Saturday, August 02, 2008

House, Senate Pass Overhaul Of Higher-Education Programs

Congress yesterday passed a major overhaul of federal higher-education programs aimed at expanding financial aid and bringing greater clarity and disclosure to the student loan process. By overwhelming bipartisan votes, the House and Senate approved a five-year reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. It will nearly double the maximum amount of Pell Grants by 2014 and will require the Education Department to collect and publish better data on soaring tuition costs at universities and colleges. "This legislation will create a higher-education system that is more affordable, fairer and easier to navigate for students and families," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and an architect of the legislation.

The House's vote was 380 to 49; the Senate's was 83 to 8. President Bush has said he will sign the bill into law. Some Republicans opposed the measure because they think it imposes too many regulations on universities and the private lenders that finance higher education for millions of students. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former secretary of education, piled five cartons into a stack almost five feet high on the Senate floor to illustrate the quantity of existing regulations governing higher education. He said the new legislation would double the pile. "The greatest threat to higher education isn't underfunding -- it's over-regulation," he said.

But others said the legislation, which took five years to write after the previous act expired in 2003, would start providing benefits to students in time for the coming school year. "It needs to be done before the kids go back to school this fall," Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.), ranking Republican on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, told reporters. Enzi negotiated the final details of the bill with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.). She has been the lead Democrat on education matters while the chairman, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), recuperates from surgery for a brain tumor and undergoes chemotherapy and radiation treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Mikulski said Kennedy continued to play a key role in the negotiations over the bill through regular phone calls and memos from his home. "I talk to Senator Kennedy once a week to give him a report on who's been naughty and who's been nice," she told reporters. Kennedy plans to return to the Senate and his chairmanship in September after the five-week recess for the national party conventions and a district work period, aides and senators said.

In addition to increasing Pell Grants, the legislation seeks to clarify the application process. One provision, written by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), simplifies a financial aid form by reducing the number of questions asked and mandating it contain more easily understood language. Emanuel said yesterday he has drafted a letter to the Education Department, asking its officials to implement the language as he had intended it. "Do not let the bureaucracy kill this," he said.

The legislation also imposes new regulations on financial institutions that make private loans to students not in the federal student loan program. It requires those lenders to disclose 27 pieces of information, such as mandating lenders to reveal three times in the application process all potential finance charges, late fees, penalties and adjustments to the loan. It also gives student borrowers up to 30 days to terminate a loan after an application is approved.

The April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, during which campus officials did not alert students to the first shooting incident, inspired another provision. It mandates that universities immediately notify students of emergency situations.

The Higher Education Act follows the passage of a $20 billion bill last year that provided increased funds for expanded Pell Grants and cut interest rates on federally backed tuition loans.


School prayer

This is a statement that was read over the PA system at the football game at Roane County High School , Kingston , Tennessee, by school Principal, Jody McLeod

It has always been the custom at Roane County High School football games,to say a prayer and play the National Anthem,to honor God and Country. Due to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court,I am told that saying a Prayer is a violation of Federal Case Law. As I understand the law at this time,I can use this public facility to approve of sexual perversion and call it 'an alternate lifestyle,' and if someone is offended, that's OK.

I can use it to condone sexual promiscuity,by dispensing condoms and calling it, 'safe sex.' If someone is offended, that's OK.

I can even use this public facility to present the merits of killing an unborn baby as a 'viable! means of birth control.' If someone is offended,no problem...

I can designate a school day as 'Earth Day' and involve students in activities to worship religiously and praise the goddess 'Mother Earth' and call it 'ecology.'

I can use literature, videos and presentations in the classroom that depicts people with strong,traditional Christian convictions as 'simple minded' and 'ignorant' and call it 'en lightenment.'

However,if anyone uses this facility to honor GOD and to ask HIM to Bless this event with safety and good sportsmanship,then Federal Case Law is violated.

This appears to be inconsistent at best,and at worst, diabolical Apparently, we are to be tolerant of everything and anyone, except GOD and HIS Commandments.

Nevertheless, as a school principal, I frequently ask staff and students to abide by rules with which they do not necessarily agree. For me to do otherwise would be inconsistent at best, and at worst, hypocritical... I suffer from that affliction enough unintentionally. I certainly do not need to add an intentional transgression.

For this reason, I shall 'Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and refrain from praying at this time. However, if you feel inspired to honor, praise and thank GOD and ask HIM in the name of JESUS, to Bless this event, please feel free to do so As far as I know, that's not against the law ----yet.

One by one, the people in the stands bowed their heads, held hands with one another and began to pray.

They prayed in the stands. They prayed in the team huddles. They prayed at the concession stand and they prayed in the Announcer's Box!

The only place they didn't pray was in the Supreme Court of the United States of America- the Seat of 'Justice' in the one nation, under GOD.'

Somehow, Kingston , Tennessee Remembered what so many have forgotten. We are given the Freedom OF Religion, not the Freedom FROM Religion. Praise GOD that HIS remnant remains!

JESUS said, 'If you are ashamed of ME before men, then I will be ashamed of you before MY FATHER.'


Friday, August 01, 2008

Britain: Smaller private schools at risk of closure because of credit crisis

Independent schools are at the risk of closure because parents can no longer afford the fees, education experts have warned

It came after two schools were forced to close, becoming the first high-profile victims of the credit crisis. One school shut altogether while a second has been forced to call in receivers, who are attempting to sell it to a new buyer. Both were members of the prestigious Girls' Schools Association, the group representing Britain's top single-sex schools. Wispers School in Haslemere, Surrey, will not reopen after the summer holidays, blaming financial pressures and a drop in demand for all-girls' education. And Wentworth College, Bournemouth, will shut next week, citing the "current economic climate, linked with a short term fall in pupil numbers".

Last night, experts said the schools' closures were likely to be the "first of many" as the independent sector is squeezed by the financial downturn. All bar one of England's top 20 private schools raised fees above inflation this year, according to one report, prompting claims that some schools were "underestimating parents' sensitivities to fee increases".

Sue Fieldman, regional editor of the Good Schools Guide, said: "These are the first ones to close for a while but I think we may see a string of them. Girls' schools are particularly vulnerable. "Of course, the top schools remain very strong, but the middle-ranking and very small schools may suffer. "Some of these only need to lose two or three pupils a year and it is going to start being very difficult to stay afloat, particularly in the present climate."

Wispers, an all-girl boarding school, announced it was closing at the end of the summer term after 60 years. The school, for 11 to 18-year-olds, charged up to $42$42,000 for boarders and $26,500 for day pupils - with 72 students registered last year. It was known as a strong academic school, sending all pupils to top universities, including Oxford and Cambridge. In a statement, John Parker, president of trustees, said: "We are saddened that the difficulties facing small schools in budgeting for ever increasing costs has resulted in this decision to close. "Wispers' small size has been one of its strengths but its size also makes it vulnerable when single-sex girls' schools are under increasing pressure from the trend towards co-education and when the demand for boarding is in decline." The school will use the sale of its assets - thought to be worth $8m - to create an educational trust, providing bursaries for girls from deprived backgrounds to attend other fee-paying schools.

