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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

Week of Nov. 14 to 20

  1. NCLB UPDATE  / Ed Review
  2. SCHOOL CHOICE / Ed Review
  3. GRANTS FORECAST / Ed Review
  4. QUOTE TO NOTE / Ed Review
  5. UPCOMING EVENTS / Ed Review
  6. Learning the Ropes / Catalyst Magazine
  7. Districts offer incentives for teachers / The News Journal
  8. Policy Report: The Literacy Coach – A Key to Improving Teaching & Learning in Secondary Schools / Alliance for Excellent Education
  9. Equity or Exclusion / National Center for Schools & Communities / National Center for Schools & Communities
  10. Survey: Administrators Vexed By Mandates / Education Week 
  11. Minority Educators Back Bush Initiative / Hartford Courant
  12. A Crisis Looms For Some North Dakota Schools / The Christian Science Monitor 
  13. Under The Pomp, Circumstances, 12th Grade Is Secure / Rocky Mountain News 
  14. Op-Ed: Leave No Teacher Behind / The Washington Post 
  15. Qualified Teachers: Finding Ways To Keep Them / ASBJ Extra 
  16. Bus drivers need help from parents / State Journal-Register
  17. Teachers not to blame for education woes / Freeport Journal-Standard
  18. Teachers, keep up the great work / Freeport Journal-Standard
  19. Lawmakers may drop H.S. senior year / CNN.com
  20. Teacher suspended for milk experiment / CNN.com
  21. Republicans Reach Deal On D.C. Vouchers Plan / Washington Post
  22. Students Fare Well In National Math Tests / Washington Post

 

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NCLB UPDATE (http://www.ed.gov/nclb/)

Looking for Department publications featuring the latest research and most effective practices in areas like reading, homework, and staying drug free?  The new "Tools for Student Success" catalog provides brief descriptions of available material for parents and teachers, as well as information on how to obtain these publications in hard copy or online at no cost.  Also, the catalog will be updated as more resources become available.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/tools-for-success/

As part of its High Performing Schools and Districts initiative, Education Trust, a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., is offering a database of school-level test scores, disaggregated by race and poverty level, for 29 states.  (More states will be added as they disaggregate the data.)  The intent is to identify high-performing, high-poverty schools for study, particularly schools that are successfully narrowing the achievement gap.  Meanwhile, to get the ball rolling, the group recognized 12 schools and eight districts (including winners and finalists of the Broad Prize for Urban Education) with inaugural "Dispelling the Myth Awards."  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www2.edtrust.org/NR/exeres/D259ED6F-BBD2-444F-8BC7-796CA6E1086C,frameless.htm?NRMODE=Published   (The database can be accessed at http://64.224.125.0/dtm/).

On November 7, 65 elementary and middle school principals from across the nation and from U.S. schools abroad were named "National Distinguished Principals" by the Department and the National Association of Elementary School Principals.  Addressing the winners, Secretary Paige reaffirmed the critical role principals play in the education of children.  "You are the vanguard of the effort to raise student achievement and to help us achieve the essential goals of No Child Left Behind.  You are on the front lines, fighting the good fight, and working to ensure that our children get the education they need to grow up and become successful young men and women.  This is your life's work."  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.naesp.org/ContentLoad.do?contentId=924.

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NAEP READING AND MATH

The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, administered for the first time to samples of students in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Department of Defense schools, show significant gains in math scores for the nation's fourth- and eighth-graders -- continuing a decade-long trend -- but decidedly mixed reading scores.  Among the findings: 

• The percentage of fourth-graders reaching the Basic achievement level in math increased from 50 percent in 1990 (without accommodations) to 77 percent this year (with accommodations) -- its highest level ever.  The percentage reaching the Proficient achievement level rose from 13 to 32 percent.

• In eighth-grade, the percentage reaching Basic increased from 52 to 68 percent and the percentage reaching Proficient increased from 15 to 29 percent.

• The proportion of black fourth-graders reaching Proficient has increased from only one percent in 1990 to five percent in 2000 to 10 percent in 2003, and, over the last three years, the proportion of Hispanic fourth-graders reaching this level has grown from seven to 16 percent.  However, 43 percent of white fourth-graders and 48 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander fourth-graders are Proficient this year.

• The percentage of fourth-graders reaching the Basic achievement level in reading increased from 62 percent in 1992 (without accommodations) to 63 percent this year (without accommodations) -- in statistical terms, an "insignificant" difference.  The percentage reaching the Proficient achievement level rose from 29 to 31 percent.

• In eighth-grade, the percentage reaching Basic increased from 69 to 74 percent and the percentage reaching Proficient increased from 29 to 32 percent.

• Despite some improvement in black student performance, in both fourth- and eighth-grade, white students' scores are about 30 points higher than black students' scores and 27 points higher than Hispanic students' scores.  The achievement gap is almost as wide today as it was in 1992. 

