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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – February 27 to March 5, 2004

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STATE  
Educational questions from the superintendent / Naperville Sun
Officials find no easy remedies for 'No Child' ills / Sun Publications
Study deals setback to governor's school plan / Chicago Tribune
Gov’s schools plan only adds up to good PR / Rockford Register Star
No Child Left Behind impacts local schools / Macomb Eagle
Black senators oppose gov's education plan / Sun Times
State tests to be moved up in 2005 / Chicago Tribune
Blagojevich's education plan promising / Journal Standard
School spending disparity revealed / Chicago Tribune
New funding sought for schools / State Journal-Register
Gov coyly hints at new source of school funds / Sun Times
Daley praises plan to replace education board / Daily Southtown
Governor's education takeover gets key support, criticism, too / Daily Herald
Education reform divides senators / Pantagraph
Governor defends his education plan / State Journal-Register
Blagojevich urges Senate to give him control of education system / Rockford Register Star
Skeptical Senate grills governor on school plan / Chicago Tribune
Senators grill Blagojevich on education plans / Beacon News
Blagojevich defends education plan / Quad City Times
Lawmakers find plan lacking / Daily Herald
State senators want answers / Pantagraph
100-plus Jefferson Co. teachers ‘in limbo’ now have class / Mt. Vernon Register News

NATIONAL  
CDC says ads getting kids to play outside / Boston Globe
Montana Creationism Bid Evolves Into Unusual Fight / New York Times
NEA Seeks to Undo No Child Left Behind / Fox News
States rebelling against new federal education rules / Associated Press
State superintendents address flaws in NCLB / Delaware County Times
Promises to parents under education law / Boston Globe
No Parent Left Behind? / CNN.com
Schools, Facing Tight Budgets, Leave Gifted Programs Behind / New York Times
Federal Law Is Questioned By Governors / Education Week
Federal officials to ease limits on same-sex schools / Beacon News
Conn. Wants Out Of No Child Left Behind / NBC30

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STATE

Educational questions from the superintendent  

By Alan Leis, Superintendent of Naperville School District 203, Naperville Sun

The public debate over issues related to the federal No Child Left Behind law has recently been eclipsed by Gov. Blagojevich's call to restructure the Illinois State Board of Education. As someone who is both new to the superintendency and new to the state of Illinois, I don't feel able to adequately judge the merits of the governor's proposal.

Still, any newcomer sees things in a different light. To that end, I have several questions and observations about education in my new home state. As always, my views in this column are my own; they may or may not represent the views of the District 203 school board.

Listening to the public debate, I find myself wondering about the following:

Whoever prevails, how can the state education agency simultaneously save money and improve service to our schools? No one loves a bureaucracy, and the way the state education department is currently structured is at best confusing. Still, it is probably no coincidence that the level of service provided by state education personnel seemed to decline as the work force in Springfield was dramatically downsized. The downsizing itself may be both appropriate and necessary, but any cut of that magnitude had to affect service, and it did. The most important question I think is how can the state education agency most efficiently monitor 800-plus school districts and how can it best support our schools?

Is Illinois as a state adequately funding public education? Citizen after citizen tell me explicitly and implicitly how much they value education. However, by the best count, Illinois is 46th in the nation in terms of state funding for public education. Is that where we want to be? How is it that states like Mississippi and Alabama do better?

Do we have all of our statewide educational priorities straight? One of my biggest frustrations so far is the extent to which Illinois seems to regulate personnel in matters of health and licensure. I find it strange that there is no state requirement to fingerprint new personnel or do out-of-state background checks, while there is a requirement that every employee must have a record in district files of a physical.

As a district that was recently directed to get physicals for several 15-plus-year instructional assistants (as a result of a state records review), I wonder if getting those physicals at this point is as important as more carefully screening new hires for out-of-state criminal activity.

And why do new teacher or administrative hires in Illinois (such as myself) have to pass multiple-choice tests in their work field, along with reading, writing and math tests to stay employed, while our high school students don't have to pass any such tests to graduate? Why is there a massive state database into which reams of individual professional development plans for teachers and administrators have to be entered, but there is not yet any state database of Illinois students?

And then there is that looming federal law, No Child Left Behind. While everyone seems to acknowledge that the law has several problems that need to be fixed, Washington is pointing at the states to fix them, and the states seem to be pointing back. Wherever the answers lie, I do know that we need to get these problems fixed — and fast. With that in mind, I hope the debate over who's in charge of education in Illinois gets resolved quickly, so we can get on with the most important task at hand — improving our children's education.

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Officials find no easy remedies for 'No Child' ills

By Susan Frick Carlman, Sun Publications Staff Writer

Officials based in Washington, D.C., pointed out what's working right with the federal government's role in local education, and local school administrators pointed out what's not, during a meeting arranged last week by U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Hinsdale, to discuss issues related to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Biggert and Department of Education official Ron Tomalis visited K.L. Hermansen Elementary School in Romeoville as part of a nationwide initiative that is taking federal officials into local schools to counter criticisms coming from across the education community as President Bush launches his re-election campaign. Objections to the act, which the president is expected to highlight as a success of his first term, range from funding to timelines to labeling mechanisms that many educators find counterproductive.

Although funding from Washington was down $2.5 billion in fiscal 2003 for the state assessments that measure students' academic performance relative to the act's requirements, Biggert and Tomalis highlighted the unprecedented $57 billion in discretionary education spending shown in the president's proposed 2005 budget, much of it to help meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind. They defended the administration's performance on education, asserting that federal funding for the department has gone up 36 percent since 2001 — an increase that exceeds spending expansion in any other federal department, according to Tomalis.

But they also pointed out that paying for education is not Washington's job.

"Education is, and always should remain, a primary responsibility of the state and local level," Biggert said.

It's that balance that currently is taking up the focus of regional officials. An assortment of initiatives are addressing the reality that, despite the legal requirement that the state fund at least 51 percent of the cost of public schooling, more than half of the expense is borne by local property owners. In 2001-02, the state footed just 32 percent of the bill, according to the Illinois State Board of Education, while 7.3 percent of the revenue came from the federal level.

Despite its small role in paying for education, the concept of the federal government requiring students to meet uniform learning standards is not new. Tomalis said the regulations reflected in the current legislation originated during the Clinton administration, with the 1994 Improving America's Schools Act. But the provisions of that act, which included full academic proficiency — as does the No Child law — were not enforced strictly, according to Tomalis. He said when Bush took office three years ago, only 11 states were in compliance.

Pushing performance

As the earlier mandate had done, No Child gave the states primary responsibility for most implementation decisions. But it is more thorough, and sets a 2014 deadline for all students to meet academic standards if their schools are to continue receiving federal support.

"One thing that's different is performance. We must see improvement," Tomalis said.

He also suggested there is a philosophical shift in the present approach to improving American education, evidenced in the names of the 1994 and 2002 federal acts.

"Rhetoric is very important. ...We've moved away from a focus on buildings and institutions to a focus on children, which is where it should be," Tomalis said.

None of the participants or other panelists disputed that claim, but numerous administrators noted ways in which the No Child act has introduced hurdles that they are finding virtually impossible to overcome. Some also suggested that while the act has noble intentions and has brought a new level of attention to the issue of accountability, its mechanics and its emphasis on the testing instruments appear misdirected.

Some specifically questioned the portion of the act that breaks students into subgroups based on ethnicity, socioeconomic status, special needs and other criteria. Joe Matula, superintendent in Maercker School District 60 in Darien, suggested eliminating the breakdown in favor of a closer look at why some students are not progressing.

"It just seems that the focus is all on the data, not on a plan to help the kids," he said.

Rich Duran, superintendent of the Will County Regional Office of Education, echoed the thought. While he commended the act's effect of compelling schools to take a closer look at themselves — and to consider variables such as high mobility — he charged that it places undue importance on instruments to the exclusion of what's going on in the classroom.

"We keep debating what percentage of kids must achieve, but we don't talk about how," Duran said.

Some of the administrators also took the federal officials to task on the portion of the act that governs the measure labeled Adequate Yearly Progress. Panelist Phil Hansen, who was chief accountability officer under Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas from 1995 to 2002 and now is consulting with the Illinois State Board of Education, said setting a requirement that academic growth occur at an annual rate of 7.5 percent was not realistic.

"Children are not widgets, so we can never assume that they will learn in equal increments," Hansen said.

Conclusions also are difficult to draw on the basis of Adequate Yearly Progress data, participants said. Hansen noted that three out of four Chicago schools that failed to improve by that measure in the most recent round of yearly reports nonetheless showed improvement on state test scores.

Several of those at the meeting also said the consequences of the yearly progress requirement seem punitive. When subgroups fall short of the academic targets, the entire school can be tagged as failing to meet the requirements — a phenomenon that is blamed for the nearly 40 percent of Illinois schools that fell below the bar this year. The schools eventually are required to provide opportunities for students' families to choose better-performing schools nearby for them to attend instead, a stipulation that many have charged is an attempt to lean public education toward a voucher system. They also must furnish supplemental services — usually after-school tutoring — for students whose performance is identified as substandard.

The bottom line

Gus Tomac, superintendent of Chaney-Monge School District 88 in Crest Hill, expressed frustration at the cost of the requirements contained in the No Child act. His two-school district, currently operating with a $600,000 deficit, is in the midst of its 10th referendum campaign since 1998. Voters have approved only one tax increase in the past nine requests.

"The fact remains the crisis is funding. ...That's just the bottom line," said Tomac, adding that his district's red ink is largely the result of requirements that come from the federal level. "I view No Child Left Behind as being one of those unfunded dictates."

Tomalis countered the assertion, reiterating that the federal government's monetary function is to supplement other education funding sources.

"What we have funded is an accountability program that we believe will lead to all children being proficient," he said.

But others appeared skeptical of that prospect as well. Mary Curley, superintendent of Community Consolidated School District 181 in Hinsdale, encapsulated what several of the other administrators had suggested in the observations she voiced near the conclusion of the two-hour meeting.

"I think what you're hearing is that we support what you're doing ... but we're truly struggling with the implementation," Curley said.

The outward perception generated by the federal act is that "public education is bad and we're going to fix it," she said, noting that it addresses trouble spots encountered by small groups of students, but overlooks the majority of areas in which most districts are doing fine.

"I think it's a little myopic because we're really struggling, and I would just like you to think about what you've heard here today," she said.

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Study deals setback to governor's school plan 

Ray Long and Molly Parker, Chicago Tribune, February 29, 2004

SPRINGFIELD -- A new report by the General Assembly's research arm concludes the move by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to take over most functions of the State Board of Education is inconsistent with the intent of the framers of the 1970 Illinois Constitution.

The report dealt another political setback to Blagojevich only days before his takeover proposal is to be brought for a hearing before the full Senate on Wednesday as it meets in a rare committee of the whole session. A recent Tribune poll also showed that Illinois voters overwhelmingly disliked the governor's plan.

Blagojevich, who lashed out at the independent education board as a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" in his State of the State address in January, said he wanted to gut the agency and transfer its responsibilities to a new Department of Education under his control.

The new report, written by the bipartisan Legislative Research Unit, concluded, "It is safe to say that the proposal for a Department of Education is inconsistent with the expressed intent of a majority of the delegates" to the 1970 Constitutional Convention.

Susan Lichtenstein, Blagojevich's general counsel, maintained the governor's plan is "constitutional, or he wouldn't have proposed it."

The constitution requires only that there be an elected or selected State Board of Education and that the board appoint a chief state educational officer, Lichtenstein said.

"Everything else that the board does is pursuant to statute--not the constitution," Lichtenstein said. The constitution gives the legislature permission to decide what other duties the board should have, she said.

Lichtenstein said the governor's plan would preserve the board, but it "will have a refined function" focused on making policy recommendations and the studying of educational practices.

State Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), who chairs the Senate Education Committee and opposed Blagojevich's takeover, said the authors of the constitution wanted a "Board of Education that would be held accountable ... to both the General Assembly and the governor, but that would be able to operate in an independent manner."

Several former delegates to the Constitutional Convention agreed that the governor's takeover proposal would unravel their intent.

"It probably goes against the grain of the delegates who wrote it and voted for it and ultimately the voters that ratified what they were told was in the constitution," said Dawn Clark Netsch, the former state comptroller, who was a convention delegate.

Netsch said she does not necessarily oppose the governor's plan but added that "the constitution ought to be changed to reflect" the new structure through an amendment brought before voters.

Thomas Lyons, a convention vice president and now chairman of the Cook County Democratic Organization, said delegates established a quasi-independent State Board of Education to insulate it from politics.

If politics and education were mingled too closely, Lyons said, the governor's proposal would be "contrary to the intent of the Constitutional Convention."

Chicago attorney Malcolm Kamin, a Democrat and former delegate, said a wholesale transfer of power from the board to the governor would be unconstitutional.

Delegates established the state board, which is appointed by the governor, to replace what was then an elected state superintendent of public instruction, whose office was long viewed as a patronage haven.

"The intent was to have a board that was ultimately responsible for the oversight of all education in the state," Kamin said. "That part of the executive power that had been vested in the superintendent of public instruction would now be vested in the board and the state's chief education officer."

