Wednesday, January 31, 2007

AFT NO LONGER A MAJOR PLAYER IN REFORM ARENA: Focus of union changed with loss of leaders and shift in nation's political climate.

By Vaishali Honawar | Education Week

January 31, 2007 - The American Federation of Teachers has changed.

The union itself insists it is still very much on the path blazed by Albert Shanker, the AFT’s late, legendary president, under whom it forged a happy marriage between its labor agenda and education reform.

But in a political arena that has, for over a decade, been dominated by Republicans and the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, change has been inevitable for the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union which, like other labor groups, tends to heavily back, and be backed by, Democrats.

Challenges have also come from within.

The union has lost several of its most prominent leaders over the past decade. It has struggled with scandals at major locals. And an internal survey last year showed low morale among its own employees.

Although overall membership has continued to grow, big losses have also hit the 1.3 million-member union, such as the decision in 2005 by its Puerto Rico affiliate to sever ties and the depletion of the New Orleans local following Hurricane Katrina.

Since the victory of several union-backed congressional candidates in the November elections, AFT leaders have expressed hope for the future in enacting changes to the No Child Left Behind law and getting long-pending labor legislation passed in the Democratic-controlled Congress. The union’s organizing wheels are also spinning into overdrive with stepped-up recruitment efforts.

Still, observers question whether the AFT has the ability or drive today to influence education reform in the way that it once did. They point partly to the political climate and partly to the union’s current leadership, which, they contend, is too closely focused on labor issues.


An internal-communications survey at the AFT headquarters that was disclosed by the blogger and teachers’ union watchdog Mike Antonucci in August offered a window on the thoughts and morale of AFT staff members.

Some employees, apparently affected by the presence of a Republican Congress and White House, questioned the national union’s effectiveness.

“People on the Hill [and in the press] used to wait for what AFT had to say before they acted, before they put out a particular piece of legislation, before they wrote a particular piece. They just would not think of acting without checking with AFT in a certain sphere of issues. That’s not the case anymore,” said one staff member.

Sidebar: AFT FACTS

Membership: 1.3 million teachers, paraprofessionals and school-related personnel, higher education faculty, nurses and other health-care professionals, local, state, and federal employees, and retired members

State Affiliates: 43

Local Affiliates: About 3,000

Employees: 335

Budget, 2006-07: $135 million

President: Edward J. McElroy

SOURCE: American Federation of Teachers

“We don’t have friends. We don’t get tickets to the inaugural ball anymore. We don’t have friendly bills passing in Congress very often,” said another.

“No one seems to know what anyone is doing,” complained yet another staffer.

That survey is part of a larger, ongoing exercise at the union that includes surveys of affiliate leaders and members, as well as focus groups, with the goal of improving the AFT’s communications with its members, officials said. The only reason the survey was conducted, they said, was to take stock of changing communications needs because of growth in membership and staff.

Outside the union, the perception of its effectiveness as an education reformer has changed as well in the past few years.

Observers give points to the AFT for continuing to focus on school improvement, at least to a greater extent than the larger National Education Association. They cite the union’s “Let’s Get it Right” campaign that sought changes in the NCLB law, while the NEA chose to simply criticize the now 5-year-old act.

Note: UTLA is affiliated with both the AFT & the NEA.

Many also point to the AFT’s educational research and dissemination program, which helps locals build the capacity to deliver high-quality professional development services, either on their own or in collaboration with their school districts.

Nevertheless, they add, the union’s voice is not as strong as it once was.

“Unions as a whole have been disempowered,” said Cindy Chance, the dean of the college of education at Georgia Southern University. “They have lost power in the last several years and in the last administration because of the political climate.”

Strong evidence of that appeared when the No Child Left Behind law was passed by Congress in 2001 with bipartisan support, but with few, if any, fingerprints of the two national teachers’ unions on its mandates. The law instituted a host of requirements on student achievement, teacher quality, and other matters.

The absence of a leader like Al Shanker, some say, has also made a difference.

In his column, “Where We Stand,” which ran as a paid advertisement in The New York Times for 27 years, Mr. Shanker threw out a multitude of ideas that influenced a generation of education policymakers, including a push for national standards.

“Al Shanker was quite unique in that he managed to combine a traditional background with roots in the labor movement and the role of a pre-eminent education reformer. You don’t often find those two things together,” said Matthew Gandal, the executive vice president of Achieve, a Washington-based group formed by business executives and the nation’s governors to promote academic standards.

But, added Mr. Gandal, who once worked for the AFT, the current environment is a difficult one for AFT leaders. Since “NCLB came along in the last several years,” he said, “so much is driven by the federal government that the [AFT] has gone from proactive to reactive.”

When Mr. Shanker died in 1997, his successor, Sandra Feldman, continued his reform-minded tradition. Her emphasis was on early-childhood programs. In her seven years at the helm, Ms.Feldman also worked to merge the AFT with the NEA, a change that was approved by the smaller union and leaders of the larger one, but rejected by delegates to the NEA’s Representative Assembly.

When Ms. Feldman, who died in 2005, left the union presidency in 2004 because of ill health, observers worried that her successor, Edward J. McElroy, a member of the AFL-CIO executive council and the secretary-treasurer of the AFT, might be too much of a “labor man” to continue the AFT’s reform agenda.

That reputation continues to dog Mr. McElroy 2½ years into office. While Mr. McElroy, many say, is active in his role as a labor leader—he serves on several committees of the AFL-CIO, the major umbrella group for organized labor—they add that he has failed to be as vocal on school improvement measures as his two predecessors, hurting the AFT’s progressive image.

A ‘Silent’ Leader

“He is silent on those issues that were a priority for both Shanker and Feldman,” said Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based advocacy group. “There is no question that the AFT is not as strong as it was under [Shanker’s] leadership.”

Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a public-policy research group in Washington, agrees Mr. McElroy has “taken a greater interest in labor issues at the AFL-CIO—it is a more prominent role than Al Shanker played at the AFL-CIO.”

Sidebar: Decade of Changes


Al Shanker, the longtime president of the American Federation of Teachers, dies; Sandra Feldman succeeds him.


The AFT and the National Education Association design the “Principles of Unity” plan to guide a merger of the two unions. Later that year, AFT members vote for a merger, but NEA delegates reject it.


Ms. Feldman calls for universal preschool at the AFT’s annual convention; the union says it will take a more critical view of the newly passed No Child Left Behind law. The AFT releases a report sharply critical of charter schools.


In separate incidents, the presidents of the Washington Teachers’ Union (Barbara A. Bullock) and United Teachers of Dade (Pat L. Tornillo Jr.) are found to have stolen millions of dollars in union funds to pay for personal expenses. The AFT steps in to restore financial stability and bring members back to the locals. Ms. Feldman announces that she will not run for re-election because of her failing health.


Edward J. McElroy is elected president. The 35,000-member Puerto Rico union votes to disaffiliate from the AFT.

Sandra Feldman


The AFT announces the Let’s Get it Right campaign to improve the No Child Left Behind law. Sandra Feldman dies. Hurricane Katrina essentially disbands the 4,700-member United Teachers of New Orleans.


Internal survey reveals dissatisfaction among staff members.

Also, Mr. Shanker “was someone who was constantly coming up with education policy proposals, and Ed McElroy has made that a lower priority,” said Mr. Kahlenberg, who is working on a book about Mr. Shanker that is slated for release later this year.

Union watchers paint the election of Mr. McElroy as something of a stop-gap arrangement: He was a safe choice to lead the union after Ms. Feldman retired early. Meanwhile, Randi Weingarten, the president of the AFT’s largest affiliate, the United Federation of Teachers—as Mr. Shanker and Ms. Feldman had been before her—was likely being groomed for the job but not quite ready when Ms. Feldman stepped down.

“You bring in Ed, and he doesn’t have to be philosophical. And he’s perfect for [increasing] membership. Plus, he’s an older man, so he’s not going to be a long-term threat to the line of succession,” said Mr. Antonucci.

AFT insiders and sympathizers, however, rush to defend Mr. McElroy. They contend that he has continued to promote reform, although in a style different from his predecessors’.

“His expertise is within the domain of organized labor and unionism. … I have found his demeanor and candor and charming and folksy style very effective with members,” said Adam Urbanski, an AFT vice president and the president of the Rochester Teachers Association in New York.

