Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cities Deal With a Surge in Shanty Towns

This is so heartbreaking. -Patricia

By Jesse McKinley | New York Times
March 26, 2009

FRESNO, Calif. - As the operations manager of a
outreach center for the homeless here, Paul Stack is
used to seeing people down on their luck. What he had
never seen before was people living in tents and lean-
tos on the railroad lot across from the center.

"They just popped up about 18 months ago," Mr. Stack
said. "One day it was empty. The next day, there were
people living there."

Like a dozen or so other cities across the nation,
Fresno is dealing with an unhappy deja vu: the arrival
of modern-day Hoovervilles, illegal encampments of
homeless people that are reminiscent, on a far smaller
scale, of Depression-era shantytowns. At his news
conference on Tuesday night, President Obama was asked
directly about the tent cities and responded by saying
that it was "not acceptable for children and families
to be without a roof over their heads in a country as
wealthy as ours."

While encampments and street living have always been a
part of the landscape in big cities like Los Angeles
and New York, these new tent cities have taken root -
or grown from smaller enclaves of the homeless as more
people lose jobs and housing - in such disparate places
as Nashville, Olympia, Wash., and St. Petersburg, Fla.

In Seattle, homeless residents in the city's 100-person
encampment call it Nickelsville, an unflattering
reference to the mayor, Greg Nickels. A tent city in
Sacramento prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to
announce a plan Wednesday to shift the entire 125-
person encampment to a nearby fairground. That came
after a recent visit by "The Oprah Winfrey Show" set
off such a news media stampede that some fed-up
homeless people complained of overexposure and said
they just wanted to be left alone.

The problem in Fresno is different in that it is both
chronic and largely outside the national limelight.
Homelessness here has long been fed by the ups and
downs in seasonal and subsistence jobs in agriculture,
but now the recession has cast a wider net and drawn in
hundreds of the newly homeless - from hitchhikers to
truck drivers to electricians.

"These are able-bodied folks that did day labor, at
minimum wage or better, who were previously able to
house themselves based on their income," said Michael
Stoops, the executive director of the National
Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group based in

The surging number of homeless people in Fresno, a city
of 500,000 people, has been a surprise. City officials
say they have three major encampments near downtown and
smaller settlements along two highways. All told, as
many 2,000 people are homeless here, according to
Gregory Barfield, the city's homeless prevention and
policy manager, who said that drug use, prostitution
and violence were all too common in the encampments.

"That's all part of that underground economy," Mr.
Barfield said. "It's what happens when a person is
trying to survive."

He said the city planned to begin "triage" on the
encampments in the next several weeks, to determine how
many people needed services and permanent housing.
"We're treating it like any other disaster area," Mr.
Barfield said.

Mr. Barfield took over his newly created position in
January, after the county and city adopted a 10-year
plan to address homelessness. A class-action lawsuit
brought on behalf of homeless people against the city
and the California Department of Transportation led to
a $2.35 million settlement in 2008, making money
available to about 350 residents who had had their
belongings discarded in sweeps by the city.

The growing encampments led the city to place portable
toilets and security guards near one area known as New
Jack City, named after a dark and drug-filled 1991
movie. But that just attracted more homeless people.

"It was just kind of an invitation to move in," said
Mr. Stack, the outreach center manager.

On a recent afternoon, nobody seemed thrilled to be
living in New Jack City, a filthy collection of rain-
and wind-battered tents in a garbage-strewn lot.
Several weary-looking residents sat on decaying sofas
as a pair of pit bulls chained to a fence howled.

Northwest of New Jack City sits a somewhat less grim
encampment. It is sometimes called Taco Flats or Little
Tijuana because of the large number of Latino
residents, many of whom were drawn to Fresno on the
promise of agricultural jobs, which have dried up in
the face of the poor economy and a three-year drought.

Guillermo Flores, 32, said he had looked for work in
the fields and in fast food, but had found nothing. For
the last eight months, he has collected cans, recycling
them for $5 to $10 a day, and lived in a hand-built,
three-room shack, a home that he takes pride in, with a
door, clean sheets on his bed and a bowl full of fresh
apples in his propane-powered kitchen area.

"I just built it because I need it," said Mr. Flores,
as he cooked a dinner of chili peppers, eggs and onions
over a fire. "The only problem I have is the spiders."

Dozens of homeless men and women here have found more
organized shelter at the Village of Hope, a collection
of 8-by-10-foot storage sheds built by the nonprofit
group Poverello House and overseen by Mr. Stack.
Planted in a former junkyard behind a chain-link fence,
each unit contains two cots, sleeping bags and a solar-
powered light.

Doug Brown, a freelance electrical engineer, said he
had discovered the Village of Hope while unemployed a
few years back and had returned after losing his job in
October. Mr. Stoops, of the homeless coalition,
predicted that the population at such new Hoovervilles
could grow as those without places to live slowly
burned through their options and joined the ranks of
the chronically homeless, many of whom are indigent as
a result of illiteracy, alcoholism, mental illness and
drug abuse.

That mix is already evident in a walk around Taco
Flats, where Sean Langer, 42, who lost a trucking job
in December and could pass for a soccer dad, lives in
his car in front of a sturdy shanty that is home to
Barbara Smith, 41, a crack addict with a wild cackle
for a laugh.

"This is a one-bedroom house," said Ms. Smith, proudly
taking a visitor through her home built with scrap wood
and scavenged two-by-fours. "We got a roof, and it does
not leak."

During the day, the camp can seem peaceful. American
flags fly over some shanties, and neighbors greet one
another. Some feed pets, while others build fires and

Daniel Kent, a clean-shaven 27-year-old from Oregon,
has been living in Taco Flats for three months after
running out of money on a planned hitchhiking trip to
Florida. He did manage to earn $35 a day holding up a
going-out-of-business sign for Mervyn's until the
department store actually went of out business.

Mr. Kent planned to attend a job fair soon, but said he
did not completely mind living outdoors.

"We got veterans out here; we got people with heart,
proud to be who they are," Mr. Kent said. "Regardless
of living situations, it doesn't change the heart.
There's some good people out here, really good people."

But the danger after dark is real. Ms. Smith, who lost
an eye after being shot in the face years ago, said she
had seen two people killed in New Jack City, prompting
her to move to Taco Flats and try to quit drugs. Her
companion, Willie Mac, 53, a self-described youth
minister, said he was "waiting on her to get herself
right with the Lord."

Ms. Smith said her dream was simple: "To get out of
here, get off the street, have our own home."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Texas Opens Classroom Door for Evolution Doubts

Wall Street Journal

MARCH 27, 2009, 11:12 P.M. ET


The Texas Board of Education approved a science curriculum that opens the door for teachers and textbooks to raise doubts about evolution.

Critics of evolution said they were thrilled with Friday's move. "Texas has sent a clear message that evolution should be taught as a scientific theory open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned," said Dr. John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that argues an intelligent designer created life.

Kathy Miller, president of the pro-evolution Texas Freedom Network, said, "The board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks." [Texas Freedom Network is a "sister" organization to Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign, the largest homosexual organization in the country. Cecile Richards (PP) and Samantha Smoot (HRC) are both past presidents of Texas Freedom Network, and these three organizations work in concert with one another. TFN, a far-left-leaning organization, has done everything in its power to thwart those who want to bring knowledge-based, academic, back-to-the-basics education into our Texas public schools. -- Donna Garner]

Science standards in Texas resonate across the U.S., since it approves one set of books for the entire state. That makes Texas the nation's single largest market for high-school textbooks.

In the past, publishers often have written texts to its curriculum and marketed them nationally rather than spend time and money reworking them for different states and districts.

That influence has diminished, said Jay Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers' school division, as districts and statewide boards of education have become more likely to scrutinize texts approved in other states. Desktop publishing also has made it easier for companies to amend textbooks to suit different markets.

"It's not necessarily the case" that the Texas curriculum will pop up in other states, Mr. Diskey said. But within Texas, what the board says, goes. Several years ago, the board expressed concern that a description of the Ice Age occurring "millions of years ago" conflicted with biblical timelines. The publisher changed it to "in the distant past." Another publisher sought to satisfy the board by inserting a heading about "strengths and weaknesses of evolution" in a biology text, drawing condemnation from science organizations.

The board will use the new standards to choose new textbooks in 2011.

Friday's meeting started with a victory for backers of evolution. The board voted to remove a longstanding requirement that students analyze the "strengths and weaknesses" of the theory. Mainstream scientists resoundingly reject that language, saying there are no weak links in the theory of evolution, which has been corroborated by discoveries in fields ranging from genetics to geology.

Through the afternoon, board members offered up a series of amendments and counter-amendments designed to shape presentations in biology classes across the state. The board voted down curriculum standards questioning the evolutionary principle that all life on Earth is descended from common ancestry.

