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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

Nov. 21 to Dec. 5

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  1. Social studies MEAP means less to students, but matters to schools / Detroit Free Press
  2. Dean says states should turn down No Child Left Behind money / AP
  3. Education Debate Going to College; Democrats Call for More Federal Aid / Washington Post
  4. Gifted left behind by school reforms; Funding cuts, U.S. law hurt brightest / Chicago Tribune
  5. Sea of testing Data Buries U.S. Schools / Chicago Tribune
  6. Kerry Education Plan Would Add $20 Billion in Federal Spending / Boston Globe
  7. Accountability in education isn't bad / Times Union
  8. Gains in Houston Schools: How Real Are They? / New York Times
  9. She Teases Brains Into Joy of Learning / New York Times
  10. Educators urged to file license renewals early to avoid backlog  / AP
  11. Schools sending out warning letters about teachers / AP
  12. Special ed classes being tested / Federal ruling affects schools with disabled / Houston Chronicle
  13. Minority legislators want education gap closed / Associated Press Newswires
  14. Federal law has educators frustrated / Kansas City Star
  15. State releases school report cards today Information broken down into categories for first time / Atlanta Journal - Constitution
  16. Parents get detailed school look with online report cards / Atlanta Journal - Constitution
  17. Schools hustle to avert graduation crisis / Austin American-Statesman
  18. News Clips from National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future
  19. ED REVIEW, December 5, 2003

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Social studies MEAP means less to students, but matters to schools

BY LORI HIGGINS, FREE PRESS EDUCATION WRITER, December 1, 2003

 

Mallory Sutika was serious last April when she sat down with a No. 2 pencil to take the social studies MEAP. But around her, it was a different story.

Some students slept. Some made designs with their answer sheets. Some didn't show up at all.

"People aren't taking the test seriously. They know there's no incentive to take it," said Mallory, a senior at Allen Park High.

That could explain why about three-quarters of Michigan's teens in the Class of 2003 couldn't meet standards in the subject.

Since the social studies portion of the test debuted in 1999, Michigan never has had more than 26.6 percent of high school students meet or exceed the standards.

Social studies experts worry one of the reasons is that the emphasis on the three R's is turning social studies into a neglected subject.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, the law that forces more accountability of public schools, evaluates schools in reading, math and science, but not social studies.

"Everyone is centered on the reading and math. Social studies is just there. You take it because you have to," said Samantha Walls, 17, a Cass Tech High senior in Detroit.

If social studies is devalued, "we're doing a real disservice to our democracy," said Michael Yocum, director of learning services at Oakland Schools, the county's intermediate school district.

"It's critical that students grow up understanding our history, how democracy came to be, how it compares to other forms of government. Social studies is the area in the curriculum where we do that, where we focus on both that knowledge and try to help kids understand and value the ideas behind that democracy."

The biggest complaint of Michigan social studies teachers: Social studies scores aren't included in the Michigan Merit Award scholarship students can receive for doing well on the MEAP, which leads many students to figure if there's nothing in it for them, why take the test?

Another factor: The MEAP is given around the same time students take other tests that are more critical to their college plans, including the ACT and advanced placement tests, which can earn students college credit.

The numbers illustrate the problem. For the Class of 2003, 98,056 students took the social studies test, compared with 102,928 who took the math test, which counts toward the merit scholarship.

But there is something in the social studies test for the schools. When the state calculates school report cards, social studies scores are given as much weight as math, science, reading and writing.

"The kids don't have any personal motivation for doing well on the test, but the schools are held accountable for their scores," Yocum said.

"You're deliberately setting this test up for failure, and the school districts along with it," said Joel Burkey, a social studies teacher at Allen Park High.

"We tell the students that it counts for the school district's accreditation, and for that reason they ought to try. But how many people will give their all on a 2-hour test that is extremely difficult for the good of the district?"

He and social studies department chairman Joe Banick said as much recently when they spoke before a legislative subcommittee seeking public input on MEAP.

State Rep. Brian Palmer, R-Romeo, chairman of the House Education Committee, said the testimony has him considering a change.

Instead of having the social studies exam included in the merit award, Palmer would have it removed from consideration when the state calculates school report cards. That bill, introduced in February, has been stuck in committee.

Meanwhile, Sutika, the Allen Park senior, said: "I don't think it would be fair for me to blow off a test which would reflect poorly on my school and my teachers. It's not their fault, and they shouldn't have to look bad."

Classmate Ryan Burtka also took the test, but he breezed through it in 20 minutes, then put his head down and took a nap.

"I didn't exactly put every ounce of effort I had into answering the questions," Burtka said.

Still, the high-achieving student earned a merit scholarship, mostly because he had strong scores on the ACT and the SAT -- an alternative way to receive the scholarship.

Those tests, he said, are a better reflection of a student's abilities and preparedness for college.

"The MEAP test is overbearing, overpriced and does not truly reflect a school's educational achievement," Burtka said.

Mel Miller, a social studies consultant with the Macomb Intermediate School District, can understand the choices students make regarding the social studies test. The entire battery of MEAP tests takes about 10 hours over five days to complete. The social studies test is often the last one given, Miller said.

"If you have to sit through 10 hours of testing and finally you're given a test and you're told this one doesn't include money . . . and you're suffering test fatigue, you might say 'I'm not going to try as hard,' " Miller said.

Even so, "most of the students are trying their best," said Eloise Williams, a social studies teacher at Pontiac Northern High School.

"We have to do a better job of making sure the kids understand it's a test like any other test," Williams said.

 

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Dean says states should turn down No Child Left Behind money 

By KATE McCANN, Associated Press Writer, November 30, 2003

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean on Sunday urged states to reject federal No Child Left Behind funding, and said he would if still governor of Vermont.

"It's going to cost them more in property taxes and other taxes than they are going to get out of it," Dean told The Associated Press following a campaign stop.

Earlier in the day, he told a crowd of teachers and supporters at Merrimack High School that "Vermont would have been the first state to turn down that money" if he still was governor.

Dean criticized President Bush, saying his administration will lower the standards for good schools in New Hampshire, making them more like poorly performing schools in Texas.

The Bush administration believes "the way to help New Hampshire is to make it more like Texas," Dean told supporters in Manchester, adding that "every school in America by 2013 will be a failing school."

"Every group, including special education kids, has to be at 100 percent to pass the tests," Dean said. "No school system in America can do that. That ensures that every school will be a failing school."

Republican state committee spokesman Julie Teer said Dean's attack ignores that Bush enacted the most sweeping education reform in 20 years and that he has increased funding for education.

Dean acknowledged that rejecting the money would force Vermont to find $25 million in lost education funds.

"But it's much better to do that than accept the money and allow your school systems to be run by the federal government," he said.

Dean, who decided not to run for re-election and left office last January, did accept the federal education money in 2002, but said the state would later assess the financial impact of the requirements attached to those funds.

Dean initially asked Vermont school superintendents to consider whether the state should forego millions of Title I money in order to opt out of the accompanying requirements.

But in October 2002, Dean said state officials planned to wait and see how costly it ultimately would be to comply with the new federal education law. At the time he said the final cost would not be clear until 2003.

Dean's successor in Vermont, Republican Gov. James Douglas, accepted the federal funding this year, several months after Dean left office.

Dean has said he opposes the No Child Left Behind Act because it amounts to a mandate for local schools to put new achievement standards in place, but provides no federal money to pay for it.

The law, approved two years ago, requires schools and states to shoulder unprecedented federal accountability for test scores, dropout rates and teacher credentials.

Schools that don't meet standards can be listed as failing and their funding can be endangered.

Dean has said that by setting rigid standards, schools have an incentive to force out low-performing students to raise their average test score, benefiting neither the student nor the school.

Though Dean supports some No Child Left Behind measures -- including efforts to improve scores by minorities -- he said Sunday he would cut unfunded mandates, testing and the "highly qualified" standard teachers must meet.

"I just rode in a car with a woman who taught for twenty years and she's been told she's not a highly qualified professional," Dean said.

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Education Debate Going to College; Democrats Call for More Federal Aid 

Jim VandeHei, Washington Post Staff Writer, November 30, 2003

 

Democratic presidential candidates, looking for a new political and policy edge in the nation's education debate, are calling for the federal government to play a bigger role to help send more students off to college.

With tuition costs rising precipitously at many universities, Democratic White House hopefuls are calling for the federal government to offer students easier-to-get loans, more lucrative cash grants and free education in exchange for community or public service.

The candidates are trying to move the debate beyond testing and funding for kindergarten through 12th grade, the two key education battlegrounds for the White House and Congress since the 1960s, and toward making college more affordable and available to more students. A key figure is helping drive this debate: The cost of education at public, four-year schools rose by 14 percent for the 2003-04 school year, according to an annual survey by the College Board.

Some Democrats see a potential political advantage in fighting for college-bound kids as the presidential campaign kicks into high gear.

President Bush put Democrats on defense early in his administration by pushing through the No Child Left Behind law for kindergarten through 12th grade, which requires annual scholastic testing and consequences for schools and teachers whose students fail to meet the new standards. Most Democrats voted for the new law but are now pressing Bush to provide more money to carry it out.

Although internal Republican polls show Bush's approval numbers on education slipping, many candidates believe Democrats still need to inject fresh ideas into the education debate to excite voters and defeat him. Facing a president who will tout vouchers, a hot topic in Washington and elsewhere, and accountability in the classroom, Democrats are turning to the issue of college education to help shake things up.

"I hope we have a great economy next year, [because] if the economy is great it will allow people to focus on things we have not been paying attention to" such as higher education, said Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.). "We can distinguish ourselves" on the issue. Kerry is a big backer of offering free college tuition in return for public service.

The issue of higher education assistance appeals most directly to younger voters who could tally up an immediate financial benefit from smaller tuition bills, but education is also frequently cited as a top concern among female voters, especially in swing suburbs.

The idea of trading education for community service fits nicely into the more sweeping patriotic themes many candidates are striking. It also has an economic touch: With the United States losing millions of manufacturing jobs, it is getting increasingly difficult for those without college or vocational training to compete in the technology-driven and quick-changing global economy.

Broadly speaking, the candidates are trying to build on former president Bill Clinton's education legacy. Clinton helped create several programs to assist college students, including expanding federal loan programs, helping build tax-friendly education savings accounts and starting AmeriCorps, which provides money to students in exchange for community service. Several candidates are pushing for an expansion of AmeriCorps, including front-runner Howard Dean, a former Vermont governor.

Bush supports expanding the program, too, by providing enough money to lure as many as 75,000 new participants. Indeed, Bush's higher education agenda has focused mostly on expanding earlier initiatives such as AmeriCorps and loan programs. Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said Bush does not yet have a "formal proposal" for the 2004 campaign. "But generally speaking, we will focus our efforts on three broad goals: affordability, access and accountability for results," she said.

While Bush waits, several Democratic presidential candidates are rushing to carve out a niche.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) wants to make the first $10,000 of college costs tax-deductible, which would cost an estimated $5.5 billion over 10 years.

Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) wants to provide one year free at a public university or community college to students willing to work 10 hours a week helping out their community. This would cost an estimated $5 billion, about half of which Edwards plans to offset with proposed changes to federal loan programs.

