Saturday, June 30, 2007

Secret trade deal delayed

From David Sirota's blog

“Democratic leaders in Congress put off a vote on trade agreements with Peru and Panama until those countries revamp their laws to comply with new labor and environment standards in the accords. The demand is a blow to the Bush administration, which pressed the Democratic majority in Congress to have the Peru agreement approved next month…Two other agreements, with South Korea and Colombia, face further hurdles before Congress will consider them, the Democrats said. Even though Pelosi and Rangel worked out an agreement with the administration last month to revamp the four pending free-trade agreements, they aren’t assured passage in Congress. Many Democrats say they won’t support those or any other agreements reached by the Bush administration. ‘We need to play defense against all these agreements,’ Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, said yesterday.”

In the same story, though, we see exactly why we have to keep the pressure on - namely because they still intend to ultimately try to ram the deal through, even though it delegates all power to enforce the much-touted new labor and environmental provisions to the Bush White House. This delay represents fear - a fear by the handful of Democrats who agreed to this deal, by the Bush White House and by corporate lobbyists that if they try to pass this deal into law right now, it will be defeated. That we’ve created that fear is an incredible step forward - but you can bet the forces pushing this deal will be spending the next few months doing whatever they can to steamroll the opposition:

“Representative Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, will lead a delegation oflawmakers to those countries in August to help them work through those changes, Democrats said in a statement. ‘We are hopeful that this trip will lead to the swift passage this fall in Peru and Panama of the necessary legislation to change laws and implement fully the respective agreements,'’ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rangel and other Democratic leaders said in a joint statement today.”

Friday, June 29, 2007

Siko opens today

More on Supreme Court and school integration

There is an important debate about this decision. However, the educational debate is somewhat different than the court debate. See prior post.

It is important to select and fight current battles based upon the reality of our cities, not based upon how segregation worked prior to 1954.
I am not certain how this decision will impact mega cities like New York, Boston, etc. In mid sized cities like Sacramento, Seattle, Louisville, all of the high schools are integrated. In Sacramento they range from 25% Latino, 23 % African American, 26% Asian, 24% Anglo. Each category ranges up and down 10- 15 %. Elementary schools are far more diverse. So, each school will have a minority population of at least 45%. The argument is that an Anglo student should not be allowed to transfer out of a school if it impacts the demographics of the school. So, the debate is should a student be restricted if he chooses to move from a school that is 20% Anglo to a school that is 40% Anglo. Unlike prior to Brown: there are no all white schools in the cities. There are overwhelmingly white schools in the suburbs, but since these are in separate districts, the court long ago decided that governments could not mandate across district integration.
The Brown decision said that separate and equal was never equal, and it mandated forms of integration. What we have now is integrated and unequal- and the urban schools have a series of crises. Until we begin to provide quality schooling in our urban schools, until we act upon the unequal part of the Brown decision, we really are not making much progress.

Duane Campbell,
Author. Choosing Democracy: a practical guide to multicutural education. ( 2004)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Supreme court decision on school integration

Today’s Supreme Court decision on school integration plans.

Lets be honest: The Supreme court decision was a victory for conservatives. It reflects the Bush Supreme Court. Our opponents, such as the Linda Chavez Equal Opportunity Commission, Ward Connerly and others, oppose the sue of racial and ethnic measures to make school assignments. But, they do nothing to improve the quality of schooling in the poverty schools. They want to fight about racial categories but not work to improve schools. It is important to not ask the oppressor to design the remedies for past discrimination.

