Saturday, December 31, 2005

Border fence divides lawmakers

by Todd J. Gillman:

Saturday, December 31, 2005


WASHINGTON – Good fences make good neighbors. But do they make for good policy along the Mexican border?

Just before going home on recess, the House approved 700 miles of fencing despite objections from every Texas lawmaker whose district touches the border.

Advocates say the fence will keep out drug smugglers, terrorists and illegal immigrants. Critics say it's a waste of money that will simply push the problems to weak points along the 2,000-mile southern border. And Mexican officials are irate.

The debate moves to the Senate, where Texas' senators, both Republicans, are split.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is open to the idea.

"We already have fences in high-volume areas. I think that should be one of the tools. I don't think you need a 2,000-mile fence," she said, "but I think fences in the high-volume areas, where you have drug trafficking and crime and illegal aliens coming across that are not even from Mexico, that's part of securing our country and having integrity at our borders."

Sen. John Cornyn sees even the 700-mile fence as impractical and a waste of money.

"I would call the idea of a fence or a wall at the border a 19th-century solution to a 21st-century problem. ... Can't people just go around it?" he said.

Both senators want more border guards. Mr. Cornyn says an extra 10,000 guards, along with electronic surveillance and barriers erected at strategic spots, would create a far more cost-effective "virtual fence." He also wants a guest worker program to ease pressure on enforcement.

Fences now cover 80 miles of the southern border.

Border Barrier
Under the proposal, new fence segments would be along the border at:

Tecate, Calif. (22 miles, approximately 10 miles east and west of the current port of entry

Calexico, Calif., to Douglas, Ariz. (361 miles)

Columbus, N.M., to El Paso (88 miles)

Del Rio, Texas, to Eagle Pass (51 miles)

Laredo to Brownsville (176 miles)

The House plan would add 361 miles in the desert from Calexico, Calif., to Douglas, Ariz., where 400 immigrants die of dehydration in an average year. Laredo would be flanked by 15 miles of fencing, and there would be a 176-mile barrier from there to Brownsville. Del Rio, Texas, to Eagle Pass would be blocked, as would 88 miles west from El Paso.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who proposed the fence, said it would cut down human trafficking and drug crime, especially around Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, where drug lords have murdered police with impunity.

"If we can dry up that massive land smuggling with backpacks full of cocaine coming across that smugglers' jump-off point ... we will have done great things for the people of America and the good citizens of Nuevo Laredo," he said.

He called the $2.2 billion price tag a bargain compared with the cost of enforcement and prison space.

The House voted 260 to 159 to authorize the fence, as an amendment to a broader immigration bill. All but four Texas Republicans – Reps. Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Henry Bonilla of San Antonio, Michael Conaway of Midland and Ron Paul of Surfside – voted for it, along with one Democrat, Rep. Chet Edwards of Waco.

All five supported the final bill.

Mr. Conaway argued that electronic sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles and selective fencing would be more cost-effective, and complained that forcing a fence on border-area landowners would be an "egregious" affront to their rights.

Ms. Granger said local residents and sheriffs hadn't been asked for their input, and the proposal wasn't adequately planned.

The idea of a fence has kicked around for years. Conservative pundit and immigration-control advocate Pat Buchanan made it a cornerstone of his 1996 presidential campaign. At the time, cost estimates for fencing the entire southern border ran from $167 million for chain-link to $45 billion for a 25-foot-high structure akin to the Great Wall.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, likened the idea to the Berlin Wall, as did Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi.

"The answer's not a wall or kicking everybody out or shutting down commerce," said Ortiz spokeswoman Cathy Travis, "it's about funding [border enforcement] and being honest about why people come here."

Todd J. Gillman covers Congress and the Texas delegation.

E-mail tgillman@dallasnews.com

Friday, December 23, 2005

Commentary by Ed Leahy, Coordinator, Nebraska Appleseed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Program

Here is a potent expression of hope and critique of the direction that our country has gone by way of Dr. Ted Hamann at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who is connected to Great Plains immigrant rights activism. This is very appropriate as our leaders try to distract us at this very moment with the crazy issue over whether Christmas is at risk. Thanks, Ted. -Angela

Dear Friends,

At this time of the year, humanity has always reached deep within itself to reflect on the changes that surround us, to evaluate the growing light of the day, to give thanks, and to worship. In the modern world, we reflect this in the celebrations of Hannukah, Kwanza, Christmas, and Ramadan. Unfortunately, we have also witnessed the effect of religious extremism and a fear of what we do not understand that has resulted in the redefinition of these religious beliefs and of this holiday season. Moreover, these illogical fears have caused some to also redefine America in the same extremist vein.
Because of this debate, the public mind has made many false connections: Muslim = terrorist, immigrant = illegal, security = limited liberty, and happy holidays = a morally bankrupt, secular plan of attack to destroy the constitution and insult superior people. To further add to our dismay, we have seen our Congress, especially the House of Representatives, reflect these false comparisons and retreat behind the equally false notion that party unity = justice.

A quick review of Congress' recent actions (such as the budget reduction bill that further burdens the working poor and widens the gap between the "haves" and the "haven't got a prayers;" the discussion about trading liberty for security in the reauthorization of the Patriot Act; the insertion of unrelated amendments of issues long-defeated [such as oil drilling in ANWR and the CLEAR Act] but resurrected and enshrined in "must-pass" legislation) found their culmination, at least for those concerned with comprehensive immigration reform, in the passage of HR 4437, Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act by Rep. Sensenbrenner.

All three Nebraska representatives (Terry, Fortenberry, and Osborne) voted for this shameful legislation. ¡Ay que lastima!

Friends, do not be dismayed. Congress is on recess; it is not over. People of good conscience and goodwill must respond to these unprecedented challenges on human dignity in the coming session, which begins January 9. We will make our voice heard, and we invite you to join in this historic debate on Thursday, February 2, 2006 from 6:30-8:30 at the Skutt Student Center Ballroom at Creighton University. The attached flyers are for your use in inviting others to form a strong movement that will carry the short-term debate about fair and comprehensive immigration reform to its just end.

In all the years that I have had the distinct honor of working with and serving the newest Americans in our society, I have never been more filled with hope for a significant step towards a solution than I am now. However, I have also never experienced such revulsion at the inhumanity and indignant reactions of those who seek to define America in their own privileged and disconnected image.

So, the lines are drawn. Santa Claus might not be watching Congress to see if they have been bad or good, but we will be. Will you?

Please join us on February 2!

Happy Holidays,

Ed


Edward W. Leahy
Coordinator
Nebraska Appleseed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Program
3605 Q St.
Omaha, NE 68107
402-546-1013 (office)
402-689-4249 (Cell)
402-734-8887 (fax)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Judge Says Arizona Must Spend More on English-Learners or Face Hefty Fines

In the latest decision, the court added that English-language learners do not have to pass the state’s high school exam to receive a diploma until the state proves it has fixed the funding problem." Attorneys for the state argued that having the students not take the exam will limit the students' motivation to achieve and also will limit teachers' interests in serving them since they would not be a focal group for testing purposes. However, and I think appropriately, this court establishes school funding as a first order of business. This should provide ideas for other states with large populations of English language learners. -Angela

EDUCATION WEEK
December 19, 2005
Web Only

By Mary Ann Zehr
A federal judge has set a January deadline for Arizona to find a way to adequately pay for programs for English-language learners or face fines of up to $2 million a day.

In the Dec. 15 ruling, U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins gave the state until Jan. 24, or just 15 days following the start of its 2006 legislative session, to resolve the issue of paying for English-language learners or be fined $500,000 per day for 30 days. The fines would increase up to $2 million per day if the state continued to miss the court’s deadlines.

The ruling is the latest in the Flores v. Arizona school-finance lawsuit, which was filed in 1992. Six years ago, the U.S. District Court of Arizona ruled that the state did not sufficiently fund the education of English-language learners.

In the latest decision, the court added that English-language learners do not have to pass the state’s high school exam to receive a diploma until the state proves it has fixed the funding problem.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said he will ask Arizona’s attorney general to file an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Mr. Horne contended that the federal court has unfairly failed to take into consideration the amount of funding that the state receives from the federal government for English-language learners in determining that funding overall in Arizona for such students is inadequate. At the least, he said, the court should take federal funds into account and tell Arizona the amount that it needs to make up to provide a sound education for the state’s students with limited English skills.

Mr. Horne also disputed the court’s decision to exempt Arizona’s 160,000 English-language learners from the state’s high school exit exam until the funding matter is resolved.

The high school exit exam is part of Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS. “Until this ruling, these students were heavily motivated to become proficient in English. This ruling undercuts their motivation to acquire the skills they need to succeed in today’s economy,” Mr. Horne said in an interview.

He also noted in a written statement that by exempting students from the high school exit exam, there is a risk that teachers will divert their resources and efforts from assisting ELL students and concentrate on non-ELL students.

‘Pretty Effective Sanctions’
Timothy M. Hogan, the public-interest lawyer who filed the Flores v. Arizona lawsuit, said he is pleased with the court’s decision. “We got some pretty effective sanctions in place,” he said. “If they have a 100-day session and don’t do anything, the total would be $72.5 million.”

When asked if he thought the temporary lifting of the high-school-exit-exam requirement for English-language learners could divert teachers’ attention away from such students, Mr. Hogan said, “You have to have faith in the teachers, which I do.” He added that he doesn’t have faith in the legislature because it has missed previous deadlines set by the federal court to fix the problem.