“He has built a team around him of other leaders and people who have experience on the reform side to keep the organization on a cutting edge,” said Mr. Gandal of Achieve, pointing to the fact that Mr. McElroy brought in Antonia Cortese, perceived as a leading forward-thinking voice in the union, for the central role of the union’s executive vice president. Ms. Cortese, who comes from the New York state affiliate, tends to be front and center in responding to policy issues.

“She is very active and thoughtful of education reform issues,” Mr. Gandal said.

Mr. McElroy is seen more as a “fix-it guy,” most appropriate to lead the union at a difficult time for the labor movement.

While growth in public-sector unions is inching up after several years of decline, the labor movement overall has been in decline for decades now, especially in the private sector. The AFL-CIO received a blow in 2005 when several unions, including the Service Employees International Union and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, left the umbrella organization.

Teachers’ unions have also been confronted with a host of labor issues in the past few years, trying to raise salaries, negotiating health-insurance plans in a time of rising health costs, and keeping states from axing or restructuring traditional pensions.

Despite the setbacks, the AFT, over the past two years, has added 80,000 new members under Mr. McElroy’s leadership, although it lost more than 40,000 in Puerto Rico and New Orleans.

And Mr. McElroy points out that there are 22 states that do not allow collective bargaining by public employees. “If they allowed it, we would have more growth,” he said.

The president makes no apologies for being accused of swinging too far toward bread-and-butter issues. “When Al Shanker was president, he was a major proponent of collective bargaining for teachers. That was the way for more professionalism for teachers, for the ability of teachers to improve their voice in schools,” he said during an interview last month.

Besides, Mr. McElroy says he’s been behind school improvement efforts since his days in Rhode Island. While the president of the state teachers’ union there, the affiliate became the first outside New York to have a full-time professional-issues director on the staff, he said.

These days, one of his ongoing priorities, Mr. McElroy said, is to bring AFT members’ voices to every leader in Congress, so that their experiences shape the federal education agenda, and already the union is facilitating such meetings between members and their representatives.

This year, the union will press for changes to how adequate yearly progress is measured in schools under the No Child Left Behind Act, and for making the federal government live up to what the union sees as its broken promises to finance schools sufficiently to carry out the law’s mandates.

Local Leadership

AFT officials are quick to say the union has not suffered greatly because of the absence of a nationally prominent leader.

“When there are differences in a leader’s expertise, the organization finds ways to accommodate by the stepping up to the plate by others for various functions,” said Mr. Urbanski, pointing to the large number of locals led by progressive presidents who have worked closely with their school administrations on innovative initiatives.

Over the years, many of them have pushed for significant changes, such as the establishment of the first union-led charter schools in New York City, teacher peer review in Toledo, and a merit-pay plan for teachers in Minneapolis.

In fact, one of the greatest strengths of the AFT, supporters say, is its decentralization of power.

But even there, the union has suffered setbacks. Tom Mooney, the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers and one of the union’s most progressive voices, died in December. Earlier in 2006, Louise Sundin, the president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, was defeated by a candidate who said she had become too cozy with the school administration.

Some observers worry that even the progressive AFT local leaders have in the past few years lacked a collective national voice.

“Influential people like Mooney, Urbanski, and Sundin were very powerful at the time that Al Shanker was president,” said Susan Moore Johnson, a professor of education at Harvard University. “There was a shared influence that they had, both in their local districts and nationally.” That is missing today, even with the continued presence of thoughtful and responsive local leaders, she added.

In recent years, the AFT also has had to deal with two of the biggest scandals to rock teachers’ unions. Presidents Barbara A. Bullock, of the Washington Teachers’ Union in the nation’s capital, and Pat L. Tornillo Jr., of United Teachers of Dade, based in Miami, were accused of stealing millions of dollars in local union funds to pay for personal expenses. In both cases, the parent union stepped in to take over the locals and oversee a long and painful process of restoring financial stability and regaining the trust of members.

Return to Reform

Despite the setbacks and concerns over leadership—or perhaps because of them—the union appears to have, in recent months, embarked on a vigorous exercise to reposition itself within the Shanker halo.

Already it is citing victories. Earlier this month, the union celebrated the U.S. House of Representatives’ adoption of a federal minimum-wage bill, and cuts in interest rates for student loans and efforts to lower Medicare prescription-drug costs, all issues the AFT has lobbied for.

Meanwhile, an NCLB task force made up of top local AFT leaders has been brainstorming to come up with recommendations for the law’s reauthorization, which is due this year, said Tor Cowan, the AFT’s director of legislation. And Mr. McElroy has met with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the new chairman of the Senate education committee.

Activity has stepped up elsewhere in the union, too, particularly in its “brain trust”—the education issues department, which last year lost to retirement its vocal and prominent director, Joan Baratz Snowden.

In December, the AFT released a report decrying the state of school facilities nationwide, and another criticizing the school system in posthurricane New Orleans, made up mostly of nonunion charter schools.

And then, for the latest issue of its quarterly publication, American Educator, the union enlisted the noted education historian Diane Ravitch for a ringing defense of teachers’ unions.

In a commentary titled “Why Teacher Unions Are Good for Teachers—and the Public,” Ms. Ravitch maintains that in today’s education climate, unions protect teachers from “ill-conceived instructional mandates, intolerable conditions, and poor compensation.

“Teacher unions around the country continue to play important roles in protecting the rights of teachers, especially in the current climate of school reform,” Ms. Ravitch writes. “We need independent teacher unions to protect teachers’ rights, to sound the alarm against unwise policies, and to advocate on behalf of sound education policies.”

BUSH OFFERS ‘BLUEPRINT’ FOR NCLB: Partisan split expected as strategies diverge.

By David J. Hoff | EdWeek

January 31, 2007Washington - With the release last week of the Bush administration’s blueprint for changes to its signature education program, it’s clear that Republicans and Democrats agree that the priority should be improving the nation’s lowest-achieving schools.

How to do that, though, will be the subject of partisan debate.

In its plans for the No Child Left Behind Act, unveiled the day after President Bush’s State of the Union address, the administration said it wants private and charter schools to create competition that would spur improvement in substandard schools. It also wants the NCLB law to give district leaders the authority to circumvent collective bargaining agreements so they can assign their best teachers to those schools.

“We are attempting to answer the question: What are we going to do for kids who are trapped in schools that are chronically underperforming?” Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said in a Jan. 24 call with reporters.

Democrats, however, have their own priorities for improving the lowest-performing schools. They would create incentives for teachers to work in the toughest schools, give teachers professional development in skills they need to improve student achievement, and attempt to improve states’ services to those schools.

Meanwhile, they are nearly unanimous in declaring the private-school-choice proposal dead on arrival. They point out that the administration was unable to insert vouchers into the NCLB law when it passed in 2001 with Republicans in control of the House. Now, the Democrats have majorities in the House and the Senate.

The partisan divide could unnecessarily sidetrack Congress as it tries to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act this year, education advocates say.

“Every minute spent debating a voucher proposal means less time for making needed changes to a law that has been long on promise and short on progress,” Edward J. McElroy, the president of the 1.3 million-member American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. “That does nothing to help our children, our teachers, or our schools.”

State of NCLB

But one influential lawmaker suggested that the private-school-voucher plans would be quickly dismissed by Democrats without changing the odds that the law would be reauthorized on schedule this year. The most important signal that President Bush is intent on reaching a deal with Democrats will come when he releases his fiscal 2008 budget proposal, said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the Education and Labor Committee.

“One of the ways he can help us is to provide sufficient funding,” Mr. Miller said in an interview. “The reauthorization of No Child Left Behind is necessary and doable. … Inadequate funding [would] make it more difficult.”

As Secretary Spellings started her campaign to generate support for the administration’s plans last week in Chicago, she said the president’s budget, set for release Feb. 5, would include plans for substantial increases in education spending. She didn’t suggest how large those hikes would be, however.

In his State of Union speech to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 23, President Bush briefly mentioned the No Child Left Behind law, saying that the 5-year-old legislation has spurred increased student achievement on some measures and that it should be renewed on schedule.

“We can lift student achievement even higher by giving local leaders flexibility to turn around failing schools and by giving families with children stuck in failing schools the right to choose someplace better,” the president said.

In a 15-page document released the next day, the Education Department outlined several proposals it says would improve those schools, while keeping the current system of annual testing in reading and mathematics in grade 3-8 and once in high school, as well as the NCLB accountability system based on achievement goals for all racial, ethnic, special needs, and income groups.

