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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – Jan. 23 - 30, 2004

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STATE
1    Schoolchildren need help now, not more political rhetoric / DeKalb Daily Chronicle
2    What's the key to changing school funding? / Daily Herald
3    Anti-referendum groups direct finger of blame at teachers unions / Daily Herald
4    Teachers unions defend Gov.'s education plan / Beacon News
5    Education Overhaul would Cut Regional Offices /
Southern Illinoisan
6    Illinois education board finds itself embroiled in politics / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
7    Voters Should Have a Say in Education Reform / Southern Illinoisan
8    Smoke and mirrors from the governor / State Journal-Register
9    Make governor accountable for education / State Journal-Register
10  Governor's book-buying plan too costly for Illinois / Peoria Journal Star
11  Lawmakers question Gov.'s education plan / Pioneer Press
12  Rauschenberger says law is hurting schools, students / Peoria Journal Star
13  Superintendent: Blaming Illinois education board a 'smoke screen' / Peoria Journal Star
14  State superintendent: We do a 'superb' job / Pioneer Press
15  Dem senator urges gov to rethink plan to take over state Board of Ed / Sun Times

NATIONAL
A    Romney pushes for more charter schools / Boston Globe
B    Arkansas court to oversee school funding / Boston Globe
C    Senate approves landmark school voucher plan / CNN.com
D    State Report Calls for Adding More Charter Schools / Los Angeles Times
E    No Politics Left Behind in Education Debate / Los Angeles Times
F    Va. Seeks To Leave Bush Law Behind / Washington Post
G    Fleeing struggling schools not a popular choice, study finds / Boston Globe
H    Survey: Hispanics optimistic on schools / Boston Globe
I     Board considers licensing student teachers / Des Moines Register
J     Washington Watch: Without funding, the law leaves children behind / New York Teacher
K   Californian wants Bibles in schools for academic study / Chicago Tribune
L    Paige calls vouchers 'educational emancipation' / CNN.com
M
  What the Media Are Missing / Washington Post
N   Suburban kids' behavior mirrors urban students' / Detroit News
O   Panel votes to leave ed plan behind / Salt Lake Tribune
P    Ed Review

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STATE

Schoolchildren need help now, not more political rhetoric  

Letter by Ronald J. Gidwitz, President and Founder of Students First, Member of the Illinois State Board of Education

Public education is finally taking center stage in Springfield and making the front page of papers. But is there enough political will to do the right thing?

Students in every county - rural, urban, suburban - are not getting the public education they deserve because Springfield has been asleep at the wheel. Quincy students skip lunch periods to make up for eliminated class time. Hamilton County low-income students lost their Blue Ribbon schools. Special education is cut in Madison County. Spanish is eliminated in Richmond, and librarians are abolished in Yorkwood.

As a business and civic leader, as an advocate for children my entire life and as a member of the Illinois State Board of Education, I believe there is nothing more important in our society than educating our youth. Public education is an economic engine that drives jobs, innovation, problem-solving and quality of life. Today's schools help children beyond classroom instruction - for many students, school is a surrogate parent, providing nutritional meals, guidance and the motivation to succeed.

The problem isn't about whose bureaucracy is in control, but the extent to which our elected officials fulfill their constitutional responsibility as the primary funder of local schools. Ranking 48th in state funding, Illinois is over-reliant on local property taxes. Instead of funding education as it should, the state places an unfair burden on local taxpayers. It creates vast disparities between the haves and have-nots. This isn't fair to our children or the voters.

My constituents - Illinois' 2.2 million schoolchildren - aren't old enough to vote; they don't contribute to political campaigns and don't carry party or union cards. That's why I personally launched Students First Illinois last year to encourage every resident to put our students first.

The governor's vision for the children is noble, but his glass is half full. From what I see across the state, children need solid plans and sustained commitment for ending the funding emergency - not political rhetoric. I support the governor's pledge to cut red tape, waste and inefficiencies in Springfield. In fact, I've been criticized when challenging education to be run "like a business." But with an annual $2 billion shortfall (Education Funding Advisory Board) in state funding for schools, there's much more to be done.

The crisis is real, and the public is ready to act. In a new statewide poll, 61 percent of Illinois voters believe our K-12 schools are underfunded. We must start a public dialogue about the complete overhaul of the education system. Students First Illinois will work with the governor, the Legislature, the public, the education community and the policy groups to get there.

We, the adults charged with the education of our children, need to keep the politics out of our classrooms and ensure every child access to the free education the Illinois Constitution affords them. I challenge all of our statewide elected officials, the Legislature, local school boards, parents, teachers and communities to work together to put our students first, above the special interests, the politics and the rhetoric. The children need results now.

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What's the key to changing school funding?  

By Sara Burnett, Daily Herald Staff Writer, January 23, 2004

Any attempt to change the way Illinois funds schools is doomed to fail unless Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to take control of the state's schools moves forward, the governor's top aide said Thursday.

Speaking with the Daily Herald's editorial board, Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk said the public - and the governor - won't support a tax swap or increase until they are confident schools are using the money they have now wisely.

"If you want to fix the formula to deal with equity, you've got to have the people behind you. ... It's our belief that the people aren't there right now," Tusk said.

"Until we can show them that we can do better, you can't go asking for more money."

The comments came one day after the state board of education - responding to the governor's plan to remove its power and give it to an agency under his control - criticized Blagojevich for not dealing the "real issue" of school funding.

Critics say Illinois relies too heavily on local property taxes to fund schools and not enough on state funds like the income tax. As a result, people on fixed incomes may bear a higher tax burden than if they were taxed less for their property and more based on income.

The formula also leads to a disparity in funding between wealthy and poor districts. In a recent Education Week survey, Illinois placed last of 50 states for funding equity.

Proposals have been floated to swap property taxes for income taxes, creating a greater pool of state funds that could be sent back to schools. But the governor's staff said even a simple swap would result in an overall tax increase.

Rather than do that, they said the state should eliminate the waste they believe exists at the state board of education, the independent agency now overseeing the state's schools.

The governor's new Department of Education would employ about 300 people, compared with the approximately 500 working for the state board.

Combined with other proposals - including a plan to centralize teacher benefits and supply purchases - this would save the state $1 billion over four years, the governor said.

His proposal also would create a Professional Teachers Standards Board that would approve teacher and administrator certification programs.

That plan got high marks from the state's two largest teachers unions, which said Thursday they support the governor's idea.

The current system, run by the state board, requires more paperwork and documentation than any other regulated profession, said Steve Preckwinkle, director of political activities for the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

"That's a burden on teachers," he said.

Since 1992, the IFT/Chicago Teachers Union has given nearly $700,000 to Blagojevich, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. The Illinois Education Association donated about $540,000 during the same period.

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Anti-referendum groups direct finger of blame at teachers unions  

By Patrick Garmoe, Daily Herald Staff Writer, January 23, 2004

From Harvard to Huntley to Cary, about 35 area residents met at the Cary library Thursday evening and strategized over how to defeat several school tax increase proposals on the March 16 ballot.

But most of the debate drifted far beyond March.

Several speakers talked about ways to repair the fiscal end of public education long-term, so every few years districts aren't asking for more money.

Speakers kept blaming unions for causing many of the problems.

Jim Peschke, who, with his wife Catherine, has helped successfully defeat a Harvard referendum and run the group Citizens for Reasonable and Fair Taxes, said the problem is a perpetual one that starts with teacher contracts.

Teachers unions ask for more than what the district can provide, and if they don't get it, they strike or at least threaten to strike.

"Illinois law gives them almost no options but to give in," Peschke said of the districts. So the districts do, and then get voters to fork over more cash the following year to make up the difference. And then the cycle begins anew, he said.

To illustrate this, speakers pointed to multiple graphics of salary figures showing that salaries of teachers rise at a far more rapid rate than the consumer price index.

Peschke said currently there are only nine states in the nation that even allow teachers to strike.

The Peschkes want the state to ban strikes, eliminate tenure for teachers, quit requiring districts to bargain with unions, and offer vouchers and tax credits to parents so that school choice is more widely available.

Jack Roeser, president of the Carpentersville-based Family Taxpayers Network, said the way teacher contracts work rewards all teachers, not just the good ones.

"I think half of them are saints and the other half have retired on the job," Roeser said of teachers. He felt the problems are mainly with the unions, not the administrators or teachers themselves.

Voicing concerns that the school board in Cary Elementary District 26 has failed to agree to cut administrative salaries prior to cutting programs, Karen Baker, of the coalition against unnecessary spending in education, said her group intends to strongly oppose the 70-cent tax increase on the ballot.

"If we do not correct how we manage our district, we are just throwing more money at a problem that requires more than just money to fix," she said. "Where is the burden that's being shared by the administration?"

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Teachers unions defend Gov.'s education plan / Beacon News

By Nicole Ziegler Dizon, AP

CHICAGO — The state's two largest teachers unions Thursday defended Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to take over the duties of the State Board of Education, charging that the board creates mountains of unnecessary paperwork for schools.

The Illinois Education Association and Illinois Federation of Teachers spoke in favor of the governor's proposal a day after board members publicly ripped it as a smoke screen meant to divert attention from the financial problems plaguing public schools.

"We believe that it's time that somebody stood up and said enough is enough, and we applaud the governor for recognizing the problem as well as proposing a common-sense solution," said IEA President Anne Davis.

But Karen Craven, a spokeswoman for the state board, said she found it disturbing that the unions — both among Blagojevich's biggest donors during the 2002 campaign — had the ear of the governor while his staff ignored board members' repeated requests for him to meet with them.

Union officials said the governor previewed his education plan to them, although the ideas in it were his. The board got no warning.

"It's interesting that they have a seat at the table, and I guess that's where a million dollars gets you," Craven said. "Maybe I should call the board members and tell them to get out their checkbooks."

The IFT gave Blagojevich $642,558 during the 2002 election cycle, while the IEA donated $536,671, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

In his State of the State address last week, Blagojevich criticized the board for operating like a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" and said he could save $1 billion by creating a Department of Education under his control.

Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said the governor met with many education groups — donors or not — to seek input on the plan.

"This is just one more attempt to divert the discussion away from the real issue, and that is that the current system lacks accountability," Ottenhoff said.

Blagojevich says the board has buried schools in paperwork with its burdensome rules. State Superintendent Robert Schiller has said those rules simply enforce laws passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

Steve Preckwinkle, director of political activities for the IFT, said, however, the board makes simple laws into cumbersome obstacles for teachers. Preckwinkle said 28 pages of statute on teacher certification became hundreds of pages of board rules.

"The truth of the matter is teachers are drowning in a sea of paperwork out there," Preckwinkle said.

Craven said the board must write rules that address the special needs of different students and districts or risk liability.

The state board is independent, although its members are appointed by the governor. The board's eight current members were all appointed before Blagojevich took office.

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Education Overhaul would Cut Regional Offices  

BY CALEB HALE, Southern Illinoisan, 1/22/04

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich's education overhaul plan may want to strip down the state board of education, but it still has a place for regional offices and superintendents -- just not as many as there are now.

Under Blagojevich's current plan for restructuring the state's education system, the number of regional offices of education would be reduced from 45 to 22. That's not new information to the regional superintendents, who negotiated an agreement with the governor last year to reduce the number of offices in the state. It is, however, something they hope Blagojevich will reconsider if he wants to maintain the level of service each regional office provides to its school districts.

"My big concern about the reduction in numbers is how the map will be drawn," said Donald Brewer, regional superintendent of Jackson and Perry counties.

Brewer said offices are set up based on population in a particular area of the state. He is worried if a new map is made, the relatively sparse Southern Illinois population will shortchange the area in favor of the higher-populated north.

