Friday, September 16, 2005

Are we preparing our dropouts for unemployment?

I hadn't checked out the Onion in a few months and I was pleased to see they've added an education section to their site. The "new" story is 6 weeks old but it was new to me and it's hilarious:

Report: Our High Schools May Not Adequately Prepare Dropouts For Unemployment

August 3, 2005 | Issue 41•31

WASHINGTON, DC—A Department of Labor report released Monday finds that America's high schools are not sufficiently preparing emerging dropouts for the demands of unemployment.

Enlarge ImageReport: Our High Schools May Not Adequately Prepare Dropouts For Unemployment

Future jobless Americans between classes at Oakes High School.

In a letter introducing the report, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao explained that schools routinely fail to impart dropouts with the critical lying- and sitting-around skills they need to thrive in today's jobless market.

"Our public high schools place too much focus on preparing kids for professional careers," Chao said. "This waste of resources leaves our dropouts, the majority of whom have no chance of ever finding a job, wholly unprepared to sleep till 1 p.m., or watch daytime television while eating ramen noodles out of an upturned Frisbee."

Conservatives, yes -- but compassionate?

While Secretary Spellings tours a middle school in Houston that has taken in 50 evacuees, conservative think-tank types are busy peddling vouchers as the panacea for students who were victimized by the storm. At best, this is a mean-spirited attempt to "help." Conservatives know that vouchers aren't going to pass any time soon. Instead of putting their energy into substantive efforts to ensure excellent educational opportunities for Gulf Coast kids, their peddling dubious policy proposals.

It's political opportunism at its worst.

Meanwhile, schools around the country that take in the evacuated students -- a large number of whom are undoubtedly facing post-traumatic stress disorder now or in the near future -- risk missing AYP because of it. The Department of Education's much vaunted flexibility apparently doesn't apply in this case. From the San Antonio Express News:

Federal education officials said no to a request from Mississippi that adequate yearly progress, or AYP, be waived this year for schools affected by the storm.

"Since the tests in Mississippi on which AYP determinations are made will not be administered until spring 2006, it is premature for us to consider this request at this time," U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings wrote to Hank Bounds, superintendent of education for Mississippi.

Lovely. Just how compassionate are these conservatives?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

"The essence of being an American"

The new-ish outfit called Center for a Better South is working to rally Southern progressives to work together and win over this part of the country. It may be irrational to think it can happen, but we must think it can happen. And it certainly ain't gonna happen if we don't start talking about what we stand for and working toward common goals.

I believe there's no better issue to put at the center of a progressive agenda than education. Gov. Vilsack agrees and so does former Governor Roy Barnes of Georgia. Check out this exchange between the Governor and an interviewer from the Center for a Better South.

BETTER SOUTH: OK -- so what you're saying is, "It's still the economy, stupid," right? How can progressives talk about these issues to win converts? Polling shows that progressives need to talk more about "opportunity" and "prosperity," which sounds like the logical extension of President Clinton's message of hope.

BARNES: Education and economics are both messages of hope. We often discuss what it is that makes the United States different than all of the great civilizations that have gone before us. It is not our Constitution, it is not the Declaration of Independence or any act of Congress.

What is different about us is that we have not rationed education to a few of the well-to-do. We have said that education is universally available to every child regardless of color, income or where that child is born. Armed with the tools of education a child can climb the social ladder that comes with economic security and increasing affluence. This phenomenon of education and economic growth is the hope which has made us a great and different nation. Today that hope is imperiled by those who wish to abandon the public school system and who don't push for reform in our educational institutions because their children are attending a private privileged system. If we lose the bond of education and economic growth we lose the essence of being an American. We can't let that happen and it is progressives who must lead the charge.

"The essence of being an American." I like that. Education is the very substance of the American Dream. Without a first class educational system for all Americans, we cannot possibly live up to the hope and potential of what this country can be.

BETTER SOUTH: One of the biggest challenges for states these days seems to be able to generate the revenues it needs to make the progressive improvements that we've discussed. But most Southern states have a structural deficit. In the charged political environment of "no new taxes and less government," how can we get people to understand that to live in a civilized society, we have to have revenues to keep our quality of life with good education, infrastructure, efficient services and more?

