Saturday, April 29, 2006

Chartering a course

A great Op Ed in the NY Daily News:
We should all know by now that the public school system needs to be overhauled, and the changes will not come about as quickly as necessary. There will be battles with the unions, which hold failed practices in place while providing cover for the many incompetents whose terrible or substandard work disgraces what is one of our noblest professions.

Yet the public school student gets ever closer to high school graduation while these various, intricate battles are fought. That is why change at a swift but responsible speed is always of optimum importance. Given that fact, it is more than irresponsible for New York State to keep in place its cap on charter schools.

Chartering a course

New York Daily News, 4/27/06

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An urban success story

I sure hope this USA Today editorial (from last Oct.) is right about school reform reaching a tipping point.
History tells us that real change occurs when the improbable tips into the thinkable. With civil rights, that tipping point occurred in the early 1960s. For the environmental movement, it was the early 1970s. Now there's evidence that urban school reform just might be reaching a tipping point. (Related: Opposing view)

You can feel that change walking the hallways of the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter school in Washington, D.C. The 320 low-income students, virtually all African-American, are so focused and excited about their lessons they don't even look up when visitors enter the classroom. Ask a fifth-grader what year she enters college, and she practically shouts back: "2013!"

An independently run, publicly funded charter, KIPP DC: KEY Academy takes in fifth-graders from traditional city elementary schools. On average, they test at least two years below grade level. But by eighth-grade, admissions officers from top private high schools scramble to recruit them.

KIPP, with 45 charter schools in 15 states and Washington, is a well-documented success story. But KIPP itself won't produce the tipping point. That will come from urban school superintendents reaching out to KIPP and a few other innovative school models.

An urban success story
USA Today editorial, 10/3/05

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Alternative is no solution

I'm too tired to rebut the nonsense in this response to the USA Today editorial (charter schools DO do better; there's LOTS of evidence that competition leads to improvement of public schools (not to mention simple common sense); I don't believe for an instant that charter school teacher turnover is 50% annually; etc.), but it's important to know what arguments our opponents are using against us.  There is some truth in the final paragraph:
It is understandable for superintendents to expand charter schools that are high-performers, as long as they do not expand the low-performers as well (what has happened so far). Nevertheless, a few effective charters do not make an effective inner city school system. We need to look beyond charter schools to further improve our schools.
Charter schools are NOT a magic bullet -- but they're a very important part of the many changes that need to happen, so let's expand the high performers like wildfire (and shut down the underperformers), which is what we should be doing with ALL schools!


Alternative is no solution

By Lawrence Mishel and Martin Carnoy

USA Today editorial, 10/3/05

For big-city school superintendents, embracing effective charter schools in their districts makes sense. It gives parents and students more options. However, charter schools are unlikely to solve the most important problems facing public education. (Related: Our view)

We have enough experience with charter students to know that on average, they don't do better than similar students in the public schools. This is true whether they are low-income minority students or white suburban students. So there are well-known examples of very effective charter schools, but there are also poorly performing charters that are not well-publicized.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Cry in the Streets of Brooklyn Is Answered by a Prep School

What an inspirational, heart-warming story -- but also one that underscores the colossal failure of far too many inner-city schools.  How is it possible that a child could go to school up to age 17, yet NOT BE ABLE TO READ OR WRITE?!?!?!  What better example could there be of the need to end social promotion and preserve (albeit with reforms) No Child Left Behind, both of which provide mechanisms to force reform to the system that lets so many children fall through the cracks.
Rob Thomas's description of his experience at public schools -- and with public school teachers -- is, sadly, far too common.
But even with a better home life, his struggles in school continued. His dyslexia was never diagnosed, and Thomas recalls that when he asked for extra help, teachers specifically told him that they were there only to earn a paycheck.

When asked how he passed his freshman year at Grover Cleveland in Queens and his sophomore year at Wadleigh in Upper Manhattan without being able to read, Thomas shrugged.

"Social promotion was big back then," he said. "At the end of the day, it didn't seem like there was anyone who wanted to help me."

A Cry in the Streets of Brooklyn Is Answered by a Prep School
Published: April 23, 2006

SOUTH KENT, Conn. — During Rob Thomas's first week of classes at South Kent School, an elite prep school in this Rockwellian New England town, he used his first writing assignment in his junior English class as a plea.

Rob Thomas learned to read with the help of Geri Haase of South Kent School.

In looping printed letters, which looked like the handwriting of a young girl, Thomas wrote a one-page cry for help: "I cannot read or write. I need all you people's help. Please do not turn your back on me."

Thomas's note was not that clear, however. Riddled with spelling mistakes, it had clear signs of what experts later diagnosed as dyslexia. He spelled please "peasl," turn was "tron" and write was "witer."

That admission by Thomas, one of the nation's top basketball prospects, stunned faculty members at South Kent. But they soon found out that it was just the beginning of his story. He lived on the subways as a preteenager, sold drugs for a year as a teenager and could not read at age 17.

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Boys Are No Match for Girls in Completing High School

Kudos to Jay Greene and Marcus Winters for their detailed -- and horrifying -- report on graduation rates.  Here's the overall summary:

Nationwide, about 72 percent of the girls in the high school class of 2003 — but only 65 percent of the boys — earned diplomas, a gender gap that is far more pronounced among minorities, according to a report being released today by the Manhattan Institute.


