Saturday, February 03, 2007

Groundhog Day -or- The shadow knows

4LAKids: Super Sunday, Feb 4, 2007
In This Issue:
BUSH OFFERS ‘BLUEPRINT’ FOR NCLB: Partisan split expected as strategies diverge.
AFT NO LONGER A MAJOR PLAYER IN REFORM ARENA: Focus of union changed with loss of leaders and shift in nation's political climate.
MOLLY IVINS ON LEAVE NO CHILD BEHIND: Education policy in George Bush's America
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
4LAKids Anthology: All the Past Issues, solved, resolved and unsolved!
4LAKidsNews: a compendium of recent items of interest - news stories, scurrilous rumors, links, academic papers, rants and amusing anecdotes, etc.
A week not unlike any other. Remember the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day …the antiheroic weatherman doomed to live the same bad day over-and-over until he gets it right? The President scrambles to save his legacy, the-surge-if-not-the-war and NCLB. EdWeek pauses to bury (and praise) the American Federation of Teachers. We play a quick round of follow-the-money with the mayor; et tu Jeffrey Katzenberg? Connie Rice's excellent proposals on gangs provoke not action but more studies, more plans, more rhetoric, more photo-ops + sound bytes; more Band-aids. School police will be joined by school prosecutors. Can "CSI:School" be far behind? The reality program is already upon us: Valley gangsters got tired of sticking up eateries and stuck up an adult school. Meanwhile the kids, out of shape - are getting fat.

The Super Weekend is upon us. Super Saturday with the LAUSD Academic Decathlon SuperQuiz – which usually produces both the national champ and their greatest challenge. Sunday the football game with the Roman numeral. If a team from the Midwest wins we will have six more weeks of winter.

And Molly Ivans leaves us just when we need her most. Godspeed. And relentlessly onward. —smf

BUSH OFFERS ‘BLUEPRINT’ FOR NCLB: Partisan split expected as strategies diverge.
By David J. Hoff | EdWeek

January 31, 2007 – Washington - With the release last week of the Bush administration’s blueprint for changes to its signature education program, it’s clear that Republicans and Democrats agree that the priority should be improving the nation’s lowest-achieving schools.

How to do that, though, will be the subject of partisan debate.

In its plans for the No Child Left Behind Act, unveiled the day after President Bush’s State of the Union address, the administration said it wants private and charter schools to create competition that would spur improvement in substandard schools. It also wants the NCLB law to give district leaders the authority to circumvent collective bargaining agreements so they can assign their best teachers to those schools.

“We are attempting to answer the question: What are we going to do for kids who are trapped in schools that are chronically underperforming?” Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said in a Jan. 24 call with reporters.
For More Info
View a copy of the report, "Building on Results: A Blueprint for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act," as well as a press release and a fact sheet related to the expansion of the federally mandated school choice provisions of NCLB. Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader

Democrats, however, have their own priorities for improving the lowest-performing schools. They would create incentives for teachers to work in the toughest schools, give teachers professional development in skills they need to improve student achievement, and attempt to improve states’ services to those schools.

Meanwhile, they are nearly unanimous in declaring the private-school-choice proposal dead on arrival. They point out that the administration was unable to insert vouchers into the NCLB law when it passed in 2001 with Republicans in control of the House. Now, the Democrats have majorities in the House and the Senate.

The partisan divide could unnecessarily sidetrack Congress as it tries to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act this year, education advocates say.

“Every minute spent debating a voucher proposal means less time for making needed changes to a law that has been long on promise and short on progress,” Edward J. McElroy, the president of the 1.3 million-member American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. “That does nothing to help our children, our teachers, or our schools.”
State of NCLB

But one influential lawmaker suggested that the private-school-voucher plans would be quickly dismissed by Democrats without changing the odds that the law would be reauthorized on schedule this year. The most important signal that President Bush is intent on reaching a deal with Democrats will come when he releases his fiscal 2008 budget proposal, said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the Education and Labor Committee.

“One of the ways he can help us is to provide sufficient funding,” Mr. Miller said in an interview. “The reauthorization of No Child Left Behind is necessary and doable. … Inadequate funding [would] make it more difficult.”

As Secretary Spellings started her campaign to generate support for the administration’s plans last week in Chicago, she said the president’s budget, set for release Feb. 5, would include plans for substantial increases in education spending. She didn’t suggest how large those hikes would be, however.
See Also
Read the related story, “Spellings Hits Road, Stresses Charter Plan.”

