Monday, September 26, 2011

Congressional Black Caucus Forum Highlights Achievement Gap Strategies

by Jamaal Abdul-Alim | Diverse Issues in Higher Education
September 23, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In order to eliminate the oft-cited “achievement gap” between Black and White students, the federal government should invest more heavily in HBCU teacher preparation programs instead of programs, such as Teach for America that only require short-term commitments to teach, according to Dr. Leslie Fenwick, dean of the Howard University School of Education.

That was one of most critical yet widely applauded recommendations made Thursday at one of several education workshops at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 2011 Annual Legislative Conference, which continues through Saturday.

The session, “Closing the Achievement Gap,” took place Thursday and featured a panel that included Fenwick.

When asked how HBCUs can be engaged to reduce the achievement gap, Fenwick stated that larger investments should be made in HBCUs because of their proven track record of producing more than their share of the nation’s Black teachers.

“HBCUs are less than 4 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities, yet we prepare 51 percent of the nation’s (African-American) teachers,” Fenwick said in making the case for greater investments in HBCU “pipelines” for the nation’s future teachers.

Later, when asked what policy recommendations she would make to the Obama Administration, Fenwick laid into charter schools and Teach for America.

Citing statistics that show many of the charter schools in Ohio have been pegged for state intervention, Fenwick said, “We need the administration to be a bit more wary about charter schools.”

Similar skepticism should be shown for Teach for America, she said, eliciting a chorus of agreement among the 200 or so people who attended the standing-room-only session. But among the highly vocal audience that mostly agreed with Fenwick were several members of Teach for America, or TFA, who said they were perplexed by Fenwick’s criticism of the program and the audience’s overall agreement with it.

“We don’t understand it,” said Chante Chambers, the Managing Director of HBCU Recruitment at Teach for America, in an interview with Diverse.

“At the end of the day, I think we have a common goal, which is to improve the state of education in low-income communities for students of color, who deserve more than what the current education system is offering them,” Chambers said.

“I’m not saying that Teach for America is equal to four years of an education degree,” Chambers said of TFA, which provides college students with an alternative route to teaching. “But when it comes to effective teaching or learning in the classroom, there’s so many qualities that go into [it] besides an education degree.”

She also said the two-year commitment to teaching required by TFA is a good way to get youth advocates and leaders the kind of practical experience they need to more effectively bring about change in other venues.

Fenwick, asked to clarify and elaborate on her criticism of TFA, faulted the organization for subjecting minority students to non-credentialed teachers who are only asked to commit two years.

“Since Brown v. Board of Education, we have been having a conversation where we’re willing to put non-credentialed, non-certified teachers in front of poor Black and Brown children,” Fenwick said. “We don’t need that any more. We don’t need less-credentialed teachers going in front of children when we’re raising accountability measures.”

Though Thursday’s session momentarily turned into a bit of a trial for Teach for America, panelists focused on a variety of other topics.

Panelist Dr. Dolores Cummings, a Maryland-based psycho-educational consultant and CEO of Cummings Consulting, said educators need to be more respectful of parents.

“Too many parents feel they are not welcome,” Cummings said, “and when they come, that we’re looking down on them, judging them.

“In some ways, we’re going to have to engage them and make them our partners in raising the achievement test scores.”

Other suggestions included putting less emphasis on standardized tests in order to avoid creating an environment where teachers “teach to the test” and where, as panelist Dr. Mamie Locke, dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Education at Hampton University, lamented, students are actually trying to learn to the test and ignoring things on which they won’t be tested.

Notably, the Obama Administration is expected to announce details Friday about its plan to issue conditional waivers to states on certain requirements of No Child Left Behind in order to ease the pressure the federal education law implemented under the Bush Administration puts on schools to get all students proficient in reading and math by 2014.

“States can request flexibility from specific NCLB mandates that are stifling reform, but only if they are transitioning students, teachers, and schools to a system aligned with college- and career-ready standards for all students, developing differentiated accountability systems, and undertaking reforms to support effective classroom instruction and school leadership,” the White House said Thursday.

Other speakers at the Thursday forum included Dr. Adrienne Bailey, senior consultant with Stanford University’s Center for Opportunity Policy in Education; Dr. Dorothy Battle, an academic researcher at the University of Cincinnati, Patty Dineen, convener for the National Issues Forums Institute; and Ileana Martin, program officer with the Charles F. Kettering Foundation, a Dayton, Ohio-based research institute. The forum was moderated by Erma Johnson Hadley, chancellor at the Tarrant County College District in Fort Worth, Texas.

The forum was hosted by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the Links, Inc., a non-profit organization of professional women of color, and the Kettering Foundation. Attended by individuals who ranged from members of parent advocate groups to officials with nonprofit organizations that work with youths, the session was just one of a half dozen or so workshops that Congressional Black Caucus members organized around issues of education. Other sessions dealt with the role of Black men in transforming education to the impact of integration on college sports at HBCUs.

The Annual Legislative Conference drew 3,000 paid registrants, but organizers said the conference drew a much larger number of unpaid registrants who were allowed in because CBC Foundation has a policy of not turning away anyone for inability to pay.

A Road Map to Their Future: What Latino Students Need to Graduate

Laura J. Cortez | The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 25, 2011

I can vividly remember the day I first stepped foot on the University of Texas-Pan American campus to begin my dissertation research on first-generation Mexican-American college students. Classes had just started and Spirit Week was in full swing. As I walked around campus, my senses went into overdrive. Students were excitedly walking to class, chatting in groups, and lounging around the campus. I could not put my finger on the overwhelming sense of excitement or comfort I felt. And then it suddenly hit me: Almost every student who passed by looked like me and was speaking Spanish.

I was home.

I was born in San Benito, Tex., a small town on the Mexican border. There I learned to embrace my life as both a Mexican and an American. I was raised in a predominately Hispanic community, where I learned to speak Spanish at a young age and where "day care" meant spending time at my grandma's house with all of my cousins. I was the first college graduate in my family, and went on to pursue a doctorate in higher-education administration at the University of Texas at Austin. I understand firsthand the obstacles many first-generation Latino students face, and over the past four years have dedicated my research to learning about their experiences, specifically at Hispanic-serving institutions in Texas, and what helps such students succeed in college.

The designation "Hispanic-serving" applies to nonprofit colleges where full-time undergraduate enrollment is at least 25 percent Hispanic. I chose Pan American, which has 19,000 students, because of its high Latino enrollment and large number of graduates. (In 2010 it ranked third among colleges nationwide that awarded the most bachelor's and master's degrees.) It is located in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the fastest growing—and poorest—regions in the United States, according to U.S. Census data from 2010. Despite the area's economic conditions, Hispanic students at Pan American are consistently doing well, and more important, they are graduating.

For my dissertation I wanted to learn what factors most helped Latino students obtain a degree. While I interviewed faculty and administrators, I especially wanted to give a voice to students—single mothers, transfer students, working adults, campus leaders, and those who juggled multiple roles. Throughout my study, Latino students repeatedly identified certain tools that helped them succeed and graduate—tools that could be useful to a wide range of colleges. They include:

A campus climate that values and validates their culture. This was critical to students, who believe they do best when they feel at home. With the rapid growth of the Hispanic population in the United States, more Latinos are expected to attend college, and it is imperative that they feel welcomed and supported. Administrators can accomplish this by deliberately analyzing how their institutional missions are serving Latinos. "I think the important thing for the university, any school or any place for that matter, is to have events, lessons, foods, or lectures that can relate to the culture that they are serving," Marc, a 26-year-old student who spent four years working before attending college, told me.

Pan-American, for example, has built an on-site day-care center to assist students who are parents. For many young mothers, the center provides crucial support that allows them to continue their education. Academically, Pan-American encourages more Hispanics to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Once a year it hosts the Hispanic Engineering, Science, and Technology Week, which brings together nationally known speakers and students from all over the Rio Grande Valley. Sara, a 22-year-old student, told me, "I think a university that provides these types of events is reaching out and actually helping more Hispanics reach their goal to graduate and get a degree."

Academic programs that promote collaboration. Latino students consistently made the point that they thrive in supportive academic peer groups—particularly important at a commuter campus, where students have fewer chances to interact than at residential universities. Latinos are commonly raised in extended-family environments, and the peer groups provide a similar network of support and responsibility.