In general, the history of Constitutional Convention debates on issues are consulted "when there is something ambiguous in the language you are trying to interpret," Lichtenstein said. "The framers of the constitution could not have been clearer" in the board section, she said.

Del Valle said he will ask Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan to render an opinion on the constitutionality of the governor's proposal.

"The governor says he is not violating the state constitution," del Valle said. "I say maybe he is technically correct, but what this report says is his proposal clearly goes against the intent of the framers of today's constitution."

The legislative report said convention delegates wanted the board and its superintendent to set educational policy for local public schools, but that expectation "would be frustrated by creating a Department of Education with nearly all the substantive powers of the State Board of Education."

Delegates expected the superintendent would have an "active leadership role in local public education" even though his duties were not defined in the constitution, the report said.

The delegates wanted the General Assembly to be able to control the policies of the board "as it has done many times" by amending state education laws, the report said.

Michael Bakalis, the last elected school superintendent who now chairs the governor's Education Accountability Task Force, said he backed the 1970 convention's effort to establish the state board because he believed it would "de-politicize education and it would give education leadership."

"That dream was never fulfilled," Bakalis said. "That hope was dashed. ... This is a new day. We need a new way."

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Gov’s schools plan only adds up to good PR 

Rockford Register Star

Gov. Rod Blagojevich is either grossly irresponsible or remarkably clever when it comes to education funding. It depends on whether you want a governor to make tough choices or minimize his political exposure.

Blagojevich proposed $400 million in new education spending for the fiscal year beginning July 1. But the governor who wants to seize the education bureaucracy from the State Board of Education didn’t delineate how the money should be spent. Instead, he deferred to the General Assembly to develop a plan.

The appropriations process ultimately involves the governor and the General Assembly, so legislators would have their say in any case. But the budget process in Illinois is executive-driven, so the governor is supposed to take the lead.

And while $400 million is a ton of money, it’s not enough to satisfy competing education interests. It’s not even enough to cover the governor’s wish list.

The governor wants the state to increase general state aid — money that flows mostly to poor schools — to $5,665 per child. This requires an increase of $250 per pupil during each of the four years of Blagojevich’s term.

Policy-makers added $250 per pupil in the current fiscal year, raising the foundation level to $4,810 per child. Increasing this aid another $250 per pupil next fiscal year would cost about $400 million, all the new money Blagojevich proposed.

Then there are so-called mandated categoricals, those state funds that reimburse school districts for state-mandated services, such as special education.

Increasing reimbursement to 100 percent would cost $128 million, according to House Democratic analysts. The State Board of Education asked the state for $139 million more in the next fiscal year to fund these programs.

And there’s early childhood education. The governor last year committed to increase this spending $90 million over a three-year period. The state managed $30 million more last spring. The next step is another $30 million.

There’s more. The governor specifically proposed a host of new programs estimated to cost $33.6 million: a book per month for each child in the state from birth to age five ($9.6 million), more reading specialists in schools ($15 million) and additional programs ($9 million).

That’s $591.6 million so far — $191.6 million more than the governor proposed — and the education wish lists are not exhausted.

“Obviously, he’s not proposing enough money,” said Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “By shifting it over to us, we’re the ones who have to grapple with whether we shortchange suburban school districts, hurt poorer school districts or whether we don’t fund adequately or even fund his initiatives for education reform.”

By not committing to specific programs, the governor released himself from liability for whatever the Legislature can’t accomplish. If legislators can’t reconcile competing education interests, the governor can simply blame them for failing.

On the other hand, if they figure out how to make school districts from Rockford to Chicago to East St. Louis happy, the governor can take credit for that accomplishment when he signs the bill.

Blagojevich knows exactly how to maximize favorable publicity for himself, often at the expense of others.

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No Child Left Behind impacts local schools 

Deb Fowlks Editor, Macomb Eagle

Just three days after taking office in January 2001, George W. Bush announced “No Child Left Behind” his framework for bipartisan education reform. Bush described No Child Left Behind as “the cornerstone of my Administration.”

Less than a year later passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB Act) was secured.

Under the NCLB of 2001, states must improve the quality of their schools from year to year. It is based on the goal that all children will be proficient in reading and math by 2014. The percentage of students proficient in reading and math must grow until the schools reach 100 percent proficiency. In addition to meeting the guidelines set forth by the federal government, schools must also meet state standards as well.

Superintendent of Avon Schools, Alene Reuschel said NCLB is not entirely realistic, “To say that every child in the United States has to be able to read at a certain level by this date (2014) is unrealistic.

Critics of the law also argue that the way the federal grading system works isn’t fair in some cases because it requires yearly progress not just from a school, but from every subgroup of students, including those with disabilities or ones who speak English as a second language.

Reuschel explained NCLB takes high stakes testing to a new level, “Is there a place for testing? Absolutely. Is there a place for standards? Absolutely, absolutely. There should no longer be the big disparities as there were maybe 50, 75 years ago between urban versus rural schools. We’ve closed that gap. With media, technology, we’ve closed that gap. But, it’s also fair to say that everybody deserves a good, sound, basic education. But, what is that? Define that. And, our state has.”

According to Legal Database.com, the No Child Left Behind Act has fallen under much criticism since its passage, with particular focus on inadequate funding. In 2002 through 2004, Congress authorized between $26.4 billion and $32 billion to be spent on the No Child Left Behind initiative. The president’s 2004 budge proposal would underfund the act by $9 billion, leaving local communities to make up the difference.

Reuschel said, “We’ve been underfunded for how long? I think the question is, this is the age old dilemma. It’s all well and good to say....and I’m not disputing that the intent or the spirit of the law is necessarily bad. I think the methodology is flawed. And, I think there’s a difference there. But, it’s no different than what we have happening here in our own state. We have, for how long, been underfunded? A classic example is transportation. We’re supposed to get support for transportation. As of late we’ve been getting 85 cents on the dollar. Now, wait a minute. It says, we are supposed to be earmarked for certain funds at 100 percent, but we get 85 cents and we’re told we should be happy because we’re getting 85 cents. Excuse me, we’re supposed to get a dollar. What that forces us to do is take our local tax money, that could be earmarked for a good program and we have to take that 15 cents out of the dollar and pay to make those bills up. So, then everybody gets hurt. When we think about this unfunded mandate, I say, what did the federal government do that they haven’t already seen in their counterparts, the states. The question becomes, ‘Who has responsibility for education?’ And that’s a constitution issue that I’m not going to go into.”

Federal funding aside, Illinois ranks 48th in funding for schools.

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Black senators oppose gov's education plan  

Dave Mckinney, Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD -- An important bloc of black state senators Monday came out against Gov. Blagojevich's plan to take over the State Board of Education, marking the first significant political blow to one of his top legislative priorities.

The nine-member Illinois Senate Black Caucus condemned the takeover attempt, saying it fails to seek better ways to fund Illinois schools and boost test scores for black and low-income students.

"We the members of the Senate African-American caucus find it difficult, if not impossible, to support any measure on education reform that does not adequately address these critical concerns," a statement by the group said. "Until we first address the issue of how we fund or rather do not fund our schools, all other issues and conversations are superfluous and irrelevant."

In January, Blagojevich called the State Board of Education a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" that wastes taxpayer dollars. In its place, he called on lawmakers to allow him to create a new Department of Education under his direct control.

The governor has said he won't entertain a major overhaul of the state's school-funding system, heavily reliant on property taxes, until lawmakers approve his takeover plan.

The black caucus' statement came on the eve of Mayor Daley's expected endorsement of Blagojevich's plan and two days before the entire state Senate meets to discuss the governor's proposal.

"We're wanting to give this governor suggestions on ways that could better the education system and possibly not have to move so drastically to create a department of education," said Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), chairwoman of the Senate caucus and a member of the Senate Education Committee.

Bradley Tusk, deputy governor under Blagojevich, reiterated voters will not go for an income tax increase or other major revenue infusion for schools without first knowing that the state's education bureaucracy is credible and trustworthy.

"The governor has been very clear that if we don't show people there's more accountability and money being spent more wisely, it'll be hard to have a discussion about changing the funding formula," Tusk said.

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State tests to be moved up in 2005  

Better analysis of results sought

Stephanie Banchero, Chicago Tribune

High school juniors will take the state achievement exam nearly two months earlier next year, a switch Illinois education officials say is necessary to meet the demands of the No Child Left Behind law.

Illinois State Board of Education officials said Monday that the private contractor needs more time to score and analyze the exam if they are to avoid last year's debacle of delayed test results and error-riddled data. The results were so late that schools did not know they had run afoul of federal guidelines until well into the school year.

"We want schools to know where they stand before the start of the school year," said board spokeswoman Karen Craven. "The only way to do that is to give the test at an earlier date."

But the decision to rush the exam is not sitting well with some local educators, who complain that an earlier test date will push down test scores and seriously erode confidence in the state's already controversial testing program.

"We will lose eight weeks of instruction time and that is no small matter," said Attila Weninger, director of curriculum for Lyons Township High School District 204. "How can the state say this test is based on 11 years of learning and then go and discount 20 percent of a school year? This will have a major negative effect on test scores."

Illinois juniors typically take the two-day Prairie State Achievement Exam at the end of April. The mandatory test consists of the ACT college entrance exam in English, math, reading and science, and state-developed tests in writing, science and social science.

Next year, 11th graders will take the exam March 2-3. Elementary school students will see their test date moved up by three weeks, to March 7.

Craven said pushing up the test dates would allow the state to get preliminary results to districts by June 15 next year. Schools would then have 45 days to make corrections. The state could have final results to schools by mid-August, she said.

But a group of school officials in 30 districts in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and Will Counties argue that speedy test results should not trump academic considerations.

In a letter to state Supt. of Education Robert Schiller, the group said analysis from one of their districts showed that ACT scores rose dramatically after students were exposed to an additional year of instruction. Based on that research, the group concluded that moving the ACT back two months would result in a test score decline of 0.4 to 0.5 points.

"There's clear evidence that giving the test earlier will harm our students," said Weninger.

ACT officials said there is no evidence to support such an assertion.

"The test is not so sensitive that it would pick up the difference of an eight-week test date change," said Jon Erickson, ACT's vice president of education services. "It's a long-range test of skills, and eight weeks would probably not make any difference in the results."

Lynne Curry, director of planning and performance for the state board, said the agency consulted other researchers who agreed that a two-month shift in testing dates would not affect test scores. Curry also pointed out that the state pushed back the elementary test date from February until April several years ago, with a negligible change in test scores.

"But the superintendent has said that he is willing to consider a one-time [statistical] adjustment if there is a dramatic decline in scores," Curry said.

Illinois is not the only state struggling under the requirements of the federal law, which increases the amount of data states must collect. Some states, including Illinois, are still trying to sort out last year's mistakes.

Under the law, states must gather student achievement and test participation rates by ethnic group, income level, special-education status and English language proficiency. They also must collect data on whether teachers are fully licensed, among other requirements. The federal government uses the data to determine which schools should be sanctioned, including which ones must allow students to transfer out.

Last year, Illinois could not produce a list of failing schools until October. Even then, the data contained thousands of errors, and the state allowed schools to submit corrections. More than 900 did so by the Monday deadline, and the state expects to finalize the results within a month.

David Griffith, spokesman for the National Association of State Boards of Education, said at least 10 states have moved up the testing dates.

"States have found themselves in a real balancing act, trying to get test results back in time but still allowing schools as much time as possible to prepare kids for the test," Griffith said. "We are hearing a lot of grumbling because most states set up their testing schedules long before No Child Left Behind, and they based those schedules on when they thought kids would be ready for the test."

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Blagojevich's education plan promising  

Stephanie Pace Marshall, The Journal Standard

The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy has worked to produce excellence in math, science and technology teaching and learning and to grow the next generation of Illinois' technical and scientific leaders since our founding by visionary Illinois leaders almost

20 years ago. We've done so through programs for IMSA students on campus and through outreach programs that have benefited more than 40,000 other students and educators in schools throughout the state.

Through the years, in the face of enormous economic, technological and societal change, it has become an ever more daunting challenge for all communities and schools across our state to ensure the highest standards of teaching and learning for every student. Because of this, and as an institution dedicated to applying scientific and business principles to education (questioning assumptions, testing creative ideas for bottom-line impact, taking data-based risks), we have paid close attention to Gov. Blagojevich's education proposals.

We are energized by the governor's serious focus on and commitment to address those educational challenges and needs so important to our state. These include expanding reading instruction; increasing access to high-quality programs and services for all students; adequately and equitably funding our schools; and focusing the state's resources on learning and on recruiting, preparing and retaining a high-quality cadre of teachers.

We also commend the governor for his advancement of substantive strategies to improve public education in Illinois. His unique and impressive commitment to assume responsibility and accountability for the quality of teaching and learning in Illinois through the creation of a Department of Education is atypical across the nation.

