"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Spellings Commission Recommendation for Testing DOA at Penn

I guess you could say it is DBA (Dead Before Arrival), since the final Report will not be released until September. From the Daily Pennsylvanian:
Students at Penn can exhale — it does not look like standardized testing is going to make it to the University’s agenda.

Even though a report released by the Department of Education in August has generated renewed conversation about the prospect of collegiate standardized testing, University administrators say that there is no need for such testing at Penn.

The report is the result of a year’s worth of investigation by the Commission on the Future of Higher Education — a group created by U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings last fall to study “unwarranted complacency about its future,” according to the report.

The commission identified accountability as one weakness facing colleges and universities across the country, and it proposed standardized testing as a remedy.

The report states that colleges should measure student learning through existing tests such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment. Schools using the CLA — which was developed by the Council for Aid to Education, which encourages private-sector support for education — test 100 freshmen and 100 seniors each year to measure the institution’s achievement in promoting skills like critical thinking, analytic reasoning and written communication.

Still, Penn administrators say that such tests would be meaningless for institutions of the University’s caliber.

University President Amy Gutmann said that if such tests were implemented at Penn, “students would do superbly when they came in, and superbly when they left, and it would be no measure of what they learned at Penn.”

Gutmann added that most Penn students demonstrate their critical thinking and analytic reasoning on other standardized tests—graduate school entrance exams like the MCATs and the LSATs.

Nevertheless, she said that accountability in higher education is crucial and pointed to the University’s high graduation rate as a better measure of the school’s competence and performance.

Other bodies in higher education have criticized the standardized testing recommendation as well.

Tony Pals, spokesperson for the advocacy group National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said the group stands by a letter its president wrote to the commission, which criticizes the recommendation for giving “the impression that it is possible to compare one institution with all others” . . . .

To: All Water Carriers for the Spellings Commission on Higher Ed

Dr. Thomas Hochstettler, President of Lewis and Clark University, can lay claim to many interests and areas of expertise: Military historian, efficiency expert, Germanophile, college president, and most recently, as evidenced by his commentary in WaPo, water carrier for the Bush plan to meddle in managing higher education. Unlike many of his colleagues who are concerned with the Spellings Commission's dream to develop a database that will track students from pre-K through college and into the work place, Dr. Hochstettler is impressed with the
potential for a robust (and privacy-protected) set of metrics that would yield essential data with tremendous potential for advancing our individual institutions and for identifying with greater precision those areas where our national education policy needs to be strengthened. Where some see the specter of government intrusion, I see the possibility of transforming our current separate data-reporting schemes into a streamlined system that is beneficial to students and useful to faculty and administrators.
Yes, yes, our national education policy. Hmm, I wonder if Dr. Hochstettler has any concerns about the control of that "national education policy" in higher education, something that thus far has a successful history of decentralized autonomy and diversity that has made American higher education the envy of the world. Does he know that these "reformers" are the same ones who have done the recent crafting of "national education policy" in K-12? Does he ever wake up a three in the morning wondering what his university would be like if Chuck Miller or Margaret Spellings or Dick Cheney or, my God, G. W. Bush had the power to intervene in university matters that are none of their incompetent business? Or is Dr. Hochstettler comfortable with the dream of Washington's corporate welfare artists, who are the real policymakers today, to turn the university into R & D reform schools that will regularly receive their piecework research assignments from corporate efficiency experts whose offers can hardly be refused? Does Professor Hochstettler know what the need for autonomy means as it exists outside the demands of the corporate state?

If these unanswered, or un-asked, questions are not enough to make you wonder about Dr. Hochstettler's connection to the real world, try this steeple-climbing conclusion:
At a time when hard experience has taught the public to question institutions that once enjoyed their implicit trust, a new ethos is beginning to take hold in higher education. "Openness" and "transparency" are the new buzzwords. . . . Will we open ourselves to scrutiny and assessment, or will we continue to keep the public at arm's length? Will openness, transparency and accountability be revealed as mere cliches, or can we embrace them as values that can influence for the better who we are and how we pursue our missions? Do we have it in us to live up to our historical commitment to open inquiry?
Dr. Hochstettler, if I may address you directly: There has never been another Executive Power in the history of this country that has approached the levels of hoarded secrecy as this one in Washington today, the same one now clamoring to control the records, academic and otherwise, of every American. This Administration's disdain for its own oversight and its repudiation of calls within its own government for accountability are breathtaking by any American standard. And transparency? Margaret Spellings only knows the ones she puts on her overhead projector when she takes her Rovian script on the road.

I am convinced that "living up to our historical commitment to open inquiry" requires nothing less than the repudiation of the current federal-corporarte reform efforts that, indeed, are the biggest threat to that open inquiry commitment to which you refer.

UPDATE (09/01/06):
The New York Times today reports this story, a relevant addendum it would seem:

The Federal Education Department shared personal information on hundreds of student loan applicants with the Federal Bureau of Investigation across a five-year period that began after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the agencies said yesterday.

Under the program, called Project Strikeback, the Education Department received names from the F.B.I. and checked them against its student aid database, forwarding information. Each year, the Education Department collects information from 14 million applications for federal student aid.

Neither agency would say whether any investigations resulted. The agencies said the program had been closed. The effort was reported yesterday by a graduate student, Laura McGann, at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, as part of a reporting project that focused on national security and civil liberties.

. . . . “This operation Strikeback confirms our worst fears about the uses to which these databases can be put,” said David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents 900 institutions. “The concentration of all this data absolutely invites use by other agencies of data that had been gathered for very specific and narrow purposes, namely the granting of student aid to needy kids.” . . . .

Texas Gubernatorial Candidates Take TAKS to Task

The Texas Miracle, that fraudulent domestic adventure that inspired a nation to destroy its schools, is now propped up by Bush clone, Rick Perry, who must run on it this Fall. As reported here, it will be on voters' minds as they elect a governor in November. Here's a bit of the story from the Austin American-Statesman:

Here's a poll in the governor's race you can take to the bank: 80 percent of the candidates disapprove of the way Texas is using standardized tests.

Some of the details about what they would do instead are fuzzy, but Gov. Rick Perry's four challengers say the state needs to scale back its emphasis on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. They say the statewide test restricts teachers and puts undue pressure on students.

Candidates for governor also are talking about teacher pay, dropouts prevention and school vouchers. But their testing platforms would go furthest to shake up the state's $35 billion-per-year public education system.

"At some point, we're going to have to move away from the overall punitive nature of what we're doing in public schools," Democratic nominee Chris Bell said.

If voters go along, they'll change course on an issue that helped propel the previous governor to the White House six years ago. . . .

Perry declined to elaborate on his education agenda for the next four years, saying he would do so later.

"Let's just let it go in saying that we will continue to have public education, K through 16, at the forefront of the efforts that we make legislatively," he said. . .

I wonder why Perry won't talk about his voucher plan or his plan to fund Texas schools based on test scores. Is he planning to wait until later, maybe after the election, before the "forefront of the efforts" is detailed?

