — tumbled to just 44 percent.

Thousands of schools across South Africa are bursting with students who dream of being the accountants, engineers and doctors this country desperately needs, but the education system is often failing the very children depending on it most to escape poverty.

Post-apartheid South Africa is at grave risk of producing what one veteran commentator has called another lost generation, entrenching the racial and class divide rather than bridging it. Half the students never make it to 12th grade. Many who finish at rural and township schools are so ill educated that they qualify for little but menial labor or the ranks of the jobless, fueling the nation’s daunting rates of unemployment and crime.

“If you are in a township school, you don’t have much chance,” said Graeme Bloch, an education researcher at the Development Bank of Southern Africa. “That’s the hidden curriculum — that inequality continues, that white kids do reasonably and black kids don’t really stand a chance unless they can get into a formerly white school or the small number of black schools that work.”

South Africa’s new president, Jacob Zuma, bluntly stated that the “wonderful policies” of the government led by his party, the African National Congress, since the end of apartheid 15 years ago, “have not essentially led to the delivery of quality education for the poorest of the poor.”

Scoring at Bottom

Despite sharp increases in education spending since apartheid ended, South African children consistently score at or near rock bottom on international achievement tests, even measured against far poorer African countries. This bodes ill for South Africa’s ability to compete in a globalized economy, or to fill its yawning demand for skilled workers.

And the wrenching achievement gap between black and white students persists. Here in the Western Cape, only 2 out of 1,000 sixth graders in predominantly black schools passed a mathematics test at grade level in 2005, compared with almost 2 out of 3 children in schools once reserved for whites that are now integrated, but generally in more affluent neighborhoods.

“If you say 3 times 3, they will say 6,” said Patrine Makhele, a math teacher at Kwamfundo here in this overwhelmingly black township, echoing the complaint of colleagues who say children get to high school not knowing their multiplication tables.

South Africa’s schools are still struggling with the legacy of the apartheid era, when the government established a separate “Bantu” education system that deliberately sought to make blacks subservient laborers. Hendrik Verwoerd, the prime minister who was the architect of apartheid, said “Bantu” must not be subjected to an education that shows him “the green pastures of European society in which he was not allowed to graze.”

The struggle against apartheid dismantled the discredited structures of authority in education that Mr. Zuma’s government is now seeking to replace with a new approach to accountability. In those years, the African National Congress sought to make the nation — and its schools — ungovernable. Supervisors — part of an “inspectorate” that enforced a repressive order — were chased out of the schools, as were many principals.

Mary Metcalfe, who was the A.N.C.’s first post-apartheid education minister in the province that includes Johannesburg, recalled principals in Soweto being forcibly marched out of the township. After apartheid ended, Ms. Metcalfe, recently appointed director general in the country’s Higher Education Ministry, said there was a grab for “power and jobs and money.”

Most teachers in South Africa’s schools today got inferior educations under the Bantu system, and this has seriously impaired their ability to teach the next generation, analysts say. Teachers are not tested on subject knowledge, but one study of third-grade teachers’ literacy, for example, found that the majority of them scored less than 50 percent on a test for sixth graders.

But South Africa’s schools also have problems for which history cannot be blamed, including teacher absenteeism, researchers say. And then when teachers are in school, they spend too little time on instruction. A survey found that they taught for a little over three hours a day, rather than the five expected, with paperwork consuming too many hours. Mr. Zuma noted that this deficiency was worse in poor and working-class communities.

“We must ask ourselves to what extent teachers in many historically disadvantaged schools unwittingly perpetuate the wishes of Hendrik Verwoerd,” he recently told a gathering of principals, implicitly challenging the powerful South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, which is part of the governing alliance.

As South Africa has invested heavily in making the system fairer, the governing party made some serious mistakes, experts say. The new curriculum was overly sophisticated and complex. Teacher colleges were closed down, without adequate alternatives. The teachers’ union too often protected its members at the expense of pupils, critics say.

“We have the highest level of teacher unionization in the world, but their focus is on rights, not responsibilities,” Mamphela Ramphele, former vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town, said in a recent speech.

South Africa’s new education minister, Angie Motshekga, said in an interview that a lack of accountability had weakened the whole system.

“There’s a complete breakdown,” said Ms. Motshekga, a former high school history teacher.

Teacher vacancies commonly go unfilled for months, she said. Principals cannot select the teachers in their schools or discipline them for absenteeism.

Ms. Motshekga said she had Mr. Zuma’s strong backing to give principals greater authority, and would also seek to change the law so the education department could pick principals directly — and hold them accountable.

“The president said to me, ‘Minister, immediately look at the powers of principals,’ ” she said.

Here in the Western Cape, where the opposition Democratic Alliance recently came to power, the province is considering monitoring teachers’ attendance by having them send text messages or e-mail messages — in response to an electronic query — to confirm they are present.

“We’ve got to get discipline back in schools,” said Donald Grant, the provincial education minister.

Discipline for Teachers

Kwamfundo Secondary School illustrates just how critical an effective principal and disciplined teachers are to student achievement — and how quickly a school’s success can crumble if they are lacking.

For much of this decade, Kwamfundo was led by Luvuyo Ngubelanga, a commanding man admired by students and teachers alike for his strict insistence on punctuality, his work ethic and his faith in them. He prowled the corridors of the yellow brick school, poking his head in classrooms and collaring misbehaving students, making them pick up litter, sweep the halls or clean the bathrooms.

Mr. Ngubelanga, who now runs a vocational college, said most teachers are dedicated, but some could “be naughty like kids.” He recalled finding a classroom packed with students and tracking down its AWOL teacher loafing at the back of another class.

In his years as principal, 75 to 82 percent of students passed the matric, a set of examinations given to seniors that shape their life chances. But the school has struggled since he was succeeded by his deputy, Mr. Bonani. The matric passing rate plunged to 65 percent in 2007 and 44 percent last year.

Teachers and students describe Mr. Bonani as a far less forceful presence, though he says he is engaged and active. Teacher absenteeism has been a major problem.

“There’s a lot of teachers who take sick leave,” said one teacher, who asked not to be named, as it would jeopardize his ability to work with colleagues. “They are not punctual in the morning. How do we expect learners to behave if we do not behave?”

Hungry for Knowledge

Despite last year’s violent episode, students seem to feel genuine affection for their school and speak of their hunger for knowledge and their faith in education to bring a better life.

The classroom itself, No. 12A, seemed shaken awake one recent first period as 52 seniors lifted their voices in harmony. Tall, lanky young men at the back of the room pounded out a driving beat on their backpacks in a morning ritual of song and rhythm.

Even when they realized the science teacher was absent, the student body president and his sidekick, a radiantly optimistic AIDS orphan, rose to lead a review session on evolution. And when the second-period English teacher was late, they just kept on talking about Darwin’s finches and genetic mutations.