The report, "Leaving Boys Behind: Public High School Graduation Rates," found that 59 percent of African-American girls, but only 48 percent of African-American boys, earned their diplomas that year. Among Hispanics, the graduation rate was 58 percent for girls, but only 49 percent for boys.

If that isn't bad enough, the schools in the biggest cities are failing far worse, with NYC near the rear of the pack.  It's mind-boggling to think that TWO-THIRDS of NYC's African-American and Hispanic boys fail to finish high school!  Given the poor performance of those who DO finish high school, I have to imagine that the 2/3 who don't make it are close to illiterate, have limited ability to function in society and are likely to lead miserable lives.

By Mr. Greene's calculations, none of the nation's 10 largest school districts, which together educate more than 8 percent of American public school children, graduate more than 60 percent of their students.


Among the nation's 100 largest school districts, the Manhattan Institute report found, New York City had the third lowest overall graduation rate, 43 percent. The two lower districts were Detroit and San Bernardino, Calif.


In New York City, 47 percent of the girls and 39 percent of the boys graduated from high school. Among Asian-American high school students in New York, 68 percent of the girls and 54 percent of the boys got diplomas, as did 43 percent of the African-American girls and 33 percent of the African-American boys, and 37 percent of the Hispanic girls and 30 percent of the Hispanic boys.

Overall, the failure of our K-12 public schools -- at least those "serving" low-income, minority students -- is an ongoing national disaster of massive proportions, yet as a nation we're largely fiddling with the deck chairs on the Titanic...

The New York Times

Boys Are No Match for Girls in Completing High School

April 19, 2006



Nationwide, about 72 percent of the girls in the high school class of 2003 — but only 65 percent of the boys — earned diplomas, a gender gap that is far more pronounced among minorities, according to a report being released today by the Manhattan Institute.


The report, "Leaving Boys Behind: Public High School Graduation Rates," found that 59 percent of African-American girls, but only 48 percent of African-American boys, earned their diplomas that year. Among Hispanics, the graduation rate was 58 percent for girls, but only 49 percent for boys.


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Sunday, April 23, 2006

New York Offers Housing Subsidy as Teacher Lure

I don't think I've ever written these words, but kudos to the teachers union for allowing this to go forward (and of course kudos to Klein as well).  One of the most insane, destructive elements of the teachers contract is the inability to pay any teachers more than any others (mainly those willing to teach in the toughest schools, and those who teach in areas where there are shortages like math, science and special ed).  This program, while technically structured as a housing subsidy, is in effect simply paying certain teachers more.  Breaking this previously-untouchable logjam in the biggest school system in the country is a HUGE step forward.
April 19, 2006

New York Offers Housing Subsidy as Teacher Lure

New York City will offer housing subsidies of up to $14,600 to entice new math, science and special education teachers to work in the city's most challenging schools, in one of the most aggressive housing incentive programs in the nation to address a chronic shortage of qualified educators in these specialties.

To be eligible for the subsidies, teachers must have at least two years' experience. City officials said they hoped the program, to be announced by the city Education Department today, would immediately lead to the hiring of an extra 100 teachers for September and, with other recruitment efforts, ultimately help fill as many as 600 positions now held by teachers without the proper credentials...

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Newark Is Ordered to Freeze Private Funds Linked to Departing Mayor

Just when you think you've seen it all...  In case there was any doubt about the corrupt mess that Cory Booker is going to take over, this should put it to rest.  These desperate, shameless antics are shocking, even by Newark standards.

Newark Is Ordered to Freeze Private Funds Linked to Departing Mayor

Published: April 21, 2006

NEWARK, April 20 — State officials have denounced a plan by Newark to transfer tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to two private funds under the partial control of retiring Mayor Sharpe James, and have ordered the city to freeze all actions involving the money.

In a letter sent to city lawyers on Thursday, the state's Department of Community Affairs said there were serious unanswered legal questions about the creation of the funds and the assignment of $80 million in city money to projects chosen by a board that includes the mayor and his allies at City Hall.

The agency also questioned the Municipal Council's ability to earmark $33.5 million of that money for "contributions" to nonprofit institutions around the city, including Symphony Hall and the Newark Public Library...

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Walk of Life for Lost Boy Runner

What an incredible story!
Until he was 9, Yuot and his family, who are Dinkas, lived in the city of Palek in southern Sudan in the midst of the religious civil war that has raged in Sudan for more than 20 years between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south. But when political unrest rattled the city, his parents placed him with a group that was caravanning children out of the country to escape the violence.

He was among more than 25,000 Sudanese boys who were sent away in similar fashion as their villages were burned and their livestock killed. To survive, they walked. They marched through their war-torn country, seeking refuge, first in Ethiopia, then Kenya and, eventually, the United States.

During the journey, many died of starvation. Many drowned. Some were shot. Some were devoured by crocodiles.

They became known as "The Lost Boys of Sudan," a name given the group by international aid workers.
And he's sure right about this:
There is no country in the world like America. I appreciate every single day, every single minute here. I have choices in America. I have choices to do things with my life and get an education.

Walk of Life for Lost Boy Runner

By Joe Santoliquito
Special to

CHESTER, Pa. -- The walking seemed endless. So did the sun, and the thirst. Every day.

Still, 9-year-old Macharia Yuot walked. And walked. And walked.

He walked because stopping might mean death. Or enslavement.

