Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Coretta Scott King dies at 78

What an incredible legacy. Dr. King did not bring Coretta to the struggle. Instead, they met in the struggle. It's beautiful to think about the synchronicity in this relationship, one with deep and abiding commitments to social justice. p-Angela

The San Jose Mercury News, January 31, 2006
Coretta Scott King dies at 78

ERRIN HAINES
Associated Press
ATLANTA - Coretta Scott King, who turned a life shattered by her husband's assassination into one devoted to enshrining his legacy of human rights and equality, has died at the age of 78.
Flags at the King Center were lowered to half-staff Tuesday morning.
"We appreciate the prayers and condolences from people across the country," the King family said in a statement. The family said she died during the night. The widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. suffered a serious stroke and heart attack last August.
"It's a bleak morning for me and for many people and yet it's a great morning because we have a chance to look at her and see what she did and who she was," poet Maya Angelou said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"It's bleak because I can't - many of us can't hear her sweet voice - but it's great because she did live, and she was ours. I mean African-Americans and white Americans and Asians, Spanish-speaking - she belonged to us and that's a great thing."
Gov. Sonny Perdue ordered flags at all state buildings to be flown at half-staff and offered to allow King to lie in state at the Capitol. There was no immediate response to the offer, the governor's office said.
King died at Santa Monica Health Institute, a holistic health center in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, south of San Diego, said her sister, Edythe Scott Bagley of Cheyney, Pa.
She had gone to California to rest and be with family, according to Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who broke the news on NBC's "Today" show.
At a news conference, Young said Coretta King's fortitude rivaled that of her husband.
"She was strong if not stronger than he was," Young said. "She lived a graceful and beautiful life, and in spite of all of the difficulties, she managed a graceful and beautiful passing."
She was a supportive lieutenant to her husband during the most tumultuous days of the American civil rights movement, and after his assassination in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, she kept his dream alive while also raising their four children.
"I'm more determined than ever that my husband's dream will become a reality," King said soon after his slaying.
She goaded and pulled for more than a decade to have her husband's birthday observed as a national holiday, first celebrated in 1986.
King became a symbol, in her own right, of her husband's struggle for peace and brotherhood, presiding with a quiet, steady, stoic presence over seminars and conferences on global issues.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was with her husband when he was assassinated, said Tuesday that she understood that every time he left home, there was the chance he might not come back. "Like all great champions, she learned to function with pain and keep serving," he said. "So her legacy is secure as a freedom fighter, but her work remains unfinished."
King wrote a book, "My Life With Martin Luther King Jr.," and, in 1969 founded the multimillion-dollar Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. She saw to it that the center became deeply involved with the issues she said breed violence - hunger, unemployment, voting rights and racism.

"The center enables us to go out and struggle against the evils in our society," she often said.
She became increasingly outspoken against businesses such as film and television companies, video arcades, gun manufacturers and toy makers she accused of promoting violence. She called for regulation of their advertising.
After her stroke, King missed the annual King holiday celebration in Atlanta two weeks ago, but she did appear with her children at an awards dinner a couple of days earlier, smiling from her wheelchair but not speaking. The crowd gave her a standing ovation.
At the same time, the King Center's board of directors was considering selling the site to the National Park Service to let the family focus less on grounds maintenance and more on King's message. Two of the four children were strongly against such a move.
Also in the news recently was a new book, "At Canaan's Edge" by Taylor Branch, that put allegations of her husband's infidelity back in the spotlight. It said her husband confessed a long-standing affair to her not long before he was assassinated.
Coretta Scott was studying voice at the New England Conservatory of Music and planning on a singing career when a friend introduced her to Martin Luther King, a young Baptist minister studying at Boston University.
"She said she wanted me to meet a very promising young minister from Atlanta," King once said, adding with a laugh: "I wasn't interested in meeting a young minister at that time."
She recalled that on their first date he told her: "You know, you have everything I ever wanted in a woman. We ought to get married someday." Eighteen months later - June 18, 1953 - they did, at her parents' home in Marion, Ala.
The couple moved to Montgomery, Ala., where he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and organized the famed Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. With that campaign, King began enacting his philosophy of direct social action.
Over the years, King was with her husband in his finest hours. She was at his side as he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. She marched beside him from Selma, Ala., into Montgomery in 1965 for the triumphal climax to his drive for a voting rights law.
Only days after his death, she flew to Memphis with three of her children to lead thousands marching in honor of her slain husband and to plead for his cause.
"I think you rise to the occasion in a crisis," she once said. "I think the Lord gives you strength when you need it. God was using us - and now he's using me, too."
The King family, especially King and her father-in-law, Martin Luther King Sr., were highly visible in 1976 when former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter ran for president. When an integration dispute at Carter's Plains church created a furor, King campaigned at Carter's side the next day.
She later was named by Carter to serve as part of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations, where Young was the ambassador.
In 1997, she spoke out in favor of a push to grant a trial for James Earl Ray, who pleaded guilty to killing her husband and then recanted.
"Even if no new light is shed on the facts concerning my husband's assassination, at least we and the nation can have the satisfaction of knowing that justice has run its course in this tragedy," she told a judge.
The trial never took place; Ray died in 1998.
King was born April 27, 1927, in Perry County, Ala. Her father ran a country store. To help her family during the Depression, young Coretta picked cotton; later, she worked as a waitress to earn her way through Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
In 1994, King stepped down as head of the King Center, passing the job to son Dexter, who in turn passed the job on to her other son, Martin III, in 2004. Dexter continued to serve as the center's chief operating officer. Martin III also has served on the Fulton County (Ga.) commission and as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, co-founded by his father in 1957. Daughter Yolanda became an actress and the youngest child, Bernice, became a Baptist minister.
On the 25th anniversary of her husband's death, April 5, 1993, King said the war in Vietnam which her husband opposed "has been replaced by an undeclared war on our central cities, a war being fought by gangs with guns for drugs."

"The value of life in our cities has become as cheap as the price of a gun," she said.
King received numerous honors for herself and traveled around the world in the process.
In London, she stood in 1969 in the same carved pulpit in St. Paul's Cathedral where her husband preached five years earlier.
"Many despair at all the evil and unrest and disorder in the world today," she preached, "but I see a new social order and I see the dawn of a new day."
---
Associated Press writer Mark Donahue in Chicago contributed to this report.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

How much education funding should go directly to classrooms?

One major problem with this solution is that it does not address the problem of already inadequate funding while opening up the argument in terms of schools not needing more funding, but rather to spend the money better. In the context of school funding finance crises across many of our states, this reduces to "double-speak" in an Orwellian sense.

Check out an analysis of this plan at Texas State Teacher Association website for an analysis of the hidden agenda behind this movement. It's described as a ploy to pit teachers against union members as part of a national strategy called the First Class Education (championed by Byrne [see below]). The goal of this ploy is to create dissension so that a favorable climate for vouchers can occur that communities will then endorse.

The strongest argument against the so-called 65% solution is that you can have accountability for funding at the local level without having a blanket rule on spending. It suffers the same pitfalls as NCLB which only funds 8% of school funding, yet dictates the lions share of education policy through mandated testing. In Texas, the state pays 37% of school-based finances
with the local area picking up 63% of the cost. TSTA and other groups thus conclude—and I think rightly —that the
state therefore has no right to dictate how 65% of all education dollars get spent. -Angela


From the January 25, 2006 edition of the Christian Science Monitor--

How much education funding should go directly to classrooms?
A '65 percent solution' is picking up steam in some states.

By Patrik Jonsson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

ATLANTA - Patrick Byrne, of Overstock.com, is one of America's young philosopher CEOs and a man with eccentric ideas: The Stanford-educated executive has biked cross country four times, turned a flea-market supply company into a major Internet player, and founded Worldstock.com, aimed at eradicating global poverty.

One of Mr. Byrne's latest groundbreaking ideas is how to tackle school funding reform. "The public debate over school spending is typically over more or less," he says. "The real debate should be: What are we spending it on?"

His organization, First Class Education, aims for all 50 states and the District of Columbia to reallocate school spending so that at least 65 cents on every dollar goes directly into the classroom - on books and teacher pay - by the end of 2008.

The concept is taking hold: The "65 percent solution" has already swept through state capitol domes in Texas, Kansas, and Louisiana. Earlier this month, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) introduced legislation, joining 17 other states that have proposed bills to meet that 65 percent threshold. Currently, the national average classroom spending is about 61.5 cents on the dollar, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES).

Despite the idea's liberal fount, other Republican governors such as Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty, and Florida's Jeb Bush are also throwing their weight behind the plan. Meanwhile, education researchers question whether it will make a difference in raising student test scores. Some critics, including many school superintendents, say it violates the local control model of funding schools by adding new state standards that do not allow for flexibility.

"The 65 percent solution is the equivalent of a chicken in every pot," says a disapproving Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform (CER).

Byrne doesn't agree. In his view, school districts have become the new Tammany Hall, fortresses of cronyism that waste taxpayer dollars while bemoaning the plight of children and teachers. The 65 percent solution addresses discontent taxpayers and teachers have about how money gets spent inside the classroom.