A poll earlier this year (pdf) showed that 56% of respondents believed there was too much emphasis on testing in Texas. It also showed that 58% of Texans support pay raises for all teachers, rather than the Perry scheme to reward some teachers for higher test scores. Sixty-four percent of respondents supported increased funding for public education.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Kenneth Starr's Pro Bono Work for Speech Suppression

I wonder who's really paying the tab for this. Maybe a discretionary grant from ED?:

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- Former Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take up Alaska's "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case, a dispute involving a high school student, a banner and a tough school policy.

Starr, who gained national prominence while investigating former President Clinton's Whitewater land deal and relationship with Monica Lewinsky, filed the petition Monday on behalf of the Juneau School District in response to a March ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appeals court sided with a high school student who displayed a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" during an Olympic torch relay in 2002. It ruled former Juneau-Douglas High School principal Deborah Morse violated former student Joseph Frederick's free speech rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court petition must receive a minimum of four of the nine justices' votes to be heard.

Frederick, then a senior, was off school property when he hoisted the banner but was suspended for violating the school's policy of promoting illegal substances at a school-sanctioned event.

"The principal's actions were so outrageous, basically leaving school grounds and punishing a student for a message that is not damaging to the school," said his attorney, Doug Mertz.

Superintendent Peggy Cowan said clarification is needed on the rights of administrators when it comes to disciplinary action of students who break the district's drug message policy.

"The district's decision to move forward is not disrespectful to the First Amendment or the rights of students," she said. "This is an important question about how the First Amendment applies to pro-drug messages in an educational setting."

Starr, of the Los Angeles-based firm Kirkland & Ellis, took the case pro bono.

The outcome could have implications on how student-conduct policies are enforced around the nation, said Eric Hagen, one of two other attorneys from Starr's office named on the petition.

"It makes it a little harder when teachers and principals in their daily duties might be subject to a damages lawsuit and be held personally liable," Hagen said.

Spellings: NCLB "Is 99.9 Percent Pure _________"?

If you answered, "or something," you are the winner. Oh, you answered, "bulls*%t," then go the corner and concentrate on your lack of phonemic awareness--or something.

Obviously, the support for NCLB's FEMA-esque rescue of American schools has not sunk in yet over at ED, where denial of the obvious and staying the course remain the official line. Here is a bit of the story:

WASHINGTON -- Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said Wednesday the No Child Left Behind Act is close to perfect and needs little change as its first major update draws near.

"I talk about No Child Left Behind like Ivory soap: It's 99.9 percent pure or something," Spellings told reporters. "There's not much needed in the way of change."

Spellings' comments signal what amounts to the Bush administration's starting position as the law comes up for renewal. That is scheduled to happen as soon as next year.

It is unsurprising that Spellings strongly supports the law. She helped craft it as President Bush's domestic policy chief and now enforces it as the top education official.

Yet her view that the law needs little change is notable because it differs so sharply from others with a stake, including many teachers, school administrators and lawmakers . . .
How do I count the ways?

New Study on Student Retention

From the Sydney Morning Herald, via ASCD SmartBrief:

Making a student repeat a level at school has no benefit and in fact may do more harm, Australian research shows.

The study, by Deakin University's Dr Helen McGrath, also found students who repeated a year were 20 to 50 per cent more likely to drop out, compared to similar students who progressed.

Dr McGrath reviewed dozens of studies by academics in Australia and the United States over the past 75 years comparing the outcomes for students with specific needs who were either held back or allowed to progress.

She said those studies failed to support the popular assumption among teachers and parents that repeating a year helped a student's academic performance.

"There may be an occasional student who is the exception, but for most students providing them with more of what didn't work for them the first time around is an exercise in futility," she said.

"In fact, repeating a year confirms to a student that they have failed.

"They experience stress from being taller, larger and more physically mature than their younger classmates. They miss their friends who have moved on to the next year level.

"They also experience boredom from repeating similar tasks and assignments. Their self esteem drops. All of these factors ultimately lead many to drop out." . . .

What's Good for BMW is Good for Clemson University

How would you like to be part of a university program where every faculty position is an endowed chair--all four of them? Some call it Sam's School of Ed Reform, some call it the Walmart School for Ed Privatization, but Jay Greene of the sludge tank, the Manhattan Institute, now calls it home. Does any other university education program have an "Endowed Chair in School Choice?" Well, that's what $320,000,000 will get you, or at least that's what it got the Walton family at Arkansas's flagship state university in Fayetteville.

Now we see from this New York Times piece and this Inside Higher Ed piece that BMW is investing big time in Clemson University's engineering programs. In return, BMW gets to have input in university decision-making, decisions ranging from architectural considerations to determining faculty hiring lists.

Spellings and Miller must be proud of this proactive corporatizing of American public universities. With pressures mounting from Miller's Commission to hold down tuition increases and with increasing competition for public moneys, we can probably count on more of this kind of desperate public auctioning of academic integrity and autonomy.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

English Language Learners Tossed into NCLB Crucible

(Chart shows performance differences between ELL and Non-ELL 4th grade reading test scores (NAEP) nationwide).

This year Arizona has tripled its number of failing schools. Credit can be given to insane NCLB requirements, which demand the inclusion of test scores for new immigrants, many of whom who do not speak English. This kind of thuggish requirement, which is not limited at all to Arizona, represents a blatant disregard for public schools, teachers, and the students who can't read the tests they are given. Here is part of the story from The Arizona Republic, which dispels the rumor that Spellings is a compromiser or has relaxed some of the harsher sanctions:
Federal officials stamped the words "failure" on hundreds more Arizona schools Monday, but state officials called the decision illogical and absurd.
A record of more than 600 schools, or nearly three times as many as last year, failed to meet federal academic requirements, the state reported.

The main reason: Federal officials changed the rules.

For the first time ever the state was forced to include AIMS test results in math and reading from students who are in their second or third year of learning English. That puts more schools on the road to potentially failing four years in a row and triggering state intervention into daily operations.

The contrast highlights a debate that is playing out among educators over how Arizona should measure its educational performance.

State officials want to exclude students in their first three years of language learning from the federal "adequate yearly progress" counts, expected to be released Friday. They also separate them from Arizona's annual ranking of schools and overall AIMS exit-exam results. They argue that including students still learning English skews the picture.

The U.S. Department of Education fears these children will not get the attention they need unless Arizona counts their test scores. Its theory: Who gets measured gets taught.

But Arizona's schools chief Tom Horne calls the federal mandate absurd.

Horne sued the federal government in July to stop the inclusion of student test scores until their fourth year of English language classes. Until the suit is settled, the scores must be added. Adding test scores of kids who don't yet fully know English is impractical and idealistic, Horne says. It pushes the data downward, painting an unfairly negative picture of Arizona's education system.
"By saying a school has to fail if all their students are not proficient one year after coming here from Mexico, you make it impossible for schools to succeed," Horne said. "That destroys the incentive."