But, our moderate allies and elected officials share the responsibility for this defeat.
The school integration policies of cities have not worked, they have not produced high levels of school achievement for all. So, parents fight sending their children to integrated schools because many of these schools are dysfunctional. ( See Choosing Democracy, 2004)
School districts in Seattle and Louisville were defeated ( as will be Sacramento, Los Angeles and others) because they relied upon the lawyers approach and refused to listen to or to change the educators approach.
Since the 1990’s, we have had a school reform plans usually based upon writing standards and standardized testing, placing pressure on teachers to follow a specific curriculum and a focus on testing. The data on this process is in- it has not significantly improved most schools.
While there are exciting examples of improved achievement, in general, school achievement has remained stagnant. (NAEP) There is only limited evidence that this process actually improves schools , student achievement, or improves student opportunity. (Rothstein)
There has been limited improvement in most schools because the interventions used do not deal with basic causes of low achievement, unequal funding of schools, high teacher turn over, family disruption, un safe schools, crime, safety, unemployment have not changed—and therefore the local school is unlikely to change.
We need to improve the schools. The current dominant school leadership and legislative leadership has not improved the schools. The refuse to make the necessary changes to improve schools. The lawyers approach of integration- without school improvement, has failed.
In most cities, including Sacramento, Los Angeles, S.F., Oakland, etc, we have legal integration, but we also have extreme inequality of opportunity. The goal is not diversity, the goal is equal educational opportunity. These lawyers- these school administrators- have not worked for equal opportunity.
Now, in response to the Supreme Court decision, it is time to improve the schools. It is time to stop using lawyers as a substitute for school reform.
Our opponents, such as the Linda Chavez Equal Opportunity Commission, Ward Connerly and others, oppose the sue of racial and ethnic measures to make school assignments. But, they do nothing to improve the quality of schooling in the poverty schools. They want to fight about racial categories but not work to improve schools. It is important to not ask the oppressor to design the remedies for past discrimination.

Duane Campbell
author, Choosing Democracy, a practical guide to multicultural education. (2004)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Media ownership and control

It's a big problem: More and more news outlets are owned by fewer and fewer corporate conglomerates that spend less and less time on real, hard-hitting news coverage. We know what happens as a result: Iraq intelligence goes unquestioned, secret spying programs go unscrutinized, corporate power goes unchallenged, and our ability to function as a democracy takes a big hit.

The Bush administration is now pushing to allow even MORE media consolidation—and we need to fight back.1 To kick off the fight, our friends at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights are holding a unique online forum to prepare us all with the facts and arguments we'll need to win. It'll include luminaries like talk show host Tavis Smiley and media diversity hero FCC Commissioner Michael Copps—plus questions from people watching online.

Can you participate in this Friday's online forum on media diversity?

What: Online forum—"Why Media Diversity Matters."
When: This Friday, June 29, at 12 p.m. Eastern
Where: On the web
RSVP: To see event details, and sign up for an email reminder, click here:
The media will be covering this event—and other FCC Commissioners will be watching to see what comes of it—so it's important that there is a large turnout and lots of great questions.

Also participating will be Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, LCCR President Wade Henderson, NOW President Kim Gandy, and others. Live audiences will also gather in Denver and Washington, D.C. to watch and take part.

We wanted to make sure you knew about this event because of your previous activism on media issues. Thanks for all you do as we fight for a better media landscape.
–Adam Green, Civic Action
Wednesday, June 27th, 2007


"The Next Big Fight Over Media Ownership," The Nation, June 20, 2006

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Elections, public policy and the War on Drugs

An interesting essay on Truth Dig with Dr. Troy Duster:

The Forgotten War on Drugs and Election ’08

Reading First: FEW Gains

The Bush Regime and many educational pundits, including Peter Schrag of the Sacramento Bee regularly claim that reading scores have improved in the last few years as a result of the demands of NCLB and accountability.
Here is a letter with evidence to the contrary;

Some Useful Data from NCLB Testing
Sent to Rethinking Schools, June 23, 2007

In his insightful paper “Exit Strategy,” (Summer,
2007), Stan Karp argues that that tests mandated by
NCLB have not provided useful data that will result in
better instruction. Actually, they have: They have
shown that NCLB and Reading First have not resulted in
improved reading.

Reading First provides an extra 100 minutes a week of
instruction, approximately an extra semester every two
years. If Reading First is at all effective, the
impact should obvious. It isn’t.

On the basis of data released in April, The Department
of Education claimed that between 2004 and 2006, the
percentage of third graders in Reading First meeting
or exceeding the proficient level increased 12% on
tests of reading comprehension and 15% on tests of
fluency. Re-analysis revealed, however, that the gain
in reading comprehension was only 6% and in fluency it
was 9%. Also, these gains mask the fact that some
states did poorly: Pennsylvania declined 10% in
reading comprehension.

It also needs to be pointed out that the test used in
most states to measure fluency, Dibels, has serious
problems and is also easily available on the internet,
which means any teacher or parent can drill their
children on the actual test items.

In addition, the Department of Education violated a
fundamental scientific principle: There was no
comparison group. Any increases could have been due to
factors other than Reading First.