In his State of Union speech to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 23, President Bush briefly mentioned the No Child Left Behind law, saying that the 5-year-old legislation has spurred increased student achievement on some measures and that it should be renewed on schedule.

“We can lift student achievement even higher by giving local leaders flexibility to turn around failing schools and by giving families with children stuck in failing schools the right to choose someplace better,” the president said.

In a 15-page document released the next day, the Education Department outlined several proposals it says would improve those schools, while keeping the current system of annual testing in reading and mathematics in grade 3-8 and once in high school, as well as the NCLB accountability system based on achievement goals for all racial, ethnic, special needs, and income groups.

The document, called “Building on Results: A Blueprint for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act,” proposed that an average of $4,000 in private school tuition be given to parents of children in schools that consistently fail to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, the key measure of improvement under the law. Students also could choose a scholarship of up to $3,000 to pay for what the department calls “intensive tutoring.”

The choice options, called Promise Scholarships, would be available in schools that have fallen short of their AYP goals for five straight years. Ms. Spellings estimates that 1,800 U.S. schools are currently in that category.

Separately, the department would create a program through which districts could institute their own districtwide choice programs modeled after the 3-year-old federal voucher program in the District of Columbia.
Charters and Teachers

The Bush administration’s plan also would go further than many Democratic plans in recruiting teachers to work in underperforming schools and in transforming those schools into charters, which are publicly financed but independently operated schools.

Under the plan, the NCLB law would give districts the power to circumvent state caps on the number of charters and collective-bargaining rules when intervening in schools that fail to make AYP for five years in a row. The charter authority—like vouchers—would expand the options available in districts with high numbers of poor-performing schools, the Education Department’s blueprint says. In rural areas, districts could provide new opportunities through virtual charter schools, it adds.

The administration also wants to give district leaders the authority to overrule provisions of teacher contracts so that they can assemble the best possible staffs for underperforming schools.

As with private school choice, the proposal on trumping collective bargaining won’t advance in the Education and Labor Committee, Rep. Miller said.

While the administration and Democratic leaders appear to be far apart on policy issues, Rep. Miller said he thinks the No Child Left Behind bill can be reauthorized as slated this year.

When President Bush unveils his fiscal 2008 budget proposal next week, it will signal whether he and his administration are serious about working with Democrats by proposing significant increases for the law, Rep. Miller said in the interview.

The department’s blueprint proposes several new programs intended to help turn around subpar schools. In addition to the private school vouchers, it proposes line items to assist low-performing schools in general and high schools in particular.

View a copy of the US Dept of Ed report, "Building on Results: A Blueprint for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act"

AFT NO LONGER A MAJOR PLAYER IN REFORM ARENA: Focus of union changed with loss of leaders and shift in nation's political climate.
By Vaishali Honawar | Education Week

January 31, 2007 - The American Federation of Teachers has changed.

The union itself insists it is still very much on the path blazed by Albert Shanker, the AFT’s late, legendary president, under whom it forged a happy marriage between its labor agenda and education reform.

But in a political arena that has, for over a decade, been dominated by Republicans and the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, change has been inevitable for the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union which, like other labor groups, tends to heavily back, and be backed by, Democrats.

Challenges have also come from within.

The union has lost several of its most prominent leaders over the past decade. It has struggled with scandals at major locals. And an internal survey last year showed low morale among its own employees.

Although overall membership has continued to grow, big losses have also hit the 1.3 million-member union, such as the decision in 2005 by its Puerto Rico affiliate to sever ties and the depletion of the New Orleans local following Hurricane Katrina.

Since the victory of several union-backed congressional candidates in the November elections, AFT leaders have expressed hope for the future in enacting changes to the No Child Left Behind law and getting long-pending labor legislation passed in the Democratic-controlled Congress. The union’s organizing wheels are also spinning into overdrive with stepped-up recruitment efforts.

Still, observers question whether the AFT has the ability or drive today to influence education reform in the way that it once did. They point partly to the political climate and partly to the union’s current leadership, which, they contend, is too closely focused on labor issues.


An internal-communications survey at the AFT headquarters that was disclosed by the blogger and teachers’ union watchdog Mike Antonucci in August offered a window on the thoughts and morale of AFT staff members.

Some employees, apparently affected by the presence of a Republican Congress and White House, questioned the national union’s effectiveness.

“People on the Hill [and in the press] used to wait for what AFT had to say before they acted, before they put out a particular piece of legislation, before they wrote a particular piece. They just would not think of acting without checking with AFT in a certain sphere of issues. That’s not the case anymore,” said one staff member.

