Michigan Schools To Close Early Due To Mayan Apocalypse

Michigan Schools To Close Early Due To
Mayan Apocalypse ‘Rumors,’ Threats Of Violence

More than 30 Michigan schools have closed two days early for the holiday break, in part, one official says, because of rumors surrounding the belief that the ancient Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world on Friday. Five districts — covering 33 schools in Lapeer county — will cancel all classes and extracurriculars until Jan. 7, 2013.

Friday, Dec. 21, 2012 is when one cycle of the ancient Mayan calendar ends, and some believe that ending indicates a looming apocalypse. According to a letter sent to families of Lapeer Community Schools, the Mayan doomsday scenario — coupled with “numerous rumors” circulating in the state’s districts about “potential threats of violence against students” following last week’s Connecticut school shooting –prompted officials to release students for vacation Wednesday instead of Friday.

Although the rumors of violence in Michigan “have been thoroughly investigated and determined to be false,” Lapeer Superintendent Matt Wandrie writes, the rumors have been a “serious distraction” to students and the community.

“Although we in the county are reluctant to cancel school because the rumors are unsubstantiated, we feel it is the most appropriate decision given the gravity of recent events and our present circumstances,” Wandrie wrote in his letter to Lapeer parents.

Schools in neighboring Genessee County were closed early also, in part due to a shooting threat. While the threat proved false, school officials told the Detroit News that they felt the appropriate decision was to cancel school, as the interruption would prevent them carrying on a normal school day. Some Detroit-area schools have planned increased patrols for Friday, WDIV reports.

Schools across the country are on high alert this week as after the Newtown attack. Districts nationwide have tightened security measures and increased campus patrols, and hypersensitivity to any unusual activity or perceived threats has already resulted in numerous lockdowns.



What $10 Million Means for Girls’ Education in Pakistan: Not Much

What $10 Million Means for Girls’ Education in Pakistan: Not Much
by Joelle Wyser-Pratte

While gender equality in Pakistan got a significant public relations boost with the announcement that the country’s government will put $10 million towards the education of girls, given how dire the situation is today (note the targeting of 14-year-old education advocate Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban for assassination a mere two months ago) this financial contribution will be meaningless if it isn’t backed up by serious policy changes that allow girls to attend class free of fear.

After a visit to Malala’s hospital in England, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari was alongside UNESCO in Paris to announce a new “Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education,” and to fund it with $10 million by the year 2015. No matter the reason — to score political points with the West, generate good public relations or because it’s simply the right thing to do — Zardari’s commitment is a good step, but that’s all it is.

UNESCO’s work on girls’ education is as outstanding as it is well-documented, and that is a hopeful sign.

However, despite a clause in Pakistan’s constitution that states education is a “fundamental right of every citizen,” the reality on the ground exposes just how hollow that clause is, particularly when it comes to girls.

• Nearly three-fourths of Pakistani girls are not in primary school, and that number is going in the wrong direction.

• When it comes to kids between six and 16, the number of children not in school rises to nearly 80 percent, and of the 20 percent that do attend, fewer than four in 10 are girls.

• Perhaps most disturbingly and importantly, there have been more than 1,500 schools bombed by the Taliban since 2008 — many of them in protest of the education of girls — putting up a huge roadblock in front of students who want to go to school.

As anthropologist Samar Minallah — who has worked on women’s rights — recently told the Christian Science Monitor, “A majority of the population in Pakistan wants to send their children to schools, but what is the state doing to enable a safer environment? Not much.”

And that’s exactly the point: Solving the gender equality problem in education will take far more than dollars being funneled directly toward getting girls into the classroom. It will take a cracking down on militants who believe that girls should not be in the classroom at all.

That’s a heavy lift for a country that has for years been rumored to be closely affiliated with the Taliban, even while serving as an ally to the U.S. in the war in Afghanistan.

And if you think the Taliban is just some small, renegade force in Pakistan with no influence over the public and its beliefs, consider that more than 300 Pakistanis recently showed up at a school named in Malala’s honor to protest it.

So is Zardari’s financial pledge a real jumpstart for gender equality in schools, or is it the callous use of an injured young advocate to score cheap political points with the international community?

Perhaps it is then appropriate that 2015 isn’t only the deadline for the $10 million, but it’s also the year that Pakistan has pledged to meet the goal of eliminating gender disparity at all levels of education.

Don’t be surprised if the government delivers the dollars, but doesn’t end the disparities.

Arming Teachers, School Cops Could Cause More Harm Than Good

Arming Teachers, School Cops Could Cause More Harm Than Good, Experts Say
by Matt Sledge

A nation shaken by Friday’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn., is wondering what to do to prevent future tragedies. Some gun rights advocates have suggested returning to a time-worn strategy in lieu of gun control: keeping up with the proliferation of arms outside the schoolhouse doors by arming those inside.

If the principal of Sandy Hook had been armed with an M-4 carbine, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) argued on “Fox News Sunday,” she could have stopped the tragedy crucial minutes before the police. She could have “take(n) his head off before he [could] kill those precious kids.”

