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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – April 23 to 30, 2004

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STATE  
Schiller gets behind changes in public school funding / Quincy Herald-Whig
Madigan hints end to governor's honeymoon / Chicago Tribune
Blagojevich agenda under increased fire as time ticks down towards final week / Quad City Times
State budget fight heats up / Chicago Tribune
Biz groups: Don't scrap state board / Pantagraph
Guv Shoots Down Proposal To Save State Board of Ed / WBBM Newsradio
State politicians ignore amendment to tax the rich / Peoria Journal Star
Springfield Budget Battle About to Heat Up / Southern Illinoisan
Gov's scholarship program roots out Golden Apple funds / Sun Times
Rod's arithmetic / Chicago Tribune
Senate OKs boost to per-pupil funding level / Peoria Journal Star
School walls may be for rent / Quincy Herald-Whig
Reinstate funding for scholarships / Daily Southtown
NATIONAL
Study: schools cutting soda lower obesity / Boston Globe
New federal initiative connects educators / CNN.com
Failure to Retain Md. Program Pushing Older Teachers Out / Washington Post
Budget cutbacks leading to fewer standardized tests / Portsmouth Herald
Researcher blasts No Child Left Behind and vouchers / Sun Times
Learning Feels Good / Chelsey Broadcasting
Q: Are the tests required by No Child Left Behind making schools more accountable? / Insight on the News
Baltimore embraces K-8 schools / Boston Globe
Short on books, Texas school uses laptops / Boston Globe
Fla. Students Turn to Maine for Diplomas / Education Week
Rod Paige offers high praise for No Child Left Behind / Harvard University Gazette
Advocates work to save vocational ed / Boston Globe
Absentee Rate Has LAUSD Worried /
Los Angeles Times
KC board takes over Westport Charter School / Kansas City Star

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STATE

Schiller gets behind changes in public school funding

Phil Weber, Quincy Herald-Whig

MACOMB, Ill.The state's highest ranking school official is getting behind a proposal to change the way public schools are funded.

State Superintendent Robert Schiller told members of the Western Illinois Administrator's Round Table Friday that he supports a proposal by the Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB) to fund as much as half of the cost of public education through income taxes instead of property taxes.

"Our education system in Illinois is collapsing around us because of funding," Schiller told school superintendents and principals in attendance, making reference to the roughly 80 percent of Illinois school districts with deficit budgets this year.

"It's time to overhaul the revenue."

The Illinois State Board of Education says it needs more than $632 million to fully fund needed school programs for the 2004-05 school year, but the state's proposal calls for only about $400 million.

Schiller said EFAB's proposal of a 2 percent boost to income taxes would provide more than enough money, while still providing up to a 50 percent reduction in property taxes.

"That would generate enough money to fully fund what we need and still bring about a property tax reduction," Schiller said.

The money from the income tax would be spread throughout the state on a more equitable basis. Education Week magazine recently gave Illinois an "F" in funding equity because there is a large chasm between what poor districts spend on each student's education and the per-pupil spending of the wealthy districts north of I-80.

Illinois has a $13,000 per-student spending gap between the richest and the poorest districts.

Despite his advocacy of the EFAB proposal, Schiller doubts it will be accepted, and almost-certainly not during this legislative session. He said lawmakers seldom have the stomach for such sweeping changes, especially those that involve tax increases, during an election year.

"We know what's wrong, and we know how to fix it. We don't have the political strength or the will to fund it," Schiller said. "I'm always told (by legislators) that it is either an election year, or the year before an election or the year after an election. When else are we going to do it?"

Ray Scheiter, regional superintendent for Adams and Pike counties, said he supports the theory behind the EFAB recommendation. But he wants to see how the specific details shake out before fully agreeing with the idea.

Scheiter said he is concerned that Illinois voters might be skeptical about legislators' intents. Before voters support increases to income taxes, they would have to be certain that property taxes would go down, he said.

"I would certainly advocate income taxes over property taxes," he said. "But until we are assured that property taxes are going to be relieved, I wouldn't advocate the plan."

Schiller talked briefly about Gov. Rod Blagojevich's proposal to replace the state board of education with a department of education that is under the governor's direct control. Schiller said he is wary of attempts by the governor to use education as a political tool and warned that an appointed education director would not have enough autonomy to make difficult choices.

"I'm worried that if you take out the independence, you lose the objectivity," he said.

