Friday, February 23, 2007


from the California Progress Report

4LAKids notes: The CPR ranks the state legislative analyst’s report as their site of the day; 4LAKids has a kinda/sorta weekly worldview – so it gets to be our site o’ th’ week. The frequency is unimportant; the news is not good!

4LAKids is fond of the Leg Analyst; she was the first to opine officially that AB1381 was unconstitutional. The majority of the legislature chose to ignore her and the rest is history, doomed to repetition until gotten correct. - smf


This (Wednesday) morning, the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) released its once a year report on the Governor's proposed budget. You will be hearing a lot on what is in this report--from elected officials to organizations ranging from anti-tax groups to those advocating increased spending on particular items. Reporters and other mere mortals will be trying to encapsulate what is in this set of documents and what it means for the budget that will be adopted (hopefully) in June. But you have an opportunity to read this document for yourself and make your own judgments.

For most readers, the 20 page Highlights of the 2007-08 Analysis will be sufficient.

But for those who have a particular area of focus and inquiry, the full report running to hundreds of pages provides a detailed examination of the Governor's Budget. It includes a treasure trove of hundreds of findings and recommendations related to education, health and social services, criminal justice, transportation, resources, capital outlay, information technology, and local government. It is divided by chapters:

Transportation Chapter
Resources Chapter
Health and Social Services Chapter
Criminal Justice Chapter
Education Chapter
General Government Chapter
Capital Outlay Chapter
Perspectives and Issues

There is an Index by Department/Program Name.

Two paragraphs from the Perspectives and Issues Report under the heading of "State's Fiscal Picture" are quite telling:

After 2006-07, a year in which state policymakers were able to use surging revenues to significantly increase education spending and prepay budgetary debt, the state faces a challenging outlook. The Governor’s budget attempts to bridge a significant shortfall in 2007 08 through a variety of means, including a major redirection of transportation funds, significant reductions in social services, and a substantial increase in tribal gambling revenues from amended compacts.

LAO Bottom Line. Based on our revenue and expenditure projections, we estimate that the adoption of the Governor’s budget plan would result in a $726 million deficit in 2007 08 (compared to the administration’s January 10th estimate of a $2.1 billion reserve). The difference in these numbers is due principally to our lower estimates of revenue in both the current and budget years, but also due to higher expenditure estimates, primarily related to Proposition 98. Adoption of the plan would also leave the state with large operating shortfalls in future years, unless additional corrective actions are taken. Thus, the Legislature will face major challenges in crafting a budget for the coming year. We believe that the primary focus should be on finding additional budget savings and/or revenues to address the near-and longer-term shortfalls. Should these solutions be insufficient to cover the full magnitude of the budget shortfall, however, the state can also achieve some near-term savings by reducing the amount of supplemental repayments on deficit-financing bonds relative to the $1.6 billion proposed in the budget.

The 2007-08 Budget: Perspectives and Issues Report may be of particular interest to many.

It is divided into five parts:

• Part I, “State’s Fiscal Picture,” provides an overall perspective on the fiscal situation currently facing the Legislature.
• Part II, “Perspectives on the Economy and Demographics,” describes the current outlook for the economy and the administration’s and our forecasts.
• Part III, “Perspectives on State Revenues,” provides a review of the revenue projections in the budget and our own assessment of revenues through 2008-09.
• Part IV, “Perspectives on State Expenditures,” provides an overview of the state spending plan for 2007-08 and evaluates the major expenditure proposals in the budget.
• Part V, “Major Issues Facing the Legislature,” (1) offers a “roadmap” for how the state could spend projected major increases in discretionary Proposition 98 monies over the next five years; (2) assesses the fiscal implications of the Governor’s health care coverage proposal; (3) reviews the Legislature’s oversight role regarding employee compensation issues; (4)the Governor’s proposal to reform the mandate reimbursement process; (5) analyzes two tax proposals the Governor proposes to eliminate in the budget year; and (6) presents steps the state should take to further the adoption of health information technology.

It looks like this will be a tough year on the budget--and you'll know why if you take a look at any of these documents in the LAO's yearly report.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

GENDER MATTERS: Educators battle over single-sex schools.

By Amy Standen | Edutopia Magazine

Feb 7, 2007 - At the 49ers Academy, in East Palo Alto, California, it was the students who gave the thumbs down to going coed.

"They say they feel more comfortable in sex-segregated classrooms," says Heather Turoczi, the school's program director. "The boys don't feel like they need to put on a big show for the girls, and the girls feel like they can strive academically without having to dumb down their abilities."

The 49ers Academy is somewhat of a rarity, both in California and nationwide: a single-sex public school. Incorporated in 1996, the school caters primarily to low-income students, many who could be classified as high risk. The goal, says the school's Web site, "is to keep these kids in school." Middle school boys and girls here share a campus. Clad in their 49ers uniforms of white T-shirts and khaki pants, they squeeze in a few minutes of sarcasm and flirting as they cross paths on the quad but spend most of the day in single-sex classrooms, sharing the school's facilities on a staggered schedule.

Fifty-one completely single-sex public schools exist in America, and nearly five times as many offer some single-sex classrooms, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. Those numbers may soon rise. In November, the U.S. Department of Education delivered guidelines that will, in effect, show how school districts can offer single-sex classrooms without violating Title IX, the landmark 1972 federal legislation that mandated gender equality in all aspects of government-funded education. Supporters of single-sex education welcome the new rules, but many others are wary of the change. In education as well as anywhere else, they argue, separate is not equal, and single-sex schools can undermine years of progress toward gender equality. Under the new legislation, however, it's less a matter of if than of how: How far must schools go to ensure that boys' and girls' educations mirror each other exactly? How do you preserve fairness in segregation?

The 49ers Academy dates to an older experiment. In 1997, then California governor Pete Wilson introduced legislation to create 12 single-sex academies in six districts. The state would grant $500,000 to each district to help fund the schools, with the requirement that the money be divided equally between boys and girls. The academies would operate as magnet schools within the districts, alternatives to -- but not replacements for -- coed programs.

[article continued from 4LAKids newsletter picks up here]

Ultimately, only six schools took part. Immediately after the two-year trial period, four of them reverted to a coed curriculum, and a fifth did so one year later. Some found the double classrooms a hassle to coordinate, says Elisabeth Woody, one of the researchers hired to evaluate the program, some felt they weren't seeing an improvement in overall education, and some simply lost their incentive once the money ran out.

Woody and the other researchers concluded that the single-sex public academies were "not sustainable under California's policy framework." In 1998, the American Association of University Women Education Foundation released its own report, declaring that there is "no evidence that single-sex education is better than coeducation." The verdict on single-sex public education, it seemed, was in.

Fast-forward to 2002, when President Bush signed the federal No Child Left Behind Act into law. Along with other major changes to state-funded education, the new legislation gave public schools more flexibility in offering single-sex programs. Unfortunately, the measure failed to explain how they could do so without violating Title IX. Last August, the American Civil Liberties Union won the latest in a series of lawsuits against single-sex public schools in a district where, it argued, children were given no other choice.