It originated, Byrne says, after he crunched data from the NCES, and found that the five states with the highest student standardized test scores (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, and Connecticut) on average spent 64.1 percent in the classroom. The five worst- scoring states (Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia) on average spent 59.5 percent in the classroom. Georgia ranked 13th, spending about 63 cents on every dollar.

The Georgia proposal uses the federal definition for classroom funding, which includes textbooks, teacher salaries, field trips, and special education as classroom expenses, but excludes "support" funding of speech therapists, librarians, and administrators.

Its proponents say the plan is not a punitive measure and that Georgia school districts would have time to achieve the goal. They would be required to increase spending by two percent a year until they reach 65 percent. If the plan is passed, school districts that now meet academic standards and spend less than 65 percent in the classroom would be eligible for a waiver, says Heather Hedrick, a spokeswoman for Governor Perdue.

Nationally, public opinion supports the school reform measure. A Harris Interactive Poll last November showed that 70 to 80 percent of all demographic groups backed the 65 percent solution and the politicians who bring it to the table. "I've never seen an issue this popular," says Tim Mooney, spokesman for First Class Education. "I love it, how the [school superintendents] who are crying most for funding of education are the ones who now say putting dollars in the classroom won't make a difference," he says.

But education researchers are not sure whether the plan will work. Although nationwide statistics show a correlation between percentage of money spent statewide and standardized test scores, that correlation is not clear at the local district level.

"I have not seen any solid evidence as to, if all other things are equal, that a school district spending 70 percent in the classroom as opposed to a school district spending 60 percent has higher performance," says Joydeep Roy, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

Moreover, what may seem like overspending by school districts is usually part of mandated services or fleets of cars used by school security officers that voters demand, says Bruce Hunter, of the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington, Va. The average US school district now spends 81 percent of its budget on personnel, including teachers, support staff, and administrators. A "one-size-fits-all" limit at the state level would ruin the existing system of local control over how money gets spent, says Mr. Hunter.

"People need to realize that local school district budgets are scrutinized by boards and taxpayers, and whenever they get out of whack, taxpayers bring them back into whack," he says.

Local funding flexibility that adheres to current state educational standards is already slowly improving math and reading scores in big cities, Allen points out. One is Atlanta, which allocates about 56 percent of its budget for classroom expenses. To some, the 65 percent solution will let school districts off the hook for student performance. "School districts are more clever than any legislator who can put this into existence," says Allen. "[Districts] can spin the data any way they want."

However, for Wanda Barrs, chairwoman of the Georgia State Board of Education, the attempt to adjust classroom funding is part of a valuable national discussion on how the local school house functions.

"The key is to stay focused on student achievement and open a debate about how we're directing resources toward that," says Ms. Barrs.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

English-learner fines begin

According to the Arizona Repubican plan, "after one year, schools would have to apply for state grants for English-language programs and only after they had applied any federal education funding they were receiving to address the problem." The philosophy of bilingual education in the states always was that the federal funding would be supplemental rather than that it would supplant state funding. Some Texas leaders, it is rumored, want to move in this unfortunate direction as well. -Angela

English-learner fines begin
Napolitano rejects 2nd Republican plan

by Chip Scutari and Robbie Sherwood
The Arizona Republic

Jan. 26, 2006 12:00 AM

Arizona became liable Wednesday for fines of $500,000 a day after Gov. Janet Napolitano rejected the latest Republican plan to pay for improved instruction for thousands of Arizona schoolchildren struggling to learn English.

It was the second day in a row that the Democratic governor vetoed a Republican-backed plan to help English-learners in public schools. This time, the court-ordered deadline passed without another legislative attempt to revise the proposal.

Napolitano said she rejected the plan because it contained corporate tuition-tax credits for private-school scholarships, which could divert millions of dollars from public schools into private schools.

"I regret that the Legislature is not focused on children and classrooms that are the subject of our federal court requirements," Napolitano said.

The governor and legislators also remained far apart on how much Arizona should spend on instruction for the more than 150,000 children in Arizona whose English skills are deficient.

Napolitano favors a plan that would more than triple the $360 extra now spent on each English-language learner. It would eventually cost $180 million a year. The vetoed Republican plan would increase spending by $31 million for one year but would then become a grant program with no known price tag because schools would first have to devote existing federal funds to the programs before they could ask for state help.

U.S. District Judge Raner Collins ordered fines of $500,000 a day in December if lawmakers failed to act by Wednesday. Those fines could grow to $2 million a day if this year's legislative session ends with no further progress.

Just how the fines would be collected and where the money would go remained uncertain.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard filed a court brief Wednesday asking Collins to direct the fines to the state Department of Education so the money could eventually be used to help English-learners. Tim Hogan of the Center for Law in the Public Interest, whose suit brought the sanctions, echoed Goddard's request. They cited decisions in other federal court cases where fines were used to help "the aggrieved parties."

Officials in the judge's office said they were prohibited from commenting on a pending case.

Meanwhile, state Treasurer David Petersen said he doesn't believe he has the authority to pay the fines. He said it takes a majority vote of the Legislature, signed by the governor, for him to spend state money. The state has enough money to pay the fines, but lawmakers would have to pass a bill to do it, he said.

Hogan called Petersen's position a "silly" and "circular" argument. Hogan said that the fines are self-executing and that federal judges have broad authority to enforce their orders.

"Did the treasurer consult with his attorneys before deciding not to comply with a court order?" Hogan said. "Nobody is going to agree to fine themselves. That's the nature of fines. I'm sure the judge is going to do whatever he needs to do."

With the $500,000 daily fines believed to be accruing, state officials were scrambling to research how the sanctions would be enforced. Judge Collins provided no clues in his court order. Officials in Goddard's office said they could not comment on legal advice because of attorney-client privilege.

Goddard believes the fines won't be collected daily but would rather accumulate like fines on "an overdue library book," spokeswoman Andrea Esquer said.

"You don't come down and pay 25 cents a day," Esquer said. "When you return the book, then you pay the bill."

After Napolitano's first veto on Tuesday, lawmakers worked into the night to respond. Republicans capped the unlimited tuition-tax credit plan at $50 million, but Napolitano has made it clear that she does not want tax credits in any English-learner bill. After the veto, Napolitano and Republican legislative leaders each pointed fingers at the other for the fines.

House Speaker Jim Weiers and Senate President Ken Bennett accused Napolitano of refusing to let the court review their proposed grant plan.

"This is because of her doing, not because of ours," Weiers, R-Phoenix, said of the fines. "She was elected governor, she wasn't elected dictator."

Of the "dictator" comment, Napolitano said, "that kind of language is inappropriate and not accurate."

'Flores vs. Arizona'


The 1992 case Flores vs. Arizona has prompted the legislative drama. It found that current funding wasn't enough to ensure that students overcame language barriers. The case is an extension of the Equal Education Opportunity Act of 1974, a federal law that prohibits states from denying education opportunities based on race, color, sex or national origin.

In a 2000 ruling, a federal judge wrote that there were too many students in a classroom, not enough qualified teachers and teacher aides, and insufficient teaching materials to help students learn English.

About 154,000 students in Arizona speak foreign languages, mostly Spanish, and are struggling to learn English. That has contributed to Arizona's high dropout rate and sparked a class-action lawsuit 14 years ago. Administrators in school districts with large immigrant populations have said they need extra money to shrink the size of classes, update materials and equipment, provide individual instruction and better train teachers.

No easy answers

Lawmakers are finding that there aren't any easy answers to solve this issue. Unlike allocating money for breakfast programs or algebra textbooks, teaching language skills varies from city to city.

The Republican plan would spend an additional $31 million next year on English-learner programs, though more than $7 million of that is for administrative expenses, testing and auditing. Arizona already spends about $55 million, or about $360 per English-learner.

But after one year, schools would have to apply for state grants for English-language programs and only after they had applied any federal education funding they were receiving to address the problem. The grant requests could be rejected by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and lawmakers if the schools are judged to be not spending enough of their federal education and desegregation dollars on English-language programs.

Republican leaders, so far, have refused to consider Napolitano's plan because they believe it spends too much and is not based on a credible cost study.

English-learner fines begin

According to the Arizona Repubican plan, "after one year, schools would have to apply for state grants for English-language programs and only after they had applied any federal education funding they were receiving to address the problem." The philosophy of bilingual education in the states always was that the federal funding would be supplemental rather than that it would supplant state funding. Some Texas leaders, it is rumored, want to move in this unfortunate direction as well. -Angela

English-learner fines begin
Napolitano rejects 2nd Republican plan

by Chip Scutari and Robbie Sherwood
The Arizona Republic

Jan. 26, 2006 12:00 AM

Arizona became liable Wednesday for fines of $500,000 a day after Gov. Janet Napolitano rejected the latest Republican plan to pay for improved instruction for thousands of Arizona schoolchildren struggling to learn English.

