Saturday, April 02, 2005

Spellings' editorial

In today's WaPo, Secretary Spellings defends No Child Left Behind and argues for its expansion. It's interesting that she feels confident enough to keep pushing this, despite opposition from Democrats and -- more significantly -- conservative Republicans. From the editorial:

There is indeed a compelling national interest in education. The federal government has a role to play. Just as the Brown v. Board of Education decision moved to end unequal education because of race, the federal government can now help ensure that states provide a quality education to every student.

I've said before, I agree with this. States have too often been resistant to change when change was needed. The federal government does have a role to play in education. This has never been my beef with NCLB; I do not disagree with the goals, but with the means. Forgive the pun, but the feds have put the mean in means. It's mean to set up schools to fail, and if you don't believe that that's what they've done, read the next post: 90% of Florida schools will fail this year if the Dept. of Education won't relent on the rigid accountability of NCLB. But Spellings indicates she will be flexible:

No Child Left Behind is the law of the land. My goal as secretary of education is to help states continue to implement it, and to stabilize and embed this positive change. I understand some aspects of the law have been more difficult to implement than others, which is why I have signaled a willingness to work with states to make it fit their unique local needs. That's why each and every state has developed its own accountability plan: No two states are alike, and neither are their plans.

This "willingness to work with states" has yielded very little so far. She's been harping on this message of flexibility ever since she took over, but compromises on teacher qualifications in North Dakota and the number of schools that "need improvement" in California are the only ones that have been struck thus far. Connecticut was denied. And Minnesota, Virginia, Utah, Texas, and now Florida are waiting to hear their fate.

Clearly, NCLB's fate depends on how reasonable the feds will be. If Spellings digs in, NCLB won't make it past reauthorization next year, much less to high schools.

Another red state challenges NCLB

Add Florida to the list of red states -- with Texas and Utah -- that have challenged the rigid system of accountability imposed by NCLB. Yesterday, Florida's Education Commissioner joined the swelling ranks of education officials begging for mercy. He expects to get it. I have no idea why. From the article:

A school that earns an A from the state can still fail to make "adequate yearly progress" - the standard set by the federal law - because of poor test results from even a small group of students.

That's one thing that the state would like to change, state Education Commissioner John Winn said Friday in a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

Last year, three out of every four Florida schools failed to make "adequate yearly progress" even though most schools earned a grade of A or B under the state's school-grading law.

The conflicting results have caused confusion and some angst among parents and teachers.

...Winn said he was optimistic that the proposals would be approved in Washington.

If they are, nearly 1,000 Florida schools would make the grade under the federal law, while more than 2,000 still would not.

Those estimates are based on last year's FCAT results, which will probably change this year.

If no changes are made to Florida's federal grading formula, 331 schools would achieve "adequate yearly progress" and more than 2,700 would not. (emphasis mine)

Uh, that would mean 9 out of every 10 schools would fail to meet AYP. I know some public schools aren't greatest, but c'mon... Can't we all admit that this law has become absurd?!?

Update: Here's another article on this; this one from the Palm Beach Post.

Vouchers in Texas

As the first hearings for three voucher bills in Texas approach, each side is trying to gain ground in the court of public opinion. Conventional wisdom says that most people oppose vouchers, but a recent poll of Hispanics suggests otherwise:

The poll targeted about 1,000 Hispanics in Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Travis counties [the counties containing San Antonio, Dallas Houston, and Austin] and asked about everything from teacher quality and segregation in schools to educators' expectations of Latino children.

It found that more than 70 percent statewide either strongly or somewhat favored a statewide school choice program and nearly 76 percent favored a limited pilot school choice program. Less than 29 percent of respondents described the overall quality of education that low-income, inner-city Latino children receive as excellent or good.

But, as with most polls, there's a catch:

...Kathy Miller, president of the Austin-based advocacy group Texas Freedom Network, said the survey questions didn't explain that the vouchers are taxpayer funded and take money out of public schools.

