Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One New Orleans charter school changes the culture, sees the results

Interesting story about a successful charter school in New Orleans. Since the city is comprised of half charter schools, it would have also been nice to have known what the charter school landscape looks like, generally. How does it compare to other charters? How does it compare, generally? It's nevertheless wonderful to see a school that sets high expectations and is doing well.


One New Orleans charter school changes the culture, sees the results
By Sarah Carr, The Times-Picayune
December 27, 2009, 5:36AM

Ted Jackson / The Times-Picayune
Sophie B. Wright Principal Sharon Clark grabs a playful hug from Ja'ni Williams while visiting students in the band hall on Dec. 11. Clark has gained a reputation as a hands-on leader of the school.
After catching two girls out of class without passes, Sharon Clark interrogated them like an attorney confident she had a winning case.
"So both of you decided at the same exact moment that you had to go to the bathroom?" asked Clark, the principal of Sophie B. Wright Charter School in Uptown. It was more of an accusation than a question.
"Yes," the two girls responded meekly, their jaunty expressions fading.
"That's a crock," Clark told them.
She reached for the phone, and dialed the suspected ringleader's mother.
"We don't play this hallway mess here," Clark told her. "Never have. Never will. I don't know what her issue is. I have talked to her about it, and she's going to end up finding herself out of Wright if things don't change."
Despite her gruff opening, by the end of a 10-minute conversation, Clark had a new ally in her effort to turn around the wayward student.
"All right, darling, you have a good evening," she told the mother in a lilting voice. "We're going to keep working together, you hear?"
In the four years since Wright became a charter school, Clark, her staff, and the school's families have banded together to form a strikingly close-knit community. Parents trust Clark. Students look out for each other. And the staff members tease each other like family.
"They make it clear that for every action there's a reaction, not only in school, but in life," said Briana Henry, a ninth-grader at Wright. "They are mothers and teachers."
In many respects, Wright's dramatic improvement since it became a charter -- it now ranks among the city's most promising public schools without admissions requirements -- illustrates the charter model's greatest strengths.
The middle school, which this fall added a high school program, earned local and national acclaim in 2008 when every single fourth-grader passed the high-stakes LEAP exam. This fall it narrowly missed earning recognition as a "two-star" school, a still-elite but growing group of open-enrollment charters in the city.
With no district bureaucracy to support it -- or meddle in its affairs -- Clark and her staff have unprecedented control over Wright, and no one to blame but themselves for failures. Charter schools receive public money, but independent boards run them, and make nearly all the decisions about staffing, curriculum and schedules.
Wholehearted support
At Wright, the board usually supports Clark's decisions wholeheartedly. So on a dime, school leaders can decide to add a new math class for struggling students, decide to buy its own buses and run transportation in house, dismiss low-performing teachers (what Clark calls "freeing up their futures"), or hire an impressive salesman at Office Depot to be the school's administrative assistant -- all of which Clark has done.
"We're able to control our own destiny," said Lawrence Vinnett, the school disciplinarian and a staff member at Wright for the past 20 years. "After all these years, you can finally see something being done."
Wright's experience also underscores the crucial role that school leadership will play as charter schools rapidly grow in cities across the country, including New Orleans, Washington and New York. In New Orleans, more than half the city's schools are independently run charters, a higher percentage than any other American city. And while the quality of leadership helps determine the fate of any school, it can very quickly make or break a charter.
Clark brings a unique combination of gifts to Wright. Some, like experience, nearly anyone can attain. But others, like Clark's ability to turn children into Play-doh in her hands, cannot be so easily taught.
"A charter school won't work without a strong principal," said Raeschelle Landry, who has worked as both an administrator and teacher at Wright.
Brian Riedlinger, chief executive officer of the city's School Leadership Center, estimates that much more than 50 percent of New Orleans public schools have strong leaders already. But, he said, the city needs more professional development targeted at both school leaders and charter governing boards to ensure that pool continues to grow.
Before "we had a district that, if you let it, would pretty much tell you what to do," he said. "Now there is no more, 'You do this, you do that,' other than following the law. So school leaders have a wider berth. But it's like giving you enough rope to make the project or to hang yourself."
Riedlinger added: "When I teach principals, I write across the board, 'It's your fault.' When I teach charter school principals, I should write, 'It's really your fault.' "
Coming on strong
Clark, a New Orleans native, returned from Arizona to her hometown in 2001 and took the helm of the then-notorious Sophie B. Wright campus on Napoleon Avenue, one of dozens of failing schools run by the Orleans Parish School Board. From day one, Clark made it clear that old habits should die quickly.
"They say you're not smart, that you're not working on grade level! That you're failing! Stand up if you think you're failing! Stand up!" Wright barked at students during her first fall at Wright.
Ted Jackson / Times-Picayune archive
In 2001, Sharon Clark, principal of what was then Sophie B. Wright Learning Academy, scolds Hayward Howard for wearing braids.
"Stand up if you're big and bad and bold and you're going to come here late every day. Stand up!... You're not going to tell me you're getting a free education and you're not going to come to school? Free books, free buildings, free everything!"
Steve Williams, the physical education teacher at Wright, described Clark's take-no-prisoners style this way: "If you come into her shop, she's not afraid to come from behind the counter and make sure that you spend all you've got."
Under the School Board, Clark had more power than any single individual to set the tone inside the Sophie B. Wright building. But she often felt like a mid-level manager with fickle bosses.
Wright fell victim to the whims and weaknesses of the larger district that controlled it. Superintendents came and went, and with them priorities, programs and curriculum. Repeatedly, administrators forced the school to abandon its approach to reading or math with little regard to whether the old way worked or not. The school could not easily shed itself of bad teachers. Purchasing pencils for a classroom could take months. New students seemed to arrive weekly, as the district shuffled some of the worst-behaved students from school to school.
Wright improved after Clark took over. But in 2004, the school's performance score, derived from test scores, was still way below the threshold required to get out of the failing category.
By the spring of 2005, Wright's demise appeared imminent.
Closure seemed certain
Then-Superintendent Tony Amato sped up plans to close the lagging school -- part of an effort to close all the city's middle schools -- so Lusher Extension, a selective Uptown middle school, could add a high school in the Wright building. But in two swift moves, the School Board rejected opening Lusher High School in the fall of 2005, and the state board of education agreed to let Southern University operate Wright as a charter.
Hurricane Katrina hit shortly after the newly chartered Wright opened for the 2005-06 school year. By the time the school reopened less than five months later, charter schools had become the norm in New Orleans.
Unlike many of the city's other new charters, Wright retained the same leader and building, and much of the same staff. The campus now draws students from across the city, but they come with many of the same needs as before: Nearly every single student qualifies for free lunch.
The most obvious change inside the building is psychological. Clark and her staff have taken ownership over Wright like never before, and the families must adjust to the new and higher expectations or find other schools.
"Kids who don't do their work, they don't come here," Clark said. "Parents who don't want us in their business don't send their kids here. The environment is too close, too watched."
As the principal of a charter school, Clark says she feels less like a manager and more like a leader.
High ambitions
One morning last March, she gathered her administrative team to help chart a new high school program for the fall. She ticked through the items on her list during a conversation that highlighted both the school's nimbleness and its lofty ambitions.
ACT prep. Clark suggested calling around to St. Augustine and Sacred Heart, two private schools, to find out what preparation materials they use for the ACT, the test that can determine college admissions. Her vice principal, Tiranus Edwards, hoped to sit in on an ACT prep class at Benjamin Franklin High School, the city's top-performing public program.
Staffing. One of the administrators knew a couple of teachers who applied to Newman, an exclusive Uptown private school, and Clark and her team discussed trying to recruit some of them away to Wright.
College. Clark asked staff members to order university pendants to put up on the walls before the start of school. She also made plans for each incoming ninth-grader to receive a copy of Fiske Guide to Colleges.
Uniforms. After determining some of the basic requirements -- socks will be knee length, for instance -- the administrators discussed which supplier might offer the best discount. "I have to find out where St. Aug gets its book bags," Clark murmured, "because those book bags are like durable suitcases."
The meeting ended with a quick delegation of responsibilities. "We are going to make final decisions when you come back on Monday," Clark said.
Nothing stood in their way.
Authority, autonomy
Wright is subject to the same testing requirements as any public school, and has to submit annual audits and quarterly budget reports. Otherwise, administrators say they have little to do with the state-run Recovery School District, which oversees them.
Ted Jackson / The Times-Picayune
Principal Sharon Clark is surrounded by students changing classes on Dec. 11. Clark freely uses her authority to make it clear to parents and students that they must conform to the school's high expectations.
Joy Askin, a veteran educator who is now the school's curriculum director, noted that it's "definitely not the same Wright" since the school was chartered.
"There's not an iron claw on us anymore," she said.
"If I go to Ms. Clark and say, 'I found this great program. Let me show you the research on it,' we can start it as quickly as possible.'"
Wright has tailored its curriculum to the needs of specific classes and teachers, a move that would have been much more difficult in the old system.
One of the first decisions Clark made was to continue with the Success for All literacy program, which former superintendent Tony Amato introduced in the district in 2003. A six-year tenure for a curriculum is rare in an urban school, where programs often seem to change with the seasons as new leaders seek short-term test score boosts.
"We have definitely been able to see the real outcomes of programs because they stay here for awhile," said Clark. "There's a consistency."
Early supporters of charter schools felt that they would allow schools the freedom to adopt innovative, experimental new approaches to teaching and learning. But as Wright's experience shows, many schools have used that freedom to embrace consistency, not originality.