"I'm worried that we'd be looking at maybe three offices south of Interstate 80," Brewer said.

Blagojevich's Springfield press secretary Rebecca Rausch said the logistics of setting up the governor's proposed Department of Education and subsequent reorganizing of the regional offices haven't been worked out yet.

"The whole idea of this is to save money, and it looks like we could save a lot of money," Rausch said.

Rausch said the plan calls for reducing the number of regional offices of education and setting up regional service centers, which will handle most of the administrative work. She estimated savings of $12-$20 million for the state by setting up offices in this manner.

Paul E. Cross, regional superintendent for Hamilton and Jefferson counties, said he is not so sure making fewer offices cover more area will bring as many savings as Blagojevich anticipates.

"It might in some ways, but I don't anticipate there being a lot," Cross said. "You might reduce some administrative costs, but it's still going to take a significant number of people."

Cross said moving some of the state board of education's administrative work to the regional offices makes sense. He said regional superintendents already have a sense of accountability because they are elected.

Dan Anderson is the regional superintendent covering the five southwesternmost counties in the area -- Union, Johnson, Alexander, Pulaski and Massac. Anderson said despite his region's relatively large size, he still has a strong showing of support from his school districts, much the same as all regional offices across the state.

"Last year (the governor) said we were a useless bureaucracy," Anderson said. "I think he later found out we were pretty popular among our communities," he said.

Anderson said Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn released his yearly survey of education services in Illinois in December. The survey showed a strong backing for the regional offices of education.

Marc Kiehna, regional superintendent covering Randolph and Monroe counties, wonders whether Blagojevich has found a new "useless bureaucracy" in the state board of education. He said he has many unanswered questions about how regional superintendents or a department of education would be utilized under the governor's control.

"I'm not saying the governor is altogether wrong," Kiehna said. He said he hopes Blagojevich has advisers who are versed in education and can place people based on educational merits, not political pull.

"There's no doubt there's going to be a bureaucracy there; whether it's going to look like the state board, I don't know," he said. "I have no problem if the governor wants to be accountable; if the system goes down, we'll know who to blame."

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Illinois education board finds itself embroiled in politics  

By Alexa Aguilar of the Post-Dispatch, 1/24/2004

When the framers of the 1970 Illinois Constitution hatched the idea of a State Board of Education, they thought they would be creating an entity as free as possible from partisan political pressures.

But evidence from the last few weeks (and the last three decades) shows that the exact opposite has been true. Almost from its inception, the State Board has been the source of wrangling and grumbling from both sides of the political aisle.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich became the latest in its line of critics this month when he pilloried the agency in his State of the State address, while a stone-faced Robert Schiller, superintendent of schools, looked on from his seat in the first row.

Blagojevich wants to strip most of the responsibilities from the State Board, place them in an agency under his control, and appoint the state superintendent himself, a duty now left to the nine-member, governor-appointed State Board.

Illinois is unique in that it refers to both the board itself and the 495-employee agency it oversees as the State Board of Education. Not only does Blagojevich want to take the power to appoint the state superintendent from the State Board, he also wants to move the State Board, as an agency, into a Cabinet-level department under his control.

"Over the years, it has grown into this overwhelming bureaucracy," said Rebecca Rausch, the governor's spokeswoman. "The endless forms, rules and regulations that are out there make it harder for teachers to teach. These changes will give them more time to teach and less time to push paper."

The change also could focus accountability where it belongs - with the governor, supporters say. With a governor-appointed state superintendent, the governor can no longer vilify the State Board as the source of education's woes.

But critics of Blagojevich's plan argue that leaving the choice of superintendent up to the governor could take representation away from downstate residents, deflect focus from education's more important issues and turn the state superintendent position into a political hot seat.

"Historically, the states where the governor appoints the chief school officer are the most unstable and have the highest turnover," said Brenda Welburn, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education.

Missouri, like Illinois, has a governor-appointed State Board that appoints the state's chief school officer.

Above politics?

Before the 1970 Constitution, Illinoisans elected their state superintendent. While the framers never spelled out whether the State Board should be elected or appointed (the Legislature later decided that the governor should appoint the members), they were very specific that they wanted a nonelected state superintendent, in order to keep the superintendent above politics and posturing.

But while the State Board and state superintendent have been insulated from the election process, they have not been so lucky about being shielded from politics. Since the 1970s, legislators and governors have repeatedly pointed their fingers at the state board as a bloated bureaucracy with a penchant for making ridiculous rules and producing paperwork.

State Board members said this week at their first meeting since Blagojevich's speech that his proposal is using the "bloated bureaucracy" line as an excuse to skirt the real education problem in Illinois - the wide funding disparities among school districts and the nearly 80 percent of districts that are in deficit spending.

State superintendent Schiller said that Blagojevich's "headline du jour" approach was nothing but a red herring to shift focus from the state's true education problems.

Board members also expressed concern that a power shift could mean decreased representation on the board. Currently, the law dictates that one member must be from Chicago, one from Cook County outside of Chicago, two from the five collar counties surrounding the city, two from outside the Chicago area and three at large.

With a Chicago-centric governor and appointee and no State Board, the interests of downstate schools could be overlooked, the members said.

"Power grabs" in education

Welburn, from the National Association of State Boards, said it's not uncommon for governors to make "power grabs" in education governance and that states have tinkered with their systems for years. In Michigan, a former governor moved many of the board's duties to the Department of Treasury. In North Carolina, one governor stripped the state education department of its authority; another administration returned it, Welburn said. Minnesota has abolished its board altogether.

"It's like moving the chairs around on the Titanic," she said. "It's not the agency, it's not the board. If you want to fix things, you need to look at funding, look at things like the incentives you're giving to teachers to go into failing districts."

Blagojevich acknowledged on the campaign trail that the current education system has some major flaws. When his Republican opponent, Jim Ryan, announced a reform plan in July 2002, Blagojevich told a Springfield reporter: "I think changing a bureaucracy or a bureaucratic structure in and of itself isn't going to go to the fundamental problems of our schools."

Ryan's plan was similar to Blagojevich's current proposal, but Rausch says Blagojevich's position hasn't changed.

"Obviously there are other problems with education. But the governor is focusing on the State Board because he feels the State Board is the biggest problem," she said.

Mike Lawrence, interim director of the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and former aide to Gov. Jim Edgar, said it could make sense to fix the structure before tackling funding reform. Edgar unsuccessfully proposed making the State Board a Cabinet-level agency and appointing the state superintendent at his State of the State address in 1998.

Lawrence said that though Blagojevich's tone was "unbecomingly nasty," he agrees that the education agency should be under the governor's control.

"The existence of the State Board keeps the governor and the Legislature from being accountable," Lawrence said. "As accountability sharpens, there will be a narrower focus on some of these issues. But this can't be looked at as a cure-all. You can't blame the State Board because we have disparity between districts."

Blagojevich's plan also leaves him open to legal challenges, Lawrence said. Instead of a constitutional amendment, Blagojevich wants to execute his plan with legislation and keep the State Board as a "think tank."

The Constitution reads: "The State Board of Education shall appoint a chief state educational officer." By skirting that, Blagojevich's plan could be legally suspect, Lawrence said.

Regarding the legality of the plan, Rausch said the governor's office is going to wait to see "how it plays out this spring."

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Voters Should Have a Say in Education Reform  

Opinion by Mike Lawerence, interim director of the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Jan 24., 2004

Critics of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's initiative to seize control of the state education bureaucracy cast it as a "power grab," but it actually amounts to an accountability grab -- one well worth supporting if done appropriately.

If we see problems in Illinois schools today, whom do we hold responsible at the state level? The governor? Legislators? Members of the independent State Board of Education and the state superintendent they hire?

Accountability in this crucial area of state policy development and implementation is badly blurred. And what Blagojevich is essentially proposing is that the chief executive become chiefly responsible. He wants to strip the state education board of its stewardship and assume supervision of the state's school network through a new cabinet-level department immediately answerable to him.

Blagojevich's self-indulgently long and unbecomingly nasty State of the State address dumped too much of the blame for shortcomings in our classrooms at the doorstep of the state board. He oh-so-briefly acknowledged the board is not solely culpable but then disingenuously distorted both its influence and its performance.

After all, is the board responsible for the failure of lawmakers to close the unconscionable disparity in per-pupil funding levels from one school district to the next? Does the board bear the blame for the failure of our elected officials to pass laws that end our undue reliance on local property taxes to finance our schools? Is the board responsible for our over-abundance of school districts, which drives up administrative costs and limits opportunities for students in tiny high schools?

Blagojevich singled out the board for not being accountable when the overarching problem here is that our elected officials also have eluded accountability. Indeed, that stack of board-issued rules and regulations he used for a photo prop and some fun during his speech was created largely to carry out laws enacted by governors and legislatures through the decades.

But Blagojevich has it generally right when it comes to the bigger picture, and he deserves credit for championing this major reform. Framers of the 33-year-old state constitution created the board so education would not become embroiled and embedded in politics. Neither they nor those of us who supported the change from an elected state school superintendent foresaw a beclouding of accountability. Neither they nor we envisioned the impotency of the board in the State House. Even though its members are gubernatorial appointees, they and the state school superintendent clearly lack a political constituency. Witness how Blagojevich felt free to so publicly and gleefully berate and belittle them -- free to make the clout-challenged board a veritable punching bag for the former amateur boxer.

So, change makes sense. But the governor is going about it the wrong way. By trying to skirt the Constitution -- in other words, gut the education board rather than eliminate it -- he is daring a successful court challenge, undermining his credibility and disrespecting the people of Illinois. He should ask the General Assembly to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot and let the electorate have the final say.

Gov. Blagojevich has a compelling argument -- one that voters would likely accept. The state's top official should shoulder more responsibility for fashioning and administering education policy. The governor and the legislature should be held more accountable. And a more focused accountability should promote even more substantive reforms, including an overhaul of how we fund our schools and a cost-saving and education-enhancing reduction in the number of Illinois school districts.

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Smoke and mirrors from the governor / State Journal-Register

Opinion by Bill Kienzle, educational advocate and past chairman of the Illinois State Advisory Council on the Education of Children with Disabilities, 1/24/04

While watching Gov. Rod Blagojevich's State of the State Address, I have to admit I started to get a bit excited at what I thought the governor was about to announce. This "Governor of Change" was going to talk about one of my favorite subjects, Illinois' public schools.

Because I am a dad and stepdad of two children with severe, multiple and cognitive disabilities, I have schooled myself to learn more about the laws and regulations that are involved in educating all children placed in the more than 800 public schools in Illinois.

I felt excitement when I heard my governor say, "... I am proud to say that we are rising to the challenge ... They saw that we were able to embrace reform to do things differently, to do things better ..." Could it be, I thought? Would this be the moment to truly reform the way Illinois funds education? The timing seemed to be right. The governor was willing to "rise to the challenge." The governor would call on the legislature, controlled by his political party, to also rise to the challenge.

I truly believed that the time had come. This governor would step out in a statesmanlike way, and take the lead in changing how Illinois funds education. Many fine Illinois taxpayers have worked on the issue of education funding reform for years. I began working with the Illinois Farm Bureau on the issues in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Gov. Jim Edgar called for a study and report, but no real change took place.

Taxpayers have requested that there be a shift from property taxes to an increase in the state's income tax. When the governor said, " If we are really serious about fixing our schools, then we have to be serious about change and reform," I was confident he was about to introduce a vision for changing how we fund education. But soon I realized I was just being naοve again, for the governor was about to inform me who was the culprit - the Illinois State Board of Education.

What? Governor, you've got to be kidding! Telling a fib like that in school would be reason enough to give you a detention. In Illinois you are at the top of the bureaucratic chain. You are the elected official the people of Illinois have put their trust in to make reforms. Are you, the Governor of Change, willing to make the first reform that taxpayers have sought to save their local school districts from going down the financial drain?

No, instead you decide to play a smoke-and mirrors game with the average taxpayer and place the blame on the ISBE. You diverted attention from the lack of revenues for the current fiscal year, and still tried to hide that big white elephant, which is changing how Illinois funds education.

Other smoke-and-mirror tactics used in your State of the State Address included your remark of ISBE's top 40 administrators' average salaries being $90,000 per year, which is almost twice the amount the average teacher makes. Governor, what is the average salary of your top 40 administrators?

Your statement regarding the rules and regulations that ISBE makes was quite amusing. Most taxpayers understand that the federal government makes the initial rules for education after Congress passes a bill that is signed by the president. Governor, while you were a congressman from Illinois' 5th District (1996-2002), the Congress passed the Reauthorization of IDEA that contains more than 600 federal rules, which in turn Illinois must comply with or lose over approximately a billion dollars. The No Child Left Behind Act, which was signed in January of 2002, adds another mountain of federal mandates and regulations. Both of these bills passed while you were in Congress along with inadequate funding attached to them, causing part of the financial crisis that Illinois schools are now facing. Where was your leadership in Congress to properly fund all the educational mandates you helped to create?

The time for smoke-and-mirrors politics must end. You stated, "It would be easy to run from the challenge ... Easy, but wrong."

Governor, don't run from the challenge of making the necessary reform. Change how Illinois funds education.

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Make governor accountable for education  

State Journal-Register Editorial, 1/25/04

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's indelicate approach in announcing his plans to implode the Illinois State Board of Education understandably ruffled lots of feathers. No one likes to be told they have failed.

While we believe the governor might want to seriously look into studying Dale Carnegie's book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," before giving his next big policy speech, we also give Blagojevich some credit.

He has made it abundantly clear education - specifically how education is administered at the state level - will be his priority this legislative session. And while we may take exception to Blagojevich's slash-and-burn delivery of his plan during the State of the State speech, we agree with its basic premise.

 

The Illinois State Board of Education should be replaced by a Department of Education, headed by a cabinet-level director appointed by the governor. Likewise, we are intrigued by some of the specific cost-saving measures laid out in the plan, most of which revolve around more efficient and cost-effective purchasing of supplies and services for schools.

It may actually be easier to criticize Blagojevich's plan than to defend it because no one believes it will be a panacea for education. Blagojevich is largely to blame for this ease of criticism by painting the State Board of Education as too much of a monster.

Taming that monster will not, by itself, change the fact that Illinois leads all states in the financial gulf between its richest and poorest school districts. It should be an embarrassment that a relatively wealthy state has allowed such great funding inequity to develop.

And creating a Department of Education to replace the ISBE will not, by itself, steer Illinois away from relying far too heavily on local property taxes to fund education - the major reason we see such funding inequity in this state.

Student test scores will not magically improve, overly abundant local administration will not melt away and bad teachers will not disappear once education falls squarely under the responsibility of the governor.

However, placing the responsibility for the state's educational system under the governor may plant the seed for long-term improvements in all of these areas. Critics of Blagojevich's plan warn that this is a power grab, and that it will politicize education in Illinois.

Please! As if education were not already politicized. One major problem today is that education is politicized but education does not have the necessary clout at the state level. Blagojevich isn't the first top official to box the ISBE's ears. The current system places education just far enough to the side that no elected person is fully accountable. ISBE too often becomes a scapegoat rather than an effective champion of needed change.

Blagojevich pledges that his reorganization and cost-saving measures can redirect more than $1 billion into Illinois classrooms over the next four years. That's a rosy prediction, but we believe most Illinoisans back his call for more efficiency as a first step. No one wants to pay more in taxes until they believe what they are already paying is being used as wisely as possible.

However, if he succeeds in placing the "education buck stops here" sign on his desk, Blagojevich eventually will be faced with much tougher decisions than how to save money on Elmer's glue. We believe the best way to take on real education reform in Illinois - especially the need to reform and improve funding - is to make the state's top elected official directly accountable for education.

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Governor's book-buying plan too costly for Illinois  

Peoria Journal Star Editorial, January 26, 2004

Miracles though a book in a child's hands may accomplish, now is not the time for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's $26 million plan to send every child in Illinois free books, regardless of their family's income.

The state, in partnership with country music singer Dolly Parton's Dollywood Foundation, would send a book to Illinois kids at birth, then follow up with one a month until the age of 5, by which time they'd have 60, plus a dictionary.

"Illinois will become the first state in the nation to offer every child a personal library," said the governor. "That's exactly the kind of commitment children deserve."

Problem is, Illinois may also be the first state in the nation to go bankrupt, and a state that doesn't stagger future generations with knee-buckling debt is also what "children deserve." Indeed, when your budget hole as big as Illinois', the wise advice is to stop digging. This plan, laudable as its intentions may be, keeps excavating in a state that can't pay for the programs it offers already.

To be sure, too many kids in the Land of Lincoln can't read, with disastrous future consequences for them and for society at large. Moreover, "studies show reading to children is the greatest factor in helping them learn to read at any early age," said Blagojevich. "When I was young, my mother read to me. Every child should have that same opportunity."

And that's just it. Just because there are books lying around is no guarantee they'll be read. In homes where the kids aren't reading, it's a good bet the parents aren't, either. It's not because of a scarcity of books that the Land of Lincoln has illiteracy issues.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of libraries and tutoring programs that are struggling and would love a chunk of that $26 million. Beyond that, more than 80 percent of Illinois school districts are deficit-spending. What good is this program if communities can't afford the teachers to follow up in the classroom?

This may sound cynical, but no one should be surprised if these gifts at birth come with the governor's photo and signature, welcoming kids and their parents to the wonderful world of literacy. Hey, this program makes a great sound bite. It's also more gimmickry than real reform in a state that just can't afford it.

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Lawmakers question Gov.'s education plan  

BY CHRIS LAFORTUNE, Pioneer Press Staff Writer

Oak Park's state legislators are questioning Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to dismantle the Illinois State Board of Education and create a cabinet-level Education Department accountable directly to the governor.

"I think portions of (his plan) sound good, but I have some concerns," said State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-4th, a member of the senate's education committee. "I can't say it's a bad idea, but because I do have concerns, I can't say it's a great idea."

Blagojevich pitched the plan during his State of the State address to the General Assembly Jan. 15. the State Board "is defined by mismanagement and misplaced spending," the governor said in a press release issued Jan. 18.

State Rep. Karen Yarbrough, D-7th, said Blagojevich's speech to the General Assembly seemed almost a personal attack at current State Superintendent Robert Schiller, something better left to a staff meeting.

"I would much rather have heard about some of the other issues plaguing the state," Yarbrough said. "If he wanted to talk about education, we need to talk about funding for education."

Yarbrough said she has sent a letter to school superintendents in the area asking whether they agree with Blagojevich's view on the State Board and wants to have a round table discussion with the superintendents to talk about the issue.

Yarbrough said she thinks Blagojevich is skirting the real issue, which is the way the state funds education. The state should exchange the way schools are funded now, mainly through property taxes, with an increased state income tax, she said.

"Every conversation that I have . . . with superintendents and principals, they're talking about we need to lower class sizes, they need, they need," she said. "All these things have to do with money."

But Blagojevich argues the idea would save money, said Sen. Don Harmon, D-39th, by eliminating bureaucracy and waste.

"I'd expect he would try to get any savings into direct student education," he said.

Harmon said he does not know if there needs to be a change in the state structure at this point, but he does know local school districts have had difficulty with the State Board.

The state transferred control of Chicago's public schools to Mayor Richard Daley about eight years ago, he said, resulting in reform of the city's system.

"That's essentially the model the governor is trying to replicate," Harmon said.

Blagojevich's proposal would require changing the state's constitution, Lightford said, and it falls to the legislature to make such a change. She said she wants to hear from local superintendents and school leaders to see how the plan might affect them.

Lightford also questioned some specifics of the governor's proposal.

He called for schools with 40 percent or more of students qualifying for free breakfasts to provide those breakfasts. But Lightford said the state might not be able to pay for the idea.

Blagojevich also would require high school students to put in 40 hours of community service before graduating. Lightford said such a requirement might be better as a form or extra credit, and requiring it could prompt more kids to drop out of school.

"I'm hoping we can all be patient through this and look forward to a good debate on the issues," she said.

Oak Park and River Forest school officials said last week they had just received copies of the governor's proposal and are in the process of reviewing it.

Not all the problems in education today are because of the State Board, said Oak Park District 97 Superintendent John Fagan. A lot of rules districts have to follow are passed by the legislature.

"If the new state department is going to simply tell us to do the same things as we were being told before, I don't know what the change is," he said.

While local lawmakers and educators wait to hear more on Blagojevich's plan, a previous state school chief said he supports it.

Former State Superintendent Glenn "Max" McGee said he recommended the state form an education department that reports directly to the governor once he left office. McGee is now superintendent of Wilmette District 39.

That change would not only create better accountability, it would give the state's top school administrator a place at the table in the governor's cabinet and critical access to decision making in other areas that affect education, McGee said.

"You need to be at the table with the director of human services and director of health. I support the governor's idea," he said.

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Rauschenberger says law is hurting schools, students  

By KAREN McDONALD of the Journal Star, January 28, 2004

PEORIA - The federal No Child Left Behind Act left school districts nationwide with no money to implement the legislation, few ways to measure progress and low morale, U.S. Senate candidate Steve Rauschenberger said Tuesday.

No Child Left Behind requires annual tests for grades three through eight beginning next year and "highly qualified" teachers in every classroom, among other things. But most schools are struggling with budget deficits and being forced to scale back academic offerings to find money to help implement the new law.

"I think it's hurting kids," Rauschenberger, a Republican state senator from Elgin, told the Journal Star editorial board. "It's a 'one size fits all' law," he said, adding the federal government should only have a minimal role in education management.

The three-term state senator, who serves as assistant minority leader and chief budget expert for Senate Republicans, joins six other GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate seat that will be vacated by Republican U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald this year.

On the international front, Rauschenberger said he supports the invasion of Iraq and subsequent $87 billion democracy plan, but he is critical of President George Bush's June deadline to turn over control to the new Iraqi government.

"The biggest danger to hand to our kids would be a premature withdraw from Iraq," Rauschenberger said.

If elected, Rauschenberger said he would promote more fiscal restraint in Congress and work to secure financial stability for future generations by a pension reform program and affordable health care through state systems.

"You can't just keep ignoring a medical system that doesn't work," he said.

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Superintendent: Blaming Illinois education board a 'smoke screen'  

Governor masking money issues, he says

Elaine Hopkins, Peoria Journal Star

PEORIA - The governor's recent attack on the Illinois State Board of Education "is a smoke screen for not addressing critical issues" of school finance and funding, state Superintendent Robert Schiller said Wednesday.

In a meeting with the editorial board of the Journal Star, Schiller said he suggested 15 ways to the governor to better manage school finances, "the kinds of things other states do in funding and spending."

But some of the issues are "political hot potatoes," he said.

The state recently received an 'A' in an Education Week evaluation of its testing system, but an 'F' in equity and adequacy of funding, he said.

Eighty percent of the 890 school districts in Illinois are running deficits, he said. "Most are borrowing," he said, and have spent their reserve funds.

Unlike other states, Illinois has no balanced budget requirement for school districts, Schiller said. He proposed one but "the legislators don't want it because the (teachers) unions don't want it."

The requirement could be phased in gradually, he said. "I think we ought to put it in with time to whittle down deficits."

Expanding the state sales tax to cover services coupled with the adoption of Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to amend the state Constitution to raise the income tax to 6 percent on people who earn more than $250,000 annually would generate enough money to increase the state's share of education funding to 53 percent of the total, about where it should be, Schiller said.

Districts then could choose whether to lower property taxes, he said.

Local school boards set salaries, he said, but "fold" to public pressure when teachers go on strike. In other states, teacher pay is set by legislators.

"Capping salaries is the only way to keep modest growth of costs," he said.

The state must decide the level of services in education that it wants, he said. But money matters.

Lower-achieving students need longer school days and school years, and teachers need training to teach reading comprehension to counter dropping test scores, he said.

The state also needs tougher high school graduation requirements. By 2009, students should be taking three years of math and two years of science, he said. Half of the states don't permit students to drop out of school until age 17 or 18, he said, while Illinois allows it at age 16.

"We have the lowest graduation requirements in the nation," he said.

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State superintendent: We do a 'superb' job  

Cristel Mohrman, Pioneer Press

During a visit to Barrington Tuesday, State Superintendent Robert Schiller refuted the governor's stinging rebuke of him and the work of his office.

Schiller, who spent the day talking with Community Unit School District 220 administrators, touring schools and meeting students, said the State Board of Education is doing a "superb job" of managing education in Illinois.

But Gov. Rod Blagojevich, during his 86-minute State of the State address Jan. 15, assailed the State Board of Education as an "unwieldy monolith" and a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" in need of reform.

He called on lawmakers to shift the board's administrative powers and duties to a cabinet-level department under his control.

"The Constitution of the State of Illinois established the State Board of Education. In my judgment, the governor is trying to circumvent what's required by the constitution," Schiller said.

The governor highlighted during his speech a state partnership with Tennessee's Dollywood Foundation and the Illinois Hospital Association, which would send 12 free books each year to Illinois children the first five years of their lives. The program is expected to cost about $26 million.

Schiller said he would rather see that money used for necessary, state-required programs first.

"Send the money to our schools. We have students who don't have textbooks," he said.

Proof of success

Despite the challenges, Schiller cited high graduation rates, SAT scores and record numbers of students taking Advanced Placement exams as proof that Illinois' education system is succeeding.

"The governor has some very good ideas, but they can't supersede what the State Board is committed to doing," he said. "All of this is about politics and power. It's not about addressing the needs of the schools."

n recent weeks, area legislators and education leaders offered varied perspectives on the governor's ideas.

"Many of the things (Blagojevich) said about the bureaucracy at the Illinois State Board of Education are true," said state Sen. Wendell Jones, R-27th. "The paperwork just to get a grant for your school is unbelievable."

Jones, who spent 24 years in the education field, said some of the governor's proposals -- banning junk food at schools and requiring 40 hours of community service from high school students -- seemed too ambitious.

"These issues should be decided at the local level by school administrators working with parents and students," Jones said. "The state does not need to micromanage local schools. Period."

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Dem senator urges gov to rethink plan to take over state Board of Ed  

By Dave Mckinney, Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Advertisement

SPRINGFIELD -- A leading Democrat in the Illinois Senate made the case Thursday for Gov. Blagojevich to slow down and perhaps retool his effort to take over the state Board of Education.

Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the governor's goal of greater accountability over school policy could be achieved simply by rejiggering the terms of board members so Blagojevich could stock the nine-member panel with a majority of his own appointees.

The senator also suggested that Blagojevich's claim that only 46 cents out of every education dollar is spent in the classroom was a misstatement that ignores such basics as busing costs, textbooks and heat.

"Before this train speeds away from the station," del Valle wrote lawmakers, "we need to slow down a little to consider fully the many implications of the governor's plan. We must separate educational fact from statistical fiction."

Earlier this month, Blagojevich attacked the state Board of Education as a bastion of waste and incompetence and made its complete overhaul his top legislative priority of the spring.

The governor wants to create a separate education department under his direct control, stripping the board of most of its core functions. The board now acts as the main pass-through for more than $7 billion in education funds bound for local school districts and enforces rules and regulations imposed by the state Legislature.

Del Valle also expressed concerns that Blagojevich's approach fails to address funding disparities between rich and poor school districts.

The senator did not completely rule out the governor's proposal, but his maneuver could signal the opening of a legislative fault line.

However, the package's fate ultimately rests in the hands of the top two Democrats in the General Assembly, Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago). Neither has publicly staked out a position on the governor's idea.

A top Blagojevich aide said the governor sticks by his plan and has not encountered widespread legislative opposition to it.

"There is support out there, and we're building on that support every day as we reach out and explain our proposal to the General Assembly," Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said.

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NATIONAL

Romney pushes for more charter schools  

By Adam Gorlick, Associated Press Writer, 1/23/2004

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- In a move likely to spark fierce opposition, the Romney administration unveiled plans Friday to expand charter schools by eliminating enrollment caps.

The caps limit the number of students that can attend charter schools, preventing them from siphoning too much money away from traditional public schools.

But Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, speaking at the Sabis International Charter School in Springfield, said enrollment caps also limit parental choice, pointing to a 13,000-student waiting list for the state's 50 charter schools as evidence.

The Republican administration's proposal also would allow -- for the first time in Massachusetts -- individual groups to manage multiple charters at once, in effect creating separate school committees for groups of charter schools.

The proposal, which will be part of the administration's fiscal 2005 budget, would need legislative approval at a time when some are calling for a moratorium on new charters. Opponents say charters drain money from regular public schools that have already endured steep budget cuts.

"Charter schools provide more choice in public education and encourage innovation and excellence," Healey said. "They hold teachers and administrators accountable for the educational success of their students, and give parents the chance to make a better choice about their children's education."

Charter schools are independently run public schools that are given leeway to organize their activities around a core mission and set their own budgets and staffs.

When regular public school students leave for charter schools, their share of state and local dollars follows them. Boston Public Schools, for example, lost $40 million in funding because 4,300 Boston students attend charter schools.

Several types of caps would be eliminated. Existing law prevents charter schools from taking more than 9 percent of a district's net school spending. New charters can't be granted in Boston, for example, because it is at its limit.

Another cap prevents more than 4 percent of the state's students from attending charter schools, and the law limits total charters to 120.

There are 19,000 children in charter schools statewide.

State law also requires each charter school to be independently run by a board of directors.

Healey acknowledged that taxpayers would face some startup costs for the proposals, but she said the exact figures are unknown.

The state Board of Education plans to vote next month on whether to grant charters to seven proposed schools. Founders want to open schools in Barnstable, Cambridge, Lynn, Springfield, and Hudson. There are two proposals in Lynn and Barnstable. All seven propose to open in 2004 or 2005.

Last year, the state board granted five new charters.

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Arkansas court to oversee school funding  

By James Jefferson, Associated Press Writer, 1/23/2004

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Expressing impatience with the Legislature's failure to improve education, the Arkansas Supreme Court said it would appoint someone to bring the state's school system up to constitutional standards. Meanwhile, the state House passed a plan Friday that would consolidate some school districts.

The order came after a lawyer for the state acknowledged during a hearing that lawmakers missed a court-imposed Jan. 1 deadline for coming up with ways to improve schools. The state pleaded for more time, but the justices said they were ready to act.

"We gave the state 14 months to implement a new system and that wasn't complied with," Justice Robert Brown said on Thursday. "It's really not even close, is it?"

In the most significant legislation passed to date, the Arkansas House on Friday approved a bill to consolidate the administrations of 59 small school districts.

Gov. Mike Hackable had proposed merging about 100 high schools, and it was unclear whether he would sign the bill. It does not require school closures, though the new, consolidated districts could choose to close schools later.

The court did not say when it would appoint a special master, or how long the master would have to analyze the school system. The Legislature can continue it's attempts to address the issue, but the court will decide whether they are adequate.

In November 2002, the high court said Arkansas didn't spend enough money on education and distributed funds unevenly. It ordered changes in the $1.8 billion system and gave the state until Jan. 1, 2004, to put them in place.

Legislators failed to reach an agreement last year, divided largely by Huckabee's plan to merge the smallest 100 or so districts to make schools more efficient.

Legislators have met in special session since Dec. 8, but the new year arrived with no significant changes in the way Arkansas educates about 450,000 students in 308 districts.

The court case stems from a lawsuit filed in 1992 by the Lake View School District, but the state's education system also was declared unconstitutional in 1983.

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Senate approves landmark school voucher plan  

Reuters, January 22, 2004 

WASHINGTON  -- The Senate Thursday approved the country's first federally funded educational voucher scheme, which will enable some poor public school students in Washington D.C. to attend private schools.

The controversial voucher plan, so-called because it gives the families of around 2,000 eligible Washington students vouchers worth up to $7,500 each for private school tuition, was part of a delayed 2004 budget bill that passed 65-28.

President Bush backs the idea but it is strongly opposed by many Democrats who say it will undermine public schools and is unfair to students left behind. Local civic leaders and parents in Washington are divided over the issue.

The five-year pilot project approved for the capital will be the country's first such federally funded plan for primary education. A handful of locally funded voucher programs across the country have stirred deep controversy.

"This (voucher) bill expands choice, empowers parents and is directed toward allowing every child in the District the opportunity to receive a good, high-quality education," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told reporters before the vote.

The measure, which Bush is expected to sign into law, passed in the House of Representatives in early December.

Congress under the U.S. Constitution has special jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, which is notorious for the poor quality of its public schools.

The mayor, school board chairman, and some city council members are eager to accept extra federal education funds and try a new strategy to improve local schools.

The city's non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton, several Senate Democrats and the National Education Association fought the initiative as an intrusion in local affairs and damaging to public schools.

Advocates of voucher programs say they are a lifeline for poor and minority children in failing public schools. They argue giving parents a choice in where to send their children to school will force bad public schools to reform.

But opponents say the money could be better spent improving the public education system and say there is little evidence to suggest that children using vouchers will achieve better academic results.

The federal government plans to monitor the results of the Washington voucher pilot to see if it should be expanded to other cities with troubled school systems.

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State Report Calls for Adding More Charter Schools  

By Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Saying charter schools generally have provided worthwhile alternatives to traditional public schools, the state legislative analyst's office on Wednesday made recommendations to increase their numbers and to improve their oversight and financing.

Based on two statewide evaluations, the report concluded that charter schools "are meeting original legislative intent — expanding families' choices, encouraging parental involvement, increasing teacher satisfaction and raising academic achievement, particularly for certain groups of disadvantaged students."

Charter schools are publicly funded, independent schools that enjoy some freedom from state regulations, with the expectation that flexibility will result in higher achievement and other gains for students.

Among the recommendations were to:

•  Eliminate the limit on the number of charter schools allowed in the state. The current cap is 750, and 487 are either operating or awaiting approval.

•  Restructure state funding mechanisms to give charter schools more flexibility in how they spend public funds.

•  Strengthen oversight, in part by permitting universities, nonprofits and agencies other than school districts to authorize and keep tabs on charter schools and also by creating safeguards for better accountability.

•  Limit the fees charged by overseers, specifically to 2% of a charter's revenue for facilities and 1% for oversight costs.

The first charter schools in California opened in 1993, and the growing movement was evaluated twice by independent agencies under contract with the state.

The evaluations, by SRI International in 1997 and the Rand Corp. in 2003, largely form the basis of the state report.

"By implementing the legislative analyst's recommendations, our Legislature can take a bold step, which will allow more charter schools the ability to improve public education and close the achievement gap," Caprice Young, chief executive of the California Charter Schools Assn., said in a statement.

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No Politics Left Behind in Education Debate  

Bush's reforms have drawn heat even within the GOP, but the White House isn't yielding.

By Janet Hook, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 1/25/04

WASHINGTON — President Bush's much-heralded education reform plan, his first domestic policy accomplishment and one of his most important, is in danger of becoming as much a liability as an asset in his reelection campaign, observers from both political parties say.

The 2002 law, known as the No Child Left Behind Act, has come under fire from school officials around the country as they labor to comply with its tough requirements and find the federal government is providing less money than the law promised.

"This is a big, big problem," said one House Republican, who spoke privately about being inundated with complaints from educators in his district. "The goals and requirements are just not attainable. It is going to hurt the president politically among school people, people who are elected to school boards, community leaders."

The law is the cornerstone of one of Bush's signal political accomplishments: He has helped Republicans win increased public confidence in their handling of education, an issue Democrats have traditionally dominated. In January 2002 — around the time Bush signed the law — a Washington Post poll found that 71% of those surveyed approved of Bush's handling of education.

But now the law has become so controversial among educators, state and local officials and others that even a Republican-controlled state legislature last week passed a resolution denouncing it. And, with Democratic presidential candidates relentlessly attacking Bush's education record, a Post poll last month found that Bush's approval rating on the issue had dropped to 47%, the first time it had fallen below 50%.

Bush aides say that represents no political peril because other polls show that the education law remains popular among the people it is designed to help — parents with children in troubled schools — even if it has riled the education establishment.

The education improvement law has become a hot political issue even though it passed Congress with strong bipartisan support. It requires states to test every student in reading and math each year from third through eighth grade, and it requires schools to make progress each year in increasing the share of students who show proficiency on the tests. Schools that fail to make adequate progress for two years must let students transfer to better schools or offer after-school tutoring.

"President Bush's leadership on improving education is something we will proudly talk about throughout this campaign," said Scott Stanzel, deputy press secretary for Bush's reelection campaign.

Still, Bush is moving to recapture the initiative on the issue. He has announced that he would request an increase in education funding in his election-year budget. He spotlighted a proposed education and job training initiative last week. And he devoted a sizable chunk of his State of the Union address to defending the No Child Left Behind Act.

"The status quo always has its defenders," Bush said. "Yet the results we require are really a matter of common sense: We expect third-graders to read and do math at third-grade level — and that is not asking too much."

Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, are planning an aggressive effort to regain the upper hand on education. At a policy-planning conference of House Republicans this week, Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, will exhort the rank and file to talk to constituents about what Bush and the Republicans have done to improve education.

"It is essential that we get Americans to understand the success of No Child Left Behind," Pryce said.

The law will be in the spotlight just as the 2004 election campaigning peaks. Next fall, states will release their annual lists of schools that are failing to meet federal standards, as measured by mandated testing.

"It was a great story in Year 1, but it's going to be an increasingly bad story," said Guy Molyneux, a Democratic pollster. "All these tests are going to do is produce a lot of evidence that a lot of schools are failing."

Many school officials criticize the law as a heavy-handed intrusion by Washington requiring them to spend money they don't have in tough budget times. One-third of public educators who responded to a recent survey said the law would not work without substantial changes.

Dorothy Ham, principal of Webber Elementary School in Eastover, S.C., said her school had been rated as "failing" despite great progress in the performance of its students, almost 95% of whom come from families below the poverty line.

"It's arbitrary and not fair," Ham said. To be dubbed "failing" by the government is a "slap in the face."

"They are asking a lot of us, but they aren't giving us the equipment we need," said Carole J. White, a teacher at Wildwood Elementary School in Baton Rouge, La.

Democrats in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail say Bush and Republican leaders have undercut the No Child Left Behind Law by providing less federal aid than the law has authorized. For example, the law authorized $32 billion for 2004, but Bush requested only $22.6 billion and Congress provided $24.5 billion.

Democrats are not the only critics. Republican state legislators have gone to the White House with complaints that the law amounts to a federal education standard without federal funds to help schools meet it.

Last week, the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates denounced the law, voting 98-1 for a nonbinding resolution calling for their state to be exempt from the legislation. It was just the latest in a series of protests from state legislatures, some of which were considering forgoing federal money to escape the requirements of the education law.

Republican proponents of the law see in the criticism the squawking of an education establishment that helped create the problems the legislation is trying to fix. They say Democratic presidential candidates are jumping on the bandwagon because educators make up an important constituency.

"The dominance of teachers unions in the Democratic primary is why you see candidates saying all they are," said Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), a chief author of the bill.

Boehner and others dismiss complaints about insufficient funds, saying education spending has increased more in the three years of the Bush presidency than in the eight years under President Clinton. But Boehner acknowledges that he and other Republicans — as well as the White House — need to do a better job of explaining the law and encouraging educators to embrace its ambitious goals.

"This is hard, there's no question about it," Boehner said. "I've spent countless hours with House members, teachers, parents, school board members, explaining what the federal law is and isn't."

A recent survey by David Winston, a Republican pollster, found that 52% of voters approved of the education reform law. After people were told more about the law, the approval rating rose to 68%.

But Winston also found that the public's confidence in Republicans' ability to handle education issues has waned over the last two years. When the law was signed, voters split evenly when asked which party they trusted more to handle education — a remarkable surge by the Republicans from May 1999, when 50% of respondents voiced a preference for Democrats, compared with 29% who chose Republicans.

Now Winston finds that 48% favor Democrats again, compared with 37% for Republicans. But he does not believe that fallout from the education reform law is responsible.

"Bush has been focused on the economy and the war, so he hasn't had the opportunity to talk about education," he said. That is why House GOP leaders are looking for ways to make education a bigger part of their agenda in this election year.

"When Republicans talk about our education achievements and agenda, the education issue becomes a 'jump ball' between Democrats and Republicans," said a memo to Pryce and Boehner. "When we don't talk about these things, the issue defaults to the Democrats."

Regaining ground on education is important to Bush and other Republicans, Pryce said, because it is a top issue for swing voters. For Bush, it is a key part of his effort to redefine the party around the idea of "compassionate conservatism."

If Bush can consolidate his hold on voters who care about education, he will have carried his party a long way from where it was a decade ago, when its agenda centered on abolishing the Education Department and bashing teachers unions.

"Republicans were dumb in the past when it came to education," Pryce said. "Every parent wants to love their kid's teacher. They don't like to hear politicians badmouthing teachers."

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Va. Seeks To Leave Bush Law Behind

Republicans Fight School Mandates

By Jo Becker and Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post Staff Writers, January 24, 2004

RICHMOND, Jan. 23 -- The Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates sharply criticized President Bush's signature education program Friday, calling the No Child Left Behind Act an unfunded mandate that threatens to undermine the state's own efforts to improve students' performance.

By a vote of 98 to 1, the House passed a resolution calling on Congress to exempt states like Virginia from the program's requirements. The law "represents the most sweeping intrusions into state and local control of education in the history of the United States," the resolution says, and will cost "literally millions of dollars that Virginia does not have."

The federal law aims to improve the performance of students, teachers and schools with yearly tests and serious penalties for failure. In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, Bush said that "the No Child Left Behind Act is opening the door of opportunity to all of America's children."

Officials in other states also have complained about the effects of the act, signed into law in 2002. But Friday's action in the Virginia House represents one of the strongest formal criticisms to date from a legislative chamber controlled by the president's own party.

The House action came after months of complaints from local and state educators that the federal law conflicts with Virginia's Standards of Learning testing program, in place since 1998 and considered one of the toughest in the nation.

No Republicans voted against the resolution, a fact that House Education Committee Chairman James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax) said is proof that "the damn law is ludicrous."

"I'm all in favor of accountability and higher standards, but Virginia already has a system in place," said Republican House Caucus Chairman R. Steven Landes (R-Augusta). "This could cost us more money than the money coming in from the federal government."

Eugene W. Hickok, the acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, said his agency is working to provide states with more flexibility, but he added that money is not the issue. According to his agency, Virginia has $170 million in unspent federal education funds available, dating to 2000.

"The resolution essentially says that if states feel like they have been doing a good job, we should give them the money and leave them alone. What state wouldn't say that?" he said. "This law is perhaps a challenge for us to implement, but it is the first comprehensive attempt to make sure that every child everywhere counts. To say no to that is a typical thing for the states to do."

But the resolution reflects a growing concern among Republicans about the program.

As a result of a Republican legislative initiative in Ohio, the state commissioned a study released this month that found the federal government had significantly underfunded No Child Left Behind.

In North Dakota, a resolution sponsored by Democrats that stated the "cost to states of implementing the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is as yet unclear" was passed by both the Republican-controlled House and Senate. And the Republican legislature in Utah is considering legislation to forgo the federal money and opt out of the program entirely.

"The Virginia resolution is the strongest-worded Republican-sponsored initiative to pass," said Scott Young, an education policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

He also said that "there is definitely a bipartisan backlash in the states."

Democrats, who plan to make the No Child Left Behind Act a major issue in this year's presidential and congressional elections, seized upon the Virginia House's action. "These Republicans realize what others have for quite a while, which is that No Child Left Behind is just a campaign slogan and it doesn't offer real hope for kids," said Tony Welch, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.

The only delegate to vote against the resolution was a Democrat, Lionell Spruill Sr. (Chesapeake).

Under Virginia's system, students take the SOL exams in English, history, math and science in third, fifth and eighth grades and in high school. For a school to remain fully accredited by the state, 70 percent of its students must pass the exams. Starting this year, students also must pass six high school SOL exams to graduate.

No Child Left Behind requires that every student be proficient in reading and math by the 2013-14 school year. If schools don't make "adequate yearly progress" toward that goal, they risk expensive consequences. Some might be forced to pay for their students to attend higher-performing schools elsewhere, while others would be forced to draw up detailed plans to improve.

The problem, some educators say, is that the No Child Left Behind Act has introduced a different way of judging whether schools are succeeding. It is not enough for 70 percent of students to pass the test. The federal law requires that everyone -- including minorities, students from low-income homes and those with special needs -- meet the same annual goals.

Many schools that have long gotten top marks from the state have now been told they are not making "adequate yearly progress," a confusing situation for parents, according to Virginia Board of Education President Thomas M. Jackson Jr.

Educators nationwide have criticized the law for its testing requirements for students who are enrolled in special education classes and those who don't speak English. Virginia educators say they have found a better way, requiring special education students to take SOL tests only if their personalized education plan calls for them to do so and exempting immigrant children until they have learned English.

"To expect a youngster newly arrived in this country to take and pass an exam in English, it's ridiculous," said Fairfax County School Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech.

Hickok said a "surprising number of students" with special educational challenges in Virginia are not being tested, a situation that could skew the state results. He said he is working with Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) and officials in other states to shape better rules for students with limited English skills.

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Fleeing struggling schools not a popular choice, study finds  

By Ben Feller, Associated Press, 1/26/2004

WASHINGTON -- Few students eligible to flee their underperforming schools for better ones have taken up the offer, a research group supporting public education said after surveying school districts.

The finding reflects a range of factors, from parents' uneasiness about moving their kids to widespread problems schools have in offering transfers as promised under federal law, according to a report released Monday by the Center on Education Policy.

Only 2 percent of students eligible to transfer did so this school year, the center found in surveying 402 school districts and getting answers from about two-thirds of them. The center's research also included state surveys and case studies of districts nationwide.

"To have such a small percentage of kids transfer shows that most parents are not really interested in having their kids move," said Jack Jennings, the center's director. But the research also underscores that many districts are struggling to make choice available, as only half the schools that were supposed to offer transfers met that mark in 2003, he said.

Schools that receive federal low-income aid must offer transfers if they fail to make adequate yearly progress for two straight years. Making yearly progress means schools must show sufficient gains among all groups of students, including the poor or disabled.

