August 2008 Up Front

News Analysis
Enrollment surge brings more challenges

This year, more students will attend U.S. public schools than ever before, with record-setting enrollments being driven by immigration and the nation’s growing diversity.

Some 50 million students will enter schools this fall, and about one in five of those students are Hispanic. Overall, 43 percent of these students are minorities, according to the 2008 edition of the Condition of Education, released this summer by the National Commission on Education Statistics.

The annual report is a snapshot of America’s public schools and gauges demographic trends and projections. It estimates that public school enrollment will continue to set new records for the next nine years, capping at about 54.1 million students in 2017. Regionally, the South will see the largest growth in enrollments.

The congressionally mandated report this year highlighted some encouraging figures, as nearly all the routine federal reports do. But it also could not ignore some pervasive issues evident in educating an increasingly diverse population.

“What we see are improvements, such as higher math and reading scores for fourth- and eighth-graders, and increases in college enrollment,” NCES Commissioner Mark Schneider said when the report was released. “But persistent challenges remain in educating an increasingly growing and increasingly diverse population.”

Minority students remain “disproportionately clustered” in high-poverty schools, with about a third of blacks and Hispanics, but only 4 percent of whites attending high-poverty schools in the 2005-06 school year. Achieve- ment and graduation gaps between white and minority students continue to be a challenge, Schneider said in his analysis.

Dropout rates have declined for all racial categories, but still remain disproportionately high for blacks and Hispanics. The overall graduation rate increased from 71.1 percent in 2000-01 to 74.7 percent in 2004-05, and Nebraska graduated the most seniors, 87.8 percent, in 2004-05. But 10 states and the District of Columbia had graduation rates of less than 70 percent.

Completion rates for students with disabilities significantly improved in the past decade, with the percentage of those graduating with a regular diploma increasing from 43 percent in 1995-96 to 57 percent in 2005-06, and those leaving with a certificate of attendance increasing from 9 to 15 percent during that period.

Twenty percent of students spoke a language other than English at home, most commonly Spanish, and about 5 percent of students speak English “with difficulty.” States in the West had the highest percentage of minorities in public schools, 55 percent, followed by the South, with 48 percent.

Given the nation’s growing diversity, the statistics renewed calls for more focus on the achievement gap and its consequences.

“Latino students have long underperformed versus Anglo students, and they are continuing to underperform,” Peter Zamora, a regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told the Washington Post. “When Latino students were a small percentage of the population, this maybe didn’t need to be a significant concern of policymakers. But when one out of five students is Hispanic, this isn’t a Latino issue, this is an American issue.”

In some encouraging news, the report noted that more students are attending college, and those rates are projected to continue to rise for the next 10 years. More students are completing college, and minority students accounted for about half of the growth in the numbers of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees earned between 1989-90 and 2003-04, according to the report.

At the same time public schools are growing, the report found that private and parochial enrollments had dipped slightly, from 5.3 million in 2001 to 5.1 million in 2005, and the percentage of students attending those schools decreased from 11 percent in 1989 to 9 percent in 2005.

The report is available online at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor



ASBJ series earn top publishing honors

Two American School Board Journal series -- one on how schools are dealing with issues of race and diversity and another on at-risk children -- have won national honors in contests that recognize outstanding work by education journalists and publishers.

Lawrence Hardy’s “Children at Risk” series received the Distinguished Achievement Award in the Adult Periodical/Series category from the Association of Educational Publishers (AEP). Hardy’s series, which appeared in five installments from December 2006 to September 2007, examined the factors -- ranging from generational poverty to neighborhood influences -- that put children at risk of failure in school and in life.

A story from the series, “Juvenile Justice,” received an honorable mention award in the Feature Writing-20,001 to 50,000 circulation category this year from the Society of National Association Publications (SNAP). The initial story in the series won top honors in the same category in 2007.

Del Stover’s series of stories on race and diversity issues in schools won first place honors in the Education Writers Association’s 2007 National Awards for Education Reporting. The stories -- “Moment of Truth” (April), “Summer of Fate” (August), and “The Vicious Circle” (December) -- examined how rural, suburban, and urban school districts are dealing with these issues amid calls for improved student achievement.

Stover’s award marked the first time ASBJ has won the top honor from the Education Writers Association for consecutive years. The magazine, which was recognized for its 2006 series on how Gulf Coast schools were faring in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, competes against other publications in the Special Interest, Institutional, and Trade Publications category.

In this year’s AEP contest, the magazine finished in the top two for “Most Improved Adult Periodical” and in the top three for “Whole Publication-Periodical of the Year” and editorial writing. Associate Editor Joetta Sack-Min was an AEP finalist in two categories for her interview with New Orleans Superintendent Paul Vallas, which appeared in August, and her “Building the Perfect School” feature that appeared in October.

Also, Art Director Carrie Carroll was recognized as an AEP finalist for the November 2007 cover illustration.


Talk About It
Our monthly list of topics worth discussing

Community service
Would you like for your schools to have some help from college students? In North Carolina, a proposed bill would require all students seeking bachelors’ degrees in the state’s private and public colleges and universities to spend 20 hours a semester tutoring or mentoring students in the public schools. “In our public schools, we always say that if we could get the family involved, how much better everything would be,” state Sen. Tony Rand told The News & Observer. “Well, some children in public schools don’t have families. Sometimes the family doesn’t want to be involved. And so programs involving these college students would be a real boost.” If the law proposed by Rand passes, all bachelor’s degree recipients would have to complete the requirement to graduate.

