AUSTIN – House members rejected the pleas of leadership and voted late Thursday to scuttle the nation's largest teacher merit pay program, putting the money instead into across-the-board raises of about $800 a year for teachers and other school workers.
The surprise rebuff of Republican leaders during debate on the state's two-year budget was a victory for teacher groups, who say merit pay is divisive and no substitute for bringing Texas teacher salaries up to the national average.
Proponents said merit pay is needed to persuade top teachers to go to the state's lowest-performing campuses.
"Big step backwards," Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said of the rejection. "We were leading a movement of performance-based incentive pay. It's back to the old 'spread a little around' approach."
Democrats said the state should use some of its big surplus to boost educator pay. . . .
. . .a pupil attitude factor, which appears to have a stronger relationship to achievement than do all the “school” factors together, is the extent to which an individual feels that he has some control over his own destiny. James Coleman, 1966
Saturday, March 31, 2007
CONCORD, N.H. --Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday criticized the Bush administration for outsourcing teaching to private tutoring companies, arguing that many firms have close ties to Republicans.
Halliburtonall over again," the New York senator said.
The 2002 No Child Left Behind Act requires school districts to provide free tutoring in math and reading to poor children in schools that repeatedly fail to meet state testing standards. Clinton said that amounts to $500 million a year being paid to tutoring companies and other supplemental service providers that aren't held accountable.
"Nobody's looking over their shoulder. And we're not really seeing results," she members of the National Education Association's New Hampshire chapter.
"Why would we outsource helping our kids to unaccountable private sector providers?" she said. "They don't have to follow our civil rights laws, their employees don't even have to be qualified, they aren't required to coordinate with educators, there's a grand total of zero evidence that they're doing any good."
Many of the providers have close ties to the Republican Party and President Bush, she told reporters later.
"It's not enough that there are no-bid contracts that are taking money away from our troops not delivering services to them in the field, now we have these contracts going to these cronies who are chosen largely on a political basis, and we have nothing to show for it," she complained.
Clinton, who voted for No Child Left Behind, said she had concerns with the bill from the start but thought it was worth taking a risk to see a greater investment in education. . . .
Will she apologize for her vote? No more than she did about her Iraq vote. Will she vote to reauthorize the corrupt NCLB profiteering and privatization scheme? Will you, Hillary?
Friday, March 30, 2007
I am glad to see the news media finally starting to pay attention the fact that Reading First is the most corrupt education program in American history:
WASHINGTON — A billion-dollar-a-year federal reading program that ran into scathing criticism over conflicts of interest now has a new one: The government contractor that set up the program for the Education Department is also part of the team hired to evaluate it.
Reading First — part of President Bush's signature No Child Left Behind education law — has been under scrutiny following a string of federal reports that found it rife with conflicts of interest and mismanagement. The program provides intense reading help to low-income children in the early elementary grades.
RMC Research Corp. was the contractor hired to establish and implement the program starting in 2002, under three contracts worth about $40 million.
Recently, the Department of Education inspector general reported that RMC failed to keep the program free of conflicts of interest. For example, RMC did not screen subcontractors for relationships with publishers of reading programs.
Now, Reading First is in the midst of a five-year evaluation under a 2003 contract with a team that includes RMC, which is based in Portsmouth, N.H.
Congress required the review, spelling out that it must be an "independent evaluation."
That didn't mean for the contractor that set up the program to have any role in reviewing it, said Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, who chairs the education committee.
"It's a classic case of the fox guarding the chicken coop," Kennedy said Friday.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House education committee, raised similar concerns when notified Friday of RMC's role in the evaluation.
"RMC played a significant role in the implementation of Reading First and, according to the inspector general, a sometimes flawed role. If it's true that RMC was also hired to evaluate the effectiveness of the very program it was hired to help implement, then the conflict of interest could not be any clearer," Miller said.
Both lawmakers have been investigating Reading First, and Miller announced Friday he would hold a hearing on the issue April 20. . . .
STUDENTS SEPARATED BY RACE FOR SCHOOL ASSEMBLIES
With schools under increasing pressure to improve test scores, one high school has resorted to a new way to motivate students: by race. Mount Diablo High School in Concord, Calif., recently held separate assemblies for students of different ethnicities to talk about last year's test results and the upcoming slew of state exams this spring. Jazz music and pictures of Martin Luther King greeted African-American students, whereas Filipino, Asian and Pacific Islander students saw flags of their foreign homelands on the walls. Latinos and white students each attended their own events, too, complete with statistics showing results for all ethnicities and grade level. Teachers flashed last year's test scores and told the white crowd of students to do better for the sake of their people. Several parents told Shirley Dang of the Contra Costa Times that the meetings smacked of segregation resurrected. "Why did they have to divide the students by race?" said Filipino parent Claddy Dennis, mother of freshman Schenlly Dennis. "In this country, everybody is supposed to be treated equally. It sounds like racism to me." Principal Bev Hansen said she held the student assemblies by ethnicity this year and last year to avoid one group harassing another based on their test scores. Jack Jennings, president of the National Center on Education Policy, called the racially divided meetings potentially illegal and dangerous. "It's segregation by race, whatever the motivation," Jennings said, noting that he had never heard before of a school or district doing such a thing. He described the assemblies as a unique byproduct of the intense focus on testing.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
New York- The income gap between rich and poor in the United States has increased significantly, The New York Times online edition reported Thursday.Let's see. Our meritocratic social system is based on the objectivity of color-blind and income-blind test scores, right. Right. And we expect the same high performance from kids in DC, where they drink lead-laced water at school and die from untreated absessed teeth, as we expect from the rich kids in Chevy Chase who drive their own BMWs to school, right? Right. And if the latter do better on the color-blind and income-blind tests, then it is former's fault for not trying hard enough. Guaranteed advantage, guaranteed failure, and guaranteed despair. Oh, yes--and guaranteed shut down of the public schools so that we can offer all the failures a Bible in their backpacks, a uniform to wear, and a voucher that the right-wing fundamentalists can cash in order to pay for their own proselytizing.
According to the report, new analyses of 2005 tax data shows that the top 300,000 Americans collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans.
Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap from 1980.Hmmm--1928. A year before, what was that big noise in 1929?
The report cites Internal Revenue Service data analyzed by economist Professor Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley, and Professor Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics.
If the economy is growing but only a few are enjoying the benefits, it goes to our sense of fairness," the report quoted Professor Saez as saying. "It can have important political consequences," the professor said.
While total reported income in the US increased almost 9 per cent in 2005, the most recent year for which such data is available, average incomes for those in the bottom 90 per cent dipped slightly compared with the year before, dropping 172 dollars, or 0.6 per cent.