Yet the board approved standards that require students to analyze and evaluate the fossil record and the complexity of the cell. Social conservatives on the board, led by chairman Don McLeroy, have made clear they expect books to address those topics by raising questions about the validity of evolutionary theory.

For instance, they want textbooks to suggest the theory of evolution is undercut by fossils that show some organisms -- such as ferns -- haven't changed much over millions of years. They also want texts to discuss the explosion of life forms during the Cambrian Era as inconsistent with the incremental march of evolution.

Scientists respond that the fossil record clearly traces the roots of Cambrian Era creatures back as far as 100 million years.

It isn't just evolution at issue: The board also approved an earth-science curriculum that challenges the widely accepted Big Bang Theory. Students are expected to learn that there are "differing theories" on the "origin and history of the universe."

Board members also deleted a reference to the scientific consensus that the universe is nearly 14 billion years old. The board's chairman has said he believes God created the universe fewer than 10,000 years ago.

Write to Stephanie Simon at

Friday, March 27, 2009

Texas Senate OKs scaling back top 10 percent college admission rule

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

AUSTIN – Legislation that would revamp Texas’ top 10 percent law for college admission by limiting it to 60 percent of incoming freshmen was passed by the Senate today and sent to the House.

The measure – pushed by University of Texas officials – represents the first change in the law since it was enacted a dozen years ago to provide a race-neutral admission policy for state colleges and universities.

The bill, by Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, was approved 24-7.

All those who opposed it were Democrats. They warned that the proposal could reverse the gains in minority enrollment at the University of Texas at Austin and other schools, including Texas A&M University and UT-Dallas.

Shapiro rejected that claim, saying UT-Austin officials have assured lawmakers they will continue to boost minority enrollment. If that does not happen, she said, the Legislature can revisit the top 10 percent requirement.

Under current law, public high school seniors in Texas who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class – based on grade point average – are guaranteed admission to any state college or university.

UT-Austin is the school most affected so far. Last fall, 81 percent of its incoming freshmen were admitted under the top 10 percent rule.

As the percentage continues to climb, UT officials say, many qualified students – including some with higher SAT scores – are being turned away.

Under the Senate bill, once 60 percent of the freshman class is admitted under the rule, the remaining 40 percent would be admitted using several criteria, including test scores, leadership ability and extracurricular participation.

DREAM Act: The Time is Now!

League of United Latin American Citizens

DREAM Act: The Time is Now!

■ What is the DREAM Act?

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act is bipartisan legislation that addresses the situation faced by young people who were brought to the United States years ago as undocumented immigrant children, and who have since grown up here, stayed in school, and kept out of trouble.

■ Why is the DREAM Act needed?

Each year about 65,000 U.S.raised students who would qualify for the DREAM Act’s benefits graduate from high school. These include honor roll students, star athletes, talented artists, homecoming queens, and aspiring teachers, doctors, and U.S. soldiers. They are young people who have lived in the U.S. for most of their lives and desire only to call this country their home. Even though they were brought to the U.S. years ago as children, they face unique barriers to higher education, are unable to work legally in the U.S., and often live in constant fear of detection by immigration authorities. Our immigration law currently has no mechanism to consider the special equities and circumstances of such students. The DREAM Act would eliminate this flaw. It is un-American to indefinitely and irremediably punish them for decisions made by adults many years ago. By enacting the DREAM Act, Congress would legally recognize what is de facto true: these young people belong here. DREAM Act students should be allowed to get on with their lives. If Congress fails to act this year, another entire class of outstanding, law-abiding high school students will graduate without being able to plan for the future, and some will be removed from their homes to countries they barely know. This tragedy will cause America to lose a vital asset: an educated class of promising immigrant students who have demonstrated a commitment to hard work and a strong desire to be contributing members of our society.

■ What is the DREAM Act’s Current Status?

Sen. Dick Durbin (IL) and Rep. Howard Berman (CA) plan to reintroduce the bill in THIS WEEK!

■ What can I do to support the DREAM Act right now?

Talk to Prinicipals and Administrators in your schools and organizations

Consider writing a letter of support for the Dream Act to your local newspaper or television station

Reach out to two or three people in your circle of influence and educate them about the importance of the Dream Act to students in our schools today

Sign the Dream Act petition at:

Call your Senator or House member and explain the importance of this legislation (Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121)

Say tuned for additional information that LULAC National Office will provide as the Dream Act moves further in the U.S. Senate & U.S. House of Representatives!

For more information contact Iris Chavez at LULAC National Office, 202-833-6130 x13 or

To stop all email from LULAC, please reply via email with "unsubscribe" in the subject line.
LULAC National Office, 2000 L Street, NW, Suite 610 Washington DC 20036, (202) 833-6130, (202) 833-6135 FAX

Monday, March 23, 2009

Austin school board to vote on superintendent hire

By Laura Heinauer
Sunday, March 22, 2009

Austin school district residents have shared their concerns about Meria Carstarphen, the sole finalist to be the next superintendent: She's young. Who knows how long she'll stay? And she hasn't worked in a Texas school district or one with demographics similar to Austin's.

Carstarphen, currently schools chief in St. Paul, Minn., shared her concerns at a forum at Travis High School in South Austin recently. "There's a lot of energy about wanting schools to work. ... (But) for all the advocacy, it feels fractured," she said. "It feels like there are a lot of individual interests. It feels like we haven't really had a conversation about what's best for the whole community."

Despite initial hesitations, many Austin education advocates say they are ready to work with Carstarphen. On Monday, the school board — which was unanimous in naming her the sole finalist last month — will take a final vote on her hiring and will have one last chance to hear residents out.

In response to the criticism, Carstarphen, 39, has said that ambition has driven her to achieve at such a relatively young age and that her experience with English language learners and the redesigning of schools and systems to make them run more efficiently is an asset.

She has said that she intends to stay as long as the board wants her and called Austin the kind of city "that no matter who you are, you can find your place."

Her words have rung hollow for some in St. Paulwho say they are disappointed that Carstarphen stayed for less than three years, though few wanted to speak about it on the record. Since the announcement that her departure was probably imminent, at least two foundations have suspended discussions on partnerships with the St. Paul district.

"Right now, the last thing St. Paul needs is another honeymoon with another new superintendent, national or local, telling us the answer is some particular curriculum or some particular method of teaching," Ted Kolderie, a senior associate of an education policy group in Minnesota, wrote in an opinion piece in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

In Austin, many seem smitten with the idea of change that a new leader could bring. During a recent community meeting, many people clapped and cheered after hearing Carstarphen's plans to streamline district administration and address achievement gaps among students.

During the superintendent search process, numerous e-mails were sent to Austin board members urging them to select a Hispanic.

However, several people who expressed concerns earlier — particularly those who were disappointed with a process that resulted in only one finalist — now say they would be ready to work with Carstarphen. The names of other candidates that the board considered were not confirmed by the district.

"I think the (board's decision to have a closed process) made it harder on her," said Paul Saldaña, who owns a local public relations firm and is a past chairman of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "It's no secret that we have a unique set of challenges, this being Austin. But I think at this point, everybody has come to the terms with her being the finalist and we're ready to move forward."

One challenge that Carstarphen could face is how to deal with the state on school finance and accountability. If results of state achievement tests don't improve, Pearce Middle School and Reagan High School could be closed by the state — as Johnston High School was last year. Students started taking the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in February; the district could get preliminary results in June.

Carstarphen said she thinks the testing systems are "pretty heavy-handed here in Texas" but that she was relieved after a meeting with state education Commissioner Robert Scott.

"He was very open, excited to hear my ideas," she said.

Another challenge for Carstarphen could be the transition. She has said that she intends to start this spring. Outgoing Superintendent Pat Forgione has said that he would stay until June.

Austin is looking for ways to cut costs while also looking for ways to spend federal stimulus money, an exercise that will have a major impact on the 2009-10 budget.

Louis Malfaro, president of Education Austin, which represents about 4,000 Austin school employees, said he is eager to work with Carstarphen.

"We think there is money and there is an uncapped reservoir of teacher knowledge and expertise that could really be used creatively to improve schools," Malfaro said.

Tom Conlon, a St. Paul school board member, said Carstarphen isn't scared of making changes — whether it's closing schools or changing long-held practices.

"If (Austin trustees) say, 'We want to reform, and we'll support her,' then I think the sky's the limit," Conlon said. "But if there's a lot of resistance, or the board says they want reform and then back off and leave her hanging out to dry, that's where there will be conflict."

Lawmakers aim to scrap rule that schools must spend 65 percent on instruction

Governor indicates he would accept change if goals can still be met.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Gov. Rick Perry's 4-year-old mandate that schools spend at least 65 percent of their money on classroom instruction is under fire from key lawmakers in Perry's own party.

