Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Education and amateurs


Amateurs amok -- call in the pros
By Marion Brady
Special to the Sentinel

March 27, 2005

'War is too important to be left to the generals."

So said Georges Clemenceau, twice prime minister of France in the early 20th century. Generals, he thought, were likely to be short on perspective, with imaginations hemmed in by military backgrounds, training and experience.

That possibility notwithstanding, it doesn't take too much digging into history or current events to know that ignoring professional military expertise isn't usually a good idea.

What Clemenceau should have said, then, is "War is too important to be left entirely to generals." Amateurs will sometimes be able to see a problem freshly, but when there's a battle to win, a heart to transplant, a bridge to build, an airliner to fly, deciding whether to go with an amateur or a professional is easy. When a job is difficult and important, we call on professionals.

Except in education. After the publication of A Nation At Risk in 1983, business leaders decided that education was too important to be left to professional educators. So they used their political clout not to help professional educators, but to shove them aside and take over.

The public went along. And goes along. Thoughtful people who'd consider it crazy if politicians told surgeons how to operate, engineers how to build bridges, or airline pilots how to fly, see nothing wrong with educational amateurs in Washington and state capitols running the education show. The nation's governors recently wrapped up this year's education-policy conference, issuing for the umpteenth time their standard education-reform formula: "Raise the bar, especially in math and science."

America is now deep into an amateur-engineered, single-strategy educational experiment. TEST! PASS! FAIL!

Many amateurs think this is a wonderful, long-overdue policy. Indeed, it seems to make so much sense that teachers who question it are likely to be viewed with suspicion. Good teachers, many believe (those deserving to be called professionals) constantly "raise the bar." Good teachers welcome being held accountable. Good teachers aren't overly concerned with students' self-concepts. Good teachers raise test scores.

Professionals know it isn't that simple. To cite a minor example of educational complexity: Professionals know that the areas of the brain that control mathematical thinking usually kick in earlier in boys than in girls -- sometimes as much as four years earlier. Girls eventually catch up, and after about age 12 there's no measurable difference in innate ability, but, in the meantime, there's that third- or fourth-grade standardized test the amateurs have put in place.

So what often happens? Little girls take the test. Then they (and their parents) jump to false conclusions about a lack of mathematical ability, conclusions that may follow them through school and life, forever affecting performance and school and career choices.

An amateur-mandated, high-stakes, standardized test -- a test that ignores male-female differences -- turns what the professional knows is a non-problem into a potentially serious problem.

That kind of thing happens all the time. Amateurs think there's a "standard" level of reading for 9-year-olds. Professionals know better. Amateurs think that kids who can't read "at grade level" can't learn anything else. Professionals know better. Amateurs think test-makers know how to write culture-neutral tests that precisely measure skills and abilities. Professionals know better. Amateurs think hanging negative labels on kids and schools doesn't seriously affect performance. Professionals know better.

Why do the amateur educators in the Business Roundtable and Congress enjoy more respect and influence than professional educators? There's a slew of possible sociological explanations, but a simple one is important. As in everything else, the less known about something, the simpler it seems to be. What separates amateurs and professionals is ignorance of complexity, and when it comes to complexities, every kid in every classroom is a walking bundle of them.

Take the matter of grade retention. Professionals know that "grade level" is an invented, arbitrary idea left over from the school-as-factory era, know that academic gains from grade retention are almost always temporary, know that kids mature at different rates, know that individual differences are America's greatest intellectual asset, know grade repeaters rarely graduate, know we've created no alternative career paths for "non-standard" kids, know that helping helps a lot more when kids don't think they're stupid. And they know this just begins the list of complex issues being ignored by grade-retention legislation.

If the fog of political rhetoric ever lifts and the true state of education in America becomes clear, don't blame the professionals for the chaos. Their opinions have been ignored for years.

Marion Brady, a longtime educator, lives in Cocoa. He can be reached at mbrady22@cfl.rr.com. He wrote this commentary for the Orlando Sentinel.

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Monday, March 28, 2005

California High School Exit Exams; and the Bee

Back to the California High School Exit Exams.
California High School Exit Exam.
On Monday, March 21, 2005, The Sacramento Bee editorial writers took a position in favor of the California State High School Exit exams scheduled for implementation in 2006.
This blog raised some questions about the editorial position on that date, including an analysis of the report the editorial writers claim to have used. Now, with more time, the exit exam can be further examined. (Please see blog date Monday, March 21 )
The editorial writers argued, "Retain the Exit Exam." They say,
" Now the most recent independent evaluation reaches a different conclusion: "Keep the exit exam requirement in place for the Class of 2006 and beyond." Legislators should heed that recommendation, too."
This is interesting. It is fundamental to writing, and fundamental to passing a high school exit exam, that when you cite a source, you provide the details of the source so that readers can consider the original source. This would be considered required by 9th. grade English.
Upon raising the question with the Bee editorial page editors, I found out that, “All the independent evaluations of the exit exam can be found on the website of the California Department of Education at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/hs/evaluations.asp
Section 60855 of the Education Code requires an independent evaluation of the quality and impact of the exit exam. The California Department of Education awarded a five-year contract for this evaluation to the Human Resources Research Organization beginning Jan. 2000.” Pia Lopez, Associate Editor.
I encourage you to read the report itself.
The above report ,which was apparently the source of the Bee editorial, is worth consideration for all of us struggling with these exams. A series of questions were raised in the earlier blog entry of March 21. The report cited above also raises a number of vital issues including the possibility that the tests are focusing the curriculum on the tests. The report notes that the tests have not increased drop out rates. However, it is not clear if the report is using the drop out rates of the CDE, or the more accurate data as developed by the Harvard Civil Rights Project. The report calls for the development of more programs of remediation and support for those not passing the tests. Each of these are important issues to teachers.
Here are a number of additional serious questions about this testing not raised in the State’s evaluation. First, it is rather clear that the testing movement has lead to a distinct narrowing of the curriculum and an emphasis on teaching what is in the test. Algebra teachers, for example, might think that this is good since most of the students are now drilling and repeating algebra. But such testing has pushed out art, science, and much of the social sciences, particularly those social sciences considering multicultural issues and identity. (See Valenzuela, 2004)
As we develop a theory on testing in general, and high school exit testing in specific during this era of business lead “reform”, it would be good to learn from studies already completed and states that have been using such tests.
The Executive Summary of the report State High School Exit Exams, cited by the Bee says,
"Currently, more than half (52 percent) of all public school students and even more (55 percent) minority public school students live in states requiring they pass the tests in order to graduate. By 2009, 7 in 10 public school students and 8 in 10 minority students nationwide will be affected, according to State High School Exit Exams: A Maturing Reform, the third in a series of annual studies conducted by the Center.

