Friday, August 10, 2007

California Leftists hate successful charter schools

Partly because they are hard to unionize

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2007-08 budget included $43 million to help charter schools in low-income areas pay rent on classroom space. As the Legislature's dominant Democrats reconfigured his budget in May and June, they lowered the appropriation to $18 million and then shifted it from the budget bill into one of the 15 "trailer bills" that accompany the budget.

The trailer bill, Senate Bill 92, contains a little extra verbiage that reportedly was written in Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez's office and is vaguely described in the Assembly's budget synopsis as "various changes regarding the state's regulation of statewide-benefit charters. ..." There is nothing vague about the words' effect, however. They would virtually eliminate statewide charter schools and appear to be aimed at the Green Dot system of charter schools that is revolutionizing -- for the better -- high schooling in poor Los Angeles neighborhoods with smaller, more focused schools.

Current law allows the State Board of Education to approve statewide charters in addition to those granted by local authorities. SB 92, which cleared the Assembly but is hung up in the Senate due to a broader budget impasse, would limit such charters to three years and prohibit renewal. And since no one would found a charter school for just three years, the effect of its enactment would be to eliminate statewide charters.

While Green Dot is not specifically mentioned in the legislation, it would inhibit or block the expansion that founder Steve Barr wants to pursue. Green Dot filed an application for a statewide charter last year, then withdrew it for modification after an initial hearing.

Why would Green Dot be targeted? Barr is a one-time fundraiser for the state Democratic Party and a co-founder of the left-leaning Rock the Vote movement who has made improvement of education for poor children a crusade, but he's earned the enmity of the powerful United Teachers of Los Angeles, or UTLA.

Why? It's not because Barr is anti-union, but because he's invited Green Dot teachers to form their own union, Association de Maestros Unidos, which has a contract that's more flexible than UTLA's contract with the hugely troubled Los Angeles Unified School District. "We could have and probably should have organized the Green Dot schools," A.J. Duffy, UTLA's president, said in remarkably candid remarks in a lengthy and quite positive New York Times article about Green Dot last month. "They started with one charter school, and now have 10, and in short order they'll have 20 schools in Los Angeles, with all the teachers paying dues to a different union. And that's a problem."

Earlier in the year, Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, carried a bill that was amended to repeal the State Board of Education's charter school authority altogether, but the measure stalled. SB 92, in effect, revives its thrust.

Nunez maintains a very close political relationship with UTLA, but his spokesman, Steve Maviglio, insists that Green Dot is "not particularly" being targeted; rather, he says, the bill's aimed at the board's broad interpretation of its authority to grant charters and is meant to spur negotiations on the issue with the Schwarzenegger administration.

Barr said that he was warned that the money for charter schools in poor neighborhoods would be used as leverage on the battle over statewide charter school policy.

Pairing the $18 million appropriation for charter schools in poor neighborhoods with the extra language would create a carrot-and-stick dilemma for Schwarzenegger. If he were to sign the bill, it would stunt the growth of charter schools statewide, but if he were to veto it, the lack of funds would stunt their operation in poor areas. And who really loses in all of these machinations? Poor kids, of course.


'Baby Einstein': not such a bright idea

Infants shown such educational series end up with poorer vocabularies, study finds. Researcher says 'American Idol' is better.

Parents hoping to raise baby Einsteins by using infant educational videos are actually creating baby Homer Simpsons, according to a new study released today. For every hour a day that babies 8 to 16 months old were shown such popular series as "Brainy Baby" or "Baby Einstein," they knew six to eight fewer words than other children, the study found. Parents aiming to put their babies on the fast track, even if they are still working on walking, each year buy hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of the videos.

Unfortunately it's all money down the tubes, according to Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle. Christakis and his colleagues surveyed 1,000 parents in Washington and Minnesota and determined their babies' vocabularies using a set of 90 common baby words, including mommy, nose and choo-choo. The researchers found that 32% of the babies were shown the videos, and 17% of those were shown them for more than an hour a day, according to the study in the Journal of Pediatrics. The videos, which are designed to engage a baby's attention, hop from scene to scene with minimal dialogue and include mesmerizing images, like a lava lamp. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children under 24 months.

The Brainy Baby Co. and Walt Disney Co., which markets the "Baby Einstein" videos, did not return calls from the Los Angeles Times. Christakis said children whose parents read to them or told them stories had larger vocabularies. "I would rather babies watch 'American Idol' than these videos," Christakis said, explaining that there is at least a chance their parents would watch with them - which does have developmental benefits.


Shocking British grade-school education

Four out of ten pupils could not read, write and add up properly by the time they left primary school this summer, the Government said yesterday. The national curriculum results for this age group improved slightly on last year, but the figures showed that 166,500 pupils did not meet the standard expected in writing, 67,000 failed to make it in reading, 54,000 could not reach it in science and 105,000 could not add up to the same level.

