Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Detroit parents want DPS teachers, officials jailed over low test scores

This is a logical consequence of the refusal to acknowledge inborn racial differences. As Detroit completes the transition to a wholly black city, with black teachers and black students, the achievements of its children must fall

Impassioned parents demanded jail time for educators and district officials Saturday following the release of test scores that showed fourth- and eighth-graders had the worst math scores in the nation. City students took the National Assessment of Educational Progress test this year, and 69 percent of fourth-graders scored below the basic level in math and 77 percent of eighth-graders scored below basic. The Detroit scores on the progress test were the lowest in its 40-year history. The sample of students included 900 of Detroit's 6,000 fourth-graders and 1,000 of the district's 6,000 eighth-graders.

Sharlonda Buckman, CEO of the Detroit Parent Network, called for jailing and civil lawsuits against anyone in the city's educational system that is not doing his or her share to help properly educate children. "Somebody needs to go to jail," she said in a tearful address to 500 parents gathered Saturday for the organization's annual breakfast forum. "Somebody needs to pay for this. Somebody needs to go to jail, and it shouldn't be the kids."

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb told the crowd the test scores weren't the result of children who were incompetent or parents who didn't care. He blamed the scores on the district not doing its job. "This is an abysmal failure," Bobb said. "It is not the fault of our kids individually, and it is not the fault of our kids collectively. It is not the kids' fault. It is the adults' fault. It is a failure of leadership."

The scores were so low that DPS parent Tonya Allen said she thinks students could have stayed home and done just as badly on the tests. "No other city in the history of this test has done this bad," said Allen, a founding member of the 7-year-old network. "They could have took this test in French and done just as bad."

Celia Huerta, also a DPS parent, said the scores show how much work is needed in the schools. "I am hoping and praying there will be investments in the schools, but I am not seeing it," she said. "Our kids are smart, the problem is the way they are being taught."

Bobb said he is going to announce a new reading initiative Monday in which he will be calling for 100,000 volunteer hours to help children with reading. Reading was one of the reasons cited for the low math scores. Attendees gave Bobb a rousing reception and loudly applauded him during his remarks. They had harsh words, though, for Mayor Dave Bing, who was not in attendance. "Where is the mayor?" Buckman asked. "Don't release a statement. Do something. Show up."

But according to the mayor's office, Bing did not receive an invitation to the event. Mayoral spokesman Edward Cardenas said Bing not being there shouldn't be construed as the mayor not having an interest or not wanting to be involved.

Buckman also had harsh words for a group of teachers who are in favor of striking instead of approving a new contract that forces them to give up $500 per month or $250 per paycheck as an investment. The money will be given to the district to help plug a $219 million deficit, and it will be returned when they retire. "If they strike, I hope we start a homeschool movement," she said in a fiery rebuke. "If you want to walk out on us now, when we have all of our kids failing...you can't do it."

A group of teachers was to prepare Saturday evening to get out the word to vote against the proposed contract and seek to remove Detroit Federation of Teachers president Keith Johnson. The Vote No and Prepare to Strike Committee, made up of a limited number of teacher activists, is prepared to take action against the district, according to a release.

But Bobb said teachers should understand that Johnson negotiated a better financial deal for members than Johnson is being credited for. "I proposed a 10 percent pay cut," Bobb said. "Mr. Johnson and his team are actually saving the teachers financially from what I was proposing. The negotiations are over. Our final and best offer is on the table." Teachers begin voting on a three-year contract next week.


Politics dominate Calif education reform effort

To education reformers, a $4.3 billion school funding competition from the Obama administration seemed like just the push California needed to start making long overdue changes to restore academic luster to the state's public schools.

But the drive to dramatically turn around a faltering system that serves more than 6 million children has run into political reality in a Legislature dominated by special interests. The result could leave the state with the nation's largest public school system ill-positioned to compete for the so-called Race to the Top funds. Officials estimate California stands to gain up to $700 million.

