Law's language flaw left behind

EDUCATION BEAT

Immigrants: An overdue change to the federal act gives children who don't speak English a year to learn before they have to take standardized tests written in it.

February 29, 2004|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

IT'S TWO years late, but the U.S. Department of Education has finally addressed one of the absurdities of the No Child Left Behind Act: the testing of recently arrived immigrant children in a language many of them don't understand.

The department announced a few days ago that children who don't speak English will have a year's grace period before they have to take standardized tests in reading and math. That will be of particular help to districts such as Montgomery County with large numbers of immigrant children.

There are a number of provisions in the federal act that would please the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, but forcing kids who speak a foreign language to promptly demonstrate "adequate yearly progress" in English was surely one of the most surreal.

Last year, only 23.8 percent of Maryland children classified as "limited English proficient" passed the Maryland School Assessment in fifth-grade reading.

Ronald A. Peiffer, deputy state schools superintendent, said about 28 percent of limited-English kids in 2003 were in their first full academic year in Maryland public schools.

`The City That Reads' doesn't fare well in study

Baltimore is the 51st most-literate of America's 64 largest cities, according to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater.

The study pieces together a literacy profile of each city, drawing from U.S. Census data, newspaper circulation rates, library resources and other public documents.

The most literate cities are, in descending order: Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver, Atlanta, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Washington, Louisville, Ky., Portland, Ore., and Cincinnati.

Little proof found for faith in scholarships like Hope

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. may have been on to something when he jettisoned the popular Hope scholarship programs in favor of state scholarships and loans based strictly on financial need.

Despite their worthy goals, says a recent study, there's no reliable evidence that programs like Hope actually work.

Hope is designed to fill workplace shortages (primarily in teaching, technology and nursing) by granting scholarships or forgiving college loans in exchange for the recipient's commitment to work in certain fields.

But when the American Institutes for Research set out to study 161 such programs in 43 states, including Maryland, the organization found "no reliable evidence ... that these increasingly popular forms of student financial assistance actually address the problems that make them so appealing," according to the study's co-author.

One of the problems with Hope-like programs is that recipients have to be tracked by state officials after they graduate to ensure they're fulfilling their commitment. That's a time-consuming and expensive process.

And in the Maryland Hope teacher program, now being phased out, scholarship winners aren't restricted to the state's neediest schools. They can come from families of wealth -- and fulfill their teaching obligation in the state's wealthiest public schools.

Polytechnic Institute looks to add a new principal

Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, which advertises itself as "Maryland's premier mathematics, science and engineering high school," is looking for a director, or principal.

Ads placed in The Sun say the salary range is $85,000 to $112,000, depending on the background of the person chosen.

Founded in 1883, Poly has 1,200 students who are "urban, diverse and eager to learn," says the ad.

Teachers' group is hardly a terror

U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige got into an ocean of hot water last week when he called the 2.7 million-member National Education Association a "terrorist organization."

Paige later apologized for the remark made at a White House meeting of governors, though he took pains to distinguish the world's largest teachers union from its individual members.

Some old-timers were chuckling, remembering the milquetoast NEA of a generation or so ago. It didn't want to be called a "union" and proudly included in its membership principals and other administrators who today are considered management.

The rival American Federation of Teachers isn't a terrorist organization, either, but on a spectrum from "namby-pamby" to "terrorist," the AFT is further along than the NEA.

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