PEN Weekly NewsBlast for September 30, 2005

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Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2005 23:03:08 -0700

Public Education Network Weekly NewsBlast
"Public Involvement. Public Education. Public Benefit."
After analyzing National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test
data from 25 states, three prominent education researchers have determined
that there is no consistent link between the pressure to score high on a
state-mandated exam and that state's student performance on the NAEP.
Sharon L. Nichols, the study's lead author, concluded: "A rapidly growing
body of research evidence on the harmful effects of high-stakes testing,
along with no reliable evidence of improved performance by students on
NAEP tests of achievement, suggests that we need a moratorium in public
education on the use of high-stakes testing."

WHY COLLABORATION BETWEEN CITIES AND SCHOOLS IS THE KEY TO REFORM City and school officials clearly agree that the fortunes of our cities and our schools are closely linked. Perhaps even more striking is the extent to which municipal and school leaders also agree on many of the key challenges that lie ahead for our public schools. More than half of city officials and school board members -- and an overwhelming majority of school administrators -- highlight difficulties in hiring and keeping good teachers and lack of parental involvement as critical challenges. Even larger majorities of school administrators and school board members cite the achievement gaps between different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups as an important challenge, and more than half of municipal leaders share this view. Finally, at least three of four respondents in all three groups express concern that lack of funding is a major or moderate challenge for their school systems. These broad areas of agreement give city and school leaders a singular opportunity to forge partnerships and collaborations that drive future progress. To take advantage of this opportunity, city and school officials must move from a shared understanding of the problems to a common agenda and plan of action with shared accountability for results. The potential benefits of a collaborative effort to improve public schools are enormous. Mayors and city council members are in an excellent position to engage the public, raise awareness of critical needs, and marshal the political will to address them. School board members, superintendents, and other educators can contribute to these efforts and ensure, by virtue of their knowledge and expertise, that new initiatives are designed, targeted, and implemented effectively. Strong city-school partnerships can also address the social and economic conditions that so often hamper the achievement of our most vulnerable students.

When scientists announced last month they had determined the exact order
of all 3 billion bits of genetic code that go into making a chimpanzee, it
was no surprise that the sequence was more than 96 percent identical to
the human genome. Charles Darwin had deduced more than a century ago that
chimps were among humans' closest cousins, reports Rick Weiss and David
Brown. But decoding chimpanzees' DNA allowed scientists to do more than
just refine their estimates of how similar humans and chimps are. It let
them put the very theory of evolution to some tough new tests. Evolution's
repeated power to predict the unexpected goes a long way toward explaining
why so many scientists and others are practically apoplectic over the
recent decision by a Pennsylvania school board to treat evolution as an
unproven hypothesis, on par with "alternative" explanations such as
"intelligent design," the proposition that life as we know it could not
have arisen without the helping hand of some mysterious intelligent force.
They will make the case -- plain to most scientists, but poorly understood
by many others -- that alternatives to the theory of evolution, such as
intelligent design and creationism, are not scientific theories at all.

Teaching Evolution vs. Intelligent Design Theory

HUGS BEFORE HOMEWORK AT SCHOOL FOR STORM VICTIMS At Mayfair Elementary,, things are still a bit disorderly -- there are only two computers, and the makeshift offices are filled with constantly arriving boxes of materials -- but the school has become a bustling center of learning for nearly 200 children who need stability. "Our motto is to learn, laugh, and love again, and I think that's what's happening in my school," says Principal Jacqueline MacDonald, a powerhouse of energy and warmth who is the school's emotional center. Mayfair is one of two schools for Katrina evacuees in the East Baton Rouge Parish District, and part of a growing legion of efforts to help one subgroup of Katrina evacuees: children. Projects focus on everything from reopening schools and day care centers to creating "safe play areas" in shelters, organizing counseling, and fielding donations of books, lesson plans, and educational materials. For children still living in shelters, or dealing with the loss of their home, dispersal of their friends, and the destruction of their school, finding routine is key. "Homework is not a top priority; books are," says MacDonald. When one kindergartener can't stop crying, MacDonald gives him a bear hug. "When they come to us kicking and screaming, I just hold them," she explains. "That's what they need."

