Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Educational experimenters rejoiced when multibillionaire Bill Gates' foundation bankrolled some of their favorite education schemes, but these private sector philanthropists quickly learned what public officials are loathe to admit: social planning will not yield literacy. "At the Gates Foundation, early grants went to utopian and communitarian movements but we moved away from that because it does not work," foundation spokesman David Ferrero said late last month. Ferrero spoke at a conference on high school reform sponsored by the Center for Education at the National Academies of Science.

The conference was cosponsored by the Education Sector and the National Education Knowledge Industry Association. In a paper presented at the conference, Craig Jerald, of Break the Curve Consulting, laid out the Gates Foundation's record.

"The findings were mixed," Jerald writes of studies of Gates foundation grantees. "On the positive side, English teachers in new high schools gave students assignments that were much more demanding and more relevant than assignments given by their peers in traditional high schools." "But math teachers in new schools were no more likely than those in conventional schools to assign intellectually demanding class work. Indeed, fully half of the math assignments collected from both types of schools exhibited `little or no' rigor."

Jerald formerly worked as a senior editor at Education Week. The Gates Foundation invested $1 billion in 1,500 "small learning communities" of fewer than 400 students each. "I visited 100 grant schools and made the observation that they were all small, autonomous, and assumed that was the path to school improvement," Tom Vander Ark, of the Gates Foundation says. "It turns out giving a failing school autonomy is a bad idea."

Vander Ark is executive director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's education initiatives. In that position, he got to experience the education bureaucracy at its most inert. "With many of our early grants, I encouraged people to fix the architecture," Vander Ark says. "Several years later, many of those same folks are stuck in architectural arguments and never got to the heart of the issue-teaching and learning."

"Overall the evaluators concluded that `the quality of student work in all of the schools we studied is alarmingly low'," Jerald reports. "It's not surprising, then, that except for a slightly more positive trend in reading scores, test-results in most Gates-funded schools generally are no better than in traditional schools, at least so far." "The early structural changes in the foundation-sponsored schools were supposed to lay the groundwork for changes in teaching and learning, but that hasn't happened in many places."



There's lots of politically correct bits in it, of course, or it would not even be considered in Californian public schools

The I.B. program, one of about 1,800 worldwide, is an intense, two-year curriculum that's known for taxing even the most dedicated students. The I.B. Diploma is based on courses in six core disciplines, culminates in a stiff set of exit exams, and counts for course credit at hundreds of American colleges.

Because of its reputation for rigor and adherence to a consistent international standard - it was originally intended for the children of diplomats - I.B. is gaining ground locally. In San Juan Unified School District, Mira Loma's 17-year-old program draws students from five counties. Luther Burbank High in Sacramento started an I.B. program recently targeting neighborhood students, and two high schools in Roseville Joint Union High School District are considering adopting the program as well, in part to bring back district students who attend Mira Loma.

Because of the kind of serious student it attracts, Mira Loma's I.B. program has racked up a long list of academic achievements, especially in science competitions. Next month, the school, along with Arden Middle School, will send teams to the national Science Olympiad - a 23-event science and engineering competition. The high school also will have a team at the national Science Bowl, a Jeopardy-style contest later this month in Washington, D.C. And Mira Loma had two semifinalists, including Griffiths, in this year's prestigious Intel Science Talent Search.

Ask student Joe Antognini why he signed up for the Science Olympiad team, and you'll get a perplexing answer. "It was a chance to take a really hard astronomy and physics test," the 17-year-old said, bouncing a little in his seat. That response, along with Antognini's T-shirt displaying the Milky Way galaxy, might cost him his lunch money at some schools. But not at Mira Loma High.

Doing extremely well in school isn't exactly a social plus, students say, but it's not a liability either. "There's a little less of the geek-nerd label, and there's a little more prestige," said senior Brian Page, another member of the Science Olympiad team. Page will tell you proudly that he helped build a trebuchet - a kind of catapult - for the statewide earlier this month.

In part because of that social climate, students commute startling distances to attend the San Juan district school. While many students from Churchill Middle School's I.B. program continue to Mira Loma, about 250 of the high school's 1,800 students come from outside the district, according to program coordinator Dave Mathews.

Kathy Beasley, a single mother, drives her two daughters all the way from the Little Pocket area of Sacramento every morning - a trip of about 40 minutes. "It's been god-awful," said Beasley, who has memorized the date her older daughter could receive a driver's license. "I don't have time to read the magazines and books I used to read. I get up at 5 a.m. so I can get my exercise in. I tried dating a couple of times, and it's just very difficult to fit any personal life in." Even so, Beasley said, the quality of the training that I.B. teachers must undergo has made it worthwhile. "The quality of the curriculum and the quality of the teachers - you can't beat it, not even if you pay for private school," she said.

Despite the program's upsides, many critics nationwide have questioned whether I.B.'s hefty price tag - from $50,000 to $150,000 per year for each school, depending on the scope - is worth it. Exceptionally capable students may benefit at the expense of those who are average or struggling, critics say. The staff at Mira Loma is well aware of such criticism, and some members, even I.B.'s most die-hard supporters, say it contains some truth. "Having a range of kids at all different ability levels is really the lifeblood of this school," said Principal Chris Hoffman. "If it's too focused on one program, it's not a comprehensive high school anymore."

That's why the staff has taken some innovative steps since the program's inception to bring in new revenue, spread the benefits of I.B. to all students and make sure the fast-growing program doesn't hijack the school's social identity. About eight years ago, troubled by the notion that students outside the I.B. program were slipping through the cracks, the staff designed a humanities curriculum called International Scholars, intended for motivated students who "don't test off the charts," said Hoffman. And just three years ago, they introduced another program called International Passport for at-risk youth who want extra tutoring and mentoring. Today, all but 70 Mira Loma students belong to one of these programs.

About 80 percent of the $140,000 the school spends each year on the I.B. program comes from grants and parents' fundraising efforts. The school has tough entrance requirements for eighth-graders who want to enter the I.B. Middle Years Program - a kind of prep track for the Diploma. But I.B. courses are open to anyone who wants to take them. And all teachers who have I.B. training teach a wide range of students, not just the highest-performing ones.

The remarkable result, students say, is a socially accepting campus where a wide range of students take I.B courses; high-performing students aren't ostracized as nerds; and lower-performing students say they're valued. The staff "appreciates everyone the same," said Will Perez, a sophomore in the school's International Passport program. "One of my best friends is in the I.B. program," said Anthony Borquez, a freshman who's also in the Passport program. "I hang out with them every lunch." Some I.B. students say the school's structure has given them the chance to make friends beyond the program. But the tension between good grades and good times remains. "It's definitely easier if you give up your social life to get good grades," said Kara Stuart, 16, who plans to enter the I.B. program next year. "I have more of a social life now than I did last year, and my grades aren't as good, but it's worth it."

More here


After the California Teachers Association railed against Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's special election agenda last year, it was a shock when the group last week endorsed a Republican, Bruce McPherson, for secretary of state. CTA President Barbara Kerr said it was the first time she could recall CTA endorsing a Republican for statewide office. McPherson took over the secretary of state's office last year after being nominated by Schwarzenegger once the embattled Kevin Shelley resigned from the post.

The CTA passed on state Sens. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, and Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey. Bowen did receive the backing of the California Federation of Teachers. Kerr said McPherson did well enough in a CTA interview to receive more than 60 percent support. The group has backed him in past legislative races and considered his performance in office. "We looked at the November election, which was about education, and he ran that well," Kerr said. "He was the bipartisan (official) he was supposed to be."



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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