Sunday, October 30, 2011


I had the distinct pleasure of visiting with Don Felipe de Ortego y Gasca in San Antonio yesterday as part of the HACU conference. I have always been an admirer of him and his work and remember him fondly from when I was an undergraduate student at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. He is one of our earliest Chicano Movement leaders, scholars, and intellectuals. An octogenarian, he is still with us today, illuminating the path of the generations that follow. Enjoy!


Original version published as "El Dia de los Muertos," The National Hispanic Reporter, October 1992

By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca

Scholar in Residence/Past Chair, Department of Chicana/Chicano and Hemispheric Studies, Western New Mexico University

El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) commemorating the lives of our forebears has been celebrated in Mexico from ancient times to the present. No one is sure about its exact origin or how the practice of mummification became part of the ritual, but it has been celebrated as a Mesoamerican cultural tradition for thousands of years. In northern Chile near the Peruvian border, human mummies have been unearthed dating back 9,000 years. In Mexico, the roots of el dia de los muertos stretch back to the indigenous Purepecha, Totonac, Oto­mi, and Nahua (Aztecs, Mayans, Toltecs, Tlaxcaltec, Chichimec, Tecpanec) who believed that the souls of the dead return each year to visit their living relatives, to eat, drink and enjoy themselves as they did when they lived.

Far too many ethnographers identify the origin of El Dia de los Muertos as a post-conquest phenomenon, thereby diminishing its ancestral significance by approaching it or valuing it as an event of the curious, the queer, and the quaint despite the fact that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has declared it part of our international cultural heritage (Kent Peterson, "Day of the Dead Dances Across Borders," FNS Feature fnsnews, November 3, 2008).

El Dia de los Muertos is ingrained in the Mexican national consciousness as part of Mexican identity. And, by extension, of Mexican American identity. El Dia de los Muertos is not just a version of the widespread Roman Catholic feasts of All Saints' and All Souls' Days. This suggests a European largesse, a colonial view that describes Mexican culture as a derivative culture. Equally diminishing is to equate or correlate El Dia de los Muertos with Halloween, a day of raucous disregard for the tradition of Dia de los Muertos. Importantly el dia de los muertos is not a Mexican or Mexican American equivalent of Hal­loween.

For Mexicans as well as for Mexican Americans El Dia de los Muertos is a time to both honor and to celebrate the lives of those who lived before us and have gone on to "the other world." For the Aztecs, that other world was the prize, the world for which one suffered the slings and arrows of this world. Thus, to celebrate the lives of our decedents was for them to share with us the mysteries of that other world.
Dia de los Muertos (actually dias de los muer­tos) is one of Mexico's traditional holidays and by extension has become a traditional holiday of Mexican Americans. Both observe No­vember 1st and November 2nd as commemorative days honoring deceased members of their families (especially children) in a way unique to Mexican and Mexican American culture and custom, reunit­ing with beloved ancestors as well as family and friends, reflecting on death and the continuity of life.

There is a distinction between All Saints Day celebrated on November 1st and All Souls Day cele­brated on November 2nd. On All Saints Day the graves of deceased children are decorated with toys and balloons and on All Souls Day the graves of deceased adults are ornamented with displays of food and drink enjoyed by the departed in life. Of­ten, personal belongings of the deceased are placed on display.

In the Mexican and Mexican American tradition el dia de los muertos involves ornamentation and symbolic offerings of food for the dead, much the way in Pharaohnic times the Egyptians provided food for their dead on the long trip to the nether land.

In Aztec times, el dia de los muertos was ob­served during the Aztec month of Miccailhuitontli presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl (Lady of the Dead). The ritual included homage to Huitzilo­pochtli (Hummingbird-on-the-left), the ma­jor Aztec deity of war who protected the dead of all conflicts.

In the Aztec calendar, this ritual coincided with the Gregorian month of July and the beginning of August, but in the post conquest era Spanish priests moved it to coincide with the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve "in a vain effort," as Ricardo J. Salva­dor explains, "to transform this from a profane to a Christian celebration." It is today a blend of ancient aboriginal and Christian elements.
In general, the activities of el dia de los muertos begin with visits by families to the graves of their deceased, decorating the gravesites with zempa­suchil (marigolds and chrysanthemums) and other festive flowers. Candles are lit to guide the spirits of the departed "home" and the ancient incense (copal) is burned. The deceased's favorite food and drink are laid out on gravesite altars (ofren­das). Prayers and chants are recited for the dead; and starting at 6 pm bells are rung continuously throughout the night, stop­ping at sunrise.

There is a story told about a Mexican American who was decorating the grave of his father, setting up an altar before the gravestone, and laying out food for the defunct. Next to him was an Anglo woman planting flowers and tidying up the grave of her mother. Amused when she observed the Mexican American laying out the food before the gravestone, the Anglo woman asked the Mexican American when he thought his decedent would rise up to eat the food. Whereupon the Mexican American replied that his father would rise up out of his grave to eat the food about the time the Anglo woman's decedent rose up from her grave to smell the flowers.

After the night-long vigil, all go home, satisfied at having com­muned with their ances­tors. Since it is a commemoration with a complex history, its observances vary widely by region. In the United States the activities are less elaborate but no less reverential.

The gravesite vigils of el dia de los muertos often take on the character of picnics, though nowadays a solemn family supper suffices featuring pan de muer­to (bread of the dead, a rich coffee cake decorated with meringues made to look like bones) in which a toy skeleton has been inserted bestowing good luck on the one who bites into the plastic toy.

Gifts of baked sugar skeletons, marzipan death figures, skull-shaped candies and sweets and papier maché skele­tons and skulls are often exchanged and set about the house as decorations. Macabre as these skull repre­sentations may appear, the Nahua-speaking peoples of pre-Columbian Mexico saw the skull as a symbol of life-not death. In the Mexican belief system of life and its continuity, skull symbolism is a natural part of the continuum of existence.

Dia de los muertos is not a morbid or ghoulish preoccupation with death; it's a celebration of life. On this day families remember the departed by tell­ing stories about them, celebrating their lives. To commercialize the holy day is to mock the import of the observance.

Copyright © 1992-2008 by the author. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 28, 2011

TCEP Policy Brown Bag: Exit Strategies: How Low Performing High Schools Respond to High School Exit Examination Requirements

The Texas Center for Education Policy is happy to invite you to a TCEP Brown Bag featuring Dr. Jennifer Jellison Holme titled:

“Exit Strategies: How Low Performing High Schools Respond to High School
Exit Examination Requirements

Where: Cissy Parker McDaniel Dean's Conference Room, Sanchez Building
Date: November 2, 2011
Time: 12-1:30PM

Dr. Holme’s research focuses on the politics and implementation of educational policy, with a particular focus on the relationship between school reform, equity, and diversity in schools. Dr. Holme is particularly interested in understanding how structures of opportunity within metropolitan areas relate to schooling conditions and outcomes for students, and how educational policies interact with those opportunity structures. Her current work focuses on school desegregation, high stakes testing, and school choice policy.

For those unfamiliar with the College of Education who are coming from off campus, see the following link for a map that identifies both parking (BRG) and the Sanchez Building (SZB):

Texas Regents' Potential Conflicts to Be Scrutinized

“There are two kinds of conflict...One is financial conflict. That one’s obvious. Then there’s having dual board membership where their purposes are in conflict.”
- Gordon Appleman

And this issue is just one part of the larger goals of the Oversight Committee.


UT Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell asks the Board to support Chancellor Dr. Franciso Cigarroa at their Austin meeting on May 12, 2011.

At a recent hearing of the new joint higher education oversight committee, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini asked the chairmen of the University of Texas System and Texas A&M University System regents what they had done to prevent conflicts of interest on their respective boards. There was a long pause.

She asked if either board has “a statement setting forth the expectations for the conduct of its members.” Both men said they would have to get back to her.

Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat and co-chairwoman of the committee, is likely to get an answer even if they do not. Legislators and other concerned groups are preparing for a thorough review of the conflict of interest policies — or lack of policies — that apply to regents of the state’s public university systems.

In addition to the oversight committee — which Zaffirini leads with Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas — the House speaker, Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has directed the General Investigating and Ethics Committee to study whether the governor’s appointees, regents included, should be required to “sign additional governance documents prior to serving in an official state capacity.”

Such policies are common in higher education. A 2008 survey conducted by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges of its member institutions showed that nearly 80 percent of public boards that responded had a policy regarding conflicts of interest. Roughly 50 percent required members to sign an annual statement.

Most of the six major university systems in Texas have a policy specifically for regents. An A&M spokesman said their regents are covered by their system’s general written policies. But the UT System, one of the state’s largest, is an exception.

“There’s nothing in writing, but there’s several state laws and common laws relating to conflict of interests, especially on the financial side, that we would adhere to just like any state agency would adhere to,” said Anthony de Bruyn, a spokesman for the system.

He said that board members worked with the general counsel to prevent conflicts.

That does not satisfy some critics of the board overseeing the University of Texas at Austin. This year, a coalition largely made up of prominent U.T. alumni formed out of concern that university system regents might put into action controversial policies proposed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative research organization.

Each of the UT and A&M boards has a member who also serves on the policy foundation’s board.

“There are two kinds of conflict,” said Gordon Appleman, a Fort Worth lawyer and founding member of the coalition. “One is financial conflict. That one’s obvious. Then there’s having dual board membership where their purposes are in conflict.” He said a written policy was necessary to clarify the rules surrounding both.