The most recent report, from the Center on Education
Policy, was also interpreted by the administration as
showing that NCLB-related programs have been a
success. Again, no comparison group was included, but
the Center’s report included data on elementary school
gains for the two years before and two years after
NCLB was implemented in 12 states. Before NCLB, the
yearly rate of improvement in these states was 1.93
percent, that is, 1.93 percent more students were
classified as proficient. After NCLB, it was 2.25
percent, a difference of less than one-third of one

In other words, reading scores were going up before
NCLB and NCLB did little or nothing to improve the
rate of improvement.

Before these two reports, the Department of Education
had claimed that NCLB had improved fourth grade NAEP
reading scores. Several analyses showed, however,
that the gains came before NAEP was implemented.

There is, so far, no evidence that this expensive and
time-consuming experiment has improved the reading
ability of American children.

Stephen Krashen

For those interested in the details:

“Reading First: ‘Impressive’ Gains?” by Stephen
Krashen (see also posted comments)

Problems with Dibels:
“A critical review of Dibels.” by Kenneth Goodman. In
K.Goodman (Ed.) The Truth about Dibels. Portsmouth:

Gains on national tests?
1. “The 16th Bracey Report on the Condition of Public
Education,” by Gerald W. Bracey, published in the
October 2006 Phi Delta Kappan.
2. “Selling NCLB: Would You Buy a Used Law From This
Woman?,” by James Crawford, available at
3. “Is the No Child Left Behind Act Working? The
Reliability of How States Track Achievement,” by Bruce
Fuller, Kathryn Gesicki, Erin Kang, and Joseph Wright,
published in 2006 by Policy Analysis for California
Education, at the University of California, Berkeley.
4. “Did Reading First Work?,” by Stephen Krashen,
5. “Tracking Achievement Gaps and Assessing the Impact
of NCLB on the Gaps: An In-Depth Look Into National
and State Reading and Math Outcome Trends,” by
Jaekyung Lee, published in 2006 by the Civil Rights
Project at Harvard University.

Also see: Collateral Damage: How High Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools. (2007)
by Nichols and Berliner

Monday, June 25, 2007

Choosing a candidate

Deciding on a candidate.
After watching the presentations of leading Democratic Party candidates at the Take Back America Conference,

I was prepared to decide on a candidate for the California Democratic Primary in February. I have a preference.
However, I am frustrated. Each of the major candidates are taking and are relying upon corporate money. They are passing on public financing. I understand that each feels a need to be competitive. But, I can’t get past the influence of corporate money in our elections. I have no reason to support a corporate candidate. I resent that our democracy has been reduced to a place where the corporations through money decide which of the candidates we choose between.
Al Gore, in his new book, Appeal to Reason, describes well the way money influences media buys and candidate selection. So, I am stuck. Advice is welcome.
I am also reading and writing for the revision of my book, Choosing Democracy. I am working on the role of democracy and schools. More on this in future posts.
Also, see the prior post on a Fall conference.
Duane Campbell

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Crisis in Democracy: October Conference

The Crisis in our Democracy:
First annual : Sacramento Progressive Forum

Fall October 4, 2007. CSU-Sacramento. University Union

All of us together know more than any one of us alone.

Progressive Forum

Join us for a dialogue on current issues facing the progressive movements and their allies in our region. The Progressive Forum seeks to bring together scholars, students, social justice and union activists, and policy makers. The forum is created to nuture new kind of conversation from within the campus and the social movements. We seek to move beyond the overly fragmented movements each competing with each other to find ways to cooperate and support each others work.
This gathering aims to enhance personal and organizational ties between those engaged in ongoing workplace and community organizing efforts, issues organizing and students and scholars.. The forum should become a place where the diverse movements gathers their energies and where activists learn from internal dialogue. This is an initial step toward elaborating, discussing and debating our visions and ours strategies.
The key thematic areas for the Fall 2007 Forum will include:
The War
Democratic Party
Media and democracy
Crisis in public education
Race/ ethnicity and the political organizing .
Corporatization of University/ decline of public universities
Women’s work: Women’s issues
Working class life and culture
The state of our unions

Break out rooms . dialogue

Bilingual/multicultural education. CSU-Sacramento
Democratic Socialists of America
Sacramento Progressive Alliance
Teach Peace Foundation
Labor Studies: CSU-Sacramento

For more information:
Note: travel in Australia has kept me from recent posts. It was cold.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

U.S. takes lousy care of our children

The nation, not schools, takes lousy care of our children

From the beginning of the educational “accountability” movement in the mid-1990s, the demand that schools “close the achievement gap” has set educators’ teeth on edge. The “gap” refers to the wide discrepancy between the test scores of middle-class white children and those who are low-income and non-white.