The report finds that with the right conditions, exit exams “probably have some positive effects on student motivation and achievement,” but also may encourage some students to pursue a general education diploma (GED) instead of a regular diploma, and that the tests may be linked to increased dropout rates for key groups of students and states with tougher exam systems."
They say,
“The evidence on the effects of exit exams is mixed and tentative. With adequate
supports and the right policy context, exit exams probably have some
positive effects on student motivation and achievement and on curriculum
and instruction, at least for some groups of students. But there is also enough
evidence of negative effects of these exams, such as encouraging some students
to pursue a GED instead of a diploma, to suggest that policymakers are making
tradeoffs when they adopt exit exam requirements. “
State High School Exams: A Maturing Reform, (2004) Center on Education Policy.

So, this major study finds the evidence mixed and tentative. Well, if it tentative, perhaps we should look at the results in some other states prior to implementation in California.
Here is a report from New York. A group working in New York, calling themselves the Teachers Network share these experiences in a document yet to published:

Lets look at New York where they have a long history of high school exit exams.

New York State public school students must pass five standardized Regents examinations — Global History, American Government and History, English Language Arts, the Mathematics Course A exam and one of the Science exams — to graduate high school. It is hard to imagine a system of examinations with higher stakes. Yet year after year, one reads in the newspaper about some mishap with yet another exam: Physics one year, Math the next, ELA the third.

What is clear is that the New York State Education Department is making these high stakes examinations on the cheap, without the necessary development and due diligence and care. Exams are written without the input of a wide, representative range of teachers, and questions are almost fully field tested. It is irresponsible, plain and simple, to provide flawed instruments for such purposes. Insofar as Regents Examinations are going to play a major role in decisions over whether a student will graduate high school, they must fit the principles we have laid down here.

But that is only part of the problem. The Regents seem to have mistaken setting high standards with standardization. We support without reservation the setting of high standards for graduation from high school, but we also believe that there should be more than one way to demonstrate that one has met those standards. Specifically, we support the development of an option where a school and a student could substitute academically rigorous and accredited forms of performance based assessment for the three Regents examinations — Global History, American Government and History and Science.

While the English Language Arts and Mathematics A examinations are largely skilled based examinations, the Social Studies and Science examinations are subject knowledge intensive tests. Given the sheer breadth of the Social Studies curricula, examinations of this nature effectively prevent Social Studies teachers from looking at any topic in some depth, and instruction suffers as the course becomes a mile wide and an inch deep. If schools and students had the choice of substituting rigorous performance based assessments for the Social Studies and Science examination, instruction in these subject areas would improve. Instruction would drive assessment, as it should, instead of assessment driving instruction.
See the Standards for Psychological and Educational Testing developed jointly by the American Psychological Association, the American Educational Research Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education, and published in a second edition by the APA in 1999, and the Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education, prepared by the Joint Committee on Testing Practices, which includes the three above organizations and the American Counseling Association, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Test Directors. [www.apa.org/science/FinalCode.pdf]
Among the responsibilities of test users such as school districts and other educational authorities laid out in the Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education, one finds “Avoid using a single test score as the sole determinant of decisions about test takers. Interpret test scores in conjunction with other information about individuals.” [Ibid., p. 9] And again, in the American Psychological Association’s Statement on “Appropriate Use of High-Stakes Testing in Our Nation's Schools” [www.apa.org/pubinfo/testing.html]: “Any decision about a student's continued education, such as retention, tracking, or graduation, should not be based on the results of a single test, but should include other relevant and valid information.”
Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education, p. 9: “Avoid using tests for purposes other than those recommended by the test developer unless there is evidence to support the intended use or interpretation.”
In the language of psychometrics, exams used to test whether or not a student has met or surpassed a particular set of standards should be criterion, not norm, referenced exams. This means that the student is tested on a fixed performance standard of what she should know and be able to do, rather than where she stands in relation to other students, which is the primary measure on norm referenced exams. [Norm referenced tests are designed to distribute test takers along a normal curve and thus fail a target percentage, usually around 16%, regardless of how much they know, and pass another target percentage, usually around 84%, regardless of how little they know.]
AERA Research Points: Essential Information for Education Policy, “Standards and Tests: Keeping Them Aligned.” Vol.1,No. 1. {Spring 2003][www.aera.net/uploadedFiles/Journals_and_Publications/Research_Points/RP_Spring03.pdf]
So, while the Sacramento Bee editorial board finds the issue clear, those of working in schools find the issue much more complex. Readers are encouraged to use this blog to share their experiences with this testing.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

California drop out crisis

It is great that the Sacramento Bee found this report. These alarming figures have been known to civil rights activists in schools for over a decade.

Red flag raised on state dropouts

The problem among blacks and Latinos is at the crisis stage, a study warns.

By Laurel Rosenhall -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Thursday, March 24, 2005
Only about half of California's African American and Latino ninth-grade boys graduate from high school within four years, a new study reveals.

The report, "Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis in California," is being issued today at a conference in Los Angeles where civil rights advocates and education researchers will present findings on racial disparities in high school graduation.

It's part of a national campaign that has led to legislative changes concerning high school graduation reporting in Illinois and Ohio.

Researchers at the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, which produced the report, are hoping for stronger results in California. They say the state's high overall dropout rate and even higher dropout rate for most nonwhite students amounts to an "educational and civil rights crisis" that will cost billions in lost wages, more prisoners and greater dependence on public health care.