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Madigan hints end to governor's honeymoon

Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune

Illinois lawmakers were largely willing to give Gov. Rod Blagojevich the benefit of the doubt during his freshman year, but in recent days House Speaker Michael Madigan has been sending clear signals that the honeymoon is over.

Madigan, who has the power to torpedo the governor's legislative agenda, has ruled out changes sought by Blagojevich to give him more control over the Regional Transportation Authority. Madigan has also questioned Blagojevich's plans to concentrate authority over schools in the governor's office, called for a halt to further state borrowing and ridiculed an initiative to revamp the way the state pays for programs for the mentally and developmentally disabled.

More to the point, Madigan also has begun publicly second-guessing what he and other lawmakers did to help Blagojevich a year ago, suggesting they erred in helping the governor ease a budget crisis by allowing him to hike some fees on business and siphon funds from state accounts earmarked for special programs.

"A year ago I was very diligent in being cooperative with Blagojevich," Madigan said recently. "Well, now we're in the second year and we're going to do some things a little differently."

With less than a month until the scheduled end of the spring legislative session, Blagojevich is the target of growing complaints--particularly from fellow Democrats--about both the substance and style of his administration.

Many are put off by what they say is a needless power grab by the governor involving education and transportation programs. They also bristle about multibillion-dollar borrowing initiatives pushed by the governor that they consider reckless and shortsighted.

Blagojevich and his aides have repeatedly dismissed many of the complaints, contending that those carping about his budget proposals reflect an old guard that has voted to overspend in the past and now refuses to look outside the box to meet the state's fiscal challenges.

Lawmakers say they are tired of Blagojevich portraying them as part of an old cabal representing the worst of policymaking.

Democrats and Republicans alike complain Blagojevich has shunned Springfield and the General Assembly and its governmental role, making it hard to negotiate with him.

Blagojevich isn't up for election this year, while the entire House and much of the Senate is. So politically, there is much at stake for Madigan's Democratic House majority in its struggles with the governor.

"Madigan has determined it's not in the best interests of his caucus to rubber-stamp the governor," said Charles N. Wheeler III, a professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield. "He's saying, `We're not going to be your puppets this time around,' and that, `We're tired of being your foils and punching bag and recognize that we have a legitimate role.'"

A personal stake

Besides recognizing that Blagojevich's Chicago-centric moves won't help his Downstate members or encourage a shift toward Democratic representation in the suburbs, Madigan also may have a personal stake in dealing with the governor's budget agenda.

With Blagojevich thought to be holding national aspirations, Madigan's daughter, state Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, has already been considered a potential candidate for governor. Any Blagojevich successor is likely to have budget options severely limited by the need to repay debt incurred by the current governor. "They're borrowing too much, and we ought to stop," Michael Madigan recently said of Blagojevich's administration in the Rockford Register Star.

Blagojevich also may be creating a potential showdown over legislative allegiances and alliances. He and his allies have created a special political fund aimed at rewarding House and Senate members who support his initiatives with an infusion of cash to help their campaigns.

"It's all about control," said Sen. Denny Jacobs (D-East Moline). Jacobs and other lawmakers acknowledge that Blagojevich is enjoying widespread approval from a public happy to be rid of his scandal-scarred predecessor and appreciative of his oft-stated opposition to tax hikes. Yet he and others warn that Blagojevich's short-term budget alternatives, such as business fee hikes and borrowing, carry long-term consequences for taxpayers.

"He's able to say, `I've been able to keep away from a sales tax or income tax increase.' But people are going to start feeling [the alternatives] pretty soon," Jacobs predicted.

Blagojevich attacked critics of his borrowing plans for being part of the "borrowing binge" that created the Illinois FIRST public works program launched by former Gov. George Ryan.

Blagojevich, however, was a supporter of Illinois FIRST while he campaigned for office, saying Ryan deserved more credit for addressing state infrastructure needs and that he would look to expand it.

After giving Blagojevich and his top aides a year to find their footing in the governor's office, legislators are less willing to overlook such inconsistencies and say they point to a troubling pattern of missteps and misstatements.

In his budget address earlier this year, Blagojevich called for a new law requiring that any bill that increases spending include a way to raise the revenue to cover it.

Unconstitutional idea

While populist in its appeal, Blagojevich's initiative was, by its very nature, in conflict with the state constitution. In the legislative process, spending bills can only authorize spending amounts and not include mechanisms to raise money. Proposals to do that can only be written into substantive, non-spending legislation.