"People in a system develop reform fatigue after a while," said Nelson Smith, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "I've heard of some schools that sought a charter precisely because they thought it would give them more stability."
'Reading is everything'
On a typical morning, the intense structure of Success for All is on display as nearly everyone in the building focuses on reading and reading alone between 8 and 9 a.m.
In Steve Williams' classroom one March morning, the board reads: "Cycle 2. Day 4. Reading Goal: As we read we will try to determine the causes and effects of Maniac's action (based on the book Maniac McGhee)."
At a rapid clip, Williams takes his students through similes, cause and effect, and vocabulary words like "cunning" and "vacant."
He finds time, however, to use one character's experiences to describe the causes of homelessness, noting that even some very well-educated people live on the streets -- "they've just had troubles."
With only five minutes left in the class hour, Williams does not slacken the pace, asking the students to write a few sentences about the lesson.
He paces the room, reading the sentences and asking tough questions until the bell sounds.
On the board there's a constant reminder: "Reading is everything. Reading is everything."
Public rules, private feel
At schools like Wright, a visitor can understand why debate roils over whether charter schools are more akin to public or private institutions. Wright operates almost entirely with public money. Its students take the LEAP and iLEAP tests required of public schools, and if they do not perform well enough, Wright can be closed. The school follows state and federal regulations.
That said, in virtually every other respect, Wright more closely resembles a private school. Increasingly, many of the students come from Catholic schools, their parents seeking a free version of the more intimate, safe environment of a private school.
With the approval of the school's board of directors, the school leaders do what they want, when they want, with little second-guessing or public debate.
"The whole board respects Sharon and what she is doing," said Rose Duhon-Sells, chairwoman of the school's board of directors. "If you are a micro-manager, you stifle the creativity and growth of the people working with you."
Clark said the school has expelled only a couple of students since it became a charter. But she freely uses her authority to make it clear to parents and students that they must conform to the school's higher expectations. In the past, parents could try to pit Clark against one of her bosses in the central office.
"There were times I had to compromise my integrity as an instructional leader to make sure the area superintendent didn't get mad, or so a parent wouldn't be at the (School) Board complaining," she said. "Parents don't really come to the board meetings now. There's such an open-door policy that they are comfortable."
Such an approach works when parents feel confident enough to take advantage of it. But it can backfire in schools where there's little trust.
Joy Williams, whose daughter started attending Wright after Katrina, noted that Clark responded immediately when she complained about the bus dropping her daughter off too late in eastern New Orleans. "She really listens," Williams said.
The fundamental flaw of the old governance structure may have been that, because of bureaucracy, inconsistent leadership and politics, school leaders weren't empowered to make decisions they felt were in the best interest of kids.
The fundamental challenge of the new structure may be that everything rests on the shoulders of school leaders and their boards: the financial health of the school, the academic progress, relationships with parents, fairness to students. Arguably, the board's most important task is to hire a good leader. And the good leaders function like benevolent dictators.
But the looming question is whether the city has enough of them to go around.
Walking, talking
One morning, Clark left her office to walk the halls, her quick pace matching her quick wit.
"You know I love you," she told one girl. "You work my nerves over, but I love you. I like your hair today. It looks normal for your age. But go get the makeup off your little eyes."
She spotted one student not wearing the required black tennis shoes, and bee-lined back to her office to call his mother.
"You still in bed? That's too lazy. You should be up working, smelling the earth and being part of society.
"You're not going to buy (your son) any more shoes?
"What time did you get off work?
"3 a.m.? Oh girl, go back to sleep."
She then ordered six boys who were late on paperwork to run a lap around the building. "It's good for their souls," she said. "I take care of my business. They need to watch theirs."
Officials have asked Clark if she'll consider taking over other low-performing schools, a proposition that makes her wary, at least for now.
Her dilemma highlights a bigger one facing the charter movement, both in New Orleans and nationally. Are promising schools, like Wright, the product of a unique chemistry between administrators and teachers that cannot easily be replicated? Or can, in fact, their practices be codified and exported, as many rapidly growing charter school chains are trying to do? And how fast?
In other words, is a good school more like a work of art or a well-made car?
It's a question that could be answered in New Orleans, as leaders seek to create a education landscape where strong operators, like Clark, swoop in and pick off the weak ones.
"Do I think I can replicate every teacher that's in my building?" Clark said. "I don't right now. I think I want to still give Wright time to grow and make sure all of our practices are right, that it's not just a fluke."

Sarah Carr can be reached at or 504.826.3497.
© 2009 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Common Core standards undermine California's gains

Some good points made in this article on the disconnect between the CCSSO's development of college-ready standards and the expectations and requirements of higher education.


Ze'ev Wurman | SF Gate
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Academic content standards are lists of the topics that K-12 students are expected to master in each grade. This past summer, organizations of governors and of state school superintendents launched a new effort (the Common Core State Standards Initiative) to create common academic standards across all states, effectively national content standards. The federal government has promised $350 million stimulus money to promote these standards, and states that compete for a slice of the $4 billion available from the federal "Race to the Top" program would be required to adopt them.

States, like California, endeavor to align their whole education system around content standards - curriculum, teacher training, textbooks and testing. Thus, vague and low standards can have a destructive effect. National standards will affect our children and our economic future for years to come.

The Common Core Initiative published its first draft for College Readiness in September, and these standards are hardly clear or high. The math standards, for example, make two explicit promises: that the standards are measurable and that students meeting them will be prepared for non-remedial college mathematics. They offer more than 100 examples of the mathematics skills expected of students. Here is one: If everyone in the world went swimming in Lake Michigan, what would happen to the water level? Would Chicago be flooded?

An interesting but mostly non-mathematical problem. The math skills measured are estimation and division at the fifth-grade level, but how accurate is measuring even those low-level math skills when the answer depends mostly on non-mathematical knowledge: the Earth's population; Lake Michigan's surface area; Chicago's elevation above the water level; or whether the water will spill over to Lake Huron before flooding Chicago. Out of the published 105 examples, almost two-thirds have flaws of one type or another, making them inappropriate as reliable measures of math knowledge. This is deeply troubling, given these standards may shortly be imposed on the whole nation.

Even worse, the standards do not meet their second promise. Admission to an overwhelming majority of state universities around the country, including our own California State University and University of California systems, requires three years of high-school math including, Algebra 1 and 2 and Geometry . The Common Core standards removed large portions of this content, including geometry of circles, logarithms, and study of combinations and permutations. Students meeting these standards would be ineligible even for CSU and, if accepted, will likely be placed in remedial classes.

California has clear and high content standards that have been highly praised by virtually all experts. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell were wise when they conditioned our acceptance of Common Core standards on their being on par with our own. So far Common Core standards fall far short of that goal.

Read more:

To get federal funds, schools must apply stronger measures to struggling schools

By Nick Anderson | Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 28, 2009

If a public school struggles year after year, is the solution to shut it down? Fire everyone and start over? Hand the reins to a contractor? Or help teachers and principals raise their game?

As the federal government offers school systems an unprecedented $3.5 billion to revive schools, a huge increase for a reform program launched with $125 million in 2007, policymakers increasingly are prescribing stronger medicine for the lowest performers.

In years past, educators generally opted for the least invasive remedies. Most shied from state takeovers, shutdowns, conversion to a charter school and the like.

Instead, they favored measures such as teaming a principal with a "turnaround specialist," who would offer coaching and encouragement. The 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law, enacted under President George W. Bush, allowed the less-aggressive approaches.

Now the Obama administration is pushing a harder line for the weakest schools. School systems that want a share of the federal aid have four options:

-- Turnaround: replacing a school principal and at least half the staff;

-- Restart: converting a school to an autonomous charter school or hiring an education management organization to run it;

-- Shutdown: closing a school and dispersing its students; or,

-- Transformation: replacing a principal, improving teacher effectiveness and taking other steps for comprehensive reform.

Systems with nine or more of the weakest schools may use the transformation option in no more than half of them. That proviso significantly tightens the Bush-era accountability policy.

"After years of school improvement efforts," Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote this month in a document intended to justify the new approach, "there are far too few examples of persistently low-achieving schools that have significantly and rapidly improved performance. We believe that, in part, this is because turning around such schools generally requires fundamental changes in leadership and often in governance and staff, changes that many [local education agencies] are reluctant to make."