Yuot's life depended on how fast and how far his tiny bare feet could take him every day, with hot sand prickling every step, for a thousand miles with little or no sleep, day after day, night after night, across Sudan, the largest country in Africa. So he walked. For his life.

Today, 14 years later, Yuot -- winner of the last two NCAA Division III indoor championships at 5,000 meters -- will not complain about another practice lap around the Widener University track. He will not complain about lungs that burn near the end of a race, about feet that blister in preparation for Widener's outdoor season. He will not complain, either, about thrice-weekly bus rides to a job at a senior citizen's group home, where he helps feed the residents, or about the late-night returns to campus.

He won't complain because the bus rides end. The races end.

But 14 years ago, the walking seemed to go on forever...

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Voucher Issue a Touchy Topic in Newark Race

This embodies why I'm so passionate in my support of Cory Booker: he doesn't kow tow to the Democratic Party orthodoxy, but rather, regardless of the political price (and it's been heavy), supports what's best for the CHILDREN of Newark, who are suffering terribly in one of the worst school systems in the nation.  Vouchers are not a magic bullet here (or anywhere), but surely they're worth trying as one of many tools of reform?!

Mr. Booker says that he has not backed down, arguing that vouchers — which help parents pay for tuition at private schools with money from taxes or private donors — are one of many tools that could be used to improve Newark's schools.

"My determination is to reform the public school system, but I will never oppose programs that help children," Mr. Booker said in a recent interview in his 21st-story law office downtown. "And if it doesn't hurt my main goal, my principal goal of empowering public schools, I support that."

The education dispute in Newark underscores the continuing debate among poor, mostly minority residents in troubled urban school districts over the role of vouchers. Some parents and educators see them as a backhanded attempt to divert resources to private institutions. Others, especially the poor, seem more willing to accept them as an opportunity to escape dysfunctional schools.

Many in Newark now seem open to giving vouchers a shot. Rosa R. Langston, 82, the director of the Office of Children in the city's Department of Health, for example, said that she had been skeptical of vouchers until her granddaughter received a scholarship to a private school, and went on to the University of Pennsylvania.

"If vouchers save our children, for God's sake give it to them," she said. "I'm tired of our children failing."

For Mr. Booker and his supporters, Newark is a perfect illustration of why vouchers are necessary.

More than 10 years after the State Department of Education took control of the district — New Jersey's largest, with nearly 43,000 students — its overall performance has barely improved. State figures show that more than 70 percent of Newark's 11th graders failed the state math test in 2004, while only 30 percent failed statewide. Eighth graders in Newark did not do much better: 65 percent failed state math tests in 2004 and 56 percent failed the language test.

Violence in schools here has also increased by about 35 percent since 2002, as gangs have attracted children as young as 10 and 11, according to the police. The mix of guns, gangs and hot tempers turned fatal last summer, when a school security officer was shot and killed at Weequahic High School after breaking up a fight.

Voucher Issue a Touchy Topic in Newark Race
Published: April 17, 2006

Even with the pugnacious incumbent Sharpe James out of the running, the Newark mayor's race has nonetheless turned bitter and tense over a volatile and racially charged issue: school vouchers.

Cory Booker, running for mayor a second time, supports school vouchers. Last time his opponents successfully used the issue against him.

In 2002, the decision by Mr. James's challenger, Cory Booker, to support vouchers led critics to portray him as a tool of white conservatives — a suburbanite who was not black enough to lead what has long been considered one of the African-American capitals of the United States.

With this year's contest, the charges have re-emerged from the campaign of Deputy Mayor Ronald L. Rice, an ally of Mayor James's who is Mr. Booker's strongest remaining opponent.

In a recent interview, Mr. Rice called Mr. Booker a proxy for "ultra-white, ultra-conservative" outsiders seeking to privatize the schools in a Democratic city that is more than 80 percent African-American and Hispanic. He charged that Mr. Booker was seeking to turn Newark into another Milwaukee, where a voucher program has been in place since 1990, with mixed results in terms of student achievement...

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Scary Google; Alliance for School Choice blog

1) This is really scary -- how can this web site be #3 on Google?!

a.       Go to Google and type “Martin Luther King”

b.       Go to the third link (the one taking you to

c.       Check out the site. Once you figure out what it really is…go to the bottom and click on the link at the bottom of the page.

2) The Alliance for School Choice's blog went live today -- check it out at

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Amistad article

A very nice (and well-deserved) article about Amistad in the latest Teacher Magazine

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KIPP Schools Shift Strategy for Scaling Up

A nice article about KIPP's growth plans:

KIPP Schools Shift Strategy for Scaling Up

The Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, a widely touted network of mostly charter schools that targets low-income communities, is adjusting both its growth and leadership-training strategies as it ramps up its work around the country.

As part of those changes, the San Francisco-based nonprofit organization this week was expected to announce plans to move its leadership program to Stanford University from the University of California, Berkeley, where it’s been housed for six years...

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The 65 percent revolutionary

Spending more of our education dollars in the classroom is as easy to support as motherhood and apple pie, so the polling data doesn't surprise me, but it makes no sense to me as a tool that's likely to result in higher student achievement, either directly or indirectly.  The idea that somehow it might weaken the teacher union is nonsense -- they'd be IN FAVOR of spending more money in the classroom (e.g., on hiring more teachers and/or paying them more)! -- so I don't even understand the supposed political gains...
The 65 percent revolutionary

Millionaire businessman Patrick Byrne travels far and wide spreading his education proposal like a flash fire across the nation.