“We don’t have friends. We don’t get tickets to the inaugural ball anymore. We don’t have friendly bills passing in Congress very often,” said another.

“No one seems to know what anyone is doing,” complained yet another staffer.

That survey is part of a larger, ongoing exercise at the union that includes surveys of affiliate leaders and members, as well as focus groups, with the goal of improving the AFT’s communications with its members, officials said. The only reason the survey was conducted, they said, was to take stock of changing communications needs because of growth in membership and staff.

Outside the union, the perception of its effectiveness as an education reformer has changed as well in the past few years.

Observers give points to the AFT for continuing to focus on school improvement, at least to a greater extent than the larger National Education Association. They cite the union’s “Let’s Get it Right” campaign that sought changes in the NCLB law, while the NEA chose to simply criticize the now 5-year-old act.

[• Note: UTLA is affiliated with both the AFT & the NEA.]

Many also point to the AFT’s educational research and dissemination program, which helps locals build the capacity to deliver high-quality professional development services, either on their own or in collaboration with their school districts.

Nevertheless, they add, the union’s voice is not as strong as it once was.

“Unions as a whole have been disempowered,” said Cindy Chance, the dean of the college of education at Georgia Southern University. “They have lost power in the last several years and in the last administration because of the political climate.”

Strong evidence of that appeared when the No Child Left Behind law was passed by Congress in 2001 with bipartisan support, but with few, if any, fingerprints of the two national teachers’ unions on its mandates. The law instituted a host of requirements on student achievement, teacher quality, and other matters.

The absence of a leader like Al Shanker, some say, has also made a difference.

In his column, “Where We Stand,” which ran as a paid advertisement in The New York Times for 27 years, Mr. Shanker threw out a multitude of ideas that influenced a generation of education policymakers, including a push for national standards.

...article continues here.

by Duke Helfand and Joel Rubin, LA Times Staff Writers

February 1, 2007 - Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa collected more than $761,000 for his education reform efforts during the last six months of 2006, some of it from companies and individuals who have had business before the city but no direct link to education, according to financial reports filed with the state Wednesday.

The funds come on top of more than $1 million collected by Villaraigosa during the first six months of last year.

Most of the money received during the last six months — more than $611,000 — flowed into a committee established by the mayor to promote his campaign to gain substantial control of the Los Angeles Unified School District and to pay legal fees defending against a district lawsuit challenging his involvement.

An additional $150,000 went into a committee set up for the mayor to support school board candidates in the March 6 election.

Between July 1 and Dec. 31, Villaraigosa received contributions from developers, investment managers, entertainment executives and attorneys, among others. The checks were for as little as $100 and as much as $100,000.

The largest contributors to the Mayor's Committee for Government Excellence and Accountability included Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns Staples Center and is building the L.A. Live sports and entertainment complex across the street in downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles investor Marc Nathanson, chairman of Mapleton Investments and vice chairman of cable and technology operator Charter Communications, also gave $100,000, as did Zenith Insurance Co. in Woodland Hills.

Developer J.H. Snyder Co. gave $50,000, as did Mani Brothers, a real estate investment firm.

And the $25,000 club included entertainment mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, financial advisor Thomas Unterman and Eric Smidt, head of a major tool and equipment retailer.

Nathanson from Mapleton Investments also gave $100,000 to a second committee, Partnership for Better Schools, and the Snyder company gave $50,000 to that committee as well.

Some of these contributors, or others giving to the mayor's cause, maintain close relationships with Villaraigosa and have had business dealings with the city. But a spokesman for the mayor's government excellence committee said that contributors are not buying access to the mayor but simply supporting his cause.

“I think he has been able to galvanize folks behind him in that mission,” said spokesman Nathan James.

Contributor Nathanson said his investment firm has no business with the city. “I have been concerned with the problems facing schools in this city and the mayor told me about his concerns and that he needed help, and it made sense to me,” he said.

Others, however, currently have projects in the city, or are proposing them, including Westfield, owner of Century City's open-air mall, which gave $100,000 last June as it was looking to create new shops and condos. An affiliate of JMB Realty, which wants to build two 47-story condo towers nearby, donated $100,000 at the same time.

In all, the mayor raised more than $1.8 million last year for his education initiatives through the two committees that report to the California secretary of state.