Whitney Ransome, co-executive director of the National Coalition of Girls' Schools, says it is difficult to assess the value of single-sex schools. "We know from decades and decades -- some of these girls' schools are a hundred or more years old -- that girls' schools expect the best from their students, expect them to achieve, and expect them to be participants in the nontraditional subjects," she says. "The generations of accomplished women who attend those schools are the best evidence that singlesex education can be a powerful and life-changing experience."

Ransome points to well-known public, diverse, all-girls success stories such as Baltimore's Western High School, founded in 1844, which boasted a 100 percent college placement last year, and the Philadelphia High School for Girls, established nearly 200 years ago, which counts among its graduates a federal judge, an opera singer, the first female bishop in the Episcopal Church, and the first female head of the Black Panthers.

Ransome emphasizes that single-sex education isn't for everybody but says that, for those who choose it, single-sex classrooms allow girls to "hold onto their childhoods a little longer" and attain a level of confidence not commonly seen in girl graduates of coed programs.

Ilana DeBare, cofounder of the private Julia Morgan School for Girls, in Oakland, California, and the author of Where Girls Come First: The Rise, Fall, and Surprising Revival of Girls' Schools, says that though girls can thrive in coed classrooms at younger ages, once puberty sets in they quickly begin to lose their confidence.

"In middle school, that's when the girls suffer," says DeBare. "It's like, 'OK, you used to be this great student, and now you have to be Britney Spears. You have to be smart, but not too smart. You have to be sexy, but you also have to be smart.' That's when they really start to fall behind."

Until recently, the movement advocating public single-sex education consisted mainly of people such as Ransome and DeBar -- girls' advocates steeped in books like Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls and Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls, by researchers Myra and David Sadker. But the last decade has seen the rise of a new voice, perhaps best embodied by doctor and psychologist Leonard Sax, author of Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences. Sax is the leading -- or at least most popularized -- voice to promote the idea that girls' and boys' brains work differently and should thus be catered to in distinct ways in the classroom.

Boys don't hear as well as girls, says Sax, which causes them to act out, especially from the back of the class, where it's hardest to hear the teacher. Girls are hardwired to articulate emotion more easily, he adds, while boys are quicker to understand spatial relations. Books like Hear Our Cry: Boys in Crisis and The War Against Boys, sounding uncannily like the girl-empowerment treatises of a decade ago, argue that coed schools actually discourage boys from selfconfidence and success, and that problems such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) are often the result of a classroom that refuses to let boys be boys.

There's a certain, unmistakable irony here: Women, who for so long argued that single-sex education is the best way to downplay gender roles, find themselves sharing the stage with men and women who say it's exactly those gender roles that justify single-sex education.

For single-sex-education opponents, books like Why Gender Matters are Exhibit A in the case against the movement. Sax's science, they maintain, is nascent at best, and hardly a foundation for school reform. Moreover, to them, any program founded on set ideas of masculinity and femininity is both a violation of Title IX and a threat to students' long-term success.

Elisabeth Woody, the California researcher, says that the single-sex classrooms she observed often failed to give equal educations to boys and girls and, at least as worryingly, gave broad license to districts and teachers to decide what, exactly, a boy's or girl's education should look like.

"While girls were taught they had broad choices in life, they were also applauded for being feminine and being concerned about their appearance," said Woody and her team in a report released at the end of the two-year pilot project. "Boys were told they should be able to cry but, conversely, were told to be strong men and take care of their wives. In most cases, traditional gender role stereotypes were reinforced, and gender was portrayed in an essentialist manner."

Emily Martin, deputy director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, says that though single-sex education may be just the ticket for some kids, the risks far outweigh the benefits. "When you segregate groups of people based on a characteristic, you give enhanced importance to that characteristic," says Martin. "And the very act of putting boys in one class and girls in another encourages students to rely on differences in gender, to inflate the gender difference in their minds."

It's here that the critics of single-sex education begin to sound like opponents of another kind of separation: the racial and economic segregation in American public schools documented by Savage Inequalities author Jonathan Kozol and others. The de facto segregation Kozol describes has created tangible -- and tragic -- inequalities between white and minority students, and between poor students and affluent ones. By comparison, the debate over single-sex education can't help but seem a bit less grave. Still, the arguments draw from each other and, to a great extent, account for the position the ACLU takes on the subject. Any kind of segregation, Martin argues, undermines diversity and the ability of diverse groups to work together.

"Given that we are preparing boys and girls to be men and women who work together, it's even more important for boys and girls to learn from each other, to be allowed to complement each other in the classroom," she adds.

What's more, critics say, single-sex schools such as the 49ers Academy and the Philadelphia High School for Girls might owe their success to any number of factors: smaller class sizes, specialized teachers, and a higher public profile, which often brings extra revenue. The 49ers Academy allows only twenty students per class. Baltimore's Western High School, says Martin, "has been around for 150 years and has a great reputation in the city. You have to apply to get in. I don't argue for a second that that isn't a great, successful school and that it is churning out empowered young women, but that's a very hard school to replicate in districts across the country."

It remains to be seen whether the federal government has successfully shown public schools how to institute single-sex programs without violating Title IX, at least in spirit. But for some of those on the ground, like girls'-school founder Ilana DeBare, if a school works, we should learn from it.

Recognizing gender differences in learning styles, DeBare says, can help schools implement a kind of affirmative action, giving boys and girls special encouragement in areas they typically lag in. "There are genuine differences between men and women, but that doesn't mean the differences are deterministic of everything," she adds. "I think the similarities far outweigh the differences. But there are times when we can also use those differences to help everyone."

Amy Standen is a former contributing editor to Edutopia. She reports on science and the environment for KQED-FM, in San Francisco. Edutopia is published by the George Lucas Educational Foundation

In the formation of Small School Learning Communities on our large campuses - high school but really mostly middle school - maybe we should consider twin single gender schools in the mix? – smf

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Saturday, February 10, 2007


Thought I would pass along (to 4LAKids) a paper I wrote for a UCLA grad school of ed course I took on NCLB. It's my view on NCLB but also the views of many others about its reauthorization.


Scott Phelps
Member of the Board of Education,
Pasadena Unified School District
• Former Director, Science, Engineering and Technology Academy, John Muir H. S.
Professor, Astronomy and Physics,
Citrus College and University of La Verne
Faculty Advisor,
Claremont Graduate University and Mt. St. Mary's College, Teacher Education programs

FROM THE CONCLUSION: The problem is with the whole premise of NCLB. Business-style accountability remains a largely unproven method of improving educational outcomes. Scores on independent measures of student achievement have shown little to no improvement. More low-income and minority students are dropping out, and more teachers (often the best ones) are leaving the profession. Life outcomes cannot be said to have improved either as the percentage of people living without health insurance has increased, the percentage of people living in poverty has increased, the distribution of wealth has become more concentrated amongst the few, etc.

Despite the record of lack of success in K-12, the reauthorization of NCLB simply calls for more accountability and more parental choice. This heavy focus on the belief in the power of business-style accountability and parental choice to affect change is far too narrow to adequately address the complexities of education and human motivation. Very few parents take advantage of the choice option of NCLB, and very few seats are available anyway in the higher-performing schools of large urban districts.