At the hearing, Gene Powell, the chairman of the UT System board, cautioned against infringing on the rights of regents, who serve voluntarily, and said they were aware that their chief loyalty lies with the system. “I think they have the right to participate on boards and associate with who they want to associate with,” he said.

School Dropouts Save Texas Money But Only in Short Term

As awful as this sounds the state does seem to be led by the notion that "dropouts save money". This is supported by historical patterns of students lost in the education pipeline (3 million over the course of 25 years).

Check out the Intercultural Development Research Association's (IDRA) data on dropout and attrition rates in Texas.


by Ross Ramsey | Texas Tribune
October 28, 2011

Every time a student drops out of public school, taxpayers save money. That’s one fewer student, at an annual savings of more than $11,000 per year from state and local sources.

You might argue those kids will cost the state a lot of money someday, either as prison inmates, welfare recipients, or as part of an expanding number of weak links in the labor chain when employers come looking for educated workers.

But the immediate result is that the dropouts save money. And politicians respond to immediate things. Not to kick anyone in particular, but when was the last time you saw a Texas governor or legislator with a 10-year plan? A five-year plan?

When the economy is bad and the favored political trope is no new taxes, no new spending, budgeting is a short-term exercise. Lawmakers stop talking about new programs and such, focusing instead on voters’ demands to keep government as inexpensive as possible. The punishment for doing anything else is as close as the March primary.

The dropout problem has a longer fuse. The reward for fixing it is somewhere in the future, way past the next election.

The public schools are on a 13-year clock, starting with kindergarten and ending with the fourth year of high school. The budgeteers are on a two-year clock that starts and ends in even-numbered years. Their horizons are determined by the election calendar. Politicians are actually pretty responsive. They react to the things that will hurt them, politically, and to the things that will help them, politically. And the judgments they’re concerned with are those delivered by voters.

In fact, there is a disincentive to fix the dropout problem, because it would force lawmakers to make cuts in other parts of the budget or to find new revenue. It sets up like something from the science fair: Suppose you got 181 lab rats and gave them cheese if they saved money and threw them out into the streets if they spent it.

Dropout rates don’t initially look like a budget issue, but if you could wave a wand and end it today — keeping every student in school for the full 13 years — you’d be spending a lot of money. You would be a street rat.

How many dropouts are there? That’s a political fight, to some extent, for another day. But for illustration, go with these numbers, courtesy of the Texas Education Agency: In the 2008-09 school year, 40,923 students in grades 7 through 12 dropped out of school, and in the 2009-10 school year, 34,907 students dropped out. Total spending per student in the 2009-2010 school year was $11,567, including capital spending (operating expenditures per student — the total cost per student excluding buildings, computers and the like — were $8,572 per year).

The state pays school districts according to attendance. If fewer students show up, the state spends less.

Based on total spending, it would cost state and local taxpayers $473.4 million annually to educate that first group of dropouts. The second group would add $403.8 million to the annual nut. Only want the operating costs? That would be $650 million per year.

Since Texas has a two-year budget, and the state’s share of operations is about 43 percent of the total, that particular set of dropouts "saves" the state about $560 million every two years.

Keep in mind that the numbers are based on a two-year sampling of dropouts from six grades — 7 through 12 — and that adding dropouts over time at least doubles the number and could triple it. And remember that the number of dropouts is a matter of some dispute and that these numbers could be low.

The point here is that the policy problem of kids dropping out of school is actually a boon to budget writers if the budget writers are in a bind. It’s money they don’t have to produce at a time when government revenue is in higher-than-normal demand.

It’s a variation on Jonathan Swift’s "Modest Proposal". We’re not eating the children to save money on their welfare — just letting them out of school early.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Some Texas GOP Candidates to Make Education a Priority

by Morgan Smith | Texas Tribune
October 27, 2011

When Republican lawmakers talk about the cuts to public education made in the last session, a common refrain emerges: It could have been worse. The $4 billion reduction the House and Senate finally agreed on wasn’t nearly as frightening as the $10 billion slashed in the plan passed by the lower chamber with its Tea Party-fueled supermajority.

At the time, lawmakers at the Capitol said they were taking seriously what they viewed as the mandate of the 2010 election: Voters wanted no new taxes and a reduction in government spending.

But there are GOP candidates who hope that if they come to Austin in 2013, it will be with different instructions.

In several Republican state House 2012 primary races across the state, the conversation may yet turn from invective against government spending to worry over increasing school class sizes and more rigorous student testing. There are at least a few candidates emerging who've traded in the anti-Washington cries of the last election cycle for a message with a different focus: the state of Texas public schools.

Whether that messaging ultimately gets them into office remains unclear — the next general election is a year away, of course — but the success of their candidacies will be an effective gauge of the electorate’s mood.

David Anderson, an education lobbyist and former Texas Education Agency staffer, called the March 2012 primaries “a critical indicator” of the public’s reaction to the budget cuts passed earlier this year. Presented with the option, he said, “will people turn out in the Republican primary and vote for Republican candidates who make a significant part of their platform restoring funding to public ed and bring some coherency to some of the critical issues?”

At least four candidates have formed campaigns based on public education issues so far: Bennett Ratliff, who’s running for an open Dallas-area state House seat; current State Board of Education member Marsha Farney, who’s running for an open House seat based in Williamson County; Trent Ashby, who’s challenging freshman state Rep. Marva Beck of Centerville; and James Wilson, who’s opposing state Rep. Debbie Riddle in her district bordering Houston.

“People are just now beginning to understand and feel the impacts of the budgetary constraints,” said Ratliff, a longtime member of the Coppell ISD school board in suburban Dallas. “Just now gone back to school, just now starting to realize that student teacher ratios aren't what they've been. They’re just now starting to realize we are starting to look at programs that may not survive next year.”

“You've got a lot of very upset teachers, very upset parents,” Wilson said.

That doesn’t necessarily translate to voters wanting to spend more — both Ratliff and Ashby emphasized the need for local control and school finance reform over increased funding.

“I haven't been out on the stump saying that we need to throw a bunch of new money at public education in Texas,” said Ashby, who is the president of the Lufkin school board. “But what I have been out saying that we need to make sure that we look at our current school finance system in a way that when we talk changes we ensure that schools aren’t being based on their zip code.”

Since the last legislative session, Lufkin ISD, along with almost 300 other districts, has signed onto a lawsuit challenging, among other aspects, the equity of the state’s method of funding schools. At least one other suit is expected to follow.

Beck, Ashby’s opponent, said that in her interactions with constituents, public education isn’t foremost on voters’ minds. A candidate with a school board background like Ashby, she said, would naturally emphasize education. Though there were “issues in public education that need to be addressed,” she said that along with the continued budgetary difficulties, her constituents were primarily concerned with border security.

“If you aren't safe to go to school then the problems at school become secondary,” she said. “There is violence beyond belief that is happening on our border.”

Lawmakers have felt the consequences of a perceived hostility to public education before. The most famous example was in 2006, when the then-chairman of the public education committee, state Rep. Kent Grusendorf, lost his bid for an 11th term to state Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, after a contentious battle over vouchers and school finance during the previous session.

Patrick said that “there are concerns everywhere” that public education remain what she said was already the top priority for the legislature.

“A good strong public education system is essential to the economy of the state,” she said. Those who are running on public education platforms, she said, “understand that relationship.”

Enrollment in Texas Higher Education Continues to Climb

by Reeve Hamilton | Texas Tribune
October 27, 2011

More than 62,000 students enrolled in colleges and universities in Texas this fall than in 2010, according to preliminary enrollment data released by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board today.

While it's a big jump, it's not as large as the two previous years, which both saw increases of more than 100,000 students. In the last three years alone, Texas colleges and universities have added more than 268,000 students. The current total, which includes public and private institutions, is slightly more than 1.5 million students.

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said this puts the state firmly on track to meet its 2015 goals for boosting access to college in the state. However, some of the numbers could still use some improvement, particularly the enrollment of African American males.

Overall, African American participation has jumped nearly 10 percent in the last year. Hispanic enrollment numbers are up 4.5 percent, and Anglo students have also increased nearly 2 percent.

The ethnic category that saw the most dramatic shift was "other," with a nearly 18 percent increase. New self-reporting policies put in place last year allow students to choose multiple races. Doing so places them in the "other" category. Paredes speculated that the growing popularity of that option was a testament to the decining racial divisions in the country.

Most of the growth occurred in the state's public colleges and universities, though a handful of them did see a decrease. The preliminary numbers show University of Texas at Austin enrolling 50 fewer students than last year. Four-year institutions experiencing more significant drops include the University of North Texas, Prairie View A&M University, and UT-Permian Basin. Meanwhile, the University of Houston, Texas State University-San Marcos, UT-Brownsville, and UT-Dallas, each saw increases of more than 1,000 students.

Coordinating board officials also say their data also show an increase of nearly 30,000 students in private, for-profit colleges, continuing a trend of steady growth. However, some of that increase can be attributed to the fact that more of those institutions have begun submitting their information.

Facility plans, school finance lawsuits on Austin trustees' agenda

By Laura Heinauer and Melissa Taboada | AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011

At tonight's meeting of the Austin school board, trustees are set to vote on suing the State of Texas over education funding and on approving tax reappraisals of property damaged in wildfires earlier this year.

But discussions on facility planning could overshadow those and other agenda items.

At forums in the past several days, district officials released some of the most concrete proposals yet on recommendations for the use of schools and other buildings during the 2012-13 school year. Tonight's public comment session and a public hearing Tuesday will give the community a chance to present thoughts about the proposals.

