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

Friday, February 23, 2007

"just tired of doing the wrong thing for kids"

Five counties in Virginia have banded together to stand up to the privatizing thugs at ED who are bent on sacrificing the most vulnerable children in order to manufacture the failure of American public schools. From Media General News Service:

. . . . Some superintendents say it is "morally wrong" to force students who cannot read English to take the same reading test as fluent English speakers.

Cannaday [Virginia's State Superintendent] sides with the school districts.

"If the coin was flipped and someone put a test in front of me in Mandarin Chinese, they'd see a grown man cry," Cannaday said. "No reasonable person would conclude this is fair and just."

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says the tests tell schools whether they are on track to reach the law's goal of all students reading and doing math at grade level by 2014.

"You don't get there by saying, 'we'll wait another year or another two years,'" before testing the students, said department spokesman Chad Colby.

In a Jan. 31 letter to Virginia officials, Simon wrote, "If (the school districts) in Virginia do not comply ... this department may take appropriate action against the state."

School superintendents across the country are looking at Virginia's challenge, said Bruce Hunter of the American Association of School Administrators.

"The rules for assessing kids who don't speak English don't make sense to school people," Hunter said. "People have put up with this for five years, and they're just tired of doing the wrong thing for kids."

The No Child law is up for renewal this year. School districts want to make a statement that it needs to be changed, Hunter said.

At least six school districts in Virginia - Arlington, Fairfax, Frederick, Prince William, and Amherst counties and Harrisonburg city schools - have passed resolutions saying they will not comply with this regulation. Both Manassas and Alexandria city schools have a resolution on their agendas.

Cannady said the state has made good progress in teaching English to the children of immigrants and that school districts should not be held to a one-size-fits-all federal rule.

"We are being placed in a position by the Department of Education to do something that is morally wrong," said Harrisonburg Superintendent Donald Ford, who would like to exempt about 250 of the 1,600 students in the district's English as a Second Language program.

Fairfax County superintendent Jack Dale said most of the students struggling to learn English are recent arrivals to America.

"It's not like they have been sitting here since birth and they're still struggling to learn English," he said. "Kids should be exempt for at least two or three years after they arrive."

Bailey's Elementary School in Fairfax County sits just a few blocks from a 7-Eleven where immigrant day laborers gather to find work. This week Kent Buckley-Ess taught English language learners to use active verbs.

He wanted them to change the sentence, "The baby took the toy."

The fifth graders struggled to find the right words as they sorted through their limited vocabulary.

"The baby grabbed the toy," said Isael Ramos, whose parents are from El Salvador

"The baby whacked the toy," said Fatima Henriquez, who was born in El Salvador.

For Maria Magdaleno Quiroz, who arrived from Mexico last summer, the lesson was difficult. Asked through an interpreter whether she understands what's going on in school, she replied, "It's easier than in September."

Buckley-Ess said he constantly assesses the students' progress and makes changes to improve the lessons. Even the Education Department's own reports say it takes two to three years for a student to speak English socially, he said, and five or six years to understand school work.

Asked how many students in this class could pass the 5th grade reading evaluation, he paused. "Maybe one."

"That test will only tell us how good they are at guessing A,B,C or D," said Bailey's principal Jay McClain. "We need a test that is refined to where the students are and then we want to be held accountable that they are making progress."

(Gil Klein can be reached at gklein@mediageneral.com).

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