The only reason I can see that the current administration doesn’t focus on the enormous disparities in

(a) teacher quality and state and local spending between school districts serving the greatest number of minority kids and those serving the fewest ,
(b) Title I spending across the states and ,
(c) family income that the administration doesn’t want public schools to succeed.

It wants to privatize them.

Revising NCLB

Scott Phelps

Introduction: faulty premises

The false premise of this law is evident even in its name. Calling a law “No Child Left Behind” that applies only to schools implies that children are left behind by schools. It is a masterful framing of the issue that leaves no place for all the many factors we know that correlate with low academic achievement, things like family income, mother’s education level, ethnicity, location of the school (inner city or suburb), etc. By ignoring the factors that are well known to correlate with the issue, the law sets up schools to fail. In fact, the first US Secretary of Education in charge of enforcing the law, Rod Paige, declared “We are not going to fund failing schools.”1 He gave this response when asked how the US Department of Education planned to scale up small successes to the whole nation. In other words, the fundamental design was to punish schools that were not performing. How would that “Leave No Child Behind?” Well, the law includes provisions that allow parents to transfer their children from lower performing schools to higher performing schools. There are a few problems with that though. One is that the vast majority of parents of students in lower performing schools do not avail themselves of that option. For example, during the 2003-04 school year only approximately 38,000 students across the U. S. took advantage of this option. 2 Further, when given the chance to choose, parents do not choose schools based on achievement scores alone. Their decisions also factor in things like the school attendance area that they live in, the convenience of the commute, where their kids’ friends are, where they went to school as kids themselves, the sports or music programs, etc. Secondly, no provisions were made to expand the capacities of the higher performing schools which were of course over subscribed. By designing a law to punish lower performing schools without effective provisions for giving their studies better options, the law reveals its underlying purpose: To erode support for public education rather than help public education improve.

The real agenda: privatization

The history of the government’s failure to fully fund the law is another indictment of its true purpose. Over its history, only 60% of the funding authorized under Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has been provided, with the current fiscal year’s funding of Title I being 50% of the authorized amount.3 If a law were truly designed to leave no child behind it would be fully funded. Quite recent actions of the current US Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, reveal the underlying agenda. She recently announced that the President would ask Congress to provide $100 million to provide students across the country the opportunity to attend private schools called “Opportunity Scholarships,”4 building on the $14 million that Congress is already spending on such “scholarships” for the students in Washington, D. C. They are in fact vouchers of public money to be used for students to attend private schools. What is wrong with that you might say? Well, her announcement came just one week after the results of a major study were released by her department. This study5 indicated that there is no appreciable academic achievement benefit (as measured by their scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, the so-called “Nation’s Report Card”) for poor children when they attend private schools or charter schools. The study looked at some 6,000-7,000 public schools and 500-600 private schools and found no significant difference in the achievement gap for public and private school students. Poorer kids still score lower than richer kids by roughly the same amount regardless of what kind of school they attend. One would think that such a definitive result would cause the government to reexamine the fundamental premise of the law, i.e., that some schools are the ones leaving some children behind. Nope, the next week, Secretary Spellings announces a plan to use public funds so that more poor kids can attend private schools! Further evidence for the law's real goal is found in the government’s response to the damage done to schools by Katrina. Rather than helping the schools rebuild, the government proposed providing vouchers for the students to attend private schools.6 What is remarkable about the government’s pushing of vouchers is that there is no evidence that they work. Examples exist in this county and internationally that document the failure of vouchers to ameliorate the achievement gap. In one glaring large scale example, after 10 years of trying them New Zealand had to repair the damage from them because the conditions in the schools that the native Maori kids had to go to were so substandard.7 This is of course eerily familiar with the conditions in our inner city schools.

Furthering segregation

Since the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision that outlawed legal segregation, U. S. courts in various areas have required school districts to racially integrate their schools, often by forced bussing. This led to the flight of white and more affluent families from districts that had significant minority populations. Today, the schools of the country are very segregated.8 NCLB promotes further segregation by measuring schools on the test scores of each significant subgroup in the school. The fewer subgroups a school has, the fewer number of goals the school has to meet. Hence the law makes it easier for more racially homogeneous schools and harder for more racially heterogeneous schools to avoid being labeled “failing.”9 As more racially heterogeneous schools get labeled “failing” more affluent parents, who are by correlation more white parents, take their children to more racially homogeneous schools that are not labeled “failing.” Segregation thus increases.

A non-partisan view

The Center on Education Policy is a national independent advocate for public education and for more effective public schools. As part of their mission to “help citizens make sense of the conflicting opinions and perceptions about public education and create the conditions that will lead to better public schools” CEP has issued a report called, “Ten Big Effects of the No Child Left Behind Act on Public Schools.”10 The ten effects are as follows:

1. Test scores are rising.

2. More time is being spent on reading and math, but “71% of districts are reducing time on other subjects.” Almost 100% of high poverty districts require a specific amount of time each day for reading in elementary schools.

3. Increased use of test data is driving greater alignment of curriculum and instruction with standards and tests.

4. In schools not making AYP for 5 consecutive years, the requirement that they be “restructured” under NCLB has been met with increased efforts to improve curriculum, quality of staff, and leadership, but very few state takeovers or re-forming of regular schools into charter schools.

5. 88% of districts had all of their core academic teachers “highly qualified” under NCLB by the target date of June 30, 2006.

6. Students are taking a lot more tests.

7. Schools are paying more attention to the achievement of traditionally underperforming students such as low income, ethnic minority, English language learners and special education students.

8. The percent of schools on “needs improvement” (schools not making AYP for at least 2 years) has leveled off to about 10% of all schools.

9. The federal government is playing a larger role in education.

10. NCLB has elements of an unfunded mandate. 36 of 50 states reported lacking sufficient staff to implement NCLB’s requirements. 80% of districts reported absorbing costs such as administration of tests, attending to “needs improvement” schools and monitoring the highly qualified status of teachers. Federal money has stagnated so that in 2005-2006, two-thirds of districts received no increase or lost money from the government compared with 2004-2005.

California School Boards Association view

In the California School Boards Association Winter 2006 “California Schools” magazine,11 an article lists five basic problems with NCLB:

1. NCLB requires 95% student participation for every subgroup, although in some states like California parents can opt out and districts have little control over participation because of absences. There is no positive or negative incentive for parents and children to take the test.

2. AYP is based on meeting a threshold of success on one test. Multiple measures are needed, such as California’s growth model.

3. AYP sanctions can be for one subgroup at the school while all others pass, and AYP does not reflect where the school started out.

4. All students are expected to perform equally with no provisions for special education students or English language learners for example.

5. NCLB is an unfunded mandate. In 2005-2006 Title I funds from the Federal Government were $12.7 billion while $20.5 billion was authorized.

National School Boards Association view

The National School Boards Association has formulated nine recommendations for fixing NCLB. 12 These are as follows:

1. Students with Limited English Proficiency – Districts can use alternate assessments or individualized measurements of progress based on making specific gains toward meeting state standards and determining AYP for up to 3 years.

2. Students with Disabilities – IEP teams will determine whether alternate assessments are appropriate for individual students with the parents’ consent. Test scores from alternate assessments can be counted as proficient toward AYP so long as the number of students counted this way does not exceed 3% of all test takers.

