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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – February 20 - 27, 2004


Average folks get no budget specifics / Peoria Journal Star
School reform and politics go hand in hand in Illinois / Pantagraph
'No Child' act should be left behind / Sun Publications
District 202 staff airs concerns about year-round education / Bolingbrook Sun
Cerro Gordo school board panel rejects year-round school / Decatur Herald & Review
NASBE Gives Support To State Board Of Education / Southern Illinoisan
Education task force won't get involved with funding / Peoria Journal Star
School reform and politics go hand in hand in Illinois / Peoria Journal Star
Schools anticipate policies of new Department of Education / Daily Illini
Smith's committee to distribute education money / Daily Ledger
Evanston school may quit `No Child' / Chicago Tribune
Education plan is more smoke and mirrors / State Journal-Register
Voice Of The Southern: Blagojevich, A Governor Who Fits No Stereotypes
/ Southern Illinoisan
No Child Left Behind affects districts' jobs / Kane County Chronicle
Entire Senate meeting on governor's education reform plan / Northwest Indiana Times
Voters rejecting Blagojevich school plan / Chicago Tribune
Experts debate school funding / Daily Herald
Study: Graduate rate is inflated / Chicago Tribune
P.E. waivers a problem, but not a major priority / Pantagraph

Bush Education Officials Find New Law a Tough Sell / New York Times
U.S. Students Still Getting the Paddle / Washington Post
Panel challenges No Child Act / Yale Daily News
Critics say the 'No Child' program is a setup for public school failure / Salt Lake Tribune
Accountability Looms for Special Education / Heartland Institute
50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, most schools segregated / Birmingham Post Herald
California may retool No Child Left Behind Act / Oakland Tribune
School reform ballot measure gets key support / Honolulu Advertiser
Is this any way to pay for public education? / Philadelphia Inquirer
South Texas districts sue for school funding / Houston Chronicle
Latest Proposal For D.C. Schools Would Diminish Board's Control / Washington Post
Critical of Public Schools, and Poised to Take Action / New York Times
Bill would outlaw bullying at schools / Arizona Republic
NCTAF News Digest for February 26, 2004



Average folks get no budget specifics
Critics say proposals vague on education, job opportunity
By TOM POLANSEK of Copley News Service,
February 20, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Rod Blagojevich offered the promise of improvement in his state budget address Wednesday, but the average Illinoisan can't take that to the bank, some lawmakers said.

"This budget has tried to not make any of the hard decisions," said Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth. "For people who want to know, 'How's this going to help my children's education?' 'How's this going to help me get a job?' and 'How's this going to get my roads built?' the answer, sadly, is that it won't much."

Among Blagojevich's proposals were a $400 million increase in education funding, the consolidation of several state agencies, an end to "willy nilly" tax breaks and job creation through the Opportunity Returns program.

Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria, however, said the governor's plan to target tax loopholes for businesses could prevent new jobs from being formed.

Blagojevich proposed closing $223 million in what he called corporate-tax loopholes in the name of honest Illinoisans.

"They're an affront to the 7.8 million people in Illinois who get up every single morning, work hard and pay their taxes, and can't afford high-priced lobbyists like the special interests can," Blagojevich said about the tax breaks.

"He's striking out against business and the people that create the jobs," Risinger said. "Loopholes to one person are incentives to another."

Blagojevich did not provide the details some lawmakers craved in parts of his proposal. For example, he did not spell out how he wanted to spend the additional education dollars. Typically, governors specify certain programs they'd like to see funded or improved, such as an increase in per pupil spending, in their annual budgets.

Applauding the education increase, Sen. George Shadid, D-Peoria, also praised the governor's prison strategy. Blagojevich suggested closing older prisons and transferring inmates to newer, vacant facilities.

"They're dangerous for the employees to work in, and they're very costly to operate," Shadid said of the aging jails.

Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Litchfield, said he thought Blagojevich made several solid commitments to the average Illinoisan, despite leaving some specifics to the Legislature.

"For the average citizen, they can be assured that their sales tax and their income tax will remain the same and that their schools should see some improvement," Hannig said.

Throughout his speech, Blagojevich asked legislators to work for average citizens.

The biggest difference they might see could be an increased fine for driving under the influence. Illinois currently does not have a mandatory minimum fine for the first offense of driving under the influence. Blagojevich proposed a $500 minimum.

The governor also proposed reorganizing the Illinois State Police to bring 400 more troopers to the "front lines" over the next four years.

Blagojevich mostly avoided new or expanded taxes and fees on average citizens. However, he proposed a 75-cent tax on taxi rides to or from either major airport in Chicago.


School reform and politics go hand in hand in Illinois  
Pantagraph Editorial, February 21, 2004

Education is likely to be the most volatile battleground as the Legislature and Gov. Rod Blagojevich wrangle over the Fiscal Year 2005 budget -- not to mention the state-level administrative structure of elementary and secondary education in Illinois.

This is a diverse state, where some legislative districts are rural and others are urbanized. Some have an industrial base, others rely on agriculture and many are primarily residential.

But every district has schools. Every lawmaker has constituents affected by education -- whether they have children or grandchildren in school, hire workers who are the products of our school systems or are concerned about increased property taxes they must pay to support education.

Blagojevich is proposing $400 million in new money for K-12 education, as he did last year. But he isn't saying where the money should go. Instead, the governor says he will work with the Legislature to determine its distribution.

That's a promising development. But it also could be a way for Blagojevich to share the heat for those who don't like how the money will be doled out.

For example, raising the per-pupil "foundation" funding level just $250 -- to $5,060 -- would eat up nearly all of the $400 million.

That would provide little help to districts already at or above the foundation level. And those districts could be harmed by the resulting lack in available funds to boost state support for so-called "categorical" programs, such as special education and transportation, that all districts must support.

The State Board of Education says a $139 million increase in funding for categorical programs is needed to keep pace with costs.

The closer working relationship with the Legislature on education also could be a strategic way for Blagojevich to court lawmakers' support for his desired changes in educational bureaucracy -- namely, creation of a Department of Education under the governor's control and, essentially, doing away with the Illinois State Board of Education.

Blagojevich has argued that such a change would save money, improve accountability and lessen paperwork for local districts.

In demanding greater accountability in exchange for more money for schools, Blagojevich echoed the feelings of many Illinoisans in saying, "Reforming schools and funding schools go hand in hand."

But in Illinois -- as in many states -- reforming schools and political infighting also go hand in hand. It's going to be an interesting spring.


'No Child' act should be left behind  
by Tom Hernandez, Sun Publications, 02/20/04

You may not have heard it, since it happened in Utah — the sound of a card falling.

And eventually the entire house of cards known as the No Child Left Behind Act will also collapse on itself. Then you'll hear another sound — applause from the public education sector.

Recently, the Utah House of Representatives voted to order its state education officials to not spend one Utah penny on NCLB, the federal education plan which requires all students to meet high educational standards and measures their progress through state-level standardized testing.

But of course, the federal money to support NCLB falls far short of its high — and highly political — rhetoric.

Last year, for example, Chicago would have been required to provide extra tutoring to 100,000 students to meet NCLB mandates. But the feds provided enough money to tutor only about 1,000 students.

The rest of the money, if it comes at all, comes from the states and local school districts, already desperately strapped for cash.

Things are about the same for public education everywhere, including Utah.

So the Utah House, similar to what Vermont did last year, agreed to spend whatever money the feds send its way for NCLB. But, once that money is gone, no state resources are to be used. The Utah Senate and governor must still vote on the tactic, but their approval is expected, according to a New York Times story.

"We'll spend the federal money we get, and that's as much as we'll be able to do. And then we'll be subject to the consequences that come when we're not able to meet our moral obligation to help all students meet arising standard," said Dr. Steven O. Laing, Utah's state superintendent of public instruction.

Laing is right on the mark. And the mark covers much more than just the state of Utah.

Indeed, it covers all of public education nationwide, which, if you believe in conspiracy theories, has had a "bull's-eye" drawn on it from the dark and dreary day Dubbya took office.

Some people contend that the NCLB act is little more than a conspiracy to put public education in the worst possible light, by creating irrationally high expectations. Then, the president will have the ammo he needs to push for a national, privatized "voucher" system for education.

Now, I have no idea where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, I never watched a minute of the "X-Files" and I don't care if Elvis is still alive.

But this idea makes sense.

Like many Republicans, Dubbya is known to favor private education. But the education unions hold such sway over politicians, most especially Democrats, that the only way to convince the Congress to see things his way would be to show that public education doesn't work.

To accomplish that, Bush pushed NCLB — which requires that all students meet high education standards.

Certainly a great goal that any reasonable parent and taxpayer can support. But the problem is, NCLB relies on standardized testing to measure students' progress in meeting those learning objectives — which change from state to state, by the way.

Standardized testing assumes that all students learn the same things, the same way, and at the same pace. "All students" includes several exceptionally challenging subgroups like special-education students, who, by definition do not learn the same things at the same pace and in the same way as other students.

Under NCLB, if even one subgroup fails to meet standards, then the entire school is deemed to have failed.

But all students do not learn the same things, the same way, at the same pace. To test them based on that assumption is to create the framework for failure.

On top of that, the bill is so incredibly complex and the rhetoric so logical — who doesn't want all children to do well in school? — that the average person cannot possibly know enough about NCLB to know how bad NCLB really is. I can almost hear Dubbya giggling over the political brilliance of it all.

So what does this have to do with Plainfield? Simple.

School District 202 is precisely the kind of school system that will suffer unfairly under NCLB.

This district is taking in thousands of new children each year, most from outside this area, many who have not been held to similar learning standards or expectations.

This district is forced to hire dozens of young, inexperienced teachers each year to try to keep class sizes at a controllable level and ensure that real learning happens for all students.

Should these teachers be blamed when all of their students do not meet the federal government's ridiculously arbitrary definition of learning?

Likewise, should the entire school district, with 19,000 students and 20 schools, be penalized — actually lose funds and resources — because a few hundred or even a few dozen students do not learn the same things the same way or at the same pace?

Or should additional resources be committed to ensure equal learning for all?

With any luck, Illinois and 47 other states will follow Utah's and Vermont's lead, and tell the president where he can put NCLB. But knowing our Legislature, which is too chicken-hearted to fix our own education funding system, I'm not holding my breath.

That means that it will take action by local school districts to effect any meaningful change by showing how NCLB is hurting real children right now.

Most likely, such action will come from large urban districts like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. Districts with the political clout to simply tell the feds, "Nope. Not gonna do it anymore," and let the chips fall where they may.

But who knows? Maybe a few Plainfields and Joliets and Elgins will also join in the fight — districts struggling to meet the challenge of educating all students regardless of their socioeconomic condition.

Either way, it's a fight that must be fought, because it really is about the moral obligation to provide our kids equal educational opportunity.

NCLB doesn't do that, because it doesn't want to.


District 202 staff airs concerns about year-round education  
By Susan Frick Carlman, Bolingbrook Sun Staff Writer

Teachers probably would be the first to tell you they don't have all the answers.

Plenty of questions remain for Plainfield School District 202 faculty and other staff after their first detailed look at the study of year-round education under way in the school system. The task force conducting the research heard a follow-up report last week based on recent visits to all 20 district schools and the administration center. Among other feedback, they learned that 58 percent of the employees polled think the inquiry has gone far enough.

Some students from Bolingbrook attend District 202 schools.

A survey taken after staff members watched a video produced by the task force drew 737 responses before last week's task force meeting, slightly less than one-third of the district's total paid work force. Some surveys were returned after the data was compiled for the task force; the numbers in the report represented the first 639 surveys turned in. Teachers made up 82 percent of the respondents.

The opinions varied a bit from one staff position to another. Sixty-four percent of the middle school teachers said it would be a bad idea for the district to continue looking into year-round school, while just one of the 15 administrators polled said so. Six administrators, or 41 percent, called it a good idea to study it further, but only 7 percent of the elementary school teachers agreed with them.

Attendance at the presentations was not mandatory. Participation varied, from one individual at Crystal Lawns Elementary School to 78 employees at Drauden Point Middle School.

Asked to elaborate on their concerns, many participants wondered how year-round education would target populations such as special education and honors students, as well as those in vocational programs conducted outside the district. Some also named the need for curriculum changes and the potential impact on such things as classroom sizes and standardized testing. Ten respondents specified the system's impact on extracurricular programs.

Other topics — some of them positives — that were named at least a half-dozen times were concerns that many teachers would leave and work elsewhere; the need for employees to coordinate their off-school tracks with their children; concerns about delays in learning and retention; the impact on summer income for support staff and teachers; and the differences between implementing a year-round schedule in high school, where there are numerous obstacles, and at the elementary level, where task force members have found fewer logistical challenges.

Numerous staff members also said they want other alternatives scrutinized. Some noted the likely added costs in staffing and other outlays. Six urged consideration of splitting the 64-square-mile district into more than one unit.

Questions abound

The task force could provide few answers to the questions posed.

"There are lots of people seeking guarantees — parents wanting guarantees that they'll be on the same track with their children — but there are no guarantees in this district, is what I told them," said Karie Beck, president of the Association of Plainfield Teachers and a task force member, who attended 15 of the presentations.

Other issues identified included the possibility of "ghettoization" arising from the clustering of neighborhoods on specific scheduling tracks and doubts about whether the administration is equipped to manage a switch to the 12-month calendar. Many of those involved have noted that accomplishing the change would be a gargantuan administrative task.

The school presentation team also reported that some staff members said the approach would be in contrast to the district's policy of "putting students first" and inconsistent with the middle school philosophy, which includes team teaching and planning coordination.

The visiting teams made a point of gathering all input, which proved wide-ranging. But while many issues came up — including assorted ones the task force had not considered — there were recurring themes.

"The most common comment of teachers related to the lack of benefit to learning," said Beck, who has said she plans to quit as union head if the district goes year-round.

Task force members emphasized that their charge is simply a preliminary study of the issue. Their report to the Board of Education, expected in the spring, will contain no recommendations. It will be up to the board to determine whether to continue looking at the possibility.

Members of the group also stressed that no decisions are imminent and the matter is not a "done deal," as many residents have asserted.

"That's a fact. If it weren't, none of us would probably be here. ... The facts indicate there are more questions than answers, more negatives than positives," said Jim Waldorf, a task force member who also is a Plainfield trustee and principal of St. Mary Immaculate School.

They also noted that there are other possibilities for dealing with the district's rapid growth in the absence of sufficient funds. Two of those are overlap scheduling and split shifts.

Revisiting past remedies

Plainfield High School Central Campus followed an overlap schedule in 1998-99, the year before its freshman center was finished. Juniors and seniors had a school day that went from 7:20 a.m. to 1:50 p.m., while freshmen and sophomores attended from 9:31 a.m. to 3:41 p.m.

Central high school also followed split shifts in the year after the August 1990 tornado that destroyed the building — when students attended the substantially less roomy building that had housed Joliet Catholic High School. The district plans to reintroduce split shifts next fall at Plainfield South High School, which is expected to remain crowded at least until Plainfield North High School opens, likely in the 2006-07 school year.

Beck said split shifts are seen as a short-term, "get-us-over-the-hump" solution to crowding, but it's not regarded as a particularly appealing option.

Ron Kazmar, task force head and president of the school board, suggested that the two alternatives be incorporated into the presentations at three town meetings next month, included as possibilities along with year-round school that could be adopted "potentially, if referendums don't pass."

Although several task force members strongly denied allegations they have heard in the community that the district is threatening to initiate year-round education if voters don't approve future tax increases, there was acknowledgment that the issue inevitably relates to funding.

"The safe assumption is that as long as the district is able to pass referendums and build schools, we're going to be able to keep things the way they are," said Jon Balke, retired District 202 assistant superintendent and a participant in the task force.

The town meetings are scheduled for 2 p.m. March 6 at Plainfield High School Central Campus, 611 W. Fort Beggs Drive; 7 p.m. March 9 at Lakewood Falls Elementary School, 14050 S. Budler Road; and 7 p.m. March 11 at Plainfield South High School, 7800 W. Caton Farm Road. Each session is expected to last about two hours, including a screening of the 45-minute video and time for public comment and questions.


Cerro Gordo school board panel rejects year-round school  
By VALERIE WELLS, Decatur Herald & Review Staff Writer

CERRO GORDO -- The committee studying the proposal to change to a balanced schedule in Cerro Gordo schools unanimously rejected the idea at Thursday's board meeting.

All 15 committee members recommended the proposal be tabled.

"The committee recommends (the proposal) be put on the back burner and revisited in three to five years," Superintendent Leonard Bogle told the board, speaking for the committee. "It's not right for our schools at this time."

