.EDU: News From Around the Nation
Governor Jindal tours Houma, LA. Each year some 13,500 students drop out of Louisiana high schools.
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has signed controversial legislation that will create a new “career track” high school path for students who do not intend to continue on to college.
Supporters of the move say it will reduce the state’s dropout rate, which Louisiana’s Department of Education puts at a staggering 35 percent and some lawmakers claim is even higher. But opponents, including members of the business community and the state superintendent of education, say it represents a step backward in Louisiana’s recent move toward higher standards.
Under the new plan, students age 15 or older with parental consent could opt for the new curriculum, which would include career and technical coursework offered at community colleges. Students who successfully earn the new diploma would be qualified to enter a two-year community college or technical school, but not a four-year institution.
The bill’s chief sticking point was that it would lower the Louisiana Education Assessment Program scores needed for participating students to enter high school. Currently, eighth graders must score “basic” competency in either English or math to advance to the ninth grade. Under the new plan, “approaching basic” would be sufficient to promote students who choose the career path.
With national attention focused on fixing the high school dropout problem, Louisiana’s plan could represent a bold, pragmatic approach. Or it could merely be a goalpost-shifting sleight of hand.
Will it raise standards for students who would otherwise drop out of school or simply lower them for those who would have stayed anyway?
The answer for now seems to rest in the eye of the beholder.
Texas Governor Rick Perry takes a hard line on testing and student promotion.
“Teachers have complained that they thought they had to teach to the test,” says Suzanne Marchman, a spokeswoman at TEA. “There were many people who opposed the high-stakes nature, particularly at the lower grade levels.”
But when members of the Texas Legislature tried to cut the testing requirement for promotion, Governor Rick Perry, a longtime testing advocate, promised a veto. After a meeting between Perry and legislators, the bill was changed: Third graders would no longer have to pass the test to move on to fourth grade, but testing standards would remain for fifth and eighth graders.
Perry appears to have won this battle. However, one thing’s for sure going forward—the state’s testing fight will go on.
Several organizations, including the publisher Pearson Education and the nonprofit CK-12 Foundation, have submitted materials for consideration, which must meet state standards. The program doesn’t require students to have their own computers at home; teachers will be able to print portions of textbooks for students, if necessary, and still see huge savings over using traditional texts.
California Secretary of Education Glen Thomas, the former state education technology director, says that the first-in-the-nation initiative is less about technology and more about access to content. “If they have a computer, great,” he says. “But if the teacher or the parent or the student wants just a chapter at
a time, print out just a chapter. If nothing else, it makes your backpack lighter.”
The best part: If all high schoolers use free online math and science textbooks, it could save districts up to $400 million, which districts can use at their discretion. “They can redirect those savings to keep from laying off another teacher or increasing class size. That’s their call,” says Thomas.
A report claims that New York City ELLs get lost in the shuffle of restructuring
Between 2002 and 2007, the city’s department of education closed 20 large high schools, replacing them with 212 smaller ones. Lafayette and Tilden were two of the schools slated for restructuring. Both served large ELL populations. According to the new report, many of the schools that replaced them enrolled very few, if any, ELL students, and many failed to provide proper ELL programs. The system-wide lack of access, the report claims, has resulted in a drop in the graduation rate for ELLs—from 28.5 percent in 2005 to 23.5 percent two years later.
“When ELLs are not given the services they need, their likelihood of success in school is dramatically reduced,” says Arlen Benjamin-Gomez, a staff attorney at AFC. Though there are city schools that focus on ELLs, they can’t solve the problem, she says. “Our concern is that ELL students might be segregated into those schools, and those schools can’t have the capacity to serve the whole system. Other schools have to meet the needs of ELL students, and make sure they graduate them from school.”
Nicole Colina Duignan, senior deputy press secretary for the NYC Department of Education, disputes some of the report’s numbers—for example, she puts the 2007 graduation rate at 31 percent, not 23.5. “There have been gains for ELL students, not just in new school settings, but throughout the city,” she says. Nevertheless, she grants that “there is still more work to be done for ELL students—improving our outreach, and getting parents involved.”
Math scores for Georgia’s elementary and middle school ELL students jumped dramatically in the state’s standardized Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests. ELLs showed a gain of 11 points in third- and fifth-grade math, and eight points for eight-grade math. ELLs also showed percentage gains in eighth-grade reading and sixth-grade English. State Superintendent Kathy Cox said that ELLs are improving faster than all students statewide.
U.S. SUPREME COURT RULES ON ELL FUNDS
The Court handed down a decision on Horne v. Flores, which focused on whether Arizona had violated a federal law by providing insufficient funding for its ELL programs. The state superintendent had argued that a 2000 federal court decision was an unwarranted intrusion into state business and should no longer apply, as the state’s ELL funding and conditions had since been much improved. The Court’s close 5–4 decision instructed that the case be reargued in a lower court, taking these changed circumstances into account—a ruling widely viewed as a short-term victory for the state.
NY ELL STATS SEND MIXED SIGNALS
The New York State Board of Regents released a study on graduation rates among different groups of students in the state. The study follows the progress of students who entered ninth grade in 2004, to see who graduated in four years. Statewide, some 36 percent of ELLs had received their diploma by June 2008—far lower than the average graduation rate of 71 percent. That said, one encouraging sign was that more ELLs were staying in school: 38 percent of those who had not graduated by 2008 were still enrolled, and still trying to complete their degree.
PROGRAM TEACHES WITH MUSIC IN MN
As school music programs fall victim to budget cuts nationwide, one summer program at Franklin Elementary in Mankato, Minnesota, has instead refocused toward ELL students. According to local reports, about 40 ELL students will take part, which will allow them to play violin or cello, while also improving their math and reading skills. One advantage: Only minimal language facility is needed simply to understand a tune.