"If students don't make it through high school, they really don't have any kind of chance in our economy," said Gary Orfield, author of the report and director of the Civil Rights Project. "And if communities don't make it through high school, their future is very severely threatened."


In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
~ George Orwell

The Governor will not have anything to say about this. Instead he will talk about teacher tenure.

Cesar Chavez Presente

César Chávez: "Presente"
By Duane E. Campbell

The spirit of Cesar Chavez lives on in the struggle for union rights and justice in the fields of California. Along with Dolores Huerta, Philip Vera Cruz, and others, César created the United Farm Workers (UFW) the first successful union of farm workers in U.S. history. There had been more than ten prior attempts to build a farm workers union.
The United Cannery and Packinghouse Workers (UCAPAWA) organized in the 1930's, the National Farm Workers Union (NFW) led by Ernesto Galarza tried to organize Farm workers in the 40's and 50's. In 1959, the AFL-CIO tried to organize again with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC). AWOC had several weaknesses, including a top down leadership selected by AFL-CIO leaders, not by farm workers, and a strategy of working cooperatively with labor contractors. AWOC continued the prior efforts of Ernesto Galarza and the NFW in struggling against "braceros" or guest workers, contract workers imported from Mexico, from breaking strikes. A renewed "guest worker" bill is presently before Congress.
Each of the prior attempts to organize farm worker unions were destroyed by racism and corporate power. Chávez chose to build a union that incorporated the strategies of social movements and allied itself with the churches, students, and organized labor. The successful creation of the UFW changed the nature of labor organizing in the Southwest and contributed significantly to the birth of Latino politics in the U.S.
Today, under the leadership of UFW president Arturo Rodriguez, over 28,000 farm workers enjoy benefits on the job. They are incorporated into California's educational, health and civic communities. The UFW has shown the AFL-CIO that immigrants can and must be organized. In 2002 we won significant victories in the legislature and numerous elections.
César Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Philip Vera Cruz, and others deliberately created a multiracial organization, Mexican, Mexican American, Filipino, African-American, Dominican, Puerto Rican and Arab workers, among others, have been part of the UFW. This cross racial organizing was necessary in order to combat the prior divisions and exploitations of workers based upon race and language. Dividing the workers on racial and language lines always left the corporations the winners.
In the 60's Chávez became the pre-eminent civil rights leader for the Mexican and Chicano workers, helping with local union struggles throughout the nation. He worked tirelessly to make people aware of the struggles of farm workers for better pay and safer working conditions. It is a testament to Cesar Chavez's skills and courage that the UFW even survived. They were opposed by major interests in corporate agriculture including the Bruce Church and Gallo Corporations as well as the leadership of the Republican Party then led by Ronald Reagan. Workers were fired, beaten, threatened and even killed in pursuit of union benefits . Non union farm workers today continue to live on sub-poverty wages while producing the abundant crops in the richest valley, in the richest state in the richest nation in the world.
In response to corporate power, Cesar developed new strategies, such as the boycott, based upon his personal commitment to non-violence in the tradition of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. César Chavez died in his sleep on April 23, 1993 near Yuma, Arizona.
Today Mexican, Mexican American and Puerto Rican union leadership is common in our major cities and in several industries. For myself and others, the UFW was a school for organizing. Hundreds of activists in labor and community organizations owe their skills to UFW training and experience. Along with improved working conditions, salaries, and benefits, training this cadre of organizers remains a major legacy of the UFW.
César taught us that all organizations have problems, that all organizations are imperfect. But, if you wait for the perfect organization, nothing gets done. Building popular organizations builds people's power, and democracy. Chavez' legacy to popular struggles, to Chicano/Mexicano self determination and to unions for the immigrant workers is beyond measure. He is present in all of our work. I plan to march on March 26, and celebrate March 31,2005 in memory of Cesar Chavez' contributions building a more democratic society for working people. You can find our more about this remarkable leader at www.ufw.org
And, www.cesarchavezfoundation.org
Duane Campbell is a Professor of Bilingual/Multicultural Education at Calif. State University-Sacramento and the author of Choosing Democracy; a practical guide to multicultural education. (Merrill/Pren Hall.2004)

Friday, March 25, 2005

School improvement and tenure battles

The Governor argues that we need an initiative to change teacher tenure, but there has been no evidence offered that this is a problem causing school failure. The governor’s proposals are in SCAXI, introduced by Senator George Runner (Republican- Antelope Valley. This bill, which the governor threatens to make an initiative, would create a merit pay system for teachers that would tie pay to student scores on statewide tests. It would also require a ten year probationary period for teachers.
We do not have evidence, that tenure is a problem. We have a few anecdotes from principals complaining about a few teachers. These principals were trying to explain why they were unable to turn around failing schools. This is not rational policy development, it is just scape goating, similar to Pete Wilson’s campaign for Prop. 187 blaming immigrants for the economic crisis of 1994.
We need to ask why the argument is made by the Governor and the Los Angeles Times that tenure is a major problem.
One source of repeating this message is the screaming on right-wing radio. A group has created an image that tenure is the problem. How is this position manufactured? This is, of course, only one of several ideological messages created there. See The Republican Noise Machine: Right Wing Media and How it corrupts Democracy, (2004) David Brock.
How is it that a group of editorial writers at the Los Angeles Times have adopted this position since there is no research to support the position?
We need to ask how did tenure become the issue rather than adequate school funding.
The author Barbara Ehrenreich describes a part of the manufacturing of this viewpoint in her excellent book, Nickled and Dimed on (Not) Getting by in America.(2001) She notes that most who work in the private sector of the economy work in a very authoritarian work place. It seems “normal” that bosses arbitrarily make decisions and even fire workers in many private sector jobs. Work life for many is dictatorial, not democratic. In the work life of editorial writers, apparently, this dictatorial work regime is “normal”.
Fortunately, through a decade of organizing and political work, teachers in public schools in many states in the U.S. have achieved the legal process of tenure. Teachers, working with others, established tenure to keep partisan politics out of the public schools. All tenure does is protect teachers from arbitrary dismissal. Poor teachers are dismissed. Quality principals at times remove poor teachers. Tenure does not prevent the removal of the incompetent teachers. It only provides procedural safeguards against arbitrary and capricious dismissal.
Why is this so important? Because arbitrary hiring and firing used to happen frequently. Hiring and dismissal of teachers was too often a petty, patronage based, unprofessional process by school boards and principals. Tenure is very important. It protects teacher’s freedom to speak and their basic citizenship rights. As a teacher you can speak out, make political statements, without having to fear that your school board or your principal is going to fire you.
Where is the evidence that tenure is a vital issue at all in school reform? Those making this case are confusing tenure at the college or university level with tenure in the public schools. They are quite different in their impact. Consider the just released report by the Harvard Center on Civil Rights on California drop out rates. California has one of the higher drop out rates in the nation, and our urban schools have a more severe rate than our suburban schools. Yet, there is no relationship whatsoever between states with high drop out rates and states with laws providing teachers with tenure.

