Monday, September 30, 2013

Feds grant Texas No Child Left Behind waiver

Feds grant Texas No Child Left Behind waiver

By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press : September 30, 2013 : Updated: September 30, 2013 6:01pm
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The U.S. Education Department on Monday excused Texas from the most strenuous requirements of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, granting the state a reprieve from some of the standardized testing-based accountability standards it helped pioneer.

The department said it issued a waiver in exchange for a state plan to prepare students for college and career, focus aid on the neediest students and support effective teaching and leadership.

Forty-one states and the District of Columbia have been issued similar waivers, but none may carry the symbolic importance of Texas' waiver. The law was the signature education initiative of President George W. Bush, who modeled many of the changes it implemented nationwide on the practices of his home state while he was Texas' governor.

No Child Left Behind took effect in 2002 with the goal of making all children proficient in math and reading by 2014. The program's benchmarks have gotten harder to reach each year, and federal education officials suggested that waivers would give states more leeway to improve how they prepare and evaluate students.

Despite being up for renewal since 2007, Congress hasn't addressed the law, prompting the Obama administration to issue waivers.

Read on here.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Charter School Gravy Train Runs Express To Fat City

Quote from within:
Too bad the kids in charter schools don’t learn any better than those in plain-vanilla public schools. Stanford University crunched test data from 26 states. About a quarter of charters delivered better reading scores, but more than half produced no improvement, and 19% had worse results. In math, 29% of the charters delivered better math scores, while 40% showed no difference, and 31% fared worse.



Charter School Gravy Train Runs Express To Fat City

On Thursday, July 25, dozens of bankers, hedge fund types and private equity investors gathered in New York to hear about the latest and greatest opportunities to collect a cut of your property taxes. Of course, the promotional material for the Capital Roundtable’s conference on “private equity investing in for-profit education companies” didn’t put it in such crass terms, but that’s what’s going on.
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 26:  Parents of student...
(Getty Images via @daylife)

Charter schools are booming. “There are now more than 6,000 in the United States, up from 2,500 a decade ago, educating a record 2.3 million children,” according to Reuters.

Charters have a limited admissions policy, and the applications can be as complex as those at private schools. But the parents don’t pay tuition; support comes directly from the school district in which the charter is located.   They’re also lucrative, attracting players like the specialty real estate investment trust EPR Properties EPR -1.02% (EPR). Charter schools are in the firm’s $3 billion portfolio along with retail space and movie megaplexes.

Charter schools are frequently a way for politicians to reward their cronies. In Ohio, two firms operate 9% of the state’s charter schools and are collecting 38% of the state’s charter school funding increase this year. The operators of both firms donate generously to elected Republicans
The Arizona Republic found that charters “bought a variety of goods and services from the companies of board members or administrators, including textbooks, air conditioning repairs and transportation services.” Most charters were exempt from a requirement to seek competitive bids on contracts over $5,000

In Florida, the for-profit school industry flooded legislative candidates with $1.8 million in donations last year. “Most of the money,” reports The Miami Herald, “went to Republicans, whose support of charter schools, vouchers, online education and private colleges has put public education dollars in private-sector pockets.”

Among the big donors: the private equity firm Apollo Group APOL -0.7%, the outfit behind the for-profit University of Phoenix, which has experimented with online high schools. Apollo dropped $95,000 on Florida candidates and committees.

Lest you get the idea charter schools are a “Republican” thing, they’re also favored by big-city Democrats. This summer, 23 public schools closed for good in Philadelphia — about 10% of the total — to be replaced by charters. Charters have a history in Washington, D.C., going back to 1996.
And they were favored by Arne Duncan when he ran Chicago Public Schools. Today, he’s the U.S. secretary of education. In 2009, Duncan rolled out the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative, doling out $4.4 billion in federal money to the states — but only to those states that lifted their caps on the number of charter schools.

Too bad the kids in charter schools don’t learn any better than those in plain-vanilla public schools. Stanford University crunched test data from 26 states. About a quarter of charters delivered better reading scores, but more than half produced no improvement, and 19% had worse results. In math, 29% of the charters delivered better math scores, while 40% showed no difference, and 31% fared worse.