Judge Collins ruled on Jan. 25 of this year that the legislature had until the end of April or the end of the 2005 legislative session—whichever was later—to find a solution. The legislature passed a bill at the end of its regular session to address the issue, but Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, vetoed it, saying the measure didn’t authorize enough aid for English-language learners.

Mr. Hogan, the executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, said he also opposed that bill “because it wasn’t related to any known cost of providing ELL programs.”

The day before the federal court issued its Dec. 15 ruling, Mr. Horne issued a press release noting that he has asked Arizona’s congressional delegation to request $750 million in federal aid to help pay Arizona for what it costs to educate undocumented children.

“I would urge the Arizona delegation to push for an allocation of federal dollars to defray the costs to state taxpayers, who are currently bearing the burden of paying for the education of children who are not here legally,” Mr. Horne said in the Dec. 14 statement. Mr. Horne cited figures from the Pew Hispanic Center that Arizona has 125,000 undocumented children in its schools.

Jeffrey S. Passel, a senior research associate for the Pew Hispanic Center, said last week that while he had once stated that Arizona had 125,000 children of undocumented immigrants, a majority of those children were born in the United States and are thus American citizens. He estimates that Arizona actually has about 60,000 children who are living in the country illegally.

Mr. Horne said that “if the federal government had properly guarded the border, the children would never have been in school.” He said it’s unfair for Arizona taxpayers to have to bear so much of the burden of educating students who are living in the country illegally or those whose parents crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

Federal Judge Rules Against 'Intelligent Design'

I haven't posted too much on this, but this is really big news. The plaintiff's attorneys used the Establishment Clause to argue their case that the teaching of intelligent design amounts to establishing religion in public schools. Moreover, the judge offered the following: "Repeatedly in this trial, plaintiff's scientific experts testified that theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator." Plus, the judge added that the Dover, Pa. school board was dishonest: "It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the policy," Jones wrote." This is one of those cases where the end justifies the means.

-Angela

State gets more hurricane relief

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Texas senators said Tuesday the state will get another $11.2 million in emergency money to pay for hurricane costs, but money for schools with children who fled Hurricane Katrina remained knotted up in a Senate standoff over oil drilling in an Alaska refuge.

The money for transportation and housing costs comes from $62 billion Congress made available for recovery after hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast. Texas has received more than $250 million, said Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

Senate Democrats and some GOP moderates were threatening to filibuster the defense spending bill, which contains money for Texas and other states that took in students who fled Katrina. The House on Monday approved $645 million to cover those costs, but it attached to the bill a measure allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The ANWR provision triggered a political standoff in the Senate, where opposition to drilling is strong. Opponents argue the defense bill is not the place for the measure, which previously passed in the Senate as part of a deficit reduction bill.

Under the ANWR measure, money from oil lease payments and royalties would go into a Gulf Coast Recovery Fund for hurricane-ravaged states. Texas would get 10 percent of that money, said Courtney Boone, spokeswoman for Rep. Ted Stevens, R-Ala., the ANWR sponsor.

Democrats and some moderate Republicans were working Wednesday to get the ANWR measure knocked off the bill, which could mean a vote as early as Wednesday, before the holiday recess.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said on the Senate floor that loading the defense bill with the ANWR measure "is an outrage."

"It's high noon. It's a showdown," he said. "If you load up the bill that has to pass with these outrageous and controversial provisions ... (you) are defying the members to stand up and say no."

Cornyn acknowledged, "This is, by any definition, an ugly process.

"I'm going to vote for it because it's a must-pass piece of legislation, but I would much rather we handle it in a more orderly fashion."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, has pressed for passage of the defense measure, saying those who are stalling a vote were thwarting the will of the Senate. She said the Pentagon bill is a pro

Scientists Find A DNA Change That Accounts For White Skin

Interesting study. Note this comment herein: "Several sociologists and others said they feared that such revelations might wrongly overshadow the prevailing finding of genetics over the past 10 years: that the number of DNA differences between races is tiny compared with the range of genetic diversity found within any single racial group." This is consistent with observations of differences between men and women, namely, that there are more differences within a gender than between them. One wonders why such studies continue? -Angela

By Rick Weiss

Scientists said yesterday that they have discovered a tiny
genetic mutation that largely explains the first appearance
of white skin in humans tens of thousands of years ago, a
finding that helps solve one of biology's most enduring
mysteries and illuminates one of humanity's greatest sources
of strife.

The work suggests that the skin-whitening mutation occurred
by chance in a single individual after the first human
exodus from Africa, when all people were brown-skinned. That
person's offspring apparently thrived as humans moved
northward into what is now Europe, helping to give rise to
the lightest of the world's races.

Leaders of the study, at Penn State University, warned
against interpreting the finding as a discovery of "the race
gene." Race is a vaguely defined biological, social and
political concept, they noted, and skin color is only part
of what race is -- and is not.

In fact, several scientists said, the new work shows just
how small a biological difference is reflected by skin
color. The newly found mutation involves a change of just
one letter of DNA code out of the 3.1 billion letters in the
human genome -- the complete instructions for making a human
being.

"It's a major finding in a very sensitive area," said
Stephen Oppenheimer, an expert in anthropological genetics
at Oxford University, who was not involved in the work.
"Almost all the differences used to differentiate
populations from around the world really are skin deep."

The work raises a raft of new questions -- not least of
which is why white skin caught on so thoroughly in northern
climes once it arose. Some scientists suggest that lighter
skin offered a strong survival advantage for people who
migrated out of Africa by boosting their levels of
bone-strengthening vitamin D; others have posited that its
novelty and showiness simply made it more attractive to
those seeking mates.

The work also reveals for the first time that Asians owe
their relatively light skin to different mutations. That
means that light skin arose independently at least twice in
human evolution, in each case affecting populations with the
facial and other traits that today are commonly regarded as
the hallmarks of Caucasian and Asian races.

Several sociologists and others said they feared that such
revelations might wrongly overshadow the prevailing finding
of genetics over the past 10 years: that the number of DNA
differences between races is tiny compared with the range of
genetic diversity found within any single racial group.

Even study leader Keith Cheng said he was at first
uncomfortable talking about the new work, fearing that the
finding of such a clear genetic difference between people of
African and European ancestries might reawaken discredited
assertions of other purported inborn differences between
races -- the most long-standing and inflammatory of those
being intelligence.

"I think human beings are extremely insecure and look to
visual cues of sameness to feel better, and people will do
bad things to people who look different," Cheng said.

The discovery, described in today's issue of the journal
Science, was an unexpected outgrowth of studies Cheng and
his colleagues were conducting on inch-long zebra fish,
which are popular research tools for geneticists and
developmental biologists. Having identified a gene that,
when mutated, interferes with its ability to make its
characteristic black stripes, the team scanned human DNA
databases to see if a similar gene resides in people.

To their surprise, they found virtually identical
pigment-building genes in humans, chickens, dogs, cows and
many others species, an indication of its biological value.

They got a bigger surprise when they looked in a new
database comparing the genomes of four of the world's major
racial groups. That showed that whites with northern and
western European ancestry have a mutated version of the gene.

Skin color is a reflection of the amount and distribution of
the pigment melanin, which in humans protects against
damaging ultraviolet rays but in other species is also used
for camouflage or other purposes. The mutation that deprives
zebra fish of their stripes blocks the creation of a protein
whose job is to move charged atoms across cell membranes,
an
obscure process that is crucial to the accumulation of
melanin inside cells.

Humans of European descent, Cheng's team found, bear a
slightly different mutation that hobbles the same protein
with similar effect. The defect does not affect melanin
deposition in other parts of the body, including the hair
and eyes, whose tints are under the control of other genes.

A few genes have previously been associated with human
pigment disorders -- most notably those that, when mutated,
lead to albinism, an extreme form of pigment loss. But the
newly found glitch is the first found to play a role in the
formation of "normal" white skin. The Penn State team
calculates that the gene, known as slc24a5, is responsible
for about one-third of the pigment loss that made black skin
white. A few other as-yet-unidentified mutated genes
apparently account for the rest.

Although precise dating is impossible, several scientists
speculated on the basis of its spread and variation that the
mutation arose between 20,000 and 50,000 years ago. That
would be consistent with research showing that a wave of
ancestral humans migrated northward and eastward out of
Africa about 50,000 years ago.

Unlike most mutations, this one quickly overwhelmed its
ancestral version, at least in Europe, suggesting it had a
real benefit. Many scientists suspect that benefit has to do
with vitamin D, made in the body with the help of sunlight
and critical to proper bone development.

Sun intensity is great enough in equatorial regions that the
vitamin can still be made in dark-skinned people despite the
ultraviolet shielding effects of melanin. In the north,
where sunlight is less intense and cold weather demands that
more clothing be worn, melanin's ultraviolet shielding
became a liability, the thinking goes.

Today that solar requirement is largely irrelevant because
many foods are supplemented with vitamin D.

Some scientists said they suspect that white skin's rapid
rise to genetic dominance may also be the product of "sexual
selection," a phenomenon of evolutionary biology in which
almost any new and showy trait in a healthy individual can
become highly prized by those seeking mates, perhaps because
it provides evidence of genetic innovativeness.

Cheng and co-worker Victor A. Canfield said their discovery
could have practical spinoffs. A gene so crucial to the
buildup of melanin in the skin might be a good target for
new drugs against melanoma, for example, a cancer of melanin
cells in which slc24a5 works overtime.