3. Multiple Assessments – States will have the option to count the higher score achieved by a student who is assessed more than once on the same content prior to the start of the next school year for AYP.

4. Growth Measures – States will credit schools for the progress students make from one year to the next on meeting state standards when determining AYP.

5. Multiple Subgroups – Students belonging to multiple subgroups will be counted in each subgroup as an equal fraction totaling one student toward AYP.

6. Same Subgroup – Schools and districts will apply sanctions only when the same subgroup fails to make AYP in the same subject or indicator for 2 consecutive years or more.

7. Aligned Sanctions with Need – Specific sanctions, i.e., restructuring, will be better aligned with a need for school-wide improvement interventions.

8. Aligned Sanctions with Needs – School choice and Supplementation Education Services (SES) sanctions will be available only to those students that belonged to a subgroup and failed to make AYP and were themselves unable to make AYP.

9. Aligned Specific Sanctions with Funding – States will delay implementation of restructuring schools or districts in years when Title I Funds are not increased by at least $2.5 billion and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funds are not consistent with the authorized levels in the 2004 reauthorized IDEA.

House Resolution 5709

NSBA has worked with Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) and supports his bill, House Resolution 5709, the “No Child Left Behind Improvement Act of 2006.” The act consists of 40 provisions affecting NCLB. It was introduced by Representative Young in the House of Representatives on June 28, 2006. The legislation is grouped into four areas. The first area is measuring Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The second is state flexibility granted by the US Department of Education. The third is implementing sanctions. While the first three areas generally reflect the ideas contained in the 9 NSBA recommendations above, the fourth area is unique, and applies to Title I students in nonpublic schools.: “The bill authorizes students enrolled in non-public (private) schools who receive Title I services to be given the same assessments as public school students; and gives states the option to withhold Title I support to the non-public schools if their Title I students do not make AYP and perform at lower levels than their counterparts in the area’s public schools for three years or more.”13 This section would do more to change the debate than any other single thing. As the major study referred to earlier shows (see References number 5), the achievement gap is just as prevalent in private schools, yet they currently escape blame and sanctions for this while at the same time receiving Title I funds because they don’t have to take the state tests that public schools have to take. In short they have less accountability than public schools do for the use of their Title I funds. If they were required to take the same tests as public schools, their inherent public relations advantage would cease for they would show the same achievement gap (again see References number 5). Given the power of wealthy private schools via their supporters’ influence over politicians, this section is unlikely to be retained in any reauthorization bill.

System validity problems

There are many validity problems with the system that NCLB has created. These have been well documented by the directors of UCLA’s National Center for Research on Evaluation Standards and Student Testing (CRESST).14 They looked at the state’s progress towards meeting NCLB’s goals and noted the following three main problems.

Choose your own testing difficulty

Review of 46 States showed a large variation in the percentage of schools making AYP on state tests even within the same general geographic area. For example, 23% of Alabama and Florida schools made AYP in 2004 while over 70% of North Carolina and Mississippi schools did and more than 90% of Louisiana and Texas schools did. When the NAEP scores of these states are looked at, this wide variation cannot be explained by variable student performance as in 2005, none of these six states exceeded 30% proficient or above in NAEP fourth grade reading and the total range on this test was much narrower, only 12 percentage points (18% to 30%).

Choose your own proficiency levels

States have reacted in primarily three ways to NCLB’s mandate of 100% proficiency by 2014. Four states have chosen straight-line trajectories. 19 States have chosen trajectories that have straight lines with plateaus, or stair-step trajectories. 24 States including California chose back loaded stair-step trajectories, where only modest straight line increases are required in early years and much larger gains in later years.

Choose your own subgroup sizes

States get to choose the number (N) of students required to create a subgroup that then has to meet AYP. Seven states selected between 5 and 20 students as the minimum size while the majority of the rest selected N’s between 30-40 students. This problem has surfaced in news articles in the last couple years.15

The nature of assessment

One large criticism of NCLB is that it relies exclusively on the states’ use of multiple-choice tests that measure student performance but do not assist with the improvement of student learning. Why is that, you may ask? At the 2005 CRESST conference in a session on learning from the history of assessment, all four of the presenters agreed that formative assessments that support learning require money. 16 In the early 1990’s the United States attempted to develop performance assessments, “Tasks that were worth doing in their own right,” for example, California’s Golden State exams. However, two factors apparently contributed to their demise and the United States returned to primarily multiple-choice tests. One is that performance assessments are more expensive. Another is that ideologies such as concepts of fixed intelligence have gotten in the way. The presenters recommended developing assessments for learning, not just assessments of learning.

Recent developments

Changes in Supplementary Educational Services (SES) are proposed

The US Department of Education Inspector General has issued a report in November of 2006 recommending that the money for SES should be allocated in a changed way to focus on academic proficiency rather than family income and has listed four recommendations in their report. In response, the National School Board Association has reiterated its four recommendations about usage of SES. 17

Business-style measures are proposed

The National Center for Education and the Economy (NCEE) new commission on the skills of the American work force has released a report called, “Tough Choices or Tough Times” on December 19, 2006.18 They recommend a complete overhaul of the United States education system and list 11 recommendations:

1. States should assume control over local school budgets.

2. Schools should be operated by independent contractors.

3. Local district office staff would write performance contracts with independent contractors.

4. Schools would have complete discretion over their budgets, staffing schedules, organization, and management.

5. More money should be given for schools that have disadvantaged students using a state uniform pupil-weighted formula so that they could stay open longer and provide more services.

6. There should be high quality education for all 3 and 4 year olds.

7. Veteran teacher salaries should be raised to $100,000 and beginning teacher salaries should be set at $45,000. In exchange, teacher’s pension systems should be replaced with 401k plans.

8. Teachers should be employed by the state with a state-wide salary schedule. The goal is that teachers should come from the top one-third of high school graduates not from the bottom one-third as is the case now.

9. States should create new teacher development agencies to recruit, train, and certify teachers.

10. New standards, tests, and curriculums should be created for the 21st century that includes things like creativity, innovation, and ability to work on a team.

11. Students should leave high school after passing new state exams in the 10th grade.

The Bush Administration’s Blueprint for Reauthorizing NCLB: The cup is getting fuller?

In January of 2007, the U. S. Department of Education (ED) released its blueprint for the reauthorization of NCLB. The entire twenty-page document as well as shorter fact sheets can be found on the department’s website.19 In an indication of the effect that multiple-choice testing has on increasing the basic skills nature of curricula, the blueprint boasts of the success of NCLB in raising achievement and closing gaps on the NAEP test, but mostly only for 4th graders: “The long-term Nation's Report Card (NAEP) results, released in July 2005, showed elementary school student achievement in reading and math at all-time highs and the achievement gap closing:

* For America's nine-year-olds in reading, more progress was made in five years than in the previous 28 combined.

* America's nine-year-olds posted the best scores in reading (since 1971) and math (since 1973) in the history of the report. America's 13-year-olds earned the highest math scores the test ever recorded.

* Reading and math scores for African American and Hispanic nine-year-olds reached an all-time high.