Government agencies that are responsive and supportive facilitators, problem solvers and advocates raise a state and empower its people. We are excited about a Department of Education designed to:

Be a partner, a facilitator, a creative problem solver, and an advocate, not a gatekeeper and regulator; ensure resources are re-directed to assist and support local efforts to improve student learning while maintaining high levels of accountability; eliminate and streamline unnecessary and burdensome processes and rules and regulations that constrain and diminish professional judgment and creativity; deliver greater quality and opportunity to the "front lines of learning" - to students, teachers, administrators, local boards of education, parents and communities; and Capture efficiencies and increase productivity through sensible restructuring and infrastructure consolidation and centralization.

Such a department would provide a structure and processes to advance the quality and delivery of educational resources to all Illinois students.

The governor has created an Education Accountability Task Force on which I am honored to serve. What is possible now? This must be the question we commit ourselves to answering at this important moment in our state's history. The proactive leadership and direction the governor is providing and the results of thoughtful stakeholder deliberations can have a long lasting and profound impact on Illinois' future.

Stephanie Pace Marshall, Ph.D. is the president of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora.

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School spending disparity revealed  

But court ends desegregation order

Lori Olszewski and Darnell Little, Chicago Tribune

On the same day a federal judge agreed to a two-year plan that could end the Chicago Public Schools' 24-year-old desegregation agreement, the school system released data showing it spends less money on Latino students than on other groups.

Predominantly African-American elementary schools, for instance, spend 12 percent more per student than Latino ones, a difference that is likely to add to complaints that Chicago is not adequately serving its Hispanic children and suggests that issues of inequity persist in the district.

Although per-pupil spending cannot tell the whole story about a school's quality of education, it is an important indicator. For example, the spending for Latino students is lower because many attend overcrowded schools. Crowding decreases per-pupil spending by spreading overhead costs, such as principals, among more students.

"One of the biggest problems affecting Latino children is overcrowding," said Alonzo Rivas of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "This shows there are many remaining issues of equity for these children."

District officials contend that spending is equitable "overall" and that differences can be explained by factors such as school size.

While the financial data may fuel the public debate about equity, U.S. District Court Judge Charles P. Kocoras' ruling on Monday indicates the legal debate on desegregation is heading toward a close.

Since 1980, the district has been held to a voluntary, court-supervised agreement to provide additional educational services for children in racially isolated schools and to integrate to "the extent practicable."

Kocoras said it could be argued that 24 years was more than enough time for the school district to do what could be done to integrate its schools.

"Things cannot go on forever. It is time for Big Brother to bow out," said Kocoras in remarks that he jokingly said he scratched out on his kitchen table Sunday.

A year ago Kocoras had threatened to terminate the desegregation case even sooner and questioned whether the integration plan was still relevant in the face of the city's changed demographics. He said it would be impossible to integrate the schools now that white students make up less than 10 percent of the enrollment.

School officials argued they needed more time, and community groups, including MALDEF, argued that Chicago had not done all it could to achieve equity. The vast majority of Chicago's students attend racially isolated schools that mirror the city's housing patterns.

As a result, Kocoras agreed Monday to a school district plan that keeps things basically the same until the end of the 2005-06 school year, when the judge will consider whether the case should end. Meanwhile, Chicago promises to complete a number of studies and to provide other information to the public so it will be ready for the court's scrutiny.

If Kocoras does end the agreement, it could make it more difficult for Chicago to defend the admissions process for its vaunted magnet school system, which takes racial goals into account. Some school systems have been moving toward other kinds of admissions criteria, such as economic status, in the face of court challenges by students and their families.

Ruth Moscovitch, general counsel for the Chicago Public Schools, said the magnet admissions process would stay as it is until 2005-06 but she could not say what would happen later.

The school district never admitted it segregated its students but entered into the voluntary agreement in 1980 to avoid a lengthy legal battle with the U.S. Justice Department.

One of the most visible results of the agreement is the magnet school system. What little integration there is in the Chicago Public Schools is concentrated in the magnets, where attendance is determined by a lottery that calls for the student body to be 15 to 35 percent white. White students get a disproportionate share of the highly sought-after magnet seats in order to meet those goals, according to a Tribune analysis.

Many parents from low-income neighborhood schools believe the district spends more money on the elite magnet schools and selective enrollment schools, which screen students for academics. A consultant report released in October raised similar questions.

In an attempt to head off such criticism and prepare for Monday's hearing, school officials published the financial data on its Web site, www.cps.k12.il.us. It had promised such data in the plan Kocoras approved Monday.

The spending data allow the public to compare, for the first time, how much each of the city's 600 schools spends per pupil.

According to the data, which the Tribune also analyzed, elementary schools that are at least 70 percent African-American spend $5,556 per student compared with $5,282 at white schools and $4,957 at Hispanic schools. The trends are similar at the high school level. Overall, average spending is $5,336 per pupil in the elementaries and $6,980 per pupil in the high schools.

The per-pupil figures are based on instructional spending and do not include construction and some other costs paid centrally, such as nurses, janitors or food service workers.

Despite the differences, Chicago school officials contend spending is basically equitable. They said the differences are largely attributable to school size, special education populations and whether a school has more experienced teachers, who are more expensive.

For example, the elementary school with the highest per-pupil spending in the city--Rudolph Learning Center at $28,300--is a small site with almost 100 percent special education students, who get extra federal funding.

"This data shows that discrepancies between racial groups are, for the most part, minor," said Arne Duncan, chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, in a statement.

The school district also contends the data show it spends less per pupil at its magnet and selective enrollment schools, as a group, than at its neighborhood schools.

A Tribune analysis, however, found that different trends emerge when other comparisons are made. For example, selective-enrollment elementaries such as classical academies or gifted centers spend more per student than the average elementary school.

The spending differences between individual schools can be major, even among similar types of schools. For example, per-pupil spending at the seven selective-enrollment high schools varies from a low of $4,953 per student at Lane Tech, an integrated high school on the North Side, to a high of $8,177 at King, a predominantly black high school on the South Side. Lane is the city's largest high school with 4,527 students, while King is in the bottom third with 449 students.

"This is a big issue with parents," said Julie Woestehoff, director of Parents United for Responsible Education. "It will certainly add fuel to the fire."

Some parents were concerned that the data omits important information that helps to evaluate a school.

It shows Jones College Prep spends $7,492 per pupil, the third highest among the selective-enrollment high schools, after King and Walter Payton.

"But nothing there shows that our students still don't have a gym on site," said Walter Paas, chairman of the Jones Local School Council. So unless the weather is nice enough for students to go to a park, physical education means reading health books in the classroom.

School officials said there will always be some spending differences among schools. "Our goal is not to have a cookie-cutter approach at each school," said Moscovitch.

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New funding sought for schools

Blagojevich pushes for agency he can control

By Mike Ramsey and Adriana Colindres, Copley News Service, State Journal-Register

CHICAGO - Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday said his administration is considering new funding sources for public schools while he asks lawmakers to let him replace the independent Illinois State Board of Education with an agency he would control.

His comments in Chicago came as some members of the Illinois Senate Black Caucus announced in Springfield that they oppose the governor's takeover plan, in part because it doesn't specifically address how to finance schools more fairly.

"Without some of the things that we want, it will be very difficult for us to support the governor's proposal," Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, said at a news conference.

In Chicago, Blagojevich said his budget and tax experts are mulling different ideas to generate additional money for elementary and secondary education. He said they are different from controversial proposals to hike the state sales or income tax in exchange for a reduction in school-related property taxes.

"There are several possibilities. But in my view, if you're going to ask the taxpayers to be part of this discussion, first you've got to show them that you're spending their money efficiently," Blagojevich said at an appearance with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a fellow Democrat who endorsed his plan to create a Cabinet-level Department of Education.

Blagojevich would not elaborate about the potential new funding sources.

"We're looking at a variety of different options, and it would be very premature for me to throw that out there," he said. "When you're in theoretical discussions about possible things ... you look at those certain things that are interesting, certain things that are a little bit controversial and all kinds of things."

Blagojevich in January assailed the State Board of Education as a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" that is inefficient and fails students. He is scheduled to speak today to the Senate when it meets as a committee-of-the-whole to consider his plan to replace the board, which distributes school aid and monitors nearly 900 districts. The constitutionally mandated agency would remain, downsized, as a think tank.

Daley generally has been praised for improvements at Chicago public schools since state lawmakers granted him control in 1995. The mayor appoints a CEO and board members to oversee the $3.7-billion-a-year urban system, which has 440,000 students - most are African-American - and 602 schools.

"You know the old saying, 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,'" Blagojevich said, referring to Daley. "If he can do it in the city of Chicago, why can't we do it statewide?"

Members of the Senate Black Caucus say they're also disappointed Blagojevich doesn't suggest a way to close the achievement gap between white and black students.

"If you decide that you're going to take over the department but not address these critical issues of funding, the academic gap and all these other measures ... then are we really in a win-win situation for education?" asked Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, who chairs the caucus.

Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, is a member of the caucus but was not present at the Springfield news conference. He has expressed caution about the governor's plan.

Blagojevich's proposed education budget for fiscal 2005, covering an annual period beginning July 1, would increase school funding by $400 million.

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Gov coyly hints at new source of school funds

Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun-Times 

Trying to turn the tide in favor of his school takeover plan, Gov. Blagojevich said Tuesday he's eyeing a "new funding source" that would bolster state support for public schools and shift the burden away from beleaguered property taxpayers.

Blagojevich refused to identify the revenue idea, except to say that the discussion is "still in an incubator stage" and includes "certain things that are interesting -- certain things that are a little bit controversial."

And he continued to hold the carrot over the General Assembly. The governor said once again he would not entertain a major overhaul of the state's school funding until lawmakers approve his plan to take over the State Board of Education.

"If we're going to have serious discussions about the inequities of the funding formula, we have to have this kind of reform first because the taxpayers have been burned way too many times in this state," Blagojevich said.

In January, Blagojevich used his annual State of the State address as a forum to bash what he called the "Soviet-style bureaucracy" of the state school board.

In a move patterned after Mayor Daley's 1995 takeover of the Chicago Public Schools, he called on lawmakers to create a new Department of Education.

On Tuesday, Daley joined Blagojevich at Northside College Prep to shore up support for the governor's plan on the eve of a pivotal hearing by the entire Senate. "This is a bold move. ... I want to compliment the governor," Daley said.

The tease about a new funding source for schools was an apparent attempt to appease the Senate's black caucus. Earlier this week, the nine-member bloc declared its opposition to the governor's plan on grounds that it is "superfluous and irrelevant" until Blagojevich finds a better way to fund Illinois schools and boost test scores.

The governor has slammed the door on a tax swap -- higher income or sales taxes in exchange for lower property taxes -- on the grounds that it would violate his promise not to approve an across-the-board tax increase.

"There are those who believe there's a way to incrementally increase education funding. This is what we're doing [with a $400 million increase in each of the last two years]. There's a third alternative. There could be a new funding source."

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Daley praises plan to replace education board

Maura Kelly, Associated Press, Daily Southtown

Mayor Richard Daley on Tuesday endorsed Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to overhaul the state's education system, calling it a bold move that would improve accountability.

But black state senators said the plan fails to address the most pressing needs — raising test scores and increasing money for schools.

Daley, appearing at a Chicago high school with Blagojevich, said the governor's plan to replace the State Board of Education with an agency under the governor's control would make a state leader accountable for education and improve the entire system.

"Some people believe the current decentralized system keeps politics out of education. In reality, it basically keeps accountability out of education," Daley said.

Daley gained similar control over Chicago public schools in 1995, when he said the schools were unsafe and had high dropout rates and stagnant test scores, and he believes the schools are better off. When the Legislature agreed to give him control of the schools, however, most Democrats — including then-Rep. Blagojevich — voted against the plan.

"He gave the parents of Chicago hope and he got results," Blagojevich said Tuesday. "It is now time for the state of Illinois to do the same."

Blagojevich said he looked to Daley's takeover of the Chicago schools when he proposed his own education overhaul in January.

Daley replaced the old city school board with a new board accountable to him, and a new chief executive officer who answered to him and the new board. Blagojevich has proposed dissolving the independent State Board of Education, and what he calls its "old, Soviet-style bureaucracy," and replacing it with a new Department of Education under the governor's control.

The Illinois Senate Black Caucus says the governor's proposal falls short and fails to find better ways to fund schools and increase test scores for black and low-income students.

"We don't like what we see at this point," Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago) said Tuesday in Springfield, emphasizing the group wants to increase school funding above the $400 million Blagojevich has proposed for next year.

Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) called a rare Committee of the Whole meeting for Wednesday to give the entire Senate a chance to discuss the governor's education proposal as a committee. Black Caucus Chairwoman Kimberly Lightford, a Chicago Democrat, said Jones, a caucus member, is aware of the caucus position but did not specifically endorse it.

Asked about the caucus' opposition Tuesday, Blagojevich said: "We're now beginning the legislative process. There will be all kinds of discussion."

"If they're satisfied with the way things are ... then they ought to leave the system the way it is," Blagojevich said. "But if they share my concerns, if they're not satisfied as I'm not, then I would urge them to take a look at what we're suggesting and come on board."

Lightford said the governor's plan lacks specifics about taking on minority and low-income students' lagging achievement test scores or what many consider to be the unfairness the state school funding system, which is heavily reliant on property taxes.