It was the second day in a row that the Democratic governor vetoed a Republican-backed plan to help English-learners in public schools. This time, the court-ordered deadline passed without another legislative attempt to revise the proposal.

Napolitano said she rejected the plan because it contained corporate tuition-tax credits for private-school scholarships, which could divert millions of dollars from public schools into private schools.

"I regret that the Legislature is not focused on children and classrooms that are the subject of our federal court requirements," Napolitano said.

The governor and legislators also remained far apart on how much Arizona should spend on instruction for the more than 150,000 children in Arizona whose English skills are deficient.

Napolitano favors a plan that would more than triple the $360 extra now spent on each English-language learner. It would eventually cost $180 million a year. The vetoed Republican plan would increase spending by $31 million for one year but would then become a grant program with no known price tag because schools would first have to devote existing federal funds to the programs before they could ask for state help.

U.S. District Judge Raner Collins ordered fines of $500,000 a day in December if lawmakers failed to act by Wednesday. Those fines could grow to $2 million a day if this year's legislative session ends with no further progress.

Just how the fines would be collected and where the money would go remained uncertain.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard filed a court brief Wednesday asking Collins to direct the fines to the state Department of Education so the money could eventually be used to help English-learners. Tim Hogan of the Center for Law in the Public Interest, whose suit brought the sanctions, echoed Goddard's request. They cited decisions in other federal court cases where fines were used to help "the aggrieved parties."

Officials in the judge's office said they were prohibited from commenting on a pending case.

Meanwhile, state Treasurer David Petersen said he doesn't believe he has the authority to pay the fines. He said it takes a majority vote of the Legislature, signed by the governor, for him to spend state money. The state has enough money to pay the fines, but lawmakers would have to pass a bill to do it, he said.

Hogan called Petersen's position a "silly" and "circular" argument. Hogan said that the fines are self-executing and that federal judges have broad authority to enforce their orders.

"Did the treasurer consult with his attorneys before deciding not to comply with a court order?" Hogan said. "Nobody is going to agree to fine themselves. That's the nature of fines. I'm sure the judge is going to do whatever he needs to do."

With the $500,000 daily fines believed to be accruing, state officials were scrambling to research how the sanctions would be enforced. Judge Collins provided no clues in his court order. Officials in Goddard's office said they could not comment on legal advice because of attorney-client privilege.

Goddard believes the fines won't be collected daily but would rather accumulate like fines on "an overdue library book," spokeswoman Andrea Esquer said.

"You don't come down and pay 25 cents a day," Esquer said. "When you return the book, then you pay the bill."

After Napolitano's first veto on Tuesday, lawmakers worked into the night to respond. Republicans capped the unlimited tuition-tax credit plan at $50 million, but Napolitano has made it clear that she does not want tax credits in any English-learner bill. After the veto, Napolitano and Republican legislative leaders each pointed fingers at the other for the fines.

House Speaker Jim Weiers and Senate President Ken Bennett accused Napolitano of refusing to let the court review their proposed grant plan.

"This is because of her doing, not because of ours," Weiers, R-Phoenix, said of the fines. "She was elected governor, she wasn't elected dictator."

Of the "dictator" comment, Napolitano said, "that kind of language is inappropriate and not accurate."

'Flores vs. Arizona'


The 1992 case Flores vs. Arizona has prompted the legislative drama. It found that current funding wasn't enough to ensure that students overcame language barriers. The case is an extension of the Equal Education Opportunity Act of 1974, a federal law that prohibits states from denying education opportunities based on race, color, sex or national origin.

In a 2000 ruling, a federal judge wrote that there were too many students in a classroom, not enough qualified teachers and teacher aides, and insufficient teaching materials to help students learn English.

About 154,000 students in Arizona speak foreign languages, mostly Spanish, and are struggling to learn English. That has contributed to Arizona's high dropout rate and sparked a class-action lawsuit 14 years ago. Administrators in school districts with large immigrant populations have said they need extra money to shrink the size of classes, update materials and equipment, provide individual instruction and better train teachers.

No easy answers

Lawmakers are finding that there aren't any easy answers to solve this issue. Unlike allocating money for breakfast programs or algebra textbooks, teaching language skills varies from city to city.

The Republican plan would spend an additional $31 million next year on English-learner programs, though more than $7 million of that is for administrative expenses, testing and auditing. Arizona already spends about $55 million, or about $360 per English-learner.

But after one year, schools would have to apply for state grants for English-language programs and only after they had applied any federal education funding they were receiving to address the problem. The grant requests could be rejected by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and lawmakers if the schools are judged to be not spending enough of their federal education and desegregation dollars on English-language programs.

Republican leaders, so far, have refused to consider Napolitano's plan because they believe it spends too much and is not based on a credible cost study.

In Public Schools, the Name Game as a Donor Lure

This is amazing. It's unfortunate that schools get so beholding to outside contributions in the sense that there is unequal access to these monies. Poor communities are always chasing after a moving target in this regard with most never being able to catch up with their richer school counterparts. In fact, far too many can't even get their basic infrastructural needs met (e.g., working bathrooms, good AC and heating systems, structurally sound roofs, walls, etc.).

On the flip side of this equation, it's clear that while donors are able to claim beneficence and generosity, they profit immensely for the advertising that frequently follows these contributions. It sets a tone for what schooling is all about. To benefit our capitalist system in such a way that often translates into a lack of critique thereof regarding not only glaring inequalities, but those patterned, by race, class, gender, etc. Nevertheless, an interest read about the corporate schooling context of our times. My thoughts for today. -Angela


January 26, 2006

By TAMAR LEWIN
PHILADELPHIA — Next fall, a stunning $55 million high school will open on the edge of Fairmount Park here. For now, it is called the School of the Future, a state-of-the-art building with features like a Web design laboratory and a green roof that incorporates a storm-water management system. But it may turn out to be the school of the future in another sense, too: It is a public school being used to raise a lot of private money.

A glossy brochure offers dozens of opportunities for donors to get their name or corporate logo emblazoned on the walls : $1 million for the performing arts pavilion, $750,00 for the gyms or the main administrative suite (including the principal's office), $500,000 for the food court/ cybercafe, $50,000 for the science laboratories, $25,000 for each of the classrooms, and so on. Microsoft, a partner in designing the school, has already committed $100,000 for the Microsoft Visitors Center.

For a cool $5 million, a donor gets the grand prize — naming the school.

"My approach is Leave No Dollar Behind," said Paul Vallas, chief executive of the Philadelphia schools, although he added that a school board review of each transaction would weed out undesirable donors, which he said included tobacco and liquor companies.

"There are tremendous needs in this system," Mr. Vallas said, "where 85 percent of the kids are below poverty level. I'm not uncomfortable with corporations giving us money and getting their names on things. As long as it's not inappropriate, I don't see any downside."

Four years ago, it was big news when the small Brooklawn, N.J., school district got a $100,000 donation from a local supermarket and christened its new gym the ShopRite of Brooklawn Center. Then came the Rust-Oleum Field at Vernon Hills High School, north of Chicago, (a $100,000 donation) and the Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union stadium at Everglades High School in Broward County, Fla. (a $500,000 donation).

Now, naming rights have expanded nationwide — and far beyond athletic facilities. Strapped school districts have begun a blitz of new efforts to attract private money. Many have hired development officers to seek out their community's big donors, and consider everything from corporate sponsorship of the high school prom to selling advertising space on school roofs.

In states where it is legal, there are districts that now sell advertisements on their school buses. And districts across the country are for the first time dangling naming privileges as an incentive to contribute or rewriting their policies to specify what can be made available for what level of donation.

Because the whole issue is so new, education officials say it is hard to know how to proceed.

Frank Till, the Broward County superintendent, said his district started thinking about naming rights several years ago, when The Miami Herald expressed interest in having a stadium at Flanagan High School carry its name.

"It didn't go anywhere, mostly because we didn't have a policy, and we didn't know what was a fair value," Mr. Till said. "Now we've adopted a formal policy and a process for deciding what's acceptable, and we're ready to go. The board just signed off on school bus advertising, and we're going to look into selling space on some school roofs that you fly over on the way into Fort Lauderdale. We're just hoping someone out there will be interested."

The push for private money stems from several different pressures, school officials say. In most states, tight budgets, new government requirements and rising operating costs have left the pool of state education financing too small to keep up with school needs or desires.

Many communities already feel taxed out and are unwilling to support increases in local property taxes. And public schools have become increasingly aware of how colleges, hospitals and private schools use naming rights in fund-raising.

"We're trying to act like the development office of a private school," said Cindy Johnson, a former school board member in Newburyport, Mass., who now runs a foundation to raise private money for the district. "They can't live on tuition alone, and we can't live on taxes alone."

Over the last five years, public schools have become an increasingly popular cause for corporations, society donors and foundations. In New York, since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took control of the schools, he and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein have raised $311 million in private funds. The benefits are clear — new schools, new playgrounds and refurbished libraries.