Unimpressive, especially when you consider charter schools can pick and choose their students — weeding out autistic kids, for example, or those whose first language isn’t English. Charter schools in the District of Columbia are expelling students for discipline problems at 28 times the rate of the district’s traditional public schools — where those “problem kids” are destined to return.
Nor does the evidence show that charters spend taxpayers’ money more efficiently. Researchers from Michigan State and the University of Utah studied charters in Michigan, finding they spent $774 more per student on administration, and $1,140 less on instruction.

About the only thing charters do well is limit the influence of teachers’ unions. And fatten their investors’ portfolios.

In part, it’s the tax code that makes charter schools so lucrative: Under the federal “New Markets Tax Credit” program that became law toward the end of the Clinton presidency, firms that invest in charters and other projects located in “underserved” areas can collect a generous tax credit — up to 39% — to offset their costs.

So attractive is the math, according to a 2010 article by Juan Gonzalez in the New York Daily News, “that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.”

It’s not only wealthy Americans making a killing on charter schools. So are foreigners, under a program critics call “green card via red carpet.”

“Wealthy individuals from as far away as China, Nigeria, Russia and Australia are spending tens of millions of dollars to build classrooms, libraries, basketball courts and science labs for American charter schools,” says a 2012 Reuters report.

The formal name of the program is EB-5, and it’s not only for charter schools. Foreigners who pony up $1 million in a wide variety of development projects — or as little as $500,000 in “targeted employment areas” — are entitled to buy immigration visas for themselves and family members.
“In the past two decades,” Reuters reports, “much of the investment has gone into commercial real estate projects, like luxury hotels, ski resorts and even gas stations. Lately, however, enterprising brokers have seen a golden opportunity to match cash-starved charter schools with cash-flush foreigners in investment deals that benefit both.”

So how can you, as a retail investor, grab a piece of this? How can you reclaim some of your property tax dollars from the fat cats?

As with many other instances of “extraction”… good luck.

Sure, you could buy shares of the aforementioned EPR Properties. Unfortunately, you’re buying strip malls and ski parks along with charter schools. It’s not a “pure play.”

The history of publicly traded charter school firms is limited and ugly. Edison Schools traded publicly from 1999-2003. During that period, it reported one profitable quarter. Shares reached nearly $40 in early 2001… only to crash to 14 cents.

“There’s a risk to taking education to Wall Street,” says Education Week — “one that helps explain why so few publicly traded companies cater to the educational needs of students in elementary, middle and high school.”

That risk is spotlighted by the only pure play currently trading on a U.S. exchange. In December 2007, just as the “Great Recession” got underway, K12 Inc. went public under the ticker symbol LRN.

It has proven, at best, a trading vehicle.
<span class=K12 Inc.

Share prices hit nearly a four-year low in December 2012 when The New York Times published an expose on a K12 online charter school venture. Nearly 60% of its students are below grade level in math, and 50% in reading. One-third don’t graduate on schedule.

The story also revealed CEO Ronald Packard collected a salary in 2011 — $5 million — nearly double that of the previous year. And that his bonus is linked not to student performance, but to enrollment.

It’s a lot easier to escape this sort of scrutiny if your charter school venture is privately held — or, in the case of EPR, mixed in with other ventures that have nothing to do with education.
Well, I tried.

“I spend a great deal of time, money and resources looking for new investment ideas that you, dear reader, can act on independently,” I wrote in my Apogee Advisory, early in 2012… “Sometimes what I find instead is outrage.”

For now, the big money in charter schools is confined to those on the inside.  In late 2010, Goldman Sachs announced it would lend $25 million to develop 16 charter schools in New York and New Jersey. The news release said the loans would be “credit-enhanced by funds awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.”  Of course.

