ISBE Banner
State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – March 27 - April 2, 2004

TOP OF PAGE

STATE
Blagojevich shouldn't wait to develop school funding plan / Peoria Journal Star
School cash woes long-term / Chicago Tribune
Senator wants U.S. to look at Illinois schools / Sun Times
Unlicensed and underage: Young teens behind the wheel / Daily Herald
Just a thought ... / Pantagraph
Education reform has lawmaker's eye / Maywood Herald
Auditor critical of school panel / Chicago Tribune
School tells kids: Don't think pink / Chicago Tribune
Preschool / Rockford Register Star

NATIONAL
Let's try 'No politician left behind' / ZWire
Navarrette: Some educators resist No Child Left Behind for selfish reasons / Dallas Morning News
Discipline policies vary / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Educators: Act works against mid-level goals / Portland Press Herald
Florida struggling with No Child Left Behind / Daily Commercial
2 districts vote for Kindergarten / Boston Globe
Bush correct to ease test participation / The Spectrum
U.S. relaxes rules on tests of students / Associated Press
Teaching Kindergarten / Schoolhouse Beat
United we stand? / Schoolhouse Beat
Leaders Group Stung By Board Resignations / Education Week
Tying George Washington Into the School Curriculum / New York Times
'Child-centric' schools / Seattle Times
No Child Left Behind / San Diego Valley News-Sun
Teens may need financial education / Boston Globe

TOP OF PAGE

STATE

Blagojevich shouldn't wait to develop school funding plan  

Peoria Journal Star Editorial, March 28, 2004

If Gov. Rod Blagojevich thinks it's important to revise the way Illinois schools are funded - and it is - he need not wait to gain control of the state's education bureaucracy to do so. He can exert his influence now.

The governor appears to be playing coy with the future of school funding, judging by a recent memo his chief education aide sent around the state. In the note, Brenda Holmes, deputy governor for education, advised local school officials that Blagojevich would address school funding after he transfers nearly all authority away from the State Board of Education. Dismantling the board and creating a Department of Education that reports to the governor is Blagojevich's top legislative priority. "Once the governor is accountable for the Department of Education, he will address the funding issue," Holmes wrote.

She seems to be saying that if local school officials don't convince lawmakers to OK his reform plan, they risk losing a chance for financial rescue. If that is the case, then the governor is threatening to hold funding hostage to political objectives. If that is true, then all the more reason to resist removing school oversight from the independent agency that supervises it and placing it in the governor's hands, and to be equally skeptical about his proposal to put $550 million in school construction money under his control rather than the State Board's. Would the governor look more kindly upon requests from school districts with a high number of Democratic voters?

Managing the state education bureaucracy and funding schools more equitably are two different challenges. The fate of the State Board shouldn't deter the governor from developing a plan to keep the schools solvent and to narrow the wide spending disparity between wealthy suburban districts and poor downstate ones.

If the governor still needs a nudge, perhaps he'll find one in the fact that one in every three Illinois school districts is on the state's newly released financial watch list. That's a 79 percent increase over a year ago. Four in every five Illinois school districts are deficit-spending. Voters should hold the governor, the Legislature and local school leaders accountable for that, not the State Board of Education.

TOP OF PAGE

 

School cash woes long-term

Tracy Dell'Angela, Chicago Tribune, 3/29/04

The Elmwood Park school district is a solidly middle-class suburban system that once would have been stung by the stigma of landing on a list of the state's most financially troubled districts.

Now the district finds it has lots of company. Earlier this month the state named 81 school districts in the six-county Chicago region that must be monitored because they have run up deficits, piled up long-term debt or spent the reserves needed to cover day-to-day expenses.

A few years ago, the watch designation shone the spotlight on a handful of individual districts with extraordinary money problems, said Illinois Schools Supt. Robert Schiller. Now, he said, it means something different. The list reflects a statewide problem that leaves no county untouched.

"It's now an album, not a snapshot," of financial woe, Schiller said. "And it's only the beginning of the slide. It's going to get progressively worse. And even for the districts that have improved, it's [been] at the expense of huge cutbacks."

In Elmwood Park Community Unit District 401, a 3,000-student district that borders Chicago, the superintendent agreed that the list is an example of how entrenched and widespread the state schools' financial crisis has become.

Supt. Frank McKinzie is not optimistic his district will be able to pull out of this financial hole in the near future. The district will be deep in debt until 2017. State-imposed tax caps mean the district cannot, without voter approval, benefit from a real-estate boom that has driven up property assessments by more than 20 percent. The district has cut expenses for the last four years, including a nearly $1 million cut in staff and services this school year.

"When I'm asked when are we going to get off the list, I say, Folks, it's going to be a while," McKinzie said. "Something has to be done at the state level."

The state's list suggests that financial problems may have hit a year earlier in the Chicago region but are now just as widespread statewide. Nearly a third--296 of the state's 893 school districts--are in the worst two categories, watch and early warning, up from 222 districts last year.

Critics say some school districts blame the state for budget problems caused by the districts' own irresponsible spending, but nearly 80 percent of school districts are spending more than they have coming in--even if they aren't listed as financially troubled.

In some cases, inclusion on the list will be short-lived, especially in districts where voters approved tax increases. Other districts--in suburban Lake and northwest Winnebago Counties, where a disproportionate number of districts landed on the watch list--argued the state is penalizing them for a cash-flow problem that can be blamed on late tax bills rather than financial mismanagement.

Fourteen of Lake County's 45 districts are on watch, including Antioch High School District 117. Supt. Dennis Hockney said he notified the state board last summer that late tax bills meant the district would not receive $2.8 million in property taxes in time to be reflected in last year's budget. The late payments made it appear the district was $1.2 million in deficit, instead of ending with a $1.6 million surplus.

"We've been disciplined and been able to stay in the black," Hockney said. "Frankly, this is just unfair, that we work so hard and then have this list go out there."

Carpentersville District 300 worked its way off the watch list this year but paid a steep price to do so. The fast-growing district, which includes 11 communities in the northwest suburbs, was forced to slash jobs and hike fees after a failed tax referendum proposal and five years of mounting deficits that hit $45 million last year.

With enrollment climbing by about 500 students every year, the district eliminated approximately one in seven jobs--aides, custodians, administrators and teachers--which helped shave $12.5 million off the deficit. Class sizes in kindergarten top 30, and some advanced high-school classes pack 45 students into a room. A driver's education class costs students $300.

"We are living within our means ..., but what is this doing to the quality of education here?" Supt. Ken Arndt said.

TOP OF PAGE

Senator wants U.S. to look at Illinois schools

Rosalind Rossi, Chicago Sun-Times

Outgoing U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald on Monday asked federal officials to investigate whether some Illinois public schools have been trying to manipulate state test results and "game the system'' set up by the new federal No Child Left Behind law.

Fitzgerald cited reports about dropouts and students excluded from some state testing data in the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. He asked federal education officials to "investigate these alleged abuses by Illinois schools and take all steps necessary to tighten the testing procedures used by the state.''

In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, the Republican senator said that "Unfortunately, some in Illinois, perhaps resistant to any effort at real reform, seem more interested in thwarting the new testing procedures. Such attempts to game the system cannot continue.''

Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, said Fitzgerald was the first lawmaker she knew of who had asked for such a federal investigation. The department was reviewing the letter, she said.

Karen Craven, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education, said some problems Fitzgerald noted arose from clerical errors not detected until last year, when schools first had to jump 37 hurdles to make adequate yearly progress under the law.

Other points, she said, should be addressed by legislation crafted by State Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago) and the State Board.

"The [federal] bill was passed before it was thought out how it should be implemented,'' Craven said. As late as Monday, Craven said, federal officials for the fourth time in as many months eased guidelines governing the law -- this time concerning the percentage of students who must be tested in schools.

Fitzgerald's letter cites a January Chicago Sun-Times report about accusations that Chicago public schools have been "pushing out'' poorly performing students, as well as a December Tribune report that some Illinois schools were excluding low-scoring juniors from testing who did not have enough credits to be counted as juniors.

Del Valle said Monday that two bills he's proposed would address both problems by making it more difficult to push out students and requiring that every Illinois public high school student take a state exam before graduating. A new Chicago policy also should reduce pushouts, Chicago officials said.

"It seems like he [Fitzgerald] is working with my entire agenda here. I put it all out and he just runs with it,'' said del Valle.

Rather than criticizing implementation problems, Fitzgerald should fight for full funding for the law, said del Valle, head of the Illinois Senate Education Committee

"There are glitches in the system that have to be dealt with, but these glitches can be found in every state in the country,'' he said. "That's why we've had so many people howling on both sides of the aisle about No Child Left Behind.''

Fitzgerald also cited a December Tribune report that the state disqualified the test scores of some 80,000 students. At Chicago's Hirsch High, for instance, 93 percent of students who took the reading test were not counted.

Craven said the state investigated the 10 schools with the worst disqualification rates and concluded students had "misunderstood'' a question about when they enrolled and incorrectly listed themselves as starting too late in the school year to be counted at their schools.

Many of those schools are still being double-checked, she said, and a final list of which schools made their federal thresholds should finally come out in April -- one year after the test was given.

Craven said some districts are taking steps to prevent reporting glitches this year, but in the end, districts are operating "on the honor system.''

"There is always a potential to game the system,'' Craven said. "But we don't have a police force of 4,400 monitors to be in every school district.''