He has made non-cash contributions to two school board candidates — Yolie Flores Aguilar on the Eastside and Tamar Galatzan in the San Fernando Valley. And he has helped out a third candidate in the Watts-to-San Pedro district, Richard Vladovic, whom he is scheduled to endorse today.

Separately, Villaraigosa raised more than $1 million more from three foundations last year — money that is not publicly reported.

That money has gone to the nonprofit L.A.'s Best, an after-school program offered in hundreds of Los Angeles public schools. The money is being held by L.A.'s Best for the mayor's educational purposes.

Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.

• Nonprofits are neither campaign nor political action committees | Quoting the above: "money has gone to the nonprofit L.A.'s Best, an after-school program offered in hundreds of Los Angeles public schools. The money is being held by L.A.'s Best for the mayor's educational purposes". It is usually the expectation of the donor and the IRS that money contributed to non-profits be spent in furtherance of the organization's mission, not "held" for anyone's purposes. – smf

▲LINK 2 LISTINGS: Contributors and contributions to the mayor's campaign reported under campaign finance laws. Click other links for expenditures.

►NO SAFETY NET NEAR SCHOOLS: Prosecutors going to campuses as gang crime problem grows

by Rachel Uranga and Rick Orlov, Staff Writers - LA Daily News

Feb 2, 2007 - With nearly 300 attacks near San Fernando Valley schools in 2006 and three gang-related shootings in the past month, police and LAUSD officials said Thursday that they need to boost crime-fighting efforts around local campuses.

Two teens were shot outside Grant High on Jan. 9, while a 19-year-old was wounded Jan. 16 in a drive-by shooting outside Sylmar High.

And just after noon Wednesday, Daniel Martinez, a 17-year-old student, was killed in a gang-related shooting a block from Monroe High School in Van Nuys - an incident that triggered renewed calls for more and better programs to steer Los Angeles teens away from violence.

"The children are the victims in this," Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent David Brewer III said in a phone interview. "You have to try and solve this in the community. This is more than just (adding) police."

In his three months as head of the nation's second-largest school district, Brewer has pledged to work with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to reduce violence by gangs, whose members number some 40,000 in the city.

Villaraigosa himself has said he will release an anti-gang plan later this month, while City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo on Thursday announced a pilot program that he hopes will quell violence in schools.

School administrators say help cannot arrive soon enough.

"It doesn't matter if you are a rich or poor area. The fact ... is that (gang crime) is escalating in the Valley, and while the crime is not on campus, it takes some of our students," said Janis Fries-Martinez, principal of Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley, where a class of adults learning English was robbed by two masked gunmen Wednesday night.

Martinez has hired six security guards and two off-track teachers to help secure the high school campus that serves 4,600 students.

According to figures provided Thursday by the Los Angeles Police Department, 293 violent incidents - homicides, robberies or aggravated assaults - were reported near high schools in 2006.

Officials said there were 33 incidents near Sylmar High - the most for any Valley school. Five shootings were reported near San Fernando High, two near Taft High in Woodland Hills, and one each near Reseda, Sylmar and Monroe high schools.

Sylmar High was the site of a shooting earlier this month in which a 19-year-old graduate was wounded. Authorities said the victim might have been targeted because he had enlisted in the Army to escape the gang life.

It's just that type of activity Delgadillo hopes to discourage by assigning city prosecutors to local schools.

Markham Middle School, a campus in South Los Angeles that seven gangs claim as their territory, will get the first prosecutor. The program will be expanded to two Valley high schools within the next month.

"We are working with the school district on which schools this should work at," Delgadillo said at a news conference, adding that prosecutors will be able to better coordinate various programs that are in operation to combat gangs.

City and L.A. Unified officials already have an established partnership in fighting crime. Penalties are increased for crimes committed within 1,000 feet of any school in the "safe schools zone" program, created two years ago after 15-year-old Delish Allen was caught in gang crossfire near Locke High in South Los Angeles.

"There are efforts that are already under way and need to be strengthened," said Deputy Chief Michel Moore, who oversees the LAPD's Valley Division.

"As the mayor and our elected officials and civil and social leaders rally to this cause, as a public we need to challenge. There need to be strategies that are holistic, that are not overly centered on suppression or overly centered on intervention."

►GUNMEN ROB STUDENTS AT ADULT SCHOOL: Bandits grab teacher in holdup at Polytechnic High

by Rick Coca and Rachel Uranga, Staff Writers, LA Daily News

Feb 2, 2007 - SUN VALLEY - Two masked gunmen held up an adult-school class at Polytechnic High School on Wednesday night, one pointing a handgun at the teacher while the other ordered students to drop their wallets and other belongings in a bag, officials said.