NCLB: Present-Day Alterations and Historical Design

Here are a couple of clips from "No Child Left Behind Has Altered the Face of Education," a piece from Monday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It is the second in a 7-part series on education:
When he thinks about the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Jim Testerman of the Pennsylvania State Education Association is reminded of a statement attributed to Albert Einstein.

"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."

. . . . Accountability is NCLB's defining feature.

"Supporters of the practice of high-stakes testing believe that the quality of American education can be vastly improved by introducing a system of rewards and sanctions for students' academic performance," researchers at Arizona State University's Education Policy Studies Laboratory said in a September 2005 report condemning the practice.

The researchers called for a moratorium on such testing, saying it encourages students to drop out of school and puts the greatest pressure on minority students in low-performing schools.

The national goal is 100 percent student proficiency in math and reading by 2014, with districts facing intermediate proficiency targets along the way. With failure comes consequences, ranging from letting students transfer from low-performing schools to elimination of locally elected school boards.

Where this piece stops is where every other news story has stopped (that I know of), at the door to the unexplored room where one may find the origins and rationale for the stubborn insistence on maintaining NCLB goals that will never be reached. Would the voices of that dark room reveal that the Bushies knew in 2001 that the American public was not ready for school vouchers, no more than they were ready for school privatization plans that were being advanced by his own Party? Would reporters find that the brain trusts of the Fordham Foundation and the Education Leaders Council devised AYP as the ultimate weapon to assure the steady, increasing failure of public schools via impossible goals and sanctions that would take a gradualist approach to privatization? Could it be that the testing industry, the tutoring industry, the EMOs were filtering their input through the sludge tanks like Fordham and Manhattan, Cato and Heritage, whose reps were among the insiders crafting the requirements of the legislation at the same time that elected representatives, senators, and various constituencies were excluded from the meetings where NCLB was being crafted?

Or perhaps these questions are for historians, not reporters who are now restricted by their corporate masters to the "he said, she said" of the spinmeisters, whose equal ideological representations in a story are the ultimate tests of journalistic objectivity.

I would recommend that any reporter (or citizen) who has any curiosity about these questions read Elizabeth Debray's legislative history, Politics, Ideology & Education: Federal Policy During the Clinton and Bush Administrations (Teachers College Press, 2006). Though you will not find all these questions answered, it should be a primer of any education reporter charged with covering the current and spreading failure phenomena of public schools, as well as the upcoming NCLB battle for the future of American education. There is enough here in Debray's book to make out the outlines of where to go next.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The AYP Lightbulb Comes On in Indiana

From the South Bend Tribune:
More than four years after it took effect, schools throughout the country are beginning to feel the true bite of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In Indiana alone, more than half of the state's schools did not meet adequate yearly progress, or AYP, the teeth of the law's accountability.

"Every year more and more schools will not make adequate yearly progress because the bar keeps going higher, higher and higher," said Joan Raymond, superintendent of the South Bend Community School Corp. "Two years ago 57 percent of our students were expected to pass (the ISTEP exam). Now it's in the 60s, and by the year 2014, it will be 100 percent" . . .

Bush White House Joins School Segregation Lawsuit

In 1954 Justice Warren, speaking for a unanimous Supreme Court, declared that separate schools are inherently unequal. "Impeach Warren" signs sprang up around the South, but all the racist protests were not enough to stem the tide toward integrated schools, which the 1964 Civil Rights Act cemented. Even so, the Civil Rights Project found in 2001 found that 40% of black students still attended schools where blacks constituted 90% of the school population and that 70% of black students attended majority minority schools. (Chart from Orfield study, 2001)

The road to an integrated society remains one of our greatest challenges, and those school districts that have policies in place to encourage integration should serve as models. That is why it is particularly disturbing to see the federal government, led by the Bush White House, joining those who would turn the Brown decision on its head by arguing that school policies aimed toward integration are discriminatory. This is the same White House that uses a feigned concern for minorities to push a failed NCLB education policy aimed at dismantling public schools. This L. A. Times provides the story, "Bush Administration Opposes Integration Plans." Here is a clip:
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has urged the Supreme Court to strike down voluntary school integration programs across the nation that exclude some students because of their race. Administration lawyers filed briefs this week in pending cases from Seattle and Louisville, Ky., on the side of white parents who are challenging "racial balancing" programs as unconstitutional. The parents say the integration guidelines amount to racial discrimination and violate the Constitution's guarantee of the equal protection of the laws. They lost in the lower courts, but the Supreme Court will hear their appeals in the fall. In the briefs, U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement urged the justices to rule that "the use of a racial classification to achieve a desired racial balance in public schools" is just as unconstitutional as old-fashioned racial segregation.. . .
The recently-packed Supreme Court will hear the case this Fall. I would say it is time for new impeachment signs all across America!

Clint Bolick: Know Your Right-Wing Privatizers

From People for the American Way:
Clint Bolick, President of Alliance for School Choice, likes to present himself as an advocate of education for low income children. But his biography tells a different story. Far from being interested in achieving quality education for all students, Bolick has made clear his goal of dismantling America’s public school system.

Bolick made his lack of commitment to public education clear when he said, “we intend to put the public schools on trial.” In other situations, he has even compared the public school system to the enslavement of African Americans, claiming that “school choice would lead to the greatest transfer of power from government to individuals since [slavery’s] abolition.”

Clint Bolick has dedicated his career to attacking affirmative action, desegregation, and America’s public schools. His goal has never been to improve public schools; rather, he wants to replace them with a system of private school vouchers.

Against Civil Rights

As the Vice-President and Co-founder of the Institute for Justice, Bolick has worked hard to undermine civil rights advances. In 1993 he spearheaded attacks on three of President Clinton’s nominees to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice -- Lani Guinier, Deval Patrick, and Bill Lann Lee. In all three cases, Bolick distorted the nominee’s record and attacked the nominee as an extremist because of his or her commitment to civil rights advancement.

As an attorney Bolick has paid special attention to opposing civil rights in America’s schools. Over the course of his career, Bolick has played a disturbing role in cases concerning school integration and other civil rights causes.
  • Board of Educ. v. Dowell, 498 U.S. 237 (1991) Bolick filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the plaintiff in a suit by the Oklahoma City Board of Education to dissolve a desegregation decree. The Supreme Court determined that a desegregation decree could be dissolved after a school board operated in compliance with it for a reasonable period of time.
  • Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U.S. 164 (1989) Bolick filed a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of the defendant in a racial harassment suit by a woman who claimed that her employer failed to promote them based on her race. The district court ruled against the plaintiff, but was partially overturned on appeal.
  • Coalition for Economic Equity v. Wilson, 122 F.3d 692 (9th Cir. 1997) A group of women and racial minorities challenged California’s Proposition 209, ending all state affirmative action programs. Again, Bolick filed a friend-of-the-court brief for the defendants (Pete Wilson, Governor of California). The Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of Proposition 209.
  • Stone v. Prince George’s County Bd. of Educ., 1992 U.S.App. LEXIS 24871 (4th Cir. 1992) Bolick argued for the appellants in a case challenging the Prince George’s County School Board’s policy of assigning teachers to racially balance its school faculties. The Court of Appeals upheld the school’s policy as necessary to achieve desegregation under a previous consent decree.
National Pro-Voucher Activist