According to the report, the gains went largely to the top 1 per cent, whose incomes rose to an average of more than 1.1 million dollars each, an increase of more than 139,000 dollars, or about 14 per cent.
The top 10 percent, roughly those earning more than 100,000 dollars, also reached a level of income share not seen since 1928, according to the report. . . .
Updated March 30, 2007
WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing of children constitutes the year-round focus in public schools classrooms; and
WHEREAS, the over-reliance and continued emphasis on high-stakes tests has a corrosive effect on preparing children for citizenship in a representative democracy; and
WHEREAS, many high stakes standardized tests administered to children are neither reliable nor valid; and
WHEREAS, emphasis on testing math and reading has resulted in the de-emphasis and disappearance of other important subjects and learning activities; and
WHEREAS, high-stakes testing of young children is inappropriate and harmful to their emotional and intellectual health; and
WHEREAS, results on a single test have been used to justify retention policies that ignore scientific evidence regarding the harmful effects of such practices, and
WHEREAS, poor, non-English speaking, and special education students bear the brunt of disproportionate failure on standardized tests; and
WHEREAS, the preponderance of high stakes standardized tests has neither closed the achievement gap, nor has it altered the economic and social factors that are responsible for those gaps in achievement; and
WHEREAS, failure to meet unrealistic testing targets undermines public support for their schools, thus opening the door to privatization; and
WHEREAS, the institutional stress of high-stakes testing undermines the supportive and challenging school climate required for children to learn and grow; therefore be it
RESOLVED, that schools will develop and use multiple forms of assessment to make high-stakes decisions regarding students, teachers, and the curriculum; and be it further
RESOLVED, that all standardized tests administered to school children will be psychometrically valid and reliable; and be it further
RESOLVED, that standardized tests will not be used as the sole criterion to make student promotion or retention decisions or as determinants of the curriculum and/or the operations of the public schools; and be it further
RESOLVED, that student scores on standardized tests will be used to help to help teachers address student knowledge gaps; and be it further
RESOLVED, that all testing of children will strictly follow ethical guidelines of the education profession and the professional recommendations of licensed psychologists and pediatricians; and be it further
RESOLVED, that standardized tests will be used to measure individual student gains over time, rather than arbitrary target scores that ignore the disadvantages that accrue from poverty, disability, or language status; and be it further
RESOLVED, that no test results will be used to justify punitive sanctions against individuals or schools; and be it further
RESOLVED, policymakers, classroom teachers, school officials, and parent representatives will constitute the appropriate body of stakeholders to make and to modify testing policies for schools; and be it further
RESOLVED, that school systems will have funded public awareness programs to gather public feedback and to disseminate information on the purpose and limitations of assessment programs.
*Use of Paul Wellstone's name in association with this effort approved by the Wellstone Action Network.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
charters encourage increased segregation by income and race
charter schools hire more compliant teachers who have not been corrupted by liberal teacher education programs that focus on equity and social justice
Project director Gary Miron noted the differences among some charters that serve predominantly black students, and others mainly made up of white and Asian students.
Schools also are segregated by low-income and affluent students, and the schools of the more affluent also seem to be better at leveraging private funding. The poorer, predominantly minority schools' students also performed worse on state tests while the white, higher-income charter schools did well.
"There are differences. They are not equal," Miron said.
Teacher qualifications and salaries were other issues. Some charter school teachers have less education and experience, or are less likely to be certified than those in traditional schools.charter schools offer less pay and fewer benefits
Teacher salaries averaged $42,281, lower than the state average of $52,486. But this too differed greatly among schools.
By Nick Coleman, Star TribuneIf there remains a "sacred cow" in public education -- an issue that can't be criticized or challenged -- it is not teacher unions, the failings of inner-city schools or the empty achievements of the No Child Left Behind Act. All those topics and more have been debated vigorously in the discussion over education.
No, the last sacred cow is the charter-school movement and the notion that charter schools will reform the schools and that no limit should be placed on their number, despite mounting evidence that they, too, are beset by problems.
That last sacred cow just got gored. And high time, too.
The Minnesota Senate's education spending package includes a long-overdue proposal to limit the number of charter schools in Minnesota to 150, a cap that could mean no more charter schools would be approved after 19 schools slated to open next fall or next year are added to the existing 131.
A cap may be gaining traction: Despite protests from charter-school supporters, an attempt to remove the cap from the education bill was defeated by voice vote in a Finance Committee subdivision Wednesday.
Logically, a cap makes sense. It wouldn't mean charter schools couldn't grow or accept more students; it would only mean that 150 charter schools are enough.
The need for a cap is clear: Charter schools, authorized by the 1991 Legislature (and limited, at first, to eight schools) have wildly outgrown their original intent, suffer from a lack of rigorous financial controls (several have gone bankrupt, others have been robbed by their managers), and have not significantly outperformed traditional public schools (according to the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, 44 percent of the state's charter schools did not make adequate progress last year, including the school where Minneapolis City Council member and public school critic Don Samuels sends his children).
"There are too many of them that suffer from really bad management, financial improprieties or sweetheart deals" involving charter-school sponsors who contract for services to their schools, says Charles Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. "It's time to put the brakes on, and take a hard look to figure out what's right or wrong." . . .
And here is a story from the Times today that brings all of these diversions into focus. It shows the bitter reality that remains in communities even after all the awards are handed out and all the rhetoric of high standards and academic accomplishment fades. To Janey and Fenty: take note of the real problems that your diversion simply mask.
During the spring of his sophomore year in high school here, Jeffrey Johnson took the standardized tests that Florida requires for promotion and graduation. He scored in the 93rd percentile in reading and the 95th in math. That same semester, he earned straight A’s.
Two years later, in May 2006, Jeffrey was about to graduate summa cum laude, having received a full college scholarship. Days before commencement, at the age of 17, he was shot to death at a party during an argument about his car. His graduation mortarboard was found near his body.
For Paul Moore, who had taught Jeffrey in an advanced social studies class at Miami Carol City Senior High School, a terrible question began to emerge. It all turned on the concept on accountability. Jeffrey had proved accountable to the state by passing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. But what about the accountability the state had to keep Jeffrey alive?
Jeffrey was the third Carol City student shot to death during the 2005-6 academic year. By the first semester of this year, two more had been killed in gun violence. It was then that Mr. Moore decided to do something more than deliver eulogies, visit weeping parents and initiate class discussions about all the senseless death.
He drafted a petition, expressing his righteous anger. (“Anger” indeed was the word, for it derives from the Norse “angr,” which means grief at the wrongness in the world.) The petition appealed to the newly elected governor, Charlie Crist, to “make Florida’s schools and the communities around them ‘measurably’ safer” and it concluded, “You are accountable to us for it!”. . . .