Wentworth College, for 144 pupils, founded in 1871, was placed in the hands of receivers Grant Thornton this week and will be officially closed on August 4. The girls' school, which charged $32,350 for boarders and $20,850 for day pupils, had been due to admit boys for the first time from September to boast numbers. In a statement, Grant Thornton said it was hoped it would reopen if a new owner was found. "The cost base of the school has risen and management sought to address this by expanding pupil numbers," the firm said. "However, given the current economic climate, linked with a short term fall in pupil numbers and limited availability of funding, the board of governors took the decision to place [the school] into administration." Parents have been advised to find alternative schools for September.

Between 2001 and 2006, average school fees across the country rose by 39 per cent - compared with an 18 per cent rise in average earnings. The Independent Schools Council said the rises were due to staffing costs. Vicky Tuck, principal of Cheltenham Ladies' College and president of the Girls' Schools Association, insisted these were "isolated" cases. "My conversations with fellow heads in GSA indicate that recruitment is going very well," she said. "We have all got parents who are taking all sorts of contingency measures to pay for education. "They want independent education and many recognise they have to go without certain things as a result. "


School choice doing well in welfarist Sweden

Schools run by private enterprise? Free iPods and laptop computers to attract students? It may sound out of place in Sweden, that paragon of taxpayer-funded cradle-to-grave welfare. But a sweeping reform of the school system has survived the critics and 16 years later is spreading and attracting interest abroad. "I think most people, parents and children, appreciate the choice," said Bertil Ostberg, from the Ministry of Education. "You can decide what school you want to attend and that appeals to people."

Since the change was introduced in 1992 by a center-right government that briefly replaced the long-governing Social Democrats, the numbers have shot up. In 1992, 1.7 percent of high schoolers and 1 percent of elementary schoolchildren were privately educated. Now the figures are 17 percent and 9 percent.

In some ways the trend mirrors the rise of the voucher system in the U.S., with all its pros and cons. But while the percentage of children in U.S. private schools has dropped slightly in recent years, signs are that the trend in Sweden is growing. Before the reform, most families depended on state-run schools following a uniform national curriculum. Now they can turn to the "friskolor," or "independent schools," which choose their own teaching methods and staff, and manage their own buildings.

They remain completely government-financed and are not allowed to charge tuition fees. The difference is that their government funding goes to private companies which then try to run the schools more cost-effectively and keep whatever taxpayer money they save.

Bure Equity, listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange, is the largest private school operator in Sweden and is expanding rapidly. In the first quarter of this year, net profit for its education portfolio rose 33 percent to $3 million. Such profit-making troubles Swedes who don't think taxpayers should be enriching corporations.

The Social Democrats strongly opposed the change as anti-egalitarian, but when they were re-elected to power in 1994, they found it was so popular that they left it in place, though they imposed a lid on fees.

Barbro Lillkaas, a 40-year-old accountant, is considering putting her child in a private school, and has no problem with the profit motive. "If you run a good operation then you make a profit. But you won't get any students if you are bad," she said. "You have to do a good job to get money; that is even more important for a private school."

More here

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Greatest Scandal

The profound failure of inner-city public schools to teach children may be the nation's greatest scandal. The differences between the two Presidential candidates on this could hardly be more stark. John McCain is calling for alternatives to the system; Barack Obama wants the kids to stay within that system. We think the facts support Senator McCain.

"Parents ask only for schools that are safe, teachers who are competent and diplomas that open doors of opportunity," said Mr. McCain in remarks recently to the NAACP. "When a public system fails, repeatedly, to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children." Some parents may opt for a better public school or a charter school; others for a private school. The point, said the Senator, is that "no entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity."

Mr. McCain cited the Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program, a federally financed school-choice program for disadvantaged kids signed into law by President Bush in 2004. Qualifying families in the District of Columbia receive up to $7,500 a year to attend private K-12 schools. To qualify, a child must live in a family with a household income below 185% of the poverty level. Some 1,900 children participate; 99% are black or Hispanic. Average annual income is just over $22,000 for a family of four.

A recent Department of Education report found nearly 90% of participants in the D.C. program have higher reading scores than peers who didn't receive a scholarship. There are five applicants for every opening.

Mr. McCain could have mentioned EdisonLearning, a private company that took over 20 of Philadelphia's 45 lowest performing district schools in 2002 to create a new management model for public schools. The most recent state test-score data show that student performance at Philadelphia public schools managed by Edison and other outside providers has improved by nearly twice the amount as the schools run by the district.

The number of students performing at grade level or higher in reading at the schools managed by private providers increased by 6.1% overall compared to 3.3% in district-managed schools. In math, the results for Edison and other outside managers was 4.6% and 6.0%, respectively, compared to 3.1% in the district-run schools.

The state of California just announced that one in three students in the Los Angeles public school system drops out before graduating. Among black and Latino students in L.A. district schools, the numbers are 42% and 30%. In the past five years, the number of dropouts has grown by more than 80%. The number of high school graduates has gone up only 9%.

The silver linings in these dismal clouds are L.A.'s charter high schools. Writing in the Los Angeles Daily News last week, Caprice Young, who heads the California Charter Schools Association, noted that "every charter high school in Los Angeles Unified last year reported a dropout rate significantly lower than not only the school district's average, but the state's as well."

On recent evidence, the Democrat Party's policy on these alternatives is simply massive opposition. Congressional Democrats have refused to reauthorize the D.C. voucher program and are threatening to kill it. Last month, Philadelphia's school reform commission voted to seize six schools from outside managers, including four from Edison. In L.A., local school board members oppose the expansion of charters even though seven in 10 charters in the district outperform their neighborhood peers.

It's well known that the force calling the Democratic tune here is the teachers unions. Earlier this month, Senator Obama accepted the endorsement of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union. Speaking recently before the American Federation of Teachers, he described the alternative efforts as "tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice."

Mr. Obama told an interviewer recently that he opposes school choice because, "although it might benefit some kids at the top, what you're going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom." The Illinois Senator has it exactly backward. Those at the top don't need voucher programs and they already exercise school choice. They can afford exclusive private schools, or they can afford to live in a neighborhood with decent public schools. The point of providing educational options is to extend this freedom to the "kids at the bottom."

A visitor to Mr. Obama's Web site finds plenty of information about his plans to fix public education in this country. Everyone knows this is a long, hard slog, but Mr. Obama and his wife aren't waiting. Their daughters attend the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where annual tuition ranges from $15,528 for kindergarten to $20,445 for high school. When the day arrives that these two candidates face off, we hope Senator McCain comes prepared to press his opponent hard on change, hope and choice in the schools.