Under plans announced Thursday, the district would create up to three district-managed charter campuses in the part of town that includes the Eastside Memorial High Schools at the former Johnston High School campus and schools that feed into Eastside. The IDEA Public School, a charter school, would have autonomy over academic programs, but the campuses would still be overseen by the district.

Earlier, district administrators said that they were looking at dealing with crowding in North Austin by moving the sixth grade out of Barrington, Brown and Walnut Creek elementary schools and adding a pre-kindergarten center at Dobie Middle School. One of three other options would reassign students at Ridgetop Elementary School, which would then become a dual language center for pre-kindergartners.

The district hopes the overall changes would strengthen schools in East Austin and free up space at overcrowded schools in the north. Under one long-range scenario, Brooke Elementary School in East Austin would no longer serve students after 2015.

The idea of moving the sixth grade from elementary schools is not new. Austin has just a handful of elementary schools that still have a sixth grade.

Many educators and researchers say that sixth-graders are psychologically and physically close to seventh- and eighth-graders. However some studies have shown that sixth-grade middle school students are more likely to be cited for discipline problems. Researchers have also found that elementary school sixth-graders have higher test scores than those in middle school.

Last year, when the Austin district kept sixth-graders who would have attended the struggling Pearce Middle School in their elementary schools an extra year, test scores shot up, officials said.

Moving the sixth grade to middle school would relieve crowding and "provide our sixth-graders with the full middle school experience," Austin chief of staff Paul Cruz said, explaining that sixth-graders in elementary schools don't get the middle school options of band, foreign languages and athletics.

The district first looked at creating an in-district charter school in 2001 with proposals from KIPP and Edison schools but ultimately backed off. The district is now ready to embrace the unconventional, officials say.

"I think it's time for Austin parents to have a choice," said Ramona Treviño, the district's chief academic officer. Something that offers " a proven track record of success in college preparation with high-poverty, Hispanic children," she said.

The school board aims to vote on a 2012-13 facilities plan in December. But some of the early recommendations are already under fire from a few people who could be affected.

About 200 people attended Thursday's presentation. One student, angered by a proposal that would house the charter school at Eastside, was in tears as he tried to express his concerns and briefly left the room.

Upon returning, 17-year-old Eddie Perez made his point: "You're not giving us a chance. Every year you're doing something different. If you choose one of those plans and it doesn't work, then in 2015-16, are you going to have another plan for the school? Are you going to do that yearly? Are you actually thinking about us?"

Similar sentiments were echoed across town.

Annette Lucksinger, a Ridgetop parent, said that by making the campus a pre-kindergarten the district would be turning its back on a dual language program that parents have committed to and is working. Enrollment is now up from 180 to almost 300 in two years, she said, and the school community is stronger than ever.

"This is my fourth year at the school — my third year to have to fight to keep it open — and it's frustrating having to put so much energy into saving the school again rather than trying to make it better," she said. "We're going strong and in a positive direction, and if you transplant us, that will all be lost."

Cruz said some parents will appreciate the plan because it allows siblings to stay together. He said studies show that students do better with fewer transitions. Combining Ridgetop with Reilly also would "provide a larger dual language school, making it a really enhanced option for dual language immersion," he said.; 445-3694; 445-3620

Austin school board meeting

Tonight's meeting, at the Carruth Administration Center, 1111 W. Sixth St., will start at 7. Highlights from the agenda:

Administrators recommend that the board OK the reappraisal of property damaged in the Oak Hill wildfire in April. Values would be prorated from the date of the fire and would affect the 2011 tax roll, for which payment is due in January.

Trustees could vote to join one of multiple lawsuits expected over the state's school finance system. Administrators said in agenda documents that the district should join in suing because ‘the current system of school finance in Texas fails to address growth. Not only does it fail to fund growth in student population, it fails to meet the increasing needs of higher expectations and more rigorous standards required by the State and the increase in student needs such as poverty and limited English proficiency.'

Administrators are asking the board to approve contracts with Princeton Review and Catapult Learning for math tutoring services for sixth- and ninth-grade students at Burnet Middle School and Lanier High School. The estimated cost is $1.6 million.

New state test raises concerns for teachers, educators

Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011

When the new state achievement test rolls out this spring, students will notice several key changes from its predecessor.

Not only will the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness be tougher, have more questions and come with a time limit, but the end-of-course exam scores for high school students will count for 15 percent of their grade.

The old standardized test — the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills — did not, and unanswered questions about the change have caused confusion among school district administrators and concern among parents worried about the effect on class rank.

Lawmakers approved the switch to the STAAR in 2007. However, the state was not explicit about how districts should convert test scores to grades.

Though the test is rolling out in high schools this year only with ninth-graders — upperclassmen will continue taking the TAKS until they graduate — it will affect the grade-point averages for those students, and thus class rankings.

Given that Texas guarantees automatic admission to college for most public school students ranked in the top 10 percent of their class, the stakes are high.

State law allows students to retake the test for any reason, said Gloria Zyskowski , division director for student assessment for the Texas Education Agency.

"And I suspect that students who pass the test, if they are going to retry to retake the test, it's to help their cumulative score," Zyskowski said.

But districts are not required to use the results of the retest to calculate a student's grade. Austin school district officials say only first-try scores will count toward GPAs. Christy Rome, director of intergovernmental relations and policy oversight, said the only exception is if students do not receive credit for the course, such as when their test score and course grade do not add up to passing. In those cases, students could retest for a higher score that would bring their grade up high enough to earn course credit.

Anderson High School's campus advisory council, which includes parents and educators, two weeks ago drafted a letter summarizing concerns about the end-of-course exams. The group wants the district to request a waiver from the state to prevent the inclusion of the scores in students' grade-point averages for the 2011-12 year.

"There are too many unknown factors with potentially far-reaching implications surrounding the test at this point in the academic year," the letter states. "The uncertainty is causing students and families a great deal of concern."

In addressing the school board Monday night, Anderson parent Susan Schultz said she was concerned about inconsistencies.

"While one school district may decide that all students who pass get 100 and all who fail get a 69, other school districts' conversion tables may get very intricate and include decimals," she said.

Educators also have said they are concerned about how the tests will be scored. Scoring methodology for secondary students won't be released until February. Students will start taking the exam with the English portion in March; other exams will be given in May.

"I do think (teachers) are very nervous about the new passing standards," said Criss Cloudt, Texas Education Agency associate commissioner over assessment and accountability. "It's certainly true that the assessment program is going to be a more rigorous program, but \u2026 keep in mind that the content is directly linked to the content the State of Texas requires to be taught."

The Texas Education Agency in September released some sample questions to provide teachers and administrators a better idea of what to expect on the test.

Students in third through eighth grades will also take the STAAR, but their scores won't count toward their grades and, for this year, won't count toward state ratings of campuses. The state will use the results from the spring exams to set passing standards, which will be determined in October 2012.

"If we are working on our curriculum and delivering our instruction in a meaningful way, then our kids will be prepared," said Diana Sustaita, director of curriculum and instruction with the Pflugerville school district.

"Our standards are still the same," she said. But she added, "There's a big difference from what kids were expected to know for TAKS and what they're expected to know for STAAR."

For example, on the TAKS, a student in Algebra I might have been quizzed about one specific part of a graph. The STAAR would ask a student which statement is not true about the graph, and that would require a student to know the various properties of the graph.

"We're all trying to be closely aligned with the state objectives, more aligned than we have in previous years," said Joy Killough, a biology and chemistry teacher at Westwood High School in the Round Rock district. "It's going to be a challenge for everybody because of the rigor, but I think the kids are up to it."; 445-3620

Comparing STAAR
and TAKS exams

What are the biggest differences between the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness and the old Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills?

The STAAR is a more rigorous exam that experts say will measure a greater range of student achievement — especially preparedness for moving on to the next grade — and establish stronger links to college readiness.

The STAAR will have more questions for most grades, subjects and courses.

Students will have four hours to take the STAAR. The TAKS was not timed.

The STAAR will count for 15 percent of a student's grade in a subject. TAKS scores did not affect course grades.

The STAAR will cover only the content from a particular course — the Algebra I exam will assess only Algebra I content, for example — rather than content from multiple courses. The ninth-grade mathematics TAKS tested students' knowledge of Algebra I and eighth-grade math.

STAAR reading and writing exams for certain grades will be administered over two days.

The test designs for STAAR fourth- and seventh-grade writing and English I, II and III will require students to write two essays addressing different skills. The TAKS required only one longer personal essay.

Most STAAR math and science questions will be open-ended, requiring students to arrive at answers independently without being influenced by answer choices provided with the questions.

Source: Texas Education Agency

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Good-bye adequate yearly progress

Texas State Teachers Association
October 20, 2011

In a 15–7 vote, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee voted to amend and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (formerly known as No Child Left Behind). The language reflects a bipartisan effort drafted by Chairman Harkin (D-Iowa) and Ranking Member Enzi (R-Wyoming). Over the past two days, the amended language and 150 amendments were considered in a hearing.

The provisions of the bill include language that:

Establishes college and career academic content standards in Reading /Language Arts and Math with the option to add other content.
Alignment of English Language Proficiency Standards with academic content standards.
Alignment of academic content standards, without the need for academic coursework, at public institutions of higher education in the state and is relevant with state technical and career standards.
Establishes tracks to determine how well students are mastering the material in the academic content areas.
Alignment of the state assessment instrument with the academic content standards.
Provides the option of including a student growth model.
Tracks students from 8th to 9th grade to better identify those who are at-risk of dropping out.
Requires the identification of Achievement Gaps Schools, Persistently Low-Achieving Schools, and Targeted

Low-Achieving Schools

NEA staff and state affiliate staff reviewed amendments to identify possible impacts on the states.