State-by-state results show variations in average scores, the proportion of students reaching the different achievement levels, and the achievement of groups of students, such as those eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.  Ten large urban districts and five other jurisdictions also participated, although their results are not yet available.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.

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SCHOOL CHOICE

According to the National Working Commission on Choice in K-12 Education, which spent two years studying the issue, "The discussion about choice today is as much about 'how' and 'how much' as it is about 'whether.'"  Therefore, the commission's final report, "School Choice: Doing It the Right Way Makes a Difference," avoids prescribing any specific choice program or trying to resolve the political and policy issues that arise.  Instead, it offers guidance and an analytic framework to help policymakers hash out those disputes.  The four key issues: benefits to children whose parents choose new schools; benefits to children whose families do not exercise choice; effects on the national commitment to equal opportunity and school desegregation; and advancement of social cohesion and common democratic values.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.brookings.edu/gs/brown/20031117schoolchoicereport.htm.

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ADMINISTRATOR SURVEY

Public Agenda's latest survey of almost 2,000 public school superintendents and principals finds standards and accountability are "well embedded" in the attitudes of school leaders.  More than 60 percent of superintendents say student achievement is the primary factor in how they evaluate their principals (nearly nine in ten who have moved an effective principal to a low-performing school say their efforts were successful), and 75 percent of principals report they are more focused on curriculum, teaching, mentoring, and professional development than ever before.  Concerning the No Child Left Behind Act, a majority of superintendents and principals think it is useful to test students annually and think they can meet the requirement that all teachers be "highly qualified."  On the other hand, majorities say the law relies too much on testing and say the consequences for not meeting federal goals are "unfair."  One interesting deviation?  Superintendents from large school districts are consistently more optimistic that NCLB can work than those from small districts.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.publicagenda.com/specials/rollingup/rollingup.htm.

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GRANTS FORECAST

Be sure to review the FY 2004 Grants Forecast (http://www.ed.gov/fund/grant/find/edlite-forecast.html),

which lists virtually all programs and competitions under which the Department has invited or expects to invite applications for awards and provides actual or estimated dates for the transmittal of applications under these programs.  The lists are in the form of charts -- organized according to principal program offices -- and will be updated regularly through July 2004.  (This document is advisory only and is not an official application notice of the Department of Education.)

Also: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supports education projects that enhance the public's awareness, knowledge, and skills to make informed decisions that affect environmental quality.  Since 1992, EPA has received between $2 and $3 million in grant funding per year and has awarded over 2,500 grants.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.epa.gov/enviroed/grants.html.

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HIGH SCHOOL INDICATORS

A new report from the Department's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) presents data on the number and percentage of students dropping out of and completing public school.  Figures are available for the 2000-01 school year, "over time," by race/ethnicity, and by district locale code.  From 1993-94 to 2000-01, "dropout rates were more likely to decline than increase..."  Indeed, the drop rate increased in just four of the 33 reporting states -- and none by more than one percentage point.  Still, seven of the 32 reporting states' four-year completion rates went down from 1996-97 and 2000-01.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2004310.

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QUOTE TO NOTE

"I think our nation's teachers, administrators, and students have a lot to be proud of.  These [NAEP] results show that the education revolution that No Child Left Behind promised has begun.  We are slowly picking up steam and reforms are starting to work....  These gains are not limited to our best students.  We are seeing increases across nearly all subgroups.  And in math, the achievement gap separating African-American or Hispanic students from their peers is clearly closing.  This is an important turning point in American educational history.  We have proof that all children can learn -- no matter the color of their skin or their ethnic heritage."

-- Secretary of Education Rod Paige (11/13/03)

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UPCOMING EVENTS

The next "Innovations in Education Exchange," on closing the teacher quality gap, is scheduled for December 2 (10:00-11:30 a.m.) at the Sumner School (1201 17th Street, NW, Washington, D.C.).  Seating is limited, so register early at mailto:oii.rsvp@ed.gov.

On December 5, in Tampa, Florida, the White House and the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Labor are hosting a conference to help faith-based and community organizations learn more about President Bush's Faith-Based and Community Initiative.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.fbci.gov/.   (November 26 is the deadline for registration.)

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Learning the Ropes  

Catalyst Magazine, November 2003

Excerpt: Shock Absorbers – With 39 percent of teachers new to Chicago resigning

within five years, top administrators under Schools CEO Arne Duncan know the district has a problem with teacher turnover. It has increased both the staff and money devoted to the mentoring of new teachers, but local and national experts say the program falls short of what’s needed.

“I would commend Chicago for embracing mentoring, however, the training for mentors is not sufficient,” says Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. Research shows that new teachers stay around longer with mentoring—having veteran teachers show them the ropes, act as a sounding board and help them perfect their teaching practices. But, mentoring is only as good as the mentor, and that’s where training—and the money to pay for it—comes in.

The School Board is spending $3.2 million on the districtwide mentor program.

(The previous administration reportedly kicked in the same amount.) However, there’s no money to hire substitute teachers to cover the mentors’ classes during training, let alone during the time they work with their charges. “We ask principals to provide subs,” says Amanda Rivera, director of CPS Teachers Academy for Professional Development. “This is a challenge.”

http://catalyst-chicago.org/11-03/113FINALpdf.pdf

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Districts offer incentives for teachers   

The News Journal, 11-20-03

Excerpt: Using bonuses and other incentives, school districts in Delaware are scrambling to address what some experts call a national teacher shortage and others say is actually a teacher retention problem. State and local educators said the incentives have been triggered by a teacher shortage, especially in math, science, special education, advanced foreign language and bilingual education. The story is the same around the country, said Johnny Lott, president of the National Council of Teachers of Math, which has a membership of 90,000 worldwide. An instructor at the University of Montana, Lott said his graduates get $2,000 to $3,000 signing bonuses around the country and have no trouble finding jobs.

But a study released in January by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, a Washington, D.C., group focused on teacher training and other issues, throws water on the shortage issue. "The conventional wisdom is that we can't find teachers," said Thomas Carroll, the commission's executive director. "The truth is we can't keep teachers." Quoting from the study, Carroll said that nationwide, about a third of teachers just beginning their careers leave the profession after three years. After five years, 46 percent have left never to return, he said.

"The good news is that [hiring] incentives work. Bonuses will work, reductions in mortgages and incentives for home purchase will work," Carroll said. The bad news is that without a supportive professional atmosphere and good working conditions, teachers leave and districts lose their incentive investment. "So we're saying incentives are great but you've got to match them with improved conditions in the schools," Carroll said.

http://www.delawareonline.com/newsjournal/local/2003/11/20districtsofferi.html

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Policy Report: The Literacy Coach – A Key to Improving Teaching & Learning in Secondary Schools

Alliance for Excellent Education, 11-17-03

Excerpt: Never in this country’s history has the need for an educated, literate citizenry been so critical. The increasing complexity of rapid globalization demands a workforce that is skilled in reading, communications, and mathematics. The ability to maintain a growing economy depends on the availability of educated, productive workers. A democratic society requires knowledgeable and involved citizens. However, the nation has a problem. Far too many of its young people are struggling to read at a level that will allow them to excel in school and their future workplace.

We know that it is possible to teach all of our middle and high school students to read and comprehend demanding texts and other informational resources. Instructional methods developed during the second half of the twentieth century are still widely advocated today. Overall, content teachers and secondary literacy educators recommend that teachers in all core content areas (English, history, mathematics, science, etc.) develop the types of learning environments in which students are expected to use reading, writing, and discussion to solve problems, conduct research, experiment, and learn in the content area.

A curriculum to support secondary learning and literacy cannot be a rigid, one-size-fits-all program. Teachers and teams of teachers must be able to make professional, informed decisions based on their own students’ needs and ability levels, in relation to curricular requirements and context. To do this, teachers must be guided and supported in a continuous learning process about effective ways to combine their teaching of literacy and content in the secondary school environment.

http://www.all4ed.org/publications/LiteracyCoach.pdf

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Equity or Exclusion / National Center for Schools & Communities 

National Center for Schools & Communities, October 2003

Excerpt: The following highlights from Equity or Exclusion concern the relationship between resources and student behavior and the equitable distribution of resources in New York City's public schools from 1998-99 through 2000-01. Compared to other schools, students in schools with higher concentrations of poverty and schools with higher concentrations of black and/or Hispanic students were less likely to have:

- Fully licensed teachers

- Teachers with five or more years’ experience

- Teachers with master’s degrees

- CD-ROM and Internet access in middle and high school

- Access to library books in high school

- A certified school librarian in high school

Resources and behavior measures  

- Student behavior varied according to school characteristics.

- Students at all school levels stayed out of trouble more in schools with more qualified teachers.

- Students attended more in high schools that had career programs and extra-curricular activities.

- High school suspension rates for all racial groups were lower in schools with above average teacher attendance rates.

- High school suspension rates for all racial groups were lower in schools with above average concentrations of white and Asian students, and these schools tended to have more educational resources.

- Compared to larger high schools, those with fewer than 1,500 students had lower black and Hispanic ninth grade repeat rates.

http://www.ncscatfordham.org/binarydata/files/EQUITY_OR_EXCLUSION.pdf

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Survey: Administrators Vexed By Mandates    

Education Week, 11-19-03

Excerpt: A new national survey of superintendents and principals shows widespread skepticism over the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. About half of those polled expressed the view that the federal legislation was either politically motivated or aimed at undermining public schools. That such a large proportion of the leaders of the nation's schools and districts see the landmark education law as less than benevolent is one of the most striking findings in the report slated for release this week from Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research and public-opinion organization based in New York City.

But even without the federal mandates, administrators polled complained, red tape from all levels of government impedes their efforts to raise student performance. These leaders, I think, clearly are saying they need the ability to allocate staff, time, and resources to those things that are essential to driving student learning," said M. Christine DeVita, the president of the New York City-based Wallace Foundation, which underwrote the study. "And if that means that some other things don't get done, that should be OK."

For the report, "Rolling Up Their Sleeves: Superintendents and Principals Talk About What's Needed to Fix Public Schools," Public Agenda polled 925 school leaders and 1,006 district chiefs this past summer. Although most respondents cited lack of money as their greatest concern, more than 80 percent of the administrators indicated at least some agreement with the statement that meeting local, state, and federal mandates "takes up way too much time." Principals, in particular, lamented teacher tenure, which 30 percent of the school leaders said made it "virtually impossible" to fire ineffective teachers.

http://www.edweek.com/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=12Agenda.h23

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Minority Educators Back Bush Initiative  

Hartford Courant, 11-19-03

Excerpt: Many of the nation's black and Hispanic school superintendents, including four from Connecticut, lashed out at critics of President Bush's school accountability law, saying the criticism is misguided. More than 100 superintendents said opponents of Bush's No Child Left Behind Act are undermining the fundamental belief on which the law rests: that all children, including racial minorities and low-income students, can succeed in school. "We need to be held accountable. We should not be making excuses like, `Oh, this kid is from a poor neighborhood,'" said Robert Henry, superintendent of schools in Hartford, one of the signers of a letter urging Congress not to back down on the law's tough accountability requirements.

The letter represents a sharp departure from the widespread criticism of the federal law from the education establishment. Many educators - who often are suspicious of government-imposed reforms - have attacked provisions that penalize schools where minority students, special education students or other groups fail to meet standards.

Critics have included teachers, municipal officials and state education leaders. In Connecticut, the association representing school superintendents opposes parts of the law, including a provision that allows children from low-performing schools to transfer out.

Although the black and Hispanic superintendents also said Congress should come up with additional money to help schools reach the law's goals, they said in their letter: "We must not use [lack of] funding to escape our responsibilities." The letter said the campaign to roll back accountability provisions in the law is "a thinly veiled attempt to turn back the clock to a time when schools - particularly in suburban communities - could coast comfortably on the performance of a handful of high-performing students and hide serious problems behind misleading averages."

http://www.ctnow.com/news/custom/newsat3/hc-nochild1119.artnov19,1,6438857.story?coll=hc-headlines-newsat3

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A Crisis Looms For Some North Dakota Schools    

The Christian Science Monitor, 11-18-03

Excerpt: With one of the lowest teachers' pay in the country (see chart, next page) and little by way of lifestyle incentives, North Dakota's remote schools are finding it increasingly hard to get and retain teachers. And officials here worry that with more stringent demands for higher teacher qualifications in No Child Left Behind - the new federal education law - the crisis will deepen.

The situation is direst on the Indian reservations, where the lack of housing, social life, and money is particularly pronounced - but the problem exists at most rural schools, both in North Dakota and in other sparsely populated states. In many such areas, academic resources are already spread too thin. According to a recent Bismarck Tribune study, approximately 66 percent of the state's college graduates move out of North Dakota to look for better employment opportunities. They leave behind an aging teacher population, many of them uninterested in spending the time or energy that would be required for additional training.

Many in North Dakota support the long-term goal of more stringent school standards in order to lift achievement. But they wonder at times if those who made the law had any idea of the daily challenges faced by schools in a sparsely populated state like theirs. Math and science teachers are probably the hardest to find. In the past six years, North Dakota has had one teacher graduate in physics, says Janet Welk, executive director of the Education Standards and Practice Board, an independent licensing board for North Dakota teachers. "So what is that supposed to do to our science curriculum?" she asks. "Do we need to quit offering physics in our schools?"

http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1118/p12s01-legn.html

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Under The Pomp, Circumstances, 12th Grade Is Secure    

Rocky Mountain News, 11-19-03

Excerpt: Legislative budget writers didn't find much support for a suggestion they made a day earlier that Colorado eliminate the 12th grade. It's a concept that no one expects will get anywhere - at least immediately - but the idea is to save money while improving education. Some Joint Budget Committee members suggested Monday it may be time to drop the 12th year of classes now offered in Colorado's schools and replace them with a new year of preschool.

But lawmaker - Rep. Nancy Spence, R-Aurora, chairwoman of the House Education Committee - wasn't impressed. "There still would be a senior year - it would just come a year earlier," Spence said. "It would be a real stretch to say I'd support dropping the senior year and supporting a preschool year." The idea also didn't sit well with State Board of Education member Evie Hudak, who said several studies were already under way - or have been completed - concerning restructuring high school. But they don't talk about getting rid of the final year. And focusing on getting rid of the senior year without considering the entire realm of high school would be "premature," she said. "I would encourage you to put this on the back burner and move it into a broader conversation about high school itself," Hudak told lawmakers.

"In our state law, compulsory education requires first grade only," Hudak said. "We don't require kindergarten, and it's only a half day that is funded. "So if kids are in kindergarten, we do pay for it. But we don't require them to be in kindergarten. Why would we want mandatory funded preschool when we're not even having mandatory kindergarten?

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/legislature/article/0,1299,DRMN_37_2438993,00.html

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Op-Ed: Leave No Teacher Behind    

The Washington Post, 11-18-03

Excerpt: As a public school student, I was the oblivious beneficiary of a double catastrophe -- the Great Depression and widespread employment discrimination against women. Together they so constricted career choices that many highly qualified and talented people became teachers. The upshot was a bonanza for me and my classmates. Although we came in on the tail end of the twin catastrophes, we had, I tell you, some marvelous teachers. If I were black and living in the South, I might say the same thing about Jim Crow. This too so limited employment opportunities that people who today might be lawyers or investment bankers went into teaching. Countless students benefited.

The challenge now is to approximate those conditions to raise the quality of teachers. Countless studies show that it is not the best and the brightest of college graduates who go into teaching. Common sense tells you the same thing. A field where the average salary is around $41,000 a year -- and many are a lot lower -- is not going to recruit the "best" people. So I have come up with my Leave No Teacher Behind Act. In its roughest form, it means forgiving all teachers their federal income tax. For a married teacher with two kids under the age of 14, that would mean an additional $4,300 a year in disposable income. If states and localities joined in, the pot would be even richer.

Would this by itself mean that we'd find only great teachers in the classroom? Of course not. No magic bullet exists for what ails our schools. The problem is complex, and it is further complicated by politics, ideology and in some cases the recalcitrance of teacher unions. Yet everything we know about education alerts us to the critical importance of good teachers and principals. Ask someone who turned his life around and he will often name a teacher.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54785-2003Nov17.html

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Qualified Teachers: Finding Ways To Keep Them    

ASBJ Extra

Excerpt: Two teachers are authors of the new book Who's Teaching Your Children? Why the Teacher Crisis Is Worse Than You Think and What Can Be Done About It. They suggest, among other things, restructuring of the job of principal, which has too often become one of a facilities crisis manager. "Hire facilities managers, they say, who will handle all the contracting, building maintenance, transportation, food service and ancillary issues that distract principals from those of curriculum and instruction," reports the Washington Post. Other suggestions include: Better teacher education, and restructuring schools so more expert teachers work with new teachers. "This would provide a career ladder for teachers, allowing them to improve their pay and status without leaving the classroom. And, if it worked right, it would ensure that no child was left to the sole care of an inadequate teacher."

http://www.asbj.com/extra/extra.html#teachers

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Bus drivers need help from parents  

State Journal-Register Editorial, 11/16/03

Late last month, a group of Franklin Middle School students were kicked off a school bus because some of the students had become so rowdy the bus driver did not believe the bus could be safely operated.

The students were given the option of calling their parents for a ride or taking a Springfield Mass Transit bus home.

Now Springfield District 186 School Board member Judith Johnson wants one of the administrators who handled the situation to issue an apology to the students' families.

If an apology is issued, it should be worded as follows, "We at Franklin Middle School are very sorry that you have raised an uncivilized little jerk. Believe us, you could not possibly know how truly sorry we are. Your child's inability to control him/herself not only causes problems on the ride to and from school but detracts from the entire educational experience for our students who do act in a civilized manner."

We realize not every kid on the bus was acting badly, and those kids really do deserve an apology. But that apology should come from the wild youngsters who forced the bus trip home to be canceled.

Johnson suggests that instead of kicking the kids off the bus, "the assistant principal could have gotten on the bus" and ridden it to their homes to monitor their behavior.

While that certainly is an option, it's not a very practical one given the number of administrators versus the number of buses that depart Franklin and other schools each afternoon. We'd also suggest that assistant principals make for rather expensive bus monitors.

The better option, obviously, is for the kids to behave. In order for that to happen, it will take more than warnings from school administrators and lectures from frazzled bus drivers. It will take parents who inform their children in no uncertain terms that such behavior will result in very unpleasant consequences at home as well as school.

WE ASK an awful lot of our schools these days. Teachers need to make sure kids can read, write and do math at a high level or their schools will be deemed incompetent and the No Child Left Behind law will kick in, allowing the children to scamper off to a different school to try again. Meanwhile, many of the students are also getting the majority of their nutrition at school and some are even being clothed there.

Add to this the increasing need for school officials to teach young people how to act with some basic civility, and it becomes obvious how difficult providing a quality education without parental support can be.

School officials may want to rethink sending middle school kids home on city buses - though plenty of them ride mass transit on their own at other times - but they do not owe anyone an apology for putting an end to behavior that put numerous people in danger.

We can only hope the majority of the parents whose children were on this bus had a serious talk with their young ones.

The message certainly should not be how unfair it was that some kids had to take a city bus home. The message should be that in the future, if this happens again, taking a city bus home will be the least of their worries.

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Teachers not to blame for education woes  

Opinion by Paul Everding, President of the Freeport Education Association

In 1919, two national organizations met to discuss a distressing situation in the United States. Both the National Education Association and the American Legion were concerned that approximately 25 percent of the nation's World War I veterans were illiterate. At its 1921 convention, the NEA proposed that "an educational week (be) observed in all communities annually for the purpose of informing the public of the accomplishments and needs of the public schools ... ." Thus was born American Education Week, cosponsored by the American Legion. It was first observed the week of Dec. 4, 1921 - this year, it began Sunday.

But the efforts of the American Legion and the NEA in 1921 were not unique. The same concerns seem to resurface time and again: America's youth can't read, write, do math or function on an intellectual level. New England Puritans in 1647 passed the Old Deluder Satan Act, creating compulsory education. In response to the launch of Sputnik, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act in 1958 to provide federal funding for education. The 1980s saw publication of "A Nation at Risk," documenting how American education had hit rock bottom.

And now we have No Child Left Behind. In all this confusion about why our educational system is in dire straits, it's easy to blame the biggest targets in the educational system: teachers.

The average person does not realize how much teachers dedicate themselves to student achievement and how much they worry about what's happening in education. Too often people comment about how teachers are failing to teach the basics, on how teachers have it made because they always have three months off from work ... and the list goes on.

On a regular basis, the NEA publishes a report on the state of the education profession. It documents some interesting information. For instance, 56 percent of America's teachers have a master's degree with additional hours, and the average teacher earns an annual salary of $46,000.

Additionally, teachers spend their own money to pick up additional hours of college credit to maintain their certification. In most states, this occurs every five years for the duration of a teacher's career.

Other white-collar professions, requiring similar educational development, are often compensated 100 percent for their continuing education costs. These professions often have significantly larger salaries. For instance, the average engineer earns $60,000 per year, the average attorney earns $97,000 and the average physician earns $160,000. The dollar disparity becomes even more significant when one considers that the average classroom teacher spends $443 of their own money on supplemental materials for their students. And most teachers attend conferences without being reimbursed for their travel expenses.

Teachers also seem to lack much of the leisure time others enjoy. The NEA documents that teachers spend an average of 50-plus hours per week on instructional duties, including an average of 12 hours on non-compensated activities, such as grading papers, and supervision, such as bus duty. During the summer, approximately 35 percent of teachers take college coursework or attend conferences. Most of the remaining 65 percent work a summer job so they can support their families comfortably.

There are also things not under teachers' control. More and more of a teacher's time is taken up by paperwork to meet the demands of administrators and government agencies.

There are also trends within American society that impact education. Changes to the nuclear family as well as images promoted by the entertainment media all work to affect how students approach the classroom, mostly in a negative manner.

Because students are often lacking direction and role models, teachers are now being asked to serve as surrogate parents. But as class sizes continue to rise due to budget cuts, it's more difficult to give students the one-on-one attention that research shows leads to higher achievement and to positive behavioral changes.

Despite all of these challenges, money is not the issue. The NEA found that 75 percent of teachers would still choose the same career if offered the opportunity to do it all over again, knowing what they know now. Teachers educate the children of America because they care about our nation's future. They, perhaps more than anyone, want that future to be the brightest it can be.

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Teachers, keep up the great work  

Opinion by Mary Beth Thill, President of Lena-Winslow Teachers Association

As we celebrate American Education Week from Nov. 16-22, I would like to recognize the incredible teamwork that encompasses our entire education realm.

The period of isolated teaching has been gone for quite some time. A district is successful when teachers, school leaders and the entire support staff work together to build and nurture the best educational atmosphere a district can provide.

Teachers look at their careers as more than just a job. They want to make a difference. They want to be responsible for a well-rounded, high-quality educational environment. Teachers have the opportunity to make positive and lasting impressions on their students. A great teacher wants his or her students to succeed and takes pride in student accomplishments. We are blessed to have so many great teachers.

Instruction is provided for the gifted students who need the higher level of challenge. Special programs are implemented for those who need the daily extra attention. Our system provides a learning niche for students who are happy and challenged in the traditional classroom setting. Every effort is made to reach the needs of our children. Our system provides a variety of curricular and extra-curricular offerings. It is quite a privilege to have so many great educational opportunities from which to choose.

I salute all of our educational professionals and thank them for pursuing a rewarding, meaningful career. Our children need to be a top priority always. You are all making a difference in the lives of our children every single day.

Keep up the great work as we encourage our students to chase their dreams and never lose sight of their true ambitions.

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Lawmakers may drop H.S. senior year  

High school without seniors?

AP, Tuesday, November 18, 2003 

DENVER, Colorado  --  Colorado lawmakers have asked education officials to study the possibility of eliminating the 12th grade and establishing a year of preschool instead. They said it would better prepare students for college by giving them an early start and possibly save money.

"I'd really like to see if we might change the model," Republican state Sen. Ron Teck said Monday. "We've been operating under the same education model for the last 100 years."