It is an argument using the logic of what critics call the “maximum guns” school of thought about preventing violence at schools. Though schools rarely arm teachers themselves, armed police are a frequent sight inside many American schools. But school safety and child psychology experts surveyed by The Huffington Post said there is no guarantee that putting more guns in schools, even in the hands of trained police officers, will stop rampage killings — and that increased school security could come at the cost of children’s well-being.

While attempts at gun control have floundered since 1999, the year of the Columbine school shooting, the federal government has poured more than $811 million into hiring cops for schools. The number of police on campuses has ballooned from around 9,446 in 1997 to 17,000, according to a March 2010 policy brief from the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School.

The deadly and ever more popular assault rifles widely available for legal purchase, meanwhile, have prompted police to respond with higher-powered weapons of their own. In August, before a public outcry stopped the plan, police in Plainfield, Ill., proposed storing AR-15 assault rifles — similar to the type that Lanza used — in secure lockers inside high schools. It was a preventive measure, they said, against a “worst-case scenario.”

Bill Bond is one of the few who knows the school shooter scenario firsthand. He was the principal at Heath High School in Paducah, Ky., in 1997, when a 14-year-old opened fire on a student prayer group. Bond came out of his office to confront the gunman face-to-face. He said he has no doubts about how that day would have ended if he had done what Gohmert suggests.

The shooter “stood against a wall and shot eight kids and three of them died. That took 12 seconds. It is fast,” said Bond, who is now the specialist for school safety for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. If he had been running toward the shooter with a weapon in his hands, he believes, he would have been shot. “I was able to take the gun from him, but I believe if I had been armed, I would have been dead.”

When a former student killed seven people at a high school in Red Lake, Minn., in 2005, Bond noted, the first target he went for was the unarmed school security guard. And against a gunman with an arsenal like Lanza’s, Bond said, even a police officer with a handgun would have had little chance.

Many police officers, on the other hand, claim that while they might not be able to stop a determined shooter’s first bullet, they can minimize the scope of a tragedy. Their claims may be supported by the fact that Adam Lanza apparently killed himself, ending his rampage at Sandy Hook, only when he heard police were getting close to the school.

“You may not be able to stop the first [shot],” said Kevin Quinn, a school police officer who is president of the National Association of School Resource Officers. “Even in my own school, where I’m sitting in my office 50 feet from the first door, if someone broke in the front door and fired one shot, I can’t stop it.”

What cops can do though, he argued, is “attempt to minimize the damages, minimize the casualties … every second could mean several lives.”

In recent years, federal support for a program to put cops in schools has slipped. But it is not clear how the program could have prevented tragedies like the one in Newtown, as elementary schools are rarely a priority for strapped cities and towns. According to the Justice Department, over the lifetime of a federal program that supports local police hiring, only around 1 percent of the officers hired went to work in elementary schools.

Critics, meanwhile, say the loss of school policing programs are nothing to lament. In far too many schools, they say, cops have turned what should be places of learning into semi-militarized environments.

“Singular horrible events like this past week make us all upset, but if we look at the data, it doesn’t make sense that that’s where we need to beef up security in a very expensive way — not only financially but also at the cost of our children’s feeling of security,” said Kenneth Dodge, director of the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University.

Less than 2 percent of homicides committed against children happen at school, Dodge said. A November 2011 report by the Justice Policy Institute found little correlation between the number of cops at schools and the number of student-reported violent incidents. An article published in the Journal of School Health in 2011, reviewing 15 years of studies of metal detectors at schools, found that there was insufficient evidence to support the conclusion they made schools safer, but plenty to suggest they made students feel more unsafe.

The JPI report argued that police do have another, detrimental effect on the educational environment: They essentially turn every disciplinary offense into a potential crime. And the review of metal detectors found plenty to suggest that they create a climate of fear.

Metal detectors, police officers in hallways, and zero tolerance policies have “been a failure in that they make children anxious, they make schools less welcoming,” Dodge said.

Complicating the post-Newtown discussion around cops in schools is that police have said Lanza had “no connection” to Sandy Hook Elementary. He may have chosen to instead target a movie theater or a shopping mall — like the rampage killers in Aurora, Colo., or Portland, Ore. — to pursue his deadly ends.

To stop determined shooters from killing children anywhere, Dodge said, “we’d have to put fences up around our school parking lots, and we’d probably have to do the same around shopping malls and parks and everywhere kids go.”

That is not necessarily a bad idea, said Quinn of the school police officers’ association, who suggested there should be more police everywhere children congregate. “The way things are going now, it sure as heck couldn’t hurt,” he said.

But Dodge argued for a different path — one that looks at school safety as a consequence of the larger problems with violence in America. “Isn’t it more straightforward to just get rid of the guns?”

The Threshold of Revelation

The Threshold of Revelation
by Christian Clarke

I teach English at the Bronx Academy of Letters. It’s a small school and I’ve been there for eight years.

When I arrived the school was just two years old, a colt still getting its legs. But what a colt it was! Unlike the aging, sclerotic East New York middle schools where I began my career, Bronx Letters had inspiring leadership and young, bright teachers. It offered a sense of hope and was a place where dedicated teachers could see a splendid return on their investment of blood, sweat and tears.

