October 24 to October 30, 2003
By Ana Beatriz Cholo, Tribune staff reporter, October 24, 2003
The federal No Child Left Behind Act is burdensome and impractical, Mayor Richard Daley said Thursday, urging hundreds of urban school leaders attending a conference in Chicago to push their lawmakers to change it.
"The law is not written into concrete," Daley said. "I firmly believe this law has to be looked at from the eyes of the students and those that are out here in our school system."
As an example of how the law "just doesn't make sense," Daley said that Christopher Elementary School on Chicago's South Side--a school where 52 percent of the students meet state standards in reading and 46.7 percent in math--landed on the state's "choice" list because its test scores didn't improve enough from the previous year.
Schools on the choice list must offer students the opportunity to transfer to better performing schools, but the Chicago district had only a handful of options for the thousands of students affected.
Daley explained to a seemingly receptive audience attending the 47th annual fall conference of the Council of Great City Schools that the media stigmatizes schools like Christopher by describing them as "failing."
Of the 365 Chicago schools that landed on the "failing schools" list, he said 72 percent of the elementary schools actually had improved their test scores from the previous year, although they still were not high enough to meet standards.
Daley, who took over the country's third largest school district with 600 schools in 1995, admitted there is still much work to do in the city's public schools but, in a statement that was followed by hearty applause, he said:
"They are not failing. They're basically improving, and their teachers and students need positive support, not a negative labeling of their school."
He pinned most of the blame squarely on lawmakers as he questioned their reasoning on some of the law's provisions.
Calling the law an "unfunded mandate," Daley wondered aloud why lawmakers did not talk to actual educators when they were drafting it.
"When it comes to Washington, D.C., talking about school reform, they didn't have to talk to anybody in the country with the exception of Washington, D.C," he said.
"They could've walked about eight blocks and went to a local school and asked the principal and asked the administrators, asked the teachers; what about education? How can we improve education?"
Daley said he voiced his concerns to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige in a letter, outlining why he thinks his chief concern, the law's choice provision, is faulty.
The mayor urged everyone at the conference to write to Paige and their local politicians in the hope the law could be modified.
But Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), chairman of the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee and a fierce proponent of No Child Left Behind, quickly dashed those hopes in a statement given after Daley's speech:
"No Child Left Behind focuses federal resources on ensuring that disadvantaged students are learning," Boehner said in the written statement. "Congress will not amend the law to leave these students behind. The federal government promised to dramatically increase federal spending for education, and we are meeting that promise."
Paige also weighed in with a written statement, suggesting Chicago can improve its school system by offering tutoring services earlier, creating more charter schools and using technology to expand opportunities for children.
"Unfortunately, he (Daley) chooses to focus on how `tough' this law is for the adults in the system, rather than on how this powerful bipartisan law will help the children who need it most," Paige said.
He noted that 18,000 Chicago parents had requested transfers for their children this year.
"Mayor Daley argues that because only 1,300 students can be accommodated, the law is flawed," he said. "I would say the mayor is misdirected: Instead of focusing on the logistical issues of placing the 1,300 children in other schools, the mayor should hear the voices of the 18,000 children and their families who are crying for help."
Editorial, DeKalb Daily Chronicle
Ralph Martire had a simple message for the audience at the League of Women Voters public forum Tuesday night.
Illinois has a serious problem in the way its funds public schools. The present system is "badly broken," said the exeuctive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.
The problems are many. The solutions, at first glance, seem easy.
Martire believes that the state should increase the income tax to finance public education. That would be fairer. It would alleviate the pressure on local property taxpayers. And it would be a bear to get through the General Assembly.
If ever the property tax was the best way to finance schools, that day has long passed. Property-rich school district can provide the finest education. Schools in poorer districts or in districts that have homes but little industry cannot.
Martire is right. It is time to increase the income tax and cut the property tax. That of course is a perfect plan for school boards. They will have the pleasure of announcing the property tax cuts. And it causes concern for state lawmakers who will have to face voters after having raised their income taxes.
And if it should pass, there are still the next critical question:
- How will the new state money be distributed?
