News Day: NCLB failing schools / RT vs. Park Board / Obama on immigration / One in nine Americans

<a href="http://us.fotolia.com/id/8903511" title="" alt="">© M Jackson</a> - Fotolia.com

© M Jackson - Fotolia.com

NCLB failing schools If I were a Minnesota school principal or teacher, I would have awakened this morning with a mouth full of dread. Another of the many annual school-bashing events is scheduled for today, with the 2009 Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) report released late last night by the Minnesota Department of Education. With absolute predictability, the AYP report showed more “failing” Minnesota schools. Since this year’s report included 357 more schools than last year, it also showed more “passing” schools. Total numbers:

Despite the late hour of the release, the Star Tribune was prepared with an impressive set of charts and graphs showing the performance of every school district in the state, and every school within each district. For the record, statewide proficiency stands at 64% in math and 72% in reading. In Minneapolis, the figures are 48% in math and 51% in reading. In St. Paul, the figures are 46% in math and 52% in reading.

The figures can be sliced and diced in myriad ways, and the Department of Education spins the story as well as it can be spun:

There has been a 7.6 percent increase in the number of schools making AYP, compared to 2008, due to an increase in the number of schools measured for AYP. The increase in the number of schools not making AYP is the result of more schools being measured and proficiency improvements that have not yet matched the increases necessary to meet the AYP targets under NCLB.

The Department of Education helpfully provides a PDF file detailing the five stages of AYP for school and three stages for districts, with a guide to penalties at each stage.

Minnesota 2020 has a cogent critique of the entire NCLB/AYP problem:

The number of schools not meeting AYP grows each year because the NCLB is meant not to highlight student achievement but to brand schools as failing. AYP is a false measurement of achievement. Even the most ardent of public education’s detractors will find it contrary to common sense that more than half the schools in the state can’t educate their students. These “results” are ludicrous. …

Here’s how NCLB works: States develop a standardized test and give it to all students once each year. Students are divided into subgroups depending on their race or special conditions, i.e. special education or English language learner. If one subgroup fails to meet AYP, the entire school and district fails. Not only must students show proficiency, the school must make sure enough students take the test. If too many students miss the test, the school and district fail to meet AYP.

The bottom line is that AYP doesn’t measure the work of teachers and principals and schools or the achievement of students over time. To measure that work, a test would need to ask how much individual students have learned during the course of a school year or two or three. That would require knowing where students were when they entered a school and how much each of them progressed.

That’s not what the tests are structured to do. The test does not measure how much progress Johnny and Maria and Moua and Jamal, who have now moved on to different schools, made during the years they spent at PS 135. Instead, it measures how well the current population of students performs — regardless of whether they have been in the school for six weeks or six years, regardless of what reading or math level they had when they entered the school, regardless of whether the teachers and school have had time and opportunity to make a difference. If a student enters the school in fifth grade, with a first grade reading level, and moves up two grade levels in one year — that’s still not proficiency and that’s not Adequate Yearly Progress.

Our schools need support and improvement. The NCLB/AYP mess provides neither. NCLB comes before Congress for renewal — or not — later this year.

Mayor vs. Park Board Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak denounced the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board’s attempt to get taxing authority. The MPRB has turned in thousands of signature sheets to put a referendum on this fall’s ballot, a move the mayor called “half-baked.” According to the Minnesota Independent:

The proposed referendum would grant the city’s quasi-independent (and chronically broke) park board the ability to impose its own levies, without oversight of the city council.

Today is the last day to turn in petitions, and then the city clerk will have 10 days to count and verify signatures. To put the measure on the ballot, signatures must total five percent of the votes cast in the last general election.

Some of the day’s best headlines

With God as his co-pilot, Jungbauer announces bid for governor
Barnes & Noble to buy Barnes & Noble College Booksellers
Do not drive drunk to jail to bail out boyfriend on DWI
Wisconsin woman accused in Krazy Glue assault

World/National News

No immigration bill until 2010 That’s the Obama message, delivered after a tri-national meeting with Mexican and Canadian heads of state, according to the New York Times:

“Now, am I going to be able to snap my fingers and get this done? No,” the president said. “But ultimately, I think the American people want fairness. And we can create a system in which you have strong border security and an orderly process for people to come in. But we’re also giving an opportunity for those who are already in the United States to be able to achieve a pathway to citizenship so they don’t have to live in the shadows.”

One in nine That’s the number of Americans using food stamps to help meet basic needs. Another number: $4.50 per day. That’s the average amount of food stamp benefits. Think about it. What do you get for $4.50 a day? Rice and beans, yes. Maybe milk and cheese. Fresh vegetables or fruits? Rarely. And, as NPR reports, you wait for that. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) explained:

Let me point out one other kind of problem we’re finding here and that is because more and more people are eligible and are, you know, trying to enroll and state budgets are being cut back, and the states kind of processed the whole program even though the federal government provides most of the money. But because they’re being short staffed that is taking them, in some parts of the country, up to 57 days between the time somebody applies and between the time that they’re told they’re either qualified or that they’re denied. … And, you know, 57 days is a long time to go without a benefit to be able to put food on the table.

War Reports

Congo The government troops sent to drive out rebels in eastern Congo and protect the people in fact have become persecutors, escalating the rape epidemic as they take women as spoils of war.

Although all sides in Congo’s messy 15-year conflict have used rape as a weapon of war — particularly the Rwandan rebels — the spike since January is being widely blamed mostly on the army. The number of soldiers roaming these eastern hills has almost tripled to 60,000, and rapes have doubled or tripled in the areas they are deployed. Aid groups said the number of rapes so far this year is probably in the thousands.

Pakistan A rocket attack on Peshawar killed at least two people and wounded more as a dozen rockets sent panicked residents fleeing into the streets. In northwest Pakistan, a U.S. drone attack killed at least ten people. Officials said the attack targeted an insurgent training camp.

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