Friday, December 16, 2005

A very untraditional public school in Oakland

The top-performing middle school in Oakland is the American Indian Public Charter School, a profile of which appears in today's San Francisco Chronicle. His style couldn't be more different from everything I've learned so far at NYU, and is basically the polar opposite of the charter schools I work with. There may be a lot of reasons this school is succeeding, and the back-to-basics and harsh discipline may not be the foremost among them. But it is an interesting article.

Key grafs:

Chavis admitted that he's prompted students to leave, saying that his method isn't for everyone. He said his target demographic is "ghetto, poor kids."

"I don't use that middle-class rhetoric. I don't believe in building self-esteem, fundraising, parent involvement," Chavis said. "My system is not for middle-class, upper-class whites."

Don't speak Spanish here

This is an unbelievable story out of Kansas City, Kansas, that I somehow missed last week. According to the Washington Post, a 16 year-old Mexican kid was suspended for speaking Spanish in the hallway of his high school. Even if you believe in English-only instruction at schools (I don't because I think schools should offer a variety of options to help all kinds of learners (including native English speakers that might want to be in a dual language class), and because I think it can be really valuable to teach immigrant kids that grow up here to read and write Spanish), this is crossing the line. Prohibiting the expression of some cultures even when it does not disrupt sends the wrong message to kids (that some cultures are not valued as much as others), and it is racist. Does anyone think that a kid speaking a European language in the hall would have been sent home? I try not to get too discouraged by all the anti-immigrant (really, anti-Hispanic) language being thrown around by Republicans in the House because I know that the reality on the ground is much more complex (Kansas allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition to local colleges, for example), but this kind of stuff is depressing.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Battle over In-State Tuition and Immigrants in California

The LA Times reports that a group of out-of-state students are suing California's public universities over the policy that lets undocumented students that attended high school in California pay in-state tuition. Of course, the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform is behind it, but a similar lawsuit filed by the group failed in Kansas a couple of months ago, so hopefully this won't go anywhere. The number of undocumented students actually taking advantage of the in-state tuition in California is very low, and it makes no sense to me to bar bright immigrant kids from college just because their parents came here illegally. But then again, many Republicans in the House seem to be poised to end birthright citizenship in order to "crack down" on undocumented immigration. If they are serious about doing something to fix the broken immigration system, they should start listening to their buddies in big business.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Native Americans were . . .

I came across a display by the after school program at the community center where I work occasionally. The kids, who are 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade, created a mini "museum" on an American Indian tribe for thanksgiving. I was standing there thinking how nice it was for the program to have the kids think about the outside world for a change (I find that a lot of my kids rarely leave New York or even Queens) when I noticed that all the "facts" about the American Indians were in the past tense - "Native Americans were connected with nature" was one of the worst. I have a big problem with the tendency to romanticize American Indians because it leads to stuff like this - the complete removal of Indians from the present day. It's particularly bad because New York City has the largest concentration of American Indians in any city in the United States. There are a couple of nice art exhibits by New York American Indians at the Smithsonian downtown, and I really wish I sent my kids there during the field trip to the Staten Island Ferry.

Friday, December 09, 2005

6 new charters to be approved

New York Daily News -
Regents to OK 6 charter schools

Friday, December 9th, 2005

The State Board of Regents is expected today to approve six new charter schools - leaving only eight more slots in the state for charters.
Mayor Bloomberg, Gov. Pataki and other charter supporters have called on the Legislature to eliminate or raise the 100-charter-school cap - a move that Albany insiders say is in the works - but the issue remains controversial. Detractors say charters draw resources from regular public schools.

Charters are taxpayer-funded schools that operate outside the regular public school system. In New York City, there are 12,000 kids in 47 charters.

Students in many of those schools have earned higher test scores than their peers in regular schools, generating interest from parents and enthusiasm from educators.

There are 20 charter applications now vying for the eight remaining slots. Dozens more are in the works across the state. The Regents will select four of those schools. The State University of New York will choose the other four. Both votes are expected in January.

The six charters expected to be approved today include two in Harlem, two in Brooklyn, one in the Bronx and one in Buffalo.