But Blagojevich, who said he would speak at Wednesday's committee meeting, contends his idea is comprehensive and could save taxpayers $1 billion to $1.4 billion that could be reinvested in education.

He said the system must be fixed before inequities in the school funding formula can be addressed.

Caucus members on Tuesday questioned how committed Blagojevich is to taking control of the educational system after the way he handled his proposed funding increase in his budget proposal last month.

The governor said in his budget address that he has $396 million in new money for schools, but he said he wanted lawmakers — whom he earlier called "drunken sailors" in criticizing their spending proclivity — to decide how to use the funds.

"On one hand, the governor has said, 'I want to take it under my leadership,' but then, on the other hand, say, 'Let the legislators decide how to do it,"' Lightford said. "Are you actually taking control of education or, it's easier to have the drunken sailors be the fall guy?"

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Governor's education takeover gets key support, criticism, too

John Patterson Daily Herald State Government Editor

SPRINGFIELD - On the same day Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley declared his support of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's takeover of the state's education agency, black lawmakers denounced it, saying it doesn't address real problems.

Daley said that establishing an independent state board of education may have been intended to keep politics out of education, but it has kept accountability out of education.

Blagojevich wants to dismantle the Illinois State Board of Education and create an education department reporting to the governor.

Supporters compared the governor's plan to what happened in Chicago, where state lawmakers handed responsibility of public schools to Daley.

"He brought in new resources, new people, new expertise, new accountability, and new enthusiasm," Blagojevich said. "He gave the parents of Chicago hope. And he got results. There is room for improvement. But every day, they get better."

However, state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate's Black Caucus, said the city's schools have improved at far too slow a pace.

"It's very slow. I just can't say that Chicago public schools are doing so terrifically well that we want to adopt their policy and spread it across the state of Illinois," Lightford said.

Her district is 40 percent Chicago, 60 percent suburban.

Lightford and other minority lawmakers said the governor's plan fails to address funding inadequacies and exactly how schools will improve if he's in control. Unless such issues are addressed, they'll withhold their support, she said.

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Education reform divides senators

Kurt Erickson. Bloomington Pantagraph

SPRINGFIELD -- The two men who represent McLean County in the Illinois Senate are at odds over Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to take control of the state's education bureaucracy.

As the Senate prepares for a day-long hearing on the governor's plan, Republican state Sen. Dan Rutherford of Chenoa said Tuesday he won't back the proposal.

In contrast, state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, spent part of Tuesday meeting with Blagojevich to craft a strategy for today's rare hearing.

"I can't see any reason why anyone wouldn't support this," said Brady, who has stood with the Democratic governor in support of his plan.

Opponents argue the plan doesn't fix the state's education-funding problems and threatens local control of school districts, but supporters say it will improve accountability.

At 10 a.m. today, the entire Senate will meet as a committee to debate the merits of Blagojevich's proposal to transfer the state Board of Education's authority to a department under his control.

The hearing is only the fifth time since 1983 that the entire Senate has convened as a committee. Blagojevich, state schools Superintendent Robert Schiller and several school administrators are expected to testify.

The debate comes as lawmakers and other top officials have begun taking sides on the issue.

On Tuesday, the nine-member Illinois Senate Black Caucus announced it was against the governor's proposal, saying it does little to fix the way the state funds schools and doesn't address specific ways to boost test scores.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, however, came out in support of Blagojevich's plan, saying a similar takeover of Chicago's school system had helped bring accountability to education.

Rutherford says it gives Blagojevich too much control over how schools are run in Illinois.

Of particular concern, Rutherford said a plan to consolidate purchasing and construction at the state level will erode local control of districts.

"When you see some of those things that I really cannot embrace, it scares me what could possibly happen if he's in control," said Rutherford, who earlier has supported similar efforts by past Republican governors.

Brady, meanwhile, is among very few Republicans who are openly embracing Blagojevich's plan. Although he would like to constitutionally abolish the agency, he says Blagojevich's plan will accomplish similar goals of increasing accountability.

"The chief elected officer of this state has the responsibility -- and therefore should have the authority -- to manage the most important issue, which is education," Brady said.

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Governor defends his education plan

About two dozen testify at state Senate hearing

Adriana Colindres, State Capitol Bureau, State Journal-Register

Appearing on the Illinois Senate floor Wednesday, Gov. Rod Blagojevich defended his proposal to gut the State Board of Education and replace it with a new Department of Education under his control.

The governor first discussed the idea in January during his State of the State address, when he described the agency as a "Soviet-style bureaucracy."

His proposal received a mixed reception Wednesday from senators, with some of them wondering whether the revamping would result in a better education system. They peppered the Democratic governor with questions for more than an hour.

Blagojevich led off a lineup of about two dozen people who testified at a seven-hour hearing on Senate Bill 3000, the legislation that would enact his educational restructuring plan. The hearing was an unusual Senate "committee of the whole" meeting.

To become law, the bill will need to be passed by the House and Senate. It has not yet come up for a vote.

State School Superintendent Robert Schiller spoke against the legislation, calling it "neither good government nor good public policy."

But Blagojevich said it is needed because "we can do better."

"Are you satisfied with the state of education in Illinois?" the governor asked in his opening remarks. "If you are, then it stands to reason that you should leave things as they are. But if you believe as I do that we can do better ... then I ask you to join with us and support this change.

"The state is supposed to lead, provide guidance, establish rules and distribute resources," he added. "And when the system is designed in a way in which no one is accountable, no one's feet are held to the fire, and no one is compelled to try new things, we're not going to manage our schools as well as we could."

Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, asked Blagojevich what he proposes to do to close the "achievement gap" of black students performing worse than white students on achievement tests.

"The way to address this is to fundamentally reform the system," Blagojevich said.

When Republican Sen. Dan Cronin of Elmhurst asked the governor how he intends to reduce the mandates imposed on school districts, Blagojevich's answer was that his administration wants to hear suggestions from school officials.

He also invited Cronin and others to share their ideas for shaping the new Department of Education.

Sen. Miguel del Valle, a Chicago Democrat who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said he has no doubts about Blagojevich's sincerity. But he said he worries that a Department of Education under the governor's control would be under political pressure to "put the best possible face on the status of education in the state of Illinois."

Schiller later said he thought some of the governor's answers to senators' questions were vague.

"I do think the senators were looking for specific answers, and those specific answers weren't being given," he said. "He was just spouting statistics with regard to reading scores and so forth and not providing how, through Senate Bill 3000, that would be changed or how school improvement would take place or how you would close the achievement gap."

Schiller and some senators also raised questions about whether the Blagojevich proposal is permissible under the state Constitution.

"If it is so critical to the governor that a change be made that the State Board be abolished and education be directly under his control without a board, then let's not do an end run around the Constitution," Schiller said.

Instead, he said, Illinois voters should be asked in the November general election whether they want to change the state Constitution and get rid of the State Board of Education.

But Blagojevich's general counsel, Susan Lichtenstein, said his plan would meet constitutional muster.

Schiller also said lawmakers should tackle other education-related issues, such as funding, before dealing with the proposed restructuring.

Some senators suggested the governor and the existing State Board of Education cooperate in trying to give kids a better education.

Despite the sparring that has occurred so far between the governor and the State Board, Schiller said he thinks that can happen.

"You always work well together with people who have a common agenda, and the common agenda is to serve children, serve the state and to improve education," he said.

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Blagojevich urges Senate to give him control of education system

John O'Connor, Associated Press Writer, Rockford Register-Star

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Testifying Wednesday before the state Senate, Gov. Rod Blagojevich said his proposal to take control of the Illinois education system is the only way to start making real improvements for students.

"Do we do something to try to make our schools fundamentally better or do we leave them the way they are?" the governor asked. "That's the choice we all have to make."

The Senate held a rare meeting as a Committee of the Whole to review Blagojevich's proposal to replace the semi-independent State Board of Education with a new education agency under the governor's direct control.

Skeptical senators quizzed him on how the change would put more teachers into classrooms or improve education in poor areas.

"More accountability will make it easier for us to direct those resources where they should go," Blagojevich replied.

The hearing came a day after the nine-member Senate Black Caucus said it would oppose the proposal unless Blagojevich addresses concerns about putting more money into education and helping poor, minority schools.

"We don't want a bureaucracy just to switch from one area to the other without addressing the concerns that we have in educating children," said caucus Chairwoman Kimberly Lightford, a Chicago Democrat.

But Blagojevich also received a prominent endorsement for the idea Tuesday from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who took control of the city's schools in 1995 after winning state approval.

Daley said a cabinet-level Department of Education would make an elected state leader answerable for student performance.

Blagojevich argues that he needs control of the education bureaucracy to restore credibility and taxpayers' faith before they'll be willing to listen to arguments for changing the school funding formula, which relies heavily on local property taxes.

The Senate Black Caucus countered that funding and achievement gaps are too important for lawmakers to wait until school management changes.

Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, said Blagojevich's proposed $396 million increase for schools in next year's budget is not enough to help financially and academically struggling schools.

Blagojevich contends his idea is comprehensive and could save taxpayers $1 billion to $1.4 billion that could be reinvested in education.

He said he looked to Daley's takeover of the Chicago schools when he proposed his own education overhaul in January.

"He gave the parents of Chicago hope and he got results," Blagojevich said at a joint appearance with Daley at a Chicago high school. "It is now time for the state of Illinois to do the same."

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Skeptical Senate grills governor on school plan

Some unleash their frustrations

By Ray Long and Diane Rado, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporter Molly Parker contributed to this report

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich received a harsh bipartisan grilling in the Illinois Senate Wednesday about his plan to take over the state education system, with many lawmakers complaining the governor's initiative was long on platitudes and short on specifics.

Blagojevich defended himself in an extraordinary appearance before the full Senate that provided lawmakers with a chance to unleash pent-up frustrations with a governor who frequently derides them. Now, however, he is asking them to trust him to oversee public schools more effectively than the independent state Board of Education.

Signaling widespread skepticism about his school plan, both Republicans and Democrats repeatedly demanded that Blagojevich explain how children would actually be helped by his proposal to gut the board and cede to him control of almost all its functions as well as a few now run at the local level.

"We don't have substance," complained Sen. Dan Cronin (R-Elmhurst). "All you're offering us is popular platitudes."

At one point, as Blagojevich agreed to stay longer than he had expected, he exclaimed: "A lot of people want to get a piece of the governor."

He said later he was joking.

Even Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) questioned how Blagojevich could guarantee the state's education apparatus would stay free of political influence.

"My concern is the politicizing of educational funding and policy ... perhaps not by your administration, but an administration that might follow you that might put politics above the kids," Jones told Blagojevich.

Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he worried a governor in charge of the state school bureaucracy could manipulate test scores and financial data to "put the best possible face on the status of education."

Several lawmakers contended the governor's plan ignores the critical problem of funding inequities between wealthy and poor school districts.

Last such session was in '87

Blagojevich's 75-minute appearance before the Senate took on the aura of a trial, with lawmakers repeatedly hammering at his intentions and sincerity.  The last time a governor appeared at a committee hearing of the whole Senate was in 1987.

During his State of the State Address in January, Blagojevich proposed stripping the nine-member board of most functions and turning them over to a new Department of Education that would answer to him. In addition, he sought to centralize under state control the purchasing of supplies, school employee insurance and construction management, powers now held by local districts.

At that time, the governor savaged the State Board of Education as a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" accountable to no one and blamed it for problems ranging from illiteracy to tainted school lunches.

A recent Tribune/WGN-TV poll found that Illinois voters overwhelmingly disagree with Blagojevich's plan.

Though he toned down his rhetoric Wednesday, Blagojevich still asked lawmakers to give him the power to fix an education system he said was broken.

"Ask yourself," Blagojevich said. "Do we do something to try to make our schools fundamentally better? Or do we leave them the way they are?"

Testifying after Blagojevich was state Schools Supt. Robert Schiller, who said the changes the governor sought were so sweeping that they should only be considered through a constitutional amendment considered by voters.

`Put it on the ballot'

"Put it on the ballot in November 2004," Schiller said. "That is the right way to do it--the honest way to do it."

The most heated exchange of the day came when lawmakers tried to get more detail than Blagojevich was willing to give.

In his State of the State attack on the board, Blagojevich criticized the agency for burying schools in 2,800 pages of regulations and mandates. Referring to that, Cronin pressed Blagojevich to specify which ones he would do away with.

Blagojevich said he would need more input from local school officials before he could answer, Cronin shot back: "So you don't know which mandates at this point in time? Is that a fair statement?"

"No, I wouldn't categorize it that way," the governor said.

Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), the chairman of the Senate's black caucus, sought unsuccessfully to get the governor to explain how his plan would address serious gaps in educational achievement between white and minority students. Instead, the governor responded by listing previously announced initiatives, such as giving books to preschoolers and cutting administrative costs.

Blagojevich has sought to bolster his case by citing what he says is improvement at the Chicago Public Schools since a 1995 school reform law handed more control to Mayor Richard Daley.

But lawmakers questioned how well the reforms have worked because Chicago still struggles with low test scores, high dropout rates and overcrowded schools.

Blagojevich, who voted as a legislator against the reform law he now praises, conceded after the hearing he had made a mistake. "Had I to do it over again, I would have clearly voted differently," he said.