Recently, Bolick filed a lawsuit in New Jersey demanding that the court impose private school vouchers on state and local governments. Voucher proponents like to present this initiative as a new approach to school vouchers, but Bolick is no stranger to school voucher litigation and his tactics are not new. He has been involved either directly or indirectly in dozens of different voucher cases in multiple states, including two unsuccessful cases strikingly similar to his lawsuit in New Jersey.
  • In June 1992 Bolick filed suit in Chicago on behalf of a group of parents and schoolchildren to create a court-ordered voucher system. The Illinois state constitution guarantees children access to an “efficient” and “high-quality” education. Bolick claimed Chicago public schools did not meet that standard and wanted vouchers equal to the cost the state spends on each student, roughly $2,100 to $2,900 a year. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Aaron Jaffe dismissed the case in March 1993 writing, “Courts should not attempt to decide questions that rightfully belong to the legislature.” Bolick appealed the court’s ruling, but lost again in the Court of Appeals.
  • That same month, Bolick filed a lawsuit along with a group of Los Angeles parents and their schoolchildren seeking the same remedy as in the Chicago case. He used a 1971 California Supreme Court decision that ruled that education is a “fundamental right” to argue that public schools are in violation of the State Constitution and vouchers must be imposed. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge threw out the lawsuit in June 2003. Bolick appealed the Superior Court ruling, but lost again in the California Court of Appeals.
  • With regard to the Los Angeles case, syndicated columnist Clarence Page pointed out, “In fact, I find it ironic that some of the same conservative voices who rail against judicial activism overruling legislative processes in causes they don’t like, like the right to choose an abortion, are hoping and praying judicial activism will overrule legislatures on behalf of a cause that, in this instance, they like.”
A Career of Working Against Public Education

Over the course of his career Bolick has repeatedly attacked public schools. He’s shown time and time again that he isn’t interested in helping public schools in need – he’s dedicated to tearing them down.

Our country needs a public education system that works, and our children deserve it. Clint Bolick’s attacks on education are the wrong path for New Jersey and the wrong path for America’s students.

AYP Primer for Parents

This is a very good explanation of AYP, if you need one. If not, skip to the bolded section at the end of the piece to hear about the effects of unfair and impossible expectations:

By JOHN SENA | The New Mexican
August 27, 2006

When the latest standardized test results were announced in early August, only 12 of the 30 public schools in Santa Fe met federal testing requirements.

Did those schools fail their students? Did their teachers do a rotten job? Is it time for the state to start thinking about restructuring plans?

Talk to the person on the street, and the answers might be yes. Talk to any of the principals or teachers at those schools, and they'd say their schools are getting a bad rap.

So what do those dreaded standardized tests mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act really measure, and are they a fair way to look at the job a school is doing?

First of all, what is adequate yearly progress, or AYP? One big misunderstanding about federal requirements and test results is the idea that all students across the United States are being graded on the same scale. While most states have worked to align their curricula to federal standards and their tests are similar, the way states set goals can be different. So AYP means different things for students in different states.

New Mexico, for example, identifies students as beginning steps, nearing proficiency, proficient and advanced -- depending on test scores.

To make AYP, a certain portion of a school's students have to fall in the proficient or advanced ranges. The state determines the percentage annually.

Colorado, which gives students a test similar to the one taken in New Mexico, combined its partially proficient and proficient categories, reducing the number of designations to three as permitted under the law. That means the state can set high goals but still meet them because ``proficiency'' covers a wider range of scores.
Therefore, it might appear that Colorado's students are doing better than New Mexico's.

New Mexico required only 23 percent of last year's elementary students to be proficient in math. Forty percent of third-graders reached that goal, but if students nearing proficiency were included, that number would rise to 87 percent.
The way a state sets goals also determines the amount of progress its schools must show from one year to the next.

New Mexico began the process by asking schools to show a low level of proficiency, but by 2013-14, No Child Left Behind calls for 100 percent of all U.S. public school students to be proficient. In an effort to achieve that goal, New Mexico school officials have laid out a series of increasingly higher goals that lead to 100 percent.

Next year, 28 percent of elementary students must be proficient in math. In 2007-08, that goal increases to 41 percent and so on until 2014.

Colorado, by contrast, will still require 82 percent proficiency this year, the same goal since 2004-05. It will jump to 88 percent in 2007-08 and remain there until 2009-10.
Within individual districts, there are different requirements depending on the size and diversity of the schools.

One of the objectives of No Child Left Behind is to make sure a school serves all its students. So every subgroup of 25 or more students in a school must also make AYP. There are a possible 36 subgroups, and these include race, economic status and English Language Learners.

There have been reported cases of high-achieving schools that routinely sent students to Ivy League colleges, but test results revealed they were failing to serve their minority and poor students.

A school such as Pinon Elementary, which tested 361 students this year, has to meet proficiency requirements in 21 subgroups -- and made AYP. Last year, however, the school failed to meet requirements because not enough of its special education subgroup was proficient in math and reading. In the case of reading, the school was short four hundredths of a percent, a difference that officials said might mean one student missing one question.

A small school like Acequia Madre, which tested 93 students this year, had to meet requirements in 12 subgroups. Scores from other groups with less than 25 students, such as English Language Learners, special education students and economically disadvantaged students, did not count toward AYP. Had those scores counted, Acequia Madre would still have met requirements.

In addition to each subgroup, there is an ``additional indicator'' that factors into whether a school makes AYP. High schools must report a graduation rate of greater than 90 percent, and middle and elementary schools must report attendance rates of at least 92 percent.

There is a provision in the No Child Left Behind Act called Safe Harbor. It allows a school to fall short of the proficiency goal and still make AYP if it reduces the percent of students below proficient by 10 percent from the previous year. No Santa Fe schools met that criteria.

While the majority of principals and teachers agree that a school should serve the needs of every student and should be held accountable if it doesn't, many do not like the way tests results affect public perception and staff morale.

Most educators think the public does not understand how hard they work or the challenges they face. Is it fair for a school with 100 percent of its students receiving free or reduced lunch to be judged on the same basis as a school with less than 30 percent in that category?

If more than two-thirds of a school's population is made up of English Language Learners, should that school be compared to a school with only a handful?

Officials say most people don't understand those intricacies. Instead, parents rush to judgment about a school and pull their children out as soon as they can. Agua Fria Elementary, which is in the restructuring phase of the state's school-improvement framework, loses students every year despite making progress. The district received 47 requests for transfers out of the school for the 2006-07 school year.

Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia said the parents who leave schools are often the most involved, something she thinks is a bad thing. ``We need those parents to stay involved at those schools,'' Garcia said.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

And the Charter School Myth Went, BOOM!

The New York Times has this this very sensible editorial in today's paper--well, mostly sensible, anyway.