- If the state provides most of the funds for school district, won't state officials have a legitimate claim to insist on greater control? Won't this mean a loss of local control over schools?
For all their problems at budget time, the DeKalb and Sycamore schools are in good financial and educational shape. Cuts imposed by both districts this year caused pain, but certainly not agony.
Compare that to the situation in Chicago schools where problems mount and test scores have not made the progress they should.
Or worse, compare DeKalb's plight to that of East St. Louis where sewage sometimes seeps into the gymnasium, test scores are plummeting and teachers are, it seems, always threatening to go on strike.
Suburban Chicago schools are among the best in the nation, but lawmakers from that region will be pushing to ensure that they get as much money as possible, since voters there put such a high priority on education.
The fight for reform will not look like a bunch of good guys sitting around talking about what it best for the children. Instead, it will be a bunch of special interest groups in a bloody fight over who is going to get how much money.
But that is politics. And we are a society that is run by politics.
The 19th-century system Illinois operates under is not acceptable It is unfair to students and taxpayers.
The road into the future will be a tough one. But we can't afford to continue to finance education on the backs of property owners. We've got to find a better way.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich should move quickly to appoint a nonpartisan panel to help bring school finance reform.
Most states are seriously behind their efforts to improve the way they pay for schools, but few have the sorry record Illinois has.
It's a record we should be ashamed of. And one we should work quickly to overcome.
Foster's Daily Democrat (10/17/03)
The New Hampshire State Board of Education approved a resolution requiring statewide public kindergarten, with the goal of developing fundamentals at an earlier age. If the resolution is approved by the state legislature, the board will likely make it a requirement by 2007. Eighteen school districts in the state do not currently offer public kindergarten. State Board member William Boc feels strongly that the resolution should be supported. "It's such an important step in New Hampshire," Boc said. "It's ridiculous not to (implement kindergarten)." The move comes as part of the Board's efforts to change the state's minimum standards for education. A final set of guidelines is expected to be finished by Jan. 1, and will then be submitted to the legislature.
Education Daily (9/30/03)
A recent California state appeals court has ruled that school districts in proximity to a charter school must provide that school with resources upon request, even if the district was not the one that granted the charter. The court found that the state's charter law "nowhere limits the responsibility of providing accommodations to the charter school's sponsoring district" and that "because several districts are frequently encompassed in a common geographical area, a charter school will often operate in more than one district," according to the judge. The case is Sequoia Union High School District v. Aurora Charter High School.
Congratulations to this year's Distinguished Service Award winners, Mississippi Board Chairman Kenny Bush, former Illinois Board Chairman Ronald Gidwitz, and former Massachusetts Board Member William "Bill" Irwin, who were acknowledged at NASBE's Annual Conference last week. Bush worked to implement Mississippi's Reading Reform Model, its Math Initiative, and its new assessment and accountability model. Gidwitz helped shape the reorganization of Illinois' state department of education in a time of tight budgets, and has helped the Board's influence with the legislature and the Governor's office. Irwin helped the state pass a comprehensive reform model, and served on NASBE's Governmental Affairs Committee for two years.