"It shouldn't surprise anyone that a pro-voucher group, backed by pro-voucher money would create a push poll that gave them the results that they want during a legislative session," she said. "They (respondents) were told the program wouldn't cost any additional money, but not told that it actually pulls money from the public school."

This is typically the way these things turn out. Ask someone if they favor giving parents of children in low performing schools a choice, they say yes. Ask someone if they favor diverting funds from the poorest public schools to private schools, they say no. Neither is wrong, but neither tells the whole truth.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Here we go...

The Texas House Public Education Committee will hear testimony about three school voucher bills next week.

What may well be a filled-to-the-gills marathon hearing on school vouchers will be held Wednesday before the House Public Education Committee at the Capitol. Legislators will take testimony on three bills (HBs 12, 1263, and 3042), all proposing a system of tax-funded private school vouchers. The favorite of the provoucher crowd appears to be HB 1263, which would initiate a pilot program for low-income students in five urban counties, including Travis Co. The most far-reaching is HB 3042, which would make publicly funded vouchers available to all students. All three bills would siphon hundreds of millions of dollars from neighborhood schools across the state. For more on the bills and the hearing, see

If you live in Texas, please call your representative or senator.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Privatization is definitely on the menu in Texas

More evidence from the Austin Statesman:

Groups who for years have fought to limit the role of private companies in Texas public schools see some of their fiercest battles yet looming over the next nine weeks.

The major education bill passed by the Texas House and now being considered in the Senate would allow outside entities, including for-profit companies, to manage the state's worst-performing schools.

A House committee also is considering a bill that would allow public schools to contract with private companies to create virtual classes where students, including those who go to private or home schools, would take classes over the Internet.

"We know we need to find funding for our neighborhood schools," said Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors social conservatism in government. "They're struggling to find the money they need to barely keep pace with enrollment growth and inflation. At the same time, (lawmakers) want to carve out pieces of those dollars to give to private companies."

...Several lawmakers also have filed bills to create voucher programs that would give students public money to attend private schools. Those bills have not yet been heard in committees, but they're likely to receive heavy consideration in the GOP-run Legislature.

House Bill 2 calls for the state education commissioner to hire an outside entity to take control of a school if, for two years in a row, it does not meet federal guidelines and lands in the bottom 5 percent of the Texas Education Agency's ratings. Both the state and federal requirements are largely based on standardized test scores.

Five percent of the campuses translates to nearly 400 of the state's 7,800 schools.

I posted about this last Friday, but I know from reading blogs that many public school advocates think the talk of privatization is, as one member of the House Public Education Committee said, the educational equivalent of "black helicopters." It's not. This is real.

The multi-billion dollar question ($64,000 seems so quaint, doesn't it?): Where's the evidence that shows that for-profit companies do a better, or even equal, job as our "failing" schools?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

L'esprit du temps

I was struck by this LA Times article on Governor Arnold by historian Kevin Starr. It seems to capture what I believe to be a contradictory spirit of the times as reflected in Schwarzenegger:

...[W]e have the oddity of a free-market-oriented governor... who is possessed simultaneously of an almost instinctive respect for the public sector and its safety nets.

I think most people share this philosophical bent with the Governator; it -- at least partly -- explains his rampant popularity. But it also speaks to one of the problems public school advocates have in connecting with the public.

Most Americans want strong public schools. They want a rigorous, challenging, and meaningful education for every child. But they're also tired of a perceived stagnation in public education. Right or not, most people view public schools as antiquated institutions in need of innovation.

While I reject such notions -- I think given the chronic underfunding of schools they've done quite well -- I find it difficult, on logical grounds, to argue that innovation and change are unnecessary. Even successful institutions need to adapt and change to continue to thrive.

So I think the question is this: How do we introduce the spirit of free-market innovation into public schools while steadfastly resisting the right-wing push to privatize?
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