Perry, a Republican, indicated that he's open to scrapping the rule if the state can find a better way to measure school efficiency.

"It was an arbitrary number, but it was a very good level," Perry said Monday. "Times change, and people that don't change generally get left behind."

Asked what had changed, Perry said, "We'll let it work its way through the process, and you'll see all the pros and cons."

The mandate has never been popular with school districts, and schools haven't suffered much of a penalty for not meeting it.

Still, the 65 percent push has been one of Perry's signature education initiatives. In a 2006 campaign ad, he said, "We've accomplished a lot, but we still can do more. That's why we're directing schools to spend at least 65 percent of their money on classroom instruction."

House Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, filed legislation last week to erase the requirement. And though Perry defended the standard as the right thing to do at the time, he said he's working with Eissler to come up with "new ideas to make our schools even more efficient."

Eissler said he filed House Bill 2262 because the standard has not been feasible for districts that vary in enrollment and geographic size.

"There are better ways to measure instructional priorities," Eissler said. "Why don't we look at the school districts that are doing the best and see how they're spending the money?"

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said she also wants to repeal Perry's order. "Many of the school districts cannot meet that mandate," Shapiro said. "There are so many other activities and so many other things that are not included in that 65 percent that it skews the numbers."

Perry and his staff did not criticize the rule as strongly as Eissler and Shapiro. Allison Castle, a Perry spokeswoman, said he wants to scrap it only if it can be replaced with something that "maintains or strengthens the goals of the 65 percent rule."

Perry used a 2005 executive order to put the rule in place after lawmakers failed in their regular session and two special sessions that year to change the state's school finance system. "Even though the Legislature did not act, I will," he said then.

But state officials found "classroom instruction" a difficult term to define. In fact, schools have been required to meet two separate standards.

One standard requires schools to spend 65 percent on instruction as defined by the National Center for Education Statistics. But that requirement has been phased in, starting with a 55 percent standard two years ago. This is the first year that schools are required to hit 65 percent under that definition.

Two years ago, the most recent year for which the Texas Education Agency has data, none of the seven districts in Travis County spent at least 65 percent on instruction as defined by that standard.

Schools also have been required over the past few years to spend 65 percent on instruction as defined by former Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley. Her definition allows schools to count spending on counselors, librarians and nurses.

Each definition counts for three points in the school's 85-point financial rating system for school districts. In other words, there has been little penalty for not meeting the 65 percent threshold, provided that a district's overall finances are generally in order.

Districts facing higher fuel and insurance costs have had to raise money to put into classroom instruction if they want to comply with the Perry mandate, said Jacqueline Lain of the Texas Association of School Boards. And that has caused some to raise their local tax rates because per-student state spending on education has remained relatively flat over the past few years, she said.

"Our folks have felt like it's a hoop to jump through without meaning," Lain said.

Eissler, calling the 65 percent rule a good start, said there might be a better way to look at instructional spending that takes a district's unique characteristics into account.

"The governor is fine," Eissler said. "He just wants to see better efficiency and as many resources as possible going to the classroom, and so do I."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Report: Parents of 100,000 U.S. citizens deported

By SUZANNE GAMBOA Associated Press
Feb. 13, 2009

WASHINGTON — More than 100,000 parents whose children are U.S. citizens were deported over the decade that ended in 2007, a Department of Homeland Security’s investigation has found.

The parents were removed from the country on immigration violations or because they had committed crimes. The removals of the 108,434 parents were among the approximately 2.2 million carried out by immigration officials between 1998 and 2007, Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner said in a report made public Friday.

Skinner warned the numbers were incomplete because Immigration and Customs Enforcement doesn’t fully document such cases. The agency also does not keep track of how many children each parent has. He recommended immigration officials start collecting more data on removed parents and their children.

In response to the findings, ICE said it was looking into whether it can better track removals of immigrant parents citizens and the age of the immigrant’s parents. Its study is due in about two months.

“I am saddened, but not surprised to learn that our government, in its harsh anti-immigrant stance, has split hundreds of thousands of families apart over the past decade,” said Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y.

Serrano serves on the House Appropriations Committee’s panel that helps decide how much money is provided to the Homeland Security Department each year. He has filed a bill, the Child Citizen Protection Act, that would allow immigration judges to consider whether immigrants have children who are U.S. citizens when making deportation decisions.

“If, in fact, some (children) were left behind here, then you have the sad tragedy of breaking up families,” Serrano said. “If they were taken back, I would argue the direct result of our actions is the deportation of our citizens. How do you deport a U.S. citizen?”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzales said the agency was reviewing the report and was unable to comment immediately.

Children of immigrant families who are U.S. citizens have long created a dilemma for Congress as it has tried to control immigration. People born in the U.S. automatically become U.S. citizens. But American children cannot petition for their parents to become legal U.S. residents until they are at least 21.

Immigration officials reported 319,382 deportations in 2007, compared to 174,813 in 1998. Skinner said the number of parents removed over that period generally increased, with 13,081 individual parents removed in 1998.

Some of the parents were removed from the country more than once, so in the 10 years there were actually 180,466 removals of the 108,434 parents.

U.C. Drops SAT Subject Tests

This is very much significant for Texas given that the state wants to begin using standardized end-of-course exams to determine college-readiness.


Issue: Mar 2009

Effective with the class entering in the fall of 2012, the University of California system (U.C.) will no longer require applicants to submit scores from two College Board SAT Subject Tests. The new policy is part of a broad-reaching overhaul of U.C. admissions requirements designed to make more students eligible for a “comprehensive review” of their credentials (see Examiner, April 2008).

Detailed research at U.C. determined that the Subject Test rule was excluding many otherwise qualified applicants but not helping predict undergraduate performance. U.C. President Mark Yudof called the exams “an unnecessary barrier” to access. Proponents of Subject Test elimination predict that the change will result in more ethnic and income diversity in entering classes without any loss of academic quality.

The exams, previously labeled SAT II Tests and, before that, Achievement Tests, are all one-hour long and multiple-choice in format. They have been criticized as extremely narrow and susceptible to coaching. Former president of the National Academy of Sciences Bruce Alberts called the Biology version, “An extreme example of a test that forces the wrong kind of teaching.”

The U.C. decision may have significant implications for the future of the SAT Subject Tests. For the high school class of 2008, more than 37% of all Subject Tests in the U.S. were administered to Californians (in contrast to just 13.5% of the basic SAT Reasoning Test). No more than several dozen admissions offices outside the U.C. system mandate Subject Test score submission. Loss of the key California market could threaten the financial viability of the exams, which currently cost students a $20 registration fee plus $9 for each test taken on the same day.

School accountability proposal comes with risk

The proposed changes to accountability noted in this editorial track and stratify youth based on high-stakes standardized testing. What's also of concern and not mentioned here is that "college-readiness" is based on reaching a "college ready" score on two standardized end-of-course exam in Algebra II and English III. These scores have yet to be determined, btw. It's no secret that this will impact the African American and Latino communities the most.

The big question is who and what supports college-readiness being determined by a standardized test? Given the previous post "The High Cost of TAKS" we can see who benefits and it's not youth. Let's also not forget that recently the University of California system decided to move away from the use of the SAT II standardized test and use a more "comprehensive review" of applicants because (and I quote) "[the] Subject Test rule was excluding many otherwise qualified applicants but not helping predict undergraduate performance." The exams were also stated as being “an unnecessary barrier to access." See UC Drops Subject Tests

Sounds like Texas is moving backwards at the expense of minority youth.


Editorial: School accountability proposal comes with risk
Friday, March 13, 2009

The way Texas measures and evaluates its public schools is like a big, gas-guzzling family car that doesn't fit in an age of smaller, more efficient hybrids. Launched in 1993 and retooled along the way, the state accountability test and ranking of schools no longer works as envisioned – not when barely 60 percent of Texas students graduate high school and only 35 percent go directly to college.

That's why we appreciate what state Sen. Florence Shapiro and Rep. Rob Eissler are attempting to forge with their new accountability system. The proposal by the Republican leaders of the Legislature's education committees captures some of the latest trends in education, including measuring how much students grow in a subject during a school year. That's a change from assessing them on whether their students simply passed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test.

That said, their proposal worries us in several ways:

First, the plan's two-tier high school track risks putting too many young Texans on a low trajectory.

Under their plan, ninth-graders would face a choice. They could get on track to graduate with a Texas Diploma, which would prepare them for college. Or they could choose the track toward a Standard Diploma, which would equip them with skills to land a good job after high school or perhaps attend community college or trade school. Either way, Shapiro and Eissler say, students would be "post-secondary" ready.

But here's the risk: Texas easily could end up with a majority of its students on the Standard Diploma track, instead of the more demanding Texas Diploma track. Let's face it: We already struggle with getting enough kids ready for college. Only about 20 percent of Texas students graduate truly prepared for a university, and the vast majority of minority students are not among them.

