Saturday, May 31, 2008

An Organizing Approach to School Change

Don’t’ face school reform alone; organize
An organizing approach to school change.
Let us be clear. A progressive teacher working in a school is good, but it is not school reform.. A progressive activist teacher will improve the education of 30 students, or 100 students, and these are significant contributions. But, one or two activists are not school reform nor is a single progressive principal.
The success of some outstanding schools serving low income neighborhoods indicate that schools can improve, children in poverty can be provided with high quality schooling.(Chenoweth, 2007) Individual schools that have improved their performance and academic achievement are valuable islands of hope for reform. And hope is a vital ingredient in working for change.
Few, or none of the superintendents of major school systems – and their staffs- have reformed their schools to produce equal opportunity. We know from experience in several cities that school reform efforts are not sustained beyond the tenure of a superintendent or a principal. Indeed there are numerous cases of schools and leaders making important changes only to be stopped by control oriented superintendents in the name of reform ( Wilms, 2008). And, there has been realistically little improvement in reducing the achievement gap in urban systems.

Teachers as agents of change
Reform will occur when groups of teachers work together to create a new, more democratic school system to better serve all of the students. Real School reform requires substantive change.
We need to develop a new conception of teachers as change agents for those teachers committed to civil rights and the success of their students. This potential role is under developed. We need active and activist teacher leaders to guide and direct change to a more democratic and a more equal school system. In most school districts administrators are not promoting democratic reform and perhaps their positions prevent them from promoting democratic reform.
There currently exists a number of leadership roles for teachers. They fill positions such as lead teacher , grade level leaders, host teaches, mentor teachers, student advocates, curriculum specialists, teacher organizers, language specialists, union leaders and change agents.
Teachers leaders are needed to provide a teacher voice and advocacy for quality education within the school reform efforts. Teacher organizers are in particular need when schools are under some form of re-constitution or re-organization to improve achievement

What does a change agent do? In Doing Democracy: The MAP model for Organizing Social Movements, the authors list the roles of change agents as including:

Organizing people power and engaged citizens for the common good.
Educates and involves the majority of the citizens on the issues.
Involves pre-existing grass roots and parents organizations, networks, unions.
Places the issues on the societies agenda.
Promotes alternatives.

For teacher activists the first group to organize is other teachers. First you need to find one ally, then two. We know from organizing that relationships matter, so you need to develop positive on-going relationships with a number of teachers in your school site. Indeed, this will make your own work life more interesting and bearable.
Parents are a second important component of organizing. With large scale immigration there is no reason to limit your organizing to citizens, parents are more appropriate partners. It will help to keep in mind those activities which all adults can participate in and those limited to citizens (such as voting).
An important task is to plan an educational agenda. School talk is often mystifying to parents. And, since so much professional talk is used, parents can be mislead to pursue anti democratic projects. Parents have been recruited and used in the anti bilingual political campaigns and often used in divisive campaigns over reading.
Teachers should look for a community based organization in their area and work with it. Several community based organizations such as those affiliated with the IAF, or PICO, or ACORN, work on school reform and prepare parents to become community leaders ( see Anyon, 2006, Oaks and Rogers, 2006, Parent organizing can provide the power needed for sustained change in the power structure of a school district. Teachers, parents, and educational activists need each other. The first step is building relationships of trust among these constituencies.

As soon as you begin to organize for social justice you will encounter other, already existing groups. Perhaps the most frequent encounter will be with a union activist in your building. It is useful to map out the existing groups and interests and conduct some informal research to see which of these groups may assist you. For example a union activist may well encourage you to bring your goals within the union effort. This is a possible approach. Certainly if you can bring the union to support your projects this will assist you. It is important and valuable for teachers to bring their unions along as they pursue progressive change. These are our institutions with staff, money, and resources.
However, a note of caution is needed. Unions have their institutional agenda which usually focuses on the salaries and the treatment of employees. These are important issues particularly for under paid teacher and teacher assistants. The union agenda is rather well understood. And, whenever possible, you want to work in cooperation with union. However, quite often the invitation to work within the union is actually a recruitment of you to work on the union agenda rather than on your social justice agenda. You can be an activist and will be encouraged to carry out the many valuable service projects of the union. And it is important to have the union with you when you encounter conflict. But it is a significant question. Does working within the union allow you to pursue your previous goals? Or, are you quickly recruited to work on the union goals? This is an area of needed continuous dialogue with your allies. After all, the union may have already developed a valuable strategy which supports your work.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Senator Barack Obama on education

Sen. Barack Obama's speech, "What's Possible for Our Children," was delivered at Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in Thornton, Colorado on Wednesday:

"It's an honor to be here at Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts. Just three years ago, only half of the high school seniors who walked the halls of this building were accepted to college. But today, thanks to the hard work of caring parents, innovative educators and some very committed students, all 44 seniors of this year's class have been accepted to more than 70 colleges and universities across the country.
"I'm here to congratulate you on this achievement, but also to hold up this school and these students as an example of what's possible in education if we're willing to break free from the tired thinking and political stalemate that's dominated Washington for decades, if we're willing to try new ideas and new reforms based not on ideology but on what works to give our children the best possible chance in life.
"At this defining moment in our history, they've never needed that chance more. In a world where good jobs can be located anywhere there's an Internet connection— where a child in Denver is competing with children in Beijing and Bangalore — the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge. Education is the currency of the Information Age, no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success but a prerequisite. There simply aren't as many jobs today that can support a family where only a high school degree is required. And if you don't have that degree, there are even fewer jobs available that can keep you out of poverty.
"In this kind of economy, countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow. Already, China is graduating eight times as many engineers as we are. By 12th grade, our children score lower on math and science tests than most other kids in the world. And we now have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation in the world. In fact, if the more than 16,000 Colorado students who dropped out of high school last year had only finished, the economy in this state would have seen an additional $4.1 billion in wages over these students' lifetimes.
"There is still much progress to be made here in Thornton, but the work you've done shows us that we do not accept this future for America.
"We don't have to accept an America where we do nothing about six million students who are reading below their grade level.
"We don't have to accept an America where only 20 percent of our students are prepared to take college-level classes in English, math and science. Where barely one in 10 low-income students will ever graduate from college.
"We don't have to accept an America where we do nothing about the fact that half of all teenagers are unable to understand basic fractions. Where nearly nine in 10 African-American and Latino eighth-graders are not proficient in math. We don't have to accept an America where elementary school kids are only getting an average of 25 minutes of science each day when we know that over 80 percent of the fastest-growing jobs require a knowledge base in math and science.
"This kind of America is morally unacceptable for our children. It's economically untenable for our future. And it's not who we are as a nation.
"We are the nation that has always understood that our future is inextricably linked to the education of our children — all