Some 30 local education agencies and organizations will share more than $74 million under the Early Reading First Program. Part of the President's "Good Start, Grow Smart" initiative, Early Reading First seeks to transform early education programs into centers of excellence that offer high-quality instruction to young children. For more information, go to http://www.ed.gov/programs/earlyreading/
Last week, the Department released non-regulatory guidance on Title I services to eligible private school children. A section of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, strengthened under No Child Left Behind, requires districts to provide eligible children attending private schools, their teachers, and their families with Title I services or other benefits that are deemed equitable to those provided to eligible public school children, their teachers, and their families. For more information, go to http://www.ed.gov/programs/titleiparta/psguidance.doc
Purposefully coinciding with the release of state lists of schools in need of improvement, the National Governors Association has prepared a guide that describes strategies for turning around low-performing schools and highlights best practices in states, districts, and schools. "Reaching New Heights" advocates five key principles: not all low-performing schools are the same; capacity-building must be part of the solution; school districts are essential collaborators; be prepared for the long haul; and any assistance should be part of a larger strategy of school improvement. Want more specifics? Richard Elmore, a Harvard professor, examined the process by which two low-performing schools (which "differ...from the stereotypical image of a 'failing school'") were trying to improve and, from this analysis, derived a theory of what the process looks like when it is successful. For more information, go to http://www.nga.org/center/schools/
A new report by the Department's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), "Status and Trends in the Education of Blacks," draws on a wide variety of statistics published by NCES and other federal agencies and synthesizes the findings in a single, compact volume. "Despite...gains," the report states, "progress has been uneven over time and across various measures, and differences persist between blacks and whites on key indicators of education performance." For example, while long-term trends in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show increased performance for black students in reading, the achievement gap between blacks and whites actually widened between 1988 and 1999. Similarly, the proportion of black students completing college increased between 1975 and 2000, but blacks still remained less likely than whites to earn degrees. Down the line, blacks face lower pay and higher unemployment for equal levels of education. For more information, go to http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2003034.
On October 13, Secretary Paige addressed a group of educators in Edinburg, Texas, attending Hispanic Engineering, Science, and Technology Week at the University of Texas-Pan American. "One recent study shows just how important mathematics and science can be to a young student," the Secretary said, promoting his plan to reinvigorate math and science teaching in schools in the context of boosting Latino learning. "Of the students who studied...60 percent of Hispanic students who took an advanced mathematics course went on to enroll in a four-year postsecondary institution; of those who stopped at the intermediate level, only 16 percent went on to a four-year college or university." The remarks conclude with eight "meaningful steps" the Department is taking to improve Hispanic education. For more information, go to http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2003/10/10142003a.html
At the Character Education Partnership's 10th National Forum, Secretary Paige called for the United States to do a better job of educating children -- not just academically but also by fostering good character -- in order to sustain the country's prominence on the world stage. He also announced that the Department will create a Technical Center for Character Education and Civic Engagement. The center will provide technical assistance to grant recipients; a web site with answers about resources and support; publications and seminars on effective programs; and internal training for Department staff. Since taking office, President Bush has increased funding for character education from $8 million to $25 million. In the last two years, the Department has awarded 47 grants to states and school districts, compared to the 46 awarded during the first six years of the Character Education Program. For more information, go to http://www.ed.gov/programs/charactered/
(Secretary Paige's remarks are available at http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/2003/10/10162003.html)
NCES has unveiled two new reports on crime and safety in schools. The first, "Violence in U.S. Public Schools" (http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2004314), presents the initial analysis of a nationally representative sample of public elementary and secondary school principals. Not surprisingly, the percentage of students who principals felt considered academics to be very important was inversely related to the prevalence of violent and serious violent incidents. However, in 1999-2000, seven percent of public schools accounted for 50 percent of the violent incidents that were reported, and a mere two percent of public schools accounted for half the serious violent incidents. The second, the annual "Indicators of School Crime and Safety" (http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2004004), shows that most types of school crime dropped between 1995 and 2001, with the proportion of students saying they were victims of crimes dropping from 10 percent to six percent. Indeed, between 1993 and 2001, the percentage of high school students who reported being in a fight declined from 16 percent to 13 percent and students who reported carrying a weapon during the previous 30 days dropped from 12 percent to six percent. However, in 2001, eight percent of students reported being bullied at school during the last six months, up from five percent in 1999, and from 1997 to 2001 teachers reported being victims of 1.3 million crimes while at school, including 473,000 violent crimes and 817,000 thefts.
Also: The Bomb Threat CD-ROM (http://www.threatplan.org) is an interactive tool for schools dealing with bomb threats.
The United States Army is proud to announce the second launch of eCYBERMISSION (http://www.ecybermission.com/), a web-based math, science, and technology competition for sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-grade teams. Each team proposes a solution to a real problem in their community and competes for regional and national awards (like U.S. savings bonds). Last year's winning eighth-grade team devised a two-digit key code system to speed the handling of 9-1-1 calls. Registration is open through December 15.
