Saturday, July 09, 2005

AYP might be changed to measure progress

Yes, folks, it seems that soon Adequate Yearly Progress might actually become a measure of, well, progress. Sounds radical, right? It is.

So far, the very controversial AYP has been a benchmark measure. In other words, if x% of students don't anser y% of questions correctly on the test, AYP was not met and sanctions can be applied (after two years). Every year or two the benchmarks go up. So, if you have a student 25 points below adequacy one year, and then next year they get within a few points of passing, they still count as a failure. Progress is not taken into consideration.

Yesterday, Secretary Spellings indicated she might be willing to change that:

Spellings, addressing a gathering of the American Federation of Teachers, gave her strongest indication yet that she may embrace a "growth model" -- that is, one that measures the academic growth of individual students as they move among grades.

Some states are experimenting with such an idea, but a federal policy on the topic could trigger a broad shift in how progress is measured nationwide. Spellings has appointed a group to study a growth model, and she told AFT members she is committed to working on it.

"We need to have an understanding of what we mean by that, and what the necessary conditions are," Spellings told reporters after her comments to the AFT. "And then, I'm hopeful that netting out of that conversation will be a way to allow people to get credit for the progress they've made. And I believe in that as a policy matter." [AP]

I've been very critical of Spellings in the past, so it's only fair that I praise her when she says something right. Of course, the devil is always in the details so we'll have to see how exactly this policy shift plays out -- if it plays out at all. But for now, I commend the Secretary for taking this step toward sanity in the implementation of NCLB.

Friday, July 08, 2005

No Child Left Behind works! Or...

... maybe not so much:

Broward County students who transferred out of low-performing schools last year under the federal No Child Left Behind Act didn't gain a significant academic boost by changing classrooms and teachers, according to a report
released by the school district on Thursday.

The analysis of 842 transfer students shows they did no better on state tests than their peers who decided to remain at their old campuses. [Florida Sun-Sentinel.]

Of course, this is a very early test and Education Department officials are saying that it's too early to tell if this will have any effect. And that's probably true. What they're not saying is how long it will take to know? Will three years be enough? Five years? Ten? The longer it takes, the more money will be spent on transfers.

It cost $1.5 million last year -- at taxpayer's expense -- to transfer the 842 students. And yet:

The Broward County report focused on students at 66 of the district's schools that failed to show progress two years in a row on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. It compared 2005 test scores from transfer students against 46,291 students who stayed at their home campuses. The study also looked at attendance, discipline records and whether any students were held back at the end of the year.

For the two groups the researchers found no significant difference between achievement levels on standardized tests and attendance rates.

There was a difference, however, in discipline problems. The researchers found that transferred students were more likely to be sent to the principal's office or sent home as punishment.

More punishment. Same test scorse. Now if that's not progress, I don't know what is.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

An unholy alliance?

Look out kids! Remember that stuff in your government class about the Fourth Amendment. No? You don't. Oh, well, let me remind you. It says that your government must have "probable cause" to search you. Well, guess what? It doesn't apply to you.

Random Student Drug Testing Federal Grant Application Available

July 7, 2005
Contact: Alison Kogut
(202) 395-6618

Washington, D.C. — The Office of National Drug Control Policy and the U.S. Department of Education today announced the availability of applications for federal grants for student drug testing programs in schools. This $10 million initiative provides competitive grants to support schools in the design and implementation of programs to randomly screen selected students and to intervene with assessment, referral, and intervention for students whose test results indicate they have used illicit drugs.

"Student drug testing is an effective, safe and powerful tool against the threat of drugs in our schools and communities," said John Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy. "These important grants will go directly to help combat the serious public health threat of youth drug use and addiction. Student drug testing, like testing for tuberculosis in schools, saves our children's lives and their futures. Teen drug use is down 17 percent over the past three years, but we still have a long way to go, and student drug testing can be an effective tool for local communities."

"This grant will help prevent drug use among students by providing school districts with the funds needed to establish a student drug testing program, and thereby improve the climate for teaching and learning," said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. "Students engaged in sports or extracurricular activities are often pressured to take drugs. The student drug testing program will provide students with another reason to say no to drug use."

In June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court broadened the authority of public schools to test students for illegal drugs. Voting 5 to 4 in Pottawatomie County v. Earls, the court ruled to allow random drug tests for all middle and high school students participating in competitive extracurricular activities. The ruling greatly expanded the scope of school drug testing, which previously had been allowed only for student athletes.

So, dear teenager, next time your friend tells you to f$%^ politics because it's all bulls#!@ anyway and doesn't make a difference in your life, ask 'em if they know that they can be randomly drug tested at any time, with no cause whatsoever. If they don't, smack them. If they do, smack them harder. Politics matter.

Education seriously at the brink

The state of education in Texas goes in trial this month -- literally. And judging by the news outlets that picked up the story (the Guardian and the Washington Post to name two), you'll be hearing quite a bit about it.