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
The Educator Roundtable is pleased to announce a new partnership with the Oakland Education Association. The OEA's principled stand against NCLB may be the beginning of a grassroots movement inside the California Teachers Association (CTA), the California affiliate of the nation's largest union, the National Education Association (NEA). NEA leadership seeks to modify NCLB, but the OEA believes more is needed. OEA supports federal funding for public education, but insists that it be without NCLB 's punitive measures, emphasis on high stakes testing, and embrace of privatization and profiteering.
As a result of all three of the above, NCLB has decimated inner city schools, caused wholesale school closures that qualitatively increase instability in inner city areas, and hit hardest at poor and minority schools, students and families.
OEA says that removal of these sanctions is a prerequisite for real improvement and achievement in our nation's public schools. "At the same time that public schools are being shut down, our school district is approving new charter schools. There are now more than 31 charter schools in Oakland. People in Oakland see this as a takeover….Schools that were anchors in their neighborhoods are shutting down, increasing the instability in those neighborhoods," explains OEA executive board member Jack Gerson.
There is no evidence supporting the claim that "charter schools" educate any better than public schools, nor is there any research supporting NCLB's requirement that schools use supplemental educational services. There is plenty of evidence showing that NCLB has forced thousands of school districts across the country to outsource public education. Oakland is not alone. In California 700 schools face restructuring this year.
In recent days, CTA locals in San Diego, Hollister and Kings/Tulare counties have taken stands similar to Oakland's. Oakland is the first local teacher's union to to publicly endorse the Educator Roundtable's position. We are confident more will soon follow.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Monday, March 26, 2007; B02
In Montgomery County public schools, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills test, or DIBELS, is used as a screening tool for kindergarten through second grade students, said Ann Bedford, K-12 curriculum development director.
In Anne Arundel County public schools, DIBELS is used from kindergarten through second grade "as a predictor and as a benchmark to see how kids are doing," said Kim Callison, coordinator for elementary reading and language arts. Teachers use it "for instructional decision-making."
The different purposes point to a heated debate among testing experts about the validity of DIBELS, which is given annually to about 2 million schoolchildren in the United States -- sometimes as often as three times a semester.
The test was created at the University of Oregon and has become prominent in the era of President Bush's Reading First program, which seeks to ensure that every child is able to read well by the third grade.
DIBELS has been championed as "scientifically valid" by administration officials seeking to advance the teaching of reading through an emphasis on phonics.
According to the DIBELS Web site ( http://dibels.uoregon.edu), the test is a set of standardized, individually administered measures of early literacy development. They are designed to be one-minute "fluency measures used to regularly monitor the development of pre-reading and early reading skills."
Early childhood expert Samuel J. Meisels, president of the Chicago-based Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development, said DIBELS has "very, very weak validity," and numerous other critics have gone further.
"It is an absurd set of silly little one-minute tests that never get close to measuring what reading is really about -- making sense of print," wrote Kenneth S. Goodman, a professor at the University of Arizona who is a past president of the International Reading Association, in his book "The Truth About DIBELS."
Goodman and others say the mini quizzes focus on only a few specific skills that do not encompass everything needed for comprehensive reading instruction. The emphasis on speed, they say, is misplaced in reading development.
The quizzes include one in which students are supposed to read made-up words as fast as they can, called the Nonsense Word Fluency measure. Another asks students to read short passages out loud as fast as they can.
Critics also say DIBELS is being used as a curriculum guide in many classrooms where teachers, whose jobs may depend on student test scores, are eager to improve their charges' DIBELS scores.
Tests are supposed to have one purpose, but Goodman, Meisels and others say the fact that different classes are using it for different things means many of the results are invalid.
Not to worry though about the poor teachers, administrators, students and parents across the country who find themselves in an ever-tightening noose of measuring every child every year in this one-size-fits all anti-intellectual drive to compete for jobs that do not exist. Hmmm...perhaps those Citicorp workers who are about to be laid off can be retrained to be psychometricians or scorekeepers at Harcourt.
CHICAGO - To motivate juniors on last April's assessment exams, Springfield High School offered coveted lockers, parking spaces near the door and free prom tickets as incentives for good scores.
But the incentives at the central Illinois school went unclaimed until this month, when Illinois finally published its 2006 test scores - more than four months after they were due.
Critics pounced on Harcourt Assessment Inc., which lost most of its $44.5 million state contract over delays - caused by everything from shipping problems to missing test pages and scoring errors - that made Illinois the last state in the nation to release scores used to judge schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
But experts say the problems are more widespread and are likely to get worse. A few companies create, print and score most of the tests in the United States, and they're struggling with a workload that has exploded since President Bush signed the education reform package in 2002.
"The testing industry in the U.S. is buckling under the weight of NCLB demands," said Thomas Toch, co-director of Education Sector, a Washington-based think tank.
Rising test scores in some of these urban work houses, the ones that have chased out the lowest performing students, leads some to conclude that if you ignore poverty long enough and if you work children hard enough, then you can actually see enough results to justify your continued blindness to the reasons behind the achievement gap to begin with.
It is not surprising, then, to see the KIPPster time schedule start bleeding into the rest of the urban schools. It is so interesting that liberals and conservatives, alike, would not think of having different test targets for these children disadvantaged by poverty, even though poverty has assured the failure of millions of the urban poor.
When it comes to demanding extra work time, however, everyone, including the good liberals, are onboard that train. After all, the sooner these kids learn that they have to pay more for less, the sooner they will be educated in the realities of ghetto living and ghetto working, which is all that is planned for these children schooled in failure from the earliest grades.
Oh, did I say that there is not a single research study to show that it works? The story from the Times:
FALL RIVER, Mass. — States and school districts nationwide are moving to lengthen the day at struggling schools, spurred by grim test results suggesting that more than 10,000 schools are likely to be declared failing under federal law next year.
In Massachusetts, in the forefront of the movement, Gov. Deval L. Patrick is allocating $6.5 million this year for longer days and can barely keep pace with demand: 84 schools have expressed interest.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York has proposed an extended day as one of five options for his state’s troubled schools, part of a $7 billion increase in spending on education over the next four years — apart from the 37 minutes of extra tutoring that children in some city schools already receive four times a week.
And Gov. M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut is proposing to lengthen the day at persistently failing schools as part of a push to raise state spending on education by $1 billion.
“In 15 years, I’d be very surprised if the old school calendar still dominates in urban settings,” said Mark Roosevelt, superintendent of schools in Pittsburgh, which has added 45 minutes a day at eight of its lowest-performing schools and 10 more days to their academic year. . . .
Sunday, March 25, 2007
From WKRN.com in Nashville:
Iain Macpherson cares deeply about teaching civics, explaining to his fifth-graders how government works, what the Bill of Rights protects and what it means to be an American citizen.