TOP OF PAGE

Unlicensed and underage: Young teens behind the wheel

Shruti Daté Singh, Daily Herald

Dan Kobylarz of Hanover Park was out for a ride one evening with his two buddies when the driver crashed into a parked car in Chicago.

The driver ran, afraid because the car belonged to the father of the other passenger, who also didn't know what to do. So, Kobylarz jumped into the driver's seat and drove them home. He was 14.

Kobylarz, who is now 19, said that wasn't the first or only time he drove without a license or learner's permit.

He started when he was 13, and Kobylarz isn't alone.

More unlicensed teen drivers are on the road than you might think, both driver's education teachers and teenagers say.

"It is a problem we see a lot," said Jenifer Roth, a Waukegan High School driver's education teacher and secretary of the Illinois High School and College Driver Education Association. "I don't think it does get the attention it deserves."

Little data is readily available about the prevalence of under-age teen drivers; however, unlicensed teen drivers are caught by police anywhere from a few times a year to a few times a month, depending on the town.

Police in Palatine, Hoffman Estates, Rolling Meadows, Elk Grove Village and Wheaton say they pull over a few unlicensed teen drivers a year. Police in St. Charles and Lake Zurich said they don't see it often at all.

Naperville police catch about one a month, but officers write more than 25,500 traffic citations a year. On the other hand, the Hanover Park Police Department said its officers nab a few a month.

"Teens without licenses has always been an issue," Hanover Park Deputy Chief Dean Norman said. "It happens on a regular basis."

Most recently, a 15-year-old boy from Elmhurst drove his mother's car all the way to Michigan with his 15-year-old girlfriend from Carol Stream. He had no learner's permit or training behind the wheel.

An unlicensed 15-year-old girl crashed a car into a Streamwood house last July.

A 14-year-old boy plowed a rented 2004 Chevrolet Impala into the Palatine home of Donna Miller in January.

"I thought, ‘Oh my God, they are bombing Palatine,'" said Miller, who was in her kitchen. She was just as shocked to find out it was an unlicensed teenager who had done it.

But when she told the story to her family and co-workers, people told her they know of teens driving before they receive a learner's permit or license.

The number of convictions is fairly low. According to Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's office, 1,168 drivers age 15 or younger were convicted of traffic violations in 2003; in 2002 the number was 1,604; and in 2001 it was 1,493. This is less than 1 percent of all traffic convictions.

"It happens more often than we catch them," Elk Grove Deputy Chief Larry Hammar said.

Teenagers agree.

"I think they have no idea," said Candace Aites, a 17-year-old Conant High School senior, talking about both parents and police. She said she knows people around her school and even some friends who drive without permits or licenses. "It can be pretty common."

Casual attitude

Kobylarz, who said he was never pulled over by police, went cruising with his friends because he was bored.

"Out here in the suburbs, there are no buses. Walking sucked," he said.

Meredith Lockwood, a 1992 Rolling Meadows High School graduate, said she first drove a car around age 13 to act out. She graduated at the top of her high school class and later was valedictorian at the University of Illinois' veterinary school.

For her, driving a car without a license compared with underage drinking or smoking.

"With me, it was just rebellion," said Lockwood, now a veterinarian in California. "There was a little bit of thrill and fear of getting caught."

She was never stopped by police, but her parents caught her and grounded her for weeks.

Naperville Central High School driver's education teacher Jeff Peterson said some teens in his class take a "so what" attitude about driving without a license, or driving with a permit but without the required adult supervision.

Every couple of years, especially during summer school, Peterson sees a student driving a car by himself to his driver's education class. He said when he flags students who have already driven a good deal before his class, he calls their parents.

What some driver's education officials find is some youngsters are driving without a license or permit because their parents don't mind. They toss the keys to their youngster to pick up milk from the grocery store a few blocks away.

These people "look at driving as a right, not a privilege," said Jeff Payne, president of a national teen safety program called Driver's Edge in Nevada.

The 14-year-old Palatine teen who hit Miller's house was driving while his father was sitting next to him in the passenger's seat. Palatine police charged the boy with driving without a valid license, a misdemeanor. The father was ticketed for permitting an unauthorized person to drive.

No maturity, training

Lockwood had watched her parents and older sisters driving for years, so how hard could it be? When she first sat behind the wheel, she used her observations and instinct.

Sometimes, neither helped. Once she sped past a stop sign because she pressed her right foot on the gas and the left on the brake, and at first she didn't know how to park.

But when it came time for her to take her driver's education class, she felt like she knew what was up.

When Roth first started teaching driver's education she thought she wanted kids who knew how to drive, but no longer. Teens who think they know how to drive usually bring bad habits with them -- cutting corners, not checking their blind spot and not using the hand-over-hand technique for steering.

"Now, I prefer kids who don't know how to drive," Roth said. "We can teach them the fundamentals."

Young teenagers simply lack the maturity and training to handle a two-ton machine, she said. Illinois teens overall make up only 6 percent of drivers, but they account for 16 percent of all fatalities, according to the secretary of state's office.

Lake Zurich police Cmdr. John Filantres said the issue likely won't attract attention from the public until a fatal or severe accident occurs.

In Nevada two years ago, an unlicensed 16-year-old Las Vegas high school student slammed into a light pole on the way to school; both the driver and a passenger died.

After the fatal crash, the Nevada state legislature began eyeing the implementation of a graduated driver's license law.

Illinois went to graduated driver's licenses in the late 1990s. Some believe the law deters unlicensed teens from driving and reduces risks for and caused by teenage drivers overall.

Payne wonders how much of a deterrent this provision is for someone who already drives without a license.

He believes society does not emphasize safe driving enough.

"We live in a country where none of us are taught to drive; we are only taught how to pass a test," Payne said.

TOP OF PAGE

Just a thought ...  

Pantagraph Editorial

The state set up its "financial watch" list for schools to help sound the alarm -- and provide time to take action -- when a school district is in or heading for financial trouble. In 2003, there were 87 listed on the bottom rung of the four-part rating system. This year, 156 districts were placed on the "financial watch" list out of 893.

Glenn "Max" McGee, who sounded the financial alarm when he was state school superintendent from 1998 through 2001, said, "I don't know how many wake-up calls you need."

The problem isn't a lack of wake-up calls. The problem is public officials who keep hitting the snooze button every time the alarm goes off.

TOP OF PAGE

Education reform has lawmaker's eye

David Pollard, Maywood Herald

With Governor George Blagojevich's attempt to reform the state's education process through a bill which would change the makeup of the Illinois State Board of Education, the debate has begun and one local state representative wants to make sure it's the right move for her constituents.

State Senator Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), who is vice chairwoman of the Senate's Education Committee, said the move should be looked at thoroughly before taking action.

"I'm not opposed to it," she said. "His proposal wasn't detailed enough and didn't show how he was going to address some of the concerns. I would like to know how he's going to address No Child Left Behind. We've got 577 schools which are on the academic watch list. There's an achievement gap problem and a funding issue. How are we going to fund education as a state?"

Senate Bill 3000 shifts the responsibility for managing the state's schools away from the Illinois State Board of Education to a new Department of Education, which will be directly accountable to the governor.

The move is part of Blagojevich's plan to reform education. In his State of the State address in January, he said he was responding to growing aggravation from local school districts and educators saddled by bureaucratic burdens from the Illinois State Board of Education and the lack of reform coming out of the State Board.

But Lightford believes issues like equal funding for students - irregardless of where they go to school - need to be addressed prior to the change or nothing is accomplished. She said in some districts $18,000 is spent per student, where in other school districts $4,000 is spent.

Abby Ottenhoff, the governor's press secretary, said this is one of the reasons Blagojevich would like to make this kind of change, to ensure there is more accountability.

"The governor's overall goal is to make the state's education system more accountable," she said. "It allows the state to be more responsible to school districts."

She said If the bill is passed, the department would help schools work more efficiently, saving about $1 billion over four years. She said the department could generate savings through different initiatives, like buying books for districts instead of each district trying to get a deal, and provide auditors and lawyers to service a number of districts with their concerns instead of each having to pay for their own.

Ottenhoff said the governor has not given up supporting schools and has put $400 million toward education.

"His attempt is to make the system more accountable, but at the same time he's making it easier on school districts as well," she said.

She said the governor is working with legislators to promote the bill and answer their concerns and questions.

"There's always a little fear that comes with the unknown," she said. "I think it is absolutely healthy for debate that lawmakers have questions. I think the more they look at this they will understand what the governor is trying to do."

But she said overall accountability is the key to changing the education system in Illinois.

"When there have been problems in the past, there was a lot of fingerpointing, but nothing gets done," she said. "Now when there is a problem there is someone to point the finger at. When there is a direct line of responsibility, the quality of service is much better. I think when they look closely at the proposal and look at the goal of improving accountability, I think they will agree it is an important way to change and improve schools."

Emanuel "Chris" Welch, president of Proviso Township High Schools District 209's Board of Education, said he reserves comment on Blagojevich's plan. But, whether there is a change, he wants more money for the school district.

"My concern is whether or not our schools will receive more funding," he said. "Whether they keep it or not, will the funding issue be addressed?"

District 209 Superintendent Gregory Jackson concurred with Welch saying it's a shell game for school districts like his, which rely heavily on property taxes to operate.

"I'm kind of indifferent about it," he said. "If it doesn't result in more funds for schools, why bother. We need our schools more adequately funded. If it's not reducing our local taxpayers burden then why change the system."