Increasing number of British children being taught by classroom assistants

Children are being increasingly taught by untrained classroom assistants, despite fears over lesson standards, teaching union leaders claim.

Schools are relying on poorly-paid assistants - most of whom do not have full teaching qualifications - to plug gaps in the teaching workforce leading to accusations of teaching on the cheap. Some physical education lessons are even being taken by staff without training in how to use heavy equipment - fuelling fears that children are at risk of serious injury.

But Lord Adonis, the schools minister, insisted that schools should be allowed to leave classes in the hands of assistants, provided they are properly supervised by trained teachers.

It followed claims by Voice, the 35,000-strong teaching union, that assistants were being "routinely abused" by schools who demand they work as full teachers for just a fraction of the wage. Speaking at the union's annual conference, delegates said it was cheaper for schools to use support staff than pay for supply teachers - if regular teachers were absent. Most earn an average of just $100 a day, compared to supply teachers who earn $300.

Rhena Sturgess, a school nursery nurse from Leicestershire, said: "Teaching assistants are professionals who play a key role in our schools but their hard work, dedication and knowledge of the children should not be taken advantage of by schools that are using them as cheap labour A as cut-price teachers." She said schools were "exploiting them because it's cheaper than bringing in supply teachers and because they can't say 'no'".

In the last 10 years, the number of teachers in England has increased by ten per cent from 399,000 to 440,000. At the same time, the number of classroom assistants has soared almost three-fold from 61,000 to 177,000. They are supposed to be used - under the supervision of a fully-qualified staff member - to give teachers more time to plan lessons and mark children's work. But Mrs Sturgess said assistants were often providing lesson cover for teachers, even in PE, where many lack specialist health and safety training.

Lord Adonis said: "Provided teaching assistants are properly managed by both teachers and headteachers we don't think it is right to unduly constrain the roles they do in schools."

Nick Gibb, the Tory shadow schools minister, said: "Teaching assistants are a very helpful addition in schools to enable teachers to focus on the core task of academic teaching, but they should not be used to take classes. It can only serve to reduce standards of teaching and therefore the quality of education children are receiving."


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

British High Court Allows Sikh Jewelry in Schools

(London, England) The British High Court ruled today that a 14-year-old Sikh girl (pic), Sarika Watkins-Singh, is excluded from the "no jewelry" rule at Aberdare Girl's School in South Wales.

Watkins-Singh will be allowed to show her devotion to the Sikh faith at school by wearing the kara, a slim steel bracelet.

The decision regarding Watkins-Singh contends that the school had breached her religious and racial rights and unfairly burdened the teenager's freedom of religious expression.

Interestingly, the latest ruling is one of several inconsistent positions taken by British courts regarding religious expression in schools.

Whereas Sikh schoolgirl Watkins-Singh can wear her religious bracelet, Christian schoolgirl Lydia Playfoot was prohibited by the British High Court from wearing a "purity ring" and teacher Aishah Azmi was dismissed for refusing to remove her veil in the classroom. And, teen student Shabina Begum was banned from wearing full Islamic dress at Denbigh High School but only after the House of Lords overturned an earlier court ruling.

Based upon the obvious inconsistency in rulings from the British judiciary, it's hard to dispute the contention that taking a case to a Brit court is like opening a box of chocolates. You don't know what you're going to get.
Cadet forces in schools would restore discipline says British union

Military cadet forces should be set up in schools to restore discipline and control unruly pupils, a teaching union will hear this week. Voice, which has 38,000 members, will discuss a motion that it should welcome the establishment of cadet units in state schools. This clashes with the stance of the NUT, the biggest teaching union, which voted in March to oppose military recruitment campaigns in schools. One teacher told that debate that military cadet forces should be barred from schools because they were used for recruitment.

But two months later, a report commissioned by Gordon Brown said more cadet corps should be set up in schools, and recommended the inclusion of lessons on the Armed Forces’ role in society in the national curriculum. It also said more military personnel should visit schools. This has found favour with Peter Morris, the retired teacher who is making the latest proposal. He will tell the Voice annual conference on Wednesday that a military presence at school would foster patriotism, integrity, loyalty and courage. “Society as a whole is becoming less disciplined,” he is due to say. “As a profession, we continually complain about the indiscipline of pupils. The establishment of cadet units will, I am sure, help with discipline in our schools. They will give pupils an insight into the role of the armed forces.”

Mr Morris will tell the event in Northamptonshire that having a cadet force on site will help prevent low-achieving pupils from dropping out of school and drifting into crime. He is expected to say: “I have seen a pupil lift a computer monitor above his head ready to throw it at a teacher. I have seen pupils barring the way of a teacher along a corridor. “Pupils are well aware of their rights these days and exercise those rights to the full, often leaving teachers with little or no power to restore discipline.”

An IT teacher for 15 years, Mr Morris was formerly a policeman, but retired after suffering assault while on duty. In an apparent allusion to the NUT stance, he will tell delegates: “No doubt left-wingers in our profession will try to sabotage the government’s plan for cadet units, just as many colleagues in another teaching union recently voted to ‘actively oppose’ the army making visits to schools. “The structure which is lacking in the lives of so many young people today is offered by cadet units, and there is nowhere better to house these cadet units than in schools. “These units can work well for high achievers as well as those who will drop out of school early - with the consequential risk of falling into a life of crime.”

Mr Morris will tell the conference that cadet forces will “inculcate some of the values which we, as a society, are missing: self discipline, self-reliance, loyalty to one’s comrades, to one unit and to one’s country, courage, respect and integrity.”

Voice, formed from what was the Professional Association of Teachers, and other unions, counts teachers, lecturers, heads, support staff, nannies and childcare professionals among its members. Speaking to The Times, Mr Morris said many discipline problems in the classroom were caused by having mixed-ability lessons, during which both high and low achievers became bored. He said cadet units could engage some pupils by giving them a sense of purpose and achievement, and showing them how a career in catering or music could be pursued within the military. They could also be used to help schools provide after-hours activities. The Government wants all schools to become “extended” by opening from 8am to 6pm.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said at the time of the report to Gordon Brown: “I believe combined cadet forces can make a huge difference to the young people who join them and the schools and communities in which they are based.”


Texas financial aid proposal may emphasize academics as well as need in award distribution

With a limited pot it makes sense to give the aid to kids who are smart as well as poor

When it comes to qualifying for the state's biggest pot of college financial aid, being poor may no longer be enough. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board forwarded a plan to lawmakers and Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday that could fundamentally change the design and mission of the TEXAS Grant program. It would favor students who excel academically, shifting priority away from those with the greatest financial need.

Kimberly Anderson of Dallas fears the proposed changes could prevent some students from going to college. The 2008 graduate of Carter High School is headed to the University of Texas at Austin in the fall and plans to pay with grants and scholarships. "I understand they don't want to waste the money," she said. "I think it's still fair to go off needs."