To make the lessons real, the 61-year-old Scottish immigrant arranged for a federal judge to perform his own citizenship ceremony at his school, Freedom Intermediate in Franklin.
"I wanted them to know what the experience is like," Macpherson said.
Macpherson and other social studies teachers say they have to shoehorn civics lessons into their regular classes because Tennessee and most other states don't require civics to be taught separately.
Since the federal No Child Left Behind law was passed in 2002, schools have focused on reading and math, and that has squeezed out other subjects like arts, music and civics, educators say. So lawmakers in Tennessee and other states have proposed bills this year to save civics.
A bill from state Sen. Rosalind Kurita would require the Tennessee Department of Education to create a separate civics course in at least one grade between fifth and eighth grade.
"We have responsibilities to our community and to other people to be good citizens," said Kurita, D-Clarksville.
"And I think that civic classes are a way to teach how comprehensive this responsibility really is."
Kurita says teaching students about voting and citizenship rights is just as important as math and English. Ted McConnell, director of the Campaign to Promote Civic Education, an initiative of the Center for Civic Education, agrees.
"Study after study shows that when our youth are exposed to effective civic education courses, they're not only more likely to vote, but they're more likely to get involved in their communities and work toward solutions to societal problems," he said.
Attention to civics in the classroom had been declining over the
past 20 years, McConnell said, but the "decline was dramatically accelerated after the implementation of No Child Left Behind."
He cited a study done last year by the Washington-based Center for Education Policy that showed 71 percent of school districts surveyed said they have had to reduce instructional time in at least one other subject to make room for increased attention to math and reading because of NCLB.
"We find that the first target of those cuts is usually social studies, which often includes civic learning," McConnell said.
The Center for Civic Education said several other state legislatures are considering civics bills: California,
Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a resolution earlier this month to encourage the creation of a council that would make recommendations on improving civics education.
The Tennessee bill stalled in committee last week so a study commission could make suggestions, but Kurita remains optimistic about its chances.
"To inform students about government, how the legal community and how society works, is critical to education," said state Sen. Jamie Woodson, a Knoxville Republican and chair of the Senate Education Committee. "It's as important as
math and science."
Les Winningham, chairman of the House Education Committee that is scheduled to hear the companion bill, said he also supports the idea of a separate class for civics. "It's such an essential part of our way of government," said Winningham, D-Huntsville.
McConnell said civics classes should be offered as early as possible. He said some states don't teach civics until a student's senior year, "which is too late."
"It's best to get this information to the students sooner where they're more likely to be engaged than their senior year," he said.
Bruce Opie, legislative director for the Tennessee Department of Education,
said Kurita's legislation is being given serious consideration.
"There's a lot of room for improvement on teaching civics," said Opie, who once taught social studies. "If it's the will of the Legislature to require a stand alone course, obviously we'll abide by that."
On the Net:
Center for Civic Education: http://www.civiced.org/
The full text of bill SB1333 can be read on the General Assembly's Web site at http://legislature.state.tn.us
|By Roxana Orellana|
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
|Article Last Updated:03/21/2007 11:42:04 AM MDT|
|The Granite Board of Education on Tuesday approved a resolution in support of a referendum petition that, if successful, would force a public vote on Utah's new school voucher program. |
"That is something that is good for us to do," said Board President Sarah Meier, adding that board members are actively gathering signatures for the petition.
Board members approved the resolution unanimously.
The resolution states that "vouchers divert attention, commitment and dollars from public schools to pay private school tuition for a few students."
Further, it forces taxpayers to support two school systems, creating a new cost to taxpayers, the resolution reads.
The voucher program is scheduled to be implemented this fall. The program will offer public funds to pay private school tuition to parents of all public schools children regardless of income level.
According to the Granite resolution, vouchers leave behind many disadvantaged students because private schools may not accept them or offer the special services they need.
Granite's resolution in favor of the referendum drive is similar to one approved earlier this month by the Jordan Board of Education. The Salt Lake Board of Education also has spoken out against vouchers.
The PTA, Utah Education Association and other opponents of the voucher program are working to collect 92,000 signatures statewide by April to delay the program's implementation until a public vote can be taken.
WILTON, Conn., March 22 — Student productions at Wilton High School range from splashy musicals like last year’s “West Side Story,” performed in the state-of-the-art, $10 million auditorium, to weightier works like Arthur Miller’s “Crucible,” on stage last fall in the school’s smaller theater.
For the spring semester, students in the advanced theater class took on a bigger challenge: creating an original play about the war in Iraq. They compiled reflections of soldiers and others involved, including a heartbreaking letter from a 2005 Wilton High graduate killed in Iraq last September at age 19, and quickly found their largely sheltered lives somewhat transformed.
“In Wilton, most kids only care about Britney Spears shaving her head or Tyra Banks gaining weight,” said Devon Fontaine, 16, a cast member. “What we wanted was to show kids what was going on overseas.”
But even as 15 student actors were polishing the script and perfecting their accents for a planned April performance, the school principal last week canceled the play, titled “Voices in Conflict,” citing questions of political balance and context.
. . . .
In response to concerns that the script was too antiwar, Ms. Dickinson reworked it with the help of an English teacher. The revised version is more reflective and less angry, omitting graphic descriptions of killing, crude language and some things that reflect poorly on the Bush administration, like a comparison of how long it took various countries to get their troops bulletproof vests. A critical reference to Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, was cut, along with a line from Cpl. Sean Huze saying of soldiers: “Your purpose is to kill.”
Seven characters were added, including Maj. Tammy Duckworth of the National Guard, a helicopter pilot who lost both legs and returned from the war to run for Congress last fall. The second version gives First Lt. Melissa Stockwell, who lost her left leg from the knee down, a new closing line: “But I’d go back. I wouldn’t want to go back, but I would go.”
On March 13, Mr. Canty met with the class. He told us “no matter what we do, it’s not happening,” said one of the students, Erin Clancy. That night, on a Facebook chat group called “Support the Troops in Iraq,” a poster named GabriellaAF, who several students said was their classmate Gabby, posted a celebratory note saying, “We got the show canceled!!” (Reached by telephone, Gabby’s mother, Barbara Alessi, said she had no knowledge of the play or her daughter’s involvement in it.) In classrooms, teenage centers and at dinner tables around town, the drama students entertained the idea of staging the show at a local church, or perhaps al fresco just outside the school grounds. One possibility was Wilton Presbyterian Church. . . .
University of Florida President Bernie Machen says he was "tremendously disappointed" with the school's Faculty Senate vote to deny former Gov. Jeb Bush an honorary degree.
The Senate voted 38-28 Thursday against giving the honorary degree to Bush, who left office in January.
"Jeb Bush has been a great friend of the University of Florida," Machen said Friday, adding that the Senate's action is "unheard of."