Published April 19, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - The 43-year-old man behind the education spending plan storming the nation is crashed out on a couch in the Florida Capitol.

Patrick Byrne is making his first visit to the Legislature. The 6-foot, 5-inch president of is stretched across a navy sofa in the darkened office of a second-term legislator from Palm Beach County.

Few in Florida know Byrne, the public face of a movement to steer 65 percent of dollars for school operations directly into classrooms. He has fought cancer three times and speaks five foreign languages. He's childless. He's not a Republican or a Democrat. He's registered as a Libertarian in Utah.

Even Florida's Republican leaders, who have been considering whether to attach their top education priorities to the 65 percent plan's popularity with voters, would not recognize the burly man who showed up recently in a wrinkled button-down and got in for an unscheduled visit with Gov. Jeb Bush.

"The eccentric millionaire who is behind the movement?" Byrne said, sitting up. "Tis I."

* * *

The 65 percent idea is undoubtedly popular. Poll after poll have shown that voters like the idea of requiring school systems to spend 65 percent of their operating budgets directly in the classroom. But in Tallahassee it's unclear what, if anything, lawmakers will do with the idea.

On Tuesday, the 65 percent plan lost some momentum when a Senate panel removed it from a constitutional amendment to ensure the future of private school vouchers. For now, it remains attached to another constitutional amendment to water down the class size limits that voters approved four years ago. The House has linked 65 percent to both initiatives.

"I don't think it really had any legs to start out with," said Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, who thinks the plan is dead in the upper chamber.

But with the most important 2 1/2 weeks remaining in the legislative session, it's too early to predict exactly how it will play out.

Byrne admits little knowledge of Florida politics. His entry into the state's education debate started a year and a half ago in his Salt Lake City apartment.

A mutual friend introduced Byrne to Tim Mooney, an Arizona Republican political consultant. For about a year, Mooney had been laying the groundwork for the 65 percent campaign.

Mooney and Byrne felt that education debates for too long have centered on how much money goes to schools. They wanted to talk about where the dollars are spent.

Byrne had the high profile and financial resources to transform the idea into a national movement. "I think the only way to fix the social ills that occupy much of America are by fixing education," said Byrne, who pledged $1-million to the 65 percent campaign. "If you care about any social issue, you start with education."

In a matter of months, they were sharing their idea over breakfast in Arizona with nationally syndicated columnist George Will of the Washington Post. Will wrote about Byrne:

"His idea - call it the 65 Percent Solution - is politically delicious because it unites parents, taxpayers and teachers, while, he hopes, sowing dissension in the ranks of the teachers unions, which he considers the principal institutional impediment to improving primary and secondary education."

In Florida, Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, read the column on the House floor, while legislators were debating some topic he can't recall. Its simple message resonated.

* * *

One year later, Byrne and Hasner are meeting in person for the first time in Hasner's Tallahassee office. Hasner, a public school graduate from Palm Beach County, brought 65 percent to Florida.

"This issue is far bigger than any individual. This is such a powerful message for education around the country," Hasner said. "Sixty-five percent has a life of its own."

First Class Education, the national organization Byrne and Mooney formed to promote the concept, says its polls show the 65 percent idea enjoying 78 percent support among Republicans and 81 percent among Democrats nationally. Eighty-nine percent of Hispanics and 96 percent of African Americans like it.

Florida is the only state that has linked the 65 percent campaign to other controversial initiatives.

First, Republican leaders attached it to a proposal that would loosen the class size caps that voters wrote into the state Constitution four years ago.

"We're using it with things to package them in a way that we think would be good policy and appeal to voters on the ballot," said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, chair of the House's Education Council.

But opposition to watering down class sizes remains strong in the Senate. It looks like a long shot to get the three-fifths vote needed in both chambers to make the ballot.

It's unclear what the 65 percent rule would mean in Florida.

Education Commissioner John Winn said last month that he was concerned about how "in-the-classroom" expenses would be defined.

A federal definition counts teachers as in-the-classroom expenses, but not administrators, librarians, guidance counselors reading coaches or many other personnel.

Some supporters say a more flexible definition is likely. Lawmakers would not craft the exact language until 2007.

* * *

The national face of the 65 percent movement, Byrne is not one to shy away from a fight, public or private. He once pursued a career in professional boxing.

In his 20s, Byrne fought testicular cancer three times. His business plan for was turned down by 55 venture capitalists before he launched the company in 1999. Now national television ads are promoting the online outlet store.

Byrne, who has a Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford University, also sees his company as a tool to fight world poverty. He sells wares produced in developing counties at low prices, pledging to return a substantial share to the makers.

In Florida, 65 percent is dividing the education establishment. A fall 2005 analysis by Standard & Poor's, the credit rating company, found no consistent correlation between higher instructional spending and better student achievement.

The Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University released a report on the 65 percent plan that notes, "it was developed in the hopes of producing political gains, not ... pedagogical improvements."

Still, Texas, Kansas and Georgia have approved the 65 percent idea, and Louisiana's Legislature recommended it to state education leaders. Seven states, including Florida, are actively considering it.

Byrne is surprised at how quickly it's taken off. "I never had any idea politics was so easy," he said.