Attention schools and libraries! Two important E-Rate deadlines are fast approaching. The deadline for postmarking invoices for FY 2002 recurring services is October 28, and schools and libraries whose discounts were approved before the start of FY 2003 face an October 29 deadline to notify administrators that their services have started. For more information, go to http://www.sl.universalservice.org/.
On November 7, the Appalachian Regional Commission and Federal Interagency Committee on Education are sponsoring a federal showcase of K-12 education resources. Twelve federal agencies will present information and lead roundtable discussions with attendees. The deadline for registration is October 31. For more information, go to http://www.arc.gov/index.do?nodeId=1878
By L. Lamor Williams, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Staff Writer, Oct. 28, 2003
(Arlington) As state and federal testing requirements increase, so does the burden on school counselors.
Already charged with helping students who have problems including separation anxiety, pregnancy, depression, suicidal thoughts and parental abuse, counselors are also responsible for scheduling, counting and sorting standardized tests.
Additionally, high school counselors must advise students about career paths, courses needed to graduate, and how to boost their chances of getting into the college of their choice.
To lighten the load of the district's 118 counselors, Arlington school district administrators created 67 guidance technician positions and have finished hiring or reassigning people to fill those jobs.
"Counselors are literally besieged with issues related to student testing, and it's become an even more critical situation because of the onset of new federal requirements," Superintendent Mac Bernd said. "It had gotten to the point where the counselors couldn't spend much quality time with the kids."
A state analysis of Texas guidance counselors' time sheets shows that some spent more than half their time performing nonguidance tasks, most of which involved administrative work related to testing.
The survey, conducted in January and February 2002 by the state comptroller's office with input from the Texas Education Agency, indicates that junior high school counselors spent 51.4 percent of their time on nonguidance issues. For high school counselors, it was 40.2 percent, and for elementary school counselors, it was 35.5 percent.
The new guidance technicians, who will be paid salaries of $18,129 each, will cost the school district a little more than $1.2 million, according to Cindy Powell, executive finance director. With the exception of the three Turning Point schools -- Venture, the Newcomers Center and the Kooken Education Center -- each of the district's regular education campuses received one guidance technician, Powell said.
Pat Melton, the district's director of guidance counseling and staff development, said the counselors are pleased to finally have administrative help.
"This addition is going to free up time that they can spend in direct contact with students," she said.
Melton said the technicians have already started working.
"We've had two bouts of training and they're already able to input data related to student testing," she said.
Bernd said the added requirements of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act to Texas' already demanding accountability system has been taxing for all educators but particularly for counselors.
"We really need just one accountability system," he said. "I think we've all seen the juggling act where the juggler has sticks and spinning plates? His object is to keep all the plates spinning at the same time. The problem is you can only have so many plates or your focus is diluted and they all crash."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy , USA Today, Oct. 27, 2003
Today's debate: Improving education
Opposing view: Federal dollars are essential to achieve education goals.
The new federal law, No Child Left Behind, promises to bring important school reforms to children who traditionally have been left behind. And yet the law falls $8 billion short in federal spending for this year, the result of Republicans refusing to follow through on their promises. We know it can work, but the law never will reach its full potential without those federal dollars.
For the past 10 years in Massachusetts we have supported higher standards, better teachers, supplemental services for students and accountability for the performance of all children. Test scores have gone up in every grade, every subject and every racial and ethnic subgroup of children.
Recently, some in Congress have called for suspension of the No Child Left Behind Act because President Bush clearly has broken his promise to parents, children and schools to fully fund school reforms that were enacted last year.
Increased funding would bring increased results. More teachers would have the skills they need to teach well. More after-school programs would be available to help children catch up. Class sizes would be smaller.
But suspending the law is the wrong remedy, because it would turn back the clock on progress in education. We need to move forward, not backward, on these basic reforms, so that parents know we won't give up on their children.
Some members of Congress are misusing the president's broken promise as an excuse not to ask more of schools. Others want to reduce funding to public schools so they are guaranteed to fail -- and private school vouchers can prevail. Both positions are a disservice to education and the nation.