Some faculty expressed concern about Bush's record in higher education.
"I really don't feel this is a person who has been a supporter of UF," Kathleen Price, associate dean of library and technology at the school's Levin College of Law, told The Gainesville Sun after the vote. . . .
Friday, March 23, 2007
. . . . The audit found that Gorman Learning Center officials misreported how many full-time teachers they employ and how much of the budget is spent in the classroom, resulting in $7.7 million in overbilling to the state.
Auditors found that the school lacked proper accounting controls, faulted the board for a lack of oversight and said Executive Director Waldo Burford paid his daughter and son-in-law $32,637 for 21 hours of work evaluating student writing.
However, some parents and students Thursday called Burford a visionary and the Gorman center a lifesaver, especially for students at the Pomona campus.
Others said that as district officials enjoyed luxuries, students lacked instructional materials.
"I am absolutely shocked by this finding. These people hid it very well. They hid it from the whole school," said Mosher, of Yucaipa, who said she has three children in the district.
Parents called on Burford and Human Resources Director Sondra Green to step down. The audit found the school paid $18,000 in rent for an apartment for Green from 2002 through 2004.
Burford called the audit a "submarine attack" by discontented staffers and characterized it as an attack on homeschooling.
"I'm ready to do the fight and ready to defend homeschooling again as the captain of your ship," he told parents.
Los Angeles County schools officials hired MGT of America Inc. in July to investigate allegations first made in October 2005 to the California Department of Education, said Kenneth Shelton, assistant superintendent of business services.
Shelton said the audit has been forwarded to district attorneys in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties.
"The audit findings show that public trust has been badly abused by officials running the Gorman Learning Center," state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said in a statement.
State officials will seek repayment from the Gorman center, O'Connell said.
As some parents and students cried while speaking to the board Thursday, parent Pamela Duvall, of San Dimas, worried that Gorman would have to close its doors.
The school offers a good educational program and gives parents many choices of classes, Duvall said.
Still, Duvall said a cleanup at the school's administrative offices is needed.
"If you have three agencies and (Burford's) only defense is that they're doing it to attack homeschooling -- I'm sorry, but he needs to answer the claims," she said.
The day before the 16th anniversary of the unearthing of their brutalized bodies, Ronald Reagan chose Philadelphia to kick off his presidential campaign, delivering what civil rights attorney, J. L. Chestnut remembers as a racist speech to let the people of the South know where he stood on the issue of race:
The Reagan rally took place in the town square on the unkempt Main Street, and I would guess that every racist nut in the town was crowded into the square. This writer and only one other black person were present, and he was pushing a gray haired old white man in a wheelchair who appeared already dead. Reagan delivered the most racist speech I had heard since Wallace's "segregation today, tomorrow and forever "foolishness. Hiding behind the Reagan smile, he proclaimed that without a doubt the South will rise again and this time remain master of everybody and everything within its dominion." The square came to life, the Klu Kluxers were shouting, jeering and in obvious ecstasy. God bless America."Reagan went on to win every Southern state except Georgia, Jimmy Carter's home state. And upon assuming the Presidency, Reagan set out to shut down the Dept. of Education that Carter started, crush the teachers' (and everyone else's) union, and to end the "public school monopoly." If Reagan were alive today, he would, no doubt, be happy to see the spread of corporate (for profit and non-profit) welfare charter schools in his home state of California, where principals hire and fire at will, and where black and brown children are told lies about their bright future chances while their past is hidden from them.
Which brings us to another Mississippi memory, one that precedes the three civil rights murders and Reagan's pre-empting of its commemoration 16 years later. It was 1955, and a boy named Emmett Till came into town (Money, Mississippi) to buy candy with his cousins. Some boys said they heard Emmett whistle at the white female store owner's wife that day. That same night Emmett was taken by masked men from his bed and later tortured, brutalized, and shot in the head. Before his 14-year old body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River, the murderers tied a broken industrial cotton gin fan to his neck with barbed wire so that he would sink to the bottom.
Last week in one of those charter schools where teachers can be hired and fired at the whim of a principal, two teachers, Marisol Alba and Sean Strauss, were fired for signing a student petition to protest the censoring of a Black History Month remembrance of the lynched boy, Emmett Till. It seems that remembering the past does not fit the charter school mission of preparing these children to compete in a global economy, an economy that has no place for the reality of their struggle to achieve personhood, and no place for a poem by seventh graders called "A Wreath for Emmett Till," a wreath intended to replace that broken fan and barbed wire that took Emmett Till to his watery grave.
From the L. A. Times:
"Work hard, be nice" as the KIPPsters like to say.
Administrators at a Los Angeles charter school forbade students from reciting a poem about civil rights icon Emmett Till during a Black History Month program recently, saying his story was unsuitable for an assembly of young children.
Teachers and students said the administration suggested that the Till case — in which the teenager was beaten to death in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a white woman — was not fitting for a program intended to be celebratory, and that Till's actions could be viewed as sexual harassment.
The decision by Celerity Nascent Charter School leaders roiled the southwest Los Angeles campus and led to the firing of seventh-grade teacher Marisol Alba and math teacher Sean Strauss, who had signed one of several letters of protest written by the students.
The incident highlights the tenuous job security for mostly nonunion teachers in charter schools, which are publicly financed but independently run. California has more than 600 charter schools, and their ranks continue to swell. According to the California Teachers Assn., staff at fewer than 10% of charter schools are represented by unions.
"I never thought it would come to this," said Alba, who helped her students prepare the Till presentation, in which they were going to read a poem and lay flowers in a circle. "I thought the most that would happen to me [after the event was canceled] is that I'd get talked to and it would be turned into a learning and teaching experience."
School officials refused to discuss the particulars of the teachers' firings but said the issue highlights the difficulty of providing positive images for students who are often bombarded by negative cultural stereotypes.
"Our whole goal is how do we get these kids to not look at all of the bad things that could happen to them and instead focus on the process of how do we become the next surgeon or the next politician," said Celerity co-founder and Executive Director Vielka McFarlane. "We don't want to focus on how the history of the country has been checkered but on how do we dress for success, walk proud and celebrate all the accomplishments we've made." . . . .
Now after Hickok has moved on to become a kingpin in Dutko Worldwide, where he can share his expertise on making the private sector rich with public dollars, we find out that Hickok has been operating under a cloud that now shows that, despite official advice prior to his confirmation as Deputy Secretary, he held on to Bank of America stocks that constituted his largest personal asset during his tenure in Washington. Never mind he was making federal lending decisions that involved Bank of America and Wachovia
If there is anything good to come of this, Hickok has sworn off working in government ever again. And, of course, he blames big government for the "error."
From the Patriot-News:
Former state Education Secretary and former top-ranking U.S. Department of Education official Eugene Hickok has agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a conflict-of-interest matter investigated by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.