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Senators grill Blagojevich on education plans

John O'Connor, The Associated Press/Aurora Beacon News

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Rod Blagojevich defended his plan to take control of Illinois' education system before a rare full-Senate hearing Wednesday as skeptical lawmakers questioned him about whether it would politicize education and even violate the state Constitution.

The first-term Democrat argued that replacing the independent State Board of Education with an agency under his control would restore credibility and accountability to the system.

"First we have to get our house in order and make sure that the taxpayer money that's being spent is spent where it belongs and that we have a system where teachers can have more freedom to be in the classroom to teach," Blagojevich said.

He testified for 75 minutes before a Senate Committee of the Whole, the first such appearance by a governor since 1987 and only the fifth such committee hearing in two decades.

Senators from both parties criticized the governor's plan as short on specifics, harmful to local control of schools and contrary to the state Constitution, which established an independent body to keep politics out of education.

"A Department of Education that is under you is going to want to put the best possible face on the status of education in the state of Illinois," Sen. Miguel del Valle, a Chicago Democrat and head of the Senate Education Committee, told the governor.

"There will be political pressures to project the best light, and I don't think that's in the best interest of the children of the state of Illinois," he said.

Blagojevich, following two Republican governors who desired but failed to reorganize school administration, pitched the idea in his January State of the State Address, in which he pilloried the state board as an inefficient "Soviet-style bureaucracy."

He argues that the state board is responsible for 2,800 pages of crushing administrative rules that hinder learning. He also says taxpayers don't want to take on the sticky issue of shifting school funding away from property taxes because they don't trust the current state system to spend their money responsibly.

Blagojevich earned praise for appearing at the hearing Wednesday.  Sen. Vince Demuzio, who is sponsoring legislation to enact the governor's changes, said that worked to his advantage.

"I see some movement," said Demuzio, D-Carlinville. "The governor got high marks from the members today for coming here and testifying, taking his hits."

Del Valle acknowledged after the seven-hour hearing, which focused entirely on the governor's education plan that some change in structure is inevitable, but he said he hopes Blagojevich can work with legislators and reach a compromise.

While the governor was testifying, lawmakers zeroed in with probing questions and criticism that grew so one-sided the governor's supporters complained it wasn't fair.

It also revealed the chasm between Blagojevich's office and the Senate that Blagojevich must bridge to get the chamber's approval for his plan. When minority Republicans complained that Blagojevich's staff hadn't responded to questions about the plan, del Valle told them he hadn't been contacted either.

Blagojevich couldn't specify which state regulations should be eliminated, saying his department would work with schools, not strong-arm them, on reducing red tape.

Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, said the governor's plan also says nothing about funding inequities among Illinois' schools or how to close learning gaps between whites and minorities, two issues the Senate Black Caucus has called on the governor to address.

Blagojevich wasn't the only target Wednesday.

The State Board of Education, created by the 1970 Constitution, also came under fire.  Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, suggested to state schools Superintendent Robert Schiller that the board had three decades to fix public education and had failed.

Blagojevich says his plan to take control of the education system would not violate the state Constitution, which requires a State Board of Education and a state superintendent — the state board and superintendent would be kept on to study education, without having any authority to take action.

However, Malcolm Kamin, who helped draft the Constitution's education article, told the committee that delegates who wrote the document did not intend for the governor to direct education policy.

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Blagojevich defends education plan

Matt Adrian, Quad City Times

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Rod Blagojevich defended his proposal to gut the Illinois State Board of education, or ISBE, during a special Senate committee Wednesday morning.

Despite pleas from lawmakers who wanted more details about the plan, Blagojevich only repeated many of his earlier statements about the proposal.

“If you believe as I do that we can do better, that there is room for improvement, that we need to do more than tinker at the edges, then I ask you to join with us and support this change,” he said.

He proposed dissolving ISBE during his State of the State address earlier this year, the governor tore into the agency calling it a ‘’Soviet-style bureaucracy’’ that drowned educators in paperwork and regulations.

The administration’s reforms include creating a Department of education that would be under the governor’s control. ISBE would still exist, but it would be relegated to the role of policy think tank, Blagojevich said.

Many legislators wanted more specifics on how these changes would be implemented and if the reforms are really needed.

“Everything that we want done can be done with the state board we have now,” said Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville. “I don’t see the necessity for putting this under the governor. If we need to, we can do it.”

Sen. J. Bradley Burzynski, R-Sycamore, said he was concerned that Blagojevich had not consulted Senate Republicans about the new Department of education although there are only 11 weeks remaining in the session.

Blagojevich said Brenda Holmes, the administration’s education guru, is meeting with individual legislators.

Sen. Miguel Del Valle, D-Chicago, who heads the Senate’s education Committee, replied: “I don’t want you to feel bad, Sen. Burzynski. There has been no communication with the chair of the Senate education Committee either.”

Sen. Dan Cronin, R-Elmhurst, said Blagojevich has not provided any direction to lawmakers, who will have to fashion the legislation making the Department of education a reality.

“‘We have to deal with details and draft bills that have substance,” Cronin said. “All you offer us is popular platitudes.”

Cronin said all legislators are left with is Blagojevich’s record which includes voting against Chicago Public school reform — a proposal that the governor now heralds — and voting against legislation that allows school districts to opt out of burdensome mandates.

Outside the hearing room, Blagojevich admitted that stances he took on Chicago school reform were wrong.

The Illinois State Board of education was created during the 1970 Constitutional Convention as an independent body.  However, the board still must get legislative approval for its budget.

State Superintendent Robert Schiller said the proposal does not deal with the problems facing schools, from funding to rehabilitating school buildings. Instead, the policy strips constitutional powers from ISBE and the superintendent, as well as giving the governor control over the state teacher retirement fund, he said.

“Where is the sweeping change? It is not there,” he said. “Senate Bill 3000 is not good government or good policy.”

He said the board is willing to undertake many of the changes proposed by the governor, such as removing archaic rules from the school code.

“We can do a lot of the streamlining,” he said. “You need not change the structure of the board to do that.”

Building up to Wednesday’s hearing, Blagojevich toured the state touting his education proposal at local schools, even gaining support from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Critics of Blagojevich’s plan say it dodges the issue of education’s dependence on property taxes as the main source for local school funding. As a result, school districts with a healthy property tax base can spend more on education than areas with stagnating property values.

Several blue-ribbon education reform committees have suggested shifting the source of school funding from property taxes to higher income taxes. Blagojevich said the state cannot perform the swap until lawmakers show they can spend the money responsibly.

‘’No matter what else we do when it comes to education, unless we change the system, unless we instill a culture of accountability, unless we create a culture of innovation, the ongoing discussion on how we funds schools will continue to ring hollow for the taxpayers,” he said.

The swap politically would be unpalatable to the governor because he repeatedly has promised to not raise the sales or income tax.

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Lawmakers find plan lacking

Sara Hooker, Daily Herald News

SPRINGFIELD - Skeptical suburban lawmakers criticized Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to eliminate the Illinois State Board of Education, demanding to see details before they're willing to put him in charge of the state's public school system.

With nearly 11 weeks remaining to act on the fate of the state board, the Senate on Wednesday debated the governor's idea of creating a Department of Education under his control. That plan would move nearly all school policy decisions and a nearly $8 billion budget away from the existing state education board.

"Do we do something to try to make our schools fundamentally better or do we leave them the way they are?" Blagojevich said in a rare appearance in the Senate chamber. "That's the choice we all have to make."

Blagojevich maintains the move will increase accountability. But he did not say how his idea will address lawmakers' concerns of student achievement gaps in poorer schools and funding disparities between rich and poor schools throughout the state.

Lawmakers questioned the governor for more than an hour regarding how his plan would work.

Some suburban lawmakers were angered by the lack of detail. State Sen. Peter Roskam, a Wheaton Republican, said switching from one bureaucracy to another does nothing to improve education.

"This government by bumper-sticker phrases is getting tiresome. We hear about these lofty ideas that sound wonderful. But when you ask for details, all you get is silence or more platitudes," Roskam said.

State Superintendent Robert Schiller said the switch the governor calls for won't automatically increase accountability. He said state laws need to be changed to do that. Schiller still contends the plan raises constitutional concerns, but the Blagojevich administration maintains there are no problems. The Illinois State Board of Education was created by the 1970 state constitution.

In making his case for why the governor should control the state's schools, Blagojevich has repeatedly pointed to the experience with Chicago schools. State lawmakers put Mayor Richard M. Daley in charge of the then-struggling school system. Blagojevich said the resulting improvements show what could happen statewide under his plan.

However, state Sen. Dan Cronin, an Elmhurst Republican, questioned why Blagojevich voted against the Chicago plan as a member of the Illinois House.

Blagojevich admitted his vote against the plan was a mistake.

The Senate Black Caucus also opposes the governor's plan, saying improvements in Chicago have come far too slowly to be considered a statewide model.

But the governor also had his supporters during the nearly seven hours of testimony. Former state Superintendent Glenn "Max" McGee backed the governor's plan, saying the state board needs to be cleaned out.  But he also said the education department Blagojevich wants to create needs oversight from lawmakers too.  The governor's current plan gives him unfettered ability to set education policy with little to no outside input.

McGee, now superintendent in Wilmette, disputed critics' contention that Blagojevich's plan mixes politics with education.  McGee, whose tenure with the state board was filled with political controversy, said independent agencies like the state board actually receive a lot of political pressure from all sides.

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State senators want answers

Governor makes case for education changes

Scott Miller, Bloomington Pantagraph

SPRINGFIELD -- Some state senators still are searching for details about Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to gut the State Board of Education despite a seven-hour Senate hearing Wednesday.

The whole Senate heard testimony from Gov. Rod Blagojevich, state school Superintendent Robert Schiller and others arguing the pros and cons of transferring the independent school board's powers to a state agency directly under the governor's control.

But many lawmakers said they still want more information, particularly on regulations and mandates the proposed agency would impose.

"You come to us today and ask us for our support, yet we don't have substance," said state Sen. Dan Cronin, R-Elmhurst. "But we as legislators, we have to roll up our sleeves. We have to get our fingernails dirty. We have to actually deal with details."

Blagojevich said he wanted legislators to provide those details based on recommendations from local school administrators.

"We want to work with the local school districts," the governor said. He said he wants to "streamline what they do and give the teachers, principals and administrators room to run."

The hearing was called to discuss Blagojevich's plan to take control of the state's education system, which he has likened to a "Soviet-style bureaucracy." He says putting it under the governor's control would bring more accountability.

Schiller, however, contends Blagojevich's plan is unconstitutional.

"I just cannot fathom how a legislator can consider a piece of legislation that undermines the constitution, certain to be legally challenged if enacted and which simply has no substance attached to it," Schiller said.

State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, who is a co-sponsor of the governor's plan, supports delaying legislative action on the proposal until Blagojevich finishes meeting with local administrators and gives lawmakers more details.

Some opponents said the governor is hypocritical, blaming the state board for an excess of paperwork and mandates while he is proposing several mandates himself. He has proposed giving free books to preschoolers and requiring high school students to do community service.

"These aren't cooked up by the state Board of Education," said state Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa. "He hasn't said which (mandates) he wants to get rid of, but he wants to add new ones.

"It's kind of hard for me to embrace a plan that creates new programs that the state can't afford," Rutherford said.

Blagojevich said, however, "I think we're doing a very good job in tough times finding new money for education."

The governor has recommended $400 million in new school funding this year, but has not detailed how that money will be distributed to the state's 800-plus school districts.

Some lawmakers opposed to the governor's plan said the legislature's focus should be on fixing inadequate school funding, not squabbling over political control.

"How do we begin to address where some districts are receiving over $18,000 per student, and some districts are only receiving a little over $4,000?" asked state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood. "I just did not clearly see, as I read over your proposal, what you are proposing to do to close the gap."

Accountability must precede funding reform, Blagojevich said.

"Recent history in Illinois teaches us that the taxpayers are not going to be willing to have an open and honest discussion about how we fund our schools until they believe that their tax money is not being wasted," Blagojevich said. "Unless we instill a culture of accountability,  the ongoing discussion on how we fund schools will continue to ring hollow."

The legislation is Senate Bill 3000.

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100-plus Jefferson Co. teachers ‘in limbo’ now have class

Gregory R. Norfleet, Mt. Vernon Register-News

MT. VERNON — More than 100 of the 7,000 teachers in “bureaucratic limbo,” according to the governor, are right here in Jefferson County.

This “limbo” refers to teachers who have graduated since 2000 under a new state law that only issued them initial teaching certificates rather than standard teaching certificates.

Similar to getting a permit before earning a driver’s license, the new law requires those teachers to accumulate 60 “continuing professional development units” over the next four years to earn their standard certificate.

Half of those CPDUs must take the form of so-called “X-strand” courses — courses that make a teacher reflect on their own teaching practices.

The problem was that the new law did not also create any coursework specific to getting X-strand CPDUs, and the few state universities which had such classes are not in Southern Illinois.

That being so, the Hamilton-Jefferson Regional Office of Education this week started offering two series of night classes to teachers throughout the region.