After touring the Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in Thornton, United States Senator Barack Obama holds a town hall meeting in the school auditorium on Wednesday, May 22, 2008. (THE DENVER POST | KATHRYN SCOTT OSLER)
of them. We are the country that has always believed in Thomas Jefferson's declaration that "talent and virtue, needed in a free society, should be educated regardless of wealth or birth."
"That's who we are. And that's why I believe it's time to lead a new era of mutual responsibility in education, one where we all come together for the sake of our children's success. An era where each of us does our part to make that success a reality: parents and teachers, leaders in Washington and citizens all across America.
"This starts with fixing the broken promises of No Child Left Behind. Now, I believe that the goals of this law were the right ones. Making a promise to educate every child with an excellent teacher is right. Closing the achievement gap that exists in too many cities and rural areas is right. More accountability is right. Higher standards are right.
"But I'll tell you what's wrong with No Child Left Behind. Forcing our teachers, our principals and our schools to accomplish all of this without the resources they need is wrong. Promising high-quality teachers in every classroom and then leaving the support and the pay for those teachers behind is wrong. Labeling a school and its students as failures one day and then throwing your hands up and walking away from them the next is wrong.
"We must fix the failures of No Child Left Behind. We must provide the funding we were promised, give our states the resources they need and finally meet our commitment to special education. We also need to realize that we can meet high standards without forcing teachers and students to spend most of the year preparing for a single, high-stakes test. Recently, 87 percent of Colorado teachers said that testing was crowding out subjects like music and art. But we need to look no further than MESA to see that accountability does not need to come at the expense of a well-rounded education. It can help complete it — and it should.
"As president, I will work with our nation's governors and educators to create and use assessments that can improve achievement all across America by including the kinds of research, scientific investigation and problem-solving that our children will need to compete in a 21st century knowledge economy. The tests our children take should support learning not just accounting. If we really want our children to become the great inventors and problem-solvers of tomorrow, our schools shouldn't stifle innovation, they should let it thrive. That's what MESA is doing by using visual arts, drama and music to help students master traditional subjects like English, science and math, and that's what we should be doing in schools all across America.
"But fixing the problems of No Child Left Behind is not an education policy on its own. It's just a starting point.
"A truly historic commitment to education — a real commitment — will require new resources and new reforms. It will require a willingness to move beyond the stale debates that have paralyzed Washington for decades: Democrat versus Republican; vouchers versus the status quo; more money versus more accountability. It will require leaders in Washington who are willing to learn a lesson from students and teachers in Thornton or Denver about what actually works. That's the kind of president I intend to be, and that's the kind of education plan I've proposed in this campaign.
"It begins with the understanding that from the moment our children step into a classroom, the single most important factor in determining their achievement is not the color of their skin or where they come from. It's not who their parents are or how much money they have.
"It's who their teacher is. It's the person who stays past the last bell and spends their own money on books and supplies. It's the men and women here at MESA who go beyond the call of duty because you believe that's what makes the extra difference. And it does.
"And if we know how much teaching matters, then it's time we treated teaching like the profession it is. I don't want to just talk about how great teachers are. I want to be a president who rewards them for their greatness.
"That starts with recruiting a new generation of teachers and principals to replace the generation that's retiring and those who are leaving. Right here in Colorado, more than 6,000 teachers won't be returning to the schools where they taught last year. That's why as president, I'll create a new Service Scholarship program to recruit top talent into the profession and begin by placing these new teachers in overcrowded districts and struggling rural towns, or hard-to-staff subjects like math and science in schools all across the nation. And I will make this pledge as president to all who sign up: If you commit your life to teaching, America will commit to paying for your college education.
"To prepare our teachers, I will create more Teacher Residency Programs to train 30,000 high-quality teachers a year. We know these programs work, and they especially help attract talented individuals who decide to become teachers midway through their careers. Right here in MESA, you have excellent teachers like Ike Ogbuike, who became a math teacher after working as an auto-engineer at Ford and completing a one-year, teacher-residency program.
"To support our teachers, we will expand mentoring programs that pair experienced, successful teachers with new recruits — one of the most effective ways to retain teachers. We'll also make sure that teachers work in conditions which help them and our children succeed. For example, here at MESA, teachers have scheduled common planning time each week and an extra hour every Tuesday and Thursday for mentoring and tutoring students that need additional help.
"And when our teachers do succeed in making a real difference in our children's lives, I believe it's time we rewarded them for it. I realize that the teachers in Denver are in the middle of tough negotiations right now, but what they've already proven is that it's possible to find new ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them.
"My plan would provide resources to try these innovative programs in school districts all across America. Under my Career Ladder Initiative, these districts will be able to design programs that reward accomplished educators who serve as mentors to new teachers with the salary increase they deserve. They can reward those who teach in underserved areas or teachers who take on added responsibilities, like you do right here at MESA. And if teachers acquire additional knowledge and skills to serve students better — if they consistently excel in the classroom — that work can be valued and rewarded as well.
"And when our children do succeed, when we have a graduating class like this one where every single student has been accepted to college, we need to make sure that every single student can afford to go. As president, I will offer a $4,000 tax credit that will cover two-thirds of the tuition at an average public college and make community college completely free. And in return, I will ask students to serve their country, whether it's by teaching or volunteering or joining the Peace Corps. We'll also simplify the maze of paperwork required to apply for financial aid and make it as easy as checking off a box on your tax returns because you shouldn't need a Ph.D. to apply for a student loan.
"Finally, as so many of you know, there are too many children in America right now who are slipping away from us as we speak, who will not be accepted to college and won't even graduate high school. They are overwhelmingly black, and Latino, and poor. And when they look around and see that no one has lifted a finger to fix their school since the 19th century, when they are pushed out the door at the sound of the last bell — some into a virtual war zone — is it any wonder they don't think their education is important? Is it any wonder that they are dropping out in rates we've never seen before?
"I know these children. I know their sense of hopelessness. I began my career over two decades ago as a community organizer on the streets of Chicago's South Side. And I worked with parents and teachers and local leaders to fight for their future. We set up after-school programs, and we even protested outside government offices so that we could get those who had dropped out into alternative schools. And in time, we changed futures.
"And so while I know hopelessness, I also know hope. I know that if we bring early education programs to these communities, if we stop waiting until high-school to address the drop-out rate and start in earlier grades — as my Success in the Middle Act will do — if we bring in new, qualified teachers, if we expand college outreach programs like GEAR UP and TRIO and fight to expand summer learning opportunities for minority and disadvantaged students — like I've done in the Senate — or if we double funding for after-school programs to serve a million more children, as I've proposed to do as president, if we do all this, we can make a difference in the lives of our children and the life of this country. I know we can. I've seen it happen. And so have you.
"Yes, it takes new resources, but we also know that there is no program and no policy that can substitute for a parent who is involved in their child's education from day one. There is no substitute for a parent who will make sure their children are in school on time and help them with their homework after dinner and attend those parent-teacher conferences, like so many parents here at MESA do. And I have no doubt that we will still be talking about these problems in the next century if we do not have parents who are willing to turn off the TV once in awhile and put away the video games and read to their child. Responsibility for our children's education has to start at home. We have to set high standards for them and spend time with them and love them. We have to hold ourselves accountable.
"This is the commitment we must make to our children. This is the chance they must have. And I will never forget that the only reason I'm standing here today is because I was given that same chance. And so was my wife.
"Our parents weren't wealthy by any means. My mother raised my sister and me on her own, and she even had to use food stamps at one point. Michelle's father was a worker at a water-filtration plant on the South Side of Chicago and provided for his family on a single salary. And yet, with the help of scholarships and student loans and a little luck, Michelle and I both had the chance to receive a world-class education. And my sister ended up becoming a teacher herself.
"That is the promise of education in America, that no matter what we look like or where we come from or who our parents are, each of us should have the opportunity to fulfill our God-given potential. Each of us should have the chance to achieve the American dream. Here at MESA, you've shown America just how that's possible. I congratulate you, and I wish you continued success, and I look forward to working with you and learning from you in the months and years ahead. Thank you."

Obama v. McCain on NCLB

Candidates Split Sharply
On Bush's No Child Left Behind Law
Wall Street Journal
May 29, 2008; Page A6
Barack Obama attacked a key plank of John McCain's education platform, taking up an issue that has been on the back burner amid a campaign dialogue dominated by war and the economy.