The settlement stems from Hickok's failure to sell 836 shares of stock he owned in Bank of America during his tenure as undersecretary and deputy secretary of the federal education department from 2001 to 2005, even though that bank participates in the federal student loan program.
The settlement, signed on March 15, releases Hickok from any criminal charge or further liability for failing to divest bank stock. Channing Philips, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office, said criminal charges were considered but "at the end of the day, we decided the civil resolution was the way to go."
Hickok is a former Dickinson College political science professor who served as the state education secretary under Gov. Tom Ridge from 1995 to 2001. He lives in Richmond, Va., and is a senior policy director with Dutko Worldwide.
He could not be reached yesterday for a comment.
The settlement agreement states that a week after Hickok's 2001 confirmation as undersecretary, he was informed by an ethics official that the stock he and his wife Kathy owned in Bank of America, Citigroup, Key Corp. and Wachovia "poses a problem" in connection with his duties.
He was given a waiver to participate in general policy discussions initially, but in January 2004, while awaiting confirmation to deputy secretary -- the second-highest-ranking position in the department -- Hickok was advised to sell the bank stock holdings.
In June of that year, Hickok's wife sold her shares, the agreement states. He held on to his shares of Bank of America stock, which he listed on documents as his largest personal assets. His wife in the fall of 2004 repurchased stock in banks that participate in the student-loan program.
On Jan. 15, 2005, he signed a statement affirming they sold their bank stock. He resigned from the federal department the next month.
We can only wonder how U. S. Attorney Phillips came to decide that criminal charges were inappropriate--or how 50 grand would ever pay for the damage done. Well, he probably has bigger fish to fry, like those black and brown people who are trying to vote without the proper IDs. You remember, that voter fraud business that Gonzales likes to have his remaining attorneys pursuing.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Virginia Sens. John W. Warner and James Webb introduced legislation yesterday to protect the state's schools from Bush administration threats to withhold millions of dollars in aid in a clash over federal testing rules.
The bipartisan measure addresses a controversy that has swelled in Virginia over testing requirements for students with limited English skills.
School systems in Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun counties have begun in recent months to push back against what they call unrealistic mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind law. They plan to defy a federal directive to give thousands of students who are beginning to learn English reading tests that cover the same grade-level material as exams taken by students who are native speakers. . . .
WAKE UP, CONGRESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
By Marc Fisher
Thursday, March 22, 2007; B01
Jack Dale is no anti-testing zealot, shielding the little ones from the reality of a competitive world. He's not out there with the activists who believe the No Child Left Behind revolution in American schools has turned education into a grim, mechanistic culture.
But the superintendent of Fairfax County schools, who presides over one of the highest-achieving systems in the land, has taken a stand at the schoolhouse door: "The last thing I'm going to do is subject some third-grader to tears because someone's standing over them saying, 'You must complete [this standardized test], you must complete.' That's not happening. Let them fire me for it."
In the next couple of weeks, either Dale or the U.S. government will blink. Until then, threats and counterthreats are flying across the Potomac. Dale, backed up by his school board and several other Northern Virginia superintendents, insists he will not require newly arrived immigrant children to take the same reading test that other kids take. And the feds reply: Oh, yes, you will -- and if you don't, you'll lose $17 million in federal dollars.
This is not about accountability; Dale's all for that. In fact, the children at issue are already tested twice a year on their English skills. When they reach a decent level of proficiency in their new language, they take the same test everyone else takes. But Dale refuses to make a kid who has just arrived in the country sit at a desk and be humiliated by a test that can only make him feel like a moron.
The federal approach to No Child Left Behind is what you might expect from an administration whose response to a failing strategy in Iraq is to throw good bodies after maimed ones. "We need to stay the course," Raymond Simon, the U.S. deputy secretary of education, told The Washington Post's Amit Paley. "The mission is doable, and we don't need to back off that right now."
No Child Left Behind is built on a mirage. At some point that's always just over the horizon, the law assumes, all children in the nation will miraculously read and compute at grade level, simply because they have been tested and tested and tested again. The theory is that somehow, when told the exact number of children who are lagging in achievement, teachers will agree to render the magic that they have thus far withheld and -- poof! -- those kids will become smart, cooperative and productive.
As we get closer to that utopia, it's becoming ever more clear that Some Children Remain Behind and that, gadzooks, Not Every Child Is the Same. Oh, and this: Staking everything on a test doesn't produce a flowering of inspired teaching, but rather what Dale, a former math teacher, calls an "obsessive focus on tests."
"You focus obsessively on multiplying two-digit numbers," he says, "as opposed to how to apply that knowledge in the real world and how to play with mathematics in a creative way."
The flaws in the nation's new education regimen continue to elude the Bush administration. Dale has met twice with senior officials in Washington to push for enough flexibility so schools are not condemned as failures -- even if 500 kids took and passed the tests, "two Hispanic children or two special education children didn't pass, and the rules say that makes the school a failure." Both times, senior Education Department leaders told Dale there would be no exceptions to the rules. (Virginia's two U.S. senators jumped in on Dale's side yesterday, filing a bill that would force the feds to give Fairfax schools and others a year's reprieve.)
In most of the country, the children in classes for non-English speakers were born in the United States, and Dale agrees that by third grade, they should be tested in English, as the law requires. But in Fairfax, 63 percent of children in such classes were born in other countries. Those children, Dale says, deserve a little time to soak in the language before they are subjected to high-stakes tests in English.
What this is really all about, the superintendent thinks, is an unresolved debate over whether there should be national education standards. Remember, the same people who now mandate Testing Uber Alles were pushing two decades ago to abolish any federal role in education. Under the No Child law, designed by a purportedly conservative administration, the amount of time that a superintendent such as Dale must spend satisfying the federal bureaucracy has skyrocketed from hardly any to hours and hours each week.
No Child Left Behind is built on a lie. Not every kid will go to college, no matter what you do. So you can either lower the standards enough to pretend that everyone is succeeding, or give up on the lie.
But the feds won't talk about that; they just repeat "Stay the course," and any school system that balks is threatened with punishment.
"I've been warned that to speak frankly in this area is not wise personally or professionally," Dale says. But he's speaking anyway, because, as a good teacher, he knows that "we don't succeed well when we go punitive. You need standards, but they should be aspirational; it needs to be about incentives, not punishment."
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
This article in today's Christian Science Monitor indicates that the battle lines are being drawn between those who want to abolish the federal role in education and funding and the national level and those who continue to support it. Republicans call it the A-Plus Actis and ironically, if they have their way, this Federal involvement in education will legislate public education right out of existence by paving the way for vouchers.