The No Child Left Behind Act can live up to its full promise, but only if we in Congress live up to ours.
USA Today, Oct. 27, 2003
Today's debate: Improving education
Our view: Shortsighted sacrifices for budgets put education goals at risk.
Pressure on states to meet new federal performance standards for public schools has triggered protests from national union leaders, Democratic presidential contenders and some state education officials. Their message is identical: The 2001 reform law, known as the No Child Left Behind Act, falls $8 billion short of providing cash-strapped states the money they need to comply with ambitious new mandates.
The new law holds states accountable for ensuring that all schools meet academic achievement standards, are safe and provide high-quality teachers. But the critics' concerns about inadequate federal funding are misplaced. Federal spending on poor students alone has increased 33% during the past two years.
The funding shortfalls that place the success of federal education reforms in greater jeopardy result from states' education cuts. So far this year, 11 states have reduced K-12 school funding.
Given the declining revenues faced by many states because of a weak economy, some difficult budget decisions are unavoidable. But in many cases, state politicians and educators are choosing shortsighted cuts that compromise the goals of raising education standards for all children.
* In the Mount Diablo school district in Concord, Calif., all 12 reading specialists were eliminated this year. Yet research shows that such early literacy assistance is one of the best ways to meet a national goal of helping poor and minority students.
* In Norwich, Conn., school officials ended all-day kindergartens and preschool programs. Most researchers agree that investments in preschool education yield large academic payoffs.
* In Cleveland, school officials sliced deeply into summer school -- a valuable resource for inner-city children -- by limiting it only to high school seniors.
The states that have the greatest success reforming schools are those that choose wise goals and stick with them. North Carolina, for example, has maintained a steady course of reform in spite of budget pressures similar to those faced by other states. A North Carolina testing program begun in the 1980s with exams that tested only basic skills has evolved into sophisticated end-of-course tests in high school.
Teacher quality also is a long-term commitment in North Carolina. Once far behind in teacher salaries, the state boosted pay 27% during a four-year period in the late 1990s. And North Carolina's "Smart Start" preschool program offers grants to public and private preschool programs to help them better prepare children for the academic challenges of school.
To make the education investments, North Carolina downsized state agencies, postponed major projects and limited salary increases for state employees.
Federal education dollars are important, too. But even if critics got the extra $8 billion in federal funding they've requested, the federal share of local education spending would rise only from 7.6% to 9.3%.
Instead of looking for scapegoats in Washington, states can rethink their own commitment to education goals and ensure they are met in good times and in bad.
LAURA PAPPANO, Boston Globe, Oct. 26, 2003
Stone-faced parents gathered at the Ottoson Middle School library in Arlington one recent morning looking determined and exhausted.
"We have all spent so much time in the last six months working to find money to restore what's been cut," said Jeff Carver, who has two daughters at Ottoson in grades 6 and 9.
Parents in Arlington who raised $275,000 after a Proposition 2 1/ 2 override attempt failed are now wondering where to draw the line. How much should public school budgets rely on private fund-raising?
It's a question being posed across the country, as cash-strapped districts turn to parents and local education foundations for help with budget items from textbooks to teacher salaries.
"We are seeing more spending from education foundations on core instruction areas than we have ever seen in the past - and that concerns us," said Howie Schaffer, spokesman for the Public Education Network, a Washington, D.C., reform group whose 87 local members raised $190 million for schools in 2003.
Public schools should be publicly funded, most would agree. The debate centers on what a public education should look like. Ten years after Massachusetts embraced education reform, and as requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act kick in, it's tempting to see public education as the fulfillment of legal mandates and the attainment of passing test scores.
Listen to parents and students in Arlington and you hear what some might view as sob stories about cuts to art, health, drama, library, Italian, and gifted programs, among others. Nate Cubeta, 13, says that with 28 students in his Latin class now, there's no time for the discussions he used to enjoy. Seventh-grader Michelle Rosie, 12, has three extra study halls because drama and health class were eliminated.
Sometimes, she said, "I literally have nothing to do."