But they and others agreed that, for better or worse, the
finding's most immediate impact may be an escalating debate
about the meaning of race.

Recent revelations that all people are more than 99.9
percent genetically identical has proved that race has
almost no biological validity. Yet geneticists' claims that
race is a phony construct have not rung true to many
nonscientists -- and understandably so, said Vivian Ota Wang
of the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda.

"You may tell people that race isn't real and doesn't
matter, but they can't catch a cab," Ota Wang said. "So
unless we take that into account it makes us sound crazy."

Monday, December 19, 2005

Recent article by Milton Friedman

Wanted to share this piece with blog readership The Father of Modern School Reform (December 2005) It's an interview with Milton Friedman who came up with the idea for vouchers. What should be known is that no one thought much about what he wrote in the early days until white Southerners wanted to avoid desegregation efforts. When his ideas provided the way to maintain Jim Crow, they became popular. This should similarly warn us today that a marketized schooling system will result in a re-stratification of educational quality and opportunity--away from the direction that we want to go in.

Hope all are well as we head toward the X-mas holidays. -Angela

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Failing to fix school funding in time won't affect every district

Guerra maintains that contrary to myth, if lawmakers don't meet the deadline for financing our public schools in the Spring special session, it is likely that some schools would stay open. In Sunday's Express-News, he promises to provide details on why a select group of school districts won't be affected in the event of lawmakers' inaction. Stay tuned.

-Angela


by Carlos Guerra
San Antonio Express-News

CORPUS CHRISTI — When the Texas Tax Reform Commission convened its third hearing here Tuesday, there were about as many people in the audience as there were commissioners on the dais.

"We'll have about 15 of these around the state," Chairman John Sharp said before the hearing started. "We would have had a lot more, but June 1st is coming around pretty fast. We'll have to have our recommendations finished by the end of March and the special (legislative) session in April or May to meet the deadline."

Talk of the urgency created by the June 1 deadline peppered numerous discussions, and most believe that if the Legislature doesn't have a fix by then, all Texas schools will be shuttered.

But exactly what will happen if the Legislature can't agree on a plan by the deadline and whether all school districts will be affected equally is misunderstood.

In 2001, when discontent over Texas' school funding system started boiling over, the issues were increasing the money spent on public schools, reducing school districts' property tax rates and eliminating the funding system's share-the-wealth provision that forces rich districts to share like good Texans. But legislators could not reach any accords during the five sessions they tussled over the school funding system.

Finally, state District Judge John Dietz ruled that schools were not funded enough to pass constitutional muster and that the funding system's reliance on property taxes — which are capped at $1.50 per $100 valuation for maintenance and operations — had created an unconstitutional state property tax. And he left the Robin Hood provision intact.

Dietz ordered the whole mechanism fixed by Oct. 1, 2005. But when the state appealed his ruling, the countdown was suspended until the appeal was decided.

Months later, the Texas Supreme Court upheld Dietz's ruling that Texas had, in effect, created an unconstitutional state property tax that denied districts meaningful discretion in spending. But the justices overturned his finding that school funding was not sufficient to fulfill the constitutional mandate — albeit with a warning that it was close to becoming constitutionally unacceptable in that respect, too. And the high court extended the deadline to June 1.

Gov. Rick Perry responded by naming a blue-ribbon panel of Texas business people to the commission and charged them with devising a plan to "buy down" property taxes and replacing the lost revenue with other tax money, dollar for dollar. But as Sharp explained Tuesday, "He took a state income tax off the charge."

Tuesday, discussion about improving public schools was only tangential because the focus was on things like fixing the state's franchise tax so it won't be a voluntary tax, raising sales tax rates and adopting new "broad-based" business taxes. There was also an impassioned plea from South Padre Island businessman Doyle Wells for putting "destination casino resorts" on a statewide ballot.

But interestingly, while most believe that the court's deadline will pressure lawmakers to agree on a fix, every tax change that has been suggested has been rejected at least once by legislators.

Even more interesting is that, contrary to myth, if lawmakers don't meet the deadline, it is likely that some schools would stay open.

Tune in Sunday for details on why a select group of school districts won't be affected in the slightest by lawmakers' inaction.


To contact Carlos Guerra,
call (210) 250-3545 or e-mail cguerra@express-news.net

Monday, December 12, 2005

If home-schooling counts, make it accountable

by Joshua Benton

Monday, December 12, 2005

While other kids sat in their classrooms this fall, Roger's 13-year-old granddaughter was roaming around the West Coast with her mother, staying up late and following their favorite band on tour.

"I think they're still somewhere around California," he told me a few days ago. "I think they got as far as Phoenix. But they ran out of money and spent a day or two in the car until someone could get some more money sent to her."

Why is a 13-year-old girl playing groupie on the road, when she should be at a desk somewhere learning algebra?

Because in the eyes of the Texas Education Agency, she's being home-schooled. And that means the state has no authority to check on her.

It's impossible to know how many Texas kids are being "schooled" as Roger's granddaughter is – which is to say, not at all. But they're out there.

"There's supposed to be a law that all kids will be educated, but nobody can go check on her and make sure it's happening," Roger told me. (That's not his real name. He doesn't want to get in trouble with his daughter-in-law.)

To the legitimate home-schoolers out there, the ones who work hard to give their kids the one-on-one attention they can't get in a classroom: Hold your e-mail fire. This isn't about you.

It's about people abusing the system, both schools and parents. And it's about a state education bureaucracy that, under law, can't do a thing about it.

Under Texas law, home-schooling is essentially unregulated. Once a parent tells a school district a child will be home-schooled, the district's jurisdiction ends.

State regulations say that parents should teach basic literacy, math and citizenship – but that's it.

And state officials don't even have the authority to check whether those minimal requirements are being met. As one home-schooling Web site puts it: "If you live in Texas, you are in the BEST state in the union for home-schooling! ... The best part is that you are not required to prove that you are doing any of [the state requirements]!"

I know this happens, from first-hand experience. Growing up in Louisiana, a good friend of mine wasn't doing well in high school. He'd been held back a couple times and wasn't likely to graduate.

But his father – rather than have his son drop out – instead announced he was going to home-school him.

At least that's what the school heard. The reality was that my friend started working alongside his father on construction jobs.

There was little, if any, instruction in anything beyond proper operation of a circular saw. My friend ended up with a diploma bought from some mail-order outfit.

How common is this sort of fake home-schooling? Work with me through a little math.

The state requires public high schools to track what happens to all the students who leave them – whether that's for a good reason (the family moves, for instance) or a bad one (the kid drops out).

In 2003-04, 10,894 kids in grades seven to 12 left public schools to be home-schooled. That's quite a few more than the number who left to switch to a private school – only 6,114.

That 10,894 number seems awfully high to me. Here's my reasoning.

There are a lot more kids in private schools than in home schools. According to the most recent federal estimates, there are about 5.3 million kids enrolled in America's private schools – almost five times more than the 1.1 million who are home-schooled.

So for there to be twice as many Texas kids going in to home schools as privates seems high.

Then consider that we're talking about older kids – almost all of them high school. But home-schooling is by far most popular with younger kids. A lot of parents feel confident teaching their kids how to do basic math. But fewer think they're ready to teach, say, trigonometry and physics. As a result, high school is the traditional time when a lot of home-schooled kids enter public school, not leave it.

So I have a tough time imagining large numbers of parents thinking public school is fine until sophomore year and suddenly dedicating themselves to home-schooling when their kid hits 15.

I can't say how many. But some of those 10,894 kids are using home-schooling as a way to cloak being a dropout – like Roger's granddaughter and my high school friend.

And I'm sure some Texas schools are happy to go along with the charade. After all, a fake home-schooler doesn't count against the high school when it comes time to calculate its dropout rate. With one signature from a mom, it can chisel its dropout rate a little closer to zero.

(Schools have gotten miscounting dropouts down to a science. Dallas ISD, for instance, claims it had only 780 dropouts in 2003-04 – a mere 1.8 percent of its high school students. That's despite the fact it had 14,485 freshmen that year against only 6,935 seniors.)

Legitimate home-schoolers know these fakers are hurting their cause. On its Web site, the Home School Legal Defense Association complains about "the disturbing trend in a number of states that treat home-schooling as a 'dumping ground' for problem children" – primarily states that, like Texas, punish schools for high dropout rates.

"Creative school officials have learned to evade these accountability systems by turning their problem cases into 'home-schoolers,' " the association writes. "Instead of allowing a child to drop out, they hand him or her home-school paperwork."

But those same legitimate home-schoolers have resisted the kinds of laws that might help weed out the bad apples. In 2003, state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos proposed a bill requiring new Texas home-school parents to pledge, in writing, their commitment to "adequately teaching the child based on a curriculum designed to meet basic education goals."

The Home School Legal Defense Association fought back, flooding his office with calls and e-mails, because the association felt it opened the door to potential further regulation. The bill died.

Roger initially called me because he wanted to know if there was some way for the state to check on his granddaughter. He's considered calling Child Protective Services, but he's not sure he wants to get them involved.

"She's just 13, and she says she'll get a diploma from some company," he told me. "They're just out playing and running around, doing what they want to do. You can't say 'Go to school' when it's like they're on vacation all the time. She doesn't comprehend what she's missing."