Education majors often cited an academic-cohort program in the School of Education in which the same groups of students meet in classes—called blocks—as a significant step in keeping them engaged and on track to graduation. Besides providing academic motivation, the program helps students develop friendships and connect with one another through mutual career goals.

Kayla, a 28-year-old commuter student and single mom, said: "When you start the Block program, you see the same people every day. Some of us carpool and we help each other that way. That sense of helping each other and reminding each other of when assignments are due is a good experience. You feel like you are just not here alone."

Academic-cohort programs are common in graduate education, but colleges should consider their long-term benefits for Latino undergraduates as well, especially in fields such as science, engineering, and math, subjects in which courses are sequenced and students can complete the requirements as a team.

Clear procedures to simplify the transfer process. Many Latino college students are first-generation, and have very little understanding of the college process. Unable to draw upon the knowledge of parents or peers, many experience trial by fire. As one Pan-American administrator said, "It is one thing to get them in the door, and it is another thing to ensure they graduate."

Because so many Latino students begin their education at community colleges—in Texas, that figure is over 60 percent—both two- and four-year colleges must help make the transition to four-year institutions seamless. The students I interviewed found the transfer process especially difficult when the burden of making sure they met course requirements fell mostly on their shoulders. Many agreed that the close collaboration between Pan-American and South Texas College, the local community college, made it possible for them to pursue their degrees.

A student who had transferred three times told me: "The one thing that helped me was my transfer adviser. She was the one who was responsible for making sure I had all the hours transferred over. She made sure that I had all the classes required ... and that I had the grades to be ready for it."

A well-articulated pathway to a degree. This was another institutional tool frequently mentioned by students. Pan-American advises all first-year students on their degree plans. Students found the degree plans most useful when they were repeatedly used during advising sessions throughout their four years. Degree plans are a key to success, constantly reminding students where they are going and what it will take to get there.

Strong faculty advising to help students make connections between degrees and careers. Latino students relied heavily on faculty members for career advice, and often considered them indispensable mentors who inspired them to continue their education. Colleges have a responsibility to train faculty, as well as students, about institutional policies. At Pan-American, new faculty members participate in a yearlong program that includes training on such issues as how to be culturally sensitive to Hispanic students. It makes new professors aware of the types of students they will be teaching and the many factors that shape their lives. Just getting to class, for example, is a hardship for some students. "We do everything to show our faculty where the students come from, including their home lives and environment," one administrator said. The program is not meant to "water down the curriculum," but to expose professors to the difficulties many students face, this administrator said. "We want them to know we are here to serve our students."

My research examined the programs and tools that help Latino students reach the finish line. But in the end, it takes supportive faculty members and administrators to create those programs and services—people like the Latina administrator who told me, "I do what I do every day so I can see the light in their eyes shine."

When given the opportunity, students will tell you what they need. When colleges are willing to listen, everybody wins.

Laura J. Cortez is a recent doctoral graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and a higher-education consultant. She has worked as a career and academic adviser to underrepresented minority students at Texas and St. Edward's University.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

For universities' sake, let's keep politics away

Kenneth Ashworth, Local Contributor | Austin American-Statesman
Monday, Sept. 19, 2011

Gov. John Connally created the Higher Education Coordinating Board more than four decades ago to try to curb the intrusion of politics into Texas colleges and universities.

Upon appointing the board members, he asked them not to accept his appointment if they could not take a statewide overview and rise above politics, put aside regional loyalties, and curb their desires to promote the interests of their alma maters. As with the university regents he appointed to boards, he asked them to exercise their best independent judgment in giving policy direction to the schools they governed and to keep politics out of education.

Connally's charge to his appointees fit the American model for university governance. In Europe, universities are governed by their faculties. But the United States decided early on that the corporate model should be used to govern our colleges and universities. Ever since, boards of regents or trustees have been the supreme authority on our campuses.

But the trustees and regents of the nation's best and greatest universities promptly learned that they needed to share governance with their faculty members. Those colleges whose boards ignored and overrode their faculties saw their best faculty leave to join other schools more tolerant and accepting of their ideas. On the most outstanding campuses there developed among regents, faculties and administrators a close partnership of authority, consultation, mutual guidance and exchange of ideas.

Effective regents and trustees quickly learned they were not "top-down" directors put in place to unilaterally issue orders about how their campuses were to be run. They learned to consult with faculty on policies and management. The more enlightened boards came to see that they had a role to defend as well as to explain the university. They needed to serve on the one hand as a moat to protect the citadel of learning and on the other as a bridge to help the community understand the role of the university and its contributions to society.

As Connally said, "I want you to be the spokesman for higher education in Texas — to lend encouragement to our institutions, to praise their progress, support their steps toward excellence, to applaud their imagination and initiative in imparting knowledge."

Recent efforts to redirect and "reform" Texas higher education imposed from the top down, precisely the kind of politics Connally wanted to curb, have been introduced to the campuses. And the historical lessons of how to make universities outstanding through shared governance have been ignored or even ridiculed. The politics being insinuated from the governor's office and from regents the governor appointed is damaging Texas universities.

National rankings of universities is based largely on reputation. And nothing lowers the standing of a university faster than word spreading across the country that a school is losing its independence and autonomy, that outside politics is controlling the institution, that the faculty has lost its role in participating in campus governance, that thought is best in lockstep, that dissent is denigrated. Institutional reputations in the making over scores of years can be undone quickly, and they can take decades to rebuild.

In Texas, it is undeniable that campus faculties recently have been unjustifiably demeaned as being out of touch, criticized as selfishly involved in unproductive research and uninterested in students, and ignored when new policies and directions are adopted and promoted for running the universities. Among all states, Texas has the reputation for the most egregious and frequent political interference in higher education. Current intrusions merely underscore the bad record the state bears in this regard.

In the 1920s, Gov. "Pa" Ferguson insisted that professors he objected to be fired or he would veto University of Texas appropriations. Then there was Gov. W. Lee O'Daniel's insistence that the regents fire professors whose views he objected to, ending in firing the president. And regents whom the governors appointed carried out their orders and did their dirty work. Then the heavy-handed control of UT-Austin under board chairman Frank Erwin followed during the troublesome 1960s and '70s. Each of these episodes extended over years and eroded progress being made to develop nationally recognized universities.

Now, once again, Texas higher education is being watched and discussed by faculties and administrators on campuses across the nation. How damaging will this latest round of political incursions be? How deep and lasting will the interference be? How will campus reputations be affected? How badly will faculty recruitment and retention be hurt? How long will it take to rebuild?

Regents would do well to heed Connally's advice to his appointees: "Leave politics to the politicians and administration to the administrators."

Ashworth is a former commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Joint Higher Ed Oversight Committee Gets to Work

by Reeve Hamilton | Texas Tribune
September 21, 2011

Before today's inaugural hearing of the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency, one of the co-chairs — state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo — said it was important to remember why the group was formed in the first place.

"It was created because there was a controversy," she said in an interview with The Texas Tribune.

That was back in May, when a number of legislators were concerned about the direction the regents appointed by Gov. Rick Perry — who had promoted a controversial set of "seven breakthrough solutions" for higher education published by the Texas Public Policy Foundation — might take the state's university systems. The uproar has quieted down somewhat in the intervening months.

"Though the controversy is not roiling at this point, we want to ensure that something like that will not happen again," Zaffirini said. She hopes the much-anticipated hearing will set a "constructive and optimistic" tone.

The proceedings will have a decidedly national flavor. Those invited to give testimony include Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, an organization of the top 61 public and private research universities in the U.S. and Canada. It was Rawlings' predecessor who denounced the "breakthrough solutions" in a letter to former Texas A&M University System Chancellor Mike McKinney.

Also on the docket are experts from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the Association of Governing Boards, and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

The other co-chair, state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said in a statement that the goal was to help the committee members — as well as other legislators that are expected to attend — "gain a broad perspective on higher education governance models at universities across the country."

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Chairman Fred Heldenfels will also be on hand to provide an overview of the current higher ed governing structures in the state and outline their productivity-boosting initiatives.

They are expected to provide details on a new statewide group — the Council for Continuous Improvement and Innovation in Texas Higher Education — being formed by the coordinating board and comprised of business and higher education leaders. The council will identify the best practices for, and evaluate the state's progress toward, becoming an international higher education leader. A spokesman for the coordinating board indicated on Tuesday that the council members had yet to be finalized.