Lawmakers meeting in a special session on education called by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are considering competing Democratic bills. Both are intended to clear the way for California's federal application and to deal with some of the same issues, such as increasing the number of charter schools, revamping state tests and restructuring the worst-of-the-worst schools.

But how they propose to reach those goals is vastly different, and it's unclear whether the versions can be reconciled in time for the state to meet a Jan. 19 federal application deadline.

A Schwarzenegger-backed bill by state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, and the state superintendent of public instruction gives parents more say in what happens to failing schools and makes it easier to evaluate teachers and principals based on student achievement. It also would let parents move their children out of failing districts. After narrowly passing the state Senate in November, with several Democrats opposing it or opting to sit out the vote, that measure is now stalled in an Assembly committee. One of the most powerful and well-funded political interests in the state, the California Teachers Association, is lobbying against it. The teachers union instead backs different legislation offered by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica.

Reform advocates say that legislative package, which passed the Assembly on Thursday, does not go nearly far enough to fix California schools. Because of that, they say it wouldn't stand a chance in a competition against other large states such as Florida and Texas, which already have made bold school reforms.

Schwarzenegger has supported many of the changes included in the federal guidelines since taking office but has not had the political muscle to get the changes through a Legislature controlled by Democrats, who receive campaign funding from the teachers union. He said he will veto the Assembly legislation if it reaches his desk, although that is unlikely because the Senate already has passed much tougher reform measures. "This is a Race to the Top, not a race to mediocrity or the status quo," Schwarzenegger said.

The Republican governor has been blunt about the Assembly's effort, saying its Democratic majority simply wants to water down the tougher Senate legislation. The Assembly bill, he said, won't provide a real shot at the federal money in a state that has sustained billions of dollars in education cuts during the last three fiscal years. "The kids and education need every single dollar," Schwarzenegger said.

California's education system was once considered a national model that bred a generation of scientists and entrepreneurs, but the state has fallen to near the bottom among states in school funding and academics, earning a D in academic achievement this year from Education Week magazine's annual national schools survey. Students perform below the national average on nearly all measures, with black, Hispanic and poor children faring worst. Nearly 2,800 of its schools are considered to be failing by federal standards.

The dispute over whether to enter the federal competition and, if so, how strong the reforms should be is dividing Democratic allies and discouraging reformers who had hoped for historic change.

Margaret Fortune, a California State University trustee who once served as an education adviser to Schwarzenegger, said she has become disillusioned. Many lawmakers put partisan interests ahead of reasonable changes in school policy, she said. "If they were responsible leaders, they would stand up and say, 'You know what? We're leading a broken system, so we need to turn around and fix it, because this is shameful,'" said Fortune, who now runs an independent teacher-training program and has launched several charter schools.

Representatives of the California Teachers Association and other influential education groups, including the California School Boards Association, argue that the state should approach Race to the Top cautiously. They say lawmakers should not rush headlong into major reforms for what amounts to a relatively small pot of one-time federal money. California, which will spend $50 billion on K-12 education this fiscal year, stands to receive between $300 million and $700 million if its application is successful.

The teachers association opposes provisions in the Senate bill that would allow parents to transfer students in persistently failing schools to other districts, expand the number of charter schools without imposing new restrictions on them and allow parents to lobby for closure or conversion to a charter when schools don't improve. The union says the Senate legislation lacks legislative oversight in making the changes.

Patricia Rucker, a legislative advocate for the CTA, urged lawmakers during a hearing on both bills to "resist the temptation to simply race for dollars for the prestige of winning an award and a competition and instead (ask) what is the overall goal of education reform in California?"

Many reform advocates say slow progress isn't acceptable in a state where one in five high school students drops out. "I just don't have the patience for incremental change any more," said Assemblyman Juan Arambula, an independent from Fresno who left the Democratic caucus earlier this year. He sided with Republicans in opposing the Assembly bill and backing the more stringent Senate version.