More recently, facing growing criticism from gun-control advocates that his once strong advocacy for their cause had waned, Blagojevich released a letter he had sent to U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft urging him to "repeal" a new federal law requiring the quick destruction of gun-buyer background information. Ashcroft has no power to invalidate a law.

Before he formally announced his candidacy for governor in 2001, Blagojevich held a news conference at a North Side gasoline station, blasting Republicans as inept for failing to take action against higher gas prices. Earlier this month, after 15 months in office, Blagojevich made his first statements about higher gas prices. But his proposals fell short of his campaign promises to ban certain pricing and regulatory schemes.

Also during his campaign, Blagojevich rebelled at attempts by the Ryan administration to shut down a prison in Vienna. Blagojevich said he had met with union members "from correctional facilities across Southern Illinois to express his solidarity with them." And he said the Vienna facility was "the lifeblood of a good part" of the region. "A budget is more than a set of numbers on a page of paper," Blagojevich said in promising to fight for the Vienna prison on April 10, 2002.

This year, in a budget-cutting move, Blagojevich is attempting to close the Vandalia Correctional Center, a Downstate facility located in the district of one of his biggest legislative critics, Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson of Greenville.

"Prisons ought to be built or operated when you need them to house inmates, not because it's the only thing people are left to rely on when it comes to economic development," the governor told lawmakers.

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Blagojevich agenda under increased fire as time ticks down towards final week

Matt Adrian, Quad City Times

 SPRINGFIELD — Growing discontent among lawmakers seems to have put much of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s legislative agenda in limbo as the General Assembly heads into the final four weeks of its spring session.

Over the past several weeks, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has been at the forefront of legislators suggesting Blagojevich may not get all he wants.

Madigan has been a vocal critic of the administration’s budget proposal, education reforms and a measure changing how social services are billed by the state. That is a change for Blagojevich, who was able to get most of his agenda passed last year.

Rebecca Rausch, a Blagojevich spokeswoman, said the administration is not concerned about the criticism.

“This is part of the process,” she said. “There is always going to be give and take in the budget process. The governor encourages an open dialogue on these issues … and that is what we are getting.”

However, all lawmakers, including those carrying Blagojevich measures, are up against a deadline this week to get proposals moved to the other chamber.

Patty Schuh, a spokeswoman for the Senate GOP, said it was too early to tell how Blagojevich will fare, but the Republicans are glad to hear the criticism coming from Democratic leaders.

“We have been banging this drum for some time and opposed the administration’s approach to the state budget, which is tax, spend and borrow,” she said.

Mike Lawrence, the interim director of Southern Illinois University’s Public Policy Institute, said tension between the Legislature and governor is not new to Illinois politics.

“What you’re seeing is not untypical,” he said. “When you get down to the end of session, it is not uncommon for the governor and the Legislature to not be on the same page.“

Legislative leaders have yet to meet with Blagojevich to discuss the budget, Schuh said. Legislators are working with a budget that has an estimated deficit of $1.7 billion to $3.8 billion for fiscal year 2005.

The state’s poor fiscal condition also has revived proposals to expand gambling in Illinois. Last week, Sen. Denny Jacobs, D-East Moline, began shopping around a proposal that would increase the number of casino licenses by three, two for regions north and south of Cook County and one license for the City of Chicago. The proposal also would increase the number of gaming positions on casinos and allow slot machines at racetracks. Jacobs said the expansion would keep lawmakers from considering income or sales tax hikes, two options Blagojevich refuses to support.

The budget deficit may be the governor’s greatest weapon in dealing with legislative leaders, Lawrence said, because money is not available for expanded programs.

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State budget fight heats up

Blagojevich brands legislators `narrow-minded'

John Chase and Christi Parsons, Chicago Tribune, 4/28/04

Gov. Rod Blagojevich sent a clear signal Tuesday that he will take a hard line with the legislature over his $53 billion budget plan, saying rank-and-file lawmakers come from a "narrow-minded, special interest-focused mindset" and vowing to take his case to the public.

Standing before Chicago TV cameras 200 miles from where the legislature was waiting to negotiate, Blagojevich said he had no need to go to the state Capitol as his predecessors have done to hammer out differences on critical spending and revenue issues.