There's no doubt that equipping students with basic skills would make school more relevant to some of them, and most work has value. But the two-track option could shortchange the kid who wakes up when he's 35 and realizes, I didn't want to be a machinist all my life.

It also opens up a risk for the state, which could end up with more electricians than engineers. Raymond Paredes, who heads Texas' higher education commission, is absolutely right: Texas will do great harm to its economy if it doesn't prepare enough kids for college.

Which leads us to point two. Legislators better darn sure give incentives to schools to get more kids on the college ready track. And we mean a four-year college that leads them to either a master's degree or a job where they are good at innovation, creativity and problem solving.

Our third concern is related. This college track needs to be as advertised. No handing students off to colleges knowing they'll need remedial classes to catch up. No phony substitute certificates. And no passing kids along in their early grades with a wink and a nod. We mean ready for college.

Shapiro and Eissler envision this new system being among the best in America within 10 years. We certainly hope they're right, just as we hope it leads to more Texas students graduating, instead of dropping out.

But we strongly urge legislators to create clear incentives for schools as early as the elementary grades to encourage students toward the college-ready track, one that truly prepares them for a four-year institution. Otherwise, we could shortchange them and, ultimately, the state's economy.

The high cost of TAKS

Some interesting insight. Wonder what the bill will be when the state begins implementing the end-of-course exams that will eventually equal 12 in number.


By Eric Dexheimer | Statesman Focal Point
Thursday, March 19, 2009, 09:40 AM

Texas students have their TAKS week and we have ours. On Tuesday, I wrote how some school districts were rewarding their students with extravagant prizes for passing the standardized tests, including expense-paid trips to Hawaii and days off from school. The high stakes pay-offs demonstrate once again how important the exams have become to administrators, whose very jobs can depend on the outcome.

Another way to gauge how important standardized tests have become is dollars and cents. Not surprisingly, according to that measure, too, the assessments have become extremely important in recent years. Here are the numbers:

The Texas Education Agency outsources the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills to NCS Pearson Inc., which helps develop the tests. In 2000, the agency signed Pearson to a five-year contract worth $47.45 million — about $9.5 million a year to administer tests to the state’s students.

When that contract expired, TEA and Pearson inked a new five-year deal. This time, though, it was worth $160 million, which, at $32 million a year, represented nearly a fourfold increase.

Since 2005, however, the contract has been modified several times. The result: This year alone the state will pay Pearson $88 million to test Texas children.

Why the big jump? “The predominant reason is the increase in the number of assessments,” says Gloria Zyskowski, TEA’s deputy associate commissioner of student assessments. Thanks to the Legislature’s fondness for standardized testing, as well as the growing requirements from the federal No Child Left Behind laws, Texas students are being tested more and more.

The original TAKS was implemented in 2003. Today, thanks largely to No Child Left Behind demands, the exam has multiplied to four different TAKS (“modified,” “alternative,” and “linguistically accommodated” versions, in addition to the standard exam). A new “End of Course” assessment is being added. During the 2002-03 school year, the TEA administered 60 separate standardized tests. This year, Zyskowski says, the number will be 138.

Testing-related materials add more to the bill. In 2004, TEA signed a four-year, $17.7 million contract with Grow Network for study guides designed for high school students who don’t pass TAKS. A 2006 contract pays Pearson another $8.8 million through 2011 for summer remediation study guides.

When added up, taxpayers will pay about $93 million this year to administer standardized tests to Texas students, Zyskowski says, or nearly ten times the cost of just nine years earlier.

Say What? Bias against languages other than English hurts students, says scholar

Say What? Bias against languages other than English hurts students, says scholar

We're going to have a pop quiz.

You'll need to read the following Ukrainian phrases, pronounce them aloud correctly, then write each phrase in English. And to keep it interesting, pretend I'm giving you these instructions in Ukrainian.

Govorit' povil'nishe?
Ya ne rozumiyu.
Zalyšte mene u spokoji!
Chočeš zi mnoiu potanciuvaty?

If you couldn't do this exercise, you obviously have a learning disability.

Dr. Alba Ortiz, professor of special education and bilingual education.
Photo: Christina Murrey

"When students who have limited English language proficiency fall behind in school or score poorly on important tests, teachers may assume they have learning disabilities," says Dr. Alba Ortiz, professor of special education in The University of Texas at Austin's College of Education. "In reality, the students' performance may reflect that they're being assessed in a language they don't understand or speak. Young children, of six, seven or eight years of age, are being asked to do a difficult, if not impossible task—learn English and at the same time learn subject content in a language they don't yet know. That's something that would challenge an educated adult.

"When educators and the general public don't understand the second language acquisition process, an unfortunate result is that English language learners often end up being placed in low ability groups, retained or referred to special education classes. Referrals are made because the students seem to have a learning disability when it's primarily a matter of their not understanding the teacher's language and the instructional materials. It would be like me sitting through seven hours a day of classes taught in Korean when I don't understand a word of Korean."

The term "English language learners" (ELLs) refers to students whose English language skills are so limited that they need the support of special language programs, such as bilingual education or English as a second language classes. Currently, there are about five million English language learners in the U.S., and, in Texas, ELLs represent about 14 percent of the total student population.

There are many reasons why English language learners face steep challenges in school—everything from public sentiment against teaching them in their native language to a failure to offer a sufficient amount of time to become proficient in English before language support is withdrawn. Referrals to special education programs represent yet one more obstacle to their academic achievement.

According to Ortiz, an underlying reason that English language learners are referred to special education is that they share a number of characteristics with individuals who have learning disabilities, and many general education teachers aren't trained in how to recognize the differences between the two groups. Like someone with a learning disability, an English language learner being taught in English may demonstrate poor comprehension, distractibility and low academic performance. Although these traits in ELLs reflect their limited knowledge of English rather than a disability, distinguishing the two groups is a complex task for educators who lack expertise in the education of English language learners.

It's only in the last 20 years or so that scholars have focused attention on what a learning disability "looks like" in an English language learner and what sets an ELL's knowledge-acquisition needs apart from those of someone with a disability.

Ortiz, who has worked in bilingual education and special education for 30 years and is an award-winning national leader in these fields, is conducting more studies to develop research-based profiles of English language learners with language and learning disabilities, focusing on Spanish-speaking students. She and her colleagues in the Department of Special Education's multicultural special education program and the College of Education's Office of Bilingual Education also are creating professional development and technical assistance tools for teachers who work with English language learners who are struggling as they learn to read. The newly developed resources are designed to help educators determine if a student should be referred to special education because of suspected language or learning disabilities.

"I dislike it when someone refers to the 'ills of bilingual education' because much of what English language learners need is, basically, the same as what all children require if they are to receive a good education. It's just that English language learners need instruction in their native language, along with a strong English as a second language program. Like all students, they need teachers who can assess their strengths and needs and differentiate instruction to address varying cultural backgrounds and languages.

"Research shows that following a few basic principles can lay the foundation for a successful bilingual education program. Student academic achievement improves when there is a focus on the prevention of failure as well as early intervention for learners who are struggling. You also must have school staff and administrators who understand that native language instruction is essential for achieving high levels of English proficiency. Solid skills in one's first language are necessary for a strong grasp of a second language, and the goal is for students to become fully proficient in English. An obvious benefit to society is that effective bilingual education programs also produce students who are bilingual and bi-literate. That should be a goal for all students."

Ortiz also stresses that it's important to remember that "bilingual education" is not synonymous with English-language instruction for Spanish speakers. The languages involved in any bilingual education program are determined by geographic location and demographics. Around the country one can find bilingual education in French-English, Portugese-English, Mandarin-English and dozens of other languages.

"A little known fact is that the first bilingual schools in the U.S. were for German, French and Scandinavian immigrants," Ortiz adds.

Although some states have taken a quantum leap back in the design of their bilingual and ESL programs—California currently requires a year of English-only immersion—Ortiz points to the success many schools have had with dual language programs. These programs have shown great promise in promoting academic and linguistic achievement as well as the development of bi-literacy. The approach validates and supports full development of a child's native language and the second language being learned.

According to Ortiz, another approach, called Response to Intervention (RTI), works well with English language learners who are struggling academically. With RTI, three overarching principles guide instruction: 1) the school environment must be conducive to the academic success of all students; 2) the school must provide an effective core curriculum and teachers must use instructional strategies known to be effective with English language learners; and 3) continuous progress checks must be in place to track student progress and allow for proper intervention sooner rather than later.

With RTI, schools can quickly identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes because the correct assessments occur and general education teachers know how to identify struggling learners. Teachers monitor student progress carefully, evaluating often. Data is collected and teachers are able to provide evidence-based interventions and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions to match a student's individual needs.