At stake: whether or not the state's $33 billion per year (figure include state and local funds) education system is adequate, equitable, and efficient. If it fails on any of those counts (and the court will consider facilities, too) then the Supreme Court will likely rule that the system is unconstitutional and order the Legislature to fix it.

It is highly unlikely they will prescribe a remedy, a la New Jersey. It is also highly unlikely that they will rule (as the state's attorneys urged them to do in opening arguments) that the question is non justiciable (a la Illinois, Florida, Rhode Island and others). They will probably rule that "yes, the system is constitutional", or "no, it is not."

Each states' constitution says something different. In Texas, the Legislature must make "suitable provision" for "an efficient system" of education that provides " a general diffusion of knowledge." No specifics were given by the post-Reconstruction framers and so the court must decide what exactly the standards for those phrases are.

But hey, we luuuuuvvvv standards in Texas, right?

O'Connor and vouchers

Yet more evidence (as if you needed it) that O'Connor's replacement could have an alarming effect on education in America (from the Jewish Journal):

O'Connor sided with conservatives and members of the Orthodox Jewish community, who argued in favor of permitting school vouchers and government funding for computer equipment to religious schools.

"The fact that she was a justice on the court while this evolution was going on meant it happened at a more moderate pace and more moderate tone than if you had a bloc of conservative justices," said Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union's Institute for Public Affairs.

She did allow vouchers in the Zelman case, but only on a very limited basis. Her replacement could throw it wide open.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Kansas is not in crisis anymore

The Kansas House and Senate reached a compromise and the schools -- as expected -- will not shut down.

For more, click here or read this from the Kansas City Star:

Negotiators strike schools deal; session's end in sightJOHN
MILBURNAssociated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. - House and Senate negotiators agreed
Wednesday on a $148.4 million education funding package aimed at ensuring public
schools open in August and satisfying a Kansas Supreme Court
Negotiators struck the deal after legislators returned from an
extended Fourth of July holiday. The agreement came only two days before a
Friday hearing scheduled by the court to hear arguments on why nearly $3 billion
in state funds shouldn't be withheld from the state's 300 school
The package comes with no strings attached, meaning House members
gave up on trying to tie it to passage of constitutional changes to limit
judicial power or to delay the distribution of the money. If approved by
legislators Wednesday night, the money would be available to schools for their
2005-06 academic year.
Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Jean Schodorf
said the agreement was similar to what her chamber proposed Saturday, when
legislators abruptly left the Statehouse. She expected the package would win
approval and satisfy the court.
"Hopefully, we will be able to finish this
problem and end the special session," said Schodorf, R-Wichita. "This best thing
is, we have a clean bill to fund schools."
Passage in the House will depend
on support from Democrats and moderate Republicans.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Crisis in Kansas?

The Kansas Supreme Court will decide Friday whether or not to withhold funds from schools because the Legislature did not meet the court's order to increase funding by $800 million. My guess is they will not do so. If they did, Kansas schools would not open in the fall and, more importantly -- yes, more importantly -- it would probably precipitate a constitutional crisis of sorts as the executive, judicial, and legislative branches scramble for authority.

From the Lawrence Journal:

TOPEKA — The State Board of Education agreed today to help the state’s top law enforcement official try to outmaneuver the Kansas Supreme Court so it wouldn’t be able to freeze funding to public schools.

The Supreme Court has announced it will consider withholding money from public schools until legislators comply with its order to provide an additional $143 million in education funding. Such a decision by the court could keep schools from opening later this summer.

Legislators missed the court’s July 1 deadline to boost school funding but plan to resume a special session Wednesday.

The Board of Education normally certifies the amount schools districts receive each month. Attorney General Phill Kline’s plan calls for the board to certify all money districts would receive for the entire academic year before the court can rule. Kline believes the court can’t prevent the state treasurer from distributing money once the amount due to school districts has been certified.

The board’s vote was 6-4, with Kline’s fellow conservative Republicans approving of the plan.

“We believe it is important to try to do something to keep schools open,” said board chairman Steve Abrams of Arkansas City.

The board’s Democrats and moderate Republicans said they don’t want schools to close but questioned whether what Kline is suggesting is legal.

Can you spell constitutional crisis, boys and girls?

For further background, check this from the Wichita Eagle (and this, too):

A brief look at special session, school finance debate

Associated Press

LAWMAKERS RETURN: A special legislative session on education funding was scheduled to resume Wednesday, its 12th working day.

THE MANDATE: The Kansas Supreme Court ordered legislators on June 3 to provide an additional $143 million to public schools, setting a July 1 deadline, which legislators missed.

THE THREAT: The court has scheduled a hearing for 9 a.m. Friday on whether it should withhold money from public schools, possibly keeping them closed after the start of the new school year in August.

AN END RUN: Attorney General Phill Kline argued Tuesday that the court can't cut off the flow of money to schools if the amounts of state aid due each district each money already are certified. That requires action by the State Board of Education and the state budget director.

