Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Scores in D.C. Under Superintendent Rhee Currently Under Investigation- Cheating Being Looked at by Inspector General

In a great piece of investigative reporting by Marisol Bello and Jack Gillium, USA Today has released a series of stories putting into question the gains made in the Washington DC public school system during the tenure of former Superintendent Michelle Rhee. In a late development, current D. C. Superintendent Kaya Henderson has asked the inspector general to investigate test erasures during Rhee's time in the district and whether test score gains came at the expense of cheating. -Dr. Petrosino

The District of Columbia's Board of Education will hold a hearing next week on irregularities in public school test scores, even as former chancellor Michelle Rhee defended the integrity of test results that showed unusual "erasure rates" from wrong answers to right.

In its months-long investigation, which included documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, USA TODAY looked at 103 public schools in the nation's capital where tests showed a pattern of unusually high numbers of answers that had been changed from wrong to right. The improvements in test scores earned Rhee and the school system national attention.

But since 2008, more than half of D.C. schools were flagged by a testing company for having unusually high rates of wrong-to-right erasures. At one school, Noyes Education Campus, the number of erasures in one class was so high that the odds of winning the Powerball grand prize were better than the erasures occurring by chance. "This is an abnormal pattern," says Thomas Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has studied testing for 20 years. A trio of academicians consulted by USA TODAY — Haladyna, George Shambaugh of Georgetown University and Gary Miron of Western Michigan University — say the erasure rates found at Noyes and at other D.C. public schools are so statistically rare, and yet showed up in so many classrooms, that they should be examined thoroughly.

USA TODAY examined testing irregularities in the District of Columbia's public schools because, under Rhee, the system became a national symbol of what high expectations and effective teaching could accomplish. Federal money also was at play: Last year, D.C. won an extra $75 million for public and charter schools in the U.S. government's Race to the Top competition. Test scores were a factor.

Rhee, who said Monday night that the investigation "absolutely lacked credibility," had declined to speak with USA TODAY despite numerous attempts before an article ran online and in Monday's newspaper.

See further reporting on this topic: When Standardized Test Scores Soared in D.C., were the gains real?

Hoboken Board of Education Budget Presentation and Vote Scheduled for Tonight (March 29)

NJ.COM reports that the Hoboken Board of Education plans to hold a public meeting tonight to discuss and vote on the budget for the July 1, 2011- June 30, 2012 fiscal year. The meeting is open tot he public for discussion, comments, and clarification once the budget is formally presented to the Board. The meeting will take place at the Hoboken Board of Education meeting room at 1115 Clinton Street at 7pm.

Public Budget Meeting Agenda March 29 2011_0

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Darling-Hammond: U.S. vs highest-achieving nations in education

This post was written by Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun P rofessor of Education at Stanford University, where she was founding director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. She now directs the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. A former president of the American Educational Research Association, Darling-Hammond focuses her research, teaching, and policy work on issues of school restructuring, teacher quality and educational equity.

By Linda Darling-Hammond
The first ever International Summit on Teaching, convened last week in New York City, showed perhaps more clearly than ever that the United States has been pursuing an approach to teaching almost diametrically opposed to that pursued by the highest-achieving nations.

In a statement rarely heard these days in the United States, the Finnish Minister of Education launched the first session of last week’s with the words: “We are very proud of our teachers.” Her statement was so appreciative of teachers’ knowledge, skills, and commitment that one of the U.S. participants later confessed that he thought she was the teacher union president, who, it turned out, was sitting beside her agreeing with her account of their jointly-constructed profession.

There were many “firsts” in this remarkable Summit. It was the first time the United States invited other nations to our shores to learn from them about how to improve schools, taking a first step beyond the parochialism that has held us back while others have surged ahead educationally.

It was the first time that government officials and union leaders from 16 nations met together in candid conversations that found substantial consensus about how to create a well-prepared and accountable teaching profession.

And it was, perhaps, the first time that the growing de-professionalization of teaching in America was recognized as out of step with the strategies pursued by the world’s educational leaders.

Evidence presented at the summit showed that, with dwindling supports, most teachers in the United States must go into debt in order to prepare for an occupation that pays them, on average, 60% of the salaries earned by other college graduates. Those who work in poor districts will not only earn less than their colleagues in wealthy schools, but they will pay for many of their students’ books and supplies themselves.

