Monday, June 30, 2008

Cong. Miller and NCLB

I was talking with some friends who live in Congressman George Miller (D. Contra Costa) district. Miller is important since he is the Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee which is the starting point for the revision of No Child Left Behind re-authorization. Cong. Miller has held a series of town hall meeting in his district. However, as reported, these town halls were controlled and limited. Well informed teachers were limited from participation. Here Congressman Miller could have listened to those who do the work rather than the conservative advocacy organizations that dominate testimony in Washington, D.C.

One alternative is to use teachers unions- the NEA and the AFT to force open the discussion. This week’s national convention of the NEA should produce some major press.

It was no small feat for teacher based opposition to stall the re-authorization of the NCLB last year. Originally it was assumed that NCLB would easily be re-authorized. But with intense participation pressure was brought to bear. Now, the re-authorization will be considered in by a new Congress and a new President.

Our opponents are a series of right wing groups, funded by conservative foundations such as the Olin Foundation and the Bradley Foundation. They create advocacy groups and “research” groups, such as the Fordham Center to foster a conservative- no new taxes- view of schools. They sponsor conferences and testimony to hold on to the current failing NCLB focus on testing and standards. These organizations use marketing methods, including particularly the “framing” of the issue strategy of focusing on accountability and testing.

The public needs to invest in urban schools, provide equal educational opportunities in these schools, and recruit a well prepared teaching force that begins to reflect the student populations in these schools. We must insist on equal opportunity to learn, no compromise. When we do these things, we will begin to protect the Freedom to Learn for our children and our grandchildren, and to build a more just and democratic society. We participate in rebuilding the schools by insisting that our government, our legislatures adequately fund the schools.
Democrats must challenge those social forces acting to preserve the present inequalities and injustices in our society. Schools are sites for the struggle for or against more democracy in our society. In schools, teachers and parents can participate in creating a more democratic society. Where do you think Mr. Miller stands? If you have reports from attending the Miller town hall meetings, please send them to me.

Duane Campbell

Friday, June 27, 2008

AFL-CIO endorses Obama

Why the AFL-CIO Endorses Barack Obama

By John J. Sweeney

If ever working families needed change we can believe
in, it is now.
America's promise to working families has been broken
by the deliberate corporatization of our economy. The
basic needs and dreams of our families have been sold
to the highest corporate bidders—Big Oil, Big Pharma,
the insurance industry, the giant mortgage lenders and
the speculators.
With 80 percent of the public saying our country is
headed in the wrong direction, it's time to turn
around America.
This primary season, we were blessed with a committed
and talented group of working family champions running
for the presidency. Each would have brought special
strengths on our behalf to the White House. AFL-CIO
unions embraced and campaigned mightily on behalf of
former Sen. John Edwards and Sens. Chris Dodd, Hillary
Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.
But now the AFL-CIO's autonomous unions, representing
10.5 million working men and women from every walk of
life, have come together to pledge our energy, our
hearts and our grassroots strength to electing Barack
The reasons are many.
As the son of a single mother, as a Chicago community
organizer and Illinois state senator, Obama saw
firsthand and addressed the struggles of working
families. And in his years in the U.S. Senate, he has
earned a 98 percent record of voting on behalf of
working families.
On the greatest priorities of America's union movement
and the millions of working people we represent,
Obama's record and proposals ensure he is the right
Good Jobs and Wages: Obama proposes an "aggressive
strategy to create good, middle-class jobs," including
hundreds of thousands of jobs in the renewable energy
sector. He opposed the Bush administration's move to
take overtime pay rights from some 10 million workers.
He strongly supports Davis-Bacon wage protections and
project labor agreements and voted repeatedly to
increase the minimum wage.
Health Care: Obama's plan would provide health care
for all, lower costs, improve quality and ensure no
one could be denied care because of a pre-existing
condition or illness.
Employee Free Choice Act: Obama is committed to
ensuring that workers can choose to gain a union voice
on the job and bargain with their employers for better
wages, benefits and working conditions—without
employer harassment or intimidation. He co-sponsored
and voted for the Employee Free Choice Act and
promises to sign it into law as president.
Fair Trade: Obama wants to end tax breaks for
companies that ship jobs overseas and will oppose new
trade agreements unless more steps are taken to
protect American jobs and the environment.
Fair Taxes: Obama's tax proposal would give families
making between $37,595 and $66,354 a year an average
tax cut of $1,042, compared with the $319 proposed by
rival John McCain.
Retirement Security: Obama opposes privatizing Social
Security and has a solid record of supporting Social
Security and Medicare, as well as opposing cuts in
benefits. He also has fought to lower the cost of
prescription drugs for seniors.
An Economy That Works for All: Obama says working
families' current economic hardships were not
"inevitable." They resulted from irresponsible
economic policies by the Bush administration that gave
tax breaks to the rich while cutting working family
priorities. Obama consistently has fought tax cuts for
the wealthy and program cuts for working families.
As president, Barack Obama can lead the change working
families need.
Find out more about Barack Obama and his positions on
key working family priorities at
Then help us spread the word.