Still struggling to rein in a $1.7 billion deficit, Blagojevich has come under increasing criticism from lawmakers who are questioning the substance of his programs and the style in which he is treating the General Assembly, which faces a May 21 deadline to approve a new spending blueprint for the next fiscal year.

Many lawmakers have accused Blagojevich of shunning Springfield as well as the legislature's role in formulating a budget and have rebelled at his attempts to borrow billions of dollars to make ends meet--money the state will have to pay back long after he is likely to have left office.

But Blagojevich dismissed those arguments, accusing as fiscally irresponsible any lawmakers who oppose his plans to raise fees on businesses by hundreds of millions of dollars for a second consecutive year.

Appearing at Mt. Sinai Hospital alongside low-income recipients of Medicaid, Blagojevich practically dared members of the General Assembly to overturn spending cuts or fee increases he has proposed, saying doing so would balance the budget on the "backs of people who need health care."

"You gotta choose," the governor said, "kids who need health care or the trucker's association ... parents who need health care or multinational corporations who get away without paying any taxes in Illinois ... senior citizens who need health care or a tax loophole on luxury yachts.

"You gotta choose: change or status quo, reform or business as usual."

The comments only appeared to harden feelings among legislators, especially members of Blagojevich's own Democratic majority in the House and Senate.

"I think it's sort of irresponsible for him to make those remarks while we are down here working," said Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago), the Senate Democrats' budget expert. "According to his words, we are doing nothing. I don't know if he really knows what's going on down here in Springfield."

The governor is resisting efforts in the legislature to repeal a fee increase on the trucking industry that was passed last year. His new budget also calls for a tax on corporate computer software purchases. And it calls for closing prisons he says are unneeded, an action some legislators say will hurt local economies.

The governor also stood firm in his pledge to take over the independent nine-member State Board of Education, in the face of a compromise proposal that surfaced Tuesday in Springfield. Business leaders suggested scaling back the governor's plan to gut the board and hand him personal authority over education programs.

Instead, they proposed overhauling the board and giving Blagojevich the power to replace all its members. Blagojevich described the proposals as "a beginning" but said he still wants things his way. And he said the fact that the compromise was floated at all signals how dire the need is for reform of the state's education apparatus.

"I don't believe it goes far enough," he said. "But ... it is a step toward a discussion on making sure we reform the school system in our state."

The governor's challenge to the General Assembly mirrors the efforts he made last year when he successfully pushed much of his budget plan through the legislature, even though he was criticized by legislative leaders for rarely sitting down to work out differences. Blagojevich also prevailed last year even though he was highly critical of legislators, whom he accused of being part of a "corrupt system."

Blagojevich seems to be engaging in the same strategy this time around by holding a news conference to issue his threats to legislators, while downplaying the importance of sitting down face-to-face to hammer out the state's budget, which takes effect July 1.

The governor is scheduled for a rare trip to Springfield on Wednesday. His spokeswoman said he plans to meet with some lawmakers while he's there. But she said it was unclear whether he will sit down with House and Senate leaders to discuss the budget.

"We're not going to do it the old way, where you hide behind closed doors with a handful of legislative leaders and the governor and you whisper to one another some of the things you're doing to the people out there," Blagojevich said. "Instead we're going to keep talking to the public and let them know what we stand for and that's why I'm here today. The General Assembly needs to tell us where they stand on these issues."

Although legislators bent to the governor's wishes last year, many now say a repeat is unlikely. Most notably, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan recently said things will be done "a little differently" this year.

Last week, Madigan warned that lawmakers will carefully review a Blagojevich proposal to dramatically overhaul the way the state pays providers who care for developmentally disabled and mentally ill people. Madigan said the governor's plan would cause the budget to be balanced "on the backs of the mentally ill or the developmentally disabled," a contention Blagojevich denies.

Blagojevich said he never thought he had easy times with the General Assembly last year, portraying his efforts since taking office as someone who has turned the state's political system upside down."It requires shaking up that system in Springfield that's been mired in cynicism, corruption and misplaced priorities," he said. "And when the new guy comes to town and does that, there never was a honeymoon and there will never be a honeymoon."

Blagojevich's decision to try to stare down the legislature is in sharp contrast to what he promised taxpayers when he delivered his first State of the State speech last year.

Speaking to lawmakers about the ideal of restoring trust and integrity in government, Blagojevich said, "We're not going to get there by pointing fingers at each other.

"I didn't create the budget mess we are living through today," he said a year ago, "but I promise you this--by working together we can and we will solve it."