Friday, September 27, 2013

1982 Supreme Court decision in Texas case said public schools must educate non-citizen children

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Running for Texas land commissioner, Republican David Watts noted in a campaign email Sept. 16, 2013, that a big part of the job is managing public land to generate money for public schools. To make that money go farther, he said, Texas should use it only for educating children here legally.
"Unfortunately," Watts wrote, "the (U.S.) Supreme Court decided in 1982 (Plyler v. Doe) that non-citizen children of illegal immigrants (children born in another country and brought into the U.S. by their illegal immigrant parents) must be given a free K-12 education."
We wondered about the details of this 30-year-old decision in a Texas case that is sometimes compared to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education anti-segregation ruling but has "none of the same fame," as a Dallas Morning News retrospective news story said June 11, 2007.
"It is absent from Texas history lessons. … Yet the Plyler case has been used as a defense against countless proposals aiming to deny rights to illegal immigrants," the News story said, because it affirmed that a constitutional protection covered people who were illegally living in the United States.
Watts, a businessman who lives outside Longview, emailed us links to the Plyler opinion and analysis of it, plus a Dec. 5, 2010, Dallas Morning News news story that used data from the Pew Hispanic Center, state government and other sources to estimate that 3 percent of Texas schoolchildren in 2009 were in the United States illegally and educating them cost the state more than $1 billion per year.
Texas’ Legislature, the Plyler opinion said, changed state education law in 1975 to let school districts refuse entry to children who weren’t legal U.S. residents and to allow the state to hold back money being sent to districts to educate such students.
Two years later, Tyler’s school district began charging $1,000 tuition per year for children without legal documentation. A class-action lawsuit naming Tyler school superintendent James Plyler went to Judge William Wayne Justice’s U.S. District Court for Texas’ Eastern District. In his 1978 ruling, Justice, already known for groundbreaking decisions in civil rights cases, agreed with the plaintiffs that Texas’ law (and Tyler’s policy) broke the 14th Amendment "equal protection" guarantee that laws in the U.S. be applied to all people in the same way.
Undocumented children, Justice found, have the same right to attend public schools in Texas as U.S. citizens. His decision was upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then, in 1982, by the U.S. Supreme Court, which extended the right nationwide.
Texas had argued, in part, that illegal immigrants were not protected by the 14th Amendment. Justice found, and the Supreme Court affirmed, that though not citizens of the U.S., they were "within its jurisdiction," as the amendment puts it, and so effectively denying the children an education because of their illegal status was unconstitutional.
We checked Watts’ claim against the Supreme Court’s words.
Watts specified that the ruling applied to "non-citizen children of illegal immigrants (children born in another country and brought into the U.S. by their illegal immigrant parents)" and that the Supreme Court said they   "must be given a free K-12 education."
The parents’ legal status wasn’t at issue in this case, and how the children entered the country was raised in the legal debate -- typically it was held that the children were not responsible for breaking immigration law because their parents made the decisions -- but it also was not an essential part of the law or the court rulings.
The high court’s Plyler opinion begins, "The question presented by these cases is whether, consistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Texas may deny to undocumented school-age children the free public education that it provides to children who are citizens of the United States or legally admitted aliens."
K-12, kindergarten through 12th grade, spans elementary education plus middle school and high school, which is what Texas school districts provide at no cost to students, though families and others pay school-supporting taxes. Public state universities offer "higher" education, but charge tuition and also depend on tax-generated aid. (Texas and some other states, using logic similar to that in the Plyler decision, offer in-state tuition rates to non-citizens who graduated from the state’s public schools.)
Texas’ 1975 election law changes, as quoted in Justice’s opinion, said any child who was "a citizen of the United States or a legally admitted alien" could attend Texas districts’ public schools and benefit from state education dollars.
The Supreme Court decision, which was delivered by Justice William Brennan and frequently cited Justice’s findings, examined the parts of Texas’ argument that hinged on the children’s illegal status and concluded Texas had not proven it was justified in singling them out.
Texas argued it was in the state’s interest to keep resources focused on educating legal residents. In the Supreme Court opinion, Brennan wrote that because citizenship was a federal status, Texas’ law had to fit in with the purposes of federal laws. If Texas was claiming it would help keep illegal immigrants out of the U.S., Brennan said, then this education law was a poor way to achieve that. If Texas was claiming that these children imposed a financial burden that lowered the statewide quality of education, Brennan said, then it had failed to provide (as Justice wrote) "any credible evidence" that was so.
Finally, Brennan said, Texas appeared to be suggesting that these children were less likely to stay in the U.S. because of their legal status, meaning the state would not benefit from their future productivity -- so using their legal status as a criterion for keeping them out was justified. Brennan said Texas had no way to know whether any schoolchildren, legal or not, would use their education in Texas, and that "the record is clear" many non-citizen children would stay in the U.S.
"It is difficult to understand precisely what the state hopes to achieve by promoting the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime," he wrote.
"It is thus clear that whatever savings might be achieved by denying these children an education, they are wholly insubstantial in light of the costs involved to these children, the state, and the nation."
Brennan concluded, "If the State is to deny a discrete group of innocent children the free public education that it offers to other children residing within its borders, that denial must be justified by a showing that it furthers some substantial state interest. No such showing was made here. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals in each of these cases is affirmed."
Our ruling
Watts said the Supreme Court decided in 1982 that non-citizen children must get a free K-12 education. We rate his statement as True.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Elephant in the (Class)room