Will it work?

"In general, we don't have much evidence on what it takes to create an alternative to a failed school," said Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, a Brookings Institution analyst who oversaw education research in the Bush administration. "There's not a lot of case studies that you can point to. It's not that [Obama officials] are ignoring evidence. It's just that there isn't much evidence to go on."

Whitehurst contends that improving school curricula , the material taught and its sequence, is a proven way to lift performance. Generations of education leaders, he notes, have tried myriad school governance changes, with mixed results.

Reviving failed schools, especially in cities with deep poverty and a host of other academic obstacles, is probably the hardest job in public education. Duncan, schools chief in Chicago before joining the Obama administration, tried numerous shakeups in that city's schools and achieved some gains. But many schools in the nation's third-largest system still struggle, despite decades of reforms.

In the Washington area, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is known for closing schools, firing principals and sometimes seeking contractors to run schools that fall short. Charter schools also are proliferating in the District. Virginia, with relatively few schools in jeopardy, tends to avoid the most severe interventions.

Maryland, with more experience in turnaround efforts, is gravitating toward the get-tough approach. State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said she has become convinced that replacing leadership in a failing school is essential.

"It begins with effective principals," she said. "I've never been in a great school that didn't have a great principal."

The challenge is formidable. Maryland lists 39 schools that have needed improvement for a decade or more. Most are in Baltimore, and five are in Prince George's County.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Taking Stock: Higher Education and Latinos

Check out the full report Taking Stock" by Excelencia in Education.


National Institute for Latino Policy
New Report

> Leaders in the current federal administration as well as key foundations focused on higher education have recognized the importance of an educated workforce and have articulated goals to increase our nation's collective degree completion. The projected population growth of Latinos, their current educational attainment levels, and their relative youth all signal the need to pay more attention to this group in higher education. A review of the data clearly shows that the nation's success in reaching its degree completion goals will rely on its ability to accelerate the degree completion of Latinos.
> Excelencia in Education's mission is to accelerate Latino student success in higher education. This brief takes what we know from national data and combines it with what we hear from elected officials, service providers, and Latino students and puts this information together to articulate what we can do to address critical policy issues affecting Latino students in the current higher education context.
> What we know: The general profile of Latinos in education emphasizes a minority of the population yet drives the majority of public policy for Latinos. Policymakers seeking to improve Latino higher educational outcomes should consider positioning issues and developing strategies to accelerate Latino student success based on a more representative profile of Latino students.
> What we hear: Listening to the stake holders in higher education yielded the following points:
> * The economic downturn presented challenges to maintaining access and success for elected officials, service providers, and students.
> *Elected officials seemed more focused on persistence in college while service providers were more focused on college access.
> *Both Latino students and elected officials noted that spending more money in higher education did not necessarily mean getting more for the investment.
> * Elected officials shared that improving accountability for the public's investment in higher education must be balanced with providing access to a quality education.
> * Students did not consider accountability measures such as graduation rates or college rankings as factors influencing their college choice.
> * Many Latino students valued higher education and balanced work and family responsibilities to get their education.
> * Service providers considered programs tailored to serve Latinos the most effective in engaging Latino students.
> What we can do: Suggested steps to accelerate Latino student success include the following:
> * Develop a media campaign emphasizing the societal and economic benefits for raising the degree completion rate overall, and for Latinos specifically.
> * Create a national acceleration plan specifically tailored to improve the success of Hispanic students in higher education and track degree completion goals and measures of progress.
> * Focus on the strategic alignment of educational support efforts from the state to community level to increase accountability and effectiveness.
> * Replicate or expand institutional practices that are improving Hispanic student success.
> * Increase both support to and the accountability of institutions enrolling large numbers of Latino students to improve academic quality, retention, and degree completion.

Rise in Mexican Population Leads Growth of Latinos in New York City

Here's one full report. Also see, Laird M. Bergad, Mexicans in New York City, 2007: An Update (New York: Center for Latin American, Caribbean & Latino Studies, CUNY Graduate Center, Latino Data Project, Report 26, December 2008). This latest report is an update of the earlier Latino Data Project study, Mexicans in New York City, 1990-2005.


> December 12, 2008 | CUNY Graduate Center

> A dramatic increase of Mexicans led the growth of New York City's overall Latino population, which rose to 28% of all city residents in 2007, according to the latest report of the Latino Data Project published by the Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

> The total Latino population of 2.4 million was up 2.5% from 2006, with the number of Mexicans rising by a "remarkable" 9.8% to 290,000, the Latino Data Project reported. Mexicans comprised more than 12% of Latinos residents, "due in large part to continued migration" to the city. Ecuadorians showed the next-largest rate of growth. They increased by more than 8%, to 200,000.

> Puerto Ricans remained the largest group among all Latinos living in the city, with a population of 778,000, increasing marginally (by 1%) for the first time since 1980. Also for the first time since 1980 the Dominican population declined marginally (by 1.3%). Dominicans remained the city's second-largest Latino group, with a population of 602,000. In 2007, Latinos comprised more than 50% of all residents in the Bronx, 28% in Queens, 26% in Manhattan, 20% in Brooklyn, and 15% in Staten Island.
> "If population growth continues at the yearly rates found between 2000 and 2007, Dominicans will surpass Puerto Ricans and become the largest sector of the city's Latino population in 2020," the Latino Data Project noted. "Mexicans will surpass Puerto Ricans to become the second-largest Latino national group behind Dominicans in 2022. And in only another two years, by 2024, Mexicans will surpass Dominicans to become New York City's most numerous Latino nationality."

> In terms of socio-economic mobility, the Latino Data Project also found that the city's smaller Latino groups, such as Colombians, Cubans, Ecuadorians and Hondurans, "have experienced the greatest increases in annual family income and educational attainment," exceeding the larger, more-established groups of Dominicans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans.
> The Latino Data Project makes information available on the growing Latino population of the United States and especially New York City through the analysis of extant data available from a variety of sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Institute for Health, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and state and local-level data sources. All the reports are available at
> The Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies is a research institute that works for the advancement of the study of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latinos in the United States in the doctoral programs at the CUNY Graduate Center. One of its major priorities is to provide funding and research opportunities to Latino students at the Ph.D. level. It has also established and helps administer an interdisciplinary specialization in Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies in the Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies program. For additional information, contact the Center at 212-817-8438 or by email at

> The Graduate Center is devoted primarily to doctoral studies and awards most of the City University of New York's Ph.D.s. An internationally recognized center for advanced studies and a national model for public doctoral education, the school offers more than thirty doctoral programs as well as a number of master's programs. Many of its faculty members are among the world's leading scholars in their respective fields, and its alumni hold major positions in industry and government, as well as in academia. The Graduate Center is also home to more than thirty interdisciplinary research centers and institutes focused on areas of compelling social, civic, cultural, and scientific concerns. Located in a landmark Fifth Avenue building, the Graduate Center has become a vital part of New York City's intellectual and cultural life with its extensive array of public lectures, exhibitions, concerts, and theatrical events. Further information on the Graduate Center and its programs can be found at

