Tag: Houston Chronicle


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The Daily Read


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Commentary and thinking inside all around the dropout nation (updates and new stories marked with an *): Homeschooling: Not just for Fundamentalist Christians anymore: Although the number of black families…

By homeschooling his children, Paul Cotton is taking control of the educational -- and ultimately, social and economic -- destinies of his children, making their lives better. Not every parent can -- or even should -- homeschool. But every parent, including black parents, can be more pushy and active in charting the educational course of the lives of their children. Do it. (Photo courtesy of the Houston Chronicle.)

By homeschooling his children, Paul Cotton is taking control of the educational -- and ultimately, social and economic -- destinies of his children, making their lives better. Not every parent can -- or even should -- homeschool. But every parent, including black parents, can be more pushy and active in charting the educational course of the lives of their children. Do it. (Photo courtesy of the Houston Chronicle.)

Commentary and thinking inside all around the dropout nation (updates and new stories marked with an *):

  • Homeschooling: Not just for Fundamentalist Christians anymore: Although the number of black families engaged in homeschooling is still a smidgen of the overall population — a mere 220,000, according to the National Home Education Research Institute (and more likely, a little less than that, if one looks at the 1999 National Center for Educational Statistics data), it has become a choice for middle-class families not too cool with how public schools treat racial minorities, according to the Houston Chronicle. If so, this marks another sea-change in how groups that have been traditionally allied with traditional public education are viewing the status quo.
  • Parental engagement? We need more of it!: And they need to be pushy about it to boot, declares Lord Adonis, Britain’s education minister. If the nation is going to get rid of the most substandard of its public schools, it will be up to parents to eschew those places and head toward with better academic performance. For months, the rival of –and likely successor to — Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Conservative Party leader David Cameron, has been arguing that line. Now, imagine U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings saying the same thing. Can’t. Proves my point: It will take more federal and state school officials embracing more active parental involvement before parents will dare get themselves entangled in battles with teachers and administrators over the direction of the schools to which parents send their kids.
  • Speaking of substandard: The Spring Branch Independent School District in Houston may join Dallas Independent schools in watering down standards; this time, the school board appointed a committee looking into limiting the amount of homework given to students, reports the Houston Chronicle. Why? The poor children are being stressed out. Actually, it’s the suburban parents of the district who are stressed out by actually having to be parents. Again, like the battle against standardized testing, which has suburbanites allied with teachers’ unions and suburban school districts against urban districts and school reformers on both the left and right, this is another lifestyle argument that has little to do with actually dealing with the reality that suburban school districts are often doing no better in elevating the academic performance of the children in their care than urban counterparts.
  • Attempting to keep them in school: Fifty percent of students in Muskegon High School in Michigan drop out, thus making the school a major dropout factory outside of Detroit. So the school district is looking at ways to stem the tide, according to the Muskegon Chronicle. One move: Hire specialists such as Chandar Ricks to focus on getting kids back in school and keeping the at-risk students inside. This is an approach that has been taken by districts such as Indianapolis Public Schools earlier in the decade, with smattering of success. And although it is a good move on the district’s part to do this, it must also look at the long-term curriculum and instruction issues that are among the underlying causes of students leaving before they graduate high school.
  • A new relationship with teachers’ unions: Ever since the Progressive Policy Institute’s school reform efforts in the 1990s (then led by Eduwonk’s Andy Rotherham), centrist Democrats and a new generation of black leaders in the party have viewed the arguments made by teachers unions more skeptically than the rest of the base. Now that big-city mayors such as Chicago’s Richard Daley and Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C., are taking control of traditional public school districts, the unions are getting even less sympathy. This, along with the development of groups such as Joe Williams’ Democrats For Education Reform and primary victories by its supporters — including Denver’s Jared Polis — is making things less comfortable for the AFT and NEA. Mickey Kaus finally realizes this while in Denver during coverage of a Democratic convention shindig. (Hat tip to Joanne Jacobs).

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There is no public school choice


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The parents of some 260,000 Texas school students will not learn whether their child will be allowed to move from the poor-performing schools they currently attend to better ones as…

The parents of some 260,000 Texas school students will not learn whether their child will be allowed to move from the poor-performing schools they currently attend to better ones as allowed under the No Child Left Behind Act until, October, a month after the beginning of the school year, according to the Houston Chronicle. Not surprising, advocates for those parents are a tad steamed. They should be: The Texas Education Agency, for one, was fined by the federal government three years ago for failing to give parents timely notice about their school choice options.

The latest delayed notification once again spotlights one of the realities of public education: Public school choice doesn’t truly exist, especially for parents of children attending the worst of America’s traditional schools.

Opponents of public charter schools and other forms of school choice generally argue that there is plenty of choice within the traditional public school district in which one resides. At least, that is the theory, especially as magnet schools and other programs have sprouted up in response to those calls for options. No Child’s public choice provision is also cited by choice opponents as an example of public school options.

The choices, however, must be high-quality in order for parents to exercise them; the better-performing campuses can’t just be marginally better than the other dropout factories and academic failure assembly lines in the district. The reality, as I’ve noted over the years while covering the 11 school districts in Indianapolis, is that this isn’t the case. Considering that the label “dropout factory” can — and should — be applied to entire school districts such as Baltimore, Indianapolis Public Schools and Detroit, one can’t help but agree that few parents have little of quality from which to choose.