E-mail jbenton@dallasnews.com


http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/columnists/jbenton/stories/DN-edcol_12met.ART0.North.Edition2.8fae2f4.html

Before a vote, lawmakers should ask, 'What would Jesus do?'

This piece reminds me of Jim Wallis' top-selling book, God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It and also Frank Thomas' book, What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Though very different texts, both call for equating spirituality and Christianity with social and economic justice--as does our former Lieutenant Governor below.

My sense is that a good number of legislators adhere to this ethic in some personal way but because of powerful special, particularly corporate, interests coupled with their not hearing sufficiently from their constituencies combines to propel a short-sighted and self-serving policy agenda. They therefore need to hear from all of us who have a stake in public education. Sounds like a good New Year's resolution.

-Angela


by Bill Ratliff, FORMER TEXAS LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR
Sunday, December 11, 2005

The following are excerpts from a speech that former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff delivered last week to members of the Austin Project, a program aimed at helping at-risk youth.

Not too many years ago, a small group of religious leaders - concerned about what they perceived as a drift of our country away from its moral foundation - decided that they would become politically active and do what they could to stem this tide toward moral bankruptcy. Most prominent among these groups, but certainly not alone, were Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition.

Their strategy was to go to the grass roots of the Republican Party and to capture the party mechanism - the precinct and county conventions - in order to apply leverage to those who would be candidates for political office.

The growing influence of the Christian right on candidates and public policy has been met with an argument by some that religion should not be brought into the governmental arena. The nature of this backlash is to argue that it is inappropriate to base legislative decisions on religious beliefs or moral convictions. . . .

As opposed to the suggestion that we have too much religious influence on public policy, we actually have too little. Up to now, the application of religious principles in political debate has been mainly applied to abortion rights, same-sex marriage, intelligent design versus evolution and similar social issues.

But all too often, those Christians who take strong stands on such issues based on moral or biblical teachings do not then apply such teachings to other issues.

For instance, when considering how many poor children in Texas will be removed from the Children's Health Insurance Program in order to hold down costs to the state, they choose not to consider Christ's admonishment to "suffer the little children to come unto me."

When considering how much to reduce funding for indigent health care, Medicaid for nursing homes, child abuse protective services or special education for handicapped children, there seems to be little recognition of Christ's teaching that, "in as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me also."

All too often, these Christian admonishments are qualified to read, "Suffer the little children to come unto me - unless, of course, their needs require a vote to raise additional revenue." Or to read, "In as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me also - but you are absolved if your compassion would require you to vote for a tax bill."

There are, of course, many members of the Legislature who recognize this disconnect. They truly worry that they are not living up to the Christian principles which they espouse. However, they are caught in the dilemma of having pledged not to increase taxes, and they realize that, in order to truly apply Christian compassion in these areas, it will take additional state funding.

Once again, perhaps we need more religion rather than less. It was Christ who said, "Much is required from those to whom much is given." We even have the teaching of Christ's parable, where he tells the rich man that if he wishes to enter the kingdom of heaven, he must "go, sell everything you have, give the money to the poor, and follow me." Talk about a high tax rate!

How does a devoted Christian cut funding for needy children based on a "no new taxes" pledge while reading this passage of the Bible?

A year or so ago, there was a commendable teenage fad where youths were wearing bracelets containing simply four engraved letters - WWJD, for what would Jesus do? The purpose was to provide a constant reminder to assess the right or wrong of a decision before making it.

I wonder what the impact would be if every legislator who avowed a religious motivation were required to wear such a bracelet - a "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelet, or a "What Would Yaweh do?" bracelet, or a "What Would Mohammed Do?" bracelet, or a "What would Buda Do?" bracelet. Then, whenever they were preparing to cast a vote to reduce or restrict programs for the poor, the sick, the elderly or the children, they would be reminded of their previous avowals.

We do not have too much religion in government today. We have too little.

We do not have too much advocacy for Christian principles in government and politics. We have a highly selective and hypocritical application of Christian principles in government and politics.

Those who advocate for Christian principles in our public institutions should have the strength of their convictions so as to truly follow the teachings of Christ in his care and compassion for the poor, the lame, the sick and especially the children.

We can and should legislate morality. We can and should legislate based on moral and religious principles. But we should do so even in those areas

where political courage is required. It was Aristotle who said, "Virtue is not knowledge of what is to be done, but rather the doing of it."

Ratliff is a Republican who represented Mount Pleasant in the Texas Senate.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

What's the Return on Education?

December 11, 2005
Economic View
What's the Return on Education?

By ANNA BERNASEK
SOCRATES once said that the more he learned, the more he became convinced of his own ignorance. It's a familiar feeling for anyone who tries to make sense of the American education system.

This academic year, the better part of $1 trillion will be spent on education in the United States. That's an awful lot of spending, approaching 10 percent of the overall economy. But what exactly is the return on all of that money?

While the costs are fairly simple to calculate, the benefits of education are harder to sum up.

Much of what a nation wants from its schools has nothing to do with money. Consider the social and cultural benefits, for instance: making friends, learning social rules and norms and understanding civic roles.

But some of the most sought-after benefits from education are economic. Specialized knowledge and technical skills, for example, lead to higher incomes, greater productivity and generation of valuable ideas.

Those benefits are vital to a nation's growth. In recent years, Americans have become keenly aware of the impact of education as freshly educated workers from China and India compete for good jobs once held in the United States.

Today, many parents have a gut feeling that education is the way to ensure prosperity for their children, yet there is surprisingly little certainty about how much education contributes to the nation's overall wealth.

It is largely a problem of measurement. Economists have tried for decades to quantify the impact of education. They still don't have all the answers, but their work can shed some light on what Americans are getting for their investment. That information could serve as a backdrop for debates on how much government should spend on education and what should be left to individuals.

Start with what economists are confident about: the payoff to individuals. By measuring the relationship between the number of years of schooling and income earned in the job market, economists think that they have a good idea of what it's worth.

Alan B. Krueger, an economics professor at Princeton, says the evidence suggests that, up to a point, an additional year of schooling is likely to raise an individual's earnings about 10 percent.

For someone earning the national median household income of $42,000, an extra year of training could provide an additional $4,200 a year. Over the span of a career, that could easily add up to $30,000 or $40,000 of present value. If the year's education costs less than that, there is a net gain.

The payoff, of course, varies by individual. Another year of education will not have the same benefit for everyone. And school resources matter as well. According to studies by Professor Krueger and others, class size, teacher quality and school size can make a difference in the outcome. They have found that the effect of better schools is most pronounced for disadvantaged students.

There is less certainty about the big picture. That is partly because educational benefits accrue to the economy gradually, often showing up years after schooling is complete. Another problem is the difficulty of quantifying indirect benefits. One unknown, for example, is the degree to which formal education fosters new commercial ideas and technological breakthroughs.

While there is little doubt that there are benefits, those measurement challenges have led to big shifts in the conclusions of economic studies over time. In the early 1990's, economists calculated big economic rewards from additional investment in education. A decade later, the conclusions were different: studies suggested that while one individual might gain advantage over another through greater education, there might be no overall economic benefit.

Today, economists suspect that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Jonathan Temple, an economist at the University of Bristol in England, says the research trend is moving back toward the earlier findings. The latest attempts to quantify the impact of education on total economic growth have tended to conclude that it is at least as significant as that measured for individuals.

Because indirect benefits can't be counted accurately, Professor Temple suspects an even bigger impact. Insofar as education enhances worker productivity, there is a clear benefit to the economy.

Two Harvard economists, Lawrence F. Katz and Claudia Goldin, studied the effect of increases in educational attainment in the United States labor force from 1915 to 1999. They estimated that those gains directly resulted in at least 23 percent of the overall growth in productivity, or around 10 percent of growth in gross domestic product.

The most important factor was the move to universal high school education from 1910 to 1940. It expanded the education of the work force far more rapidly than at any other time in the nation's history, creating economic benefits that extended well into the remainder of the century, according to Professors Katz and Goldin. That moved the United States ahead of other countries in education and laid the foundation for the expansion of higher education.

Today, more Americans attend college than ever before, but the rest of the world is catching up. The once-large educational gap between the United States and other countries is closing - making it increasingly important to understand what education is really worth to a nation.

If economists are right, it is not just part of the cost of maintaining a functioning democracy, but a source of wealth creation for all. That means that investing in the education of every American is in everyone's self-interest.

Still, we're a long way from being able to judge the right level of spending on education - and how to achieve it. With a college degree more important than ever, the cost of higher education is rising steeply, creating growing stress for many American families. With more study, researchers may be able to identify ways of reducing costs while increasing the payoff from education.

Taking our cue from Socrates, the first step may be to recognize what we don't know.


Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

Victims: Racism was factor in slow Katrina response--CNN.COM

Victims: Racism was factor in slow Katrina response
Angry Katrina residents confront Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Black survivors of Hurricane Katrina said Tuesday that racism contributed to the slow disaster response, at times likening themselves in emotional congressional testimony to victims of genocide and the Holocaust.

The comparison is inappropriate, according to Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida.

"Not a single person was marched into a gas chamber and killed," Miller told the survivors.

"They died from abject neglect," retorted community activist Leah Hodges. "We left body bags behind."

Angry evacuees described being trapped in temporary shelters where one New Orleans resident said she was "one sunrise from being consumed by maggots and flies." Another woman said military troops focused machine gun laser targets on her granddaughter's forehead. Others said their families were called racial epithets by police.