And with states’ willingness to lower standards rather than raise salaries for the teachers of the poor, a growing number of recruits enter with little prior training, trying to learn on-the-job with the uneven mentoring provided by cash-strapped districts. It is no wonder that a third of U.S. beginners leave within the first five years, and those with the least training leave at more than twice the rate of those who are well-prepared.

Those who stay are likely to work in egg-crate classrooms with few opportunities to collaborate with one another. In many districts, they will have little more than “drive-by” workshops for professional development, and – if they can find good learning opportunities, they will pay for most of it out of their own pockets.

Meanwhile, some policymakers argue that we should eliminate requirements for teacher training, stop paying teachers for gaining more education, let anyone enter teaching, and fire those later who fail to raise student test scores. And efforts like those in Wisconsin to eliminate collective bargaining create the prospect that salaries and working conditions will sink even lower, making teaching an unattractive career for anyone with other professional options.

The contrasts to the American attitude toward teachers and teaching could not have been more stark. Officials from countries like Finland and Singapore described how they have built a high-performing teaching profession by enabling all of their teachers to enter high-quality preparation programs, generally at the masters’ degree level, where they receive a salary while they prepare. There they learn research-based teaching strategies and train with experts in model schools attached to their universities. They enter a well-paid profession – in Singapore earning as much as beginning doctors -- where they are supported by mentor teachers and have 15 or more hours a week to work and learn together – engaging in shared planning, action research, lesson study, and observations in each other’s classrooms. And they work in schools that are equitably funded and well-resourced with the latest technology and materials.

In Singapore, based on their talents and interests, many teachers are encouraged to pursue career ladders to become master teachers, curriculum specialists, and principals, expanding their opportunities and their earnings with still more training paid for by the government. Teacher union members in these countries talked about how they work closely with their governments to further enrich teachers’ and school leaders’ learning opportunities and to strengthen their skills.

In these summit discussions, there was no teacher-bashing, no discussion of removing collective bargaining rights, no proposals for reducing preparation for teaching, no discussion of closing schools or firing bad teachers, and no proposals for ranking teachers based on their students’ test scores. The Singaporean Minister explicitly noted that his country’s well-developed teacher evaluation system does not “digitally rank or calibrate teachers,” and focuses instead on how well teachers develop the whole child and contribute to each others’ efforts and to the welfare of the whole school.

Perhaps most stunning was the detailed statement of the Chinese Minister of Education who described how – in the poor states which lag behind the star provinces of Hong Kong and Shanghai – billions of yuen are being spent on a fast-paced plan to improve millions of teachers’ preparation and professional development, salaries, working conditions and living conditions (including building special teachers’ housing) The initial efforts to improve teachers’ knowledge and skills and stem attrition are being rapidly scaled up as their success is proved.

How poignant for Americans to listen to this account while nearly every successful program developed to support teachers’ learning in the United States is proposed for termination by the Obama administration or the Congress: Among these, the TEACH Grants that subsidize preparation for those who will teach in high-need schools; the Teacher Quality Partnership grants that support innovative pre-service programs in high-need communities; the National Writing Project and the Striving Readers programs that have supported professional development for the teaching of reading and writing all across the country, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which certifies accomplished teachers and provides what teachers have long called some of the most powerful professional development they ever experience in their careers.

These small programs total less than $1 billion annually, the cost of half a week in Afghanistan. They are not nearly enough to constitute a national policy; yet they are among the few supports America now provides to improve the quality of teaching.

Clearly, another first is called for if we are ever to regain our educational standing in the world: A first step toward finally taking teaching seriously in America. Will our leaders be willing to take that step? Or will we devolve into a third class power because we have neglected our most important resource for creating a first-class system of education?

Monday, March 21, 2011

The University of Texas at Austin's College of Education Now Ranked Number One in Nation Among Public Universities

Just received this news a few days ago. The College of Education is now the highest ranked college on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. Many components go into the ranking-- but teaching, external research funding, number and quality of graduates and scholarly publications all play a key role in the process. Having been involved with the UTeach program from the inception and being a Co-Principal Investigator on a number of external funding opportunities with the National Science Foundation (Beyond Blackboards and UTeach Engineering), this recognition is especially humbling. -Dr. Petrosino

U.S. News & World Report’s 2012 edition of America’s Best Graduate Schools has ranked The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education number one in the nation among public university graduate education programs and number two overall, tying with Harvard University. The College of Education is the first University of Texas at Austin graduate school, among those ranked yearly by U.S. News & World Report, to be named number one in the U.S.