The schools that fall short get extra help, but they also must let any student transfer, under a law passed by Congress in 2001 with strong bipartisan support.

School systems say they've run into many hang-ups, including schools lacking room to accept transfers or no schools close enough to make a transfer feasible. Officials in Alaska and Hawaii, for example, said that making such an option work would require a plane ride for students.

But Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, which advocates school choice, said the real problem is "deliberate foot-dragging and overly complicated communication with parents" by districts.

"It's beginning to change, in part because this data is getting publicized," Allen said. "First, parents have to become aware of what's available, and they, in turn, will pressure districts to be responsive."

More parents have embraced the offer of tutoring for their children, said the report by the Center on Education Policy. That provision kicks in when schools receiving poverty aid fail to make enough progress for three straight years, although some have offered it earlier.

Overall, the center found that many state officials are confident that the law's accountability push will help student achievement increase over time. But school officials also expressed concern about the financial impact of the law and the testing requirements on children with disabilities and those who speak limited English.

In practical terms, the current school year is the first one in which the No Child Left Behind law is in place, and demand for school choice and tutoring will only grow, said Ron Tomalis, counselor to Education Secretary Rod Paige.

The Education Department is stepping up monitoring of all aspects of the law. "We would like to see districts become much more upfront with their parents about the options available to students," Tomalis said.

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Survey: Hispanics optimistic on schools / Boston Globe

By Siobhan McDonough, Associated Press Writer, 1/26/2004

WASHINGTON -- Latinos have a more positive outlook on public schools than non-Hispanic whites and blacks, despite concerns that their children face cultural misunderstanding and language barriers, according to a survey released Monday.

The study by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a slight majority of Hispanics believe that schools are too quick to label Latino children as having learning or behavioral problems. They also worry that teachers don't push their kids to work hard enough.

Yet, 45 percent said schools have improved in the last five years. Only 25 percent of whites and 31 percent of blacks felt that way.

The survey found that Hispanics were also more likely to approve of President Bush's education program, and more likely to favor the strict accountability standards he pushed through Congress. This, it said, was despite a finding that most Hispanics who expressed a party preference said they trusted Democrats more than Republicans to deal with education.

Overall, Hispanics surveyed didn't consider themselves particularly disadvantaged in the education system, even though nearly half thought teachers were not bridging the cultural gap in the classroom and close to half identified language problems.

Hispanics also said performance problems could be associated with ethnic stereotypes. Forty-three percent said teachers and principals have lower expectations for Hispanic students.

Most Hispanic parents said they are actively involved in their child's education -- they attend Parent Teacher Association meetings, participate in fund raising or volunteer in school.

The survey was conducted by telephone between Aug. 7 and Oct. 15 among a nationally representative sample of 3,421 adults selected at random. Of those interviewed, 1,508 were Hispanic or Latino origin or descent. No margin of error was given.

Sixty-seven percent of Hispanics agree the federal government should require states to set strict performance standards for public schools, while 75 percent said standardized testing should be used to determine whether students are promoted or can graduate.

Forty-one percent of Hispanics said Bush was doing a good or excellent job on education; only 34 percent of whites and 17 percent of blacks said so.

One in six children in the United States is Hispanic, and by 2020 the number is expected to be nearly one in four. Hispanics outnumber any other demographic group in the country's largest school districts, and their enrollment is booming in American suburbs too.

More than one in three Hispanics -- 36 percent -- drop out of high school, although those born in the United States do better. About 16 percent of blacks and 8 percent of whites don't finish high school.

On test scores, 75 percent of whites score better than Hispanic students in reading, math and science. Just one in 10 Hispanics graduates from a four-year college or university.

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Board considers licensing student teachers  

Cases of misconduct have risen 33 percent in the past 21/2 years

By MEGAN HAWKINS, Des Moines Register Staff Writer, 1/26/2004

A state licensing board is again exploring whether to implement a student teacher licensing system in an effort to raise the awareness among prospective teachers about how people in the profession are expected to behave.

Cases of teacher misconduct in Iowa have risen by 33 percent in the past 21/2 years, said Anne Kruse, executive director of the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners. Violations range from teachers drinking with students to having inappropriate relationships with students, mostly sexual in nature. Several teachers cited in misconduct cases were new to the profession.

As a possible remedy, Kruse and board chairman Peter Hathaway asked board members to consider requiring student teachers to have a license before they are allowed in the classroom. About 2,900 student teachers work in Iowa classrooms annually, and many are left alone with students.

"The problems these days are very troublesome," Kruse said. "One teacher can affect a student, and that lasts (the student's) whole life. People expect teachers to be ethical, to take care of their children and know what they're teaching."

The board discussed the issue of requiring licenses for student teachers in late 2002 but never voted on it.

Such licenses would require all student teachers to undergo background checks, now conducted when people apply for an initial two-year teaching license. Those checks include reviews of state child abuse and sex abuse registries and reviews of state and national criminal histories.

No other state requires licenses for student teachers, although some states check credentials.

Some Iowa board members and others questioned whether the move was necessary and whether officials at colleges and university with teaching programs would agree with it.

"Personally, I feel (my school) has done a great job preparing me," said Mark Verbrugge, a student teacher at Urbandale High School. "We discussed moral issues and scenarios in class. I'm not sure what a license would do. You could answer all the questions right to pass and get a license, but until you're put in the situation, you don't know how you'll react."

Judy Jeffrey, the board representative from the Iowa Department of Education, noted that the number of teachers violating ethical standards in Iowa was low compared with the number of good teachers.

"We're just floating a trial balloon. It isn't a numbers issue," Hathaway said, adding that one conduct violation was too many. "For the most part, this is a very ethical profession, and we do need to keep that in perspective.

Supporters of the idea say it would give more assurance to the public and familiarize education students with another responsibility they will have in the real world, when they must renew their licenses on a regular basis. Others say student teachers are already as prepared as possible.

"Initially, my first thought is that it isn't necessary," said Dennis Moore, a West Des Moines middle school English teacher who works with a student teacher from Simp- son College. "They are under constant supervision in the classroom and take so many education classes and content classes. They're accountable to themselves and the college."

The board has taken some measures to educate new teachers on ethical problems, including holding ethics seminars at colleges and universities around the state.

Kruse said the increase in misconduct cases may be a reflection of today's society, in which divorce rates are high, students mature at a younger age, and students are drinking and sexually active at a younger age.

The board plans to continue studying the issue and talking with officials from school districts and colleges and universities. Kruse expects to have information available from school districts, colleges and universities in April.

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Washington Watch: Without funding, the law leaves children behind

Sylvia Saunders, New York Teacher (New York State Unified Teachers), January 28, 2004

Editor's note: Throughout the presidential election year, look here for analyses of national issues from the worker's point of view.

Celebrating the two-year anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush hailed the landmark education law as one of his administration's greatest accomplishments. Posing for photo ops at schools around the country and hoping to dispel criticism that NCLB is a giant unfunded mandate, Bush announced he would seek $1 billion more Title I funding in 2005.

But the reality is that the ambitious federal program remains woefully underfunded. According to the statewide union's national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, Bush's 2004 budget underfunds the act by nearly $8 billion. Even with the proposed increase in 2005, states would be shortchanged another $7.1 billion in promised dollars, according to AFT figures.

To show how the shortfall hits home, AFT released a state-by-state chart showing the gap between Bush's 2005 budget for NCLB's Title I, which is targeted for disadvantaged students, and what is needed to fully fund the program.

New York is slated for $1.3 billion, almost $800 million less than the $2.1 billion promised, AFT reported. The chart also illustrates the types of initiatives that could be funded by the missing money: 834,117 New York students could have had smaller class sizes; 105,689 students could have had pre-kindergarten.

"The White House and Congress can't have it both ways - tout the law as a giant step forward but deny billions of dollars to carry out its requirements," said AFT President Sandra Feldman. "If we want to reap the benefits of this important law, we must keep our eye on the ball and focus on - and support - the programs that improve student achievement."

NCLB implementation is a hot topic in the presidential campaign, said New York State United Teachers Executive Vice President Alan Lubin.

NCLB's rigid accountability measures and lack of funding came under heavy attack by the Democratic presidential candidates in a debate in Iowa, with Howard Dean the most vehement. "President Bush had no problem finding money for lavish tax breaks for millionaires, or over $150 billion for his misguided war in Iraq," Dean said. "But when it comes to fully funding his NCLB mandates, schools are out of luck."

As governor of Vermont, Dean was among the first to suggest that his state should decline federal aid under the law because of all the strings attached.

Other problems cited were: broad-brush labeling of schools as failures, the formulas for determining schools' adequate yearly progress, and "highly qualified teacher" provisions that put heavy demands on many educators with few supports to match.

Teacher aides

AFT reported that most states are not on schedule to meet a 2006 deadline in NCLB requiring them to raise standards for hundreds of thousands of teacher aides who work with disadvantaged students. The midterm report, which found only New York and Illinois are well prepared to meet the deadline, warned non-compliance could force dedicated, experienced paraprofessionals out of classrooms where they are needed most.

"There is widespread confusion about the law that has led to a hodgepodge of implementation strategies around the states and allowed misinformation to go unchallenged," Feldman said.

For example, the AFT received reports from the field that some states were misinforming districts that teachers in schools not making adequate yearly progress could not work for supplemental service providers offering tutoring and academic assistance outside the regular school day.

The AFT pursued this issue with the U.S. Education Department and received clarification from Education Secretary Rod Paige that, in fact, such teachers can provide supplemental services because "even the lowest performing schools may have teachers who have the experience and skill to provide high-quality supplemental services."

Both AFT and NYSUT are working with state and federal education officials on the law's implementation. Union activists will also keep making the case for more funding to support the law's good intentions.

"NCLB has had many negative consequences where good ones were intended," Feldman said. "We have to ask ourselves why a law that passed with such overwhelming bipartisan support is now mired in this kind of bickering and complaining and hostility and partisanship."

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Californian wants Bibles in schools for academic study  

By Vincent J. Schodolski, Tribune national correspondent, January 26, 2004

LOS ANGELES -- A drive is under way in California to have the state government provide a Bible to every public elementary school student in the state and suggest that schools use the books as texts for the study of literature.

The ballot initiative, sponsored by an Orange County lawyer, could meet constitutional standards that allow use of the Bible for instruction as long as it is part of a curriculum in subjects such as literature, history and archeology.

Two U.S. Supreme Court rulings, one in 1963 and the other in 1980, established precedent allowing such instruction as long as there are no denominational aspects to the curriculum.

Sponsor Matt McLaughlin, 34, said he intentionally excluded any specified curriculum from his initiative, leaving decisions on how to use the Bibles to school officials.

"It is such an important part of our culture," McLaughlin said of the Bible.

But the lack of a proposal on how the books would be used could raise constitutional problems, experts said.

"I guess the secretary of state thinks that if they go through the initiative process they are laundering it of constitutional problems," said Marci Hamilton, a professor at Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law in New York. "It does not."

California law dictates that the secretary of state must approve a proposed ballot initiative before it can be circulated to gather the required number of signatures from registered voters.

Hamilton noted that in its two rulings the Supreme Court held that the Constitution permits the use of the Bible for instruction within a defined discipline.

"But this is not being done in that context," she said. "I don't think there is much to separate this from Judge Roy Moore's granite block with the 10 Commandments," Hamilton said, referring to the Alabama chief justice's decision to place a monument bearing the commandments in the state's judicial building. The monument was removed last year.

Where constitutionally acceptable curricula using the Bible exist in other states, they take on very specific forms.

Stephen Haynes, a professor of religious studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, has followed the development of such a course in Shelby County, Tenn.