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Biz groups: Don't scrap state board  

They urge education compromise

 John O'Connor,  Associated Press, 4/28/04

SPRINGFIELD -- A coalition of business groups urged lawmakers Tuesday to keep the Illinois State Board of Education intact and instead give the governor more influence over education policy, including the power to appoint an all-new board.

The groups oppose Gov. Rod Blagojevich's proposal to scrap the Board of Education and replace it with a cabinet department directly under his control.

They said their alternative plan, to keep the board and allow incoming governors to appoint all new members, would retain some of education's insulation from political pressure -- a goal of the state Constitution's writers -- while recognizing that the buck stops with the governor.

"We want to give the governor the momentum, give the governor the high road and see where he can take it," Illinois Business Roundtable president Jeff Mays told the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.

Current terms on the policy-making Board of Education are six years, and an incoming governor sometimes is stuck with a predecessor's appointees while taking the blame for poor schools, said R. Eden Martin of the Commercial Club of Chicago's Civic Committee.

"A governor comes into office and looks at ISBE and says, 'I'm responsible for education, but how can I do that if I can't pick ISBE?'" Martin said. "He looks at the calendar and says, 'My term's going to be up before I can pick a majority of ISBE.'"

Blagojevich's education chief, Brenda Holmes, said the proposal wouldn't make the board any more accountable to the governor because its members could still veer from his policies after they were appointed.

A key legislative supporter of Blagojevich's proposals, however, said it's a good "first step" that reveals universal dissatisfaction with the status quo.

"Everybody is agreeing that change has to take place," said Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville, who is sponsoring legislation to enact Blagojevich's changes.

In January, Blagojevich blamed the state board for poor student performance and a bureaucratic maze that keeps teachers from helping children learn. He proposed stripping the board of its duties and creating a new Department of Education that he would control.

Both the House speaker and Senate president -- Democrats, like Blagojevich -- have questioned the idea.

House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said she fears a "wholesale slaughter" of the board every four years would destroy continuity and institutional knowledge.

The business groups proposed removing the current board on July 1 and allowing Blagojevich to appoint new board members. Only five of the nine members could be from the governor's party, under the groups' proposal, and the board would still hire a state superintendent.

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Guv Shoots Down Proposal To Save State Board of Ed  

By Bob Roberts, WBBM Newsradio, April 28, 2004

(Chicago) -- The governor is wasting no time shooting down a business group's proposal to salvage the Illinois State Board of Education. But Blagojevich is pleased that people are studying the issues involved.  

The group of business leaders has proposed a compromise to Blagojevich in his quest to take control of the state's primary and secondary schools.

Within hours, the governor told reporters that it wasn't enough, but a good place to begin discussions.

The business groups oppose dismantling the State School Board. But under a plan they outlined to an Illinois House committee, board members would serve four-year terms and each governor would be able to name the entire board.

R. Eden Martin of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago told the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, meeting in Springfield, that education should be independent of the governor.

Their goal is to keep education independent of the governor. But Blagojevich said the business leaders are acknowledging that changes must be made.

"I don't believe it goes far enough, but it is a beginning and it is a step toward a discussion on making sure we reform the school system in our state," Blagojevich said during an unrelated news conference in Chicago.

Asked how far he's willing to bend, the governor said only, "There's always room for adjustments when you deal with the legislative process."

Democratic Representative Jay Hoffman of Collinsville is sponsoring the bill that would dissolve the state board. He says the business groups' plan would not offer the accountability Blagojevich wants.

(The Associated Press contributed to this article.)

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State politicians ignore amendment to tax the rich  

By ELAINE HOPKINS of the Journal Star, 4/29/04

PEORIA - The people have voted for it, but the politicians in Springfield are ignoring it.

The Taxpayer Action Amendment, which would double the state income tax on the richest people in Illinois to provide property tax rebates and new school funding, faces a May 2 deadline.

That's the last day the General Assembly can place the proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution on the ballot for the November election, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn told a Peoria audience Wednesday. Quinn was in town to speak to the Illinois Education Association, Region 16, at its annual dinner meeting.

The leadership of the General Assembly has not even held hearings on the amendment, he said.

"It doesn't look too good," he said. "Let your legislators know. People deserve a vote on this."

Advisory taxpayer referendums were on the March primary ballot in 53 percent of the precincts in Illinois, including Peoria County, Quinn said, and 76 percent of voters favored the idea. A 60 percent vote is required to amend the Illinois Constitution.