Back then the theater program was palsied. The directors were working artists brought in from the outside. Rehearsals were poorly attended, the plays limply executed. Half the cast was still memorizing their parts on opening night and once the curtain went up, they mumbled their lines.

Vanessa Wingerath, a fellow teacher, and I wanted more for our kids. We wanted them to have a theater experience like we’d had in high school, so we set out to build the kind of program that, from time immemorial, has transformed outcasts and disaffected teens into life-long theater lovers.

We insisted kids come to rehearsal — and if they didn’t, we tracked them down, sometimes to their apartments, and dragged them to the auditorium. We put on shows befitting an “Academy of Letters.” Euripides! Albee! Shakespeare! And the kids loved it! Over four years, our program grew. Today we even attract that rarest of theatrical birds — boys. This season, for example, we’re doing Fences. One lead is the starting center for the boys’ basketball team. Another is a troubled kid who struggles with school. Both drop by my room every day to discuss the play. The first rehearsal is two months away.

Despite that success, this year there are moments when I’m lost and miserable and struggling with what it means to be an inner-city teacher. The pressures on schools have been relentless. After four years of budget cuts, resources are stripped to the bone. Class size is way up, we have more students with severe learning and emotional needs, and we lack the necessary support to help them. We’re told to more with less, but finding paper for the copiers is like trying to find bread in the Soviet Union. And always looming over our heads is the Damocletian sword of Standardized Tests.

For the first time I’d started to wonder if I can handle it, if I can go on teaching in the school I love but which is struggling against immense forces it can’t control. Had I lost my calling?

It was at this low point that I attended a Master Class offered by The Academy for Teachers, a new organization that brings inspiring experts together with teachers for Master Classes. The Academy is all about rejuvenating a teacher’s passion for the subject they teach and I’d joined its board because passion is a word we need to hear more these days. But I never dreamed how much I’d need of rejuvenating myself one day. I’d always had passion for my work.

Leading the class was Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of The Public Theater, New York’s legendary off-Broadway theater, the place that brings us Shakespeare in the Park each summer. The day’s topic was Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece. Eustis knows the play well. Not only had he commissioned it, he’d seen Kushner through many rewrites.

Eustis described how hard it was for Kushner to come to terms with the character of Louis, who abandons his lover Prior after Prior becomes ill with AIDS. Louis is tormented by his monstrous betrayal of the man he loves. In scene after scene over many drafts, Kushner had Louis either seeking punishment or forgiveness (or both) but always only at the “threshold of revelation.” How to get Louis across that threshold took Kushner years to figure out.

As I listened to Eustis, I saw my own situation. Wasn’t I like Louis? Wasn’t my school like Prior, a good man who’d become sick? What kind of teacher considers abandoning his students and the school he loves? Wasn’t I a phony, a coward?

Eustis grew animated as he recited the lines Kushner finally found for Louis: “Failing in love isn’t the same as not loving. It doesn’t let you off the hook, it doesn’t mean… you’re free to not love.” The words hung in the air as Eustis leaned back in his chair and ran his thick fingers through his hair. Then he said, so quietly we had to strain to hear him, “We have to forgive ourselves. Not because we’re supposed to feel good about ourselves, but because that’s how we dust ourselves off and get back in the game.”

And there it was, the revelation I desperately needed: Failing in love isn’t the same as not loving. I’d been wavering in my commitment to my job, but now the artistic director of the Public Theater was telling me that was okay, that my anguished doubt doesn’t mean I no longer loved my calling. Because I did. I do. But neither am I “free to not love.” Eustis and Kushner had led me across a threshold: I could forgive myself, dust myself off, and get back in the game.

State Chiefs to Examine Teacher Prep, Licensing

State Chiefs to Examine Teacher Prep, Licensing
By Stephen Sawchuk

Twenty-five state schools chiefs are vowing to take action to update their systems of teacher preparation and licensing, with an eye to ensuring teachers are ready the minute they take charge of their own classrooms.

The announcement Friday morning from the Council of Chief State School Officers is probably state officials’ most explicit promise to engage in changes to teacher preparation, and it comes as the latest sign that the topic is likely be a major focus of K-12 policymakers in 2013.

“Attention to teacher preparation is definitely growing at the state level,” said Sandi Jacobs, the managing director of state policy for the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, a group that tracks states’ teacher policies. “But it hasn’t yet reached the level of interest as other topics, like teacher evaluation.”

The participating state superintendents and commissioners of education are in: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia. They will implement recommendations in a report, also released Dec. 17, by a task force of the Washington-based CCSSO.

Among other measures, the report says that states should align certification requirementsRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader with the demands of college- and career-ready standards; develop performance assessments aligned to those new requirements; improve the process for approving teacher-preparation programs by raising colleges’ and programs’ entry requirements and acting on regular reviews to aid or shutter weak-performing ones; and provide better pre-K-20 achievement data to the programs to inform such efforts.

The paper doesn’t spell out what those policies should look like. The CCSSO plans to provide technical assistance, support, and guidance to the state chiefs as they audit their policies and determine how to make changes.