The College of Education has steadily risen in the rankings for the past 13 years, this year leaping from tenth overall to second place and outranking elite private universities like Stanford and Columbia as well as public universities such as UCLA, UC-Berkeley and the University of Michigan. The College also ranked number one in research, with research expenditures in 2009-10 totaling almost $60 million.

"Under the leadership of Dean Manuel Justiz, the College of Education has thrived," said William Powers Jr., president of the university. "This ranking is confirmation of the university's commitment to educating the next generation of teachers and leaders in Texas.”

The College of Education is one of four colleges and schools (law, business and engineering, in addition to education) at the university that receives annual qualitative and quantitative graduate school ratings fromU.S. News & World Report.

In addition to ranking colleges and schools, the magazine also provides specialty rankings of select programs. Ratings of these programs are based solely on nominations by education school deans and deans of graduate studies, and the nominating deans may choose up to 10 programs that they feel are exceptional in each specialty area.

This year in the administration/supervision category, the College of Education is ranked fourth overall and special education is ranked fifth overall.

"This is wonderful news for the College of Education," said Manuel J. Justiz, College of Education dean, "and I am so pleased that the hard work of our faculty, students and staff is getting recognition on such a large scale. I want to offer sincere thanks to all of the individuals in our college for their dedication and, of course, to the donors and alumni who so faithfully support our efforts."

The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education is home to the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, which received a $20 million research grant last year (the largest in the college’s history), and in the past year the college has added the Institute for Public School Initiatives, which is developing innovative tools for P-16 students and teachers to improve student college readiness and success.

The college has garnered national recognition for its leadership preparation programs in the Department of Educational Administration, as well as for the Learning Technology Center, Science and Mathematics Education Center, Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts, H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports, Pearson Center on Applied Psychometric Research, and the Texas Child Study Center. In addition, state-of-the-art labs in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education are helping the college’s top scientists conduct breakthrough research in the areas of fitness, nutrition, aging and the mind/body connection.

One of the most outstanding and nationally touted of the College of Education’s programs, UTeach was created through a partnership with the College of Natural Sciences that was forged in 1997. UTeach has proven to be an effective, innovative and efficient way to prepare highly qualified secondary science, math, technology and computer teachers. Undergraduates who are interested in teaching are eligible as well as college graduates who want to return to school for certification, new teachers who want to join a supportive community or seasoned teachers who would like to get an advanced degree. The University of Texas at Austin UTeach program has expanded beyond natural sciences to include liberal arts and engineering, with the engineering program recently receiving an unprecedented $12.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation in support of its work.

To date, UTeach has been replicated at 21 major universities in 11 states around the country. In addition, numerous corporate leaders and education leaders as well as Presidents Bush and Obama have praised UTeach as an extraordinarily successful, research-based approach to STEM education.

Rankings released March, 2011, by U.S. News & World Report

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Reformers Are Leaving Our Schools in the 20th Century

by Marc Prensky | Mar 16, 2011

What President Obama said:
“We need to out-educate.”

What Obama should have said:
“We can’t win the future with the education of the past.”

This is an unprecedented time in U.S. education, and awareness that we have a problem has never been higher. Billions of dollars of public and private money are lined up for solutions. But I am convinced that, with our present course, when all that momentum and money is spent, we shall nonetheless end up with an educational system that is incapable of preparing the bulk of our students for the issues and realities they will face in the 21st century.

The reason is that the educational improvement efforts now in place are aimed at bringing back the education that America offered students in the 20th century (with some technological enhancements). Sadly, too many people assume this is still the “right” education for today, although it no longer works for most of our students. Despite the many educational projects and programs now being funded and offered, practically no effort is being made to create and implement a better, more future-oriented education for all of our kids.

Most reformers are focused on fixing the educational "system." But it's not the "system" that is most important to fix; it's the education that the system provides. This distinction is critical because one can change almost everything about the "system" -- the schools, the leaders, the teachers, the number of hours and days of instruction and so forth -- and still not provide an education that interests our students and gets them deeply engaged in their own learning, or that teaches all of our students what they need to be successful in their 21st century lives.