Monday, March 21, 2005

LA Times on tenure


Rewards, Not Tenure: The Los Angeles Times
March 21, 2005

Here's how a California teachers union leader protests efforts to make the state's teachers work more years before getting tenure: Who, she asks, takes a job in which he or she must spend five years without tenure? Uh, most of us, actually.

Mary Bergan, who heads the California Federation of Teachers, points out rightly that too many teachers leave in their first few years. Eliminating tenure would make it harder to attract and keep teachers, she contends. Teachers are said to need tenure as protection from fussy parents and weak principals.

Even if that were true — and it's not — the last thing California classrooms need is teachers who enter the profession for a chance at a lifelong sinecure after two years. Thank goodness very few of them do.

This editorial reveals again how newspaper editorial boards have claimed knowledge and expertise on educational matters. And, the editorial reveals again why those of us in education need to develop better public responses, such as a blog.
For more on this see, The Republican Noise Machine: Right Wing Media and how it corrupts democracy. (2004) David Brock.

By the way. See the L.A. Times sections on school improvement. They "know" how to teach reading too.
I hope that they get a job teaching. One year of teaching experience as they would quickly find out how much they do not know about life in schools- and learning to read.

California High School Exit Exam

California High School Exit Exam.
On Monday, March 21, 2005, The Sacramento Bee editorial writers take a position in favor of the California State High School Exit exams scheduled for implementation in 2006.

The role of these exams needs analysis.
The problem the exam seeks to address: There are a large number of students sitting in high school classes doing very little. This issue is one of effort.
This is not an issue for A.P. and college preparatory classes. These students will easily pass the exams.
The direction of the Jack O’Connel, State Superintendent and Education Trust/West is to insist on a more rigorous curriculum, commonly referred to as an A-G curriculum, that is a curriculum appropriate for admission to the University of California. This direction too needs analysis. (dear reader. Feel free to send me analytical pieces)

There is reason to be cautious, even skeptical of such reports. For numerous examples of past use of poor research and reports as ideological tools see the link below or http://www.asu.edu/educ/epsl/EPRU/bios/bracey.htm

The Bee editorial refers to a report “State High School Exams: A Maturing Reform,” by the Bill and Melinda Gates funded Center on Education Policy. (2004)
This report is one of series in favor of exit exams. Even from a position of support, the report is quite tentative. Among other things it says,

State High School Exams: A Maturing Reform, (2004) Center on Education Policy.

"States Must Do More To Ensure Students Have Necessary Support
To Learn Subject Matter Tested on State High School Exit Exams

Large Gaps in Pass Rates Persist for At-Risk Students;
Alternative Routes To Diploma Widely Available But Largely Unused"

"WASHINGTON – August 18, 2004 – With high school exit exams now determining whether the majority of the nation’s public school students will graduate, states must do more to address achievement gaps for students most likely to fail. And with exam policies and student expectations more firmly in place, states have an opportunity and responsibility to give students a better chance to learn material being tested, according to a study released today by the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Education Policy (CEP).

The evidence on the effects of exit exams is mixed and tentative. With adequate
supports and the right policy context, exit exams probably have some
positive effects on student motivation and achievement and on curriculum
and instruction, at least for some groups of students. But there is also enough
evidence of negative effects of these exams, such as encouraging some students
to pursue a GED instead of a diploma, to suggest that policymakers are making
tradeoffs when they adopt exit exam requirements.

And, as to some of the effects:
Student Achievement and Motivation
_ With adequate supports and the right policy context, exit exams probably have
some positive effects on students’ motivation and achievement, although these
effects seem to differ for different groups of students. There is also enough evidence
of negative impacts, such as dampening some students’ motivation to try harder,
encouraging some students to pursue a GED instead of a diploma, and creating
incentives for educators to hold back students in non-tested grades, to suggest that
policymakers are making tradeoffs when they adopt exit exam requirements.

_ Recent reviews of research on exit exams and student achievement and recent
re-analyses of state and national test results have found some limited evidence
of a link between high-stakes testing policies and achievement gains on the
National Assessment of Educational Progress, although the data are not sufficient.

Do Exit Exams Affect Student Achievement?
While many critics and supporters of exit exams point to the body of research that
was conducted on the first wave of minimum competency tests (MCTs) in the
1980s to back the case for or against exit exams, the panelists cautioned that findings
from this work are not necessarily relevant to the new exit exam experience.
The older MCTs took place in a different reform context and are generally considered
to be less rigorous than those given by most states today.
Based on current research, panelists agreed that it is too early to determine the
overall impact of current exit exam policies on student achievement, but testing
is undoubtedly affecting high school education. At this point in the implementation
of exit exams, researchers do not know how these exams are affecting such
measures as adult literacy rates and success in postsecondary education, because

What Should We Tell Policymakers?
The panel came to several conclusions, both individually and as a whole, about the
messages that should be relayed to policymakers about high school exit exams and
student achievement.
Align exit exams with a cohesive system of standards and accountability
The panelists agreed that exit exams should be aligned with state standards and that
standards should be aligned with the curriculum. As one panelist summarized, “We keep
coming back to this notion that if you think of the state education system as a house, the
exit exam is the roof. You wouldn’t start building a house with the roof and building
your way down…well-designed systems are [making] and can make a difference.”
Be patient
Panel members agreed that policymakers should be patient if they want to see exit
exams produce results. Real change does not occur immediately after a policy is
put into place. Improved instruction and achievement take time. One panelist explained,
“Patience has to do with two things: (1) holding constant the fundamentals
of the program, and (2) making the program nimble enough to make minor changes
when it gets feedback from schools and districts.” In other words, policymakers
should keep expectations and policies in place long enough for change but should
be willing to make adjustments."