The document, called “Building on Results: A Blueprint for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act,” proposed that an average of $4,000 in private school tuition be given to parents of children in schools that consistently fail to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, the key measure of improvement under the law. Students also could choose a scholarship of up to $3,000 to pay for what the department calls “intensive tutoring.”

The choice options, called Promise Scholarships, would be available in schools that have fallen short of their AYP goals for five straight years. Ms. Spellings estimates that 1,800 U.S. schools are currently in that category.

Separately, the department would create a program through which districts could institute their own districtwide choice programs modeled after the 3-year-old federal voucher program in the District of Columbia.

Charters and Teachers

The Bush administration’s plan also would go further than many Democratic plans in recruiting teachers to work in underperforming schools and in transforming those schools into charters, which are publicly financed but independently operated schools.

Under the plan, the NCLB law would give districts the power to circumvent state caps on the number of charters and collective-bargaining rules when intervening in schools that fail to make AYP for five years in a row. The charter authority—like vouchers—would expand the options available in districts with high numbers of poor-performing schools, the Education Department’s blueprint says. In rural areas, districts could provide new opportunities through virtual charter schools, it adds.

The administration also wants to give district leaders the authority to overrule provisions of teacher contracts so that they can assemble the best possible staffs for underperforming schools.

As with private school choice, the proposal on trumping collective bargaining won’t advance in the Education and Labor Committee, Rep. Miller said.

While the administration and Democratic leaders appear to be far apart on policy issues, Rep. Miller said he thinks the No Child Left Behind bill can be reauthorized as slated this year.

When President Bush unveils his fiscal 2008 budget proposal next week, it will signal whether he and his administration are serious about working with Democrats by proposing significant increases for the law, Rep. Miller said in the interview.

The department’s blueprint proposes several new programs intended to help turn around subpar schools. In addition to the private school vouchers, it proposes line items to assist low-performing schools in general and high schools in particular.

View a copy of the US Dept of Ed report, "Building on Results: A Blueprint for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act," as well as a press release and a fact sheet related to the expansion of the federally mandated school choice provisions of NCLB.

Monday, January 29, 2007



01/28/07 - The dismal data came in November, revealing California's public school students performed poorly on the state's physical fitness test. This week, The California Endowment has released a report documenting what they call "a crisis in California school physical education."

The study conducted in 77 public schools, found that on average, only four minutes of every half hour of physical education class involves vigorous physical activity. In addition, elementary schools surveyed fell 32 minutes short on average of the required 200 minutes of minimum physical education mandated to occur every 10 days by state law.

"In order to combat California's child obesity epidemic, we must make physical education a higher priority in California's schools," said Dr. Robert K. Moss, president and CEO of The California Endowment.

Of the 77 schools surveyed, including schools in 11 Bay Area elementary school districts, only Palo Alto Unified in Santa Clara and Oak Grove Elementary in Sonoma made the grade for their physical fitness performance.

Upon reviewing results of the state physical fitness exam in November, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said California physical fitness scores "show a modest 1 percent gain in overall performance compared to last year's results.''

O'Connell said, "These numbers tell us that too many of our students are leading sedentary lives exacerbated by poor eating habits. This is a destructive trend that has resulted in an epidemic of childhood obesity and must be reversed.''

The endowment found students in lower income schools tended to spend less time being active in physical education classes and that students in large physical education classes only spent 10 percent of class time being active.

"It is clear from these studies that low quality PE is contributing to health disparities. We must quickly adopt these practices in schools serving low-income students who are at greatest risk of obesity," said Dr. Antoinette Yancey co-author of Failing Fitness, in a statement.

"Particularly notable is that schools with the highest quality most active PE had higher achievement test scores," James F. Sallis, director of the Active Living Research Program at San Diego State University said in a statement.

"We should be very concerned, for our student's health, their academic success and the long-term effects this will have," O'Connell said in November.

The endowment has outlined suggestions to help shape-up California's physical education policies. The endowment recommends smaller class sizes, with classes taught by qualified instructors, funding to improve athletic facilities in low-income schools, enforcement of state minimum requirements, and an enhanced value of physical education within school communities.

"We strongly urge educators, parents, local officials and state policymakers to apply these reports' recommendations to address the deficiencies in physical education classes throughout the state," said California Endowment CEO Moss.

Find out if your school district is complying to elementary school physical education requirements:

District Compliance Summary in California Elementary School PE Requirements

Find out what constitutes quality physical education and how it benefits students:

Understanding PE Fact Sheet

Learn how the California Department of Education assesses school physical education performance:

How the CDE Assesses School PE Performance


SHOULD F = FAT? - The CDC is right to issue guidelines for sending obesity report cards to parents of schoolkids, but more phys ed classes might be nice.

LA Times Editorial

February 2, 2007 - Children have yet another reason to dread report card day. Along with revealing how well students have mastered reading, writing and arithmetic, school systems are now using the cards to tell parents some bad news: Their children are too fat.

Obesity report cards, which typically include students' body mass index (BMI) — a ratio calculated using height and weight — are becoming an increasingly popular tool to address childhood obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is formulating guidelines for schools to follow when they mix their academic mission with a judgment on flab.

The news is often unwelcome. Irritated parents say they already have scales at home and do not need a school nurse to tell them the obvious. But, like it or not, the reality is that schools are often the first (and sometimes the last) public institution to provide needed services for a child's development, including basic information. Because childhood obesity is at epic proportions, the question for many districts is how best to spread the word.

In California, students' BMI is measured in grades 5, 7 and 9. But how (or even if) the information is passed along to parents is up to individual districts. The Los Angeles Unified School District does not send home BMI report cards. Whether obesity report cards are effective, however, is up in the air.

The obvious drawback is that making children self-conscious about their weight can cause as much harm as good. Obesity is a serious health problem, but so are anorexia and bulimia.

The best way to avoid shaming or confusing children would be for schools to send the information directly to parents, with clear guidelines on how to read the data and suggestions for improving the score. Printing a child's BMI on a report card next to grades is an invitation for playground abuse and misinterpretation. The New York Times recently wrote about a 6-year-old Pennsylvania girl who practically stopped eating after she misread a note telling her parents that her BMI was in the normal 80th percentile.

School districts can also help combat obesity by meeting their recommended state guidelines of providing 100 minutes a week of physical education for elementary students.

Ultimately, it's the parents who bear responsibility for their children's health. But giving them basic information, and their children the recommended amount of supervised exercise, is a reasonable and relatively inexpensive service for schools to provide.

smf: I’m usually not one for the quick fix, but the first and fastest way to start would be for the State Board of Education to rescind the misbegotten policy that allows school districts to require PE in only two years of high school - done to accommodate the scheduling of a small number kids into AP and Honors classes. This sends a message that academics is somehow less important than health and fitness …and that AP and honors is more important than general education. It ain’t so. The reality is that this was done to save money and simplify class scheduling – to make adults’ jobs easier and running a school district cheaper while appearing to help students. Try again.

Original article posted 1/29/o7 - Times editorial added 2/2/07

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Proposals Would Give Local School Officials New Powers to Override Both Teachers’ Contracts and State Limits on Charter Schools


WASHINGTON, Jan. 24—The Bush administration called on Wednesday for an array of changes to the president’s signature education law. The proposals would give local school officials new powers to override both teachers’ contracts and state limits on charter schools in the case of persistently failing schools.

The proposals are part of the administration’s blueprint for revising the No Child Left Behind Act, which Congress is scheduled to renew this year. Margaret Spellings, the education secretary, said the goal was to provide students in failing schools with other options and “to make sure we have our best personnel in the neediest places.”

President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2002. It requires schools to test students in reading and math annually in grades three to eight, and establishes progressively more severe penalties for schools that fail to make adequate progress, including shutting the schools altogether.

Administration officials said there were currently about 1,800 of these schools across the country, where students have failed to meet state targets for reading and math for more than five years. But they said that loopholes in the current law allowed them to avoid serious action indefinitely.

“We all have to answer the question what are we going to do about that,” Ms. Spellings said in a telephone news conference. “This is the president’s answer to, Is the promise of No Child Left Behind real?”

She said that allowing local officials to close failing schools and replace them with charter schools would give children new options. Charter schools are publicly financed but freed from many of the regulations that apply to traditional neighborhood schools.