No one was hurt in the 10-minute robbery, which occurred about 8:30 p.m. at the North Hollywood-Polytechnic Community Adult School, located on the campus of Polytechnic High School in the 12400 block of Roscoe Boulevard.

The gunmen, believed to be two Latino males wearing nylons over their heads, robbed 17 students, most of them lower-income, working-class immigrants, attending an intermediate English as a Second Language class.

"The first thing they did was grab the teacher and told everybody to give them what they had," said Kathy Javaheri, principal of the adult school. "(The robbers) started to speak English, but because it was an ESL class and some of the students weren't speaking English, they began speaking in Spanish."

After the robbers left, the teacher used a telephone in the classroom to call Los Angeles Unified School District police officers stationed on campus. The campus police, with the assistance of LAPD officers who arrived soon after, immediately locked down the campus, Javaheri said.

The robbery was especially traumatic for the students from war-torn countries in Central America.

"Having something like this (happen to them) jogs back their emotions about experiences they've had in their own countries," Javaheri said.

Crisis counselors were made available to students, beginning Thursday night. The school serves 800 adult-school students attending 30 evening classes.

District policy is to keep the doors to classes locked, and the gunmen apparently walked into an open classroom. But Javaheri refused to lay blame on the instructor, saying that in an adult-school setting, many students work, so they show up to class at various times. Students don't need permission to use the restroom and when they re-enter the class, they don't necessarily lock the door behind them.

"We're taking measures to secure the campus," Javaheri said, which will include an added campus police presence.

She said that at more than 60 years old, the adult school is one of the oldest in the city and as far as she knows, a robbery of this sort has never happened there.

Police are also baffled by the robbers' target.

"I have been working this unit for 17 years and I have never seen a classroom get hit," said Los Angeles Police Department Detective Jim Gerardi. "It's getting scary out there."

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call North Hollywood detectives at (818) 623-4045.


MOLLY IVINS ON LEAVE NO CHILD BEHIND: Education policy in George Bush's America
By Louis Dubose and Molly Ivins | from the Austin Chronicle of October 3, 2003

"You teach a child to read and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test."
— George W. Bush, Tennessee, Feb. 21, 2001

"Where did this idea come from — that everybody deserves free education? ... It's like free groceries. It comes from Moscow. From Russia. Straight out of the pit of hell."
— Texas Representative Debbie Riddle, Austin, March 5, 2003

OK, so we're not real partial to public education in Texas.

And we got fooled. Maybe more than twice.

So did you.

Here's how it happened.

Between GeeDubya Bush's second legislative session in 1997 and the official beginning of his run for the presidency in 1999, the state of Texas pissed away much of a $6 billion surplus. A surplus in Austin is like the hundred-year flood in Amarillo: it comes about every eight hundred years. You want to make full use of everything you can get out of it.

Governor Bush made good use of the surplus, at least for his own political purposes. In a state known for low taxes and no income tax, he gave a big chunk of the surplus back to taxpayers. Then he ran for president saying, "I passed the largest tax break in the history of the state of Texas." And why not? The economy was booming. Enron stock was going to hit $100 and split. Streets were filled with trucks laying fiber-optic cable. If you could get a table near the lean and hungry venture capitalists at the Mezzaluna restaurant in downtown Austin, you might hear one of them mention "the next killer app." Then you could call your broker, sell Agillion, and buy Tivoli. The boom was like Robert Earl Keen's song "The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends."

Dubya Bush arrived as governor after the party started. By the time it ended, he had ridden the Texas tech boom all the way to the White House. The first big Austin campaign bash in the summer of 1999 featured bad country music and a stump speech heavy on Bushonomic blather: "... the largest tax cut in the history of the state of Texas ... give tax dollars to the people who earned them ... ," etc. Bush budget director Albert Hawkins, who had just left the state's payroll to join the campaign, stood at the back of the crowd. Hawkins is a veteran capitol numbers-cruncher who knew better. Asked why none of the record surplus was banked in the state's rainy day fund, Hawkins dismissed the question. The state's finances were in good shape, he said. "We didn't see any need to put any money in the fund."

Then the stock market tanked, the Supreme Court named Bush president, tax revenues disappeared, and Texas went broke. As we write, we're looking at a $10 billion deficit in Texas ... It's raining in Texas. Six or seven billion dollars in the Texas rainy day fund would be right useful to legislators slashing programs in a state that's always in a dead heat with Mississippi for last place in government spending. As Bush rolled out his second big tax cut in Washington in 2002, the state he left behind was being ravaged by the deficits he created.