Though there are elements of a balanced schedule the committee thought could be used in Cerro Gordo to students' advantage, he said, changing to a year-round schedule would not provide any real benefits.

Some of the hoped-for benefits of a year-round schedule were improved test scores and improved attendance, he said. But after studying the issue, visiting two Illinois districts with a similar schedule and collecting feedback from the

community, the committee decided now is not the time to try it in Cerro Gordo.

"The committee had a hard job, and until tonight got a lot of bad comments from the public," said board member Terry Curran. "They didn't deserve that."

The time spent researching and considering a balanced schedule wasn't wasted, said board President T.J. Shambaugh IV, who was a member of the committee. Some of the ideas, such as Saturday tutoring sessions for struggling students, are

already being tried in Cerro Gordo schools. But he was unhappy with the reactions some teachers had to the proposal.

"Some staff displayed a lack of professional behavior," he said. "That doesn't bode well for some of our teachers."

The board did not vote on the balanced schedule proposal on Thursday. That vote will be March 18.

Brenda Gaitros, who presented the board with a petition from Save Our Summer, a parents group fighting the balanced schedule, said she was relieved at the committee's recommendation.

"I'm very happy," she said. "Don't spend extra money on a program that has absolutely no guaranteed benefits. It was going to play havoc with everyone's lives and mess up the schedule during the summer and also make it more difficult for students to participate in sports and other activities."

Another parent applauded the board and the committee for taking the community's feelings into consideration.

"I've seen a lot of boards who pushed things on the community," said Cathy Mitchell, whose three children attend Cerro Gordo schools. "(The board) listened and let us have a say."


NASBE Gives Support To State Board Of Education
Caleb Hale , The Southern Illinoisan,  Feb 22 2004

ILLINOIS -- The National Association of State Boards of Education has thrown its support behind the Illinois State Board of Education as Gov. Rod Blagojevich drives forward his initiative to get rid of the agency.

NASBE director of governmental and public affairs David Griffith said the governor's claims the state board is failing the Illinois school system is misleading in light of national test scores, which show Illinois students making "impressive gains" compared with other states.

Blagojevich announced his intentions to replace the state board with a new department of education during his State of the State address in January.

Griffith said a state board may have problems with bureaucracy, but the association -- based in Alexandria, Va. -- say state boards are still the most stable form of educational governing.

"We think it's the way to go," Griffith said. "(Blagojevich's) argument, it's kind of like what (Winston) Churchill said about democracy -- it's the worst form of government out there, besides all the others."

Every state in the United States has a state board of education or equivalent body, with the exceptions of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Wisconsin has never had a state board, says Joe Donovan, a spokesman for the state's department of public instruction. "It's worked here since 1848," he said. "The department of instruction is the department the state superintendent oversees. The state superintendent is an independent constitutional elected officer."

Donovan said the system went unchallenged until 1995, when then-Republican governor Tommy Thompson moved to dismantle the department of instruction and form a department of education, overseen by the state superintendent and an 11-member commission.

The initiative never became law, Donovan said, and the education system has remained unchallenged. Griffith said Minnesota abolished its state board of education in 1998 but is now trying to rebuilding the board. "What they are doing is now realizing education is so important and everyone wants a say in it, the state board is the means through which people get their voices heard," he said.

Griffith said he has never seen a governor willing to assume all the accountability for the state's education system, and he added the notion is misleading.

"The reality is when you bring it all under a single person, there is less accountability," he said. "The state board isn't out there doing nothing. The governor might want to take a look at the policies in place."

Griffith said governors have a great deal of influence over state boards of education, if they choose to utilize it. He criticized the lack of communication between the Blagojevich administration and the state board, saying the governor is micromanaging with his department of education plan.

As the Illinois state board continues to defend itself against what it calls the governor's myths about the agency, Blagojevich continues to collect information from teachers' unions, local school boards and commissions in setting up the proposed department of education.

The governor's Springfield press secretary Rebecca Rausch said most of the structural ideas for the department are coming from input Illinois Deputy Chief of Education Brenda Holmes is collecting.

"We did not model our department of education off anything, only that the governor thought it was time a governor start taking responsibility for education," Rausch said.

Since Illinois would be one of the few states without a state board of education, finding a mold isn't feasible, she added.

"The important thing is local schools have a voice in this process," Rausch said.

Rausch said the governor's administration has not been discussing anything of the proposed transition with state superintendent Robert Schiller.

Griffith said Blagojevich seems to be relying heavily on advisers from the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers. "Certainly, these organizations do have a political agenda," he said. "Granted, teachers are an important part of the system, but they are not the only part."

However, Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Norris City, said being a teacher in Illinois should be simpler, and right now it's not with the state board of education.

"I think if you ask a lot of teachers and administrators in our area, which I have done, they all say something needs to change," Phelps said.

Despite Griffith's claims, Phelps said he has seen nothing that indicates Illinois is moving up with national test scores. "I'd love to read it, but I just haven't seen or heard anything from anyone that makes me believe it," he said.

Patty Sullivan, a spokeswoman with the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington, D.C., said her organization monitors 50 different states with 50 different education system set-ups.

"It's very difficult to measure effectiveness," Sullivan said.

She said it's not uncommon for states to perform reorganization, or in some cases, a complete overhaul, on its education system.

"Different governors' offices want to try different patterns," Sullivan said. "For better or worse, kids get educated in all 50 states."


Education task force won't get involved with funding
Group says narrow focus is on creating new State Department of Education

By Jessica L. Aberle, Peoria Journal Star, February 22, 2004

About 80 percent of Illinois' schools are facing deficit budgets and fiscal crisis.

But despite the hopes of some area school chiefs, the governor's newly appointed Education Accountability Task Force won't touch the funding issue, according to Chairman Michael Bakalis.

"I know they all want that," Bakalis, a former state superintendent of schools, said of expanding the focus to include funding issues. "But I don't think that's what our task is.

"Certainly I think that's an important issue," Bakalis said. "But I don't think that's going to be the focus."

In fact, Bakalis said the 39-member group has a very narrow focus. Gov. Rod Blagojevich has proposed legislation to create a new State Department of Education under his authority and leave the current Illinois State Board of Education with little power.

"Our task is to say if it passes, and it looks as if it will, how's the thing actually going to work," Bakalis said of a new department of education.

Bakalis has taught at the junior and senior high school levels and was a professor at Northern Illinois University before joining the school's administration. He currently is on faculty at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management. He was the last person elected to the schools' highest post and helped push for a change in the early 1970s that established the Illinois State Board of Education with an appointed superintendent.

He has joined Blagojevich in calling for reform.

"Back in 1970, I thought it was in the best interest of the state to have an independent board of education. But over the years, that independence has allowed the board to grow into a sizable bureaucracy that answers to no one," Bakalis said at the time of his appointment to the task force.

"With something as critical as education - an issue that directly impacts our state's social and economic success - it's imperative that we establish a clear line of responsibility."

Area educators appointed

The governor also named four central Illinois superintendents to the task force: Bruce Dennison, regional superintendent for Bureau-Henry-Stark Country Regional Office of Education and president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools; Ralph Grimm, superintendent of Canton Union School District 66; Frances Karanovich, superintendent of Macomb Unit School District 185; and Bruce Nielsen, superintendent of Bloomington School District 87.

Task force members bring varying personalities, interests, local needs and beliefs to the table, said Dennison, who believes a healthy debate will be a crucial part of the process.

"I think it's always good to take a look at what we're doing and why we're doing it," he said. "This is a pretty narrow focus for this group. ... I'm going to trust that it's (the financial crisis) not going to be left out."

Superintendent Grimm heads up a school district that already has cut programs in an attempt to balance its budget. However, if voters don't approve a tax increase on March 16, the unit district ultimately will lose all extracurricular programming, including all band, chorus, sports, vocational programs, art, music and physical education. All electives at the high school level and all specialists at the elementary and middle school levels also will be lost by 2005 - the same time the new Department of Education is slated to take the reins.

"I think to accomplish what the governor wants, we have to address the funding issues," Grimm said. "I hope we can broaden the focus of this task force to include the funding issue, because it is part and parcel the main issue affecting public education today.

"If it came down to more money or eliminating the state board of education, I'd say show me the money."

Shifting the focus

Some cynics say the governor formed the task force to take the focus off of school funding. Grimm and others say it all is related.

Grimm may not agree with everything the governor has proposed, but he is pleased Blagojevich reached out to the educators to help deal with issues affecting education. "I'm willing to serve with an open mind.

"As a superintendent, if change is going to be made, I'm not against that. All I ever asked is to have a seat at the table," Grimm said.

On the table will be three objectives:

- Help reduce non-instruction related costs and focus more resources directly to education.

- Improve communication and responsiveness between a Department of Education and local school districts.

- Reduce existing mandates, bureaucracy and rules that tie the hands of school districts.

Bakalis has divided the state into five regions and will begin meeting with the task force members in those regions Wednesday. The first meeting will be in DuPage County, the second meeting will be Thursday in Chicago. Additional meetings are set for March 1 in Rock Falls, March 2 in Springfield and March 16 in Mount Vernon.

The meetings will continue through the end of the year, with the groups convening possibly every month, Bakalis said.

During the first round of meetings Bakalis said the group will identify problems with the current State Board of Education; separate problems with the board members from problems of the office; review the educational governing structures of other states; brainstorm what responsibilities should be levied to the state, regional or local bodies; and discuss what process the task force will use to form its final recommendation to the governor.

"Education is the major ingredient for economic growth in this country today," Bakalis said. "The governor wants to have a Department of Education under his control and I support that."

Time to develop

While the Legislature likely will address the governor's bill in the spring session, Bakalis said there is no urgency for the task force to rush together a proposal by then. If the group quickly agrees to one or two things, that information could be passed along to lawmakers, the chairman said.

The task force is operating under the assumption the governor's proposal will pass. But that doesn't mean local representatives serving on the Education Accountability Task Force believe the State Board of Education should be stripped of all its authority.

Dennison said he believes the State Board put forth a very fiscally responsible budget and the state superintendent has shown a willingness to look at the rules and regulations already in place.

"We look at all the accountability being talked about at the state level," Dennison said, "I think the State Board of Education has advanced a very reasonable budget.

"I caution that when they're talking about all the accountability, not to lose sight of the fiscal side of things."

Dennison said he believes the State Board was "cut off at the knees" with funding reductions in the past year. With multiple staff reductions and lack of funding, the board has been very limited in what services it can offer, Dennison said, adding that there is no regional superintendent or regional services for the Chicago area.

"We can talk about restructuring, but if we don't have the people and you don't have the people with the skills, then you can't have the services," Dennison said.

And ultimately it all comes down to money.

Superintendent Nielsen of Bloomington said he too believes there's a crisis in Illinois education, not limited to accountability or funding. And to say the state of Illinois is suffering its own fiscal crisis, he said, is an understatement.

"And I think it's all related," Nielsen said, adding his district already has suspended full-day kindergarten and is having to make other cuts just to stay above water.

Nielsen said he has formed no opinion yet on the governor's plan, "good, bad or neutral." However, he is glad to have the opportunity to give his input.

"I don't know where all this will end up. And I don't know how it's going to turn out," he said. "We're in a crisis in education and funding all of those things are of critical importance."

Questions remain

Macomb Superintendent Karanovich has worked a great deal with the State Board on facilities development and curriculum instruction issues. She is serving on a State Board committee that studies school funding, finance and fiscal management.

Karanovich understands the group's mission to develop specific proposals to help maximize the total money spent on instruction and to develop a new State Department of Education.

"I think it's important that I represent not only my voice but that of educators across the west central Illinois area," she said. "It's also important for western Illinois to be represented on the task force."

Grimm also will bring specific questions to the meetings, including: "Are we exchanging one bureaucracy for another?"

Ultimately the local leaders agree the accountability issues to be addressed are just one piece of the educational puzzle. And Bakalis, too, said this task force is just the first step to developing a coordinated educational system throughout the state.

"The governor has made some pretty strong campaign pledges," Grimm said of Blagojevich's refusal to raise income or sales taxes. "Hopefully the task force will be able to help him maintain these pledges, but raise the issue of how important funding is to solving the issues confronting public education."

Said Dennison: "There's a Chinese proverb, or maybe it's a curse, but it says that we live in interesting times, and this is they."


School reform and politics go hand in hand in Illinois
Peoria Journal Star

Education is likely to be the most volatile battleground as the Legislature and Gov. Rod Blagojevich wrangle over the Fiscal Year 2005 budget -- not to mention the state-level administrative structure of elementary and secondary education in Illinois.

This is a diverse state, where some legislative districts are rural and others are urbanized. Some have an industrial base, others rely on agriculture and many are primarily residential.

But every district has schools. Every lawmaker has constituents affected by education -- whether they have children or grandchildren in school, hire workers who are the products of our school systems or are concerned about increased property taxes they must pay to support education.

Blagojevich is proposing $400 million in new money for K-12 education, as he did last year. But he isn't saying where the money should go. Instead, the governor says he will work with the Legislature to determine its distribution.

That's a promising development. But it also could be a way for Blagojevich to share the heat for those who don't like how the money will be doled out.

For example, raising the per-pupil "foundation" funding level just $250 -- to $5,060 -- would eat up nearly all of the $400 million.

That would provide little help to districts already at or above the foundation level. And those districts could be harmed by the resulting lack in available funds to boost state support for so-called "categorical" programs, such as special education and transportation, that all districts must support.

The State Board of Education says a $139 million increase in funding for categorical programs is needed to keep pace with costs.

The closer working relationship with the Legislature on education also could be a strategic way for Blagojevich to court lawmakers' support for his desired changes in educational bureaucracy -- namely, creation of a Department of Education under the governor's control and, essentially, doing away with the Illinois State Board of Education.

Blagojevich has argued that such a change would save money, improve accountability and lessen paperwork for local districts.

In demanding greater accountability in exchange for more money for schools, Blagojevich echoed the feelings of many Illinoisans in saying, "Reforming schools and funding schools go hand in hand."

But in Illinois -- as in many states -- reforming schools and political infighting also go hand in hand. It's going to be an interesting spring.


Schools anticipate policies of new Department of Education
By Zak Stambor, Daily Illini, February 23, 2004

After attacking the Illinois State Board of Education as a bloated bureaucratic burden and proposing plans to transfer administrative responsibilities from the Illinois State Board of Education to a new Department of Education that will be directly accountable to the governor, Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed a transition task force to help restructure and improve Illinois schools on Feb. 9.

Yet Urbana School District officials remain concerned that the new Department of Education will not stop government bureaucracy.

"The main issue in Illinois is the overall funding of schools, not the overseeing body," said Kathy Jessup, Urbana School District public relations coordinator.

Jessup claims the governor's plans will actually add to governmental bureaucracy.

"He is trying to streamline and regulate a number of programs, such as keeping sugar out of schools, that while well-intentioned, must be administered," Jessup said.

Blagojevich, in his State of the State address, complained that only 46 percent of that money is spent on classroom instruction with the remainder going to administration, transportation and various other expenses.

Illinois schools currently spend about $20 billion a year from state, federal and local sources.

The new department will seek to keep the governor's promise to cut $1 billion of wasteful spending, said state Rep. Renee Kosel (D-Mokena), a co-sponsor of the bill.

The department will also attempt to save money on non-instructional costs that have caused the state to rank 40th in the nation in classroom instructional spending despite ranking 16th in total educational spending.

The 39-member task force of school administrators will help guide the structuring of the new agency and develop policies for improving service to schools. It is chaired by former State Superintendent of Schools, Michael J. Bakalis.

The task force's appointment comes in the wake of bipartisan sponsorship of the governor-initiated legislation.

The Department of Education will require the buck to stop at the governor, according to Rep. Jim Watson (R-Jacksonville), a member of the House Elementary and Secondary Education committee.

"If (the governor) doesn't reduce wasteful spending, then everyone will know where to point their finger," Watson said.

"For too long the State Board of Education has been accountable to no one, leading to periods of chaos and confusion," said Anne Davis, president of the Illinois Education Association.

Appointed by the governor, board members serve a six-year term — two years longer than the term of the governor that appointed them.

"It doesn't make much sense to have a governor come in with appointments to the State Board of Education that are not his," Watson said. "Getting some cohesion into the process makes sense."

Jessup and other critics of the legislation cite a 1970 constitutional amendment that prohibits the integration of politics and education.

"Politics should not be involved in educational decision-making," said Carolyn Berry, spokeswoman for Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, head of the Illinois Republican Party.

Robert Schiller, state superintendent of schools, has also denied the need for change.

The Illinois Board of Education has posted "Fact vs. Fiction: The real facts about the Illinois State Board of Education" on its Web site. Other governors, most recently Republican Jim Edgar in 1988, have tried but failed to gain more control of the educational bureaucracy.

