Saturday, May 07, 2005

Changes coming to Head Start

Washington Times reports:

Legislation introduced last week in the House would increase competition for Head Start grants and require recipients to align themselves with state academic guidelines.

...The bill was introduced Thursday by Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, both members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The legislation -- which omits the hotly contested idea of allowing several governors to take control of Head Start centers in their states -- was met with cautious optimism by House Democrats and Head Start's trade group.

The bill "is a welcome change" and one that "could earn bipartisan support," said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat and ranking minority member of the committee.

Sarah Greene, president and chief executive of the National Head Start Association, called the bill an "encouraging" step, but wanted to reserve judgment until the group studies the legislation.

This will be an interesting one to watch. Head Start is one of the most important public school initiatives ever; unlike K-12 programs, it is funded by the federal government (K-12 gets less than 5% from federal funds).

So it's encouraging to see at least the potential for bipartisan support on this one. With the Republican frenzy for cutting social programs, one might expect them to go after Head Start with a hatchet. Apparentely they aren't doing that.

I criticize a lot here, so -- with the caveat that I haven't read the bill yet -- I'll give credit where credit is due: to Representatives Boehner and Castle.

What is good teaching?

I haven't been posting much lately -- things have been busy at school and I was out of town most of last week -- but I'm keeping up with things and will start posting with more frequency real soon.

Meanwhile check out this post and comments on Jenny D's site. Since research consistently shows that quality teachers are the single most important variable in educational achievement (click here for more on that), the questions she poses are absolutely critical:

[H]ow do you measure instruction? Is it a series of planned acts, like bypass surgery? Is it a series of planned, repeated acts, like practicing a free throw? How do you measure instruction? Is it like woodworking--a craft unmeasurable without knowing the endproduct? Or like painting or drawing, with a few key moves and then the rest left to the "artistic" talent of the artist? If it's the latter, then no wonder few taxpayers are ready to shell out more money for teaching. Why pay a pack of people to do a job that has nothing to do with skill or experience, but instead depends on some innate "star" quality?

I think, in the end, it is undeniable that there are no easy correlations between teaching and any other profession. It is absolutely unique. It's a blend of planning, improvising, and reflecting -- in equal parts -- that leads to good teaching. If any of those aspects are missing, a teacher will not be successful, no matter what metric is used.

Thanks, Jenny, for this useful topic. Keep up the good work.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Yet another reason...

...Democrats need to take back Texas.

Every group that gave generously to the Republicans that redistricted themselves into a safe majority has received something in return. Every group, that is, except for two: gambling and pro-voucher groups.

About the latter, the Texas Observer ran an excellent piece recently (linked via Susan O'hanian). The follow the money story by Observer intern Laurie Reinlie is shocking, but hardly surprising.

Last month, a huge rally was held in support of vouchers. Hundreds of Hispanic parents came out, rallied, and testified in front of the House Public Ed Committee under the auspices of Hispanic Council for Reform and Education (HCREO). Most of the parents were part of the privately-funded voucher program called the CEO program.

From the article:

The largest contributor to the CEO program also happens to be the second largest campaign contributor in Texas, Dr. James Leininger. According to [CEO director Jessica] Sanchez, Leininger founded CEO and made a 10-year commitment to the organization. To date he has poured between $30 million and $50 million into the scholarship program. In the 2002 and 2004 election cycles, he gave a total of almost $2 million to Texas Republicans, according to figures from the Austin-based campaign watchdog Texans for Public Justice.

H-CREO receives much of its funding from right-wing pro-voucher groups such as the Walton Family Foundation of Wal-Mart fame and Leininger’s own pro-voucher political action committee, Children First America... In October, H-CREO received a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the Department of Education to inform the public about their options under the No Child Left Behind Act.

While refusing to reveal the origin of the money for the rally, organizers did insist that federal education dollars were not used. Chuck McDonald, serving as a spokesperson for the group’s efforts in Austin, says “they spent enough to attract enough people to get the press to come out” and that it probably fell somewhere in the couple of thousands of dollars. (McDonald was most recently in the media testifying in the Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) civil trial about his work creating more than four million mailers distributed to voters by the Texas Association of Business (TAB). Bill Cerverha, the defendant in the civil trial, was also at the rally in support.)

So there it is. This is a pattern with Republicans: Tap into a genuine sentiment (religion, frustration with public schools, patriotism, etc.) and exploit it like crazy for partisan political gain. And of course, turn people away from the real problems (chronic underfunding of property-poor neighborhood schools) and get 'em working on a shortsighted, altogether irrelevant solution (vouchers). Oh, and then fertilize it with federal funds. Yes, that would be taxpayer dollars.

This is the most cynical politics imaginable-- it turns the stomach. With groups like Leininger's, with people like McDonald and Cerverha involved, with politicians like Tom Craddick and Rick Perry in their pockets, with a law like NCLB to undermine schools, public education is truly at the brink.
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