“Quiet!” exclaimed Olwethu Thwalintini, 18, the student leader. “Can I have your attention, please. Exercise 2.1.”

Murmuring voices and shuffling papers fell silent.

“List two environmental factors which make it possible for the vertebrates to move onto land,” said Blondie Mangco, 17, the sidekick, whose mother died during final exams last year.

Blondie has barely passing grades in physical science, but she believes she will somehow raise them to A’s or B’s, win entrance to the university of her dreams and become an environmentalist, a doctor or a biomedical scientist. Now that her parents and big sister are dead of AIDS, she feels a duty to be a role model to her little brother.

“He’s looking up to me now,” she said.

Later that day, Arthur Mgqweto, a math teacher, strode into the classroom, jauntily wearing a township take on the fedora called a square. He teaches more than 200 students each day for a salary of $15,000 a year. His students describe him as a friend, a mother, a father, a guide.

“He comes early every, every, every day,” Blondie said. “He comes here early at 7 o’clock and he’s the last one to leave. He’s given himself to us.”

Mr. Mgqweto grew up in the countryside during the apartheid years, ashamed to go to school because he had no shoes. He finished high school in his 30s, sitting in class with children half his age. His only son was stabbed to death at age 21 in a nearby township.

“I always explain to them, life is very hard,” he said. “They must get educated so they can take care of their families when they grow old.”

His students bake chocolate cakes with him on their birthdays. Dozens come an hour early on weekdays and for Saturday morning sessions with him. He is paid nothing for those extra hours, except in their gratitude.

“I love that teacher,” said Olwethu, the student leader. “I love him.”

Post analysis: Florida's new high school grading system

By LAURA GREEN | Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 19, 2009

For a decade, the state graded high schools based on a minimum standards test, designed to measure primarily if students had learned ninth- and 10th-grade reading and math.

But now high schools also will be rated on the proportion of their students who can enter community college without needing remedial classes, pass exams to earn industry certification or college credit and actually graduate in four years.

This new, complex formula to compute A to F grades might sound like just another mathematical equation used to judge schools, but already it's changing the guiding philosophy of Palm Beach County high schools.

"All of us, in response to the former grading scale, put an inordinate amount of time into preparing students for the FCAT. That was the push, the push, the push because that was what the grade was based on," said Boca Raton High Principal Geoff McKee. "Now we have to prepare them for SAT, ACT, AP. ... That creates a much better-educated student. We all should have been doing that all along and now we're going to be measured on that."

Critics of the old FCAT-only methodology, including Palm Beach County Superintendent Art Johnson, argued it was too narrow and potentially biased against poor students, who tended to post lower test scores than students from affluent homes.

The new criteria also seem to favor schools that historically have done well on the FCAT, have posted high graduation rates and have offered college-level courses.

Schools earn points based on the number of students taking accelerated classes, such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or technical courses that end with a certification exam.

Suncoast High, for example, had 100 percent of its students taking AP courses last year because of a rule that students must complete at least two during their four years.

"It's an easier transition for a school like Suncoast because that's been the mind-set of the school, that (students) would get exposure to the AP curriculum," Principal Linda Cartlidge said.

Realizing that few county high schools were designed like Suncoast, the district's research staff built a computer program that uses FCAT scores to predict which students would likely pass an Advanced Placement exam.

The district's program can spit out a list of qualified students by course. It also can show the students' race, which might help schools close a long-standing race gap.

Last school year, just 16 percent of African-American students countywide participated in the AP program, compared with 45 percent of white and 38 percent of Hispanic students.

"What I hope is that it's going to help the program become more inclusive," said Dean Stecker, director of research and evaluation. "It opens up eyes that there are a lot of kids out there that you didn't think about that you probably should be thinking about."

At Palm Beach Lakes High School, where just 18 percent of students took an AP course in 2009, Principal Nathan Collins held a parent meeting to share the results of the report and explain how the more rigorous courses could prepare their children for college.

"The parents really bought into that," Collins said.

The result: So many students signed up that Collins added extra sections of AP courses.

Schools such as Palm Beach Lakes, which are just building their AP programs, can still earn high marks in the new grading system. It awards bonus points to schools that show increasing AP participation or pass rates, graduation rates and college-readiness rates.

With every change in the state's grading formula, some treat it as a new system to be gamed. Some administrators thought they'd found a loophole in the new system: They could enroll large numbers of students in AP or IB courses and earn maximum participation points even if the students failed the end-of-course exams.

State officials learned that some Florida high schools, in Duval County for example, had signed up freshmen and sophomores who weren't ready for the college-level courses, so they revised the rule just days before the state board was to give it final approval to create a deterrent. Now only ninth- and 10th-graders who pass an AP or IB exam count in the participation column.

Forest Hill High Principal Mayra Stafford said she was disappointed by the change because some students might learn a lot in the class but not count toward the school's points because they have a bad testing day.

"We all know what can happen on one test, one day," she said.

But Stafford is hopeful the drive to enroll more students will pay off for Forest Hill because she personally reviewed each file to ensure the students she was encouraging to take the college-level courses are ready.

Early Florida Department of Education simulations based on the new formula show that more Palm Beach County high schools could drop a grade than improve by one.

State officials expect school grades to improve year after year as principals focus on the new measures, especially graduation rates, which they call the "bottom line of our high schools."

"I think it's going to be a struggle for us as a district that we can meet the expectations this year," said Jeffrey Hernandez, Palm Beach County schools chief academic officer.

"It's a system that has high expectations for not only the district and schools but also for teachers and students. It's a system that has an end goal in mind that allows us to grow each year."

Geoff McKeeLinda CartlidgeWhat the principals say ...A'I have mixed emotions. Any time something new comes in, there will be some downfall. I am hoping we are not one of the schools taking a major hit.''Any time there's additional accountability, there's added stress. But that stress can be a motivating factor. We all want to get an A.''I think we really want everyone to be looking at college as an outcome of their high school education.'

Klein Pressures Principals to Hire Reserve Pool’s Teachers

Published: September 17, 2009

With more than 1,500 existing teachers on the city’s payroll without permanent job placements, the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, has told principals that if they do not fill those jobs by the end of next month, they will lose any money they had allocated for their teacher vacancies.

Principals across the city have resisted hiring teachers from the so-called absent reserve pool, in which teachers are placed if they lose their posts when a school is shut down or forced to shrink its teaching staff because of budget cuts or declining enrollments.

Though the pool has shrunk to about 1,500 teachers, from 1,983 about three weeks ago, it would still cost the department roughly $127 million this year. By forcing principals to fill the remaining 1,050 vacancies in the system from the existing pool, education officials expect to save about $75 million.

In a letter sent to principals this week, Mr. Klein called the pool a “fiscal liability we cannot sustain.”

