Education Matters — California Schools and Public Education : Essays News Research and Resources

Education Matters:Sandra Nichols California schools, public education, essays, news, research, resources, Atlanta Public Schools test cheeting scandal, Cheating in Ohio, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Michigan, California, and Washington D.C., Michelle Rhe, American Association of School Administrators named APS's Beverly Hall Superintendent of the Year in 2009, Race to the Top, Arnie Duncan, Teacher bashing, Teachers as professionals, Binding Arbitration, teachers union, PVFT, Bruce Woolpert, Budget cuts, Adam Smith, Committe for Good School Governance (CGSG) "Eyes Only" Endorsement process lacks transparency, back room deal-making, Buy a school board, Tax the poor to balance school budgets, Republican legislators, Sacramento, Senator Joe Simitian, Governor's education budget, Legislative Analyst's Office, Highly Qualified Teachers, English learners, California Board of Education, Senator Martha Escutia, SB 1769, Latino Caucus, Governor Schwarzenegger, teacher morale, NCLB, teacher pay, respect for teachers, Day of the Teacher, test scores, creativity, critical thinking, High School Exit Exam, CAHSEE, Certificates of Completion, learning English, teacher shortage, Intelligent Design, "merit" pay, military recruiting, equality, bilingual education

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Education Currents
Education News, Events and Trends

California Teachers

Teacher shortage: 100,000 and soon San Jose Mercury News
  Jan. 26, 2006—Experts testifying before the California Senate Education Committee predicted a 100,000 teacher shortage within 10 years as one-third are now over 50 and nearing retirement.
Report on Status of Teaching Profession: Shortage to be 100,000...over the next decade Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, SRI International
"Under-prepared, intern teachers assigned to low achieving schools serving California's poor and minority students." CFTL report video

School Funding  

The '65 percent solution' — How much education funding should go directly to classrooms? —Christian Science Monitor
  Jan. 25, 2006—First Class Education, an Atlanta, GA think-tank, proposes all 50 states and the District of Columbia reallocate school spending so that at least 65 cents on every dollar goes directly into the classroom - on books and teacher pay - by the end of 2008. more...
Inflation Outpaces Teacher Salary Growth in More Than 40 States Nea Report
Teacher Salary Graph NEA Statistics

"Toy" guns  

American youth packing dangerous weapons—"toy guns"—at school
  Jan. 18, 2006—A Florida youth demonstrated—with his life—the dangers of playing with toy guns at school. His was a pellet gun, considered to be safe, and local authorities were advised of the fact, but a local SWAT team had the final word. The youth was declared "brain dead," and his organs were harvisted. Student Shot by SWAT Team Had Pellet Gun Associated Press
Pediatricians: 'Toy' Guns Anything But Safe Health Day News
Fact Sheet About Toy Guns International Health & Epidemiology Research Center

Intelligent Design  

California school board struggles with Intelligent Design decision
  Jan. 18, 2006—A California school board voted 5-0 to cancel its Intelligent Design class...after voting 3-2 to approve the class...after a Federal Judge declared a Pennsylvania ID class to be unconstitutional. full story and background

Teacher "Merit" Pay  

Houston teacher pay now based on student test scores
    Houston Independent School District now the nation's largest to implement performance (merit) pay for teachers. Pay formula based on student performance on three different standardized tests. more...
New York Times superior coverage requires registration (1/13/06) only
Rethinking Teacher Compensation American Federation of Teachers
Performance (Merit) Pay: A Case Study Oregan School Boards Association

Military Recruiting  

Recruiters at School, The Growing Debate
By Lawrence Hardy
American School Board Journal
    Misunderstandings between recruiters and enlistees—as well as accusations of outright deception—are common as an all-volunteer military struggles to keep up with the personnel demands of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.more...
See Also:
The NCLB/Military Recruitment Connection Watasonville Register-Pajaronian
Recruitment Information U.S. Dept. of Education
Military Recruiters have eye on students Baltimore Sun
Emergency Card "Opt-Out" American Friends Service Committee
Poverty Draft American Friends Service Committee

No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

"Schools are being set up to fail" California Teachers Association
...(NCLB's) unintended...negative consequences" Harvard Civil Rights Project
Seven Deadly Absurdities Education News
All About High-Stakes Testing Harbor House Law Press

High School Exit Exams (CAHSEE)