One casualty of the post-Bush budget crash in Texas is the state's public schools. That's how Odell Edwards — along with all but 8% of his African-American classmates at Houston's Phillis Wheatley High School — really got fooled. As Odell started tenth grade, his school district faced a $160 million deficit. His campus was rated as "low-performing." And there was a 92% chance that in two years he would fail the "high-stakes" test required by President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education-reform law.

Odell gets Bushwhacked twice.

Governor Bush's tax cuts in Texas put Odell's school district in a financial bind. President Bush's No Child Left Behind law puts Odell himself in a bind, almost guaranteeing he will be left behind. Sitting in a McDonald's in southeast Houston, this wiry kid full of nervous energy seems unaware of the odds he faces when he gets his first crack at the high school exit exam next year. His odds are bad because the Texas Education Agency has done something extraordinary. It created a high-stakes exit exam that almost perfectly predicts one thing: race. Edwards is African-American. According to field tests of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, he has an 8% chance of passing. His grade-point average could be 95 (he admits that it's "mostly B's and C's"), but in a trial run of the test 92% of black kids failed. As a result, the test is being tweaked and scores will ultimately be curved. The trial tests predicted a disaster for black kids. And if Odell fails the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, he doesn't get out of Wheatley High. He gets a couple of re-takes. But what are the odds that a kid officially designated a failure after eleven, then twelve, then twelve and a half years of public education will come back for that third test in the summer after high school?

Odell works twenty-five to thirty hours a week at McDonald's and lives with his mother and stepsister. He'd like to get out of fast food but likes the money. He wants to buy a car and says maybe he'll go to Houston Community College — at a campus that just opened in an abandoned strip mall on Martin Luther King Drive.

It's the American teenage dream, on a modest scale.

Here's a young African-American man of limited means who's always attended public schools where his minority was the majority. He's the guy George Bush must have had in mind when he talked about "the soft bigotry of low expectations." Bush can say what he wants to about ending that invisible bigotry, but he has helped stack the deck against Odell Edwards. Odell's school faces budget and staff cuts — at the same time that President W.'s education law is demanding much more from Odell.

He'd have a better shot if he lived in Massachusetts. They spend money on public education there. In Texas we do schools on the cheap. "You can't say throwing money at public education won't work," an East Texas senator used to say. "Because we've never tried it."

It's going to take a heroic effort for Odell Edwards to cut loose from fast-food counter culture at McDonald's.

ENRON EDUCATION: Here's how the rest of you got fooled.

You were told the No Child Left Behind law is the Texas model of competency testing gone national. That's not exactly true, and if it were, it wouldn't be good. For decades the Great State has served as the National Laboratory for Bad Policy.

In truth, the No Child Left Behind Act Bush got passed in January 2002 is not the Texas education model imposed on the nation. It's the Texas model with bells added to bring on the far right and whistles added to attract congressional liberals, and insufficient money to pay for any of it. And it was signed into law at a time when our public schools are being slammed by huge state-budget deficits.

As full-time residents of the state that gave you tort reform, H. Ross Perot, and penis-enlargement options on executive health plans, we're obliged to warn you that if Dubya Bush had exported "the Texas Miracle," the country would be in deep shit. In public education there was no Texas miracle. The last Lone Star miracle we know of was the time the face of Jesus appeared on a screen door in Port Neches, and that's been more than thirty years.

Linda McNeil is a professor at Rice University, codirector of the Rice Center for Education, former high school English teacher, a past vice president of the American Educational Research Association, and author of Contradictions of School Reform and numerous papers published in scholarly journals. In other words, not the sort of person the Bushies want meddling in public-education policy. After all, she has never published anything advocating phonics, and she has no real ties to the corporate world.

McNeil does use a corporate metaphor when talking about education reform in Texas — in particular when describing the system the Texas Education Agency uses to track progress on the standardized tests our state's kids have been taking for about ten years. This is the system that supposedly authenticated the miracle in Texas public ed. McNeil likens it to a local company housed in a sleek corporate tower a few miles north of the ivory towers at Rice University.

"Enron," she said.

