August 30, 2006

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Vol. 26, Issue 01
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When the new school year opens in Iraq in October, Iraqis will not be receiving any financial or technical help from the U.S. government to improve what goes on in the classroom, for the first time since Saddam Hussein’s regime was ousted by American-led coalition forces.
A year after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on New Orleans, the state of Louisiana finds itself in the highly unusual position of essentially starting from scratch—and directly operating—a batch of public schools in the city.
In discussing a new federal study on charter schools last week, the commissioner of statistics for the U.S. Department of Education reiterated that his office should not be initiating analyses such as that one and a recent comparison of public and private schools, both of which he believes rely too much on subjective judgments.
District Dossier
The Houston school district has embarked on a last-ditch campaign to keep open a handful of schools that have been unable to shake Texas’ stamp of failure for three or more years.
After months of political wrangling and a pitched battle with school officials, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s bid to assume partial control over the nation’s second-largest school district was on the verge of final approval by California lawmakers last week.
News in Brief: A National Roundup
People in the News
Almost 70 percent of American adults who say they are familiar with the federal No Child Left Behind Act believe it has had no effect or is actually hurting public schools, according to a nationwide survey released last week.
With the first findings from a federal review of the Reading First program due out soon, complainants continue to battle state and federal officials for the release of more documents related to the implementation of the $1 billion-a-year program.
The board that sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress has revised the blueprint for the 12th grade math version of the exam in an attempt to make the test better reflect the skills that students need for college and highly skilled jobs.
A heightened global interest in education standards and accountability is helping U.S.-based testing organizations expand overseas in both K-12 and higher education.
Most textbooks present learning material in the same sequence: A chapter followed by a practice test, then another chapter, and so on. But what if practice tests were given weeks later? Would students retain more of what they had learned?
The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $49 million in contracts to four universities to run national education research centers over the next five years.
Public schools in 12 states and the District of Columbia are starting to reap a windfall of up to $865.6 million for educational technology from the settlements of state lawsuits alleging that the Microsoft Corp. violated state antitrust laws.
Private Schools
In an eyebrow-raising scoop earlier this month, the union watchdog and blogger Mike Antonucci reported on some of the findings of an internal-communications survey of staff members at the American Federation of Teachers, including candid quotes about the culture and politics at the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union.
More East Coast students are opting to take the ACT college-entrance exam, its producer reports, with some observers attributing the trend to the ever more competitive atmosphere for admissions and the mandatory writing test on the rival SAT.
Philanthropy Update
Law Update
Report Roundup
Early Years
Nidhal Kadhim, an Iraqi and a former high school principal at the United Nations Baghdad International School, maintains that Creative Associates International Inc. could have done much more to improve schools in Iraq if it had made better use of the skills of her fellow citizens.
A federal reanalysis of 2003 test-score data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress finds that charter schools trailed regular public schools that year in student achievement in both reading and mathematics.
Growth in the number of states requiring students to pass an exit exam to earn a high school diploma has stalled, a report by the Center on Education Policy says.
Some three months after South Carolina legislators changed how the state’s public schools are financed, educators and businesses are decrying a new property-tax-reform law for granting tax breaks to homeowners at the expense, they contend, of economic growth and K-12 education.
State Journal
California’s largest charter school operators claimed $57 million more in state funds than they should have received, according to the results of an audit called for by state and county education officials.
Medicaid, which for several years was the fastest-growing line item in state budgets, has been supplanted by K-12 education, a recent report shows.
Reporter's Notebook
News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Capitol Recap
As a growing number of school-age children think of themselves as being of more than one race, new guidelines proposed by the Department of Education would require that schools allow students to identify themselves as multiracial.
Though the Department of Education is located in the heart of Washington, its corridors echo with the distinctive twang of Texas.
Federal File
The Department of Education plans to seek public feedback on a sweeping report approved this month by a commission charged with making long-range recommendations for changes in the nation’s higher education system.
A bill in Congress would bar the federal agency that manages Medicaid from carrying out its plan to trim some of the money it reimburses school districts for providing health services for poor students.
A change in Medicaid reimbursement policy has prompted concern from some special education officials who see it as potentially burdensome, but a federal official says the intent is to protect parental privacy rights, not to create more paperwork.
News in Brief: A Washington Roundup
The Bush administration last week urged the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down plans that use race to help determine where to assign students to public schools.
A year from now, every academic class must be headed by what is considered to be a “highly qualified” teacher. Federal officials say the vast majority of states are well on their way to that goal. Others, however, are skeptical the resources are there.
Teachers may have another year to pass muster, but the deadline is past for the nation’s paraprofessionals.
The type of certification program, be it traditional or alternative, is of little importance in comparison to the assessment of each teacher's preparedness for the classroom, write Daniel C. Humphrey, the associate director, and Marjorie E. Wechsler, a senior researcher at the Center for Education Policy at SRI International.
Retired educator Marion Brady writes that the traditional reliance on core subjects, such as math, science, social studies, and language arts, does not provide the right basis for effective educational reform.
Paul T. Hill’s Aug. 9 Commentary, "Money, Momentum, and the Gates Foundation," featured in the online TalkBack section, drew heavy reader response (more than 87 comments had been posted as this issue went to press) and produced a lively debate on funding priorities.
Marguerite Roza, a senior fellow at the Center on Reinventing Public Education and a research assistant professor at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington, looks at why large school districts frequently end up in the red, and how they can avoid such a fate.

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