The similarly named Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a group of prominent higher education backers that formed during the controversy to push back on what they viewed as misguided reform efforts, will likely be making its presence felt during the public testimony portion. Jenifer Sarver, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said members had been encouraged to attend and participate. "We think it's an important hearing," she said. "It's a critical issue that's not going away, and we need to keep an eye on the ball."

A spokesman for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which played a key role in stirring up the debate, declined to comment in advance of the hearing, which its representatives will also attend. In advance of the event, however, the group issued a report by policy analyst Heather Williams on the governing boards of universities in the state. "Is it 'micromanagement' to ensure that the university's mission of educating students is fulfilled?" she asks in it, adding, "An engaged board is a responsible board."

Freshman state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, who is on the joint committee, said in an interview that this is a crucial time for such questions. "Our committee, and all those who care about the future of Texas, must focus on making a college education affordable and accessible to as many Texans as possible, and that is what I intend to do" he said.

Zaffirini said more hearings of the joint oversight committee are being organized for later in the fall. "What we want to do is be very responsible and thorough and carry out our charge," she said.

Georgia students to face fewer high-stakes tests | The Augusta Chronicle

Georgia students to face fewer high-stakes tests | The Augusta Chronicle

Learning about Georgia right now. Looks like their end-of-course tests got launched in fall 2011 (based on this piece) and that the test counts for 25% of the students' grades in 8 courses. Looking for more current info right now.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Grant Recipients and Race

Doug Lederman | Inside Higher Education
September 6, 2011

Every so often, the issue of financial aid awarded on the basis of students' race flares. Lawsuits crop up challenging a state's or institution's ability to consider students' race in handing out grants, or a white student (or a group of such students) announces the creation of a fund for scholarships reserved for white students, on the grounds that grant money flows disproportionately to members of minority groups.

A new report challenges the assumptions underlying such developments. The study, by the financial aid analyst Mark Kantrowitz, is plain about its goal: to debunk what the author calls "the race myth, which claims that minority students receive more than their fair share of scholarships."

Kantrowitz is no minority activist; as the publisher of, and an ABD in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University, he is first and foremost a financial aid data enthusiast, known for crunching numbers to help students and families, policy makers and others understand the complex world of financial aid.

Numbers present a compelling and clear argument in this case, Kantrowitz asserts in his paper. Mining data from the U.S. Education Department's National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, Kantrowitz examines the flow of federal, state, institutional and privately funded financial aid to students of different races.

Looking at all of those forms of financial aid together (excepting only federal tax benefits), Kantrowitz finds that the money flows to students of different races roughly in proportion to their representation in the overall postsecondary population: white students make up roughly three-fifths (61.8 percent) of all students, and they receive about that amount of all total grant funding (59.3 percent). Various minority groups also receive proportions of grant funding that track their representation among all students (Hispanic students make up 14.1 percent of students and receive that proportion of grant aid, etc.). That's more or less as it should be, Kantrowitz says.

The big differences come when examining breakdowns of different kinds of financial aid -- funds awarded to students based purely on their financial need vs. those awarded without regard to such need, scholarships awarded by institutions and by private organizations, etc.

Among all sources of grant funding (federal, state, institutional, private, etc.), white students (who make up 61.8 percent of all students) receive 51.3 percent of grant aid awarded based on financial need alone, while minority students receive 48.5 percent. That breakdown occurs, Kantrowitz says, for an obvious reason related to the relative financial stations of minority and white Americans in U.S. society: "Minority students receive a higher share of need-based grants, representing 48.5 percent of grant recipients and only 38.0 percent of the student population, [because] they are more likely to be low-income."

White students, in turn, receive 75.6 percent of grants awarded based on academic and other kinds of merit, compared to 24.3 percent allocated to minority students. These grants, Kantrowitz notes, are often awarded by semi-selective colleges as a "form of financial aid leveraging," to woo middle- and upper-income students who can pay meaningful portions of their tuition costs. "A full-pay student -- even with a significant discount in the form of a merit-based grant -- still yields more net revenue to the college than low or moderate-income students," he writes.

Focusing on institutional grants alone -- the funds that individual colleges and universities choose how to distribute -- white students receive 69.1 percent of all funds, but 75.9 percent of merit-based grants, and 60.7 percent of need-based grants. "Caucasian students are almost twice as likely to receive institutional merit-based grants as minority students" are, Kantrowitz writes. The figures hold for minority students of all kinds, as seen in the table below:

Allocation of Institutional Merit-Based Grants, 2008-9

Average Grant Received
Number of Grant Recipients
Percentage of Grant Recipients
Percentage of Total Grant Funding
Percentage of Student Population
All Minority Students
American Indian/Alaska Native
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander
More Than One Race

Source: Mark Kantrowitz

At public colleges, white students made up 62.7 percent of the student population but were 73.1 percent of the recipients of merit-based grants and received 68.2 percent of the merit-based funds; at private nonprofit colleges, white students made up 66.8 percent of the collective student bodies but received nearly 80 percent of the merit-based grants. Over all, white students were nearly twice as likely as minority students with SAT scores of at least 1400 (on a 1600 scale) to receive institutional merit-based scholarships, Kantrowitz says.

Figures like those explain why state and institutional merit-based financial aid has increasingly come under attack from groups that advocate for low-income and minority students (like Education Trust) and why some campus leaders have argued that institutions should move to once again allocate their precious aid dollars based on students' financial need rather than other factors. Minority students receive 34.7 percent of all privately funded scholarship money, and make up 30.5 percent of recipients of privately funded scholarships, Kantrowitz reports.

"To put minority students on an equal footing would require increasing annual private scholarship awards for African-American students by $83 million and Latino students by $197 million," he writes. "These figures are based on equalizing the mean grant, the ratio of total funding to total student enrollment, so that all racial groups have the same mean grant."

Kantrowitz concludes: "Over all, merit-based grants tend to disproportionately select for Caucasian students. This is compensated somewhat by the distribution of need-based grants according to race, since minority students tend to be less affluent than Caucasian students. Shifting funding from merit-based grants to need-based grants will yield more balance in the distribution of grants according to race, but it will not entirely compensate for private scholarships that collectively demonstrate implicit preferences for Caucasian students."

Pearson Acquires Connections Education: Gains leading position in fast-growing market for virtual schools

Blurb from Inside Higher Education:
Pearson continued adding to its education empire, buying the online charter school operator Connections Education, the company announced Thursday. Connections Education, which runs online K-12 schools in 21 states, represents a new sort of business for Pearson, which currently offers a variety of online education products but does not operate any American educational institutions on its own. Pearson bought the company from Apollo Management, a private equity firm that is unrelated to the Apollo Group, owner of the University of Phoenix.


Sept. 15, 2011, 9:43 a.m. EDT

NEW YORK, Sep 15, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Pearson, the world's leading learning company, is announcing today the acquisition of Connections Education from an investor group led by Apollo Management, L.P.

Through its Connections Academy business, the company operates online or 'virtual' public schools in 21 states in the US--serving more than 40,000 students in the current school year. These virtual charter schools are accredited and funded by the relevant state and are free to parents and students who choose a virtual school in place of a traditional public institution or other schooling options.

Virtual schools serve a diverse population of students including those who may be gifted, struggling, pursuing careers in sports or the arts, in need of scheduling flexibility, or who have chosen home schooling. It is a large and rapidly-growing segment in US K-12 education: in 2010, 48 states and Washington, D.C. had virtual school programs and 27 states allowed virtual charter schools. Approximately 200,000 students attended full-time online courses and an estimated 1.5 million students took one or more courses online. (source:Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning)(source:2010)(source:Evergreen Education Group).

Connections Education has produced revenue growth of more than 30% in each of the past three years. The transaction is subject to a Hart-Scott-Rodino review.

Since its founding in 2001, Connections Academy has built a complete virtual school system to support personalized learning for each student. This includes high-quality teachers, training for learning coaches (who are often parents), digital and print curriculum materials (already often from Pearson), provision of computers, assessment and reporting tools, social events and learning technologies. Connections Academy has developed proprietary technologies including education management system Connexus which provides on-demand access to schedules, lessons, gradebooks, resources and teachers; teaching tool LiveLesson which allows teachers to lead real-time interactive and adaptive classes over the internet; and a wide range of multimedia curriculum tools and games.