Report on CAHSEE Results 8/05 California Dept. of Education
Are High Schools Ready for CAHSEE? UCLA/IDEA Research
" of seniors haven't passed.." The Desert Sun
"Disabled students call test unfair..." San Francisco Chronicle
Schwarzenegger Vetoes CAHSEE Alternative San Francisco Chronicle
"Exit Exams Can Be Optional If You Plan Ahead" Wrightslaw


Harvard Study: California schools more segregated United Press International (1/18/06)
Harvard Study: New York schools racially divided NY1 News (1/18/06)
Florida seeks to split school districts - Opponents charge racial segregation Associated Press (1/12/06)
Busing controversy continues in Wichita, Kansas The Wichita Eagle (1/8/06)

Bilingual Education  

Congressional Findings U.S. Dept. of Education
History of Bilingual Education Rethinking Schools
Bush's Bad Idea for Bilingual Education Stephen Krashen
" the Nation of Immigrants—Ron Unz vs. Harvard Prof. Catherine Snow Harvard Graduate School of Education
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Guest Columnist

Teach Them so They Will Love to Learn

By Michelle A. Newlands
Oh Canada Canadian Education Quality and Accountability Office, Ontario, Canada

  To keep our kids in schools requires an educational approach, which initiates within each child interest, engagement, and commitment to learning. This is a difficult task under the best circumstances. Given the current education climate, this is a momentous task. more...

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Sandra Nichols : Education Matters, Essays on California Education--and Beyond
Updated July 31, 2010
Sandra Nichols : Education Matters
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Atlanta Public Schools test
cheating an NCLB byproduct

by Sandra Nichols emailbiography

By Sandra and Peter Nichols

The scandalous report about wide-spread cheating by school administrators and teachers on standardized tests in Atlanta Public Schools should send shudders up and down the entire education community.

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Knew About Cheating (July 5)
"Dark day" for Atlanta Public Schools (July 6)
Cheating probe could get ex-APS official fired in Texas (July 10)

Most educators recognized in 2001 that No Child Left Behind legislated impossible expectations. Now, with the threat of teachers being fired, schools being closed, and so called "reforms" being imposed that go against thousands of years of wisdom about how students learn, is anyone really surprised?

NCLB impacts hardest those schools serving minority and low-income communities. So it's no surprise that Atlanta Public Schools would be lauded for it's apparently remarkable test score improvement. The American Association of School Administrators named Beverly Hall Superintendent of the Year in 2009 for Atlanta's outstanding performance. But as the Atlanta Journal Constitution discovered, the improvements weren't real. Cheating was found in 44 of 56 schools. Implicated were 38 principals. Taking the Fifth Amendment were 178 educators. Hall reportedly knew about the cheating, even retaliated against whistleblowers, before retiring.

Cheating was the subject discussed with local educators on a recent "Teacher, speak out!" Community TV show (titled "Who's Cheating Whom" and available at Similar examples of cheating were documented in Ohio, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Michigan, California, and Washington D.C. Tactics included exposing students to questions before testing, not testing low-performing students, helping students in semi-private settings, and in Atlanta's case, actually holding test-bubble "changing parties." They were busted when electronic test scanners identified a statistically inordinate number of incorrect answers had been erased and changed to correct answers.

In one Washington D.C. school under then Chancellor Michelle Rhee, students proficient in math went from 10 percent to 58 percent in two years. A phenomenal improvement, and as reported in USA Today, a bogus one. Rhee earned a starring role extolling her programs in the film "Waiting for Superman," and DC schools won $75 million in Race to the Top funding, part of Obama's plan to motivate schools.

Because neither the states nor the federal government have the resources to investigate these kinds of allegations, districts are left to investigate and resolve them as they arise. But how can districts be trusted with so much at stake?

The flaws and inequities of NCLB are now commonly acknowledged, yet it remains the law of the land. By the year 2014, 100 percent of students in 100 percent of schools and 100 percent of districts are expected to demonstrate proficiency in math and reading on standardized tests. Without changing what the meaning of the word "proficient" is, it's not going to happen.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration, responding to anti-union and merit pay enthusiasts, has added fuel to the fire by insisting that teacher-pay be related to student test performance. Rather than improving student success, this will simply ratchet up the pressure on educators to show data-validated improvement.

As long as money is awarded for test score improvement, and politicians use low performing schools as punching bags to further a privatization agenda, focusing on test scores will not translate into real student achievement. Whether it's "teaching to the test," fudging of testing protocols, or out-and-out cheating, higher test scores will be the only goal post, and educators will be forced to do whatever they must to get there.