Unless we change how things are taught and what is taught in all of our classrooms, we won't be able to provide an education that has our kids fighting to be in school rather than one that effectively pushes one-third to one-half of them out. And this is true for all our kids, both advantaged and disadvantaged.

Whether couched in terms of values, character building or behaviors, and whether or not they allow some contemporary technology to be squeezed in, the reformers fundamentally believe that they can bring back "what once worked" (That it ever worked for all, of course, is a myth). That belief has tragic ramifications for our students today because the context for education has changed so radically.

In the current environment, every field and job -- from factory work to retail to health care to hospitality to garbage collection -- is in the process of being transformed dramatically, and often unrecognizably, by technology and other forces. And while most reformers recognize that society is going through dramatic changes (even though few truly "get" their extent, speed and implications), they too often -- and paradoxically -- do not see the need for education to change fundamentally to cope with them.

Even the charter schools that many cite as "successful" -- KIPP, Uncommon Schools and Harlem Zone being a few examples -- are essentially succeeding at the old education. That, of course, is what they have to do to be called "successful" because that is all that's measured.

Unless we begin the hard job of deleting the huge amount of our overstuffed curriculum that is no longer needed and replacing it with useful things like controlling our increasingly complex machines (i.e. programming), understanding and correctly using statistics (especially polling statistics), literacy in non-textual and mixed media, systematic problem-solving, using technology to affect change, and the basics of communication in all the world's major languages -- all starting in the earliest grades -- our kids will be ready only for what was, and not what will be. I am not suggesting we totally abandon all the once-useful things we now teach, but it is now time to put a great many of them on the reference shelf alongside the Latin and Greek we once required for retrieval only when and if needed by particular students.

Yet too many of the reformers appear fixated on the "sit up straight, pay attention, take notes" educational fantasy of the past. "Discipline" (as opposed to self-discipline, or passion) is a frequently heard objective. Obama spoke of it himself. Consciously or not, the aim of these people is to repair -- not change fundamentally -- an education that is now obsolete. And because of this their efforts are doomed to failure.

Sadly, the biggest consequence of the reformers' false belief that 20th-century education can be made to work (if only better-implemented) has been the serious, continual and unwarranted attacks on our two most valuable educational resources: our 55 million students who are our future and the 3 million adults who courageously choose to teach them. Talk about bullying! These are the people we should be nurturing and helping, rather than beating up.

The failure of the 20th century approach is not the fault of our teachers. While there are clearly some who are not suited to the profession, in the main our three million teachers are people of competence and good will. And while there is certainly room for improvement, most are just trying to accomplish, often against their will and better judgment, what the old education asks and mandates of them -- that is, to "cover" the curriculum and raise test scores. Teachers are enormously frustrated by the fact that, while seeing that what they're told to do is not succeeding, they are handcuffed from doing anything else. If we take off those handcuffs and provide a better alternative, most teachers will, I believe, be eager to implement it.

Nor are students to blame for our educational problems. Young people are biologically programmed to always be learning something. The real problem is an education that gives neither the teachers nor the students a chance to succeed. Even if we are as successful as Arne Duncan wishes in recruiting talented people to replace the million teachers now retiring, the education model they are expected to deliver will almost certainly discourage them and beat them down, causing a high percentage to leave.

As a nation, we ought to be asking ourselves: Is the right solution to the hyper-changing world to push all students up to college, or to match their total education with the needs of emerging jobs? Is the right solution to kids' falling behind to demonize their schools and teachers with poor rankings, or to find ways to help each student individually? Is the right solution to America's lower placement in international comparisons to catch up on the statistics, or to take a different route to success? Is the right solution to the high number of dropouts to discipline our kids into getting an old education or to incentivize them into getting a new one? Is the right way to get kids to attend our schools to pay them (as some suggest), or to create an education that they fight to get into? Is the right way to spend our money and creative efforts to start or expand more charter schools, or to change what goes on in all our existing classrooms?

Why have so many failed to ask these questions? One possible reason is that practically all of them -- whatever their ideology -- received the old education themselves, and then succeeded in life. They may believe that since that education worked for them, it can work for everyone. But using oneself as a sole data point is one of the most elementary mistakes in reasoning.

It is sad for our children and America's future that we are so focused on re-creating and fixing the past. Our children deserve a 21st century education, one that prepares them not just for the day they leave school, but for their future careers and the rest of their lives.