In 26 states, including New York, there are limits on how many charter schools can be opened. Critics point to a lack of consistent research showing charter schools are any more effective than traditional public schools in raising achievement.

Ms. Spellings said local superintendents would also be helped if they could transfer teachers in their districts to help improve poorly performing schools, even if union contracts banned such moves.

Edward J. McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers, derided the proposal as “silly on its face,” adding, “I have a feeling they’re setting up a straw man just to knock it down.”
While allowing for “areas of agreement” with the president’s blueprint, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the education committee, said he was “disappointed that the administration has proposed circumventing state law” with its proposal on charter schools.

In the House, Representative George Miller, the California Democrat who is chairman of the education committee, rebuffed the administration’s move to allow superintendents to override contracts, which he called a “proposal to gut collective-bargaining agreements.”

Separately, he rejected the administration’s call for school vouchers. President Bush proposed, as he has every year since taking office, taxpayer-financed vouchers to allow children in struggling schools to transfer to private schools.

“Private school vouchers,” Mr. Miller said, “have been rejected in the past, and nothing has changed to make them acceptable now. They are the same bad idea they have always been.”

Other administration proposals seemed likely to be more acceptable, among them: a call for a federal fund that would give extra pay to teachers who are most effective in raising children’s test scores, or who agree to teach in the neediest schools; and allowing districts with failing schools to first offer children tutoring before allowing them to transfer.

The administration also proposed requiring states to publicize how their students perform on a national exam, known as the nation’s report card, side by side with student performance on state exams. The move is intended to pressure states to make their own standards more rigorous.

Congress will consider the president’s blueprint as it takes up hearings to renew the law this spring. But with the presidential race taking shape, it is not at all certain that Congress will complete the job this year.

In moving to update the law, Congress and the administration are threading their way through discontent from across the political spectrum, from teachers unions upset that the law’s testing requirements are dictating what teachers do in the classroom to conservatives who say education should remain a purely local matter.

Michael J. Petrilli, an Education Department official in Mr. Bush’s first term who recently called the law “fundamentally flawed,” said the administration’s proposals represent “a pretty decent repair attempt.”

“It’s 50 percent stay the course, 30 percent tweak and tuck, and 20 percent bold new ideas,” Mr. Petrilli said.

He added, “Not bad for a president with 33 percent approval ratings, though the package as a whole has about a zero percent chance of getting through Congress.”

EDUCATION PLAN GOES FROM L.A. TO NATION: Mayor Villaraigosa joins leaders of cities in unveiling $100B plan to boost education, fight poverty.

by Lisa Friedman, from the Washington Bureau of the Long Beach Press Telegram

01/25/2007 - WASHINGTON - In an ambitious move to end urban poverty and aid the nation's struggling cities, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Thursday unveiled a $100 billion plan to guarantee a college education to future generations of American children.

Flanked by leaders of other metropolitan cities plagued by poverty and crime, Villaraigosa told the U.S. Conference of Mayors that improving education across the country will clear a path to the middle class for millions.

The plan by the mayors' task force on poverty calls for universal pre-kindergarten instruction; a tax-free, government-matched college savings account for every child; and a multibillion-dollar investment in schools that combine academics with career training.

The proposal is among the most far-reaching poverty plans ever put forward by mayors and would unfold over two decades.

"People are going to say, `How much is all of this going to cost?' But the real question is, `How much does it cost us now not to make these investments?"' Villaraigosa said during his speech at the Capitol Hilton Hotel.

"There's homeless people all over Los Angeles; he's got people in the city who are dying from poverty that he hasn't helped," said Dave Thompson, a 73-year-old Los Angeles public-access talk show host.

Villaraigosa, he said, "is a dreamer. He's not realistic. He just loves the publicity."

And with Democrats now controlling the House and Senate, many city leaders said Thursday, some of the plan's proposals have a realistic chance of gaining congressional support and being enacted.

Over the next several months, Villaraigosa said, he and other task force members will travel to Miami and Detroit to seek support for the package. Meanwhile, city leaders have been lobbying congressional delegations for support as well.

"I know every one of these people," said Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, who served 27 years in Congress before retiring in 1998.

"I know the language. I understand the conversation. I can maybe play a small role in saying to the mayors, `You do have the capacity to change the conversation on poverty."'

Villaraigosa said he has discussed the package with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, as well as with Rep. George Miller, D-Vallejo, the new chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Miller made no commitments, but, Villaraigosa said, "he's very interested."

With a number of education programs up for reauthorization this year - including Head Start, No Child Left Behind and the Higher Education Act - some of the mayors' proposals are likely to dovetail with Congress' agenda.

"Mayor Villaraigosa is right to say that boosting educational attainment is critical if we want to alleviate poverty and strengthen America's middle class," said Tom Kiley, spokesman for the Education Committee.

Republicans said they also remain open-minded about the education plan.

Steven Ford, spokesman for Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon of Santa Clarita, the leading Republican on the education panel, noted that the previous GOP-dominated House passed pension legislation that included an extension of the 529 college-savings plan.

Villaraigosa's proposed tax-free college savings account calls for the federal government to offer every child $500 at birth and up to $500 in matching funds annually for deposits made into the account.

Accessing the funds

A student could access the money after graduation from high school - as much as $30,000 - and use it toward college or job training.

"What he's proposing seems to recognize the fact that we're in a changing economy," Ford said. "People who have jobs right now want to find additional training. At the same time, families who want to send their kids to college need to find new and better ways to save for that."

Still, the mayors are expected to face steep challenges as they lobby for the package.

"Where does the money come from? That's probably the biggest challenge," said Hilary McLean, spokeswoman for the California Department of Education.


McLean noted California's failed attempt to pass a ballot measure providing pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds.

"If we want our public education system to deliver the results we want, we're going to have to make greater investments," McLean said.

But a number of mayors said they hoped that placing a spotlight on poverty would generate a national discussion about the issue.

"We want it to come out of the mouths of every presidential candidate," said Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who co-chaired the task force.

"It's not just a tin cup," he said of the mayors' anti-poverty plan. "We're not saying `Give us some money.' It's a strategy so we can continue to compete in the global economy."

Villaraigosa won an enthusiastic response in Washington from other mayors who lauded the strategy as a long-overdue effort to attack poverty from the front end.

At home, however, the mayor ran into some criticism.

"There's homeless people all over Los Angeles; he's got people in the city who are dying from poverty that he hasn't helped," said Dave Thompson, a 73-year-old Los Angeles public-access talk show host.

Villaraigosa, he said, "is a dreamer. He's not realistic. He just loves the publicity."

• smf opines: It looks like our mayor, denied taking over LAUSD by the courts, wants to take over the kit ‘n caboodle! It’s interesting that he is allied with the mayors of Detroit and Oakland – two cities where mayoral control of the schools has been tried and repudiated by the voters.

Overall plan urged to reclaim streets

School role key, LAUSD board told

BY NAUSH BOGHOSSIAN, Staff Writer LA Daily News

01/23/2007 - The Los Angeles Unified School District board received a briefing Tuesday on a new report that calls for a Marshall Plan-like solution to end gang violence in Los Angeles.

The report from Connie Rice, a civil-rights attorney who chairs the district's bond oversight committee, has already been presented to a city gang committee and will go to the full City Council.

Rice said school district involvement in a cohesive strategy - akin to the comprehensive Marshall Plan in which moribund economies of post-World War II Europe were rebuilt - is key to helping solve a problem that costs taxpayers and victims more than $2 billion a year.

After failures in anti-gang efforts that failed to stop a sixfold increase in gangs in 30 years, the answer lies in addressing conditions that spawn gang activity, Rice said. The goal, she said, is to make law enforcement the last rather than the only resort.

"Suppression and law enforcement are critical, but alone you can't do this. Your schools are central to any solution," she said.

The LAUSD could keep its schools open after classes as community centers and safe havens for students, Rice said.

She cited a study that revealed that post-traumatic stress disorder levels among LAUSD students were as high as those of students in Baghdad after the U.S. invasion.

School board member Mike Lansing said he looked forward to playing a major part in a plan, but suppressing gang activity requires more than just keeping doors open after school.

"We have to do more than keep them busy and satisfied. ... We must as a city develop teen centers and comprehensive teen programs," he said.

Board member Julie Korenstein said job training will be crucial in giving students alternatives to gangs.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said the LAUSD's involvement is critical.