Sandra Nichols is a retired 31-year public school teacher and current Pajaro Valley Unified School District Trustee in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. Peter is a PVUSD teacher and freelance journalist. They can be reached through their website,

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      More Essays by Sandra Nichols

No bilingual classes in Pajaro Valley?As a PVUSD trustee for the past ten years, I can assure you that not only are a variety of bilingual programs available within PVUSD, but the district celebrates and encourages bilingualism and biliteracy. (May 29, 2011)

Doomed to damn 1,000How productive can it be to "damn" 1,000 California schools as failures? And what's the difference between one of the 1,000 and the other extreme, the "Distinguished Schools" some neighborhoods boast. When you look beyond the rhetoric, it's clear: the problem is poverty. (July 31, 2009)

Another education reform gimmick on the way! Wonder why a Republican governor would promote reform driven by a Democratic agenda? Just follow the money. More than four billion dollars in Federal grants will be awarded under Race to the Top, which Duncan hails as the educational equivalent of "the moon shot". But only states that permit the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers may apply. California has a law that prevents such a use, so our Arnie is pushing legislators to abolish it in order to qualify under the new Arne's rules. (Sept. 28, 2009)

Who says teachers aren't professionals? Teacher bashing has become so commonplace that it hardly generates comment, but I'm beginning to take it personally. Even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan seems to think that teachers need to come a long way, baby, before being welcome in the professionals' club. (Aug. 25, 2009)

Stimulus funds fail to save schools — Letters to the President On July 9, the Associated Press reported that the Government Accountability Office said the federal stimulus money "is keeping teachers off the unemployment lines." Simultaneously, the California Teachers Association reported, "districts statewide already have made $12 billion in cuts and laid off 17,000 teachers." (July 18, 2009)

Teachers are not "in it for the money" — On July 9, the Associated Press reported that the Government Accountability Office said the federal stimulus money "is keeping teachers off the unemployment lines." Simultaneously, the California Teachers Association reported, "districts statewide already have made $12 billion in cuts and laid off 17,000 teachers." (April 16, 2009)

Education Cuts: What will upper management give? — Recently a teacher, fearing layoffs or furlough days, spoke to the school board and complained about her salary and living expenses. In response, one of our top-level administrators stood here in front of everyone and declared, "we will all suffer, at every level and no one will be immune to the budget ax." I want to know what upper management intends to give, because the top-level employees in this district have contracts put in place at the dawn of this budget crisis. (Jan. 28, 2009)

"Eyes Only" Endorsement Process Lacks Transparency — Candidates for PVUSD school board recently received a questionnaire, brochure, and letter inviting participation in the endorsement process for the Committee for Good School Governance. This group successfully elected all four of its endorsed candidates in 2006, unseating two of the board's three life-long educators. (Sept. 9, 2008)

Buy a school board, then tax the poor to balance the school district budget — Money can't buy love, but it can buy a school board. The formula is simple. Four votes are what you need on a seven-member board. Pour money into the campaigns of four would-be trustees and voila! Glossy campaign mailers and billboards galore. And then in the aftermath, with four votes, you put into place a dream team that tweaks the schools in the direction of your desires. (May 22, 2008)

California Legislators responsible for drastic education budget — There are legislators, about 20 of them according to Senator Simitian, more concerned about their political affiliation and their seat in the legislative chambers than their duty to serve the needs of Californians. (March 30, 2008)

Educators demand changes to NCLB — There is a nationwide effort underway to repair the major flaws of the No Child Left Behind Act before it is reauthorized, most likely this year. This effort is supported by teachers unions and associations of school administrators and school boards at the state and national levels. (Feb. 10, 2007)

Legislature fights English-learner book ban — On the surface, the board's decision about the textbooks seems simple enough. Since we want all children to achieve to high standards and no child should be left behind, so to speak, surely we would want the same textbook in the hands of every child. But it's not that simple, as is frequently the case when English learners are concerned. The English-only forces and the bilingual advocates — whether Republicans, Democrats or whatever — all claim to want success for all students including those that did not learn English as their first language. (July 29, 2006)

On electing a superintendent for Santa Cruz County — The vote tallies indicate that a significant segment of the county's population is interested in change at the County Office of Education, that nebulous entity known as the "COE." Although only a small subset of voters activated upon their right to vote, many of those who did apparently want the COE to reshape itself into a more accessible, more visible, and more responsive service provider. (June 30, 2006)