TOP OF PAGE

Auditor critical of school panel

Chicago Tribune

SPRINGFIELD -- Auditor Gen. William Holland criticized the State Board of Education Tuesday for inadequate internal controls, record-keeping and internal communication.

Holland said the internal controls over board operations are necessary because everyone who relies upon the state board for services "can be assured they're getting a good quality product."

Among the findings were inadequate oversight of supplies and financial accounts as well as a failure to implement a missing child program. Another finding cited altered dates on at least three contracts.

Board officials said many of the findings had already been addressed before the audit and that the employee responsible for the altered dates no longer works at the agency.

Abby Ottenhoff, Gov. Rod Blagojevich's spokeswoman, said the administration is reviewing the audit but that it reaffirms the governor's efforts to bring more accountability into the education system. Blagojevich has proposed putting under his control virtually all of the state board's duties and relegating the board to a think tank.

TOP OF PAGE

School tells kids: Don't think pink  

Gang fears stir hue and cry over color

By Jodi S. Cohen, Tribune staff reporter, April 1, 2004, Chicago Tribune

As a fashion statement, pink is a hot color this spring, but at Merrillville High School in Indiana, it also has become a hot-button issue.

District Supt. Tony Lux distributed a letter to students Wednesday in which he "discouraged" them from wearing pink because of concerns that it has gang and rap music overtones.

 Although Lux said dressing in pink could be "suspicious behavior," he emphasized the color wasn't banned.

The situation erupted Friday when Principal Mark Sperling announced over the loudspeaker that students should think twice before wearing pink clothing.

"It was meant as a gentle reminder that this color has other meanings," said Sperling, who was left somewhat pink-faced as students continued to laugh about it Wednesday at the school south of Gary. His request was misinterpreted as a ban, prompting angry calls from parents asking whether pink prom dresses should be returned.

"We all thought it was stupid, so on Monday, a lot of people wore pink," said sophomore Ashley Washburn, who dressed in a pink golf shirt.

Ten boys who showed up decked out in matching pink shirts and pink shoelaces were asked to change, Sperling said.

After discussing with other principals the seemingly odd increase in boys wearing pink, he decided to make the announcement. If a boy wears a pink shirt, "we will ask him to change," Sperling said. "We will not suspend him. We will ask him not to wear it."

There was some confusion Wednesday over whether the announcement applied to girls.

Haley Stoica, a sophomore, said her history teacher asked that she put a sweatshirt over her pink long-sleeve shirt earlier this week. "I'm wearing pink tomorrow," she vowed.

Merrillville students said pink became fashionable at the school after rapper Cam'ron wore pink in a music video and drove a pink SUV. They said it has nothing to do with gangs.

"It is not like guys in pink are flashing gang signs," Stoica said. "They are making a big deal out of nothing."

Sperling conceded there has been no gang activity at the high school but said he doesn't want students setting themselves apart by wearing a particular type of clothing. In retrospect, he acknowledged that instead of using the loudspeaker, "perhaps it would have been better to talk to a few kids individually."

Various lawsuits over the last few decades have upheld the right of schools to restrict the attire of students as long as they can prove a compelling reason to do so, said Terry Glaub, communications director for the Illinois Association of School Boards in Springfield.

In areas where gang violence is a problem, schools routinely prohibit clothing that suggests affiliation with a gang, said David Turner, executive director of the Springfield-based Illinois Principals Association.

"You just don't sit down and arbitrarily write a restrictive dress code," he said. "I'm not going to say that all the boys have to show up with button-down shirts and neatly shined shoes. ... You speak to things that are issues in your building--things that are disruptive to the educational process."

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, stressed that administrators should balance concerns about safety with the rights of students to express themselves.

"It is that time when people get that sense of who they are, and sometimes they are experimenting," he said. "And dress is often one way that young people think to express themselves."

Sperling said he was stumped by the sudden increase in all those pink-clad teenage boys.

"Normally, boys don't wear pink. ... Most parents of boys don't go out and buy them pink shirts," he said. "I'm becoming aware that it's becoming a color this spring."

At a mall two miles from the school, stores were stocked with pink shirts for men.

"As you can see, we have quite a few selections of pink. ...," said Nina Sandoval, manager at Express Men. "It is the really in color right now."

TOP OF PAGE

Preschool  

Rockford Register Star Editorial, 4/1/04

An advocacy group with the name “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” is a magnet for people like Paul Logli, the Winnebago County state’s attorney. The real attraction is that the strategies work.

Preventing child abuse and neglect, providing quality preschool and quality child care are more than just buzzwords. This is one area, Logli says, in which the state actually does something to prevent crime.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich should do something to assure the funding.

The governor has pledged a three-year, $90 million expansion in the Early Childhood Education Block Grant program. The program serves children who, because of low-income or teenage parents, are at serious risk of academic failure.

But it doesn’t serve enough children. In Winnebago County, nearly 2,000 are enrolled, mostly through the public schools. An additional 670 are on a waiting list. Statewide, 87,000 children are served, although there’s not enough money or room for 53,000 others who qualify. That means four of 10 eligible children were out of luck.

In the first year of Blagojevich’s promise — the current 2004 budget — the grant was increased as expected, from $184 million to $214 million. With an additional $30 million next year and the year after that, the state could reach 25,000 more at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds.

Yet, the governor’s budget proposal was not clear about where the money will come from, according to Tim Carpenter, state director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Fight Crime group. Carpenter and Logli, who met with the Editorial Board earlier this week, said the $30 million for 2005 may have to come out of a $400 million increase for education the governor proposed.

Good luck. Once Chicago public schools take their share, there could as little as $100 million to play with. Early education could be squeezed out.

The governor believes he’s done his job by outlining his priorities and letting the legislators fill in the details.

That’s ducking responsibility. If early education is important to him — and what is more important? — he should insist on a $30 million set-aside for it in the budget.

Research shows the payoff.

Nearly 1,000 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in child-parent centers in Chicago were tracked by social scientists for 14 years. The children were only half as likely to have multiple juvenile arrests by age 18, compared with children not enrolled in the centers’ school-readiness program.

The governor should fulfill his promise and make sure state-funded prekindergarten is not budged out of line by the big kids in Springfield.

TOP OF PAGE

===========================================================================

NATIONAL

Let's try 'No politician left behind'

 Joseph P. Batory , Times Guest Columnist, ZWire 

Adapted from his second book, "Joey's Story," published by Scarecrow Education (Lanham, MD, and Kent, UK, 2002)

The United States Congress and the president have unilaterally imposed all sorts of demands on public schools via the questionable "high stakes" testing provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

But if these elected officials were really interested in improving public education, shouldn't these politicians also have set some accountability standards for themselves? In the interest of fairness, here are a set of recommendations for the No Politician Left Behind Act:

1. Each politician who wishes to speak about public education must first provide proof of his or her having made meaningful visits to public school classrooms for observations and conversations with teachers, administrators, parents and students. It's time for policy makers to touch base with reality.

2. All future education legislation must be addressed to the needs of public school students rather than political party agendas. Public school teachers, administrators, parents and students will no longer be excluded from government planning for educational improvement.

3. All elected officials must begin to use their own brains when thinking about public education rather than following the dictates of biased think tanks and other anti public education interest groups.

4. "High stakes" standardized testing programs (such as those imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act) will be abandoned in favor of fully-funded programs of qualitative education improvements in support of public schools and their efforts with all students.

5. Responsible leadership from government will more adequately address the needs of America's vast underclass, educationally disadvantaged pupils, and all other students with distinct educational needs.

And most important of all... 6. A "high stakes" standardized test will be administered to all elected officials who support "high stakes" testing to determine their grasp of the complex issues of the public education system and its diverse student population. Politicians who fail this test will be c

Classified as "failures" and removed from office! In summary, there has been too much hollow lip service paid to public education by government in recent years. It's time to move beyond simplistic standardized testing programs as panaceas for public schools. It's time to start listening to the people who live and work in the public schools every day. And its time to adequately implement what truly counts and will make a significant difference for the better for ours schools and the children they serve -universal preschool education, remedial and enrichment courses, school based before and after school programs, targeted staff development for teachers and administrators, creative technology initiatives, school building modernization where necessary, fair share basic and special education funding and smaller class sizes.

Joseph P. Batory, is an education author and former superintendent of schools in Upper Darby.

TOP OF PAGE

Navarrette: Some educators resist No Child Left Behind for selfish reasons

Reuben Navarrette Jr., Dallas Morning News

SAN DIEGO -- When the worlds of politics and education collide, as they often do in the public school system, things can get interesting -- and confusing.

With education reform, it used to be that Republicans wanted local control and that Democrats demanded a larger role for the federal government. Now that Republicans have given the government a larger role -- with the No Child Left Behind Act -- it is the Democrats who are calling for local control.

It also used to be that the hottest debates were about funding. Everyone in the system -- from teachers to superintendents -- always complained about not having enough money. The members of both parties were taught to measure their commitment to public education in dollars and cents.

Some old-line Democrats in Congress still do that. But at the grass roots, school officials seem much more worried about flexibility. That's the new buzzword for those intent on staving off reform.

Educators complain that the federal government is meddling in their affairs and not giving them any direction in how to implement the No Child act. They worry that, without more "flexibility'' in how school districts measure the progress of some of their students, the government is setting the schools up to fail.

And, under the act, failure can be costly. The law requires every child in the country to perform at grade level by 2014 -- a reasonable request -- and threatens "reorganization'' for schools that fall short. That could mean being taken over by private management companies.