Connections Academy Schools perform favorably compared with other full-time online programs and have consistently received high performance ratings, particularly in states focused on measuring growth in student learning. Parents of students enrolled in Connections Academy schools give consistently high satisfaction ratings: in the 2010-11 school year, more than 92% of parents gave their Connections Academy school a grade of 'A' or 'B'.

Connections Education has recently launched a new division, Connections Learning, which makes its courses and technologies available to educational institutions and other organizations in the US and globally. It supports the development of blended learning environments which combine classroom and online instruction and will further broaden Pearson's range of school services across curriculum materials, assessment and learning technologies. Connections Learning also operates the National Connections Academy private online school that serves students throughout the US and internationally.

For Pearson, the acquisition provides a leading position in the fast-growing virtual school segment and the opportunity to apply Connections Education's skills and technologies in new segments and geographic markets. It extends Pearson's investment in education services and technologies that have both a direct connection with the learner and a strong record of enhancing student achievement.

Marjorie Scardino, Pearson's chief executive, said: "For a decade or more, we've invested in education technologies that have the potential to make learning more effective for each child. Connections Education does that. Virtual schooling is an attractive choice for a growing group of American parents and in the next decade it will take off in other countries. Beyond that, Connections Education has developed a broad array of highly effective learning tools that we intend to make available to all kinds of schools and all kinds of students."

Based in Baltimore, Maryland, Connections Education is headed by co-founder Barbara Dreyer. She will stay on as CEO of Connections Education and as a senior executive at Pearson.

Dreyer said, "Joining forces with Pearson gives Connections Education the opportunity to share our proven virtual education solutions with a much wider global audience, and collaborate with the developers at Pearson in creating an even more robust set of online and blended offerings for students of all ages. We look forward to growing this business and making high-quality digital learning available to anyone, anywhere."

Will Ethridge, CEO of Pearson North America, said, "We see Connections Education as highly complementary to our own business, and it provides an opportunity for developing new models of instruction and increasing the effectiveness of Pearson's global educational programs. Our joint goal is to ensure that every student is college and career-ready when they graduate."

About Pearson

Pearson is the world's leading learning company. Its major businesses are: Pearson, the global leader in education, providing print and digital learning materials and services used by millions of students of all ages every year; The Financial Times Group, which has an international network of business and financial newspapers and online services that are read by millions of business executives and investors every day; and Penguin Group, which is one of the pre-eminent names in consumer publishing, with an unrivalled range of fiction and non-fiction, bestsellers, and classic titles. Through its books, newspapers and online products and services, Pearson helps people of all ages to live and learn. See .

About Connections Education

Connections Education is an accredited provider of high-quality, highly accountable virtual education for students in grades K-12, and online learning solutions to educational institutions globally. Through tuition-free public schools, full-time and part-time private school programs, and turnkey online courses for bricks and mortar schools, Connections Academy delivers superior, personalized education for students, accessible anywhere. The combination of certified teachers, a proven curriculum, technology tools, and community experiences creates a supportive and successful online learning opportunity for families and children who want an individualized approach to education. See

SOURCE: Pearson

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Richard G. Santos

Internet friend Mimi Lozano told me about Wanda Garcia becoming a monthly columnist for the Corpus Christi Caller. In return, I asked her to tell Ms. Garcia that she will rarely hear from people who agree or like what she writes but will frequently hear from people who disagree and do not like what she writes. My last two columns have been the opposite of what I wrote Ms. Garcia. In fact, people who enjoyed the columns outnumbered those who did not by an eight to one ratio. Those who disagreed did so due primarily for personal reasons or not understanding and not properly reading what I wrote. That is, that the mis-teaching of history, the white and black perspective textbooks and the Black Legend have caused identity problems and in some cases inferiority complexes among some Tejanos and Mexican Americans in South Texas. Moreover, the articles were a direct result of four people I had met, interviewed and exchanged phone calls or email with the last 45 days. Allow me to give you two examples.
Ms. M is a 52 year old Mexican American (third generation from Mexico) who can easily pass for a petite young lady in her early 30’s. She takes pride that her three sons (in mid 20’s to mid 30’s) are usually thought to be her brothers. Although a San Antonio, Texas native, Ms. M currently lives outside the state and identifies herself as a “Latina”. Ms. M said she only dates (and trice married) “Anglos” and not Latinos and especially not “Mexicans”. According to her, Latinos are drug dealers, drug users, drunks, have beer bellies and beat their women. Anglos on the other hand, she said, treat their women like princesses. I asked if she had ever heard of Ted Bundy, Son of Sam, Gacy and other serial killers. She replied she was not and has never been interested in history. However, that is basically not true as she contacted me wanting to know something about her family’s origin. All she knows is that her grand parents migrated from Mexico to a rural community in South Texas. Her parents moved to San Antonio and her mother was active in the Chicano movement of the 70’s and 80’s. Ms. M considers her mother’s activist involvement to have been a waste of time and non-productive. Moreover, she dislikes her hometown saying “San Antonio has become a low life Mexican city”. In fact, the only thing she seems to like about San Antonio are the wide variety of tacos that she cannot get where she lives. Notwithstanding Ms. M’s harsh look on life, we continue to be email long distance friends. I send her selected columns as I see this as peeling an onion one layer at a time.
Mr. R who was the last of the four people I recently met, admitted he has an inferiority complex. He blames the “gringos”, my “invader-American ancestors” (meaning the Spanish colonists of Texas) and the U. S. Judicial system. He refers to me as his enemy and does not understand why I do not feel the same way about him. As he explained it, I am his enemy because my

“invader-ancestors” killed his people and never recognized them as human beings. He erroneously states that both Spanish and U. S. law have declared the Native American as a non-American. He does not know history and hence the last two columns.
When asked about his family background, Mr. R said he is a Coahuiltecan Indian. This is a problem as four of the five people I have met in San Antonio claiming to be Coahuiltecan are third to fifth generation from Mexico. One told me his grand parents moved to the Alamo City from San Luis Potosi. I pointed out the major Native American culture is that area are the Huichols and not the South Texas Coahuiltecans. Two others revealed their grand parents were from central Tamaulipas. As for Mr. R, his grand father was a vaquero at the King Ranch and supposedly left it during the Great Depression of the 1920’s. Without questioning the timeline contradictions, I asked where they had come from or moved to. He did not know their point of origin but did know the family lived in a ranch “outside of Kingsville”. I pointed out to him that IF his grand parents were indeed Native American of that area, they would have been either Karankara or Tamaulipecos but not Coahuiltecan.
In many ways Mr. R reminds me of the hundreds of students and non-students I have met these last 40 years who have no idea as to the origin of their families but have concluded they do not want to be seen or considered as Mexican American, Chicanos or Mexican; all of which they consider negative. Hence I have met many who erroneously claim to be Coahuiltecan, Sephardic Jewish., and Canary Islanders (in regard to the founding families of San Antonio, Texas). I have even met wanna-be cousins/relatives who because their last name is Carvajal erroneously assume they are descendants of Nuevo Leon founder Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva or his nephew Luis Rodriguez de Matos, aka Luis de Carvajal el mozo (the younger). The wanna-be cousins react in disbelief when I point out that neither Luis had any children and that the Inquisition burned the last name (Carvajal y de la Cueva) at the stake with only the in-laws with different surnames having survived. This is like many in the Chicano Movement of the 70’s and 80’s moving Aztlan from the Mexican state of Nayarit to Colorado. And to make things more interesting, proclaimed all Chicanos to be of Aztec descent!
On the other hand, is this any different from the Anglos who claim their grand mother was “a Cherokee Indian princess?” First of all, the Cherokees did not have kings, queens, princes or princesses. Second, why not an Arapaho, Delaware, Mohawk, Seminole, Pawnee, etc.? The answer is simple, based on what was and is taught at school, the person identifies with a culture considered to be more positive than their own family background.

ZAVALA COUNTY SENTINEL ………. 14 – 15 September 2011

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

How private companies are profiting from Texas public schools.

Nice piece by Rapoport. Good work putting in a snippet on HB 500.

by Abby Rapoport
Published on: Tuesday, September 06, 2011

It’s not hard to imagine Pearson’s vision of utopia.