"No one is going to tell me it wasn't a race issue," said New Orleans evacuee Patricia Thompson, 53, who is now living in College Station, Texas. "Yes, it was an issue of race. Because of one thing: when the city had pretty much been evacuated, the people that were left there mostly was black."

Not all lawmakers seemed persuaded.

"I don't want to be offensive when you've gone though such incredible challenges," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut. But referring to some of the victims' charges, like the gun pointed at the girl, Shays said: "I just don't frankly believe it."

"You believe what you want," Thompson said.

The hearing was held by a special House committee, chaired by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Virginia, investigating the government's preparations and response to Katrina. It was requested by Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Georgia, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

"Racism is something we don't like to talk about, but we have to acknowledge it," McKinney said. "And the world saw the effects of American-style racism in the drama as it was outplayed by the Katrina survivors."

The five white and two black lawmakers who attended the hearing mostly sat quietly during two and a half hours of testimony. But tempers flared when evacuees were asked by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, to not compare shelter conditions to a concentration camp.

"I'm going to call it what it is," said Hodges. "That is the only thing I could compare what we went through to."

Of five black evacuees who testified, only one said he believed the sluggish response was the product of bad government planning for poor residents -- not racism.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Can Policymakers Improve Teacher Quality?

November 2005 | Volume 4, Number 10

Can Policymakers Improve Teacher Quality?

Teacher quality will always be at the heart of education policy and reform. Policymakers who want to influence student achievement know that teachers are where the "rubber hits the road." Student learning takes place in the classroom, not in departments of education or on Capitol Hill.

It comes as no surprise that teachers have been the focus of several new developments this month, including changes to the teacher-quality timeline under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), new pay plans in Colorado and Texas, and a recent bill proposed in the U.S. Senate to bring new flexibility to NCLB.

Department of Education Stalls Teacher-Quality Requirements

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced a one-year delay in enforcing penalties on states that have not yet met the teacher-quality requirements of NCLB. To escape penalties this year, states have to show evidence of a "good faith effort" toward meeting the following criteria:

Establishing a state definition of a highly qualified teacher.
Implementing a system for reporting to parents and the public on classes taught by highly qualified teachers.
Ensuring the completeness and accuracy of data on highly qualified teachers reported to the U.S. Department of Education.
Taking steps to ensure that experienced and qualified teachers are equitably distributed among classrooms with poor and minority children and those with their peers.
States that satisfy these expectations will be able to negotiate a delay in meeting the full requirements until the 2006–07 school year.

Performance Pay Approved in Colorado and Texas

Denver, Colo., voters and the governor of Texas ushered in new performance-pay plans for teachers earlier this month. The Denver plan, known as the Professional Compensation System for Teachers, or ProComp, will use $25 million in additional property taxes to reward teachers for professional development, continuing education, raising student achievement, and teaching in high-poverty schools and academic areas where there are shortages of English language learner and middle school math teachers.

The plan received support from 58.5 percent of voters. Some teachers who oppose the program assert that it is a complex, unfair system that will encourage teaching to the test. Only new teachers who start teaching after January 1, 2006, will be required to join the program. Current teachers will have six years to voluntarily opt-in.

In Texas, Governor Rick Perry ordered a $10 million incentive-pay program to reward teachers who improve student performance in economically disadvantaged schools. The money, taken from discretionary federal funds, will be available as $100,000 grants to 100 schools. Governor Perry's executive order requires that 75 percent of the grant is directed to teachers, but it will be up to local school officials to determine the best way to distribute the grants.

Senate Bill Seeks Increased NCLB Flexibility

Senators Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have introduced the NCLB Flexibility and Improvement Act to give states, school districts, and schools greater control in meeting the requirements of NCLB. The bill addresses several aspects of teacher quality, such as giving more flexibility for middle and high school teachers who teach multiple subjects. In addition to teacher quality, it also addresses accountability, funding, and provisions for assessing special education and limited-English-proficient students. More information on this bill is available in the ASCD Action Center.

Resources

Department of Education Letter on NCLB and Teacher Quality, Department of Education

Gov. Perry Institutes Teacher Merit Pay, Houston Chronicle

Pay-Reform Plan for Teachers Ok'd, The Denver Post

Snowe/Collins NCLB Flexibility and Improvement Act, ASCD Action Center

Spanish at School Translates to Suspension

I wonder how often this happens and it doesn’t get the attention that this story has received. I saw the boy and his father on CSNBC this morning. They were well spoken. The report contrasted what happened to this boy with the district’s mission statement valuing diversity. It made for a good laugh. I’m glad to see a lot of news stories covering this.

-Angela


    Spanish at School Translates to Suspension
    By T.R. Reid
    The Washington Post

    Friday 09 December 2005

    Kansas City, Kan. - Most of the time, 16-year-old Zach Rubio converses in clear, unaccented American teen-speak, a form of English in which the three most common words are "like," "whatever" and "totally." But Zach is also fluent in his dad's native language, Spanish - and that's what got him suspended from school.

    "It was, like, totally not in the classroom," the high school junior said, recalling the infraction. "We were in the, like, hall or whatever, on restroom break. This kid I know, he's like, 'Me prestas un dolar?' ['Will you lend me a dollar?'] Well, he asked in Spanish; it just seemed natural to answer that way. So I'm like, 'No problema.' "

    But that conversation turned out to be a big problem for the staff at the Endeavor Alternative School, a small public high school in an ethnically mixed blue-collar neighborhood. A teacher who overheard the two boys sent Zach to the office, where Principal Jennifer Watts ordered him to call his father and leave the school.

    Watts, whom students describe as a disciplinarian, said she can't discuss the case. But in a written "discipline referral" explaining her decision to suspend Zach for 1 1/2 days, she noted: "This is not the first time we have [asked] Zach and others to not speak Spanish at school."

    Since then, the suspension of Zach Rubio has become the talk of the town in both English and Spanish newspapers and radio shows. The school district has officially rescinded his punishment and said that speaking a foreign language is not grounds for suspension. Meanwhile, the Rubio family has retained a lawyer, who says a civil rights lawsuit may be in the offing.

    The tension here surrounding that brief exchange in a high school hall reflects a broader national debate over the language Americans should speak amid a wave of Hispanic immigration.

    The National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group, says that 20 percent of the US school-age population is Latino. For half of those Latino students, the native language is Spanish.

    Conflicts are bursting out nationwide over bilingual education, "English-only" laws, Spanish-language publications and advertising, and other linguistic collisions. Language concerns have been a key aspect of the growing political movement to reduce immigration.

    "There's a lot of backlash against the increasing Hispanic population," said D.C. school board member Victor A. Reinoso. "We've seen some of it in the D.C. schools. You see it in some cities, where people complain that their tax money shouldn't be used to print public notices in Spanish. And there have been cases where schools want to ban foreign languages."

    Some advocates of an English-only policy in US schools say that it is particularly important for students from immigrant families to use the nation's dominant language.

    California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) made that point this summer when he vetoed a bill authorizing various academic subjects to be tested in Spanish in the state's public schools. "As an immigrant," the Austrian-born governor said, "I know the importance of mastering English as quickly and as comprehensively as possible."

    Hispanic groups generally agree with that, but they emphasize the value of a multilingual citizenry. "A fully bilingual young man like Zach Rubio should be considered an asset to the community," said Janet Murguia, national president of La Raza.

    The influx of immigrants has reached every corner of the country - even here in Kansas City, which is about as far as a US town can be from a border. Along Southwest Boulevard, a main street through some of the older neighborhoods, there are blocks where almost every shop and restaurant has signs written in Spanish.

    "Most people, they don't care where you're from," said Zach's father, Lorenzo Rubio, a native of Veracruz, Mexico, who has lived in Kansas City for a quarter-century. "But sometimes, when they hear my accent, I get this, sort of, 'Why don't you go back home?' "

    Rubio, a US citizen, credits US immigration law for his decision to fight his son's suspension.

    "You can't just walk in and become a citizen," he said. "They make you take this government test. I studied for that test, and I learned that in America, they can't punish you unless you violate a written policy."

    Rubio said he remembered that lesson on Nov. 28, when he received a call from Endeavor Alternative saying his son had been suspended.

    "So I went to the principal and said, 'My son, he's not suspended for fighting, right? He's not suspended for disrespecting anyone. He's suspended for speaking Spanish in the hall?' So I asked her to show me the written policy about that. But they didn't have" one.

    Rubio then called the superintendent of the Turner Unified School District, which operates the school. The district immediately rescinded Zach's suspension, local media reported. The superintendent did not respond to several requests to comment for this article.

    Since then, the issue of speaking Spanish in the hall has not been raised at the school, Zach said. "I know it would be, like, disruptive if I answered in Spanish in the classroom. I totally don't do that. But outside of class now, the teachers are like, 'Whatever.' "

    For Zach's father, and for the Hispanic organizations that have expressed concern, the suspension is not a closed case. "Obviously they've violated his civil rights," said Chuck Chionuma, a lawyer in Kansas City, Mo., who is representing the Rubio family. "We're studying what form of legal redress will correct the situation."