Boricuas in New York City: An Historical Inventory of the Past Year

> By Angelo Falcón
> Comite Noviembre Journal (November 13, 2009)
> This Puerto Rican Heritage Month finds a Puerto Rican community with much to celebrate and much to be concerned about. But as we look at the arc from the 40th anniversary of the Young Lords this year to the naming of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court this year, as they say in Puerto Rico, "Poco poco, se anda legos." In the United States, the more than four million Boricuas living here continue to struggle and to say ¡presente!
> The Puerto Rican presence in New York City goes back to the 1860s, so we are certainly not newcomers to this country. Today there are more Puerto Ricans living stateside than in Puerto Rico and the current growth of the stateside Puerto Rican population appears to be greater than that of the Island. And, since 1917, we also didn't come here are immigrants but rather as US citizens more appropriately referred to as migrants. So as the immigration debate continues in this country, with its anti-Latino overtones, Puerto Ricans certainly don't fill the profile, but we find ourselves in the thick (and sometimes at the leadership as is the case with Chicago Congressman Luis Gutierrez)) of that battle too. This is because, after all is said and done, we are part of a larger Latino world and most people in this country simply don't make the distinction.
> As we review this past year since last November's Puerto Rican Heritage Month celebrations, much has occurred of both a positive and negative nature. As you read this review, you will no doubt see much that I have missed, but this overview is only meant to be suggestive of the many good and bad things that we experienced as a community from November 2008 to October 2009. It is, at most, kind of the beginning of an historical inventory.
> 2008: The Historic Election of Obama
> and Statehood Party Victories in Puerto Rico
> Statistics on stateside Puerto Ricans at the national level released by the Census Bureau from their Current Population Survey for 2008 reveal some troubling indicators. The most disturbing was that among Latinos, Puerto Ricans had the highest poverty rate, 25 percent. In addition, we also had the highest unemployment rate, 10 percent. The Puerto Rican poverty rate, in fact, was more than double that of non-Latino Whites. And I don't even want to get into the poverty and unemployment rates in Puerto Rico, which are much worse, and, remember, these statistics are for the period before the current economic crisis.
> The Census Bureau, in their American Community Survey (ACS), estimated that there may have been as many as 809,675 Puerto Ricans living in New York City in 2008, making up 35 percent of the city's 2.3 million Latinos. While still the largest Latino group in the city, in 2009 the Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center projected that by 2024 Mexicans would become the largest Latino group in the city.
> There was the historic election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States and, as 14 percent of the Latino vote, Puerto Ricans helped in significant ways in that great victory, especially those Puerto Ricans in Florida. At the end of 2008, with the election of President Obama, Latinos began to push for Latino appointments to his Cabinet and Administration. Although getting off to a slow start on Latino appointments, by the mid-2009 Obama had accumulated a record of Latino appointments that was higher than that of any past President, Republican or Democrat. But Puerto Ricans remained concerned because the only major appointment they saw was that of former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion to organize and head a new Office of Urban Policy in the White House.
> Of course, this concern was overshadowed by the historic nomination and confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor as an Associate Justice in the United States Supreme Court the following year. This was a major event for Puerto Ricans that also brought widespread attention to our community, both here and in Puerto Rico. Her ascension to the high court catapulted her to near rock star status in the Latino community and with the general public. This was definitely the high point for Puerto Ricans in 2009.
> Along with Obama, Puerto Rico elected a new party to office: Luis Fortuño as Governor and Pedro Perluisi as Resident Commissioner, both from the statehood New Progressive Party (PNP). Anibal Acevedo Vila, the Governor of the pro-Commonwealth Popular Democratic Party (PPD) lost big, being under a federal indictment during his reelection bid for campaign finance fraud and other charges. In 2009, he was, ironically, acquitted of the charges.
> On November 19, 2008, New York Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez was elected Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), a historic moment for the Puerto Rican community. Also, during the 2008 election, history was made when another Puerto Rican woman, Rosa Clemente, ran for Vice President of the United States under the Green Party, although this was little noticed.
> One of the major highlights in 2008, was when Lin-Manuel Miranda's play In the Heights won the Tony Award for Best Play and in many other categories in mid-June. Also, in November of that year, the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, led by legendary actress Miram Colon, celebrated their 40th anniversary. News also arrived that West Side Story was returning to Broadway after 51 years. Also, after a long hiatus, efforts began in 2008 to bring back the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights (NCPRR), the btheme of a national convention in October 2009.
> On the local political front, NYS Assemblyman Ruben Diaz, Jr. was elected to be the Borough President of The Bronx. However, other news on the local political front for Puerto Ricans was not as positive. Legendary South Bronx political player, Ramon Velez, passed away in November 2008. In that same month, NYS Assemblyman José Rivera lost the powerful Chairmanship of the Bronx Democratic Committee, ending Puerto Rican leadership of that body. Also, after an impressive election to the New York State Senate, Queens politico Hiram Monserrate was arrested in December for domestic violence, to be tried the following year.
> 2009: The Year of Sotomayor and the Young Lords
> The beginning of 2009 saw the deaths of many prominent Puerto Ricans. They included legendary boxer and writer José Chequi Torres, former NYC Councilmember Antonio Pagan, musician Joe Cuba and music promoter Ralph Mercado.
> While in 2009 the highlight at the national level was definitely the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, there was also the appointment of Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion in February to head up the new White House Office of Urban Policy. The only problem with his appointment is that he has seemed to disappear since then, so we all eagerly await his full return to public life.
> Locally, the highlight has been the fresh and energetic leadership that the newly-elected Ruben Diaz, Jr. is providing as Bronx Borough President. And, staying in The Bronx, there was also the appointment of Dr. Felix Matos Rodríguez to be President of Hostos Community College, one of the major institutions in the Puerto Rican community. Dr. Frances Negron-Muntaner also had the distinction of being appointed Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Columbia University. This was also the year when NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg first started to speak Spanish in his news conferences, which I am not sure is a good or bad thing.
> South Bronx Congressman José Enrique Serrano celebrated 35 years in elective office, making him the most senior Puerto Rican elected official in the United States. He was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1974 and to the United States Congress in 1990.
> This past summer, the talk of the state was the revolt of a coalition of Democratic and Republican State Senators against the NYS Senate's Democratic leadership. What was most fascinating about it was that it was led in part by two Puerto Ricans who had just gotten elected to the body: Bronxite Pedro Espada and Queensite Hiram Monserrate. In the end, to the surprise of many, Espada wound up as President of the NYS Senate in what was a major controversial move.
> Part of the problem with the state is that the Democratic Party is seen as unsupportive of Puerto Rican and other Latino elected officials. For example, when Governor David Paterson had the opportunity to appoint a Latino to the US Senate to replace Hillary Clinton, such as seasoned Congresspersons Velazquez or Serrano, he chose a relative newcomer, Karen Gillebrand who, up to that point, held very conservative positions on social and economic issues. There is also the problem that Governor Paterson has also neglected important Puerto Rican and Latino issues, such as our extreme underrepresentation in the state government: today Latinos are only 4 percent of state government workers, despite being over 13 percent of state's labor force.
> But on the more negative side, there was the case of the former NYS Health Commissioner under Governor Pataki, Antonia Novello, who pleaded guilty in January to charges of abuse of her use of state employees for personal matters and mismanagement of state funds. This was particularly tragic since she had also served as the United States Surgeon General under the first President George Bush. We also got the sad news at the beginning of the year that the Puerto Rican Mayor of Hartford, Connecticut was arrested for allegedly having a conflict of interest in using the service of a city contractor for personal use.
> In 2009, The Natural Resources Committee of the US House of Representatives approved the Puerto Rico Democracy Act (HR 2499), introduced by Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner Pedro Perluisi, calling for a series of plebiscites on the political status of Puerto Rico. While it hasn't been reported to the full House for a vote, this bill will no doubt generate much discussion in the Puerto Rican community, both stateside and on the Island, about Puerto Rico's future. Meanwhile, the economic crisis in Puerto Rico by October 2009 has resulted in the wholesale laying off of thousand of government workers, creating a reaction of major demonstrations and a call for a general strike. Under the leadership of Puerto Rican labor leaders, such as Sonia Ivany, many New York unions have rallied in support of the workers of Puerto Rico.
> The 52nd annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade marched down Fifth Avenue this year with the theme, "Our Music." The Grand Marshal this year was super star singer Victor Manuel. The year also saw the premiere of the Lillian Jimenez film on the life of the legendary Puerto Rican educator and founder of Aspira, Dr, Antonia Pantoja, at the New York Latino Film Festival called "Antonia Pantoja: ¡Presente!" Puerto Ricans won a victory at the beginning of 2009 when WABC-TV Channel 7 finally agreed to move their long-running Latino public affairs show, Tiempo, hosted by reporter Joe Torres, from the 5:00am graveyard slot to a more appropriate 11:30am on Sundays. But the year also saw protests against MTV for the "Nuyoricans" segment on one of their series that the Puerto Rican community found stereotypical and offensive. MTV since met with Puerto Rican community leaders and is constructively working on correcting the problem.
> In late August there was a unique and historic gathering in El Barrio for the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Young Lords. This was a major event that highlighted the long history of struggle of Puerto Ricans in New York for social justice. One of their first lawyers in the struggle, FOX News' Geraldo Rivera, demonstrated the influential trajectory of the influence of the Young Lords when he was inducted this year to the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in a moving ceremony in San Juan, Puerto Rico. And also as part of this trajectory, especially influenced by the work of the late Richie Perez, in October 2009, over 300 gathered in a convention in Philadelphia to support the rebirth of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights (NCPRR).
> The Meaning of It All?
> It's a little difficult to find the meaning in all of these recent developments, since it is usually with time that we get a real sense of their implications for our community. However, it is clear that they reflect a passing of the baby boomer generation and the ascendancy of a new one, which is always a good thing. The rise of creative individuals like Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ruben Diaz, Jr., along the achievements of those like Sonia Sotomayor, Nydia Velazquez, José E. Serrano, Sr. and others bodes well for the future of the Puerto Rican community.
> However, the general disrepute that our local political class is undergoing indicates the fragility of that future. We always talk about holding our elected officials accountable, so maybe we need to make this a firm resolution during this Puerto Rican Heritage Month. If we don't do it as a community, who will? And if we don't do it now, then when? As we boricuas like to say, "Buena fama se pierde fácilmente; mala, casi nunca."
> Angelo Falcón, a political scientist, is President of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP) and is Chair of the Latino Census Network. He is the author of the "Atlas of Stateside Puerto Ricans" and co-editor of "Boricuas in Gotham: Puerto Ricans in the Making of Modern New York City." He is a resident of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. He can be contacted at

Education bill weakened, critics say: Right to fire teachers at failing schools axed

By James Vaznis | Globe Staff
December 16, 2009

Over the past two months, more than 20,000 teachers and their supporters have bombarded Beacon Hill with letters, e-mails, and telephone calls, urging legislators not to give superintendents unprecedented authority to ignore union rules as they overhaul troubled schools.