Geoffrey Gee said his son, Jordan, no longer has art and hasn't totally understood that there are nine more kids in his class, after three third grades at Stratton Elementary School in Arlington were reduced to two. "I don't know what he's missing, but he's obviously missing something," said Gee.
Unlike budget items or test scores, which have a nice concrete ring, when children say school is less fun or enriching, there is no way to tally the qualitative blow. Good enough in one community might not pass elsewhere.
Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington, D.C., said provisions of No Child Left Behind aim to guarantee every child a good, solid education. Anything extra, he said, should be up to voters - or fund-raising parents.
It might be, said Finn, "that the voters in a town like Arlington are willing to spring for economy class and the parents who want business class for their kids will have to shell out - or move to another town, where they believe in business class."
This suggests a worrisome shift in expectations, Schaffer said, from a goal of excellence for all to a state in which "now educational adequacy sounds delightful."
Even as local property tax is viewed as an unfair way to fund education, it represents reality given the state and federal mandates that don't come with enough money attached. Arlington Selectman Charlie Lyons said his community must find a new approach that takes into account taxpayers' ability to pay.
"Some people are income poor and property rich and said, `We can't afford it,' " said Lyons. Others might simply not want to pay for a service they don't use. Public education is an act of community and public faith, a pact between those who use the public schools and those who don't.
The gamble is that making school engaging, which might cost an extra $400 a year in taxes, will add to public life, if not real estate values. But how do you sell something as intangible as educational quality?
"A lot of people don't want to support the public schools any longer. They don't feel like they should, and that is a real moral issue," said Arlington School Committee chairwoman Suzanne Baratta Owayda, noting the pressure to pay for programs with user fees.
Judi Bohn, Arlington Public Schools partnership coordinator, wonders if the town will lose appeal without excellent schools. "Are we going to end up in a place where people say, `Oh, Arlington is a great place to live, but you have to send your kid to private school,' " she asked.
Arlington parents want to compare their schools with nearby top- performing districts, including Lexington, Winchester, Belmont, and Newton.
So parents are meeting in living rooms and plotting ways to fund programs, said Carver, whose wife is launching a drive to raise $25,000 for the Academic Challenge & Enrichment program axed by budget cuts.
The breakup of parents into splinter fund-raising groups creates an awkward situation. Arlington's superintendent of schools, Kathleen Donovan, said she took the $275,000 raised over the summer because it fit her funding priorities and she did the hiring. She also would take $25,000 toward the gifted program because it is on her priority list.
But even as she vows "any little bit I can do for students, I will do," Donovan doesn't want parent fund-raising dictating school offerings.
At Ottoson Middle School, principal Stavroula Bouris is impressed by parent volunteerism and fund-raising, but also worries. "At what point will they say enough is enough?" she said. "You heard some parents say they are exhausted, frustrated, angry."
In Brookline, private fund-raising is powerful, particularly at Brookline High School, where a 21st Century Fund supports $350,000 a year in programs.
Stephen Maurer, executive director of the fund, said despite impressive fund-raising (more than $2 million since 1998), they are strict. "We don't fund things we think the school committee should pay for," he said, adding the focus is on pilot programs like a yearlong "Facing History" symposium with speakers and projects for 50 seniors.
But some foundations in other towns do fund some of the basics. Pam Eisenberg, president of the Northborough Education Foundation, said they just spent $6,000 on fourth-grade social studies textbooks, and there is now talk of undertaking a larger project, like a school library renovation. "The education foundation can help raise money to plug some of the holes," she said.
In Arlington, Julie Dunn, president of the Arlington Partners in Education Foundation, doesn't know what the future holds. Will there be another override, this one successful? Will parents again scramble to raise large amounts for basic school needs?
"You can't fund a school with emergency private fund-raising," she said. "The first time it's an emergency; the second time it is a planned event."
Abigail Thernstrom and Stephan Thernstrom, Boston Globe, Oct. 26, 2003
The student body of Cedarbrook Middle School in a Philadelphia suburb is one-third black, two-thirds white. The town has a very low poverty rate, good schools, and a long-established black middle class. But in an eighth-grade advanced algebra class that a reporter visited in June 2001, there was not a single black student. The class in which the teacher was explaining that the 2 in number 21 stands for 20, though, was 100 percent black. A few black students were taking accelerated English, but no whites were sitting in the English class that was learning to identify verbs.