BARNES: I think the emphasis should be on fair taxation. We all have a duty to pay our fair share. It is not fair to load up the lower and middle income taxpayers to benefit the top taxpayers and to exclude corporations from taxation. Our discussion should be a dialogue on specifically what we should fund as a government and how much it is going to cost.

For example, we should not just say we are going to give more to education. We need to say we are going to fund no more than 17 students in the first 5 grades because studies have shown this is where smaller classes are the most effective. We then say that is going to cost X dollars, and we get that money by first plugging special-interest loopholes and then distributing taxes in a fair way. I believe the American people are ready for such a discussion, and I think it is long overdue.

Indeed. Fair taxation will lead to increased opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. And the specific policy proposal to lessen class sizes in K-4 class rooms is an excellent one. I'll keep pointing out things from this nascent think thank. In the meantime, I've added their blog, ThinkSouth, to the blogroll at right.

"An ideology of contempt for government"

Gov. Vilsack's been busy lately. In addition to hosting blogger conference calls, he's written an editorial in the New Democrat Online that is nothing short of brilliant. I'm becoming a fan of the guy. The key line comes as he's speaking of the disgraceful response of the national government following Hurricane Katrina: "These failures represent the broader failure of an ideology of contempt for the responsibilities of government,..."

Exactly. And what do the conservative extremists running the show call for to atone for the mistake of holding vital government institutions in contempt? Heap more contempt.

From the Governor:

...[C]urrent Republican proposals to turn the Gulf Coast into a conservative ideological laboratory with private-school vouchers, wholesale deregulation, and suspension of wage standards on federally financed construction projects must be rejected. A second, ideologically driven abandonment of public responsibility in this region would be intolerable.

Intolerable indeed. And these aren't just charges that Democrats are making. The Wall Street Journal covered this despicable attempt by Republicans to expand their ideology of contempt for government into the decimated Gulf Coast:

Congressional Republicans, backed by the White House, say they are using relief measures for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf coast to achieve a broad range of conservative economic and social policies, both in the storm zone and beyond.

Some new measures are already taking shape. In the past week, the Bush administration has suspended some union-friendly rules that require federal contractors pay prevailing wages, moved to ease tariffs on Canadian lumber, and allowed more foreign sugar imports to calm rising sugar prices. Just yesterday, it waived some affirmative-action rules for employers with federal contracts in the Gulf region.

Now, Republicans are working on legislation that would limit victims' right to sue, offer vouchers for displaced school children, lift some environment restrictions on new refineries and create tax-advantaged enterprise zones to maximize private-sector participation in recovery and reconstruction. Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would offer sweeping protection against lawsuits to any person or organization that helps Katrina victims without compensation.

"The desire to bring conservative, free-market ideas to the Gulf Coast is white hot," says Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who leads the Republican Study Group, an influential caucus of conservative House members. "We want to turn the Gulf Coast into a magnet for free enterprise. The last thing we want is a federal city where New Orleans once was."


Some conservatives expressed concern about the growing reach of the reconstruction effort. "Everyone is attaching their own agenda to this," said William A. Niskanen, a former Reagan White House economic adviser now at the libertarian Cato Institute. "It's being seen as a test of the conservative agenda, from enterprise zones to school vouchers and the repeal of labor laws, and these ideas deserve careful thought," he said.

They do deserve careful thought. I can't think of going any lower than to use a disaster of Katrina's magnitude for politcal gain. But that's exactly what many conservative extremists are doing.

As Rahm Emanuel put it:

"They're going back to the playbook on issues like tort reform, school vouchers and freeing business from environmental rules to achieve ideological objectives they haven't been able to get in the normal legislative process," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D., Ill.)

The conservative plan: If you can't get what you want through the normal channels, use unimaginable human suffering as political capital to do whatever you want. Sick, huh?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Conversation with Governor Vilsack

I had the pleasure of participating in a conference call of education bloggers with Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-Iowa) this morning. He's started an organization called Heartland PAC to support progressive Democratic candidates in gubernatorial races (there will be 38 of them in '06).

