Week of November 7 to 13
Cool School / DeKalb Daily Chronicle
DeKALB - Jimmy Russell waited in line
patiently Thursday, ready to tell a visitor to
"It's a cool school. It's a fun school," he said. "They teach us a lot."
His comments sum up what many teachers
and students think about the K-4 school at
Thursday was a busy day at
And all week students and teachers were
celebrating an award the school won from the state Board of Education
In many schools across the state, there would be excuses for poor performance among students.
"We don't accept excuses," said
Merri-lynne Seaburg, who has been
More than half of the students met or exceeded standards for math and reading. Most students made progress over the last year. Attendance at the school is above the required 88 percent.
"The conventional wisdom is that low-income students provide an excuse for low performance," said Marilyn McConachie, director of NIU's Spotlight Schools Project.
"What we have here are schools that disprove conventional wisdom," McConachie added. "For them, demographics are not destiny. Their students are extraordinarily more successful than students at comparable schools."
What are the reasons for
"There's no magic pill," she said. "It involves a lot of work.
"Being a teacher at
And high expectations of parents.
Parental involvement is key, Seaburg said, but it's not always easy.
"We involve parents in everything," she commented. "You know, parents have so many things to do.
"But everyone is someone's pride and joy," she said.
When Seaburg makes a phone call to a parent, it is probably because the student did something right. Parents are always delighted to get such a call.
At first, she dreaded leaving messages on voice mail, but she learned that many pleased parents play the recording back to the child time and time again.
Jefferson Elementary challenges its students.
Students are now undertaking an effort to read a total of 10,000 poems.
Seaburg is anticipating reaching the goal, and a celebration is being planned.
Each day students are greeted at the door by teachers who talk with them about the work for the day ahead, she said. Each day they talk about excellence.
If there is one guideline that has made the school a success, Seaburg said, it is that teachers, staffers and administrators try to treat all students as if they were their own.
As she was walking a visitor through the school, Seaburg noted one student joyfully playing with classmates.
"We all feel good for him," she said. "He's had a rough time. Last year he was not doing well at all. We're all very happy for him.
"That's my philosophy," Seaburg continued. "If it's not something I would do for my own child, I wouldn't want it for anybody else's child."
Teachers say they are excited about working
What makes it special?
"I think it's our principal," said Anne Almburg. "Her dedication to education is remarkable."
"We work hard, long hours, but the rewards outweigh the effort," Almburg said.
The school doesn't plan to rest on its laurels.
"We are still looking at the children who are not doing as well and asking, 'What can we do for these folks?'" Seaburg said.
When in doubt, you can always teach
Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) has nothing whatever to do with the looming Chicago teacher strike and yet he said something a few days ago that may help explain why our own public school teachers here are so angry and considering a walkout next month.
In a phone interview with National Public
Radio from his home in
"Oh," he answered, "I'm living on borrowed time right now. I'm nearly 72 years old. I don't even buy green bananas. But what I'll probably do is come back here and walk my dogs and teach at this little junior college ...."
What was he saying? That when the important work is over, you can always teach? A variation on the rap "those who can't do, teach"?
No, I'm sure Miller, a supporter of education, didn't mean that to be his message.
It may just be that I heard his words
the way I did because I'm overly sensitive about the way we talk about
teachers, having been one for a few years after graduating from college.
And it may be that my own experience colors how I look at the battle now
being waged in
The teachers union has overwhelmingly rejected the five-year contract offered by the Board of Education. Next week, barring an agreement, the teachers will vote whether to strike as of Dec. 4.
And it's not just in
But for the sake of argument let's focus on the 33,000-member Chicago Teachers Union. If this were a fight just about money, it would be more easily solved.
The major bone of contention has more to do with the five-year length of the contract than the proposed 4 percent annual salary increase. Many of the teachers think five years is too long to be locked in a deal when pressures on them mount daily.
Though money and health care matter, other things matter more. Back in the summer the union released a survey citing the top issues of concern of its membership. Pay wasn't even in the top five.
Here are some of the things that really bothered teachers and it should really bother all of us: class size, a lack of quality teaching materials and the big one, lack of parental involvement.
Seventy-six percent of the teachers who responded to that survey said parents are doing too little when it comes to their children's education.
But when kids fail, who gets the blame?
Linda Lenz, a longtime, highly respected education reporter and publisher of Catalyst, a monthly education newsletter, has a lot to say about all this.
"When scores go down, teachers fail. When they go up, do the teachers get credit? Credit accrues to the mayor or whatever, this policy or that policy."