NEA was successful in inserting language that:

Provides for a collaborative transformation model for turn-around schools

NEA was successful in removing language that would have

linked Teacher and Principal evaluations to student performance; however, this is a mandate IF the state applies for a grant through the Teacher Incentive Fund; and
given districts the authority to make forced transfers of teachers to low-performing, high-need schools as a means to ensure equity in the placement of highly-qualified teachers.

The bill now moves to the full Senate. The vote is not expected to happen before November 8 out of respect for an agreement struck between Sens. Harkin (D-Iowa), Enzi (R-Wyoming), and Paul (R-Kentucky).

We need your involvement and engagement NOW. Visit and sign up to receive the NEA Legislative Alerts. Your voices need to be heard as the Senate considers ESEA 2011.

UT System chancellor says he is committed to helping UTEP reach Tier One status

"We are competing with the world..."

Check out this short snippet of Cigarroa's talk in El Paso.


By Zahira Torres \ Austin Bureau
Posted: 10/20/2011

University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said he will push during the next legislative session to rectify a decision by state lawmakers that denied UTEP access to a pot of state money for which it qualified.

Cigarroa visited El Paso on Wednesday to give the keynote address at the State of Higher Education luncheon put together by the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce. He said the UT System was "very disappointed" when UTEP was not allowed to join a handful of universities that participate in the Competitive Knowledge Fund, which provides money to support faculty for the purpose of "instructional excellence" and research.

"We felt that UTEP accomplished all the metrics that would merit it," Cigarroa said, and he vowed to work toward getting the university into the fund during the 2013 legislative session. "It was a top priority for me. It was a top system priority. This is historically one of the most challenging legislative sessions. Everybody made some really tough choices. Some of those choices we didn't appreciate, but that was from our point of view."

UTEP and the University of Texas at Arlington attained the three-year average of $50 million in research expenditures needed to gain access to the fund, which divvies up $93 million over a two-year period among participants. Still, both universities were kept from entering the fund during Senate budget negotiations.

Cigarroa's nearly 40-minute speech to El Paso business and political leaders focused on how they could help universities adapt to greater demands to provide a more accessible, accountable and affordable education at a time when they have lost millions of dollars through state budget cuts. He said there are "strong indications" that more reductions will come in the 2013 legislative session.

State budget cuts in the past legislative session reduced funding by $275 million for six health institutions and by $222 million for nine universities in the UT System. Because of the cuts, UTEP will get $27.3 million less over the next two years.

Cigarroa said the responsibility of fostering successful universities should be shared. He pushed for additional revenue streams, such as philanthropic donations and public-private partnerships "as long as academic freedom and creativity is protected."

He also said he was committed to helping UTEP become a nationally recognized research institution, known as Tier One, because the border region deserves such opportunities.

"We've got all the low-hanging fruit," Cigarroa said about the impact state budget cuts have had on higher education. "I don't see a single mango hanging from the tree anymore."

"We can always do more, but there's a point that you start going beyond muscle, where you can't accomplish the appropriate student-faculty ratio or be able to globally compete for the best faculty," Cigarroa said. "We're always going to do our mission, but we've got higher aspirations, such as being able to transition UTEP to Tier One and that takes resources. It just does."

Cigarroa touted his plan for raising graduation rates, boosting online learning and expanding educational and health opportunities in South Texas.

At the same time, he also made a quick reference to Gov. Rick Perry's support of a controversial proposal, which offered seven "breakthrough solutions" for higher education. That plan, which the UT Board of Regents has now said is off the table, called for the separation of research and teaching budgets at universities and would have strictly used student evaluations to award bonus pay for professors.

Cigarroa told the audience that the system has no intention of separating teaching from research at its universities.

"There was a lot of anxiety about that, and I want to mitigate that anxiety because the framework, which the Board of Regents unanimously approved, does not separate teaching from research," he said. He added that his plan does not mirror the seven reforms for higher education.

Zahira Torres may be reached at; 512-479-6606.

Ideology trumped science at Texas agency, two lawmakers say

The title pretty much says it all.

- Patricia

By Erin Mulvaney
BEAUMONT, Texas | Thu Oct 20, 2011

(Reuters) - Two Democratic state senators from Texas accused the state's environmental agency of letting ideology trump science when it deleted information about the implications of global warming from a draft report.

The leaders of the agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, are appointed by Republican Governor Rick Perry, who said in a recent presidential debate that the science of climate change was "unsettled."

At issue is "The State of the Bay 2010" report commissioned by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has come under scrutiny after Rice University Professor John Anderson said that an article regarding sea-level changes he contributed was censored for political reasons.

Democratic state Senators Rodney Ellis of Houston and Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio wrote to Perry appointee Bryan Shaw, chairman of the commission.

In his letter, Ellis said he concluded from the deletions that "the facts simply proved inconvenient to the agency and other state leadership, and thus they were excised."

The commission said on Monday it would remove Anderson's article on sea-level rise in Galveston Bay from the report, ending a standoff with Anderson over the deleted information.

Commission spokesman Andy Saenz said Anderson prematurely revealed the draft report to the media without prior approval, and that the commission did not want to include controversial implications about global warming in the report.

"Why would we include things we don't agree with? That's ridiculous," Saenz said. "We were looking at not including very controversial things that are unsettled science."

Two co-editors of the project, Jim Lester and Lisa Gonzalez, scientists with the Houston Advanced Research Center, a nonprofit research facility contracted for the report, asked the agency to remove their names, fearing their own credibility.

Lester, the center's vice president, called the deletions "scientific censorship." He said Anderson's statements in the article were not political and were reviewed by lower-level staff at the agency before upper management made its own edits.

"As a scientist, my main concern is about the availability of objective science for decision-making in agencies," Lester said.

Saenz denied the claims of scientific censorship.

"Using a word like censorship is very powerful," he said. "It isn't censorship to accurately report in our document what we believe. That's being responsible. That's being accurate."

Saenz said the agency was preparing a response to the senators. The agency, which is embroiled in a lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency over greenhouse gas emissions, has been working on the report for more than two years, the agency said.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Cynthia Johnston)

Districts struggle this year with class sizes

Real talk on what it means when the state doesn't consider growth in its funding of education.


Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011

For many students, the start of the school year has meant sharing tight quarters. For others, it has meant getting used to one new teacher and then another .

Budget-tightening moves, coupled with a promise by the Texas Education Agency to be more lenient in granting waivers on state rules capping class sizes, have made for, at times, a chaotic start of the school year for many families.

Two months after school began, some students are still being shuffled around as districts try to get below the cap — 22 students per class in kindergarten to fourth grade.

State lawmakers debated, but didn't approve, changing the cap in this year's legislative session.

"It has been really tough on all of us," said Dora Trevino, a teacher at Harris Elementary School in East Austin.

She started the year with 28 students, then 24 and had as many as 30 at one point. The district just hired a new teacher, and now Trevino has 21 children in her fourth-grade class.

"I thought I had it under control" at 28, she said. "But when it got up to 30, it came with behavior problems and low academics. ... It was a lot of stress and work at home and overwhelming, but I just said, 'It's going to be OK. We're going to see this year through .'"

The Leander school district, which increased its student-teacher ratios to cut costs, went from asking for waivers for eight classes in 2010-11 to 95 so far this year.

Karie Lynn McSpadden , the district's assistant superintendent for human resources, said the reason there are so many more waivers this year, compared with some districts, is that Leander set its caps a little higher — 23 for second grade and 24 for third and fourth grades — expecting that it would not exceed those numbers and use contingency funds to hire more teachers if needed.

"I think at the end of the year, we will end up with lower class sizes than the districts around us," McSpadden said.

To reduce Austin's need for waivers, Michael Houser, the district's chief resources officer, said the district aggressively moved staff members and hired 90 more teachers this fall. He said the new hires cost about $750,000, which came out of the anticipated savings from the layoffs that the board approved earlier in the year.

"This year, it became more of a problem in that we did staff at 24 to 1," he said, explaining how the district had thought the law would change. "We were pretty much assured that would happen, and when it didn't in June, we decided that we would go back and spend some money and back fill these positions as needed."

Austin officials said the district has applied for 18 waivers this year, compared with two at this time in 2010-11.

That's much fewer than some districts, particularly some urban ones. State officials said they expect the Houston school district to apply for more than 1,000 waivers.

Meanwhile, the Round Rock school district has managed to decrease the number of overcrowded classes. Spokeswoman JoyLynn Occhiuzzi said the district slightly increased its staffing ratios and transferred teachers to other schools and grades when necessary.

"At the end of the day, we had to hire 217 teachers due to attrition and growth, which is pretty much what our norm would be," she said.

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said that, this year, the agency is granting waivers based on financial hardship. The agency anticipates more than 6,500 classes across Texas will exceed the cap this fall — almost triple the 2,238 classes in the 2010-11 school year, she said.

"We're going to be looking closely before granting them at schools that were rated unacceptable," Ratcliffe said, referring to the lowest mark a school can get in the state's academic accountability system. "It was too late to do it this year. But next year, we're probably going to ask for additional details."

Many Central Texas classrooms that received waivers this year exceed class size limits by just one or two students, according to information provided by area districts.

Research on the impact of smaller classes on student learning is mixed, though generally, teachers and parents prefer the smaller class sizes.

"Any parent who's had kids that age can appreciate what adding two 5-year-olds to a class could do to that dynamic," said state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, adding that he is concerned about student learning and teacher morale.