District Superintendent David Brewer said a major collaborative effort is needed among agencies.

"It's going to be a massive effort, and it's going to take a lot of detail - down to the hour, down to the minute," he said.

Schools are looking for financial aid from state

As enrollment declines, officials in local districts are making plans to mount lobbying efforts with lawmakers.

By Paul Clinton STAFF WRITER Daily Breeze

Thursday, January 25, 2007 - Local school districts, which greeted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget this month with more jeers than cheers, vow to lobby state lawmakers for more funds for the upcoming school year.

Pending a May revision and legislative deal-making in the summer, districts would see a smaller funding increase than last year -- to about 4 percent from 6 percent -- and fewer one-time grants.

While the revenue loss from fewer students is still at least a year away for Los Angeles Unified, Hawthorne and other school districts facing declining enrollment, districts are facing other falling revenue from other sources.

"As the budget process continues in the next few months, I urge Gov. Schwarzenegger, state and federal leaders to prioritize education funding and increase flexibility to school districts," LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer III said.

Los Angeles Unified, the nation's second-largest district, will see about $200 million less, down to $5.6 billion for the 2006-07 year, said Roger Rasmussen, LAUSD's budget director. Rasmussen is scheduled to give a budget presentation to the Board of Education today.
"I would characterize it as a disappointing budget for K-12 education," Rasmussen said. "It's very much a status quo approach."

Under the current proposal, districts would see a more than 4 percent cost-of-living bump across the board -- except for the less than 3 percent rise in federal monies for special education. Districts received an almost 6 percent increase for the 2006-07 year.

In Torrance, a district with 24,000 students, educators expect $1.4 million less in "equalization" monies given to districts lower on the wealth ladder.

"I understand there's not as much money as there was before," said Don Stabler, Torrance Unified's deputy superintendent of administrative services. "From Torrance's point of view, equalization is important."

Several one-time grants also have vanished from the 2007-08 state budget. Schwarzenegger elected not to renew a $500 million outlay for musical instruments, multimedia software, sports equipment and cameras. Districts will continue to receive ongoing arts and physical education funds for instructors. Torrance Unified received a $1.8 million one-time outlay and $350,000 in ongoing money used to hire five elementary music teachers.

The district also counts on about $600,000 in annual mandated costs that aren't likely to be reimbursed, Stabler said.

The state usually reimburses districts for 38 mandated costs such as administering the California High School Exit Exam, collective bargaining and truancy notification.

Los Angeles Unified, Hawthorne elementary and other districts expecting less money due to declining enrollment are keeping a closer eye on funding. The state gives districts a one-year grace period before they must absorb the financial hit.

The state gives districts $5,500 to $7,500 to educate each student each year.
About 4,000 fewer students attended Los Angeles Unified schools this year a
nd about 400 fewer students attended Hawthorne's elementary and middle schools from the 9,775 a year ago.

"We are hurting because we do have a decline in enrollment," said Cristina Chiappe, a board member. "We have less kids and that means a lot less money, but we are still mandated to educate the children."

In the state budget as it now stands, districts have less freedom to spend money they're given, said LAUSD Board Member David Tokofsky.

Schwarzenegger has proposed funding special education transportation using revenue from the state's gasoline tax and asking districts to dip into K-12 instructional funds to pay for before- and after-school child care.

"If we keep this pattern up of chiseling the K-12 day, we'll be a state that will have everything outside of the 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. day," Tokofsky said. "We're asking the school districts to pick up all these other responsibilities with the money they're supposed to use for 8 to 3, Monday to Friday."

Flaws mar plan to fix our schools

BY JOSEPH STAUB, Guest Columnist LA Daily News

01/22/2007 - AFTER reading Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's "Schoolhouse" plan for improving LAUSD schools, I have to admit, that, as a teacher, there's a lot about it I like.

The mayor and his team describe a schoolhouse roofed with an excellent goal: "All children receive an excellent public education to cement the opportunity to realize their dreams." Fair enough, although somebody should tell the mayor's analogy squad that a roof metaphor, like a real roof, probably shouldn't contain cement.

Still, it's a good start. The problem is, like with many schoolhouses in the Los Angeles Unified School District, once you look a little closer, flaws start to appear, and questions start to arise. Assuming that maybe the roof won't collapse under the weight of an ill-made metaphor, let's look at the six pillars that hold up that roof.

Pillar 1 is called "High expectations" and in it the mayor calls for an end to blaming families for school failure. He doesn't mention who is to blame for student failure.

He also wants to "demand results." Again, nothing about parents being held accountable, only schools, which probably means teachers, not administrators or LAUSD suits. So much for partnership.

Pillar 2 is "Safe, small, and clean," which is what the mayor wants all schools to be. Part of "safe" means going after gangs. But if this happens, we better have the nerve to really break them, or it will be the schools that pay the price in a protracted gang war. Too many parents complain when a school employee asks them to go to the office for a visitor's pass, so most people have stopped asking. As a result, schools are largely open and dangerously undefended.

Pillar 3, "Empowered leadership," says: "Principals must be liberated from the central office mandates for compliance and given more autonomy to manage their schools." This always sounds good, but it is fraught with peril. I have known only a few principals I thought wouldn't try to get rid of a teacher for a purely political reason.

Pillar 4 is "Powerful teaching and rigorous curriculum," and pillar 5 is: "Family and community involvement." These platforms include some great ideas, as long as the mayor can help find the money, space and personnel to make it happen.

If you're going to have arts, vocational classes, sports, literacy academies, foreign language classes, parent centers and classes, job training, health clinics, and all that at schools - including an extended school day - I have one question: Where are all the people doing all this teaching going to park?

Pillar 6: "More money to schools."

Ah, this is how the other five pillars get funded. But wait, what's this? An audit of the district? Cut the downtown bureaucracy? A service-minded central office? Wow, when did Mayor Villaraigosa join United Teachers Los Angeles? Well, you can have a red T-shirt, Mr. Mayor, but we'll be watching you.

There are indeed a number of good ideas in the "Schoolhouse" plan, but if the mayor wants his plan to work, he has to do one thing first: help rein in those who want to break up the district.

In the first place, breaking the LAUSD up now would send the district into a paralyzing tizzy of fragmented priorities and lawyer-to-lawyer combat over money and property. Second, if the district gets dismantled, all the little districts will attempt to renegotiate their teacher contracts, probably downward as the budget types panic, or pretend to. Poorer neighborhoods would be hard-pressed to retain experienced teachers when the richer ones begin to offer better pay, benefits and working conditions.

The mayor also needs to put more trust in the people. In the introduction to his plan, Villaraigosa attempts to strike an inclusive note. But if that's the case, why did he ignore that very constituency, and instead resort to political maneuvering in Sacramento to gain control over the LAUSD? The "Schoolhouse" can work, but only if the mayor leads, not commands.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


by Elissa Gootman New York Times

January 22, 2007 - When John Smith, a swaggering sixth grader at one of New York City’s growing collection of kindergarten- through eighth-grade schools (K-8) , feels lost, he heads downstairs to the colorful classroom of his former third-grade teacher, Randi Silverman, for what she calls a “Silverman hug.”

“When I get mad I go to her,” John, 11, said amid the lunchtime buzz in the cafeteria of his school, Public School 105, on the Rockaway peninsula in Queens. “When I feel frustrated I’ll go to her. When I feel like I can’t do it no more I go to her, and she tells me I have to do it.”

Miles away at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, a 6th- through 12th-grade school, teachers keep the sixth graders looking forward, toward college. One recent morning, a class peppered a guidance counselor, Michael Lloyd, with queries, from “Where is Harvard?” to “What does Ph.D. stand for?”

The two schools, in disparate corners of the nation’s largest school system, are part of a national effort to rethink middle school, driven by increasingly well-documented slumps in learning among early adolescents as well as middle school crime rates and stubborn high school dropout rates.

The schools share the premise that the way to reverse years of abysmal middle school performance is to get rid of middle schools entirely. But they represent opposite poles in the sharp debate over whether 11- through 13-year-olds are better off pushed toward adulthood or coddled a little longer.

Should the nurturing cocoon of elementary school be extended for another three years, shielding 11-year-olds from the abrupt transition to a new school, with new students and teachers, at one of the most volatile times in their lives?