Thursday's move paves the way for debates in the coming legislative session about spending priorities for higher education. Since 2004, the state hasn't provided enough money to cover all students eligible for the grants, which provide about $5,200 a year - enough to cover average tuition and fees at public universities. For the coming school year, the coordinating board estimates there will be enough grant money for only 28,000 of the 70,000 new students who qualify. Thursday's action is a move toward deciding which students deserve the money most.

"It is not a good message to send to poor students that by virtue of the fact you're poor, you're going to get aid," said Raymund Paredes, the state's higher education commissioner. "Students from all income classes should be sent the message that you should be expected to perform as well as you can."

But state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said the changes could hurt the very students the program was supposed to help. "Don't be in a position where we end up being penny-wise and dollar-foolish. The plan is working," said Mr. Ellis, who led efforts to create TEXAS Grants in 1999. Under current rules students must take a college-preparatory curriculum in high school to qualify for the grants. The vast majority of Texas students meet that standard today.

The proposed changes come at a time when political and business leaders are pressing public universities to enroll more low-income and minority students - people who make up a growing share of the state's workforce. The bulk of TEXAS Grants goes to students whose families make less than $40,000 a year. Three-fourths of recipients are minorities.

Last year, the Legislature ordered a review of state aid programs to make sure money is spent efficiently. The coordinating board hired a private consultant to come up with recommendations. The consultant recommends that to receive TEXAS Grants, students either score 1350 out of 2400 on the SAT or 18 out of 36 on the ACT; graduate in the top half of their high school class; or complete the state's most rigorous high school curriculum. Dr. Paredes offered an even tougher set of recommendations Thursday. They include requirements that students either score 1500 on the SAT or about 21 on the ACT; graduate in the top 30 percent of their high school class; or graduate high school with a B average.

While board members voted to send the consultant's report to the governor and lawmakers, they didn't expressly endorse it. Nor have they endorsed Dr. Paredes' recommendations. Rather, several board members said they need more information on how the proposed changes would affect lower-income and minority students. Board member Robert Wingo of El Paso said more study is needed "so we are not putting the very students we're trying to help at risk." ...

TEXAS Grants don't begin to cover the total cost of attending a four-year public university in Texas - add in books, room, board and other expenses, and the total averages $17,500 a year.

Keshav Rajagopalan, student government president at UT-Austin, said adding some academic standards makes sense, but the consultant's report leaves out a key issue. "There is nothing that talks about actually funding these programs," he said. "You can't just say we've got programs and then not put money toward them."

Coordinating board officials said any changes in eligibility wouldn't take effect for several years.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Charges against California Home Schooling Family that Led to Homeschool Ban Likely to be Dropped

The family court judge overseeing the two homeschooled children has terminated his jurisdiction over them

The charges against a California family that led to an Appellate Court decision to ban home schooling in the state have been dropped by the family court judge involved in the original case. The Appellate Court's ruling arose from a child welfare dispute between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and Philip and Mary Long of Lynwood, California, who have been homeschooling their eight children. Two years ago, court-appointed lawyers had asked that the two youngest Long children be ordered to attend a school outside the home. That request became the basis for the Appellate court's February ruling that homeschooling is illegal in California.

The family court judge overseeing the two homeschooled children at the center of the case, however, has now terminated his jurisdiction over the children. Now Mr. Long's attorneys are asking the Appellate court to drop the homeschooling case altogether.

Bruce Hausknecht, judicial analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said the decision of the family court to terminate jurisdiction will likely lead to the Appellate court dismissing the case. "This development likely means that the horrible Court of Appeals decision outlawing home schooling in California will not be resurrected," he said. "That's good news for the 200,000 home-schooled kids in that state." "Apparently the state decided it either didn't want to pursue the parents or the court decided that they couldn't pursue the parents," Mr. Hausknecht explained. "And so, essentially, there is no case left, no parties left for the appellate court to actually apply their decision to."

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, said the Appellate Court is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether to drop its earlier ruling. "If that were to happen, we would be back at square one as if this whole mess had never taken place - at least legally speaking - because there'd be absolutely no precedent on the books," Mr. Dacus said in the Focus on the Family Action report.

Mike Farris, chairman and founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said, "This is a significant favorable development toward preserving homeschooling freedom in California."

With both state schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger throwing their support behind the state's homeschoolers, it appears increasingly likely the Appellate Court will reverse its earlier decision. O'Connell released a statement supporting the rights of parents to homeschool their children, despite the Second District Court of Appeals ruling to the contrary. "I have reviewed this case, and I want to assure parents that chose to home school that California Department of Education policy will not change in any way as a result of this ruling. Parents still have the right to home school in our state," O'Connell said.

Governor Schwarzenegger said the court ruling stating that parents must have a teaching credential to home school their children was "outrageous." "Every California child deserves a quality education and parents should have the right to decide what's best for their children. Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children's education. This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts and if the courts don't protect parents' rights then, as elected officials, we will," he said.


In Rochester (NY), Almost Half of 7th and 8th Graders Fail Exam -- Even When Given Some of the Answers

Given how much grief charter schools and other creative initiatives get from the government-school establishment if they don't instantly turn at risk kids into Einsteins, along with the hounding of homeschoolers that seems to be on the rise, this story shouldn't be allowed to fall through the cracks, or remain confined to its local area.

Last Sunday's Rochester Democrat and Chronicle story (HT One News Now), which really should be read in full, would be humorous ("Kids Get Answers, Still Can't Pass") if it weren't for the fact that real children are clearly not getting educated. This systemic failure will affect them, and, to at least a slight degree, everyone reading this, for years to come:
Rochester students get peek at exam questions

Thousands of city school students got a sneak peek at dozens of questions on two exams last month - a scenario that has baffled testing experts, outraged local officials and raised concerns about the validity of the exams and the Rochester School District's method of test preparation. The multiple-choice questions appeared in review materials produced by the district and issued to teachers to prep seventh- and eighth-graders for their final social-studies exams, one of four required district exams.

..... District officials could not say how many of the 4,329 students who took the exams had also participated in the review sessions or received copies of the materials. But those who did so were drilled on multiple-choice questions and answers that were identical to and presented in the same sequence as those on the tests.

..... Each of the exams totaled 100 points, and the multiple-choice questions were each worth one point. The exams, in turn, accounted for 25 percent of the final grade in each course.

..... District officials defended studying actual exam questions in advance of a test as a legitimate method of preparation and expressed little concern about the potential impact that repeated questions might have on the validity of the exam's results. They noted that the final social-studies exams, unlike those for math and English, have no bearing on whether a student is promoted to the next grade.