But only the General Assembly can place a Constitutional amendment on the ballot, Quinn said.

"I've talked to the governor about it. I'm disappointed that he's not supporting it," he said.

The IEA and the American Federation of Teachers also did not offer strong support, he said.

The amendment would increase the state income tax on the 81,343 Illinois taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $250,000 or more. Every dollar over ($250,000) would be taxed at 6 percent, Quinn said.

Everyone now pays a flat rate of 3 percent, regardless of income.

The new tax would raise $1 billion, to be placed into a trust fund and used to provide schools with $277 per pupil, and every homeowner with an annual $210 property tax rebate, Quinn said.

"You raise money for education and give property tax relief without raising taxes on everybody," Quinn said.

The idea for now appears to be dead in Springfield but Quinn said he isn't giving up. He plans to study Illinois law and look for other ways to enact it, he said.

Meanwhile, he also will keep speaking to groups and promoting the amendment.

"I'm convinced we will win this battle," he said. "We're not in it for the short run. Teachers can lead the politicians on this issue."

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Springfield Budget Battle About to Heat Up  

Southern Illinoisan Opinion, 4/28/04

Illinois lawmakers are gearing up and sharpening their sound bites in anticipation of the yearly budget battle in Springfield.

This year the battle won't be fought along political party lines.

This year, it's the governor vs. the Legislature. Republicans and Democrats alike appear eager to do battle with the governor.

In February, Gov. Rod Blagojevich clearly laid out his budgetary priorities in his annual budget address.

Balance the budget without raising the income or sales tax.

The state government must make tough choices and not repeat poor fiscal habits of the past.

State government must begin to live within its means. In other words, we cannot spend what we don't have.

Government operations must be made more efficient through the use of public and private sector "best practices."

The state government must keep its commitment to strengthen funding of K-12 education, health care, public safety and job training and creation.

The tax code must be balanced for both businesses and individuals.

And the governor's most controversial idea is the dismantling of the State Board of Education. The idea has been met with a cool reception.

Of course, the devil is in the details.

Since the day the governor unveiled his proposed budget, it has been under attack.

Powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, has been a vocal critic of the governor's 2005 spending plan.

Last year, the budget battle turned ugly.

Over the Memorial Day holiday, the governor declared he was ready to work through the holiday and asked, "Where's the Legislature?"

At one point, the governor even compared lawmakers to drunken sailors on a spending orgy.

Observers say this year's budget rhetoric could be far worse.

In Springfield, lawmakers, special interests and a host of others are lined up at the feeding trough.

Filling the trough is the job of the taxpayers.

Do we the taxpayers believe the greatest care and concern is being exercised in the wise use of our tax dollars in Springfield?

Trends show that through the years the amount of money needed to feed the Springfield furnace has steadily increased. Where does it end?

Worsening the situation is that money is not coming in from other revenue sources this year as had been hoped. The state had hoped to squeeze more money out of gambling, the Illinois State Lottery and increased user fees. The ledgers show that not all of that revenue has materialized.

The rhetoric is about to heat up.

But as lawmakers and special interests try to paint a complex picture, taxpayers ought to remain focused on the basics.

Is Springfield spending our tax dollars wisely?

Are our schools performing at desired levels? Is state bureaucracy taking too big of a bite out of our tax dollars before they eventually trickle down to our local schools, teachers and classrooms?

Finally, the men and women we send to Springfield are public servants. They report to us. Taxpayers have a responsibility to monitor the process and demand accountability.

A time for tough choices? Is it time to increase taxes?

Stay tuned, taxpayers. The real battle is about to begin.

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Gov's scholarship program roots out Golden Apple funds  

Column by Mark Brown, Sun Times, 4/29/04

As a candidate for governor, Rod Blagojevich promised to create a program to help solve the state's shortage of qualified teachers by giving college scholarships to students willing to take teaching jobs in low-income areas after graduation.

He gave it a Kennedyesque name, the Illinois Future Teacher Corps, the kind of thing that might look good on the resume of a candidate for national office.

Blagojevich kept his campaign promise, and now the Future Teacher Corps makes $7 million available for qualified students who receive awards of $5,000 or $10,000 to finance their college education if they commit to teach five years in hard-to-staff schools in subject areas where the state has a shortage.

But here's the funny thing.

For years, the State of Illinois had already been funding a highly acclaimed, privately operated program that gave college scholarships to aspiring teachers willing to take teaching jobs in low-income areas.

It's called the Golden Apple Scholarship Program, and not only does it give scholarships, for which it received $3.8 million from the state this year, but it offers advanced training and mentoring for its prospective teachers, a unique approach that has served to bring the neediest kids some of the very best young teachers.

So guess what?

Next year, there's still $7 million in the governor's budget for his Future Teacher Corps, but not a dime to spare for the Golden Apple Scholarship Program.

"If you want to look at it that way, you certainly could," said a spokesman for the governor, who nevertheless tried to redirect my thinking into understanding why Blagojevich really had no choice but to cut the Golden Apple scholarships in light of the state's continuing budget woes.

Real problems

The state's budget problems are real, and I hesitate to advocate more spending without specifying where to get the money, which is one of the reasons I had resisted the temptation to run with this issue in the nearly two months since it surfaced.

The other reason is that the Golden Apple Foundation, which operates the scholarship program and the better-known Golden Apple award program that honors the state's best teachers, is a veritable public relations machine, and I didn't think they'd really need my help to redirect the governor's thinking -- what with 400 teachers-to-be around the state complaining about how Blagojevich pulled the rug out from under their college plans.

But Blagojevich hasn't budged at all on any of his budget proposals yet, which either can be chalked up to fiscal discipline or I-know-bestism. Still, I'm confident he could find that $3.8 million somewhere, especially when reminded of the history of how his new scholarship program arguably helped create this situation.

If not for the fact that the best hope of fixing this problem right now lies with the Legislature, I might suggest the funding be taken from the historically oft-abused General Assembly Scholarship Program, which allows individual legislators to hand out college tuition money to students of their choice -- which sometimes has meant the sons and daughters of their political supporters.

But that wouldn't be nice, and the Golden Apple folks have been careful not to throw such stones.

Actually, so has the governor.

"Golden Apple is no doubt a great program, which is why the state funds it in the first place," said Becky Carroll, a spokeswoman for the governor's Office of Management and Budget. "It's a matter of priorities in the budget. It's one we can't afford this year."

As far as I can tell, there's no criticism at all of how Golden Apple has operated its program; quite the opposite.

It's just not a priority of the Blagojevich administration.

Won't tout Edgar effort

One reason could be the fact that Golden Apple was brought into the state fold under former Gov. Jim Edgar. Blagojevich isn't going to go further up the political ladder by touting great programs started by his predecessors.

Golden Apple takes students right out of high school and puts them in a summer internship program that gives them classroom teaching experience. The summer program is taught by the award-winning Golden Apple teachers.

If you're familiar with the teachers honored by Golden Apple in your own community, you probably know that they seem to find the best teachers, the real difference-makers.

While the state should honor the commitment to those who have already been promised Golden Apple scholarships, there's a legitimate question as to why the state should indefinitely be on the hook for a program that doesn't really come under its oversight. State funding for Golden Apple should not be considered a permanent entitlement.

For now, though, it would seem to fall into a category every good politician understands: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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Rod's arithmetic  

Chicago Tribune Editorial, April 29, 2004

Roughly a third of Illinois school children have problems with math. Then again, apparently so does Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The governor proposes to increase state education spending by $400 million in the next year, hoping that will pump up low scores on achievement tests. He wants a lot of things, actually, for his $400 million.

He wants to raise state spending by $250 per pupil. Cost: $396.5 million.

He wants to expand preschool access for at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds. Cost: $30 million.

He wants to send a book to all Illinois children each month from birth to their 5th birthday. Cost: $26 million.

He wants to revive Project Success, a program that connects families of school kids to community services. Cost: $5 million.

He wants to install reading specialists in failing schools. Cost: $15 million.

He wants to create a statewide dropout prevention program. Cost: $2 million.

He wants to throw in another $65 million for a Chicago teacher pension grant and possibly $3.8 million to restore Golden Apple scholarship money, and suddenly we're talking real money.

Either Blagojevich's calculator works in mysterious ways, or this is New New New Math.

After outlining an ambitious education plan for the coming year, he shirked his duty and said he'd leave it up to lawmakers to figure out who actually gets what. No surprise, that bold act of leadership engendered the frenzied tussle seen today in Springfield among various educators for their promised budget crumbs.

