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.EDU: News From Around the Nation

August 2009

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 Testing Battle
Texas Governor Rick Perry takes a hard line on testing and student promotion.
Every year in Texas, third, fifth, and eighth graders take the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exam. To advance to the next grade, third graders must pass the reading portion; fifth and eighth graders, reading and math. But some felt that too many kids were being held back, even though 93 percent of third graders passed the exam this year, according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Students who don’t pass the tests are offered summer instruction and have the opportunity to retake the test.

“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.

Assessment Nationwide

Four States Say No Thanks to Nationwide Standards
While 46 states have joined the Common Core States Initiative, committed to develop common standards in language arts and mathematics by December 2009, Texas, South Carolina, Alaska, and Missouri have chosen to opt out for various reasons, including avoiding conflict with existing standards. Governor Sarah Palin explained Alaska’s opt-out by saying that “high expectations are not always created by new, mandated federal standards written on paper. They are created in the home, the community, and the classroom.”

Big Apple Kids Make Gains
New York City students are narrowing the achievement gap with students in the rest of the state, making significant gains at every grade level on the state’s annual math test: 81.8 percent of city kids in grades three to eight are meeting or exceeding grade-level math standards, compared to 88.9 percent of their upstate peers. That gap narrowed by nearly one-third since last year and has been cut almost in half in the last three years.

Feds Tell Chicago to Try Again
The Chicago Board of Education received restructuring plans for 18 schools that missed Adequate Yearly Progress requirements, joining 78 other schools that missed AYP goals in previous years. Schools that have not made AYP for five years are required to develop restructuring plans to address the areas in which the schools require improvement—with students receiving interventions when necessary.

Florida Rocks the FCAT
Sixty-one percent of Florida students performed at or above grade level in reading and math on the recent Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, with students in grades three to five showing the most improvement: A full 72 percent of those students performed at or above grade level, up 18 to 20 percent since 2001.

BUDGET Nationwide
Hawaii Faces $350M Deficit
Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle requested federal stimulus money, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to help offset a massive education budget gap in the state. The funding is expected to be about $111 million if granted, but that remains a drop in the bucket compared to projected budget cuts of more than $460 million for the department over the next two fiscal years. Some, including Board of Ed Chairman Garret Toguchi, suggest using money from the state’s hurricane relief and rainy-day funds.

$3M upgrade for PA cafeterias
Nearly $2.9 million in federal stimulus grants for school food services will be spent in Pennsylvania. The funding will go to 133 schools in nearly 40 districts by the end of September to buy energy-efficient ovens, refrigerators, dishwashers, and other school food-service equipment, as well as to expand school breakfast programs.

Court Win for Special-Ed Parents
Parents of special-education students may ask school districts to reimburse them for the cost of private-school tuition—even if the student had never been taught in the districts’ schools, according to a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Previously, districts only had to repay parents for private instruction if the student had attended public school first. The ruling could cost districts millions of dollars nationwide.

Healthy-Snack Program Goes to IL
In the upcoming school year, students at 141 schools in Illinois will have access to free fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the school day as part of the federally funded, $2.2 million Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture first piloted the program in 2002; it was expanded in 2008.

$8M Grant for Charter Schools
Economically depressed neighborhoods nationwide will get a boost from an $8.3 million Dept. of Ed grant to the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), for the development of charter school facilities. LISC will use the grant to leverage capital from financial institutions to develop the schools. LISC has previously provided nearly $100 million in financing to help 90 charter schools develop, expand, or enhance their facilities.

Terminating Textbooks?
Online textbooks could save California millions.

As we all know, textbooks aren’t cheap. At $100 or more per book, multiplied by millions of students, they put a huge dent in district budgets each year. That’s why California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has proposed $1.3 billion in education cuts for this year, has fast-tracked a high-tech solution: This fall, several schools statewide will replace selected high school math and science books with free, open-source online textbooks.

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.
Where Did the ELLs Go?
A report claims that New York City ELLs get lost in the shuffle of restructuring

When a school is closed, what happens to its English-language learners? A report from Advocates for Children of New York and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund examined two New York City schools for an answer.

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.”

ELL News
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.

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.

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.

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.

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