Kerry has proposed a similar but more ambitious plan: four years of public college in exchange for two years of national service. It would cost about $4 billion annually, his staff says, and would be financed by rolling back some of the Bush tax cuts.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) favors increasing the size of federal Pell grants for lower-income students and providing tax breaks and others incentives to help lower the cost of tuition. Lieberman plans to provide details soon on the specifics and costs, an aide said.

Dean recently offered a complicated $6 billion plan to provide financial aid to eighth-graders who pledge to go to college when they graduate from high school. Those who graduate would not have to spend more than 10 percent of their annual salary repaying student loans, or even less if they became teachers, nurses or other public service employees.

If they did pay more, the government would send them a refund in the form of a tax credit. "Kids in middle schools and high schools are losing hope," Dean recently told students at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. "They stop working toward graduation because they assume they'll never go to college."

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Gifted left behind by school reforms; Funding cuts, U.S. law hurt brightest 

By Tracy Dell'Angela, Tribune staff reporter, November 29, 2003

 

The gifted program in North Chicago's schools has no budget, no organized group of parent advocates and an admittedly haphazard approach to challenging the district's brightest students.

At the Aurora-based Indian Prairie schools, the gifted program is blessed with a $2 million budget, 1,200 carefully screened students clustered in special classes and a vocal group of 300 watchful parents.

The two programs may seem worlds apart, but the educators who run them share the same fear: Gifted students will be "left behind" by federal education reform.

Advocates of gifted education have always struggled with the perception that special programs for top-performing students are elitist and unnecessary. But this year, Illinois parents and educators are reeling from a one-two punch they fear could eliminate opportunities for the state's estimated 160,000 students identified as gifted.

In the spring, state lawmakers literally wiped out the concept of gifted education--by eliminating $19 million in grants that helped fund programs in 800 districts statewide and erasing any mention of gifted education as a mandate in the state school code.

At the same time, the demands of the federal No Child Left Behind law are forcing an increasing number of schools to pour their resources into bringing up the test scores of their lowest-performing students--even in affluent suburban districts that never had to worry about test scores before and long had viewed gifted programs as sacred cows.

"What this means is districts think they no longer have to be accountable for these children, that they are not important, that they will be just fine," said Sally Walker, executive director of the Illinois Association for Gifted Children and the author of two books about gifted education. "If these needs of these kids are not being met, they become disenfranchised or they adapt to mediocre expectations."

In the Seattle Public Schools, parents unhappy over instability in the gifted programs are threatening to keep their gifted kids out of school when state standardized tests are administered next April, which they argue could lower the district's passing rate by 10 percent and virtually guarantee that schools would not meet annual yearly progress as required by the federal law.

The district has said the parents' fears are unfounded and questioned the wisdom of the threat.

"After four years of getting jerked around by the district and their aggressive neglect of this program, we finally said `enough is enough.' If you're not going to give us some stability, we're not going to take your tests," said Charlie Mas, one of the leaders of the Seattle advocacy group. "What we really want is for the issues to be addressed. If the district shows some genuine action, we will hold the boycott in abeyance."

Parents here say they wouldn't be afraid to organize the same sort of revolt if their worst fears are realized.

Parents band together

Bolingbrook mom Robin Czajka said she's been thrilled with the progress her 4th-grade daughter has made in the Valley View school district's "Challenge" program. Megan Czajka, 9, who was reading the novel "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" in 1st grade and once had problems relating to her classmates, now is in a magnet program that offers exceptionally bright kids a chance to spend the school day together learning complex material. They are taught by teachers who understand how to reach and challenge gifted children.

Rumblings about proposed changes in the gifted program have galvanized Czajka and dozens of other parents in the racially and economically diverse suburban district who fear that their program might get squeezed out by the demands of federal reforms.

Czajka hopes that parents' involvement with a task force studying the changes will lead to improvements rather than cuts. But if that fails, Czajka would be willing to fight to preserve the program, including using their children's superior test scores as leverage with school administrators.

"I think [a test boycott] is a great tool, and I wouldn't be averse to using it if they push us into doing that," Czajka said. "The kids with high potential are not being given what they need in Illinois. The way things are taught in the public school system, to be gifted is a learning disability. I think when you say No Child Left Behind, you have to be talking about every child, not just the kids who start off behind."

The label "gifted" has been controversial because it has been used to describe such a broad range of children--from bright kids who are working above grade level to those whose interests and intellectual skills put them in a different academic stratosphere.

Some argue that broadening the label makes it little more than a status symbol for the so-called Volvo vigilantes in affluent communities who push to have their bright children labeled as gifted.

"It's a battle gifted education has fought for ages . . . it's that whole elitist thing," said Penny Choice, a Lake County specialist who heads the advocacy committee for the state gifted association. "Gifted means they learn differently. Gifted kids learn to memorize really quickly, but they don't learn how to think because the curriculum isn't challenging enough."

Nationwide, at least half the states mandate education for gifted and talented programs, with about 20 providing specific money for programs and teacher training, according to a 2002 survey by the National Association for Gifted Children. Nine states offer gifted students the same protections given to those in special education, with individualized learning plans and the right to challenge a district's decision through formal hearings.

Schools left to decide

Because of the change in state law and the elimination of the gifted grant, Illinois is no longer in that majority. It now falls to individual districts to decide whether to screen for gifted students or offer targeted services, which could be as minimal as a few supplemental assignments or as exhaustive as an all-day program that puts gifted kids into separate classrooms.

Many districts that don't offer gifted programs argue that they are meeting the needs of their brightest students by providing "differentiated instruction"--in which a classroom teacher changes the curriculum based on the needs of individual students.

That sounds great in concept, some educators say, but it takes lots of training and a skilled teacher to pull it off, especially in classes with more than 20 students.

In North Chicago, about 250 of the district's brightest students in grades 2 to 8 are clustered in certain classes and assigned to teachers who have had some specialized training. But the district's gifted specialist, Richard Cunningham, acknowledges this method is far from ideal.

"I don't like my program because it's not a good program," said Cunningham, who is trying to sell a new superintendent on the idea of creating multigrade gifted classrooms. "Too much depends on the teacher. And this is where the cuts really hurt because I have no money for [teacher training]."

Advocates nationwide are concerned that the federal reforms will tilt the classroom emphasis even further toward test proficiency rather than academic progress.

"Who is most at risk now? The gifted child because they are already so far above what is being taught. The gifted children are already meeting or exceeding, so we're not worried about them," said Nina Koelpin, a gifted specialist for Wheaton-Warrenville School District 200. "We're keeping it going, but in a lot of smaller districts these kids just fall through the cracks."

Danute Krebs, who became a gifted teacher at Brookdale Elementary in Naperville this fall after Indian Prairie School District 204 eliminated her position as gifted coordinator, said it doesn't bode well when even a model program such as Indian Prairie's is under siege.

"We're definitely not a priority anymore," Krebs said. "We can say these kids are going to learn by themselves, but that's just not the case. If you leave someone smart just sitting there for five years, what are you going to end up with? The world's underachievers."

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Sea of testing Data Buries U.S. Schools 

Chicago Tribune, November 26, 2003

 

Nov. 26--State officials are so overwhelmed by the data they must collect under federal education reform that many are releasing "school report cards" riddled with errors or delayed for so long that the information is virtually useless to parents and schools.

From Utah to Pennsylvania, education officials have been trying to analyze mounting piles of student test scores and teacher competency statistics and finding the task far more costly and time-consuming than they imagined.

Illinois education officials spent $845,000 on a new reporting system, but after repeated problems with the data, they released detailed information to districts only Tuesday--nearly a month after schools were legally bound by state law to publish it and eight months after students took the tests. Even now, some key analysis is missing.

The public reporting of the data is meant to help parents and other taxpayers make decisions based on the performance of schools and districts. If the information is not released until the school year is half over, parents are less likely to switch campuses or demand a better-prepared teacher.

The accuracy of the state report cards also is vital because schools, districts and states that fail to measure up can face sanctions as serious as school closings under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which became law early last year.

The law does not set a date for when the information must be made public, but federal officials had hoped state report cards would be published before the start of a new school year. Many states have failed to meet that goal, and others have made mistakes while trying.

In Louisiana, education officials sent out hundreds of error-ridden school report cards after a computer glitch incorrectly indicated whether groups of students had met state standards. Utah is still struggling to crunch the numbers and get them to parents and schools.

And even though Illinois districts now have the report card data, they have until Dec. 19 to distribute it to parents.

"A lot of states were not very well-prepared for what the law requires," said Bob Linn, co-director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing. "We should expect some delays because it takes awhile to adjust to a new system, but I am surprised at how long the delays have been."

The federal law requires states to collect and analyze data on student test scores, graduation and attendance rates, and teacher competency levels. States must send the information to school districts, which then must provide it to parents.

Many states, including Illinois, have produced such report cards for years, but the law mandates more detailed reporting. For example, states must list student achievement and test participation rates by ethnic group, income level, special-education status and English language proficiency. They also must collect data on whether teachers are fully licensed.

If even one subgroup of students does not meet state standards, the school is placed on a warning list. If the subgroup continues to fail, the school can face sanctions. The same sanctions also apply to districts.

Across the nation, there are as many reasons for the report card delays as there are delays:

Students made errors when checking their ethnic background on test booklets. Teachers did not ensure that licensing files were up to date. School officials failed to properly classify student income level and special-education status. And states were not equipped to handle the voluminous data.

In Pennsylvania, districts submit teacher-licensing data in the spring. If a district files incomplete or erroneous information, the state flags it to local officials, said Brian Christopher, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

In years past, districts simply ignored the notice because no sanctions were associated with low teacher-competency rates. But the federal law requires schools to notify parents if an unlicensed educator teaches their children.

Christopher said that days before Pennsylvania officials were set to release the state report card, officials pulled parts of it after nearly 100 districts contended the teacher licensing numbers were incorrect. "Now that there are federal sanctions associated with this data, I guess people are starting to take it seriously," Christopher said.

Illinois experienced myriad problems with its data.

State officials found several cases where a student was labeled African-American on the math test booklet but was marked white on the reading exam. Many schools failed to identify whether students were low-income, making it impossible to determine if the school tested 95 percent of its poor children, as required by the federal law.

Lynne Curry, deputy superintendent for the state board of education, said districts statewide made thousands of data errors. State board employees were forced to call more than 300 districts to verify data.

Similar problems cropped up last year, but no one bothered to fix them because sanctions didn't kick in for most schools until this year.

"We preached to school districts about this last year, about how important it was for them to be accurate," Curry said. "But until the rubber meets the road, people don't seem to care all that much."

State officials blamed the delays in part on Deloitte Consulting of Chicago, the firm hired to develop the report card this year. The firm missed deadlines and created error-ridden documents, Curry said, and board employees spent weeks correcting the mistakes.

But Larry Ascough, spokesman for School District U-46 in Elgin, said the information is so late this year, the point is moot.

"This information is history," Ascough said. "These kids took the test ... months ago, and we already are gearing up to take the next state test in a few months. I'm not sure anyone even cares anymore."

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Kerry Education Plan Would Add $20 Billion in Federal Spending 

By Patrick Healy, Boston Globe, November 26, 2003

Nov. 26--COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa--Senator John F. Kerry said yesterday he would increase federal education spending by $20 billion to help schools and special-needs programs comply with federal requirements.

The new funding, like several other Kerry budget proposals, would come from repealing recent tax cuts for high-income Americans.

Calling for "a new era of responsibility to our public schools," Kerry told 300 students and teachers at Thomas Jefferson High School here that as president, he would ensure full government funding for all federally required programs for public school districts, which today are shouldering some of the costs of those requirements because of federal shortfalls.

"You guys have been stuck with the bill," Kerry said. "Why are we giving the richest people in America a real big tax cut at the expense of your school budget? These are the choices that we vote on. I'm saying to you that there is a better vote."

According to figures provided by the Kerry campaign, the government spends about $23.8 billion for programs and requirements in the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind education law, or about $6 billion less than needed to meet the law's requirements. As a result, states and cities have had to find money to cover the shortfalls. The Bush administration has proposed $13.4 billion for Title I, the chief federal program for public education, which is about $4.9 million less than needed to cover federal mandates for local schools. The government also is proposing to spend about $11.7 billion on special-needs education, about half of what the Bush administration had previously promised, according to the Kerry campaign.

The additional $20 billion would be guaranteed in Kerry's proposed "Education Trust Fund," akin to the current Social Security and Medicare trust funds, which would protect education from the year-to-year budget negotiations in Congress.

Yesterday's speech was part of an ongoing campaign push by Kerry to outline plans for the first 100 days of a Kerry administration -- an effort designed to generate greater voter interest and excitement in his candidacy, which has been stuck in third place in recent Iowa polls, behind former Vermont governor Howard Dean and Representative Richard A. Gephardt.

Kerry made yesterday's speech while under fire from the camps of some presidential rivals for missing yesterday's Senate vote on the landmark Medicare legislation. Kerry postponed some campaign activities Sunday and Monday to go to Washington and support a Democratic filibuster of the bill, though he also participated by satellite in an Iowa debate Monday.

Later that day, he flew here to continue campaigning once it was clear that the Medicare bill would pass. Only Kerry and another Democratic candidate, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut missed the vote on the issue.

"This bill is a raw deal for seniors, and it should have been defeated," said Dean spokesman Jay Carson. "John Kerry certainly made a lot of noise about the need to back in D.C. leading the fight against this bill, to then miss the vote on it."

Kerry disputed a suggestion that participating in the filibuster, but skipping the vote, amounted to political posturing on Medicare. "Once we lost the fight on the filibuster, it was clear this is where the fight is -- in the country," Kerry said in Red Oak, Iowa, yesterday afternoon. "We've got to elect a president who's prepared to propose changes in Medicare that make sense for all seniors. It's precisely why I came out here."

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Accountability in education isn't bad 

RONALD BROWNSTEIN, Times Union, November 26, 2003

Under President Clinton, Democrats offered schools a new deal: more money for more accountability. Clinton increased federal spending on almost every form of educational initiative. But he also passed legislation requiring schools to demonstrate progress in improving student performance or face steadily escalating consequences. It was the schoolhouse equivalent of Clinton's approach to welfare reform: opportunity linked to responsibility.

This year, though, several of the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates are retreating toward a more questionable model: more money and less accountability.

For months, every Democratic contender has urged more federal spending on education. Now, some of the top contenders are pushing to loosen the testing and accountability provisions at the heart of the education reform bill President Bush steered through Congress in 2001.

"We have to get rid of this one-size-fits-all testing mania that is destroying the ability of people to apply discretion," says Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

"It is fraudulent education policy," says former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

These attacks come less than two years after Congress overwhelmingly approved Bush's education reform package -- the No Child Left Behind Act -- with just six Democrats voting against it in both the House and Senate.

The bill drew support from so many Democrats, including Kerry, largely because it extended the Clinton model of offering schools more help, but stiffening the demands on them to show results.

The bill Clinton signed in 1994 required districts to test students at least once at each school level -- elementary, intermediate and high school -- and demonstrate improvement over time. But experience demonstrated that tests spaced so widely apart didn't capture trends in student performance precisely enough.

So the legislation Bush signed required states to test (with the states' own tests) every student in reading and math each year from third through eighth grade. No Child Left Behind requires schools to make progress each year at increasing the share of students from all backgrounds -- not just middle-class white students but also minority and low-income students -- who demonstrate basic proficiency in reading and math on the tests.

Schools that fail to show "adequate yearly progress" for two consecutive years must give students the opportunity to transfer to other public schools; schools that miss the mark for three consecutive years must offer students after-school tutoring. Eventually, persistently failing schools must be restructured with a new principal and teachers.

Always skeptical of these provisions, the educational establishment is now in full revolt against the bill. Earlier this month, the National Education Association, the teachers union, ran full-page ads in newspapers denouncing the bill's testing requirement as "a rigid, one-size-fits-all framework that relies solely on test scores to measure children and public schools." Perhaps it goes without saying the NEA bought these ads, whose language Kerry conspicuously echoed in his own criticism of the bill, in newspapers across Iowa and New Hampshire, the site of the first two Democratic contests next January.

What's made the teachers and educators so upset? Evidence that many schools are falling short of the new requirements. Surveying 39 states with 17,000 public schools this fall, the National Journal magazine found that one-fourth of those schools had failed to meet the bill's standards for improving student performance.

Like a teacher who rewrites a test after too many students fail, Kerry and Dean's response is to loosen the standard. Kerry's aides say he believes schools that fail to meet the requirements for improving student performance in reading and math should still be able to avoid a failing label if they show progress in other ways, such as improving attendance or offering more after-school programs. Dean agrees and would reverse course even more fundamentally, by repealing the requirement that schools test students annually.

These attacks on the 2001 reform act almost always draw applause from Democratic audiences -- not to mention groups representing teachers and other adults in the education business. But last week, an unlikely group of critics denounced these attacks on the accountability standards as nothing more than shooting the messenger.

In a statement organized by The Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for low-income children, 100 black and Latino school superintendents said the threat that schools will be labeled as failing under the act is forcing administrators to focus more attention on helping the neediest kids and the most troubled schools.

"Accountability ... helps to create a sense of urgency, a sense that we need to act and do better," said Diana Lam, deputy chancellor for teaching and learning in New York City, one of those who signed the letter. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, another Democratic hopeful, also defends the new requirements against Dean and Kerry, insisting: "The solution is not to tear down the high standards we set."

The 2001 law isn't perfect. In many cities, the provisions allowing parents to transfer their children out of poorly performing schools may not be meaningful unless students have the right to switch to better suburban schools. States must find better ways to involve more parents; teachers can't lift kids alone. And schools always need more money (especially to repair crumbling buildings).

But diluting the accountability provisions would send exactly "the wrong message" (as the minority superintendents put it) to communities that have long tolerated substandard educations for low- income and minority kids. Kerry and Dean see the squeals of protest from educators over No Child Left Behind as proof the law is failing. But that may be the best evidence it's succeeding. Ronald Brownstein writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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Gains in Houston Schools: How Real Are They? 

By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO and FORD FESSENDEN, December 3, 2003

 

HOUSTON -- As a student at Jefferson Davis High here, Rosa Arevelo seemed the ''Texas miracle'' in motion. After years of classroom drills, she passed the high school exam required for graduation on her first try. A program of college prep courses earned her the designation ''Texas scholar.''

At the University of Houston, though, Ms. Arevelo discovered the distance between what Texas public schools called success and what she needed to know. Trained to write five-paragraph ''persuasive essays'' for the state exam, she was stumped by her first writing assignment. She failed the college entrance exam in math twice, even with a year of remedial algebra. At 19, she gave up and went to trade school.

''I had good grades in high school, so I thought I could do well in college,'' Ms. Arevelo said. ''I thought I was getting a good education. I was shocked.''

In recent years, Texas has trumpeted the academic gains of Ms. Arevelo and millions more students largely on the basis of a state test, the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, or TAAS. As a presidential candidate, Texas's former governor, George W. Bush, contended that Texas's methods of holding schools responsible for student performance had brought huge improvements in passing rates and remarkable strides in eliminating the gap between white and minority children.

The claims catapulted Houston's superintendent, Rod Paige, to Washington as education secretary and made Texas a model for the country. The education law signed by President Bush in January 2002, No Child Left Behind, gives public schools 12 years to match Houston's success and bring virtually all children to academic proficiency.

But an examination of the performance of students in Houston by The New York Times raises serious doubts about the magnitude of those gains. Scores on a national exam that Houston students took alongside the Texas exam from 1999 to 2002 showed much smaller gains and falling scores in high school reading.

Compared with the rest of the country, Houston's gains on the national exam, the Stanford Achievement Test, were modest. The improvements in middle and elementary school were a fraction of those depicted by the Texas test and were similar to those posted on the Stanford test by students in Los Angeles.

Over all, a comparison of the performance of Houston students who took the Stanford exam in 2002 and in 1999 showed most did not advance in relation to their counterparts across the nation. More than half of them either remained in the same place or lost ground in reading and math.

''Is it better or worse than what's going on anywhere else?'' said Edward H. Haertel, a professor of education at Stanford University. ''On average it looks like it's not.'' Stanford University has no relationship to the test.

In an interview, Dr. Paige defended Texas's system, saying that it had gradually raised the standards for success over the last 20 years. ''Texas measures far more than minimal skills,'' he said. ''The bar is far above what other districts use.''

But questions about Houston's accomplishments are increasing. In June, the Texas Education Agency found rampant undercounting of school dropouts. Houston school officials have also been accused of overstating how many high school graduates were college bound and of failing to report violent crimes in schools to state authorities.

The Houston officials strenuously defend the district's record.

Kathryn Sanchez, head of assessment for Houston's schools, said students were doing well on both the Texas exam and the Stanford test, given the city's large number of poor and minority students. Ms. Sanchez said that Houston students had also done well on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally mandated test widely referred to as ''the nation's report card.''

On that test, fourth graders in Houston and New York outdid children in four other cities in writing, to score at the national average. Fourth graders in New York and Houston also led children in other cities in reading, yet fell short of the national average. Of all six cities, however, Houston excluded the most children with limited English from taking the national assessment, and some researchers suggest that removing such students may have helped raise Houston's score.

But in interviews, Houston school officials acknowledge that the progress in the elementary grades peters out in high school. About 13,600 eighth graders in 1998 dwindled to fewer than 8,000 high school graduates. Though 88 percent of Houston's student body is black and Latino, only a few hundred minority students leave high school ''college ready,'' according to state figures.

Miracle or Mirage?

With its own exam to measure pupil achievement, Texas managed to show educational progress over the last decade on a scale rarely, if ever, achieved before. But as the state's paradigm for school accountability became law for the rest of the nation, the authenticity of Texas's accomplishments has become a major question in education policy.

The Stanford test provides a useful contrast to the state exam, at least for Houston. More than 75,000 students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10 took the state exam as well as the Stanford test from 1999 to 2002. The Times analyzed performances on these tests, excluding students in special education, and had educational testing experts review the results. The data were obtained under the state's open records act by George Scott, president of the Tax Research Association of Houston and Harris County, a taxpayers group.

''I don't think there was a miracle,'' said Robert L. Linn, co-director of the Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing at the University of Colorado, who reviewed the calculations. ''There were some good positive results, but not extraordinary results like TAAS seemed to show.''

The modest improvements in Houston have implications for the national debate. ''If you anticipate that you can have the gains shown on TAAS -- and that's what No Child Left Behind would be requiring in many states -- that's not going to be likely to happen, based on this,'' Dr. Linn said.

The Times analysis of performance on the Stanford Achievement Test and the Texas exam shows this:

*Houston students improved from 1999 to 2002 in most grades, but at only a fraction of the rate portrayed by the state exam. Using a widely employed statistical measure that allows different kinds of tests to be compared called effect size, the gains in the average scores on the Stanford test were about a third of the average gain in the TAAS scores.

*Even students with the poorest skills posted high scores on the Texas test. In reading, a passing score of 70 on the test was the equivalent to scores below the 30th percentile in national ranking on the Stanford test in every grade. In 10th grade, passing the state exam was equivalent to the fifth percentile in the national ranking.

*While the Houston gains on the Stanford test in some grades were large enough to be considered significant in educational testing, the city was not making much headway when compared with national averages. Some 57 percent of Houston students who took the math test in 1999 and 2002, and 51 percent of those who took the reading test, saw their standing relative to children around the country either fall or remain the same.

*On the Stanford tests, the average reading scores for Houston students of all races in grades 9 through 11 have actually dropped since 1999. By contrast, the reading scores for 10th graders on the Texas exam -- the only high school grade in which the state test is given -- showed a large gain over the same period.

*The achievement gap between whites and minorities, which Houston authorities have argued has nearly disappeared on the Texas exam, remains huge on the Stanford test. The ranking of the average white student was 36 points higher than that of the average black student in 1999 and fell slightly, to 34 points, in 2002.

''This says that the progress on TAAS is probably overstated, possibly by quite a margin,'' said Daniel Koretz of the Harvard School of Education, who also reviewed The Times's analysis, ''And when all is said and done, Houston looks average or below average.''

Tougher Texas Test

While Texas minority students have made gains on the federal government's mandated national assessment test of reading and math, they were already largely ahead of the average scores of minority students from around the country before the current Texas accountability system began in 1993.

In Houston, the share of college-bound high school graduates that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board deemed ''college ready'' fell to 28.5 percent, or 977 students in 2001, from 33.7 percent, or 1,155 students, in 2000, according to the latest figures available. The board counts only graduates who seek admission to public institutions of higher education in Texas, and says another 10 to 15 percent may seek admission elsewhere.

But many here saw the replacement of the Texas exam last spring with a tougher exam as the most stinging indictment of the test. On the new test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, race gaps widened, and passing rates fell.

Officials here now say that TAAS was only a test of ''minimal skills,'' paving the way for ratcheting up standards with a new exam.

Dr. Paige contends that the TAAS and Stanford tests could not be compared because the Texas test gauges mastery of the Texas curriculum while the Stanford test measures a more general notion of what children should know in a given grade.

But education researchers disagreed.

''These two tests ought to be telling the same story, and they're telling different stories,'' said Dr. Haertel, of Stanford University.

Dr. Paige also argued that statistical anomalies in the results on the Texas test made comparisons impossible. But testing experts who examined those anomalies said that, if anything, they would reduce the disparities between the two tests.

Watching Children Struggle

In one way or another, Jo Arevelo, Rosa's mother, has watched each of her children struggle through an educational system that was focused tightly on producing high test scores on state exams.

Last summer, Ms. Arevelo tutored her youngest daughter, 10-year-old Angelica, in spelling. Because the state exam does not test spelling, Angelica's teacher never got to it, Ms. Arevelo said one recent afternoon.

Earlier that day, her son, Joseph, took the preparatory exam for the SAT college entrance test, but like many other children that day, he left the exam in frustration -- mystified by vocabulary words like parallelism and euphemism, words he had never encountered in school.

Patricia Anderson, a veteran social studies teacher in Houston, said she was not surprised. Noticing that her high school students could not answer questions after reading passages in their textbooks, she began giving them a vocabulary test at the fourth grade level. Typically, she said, ''They flunk it.''

''We're all very very frustrated, because all these great scores are coming out of the elementary schools, and when they get to high school it's not happening,'' Ms. Anderson said. ''They do not have the skills they need.''

It was not always like this. Many parents welcomed the accountability system that the Houston district pioneered in the 1980's and early 1990's. It was a way, they reasoned, to force schools in poor neighborhoods not to write off their children.

And in some places, it seemed to work, said Rene Barrios, lead organizer for the Metropolitan Organization, a chapter of a group that monitors public services. But in many other places, Ms. Barrios said, the system became the single most important measure of school success and the test itself, for many teachers, became the curriculum. ''The whole system has been taken over by the test,'' she said.

Rosa Arevelo, who graduated from Davis High with a B average, tried to keep pace in college. She made flash cards to help her remember what she studied. She had never learned how to take notes in high school, so at her lectures in college, she took down everything the teacher said.

Her textbook looks as if it is filled with neon lights: entire paragraphs are highlighted in bars of bright pink and yellow. In the unrelenting array of information, she could not tell what mattered.

''When you get to college,'' she said, ''you're just supposed to know. But nobody ever taught us.''

How the Houston Test Scores Were Analyzed

The calculations for this article were based on the records of 75,000 Houston students in Grades 3 through 8 and Grade 10 who took the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills as well as the Stanford Achievement Test in 1999 and 2002. The New York Times calculated the change in the mean scores in math and reading for those two years for each grade and divided by the standard deviation for 1999, a recognized method for calculating the effectiveness of new teaching methods known as effect size. The method allows different kinds of tests to be compared.

The national rankings that were equivalent to the passing score of 70 on the Texas exam were calculated with a regression equation, a statistical measure that uses all student scores to predict the result on one test from the scores on the other.

 

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She Teases Brains Into Joy of Learning 

By Michael Winerip, New York Times, December 3, 2003

 

BATH, N.C. -- THERE'S lots of excitement when a new young teacher like Ashley Jones comes to a rural school. Here in Beaufort County, in eastern North Carolina, where the cotton fields meet the saltwater marshes of Pamlico Sound, it is hard to find young teachers. Four months into the school year, the high school still cannot fill a math teaching position. Those who apply are often middle-aged men and women changing careers after a farm goes broke or a textile mill closes.

Miss Jones is 22. Teaching sixth grade at Bath Elementary is her first job out of college, and they are so glad to have her.

''Miss Jones is different,'' said Michael Harris, a sixth grader. ''She seems to know more about kids. It's like she knows exactly what we think.''

Oh, Miss Jones knows. They're thinking ''treats,'' 24/7. When 11 students met their silent-reading goal in the first quarter, Miss Jones took them to Bonner's Point for a picnic -- smack in the middle of the day, two hours out of class. ''Now everyone wants to make their reading goal,'' Miss Jones says. ''I promised them a treat, but they didn't know it would be something so great.''

For sixth graders who made the honor roll, Miss Jones had ice cream sandwiches.

''She gives us a brain teaser every morning,'' Eric Smith said, ''If we get it right, we get a candy treat from the goody jar.''

As Miss Jones says, ''Just something to get their little brains working first thing, to calm them down when they're all chitter-chattery.''

Miss Jones has created a class Web page full of photographs taken with Miss Jones's new digital camera showing pupils having fun in Miss Jones's class, and, if they are very good girls and boys, they can sit at Miss Jones's desk and view that Web page on Miss Jones's computer.

Everyone loved her social studies unit on the rain forest. She turned the room into a jungle, bringing in ferns, hibiscus, orchids. She hung green crepe-paper vines from the ceiling and filled them with toy monkeys from the Dollar Tree store. Soon, they were all helping the rain forest grow. Savanna Boyd brought in three fake palm trees.

''I brought in stuff that comes from the rain forest, like banana chips and trail mix,'' said Kassie Sasnett. Savanna and Kassie love Miss Jones; she's just like they are: young, available and ready for adventure.

''She's put a spark in our building,'' Joy Henderson, the music teacher, said. Miss Jones is often the first in, and makes the coffee in the teachers' lounge. It was Miss Jones's idea to start a Friday potluck lunch with teachers taking turns making food for the whole staff.

''Such a bubbly person,'' said Pam Carson, a veteran teacher, and the principal, Pam Hodges, said, ''As natural a teacher as I've ever seen.''

But Miss Jones's arrival at Bath Elementary was not totally an act of nature. She is a seed planted by the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program. Since 1986, the state has paid for 400 top high school seniors each year to attend a state college for four years, with a $26,000 stipend. In return, they must teach for four years in public schools. It is highly competitive (2,200 applied last year), attracting top students. Teaching fellows have an average combined SAT score of 1198, compared with a state average of 988 for college freshmen. And most stay when their four years are up. After 12 years, 63 percent of fellows are still teaching, compared with a state average of 49 percent, according to the Public School Forum, the nonprofit organization based in Raleigh that runs the program.

And because fellows are selected from all over the state, they teach all over, working in 99 of 100 counties.

Thanks to the stipend, Laura Bilbro Berry, who was raised by a single mother, could afford the University of North Carolina. She loved the enrichment given fellows, including a weeklong bus tour of state public schools; a week in a district shadowing everyone from the superintendent to the janitor; a trip through Colonial and Civil War sites in the Northeast; and an etiquette class.

Still, Ms. Berry's first year teaching was a disaster. ''A very poorly run school,'' she said, ''I would have quit, if I didn't owe the state four years -- or the money back.''

Nearly 20 percent of North Carolina teachers do quit in their first year. But Ms. Berry had to stick it out, and years later, for her impressive work at a poor, heavily black Beaufort school she was named the state's 2000 teacher of the year.

Ron Clark, the 2001 Walt Disney national teacher of the year, said he would never have chosen teaching if not for the state's program.

North Carolina's decade-old accountability system was a model for the federal No Child Left Behind law of 2002. But while North Carolina has backed its system with substantial financing -- reducing class size to 16 at low-performing schools, providing support teams to principals at those schools and creating the fellows program to improve teaching -- the Bush administration has been widely criticized for underfinancing No Child Left Behind, at $6 billion below what the law allows.

Indeed, Representative Bob Etheridge of North Carolina, a Democrat who voted for No Child Left Behind, has filed a bill that would prohibit enforcing the law unless it is fully financed.

''You can't set lofty goals without resources,'' said Sara Lang, an Etheridge aide. ''It's a cruel trick.''

One of the loftiest mandates is that every teacher in the United States be ''highly qualified'' by 2005. Even rabid supporters of the law, like the Education Trust, have criticized Bush officials for doing so little to help states meet this standard.

Miss Jones and her rain forest are Exhibit A for what could be. Representative David E. Price of North Carolina has sponsored legislation that would replicate the fellows program nationally at a cost of $300 million. The Republican-controlled House killed his bill twice, but Mr. Price, a Democrat, is trying again.

Asked whether Bush administration officials might support it this session, Eugene Hickock, acting deputy education secretary, said: ''Philosophically the administration is on the record as being eager to find a variety of ways to help states develop highly qualified teachers. We'd be glad to look at it.''

 

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Educators urged to file license renewals early to avoid backlog  

 

Associated Press Newswires, Dec. 3, 2003

 

BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts educators have been encouraged to renew their state licenses early to avoid a backlog that could leave them without proper credentials.

The Education Reform Act of 1993 requires Massachusetts public school teachers, counselors and superintendents to renew their license every five years. The credentials of up to 80,000 educators expire June 17.

Fewer than 1,000 have renewed their licenses so far, state education officials said.

If teachers do not renew their license by the June 2004 deadline, they will need a waiver to teach in a Massachusetts public school. Those who renew before June 2004 will have a license that expires in June 2009.

Bob Bickerton, administrator of the state Department of Education's Office of Educator Licensure, said his office staff has been cut from 60 people to 30 over the past five years, and is not equipped to handle a crush of renewals.

In June 1999, when the last larger number of renewals was submitted, Bickerton's office was processing them until December.

Meanwhile, about 6,000 applications for new teaching licenses are pending, Bickerton said.

Teachers who renew online could get their license within days, Bickerton said. Renewing on paper could take weeks or months.

Without proper credentials, teachers technically will not be considered "highly qualified" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires all public school teachers to have valid licenses by 2006.

 

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Schools sending out warning letters about teachers 

 

Associated Press Newswires, Dec. 3, 2003

 

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Several New Jersey school districts have started notifying parents that their child's teacher does not meet new federally mandated qualifications standards.

The notifications are mandated under the No Child Left Behind Act, which states that teachers must possess a bachelor's degree, a state-issued teaching certificate and proof that they know the subject they teach. The rules apply to more than 1,200 schools in districts that receive federal funds for needy children.

Most of the notification letters stem from the content knowledge requirement, which has angered many teachers and school officials across the state. They say the state has never asked some groups of teachers -- including middle school, special education, and bilingual education teachers -- to prove such knowledge, and there is some confusion about what exactly is required under the mandate.

The first letters were sent out this week, but state education officials said the number of teachers who did not meet the requirements will not be known until January. They have estimated that less than 20 percent of the state's teaching force will fail to make the mark.

Teresa Rafferty, a spokeswoman for the Piscataway district, said officials there mailed letters notifying parents about eight middle school teachers, four of them in special education. She said the teachers are all qualified college graduates and certified by the state.

"Before No Child Left Behind they met all the standards," Rafferty told The Star-Ledger of Newark. "The rules changed in the middle of the game."

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Special ed classes being tested / Federal ruling affects schools with disabled 

JULIA SILVERMAN, Associated Press, Dec. 2, 2003

EAGLE POINT, Ore. - The kids in Michelle Harper's special education class have their own small victories every day - a temper tantrum stifled, two words rhymed.

When it comes time to take the standardized tests that the federal government uses to measure public schools, many of Harper's students at White Mountain Middle School merely pick answers at random, not realizing the potentially severe consequences for their school.

Across the country this year, thousands of schools were deemed "failing" because of the test performance of special ed students.

The results have provoked feelings of fury, helplessness and amusement in teachers like Harper, who say that because of some of their students' disabilities, there is no realistic way to ever meet the expectations of a new federal law backed by the Bush administration that requires that 99 percent of all children be performing at or above grade level by 2014.

If schools fail to meet those targets, they risk being taken over by the state or private companies; teachers can lose their jobs.

"These children are going to plateau at a certain level - that is the nature of a disability," said Harper, who teaches students with autism, learning disabilities, mental retardation, Tourette's syndrome, vision and hearing deficiencies, and brain injuries. "These kids are not going to grow out of it, not going to grow up and be OK. It's sad, but that is the way it is."

Special education has been a battleground for years. Parents of special ed students fought long and hard for their children to be included in mainstream classrooms and for the money to provide them with extra help.

Now the new law, dubbed No Child Left Behind, has focused even more attention on special education because of the consequences for entire schools.

The law mandates that schools bring all groups of students up to grade level on standardized reading and math tests, including special ed students and those who do not speak English. If even one of those groups fails to meet progress targets for two years in a row, an entire school can be listed as failing and face an escalating list of sanctions.

In South Carolina, more than three-fourths of schools were listed as failing. Sandra Lindsay, the state's deputy education secretary, said special education was the most common denominator.

In Nashville, Tenn., schools director Pedro Garcia called it "ludicrous, to give a (special ed) student a test that they cannot read or understand, much less know the answer."

In Oregon, 202 schools reported that their special education students had failed to make the desired progress in reading; 181 said that was true for math.

The government is defending the special education portion of the law, though officials said some changes are in the works that would give more leeway to the most seriously disabled children and their teachers.

However, the Education Department does not want to let all special education students and their teachers off the hook, said Ronald Tomalis, acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

"There have been low expectations for some of these children all along," he said. "And that's not because of mental abilities, but because of poor instruction received in the early grades. We need to challenge schools that these children can achieve. Sure, they will need an intensive program, but they can be brought up to grade level."

For more seriously disabled children, he said, a proposed change to the law would let 1 percent of all children in a district skip the grade-level exams and instead take a test tailored to their abilities. If they scored well on that alternative, it could be counted in their school's favor.

"We don't expect these children to take a seventh-grade-level math test if they are having difficulties moving a block from one side of the table to the other," Tomalis said.

In Harper's classroom, she interrupts math lessons constantly to ask her sixth- and seventh-graders not to kneel on the floor and to listen patiently to stories that do not involve math.

Harper said she measures her students' progress not by their performance on standardized tests but by how they are doing on plans tailored to each youngster. For many of them, the realistic goal is not to work at grade level but to gain as much self-sufficiency as possible, she said.

"There is no way some of these kids can meet the testing standards," she said. "If they could, they wouldn't be with us in the first place."

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Minority legislators want education gap closed 

By PAM EASTON, Associated Press Writer, Dec. 2, 2003

HOUSTON (AP) - Black and Hispanic lawmakers from around the country on Tuesday said they will work together for wide-ranging changes to close the educational gap between minority and white children.

The National Black Caucus of State Legislators and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators said they would begin focusing next month on schools in Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Maryland, Arizona, New York and New Mexico.

"Education is the escalator to upward mobility," Georgia Rep. Calvin Smyre, a member of the black caucus' executive committee, said at the group's national conference. "Whether you know it or not, public education is under attack in America. ... We have got to straighten up our backs when it comes to educating our children. It's nothing to shuffle our feet about."

The groups say studies they conducted indicate separate and unequal conditions remain in urban school districts throughout the country despite the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which promised equal education.

Two-thirds of minority students attend schools financed at levels well below those in predominantly white school districts, the groups found.

The lawmakers announced plans to compare what has worked in their states then work together to pass similar legislation elsewhere.

The groups are recommending increased teacher salaries, retention programs and improved professional development programs at underserved schools. They also want to see class size reductions, strengthened bilingual education, enriched curriculum, increased literacy and expanded access to preschool for students.

"You either pay now or pay later," Ohio Sen. C.J. Prentiss said. "The challenge is: OK, we paid $22,000 to lock up guys in prison. If we just invested that on the front side of life -- early childhood, smaller class sizes, high quality teachers, things that we know work -- then we don't have to pay for that child afterward."

Texas Sen. Leticia Van de Putte said that as the Latino population continues to grow, improved education for minorities becomes even more critical for states such as Texas, where about one-third of the population is Hispanic and 12 percent black.

"We can't afford the cost of failure," she said.

Van de Putte said she hopes the partnership between black and Hispanic legislators can close the education gap. Reforms are being discussed in most states as they work to meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act during a time of budget constraints, she said.

"Rather than moan and groan ... you use a crisis situation and make some good out of it," she said. "That's what we are trying to do."

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Federal law has educators frustrated 

Possible changes unlikely to quiet critics

By DEANN SMITH and MARA ROSE WILLIAMS, The Kansas City Star, December 1, 2003

On state testing day, Oak Grove School District teacher Crystal Atkinson slowly read questions aloud to her special-education pupils.

The children, clearly confused, just stared at her.

“I can see in their eyes they are not understanding what I'm reading,” Atkinson said. “But I can't reread it to them.

“I say…‘Just pick one of those choices,' and they can't even remember what the choices are. So they just fill in one of the circles, usually the last one.”

Getting all special-education students to perform above grade level — as Missouri requires under the federal No Child Left Behind Act — “is an impossible standard,” said Atkinson, a teacher at Maple Elementary School.

Federal officials agree that a small number of severely disabled students, like some of Atkinson's pupils, need more flexible standards. In the first major alteration to the law, the U.S. Department of Education in January will ease testing regulations for special-education students.

The new guidelines will give states and districts more leeway in defining proficiency for special-education students and make it easier to give modified tests that, for example, include fewer options for answers or require students to complete a hands-on task rather than a written test.

Those changes are not enough to quell criticism of the law. Alexa Pochowski, assistant Kansas education commissioner, said the special-education revision does not grant enough flexibility. Area educators say other aspects of the law remain troubling: rigid performance standards for students with limited command of English, unrealistic attendance rules for test days and inadequate federal funding.

Lobbyists and some members of Congress want action next year to correct other perceived flaws in the law, which requires all public school students to be proficient in math, reading and science by the 2013-2014 academic year.

“I am not talking about repeal, but I am talking about efforts to make the law better so it will work,” said Rep. Dennis Moore, a Kansas Democrat.

Opposition to amending the law, however, comes from across the political spectrum, including two of its principal authors, Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. John Boehner, an Ohio Republican.

“I have not seen any hard evidence of any real changes that need to be made,” Boehner said in a recent interview.

Republican Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback of Kansas and Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri want to wait a couple of years to see whether tinkering is needed. Republican Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri is open to changes.

Further adjustments are more likely to come through regulatory changes instead of congressional action, according to the National Governors Association.

“Once you open up the law for little tweaks (by Congress), you've opened it up for wholesale changes,” said Brian Jones, general counsel for the Education Department.

A possible wild card for change is the November 2004 election. Presidential, congressional and gubernatorial candidates probably will face questions about No Child Left Behind because late next summer thousands more schools and districts are expected to be labeled low performing for failure to make “adequate yearly progress” on state assessment tests.

Parents are bewildered “why this law might be labeling their child's school as failing when it's a good school,” Moore said.

Ultimately, schools and districts repeatedly failing to make adequate yearly progress will face the law's sanctions, including loss of funds, forced student transfers and staff shake-ups.

Schools penalized

The law groups students by race, income level, learning ability and English proficiency, and each of these subgroups must meet annual performance benchmarks until everyone is proficient.

Entire schools, districts and states can make significant strides but get no credit if a single subgroup falls short of achievement benchmarks or if not enough students are tested.

Test scores of various subgroups caused Missouri to miss adequate yearly progress in reading and math and Kansas in reading. Missouri tested too few students in some areas.

The Oak Grove district was labeled low performing because special-education students did poorly on state communication arts tests. The 23,000-student Olathe district failed to make adequate yearly progress in reading because of the scores of 61 junior high and high school students with little or no fluency in English.

To illustrate the challenges facing school districts, Olathe Superintendent Ron Wimmer tells the story of a Spanish-speaking first-grader. The girl's teacher recently begged him for advice on how to reach her.

“She's a sweet little girl, but she doesn't understand her teacher,” Wimmer said.

Wimmer, who formerly taught Spanish, predicts the girl will only do “fair” when taking the Kansas reading test in third grade because it takes five years to reach fluency.

Educators say it is impossible for students with limited English skills to score proficiently on state tests. Once they read and write English well, they move out of that group, only to be replaced by pupils who speak little or no English.

Jones said the Education Department is aware of the difficulties getting all limited-English students to proficiency, but he noted that the law gives the agency little flexibility. One idea is to keep students in the category after they master the language, he said.

Missouri might seek federal approval to raise from 30 to 50 the number of limited-English and special-education students needed to constitute a subgroup, state Education Commissioner Kent King said.

If there are too few students in a subgroup, their scores cannot penalize schools or districts. The more subgroups there are, the more potential there is for failure.

“Those districts that don't have much diversity have a better chance of success,” said Brent Ghan of the Missouri School Boards' Association.