So, at present, California and other states are implementing a high school exit. A significant number of English Language learners and minorities may well be denied graduation- even though the research at present is tentative and inconclusive.
This is the kind of issue where editorial boards and others, particularly the Business Round Table love to make decisions about other people’s children.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The California Governor and education

You can see the new CTA ads on the Governors policy at

You can see the Governor’s view at http://www.cagop.org/

You can view the California Labor Federation’s effort at


More on Jill Stewart's superficial and biased writing

See the prior posting on March 15 for background.
As a long-time resident of California, I suppose that I am one of the ‘everyday Californians’ that Jill Stewart speaks for in her diatribe, “Bilingual doesn’t work in any language.” I am writing to exclude myself from this group that she claims to represent, since I take great offense at her piece, one of the worst examples of polemic disguised as journalism that I have read in a long time. This brand of journalims seems sloppy at best, irresponsible at worst. First, Ms. Stewart does not reveal any of her data sources, other than to reference “scores released by O’Connell’s office” and “national English reading tests.” Thus, it is difficult to verify Ms. Stewart’s assertions or to do an independent analysis of these data. Typically, “scores” are related to specific tests like the California English Language Development Test (CELDT), the Stanford Achievement Test-Edition 9 (SAT-9), or the California Achievement Test-Edition 6 (CAT-6).
Second, even though she gives us little upon which to verify her claims of improved English proficiency, she further errs by confusing English proficiency with improvement “in all subjects.” A comparison of the percentage of Sacramento County students scoring at or above the 50th percentile on the SAT-9 (2001 & 2002) and the CAT-6 (2003), available on the California Department of Education’s website (www.cde.ca.gov), tarnishes the rosy picture Ms. Stewart paints for English Learners. This website has information about different subgroups of students, including English Learners with less than 12 months instruction (“recently arrived”) and English Learners with 12 months of instruction or more (“established English Learners). Using Ms. Stewart’s logic, one would expect that the established English learners would consistently outscore their recently arrived English learner peers, since they were “taking English immersion” and were improving “in all subjects.”
My brief analysis included data from 2001, 2002 and 2003 for seven grades and 4 test domains (84 data points). I found 30 instances (36%) in which the percentage of recently arrived English learners reaching the 50th percentile equalled or outscored the percentage of their established English learner peers attaining this mark. Almost half of these appeared in the 2003 CAT-6 scores, or fully five years into the structured English immersion program. In some cases, like 10th grade math, 7% more of these recently arrived English learners (about 250 children) reached or exceeded the 50th percentile than did their established English learner counterparts. Moreover, in 2003, a higher percentage of the recently arrived English learners than established English learners achieved the 50th percentile in reading in 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 10th grades, in language in the 5th, 6th, 8th and 10th grades, and in math in the 10th grade, though they all still fell well below the County’s average at all points.
I’m not sure what Ms. Stewart would deduce from these data since they fly in the face of her claims about the benefits of “taking English immersion.” Friends of bilingual education would not be surprised by these examples, however, since a primary logic of bilingual education is that the more basic instruction in core content that students receive in a language they can understand, the better they will understand that content and, eventually as instruction in English increases, the more prepared they will be to utilize this knowledge in an English-only context. So, those who understand the premises of bilingual education would explain that these recently-arrived English learners may outscore their established English learner peers because they had some instruction in their native language prior to coming to the U.S. Thus, unlike their established English learners peers, they are not learning English and learning new content at the same time, a difficult task for anyone, let alone a child adjusting to the challenges of survival in a new culture.

Ms. Stewart also finds a remarkable correlation between the number of teachers teaching Spanish and the ‘gains’ among “kids who can read and write in English now.” Most educational researchers would be ecstatic to find such clean relationships, but that nothwithstanding, what Ms. Stewart omits to report is that teachers with a Bilingual/Cross-cultural Academic and Language Development (B/CLAD) certification earn this certification by passing language, culture and history exams and taking 15 additional college units. So, these teachers gain salary increments much like they and/or their peers do when they earn extra graduate level units in M.A. and other post-certification programs.

However, it seems a distraction to argue about “best models” at a time when over 90% of the state’s English Learners are served by one approach only. The real story is not how quickly immigrant students are learning English and “improving in all subjects,” but how great the gap still is between “all students” and English Learners. The numbers reported above notwithstanding, disturbing achievement gaps exist for recently arrived and established English learners in all the areas measured by these two tests (reading, language, math and spelling). Spelling is the one domain where the gaps show some decreasing trends. Spelling is certainly important, but I would argue that our democracy and economy will not thrive if English learners simply master English spelling. In-depth coverage of the realities of English learners in Sacramento County – with the perspectives of their teachers, the students themselves, and their parents as well as transparent analysis of available achievement data – would be a service to the readers of the News and Review who surely want more than the superficial and biased coverage provided in Ms. Stewart’s piece.

Dr. Pia Wong

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Sit in with Arnold for 22cents

To: arnold-watch@consumerwatchdog.org
Subject: Sit-In At The Gov's Table

http://ArnoldWatch.org Web Log - March 17, 2005 - 11:35 AM
Go to the above web log. I have not yet figured out how to enter working URL's.