Certainly, all of today's students should be able to read and write at some minimum level. But it is equally certain that those skills will be far less important in most of our kids' lifetimes than they are today as new core skills take their place. Without the changes to our goals and focus described here, Obama's much-hyped Race to the Top is nothing but a race back to the 20th century.

Yes, we need to "out-educate." But as any business school student or consultant will tell you, when competing it is far better to have a different, more clever, strategy than to just work harder at doing the same thing others do.

There is no point to our competing with the Chinese or Indians (or Finns or Singaporeans) on test scores; we should let them win (and brag about) those useless comparisons of the past.

America should be building, rather, on our unique strengths, focusing our main efforts and resources not on book-learning from the past and standardized testing, but on stimulating the passion and creativity of all our young people and honing our well-deserved reputation for ingenuity and entrepreneurship. If we do this -- and do it right -- our young people will flock back into our schools, and the America of the future will remain the envy of the world. That's the education message Obama should be spreading.

A longer, more detailed version of this thesis is online at http://bit.ly/g8LNOB.

Marc Prensky is an internationally acclaimed speaker, writer, consultant, and designer in the critical areas of education and learning. He is the author of 3 books: Teaching Digital Natives---Partnering for Real Learning (Corwin 2010), Don't Bother Me Mom -- I'm Learning (Paragon House 2005), and Digital Game-Based Learning (McGraw-Hill, 2001). He is the founder and CEO of Games2train (whose clients include IBM, Nokia, Pfizer, the US Department of Defense and the L.A. and Florida Virtual Schools) and creator of the sites www.dodgamecommunity.com and www.socialimpactgames.com. Marc can be contacted at marc@games2train.com.

Picture: Shoning Bake Shop (96 Washington Street)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dynamic Display, Modeling, and Data Visualization

This is one of the most powerful examples I have seen in showing the value of how technology can allow us to look at data in new and exciting ways. Through innovative ways of data visualization we are able to see relationships, trends, rates, and make predictions in ways that were very difficult to make in the past or required specific statistical expertise. Take a few minutes to view this recent video from CNN and the dynamic data driven explanation of the United States standard of living relative to other countries in the world. Fascinating. -Dr. Petrosino

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How Long Does It Take to Find a Permanent Superintendent? Ans: 629 Days to be Exact

On June 17, 2009 the Hoboken Board of Education was informed by Board Secretary Mr. David Anthony about the resignation of the then Superintendent of Schools. On June 18, 2009 in an article by Denise Gibson of The Jersey Journal we read "The Hoboken Board of Education will now begin to search for a replacement." Kids First complained at the time that they were given "only" 2 months to find a Superintendent....

After a long and protracted search for a superintendent, the hiring of numerous "interims", and a search process that left many people wondering what was actually happening.... on March 8, 2011 a permanent Superintendent of Schools for the Hoboken Public Schools finally signed in and was at work. In the end, it took almost 629 days.

The process led to a fracturing of the Board of Education, cost the district in terms of academic focus, led to a stream of temporary "interims" in leadership positions, and took focus away from building on the progress made under the administration of Superintendent Raslowsky.

Good luck to the new Superintendent of Schools.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Schools Need Improvements"- Recent Letter to Hoboken Reporter

The following is a letter to the editor that was published in the Hoboken Reporter on February 13, 2011 entitled, "Schools Need Improvements" and was recently brought to my attention. The letter is written by Ms. Theresa Burns, a public school teacher and a former member of the Hoboken Board of Education. In this letter to the editor, Ms. Burns discusses the results of recent student testing and AYP status from both a teacher's perspective as well as a former Board trustee. Her manner of establishing a data driven argument as well as a firm grasp of policy and practical classroom implications is notable and something I feel readers of this blog from across the country will find informative.