Some Democratic lawmakers, particularly Hispanics and blacks, are feeling pressure from both sides: the teachers union, which opposes dramatic changes, and community groups that are frustrated by a persistent racial achievement gap.

Alice Huffman, president of the state NAACP and a former political director of the CTA, testified before the Assembly Education Committee that reforming the state's faltering schools is an urgent civil rights issue. She said she has nieces and nephews who have graduated from California schools yet cannot read and write. "I'm just going to say that if we don't get this done, we have really blown it one more time," she said.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office is urging lawmakers to take the Obama administration's education reforms seriously, warning that they are likely to provide the framework for new federal education guidelines, putting at stake billions of dollars in federal money.


Britain's "Academies" (Charter schools) 'shunning tough subjects'

Labour’s flagship academy schools have been accused of inflating their exam results by shunning tough subjects. In a damning report, researchers said evidence strongly suggested that schools gained good grades by entering pupils in “easier” vocational courses such as computing, catering and travel and tourism. It was claimed that pupils were being “short-changed” by academies that were putting league table rankings above a rigorous education.

The conclusions, in a study by the think-tank Civitas, come just weeks after Ofsted's annual report found almost half of academies inspected in the last 12 months were no better than adequate.

The latest comments come despite the fact that the majority of academies have refused to publish their exam results. As independent state schools, they are exempt from Freedom of Information legislation. One head teacher told the think-tank that academies should be able to keep test scores secret because publication would “identify the subjects that the academy has chosen not to prioritise” such as separate sciences and geography.

Anastasia de Waal, Civitas head of education, who wrote the report, said: “To attack academies for using weak vocational qualifications to improve their results might seem unfair when we know it's also happening in mainstream schools. “However, the difference is that academies are supposed to be ‘models of excellence’ improving life chances – and at least in mainstream schools we're able to see their use of vocational entries.”

Both Labour and the Conservatives have placed academies at the heart of school reforms - claiming they are the answer to underperformance in deprived areas. The Government has repeatedly hailed academies’ exam results as evidence that the controversial programme is working.

The schools, which are sponsored and run by private companies, entrepreneurs, faith groups and charities, have seen GCSE results improve at twice the rate of ordinary state schools, although in many cases they were starting from a lower base after taking over failing schools. Last year, some 36 per cent of pupils in academies gained five decent grades, including English and maths, compared with 48 per cent nationally.

In the latest report, researchers surveyed 118 of the 200 academies opened to date in an attempt to gauge the extent to which schools are able to “inflate” their results by entering pupils for vocational qualifications instead of normal GCSEs. Fewer than half of academies agreed to submit their results.

The report said the “high performance of vocational entries was very noticeable” for those schools supplying exam information. At one academy in the south west, half of students were entered for a practical course in “digital applications” which is worth two good GCSEs. All students passed. Another academy put 232 teenagers through BTEC courses in science, arts and sport, with every pupil gaining the equivalent of a C grade or better.

“Without vocational subjects, the headline performance at GCSE of a number of academies is considerably lower than it is when they are included,” the study said. An academy in the east midlands saw its equivalent GCSE results plunge by 21 percentage points when researchers discounted scores in a BTEC travel and tourism course.

At the same time, entries for traditional GCSEs such as geography and history were low in some academies. An academy in Yorkshire failed to enter any pupils for geography and only nine for history – out of a year group of 150. Another academy entered only 15 pupils for history and geography – half the number who took a “catering” GCSE. A third school entered 12 pupils for the humanities, compared with around 30 who took an “office technology” course.

The study - The Secrets of Academies' Success – also criticised the number of schools choosing to withhold their results. Only 43 per cent of head teachers were willing to publish details. “These conflicting responses beg the question: if so many academies consider themselves to be successful, why are so few willing to reveal the subjects and qualifications they're doing?” the study said.


No comments: