October 31 to November 6, 2003
By Christopher Wills, ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency launched a program Thursday to encourage schools to reduce the pollution from their buses. Schools can switch to low-pollution fuel, install special filters or buy new, cleaner buses.
Right now, the EPA offers financial help
only to schools in 24 central and northern
But EPA Director Renee Cipriano said she is confident the state soon will get federal grants that will allow schools in other parts of the state to get financial help.
The agency also is encouraging businesses to help schools with the costs under an "adopt a bus" program.
The Union of Concerned Scientists states that diesel exhaust contributes to cardiac disease and respiratory problems, such as asthma. The exhaust also contains substances believed to cause cancer.
The group studied pollution from school
buses last year and graded the states on their performance.
EPA officials said two school districts
have signed up for the anti-pollution effort so far one in the
"Quite simply, students cannot learn to their full potential if they are in what may be an unhealthy environment," said Richard Voltz, superintendent of the Ball-Chatham school district.
He said 20 of the district's newest buses have oxidation catalysts to reduce pollution. Of the 40 other buses, 32 will be updated with financial help from the state and all will switch to a cleaner-burning fuel made from soybeans.
The "bio-diesel" fuel costs about 20 cents more per gallon, which will cost Ball-Chatham about $8,750 more for the school year. The state is picking up that extra cost, Voltz said.
The counties eligible for state aid so far are Adams, Brown, Christian, Dewitt, Fulton, Hancock, Henry, Knox, Logan, Macon, Marshall, Mercer, Moultrie, Montgomery, Peoria, Piatt, Pike, Schuyler, Shelby, Sangamon, Stark, Tazewell, Warren, Woodford.
Sterling Daily Gazette Editorial,
This democracy of ours needs ennobling projects that aim to enlarge the possibilities of human life even further than our cherished principles and ingenuity have so far accomplished. I therefore propose this cause: Make elementary and secondary school teaching the most honored of our professions.
It seems an Earth-encircling distance from here to there, for not a few of us look on too many of our teachers as the uninspired products of dullard education schools, as get-along-go-along seekers of security, as people who inflict stupidity on students while clinging to unions to save them from inspection of their inadequacies.
The unfairness of too sweeping a generalization is made manifest in the marvelously bright, caring teachers most of us have met, but these superlative teachers are themselves victims of a system whose faults are easily enumerated. The way of things in many states leaves the inept in place. It rewards meagerness of talent and effort as much as genius and devotion. It bows to meaningless credentials while giving brilliance the cold shoulder.
The system, in short, too often embraces mediocrity. When faced with the opposite with teachers who insist on educating children even when these students dodge every which way but out the window the system in some vicinities says no, no, a thousand times no. It says the successful must be submerged, the threat being that the less successful might otherwise have to find something else to do with their lives.
Some of them should. Years ago, when I
was an editor in
Most of us get it that teaching can be a magnificent employment of one's time. How much is there that matters more than opening minds to knowledge and helping to develop skills in the young that can later be put to great use? But as long as we know that too many teachers fall short, we won't stand up and cheer. So we need changes that reformers have been talking about for decades now, such as reexamining tenure rules. When a teacher is clearly incompetent or worse, and reasonable chances have been given for improvement, that teacher must be removed.
There should be merit pay and more pay for all. Teachers must be recompensed in relation to what they achieve, not primarily in relation to how long they have taught or any other criterion except excellence. Tests of student improvement are important as a way of judging as long as teacher assessments relying on them are sophisticated, taking account of such factors as student attendance, for instance. There should be ways of assessment beyond the tests, but the emphasis must be on the objective, not the subjective. Teachers should earn salaries that compare well with other opportunities for such highly talented people in the marketplace.
In recruiting teachers, administrators must end reliance on applicants passing meaningless tests or having graduated from an undergraduate education school. They should look instead to what people know and classroom ability. In the real world of teacher hiring, none of this is simple or certain. The process can be helped by increasing the applicant pool, and that can be done not just through pay incentives and alternative certification that includes teaching instruction. It can also be done by reduced bureaucratic burdens for teachers, assistance in dealing with non-academic issues, setting high recruiting standards that induce pride in meeting them and appeals to idealism.
It can be done, too, by underlining this truth: Nothing matters more in the classroom than the quality of the teacher, and few things can do more to elevate our nation intellectually, culturally, economically and otherwise than to provide our children with first-class educations.
Politicians, opinion-makers and other leaders should preach this theme, calling on the best and brightest to consider teaching as a meaningful life pursuit. Civic organizations and other institutions should seek out additional ways to show appreciation for the profession. Citizens generally should consider that society tends to produce that which is valued. If we make it a point to honor teachers as much as the truly good teachers deserve, we will have more and more truly good teachers.
John Pini said the sight of students selling candy while the district promotes healthier eating would send a mixed message.
"It's kind of silly for us to be advocating nutritious eating during lunch, and then to have people walk around selling candy," Pini told The Westerly Sun.
While most school committee members supported the move, it wasn't universally popular.
"The students and many teachers are kind of enraged," Pierce said. "If you want to help us make healthy decisions, educate us. Don't take it away from us."
Pierce and school committee member Greg Platt said the schools now would have to deal with a black market for candy.
"You could have kids bring in 50 candy bars a day and make some good money," Platt said.
Pini said he is up to the challenge of enforcing a no-candy policy.
Editorial by Don Cooper, Publisher,
Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn is at it again, challenging "conventional wisdom," even the governor. Seems like every time we check in on Quinn he's out promoting one scheme or another.
Quinn has been the state's leading "populist" for a long time. In 1980, he spearheaded the successful effort to reduce the size of the Illinois House of Representatives. He also promoted an end to the practice of paying lawmakers their full year's salary in advance, as well as the creation of the Citizens Utility Board, which speaks for consumers at the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Quinn's new effort is a proposal to double state income taxes for Illinoisans making more than $250,000 a year. The money would be used to provide property tax relief and to fund education.
About 81,300 Illinoisans - less than 2 percent of the state's 5.6 million income taxpayers - fall into Quinn's "high income" category.
The lieutenant governor estimates his tax-the-rich scheme would raise about $1.5 billion. He proposes half of the money would be used for property tax rebates of $208 each to the state's 2.7 million homeowners. The rest would be distributed equally to public schools on a per-pupil basis.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a fellow Democrat who would like to be known as a populist, is against his lieutenant governor's proposal.
"Coming out of one of the worst periods
of fiscal mismanagement and political corruption in
In other words, Blagojevich isn't interested in supporting anything that could be described as a tax increase. (He was, however, supportive of a long list of fee increases which target business and will make it more difficult for the state's economy to recover.)
Quinn's proposal is, indeed, arbitrary.
There's nothing particularly magic about someone making $250,000 a year
versus someone making, say $240,000. Why should the first person pay double
the income tax? Moreover, Quinn's idea would change the fundamental fairness
But Quinn's proposal does include a concept which has been suggested before and needs further consideration. That is the idea of moving away from property taxes to fund schools.
According to the Gallup Poll, of all the taxes Americans pay, property taxes are the most hated. It is easy to see why. The property tax system is based on the theoretical value of a piece of land or of a house. While assessors generally do a good job in their calculations, at the end of the day, property taxes are based on someone's opinion of what something is worth.
Property taxes are also a particular burden to senior citizens. Retirees watch their property taxes rise annually while their income stays the same. There are many examples of retirees who end up selling their homes because they can't keep up with the taxes.
A few years ago, Gov. Jim Edgar suggested a shift away from real estate taxes and a move toward income taxes for school funding. It's an idea that needs another look.
While it would be difficult to support Quinn's arbitrary "tax-the-rich" idea, perhaps his proposal will spark a larger debate regarding real estate versus income taxes as a way to support our schools.
DeKalb Daily Chronicle Editorial
Ralph Martire had a simple message for the audience at the League of Women Voters public forum Tuesday night.
The problems are many. The solutions, at first glance, seem easy.
Martire believes that the state should increase the income tax to finance public education. That would be fairer. It would alleviate the pressure on local property taxpayers. And it would be a bear to get through the General Assembly.
If ever the property tax was the best way to finance schools, that day has long passed. Property-rich school district can provide the finest education. Schools in poorer districts or in districts that have homes but little industry cannot.
Martire is right. It is time to increase the income tax and cut the property tax. That of course is a perfect plan for school boards. They will have the pleasure of announcing the property tax cuts. And it causes concern for state lawmakers who will have to face voters after having raised their income taxes.
And if it should pass, there are still the next critical question:
- How will the new state money be distributed?
- If the state provides most of the funds for school district, won't state officials have a legitimate claim to insist on greater control? Won't this mean a loss of local control over schools?
For all their problems at budget time, the DeKalb and Sycamore schools are in good financial and educational shape. Cuts imposed by both districts this year caused pain, but certainly not agony.
Compare that to the situation in
Or worse, compare DeKalb's plight to that of
The fight for reform will not look like a bunch of good guys sitting around talking about what it best for the children. Instead, it will be a bunch of special interest groups in a bloody fight over who is going to get how much money.
But that is politics. And we are a society that is run by politics.