“Nobody dislikes this situation more than I do,” Mr. Klein wrote to the principals. “Limiting your hiring freedom goes against what I stand for, but because of the economic reality, we must control costs and protect our schools from deeper budget cuts.”

The letter was first reported by, a Web site that covers New York City education issues. Mr. Klein has lifted the hiring restrictions in some subjects, like special education and science, and several principals have said they received waivers to hire new teachers in math and bilingual education.

The Education Department is continuing to hold job fairs over the next several weeks and requiring those teachers in the pool to attend the fairs.

Ernest Logan, the president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, said in a statement that the council was pleased that the human resources department was “stepping up to the plate” with the job fairs, but sounded a note of caution. “We would like to know more about what the Department of Education will do if appropriate licensing matches are not made or if excessed teachers fail to show up at the recruitment fairs,” he said.

Heal for America

You've got to be kidding me! I'm sure we all know who will have the honor of being served by this program.


The Teach for America model could work nicely for health care.


Considering the success of Wendy Kopp's Teach for America program—which this year will train and place more than 7,300 highly motivated teachers in our nation's neediest schools—perhaps we're ready for a similar program in health care. Call it Heal for America.

College graduates, it seems to me, would respond favorably to a program that would train and then use them to help diminish some of our shortcomings in clinical care and medical education.

What are some of those shortcomings in care that intelligent and reasonably trained individuals might help with in a patient's home? Understanding of, and compliance with, a physician's orders. Improving cleanliness in homes and helping patients with personal hygiene. Some tasks as simple as proper hand washing are frequently not done for lack of appreciation of how these practices can cut the vectors of disease or lessen their severity. The war on obesity needs to be waged. Adequate sleep explained. Exercise encouraged.

These types of medical suggestions are often made by harried professionals with minimal follow-up. Yet the cumulative effect on a patient's well-being can be enormous. Properly trained members of Heal for America (HFA) could also help cut down on the cost of health care by catching unattended small problems. The need to contact or promptly see medical professionals might be accelerated by a visiting member of the program. In many cases, an expensive emergency room visit might be avoided.

How would it work? Soon-to-graduate or recent graduates of our colleges would be selected following the guidelines of Teach for America—a college diploma from a four-year school, excellent grades, and recommendations from past professors and employers. A one- or two-year commitment would be required.

Once chosen, these young men and women would undergo a short but rigorous training program that would include the recognition of potential health risks. They would also learn to take and understand vital signs (pulse, respirations, temperature and blood pressure). Clearly, a member of HFA could help a patient take the proper dosage of prescribed medicines, and give some advice on preventative health care, such as diet, hygiene and exercise.

It might be useful to think of Heal for America as filling the chinks in the log cabins of some patients' care. There is no substitute for the professional caregiver, but many of us have had suggestions from lay friends that made our lives more comfortable while under professional care, or had a friend or family member make a telephone call to the doctor's office asking to clarify an issue, or one to a pharmacist about a medication.

Of course, the members of this program would not try to be amateur physicians, physician's assistants or substitute registered nurses. Each program would be under the aegis of the county Medical Society and Visiting Nurse Service. No public money, federal or state, would be used. Written approval from the patient or his surrogate would be required before any member of HFA entered a home.

There is a program that could help HFA get up and running. The work of the Visiting Nurses Services has been overwhelmingly beneficial for millions of people under a doctor's care. Perhaps a HFA team could tag along on initial visits and then provide follow-up while the visiting nurse moves on to the next patient. The nurses' reach might be expanded with the appropriate supervision provided. This is not to slight the excellence of other home caregivers, but the need exceeds the supply.

Another area where HFA might be useful would be to work in schools. Nurses in many grade schools only have limited time to teach youngsters about health issues. I don't know how much medical education is being taught in the schools, but perhaps members of HFA could come into classrooms and teach children with hands-on demonstrations, learning materials, and PowerPoint presentations.

Heal for America would also provide valuable experience for college graduates considering a career in medicine. A team member would be more aware of the problems in caring for the sick and the need for innovations at every level of health care—research, clinical, administrative and financial as the population ages.

What about the finances? Who's going to pay for this? My belief is that wealthy individuals and families, specific charities and illness organizations, as well as corporations and foundations will see the potential benefits from a well-run HFA program and contribute tax-exempt dollars.

Regardless of the future of health-care reform in this country, the need for sound medical advice is only going to increase. Physicians and nurses cannot always be counted on to reinforce what was said in the doctor's office or by the pharmacist. Heal for America could.

Dr. Healey is a practicing clinician and former clinical professor of surgery at the University of Texas.

Rhee, Union May Be Close to Deal

By Bill Turque | Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 2009

Chancellor Might Drop New Pay Idea To Get Other Teacher-Removal Powers

D.C. Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and the Washington Teachers' Union are close to an agreement that would give the District more power to remove ineffective teachers, but both sides say the negotiations could still collapse, and the union's president places the chances of actually closing a deal at no better than 50-50.

Neither Rhee nor Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker would elaborate on the unresolved issues, citing a confidentiality agreement. Interviews in recent weeks with sources on both sides of the bargaining table emphasize that nothing is final and that any agreement would require the approval of teachers. But they also say that the deal taking shape has evolved substantially over the past year, with both Rhee and the union poised to yield ground on key issues.

Gone, for example, is the two-tiered, "red-and-green" salary plan that garnered Rhee national attention when she unveiled it last summer. It would have paid some teachers as much as $130,000 annually -- with help from private foundations -- but required them to relinquish tenure protections for a year to qualify for the top pay scale, exposing them to dismissal without possibility of appeal. Gone also, city and union sources say, is Rhee's attempt to weaken tenure provisions as they are currently written, which grant teachers with at least two years' experience due-process rights in the event they are fired.

The nearly two-year negotiations are widely viewed as a potentially precedent-setting showdown between an aggressive new generation of urban education leaders, led by Rhee, and the American Federation of Teachers, WTU's politically potent parent organization. Although the major players decline to disclose details, they agree that their bargaining has reached the endgame.

"There are a few very critical issues that both sides have very strong opinions about," Parker said in an interview Wednesday. "The question is whether we can craft language that both sides can live with. We're at 50-50."

Rhee said the two sides are "very close" and characterized the talks as "down to a couple of smaller issues."

"Would either side say it is definitely going to happen? No," she said in an e-mail Wednesday. "However, we're further than we've been."

The pay package under discussion calls for a 20 percent increase over five years, including 3 percent retroactively for each year teachers have worked without a contract since it expired in September 2007. Under the terms being discussed, teachers with good records would be eligible to earn extra money under a pay-for-performance program that would begin in 2010.

Tenure protections are likely to remain in place despite Rhee's outspoken criticism of the provisions as a major obstacle to reform. As recently as July 5, she told an audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival: "Right now, the culture within education and within the teaching ranks is once you have tenure, you have a job for life. I believe that mind-set has to be completely flipped on its head and that we have to move out of the idea that a teaching job is a right. . . . And unless you can show you are doing positive things for kids, you cannot have the privilege of teaching."