The Cedarbrook picture is by no means unique. In fact, it is all too familiar. Here in Massachusetts, where the high school class of 2005 has begun the MCAS testing process, the gap is crystal clear. On the first try, 82 percent of white 10th-graders passed, and the figure for Asians was almost as high (77 percent). But the success rate for Hispanics was 42 percent and for blacks 47 percent. Across the nation, the glaring racial gap is between whites and Asians on the one hand, and blacks and Hispanics on the other.
This gap is an American tragedy and a national emergency for which there are no good excuses. It is the main source of ongoing racial inequality, and racial inequality is America's great-unfinished business, the wound that remains unhealed. Our failure to provide first-class education for black and Hispanic students is both an educational catastrophe and the central civil rights issue of our time.
True, the black high-school graduation rate has more than doubled since 1960, and blacks today attend college at a higher rate than whites did just two decades ago. But the good news ends there. Equal years warming a seat in school do not mean equal skills and knowledge, and the hard fact is that non-Asian minorities are leaving high school without the training that will enable them to do well in a society whose doors are finally wide open. This is not a story about lower IQs. It is a story of kids who have the ability to learn, but who have been tragically - and needlessly - left behind.
The numbers are heartbreaking:
* On the nation's most reliable tests, the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), the typical black or Hispanic student at age 17 is scoring less well than at least 80 percent of his or her white classmates. On average, these non-Asian minority students are four years behind whites and Asians. They are, in effect, finishing high school with a junior-high education.
* In five of the seven subjects tested by NAEP, a majority of black 17-year-olds perform in the lowest category: Below Basic. In math the figure is almost seven out of 10; in science it is more than three out of four. A majority of black students do not have even a "partial" mastery of the "fundamental" knowledge and skills expected of students in the 12th grade. (Hispanic students at the end of high school do somewhat better than their black classmates, but they too are far behind their white and Asian peers.) Though approximately two-thirds of black and Hispanic students go on to college, a great many are clearly entering higher education unprepared for true college-level work.
* The news is no better at the top of the scale. Nearly half of all whites and close to 40 percent of Asians in the 12th-grade rank in the top two NAEP categories - Proficient and Advanced - in reading. Less than one-fifth of blacks and one-quarter of Hispanics achieve those levels. In science and math, a mere 3 percent of blacks and 4 to 7 percent of Hispanics display Proficient or Advanced knowledge and skills at the end of high school, in contrast to 7 to 10 times as many whites and Asians. And at the very top, only 0.2 percent of black students perform at a level rated Advanced in math. The figure is 11 times higher for whites and 37 times higher for Asians. Again, Hispanic students are only slightly ahead of blacks.
* Black students were even farther behind a quarter of a century ago, when NAEP data first became available. But the modest progress that occurred during the 1980s has largely come to an end, and there are some indications that the racial gap is widening. Thus, current trends offer no grounds for complacency.
At a conference a couple of years ago a distinguished educator asked, Why talk about race when social class is the real issue? We wish that were true. Of course, parental income, education, and place of residence all make a difference in school achievement. But our research confirms what other investigators have found: These factors account for only about one-third of the gap in racial achievement.
We also wish that frequently proposed solutions - additional school funding, smaller classes, more racial and ethnic integration, and more teachers with masters degrees in education - would solve the problem. But they won't. The research literature provides little or no support for the claim that these familiar remedies will do the job.
Some say that test scores are unimportant, and complain about "teaching to the test." But studies by economists demonstrate beyond doubt that students - whatever their color - who have equal skills and knowledge, as measured by reliable tests, will have roughly equal earnings later in life. The requirement that all the nation's public schools test students in Grades 3 through 8 each year - mandated by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act - is a wise recognition of that fact.