* Math scores for African American and Hispanic 13-year-olds reached an all-time high.

* Achievement gaps in reading and math between white and African American nine-year-olds and between white and Hispanic nine-year-olds are at an all-time low.”

Interestingly and in apparent contradiction, a 2006 Condition of Education report by a politically independent section of ED20 noted that

“*The percentage of fourth-graders performing at or above proficient increased between 1992 and 2005 by 2 percent.”

“*Achievement gaps in reading, from the first assessment in 1992 to 2005, between white and black and white and Hispanic fourth- and eighth-graders have shown little measurable progress.”

Further statements about the ineffectiveness of NCLB in raising achievement and closing achievement gaps can be found in a report issued by The Civil Rights Project in June 2006,21 whose key findings were that

“NCLB did not have a significant impact on improving achievement across the nation and states. Based on the NAEP results, the national average achievement remains flat in reading and grows at the same pace in math after NCLB than before.”

“NCLB has not helped the nation and states significantly narrow the achievement gap. The racial and socioeconomic achievement gap in the NAEP reading and math achievement persists after NCLB.”

“NCLB’s attempt to scale up the alleged success of states that adopted test-driven accountability policy prior to NCLB, so-called first generation accountability states (e. g., Florida, North Carolina, Texas) did not work. . . Moreover, both first and second generation states failed to narrow NAEP reading and math achievement gaps after NCLB.”

In the blueprint, the core ideas of NCLB remain intact and some increased flexibility has been included. As referenced earlier in this paper, however, the blueprint calls for the use of more vouchers to allow public school students to attend private schools. The new Democratic majority in Congress has reacted negatively to this idea.22

Alternatives to NCLB

Although NCLB is fundamentally punitive in nature, some accountability is of course necessary. FairTest, a nonprofit organization, is collaborating with folks across the U. S. to develop new models of accountability. They have come up with the following ten principles23 for such a model:

1. Shared vision and goals

2. Adequate resources used well.

3. Participation and democracy.

4. Prioritizing goals.

5. Multiple forms of evidence.

6. Inclusion.

7. Improvement.

8. Equity.

9. Balance bottom-up and top-down.

10. Interventions.

Of course all of these are explained in detail in the referenced book, which is highly recommended.


As one can see from the above, the problem is with the whole premise of NCLB. Business-style accountability remains a largely unproven method of improving educational outcomes, despite now over twenty years of its pre-eminence if one goes back to the origin of the accountability movement in the 1980’s. Scores on independent measures of student achievement, such as the so-called Nation’s Report Card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), have shown little to no improvement, for example, in closing the achievement gap in this time period.24 More low-income and minority students are dropping out, and more teachers (often the best ones) are leaving the profession.25 Life outcomes cannot be said to have improved either, as the percentage of people living without health insurance has increased, the percentage of people living in poverty has increased, the distribution of wealth has become more concentrated amongst the few, etc.

Despite the record of lack of success in K-12 education under business-style accountability, the reauthorization of NCLB simply calls for more accountability and more parental choice. This heavy focus on the belief in the power of business-style accountability and parental choice to affect change is far too narrow to adequately address the complexities of education and human motivation. It is well known, for example, that school achievement is most powerfully related to family income,26 and the large government study referenced earlier shows that private schools and charter schools don’t do better with students from low-income families.. Further, as stated above very few parents take advantage of the choice option of NCLB, and very few seats are available anyway in the higher-performing schools of large urban districts.27 So the results of choice, the frequency of choice and the availability of choice all point to the ineffectiveness of such a proposition (choice), and yet the administration keeps proposing it. One has to wonder why, which brings one full circle back to the introductory sections. The only reason I can see that the current administration doesn’t focus on the enormous disparities in (a) teacher quality and state and local spending between school districts serving the greatest number of minority kids and those serving the fewest ,28 (b) Title I spending across the states29 and (c) family income is that the administration doesn’t want public schools to succeed. It wants to privatize them.30


1. From a talk given by then Secretary Paige at the JFK School of Government at Harvard University. A video of the talk was viewed on local public television by the author of this paper.
2. See
3. From “NSBA Campaign to Restore Federal Funding for American’s Schoolchildren,” see
4. See
5. Report released on the web on
July 14, 2006 at “Private schools are no better than public schools; Federal study finds private schools lose their edge when student characteristics are taken into account,” NSBA’s School Board News, Volume 26, Number 12, August 8, 2006. Further published as “School Sector and Academic Achievement: A Multilevel Analysis of NAEP Mathematics Data,” in American Research Journal, Winter 2006, Vol. 43, No. 4, pp. 651-698.
6. “After Katrina, Bush pushes school vouchers,” Christian Century, October 18, 2005.
7. “Limits Of Vouchers Exposed Not All Students Can Switch To Private Schools. What Happens To Those Left Behind?” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 25, 2000.
8. For example, according to a study by the California Teacher’s Association, 96 percent of the students in the lowest-performing schools were members of ethnic minorities. In contrast, 71 percent of the students in the top-performing schools were white. From The California Educator, May 2001, Volume Five, Issue 8, p. 7.
9. Many Children Left Behind, How the No Child Left Behind Act is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools, by Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn, Linda Darling-Hammond, Theodore R. Sizer, George Wood and others. Beacon Press, Boston, 2004. Pages 5 and 12.
10. “Ten Big Effects of the No Child Left Behind Act on Public Schools.” Center on Education Policy, Washington, D. C., November 2006.
11. California School Boards Association, California Schools, Winter 2006, pp. 36-44.
12. National School Boards Association, Campaign for Co-Sponsors, H. R. 5709, No Child Left Behind Improvements Act of 2006, An Action Plan for Local School Board Members, July 24, 2006, pp. 11-28.
13. Congressional Record, Vol. 152, No. 86, June 28, 2006.
14. “Chickens Come Home to Roost,” CRESST Line, Fall 2005, pages 1, 3, 7, and 8.
15. “AYP Rules Miss Many in Special Ed.; More Students Left Out of Accountability Ratings,” Education Week, published September 21, 2005, for example.
16. “Testing to Inform Learning,” CRESST Line, Fall 2005, pages 4-6.
17. “Federal report proposes changes in supplemental services,” NSBA’s School Board News, Volume 26, Number 21, December 26, 2006, page 3.
18. “Panel proposes overhaul of education system,” NSBA’s School Board News, Volume 26, Number 21,December 26, 2006, page 1.
20. “A Snapshot of the State of U. S. Education,” The Washington Post, November 21, 2006. Full report is available at
21. “Tracking Achievement Gaps and Assessing the Impact of NCLB on the Gaps: An In-depth Look into National and State Reading and Math Outcome Trends,” by Jaekyung Lee. The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, June 2006.
22. “Bush pushes voucher proposal over Democrats' objection ,” posted
1/24/07 at
23. Reference number 9 pp. 104-113.
24. See reference number 20, for example.
25. Reference number 9 page 86.

26. See reference number 9 page xix and page 59, for example.
27. See reference number 9 pp. 103-104, for example.
28. “Yes We Can, Telling Truths and Dispelling Myths About Race and Education in America,” The Education Trust, September 2006, page 7.
30. See reference number 9 pages 71, 84-91, for example.