The governor's plan differs from that of Edgar's because rather than eliminating the Board of Education, Blagojevich seeks to reduce their responsibilities, eliminating the necessity for amending the state constitution.


Smith's committee to distribute education money
The Daily Ledger

SPRINGFIELD -- State Rep. Mike Smith (D-Canton), chairman of the House Appropriations-Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, began preparations Wednesday to consider the $400 million proposed increase for Illinois' schools.

"Education is one of the most important services that we provide for the children of this state," Smith said. "I am glad that there is a place in the budget for this much-needed increase, and I look forward to working with my fellow committee members on a fair way to distribute the funding."

The governor's proposed budget for the next fiscal year includes a $400 million increase in education funding, nearly identical to the increase enacted in Fiscal Year 2004. The Elementary and Secondary Education section of the Governor's budget proposal intentionally lacked specific line item suggestions for distribution of new funds. According to the published budget proposal, priorities were outlined instead, with the hope of working closely with members of the General Assembly to allocate new resources.

Also included in the governor's budget proposal are measures to fix the teacher certification and retirement systems. His plan calls for removing the certification and professional development functions from the State Board of Education and placing them with a new Professional Teacher Standards Board. Smith added that this would reduce the headaches and confusion involved in teacher recertification. In addition, the budget would fully fund in FY 2005 the Teachers' Retirement System, keeping the pensions of over 300,000 downstate members secure.

Other priorities of the governor include physical fitness, in-house reading specialists, food inspection, and a free book per month for children through age five.

"Overall, I think this is a very well-intentioned budget proposal," Smith added. "As the state's chief executive, Gov. Blagojevich has a moral responsibility to provide direction and leadership for education, and this is reflected in his priorities."

Smith's Appropriations Committee has already heard testimony from the State Board of Education and will begin hearing from the governor's staff next week. Regular committee hearings will be held to analyze the feasibility of these new proposals, while re-examining the success or failure of ongoing programs.


Evanston school may quit `No Child'
Extra funds not worth it, some say
By Jodi S. Cohen and Lisa Black,
Chicago Tribune, February 23, 2004

As many educators struggle to meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements, Evanston Township High School officials are considering pulling out of the program, saying the financial benefits might not be worth the trouble.

The district, which could become the first in Illinois to opt out of the education reform law, would forfeit at least $131,000 in federal funds.

School officials say they will decide in coming weeks whether accepting the Title I money--directed to schools with low-income students to pay for more teachers, professional development and other programs --is worth the staff time and other costs to comply with the law's record keeping and arguably stiff penalties.

If they reject the federal aid, school officials would avoid having to offer private tutoring or to allow students to transfer to higher-achieving districts if the school does not reach state testing goals. They still would have to test all students in 11th grade, be held accountable for their progress and face the state's less stringent penalties if students do not meet standards.

"It is important to look at this issue soon so we don't get immersed in trying to comply with it if it is something we think is not conducive to the way we educate children," said School District 202 board member Ross Friedman, who raised the issue at a board meeting earlier this month.

The debate at Evanston comes as a growing number of state legislators and school administrators nationwide also look for ways to withdraw from the 2-year-old law, which many contend is underfunded and intrusive.

Several school districts in Vermont and Connecticut already have opted out. Utah, Virginia, Arizona and other states either have introduced legislation that would reject parts of the law or have requested waivers from the U.S. Department of Education. Illinois is not among the group.

Funds vital to some districts

Ron Tomalis, senior adviser with the Department of Education, said it would be foolish for Evanston or any other school district to reject money when many are operating in the red.

Schools are turning down Title I funding for the first time because of unprecedented accountability for test scores, dropout rates and teacher credentials, he said.

"You are talking about turning down resources to help children read or do math problems because of a discomfort," Tomalis said.

The program is well-funded, he said, with Illinois receiving more than $800 million.

Experts say the discussion at Evanston, one of the state's most academically successful and racially diverse schools, is a reflection of the frustration felt by teachers, parents and students affected by the increased focus on high-stakes testing--and the stigma test results can put on even the best schools.

The law's requirements also mean that for the first time, schools have to track down and test special education students who study off-campus, send letters to parents whose children are taught by an uncertified teacher and train for new test procedures.

"The frustration is spreading across the nation as districts have a better awareness of the operational impact of the law," said Reggie Felton, director of federal relations for the National School Boards Association, based in Alexandria, Va. "It may be costing them more money than they get."

The Utah House of Representatives voted this month not to contribute money to comply with parts of the law where they believe the federal government has not supplied enough funds.

In Virginia, the House of Delegates approved a resolution last month asking Congress to exempt it from "the most sweeping intrusions into state and local control of education in the history of the United States."

Besides arguing that the law's mandates are underfunded, some officials say the requirements--most notably having every student learning at grade level by 2014--are unrealistic.

But many schools that struggle the most with No Child Left Behind penalties have more low-income students than Evanston and could not afford to reject the money. For example, Chicago Public Schools got about $240 million in Title I funds for low-income students this year; East Aurora District 131 got nearly $5 million.

Xavier Botana, director of Chicago's No Child Left Behind program, said it would be good to have the financial flexibility to withdraw, but that "is not realistic" for a district with so many low-income students.

"It certainly would be a statement [if Evanston opted out] because it is a school with a great reputation," Botana said.

Districts that leave the program also risk losing other funds associated with Title I, including grants for safe and drug-free schools and educational technology, Tomalis said.

Although many Illinois educators share Evanston's concerns about some of the law's requirements, state education leaders are unaware of any districts that have bailed. In southern Illinois, Dongola school district Supt. William Mauser planned to reject $16,000 in Title I funds rather than send students to a higher-achieving district. But when an agreement couldn't be reached with a neighboring district to accept them, Mauser said his district was able to keep its students--and the money.

"There are an awful number of people who rumble about [No Child Left Behind]," said Dave Turner, executive director of the Springfield-based Illinois Principals Association. "But sometimes that's simply a catharsis, when you get a group of principals and superintendents together who say I'm going to take this law and shove it, sometimes more professionally than that and sometimes not."

Leaving no option for some

Other local school districts have looked into pulling out of No Child Left Behind but decided against it.

"We've considered the question, but at this time it's not a direction in which we're going to head," said Philip Prale, director of instruction at Oak Park and River Forest High School. The district receives about $80,000 to $90,000 in Title I funds used for a reading enrichment program and test preparation for targeted students, he said.

With an annual budget of about $46 million, Evanston High School uses most of its Title I money to pay teacher's aides who work with students in reading, math and English, said business manager Jeff Taggart.

This was the first year the district didn't make adequate progress because not enough African-American and low-income students passed reading and math tests, according to the 2003 state report card. Under No Child Left Behind, sanctions involving school choice and private tutoring start to kick in when a district doesn't meet standards two years in a row.

School officials say the data are inaccurate, and they are appealing.

Costs are at issue

"On paper the goals are certainly admirable. Who would object to them?" school board president Margaret Lurie said, noting that the district worked to close the achievement gap between minority students and their white peers long before the government made it a priority.

Yet, "like so many of the mandates that we get, there's just no money behind it," she said. "And there's the whole concept of having to worry about test scores when we feel we're constantly working on student achievement."

She and other board members asked school administrators to provide an analysis of the costs associated with the law before they discuss--and eventually vote on--whether to forgo the Title I money.

The seven-member board hasn't set a timetable but plans to take up the issue before the end of the school year. Three members reached by the Tribune last week would not commit themselves one way or the other.

"Politically, I'm not sure it's a good idea," Lurie said. "It would have to be a strong case to present to the taxpayers. There are a lot of programs that the money goes to."

Board member Jane Colleton said it's an important issue to debate, because "it is not a lot of money for all the hoops we are jumping through."

In the meantime, she proposed a bake sale.

"There are so many people who don't like No Child Left Behind, we can get a lot of teachers to bake and buy," she said with a laugh. "We might be able to make up that money."


Education plan is more smoke and mirrors
Letter to the Editor by G.L. Hermann of Springfield, State Journal-Register

Dear Editor:  Does Governor Rod Blagojevich really think that the legislature will support his plan to “gut” the Illinois State Board of Education only to allow him the opportunity (when his education plan fails) to point the finger and blame them for lack of funding?

In his tirade belittlement of the ISBE, not once did the governor mention that only school districts, school boards and the legislature (and not the ISBE) control education spending in Illinois.  The lack of funding from the legislature has been the root of education controversies for years and in spite of massive IBSE budget cuts under Governor Blagojevich, Illinois recently received national recognition with an “A-“ for meeting education goals (while also receiving an “F” for how funding for education is distributed)—items also not mentioned in the governor’s press conference.

We are truly living in an “alternative reality” if we believe the $1 billion savings claimed by the governor will be devoted to classroom instructions.

The ISBE issue is simple:  The governor wants control of the money and positions.  His admission that he has not determined how the “savings” will be divided among schools should be an indication that he has no real follow-up plan.

The last thing we need are new “smoke and mirror” programs that will become separate and costly “bureaucracies” (all of which will most likely be located in Chicago).

Creating a legacy for Gov. Blagojevich is not a good reason for the change.


Voice Of The Southern: Blagojevich, A Governor Who Fits No Stereotypes  
Southern Illinoisan,

Gov. Rod Blagojevich continues to defy convention. As a Democrat spawned from the Chicago political machine, one would expect him to be an advocate of bigger government, but he is not. As leader of a state in which the economy is sputtering, one would also expect him to talk in more business-friendly terms, but he does not. Just when one thinks they have him pegged or stereotyped, he turns around and surprises them.

The one thing that can be said of Blagojevich with certainty is that when he vowed "no more business as usual" in Illinois government, he meant it.

That was shown once again during his budget address Wednesday. Blagojevich continued his crusade to deconstruct state government. Under his revamping proposals, Illinois' bureaucracy is being reduced. When he took office there were 66 state agencies. He wants to pare that back through consolidations and eliminations to 46. His mandate is to make government more efficient.

There are no sacred cows. A proponent of public safety, he still is calling for major structural changes at the Illinois State Police. A chief ally of education, he previous announced he'll gut the Illinois State Board of Education. A man whom state employees' unions helped deliver into office, he wants to eliminate 2,000 jobs and send an equal number of workersinto retirement.

Blagojevich is convinced that a "more with less" government is imperative as he hacks away at a $1.7 billion deficit.

These aren't likely to be qualities that will endear him to state employees, lawmakers and agency chiefs, but they resound with most Illinoisans who believe government has grown to become an 800-pound gorilla. The question that remains to be answered, though, is can government continue to provide the services taxpayers expect with this much leaner model.

The governor didn't drop as many bombshells Wednesday as he has in past speeches; certainly nothing of the magnitude of January's State of the State address where he described the ISBE as a "Soviet-style" bureaucracy. But, as in the past, he did find some whipping boys.

Those in his sights were corporations doing business in Illinois whom the governor said aren't paying their fair share in taxes. Blagojevich detailed some of the 42 so-called corporate loopholes he'll close that will generate from between $300 million to $400 million for Illinois.

"In 1980, one in every five income tax dollars in Illinois was paid by corporations," he said. "Today corporations pay only one of every $9 in state income taxes. That means for every dollar paid in corporate income tax, $8 are paid by the hard working men and women of this state."

Such words will certainly play in Peoria, but Illinois business leaders took it as another attack on them. They are still reeling from last year's measures of higher taxes and new fees costing an estimated $1 billion.

Legislators, whose relationship with Blagojevich is tepid, weren't excluded from sacrifices. The governor announced a Balanced Budget Act that simply means for any new law to be introduced that costs Illinois money, the architects of the bill must also show how it will be paid for.

Finally, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest state workers' union, was put on notice that they'd best be flexible as negotiations over their labor contract, which expires June 30, continue.

"We have to make sure that what's a fair deal for state employees must be weighed against the interests of the people they serve," he said. "State government doesn't exist for the benefit of state employees."

In all, the Blagojevich continued his theme of turning state government inside out in effort to streamline it. It is not something many expected him to do when he took office, but something that needed to be done. Even if some of these changes don't bear fruit, no one can say the governor didn't try.


No Child Left Behind affects districts' jobs
Heath Hixson, Kane County Chronicle

When state tests arrive by truck at the St. Charles school district's administration offices each year, they consume at least 48 boxes.

The tests are individually labeled, checked and counted to ensure integrity. Students take the tests and the exams are recounted. The exams then are sent to the Illinois State Board of Education for scoring.

All of the information for more than 13,000 students, including 11 subgroups of demographic information and student test scores, will be recorded. At least 16 boxes of pages filled with data

are returned to the district.

School officials then check the state's data for mistakes, and then analyze the data. Each fall, the information is packaged into individual school and district report cards for the public.

Each step in the lengthy process demands hours of paperwork and data entry into computers.

This has increased dramatically under the No Child Left Behind Act and is set to exponentially increase in the coming years as schools begin to test more grades, said Rae Barton, St. Charles school district assessment resource teacher.

"Lots of paperwork comes from the state, but that is mandated by the federal law," Barton said. "I am not upset about the NCLB law. I am fine with accountability. ... The paperwork is difficult. The possibility of mistakes scare me."

Barton and administrators with similar positions in other districts increasingly find themselves deluged with heaps of data that they must report and record to meet federal and state standards because of the act.

The data explains student performance on state exams and demographic details of each student, such as ethnicity and age. The federal law mandates that this information be reported.

The amount of data reported has increased at least 11-fold since the passage of the act, she said. But Barton said the information still is valuable.

"It is not a drudge. It truly is important to analyze student achievement and learning and report that out to all stake holders," she said. "It is valuable information, but it is a lot of work."

To handle the workload, Barton's nine-month contract has been extended by four weeks each of the last two years.

Other school districts also face problems with the growing amount of paperwork duties under the two-year-old federal law and the rules the state has written to meet the law's requirements.

The workload has meant more use of computers to report and record data, said Jan Wright, Batavia school district director of curriculum and instruction.

"A lot of time to read the regulations and to understand them and to send in the reports," Wright said. "Is spending that time improving student learning? I would have to say no."

Much of the paperwork is the result of the state board of education's interpretation of the federal law's requirements, said Clem Mejia, Kane County regional superintendent of schools.

Mejia said that while "the feds tend to blame the state, and the state blames the feds," much of the fault lies with the state board of education, which Gov. Rod Blagojevich has targeted as "Soviet-style" bureaucracy.

"I think it is pretty clear the state of Illinois has added more than is required by NCLB," he said.

"They are making it more stringent so they can meet the standards. Interpretation of the definitions is where you find some of the difficulties."

Mejia points to testing of special education students. He said the state interpreted the act as requiring all such students need to be tested and now the federal government is saying that is not true.

In addition, he said the issuance of new teacher certificates after the approval of the act also has bogged up his office. With recent staff cuts, his office has seen a 25 percent rise in paperwork because of NCLB-related requirements by the state, he said.

However, Karen Craven, state board of education spokeswoman, said the board is not to blame for the rise in paperwork. She said a paper trail is needed for all of the programs the board oversees each year.

"Most of this is done electronically, so it is efficient, as well cost-effective," she said.

"You have 100 state, federal programs and you can't just sign blank checks. You have to file quarterly reports and annual reports."

The NCLB act and state laws will require more testing of students in the next year.

More tests means more data that Barton said will increase the amount of data that has to be reported by about 11 times because of the subgroup information for each test.

The data growth could mean the truckload of boxes that arrives each year also could increase by at least that amount.


Entire Senate meeting on governor's education reform plan
Illinois, Education: The entire Senate will meet as a committee March 3, Northwest Indiana Times

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- State senators are getting a rare opportunity next week to collectively examine Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to revamp education in Illinois.

The entire Senate will meet as a committee March 3 to discuss Blagojevich's proposal to eliminate the State Board of Education and replace it with a department under the governor's control.

Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, said Monday that the magnitude of the issue and tremendous interest by his members led to the decision to meet as a "Committee of the Whole."

The hearing will be only the fifth time since 1983 that the entire Senate has convened for a committee. Previous meetings have covered issues such as tax increases and riverboat gambling.

Jones says the Senate Education Committee also will hold hearings on the measure in suburban Chicago and southern Illinois.

"Our goal is to provide a fair and balanced roster of individuals, groups and organizations who can provide their insight into this far-reaching proposal," said Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, chairman of the Education Committee.

Also Monday, Senate Republicans pledged to work with Blagojevich to streamline 2,800 pages of administrative rules imposed on state schools that the governor says have created a bureaucratic nightmare for local officials.


Voters rejecting Blagojevich school plan
John Chase, Chicago Tribune

Illinois voters overwhelmingly disagree with Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to gut the Illinois State Board of Education and take over its powers, despite the governor's claims that the move would improve accountability and efficiency in school spending, a new Tribune/WGN-TV poll shows.

The negative reaction to the cornerstone of Blagojevich's legislative agenda comes as the poll shows the governor's popularity, while strong, appears to have plateaued. The governor's approval rating has remained near 55 percent over several Tribune polls since June, while the ranks of voters who disapprove of his performance in office have risen since then from 16 percent to 27 percent.

The school issue represents uncharted political territory for Blagojevich, who has spent much of his first year in office engaged in a series of high-profile battles over spending, ethics reform and other matters with legislators, state officials and corporate interests. He has prevailed in most of those conflicts by successfully painting them in black-and-white terms that portray him as a champion of change and his opponents as obstructionists.

Taking on the state board is far more complicated and involves questions about whether it would impinge on local control of schools. Despite the governor's attempt to portray the independent agency as a bloated and inefficient "Soviet-style bureaucracy," the poll results suggest he has far more work to do to sway voters.

In the survey, 53 percent of Illinois registered voters said oversight of public schools should remain with the board, compared with 26 percent who said management should be turned over to the governor. The remaining 22 percent had no opinion on the issue.

Furthermore, the poll shows, 61 percent of voters said Blagojevich's plans would make public education worse or make no difference at all, while only 22 percent thought it would improve education.

The findings are based on a survey of 600 registered Illinois voters. It was conducted Feb. 11-14 by Market Shares Corp. of Mt. Prospect and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Blagojevich's plan calls for dismantling the board and shifting its duties to a new Department of Education under the governor's direct control. The proposal would do an end-run around a provision in the state constitution that establishes the board, allowing it to exist but relegating its function to that of a think tank.

Voters also gave an unenthusiastic response to another aspect of Blagojevich's school-takeover plan that would consolidate under his control some school functions now run at the local district level, such as the purchasing of supplies and employee health insurance. The governor says the combined purchasing power could save districts money and allow them to use the savings in the classroom, while many local officials contend they can do things more efficiently than the state.

Nearly 60 percent said control of these services should remain in the hands of local school districts, while only 24 percent said the state should take control. The rest percent had no opinion.

During his State of the State address last month, Blagojevich blasted the board, blaming its red tape for scores of problems in public education from the inability of many schoolchildren to read well to tainted cafeteria lunches. Since then, he has gone around the state trumpeting his plan, saying it will free up money for districts to spend on classroom instruction, improving education statewide.

But critics have argued that Blagojevich is oversimplifying the situation without addressing the real problem, which is the state's failure to overhaul an education-funding system that has created widespread inequities and has led to heavy reliance on the property tax.

One reason Blagojevich hasn't dealt with that situation is because he has vowed not to raise income or sales taxes--something that would be almost inevitable to offset decreased property taxes in any comprehensive revamp of school funding.

Indeed, voters in the survey were very supportive of that position. Slightly more than half said Blagojevich should continue to keep his pledge not to raise general taxes, while 32 percent said he should not and 16 percent had no opinion.

The controversy swirling around Blagojevich's proposal led Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) to announce Monday that the Senate will meet March 3 in a rare Committee of the Whole to discuss the matter. The committee will hear testimony from both sides on the governor's plan.

The poll showed voters across Illinois had qualms about Blagojevich's education takeover, but the most negative reaction came from Downstate. A total of 63 percent of those surveyed who live outside the Chicago area said the board should remain in charge of public-education oversight, with only 19 percent siding with the governor.

The strongest support for Blagojevich on the issue came from suburban Cook County, where 37 percent of voters backed his plan while 40 percent supported continued board control of education policy and programs. In the collar counties, 31 percent of voters surveyed backed the governor, while 50 percent supported the board. In the city, only 21 percent supported the governor, while 50 percent backed the board.

That Blagojevich's plan is getting its coldest reception Downstate is hardly surprising, given the fact that the governor has been frequently criticized by officials from that part of the state for being too Chicago-focusedand ignoring their needs. Blagojevich's job approval ratings are also softest among Downstate voters, with 44 percent support and 37 percent opposition.

Blagojevich has seen his statewide disapproval rating climb repeatedly in Tribune/WGN-TV surveys since June, while his approval rating has remained static. The ranks of those who have no opinion about the governor's performance have thinned, with those making up their minds in recent months tilting toward a negative impression.

Even so, Blagojevich still gets generally high marks from voters in Chicago and the suburbs. In Cook County, 62 percent of those polled approved of Blagojevich's tenure, with only 18 percent disapproving and 19 percent having no opinion. Similarly, 62 percent of voters in the collar counties backed Blagojevich's performance, with 24 percent disapproving and 14 percent no opinion.

How voters view school plan

More than half of Illinois voters oppose Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plans to take control of the functions of the Illinois State Board of Education, according to a Tribune/WGN-TV poll.


Q: Blagojevich says he should control school oversight because the board is inefficient, lacks accountability and has done a poor job of running public schools. Critics of the governor say such a change would leave school policy subject to political manipulation.

After considering these arguments, do you think oversight of public schools should be turned over to the governor, or should the state board remain in charge?

State board: 53%

Blagojevich: 26%

No opinion: 22%

Q: Blagojevich also wants to consolidate and control some school-district functions, such as purchasing supplies and health insurance for teachers and other school employees. He says this would save money. Many local school officials disagree that the state could run these services more efficiently.

After considering these arguments, do you think the state should take control of these services or should control remain with local district officials?

Remain locally controlled: 57%

State should control: 24%

No opinion: 19%


While the governor's approval rating has been steady, an increasing share of voters disapprove of the way he's doing his job

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the job Rod Blagojevich is doing?


Approve: 58%

No opinion: 26%

Disapprove: 16%


Approve: 55%

No opinion: 18%

Disapprove: 27%

Note: Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.

Margin of error is +/-4 percentage points.

Source: Market Shares Corp. poll of 600 Illinois registered voters conducted Feb. 11-14


Experts debate school funding
Max Seigle, Daily Herald

The omnipresent frustration with the way schools are funded in Illinois made its way Monday to Elgin Community College, where a panel offered remedies to the crisis situation.

A group of Fox Valley state representatives, including Ruth Munson of Elgin, Tim Schmitz of Batavia and Pat Linder of Aurora, hosted the panel to hear more dialogue on the issue in hopes of bringing about educational funding reform in Springfield.

"All of us agree that this is an important issue," Munson said.

Munson and Schmitz have co-sponsored a bill that would speed up state funding allocations for high-growth school districts experiencing lags in state aid, but a comprehensive solution is yet to come from Springfield.

"The main problem is a poorly designed revenue system," said panelist Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a bipartisan state think tank.

Martire argued that the state's current fiscal system is to blame for the education funding crisis. He said it could be remedied by tapping new revenue sources like income tax increases as well an expansion of the state's sales tax base to include the service sector.

Martire says incorporating both of those resources into the state revenue system would bring tax relief to homeowners and businesses and provide education the funding it's due.

"At the end of the day, we have enough money for schools to be funded at 51 percent (of the state budget)," Martire said.

Jeffery Mays, president of the Illinois Business Roundtable, disagreed that changes to the state's revenue system would fix the system. Mays said that an examination of spending must be done at the same time.

"You can't look at it in isolation, especially when spending far exceeds the capacity to support it," Mays said.

The bottom line for Mays is achieving a sustainable balancing act between spending and revenues to support education. And as businesses have done, he says school districts can help out by cutting back in areas like teacher pensions, health care and salaries.

For Ron Gidwitz, a member of the Illinois State Board of Education and head of Student First, an advocacy group, repairing the school funding crisis lies in the state's lap. He quoted the Illinois Constitution, saying the state's primary responsibility is to finance public education.

Gidwitz feels education should be funded before any other expense at the state level and emphasized Monday that having the state fulfill its legal obligation will reap benefits.

"Public education is a major driver in the new economy and world marketplace that we need to foster," he said.

Monday's panelists also heard from some students about the state funding crisis, including Corrine Brantner, a senior at Jacobs High School in Algonquin.

Brantner told the panel how the crisis has cut teaching jobs and forced 45 students into her Advanced Placement history class, adding administrative pressures on the teachers left.

"It is unacceptable (for this) to fall on the children's back," she said


Study: Graduate rate is inflated
School districts find a loophole
By Tracy Dell'Angela, Chicago Tribune 

Illinois' largest school districts "seriously inflate" their high school graduation rates, particularly for minority students, a finding that points to an accountability problem across the state, a national study released Wednesday suggests.

The researchers argue that school districts nationwide are misleading the public with self-serving statistics that hide this reality: Only about half of all African-American, Latino and Native American students nationwide are graduating from high school with regular diplomas in four years. The report, "Losing our Future," was conducted by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University and the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan policy research organization.

Although the authors praise Illinois as one of the few states to set goals for graduation rates, they argue that the state's accountability is marred by bad data. The study ranks Illinois' overall 75 percent graduation rate as the 15th highest in the nation, but also said the racial gaps in graduation are among the worst.

The Chicago Public Schools system has long been the target for inaccurate reporting of graduation rates, but this study revealed serious problems in Waukegan, Carpentersville, Elgin and Rockford.

"It's just devastating," said state Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), Senate Education Committee chairman. "We've been complaining about this issue for a long time."

Illinois' method for calculating graduation rates appears straightforward. It measures the difference between how many students graduated in one year against the number of 9th graders enrolled four years earlier--minus transfer students.

But the districts are allowed plenty of wiggle room in how they define their "transfer" students. Some districts assume that students who leave school have transferred, even if they have not received any documents suggesting this has happened. Del Valle has proposed legislation that would close the loophole and force districts to report the kids as dropouts.

The graduation rate has become increasingly visible under federal education reforms that require that school systems be held accountable for graduation rates as well as performance on academic assessments.

"When there is a spotlight placed on this issue, you find situations where school districts report [graduation rates] in a way that's most favorable to them," said Illinois School Supt. Robert Schiller. "The data collection may not be as accurate as we'd like."

Carpentersville-based District 300's official graduation rate is almost identical to the rate reported in the study--83.4 percent compared with 82.3 percent--but the gap between its white and black students is 43 percentage points.

"These numbers are alarming," said District 300 Supt. Ken Arndt. "Forty-three percent is totally unacceptable. It needs to be addressed and will be addressed."

Elgin-based District U-46, the second largest in the state, reported to the state that 95 percent of its students and 90 percent of its black students graduate. The study's analysis said the rates are closer to 77 percent overall and just 53 percent for African-American students.

The study indicates Waukegan District 60's graduation rate is as low as Chicago's, with only 49 percent of students graduating in four years. Waukegan's state-reported rate is 61 percent.

Officials from Elgin and Waukegan declined to comment on the report.

The analysis suggested that the graduation rate for Rockford District 205, the third-largest school system in Illinois, is 50 percent--not the 81 percent the district reported to the state.

"I don't believe that's happening here at all," said Linda Hernandez, assistant superintendent for the Rockford district. "The numbers we give to the state would be the most accurate."

For Chicago Public Schools, the national analysis indicated a graduation rate of only 49 percent--compared with 70 percent the system reports to the state.

Yet Chicago is adopting an unusual approach to stop the hemorrhaging of its students. Before leaving school, dropouts and their parents will be required to sign a form that says the students understand they are more likely to spend time in jail or on welfare and that they "will not be able to afford many things that [they] will see others acquiring."

"Before students make a drastic decision that will change their lives, they need to know the consequences," said schools chief Arne Duncan.

Sky Clark, a 17-year-old sophomore at the School of Entrepreneurship in South Shore, said he thinks reminding potential dropouts that they aren't going to be able to find jobs is a good idea.

"I know there are days I don't want to go to school," said Clark, who said thinking about how little work there is without a high school diploma and college degree helps him remain motivated to stay in school.


P.E. waivers a problem, but not a major priority
Pantagraph Editorial

For Illinois to bask in the praise it receives for "requiring" daily physical education classes, then grant waivers and "modifications" to that requirement to nearly a quarter of its school districts, is somewhat deceiving.

However, considering the financial and academic problems facing many school districts, it's understandable why many districts would seek relief from that burden.

There is no need to repeat here the statistics regarding the increase in obesity and weight-related health problems among children today. Schools -- and parents -- need to emphasize the importance of eating right and being active. A well-run, daily physical education program can help in that area.

But the waivers can't be blamed for the abundance of overweight, unfit children.

Furthermore, when the state has school districts that can't even afford foreign language teachers, it's hard to say they must have P.E. classes every day for every student.

In some cases, lack of space rather than lack of staff is the problem. Unless we're going to have students doing jumping jacks in their classrooms and handstands on their desks, there may be no room to accommodate daily gym class.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, has submitted a bill that would end the practice of unlimited waivers of up to five years. House Bill 3970 would permit only a single two-year waiver. That is supposed to give district's enough time to remedy the problem of inadequate facilities or staffing.

But with at least one-third of Illinois school districts on the state's financial watch or financial early warning lists and voter approval of bond issues and tax hikes seldom an automatic victory, two years seems too short to expect problems to be resolved.

It's also worth noting that under the procedures for obtaining waivers from the P.E. requirement, final approval is given by the Legislature.

The Legislature has approved 141 of the waivers in effect and denied only four applications, according to figures from the Illinois State Board of Education.

If the Legislature thinks school districts have been receiving too many waivers for too many years, lawmakers don't need to pass another law. They can just stop virtually rubber stamping the waiver applications they receive.

But that would be likely to cause an uproar.

It's far easier to pass a blanket law that limits waivers to two years than to tell a particular district it has to follow the rules, even if there is no room for P.E. classes, no money for P.E. teachers and no chance a proposal for higher taxes can gain approval.

Until the state does a better job of providing its share of the cost of education and until the state stops piling mandate after unfunded mandate on top of school officials, it should back away from limiting waivers for laws that are almost impossible to follow.

Meanwhile, the state should stop bragging about its "daily" physical education requirement.




Bush Education Officials Find New Law a Tough Sell  
By SAM DILLON, New York Times, February 22, 2004

SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 20 — It was 8 p.m., and Ken Meyer was smiling gamely from a gloomy high school stage at an audience of disgruntled teachers and parents to whom he had been introduced as "a bigwig from Washington," come to Utah to explain President Bush's centerpiece education law.

A former math teacher was at a microphone, arguing that it would cost $1 billion for the state to carry out the law's requirements, while the federal government gives Utah only about $100 million.

"That's like sending a child for $10 worth of groceries and giving him just $1 to buy them," the former teacher said.

"Let me correct that," Mr. Meyer interrupted wearily, wading in as if with a fire extinguisher, spraying official statistics on behalf of the Department of Education, where he is a deputy assistant secretary. "Believe me, I've traveled to 40 states to talk about this law, and I've done the math. It's very well funded."

As he campaigns for re-election, President Bush hopes to capitalize on the law, known as No Child Left Behind, as one of the pillars of his domestic agenda. But the Democratic presidential candidates have made it a frequent target of criticism and ridicule. And things are not going that well even in this, one of the most Republican of states.

Not only the law's financing, but provisions that expand standardized testing to raise achievement and that label schools as underperforming when even small groups of students miss proficiency targets have stirred discontent nationwide among educators and local politicians. So Mr. Meyer's job is to barnstorm the country, part good-will diplomat, part flak-catcher, calming emotions and clarifying misunderstandings.

He is one of many Bush administration officials traveling to explain the 700-page law. Since Feb. 8, at least 10 other department and White House officials have spoken in nine states, although Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said the pace of travel had been consistent for the last year.

"I've been in some, I don't want to say hostile, but very contentious environments" in recent months, Mr. Meyer said. "Places where I wondered whether I'd get out of there with my skin intact. This law is largely misunderstood by the public because of its enormity, so people get emotional about it, and you've got pent-up frustrations."

Mr. Meyer's trip this week was the second Bush administration mission in two weeks to Utah. A five-person delegation this month defended the law to lawmakers, but the Republican-controlled Utah House nevertheless voted 64 to 8 on Feb. 10 not to comply with any provisions not fully financed by federal money. That measure now awaits Senate action.

Senator Dave Gladwell, a Republican who is the Utah bill's Senate sponsor, said many of his colleagues felt ambivalent about the measure.

"We don't want to embarrass President Bush or his administration, and yet we're kind of sensitive to our state sovereignty," he said.

Gov. Olene S. Walker, a Republican, said in an interview that she expected "heated discussion" of the bill in the Senate. She declined to say whether she would sign it if approved.

The Feb. 10 vote by the Utah House was the strongest action by any state legislature to date, but more than a dozen other states have passed or introduced laws or resolutions challenging the federal law or commissioning studies of the costs of carrying it out.