"You've seen newspaper accounts that explain how Enron used a single indicator to show how well the company was performing," McNeil said. She went on to explain that the average scores on Texas' standardized tests are like Enron's stock price — inflated and manipulated. Profits and successes were reflected in stock price. Debts and losses were carried on a different set of books. McNeil believes that placing so much emphasis on kids' scores, and linking the scores to the jobs and cash bonuses of school administrators, corrupted the system. Just as Enron's focus on stock price corrupted the company by encouraging every employee to do everything possible to keep the stock price climbing, school administrators were pressured to use "any means necessary" to pump up test scores. Everything from replacing good curriculum with test practice drills to dumping weak students likely to be a liability to the school's ratings.

McNeil has worked with two other professors. Angela Valenzuela teaches in the College of Education at the University of Texas. Walt Haney is a displaced Texan from Corpus Christi, now on the faculty of Boston College. The three profs are persistent empiricists, always citing statistics about academic performance, always studying the effect of policy on the children in the classroom. (It does seem odd that Bush's first Texas education commissioner, Mike Moses, has taken up with these three education Cassandras, running around the state screaming, "The scores are falling!" Moses is now superintendent of schools in Dallas, a minority school district about to be overwhelmed by the high-stakes test mandated by the education law Bush pushed through Congress.)

Working together, the three professors of education found that bogus test scores are only one of two ugly truths about education reform in Texas. The other, linked to test scores, is the dropout rate — one of the highest in the nation.

They started by asking why scores on the tests controlled by the Texas Education Agency steadily increased, while scores on national tests not controlled by the agency barely moved. If the state's standardized-test scores climbed over ten years, then scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Testing Program (ACT) should have increased with them.

They didn't.

Average scores on the state standardized tests showed healthy gains. Average scores on the college-board SAT and ACT showed meager gains. By 2002, after ten years of testing, students in Texas were doing great on the state tests. But they ranked forty-seventh nationally on college-exam scores. (We beat out North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia.)

The SAT and ACT scores would be even lower if the weakest students didn't drop out of Texas high schools.


"We disappear our kids," McNeil said, a usage normally heard in connection with Central American death squads. Many children — far more than 50% in the cities — who enroll in the first year of high school in Texas don't make it to graduation. There's an institutional incentive for them to leave. If test scores are low, schools are rated low-performing. In low-performing schools, principals lose their jobs. Tests as a single criterion to evaluate schools provide an incentive for principals to disappear weak students to keep their campus test scores high. (This is not just about job security and money. Most public-school faculties in Texas will jump at the chance to push an incompetent principal out the door, but teachers will also fight a system that drives away dedicated, competent principals working with limited resources and against great odds.)

The low-performing students encouraged to go quietly are mostly Latino, African-American, and students with limited English proficiency (LEP). After they leave, the Texas Education Agency cooks the books. In 2001 the agency released dropout figures — all under 4%. But the conservative Manhattan Institute came up with a dropout rate of 52%. The Intercultural Development Research Association, a liberal education-advocacy group based in San Antonio, has tracked dropout numbers for ten years. It says the rate is 40%, which translates into more than 75,000 teenagers each year. A state senator from Corpus Christi calls the TEA dropout numbers "treasonous." The Dallas Morning News reports that the feds threatened to cut dropout-prevention funds because the Texas formula for calculating dropouts is so inaccurate.

McNeil and her Rice University researchers found a Texas Education Agency accounting system that would have done Arthur Andersen proud. Principals desperate to keep kids away from tenth-grade exit exams discovered a Never-Never Land, a special place where kids never make it to the tenth grade and never take standard exams. All they need is a waiver from the state to allow kids who failed one course in the ninth grade to stay there. These "technical ninth-graders" sometimes stay on ninth-grade enrollment ledgers for three years — if they stay in school. Sometimes, McNeil wrote, they're discouraged from taking the course they failed, which would allow them to advance.

In one Houston high school with a student body of 3,000 only 296 kids took the tenth-grade test. Barring fluctuating fertility rates, there should have been between 700 and 750 students in the tenth grade. "All our children will be tested. No one will be excluded," claimed Houston superintendent Rod Paige, the year before Bush named him secretary of education.

The kids who stick around for the tests aren't exactly reading Faulkner and solving quadratic equations. Listen to almost any teacher in the state of Texas and you'll hear a story about valuable classroom time lost to drills that prep students for the test. About art teachers compelled to drill a half hour each day for the test. About English teachers required to start every class with a drill that teaches students to underline the central ideas in short paragraphs. About testing consultants who charge a stiff fee to help principals get campus scores up by telling teachers to focus all their drilling efforts on "the bubble kids" — the ones in the small "bubble" of scores just below passing. (Forget the children at the bottom — you'll never get their scores anywhere close to the magic passing number.) About a small school district spending $20,000 on prep handbooks for the TAAS, the recently replaced Texas Assessment of Academic Skills.