Connie Leech, the district's supervisor for secondary schools, said the fact that the questions and their answers appeared in the same order on the review as the exam was "probably not in the best judgment" but added that she doubted any student could commit the order of so many questions to memory. "I'm not concerned that it's a cheat," Leech said. "What we were doing is giving kids a better sense of the knowledge that they needed for the test. It's like giving them an open-book test. This isn't a Regents exam."

..... Exactly half of the seventh-graders passed their exam, an increase of 6 percentage points over last year, according to the district. The passing rate in the eighth grade was 56 percent, compared with 51 percent a year earlier

In my opinion, the newspaper's headline and text characterizations of the students' exposure to answers as "peeks" represent a deliberate attempt to understate the seriousness of what is being described. The district is acknowledging that at least some students "received copies of the materials." Some "peek."

Reporter Dave Andreatta appeared not to ask if any disciplinary actions would be taken; based on Ms. Leech's defense, it would appear not. Andreatta also used what happened as a jumping-off point to air teacher grievances over having to "teach to the test" -- as if any of that is relevant to what really should be seen as an obvious case of cheating. Finally, even though the mulitple-choice questions were only a part of the exam, he seemed oddly indifferent to the appalling failure rate, even given the artificial help.

You can explore the paper's pages over the week that has since transpired to gauge reader reaction, which you will see ranges from understandable calls for get-tough measures to inexcusable excuse-making.

This story is a more glaring example of what I believe is a common local media tendency to cut underperforming public schools -- especially urban public schools -- breaks they don't deserve. Meanwhile, as noted earlier, media sympathies usually are not with ideas designed to help parents looking for better alternatives that will enable them to break away from the public school monopoly, or with those who choose to take on the serious responsibility of educating their children themselves, and tend to perform that task fairly well. Why is that?


Helicopter parents

The New York Times devotes some of its front page to a story about overbearing parents who torture summer camp administrators with their specific instructions, whiny demands for exceptionalism, and unreconstructed anxiety. This is an excellent use of that newspaper's valuable real estate. Anxious and controlling parents are as great a threat to this country's posterity as, say, climate change or Islamic terrorism. As the article makes painfully obvious, parents are teaching their children all the wrong lessons with their interventions, which include attempts to eliminate every discomfort, redress every injustice, and break any rule (such as the ban on cell phones) if it is an obstacle to intensive parent-child contact. These parents are teaching their children to be easily discomfited, hypersensitive in the defense of their own prerogatives, and disrespectful of rules, all traits that are opposite to those required to be a good citizen.

There is some good news in this, at least if you believe that social mobility is a good thing (and I certainly do). Most of these children are from affluent, highly-educated families. If by dint of their upbringing they turn out, on average, to be as dependent and petulant as is the likely consequence of this much parental intervention, they will not be successful and will be displaced in the upper quintile by the children whose parents actually taught them to be adults.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Richard Brodhead: The Duke of Disdain

Some background on one of the men behind the near-lynching of the three innocent Duke university lacrosse players. Richard Brodhead was President of Duke at the time. He spoke and acted precipitously against the players, presuming their guilt before they had a chance to defend themselves in court . The account below is by famous Melville scholar Hershel Parker. Parker shows that Brodhead was a mainstream product of the politically correct culture that pervades American universities and that the lacrosse players were not the first who were victimized by Brodhead's disregard for truth and justice. Brodhead is still President at Duke, despite compensation to the players costing Duke heaps -- said by some to be $18 million. Duke obviously considers his behavior to be satisfactory

History is replete with records of those in high office who display a haughty contempt toward folk of a lower standing, but in the twenty-first century a reservoir of disdain is not what you expect in an American university dean or president. Yet Richard H. Brodhead as Dean of Yale College and after 2004 as President of Duke University has repeatedly allowed disdain to color both his writings and his treatment of living human beings. In the years after 23 June 2002, when he defamed me as a scholar while obliterating all record of my hard-working mentors and other scholars in his New York TIMES review of the second volume of my biography of Melville, I have become something of an authority on Brodhead's disdain.

Perhaps the best way of seeing Brodhead's habitual disdain in its unforced, free-flowing form is to look at it when it is not directed at living persons such as the Yale instructor James Van de Velde, me and my older colleagues, or Duke lacrosse players and their families and the lacrosse coach. I point first to Brodhead's The School of Hawthorne (1986), where the reader trips hard against this remarkably invidious and quite gratuitous comment: "Thomas Bailey Aldrich, a once-admired poet more forgotten now than even the word 'limbo' can suggest, found his poetical vocation while reading Longfellow." As someone who knows first hand just how much pain Brodhead's snide innuendo can inflict, I wince at the disdain in this sentence as I retype it. Poor Aldrich! Not even lying in limbo--still more forgotten than that! Yes, popular writers fall out of favor, and may become neglected, but here Brodhead's elitist contempt is grotesquely misapplied.

How misapplied? Brodhead is egregiously slurring a man he should have been studying. While preparing a book called The School of Hawthorne a genuine scholar at Yale (since 1953 something of an oxymoron) would have inched down the aisles of the Sterling Memorial Library and compulsively read old novels. A scholar would have seized on that very Thomas Bailey Aldrich's The Stillwater Tragedy. Aldrich, a proud member of the school of Hawthorne, opens The Stillwater Tragedy with a passage written in loving homage to Hawthorne's set piece in The House of the Seven Gables on the passage of a night and morning while a corpse awaits discovery. Aldrich and other writers lost beyond limbo in Brodhead's opinion (writers including Harriet Beecher Stowe in her remarkable New England novels) ought to have been given at least a few pages in any book entitled The School of Hawthorne. Ignorance and arrogance compound the foulness of Brodhead's habitual disdain. It's not smart to make fun of someone you ought to have recognized as highly relevant to your survey of Hawthorne's possible influence on several dead white men.

Disdain was at work in Brodhead's treatment of the Yale instructor James Van de Velde who had the misfortune to be a teacher of a student who was murdered. In an article on 6 June 2006 Michael Rubin explained: "On December 4, 1998, senior Suzanne Jovin was found stabbed to death and left at an intersection in a neighborhood adjacent to the Yale campus which housed many Yale professors and graduate students." Brodhead, acting for Yale, was obsessed with avoiding adverse publicity. Rubin continued, "When Jovin was murdered, justice took a backseat to damage control. Within days New Haven police and Yale officials publicly fingered political scientist James Van de Velde, Jovin's senior essay adviser." As Rubin explains, "Yale administrators did not care that there was neither evidence nor motive linking Van de Velde to Jovin. Her body had been found a half-mile from his house. Just as at Duke, Brodhead spoke eloquently about the principles of due process, but moved to subvert it. Citing the New Haven Police Department's naming of Van de Velde among 'a pool of suspects,' Brodhead cancelled Van de Velde's spring-term lecture, explaining that 'the cancellation of the course doesn't follow from a judgment or a prejudgment of his hypothetical involvement in the Jovin case.' As at Duke, Brodhead insisted that due process would prevail. Despite Van de Velde's stellar student reviews and distinguished record, Brodhead then let his contract lapse. Van de Velde left New Haven, his career in shambles."