Educators know first hand that less-privileged students — an ever-growing number, seemingly — enter school at a significant disadvantage compared to their more privileged peers. That gap opened up long before the school bell tolled. Even in schools where the low-income children have made strong gains, the gap persists. Schools have little impact on poverty or the lack of good health care, decent jobs for parents, affordable housing and other social factors that contribute to a child’s readiness to learn.

Educators who voiced these concerns were often chastised as racist, class-biased or indulging in the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

And it’s true that the schools that educate most urban and poor children have become enmeshed in political power struggles unrelated to helping students. They can’t in good conscience point to their work and say: See? We’ve given these students the very best, and we’ve made gains, but the gap will continue to persist until conditions improve in their home lives and neighborhoods.

In his most recent book, Richard Rothstein, former education columnist for The New York Times, catalogs an array of social conditions that contribute to the achievement gap in exhaustive and fascinating detail. Class and Schools — Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap does not let the schools off the hook. But it does argue that with all the negative social forces at work, we are kidding ourselves if we think that schools are going to do this job by themselves.

Here are three of Rothstein’s examples illustrating the profoundly different backgrounds of high-, middle- and low-income children:

Researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley “found that, on average, professional parents spoke more than 2,000 words per hour to their children, working class parents spoke about 1,300, and welfare mothers spoke about 600. So by age 3, the children of professionals had vocabularies that were nearly 50 percent greater than those of working-class children and twice as large as those of welfare children.”

In a school’s regular day and year, teachers cannot contribute enough to low-income children’s education that would allow the students to catch up to their middle-class peers. Middle-class kids are also learning during that same day and year, as well as attending after-school enrichment activities.

Second, consider the cultural difference between professional and working-class jobs. Parents who are working professionals have authority and responsibility, so they are used to exploring alternatives and negotiating compromises. At home they talk their kids through solving problems and give reasons for their decisions or actions. Their children learn to negotiate what they want and feel entitled to do so.

“But parents whose jobs entail following orders or doing routine tasks show less sense of efficacy. They are less likely to encourage their children to negotiate over clothing or food and more likely to instruct them by giving directions without extended discussion. Following orders, after all, is how they themselves behave at work.”

Many people, including me, believe that learning good negotiation skills more positively affects later academic, career and personal success than the learning that gets good test scores.

The best schools explicitly teach manners, negotiation skills and how to handle feelings in acceptable ways — called a social-emotional curriculum. This ensures that all children learn these important skills, but it still can not make up for the practice the middle-class child has at home, reasoning with elders and being encouraged to solve problems.

Lastly, affordable housing has become increasingly scarce, exacerbating the extent to which low-income people have to move. Changing residences often affects a family’s ability to function well and changing schools disrupts the continuity of a child’s education.

This relatively minor example illustrates the extent to which public policy makes a bad situation worse. A child recently uprooted from home and school often cannot pay attention to lessons in the new school. So the child falls further behind, exacerbating the achievement gap. Cities could pay for transportation to keep the child in his old school, with friends and teachers, if the residential move is local. The cost would be modest, but cash-strapped cities face an endless menu of hard choices.

Rothstein says, “The connection between social and economic disadvantage and an academic achievement gap has long been well known.... Calling attention to this link is not to make excuses for poor school performance. It is only to be honest about the social support schools require if they are to fulfill the public’s expectations that the achievement gap will disappear.”

Rothstein’s book unpacks for us the specifics of such supports as access to health care, housing, after-school and summer enrichment programs and preschool.

But Rothstein’s book begs the question as to whether the American public really wants to close this achievement gap. With calm rhetoric and rich data, he lays out the problems, solutions and choices in front of us.