A federal study showing that fourth graders in charter schools score worse in reading and math than their public school counterparts should cause some soul-searching in Congress. Too many lawmakers seem to believe that the only thing wrong with American education is the public school system, and that converting lagging schools to charter schools would cause them to magically improve.

The study, based on data from 2003 on students’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, found charter school students significantly behind their non-charter-school counterparts. But it also showed that not all charter schools are created equal.

On average, charter schools that were affiliated with public school districts performed just as well as traditional public schools. That may be a disappointment to advocates who expected them to show clear superiority. But the real stunner was the performance of free-standing charter schools, which have no affiliation with public school systems and are often school districts unto themselves. It was this grouping that showed the worst performance.

Free-standing charter schools often bite off more than they can chew. The presumption is that without the bureaucratic restraints of the public school system and the teacher unions, charter schools can provide better education at lower cost. But the problem with failing public schools is that they often lack both resources and skilled, experienced teachers. While there are obvious exceptions, some charter schools embark on a path that simply recreates the failures of the schools they were developed to replace.

Charter school advocates denounced the new federal study even before it was released and took issue with its methodology, which is not perfect. But this study does not stand alone. The evidence so far shows that charter schools are not inherently superior to the traditional public schools they often seek to supplant — and that they are sometimes worse.

One advantage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 was the wave of education studies it started. They offer hope that Congress will look at the record when it considers reauthorizing the law next year. If it does, lawmakers will back away from the part of the act that offers charter schools as a cure-all.

And then, it seems as though Brent Staples, or another angry nitwit, wrests the keyboard away from this sensible editorial writer to say this:

They should instead home in on the all-important but largely neglected issue of teacher training and preparation — which trumps everything when it comes to improving student achievement.

These studies argue for a more nuanced federal policy that does not just advocate wholesale charter conversion but instead defines and supports successful models only. Beyond that, Congress needs to grasp the obvious, which is that the quality of the teacher corps is more crucial to school reform than anything else. The original law required states to provide highly qualified teachers in core subject areas by this year. But the Education Department simply failed to enforce the rule, partly because of back-channel interference by lawmakers who talked like ardent reformers while covering up for state officials clinging to the bad old status quo.

Four years later, the national teacher corps is still in a shambles. Until Congress changes that, everything else will amount to little more than tinkering at the margins.

National teacher corps still a shambles? What does that mean? Which studies? Did Brent read the New York Times today, with its story on the desperate year-round recruiting for teachers that is going on? Does Brent have any clue as to why more youngsters don't want to go into teaching? Is it because the teacher preparation programs are so bad, or is it because they can major in almost anything else in college and have careers making more money in which they are not forced by federal law into becoming child abusers, and for which they are not constantly demonized throughout their careers by dumbasses writing for the New York Times and lesser media outlets?

If the New York Times really wants to improve teaching and attract new blood, here are a couple of editorial headlines you might want to write around while encouraging the structural strengthening of teacher preparation programs, rather than describing the current system as "in shambles":

Teacher Salaries Starting at $50,000

Americans Must Get Past Fixation on School Testing

Saturday, August 26, 2006

NCLB Strikes Rich Suburban Enclaves

(Chart from a study of Massachusetts schools)

Greenwich and other wealthy towns are no longer immune to the assured failure that thus far has only affected the poor, the brown, the special populations, and the immigrants. As AYP requirements rise toward that unattainable mark of 100% proficiency, suddenly suburban parents are becoming shocked to find out that there is something out there called NCLB that has just labeled their school as not good enough. This from NewTimesLive.com in Danbury, CT:
School systems across the nation jump through the hoops created by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, and their reward is to be slapped down and labeled. It is a discouraging exercise that drains energy and financial resources as educators and local taxpayers try to make sense of this federal education law.

An article in Friday's News-Times opened a window into just how inflexible, just how bureaucratic, the No Child Left Behind evaluation system has become. Successful local school systems, successful local schools, are now being listed under NCLB guidelines as not making adequate yearly progress. Bethel, Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown and Ridgefield -- the list is a puzzlement locally, as are similar lists in other regions and other states.

There are 806 public elementary and middle schools in Connecticut; 290 are listed as not making adequate yearly progress -- double the number of schools labeled in that fashion last year. . . .
What's to be done? Well, if you are the interim Connecticut Commissioner of Education, you ignore the elephant that is stomping around your living room while you go about emptying the ashtrays and serving drinks:

Last year, 145 schools did not make AYP. This year, of the 290 schools that did not make AYP, more than 30 percent were in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and Waterbury, state education officials said. Schools in Norwalk and Stamford also appeared on the list.

"These results point to the hard work that has to be done," said George A. Coleman, the state's interim education commissioner. "We have to focus on more effective strategies, a more surgical approach, more targeted to the unique learning needs of students."
Does anyone else know in-denial bullshit jargon when you read it? But some communities like Greenwich, the richest in the country, are not just resorting to "targeting more effective strategies"--they are paying a detective to target the "intruder" immigrants who are bringing down their town scores and then running them out of their schools. From the Times today:
The school district would not identify its Sam Spade, except to say he’s a former Greenwich police officer and that he is paid $15,000 a year. He also does the shoe-leather sleuthing of confirming whether students live where their leases and utility bills say they do. In the 2004-5 school year, Greenwich investigated 62 cases and found 20 intruders. Dr. John Curtin, assistant superintendent, told of one student whose address was a golf course and who, upon inquiry, turned out to be the child of a maintenance worker legitimately housed on the greens.
Lovely, isn't it? That's what I call real courage from the people who can most afford it.

Finally, there are those who believe that if this NCLB were funded fully, then their woes would disappear:
What was not anticipated was the failure of the federal government to provide promised financial aid to cover the costs of NCLB requirements. Those costs, including substantial amounts for gathering and reporting school test data, have put a new burden on local school budgets.
Hellllooooooooo. All the money in the Federal treasury is not going to help the majority of America's schools meet a demand that was known to be impossible when it was shoved into NCLB legislation? Wake up, America.

Any politician running for office who is unwilling to support the repeal of the 100% proficiency demand in NCLB deserves no votes. Saving public education cannot be achieved without repealing, at least, this part of the law that the privatizers will fight tooth and nail to keep in.

Spellings Low Key During Gulf Tour

Spellings joined the Mary Landrieu tour Thursday to announce $60 in foreign aid for schools and colleges of the Gulf Coast.

No mention of the ED's charter school miracle in the making there. No mention of when the teachers will arrive or when the schools will be ready. Is she grateful, too, to Katrina for all that it has made possible? Does she say, "Thank you, Katrina' all the time," as does Orleans Parish School Board President Phyllis Landrieu.

Friday, August 25, 2006

One Year After Katrina and Counting

As Bush talked yesterday with Rocky, the Republican pizza executive sent up to Washington by Rove as a representative of the distressed people of New Orleans, things sounded hopeful. Rocky couldn't have been more pleased. After all, $110 billion has been approved for the Gulf Coast area to rebuild, right?