That concept scares the heck out of groups like the California School Boards Association, which recently invited me to speak at its annual meeting here. The emphasis of the conference was on educating Latinos, who the Census Bureau said recently will account for 25 percent of the U.S. population by 2050. The theme was: "Celebrating Educational Opportunities for All Children.''

Yes, well, easier said than done.

The first thing you notice when you go before such a group is that school board members are a hybrid of competing interests. They have to maintain a foothold in both worlds -- politics and education. They hire superintendents and oversee the daily operations of schools, and yet most of them have to raise money and run for office just as any other candidate. You may not think of school board members as partisan or overly political. And, if so, you would be wrong -- especially in an election year.

Maybe I should have skipped the part about how I thought that much of the problem in public education today is what President Bush calls the "soft bigotry of low expectations.'' Or how so many teachers, principals and superintendents resist the push for accountability because they must realize that they're not doing an adequate job of educating students -- especially those who are economically disadvantaged, whose first language is Spanish, and who are warehoused in special education classes. Or how we should all be grateful for No Child Left Behind because it finally holds everyone's feet to the fire and reminds folks that the schools exist for the sake of children and not merely for the convenience of the adults who work there.

But what fun would that have been? There would have been no shaking of heads, no arms folded in protest, no questions from folks intent on disputing what I had said.

One woman demanded to know why those states who already have accountability systems in place -- such as California -- now have to sign on to a new federally imposed system. Another insisted that school officials are not resisting accountability and claimed the problem was the federal government coming up with standards and then not giving the districts any guidance in how to meet them.

Not that the reaction was unanimous. Others rose to defend President Bush, the intent of the new law and the push for greater accountability. After my remarks, some members of the audience approached me individually and said this was exactly the message that some of their more complacent colleagues needed to hear. Interestingly, many of them were Latino or black, and they didn't seem all that content with the job schools were doing.

That's the way it is with school board members. Locked in a tug of war between politics and education, some seem like the problem. Others seem like the solution.

TOP OF PAGE

Discipline policies vary

Area districts tackle disparity in suspension rates

Carolyn Bower, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Some find discipline of blacks is 2 or 3 times that of whites

School officials in the St. Louis region have begun to face some frustrating data: African-American students are suspended at higher rates than other students.

Some metro districts report suspensions of black students at two to three times the rate for white students.

Such disparities have shown up in other parts of the country for years. On a national level, black students are suspended at twice their percentage of the population.

The situation has sparked tension. For example, dozens of supporters recently chanted, "No Justice, No Peace," outside a hearing for an African-American student suspended for 98 days for his first fight in the Mehlville School District in St. Louis County.

Explanations for the so-called discipline gap are elusive.

Researchers and parents place much of the blame on cultural misunderstandings between white teachers or administrators and black students. They also say black students may act out if they perceive racism at school or if they don't get the academic help they may need.

Teachers and principals counter that discipline is not an issue of race but of punishing bad behavior.

A statistical analysis two years ago by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer found that explanations such as living in single-parent families or poverty or qualifying for special education also fell short of accounting for the disparity between white and black suspension rates.

Many community members here agree they want to gain a better understanding of the gap.

Paving the way for that, Missouri began tracking suspensions by race in the past two years, asking school districts to report the number of suspensions of 10 or more days.

Using those figures, the average suspension rate for all public school students in St. Louis County last school year was 2.47 for every 100 students. The rate for black students there was 4.48, compared with 1.36 for white students.

The numbers become even more disproportionate when looking at individual districts.

Overall, Parkway had an average suspension rate of 2.72 for every 100 students. But the district suspended 9.2 of every 100 African-American students compared with 1.48 for every 100 white students.

Close behind was Hazelwood with a suspension rate of 7.63 for every 100 black students - more than three times the rate for white students. Hazelwood's suspension rate for all students was about five of every 100 students.

Illinois rates may look higher because the Illinois State Board of Education tracks all suspensions, of any length. To get a clearer picture of the scope of the problem, Illinois also tracks the number of students suspended. That would illustrate the difference between three students who were suspended once each or one student who was suspended three times.

Counting all suspensions, the average suspension rate for students in the Metro East area was 10 for every 100 white students and about 23 for every 100 black students.

The Rev. Phillip Duvall, who has appeared at a number of area school district meetings on behalf of suspended students, applauds those who have begun to study the discipline issue. "We need to have dialogue about the misunderstandings," said Duvall, who has been active in the local NAACP. "Black folks say this is race. White folks say this is safety. I say it is neither of the two. We are in fear. Fearful of black parents yelling at white administrators. We need to grow up. There needs to be ongoing conversation ... Once we start trusting each other, then we can work on the big issue - educating children."

School districts vary widely in how they handle suspensions. Some have zero tolerance for misbehavior. Others use suspensions as a last resort.

Some districts such as Hazelwood, Normandy, Ritenour and Northwest report an overall suspension rate of well over five for each 100 students. Other districts such as Clayton and Brentwood report only one to three suspensions for the whole student body in a year.

Suspensions may range from several days to several months; from time served in school to out-of-school punishment. Some districts send students to alternative schools during suspensions.

Approaches in the classroom also vary. Parents and teachers say that some teachers easily manage students. Others, especially inexperienced teachers, more often send children with behavior problems to the office rather than deal with them in class. Some teachers, on the other hand, say that principals don't want them to send behavior problems to the office.

Accuracy in reporting also can vary dramatically from district to district. For instance, the St. Louis Public Schools reported 272 suspensions of 10 or more days to the state for last school year. The number actually was 1,264, said spokesman Glynn Young. Young was unsure why the district did not report the correct information last spring.

Parkway is one of the first school districts in the St. Louis area to study the student discipline gap. A district report made public recently showed African-American students who transfer into Parkway schools are more likely to face suspensions than black students who live within the district.

The Parkway report showed non-resident black students more likely to be suspended than other students for behavior such as disruptions in class, fighting and insubordination. The report found that black students did not appear to get longer suspensions than white students when both committed similar offenses.

Just what constitutes disruption or fighting or insubordination varies from school district to district, with principals and teachers often given leeway to decide. Punishment varies according to the severity of the misconduct. In Parkway, a fight between two students can be a forceful shove or a fist-throwing, deliberate attempt to injure.

Demetrious Johnson, a former pro football player whose daughter was the subject of a racial slur on a Parkway school bus last fall, said he is concerned about students being disciplined fairly. He said he was most alarmed about the disproportionate number of minority suspensions in middle school. While white middle-schoolers outnumber black classmates more than 3-to-1, black students are more than twice as likely to be suspended.

"That's horrendous," Johnson said. "We should all be embarrassed."

Althea Chappelle of St. Louis sees cultural issues in the discipline gap. She moved her four children to the Clayton School District earlier this year after her daughter Crystal, 12, was suspended from the Mehlville School District. Her children attend St. Louis County schools under the voluntary transfer program.

Chappelle's daughter was accused of speaking loudly and interrupting adults who were speaking. School officials wrote Chappelle that Crystal was suspended 10 days for disrespect and could face even more time out of school. Chappelle said Crystal had just returned to school from an earlier 10-day suspension, in which officials said the girl had used inappropriate language to a teacher.

Chappelle hired a lawyer, who wrote to school officials that witnesses said Crystal had done nothing wrong and that she wanted to return to school and make up missed class work.

After Chappelle appealed the decision, Mehlville officials agreed to drop any additional suspension and allow Crystal to return to school, Chappelle said. Mehlville officials say they cannot discuss a student discipline matter.

Things have improved for Crystal since she moved to the Clayton district, her mother said. Chappelle said she would like to see school officials take more time to investigate allegations of disrespect or insubordination before suspending students.

Since her daughter's suspension, Chappelle has become more active in helping families of other students who are suspended.

"Teachers expect children to behave a certain way, but children grow up differently today," Chappelle said. "Teachers don't take the time to see each child is different. Teachers need diversity training."

Bridging the gap

Russ Skiba, an associate professor in counseling and educational psychology at Indiana University, has studied the discipline issue extensively.

"What is promising is that we are seeing more and more places such as the St. Louis region become aware of the issue," Skiba said. "Taking the data seriously is the first step. This data is a sign that we have a problem."

Studies in which Skiba participated show minority students are likely to be punished more severely for less severe behavior, Skiba said.

In a study called "The Color of Discipline" done four years ago, Skiba and other researchers found white students were referred for objective discipline infractions such as smoking or vandalism, and blacks were more likely to be referred for suspension over disrespect, loitering or threats.

Skiba said the solutions to disproportionate suspensions lie in making sure school employees are trained to deal with students from different cultural backgrounds and in how to manage behavior and classrooms.

In many ways, the discipline gap is linked to the achievement gap, said Jody Stauffer, director of student discipline for Parkway. Stauffer said African-American students may misbehave because of frustration over lack of school success.

When Darlynn Bosley became principal at Jackson Elementary in St. Louis two years ago, she decided suspensions were running too high. She reduced the number of suspensions by half to 60 in the 2002-2003 school year.

Bosley did that by talking with students about self-discipline. She told them to look at themselves with respect and dignity and pride. She asked students to suggest the type of school community they would like.

Bosley offered incentives such as notebooks, pens and movie tickets for good behavior and for attendance. She set up an in-school suspension room overseen by an African-American man to serve as a male role model. She got parents involved at school.

"Reducing suspensions is a matter of building relationships," Bosley said. "A willingness to delve and find out what is actually causing misbehavior will make a difference."