So far the lobbying has paid off. The education bill approved by the Senate last month eliminated several controversial proposals, including a provision that would have allowed superintendents to dismiss any teacher at a failing school regardless of job performance.

Now, as the fiercest education debate in 16 years heads to the House, groups of business executives, parents, and school leaders say the bill has been so watered down that it will do little to help improve the education of students in the state’s worst schools. Instead, they say it puts the interest of teachers above their students.

“There is no leader of any organization that could make effective changes with those kinds of handcuffs,’’ said Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education. “It’s almost like a bad bill would be worse than no bill.’’

With House Democrats slated to caucus on the bill today, the unions have recently been pushing for more changes in meetings with key state representatives. The Boston Teachers Union also asked its members this week to hand out tens of thousands of fliers printed in English, Spanish, and other languages to parents outside their school buildings, in hope of enlisting their support.

Meanwhile, organizations that are worried about the union activities, including a statewide parent group and another that represents Boston parents, are urging their members to call state representatives to tell them not to accede to union demands. Mayor Thomas M. Menino also met with House leaders this week to stress the importance of allowing superintendents to convert failing schools into in-district charter schools without seeking union consent.

Leaders of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts defended the changes they championed, saying they preserve hard-fought workplace protections. They disputed assertions that teachers were acting selfishly.

“As a teacher, your life is devoted to helping kids,’’ said Anne Wass, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. “A teacher’s working conditions are a child’s learning conditions.’’

When the Senate approved the bill after two days of intense debate last month, there was a widespread sense of optimism that it would provide the tools necessary to help children in urban schools that have long struggled with low test scores. The Senate sped through the approval so Massachusetts could meet a mid-January deadline to apply for federal stimulus money that will be distributed among states that have made significant steps to improve their worst schools.

But in the weeks since that vote, serious concerns have emerged that several of the last-minute amendments approved during the end-of-session marathon could make it nearly impossible to make any meaningful changes in struggling school districts.

Not only did the amended bill considerably weaken the powers that would be given to superintendents, but it also altered a provision that could have doubled the number of charter school seats in Boston, Lawrence, and other cities where the quality of public education has long been a concern.

With the state confronting yet another year of tight finances because of sluggish state revenue, Governor Deval Patrick and other leaders say it is critical that Massachusetts passes a bill so it can secure funding under President Obama’s Race to the Top competition, which could yield $250 million for Massachusetts.

The federal program calls on states to pursue an array of initiatives, including taking a harder line when evaluating teacher job performance, getting rid of ineffective teachers, and expanding the number of charter schools, which in Massachusetts almost always employ nonunion teachers.

Paul Reville, the state’s education secretary, said he remains optimistic that a substantive bill will get to the governor next month.

“There is a lot of rhetoric designed to influence the next stage of the process,’’ Reville said. “It’s not time yet to despair about the bill and to make global pronouncements about the extent to which the bill may have been watered down. Is it a perfect bill? No. Can we strengthen it as it moves onto the House? Yes.’’

Reville said he was hoping to work out compromises that would provide superintendents the power they need to overhaul schools while respecting the rights of teachers.

The teachers unions - which can wield considerable influence in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, particularly by providing manpower and some donations in election years - was particularly effective in making two key changes in the bill.

Senator Gale Candaras, Democrat of Wilbraham, introduced the amendment that limited a proposal that would have given superintendents the ability to remove teachers.

Under the amended bill, a superintendent would be able to dismiss a teacher only for good cause and would have to prove that the teacher’s job performance played a role in the school’s underperforming status. The teacher would then have the right to appeal that decision in a new expedited arbitration process.

In the second case, Senator Kenneth J. Donnelly, Democrat of Arlington, sponsored a change that eliminated a proposal that would have given superintendents the ability to unilaterally impose work rule changes at a failing school when negotiations with the teachers union hit a stalemate. Under his amendment, that matter would instead go through an expedited arbitration process.

Both amendments passed overwhelmingly, with most opposition coming from Republicans.

“I felt in large measure that a significant portion of the bill scapegoated teachers,’’ said Candaras, who believes that widespread poverty is a more significant contributor to failing schools. “These people who devote their lives to teaching in these schools deserve at least a hearing.’’

Donnelly could not be reached for comment.

Critics say the amendments would enable local teacher unions to throw up roadblocks that could deter overhaul efforts. Although the bill sets up short time lines for arbitration, they say that time lines are often not followed in union negotiations.

Unions consider these two amendments a victory for worker rights. On its website, the teachers association is encouraging members to write thank you notes to the supportive senators, while the teachers federation warns on its website that the changes still do not go far enough to address its concerns.

One additional area that the unions intend to fight in the House is a provision that would change state law so school districts could open their own charter schools without union approval.

Representative Charles A. Murphy, chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, said his committee is looking at the changes and myriad other issues as it puts together a House version of the bill.

The committee’s resulting bill could go through substantial changes on the House floor, where representatives are expected to contend with between 300 and 400 amendments. Like the Senate, the House will be under a tight deadline to approve its legislation.

“I’m sure there are parts that will remain and other parts that won’t,’’ said Murphy, adding that committee has been working on its bill since Thanksgiving. “I don’t want to show our hands.’’

Illegal Immigrant Students Publicly Take Up a Cause

Published: December 10, 2009

It has not been easy for the Obama administration to deport Rigoberto Padilla, a Mexican-born college student in Chicago who has been an illegal immigrant in this country since he was 6.
On Thursday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said they would delay Mr. Padilla’s deportation for one year.

Mr. Padilla’s case had seemed straightforward to immigration agents who detained him for deportation in January after he was arrested by the Chicago police for running a stop sign and charged with driving under the influence.

But since then, students held two street rallies on his behalf and sent thousands of e-mail messages and faxes to Congress. The Chicago City Council passed a resolution calling for a stay of his deportation and five members of Congress from Illinois came out in support of his cause. One of them was Representative Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat, who offered a private bill to cancel his removal.

Obama administration officials said they would review cases like Mr. Padilla’s as they arose. They said the situation of Mr. Padilla, 21, pointed to the need for an immigration overhaul that would include a path to legal status for people in the United States illegally.

“We are committed to confronting these problems in practical, effective ways, using the current tools at our disposal while we work with Congress to enact comprehensive reform,” said Matthew Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

Behind Mr. Padilla’s case — and others in Florida of students who fought off deportation — is activism by young immigrants, many of them illegal, which has become increasingly public and coordinated across the country, linked by Web sites, text messages and a network of advocacy groups. Spurred by President Obama’s promises of legislation to grant them legal status, and frustration that their lives have stalled without it, young illegal immigrants are joining street protests despite the risk of being identified by immigration agents.

With many illegal immigrants lying low to avoid a continuing crackdown, immigrant students have become the most visible supporters of a legislative overhaul, which Mr. Obama has pledged to take up early next year. In the meantime, their protests are awkward for the administration, with young, often high-achieving illegal immigrants asking defiantly why the authorities continue to detain and deport them.

“Maybe our parents feel like immigrants, but we feel like Americans because we have been raised here on American values,” said Carlos Saavedra, national coordinator of a network of current and former students called United We Dream.

“Then we go to college and we find out we are rejected by the American system. But we are not willing to accept that answer,” said Mr. Saavedra, 23, a Peruvian who lived here illegally until he gained legal status two years ago.

Young people who were brought to the United States by illegal immigrant parents draw a certain degree of sympathy even from some opponents of broader legalization programs. Roy Beck, the executive director of NumbersUSA, a group that has staunchly opposed a legal path for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, said in an interview that he could support legal status for some young immigrant students. Mr. Beck said he would do so, however, only if Congress eliminated the current immigration system based on family ties and imposed mandatory electronic verification of immigration status for all workers — conditions that Democrats in Congress are not likely to accept.

The students’ goal is to gain passage of legislation that would give permanent resident status to illegal immigrants who had been brought to the United States before they were 15, if they have been here for at least five years, have graduated from high school and attend college or serve in the military for two years.

Known to its supporters as the Dream Act, it has been offered in the Senate by Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana. An effort to bring it to the Senate floor was defeated in 2007, and proponents now consider it part of a package that includes a path to legal status for illegal immigrants in general, an estimated 12 million people. Mr. Beck said he continued to oppose that proposal.

Many illegal immigrant students who were brought to the United States as children receive a shock when they get ready to go to college. They are generally not eligible for lower in-state tuition rates or government financial aid. In most states they cannot get drivers’ licenses.