Janice Poda, the director of the CCSSO’S Strategic Initiative for the Education Workforce, said the task force concluded that reforms to certification are necessary because licensing no longer signals quality.

“The public does not have a lot of faith in licensure meaning that a teacher is qualified or effective. It’s lost its ability to communicate that a person is ready for the classroom,” she said. “We will raise the import of what it means. … It should be more than a completion of a set of courses.”
Many Actors

How quickly, and how radically, states can make the changes outlined in the report remains in question. The regulatory structure in each state differs, and state chiefs exercise varying degrees of control over licensure, certification, and preparation rules.

For instance, at least 11 states—California, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming—have an independent standards board that has direct authority over certification and/or preparation programs, according to the NCTQ. Other states have advisory bodies, or share authority among several entities.

“The regulatory landscape is quite varied across the states,” said Ms. Jacobs, who served on a separate committee that advised the task force. “There’s no one model for how the authority structures play out.”

Some state officials say they want to move quickly. Tennessee Commissioner Kevin Huffman said he wants his state’s board of education to pass new rules on teacher licensure and program approval by next summer.

“We do not have a rigorous performance-based bar” for teacher licensure, he said. “We have had a convoluted, bureaucratic bar, but not a rigorous one. I think we have it exactly backwards right now.”

In Iowa, state Director of Education Jason Glass said he sees the work as complementing policymakers’ goals of improving teacher pay and tying it to a career ladder, a priority for the next legislative session.

“It represents one part of a more comprehensive picture of what we have to do to improve educator quality,” he said.

While teacher-preparation policy has taken a back seat to other issues, the past few years have seen increased movement in statehouses and education departments:

• Louisiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina now all produce data for education programs based on the performance of their graduates.

• New York state plans to implement a performance-based licensure and recertification system.

• Indiana recently completed an aggressive overhaul of its certification rules, making it easier for teachers to enter through alternative routes.

• Michigan officials acted on accountability data to bar enrollments in certain certification areas at two underperforming teacher colleges, until they successfully strengthen their programming.

• A Kentucky overhaul of state licensing rules increased the minimum grade point average for entering candidates and added new student-teaching requirements.

• Officials of the Illinois board of education, over protests from some education schools, raised the bar on the state’s basic-skills exam for teachers and required candidates to achieve a minimum score on all four sections.

• Several states have added stand-alone tests of teachers’ ability to teach reading.

Next year will also see the publication of the NCTQ’s review of every college of education; the release of new regulations governing teacher-preparation accountability by the U.S. Department of Education; and the unveiling of new standards by the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

The task force that produced the CCSSO report included nine current or former state schools chiefs: Virginia Barry of New Hampshire; Mitchell Chester of Massachusetts; Terry Holliday of Kentucky; Tom Luna of Idaho; Judy Jeffrey, formerly a chief in Iowa; Christopher Koch of Illinois; Rick Melmer of South Dakota; Jim Rex, formerly a chief in South Carolina; and Melody Schopp of South Dakota.

It also included two members the National Governors Association and three from the National Association of State Boards of Education.

Is the Love Affair With Data Driven Public Policy Cooling Off?

Is the Love Affair With Data Driven Public Policy Cooling Off?
by Marc Epstein

The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)

When historians and political scientists look back on the first decade of this century I suspect they’ll spend a fair amount of time explaining why politicians, enamored of data driven “reforms,” bypassed the democratic process to achieve their goals.

If we’re lucky, they’ll also be explaining why these reforms failed so miserably.

It seems the give and take of the American political dialectic no longer works for them. In its stead when it comes to solving the pubic policy issues of our day the businessman-technocrat and politician are acting in unison. Their hallmark is a fundamental contempt for the intrusion of the democratic process. Computer models are now the handmaidens of public policy.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than at the crossroads where public education and law enforcement intersect. It is there that the misuse of data has created a Cloud cuckoo land that is slowly unraveling before our eyes.

For example, the New York Police Department claims that New York’s schools are the safest they’ve been over the past decade as a result of measures they’ve taken that includes metal detectors and a greater police presence in troubled schools. The NYCLU has filed a class-action lawsuit that seeks to make school discipline the province of educators rather than the police.

They claim that the 882 arrests and 1,666 summonses handed out to students in 2011-2012 demonstrate that placing police in schools is fatally flawed public policy.

Who’s right? Are there excessive arrests or has policing made the schools safer than ever? How should we account for the discrepancy? Are crimes stats dropping or is it a mirage?

According to a study conducted by Sharon Balmer for the National Center for Schools and communities at Fordham University (“When the schoolhouse feels like a jailhouse: Relationships between attendance, school environment, and violence in the NYC public schools”), an increased police presence in schools increased suspensions and police incidents and actually depressed attendance.

The truth is that school crime numbers have always been subject to manipulation because the school code of discipline as well as the criminal code can be applied for infractions in many situations. School officials fearful of having their schools branded as persistently dangerous are predisposed to letting the discipline code adjudicate the matter rather than having an arrest on the books.