The candidates' biggest disagreement on education policy comes over President Bush's No Child Left Behind law, which threatens sanctions if schools don't meet certain standards of achievement. Sen. Obama wants to overhaul the law, while Sen. McCain wants to extend it.

"We must fix the failures of No Child Left Behind," Sen. Obama said Wednesday while touring the Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts, a Colorado public school that leans heavily on the arts to teach subjects such as math and English. "We must provide the funding we were promised ... We also need to realize that we can meet high standards without forcing teachers and students to spend most of the year preparing for a single, high-stakes test," he added.

The Illinois senator cited Mapleton's unorthodox model of instruction as an example of creativity fostering success. He noted a study that asserted: "87% of Colorado teachers said that testing was crowding out subjects like music and art."

The general election will offer stark differences on education. The Democratic presidential front-runner supports federal funding toward universal prekindergarten in states. Sen. McCain is opposed. Sen. Obama wants to cut banks out of the student-loan business and would have students only borrow directly from the government. Sen. McCain says students benefit from competition between bank-based and "direct" government lending.

In a speech in November, Sen. Obama declared that the No Child Left Behind law "has done more to stigmatize and demoralize our students and teachers in struggling schools than it has to marshal the talent and the determination and the resources to turn them around."

In discussing No Child Left Behind on his Web site, Sen. McCain says that "we finally see what is happening to students who were previously invisible."

Signed into law six years ago, No Child Left Behind is considered one of President Bush's signature domestic achievements. The goal was to close the gap between high- and low-achieving children by holding their schools accountable. But while it passed with bipartisan support, the law has been widely panned for its rigidity by parents, teachers and education policymakers -- particularly among the heavily Democratic teachers unions.

Sen. Obama, as well as his rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, has proposed a revamping of the law.

Clinton aides say she wants to see testing models that distinguish between failing schools and schools that are just falling short. The New York senator's campaign says she wants to move beyond testing to other indicators of progress.

Sen. Obama, too, wants to take a fresh look at the testing models. The campaign says the law unfairly puts the responsibility for student performance heavily on schools. Sen. Obama wants to see parents -- not just schools -- held accountable, by requiring districts to adopt school-family contracts that lay out expectations for student behavior, attendance and homework, the campaign says.

The Bush law holds schools accountable by exacting punishments if students don't meet goals. Schools that fail to reach their yearly improvement targets face sanctions such as reduced managerial authority or even layoffs for teachers.

Sen. McCain says the No Child law has succeeded by shining a spotlight on how effectively schools are teaching. His campaign says the threat of tough sanctions gives schools a big incentive to improve.

There is also a clear partisan split on another hot education issue: whether preschool should be more widely available. Currently, most states provide only limited funding for pre-K.

But in recent years, a number of states have invested more from their budgets to expand pre-K availability, at least for lower-income families. Sens. Clinton and Obama both propose helping states establish or expand pre-K programs further. Sen. Obama proposes a "Zero to Five" plan, at a cost of $10 billion a year, providing incentives to states to expand early education for young children.

Sen. McCain says that a federally sponsored pre-K program already exists, which provides preschool services to low-income families. "Let's not look to expand the role of the federal government in this area," says a campaign aide, explaining the senator's position. "Rather, let's look to ensure where the government is playing a role, it's doing so effectively."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Recount : Florida 2000

‘Recount’ Gets It Right, Even if America Didn’t
By Brad Friedman
This review was originally posted on The Brad Blog.

I don’t mind admitting it. For an Election Integrity journalist, HBO’s Recount is pure pornography.
So it was with great anticipation that I sat down on Sunday night to watch the film as it premiered, along with the “Diebold Document Whistleblower” (and my new colleague at Steven Heller and his wife, and Robert Carillo Cohen, one of the filmmakers of HBO’s landmark documentary, the Emmy-nominated Hacking Democracy which enjoyed a re-airing earlier in the day, as the cable net set the stage for its newest democracy thriller/heart-…

As it turns out, HBO seems to have gotten just about all of it right from a factual standpoint. At least from the perspective of someone who followed those extraordinary 36 days incredibly closely both during and since, as the country hung in limbo as if, yes, dangling by a chad. There was quite a bit of nuance packed in to the two fast-paced hours, even down to the dirty machinations of Florida’s corrupt and soulless Rep. Tom Feeney who played a minor, but key role in both the film and the stolen election.
Getting it right, or close to it, is apparently no small feat, since even the New York Times, the “paper of record”, was unable to do so even in their review of the film, seven years after they covered the actual events, and six years after they correctly wrote, “If all the ballots had been reviewed under any of seven single standards...Mr. Gore would have won.”
Never mind history though, now for the Times it’s the revisionistic: “Mr. Bush would have come out slightly ahead, even if all the votes counted throughout the state had been re-tallied.” (For the record, the Times was right six years ago, here’s the evidence [PDF], and wrong last week.)
While time has done few favors for the Times, the historical distance, and time-compression of the two hour film, managed to capture the thrilling, exhausting and disappointing back and forth, up and down roller coaster of the original saga --- while identifying the players who deserve much of the thanks for the failure to count every vote accurately, as per the voters’ intent, or even at all --- in what was finally democracy lost.
Among the players targeted for failing to ensure the proper administration of democracy: then-Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, who the film identifies as having almost single-handedly allowed hundreds of military ballots to be counted for George W. Bush despite any evidence whatsoever that any of them were actually cast prior to the close of polls on November 7th, 2000.
While I had been aware of the Gore campaign foolishly rolling over to the cynical and opportunistic GOP attempts to bully them, by painting them as anti-troop --- based on their eventually-abandoned premise that all counted ballots should actually be legal ones --- I hadn’t drawn a direct bead on Lieberman for blowing that call.
If the filmmakers were accurate in that depiction, then it looks like one of John McCain’s biggest supporters in 2008 had been undermining Democratic White House ambitions long ago.
Given the film’s familiar outcome, no small amount of credit is due the filmmakers who were able to succeed in having a room of jaded (understatement) election buffs still rooting for the good guys to pull it out this time around. (Without giving too much away, they didn’t. Gore was still named the loser, despite having received more votes in Florida in 2000 than Bush [PDF], even after tens of thousands of legal minority voters were excluded from voting at all, merely because their names sounded something like others who had purportedly been convicted of a felony at one time or another.)
The result: a taut, often hilarious, consistently engaging, still-maddening and sick-making political thriller. History would thank you for watching it. Again and again.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

California School crisis and the economy

The school reforms initiated in the 1980s and currently in vogue in California suppress the ideological issue of equality of opportunity. Conservative school reform advocates portrayed bilingual and multicultural education as divisive and as a “distraction” from important issues (Bloom, 1987; Hirsch, 1987). Not surprisingly, the important equity goals embodied in the reforms of the 1960s and 1970s were ignored. Neo liberal efforts focused more on school management than on the actual dynamics of teaching and learning in classrooms. Moreover, few conservative reform efforts attended specifically to schools that were failing to meet the needs of poor and cultural minority students.
The ideology of neo liberalism in school reform remained dominant until late 2008 , but it is weakening. It lost dominance because it did not produce the results promised, a well functioning education system for all. And, the problems of neo-liberalism, an over reliance on tests, increasing drop out rates, fraud and corruption in accountability, and the persistent failure of achievement in low income schools, became more visible. The promises of neo-liberal reforms did not materialize.
The problems of neo-liberal reforms were not only those of the U.S. education system. Between 1980 and 2008, free market capitalism, or free trade, or neo-liberalism, produced wealth for the wealthy and economic stagnation for the great majority in the U.S. and destitution for vast millions in the world. Life did not get better for the average U.S. citizen. Education – long the hope of the majority of working people - did not produce advantages in the global economy. The U.S. economy stagnated while newly industrializing countries of China, Brazil, India, and to a lesser extent, Korea, Mexico, Singapore, and others grew – and inequality grew in these countries.