But Rhee is close to securing other new powers that would allow her to eventually remove ineffective teachers from classrooms. The proposal, first reported by teacher and WTU trustee Candi Peterson in her "Washington Teacher" blog, would allow the District to remove teachers from schools -- because of closure, consolidation, declining enrollment, budget cuts or takeover by an outside organization -- with minimal regard for seniority. Under current rules, teachers with the least amount of service are "excessed" first.

Under the proposal, teachers would be cut according to a formula that gives greatest weight to the previous year's performance evaluation, "unique skills and qualifications" and other contributions to the school community. Length of service would be weighted the least.

The proposal would also give principals more latitude to select staff from the pool of cut teachers. Currently, teachers in that group who don't find spots are assigned to schools by the school district's human resources department. If there are more excessed teachers than open slots, teachers at other schools can be bumped from their jobs on the basis of seniority.

Under a proposed "mutual consent" provision, principals would have more power to pick and choose teachers. Teachers who failed to find new assignments would have three options. They could remain on the payroll for a year, accepting at least two spot assignments as substitutes or tutors or in some other support role. If they can't find a permanent job after a year, they would be fired. Teachers could also choose to take a $25,000 buyout or, if they have at least 20 years' service to the city school system, retire with full benefits.

The proposals have triggered new tensions within the union's leadership. Executive Vice President Nathan Saunders, a longtime critic of Parker's, said the proposals all but eliminate job security for teachers.

"This contract looks to be another approach to diminishing teachers' employment rights," Saunders said.

Peterson's decision to publish draft documents from the contract negotiations drew an unusual public rebuke from Parker, who sent a letter and a voice mail message to members denouncing her for having "maliciously undermined" the confidentiality of the talks.

Peterson, who said she is not bound by any confidentiality agreement, said teachers have grown frustrated with the lack of information available about the protracted negotiations.

"He's promised to tell members about the contract, but he never follows through," she said.

UC president recommends huge tuition increases

Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 2009

The price of a public education at the University of California may be going up again - not once, but twice.

UC President Mark Yudof is recommending a 15 percent increase in in-state undergraduate fees that would take effect next spring, and another 15 percent increase on top of that beginning in fall 2010.

The governing Board of Regents will hear details of the proposal - which also includes graduate-level fee increases of 15 percent - at its meeting Wednesday, but won't vote until November.

If approved, the undergraduate fee increases would be the eighth and ninth in seven years, and would send the price of a year at UC above the $10,000 mark for the first time next fall.

"It makes me really angry," said Gracelynne West, 20, a first-generation college student at UC San Diego who expects to graduate in June with years of debt to pay off.

Though West has a job on campus, "I'm already looking to get another job to pay for the increasing fees," she said.

As usual when fees are raised, almost a third of the new money would be set aside for financial aid.

But West said the financial assistance is never enough.

"I still have to take out loans," she said.

The regents last raised UC's annual tuition by 9.3 percent in May, bringing this year's undergraduate fee to $7,788.

Under Yudof's proposal, the new tuition for 2009-10 would become $8,958, an increase of $1,170, or 15 percent. Because most students pay each semester, they would see their spring bill rise by half that amount.
Five-figure tuition

Fees would rise again next fall under the proposal, by $1,344, or 15 percent, setting tuition at $10,302.

Add another $13,000 or so for a dorm, plus the average $938 fee charged by each campus, and the annual cost for a California resident to attend UC would top $24,000 next year.

"Wow. When I hear that number, I think this is going to send yet another discouraging signal to low- and moderate-income students and families about whether college is still within reach," said Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success, a nonprofit group in Berkeley.

UC Vice President Patrick Lenz will make the case for the higher student fees in an 18-page report he will present Wednesday to the regents' finance committee meeting in San Francisco. The report, prepared by UC finance experts, says efforts to cut spending and raise fees to date have not been enough to close a budget shortfall of at least $753 million anticipated for this year and next.
Lower funding, higher costs

The report blames the shortfall on reduced funding from the state, a higher cost of doing business at the campus level - including soaring costs in retiree health benefits - and a mandatory contribution by UC into the university's retirement plan.

"The President and the Chancellors believe it will be extremely difficult to close the shortfall without severe damage to the University absent additional revenue," the report concludes.

The tuition increase for 2009-10 would generate $117 million, and the increase for next year would bring in $292 million.
Making ends meet

Campuses have already laid off 884 employees this year and expect to lay off 1,006 more, the report says. Almost 2,000 jobs have also been eliminated in the past year, with nearly 2,000 more to go.

Other actions taken to save money have included raising student tuition, increasing class sizes - in some cases up to 25 percent, the report says - reducing nonunion salaries, and deferring hiring and purchasing.

The report compares UC's proposed fees against the fees at four other public schools: the universities of Illinois, Michigan and Virginia, and the State University of New York at Buffalo. When miscellaneous campus costs are added, the cost of attending UC in the 2010-11 school year would exceed for the first time the projected average cost to attend the other four schools.
Regents' meeting

The University of California Board of Regents will meet on Wednesday and Thursday at the Mission Bay Community Center, 1675 Owens St., on the UCSF Mission Bay campus in San Francisco.

-- The meeting agenda can be found at

-- The report addressing increased student fees can be found at

E-mail Nanette Asimov at

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Q&A: Minority, low-income students need to aim higher

By Mary Beth Markein, USA TODAY

William Bowen, Matthew Chingos and Michael McPherson had already begun their study of graduation data at public colleges and universities when President Obama this year challenged America to lead the world in educational attainment by 2020. Now, they hope findings, published today in Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities by Princeton University Press, will help achieve that goal.

The authors found that minorities and students from poor or less educated families have markedly lower graduation rates and take longer to earn degrees than their more privileged peers. That's true even when other variables, including academic qualifications, are taken into account. Their bottom-line advice: Students should enroll in the most selective college that will admit them. But the authors also argue for improved transfer and financial aid policies and better efforts to help students identify colleges that will challenge them. They spoke with USA TODAY about the findings.

GRADUATION RATES: If graduation is assumed, students don't want to fall behind
HIGHER ED: More on grad rates at public universities

Q: You use the term "undermatch" to describe a student who appears to be eligible for a more selective college than the one where they enrolled. Why is undermatching a problem?

Bowen: It is sort of counterintuitive. You would think a student with reasonable qualifications would be more likely to graduate by going to a school where they're not up against super-prepared kids, where there's less competition. One argument against affirmative action has been that African-American students get discouraged at places that are too tough for them and drop out. But we found no evidence to support that. Going to a place where you're challenged increases outcomes. Now, there may be good reasons for undermatching, but this should not be the norm. Yet data in North Carolina suggest that 40% of students undermatch by going to a less selective four-year university, to a two-year college, or to no college.