Here is part of story from Reuters today that offers a glimpse of the hurdles that have been put in place by BushCo. to make sure that the only people who can hold out until the money gets to New Orleans are those people who don't need it. It is hoped that the poor and working class black population will give up, take a few dollars for the destroyed property, and then get out of the way.

How much has NOLA actually collected of that $110 billion?
So far, the city has collected only $117 million to start the repair work in what has been billed as the largest urban restoration in U.S. history.

For every repair project, city officials must follow a lengthy application process - and spend their own money - before getting a dime of federal aid to fix at least 833 projects such as police stations, courtrooms, baseball fields or auditoriums.

Residents don't care much what the cause is. They're just tired of crater-like potholes, sudden drops in water pressure and debris-clogged storm drains.

"We're not asking for a lot. At this point, we're just looking for basic services: power, gas, water. Sewer that doesn't back up into your house would be nice too," said Jeb Bruneau, president of the neighborhood association in the Lakeview area. "Whatever the snafu was, the result is Joe Blow Citizen isn't seeing the effect of that federal money."

Louisiana eventually expects to get at least $25 billion in federal money for rebuilding projects, including everything from levee repairs to homeowner assistance. Of that money, $6 billion to $8 billion will be doled out statewide to repair broken roads, schools, water pipes and countless other problems.

But to get the money, the city - and other agencies such as the Sewerage and Water Board, the Regional Transit Authority and Orleans Parish School Board - must fill out worksheets for every construction project.

The worksheets are submitted to FEMA, which determines whether the project is eligible for federal aid. If approved, the federal government releases the approved money to the state, but the local government fronts the money to have the work done. After that, the local government can submit receipts for reimbursement.

The process takes months and can be further complicated if costs surpass the original request - a particular concern in New Orleans because of shortages of materials and construction workers.

It also requires the city have cash to pay upfront, forcing money to be diverted from other parts of the budget.
It will be interesting to see what kind of reception Bush and Spellings get next week when they go politicking among the residents there.

Claire McCaskill Takes on NCLB

As far as I can tell, McCaskill of Missouri is the first national candidate to suggest repeal of NCLB, or parts of it, next year. Unfortunately, she was not specific about her reasons for supporting repeal.

This could be an issue that could turn the tide in many close races this Fall in places like Tennessee and Missouri. NCLB is hugely unpopular with teachers and parents and grandparents who know anything about the law, and bringing the more unfair and impossible components of NCLB to public discussion could serve candidates well who are concerned about education, rather than testing. People are waiting for leaders who will speak up on this scheme that threatens educational integrity nationwide.

Here is a clip from the AP story that is being picked up out-of-state papers:

Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill said Thursday that the federal government should be spending more on and requiring less of public schools.

McCaskill criticized the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires schools to meet certain student performance goals or face a variety of penalties. The 2001 law is up for renewal next year in Congress.

McCaskill, who is trying to unseat Republican Sen. Jim Talent, suggested the law needs a major overhaul. It has 588 requirements - way too many, McCaskill said, although she did not single out any specific one for repeal.

"The point is this is a very burdensome, bureaucratized program that is providing a mandate from Washington, D.C., on functions of government that belong with local control and belong at the state level," McCaskill said in a conference call with reporters from Kansas City.

Stealing New Orleans, Stealing Their Schools

If you haven't seen Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke, check HBO for when it will be shown again.

Now as the real estate buzzards line up to devour the devastated and unrepaired properties a year after Katrina hit, so, too, are the corporate welfare EMOs standing by to take over the chartered school system. Just as FEMA has functioned to keep the clean-up at a snail's pace and, thus, discourage black homeowners from returning to the 9th and Lower 9th, political pressure and millions in charter seed money from BushCo. and ED have placed local public control of NOLA schools on the fast track for demolition. Never mind that all of this support for charters comes just as the ED research confirms earlier ED research shows charter schools no better than regular public school in raising test scores.

From the Christian Science Monitor (hat tip to ASCD NewsBrief):
Who should control New Orleans schools?

Before Katrina, New Orleans had 128 public schools. By September, 53 will have reopened. While some see the need to rebuild the system as a long-awaited opportunity for radical change, others say the very concept of a truly public, locally controlled education is being thrown out.

Parents face potentially bewildering choices: There are 31 autonomous charter schools, some monitored by the state and others by the local Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). Only five schools are still operated directly by OPSB. Seventeen schools are run by the state-controlled Recovery School District (RSD). After Katrina, RSD's authority was expanded by the legislature so it could take control of schools that had performance scores below the state average, even if they were meeting yearly progress goals. That gave the state authority over more than 100 schools.

"Individual parents might say, 'Oh, this school looks a little better ... but public education has always been a local responsibility, and long term you need an engaged community," says Theresa Perry, a professor at Simmons College in Boston and part of the National Coalition for Quality Education in New Orleans.

That group and local critics say the state gave certified teachers a slap in the face when it dismissed them all after the storm and then made them reapply and take a new screening test. Meanwhile, many former teachers relocated or retired to be able to receive health insurance. Inequities will worsen, some observers say, because the schools serving the poorest children are the ones that were taken over by the state. These schools are experiencing delays and teacher shortages.

Tulane University President Scott Cowen, chair of the Education Committee of the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, says 70 percent of his group's blueprint has been followed so far. What's still needed over the coming years, he says, is a central governance system, a bigger investment in prekindergarten, more development of teachers and principals, and improved school facilities.

Denver Geography Teacher Put On Leave for Flag Display

From the Denver Post:
A seventh-grade geography teacher who refused to remove Chinese, Mexican and United Nations flags from his classroom was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday by Jefferson County officials who were concerned that the display violates the law.

District officials said state law forbids the display of foreign flags unless they are temporary and related to the curriculum.

Carmody Middle School principal John Schalk looked at the curriculum for Eric Hamlin's world geography class "and there was nothing ... related to any of these countries," said Lynn Setzer, district spokeswoman.

She said Schalk asked the teacher three times to remove the flags and warned there would be consequences, but Hamlin refused.

Hamlin, in his first year at Carmody, said he regularly displays flags from different countries, rotating them out based on countries being studied.

He said that the first six weeks of school are devoted to discussing the "fundamentals of geography" and that the flags were randomly selected.

District officials are citing Colorado Revised Statute 18-11- 205. It says: "Any person who displays any flag other than the flag of the United States of America or the state of Colorado or any of its subdivisions, agencies or institutions upon any state, county, municipal or other public building or adjacent grounds within this state commits a class 1 petty offense."

It says an exception to that law is "the display of any flag ... that is part of a temporary display of any instructional or historical materials not permanently affixed or attached to any part of the buildings ... ."

Mark Silverstein, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said he didn't see how the statute applied to this situation.

District Superintendent Cindy Stevenson said the district has contacted Hamlin and is trying to resolve the issue.

"We have not heard back," she said.

She said Hamlin could have complied with the principal's request and then followed policies that allow him to appeal.

Schalk did not return a phone call seeking comment, but Stevenson said the current topic for the class was "latitude and longitude, not the culture of China, not the culture of Mexico."

The punishment for insubordination could range from a reprimand to dismissal, Setzer said.