Victims and their parents are often reluctant to press charges fearing recrimination from the perpetrator or should they be in the country illegally, which is often the case, getting involved with the criminal justice system. If they are injured they can seek a “safety transfer” and will flee a school for another location knowing that it’s impossible to remove the predator in their midst.

When you couple this policy with aggressive truancy enforcement by the police, you remove the main source of street crimes, kids between the ages of 15 and 18. But simply recycling these truants back into the schools without any sort of special intervention, almost guarantees more crime in the schoolhouse. Only those numbers won’t show up if the offense is adjudicated using the school discipline code.

On paper it appears that street crime is down and school crime is down. The reality is the schools are actually less safe. When government agencies run two sets of books they are really no different from a private sector Ponzi scheme. A policy heralded with much fanfare deflected criticism and scrutiny while actually masking the reality of New York’s schools.

The picture sharpens when we look at another study about street crime that demonstrates what happens when you ask the wrong questions about violence. Your answer might sound good, but because of changing circumstances you wind up using statistics and drawing conclusions that are irrelevant.

A reappraisal of urban homicide statistics received a lengthy two thousand-word treatment that began on the front-page of the December 8, edition of the Wall Street Journal. The article revealed what policemen on the beat and discerning criminologists have been saying for quite some time. The number of homicides doesn’t necessarily reveal the level of violence in today’s society.

So while homicide rates have fallen dramatically, gun violence has skyrocketed based on the number of people that have been treated for gunshot wounds. The falling homicide numbers touted by big city mayors and police commissioners aren’t quite what they’re cracked up to be. Between 2001- 2011, the number of people hospitalized as a result of gunshot wounds rose 47 percent according to the Center for Disease Control.

Medical advances for treating severe trauma from gunshot wounds and has radically reduced the mortality rate of its victims. Many of these life-saving advances were developed in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan and have made there way into emergency rooms and trauma centers increasing survival rates.

Solving a quadratic equation or developing an algorithm for electronic trading on the stock exchange should never be confused with governance. Statistical studies are just one component for arriving at the truth for certain kinds of problems, but it isn’t a substitute for the truth. It isn’t a substitute for democracy either.

In California, Parents Trigger Change At Failing School

In California, Parents Trigger Change At Failing School
by Claudio Sanchez

Parents in one small California community have used a “parent-trigger” law for the first time to shut down and take over an elementary school. It’s a revolt led by parents who say the school has failed their children, but others say it’s not the school’s fault.

The school is in tiny Adelanto, Calif., home to several prisons connected by desolate stretches of highway on the fringes of the Mojave Desert.

Doreen Diaz, one of the parents who has led this revolt, is convinced that teachers and administrators at Desert Trails Elementary have given up on their children because they’re poor.

“There are just people that believe that these children can’t learn, that they’ll teach to the ones that get it and too bad for the ones that don’t,” she says. “The culture there is one that does not believe in our children. How many more children are we going to risk?”

Diaz says her daughter could barely read by fifth grade. She was put in a special education class. She hated it.

“And I found out she was being bullied. There were fistfights in the classroom. She was traumatized, and she became very introverted and that just broke my heart,” Diaz says.

Adelanto school officials declined to speak to NPR for this story. Their position has been that schools here struggle because so many students come from impoverished, unstable, single-parent homes. This hurts kids academically. Last year, seven out of 10 sixth-graders at Desert Trails, for example, flunked the state’s English and math tests.

Diaz insists that’s the school’s fault, but it’s been hard to get parents to demand changes.

“We’re a minority community and a lot of our parents are not legal here, so it’s a fear for them to stand up and do something because they’re afraid,” she says. “Parents were told they would get Immigration on them.”

It’s unclear who threatened to report parents to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities, but eventually more than half of the parents at Desert Trails Elementary did sign a petition demanding changes, which is all that it took for the parent-trigger law to kick in. The Adelanto school board tried to invalidate the petition after some parents changed their minds, saying they had been duped into signing it.

This summer, though, a county court judge allowed the petition to go forward, forcing the school board to respond to the parent trigger’s initial demands: that a new principal take over and hire and fire teachers, and that the school be given control of its budget and curriculum. The school board said it couldn’t do this without concessions from the teachers union. The union’s position was that the parents’ demands were unreasonable.

“I saw the list of demands, and there were many things on the list that were out of not only the union’s control, but the district’s control,” says union president LaNita Dominique.

Dominique says parents didn’t just want to get rid of some teachers. They wanted iPads for every child and full-time nurses and counselors — things the district couldn’t afford. She says the union and the school board had already agreed to several changes, including a longer school day and more tutoring. But it was too little too late. Parents were intent on taking over.

“This is not about parents running schools. It’s about parents having a seat at the table,” says Ben Austin, who wrote and helped pass California’s parent-trigger law in 2010.

A former deputy mayor of Los Angeles and an adviser in the Clinton White House, Austin is the founder of Parent Revolution, a million-dollar-a-year operation based in Los Angeles that’s pushing parent-trigger laws in more than a dozen states. Seven states have some version of the law.

Austin says children’s interests too often take a backseat to adults’ interests.