Rae Nwosu, president of Education Austin, a labor group that represents about 4,000 Austin school district employees, said morale has suffered in Austin.

"It's not about having the extra students — though space does become an issue when you try to crowd so many students in a classroom that wasn't built to handle that," Nwosu said. "The biggest problem is the extra work ... on top of already having the additional students.

"Morale is low, and I don't understand why our trustees don't see this and why they haven't said something to the superintendent."

For her part, Trevino seems to be taking things in stride .

"I'm hoping (class enrollment) will stay at 21, but if it increases, I am still going to teach," Trevino said. "I'm still going to be positive, and I am still going to do everything I can for these kids, because this is what I love to do."

Straus Releases Interim Charges for House Committees

Here's the link to the 82nd legislative session interim charges.


by Reeve Hamilton | Texas Tribune

House Speaker Joe Straus has released the interim charges that will direct the work of the lower chamber's legislative committees for the next 11 months — and lawmakers will be busy.

In addition to each committee's individual directives, Straus asked each committee to consider ways to improve the state's manufacturing capability and increase the "transparency, accountability, and efficiency" in state government.

Among the charges:

Straus calls on the Higher Education committee, which spent much of the regular session distracted by a controversy about the productivity of the state's universities and the value of academic research, to examine the impact of university research on the economy and identify ways to further capitalize on it through commercialization. He also asks that the effectiveness of the programs the state uses to fund research be reviewed.

For Public Education, the charges notably don't include a study of the school finance system, which is currently the subject of litigation. However lawmakers are directed to monitor the state’s new student assessment system, evaluate charter schools, and determine ways to boost parent and community involvement.

The Appropriations committee will analyze ways to reduce the state's debt, study the financing and delivery of long-term Medicaid services, examine the infrastructure and funding for mental health services and review campus construction processes. The Redistricting committee will take a close look at the State Board of Education districts and determine if the size of the board needs to change.

The Ways & Means committee will check out the tax structure, including a a review of the franchise tax. Additionally, members will find ways to maximize revenue on tobacco taxes and make sure that appraisal district operations are uniform across the state.

Voter ID legislation that passed last session is still pending approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. In the meantime, the Elections committee will take a look at the benefits and risks of using mobile voting stations and attempt to come up with clearer definitions of residency, especially for college students. The Homeland Security committee will go over the security on college and public school campuses while they also look into the extent of interstate coordination of intelligence sharing and the implementation of the state's driver's license improvement plan.

Additionally, lawmakers in other committees are asked to monitor the implementation of federal health reforms, review the status of the state’s strip club fee and its collections to date, evaluate state and federal efforts to protect the border and study the potential benefits of purchasing health insurance across state lines.

Unsurprisingly, lawmakers will also be looking at the statewide response to the drought, which some experts say could still be around by the time legislators return to the Capitol.

SBOE Could Give Schools More Control Over New Exams

by Morgan Smith | Texas Tribune

In early February, Texas Education Agency chief Robert Scottstood before 6,000 school administrators who had just seen an initial budget from the Legislature that cut $10 billion in state funding from public education.

One question drew cheers from the otherwise grim crowd: If there was no money, would the state still have to roll out STAAR, the new, more rigorous student assessment system?

The answer, it turns out, was yes. Now, eight months later, the State Board of Education may try to modify the system in a way that allays school districts’ concerns.

The first Texas ninth graders to take the new end-of-course exams will do so this spring. To graduate, they will have to receive a passing cumulative score on 12 exams in four subject areas over their high school years — and the exams will count 15 percent toward their final grades.

Educators raised concerns about the demands of this system in the last legislative session, leading House Public Education Committee chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, to author a bill doing away with the cumulative score requirement, and allowing districts to set their own policies on how much an exam weighed on a student’s final grade. But the measure stalled in the upper chamber, where Eissler’s counterpart, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, made clear her opposition to straying from the original plan. And with all the emphasis on limiting cuts to public education, which ended up totaling $4 billion, there was little bandwidth for much else.

Now, on the State Board of Education, there is a push to alter the system in a way the Legislature could not. Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, has proposed an amendment that would use the board’s authority to set standards for course credit to offer more flexibility to school districts. Currently, students must achieve a 70 or above in order to pass a course. Ratliff’s amendment would tweak the law to allow districts to decide to pass students if the only reason they end up failing the course is because of their score on the state exam.

Ratliff said he came up with the idea after hearing concerns from superintendents about the effect on local grading policies.

“For the first time in our history the Legislature has codified ‘We don’t trust you to have a local grading policy,’” he said, “I just think that it is another example of the fact that local control is a myth.”

To take effect this spring, Ratliff’s proposal would have to be on the agenda for the November board meeting. He said he is working to garner support from his fellow board members. George Clayton, who chairs the board’s committee on instruction which would initially consider the measure, said in an email that he was inclined to support it and thinks that the board should take it up as a whole in November. He said that he would be taking a poll of the superintendents in his district for their input, and that his colleagues on the state board should do the same.

In an interview, Shapiro said she "completely disagreed" with Ratliff's plan, saying that it could harm students who heightened accountability standards aim to help — those at-risk for failing.

'If you say to those student you can take this exam but it doesn't really count, why would they even try?" she said.

And while Shapiro said she "wholeheartedly" supports local control, she said that "in this set of circumstances we do have to put some state guidelines."

She said that she would welcome more direction for districts on how the 15 percent factors into final grade, which she said was still "up in the air."

TEA spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman said currently districts can count the exams in any number of ways, since the law doesn’t define “final grade."

Scott hasn’t provided this guidance, Marchman said, because of past lawsuits school districts have brought against the agency for determining grading policies.

"If you take that 15 percent of the total of the first two semesters, that can be a very different number than taking 15 percent of the last six weeks or last nine weeks of the semester," she said.

Eissler also expressed skepticism that Ratliff’s proposal would do much to address the struggles schools face with the new system. “I understand the complications it’s trying to address, but I don’t know if it will solve them,” he said.

He said Ratliff’s plan could end up undermining the goals of moving to a statewide assessment in the first place.

“What it does is deemphasize the end-of-course exam as a statewide assessment and puts more credence on local curriculum application, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a statewide assessment,” he said.

For his part, Ratliff disputes that the change would loosen any standards. “They will still have the same 70 on a 100 point scale to pass, but as determined by the school board, not by Austin,” he said. “'We’ll take your test and we’ll report to the state how we’re doing, but leave the local grading policy, the class rank and local GPA, leave that to us just like you have forever.’”

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a comment from Clayton and a clarification from Shapiro.]

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The dropout paradox: Universities provide more than just degrees

By SHABAB SIDDIQUI | Houston Chronicle
Sunday, October 16, 2011

Earlier this month, the world mourned the loss of Steve Jobs to pancreatic cancer. Unlike many other well-known figures, Jobs' direct and indirect contributions to society are every bit tangible. He's the reason the song You've Got a Friend in Me gets stuck in our heads and, consequently, the reason we can pull out a 32-gigabyte testament to human ingenuity to listen to it over and over again. Jobs was an innovator, a visionary and, of course, a college dropout.

That didn't stop Reed College, the destination of Jobs' semester-long postsecondary sojourn, from honoring one of its "most visionary former students" on its website.

This kind of phenomenon takes place at other universities as well, including The University of Texas. Last year, the Texas Exes - who, for that matter, do not limit membership to alumni or even former UT attendees - revealed a list of Extraordinary Exes in celebration of 125 years of existence. Longhorn legends such as Dell founder Michael Dell, broadcaster Walter Cronkite, businessman Red McCombs, NBA star Kevin Durant, Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton, Charlie's Angels icon Farrah Fawcett, former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes and former U.S. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn all fall short of being traditional alumni.

And this illustrates higher education's dropout paradox: that a university's poster children of success may be the same poster children that critics point to when those individuals are reduced to a number or a percentage of the "did not graduate" persuasion. While their achievements may be boundless, they stand equally degree-less.

Some may point to the paradox as a way to illustrate the insignificance of a university education. After all, it seems as though college was simply a roadblock on their paths to greatness. Yet this assumption misses the well-documented influence universities had on many of the aforementioned dropouts' successes.

Jobs, in his famous commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, talked about auditing a calligraphy class he attended after dropping out of Reed as the reason for the Macintosh's revolutionizing "multiple typefaces and proportionally spaced fonts."

Dell launched his industry-transforming company from his campus dorm rooms. According to his biography, A Reporter's Life, Cronkite wrote for The Daily Texan and said his first time in front of a microphone was reciting sports scores for UT's radio station at the time, KTUT. Before becoming private investigator Jill Munroe for millions of ABC viewers in the late 1970s, Fawcett modeled for students and faculty at UT's art department, which got her noticed by several publications.

Though seemingly non-traditional, these situations simply illustrate what universities have always done best, which is to serve as resource centers for society. Universities serve as points of collaboration, boasting pockets of world-class expertise and resources in very specific areas.

However, what Texas' recent higher education controversy has shown is the inherent difficulty in translating the intangible benefits of being a resource center into tangible, measurable outcomes. Having a premier conglomeration of top experts in the history of American foreign policy or housing the archives of David Foster Wallace are difficult to measure in dollars, cents and productivity hours.

This is at the root of the push to increase graduation rates. Institutions have significant administrative discretion to create policies that push students to graduate on time. Pledging to increase four- and six-year graduation rates is essentially an agreement between the university and the state that says, "We'll promise to take care of this as long as you promise to leave us alone."