On the House side, 52 Republicans, including minority whip Roy Blunt, are cosponsoring the A-Plus Act, introduced by Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R) of Michigan. Thirty-three Republicans voted against the NCLB bill, most of whom are cosponsoring the Hoekstra bill. This bill, along with a companion bill in the Senate, revives a formula that drove GOP education policy in the 1990s: that the best route to accountability is through local control and parental choice, not a bigger federal footprint on education.
"We must move education decisionmaking out of Washington closer to where it belongs – with parents and teachers," said Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas, a cosponsor of the Senate version of this bill and typically one of the strongest supporters of the Bush administration in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are moving towards abolishing the impossible 100 prociency targets and replacing them with "growth models" for measuring student progress. What appears to be missing from the discussion, however, is any real or meaningful talk of reducing class size, building construction, raising teacher salaries, equitable funding mechanisms, health care and employment opportunities that might reduce poverty rates and lead to better test scores.
Democrats also aim to revise aspects of how the law is implemented, including revising strategies for turning around low-performing schools. Of some 90,000 public schools, about 9,000 have been targeted by NCLB as needing improvement. "We want to make turning around our most struggling schools a priority in this reauthorization," says Roberto Rodriguez, senior education adviser to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. That panel is considering shifting to alternative measures of "adequate yearly progress," including models that account for the improvement of individual students over a school year, rather than whether they meet target proficiency standards.
As long as the Business Roundtable and the politicians continue to talk amongst themselves and ignore the voices of educators and the experts or professionals in education, the ideologically driven war over education will continue to leave American students behind. Both Democrats and Republicans have been blinded by a testing mania that has dominated the discourse on education because it is now entrenched in the corporate takeover of schooling and a multi-billion dollar testing industry with a stake in the outcome and deep pockets for election campaigns.
While "the role of the federal government" in education will be hotly debated when NCLB comes up for reauthorization the Democrats and Republicans must be made to understand that more money for testing and accountability should not come at the expense of meaningful reform. If this nation does not start investing wisely in children and teachers, in civics, history, art, and literature along with math and science, the next generation of students will look back on public education as a relic of the past and democracy as a dream for the future.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
The charter school movement, begun 16 years ago as an alternative to struggling public schools, will today make its strongest claim on mainstream American education when a national group announces the most successful fundraising campaign in the movement's history -- $65 million to create 42 schools in Houston.
The money, which comes from some of the nation's foremost donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, would make the Knowledge Is Power Program the largest charter school organization in the country. KIPP, which runs three schools in Washington, has produced some of the highest test scores among publicly funded schools in the District and has made significant gains in the math and reading achievement of low-income students in most of its 52 schools across the country.The announcement, several school improvement experts said, raises the charter school movement to a new level of influence, financial strength and public notice. The number of independently run, taxpayer-supported schools has grown rapidly, to nearly 4,000, since the movement began in 1991. But that counts for only about 5 percent of public schools, and most have been small and overlooked. With the KIPP announcement, experts said, donors will be looking for more ways to expand the most successful models and build large systems, as KIPP plans to do in Houston. . . .
I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again.
Well, the Business Roundtable would fool us over and over and over. Now led by Harold McGraw (how appropriate), the BR is pushing once more to create an oversupply of scientists, engineers, and technicians so that American corporations can pay the best ones dirt and have the rest drive taxis like they do in India. Here is the latest BR Press Release, which, interestingly, shows them now lobbying for the Pentagon:
Washington, DC - Tapping America's Potential (TAP), a coalition of 16 of the nation's leading business organizations, today joined U.S. business and higher education leaders to unveil "The American Innovation Proclamation," which urges Congress to act now on an innovation agenda to maintain U.S. competitiveness. The proclamation, which was delivered to every Capitol Hill office and presented to Members of Congress during a press conference held today, calls for action on four key policy priorities aimed at promoting and sustaining U.S. innovation leadership. More than 270 American business and higher education leaders signed the call to action on innovation.
"American innovation fuels the U.S. economy and helps to enhance our ability to compete in the 21st century global marketplace," said Susan Traiman, Director of Education and Workforce Policy at Business Roundtable, a TAP founding member. "It is vital that Congress move ahead this year on legislation that will allow us to continue our rich tradition of ingenuity."
In addition to the press conference to unveil the proclamation, today's events include a House Science and Technology Committee hearing on innovation and competitiveness. Testifying at that hearing is Harold McGraw III, Chairman, President and CEO of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., and Chairman of Business Roundtable. In his prepared remarks, Mr. McGraw stated:
"It is worth noting that the forces driving economic integration and global competition were all invented here. More than any other country, the United States created the conditions for global economic growth driven by accelerated technological innovation. America is in the best position to take advantage of the changing competitive landscape as long as we recognize the challenges we face and make the investments required to succeed in the new environment."
The proclamation calls for Congress to act now to renew America's commitment to discovery by:
- Doubling the basic research budgets at the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the Department of Defense;
- Improving student achievement in math and science through increased funding of proven programs and incentives for science and math teacher recruitment and professional development;
- Welcoming highly educated foreign professionals, particularly those holding advanced science, technology, engineering, or mathematics degrees, especially from U.S. universities, by reforming U.S. visa policies; and
- Making permanent a strengthened R&D Tax Credit to encourage continued private-sector innovation investment.
In July 2005, the U.S. business community formed the TAP campaign in an effort to ensure that America develops the talented and capable workforce that is needed to meet the growing demands of the ever-changing global marketplace. They set the goal of doubling the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates by 2015, and TAP members have actively worked since that time to advance their agenda with policymakers in Congress and the Administration.
For live Web casts of the press conference and hearing, visit the House Science and Technology Committee Web site at www.science.house.gov. To learn more about TAP and the proclamation, visit www.tap2015.org.
# # #
TAP is composed of 16 prominent business organizations that represent the largest and most innovative companies in America. They have set the goal of doubling the number of U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates with bachelor's degrees by 2015.
Do we need that many engineers and mathematicians?
From the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07:
The only two areas of engineering that are expected to exceed average job growth: environmental engineering and biomedical engineering. Is BR advocating more research in these areas? Didn't think so.
Employment of mathematicians is expected to decline through 2014 . . .
Overall engineering employment is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations over the 2004-14 period. Engineers have traditionally been concentrated in slow-growing manufacturing industries, in which they will continue to be needed to design, build, test, and improve manufactured products. However, increasing employment of engineers in faster growing service industries should generate most of the employment growth. Overall job opportunities in engineering are expected to be favorable because the number of engineering graduates should be in rough balance with the number of job openings over this period. However, job outlook varies by specialty, as discussed later in this section.
