Arizona ban spurs interest in Chicano studies

Tucson schools were forced to drop Mexican-American Studies classes after a state law banned courses that are “designed for a specific ethnic group,” advocate “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals” or fan “racial resentment.” This month, a federal judge upheld the Arizona law.

The ban has revived interest in ethnic studies, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Underground” libraries with Chicano literature are popping up across the Southwest and are set to open soon in unexpected places such as Milwaukee and Louisville.

. . . “It was only until it was banned that I really took this seriously and recognized the need,” said (Raquel) Velasquez, a 19-year-old originally from Tucson. She is one of 14 students at Prescott College taking a pedagogy class to help train them to become ethnic studies teachers.

Curtis Acosta now teaches English rather than Mexican American Studies at a Tucson high school. On Sundays, he teaches a Chicano literature class at a youth center. Ten students enrolled. Donations pay their tuition and Prescott College has offered college credits.

Bianca Sierra, a high school senior, said she’d never studied Chicano literature.

She says she likes her Sunday class better than her classes at school because she can relate to its subject matter on a personal level. For example, books she reads in her Chicano literature class have characters with names similar to those of her mother and grandmother or mention foods similar to those prepared in her home.

. . .  Instead of simply listening to the teacher lecture, the students gather in a circle and, along with Acosta, discuss and debate the subject matter.

“I like it because it makes me feel more invested in it, because they are asking you, ‘What is your opinion?’ I was never asked what my opinion was on an issue [in class]. You’re just not asked that in regular school,” she said.

No Chicano novels in the English curriculum? Were they all ghetto-ized in the ethnic studies class? And Tucson teachers never let students express opinions?

Choice rules: Red tape or red herring?

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Most private schools will participate in choice programs, even if they’re held accountable for students’ achievement, concludes a new Fordham study, School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring? Only 25 percent of schools listed state testing requirements as very or extremely important to their decision about whether to participate, but more than half worry about preserving their admissions criteria and religious practices. Fifty-eight percent of non-participating schools cited paperwork burdens and mandatory open-enrollment policies as important factors.

Fordham looked at 13 different school choice models and found very different regulatory burdens. Arizona’s “individual” tax credit scholarship is the least burdened by regulation, while Milwaukee’s long-running voucher program “has accumulated more rules as it has grown older and larger.”

Tax-credit programs will maximize participation by private schools, but “lose a measure of accountability,” researchers conclude.

A record 255,000 children are using vouchers and tax-credit scholarships to attend private school, according to The ABCs of School Choice by the Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice. “The ABCs” describes the 39 private school choice programs in 21 states and Washington, D.C.

The education election

The status quo was a big winner, writes Rick Hess in his election wrap-up.

Those edu-advocates who’ve been telling themselves that an Obama win would mean a big infusion of dollars are going to be disappointed– the size of the deficit, the GOP majority in the House, the need to deal with Pell, the impending costs of the Affordable Care Act, and the rest mean that there won’t be big new dollars for education initiatives, no matter how often the President says nice things about edu-investment and workforce initiatives.

. . . The next few years may be something of a slog for folks at ED, as they have to do the tedious work of trying to monitor Race to the Top and waiver commitments, while figuring out how to be impactful when they don’t have much new money to spend . . .

It will be interesting to see who quits the Education Department, Hess writes.

If Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett’s re-election campaign was “a referendum on reform,”  as Fordham’s Mike Petrilli put it, reform lost. Bennett, a Republican who championed tougher teacher evaluations and school accountability, was upset by teacher Glenda Ritz, a Democrat.

Bennett was a reform “stud,” writes Hess. Teachers’ union opposition wouldn’t have been enough to defeat Bennett in “deep red” Indiana. He also faced opposition from Tea Party conservatives over his support for Common Core State Standards, which they call “Obamacore.”

Intentionally or not, the Obama administration has politicized the Common Core and, in so doing, is making it dangerous for elected Republicans in red states to support it. And, trust me, a lot of GOP state school board members, education committee members, and state chiefs are aware of what happened to Bennett.

Ed Week looks at Arne Duncan’s five big challenges in the next term. “Duncan will have to walk a fine line between supporting states as they implement common standards and tests, and, in the words of Checker Finn, not ”loving them to death.”

The Obama-Duncan education reforms are at risk, writes Rishawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. No ChIld Left Behind waivers are letting traditionalists and suburban districts gut accountability. He hopes Obama and Duncan will work with congressional leaders on both sides to revise No Child and expand accountability. But he’s not holding his breath.

School choice lost in Florida, where voters rejected a measure that would have let parents use school vouchers at religious schools.

However, Georgia approved a special commission to authorize new charters.

After turning down charter schools three times, voters in Washington state narrowly passed a charter school measure which will let 40 charters open statewide in the next five years. A majority of parents or teachers could “trigger” the conversion of a traditional public school into a charter.

In Idaho, where Romney won in a landslide, voters repealed the “Students Come First” laws, agreeing with teachers’ unions. It was “a stunning rebuke” to Republican Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent Tom Luna, writes the Idaho Statesman.

– 57 percent opposed to restrictions on teachers unions in Prop 1.

– 58 percent voted no on Prop 2, which paid teacher bonuses based on student test scores and other measures.

– 67 percent rejected a mandate for laptops and online credits for every Idaho high school student.

In red-hot South Dakota, two-thirds of voters rejected Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s plan to “give bonuses to top teachers, phase out tenure and recruit candidates for critical teaching jobs,” reports KSFY-ABC.

Michigan voters rejected a union-sponsored measure protecting collective-bargaining rights.

Maryland voters approved in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

To my surprise, California voters approved a tax increase billed as the only way to keep schools open. A political contributions initiative aimed at unions failed.