“The only way we’re going to change that is to effectuate an unapologetic, raw transfer of political power from the defenders of the status quo to parents because parents have a different sense of urgency than anybody else because their kids get older every day,” he says.

Austin advised parents in Adelanto to sever their ties to the school district and turn Desert Trails Elementary into a privately run, publicly funded charter school. But not all parents want that to happen. Some see it as a hostile takeover orchestrated by outsiders.

“If this was a true grassroots movement, truly the parents with genuine concern banding together trying to figure out how to make it better, I would’ve been on their side because it would’ve been coming from a genuine place of trying to work together,” says Lori Yuan, who has two children at the school. “Not any kind of outside involvement, takeover, hostility, lying.”

Instead, Yuan and Chrissy Alvarado, who also has two children at Desert Trails, say their kids are thriving. They agree with the school board’s position that if kids are failing, it’s because they’re poor, transient and already way behind when they arrive.

“We have kids rotating in. We have a prison community, a very low-income community,” Alvarado says.

She says the parent trigger is not the answer.

“Parents don’t know who to trust, who to talk to. If they used to be my friend, they’re not sure if they should because they’ve attacked me on a personal level about what kind of person I am, especially in a Hispanic community,” she says.

It has proved to be incredibly disruptive. Still, giving parents the right to take over a failing school is a powerful idea. With the financial backing of influential groups like the Gates, Broad and Walton Foundations, the parent trigger is expected to spread beyond Adelanto.

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Rethinkin’ Lincoln

Rethinkin’ Lincoln on the 150th Birthday of the Emancipation Proclamation
by Bill Bigelow

Here’s a history quiz to use with people you run into today: Ask them who ended slavery.

I taught high school U.S. history for almost 30 years, and as we began our study, students knew the obvious answer: Abraham Lincoln. But by the time our study ended, several weeks later, their “Who ended slavery?” essays were more diverse, more complex — and more accurate. In coming months and years, teachers’ jobs will be made harder by Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln, in which Daniel Day-Lewis gives a brilliant performance as, well, Lincoln-the-abolitionist. The only problem is that Lincoln was not an abolitionist.

Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner chose to concentrate on the final months of Lincoln’s life, when, as the film shows in compelling fashion, the president went all-out to pass the 13th Amendment, forever ending U.S. slavery. Missing from this portrait is the early Lincoln — the Lincoln that did everything possible to preserve slavery.

Today’s Common Core State Standards propose that teachers concentrate on the compact and stirring Gettysburg Address, also featured in Lincoln. But my students and I begin with Lincoln’s first words as president, his first inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1861. In this speech, not quoted in a single commercial textbook I’ve ever seen, Lincoln promised slaveowners that they could keep their slaves forever. He said that “ample evidence” existed in all his published speeches that he had no intention of ending slavery, and quoted himself to that effect: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” And, in less explicit, but no less clear language, Lincoln promised to “cheerfully,” as he put it, enforce the Fugitive Slave Act in protection of the nation’s “property, peace, and security.” Finally, in a gesture rich with irony, Lincoln said that he would not oppose the constitutional amendment that had recently passed Congress, “to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service.” Had it gone into effect, this slavery-forever amendment would have been the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


According to historian Eric Foner in his Pulitzer Prize-winning
book on Lincoln and slavery, The Fiery Trial, Lincoln:

sent that pro-slavery 13th Amendment to the states for ratification;

agreed to admit New Mexico to the Union as a slave state;

continued with schemes to deport — “colonize” in the jargon of the day
— African Americans, proposing they be sent to Guatemala, Chiriqui (Colombia),
and Haiti;

and in just the first three months after the Civil War began, returned more escaped
slaves to their supposed owners than had been returned in the entire presidency of
his immediate predecessor, James Buchanan.

As the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the The Liberator, commented in late 1861, Abraham Lincoln “has evidently not a drop of anti-slavery blood in his veins.”

Lincoln may be remembered today as “the Great Emancipator,” but Lincoln was no abolitionist. His aim throughout his presidency was to keep the Union together, a task fraught with contradictions, as large swaths of the country embraced both the Union and slavery–for example, Missouri, Delaware, Maryland, and Kentucky. As Lincoln himself said famously in August 1862, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.”

Lincoln’s stance on slavery as the war progressed was based on military rather than moral considerations.

And that’s the necessary context for students to approach the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect 150 years ago, on January 1, 1863. Interestingly, despite the fact that the proclamation is mentioned in virtually every textbook, it is never printed in its entirety. Perhaps that’s because despite its lofty-sounding title, this is no stirring document of liberty and equality; in fact, it does not even criticize slavery. “Emancipation” is presented purely as a measure of military necessity. Lincoln offered freedom to enslaved people in those areas only “in rebellion against the United States.” It reads like a document written by a lawyer — one who happened to be a Commander in Chief — not an abolitionist. It even goes county by county listing areas where slavery would remain in force, “precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.” According to Eric Foner, the proclamation left more than 20 percent of enslaved people still in slavery — 800,000 out of 3.9 million.