Hamlin said he was in his classroom Monday when an assistant principal came in, saw the flags and told him they needed to be removed.

Hamlin said there is an American flag stationed permanently in the classroom.

He said he believes school officials are being extra cautious because of a controversy at Denver's North High School when a Mexican flag was hung by a social studies teacher and people complained.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

NCLB "In Need of Repeal"

If the U. S. Congress instituted a military draft that included middle class children, the War on Iraq would be over in a matter of months. Parents and students just wouldn't accept it. We will now see if the same holds true when it comes to the war on public schools, as this year's test scores bring suburban schools into the mix of assured mass failure to meet the unachievable goal of NCLB to have all children at grade level in reading and math by 2014.

So as school watch lists begin to include suburban schools among the Federal failures, rather than just the poor brown ones that didn't warrant much of our attention during the past four years, we will see if parents and students are ready to say ENOUGH to the war on public education that is claiming hundreds of thousands of new casualties during each repeated testing campaign.

Here is a story from the Star-Ledger that will be repeated over and over and over again in every state of the Union this Fall. In my own adopted state of New Jersey, which has one of the best public education systems in the country, one in four schools failed in the last round of testing to make Adequate Yearly Progress under NCLB, a number that will increase unless NCLB is ended next year:

One in four New Jersey public schools failed last year to reach student test results required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, with more than 50 schools now facing the law's toughest sanctions yet, according to the state.

Released yesterday by the state Department of Education, the 643 schools falling short in 2005-06 are an improvement from the previous year's total of more than 800 schools missing the mark. But officials stressed any comparison is difficult, due to technical changes in how the state identifies schools.

Either way, the law's sometimes-perplexing rules require schools to have two successful years to get off the lists, and that leaves more than 1,000 New Jersey schools opening next month with the unflattering label of either being in "early warning" or "in need of improvement."

Many sit in urban and working class districts that fare the worst under the law, which requires students reach certain proficiency levels each year. For instance, all but five of Paterson's schools were tagged with one sanction or another.

Newark has 60 schools either on the list of early warning or needing improvement, including eight that must make major organizational changes after six years of falling short, the law's penultimate penalty.

At least four of those are getting new principals, and others will see new grade structures or other reorganizations, district officials said. The district's teachers union has proposed taking one school under its own wing.

"In the last week, we've had lots of conversations around these eight schools," said superintendent Marion Bolden. "All of this is new to everybody."

Yet suburban districts are increasingly dealing with the controversial law's consequences as well, and those are sure to continue as the law's requirements ramp higher in coming years.

Piscataway has three middle schools at various junctures in the law's sanctions, two on the "early warning" list after falling short one year and one deemed in "need of improvement" after four years of missing the mark.

In most cases, superintendent Robert Copeland said that raising special education scores continues to be the greatest challenge under a law that demands students with disabilities do just as well as those without.

Copeland said he applauds that aim, but hopes the public looks beyond just the lists to see the progress being made in the district. . .

And the PDK/Gallup Poll shows that, indeed, the public beginning to understand that this war against their schools is of the same type as the one in Iraq: it is a war of choice rather than necessity, one whose purpose is to impose a right-wing conservative ideology that, in the war against schools, will establish a privatatized system and undercut the social progress and cultural understanding to which public school educators have contributed during past decades.

As the public begins to have a closer look at a policy that now theatens their own neighborhoods, rather than the ones on the six o'oclock news, the utter bankruptcy of this NCLB failed policy of mandated manipulation will become clearer and clearer. And yet, the Secretary of ED, just like her boss, continues in robot fashion to offer up bromides like this one from yesterday's speech that simply underscore the lost credibility of this entire Administration:

Thanks to this law [NCLB], we're now able to fine-tune the system to make sure that every child is learning—regardless of race, income-level, background, or ZIP code. And it's working!
And so is the deadly military adventure in Iraq.

Support our Troops--Bring Them Home,
Save our Schools--Leave The Testing Alone.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More on Charter School Research

Both USA Today and the New York Times have stories on the NCES study on performance scores of charter schools. Here are some clips from the Times story:

The study found that in 2003, fourth graders in traditional public schools scored an average of 4.2 points better in reading than comparable students in charter schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, often called the nation’s report card. Students in traditional schools scored an average of 4.7 points better in math than comparable students in charter schools.

Students in charter schools that said they were affiliated with local school districts did better than those in schools largely independent from local systems, scoring on par with children in regular public schools in reading and math.

The study also compared traditional public schools with charter schools in central cities serving mostly minority students and found no significant difference in reading achievement at the different schools. However, math scores at such urban charter schools still lagged those at traditional schools, except when those charters were affiliated with local districts.

“We know they are not doing harm,” Mr. Schneider said of charter schools, “so they pass a fundamental test of policy analysis.”

But this was weak praise considering that proponents of charter schools have long argued that students at these institutions would show progress far greater than those at neighborhood schools. . . .

How to judge the relative performance of public, charter and private schools has been a touchy issue for the department since 2004, when it initially avoided publicizing results from the 2003 assessment that were largely unfavorable to charters.

The teachers’ union ferreted those results out of the department’s Web site, showing that students in charters were largely trailing those in regular public schools. After the federation reported the scores, the department issued its own report confirming their accuracy.

School Board Member Speaks Out on School Vouchers

The New Gallup/PDK poll shows continuing erosion in public support for school vouchers, moving from nearly 50% in 2002 to 36% this year. Is there an irony that the percentage of those favoring vouchers is exactly the same percentage this week as Bush's favorable rating among voters? It is interesting, too, that the poll was taken before the recent research released by ED that shows private schools doing no better than publics, once poverty levels are taken into account.

Here is an astute commentary on the Bush/Spellings voucher fixation by Pinellas County school board member, Jane Galluci:

Misguided policy ideas designed to divert attention from real issues are sadly a symptom of election-year politics (" Opportunity for all children," Opposing view, Education quality debate, Aug. 14).

So it is with the Bush administration's national school voucher proposal, an idea that even advocates have pronounced dead on arrival this year - and with good reason. The plan to provide taxpayer-financed vouchers of $4,000 per student a year to fund private school tuition would not raise student achievement, improve public education or provide taxpayers with public accountability.

Objective research suggests that despite built-in screening advantages for private voucher schools, their students do not outperform public school students. Even the U.S.

Department of Education recently released a study that showed when comparing similar students, public schools perform as well as or better than their private counterparts that can pick and choose which students to accept.

And contrary to Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' assertion that vouchers "complement" the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, they actually would render the law obsolete because private schools receiving tax dollars at the expense of public schools would not face the rigid public accountability standards to which public schools must adhere. . .

White Hat Charters in Ohio Scraping the Bottom of the Trough

With the federal study just released yesterday showing charters worse or no better than regular public schools, and corporate charters fairing worse than other charters, one need look no further than Ohio to see these findings validated. From the Akron Beacon-Journal:

About 30 percent of Ohio charter school students attend schools in the state's lowest academic rating.