The university's real focus should be on finding avenues for students and the community to tap into and contribute to the institution's rich resource centers. UT's Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium is a leader in experimenting with creative programs to connect students to those resources, but it would require greater support for it to flourish. The Texas Center for Education Policy works to bridge the gap between community and academia but is more of an exception than the norm. Engagement initiatives like these would enhance and broaden the student experience at the university and better equip it on its mission to work for the betterment of society.

Jobs and his dropout colleagues listed above happened to tap into the university resources that changed their lives - as well as all of ours. Jobs finished his Stanford commencement speech by quoting the last words published in the Whole Earth Catalog: "stay hungry, stay foolish." Students come into the university with both hunger and foolishness. Let's not let that go to waste.

Siddiqui, a journalism student at the University of Texas, wrote this on behalf of The Daily Texan Editorial Board.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Starting Early to Create City Teachers

It's good to see cities like Chicago questioning the disparity in teachers of color relative to student representation. What's important to note is that it's not just about increasing brown and black bodies. Rather, we need to be thinking about preparing teachers and equipping them with competencies beyond academic (book) skills.


Published: October 6, 2011

The gap between the number of minority teachers in Chicago’s public schools and minority student enrollment has widened over the last decade, but one school is working to change that by preparing the next generation of teachers.

At Wells Community Academy High School, where the racial breakdown of students is almost evenly split between African-Americans and Hispanics, more than 60 students are participating in a teacher training program that gets them to the front of the classroom years before most aspiring teachers.

Students enrolled in the Chicago Urban Teacher Academy at Wells participate in a four-year curriculum — in partnership with National Louis University — designed to focus on best practices in teaching. One day a week students work in classrooms at one of three nearby elementary schools — Peabody, Talcott or Moos. As soon as November, first-year students start conducting lessons, and will continue to do so throughout the four years.

Ernesto Matias, the principal at Wells, started the program two years ago, and now it has three groups of students — one in its second year, and two groups of freshmen.

Mr. Matias hopes that someday he can hire his own students as teachers.

“Not only have they familiarized themselves with the trade, but they will have the classroom experience too,” he said. “At the end of four years, they’ll really know if teaching is what they were meant to do.”

Research indicates that there is a persistent gap between the percentage of minority students and the percentage of minority teachers across the country. For example, according to state data, in 2000 45 percent of Chicago Public School teachers were white, 40 percent black and 11 percent Hispanic. In 2010, 50 percent of teachers were white, 29 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic.

Meanwhile, state data shows, in 2000 52 percent of Chicago students were black, 34 percent Hispanic and 10 percent white. In 2010, 45 percent of students were black, 42 percent were Hispanic and 9 percent were white.

Census numbers reflect the trend: the city’s black population has decreased significantly and the number of Hispanics has increased modestly over the last 10 years.

“Our students, a lot of them come from communities where there are not a ton of positive role models,” said Andrew Cengel, a teacher at Wells and an adjunct professor at National Louis. “It would be nice if, when they walked into a classroom, they saw someone who looks like them.”

Jesus Fegura, a freshman in the teaching program, said an elementary school teacher inspired him to become a teacher.

“He kept telling me not to join a gang, because then I wouldn’t go to college,” Jesus said. “He stopped me from growing up on the streets. I told myself, When I grow up, I want to be just like him.”

The graduation rate in Chicago’s public schools hovers just above 50 percent. The Wells program also aims to keep students engaged in school, making them less likely to drop out and more likely to attend college.

As Jesus put it, he and his classmates learn “how to like why you’re here.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Getting Serious About Teacher Evaluation: A fresh look at peer assistance and review

Getting Serious About Teacher Evaluation
A fresh look at peer assistance and review
By Julia E. Koppich & Daniel C. Humphrey

Good, summative quote:

"First, effective evaluation is about accountability and support. It is aimed both at improving teaching and ensuring only good teachers are in the classroom. Second, districts under increasing pressure to ratchet up the frequency and comprehensiveness of teacher evaluations confront an enormous capacity challenge. Who has the time and the knowledge to do this important work? PAR reminds us that at least part of the answer lies in the use of consulting teachers. Third, making tough decisions about individuals’ employment status is never easy. But it must be done, and done with care and rigor."

Through a collaborative labor-management structure like a PAR governance board, districts and their unions can make these high-stakes decisions in ways that are both fair and accountable.




Richard G. Santos

Traveling the State Highways, Farm to Market and county roads in the Winter Garden counties reinforces the saying that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. People driving through from Bexar to the Rio Grande or in the opposite direction are most likely to notice the great number of 18 wheelers and the damage they cause the roads. Newcomers to the area attracted by the Eagle Ford Oil Boom are sure to notice the many derricks, new metal buildings, company yards and pickups speeding back and forth to various worksites. Winter Garden residents have already noticed the many new faces, mobile homes, RVs and seeming price gouging at restaurants, convenient stores and small businesses.
All this, I also see today as I travel the State Highways, Farm to Market and county roads of the Winter Garden counties along both sides of Interstate 35. Yet these last ten years since moving to the area, I have learned to look beyond the surface and have discovered the rich historical, cultural, genealogical and natural beauty of the area. Often I have described it as a “land of plenty where no one needs to be hungry”. The wild game is plentiful. The drought resistant native edible plants are more than plentiful. And of late, I have been writing about the drought resistant medicinal herbs and plants native of the area. Such is the case with the much maligned, unappreciated and seemingly indestructible yet edible and nutritious mesquite.

Fray Vicente de Santa Maria (1755 – 1813) in his Relacion historica de la colonia del Nuevo Santander (annotated by Ernesto de la Torre Villar, Mexico City, 1973) gave an excellent insight into the usage of mesquite by the Native American cultures of the present Mexican state of Tamaulipas and South Texas. He noted the hunter-gatherer Native Americans ate the fruit of the mesquite when ripe. They also ground it to powder form and used it as a form of flour to produce mezquitamal. This was then mixed with water and used as a medicinal tea, tortillas or tamales. Years later Jean Louis Berlandier in his various 1828 – 1834 reports on the U.S. – Mexico Boundary Commission recorded the mesquite forest on the Laredo Road to Bexar and the Presidio del Rio Grande Road from Bexar to present Guerrero, Coahuila (Mexico City, 1854 and faulty English translation by the Texas Historical Association, Austin, 1980). Moreover, Berlandier’s Caza de oso y cibolo (Mexico City 1854) and John Ewers annotated translation of Berlandier’s The Indians of Texas in 1828 (Smithsonian, 1968) are excellent sources for the Native American cultures of South Texas and their lifestyle and dependence and usage of the mesquite.

Today many adult males in South Texas and the Winter Garden area recall eating the fruit of the mesquite in childhood. They correctly note the mesquite pod when ripe is sweet and although some adults today eat the pods at a whim, it is more frequently mixed with hay and fed to cattle. Last week Pearsall businessman Norman P surprised me by revealing his grandmother used to prepare and serve a medicinal mesquite tea. It seems the family gathered the ripe mesquite pods and ground them to powder-flour form. The powder-flour was used to prepare a medicinal tea to drink when a person had a cold, congested chest or flu-like symptoms. Norman also recalls his grandmother during winter having a pot of hot water on the stove with mesquite powder emitting vapors. He does not know what it was meant to do but we surmised it was probably a form of humidifier such as some people in the past used and many still do today when they place a pot of hot water with Vicks on the stove to help people with breathing, sinus or allergy problems. As a sidebar, some people use a large onion to prepare an onion-tea for the same purpose.

Nutritionists today tell us the Mesquite bean can be ground and mixed with wheat flour produces a sweet jelly, wine or nutty-tasting bread, pancakes, muffins cookies and cakes. Meanwhile, the leaves of the mesquite can be boiled and used as eye drops and especially against pink-eye! Of course most people in South Texas and the Winter Garden area use pieces of mesquite wood to add flavor to their outdoor barbecuing. Most important is the discovery that “mesquite is extremely effective in controlling sugar levels” by people with diabetes! This is due to the fact that mesquite is low in carbohydrates and fat, low-glycemic, and high in dietary fiber. The ground mesquite flour can also be used to treat athlete’s feet and fungus infections.

Moreover, some use the gum or resin of the mesquite for sores, burns wounds, chapped lips and sunburn. Equally surprising the bark of the mesquite can be used to stop excessive menstrual bleeding, reduced fevers and dissolve kidney stones! The same mesquite gum or resin can also be used as a treatment for coughs, sore throat, mouth sores, painful teeth and gums and to rid a person of lice. The same can also be used to sooth intestinal pain after bouts of diarrhea, dysentery and food poisoning.
As always stated in reporting the medicinal herbs of the Winter Garden area and South Texas, WE DO NOT RECOMMEND OR ENCOURAGE THE USE, PREPARATION OR CONSUMPTION OF SAID PLANTS AND HERBS BUT MERELY REPORT ON THEIR USAGE AND NUTRITIONAL AND MEDICINAL VALUE. However, it seems as we have forgotten what the Native American cultures taught the early Spanish colonists, and later the Anglo American settlers, regarding the nutritional and health value and importance of the medicinal herbs, plants that proliferate the Winter Garden area and South Texas. So we ask our readers to look around and consider the importance and God given beauty of the naturally drought resistant plants, medicinal herbs and trees native our environment. In other words, look beyond the surface and also look back at past generations and learn to appreciate that which the Creator has bestowed upon us.

Zavala County Sentinel ………. 12 – 13 October 2011

Burr NCLB Bill Would Consolidate 59 Education Programs

By Alyson Klein | Ed Week
October 3, 2011

Despite new momentum lately, it doesn't look like Congress will get around to renewing the No Child Left Behind Act by the end of this year. But it's (almost) a sure bet that lawmakers will be looking to reshape the programs in the U.S. Department of Education, either by eliminating some, or by consolidating smaller programs into broader funding streams.