Last month, the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates passed a resolution, 98 to 1, urging Congress to exempt Virginia from the law. That vote came after Rod Paige, the education secretary, and other administration officials met with Virginia lawmakers, said James H. Dillard II, chairman of the House Education Committee.

"Six of us met with Paige," Mr. Dillard, a Republican, said. "He looked us in the eye and said, `It's fully funded.' We looked him back in the eye and said, `We don't think so.' "

"We got platitudes and stonewalls, but no corrective action," he said.

Secretary Paige took action on one part of the law on Thursday, announcing that test scores of recent immigrants who did not speak English would no longer be considered in determining whether a school was meeting annual targets for academic progress.


U.S. Students Still Getting the Paddle  
Corporal Punishment Laws Often Reflect Regional Chasms

By Michael Dobbs, Washington Post Staff Writer, February 21, 2004

MERIDIAN, Miss. -- The debate over whether corporal punishment has a place in American education became very personal for Ralph McLaney when the principal of Carver Middle School ordered him to paddle a sixth-grade student who had acted up in class.

"The idea of a big white guy hitting an 80-pound black girl because she talked back to the teacher did not sit well with me," said McLaney, who resigned his assistant principal's post soon after the school year began rather than carry out his superior's instructions. "I decided I did not get my master's degree in education to spend my time paddling students."

A decision last month by the Canadian Supreme Court to outlaw the use of the strap by teachers has left the United States and a lone state in Australia as the only parts of the industrialized world to allow corporal punishment in schools, according to anti-paddling activists. While 28 U.S. states have outlawed paddling over the past three decades, the practice remains commonplace across much of the Bible Belt.

Here in the nation's top paddling state, nearly 10 percent of students are paddled every year, according to statistics collected by the federal Department of Education. In poorer parts of the state, where a higher proportion of children are from minority and single-parent families, the use of corporal punishment is even more frequent.

"The point is to get the students' attention, not to inflict pain," said Carver Middle School principal Earnest Ward. "Sometimes all you have to do is hold a paddle up, and it will scare a student to death. Others are not afraid of it at all."

Although child psychologists say corporal punishment risks reinforcing negative behavior, many Meridian teachers and parents consider it an effective form of discipline, particularly at the elementary and middle school level. They maintain that three quick licks (the maximum permitted by the school board) with an officially approved, quarter-inch-thick wooden paddle is often preferable to keeping children out of class and putting them even further behind in their studies.

And then there is the religious argument.

"Are we going to believe man's report or God's report?" asked Cherry Moore, a special education teacher at Carver and co-pastor of a local church. She believes that Old Testament references to "spoiling the child by sparing the rod" should outweigh the allegedly negative effects of corporal punishment cited by child development experts.

The debate over corporal punishment at Carver Middle School, provoked by one administrator's crisis of conscience, reflects a much broader divide running through American education. Studies have shown that there is a high correlation between paddling and poverty, and corporal punishment is more common in rural areas than in urban areas. The practice has been banned for more than a decade in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Opponents of paddling argue that corporal punishment perpetuates a cycle of poverty and violence. Supporters contend that paddling undergirds orderly and disciplined schools, which represent a child's best hope for social and academic advancement.

Although McLaney had taught in other Mississippi schools, mainly in the metropolitan Jackson area, he concedes that he felt out of place at Carver. The school draws most of its students from nearby housing projects. More than 90 percent of them are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, a common measure of poverty. Three-quarters of the children come from broken homes.

"In other Mississippi schools where I have worked, the paddle was a dusty relic," he said. "It was put on the shelf and used when the football player didn't want to miss the big game."

When McLaney was appointed assistant principal of Carver Middle School last summer, he agreed to enforce the school board's code of discipline, which includes paddling. At the time, he said, he did not realize he would be expected to paddle as many as 10 to 15 students a day. When he sought to use other methods of disciplining students, such as detention, his colleagues complained that he was shirking his duties.

According to written notes kept by McLaney, he received repeated admonishments from Ward, the principal, including comments such as, "These kids are different, all they understand is the paddle," and "walk the halls and, if the kids are out of line, burn their butts." McLaney says he resigned as assistant principal on Sept. 30 when it became clear to him that the alternative was to be fired for insubordination.

Ward refuses to discuss his conversations with McLaney and describes the resignation as a private personnel matter. He points out that corporal punishment at Carver is carried out in strict accordance with policies laid down by the school's board of trustees. The punishment must be carried out by an administrator, in his office, in the presence of a witness, and advance parental consent is required.

Typically, paddlings are administered for fairly minor offenses such as disrespect to a teacher, disturbing the class, profanity or tardiness. More serious infractions, such as fighting with other students, are punished by suspension.

According to federal statistics, the use of corporal punishment has been in sharp decline since the early 1970s, when states began to outlaw the practice. In 2000, the most recent year for which figures are available from the Department of Education, 342,038 public school students were paddled, down from 1.5 million in 1976. The figures do not include paddlings in private and religious schools.

"Under U.S. law, children are the only class of individuals who can be legally hit," said Nadine Block of the Center for Effective Discipline, a leading anti-paddling group. "Children have less legal protection than someone who is in jail or in the army."

In some states, such as Pennsylvania and Wyoming, corporal punishment of students remains legal, though the institution has all but died out. The top paddling states after Mississippi are Arkansas (9.1 percent of students paddled in 2000), Alabama (5.4 percent) and Tennessee (4.2 percent.) According to Block, black students are paddled more than twice as often as other students, proportionate to the overall population.

Corporal punishment in schools is illegal in most of the rest of the world and has been banned in most of Europe for several decades. In the past few years, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Pakistan have all outlawed the practice. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled on Jan. 30 that teachers could use "physical force" to restrain fighting students, but were not permitted to use disciplinary instruments such as a paddle or strap.

In its most recent ruling on paddling, the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1977 that the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, applied to convicted criminals but not to students. It also ruled that teachers could punish children without parental permission.

Most school districts that allow paddling now stipulate that it must be done with the permission of parents, a requirement that has sharply reduced the number of legal complaints. There are, however, school districts in Texas where parental permission is still not necessary.

Jean Merrill, who lives in the northern Texas town of City View, said she withdrew her 15-year-old daughter from the local secondary school after she was paddled by the principal for wearing a T-shirt that slightly exposed her midriff.

"I told the principal they were not to touch my child without calling me," she said. "When he still refused to call, I pulled her out of there." School Superintendent Michael Smith said paddling is legal in Texas, and no notification is required.

Like other Meridian schools, Carver Middle School sends parents a note at the beginning of every school year, outlining its corporal punishment policy. According to Ward, about 80 percent check the box on Form 053-7198, which states: "I do want corporal punishment administered according to district policy if my child's behavior indicates such a need."

"When my son got spanked, he didn't act up anymore," said Patricia Moody, a Carver parent and security guard in a local hospital, who had come to the school to retrieve her daughter after a classroom brawl. "Three licks on the butt, and they get more control."

McLaney, who came to teaching from a civilian job in the Navy, was loath to give up his assistant principal's post, which paid $53,000, "good money for Mississippi," he said. When he asked the state attorney general's office whether he could refuse to paddle a student on grounds of conscience, he was told that there were no grounds for refusing "a valid, legal order" from his supervisor. A lawyer hired to represent him by the teacher's union gave him similar advice.

"In the end, I resigned because they made it very clear they were going to fire me otherwise," said McLaney, who is still looking for another education job.


Panel challenges No Child Act
Elana Bildner, Yale Daily Times

Like many education advocates, attorney Alice O'Brien dislikes the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), signed into law by President Bush in 2002. So when asked Sunday at a Law School panel what Congress should do to improve the federal policy, O'Brien put her feelings in no uncertain terms.

"Revisit the whole thing," she said.

Other members of the "No Child Left Behind: No School Left Standing?" panel -- held as part of the Law School's Rebellious Lawyering Conference this weekend -- voiced similar opinions about the legislation. Charging that NCLB is, as one panelist put it, a "train wreck," the three speakers urged a large crowd of assembled law students to work to counter the act's negative effects on the nation's school system.

A bipartisan initiative, NCLB requires states to implement stricter performance standards for their public schools in order to maintain federal funding. By demanding annual evaluations of school districts based on student testing, the act aims to have all students reach 100 percent proficiency in reading and math within 12 years.

But Daniel Losen, a research associate at Harvard's Civil Rights Project, said there is no evidence that high stakes testing improves the education system. An onslaught of tests, Losen said, is not the cure for failing schools.

"It's like buying more thermometers for your sick patient instead of investing in the rest and medicine that you know would make them better," he said.

Not only does more testing not work, Losen said, but it creates "perverse incentives" for schools to take destructive measures in order to keep test scores high. For example, he said, many schools boost scores by encouraging students who are already behind -- disproportionately minority and special education students -- to "voluntarily" drop out. Districts can do this, Losen said, because while NCLB provisions require schools to improve graduation rates, these provisions are not as rigorously enforced as those demanding improvement in test scores.

Panelist Elisa Hyman, deputy director of the nonprofit Advocates for Children of New York, said the "discharging" of low-performing students who could harm test scores is a widespread problem in New York City public schools. At one school, 5,000 students were discharged over the course of a year, she said. And overall, she estimated that between 50,000 and 60,000 students have been discharged from New York City schools in the last few years.

During her presentation, Hyman described some of the discharged students who have asked her organization to help them gain readmittance to their schools.

"It's sad," she said. "A lot of the kids had all of their credits and all of their exit exams but one. Most of the other kids are struggling with literacy, and they're being moved nowhere or to a GED program where they have no chance of getting a GED."

All of the panelists said schools felt forced to take such desperate measures by NCLB's coupling of overzealous -- though well-intentioned -- goals with insufficient funding. They said districts simply cannot afford to meet these goals, meaning that many already-underfunded schools are set up for failure.

"NCLB has brought up issues of race-consciousness, a focus on improving teacher quality, the idea that all children can be held to high standards," Losen said. "I think that's an important starting place, but they're not putting money behind it to make it successful."

After the presentations, an audience member asked the panelists how to raise awareness among policy-makers about NCLB's insufficient funding. In response, Hyman suggested encouraging officials to view funding in relative terms.

"In New York, it costs something like $120,000 a year to incarcerate a student," she said. "It's significantly less expensive to provide an education."


Critics say the 'No Child' program is a setup for public school failure
Mike Cronin, The Salt Lake Tribune

There may be widespread disagreement about the virtues and vices of President Bush's landmark education-reform law, but all sides agree on one thing: Naming it No Child Left Behind was politically brilliant.

"They came up with a clever name," says Karyn Storey, a Farmington mother of three grade-schoolers. "Who wants to leave a child behind?"

Certainly not congressional members, who overwhelmingly passed No Child Left Behind in 2001. But 2 1/2 years later, that bipartisan support is turning into bipartisan opposition as political perceptions about the law give way to practical frustrations of implementing it.

Call it the Chalkboard Rebellion. The chorus of critics from the left and the right -- which keeps growing in voices and volume -- includes stalwart Bush backers such as Utah's Republican legislators. They, like many educators, are attacking the law as intrusive, misguided, unworkable and underfunded.

Utah lawmakers even considered scrapping participation and forfeiting the $106 million it brings to low-income schools throughout the state. Earlier this month, the Utah House voted to stick with No Child Left Behind, but barred districts from tapping state and local money to carry out the act's mandates.

"If the act's regulations were tea, we could have our own tea party right here in the middle of Utah," says Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, referring to the 1773 Boston Tea Party.

Popular rebellion: That spirit of insurrection still lives in New England -- this time directed at Bush's education law instead of King George III's England.

If [Education Secretary Rod Paige] doesn't want to make the necessary changes, let's find someone else to run the ship and he can go fishing with his grandkids," says Bob Green, who heads the Republican Town Committee and serves on the school board in Salem, Conn.

Paige's department responded last week, loosening the testing rules for students learning English. The feds are determined to make No Child Left Behind work. For several months, U.S. officials have been trekking to states -- including Utah -- touting the law's benefits and flexibility.

"There is a lot of misunderstanding," says Ronald Tomalis, a top Paige aide, during a trip to Salt Lake City earlier this month. "There is no federal 'one way' for NCLB. The role of the federal government is to supplement what is taking place at the state and local level."

Utah tests grades one through 11 in language arts, math and science. The federal law requires annual reading and math exams in grades three through eight and once in high school.

Smoke and mirrors? Critics charge that the Bush administration's public-relations blitz is merely meant to dupe the masses.

"No Child Left Behind was prompted by the same belief that has prompted so many Bush initiatives -- that the American people are too stupid to look at the specifics of legislation and will be taken in by names," writes Sheila Kennedy, a Republican and a professor of law and public policy at Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, in an e-mail to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Some argue that No Child Left Behind is seeking a shrouded, sinister goal: the ultimate privatization of public schools.

"The way NCLB judges schools creates the impression of widespread systemic failure in the public system," says Stan Karp, a teacher in Paterson, N.J., and an editor of the journal Rethinking Schools. "This would undercut support for public schools and be used to push for more divestment and privatization."

200 Utah schools marked: By codifying almost 40 ways that schools must measure up, Karp says, the law sets up schools for failure.

This year, more than 200 Utah schools fell short on at least one measure. Of those schools, 80 face sanctions if they fail to improve. The act says that if those high-poverty schools lag for five years, they could be converted to charter schools. The state school board also could opt to hire private companies to operate the schools -- though the schools would remain under state control.

Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey scoffs at such conspiracy talk, calling it

"ridiculous and special-interest hyperbole."

"The only so-called agenda this president and this secretary have is implementing a bipartisan law that, simply put, ensures accountability for all children being able to read and do math on grade level," Aspey says in an e-mail.

No Child Left Behind requires, in essence, that public schools meet annual benchmarks toward 100 percent proficiency by 2014 in reading and math among four key groups: English learners, ethnic groups, low-income students and students with disabilities.

Minority support: Minority groups have been among the law's strongest supporters because they see it as a powerful motivator for schools to make changes that will raise their children's academic perform- ance.

In Utah and across the nation, American Indian students trail other groups in almost every

academic measure. The law finally will compel schools to close that gap, said Carla Knight-Cantsee, director of education and truancy intervention for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in southeastern Utah. "A lot of times our students are classified as special-education students because of the [native] language," she said. "In San Juan [School District], they're trying to figure out how to improve, and that's a good thing. This is a start."

Incompetence vs. conspiracy: A few critics say the act is not so much nefarious as it is simply bad law.

"I always say you have to dismiss incompetence before conspiracy," says Gary Orfield, professor of education and social policy at Harvard University. "I don't think those who voted for it understood the consequences of the law's provisions."

Karyn Storey, the Farmington mom, is getting a taste of those consequences. One of her children is a special-needs student who will be expected to score at grade level with his peers. Another is struggling with reading comprehension -- even though she carries nearly a 4.0 GPA -- after being injured in a scooter accident three years ago.

"My concern as a mother is that the whole No Child Left Behind concept might actually make a child be left behind," Storey says.

Respect and reason: Orfield says driving the Bush administration's implementation approach is a kind of fundamentalism that pervades the Education Department. "They don't have a lot of respect for the public education community," he says. "They think public education people are lazy, that they just want money."

Bill Fullmer worries about that perception.

They think we just pass [the students] on," says the Farmington Junior High principal. "It's a worthy goal to make sure kids aren't left behind. I think we've always tried to do that. I'm just concerned that the mandate is not reasonable. To expect schools to improve every year is not reasonable. Of course, there's going to be a dip sometimes."


Accountability Looms for Special Education
Lisa Snell, School Reform News/The Heartland Institute

With a new report revealing a large achievement gap between disabled and non-disabled students, increased media attention has been focused on how best to achieve accountability for special education students in traditional public schools and in charter schools under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

In January 2004, for example, CNN headlines announced, “Special education students skew test results,” leading schools to be labeled failing. A January 2004 New York Times editorial suggested “critics of No Child Left Behind want to abandon disabled children by counting them out of the push for higher standards.”

Prompting much of this interest was a new report from Education Week and the Pew Charitable Trust, titled “Quality Counts 2004: Count Me In: Special Education in an Era of Standards.”

The Quality Counts report examines special education and accountability, pointing out that “within a decade, federal law requires that all students--including those with disabilities--be performing at the ‘proficient’ level on state tests.” The report reveals a sizeable achievement gap between disabled and non-disabled students. Specifically:

On fourth-grade reading tests, 30 of the 39 states with complete data had achievement gaps of 30 percentage points or more between special and general education students.

In Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Vermont, the gaps were more than 50 percentage points.

Gaps in eighth-grade reading tended to be even wider. Only five of the 39 states--Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Texas--reported achievement gaps under 30 percentage points.

On high school reading exams, 32 of 36 states reported achievement gaps larger than 30 percentage points.