Friday, February 09, 2007


By Ann Bradley – EdWeek


Five jurisdictions “flunked out” of our survey due to lack of information: Los Angeles County, California; the City of Cleveland, Ohio; New York City; the State of Florida; and the City of Boston, Massachusetts. The missing information varied depending on the jurisdiction:

Los Angeles County, CA. CSPI was told that that Los Angeles County schools only perform monthly “self-inspections” and are not inspected on a regular basis, only in response to a complaint. Those cafeteria inspection reports that were found online were not performed by or in conjunction with the health department.

Making the Grade: An analysis of food safety in school cafeterias

by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (Jan ’07) – page 4

February 7, 2007 - Conditions in the nation’s school cafeterias could trigger outbreaks of food poisoning at any time, the Center for Science in the Public Interest warned last week in a report. The Washington-based consumer-advocacy group analyzed inspection reports from high school cafeterias in 20 jurisdictions and rated them on the rigor and frequency of their food-safety inspections and the ease of access to the results of the inspections.

Most of the 29 million meals served in school cafeterias each day are nutritious and safe, but some school districts and local governments aren’t conducting frequent enough inspections or using up-to-date food-safety standards, leaving students at risk of food poisoning, the report says.

Young children in particular face a higher risk of complications from infections caused by e. coli, salmonella, and other potentially deadly food-borne pathogens, it says.

Federal food-safety standards call for cafeterias to be inspected twice a year.

District of Columbia school cafeterias ranked among the worst, with a “failing” score. Schools in Fort Worth, Texas, had the highest score in the study.


CSPA Press Release: New CSPI Report Finds School Districts Lagging in Food Safety

January 30, 2007 - WASHINGTON—Conditions in America’s school cafeterias could trigger potentially disastrous outbreaks of food poisoning at any time, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which ranks food service operations in a new report released today. Most of the 29 million meals served in the nation’s school cafeterias each day are nutritious and safe, but some school districts and governments aren’t inspecting school cafeterias frequently enough or are using out-of-date food safety standards, leaving students at risk of food poisoning. Younger children in particular face a higher risk of complications from infections caused by E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and other potentially deadly foodborne pathogens.

In “Making the Grade,” CSPI analyzed inspection reports from high school cafeterias in 20 jurisdictions across the country and then rated those jurisdictions on the rigor of food-safety inspections, frequency of inspections, and ease of access to the results of cafeteria inspections. Some inspection reports documented unacceptable conditions such as roaches, both dead and alive; rodent droppings; and improper food storage and handling techniques.

“Cities, counties, and school districts shouldn’t wait until a major outbreak of Hepatitis A, E. coli, or Salmonella forces them to update their food codes and ramp up inspections,” said Ken Kelly, food safety attorney for CSPI and lead author of the report. “Regrettably, many school cafeterias may be just one meal away from an outbreak.”

Of the 20 jurisdictions evaluated, Hartford, Conn., received the lowest score, 37 out of a possible 100. Hartford had the highest number of critical violations, including multiple cases of dirty equipment and utensils, inadequate hand-washing facilities, and poor personnel hygiene. Hartford also had infrequent inspections (on average, one per year, violating the federal requirements for two inspections), poor access to inspection reports, and a weak food code. Other jurisdictions with failing scores include the District of Columbia, with the lowest inspection frequency; Rhode Island; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Hillsborough (includes Tampa) and Dade (includes Miami) counties in Florida. Montgomery County, Md., barely passed, as it has the most outdated food code.

Fort Worth, Texas, had the best food safety score, with a score of 80 out of 100. Other top performers overall were King County, Wash. (includes Seattle); Houston; and Denver, Colo. Fort Worth; Maricopa County, Ariz. (includes Phoenix); Farmington Valley Health District, Conn.; Fulton County, Ga. (includes Atlanta); Hillsborough County; and Minneapolis scored well in inspection frequency (even though it failed overall). Maricopa County and Virginia also earned top scores for access to inspection information.

CSPI’s Outbreak Alert! database has documented more than 11,000 cases of foodborne illnesses associated with schools between 1990 and 2004. Just one outbreak can have devastating consequences on the health of students, productivity in the classroom, and even on school district’s finances. In 2003, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld a $4.6 million verdict against a school district after 11 children were sickened from E. coli linked to ground beef in tacos.

The most common pathogens responsible for school outbreaks include E. coli, Clostridium perfringens, Norovirus, and Salmonella, according to CSPI’s database. Infections from Norovirus and Hepatitis A are often linked to infected food handlers and other critical violations in school cafeterias. Salmonella, which is common on raw poultry, can spread to fresh produce if those foods are stored too closely together. If not cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, hamburgers and other foods containing ground beef can harbor E. coli.

To protect school children from food poisoning, CSPI recommends the following measures:

• State and local governments should adopt up-to-date safety standards and receive adequate funding to ensure compliance with federal inspection regulations outlined in the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004.

• Schools should request timely inspections, employ certified food handlers, and use the best food safety procedures.

• Parents should monitor conditions in their child’s cafeteria and advocate for optimal food safety policies.

CSPI’s complete report, “Making the Grade,” is on the web at

Report: Managers fall short in Philadelphia schools

Their costlier 5-year gains lag the district’s.
, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

4LAKids notes: There are parallels with Philadelphia's privately run public schools and charter schools in LA and California - but one would jump to dangerous conclusions in equating the two. Nonetheless there are also parallels with the attack and defense terminology of reform: When public schools underperform they are 'failures', when restructured schools underperform there are 'problems with the data'.

I'm sorry, but to continue a course of action where
"there is no evidence to make us think there are going to be positive results in the future" is to embrace failure and make it one's own.

Thu, Feb. 01, 2007 - The Philadelphia School District's privately run schools - the largest experiment of its kind in the country - have failed to deliver higher test scores than the district despite costing an extra $90 million, a study released today says.

The analysis compared how district students performed on state and national tests during the last five years with students at the 41 schools run by the six private managers, including for-profit Edison Schools Inc.

"There's no evidence to proceed with the model of private management of schools, as is, that we have here in Philadelphia," said Jolley Bruce Christman of the Philadelphia-based Research for Action, one of two groups that wrote the study, the first substantial look at the district's private-management model since it began in 2002.

"There may be real advantages or benefits that parents can see that are not related to the standardized test scores that we looked at," Christman added. "But in terms of a blanket continuation of this model, I don't see evidence that that should happen."

Instead, 21 "restructured" schools that got additional math and reading time, teacher coaches, and other special attention while remaining under district management emerged as the best performers, the study found.

The report, also written by the Rand Corp. and funded in part by the Annenberg and William Penn Foundations, has touched off yet another debate - locally and nationally - over the effectiveness of privatization in public schools.

Proponents argued that the district's overall progress resulted from the competition generated by hiring private managers - although the study's authors said they had found no proof that competition mattered.

"It was the introduction of change that caused all schools to rise," asserted Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, a proponent of charter schools and school choice.

Critics, however, cited the findings as further evidence that an $18 million annual cost has not produced the revolutionary results that some of the companies had said were possible.