In recent years, student groups joined battles in several states for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, some successful and some not. This year, student organizers said, they worked to tie those state efforts into a national network, hoping to match the mobilization networks of opponents of the immigration overhaul, which proved far superior in the past.

The troubles for Mr. Padilla began when he drove home after watching a football game and drinking beer with friends. He ran the stop sign, and the traffic police arrested him because he did not have a driver’s license and had been drinking. Eventually, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. Immigration agents found him in the county jail.

Mr. Padilla, now enrolled at the University of Illinois at Chicago, had no prior record and had been an honors student and president of the Latino student organization at Harold Washington College, which he attended for two years. Friends from both schools mobilized after his arrest.

Similar rallies took place in November in Miami, when immigration agents detained two brothers from Venezuela who were illegal immigrants — Jesús Reyes Mendoza, 21, a former student government president at Miami Dade College, and his brother Guillermo, 25. Students from the college held a protest in front of the immigrant detention center where the brothers were held.

“The undocumented youth are losing our fear of being undocumented,” said Carlos Roa, an illegal immigrant student from Venezuela who joined that rally. “I’m public with this. I’m not hiding anymore.”

Miami Dade College, with 170,000 students, has become a center for immigrant activism. After the protests, and letters from Eduardo Padron, the college president, the immigration authorities on Nov. 8 deferred the deportation of the Reyes brothers for one year.

As schools struggle, California politics slow education reform

By Juliet Williams, The Associated Press
December 15, 2009

SACRAMENTO — To education reformers, a $4.3 billion school funding competition from the Obama administration seemed like just the push California needed to start making long overdue changes to restore academic luster to the state's public schools.

But the drive to dramatically turn around a faltering system that serves more than 6 million children has run into political reality in a Legislature dominated by special interests. The result could leave the state with the nation's largest public school system ill-positioned to compete for the so-called Race to the Top funds.

Officials estimate California stands to gain up to $700 million.

Lawmakers meeting in a special session on education called by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are considering competing Democratic bills. Both are intended to clear the way for California's federal application and to deal with some of the same issues, such as increasing the number of charter schools, revamping state tests and restructuring the worst-of-the-worst schools.

But how they propose to reach those goals is vastly different, and it's unclear whether the versions can be reconciled in time for the state to meet a Jan. 19 federal application deadline.

A Schwarzenegger-backed bill by state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, and the state superintendent of public instruction gives parents more say in what happens to failing schools and makes it easier to evaluate teachers and principals based on student achievement. It also would let parents move their children out of failing districts.

After narrowly passing the state Senate in November, with several Democrats opposing it or opting to sit out the vote, that measure is now stalled in an Assembly committee. One of the most powerful and well-funded political interests in the state, the California Teachers Association, is lobbying against it.

The teachers union instead backs different legislation offered by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica.

Reform advocates say that legislative package, which passed the Assembly on Thursday, does not go nearly far enough to fix California schools. Because of that, they say it wouldn't stand a chance in a competition against other large states such as Florida and Texas, which already have made bold school reforms.

Schwarzenegger has supported many of the changes included in the federal guidelines since taking office but has not had the political muscle to get the changes through a Legislature controlled by Democrats, who receive campaign funding from the teachers union.

He said he will veto the Assembly legislation if it reaches his desk, although that is unlikely because the Senate already has passed much tougher reform measures.

"This is a Race to the Top, not a race to mediocrity or the status quo," Schwarzenegger said.

The Republican governor has been blunt about the Assembly's effort, saying its Democratic majority simply wants to water down the tougher Senate legislation. The Assembly bill, he said, won't provide a real shot at the federal money in a state that has sustained billions of dollars in education cuts during the last three fiscal years.

"The kids and education need every single dollar," Schwarzenegger said.

California's education system was once considered a national model that bred a generation of scientists and entrepreneurs, but the state has fallen to near the bottom among states in school funding and academics, earning a D in academic achievement this year from Education Week magazine's annual national schools survey. Students perform below the national average on nearly all measures, with black, Hispanic and poor children faring worst.

Nearly 2,800 of its schools are considered to be failing by federal standards.

The dispute over whether to enter the federal competition and, if so, how strong the reforms should be is dividing Democratic allies and discouraging reformers who had hoped for historic change.

Margaret Fortune, a California State University trustee who once served as an education adviser to Schwarzenegger, said she has become disillusioned. Many lawmakers put partisan interests ahead of reasonable changes in school policy, she said.

"If they were responsible leaders, they would stand up and say, 'You know what? We're leading a broken system, so we need to turn around and fix it, because this is shameful,'" said Fortune, who now runs an independent teacher-training program and has launched several charter schools.

Representatives of the California Teachers Association and other influential education groups, including the California School Boards Association, argue that the state should approach Race to the Top cautiously. They say lawmakers should not rush headlong into major reforms for what amounts to a relatively small pot of one-time federal money.

California, which will spend $50 billion on K-12 education this fiscal year, stands to receive between $300 million and $700 million if its application is successful.

The teachers association opposes provisions in the Senate bill that would allow parents to transfer students in persistently failing schools to other districts, expand the number of charter schools without imposing new restrictions on them and allow parents to lobby for closure or conversion to a charter when schools don't improve.

The union says the Senate legislation lacks legislative oversight in making the changes.

Patricia Rucker, a legislative advocate for the CTA, urged lawmakers during a hearing on both bills to "resist the temptation to simply race for dollars for the prestige of winning an award and a competition and instead (ask) what is the overall goal of education reform in California?"

Many reform advocates say slow progress isn't acceptable in a state where one in five high school students drops out.

"I just don't have the patience for incremental change any more," said Assemblyman Juan Arambula, an independent from Fresno who left the Democratic caucus earlier this year. He sided with Republicans in opposing the Assembly bill and backing the more stringent Senate version.

Some Democratic lawmakers, particularly Hispanics and blacks, are feeling pressure from both sides: the teachers union, which opposes dramatic changes, and community groups that are frustrated by a persistent racial achievement gap.

Alice Huffman, president of the state NAACP and a former political director of the CTA, testified before the Assembly Education Committee that reforming the state's faltering schools is an urgent civil rights issue. She said she has nieces and nephews who have graduated from California schools yet cannot read and write.

"I'm just going to say that if we don't get this done, we have really blown it one more time," she said.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office is urging lawmakers to take the Obama administration's education reforms seriously, warning that they are likely to provide the framework for new federal education guidelines, putting at stake billions of dollars in federal money.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

School-label method changing

State education officials looking for more-precise way to measure progress

by Pat Kossan | The Arizona Republic
Dec. 13, 2009

The way Arizona decides if a school is performing or failing is likely to change dramatically by 2011.

The new method would be more precise than any used previously and measure how successfully a school pushes its students - average or gifted, rich or poor - to learn more from year to year, state officials said.

It could mean additions and deletions on the list of best-performing schools in Arizona and would give parents better information about the quality of teaching at a school. It also could be used to determine which teachers a school retains and how much a teacher is paid.

"The way that (student academic) growth was measured in 2003 when I took office was sufficiently problematic that it would not be fair to judge teachers on that data," said Tom Horne, Arizona superintendent of public instruction. "Now the science and technology has developed to a point where I think you can do that fairly."

The State Board of Education will have the final say on when and how the state puts the new method to use. That vote is expected in the spring.

Students' progress impacts school labels

In 2002, the state began publicly labeling schools based on their student performance. As its chief measurement, the state uses year-to-year gains in the overall percentage of students at a school passing the AIMS exam.

If approved, beginning in 2011, measuring the success of an overall school's population would be replaced by measuring the year-to-year improvement of each of its student's AIMS scores, whether or not it's a passing score.

Individual student growth would become 50 percent of the way a school earns one of the state's six labels: excelling, highly performing, performing plus, performing, underperforming or failing. The state will use both the proposed new measurement and the old measurement to label schools in 2010 so educators and policy makers can see the difference in how their school would be labeled.

The new measurement is most commonly referred to as the "value-added" method and here's how it works:

• A student's AIMS score is measured on a scale of 200 at the bottom for Grade 3 and 900 at the top for the high-school exam.

• The state already has the ability to determine improvement in each student's AIMS scale score over previous years' scores. The new measurement allows the state to determine if a student's year-to-year progress matches progress made by other Arizona students who had similar scores last year and the year before.

• On a micro level, this new method can help teachers and parents determine if a student's learning is keeping pace or outpacing their true academic peers, whether the student is scoring in the 300s or in the 700s. On a macro level, it can determine if students in a classroom, a school or a district are outpacing similar students, keeping pace with them or falling behind.

New school search engine for parents of students

By 2011, parents would have access to a new search engine that uses the new measurement to compare schools within their district or neighborhood.

Horne said the visual charts that accompany the new method would make it easier for parents to find out what they really want to know: Are the teachers at a school capable of moving all students ahead in their learning and is their particular child moving up?