Colorado is the first state to discuss the elimination of the senior year to replace it with preschool, said Jennifer Dounay, a policy analyst with the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

Florida has adopted a plan to let seniors skip their senior year by graduating with 18 credit hours instead of 24.

Hoang Nguyen, a 17-year-old senior at suburban Arvada High School, said it would be a mistake to eliminate 12th grade. He said colleges might hold it against students who fail to complete a traditional high school curriculum.

"The senior year is the next step to going to college. It's a year when you find out who you are," he said.

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Teacher suspended for milk experiment  

AP, November 20, 2003 

SMITHFIELD, North Carolina -- A high school teacher was suspended for a classroom experiment that caused several students to vomit after drinking large amounts of milk.

Jeff Ferguson, a chemistry and physics teacher at Smithfield-Selma High School, organized the experiment last week to test the body's ability to neutralize acids in milk.

It was intended to show the body can handle only so much before a natural reaction occurs and the person vomits. Out of 42 students in two classes, 13 did just that. None required medical attention, and five students chose not to participate.

Parents alerted school administrators about the November 12 incident. Ferguson was sent home the next day and was suspended with pay Tuesday, pending an investigation by a law firm hired by the school district.

Superintendent Jim Causby said the district would decide on further action after the investigation, which could take "days to weeks."

On Wednesday, Ferguson failed to persuade a judge to let him return to the classroom. He wanted a temporary restraining order so that he could return to help his students prepare for end-of-semester exams, but Superior Court Judge Knox Jenkins denied his request.

"It's been rather unpleasant sitting at home and knowing nobody is teaching my class as effectively as I can," Ferguson said after the hearing. "There's not a lot positive about this situation."

The teacher's attorney, Lamar Armstrong, said students were not required to participate in the experiment, and students had receptacles in case they became ill.

"If anybody wanted to quit at any time, they could have," Armstrong said.

About 50 students packed a Johnston County courtroom for Wednesday's hearing to show their support.

Elizabeth Sthuerger, 18, said she drank about a half-gallon of milk, then felt sick. While she said the experiment "may have been a little off-the-wall," Sthuerger said she supported Ferguson.

Jacob Johnson, a 16-year-old junior, added that "it's an advanced class and students are old enough that they should be mature in making those decisions."

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Republicans Reach Deal On D.C. Vouchers Plan  

By Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post Staff Writer, November 20, 2003

Congressional Republican leaders struck agreement yesterday on legislation to launch the nation's first federally funded school voucher program next fall in the District, tentatively rolling the $13 million measure and the District's $5.6 billion budget into a giant federal spending bill that Democrats conceded they would not filibuster.

The deal leaves the D.C. voucher program poised to clear final hurdles in House and Senate floor votes as early as this weekend, as time winds down before Congress adjourns for the year. The agreement also puts majority Republicans in position to deliver a long-sought victory to conservative education activists and President Bush, though admittedly one based on the slimmest of partisan margins.

Legislation agreed upon last night by a House-Senate conference would permit Secretary of Education Roderick R. Paige to start a five-year pilot program -- in consultation with Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) -- that would provide taxpayer-funded grants of as much as $7,500 to at least 1,700 District schoolchildren for attending private and parochial schools. These "opportunity scholarships" would be limited to children in families earning up to 185 percent of the poverty level -- about $35,000 for a family of four -- and priority would go to children attending low-performing schools.

"The prejudices about vouchers run deep and are filled with emotion. The question is, do children do better in different academic programs? And if they do, should they have access to these settings?" said Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose decision to buck her party and support the GOP proposal was pivotal in advancing the voucher plan in the Senate. "Today, only the well-to-do families who can afford private school tuition have that access. . . . This is a worthy trial."

"It's an experiment," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Asked whether the vote signals that Congress will spend more federal funds on private vouchers, he said, "The District of Columbia will tell us in five years."

Democrats castigated the majority for using parliamentary maneuvers to push an ideological agenda, saying that vouchers are unproved and that they divert public funds to private schools. "When we offer false hope to children who have very little . . . that is a sin, indeed. We should be ashamed of the actions that we take on this bill today," Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the District, said earlier.

Assistant Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said that "a large number of senators" oppose vouchers, but "we don't have the votes to do anything about it. We'll be back to fight this another day."

Speaking for himself, Reid added, "I don't think that there's any way Democrats can filibuster an omnibus" spending bill.

This past summer, the House of Representatives approved a $10 million vouchers program, 209 to 208. The Senate, which was unable to overcome a Democratic filibuster last month, has never voted on the issue.

The Republican-dominated appropriations conference restored the Senate's more generous dollar amount and included an additional $13 million each for District public schools and public charter schools, as requested by Williams as a condition for his support of the Bush plan. An additional $1 million would go to the Department of Education to administer the program and pay for an independent evaluation after five years.

The measure is contained in a $278 billion federal spending bill that must be voted up or down, without amendments, by Congress to keep the federal government running.

