Schools can't raise the achievement of poor students without spending more money and improving families' social conditions, writes Richard Rothstein in the New York Times

Education Trust claims that some schools are educating low-income and minority students to middle-class standards, so others can do so as well by raising standards and improving instruction. Rothstein says few schools on Ed Trust's "high-flyers" list have raised test scores for multiple grades and subjects for more than one year. 

First, there are elements that the Education Trust properly emphasizes: schools must improve instruction, get parents more involved and hold low-income children and their teachers more accountable. But second, money for urban schools serving poor and minority youth must rise to the level of that spent on suburban middle-class schools, with higher teacher pay and smaller classes; and third, children must be more prepared to learn, with better health care, stable housing and good preschools. 

If you count federal and state aid for disadvantaged students, urban schools often have more money per student than suburban schools. (School funding varies from state to state, so that may not be true in New York.) 

Poor children already get free health care, though working class kids may not. Providing students with stable housing is impossible without providing stable parents. "Good preschools" refers to the Abecedarian study, which found a long-term benefit for very poor children placed in high-quality, full-time child care from infancy. 

That's not to say we shouldn't spend more on needy kids — in school and out. But the cry that we can't make a difference without money and better quality ("prepared to learn") kids is the standard excuse for the failure to educate low-income children. They're depraved because they're deprived. 

Mandatory propaganda

Two University of Alabama professors are being hauled before the Faculty Senate, accused of lobbying the Legislature to block mandatory diversity training for faculty, staff and graduate students. 

(Anthropologist Charles)Nuckolls said those who dare to question the prevailing orthodoxy on affirmative action, race relations, or "diversity" on campus are treated like those who questioned matters of religious faith at medieval universities. 

"You would have been accused of heresy and dismissed, if not worse," he said. Today "you're labeled a bigot, and your arguments are dismissed out of hand." 

. . . (Law Professor Wythe) Holt said ASA members "are worried that it will hurt them in their advancement, that they won't get raises, if they're charged with bigotry or violation of some university policy concerning diversity or multiculturalism, or something like that. 

"Why else would they make so much out of it?" 

What about freedom of speech? Holt was asked. 

"What about it?" the law professor responded. 

Kick Back, Relax, Earn a Merit Badge 

"Stress Less" is a popular new merit badge for Junior Girl Scouts, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Silicon Valley pre-teens are trying out aromatherapy, meditation, foot massage and "I Love Lucy" videos to ease their nerves.

The 90-year-old Girl Scouts of the United States of America — which once had badges for "Matron Housekeeper" and "Dairy Maid" — prides itself on keeping up with the changing times. While revamping its collection of 105 badges to include rock climbing and international diplomacy, the organization also realized that the stress reduction badge already on the list for the older Girl Scouts needed to be offered to the 8 to 11-year-olds in Junior Girl Scouts. 

No word yet on whether defining relaxation as a skill is proving stressful. 

The Junior Girl Scouts were rewarded with a badge embroidered with a swinging hammock. But the girls had trouble affixing the badges to their clover green uniforms because, well, they don't know how to sew. 

English immersion for parents

In Anaheim, non-English-speaking parents are encouraged to attend school with their children. 

(Tomasa) Galeana has been attending class with her fourth-grade son since January as part of a pilot program aimed at helping newly arrived immigrants learn English and adjust to American schools and culture. 

"A lot of people are probably afraid to go to school so late in their life," Galeana said. "But I want to learn. I want to learn so I can get a job. I want to learn so I can help my son. I want to learn so I can become a citizen." 

Proposition 227, which limited bilingual education, included funding for schools to teach English to immigrant parents. Usually, parents go to evening classes — not to elementary school.

The AP story contains an intriguing statistic: Of 1.5 million California students classified as limited in English proficiency, 1.3 million have lived in the U.S. for three or more years. 

Class War Over Testing

The battle over testing is a class war, writes James Traub in a first-rate article for the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Educated suburban parents think their kids are too good for the state's tests, and would be better off doing science fair projects and reading "Romeo and Juliet." For disadvantaged students, test prep is valuable. Finally, they're being taught the skills that more affluent students already know.

Letter: Fun with fear

Robert Wright writes:

In the mid 1980's, my district drew up a "proficiency exam" which served as an exit requirement for 8th graders. If an 8th grader failed it, he had to go to a remedial summer school. At the end of summer school, if he failed it again, he repeated the 8th grade.

The test was rather simple. Simple long division. And you had to be able to add fractions with common denominators. Simplification wasn't required, 75 percent was passing.

The school psychologists were up in arms. "Research shows when you retain a child, it does them more harm than good!"

That might be true, but I saw all the good it did to the students who worked their butts off, paid attention in class, and passed the exam. They learned. Barbaric? Maybe. But fear worked.

I taught in the remedial summer school. They gave me 40 students for four hours. Half needed to learn long division and half needed to overcome a fear of fractions. Thirty-eight passed the exam in August. They were motivated. I was focused.

But times changed. Parents of students who didn't pass raised holy hell with the board. Some even sued. The rules were changed so that if a child failed the proficiency exam in June, he was required to attend summer school but if he didn't pass the exam in August, "the best interests of the child" would be taken in to account. (They passed them anyway, but he couldn't attend the graduation ceremony.) And there loud complaints about that too.

Later, it was further watered down. Those who failed in June only got a letter sent home to their parents strongly recommending summer school. In the classroom, during the regular year, students stopped worrying about graduation. Once again, it became a given. I noticed more of them looking out the window.

Accountability has now returned. Standards. But now when the students don't learn, the teachers get beat up. How did that happen? I liked the older system. Instilling fear. It worked and it was kind of fun.

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.