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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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News Day: Family recession lessons / Failing at helping / AstroTurf at Crapstock / Keith Ellison tweets

Picture 5Astroturf at Crapstock! Stephen Colbert proposes a successor to Woodstock – Crapstock, where like-minded memos and talking points come together from all over the country to oppose health care reform. “Since you can’t have an actual popular movement,” Colbert advises, “just say you have one. … We don’t need to look at what real people think to know what’s important. We can just look at our faxed memos …” He read from a memo advising opponents to pack town hall meetings, sitting in the front half of the hall, so they will look like a majority — even though a majority of Americans in fact support health care reform.

Among the “best practices” in a memo from Tea Party Patriots volunteer Bob MacGuffie:

– Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”

– Be Disruptive Early And Often: “You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.

– Try To “Rattle Him,” Not Have An Intelligent Debate: “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”

NPR reports that the opposition is well-organized and national:

Many of the events this week appear to have been organized by conservative groups. A new Web site is called “Operation Embarrass Your Congressman.” A widely circulated memo tells right-wing protesters how to treat their representative: “Make him uneasy … stand up and shout out, and sit right back down … rattle him.”

And the Astroturf “organizing” goes beyond health care reform and packing town hall meetings, into probably prosecutable realms for one lobbying firm. TPM Muckraker reports on fake letters sent to oppose environmental legislation. The letters were sent by Bonner and Associates, a lobbying firm:

Bonner and Associates was working on behalf of the coal industry when it sent forged letters — purporting to come from local Hispanic and black groups — to a member of Congress, urging him to oppose the recent climate change bill. Bonner’s client was the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a top coal-industry advocacy group.

One of the letters went to Virginia first-term Congress member Tom Perriello, purporting to come from a Latino group in his district.

“They stole our name. They stole our logo. They created a position title and made up the name of someone to fill it. They forged a letter and sent it to our congressman without our authorization,” said Tim Freilich, who sits on the executive committee of Creciendo Juntos, a nonprofit network that tackles issues related to Charlottesville’s Hispanic community. “It’s this type of activity that undermines Americans’ faith in democracy.”

Family recession lessons From anger and stress to resilience and coping, the lessons that parents hope to teach and those that children are actually hearing may be miles apart, according to a fascinating and careful report by MPR. One family faces the “devastating” but seemingly inevitable loss of the home they built nine years ago.
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News Day – January 23

Cut the trees and plow under the wetlands? And this time, writes Dennis Lien in the PiPress, it’s MN House DFLers who are ready to trash the environment in order to avoid changes to the flawed “Green Acres” program. Here’s a (relatively) simple explanation.

Part One: Property taxes are levied based on land value. Farmland costs less and is taxed at a lower rate than higher-priced commercial, industrial and residential property. Near urban areas, developers and speculators are willing to pay more for farmland, driving up its value and tax burden. Farmers can’t afford to pay the higher prices, and so are driven to sell, increasing urban sprawl.

Part Two: Forty years ago, the “Green Acres” law said that farmers could pay taxes based on farmland value, rather than development value, so long as they were farming the land. Most non-industrial farms, like the one I grew up on, contain a mix of land, including woods and wetlands as well as corn and soybean fields. And then, Lien writes:

Declaring that only productive farmland qualifies for the tax break, lawmakers stripped wetlands, woods and other areas from the program. Afterward, some farmers faced with large tax increases began doing things such as bulldozing their trees to make sure they could remain part of the program.

Session Daily reports that on 1/22, House Republicans tried to suspend the rules and rush through a repeal of last year’s changes without going through hearings. DFLers refused, saying they have several bills in committee, and will hold hearings, beginning next week.

Go, Robyne! In media news, Fox9 news anchor Robyne Robinson launches “Community Commitment,” a 30-minute quarterly public affairs program, on Saturday. The show will debut at 8:30 a.m. Saturday on KMSP and re-run at 11:30 a.m. Sunday WFTC, according to the PiPress. Strangely, there’s no mention of the show on the Fox Twin Cities website, and even a search doesn’t turn up a mention of the show. It is listed in the 8:30 a.m. time slot, but without any description. Not quite the way to promote your star, folks!