    Said Rubio: "I'm mainly doing this for other Mexican families, where the legal status is kind of shaky and they are afraid to speak up. Punished for speaking Spanish? Somebody has to stand up and say: This is wrong."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Westbury High tension explodes into a brawl

Post-Katrina tensions in Houston. Read on. -Angela

Dec. 8, 2005, 6:52AM

27 are arrested in the latest incident between Katrina evacuees and local students

By MONICA GUZMAN
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

A brawl that began in the Westbury High School cafeteria Wednesday and spilled outdoors capped weeks of growing tension between Houston students and Hurricane Katrina evacuees and resulted in the arrest of 27 students.

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The fight was one of about a dozen such on-campus clashes that have roiled Houston and surrounding areas since thousands of students from New Orleans began attending local schools in September.

In response, Westbury students can expect more police at the school beginning today, a school district spokesman said.

Houston Independent School District Board President Dianne Johnson said the efforts would not end there and sought to assure parents that student safety is "our No. 1 priority."

"I feel certain that the administration is going to look into this," she said. "We're certainly going to take whatever steps it takes to make sure that students are safe when they attend school."

The fight Wednesday was sparked, students said, when a girl made a gang sign in or near the cafeteria and a boy loudly cursed New Orleans. It quickly spread to other areas of campus and then outdoors.

HISD spokesman Terry Abbott said he could not confirm how the fight started, saying the details are under investigation. He said he understood it had begun in the cafeteria as a fight between girls.

One minor injury

One student suffered a minor cut to the eye, Abbott said. No other injuries were reported.
Westbury, in southwest Houston, has nearly 2,500 students, including 300 from Louisiana. Fifteen of those arrested after Wednesday's brawl were Katrina evacuees, said HISD spokeswoman Adriana Villareal. Eighteen were juveniles.

The juveniles were released to their parents. The remaining students were taken to a jail in southeast Houston, she said.

All were charged with engaging in a riot, and an adult female from Houston faces a charge of assaulting a police officer, officials said. The charges are misdemeanors, and no weapons were involved, Abbott said.

The mother of a 14-year-old freshman at Westbury said things have changed at the school.

"After Katrina, I hate to say it, but it's been chaos," she said. "It's really sad. It's truly sad."

Some Houston students said the once-open social atmosphere at the school has become charged with new tensions since New Orleans students joined their classes.

"The first two years I was here, we hung together, everyone knew each other," said a 17-year-old junior. "They just don't like people from Houston ... There's been a whole bunch of fights," he said.

Some New Orleans students said they represent a clear minority in the school and are being unfairly targeted.

"Altercations have been happening, but it never got down to this," said an 18-year-old.

Graffiti scrawled on the door of a girls restroom seems to mark the built-up tensions.

On the door's center, "New Orleans Takin' Over," is crossed out. Nearby, "H-town forever!" is scrawled. The phrase "Go home" is answered with a crude "no." Profanities litter the door.

Abbott said graffiti is a common nuisance in many schools and that any graffiti at Westbury High will be painted over in regular maintenance.

He said that along with an increase in police presence at Westbury, parents and students can expect more administrators and counselors to be on hand to defuse tensions.

Main priority: academics

Last week, Westbury administrators met with local and evacuee parents to talk about the new students' transition into the school. The predominant concern among those students was not fighting or security but academics, he said.
The parent of two girls arrested waited for several hours to pick up her 15- and 16-year-old daughters at the police substation at 8300 Mykawa.

"They have fights all the time (at the school) but I never thought it would be my girls," the woman said.

After being released late Wednesday, the younger teen said the fight broke out when Houston students taunted a batch of students from New Orleans with gang symbols. The older sibling said she noticed the crowd of students and saw another girl hitting her sister so she rushed to help her from the ground. Then punches were thrown at her, she said.

"It was like the whole school was fighting," the younger girl said.

The girls, who were suspended for three days, will not be returning to the school, their mother said. Instead, she will seek to enroll them in school in New Orleans.

The brawl is the latest in a series of fights at Houston-area high schools between local students and newcomers from Louisiana.

In September, a fight that started with a Jones High School student tossing a soda can at Katrina students involved two dozen teens.

Five were arrested; three were hospitalized.

Last month, Conroe High School students cited tension between locals and evacuees as the cause of a brawl involving about 30 students.

"We've definitely had a number of incidents, probably a dozen or so significant incidents," Abbott said. "But the vast majority of kids have gotten along well."

Chronicle reporters Rosanna Ruiz and Jason Spencer contributed to this report.

monica.guzman@chron.com

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What NAEP Can’t Tell Us About Charter School Effectiveness

December 7, 2005
Commentary
What NAEP Can’t Tell Us About Charter School Effectiveness
By Jonathon Christensen & Lawrence Angel
Since the data do not allow comparison of charter schools on more than one student attribute at a time, we cannot know whether the student populations of charter and conventional schools are very much alike or different.
Within a day of the release of the highly anticipated 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress data in October, contending parties in the charter school debate had released claims that the findings supported their points of view. Meanwhile, we have continued to study the data to determine what conclusions can be drawn correctly. As it turns out, the claims from both sides overstate the extent to which determinations can be made about the effectiveness of the charter schools included in the sample.

The NAEP tests are part of an extensive effort undertaken by the National Center for Education Statistics to document the performance of America’s schools. NAEP data contain test results for a national sample of public and private school students in grades 4, 8, and 12; state-level samples include only public school students in these grades. The 2005 NAEP report draws on an impressive data set, containing math scores for 343,000 students and reading scores for 336,000 students from more than 17,600 schools nationwide.

The data are useful as an indication of how students are currently performing overall, both nationally and in each state. But they are much less useful as a tool for comparing the effectiveness of one type of school to that of another.

In 2003, NAEP began reporting separate results for charter schools. With the release of the 2005 NAEP data, charter school performance can be viewed at two points in time. Fourth graders in charter schools were first assessed in 2003, and a new set of charter 4th graders was included in the 2005 data.

The usefulness of these data for comparing charters over time is limited, however, since totally different groups of students were tested for the 2003 and 2005 reports. Moreover, the data are not helpful for comparing the effectiveness of charter schools with that of conventional public schools. Incomplete information on family background and the inability to track individual students over time allow school effectiveness to be confounded with student- background characteristics affecting performance. Further challenging reliability, the results are presented as broadly aggregated averages, which likely conceal considerable variation within groups.

It is very difficult to distinguish the impact of a school from other factors influencing the performance of a student. The quality of the school a student attends can affect his or her test scores, but so can other factors, such as parents’ education level, family background, and the quality of schools attended earlier.


— Susan Sanford
In a testing system like NAEP, where we know only a little bit about the family backgrounds of students and nothing about the schools they attended previously, it is hard to know what causes differences in schools’ test scores. If charter students perform at a higher or lower level than students in conventional public schools, the difference probably isn’t fully attributable to charter school attendance.

Assessing the relative effectiveness of charter and conventional public schools requires that researchers isolate the impact of school attendance from other influential factors. For 4th graders, comparisons of NAEP scores by group are strictly limited. Student-background factors, such as gender, race, family income, English-learner status, disability, or inner-city location, are controlled for only one at a time. But these factors are always found in combination, and charter schools and regular urban public schools serve many children who are educationally disadvantaged in multiple ways. Comparisons that look sensible might therefore be misleading.

It would be possible, for example, to compare charter and conventional public schools that serve the same proportions of African-American children. But the students in the two groups of schools could still be very different if, for example, charter school parents had much more (or much less) education than parents in the conventional public schools. Since NAEP data do not allow comparison of charter schools on more than one student attribute at a time, we cannot know whether the student populations of charter and conventional schools are very much alike or different.

NAEP data also make it impossible to distinguish different kinds of charter schools. This is important, because charter schools differ significantly from state to state, and even within particular localities. Reporting on charter schools’ performance as a whole conceals valuable information about the impact of various curricula, organizational structures, and accountability systems.

Perhaps the biggest potential pitfall of interpreting NAEP data is making an inference about an individual or school based on aggregate data for a group.

In examining the aggregate data for charter schools in Delaware, for example, one might discover that the average scale score for 4th graders tested in mathematics is 235. Of course, this is an average, and one cannot simply conclude that most 4th graders in Delaware score around 235. Maybe all Delaware charter school students have about the same score. Maybe student scores range from under 100 to over 500, with big differences between ethnic groups or between city and rural schools. The data available don’t let us determine which is true.

Presenting results on average, as NAEP is designed to do, conceals important variations among individual students and schools. At the same time, it might wrongly give the impression of causal relationships where none exist. For example, a reasonable interpretation of the recent NAEP results might be that “4th grade charter school students, on average, are earning slightly better NAEP mathematics scores than the charter students included in the test two years ago.” But the students and the schools included in this year’s NAEP are not the same as the ones included two years ago. So it is impossible to say that charter schools are teaching their students better than before, or that a definable group of students is learning more than in the past.

No matter how hard analysts try, it is not possible to squeeze good results on charter school effectiveness out of the NAEP data. There are many serious studies under way and about to be published, and though these too will be controversial, they can do a much better job of comparing like with like and separating school results from the effects of student characteristics.

Jonathon Christensen is a research coordinator for the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington’s Daniel J. Evans school of public affairs, in Seattle. Lawrence Angel is a research assistant at the center.
Vol. 25, Issue 14, Pages 35,37

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Say what?

This article clarifies the Supreme Court decision on school finance. My concern is that even if the Court didn't advocate vouchers, Brister's opinion could give the legislature a green light on pursuing vouchers during the upcoming special session. -Angela

Tue, Dec. 06, 2005
Say what?
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

It will come as no surprise to some readers that reporters sometimes make mistakes. Nevertheless, this Editorial Board was shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that editorial writers, even those who work for such a national institution as The Wall Street Journal, are also fallible.