Brodhead himself was an eminently safe man, hitherto almost untested, having been an undergraduate at Yale, graduate student at Yale, assistant professor at Yale, and successively promoted until he became Dean of Yale College. What's wrong with that? In Brodhead's case, as far as academic work goes, it meant that he never learned how to learn to do research. He learned how to be a critic, not how to be a scholar, a person who actively adds to knowledge. The New Criticism had been dominant at Yale since 1953, when Charles Feidelson replaced Stanley T. Williams, the teacher of the great Melville graduate students of the 1940s. After Feidelson, scholarly research all but died at Yale, where one critical dissertation after another was written and accepted in partial fulfillment of the PhD degree. The original New Critics of the 1940s, including some who taught at Yale, had been trained as scholars, but the Yale English Department became a place where those who had never done scholarly research taught those who would never do scholarly research, and would be distrustful and hostile toward it. Even aside from the disaster of having each Yale generation farther and farther from real scholarly work, it's always bad for a school to hire its own, bad for the department and the one who is hired. All his academic life Brodhead had been the wealthy curled darling of Yale (to allude to one of Brodhead's favorite plays, Othello).

Van de Velde was a non-ideologue with world-experience who was intruding upon safe, conventional Yale behavior. As Rubin says, Van de Velde had been "a former White House appointee under George H. W. Bush and a member of the U.S. Naval Intelligence Reserves." He did not fit in: "Most Yale professors lean to the left of the student body; few in the political-science and international-relations departments have real-world experience. Van de Velde was the subject of personal jealousy and political animosity. Many faculty members -- including Brodhead -- looked askance at his desire to emphasize practical policymaking over theory." In the American Spectator for 19 June 2006 Clinton W. Taylor, one of Van de Velde's students at Yale, supplemented Rubin's account.

Indeed, Van de Velde was a forceful, splendid misfit at Yale, "certainly an anomaly." Van de Velde was no cosseted, genteel junior appointee such as Brodhead had been in the 1970s. His bearing was military, Taylor specified, as befitted a lieutenant commander in Naval Intelligence. According to rumormill blogger Patriotlad (9 August 2001), Van de Velde's "schedule was all work, study, and working out." Taylor specified that Van de Velde was "in good shape and knew martial arts." He was a marathon runner, according to the New York TIMES (19 June 2001), and not a slacker: 4 hours 10 minutes in a San Diego race. Van de Velde knew how to take care of himself physically, that's clear, but he was not equipped to deal with a dean who (as Rubin says) was eager to allow "public relations to trump principle."

Now there is news. Here is Rubin again 10 December 2007 in "Richard Brodhead's Second Chance?" (National Review Online): "Years before the Duke lacrosse case, while still dean of Yale College, Richard Brodhead punished Yale lecturer James Van de Velde for a crime, it turns out, he could not have committed (the DNA evidence exonerated him). Absent the hard work of a figure like KC Johnson, Brodhead never bothered to apologize to a man whose career he ruined for the sake of short-term public relations. Now it seems an independent commission will start from scratch its investigation of the Jovin murder at Yale. As the Yale case proceeds, it will be interesting to see whether Brodhead has learned any lessons from his Duke fiasco. He might begin with a formal, public apology to James Van de Velde." Brodhead, we know, is not good at apology. When he finally makes an attempt at one we see that he thinks he needs a committee to tell him, next time, what he might say. Anyone not on that Duke committee could tell him he might be better off not to act with instinctive disdain when human lives are involved. In a 12 December 2007 article in the YALE DAILY NEWS Rachel Boyd wrote about a new Jovin Investigation Team "charged with solving the Yale senior's murder by bringing fresh eyes to a crime that may have needed a more thorough effort from the start." Boyd dropped in the mention of an extremely important development: "And just yesterday [11 December 2007] after more than a year of judicial silence, a federal judge resurrented Van de Velde's claims against Yale and the New Haven Police Department." This story is not over.

Brodhead's trashing of Van de Velde's reputation was followed in 2002 by his trashing of mine in the Times review already cited. Not knowing how to do archival research, he regarded me as maniacal, comparing my supposed singlemindedness to that of crazy Captain Ahab, calling me a "demon researcher," and then explaining that I merely surmised some of the events I said really happened. I had surmised that Melville completed a prose book in 1853 and had been the only one ever to surmise that Melville completed a book of poetry in 1860. Plainly, I had devoted years of work to a flawed project and could be wondered at but not trusted. Because both books have been lost, they never existed.

The truth, of course, was that I built in the first case, the novel Melville tried to get Hawthorne to write, on work done by Yale scholars of the great 1940s crew, starting with Hayford, who in 1946 showed that Melville had worked on a book in early 1853, continuing with Davis and Gilman, who in the LETTERS (1960--a book cited by Brodhead in his own book on Hawthorne and Melville) showed that Melville had finished the book, and going on with Sealts, who in 1987 mustered more precise dates for Melville's bringing the completed manuscript to New York to offer to the Harpers. Since 1960, everyone knew that Melville had finished a prose book in 1853. In 1987 I discovered the title, The Isle of the Cross, and the day of completion (or something very close to it), 22 May 1853. In 1990 I had published an article about it in the then-respectable Duke journal, AMERICAN LITERATURE. There was absolutely no doubt in the minds of the great living Melville scholars in 1987 or thereafter, as long as they lived, that I had put a copestone on the monument they had been erecting since the 1940s.

Brodhead's denial of POEMS (1860) is even weirder to try to explain, since everyone had known about it since 1922 and since Melville's memo to his brother Allan on the publication of his verses had been printed then and reprinted often, as in LETTERS (1960) and CORRESPONDENCE (1993). Is it credible that anyone could have published on Melville and been called a "Melville scholar" and not know about POEMS? Not known that the manuscript had been turned down by at least two publishers? The evidence was quoted right there in the biography Brodhead was reviewing. I think that the only way of understanding what Brodhead did in his review of my biography is to recognize in him a pervasive, corrosive character flaw, a disdain for people unlike him which drives him to hasty wrong judgments. In his experience, his own kind had rallied behind him, closing ranks against Van de Velde. He would be safe in smearing me, knowing that no one living had done the sort of archival work I had done in my attempt to carry on the work of Hayford, Sealts, and the great Jay Leyda, all dead by 2002.

Brodhead's disdain of real scholarship as opposed to criticism may have been mingled with suppressed jealousy. Who knows? It is not the sort of thing that can be explained rationally. What kind of person spreads falsehoods that could be challenged the next day? I didn't challenge, thinking that the New York TIMES would never make an apology. In fact, Brodhead was home free: Andrew Delbanco and Elizabeth Schultz, two other critics who had never done archival research on Melville, repeated his accusations that I had made up the two lost books Melville wrote.