Regional Superintendent Dr. P.E. Cross said one of the tricky parts about developing the X-strand curriculum is finding the required nationally certified teacher to teach it. There is only one in the two-county area: Ann Garrett, chair of the Communication Arts Department at Mt. Vernon Township High School.

Garrett agreed to take on the task, developing the curriculum herself. The 28 teachers enrolled in the Tuesday classes and the 15 in the Thursday classes will have to cover the $60 cost themselves, rather than their schools or the state.

Without the 60 CPDUs, the teachers would be forced out of their jobs, said Cross.

“We thought we were going to have to be forced to get emergency extensions,” he said.

Though most of the 2000 graduates should get their 60 CPDU’s by the June deadline, the ROE will have to file extensions for two or three who could not take the class until fall, when it will be offered again.

“It puts a lot of pressure on a beginning teacher,” said Cross.

Garrett said she knows of another nationally certified teacher in Marion, but that teacher had to decline a similar X-strand course for the ROE for Johnson, Alexander, Massac, Pulaski and Union counties.

“I’ll be doing it for them, too,” she said.

The Mt. Vernon course is drawing most of its teachers from the two-county area, but some are coming from Harrisburg and Zeigler, too, said Cheryl Settle, assistant regional superintendent.

In Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s State of the State address in February, he blamed the Illinois State Board of Education for not setting up X-strand courses earlier so 7,000 teachers statewide who graduated in and after 2000 could keep their jobs.

“And despite a process that requires teachers to fill out nearly 100 forms, the State Board has still failed to develop the programs that beginning teachers need to receive their certification, leaving 7,000 hardworking teachers in bureaucratic limbo,” said the governor.

ISBE State Superintendent Robert Schiller said the law did not direct the ISBE to create the classes, but rather put the burden on the teachers to find them. He notes that initial teaching certificates may be reinstated for one year without penalty if they need more time.

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NATIONAL

CDC says ads getting kids to play outside  

By Ira Dreyfuss, Associated Press Writer, 2/29/2004

WASHINGTON -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is having some success in getting kids to play outdoors by selling physical activity like companies sell toys.

Its national ad campaign, called VERB, encourages 9- to 13-year-olds to find the action-word activities they like to do: skateboarding or bike riding, for instance. The goal is to keep children from picking up the dangerously slothful habits of their moms and dads by steering them outside.

The 9- and 10-year-olds were active 4.3 times a week, according to the CDC's telephone survey last year of 6,000 young people and parents. That's one more time a week than the children had a year earlier, in 2002, when the CDC took a baseline survey before launching the program.

Pollsters asked what these "tweens" had done in the past week that was physically active. Playing video games didn't count, but riding a bike did.

The survey found 75 percent of tweens had heard of VERB, and the children who knew more about the program were more active, said Janet Collins, acting director of the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health. Children most familiar with VERB were active 5.6 times a week, she said.

"I'm highly encouraged, but we still have a way to go," Collins said.

Between ages 9 and 13, the range in which the slide into inactivity begins, team sports start to become more competitive, so less-gifted children begin to be winnowed out. And after elementary school, fewer children are required to have daily physical education classes.

To maintain good health and reduce the chance of getting fat, the CDC recommends children be moderately active for at least an hour a day.

The survey did not try to find out exactly how active the children were by asking how much time they spent in their activities or assessing how much energy they were using. Kids are not good judges of that, Collins said, so their answers would not have been accurate.

Because the survey didn't ask, it can't tell if the kids played hard enough to make them fitter or improve their health. But to a Denver pediatrician, that's hardly a big failing. "If you take someone who is sedentary and they move one more time a week, that's a good thing," said Dr. Reginald Washington, who chairs the sports medicine and fitness committee of the American Academy of Pediatricians.

The CDC wants young people to be at least moderately active for an hour a day. But Washington would give the kids a pass on watching the clock. "They should move more than they used to, and not get hung up on, 'I haven't done an hour so I haven't done enough,'" he said.

The ad campaign did not seem to work for 11- to 13-year-olds, and they didn't add to their play time. Collins said officials will have to figure out what to do to change that.

However, the results for the younger tweens indicate the strategy of marketing physical activity as a company markets products is working, Collins said. "Our approach was to hire some of the best kid marketers in the business and really draw on them for guidance," she said. "It's positioning physical activity as fun, cool and social."

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Montana Creationism Bid Evolves Into Unusual Fight  

By JAMES GLANZ, New York Times, February 29, 2004

DARBY, Mont., Feb. 26 — In early December, a local Baptist minister, Curtis Brickley, put up handbills inviting residents of this town, population 754, to a meeting in the junior high school gym. The topic was the teaching of evolution in the Darby schools.

Two hundred people from Darby and surrounding Ravalli County, which nurtures a deep vein of conservative religious sentiment, filed into the gym on Dec. 10. There, the well-spoken minister delivered an elaborate PowerPoint presentation challenging Charles Darwin's theories.

There was nothing particularly unusual about Mr. Brickley's message. For years, opponents of evolutionary theory have been pressing their case, with similar arguments, in statehouses and school systems around the country. What was unusual was the response.

Within days, a group of parents, business people, teachers, students and other residents mobilized to defend Darwin against Mr. Brickley's challenge. The group, Ravalli County Citizens for Science, phoned a biotechnology firm in nearby Hamilton asking for help and was connected with Dr. Jay Evans, a research immunologist. He began looking into Mr. Brickley's claims, which were drawn in part from materials from the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based organization affiliated with many conservative causes.

Refuting Mr. Brickley's claims, Dr. Evans said, "took me one afternoon." As soon as he had the information, it went to the rest of the citizens' committee, and from there to the wider community.

Partly because of the contentious dynamics of an election year, partly because of the coast-to-coast influence of the Discovery Institute, local disputes on the teaching of evolution are simmering in states from Alabama to Ohio to California. But with the help of the Internet, defenders like the group in Ravalli County are springing up all over the nation.

Some arise spontaneously, in response to challenges like the one here. (The Ravalli County group was organized by Rod Miner, co-manager of a Darby company that builds bicycles for handicapped people.) Others have been around for years. The rise of the Internet has helped like-minded groups exchange information.

"We do get a bit of a jump start, as you get more of these citizens' groups building on previous experience," said Patricia Princehouse, who teaches evolutionary biology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and who was a founder of the group Ohio Citizens for Science.

Some of the groups take their leads from umbrella organizations like the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., which tracks the disputes and supports the teaching of mainstream evolution. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the center, said it was fair to compare the swift formation and seemingly spontaneous organization of many of those groups to the young, Internet-driven base of support that drove the presidential candidacy of Howard Dean — with one difference.

"The Dean supporters are messianic in their zeal to change the world," she said. "We aren't. There's no salvation in evolution."

Perhaps the major reason for the outbreak of challenges to mainstream evolution is the widespread influence and activism of the Discovery Institute, said Paul R. Gross, an emeritus professor of life sciences at the University of Virginia. The institute's officials, fellows and followers have been involved in towns, cities and states across the nation.

Among the institute's signature claims is the theory of intelligent design: that certain biochemical structures in cells are too complex to have been a result of natural selection alone, and therefore must have been designed by something or someone.

Both sides agree that there have been a remarkable number of challenges in recent months to the way that evolution is taught in the schools.

"We've never seen this much activity at one time before," said a Discovery spokesman, Rob Crowther, adding that much of the activity had come about because many states were revising their teaching standards.

Dr. John West, associate director of the institute's Center for Science and Culture, said defenders of evolution want "to do anything but actually talk about the science; that's their public relations strategy."

Whatever the institute's precise role, the counterattack by the citizens groups has been wide-ranging.

In Ohio, state science standards and model lesson plans are being revised under pressure from critics of evolutionary theory. Among the successes of the Ohio citizens' group and its Web site, Dr. Princehouse said, is a collection of 3,000 signatures on a petition to keep intelligent design out of the standards. And in a recent fight over certifying biology textbooks in Texas, the groups brought in researchers to testify during hearings.

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NEA Seeks to Undo No Child Left Behind  

Fox News

WASHINGTON — The National Education Association (search), the largest teachers union in the country, says that President Bush's vision for educating American children could not be more out of focus.

The NEA argues that every aspect of the No Child Left Behind (search) law, one of the biggest achievements in Bush's administration, almost certainly will leave some behind. To prevent that, the NEA is launching an aggressive lobbying effort to stop implementation of the law, trying unsuccessfully so far to enlist states in a lawsuit against the federal government.

Supporters of the law say the union opposes the measure because it sets up new teacher qualifications as well as requires remedial work for poorly performing students and an annual report card for every public school in America.

The NEA says the goals are admirable, but the approach is too inflexible.

Pulling out all the stops to get the law killed has angered Education Secretary Rod Paige (search), who was forced to apologize Friday in a Washington Post editorial for calling the NEA a terrorist group.

Paige wrote that he wasn't referring to the vast majority of teachers, but to union officials in Washington, whom he called obstructionist.

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States rebelling against new federal education rules 

Paul Foy, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY - With Utah in the vanguard, about a dozen states are rebelling against President Bush's centerpiece education law, the No Child Left Behind Act, complaining it imposes costly new obligations without providing the money to carry them out. 

The Republican-controlled Utah House voted 64-8 last week not to comply with any provisions for which the federal government has not supplied enough money. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, represents the strongest position yet taken by lawmakers around the country.

Elsewhere, lawmakers have passed or introduced legislation or nonbinding resolutions challenging the 2002 law's tougher standards for student testing and teacher credentials.

Many legislators are angry over what they see as a federal takeover of education that leaves states to pay the bill.

"We gradually give up our state sovereignty when we accept our tax money back into the state with strings attached to it," said Republican state Rep. Margaret Dayton of Utah.

Among other things, the No Child Left Behind Act requires virtually all students to test at their grade level for math and reading. Schools that do not measure up for two years in a row have to provide more tutoring or let students transfer to better schools.

The law also requires teachers to have a specialized training for every core subject they cover. But some schools, such as those in rural Utah, say they are lucky to attract any teachers at all.

Opposition to the No Child Left Behind Act has created some strange bedfellows, uniting GOP conservatives who resent what they regard as federal intrusion into a state area of responsibility; educators and liberals who object to standardized tests and more stringent teacher qualifications; and politicians from both parties who resent unfunded mandates, or federal initiatives that are not backed with enough money, in such areas as health care, welfare and homeland security.

The government insists it is providing enough money to meet the requirements of the law. But many states dispute that.

William Mathis, a local school superintendent and education finance professor in Vermont, reviewed cost estimates drawn up by 18 states and found that they need, on average, 28 percent more a year than they are getting from the government to meet the law's requirements.

Federal aid to local school districts totals $32 billion a year, up from $24 billion before No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2002.

In Utah, state School Superintendent Steven O. Laing said full compliance could cost Utah $1 billion a year, or about 10 times more than the state receives in federal funding for the program.

David Shreve, an education adviser to the National Conference of State Legislatures, called the law an example of Congress passing a lofty piece of legislation and leaving states and local educators with the messy reality of trying to comply.

"We can't pass a law here and wave a magic wand and drop some fairy dust and make it happen," Shreve said.

Other states protesting the law include:

-Virginia, where the GOP-controlled House of Delegates approved in a 98-1 vote last month a resolution calling on Congress to exempt Virginia without penalty from "the most sweeping intrusions into state and local control of education in the history of the United States."

-Hawaii, where lawmakers approved a resolution last year asking state education administrators to consider giving up No Child Left Behind funding until Congress provides more money.

- New Hampshire, where state officials are fighting the U.S. Education Department over who pays for student testing after legislators reduced state funding for testing to just $1.

- Arizona and New Mexico, where lawmakers earlier this month introduced legislation to exempt their states from No Child Left Behind.

- Vermont, which passed a law last June prohibiting school districts from incurring any costs under No Child Left Behind that are not paid for by the federal government. So far, five Vermont districts have said no thanks to the program, giving up small amounts of federal assistance.

At the 78-student high school in Dongola, Ill., Superintendent William Mowser said he will give up $16,000 in federal funds rather than grant 116 students' wish to attend a better school nine miles away where they can learn Spanish and other specialties. That would cost $230,000, he said.

Federal officials had put on a full-court press at the Utah Capitol, trying to salvage support for the law, and warned the state it could lose its annual federal education funding, or nearly $107 million.

Ron Tomalis, who oversees elementary and secondary education for the U.S. Education Department, said the law provides enough money to Utah. As for complaints of federal intrusion, he said the law gives states great flexibility to set academic standards and testing procedures.

"The law doesn't lack funding," agreed Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education & Workforce Committee. He said the only thing lacking is will on the part of school districts.

Parents Urge Senate Not to Vote on Special Education Law

Parents and education advocates across the United States are urging the members of the U.S. Senate to halt consideration of a bill that would drastically change the federal special education law, known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Action on the Senate's bill, S. 1248, is anticipated next month.