Paid for by the AFL-CIO Committee on Political
Education (COPE) Political Contributions Committee,, and not authorized by any candidate or
candidate's committee.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education Reform

There's an interesting full-page ad in today's Washington Post and New York Times, entitled "A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education": It's signed by a list of luminaries, including several Clinton Administration appointees, but also people like Deborah Meier, Diane Ravitch, and Richard Rothstein , Lawrence Mishel, William Julius Wilson and others.

While criticizing NCLB for focusing solely on school improvement, the statement calls for a greater emphasis on addressing out-of-school factors like children's health, as well as early-childhood education, and a saner approach to accountability. "Broad" it certainly is. Not very many specifics. But I suspect it will have a significant impact in reframing the debate over NCLB reauthorization -- from how to "fix NCLB" to a comprehensive discussion of the federal role in education. Assuming that the Democrats retain control of Congress (whether or not they win the White House), I expect that these will be the parameters of the debate next year.

This is a positive development, in my view, and it's consistent with other efforts now under way. One involves the Forum on Educational Accountability (, the coalition of 140-odd education and civil rights groups whose Joint Statement the Institute has endorsed. It's now working on more detailed papers.

Perhaps most important is work by the Forum on Education and Democracy, which released a paper a few weeks ago ("Democracy at Risk") that does offer quite a few specifics about the federal role:

Monday, June 09, 2008

NCLB and English Language Learners

School has 'tough dilemma'

Successful language program is a drag on campus' scores

By Kim Minugh -

Last Updated 1:14 am PDT Monday, June 9, 2008
Nine buses lumber up to Will Rogers Middle School each morning, carrying sleepy-eyed children who have spent as much as an hour on the road.

They are the children of immigrant families from Argentina, South Korea, Mexico and Ukraine – enrolled at the Fair Oaks school for an opportunity to quickly learn the language of their new country.

Will Rogers is one of the San Juan Unified School District's (near Sacramento) language centers, offering specialized lessons to any seventh- or eighth-grader who isn't fluent in English.

This year, almost one-fourth of the school's English-language learners have become fluent enough to shift into mainstream classes – some after just a year.

But Will Rogers is failing under No Child Left Behind.

Because of its high concentration of non-English speakers, its scores on standardized English tests have come up short six years in a row, landing the school in the final stages of what the federal government calls "Program Improvement."

San Juan administrators find themselves in a quandary: Either continue a program they feel successfully serves English-language learners – and suffer the penalties of low test scores – or disband the program.

"It's a tough dilemma," said Vice Principal Karen Baum. "Technically, the district could get us out of Program Improvement by just not making us a (language) center. … Would that be the best thing for the kids? I don't know."

San Juan Unified officials will try to answer that question next year when they review the district's programs for English-language learners, including the language center model, said Tamra Taylor, the district's director of Program Improvement schools.

Taylor said the district will not "cower" from No Child Left Behind. The fate of the language center rests on what is best for English-language learners, she said, not pressure from the government.

"We pay attention to the law, we don't break the law, we try to make growth," she said. "But our impetus is not that there's a federal mandate called Program Improvement. Our impetus is there's an achievement gap, and we want to close it."