Paul Vallas, chief executive of the Philadelphia school system, thinks so, and he has closed 17 traditional middle schools since 2002, while converting some three dozen elementary schools into K-8s. “The fifth to sixth grade transition is just too traumatic,” he said. “At a time when children are undergoing emotional, physical, social changes, and when they need stability and consistency, suddenly they’re thrust into this alien environment.”

Others argue that 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds thrive in the presence of older role models and reminders of concrete goals, like playing varsity sports and getting into college.

“Kids are forward-looking — they don’t get nostalgic for second grade when they’re in third grade,” said Larry Woodbridge, principal of the Secondary School for Law in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where the award-winning high school debate team will teach a middle school social studies unit this spring.

K-8 schools, which prevailed 100 years ago, are the more popular alternative in this debate, cropping up from Philadelphia to Baltimore to Milwaukee to New York. (In New York, which has more than 200,000 sixth- through eighth-grade pupils, most are in traditional 6-8 schools.)

But it is not clear that the shift back into elementary schools makes much of a difference in keeping students from losing their way academically.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that students at Philadelphia’s established K-8 schools outperformed students at traditional middle schools, but that those schools had fewer poor and minority students and more experienced teachers, which could have largely explained the results.

In Philadelphia’s newer K-8s, which are more similar demographically to the city’s middle schools, students performed slightly better than at middle schools, but those advantages were not always statistically significant.

“The bump in student achievement that administrators may achieve in converting to K-8s may not make as big a difference as they would hope for,” said Vaughan Byrnes, one of the Johns Hopkins researchers.

The 6th- through 12th-grade school is less common, and less studied. In New York City, where such schools have proliferated — 38 have opened since 2002 — the shift is being driven largely by nonprofit organizations that have helped start new, small schools. These schools are under pressure to show they can produce better results than traditional ones.

In many ways these schools were conceived less as a solution to the middle school problem than as solutions to the high school problem — that is, the problem of having just four years to work magic with woefully underprepared freshmen.

“It’s been an amazingly difficult foot race to get kids from where they are coming in at ninth grade to college-ready, and I just wanted more time,” said Richard Kahan, president of the Urban Assembly, a city nonprofit group that started creating high schools and has since switched to 6-12 schools, hoping to open three more in September.

Both 6-12 and K-8 schools eliminate one transition from students’ lives. Both also tend to have far fewer sixth- through eighth-grade students than the typical middle school — a difference that those who work with middle school students say cannot be underestimated.

“One middle school student is like three high school students in terms of their behavioral needs and the issues you’re confronted with,” said Fred Walsh, principal of the School for International Studies in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.

Mr. Walsh said he spent more time dealing with his 170 middle school students, like a sixth-grade boy who recently broke into tears after his science teacher asked him to switch seats, than his 300 high schoolers.

Still, some middle school experts argue that school reconfiguration is a costly distraction from what adolescents really need: smaller classes, an engaging curriculum, personalized attention and well-prepared teachers. “Creating schools with varying grade configurations, K-8s and 6-12s, will not guarantee that middle-grades teachers and students will be successful,” said Patrick Montesano, who runs a national middle school improvement program at the Academy for Educational Development, a nonprofit organization.

Experts are not the only skeptics. Mr. Woodbridge often finds himself on the defensive among parents terrified to send their fifth graders into the same hallways as high school seniors. And when P.S. 105 was converted from an elementary school into a K-8, some teachers balked at the thought of pubescent preteens in the same school as kindergartners. Indeed, P.S. 105 starts even earlier, with a prekindergarten program.

But many have since come around, sometimes after seeing how their former students return to them for comfort or advice. When a seventh-grader had the shock of getting her first menstrual period during school one day, she turned to her third-grade teacher, Bonnie Petrone, who welcomed her to womanhood in a classroom decorated with snowflakes and smiley faces.

“It’s a comfort zone,” Mrs. Petrone explained.

When a student cut school and left the building last year, his absence was noticed more quickly than it might have been in middle school, and a half-dozen staff members searched the neighborhood and worked the phones before tracking him down at home.

“They know me — my house, my rules,” said Laurie Shapiro, the principal, explaining why such offenses are a rarity.

As for her students, Katty Martinez, 15, relishes being a role model “to the little ones.” Christopher Pike, 8, gets to watch his brother, Marques, 14, play basketball in the school gym.

While the first day of sixth grade can be stomach-churning when a transition to a new school full of strangers is involved, for Kendearia Kingston and Taaliba Chalmers, it was no more traumatic than any other first day of school. The girls, now seventh graders, said their lives were complicated enough without switching schools. “There’s a lot of issues going on,” Kendearia, 12, said.

“Boyfriend issues,” Taaliba, 13, elaborated.

But Cal Lopez, 11, said that being in the same school with prekindergartners made him “feel like a baby.” And Anthony Kuar, a fifth grader, said he was ready to move on from P.S. 105, where crayon renditions of snowmen line a hallway, the principal’s office is packed with Winnie the Pooh knickknacks, and middle school students switch classes — but mostly within one wing of the third floor.

“I want my own locker, with a combination,” Anthony, 11, groused.

At Frederick Douglass Academy, by contrast, the walls are lined with posters of university campuses, photographs of last year’s senior prom, and gold-trimmed sheets of paper listing where each member of the Class of 2006 was admitted to college (the standout: Breeana Moore, who settled on Brown after being admitted to 25 others).

“I can absolutely get all these kids to college if I have them for seven years,” said the principal, Gregory Hodge. “The school is geared toward one thing: getting your students into college, and it starts in grade six.”

Teachers say students who enter Frederick Douglass as ninth graders, after middle school elsewhere, are often behind academically and chafe at aspects of the school culture, like being called “Mr.” and “Miss” and having to wear navy blue and white uniforms every day.

Antonia Singleton, 18, said the uniform was easy to digest as a sixth grader, because “your mom is still dressing you at that time.” By ninth grade, she said, it was just part of life.

In the cafeteria one recent day, the age chasm was evident. As Kabresha Glover, 11, giggled with her friends over Cheez-its and chicken fingers — “There’s a lot of drama in the sixth grade,” she noted — Jack Boampong, 17, and his friends debated the execution of Saddam Hussein.

While the models differ, in both P.S. 105 and Frederick Douglass, the principals have spent hours orchestrating schedules, staffing and traffic patterns to ensure that contact between their oldest and youngest students is limited, and supervised.

When Frederick Douglass teachers noticed an 11th grade boy and an 8th grade girl holding hands, “We nipped that in the bud,” Dr. Hodge said, adding, “You also have to make sure they emulate the right behavior.”

And so, when a $100,000 college scholarship winner was congratulated on the Frederick Douglass loudspeaker in the middle of John DePasquale’s English class, he briefly stopped his lesson.

“In five years,” he told his seventh-grade charges, “I want to hear your name.”

Monday, January 22, 2007


The Wall Street Journal On Education:
Intelligence in the Classroom

Half of all children are below average, and teachers can do only so much for them.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Education is becoming the preferred method for diagnosing and attacking a wide range problems in American life. The No Child Left Behind Act is one prominent example. Another is the recent volley of articles that blame rising income inequality on the increasing economic premium for advanced education. Crime, drugs, extramarital births, unemployment--you name the problem, and I will show you a stack of claims that education is to blame, or at least implicated.

One word is missing from these discussions: intelligence. Hardly anyone will admit it, but education's role in causing or solving any problem cannot be evaluated without considering the underlying intellectual ability of the people being educated. Today and over the next two days, I will put the case for three simple truths about the mediating role of intelligence that should bear on the way we think about education and the nation's future.

Today's simple truth: Half of all children are below average in intelligence. We do not live in Lake Wobegon.

Our ability to improve the academic accomplishment of students in the lower half of the distribution of intelligence is severely limited. It is a matter of ceilings. Suppose a girl in the 99th percentile of intelligence, corresponding to an IQ of 135, is getting a C in English. She is underachieving, and someone who sets out to raise her performance might be able to get a spectacular result. Now suppose the boy sitting behind her is getting a D, but his IQ is a bit below 100, at the 49th percentile.

We can hope to raise his grade. But teaching him more vocabulary words or drilling him on the parts of speech will not open up new vistas for him. It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity, any more than it is within my power to follow a proof in the American Journal of Mathematics. In both cases, the problem is not that we have not been taught enough, but that we are not smart enough.