"There is a fundamental misunderstanding in this country about bilingual education and a fairly significant bias against languages other than English." —Dr. Alba Ortiz
Photo: Marsha Miller
"There is a fundamental misunderstanding in this country about bilingual education," says Ortiz, "and a fairly significant bias against languages other than English. This gets in the way of people understanding what a student who is learning a new language needs. If we had a referendum and asked everyone if we should guarantee that all Spanish-speaking children from Mexico have access to bilingual and ESL classes, you'd probably get a resounding 'no.' If we changed the question a bit and asked if it's a good thing for all students to be bilingual when they graduate, then the answer would be 'yes.'

"It's a contradiction—being bilingual is seen as a mark of intelligence unless you acquire it naturally from your parents as opposed to learning it in foreign language classes. According to some, English language learners can't seem to learn a second language fast enough or effortlessly enough. They forget how many of us take foreign language courses for several years and never actually learn to speak it."

Things do seem to be moving in the general direction of improvement, though. Leading the pack in higher education, The University of Texas at Austin's College of Education now requires that all education students graduate with English as a Second Language certification as well as their initial teacher certification. The College of Education also has taken an aggressive approach to building a curriculum and adding faculty to prepare future teachers for linguistically and culturally diverse classrooms.

"I just returned from a trip to Europe," says Ortiz, "and the philosophy there toward this topic is so much more progressive—in Norway, for example, children take classes in Norwegian and English from day one. Every student emerges bilingual. Wouldn't it be wonderful—economically beneficial, if nothing else—if people saw bilingual education as necessary preparation for success in a global economy?"

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By Kay Randall
College of Education

Friday, March 20, 2009

Most Valley schools receive state accreditation

I find it interesting that this article is using the accreditation labels from H.B. 3/ S.B. 3, which are different than those currently in statute. This just five days after the HB 3 was made public.


Jennifer L. Berghom | The Monitor
March 10, 2009

AUSTIN — Almost all 42 public school districts throughout the Rio Grande Valley and Webb, Zapata and Jim Hogg counties are performing to state standards with no problems.

The Texas Education Agency released its state accreditation statuses for the 2008-2009 school year Tuesday, which rates how well school districts are performing academically as well as financially. This is the second year the agency has compiled the list and the first year it included charter schools.

Ratings are: accredited, accredited-warned, accredited-probation and not accredited-revoked.

Rio Hondo school district is accredited-warned because it received substandard ratings two years in a row from the state's Financial Integrity Rating System, which measures how well school districts handle the public's money.

Edcouch-Elsa school district's status is pending because of the state's ongoing investigation of the school system's finances.

The Texas Education Agency assigned a conservator to review Edcouch-Elsa's financial situation after it was discovered the district had been hiring more employees than necessary and was more than $10 million in debt.

Both districts were accredited last year, according to the agency.

Districts that fail to meet standards will no longer be recognized as public school districts, meaning charter schools could be closed and traditional public school districts could be consolidated under neighboring school systems, according to the agency.

State urged to ease school accountability rules

This article is correct in that high-stakes testing has been de-emphasized in elementary and middle school grades but it has been heightened at the high school level. Not only do the new end-of-course exams account for 15% of the course final grade which now means that standardized tests will impact student GPA.

In addition, the high stakes attached to the Algebra II and English III exams are also extreme. Under this new system students must pass each of these two tests at a certain score (to be numerically determined by the commissioner) to receive a "college-readiness" or "post-secondary readiness" label on their diploma. So two exams that were never created to determine college readiness will be used to track and label students.


By APRIL CASTRO | Houston Chronicle
March 17, 2009

AUSTIN — Lawmakers are being urged to be more lenient on public schools that get failing grades when a single student group, including ethnic minorities and children from poor families, underperforms on standardized tests.

The complaints about how public schools are graded were aired Tuesday as lawmakers considered sweeping school accountability legislation.

The proposal would de-emphasize the much-criticized Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, though standardized tests would still be an indicator of performance.

“We think one of the great problems with the current system is the single trip wire problem,” said former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, who helped devise the existing accountability measures during his tenure in the Legislature.

“We don’t advocate letting school districts get by with letting any one school group fail. But for an entire school district, an entire campus to get marked down simply by one group ... I don’t see that that meets the fairness doctrine.”

Under the current system, every school and district in the state is graded based on annual TAKS scores and dropout rates among each student group. State ratings are anxiously awaited by superintendents, teachers and parents because they are the chief measure of how well schools are educating their students.

But educators and parents have increasingly voiced dissatisfaction with the grading system that was first implemented in 1994.

Sen. Florence Shapiro, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said continuing to hold schools accountable for each group is one of her biggest concerns about the accountability overhaul.

“I hope and I pray that we do not fall back on that,” Shapiro said. “Disaggregating has been the highlight of what we do. I expect that this will be a robust element in our discussions.”

The pending proposal, which is still being crafted and will likely change, also aims to prepare students for success after high school, whether in college or the work force.

Annual school performance ratings would be based on three years of test scores rather than the most recent year.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Data on the Undocumented

Data on the Undocumented
March 17, 2009
Just over half (53.6 percent) of colleges knowingly admit undocumented immigrant students to degree or diploma programs under certain circumstances, while 46.4 percent do not.

Public two-year colleges are the most likely to knowingly admit students residing in the United States illegally, with 69.9 percent indicating that they do so, whereas just 40.7 percent of private nonprofit colleges say the same.

Those are among the many findings of a new survey from the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, to which 613 of the association's roughly 2,000 member institutions responded. (Of the 613, 260 filled out the survey completely, while most, 353, completed it partially. For instance, only 384, or 62.6 percent of all respondents, answered the inquiry on knowingly admitting undocumented students.)

The data fill a void where anecdotes -- and deep passions -- have lived. While the issue has flared periodically (most notably, of late, at the North Carolina community colleges), little is known on a national level about institutional policies on admitting and enrolling illegal immigrants.

“There are a number of pure or philosophical positions out there with regard to undocumented students, but very little by way of actual information from a campus administrative perspective,” said Barmak Nassirian, AACRAO’s associate executive director. “In general, there is sort of a false image in people’s heads when the topic is discussed -- of a group of people with ‘undocumented’ tattooed on their foreheads walking around the campus. And that’s not so.”

Of the findings, he said, “The vast majority of institutions” -- 96.9 percent -- "do actually inquire about citizenship/legal residency status in the form of a question.”

“But then, once you solicit the answer, how you act on the answers that you receive very clearly separates institutions from each other. ... In practice, the numbers are all over the map when it comes to who they verify, how they verify, etc.”

On verification, just 19.6 percent said they verify the immigration status of all applicants, 30.6 percent verify applicants for financial aid, and 18.7 percent verify only those applicants seeking in-state tuition. Another 23.3 percent said they don't verify applicants' status, and 7.7 percent said "other."

Nassirian points out that very few institutions -- just 5.1 percent -- rely on national e-verification systems, like SAVE or E-Verify. "The rest do it in-house on the basis of document reviews," Nassirian said.

When asked, "What happens if you find out or have reason to believe students who claimed otherwise are undocumented?" the answers vary: Of 409 institutions that responded to this question, 23 percent said students are not allowed to enroll, 11.2 percent said that, if already enrolled, they’re asked to withdraw, 12 percent said they’re allowed to enroll without conditions, 7.8 percent said they are permitted to enroll under certain conditions, 23 percent said they’re charged higher tuition and 20.5 percent said other.

Of those colleges that knowingly admit undocumented students under certain circumstances, what are some of those circumstances? A total of 27.5 percent require graduation from an in-state high school or GED, 18.8 percent require attendance at an in-state high school, 15.3 percent require an affidavit, statement or certification of the student's intention to resolve his or her immigration status, and 9.7 percent require proof of length of residence. Nearly 29 percent said other.

A 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe, affirms the right of illegal immigrants to K-12 education, but does not extend to higher education. Undocumented students are ineligible for federal financial aid, and how states handle their admission and enrollment in public colleges varies -- with some now barring admission of undocumented students and others pursuing the opposite tack by making lower resident tuition rates available for illegal immigrants residing in their states. As for private colleges, their policies also vary, and typically aren’t advertised.

One exception is Vassar College, which, after entertaining a proposal last fall, has made explicit its policy on undocumented student admissions. On its admissions Web site, the college states, “Vassar College will give admission applications submitted by undocumented students the same consideration given to any other applications it might receive. Undocumented students who are admitted to Vassar will be offered financial assistance based on demonstrated need following the same procedures Vassar uses to grant aid to accepted international students.”