That's an improvement from last year -- when about 63 percent were in schools in the bottom rank.

Still, charter-school critics on Wednesday said the results are unacceptable.

The charter school ``experiment is a dismal failure,'' said Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers and a strong opponent of charter schools.

Mooney, at a press conference in Columbus, presented the results of a study comparing charter schools to traditional public schools on behalf of the Ohio Coalition for Public Education, made up of teachers unions, and other groups, including parent and civic organizations.

He was responding to school building and district report cards released Tuesday by the state.

= [100.0]Among the findings were:

One in two charter schools are either in academic emergency or academic watch, compared to one in 11 traditional public school buildings.

Three in four public schools are rated excellent or effective, while only one in six charter schools are in these top categories.

Half of the 30 charter schools ranked as excellent are schools that were started by and answer to local boards of education.

Charter schools, which first opened in Ohio in fall 1998, are publicly funded but often privately run by self-appointed boards and for-profit corporations.

They were started as an alternative to low-performing traditional schools and free of many state regulations.

According to an Akron Beacon Journal analysis, 81 -- or about a third -- of rated charter schools are in academic emergency. Forty-six are in the next highest-rank of academic watch; 87 are in continuous improvement and 16 are effective. Thirty garnered the coveted excellent rating.

Ratings breakdown

Individual schools and districts receive ratings from the state based on three measures -- scores on state-mandated tests, as well as attendance and graduation rates; a performance index that gives credit for the performance of all students, even those who do not pass tests; and a federal standard called adequate yearly progress (AYP).

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, schools and districts must show a certain level of achievement -- called AYP -- among all students, as well as subgroups of students, including African-American and disabled.

Schools -- including charters and districts -- face escalating penalties for not meeting AYP, including having to offer tutoring and losing federal Title 1 funds.

Akron is home to two of the state's largest charter school operators -- White Hat Management and Summit Academy Management.

Among White Hat schools, 21 are in academic emergency, four are in academic watch, seven are in continuous improvement -- akin to a C grade -- and one each are effective and excellent. The top-ranked school is the Cleveland Campus for grades nine to 12.

White Hat schools

White Hat spokesman Bob Tenenbaum pointed out that all but one of the White Hat schools in academic emergency are alternative high schools -- called Life Skills Centers -- that target dropouts or students at risk of dropping out.

``These are kids that for whatever reason -- I'm not assessing blame -- have been failed by the public traditional school system,'' he said. ``It shouldn't be a big surprise to anybody that their test scores are lower than the average school's with a much more homogenous student body.''

Tenenbaum said, ``there is a constant effort to improve curriculum and instruction to find ways to improve the test scores -- there's a state mandate to do that.''

Six of White Hat's Hope Academies and the company's online school increased their ratings. The online school and five Hope schools are in continuous improvement, and one -- the Akron University Campus -- is effective.

Tenenbaum said White Hat is lengthening the school day -- by 90 minutes at some, if not all, of the Hope Academies to allow more time for math and reading.

Ultimately, Tenenbaum said, test scores should not be the sole factor upon which charter schools are judged.

``The Hope Academies are full, so something is going on in those schools that parents like... maybe there's a fear factor, maybe people feel that their kids are safe in these schools.''

Among the Summit Academy schools, nine are in academic emergency, five are in academic watch, nine are in continuous improvement and one each are in effective and excellent.

Three of Summit Academy's schools that were rated both last year and this year improved.

Some charter schools did not receive academic ratings because they haven't been in operation for at least two years or didn't have the minimum number of students taking tests.

Summit Academy

``Overall, I think we are very encouraged by the results of our report cards,'' said Jim Bostic, Summit Academy's executive director of academic services.

He said Summit Academy plans to do a better job of gauging students' progress with a new assessment tool developed by the Northwest Evaluation Association.

Students will be tested at the beginning of the year, in January and just before they take the state-mandated exams in the spring. Teachers will be able to quickly address gaps in learning by tailoring instruction.

``It permits directed, prescribed instruction exactly as the student needs it,'' Bostic said.

Bostic said that Summit Academy caters to students with disabilities -- specifically those with attention deficit disorder and Asperger's, a form of autism.

``We know that many of our kids come in from other districts two to three years behind,'' he said. ``Our job is to find a way to accelerate their learning. We are showing that happening. We will eventually get those students caught up.''

Long way to go

Many charter schools have a long way to go, according to the Beacon Journal analysis.

Nearly 32 percent of the 260 charter schools receiving ratings this year met none of the state's 25 performance indicators, which are based on scores on state-mandated tests and attendance and graduation rates. That figure is up from about 29 percent in the prior two school years.

Mooney, the charter-school critic, said White Hat's 21 Life Skills schools as a group met only one of a combined 166 indicators.

``Ohio taxpayers deserve a better return on their investment,'' said Carol Gibson, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, in Columbus.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or swarsmith@thebeaconjournal. com. Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com. Beacon Journal Columbus bureau chief Dennis Willard and computer-assisted reporting manager David Knox contributed to this report.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Summary of 38th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll

From Michael Martin, who posted his summary of the poll to EDDRA:

My summary of The 38th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools: (see at: http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kpollpdf.htm)

* Very few Americans consider public schools to be failing. Only 14 percent of the public gave their community schools a grade of "D" or "F" and only 9 percent gave those grades to "the school your oldest child attends."

* The two "biggest problems the public schools of your community must deal with" are "Lack of financial support/funding/money" (24 percent) and "overcrowded schools" (13 percent).

* 70 percent agreed that the problems currently facing public schools in their community were "the effect of societal problems" rather than "the performance of the local schools."

* 77 percent agreed that the "achievement gap between white students and black and Hispanic students" is "mostly related to other factors" than to "the quality of schooling received."

* 78 percent of those asked to "assume" their child attended a failing school said they would rather "have additional efforts made in your child's present school" than transfer their children from that failing school.

* 73 percent of the public favors a requirement for students to take four years of mathematics in high school, including two years of algebra beginning as early as the eighth grade.

* 63 percent of parents with students in school thought that high schools should "offer students a wide variety of courses" rather than "concentrate on fewer basic courses such as English, mathematics, history, and science."

* Only 12 percent of those familiar with NCLB had a "very favorable" opinion of the act compared to nearly double (23 percent) who had a "very unfavorable" opinion.

* 68 percent of those polled who were familiar with NCLB felt it was either hurting or not helping their community schools.

* 82 percent of those familiar with NCLB said they were worried "A great deal" or "A fair amount" that emphasizing English and Math would "mean less emphasis on art, music, history, and other subjects."

* 72 percent of those familiar with NCLB opposed using "a single test" in "determining whether a public school is or is not in need of improvement."

* 80 percent favored measuring "a school's performance" by looking at "the improvement students in the school make during the year" instead of "the percentage of students passing the test."

* 79 percent opposed making Special Education students "meet the same academic standards as all other students."

Michael T. Martin
Research Analyst
Arizona School Boards Association
2100 N. Central Ave, Suite 200
Phoenix, Az 85004
602-254-1100 1-800-238-4701