The Quality Counts report also noted no state had linked special education funding to student achievement or any other performance measures for special education students.

Charter Challenge

Charter schools face unique challenges serving special education students. Last year, about 2,700 charter schools served approximately 700,000 children. If special education students make up between 7 and 10 percent of charter school enrollment, this represents between 49,000 and 70,000 special education students enrolled in charter schools.

Special education accountability has played a role in the closure of a few charter schools nationwide. For example, in 2003 the Illinois State Board of Education revoked the Thomas Jefferson Charter School’s charter when it failed to achieve compliance with federal special education law; in Ohio, the state Department of Education cited the Summit Academy of Canton for special education failures; and the Arizona Department of Education reported charter schools receive more special education complaints than do traditional public schools.

Much of the charter school movement’s difficulty with special education is caused by the funding model for special education students. In most cases, special education funding does not follow the child into the charter school. The most common model for special education funding is that the sponsoring district keeps the special education funding and provides special education services to the charter school.

The largest drawback to accepting special education services from a school district is that charter schools must then accept the same quality of service the district provides to all special education students and lose the flexibility and funding to test innovative special education models.

Another drawback is that school districts do not always meet their contractual obligation to provide services to special education students in charter schools. For example, in November 2003, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its audit of how New York State local school districts handled their responsibilities toward charter schools with respect to special education funding. The OIG found charters were being cheated out of IDEA funds to which they were entitled, and that local districts had made it difficult-to-impossible for charters to get legally mandated special education information.

In California, school districts have found that providing special education services for charter schools can be a revenue-generating proposition for the district. A large charter school that serves at-risk high school students has generated close to a million dollars in special education funds for the sponsoring district but uses only a small fraction of those resources to serve special education students enrolled in the charter school. In essence, it is possible for school districts to make generous “profits” on charter school special education students.

Taking the Money

Charter schools may legally have the option to take the per-pupil special education funding for themselves instead of receiving special education services from the sponsoring district. Yet charter schools usually opt for the services because of the potential cost of special education and the risk to the charter school’s limited finances if the charter school enrolled a high-cost special education student.

In addition, if a charter school receives its special education dollars directly, the authorizing district may still try to charge special education fees to the charter school. Under California state law, for example, the authorizing district is allowed to levy a tax on charter schools to pay for districtwide special education programs, but the law doesn’t specify a percentage. In 2003, the Los Angeles Daily News reported that Los Angeles Unified officials proposed taking 40 percent of special education funding from the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center and the Fenton Avenue Charter School to pay for districtwide legal and administrative costs. As a result, the two schools would lose some $600,000 used for exemplary special education programs for more than 400 special education students.

“This is totally discriminating against special education kids in charter schools,” Vaughn principal Yvonne Chan told the Daily News. “This is destroying a special education program that has worked in the last 10 years.”

An emerging strategy for charter schools is the pooling of resources among schools in a state to achieve collective purchasing power. Charter schools in Washington DC and Indiana have formed special education cooperatives to share specialized staff and limit the potential financial risk. These cooperatives have given charter schools more control over their special education funding and quality of service provision.

Charter school advocates have argued the schools can serve special education students better than public schools do because of the charters’ mainstreaming approach, small classrooms, and individualized instruction.

In testimony before the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education in 2002, Elizabeth Giovanetti, managing director of special education services for New American Schools, noted, “Parents of children with mild to moderate learning disabilities often find that their child performs best in a charter environment, given the student-centered focus, small scale, and the emphasis on achievement and accountability.”

Little Data to Analyze

It is difficult to test whether the charter school model leads to better outcomes for special education students. While NCLB requires test scores to be disaggregated by subgroup, schools with small sample sizes are not required to report test score data. Therefore, only very large charter schools and public schools are required to report their special education data. This makes it difficult for education researchers to understand the effect of charter school innovation on student achievement.

In addition, the unintended consequence of the current law is that it discriminates against large schools that seek out and serve students with disabilities. A school with high academic growth but a large special education population may be designated as failing, while a school with lower overall academic achievement but a smaller special education subgroup may not be penalized because the special education data are not scrutinized. This discourages charter schools and other public schools from working to effectively serve special education students.

The ability of researchers to test innovative special education models would be improved if schools were required to report the test score data for these small groups for research purposes, while continuing to suspend NCLB penalties for small sample sizes.


50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, most schools segregated
By Luke Connell, Birmingham Post-Herald and  Jacquelyn Martin/Post-Herald

Tarrant Elementary School third-graders Darius Jordan, 8, from left, and Daniel Lowery, 9, take potting soil from their teacher Amy Nix during a science experiment in their classroom on Friday. The school is one of the most integrated schools in Jefferson County

Students lined up like dominos in the hall outside the Tarrant Elementary School lunchroom, waiting for their teacher to lead them back to class.

At this school, the hallways teem with students of various shapes, sizes and — unlike many others around Jefferson County — colors.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared the end of separate but equal in schools nationwide. But many of America's children remain in classrooms populated with students of one color or another, but usually not both.

One of the exceptions in Jefferson County is Tarrant Elementary School. An analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics shows the diversity at this small, city school most closely mirrors the racial makeup of Jefferson County as a whole.

"I just think Tarrant is a slice of the way life really is when you grow up and leave school," said Martha Rizzuto, superintendent of Tarrant City Schools. "This is the way the world is."

During the 2001-02 school year, just more than 50 percent of the school's 580 students were white, and 35 percent were black. Hispanic students made up 1.6 percent of the school's population while the rest were either mixed race, other races or not reported, according to the National Center for Education Statistics' Common Core of Data for the 2001-02 school year.

In 2000, about 57 percent of the 662,000 Jefferson County residents were white. Just more than 39 percent of county residents were black, according to the 2000 Census. Hispanics made up about 1.6 percent of the county's population.

Many parents who picked up their children outside Tarrant Elementary school last week said they think their school is probably what civil rights leaders envisioned 50 years ago when fighting school segregation.

"It's a good thing," said Andrew McCloud, whose son is in second grade. "Everybody needs to mix. If you mix, then you can get along."

McCloud, who is black, said his son has white friends and he is learning not to look at color first.

"It's happening here," McCloud said of the school's integration. "It's got to start somewhere."

McCloud said he didn't want his son attending a school where all the children were one color. He wanted diversity, he said.

But diverse schools aren't always easy to find.

Most area school systems are white or black. More than 89 percent of the students in the Birmingham, Bessemer, Fairfield and Midfield school systems are black.

Many over-the-mountain, suburban systems have populations that are heavily white. The Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Shelby County and Hoover school systems have student populations that are more than 80 percent white, according to Common Core data.

The Jefferson County, Homewood and Tarrant school systems are the most blended in the Birmingham area. Homewood schools are nearly 68 percent white and nearly 30 percent black. The Jefferson County school system is 74 percent white and 24 percent black. Tarrant schools are at a near even split — just less than 50 percent white and 42 percent black.

All of the systems also have students of other racial and ethnic categories, including Hispanics and Asians.

Joanne Cain, principal of Tarrant Elementary School, said that it is part of the school's job to help students understand and respect their differences while uniting them with common goals.

"That's a strength and a challenge," Cain said.

School leaders acknowledge that Tarrant students aren't living in perfect harmony. Especially at the middle and high schools, lunch room tables can sometimes be filled with groups of whites or groups of blacks. But at other times, the schools' dining tables are much more integrated, Rizzuto said.

"I think the children of Tarrant are closer to living the dream than many places are," Rizzuto said.

According to a study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, 44.3 percent of black students in Alabama attend schools that are intensely segregated, meaning the school's population is greater than 90 percent minority. That ranks Alabama eighth in the nation.

Michigan, Illinois and New York ranked at the top respectively. Mississippi, which ranked ninth, and Louisiana, which ranked 10th, were the only other Southern states to make the top 10 of the most black students in intensely segregated schools, the civil rights project report indicates.

If a school has a minority population greater than 90 percent, it has a nine out of 10 chance of its students being from low-income families, said Gary Orfield, founding co-director of the civil rights project and co-author of the study.

Easing pressure from the federal courts and shifting housing patterns are causing much of the progress which states saw in the 1970s and '80s to be undone, Orfield said. Many suburban districts are also seeing rapid racial change as members of the black middle class exit the inner city, he said.

Five decades after the Brown ruling, Orfield said people should examine the racial changes in public schools and realize that society is only going to grow more diverse in coming years.

"We have got to figure out how to make this work," he said.

Many educators argue diversity in the classroom helps bring different perspectives to discussions and learning as well as helping bridge any societal gaps.

Theresa Thomas, program specialist for social studies in Birmingham City Schools, said Birmingham students have been studying the Brown v. Board of Education decision as a part of Black History Month.

"I think it's better if you have diversity," Thomas said. "Even in your discussions, you're more sensitive about other people's backgrounds and beliefs (if you have diversity)."

Birmingham students, who attend classes which are largely made up of black students, study the legal effects of segregation's end. For example, students are no longer prohibited from attending certain schools because of their race, she said.

But in the fight for equality, Thomas said there's still much work to be done.

"At the same time, the law does protect people who are doing the right thing," she said.

Tarrant parent Brian Hamilton said he thinks he's doing the right thing by sending his son to a diverse school.

"It helps him to get along with others," said Hamilton, who is black.

"It's good for all of them to get along."

Still, there is some resistance to an influx of black students into Tarrant schools. At least one white Tarrant Elementary parent said she would prefer separate school systems for whites and blacks. Others said many white parents are leaving the system because of the changes.

Less than a decade ago, black students made up about 30 percent of the system's enrollment. Shifting levels of enrollment for blacks and whites in the system has pushed black enrollment to 42.3 percent.

Kristie Henderson is president of the Tarrant Elementary Parent Teacher Organization and has spent much of her life in Tarrant. While she favors the diversity in the schools, many longtime Tarrant residents do not, said Henderson, who is white.

"You hear the comments," she said.

From a baseball diamond to birthday parties, Henderson said she sees white and black children getting along with one another.

"As the kids grow up, they're not going to see color or nationality," she said. "You've got to know how to interact with everybody."


California may retool No Child Left Behind Act
Superintendent proposes 11 changes related to measuring 'adequate yearly progress'
Jill Tucker, Oakland Tribune

California education officials took a screwdriver Wednesday to some rigid rules regarding the controversial federal No Child Left Behind Act, saying the policies are potentially unfair to thousands of schools.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell announced 11 proposed changes in what was already a federally approved blueprint for how the state implements the education law.

The Bush administration's education reform includes far-reaching testing and accountability requirements -- and requires that each state come up with its own implementation plan to reach the federally set goals.

Most of O'Connell's proposed changes are technical and generally determine the formula for whether a school meets the nationally required measurement of "adequate yearly progress."

The superintendent said the changes are needed to make the implementation fair and "more workable."

District and school officials across the state and the country have complained that the federal law, passed in 2001, is too onerous, inflexible and underfunded.

"No Child Left Behind presents a one-size-fits-all solution that fails to recognize diversity," O'Connell said.

For example, the superintendent said, California state law gives parents the right to opt their children out of standardized testing.

But the federal law punishes schools that fail to test at least 95 percent of students. Those schools are then deemed failures in meeting adequate yearly progress -- which could ultimately result in sanctions or loss of federal funding.

About 25 percent of the state's schools did not meet adequate yearly progress because they didn't test enough students -- not because the students didn't perform well enough, O'Connell said.

One of the changes proposed Wednesday would allow schools to count students who opt out of testing as "not proficient" instead of as a non-test taker. By doing so, schools would still have incentive to encourage students to take the test, but they wouldn't be punished in the head count if the parents decide to opt out.

O'Connell, flanked by business and state education officials at a morning teleconference, said the improvements were needed to "paint a more accurate portrayal of improvements public education is making."

"This is not an effort to gut No Child Left Behind," he added. "This is not an effort to repeal."

O'Connell's proposed changes would have to be approved by both the state Board of Education and federal education officials.


School reform ballot measure gets key support  
By Derrick DePledge, Honolulu Advertiser Education Writer, 2/20/04

Key state House Democrats have agreed to push forward with a ballot question in November that would let voters decide whether to create local school boards, sending the measure to the full House for a vote today.

Democratic leaders on three House committees agreed yesterday to advance a bill backed by Gov. Linda Lingle to split apart the state Department of Education into local school districts with locally elected school boards. The bill also would replace the state Board of Education with an appointed standards and accountability commission.

Lawmakers first stripped out Lingle's preference for seven school boards and a seven-member commission, arguing that the specifics should remain open for debate.

The close votes by the House committees on education, the judiciary, and labor and public employment reflected the deep skepticism many Democrats still have about local school boards.

Republican lawmakers praised the decision, and Lingle called it an important step forward.

Last session, the majority Democrats killed a similar bill in committee. The Republican governor credited the public's interest in reform as the difference this session.

"There are a lot of steps in the process — this was an important one that we had to get over to get to the next step," Lingle told reporters. "But we're a long way from putting this on the ballot."

Committee lawmakers also advanced competing proposals favored by Democrats. One bill would expand the BOE from 13 to 17 voting members to make the state board more geographically representative. The other would establish elected school boards at every public school. These would be expanded versions of the existing School Community Based Management councils, and likely chosen by the school community, not the public at large.

Lingle and Democrats also are considering a new student spending formula that would direct money to schools based on students' individual needs instead of school enrollment. Next week, state schools superintendent Pat Hamamoto, BOE members and key lawmakers will travel separately to Edmonton, Alberta, where schools have thrived under a similar formula that leaves most spending decisions to school principals.

Apparent agreement on the new spending formula has been overshadowed, however, by the conflict over school governance.

Lingle has said local boards are critical to implementation of the new spending formula, because the local boards, rather than a centralized DOE, would oversee performance, leading to greater student achievement. But several Democrats have said there is no concrete link between local boards and student achievement.

State House Majority Leader Scott Saiki, D-22nd (McCully-Pawa'a), said he expected the House debate today to illustrate divisions among Democrats about the best approach.

If House lawmakers approve the bill today, it will go to the House Finance Committee for review, then back to the House for final passage. It will then go to the state Senate.

"It's going to be close," Saiki said.

State Rep. Brian Blundell, R-10th (W. Maui), said he believes Democrats will keep the debate over local boards alive, given public attention to the issue. "I think it will survive," he said.

The threshold for Lingle and the Republicans remains high: The school board change, like the

Democrats' alternatives, is a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate before it reaches voters in November.

State Rep. Roy Takumi, D-36th (Pearl City, Palisades), chairman of the Education Committee, said he personally did not support local boards, but agreed to move the bill so other House lawmakers could have their say.

"In the end, this whole governance issue is far less important than the other things that focus on what works in the classroom," Takumi said.

He and other House committee leaders also successfully moved several other constitutional amendments related to education yesterday:

• To give the BOE more autonomy through greater control over the internal structure, management and operation of public schools.

• To allow 16-year-olds to serve on the BOE. The teenagers would not be able to vote in an election, but if elected would have full voting rights on the board, which would continue also to have a non-voting student member.

• To remove the governor's line-item veto power over school spending.

Several Republicans objected vigorously to the veto amendment, accusing Democrats of attempting to weaken the governor's power.

Democrats have said the governor still could restrict the release of education money, just not through the line-item veto.

"I think this particular measure is shameful," said state Rep. Barbara Marumoto, R-19th (Kaimuki, Kahala, Wai'alae Iki).


Is this any way to pay for public education?  
In N.J., tiny Brooklawn's unorthodox approach, despite its success, isn't without its critics.
By Kristen A. Graham,
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer, 2/22/04

BROOKLAWN - Yes, Bruce Darrow insisted, he really is contemplating peddling the naming rights to the district's only school on eBay.

You see, piped in John Kellmayer, superintendent of the tiny pre-K-through-8 district, something has got to be done to protect the values of an old-fashioned education.

"We understand what's going on in the educational marketplace," Kellmayer said. "In 10 years, this is going to be a fact of life. We're aggressive enough to start this now."

Aggressive, creative or crazy: Take your pick. Kellmayer and Darrow, school board president and "director of corporate development," preside over a district that is banking not just on government aid but on selling naming rights, snagging sponsorships, and launching other money-generating ventures to fund its future.

"We're working people," Darrow said. "But we've got to get our kids on equal footing, and we have to be innovative."

On one side of the ledger is flat basic state aid, soaring insurance costs, and a small community unwilling to shoulder more tax burden - New Jersey classifies Brooklawn as one of its poorer districts.

On the other is what the district has managed to do - slash class sizes, hire teachers, buy equipment, build facilities, improve test scores, and record a five-year streak of not asking residents for more money.

Striding through the halls of Alice Costello School, the only building in this 285-student district, Darrow, 51, an ex-jock turned businessman, stopped in front of a Pepsi machine pushed against a wall.