Pearson is a London-based mega-corporation that owns everything from the Financial Times to Penguin Books, and also dominates the business of educating American children. The company promotes its many education-related products on a website that features an idyllic, make-believe town. It’s called Pearsonville, and it looks like the international conglomerate version of SimCity. In this virtual town, school buses whizz through tree-lined streets, and the city center features skyscrapers and a tram. Tabs pop up to show you just how many Pearson products are available. A red schoolhouse features young kids using Pearson products to learn math (with Pearson’s enVision Math) and take standardized tests online. Nearby, at the Pearsonville high school, students use the company’s online instructional materials to study science. The high school also features online testing. Pearson online courses are available at the town library. At the model home, parents can use Pearson’s student information system to track their children’s grades. The “test centre,” not shockingly, provides even more testing options. It’s a beautiful little town. A Las Vegas-style sign welcomes you, while a biplane flies through the sky trailing a Pearson banner behind it.

It’s a computer-generated reality. But when it comes to Texas education, it’s not far from the truth.

Pearson, one of the giants of the for-profit industry that looms over public education, produces just about every product a student, teacher or school administrator in Texas might need. From textbooks to data management, professional development programs to testing systems, Pearson has it all—and all of it has a price. For statewide testing in Texas alone, the company holds a five-year contract worth nearly $500 million to create and administer exams. If students should fail those tests, Pearson offers a series of remedial-learning products to help them pass. Meanwhile, kids are likely to use textbooks from Pearson-owned publishing houses like Prentice Hall and Pearson Longman. Students who want to take virtual classes may well find themselves in a course subcontracted to Pearson. And if the student drops out, Pearson partners with the American Council on Education to offer the GED exam for a profit.

“Pearson basically becomes a complete service provider to the education system,” says David Anderson, an Austin education lobbyist whose clients include some of Pearson’s competitors.

With the prevalence of companies like Pearson operating in Texas and many other states, the U.S. education system has become increasingly privatized. In some cases, the only part of education that remains public is the school itself. Nearly every other aspect of educating children—exams, textbooks, online classes, even teacher certification—is now provided by for-profit companies.

Public education has always offered big contracts to for-profit companies in areas like construction and textbooks. But in the past two decades, an education-reform movement has swept the country, pushing for more standardized testing and accountability and for more alternatives to the traditional classroom—most of it supplied by private companies. The movement has been supported by business communities and non-profits like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and often takes a free market approach to public education. Reformers litter their arguments about education policy with corporate rhetoric and business-school buzzwords. They talk of the need for “efficiency,” “innovation” and “assessment” in the classroom.

The mingling of business and education blurs the line between learning and profit-making. Some education reformers advocating for increased reliance on testing also lobby for the large testing companies. It’s often difficult to tell if lawmakers stick with education policies because they’re effective, or because they’re attached to high-dollar contracts.

Take Anderson, who works for HillCo Partners, the high-powered Austin lobbying firm, and who represents many of the industry’s heavy hitters, like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. After a career in teaching and another at the Texas Education Agency, Anderson has been a part of the industry for years. One of his clients, Educational Testing Services, administers the test Texas teachers must take to get certified—which amounts to a coveted $70 million contract from the state. Anderson explains that the privatization of education has developed organically. As lawmakers demand more from school districts—more testing, more data management, more data analysis—the districts have often turned to corporations to handle these complex components. Those relationships quickly become inextricable.

“You have companies that have grown up either by expanding business or adding new business to sort of fill that void,” Anderson says. “Well, once something is established, if a program has a set life, the company that is now doing that work wants to figure out a way to extend that beyond the life of that project. And as a result you get this burgeoning business-education complex that includes companies that once upon a time might have been textbook companies, or test companies, that now do so many more things.”

Educating kids has become big business—an immensely profitable industry. As governments cut funding for schools and seek more “efficiencies,” the privatization of education is growing more ubiquitous. Think Pearsonville.

In 1998, Pearson hired a new CEO from Texas, Marjorie Scardino. She joined a company with a diverse and haphazard set of interests; in addition to the Financial Times and Penguin Books, the mega-company owned everything from Madame Tussauds wax museums to a stake in investment bank Lazard. Scardino sought to focus the company on one broad industry—education. Soon after Scardino’s arrival, Pearson bought Simon & Schuster’s education businesses and opened a new, overarching company—Pearson Education. Two years later, in a controversial move, Pearson acquired the Minnesota-based testing company National Computer Systems for $2.5 billion and began expanding into assessments. By 2004, Scardino ranked 59th on Forbes’ list of the “100 Most Powerful Women in the World.” By 2009, she was 19th.

Her timing was excellent. The education field was facing new and vehement demand for more testing and accountability in schools. Texas had been leading the way in state-mandated standardized testing, and by the time Pearson acquired National Computer Systems in 2000, the company had already signed a $233 million contract with the Lone Star State. With the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, all states were required to use a standard test to determine how students were learning. Pearson continued buying testing companies, including the testing services division of Harcourt. Last year, Pearson signed yet another contract with Texas to create the latest iterations of the state’s testing system, the new and more rigorous “end-of-course” and State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams.

Pearson now creates the tools to grade the tests and the software to analyze student performance. That’s in addition to textbooks, remedial learning resources, GED courses and online classes. (Pearson officials refused comment for this story.)

But despite Pearson’s prevalence in nearly every sector of public education, state officials say they maintain oversight. The Texas Education Agency monitors Pearson’s test development and often works side-by-side with the company. Gloria Zyskowski, the deputy associate commissioner, says the agency communicates with Pearson almost daily. She says that TEA uses a transparent bidding process to contract the work and follows a strict series of steps to build and score the tests. In creating test questions, the agency recruits teachers and former teachers to sit on an advisory committee. Pearson employees facilitate advisory committees, but the company isn’t writing the test questions by itself.

But when the company—like many for-profits—wants to get its way in education policy, Pearson isn’t shy about deploying high-powered lobbyists. Pearson pays six lobbyists to advocate for the company’s legislative agenda at the Texas Capitol—often successfully. This legislative session, lawmakers cut an unprecedented $5 billion from public education, including funding for a variety of programs to help struggling students improve their performance on state tests. Despite the cuts, Pearson’s funding streams remain largely intact. Bills that would have reduced the state’s reliance on tests didn’t pass. The Texas Senate refused to pass any bills that would have diminished the role of testing, a stance some Capitol sources attribute to Pearson’s lobbying, while others give the credit to pressure from reform advocates.

Who’s responsible may not matter. The interests of corporate lobbyists and reform advocates are often the same. It’s difficult to separate the businessmen from the believers.

In a narrow sense, Pearson’s lobbying efforts simply reflect a company protecting its profits. But in a wider view, Pearson is part of a larger education-reform effort that seeks to improve public education through free-market principles. Often that means non-traditional educational approaches like charter schools and online learning. The movement includes a lot of earnest folks, eager to improve public schools and do what’s best for kids. But their efforts have earned a fortune for companies like Pearson. It’s become difficult to determine where the educating ends and the profit-making begins.

“I’m going to stick my neck out, and don’t take it personally.” So began Houston state Rep. Scott Hochberg. It was close to midnight, and Hochberg was presiding over the ninth hour of a House Public Education Committee hearing late in the session. Hochberg, a Democrat, is widely seen as the Legislature’s education policy guru. One of the final witnesses of the night was about to testify—Sandy Kress, another well-known name in Texas education circles. But before Kress spoke, Hochberg went on the offensive. “Dr. Kress, a question was asked of me last time you testified here,” Hochberg said. “And that was whether you currently have any interests or any connections with any companies involved in the testing process.”

It was an awkward moment. Kress is a giant of the education reform movement. As board president of the Dallas Independent School District in the early 1990s, Kress became a vocal and controversial advocate for testing. He’s pushed for more standards and more assessment for decades and was a key architect of No Child Left Behind. He believes testing helps schools do a better job educating students. But he also lobbies professionally for the biggest testing company in Texas. Normally, he identifies himself as a representative of advocacy groups. This time, however, Hochberg wasn’t going to let him off easy. Kress was there to criticize House Bill 500, which would have significantly decreased the stakes on new tests the state will roll out this year.

“We do have a relationship with one company,” Kress said, “and you know, I’m not testifying on their behalf.”

“But just for full disclosure, who is that?” Hochberg pushed.