Q: You argue for better advising for high school students. What about cost? Selective schools tend to have higher sticker prices.

McPherson: If you look at the net price, after allowing for loans and grants, it turns out that in many cases the flagships, for example, may be cheaper for low-income students than less selective institutions in the state. But financing has to be in place and unambiguous. Some relatively vague promise that families will be able to afford a particular school is probably not a message that most lower- and moderate-income families are going to believe. One answer is to make the financial aid system simpler and more reliable. Another is making sure you get the money to the right people. If this country wants to have more college graduates, we have to do better for low- and moderate-income students.

BEST VALUE COLLEGES: Top 100 for 2009

Q: Why do you recommend that financial aid focus on need rather than merit?

McPherson: We simply don't find evidence that merit aid helps people graduate. Our data suggest money matters a lot to low-income people. Affluent people may feel the pain, but they still enroll and graduate. Still, you do need to design programs that are responsive to the genuine need that's out there, and it's perfectly reasonable to say that plenty of families (with high incomes) have need that should be met by a combination of grants and loans. But there's no way to sugarcoat the fact that people who really can afford to pay for college need to be asked to help pay for it.

Q: The message on community colleges seems mixed. On one hand, you say students who earn a two-year degree and transfer to a four-year school are more likely to graduate than similarly qualified peers who began their studies at the four-year institution. But you encourage students who want to earn a bachelor's degree to start at a four-year university.

Bowen: We're not trying to toot the horn of the most selective places. But if you're a well-qualified student who wants a bachelor's degree, the data are just relentless in showing that your chances of getting a degree are much higher if you start at a four-year college. What we're trying to say is, 'Let's give poor kids who are qualified, who have done very well, the same array of choice that a comparable kid from a wealthy family gets.' That's, to me, fairness. That's what social mobility is all about.

REPORT: More must be expected at 2-year schools

This is not to say we shouldn't do more for community colleges. We should. But we should not expect those efforts to solve the problem of raising the number of people with bachelor's degrees. At the same time, states need to do a better job of helping students transfer from two-year to four-year schools.

Q: Critics of standardized tests will love your finding that high school grade point averages are better predictors of college graduation rates than SAT or ACT scores.

Bowen: We're not saying get rid of the tests. If you don't have a lot of knowledge of the high school from which you're admitting students, they can be helpful. But what is so striking here is that while high school grades are a better predictor within every set of public colleges and university they're a vastly better predictor at the less selective ones. We now think we actually understand why. Even at high schools that are not very demanding academically, getting a 3.8 GPA tells you that the student can persevere, has got some motivation, some time-management skills and some cognitive skills, and aren't those things going to relate to graduating? Of course they are. We all know intuitively that stick-to-it-iveness matters.

Egad! School Research Has Power

It's also about WHAT research is being read. Research in and of itself is very subjective. There's actually more research showing little if any "charter effect," and in some cases negative charter effects (meaning students in certain charters perform below their public-school peers).

In any case Mathews does make a good point - if research made its way and led in the policy-making process what would the media do!? Worse situations to be in don't you think?


Jay Mathews | Washington Post
September 9, 2009

I have long believed that politicians never read education research reports, and if they do, only believe the ones that confirm their biases. Timothy A. Hacsi's brilliant 2002 book, "Children As Pawns: The Politics of Education Reform," proved this with many examples. But here comes Harvard political scientist Paul Peterson, a well-known trouble maker, saying that in at least one recent instance, my faith in the intentional ignorance of pols has been mistaken.

In the latest issue of his magazine Education Next, Peterson presents the example of a recent study of public charter and pilot schools in Boston, initiated by the Boston Foundation and overseen by Harvard Graduate School of Education economist Thomas Kane. Charter schools are public schools largely independent of their school districts. Pilot schools are public schools that still answer to their school district leaders, but are allowed to experiment with some innovative policies such as ignoring seniority when hiring teachers. I reported the Boston study's results in my Friday Trends column in February. The charter schools did significantly better. I presented it as a victory for the charter people, who support total freedom from the clumsy administrative power of school districts, over the pilot people, who think their limited freedom is good enough.

What I didn't know, and what Peterson revealed, is that several important players in Massachusetts politics expected the pilot schools to do much better in the study, which would help them pass new laws limiting the growth of charters. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino read the study and turned unexpectedly in a pro-charter direction, despite his ties to anti-charter union leaders, Peterson said.

This is Peterson's take on it. Maybe some of the other 2 million political scientists in the greater Boston area (where even I managed to acquire a political science degree) will say he got it wrong. I hope so. If pols start reading education research and acting on it, we professional cynics are in big trouble.

New campaign questions reliance on testing

Great work, Sam!


USA Today

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — If public schools were baseball teams, says Sam Chaltain, Americans wouldn't have a clue who should be in the playoffs.

That's because our current rating system relies heavily on a single set of test scores for nearly 50 million students, showing how a sample of them perform on a one-day math or reading test each spring.

Sam Chaltain of the Forum for Education & Democracy says that "testing is overvalued."

To Chaltain, director of the Washington-based think tank Forum for Education & Democracy, that's like picking playoff teams based on one game's box score.

As Congress gears up to reauthorize No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 law that spells out how federal, state and local governments rate schools and spend billions of dollars, Chaltain is leading a new and unlikely campaign to shift the USA's education conversation away from one-day tests and toward a larger one, focused on "powerful learning and highly effective teaching."

The forum, along with a handful of education and civil rights groups, launches an online campaign today, asking Americans to write in with personal stories about how and when they got excited about learning — did a teacher get you interested in dinosaurs when you were 9? In politics when you were in middle school? The forum will present it to lawmakers as they rewrite the law.

In its current incarnation, NCLB, which uses the tests to prod improved achievement of low-income and minority students, requires virtually all students in grades 3 through 8 (and one grade in high school) to take annual, state-approved math and reading tests. Based on the percentage of students who score "proficient" or higher, schools get ratings that affect how they can spend federal dollars and whether teachers and administrators keep their jobs. Other factors, such as attendance and graduation rates, matter to a lesser degree.

The new effort aims to change the focus of the reauthorized law.

"We're not saying that testing is bad," Chaltain says. "We're just saying that testing is overvalued."

Chaltain, 39, an author and former teacher who spent five years with the Freedom Forum, a non-profit free-press foundation, says he wants to create "a true marketplace of ideas" open to thinkers of all persuasions.

The group is already talking to lawmakers about research-based revisions to NCLB that shift the focus away from testing toward longer-term measures of learning.

"Most countries around the world do this already," he says. "We're one of the dinosaurs."