Schooling for Working-Class and Marginalized Students
Bob Chase, then president of the National Education Association, notes that “the richest nation in the world has yet to muster the political willpower to provide every child with a decent chance at quality education. At least 15 million children in America attend substandard schools…. That’s why the states must level up funding for the poorest public schools, especially inner city and rural schools” (Chase, 1997, p. 2). He says further, “To set high academic standards for all students nationally, without providing the resources to meet them, would be a cruel joke. As cruel a joke as promising to treat each child equally and never living up to that promise” (p. 2).
We spend less per student than 16 other modern industrialized countries (Slavin, 1998). Moreover, of these, we are the only country that does not actively promote equality of educational opportunity. In the Netherlands, for example, schools receive 25 percent more funding for each lower-income child and 90 percent more funding for each minority child than in the United States (Slavin, 1998). Clearly, schools serving working-class students and cultural minorities fail in large part because our nation refuses to invest in its children.
While we have now spent trillion dollars on a war in Iraq, the nation could have invested that money in South Central Los Angeles, or the south side of Chicago, in jobs and infrastructure and hospitals and schools. It is a political and economic question of great importance of why we can quickly find money for war after war, even when the U.S. is not attacked, but we can not find money for schools and teachers. ( Overthrow, 2006)

Our economy needs well-educated workers. We cannot permit schools to continue to fail. When schools succeed for the middle class and fail for working-class students and students of color, schools contribute to a crippling division along economic and racial lines in our society. Schools, as public institutions, must find ways to offer all children equal educational opportunity. Yet reformed schools are more exceptions than the common pattern, particularly in our urban areas.
Let us be clear about the reality of schools in our nation. Some middle-class schools could benefit from reform, but most middle-class schools work. Most schools in urban areas, however, are unable to provide the equal educational opportunity called for by our national ideals and by constitutional law. There will be no significant change in the quality of urban education without substantial new funds allocated to these schools. As the NEA’s Chase has noted, children in these schools need and deserve the same quality of buildings, teachers, materials, and resources as do students from affluent neighborhoods. Recently, legislation in the state of Maryland was introduced to bring all schools up to “adequate” levels of funding. This is a significant step toward equitable funding across districts ( Montgomery 2002) Important adequacy of funding decisions have been made in courts serving New Jersey (Abbot), California (Williams) and New York. Only in New Jersey has even modest efforts been made to respond to the constitutionally required equal protection of the students. (Karp, 2007) If even state constitution and courts can not or will not order adequate funding, what more can we expect? For example California is regularly noted as the richest state in the nation- and yet it ranks 47th in per pupil expenditures, California’s students rank 48th. out of the states in 4th. grade reading, 47th. in 4th. grade math, and 43rd. in 4th. grade science. California ranks 48th. in 8th. grade reading, 45th. in 8th. grade math, and 42nd in 8th. grade science. (Students First, 2007). California regularly scores at the lowest levels in the nation while expecting to retain its dynamic, growth oriented economic prosperity.
While major neo liberal organizations regularly issue reports claiming that reform of public education is necessary for economic progress, these groups are opposed to the one reform most likely to work; adequate funding of schools in low income areas. (Karp,2007)
The U.S. and most states need a substantive change to provide excellent schools for all children- and the political leadership of both parties refuses to provide the money for such change, instead they propose tests, standards, and blaming the teachers. This is the current status in California dealing with the budget. We can only conclude that legislative and political leadership, perhaps as a consequence of lack of democracy, wants to keep on talking and talking and do not wish to improve the schools to provide democratic opportunity.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

California School budget crisis

Please watch this video by Assemblymember Loyd Levine, and then take action.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The budget, education, and selling us a bridge to nowhere

The Budget; education; and selling us a bridge to nowhere.
The California budget is a mess- at least a $15 Billion deficit.
About half of California’s schools are in a mess: California’s students rank 48th. out of the states in 4th. grade reading on the NAEP, 47th. in 4th. grade math, and 43rd. in 4th. grade science. California ranks 48th. in 8th. grade readingon the NAEP, 45th. in 8th. grade math, and 42nd in 8th. grade science.
That is, our schools are in crisis, particularly our schools serving Black, Latino and economically disadvantaged students. And, after 20 years of “school reform,” there has been no real progress.
So what is proposed in the Governor’s budget ? Well first they propose to cut $4.1 billion from the schools. This will increase class size, eliminate counselors and lead to teacher lay offs. The Governor would also will cut health care to some seniors, the disabled, and children.
While cutting and slashing, the Governor also proposes spending at least 9 million additional dollars for a new video based test for new teachers (TPA or PACT). This new test has no relationship to the crisis in school achievement of California’s failing schools. It does, however, provide career advancement for test writers and professors at Stanford and elsewhere, provide them with coffee, donuts and catered food while they meet, and keep them from having to work with real teachers in real classrooms to deal with the problems students in real schools.
It is a bridge to nowhere. A boondoggle. The state might as well fund research on developing rain forests in the Iowa prairie. And, unless the California Assembly Budget Committee acts, it is a boondoggle that you and I will pay for.
It is a bridge to create a test that is not needed and will not improve teaching nor learning, but a few bureaucrats and three college professors want it. So, while we don’t have money for class size reduction, summer school, and safe schools, we have money for this. Excuse me- I thought that we had a budget crisis and a school crisis, but I haven’t heard of a test crisis.
You may have heard the story of the drunk who lost his/her keys in the dark alley. He couldn’t see well enough to find the keys. So, he went down the block to where there was a street light and searched there. Along came a friend and offered to help. After a few minutes the friend asked, Where again did you lose the keys?
The drunk replied, back there in the dark alley. The friend asked- if you lost the keys in the dark alley, why are you looking here at the corner? The drunk replied, because there is not enough light to see in the dark alley.
The proposed funding of Teacher Performance Assessment during a state budget crisis is like turning on the street lights in the next block. That is not where the school crisis is- and you won’t find the keys to quality education there.

Duane Campbell
see prior post:

Monday, May 12, 2008

California schools are failing all our kids

California schools are failing all our kids
Focus on a state racial gap ignores some of the nation's worst overall test scores.
By John Rogers and Jeannie Oakes

November 20, 2007

State schools Supt. Jack O'Connell hosted a summit in Sacramento last week of 4,000 educators, policymakers and experts. He asked them to confront California's "racial achievement gap" -- the persistently lower test scores of California's African American and Latino public school students compared with their white and Asian peers. In 125 packed sessions, participants probed causes of the gap and offered strategies to close it. O'Connell asked them to "honestly and courageously face this pernicious problem," and for two days, the capital was abuzz with ideas, energy and even some hope.

Strikingly, the state's other "achievement gap" was barely mentioned at the summit; this is the gap between California and the rest of the nation.

The most recent results from the National Assessment of Education Progress test (popularly known as "the nation's report card") place California's fourth- and eighth-graders below those in nearly every other state in math and reading achievement. (Although California's math scores have improved over the last decade, so have the scores in the rest of the country.)

This national achievement gap affects students across the state regardless of their race. If we don't address both the racial and national achievement gaps, it's hard to imagine solving either one

For example, for years, people have been describing and lamenting California's general decline in education. We've all heard it. Test scores of California's Latino and African American students are, on average, among the lowest in the country. However, white students don't do well either, and by a wide margin: California's white eighth-graders score below white eighth-graders in every state but West Virginia and Nevada on the NAEP reading test.