“So you, in your occupation as a lobbyist, represent Pearson Publishing, which, among other things, sells us these tests?”

“That’s correct,” Kress said.

“But you’re not testifying on behalf of Pearson tonight?”

“That’s correct,” Kress said again—before beginning his lengthy argument against the bill.

In a sense, it was a debate over wording. The interests of testing advocates and testing companies like Pearson are often one and the same. Kress is the most prominent example of how big business and education policy have intertwined.

Kress is part of the large and very powerful education reform movement. The movement began in the early 1980s, when some parents and businesses grew concerned about how American students compared to global competition. Many became concerned that public schools weren’t sufficiently educating poor and minority children. Kress, among many others, called for more standardized testing and pushed districts to show how children in different racial and economic categories were performing. The movement eventually yielded the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, requiring that schools not only test students every year, but that schools show progress in closing achievement gaps. The federal law required states to use standardized tests, but allowed states to decide which test to use—leaving testing companies to battle it out for state contracts. The testing hasn’t yet done much to close the achievement gaps, but it has given schools a tremendous amount of assessment data on each student.

“The bottom line is we have a heck of a lot more transparency than we did before,” Kress says. “It’s worth all the gold in the world to know how your child is doing year by year.”

The broad movement goes beyond testing. Many reform advocates see themselves as pushing against the educational status quo, and contrast their “innovations” with traditional public schools. Challenges to the old system are necessary, many reformers argue, because school districts aren’t going to change of their own accord—and many schools have been failing to educate too many kids.

The movement advocates for charter schools and letting parents pick which schools their children attend. But most of these new directions stem from testing and student data. The data is generally required to prove both problems and solutions. Philanthropies like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation give out multi-million-dollar grants to help school districts gather and track information about students. The tests, reformers say, are key to understanding what works and what doesn’t.

The emphasis on testing opened the door to more for-profit companies. In addition to the big testing contracts, No Child Left Behind requires schools that fail to meet requirements three years in a row to offer free tutoring. Companies soon rushed in to fill the need. By 2008, according to a PBS documentary, tutoring for standardized tests amounted to a $4 billion industry. Charter schools can subcontract their entire operations to for-profit companies.

Kress doesn’t understand why people are so worried about the role of for-profit companies in areas like testing. “School districts have for a long, long time relied in a good substantial part on the private sector,” he points out. “The private sector has always made things for the school and sold them to them, whether it’s school desks or built their schools.” In the education world, whether it’s testing or other products, Kress says, “the companies are there to serve their customers. And their customers are a combination of the agency and school districts out there.”

Andrew Erben, who serves as president of the Texas Institute for Education Reform, says the more private companies take an active role in public education, the better. “I think it’s a great idea for businesses to get involved in the advocacy and maybe in the delivery of some of the education products,” he says.

Without pressure from outside advocates, Erben worries, school districts wouldn’t do nearly as much to improve. “I think the education establishment wants to protect the structure and function of the current system,” he says. “Any innovation or deregulation is met with some resistance.”

This market-based approach to education has become increasingly controversial. Teachers groups never liked the reliance on high-stakes testing. But recent opposition to testing and other “innovations” has come from all quarters, including advocates who once were reformers but who now wonder what the changes have accomplished.

“We may have kicked over the canoe when it came to testing,” says former state Commissioner of Education Mike Moses. He is hardly anti-test—as commissioner in the late 1990s, he sought to gradually expand testing to every grade between third and 11th, and he still believes testing is an important tool for evaluating and diagnosing schools. But he also concedes that the emphasis on testing may have gone too far. “I used to be called a reformer,” he says. “I don’t know that I’m called a reformer anymore.” Moses, now an advocate at the education advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas, worries that the increasingly high stakes of the tests has made them too powerful. “I think that the testing programs have grown to a level that they get their own momentum,” he says. “They kind of perpetuate themselves.”

Others are more strident in their criticism of testing. The problem, opponents say, is that from testing to charter schools, the reform movement has begun to pick apart public schools as we know them in favor of the private sector. “The current movement distrusts educators,” says Ed Fuller, an education researcher and vocal critic of standardized tests who just left the University of Texas for the University of Pennsylvania. “They’re trying to create a system that’s educator-proof. The way you do that is to have testing and accountability, more and more and more of it. Because we don’t trust educators to do what’s right, to make good judgments about what kids know and what they can do.”

Fuller points to the book Measuring Up by Harvard professor Daniel Koretz, which argues that students learn test-taking strategies that pollute testers’ ability to see what the students actually know. “The whole issue is that any test at the kind of level that it’s at, especially with it being multiple choice—you can sit down and teach a kid how to pass it without them understanding the concepts behind the test,” Fuller argues. He’s particularly critical of the number of multiple-choice questions that Texas state assessments feature, but says few in the Legislature want to hear about the drawbacks of such exams. The combination of Pearson’s power and reformers’ influence, he says, makes it difficult for legislators to assess testing’s efficacy.

But as Texas prepares to phase in an entirely new testing regime, designed by Pearson, many in the reform camp argue that the new tests will address some of Fuller’s concerns. Unlike the old tests, called the TAKS, the new tests will align with specific courses in high school and put a heavy emphasis on testing kids to determine if they’re ready for pursuits in the work force or higher education. TEA official Zyskowski says the new tests will include several essays and written responses and fewer multiple-choice answers, especially in math. “We’ll also look at data about how students at varying levels of performance on those tests do in their first year in college,” she says. The agency is also going to compare students’ performances on the state tests to performances on the ACT, SAT and AP tests.

For Kress, the new tests are a victory. “That didn’t come from Pearson. That didn’t come from Harcourt,” he says. “That came because colleges and businesses and parents are saying we want our children to get good-paying jobs.”

Kress argues that despite budget cuts, testing shouldn’t be reduced because it’s the best way to tell where the problems are. “The assessment is what gives you the knowledge, the tools,” he says, comparing the process to diagnostic medical work like blood testing. That sounds convincing, but what do we make of the fact that Kress is also paid to further the financial interests of the nation’s leading testing company? Pearson doesn’t think testing should be cut either, but for less high-minded, more bottom-line reasons.

Testing has given communities an inside look at what is and isn’t working in schools. Efforts to erase achievement gaps between races have drawn attention to those gaps, while pressure to perform ensures that schools don’t ignore struggling students.

But after more than a decade of high-stakes testing and billions in testing contracts nationwide, it’s not clear if kids are learning more or just learning how to take tests. The achievement gaps are still with us.

Some reformers are now turning their focus to a more radical approach: virtual schools.

The idea of learning on the computer seems modern and high-tech. But it also removes students from the last vestige of truly public education—the school building itself. With no school building and no state-employed teachers, some of these new virtual schools redefine the very idea of public education.

In August, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an ultra-conservative think tank, sponsored a panel discussion on the future of virtual learning. The room was packed with staffers for state lawmakers and company representatives. The idea of learning outside a traditional classroom has potentially widespread appeal for home schoolers, and high achievers and rural students whose high schools don’t offer AP statistics or Chinese classes, part-time students juggling jobs and coursework, and even, as Republican state Rep. Jerry Madden suggested, for kids locked up in prison who could spend their days earning credits.

There are currently two ways that Texas students can access virtual courses. In 2009, the Legislature created the Texas Virtual School Network, a catalog of online classes available to high school students throughout the state. The network was a favorite talking point for Gov. Rick Perry on the campaign trail in the 2010 governor’s race, and presumably will be again as he runs for president. The state allows high-performing school districts and state-run educational service centers to offer online high school classes on any state-recognized subject. 
When a student enrolls in an online course, the student’s home district pays for the course. For example, a student in the small Muleshoe ISD in West Texas could take a virtual class offered by the larger Spring Branch ISD near Houston, and Muleshoe would pay for it. Though the virtual classes are offered and paid for by public school districts, many of the classes themselves are contracted out to private companies.

The other way students can take virtual classes is through one of three full-time virtual schools in Texas. These schools offer all-day online education as early as third grade. These virtual schools may appear to be part of a publicly funded school system, but they are allowed to subcontract their operations to for-profit companies specializing in virtual learning. For instance, the Texas Virtual Academy was, until recently, technically part of a charter school called Southwest Schools. (Texas Virtual Academy is now operating out of a different charter school.) But Texas Virtual Academy is more private than public. Its curriculum is handled by the company K12 Inc. Even the teachers are employees of K12 Inc. Students take online courses offered and taught by employees of for-profit companies.