There are obviously lots of way to tackle consolidation. The administration and House Republicans have each sketched out their plans.

And late last month, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., introduced a bill that would streamline nearly 60 education programs into two broad formula grants. One would be aimed at improving teaching and learning, and the other would seek to bolster student health and safety.

Districts could take money out of the pot aimed at improving teaching and learning and shift it to the one aimed at improving student health and safety, and vice-versa. They could also take money from those two programs and shift it into Title I grants for districts, which help cover the cost of educating disadvantaged kids.

But, importantly, districts would not be allowed to take money out of Title I grants for disadvantaged students and put it in either of the other two programs. And other funding aimed specifically at special populations of students would be protected. Districts would not be allowed to move around money aimed at migrant students; ;neglected or delinquent students; English-language learners; Indian, Native Alaskan, or Hawaiian students; homeless students; rural education; or impact aid.

Under the Burr bill, the Fund for the Improvement of Teaching and Learning would focus on helping districts recruit and train teachers and principals. The money also could be used to boost instruction in reading, math, science, social studies, the arts, and other subjects. And the Safe and Healthy Students program would bolster after-school programs, physical education, counseling, emergency preparedness, and parent engagement.

The Teaching and Learning program would combine other targeted programs including Improving Teacher Quality State grants, the Math and Science partnerships, Foreign Language Assistance, Transition to Teaching, the Teacher Incentive Fund, Teaching American History, School Leadership, Advanced Placement, Ready-to-Learn Television, Excellence in Economic Education, Arts in Education, Cooperative Education Exchange, and Smaller Learning Communities.

The Safe and Healthy Student program would consolidate programs including the 21st Century Community Afterschool Program, Safe and Drug-Free Schools, Alcohol Abuse Reduction, Physical Education, Promise Neighborhoods, and the Fund for the Improvement of Education (which is often used for lawmakers' pet projects).

All of the money in these new, broad programs would go out by formula—districts wouldn't have to compete for it.

These kinds of changes are always controversial. Some folks like the idea of more flexibility, particularly in tight budget times. Others worry that particular strategies funded by individual programs (such as afterschool programs) will go by the wayside if districts aren't directed to spend money on them. And nearly every program in the department has at least one congressional champion.

Burr isn't the first to come up an idea for streamlining the department. The Obama administration included a plan for consolidation in its blueprint for revising the NCLB law (the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act), which was released back in March 2010. The administration included a similar proposal in its most recent budget request, which sought to combine 38 programs into 11 broader funding streams, many of which would be allocated competitively. (That's one big difference from the Burr bill, which would use formula, not competitive funds.)

And over the summer, the House Education and the Workforce Committee approved a pair of bills aimed at streamlining the department and providing funding flexibility. One bill would scrap more than 40 education programs, including many of those that Burr would slate for consolidation.

The other would give districts lots more leeway to transfer federal funds from one program to another. For instance, a district could take money aimed at homeless kids and spend it on teacher training, if it felt that was the best way to use it. Advocates for school superintendents like that bill, but civil rights advocates attacked it, saying it could divert money from the kids most at risk.

The Burr bill would appear to side-step that particular issue, since districts couldn't take money out of programs meant for a particular group of students (such as English-language learners) or out of Title I grants for districts.

NEA Likes Senate GOP's Bill to Overhaul NCLB

By Alyson Klein | Ed Week
October 5, 2011

Count the National Education Association as a fan (for the most part) of the No Child Left Behind Act renewal bill put forth last month by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former Secretary of Education who has often clashed with the union.

The NEA sent a letter to Alexander telling him how much it likes his take on how best to renew the NCLB law (the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act).

In particular, the union is in favor of the accountability provisions in the bill, which would largely leave decisions about how to fix all but the bottom 5 percent of schools to states. The Alexander bill would also offer addtional options for states seeking to turn around struggling schools. (NEA isn't such a fan of the current menu put forth by the Obama administration.)

"Many of your proposed changes mirror those NEA has long sought," write Kim Anderson, the union's director of government relations, and Mary Kusler, the manager of federal advocacy.

The union also likes the fact that the bill would maintain disagreggated data (breaking out student performance by subgroup), and allow for multiple measures to demonstrate student achivement.

Probably most interestingly:The union gave a thumbs-up to the teacher-quality provisions in the bill. Alexander would keep in place incentives for performance pay through an existing program, the Teacher Incentive Fund, but he wouldn't require districts to go that route.

"We commend you for recognizing that teacher evaluations are best done collaboratively and at the local level," Anderson and Kusler write.

But NEA has some beef with parts of the legislation, including the elimination of the so-called "savings clause" which the union says protects collective-bargaining rights. It's also not so thrilled with what it sees as lack of accountabilty for charter schools, and proposals that would block grant money for teacher quality and school safety.

We'll have to wait until Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate education committee, releases his bill (maybe as soon as next week) to see what the NEA thinks of his vision for ESEA's future.

Bennet to Introduce Teacher Prep, ARPA-ED Amendments

By Alyson Klein | Ed Week
October 10, 2011

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., a former Denver schools chief, arrived in Congress hoping to bring his on-the-ground expertise working in a large school district to ESEA reauthorization. This week, he'll have the chance when Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduces his ESEA reauthorization plan.

Sen. Bennet helped push for language in the bill that would:

• Close the comparability loophole. (Bennet has his own bill on this, and the language in a draft being widely circulated around Capitol Hill is fairly similar.)

• Codify Race to the Top, the Investing in Innovation Fund, and Promise Neighborhoods.

• Authorize the Teacher Incentive Fund, which doles out grants to performance pay programs.

• Create career ladders for teachers.

• Eliminate set-asides for tutoring and school choice.

Bennet plans to introduce amendments that would:

• Put in place the GREAT Act, a teacher training bill. This would gives states the option to hold their teacher training programs accountable for producing educators who demonstrate the ability to boost student achievement before they graduate. In exchange for their participation in the program, academies would be exempt from regulations that are "burdensome," "input based," and "unrelated to student achievement." More here.

• Create ARPA-ED, a research program modeled on DARPA. More background here.

• Establish a competitive grant program for principal training programs, to help train leaders who can oversee turnarounds. More background here. Elements of that proposal are sprinkled throughout the bill.

• Establish the Commission on Effective Regulation and Assessment to take a look at school district red tape. More background here.

• Make changes to the Troops-to-Teachers program.

Subgroup Accountability at Issue in ESEA Renewal

By Alyson Klein | Ed Week
October 11, 2011

The National Council of La Raza, which advocates for English-language learners, is worried about the potential impact of language in a widely circulated draft of a Senate plan to reauthorize the nation's main education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The language calls for states to ensure that schools are making continuous improvement, but they would not have to set student performance targets toward a specific goal, as they do now under the current version of ESEA—the No Child Left Behind Act. The changes also would allow states to decide which interventions to use in all but the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools and schools with persistent achievement gaps (as defined by the state).

"We haven't seen the bill, but in general, we would be concerned about having no progress targets," said Raul Gonzalez, the director of legislative affairs for La Raza. "We've worked with Mr. Harkin (chairman of the Senate education committee) on a lot of issues. We know that he has the interest of all kids at heart. And so we hope the bill that emerges out of committee is one that has some solid targets and has some authentic accountability."

Gonzalez is worried about a trend he sees—in the Obama administration's NCLB waiver package, and in details that have been released about Sen. Tom Harkin's, D-Iowa, ESEA reauthorization plan—toward backing away from the federal government's role in looking out for particular subgroups of students.

Gonzalez is worried that there doesn't appear to be a clear mechanism in the Senate plan to ensure that schools follow through on their school improvement plans.

"Clearly NCLB was a kind of high-water mark as far as accountability [for all students]. ... I think we're moving in the reverse direction," he said. Without strong accountability, "we'll have two education systems, one for poor and minority kids" and one for other kids.

Under the draft language circulating in Washington, the federal accountability system would change to put a strong emphasis on the 5 percent lowest performing schools, and on schools with the largest achievement gaps, including between subgroup students (such as racial minorities) and others. But states would get much broader leeway over accountability in most schools.

Gonzalez said he's working with Harkin's Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to tighten up the bill's accountability provisions.

"We hope that [the bill] ends up in a place where we can support it," he said.

Since Senate staff members are still putting the finishing touches on the bill, there could be changes before it is officially dropped. And Gonzalez noted that there are several members of the committee he thinks are champions for low-income students who might be willing to work for improving the bill for subgroups, including Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Al Franken, D-Minn, as well as Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

Gonzalez's take echoes the concerns of Charlie Barone, the director of federal legislation for Democrats for Education Reform. Taken together, the comments point to dissatisfaction in the civil rights community with the Senate plan's accountability provisions. Those concerns are also expressed in a letter sent by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights to committee leaders in April.

For more background on the issue of subgroup accountability, check out this story.

Civil Rights, Disability Groups Trash Harkin NCLB Bill

By Alyson Klein | Ed Week
October 11, 2011

Advocates for poor and minority students, students with disabilities, and others sent a letter to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., expressing deep concerns with legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act put forth today.

The groups, including the National Council of La Raza, the Education Trust, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said the bill would mean that:

"Congress, parents, tax-payers would have no meaningful mechanism by which to hold schools, districts, or states accountable for improving outcomes at the pace our economy demands. ... It is not the federal government's role to dictate how states, districts, or educators get their students to higher levels of success. But the federal government must—in exchange for scarce financial resources—be firm, ambitious, and unequivocal in its demands for higher achievement, high school graduation, and gap closing."