In Arizona, a sales tax extension to fund schools went down to defeat.

How strong are teachers’ unions?

Hawaii’s teachers’ union is the strongest in the nation, followed by Oregon, Montana and Pennsylvania, according to Fordham’s analysis. Arizona has the weakest teachers’ unions, followed by Florida and South Carolina.

More choices, more lawsuits

If 2011 was the year of school choice – including tax-credit scholarships, education savings accounts, charters and vouchers — 2012 was the year of school choice lawsuits, notes Education Next.

Many of the laws, including Indiana’s voucher program, Arizona’s savings accounts, and a new voucher program in Douglas County, Colorado, were challenged in court shortly after passage. These legal challenges stalled reform and kept the school choice movement fighting for a clear identity. Is school choice just for certain student groups, like low-income children, or can it actually change the public school system?

For some laws, such as Indiana’s, a legal challenge did not prevent thousands of students from participating in the program’s first year. In other cases, as with Colorado’s voucher initiative, courts shut down the program just as the school year began, leaving hundreds of students uncertain as to whether they could remain at their new schools.

“Legal challenges to school-choice programs have become as inevitable and painful as death and taxes,” says Clint Bolick, vice president for litigation at the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute.

Ruling: Ethnic studies classes break Arizona law

Tucson schools must drop Mexican-American Studies or lose 10 percent of state funding, ruled an administrative law judge, who found the ethnic classes violate Arizona law. The 2010 law bans courses that are “designed for a specific ethnic group” or advocate “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” It also bans fanning “racial resentment.”

Ignoring the history of  ”oppression and racism” will promote resentment, a school district witness testified. But Judge Lewis Kowal found the classes went beyond “teaching oppression objectively” to “actively presenting material in a biased, political, and emotionally charged manner.”

“Teaching in such a manner promotes social or political activism against the white people, promotes racial resentment, and advocates ethnic solidarity, instead of treating pupils as individuals,” Kowal wrote. He cited a lesson that taught students that the historic treatment of Mexican-Americans was “marked by the use of force, fraud and exploitation,” and a parent’s complaint that one of her daughters, who was white, was shunned by Latino classmates after a government course was taught “in an extremely biased manner.”

A group of teachers are challenging the law in federal court, arguing it was motivated by “a racial bias and anti-Hispanic beliefs and sentiments.”

Some A+ schools get C’s in new grading system

Some of Arizona’s 62  A+ schools became C schools under a new rating system. The Arizona Educational Foundation’s system relies on a comprehensive set of criteria, while the state’s new system is based on test scores and progress.

More high school grads start at community colleges

The recession hasn’t depressed college enrollment, but more high school graduates are starting at community colleges.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Most community college students never complete a credential because they never start a college-level program of study, a researcher says. Students need clear pathways.

Arizona is likely to approve a plan to fund public colleges and universities based on performance as well as enrollment.

$186K + perks for NJ college chiefs

New Jersey’s community college presidents average $186,000 a year plus perks such as housing and car allowances. Two face charges of financial improprieties.

Also on Community College Spotlight: As wildfires rage in Arizona, endangered frogs find refuge on campus.

Former nursing students have won a lawsuit against their Virginia community college, which failed to disclose that it had lost national accreditation.

Merit pay is ‘blocked, diluted, co-opted’

Merit pay plans are blocked, diluated and co-opted, according to an Education Next study by Jay Greene and Stuart Buck of the University of Arkansas.  Even “symbolic” plans are rare. Only 3.5 percent of districts have some form of merit pay, including token plans.

To be truly effective, pay for performance must mean in education what it does in other industries—salary increases for the successful, and salary reductions, even dismissals, for poor performers. State laws governing teacher tenure in most states make implementation of such plans unlikely.

Many plans reward teachers “mostly or entirely for inputs (e.g., professional development, graduate degrees, national certification) rather than for outputs (test scores, graduation rates, or even supervisor assessments).”

Arizona’s Classroom Site Fund (CSF) required districts to allocate 40 percent of the money to “teacher compensation increases based on performance and employment related expenses.” Only 29 of 222 districts created “strong performance pay plans” that linked teacher pay to student achievement, according to a 2010 report from the Arizona Auditor General.  One example:

One district awarded performance pay to eligible employees if freshman students’ algebra test scores increased by at least 10 percent between a pre- and post-test. The actual increase in test scores was almost 90 percent. Since the pre-test is given to freshman students who have never been exposed to algebra and the post-test is given to them after receiving a full year of algebra instruction, it should be expected that scores would increase significantly more than 10 percent.

Denver’s much-hyped ProComp program rewards earning a degree more generously than improving student learning.

The largest monetary award is for earning a graduate degree: a $3,300 permanent salary increase plus a tuition or student loan subsidy of $1,000 per year for up to four years. By comparison, teachers receive a one-time award, not a bump up in base salary, of up to $2,403.26 if their students exceed “district expectations” for student growth.

Moreover, as Paul Teske, a principal evaluator of the ProComp program, noted in the Christian Science Monitor, bad teachers face no penalty under the ProComp or similar merit-pay programs: “I guess your salary stays low, and maybe that sends the message that you should look at another career. But ProComp doesn’t directly address that.”

Many districts turn merit pay into a small across-the-board pay boost, write Green and Buck. In Houston, 88 percent of teachers qualified for a small “merit” bonus. That’s nothing compared to Minnesota, where 22 school districts gave Q Comp bonuses to more than 99 percent of teachers.

Schools that don’t need to compete for students have no incentive to design pay schemes that attract the best teachers, Greene and Buck write.  In the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, only 6 percent of traditional public school administrators said they used salaries to reward “excellence.” By contrast, 36 percent of charter administrators and 22 percent of private school heads offer performance pay.