Sit-In At The Gov's Table
by Jerry Flanagan
As thousands protested outside Arnold's fundraiser last night at the Century
Plaza hotel, a small group of firefighters, nurses, teachers and consumer
advocates took a seat at the governor's table inside the event.

Diane Ravitch fails again

Dr. Diane Ravitch has a new opinion piece in the New York Times of March 15, 2005 entitled, “Failing the Wrong Grades”
Ravitch is the former Under Secretary of Educaion during the Reagan Administration when the current wave of neo-conservative school reform was launched with A Nation at Risk. She is also the lead author of the History Social Science Framework for California Public Schools which sets out the broad lines of history preparation in California high schools.

In her new piece Diane Ravitch says, “It is true that American student performance is appalling. Only a minority of students - whether in 4th, 8th or 12th grade - reach proficiency as measured by the Education Department’s National Assessment of Educational Progress. On a scale that has three levels - basic, proficient and advanced - most students score at the basic level or even below basic in every subject. American students also perform poorly when compared with their peers in other developed countries on tests of mathematics and science, and many other nations now have a higher proportion of their students completing high school.”
This paragraph provides a central thesis in neo-conservative school reform. It is also substantially inaccurate. ( See Gerald W. Bracey, On the Death of Childhood and the Destruction of the Public Schools, 2003)

The problem comes in dealing with the averages. The U.S., and California have highly divided school populations. As Bracey points out, averages are used to mislead.
If I am standing in front of you barefoot. And, I have one foot in a fire and the other foot on a block of ice, on average I am comfortable.

We do not have a general education crisis in California and the nation, we have a crisis for Black, Latino, some Asian and poor white kids. As the recent Williams court settlement points out, we are not providing the children of these communities with ," a fairness of a start which will equip them with such an array of facts and such an attitude toward truth that they can a real chance to judge what the world is and what its greater minds have thought it might be." ( Du Bois, The Freedom to Learn)

Ravitch argues that schools should not be as concerned with the recent spat of proposals about reforming high schools. The issue she argues is to focus on earlier grades rather than high school.
What seems to be happening here is that Ravitch’s earlier generation of Right Wing “reformers” and their reforms have run their course ( as codified in No Child Left Behind). The heart of this strategy was standards and more testing. It is sort of like assuming that you can improve a person who is ill by taking their temperature, but not giving any anti biotics. They have not produced the dramatic school improvements promised. (See Bracey and Valenzuela)
Now, a new generation of Right Wing “reformers” want to make a name for themselves and boost their own careers. So, they have proposed a Business Roundtable view of high school reform. A place for the new generation to create careers and seek funding from conservative think tanks. Politicians and pundits, who do not work in schools, regularly invent some instant solutions to school problems. This creates new career opportunities ,and grabs headlines, but does not help educate children. We haven’t improved the elementary schools so lets change the subject before writers catch on.

Schools do not exist in a vacuum. They are not isolated from their neighborhoods and communities. Inequality in schooling is a product of inequality in society.
Most parents and most teachers care about their kids. And, the parents in urban areas are increasingly angered, offended, and frustrated when public officials refuse of offer a decent opporutnity for their children. Some see a racial conspiracy, some blame teachers' unions. Many have given up on democracy and public life and turn to cynicism or dispair. Others have been sold on vouchers as an alternative.
A progressive left exists among teachers. The excellent journal Rethinking Our Schools, (circulation over 40,000) and the web site (www.rethinkingschools.org) created by some teachers in and around Milwaukee, Wisconsin, engages, stimulates, validates, and inspires teachers who recognize the central role of urban schools to the anti racism struggle in our nation, and who choose resistance to the anti teacher, Republican, corporate agenda in schools.
So, while schools should be a site for building democracy and equal opportunity, this opportunity can only be created with significant new investment in schools in low income areas. Investment requires a political decision. Our elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans have refused to make this decision each year in most local, state, and federal budgets. As state after state faces the current budget crisis, they are cutting education funding rather than improving funding.

WE need to invest in our schools, provide equal educational opportunities in these schools, and recruit a well prepared teaching force that begins to reflect the student populations in these schools. The settlement of the Williams case in California is a small start in the right direction.
Rather than invest money in reform, governor Schwarzenegger and his Republican allies have followed the lead of the Business Roundtable, Ravitch, and conservative foundations and the Clinton and Bush administrations and increased emphasis on testing to improve scores. This is the heart of school reform advocated by Ravitch, passed by the Bush regime in PL 107-110 , the misnamed, No Child Left Behind Act.
This drive for improved test scores on very limited and inadequate tests , ignores that in addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, A fundamental purpose of schools is to prepare future citizens to be stakeholders in society. Public schools are one of the few institutions designed to produce a public, civic community. Schools distribute knowledge. Unequal schools distribute knowledge unequally. When schools distribute knowledge unequally, as they do, they contribute to the social stratification of the economy, racism, and the decline of democratic opportunity.
And, this strategy has failed. Just look closely at the data. There has been no significant improvement in test scores. The small improvements registered are on California tests, where the curriculum can be adjusted to teach children to improve their scores by a few percentage points. On national tests, like NAEP, there is no significant improvement.
California has a crisis in many of its schools, described again by the Rand Corporation (www.rand.org). We have been under investing in our schools for the last twenty years, and in higher education for the last 15 years. As a consequence, our children are falling behind children in other states. If you have a school system funded like Louisiana and Mississippi, we will soon have an economy like Louisiana and Mississippi.
Rather than responding to this real funding crisis in education, the governor proposes ballot measures to teacher pay, teacher tenure, and to end the Prop.98 guarantees of educational funding. These proposals do not respond to the real problems as described by the Rand study .
Why would politician like Arnold introduce these less important issues rather than respond to the real problems, like class size and teacher preparation? It looks to me as if he is trying to protect his high income tax avoiding friends, his special interest group.