The death of writing?
Has writing gone awry? Are abbreviated wds, symbols, and txt driving your schools’ English teachers up trees? A recent survey by the College Board and Pew Internet and American Life Project found that most students say it’s important to know how to write well, but a majority also said that Internet-style language is making its way into class work. The survey was released after results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that only one-third of eighth-graders demonstrate proficiency in writing. “I see creeping inarticulateness,” Librarian of Congress James Billington told the Washington Post. Billington believes that the demise of the well-written sentence will deal a deathly blow to critical thought and storytelling. Others are not as concerned, but point to a decline in writing skills over the past four to five years.

Food allergies
More than 2 million school-age children have food allergies. But while numerous schools and districts across the United States have allergy-related policies, only four states (Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, and Tennessee) have passed related legislation and a bill stalled this year in the Maryland legislature. Now, Congress is considering a bill to create uniform federal guidelines for schools. “Without federal guidance, a child’s health and safety may be protected in one school but not in another,” said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut, whose 6-year-old daughter has gone into shock four times due to numerous food-related allergies. According to the Centers for Disease Control, food allergies result in 30,000 emergency room visits and 100 to 200 deaths in the U.S. each year.

Scared straight
Did school officials in Oceanside, Calif., go too far when they announced to students that 26 of their classmates had been killed in car accidents as part of a scared-straight exercise? Students at El Camino High School protested the hoax, which was supported by school officials in this San Diego suburb, saying they felt betrayed by teachers and administrators. Counselors were on hand to calm students who were upset, and El Camino officials defended the stunt. “We did this in earnest,” Superintendent Larry Perondi told the Associated Press. “This was not done to be a prankster.”

Student vaccinations
Should students be required to have more vaccinations before they are allowed to attend school? In New York state, parents and the advocacy organization “My Kids, My Choice” are protesting a proposed law that would require more shots for school-aged children. If the law -- backed by the state health department -- passes, seventh-graders and students entering college would be required to get shots against meningitis. The more likely sticking point: The measure also would allow minors to get vaccines for sexually transmitted diseases without parent consent. The state now allows only two exemptions to the almost 30 vaccinations children must receive before age 6. One exemption is for medical reasons; the other for religious purposes. Parents protesting the law want instead to have bills passed that grant exemptions based on religious beliefs.


Back-to-school facts and figures

Did you know that an estimated $10 billion will be spent at family clothing stores and bookstores during the month of August as students and parents prepare for the 2008-09 school year?

That fact is one of several interesting statistics provided by the U.S. Census Bureau that are associated with the return of students and teachers to school. Because of the delay in reporting statistics, many of the figures date back to October 2006, but they provide a snapshot of what educators around the country should expect this year.

Among the figures:

• 75.2 million: Children and adults enrolled from nursery school to college in October 2006.

• 56 percent: The percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in school.

• 72 percent: The percentage of children 3 to 6 enrolled in kindergarten who attended school all day.

• 56 million: Number of students projected to be enrolled in the nation’s K-12 schools this fall.

• 11 percent: Projected percentage of elementary through high school students enrolled in private schools this fall.

• 41 percent: Percentage of elementary through high school students who were minorities in 2006.

• 23 percent: Percentage of elementary through high school students who have at least one foreign-born parent in October 2006.

• 10.9 million: Number of school-age children (5 to 17) who speak a language other than English at home; 7.8 million of these children speak Spanish at home.

• 30.5 million: Average number of children participating each month in the national school lunch program in 2007.

• 97,382: Number of public schools in 2005-06. The corresponding number of private schools was 28,996.

• 7.1 million: Number of teachers in the United States in 2007.

• 14.2 million: Number of computers available for classroom use in the nation’s schools in 2005-06.

• $82,320: Average annual 2006 earnings of workers 18 and older with an advanced degree. This compares with $20,873 for those without a high school diploma. In addition, those with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $56,788 in 2006, while those with a high school diploma earned $31,071.

• 3.3 million: Projected number of high school diplomas that will be awarded in 2008-09.

• $9,138: Per-pupil expenditure on public elementary and secondary education nationally in 2006. New York ($14,884) spent the most among states or state equivalents, followed by New Jersey ($14,630) and the District of Columbia ($13,446). Utah ($5,437) spent the least per student, followed by Idaho ($6,440) and Arizona ($6,472).


As elections near, NCLB’s future subject of talk

The No Child Left Behind Act will not be reauthorized until a new administration and a new Congress take office, but that doesn’t mean talk about the law and education policy is fading.

Far from it, in fact.

Bipartisan groups, consisting mostly of prominent Democrats, announced two initiatives that focus on improving the quality of education for low-income minority students. The initiatives, announced on consecutive days in mid-June, are similar in their mission, but very different in terms of how they would be implemented.

Miami-Dade County Superintendent Rudy Crew, civil rights leader Julian Bond, and former Attorney General Janet Reno joined a group of about 60 prominent educators and academics for the release of A Broader, Bolder Approach for Education (www.boldapproach.org). The report, supported by former Boston Superintendent Tom Payzant and New York University professor Pedro Noguera, among others, says NCLB’s focus on test scores is too narrow. The report also says schools can’t close achievement gaps alone, noting that a renewed emphasis on antipoverty programs is needed to help meet the basic needs of low-income children.

The next day, Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, the leaders of the New York and Washington, D.C., school systems, announced the creation of the Education Equality Project (www.educationequalityproject.org). The advocacy group, supported by the Rev. Al Sharpton, is seeking greater accountability from teachers, incentives that reward school success, and a move toward national standards. It says that NCLB has brought a new awareness to schools about the needs of low-income students, but schools have failed to take the necessary steps to do what’s needed.

Two weeks after the initiatives were released, a Center for Education Policy report stated that achievement has risen on math and reading tests and that gaps between whites and minority students have narrowed since NCLB was passed in 2002. The report, however, cautioned that increases were not as great at the middle school and high school level.