"To me, it's a romance that just hasn't worked. It's not that they're doing worse, but they don't seem to be doing better, and they cost more. That's a serious challenge, particularly for a district that is facing a deficit," said Henry M. Levin, director of Columbia University's National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education.

Helen Gym, who has complained about increasing class sizes and cutbacks at her daughter's school, Powel in West Philadelphia, urged the districts School Reform Commission to heed the results.

"Anyone who is standing up and defending these private contracts can't be doing it for educational reasons," she said. "It's been five years, and they're not really defensible anymore. My daughter and her school are suffering for it."

But others, including district leaders, said the private managers couldn't be expected to do better than the district when they had been given some of the worst-performing schools.

"I don't think that's fair, because these were the worst schools. There was a determination by the commonwealth that in the worst-achieving schools they wanted to see new ways of approaching things, and that's exactly what happened," said James Nevels, chairman of the School Reform Commission, the district's governing body, which commissioned the study.

The findings come as the commission is poised to decide whether to continue, modify or scrap the model, considered by many the core of its reform plan. The five-year contracts expire this summer. The private operators get $450 and $750 more per student than the district funds its schools.

A decision could come as early as March as the district, which has struggled with a deficit in recent months and still faces a $20 million gap, prepares its next budget. Two other studies, which are looking at measures besides standardized-test scores, are expected out in the next month.

"That study does not dictate what we're going to do," Nevels said. "Its results are information to use in our decision."

Nevels said the district also would consider other measures as it takes a comprehensive look at the schools run by the providers - Edison, for-profit Victory Schools, Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, Universal Cos. and Foundations, Inc. It also will consider giving some successful managers more autonomy, including more say in selecting staff and educational programming.

Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive officer, cited Edison-run Shaw Middle School in West Philadelphia as a strong performer.

"You can't look at this monolithically," he said. "There are some that are clearly struggling, and there are some that are doing better."

Many of the schools had improved test scores over the five years, but did not outpace the district's overall gains. The report singled out two managers for poorer performance: Temple in math and reading and Victory in math.

Educators, parents and officials from both bristled at the finding.

"I don't believe the report," said parent Jeffery Smith, president of the Home and School Association at Duckrey School, which is near Temple's North Philadelphia campus. "It seems like every time a school gets something that's helping our students excel, they want to take it away."

Duckrey principal David Baugh said Temple had provided literacy coaches, writing centers and teacher training, among other benefits. He also cited test-score growth at the four schools managed by Temple. The percentage of students proficient in math has risen from 5.1 percent in 2002 to 35.3 percent in 2006. Reading scores increased from 9.8 percent to 24.2 percent, he said.

Benjamin Wright, who heads Victory's Philadelphia operation, said the company had begun using a new math program and had to train teachers.

"It will take us another three years to completely transform these schools and hand them back to the district. If we're not renewed..., the reforms we put in place here will be for naught. It's that simple," he said.

As the commission decides, it will have to weigh input from the legislature, which has earmarked $25 million each year to be spent on the six managers and other outside-management efforts. If the district cuts the managers, it could lose the funding.

"The conversation needs to occur on how to best use those resources," Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak said. "I won't make a blanket judgment. The report indicates that introducing competition might not be worth the additional expenditure per student, but this is only one form of analysis. We look forward to working with the reform commission in Philadelphia to more fully evaluate the effects of private management."

John Chubb, Edison's chief education officer, criticized the study, saying it failed to recognize the positive effects of competition, among other shortcomings. He said last night that Edison, which runs 20 of the schools, would challenge Rand and Research for Action to a public debate on the report.

"The district is much better than it used to be," he said. "All schools are better off. This should be viewed as a win-win."

But Brian Gill, a senior researcher with Rand, said there was no reason to believe the managers would exceed the district's growth in the future. He said there was no evidence to "make us think there are going to be positive results in the future."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

CA Supreme Court says "No thanks" on AB 1381

Feb 7 - 4LAKidsNews - The Supreme Court denied the Mayor's Petition to Transfer today - apparently they don't think the case is as important or urgent as we all do!

This means that the case continues on an expedited schedule in the Court of Appeal; the case will be heard there on April 2nd.

According to a one line posting in the Supreme Court of California Conference Results for 2/7/2007, posted on the Supreme Court website ( on 2/7/2007: The petition to transfer (to skip the court of appeal and have the case heard directly by the Supreme Court on an expedited basis) in MENDOZA, ET AL v. STATE OF CALIFORNIA – where the Superior Court threw out AB 1381 giving the Mayor of Los Angeles governance authority over LAUSD [case # S149380 CA# B195835] is DENIED. - smf

UPDATE: High court denies quick ruling on L.A. Unified takeover

By Maura Dolan, LA Times Staff Writer

February 8, 2007 - The California Supreme Court refused Wednesday to immediately review a ruling that has prevented Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa from taking partial control of the Los Angeles school district.

The state high court's decision means the school district's challenge of mayoral control will remain before the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles. That court will hear arguments in early April and probably decide the case 30 to 60 days later.

Villaraigosa had sought to bypass the appeals court in hopes of expediting the case and winning a ruling that would uphold a state law giving him significant authority over schools. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs struck down the law in December.

The state high court rarely takes cases until they have been argued before an intermediate appeals court.

Fred Woocher, a lawyer for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said the district did not oppose state high court review but was "definitely not upset" about the delay. The eventual ruling by the appeals court is expected to be challenged, and the Supreme Court will have to decide once again whether to review the case.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


by William J. Bushaw in The School Administrator: The Journal of the American Association of School Administrators - February 2007

“We were amazed, as we are every year, at the public’s ability to separate myth from reality and arrive at accurate assessments of their public schools.”

“This year six of 10 Americans say NCLB is either hurting or making no difference in their community’s schools. That this reality is being ignored makes it likely that NCLB, for all its bright promise, will lead to limited gains and may actually do harm to our schools.”

Congressional Republicans last summer proposed spending $100 million in federal funds on vouchers that could be used by low-income students in “failing” schools to attend private and parochial schools. “When schools don’t work, parents must have other opportunities,” U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced at a press conference to show her support.

But whether the premise that “schools don’t work” has widespread merit — and many would argue otherwise — those supposed “other opportunities” don’t seem to rank very high on the public’s wish list.

This is just the latest example of our nation’s policymakers embracing an education policy that is not backed by the public and is unsupported by research, including studies directed by the same education commissioner and the U.S. Department of Education.


We at PDK International also were busy in July, poring over the data from the latest Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. We were amazed, as we are every year, at the public’s ability to separate myth from reality and arrive at accurate assessments of their public schools.

When asked how to improve public education in America, seven of 10 Americans said “reform the existing public school system” rather than “find an alternative system.” Spellings’ public offering of other opportunities doesn’t command much interest. Five of 10 Americans graded their community schools with an A or a B, and these high marks rise even higher the closer respondents are to the schools. It seems the public and particularly public school parents aren’t ready to buy the notion that schools don’t work.

Further, over last three years, the PDK/Gallup poll documents that the American public increasingly opposes the use of vouchers for children to attend private schools. We find ourselves wondering why the public understands this while our leaders in Washington, D.C., do not.