Low pay, lack of respect and NCLB create crisis in morale — Teachers suffer from low morale due in part to the low-pay-high-cost-of-living gap. Decisions handed from the top down leave teachers feeling more like trainers than educators. Teaching in low performing schools should be a rewarding experience, yet these schools are labeled failures. The emphasis placed on test scores makes creativity and critical thinking afterthoughts at best. (May 20, 2006)

All you need is love — I believe that educators need to support each other and move forward for the common good, with the best interest of students in the public schools in our hearts. I also believe that the behavior of educators is constantly watched by children and young people, our students. If educators don't model civil behavior, who will? (April 8, 2006)

The only thing constant in education is change — It has not been educators who have led this country into a bubble test - computer scored - obsession. It has been politicians. While politicos are dreaming up ways to make all children arrive at the same point at the same time, teachers have been dreaming up ways to make education the vital, life-long, loved experience that you want for your children. (March. 25, 2006)

High School Exit Exam doesn't tell the whole story — Along with the exaltation and hoopla for a majority of this year's high school seniors, in some homes there will be trauma, frustration and disappointment resulting from the California High School Exit Exam. (Feb. 15, 2006)

Toy guns, a "scourge" on our youth — Scourge: A source of widespread dreadful affliction and devastation such as that of war." Yes, scourge, that's the word applicable to imitation firearms — toy guns. The recent news from Florida should serve as a wake-up call to parents, legislators and schools. Imitation firearms should not be considered toys. (Jan. 21, 2006)

NCLB's "Qualified teachers" need better compensation — Teachers do not live in the lap of luxury. Yet teachers may be the single most important determinant of quality of life on this planet. They are required to meet an incredibly high bar in terms of their own education, including several years of graduate school. They are required to take additional classes throughout their career to keep up-to-date and knowledgeable. And they are frequently made to feel that they have chosen the wrong career when their schools are labeled NCLB failures—a public discrace (Dec. 17, 2005)

Schools survive special election—Now what? — Californians defeated Governor Schwarzenegger's propositions that threatened teachers and public schools. But the pressure ramains for Schools to meet ever-higher achievement targets, as required under No Child Left Behind and the California High School Exit Exam. Granted, we must do our best to meet these targets, but we must do more to provide educational alternatives so that every student has a real chance to succeed. (Nov. 26, 2005)

New names for Schwarzenegger propositions — Proposition 75 shall be renamed "The Bavarian Bully attempts to have his cake and eat it." Yes, the claim of bullying is especially poignant these days. While schools are trying to eliminate playground bullying, along comes the biggest bully of them all, our governor who wants to strong-arm unions into silence on the political scene. (Nov. 1, 2005)

Schools are not equal in two Americas — It is a commonly held belief that in the olden days teachers used to teach kids how to reason and now they just teach them how to take tests. Well, in reality, some teachers and schools still emphasize reasoning rather than selecting the correct answer from a field of three. This being the case, there are definitely two education systems in America. There are schools with the mission of developing advanced cognition and the joy of learning; there are schools that have shifted to training children to take tests. (Oct. 22, 2005)

Educators not the culprits in California budget — In the upcoming election, voters will decide whether or not to wreak even more havoc on our public schools. It's time to decide, folks, whether or not you want good public schools, because if Mr. Schwarzenegger has his way, he will be given a free reign to chop school funding at his own whim. Proposition 76 would eliminate our meager funding guarantee that is currently in place. (Sept. 17, 2005)

School's in! Please drive carefully — In California, we are facing the grim possibility of even further funding reductions with the upcoming special election. There are high standards for all students. There are high stakes tests including the California High School Exit Exam, the passing of which is required of seniors in order to graduate in June. There are the threats of No Child Left Behind sanctions applied to our schools. (Aug. 20, 2005)

Reflections on a multilingual scene — Most people understand that the inability to speak English is not a character flaw. It is a fact of life and is a temporary condition that could change at any time! People can learn a second language at any age, with proper instruction and a good attitude. (July 16, 2005)

The No Child Left Behind/Military Connection — As an educator of 27 years, I wonder why No Child Left Behind includes a requirement about military recruitment of students. What does this have to do with school improvement? (June 18, 2005)

The boiling point of public school funding — Clearly, it is true that if you reduce school funding a little every year, dedicated educators will take what they can get and do their best with it. Eventually, the educational careers of 6 million students are in jeopardy. Eventually, teachers become disheartened; drop-outs increase; class sizes grow; schools get shut down; librarians, counselors and nurses disappear; and enrichment programs become a thing of the past. Our educators and families manage to put up with these reductions because they are gradual. Who would sit still if California schools went from nearly the top to nearly the bottom in per-pupil spending overnight? (May 14, 2005)