A new campaign will collect personal stories of "powerful learning." Here's an excerpt from a story submitted by U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about his mother's after-school program:

"Everyone was challenged to do their best, every single day. … Everybody was teaching and learning. Ten-year-olds taught five-year-olds, and fifteen-year-olds taught ten-year-olds. You were expected to continue to learn and improve, but you also were expected to help others."

The campaign's website is

Arizona is back in federal court over English learners.

by Pat Kossan | The Arizona Republic
Sept. 6, 2009

In June, a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court nearly ended a 17-year legal battle over how Arizona helps students who haven't yet learned to speak, read or write English. But the justices did not dismiss the case, leaving an opportunity for attorneys to continue to argue over the case known as Flores vs. Arizona. The arguments resume this month.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices handed back to the state Legislature the power to determine how much is spent on English instruction and told the lower courts to consider how Arizona has changed English-learner programs. The justices also raised doubts about whether the case, originally filed in 1992 against the Nogales Unified School District
, should still apply to the entire state.

By Sept. 30, Tim Hogan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest will ask U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins to expand the case statewide. Hogan said he will argue that state-mandated English-learner programs violate the Equal Educational Opportunity Act, not programs mandated in one district.

Most recently, state officials required schools to place English learners into a daily four-hour course and to use a detailed state-prescribed curriculum for learning English conversation, grammar
, reading and writing.

"After the Supreme Court decision, the focus is going to shift from funding to the adequacy of the programs," said Hogan, who represents the plaintiffs, the Flores family. "Chief among those issues is the four-hour model."

State urged to revamp evaluations

By Diana Lambert | Sacramento Bee
Friday, Sep. 4, 2009

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's message was clear during his Thursday visit to Sacramento: California can either get on board or be left behind.

Duncan spoke about federal stimulus funds and education reform during stops at the state Capitol, a youth rally in Oak Park and a meeting of school officials and a public town hall meeting at the downtown library as part of the Sacramento Education Summit.

He urged California educators to "lead the country" in education reform "with a sense of urgency."

"Either take the steps to do the right thing for children or you'll be on the sidelines," he said.

Duncan stood behind the requirement that teacher evaluations be tied to student achievement for a state to be eligible for some of the $4.35 billion in competitive federal funds being offered as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

California's education code states that a system tracking teacher data, to be online next year, is not to be used in combination with student test scores to evaluate teachers.

"That's a problem," Duncan said to a group of state school officials gathered at the downtown library.

Only Wisconsin and Nevada have similar laws.

"We'll watch with great interest what California decides to do," Duncan said.

State schools chief Jack O'Connell has said the law is misunderstood and doesn't prevent districts from using student assessment results for teacher evaluation or compensation.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special session of the Legislature to address the issue. Legislators last week said they would work on rewording the law. California Teachers Association board member Michael Stone told The Bee the CTA will carefully look at the reworked language when it is completed.

Duncan told residents at the town hall meeting that teacher evaluations should be based on student improvement and administrator reviews, among other things, and not solely on test scores.

Stone was among a contingent from the CTA at the town hall meeting. The group has been vocal in its opposition to tying student data to teacher evaluations. Stone said teachers are concerned the state would want to be involved in the evaluations.

"A lot of that happens locally," Stone told The Bee. "Nothing prohibits that."

Duncan said state leaders should go after the stimulus funds for the right reasons.

"If you're making changes to chase these dollars, don't do it," he said. "If you're doing it for children, that's another thing."

Duncan said the administration is willing to invest in any programs that can demonstrate they can raise the bar for students and close the achievement gap – his top priorities.

"The achievement gap is devastating," Duncan said. "The dropout rate for African Americans and Latinos is above 40 percent (nationally). The problem is huge; it's unacceptable."

He said charter schools can play a part in reform, but they are only a small part.

"I'm not a fan of charters," Duncan said. "I'm a fan of good charters."

He said charter schools should go through a rigorous application process but, once accepted, be free of bureaucracy, although they should be made accountable and closed if they fail.

He said the nation is in an economic and education crisis.

"Often in times of crisis, the country can get the kind of reform you need," Duncan said.

Nearly 1 in 10 in California's class of 2009 did not pass high school exit exam

The percentage was little changed from last year but still showed important progress, state superintendent of public instruction Jack O'Connell says.

The exit exam achievement gap between white and Asian students and their Latino and black classmates persisted in this year's results. (Paul Sakuma / Associated Press / September 2, 2009)

By Seema Mehta | LA Times
September 3, 2009

Nearly one in 10 students in the class of 2009 did not pass the state's high school exit exam, which is required to receive a diploma. The results, released Wednesday, were nearly stagnant compared with the previous year.

By the end of their senior year, 90.6% of students in the graduating class had passed the two-part exam, compared with 90.4% in the class of 2008.

"These gains are incremental, but they are in fact significant and they are a true testimony to the tremendous work being done by our professional educators . . . as well as our students," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, whose office released the data.

Beginning in their sophomore year, students have several chances to take the exit exam. A score of at least 55% on the math portion, which is geared to an eighth-grade level, and 60% on the English portion, which is ninth- or 10th-grade level, is required.

The achievement gap between white and Asian students and their Latino and black classmates persisted. More than 95% of Asian students and nearly 96% of white students passed the exam by the end of their senior year, compared with nearly 87% of Latino students and more than 81% of black students. But the data did show the size of the gap narrowing. English-language learners and lower-income students also lagged but have made notable gains since the exam was first required.

Critics say education officials must take stronger action to close the gap, noting that nearly 78% of the more than 45,000 students in the class of 2009 who have not passed the exam are Latino or black.

"Let us be clear: These failures do not result from students' demographics, innate ability or lack thereof, but rather serve as an indictment of our public school system," said Linda Murray, acting executive director for the Education Trust--West, an Oakland-based nonprofit advocacy group.

"It is no longer good enough to simply acknowledge the achievement gap exists. These data reveal that state leaders must actually get about the business of doing something about it or run the risk of watching yet another generation of our students be failed by our educational system."

Los Angeles Unified School District students continued to lag behind their peers statewide, with 87% of the class of 2009 passing the exam. But Supt. Ramon C. Cortines noted that the district's Latino and black students have made substantive gains over time, and the district is doing well when compared with others of similar size and demographics.

"Yes, we're an urban school system, but we're not at the bottom of the barrel and we're progressively moving up," he said in an interview Wednesday. "I attribute it to the students themselves. I think that the principals and teachers and counselors have placed an emphasis on the importance of this, and I think young people are understanding that without a high school diploma, there's not much of a future."

School-funding issue back in court 30 years after landmark case

The biggest lawsuit over school financing in 30 years goes to trial Monday in King County Superior Court, with a group that includes the state's largest teachers union and 30 school districts asking the court to tell the Legislature to provide ample funding for public education. Attorneys for the state argue that the lawsuit is moot.