In other subjects and at other grades, California's white students score below white students in most other states.

Is there a problem with California's white students? Do they or their parents care less about education than white students in Connecticut or Iowa? No one asks these questions about white students. Yet many people have no qualms about offering "culture" or "family background" as the main reason for the underperformance of Latino and African American students.

In a report released this month by UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access, we offer a different explanation, one that covers the learning problems of minority students and white students, which we call the "opportunity gap." What this means is that California is significantly behind most other states in providing fundamental learning opportunities, period. Conditions here are bad for all students on average, no matter their race or ethnicity, and on top of that, they are worse for African American and Latino students. Yet these are problems that are readily identified and fixable.

On average, California middle and high school teachers are responsible for almost 50% more students than teachers across the nation. California has a critical shortage of well-trained math teachers even as it expects students to meet math curriculum standards that are among the highest in the country. And when students are struggling, they are unlikely to get help. Public high school students lack sufficient access to counselors -- on average, there is one counselor for every 556 students, the lowest ratio in the nation. Our middle school students have even less access to counselors, with one for every 753 students.

In addition, middle and high schools enrolling the highest proportion of Latino and African American students are far more likely to be overcrowded or lack college prep courses than majority white and Asian schools. Middle schools serving more than 90% Latino and African American students are 22 times more likely than majority white and Asian schools to experience a severe shortage of qualified teachers.

California's educational standards were designed to produce a highly educated workforce for a technology-based economy and a well-informed citizenry. But achieving these standards is not a simple matter of motivating teachers, students and parents to "try harder." California has not invested in its schools at a level commensurate with its standards, and our core educational infrastructure is incapable of providing the opportunities these goals demand.

Truly closing the racial achievement gap and the national achievement gap will require directing new resources to those students who are most deprived of fundamental learning opportunities.

John Rogers and Jeannie Oakes are the co-directors of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access.

California schools rank first

School districts start to face sanctions under landmark law
The Associated Press
Saturday, May 10, 2008; 1:06 PM

THERMAL, Calif. -- At Las Palmitas Elementary School, nestled between rundown homes and fields of grapes, peppers and dates in Southern California, 99 percent of students live in poverty and fewer than 20 percent speak English fluently.

Las Palmitas and other schools in the Coachella Valley Unified School District are just the type policy makers had in mind when Congress passed the federal No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 to shed light on the disparities facing poor and minority children.

Nineteen of the district's 21 schools _ including Las Palmitas _ have not met the federal law's performance benchmarks for four years. Now the entire district faces sanctions for the first time.

"We have hardworking, dedicated, trained teachers like everybody else. They've got to teach a language, they've got to teach the content, and they've got to counter poverty," said Foch "Tut" Pensis, the district's superintendent. "We are the poster child for NCLB."

California has 97 school districts that failed to meet their goals under the law for four years, more than twice as many failing districts as any other state so far. Kentucky has the next highest number facing sanctions, with 47.

Nationwide, 411 school districts in 27 states now face intervention.

Over the next few years, hundreds more districts are destined to enter the next phase that California already has begun. The state has ordered districts to undergo everything from reporting how they are implementing the federal law to having a team of specialists assess every aspect of their operations. In the most extreme cases, California districts could be subject to a state takeover.

How California and the other states will turn around those struggling districts is unclear.

"No one, on a large scale, has figured out how to solve the achievement gap," Pensis said. "Everybody's looking for that answer."

If they need better teachers and administrators, it's not apparent where they will come from. Some federal money is available, but it's unlikely it will be enough to cover all the failing districts.

Many states already are losing revenue due to the sliding economy. California's budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins this summer is projected to be anywhere from $15 billion to $20 billion.

No Child Left Behind sought to shine a light on inequality in the nation's education system, where schools have been accused of setting lower expectations for poor and minority children. Nationwide, black and Hispanic students consistently lag behind their white and Asian peers in performance, a chasm referred to as the achievement gap.

The law also set tough goals for districts to demonstrate steady improvement.

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says California is taking the right steps. It is the first state to take widespread action against all its districts that have failed to meet the achievement target set by No Child Left Behind.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state's elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O'Connell, proposed the sliding scale of punishment for the 97 districts _ which are responsible for educating nearly a third of California's 6.3 million students.

Their approach reserves severe measures, such as replacing administrators or a takeover by the state, for districts that have shown the least improvement.

"He is the first governor to kind of embrace this law, to take it on himself, to be acting for it, and in keeping completely with the spirit of No Child Left Behind," Spellings said in an interview.

By taking action now, California can collect $45 million from the federal government. The districts facing the most severe sanctions each will receive $250,000 in federal money to pay for intervention teams and to start following their suggestions.

They will need to hire turnaround experts, new principals and coaches, and many more teachers to replace those judged to be ineffective. Where the districts will find those top-quality educators is unknown. California expects to face a shortage of as many as 100,000 qualified teachers in the next decade, even without changes to its existing school system.

"I think it's going to take leadership, commitment and expectations," she said. "It's just like with the kids: If you think you have a bunch of kids who can't get to grade level, that's what you have. If you think you have superstars, that's what you have."

With half the black and Hispanic students in the country dropping out before graduation, anything less than aggressive action to turn around the failing districts is unacceptable, Spellings said. Under some of the states' current improvement plans, it would take some districts more than 100 years to bring students' reading and math skills to grade level.

"The accountability _ all the testing, all the data, all the stuff we do _ are meaningless unless we have real consequences for failure," Spellings said.

(This version CORRECTS that state has already called on districts to fulfill various requirements).)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Latino History left out: Testimony

Testimony; May 9, 2008.
Focus Group on the History-Social Science Framework for California Schools.

Dr. Duane Campbell, Professor of Education. Cal. State University –Sacramento.
I have been teaching Methods of Teaching History and Social Sciences for 35 years, and supervising student teachers using the Framework.

It is urgent that the History-Social Science Framework be revised to provide an accurate history of the contributions of Mexicans, Mexican Americans, Latinos and Asians to the history of the state and of the nation. The current Framework reflects the historiography of the 1950’s. It is substantially out of date.
The 1987- 2005 document expanded African American, Native American, and women’s history coverage but remains totally inadequate in the coverage of Latinos and Asians—both significant population groups in the development of history of the West. The only significant change between the 1985 and the 2005 adopted Framework was the addition of a new cover, a cover letter, and additions of photos such as of Cesar Chavez (For a detailed analysis of this curriculum conflict, see Cornbleth & Waugh, 1995, and Campbell, 2004) . Latinos currently make up 48.1 percent of California’s student population and Asians make up 8.1 %.
By 2003, major national organizations and legislatures have recognized a need to substantially revise preparation of young people for citizenship. The Civic Missions of Schools project said:

History classes should help young people acquire and learn to use the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will prepare them to be competent and responsible citizens throughout their lives. Competent and responsible citizens:

1) Are informed and thoughtful; have a grasp and an appreciation of history and the fundamental processes of American democracy; have an understanding and awareness of public and community issues; and have the ability to obtain information, think critically, and enter into dialogue among others with different perspectives. “
The Civic Mission of Schools. ( The Carnegie Corporation.

In a society as diverse as California, the need for history and an understanding of public issues must be inclusive rather than exclusive. We should re write the History-Social Science Framework so that all of our students - members of the California’s diverse communities- recognize their own role in building our society and economy.