The fact is Mayor Daley does deserve great credit for his passion and his attention to education. So does Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools, for whom education is a real mission.
But they do. And they are.
After talking to numerous teachers and principals this week, professionals who have worked in the trenches for years, there is a weariness of increasing responsibilities. More meetings, more "teaching to the tests" by which their schools are judged, more requirements in order to be certified, less and less freedom to control their own classrooms. And then there is the No Child Left Behind legislation, that bipartisan initiative long on good intentions and short on execution or money to accomplish its goals.
Deborah Lynch, head of the Chicago Teachers
Union, has been the most articulate voice on school reform and teacher
"I would be sympathetic to teachers striking over educational issues," Lenz said, "but you need the leadership of your union to make that statement. Lynch was starting to speak up on that, but she's been caught up against a backlash against her."
The union has to decide which battle it wants to address.
Right now its own internecine struggle between the old, deposed guard versus Lynch's new leadership has eclipsed the real message: that the work of school reform has to go hand in hand with the rightful respect that teachers deserve but feel they're not getting.
Those who can do, teach.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - More than half of Illinois' House delegation may wind up having no pet projects for their districts in a $138 billion education and health spending bill because none of them voted for an initial version of the measure.
Majority Republicans are taking the stance that any representative that voted against the bill when it passed the House 215-208 last summer should not be allowed to insert any projects for their districts in the final version now being negotiated with the Senate.
Not one Democrat in the entire House voted for that version of the bill, which funds the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor. One independent and nine Republicans, including Illinois Rep. Phil Crane, voted against it.
There's no similar situation in the Senate,
which approved its version 94-0, with backing from
The position taken by the House GOP leadership,
even as it is led by House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Yorkville, would
Hastert spokesman John Feehery said it is not unusual for lawmakers not voting for a bill to have no pet projects in a bill. What is unusual, he said, is how public Democrats, who had blasted the bill as inadequate, have now made their predicament.
"If we resort to just a blatantly
partisan appropriation operation, I don't think it'd be good for the country,"
Democratic Rep. Danny Davis of
Feehery said Hastert looks out for
Nationwide, the new education-health bill is expected to include about $900 million for home-district projects, divided evenly between the House and Senate. By tradition, the House's roughly $450 million would be split 60-40 between majority Republicans and minority Democrats, with about $180 million for House Democrats.
The amount in jeopardy in
"There'd be many projects that would
not be funded and that would be canceled or not fulfilled," said
Among requests endangered in
Other examples include
Majority Republicans say districts of bill opponents could still get projects because some projects will cross district lines, others have bipartisan support within state delegations, and some are pushed by senators.
Rep. Ray LaHood, a Peoria Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, said he works "hand and glove" with Durbin on projects and suggested House Democrats should do the same.
Students' Scores Rise in Math, Not in
ASHINGTON, Nov. 13 — Elementary and middle school children have continued a decade of progress on a nationally administered math test, with all groups showing gains in every state. But reading scores remained essentially flat in most of the country, according to test results released here on Thursday.
The math results showed achievement rising
among blacks and Latinos as well as white and Asian students, with greater
gains among fourth graders than among eighth graders.
The test, officially called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, is widely referred to as the nation's report card. It ranks students on a numerical scale as having either advanced, proficient, basic or below-basic skills in math, reading and a variety of other subjects.
The guidelines have come under attack in recent years. Several months ago, the Education Department sponsored an "education summit," where invited researchers, mathematicians, scientists and business executives called for greater emphasis on basic arithmetic, which many said the national math council's standards had slighted.
Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who has often used the release of the national test scores to lament the quality of public education, hailed the math results as "stellar" and said, "I think our nation's teachers, administrators and students have a lot to be proud of."
Zalman Usiskin, a professor of math education at the University of Chicago and a former member of the math council's board, said, "The decade of the '90's — and it looks like it's continuing in this decade — was a decade of great success in school mathematics: more kids taking math in high schools, scores up in fourth and eighth grade N.A.E.P."
"There really hasn't been a decade like that since the time of Sputnik," Dr. Usiskin said.
Still, the Education Trust, which represents urban schools, expressed concern because the math scores of white students in eighth grade rose more than those of Latinos and black students, meaning a widening achievement gap.
In 1990, only 1 percent of black fourth graders, and 2 percent of black eighth graders were proficient at math. The new results showed 10 percent of black fourth graders, and 7 percent of black eighth graders, have reached proficiency.
"Clearly there's more work that needs to be done," said Johnny W. Lott, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Grover J. Whitehurst, director of the
The results released on Thursday came from a test given in February to a national sample of 686,000 students at 13,600 schools in all 50 states. Under the No Child Left Behind law, states must administer the national tests every two years as a gauge for measuring progress on state-sponsored exams.