While other districts banish soda, Brooklawn welcomes it - and the money it brings. Students may not buy carbonated beverages during school hours, but the contract is still a moneymaker at 40 cents per drink, bringing in about $3,000 annually.

Pepsi is just a start. Darrow's half-joking motto is Nothing is Sacred; he bought sons Brett and Austin T-shirts that say "Rent this Space," a nod to one of his favorite ideas - instituting a school uniform policy and selling ads on the uniforms.

"John always says, 'Will you buy a used school from this man?' " Darrow said, swinging open the door to the gym and pointing to a hoop a dozen yards away. "You could put a 'For Sale' sign on that net."

The eBay bid is still on the table, too, although Kellmayer thinks Brooklawn could make more money by directly appealing to corporations. No target price has been set.

Brooklawn set itself on its current path in 2001, when it attracted international headlines for selling the naming rights to the new gym to the only supermarket in town for $100,000.

Children used to play basketball in a cramped multipurpose room until the spacious $3.3 million ShopRite of Brooklawn Center was built. The supermarket is paying the debt service on the bond.

There was no library until a local family of businesspeople gave $100,000 toward the construction of the Flowers Library and Media Center.

Bulky with shoulder-length brown hair and mustache, Kellmayer, 53, roams the halls in loose sweaters and rumpled khakis, not suits. People often comment on the resemblance he bears to Mick Foley, the former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar.

But he holds an MBA as well as a doctorate in education, and he thinks Brooklawn, where he has worked since 2000, should shoot way beyond sponsorship. The district should function like a private corporation, he says.

With the advent of No Child Left Behind and President Bush's push for educational choice, there are opportunities aplenty, he says.

Brooklawn took another major step by becoming Camden County's pilot Interdistrict School Choice school in 2002. Under the state program, parents from any district may apply to send their children to Brooklawn.

There are a limited number of spots in the program, and the state pays the full cost of educating School Choice pupils.

The district has sold itself hard to parents in other districts, offering specialized instruction in music and technology and promising parents, "We Guarantee Your Child's Success!"

The program has proved popular with sending parents, most of whom live in nearby Camden and Gloucester City. But the 59 students - 30 more are expected next year - are also a major financial boon to Brooklawn.

The $515,000 the state paid Brooklawn last year in School Choice made it possible to cut class size and hire new teachers. Elsewhere in Camden County, budgets soared, but the average increase in state aid payments was less than 1 percent.

In the coming years, Kellmayer hopes Brooklawn can open a virtual school, a technology center to train businesspeople from around the country, and other profit-making ventures.

It has already secured state approval to be a "supplemental learning provider," competing with firms such as Sylvan Learning Center, to provide extra educational help that parents from districts failing under NCLB guidelines get money to pay for.

"Why should the public education industry be cannibalized by the private sector?" he said.

He paused in the middle of a hallway bright with crayon drawings and spelling tests, looking around for a second and answering a question about Brooklawn's new business ventures that no one had asked.

"Do I think it's a wonderful idea?" Kellmayer asked. "No, but it's going to happen, and we might as well grab a piece of it."

"We want to turn a profit and reinvest it in education."

To those who fight against commercialization in education, Brooklawn's current path is a sacrilege, a body blow to the last bastion of unblemished public space.

Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, a national anti-commercialism group, says the path the school district is taking is foolish and dangerous.

"There's no doubt that thousands of school districts around the country are desperately short on funds, but the answer is not to put our kids up for sale," said Ruskin, who believes that Brooklawn administrators could better spend their time lobbying to reverse federal tax cuts to fund education.

"Compulsory education laws exist to teach kids to read and write and add and think, not to shop," he said. "Their model is to turn the school into an amphitheater of commercialism. Ultimately, that's a bad deal."

Even though the architects of Brooklawn's new direction see why they are subject to criticism, they are quick to defend their position.

"You don't raise the amount of money we need by a bake sale," Kellmayer said. "Look, we're not going to do anything that will embarrass the community. I won't let that happen."

In the early days of his career at Alice Costello, Bob Lee, who teaches music and technology and is copresident of the teachers' union, pieced together the district's ragtag computer lab.

"We came in on a Saturday morning and pulled wires through the ceiling just to get something going," said Lee, a 10-year teacher. "We had no money, no resources."

Sure, he heard the talk when the new gym was built.

But all Lee knows now is while other districts cut their budgets to make ends meet, he's got a brand-new classroom, another teacher to help with the music program, and a cluster of sophisticated computers.

"The way I see it is, teachers get benefits from all this," he said.

Doreen Wentzell has two boys in Alice Costello - the school was named after a teacher and principal from the 1950s - and serves as PTA president. She has no qualms with Brooklawn's new direction, and she loves the district's close-knit feel.

"People don't realize how much it takes to run a school system. You just pay your taxes every quarter, but anymore, that doesn't cover it," she said.

And while there was some community resistance at first, the chatter has largely stopped, Wentzell said.

Kellmayer admits his plans are lofty. His ultimate goal - dubbed "The Lexington Project," after the battles of Lexington and Concord, which began the American Revolution - is to raise enough private money to eliminate the local property tax in Brooklawn.

But even if he never gets there, Kellmayer feels certain his way is the way of the future and someday, Brooklawn will be known as much more than the home of the original Ponzio's Diner and one of the country's largest Wiffle ball tournaments.

"Someday," he said, "someone will ask, 'Where did this all start?' and someone else will say, 'A little school in Brooklawn, New Jersey.' "


South Texas districts sue for school funding  
Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, 2/23/04

SAN ANTONIO -- The city's Edgewood School District has joined 15 other South Texas educational systems in asking a state district judge to preserve the current funding program that helps poorer districts.

The Travis County court is scheduled to hear a challenge to the $30 billion funding system in July.

Edgewood schools led the battle for equitable funding in 1984. That fight resulted in the 1993 Legislature's approval of a law requiring districts with sizable property tax bases to share funds with poor districts, a form of redistribution commonly called Robin Hood.

Lawyers for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed the amended pleading in response to a lawsuit by more than 200 districts that characterize public schools as underfunded.

"Without more funding, and more equal funding, our districts cannot compete with more wealthy districts, and we cannot provide the high-quality education we want to provide," Joe Berra, a MALDEF lawyer, told the San Antonio Express-News.

Joining the Edgewood request were districts in Harlandale, South San Antonio, Ysleta, Laredo, San Elizario, Socorro, La Vega, Kenedy, Brownsville, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, Sharyland, Monte Alto, Edcouch-Elsa, Los Fresnos and Raymondville.

Gov. Rick Perry has said he will call a spring special session on education if Republican leaders reach a consensus on funding and educational quality incentives.


Latest Proposal For D.C. Schools Would Diminish Board's Control  
By Justin Blum, Washington Post Staff Writer, February 24, 2004

A group of 17 District business leaders and former public officials has joined the debate on who should oversee the city's public school system, pushing a plan that would strip the school board of its power and create a new governing authority.

In a letter sent last week to D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), the group proposed that the responsibility for hiring and overseeing the schools superintendent be given to a seven-member committee. The committee would include two school board members, the mayor, the city administrator, two council members and a representative of the private sector whom the mayor would select.

The school board, which currently appoints and oversees the superintendent, would become an advisory panel.

Among those signing the letter were Togo D. West Jr., chairman of the Greater Washington Board of Trade; Franklin D. Raines, chairman and chief executive of the Federal National Mortgage Association; Jim Kimsey, the founding chief executive of America Online; Terence Golden, chairman of the Federal City Council; former council members John Ray, H.R. Crawford and Charlene Drew Jarvis; former D.C. school superintendent Floretta McKenzie and former D.C. school board member Roger Wilkins.

In interviews yesterday, however, several council members and a spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said they would not support the plan.

Williams instead has proposed legislation that would give the mayor direct control over the superintendent and make the school board advisory. The bill, on which the council's education committee will hold a hearing next week, so far has not attracted much support among council members.

Several council members said yesterday that they were uniting behind a plan Cropp is developing. They said that Cropp's proposal, still in a draft stage, would create a committee of representatives from the school board, council and mayor's office that would play a role in hiring and firing the superintendent, while the school board would keep most of its powers. Cropp declined to comment on the plan, saying she is working to gain support.

Tony Bullock, a mayoral spokesman, said the mayor does not support the business leaders' proposal or the Cropp plan because neither would create clear lines of authority over school policy.

In their letter to Cropp, the 17 business and former political and school leaders said the school system suffers from "piecemeal, start-and-stop reform efforts and a lack of focus" because of "fragmentation of accountability" and lack of continuity. The letter noted that there have been four superintendents in the past seven years, operating under three different governance structures.

Wilkins, a former mayoral appointee to the school board, said that the group's plan would "streamline the process and make it easier for the superintendent to do his or her job without a whole bunch of people fluttering around, getting in the way and posturing for the public and generally making the leadership of the schools not just a hard task but an almost impossible one."

The plan says that the superintendent selected by the new oversight body -- called the Education Reform Oversight Committee -- would need to be approved by the council. The superintendent would be appointed to a five-year term and could be dismissed only by a majority vote of the council.

The proposal calls for the school board to give up its powers voluntarily so that a change to the city's charter would not be needed. But several council and board members said the plan is unworkable. "I do not believe that the board can abdicate its responsibilities when they've been elected by, in my case, over 100,000 people," board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz said.

The board consists of five elected members and four members appointed by the mayor. To replace Paul L. Vance, who resigned as superintendent in November, the board has created a search committee that includes the mayor and members of the school board and D.C. Council.

Cafritz noted that policies adopted last week by the board seek to give more independence to the superintendent and make clear that board members are to focus on policy issues and not day-to-day management. She said those revisions should speed the pace of improvement.


Critical of Public Schools, and Poised to Take Action  
By GREG WINTER, New York Times, February 25, 2004

As Tom Vander Ark ambles through, teenagers eye him with intrigue or apathy, bright smiles or blank stares. They have no idea what he's doing there, but he wraps their hands in his, working the classroom like a politician at a banquet. And take a look at the principal, they howl. He's never worn such fancy clothes.

"Are you running for governor?'' is one of the questions Mr. Vander Ark's visits inspire, and the very idea splits his usually stern face into a grin.

No, no, Mr. Vander Ark is the producer, the man behind the school. It and many others like it might have all remained wishful thinking without Mr. Vander Ark's faith - and the many millions that that brings.

As the education director for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Vander Ark is shaping what is easily the most aggressive infusion of private money into the nation's public schools today, if not ever.

In the last five years, the foundation has committed more than $1 billion for new and existing public schools, with no intentions of slowing down, giving Mr. Vander Ark, 44, one of the loudest megaphones around.

He is anything but shy about using it. Since joining the foundation in 1999, he has been unflinchingly critical of how the public schools have "failed and forgotten" poor and minority students, a consequence of what he calls a deep-seated "institutionalized racism" rife with low expectations and a rush of dropouts.

His counterattack has come through investments in about 1,900 public schools, most of them high schools, with the aim of creating small institutions that do not merely hope their students will go on to college, but demand nothing less of them.

Philanthropists had rarely plunged into the business of creating new high schools, and the choice gave the foundation relatively untrodden terrain on which to make a very public imprint.

Mr. Gates and his wife, Melinda, give Mr. Vander Ark wide latitude, largely deferring to his judgment about where the money should go, and why. Still, they question him persistently in long, intense sessions, keenly aware that they are taking very big risks on schools that are often long-term bets, at best.

"Tom is central to our efforts in education," Mr. Gates said. "We depend on him to keep us up to date on the latest thinking and issues facing our work in this area."

But don't expect him to entertain just any idea. The foundation does not take unsolicited proposals. Rather, it is Mr. Vander Ark, with his sharp suits, neatly trimmed goatee and football player's build, who comes to you.

"Tom's hugely influential," said Arne Duncan, chief executive officer of the Chicago public schools, the nation's third-largest school district, which has received about $24 million from the Gates foundation. "I happen to be lucky to be in total agreement with him."

New York City, too, has adopted the foundation's approach, and it received $51 million last year to create 67 small high schools. Still, the going has not been easy, and Mr. Vander Ark is the first to admit it. Last year, an independent review of the foundation's earliest efforts found that the small schools brought benefits but warned against expecting too much from them.

The dance with school districts sometimes involves clashing. But Thomas W. Payzant, superintendent of schools in Boston, which has received about $26 million from the Gates foundation said Mr. Vander Ark never waves the foundation's dollars around, threatening to yank them away unless he gets his way.

"The conversation is never about Gates's money," Mr. Payzant said, "but the work, and what it's going to take to get it done."

Despite Mr. Vander Ark's influence, he hardly sees himself as a visionary. Instead, he describes himself as a disenchanted businessman with an unremarkable, even somewhat unsuccessful, stint as a school superintendent who was dragged reluctantly into public service.

"I was clearly quite inept,'' said Mr. Vander Ark, adding that by the end of his five years as superintendent of Federal Way, Wash., "I was in more trouble than when I started. The best thing I did was ask a lot of dumb questions."

Before going to the Gates Foundation, where he is paid $280,000 a year, Mr. Vander Ark was neither particularly experienced nor notable in the realm of public education, but colleagues have long praised him for being a quick study willing to put in long hours.

And there was also something personal at stake for Mr. Vander Ark. As a superintendent, he once claimed that big, impersonal high schools would go up only "over my dead body," though they ultimately did. Now, he is making up for the defeat.

Mr. Vander Ark essentially spent his first three years at the foundation in training, visiting all manner of public and some private schools for the gems that seemed to work. On the way, he developed a fierce loyalty for educators who have seemingly pieced together more of the puzzle than he has.

How does he know they are the right people to finance? That is as much art as science, Mr. Vander Ark said. While data on grades and graduation rates give strong clues, there are always the intangibles to consider, too: the look of the homework hanging on the walls of their schools; the mood of students in the halls; even the way he himself feels simply upon walking through the door.

"When you're a superintendent and you go home on Friday night, you know whether you moved the needle or not. You know whether you're winning or losing and why," he said. "You win and lose from a distance here."

He was not always so concerned.

His father, a neurosurgeon and preacher, used to drag him on weekends to the poorest parts of town - in Washington, D.C., then Denver - to help out, to teach Sunday school, in short, to serve. Did it sensitize the young Mr. Vander Ark to suffering? Did it fill him with passion for social justice?

"No, it used to drive my sister and I crazy," he said.

In fact, it sent him in the opposite direction. By the time he left high school, Mr. Vander Ark hoped to sequester himself far away from humanity, scaling mountains and studying lonely glaciers.

When he entered professional life, first as a mining engineer and then as a retailer, Mr. Vander found himself consumed by what he calls the "typical executive rat race," chasing promotions, a better car, a bigger house.

"I think he was rebelling by becoming a cold-hearted financial whiz," said Barbara O'Brien, one of the people Mr. Vander Ark credits for turning him into "evangelist for children."

It came as a total surprise, to him most of all. While an executive at PACE Membership Warehouse, he was required to help a local charity. So he picked the Colorado Children's Campaign, a group run by Ms. O'Brien, explicitly because he thought he would have no direct contact with children. Even so, the deeper he looked at the obstacles facing poor minority children, the more it infuriated him.

Taking over the Federal Way school district, at 34, was Mr. Vander Ark's first exposure to the public schools. There was a teachers' strike his first day on the job. Later, the teachers would hold a no-confidence vote in his curriculum director, an open challenge to him as well, he still believes.

But there was progress, too, especially with the district's finances and its lower grades, he said. The only truly baffling task was improving the high schools.

So, why did the Gates Foundation choose him to lead its education efforts? True, they had come to know his name through Microsoft, with which he worked to bring laptops into his schools, but he was hardly a veteran with a track record of victories.

"I liked the way that he was a continuous learner," said Patty Stonesifer, the foundation's president.

Which is largely what he remains. The riddle of fundamentally repairing the nation's high schools still plagues Mr. Vander Ark.

"It's what wakes me up in the morning," he said.


Bill would outlaw bullying at schools  
Robbie Sherwood, Arizona Republic, Feb. 26, 2004 

Amid emotional stories from parents of bullied children, lawmakers took the first step Wednesday to outlaw bullying at Arizona schools.

Parents like Robin from Tempe, who asked that her last name not be used, told members of the House Education Committee that her child has suffered harassment and assaults from other children at school for years. She and other backers of House Bill 2533 said a state law is needed to wake up school officials and parents to a problem that can lead to depression, acts of retaliatory violence and even suicides.

"Why did this happen to my child? Because bullying and harassment is tolerated, and this is unacceptable," Robin said. "I'm standing here to seek help for all children, including bullies. We have a responsibility to provide children protection from bullying and abuse, but I also believe we are doing a great disservice to the bullies by not making them accountable for this harmful behavior."