Even if there are high quality schools and programs,  parents and students must go through gatekeepers — in the form of teachers and guidance counselors — in order to get into them. And depending on the parent’s relationship with those gatekeepers — and more importantly, how that child is perceived by them — these kids may never get the chance to exercise their academic potential. This can be seen in the low numbers of black students participating in AP courses and in the very classes at the elementary- and middle-school levels that prepare them to get into them. As noted by Christopher McGinley, the former superintendent of Pennsylvania’s Cheltenham School district and now the head of the school district in Lower Merion, school districts don’t help middle-class black parents — many of whom are the first in their generation to reach such status –in getting the information they need to make the choices needed to get their kids on that path.

Just as important in the choice question is the ability to use the options in a timely manner with no delay. As seen in Texas (and in Indiana, where similar delays have ocurred), few parents get the information they need in a timely manner; this despite the fact that both district- and state-level officials know which laggard schools will land on the Adequate Yearly Progress list long before all the processing is completed. By the time parents get the information, it’s either summertime — when no one is thinking about schools — or at the beginning of the school year, when plans have already been made.

Before all this, they must know they have choices in the first place. Justin Bathon and Terry Spradlin of Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy reported in a study released last year that such lack of notice — the problem at the heart of the Texas imbroglio — is widespread. Fifty-eight of school districts failed to timely notify parents of their choice options during the 2005-06 school year, according to the General Accountability Office. No wonder why just one percent of the 3.9 million children eligible for school choice options under No Child actually exercised them.

This lack of real public school choice is especially galling when one realizes that state governments, on average, now provide nearly half of all school funding — and in cases such as California and Indiana, the percentage is even greater. State governments can, if they so choose, actually create public school options that stretch across an entire state, allowing parents and children to choose good schools that are still close to their neighborhoods — or, if they choose, make the commute to a better school in the next district. As school data systems become more longitudinal, the concept of dollars actually following the child can truly become a reality, ending the kind of segregation that limits choice.

But this will take a willingness on the part of reform-minded policymakers, school reform advocates and chambers of commerce to spar with suburban school districts and the parents who send their children to those schools. Although those districts can be just as academically inadequate as their urban peers, their problems aren’t as easy to see; public school choice could expose those flaws even more than No Child’s AYP provision already have. And from the perspective of suburban parents, they have already exercised school choice and thus, care little about those who cannot. Essentially the “I got mine, get yours” mentality at work.

This also means battling teachers unions, who don’t want their urban district rank-and-file to lose their jobs. Public school choice, if exercised widely, would also be a verdict on the instruction given by those teachers who are not as good at the jobs as others. And urban districts, of course, wouldn’t be too fond of this either.

Until real options are made a reality, public school choice is more of a fantasy in the minds of those defending the status quo than for the parents and children stuck with little option at all.

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The Read


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What is going on inside — and outside — the dropout nation. Updated throughout the day: Surprise, surprise: Poor black and other minority students in Texas are less likely to…

What is going on inside — and outside — the dropout nation. Updated throughout the day:

    1. Surprise, surprise: Poor black and other minority students in Texas are less likely to get highly-qualified teachers than students of all races in wealthier parts of the state, reports Gary Scharrar of the Houston Chronicle.
    2. Spend, spend, spend: The Wall Street Journal looks at spending by the national operations of the NEA and AFT. Given that teachers generally don’t have much choice but to join the unions — either on their own or agency fees that they pay even if they aren’t members — it is important to think about how the NEA and AFT spends the money of its rank-and-file. Especially — and more importantly — as the state and local affiliates lobby state legislators and policymakers for more favorable governance rules.
    3. Mike Antonucci has his own thoughts.
    4. Liam Julian on Affirmative Action: “Affirmative action hasn’t just somehow changed, somehow morphed, into a policy by which privileged whites can expiate past wrongs and rid themselves of guilt… These are what affirmative action has, in fact, always been about.” Credit Kevin Carey for this discussion.
    5. Is education devalued by rhetoric: So asks Mike Petrilli at Flypaper in a discussion about why education doesn’t always grab the attention of the average voter as other issues do. From where I sit, the problem lies in the reality that education is one of the few government goods everyone uses and therefore, each person thinks their experience is the norm. Suburban students who graduate from school, make it to college and succeed in the workforce, therefore, have difficulty understanding why their counterparts in urban schools don’t do so. Or why their parents keep them in those schools in the first place. Thus adding to the difficulty of selling the value of concepts such as vouchers and charters schools to suburbanites. And proving the point that people only know what they see and don’t care about what they don’t.
    6. Of course, it doesn’t help that some people think schools aren’t the problem: Just read the declaration of the Broader, Bolder Coalition, which proclaims that poor-performing schools aren’t the problem. Then read this polemic by Michael Holzman of the Schott Foundation for Public Education — who just oversaw the release of its latest annual report on low graduation rates for young black men — in which he declares that such schools are the problem. One of these folks knows better. The others, well, ignore most of the problem, thus weakening their argument altogether.
    7. Speaking of Schott: Joanne Jacobs offers some thoughts on the report, while commenters offer their own explanations for the academic woes of black males.
    8. In charts: Ken DeRosa explains the correlations between school spending and academic performance.
    9. Suburbia and School Reform, Part MMM: Chicago Public Radio takes a look at one effort to start a charter school in a suburban community — and why the effort is not taking hold. Until suburban parents recognize that their schools are often no better than some average-performing urban high schools, they will not embrace reform.
    10. Self-promotion, as always: The real reason why so many Americans aren’t reaping the benefits of free trade and globalization can be seen not in NAFTA, but in L.A.’s Hollywood High School and other schools in which academic failure has become the norm. Check it out today at The American Spectator.

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