Yet David Fuller, the head of Texas Virtual Academy and a K12 employee, refers to his school as “public.” “The wonderful thing is that because we are a public school, we’re going to receive the same make up as any other public, bricks-and-mortar school,” he says. In fact, the only thing public about Texas Virtual Academy is its funding.

Texas Virtual Academy was also rated “unacceptable” by state standards for last school year, and some advocates have concerns about virtual schools’ effectiveness, particularly for young students. School testing expert Ed Fuller argues that virtual schools and courses have serious limitations, particularly for at-risk kids. He cites a recent study by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which studied virtual schools in Pennsylvania and found they underperformed traditional schools.

While the verdict on virtual schools is still out, reformers like Erben, an advocate with Texas Institute for Education Reform, hope to see virtual education expanded. It’s much cheaper, by and large, than traditional classroom instruction and, according to proponents, offers more innovative ways for students to learn. As the state struggles with long-term budget challenges, virtual learning will likely become an increasingly appealing option for lawmakers looking to save money—or increase “efficiencies”—as the number of students continues to rise.

Lobbyist David Anderson remains worried. “Ultimately in public education,” he says, “when you have something as significant as the education of the child or of a generation of children, you want to make sure that, to the greatest extent possible, decisions are being made based on reliable and valid information, and decisions are being made for the right reasons.” He says students and parents must now contend with a business-education complex in which industries perpetuate ideologies, and ideologies keep industries afloat.

Anderson compares it to the military-industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned of. Which makes sense, since Pearsonville does have a 1950s feel.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Tier One Money Up For Grabs in University Competition

by Reeve Hamilton
September 6, 2011

The early results of the latest leg in a key fundraising race for Texas universities seeking tier one status are in — and the University of Texas at Dallas is in the lead. But there's still more than $1.2 million up for grabs this biennium.

In 2009, lawmakers approved a bill by state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, establishing an ambitious program to allow seven "emerging research universities" ( Texas Tech University, the University of Houston, the University of North Texas, and University of Texas campuses in Dallas, Arlington, San Antonio and El Paso) to compete for extra infusions of cash, with an eye toward increasing the number of public national research universities in Texas (currently, the state can only claim the University of Texas and Texas A&M University).

Part of that bill created the Texas Research Incentive Program, which uses a limited pool of state funds to match large private donations geared toward boosting research at eligible institutions. Gifts of more than $100,000 receive a 50 percent match from the state, those above $1 million get a 75 percent match, and $2 million or more is matched at 100 percent. It was an instant hit, and the $47.5 million in state funds available in the first biennium was almost instantly used up.

The big winners in that round were Texas Tech University and the University of Texas-Dallas, which pulled in nearly $21 million and $15 million respectively. The University of Houston — which has since received tier one designation from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching — pulled in disappointingly low numbers totaling less than $5 million.

Heading into the last legislative session, many feared that budget cuts would result in the fund being left empty. But lawmakers managed to put more than $34 million back into the fund to be distributed over the recently begun 2012-2013 biennium. Much of the money that will be distributed in the first year, fiscal year 2012, are the leftover matches from the oversubscribed 2010-2011 biennium. But Branch said that new gifts, which will make up the 2013 payouts, have picked up significantly since the legislative session ended.

(Source: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board)

The totals are subject to change as each university closely examines the claims made by their competitors — a review process that representatives of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the state agency that administers the fund, say could take two to three months. But according to the preliminary results, UH appears to have turned things around and is anticipating a distribution of nearly $10 million over the next biennium. "They're the most improved," said Branch.

In an email, University of Houston President Renu Khator told the Tribune, "We could not hope to sustain this strong level of support if we were not doing our part to build one of the nation's premier public research universities." UH is expected to be the first university to gain access to the National Research University Fund, a "prize money" fund created by Branch's initial bill that rewards institutions that have met the state's tier one criteria.

"Our approach will not change," said Khator. "We will continue to build on our momentum and pursue excellence in all we do."

UT-Dallas remains a frontrunner on the fundraising front. It currently boasts the highest request for matching funds at nearly $13 million over the next two fiscal years. "A lot of people think they've got a bright future and [a] very positive trajectory," said Branch. "The marketplace seems to be indicating that as well."

Match requests are still coming in, and there's still roughly $1.2 million waiting to be claimed. That means there's still time for a school like the University of Texas at Arlington, currently poised to get nothing from the state in fiscal year 2013, to — as Branch says — "put some points on the board."

Kristin Sullivan, a spokeswoman for UT-Arlington, told the Tribune that the school's most significant private gifts in the last year had come in areas other than research — going instead to initiatives like a 7,000-seat event venue — and subsequently weren't eligible for this specific fund. However, she noted that UT-Arlington's research expenditures have more than tripled in the last six years and that the school "expects that trajectory to continue."

Overall, said Branch, the roughly $80 million invested in the incentive fund by the state has brought in approximately $120 million in private gifts — a combined total of $200 million for higher education. "We've gotten better than a one-to-one match," he said. "This is sort of the first wave of the fruits of this effort."

In Texas' Schools, Perry Shuns Federal Influence

by Morgan Smith

In May, during the waning days of the 82nd Legislature, Gov. Rick Perry made a rare trip to the Senate chamber to broker a deal.

Negotiators from the House and the Senate were struggling to cobble together a school finance plan that would slash state financing, integral to closing a multibillion-dollar shortfall in the state’s 2012-13 budget. After about 90 minutes, Perry emerged from the closed-door meeting to tell reporters he felt “very optimistic” that lawmakers would reach an agreement.

Shortly, they did, agreeing to a change in the way the state allocates money to its schools that, in practical terms, meant a historic reduction of $4 billion in financing and an additional $1.4 billion cut in discretionary grants for public education.

How the budget will affect the state’s public schools will be a cornerstone of Perry’s legacy and could influence his fate as a presidential candidate. But he is likely to be remembered most for a far more public battle: staving off the federal government’s influence — and sometimes its dollars — from invading Texas classrooms.

When Secretary of Education Arne Duncan jabbed Perry on public schools in mid-August, it was only the latest skirmish between the governor and the Obama administration since late 2009, when Perry announced that the state would not sign on to common core-curriculum standards. Those criteria, though endorsed by the Obama administration, were developed by a consortium of 48 states and the National Governors Association.

The announcement was quickly followed by news that Texas would not participate in the administration’s signature education program, a competition among states for $4.35 billion in grants, because of its emphasis on the adoption of the common curriculum. Texas public schools were eligible for $700 million through the grants.

“I am not prepared to sell control of our state’s education system for any price,” Perry said in January 2010. The common curriculum, he said, could lead to the “dumbing down” of the state’s standards.

Perry’s disdain for the federal government’s role in public education, along with legal challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency and the federal heath care overhaul, fit neatly into his anti-Washington primary campaign against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who challenged him for the 2010 Republican nomination for governor. It can now also be seen as a preamble to his presidential run.

But unlike his positions on health care and environmental regulations, widely shared among conservatives, Perry’s early opposition to the administration’s education policies — whose bipartisan backers include former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida — make him something of an ideological outlier among Republicans.

Of his fellow presidential contenders, Perry “probably has the most fully formed vision of what he would like the federal role to be” in education, said Rick Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research organization.

If Perry wins the nomination, Hess said, it could make public education more important in the general election. Proposals like the common core standards could suddenly become politically charged.

“What’s going to happen is that prominent Republicans broadly supportive of Obama in education may be forced to choose a side,” he said. “Rather than remaining as reforms that both Republicans and Democrats can embrace, these things could be poisoned by association.”

Though federal issues have lately dominated Perry’s discourse on education, in earlier years he actively backed education proposals popular among conservatives, like incentive pay for teachers and private school vouchers, with mixed success.

Vouchers failed several times to make it through the Legislature — proving politically lethal for Kent Grusendorf, chairman of the House Public Education Committee, who strongly supported them — and eventually lost momentum. The “last grasp” at passing a voucher program, said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a San Antonio Democrat who opposed it, was in the 2007 legislative session.