But policy experts and school officials say private financing for public schools carries real risks: What happens if and when the private money dries up? Will donors take a disproportionate role in shaping school policy? And each time private money fills the gaps left by public financing, does it enable legislators and taxpayers to shrug off responsibility for supporting education?

"Public schools are the most important public institutions outside of government," said Wendy Puriefoy, president of the Public Education Network, an association of education advocacy groups. "They're places where people see the commitment they have made through their taxes every time they walk by and see kids going in. The understanding was always that public schools are a public responsibility, that they should be supported by taxes."

The trend toward private financing may also exacerbate the gap between rich and poor districts because affluent ones are often more sophisticated about fund-raising — although, as Philadelphia is showing, a high-profile project can let even a struggling urban district attract widespread interest.

"We're losing our public education system in this country," said Alex Molnar, director of the Commercialism in Education Research Unit at Arizona State University. "It is being eroded, inch by inch, by an ongoing blurring of the distinction between public interest and private good. There's a big equity problem here. By definition, parental funding, private foundations and naming rights are disequalizing."

Newburyport, a charming New England seaport with a lively tourist trade, does not look like a town where the schools would be pressed for money. But looks can be deceiving: School officials say their budget is so tight that, even after imposing an array of parent-paid fees for activities and transportation, Newburyport has had to cut elementary school foreign language and middle school theater classes and assign one principal to cover two of the district's three elementary schools.

Big property tax increases would be politically unpalatable. "Like many towns, only about 20 percent of our households have kids, so there are limits on what you can ask for," said Christin Walth, executive director of the Newburyport Education Foundation, organized in 2000 to raise money for the school.

So the district has become more aggressive about seeking private donations. As part of that effort, the foundation in 2004 began offering a wide range of naming opportunities at the high school, an imposing brick edifice on a hill above High Street — $300 for a name plaque on a seat in the high school auditorium, $10,000 for the principal's office, $100,000 for the cafeteria or the library. It has had few takers. There are only a few nameplates sprinkled around the school, on the aisle seats in the auditorium, a bench in the courtyard, the television production studio.

But late last year, the Institution for Savings, a mutual savings bank, pledged $600,000 to rebuild the outdated middle school science laboratories. The science area will bear its name — and so will the high school gym floor.

"We're just trying to take care of our little corner of the world," said Mark Welch, the bank president. "We are going to take some naming opportunities with this donation, but that had almost nothing to do with the decision. Problems get solved one city and one school at a time, and this is our community."

Is the bank's contribution enabling taxpayers not to shoulder a burden that should be theirs? "We may be," Mr. Welch said. "But if not doing this was the way to make the point that you, the city, should pay for this, more and more kids will fall behind."

Mary Murray, the Newburyport superintendent, sounds ambivalent about the move toward private financing.

"Hospitals do it, and universities do it," Ms. Murray said. "But is it troubling? Yes, on one level, because I believe public education means exactly that. But the state made a 20 percent cut across the board four years ago, and aid to cities and towns was cut almost the same percentage. Meanwhile our health care, salaries and utilities costs are rising. There's no light at the end of the tunnel, and when you're in the situation we're in, you have to do what's right for the students you're serving."

For businesses, schools can be an attractive target.

"One standard goal corporations have in their marketing programs is making the corporation itself seem more desirable and good, and it's hard to find something more desirable and good than public schools," Mr. Molnar said. "Simply associating your name in perpetuity with a school assures you an opportunity to enhance your standing in the community. It's like a brick-and-mortar billboard in perpetuity."


At least a few districts, after considering all the ramifications of naming rights for donors, have rejected the idea. In Seminole County, Fla., where naming-rights guidelines were considered last year, Dede Schaffner, one of the five school board members, was an outspoken opponent.

"If we get to the point where you can put your name on a school just because you have a fat wallet, that's not right," Ms. Schaffner said. "Sure we could use more money, but I just wasn't ready to sell our soul, and I felt that's what we were being asked to do. I didn't know until the final vote that I'd convinced most of the others that this wasn't a good idea."


Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Hurricane funds aid private schools, deregulation

State funding of private schools is an unfortunate turn and part of a later social-Darwinist, every-person-for-herself/himself, bootstraps ideology. It encourages us to be consumers of education, a really diminished role as compared to one where we work together as citizens in a democracy to promote an engaged citizenry. Ironically, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated why people need goverment, yet this response betrays that very concept by diminishing the potential for democracy that is contained within all public schooling.

Besides, where is the accountability here in all of this? Did Louisiana voters have a chance to vote on this?

-Angela


2006 Editions Jan. 21, 2006
by Rosita Johnson

People's Weekly World Newspaper, 01/19/06 14:13

Before adjourning for the holidays, Congress passed the Hurricane Education Recovery Act, which provides $1.6 billion in assistance to public and private schools and their students affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The funds, which must be applied for, are to be distributed by the U.S. Department of Education through state education agencies. Some $750 million has already been appropriated to restart schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas.

Public and non-public schools educating K-12 students displaced by the hurricanes can receive up to $6,000 per student and $7,500 per disabled or special education student under the new law. As of Dec. 3, Texas had the most displaced students, 41,000, although the accuracy of such figures is subject to dispute.

At a time when federal funds for public schools have been cut, critics of the new law have asked why public tax money is being given to private and religious schools.

Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, called the bill part of the worst assault on public education in American history. “Taxpayers will be forced to pay for a nationwide voucher program,” Weaver said. “Religious schools will be allowed to receive taxpayer dollars and proselytize and discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion.”

Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, denounced the legislation and said it sets a disturbing precedent. American Federation of Teachers President Edward J. McElroy said the Bush administration is using the relief efforts in New Orleans and elsewhere as a laboratory for its misguided policies.

In a related development, the Wall Street Journal reported that two weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit, 40 members of a conservative congressional caucus met at the Heritage Foundation to plan the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast region. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) told the Journal, “The desire to bring conservative, free-market ideas to the Gulf Coast is white hot.”

The document that evolved from that meeting is titled “From Tragedy to Triumph: Principled Solutions for Rebuilding Lives and Communities.” Some of the “principled solutions” are private school vouchers, deregulation, tax breaks, cuts in social services, limits on a victim’s right to sue and weakened anti-discrimination, wage and environmental laws. “Eliminate any entitlement expectations for disaster relief,” the lawmakers said.

The big-business-oriented plan for New Orleans is to not rebuild large areas where Black and/or poor people used to live, such as the 9th Ward and eastern part of the city. The Bring Back New Orleans Commission recently proposed a plan that reflects this very thinking.

The citizens of New Orleans have little or no power over the planning or rebuilding. The city’s imposition of a four-month moratorium on the rebuilding of its most damaged neighborhoods, combined with its willingness to liberally use eminent domain laws to take over property for public use, infuriated residents at a recent meeting to discuss the commission’s plan.

Joseph C. Canizaro, a real estate developer and a major fundraiser for President Bush, heads the commission’s urban planning committee. Although New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who appointed the commission, can accept or alter the proposed plan, considerably more power resides in the state rebuilding commission, which controls how the billions of federal dollars in aid is spent.

Members of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus see political motives behind these actions. They say that because Blacks are viewed as most likely to be Democrats or progressive voters, the Gulf Coast region can’t be transformed into an ultraconservative region without a decrease in the Black population. New Orleans has a 67 percent African American population. In the eyes of conservatives, Hurricane Katrina accomplished “the removal” of this section of the electorate, and the rebuilding plan must prevent many of its African American citizens from returning.
phillyrose623@verizon.net

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Outcry, but Few Answers, After Principal Is Removed

If account at Staten Island is accurate, it reads like Homeland Security taken to an extreme with youth, as well. -
Angela


January 18, 2006

On Education

Outcry, but Few Answers, After Principal Is Removed

By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN

ONE day last May, the president of the College Board stood in the packed
auditorium at Curtis High School on Staten Island and handed over a check
for $25,000. Curtis had earned the money as one of just three high schools
nationally to receive the organization's Inspiration Award for motivating
students to attend college.

Operating at 160 percent of capacity, with a student body rapidly shifting
from white to minority and from middle class to working poor, Curtis sent
85 percent of its graduates on to higher education. Everybody in the crowd
that day understood exactly why the school's jazz band culminated the
ceremony by playing "Respect."

Aurelia L. Curtis was dancing with all the rest on the stage, and nothing
seemed more appropriate than the coincidence that her surname and the
school's were identical. She had been at Curtis for more than 20 years, the
last two as principal. An immigrant from Liberia, she formed part of the
same racial transformation on Staten Island that was being felt in her
school. More than a few of Curtis's alumni owed their college scholarships
to her personal involvement.

Last week the Curtis auditorium was filled again, ostensibly for the
monthly meeting of the PTA, but this time the mood was indignation rather
than celebration. Ms. Curtis had been removed from the school in
mid-December by the Department of Education, reassigned to the purgatory of
regional headquarters. The department is investigating the principal's
conduct in two episodes last fall, one involving a supposed threat by a
student to bomb the building and the other an attempt by the local police
to arrest three Curtis students inside the school.