A federal judge has ordered the Chicago Public Schools to equalize how
much it spends on extra academic help for students in racially isolated
neighborhood schools versus special magnet programs not available to all
youngsters. "There needs to be more balance, if not a one-to-one parity,"
U.S. District Court Judge Charles P. Kocoras said. He then gave Chicago
school officials and U.S. Justice Department officials three weeks to
negotiate a specific dollar amount that would be redirected to aid
students in racially identifiable schools. In a key aspect of the ruling,
reports Lori Olszewski, Judge Kocoras agreed with federal attorneys who
contended Chicago had artificially inflated its desegregation efforts by
moving money it already plans to spend on at-risk children, for programs
such as pre-kindergarten and after-school activities, into this year's
$103 million desegregation budget. He said the school system's position
was "contrary to the modified consent decree, common sense and
reasonableness." Federal attorneys suggested in court documents that
Chicago may need to redirect as much as $17 million for new and extra
services, such as tutoring and after-school programs, to black and Latino
students in neighborhood schools. But Kocoras suggested the dollar amount
"probably is something less than that.",1,78206.story?coll=chi-education-hed

HOW SCHOOL DISTRICTS SPEND THEIR MONEY Nearly everyone in education knows how precious little discretionary spending truly goes on. But the way districts approach budgeting, budget cuts and searching for cost savings, are instructive for every district that's ever wanted to add programming but couldn't find the funds. Superintendents from across the country report that personnel costs account from anywhere from 75 percent to 85 percent of their annual budgets, a percentage that seems to creep up every year. After salaries and benefits, mandatory costs like insurance, transportation, utilities, maintenance and contracted services eat up the next largest chunk of most district budgets, generally accounting for up to 15 percent every year. In this article, Rebecca Sausner reports on approaches used by superintendents to trim seemingly fixed costs in order to find funds to address critical needs.

A prosperous, accomplished school district's dirty little secret is a
racial achievement gap that has been observed, acknowledged and left
uncorrected for decades. Now that pattern just may have to change under
the pressure of the federal No Child Left Behind law, writes Samuel
Freedman. One of the standard complaints about No Child Left Behind by its
critics in public education is that it punishes urban schools that are
chronically underfinanced and already contending with a concentration of
poor, nonwhite, bilingual and special-education pupils. Princeton could
hardly be more different. It is an Ivy League town with a minority
population of slightly more than 10 percent and per-student spending well
above the state average. The high school sends 94 percent of its graduates
to four-year colleges and offers 29 different Advanced Placement courses.
Over all, 98 percent of Princeton High School students exceed the math and
English standards required by No Child Left Behind. So is the problem with
the district, or is the problem with the law? A number of black parents
credit the federal law with forcing attention on the underside of public
education in Princeton. It requires all districts to reveal test results
and meet performance standards by various subgroups, including race.

Saratoga High is certainly a public school. But when its new $8.8 million
performing arts center opens this fall, it will be largely due to private
largess. Taxpayers provided only about 40 percent of the cost of the
center. The remaining 60 percent -- $5.5 million -- came from individual
donors. In Saratoga, Palo Alto and other affluent communities, public
school parents are financing facilities by mounting the sort of
multi-million-dollar fundraising drives more traditionally associated with
elite private schools. Increasingly, parents are overcoming their school
districts' limited means by tapping successful alumni, seeking gifts of
huge blocks of stock, and naming buildings after big donors. But their
success also raises an equity issue, reports Maya Suryaraman. "What
happens to kids in schools that can't raise those kinds of funds?" asked
Brian Lewis, executive director of the California Association of School
Business Officials. "For those who are able to find these entrepreneurial
solutions, good for them. But the challenge for us as a state is to work
toward providing these opportunities for all kids." There appears to be no
statewide data on private financing of public school projects. But
according to one expert, it is on the rise due to the state's fiscal
crisis and shrinking education budgets.

CHARITIES FEAR DRAIN ON GIVING While it is too early to tell what impact Hurricane Katrina will have on philanthropy, some Washington area nonprofits are concerned that corporations that have raised millions of dollars to help hurricane survivors may be forced to scale back their giving to other causes this year, just as the peak season for gala benefits and other charity events gets underway. Already this season, Hurricane Katrina has claimed one casualty among local charities. Last week, Joseph Robert Jr. said his organization, Fight for Children, shelved "Speak Easy," a gala dinner to raise money for scholarships for D.C. schoolchildren, because several major corporate sponsors were redirecting their philanthropic efforts to aid hurricane survivors. In years past, the event, formerly called "School Night," has raised upwards of $3 million. Philanthropy experts said that while fundraisers often worry that events such as Hurricane Katrina or even the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, will drain resources, most companies increase their charity budgets.