Even if students meet the performance benchmarks, the law provides another way to miss the mark. At least 95 percent of students in each subgroup must take the tests or those good scores don't count.

That was why the Park Hill School District failed to make the progress goals in math. Asian-American students' scores were almost four times higher than the benchmark, and Hispanic students' scores were twice as high, but three Asian-American students and three Hispanic students did not take the tests, one short in each category for the scores to have counted.

“It's frustrating because the stakes are high,” said Jeff Klein, Park Hill's assessment director.

“Technicalities make it look like we are not doing the things we should be doing and actually are doing.”

Jones of the Education Department said the 95 percent requirement is needed to prevent schools from ignoring some children.

Funding complaints

Educators might complain less about No Child Left Behind if they felt they had adequate funding to implement the law.

The act authorized $18.5 billion to help disadvantaged students, but Congress so far has approved just $12.3 billion, said Dan Fuller, an official with the National School Boards Association.

Supporters of the law say President Bush has increased overall education funding by 40 percent, or $11 billion, since taking office.

“The truth is that the law is funded at a level to make it work,” Education Secretary Rod Paige said at a conference last month. “This administration has provided record spending — the highest investment per child ever.”

The National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union, plans to sue the federal government, contending the law exempts states from compliance if it imposes undue expense.

Although Missouri got about $45 million more for programs affected by the law, and Kansas got an extra $17 million, some districts did not share in the No Child Left Behind largess, which earmarks more money to poorer districts.

Independence, in fact, lost between $10.5 million and $12 million this year because of cuts in state and federal funding. The cuts forced the district to slash nearly 200 staff positions and reduce programs.

In Olathe, district officials want at least $1.5 million for extra staff, computers, software, books and tests to comply with the law.

Getting more funds will be difficult.

“We have homeland security, rebuilding Iraq and our economy,” said Rep. Karen McCarthy, a Missouri Democrat who supports more funding. “Those situations may mean we can't do all we want for education.”

If the law is not revised, some predict drastic consequences, including all public schools being designated as low-performing.

King and others say communities could be hurt once more students are allowed to transfer to other schools or possibly other districts. Some worry top-notch schools will lose students because of the low-performing label.

Jones of the Education Department said he expects few transfers to other districts. He also said the law will spur schools to do a better job of serving all students so they can keep their reputations intact.

Still, the Business Roundtable, an influential organization that supports the law, is concerned about the economic impact. The group wants modifications, particularly for special-education students and those with limited English skills, spokeswoman Susan Traiman said.

Boehner readily admitted the law imposes “an awful lot” on public schools, but he said it was the only way to ensure a quality education for all.

“It's not a child's fault that they may have lost the lucky lottery in life. Without an education, they have no chance at the American dream,” he said.

 

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State releases school report cards today Information broken down into categories for first time 

DANA TOFIG, Atlanta Journal – Constitution, Dec. 1, 2003

 

Parents can take an in-depth look at their schools today --- without having to leave the house.

The Governor's Office of Student Achievement will begin releasing report cards today on schools and school systems. The report cards give simple access to the scads of data the state has been collecting, including test scores, attendance and graduation rates.

The state has been releasing report cards for nearly a decade. But for the first time this year, the data are completely disaggregated --- meaning it's broken down by race, economic status and other categories. Linda Schultz, president of the Roswell High School Parent Teacher Student Association, said the report cards give parents and educators the data they need to make improvements.

"It's obviously important to understand the performance at your school and to analyze how you can improve the scores," said Schultz, who has two sons at Roswell High.

"The thing that's so great about what we're getting now is the disaggregated results," she said. "There might be underlying problems with certain areas and parents wouldn't know that. This way you can dig deeper."

Such report cards are required under the federal No Child Left Behind school reform act, signed in 2002, and the massive state school reform package, which passed in 2000. Separate report cards used to be created by the state Office of Education Accountability and the state Department of Education. But this year, the accountability office was renamed the Office of Student Achievement and worked with the state Department of Education to produce one report card.

Martha Reichrath, executive director of the Office of Student Achievement, said the data on attendance, graduation rate, dropout rate and college entrance exam performance will be available today. During the next couple of weeks, additional data will be added, including school-level scores on the 2002-2003 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test --- or CRCT --- a curriculum test that is taken by elementary and middle school students.

"The other thing that I think is really good about this Web site is that we have all the questions and answers that anyone would want to know," Reichrath said. "It's a very educational Web site. We've really worked hard on that."

Parents already have had access to a lot of data this year. Under No Child Left Behind, test results must be used to determine which schools missed the state's testing goals and which schools are on the "needs improvement" list. The schools on that list face sanctions, such as being forced to let parents transfer their children to a different school or having to offer free tutoring. That information was released in August by the state Department of Education.

But the test scores released today may be a little different.

Only the scores of students who had been at the same school from October forward were considered for No Child Left Behind. But the report cards compile the scores of all students, including those who enrolled well after the school year had started. In some cases, those students are the children of immigrants; in other cases they are the children of professionals transferred to new jobs. Either way, their scores could change the school's test performance.

"It's important to look at all kids," said Schultz, the Roswell PTSA president. She is also the technology director of the Georgia School Council Institute, which advises and provides data for school councils and other organizations. The institute's Web site uses similar data, but allows visitors to do different functions --- including comparing schools with similar demographics.

Sometime next year, these report cards will come with grades.

The 2000 state school reform called for schools to receive a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F. But Reichrath said that the state is now considering a numeric grade --- from 0 to 100 --- and schools will be rewarded for showing academic improvement.

"We want to reward schools that are making good progress," Reichrath said. 

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Parents get detailed school look with online report cards 

 

Associated Press Newswires, Dec. 1, 2003

 

ATLANTA -- Online report cards being released Monday will give Georgia parents an in-depth look at their children's schools.

The Governor's Office of Student Achievement will be using the Internet to release detailed reports on schools and school systems.

The state has been releasing report cards for nearly a decade. But for the first time, the information -- including standardized test scores, attendance and graduation rates -- will be broken down by race, economic status and other categories.

"It's obviously important to understand the performance at your school and to analyze how you can improve the scores," said Linda Schultz, president of the Roswell High School Parent Teacher Student Association.

She said the new broken-down, or disaggregated, results will help school leaders focus attention on where the most help is needed.

"There might be underlying problems with certain areas and parents wouldn't know that," Schultz said. "This way you can dig deeper."

Such report cards are required under the federal No Child Left Behind education reform act and Georgia's school reform laws, pushed by former Gov. Roy Barnes in 2000.

Martha Reichrath, executive director of the Office of Student Achievement, said data on attendance, graduation rates, dropout rates and college entrance exams will be online Monday at web sites for her office and the Georgia Department of Education.

Additional data -- including school scores on Georgia's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test -- will be posted in the next few weeks, she said.

Reichrath said the web sites have been designed with parents in mind.

"It's a really educational web site," she said. "We've really worked hard on that."

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Schools hustle to avert graduation crisis 

After low scores on new exit test, area districts roll out wide range of ideas to prep 11th-graders

Kathy Blackwell, Austin American-Statesman, Nov. 30, 2003

The celebrated success of Texas third-graders on spring's new, rigorous standardized test almost overshadowed another set of scores: the grim results of the state's sophomores. Almost half of 10th-graders across the state flunked at least one segment of the new Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Many of those students are now juniors, and they must pass all four segments of the 11th- grade test to receive a diploma in 2005.

Armed with the spring data, Central Texas high schools are conducting practice tests, analyzing answers and offering more personalized instruction to the thousands of students who are in danger of not graduating.

Some of the steps educators are taking are similar to what elementary schools did with third-graders last year as those pupils prepared for a test they had never seen.

They were the only students whose promotion depended on their TAKS scores, and 96 percent succeeded.

Now, the pressure is on high school juniors, and the stakes are even higher.

"This is more serious than anything we've ever faced," said Kelly Crook, director of instruction and accountability in the Del Valle district, where almost 70 percent of sophomores failed at least one segment of the TAKS. "There's no false sense of security about what we're up against."

High-stakes exit exams, part of 2001's No Child Left Behind Act, are starting to affect graduation rates across the country. For example, this was the first year Florida required seniors to pass its standardized test, and 13,000 of them, or about 10 percent, didn't receive diplomas last spring.

Hoping to avoid the same outcome, Central Texas high schools are adjusting the curriculum to make sure students take the courses they need to pass, and they're adding labs, workshops and databases to track each student's progress.

Some districts have cut class sizes or are considering such a move. And the Legislature has mandated that schools draw up "personalized graduation plans" for students in danger of failing.

Many Central Texas districts fared worse than the state average. The Manor district's results were similar to Del Valle's, with 67 percent of sophomores failing at least one segment. Fifty-two percent of Austin's sophomores failed.

Eanes turned in Central Texas' top sophomore results, with an 85 percent passing rate, followed closely by Lake Travis, with 82 percent. They were the only two districts in the region to have less than 20 percent of their sophomores fail.

Last year's juniors didn't perform very well, either, but because the test didn't count toward their graduation and those same students won't take the TAKS this year, school officials aren't paying those scores a lot of attention. Their eyes are on the sophomore scores.

"We're looking at their spring performance data through new lenses," said Eileen Reed of the Region 13 Education Service Center, which is guiding curriculum leaders and principals through a nerve- wracking year.

Lack of understanding

The state's requirement that third-graders pass the reading TAKS during the test's debut year created controversy among educators and parents, who said it was too much pressure too soon.

Although this is the first year juniors must pass the test to graduate, they haven't received nearly as much attention. Perhaps it's because they get five chances to succeed: If they don't pass this coming spring, they will get four more stabs at any segment they failed, starting in the summer and then in their senior year. So the state won't have a complete picture until spring 2005.

"I'm not sure anyone has a real good answer on why scores were so low," said Connie Sanders, who is in charge of coordinating the curriculum for Manor's middle school and high school. "I've heard those kids didn't take it as seriously because it wasn't an exit level yet. But, yes, I was shocked that they were low as they were. It does add to that sense of urgency."

Exit-level tests are nothing new to Texas' high school students. The Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, the predecessor to the TAKS, was also an exit-level exam. Grades three through eight took the TAAS, as well as sophomores, who had eight chances to pass the language arts and math sections to graduate.

In 2002, the final year all Texas sophomores took TAAS, 86 percent passed, the highest rate ever in its 12-year history.

The TAKS, designed to be much more difficult, is given to students in grades three through 11, so the exit-level test begins in the junior year, not in the 10th grade. Juniors have only five chances to pass. They also have two more segments to tackle, social studies and science.

And as Reed points out, the exit-level TAAS tested students only on eighth-grade objectives, but the 11th-grade TAKS is a true exit- level test.

In Del Valle, Crook is worried that educators aren't reaching all parents about the importance of the test.

"We aren't getting to everyone in the community, so we've started doing evening parent meetings, parent nights for TAKS at all schools," she said.

Educators say parents and students might not understand an important point: The state is phasing in the new TAKS standards over a two-year period. Students must correctly answer about three to six more questions this spring to pass, and the bar rises another three to six questions in spring 2005 before it hits the real standard. This applies to all grades except the 11th, which will get a reprieve this year.

After seeing the scores, the State Board of Education decided in September to delay the two-year phase-in until spring 2005. For instance, 69 percent of Austin's sophomores passed the math segment in the spring. However, if they were scored under the true standard, that number drops to 47 percent.