This is a big deal, because, while these groups are non-partisan, they tend to back Democrats when it comes to many policy decisions. Apparently, this time is an exception.

"It is deeply disappointing that a Republican president could be more forceful on gap-closing than is the democratic chairman of the [Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions] committee," said Amy Wilkins, the vice president for government affairs and communications at the Education Trust.

The Education Trust won't be supporting the bills. "It makes us really sad," said Wilkins. "There's some good stuff in there. But it's undercut by the lack of goals. That's a total deal breaker."

Wilkins added that there are possible options for bringing achievement targets into the bill. One approach, she said, is in the administration's waiver plan, which gives states three options for setting goals for their accountability systems.

Another option is a bill sponsored by Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats from Colorado, based on their home state's growth model.

At the time that legislation was released, the Obama administration gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up. "Fixing NCLB's broken accountability system is one of the most important things we can do as a country," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement released earlier this month. "We need to be able to measure students based on their growth and progress, not one test taken on a single day. I thank both Senator Udall for his thoughtful leadership on this issue and Senator Bennet, who has been a tireless advocate for education—both as Denver superintendent and in the U.S. Senate. I look forward to working with both of them on this critical issue."

Harkin said on a conference call today that the progress targets were stripped, in part, to keep the bill bipartisan. And he said that most states have adopted college-and-career ready standards, which will ensure a high bar.

But advocates aren't sure the trade was worthwhile.

"He made a lot of concessions to get Enzi," Wilkins said. "The question to me is how bipartisan is this if Alexander introduced [his own bill]. ... I question how possible bipartisanship is, given the Alexander bills," she said, referring to a package of bills introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and other Republicans on the education committee.

The ESEA bill is sponsored by Harkin. Enzi has been negotiating with him on the issues for months, but is not officially a sponsor of the legislation. Enzi is anticipating a bipartisan markup, according to his aide.

Senate ESEA Draft Bill Would Scrap Adequate Yearly Progress

By Alyson Klein | Ed Week
October 11, 2011

The accountability system at the heart of the No Child Left Behind Act would be completely reinvented under a draft reauthorization proposal released today by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

The measure, which is already being decried by civil rights groups as a giant step backwards when it comes to accountability for poor and minority children, would scrap the 10-year-old law's signature yardstick, known as Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP. Instead, states would have to ensure that all students are making "continuous improvement" in student outcomes.

There would be no specific achievement targets, either for entire groups of students, or for particular subgroups, such as minority students, English-language learners, or students with disabilities. In the vast majority of cases, states would decide how—and whether—to intervene in schools.

The long-awaited bill also would:

* Codify the Race to Top, Investing in Innovation, and Promise Neighborhood programs, all top Obama administration reform initiatives.

* Require states to set college- and career-readiness standards, either with other states or alone.

* Largely keep the law's testing system in place, but eliminate the 2013-14 deadline for bringing all students to proficiency in math and reading.

* Require states to develop new teacher evaluation systems.

States also would be required to identify the 5 percent of lowest-performing high schools, as well as elementary and middle schools. There would be more intensive interventions for those schools, as well as for so-called "dropout factories"—high schools with graduation rates below 60 percent.

'Compromises' Made

Sen. Harkin said he would have liked to have had achievement targets in the bill, but scrapped them in part to keep the measure bipartisan. He has been negotiating on the measure with Sen. Michael B. Enzi, the top GOP lawmaker on the committee, for months.

"That was one of the compromises," Sen. Harkin told reporters today. He said the moment is right for a move away from achievement targets in part because nearly all states have signed onto the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which were developed by the Council of Chief State Schools Officers and the National Governors Association. That means that all states will be striving to hit a high bar, he said.

Sen. Harkin also said he was comfortable with leaving achievement targets out of the bill in part because CCSSO has committed to adopt "performance goals" in their statement of principles for next-generation accountability systems.

"There's a subtle shift here," Sen. Harkin. "We are moving into a partnership role with the states." Sen. Harkin said the strength of the bill was that it "focuses on teaching and learning, not testing and sanctioning."

The legislation comes less than a month after the Obama administration released a package of waivers to give states flexibility under the current NCLB law if they are willing to embrace certain reform priorities. The administration said the waiver package was put in place in part because Congress could not reach agreement on reauthorization.

Sen. Harkin said the proposed legislation would work better than waivers, because all states would have the same expectations, rather than being offered flexibility on a case-by-case basis.

Accountability Changes

The draft would keep in place the law's requirement that states continue to report information on specific subgroups of students. And the law's testing schedule for reading and math—grades 3 through 8 and once in high school—would remain the same.

But the draft would permit states to use either one comprehensive test at the end of the year, or interim assessments to measure progress. That would be a shift from current law, under which states generally use just one test each for reading and math.

States also would have to identify the 5 percent of schools with the biggest achievement gaps between subgroup students and other students, and develop a plan for addressing the problem. Districts with achievement gap schools that aren't able to close their gaps would lose the ability to get a leg-up in federal funding competitions.

Schools identified in the bottom 5 percent would be subject to intensive interventions similar to the four options spelled out it in the regulations for the School Improvement Grant program. But there would be some changes and some additional options. For instance, under the strategy known as "turnaround" schools could keep 65 percent of their teachers on the job (right now, it's 50 percent). And under the "restart" option, a school could choose to convert to a charter school (as under current law) or become a magnet school (that's a new option.)

Schools also would be permitted to employ a "whole school" turnaround. They would have to partner with an organization that has a proven track record of success, as demonstrated by rigorous research, according to a committee aide.

Or they could employ a "strategic staffing" model, similar to a strategy used in the Charlotte-Mecklenberg, N.C., school district, in which principals were permitted to bring in a certain number of staff members they thought could help change the climate of a school.

Schools that aren't able to turn around within five years would have to switch to one of the more dramatic models (either close down or restart).

Teacher Evaluations

The legislation also would direct states to develop teacher and principal evaluation systems based on multiple factors, including student achievement and classroom observations.

Evaluations would not need to incorporate "value-added" testing, but states would need to have at least four levels of ratings.

Schools would have to use the evaluations to inform professional development, but not necessarily to help make personnel decisions. That would be a shift from the administration's waiver package, which specifies that evaluations have to be used for personnel purposes, although the waiver guidance is silent about whether that would specifically entail hiring, firing, and pay bonuses.


Sen. Enzi continues to work with Sen. Harkin and is expecting a bipartisan markup of the ESEA language on Oct. 18. It was unclear, however, whether other Senate GOP lawmakers will vote for the proposal.

A separate ESEA reauthorization bill introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., would let teacher evaluations be a state and local decision. The National Education Association, a 3.2 million member union, praised that move in a letter sent to Sen. Alexander's office.

Behind the scenes, some Republicans were quick to dismiss the legislation.

"The only reason anyone other than Enzi would support the bill is to get it out of committee and on the floor and away from [Sen.] Tom Harkin," said a senior Republican aide. "Every little itch has been scratched on the Democratic side of the aisle. ... This bill is worse than NCLB. It's different and it's worse."

The Republican aide criticized language in the proposal would require states to strive for "continuous improvement in student progress" for all schools in the state. States would have to submit their accountability plans to the U.S. Secretary of Education. Those plans would have to address both achievement-gap schools and the lowest-performing schools.

That would "essentially keep the federal model, 'We're in charge of all your schools,'" the aide said. "They shouldn't have to send their goals and plans to Washington to get them approved by [civil rights organizations] and [Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan."

The aide added that the Harkin bill would no longer require schools to offer public choice or tutoring, which would mean "getting rid of the only sanctions [under current law] that work."

Civil Rights Groups Concerned

Civil rights advocates are also unhappy with the legislation.

"Clearly NCLB was a kind of high-water mark as far as accountability [for all students]. ... I think we're moving in the reverse direction," said Raul Gonzalez, the director of legislative affairs for the National Council of La Raza, which advocates for students of Hispanic descent and English-language learners. Without strong accountability, "we'll have two education systems, one for poor and minority kids" and one for others.

In fact, a group of civil rights and disabilities organizations sent a letter to Harkin and Enzi expressing their concerns about the bill's impact on subgroup students. Read the whole thing here.

And one civil rights advocate said that children in subgroups—such as ELLs and students with disabilities—would actually be better off under the administration's waiver package, which calls for more specific actions on the part of states when it comes to closing the achievement gap.

But the measure won good early reviews from some senior committee members. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., helped draft language that would create a comprehensive literacy program, as well as sections of the bill that deal with career pathways for high-school students.

"This legislation builds on what is working in our schools, and it gives states and districts the tools and flexibility they need to offer every student the opportunity to get the education and skills they need to fill the jobs of the 21st century," she said in a statement.

Sen. Murray is planning push for amendments that would improve data collection for at-risk populations, as well as language that would retool provisions for early-childhood education and homeless students.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., considered the administration's closest ally on K-12 issues, helped put in place language that would require districts to take teachers' salaries into account when determining Title I allocations for high-poverty schools. He's planning to offer amendments to give states the option of revamping their teacher-education programs, and to help prepare turnaround principals, among others.

And Secretary Duncan gave the draft an early thumbs-up.

"A bipartisan bill will not have everything that everyone wants, but it must build on our common interests: high standards; flexibility for states, school districts and schools; and a more focused federal role that promotes equity, accountability and reform," he said in a statement. "This bill is a very positive step toward a reauthorization that will provide our students and teachers with the support they need, and I salute Senators Harkin and Enzi for their good work and their bipartisan approach."