Dear Editor:

On November 3, 2010 the New Jersey Department of Education released their annual Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) report for the Hoboken Public Schools. The report is part of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation that aims to have all students achieving at grade level by 2014. AYP is a measuring tool with many components that accesses the quality and progress district level leadership is making toward educating the children they serve. The results for Hoboken deserve immediate attention. Three schools (Connors, Wallace, and Hoboken High School) failed to make AYP. To put this in context, in August of 2009 the current Kids First Board of Education inherited a district from Superintendent Raslowsky and the former Board leadership with a single school that did not achieve AYP (Connors). We now learn under Kids First leadership, not only has Connors not improved, but two additional schools in Hoboken have now failed to make AYP - bringing the total number of schools to three. But, the picture is much more troubling. Because of the consolidation of Demarest and all 8th graders into HHS (two controversial decisions to say the least), the impact on the entire district student population has been incredibly magnified. Looking at the data by "children impacted" rather than by "number of schools impacted," we see a much more troubling state of affairs. In August of 2009 roughly 14.5 percent of Hoboken Public School children attended a school that failed to make AYP. By January of 2011, 9 out of 10 Hoboken children now attend a public school that has failed to meet adequate yearly progress. The decline under the political group known as Kids First has been sudden and dramatic. In 2009, before Kids First took over leadership, Hoboken High School was identified by US News and World Report as a 2-time High School Bronze Medal winner. A year earlier, HHS was recognized by New Jersey Monthly as the second most improved high school in the State of New Jersey. Wallace School was the informal K-8 academic “flagship” for the district and an academic gem for over a decade. Now, both schools have failed to make AYP. Parents and taxpayers of Hoboken deserve an explanation for this system wide failure and a coherent plan for its immediate improvement.

Yours truly,

Theresa Burns

Editorial Note: That there was a reply to Ms. Burns' letter a week later by a Board member in the same publication. Unfortunately, that letter included no supporting data for its claims.

Picture: "Wordle" generated from the text of Ms. Burns' letter to the editor.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Diane Ravitch on The Daily Show

The following is a recent interview with Former Assistant Secretary of Education and current NYU Professor, Dr. Diane Ravitch. Ravitch is well known for reversing her position on accountability and high stakes testing and the harm these initiatives have done to our public school system. -Dr. Petrosino

2006 Letter From Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn to Governor Rick Perry regarding the Perry Tax Plan

As Texas faces a nearly $27 billion dollar budget deficit with impacts throughout the state, it's important to realize that this deficit did not happen due to the current recession. Rather, the seeds were planted a number of years ago with the passage of a property tax reduction passed in 2006. The following is a letter from that period of time outlining the consequences of that property tax reduction. Perhaps this can serve as a cautionary tale for those who believe a path to prosperity is paved by simply cutting taxes. Former New Jersey Governor Whiteman enacted a similar strategy years earlier- paying for promised tax reductions by not contributing to the teacher pension plan in that state.

May 15, 2006

The Honorable Rick Perry
Governor, State of Texas
Capitol Building, Room 2S.1
Austin, Texas 78701

Dear Governor Perry:

The Legislature is concluding its work on your tax plan. Your plan is fiscally irresponsible -- it includes an unconstitutional income tax on partnerships and unincorporated associations, the largest tax increase in Texas history and leaves the largest hot check in Texas history. What you should do is show true leadership and veto this legislation.

As the state's chief fiscal officer, it is my responsibility to spell out exactly what the Perry Tax Plan means to our state's fiscal integrity. As you have known since it was made public, your plan simply does not pay for itself. As of this moment, this legislation is a staggering $23 billion short of the funds needed to pay for the promised property tax cuts over the next five years.

In 2007, your plan is $3.4 billion short; in 2008 it is $4.3 billion short; in 2009 it is $5.4 billion short; in 2010 it is $4.9 billion short; and in 2011 it is $5 billion short. These are conservative estimates.

At best, your plan is a prelude to another huge tax bill in the next regular session, one that will not only be heaped on Texas businesses but will fall heavily on the same taxpayers you claim to be helping now. At worst, it will relegate Texans to Draconian cuts in critical areas like education and health care for at least a generation. This is not a victory for taxpayers. It is a sham, and Texans will see it for what it is.

There is no economic miracle that will close the gap your plan creates. Even if every single dollar of the current $8.2 billion surplus was poured into the plan, it would not cover the plan's costs for more than two years, 2007 and 2008. The gap is going to continue to grow, year by year. There are only two ways to close a chasm of that magnitude -- future tax increases that you are hiding from Texans now or massive cuts in essential state services -- like public education -- already devastated by your past fiscal indifference.

I have outlined $7.7 billion in long-term "Strayhorn Solutions" to finance needed programs, such as a significant teacher pay raise, real property tax cuts and fully restoring the Children's Health Insurance Program. Those solutions include reinstating e-Texas Performance Reviews and the Texas School Performance Reviews to the Texas Comptroller's office, implementing video lottery terminals, closing corporate loopholes in the franchise tax, eliminating the taxpayer-funded Texas Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund, and a $1-a-pack increase in the cigarette tax tied to vital health-related programs.