“We wanted to clarify for students and for families and for counselors and for others what our policies were so that they wouldn’t have to guess,” explained David Borus, the dean of admission and financial aid. “As a matter of fact, at least as far as we can see from this year’s applicant pool, it has not resulted in a deluge of applications from undocumented students, but rather more of a trickle. There have been a few students who have contacted us and been given this policy and gone ahead and applied but not a great many. And I think that’s likely to be the case in the future.”

As for what other colleges are doing, “It’s not the kind of thing that colleges generally are discussing in forums, or online,” Borus said. “It’s an internal, sort of functional policy that we all have dozens of for various constituencies and various procedures. So I don’t think it’s startling that it’s not something that’s being discussed a great deal."

— Elizabeth Redden

The Black Admissions Edge -- for Immigrants

Very interesting study.

March 17, 2009
> The election of Barack Obama -- African American because of his African father, distinguishing him from how the phrase is commonly used -- has brought unprecedented attention to the diversity of backgrounds of those covered by the term. Within higher education, one of the more sensitive issues in discussion of admissions and affirmative action in recent years has been the relative success of immigrant black Americans compared to black people who have been in the United States for generations.
> A new study has found that among high school graduates, "immigrant blacks" -- defined as those who immigrated to the United States or their children -- are significantly more likely than other black Americans to attend selective colleges. In fact, immigrant black Americans are more likely than white students to attend such colleges.
> The research -- published in the journal Sociology of Education (abstract available here) -- is the second major study in two years to try to define the "advantage" of some black applicants to top college. In 2007, a team of researchers published a study in The American Journal of Education finding that while only about 13 percent of black people aged 18 or 19 in the United States are first- or second-generation immigrants, they made up 27 percent of black students at the selective colleges studied.
> The new study focuses on the entire population of high school graduates to see where they go to college, comparing immigrant black people, "native-born blacks" (the authors' terms for others), and white students. The authors are two assistant professors of sociology -- Pamela R. Bennett of Johns Hopkins University and Amy Lutz of Syracuse University.
> They begin their study by noting that previous research has documented that a smaller proportion of black high school graduates than white high school graduates enroll in college. But when students of similar socioeconomic status are compared, the black high school graduates are more likely than their white counterparts to enroll. Given the debate about the immigrant factor in analyzing black enrollments, the authors set out to determine "whether this net black advantage is very African American."
> Using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, Bennett and Lutz found that among high school graduates, 75.1 percent of immigrant blacks enrolled in college, a slightly higher percentage than that of whites (72.5 percent) and substantially larger than for native blacks (60.2 percent).
> In terms of the college destinations of those who enrolled in college, the rates for immigrant blacks compared to other black students were similar for two-year colleges and non-selective four-year colleges that are not historically black. The biggest gap was at selective colleges, which enroll only 2.4 percent of native black high school graduates but 9.2 percent of immigrant blacks (and 7.3 percent of whites). Native black students are more likely than immigrants to enroll at historically black colleges. But the authors noted that historically black colleges are clearly appealing to some percentage of the black immigrant population, even though those students wouldn't have the same multi-generation ties to the colleges that are found among many African Americans.
> Destinations of High School Graduates Who Enrolled in College
> Type of College
> Native-born blacks
> Immigrant blacks
> Whites
> Community college
> 41.9%
> 41.8%
> 38.7%
> Historically black college
> 25.5%
> 18.9%
> 0.1%
> Non-selective, non historically black four-year colleges
> 30.2%
> 30.0%
> 54.0%
> Selective colleges
> 2.4%
> 9.2%
> 7.3%
> The authors of the new study note that there are key differences in the demographics of the black Americans whose families are new to the United States and those who aren't. Immigrant black students are more likely than other black students to grow up In two-parent families and to attend private schools -- both characteristics that, across all sorts of groups, tend to indicate a greater likelihood of attending a selective college.
> While their study found success for non-immigrant black students in enrolling in some kinds of colleges, the authors note that the sector -- selective colleges -- in which this is less likely is also the sector most likely to lead to many kinds of high wage careers. More examination of the issue is needed, the authors write, to combat "continued socioeconomic inequality."
> That scholarly phrasing may not do justice to the tensions raised by such issues. In 2003, at a reunion of black alumni of Harvard University, Lani Guinier, a law professor, was quoted by The Boston Globe as raising the question of whether black students who are "voluntary immigrants" should be the beneficiaries of affirmative action.
> "If you look around Harvard College today, how many young people will you find who grew up in urban environments and went to public high schools and public junior high schools?" she said. "I don't think, in the name of affirmative action, we should be admitting people because they look like us, but then they don't identify with us."

Texas Senate, House panels take up bills to improve student testing

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Texas high school students would have to pass at least eight out of 12 end-of-course exams to get a diploma, and elementary school students would no longer have to pass the state achievement test in certain grades to be promoted under school improvement legislation taken up Tuesday by House and Senate committees.

The 120-page bill would take the pressure off elementary and middle schools to focus on preparation for the TAKS test by allowing school districts to devise their own promotion standards – using TAKS results, course grades and teacher recommendations. No longer would students in grades 3, 5 and 8 have to pass the test to be promoted.

But high-stakes testing would continue in high school, where students would have to pass at least two of the three end-of-course exams now being developed in each of four core subject areas – English, math, science and social studies. Students not meeting the requirement would not receive a diploma.

Currently, students must pass the TAKS exit-level exam and complete required course credits to earn a diploma.

"This new system looks beyond a single test and looks at multiple indicators of student achievement," said House Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, referring to the changes in elementary and middle schools. "It will reduce the pressure on school districts because students' promotions will be based on multiple measures."

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said that after years of the state setting promotion standards for schools, it is time to give that responsibility to local school officials.

"We believe we need to give back to local school districts the ability to decide how to do this," she said.

The twin measures by Shapiro and Eissler, based on meetings around the state last year, also would eliminate the current performance ratings for schools and campuses – such as "academically acceptable" and "unacceptable." Schools would still be evaluated annually based on students' test scores, dropout rates and financial integrity – but they would receive one of three ratings from good to bad: accredited, accredited-warned and accredited-probation. Schools doing poorly for multiple years would lose their accreditation – and state funding.

Shapiro pointed out another major difference in the proposed accountability system – schools and districts would be rated based on achievement growth and a rolling three-year average for test scores, rather than on a single year of testing.

The Immigrant Factor

Inside Higher Ed
February 1, 2007

At a reunion of black alumni of Harvard University in 2003, Lani Guinier set off a discussion on a sensitive subject: whether black immigrants are the beneficiaries, perhaps undeserving, of affirmative action.

Guinier, a Harvard law professor, was quoted in The Boston Globe at the time as saying that most minority students at elite colleges were "voluntary immigrants," not descended from slaves. "If you look around Harvard College today, how many young people will you find who grew up in urban environments and went to public high schools and public junior high schools?" she said. "I don't think, in the name of affirmative action, we should be admitting people because they look like us, but then they don't identify with us."

The comments sparked much discussion among educators nationally about whether Guinier's observations were accurate and -- if so -- what they said about affirmative action. When The New York Times explored the issue the next year, it noted that a major study of students at elite colleges was finding that a disproportionate number of black students were from immigrant families.

That study was released Wednesday with its publication in the American Journal of Education (available to the journal's subscribers here), and it seems likely to inspire more discussion of the issues Guinier raised.

The study -- by sociologists at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania -- used the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen to look at the black students enrolled at 28 selective colleges and universities. Of all black people aged 18 or 19 in the United States, about 13 percent are first- or second-generation immigrants, but they made up 27 percent of black students at the selective colleges studied. The proportions of immigrants were higher at the private colleges in the survey than at publics, and were highest among the most competitive colleges in the group, hitting 41 percent of the black students in the Ivy League.

Percentage of Immigrants Among Black Students in Selective Colleges Studied
Category Within Group Studied Percentage
Public 23.1%
Private 28.8%
10 Most Selective 35.6%
10 Least Selective 23.8%
Ivy League 40.6%

In many respects (including their academic performance once enrolled), the black students who are immigrants did not differ from those who are African Americans. But the demographic analysis did note a number of areas where the immigrant students are statistically different:

* Parental roles: Immigrant students were more likely to be raised by two parents (56.9 percent to 51.4 percent) and were more likely to have a father present (61.2 percent to 55.6 percent).

* Fathers' education: While the educational attainment of students' mothers wasn't notably different, immigrants' fathers were much more educated, as is consistent with immigrant populations generally. Among black students, 70 percent of immigrants' fathers were college graduates, compared to 55.2 percent of other black students. And 43.6 percent of the immigrant students' fathers had advanced degrees, compared to 25.3 percent of native black students.

* Religion: The immigrant students were more than twice as likely as the other black students to be Roman Catholic (30.2 percent to 13.1 percent) and less likely to be Protestant. (Levels of religious observance, however, were quite similar, and minimal.)

