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Good News, Bad News

Before California limited bilingual education in 1998, about four percent of "English learners" achieved English proficiency each year; now the rate is up to nine percent. And the first statewide test of English proficiency suggests 25 percent of English learners are fluent in English

That's the good news. The bad news is that schools lose extra funding when students achieve English proficiency. That's why they want to keep the bar very high. 

Out of Control 

Jacksonville, Fla., hired 70 professionals with math and science backgrounds as teachers, placing them in the city's most troubled inner-city schools. They got no training in classroom management. Not surprisingly, 20 percent of the new teachers quit in the first six months of the school year. 

Steve Waln, a former chiropractor and systems analyst, tried to teach science to 7th and 8th graders. 

During one class, three girls sat together in the back of the room and gossiped. They sang songs, smacking their hands on the table to replicate the beat. Sometimes they got up and danced. Waln tried separating them before, but they would yell across the room to one another or throw notes back and forth. Now that they're back together, they no longer distract the rest of the class. 

"We have things we need to talk about. I mean, we need to know what's going on," said Antionette General, justifying the behavior of herself and friends. "My friends mean more to me than this class." 

Waln has been banned from his classroom, accused of cursing at unruly students. He denies the charges. 

Cyber-School Under Attack 

John Lott writes about a charter school Catch-22 in Pennsylvania. 

For months, a new public school receives none of the money it is supposed to. Teachers work without pay. Textbooks, computers and other supplies can't be purchased. Complaints arise from disgruntled students and parents. Finally, the money is briefly provided, only to be suspended again because of allegations that the school is not providing enough books, computers or Internet access. 

Three of his children are students of Einstein Academy Charter School, which is under attack because it's a "cyber-school," delivering classes over the Internet. Only it's hard to do that when there's no money to pay the phone bill. 

Charter schools are supposed to be freed from regulation to be innovative; they're supposed to be judged by results. That's the idea, anyhow. 

Digital Baloney 

Remember the "digital divide" between the techno-rich and the low-tech poor? Well, forget about it, says Robert Samuelson in The Washington Post

As you will recall, the argument went well beyond the unsurprising notion that the rich would own more computers than the poor. The disturbing part of the theory was that society was dividing itself into groups of technology "haves" and "have-nots" and that this segregation would, in turn, worsen already large economic inequalities. It's this argument that's either untrue or wildly exaggerated. Samuelson cites a new study showing that wage inequality — often blamed on computer use — hasn't worsened since 1986. 

Zero Tolerance for Asthmatic Students

Zero tolerance is threatening the health of children with asthma, reports Reason. Many schools require students to leave asthma inhalers at the nurse's office, so they're not quickly available in an emergency. Writer Catherine Seipp's daughter had an attack in 5th grade; the teacher yelled at her for using the inhaler in class. 

I spoke to Ivanhoe's (the school's) then-principal, Kevin Baker. He said I'd been "breaking the law" for five years by keeping the inhaler in the backpack instead of in the office, and that he would "confiscate" it if he found it there in the future. If the school had allowed this before, he said, it was an oversight.

"So now what we need to do," he explained, in a sing-songy, Romper Room voice, "is set up a series of intervention meetings to help you understand our concerns about you breaking the law." My arguments about doctor's orders went nowhere. "When your daughter is at school," Principal Baker said, "I am the ultimate authority concerning her health." 

Seipp got the school district to tell the principal he was out of line. But kids with less aggressive parents just do without their inhalers, missing school after untreated attacks and sometimes risking their lives. 

Mr. Maid?

Men are narrowing the housework gap with women, says a University of Michigan study. Men are up to 16 hours a week of cleaning and cooking, according to their time diaries; women are down to 27 hours. In 1965, men claimed 12 hours, women 40.

Surely, these people are wildly exaggerating their household labors. Who really spends that much time cleaning and cooking in these deli takeout days? 

Trendy, Mediocre 

Most teachers' colleges major in mediocrity, says USA Today. One of the problems is a penchant for trendy theories not backed by research. The op-ed indirectly hints at another issue: Teacher ed is profitable; universities don't want to kill the cash cow by setting high standards for would-be teachers. 

School Days 

Charter schools are supposed to be freed from unnecessary regulation, but it doesn't always work that way. California bureaucrats are withholding 20 percent of the budget of Indio Charter School because it operates four days a week. 

Teresa Pina, a parent volunteer, explained it to me at the California Network of Educational Charters conference. 

Indio public schools have very high absentee rates on Friday. Some parents leave early for weekends in Mexico; in other families, children cut school to work tourist jobs in Palm Springs. So the charter lengthened the school day Mondays through Thursdays; charter students are in school for 32 hours a week, compared to 29 hours in the traditional public schools. The charter is the top-scoring school in Indio on the Academic Performance Index, and posts the highest reading scores. 

Indio Charter has hired a lawyer, and almost certainly will win the right to set its own days and hours. But it will take money and energy to keep the regulators away. 

Improved Oversight  

Charter schools will be no more than one county away from charter granters, under a bill proposed in the California Legislature. In the past, a district at one end of the state could grant a charter for a school at the other end, making supervision difficult. The bill allows charters in adjacent counties, but no farther. Legitimate charter operators can live with this bill, which is a response to abuses by a chain of charters and by Fresno Unified, which took a percentage of the revenues for granting the charter but never checked to see if the schools were functioning as promised. 

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.