The rising math scores were seen as a vindication for curriculum guidelines developed by the National Council of Teachers of Math in 1989 and now used in nearly all states. They recommended that teachers spend less time on computational drills and more on data analysis, probability and reasoning.
In reading, the results were far less encouraging than in math.
Unlike the math results, where scores along each level of achievement rose, reading scores have remained fairly stagnant since 1992.
The share of students considered proficient in reading rose to 32 percent, from 29 percent, among both fourth and eighth graders, and the increases in the share of children with basic skills rose only modestly.
The greatest gains in reading came in
Nor was there any real narrowing of the gap in reading ability between whites, blacks and Latinos at either the fourth or the eighth grades.
Among whites, 41 percent were proficient in reading in both grades, up from 35 percent in 1992. Among black students, only 13 percent in both grades were proficient readers, up from 8 percent of fourth graders, and 9 percent of eighth graders, in 1992. About 15 percent of Latino fourth and eighth graders were proficient in reading, up from 12 and 13 percent in 1992 respectively.
With the last national reading exam given
only in February 2002, few expected to see significant differences in
Dr. Paige called the math results the early fruit of No Child Left Behind, saying, "These numbers represent a turning point for our nation."
But Dr. Lott of the math teachers' council said he saw little connection between the act and a trend that has held steady since the 1990's.
"These standards have been out for 14 years now, and it takes 10 to 15 years to see changes take effect in education," Dr. Lott said. "It's certainly a strong indicator that what's been recommended now is working."
A Need to Grade Honestly From the Start
Last week I went to
That might be a good topic for another column someday, but during the panel my mind kept wandering to a different kind of cheating turning up in schools that are far below Whitman in prestige and parental income. There, acts of dishonesty are being committed, with those same feelings of resentful frustration, not by kids but by educators.
The most glaring recent example comes
from a study of high school students in
Many kids failed the MCAS fair and square.
You can't call them cheaters. And it clearly is not that tough a test.
Of last year's
Of this year's seniors, 70 passed it in the 10th grade and their overall passing rate went up to 84 percent after the second try. Of this year's juniors, 75 percent passed it on their first try.
That is the good news. What I found disturbing was how confused the failing students were about what got them into this fix. The researchers interviewed about 600 of them, and the vast majority said something like this: how could I flunk this test when I was passing my English and math classes?
Good question. We get some clues to the source of the problem from other findings in the same report. Almost 90 percent of students who failed MCAS on their first try reported having a C average or better during that school year, while only 9 percent reported D or F averages. More than 70 percent of those who failed the first time said they planned to go to college.
They were asked if the MCAS was a good measure of their English and math skills. Forty-nine percent said yes. Forty-seven percent said no. Forty-seven percent said they did not understand why they had to take the MCAS. They were asked what their teachers and parents thought of the tests. Seventy-one percent said their teachers had negative attitudes toward the tests and 68 percent said their parents felt the same way.
I will let the parents off this time. They cannot be expected to have a clear notion of what is going on in class when they see passing marks on their children's report cards.
But the teachers, no matter what they
think of infuriating standardized tests used to judge their work, have
no business giving students the impression that they are going to graduate
from high school. They award these phony passing grades, at least in part,
because they didn't want to deal with angry kids, angry parents and angry
principals, just as those students at Whitman cheated because they don't
want to face disappointment and disapproval from parents and teachers
and colleges. Yet in both cases they were practicing deceit, and the long
term consequences for the students of the easy-grading
I have spent many years discussing these
high school exit tests with many fine teachers in
They will say it is wrong to deny diplomas to students on the basis of a single test. They will say the tests do not accurately measure what students need to learn to survive in the world. They will say the tests are cancers smothering all the life in their classrooms. They will say that some students just do not do well on standardized tests. They will say that as professionals they cannot in good conscience fail a student who is trying hard and needs that diploma to have any kind of shot at a job after graduation. They will say that employers want applicants of good character, who show up on time and respect the rules. They will say whether or not a student graduates knowing how to discover an unknown quantity in an algebraic equation or summarize a complex reading passage is not so important.
And they may be right about all of that.
But they are paid with tax dollars to do their best to teach their students
what the community has decided is important to know. That includes reading
and doing math well enough to pass a test that at least 90 percent of
high schoolers in
The "Seizing the Day" report indicates that once teachers tell students they are not learning enough, and may not graduate, they try harder. The survey says that 82 percent of students who did not pass the MCAS the first time participated in the extra tutoring and other programs set up to help them. Of that group, 41 percent said they were paying more attention in class, 24 percent said they were absent less often and 22 percent said they spent more time on homework.