And in DC The economic stimulus package stumbles through Congress, and probably won’t reach President Obama’s desk until mid-February, as Republicans and Democrats debate the amount of money to put in it and how much of that money should go to tax cuts rather than jobs programs or other direct government spending. In MinnPost, Steve Berg says MNDOT “is busy figuring out how best to spend the gusher of cash soon expected from the Obama administration’s recovery plan.”

The International Herald Tribune reports that President Obama took action Wednesday on the Iraq front, quoting a presidential statement that said, in part, “I asked the military leadership to engage in additional planning necessary to execute a responsible military drawdown from Iraq.”

BusinessGreen.com reported on the environmental front, “In a traditional game of political whack-a-mole, the Obama White House has moved quickly to freeze all pending regulations proposed by the former president’s administration, including president Bush’s attempts to roll back large swathes of environmental legislation.” The Bush administration finalized 157 “midnight regulations” in its final quarter, and either lengthy and onerous reverse rule-making procedures or Congressional action will be necessary to roll back any of these regs, which include controversial environmental deregulation as well as restrictions on women’s rights to medical care.

In other early moves, the NYT details President Obama’s moves to open up information flows from the White House, freeze staff salaries, and strengthen ethics rules.

What’s going on in DR Congo? There may not be much MN connection with the Democratic Republic of Congo, but I want to understand what is happening there, so I read and write about it. This blog noted a few days ago that the Lord’s Resistance Army has massacred hundreds of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The LRA is active in the northeast region of Congo, but that is only one front in Congo’s wars. Today’s major developments come in the southeast, where Rwandan and Congolese troops fight Hutu and Tutsi rebels.

BBC explains that the Congolese Tutsi rebel CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People), which declared a ceasefire last week, has long insisted that the Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), are targeting Congolese Tutsis. However, the CNDP itself stands accused by the United Nations of massacres and abuses under the leadership of “megalomaniacal” General Laurent Nkunda. The conflict and the militias spilled over from neighboring Rwanda after the 1994 genocide in which Rwandan Hutus slaughtered more than 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis. The Rwandan government has been accused of supporting Nkunda’s forces.

Last week the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) last week declared a ceasefire in its long-standing war with Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Some CNDP members rejected Nkunda’s leadership and left his command.

Today, the NYT reports, Rwandan and Congo troops worked together to capture Nkunda. Rwandan troops were sent into Congo to pursue Nkunda, though he, like Rwanda’s government, is Tutsi. The NYT explains:

“Rwanda and Congo have cut a deal,” said John Prendergast, a founder of the Washington-based Enough Project, which campaigns against genocide. He said Congo had allowed Rwanda to send in troops to vanquish the Hutu militants, something Rwanda has been eager to do for some time.

“In exchange, the Congolese expected Rwanda to neutralize Nkunda and his overly ambitious agenda,” Mr. Prendergast said. “Now the hard part begins.”

Now, says BBC, the “next step is for the joint Congolese-Rwandan force to tackle the FDLR Hutu rebels,” some of whom were involved in the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

Signs of hope NWAF’s Horizons project is sowing hope in small towns such as Evansville, Hoffman and New York Mills, reports Echo Press in Alexandria:

Always on the lookout for ways to help her town, Muriel Krusemark, Hoffman’s economic development authority coordinator, said she and several other local residents decided to apply for Horizons after hearing about the positive impact it had on nearby New York Mills, a past program participant. …

New businesses are opening up in town, she said, and the city recently finished a Main Street Galleria with space for 23 local retailers. …

Krusemark said Hoffman residents also have plans for a community garden, a computer and communication center and a mentorship program for local youth, as well as other projects.

“If we accomplish half the things we have on our list, it will be a way better community to live in,” she said. “With the people we have on these committees, I can’t believe we won’t accomplish at least half these things.”

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