Last year the Clayton School District reported only three occasions when students were suspended for 10 or more days. Clayton High School Principal Dave Skillman said it's not that all kids in Clayton are good. He attributes the district's low rate to the smaller size of its schools - 900 students at the high school - and to an effort to have teachers offer academic and social support.

"We try to work with families and kids," Skillman said. "We pride ourselves on working with each kid as an individual. We survey kids, and it doesn't matter what race you are, kids consider this a safe place."

Regardless of the size of the school, building relationships so that students feel a sense of connection to the school is important, said Grayling Tobias, an assistant superintendent for the Hazelwood School District. "We want safe schools, and that's what parents want, too. Safety is everyone's responsibility. We try to enforce the code of conduct equitably and consistently in Hazelwood."

Beth Plunkett, principal at Parkway West High School, said principals try to look at the student and the story behind the discipline incident - not the race of a student. But in the face of the data, Plunkett said, "We need to keep from being defensive. We need to see if there is a disconnect."

Charles Arms of the Post-Dispatch contributed data analysis, and Alexa Aguilar of the Post-Dispatch contributed information for this report.

TOP OF PAGE

Educators: Act works against mid-level goals

Tess Nacelewicz, Portland Press Herald

Gert Nesin, right, a former teacher at the Shapleigh Middle School in Kittery works with students in 2001. Nesin, who is now an instructor at the University of Maine, says the No Child Left Behind Act does not support middle school education. 

Gert Nesin has a doctoral degree in middle school education, was an award-winning middle school teacher, and now trains aspiring teachers at the University of Maine.

But she says under the No Child Left Behind Act, she might not have the qualifications to teach middle school.

President Bush's sweeping new federal education law requires that within the next two to three years, teachers in core subject areas must be "highly qualified" in each subject they teach. To meet the standard in Maine, teachers can take several routes - including having majors or degrees in the core subjects, which range from math to the performing arts, or by passing exams in them. Experience, professional development and awards also are taken into account.

But Nesin says middle school teachers will have a particularly hard time meeting those requirements. That's because they often teach several subjects in an interrelated fashion. It's an approach that research indicates is the best way for middle-schoolers to learn, but one Nesin believes the requirements of the federal law work against.

"It certainly does not support middle school education," said Nesin, who taught at Shapleigh Middle School in Kittery before becoming an instructor at the University of Maine's College of Education and Human Development about two years ago.

The concerns she and other Maine educators are raising about the impact of the federal law are now the focus of a new task force that will hold its second meeting this week.

The 22-member panel, created last month by Maine's U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, was formed to identify Maine concerns about the federal law and make recommendations for any proposed changes. Key issues are likely to include special education testing requirements and the impact of the law on rural schools.

Maine educators praised the formation of the task force by the two moderate Republican senators, at a time when the controversial law, the foundation of Bush's education policy, is under fire nationwide. Maine last week joined 13 other states in asking the federal government to let them use their own accountability standards in place of the law.

"The fact that they have formed the task force is such a good thing," said Maine Deputy Commissioner of Education Patrick Phillips, a member of the panel.

Rob Walker, president of the Maine Education Association, the state teachers' union, also praised the creation of the task force.

"I think it's an important commission because it's coming from the Republican Party, which has control of the House and Senate," Walker said. He said to the "extent (the task force) can push against No Child Left Behind, it's going to be to our benefit."

However, Snowe and Collins in a joint statement stressed their basic support for the law and said they created the task force to help Maine meet its requirements.

"Ultimately, the goal of No Child Left Behind is to help our schools succeed in providing quality education to every child in Maine," the senators said.

And the co-chairmen of the task force - Leo Martin, a former Maine education commissioner, and Anne Pooler, a University of Maine associate dean in education - say the mission of the group is above politics. The panel includes school superintendents, principals and teachers, as well as school board members and education experts.

Martin and Pooler are Republicans, but Pooler says they haven't asked the other members about their political affiliation. Pooler notes the No Child Left Behind Act had bipartisan support when Congress passed it in 2001.

"The bottom line is that this is federal law . . . I don't see it as our task to do away with the law. Our task is to help it work for Maine," Pooler said.

No Child Left Behind is the name of the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, first signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. The law lays down federal requirements for public schools, most of which receive federal funding under the statute.

It is revised every few years and the latest revision was signed into law by Bush in 2002. His version is designed to hold schools accountable by requiring all students to perform well on a series of state reading and math tests. Schools that fail face increasingly harsh penalties if they don't improve.

Snowe and Collins say Congress may revise the law when it is reauthorized in 2005. They say the recommendations of the task force will provide guidance as Congress heads into that process.

The senators say the law already is working for Maine by providing extra resources for reading education. However, they also say they "share the concerns of some Mainers on certain requirements of the law."

Phillips, the deputy education commissioner, also praises No Child Left Behind, saying it shares key elements with Maine's own system of high education standards, called Learning Results.

But he says the law creates problems for Maine and other states that are trying to adapt their own assessment programs to the new federal requirements.

For example, he says one of the key issues with No Child Left Behind is its annual testing requirement for students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. Maine already administers the Maine Educational Assessment to students, but only in grades 4, 8 and 11. Phillips says that's because Maine's approach focuses on long-term growth and development rather than annual testing.

But next March, students in grades 3, 5, 6 and 7 must be tested, too, Phillips says. He says developing an appropriate new test for those students is "taking a lot of time and energy" on the part of Maine educators.

Ron Tomalis, an adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, says an annual measure is preferable and provides more information to parents than taking one "snapshot" of student progress, then not taking another look until three or four years later.

However, Snowe said in a letter to Paige last November that Maine educators are unclear on the practical benefits of the federal testing regimen.

Also, Snowe added, "teachers are concerned that the sheer number of federal, state and local assessments required throughout the school year undermines their ability to spend classroom time teaching."

Paige is expected to announce today two more changes to the law. The new policy will allow states to use a three-year average rather than a single year's figure when calculating the percentage of students tested at each school. It also will allow states to exempt students from the testing calculation if they didn't take the tests because of medical emergencies.

Among other concerns, Snowe and Collins raised the issue of testing for special education students, particularly in small schools. Schools are cited as "failing" schools if any one of a number of subgroups of students - such as those in special education - don't score high enough on the tests. Snowe said in her letter to Paige that small schools are concerned that "will create a stigma around certain groups that are being singled out as not making progress."

Joe Feeney, principal of the Pownal Elementary School, the only school in Pownal, says he couldn't stand up at a town meeting and explain to the community that if the 158-student school's scores were low it was due to a handful of special education students. "Because it's small, you identify them," he explained.

The focus for the task force's next meeting, at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the University of Maine student union, is how teachers who teach multiple subjects will be affected by the "highly-qualified" provisions of No Child Left Behind.

Such teachers include some special education teachers, social studies teachers and middle school teachers. Nesin says Pooler has asked her to attend as an expert on middle-level education.

Kate Sheldon, a teacher at Kittery's Shapleigh Middle School, has an undergraduate degree in history and literature and earned her master's degree in education just two years ago. Along with social studies, she integrates subjects such as science when teaching her sixth-graders - something she is able to do under her state certification - and is concerned that the new law could deem her not "highly-qualified" enough to do that.

"When you're talking about middle school," she said, "I think it's better to have a wide breadth of knowledge."

Walker, the head of the Maine Education Association, says he believes most experienced Maine teachers will be able to meet the federal standard by earning points based on years of teaching, professional development and awards. However, he is concerned that newer teachers won't have spent enough time on the job to accrue those points.

Tomalis points to new flexibility in the law, announced this month, that is designed to give teachers of multiple subjects and rural teachers more leeway in meeting the standard.

Phillips said more flexibility is helpful but the changes "are less flexible . . . than our initial understanding."

Tomalis said the issue is simple: "If you're going to teach children (subjects such as) math or science, it's important that you know math or science and can demonstrate the knowledge of math or science."

TOP OF PAGE

 

Florida struggling with No Child Left Behind

Michelle L. Start, Daily Commercial

Lake and Sumter county school officials could soon be out of work if they can not bring every school within their district into compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind act, which requires every child to read and do math at grade level by 2014.

Neither school district, nor any of the other 65 districts in Florida, made adequate progress during the 2002-2003 academic year. And officials said it seems unlikely that will change during the 2003-2004 academic year, although results are not due until August.

“I think the way the current criteria is for Florida, it is going to be very difficult for any school district to make it,” said Rick Shirley, superintendent of Sumter County Schools. I think the goals and intentions of No Child Left Behind are goals that every American has to be in favor of. Having all children reading at grade level, that’s a great goal. Is it going to happen? That’s another issue.”

If the two districts fail to make adequate progress, they will be designated as districts in need of improvement, and the state may take corrective action.

Some of the options state officials can pursue include appointing a receiver or trustee to administer the affairs of the school district in the place of the superintendent and school board, as well as abolishing or restructuring the school district. Other options include reducing administrative funding, replacing school district personnel, sending students to higher-achieving school districts or implementing new curricula.

If neither district has made adequate progress by the end of the 2005-2006 academic year, the state is required to take corrective action.

By the end of the 2006-2007 academic year, schools within districts failing to make adequate progress could be converted to charter schools.

“They obviously want to control the school districts,” said Scott Strong, vice-chairman of the Lake County School Board, referring to state and federal officials. “They have completely lost touch with how we teach kids. The whole state is falling behind. Is there some behind-the-scenes deal to undermine the school district and teacher unions? I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t some bigger picture. You have to question whether the state and federal government want to remove local control.”