WE face a political deadlock on school improvement and school funding. As long as this deadlock continues, we will have one segment of the society well educated in well funded schools and universities, and another segment will continue to fail school and to drop out. This is primarily a political problem, not a pedagogical problem.
Duane Campbell,
Professor of Bilingual/Multicultural Education, California State U. Sacramento
Author, Choosing Democracy; a practical guide to multicultural education. (Merrill/Prentice Hall. 2004)
Education blog. http://choosingdemocracy.blogspot.com

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

1000 Protest Governor- Bee skips the story

Hundreds Protest Governor's Reform Plans
Sacramento BEE skips the story

Crowd Gathers Outside Pricey Fund-Raising Event

POSTED: 7:47 am PST March 15, 2005
UPDATED: 8:13 am PST March 15, 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A crowd of protesters estimated at more than 1,000 gathered outside a downtown Sacramento hotel Monday night, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was attending a pricey fund-raiser.

The angry protesters descended on the Sheraton Grand, surrounding the hotel and sometimes pouring out into the street, looking to send a message to the governor.

"We feel like we have been lied to," teacher Elizabeth Burdick said.

"My frustration with the governor is immense," teacher Maggie Ellis said.

The demonstrators were protesting Schwarzenegger's plan for reform on issues such as public pensions, Proposition 98 and paying teachers based on merit.

Protesters said they feel the governor is unfairly targeting teachers, nurses and retirement plans.

See full story: thekcrachannel.com/news/4286143/detail.html
As far as I can tell from my home delivery and the web version, the Sacramento BEE has not yet found this story.
Please report if you find it.

Nader on Arnold

Published on Monday, March 14, 2005 by CommonDreams.org

Arnold Imitates Art
by Ralph Nader

Corporate cyborg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, must be thinking these days that it was not like this in his movies. On the screen, Arnold was the pursuer, the hunter, and the attacker. On the hustings now, it is the nurses, along with the teachers, and the firefighters, who are dogging him everywhere with their protests against his policies and actions. When he ignored the law stipulating one nurse for every five hospital patients the opposition from the militant California Nurses Association intensified. Then Arnold made the mistake that keeps on giving. Before an audience of 10,000 women, he was challenged by a group of nurses. "Pay no attention to those voices over there. They are the special interests, and you know what I mean. The special interests don't like me in Sacramento because I am always kicking their butts."

Read more: http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0314-24.htm

Teachers as professionals

From a reader:
In response to a Bee article:

I hope Michael Kolbert writes more about the deleterious ways in which high stakes-standardized testing – and the scripted curricula that tend to accompany it – have narrowed education in our local districts. As a teacher educator, I have seen what he describes -- a curriculum that is seriously impoverished, where students read for the sake of reading but don’t read about anything, or at least not about any thing that they are interested in, that helps them understand themselves and their world, or that keeps them curious and enthusiastic about learning and school. This focus on reading and math, particularly in high poverty schools, provides a third class education to children who will be ill-prepared by school to be anything but third class citizens. Though Mr. Kolbert includes the perspectives of several teachers, my teacher friends – all highly trained and committed professionals working in high poverty schools -- tell me that they feel deprofessionalized, that the scripted curriculum and lack of science and social studies lessons leave them uninspired, and that the distorted focus on testing frustrates them. But, most of all, they feel a sense of despair that this current way of organizing school is already leaving so many of their high poverty students behind.

Dr. Pia Wong

Vile and incendiary rants in print

The Sacramento News and Review hosts a flamethrower columnist Jill Stewart. From time to time she takes off on bilingual education and Latino elected officials.
Her articles are mostly name calling, rarely using evidence nor offering supporting evidence. She is sort of a Sacramento Ann Coulter, flaming from the Right in an effort to make a name and a place for herself.

The name calling in lieu of evidence style is insulting.
Here is an example.

Bilingual doesn't work in any language
Latino kids advancing in English-speaking classes should get an A, but those politicians holding students back in bilingual classes deserve a failing grade

By Jill Stewart

“When test scores came out a few days back showing that Latino immigrant kids in California are learning to read and write English at a steadily faster pace, California’s schools superintendent, Jack O’Connell, urged schools to move kids more quickly from English-learner classes into mainstream classrooms.

Good idea, since Latino children can’t get access to rigorous academics like Advanced Placement courses for college as long as the kids are still designated by officials as “English learners.”

It’s really kind of rich that O’Connell is urging schools to stop holding kids back in English-learner classes. O’Connell shares tremendous blame for the fact that Latino children are being warehoused in these training-wheels classes long after they can read and write in English.

The time when O’Connell could blame others for holding back immigrant children has long since passed. As superintendent, he has failed to publicly release crucially important data that shows how well English-immersion kids are doing compared with kids trapped in “bilingual” classrooms that still teach in Spanish.

If the public could get its hands on the information O’Connell is protecting, we’d see an end to this coy debate over whether kids are learning English better by being taught in English.”

So begins the Stewart flame.

One of several reasons why Stewart gets away with this stuff is that she throws so much stuff up on the wall that it is difficult to respond to it all. Enter this blog.

Lets look at some data presented by Dr. Patricia Gándara of the U.C. Linguistic Minority Research Institute at the hearings of the Assembly Education Committee on March 2, 2005.

About those test scores.

The small growth in CELDT scores for English Learners from 2001 to 2004 are not evidence that can lead to Stewart’s conclusions.
The test has changed. It is shorter. Parts have been eliminated. Test items have changed. The process of administration changed.
And, the students taking the test have changed.
The number of 1st. graders who take the test (and score lower because they are just entering English) has declined 3% while the number of 12 graders (who score higher because they have been in English longer) has increased 22% since 2001.

The Stewart assault is typical of her uninformed, ideologically driven writing. It is rapacious, anti teacher, and anti Latino.

Dear reader. I invite you to assist in deconstructing the remainder of the Stewart essay. Take any portion of the text where she is referring to a subject which you know well. Analyze the claims. Write a brief (200 word – 1000 word) response. Send the response in a Word file to me at campd22702@pacbell.net.

I will read it. If it follows normal rules of discourse, ie. Analyzing the evidence, lack of profanity, etc., I will post it on this blog.
This is how we can make this blog work. Welcome aboard.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Sacramento BEE editorial on reinventing schools

Struggling Schools can reinvent themselves.