Schools may exacerbate the achievement gap, but they didn’t create it in the first place. As a nation, we are shockingly content to tolerate widespread poverty among our fellow citizens. We are the richest country in the world, but one in five children is brought up in a family living at the federal poverty line. The quintile above them is not much better off.

In short, we take lousy care of our kids, but find it convenient to blame the schools.

Julia Steiny is a former member of the Providence School Board; she now consults and writes for a number of education, government and private enterprises. She welcomes your questions and comments on education. She can be reached by e-mail at or c/o EdWatch, Education and Employment, Providence Journal, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.

Myths on the war

Also: see the following:

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

NCLB and Civil Rights

A Diminished Vision of Civil Rights:
No Child Left Behind and the Growing Divide in How Educational Equity Is Understood

By James Crawford
At the core of today’s debates over school accountability lies a contentious question: Does the federal No Child Left Behind Act represent a historic advance for civil rights, or a giant step backward for the children it purports to help?

This argument has divided the civil rights community itself, along with its traditional allies in Congress. One side supports stern measures designed to force educators to pay attention to long-neglected students and enable all children to reach “proficiency” in key subjects. The other side argues that the law’s tools of choice—high-stakes testing, unrealistic achievement targets, and punitive sanctions—have not only proved ineffective in holding schools accountable, they also are pushing “left behind” groups even further behind.

Disagreement is especially acute among advocates for English-language learners, known in the shorthand of K-12 education as “ELLs.” These students pose a fundamental challenge for the No Child Left Behind accountability scheme, owing to the near-total absence of valid and reliable assessments of their academic achievement. Usually tested in English, a language they have yet to master, ELLs tend to perform poorly in both reading and math. Indeed, the law defines them as students who have difficulty meeting state standards because of the language barrier. Nevertheless, under every state NCLB plan, English-language learners’ scores on invalid tests must be included in “adequate yearly progress” calculations, and, where they fall short of AYP targets, schools must undergo “corrective action.”

In other words, high-stakes decisions about the education of these students are being made on the basis of data generally acknowledged to be inaccurate. Schools with an ELL “subgroup” are being labeled and punished for failure—not because of the quality of instruction they provide, but because existing tests are unable to measure what ELLs have learned.

While acknowledging this reality, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Council of La Raza have emerged as uncompromising defenders of the No Child Left Behind law. They oppose exempting English-language learners from standardized tests, regardless of the tests’ validity, for more than the one year that is currently allowed by federal regulations. In the words of a MALDEF lobbyist, leaving English-language learners out of No Child Left Behind’s accountability system would mean “removing the incentive to teach them.” The two organizations favor increased funding to develop appropriate assessments, hardly a controversial idea. In the meantime, however, they insist on the continued use of flawed assessments to judge schools and, by implication, to make flawed decisions about educational programs.

Critics of NCLB-style accountability—who now include a substantial majority of educators working with English-language learners—cannot see how such a blunt instrument could produce academic benefits. More importantly, they point to the law’s harmful impact on minority students generally and on ELLs in particular. The perverse effects are well-documented: excessive class time devoted to test preparation, a curriculum narrowed to the two tested subjects, neglect of critical thinking in favor of basic skills, pressure to reduce or eliminate native-language instruction, demoralization of teachers whose students fall short of unrealistic cut scores, demoralization of children who are forced to take tests they can’t understand, and, perhaps worst of all, practices that encourage low-scoring students to drop out before test day.

No one questions that, because of the No Child Left Behind law, English-language learners are receiving more “attention” than ever before. But, as many educational researchers and practitioners can testify, results in the classroom have been far more negative than positive. Supporters of the law have generally declined to respond to what educators are reporting, and instead have accused the law’s critics of opposing accountability or believing that minority children “can’t learn.”

How could civil rights advocates disagree over such fundamental issues? The only plausible answer is that there is a growing divide in how educational equity is understood. Some clues can be found in the changing terminology used to discuss school reform.

Once upon a time, civil rights advocates were united in pursuing the goal of equal educational opportunity. They fought against racial segregation in public schools and demanded equitable resources for all students. Their focus was on “inputs,” pushing state and local officials to provide adequate school facilities, well-designed instructional programs, effective teachers, and attention to the effects of poverty—such as parental illiteracy, poor health, and malnutrition—that pose obstacles to learning. In those days, the enemy was clear: a two-tier system that provided an inferior education to many children on the basis of skin color, language background, class status, and place of residence.