But improving test scores will require better teachers. "We have the wrong people in the classrooms," Harold O. Levy, former chancellor of the New York City Board of Education, said in August 2002. Not all teachers, of course, are "the wrong people." But almost everyone agrees that academically disadvantaged kids, in particular, need more excellent teachers.
How can we identify such teachers? The scholarly literature shows that neither graduate degrees in education nor years of experience in the classroom have a significant impact on student achievement. The best teachers are those with strong academic skills, as demonstrated by their performance on standardized tests. And thus the real question is this: How do we pull more academically gifted young people into the profession, and keep them where the need is greatest?
First, make the job more attractive. Allow aspiring teachers to skip the often mind-numbing offerings at schools of education that "actively promote mediocrity and incompetence," as Richard Elmore, an education professor at Harvard, has put it. There should be multiple routes into the profession, all of them requiring a sure grasp of the subject matter a teacher will teach (as Massachusetts does). We must create ladders of opportunity so that excellent teachers can be rewarded with higher pay and more responsibility. We should pay more not only for good teachers, but also to lure those whose skills are in short supply - those with solid training in science or math, for instance. And it makes sense to offer higher pay to outstanding teachers who are willing to work in schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged students.
Second, insist on a safe and orderly environment in which respect for both students and adults is expected. The level of disorder and disruptive student behavior in many of our urban public schools is shocking. That's one reason why many private schools are able to pay their teachers one-third less than public schools and still attract a very good staff.
Good schools scattered across the country show that the racial gap in academic skills and knowledge can be closed. The best inner- city public schools that we know are charter schools, which are free from many of the rules and regulations that so often frustrate fine principals and teachers. These schools greatly increase the amount of instructional time. Their principals have the authority and autonomy to manage their budgets, set salaries, staff the school with fabulous teachers and show the door to those who don't work out.
These schools focus relentlessly on the core academic subjects, insisting that their students learn the times tables, basic historical facts, spelling, punctuation, and rules of grammar. They provide safe, orderly environments in which to teach and learn. And they work hard to instill the "desire, discipline, and dedication" (watchwords of the much-celebrated KIPP Academies) that will enable disadvantaged youth to climb the American ladder of opportunity.
Not all charter schools reach these standards, of course, but when they fail they can be closed down, as happened with one in Massachusetts just last year. When did you last hear of a regular public school that was shut down because it wasn't teaching its students well enough?
The mind-numbing data on the racial gap in academic achievement should make all Americans furious. While there has been enormous racial progress on many fronts, we still have an identifiable group of educational have-nots - young African Americans and Latinos - whose opportunities in life will almost inevitably be limited by their inadequate education.
And yet the structure of American urban education is a fortress against fundamental reform. The alternative to a radical overhaul is too many black and Hispanic youngsters continuing to leave high school without the skills and knowledge to do well in life. Doors closed to too many non-Asian minorities. The perpetuation of ancient inequalities. Is that acceptable? No decent American can answer yes.
RHEA DAVIS, Times Union, Oct. 25, 2003
Schenectady School officials on Friday defended the controversial idea of paying students $50 to raise middle school test scores, but said the cash incentive is just one initiative being considered to boost student performance.
Board of Education President Brian Ansari said the cash incentive program is in its earliest phases, but said it could appear before the school board for consideration after more research.
"Any way we can encourage and motivate our students is worth looking at," he said. "If financial rewards motivate them, then we will explore the idea."
School officials have said they are looking at a number of ways to boost academic performance after three of their middle schools were flagged last month as poor performers under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
But the idea of paying students who do well on tests drew criticism Friday from other districts, including Albany, which saw two of its schools cited for poor performance under the federal law.
"We are not going to pay students to perform," said Albany schools spokeswoman Tara Mitchell.
Leslie Loomis, superintendent for Bethlehem schools, said that district would "absolutely not" consider offering cash incentives.
But John Falco, superintendent of Schenectady schools, said he was grateful the district is looking at ways to motivate students.
"We're pleased that our instructional leaders are not only thinking about how to motivate students, but that they are testing their ideas and asking for public feedback," he said in a statement released late Friday afternoon.
Illinois State Board of Education