In Ms. Curtis's absence that night, a chorus of students, teachers and
graduates demanded her return. The chairman of the local branch of the
N.A.A.C.P., the neighborhood's City Council member - and perhaps most
surprising - the president of the citywide teachers' union joined in the
outcry on the principal's behalf. Most of the members of the audience wore
lapel badges with a picture of the suspended principal and the slogan
"Curtis Needs Curtis." Others carried signs showing a broken heart.

All they got in return were the legalistic responses of the Department of
Education's designated flak-catchers - Margaret Schultz, a local
instructional superintendent; Nancy Ramos, a community superintendent; and
Robin Merrill, a lawyer. They would not explain the content of the
investigation against Ms. Curtis or the timetable for concluding it. "We
are bound by chancellor's regulations and New York State law," Ms. Ramos
offered in a typical comment.

That was pretty much when patience ran out for Maurice Royster, whose
daughter received a scholarship to the University of Delaware with Ms.
Curtis's help. "She was in this building for a reason," Mr. Royster said,
referring to the principal. "You knuckleheads up there don't know nothing.
I made myself get off the bus after work tonight and come here, and I don't
even like PTA meetings." A moment later he concluded, "Let the woman come
back."

The controversy began on Oct. 31 with a 16-year-old junior, according to
both school and law enforcement officials. The boy, an honors student
active in several school clubs, as well as a professed Marxist, was arguing
about capitalism after school with fellow members of the Curtis debate
team. In the course of the discussion, another student raised the question
of what kind of action was permissible to create political change. The
junior's lawyers, school administrators and the police differ on the exact
wording, but all concur that he said something along the lines of how he
could plant a bomb in Curtis the next morning as a protest against
capitalism.

Word of the remark went from the debate team's faculty adviser to a dean to
Ms. Curtis. On the morning of Nov. 1, she met with the student and his
mother and searched the boy's belongings, finding no bomb-making materials
of any kind. She then shared the information with the teachers and
administrators on a crisis-intervention team. They decided to suspend the
young man for four days and require him to receive a psychiatric evaluation
before being readmitted.

On Nov. 4, however, the police in the 120th Precinct station house, two
blocks from Curtis High, learned of the boy's statement. (Accounts differ
as to whether the police were informed by Ms. Curtis or by a regional
security officer in the Education Department, whom the principal had told.)
That afternoon, the police arrested the student on the charge of making a
terroristic threat, a felony written into law by the State Legislature six
days after the Sept. 11 attacks. Meanwhile, the Department of Education
ordered him suspended >from school until Feb. 1.

If there was any criticism at the high school of Ms. Curtis's handling of
the situation, it was at an extremely low volume. "I haven't heard anyone
say they felt their children were in jeopardy," Tom Hepworth, the high
school's parent coordinator, said in a recent interview. "When they found
out what happened, the sequence of events, they were satisfied that a
person they respect and trust made the best decision she could make."

For that matter, two of Ms. Curtis's own children are enrolled in the high
school. Would a mother possibly have put them at risk of a terrorist
bombing? Or would an experienced educator have known the difference between
an incipient mass murderer and a precocious teenager trying to sound
outrageous?

In late November and early December, Ms. Curtis went on a fellowship to
Japan to study comparative educational systems. During that period, an
investigator from the Department of Education came to Curtis High and told
administrators there he was looking into whether the principal had failed
to report a crime, a violation of chancellor's regulations.

ON Dec. 14, the afternoon after returning from Japan, Ms. Curtis was
watching a girls' basketball game when the police entered the school gym to
try to arrest three male students, claiming they had just robbed a student
from a nearby high school. By the accounts of several witnesses, Ms. Curtis
told the police the boys had been with her in the gym all afternoon and so
could not have committed the crime. At the least, she told the police, she
did not want them questioned until their parents could be called to the
school.

The next morning, the Department of Education reassigned Aurelia Curtis to
regional headquarters. The last her colleagues at school saw of her, she
was cleaning out her office.

In the weeks since, the Staten Island district attorney decided not to
prosecute the three Curtis students the principal had defended. A grand
jury has yet to hear the case against the young man in the bomb threat
episode. Yet Ms. Curtis appears no closer to having her case resolved.

Stephen Morello, the communications director for the Education Department,
said, "Until we have an opportunity to examine all of the issues raised
about the principal's handling of particular situations, we have reassigned
her."

Jacqueline Lopardo, a Curtis graduate who went on to Vanderbilt University
and a career in law, had a retort of sorts when she addressed the Education
Department representatives at the PTA meeting last week. "You talk about
how you need to protect Curtis High School," she said. "We stand
unprotected now."

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

This and other outrageous but true stories can be found at
www.realcostofprisons.org/blog

Monday, January 16, 2006

If the economy's so hot, why aren't we happier?

This is a really interesting piece about how an indicator, GDP, with its own unique, WWII roots has gotten distorted. It's a misleading indicator because it fails to account for non-market exchanges outside of the formal economy. It also assumes a tight correlation between the number of transactions/exchanges and well being. Bad things that happen to us, like Hurricane Katrina, and this is "good" for GDP. Pain and suffering are unfortunate by-products. Depleting the environment follows the same pattern of being "good" because it contributes to GDP.

Indicators that are omitted from GDP are quality-of-life indicators like literacy, employment, leisure, health, etc. Professor Senchak describes important revisions to this thinking below.

Angela



COMMENTARY
Senchack: If the economy's so hot, why aren't we happier?
A.J. Senchack, SOUTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY
Monday, January 16, 2006
The stock market is at its highest point in 4 1/2 years, and the most recent figures for the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) showed a robust growth of 4.1 percent. Add a sharp drop in inflation, increasingly tight labor markets and record consumer spending, and everyone should be feeling great this new year.

So why do Americans continue to express less-than-sunny sentiments while living in one of the richest, most prosperous countries in the world? Perhaps it's because wage increases continue to lag inflation. Perhaps. But a more likely candidate is that economic statistics, such as GDP, don't truly measure how well off we are.

GDP has its roots in the 1930s. During World War II, it was redesigned to track wartime production. Today, it measures total annual consumption (and production) within our borders, and it is the world's foremost indicator of economic progress.

However, GDP was never intended to be a direct measure of economic health or well-being. Our policy-makers, economists and the media bestowed that role on it.

Their logic seems reasonable. The more a nation produces and consumes, the wealthier it is. This also means the higher its standard of living becomes. Hence, its citizens should be better off or happier. But there is a disconnect here. Being wealthier simply does not translate into being happier. Many a study shows the United States to be no happier than it was 50 years ago. We are no happier than when we were poorer.

So why doesn't GDP tell us how well-off we are? First, it is misleading because only exchanges with a price tag get tabulated — that is, only products and services that are bought and sold with money. Many crucial economic functions outside the money economy contribute to well-being, such as house work, child care and voluntary church or civic services. These are ignored, however, because they are given no dollar value.

GDP also assumes every transaction can only add to well-being. This means negative events that reduce well-being, such as last year's Gulf Coast hurricanes, actually increase GDP. The huge medical expenses and rebuilding costs are treated as income. The pain and suffering are ignored. Other transactions, like crime and divorce, have a similar impact on GDP. No distinction is made between activities that generate well-being and those that diminish it. When both wealth and "illth" are created, only wealth creation gets counted.

Another critical omission from GDP is social or quality-of-life indicators such as family, literacy, employment, leisure time and sense of community. All of these affect well-being and overall satisfaction, but they aren't captured in the statistics.

Finally, the depletion of our natural resources adds to income and, thus, GDP, even if they are nonrenewable. The degradation of our natural environment also does not receive any accounting in our economic statistics.

Fortunately, steps are being taken to right this situation. International institutions such as the United Nations and World Bank have devised more inclusive indices that account for such factors as human and environmental capital, education and life expectancy. Perhaps the measure that comes closest to measuring national well-being is the "Genuine Progress Indicator" created by Redefining Progress, an organization working to shift the economy and public policy toward sustainability. Its indicator starts with GDP and then adjusts for income distribution and leisure time, adds household and volunteer work and subtracts the costs of crime, family breakdown and pollution.

But more needs to be done. People's well-being should take precedent, regardless of how difficult that may be to measure in practice. We need to end our society's fixation on GDP and begin incorporating measures of national well-being into, for example, a Gross National Well-being index. Let's start accounting for what makes life worthwhile, and not just on what economists and politicians can conveniently count.

Senchack holds the Lucy King Brown Chair in International Business at Southwestern University in Georgetown. He is coordinating the Brown Symposium XXVII, titled "GNP or Gross National Well-being?" Feb. 9-10 at Southwestern. (www.southwestern.edu/brownxxviii).