In Del Valle, spring's 51 percent passing rate for math would have been 23 percent under the true standard. These numbers translate into thousands of teenagers in Central Texas -- about 2,050 in Austin alone -- on the border of failure.

Curriculum is the key

The TAKS is unlike anything campuses have seen before.

"High school was not well-served by the exit-level TAAS," Reed said. "It had little to do with instruction. TAKS is a true test of the high school curriculum."

A lot of curriculum fine-tuning is going on across Central Texas.

Every month, high school curriculum instructors meet with Reed, deputy director of academic services at the region's Education Service Center.

Teachers and administrators are analyzing spring's TAKS and changing the curriculum based on their findings.

For instance, students who don't take U.S. history until their junior year might be at a disadvantage when they take the TAKS in the spring, because the social studies test might ask them about events they haven't covered in class yet.

On the other hand, advanced students who took an integrated sciences class in the eighth grade might have forgotten much of the course by the time they're tested on it as juniors, Crook said.

Even though Eanes outperformed other Central Texas districts on the TAKS, it's not exempt from concerns. About 80 of Westlake High School's 550 sophomores failed the TAKS in the spring.

"We've got room to grow," said Rick Bentley, Eanes' interim assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Teachers and principals at every school are aligning classes in each subject so that all the pieces link together.

Teachers are also making classroom changes based on their analyses of test items, Reed said. Math teachers who usually give students three-step problems were surprised to see complicated seven- step problems on the TAKS.

"Teachers can quickly come to understand what needs to change," Reed said.

At Austin's Travis High School, teachers get two planning periods, with one dedicated to TAKS preparation, Principal Carlos Rios said. The high school, like the rest of the district, is pushing teachers to adhere to the recommended state curriculum.

"The new TAKS test is more aligned with the curriculum; they match," he said.

Tracking each student

Amber Bradshaw, a sophomore at Travis, is taking Algebra 1 again this year, but not in the same way.

She spends two hours a day on the subject: one hour in a traditional classroom setting and the other in a cognitive algebra computer lab, which allows students to work on their own.

The software, new to Travis this year and purchased with grant money, helps students navigate problem after problem. If Amber wants to know which objectives are giving her trouble, she can click on "Amber Bradshaw's Skills," and a colored bar chart will tell her.

"This has helped me a lot," Bradshaw said as she worked through an equation. "It's easier to think this way. You don't have to wait for the class; you don't have to catch up with the class. You can go at your own pace."

Bradshaw, 15, aspires to be an architect. She said she's nervous about the TAKS but feels much better about the math segment because of the lab, just one of the tools the school has put in place.

In the spring, 74 percent of the school's sophomores failed the TAKS. Science and math were the toughest subjects for them, with passing rates of 41 percent and 42 percent, respectively. Science was also the toughest subject for the district as a whole.

Rios, in his first year as Travis' principal, and teachers are relying heavily on a database that tracks every teenager's scores on the TAKS and benchmark tests.

When teachers and administrators type in a student's name, scores pop up, and they can also see how the teen is progressing on every TAKS objective. They use this information to provide extra help in specific areas.

Travis' database can also warn teachers if a class is going in the wrong direction. Call up a test, and it will break down how students answered each question and which TAKS objectives they hit or missed.

A class size that fits

Citing the low TAKS scores, Austin schools Superintendent Pat Forgione in June recommended budgeting $2.7 million to hire new teachers and to reduce class size in the 10th and 11th grades at all high schools. Faced with a $51 million budget shortfall, he had originally proposed increasing class size, but that was months before the TAKS picture was clear.

"Teachers over and over emphasize how grateful they are for the lesser numbers," Rios said. "When you go from 33 to 28, that's one whole less row of students. It's more manageable number to instruct and made connections with students."

Del Valle is also considering shrinking class size. Pflugerville high schools announced this month that starting next year, they'll change to a six-period day so students will study core subjects such as English and math for the entire year instead of just one semester.

Most schools are offering after-school tutoring and Saturday school, which made a huge difference with third-graders, educators said. They're also adding workshops and sessions during the school day.

"Quite frankly, at the high school level, you have more difficulty getting students to attend after-school tutoring," Manor's Sanders said.

In June, the Legislature passed a bill mandating that all secondary schools create "personal graduation plans" for students who fail the TAKS or are in danger of not completing high school in four years. The state will set aside $60 million over the next two years to fund the bill.

The plans will include a student's goals and intensive instruction and will involve parents. Flexible scheduling, online tutorials and alternative learning environments will also come into play.

"In many cases, high schools were already doing something like this but didn't have a formal plan. And this makes sure all schools are doing it," Reed said.

Everyone agrees that schools should have such plans, she said. "But it's very challenging, especially for high schools with 2,000 or 3,000 students."

High schools are also trying to inspire teenagers to perform better.

"The key is motivation," Rios said. The principal said Travis is trying to make it as easy as possible by providing snacks and bus passes to high-need students who require after-school tutoring.

Another solution might be to give them more control over their education.

Some schools are encouraging students to monitor their scores and conduct their own conferences with teachers.

"What appears to be driving this is the idea of a student being responsible for their own work and own performance," Eanes' Bentley said.

Reed expects to see an improvement when this spring's scores are released, although she hesitates to predict how big.

"The type of change we're talking about takes time," something this year's juniors don't have a lot of, she said. "While the system retools, we don't want the students to get caught."

 

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News Clips from National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future

 

Report: Rolling Up Their Sleeves 11-19-03

Excerpt: Public school superintendents and principals say their biggest headaches are funding and the time it takes to comply with a blizzard of local, state and federal mandates. Some 93 percent of superintendents and 88 percent of principals say their district has experienced "an enormous increase in responsibilities and mandates without getting the resources necessary to fulfill them." While unhappy with some of the specifics of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, the vast majority of officials surveyed believe that the era of testing and accountability is here to stay. But almost nine in 10 call No Child Left Behind an "unfunded mandate," and most say the law "will require many adjustments before it can work." Superintendents from large school districts are much more likely to support the law's key components than their colleagues from smaller school systems.

http://www.publicagenda.org/research/research_reports_details.cfm?list=9

 

The Revolving Door Winter 2004

Excerpt: Experienced teachers are, on average, more effective at raising student

performance than those in their early years of teaching. This gives rise to the concern that too many teachers leave the profession after less than a full career and that too many leave troubled inner-city schools for suburban ones. Until now, the roots of these problems have not been well understood. In particular, it is not known whether teachers leave schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged and low-achieving populations for financial reasons or because of the working conditions associated with serving these students. Nor are there good estimates of what kinds of salary increases would need to be offered to slow the turnover among teachers.

The chief obstacle to resolving these issues has been the difficulty of separating the effects of teachers’ salary levels from their working conditions and preferences. The outstanding suburban school that retains most of its teachers is likely to be attractive on a number of levels: the pay is good, students are high performing, and parents are supportive. Since all three factors help in attracting and retaining teachers, it becomes difficult to calculate the degree to which each factor separately affects a

teacher’s decision to return to that school the following year. Conversely, the school that has disadvantaged and low-performing students may suffer high rates of teacher turnover, but sorting out the causes of turnover is difficult. Doing so requires detailed information for enough teachers and students to allow analysts to distinguish statistically among the various factors that affect teachers’ decisions.

http://www.educationnext.org/20041/76.html

 

Not As Many Teachers Lack Credentials 12-03-03

Excerpt: The number of underqualified public school teachers in California dropped in 2002-03, but the teaching ranks are not improving fast enough to ensure that every student will be taught by a credentialed, experienced educator in the near future, according to data released this week. The Teacher Qualification Index is a statewide rating system based on the credential status and experience level of teachers at California's public schools. Though not sanctioned by the state, it is used to gauge how schools are being staffed.

Research has shown that schools with higher numbers of uncredentialed teachers perform worse than those that have more qualified staffs. The new 2002-03 data showed some improvement, according to Ken Futernick, a professor of education at California State University, Sacramento, who devised the index. For example, the average statewide TQI ranking was 7.3, up from 6.8 last year. The percentage of underqualified teachers also dropped to 10.5 percent, compared to 12.1 percent in 2001-02. The latest rankings still contain many reasons for concern, Futernick said. The data showed:

* The slow rate of improvement means hundreds of schools will likely remain staffed by underqualified teachers for years to come

* Middle and high school rankings are inflated, because the state has no current data that show how many teachers are teaching classes outside their subject area

* Credentialed, veteran teachers are more likely to work at affluent schools with fewer students of color. For example, in schools where at least 90 percent of the student population is white, the average TQI rating is a 9; at schools where at least 90 percent of students are non-white, the average rating is 5.3.

http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/education/story/7891472p-8830132c.html

Phila. Schools To Take 2d Loan 12-03-03

Excerpt: The state's education budget impasse again is forcing the Philadelphia School District to borrow money - up to $250 million - so that it can continue to educate the city's children. The School Reform Commission plans today to authorize the district to borrow the money to carry it through January, Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive officer, said. "If the school-funding debate isn't resolved by [January], then I think we're all going to be in a heap of trouble," Vallas said. "I don't know if we would borrow a third time, or if we could."

Gov. Rendell and the General Assembly have been locked in a battle over education funding for months, causing Pennsylvania's 501 school districts to operate without the state's basic education funding.The state's share makes up only a fraction of some district budgets, but, in Philadelphia, state funding accounts for more than half of the $1.81 billion spending plan. Still, even officials in districts that get a smaller share of state funding are starting to worry. And three cash-strapped school districts in Central and Western Pennsylvania (in Beaver, Fayette and Clearfield Counties) have refused to borrow money and are preparing to close on Dec. 31, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Rendell vetoed the entire $4 billion school-funding appropriation in March to force the General Assembly to support his education plan. That ambitious $600 million agenda includes full-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes, and tutoring. Since then, the House approved a bill that would restore school funding, provide $250 million for Rendell's education initiatives, and raise the state's personal income-tax rate. But the Senate has said it would not raise income taxes to pay for it.

http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/7399140.htm

 

Big Schools Reborn in Small World 11-28-03

Excerpt: On the outside, the Julia Richman Education Complex looks like a typical large high school in any American city. But behind the anonymous red brick facade, a transformation has taken place that could herald a revolution in urban education.

There is no public address system, and no bells announce the end of class. The metal detectors that once guarded school entrances have disappeared, along with cages for particularly violent students. Vandalism is largely a problem of the past, and fights in the hallways are equally rare. The number of students graduating and going on to college has shot up.

What has made all these changes possible -- and the reason Julia Richman has become a model for high school reform across the country -- is that it is no longer one enormous school. The sprawling, five-story building houses six small schools, each with its own distinct identity. Over the past few years, New York, the nation's largest school system, has become a pioneer of the "small is better" philosophy in education, and is leading the way in the search for alternatives to huge, dysfunctional schools that churn out vast numbers of dropouts. Studies suggest that small schools have significantly lower dropout rates than big schools, face fewer disciplinary problems and produce improved academic performance, particularly among traditionally hard-to-educate students.