"It teaches the Bible as an integral part of American history," he said.

The course, called Hebrew History, deals only with the Old Testament. It was approved by the local school board without significant opposition, Haynes said, noting that there has been no effort to challenge the instruction on legal grounds.

He said the approach appeared to be academically well-balanced and taught by competent instructors.

Other districts have purchased a constitutionally acceptable course from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools of Greensboro, N.C. The curriculum was drawn up eight years ago and is used in 257 school districts in 35 states, according to Elizabeth Ridenour, the council's president.

"We are very careful that the teachers do not give any endorsements," Ridenour said. "Students are to draw their own conclusions."

The council's course, used in middle and high schools, is titled, "The Bible in History and Literature." It has 17 units and is taught in a single academic year--the Old Testament in the first semester and the New Testament in the second.

The curriculum includes lessons on Noah and the flood, the biblical city of Ur and the Exodus, and the departure of the Israelites from Egypt. It also has a lesson on the Passover that includes recipes for a Seder, a feast commemorating the Exodus.

"The course talks about history and literature and even archeology," Ridenour said. "It talks about how the Bible influences art, music, the law, government and education."

In one lesson, students are required to draw a map of Abraham's biblical journeys and then add pictorial representations of actions Abraham took along the way.

The proposed ballot measure in California specifies that the Authorized King James Version be used. That version was first published in 1611 after the Church of England was established after the Reformation and the break with the Roman Catholic Church. Some suggest the choice could be problematic.

"One could probably complain about the use of the KJV of the Bible since that was plainly a politically motivated text designed to marginalize Catholics and Puritans," said Richard Garnett, a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School. "But given the literary focus of the instruction, the KJV makes sense."

But what will be crucial to McLaughlin's effort is getting more than 1 million signatures of registered voters on petitions supporting his initiative for the November ballot. The secretary of state's office requires that 598,105 valid signatures be gathered by May 24, and in the past only about half of the signatures gathered for initiatives have been determined to be valid.

In previous initiative drives, large organizations or wealthy individuals have covered the cost of collecting the signatures, typically about $1 apiece.

McLaughlin said he is working through churches and church groups to get the word out and organize signature drives. He portrays his effort as a grass-roots affair without any support from national Christian organizations that might find his Bible campaign attractive.

He said he is using "back-channel" methods to try to attract the attention of national Christian organizations and would welcome their help, but that for the moment he is pretty much on his own.

"This isn't a movement of a particular church," McLaughlin said. "It's just me."

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Paige calls vouchers 'educational emancipation'  

AP, January 28, 2004

WASHINGTON  -- Emboldened by the creation of private-school vouchers in the District of Columbia, the nation's top education official said Wednesday the campaign will roll on to offer choice to those who doubt the ability of public schools.

Education Secretary Rod Paige said the D.C. voucher program, to be launched this fall, will offer "emancipation" to hundreds of poor and minority students -- allowing them to "throw off the chains of a school system that has not served them well."

The $13 million congressional plan creates vouchers for at least 1,700 poor students in the district, where 65,000 children attend classes in traditional public schools. The district also gets $1 million for administrative costs as part of this first federally financed voucher plan. Students must gain admission to a private school and cover tuition or other costs exceeding their vouchers.

"This plan must be given every chance to work," Paige said in prepared comments to be delivered at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "The future of our children is at stake, and it would be unconscionable to work against their best interests, to desire failure, to actively labor for obstruction and sabotage.

"I respectfully warn those in Congress and the District who ponder such continued political warfare that their actions will not stop us," Paige said.

Paige's comments reflect the latest push by the Bush administration to frame vouchers as a way to empower parents and spur improvements in a public educational "monopoly." Bush has proposed $50 million for voucher experiments in other communities in the next budget year.

Critics say vouchers take money from the place it is needed the most -- struggling public schools -- and they find it galling that the nation's education chief helps lead the charge.

The District of Columbia plan drew mixed response from local officials, and the capital city has no voting member in Congress. The House approved the voucher plan by a single vote in September. The Senate never took a straight vote on the plan, as Democrats put off that action, but the Senate approved the vouchers last week as part of a massive spending bill.

Paige said the experiment "isn't about dismantling the public school system. And this isn't a plan to federalize the schools." Rather, he said, it is a means to offer choice to those who couldn't afford it otherwise.

"When students are required by law to attend a particular school, the school doesn't have to do anything to secure quality or produce scholarship," Paige said. "It just has to open the door and collect the local and state stipend for each student."

Paige and the district's mayor, Anthony Williams, are assigned to work out many details of the voucher program, including how an independent group will be chosen to oversee it. Paige said he expects the joint agreement to be signed within a few days.

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What the Media Are Missing  

Reports of Average Test Scores Mask Improvements Made by Minorities

Jay Mathews, Washington Post Staff Writer, January 27, 2004

Mention Gerald W. Bracey's name in any assemblage of educational pundits and you will often hear an awkward silence. Since his first foray into corrective journalism led to his forced resignation as senior policy analyst at the National Education Association 12 years ago, Bracey has often offended self-appointed experts like me by exposing us to the truth, and he is rarely invited to any of our parties.

This makes Bracey, an associate with the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation and an associate professor of education at George Mason University, testy at times. Some of his e-mails to people he thinks are wrong may use words our mothers told us never to repeat in polite company. But like a stinging cold shower on a languid summer day, he has invigorated the debate over schools. Just look at what he did in the February issue of the American School Board Journal.

His article, "Simpson's Paradox and Other Statistical Mysteries," exposes a great gap in our coverage of test score results. With great regularity, mainstream newspapers like mine, as well as popular magazines and the big networks, report on the lack of improvement in our public schools. We use words like "stagnant" or "sluggish" or "static" or "flat" to describe the achievement levels as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the federal government's most important and most respected measure of U.S. schools. The NAEP (rhymes with "tape") reading scores for students aged 9 gained only four points -- from 208 to 212 -- from 1971 to 1999. Thirteen-year-olds gained only four points and 17-year-olds only three. The change in the average verbal SAT score between 1981 and 2002 is even less impressive. It appears to have gone nowhere. It was 504 in 1981, and 21 years later it was still 504.

Pretty disappointing, huh? But here comes Bracey to explain that we are being deceived by Simpson's Paradox. A statistician named Edward Hugh Simpson came up with this a half century ago. It works on all kinds of phenomena. Bracey defined it for me this way: "Simpson's Paradox occurs when the aggregate group score shows one pattern but subgroups show a different pattern."

When you break down the NAEP and SAT data into ethnic subgroups, for instance, you find that minorities have improved their averages markedly, which is exactly what our increased spending on schools had been designed to achieve. On the NAEP reading test, for instance, non-Hispanic white 17-year-olds had only a small improvement. They went from 291 points to 295 points, while the overall average went from 285 to 288 points. But African Americans in that same period jumped 26 points, from 238 to 264, and Hispanics increased 19 points, from 252 to 271.

The same thing happened with the SAT. Non-Hispanic whites showed a modest increase of 8 points, from 519 in 1981 to 527 in 2002, while African Americans were up 19 points, from 412 to 431, Puerto Rican Americans were up 18 points from 437 to 455 and Mexican Americans up 8 points from 438 to 446. Asian Americans increased 27 points, from 474 to 501.

To the math-challenged among us, this makes no sense. How could almost every ethnic group increase significantly while the overall average went up barely, or not at all?

As Bracey explains, we are overlooking two important factors: (1) minorities make up a much larger portion of the total testing population than they did before, and (2) although they have shown significant improvement, their averages are still relatively low. When you add more low scorers, even if they improve over time, you are not going to see much improvement in the overall average.

Here is my version, call it Mathews's Paradox. If you managed to clone me five times, have short, clumsy me and the five copies of me join one of those recreation basketball teams for geezers, then sent us to enough basketball clinics to raise our scoring average from 2 to 6 points a game per Mathews, that would be a definite improvement for us. But the rest of the team members would undoubtedly be much better, and adding us to the team statistics would likely cause the team scoring average to drop, or at least not get any better.

In the NAEP calculations, from 1971 to 1999 the proportion of non-Hispanic whites in the sample dropped from about 80 to 70 percent, while the African-American percentage increased from 14 to 16 percent and the Hispanic portion from 5 to 10 percent. The same thing happened with the mix of students taking the SAT. The portion of non-Hispanic whites dropped from 85 to 65 percent between 1981 and 2002, while the percentage of African Americans and Hispanics increased from 15 to 31 percent.

You can argue that the failure of the white students to improve significantly is a matter of concern, but it is also clear that we have been obscuring the good news about minority score improvements by focusing so much on lack of change in the aggregate scores.

This, Bracey says, is particularly important now that there is so much focus on minority achievement and subgroup statistics under the No Child Left Behind law. "School board members in districts with changing demographics should be aware of the potential impact of Simpson's Paradox," he said. "It is not just changing ethnicity that can affect totals, however; so can changing socioeconomic makeup of the population. The dot.com debacle has undoubtedly had an impact on some school districts as highly educated unemployed people have moved elsewhere in search of jobs. Since the children of well-educated people tend to score well on tests, the bursting of the dot.com bubble could have resulted in lower test scores that have nothing to do with the quality of instruction in the schools."

The NEA forced Bracey to resign in 1991 because he was being what they called too "entrepreneurial" in his many sharply written critiques of sloppy education journalism, featured in such journals as the Phi Delta Kappan where he is the research columnist. I think this was a mistake by the NEA people. Bracey has proved to be one of this country's most authoritative defenders of the work of public school teachers, and he could have done the association a great deal of good. But the incident nudged him into a career of frequent speeches and articles, and that has been good for the rest of us.

We are, with the new federal No Child Left Behind law, rushing into a new era in which these test numbers will determine how we help our children learn, and how we spend what is now the most money ever spent on public schools. Jerry Bracey may be annoying, telling us how often we are wrong, but I would rather suffer that humiliation now rather than choke on it later when the consequences of our ignorance have become much worse.

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Suburban kids' behavior mirrors urban students'  

High-schoolers as likely to have sex, drink, steal regardless of address

By Pamela Brogan / Gannett News Service

Public high school students in suburbia are just as likely as students in urban schools to engage in sex, get pregnant, obtain an abortion, drink, use illegal drugs, steal and fight, according to a report released today by a New York think tank.

“This provides some information for parents who have a false perception that all the sex, drinking, illegal drugs, and misbehaving is going on in urban schools and that the suburbs are clean and safe,” said Greg Forster, who helped author the report from the Manhattan Institute.

The report also found that:

* About half of all public high school students, urban and suburban, have had sexual intercourse.

* 10.5 percent of female high school students in urban schools said they had become pregnant, compared to 9.1 percent of female students in suburban schools.

* Urban and suburban teen-age girls are almost equally as likely to obtain an abortion.

* About one out of seven urban and suburban students have used illegal drugs at school.

* More than one third of suburban high school students smoke regularly, defined as at least once a day in a 30-day period. Among urban students, one fourth smoke regularly.

* About one in five urban and suburban students said they stole something valued at less than $50 within the past 12 months.

The findings are based on surveys by the Department of Health and Human Services of 11,000 public high school students in 1995 and 1996.

Charity Hicks, a community activist from Detroit and the guardian of her 14-year-old nephew and two younger nieces, said she isn’t surprised by the report’s findings.

“I think kids are under the same pressures, particularly with respect to sex,” Hicks said. “And kids in the suburbs have more money to run amok.”

Hicks said that while the behavior of urban and suburban students is similar, there is one major difference: Suburban schools usually have more dollars to deal with student problems.

Hicks said she recently opted to move her nephew from an inner-city Detroit school to the suburbs because the class sizes are smaller.