The just published Democracy at Risk by the Forum for Education and Democracy says it well, “ The welfare of our nation rests heavily upon our system of public education. We strive to provide all of our children with equal access to a high-quality, free education because we know that without it, our democractic way of life will be at peril. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “ If Americans desire to be both ignorant and free, they want what never has been and whill never be. “ Indeed, it is our democratic system of governing, based upon the twin pillars of equal rights and responsibilities , which requires we have a system of public education” ( Darling-Hammond and Wood, 2008). (
The California History-Social Science curriculum is not sufficient unless it prepares all students for democracy. Current efforts in history and in civics education are not sufficient because they do not include the substantive necessity of bringing all of our young people to the table of democracy. (Parker, 2003)
California should be leading the way in preparing our young people for civic life. We are not. Instead, we are currently restricted by the out of date and substantially limited History-Social Science Framework. The Framework should be updated to include scholarship developed since 1980.

Media and Technology
In the 9th. grade electives, a course should be added on the creation, development and use of media and technology as communication tools and as political instruments. California, the home of Silicone Valley, is not bringing our students into the current era.
Every California student, every school, should have access to the skills to use technology and to access the vast media world around us, from libraries, to data bases, including Youtube and others. Henry Jenkins of MIT in an important paper written for the MacArthur Foundation in 2006 says,

“Educators must work together to ensure that every American young person has access to the skills and experiences need to become a full participant ( in our democracy), can articulate their understanding of how media shapes perceptions, and has been socialized into the emerging ethical standards that should shape their practices as media makers and participants in online communities….
Fostering such social skills and cultural competencies requires a more systemic approach to media education in the United states. Everyone involved in preparing young people to go out into the world has contributions to make in helping students to acquire the skills they need to become full participants in our society.” (Jenkins, 2006)
Technology is already changing our world and our schools. A revised History-Social Science Framework provides an opportunity for all California students to join in this development rather than be left behind by a new form of tracking where the middle class and the elite students have technology, and the students of color and language minority students have electronic worksheets and test preparation drill material. All students need to learn the skills of locating relevant information and evaluating information and media resources .

Dr. Duane Campbell,

Author, Choosing Democracy: A practical guide to multicultural education. ( 3rd. edition. Merrill, Prentice Hall. 2004)

Project on Democracy and Political Participation.
Cross Cultural Resource Center.
Department of Bilingual/Multicultural Education.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Education for All May 9, Sacramento


Teachers, Students, and Parents will be available for interviews
Spanish speakers available
On Thursday, May 8, 2008, members of the Association of Raza Educators (A.R.E.) will lead a protest caravan to Sacramento, California. Teachers will meet in Chicano Park (San Diego, CA) at 3:30pm and the caravan will leave at 4:00pm. Teachers in Los Angeles will also meet at the Governor's office in Downtown LA at 5:00pm. Other caravans will leave Oxnard, the three caravans will then converge in downtown San Francisco where they will unite with Bay Area teachers for a press conference that begins at 10:30am, on Friday May 9th. The caravans, part of a statewide effort, will continue to Sacramento, where there will be a massive teacher rally on the grounds of the State Capitol Building at 3:00 pm.

The purpose of the A.R.E. Caravan will be to express to all government and public school officials our indignation and opposition to the current massive cut backs facing the public schools. Through the caravan, A.R.E. hopes to inform our communities that Mexican-Latino educators are united in their opposition to the cutbacks in both school funding and the elimination of courses that truly work towards educating children. We also intend to expose the hypocrisy of government officials who publicly 'desire' to improve test scores yet vote to deny the funding necessary to provide a quality education for all students.

Above all, the proposed cutbacks will more dramatically impact and deny children of poor and working class communities their right to a quality education. It is no secret that the cut backs will specifically hurt Mexican-Latino and African American children who historically have been neglected by racist policies and government officials. It's a shame that the government can cut funding for education, yet increase spending on the state prison system.

A.R.E. will not stand idly by, while our children's future is being destroyed. The caravan will be just one of many acts of resistance on our part to the on-going attacks on public education and the teaching profession.

Please Contact Eduardo Enrique Ochoa via
e-mail or by phone
(619) 252-7891 for more information regarding the
San Diego Press Conference

Please Contact Miguel Zavala via
e-mail or by phone
(626) 617-0401

Also on May 9. The focus groups on the History-Social Science Framework. See post below.
3 PM. Department of Education.

Monday, May 05, 2008

California education to Latinos: Sorry, we forgot that you exist

California Education to Latinos: Sorry, we forgot that you exist !
After 20 years of using a California History-Social Science Framework which is ahistorical and misses the significant contributions of Mexicans, Latinos, and Asian to U.S. and California history, the State Board of Education will hold hearings on whether the current framework should be revised. I hope that you have an opinion.
California has the largest population of any state, with more than 6,286,000 students in school in 2006 California students make up more than 11 percent of the United States total. California, along with some 16 other states, adopts textbooks for the entire state instead of district by district. This makes the California adoption the largest single textbook sale in the nation. Succeeding in market is an important goal for textbook publishers. Many publishers write and edit their books in a targeted attempt to win control of the large and lucrative California and Texas markets. In an effort to increase their profits, publishers promote and try to sell throughout the nation books developed in California and Texas.
The election of 1982 began 16 years of conservative, Republican control of the California governorship. Governors appoint the members of the State Board of Education. The conservative control changed the history–social science, language, and reading curricula and textbooks for the state, and influenced textbook decisions throughout the United States.
The 1987 draft of the History-Social Science Framework (a guide for teachers and textbook selection still in use today ) excluded an accurate history of Latino and Native American settlement of the Southwest and did not cover the substantial Asian history in the West (see Almaguer, 1994). By electing to concentrate on a melting pot, consensus point of view, the History-Social Science Framework assumed that telling the history of European immigrants adequately explains the experiences of Mexicans, Native Americans, and Asians.
The Framework does not describe the displacement and destruction of Native American, Mexican, and Mexican American communities from 1850 to 1930 throughout the Southwest, including in Los Angeles and San Diego. The authors—among them, educational historian Diane Ravitch—failed to note that the present mosaic of Southwest culture was created by the subjugation and domination of previously existing groups, both Native American and Mexican American.
The California document won the praise of conservative reform advocates around the nation. Honig and Ravitch and numerous funded advocacy organizations such as the Brookings Institute cited it in their writings and speeches as a positive example of the kind of multiculturalism they supported.
In California, committees and the State Board of Education select texbooks for all the students in public schools. The U.S. history books submitted for the 1990 California adoption, and readopted in 1998 and 2005, were required to be based on the Framework. The 1987- 2005 document expanded African American, Native American, and women’s history coverage but were totally inadequate in their coverage of Latinos and Asians—both significant population groups in the development of history of the West. The only significant change between the 1985 and the 2005 adopted Framework was the addition of a new cover, a cover letter, and a photo of Cesar Chavez. Latinos make up 48.1 percent of California’s student population and Asians make up 8.1 %. Coverage of Native Americans in fourth-grade books was embarrassingly Euro-centric. The books do not accurately describe the interactive and interdependent nature of the African, European, Native American, Latino, and Asian communities. (For a detailed analysis of this curriculum conflict, see Cornbleth & Waugh, 1995. For an opposing view, see Gitlin, 1995.) Above Excerpt from Choosing Democracy: a practical guide to multicultural education. (2004)
Focus group: Friday, May, 9,2008. Sacramento.
An agenda for the focus group meetings are posted at the CDE Web site at

Sunday, May 04, 2008

When School reform works - and then is crushed

Liberating the Schoolhouse

By Wellford Wilms

Eighteen teachers, Baldwin Park High School’s “leadership team,” sit in a semicircle with their arms folded across their chests looking at the floor. The year is 2003 and the new principal, Julie Infante, an exuberant 44-year-old woman, explains how they are going to lead this high school out of its academic doldrums together. The teachers are clearly skeptical, either distrusting what Infante is saying or disbelieving that they can do it. The Los Angeles County school has hit bottom. The campus is littered with trash, fights are common, students cut classes without penalty, test scores are so low that the school’s accreditation is in jeopardy, and the faculty is demoralized. The stakes are high because failure is an invitation for the state to take over.