Letitia Stein can be reached at or 850 224-7263.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Space cadets

Gotta love the UFT's hypocrisy (not!):

Meanwhile, United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is planning a protest tomorrow at PS 154 in Harlem, hoping to prevent the Harlem Success Charter School from moving in. Teachers unions oppose charters because they operate largely outside union control, and Weingarten has a personal ax to grind: Harlem Success is led by a nemesis, former Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz.

What's galling is that the UFT runs its own charter in a public school, IS 292 in Brooklyn. If it's okay for Weingarten's students to be in a public school, it should be fine for every other child whose parents believe a charter offers the best opportunity for learning.


Space cadets

NY Daily News

Charter school proponents, this corner included, have long argued that opening them will have the beneficial effect of prodding traditional schools to compete for students by upping their game. The city is now seeing that theory in action.

On the lower East Side and in Harlem, the leaders of established schools are battling to prevent planned charters from taking unused space in their buildings. They argue that the charters would disrupt successful programs while diverting public resources to nonpublic enterprises. This is hooey with no small measure of hypocrisy...

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Comments on school spending

A friend in CT with some comments on the discussion about whether spending more money is the answer to what ails our schools:

In New Haven we have Fair Haven Middle School run by the district at an average per pupil expense approaching $14,000. Only 19% of its 8th grade scores At or Above Grade Level on the statewide reading / writing / math exams. Half a mile away is Amistad Academy. Amistad's average incoming student arrives in 5th grade 2 full grades behind. Less than 25% of Amistad's 5th grade is at grade level. 3 years later on the statewide exam the percentage is 75%. Amistad's African American 8th graders outscore the statewide average for white students. Amistad spends $11,000 per pupil.

Anyone who thinks that more money for our urban districts is the key to improving student outcomes is ignoring the profound systemic problems plaguing those organizations. As an example, consider the fact that Fair Haven's performance has been consistently dismal since the state began collecting the data, and there is no reason to believe it will ever improve as it's currently constituted. Yet every year the city troops another 862 children into an academic deathtrap, and every year every employee in that system is insulated from any accountability for the outcome.

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Amistad Academy looks to expand

Assuming CT legislators come to their senses, some exciting things will be happening in New Haven as Amistad grows...
Amistad Academy, the gutsy charter school that transforms underachievers into overachievers, plans to expand this fall so its students can attend Amistad from kindergarten through high school graduation.
If Amistad can capture the needed state funding, the new grades will feature some startling ideas, such as not letting high school students graduate until they are accepted into college.

Amistad Academy looks to expand
Maria Garriga , Register Staff


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Charter schools attract attention

Some exciting things happening in Indianapolis:
On Thursday, Ola-Niyi stood with Indianapolis Public Schools superintendent Eugene White and the mayor as the three delivered big news about a partnership between KIPP and the state's largest school district. KIPP, which opened in 2003, will move from its cramped space at a community center to IPS' spacious Coleman campus, 1740 E. 30th St.
IPS will create two new academies within Coleman, one for boys and one for girls. They will be modeled after KIPP's highly structured program.
Charter schools attract attention

Indianapolis Star, 4/9/06

Omotayo Ola-Niyi came to Indianapolis in 2003, after working as a consultant in Chicago's public school system. The University of Oklahoma grad was attracted by our reputation for education reform.

Perhaps you didn't know -- the city and state commonly associated with racing, obesity and the Final Four are at the top of the charter school movement.

Progressive educators, wonks, politicians in both parties, business leaders and Mayor Bart Peterson, among others, got us where we are today.
For Ola-Niyi, 29, that's at the helm of the KIPP Indianapolis College Preparatory School on the Westside, one of 12 charter schools in Indianapolis and one of 46 KIPP schools nationally.
She oversees 155 5th- and 6th-grade pupils who put in long hours while keeping their eyes on the prize -- they are determined to be part of the 85 percent of KIPP graduates who go to college.

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The Schools That Dare Not Speak Their Name

Finn with a great point about the Oprah show.
The Schools That Dare Not Speak Their Name

By Chester E. Finn, Jr.


That Oprah has discovered school reform is probably a good thing, if only because she adds middlebrow legitimacy and an immense audience to most of the causes that she embraces and because far too many Americans (middle, high and lowbrow alike) need reminding their schools, too, not just those across town, need a kick in the pants.


Her two-part discussion on April 11 and 12 had millions of viewers. It had some fine moments and did a competent job of framing “the problem” with primary-secondary education in the U.S. It included impassioned, convincing talk by Bill and Melinda Gates about the urgency of radical reform, something in which their foundation is investing many millions. It also profiled three terrific schools that have succeeded in boosting the achievement of disadvantaged kids, thus illustrating what can be done despite the many barriers to change erected by the education establishment and the political system. Sacramento’s St. Hope Public Schools, San Diego’s High Tech High, and the District of Columbia’s KIPP school are all swell examples of schools that beat the odds.


What nobody on the Oprah show let their millions of views know, however, is that all three of these fine educational institutions are charter schools—and schools of choice. The word “charter” was never uttered—not by Oprah, not by the Gateses, not by the people describing these schools. There is some reason, in fact, to think the show’s planners and producers banned it, or edited it out.


Why? One can only speculate. At best, maybe they dream that schools don’t really need charter status to accomplish these things, or that the charter part of their existence isn’t all that important. At worst, it’s because they’re embarrassed, or politically afraid, to admit that critics of the public school monopoly might just be right: that it needs to be busted if kids, especially poor kids, are to have a ready supply of great schools to attend.