No doubt, the Emancipation Proclamation was a huge deal, and it was cheered by abolitionists and even those who remained enslaved. As the great African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass pointed out, Lincoln’s proclamation united “the cause of the slaves and the cause of the country.” Those opposed to slavery were determined to use the Emancipation Proclamation as an instrument to end slavery everywhere and forever — regardless of Lincoln’s more limited intent. Freedom would be won, not given.

With rare exceptions — like the American Social History Project’s fine Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution — middle and high school textbooks fail to credit the real anti-slavery heroes in this story: the enslaved themselves, along with their black and white abolitionist allies. While early in the conflict Lincoln was offering verbal cake and ice cream to slaveowners, the enslaved were doing everything they could to turn a war for national unity into a war to end slavery, impressing Union generals with their courage, skill, and knowledge — ultimately forcing Lincoln to reverse his early policy of returning those fleeing slavery and, in time, leading the president to embrace their entry into the war as soldiers. The actions of the formerly enslaved even turned some white Union soldiers into abolitionists.

This resistance to slavery, along with its effects on Union soldiers, is captured in this 1862 testimony from General Daniel E. Sickles, quoted in Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution:

The most valuable and reliable information of the enemy’s movements in our vicinity that we have been able to get derived from Negroes who came into our lines…

They will submit to any privation, perform any duty, incur any danger. I know an instance in which four of them recently carried a boat from the Rappanhannock River [in Virginia], passing through the enemy’s pickets successfully, to the Potomac and crossed over to my camp and reported themselves there. They gave us information of the enemy’s force which was communicated to headquarters; a service upon which it would be difficult to fix a price. These services rendered by these men are known to the soldiers, and contribute, I presume, largely to the sympathy they feel for them …

There was one case in the 5th regiment where a man named Cox claimed some slaves. He was very badly treated by the soldiers. He came there with an order from the division headquarters for two or three slaves. He pointed out who they were and undertook to take them away; but the soldiers pounced upon him and beat him severely. … He went away without his slaves.

Who we “credit” for the end of slavery in the United States has important contemporary implications. As Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, points out in the film Monumental Myths, if it appears that Abraham Lincoln gave blacks their freedom, then “you create an environment where people begin to think, ‘Well, African Americans have always had things handed to them.’ It gets carried into the notions of welfare and the like” –African Americans as receivers of gifts from generous white people.

Beginning with the notion that “Columbus discovered America,” this top-down, Great Man approach has long characterized history instruction in our country. Things happen — good or bad — because those in power make them happen. What this misses is, through our compliance or resistance, the actions of ordinary people. And when it comes to momentous social changes, like the abolition of slavery, one will always find social movements and the oppressed themselves at the center. As historian Howard Zinn said about the end of slavery: “Blacks won their freedom because for 30 years before the Civil War, they participated in a great movement of resistance.”

So when I ask my students to write an essay on “Who (or what) ended slavery?” I get lots of different answers. But none of them credits a single individual. And all of them include evidence of how, in myriad ways, the people themselves make history.


How do U.S. Students Compare with their Peers around the World?

How do U.S. Students Compare with their Peers around the World?
by Arne Duncan

New international assessments of student performance in reading, math, and science provide both encouraging news about American students’ progress and some sobering cautionary notes.

The encouraging news is that U.S. fourth grade students have made significant progress in reading and mathematics in the last five years. In fact, our fourth graders now rank among the world’s leaders in reading literacy, and U.S. student achievement in math is now only surpassed, on average, in four countries.

Unfortunately, these signs of real progress are counterbalanced by the fact that learning gains in fourth grade are not being sustained through eighth grade–where mathematics and science achievement failed to measurably improve between 2007 and 2011.

Still, the progress of fourth graders is especially noteworthy because we see it on rigorous, internationally-benchmarked assessments that students take without any special test preparation, the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study).

And unlike previous PISA assessments–the other major international assessment, which U.S. 15-year olds take–nine U.S. states voluntarily participated in TIMSS in 2011. For the first time, policymakers and parents now have data to gauge how academic performance in a significant subset of states compares with the U.S. as a whole, and with international competitors.

In 2006, the last time the PIRLS reading assessments were administered, a slew of countries and regions equaled or surpassed U.S. fourth graders in reading. Students in Hungary, Italy, Sweden, and the Canadian province of Alberta had higher levels of literacy than U.S. students.

Yet five years later, U.S. students are out-performing students in all of those nations and provinces. Education systems where students were on a par with U.S. fourth graders in reading literacy in 2006–Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, the Netherlands, and the Quebec region of Canada–have all been surpassed in the last five years by U.S. students.

Just as encouraging, students in highly-diverse states like Florida, Massachusetts, and North Carolina excelled internationally in a number of subject areas, suggesting that demography is not destiny in America’s schools.

State and local policy turn out to matter a great deal–and can have a powerful influence in advancing or slowing educational progress. It is state and local leaders and educators who are providing the commitment, courage, collaboration, and capacity at the state and local level to accelerate achievement. It’s no surprise that Florida, Massachusetts, and North Carolina all won competitive Race to the Top grants from the federal government.