"It's a major breakthrough for parents to see exactly what is happening with their school and other schools in the neighborhood," Horne said.

Right now, the state is test-driving the new technology. Education officials hope to get individual student achievement graphs in the hands of every teacher, perhaps as soon as the start of school in January, to help them target their teaching to student needs.

"A teacher can also show them to a parent and the parent really understands that the kid has a lot of work to do to pass AIMS, which is very often the case, probably more than people realize," said Rebecca Gau, a researcher with the Arizona Charter School Association who helped to bring the new measurement to the state.

Teacher performance linked to student data

Colorado was the first state to use the newest growth measurement, but it's now being considered in many states, mostly as a way to measure a teacher's performance. The Obama administration is pushing states to find a fair way to link teacher pay to student test scores and there are big grants on the table for states willing to follow its lead.

A school or district, even the state, could use the data as part of each teacher's professional evaluation to help determine retention, training needs and pay, Horne said.

Horne likes the idea of using student growth to gauge teacher performance, and this method is the fairest he has seen.

"The teacher who made a lot of growth with poor kids would still show better than a teacher who made little growth with richer kids," Horne said.

It's a tool that researchers are continuing to refine and is worth exploring as a teacher-performance indicator, said Andrew Morrill, vice president of Arizona Education Association, the state's teachers union. Morrill cautions that teachers cannot be fairly evaluated using only one measurement.

It could be combined with other criteria, such as a teacher's willingness to continue pursuing additional education and to work with other teachers to develop effective lesson plans, he said.

"You still have the question of what and how many data indicators you're going to use in a fairly complex calculation," Morrill said.

The Arizona State Board of Education received an explanation of the new approach Dec. 7. The board is expected to convene a study session on the new method in the spring before it votes on the proposed change.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan Says Merit Pay Should Be Tied to Student Growth

The education secretary tackles teacher pay, student performance, and principal training

By Kim Clark | U.S. News & World Report
December 15, 2009

With billions in stimulus funding, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has more power to create change in the nation's schools than any of his predecessors. Before taking his current post, Duncan was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. During his tenure there, reading and math scores set new records, and the number of high school students taking Advanced Placement courses more than tripled. Now he faces the challenge of prodding school districts around the country to improve student performance while local school budgets are tanking. U.S. News Senior Writer Kim Clark asked Duncan how leadership will help him reform American education in the midst of a recession. Listen to a podcast of this interview.


You're spending $5 billion on educational innovations at a time when states are slashing their budgets and firing teachers. How are you going to make sure that money isn't used just to maintain the status quo?

Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff, has this great line: "Never waste a good crisis." We actually have two different crises here. One is educational, and the other, the toughest economy since the Depression. Sometimes the nexus of crisis and opportunity leads to the kind of dramatic reforms that we need, that frankly are more difficult to accomplish when times aren't so tough. So yes, it presents us with some real challenges. But what we are going to see is that this is a huge test of leadership. Some folks will be paralyzed by the challenges they are facing, and others will see this as a chance to fundamentally break through and challenge the status quo. And those are the type of leaders that we are going to invest in.

The great ideas always come locally, from great teachers and great principals. We want to take those good ideas to scale.

There's an argument that principals are the key to education reform: Better principals would hire better teachers and make teachers better. What are you doing to make principals better?

There are no high-performing schools without great principals. As a country we have absolutely underinvested in developing the next generation of great principals and really thinking about principal preparation and pipeline programs. We have to focus and put more resources behind principal leadership and development.

What qualities do you seek in principals that make them effective leaders? Principals today are CEOs. We have to treat them as such, and we have to train them as such. Principals have to be first and foremost instructional leaders. They have to be able to manage multimillion-dollar budgets. They have to be great in terms of HR. They have to work with the community. They have to be savvy with the media. We have to find those principals, and they are out there, those potential and future principals, and give them the range of skills and the range of training so that they can drive the kinds of dramatic change that we want.

The issue of merit pay for teachers is very controversial. A lot of people complain that basing merit pay on the scores of students just rewards teachers who happen to teach in rich districts. How can schools really measure student growth?

I am not a big believer in looking at absolute test scores. I think they tell you some things. There is a lot they don't tell you. I am a much bigger believer in looking at growth and gain and how much a student is improving each year. So, the more we can identify not just the teachers but the schools and the entire school districts that are accelerating student achievement and are accelerating student progress, those are the individuals and the teams and the schools and districts that we need to reward and shine a spotlight on, and most importantly learn from and replicate that success.

What techniques work to improve student performance in high school?

A couple things are of huge importance. First, making sure you have high expectations, that the work is very, very rigorous. We have to raise the bar. In far too many high schools, we've really dummied down expectations, and that actually increases student apathy. It doesn't increase success. It increases dropout rates.

Secondly, we have to build a culture in which every student, every teenager in high school, has an adult who they can go to in good times and bad who will be there for them. Having meaningful adult relationships is desperately important. Our high school students are looking for mentors.

Third, they want to understand what the relevance of their schoolwork to the world of work and the world of higher education. How we make those connections—from what we teach in the classroom to how the students understand how it will benefit them as they move on—is hugely important. When you see those things happen collectively and comprehensively, you see great outcomes for high school students.

We need to get the country into the business of turning around chronically underperforming schools. We are challenging everybody: states, and districts, and nonprofits, and unions and universities to think about turning around schools. We have some extraordinary examples of that around the country. But we don't begin to do it at scale or with the sense of urgency that we as a country need.

Some folks predict that you're going to have a hard time sticking to your guns about giving out only a few federal grants, and you'll have to give money to every single state to make friends. How you are going to be the leader who sticks to your guns on this?

Don't just listen to my words, watch my actions. I'm here for only one reason, and that is to help the country get dramatically better, and that is what we are going to do.

The Problem with Performance Pay

It can work—but only if performance is broadly defined and all parties agree to the plan.

Donald B. Gratz | Educational Leadership
November 2009 | Volume 67 | Number 3
Multiple Measures Pages 76-79

A new round of interest in performance pay has been growing for the past decade, as more states and districts have introduced mandates related to the push for ever-higher standards. This year, President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have included performance pay among their goals for education. At the 2009 National Education Association (NEA) convention, Secretary Duncan urged teachers to support performance pay, noting that although "test scores alone should never drive evaluation, compensation, or tenure decisions," not including student achievement in teacher evaluation is "illogical and indefensible" (ASCD Educator Advocates, e-mail communication, July 18, 2009).

Definitions of teacher performance pay take different forms. For example, many districts pay experienced teachers to mentor new teachers, serve as curriculum specialists or in similar posts, or teach in inner-city schools. The most common and controversial proposal is to pay teachers on the basis of their students' standardized test scores. It turns out, however, that test-based pay is more useful politically than it is effective educationally. Although few contemporary plans built on student test scores have lasted, this lack of success has not slowed proposals for more such plans. Given the growing prevalence of performance pay, it is worth exploring its history and assumptions.
A Not-So-Stellar Story

Education performance pay stretches back hundreds of years. In the mid-1800s, British schools and teachers were paid on the basis of the results of student examinations, for reasons much like today's. After more than 30 years, however, the testing bureaucracy had burgeoned, cheating and cramming flourished, and public opposition had grown dramatically. The practice was abandoned as a failure.

In 1907, Edmond Holmes, Great Britain's chief education inspector, described schooling in the era of test-based performance pay as the teacher engaged "in laying thin films of information on the surface of the child's mind, and then, after a brief interval, in skimming these off in order to satisfy himself that they have been duly laid" (Nelson, 2001, p. 386). Holmes referred to this kind of recall as being "the equivalent of food which its recipient has not been allowed to digest" (p. 386).

In 1918, 48 percent of U.S. public school districts described their payment systems as "merit based." But "merit" was subjective: White men were paid more than minorities and women, a disparity that eventually fueled a movement toward a uniform pay scale. Two years after women won the vote, the first uniform pay plans appeared in Denver, Colorado, and Des Moines, Iowa. By the 1950s, only 4 percent of U.S. school districts described themselves as merit based (Murnane & Cohen, 1986; Protsik, 1996).

There were brief attempts to implement performance-based pay in the early 1960s after Sputnik, and again when President Nixon launched an experiment with "performance contracting," which ended in cheating scandals and failure. In the early 1980s, when A Nation at Risk alarmed citizens with the prospect of "a rising tide of mediocrity" threatening to engulf U.S. schools, President Reagan reintroduced experiments with merit pay, with similarly negative results. Some school districts experimented through the 1980s with incentive programs based on merit, management by objectives, and career-ladder or differentiated staffing approaches. Few such experiments had any staying power. A new wave of experiments developed in the 1990s, most of which were also based on career ladders, teacher skills and knowledge, or differentiated staffing.
A New Approach Emerges

In 1999, the Denver, Colorado, school board and teachers association jointly sponsored a pay for performance pilot based largely on student achievement. As head of the outside research team for the first half of the pilot, I can attest to the energy and commitment with which the joint labor-management design team approached the task.