Brodhead was not only trashing me. He was denying that Hayford, Davis and Gilman, and Sealts ever lived and labored. He was denying that Meade Minnigerode, Willard Thorp, Jay Leyda, and many others ever lived and labored. All of these were worthy men and some of them were very great scholars: Jay Leyda was magnificent. All the toil that had gone into trying to describe Melville's career was obliterated in Brodhead's saying that I merely surmised what generations of scholars had been learning about. Brodhead disdained what he was not trained to do and not equipped to do. He should have told the New York TIMES BOOK REVIEW editor that he was not equipped to review a scholarly biography. But Brodhead does not know when to admit that he is not qualified for a job. Otherwise he would not have accepted the presidency of Duke University.

"Richard Brodhead's Test of Courage" is the title of Chapter 10 in Stuart Taylor, Jr., and KC Johnson's remarkable book, UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT: POLITICAL CORRECTNESS AND THE SHAMEFUL INJUSTICES OF THE DUKE LACROSSE RAPE CASE (2007). Brodhead's casual trashing of Van de Velde's reputation in 1998 and his casual trashing of my reputation in 2002 was followed in 2006 by his trashing of the reputations of Michael Pressler, the lacrosse coach, and lacrosse players at Duke. Taylor and Johnson say of Pressler on 144: "It had not yet really hit the coach that his career and reputation had been ravaged--not for anything he had done wrong, but to suit the agendas of others." Brodhead distinguished himself by rushing to judgment, once again, and to the wrong judgment. NEWSWEEK on 10 September 2007 linked Brodhead as equal partner with the corrupt and now disbarred District Attorney: "Brodhead and Nifong had an almost willful disregard for the facts." The title of the article? "A Rush to Judgment."

Brodhead's disdain for the students is clear in UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT p. 92, where Taylor and Johnson describe the audience Brodhead granted to the four team captains and two Duke representatives as well as the lawyer Robert Ekstrand: "The captains decided beforehand that Dave Evans, the most eloquent among them, would handle most of the talking. Evans spoke with emotion during the meeting about how much Duke meant to him and how badly he felt that the party had caused so many people so much pain. [Faculty representative Kathleen] Smith was crying. Brodhead's eyes filled with tears. He said the captains should think of how difficult it had been for him. They needed to be held accountable for their actions, which had put him in a terrible situation." Taylor and Johnson quote the lawyer: "Ekstrand felt his blood starting to boil. Here, he thought, is a comfortable university president wallowing in self-pity in front of four students who are in grave danger of being falsely indicted on charges of gang rape, punishable by decades in prison."

Brodhead, having shed hot tears of self-pity, went on to trash of the reputations of the lacrosse players in the notorious 20 April 2006 comment to the Durham Chamber of Commerce: "If our students did what is alleged it is appalling to the worst degree. If they didn't do it, whatever they did was bad enough." They were bad actors. Some lacrosse players had hired a stripper to dance for them and some lacrosse players had drunk some alcohol. They all played a contact sport--a game that required a helmet. They were like a swarm of muscular younger Van de Veldes! They were all fit objects of general disdain and the worst culprits among them should have faced trial and punishment. Trustee Steel, the man who hired Brodhead, was content that three lacrosse players would be sentenced to jail for two or three decades since if they were proved innocent they would win their freedom on appeal. Rather than trying to protect Duke students from false accusations and false prosecution, Brodhead handed them over to the wolves, as he had tossed Van de Velde to the New Haven wolves.

One of the great news stories of the twenty-first century is the way a handful (and then a hoard) of Internet bloggers looked at the evidence, saw that it exonerated the lacrosse players, and forced it on the attention of the nation. A sad undercurrent in it is the depiction of the character of Richard Brodhead, the man who never knew how to say he was not equipped to take a job offered him, a man when he had a chance to do right instead suffered what Taylor and Johnson call "a moral meltdown" (UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT, p. 137).

Now the Daniel Blue Committee has praised Brodhead's leadership. The Duke of Disdain has free rein to rush to new judgments and trash reputations anew. Who will be the next victim of his "pride, haughtiness, opinion, and disdain"? That's 1 Henry the Fourth. Perhaps now we should look beyond Shakespeare to Jeremiah 48:29 on "loftiness," "arrogancy," "pride," and "the haughtiness of his heart." We have to fear that whatever disdainful judgment Brodhead next rushes to will be "bad enough" to savage a reputation or two.


Mississippi Looks to Raise Bar in Classroom

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Hank Bounds says it's not that Mississippi students aren't smart, it's that the bar is set too low. So with the new school year, the department of education is looking to raise student achievement and not only increase test scores. But lift up the entire state with them. "We're on too many lists where we're number 50 and we're also on too many lists where we're number one and we shouldn't be," said Dr. Bounds.

So Dr. Hank Bound and the state department of education will take a drastic step to changing that. They'll raise expectations in the classroom which they believe will increase student achievement. "Every time we've raised the bar in the past the students have met that challenge," said Brad Johns, high school math teacher.

McLaurin High School math teacher, Brad Johns helped create the new curriculum for the state. Johns and Hattiesburg schools superintendent, Dr. Annie Wimbish see students and teachers meeting this challenge. Classroom instruction will no longer be basic recall of information, but using the information to problem solve. "And we haven't always been integrating that type of instruction in our courses," said Dr. Wimbish.

The new test was taken this past spring. The results were down from previous years. The majority of students showed either basic or proficient knowledge of language arts and math. Only two thirds of students passed the English two and Algebra I tests. The numbers are about what state educators expected. "Without pain there is no gain and with this pain we will get great gain in Mississippi," said Blake Wilson, President, MS Economic Council.

Bounds says the gains will be fewer drop outs, career and college ready students, and better results on national exams. "We will be uncomfortable for a while but that's okay... we're going to figure out how to meet the needs of boys and girls," said Dr. Bounds.

The state department of education says the first year of a new standardized tests usually sees the lowest results. The goal of the new testing is to reach the national average by 2013.


Australian teachers strike over decaying government houses

The Torres Strait is a long way from the State capital and most of the people there are black, so who cares? -- apparently. Houses are provided by the State government to teachers who are sent to teach in remote areas

Teachers living in leaking, mouldy and flea-infested houses could be pulled out of their schools for their own safety if a strike in the Torres Strait, Cape and Gulf scheduled to take place over the next two weeks is unsuccessful. Around 500 teachers from 28 schools will be involved in the 24-hour stop-work action to protest against the State Government's chronic neglect of teacher housing in remote areas.