* Schooling: The immigrant black students were more likely to have attended private schools (41.7 percent compared to 27.3 percent for other black students) and less likely to have been exposed to violence in schools (55.3 percent to 63.1 percent).

* Academics: The immigrant students had slightly higher grade-point averages and took slightly more Advanced Placement courses, but they had a statistically significant advantage on SAT average (1250 to 1193).

The study also provides information on where the immigrant students are coming from. By world region, the Caribbean is the leader, with 43.1 percent of the black immigrants at selective colleges, followed by Africa with 28.6 percent, and Latin America with 7.4 percent. By country, the leaders are Jamaica (20.5 percent) and Nigeria (17.3 percent), both countries that the study's authors note are "former British colonies where the educated classes speak English." They are followed by Haiti, Trinidad and Ghana, with Haiti being the only country where English is not widely spoken.

The study's authors -- Douglas S. Massey, Margarita Mooney and Kimberly C. Torres of Princeton University, and Camille Z. Charles of the University of Pennsylvania -- write that they believe the most significant factor in understanding the success of black immigrant students may be their fathers' higher educational attainment, which in turn is likely to result in the students being enrolled in better (frequently private) schools and less likely to be exposed to violence. But the authors note repeatedly that this study -- while providing more demographic data than has previously been available -- leaves many questions unanswered.

The authors also acknowledge the way this subject relates to the evolving debates over the purpose of affirmative action. They quote President Johnson's 1965 speech that set out his rationale for affirmative action: "You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair."

They note that Asian and Hispanic students began to benefit from affirmative action as "the moral justification for affirmative action shifted subtly from restitution for a legacy of racism to the representation of diversity for its own sake." As this shift took place, they note, many of the Asian and Hispanic students enrolling in competitive colleges were immigrants, but immigrants made up very large shares of the Asian and Hispanic populations in the United States over all. "Whereas the presence of second-generation Latinos and Asians on college campuses to a large extent reflected the demographic composition of their respective populations, black immigrants were over-represented relative to their share in the African-American population."

Anyone hoping that the new study will answer the question of whether black immigrant students "deserve" to benefit from affirmative action will be disappointed. Write the authors: "Ultimately, the data we have presented cannot answer the question of whether the children of black immigrants are worthy beneficiaries of affirmative action, for the answer rests largely on a moral judgment about whether the policy is a form of restitution for past racial injustice or a mechanism to ensure that selective schools continue to reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of a nation that is being transformed by immigration."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Does accountability system offer path to a career or a track to nowhere?

By Kate Alexander | Tuesday, March 17, 2009, 06:18 PM

The proposed overhaul of Texas’ school accountability system sought to give students different paths that lead to graduation as a way to keep school relevant to all kids and reduce dropouts.

But to some people, those paths are seen as tracks that would direct kids - particularly low-income, minority kids, they say - away from college, according to committee testimony Tuesday.

The identical accountability bills introduced by the education committee leaders in both chambers, Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, and Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, set the goal of “post-secondary readiness,” meaning that high school graduates will be ready for college or a high-skill job.

Students can get different endorsements on their diploma based on the curriculum path they take.

The concern is that the workforce readiness endorsement could be perceived as inferior to the college readiness endorsement. And that label could stick with a student long after high school.

State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, said this system “stamps this path on a student’s forehead” and “places more students at risk of not having a future.”

But Eissler said the objective was not to track students but to give them the freedom to take courses relevant to their interests and will keep them coming back for more.

Since most jobs will require some college, the workforce-readiness path should be just as rigorous as the college-readiness option, he added.

“I think this is a college enhancement program, not a college limitation program,” Eissler said.

Both the House Public Education Committee and the Senate Education Committee took testimony on the expansive bill Tuesday but did not act. The committee leaders said they would come back with a new version of the bill soon based on comments from the public.

John Young: Stamped as 'college material'?

John Young | Waco Tribune
Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In NBC’s series “Friday Night Lights,” a pampered high schooler goes into a senioritis death spiral. Why? She’s suddenly realized that with her middle-of-the-pack grades, the two Texas-college color schemes of her dreams — burnt orange and maroon — are out of the question.

It’s hard to sympathize. Every student in this state with an eye on college knows, or should, about the rule that has guaranteed admission to the top 10 percent of high school graduating classes.

It’s a rule lawmakers are poised to dramatically alter this week, partially because an underbuilt college system has placed too much of a premium on two primo universities.

But something else is happening in the statehouse this week about college admissions, and it has nothing to do with percentiles.

It has to do with — ah, man, you guessed it — standardized testing.

Doesn’t everything come down to that? And isn’t that wrong?

Whether they would be tacitly or directly influenced, college admissions are among the less-discussed subtexts of ambitious legislation to revamp Texas’ school accountability system.

Two measures, House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 3, portend major, and in many cases very welcome, changes. Among the good:

* De-emphasizing the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in promoting students. Under the new approach, TAKS scores would supplement other, broader criteria.

* Judging schools on a “growth model” tracking improvement, rather than today’s “gotcha” approach that doesn’t acknowledge different starting points based on economic advantages and disadvantages.

* Better aligning what colleges require and what high schools produce.

All of that is good, unless we get into a mode of standardizing what “college material” is. That would be bad. There’s evidence in this well-meaning legislation that it would result in exactly that, to the detriment of some promising students.

At issue is the use of high school end-of-course exams to certify a student as “college-ready.”

Pass the end-of-course exam for advanced English and Algebra II, and that’s your prize under an “advanced high school program,” according to the legislation. The bill also calls on the state to develop such exams for social studies and science. They would be used to give a state-certified endorsement of college readiness, as well.

Those who didn’t take advanced English or Algebra II, or who couldn’t pass the end-of-course exam in either, could still graduate but with the “alternate performance standard,” meaning “postsecondary-ready” (candidates for community college or technical schools). What critics say it really means is these students would be “remediation-ready” — aka, “not worthy.”

Wait a minute. What about the young man who can master the complexities of a circuit board but who is knock-kneed putting his words in prose? What about the young lady who is the next great novelist but who crumples into a heap in the face of algebraic equations?

I’ll guarantee that I had an “advanced high school program,” but one that was loaded toward English and journalism my senior year, with no math. Would that have made me not “college-ready”?

Some minority advocacy groups fear an “apartheid” system, with the top-10 rule in jeopardy and end-of-course exams assuming such weight. They warn that the Algebra II end-of-course test itself could marginalize staggering numbers of Hispanic and African-American students, making them think they aren’t college material.

It is true that Texas colleges spend too much time and resources on remediation for students who need help in math or English. But let’s acknowledge that it’s a pretty good investment if it results in the first college graduate in a family’s history.

It’s one thing not to reinforce the privileges of the pampered when we want students ready for college. It’s another to admit that for some, no matter how worthy, college is the last place they ever thought they’d be. We should think bigger for them.

John Young’s column appears Thursday, Sunday and occasionally Tuesday. E-mail:

Bills would bolster technical education

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Texas high school students who aren't headed to college need better opportunities to prepare for jobs even before they graduate, legislators said this week as they introduced two bills to bolster career and technical education.

Led by Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, the lawmakers said they hope the renewed push for such education will both prepare a better crop of workers for Texas employers and propel more students to a high school diploma.

One bill aims to encourage high schools to offer coursework aligned with specific career opportunities so a student could graduate with both a high school diploma and technical certification. Under the bill, the state would pay for the certification.

Shapiro, a Plano Republican, said the career and technology courses will not be the vocational classes of yesterday. Such courses will be kept "a part of and not apart from our academic program," she said.

Students would still be required to take four years of math and science, as college-bound students are, but they would have more relevant course options, such as engineering mathematics, said Republican Rep. Rob Eissler of The Woodlands, the bill's House sponsor and chairman of the Public Education Committee.

Schools that develop top-notch career and technology programs would have the opportunity to earn accolades under a new statewide accountability bill by Shapiro and Eissler that is to be unveiled today.

The second bill provides grants to foster career and technology programs at community colleges.

Cost estimates for implementing both bills were not available Wednesday.

The renewed focus on career and technology education is coming at a critical juncture, business groups say.

Luke Bellsnyder, executive director of the Texas Association of Manufacturers, said his members are the consumers of what Texas schools produce.

Up to 40 percent of workers in Texas manufacturing jobs will be eligible for retirement in the next five years, but Texas is not producing the skilled young workers to replace them, Bellsnyder said.

"We're just not seeing the product we need to compete globally and compete with our neighboring states," Bellsnyder said.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Study: Physically fit Texas students more likely to do well on achievement tests

Study: Physically fit Texas students more likely to do well on achievement tests
12:04 PM CDT on Tuesday, March 10, 2009

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Texas students who are physically fit are more likely to do well on achievement tests and less likely to have discipline problems, according to a study released Monday by the Texas Education Agency.