For the next three weeks, they will focus policy discussions at their website on progressive policy solutions to education issues. There is a great need for this. I'm convinced that many conservatives want to undermine public education to achieve their goal of universal school vouchers and privatization of education. But the institution of public schooling is still very much supported by the vast majority of Americans. This gives progressives a chance to make political gains while supporting important policy positions-- a classic win-win.

But it means nothing if progressives don't have a clearly articulated vision for education. Thus, the conversation the Governor has started is extremely important.

The Governor's main policy initiative, as far as I could gather, is universal preschool. I attended a hearing of the Texas House Public Education Committee this year in which a Houston school board member (and self-described Republican) said that universal pre-K is the single most important thing policymakers could do to improve education. Too many students come to school underprepared and start behind the curve. It's unfair to them and extremely costly to the schools (and ultimately to taxpayers) to catch them up on what they've missed in preschool. Gov. Vilsack is smart to make this a focus of his progressive initiative on education. It's good politics (who's going to oppose it except for the conservative fringe) and it's good policy, too.

He also talked quite a bit about the competition American students face from an ever increasing number of well-educated Indian and Chinese students (an obvious nod to Thomas Friedman's best-seller, The World is Flat). The Governor told my students, some of whom were on the call (it was at 10:30 am and I thought it'd be educational for them), that they aren't competing anymore with kids in other Texas schools or in Iowa schools. They're now competing against Chinese and Indian kids.

It's hard to argue against the point which is all the more reason why I think we need a significant new investment in our educational system.

The Governor's aide said a recording of the conversation would be on the Heartland PAC website soon. I'll link to it when it's there. I really appreciate Gov. Vilsack reaching out like that and I hope that other political candidates will do the same. There's no doubt that education blogs can be a source of innovative policy ideas and can serve as a link between progressives in different parts of the country.

In short, there is no doubt in my mind that Gov. Vilsack is a very thoughtful politician, which is, all too often, an oxymoron. I look forward to hearing more about his education positions in the weeks to come. For a much fuller description of the conversation from another blogger on the call, Jay Bullock, click here.

Roberts refuses to endorse education of immigrants

During today's Senate confirmation hearings with Judge Roberts, Sen. Durbin questioned him about the stance he took in 1982 opposing the ruling of the Supreme Court that granted undocumented immigrants access to public education. With all the press the Minutemen and the like are getting lately, and with the mad raving of the likes of Rep. Tancredo of the House Education Committtee, there will most likely be a similar case to come before the Supremes in the next decade or two.

Nowhere in this exchange does Roberts assert that immigrants have a right to an education in America. That's scary. Here's the full exchange (via the AP):

DURBIN: Many of the organizations that oppose your nomination represent minorities in America. You have the distinction of being opposed by LULAC. This, of course, is the first time this Hispanic organization has ever opposed a Supreme Court nominee.

You're also opposed by MALDF. I personally think that their feelings go beyond the comment, illegal amigos, that you talked about yesterday.

And I want to point you to one particular area that they find troubling when I speak to them and I find troubling, and it goes back to the case of Plyler v. Doe: 1982, Supreme Court case held it unconstitutional to deny elementary education to children on the basis of their immigration status. It was a Texas case.

The court struck down the Texas law and allowed elementary schools 23 years ago to refuse entrance to undocumented children, struck down the law that allowed the schools to refuse entrance.

On the day the case was decided -- and I think the timing is important here, because it appears to be kind of a gratuitous comment; it isn't as if you were asked for an opinion.

On the day it was decided, you co-authored a memo that criticizes solicitor's general's office for failing to file a brief supporting the Texas law, which would have refused education to these children.

Your memo disagreed with the administration's position on the case, so it isn't as if you were arguing the Reagan administration's position. They had taken a different position on the case.

Can you describe your involvement in the case, and I guess more importantly, can you describe now how you feel about this today 23 years later -- I'll just finish and I'll leave you the time you need to answer -- when the largest, fastest growing segment of America's population is Hispanic; when the major Hispanic organizations feel that this showed real insensitivity to who they were and what their children needed?

Can you explain that memo that really wasn't part of the Reagan agenda? Why did you say this?

ROBERTS: Well, I think, Senator, if I'm remembering the memo, and it was 23 years ago, and the case that was decided was, I believe, again, a divided decision by the Supreme Court, if I'm remembering the memo correctly, it was making the point that the position was inconsistent with the attorney general's litigation policy approach, if that's the right memorandum.