The editors of the Sacramento Bee on Monday, March 14, 2005, wrote a lead editorial on how struggling schools can – should- re invent themselves. After reviewing the NCLB act and the history of Sacramento High, in which the editorial board was an advocate, they list a series of schools in San Diego as models.
These may indeed be good schools. But, we can not tell. There is no evidence given in the editorial. We are asked to take the Bee’s editorial board’s position as substantial.
The Bee would have a better case if they offered some evidence to support their positions. I wonder why they chose not to?

Duane Campbell
March 14, 2005

About this blog


I am considering starting a blog with a focus on critiquing media reports on schools, school reform, and school policy.
I regularly read distorted and PR produced claims about education policy and reforms in my local paper, as I am certain you do. Many of the writers and pundits do not spend time in schools.
This morning, March 14, 2005, once again, my local paper has a major editorial on NCLB schools and the need to convert them to charters- without a single shred of evidence to support their position. Now, of course I can write letters to the editor and l have.

I hope to develop a community of writers to respond to the nonsense often passed off as insight. We could develop some well informed commentary to counter the poorly informed commentary.
Estimates are that as much as 50 % of "news" is now PR releases from advocacy groups and that 15 of the major 17 "think tanks" are funded by right wing groups, Olin, Bradley, Scaif-Mellon.
Politicians, who do not work in schools, regularly invent some instant solutions to school problems. These grab headlines, but do not help educate children. In reality much of their "dialogue" is only a Right wing ideology promoted by a few and funded by Olin, Bradley, etc. (See posting on No Child Left Behind)

I see setting up a blog as a way to get out more progressive views and to foster a more progressive dialogue focusing on education. This would contend against the poorly informed reportage and editorials on school reform by persons who do not work in schools.

I live and work in Sacramento. Our major paper is read at the Capitol. It has a major impact on policy for the second largest government in the U.S.
We need a discussion that goes beyond what most journalists know, and report, and the press releases from politicians more interested in saving money than in educating children.

For example, recently there was a report on language scores for English learners in California. The data was badly reported in the press. The test was changed, The test was shorter. Items were eliminated and changed, and the administration was changed. And, the students taking the test changed. (the number of 1st. graders taking the test declined (who score lower) and the number of 12th graders (who score higher) increased by 21 %.

But, within days an invalid conclusion was repeated and repeated on news outlets and became "accepted" news. This is the kind of event that a blog could contend against.

In a case like the test scores, I could collect pieces of good information from many people-who would either post it on the blog or post a link to the data.

In preparation for launching this blog, I have monitored some of the major blogs. At times their success is not from getting the best story out. It is often from asking the question, then many on-line supporters provide the needed data and insights. This is the power of an on-line community. This is the power I hope to explore.

Duane Campbell.
Author. Choosing Democracy: a practical guide to multicultural education.
2004. Merrill/Prentice Hall.

The Governor's Strange Priorities

The governor’ s strange priorities,
March, 2005.

California has a school crisis-described again by the Rand Corporation (www.rand.org). We have been under investing in our schools for the last twenty years, and in higher education for the last 15 years. As a consequence, our children are falling behind children in other states. If you have a school system funded like Louisiana and Mississippi, we will soon have an economy like Louisiana and Mississippi.
Rather than responding to this real educational crisis, in his State of the State speech the governor called for changes to teacher pay and teacher tenure. These proposals do not respond to the real problems as described by the Rand study .
Why would a politician introduce these less important issues rather than respond to the real problems, like class size and teacher preparation? It looks to me as if he is trying to protect his high income tax avoiding friends, his special interest group.
If we rank last in the nation, or third from last, then heads should roll. Which heads? The people responsible for the near criminal levels of under funding, the governor and those legislators who oppose all taxes.

Dr. Duane E. Campbell
My special interest in public schools. What is the Governor's special interest group?

No Child Left Behind

There is a fundamental problem of school funding in California. We do not fund our schools well. We rank between 37th and 47th. out of the 50 states in school funding. That is a decision which is re made each year in the California Legislature.

At the national level, the central issue is the No Child Left Behind Act.

The Bush Administration and Congress passed the ESEA Re-authorization known as No Child Left Behind in 2001. ( P.L. 107-110) This law provides a formula for school improvement that calls for more testing and sanctions. The law was never adequately funded. The original research supporting these policies in Texas and elsewhere have proven to be replete with politically motivated errors and distortions. (Valenzuela, 2004) And the law punishes the teachers who choose to work in the nation’s most under resourced schools rather than assisting them.

The "No Child Left Behind" law relies heavily on standardized test scores to measure schools. It errors because it focuses on
• punishments rather than assistance
• testing and mandates rather than support for effective programs
• privatization rather than teacher-led, family-oriented solutions

The Federal Law must be amended to:
• Increase support for teacher quality programs to recruit, train, and retain highly qualified educators for U.S. classrooms.
• Make sure students, teachers, and schools are evaluated by more than just test scores . (see www.fairtest.org)
• Fully fund successful elementary and secondary education programs such as Title I to help children with math and reading.
• Pursue flexibility and professional development rather than testing to support student learning.

• Make struggling students and schools a priority.

Teacher Professionalism
The classroom teacher is the most critical and determinative factor in the successful education of a student.
A qualified, experienced teacher, expert in pedagogy and subject material, has more of a positive effect on a student’s learning than any other factor, including class size, quality of the academic program and curriculum, and school mission and size. Conversely, unprepared and inexperienced teachers lacking the fundamental tools of teaching have a negative effect on a student’s learning, and a student rarely recovers from having a number of such teachers in a row. Excellent teachers are particularly important in the education of struggling students, and in erasing the achievement gap for African-American and Latino/a students. Whatever other criticisms we would make of the No Child Left Behind legislation, its requirement that every U.S. classroom be staffed with a “highly qualified” teacher is exactly on point. The question is how we reach that essential goal. The current NCLB legislation does not move us in that direction.
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