And despite my impatience with their grading practices, the teachers show what professionals they are once the MCAS tests reminds them of the peril their students face. A large majority of the failing students said their teachers strongly encouraged them to take the extra classes and tutoring sessions set up for them.
This helped produced the 94 percent passing
rate for the class of 2003 in
No Child Left Behind Act: Facts and Fiction
The No Child Left Behind Act, in its second year, is the most ambitious federal effort to raise achievement in public schools in 38 years. It is also one of the most complicated education laws passed by Congress, leading to a host of myths and misinterpretations. Here are 10 statements about the law that experts say are heard often but are not firmly anchored in reality.
1. No Child Left Behind is a Republican Party plot to undermine public schools.
Some supporters of the law have little
affection for the way public schools are run at the moment and would be
happy if parents could spend tax dollars -- in the form of vouchers --
to send their children to private schools. But the intellectual and political
fathers of the No Child Left Behind approach, which focuses on regular
testing of students and labeling of schools that do not improve, were
mostly southern Democratic governors in the 1980s. James B. Hunt Jr. in
2. With this law, the federal government is spending more on education and giving local schools resources they never had.
The law's critics acknowledge that the federal government is breaking records on education spending. Still, that money represents only about 7 percent of total government spending on public education. The majority of funding comes from states and local governments. Also, the law is forcing schools that accept federal funds to spend more on transportation, administrative staffing and other requirements, which gobble up much, if not all, of the extra federal money.
3. The law's goal of 100 percent student proficiency in reading and math by 2014 is impossible.
True, say its framers, but emphasizing that fact misses the point. The 100 percent goal was simply a target, an admittedly unreachable goal designed to motivate schools to stretch themselves to do better, such as scientists trying to cure cancer or gardeners hoping to grow the perfect tomato. The creators of the law say they knew they would have to revise it in a few years. That, they say, is what legislators do -- take their best shot with the votes they have and come back later to fix the rough spots. States mostly ignored earlier legislation with less stringent requirements.
4. The law forces state and local governments, who in the American system run public schools, to march to the federal government's tune.
KSA-Plus Communications, an educational
consulting firm based in
5. The law encourages diverse schools with significant numbers of minority students to help each of their racial and ethnic groups improve.
That is the idea, with the progress of African American, Hispanic and limited-English students judged separately, as are special education students and those from low-income families. But many of the more diverse schools have had trouble meeting the law's standards. Elementary schools in affluent neighborhoods often have so few low-income or minority children that those students are not counted as a separate group under the federal rules, while a diverse school can be labeled as needing improvement if any single subgroup fails to meet the annual target based on standardized test results.
6. Failing to meet the adequate yearly progress standard in the law means a school's students are not achieving.
Not necessarily. KSA-Plus Communications notes that in Georgia, 536 of the 846 schools that did not make adequate yearly progress this year were so labeled not because their scores were too low, but because not enough students in some categories showed up to take the tests. The law says that if 95 percent of students in an ethnic, income or other category are not tested -- because of absenteeism or other reasons -- then that school misses its target.
7. The law is keeping a lot of hard-working high school seniors from graduating.
That is not the fault of the new federal
law. High school exit tests that students must pass to receive diplomas
are required in some states -- such as
8. Good schools that meet their state achievement targets are unfairly labeled as needing improvement under the law.
State standards often rate schools on their schoolwide average scores or passing rates, so a school with many successful students is not penalized for scores of a lesser number of low-performing students. The new federal law, however, says schools must also be judged on the performance of each subgroup. The Washington-based Education Trust, a nonprofit group promoting student achievement, notes that George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, which has many high-achieving non-Hispanic white students, met the Virginia state targets, even though it has a gap of 47 percentage points between the average state test scores of its non-Hispanic white and African American students.
9. Schools that have made great progress are unfairly labeled as needing improvement.
That happens in some cases, but many schools
are protected by the safe harbor provision of the law that recognizes
improvement by schools that have not reached the annual state targets.
The Education Trust said that
10. There are enough highly qualified teachers to meet the law's goals if school districts will pay them adequate salaries.
Some studies suggest that there are as
many well-qualified teachers not working in education at the moment as
there are in the classroom. Persuading them to go to some rural and inner-city
districts is not the same thing as keeping them there, however, which
takes both more pay and more money to improve working conditions. A report
by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy said the rural district
Illinois State Board of Education