Their worries are deeply rooted in a history of many years of open discrimination against students with disabilities. The U.S. House of Representatives passed its draconian IDEA reauthorization bill (H.R. 1350) in 2003, even after every major parent and teacher group opposed it. "H.R. 1350 literally turns the clock back 30 years, to a time when children with disabilities were excluded from our public schools and our public lives. This bill eliminates critical provisions of the current law, provisions that enable children with disabilities not only to enter our schoolhouse doors, but also to actually stay in school. What's the point of letting kids in, only to virtually guarantee that they'll be thrown right back out again? Students will soon suffer these consequences if the Senate passes its bill too," explains Sandy Alperstein, a parent and attorney from Illinois.

According to Tricia Luker, a parent and advocate for students with disabilities in Michigan, "The proposed legislation to change IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is so damaging to students and teachers that it should not become law. Congress needs to start over next year if they really do not want to leave 6.5 million students with disabilities behind." Luker continues, "We are already seeing militant reactions by schools, educators, and states protesting against the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Now Congress is putting America's most vulnerable students in further peril by writing legislation that will steal their educational rights away by removing essential protections for students and teachers that are now in IDEA."

Many parents are wondering why Congress is rewriting all of the IDEA legislation when most of it is not required. As Debi Lewis, a West Virginia parent and co-founder of an inclusion-oriented web site (www.psIDEA.org) accurately points out, "There are two key points that parents and advocates must remember and remind Congress at every opportunity. The first is that the '97 amendments already entailed significant compromise. The second is that Part B of the IDEA, where all the damaging revisions lie, does not require reauthorization at all. Congress needs to stop meddling with this finely tuned section of IDEA and simply reauthorize those parts which require it."

Susan Ross, a parent and activist for public education, agrees, "It is clear that Congress just doesn't understand any of this at all. They need to go back to the drawing board and do their homework first. This IDEA reauthorization is rapidly destroying the credibility of President Bush's entire education agenda, not to mention the lifelong damage that both of these bills stand to inflict on students."

Parents have every reason to be concerned. Decades of special education's best practice procedures will soon be made unavailable to students and teachers. "The Senate bill would eliminate some of the basic protections for students, and change the required individual education plans for each student by removing the short term educational step-by-step goals that are so helpful to both parents and teachers," according to Alperstein.

"Congress says it's changing the law to reduce paperwork for teachers, but teachers themselves say short term educational objectives are critically important," says Bev Johns, chairperson of the Illinois Special Education Coalition. "The U.S. Department of Education in 2003 paid for the Study of Personnel Needs in Special Education that surveyed special education teachers all across the country. The SPeNSE Paperwork Substudy report showed that short term student objectives are the 'most helpful in educating their students' and the second most important part of special education for teachers."

Dave Wong, a parent from California, couldn't agree with Johns more. Wong takes his explanation a step further by saying, "For many students referred to special education, barriers to learning are not strictly academic; they are emotionally and behaviorally based. The Senate has done better than the House on the topic of supporting students with behavior issues, but its work is far from complete. Provisions is in '97 statute are still better than those to be voted on this March. Measurable short term objectives, stay put protections for students, and positive behavior support strategies implemented with fidelity are essential components that must work in concert for these students not to be left behind, or worse, left out."

What makes all of this even more troubling for parents is that their due process rights, the provisions that allow for parents to advocate and hold schools accountable for promised actions, may be ripped out from under them. "Both the House and Senate are looking to dramatically tip the balance of power toward schools and away from students and families. Parents thought that with the No Child Left Behind Act they would be empowered to help hold schools accountable. Looks like they meant it for some selected kids, but not for the kids who may not be able to speak for themselves and need parent advocacy the most," says Mike Savory, an advocate and activist from Virginia.

Parents across the nation feel so strongly about these issues that many have joined forces in an effort to influence the upcoming elections. Larry Greenstein is a founding member of the League of Special Equation Voters of the United States, Inc. (www.SpEdVoters.org). The league is planning March events in Washington, D.C. to preserve the original IDEA's integrity. Greenstein reports, "The League of Special Education Voters opposes S. 1248 in its present form. We believe that the removal of short term objectives and the changes to the discipline provisions, stay-put provisions, and due process provisions will each have a significant negative impact on the education of all children. Throwing money at the problem is not the answer, and neither is basing accountability solely on yearly standardized testing. Education is a process, and the children must be the prime consideration in any system. The learning needs of children must come before the convenience of the educators."

The U.S. Department of Education web site (www.ed.gov/nolb) says that the No Child Left Behind Act" gives parents and children a lifeline." It also says that it "focuses on what works." However, parents feel that none of this is true when it comes to students with disabilities. They feel that their few viable lifelines are being destroyed by Congress and that "what works" for students with disabilities has never been a consideration in the IDEA reauthorization process.

"We hear a lot of talk about aligning the IDEA with No Child Left Behind. Could anything be more absurd? One law is all about individual students, whereas the other is all about groups of students. They're comparing apples to oranges," Lewis adds. "No Child Left Behind is intended to improve educational outcomes. I see absolutely nothing in either IDEA reauthorization bill that can be reasonably expected to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities. Virtually every revision is about administrative convenience, many to the detriment of the students."

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State superintendents address flaws in NCLB  

By KRISTIN SMITH, Delaware County Times, 03/02/2004

NORRISTOWN -- The 15 school districts in Delaware County have added their support to a statewide petition paper urging federal legislators to address several "critical flaws" in the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law.

More than 100 superintendents from 14 counties across much of the state rallied Monday at the Norristown Area High School to call for changes in the way special-education students and limited-English-proficient students are assessed under the federal law.

The superintendents also say they haven’t been given enough time or resources to implement the new standards and are urging lawmakers to appropriate more funding for federal educational programs, including NCLB.

"We recognize the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was motivated by a desire to improve the education of children in our nation," states the position paper, in part. "However, we deem it professional malpractice not to point out these system flaws."

The superintendents have received full support from the Pennsylvania State Education Association, an organization that represents 170,000 teachers, school employees and health-care workers in the state.

Those present at Monday’s meeting, including seven superintendents from Delaware County, say the school districts can’t meet the federal criteria without full funding by the government.

"It shouldn’t be something that gets passed on to my taxpayers in Springfield.If the federal government tells us to do something, they should fully fund it," said Springfield superintendent, Dr. Joseph O’Brien, who was one of the program’s presenters.

The Springfield School District has about eight limited-English-proficient students this year, a number O’Brien expects to increase next year because of broader classification of students in this category.

The district’s 456 special-education students represent more than 15 percent of the total 3,366 students, a number O’Brien believes is comparable throughout the county.

One of the superintendents’ main concerns with NCLB is that it places too much emphasis on standardized testing and discounts teaching methods individualized to the student.

"The requirement that all (limited-English-proficient students) or all identified special-education students be held to the same level of accountability on standardized test performance as their English-speaking regular-education student peers is simply unfair," said Dr. Michael J. Pladus, superintendent of the Interboro School District.

School districts that don’t meet the proficiency requirements set by NCLB are subject to warnings and eventually students must be allowed to transfer to another school or district if their original school doesn’t meet the federal guidelines, a process those at the meeting criticized as unfair, time-restrictive "punitive damages" on schools.

The issue was raised last year when Chester Upland superintendent Dr. Dexter L. Davis Sr. learned no school district in the county would accept his district’s students who wanted to transfer from failing schools. Every Chester Upland school had to offer students the option to transfer because they fell short of proficiency standards for two years.

Under the NCLB legislation, all students must perform at grade-level math and reading by 2014.

Monday’s meeting and signing of the petition paper was more than just symbolic, said Dr. Harry Jamison, executive director of the Delaware County Intermediate Unit.

"If you don’t raise the issue, you’ll never be heard and certainly we’re hopeful that we will be heard. And the fact that there were some representatives in the audience showed the level of importance of this issue and that’s encouraging," he said, referring to representatives from local lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, R-7, of Thornbury.

While the educators may have some valid points, the question of receiving additional funds needs to be taken up at the state rather than the federal level, said Weldon’s chief of staff, Mike Conallen, in a phone interview Monday.

"Their concerns shouldn’t be addressed at Congress or the executive branch, but in Harrisburg," he said. "I think the issue isn’t the amount of federal funds being spent, the more important issue is why the states aren’t spending it."

Conallen said Pennsylvania has $155 million in unspent federal funds that were earmarked for NCLB.

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Promises to parents under education law  

AP, 3/1/2004

The No Child Left Behind Act makes unprecedented promises to parents. Some of those provisions affect all schools. The rest apply to the 93 percent of school districts and 50 percent of schools that get Title I poverty aid.

For all schools:

--States must publish report cards showing the math and English performance of all students, breaking out results for all major racial and ethnic groups, poor students, disabled students and limited-English students. The report cards must include qualifications of teachers, including a comparison of teachers in high-poverty and low-poverty schools.

--School districts must notify parents if their child attends a "persistently dangerous" school and give parents the choice to move their child to a safer school in the district.

--States must report progress in ensuring that poor and minority students are not disproportionately assigned to teachers who are inexperienced, unqualified or out of field.

--States must, based on their tests, provide diagnostic reports for every student.

--School districts must notify parents at least annually about the timing of certain activities and give parents a chance to opt their kids out. Those activities include the collection of student information to be used for many marketing purposes and any invasive physical exam that is not considered an emergency or essential to protecting public health.

--School districts must give any parent of a secondary school student the option of requiring written consent before the student's information is given to military recruiters.

--States that receive federal aid to help homeless children must seek to notify parents or guardians of their rights. Those include the choice of schools children are eligible to attend and a promise that homeless children are not to be stigmatized by school personnel.

Title I districts must also:

--Notify parents of their right to transfer their child if the current school has not made adequate yearly progress for two straight years. Low-income parents must be offered tutoring for their child if a school has not met progress goals for three years, and districts must help parents get information about the qualifications and services of tutors.

--Inform parents of children in Title I schools that they have the right to request information about the qualifications of their children's teachers.

--Give parents of children with limited English skills a package of information if Title I money is spent on programs for such students. That includes details on how the child will be taught and how parents can remove the child from the program and seek other options.

Title I schools must also:

--Give parents timely, clear notice if their child has been taught for at least four straight weeks by a teacher who is not highly qualified.

--Hold meetings at convenient times for parents and give parents an explanation of the school curriculum, the tests used and the achievement levels students are expected to meet.

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No Parent Left Behind?  

Education law's promises are enormous and elusive

AP, March 1, 2004 

WASHINGTON -- As the mother of three black children, Loraine Carter wanted to know how minority students were doing in her suburban Philadelphia district. She uncovered even more: the powers promised to today's public school parents.

Achievement numbers by race, teacher qualifications, test explanations, offers to transfer students from struggling or dangerous schools -- the No Child Left Behind education law requires all of it and more be provided to parents.

In Carter's case, she found that a high percentage of black students were below grade level in reading and math. She is using the information to rally black parents and lobby Lower Merion School District leaders to do better.

More personally, she came to believe that her son was being held to lower standards than other students because he has a medical condition that affects his speech and hearing. She has demanded that those expectations be raised.

"We have to know this law, we have to understand it, and we have to use it," Carter said. "And then, collectively, we have to go in and present the community's issues."

No education law has made more promises to parents. Its goal of getting all students to grade level in reading and math is itself built on this promise: Parents will get vast, timely, understandable information about schools, and use it to make the best choices for their kids.

Yet as the second full school year under the law winds down, many in education say the parental provisions are potentially powerful, but too enormous to deal with or too easy to sidestep while other aspects of the law demand attention.

As a result, many parents who stand to gain do not know what they are missing.

Awareness campaigns

"Unless you really work in the field, you don't know how desperate parents are," said Lisa Tait of Lilburn, Georgia, a leader of an education network for parents in her state. "With No Child Left Behind, and with the services being available, they should not be this desperate."

Groups such as Tait's are out to explain the law in churches, social service centers and Boy Scout meetings. The National PTA, which fought for the law's parental promises, is trying to inform constituents about their rights. Many school districts are reaching out with letters and advertisements, some geared for Spanish-speaking adults.

Federal officials are campaigning, too.

The Education Department has given millions of dollars to promote school choices to parents. With help from a private foundation, the department created a Web site to make it easier for parents to get data about their schools. The department plans to highlight school districts that do a good job informing parents.

"Our hope is once districts see how this is done, they'll have a road map to follow rather than give up and say, 'This is too complicated, this is too burdensome to notify each and every parent,"' said Nina Rees, the deputy undersecretary who oversees school choice.

Some observers say the outreach efforts are scattershot at best.

Frustrated parents

"My impression is not only are most communities doing a miserable job of giving parents timely and clear information, but also that states are doing next to nothing about monitoring it," said Chester Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and an assistant education secretary under President Reagan. "And the feds are only monitoring it if and when somebody complains."

Maria Fenton had reason to complain. The Boston parent found out with three days' notice that she had the right to transfer her son, Michael, out of his struggling elementary school. But she could not find an open spot elsewhere or get answers to her questions. Fed up, she moved her son into a private school and helped create an advocacy group for parents.

"I was thoroughly frustrated with the process, frustrated with the fact that I didn't know what to do, and feeling kind of humiliated and embarrassed that I didn't know what to do," Fenton said. "I take good care of my children, so I should know how to navigate them through this mess. I couldn't."

School officials say they understand such concerns, but add they have valid ones of their own. The law's parent provisions are complicated; some affect all schools, some apply only in districts or schools that get poverty aid.