Find this article at:
http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/01/16economy_edit.html

Bush school reform called 'clueless'

A number of us went to this this week. No praise of NCLB was generated in three hours of presentations by community leaders, teachers, parents and students. Responses ranged from 'I didn’t know NCLB was this bad' to 'it needs to be fixed' to 'this law is an attempt to dismantle public education.' I'm ot exaggerating any of this. The tenor in fact was quite emotional and in many instances, damning. I comment PEN for sponsoring this and also for doing so in other cities. Consider responding the Parent Education Network’s (PEN) online survey at Give KidsGoodSchools.org. -Angela

Bush school reform called 'clueless'

Web Posted: 01/13/2006 12:00 AM CST

Jenny Lacoste-Caputo
Express-News Staff Writer

AUSTIN — Just three days after President Bush visited a Maryland elementary school touting the fourth anniversary of his landmark education reform law, No Child Left Behind, more than 200 concerned parents, students and educators from around Texas gathered to discuss an overhaul of the accountability effort, which is up for reauthorization in 2007.

The testimony, both oral and written, and the results of an online survey, will be documented in a report that will go to members of Congress and the president.

Several students from around the state voiced frustration at the one-size-fits-all approach of a standardized test.

"The notion that one test can work for thousands and thousands of students in Texas tells me how clueless some adults are about the needs of students," said Andy Peterson, a 12th-grade student from Austin.

Peterson said a learning disability makes standardized tests difficult for him. Math problems and reading assignments that give him no trouble in class can become enigmas on the state's mandated exam.

"I can't remember a time when I wasn't the last person in the testing room, pulling my hair out while trying to finish the test," he said. "The problem with these tests is they don't accurately reflect student achievement for everyone."

William Luton, a senior at Spring Woods High School in Houston, said the emphasis on testing has a direct effect on what happens in the classroom.

His school did away with block scheduling — a method that allows students more time for each class — because it didn't work with the testing schedule.

No Child Left Behind requires states to test students in reading and math annually. Schools must show what the law calls "adequate yearly progress" each year, not just in a school's overall population but also in subgroups based on race and income level. The goal: to ensure that every child receives a quality education.

Schools that don't meet the criteria are subject to sanctions. The law also requires that every child must pass the test by the year 2014 for a school to meet adequate yearly progress.

But critics of the law said Thursday that the focus on testing is squeezing the joy out of learning, putting undue pressure on children, turning schools into test-prep centers.

Luis Figueroa, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in San Antonio, said the promises of No Child Left Behind are good ones, but the law isn't having its intended effect.

The quality of education a child receives "still very much depends on what side of the tracks you live on," said Figueroa, who advocates for increased funding for the act.

The Public Education Network, a national organization of local education funds that works to build support for quality education in low-income communities, is organizing the hearings.

"Our emphasis is on hearing from students, parents and community leaders," said Ron Cowell, president of the Education Policy and Leadership Center in Pennsylvania and moderator for the hearing. "These are the voices that often get overlooked or often aren't heard at all when policy leaders sit down to write the laws of the nation."

The network is also hosting an online survey at GiveKidsGoodSchools.org. The results of the survey will be compiled with testimony given in Austin; New York; Chicago; Orlando, Fla.; San Francisco; and five other cities.

Creating a Right-Wing Nation, State by State

Check out this eye-opening story posted on Alternet.org -Angela
By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on November 16, 2005, Printed on January 16, 2006
http://www.alternet.org/story/28259/

We've heard much talk of the states serving as "progressive laboratories" in recent years. But conservatives have been working to shape state laws for the past 30 years. The center of gravity for that effort is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation's largest network of state legislators.

Founded in 1973, ALEC was the brainchild of paleocon Paul Weyrich, a leading "Movement conservative" and the head of the Free Congress Foundation (in 1973 Weyrich also co-founded the Heritage Foundation). It is the connective tissue that links state legislators with right-wing think tanks, leading anti-tax activists and corporate money. ALEC is a public-policy mill that churns out "model legislation" for the states that are unfailingly pro-business. The organization fights against civil rights laws, as well as consumer, labor and environmental initiatives.

According to the National Resources Defense Council, corporations "funnel cash through ALEC to curry favor with state lawmakers through junkets and other largesse in the hopes of enacting special interest legislation -- all the while keeping safely outside the public eye."

Corporations that support ALEC "pay to play." In addition to dues of up to $50,000 dollars per year, they also pay as much as $5,000 dollars to sit on the "task force" committees that draft ALEC's legislative templates. You pay, and you get to write state laws to your exquisite advantage.

ALEC's record of achievement makes it one of the most successful parts of the conservative movement, but many progressives aren't aware of it. They should be; ALEC claims as members 34 state Speakers of The House, 25 Senate Presidents, 31 Senate Leaders and 33 House Leaders.

Given that ALEC claims to have successfully passed 200 bills into law in 2003, keeping tabs on the organization is a good way to get a handle on where the right will train its sights next.

Two staffers for People For the American Way (PFAW) went to ALEC's August meeting to get that scoop. Earlier this month I attended a conference of labor and community activists in Washington, D.C. to hear a summary of what PFAW's staffers picked up at the summit. This report draws heavily on their work, for which I'm grateful (disclosure: during the past year I've received modest support from PFAW for some of my own activism, and I'm an honorary Fellow with its Young People For program).

On The Horizon

For the most part, there were few surprises at ALEC's August summit in Plano, Texas. The usual suspects pushed policies we have come to expect from the conservative movement. These, according to a profile by PFAW, include "rolling back civil rights, challenging government restrictions on corporate pollution," as well as "limiting government regulations of commerce [and] privatizing public services."

George W. Bush was the keynote speaker, discussing how successful his tax cuts have been (if you care to, you can read his speech here). Grover Norquist, Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich rounded out the right's star power. (According to one of PFAW's observers, Norquist told a room full of legislators that "those on the left aren't stupid, they're evil.")

The main messages were that public pensions and Social Security should be privatized and Bush's tax cuts should become permanent (clearly a federal issue, but they pushed it nonetheless). Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings defended No child Left behind, which she argued wasn't "just good policy, it's good politics."

School vouchers -- a long-standing objective of ALEC -- were high on the agenda. There were two pieces of model legislation that advance vouchers. Related are the "Virtual Public Schools Act" and "The Family Tax Credit Program Act." Both are alternatives to public education that, unlike vouchers programs, divert public education funds to home-schooled children as well as those enrolled in private schools. Apparently it is, among other things, a sop to Christian conservatives.

Much was made of the need for "tort reform." There was talk of "judicial hellholes," where pesky consumer groups and environmentalists were "regulating" through litigation - ALEC's members call it a "tax on the consumer" -- and of limiting damage awards and "reforming" class-action suits.

Most of ALEC's model legislation sounds eminently reasonable at first glance. One initiative, the "Jury Patriotism Act" -- already passed in 13 states -- makes it more difficult for people to skip jury duty, but would also increase the amount paid to jurors, especially low-income jurors serving on long cases. That sounds like a good idea until you come to the fine print: the increased jury pay wouldn't come from general revenues, but from significantly increased fees required to bring suit, closing the courthouse doors to a growing number of people.

Another go-to issue for ALEC's members is the environment. In 2002, the organization issued a widely read report, "Global Warming and the Kyoto Protocol: Paper Tiger, Economic Dragon" [PDF], written by the CATO institute's "climate skeptic" Patrick Michaels. Exxon - the leading funder of efforts to "debunk" climatology - donated almost one million dollars to ALEC since 1998, according to ExxonWatch. Dupont, Dow and Edison electric are among the other firms that have paid millions to write ALEC's model legislation.

Some of ALEC's environmental initiatives include "environmental audit immunity" (wonky PDF), a legal regime whereby polluters could self-regulate and any environmental violations could not be punished as long as they inform the EPA of the damage done.

Another is attacking state and regional limits on greenhouse gas emissions. ALEC has fought what have been called "sons of Kyoto" state laws tooth and nail, calling global warming "the new mantra for environmentalists and non-governmental organizations in their quest to redistribute international and domestic wealth."

Perhaps the most troubling of ALEC's environmental aims is criminalizing activism. Its model "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act" does just that. As Karen Charman wrote on TomPaine:

The Texas [version of the] bill defines an "animal rights or terrorist organization" as "two or more persons organized for the purpose of supporting any politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals or ... natural resources." The bill adds that "'Political motivation' means an intent to influence a government entity or the public to take a specific political action." Language in the New York bill is similarly broad.
The Center for Constitutional Rights' Michael Ratner told Charman, "The definitional sections of this legislation are so broad that they sweep within them basically every environmental and animal-rights organization in the country."

Activism clearly frightens the big-business right. Aside from the over-the-top hostility towards environmental activists, there was much talk of campaigns such as the current effort - of which AlterNet has played a part -- to raise awareness of Wal-Mart's labor and environmental practices, and the harm the firm inflicts on Main Street America.

A panel on socially responsible investing likened the practice to a new form of Marxism. According to PFAW's observers, the moderator argued that "progressives control campuses, control foundations, control the media -- corporations are the last bastion of conservatism and if they take them over, it's game over."

A PLAN for Push-Back

The good news is that ALEC is not unopposed by groups on the left. Established organizations like USPIRG and the Center for Policy Alternatives offer progressive model legislation to state lawmakers, and community and labor activists have worked to shine a hard light on ALEC and its proposals.