Lord Adonis, the Schools Minister, hailed the test results as the best ever, but critics said they showed that there had been little real improvement in recent years and that the literacy and numeracy strategies had run out of steam. Overall, the proportion of 11-year-olds reaching Level 4 at Key Stage 2, or the nationally expected level, improved for all subjects by one percentage point, with the exception of writing, which stalled at 67 per cent.

Of the 600,000 11-year-olds who took the test this summer, 80 per cent made the grade in English, 84 per cent in reading, 77 per cent in maths and 88 per cent in science. The figures also showed, however, that the Government had missed its targets in all areas and that only 60 per cent of the "Blair generation" of primary school pupils had met the expected level in all subjects, including reading, writing, maths and science.

Lord Adonis said that compared with 1997, 100,000 more 11-year-olds were achieving the standard expected of them in English and 90,000 more in maths, but he acknowledged that there was more to do. "From this September we are introducing further measures to accelerate the pace of learning," he said. "There will be a renewed emphasis on phonics in early reading teaching, and in maths children will focus more on mental arithmetic, including learning times tables one year earlier."

As well as teaching synthetic phonics, where children learn the sounds of letters and how to blend them to form words, more money will be spent on classroom assistants, one-to-one tuition, intensive reading and maths catch-up programmes and on better training for teachers, he said.

Achieving Level 4 at age 11 means that children should have the right skills to progress at secondary school. Figures show that, of the pupils who reached Level 4 or above in English or maths at Key Stage 2 in 2001, nearly 70 per cent went on to get five good A*-C grades at GCSE last summer, compared with only 11 per cent of those who did not reach Level 4. Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, called on ministers to carry out a review of testing.

Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, said that the results showed that primary schools were doing as much as they could and that the Government needed to intervene earlier. Professor Smithers said that children should learn about the concept of reading and writing from the age of 3. He added that when children were achieving Level 4 in English, maths and science with marks below 50 per cent, and as low as 41 per cent, there should be a debate about whether they were reaching expected standards


Plan to encourage Australian literature in Australian schools

This is an improvement on studying the back of the Kellogs cornflakes packet but, much though I love the classics of Australian literature (NOT including Patrick White), English literature from Britain is a much richer resource. It should be literature in English generally that kids are introduced to

CONTEMPORARY writers such as David Malouf or Helen Garner could help to compile reading lists for students, and publishers could be given cash incentives to reprint Australian classics under a plan to encourage more Australian literature in schools. And according to recommendations from an Australia Council education forum yesterday, the study of literature would form a core element of English courses in schools, and include a component of Australian literature.

Under the proposals, a group of distinguished writers, teachers and scholars would build a list of Australian literary works that would form part of the "intellectual inheritance of all Australians". "Wouldn't it be good to see David Malouf, for example, on such a panel?" [Malouf is of Lebanese Christian ancestry but deserves better than being regarded as a token Middle-Easterner] Imre Salusinszky, the chairman of the Australia Council's literature board, said yesterday. "He's just the kind of person to be part of that conversation. People like John Tranter, or Frank Moorhouse, Helen Garner, they could certainly participate in the group that would turn its mind to what is the core literary canon that we would like to think that all students who pursued Australian literary studies to an advanced level might be encouraged to learn about."

Dr Salusinszky was among the "education roundtable" of 20 publishers, critics, academics, writers and scholars, including former NSW premier Bob Carr, emeritus professor of Australian literature at Sydney University, Elizabeth Webby, literary critic Peter Craven, English teacher Sarah Golsby-Smith and publisher Robert Sessions, who met in Canberra yesterday.

The panel recommended a survey of Australian literature teaching in universities and teacher-training courses as a way of encouraging more Australian contemporary and classic writing in high school and university curriculums. It also recommended an inquiry be held to discover the most effective way to prepare teachers of literature in the primary and secondary school systems; that Literacy and Numeracy Week give a greater emphasis to Australian literature; and education ministers consider establishing a scheme to assist publishers to keep Australian classics in print.

The roundtable was convened yesterday to discuss concerns within state and federal governments that the influence of local literature and Australian writers has declined in recent years. "The excellence of Austalia's literary culture depends on a thriving literary education in our schools and universities, which will produce the writers and readers of tomorrow," the roundtable said in a statement yesterday. "The decline in such teaching, particularly in universities, has contributed to a situation in which many Australian classics are out of print." Dr Salusinszky last night described the meeting as "very productive". "There was a real spirit of consensus and co-operation", he said. He said teacher representatives at the meeting "felt we need to give teachers a bit more space just to explore literature for its own sake, for its imaginative value, for what they (readers) might find in it, and for the dialogue it generates".


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