DURBIN: It is.

ROBERTS: Well, in that case, again, as a staff lawyer I thought it was my obligation to call to the attorney general's attention activities in the department that I thought were inconsistent with what he had articulated as his approach.

And that's what I would have been doing in that case. And, again, it would have been apparently supporting the state of Texas in its legislative determination in that area.

DURBIN: Well, did you agree with the decision now -- or, pardon me, then? Or do you agree with it now?

ROBERTS: I haven't looked at the decision in Plyler v. Doe in 23 years, Senator.

And there's nothing gratuitous about the memorandum. It obviously came out because the decision came out. That would have been why I was advising the attorney general with respect to it.

Obviously, the importance of the availability of education for all is vital. That's a different question than the legal issues involved in whether a state law should be struck down...

DURBIN: So let me say this. Twenty-three years later, millions of children have benefited from this decision. They have been educated in America. Many have gone on to become citizens. Some are business people, some are professionals, some are serving in our military today because Plyler was decided in a way that you apparently disagreed with 23 years ago.

So my question to you, for the Hispanic groups that oppose your candidacy at this point -- or your nomination, I should say -- what is your feeling? Is this settled law, as far as you are concerned, about our commitment in education...

ROBERTS: Senator, as I said, I have not looked at the decision in Plyler v. Doe in 23 years. It's not an area that I focused on.

And the issue is not my policy view about what is a good idea for educational policy or national policy or whether what the Texas legislators determined was a good idea for Texas policy.

The question was a particular legal issue. And, again, the Supreme Court was divided on that, so it's not as if we're talking about a position outside the mainstream.

And what I was explaining, this was viewed, as the memo states, if it were looked at in full, it was something that I thought was inconsistent with what I understood the attorney general's approach to be, and it was my job to call that to his attention, which is what I did.

DURBIN: OK. I think you have accurately taken refuge in the fact that you were working for someone. The fact that this memo came out the day after the decision I think is an important circumstance.

But let me go back to the beginning, the first question, the first day, with Senator Specter. Wouldn't it be a jolt to the system in America if we decided that we would no longer offer education to these children?

ROBERTS: Of course. Well, of course, Senator.

DURBIN: And so...

ROBERTS: And the decision in Plyler is a precedent of the court. I don't think -- I'm not aware that it's been called into question in the intervening 23 years that have passed since the time I wrote those two paragraphs in the memo.

And that, as a precedent, is entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis. And it's something that is where I would begin if an issue arose in this area. I'm not aware that any is arising in this area, but if an issue were to arise, that's where I would begin...

DURBIN: I just think millions of Americans would like to have heard you say, I think it's a good idea. I'm glad we did it for America. But if you can't say it, you can't.

ROBERTS: Well, Senator, if I could just make the point that the issue is not whether or not I thought it was a good idea. That's not the job of a lawyer presenting legal advice and legal -- the legal implications of an issue to his boss, the attorney general.

ROBERTS: He wasn't interested in whether I thought it was a good idea or not. He was interested in the legal question of whether or not this was consistent with his policy and his approach.

That's not taking refuge; that's explaining the circumstances of a memorandum. And it's not avoiding an expression about whether it's a good idea or not. It's explaining that what we're dealing with...

DURBIN: But you've been unequivocal in your statement supporting Brown v. Board of Education. No one has suggested, in any respectful way, that we should return to the bad old days of separate but equal. I mean, you've accepted that's part of America.

And the point I'm trying to make to you is whether we're talking about millions of uninsured people or millions of Hispanic children, I would think that it would be a basic value, you'd say, this is good for America, for people to have insurance, and bad for them to be denied. It is good for America to see children with education, rather than to see them in the streets, ignorant. It seems so fundamental.

ROBERTS: Senator, I don't think you want judges who will decide cases before them under the law on what they think is good -- simply good policy for America. There are legal questions there.

And I'm sure there are clients that I have represented in court that you would agree with; you would say, That's the right side of the cause to be on, whether it's the environmental interests I represented in the Tahoe case, whether it's the welfare recipients I represented pro bono in the Bivens case, whether it's the cause of the inmate on death row that I assisted in in Florida, whether it's the environmental interest in Glacier Bay that I represented or in the Grand Canyon on a pro bono basis.