But as is often the case, many of these efforts are single-issue, as opposed to ALEC's broad ideological umbrella of positions, and too often they act state-by-state instead of working as well-coordinated nationwide networks.

That's beginning to change. ALICE (the American Legislative Issue Campaign Exchange) is trying to create a similarly broad network at the local level. A collaboration of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, the Economic Analysis and Research Network and several other progressive groups, ALICE is a clearinghouse of information and legislation that's trying to back up tens of thousands of progressives in local government.

Another organization that's promising -perhaps the most ambitious of its kind -- is the Progressive Legislative Action Network (PLAN). Launched with much fanfare in August and co-chaired by the Center for American Progress' David Sirota and former Montana legislator Steve Doherty, PLAN most resembles the structure of ALEC. It not only provides model legislation across state and issue lines, it also helps push those bills by joining grass-roots activists and state lawmakers with the "strategic advocacy tools" they need to advance "progressive economic and social policies."

Stay tuned.

Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/28259/

Houston Ties Teachers' Pay to Test Scores

I quote here Gayle Fallon, president of [Houston] United Federation of Teachers, "No one has been able to show us one ounce of research that paying teachers for test scores improves performance..." Another comment made below with which I agree is that teaching to the test and narrowing the curriculum will occur. This also creates a disincentive to teach those "hardest to teach" children since the "easier" kids will be preferred. The research base is indeed lacking for this as well. -Angela

January 13, 2006
Houston Ties Teachers' Pay to Test Scores
By RALPH BLUMENTHAL

HOUSTON, Jan. 12 - Over the objections of the teachers' union, the
Board of Education here on Thursday unanimously approved the nation's
largest merit pay program, which calls for rewarding teachers based on how
well their students perform on standardized tests.

The $14.5 million program, which immediately replaces a model with lower incentives, would distribute up to $3,000
annually per teacher and up to $25,000 for senior administrators.

Abelardo Saavedra, the Houston superintendent of schools, praised the vote, saying that it "will ensure that the academic
growth of each child is important and will be compensated." Houston business leaders also supported the change.

But Gayle Fallon, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents about 40 percent of the district's 12,300
teachers, condemned the program as misguided. In its place, Ms. Fallon called for
across-the-board raises to lift Houston from what shesaid was the low-paying end of area school districts.

"No one has been able to show us one ounce of research that paying teachers for test scores improves performance," she
said.

The 9-to-0 vote at the board meeting of the Houston Independent School District, the largest in the state, with 210,000
children, opened a new front in the national dispute over teacher merit pay and excited
particular emotion in a city bruised by a cheating scandal that called some schools' test results into question.

Critics were quick to compare Houston's plan with one adopted in November in Denver after much study and consultation
with the teachers' union there. Other programs have been tried, with varying
success, in New York and Kentucky, educators said.

Houston has had a teacher pay-performance program in place since 2000, but officials said the latest version was an effort to
tie the rewards more closely to student gains attributable not only to
schools but to individual teachers.

The pay incentives are to be based on three components, or "strands."

One will reward teachers based on how much their school's test scores have improved compared with the scores of 40 other
schools with similar demographics around the state. Another will comparestudent progress on the Stanford 10 Achievement test and its Spanish-language equivalent to that of students in similar classrooms in the Houston district. The
third measure will be student progress on the statewide Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, as compared with that in similar Houston classrooms.

About half the district's teachers will be eligible for stipends in all three categories, for a total of $3,000. The system's 305 principals with the best-achieving teachers could earn as much as $6,000 in merit pay, and the 19 executive principals and five regional superintendents will be eligible for up to $25,000.

But some teachers who addressed the board on Thursday complained that the plan bypassed arts teachers and others whose
subjects were not covered by the tests.

Andrew Gass, a lawyer, said the plan "fails to reward teachers of special ed students or pre-K or kindergarten teachers"
and "forces teachers to teach to the test rather than focus on real academic achievement in the classroom."

Ms. Fallon of the teachers' union said the board would do better to raise the starting salary of teachers, at $36,050 the
lowest of 10 major districts in the area. Mr. Saavedra, the superintendent, acknowledged that "the salary schedule needs attention" but said the position of Houston's teachers improved markedly with seniority.

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York, contrasted the Houston plan unfavorably with the one in Denver. That plan offers the system's 4,300 teachers a choice of enrolling in a merit pay program or accepting standard raises, although new hires must enter the merit pay plan. So far, 735 teachers have chosen the merit option, said a Denver school spokesman, Mark Stevens.

Rigorous statewide testing to gauge student achievement has been an article of faith in Texas for years. But in 1999 the
Texas Education Agency began investigating Houston and other districts because of suspicious results on the statewide test. Last year, the Houston school board said it had found evidence of cheating at four schools and testing
irregularities at seven more. A half-dozen teachers were fired, and several principals were demoted or reprimanded.

* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Study concludes Florida's schools largest in nation

This is an interesting report in light of the recent supreme court ruling on school vouchers in Florida. -Angela

Thu, Jan. 05, 2006

Study concludes Florida's schools largest in nation
Public schools in Florida are the largest in the country, which some experts say creates a poor learning environment and instigates higher dropout rates.

BY MATTHEW I. PINZUR AND HANNAH SAMPSON

mpinzur@MiamiHerald.com

The classrooms of Michael Krop Senior High are filled with thousands of senior Ryan Sprechman's classmates. Through four years at the Northeast Miami-Dade school, he has met only a handful of them.

''Every time I'm in the hall, I recognize maybe three people out of the hundred I see,'' he said.

His experience is typical across the state. A national study released Wednesday found that Florida has the largest schools in the country. Krop is 263,000 square feet, twice as large as the baseball field at Dolphins Stadium.

Many senior highs house more than 3,000 students -- a few have more than 4,000.

''Large schools tend to be anonymous places, places where teachers and students are little known to each other,'' said Thomas Toch, author of High Schools on a Human Scale: How Small Schools Can Transform American Education. ``The anonymity often breeds apathy or alienation; many kids fall through the cracks.''

The annual Quality Counts study, compiled by Education Week magazine, largely confirmed the conventional wisdom about Florida's schools -- the state's accountability and testing program is among the nation's most stringent, and education dollars are shared fairly equitably between poor and rich areas, but per-pupil spending remains low and the high school graduation rate remains dismal.

BURIED ISSUE

But buried in the report's data was the news that Florida students, more than any others in the country, attend large schools.

A growing movement of local and national educators believe such huge schools have more absenteeism, lower graduation rates and more frequent vandalism. In smaller schools, faculty are more likely to know students by name and intervene when they miss class or flunk a test.

''Many kids come to school already disconnected, apathetic or alienated, and the only way you can overcome that is to give these kids a sense of being connected, a sense of being cared about,'' Toch said. ``It sounds a little touchy-feely, and it is, but it's important.''

A state school-reform task force is planning to recommend smaller middle and senior highs, and at least one member of the Miami-Dade School Board has threatened to vote against construction of large new campuses.

''Is this what we want to be responsible for when we open these schools?'' said board member Evelyn Greer, speaking at a committee meeting late last year.

The principal of one of Broward's smallest public schools said low enrollment enhances the sense of community and slows teacher turnover.

''We know every child in our school, at least someone does,'' said Lincoln Pasteur,principal at Collins Elementary in Dania Beach. ``The children that go to school here, many of their parents have gone to school here.''

But Collins is only small by Florida standards; with 362 students, it does not meet the Education Week study's 350-student cutoff for a small school. Between Miami-Dade and Broward, only a handful of the nearly 400 elementaries qualify, and almost all those are charter schools.

Scarce land, skyrocketing construction costs and relatively meager school-construction funding have left South Florida districts with little alternative.

Florida Education Commissioner John Winn has proposed $1.9 billion for school construction this year, but actual funding from the Legislature has historically been far lower.

According to the Education Week report, Florida committed just over $190 million for school construction in fiscal 2006 -- about as much as Alaska, Hawaii and Kentucky, and dramatically less than California's $6.2 billion, New York's $1.5 billion or even Ohio's $655 million.

''That's just a sad statement of Florida's investment in the infrastructure of public education,'' said Miami-Dade Superintendent Rudy Crew.

BOUTIQUE SCHOOL

Crew has proposed a handful of boutique middle and senior highs -- similar to the wildly successful 500-student Design and Architecture Senior High -- but said the district cannot abandon the huge buildings at schools such as Felix Varela and G. Holmes Braddock, a pair of Southwest Dade schools that hold a combined 8,500 students.

''The starting point for this is not size,'' Crew said. ``The real issue is relationships, the issue of what environment is most conducive and allows for a strong, engaged relationship between students and teachers.

To that end, both Miami-Dade and Broward are embracing one of education's vogue reforms: small learning environments.

A large school would hold numerous quasi-independent programs, each with its own students, teachers and staff. Some could even have their own wing of the building, only interacting with other programs for clubs, sports and shared facilities like the gym and cafeteria.