We believe that the Journal fumbled on a major point in its Nov. 29 editorial about the recent Texas Supreme Court decision on school finance.

The editorial's primary point was a legitimate one: A key aspect of the court's ruling was its recognition that more money for schools does not guarantee better schools or better-educated students. Drawing attention to and celebrating that point, which runs contrary to what the editorial called "the core doctrine of the education establishment," is entirely consistent with the paper's conservative philosophy.

Then the Journal blew it by writing: "Even more encouraging, the court endorsed more choices for parents and the state's 4.3 million school kids. It said flatly: 'Public education could benefit from more competition.' "

That's not what the court said -- not flatly or roundaboutly.

The ruling was a 7-1 decision. The lone dissenter, Justice Scott Brister, wrote a dissenting opinion in which he explored the contention that competition would make public schools more efficient.

The majority opinion discussed educational competition only in response to Brister, pointing out that neither the attorneys for the state nor those from the school districts that brought the case had raised the issue.

The majority's pertinent comment, only part of which was quoted by the Journal:

"We cannot dictate how the parties present their case or reject their contentions simply because we would prefer to address others. Perhaps, as the dissent contends, public education could benefit from more competition, but the parties have not raised this argument and therefore we do not address it."

There is healthy debate about the competition/voucher issue in Texas. Our point, for now, is this: It would be a big mistake for Texans to believe that their Supreme Court advocated vouchers in this important school finance decision. It didn't, no matter who says otherwise.

The real puzzle here is why The Wall Street Journal's editorial writers missed or ignored the part where the court justices said that "we do not address it."

School funding falling behind

Dec. 6, 2005, 3:51PM

School funding falling behind
National report by teacher union says Texas is only state to cut back, slipping to 40th

By JANET ELLIOTT
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - Texas is the only state in the nation that reduced education spending during the 2004-05 school year, according to a report released Monday by the National Education Association.

Per pupil expenditures fell by 1 percent from the previous year, and Texas dropped from 36th to 40th relative to other state's education investments.

The state's share of education costs hit a new low of 35 percent, with local and federal funds making up the balance, according to the study by the NEA, a national teachers' union.

Texas now spends an estimated $7,142 per pupil annually, according to the report's annual rankings. The national average for the 2004-05 school year was $8,618.

Kathy Walt, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry, said the Texas Education Agency reported actual per-student spending at $7,358 for the 2004-2005 year. The teachers' group said its report was based on the latest information provided from state departments of education.

Although Texas teachers on average earned 1.3 percent more in 2004-2005, their ranking among the 50 states and District of Columbia fell from 32nd to 33rd because other states gave bigger raises to their teachers.

"The Texas Supreme Court just warned the Legislature that we are 'drifting toward constitutional inadequacy,' and this new data indicates that our state education investments may have already failed to make the grade and slipped into that category," said Donna New Haschke, president of the NEA's state affiliate, the Texas State Teachers Association.

The annual report comes as the Legislature faces a June 1, 2006, deadline to rewrite school finance laws. The Supreme Court ruled last month that local school property taxes have become an unconstitutional statewide property tax because districts effectively have no control to set the rates.

However, the court reversed a trial judge's finding that overall funding levels are inadequate for districts to meet rising academic standards. The justices said funding levels are fine for now but warned the system soon could become inadequate without substantial changes.

Texas 3rd in spending

In overall education spending, Texas ranked third behind California and New York. Total spending, including federal funds, was nearly $38 billion.
Texas was No. 2 behind California in student population, with nearly 4.4 million children. Student population in Texas has grown by more than 70,000 students a year for the past 10 years.

The Legislature in 2003 added $1 billion in new spending above what was needed for enrollment growth, Walt said.

Perry in August ordered districts to spend at least 65 percent of their budgets in classrooms.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said that in 2003, the Legislature cut more than $3 billion from public education programs that support classroom instruction, including gifted and talented and after school programs, math and reading initiatives, and textbook purchases.

"This data shows that failed Republican leadership is taking Texas public schools in the wrong direction," said Coleman.

Walt said teacher groups worked against legislation that would have given teachers a raise and boosted school spending.

The unions opposed performance-based pay incentives included in the bills, and said the across-the-board raises proposed weren't enough to raise Texas to the national average.

Salaries rank low

According to the NEA report, Texas teacher salaries fell to 33rd, with the average teacher paid $41,009, according to the report. The national average was $47,808.

Chris Patterson, research director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said higher spending doesn't always result in better student achievement.

"There's a lot of evidence that more money, higher spending in public schools, even higher teacher salaries does not correlate with better instruction," said Patterson.

The foundation, which supports free markets and limited government, last month released an extensive study on teacher salaries. The report said when adjusted for cost of living, the state's average pay "looks almost right."

Patterson, author of the report, recommends phasing out the state salary schedule and paying teachers based on their performance and assignments.

"Reforming the teacher salary system promises to serve as a reliable vehicle to improve teacher quality, restore respect for the teaching profession, and, most importantly, provide all students in Texas public schools with the opportunity to acquire the academic skills they need to be successful," her report concluded.

Haschke said she hopes when lawmakers meet next year to write a new finance plan they will address long-range funding issues.

"It's time to face the facts: Texas public schools are seriously underfunded, and it's past time for the Legislature to invest in Texas students who hold the key to our future economic potential."

janet.elliott@chron.com

Statement on NCLB from National Council of churches...

Contact NCC News Service: 212-870-2252 | E-mail news@ncccusa.org |

NCC: 'No Child Left Behind' Act is leaving too many children behind

New York, November 28, 2005 - A National Council of Churches committee has
warned that the "No Child Left Behind Act" is leaving more children behind
than it is saving, especially children of color and poor children. Instead
of treating children "as unique human beings to be nurtured and educated,"
the statement says, the act has encouraged school districts to regard
children as "products to be tested and managed." Declaring that "Christian
faith demands, as a matter of justice and compassion, that we be concerned
about our public schools," the NCC Committee for Public Education has
issued ten "moral concerns" about the implementation of the act. The ten
critiques examine the effects of the law on students, teachers, schools and
their communities. The committee also faults Congress for appropriating
less federal funding than the law originally authorized for every year
since its passage. Today's statement decries the business-management
assumptions that are the foundation of many of the law's purported reforms.
"The No Child Left Behind Act approaches the education of America's
children through an inside-the-school management strategy of increased
productivity rather than providing resources and support for the
individuals who will shape children's lives," the statement declares. "As
people of faith we do not view our children as products to be tested and
managed but instead as unique human beings to be nurtured and educated. We
call on our political leaders to invest in developing the capacity of all
schools." The statement criticizes the federal education law in the
context of a 1999 NCC General Assembly policy statement that affirmed: "...
criticism of the public schools often ignores an essential truth: we cannot
believe that we can improve the public schools by concentrating on the
schools alone."Since the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act in January
2002, the members of the NCC's Public Education Committee have met on
several occasions with members of Congress and policy experts on this law.
Among 65 national organizations the NCC has endorsed a "Joint
Organizational Statement on the No Child Left Behind Act." "Overall," the
statement says, "the law's emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions
for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities
accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student
achievement."Members of the NCC's Committee for Public Education and
Literacy represent: the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ; the
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; the Episcopal Church; the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America; the Presbyterian Church (USA); the Progressive
National Baptist Convention; the United Church of Christ; and the United
Methodist Women.

Here is a pdf. copy of the statement. Contact: Jan
Resseger, Committee Chair (216-736-3711), (216-308-9611), ressegerj@ucc.org
NCC News: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252, pjenks@ncccusa.org ; Leslie Tune,
202-544-2350, ltune@ncccusa.org

Ten Moral Concerns in the Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act
A Statement of the National Council of Churches Committee on Public
Education and Literacy

Christian faith speaks to public morality and the ways our nation should
bring justice and compassion into its civic life. This call to justice is
central to needed reform in public education, America's largest civic
institution, where enormous achievement gaps alert us that some children
have access to excellent education while other children are left behind.
The No Child Left Behind Act * is a federal law passed in 2001 that
purports to address educational inequity. Now several years into No Child
Left Behind's implementation, as its hundreds of sequential regulations
have begun to be triggered, it is becoming clear that the law is leaving
behind more children than it is saving. The children being abandoned are
our nation's most vulnerable children-children of color and poor children
in America's big cities and remote rural areas-the very children the law
claims it will rescue. We examine ten moral concerns in the law's
implementation.

1. While it is a civic responsibility to insist that schools do a better
job of educating every child, we must also recognize that undermining
support for public schooling threatens our democracy. The No Child Left
Behind Act sets an impossibly high bar-that every single student will be
proficient in reading and math by 2014. We fear that this law will
discredit public education when it becomes clear that schools cannot
possibly realize such an ideal.

2. The No Child Left Behind Act has neither acknowledged where children
start the school year nor celebrated their individual accomplishments. A
school where the mean eighth grade math score for any one subgroup grows
from a third to a sixth grade level has been labeled a "in need of
improvement" (a label of failure) even though the students have made
significant progress. The law has not acknowledged that every child is
unique and that thresholds are merely benchmarks set by human beings. Now,
four years into implementation, the Department of Education has stated it
will begin experimenting with permitting 10 states to measure student
growth. Too many children will continue to be labeled failures even though
they are making strides.