I am sure I could go down my list of clients and find clients that you would say, That's the right side. That's the cause of justice. And there are others with whom you'd disagree.

My point is simply this, that in representing clients, in serving as a lawyer, it's not my job to decide whether that's a good idea or a bad idea. The job of the lawyer is to articulate the legal arguments on behalf of the client.

No FEMA money for evacuated students

It appears that the care for the evacuated students from the Gulf Coast will only get worse. The AP reports that FEMA will not pay for Texas schools to hire new teachers or to pay for additional textbooks.

60,000 of the over 300,000 students are in Texas. The Texas Education Commissioner estimates it will cost over $450 million to educate them. Congress approved $60 billion for Hurricane relief but apparently the already strained Texas school-finance system will have to pay for the evacuees to be educated.


Segregating the evacuees

Over 300,000 k-12 students were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Now the policy debate over how to educate them has begun. From the Wall Street Journal:

A number of states, including Utah and Texas, want to teach some of the dispersed Gulf Coast students in shelters instead of in local public schools, a stance supported by the Bush administration and some private education providers. But advocates for homeless families and civil rights oppose that approach.

At the center of the dispute is whether the McKinney-Vento Act, a landmark federal law banning educational segregation of homeless children, should apply to the evacuees. In addition, because many of the stranded students are black, holding classes for them at military bases, convention centers or other emergency housing sites could run afoul of racial desegregation plans still operating in some school districts.


But officials of some states contend that separate classes would be less disruptive to both school districts and displaced families. U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is expected to ask Congress soon for authority to waive McKinney-Vento and other key education legislation, such as the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, which holds districts and schools accountable for test scores of students in each racial group...

Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley, noting that 25,000 evacuees are housed at a closed Air Force base in San Antonio, asked the federal Education Department last week for "flexibility" to serve students "at facilities where they are housed, or otherwise separate from Texas residents during the 2005-2006 school year." U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, introduced legislation Monday that would grant Secretary Spellings authority to waive McKinney-Vento.

Apparently Senator KBH also introduced legislation to give vouchers to the evacuated students which, if true, would be one of the most cynical and dirty attempts to have right-wing legislation enacted that I've ever heard of. And that's saying something. But more on that later. Back to the waiver:

Gary Orfield, director of a Harvard University project that monitors school integration, said that segregating a predominantly black group of evacuees could raise "constitutional questions of racial discrimination." He also said that because many of them may be traumatized, have learning deficits, or come from failing schools, it would be "terrifically difficult" to teach a separate class of the displaced students, and that placing them in middle-class schools and communities would benefit them educationally.

This is exactly the argument that Jonathan Kozol makes about the education system in general. Segregation harms the segregated. Period. These evacuated students need to be placed in "normal" schools so they have a real shot to learn something other than pain and suffering this academic year.

Notice also that the profiteers are trying to get in on the action:

Mark Thimmig, chief executive of White Hat Ventures LLC, which educates nearly 5,000 students in Pennsylvania and Ohio via the Internet, said last week that his company would be eager to educate displaced students in the Astrodome.

White Hat is one of the biggest, most well connected (David Brennan ran it for years) for-profit companies in education. My guess is they aren't donating their services.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

If vouchers can make it there...

Gubernatorial elections are a great place to see education battles take place. The one in Michigan pitting voucher-pusher Dick DeVos against Democratic incumbent Jennifer Granholm is bound to be interesting. As is the one brewing in Virginia where popular incumber Mark Warner is term-limited. But the marquee matchup will probably be in New York where former Massachusetts Governor William Weld will square off against popular AG and Democrat Elliot Spitzer. The AP gives a preview of the education debate there:

Both Spitzer and Weld so far are strong supporters of charter schools. But the privately-operated schools that run on public funds face powerful opposition in Albany from teachers unions and schools seeking to place a moratorium on creating more schools.


Weld also said there should also be a discussion of using per-pupil aid in vouchers for use in private schools, while Spitzer strongly opposes vouchers as a drain on public school finances, Spitzer spokesman Darren Dopp said last week.