Saving languages, investing in early childhood education and turn our students into technological innovators can combat boredom and close the education gap

September 19, 2013
Millions of youngsters are heading back to school eager to start a new academic year. Many will thrive but too many will succumb to the epidemic of boredom threatening students in schools throughout our country. Boredom in schools – the opposite of the behavioral, cognitive and relational engagement that predicts long-term educational persistence and success, is surely behind the steady decline of our education system on the world stage. While we all have our favorite school, can recall an engaging teacher or a visionary principal, the system as a whole is not working.

Continue reading here.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Are Florida tests unfair to non-English-speaking students? Some say yes

Decades of research on bilingualism and biliteracy, as well as on the validity and fairness of these tests across diverse contexts that we know are further enmeshed in political and policy struggles where powerful interests and capital are concentrated—attest to this very question being more an issue of politics than evidence.

The narrative is what has to change, alongside narrative power. Both simultaneously. That is, we all must open ourselves to the wide, breathtaking diversity of experience, knowledge, and ways of knowing at the same time that we must honor the specific journeys that our communities have to take in their process, in their unfolding.


Are Florida tests unfair to non-English-speaking students? Some say yes

Lost in Translation

  • Wekiva High School junior Walfrank Pieiro shows off some of the awards he has won, on Tuesday, August 6, 2013. Walfrank, who has been in the United States after moving from Cuba about two years ago, is an honor roll student and star pitcher for his high school. An academic mentor of his thinks he would have passed if the test (FCAT) was translated into Spanish, as about a dozen other states do.
Wekiva High School junior Walfrank Pieiro shows off some of… (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda,…)
September 7, 2013|By Lauren Roth, Orlando Sentinel
Walfrank Piñeiro has been on the honor roll every semester since emigrating from Cuba two years ago. He's earned awards for academic excellence at the school, district and state level.
Despite the accolades, the 15-year-old has been unable to pass state exams in math, his strongest subject. He recently failed a retake of the crucial Algebra I exam by three points.
He has been tripped up repeatedly by word problems that educators concede measure reading as much as math skills.
"I think it should be just numbers," the Wekiva High junior said of the algebra test, which is a Florida graduation requirement. "We're talking about math."
In Florida, more than 250,000 students like Walfrank are considered English-language learners, third nationally behind California and Texas. But Texas and more than a dozen other states give students a chance to take state exams in their native language.
"These tests are not measuring, to the full extent, the students' knowledge of the content," said Charlene Rivera, research professor and executive director of George Washington University's Center for Equity and Excellence in Education.
As Florida and most other states head toward a shared curriculum called Common Core, parents, advocates and experts are pushing for new tests that will reflect what these students know more accurately than state exams like Florida's FCAT. The League of United Latin American Citizens, a national group, wants Spanish versions of these tests to be developed at the same time.
Federal law requires states to test nearly every English-language learner except those who have been in the country less than a year. And while Florida gives extra credit to districts where new English learners improve performance, the consequences of depressed scores can snowball to the school and district level.
Last year, 91 percent of English-language learners in Florida and in Orange County failed the 10th Grade Reading FCAT — including Walfrank Piñero. This is not a new problem. State data shows Florida's English-language learners have been struggling in English and math since at least 2004.
But the stakes are high for the state's 2.7 million English learners, including about 43,000 in Central Florida. Statewide, about 1 in 4 Hispanic students is considered an English learner.
Last year, a task force convened by the state Board of Education recommended changing the state's grading system to factor students' English proficiency levels into FCAT results. The recommendation was not adopted.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires states to test students in the language most likely to "yield valid results," when possible.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Stand Up for Science [in Texas]

SUFS 2013 line










Stand Up for Science:
Join Us at the Rally
or Sign Up to Testify on Sept. 17

All students deserve a science education that prepares them to succeed in college and the jobs of the 21st century. That's why at noon on Sept. 17 we will gather at the William B. Travis Building in Austin to tell the State Board of Education that Texas can succeed only if we ensure science based on sound, peer-reviewed scholarship is taught in our classrooms.

Use the form at right to let us know that, on Sept. 17, you will join us at the rally, would like to testify before the Board, or both.