Breaking up a large high school is a lot more difficult in practice than it is in theory. Some small schools are merely "big schools in drag," according to Michelle Fine, a social psychologist at City University of New York, who has studied the movement. If a school is simply divided into smaller units, the new schools are likely to replicate the mistakes of the old school. "Small schools are not a panacea," said Clara Hemphill, author of consumer guides to New York City's best public schools. "About three-quarters of them work. A quarter of them don't. What makes a school work is vision and a sense of community, and you can't impose that from afar."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17512-2003Nov27.html

E.D. Steers Grants To Pro-Privatization Groups, Report Charges 12-03-03

Excerpt: The Department of Education is providing millions of dollars in grants to a handful of pro-voucher and privatization groups at the same time the Bush administration has underfunded the No Child Left Behind Act, the advocacy group People for the American Way charges in a report. The Washington-based liberal organization, which opposes the use of public money for private school tuition, distributed a Nov. 18 analysis written by its president, Ralph G. Neas, titled "Funding a Movement: U.S. Department of Education Pours Millions Into Groups Advocating School Vouchers and Education Privatization."

The report says the department has doled out $77 million over the past three years to eight groups that it calls "far-right organizations" that promote an "education privatization agenda." Groups cited as receiving both solicited and unsolicited grants are: the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence; the Black Alliance for Educational Options; the Center for Education Reform; the Education Leaders Council; the Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation; the Hispanic Council for Reform and Education Options; and K12, an online education company founded by former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

"This torrent of public funding appears to benefit and strengthen the advocacy infrastructure created by a network of right-wing foundations dedicated to the privatization of public education," the report says. That funding, it says, has come even as the Bush administration has "consistently underfunded" the No Child Left Behind law, which passed with bipartisan support. Eugene W. Hickok, the Education Department's acting deputy secretary, dismissed the report as an ideological broadside.  "Consider the source," Mr. Hickock said in an interview last week. "[People for the American Way] has its own agenda and obviously is very critical of this administration generally. The organizations that are mentioned have all been given money to support NCLB. We feel good about the activities they are engaged in, and that's why we support them."

http://www.edweek.org/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=14PFAW.h23

Windfall For Teachers, Not Needy Schools 12-01-03

Excerpt: After 30 years with the Baltimore County public schools, Assistant Principal Ted F. Fischer retired Sept. 1, 2001, from Randallstown High. Three days later, he was rehired at Randallstown, one of the county's underperforming high schools. On paper, Fischer was a math teacher, with a salary of $65,759 a year, plus his annual pension based on his 30 years of service. But Fischer does not teach any math classes. He spends almost his entire workday devising class schedules for the 2,840 students at Randallstown High and Deer Park Middle Magnet and, occasionally, tutoring students who need extra help.

Fischer, 55, is one example of a well-intentioned, innovative Maryland law that has gone awry. The law was designed to address a statewide teacher shortage and to strengthen schools that needed the most help by luring distinguished, veteran educators to teach key subjects such as math or science. In return, the educators could draw a salary without sacrificing a penny of their pensions. But the program in Baltimore County seems primarily to be helping the district's most successful schools. And Maryland's 4-year-old law - one of the first of its kind in the nation - has yielded a financial bonanza for dozens of veteran teachers and administrators, whose total annual incomes approach $100,000 in some cases.

Now - as Maryland officials consider renewing or broadening the "retire-rehire" law, which is set to expire in June - criticism is developing from many sides. A state senator who co-sponsored the law says that important safeguards have been stripped away. Union officials say the law is applied so broadly that it is hindering the career advancement of young teachers. Officials in Prince George's County, which has the most rehired educators in Maryland, say the program has proven too expensive. And parents say the students who really need help aren't benefiting.

http://www.sunspot.net/news/education/bal-te.md.retire01dec01,0,4486557.story?coll=bal-home-headlines

 

Teachers, Officials Disagree On Goals For Disabled Students 12-02-03

Excerpt: Teachers and parents are concerned about the effect of the new federal No Child Left Behind law on more than 100,000 Kentucky students with disabilities. The mandate calls for expanded testing, better teacher quality and greater achievement among students, particularly those in poor districts. It also requires that an increasing number of disabled students meet the same academic goals as their classmates.

States and school districts must comply with the No Child Left Behind law or risk losing federal funding, which amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars in Kentucky. Recent data from the state Department of Education show that more than 230 Kentucky schools are falling short of federal demands. Unless they improve their disabled students' performance before the school year ends, the 132 schools that receive federal funding to help low-income students learn will be forced to allow children to transfer next fall. Some educators wonder whether expecting disabled students to ever perform at the same level as their classmates is realistic.

Almost all disabled students must take the statewide tests required by Kentucky's Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, or CATS, used to measure whether schools are meeting federal mandates. Kentucky does have a law requiring schools to close achievement gaps between disabled, minority and poor students and their classmates, but sanctions for failing to meet those goals do not start until 2006.

http://www.kentucky.com/mld/kentucky/news/local/7392292.htm

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ED REVIEW, December 5, 2003

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

On December 9, the Department will publish a final regulation in the Federal Register affecting students deemed to have the most significant cognitive disabilities by their states.  Under the rule, these students would be tested against standards appropriate for their intellectual development and, for accountability purposes, their scores would be counted as part of their school's performance.  The intent is two-fold: to protect children with disabilities from being excluded from accountability systems that provide valuable information to parents and educators and to ensure that schools receive credit for the progress of all children.  The number of "proficient" scores counted for adequate yearly progress may not exceed one percent of all students in the grades tested (about nine percent of students with disabilities), although states may appeal for a higher limit.  Without this flexibility, those scores would have to be measured against grade-level standards and considered "not proficient."  FOR MORE INFORMATION ON TUESDAY, PLEASE GO TO http://www.ed.gov/news/fedregister/

Until December 10, you can hear a digital audio replay of the Business Roundtable's second annual forum on the No Child Left Behind Act.  Leaders in politics, policy, and education gave the law a grade of A or A-, while implementation efforts received anywhere from a B to "incomplete."  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.businessroundtable.org/press.cfm/1062/

For the first time, the Department has published the applications for schools selected as No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools.  The applications supply a wealth of data and narratives about the 233 recognized schools.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.ed.gov/programs/nclbbrs/2003/applications/.

 

APPROPRIATIONS BILL

Lawmakers have struck a tentative deal on the Fiscal Year 2004 Department of Education budget.  Under the spending plan, funding for the agency's discretionary programs would increase from $53.1 billion in FY 2003 to $56 billion in FY 2004.  Highlights include:

·       $12.3 billion for Title I grants to local education agencies, up from $11.7 billion;

·       $1 billion for Reading First and nearly $95 million for Early Reading First;

·       $219 million for charter school grants and $37 million for charter school facilities;

·       $10.1 billion for special education grants, an increase of $1.2 billion (13 percent); and

·       $12 billion in Pell Grants for over five million low- and middle-income undergraduates.

The "omnibus" appropriations bill, which still needs the approval of the full House of Representatives and Senate, contains spending for 11 federal departments and several other agencies.  A vote could come as early as next week.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/

PARENT AND TEACHER INFO

Reminder!  The "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, "Tools" will be updated as additional resources become available.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/tools-for-success/

Two new brochures by Parent Leadership Associates offer parents helpful tips on using their school's report cards (http://www.plassociates.org/eight.html) and, for those who do not exercise school choice, securing a better education for their child in their neighborhood school (http://www.plassociates.org/ten.html)

ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS

Kicking-off the Department's second annual summit on English language acquisition, Secretary Paige and Deputy Undersecretary Maria Ferrier unveiled "Ten Key Benefits of English Language Learners," a summary of No Child Left Behind provisions that concern the nation's approximately five million English language learners.  According to the law, parents can expect:

·       To have their child receive a quality education and be taught by a highly qualified teacher.

·       To have their child learn English and other subjects, such as reading/language arts and math at the same academic level as all other students.

·       To know if their child has been identified and recommended for placement in an English language acquisition program and accept or refuse such placement.

·       To choose a different English language acquisition program for their child.

·       To transfer their child to another school if his or her school is identified as "needing improvement."

·       To apply for supplemental services for their child, if the child's school is identified as "needing improvement" for two years.

·       To have their child tested annually to assess his or her progress in English language acquisition.

·       To receive information regarding their child's performance on academic tests.

·       To have their child taught with programs that are scientifically proven to work.

·       To have the opportunity for their child to reach his or her greatest academic potential.

Nineteen states have reported an increase of between 50 and 200 percent of students whose primary language is not English in the last three years.  To help meet this demand, the Bush administration has nearly doubled Title III funding (distributed to states by population), to $665 million.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2003/12/12022003.html

 (Summit information is available at http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/summit.htm.)

 

FOREIGN LANGUAGES

In a recent speech to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, during International Education Week, Secretary Paige acknowledged, "Foreign language instruction should be part of every child's education....  Every language is a precious resource that must be studied, used, and preserved precisely because a language opens the mind to new possibilities."  Moreover, to critics who charge No Child Left Behind threatens foreign language study in schools, the Secretary explained that foreign language is considered a "core academic subject" under the law, meaning all foreign language teachers must be "highly qualified" and states can use their Title II teacher quality aid on professional development and other initiatives to get their foreign language teachers so qualified.  "I have gone further -- I have urged local school districts to include a wide and deep set of offerings in foreign languages...," he added.  "The government, corporations, and academia are desperate for speakers of Arabic, Farsi, and other languages, and there has been a steady demand for speakers of Chinese and Japanese.  The need of bilingual Spanish speakers is so prevalent that I'm even taking instruction in Spanish."  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/2003/11/11212003.html

  (The Council has declared 2005 as "The Year of Languages.")     

REMEDIAL EDUCATION

A new report from the Department's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) compares data from NCES' 1995 and 2000 surveys on remedial course offerings, student participation in remedial programs, institutional structure of remedial programs, and the delivery of remedial courses through distance education.  Twenty percent of entering freshmen at four-year public institutions and 42 percent of entering freshmen at public two-year colleges enrolled in at least one remedial course in fall 2000.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2004010

 

Also: Tired of older data?  NCES' "Projections of Education Statistics to 2013" projects key statistics, such as student enrollment and expenditures, for elementary and secondary schools and degree-granting institutions.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2004013

QUOTE TO NOTE

"We heard just a moment ago two of our young learners recite a poem on what it means to be bilingual.  They represent the five and a half million children in America who speak nearly 400 languages other than English.  We are a true nation of immigrants, and we always have been.  Some would note that many of these children have limited English skills.  But, in truth, they are not limited.  Rather, they are blessed with the opportunity to learn multiple languages.  At a time when most Americans speak just one language, these children are a bridge between two cultures.  Helping them learn English while at the same time providing a quality education is the single most important thing we can do to help them achieve the American Dream."

-- Secretary of Education Rod Paige (12/2/03)

UPCOMING EVENTS

The Department's next "Education News Parents Can Use" broadcast, titled "Closing the Achievement Gap: the Second Anniversary of No Child Left Behind," is scheduled for January 20, 2004.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://registerevent.ed.gov/downlink/event-flyer.asp?intEventID=172

The National School and Business Partnerships Awards, created by the Council for Corporate and School Partnerships, recognize exemplary school and business partnerships across the country.  Partnerships involving public schools and/or school districts and businesses are eligible to apply for the award.  The Council will present six awards this first year.  Those selected will receive $10,000 to support partnerships efforts.  Applications must be postmarked by January 29, 2004.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.corpschoolpartners.org/award.shtml

For your convenience, the current issue of ED Review is saved, below, as a PDF file.  Viewing, printing, and forwarding the issue from the PDF file should reveal all graphics. 

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