By Linda Shaw | Seattle Times education reporter
August 31, 2009

Stephanie McCleary still feels pride when she recalls the night about five years ago when the Chimacum School Board voted to sue the state of Washington for inadequately funding public schools.

Chimacum — a rural district near Port Townsend where there's no rush hour and only flashing stoplights — was one of the first plaintiffs in what has become the biggest lawsuit over school financing in 32 years.

For such a small district, it was a big step, McCleary said. "It seemed like a very defining moment."

As the case goes to trial today in King County Superior Court, McCleary, who works for the Chimacum district as a secretary and human-resources coordinator, will be there with her 10-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter.

They are lead plaintiffs for a group that includes one other family, the state's largest teachers union and 30 of its affiliates, and 30 school districts. Seattle Public Schools is one, along with the Bellevue, Edmonds, Federal Way, Kent, Northshore and Shoreline school districts.

They are asking the court to tell the Legislature to do what they say it has failed to do for decades: Provide ample funding for public education.

Attorneys for the state argue that the lawsuit is moot because state lawmakers agreed this year to expand state support for public schools by more than $1 billion a year by 2018.

But the plaintiffs say the vote is just the latest in a long string of promises that legislators and governors have yet to keep.

Despite this year's legislative action to increase spending, the plaintiffs note that state lawmakers made the biggest cuts in school spending in recent memory.

"There is always another excuse," said Thomas Ahearne, the plaintiffs' lead attorney.

1977 ruling

Washington's Constitution says the state has a "paramount duty" to make "ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders."

Few — if any — other states give education such a high priority.

What "paramount" and "ample" mean, however, is at the heart of the current lawsuit — definitions not fully tested since the last major lawsuit over school financing more than 30 years ago.

As they're doing today, school districts in the late 1970s argued they were financially strapped. In Seattle, voters had just turned down two school property-tax levies, forcing the district to slash programs and lay off teachers.

The Seattle School District sued along with about two dozen other districts, arguing that the Washington Constitution required the state to cover the costs of education and that they shouldn't have to rely on the uncertainty of passing local levies.

The districts won. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Robert Doran, in a 1977 ruling later upheld by the state Supreme Court, agreed that the state was not living up to its constitutional duty and ordered lawmakers to define and fund a basic education for all students.

Basic didn't mean just learning to read and write. As the state Supreme Court put it, "basic" meant the kind of education that equipped students to be citizens and competitors "in today's market as well as in the marketplace of ideas."

Local levies dropped

After Doran's ruling, reliance on local levies dropped from an average of 20 to 25 percent of their budgets to less than 10 percent. Local levies were supposed to be only for "extras." A second lawsuit a few years later expanded the state's definition of basic education to include areas such as special education and transportation.

But those lawsuits didn't settle the debate.

Some say they were just the start.

2 distinct views

In the trial that begins today before Judge John Erlick, plaintiffs contend the state never has fulfilled its constitutional obligation. Over the past three decades, they say, the gap between what the state provides and districts' costs has only widened.

"If you look at what school districts actually have to spend to get electricity, or pay teachers or build buildings ... and compare that to what the state funds, the amount the state funds is always smaller," said Ahearne, the plaintiffs' lead attorney.

Local levies on average again make up 20 to 30 percent of district budgets, more than double what they were just after Judge Doran's decision.

Plaintiffs also point to national indicators that show Washington's investment in schools is low: The state ranks 42nd in per-pupil spending, for example.

But the state says the case for underfunding is not as black and white as plaintiffs say.

Their case appears to be a "jumble of what the Constitution requires, and what it ought to require, and what the Legislature ought to require," said Dave Stolier of the state Attorney General's Office.

For the state, Stolier said, the case is about who determines what is a basic education. Plaintiffs, he said, "are attempting to get the courts to step into what's legitimately the Legislature's role."

Stolier said the state has a Basic Education Act that lays out how much money should go to schools, how many days students should attend, and much more. Such "basic" programs were not cut this year, or in any year, he said.

And that's what the Constitution requires, state attorneys say, not what some may believe will improve education, or what they believe is important for education.

They note that Washington students do well on national exams such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

"This case," they wrote, "is about whether the state has put into place a system that provides ... students with opportunities to obtain a basic education."

"About political will"

Plaintiffs say the lawsuit was a last resort, pursued only after years of lobbying that went nowhere.

They also know that a favorable ruling isn't a guarantee that schools will get more money. For that, they must take the fight back to the Legislature.

"The courts aren't going to print money, nor is the Legislature," said Lisa Macfarlane of the League of Education Voters, which isn't part of the lawsuit but supports its goals.

"Ultimately, it's about political will," she said.

Still, Macfarlane and others see the lawsuit as an important tool, one that will help lawmakers who believe the state should provide more support for schools.

When Doran issued his landmark decision in 1977, McCleary was a teenager. She now has a teenager of her own.

As a district employee, she says, she sees "all the hard choices we're continually having to make."

"I'm just hoping we can see some kind of change before my kids get out of school."

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or

Universities look for boost to top tier

UTSA weighs merger as plan to increase status

Aug. 31, 2009

SAN ANTONIO — When Ricardo Romo became president of the University of Texas at San Antonio a decade ago, he resolved to transform the sleepy commuter campus into a premier research university.

Today, the university is one of Texas' fastest growing. While it is shedding its commuter campus label by attracting top students and professors, the goal of joining the ranks of top-notch research universities remains decades away.

That reality has prompted San Antonio lawmakers and community leaders to float the idea of merging UTSA with the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, a move that could catapult the combined institution to the top of the heap among Texas universities vying for the distinction.

After years of urging, state lawmakers passed a bill this spring that lays out a pathway to flagship status and a pot of money for seven emerging research institutions, including UTSA, UT-El Paso and the University of Houston.

But in keeping with the history of higher education in Texas, the terms of competition seem to favor wealthier schools, once again short-changing South Texas and borderland institutions that serve a large population of minority students.

But merging UTSA with the health science center would give the combined institution significant firepower. UTSA's federal research spending would jump from $22 million per year to a combined $117 million, marching the institution to the front of the line for receiving money under the state's flagship bill. It would also help San Antonio compete outside of Texas, where most top research universities include a medical school.

“We would be the next Tier One. No question about that,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

The decision, however, rests with UT regents. At the moment, it's not on their radar, said Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the UT System and former president of the UT Health Science Center.

Mergers are risky, Cigarroa said. Regents would need a compelling reason to make that move, and it would come with no guarantee that the combined institution would rocket to Tier One status.

“Tier One status is not only a numbers thing, it is a cultural issue where you garner a national reputation. And that takes time,” Cigarroa said.
Stacking the deck

Often dubbed Tier One, a reference to U.S. News & World Report's eponymous college ranking system, there is no uniform definition for a premier research university. At a minimum, it means spending $100 million annually on research, having strong graduate and PhD programs and the ability to recruit outstanding faculty.