Athletic league decision deserves protest — The realignment of our local athletic leagues has surfaced as an important issue that will affect the culture of our schools and the social connections that our children make. While not an avid sports fan, I recognize high school sports as one of the defining features of comprehensive high schools, leading to school pride and identity, and fostering the formation of lasting friendships. (April 16, 2005)

Schwarzenegger's broken promise and a dismal future for our schools — The broken promise of our governor to fund schools at the level prescribed by law, combined with elements of No Child Left Behind that eat away at confidence in our schools, are taking us down an extremely detrimental path. It is a path paved by those who favor school vouchers and the privatization of education. (March 26, 2005)

The Failure of California Proposition 227 — Neither Proposition 227 nor the No Child Left Behind Act was based on educational research. Both promote a political agenda. Neither should be used to make educational decisions, although they must be used to make financial decisions about the schools since money flows where political policies and power direct it. (Feb. 19, 2005)

Schwarzenegger Budget to the Back of the Class — The National Education Association ranked schools according to per pupil revenue, with New York and Connecticut students being the best funded at more than $12,000 per pupil. A California public school education seems cheap by comparison! In fact a recent Rand Corporation study found that California spends $600 less per student than the national average. Now, you wouldn't think that education costs less here because of the low cost-of-living, would you? Neither would I. (Jan. 15, 2005)

Everyday Heroics in the Public Schools — I saw the look of anguish change to relief on the crossing guard's face. The mother and child seemed unaware of what had almost happened. I was stricken by how the work of a crossing guard is one of the most important jobs, one in which a moment's lapse in vigilance could make the difference between a nice day and a horrible disaster. (Dec. 24, 2004)

An open letter to the President of the United States — I ask myself, "Why were things so much better for me in school than these children of whom I am writing?" The answer is very, very clear. I spoke English from birth. My parents were well-educated. Our family was not poor. These are the factors that define children who will perform well on standardized tests. (Nov. 20, 2004)

Daycare can bridge the achievement gap — Our schools keep getting bigger, and we ask more from our students. Society demands a more educated person to move into the workforce. Students must work harder and study more advanced subjects. Some must do so on a non-level playing field since they have yet to attain the necessary skills in the English language. (Oct. 16, 2004)

The "Favorite Teacher" Credential — Think for a moment about your favorite teacher. What comes to mind? A teacher who was energetic, joyful, and kind? Someone strong, with high expectations, and demanding assignments? A teacher who said something unique that changed your life? (Sept. 18, 2004)

Join the "Ear for English" Movement — Imagine a community in which every English learner has a fluent English speaking friend. Imagine a community where fluent English speakers volunteer to tell stories in English to a group of toddlers in bish-speaking homes once a week. I am currently working on a project which I call "Ear for English," which involves recruiting volunteers to tell stories in English in a no-pressure context to preschoolers in homes and day care centers. If you want to join me in this effort, please contact me. (Aug. 21, 2004)

Mr. Riordan, there are no stupid, dirty girls — On July 1, the Secretary of Education was caught on videotape publicly making an inappropriate and mean remark to a young student. At an event to promote summer reading in Santa Barbara, a six-year-old girl by the name of Isis asked Riordan if he knew her name meant an Egyptian goddess. His response, which he later claimed was a joke, was that Isis means "stupid, dirty girl." Profuse apologies followed. I guess when he heard his own words he realized it wasn't a nice thing to say! Riordan claimed he was just teasing the girl. (July 17, 2004)

The fallacy of No Child Left Behind — Recent changes in the educational system wrought by NCLB are not all positive. Hello! Granted that defining criteria for holding schools accountable is desirable, let's not forget that schools are not factories and that the "products" of the educational system are living, breathing, feeling human beings. (June 19, 2004)

50th Anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education: Don't Give Up on Brown or Mendez — On Monday, Brown vs. the Board of Education turns 50. We celebrate with proclamations and resolutions. As we celebrate, we cringe knowing the effort to achieve integration in schools has been backsliding for years. Researchers call it "re-segregation." And it is our Latino student population that is most egregiously affected. (May 15, 2004)

Special Education requires special communication — There are many places in this world where no one has even heard of special education. Families simply take care of their children the best they can. What's a family to do when nobody in the family knows sign language and nobody has ever seen a communication device? (April 17, 2004)