The task can also be overwhelming and expensive. It can mean sending letters home about unqualified teachers or reporting about bilingual teaching methods or giving notice about invasive physical exams. The law even says state tests should result in reports on the individual academic needs of every student.

When Bruce Hunter of the American Association of School Administrators trained superintendents about the parental notifications, his list took up three full slides.

"I could just see their eyes glaze over," he said. "It was too much."

Enforcement will improve as school districts learn the law, get better guidance from Washington and improve their data collection, said Patty Sullivan, deputy executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. For now, Sullivan said it does not appear any state has the oversight necessary to make sure parents get all the information they should.

School leaders say the parental requirements of the law often fall behind other priorities such as getting a highly qualified teacher in all core classes or trying to figure out how a school can make enough progress to avoid an unfavorable "needs improvement" list.

But Rees said picking and choosing which provisions to follow is not a tactic the department supports. "All of the pieces are important," she said, "and we're going to pay attention to all of them."

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Schools, Facing Tight Budgets, Leave Gifted Programs Behind  

By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO, New York Times, March 2, 2004

MOUNTAIN GROVE, Mo. — Before her second birthday, Audrey Walker recognized sequences of five colors. When she was 6, her father, Michael, overheard her telling a little boy: "No, no, no, Hunter, you don't understand. What you were seeing was a flashback."

At school, Audrey quickly grew bored as the teacher drilled letters and syllables until her classmates caught on. She flourished, instead, in a once-a-week class for gifted and talented children where she could learn as fast as her nimble brain could take her.

But in September, Mountain Grove, a remote rural community in the Ozarks where nearly three in four students live in poverty, eliminated all of its programs for the district's 50 or so gifted children like Audrey, who is 8 now. Struggling with shrinking revenues and new federal mandates that focus on improving the test scores of the lowest-achieving pupils, Mountain Grove and many other school districts across the country have turned to cutting programs for their most promising students.

"Rural districts like us, we've been literally bleeding to death," said Gary Tyrrell, assistant superintendent of the Mountain Grove School District, which has 1,550 students. The formula for cutting back in hard times was straightforward, if painful, Mr. Tyrrell said: Satisfy federal and state requirements first. Then, "Do as much as we can for the majority and work on down."

Under that kind of a formula, programs for gifted and talented children have become especially vulnerable.

Unlike services for disabled children, programs for gifted children have no single federal agency to track them. A survey by the National Association for Gifted Children found that 22 states did not contribute toward the costs of programs for gifted children, and five other states spent less than $250,000.

Since that survey, released in 2002, the outlook for programs for the gifted has grown harsher. In Michigan, state aid for gifted students fell from more than $4 million a year to $250,000. Illinois, which was spending $19 million a year on programs for fast learners, eliminated state financing for them. New York was spending $14 million a year on education for the gifted but has now cut all money earmarked for gifted children, saying districts should pay for them out of block grants. Nearly one in four school districts in Connecticut have eliminated their programs for gifted students.

The new federal education law, known as No Child Left Behind, "has almost taken gifted off the radar screen in terms of people being worried about that group of learners," said Joyce L. Vantassel-Baska, executive director of the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary.

"In a tight budget environment," Ms. Vantassel-Baska said, "the decisions made about what gets dropped or not funded tend to disfavor the smaller programs."

Missouri was reimbursing districts for 75 percent of the cost of educating gifted children but has reduced the contribution to 58 percent. In Mountain Grove, an aging base of voters rejected a proposed tax levy in February. Schools are now planning to cut seven teachers in the elementary grades, public financing of team sports and transportation service within the town's boundaries.

"There are some mandates that you must do from the feds and the state," Mr. Tyrrell said, citing programs for disabled children as an example. "Those will be the last to go."

No Child Left Behind is silent on the education of gifted children. Under the law, schools must test students annually in reading and math from third grade to eighth grade, and once in high school.

Schools receiving federal antipoverty money must show that more students each year are passing standardized tests or face expensive and progressively more severe consequences.

As long as students pass the exams, the federal law offers no rewards for raising the scores of high achievers, or punishment if their progress lags.

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Federal Law Is Questioned By Governors  

Alan Richard & Erik W. Robelen, Education Week

Washington Many of the nation's governors gathered here for their winter conference called for changes to the No Child Left Behind Act or its regulations, even as the Bush administration continued to defend its level of cooperation with states under the law.

Fifty state and territorial governors attended the National Governors Association conference, held Feb. 21-24. While the economy, homeland security, and health care dominated much of the meeting, the governors had plenty to say about the federal education law.

The governors met against a backdrop of rising discontent over the law among state legislators of both parties, and complaints from top congressional Democrats over how the administration is implementing it.

The NGA will shape its positions on the federal law based in part on discussions from the conference. "We're going to have to be willing to admit that there may be additional changes needed in the future, and to this point, the [U.S. Education] Department has been willing to make some of those changes," said Dane Linn, the NGA's education director. "If we're not willing to admit that more changes may be needed down the road, we run the risk of not ensuring this legislation will meet its intended goals."

Some governors had hoped to ask President Bush and Secretary of Education Rod Paige directly for more flexibility under the No Child Left Behind Act, and to discuss possible amendments to the law, during a private meeting at the White House. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, had even been tapped to raise the issue.

They never got that far.

A highly publicized comment made by Mr. Paige during the Feb. 23 meeting with the governors, in which he called the National Education Association a "terrorist organization," cut debate short.

"Secretary Paige talked about it, but the discussion suddenly ended after he made his comment," said Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democrat. "It wasn't really discussed in full."

Mr. Paige later apologized for the remark. ("Furor Lingers Over Paige's Union Remark," this issue.)

Aides said the governors intended to raise concerns with the president and Mr. Paige about Washington's increased oversight of public education, the level of federal aid, teacher-quality rules, and test-score goals that label many schools as failing.

Awaiting Consensus

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican, defended the Bush administration's handling of the law. "Are there details that need to be worked out? Yes," he said. "Are we heading in the right direction? Yes."

Montana Gov. Judy Martz, also a Republican, said her state's small schools will struggle with the law's teacher-quality requirements. "I don't think there's any consensus among the governors to support an amendment" to the law, she added, however. "We can't do an amendment until we know what we agree on."

Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, a Democrat, said the law would fail if large numbers of schools in his state and others did not meet federal standards simply because some states require greater gains under the law than others do.

The federal law allows states to follow their own standards in determining whether schools are making "adequate yearly progress," the chief accountability measure under the law. But some federal rules exceed what most states have required under their own accountability systems.

"In a sense, it undermines the confidence people have in No Child Left Behind, because the people know these schools are good schools," Gov. Warner said.

Concerns on Capitol Hill

Governors weren't the only ones in Washington talking about the education law last week.

Congressional Democrats who helped craft the No Child Left Behind law— a revised version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, first passed in 1965—met with Secretary Paige on Feb. 24 to voice concerns about how the Bush administration has handled key implementation issues.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, suggested recently that he might introduce "corrective legislation" to amend the law if the Bush administration did not go far enough in addressing the Democrats' complaints. Those concerns were outlined in a six- page letter delivered to the secretary Jan. 8, the two-year anniversary of the law. ("Kennedy Hints at Amending 'No Child' Law," Feb. 25, 2004.)

After the meeting last week, Mr. Kennedy's spokesman, Jim Manley, said the senator was still contemplating a corrective bill, but had not made a final decision.

Pressure appears to be mounting from many quarters for easing some of the law's demands.

"I know members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, are hearing an uproar from educators and others when they go back home about No Child Left Behind," said Joel Packer, who is coordinating activities around the federal law for the NEA, which is seeking changes in the legislation.

State lawmakers have expressed their concerns with the federal law in resolutions or bills seeking relief from its mandates.

In a letter he gave to Democrats on the same day they met, Secretary Paige defended the Department of Education's efforts to implement the law, and described as "unfair" some of the assertions made in the Democrats' letter.

"In the three years of this administration, the Department of Education has transformed its relationship with both the states and local school districts," he said. "The level of outreach and cooperation extended to the states on a range of issues has been unprecedented. And, unlike previous years, this administration is actively enforcing the laws that have been passed by Congress and signed by the president."

Mr. Paige pointed to recent policy changes the department has made to give states more flexibility. Late last month, for example, the department relaxed its policies on testing students with limited English proficiency. ("Paige Softens Rules on English-Language Learners," Feb. 25, 2004.)

The secretary's letter did not discuss many of the detailed concerns outlined by Democrats. While some of those objections touch on issues related to the law's accountability demands, the Democrats appeared to stand by its core accountability requirements.

Nonetheless, Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the meeting with Secretary Paige and the department's response letter "have reinforced my view that the Bush administration continues to drift further and further away from its promise to improve America's schools."

'Common Sense'

In an interview during the governors' conference, meanwhile, former North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. said that momentum may be building for changing the law. He was at the meeting to plug his governors' leadership institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"Things that aren't working, that don't make sense, are going to have to change," said Mr. Hunt, an early champion of state accountability systems, which helped lay the groundwork for the federal law. "I think there's a lot of sentiment in that direction."

Gov. Linda Lingle of Hawaii, a Republican, acknowledged that some states were looking to opt out of portions of the law. She backs it as written, however. "For people in my state, they just think it's common sense," she said.

Gov. Gary Locke of Washington, a Democrat, called the No Child Left Behind Act a "very needed, well-intended law," but added that he wants changes. "We need much more flexibility," he said, "and we need to fully fund it."

"It is so frightfully weak on resources," added Gov. Richardson of New Mexico. Without more funds to help low-rated schools, he said, "you're going to see a revolt in the states."

Federal officials countered last week that the Bush administration is providing enough flexibility and funding for states to follow the law.

Ron Tomalis, a counselor to Secretary Paige, said many states have more flexibility than they realize. "Sometimes when we sit down and show the governors how much of the decisionmaking" lies with them, he said, "it's more than a little bit of an eye-opener."

"This president has given more to K-12 public education in the last three years than in the preceding eight years combined," he said. "It's important that states ... look to see how it can and will complement what they're doing."

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Federal officials to ease limits on same-sex schools

Ben Feller, The Associated Press/Aurora Beacon News

WASHINGTON — Public schools are about to get broad new freedom to teach boys and girls separately, perhaps the biggest shakeup to coed classrooms in three decades.

The Education Department plans to change its enforcement of Title IX, the landmark anti-discrimination law, to make it easier for districts to create single-gender classes and schools. The move would give local school leaders discretion to expand choices for parents, whether that means a math class, a grade level or an entire school designed for one gender.

U.S. research on single-gender schooling is limited, but advocates say it shows better student achievement and attendance and fewer discipline problems.

Critics say there is no clear evidence and that single-gender learning doesn't get students ready for an integrated world.

Only about 91 of 91,000 public schools offer a form of same-sex education now, including The Philadelphia High School for Girls, which sends almost all of its graduates to college.

"The environment itself, I think it empowers girls," principal Geraldine Myles said. "There is no ceiling to stop them from being anything they want to be, in terms of gender. It just isn't there, and, at their impressionable age, it probably makes a difference."

While opponents predict the new federal plan will be a big blow to equal education opportunity, department officials say there will be no easing of protection against sexual discrimination.

"We are not advocating single-sex schools, and we are not advocating single-sex classrooms," said Ken Marcus, who oversees civil rights for the department. "We understand that coeducation remains the norm in American public education and will continue to be the norm. We are simply trying to ensure that educators have flexibility to provide options."

Since current rules began in 1975, single-gender classes have been allowed only in limited cases, such as gym classes involving contact sports. The proposed regulations announced Wednesday would loosen those restrictions considerably, allowing districts to create single-gender classes to provide a "diversity" of choices, or to meet the particular needs of students.

Schools would have to be "evenhanded," meaning they must treat boys and girls equally in determining what courses to offer, and single-gender enrollment must be voluntary.

If a school creates a single-gender class in a subject, it would not be required to offer the other gender its own similar class, but it would have to offer a coed version of it.

The department's plan also would make it easier to create entire single-gender schools.

Current rules allow those schools, but only when a district creates a comparable single-gender school for the other gender. That restriction would disappear. Instead, districts would have the option of demonstrating that their coed schools provide "substantially equal" benefits to the excluded sex.

Some call that bad policy.

"The notion that you can have schools that are 'separate but less than equal' is a new low in the understanding and protection of anti-discrimination principles," said Jocelyn Samuels, vice president of education and employment at the National Women's Law Center.

But school districts, Marcus said, must truly show that excluded students get an education that's substantially the same as those in same-sex classes.

The department, in responding to complaints or doing its own reviews, will consider everything from textbooks to admissions criteria to ensure districts don't play favorites with one gender.

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Conn. Wants Out Of No Child Left Behind

NBC 30

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The state Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution exempting Connecticut from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The resolution passed asks Congress to grant waivers to states that have high education standards and strong standardized test scores, and give resources to schools with large numbers of low-performing students.

Lawmakers said the act, which was designed to establish accountability for poorly performing school districts, is unfair and is an unfunded mandate designed to embarrass schools.

The resolution awaits action by the House.

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