3. Because the No Child Left Behind Act ranks schools according to test
score thresholds of children in every demographic subgroup, a "failing
group of children" will know when they are the ones who made their school a
"failing" school. They risk being shamed among their peers, by their
teachers and by their community. The No Child Left Behind Act has renamed
this group of children the school's "problem group." In some schools
educators have felt pressured to counsel students who lag far behind into
alternative programs so they won't be tested. This has increased the
dropout rate.

4. The No Child Left Behind Act requires children in special education to
pass tests designed for children without disabilities.

5. The No Child Left Behind Act requires English language learners to take
tests in English before they learn English. It calls their school a failure
because they have not yet mastered academic English.

6. The No Child Left Behind Act blames schools and teachers for many
challenges that are neither of their making nor within their capacity to
change. The test score focus obscures the importance of the quality of the
relationship between the child and teacher. Sincere, often heroic efforts
of teachers are made invisible. While the goals of the law are important-to
proclaim that every child can learn, to challenge every child to dream of a
bright future, and to prepare all children to contribute to
society-educators also need financial and community support to accomplish
these goals.

"Too often, criticism of the public schools fails to reflect our present
societal complexity. At a moment when childhood poverty is shamefully
widespread, when many families are under constant stress, when schools are
often limited by lack of funds or resources, criticism of the public
schools often ignores an essential truth: we cannot believe that we can
improve public schools by concentrating on the schools alone. They alone
can neither cause nor cure the problems we face. In this context, we must
address with prayerful determination the issues of race and class, which
threaten both public education and democracy in America." -The Churches and
the Public Schools at the Close of the Twentieth Century, National Council
of Churches Policy Statement, November 11, 1999 * For an explanation of the
provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, consult: Using NCLB to Improve
Student Achievement: An Action Guide for Community and Parent Leaders,
Public Education Network,
http://www.publiceducation.org/pdf/nclb/nclbbook.pdf .

"Most tellingly,
the schools that offer the least to their students are often schools
serving poor children, among whom children of color figure
disproportionately, as they do in all the shortfalls of our common life.
Indeed, the coexistence of neglect of schools and neglect of other aspects
of the life of people who are poor makes it clear that no effort to improve
education in the United States can ignore the realities of racial and class
discrimination in our society as a whole." -The Churches and the Public
Schools at the Close of the Twentieth Century, National Council of Churches
Policy Statement, November 11, 1999

7. The relentless focus on testing basic skills in the No Child Left Behind
Act obscures the role of the humanities, the arts, and child and adolescent
development. While education should cover basic skills in reading and math,
the educational process should aspire to far more. We believe education
should help all children develop their gifts and realize their
promise-intellectually physically, socially, and ethically. The No Child
Left Behind Act treats children as products to be tested, measured and made
more uniform.

8. Because the No Child Left Behind Act operates through sanctions, it
takes federal Title I funding away from educational programing in already
overstressed schools and uses these funds to bus students to other schools
or to pay for private tutoring firms. A "failing" school district may not
be permitted to create its own public tutoring program, but it is expected
to create the capacity to regulate private firms that provide tutoring for
its students. One of the sanctions provided is to close or reconstitute the
"failing" school or to make it into a charter school, but in many places
charter schools are unregulated.

9. The No Child Left Behind Act exacerbates racial and economic segregation
in metropolitan areas by rating homogeneous, wealthier school districts as
excellent, while labeling urban districts with far more subgroups and more
complex demands made by the law as "in need of improvement." Such labeling
of schools and districts encourages families with means to move to wealthy,
homogeneous school districts.

10. The late Senator Paul Wellstone wrote, "It is simply negligent to force
children to pass a test and expect that the poorest children, who face
every disadvantage, will be able to do as well as those who have every
advantage. When we do this, we hold children responsible for our own
inaction and unwillingness to live up to our own promises and our own
obligations." The No Child Left Behind Act makes demands on states and
school districts without fully funding reforms that would build capacity to
close achievement gaps. To enable schools to comply with the law's
regulations and to create conditions that will raise achievement, society
will need to increase federal funding for the schools that serve our
nation's most vulnerable children and to keep Title I funds focused on
instruction rather than on transportation and school choice.

Christian faith demands, as a matter of justice and compassion, that we be
concerned about public schools. The No Child Left Behind Act approaches the
education of America's children through an inside-the-school management
strategy of increased productivity rather than providing resources and
support for the individuals who will shape children's lives. As people of
faith we do not view our children as products to be tested and managed but
instead as unique human beings to be nurtured and educated. We call on our
political leaders to invest in developing the capacity of all schools. Our
nation should be judged by the way we care for our children.

National Council of Churches Committee on Public Education and Literacy

For more information, contact:
Rev. David Brown (staff)
Jan Resseger (chair)
http://www.ncccusa.org/nmu/mce/educaministr.html#anchorwgpel

"Our nation's teachers are asked to change lives and solve problems with
resources nowhere near commensurate with the task while facing constant
criticism by politicians, the public and the press for their alleged
failures and inadequacies..." - National Council of Churches Resolution:
The Churches and Public Schools, adopted November 5, 2003

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Top heads say scrap school tables

England's dealing with high-stakes testing, too. Here's a pertinent quote by Carol Adams from below: "The high stakes of testing and league tables mean that it is difficult for teachers to take a rounded approach to learning." Some are calling for the "league tables," or numeric displays to be abolished which, they argue, makes sense in sports but not in education. -Angela

Dec. 2, 2005

BBC-There have been renewed calls for an end to school league tables in England - even from those who have done well.
Education unions have called for their abolition. The government says they are valuable for parents and will stay.

But the head of the school that topped the tables this year said they were "unfair and unjust" and she would not use them to choose a school.

The tables show results in the national curriculum tests were better this year in 53% of schools but worse in 45%.

In 229 schools out of more than 13,500, all the final-year pupils reached the standard the government expects.

'Rising standards'

They achieved the maximum score of 300 in the tests in English, maths and science.

The lowest score in the other schools was 57.

Averages in different areas ranged from 267 to 209.

For the third year Richmond upon Thames had the best results, Hackney in east London the worst.

Across England, the proportions of youngsters achieving the standard, national curriculum Level 4, are confirmed as 79% in English, 75% in maths and 86% in science - the same as the provisional figures published in August.


KEY RESULTS FACTS
229 schools achieved maximum aggregate score of 300
lowest aggregate score was 57
highest average point score per pupil was 33
lowest was 17.3
53% of schools did better than last year
45% had worse results
England's Schools Minister, Andrew Adonis, said: "The results today show that we are continuing to raise standards in our primary schools."
Conservative spokesman Nick Gibb said: "These results confirm yet again that results in English, in primary schools are flat lining.

"We are also concerned that only 57% of primary school pupils are achieving Level 4 in reading, writing and maths. This leaves nearly half of 11-year-olds poorly prepared for secondary school."

'Football team'

The national figures include results from independent schools which opt to take the tests, though they do not feature individually in the tables.

Liberal Democrat Ed Davey said ministers should review the whole system of tests and league tables in primary schools.

The education departments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland do not publish such tables and Mick Brookes of the National Association of Head Teachers called for England to follow suit.

"They are fine if you are running a football team but not if you are doing something as serious as running a school," he said.

Steve Sinnott of the National Union of Teachers said: "They offer no explanation or understanding of why one school does better than another.

"To continue with this policy is foolhardy. I would like to see the back of league tables."

Trend

Of almost 13,000 schools in England for which results are available for last year as well as this, almost 53% did better, 45% worse and 2% stayed the same.

That 2% included four schools which have achieved a score of 300 four years in a row.

The number getting 300 this year (229) was up on the 190 last year and 142 in 2003.


We all work very hard - the children, the staff and the support staff - it doesn't come easily
Top head Barbara Jones
At the head of the list of schools with the best results was Combe Church of England Primary near Witney, Oxfordshire.
Not only did all 15 of them reach the expected level for their age, they all reached the next level, expected of 14-year-olds.

Combe's head teacher, Barbara Jones, attributed its success to "common sense and hard work".

She said government lesson strategies were "too prescriptive" and tended to erode teachers' confidence.

Mrs Jones said her pupils had worked hard and achieved a great deal.

"But I think we knew that without them having to publish it in a league table," she said.

"It's unfair and it's unjust."

The head of the school whose results have improved most, consistently, over the past four years said she was "really proud" of the achievement at Eastborough Junior Infant and Nursery School in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

But Nicola Roth added: "Lots of other schools have worked really, really hard and will not get the acknowledgement they deserve.

"It would be better if league tables did not exist."

General Teaching Council

The head of the General Teaching Council, Carol Adams, said: "We know from our discussions with parents and from research that many parents feel that league tables are irrelevant in helping them judge how well the school is meeting the needs of their child.

"Yet the high stakes of testing and league tables mean that it is difficult for teachers to take a rounded approach to learning."

She called for "a radical overhaul" of the current assessment regime.

The Teacher Support Network charity said 70% of primary school teachers who responded to a survey it conducted said league tables had a negative effect on their wellbeing.

Nine per cent said they had a positive impact, however, by giving them goals to work towards.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said they would stay.

"Our strategies are about ensuring every school is addressing the basics properly, which many were not before 1998," he said.

Published: 2005/12/02 10:43:54 GMT

© BBC MMV