Spring Reinvigorates the Activist Trustee — I have grown to be very excited about the new high school construction project, which involves so much more than just buildings. Parent meetings are also "under construction." New groups are forming. Administrators have brought together a network of support and planning to ready the school for its new student body. These students will be the class of 2008, the first class to graduate from Pajaro Valley High School. (March 20, 2004)

Shining Schools: Between a Rock and a Hard Place — Triggered by messages of complaint and the venting of frustration that I hear daily, my concerns mount. And then I go to the schools and watch what's really happening in the classrooms and I am filled with joy and pride. My belief about the goodness of our schools is fortified by what I see. But nothing is perfect. There is a system for what to do in case of trouble. (Feb. 21, 2004)

NCLB is a threat to public schools. But then, who needs them anyway? — With NCLB's promise of ultimate failure, Are you willing to consider the possibility of abandoning our public schools? We have to go down that road only a few short paces, conceptualizing abandoned public schools as hellholes in which only the poor are in attendance, before responding with a resounding, "NO!" This is just not going to work out in a democracy. (Jan. 17, 2004)

School Visits Show Pride of Ownership — A friend of mine sent me an editorial written by a teacher in a poverty-stricken, disgracefully dirty and poorly staffed school district in California. My friend commented, "Sound familiar?" (Dec. 20, 2003)

Tolerance and Diversity are Good Things — Let's talk about opportunity and brotherly love. Let's talk about solving problems and working together productively into the world of tomorrow. And let's consider living together in peace and respect for our culturally and linguistically diverse neighbors. (Nov. 29, 2003)

On the road to a million words — Is there anything happening upon which we can all agree? Yes, ma'am, there is. There is a nation-wide movement to encourage reading, brought to our community by PVUSD Superintendent, Dr. Mary Anne Mays. And nobody disagrees with this. Let's all read more often! (Oct. 25, 2003)

Standardized Tests—No Child Dubbed a Failure — By now, parents have received test results from the State of California relating to their child's individual performance on last spring's round of testing. There are some very disappointed and concerned folks out there, understandably frustrated in these days of No Child Left Behind. (Sept. 27, 2003)

Integration, where are you? — At a California School Board Association conference in the not too distant past, I listened to a speaker whose theme was that racially isolated schools could never hope to achieve adequate progress on test scores. This pessimism seems somewhat merited, especially in a world in which racial isolationism has linguistic implications. (Aug. 16, 2003)

Rays of Hope regarding CAHSEE and State Budget — After being urged to do so by your local PVUSD Board, the State Board of Education took action on the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) on July 9. The action will make possible recognition for students who pass CAHSEE while not punishing those students who have been unable to do so. (July 19, 2003)

Words, the coin of the education realm — Researchers found that children living in poverty have vocabularies that contain roughly half of the words acquired by children from more affluent families by the time the children are 3 years old. This is not surprising. It is natural to assume that parents who graduated from college would use a more extensive vocabulary than parents whose education was less extensive. It would be natural to expect the children of professionals to therefore know more words. (June 21, 2003)

A Win-Win for the High School Exit Exam — The California High School Exit Exam has created quite a controversy since so many students in the class of 2004 are expected to fail. Denying diplomas to students who have completed four years of course curriculum seems unfair, as does denying due recognition to those students who have passed. Dumbing the test down by lowering the passing score, as some have proposed, runs counter to the goals of the test's implementation. Here, Sandra offers a win-win solution allowing students who have completed their course work a diploma and those how have passed the test additional recognition. (May 17, 2003)

When NCLB Standards Meet Reality — The Federal Government's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB — dubbed "nicklebee") provides funding to schools and sets lofty standards. It also has some questionable provisions that call for withholding funds should they not be met. The California School Board Association has predicted that "...schools in California will fail to meet..." one key NCLB requirement. (April 26, 2003)

Public Schools Reach Level Orange Alert — With dire warnings of impending budget shortfalls coming from every level of state government, the adequacy of funding for public schools is being questioned. Some educators fear funding cutbacks will result in a significant deterioration of services making private schools more and more attractive to parents. Proponents of a voucher system — previously rejected in California — are seen as accepting the struggles for funding as an opportunity to advance their agenda. (Mar. 15, 2003)

Beauty and the Beast — While pondering the darkness of budget cuts and other education matters making banner headlines in the local papers, a visitor of uncommon beauty stirs the imagination. The result is a strategy for communicating with state legislators to insist on preserving funding for public schools.(Feb. 15, 2003)