Based on annual physical fitness assessments of more than 2.4 million students in the public schools, the study found that increased exercise helps the brain function more efficiently and enhances the ability to learn. Students who were physically fit also had better school attendance.

“Texas is the first state to require an annual physical fitness assessment of public school students,” state Education Commissioner Robert Scott said in a statement. “Today’s research results show that improving our children’s physical fitness can have positive results not only for the children, but also for the schools as well.”

Among those present as the study was unveiled were Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who is sponsoring legislation this year to increase physical education requirements for Texas students in middle school.

Nelson, who authored the 2007 measure that required annual fitness assessments, said there is more work to do to combat obesity and get children in shape, including more time in P.E. Her bill would require two additional semesters of P.E. in middle school, where students already have to take four semesters.

But groups representing fine arts teachers are lining up against the legislation, contending it would further erode students’ ability to take art, music and other fine arts classes.

Gentrification Sweeps Through East Austin

This is a really good account of gentrification issues in East Austin. This is a local and national story for lots of inner-city communities. -Angela

Gentrification Sweeps Through East Austin
Eduardo Gonzalez
Photo Gallery - Gentrification Sweeps Through Austin

Photo by Andrew Rogers
A sign on East Martin Luther King Jr Blvd is one of many examples of discontent over development throughout East Austin.

Rebecca Turrubiarte moved 23 years ago to Riverview Street, a neighborhood located near the south side of Lady Bird Lake. She remembers the area fondly as a safe and friendly place with mainly Latino and African American families. She bought the property for $13,000.

It was a safe neighborhood," said Turrubiarte, "I used to go bicycling ten miles a day; the kids went to the lake on bicycle and went kittling."

Today it's getting a make-over by developers who muscle in with high-price condos.

One is Urban Space, developers known for their "eco-friendly, 5-star green buildings," according to their website which shows 26 individuals working to transform Austin's downtown and east side.

"We call Riverview a modern luxury road on the east side because of its proximity to the Lady Bird Lake," said William Steakley, an Urban Space realtor. They offer an eco-friendly 1,050 square-feet, 2-bedroom, and 1- bathroom condo at 2008 Riverview Street for $299,000.

A predictable conflict between developers who built using environmentalist goals and residents squared off east of I-35.

According to Steakley, Riverview's proximity to the Lady Bird Lake "is mainly the driver for that [high prices]." Nonetheless, although Longhorn Dam created the Lady Bird Lake in 1960, property values held relatively steady until 2003. Then five years before the construction of these condos, Turrubiarte's property taxes increased. Until 2003 she paid less than $707.88 in property taxes and now she pays $1,056.33.

"We get offers through the mail, mainly from realtors saying: ‘if you are interested in selling [your house] give us a call,'" said Turrubiarte, "They offer $40,000-$50,000, but we know the house is not worth that much."

However, the Travis County Tax Assessor appraises Turrubiarte's property at $59,606.00.

"Gentrification happens all over the world. There are a lot of variables, and it is going to happen," said Steakley, "It is important to maintain the culture of the existent population, but... the financial limitation of the existent population and... what causes gentrification."

Gentrification, a term coined early in the 20th Century, refers to development driven by builders who move into low cost neighborhoods and build units at prices that long-time residents cannot afford, but that assure high profits for developers.

Bo McCarver, vice-president of the Austin Neighborhood Council, questions the ecologist claims of some developers. He said "They may put a solar panel on it and claim (it) is a real ecological house. This is called ‘green-washing.' They are affluent people, they are not evil, but their house is upscale from all the others around them. So all the lots go up by the appraised value and that's why taxes go up." People who cannot pay their property taxes in these areas see themselves forced to move to a cheaper location. For many long-time residents of East Austin this displacement forces them miles away.

This rising tax pattern doesn't just happen near the lake. Manuel del Rio Morales, who works as a gardener and owns a property on Meador Street, north of east Austin, faces a similar problem. Over the past five years, Morales' property taxes increased from $107.01 to $1,145.34

"I receive letters and phone calls all the time from companies who want to buy my property," Morales said, "Last time they offered me $29,000 for it but I don't want to sell it."

Travis County appraises Morales' land at $52,570.

A lack of information of possible options for senior citizens may contribute to their despair. For example, Texas offers an adjustable property tax cap to help prevent those 65 and older from losing homes because of tax increases.

Reverse mortgages, an option which allows senior homeowners to use equity as a cash resource might also be explored.

Susana Almanza is co-director of People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER), a community-based non-profit organization that advocates for affordable housing. She said that for people who do sell their houses "$30,000 dollars seem like a million dollars, so when they sold [their houses]... [They] thought they could buy another house. Then they realized there were no other houses they could buy with that amount of money so they get split from where they used to live."

Displacement, especially for low-income elderly, causes more problems than simply a change of address. They lose community ties of mutual help knotted by years of trust and friendship. It creates feelings of insecurity. They can no longer go to familiar spots for a meal out or entertainment.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health by the Stanford University School of Medicine, indicated that low-income women who lived in neighborhoods that gentrified around them had a 70% higher risk of death than those who continued to live in their established neighborhoods. The data spanned 17 years, and involved more than 8,000 people and four communities.

This unleashed development also moved into south east Austin. Marta Martinez moved 14 years ago to Pine Place. She bought her property for $50,000. "I receive letters and phone calls from companies that want to buy my house all the time," said Martinez, "This is our home, the place where my kids were raised and I do not want to sell it."

Even though her neighborhood meets occasionally to discuss how to deal with the problems residents face, Martinez says she cannot attend. "Because of my job, I can't go to these meetings."

McCarver, who is retired, goes from six to seven meetings about housing and social issues in East Austin per week. He rarely sees any East Austin residents there. "The people who are there are the developers, who are paid during the day and they can go on their own time," said McCarver "And frequently meetings are held at times when a lot of people can't go."

"Money talks and small businesses don't generate as much money as the big ones," said McCarver, "It might not even be intentional [but] all the pressure is to redevelop to push the low income people out of town."

Neighborhood advocates call for realistic affordable housing. Many complain that definitions of "affordable" entail formulas too algebraic for most people to understand.

An example of the distance between developers and residents became evident at a recent evening meeting. The city of Austin hired A. Nelessen Associates, Inc., a design firm from New Jersey, to create the plan to "shape the future of East Riverside Corridor." They designed a 37-page online survey. Launched by the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department on September 19, 2008, it sought to gather the residents' opinions.

Available in English and Spanish for one month, it addressed no social, educational or health issues. It did not ask if any of the redevelopment plans put residents at risk of losing their homes or if they knew of options to help them keep their home.

Members of the East Austin Neighborhood Council objected to the survey on several grounds. The on-line survey approach assumes easy internet access by all residents, but low-income areas are often caught in the digital divide.

Few of these residents own computers and subscribe to cable Internet. Maintaining a telephone line for the required time to complete the survey is not easy. Nor can one use a computer at the public library for as long as it would take.

Many of the residents of East Austin work long hours of physical labor, others work two jobs so the survey design does not take the reality of the residents into consideration. These problems may help explain why of the 43,000 residents, only 800 responded.

Another reason might be that no section of the survey addresses the aspects of "gentrification,"which is of most concern to long-time, low-income residents.

Said Morales when she heard the survey's length: "37 pages? I have two jobs and no computer. I don't have time to go to a (public) computer to fill all that out."

Nevertheless, the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department organized a public meeting at Baty Elementary on November 18 to announce the results. Anton Nelessen, a Harvard graduate and director of the firm, discussed the responses for almost three-hours. But not all attendees were happy.

Brady Brantford, a property owner on East Riverside, tried to ask questions about the economic impact three times during the presentation but Nelessen refused to let her speak. "Frustrating," was how Brantford described the meeting.

The promised question-and-answer period did not materialize. Instead the meeting ended abruptly.

"I didn't feel comfortable, it's a great idea, but they didn't answer my question about how much is this going to cost," Brantford said.

This was the first public meeting that Ramiro Martinez, an East Riverside resident for 11 years, attended. "I felt confused at the meeting, and I just hope they [the developers] are telling the truth." Like others, they worry about being pushed out.

Photo by Andrew Rogers
The property tax of Manuel del Rio Morales and his family increased over 1000% over the past 5 years.
"Gentrification is good," said Nelessen, "you need a balanced community of 20% low and moderate [income] against 80% other. If that tips, studies say communities go to hell. Whoever is here who is poor, let's say 100 people; we should bring 500 more [high income] people to balance them. But we need those [poor] people, (because) who is going to do your dishes, or cut your grass or water your plants?"

After doing yard work for more than 30 years, Morales simply wants to enjoy the rest of his life there. "I don't know who is moving to my neighborhood," said Morales, "but I just want to live in peace with my family and have good neighbors."

Photo Gallery

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