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Panel votes to leave ed plan behind 

By Ronnie Lynn, Salt Lake Tribune

In a bold step toward a declaration of war against President Bush's education reforms, legislators advanced a bill Thursday that turns Utah's back on No Child Left Behind and the $103 million-plus it brings to the state's revenue-starved schools.

The House Education Committee unanimously forwarded House Bill 43 to the floor, a move that has national implications and the potential to devastate more than 200 Utah schools that rely on federal dollars to improve achievement among disadvantaged students.

Rep. Margaret Dayton said her bill sends Washington an unmistakable message that it is overstepping its bounds in a domain historically left to states. "This really is a states' rights issue," the Orem Republican said. "Our neighborhood schools should not be held accountable to the federal government."

While most committee members agreed -- in principle -- several said they couldn't vote for the measure on the House floor if it meant sacrificing federal money.

"We need to get a lot of answers before we make an unequivocal break from [No Child Left Behind]," said Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay. "There is a lot of money at stake."

Utah's defiance could be costly, prompting Gov. Olene Walker and some school officials to question the wisdom of HB43.

Walker stopped short of saying she would veto it. While acknowledging that she, too, resented the federal intrusion, the governor said she would be hard pressed to justify sacrificing $103 million when Utah spends less per pupil than any other state.

"We cannot afford to lose that amount of money in our public education system," she said Thursday during her monthly KUED news conference. "But I am willing to work with [federal officials] to make certain that the [federal] requirements are something that the state of Utah can live with, and we will do everything we can to see that that happens."

No Child Left Behind requires public schools to show annual test-score gains among all demographic groups. It imposes sanctions on high-poverty schools that fail to meet their targets. This year, 80 such schools were among the 246 schools statewide that missed the federal standards.

Salt Lake City school officials say Washington's strings, though a nuisance, are worth the $8 million they get in federal money to provide low-income children with before- and after-school programs, smaller class sizes and summer sessions, among other services.

Giving up that money could mean leaving those 8,574 children behind -- unless the state plugged the funding hole -- and letting the federal government spend Utah taxpayer money as it pleases, Superintendent McKell Withers said.

"I don't understand the conditions that would lead us to decide not only are we going to spend the least per student, but that we're also going to send $103 million to other states," he said.

State officials fear that total could grow even higher if the federal government also yanked funds for special education and subsidized lunches for low-income children.

San Juan School District draws a third of its $34.7 million from federal sources. That chunk would be jeopardized, and with it, the teachers, programs and services that have boosted student achievement in southeastern Utah, said Tim Taylor, the district's director of elementary schools.

"We are seeing success," he said from his Blanding office. "Over the last three years, we have had a 12 percent gap reduction in the achievement level between Anglo students and students of color. We are very proud of that. I'm not sure we could function without that money,"

Even so, some administrators at the state Office of Education endorsed the bill -- if only to negotiate more wiggle room in meeting the stricter federal standards. Indeed, Associate Superintendent Patti Harrington sat alongside Dayton as she pitched the legislation to the House committee.

"This bill is a good thing," Harrington said. "We need to get the attention of the federal government on the problems inherent in No Child Left Behind. Can we do without the money? No. We must have the money."

Asked if Dayton's bill is a risky gamble, she said, "I would be very surprised if this [Bush] administration would want to have the publicity of pulling funding. My guess is they'll want to reconcile things."

The state Board of Education is expected to take a position on HB43 today.

Federal officials said state lawmakers should not be so quick to blame Washington for their qualms with No Child Left Behind. After all, the state Office of Education designed the tests, set the passing scores and developed the other measures used to comply with the statute, said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education.

"Certainly, it's disappointing, and we would hope that it doesn't happen," she said of Utah's movement toward opting out of the federal program. "That said, No Child Left Behind is about all students being able to read and do math on grade level. States are free to determine how they meet that goal."

Aspey and others questioned the validity of HB43's fiscal note, which asserts the state could incur more than $1 billion in costs associated with implementing No Child Left Behind.

"I'm at a loss to explain how they could have arrived at these figures, which are ridiculously high and almost defy common sense," Aspey said. "It would appear that these computations are based on faulty methods and a clear lack of knowledge about the law."

The state's fiscal analyst derived the potential price tag from a Jordan School District analysis that projected implementation costs of $182 million for Utah's largest district. The tab includes $15 million for teacher raises, $28 million for training aides and $8 million for full-day kindergarten. None of those is mandated in No Child Left Behind.

Still, committee members said Utahns should be the ones deciding how to hold schools accountable

"This is the 'Federal Education Blackmail Act,' and I'm somewhat incensed by it," said Rep. Jim Ferrin, R-Orem. "We have to stand up and demand we won't be blackmailed. . . . I for one am ready to send a message that we in Utah will not stand for it."

States across the nation are watching to see how Utah proceeds, said Scott Young, a policy associate for the National Conference of State Legislatures' education program.

"Other state legislatures and policy-makers are looking to see what happens," Young said. "By and large, Utah has been on the forefront of this issue and this is considered to be one of the stronger actions of a state."

Earlier this week, the Virginia House passed a resolution urging the federal government to allow the state to use its own accountability system instead of No Child Left Behind. Washington state is expected to consider a similar measure.

Lawmakers in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine have contemplated bills to prohibit spending state money on costs associated with implementing No Child Left Behind. Last year, the Hawaii House passed a resolution discouraging the state schools superintendent from complying with the federal law.

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ED REVIEW --  January 30, 2004

...a bi-weekly update on U.S. Department of Education activities relevant to the Intergovernmental and Corporate community and other stakeholders

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

In the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education's first-ever webcast, ED staff and two experienced educators -- Chris Coxon, Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning for Boston Public Schools, and Walt Gibson, a Community Superintendent for Montgomery County (Maryland) Schools -- discuss school and district improvement, from theory to practice.  Among the intriguing video segments are "Monitoring for Continuous Progress," "Requirements for School Improvement and School Improvement Plans," and "Supporting the Implementation of School Improvement Plans."  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.ed.gov/admins/lead/improve/sigwebcast.html.  (Those tech-adverse can still read the guidance on school and district improvement at http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/schoolimprovementguid.pdf.)   

Meanwhile, on January 16, the Department released a revised and expanded version of the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants Non-Regulatory Guidance.  This guidance incorporates the sections on highly qualified teachers released on September 12, 2003, with recently revised sections that pertain to the administration of the Title II, Part A program.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.ed.gov/programs/teacherqual/guidance.pdf.

As part of the No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools awards ceremony, principals that demonstrated particular strengths presented their strategies and discussed with their peers tactics for boosting student achievement.  The key ideas from the discussions are summarized in a new report, titled "Critical Issues Panels -- Discussion Report" (http://www.ed.gov/programs/nclbbrs/2003/2003-final-report.pdf).  Later this spring, syntheses from other sections of the pre-ceremony request for information will appear on the Blue Ribbon Schools web site: http://www.ed.gov/programs/nclbbrs/.     

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 NCLB DATA

Yesterday, Secretary Paige participated in the launch of the School Information Partnership web site.  The site, http://www.schoolresults.org/, offers timely, relevant, and comparable school, district, and state data required to be reported under the No Child Left Behind Act.  "Information is power," the Secretary declared.  "The data will help advance a national debate about the performance of our educational system.  It can no longer be hidden in the shadows."  The web site was created by Standards & Poor's and contains interactive analytical tools from S&P's School Evaluation Services and the National Center for Educational Accountability's Just for the Kids.  Six states are already online; by summer, a majority of states should be available.    

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JOBS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

In his State of the Union Address, President Bush unveiled "Jobs for the 21st Century," a comprehensive plan to better prepare workers for jobs in the new millennium by improving secondary education and strengthening postsecondary education.  "Jobs" includes over $500 million in new funding for education and job programs, including:

  • A new $100 million Striving Readers Initiative that would make competitive grants to develop, implement, and evaluate effective reading interventions for middle and high school students reading "significantly" below grade level.  This initiative would complement Reading First, which provides aid for students in kindergarten through third-grade.
  • A $120 million increase for the existing Mathematics and Science Partnership Program, nearly doubling the $150 million total for this program in fiscal 2004.
  • More than doubling federal spending, to $52 million, for the Advanced Placement Program, supporting state and local efforts to increase access to AP courses and tests in low-incomes schools.
  • $40 million for a new Adjunct Teacher Corps, intended to create opportunities for professionals to teach middle and high school classes in the core academic subjects.
  • About $12 million for the State Scholars Program, which encourages high schoolers to take more rigorous classes to prepare for higher education.
  • The establishment of a $33 million program to enhance, by up to $1,000 a year, Pell Grants for students who take part in the State Scholar Program.  Next year, approximately 36,000 low-income graduating high school seniors would be eligible to receive an enhanced grant.   

Note: On Monday, February 2, Secretary Paige, Acting Deputy Secretary Gene Hickok, and Budget Director Tom Skelly will review the President's fiscal 2005 budget request.  The briefing will start right at 3:00 p.m.  All are welcome; reservations are not required.  Budget materials will also be available at http://www.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/ by 1:00 p.m. that afternoon.         

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CHOICE IN D.C.

Last Friday, President Bush signed into law the omnibus appropriations bill, establishing a $14 million school choice demonstration program in the District of Columbia.  The program will allow at least 1,700 low-income D.C. public school students to receive vouchers, worth as much as $7,500, to help pay the tuition, fees, and transportation expenses for a private school education.  Eligible students will have to be admitted to a private school and must cover costs exceeding their vouchers.  "With school choice, whether under the transfer provisions of No Child Left Behind or opportunity scholarships in the District and elsewhere, all parents can exercise their right to make educational choices for their children," Secretary Paige said in a statement.  "School choice is one policy that will help create an educational system that makes no distinction between the poor and the privileged in terms of the quality of education received."  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2004/01/01222004.html.

Also: Secretary Paige emphasized choice in his remarks at the Heritage Foundation earlier this week.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/2004/01/01282004.html.

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BALDRIGE WINNER

Belated congratulations to Community Consolidated School District #15, which serves seven municipalities in northwest suburban Chicago, Illinois, for becoming only the third school system to win a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.  The award, founded in 1998, spurs excellence in organizational performance, recognizes the quality and performance achievements of organizations, and publicizes successful performance strategies.  Judges lauded District #15 for its success in raising student performance (in the 2002-03 school year, 84 percent of district second-grade students were reading "at or above grade level") and innovative efforts to "gauge" student, parent, and faculty satisfaction.  Moreover, in tracking what it calls "market performance," the district has shown that it spends less per percentage point of student achievement on state tests than three comparable districts.  (Previous winners: Alaska's Chugach School District and New York's Pearl River School District.)  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/district15.htm.  (District #15's application can be found at http://www.ccsd15.net/WhatsNew/Baldrige/PDFs/Baldrige_2003.pdf.) 

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ESTME WEEK

The Education Department is partnering with the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies and scientific societies to sponsor activities for this year's Excellence in Science, Technology, and Mathematics Education (ESTME) Week (March 15-20).  It is hoped that the week will ignite student interest in math and science by:

  • drawing attention to the many ways their lives are enhanced by scientific and technological advances;
  • stressing the ways that young people, themselves, can apply science and technology to benefit their community, their country, and their planet;
  • highlighting the international nature of science, and stressing the importance of math and science education in today's era of globalization; and
  • emphasizing how
    U.S. citizens benefit from scientists of diverse backgrounds and cultures working together to solve the complex problems of today.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.estme.org/ (corrected from the last issue).  (Be sure to complete the Count Me In! form to let the organizers know about activities or online content being featured to celebrate the week.)

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Illinois State Board of Education
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