''If we had the resources, I think anybody would like to have smaller schools than we have,'' said Broward Superintendent Frank Till. ``But since we can't, the idea is to have a small-school atmosphere in our larger schools.''

Coral Reef Senior High has used that model successfully for years, and many other senior highs are now phasing it in.

''I think the students are going to start feeling more of a belongingness,'' said Manuel Garcia, principal at Braddock, which has nearly 4,500 students.

COMMUNITY IMPACT

If his school were replaced with a half-dozen small boutiques, Garcia said it would rob the community of a unifying force; families from Sweetwater to Lakes of the Meadow have been Braddock Bulldogs.

There are more tangible advantages, as well. With such a student body to draw from, clubs and teams are stacked with talented teens. Even esoteric clubs, such as Braddock's Anatomy Club, can find enough members to stay active.

Moreover, the evidence linking school size to academics is young and untested. The movement is well-funded -- much of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's $1 billion in education grants has gone into small-school experiments -- but even its advocates are hesitant to pronounce the case closed.

''There are signs of promise in this approach, but certainly the jury is still out,'' said Christopher Swanson, project director of the Education Week study.

© 2006 MiamiHerald.com and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.miami.com

Florida Strikes Down Nation's First Statewide Voucher Program

A victory for public schooling and the separation of church and state, and I should add, democracy (at least to the degree that the potential for democracy is exercised in our system of public schooling) in Florida. -Angela

January 5, 2006

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 7:39 p.m. ET

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The Florida Supreme Court struck down a statewide voucher system Thursday that allowed children to attend private schools at taxpayer expense -- a program Gov. Jeb Bush considered one of his proudest achievements.

It was the nation's first statewide voucher program.

In a 5-2 ruling, the high court said the program undermines the public schools and violates the Florida Constitution's requirement of a uniform system of free public education.

Voucher opponents had also argued that the program violated the separation of church and state in giving tax dollars to parochial schools -- an argument a lower court agreed with. But the state Supreme Court did not address that issue.

About 700 children are attending private or parochial schools through the program. But the ruling will not become effective until the end of the school year.

''I think it is a sad day for accountability in our state,'' Bush said. He said the voucher program had a positive effect because it ''put pressure on school districts to focus on the underperforming schools.''

The voucher setup was a part of an education program on the governor's part that also includes testing at virtually every level and a school grading system that offers performance-based rewards and punishments.

Bush said he will look for ways to continue the voucher programs, such as finding private money, changing state law or amending the Florida Constitution.

''I don't think any option should be taken off the table,'' the governor said. ''School choice is as American as apple pie in my opinion. ... The world is made richer and fuller and more vibrant when you have choices.''

Under the 1999 law, students at public schools that earn a failing grade from the state in two out of four years were eligible for vouchers to attend private schools.

Chief Justice Barbara Pariente said the program ''diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools,'' which are the sole means set out in the state constitution for educating Florida children.

The ruling was a victory for public schools across the state and nation, said Ron Meyer, lead attorney for a coalition that challenged the voucher program.

''Students using vouchers will now be welcomed back into Florida public schools,'' Meyer said in a statement. ''It decides with finality that the voucher program is unconstitutional.''

Anticipating the possibility of an adverse ruling, the governor has been working on a backup plan to keep voucher students in private schools by providing tax credits to corporations that give students scholarships.

Clark Neily, an attorney who argued the case for voucher advocates, called the decision ''a setback for those parents and children trapped in failing schools.''

The U.S. Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support the state. Voucher opponents included the state teachers union, the Florida PTA, the NAACP and the League of Women Voters.

The ruling did not directly affect nearly 30,000 students in two other voucher programs for disabled and poor children, but it could be cited as a precedent.

^------

On the Net:

http://www.floridasupremecourt.org


Copyright 2006 The Associated Press

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Texas Successful Schools Study: Quality Education for Limited English Proficient Students

It's time to resurrect the issue of bilingual education especially since Texas will be considering it anew vis-a-vis various funding proposals that are to be examined this legislative session. I also want to make resources available to any who are interested on bilingual education.

One of these is a study conducted by Oscar M. Cárdenas, Senior Director, Principal Investigator as well as Stan Seidner, Program Director, Program Evaluation Unit at the Texas Education in 1998-99. The study is titled The Texas Successful Schools Study: Quality Education for Limited English Proficient Students. Folks should know from the weight of evidence that well-implemented, designed, funded, and staffed bilingual education programs (including dual language programs) yield solid, positive results in terms of both student achievement and biliteracy (literacy in two languages).

The EDWeek piece below by Zehr discusses research on bilingual education conducted by Professors Slavin and Alan Cheung in which they find the following: The use of native-language instruction in reading has an edge over using only English. Nearly two years have passed and it's curious that the DOE has not yet allowed this study to be released. Once can only surmise that it's findings on the positive effects of bilingual education programs go against the grain of federal education policy that seeks to standardize all youth on a single metric in order to ostensibly facilitate comparability of students' academic worth via high-stakes testing. Quien sabe.... Anyway, hope folks find all of this useful. I'll post a permanent link to the Cardenas and Seidner et al. study on the side bar of my blog shortly.

Also, Happy New Year everybody! -Angela


EDUCATION WEEK
February 4, 2004

Study Gives Advantage To Bilingual Education Over Focus on English

By Mary Ann Zehr
Education Week

Robert E. Slavin, a Johns Hopkins University researcher and the chairman of the Success for All Foundation, said he intends to change how he advises schools to teach reading to English-language learners as a result of the review.

Bilingual education has a particularly positive effect, say Mr. Slavin and Alan Cheung, a research scientist at the Baltimore-based Success for All Foundation, when students are taught to read both in their native languages and in English at the same period in their lives, though at different times in a single day. Their study calls that approach a "paired-bilingual program." It differs from many bilingual education programs that postpone teaching children to read in English until they've learned to read in their native languages.

In the past, the Success for All Foundation, which provides reading programs in both English and Spanish, has remained neutral on whether schools should teach students to read in English or Spanish, Mr. Slavin said. But now, he said, he will give educators using the Success for All program a copy of the new study and recommend they include some native-language instruction with English-language learners if they have the option.

Mr. Slavin and Mr. Cheung are among a number of researchers who have compared the effectiveness of bilingual education and English-only instruction.

Differing View

Most researchers shared the conclusion of Mr. Slavin and Mr. Cheung: The use of native-language instruction in reading has an edge over using only English.

In a 1996 review of studies comparing both approaches, however, Christine H. Rossell, a political science professor at Boston University, and Keith Baker, an education consultant who is now retired, concluded that English-only methods are better.

Mr. Slavin last week faulted the methodology of the Rossell- Baker study, as well as some other researchers' work, citing the use of low standards in selecting studies and the application of inconsistent standards.

Ms. Rossell stands by her findings. She contends that Mr. Slavin erroneously excluded some worthy studies. Still, she acknowledged last week that if she were to redo that review, she would omit two or three of the studies that she had selected. For example, she would eliminate studies of programs that lasted for less than a year.

At the same time, Ms. Rossell noted that Mr. Slavin's work didn't duplicate the review that she conducted with Mr. Baker because Mr. Slavin had selected only 17 studies as meeting his criteria, while they had chosen 72.

Mr. Slavin said that the studies the Slavin-Cheung analysis examined were much more conclusive collectively than he had expected them to be, however, given the continual debate over the subject. "The high-quality evidence was pretty consistent either in saying that bilingual education methods were more effective or there was no difference," he said.

Literacy Panel

Mr. Slavin's research was part of a more comprehensive review of studies commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education and two other federal agencies at a cost of $1 million. Mr. Slavin was a member of the group formed nearly two years ago for, the National Literacy Panel on the Development of Literacy Among Language Minority Children and Youth.

He resigned as a panelist last summer because the Education Department wouldn't permit him to publish his research before the panel's conclusions would be released, he said. "From the perspective of academic freedom, I didn't like the idea of something I did being held up for no particular reason," he said last week.

An Aug. 1, 2003, letter from the department to SRI International, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based contractor working on the project, said that data from the research were not to be made public until they were reviewed by the department "to ensure we are issuing a top-quality product based on principles of rigorous scientific research."

Diane August, the executive director of the panel and a senior research scientist at the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics, said the panel was redoing the part of the review that had been assigned to Mr. Slavin.

Ms. August expects the department to release the panel's report by the end of the summer.

On the Web

The Center for Applied Linguistics publishes research digests highlighting "topics of current interest in foreign language education, ESL, bilingual education, and linguistics." See, for example, "English Language Learners and High-Stakes Tests: An Overview of the Issues."

"The Role of Theory and Policy in the Educational Treatment of Language Minority Students: Competitive Structures in California," August 2003 , from the Education Policy Analysis Archives, examines theoretical and policy-based positions that compete to shape the education of language-minority students.

"A National Study of School Effectiveness for Language-Minority Students’ Long-Term Academic Achievement: Final Report," 2002, from the Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence, is a five-year study analyzing a variety of education services for language-minority students.

© 2003 Editorial Projects in Education Vol. 23, number 21, page 10