MIXED SUCCESS: The state board voted 6-4 to certify aid figures for districts from August though January. However, Budget Director Duane Goossen, who works for Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, said he would follow normal procedures.

A COMPROMISE: House and Senate negotiators were working on a $148.5 million school finance package.

AN AMENDMENT: House Republican leaders continued to insist that a proposal to change the Kansas Constitution to limit judicial power must pass for a school finance bill to win approval.

Pediatricians are smart people

As you probably already know, the American Academy of Pediatrics weighed in on the abstinence wars. And they weighed in on the right side.

No surprise here, people that respect science over ideology will generally tell you teaching kids only about abstinence is not only stupid, but dangerous.

I don't have much more to add. I've said all this before. But I do want to point out one thing I noticed in the AP report on this story:

Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said counseling only abstinence, preferably until marriage, is the best approach because it sends a clear, consistent message.

Notice the placement of the words: "couseling only abstinence" ... who's going to argue with that? Very few would. Counsel only abstinence all you want. But don't only counsel abstinence.

Confused? You're supposed to be. The right likes to play with language to obfuscate their often ridiculous policy positions and this is a prime example.

If you only talk about abstinence -- to the exclusion of birth control, STD prevention, etc. -- you're greatly increasing risks to public health. It's bad policy and they know it; thus the confusing phrasing. If you advise kids to only practice abstinence -- to the exclusion of being sexually active -- but also tell them how to avoid unwanted pregnancies and STDs should they decide to forsake your wise counsel, you're acting responsibly. And they know that, too, which is why they make it sound like that's what they're doing. But they're not.

Counsel only abstinence. But teach prevention, too.

From the LA Times:

Teaching abstinence but not birth control makes it more likely that once teenagers initiate sexual activity they will have unsafe sex and contract sexually transmitted diseases, said Dr. S. Paige Hertweck, a pediatric obstetrician-gynecologist at the University of Louisville who provided advice for the report.

The report appears in July's Pediatrics, being published Tuesday.

It updates a 1998 policy by omitting the statement that "abstinence counseling is an important role for all pediatricians." The new policy says that while doctors should encourage adolescents to postpone sexual activity, they also should help ensure that all teens -- not just those who are sexually active -- have access to birth control, including emergency contraception.

The article from Pediatrics magazine is here.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Poor kids need less money

At least that's the message Congress and the Bush Administration seem to be sending.

According to the New York Times:

A new analysis of federal money that public schools receive for low-income students shows that a record number of the nation's school districts will receive less in the coming academic year than they did for the one just ended.

That's great. Now I've had some very good discussions with Jenny D. and others on this blog before about funding levels where I couldn't pin down exactly how much was enough. But I'm pretty sure that Jenny D. -- and just about everybody else -- would agree that spending less money on the education of the poorest students is not a good idea.

Nearly 9,000 districts with predominantly poor student populations will receive less money.

...Mr. Fagan [of the Center for Education Policy] said the increasing number of districts that are losing money is making it harder for the schools to meet the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the Bush administration's signature education program, which measures progress through annual tests in math, reading and science. That is giving critics of the program more ammunition to accuse the administration of underfinancing the program while demanding greater results.

As if we needed more ammo.

But really, this is a huge problem for Democrats and moderate Republicans. We were told when NCLB passed with overwhelming bipartisan support that it would be fully funded. It has not been. And now, not only is it not being funded, thousands of districts are losing money aimed at their neediest students just as they are responsible for meeting NCLB's rising standards.

Critics do indeed have more ammo, and my guess is there will be even more critics real soon, too.

Ohio to add 14,000 vouchers

Ohio will soon have the largest voucher program in the nation. Apparently, Gov. Taft's proposal to have 2,600 vouchers wasn't good enough for Republican legislative leaders who upped it to 14,000 in their budget. Taft signed it into law.

Along with Wisconsin and Florida, Ohio will continue to be a test case for vouchers.

From the article in the Akron Beacon:

Supporters of school choice have worked to set up and expand programs since 2002, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Cleveland's program - which includes religious schools - does not violate the separation of church and state.

Measures in seven states failed this year.

In Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada and Texas, lawmakers defeated start-up voucher programs or left sessions with the bills stalled. An expansion in Wisconsin and a new program in Arizona were vetoed.

...Attorney John West, who has argued against voucher programs in Ohio, Colorado and Florida, suggests other educational alternatives, such as reduced class sizes and after-school programs, for improving student performance.

"This is not the way to fix public schools," he said of vouchers, adding that many proponents are using tuition for disadvantaged students as a "foot in the door" for universal voucher programs.

Mr. West has it right. I'm sorry to say but I just don't buy it when suburban Republicans say they're for vouchers to help out kids in failing urban schools. Then, in the next breath, they'll vote against any new resources for those very same schools. Clearly, this is part of a larger strategy for universal access to vouchers.

Everybody concerned with the future of education should be watching the success or failure of the voucher program in Ohio very closely.
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