Erin Einhorn

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"We're all the children of immigrants"

So says James Oddo, a Republican Councilmember from Staten Island, explaining his opposition to the Education Equity Act, which would mandate the Dept. of Education and schools to translate for non-English speaking parents. Oddo, and a few other councilmembers that oppose the bill (the NY Sun article below reports that it will almost certainly pass soon), argue that such a bill would take the incentive away from parents to learn English.

I've written about the Education Equity Act a number of times before, but this line of reasoning really makes me mad. I have a number of parents from the after school program that are taking ESL classes at night (after working all day), and I can guarantee that they would still be there even if trying to talk to a teacher or school official about their kid wasn't a nightmare, which it is right now despite Bloomberg's Translation Unit. These parents do want to participate in their child's school, but they also want to help their kids with homework, deal with everyday issues and get better jobs, and this won't change if the Education Equity Act passes.

Council Translation Services Effort Faces Education Dept. Opposition
BY DEBORAH KOLBEN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
December 7, 2005

A $20 million plan to mandate translation services in eight languages for parents of immigrant children in New York City will be opposed by the city's Department of Education if, as expected, it passes the full City Council this month.

The bill approved by the Education Committee and known as the "Education Equity Act," has been welcomed by immigrant groups as a matter of "civil rights." They say parents are being shut out of their children's education because they cannot understand report cards, parent teacher conferences, and other school meetings. Some opponents of the bill have criticized the cost and say that it provides no incentive for parents to learn English.

Now the Department of Education has warned that the City Council could be stepping outside its jurisdiction. Under state law, only the Department of Education or Albany can legislate matters that are "educational or pedagogic," a spokeswoman for the department, Kelly Devers, said.

"While we agree with the goal of effectively communicating to non-English-speaking parents, and believe that the bill is aligned with our recently announced expansion of efforts in this area, we have serious concerns with the practical implications of the bill, including its funding," she said.

Andrew Friedman, the director of a Brooklyn immigrant advocacy group, Make the Road By Walking, argued differently: "These are parents who have a ton of desires to see their children succeed academically; and they really had the schoolhouse door slammed in their face." The law would require translation and interpretation services in the top languages spoken in New York City, including Russian, Haitian Creole, Urdu, Arabic, and Chinese. More than one in three New Yorkers are foreign-born, according to 2000 census data.

Last summer, the city established a new $10 million translation unit for schools to pay for interpreters and translation of some documents. Half of the funding is given directly to schools.

The Education Equity Act would go further in specifying when and for what meetings schools would have to provide interpreters and what materials they would have to translate.

Schools with growing numbers of immigrant families have been struggling to reach out to parents. At P.S. 226 in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, many parents speak only Russian, Urdu, Hindi, or Chinese. The principal, Stephen Porter, said that this year the school received about $27,000 to provide translation and interpreters. He has often had to rely on students to translate for their parents, but that is less than ideal: "When a child is interpreting; you don't know if
they're telling the truth or if they're bending it to their benefit."

The three council Republicans are leading the charge against the Education Equity Act. Mayor Bloomberg is likely to veto the bill if it passes.

The Republican minority leader, James Oddo, sent out letters yesterday along with seven other council members encouraging their colleagues to vote "no." The letter includes a quotation from a 1999 State of the Union address by President Clinton about the importance of immigrants
learning English.

"We're all the children of immigrants," Mr. Oddo told The New York Sun. "I understand the importance of parental involvement, but not at the expense of the English language."

Preschool is cool

Out of hibernation to give you a link to this article about the Perry Preschool study.

Key paragraphs:

The landmark study of Perry Preschool tracked a group of poor African American youngsters from when they attended pre-kindergarten in Ypsilanti, Mich., in the early 1960s until they were well into middle age.

The findings are astonishing: a $17 return to the individual and society for every dollar spent on their early education. Those who went to Perry were considerably more likely than children who didn't attend preschool to have graduated from high school and married, significantly less likely to have gone to prison multiple times and to have been on welfare. They're earning an average of $20,800 a year. That's 25% more than similar children who lacked the preschool experience — enough of a difference to lift them above the poverty line.