Vouchers are likely to be a key issue everywhere. New York clearly will be no exception.

Shame of the Nation

Earlier today, I pointed out that Jonathan Kozol has a new book out. I've just found a review that pretty well sums up the book, and, I think, the problem with American education:

Whereas affluent parents are given to putting their children into preschools at the age of two or three, most children in poor urban neighborhoods have no such experience; the principal of one of the poor schools on which Kozol focuses estimates that fewer than five percent of its students has had the two years of pre-kindergarten instruction that are the norm among the well-to-do. The inequalities continue: Throughout a poor child's school career, fewer amenities are available, whether desks or books or heaters or computers. And, Kozol maintains, things are getting worse, yielding a de facto system of educational apartheid across the country,...

We hear relentlessly from the Bush Administration about an "achievement gap." And it is a reality. But we never hear about what causes it: I call it "the funding gap." Kozol documents it. It, too, is a reality.

Who says money and politics don't mix?

Over the summer, I reported on a remarkable day at the Texas Capitol when vouchers were barely defeated in the Texas House of Representatives. That day, James Leininger, a man reported to have contributed over $10 million over the last 10 years to Republicans, reportedly stalked the halls of the Capitol to twist arms and threaten wavering R's with primary challengers. It didn't work. But now, the editor of the Texas Observer wants indisputable proof of Leininger's dealings (from the Dallas News):

Jake Bernstein, executive editor of the Observer, used the state's open records act to seek videos of a hallway behind the House chamber.

He asked for tapes recorded between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. on May 23 – the day the House narrowly rejected legislation that would have allowed some students to transfer to private schools at state expense.

Mr. Bernstein said Monday he hoped to verify or refute reports that wavering House members "were pulled off the floor to meet with" Dr. James Leininger, a San Antonio businessman and major GOP donor who has strongly advocated vouchers.

On May 23, The Dallas Morning News reported that Dr. Leininger had met with House members at the Capitol on the night before the voucher issue was debated, urging a "yes" vote.

This would be a PR coup if he could get the tapes. It would create quite a bit of press if released at the right time as newspapers and local TV stations would no doubt want to report on the donor who, with the Speaker's help, had individual consultations with numerous state Reps. It would be a stark presentation of how big money attempts to corrupt legislators.

In this case, thanks to the courageous and principled stand of a dozen Republicans, it didn't work.

Testing One-Two, Testing -- Is this thing on?

The Tuscon Citizen yesterday offered a very nuanced analysis of the testing regime, pointing out the obvious -- but often overlooked -- point that we need test scores to gain a basic understanding of students' skills and knowledge, but an overemphasis on them can be counterproductive. The entire editorial is thoughtful and can be found here, but I've excerpted the part I found most prescient:

Scores should highlights kids' strengths and weaknesses, but few beleaguered teachers have time to assess results from the previous year and address them in the classroom - especially when they're busy preparing kids for this year's tests.

And sometimes, focus on the narrow curriculum covered in standardized tests eliminates the layers and varieties of learning that could deeply enrich our children.

But the tests are mandated, so what's an educator to do? Here's what, the AEPI [Arizona Education Policy Institute] policy brief recommends:

Rather than teaching to the test, teach to state content standards. Instead of spending inordinate time preparing students for test questions they'll face and how to test, teach kids the content they need to know.

Since NAEP is a low-stakes test, teachers don't worry much about preparation for it and it is a more valid achievement index.

Sabers and Powers [of the AEPI] note, "It has become impossible to determine what is truly improvement in school, state and national education."

I've often said this before: Tests that aren't used to determine a school's success or failure in state and national grading systems are ironically more valid because teachers don't spend large amounts of time specifically preparing students for them.

In a personal conversation with Sandy Kress -- the architect of No Child Left Behind -- he told me that teachers should not be teaching to the test. They should be teaching to standards. The problem, of course, is that by making the test scores the sole criterion of school failure or success, NCLB has forced teachers to teach to the test. Or so the teachers think.