Remarkably, in three years, between 2003 and 2006, with coaching from UCLA’s School Management Program, the teachers and the principal accomplished a stunning success. By every important academic measure, the school made impressive gains. The campus was cleaned up, the number of disciplinary cases fell, student absenteeism declined, and test scores improved dramatically. Not surprisingly, the teachers felt more positive about the administrators and less isolated from one another, and their job satisfaction increased. But, in 2006, in an equally astonishing turn of events, the board of education and the superintendent removed Infante, replacing her with a new principal who began to reverse the bold steps that had produced the turnaround.

What happened? Why would the board and superintendent undo the actions that had produced such remarkable results? It was because they failed to understand what Infante and the UCLA coaches had accomplished. They were blinded by their own ambitions and by their conviction that administrative top-down control is the only way to run the schools. What they could not see was that Infante had turned the leadership of the school upside down, leading from behind the scenes and encouraging teachers to take control. As the teachers expanded their responsibility, a new professional authority began to emerge among them that translated into new norms for the school. Instead of blaming everyone but themselves for the students’ failure, the teachers took on collective responsibility for the students’ success.

This is a story about why bottom-up educational reforms that work cannot survive in the face of top-down control. It is ultimately a story about the use of power. The dominant belief is that top-down control is the only way to hold principals and teachers accountable for measurable results. The less prevalent belief is that bottom-up collaboration between teachers and administrators is a source of innovation that builds commitment to and support for successful reforms. The conflict has become especially important in the face of the federal No Child Left Behind initiative, which requires administrators to produce high test scores or risk their jobs. The pressure for test scores leads school boards and superintendents to mandate what is to be taught and to reward principals and teachers who comply and punish those who do not. The effect of the law, says author Jonathan Kozol, is like placing a “sword of terror just above teachers’ heads,” causing many of the best of them to leave the profession.1 As boards and superintendents usurp authority, the teachers who stay often become docile, as do other workers in stifling bureaucracies, resigning themselves to being told what to do. It is little wonder that without authority and leadership at the schoolhouse, gains made one day are so often erased the next.

Amazingly little research has been done on the subject of why school reforms are rarely sustained. Most of what passes for research is really little more than polemics. Books with promising titles like “Failure Is NOT an Option” and “Creating a Positive School Culture” invoke rhetoric about what should be done, without analysis of the underlying problems. How many years has education been a top national priority, and how much have we learned from the billions of dollars spent? Quite a few, and not much. The few research studies that have been done show that reforms do not last because leadership changes, districts change their focus, teachers lose their motivation, and energy for innovation diminishes.2 But a close examination of the shakeup at Baldwin Park High School reveals an even more fundamental culprit: adherence to the belief that power can only flow from the top to the bottom.

I have seen the clash of these beliefs in every organization I have studied over the past 30 years, from schools and universities to trade and teacher unions, to corporations and police departments. The research is clear: Collaborative decision-making invariably improves employees’ productivity, the quality of their work lives, and their job satisfaction.3 But these improvements always wither with the introduction of top-down control, which strips employees of their professionalism, weakens their commitment to the organization’s goals and dampens their motivation to work hard and do a good job.4 In Baldwin Park we see both sides of the conflict play out. Once the board and superintendent decided to impose their control on the school, they destroyed the collaboration between the principal and teachers that had made it so vital. They also squandered the chance to build a new model of school-led reform that could have sustained the improvements over time. Unfortunately, Baldwin Park could be any school district in the country because the automatic and destructive use of top-down control is such a familiar and discouraging story.

The Turnaround

Baldwin Park is a medium-size city about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The school district comprises 14 elementary, four middle and three high schools, one of which is Baldwin Park High School. Baldwin Park High has an attractive campus built in the 1950s with low-slung buildings now housing about 2,400 students, 88 percent of whom are Latino. Nearly 20 percent speak little English. Students come from the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, with more than half receiving reduced-cost or free lunches. The school employs 84 teachers, who have taught there for an average of 10 years.

Before 2003, for as long as anyone can remember, the school had operated in the traditional manner. Teachers talk about how power had always been held by administrators, which had been the cause of many of the school’s problems. Recalled one teacher, “We’d always had a top-down management style from time immemorial, and most of the problems on the campus were the result of the administration rather than the administration preventing them.” The school also had a reputation for being rough. Sergio Corona, a school board member who was its president during the turnaround, had attended Baldwin Park High School. He called it a “gladiator school.” “People would come in from other cities every day and there were fights. I’ve seen rumbles at that school, and they were bad,” said Corona. It was little wonder that Baldwin Park also suffered from a poor academic reputation. Mark Skvarna, a 53-year-old career Air Force man with a graying crew cut, came to the district in 1998 as its fiscal officer and became superintendent in 2001. He acknowledges that the school had the lowest possible statewide ranking on student test scores. “Its numbers were in the dumps. It was the worst of the worst,” Skvarna said.

By most accounts, hiring Infante was an act of desperation. The students’ low academic performance, measured by the California Academic Performance Index (API), was an embarrassment to the district, and the school badly needed new leadership. The API, a scale that runs from 200 to 1,000, is determined by annual testing. “At the time, the school was a 475 or 479, and it had been dropping and dropping. I think they were at a loss to know what to do with it,” said Infante. Corona recalled that he asked Infante during her hiring interview: “We know that it’s not the greatest school. What can you do?” Infante convinced him of her “game plan,” explaining that the teachers felt alienated and that she wanted to empower them. “She was not telling me things I wanted to hear, but she had a coherent, logical plan ... that focused on learning,” said Corona. Infante was hired. Though the board and district office hoped that her ideas would work, no one grasped how radical her plan really was.

Shortly after she took over as principal in 2002, Infante brought in UCLA’s School Management Program to help her organize the teachers to rebuild the school. The program had a reputation for teaching principals and teachers to work collaboratively. The UCLA staff had helped Infante when she was an assistant principal in El Monte, a neighboring district. Now in Baldwin Park, two UCLA coaches signed on to support Infante and the 18 teachers who made up a new “leadership team.”

In early 2003, Dan Chernow, executive director of UCLA’s School Management Program, who knew my research and my interest in education, asked if I would like to join the project to document its progress. He showed me the school’s abysmal statistics and described UCLA’s plan to coach teachers to take responsibility by running their own meetings on the assumption that, by setting their own priorities and being responsible for follow-through, they would become school leaders. I told Chernow that I thought his strategy would fail. I had learned from my industrial studies that changing an organization’s culture required changing how the work was done. In the case of Baldwin Park High School, I told Chernow, it meant changing what happened in the classroom. I was certain that his plan, like other reforms, would never reach the classroom or, more likely, that it would be swept aside by some new idea. But Chernow persisted, assuring me that I could write about whatever I found. Despite my skepticism, I agreed. Baldwin Park presented the chance to test my own ideas while I documented what I knew would be a certain failure. I was in for a surprise.

