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Reading, English, Getting Into College

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Hand of friendship pats self on back

Women college presidents want to support education for women in Afghanistan. Do they raise money to pay for textbooks, teachers and schools? Send professors to staff Kabul University? No, they buy an expensive full-page ad in the Feb. 20 New York Times with their names and this erratically bold-faced message:

"To the Women of Afghanistan

We, as women presidents and chancellors of American publicly supported colleges and universities, extend the hand of friendship to you. We have much to learn from one another and, together, we can identify and accomplish many goals. We therefore reach out to you, the women of Afghanistan, as you participate in rebuilding your nation.

As leaders in higher education, we take as one of our fundamental responsibilities the duty to work for justice for the people of all nations. As women presidents and chancellors, we offer our special support for the redevelopment of education for women in Afghanistan and add our voices to your own in the struggle for greater human rights and a more peaceful world. "

What's the point? The women of Afghanistan aren't going to read it. Times readers, burdened as we are with so many issues, haven't been sitting around thinking: Gee, I wonder if women educators are in favor of education for Afghan women? Would they support human rights and peace, or not? Oh, they're for it! That's a relief.

No, we haven't been thinking that. We've been thinking: Gee, the money you spent on a self-important ad could have provided "special support" for the salaries of a lot of female teachers in Afghanistan. 

R-E-A-D the research
Bush's "Reading First" initiative requires schools to use reading strategies that research has proven effective. That rankles educators who know the research supports the direct, explicit teaching of phonics, Education Week reports.

"'Scientifically based reading instruction' is code for a particular kind of instruction," said Gerald Coles, the author of Misreading Reading: The Bad Science That Hurts Children. "If you want to have a form of literacy education that is stepwise, hierarchical, small-to-large parts, with minimal democratic participation, that has very strict outcome goals, then you can use research to try to facilitate those goals."

Yes, we want literacy education with a strict outcome goal: More children learning to read. If stepwise, hierarchical and small-to-large works best, then that's what we want. And we'll get more democratic participation from readers than from illiterates.

Reading First is based on a report by the National Reading Panel , a federally convened group that analyzed the research.

The report of the National Reading Panel has come under considerable scrutiny for its narrow focus on experimental and quasi-experimental studies, meaning those that have measurable results. It excluded ethnographies, case studies, and observational research that many researchers say offer critical insight into how particular methods of instruction play out in the classroom.

Let me construct the meaning for you: The report looked at controlled scientific studies with measurable results. It ignored anecdotes.

Bilingual battle
Bilingual education lost at the polls in California four years ago, but it's gaining ground by lobbying Latino legislators, writes Duke Helfand in Los Angeles Times. Sen. Richard Polanco, chair of the Latino Caucus, plans to introduce a bill that would require children to be taught in the language they understand; for 1.2 million Latino students with limited English proficiency, that would be Spanish.

Even without a new law, the State Board of Education has approved regulations that would let school officials file waivers to place elementary students in bilingual classes, unless the parents — often deferential to "experts" — took action to reject the waiver. That nullifies a provision of the "English for the Children" law passed in 1998, which requires parents to file a waiver request in person at the school. From here , go down to English Learners, click on the regulations pdf file and keep going till you get to Parental Exception Waivers.

Here's an intriguing angle:

Privately, state officials criticize the advocates' demands, saying bilingual programs customized to individual students would bankrupt school districts.

"There's no way we are going to allow that," said one state board member, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals. "It would break the system."

Yes, alert readers. State board of education members are afraid of reprisals.

Linda Chavez's bilingual-bashing column is here.

How many points for poverty?

Susie Suburban has a 4.0 grade point average and 1450 on her SATs. Danny Disadvantaged has a 3.0 and 1100. Who gets in to Berkeley? The new "comprehensive review" policy is supposed to take students' disadvantages into account, but it's not clear how. There are rumors of a point system, writes David Stirling in the San Francisco Examiner. So many points for being raised by a single mom — but what about a grandmother? So many points for poverty — but how deep and for how long? Disability reportedly is worth 400 points: Are all disabilities the same? First in family to college will be worth points, but who's fact-checking what applicants say about their parents' education?

If Susie Suburban is smart, she'll come up with a plausible, uncheckable tale of woe — dad's an alcoholic, mom's a drop-out — to supplement her extra-curriculars. 

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer.  Now she blogs for tips at ReadJacobs.com while writing a book, "Start-Up High,'' about a San Jose charter school.  She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

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