But in the No Child Left Behind era, the words equal educational opportunity have largely faded from the public discourse. In their place, there is talk of eliminating the “achievement gaps” between various groups of students.

The latter term was seldom heard in the 1980s or 1990s, as is shown by a quick archive search of major newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and Education Week. Then, around 1999, “achievement gap”suddenly burst into the popular lexicon. The credit is largely due to then-Gov. George W. Bush of Texas and his political guru, Karl Rove, who were planning a presidential campaign in which school reform would figure prominently.

Their strategy—which ultimately proved successful—was to seize an issue traditionally “owned” by Democrats and give it a “compassionate conservative” spin. By stressing the achievement gap, candidate Bush redefined civil rights in the field of school reform: “Some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less—the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Retiring the Republican theme of dismantling the U.S. Department of Education, he called instead for an enhanced federal role based on the Texas model of high-stakes testing.

In 2001, key Democrats in Congress, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Rep. George Miller, encouraged by certain liberal advocacy groups, joined forces with the Bush administration and with Republican leaders in Congress. The result was bipartisan passage of the No Child Left Behind Act late that year.

Eliminating achievement gaps is paramount among the law’s goals; equal educational opportunity is not. In fact, the latter term—which had been prominent in previous versions of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act—appears nowhere in NCLB. (No doubt an anonymous congressional staffer performed a search-and-delete operation on the bill, just as one did with the word “bilingual,” which was also expunged.)

What’s the significance of this shift in terminology? Achievement gap is all about measurable “outputs”—standardized-test scores—and not about equalizing resources, addressing poverty, combating segregation, or guaranteeing children an opportunity to learn. The No Child Left Behind Act is silent on such matters. Dropping equal educational opportunity, which highlights the role of inputs, has a subtle but powerful effect on how we think about accountability. It shifts the entire burden of reform from legislators and policymakers to teachers and kids and schools.

By implication, educators are the obstacle to change. Every mandate of No Child Left Behind—and there are hundreds—is designed to force the people who run our schools to shape up, work harder, raise expectations, and stop “making excuses” for low test scores, or face the consequences. Despite the law’s oft-stated reverence for “scientifically based research,” this narrow approach is contradicted by numerous studies documenting the importance of social and economic factors in children’s academic progress. Yet it has the advantage of enabling politicians to ignore the difficult issues and avoid costly remedies. If educators are the obstacle, there’s no need to address what Jonathan Kozol calls the “savage inequalities” of our educational system and our society.

In other words, despite its stated goals, the No Child Left Behind law represents a diminished vision of civil rights. Educational equity is reduced to equalizing test scores. The effect has been to impoverish the educational experience of minority students—that is, to reinforce the two-tier system of public schools that civil rights advocates once challenged.

English-language learners, for example, are being fed a steady diet of test-prep, worksheets, and other “skill building” exercises from a menu mostly reduced to reading and math. Their language-learning needs are increasingly neglected by the marginalization of bilingual and even English-as-a-second-language instruction to make time for English language arts items likely to be on the test. Meanwhile, more-advantaged students are studying music, art, foreign languages, physical education, science, history, and civics, getting to read literature rather than endure phonics drills, and participating in field trips, plays, chess clubs, and debate tournaments—all “frills” that are routinely denied to children whose test scores have become life-or-death matters for educators’ careers.

Ironically, in numerous ways, No Child Left Behind is increasing the achievement gap, if academic achievement is understood as getting an all-round education and, with it, an equal chance to succeed in life. True civil rights advocates cannot and must not ignore the reality behind the rhetoric.

James Crawford is the president of the Institute for Language and Education Policy (, a nonprofit advocacy group in Takoma Park, Md. He can be reached at

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Is it incompetence or fraud in student loan scandal?

June 2, 2007
U.S. Puts Limits on Lenders’ Ties to Universities

The Education Department, criticized for lax oversight of student loans, released proposed rules yesterday that would set new standards for universities and ban lenders’ marketing practices that have resulted, in some cases, in loan company payoffs to university officials.

The 225-page package represents a change in direction by the department, which for years had ignored calls by its inspector general, Democratic lawmakers and even some loan-industry officials for it to be more aggressive in policing the $85 billion student loan industry.