When I began the research, observing meetings, running focus groups and interviewing teachers and administrators, I was struck by the firmness of Infante’s convictions about sharing decision-making power. One day I asked her if being a woman had anything to do with it. She drew up her short body in her chair and retorted: “I’m not the nurturing kind. I’ll nurture kids, or someone in a professional way, but I’m not a touchy-feely person.” Though not “touchy-feely,” she had been deeply influenced by a principal in her former district who had taken her under his wing when she left teaching to become an administrator. He called her “the young one” and made sure that she was exposed to the school’s operations. Infante recalled that he “was looking at me as not just an assistant principal but thinking about what he could do to help me succeed. It shaped a lot of my dealings later with teachers because all of us want the same thing—to be motivated to try different things and to expand our horizons.” She said she had learned about sharing decision-making in El Monte, where she helped build a new school from the ground up. “It has to be a team effort,” she told me, weaving the fingers of both hands together. “Teachers and administrators have to do it together.”

Infante’s Vision

Months before Infante took over at Baldwin Park High, she visited the campus, talking with teachers to get a better picture of what was going on. She describes sitting in on meetings where teachers passed the time talking about housekeeping and pointing blaming fingers at the administrators and at each other. It was common to hear teachers talk about the school’s “culture of failure,” she recalls. “The teachers felt completely isolated. There was no trust among them, there was no concern to know what each other were doing. The teachers were overwhelmed and just trying to survive.” The teachers’ sense of isolation was passed along to students, who were oblivious to the shadow their test scores cast on the entire school community. “Students had no idea how their behavior shaped the school’s poor image and that their failure ultimately came back to hurt them,” said Infante. “The adults didn’t know how to communicate with the students, so it was clear that it was going to take a lot of dialogue to turn this into one school [community].”

To reverse the school’s course, Infante knew that the teachers had to become part of the decision-making process, something they had never done. “I wanted to develop a leadership team from a cross-section of the school—not just the cheerleaders,” she explained. John Otterness, a former mathematics teacher who was one of the UCLA coaches, recalled, “Julie tried to make it a diverse group, not just the traditional leadership thing where you pull in the department chairs and that’s about it.” Infante said she asked for volunteers who “wanted to be part of an earth-shattering experience. I wanted them to feel honored to be selected and to know that they were on the ground level of change.” Infante also included the local teachers’ union representative to ensure that the union would feel part of her plan. After consulting with members of the faculty and department heads, Infante chose 18 teachers to be the new leadership team.
Read the entire fascinating article at the web site:

Thursday, May 01, 2008

When Bush politicians decide- corruption

Katrina all over again.

Congressman George Miller, Chairman

Thursday, May 1, 2008
Press Office, 202-226-0853
Chairman Miller: Report Shows We Must Re-Evaluate Effectiveness of Reading First Program
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, issued the following statement on a new report on the federal Reading First program released today by the Institute for Education Services. The report found that the program has not made a significant difference in the reading comprehension levels of participating students. “From day one of the creation of the Reading First program, it has been corrupted by the Bush administration – plagued by severe mismanagement, poor implementation, and gross conflicts of interest. Despite these serious issues, I had nevertheless hoped that the program would produce better results than these. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent administering this program over the years. This report makes it shamefully clear that the only individuals benefiting from this significant investment were the President’s cronies – not the schoolchildren this program was intended to serve. Because of the corruption in the Reading First program, districts and schools were steered towards certain reading programs and products that may not have provided the most effective instruction for students. That may explain why we are seeing these results today.
“We all share the goal of helping all children learn to read. But this report, coupled with the scandals revealed last year, shows that we need to seriously re-examine this program and figure out how to make it work better for students. Our nation’s schoolchildren and taxpayers deserve a program that is both properly managed and successful in boosting the reading skills of students.”
The Reading First program was first created under the No Child Left Behind Act to help all children read at grade level by the end of third grade. An investigation conducted last year by the House Education and Labor Committee uncovered significant conflicts of interest among Department of Education officials and contractors involved with running the program. For more information on the results of that investigation, click here . ###

When politicians decide on reading programs

Study: Bush's Reading First program ineffective
By Greg Toppo

A $1 billion-a-year reading program that has been a pillar of the Bush administration's education plan doesn't have much impact on the reading skills of the young students it's supposed to help, a long-awaited federal study shows.
The results, issued Thursday, could serve as a knockout punch for the 6-year-old Reading First program — Congress has already slashed funding 60%. Reading First last year was the subject of a congressional investigation into whether top advisers improperly benefited from contracts for textbooks and testing materials they designed, and whether the advisers kept some textbook publishers from qualifying for funding.

Advocates of Reading First, an integral part of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, have long maintained that its emphasis on phonics, scripted instruction by teachers and regular, detailed analyses of children's skills, would raise reading achievement, especially among the low-income kids it targets. But the new study by the U.S. Education Department's Institute of Education Sciences (IES) shows that children in schools receiving Reading First funding had virtually no better reading skills than those in schools that didn't get the funding.

The large-scale study looked at students in first through third grade from 2004 through 2006. For each of three samples, researchers studied 30,000 to 40,000 students, says IES Director Russ Whitehurst. "This is a big study."

On the plus side, researchers found that Reading First teachers spent more time emphasizing phonics and other aspects of what many experts consider solid instruction — about 10 minutes more a day, or nearly an hour more a week. "Teachers' behavior was changed," Whitehurst says.

But for all their effort, the study shows, their students' reading scores on standardized tests were nearly indistinguishable from those of students in other schools; in many cases, they may have been using the same materials, but their teachers may not have received the same training.

"For all intents and purposes, the kids read at the same level in each grade," Whitehurst says.

Congressional Democrats were quick to point out the program's ties to President Bush. In a statement, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said the Bush administration "has put cronyism first and the reading skills of our children last and this report shows the disturbing consequences. Instead of awarding scarce education dollars to reading programs that make a difference for our children, the administration chose to reward its friends instead."

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who presided over the April 2007 hearings, said the report, "coupled with the scandals revealed last year, shows that we need to seriously re-examine this program and figure out how to make it work better for students."

While critics will likely say the data portray Reading First as an expensive failure, Whitehurst speculates that the study may simply suggest that schools need to spend even more time on phonics and the like.

But he also notes that states that got Reading First money earlier in the program's history actually got worse results than those that more recently got their federal funding. The difference may be unrelated to years spent in the program, Whitehurst says, as schools in more recently funded states tend to spend more per student to implement the program.

He also says school districts may have spread their cash thin — they can use up to 20% of their Reading First funding outside of Reading First schools to improve reading skills districtwide. Eligible schools have high numbers of students from low-income families.

Education analyst Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington think tank that supports Reading First, says the study was poorly designed and "certainly not the last word on Reading First's effectiveness."

For one thing, he says, researchers looked at "lackluster" Reading First schools that just barely qualified for grants, comparing them to schools that just barely missed getting grants.

Whitehurst stands by the research, saying researchers vetted the schools in advance. "It's not a valid criticism."

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings had no immediate comment, but in a statement, Amanda Farris, the deputy assistant secretary who oversees Reading First, said Spellings consistently hears from educators and administrators "about the effectiveness of the Reading First program in their schools and their disappointment with Congress for slashing Reading First funds."

"We know — and this IES study further proves — that Reading First funding has an impact on teaching practices," she said.

Thursday's results are part of an interim study; a more complete analysis that followed students through the 2006-2007 school year could show more promising results when it's released in November.
as in California where political control has forced a similar reading program on English Language Learners- with no positive results.
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