For a district to make adequate progress, every school within the district needs to meet the yearly requirements for students in four subgroups, based on race, socioeconomic status, learning disabilities and ability to speak English. During the past two years, those requirements have included having 31 percent of each subgroup score at proficient levels on the reading portion and 38 percent on the math portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

“The concept of creating an accountability system in a school district where you look at the results of individual subgroups is a good thing,” said Pam Saylor, superintendent of Lake County Schools. “You can attend to the individual needs of those students, and that is a positive thing. The problem is that the federal government set up some of the criteria. I think the problem is the standards set for the state of Florida are so high. It’s very difficult for us to be successful.”

Saylor said district officials are hoping the state will change the size of the subgroups, which currently consist of 30 students. In other states, the subgroups can be as large as 200 students.

“The state has imposed different guidelines then those required by NCLB,” Shirley said. “The idea is Florida has set too high of goals and is trying to reach them. I don’t want to sound like I’m whining, but the goals set for Florida are very high. They will be difficult to reach.”

Officials argue it is easier to get 76 students in a group of 200 students to achieve proficient scores on the math portion of the test than it is to get 12 of 30 students to achieve the same results. However, if the cell size were increased and the districts did not have enough students to reach the higher number needed, that subgroup would not be counted against the school.

“We aren’t able to compete as well as other states,” she said. “There is a reluctance to make those changes, but if they don’t do something by April 1, all school districts in Florida could be in this situation again next year.”

If the subgroup sizes are not changed, Saylor said, it is questionable whether any school district in Florida could ever make adequate progress.

To complicate matters even more, school officials have not been told exactly how the state is calculating percentages, according to Kathleen Thomas, director of planning, program evaluation and accountability.

“We’ve tried to get the calculations for months,” she said. “They won’t release that information.”

Shirley said Sumter County has experienced the same issue.

“We don’t compute it,” he said. “We were told they were not releasing that data to school districts. It does make for an interesting dilemma. They say ‘Here are your numbers, but we won’t tell you how we got them.’ ”

Strong and Shirley both argued that the law requires school districts to control issues that are sometimes out of their control.

“The real problem is with what happens to a child before he get to us,” Strong said. “Let’s face it, some of the kids have difficulties in their lives. Just saying we don’t care about any of the other circumstances is ridiculous. There are other underlying issues here.”

“Two-parent homes are diminishing,” Shirley said. “Students don’t start school at the same point and that’s what I see as a big challenge to NCLB.”

TOP OF PAGE

2 districts vote for Kindergarten

N.H. only state without mandate

Clare Kittredge, Globe Correspondent

NEWTON, N.H. -- For years, Tammy Gluck made calls, handed out leaflets, and went door-to-door campaigning for kindergarten in her growing southern New Hampshire public school district.

"It's been a four-year crusade," said Gluck. A mother of two, Gluck paid for private kindergarten for her 8-year-old, now in second grade, but her 3-year-old will go to public kindergarten.

The Sanborn Regional School District board voted, 6-1, Wednesday to fund kindergarten in Newton and Kingston, the district's other town. Kindergarten is expected to open for 120 to 150 children in the district next fall.

The Granite State is the only state that does not require kindergarten. But with 17 New Hampshire districts without kindergarten, the state still might fall short of the state Board of Education's proposed goal of kindergarten for all districts by 2009.

On March 9, a majority of residents in the Sanborn regional, the Timberlane regional, and the Goffstown school districts voted to implement public kindergarten. However, the Timberlane district failed to get the two-thirds majority required. In Litchfield, voters rejected the proposal.

"The children are the real losers," said Joean Griffin, director of elementary curriculum for the Timberlane district, which covers Plaistow, Atkinson, Sandown, and Danville. "We have about 380 children entering first grade this next year, so we assume there are that many in the general yearly population who are missing the opportunity to take public kindergarten."

Griffin said all the towns in her district have large housing developments going up, bringing in families with school-age children. "So we're waiting to see what the state of New Hampshire does in terms of including kindergarten as part of the state's minimum standards," she said.

The Sanborn school board will meet Wednesday at the D.J. Bakie Elementary School in Kingston to figure out what budget cuts need to be made to pay for kindergarten, according to school district business administrator Mark Grey.

For supporters such as Gluck, it is a worthy cause.

"If you don't prepare children well at the elementary level, their problems are compounded and more difficult when they go to high school," said Gluck. "So providing kindergarten sets the stage for better educational opportunity for the children -- for their whole education and into their careers."

The state Board of Education is in the process of revamping educational standards, and it wants to include a new requirement that all school districts have public kindergarten by 2009. A legislative oversight committee will have final say on the proposed standards next fall or in early 2005, according to state Board of Education chairman Fred Bramante. "It's a component of the education reform effort."

"We don't expect carte blanche for anything we say yes to," said Bramante, "but hopefully they will agree that we've been having this argument over kindergarten for virtually 100 years, and enough is enough."

TOP OF PAGE

Bush correct to ease test participation

IN OUR VIEW, The Spectrum

Few people dispute that the public education system in the United States requires improvement. That isn't a knock on the dedicated teachers who try to teach our children. It's just a fact that if America wants to compete in the business world of tomorrow, it has to do a better job of educating the children of today.

One mechanism put in place to help in that mission is the No Child Left Behind act, the cornerstone of President George W. Bush's education policy. The act requires students to take tests on what they have learned, and schools and districts are held accountable if children fail to gain the knowledge that is deemed necessary under the legislation.

It's a plan that deserves a chance to work. During the last legislative session, one bill would have pulled the state out of No Child Left Behind. Luckily, lawmakers saw the folly in not pushing for higher standards.

But that doesn't mean that the act is free of problems. Perfectly good schools can be deemed as "failing" if they can't meet the criteria on even one of 40 boxes that have to be checked after all of the test scores are revealed. Among the most problematic of these was a participation requirement of 95 percent. For some schools, students missed the tests for a variety of reasons, causing schools that passed in every performance category to be labeled as failing. Area schools that fit that description include Canyon View High School in Cedar City and five schools in the Washington County School District.

That's why it's good to see the Bush administration announce plans to pull back a little on the participation requirement. Instead of a hard line of 95 percent participation, schools would only have to average 95 percent over the course of two to three years.

The new policy makes sense because it removes one aspect of the act that sets schools up to fail. Educators have a duty to teach children the basic skills that they need to succeed. They can't, however, force kids to attend. That part is left to the parents.

This new policy helps remove the stigma of being a failing school for institutions that really are making strides in the classroom without being penalized because parents and kids aren't keeping up their end of the bargain.

More changes should be made to No Child Left Behind, such as the removal of a requirement that forces special education students to meet the same level of mastery as other children -- which if they could would mean they didn't need special education in the first place.

Despite its flaws in a few areas, No Child Left Behind remains as the best possible plan to improve the public education system across the country. The participation requirement probably won't be the only change, but change is OK as long as the spirit of the act remains intact.

TOP OF PAGE

U.S. relaxes rules on tests of students

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- For the fourth time in as many months, the Bush administration on Monday announced it is easing the restrictions of its education law, this time in testing.

The latest move--reducing the number of students a school may test without running afoul of the law--probably will cap a flurry of responses to concerns from states and schools.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires schools to test at least 95 percent of students in math and reading. Schools also must have 95 percent participation from all major subgroups of students, such as minority or disabled youngsters.

The point is to make sure that schools are accountable for every student's progress.

Under the new policy, schools will get some leeway. As long as they average a 95 percent participation rate among students over two or three years, schools will meet the law.

A school that tested 94 percent of students one year, for example, could make the mark if it tested 96 percent of students the year before. The same is true for subgroups of students.

Schools also won't have to count students who are enrolled but miss testing, including makeup exams, because of a medical emergency.

"We are listening to parents and educators and making adjustments," Education Secretary Rod Paige said in announcing the policy Monday to the National School Boards Association conference in Orlando.

The changes will apply to the current school testing season. They are meant to fix a problem that has surfaced anecdotally: schools that fail to meet the federal standard just because a few students miss a test.

Schools that get federal poverty aid but don't make progress goals at least two straight years face sanctions from having to offer transfers to risking state takeover.

Since December, Paige has also eased rules affecting highly qualified teachers, disabled children and limited-English learners.

TOP OF PAGE

Teaching Kindergarten  

Stats Corner, Schoolhouse Beat, 3/30/04

·  61: Percentage of private and public kindergarten teachers with full-day classes

·  23: Percentage with one half-day class.

·  16: Percentage with two half-day classes.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, "Kindergarten Teachers: Public and Private School Teachers of the Kindergarten Class of 1998-99."

TOP OF PAGE

United we stand? / Schoolhouse Beat

Feedback, Schoolhouse Beat, 3/30/04

Last week, there was not much response when we asked readers what they think of giving mayors significant control over school systems, but one reader had an opinion about the issue that prompted the question: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's push to end social promotion among the city's third-graders.

·  "Retention doesn't work," a reader says. "How about more intensive intervention--summer programs, tutoring by older students, etc. Bloomberg is working hard to get political mileage out of an educational issue instead of working hard to produce results."

TOP OF PAGE

Leaders Group Stung By Board Resignations  

By Jeff Archer, Education Week, 3/31/04

The Education Leaders Council, which has sought to position itself as a prominent national advocate for school choice and accountability, has been dealt a major blow by the resignation of several members of its board of directors amid claims of mismanagement leveled at its Washington headquarters.