Although the pilot was successful and teachers in pilot schools supported it, designers saw that measures of student performance were still inadequate, that connections to teacher performance were hard to establish, and that standard measures of student learning were not applicable to more than half of the teachers—including gym, art, and music teachers; media specialists; special educators; and so forth. The model didn't address incentives for teachers to work in difficult situations and didn't include the contributions that many teachers make in support of their schools, younger colleagues, students, and their students' parents.

A much broader assessment of teacher performance was needed to capture the breadth of the teacher's role (Gratz, 2005). After four years and substantial effort, teachers and administrators collaborated to produce a new plan that the board, teachers, and voters ultimately approved. In the process, Denver expanded its definition of performance.

Denver's groundbreaking professional compensation plan replaces the traditional "steps and lanes" approach to compensation, in which teachers receive annual "step" increases as well as "lane" increases if they earn additional degrees. Only one of the new plan's four components directly addresses academic achievement goals—and that one is based significantly on teacher-set objectives, not just standardized test scores. In addition to student academic growth, the plan addresses teacher skill and knowledge, professional evaluation, and market incentives—compensating teachers who work in hard-to-serve schools or in hard-to-staff positions.
The Flawed Logic of Most Plans

Although today's performance pay plans take many forms, the most commonly proposed version—in which teachers are rewarded on the basis of their students' standardized test scores—flows from flawed logic and several troublesome assumptions.
Assumption 1: Teachers Lack Motivation

If we believe that additional pay will motivate teachers to work harder, we must also believe that teachers know what to do to improve student achievement— and that they aren't doing it because they aren't sufficiently motivated. The assumption is that they must value financial rewards more than student success.

Does anyone really think that large numbers of teachers know what their students need but are willfully withholding it? That they would help students learn more, if only someone offered them a bonus to do so? This is a highly cynical view of teachers, one that teachers understandably find demeaning, not motivational.

Most teachers care about their students and want them to succeed. Why else enter the profession? But although presenting information may be simple, successful teaching is more complex. Some teachers could certainly do a better job, but they mostly need mentoring, support, supervision, and training in new techniques—plus opportunities to learn, grow, and take on additional responsibilities—just like the rest of the workforce.
Assumption 2: Schools Are Failing

The broad call by state and national leaders for performance pay and other "reforms" is based on the widespread presumption that U.S. schools are failing. Schools have been labeled "in crisis" since the 1800s, but this designation has usually been more political than real. Schools were blamed for letting the USSR's Sputnik "beat us into space" in the 1950s, for economic collapse in the 1980s, and for economic inequality in the early 2000s. U.S. students are accused of lagging behind their peers in other countries, and a wide range of reports over the past two decades has predicted economic disaster in the future because, the reports claim, today's students are unprepared for work and will not be productive.

In fact, the United States had a satellite nearly ready to launch in the 1950s, but kept it under wraps because of its anticipated use in spying. Explorer I was launched just four months after Sputnik. The downturn of the 1980s, for which schools were often blamed, was followed in the 1990s by the longest period of sustained growth in history, for which schools received little credit.

As for the failure of U.S. students to measure up to their foreign counterparts, this is largely not the case. Rather, as many researchers have shown, the test score gap often results from comparing older or more select students in other countries with a broader range of U.S. students and from confusing test scores with achievement (Bracey, 2005; Mathews, 2008; Rotberg, 2008).

In fact, although poor results on specific tests make headlines, U.S. students compare well with their international peers on many tests, and U.S. workers excel in measures of economic success, such as creativity and innovation. Further, test scores don't correlate with economic success. The countries whose students outscore their U.S. peers do not have stronger economies or more productive citizens. Worker productivity in the United States soared in the 1990s and has remained high.

Schools make an easy target, but school change moves too slowly to affect short-term economic cycles. It takes at least 12 years for a restructured K–12 curriculum to produce its first newly trained students. So, although an educated workforce is important, schools have little effect on economic cycles. Fortunately, schools have not yet been blamed for the current economic debacle.

It's true, of course, that we have some very troubled schools in the United States—mostly in large, bureaucratic districts and mostly serving poor children and children of color. By one estimate, the majority of failing schools in the United States are found in only 29 districts (T. W. Slotnik, personal communication, July 10, 2008), suggesting that these districts need improvement at the school and district leadership levels, not just among teachers. Despite the existence of troubled schools and districts, however, most students achieve more academically now than in past decades, and most parents give their schools high marks and support them (Bradshaw & Gallup, 2008).
Assumption 3: Measuring Academic Achievement Is All That Counts

The third assumption—the most perilous for the United States—is that standardized test scores accurately measure student academic achievement and that academic achievement constitutes the full range of goals we have for students. However, beyond basic academic skills, corporate leaders have consistently cited the need for critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and collaboration, communication skills, and a good work ethic as the keys to worker success. And because there is more to life than work, most citizens want children to learn about art, music, and other aspects of civilization; to explore and develop their own skills and talents; and to become good neighbors and active, productive citizens.

Look for the megacompanies that control standardized testing to produce new tests that claim to measure all these attributes—but don't believe them. If we want students to develop as well-rounded human beings who are empathetic, thoughtful, and creative, we will have to include these characteristics among our goals for schools and seek ways to gauge our success. A system that rewards schools, students, and teachers only for test scores will get mostly test scores. This is not what most of us want for our children.
The Upside

The most promising aspect of the current discussion is the surprising extent to which district leaders, corporate leaders, and teachers unions are recognizing that they have common interests—interests that include accountability, expanded professional responsibility, and improvements in teaching conditions. Many parties are coming to see the value of higher and differentiated pay, and although we must carefully consider the specifics, the potential for change that benefits both teachers and students is real.

Denver's pilot has helped to demonstrate some of the possibilities. In an increasing number of districts, teachers who teach in hard-to-serve schools, such as those in inner cities, or in hard-to-fill positions, such as advanced physics, may earn additional pay. Teachers who mentor younger teachers, develop components of the curriculum, or take on other specialized duties may also earn more. Such pay doesn't insult teachers. Instead, it provides experienced teachers with the opportunity to learn, grow, and support their colleagues—critical opportunities in all professional fields to keep people refreshed and engaged.

Denver's plan also involves teachers in setting objectives for their own students, an approach that engages both their professional judgment and interest. Such opportunities have often been missing from teaching in the past.

Beyond Denver, it is also promising that some larger districts, often with outside technical assistance, are using performance pay as a catalyst for fundamentally changing how they do business— reorganizing their processes around their goals for their students and how best to reach them.
Defining Performance

Finally, it is crucial that the discussion of performance pay—which requires districts to develop a new definition of performance—leads states and districts, including Denver, to a new consideration of their true goals for their students. An exclusive focus on academic achievement is a relatively new idea in U.S. education. Thinkers like Thomas Jefferson and Ralph Waldo Emerson did not expect schools to teach all children the same facts over an extended 12-year period. Rather, they believed that schools should provide individual students with basic skills and tools for learning so these students could pursue their particular goals and find their own place in society.

This requires a national discussion. Do we want a world of critical thinkers or a world of test takers? Do we care about citizenship, civic engagement, and the ability to work with others? Do we value the arts and humanities? Do we want each child to develop his or her individual talents and abilities? If so, how do these goals fit into our definition of student and teacher performance? How do they align with No Child Left Behind?

Until we can answer these kinds of questions—until we determine the breadth, depth, and individual scope of student achievement that is worth pursuing—paying for performance will not produce the results we want for our children or our society.

Bracey, G. W. (2005, October). 15th Bracey Report on the condition of public education. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(28), 138–153.

Bradshaw, W. J., & Gallup, A. M. (2008, September). Americans speak out: Are educators and policy makers listening? Phi Delta Kappan, 90(10), 7–31.

Gratz, D. B. (2005). Lessons from Denver: The pay for performance pilot. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(8), 569–581.

Mathews, J. (2008, Spring). Bad rap on the schools. Wilson Quarterly, 32(2), 15–20.

Murnane, R. J., & Cohen, D. K. (1986, February). Merit pay and the evaluation problem: Why most merit pay plans fail and a few survive. Harvard Education Review, 56(1), 2.

Nelson, W. (2001, January). Timequake alert: Why payment by results is the worst "new" reform to shake the educational world, again and again. Phi Delta Kappan, 82(5), 384–389.

Protsik, J. (1996, May). History of teacher pay and incentive reforms. Journal of School Leadership, 6, 265–289.

Rotberg, I. C. (2008, June 11). Quick fixes, test scores, and the global economy. Education Week, 27(41), 27, 32.

Donald B. Gratz is Director of Graduate Programs in Education and Chair of the Education Department, Curry College, Milton, Massachusetts, and author of The Peril and Promise of Performance Pay (Rowman and Littlefield Education, 2009);