Added to this disconnection between policymakers and the public is the unfolding tragedy of the No Child Left Behind Act. Praiseworthy goals are encased in an implementation plan so ill-conceived that the public overwhelmingly rejects every strategy used.

Even more damning, this year six of 10 Americans say NCLB is either hurting or making no difference in their community’s schools. That this reality is being ignored makes it likely that NCLB, for all its bright promise, will lead to limited gains and may actually do harm to our schools.

Just days before the voucher press conference, the U.S. Department of Education released a study it had commissioned that concluded students in public schools generally outperform their counterparts in private schools. The study, conducted by the Educational Testing Service, affirmed the findings of an earlier report highlighted in the May 2005 issue of the Phi Delta Kappan titled “A New Look at Public and Private Schools: Student Background in Mathematics Achievement” by Sarah Theule Lubienski and Christopher Lubienski.

The department not only delayed the release of its study, but it distributed the study late on a Friday afternoon, along with the added caveat that the study was of “only modest utility.” In other words, the study did not support vouchers.


I wish the policymakers in Washington would acknowledge that the American public likes its community schools and that the key to helping our nation’s schools get even better is to develop policies that build on this existing base of public support.

For example, eight of 10 Americans believe that preschool programs for children from low-income households would help them perform better in school as teenagers. Two of three Americans go even further by indicating their willingness to pay more taxes to fund preschool programs for at-risk children. So rather than offer policies like vouchers that feature “other opportunities” but are not supported by the public or by research, why can’t we spend $100 million to fund high-quality preschool programs that the public supports, that research has proven effective and that address the core issue behind NCLB, the achievement gap?

There clearly is a failure in America. But it is a failure of political leadership, not of the public schools. Certainly, we need better schools, and the achievement gap is a serious threat to our society and our economy. The public understands this threat and is prepared to support change through the existing system of public schools.

The support local schools enjoy provides a sound base from which to begin that effort. But our political leaders ignore the public’s desires, inflict punitive strategies on the public schools and promote alternatives that lack public support. While this approach persists, the worthy goal of meeting the educational needs of every child will remain beyond reach and too many of our children will still be left behind.

William Bushaw is executive director of PDK International, The Professional Association in Education - E-mail:


Conclusions of the 38th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes
toward the Public Schools:

· CONCLUSION I. The public’s strong preference is to seek improvement through the existing public schools. Policies shaped with this fact in mind are most likely to gain public approval.

· CONCLUSION II. Public ratings of the local schools are near the top of their 38-year range.

· CONCLUSION III. The closer people get to the schools in the community, the higher the grades they give them.

· CONCLUSION IV. Policies at the state and federal levels that build on the assumption that local schools have a high approval rating are likely to gain public support.

· CONCLUSION V. Gaining public support for school improvement will be more likely if proposals are based on the schools in the community and not on the nation’s schools.

· CONCLUSION VI. There has been no decline in public support for public schools. Approval ratings remain high and remarkably stable.

· CONCLUSION VII. Support for vouchers is declining and stands in the mid-30% range.

· CONCLUSION VIII. Those who would implement the charter school concept should ensure that the public has a clear understanding of the nature of such schools.

· CONCLUSION IX. There is near-consensus support for the belief that the problems the public schools face result from societal issues and not from the quality of schooling.

· CONCLUSION X. The public is aware of the link between adequate funding and effective schooling and understands that current funding levels are a challenge for schools.

· CONCLUSION XI. The public’s preference is that the local school board make decisions about what the schools teach. Of those favoring decisions at the state or federal level, two-thirds opt for the state.

· CONCLUSION XII. There is still majority support for at least the current level of testing, although there has been a shift toward the belief that there is “too much testing.”

· CONCLUSION XIII. Large and growing numbers see the emphasis on testing translating into “teaching to the test,” and those saying that doing so is a “bad thing” are nearing consensus.

· CONCLUSION XIV. The support for using a graduate qualifying exam to determine whether a student receives a diploma is strong.

· CONCLUSION XV. There is near consensus that closing the achievement gap is of great importance and that it is unnecessary to sacrifice high standards to do it.

· CONCLUSION XVI. The public attributes the gap to factors other than the quality of schooling but still concludes that it is the responsibility of the schools to close it.

· CONCLUSION XVII. The public belief that preschool programs for children from poverty-level homes will help them to perform better in school when they are teens is apparently so strong that the public expresses a willingness to pay higher taxes to support such programs.

· CONCLUSION XVIII. The public is divided on the question of revising the curriculum to meet today’s needs.

· CONCLUSION XIX. There is majority support for a curriculum that includes a broad range of courses.

· CONCLUSION XX. There is majority support for a college-preparatory program for all students.

· CONCLUSION XXI. There is strong support for a curriculum that requires all students to take four years of math, with at least two years of algebra.

· CONCLUSION XXII. The fact that the public assigns such high importance to each of the six reasons* why teachers leave the profession in the first five years suggests that the initial step in attracting more high-quality teachers should be an effort to make the job more attractive to those who have already entered the profession.

[*six reasons: Lack of support from parents (96%), lack of support from administrators (93%), poor working conditions in the public schools (92%) lack of respect for the teaching profession (89%), low teacher salaries (88%), and lack of appropriate teacher training (84%)]

· CONCLUSION XXIII. Based on years of data from this poll, it would be a mistake to interpret the public’s assessment as indicating dissatisfaction with the current teacher corps. On the contrary, whenever polled, the public expresses great confidence in our teachers.

· CONCLUSION XXIV. The public does not believe that students in their local schools work hard enough in school or on homework outside of school.

· CONCLUSION XXV. The public is divided on the matter of extending the time spent in school.

· CONCLUSION XXVI. Extending the school day by one hour draws impressive support, although one must wonder if it is based on the need for more schooling or the desire to have kids supervised for an additional hour.

· CONCLUSION XXVII. Almost half of the respondents believe they are knowledgeable about NCLB, while just over half believe they know little or nothing about the law. Those who believe they know enough to express an opinion are also divided between viewing the law favorably and unfavorably.

· CONCLUSION XXVIII. That seven out of 10 of those professing knowledge of NCLB believe it is either making no difference in the local schools or hurting them is troubling. Because the effort to comply with NCLB is driving instruction in most schools and dominating efforts to improve achievement, the concerns of such a large proportion of the public need to be addressed.

· CONCLUSION XXIX. A public that rejects the strategies used to implement NCLB is unlikely to provide the support needed if the law is to work. Common sense would call for changes to align NCLB more closely with the public’s views.

· CONCLUSION XXX. Given that half of the public still considers itself uninformed on NCLB and one-third are unwilling to express an opinion, there is still time to make the changes that might bring support for the law.

· CONCLUSION XXXI. The responses of those who claim knowledge of the law bear out this poll’s 2003 conclusion that greater familiarity with NCLB was unlikely to increase public support.

· CONCLUSION XXXII. Public uncertainty about NCLB and, in particular, its strategies, has created a situation in which those who blame the schools for failing to make AYP hold only a small margin over those who would blame the law. Among those professing knowledge of the law, the assignment of blame is still more evenly split.

COMPLETE REPORT: The 38th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools by Lowell C. Rose and Alec M. Gallup