Heard about Guerrilla TAAS? A neat little test-attack-skill handbook with a camouflage cover. "Cool," say the kids. "Cami."

There's more.

The guerrilla consultants show up at schools to lead Guerrilla TAAS pep rallies. They wear camouflage combat fatigues. Even the principal and assistant principals get to suit out in camouflage — all included in the price of the Guerrilla TAAS package.

"Hey, guys, we're going to teach you how to kick this test's butt."

Some miracle, huh?

Is there a papal nuncio in the house?

Published in BUSHWHACKED by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose Copyright © 2003 by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose.
Published by arrangement with Random House, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc.

Blueprint/Framework/Roadmap - pick a metaphor: MAYOR VILLARAIGOSA GOES NATIONAL and alongside the mayors of Oakland & Detroit proclaims the future

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
• Saturday Feb 3 | 7:00 AM To 5:00 PM
• ACADEMIC DECATHLON DAY II : Second day of LAUSD competition for Academic Decathlon at UCLA. Students will take seven objective tests and compete in the Super Quiz.
UCLA Wooden Center
405 Hilgard Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90095


• SHARE the most important issues relative to your children’s safety;
• IDENTIFY concrete strategies to address those issues;
• BUILD and STRENGTHEN the community’s relationship with experts, service providers, and City departments.

Panelists and attendees will include: Aztecs Rising ~ Center for the Arts ~ City Attorney’s Office ~ Community Development Department ~ Healthy City Project ~ Human Relations Commission ~Los Angeles Public Library ~ Office of Councilmember José Huizar ~ Office of Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa ~ Los Angeles Police Department ~ Department of Public Works ~ Los Angeles County Probation Department ~ Department of Recreation and Parks ~ Los Angeles Unified School District ~ Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Occidental College 1600 Campus Drive
Norris Hall of Chemistry (Mosher Lecture Hall)

• Tuesday Feb 06, 2007
East Valley High School (aka East Valley HS #1B): Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony
Please join us to celebrate the ribbon-cutting of your new community school!
Ceremony will begin at 2:00 p.m.
East Valley High School
5525 Vineland Ave.
North Hollywood, CA 91601

• Wednesday Feb 07, 2007
Magnolia Elementary School Addition: Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony
Please join us to celebrate the completion of your new classroom building!
Ceremony will begin at 1:00 p.m.
Magnolia Elementary School
1626 S. Orchard Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90006

• Wednesday Feb 07, 2007
South Region Elementary School #7: PEA Hearing and CEQA Draft EIR Meeting
Please join us at this public hearing to discuss the findings of the Preliminary Environmental Assessment (PEA).
Immediately following the public hearing, we will hold the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) public meeting.
6:00 p.m.
Russell Elementary School - Auditorium
1263 E. Firestone Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90001

• Thursday Feb 08, 2007
Central Region Span School 6-12 #1: Project Update Meeting
6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
King Middle School
4201 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
*Dates and times subject to change. ________________________________________
Phone: 213.633.7493
Phone: 213.633.7616


What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member: • 213-241-6387 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-6388 • 213-241-6382 • 213-241-6385 • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6383

...or your city councilperson, mayor, the governor, member of congress, senator - or the president. Tell them what you really think! • There are 26 mayors and five county supervisors representing jurisdictions within LAUSD, the mayor of LA can be reached at • 213.978.0600
• Call or e-mail Governor Schwarzenegger: 213-897-0322 e-mail:
• Open the dialogue. Write a letter to the editor. Circulate these thoughts. Talk to the principal and teachers at your local school.
• Speak with your friends, neighbors and coworkers. Stay on top of education issues. Don't take my word for it!
• Get involved at your neighborhood school. Join your PTA. Serve on a School Site Council. Be there for a child.
• Register.
• Vote.

Who are your elected federal & state representatives? How do you contact them?

Scott Folsom is a parent and parent leader in LAUSD. He is President of Los Angeles 10th District PTSA and represents PTA as Vice-chair the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee. He serves on various school district advisory and policy committees and is a PTA officer and/or governance council member at three LAUSD schools. He is also the elected Youth & Education boardmember on the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council.
• In this forum his opinions are his own and your opinions and feedback are invited. Quoted and/or cited content copyright © the original author and/or publisher. All other material copyright © 4LAKids.
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