Hundreds of reports of leaking roofs, electrical faults and mouldy living conditions have reached the Queensland Teachers' Union and it is a problem which president Steve Ryan said must be addressed swiftly and properly. "We've literally got teachers living in houses that are falling down, where doors are missing and broken, termites are taking over and up to one third of air-conditioning units are broken," Mr Ryan said. "If we cannot get the funds required to fix these uninhabitable properties - which the Auditor-General estimated to be around $37.2million - then we will be forced to take more drastic action and withdraw teachers from their schools. "Obviously this will adversely affect students and our teachers do not take these actions lightly, so this shows how huge the problem is."

Mr Ryan said he had hoped one-hour stop-work meetings held in April would force the state government to take notice of the situation but that the 2008/2009 Budget announced in June failed to deliver the funding levels required to provide adequate housing, falling short by $20.2million. "We cannot wait until next year's budget to get this funding. There is such a backlog of work to be carried out that by then these houses will have fallen down," Mr Ryan said. "Our plan is that the government takes this strike seriously and sees some sense."

A report by the Auditor-General's found that the sub-standard living conditions directly resulted in difficulties securing and retaining staff, consequently "affecting the ability to provide services in remote and regional areas".


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Judge says Texas High schools must teach in Spanish

A federal judge on Friday gave the state of Texas until the end of January to come up with a plan to improve education programs for secondary school students with limited proficiency in English, criticizing the state education agency for "failing to ensure equal education opportunities in all schools." U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice said the Texas Education Agency is violating the civil rights of Spanish-speaking students under the federal Equal Education Opportunity Act. Furthermore, the state's monitoring of programs for students with limited English-language skills is "fatally flawed" because of unqualified monitors, undercounting of students with limited English proficiency and arbitrary standards, Justice said.

The 1981 Bilingual and Special Education Programs Act, a measure passed by the Texas Legislature 27 years ago that staved off court action addressing discrimination in Texas schools, has not improved the schooling of secondary students with limited English proficiency, Justice ruled.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, an organization that helped litigate the case on behalf of other advocacy groups, said primarily Spanish-speaking students in Texas have higher dropout rates, lower graduation rates and lower achievement rates than their English-speaking counterparts. "The clear failure of secondary LEP students unquestionably demonstrates that, despite its efforts, TEA has not met its obligation to remedy the language deficiencies of Texas students," Justice wrote. "After a quarter century of sputtering implementation, defendants have failed to achieve results that demonstrate they are overcoming language barriers for secondary LEP students. Failed implementation cannot prolong the existence of a failed program in perpetuity."

The ruling gave the TEA until Jan. 31, 2009 to come up with plans to improve secondary school programs for students with limited English proficiency and the monitoring of those programs. Those plans must be implemented by the 2009-2010 school year. Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe declined to comment Friday night, saying she hadn't seen the ruling.

In a statement, MALDEF hailed the ruling as the "most comprehensive legal decision concerning the civil rights of English language learners in the last 25 years." Justice's ruling affects "every single high school in Texas," Luis Figueroa, a MALDEF attorney, told The Associated Press. "Every school district is going to have to realize the TEA is going to be looking at their accountability of English language learners." Justice did say in the ruling that the problems in secondary schools are not seen in the state's elementary school programs.


Huge failure-rate of black males in Indianapolis Public Schools

19% graduated in 2005-06, report finds. The main fix being tried? Keep the dropouts in some sort of school no matter what

Superintendent Eugene White pledged to make IPS the nation's best urban school system by 2010, and a new study shows just how far behind the district was when he made that promise three years ago. The study, based on the 2005-06 school year, pegged the graduation rate for black males in Indianapolis Public Schools at 19 percent -- the lowest among 63 urban districts in the study. The rate for white males was also 19 percent, which was better than only Detroit. "This continues to emphasize what I've been trying to emphasize: the urgency of turning this district around as fast as possible," said White, who took the helm of the district in 2005. "I think we have the things in place now to do that."

IPS has introduced dropout prevention programs, sought to ease the transition into high school and avoided handing students permanent expulsions. The rates reflect IPS' concentration of poverty, a key predictor for dropping out. The rankings, compiled by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, include urban districts elsewhere that encompass much larger areas and include more wealthy students. Only about a quarter of public schoolchildren in Indianapolis attend IPS. And the district -- by big-city standards -- is not especially large, with 35,000 students, and shrinking. It is shrinking, in part, because parents increasingly are sending their children to charter schools. Others move from the district or, in affluent neighborhoods, send children to schools outside the district.

All of those factors can play a role in concentrating impoverished students in the district, children more likely to have parents with less education and without the means or flexible work schedules to be more involved in schools.

White cautioned that the statistical estimates in the report aren't as accurate as the method Indiana began using two years ago, which tracks individual students. He added that not all districts report graduation numbers the same way. A district spokeswoman said the 2005-06 graduation rates calculated by the district are nearly the same as those in the report. She said graduation rates appear to have increased in the past two years, but numbers were not immediately available. School Board President Mary E. Busch said it would surprise her if the district was the worst in the nation but said the 2005-06 school year was before the district's push to connect with students and require alternative schools rather than expulsions. "We're working hard to bring the graduation rates up," she said. "We have special initiatives and strategies in place to truly address the situation. We're not pleased with where we are."

White's administration has placed great stock in the new initiatives. Last year, he launched 21 alternative schools, some of which helped bring dropouts back into school while others provided classes for students who otherwise would be suspended or expelled. This school year, all students two or more grades behind in elementary and middle school will be assigned to a special program with intensive math and reading instruction and a network of support staff.

Arlington High School and Marshall Middle School have been converted to "community high schools" and are designed to prevent students from dropping out when they can't make the transition to high school. An initiative launched by the Chamber of Commerce in June will pair mentors from the business community with hundreds of IPS students. Those initiatives are a start, but the community lacks the leadership at its highest levels needed to resolve the problem, said Mark A. Russell, director of education at the Indianapolis Urban League. "There is not a person in the state Department of Education charged specifically with addressing the achievement gap between blacks and whites. Does the IPS board have a committee on it?" he asked. "If we're wanting to save these children, where is the effort?"

At Marshall Community High School, the only IPS high school in session Friday, students said it didn't surprise them to learn IPS was at the bottom of the list nationally. Adrian Taylor, a black freshman, said he knows many people who have dropped out of school. He puts much blame on teachers who don't seem to care. "I think it's the students' fault, but most of it has to do with the teachers," he said, adding that he won't drop out and aspires to attend Harvard University.

Another freshman, Dominique Wright, put more of the blame on his peers. "We need to step up our game," he said. The Rev. Reginald B. Fletcher, pastor at Living Word Baptist Church and a high school teacher, said the programs White has put in place have started the community down that path. But the issues are too deep for a school district alone to combat, he said. Absentee parents and teenage pregnancies continue the cycle of low educational achievement and poor parental guidance. That, he said, feeds violence on the scale such as the city has seen this month. "It just creates a cesspool in terms of a lack of hope and an apathy that sets in," Fletcher said. "We have to really rally together as a community where we come together and not live in our isolated homes." [Good luck with that!]