Four board members—all well-known figures in education—quit on March 29, citing concerns raised over the past year about the group’s use of federal money and about the salaries and employment terms of its executives.

In a joint letter to Florida Commissioner of Education Jim Horne, who chairs the ELC board, they accused others still on the panel of failing to adequately address their concerns.

“We cannot continue to be associated with an entity that has lost its moorings and whose credibility has been seriously damaged by issues that could have been solved had action been taken in a timely and responsible manner,” they wrote.

The four members who resigned this week are former U.S. Rep. Bill Goodling, R- Pa., the retired chairman of the House of Representatives’ education committee; Colorado Commissioner of Education William J. Moloney; Minnesota Commissioner of Education Cheri Pierson Yecke; and Abigail Thernstrom, an author and a member of the Massachusetts state board of education.

Their departures follow those of at least four other ELC board members who resigned over the past six months as the board of directors became increasingly divided over how to respond to questions about the organization’s operations. ("Leaders Group Faces Shortcomings," Jan. 21, 2004.) The board now has just eight members.

Those remaining on the board, including ELC Chief Executive Officer Lisa Graham Keegan, disputed the notion that the group had sought to sweep any problems under the rug.

In February, the board agreed to hire an external auditor to carry out a “forensic” review of its operations. Ms. Keegan characterized as “dishonest” the claims made by the four board members who resigned this week.

“These individuals didn’t want to solve the problems; they wanted to proclaim that there is a problem and that nothing has been done,” Ms. Keegan said in an interview. “That is blatantly untrue.”

Strife among the members of the ELC board had been mounting since last May, when an audit of the organization raised what some board members saw as a number of red flags. The report said, for instance, that the group hadn’t been adequately reporting time spent by ELC staff members on its biggest project, an initiative called Following the Leaders, which is underwritten by $23.5 million in federal money.

Since then, board members have sparred over numerous other management issues, particularly related to Ms. Keegan’s leadership of the organization. With a salary of $235,000, she is officially an independent consultant and lives in Arizona, where she formerly served as the state’s schools chief.

While criticizing Ms. Keegan’s management, many of those who have recently left the organization’s board argue that the ELC has become too dependent on federal money. When she became the CEO in 2001, Ms. Keegan laid out ambitious plans to raise private funds, but in 2003 federal grants paid for more than half of all salaries paid to the ELC’s 14 staff members.

Most of the federal funding is for Following the Leaders, which gives technical support to schools to help them in meeting the student-performance requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Seeded with $3.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education in 2002, the project has since been awarded two $10 million allocations. Much of the money has been used to hire subcontractors to carry out the initiative.

“The focus of the organization has moved away from its original mission of advocacy for reform, and been transformed essentially into a manager of a federal program,” Mr. Moloney said in an interview last week. “That program, Following the Leaders, has become the main financial prop of ELC. It pays the rent, it pays the salaries.”

Mr. Horne, the board chairman, agreed that the ELC needs to shift more of its energies back to advocacy, and he said he hopes to spin off Following the Leaders as an independent project in the near future.

But he maintains that the group is getting its house in order. It is in negotiations with an accounting firm to carry out the forensic review of the ELC’s finances and operations. The group also recently hired a new chief financial officer. Mr. Horne said he has “unwavering confidence” in Ms. Keegan’s leadership.

“I think ELC will come through whatever this little fog is stronger, and better, and more powerful than ever before,” he said.

TOP OF PAGE

Tying George Washington Into the School Curriculum  

By BARBARA WHITAKER, New York Times, March 31, 2004

In the old days, every field trip to Mount Vernon was pretty much the same: a docent lectured as students trudged room by room through George Washington's house.

But now what students see is much more varied.

Middle and high school students typically don't even go to the house, instead spending a day on the grounds where they learn about "Washington in the wilderness," said Ann Phillips Bay, associate director of Mount Vernon for education and programs. Students are divided into teams and are given problems to solve much like those that would have confronted Washington as a young man. They learn about surveying, for example, which incorporates math and science into their visit.

 

Students in kindergarten through second grade spend much of their time at the farm portion of the site, where they see animals, visit a working grist mill and learn from activities that illustrate, for example, how fences are constructed or how crops are rotated.

A trend toward making outside trips more pertinent can be found at museums across the country, driven by factors ranging from tighter school budgets to an emphasis on standards and testing. Field trips these days have to be more than a break from the classroom.

"It's no longer possible for a museum to simply say, `Oh, we have all these wonderful things, and we want to share them with the children because it will enrich their lives,' " said Ms. Bay. "I think museums, just as teachers in schools, are being held accountable in very specific ways," she said. "The way we do field trips reflects that kind of accountability."

John Bunch, who teaches a course on museums and education at the University of Virginia, said that museums must now build their offerings around specific curriculum goals. In Virginia, he said, "a teacher almost cannot make a field trip unless they can show it ties in with the curriculum."

A recent survey by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services found that museums were increasing their educational offerings: some 71 percent of the museums surveyed were tailoring educational programs to school curriculums; up from five years before, when some 62 percent said their programs addressed school standards.

For Mount Vernon, working closely with local educators in developing new field trip programs appears to have paid off.

Michele Scadron, a second-grade teacher in Oakton, Va., who helped create the programs at Mount Vernon that tie in with the school's curriculum, said that when she recently called to schedule a visit for her class this spring the museum was booked.

Of course, sometimes the curriculum for a field trip is the work not of the museum but of an individual teacher.

Consider the trip Larry Moore's fifth-grade class takes every year to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Mr. Moore, in fact, has developed a program he shares with other teachers called "Sliding Baseball Across the Curriculum," which integrates the subject of baseball into every area of a fifth grader's year.

Each student picks three players to study in advance, which helps to develop research and Internet skills. A curveball becomes a study in physics. Statistics tie in with math. Students travel through history, exploring how segregation and World War II affected the game. Local minor-league players come in to discuss how they set goals, and writing about baseball is a part of the program.

The cost of the trip, including the five-hour round-trip bus ride from Berkshire County in Massachusetts, is $40. The students foot the bill by raising money throughout the year.

"How many times do you go to a museum and see the children rush through the museum and get nothing?" Mr. Moore said. "My students walk into the Hall of Fame, stop and say, `That's my guy.' "

While Mr. Moore has taken it upon himself to build a curriculum, the Hall of Fame has created one of its own.

That the museum is in a rural area in central New York where school districts are confronting difficult budget decisions makes it all the more important to give teachers reason to come, said Patricia A. LaFond, manager of the education department at the Hall of Fame.

She estimated that about 7,000 students come through the Hall of Fame each year, although the number is down by 500 to 600 students over the last two to three years.

"We've definitely lost some schools because of cuts," Ms. LaFond said.

So the Hall of Fame, which has an educational mission, is trying to reach more students by creating field trips that can be taken online rather than by bus.

"What you hope is you're making the experience exciting enough and interesting enough that they're going to want to come sometime," she said.

In other parts of the country as well, museums are reaching out to schools to make their collections more accessible.

Elizabeth Garrison, curator of education at the Portland Museum of Art, said that field trips have become harder for schools to provide. "Right now Oregon is really strapped and, of course, the arts are the first thing to go," she said.

To compensate, the museum is working more with schools, not only assisting teachers with field trips, but teaching them how to work art into their curriculums.

"Very few schools have art specialists anymore," she said. "Rather than having a support and enhancement role, we're becoming the only game in town."

Likewise, a visit by a Chinese calligrapher to the George Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, has developed into a continuing relationship for the school and two Smithsonian museums, the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

The theme of the program is "thoughtful choice," and it includes visits to the school by artists and docents connected with Freer and Sackler as well as three visits during the year to the museums, which are known for their collections of Asian art.

Toni Conklin, who as a teacher at the school set up the initial visit with the calligrapher, said the program has been valuable in a variety of ways.

Trips offer opportunity for a majority of the school's students, who come from low-income, immigrant families. And, as the program expands, it touches on an increasing variety of subjects that help bring education to life.

"What fuels the stamina for the day-to-day homework and lessons," said Ms. Conklin, who now is a curriculum specialist at the school, "is the kind of inspiration that comes from an experience like a field trip."

In New York City, home to a wealth of museums and cultural institutions, George York, principal of the Bronx School for the Visual Arts, is practicing the art of integrating field trips into his 9th and 10th graders' daily studies.

"For us, field trips are a natural extension of the curriculum," he said. "We feel we need to take our students regularly, so they know there are other things outside the Bronx, just waiting for them to partake."

TOP OF PAGE

'Child-centric' schools  

Neal Peirce, Syndicated columnist, 3/29/04

"Child-centric" is the name that developer William Gietema applies to the new elementary school being built in Hometown, a New Urbanist community northeast of Fort Worth.

The energy-conserving building will have many windows and be flooded with natural light, which research shows stimulates melatonin and in turn endorphins that make children happy — and thus ready to learn more rapidly. Air exchange will also be boosted to cycle carbon monoxide out and more oxygen in — another favor to the children.

Set in a compact new town with 6-foot-wide sidewalks, trees along the streets and traffic-calming features, this school will be just across the road from the city recreation center, next to a performing-arts center and new city library.

And 8 acres of the 10-acre site, notes Gietema, will go for child use — classrooms, playground and a forested environmental-learning area, with just 2 acres given over to parking and bus areas — uses which normally gobble up half of most new school sites.