When incentive pay also struggled for passage in the Legislature, Perry set up the state’s first statewide program with an executive order in 2005. It earmarked $10 million in federal money for teachers who had shown progress with students in economically disadvantaged school districts over three years. Lawmakers expanded it in 2006 only to discontinue it 2009 after a three-year study commissioned by the Texas Education Agency found it had little effect on student achievement.

The problem, said Lori Taylor, a researcher at Texas A&M University, who was a co-author of the studies, was not with the concept of incentive pay but in the way the program implemented it, with every school choosing its own design. That meant that districts could, if they wanted, use the money to give every teacher an across-the-board raise regardless of student achievement — and that is what many of them did.

The state’s current incentive pay program fared better in its evaluation, but because the gains were so small among schools, it wasn’t “wholly persuasive,” said Taylor. It’s unlikely there will be a follow-up, Taylor said, because very little financing for the program survived the Legislative session.

Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Perry, said in an email that while the teacher incentive program was affected by the budget, it “remains a priority.”

“The governor understands that we faced considerable budget challenges this last session,” Frazier said. “No agency was spared from reductions in spending, but ultimately he is proud of lawmakers’ tough decisions to keep Texas living within its means without raising taxes.”

The governor has exerted influence through his appointments to the Texas Education Agency and the State Board of Education, where he has consistently picked from the board’s faction of evangelical conservatives.

Perry has also not been afraid to use — or let lawmakers know he was inclined to use, should they push him — his veto pen. In 2009, he killed bipartisan legislation that would have required limits on class size and offered full-day programs in state kindergarten. In his veto statement, he said the money was better used to serve more children under the state’s current half-day program than to create an additional program.

During the last legislative session, the governor opposed a bill that would have changed how end-of-course exams were factored into graduation requirements under the state’s new accountability system. His office made it clear that if the measure passed, it would be subject to a veto, said Andrew C. Erben, of the Texas Institute for Education Reform, a business-oriented education advocacy group.

“While he and his staff weren’t out front saying it’s a horrible bill, they let it be known they did not support it,” Erben said.

Perry was more publicly adamant in his promise that he would not sign a budget that used the state’s Rainy Day Fund, a tactic that many called for to help ease deep cuts to public education. Lawmakers took him seriously, as was apparent during discussion between two House Republicans on an amendment that became one of the last efforts to use the money to help public schools.

“Is it possible,” Rep. Van Taylor of Plano said, “if the amendment stayed in that the governor might veto the bill?”

Rep. Phil King of Weatherford replied, “Well, my impression of Governor Perry is that he usually does what he says that he’s going to do.”

Thursday, September 01, 2011


Very interesting, Dr. Santos. Thanks for publishing this in the Zavala County Sentinel. This is all so very complex. As Spanish-speaking people that emanate from this history many of us are and feel connected to our indigenous ancestry and so this history still stings us when we consider the profound trauma that our "assimilation" into European-origin society incurred. And this is not unlike the traumas and indignities of today that we experience as we try to carve out a positive sense of self from the shambles of divisive, derogatory, and culturally chauvinistic curricula that perpetuate not only harmful myths, but access to a very rich and provocative history that carries such tremendous potential for us today as intellectual terrain that we must seriously consider as we interrogate our inheritances from the past.




Richard G. Santos

I used to tell my students and now tell audiences when the occasion arises, that U. S. history is written and taught in black and white images from the East Coast and east of the Mississippi. This automatically means that the anti-Spanish, anti-Mediterranean Black Legend is subtlety taught to students who do not know they are being brain washed. Without them knowing, they are mis-educated to believe that everything Spanish, Mediterranean and Roman Catholic is inferior to the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) culture. The history text books reflect this approach as all Spaniards are depicted as blood thirty, gold hungry, murdering Catholics who killed and/or enslaved the Native American cultures. The textbooks and WASP perspective on history, never teach or discuss Spanish legislation such as Las Nuevas Leyes of the 1540’s or the more important Recopilacion de Leyes de Indias of the mid 1600’s, that recognized the civil rights of the Native Americans as citizens of the Spanish Empire. Other than listing and illustrating the textbooks with photographs of the Franciscan missions, the textbooks never discuss the evangelization program of the Spanish Catholic Church and the Religious Orders (ie. Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits et. al.) who through bilingual education assimilated many Native American cultures to Spanish North American society. Simply put, at one point a Spanish speaking Native American was baptized a Catholic, given a Spanish name, and socially transferred from being considered a government protected neophyte to a Spanish citizen. Once assimilated, the Spanish speaking, Roman Catholic Native American had all civil and religious rights within Spanish society.

The socio-political-economic limitations experienced by the assimilated Native Americans were ruled by the Spanish caste system. Both Spanish Church and State identified 28 social castas with the Spanish-born citizen at top of the social structure. They were called Gachupin. Spanish citizens born on the Iberian peninsula (ie. Spain, Portugal, Viscaya, Navarre, Provance, Galicia) were called “peninsular”. These first two groups represented the ruling class of the Spanish Empire. They were the viceroys, generals, admirals, archbishops, bishops and religious missionaries who tried their best to enforce Spanish law and policy.

A person born in the New World of European stock without Native American, Asian or Black ancestry were called espanoles or criollos. They were the second class citizens of the Spanish Empire. As such they were the military officers from colonel down to alferez (lieutenants), vicars, monsignors, parish priests, local merchants, cattle barons, hacendados (large property owners) and encomenderos who were vast property owners charged with the protection, maintenance and religious instruction of the Native Americans on their estates.

The founding families of townships and communities of Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Tamaulipas and South Texas were espanoles and criollos of Spanish-Portuguese-
Italian Sephardic Jewish, Basque, as well as devout “Old Christians” and converso “New Christians” ancestry. The only exception were the 15 families (59 people) from the Canary Islands who founded the Villa San Fernando de Bexar (now San Antonio) in 1731. However, they themselves were of Sephardic, Old Christian and New Christian background.

The children of a union of a European and Native American were the third class citizens. Originally (1500’s to mid 1600s) if the father was of European stock and the mother Native American, the children were called “castizos”. If the father was Native American and the mother of European ancestry, then the children were called “mestizo”. By the late 1600’s the term and social designation of castizo was dropped and all children of such unions are commonly referred to as mestizos. This was probably brought about by the marriages of castizos and mestizos which did not produce an alternate social identification tag. This social casta represented the majordomos, clerks, domestics, ranch hands, cattle hands, farmers, masons, and local militia members.

The fourth class casta were the Native Americans divided into two groups. First and foremost were the Spanish-speaking, Roman Catholic, “mission Indians” and their land-owning descendants. They represented the manual intensive labor force of the Spanish American colonies. The totally assimilated Native Americans (such as the Tlaxcaltecans) were usually referred to as “gente de razon” as they were frequently employed as colonists in new areas to serve as an example to the local Native Americans of the benefits of becoming a Spanish-speaking, Roman Catholic, land-owning person who dressed and lived like their mestizo and criollo neighbors. The 200 Tlaxcaltecans who founded San Esteban de Tlaxcala opposite the river from Saltillo, Coahuila in 1598 are a good example. Some of their descendants were among the settlers of the third founding of Monclova, Coahuila in the 1680s and the original Villa de Bexar in 1716 - 1718 (now San Antonio, Texas).

Not all Native Americans went through the missions. On October 12, 1837, Jose Francisco Ruiz presented a Resolution to the Senate of the Republic of Texas stating “the people called Lipan (Apache), Karankawa (Texas Gulf Coast) and Tonkowa (south central Texas from Waco to Atascosa, Wilson, Medina and Frio counties) your committee considers part of the Mexican Nation and are no longer to be distinguished from that Nation. They occupy the western part of Texas”. In 1837, “West Texas” began at Colorado River and extended to the Rio Grande. Hence, the Native Americans family clans of diverse tribes and nations not killed by the recently arrived settlers from the United States, were socially and legally declared “Mexican” but not Mexican citizens. Many eventually moved into the communities of South Texas where in time they became part of the Tejano and Mexican American population.

It is unfortunate that the standard U. S. and Texas history textbooks do not include any of this historical information and insights as it is very important to understanding the cultural diversity of the Tejano and Mexican American population of South Texas. Not knowing any of this and brainwashed with the

WASP Black Legend version of U. S. and Texas history, many reach out for a false identity they consider more positive than their cultural identity, or succumb to an inferiority complex due to not knowing their respective family background.

Zavala County Sentinel ………31 August – 1 September 2011