Finally, the new TIMSS and PIRLS results put to rest, once and for all, the myth that America’s schools cannot be among the world’s top-performing school systems. In fact, eighth graders in Massachusetts performed below only one country in the world in science, Singapore.

In Florida, the math skills of students are on a par with those of their Finnish peers, who have a record of being among the top-performing students in the world. And the reading skills of Florida’s fourth-graders are on a par with those of the top-performing education systems in the world, too, including Finland and Singapore.

For all of the good news, the new TIMSS and PIRLS assessments also underscore the urgency of accelerating achievement in middle school and the pressing need to close large and persistent achievement gaps.

To take one example, in 2011, white eighth graders scored 83 points higher in science on TIMSS than black students and 60 points higher than Hispanic students.

To put those numbers in perspective, white eighth graders in the U.S. did about as well in science as Finland’s and Japan’s students, and were only surpassed by students in Singapore, Chinese Taipei, and Korea.

By contrast, Hispanic eight graders’ science scores were on a par with students from Norway and Kazakhstan. And black eighth graders’ science scores were roughly equivalent to those of students from Iran, Romania, and the United Arab Emirates.

If education is to fulfill its essential role in America as the great equalizer, big achievement gaps and opportunity gaps must close–and all students must receive a world-class education that genuinely prepares them for colleges and careers in the 21st century. In America, educational opportunity cannot depend on the color of your skin, your zip code, or the size of your bank account.

Given the vital role that science, technology, engineering, and math play in stimulating innovation and economic growth, it is particularly troubling that eighth-grade science achievement has barely budged in the U.S. since 2007. Students in Singapore and Korea are far more likely today to perform at advanced levels in science than U.S. students.

In a knowledge-based economy, education is the new key to individual success and national prosperity. The results of the TIMSS and PIRLS assessments show both that our students are on the path to progress–and that we still have a long journey to go before all of America’s children get an excellent education.

–Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

New Common Core Reading Standards Mark The End Of Literature

Common Core Nonfiction Reading Standards
Mark The End Of Literature, English Teachers Say

Concern is growing among teachers and parents that literary classics will go the way of the dinosaurs under a set of new national curricular standards.

The Common Core State Standards, academic benchmarks that have been adopted by 46 states, call for 12th grade reading to be 70 percent nonfiction, or “informational texts” — gradually stepping up from the 50 percent nonfiction reading required of elementary school students.

The Common Core standards focus on teaching fewer subjects in greater depth, replacing a melange of educational expectations that vary wildly across districts and states. Proponents of the standards, like the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, say too many students are not college or career-ready because they have suffered from years of easy reading and poor training in synthesizing more complex reading materials.

But the new guidelines are increasingly worrying English-lovers and English teachers, who feel they must replace literary greats like The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye with Common Core-suggested “exemplars,” like the Environmental Protection Agency’s Recommended Levels of Insulation and the California Invasive Plant Council’s Invasive Plant Inventory.

Jamie Highfill, an eighth-grade English teacher at Woodland Junior High School in Fayetteville, Ark., and 2011 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, told the Washington Post she’s already had to drop short stories and a favorite literary unit to make time for essays by Malcolm Gladwell from his social behavior book The Tipping Point.

“I’m struggling with this, and my students are struggling,” Highfill told the Post. “With informational text, there isn’t that human connection that you get with literature. And the kids are shutting down. They’re getting bored. I’m seeing more behavior problems in my classroom than I’ve ever seen.”

David Coleman, who headed the process of writing the standards, told the Post that principals and teachers are misreading the guidelines. The boost in informational texts, he says, is intended across disciplines: When social studies, science and math teachers increase nonfiction and informational reading assignments, English teachers won’t have to alter their literature lessons.

But that intent is often unrealized in practice. In a paper by the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based public policy think tank that is critical of the Common Core, language arts experts Sandra Stotsky and Mark Bauerlein claim that literature will inevitably have a lesser presence in curricula, as English teachers remain the ones held accountable for meeting reading standards in fiction and nonfiction alike.

“It’s hard to imagine that low reading scores in a school district will force grade 11 government/history and science teachers to devote more time to reading instruction,” Stotsky and Bauerlein wrote.

They also argue that the rush to switch from literature to informational texts is short-sighted, as the skills students develop in understanding complex literature are crucial to college learning and careers. Bauerlein told Education Week the problem worsens when teachers make “weak” nonfiction text choices.

“If we could ensure that the kinds of stuff they’re choosing are essays by [Ralph Waldo] Emerson or Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, then that would be wonderful,” he said. “Those are complex texts, with the literary features that make students better readers in college.”

Results from the National Center for Education Statistics’ analysis of fourth- and eighth-grade vocabulary scores from 2009 and 2011 reading comprehension exams found that even the highest-scoring students on average couldn’t perform above 67 percent. National Assessment Governing Board Executive Director Cornelia Orr called the vocabulary results a “crisis” in education.

Compounding that data is a March report by Renaissance Learning, Inc. revealing that American high school students are reading books intended for children at levels far below those appropriate for teens. A compilation of the top 40 books read by students in grades 9 through 12 showed that the average text’s reading level was 5.3 — barely above the fifth grade.