Republicans did not release the details of the package yesterday and probably won't do so for several days. But senators at yesterday's House-Senate conference meeting said that the program dropped language, inserted by the Senate at Feinstein's insistence, that private schools receiving public funds mandate that teachers have college degrees, as now required of public schools receiving federal aid.

Bill managers said they retained Senate changes that bar participating private schools from discriminating against students on the basis of religion, and require that the academic performance of students receiving vouchers be tested using the same measurements as are used for their peers in D.C. public schools.

Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, an opponent of vouchers, warned that final passage would not end the debate.

"My analysis shows the D.C. voucher program is not constitutional," Specter said. He cautioned that unlike a Cleveland vouchers program that withstood a legal challenge last year before the U.S. Supreme Court, the District program would not bar private schools from discriminating against employees and would not limit the tuition fees that can be charged to students on vouchers.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said that Congress undemocratically inserted the legislation into the spending bill and violated home rule. She added that the mayor's role in the legislation is limited to a "memorandum of understanding" reached with Paige. She also said the District's 65,000-student public system stands to lose up to $25 million in enrollment-based funding under the program, and that additional money for regular and charter public schools under the plan is limited to one year while the voucher program will go on for five years.

"The mayor and the [D.C.] Council won't control D.C. vouchers," Norton said. "The fix is screwed in tight."

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Students Fare Well In National Math Tests  

But Lag in Reading Skills Is Questioned

By Michael Dobbs, Washington Post Staff Writer, November 14, 2003

Fourth- and eighth-grade students registered strong gains in basic math skills in the first-ever national scorecard of educational progress to include all 50 states, according to new data released yesterday.

Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige hailed the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress as "an important turning point in American educational history." He said the test scores showed a significant narrowing in the achievement gap between African American and Hispanic students and white students.

But independent experts differed about the significance of the results, which show a big improvement in test scores for fourth- and eighth-graders in math, and less impressive gains in reading. Some attributed the progress to the adoption of high-stakes testing by many states, while others pointed to reforms in curriculum.

Results of the NAEP, popularly known as "the nation's report card," showed a 12-point jump between 2000 and 2003 in the percentage of fourth-graders demonstrating at least basic skills in mathematics, from 65 percent to 77 percent. The proportion of African American fourth-graders performing at basic level rose from 36 percent to 54 percent, while Hispanic scores rose from 42 percent to 62 percent.

The gains for all eighth-graders were somewhat smaller, with 68 percent demonstrating at least basic proficiency, up from 63 percent in 2000. For blacks the figure rose from 31 to 39, and for Hispanics it increased from 41 to 48.

In Virginia, 83 percent of fourth-graders and 72 percent of eighth-graders showed at least basic mastery of math. In Maryland, the figures were 73 percent and 67 percent. In the District, 36 percent of fourth-grade students achieved at least basic status, and 29 percent of eighth-graders did so.

Reading scores were largely unchanged from the results on the previous test, which were released last year. Sixty-three percent of fourth-graders and 74 percent of eighth-graders nationally demonstrated at least basic reading skills, down one point in each case.

For Hispanics, 44 percent of fourth-graders and 56 percent of eighth-graders showed at least basic reading skills. Forty percent of black fourth-grade students and 54 percent of black eighth-graders showed such abilities. Those scores were either the same as or slightly lower than last year's scores.

Administered to a representative sample of students nationwide, the NAEP tests are widely regarded as the most objective and independent assessment of educational progress. While the congressionally mandated test has been in existence since 1969, this is the first year it has been made compulsory for all 50 states under the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind education reform measures.

Some educators see the NAEP tests as a first step toward a nationwide standard for education tests. Individual states now have widely differing measures of academic achievement, making it difficult to compare their progress toward meeting national education goals.

The results suggest that educational progress has been faster in the fourth grade than in eighth grade, and was more pronounced in math than in reading, a finding in line with historical trends.

One explanation for the discrepancy between math and reading results, said John Stevens, a member of the NAEP governing board, is that math skills are taught in the classroom while reading abilities are influenced by a much broader range of experiences, including "what students do with their friends when they aren't in school or at home."

A recent survey by the Princeton Review, a company that helps prepare students for college admission, suggested huge discrepancies between proficiency standards adopted by individual states and those adopted by NAEP.

The most obvious example of such disparities is Texas, which the Bush administration has touted as a model for the high-stakes testing movement that is now part of the No Child Left Behind law. According to the state's own testing system, 91 percent of eighth-graders in Texas are "proficient" in math. By the standards set by NAEP, only 25 percent of Texan eighth-graders have achieved proficiency.

Paige and other proponents of high-stakes testing said the latest math scores are evidence that the reforms espoused by the Bush administration are paying dividends.

Bob Schaeffer, executive director of Fair Test, an organization that opposes high-stakes testing, countered: "No Child Left Behind was not signed into law until 2002, and did not become effective until 2003. The notion that it would transform classrooms in less than six months is ludicrous."

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