On doing better with less, much less — The economic state of affairs in California has educators trembling at the amount of cuts they expect will be required to balance their school district budgets. Newspaper headlines and pundits leave citizens fearing the situation is hopeless. Sandra invokes the perpetual optimism of a teacher as she prepares for the impending financial crisis.(Jan. 17, 2003)

An elephant in the room — A school district is like a very big family. There are the elders, the new generation, the distant cousins, the in-laws and all, sometimes an ex or two. And, like a family, at times problems surface. (Dec. 14, 2002)

Zippity Doo Dah, Yahoo, and a Hallelujah — The Thanksgiving holiday, a favorite of most Americans, brings to mind numerous pleasant thoughts of friends and family. Contributions to the holiday spirit are amplified by words sung by Jerry Garcia (Cumberland Mine) and spoken by James Garner (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood). In one California School District, the completion of a number of special projects involving students, parents and teachers were a perfect lead-in to the joyous holiday season.(Nov. 23, 2002)

Antidotes for Racism — I am aware of accusations of racism being directed at candidates who in fact have spent their entire lives promoting acceptance of diversity and positive inter-racial relationships. The charge of racism is difficult to refute because everybody knows that even the racist will loudly deny being a racist. (Oct. 26, 2002)

Let's huddle and get this ball moving — With various interest groups—plus a couple of disgruntled trustees—objecting to a Superintendent's appointment, a new way of looking at victory and defeat is proposed. The Pajaro VAlley Unified School District has appointed Dr. Mary Anne Mays to be its new superintendent. Trustee Sandra Nichols suggests the difference between getting your way and not getting your way should not be viewed fatalistically. (Sept. 21, 2002)

True confessions of a School Board Trustee — The naming of a new high school has stirred up a hornet's nest of demands, threats, name calling and accusations in the City of Watsonville, CA. A well organized group of young Latinos in this predominantly Latino community has made their case that the school should be named after the late farm labor organizer Cesar Chavez. The white minority have expressed the divisive nature of the name and support an alternative. Sandra has sympathized with those favoring Chavez and was accused of participating in their petition drive. (Aug. 10, 2002)

Many a Matter on the School Board Platter — A variety of issues confront School Board Trustees in the State of California. One district is searching for an appropriate name for its proposed new high school, as well as funding — in the form of a $58 million bond — for a variety of education related projects. All the while, English Language Learners, test scores and bilingual education continue to be debated, as do school vouchers and the Pledge of Allegiance. (July 20, 2002)

About Fishing Trips and the Thong Checker — You've perhaps heard of "pass the trash," the tactic of sending a problem administrator on to other school districts with gleaming recommendations, so that they don't have to be dealt with anymore. Who's protecting the children? I am offended by the behavior of the thong checker and the decision to put her in the classroom. (June 22, 2002)

Look for a local Superintendent — There are two main paths boards go down to locate a new leader. They look locally or they hire a headhunter. Headhunters conduct broader searches, typically resulting in recruitment from out of town or out of state. Local searches scrutinize our own homegrown talent pool. The methods are somewhat similar - advertise, seek input, interview, investigate. It is the result that is very, very different. (May 18, 2002)

The teacher who almost touched the sky — Now, in the twenty-first century, increasing demands and pressures are placed on teachers. They are expected to be technological wizards. They must teach to the standards and prepare the kids for the state wide tests upon which substantial monetary rewards and bragging rights are based. And they must not leave any child behind! They must refer to specialists, defer to experts, report to parents, answer to administrators, document special circumstances and be accountable for the final product, hopefully a well-educated graduate.(April 20, 2002)

Language, the Mega-Variable — Language, the mega-variable, is one of the deep connections we have with our past, our families, our culture and our countries of origin. Our own native language sounds good to us. We heard it when we were babies! It is strongly associated with love and having our needs met. It is in our linguistic comfort zone. And then there are the power words, used by those who seek to impress others with their forcefulness. (March 2002)

We can be the powers that be — Participating in elections may be just the beginning for a person who wants to "make a difference." Running for the school board could be your next step. Here, several myths are dispelled about what it's like to serve on a school board in the state of California. It's hard work, but the rewards — in terms of personal satisfaction for standing up for what you believe — are great. (Feb. 17, 2002)