To be sure, not all great schools are chartered. And not all chartered schools are great. But when the fundamental attributes of three great schools profiled on national television include the facts that they operate outside the system, that they enjoy all sorts of freedom that the system doesn’t normally permit, and that they’re attended by kids who are there by choice rather than by assignment—when these features are central to the very existence and success of the schools, wouldn’t you think that Oprah and her guests might feel some obligation to let their viewers in on the secret?

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8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, Kansas - 1895

To see how far our standards have fallen, check out this 8th grade final exam given in Salina, Kansas in 1895!
Questions: What percentage of this year's seniors and last year's high school graduates could pass the following 8th grade test required in 1895, even if the few outdated questions were modernized? How many college students could pass it? For that matter, what percentage of high school teachers could pass it? And - - what percentage of today's schools have standards for promotion from 8th grade equal to or tougher than those required in 1895?

8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, Kansas - 1895

This is the eighth-grade final exam* from 1895 from Salina, Kansas. It was taken
from the original document on file at the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society
and Library in Salina, Kansas and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.
4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb? Give Principal Parts of do, lie, lay and run.
5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
7-10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts. per bu, deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $.20 per inch?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?
10.Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865?

Orthography (Time, one hour)
1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret 'u'.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e'. Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: Bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, super.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: Card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences, Cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10.Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)
1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of N.A.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fermandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10.Describe the movements of the earth. Give inclination of the earth.

April 13, 1895  J.W. Armstrong, County Superintendent.Examinations at Salina, New Cambria, Gypsum City, Assaria, Falun, Bavaria, and District No. 74 (in Glendale Twp.)"

According to the Smoky Valley Genealogy Society, Salina, Kansas "this test is the original eighth-grade final exam for 1895 from Salina, KS. An interesting note is the fact that the county students taking this test were allowed to take the test in the 7th grade, and if they did not pass the test at that time, they were allowed to re-take it again in the 8th grade."

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Illegal at Princeton

What an incredible story!  Let's hope the INS has a heart...

Illegal at Princeton

Dan-el Padilla beat poverty and homelessness to become a star student. He still may have to leave the country.
April 15, 2006
WSJ front page

Dan-el Padilla Peralta, a 21-year-old classics major at Princeton University, has risen from a childhood in homeless shelters and blighted apartments to maintain a 3.9 grade-point average. He has won prize after prize, often taking twice the typical course load. One faculty member, writing a recommendation, predicted "he will be one of the best classicists to emerge in his generation."

Mr. Padilla stands out at Princeton for another reason: He's an illegal immigrant. And two weeks ago, he did something few people in his shoes ever do. He turned himself in.

Mr. Padilla recently won a two-year scholarship to Oxford University in the United Kingdom. But according to longstanding immigration law, if he leaves, he can't return to the U.S. -- his home since the age of 4 -- for at least 10 years.

While his case is exceptional, Mr. Padilla's predicament reflects the cacophony of messages a conflicted nation sends to illegal immigrants. This spring, at least 65,000 undocumented immigrant students, many of whom have been in this country most of their lives, will graduate from high school. The Constitution guarantees a public-school K-12 education for every child in the U.S.

Dan-el Padilla on the Princeton campus.

But after that, their future is uncertain. They can't work legally and undocumented students can't qualify for federal grants and loans or work-study programs that would help finance higher education. Only an estimated 10% to 15% of undocumented students who graduate from high school muster enough resources to pay for college, according to the National Immigration Law Center, a pro-immigrant group. There are an estimated two million illegal immigrants under the age of 18.

Ten states, including California, Texas and Oklahoma, have tried to make it more affordable for illegal immigrants who have graduated from local high schools to attend college by allowing them to pay in-state fees at public universities. Many private universities admit undocumented students, although getting them financial aid is often difficult because of their status.

In Mr. Padilla's case, some institutions -- like the elite Collegiate private school he attended in New York -- never even asked about his status. Princeton knew he was in the U.S. illegally, yet awarded him a scholarship anyway.

Bipartisan legislation was introduced in 2001 that would grant permanent residency to young people brought to the U.S. at least five years ago who have completed high school. Sponsors have never been able to convince Congressional leaders to allow a vote. Opponents say students who came to the U.S. illegally shouldn't be entitled to any form of amnesty or limited educational resources. "How much sense does that make, to have people here illegally and they have more benefits than those who are here legally?" says Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican.

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Law to Segregate Omaha Schools Divides Nebraska

This is the nuttiest thing I've heard of in a long time:
Ernie Chambers is Nebraska's only African-American state senator, a man who has fought for causes including the abolition of capital punishment and the end of apartheid in South Africa. A magazine writer once described him as the "angriest black man in Nebraska."

He was also a driving force behind a measure passed by the Legislature on Thursday and signed into law by the governor that calls for dividing the Omaha public schools into three racially identifiable districts, one largely black, one white and one mostly Hispanic.

This guy is exactly right:

Other black leaders in Omaha criticized the new law.

"This is a disaster," said Ben Gray, a television news producer and co-chairman of the African-American Achievement Council, a group of volunteers who mentor black students. "Throughout our time in America, we've had people who continuously fought for equality, and from Brown vs. Board of Education, we know that separate is not equal. We cannot go back to segregating our schools."