The 19th-century system
The road into the future will be a tough one. But we can't afford to continue to finance education on the backs of property owners. We've got to find a better way.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich should move quickly to appoint a nonpartisan panel to help bring school finance reform.
Most states are seriously behind their
efforts to improve the way they pay for schools, but few have the sorry
It's a record we should be ashamed of. And one we should work quickly to overcome.
The League of Women Voters took an important step by beginning the discussion. But it will take a lot more than talk to solve the problem.
Anyone who thinks there is no connection
between student performance and the amount of money we spend on our public
schools ought to take a look at the extended-day kindergarten reading
Some 30 kindergartners at Center who scored in the bottom 20 percent on reading tests were placed in the pilot reading program last school year. Each received an extra hour of instruction by reading specialists before or after school each day.
After six months in the program, two-thirds of the students scored at or above state standards on their spring reading tests.
The availability of funding isn't the only reason for the success of this program, of course. It wouldn't work without the participation of parents and the efforts of the staff.
We also aren't suggesting that more money is a miracle cure for what ails public education. Schools must examine whether they can operate more efficiently and make sure their teachers are qualified and properly trained.
But this program shows how effective early intervention can be when decision-makers have the resources and are committed to spending them where they can have the greatest impact.
The issue: Parent-teacher conferences
Our view: Talking to teachers is important to children's success.
Schools throughout the area are holding or have recently held parent-teacher conferences. This fall tradition may seem so commonplace as to be not worth mentioning, but the fact is, parent involvement is a key factor in children's success in school.
McConachie's finding isn't new. In their 1982 book, "High School Achievement: Public, Catholic and Private Schools Compared," the late University of Chicago professor James Coleman, with Thomas Hoffer and Sally Kilgore, found parental involvement was critical to private school students' success.
Day-to-day involvement is the very best, but even parents who can't make it to every school event should try hard to use the valuable opportunity to talk to their children's teachers during the conference sessions. Both children and their teachers get the message that school is important when parents take the time to visit.
Going to sporting events and plays is important and is a fun form of parent involvement. But talking to teachers supports the learning process in a way no other activity can.
Daily Herald Editorial
If current test score trends continue,
some "higher-performing" schools in
Nearly half of
But don't expect that will happen right away, or even at all. And those test results, while dismal, must be analyzed with caution as well as a sense of urgency.
For another, progress toward meeting benchmarks is being measured differently. Schools must break out results by so-called subgroups - students in special education programs, those with limited English skills and children from low-income families. This means schools whose students overall did well on tests can still be classified as not performing up to standard because of lower test scores among subgroups.
Some educators stress that this points out a serious flaw in standards requirements - they don't allow that schools with certain demographics or with a high percentage of students who struggle with the English language, or are enrolled in special education programs, face unique instructional challenges that can't be met as quickly or neatly as desired by the federal government.
That is a valid argument. But at the same time, how long will the "give us a break because of our demographics" argument be used as a crutch? The beauty of this system is that it does provide more specific test information on lower-performing students. The challenge is to use this benchmark as an invitation to improve, not just another reason to make excuses for lack of progress. We like state school Superintendent Robert Schiller's plan to improve reading comprehension, a key to success across all subject areas.
At the same time, the federal government must realistically recognize what it is demanding from schools. It can't stubbornly hold to an evaluation tool that serves to punish schools that are being aggressive in their commitment to make more than adequate progress in teaching children who struggle in the classrooms because of language or income barriers. It must offer support to schools that have cause to note the complexity of teaching children with disabilities.
But there is no doubt that this new school achievement reporting system adds a new dimension to the crucial concept of school accountability. If it serves to inspire a new wave of education reform that isn't content to just throw money at problems in the classroom with the hope it will solve them, it will have served a great purpose.
By Holly Ramer, Associated Press Writer,
"If you have a large high school where the student-teacher ratio is high and you have guidance counselors responsible for 600 to 800 students, it's very difficult for young people to get the attention they need," he said.
Though he didn't offer details, Edwards said he would model the program after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which recently gave the New York City Department of Education $51.2 million to build 67 small, challenging high schools in the city.
"We'd be spending money for school construction -- you can't have smaller schools if you don't have new buildings," he said in an interview later. "We would have a pool of money available to local communities willing to reduce the size of their high schools."
The proposal was one of several Edwards has offered targeting high school education. He also wants to offer college scholarships to attract teachers to needy schools and ask colleges and universities to "adopt" high schools and provide scholarships and tutoring.
"Sometimes we don't have the focus we need on high school education," he said.
Edwards is on the second day of a 25-stop
bus tour around