Schools are labeled Program Improvement when they fail to meet federal targets for two years in a row. Schools that continue to fall short of federal benchmarks for more than two years face additional sanctions and ultimately can be taken over by the state.

Culture of support

When Principal Monty Muller started at Will Rogers 18 years ago, the language center had only 40 students. Today, enrollment ranges from 160 to 280, and students speak 40 languages.

Grouping those students in language centers allows the district to save money on staffing, technology and other costs.

But perhaps the biggest advantage, administrators and teachers say, is a culture of support for students facing struggles in and out of the classroom.

Baum said many of her students are angry at their parents for bringing them to the United States against their will. Some act out.

Others have trouble focusing on school because their families are in turmoil while adjusting to a new country.

At the language center, teachers and administrators help students work through those emotional issues.

"I think it gives kids a feeling of comfort … and a feeling of safety," said teacher Michelle Bebout. "It gives them a million opportunities to relate to somebody."

Dariya Korzhuk, who came from Ukraine three years ago, appreciates being at a school full of other students like her – even if they don't share the same background.

"You already know how they feel because it's the same as you," the 13-year-old said.

Even after being in the United States two years, Korzhuk said she felt "shy to talk" when she came to Will Rogers.

"If I say something wrong, people would make fun," said the seventh-grader. "Now, I don't care. I know English."

Proper language required

During a recent lesson, Bebout asked her seventh-graders to write a letter to incoming students, giving them advice on how to succeed at Will Rogers and in her class.

She explained the instructions slowly, going over tough words and asking questions to make sure her students understood them.

Bebout paused when one student used the word "stuff" and talked to the class about the difference between slang and formal language.

"You are not employed by (Yo!) MTV Raps," she said, referring to the former hip-hop cable TV show. "What kind of language will you be avoiding?"

"Wazzup," the students shouted.

She wrote it on a whiteboard as students called out other forbidden words – "Cuz," "Shorty."

That language is OK for text-messaging, she told them. But Bebout wants her students to get in the habit of using proper language.

In a classroom across the hall, English teacher Laura Troppmann buzzed around the room in jeans and flats.

Her students were designing an imaginary camp for young children. The lesson was based on "The Acorn People," a book they'd read about physically disabled students who attended a camp without proper accommodations.

Troppmann has been at Will Rogers eight years, but this is her first year teaching English learners. She said there have been some unexpected challenges.

Her lesson about "The Acorn People" began with an explanation of what camp is; many of her students had never been.

When she asked them to design brochures for their imaginary camps, they stared back, blankly. No one knew what a brochure was.

"They're not dumb. They're brilliant," Troppmann said. "They just don't have the background."

Expectations unrealistic?

Critics of No Child Left Behind complain that the law's expectations for English learners are unrealistic and that punishing entire schools for those students' struggles is unfair.

The federal law holds schools accountable for their overall test scores as well as for the scores of groups of typically underperforming students – like non-English speakers or ethnic minorities. A whole school can be penalized if one group repeatedly falls short, like at Will Rogers.

As California's immigrant population grows, and the above scenario becomes more common, even No Child Left Behind advocates like Taylor question the law's deadline for all students to be proficient in math and English.

"Can all kids be proficient by 2014? Let's get real," she said. "Especially if someone just got to the country and doesn't speak the language."

Standardized test scores don't show everything, she said. Especially at schools like Will Rogers.

Since 2002, the school has grown according to the state's measures – its Academic Performance Index score jumped 77 points to 715 (the state's goal for schools is 800).

In California, non-English speakers are tested yearly, and their English fluency is scored on a scale of one to five. Some of Will Rogers' students are jumping as many as two or three levels in one year, Baum said.

"I don't consider them a school that is failing," Taylor said.

Eighth-grader Lucas Sugliano, who didn't know any English when his family arrived 3 1/2 years ago from Argentina, is now considered fluent.

He remembers greeting people by saying, "bye" instead of "hi."

"I mostly learned English here" at Will Rogers, he said. "Difficult English. Hard words and better phrases."

In the fall, Sugliano will enter high school as what one of his classmates calls a "regular student."

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Bill Moyers, Media Democracy

Highly recommended. Bill Moyers on Democracy and the Media.
I am unable to copy the embeded script. Follow the link.