Now take the girl sitting across the aisle who is getting an F. She is at the 20th percentile of intelligence, which means she has an IQ of 88. If the grading is honest, it may not be possible to do more than give her an E for effort. Even if she is taught to read every bit as well as her intelligence permits, she still will be able to comprehend only simple written material. It is a good thing that she becomes functionally literate, and it will have an effect on the range of jobs she can hold. But still she will be confined to jobs that require minimal reading skills. She is just not smart enough to do more than that.

How about raising intelligence? It would be nice if we knew how, but we do not. It has been shown that some intensive interventions temporarily raise IQ scores by amounts ranging up to seven or eight points. Investigated psychometrically, these increases are a mix of test effects and increases in the underlying general factor of intellectual ability--"g." In any case, the increases fade to insignificance within a few years after the intervention. Richard Herrnstein and I reviewed the technical literature on this topic in "The Bell Curve" (1994), and studies since then have told the same story.

There is no reason to believe that raising intelligence significantly and permanently is a current policy option, no matter how much money we are willing to spend. Nor can we look for much help from the Flynn Effect, the rise in IQ scores that has been observed internationally for several decades. Only a portion of that rise represents an increase in g, and recent studies indicate that the rise has stopped in advanced nations.

Some say that the public schools are so awful that there is huge room for improvement in academic performance just by improving education. There are two problems with that position. The first is that the numbers used to indict the public schools are missing a crucial component. For example, in the 2005 round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 36% of all fourth-graders were below the NAEP's "basic achievement" score in reading. It sounds like a terrible record. But we know from the mathematics of the normal distribution that 36% of fourth-graders also have IQs lower than 95.

What IQ is necessary to give a child a reasonable chance to meet the NAEP's basic achievement score? Remarkably, it appears that no one has tried to answer that question. We only know for sure that if the bar for basic achievement is meaningfully defined, some substantial proportion of students will be unable to meet it no matter how well they are taught. As it happens, the NAEP's definition of basic achievement is said to be on the tough side. That substantial proportion of fourth-graders who cannot reasonably be expected to meet it could well be close to 36%.

The second problem with the argument that education can be vastly improved is the false assumption that educators already know how to educate everyone and that they just need to try harder--the assumption that prompted No Child Left Behind. We have never known how to educate everyone. The widely held image of a golden age of American education when teachers brooked no nonsense and all the children learned their three Rs is a myth. If we confine the discussion to children in the lower half of the intelligence distribution (education of the gifted is another story), the overall trend of the 20th century was one of slow, hard-won improvement. A detailed review of this evidence, never challenged with data, was also part of "The Bell Curve."

This is not to say that American public schools cannot be improved. Many of them, especially in large cities, are dreadful. But even the best schools under the best conditions cannot repeal the limits on achievement set by limits on intelligence.

To say that even a perfect education system is not going to make much difference in the performance of children in the lower half of the distribution understandably grates. But the easy retorts do not work. It's no use coming up with the example of a child who was getting Ds in school, met an inspiring teacher, and went on to become an astrophysicist. That is an underachievement story, not the story of someone at the 49th percentile of intelligence. It's no use to cite the differences in test scores between public schools and private ones--for students in the bottom half of the distribution, the differences are real but modest. It's no use to say that IQ scores can be wrong. I am not talking about scores on specific tests, but about a student's underlying intellectual ability, g, whether or not it has been measured with a test. And it's no use to say that there's no such thing as g.

While concepts such as "emotional intelligence" and "multiple intelligences" have their uses, a century of psychometric evidence has been augmented over the last decade by a growing body of neuroscientific evidence. Like it or not, g exists, is grounded in the architecture and neural functioning of the brain, and is the raw material for academic performance. If you do not have a lot of g when you enter kindergarten, you are never going to have a lot of it. No change in the educational system will change that hard fact.

That says nothing about the quality of the lives that should be open to everyone across the range of ability. I am among the most emphatic of those who think that the importance of IQ in living a good life is vastly overrated. My point is just this: It is true that many social and economic problems are disproportionately found among people with little education, but the culprit for their educational deficit is often low intelligence. Refusing to come to grips with that reality has produced policies that have been ineffectual at best and damaging at worst.

Mr. Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This is the first in a three-part series, concluding on Thursday.

On Education

What's Wrong With Vocational School?


January 17, 2007

The topic yesterday was education and children in the lower half of the intelligence distribution. Today I turn to the upper half, people with IQs of 100 or higher. Today's simple truth is that far too many of them are going to four-year colleges.

Begin with those barely into the top half, those with average intelligence. To have an IQ of 100 means that a tough high-school course pushes you about as far as your academic talents will take you. If you are average in math ability, you may struggle with algebra and probably fail a calculus course. If you are average in verbal skills, you often misinterpret complex text and make errors in logic.

These are not devastating shortcomings. You are smart enough to engage in any of hundreds of occupations. You can acquire more knowledge if it is presented in a format commensurate with your intellectual skills. But a genuine college education in the arts and sciences begins where your skills leave off.

In engineering and most of the natural sciences, the demarcation between high-school material and college-level material is brutally obvious. If you cannot handle the math, you cannot pass the courses. In the humanities and social sciences, the demarcation is fuzzier. It is possible for someone with an IQ of 100 to sit in the lectures of Economics 1, read the textbook, and write answers in an examination book. But students who cannot follow complex arguments accurately are not really learning economics. They are taking away a mishmash of half-understood information and outright misunderstandings that probably leave them under the illusion that they know something they do not. (A depressing research literature documents one's inability to recognize one's own incompetence.) Traditionally and properly understood, a four-year college education teaches advanced analytic skills and information at a level that exceeds the intellectual capacity of most people.

There is no magic point at which a genuine college-level education becomes an option, but anything below an IQ of 110 is problematic. If you want to do well, you should have an IQ of 115 or higher. Put another way, it makes sense for only about 15% of the population, 25% if one stretches it, to get a college education. And yet more than 45% of recent high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges. Adjust that percentage to account for high-school dropouts, and more than 40% of all persons in their late teens are trying to go to a four-year college -- enough people to absorb everyone down through an IQ of 104.

No data that I have been able to find tell us what proportion of those students really want four years of college-level courses, but it is safe to say that few people who are intellectually unqualified yearn for the experience, any more than someone who is athletically unqualified for a college varsity wants to have his shortcomings exposed at practice every day. They are in college to improve their chances of making a good living. What they really need is vocational training. But nobody will say so, because "vocational training" is second class. "College" is first class.

Large numbers of those who are intellectually qualified for college also do not yearn for four years of college-level courses. They go to college because their parents are paying for it and college is what children of their social class are supposed to do after they finish high school. They may have the ability to understand the material in Economics 1 but they do not want to. They, too, need to learn to make a living -- and would do better in vocational training.

Combine those who are unqualified with those who are qualified but not interested, and some large proportion of students on today's college campuses -- probably a majority of them -- are looking for something that the four-year college was not designed to provide. Once there, they create a demand for practical courses, taught at an intellectual level that can be handled by someone with a mildly above-average IQ and/or mild motivation. The nation's colleges try to accommodate these new demands. But most of the practical specialties do not really require four years of training, and the best way to teach those specialties is not through a residential institution with the staff and infrastructure of a college. It amounts to a system that tries to turn out televisions on an assembly line that also makes pottery. It can be done, but it's ridiculously inefficient.

Government policy contributes to the problem by making college scholarships and loans too easy to get, but its role is ancillary. The demand for college is market-driven, because a college degree does, in fact, open up access to jobs that are closed to people without one. The fault lies in the false premium that our culture has put on a college degree.

For a few occupations, a college degree still certifies a qualification. For example, employers appropriately treat a bachelor's degree in engineering as a requirement for hiring engineers. But a bachelor's degree in a field such as sociology, psychology, economics, history or literature certifies nothing. It is a screening device for employers. The college you got into says a lot about your ability, and that you stuck it out for four years says something about your perseverance. But the degree itself does not qualify the graduate for anything. There are better, faster and more efficient ways for young people to acquire credentials to provide to employers.

The good news is that market-driven systems eventually adapt to reality, and signs of change are visible. One glimpse of the future is offered by the nation's two-year colleges. They are more honest than the four-year institutions about what their students want and provide courses that meet their needs more explicitly. Their time frame gives them a big advantage -- two years is about right for learning many technical specialties, while four years is unnecessarily long.