Law to Segregate Omaha Schools Divides Nebraska
Published: April 15, 2006, NYT


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School Official Guilty in Sex Sting

I take it back -- this is even nuttier!  This scumbag has pled guilty, yet the DOE has been unable to fire him and he's still collecting his salary!  Hard to think of a better case study of how dysfunctional the system is...
A former assistant principal at a Manhattan high school has pleaded guilty to the possession of child pornography and to enticing a minor after he tried to arrange sexual encounters over the Internet with two undercover investigators posing as 13-year-old girls, federal authorities said on Monday...

Margie Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Education, said that after Mr. Rubinstein was arrested last month, he was demoted back to his teaching title and assigned to administrative duties.

She said that because Mr. Rubinstein was tenured, he was still collecting his salary of $79,357 a year but that the department was doing all it could to fire him.

"We're moving to terminate him as quickly as possible under the education law," she said. "He was already assigned away from students a month ago, so he's not at the school at all, and he isn't teaching anywhere right now."


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Mitt Romney, Republican Governor of Massashusetts is spot on here.  Why can't DEMOCRATS be saying these obvious truths more often?!

I was in high school when Sputnik happened. Russia's lead in space frightened us. It also woke us up. President Kennedy issued a call to boost science and math education, to produce more engineers. His vision: Put a man on the moon. America, as always, rose to the occasion.

One could argue that there have been quite a few Sputniks lately, but that we haven't noticed. Tom Friedman's flat world is tilting toward Asia, taking investment and jobs. Of 120 new chemical plants worldwide with over $1 billion in capital, 50 are planned for China, only one for the United States. Bill Gates says Microsoft's best new ideas are coming from his Asian team. And last year, America bought $160 billion more from China than China bought from us. America is still way ahead, but in the words of Will Rogers: "Even if you're on the right track, if you don't move, you'll get run over." It's time we get moving, starting with education. First, close the Excellence Gap. American 15-year-olds rank 24th out of 29 OECD countries in math literacy and 19th in science. Fifteen years ago, the United States and Asia produced about the same number of Ph.D.'s in math and physical science: 4,700 a year. Today, we graduate 4,400; Asia graduates 24,900. Second, close the Achievement Gap. Failing urban schools are a dead end for too many minority children. This is the civil rights issue of our generation.

How to close the education gaps? The teacher's unions have their answers: simply spend more money and hire more teachers for smaller classroom size. But the data show that those are not the answers at all. Massachusetts tests our kids regularly; when student proficiency is matched with classroom size and per-pupil spending, there is absolutely no relationship. In fact, the district with the highest per-pupil spending in our state -- almost $19,000 per student -- is in the bottom 10 percent of our state in student proficiency.

We found our education prescription by interviewing parents, teachers and principals, studying actual data, mining lessons from successful districts and charter schools, and digesting the recommendations from commissions and experts. Here are some of the real answers: 

    1) Make teaching a true profession. The 19th-century industrial labor-union model doesn't make sense for educating children. Teachers aren't manufacturing widgets. Better teachers should have better pay, advancement opportunities and mentoring responsibilities. Better pay should also accompany the most challenging assignments -- needed specialties like math and science, advanced placement skills and extra effort.

    2) Let the leaders lead. Superintendents and principals must have authority to hire, deploy resources, assign mentors and training, and remove nonperformers. Seniority cannot trump the needs of our children.

    3) Measure up. Over union objections, Massachusetts implemented standardized testing and a mandatory graduation exam. With measurement, we finally see our successes and failures and can take corrective action. Without measurement, we were blind.

    4) Let freedom ring. When parents, teachers and kids are free to choose their school, everyone benefits. Charter schools free of union restraints and, yes, even home schools, teach lessons we can apply to improve standard public schools.

    5) Pull in the parents. Teachers tell us that the best predictor of student success is parental involvement. For our lowest-performing schools, I've proposed mandatory parental preparation courses. Over two days, parents learn about America's education culture, homework, school discipline, available after-school programs, what TV is harmful or helpful and so on. And for parents who don't speak English, help them understand why their child's English immersion in school is a key to a bright future.

    6) Raise the bar. Our kids need to be pushed harder. Less about self-esteem; more about learning. I have proposed advanced math and science schools for the very brightest (the one we have is a huge success, but we need more); advanced placement in every high school, more teachers with serious science and math credentials, and laptop computers for every middle- and high-school student. We've also added science as a graduation exam requirement, in addition to math and English.

These ideas should sound familiar -- they turn up in virtually every unbiased look at education. The opposition comes from some teachers unions. They fight better pay for better teachers, principal authority, testing and standards, school choice and English immersion. With their focus on themselves and their members, they have failed to see how we have failed our children. But that will change as testing produces data and data debunks the myth that more and more spending is the answer.

A continuing failure to close the excellence and achievement gaps would have catastrophic consequences, for individual human lives left short of their potential, and for our nation. Students around the world are racing ahead of ours. If we don't move, we'll become the France of the 21st century, starting as a superpower and exiting as something far less. Education must be one of our first priorities, as it was when Sputnik was launched the last time. We succeeded before. We will do it again.

Mitt Romney is governor of Massachusetts.

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Dropout Nation

Good for Time magazine for putting our nation's dropout problem on the front cover this week (in conjunction with the Oprah show).

In today's data-happy era of accountability, testing and No Child Left Behind, here is the most astonishing statistic in the whole field of education: an increasing number of researchers are saying that nearly 1 out of 3 public high school students won't graduate, not just in Shelbyville but around the nation. For Latinos and African Americans, the rate approaches an alarming 50%. Virtually no community, small or large, rural or urban, has escaped the problem...