The rules would for the first time require universities to include at least three loan companies on any list of lenders they recommend to students and would ban many of the gifts and payments to financial aid officials that lenders have been offering to win student loan volume. The rules would bar everything from travel and entertainment expenses to providing staffing for college aid offices.

They would modify the existing framework, which applies only to federally guaranteed loans, “to strengthen and improve the administration of the loan programs,” the proposal states. The agency said the rules had been sent to the Federal Register for a 60-day comment period. If approved, they would take effect next summer.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings created a task force in April to draw up the rules after an effort to win consensus on a similar package among representatives of students, lenders and academic institutions in a process known as “negotiated rule making” collapsed.

In the past few months, investigations in Congress and in the states, led by Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, turned up an array of undisclosed relationships between universities and lenders, and conflicts of interest on the part of aid administrators. Some university officials who were promoting particular lenders had received stock on favorable terms, consulting payments or gifts from loan companies.

Just this week, the Education Department’s own inspector general reported to Congress that the department had made “minimal” progress in dealing with complaints about abuse in the nation’s government-backed student loan program.

Lenders by law have long been barred from offering inducements to gain loan applications. But what is an inducement is not entirely clear. In 2003, an assistant inspector general criticized the department for not giving any updated opinions about what kinds of incentives were barred since 1995, even though competition for loan business had escalated sharply since then.

Department officials have said in the past that they did not have the authority to oversee many of these practices because they involved private loans — those not guaranteed by the government. They had said they wanted aid administrators and the loan industry to police themselves.

The proposed regulations would still cover only federally guaranteed loans. They identify specific practices that would be barred, including “offering, directly or indirectly, any points, premiums, payments or other benefits to any school or other party to secure” student loan volume. Lenders who offer inducements run the risk of losing the federal guarantee on affected loans, under the proposal.

The rules would also ban a college’s “access to a lender’s other financial products, computer hardware, and payment of the cost of printing and distribution of college catalogs and other materials at less than market rate.” They also make clear that lenders cannot try to get around them by offering benefits to “school-affiliated” groups, like alumni organizations.

In addition, they would require that a university’s list of recommended or “preferred” lenders exclude any that provided incentives. Perhaps most importantly for students, universities would be required to explain how and why they recommend specific lenders and to ensure that all students, not just a few, receive the benefits offered by a lender on a preferred list.

In explaining the need for the regulations on inducements, the department stated that “this guidance, and the general requirements of the law, may no longer be generally known and understood by lenders and other participants” in the federally guaranteed loan program, because the last guidance was provided in 1995.

The rules appeared to be unlikely to meet much resistance. The Consumer Bankers Association indicated that it would seek minimal changes, particularly since Congress is already moving to enact even tougher restrictions.

John Dean, special counsel to the Consumer Bankers Association, said, “I think that you’ll have a series of largely technical comments.”

Lenders, he said, “have come to embrace the inevitability of reform and in many cases welcome it.”

And on Thursday the trade group representing college financial aid officers agreed to bar its members from accepting most gifts and to stop allowing lenders to sponsor its conferences.

Democratic lawmakers in both the House and the Senate who have championed legislation on the student loan industry offered cautious support but also criticized the Education Department for not acting more quickly. So did Mr. Cuomo.

“It has taken far too long for the Department of Education to act,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. He noted that the proposed rules would not require preferred lenders to be selected solely on the basis of the best interests of student borrowers. “This seems to be a gaping hole in the regulations,” Mr. Cuomo said.

Robert Shireman, a higher education policy adviser in the Clinton administration who is executive director of the Institute for College Access and Success, said that the rules could still allow philanthropic gifts by lenders to universities that might not be explicitly linked to loan volume.

“There can be the same kind of wink and a nod that occurs around campaign contributions,” Mr. Shireman said, adding that some of the proposals in Congress are stricter.

Separately, the Education Department announced Friday that Ms. Spellings had named Lawrence Warder as acting chief operating officer of the office of Federal Student Aid, previously overseen by Theresa S. Shaw, who stepped down.

Mr. Warder, who has been chief financial officer of the education agency since July 2006, previously worked for years as a management consultant at Deloitte Consulting.

Investigations of conduct in the student loan industry are not over. Yesterday, Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who is chairman of the Banking Committee, announced plans for a hearing on Wednesday to explore ties between lenders and colleges and universities.

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