Advances in technology are making the brick-and-mortar facility increasingly irrelevant. Research resources on the Internet will soon make the college library unnecessary. Lecture courses taught by first-rate professors are already available on CDs and DVDs for many subjects, and online methods to make courses interactive between professors and students are evolving. Advances in computer simulation are expanding the technical skills that can be taught without having to gather students together in a laboratory or shop. These and other developments are all still near the bottom of steep growth curves. The cost of effective training will fall for everyone who is willing to give up the trappings of a campus. As the cost of college continues to rise, the choice to give up those trappings will become easier.

* * *

A reality about the job market must eventually begin to affect the valuation of a college education: The spread of wealth at the top of American society has created an explosive increase in the demand for craftsmen. Finding a good lawyer or physician is easy. Finding a good carpenter, painter, electrician, plumber, glazier, mason -- the list goes on and on -- is difficult, and it is a seller's market. Journeymen craftsmen routinely make incomes in the top half of the income distribution while master craftsmen can make six figures. They have work even in a soft economy. Their jobs cannot be outsourced to India. And the craftsman's job provides wonderful intrinsic rewards that come from mastery of a challenging skill that produces tangible results. How many white-collar jobs provide nearly as much satisfaction?

Even if foregoing college becomes economically attractive, the social cachet of a college degree remains. That will erode only when large numbers of high-status, high-income people do not have a college degree and don't care. The information technology industry is in the process of creating that class, with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as exemplars. It will expand for the most natural of reasons: A college education need be no more important for many high-tech occupations than it is for NBA basketball players or cabinetmakers. Walk into Microsoft or Google with evidence that you are a brilliant hacker, and the job interviewer is not going to fret if you lack a college transcript. The ability to present an employer with evidence that you are good at something, without benefit of a college degree, will continue to increase, and so will the number of skills to which that evidence can be attached. Every time that happens, the false premium attached to the college degree will diminish.

Most students find college life to be lots of fun (apart from the boring classroom stuff), and that alone will keep the four-year institution overstocked for a long time. But, rightly understood, college is appropriate for a small minority of young adults -- perhaps even a minority of the people who have IQs high enough that they could do college-level work if they wished. People who go to college are not better or worse people than anyone else; they are merely different in certain interests and abilities. That is the way college should be seen. There is reason to hope that eventually it will be.

Mr. Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Aztecs vs. Greeks


January 18, 2007

If "intellectually gifted" is defined to mean people who can become theoretical physicists, then we're talking about no more than a few people per thousand and perhaps many fewer. They are cognitive curiosities, too rare to have that much impact on the functioning of society from day to day. But if "intellectually gifted" is defined to mean people who can stand out in almost any profession short of theoretical physics, then research about IQ and job performance indicates that an IQ of at least 120 is usually needed. That number demarcates the top 10% of the IQ distribution, or about 15 million people in today's labor force -- a lot of people.

In professions screened for IQ by educational requirements -- medicine, engineering, law, the sciences and academia -- the great majority of people must, by the nature of the selection process, have IQs over 120. Evidence about who enters occupations where the screening is not directly linked to IQ indicates that people with IQs of 120 or higher also occupy large proportions of positions in the upper reaches of corporate America and the senior ranks of government. People in the top 10% of intelligence produce most of the books and newspaper articles we read and the television programs and movies we watch. They are the people in the laboratories and at workstations who invent our new pharmaceuticals, computer chips, software and every other form of advanced technology.

Combine these groups, and the top 10% of the intelligence distribution has a huge influence on whether our economy is vital or stagnant, our culture healthy or sick, our institutions secure or endangered. Of the simple truths about intelligence and its relationship to education, this is the most important and least acknowledged: Our future depends crucially on how we educate the next generation of people gifted with unusually high intelligence.

How assiduously does our federal government work to see that this precious raw material is properly developed? In 2006, the Department of Education spent about $84 billion. The only program to improve the education of the gifted got $9.6 million, one-hundredth of 1% of expenditures. In the 2007 budget, President Bush zeroed it out.

But never mind. A large proportion of gifted children are born to parents who value their children's talent and do their best to see that it is realized. Most gifted children without such parents are recognized by someone somewhere along the educational line and pointed toward college. No evidence indicates that the nation has many children with IQs above 120 who are not given an opportunity for higher education. The university system has also become efficient in shipping large numbers of the most talented high-school graduates to the most prestigious schools. The allocation of this human capital can be criticized -- it would probably be better for the nation if more of the gifted went into the sciences and fewer into the law. But if the issue is amount of education, then the nation is doing fine with its next generation of gifted children. The problem with the education of the gifted involves not their professional training, but their training as citizens.

We live in an age when it is unfashionable to talk about the special responsibility of being gifted, because to do so acknowledges inequality of ability, which is elitist, and inequality of responsibilities, which is also elitist. And so children who know they are smarter than the other kids tend, in a most human reaction, to think of themselves as superior to them. Because giftedness is not to be talked about, no one tells high-IQ children explicitly, forcefully and repeatedly that their intellectual talent is a gift. That they are not superior human beings, but lucky ones. That the gift brings with it obligations to be worthy of it. That among those obligations, the most important and most difficult is to aim not just at academic accomplishment, but at wisdom.

The encouragement of wisdom requires a special kind of education. It requires first of all recognition of one's own intellectual limits and fallibilities -- in a word, humility. This is perhaps the most conspicuously missing part of today's education of the gifted. Many high-IQ students, especially those who avoid serious science and math, go from kindergarten through an advanced degree without ever having a teacher who is dissatisfied with their best work and without ever taking a course that forces them to say to themselves, "I can't do this." Humility requires that the gifted learn what it feels like to hit an intellectual wall, just as all of their less talented peers do, and that can come only from a curriculum and pedagogy designed especially for them. That level of demand cannot fairly be imposed on a classroom that includes children who do not have the ability to respond. The gifted need to have some classes with each other not to be coddled, but because that is the only setting in which their feet can be held to the fire.

The encouragement of wisdom requires mastery of analytical building blocks. The gifted must assimilate the details of grammar and syntax and the details of logical fallacies not because they will need them to communicate in daily life, but because these are indispensable for precise thinking at an advanced level.

The encouragement of wisdom requires being steeped in the study of ethics, starting with Aristotle and Confucius. It is not enough that gifted children learn to be nice. They must know what it means to be good.

The encouragement of wisdom requires an advanced knowledge of history. Never has the aphorism about the fate of those who ignore history been more true.

All of the above are antithetical to the mindset that prevails in today's schools at every level. The gifted should not be taught to be nonjudgmental; they need to learn how to make accurate judgments. They should not be taught to be equally respectful of Aztecs and Greeks; they should focus on the best that has come before them, which will mean a light dose of Aztecs and a heavy one of Greeks. The primary purpose of their education should not be to let the little darlings express themselves, but to give them the tools and the intellectual discipline for expressing themselves as adults.

In short, I am calling for a revival of the classical definition of a liberal education, serving its classic purpose: to prepare an elite to do its duty. If that sounds too much like Plato's Guardians, consider this distinction. As William F. Buckley rightly instructs us, it is better to be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University. But we have that option only in the choice of our elected officials. In all other respects, the government, economy and culture are run by a cognitive elite that we do not choose. That is the reality, and we are powerless to change it. All we can do is try to educate the elite to be conscious of, and prepared to meet, its obligations. For years, we have not even thought about the nature of that task. It is time we did.

* * *

The goals that should shape the evolution of American education are cross-cutting and occasionally seem contradictory. Yesterday, I argued the merits of having a large group of high-IQ people who do not bother to go to college; today, I argue the merits of special education for the gifted. The two positions are not in the end incompatible, but there is much more to be said, as on all the issues I have raised.

The aim here is not to complete an argument but to begin a discussion; not to present policy prescriptions, but to plead for greater realism in our outlook on education. Accept that some children will be left behind other children because of intellectual limitations, and think about what kind of education will give them the greatest chance for a fulfilling life nonetheless. Stop telling children that they need to go to college to be successful, and take advantage of the other, often better ways in which people can develop their talents. Acknowledge the existence and importance of high intellectual ability, and think about how best to nurture the children who possess it.

Mr. Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This concludes a three-part series which began on Tuesday.

Charles Murray first came to national attention in 1984 with the publication of Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950–1980. This was followed in 1988 by In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government, in 1994 by The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (with Richard J. Herrnstein), in 1997 by What It Means to be a Libertarian: A Personal Interpretation, and in 2003 by Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950. His latest book is In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State (2006).

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