...the magnitude of the problem has been consistently, and often willfully, ignored.

That's starting to change. During his most recent State of the Union address, President George W. Bush promised more resources to help children stay in school, and Democrats promptly attacked him for lacking a specific plan. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has trained its moneyed eye on the problem, funding "The Silent Epidemic," a study issued in March that has gained widespread attention both in Washington and in statehouses around the country.

The attention comes against a backdrop of rising peril for dropouts. If their grandparents' generation could find a blue-collar niche and prosper, the latest group is immediately relegated to the most punishing sector of the economy, where whatever low-wage jobs haven't yet moved overseas are increasingly filled by even lower-wage immigrants. Dropping out of high school today is to your societal health what smoking is to your physical health, an indicator of a host of poor outcomes to follow, from low lifetime earnings to high incarceration rates to a high likelihood that your children will drop out of high school and start the cycle anew.


Sunday, Apr. 09, 2006
Dropout Nation
The number of high school students who leave before graduating is higher--much higher--than you think. Inside one town's struggle to reverse the tide

Time Magazine cover story,8816,1181646,00.html

It's lunchtime at Shelbyville High School, 30 miles southeast of Indianapolis, Ind., and more than 100 teenagers are buzzing over trays in the cafeteria. Like high schoolers everywhere, they have arranged themselves by type: jocks, preps, cheerleaders, dorks, punks and gamers, all with tables of their own. But when they are finished chugging the milk and throwing Tater Tots at one another, they will drift out to their classes and slouch together through lessons on Edgar Allan Poe and Pythagoras. It's the promise of American public education: no matter who you are or where you come from, you will be tugged gently along the path of learning, toward graduation and an open but hopeful future.

Shawn Sturgill, 18, had a clique of his own at Shelbyville High, a dozen or so friends who sat at the same long bench in the hallway outside the cafeteria. They were, Shawn says, an average crowd. Not too rich, not too poor; not bookish, but not slow. They rarely got into trouble. Mainly they sat around and talked about Camaros and the Indianapolis Colts.

These days the bench is mostly empty. Of his dozen friends, Shawn says just one or two are still at Shelbyville High. If some cliques are defined by a common sport or a shared obsession with Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, Shawn's friends ended up being defined by their mutual destiny: nearly all of them became high school dropouts.

Shawn's friends are not alone in their exodus. Of the 315 Shelbyville students who showed up for the first day of high school four years ago, only 215 are expected to graduate. The 100 others have simply melted away, dropping out in a slow, steady bleed that has left the town wondering how it could have let down so many of its kids...

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Where my kids go to school

One of the folks on this email list replied to my email a few days ago (in which I said that I disagreed with Kozol's assertion that the key to fixing our failing public schools is spending more money on them) by asking where I send my children to school.  It's a valid question, and my reply is below.
Question: "Where do your children go to school?"

My answer:


Currently, two go to Nightingale Bamford School and one to Central Synagogue Nursery School.


I assume you’re not asking because you’re interested in the names of the schools, however, but rather are questioning the appearance of hypocrisy when I say that more money isn’t the solution to what ails our failing inner-city schools (at least more money poured into the existing broken system) when I send my own children to schools that, relatively speaking, are drowning in money.


It’s a valid question – one Jonathan Kozol often uses to try to silence his critics – so allow me to address that in a few ways (keeping in mind that I’m speaking only for myself):


1)      Luckily my wife and I (and you and, I suppose, everyone else on my school reform email list) have the means to choose whichever schools we feel are best for our children.  It’s precisely BECAUSE I have this right that I can see how valuable it is.  All I want is the same fundamental right for ALL parents!


Unfortunately, most families do not have such means and thus have little or no choice as to where to send their kids.  If they can afford to live in a nice area, odds are good that the local public school is at least decent; but if they live in a poor urban community, odds are alarmingly high that their local school is weak or utterly failing – you’re seen the data, I’m sure.  I don't believe that ANY family should be forced to send their kids to a failing school.  Would you send your kids to a school in which fewer than 20% of children could read by the 4th grade? 


Unlike many who believe that school choice is what most families want, I think that most people simply want a good local public school to send their kids to.  It’s only if that school is failing that people want choice.  I think if the state cannot provide a decent public school, then it has a fundamental obligation to provide a better alternative.  I find it extremely ironic that those who most passionately oppose this point of view are nearly universally practicing school choice themselves.  Now THAT’S hypocrisy!


2)      The fact that I send my kids to private school has no bearing on my standing to comment on the successes and failures of the public school system.  Does the fact that I have good health insurance mean that I cannot opine about the problem of the uninsured?  Because none of my family members are serving in the armed services, can I not comment on the handling of the Iraq war?


3)      As to the substance of my point about more money not being the solution, I addressed this at length in my email Wednesday (the article by Marcus Winters and the excerpt from Education Myths), as well as in my critique of Kozol, which summarized the argument: “[Kozol] conveniently ignores the fact that some of the very worst school systems like Newark and Washington DC spend the most -- far more than average suburban systems.  And he doesn't (perhaps because he can't) give a single case study of a school system that suddenly spent a lot more money, resulting in marked improvement.”


I hope you don’t take anything I’ve said in this email personally – I certainly didn’t take your question that way.  It’s a good conversation for like-minded Democrats like us to have.


Best regards,



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