In the upper echelon, it means acceptance into the Association of American Universities, an elite club of 62 top-flight research universities in the U.S. and Canada.

In Texas, only UT Austin, Texas A&M University and Rice University are members of that club: California counts nine, New York, six.

California envy became a rallying cry in Texas in support of the so-called Tier One bill, meant to cultivate Texas' next flagship.

By 2012, the bill could dole out around $212 million each year to research universities using a convoluted matrix of criteria, according to the Coordinating Board. But one pot of money is still empty, and another is contingent upon a constitutional amendment to go before voters on Nov. 3.

An initial bill crafted by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, laid out an even-handed map to Tier One that had the backing of all seven presidents.

But Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, filed a competing bill that set a much higher bar for tapping state funds, including amassing a $400 million endowment or awarding more than 200 doctoral degrees per year.

UTSA awards 61 doctorates a year, and its endowment is about $56 million.

Critics say Duncan's criteria favored his hometown university, Texas Tech, and the University of Houston. The final bill is a combination of the two.

“Some wanted to stack the deck in favor of a few universities,” said Joaquin Castro. “We tried to get the final bill as even as possible.”

The most immediate incentive involves a state match for private gifts of at least $2 million. A lesser match is provided for smaller gifts. But that does not favor UTSA or UTEP, where $2 million gifts are rare.

According to Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, that's no accident.

Texas has historically shortchanged South Texas and border universities, Shapleigh said, and under- funded higher education as whole.

“When Lubbock has 60 Ph.D. programs, and the 5 million people who live in border counties combined have 50, that tells the story,” Shapleigh said.

Shapleigh has asked Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to support a plan to funnel extra money to disadvantaged institutions, but Dewhurst declined, citing increases for university operations and financial aid over the past few years.

In turn, Shapleigh pointed to a state survey showing Texas spends an average of $5,000 per student at emerging research universities, compared with $12,000 at similar institutions in other states.

“In Texas, Tier Ones should be called Potemkin U — all is a façade without the funding needed to compete for faculty,” Shapleigh said.
No easy task

Charles Miller, former chairman of the UT board of regents, is tired of hearing about how badly Texas is doing.

“It undersells how good we are and makes us sound like beggars. We are not,” Miller said.

Despite a state funding disadvantage, Texas competes pretty well for federal research dollars, Miller said, aided by world-class powerhouses such as UT's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

But in Texas, health science centers are not attached to universities, leaving them out of important rankings and making it harder for standalone academic universities to compete nationally.

At the University of California, San Diego, for instance, 36 percent of the university's $2.5 billion budget comes from medical center and medical group revenues. At UTSA — which is roughly the same age and has the same student enrollment — 41 percent of the $375 million budget comes from student tuition and fees.

UC San Diego climbed its way into the crème de la crème in just over 20 years of its founding; UTSA won't get there for another 15 to 30 years, according to Romo.

That yawning gap is reason enough to at least explore a merger, Miller said.

“I don't think there is a conclusive answer, I just think it is time to study it (again),” Miller said.

Views: Camps disagree on way to fix public schools

by Pat Kossan - Aug. 30, 2009
The Arizona Republic

The current public-school debate can be roughly divided into two camps. On one side: those who say investing in America's public-school system will improve student achievement. On the other side: those who have lost faith in the public-school system and believe investing in competition and privately operated schools is the best way to improve student achievement.

The Arizona Republic asked one of the best-known proponents from each side of the argument to make their case.

Vouchers, elite programs equalize the playing field

he real problem is that public education is too big and too cumbersome to move quickly enough to help America's students stay ahead of other countries. Competition from private enterprise will create the revolution needed to fix public education, proponents say.

Glass' concerns are legitimate, said Jay Greene, a University of Arkansas professor and author.

"Many people will suggest that there was some golden era when things were good and that we've fallen from that golden era," Greene said. "Evidence suggests that things are not worse than they have been in the past in terms of educational outcomes."

The problem is that education in America is not significantly better despite an increase in money. Test scores are not rising fast enough and graduation rates are unchanged since the 1970s.

Offering tax credits and state money to help parents pay private-school tuition, allowing private companies to operate public schools and building elite science or gifted programs within school districts offer the least wealthy students access to the best education, Greene said.

"Whenever you expand the options, and they're free to people and you don't have to pay a private-school tuition, you're going to make it easier for people of more modest means to gain access to that desired option," Greene said.

Greene likens voucher programs, those that give parents state money to pay for private schools, to the food-stamp program. Instead of giving families coupons for food, the government would give families coupons for education. Then, parents would go to the marketplace and buy whatever they wanted for their children.

"It's not targeted exclusively to poor people," Greene said. "But if we made vouchers available to everyone, poor people could participate just like rich people."

Without school choice, the quality of the neighborhood public school is often related to the wealth of the neighborhood, offering a choice only to families who can afford to move to the best school districts. School choice detaches the quality of education your children receive from the wealth of your family's neighborhood.

"Which gives you a chance, not a guarantee, to a more desirable school, even if you live in an area where they schools are less good," Greene said. "So it improves equity."

Privatization will help just a few, hurt overall system

True school reform is based on well-researched and well-organized changes in the classroom that would help all students in all public schools perform better. Instead, America has pursued school-choice reforms that help a few students and ultimately degrade the public system as a whole, those on one side of the argument say.

School choice is a political movement disguised as school reform that gives high-frequency, middle-class voters access to free private-school quality education, said Gene Glass, an Arizona State University education professor. Glass said the choice movement is spurred by exaggerating the problems within America's schools.

If not stopped, this privatization of the public system will leave behind a generation of Americans to intellectually wither in underfunded neighborhood schools, short on supplies and qualified teachers, said Glass, who examines this debate in his latest book "Fertilizers, Pills and Magnetic Strips: The Fate of Public Education in America."

School choice is cheaper for states than raising the entire public-school system to achieve higher standards, and that appeases a growing number of voters, Glass said. Among them are older voters who are retiring deeply in debt and are less willing to pay the taxes needed to fund true reform, and families who want private-style education but can't afford to pay tuition. School choice allows politicians to promise lower taxes while delivering quality education to the important few. In the competition to keep the best and brightest students in public schools, districts are creating their own elite "boutique" schools for gifted and accelerated students, where students get better technology and teaching and more attention than typical neighborhood schools.

Racism against Latino children helps to fuel the school-choice reform movement, Glass said. Some view Latino families, particularly those who speak Spanish
at home, as a burden on the public-school system, slowing learning in classrooms and absorbing too much public money, Glass said.

"Hispanic demographics and the economics of an aging population are setting the agenda for education policy in the U.S., but particularly in Arizona where both influences exist at full force," Glass said. "It is no surprise that such a set of circumstances has spawned the hallmarks of Arizona education policy."