By removing the punishments in No Child Left Behind, teachers would be freed up to teach to standards instead of to narrow tests and test taking skills. They would also be able to spend more time analyzing past test data to ensure that holes in knowledge and skills are filled. I did not see in the editorial any mention of using a growth model which would judge schools, students, and districts, based on the improvement of students over time. Using the growth model would also alleviate many of the serious problems of high stakes testing as implemented in NCLB.

What do apartheid and big butts have in common?

They're in the titles of a couple of notable books that have piqued my interest today:

(1) Jonathan Kozol appeared on Air America Radio today promoting his new book, Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. There is little doubt that "the two Americas" is nowhere more present than in American public schools. I understand the diagnosis perfectly; I'm very interested, though, to read Kozol's prescription.

(2) Debra Craig blasts No Child Left Behind in Why is Teacher's Butt So Big? Says Craig:

While I believe the government had good intentions when they passed this bi-partisan legislation, the basic premise of NCLB is very flawed. It's truly absurd to think that EVERY child, regardless of race, background, motivation, biological ability, parental support, or lack of parental support is able to become "proficient" or even "advanced" on some artificial and arbitrary state assessment test given at the end of the school year. I don't know if there's anything we can say all people are proficient at except maybe breathing and even then, people with asthma might want to argue that statement.


I'm looking forward to reading both.

Texas Supreme Court close to a decision

For the legal buffs out there, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson said recently that the Court will rule in the next two weeks whether or not the Texas public school-finance system is constitutional or not.

Via Texas state Representative Aaron Pena and Off the Kuff, from the AP:

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson said he expects the court to issue a ruling in the troublesome school funding case within two weeks.

"I can't say it will be definitive," Jefferson said in Saturday's online edition of the Midland Reporter-Telegram. "There will be a decision from the court and the Legislature will do what it does."

The state's high court took on the issue when the state appealed a lower court ruling that said the method Texas uses to pay for public education is unconstitutional.

State District Judge John Dietz ruled the system unconstitutional and set an Oct. 1 deadline for the state to overhaul the system. Jefferson said the Supreme Court will work to meet that deadline.

In the last three years, the Legislature has failed five times to find an agreeable solution — one that would replace local property taxes with another form of revenue, likely from new taxes.

The last special session ended in failure on Aug. 19 and it is widely expected that Gov. Rick Perry will call lawmakers back to try it again once the state has guidance from the court.

This will be a major decision. Because Texas is one the largest states, with one of the most diverse populations, this decision will reverberate out to other state and district courts and will either embolden or slow down other schools and districts considering similar legislation. The particulars of the decision (is facilities funding adequate, is overall spending equitable, is there enough money to support the teaching of the state's high standards, etc.) will be extremely important.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Katrina's Kids

It's impossible to imagine what the kids of N'Orleans make of Katrina and her aftermath. The Houston Chronicle has a story today about some of the evacuees who are adjusting to life in Baytown High in far Southeast Texas. There's going to be thousands of stories like these in the near future.

And it begs an important question: Will the test-lovers out there insist that even these students -- whose lives have been turned upside down, homes lost, in many cases families lost, too -- should have to pass a test to go to the next grade? "Hey, kid, you lost everything but you got a 59% instead of a 60%. You stay in the grade you're in. Good luck with the rest of your life."

This is one of many problems with the current testing regiment and a blind adherence to test results: It allows for no mitigating circumstances. Standards, standards, standards, we hear relentlessly. And I believe in standards. But to hold everybody -- irregardless of personal circumstances -- to the same standards is absurd at best and cruel at worst.

"Evolution Schmevolution"

Watch for the incomparable Daily Show to blast Bush Republicans for their ridiculous Stone-Age attitudes towards science. Or, as they say it:

For one full week, The Daily Show goes in depth, around, through, and quite
possibly under one of the hottest hot-button issues facing our nation:
evolution. It's the accepted theory on the origin of life by an overwhelming
majority of the world's biologists, but maybe they're all wrong. What's so Great
about the Scientific Method anyway?

Monday, 9/12: CHRIS MOONEY, author of "The Republican War on Science"


New blogs

Two excellent new blogs have come across my radar screen. Of course, there are many other new and worthy ones, too, but I've been too busy to get to them all. For now, though, check out "The Wake-Up Call" and "Schools Matter."

I've added them to the blogroll so that you can always easily find them here.
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