"Instead of a school designed around the drive-through," notes Gietema, "we designed the school first, then came up with a method to allow parents to deliver and pick up their children without damaging the school's design."

The green light for Hometown's innovative school design came from Stephen Waddell, superintendent of the Birdville School District. "We intend this school to be flexible for people working there today as well as 30 years from now," Waddell explains. "The design incorporates flexibility, allows different teaming opportunities for kids and teachers."

Plus, Waddell boasts, "this school is being built so that the community can use it after hours." Community and library rooms upfront, for example, are open to learning opportunities for adults after hours, even while other parts of the building are secured.

Futurist thinker-consultant Ian Jukes, director of the InfoSavvy Group, stoked the intellectual fires of the school officials, planners and architects (HKS of Dallas) when designing the Hometown school. Jukes argues the old formula of "Stand and Deliver" — a teacher before a class giving kids facts they'll be required to regurgitate — is hopelessly outdated. Teachers are no longer "masters," he suggests, when kids, from their desktops, have instant access to every library or museum on the planet.

Yet most schools, Jukes notes, look like they did in the 1860s, before telephones, telecommunications or the gas-powered motor. He dismisses the rigid standards approach of No Child Left Behind as "a rearview mirror of what education has to be all about." Instead, he'd aim to develop skills of independent, highly resourceful thinking to prepare children for lives in which they may experience a dozen or more careers "in jobs not yet invented, technologies not invented, problems not thought of yet."

So many new schools look alike, asserts Prakash Nair, international school-building consultant and architect, because we continue to "warehouse" children with too little thought to how the design will impact student learning. Every business/professional group, from construction to maintenance, transportation to curriculum to security, lays out requirements. But who's responsible for learning?

Nair suggests how smaller, learning-centered schools might be configured. For example: multipurpose "learning studios," where children can be engaged in flexible learning zones that replace traditional classrooms; atriums and other open areas, encouraging student interaction, in place of traditional corridors; wireless laptops and other Internet-connected digital communications devices available to students where and when they need them.

A big point of the reformers is that students, especially older ones, can gain immensely by spending big chunks of time learning outside the school, in libraries, parks, museums, community service and school-to-work programs.

Elliott Washor of the Big Picture Company, co-inventor of the precedent-shattering Met School in Providence, R.I., describes the ideal new school as "a welcoming space," accommodating multiple types of learning.

Most of the same old architects grinding out the same old, banal school structures are oblivious to these new cutting-edge ideas. Cleveland is using its $1.5-billion fund for new schools so unimaginatively that it's "on the verge of a major public architectural catastrophe," a member of the Cleveland Landmarks Commission (Theodore Sande) told Cleveland Plain Dealer architectural critic Steven Litt.

Litt asks: Couldn't the school district collaborate with Cleveland State University and Kent State to organize a national symposium on state-of-the-art architecture and community-related planning?

To me, that's a crackerjack idea. The school-design issues need to be hauled out of bureaucrats' offices, into the sunlight of spirited communitywide discussions. America's universities could serve their communities well by igniting the debate.

TOP OF PAGE

No Child Left Behind

Guest Opinion by Leslie Mingus, San Diego Valley News-Sun

A successful garden requires work. Every seed demands individualized attention. I regulate the water, position the rows, loosen and apply appropriate amounts of nutrients and vitamins to the soil. Deliberately placed seeds in a weeded, irrigated, nourished garden basking in the warmth of the sun will produce strong, disease resistant vegetables and flowers.

However, seeds in a garden without nourishment, regular water, and adequate warmth and sunlight produce weaker, disease susceptible vegetables and flowers. It's common sense.

Currently, states, school districts and educators across the nation complain about the high standards and accountability imposed as a result of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Where have these people been? NCLB isn't a new piece of legislation; it's a revised version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act first passed in 1965 intended to insure implementation of and adherence to high educational standards.

What's the big deal? Districts that implement accountability systems and enforce high standards for performance can stand up to scrutiny. Professional educators who assess student performance and growth in order to measure student achievement and guide effective instructional practice can handle examination.

High expectations yield high results. It's common sense. As a professional, I expect high standards and welcome accountability.

Most of us set high standards for our young peoples' performance and behavior, while others leave those expectations to chance and hope for the best. Daily, I observe students as they illustrate their ability to meet the high standards and expectations I set in the classroom.

Their self-confidence, feeding on the organic food of authentic achievement, pushes through the dirt and forms the stem for successful participation in our society as adults. I expect my students to think critically about the world in which they live; therefore, they think. They think critically about their family, friends, the environment, politics, injustice and their learning.

I hold them accountable for their learning and behavior and, therefore, I expect to be held accountable for the introduction and facilitation of skills that will encourage their participation and success in our 'knowledge society.'

I thank all of my students for teaching me the value of high standards and thank the parents of my English II students who took the time to 'weed' the garden during parent/teacher conferences and parents who visit with me regularly about 'our' children's performance and behavior in school and who accept accountability.

Thank you for setting and enforcing high standards at home; your kids work hard to reach those standards. I also want to thank the owners and employees of G& F Pizza and Annie's Sandwich Shop for fostering a sense of community and holding our young people accountable for their behavior.

Our young adults' success in school and life depends on continued partnerships, high expectations and standards, and accountability at home, school and in the community. When we come together, advocating for our young peoples' success, praising their accomplishments and problem solving to strengthen their weaknesses, we illustrate the true heart and nature of community.

Yes, gardening requires work. Hand pulling the weeds to get the roots, breaks the back. Installing a drip system, to insure regulated water flow to the garden, requires time, planning and creativity.

Despite the work involved, the rewards of a well planned, prepared and tended garden feed our souls as well as our bodies. It makes sense; NCLB makes sense.

Support NCLB and the implementation of accountability systems in our schools; no child should be left behind.

(Editor's note: Leslie Mingus is an English and Secondary Certified educator and currently teaches sophomore English at Benson High School.)

TOP OF PAGE

Teens may need financial education  

By Jeannine Aversa, Associated Press Writer, 4/1/2004

WASHINGTON -- They say money talks, but it seems young people in this country are not listening very well.

 

The financial know-how of high school seniors is "dismal but improving," said Lewis Mandell, a professor of finance and managerial economics at the University of Buffalo School of Management, who conducted and analyzed the results of a new nationwide survey on the subject.

On average, 12th-graders answered only 52.3 percent of questions about personal finance and economics correctly. Still, that was better than the 50.2 percent in the previous survey in 2002 and 51.9 percent in 2000.

"There are some rays of hope out there," Mandell said. "But let's say there is ample room for improvement."

The latest survey was being released Thursday by the Federal Reserve.

The surveys were sponsored by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, which wants students to have the skills to be financially competent. Merrill Lynch paid for this year's survey.

"What worries me is not that we should expect to raise the next John Maynard Keynes but that people are not getting the backgrounds to cope with financial things," said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at LaSalle Bank.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan long has advocated that Americans, especially young people, get a better grip on fundamental money matters. Greater financial literacy in this country, he says, is especially important given the ever-expanding financial choices facing consumers.

Greenspan says improving basic financial education at the elementary and secondary school level would help give young people a foundation to could go a long way in allowing them to avoid financial pitfalls later in life.

In the survey, 52.8 percent said they would have no liability if their credit card was stolen and a thief ran up a $1,000 bill. (Liability is limited to $50 after the credit-card issuer is notified.) Only 18.1 percent knew they would be responsible to pay $50. Two years ago, just 7.7 percent of respondents gave the correct answer.

Nearly 79 percent were right in saying that the primary sources of income for most people age 20 to 35 are salaries, wages and tips. That compares with the 71.4 percent who gave the correct answer in the last survey.

Just over 35 percent knew that a bond issued by one of the 50 states is not protected by the federal government against loss. That is an improvement from the 27.1 percent who answered that question correctly in the 2002 survey.

Forty-six percent correctly answered that older people living on fixed retirement income would have the greatest problem during periods of high inflation. That compares with the 34.7 percent who chose the right answer in the last survey.

Some other results in the survey:

--Only 17.2 percent correctly said that stocks likely would offer the higher growth over 18 years of saving for a child's education. That was down from 18.7 percent who knew the right answer in the 2002 survey. In this year's survey, 79.5 percent thought that a U.S. savings bond or a savings account would offer the highest growth.

--Just 23.9 percent knew that income tax may be charged on the interest earned from a savings account at a bank if a person's income is high enough. Fifty-two percent said that earnings from savings account interest may not be taxed. In the last survey, 26.6 percent chose the right answer.

-- A little more than 34 percent correctly said that retirement income paid by a company is called a pension. But 62.9 percent thought it was called Social Security or a 401(k). In the last survey, 35.1 percent knew the correct answer.

This is the fourth survey that Jump$tart has sponsored that looks at high school seniors' financial skills. The first one, in 1997, showed that 57.3 percent answered correctly. Scores dropped for each survey after that until this year's -- reason for Mandell to be hopeful.

"I believe this improvement -- as small as it is -- is the beginning of something because I think people are finally beginning to pay attention," Mandell said "But it probably will take a long time to turn around."

Only four states require students to take a course covering personal finance in order to graduate, according to a 2003 survey by the National Council on Economic Education. Budget cuts have forced some districts to shift money and teachers from other areas into classes at the heart of federal reforms, such as reading and math. That highlights another problem, educators say -- economic training is seen as an extra.

TOP OF PAGE

 

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