EDUCATORS UNHAPPY WITH STUDENTS WEARING PAJAMAS TO SCHOOL "Pajama Day" was once a novelty at school, the chance to be silly and wear attire usually reserved for the privacy of home. But these days many young people are wearing PJs in public, anytime and just about anywhere. Now pajamas are a fashion statement, with such retailers as Old Navy, Target and J.C. Penney offering myriad styles for adults, teens and preteens. The trend isn't popular with everyone, though. School officials from Houston County, Georgia, to Katy, Texas, to Southfield, Michigan, to Bakersfield, California, have banned pajama-wearing at school.

Dress Codes School Uniforms and Dress Codes, Culture, Sexual and Social Politics
Fashion and Slumming it. Why have School Dress Codes?

AS TEST SCORES JUMP, RALEIGH CREDITS INTEGRATION BY INCOME Over the last decade, black and Hispanic students in Wake County (NC) have made such dramatic strides in standardized reading and math tests that it has caught the attention of education experts around the country. The main reason for the students' dramatic improvement, say officials and parents in the county, which includes Raleigh and its sprawling suburbs, is that the district has made a concerted effort to integrate the schools economically. Since 2000, school officials have used income as a prime factor in assigning students to schools, with the goal of limiting the proportion of low-income students in any school to no more than 40 percent. The effort is the most ambitious in the country to create economically diverse public schools, and it is the most successful, according to several independent experts. In Wake County, only 40 percent of black students in grades three through eight scored at grade level on state tests a decade ago. Last spring, 80 percent did. Hispanic students have made similar strides. Overall, 91 percent of students in those grades scored at grade level in the spring, up from 79 percent 10 years ago. Some experts said the academic results in Wake County were particularly significant because they bolstered research that showed low-income students did best when they attended middle-class schools. Some parents chafe at the length of their children's bus rides or at what they see as social engineering, writes Alan Finder. But the test results are hard to dispute, proponents of economic integration say, as is the broad appeal of the school district, which has been growing by 5,000 students a year.

Pre-kindergarten vouchers in Florida have tested the resolve of educators
and policymakers who have traditionally opposed school choice initiatives.
 On the one hand, pre-k vouchers are tuition certificates that allow
parents to send their children to private schools, including sectarian
institutions.  Voucher opponents claim that such policies reduce diversity
and the quality of peer interactions, because parents' tend to choose
schools that enroll similar families.  Alternative policies that minimize
parent decision-making may better reduce segregation by race, class,
language or social and moral values.  On the other hand, Florida is
expanding the early learning opportunities available to disadvantaged
families.  Very few other states have even addressed this problem, because
early childhood education has traditionally been considered a private
activity, governed by parents and protected from state interference.
Opponents of choice have been forced to ask, do the ends of this
particular program justify its means?  A new paper by Shana
Kennedy-Salchow addresses this question.  The paper employs four criteria
--freedom of choice, equity, productive efficiency, and social cohesion --
to analyze the regulation, finance and social services provisions of the
Florida pre-k program.  The paper concludes that an efficient allocation
of early learning opportunities will occur.  But, the large disparities
that exist between different social and economic classes will not be
addressed.   Policymakers must decide whether this is an adequate

A new WestEd book details the turnaround approaches that are preparing
more students for college -- disadvantaged students who wouldn't get there
otherwise. Jordan Horowitz and his research team followed 28 high schools,
once labeled as California's lowest-performing, to uncover the formulas
teachers used to rescue their students -- and themselves -- from expected
failure. Full of concrete examples, transferable techniques, and insider
advice that only experience brings, Horowitz offers real-life solutions to
the common problems plaguing high schools across the country. Click the
link below to view, "Top Ten Tips for Improving High Schools."

A new textbook, aimed at teaching public high school students about the
Bible while avoiding legal and religious disputes, has been released. The
nonprofit Bible Literacy Project of Fairfax, Virginia, spent five years
and $2 million developing "The Bible and Its Influence." The textbook,
introduced at a Washington news conference, won initial endorsements from
experts in literature, religion and church-state law. American Jewish
Congress attorney Marc Stern said despite concern over growing tensions
among U.S. religious groups, "this book is proof that the despair is
premature, that it is possible to acknowledge and respect deep religious
differences and yet still find common ground." Barry Lynn, executive
director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, takes
another view. "I don't think the Constitution prohibits the use of this
textbook, but I have real doubts about the wisdom of this approach," he
says. "At this time in America, it's better to simply talk about religious
influences when they come up during the study of literature, art, and
history, and not take the text of one religious tradition and treat it
with special deference." Mr. Lynn also worries that individual teachers
might go beyond the text itself and "spin it in ways that may well violate
the Constitution."

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