Competitive pressures and advancing technology will force companies to improve and update product designs and to optimize their manufacturing processes. Employers will rely on engineers to further increase productivity as investment in plant and equipment increases to expand output of goods and services. New technologies continue to improve the design process, enabling engineers to produce and analyze various product designs much more rapidly than in the past. Unlike in other fields, however, technological advances are not expected to limit employment opportunities substantially, because they will permit the development of new products and processes.
There are many well-trained, often English-speaking engineers available around the world willing to work at much lower salaries than are U.S. engineers. The rise of the Internet has made it relatively easy for much of the engineering work previously done by engineers in this country to be done by engineers in other countries, a factor that will tend to hold down employment growth. Even so, the need for onsite engineers to interact with other employees and with clients will remain.
Compared with most other workers, a smaller proportion of engineers leave their jobs each year. Nevertheless, many job openings will arise from replacement needs, reflecting the large size of this profession. Numerous job openings will be created by engineers who transfer to management, sales, or other professional occupations; additional openings will arise as engineers retire or leave the labor force for other reasons.
Many engineers work on long-term research and development projects or in other activities that continue even during economic slowdowns. In industries such as electronics and aerospace, however, large cutbacks in defense expenditures and in government funding for research and development have resulted in significant layoffs of engineers in the past. The trend toward contracting for engineering work with engineering services firms, both domestic and foreign, has had the same result.
It is important for engineers, as it is for those working in other technical and scientific occupations, to continue their education throughout their careers because much of their value to their employer depends on their knowledge of the latest technology. Engineers in high-technology areas, such as advanced electronics or information technology, may find that technical knowledge can become outdated rapidly. By keeping current in their field, engineers are able to deliver the best solutions and greatest value to their employers. Engineers who have not kept current in their field may find themselves passed over for promotions or vulnerable to layoffs.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Congress is moving to end a standardized test backed by the Bush administration and given to hundreds of thousands of preschool children in Head Start programs each year, amid complaints from early childhood experts that the exam is developmentally inappropriate and poorly designed.
The National Reporting System, a set of mini-tests said to measure verbal and math skills, has been given in Head Start programs each fall and spring since 2003.
Bush administration officials say the test is necessary to help determine how well the nearly 2,700 Head Start programs in the country are progressing. Before the national test was introduced, each Head Start program used its own assessments to monitor student progress.
Critics question whether the test accurately measures how much a child learns and cite a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, that raised concerns about the way the test has been implemented.
This spring, the test is scheduled to be administered to 410,000 4- and 5-year-olds unless Congress moves to end it. On Wednesday, the House Education and Labor Committee voted to end the test in a vote on the reauthorization of Head Start, a preschool program started in the mid-1960s to improve the lives of at-risk children and their families. The full House is expected to vote on the measure as soon as this week.
A Senate subcommittee passed a bill with the same measure last month, and the full Senate is to take up the bill soon. It is expected that members will vote to suspend the test.
The Bush administration promoted an overhaul of Head Start, especially the National Reporting System, as part of the president's major early-childhood initiative, a follow-up to his K-12 No Child Left Behind program, which emphasizes standardized tests. It was also seen as an attempt to shift Head Start's focus from nurturing children's social and emotional development to emphasizing literacy.
Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Head Start, said that although the test was rushed into implementation in 2003 -- it was important to start the process, he said -- it has been improved and is valid.
"Some of the criticism is criticism that we agree with, and some of it is rather silly," Horn said.
The controversy over the assessment underscores a key but often ignored component in the national debate about standardized testing: How is it determined whether a test measures what it is intended to measure? Experts say that one way is to do extensive field testing before an assessment is implemented, which was not done for the National Reporting System.
Another concern of early childhood experts is the practicality of testing young children.
Samuel J. Meisels, president of the Chicago-based Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development, said that young children are generally poor test takers because of their limited abilities to stay focused and comprehend assessment cues.
Critics also say that the Bush administration offered different reasons for imposing the test, all of which required different assessments.
Administration officials said test scores would be used to improve individual services to specific children and to target teacher training assistance. Officials also said that it was important to establish a way to monitor student progress nationally to help -- and close, when necessary -- Head Start programs.
The test created and given to children beginning in 2003 did not specifically address those issues, Meisels said, nor did it measure how much a preschooler knows or has learned. Meisels said that even if the test were able to capture what a child has learned, it would only measure a small part of what the federal program was created to do.
Horn's department recently issued a memo that said the test is "strongly predictive of many of the academic skills and knowledge that are important for children's success in elementary school." The memo was written by Westat, an independent company the government hired to develop and oversee the National Reporting System.
But Meisels and other assessment experts said Westat's analyses used insufficient samples and the correlations said to be drawn in the research showed poor validity.
Horn said the Bush administration is continuing to try to improve the test and recently added a section designed to measure children's social and emotional development.
Last month, a government-appointed panel recommended more refinements. The key suggestion, panel head Susan Landry said, was aimed at clarifying the test's main purpose: The commission said that it should be used strictly to identify places that need professional development and technical assistance. The test should have no punitive use, she said.
Yale University psychology professor Edward Zigler, who is referred to as the "father of Head Start" for his role in creating and sustaining the program, questioned the Landry panel's independence from the Bush administration while it conducted its work.
Landry, a pediatrics professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, worked for Bush when he was governor of Texas.Landry said the commission members who were picked by Bush administration officials were experts in their fields and operated with independence.
From the Associated Baptist Press:
WASHINGTON (ABP) -- For the first time under Democrats' new majority in Congress, a House panel refused March 14 to add language to a bill that would have allowed religious organizations receiving federal funds to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion.
On a 24-13 vote, the House Labor and Education Committee rejected a Republican attempt to amend a bill reauthorizing the federal Head Start program. The amendment would have changed long-standing rules in the popular early-childhood education program by explicitly allowing churches and other groups receiving funds to take religion into account when hiring teachers and other employees.
Advocates of such rules argue that it violates the religious freedom of such social-service providers by expecting them to follow the same rules as secular groups when they are receiving government funds. But many civil-rights groups and church-state separationists contend that it is equally wrong to allow federal dollars to fund job discrimination.
Republican leaders repeatedly attempted to alter federal social-service programs by adding similar language to a host of bills in the past decade. While they often succeeded in the House, the Senate often stymied their efforts.
Such provisions were an integral part of President Bush's faith-based initiative -- an attempt to loosen the rules for churches and other religious charities seeking government funds for providing services to the public. While the initiative was largely a failure in Congress, Bush has implemented many of the changes necessary to implement it through executive orders.
The House's new Democratic leaders are generally opposed to such explicit employment-discrimination provisions, although some are supportive of the concept of making it easier for faith-based groups to receive tax dollars.
The National Head Start Association -- representing thousands of Head Start programs nationwide -- was also among the groups that opposed the amendment.
The original Head Start bill, without amendment, then passed the committee 42-1. It is expected to pass the full House as well.