Texans deserve relief from high property taxes, but they do not need it at the expense of future tax hikes and more cuts in public education. Educators are justifiably skeptical of this program because they know that when the state controls the purse strings, rather than locally elected school boards, the result will be devastating to our schools.

The property tax relief contained in the bill, if it can be financed past 2008, will be quickly eroded by rising property values, and increases in local tax rates forced on local school districts struggling to keep up with rising costs. In as little as five years, the state could be right back in court.

Finally, your plan represents the largest tax bill in Texas history, includes an unconstitutional income tax, represents a 200 percent tax increase on Texas businesses at a time when the state has taken an $8.2 billion surplus out of the pockets of hardworking Texans, and does not pay for itself as required by the spirit of our Texas Constitution's "pay-as-you-go, no-deficit-spending" provision. That is unconscionable.

Governor, we should be working to improve state services for Texans and to reduce the burden of government on businesses and individuals. This plan creates a rolling mess that will take 20 years for future leaders of the state to untangle. Texans will recognize this plan for what it is -- a short-term, smoke-and-mirrors patch at best.

I urge you to show true leadership and veto this legislation. Texas needs a school finance plan that provides long-term, pay-as-you-go solutions for education.


Carole Keeton Strayhorn,
Texas Comptroller

c: The Honorable David Dewhurst, Lieutenant Governor
The Honorable Thomas R. Craddick, Speaker of the House
Members of the 79th Legislature

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

George Lucas on Education...

The following post is by George Lucas. His full blog is presented on Edutopia, a website for current innovative approaches to Education.

I didn't enjoy school very much. Occasionally, I had a teacher who would inspire me. But as an adult, as I began working with computer technology to tell stories through film, I began to wonder, "Why couldn't we use these new technologies to help improve the learning process?"

Twenty years ago when we started The George Lucas Educational Foundation, we could see that digital technology was going to completely revolutionize the educational system, whether it liked it or not. Yet, in light of extraordinary advancements in how we use technology to communicate and learn, our schools and districts have been frustratingly slow to adapt.

Unfortunately, much of our system of education is locked in a time capsule that dates back to the Industrial Revolution, when learning became an exercise in pumping as much information into kids as possible. At the end of this education assembly line comes a diploma--if the student can spit back the facts correctly. But in an era, where technology can deliver most of the world's information on-demand and knowledge is changing so rapidly, the model doesn't work. Why spend $150 on textbooks that students use for only fifteen weeks with information that soon becomes obsolete?

What we need today and in the future are citizens who can wield the tools of technology to solve complex problems. Which means we need students who can:

  • find information
  • rigorously analyze the quality and accuracy of information
  • creatively and effectively use information to accomplish a goal.

The good news is that in pockets across our country, schools and districts are unleashing contemporary technology -- combined with classic methods of inquiry-based learning that date back to Plato and Socrates -- to transform the learning process into a rigorous and more relevant experience.

Consider a few powerful examples. In Portland, Maine, middle and high school students have a 1-to-1 laptop program, strong school leadership, and project-based learning curricula that result in higher academic achievement. In Columbia, South Carolina, an elementary school uses computers to personalize student learning based on individual needs and abilities. And, here in the state of California, scores of high schools have restructured to offer career academies with rigorous curricula, enabling students to connect their learning to the "real world" and potential careers.

Are there enough of these schools and districts? No. Will the work of fixing our schools and re-inventing the learning process be long and arduous? Of course. But as we move on from debating what we ought to do and get busy building a better way, let's remember that the solutions --and the tools and people who are implementing them--are not far away. In fact, they are nearer than you think.

Through our Edutopia Web presence at edutopia.org and on popular social networks, our Foundation shines a spotlight on the most exciting classrooms where these innovations are taking place. By learning not only what but how these inspiring teachers and students are redefining learning, we hope others will consider how their work can promote change in their own schools.

Our Foundation staff is eager to know about your successes in improving schools especially through the power of technology integration. Together we can bring positive change to education. We encourage you to share your ideas below and join the effort to transform learning.

--George Lucas, Filmmaker and Founder of The George Lucas Educational Foundation