Grow the tolerance, Weed out the hate — Intolerance exhibited by community members can spill over into neighborhood schools and ruin efforts of government leaders to create an atmosphere "of Character." Using one Central Coast school as an example, the spirit of inclusiveness is hailed as critical to successful education. (Jan. 19, 2002)

Duking it out with the good, the bad, and the ugly — In reflecting back on 2001, September 11th looms enormous, occupying so many bits in our personal memory banks. Vivid visual images take a toll on our appreciation of skyscrapers. Berkas and tunnels, the faces of the children. The images haunt us. While recognizing that pain, I recall and will mention some of the wonderful events which occurred this year. For me, some of those memory gems, those positive images, happened at school. (Dec. 15, 2001)

The Communication Clearinghouse — Good parent to school communication is a key for parents to know how the schools are doing and for the schools to know how the parents perceive the schools. It's important for both. Good parent to student communication makes it easier for parents to learn how their children are doing in school. Without it parents may never know. (Nov. 17, 2001)

This here ain't a "no spin zone!" — There is entirely too much "spin" masquerading as communication from government leaders, especially those entrusted with guaranteeing children the quality education they deserve. Truthful communication is a must in the modern day when parents, teachers and school board trustees have difficult decisions to make. (Oct. 20, 2001)

Courage, Justice, Wisdom! We're going to need them all! — I want to draw an analogy here between this huge, almost earth shattering terrorist act at the World Trade Center, and some smaller scale acts of terrorism, considering the way we have been taught in school and by our parents to deal with violence. (Sept. 23, 2001)

No retreat from good communication — Communication between schools and parents is a two way street with each aware of their "input" and "output" modes. The school board retreat serves as a time to hone these communication skills. (August 15, 2001)

There but for fortune . . . — There are aspects of the way we live and the way we learn that are not in our control. The educational experience is important and influential for those in special education, alternative education as well as gifted programs. Keeping our own fortune in perspective with respect to those less fortunate makes us more appreciative of the world we live in. (July 21, 2001)

The Race Is On! Will our children be the winners? — It's no longer "One size fits all" in California schools. There are many options to get students from the starting gate to the finish line, but you may have to ask. Charter schools, home schooling, independent study, adult education, continuation schools, special education, vocational schools are all available to those who seek alternatives. (June 16, 2001)

May brings a Paradigm Shift in California Education — A bill making its way through the California Assembly recognizes what educators have known for some time. Small schools are better. Not all communities are willing to adjust their priorities to suit this new paradigm. A proposed new high school in Watsonville, Ca. may be the last dinosaur of the "Bigger is Better" school of thought. (May 19, 2001)

Traveling with your Child Through the Public Schools: A Road Map — If you rely on public schools to provide a complete educational background for your children, you may be sorry. But you can encourage the development of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) with a few language development games your children will enjoy.They trigger cognitive skill development and are perfect for English language learners and students of any foreign language. (April 21, 2001)

Bullets, bullies, big schools, and kids with problems(March, 2001) — Terror in public schools is rooted in educational environments that fail to teach our children to respect others. When teachers and school administrators fail to demonstrate respect toward students, it leads to mistrust and an unwillingness to cooperate. Much has been learned since Columbine and Santee, but not enough. (March 17, 2001)

It's time we had a chat about Bilingual Education — If you've taken sides in the bilingual education debate you've heard some of this before. But there are some mind opening revelations in this "chat." bish speaking children who do not have English speaking playmates, for example, have a reduced opportunity to acquire English language skills. It's about cross cultural social interaction. (Feb. 17, 2001)

Sandra reports on the 1999 Aptos Secession Report — This is the original expose published in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, Oct. 1999, about efforts on the part of Pajaro Valley Unified School District administrators to divide their district into a wealthy, well-educated, Aptos-only school district and a relatively poor, less well-educated, Watsonville school district. (Oct. 12, 1999)

Unz is wrong—we can make bilingual education work — The Unz Initiative (prop. 227) to terminate bilingual education is wrong. Students are ready for all-English course work by junior high when a fully functional bilingual learning system is in place. Studies show that multi-lingual graduates have better literacy skills than their monolingual counterparts. (May 31, 1998)

#1 Learning fluent English requires many years of effort and daily exposure — For most English language learners, especially those in the Hibic community, acquiring the language is a real challenge. Bilingual education is proven to be a successful approach to teaching English. Though stories abound about those who learned English quickly, experts say it takes six to eight years to acquire English as a second language. (Nov. 23, 1997)

© Sandra Nichols 2001 - 2011

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