The committee passed the bill 11-1. It must also get by the Judiciary Committee to get a full House debate.

Arizona is one of 31 states that does not have specific anti-bullying legislation, but one of nine that is considering a change. The bill would require school districts to enact anti-harassment and bullying policies that:

• Allow students to report incidents confidentially.

• Require school officials to report any incidents they see.

• Mandate that school officials investigate all reports of bullying.

• Discipline students who admit to or are found guilty of bullying.

Brenda High, an anti-bullying activist from Washington, said policies like these might have saved the life of her 13-year-old son, Jared. High has returned to her one-time home in the Valley to fight for the anti-bullying measure.

She said older boys began harassing her son every day during an after-school baseball program in 1998. One of the boys, who High said had a violent past, took the bullying to another level when he severely beat Jared for nearly 10 minutes in front of the other boys. High said Jared immediately became depressed and eventually took his own life.

"We need to start teaching them at kindergarten before things get out of hand," said High, who started a nationwide organization, "In the case of the kid who bullied my son, he was throwing bricks at kids in the third grade. Every time I see a bully in the higher grades, they are victims too. They are victims of schools that didn't do anything about it."

School officials noted that Arizona school districts already have state-mandated anti-hazing policies and federally mandated anti-harassment policies. And when bullying gets physical, children can be charged with assault.

But the Arizona School Boards Association is supporting the bill to make sure every school in the state has strong policies to deal with bullies.

"It heightens the issues that bullying is a problem that does need to be taken seriously," said Janice Palmer, an ASBA lobbyist. "The policy would be very similar to the harassment and intimidation polices we already have, but would specifically stipulate bullying."

Rep. John Allen, R-Phoenix, was the only Education Committee member to oppose the bill. He said he felt for the parents who testified, but he said existing laws should be enough to deal with the problem.



NCTAF News Digest for February 26, 2004
Topics This Issue:

• Report: Losing Our Future: How Minority Youth Are Being Left Behind by the Graduation Rate Crisis

Good Schools, Bad Scores?

• Teachers’ Groups Blast Alternative Certification

• Poll: Most Parents Raise, Spend Money For Schools

• Report: Investing in Learning – School Funding Policies To Foster High Performance

• Law Aims To Lure Teachers To Low-Performing Schools

• Georgia Panel Eases Path To Becoming A Teacher

• Education Chief Calls Union 'Terrorist,' Then Recants

• Paige Responds In Person To Democrats’ Criticism


Report: Who Graduates? Who Doesn’t? 02-25-04

Excerpt: Half or more of Black, Hispanic and Native American youth in the United States are getting left behind before high school graduation in a “hidden crisis” that is obscured by U.S. Department of Education regulations issued under the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) Act that “allow schools, districts, and states to all but eliminate graduation rate accountability for minority subgroups,” according to a new report from two nonpartisan groups, The Civil Rights Project at Harvard and The Urban Institute.

The new report, “Losing Our Future: How Minority Youth Are Being Left Behind by the Graduation Rate Crisis,” exposes inaccurate and misleading official data now in use and suggests sounder statistical methods for accurate calculation of actual high school graduation rates. Study co-author Dr. Christopher Swanson of The Urban Institute calculated the graduation rates using what he refers to as a “Cumulative Promotion Index” (CPI), a method developed and tested independently to provide more accurate graduation rate estimates. The report combines the findings of a comprehensive review of state graduation rate accountability standards and interviews with state education officials.

The Civil Rights Project at Harvard/Urban Institute report finds: “The national (graduation rate) gap for Blacks is 25 percent; for Hispanics 22 percent; for Native Americans 24 percent. Despite wide ranges within some states, nearly every state shows a large and negative gap between Whites and at least one minority group.” According to the data, the 10 worst states overall for Black and Hispanic minority graduation rates are: New York; Wisconsin; Pennsylvania; Michigan; Iowa; Massachusetts; Nebraska; Ohio; Illinois; and Connecticut. The report defines the “graduation rate gap” as the difference between its calculations for graduation rates of Whites and minorities.

The Civil Rights Project of Harvard Co-Director Christopher Edley, Jr. said: “We have a tragic situation today under which high school graduation in America is now literally a ‘50-50 proposition’ for minority students. What is driving this problem? Recently, Congress took a first step in recognizing the severity of the dropout problem by including graduation rate accountability provisions under NCLB. However, the Department of Education then issued regulations that allow schools, districts, and states to all but eliminate graduation rate accountability for minority subgroups. By doing so, Department officials have rendered these accountability measures virtually meaningless.”

The report also recommends six action steps, including a reversal of the U.S. Department of Education regulation under NCLB that permits schools, districts and states to obscure the minority graduation rate crisis. For the full text of the report and executive summary, go to on The Civil Rights Project's web site. A different version (heavier focus on data) of the report can also be found at the Urban Institute’s site at

 Christian Science Monitor [Charter School - Testing]


Good Schools, Bad Scores? 02-24-04

Excerpt: State evaluators who oversee New York charter schools have recommended that the John A. Reisenbach Charter School be shut, due in part to the school's results on eighth-grade state tests. The State University of New York (SUNY) Board of Trustees plans to meet Tuesday to decide whether to act on that recommendation. The threatened closure has parents and experts both raising questions about a school's less tangible aspects - qualities no standardized test can measure. How, for instance, do you quantify the environment here - the safe, carefully monitored hallways, or the eager confidence of the students?

"These are important pieces that are part of these schools that perhaps can't be measured under traditional measures of accountability," says Luis Huerta, a professor at Columbia University's Teacher College in New York. Reisenbach's future may come down to "accountability" - modern education's trendiest buzzword, applied to everything from sweeping reform under the No Child Left Behind Act to the work of beleaguered local school boards. But the charter school movement in particular is built solidly on the offer of greater autonomy in exchange for a promise to perform. So poor test results have serious consequences.

After seeing their children off, a handful of parents paused to talk. Some were disheartened: Wary of traditional public schools, they say they can't afford private or parochial alternatives. "It's like a punch in the stomach," says Tiffany Foster, whose daughter Briah is in second grade. "All schools in Harlem are failing. Where does that leave my child?" Both Craig Cobb and his daughter, Brittan who is a third grader, have fallen in love with Reisenbach. Like other parents with children at Reisenbach, Mr. Cobb is smitten with the high level of parental involvement. Others rave about the safe, courteous atmosphere, an eighth-grade curriculum that includes reading Shakespeare and newspapers, and extras like drama class and a choir as reasons to keep the school open. For many Reisenbach families, if the school closes, their only option will be a return to neighborhood schools, many of which are considered the city's worst. Cobb sees Reisenbach as a work in progress - albeit one in need of assistance.

Houston Chronicle [Working Conditions – Teacher Retention]


Teachers' Groups Blast Alternative Certification 02-25-04

Excerpt: The teacher shortage in Texas would best be addressed by improving working conditions, not by lowering the requirements to teach, educator groups argued to the State Board of Education. The board heard testimony on a proposed rule that would loosen requirements for college graduates to teach in Texas public schools. A vote to accept or reject the State Board of Educator Certification's rule was expected this week.

"The problem is retention, not supply," said Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association. "The real problem is our new teachers don't stay in our classrooms for very long, and individuals who do not come through traditional certification programs leave sooner than those who do."  According to a 1989 study of teachers in Dallas, 42 percent of alternately certified teachers planned to continue teaching after one year.

Of traditionally trained and certified teachers, 72 percent planned to stay in the field, said Jennifer Jackson of the University of North Texas. The proposal would allow anyone with at least a bachelor's degree to apply for a temporary teaching certificate and teach eighth through 12th grades without taking the usual teacher training program.  Some opponents argue that the measure would harm students by putting unqualified teachers in the classroom.

CNN [School Funding]


Poll: Most Parents Raise, Spend Money For Schools 02-25-04

Excerpt: The three-campus Capitol Hill Cluster School needed it all: paper, paint, ink cartridges, locker parts and those little metal glides to fix wobbly chairs. Who raised the money? Parents, mainly. Most of the $105,000 raised by the school's PTA this school year is going for classroom basics, a trend playing out nationwide, according to a poll of public school parents commissioned by the 6.2-million member National PTA.

Beyond fund-raising, the poll found, many parents are spending their money for teacher salaries, sports equipment, art supplies and other items schools used to cover. "I don't recall my parents ever having to purchase what I consider essential items just to make a school run," said Suzanne Wells, vice president of the PTA at Capitol Hill Cluster School, where her son, Joshua, attends fifth grade. Parents in her community -- by no means wealthy, she said -- raised money with events from gift-wrapping to Capitol Hill home tours.

"This is not the answer," she said. "Every school won't have parents who can do this."  The PTA hopes the poll will help propel its election-year drive for greater education spending by elected leaders at all levels. More than nine in 10 parents in the poll said that their political support is influenced by candidates' education stands. And more parents chose spending as their top education concern over any other issue, including such choices as school crowding and teacher quality.

Committee for Economic Development [School Funding]


Report: Investing in Learning – School Funding Policies To Foster High Performance February 2004

Excerpt: Every year the United States spends over $400 billion on its public elementary and secondary schools. K-12 education represents the biggest item in state and local budgets. Yet those financial resources are not managed in ways that encourage and reinforce efforts to improve educational outcomes. As a result, the massive American investment in its schools is not yielding the high level of student achievement that it should.

The Committee for Economic Development (CED) calls for transforming education finance so that funding policies are aligned with standards-based reform efforts to improve the nation’s public schools. Money is a powerful motivator of behavior. Harnessing spending to school improvement strategies can help spur the systemic change needed to raise academic achievement. Redesigning funding policies—to use resources more effectively, to make teacher pay more reflective of labor market realities, to create incentives for improved performance, and to link funding levels to the costs of meeting educational standards—is an essential step in the process of transforming schools into high performance organizations.

Over the past two decades, America embarked on a campaign to improve public schools for all our nation’s children. Educators slowly but unmistakably turned away from their traditional concern with inputs and rules to focus on the outcomes of schooling. States adopted standards-based guidelines for what students should know and be able to do. Policy makers worked at aligning various parts of the education system, including curriculum, teacher training, assessment, and accountability, to these standards. Legislators passed laws authorizing the creation of charter schools to encourage innovation and improve performance by breaking the historic link between public funding of public schools and government operating of those schools and by giving parents more choice over where their children are educated.

Reformers recognized that many children enter kindergarten already at risk of future educational problems and pushed for wider preschool access to increase school readiness. CED has urged such reforms in earlier reports and continues to support the “steady work” required to improve the massive enterprise of public education along many dimensions.

Palm Beach Post [Career Ladder – Merit Pay]


Law Aims To Lure Teachers To Low-Performing Schools 02-22-04

Excerpt: Florida's school leaders have cajoled, lured with high-money bonuses, and even forced good teachers into low-performing schools with limited success. But a new law, and a tough-talking education chancellor, aim to get experienced teachers into low-performing classrooms by reforming their pay so they'll be the ones seeking out jobs in challenging schools.

The law, passed last year, requires a new four-step career ladder for teachers and prohibits poor and high-minority schools from having more first-year and out-of-field teachers than a school district's overall average. How school officials accomplish that feat is up to them, and the laws bans them from signing teacher work contracts that don't include the new rules.

Chancellor Jim Warford, who is in charge of kindergarten through 12th grade, told state board of education members last week he will do whatever it takes to enforce the law and is ready to battle teacher unions that may oppose a status quo change. The language targets high-minority, poor and D- and F-graded schools, and it means schools like Westward Elementary in West Palm Beach will have to start looking harder for more experienced teachers.

The average years of experience for teachers in Palm Beach County elementary schools last year was 14. Teachers at Westward, which has 82 percent of its students taking a free or reduced-price lunch, had an average seven years of experience.

In fact, just six of the 27 elementary schools targeted this year as needing extra academic assistance had average teacher experience levels last year of more than 14 years.

During the past two years, Superintendent Art Johnson has tried to entice experienced teachers into low-performing schools with a $10,000 bonus. Last year, just 10 teachers accepted the offer. This year, 11 teachers took the bait. Four school districts, including Broward County, are already using the new career ladder outlined in the law as part of a pilot program.

Education Week [Licensure]


Georgia Panel Eases Path To Becoming A Teacher 02-25-04

Excerpt: Georgia will soon allow residents to get teaching certification on the strength of passing three written tests and earning a college major in the subject they want to teach. The controversial change appears to make Georgia one of a few states that no longer require at least some training in classroom skills before being fully licensed by the state. The new rule is part of a package adopted on an 11-2 vote earlier this month by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. The package aims to streamline licensing requirements.

"We feel like we ... opened the door for a lot of qualified individuals," said F.D. Toth, the executive secretary of the standards commission. The changes were bitterly fought by the state's teacher-preparation institutions, but supported by the state's largest teachers' group. University officials argued that the new rules are a harmful quick fix to teacher shortages, which especially plague high-poverty schools.

"What they are doing is creating a revolving door of untrained teachers," said Ron Colarusso, the dean of the college of education at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Teachers without college training in education are more likely to leave the profession in their first years, he said. Under the new rules, would-be teachers must pass three widely used teacher tests in the Educational Testing Service's Praxis series—basic skills, subject matter, and principles of teaching and learning. They must also hold a degree in the subject they want to teach, or one that is closely related, and have a job offer from a school district in hand.

Once in the classroom on a full five-year, nonrenewable license, the teacher must be mentored for a year in a way determined by the district. After five years, the teachers with this new certification will need a district recommendation for a renewable license.

New York Times [Sec. Paige]


Education Chief Calls Union 'Terrorist,' Then Recants 02-24-04

Excerpt: Education Secretary Rod Paige said Monday that the National Education Association, one of the nation's largest labor unions, was like "a terrorist organization" because of the way it was resisting many provisions of a school improvement law pushed through Congress by President Bush in 2001. Mr. Paige made the comment in a private meeting with governors at the White House, just hours before the president stepped up the tempo of his re-election campaign with a speech attacking his Democratic opponents.

The secretary later apologized for a poor choice of words, but repeated his criticism of the teachers' union as a group of obstructionists. His initial remark was described by four governors and confirmed by the Education Department. "The secretary was responding to a question," said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for Mr. Paige. "He said he considered the N.E.A. to be a terrorist organization." The governors who recounted Mr. Paige's remarks were two Democrats, Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan and James E. Doyle of Wisconsin, and two Republicans, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Linda Lingle of Hawaii.

Ms. Granholm said the governors were "all a little bit stunned" to hear the union described that way. Mr. Huckabee said Secretary Paige "was trying to point out that one reason it's been so difficult to execute real reform is that a lot of people in teachers' unions are trying to protect the status quo." And Governor Lingle said, "He's frustrated" by the N.E.A.'s "lack of support for a law that's clearly aimed at helping all children." She said Mr. Paige had complained that the union seemed concerned more about its 2.7 million members than about children.

In an interview, Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, said: "Secretary Paige's comments were pathetic and morally repugnant. They are no laughing matter. When our members learn of his comments, they will be outraged, and even more determined to make changes in the law."

Education Daily [NCLB – Sec. Paige]


Paige Responds In Person to Democrats’ Criticism 02-25-04

Excerpt: Education Secretary Rod Paige and other senior Education Department officials met yesterday with congressional Democrats to respond to their concerns about the agency’s implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act. But the lawmakers—Sens. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Hillary Clinton of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Rep. George Miller of California—were not placated.

On several issues—including civil rights protections in tutoring services, guidance on adequate yearly progress rules, and states’ compliance with requirements for highly qualified teachers—Paige “promised to get back to the members,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Kennedy. The meeting was closed to reporters, but Paige also issued a letter yesterday that outlines many of the points he made during the discussion, according to Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the department. Addressing the Democrats’ claims that delays in issuing guidance and rules on key provisions of the law resulted in “misinformation and speculation” among school districts (ED, Jan. 12), Paige stated it would have been a mistake to rush the regulatory process.

It “takes thoughtful deliberation, conversations with the field, discussions with members of Congress and their staff, and careful promulgation of regulations and guidance,” he wrote. “The opposite tack—to promulgate rules and regulations, in a desire for speed, closeted in Washington without input from practitioners and key policymakers—was not an acceptable option to me.” Paige noted that only 11 states were in compliance with NCLB’s predecessor, the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act, when he took office. Today, he said, all 50 states have accountability plans in place.

“Considering that there are 50 different state educational standards and assessment systems in place and 50 different state governance systems overseeing more than 15,000 school districts, these negotiations were challenging,” he wrote. Paige also pointed out that ED has made regulatory changes sought by states in the testing of limited-English-proficient students and disabled students.


Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777