There's a lot of whining in Springfield now about the governor's choice of words to describe lawmakers. He called them "narrow minded." They whined. That's all pretty amusing, really.

But Blagojevich does need to get his own hands into the budget process. He needs to sit down in Springfield and set and defend his budget priorities and allocate money in ways that best serve Illinois' children.

He can start by canning the Dolly Parton-inspired monthly book giveaway. While a nice and debatably worthwhile idea, it's one better left in the singer's home state of Tennessee.

First Lady Patti Blagojevich wants to import Parton's program to Illinois, writ large, to improve literacy and ensure that every child has her own library of 60 books by kindergarten.

Thousands of Illinois children, however, already have their copy of "Goodnight Moon," thank you very much, and don't need the state to ship yet another copy at taxpayer expense. Children with literacy problems likely also have parents who don't encourage reading--a problem neither easily nor efficiently solved by filling every infant and toddler's house with books.

If Blagojevich wants to increase education funding at a time of serious budget deficits, he should focus that expenditure on the two areas that will have the greatest impact: expanding preschool access to at-risk children and raising the foundation level of per pupil spending to help even out the gross funding disparities between rich and poor districts. A $250 per pupil increase, from $4,810 to $5,060, is probably too ambitious; it should be scaled back to ensure that some of the smaller, proven ideas such as preschool expansion and Project Success are fully funded.

Maybe then will Blagojevich be able to tout an education plan that actually computes.

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Senate OKs boost to per-pupil funding level  

Bill doesn't guarantee money in 2005 budget

By Doug Finke and Dorothy Schneider of Copley News Service, April 30, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois Senate on Thursday sent legislation to Gov. Rod Blagojevich boosting the per-pupil funding level in the state by $250 a year.

However, House Bill 4266 does not guarantee that more money will be devoted to schools in next year's state budget. A separate budget bill setting aside money to increase the "foundation level" for schools must be approved for that to happen.

The Senate voted 52-0, with two members voting present, to increase the guaranteed funding per student to $5,060 beginning July 1. The state now guarantees to give school districts $4,910 per student.

Increasing the foundation level by that amount will cost an additional $348.5 million next year. However, in his proposed budget, Blagojevich only called for a $400 million increase in total funding for public grade and high school education.

Sen. Pat Welch, D-Peru, said the bill sends a message that lawmakers want a substantial portion of increased education funding to go to increases in per-pupil spending.

"Our superintendents, when asked what they wanted to see us do, all came back and said the first thing is to increase the foundation level," Welch said.

That will leave little money left over for other education programs like poverty grants, transportation expenses and programs to help at-risk children get help at a younger age. Welch said the bill may give incentive to education interests to lobby the governor and lawmakers to provide education with a bigger increase next year.

Blagojevich made campaign promises to raise the foundation level by $250 a year in each of his four years as governor. The governor approved a $250 increase last year, and HB4266 would allow him to stay on track to fulfill his promise, said Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago.

Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said the governor supports the bill but does not plan to sign it until the entire budget process is completed.

"Governor Blagojevich asked members of the General Assembly to weigh in with how they want education money spent,' Rausch said. "He thinks that's a good choice."

Exactly how much money is devoted to education in next year's budget will be hashed out over the next few weeks in budget talks. Even if Blagojevich signs the bill approved Thursday, it does not require lawmakers to fully fund the foundation level.

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School walls may be for rent  

By Phil Weber, Herald-Whig Staff Writer, April 29, 2004 

The Quincy School Board Ad Hoc Revenue Committee is looking at advertising as a way to raise money for the cash-strapped district.

The committee discussed two advertising ventures Wednesday. The first proposal involves letting businesses hang signs in Blue Devil Gym and the second would bring advertising into school staircases, restrooms and locker rooms.

Neither proposal included an estimate of how much money it might generate for the district.

"We have to be entrepreneurial," said Herb Jackson, chairman of the committee.

Board member Tom Dickerson said advertisers could hang signs in Blue Devil Gym year-around for a fee. The district could charge several thousand dollars for large signs with multi-year contracts, or make arrangements to sell smaller signs on a year-to-year basis for around $700 apiece.

Quincy Notre Dame High School has had a similar policy for its gymnasium for several years.

"That has been a tremendous fund-raising effort for (QND)," Dickerson said. "This has gone so well that they've had to turn people away. They now have a waiting list (for the smaller signs)."

Paul Koscielski Jr., owner of Koscielski Advertising, said his company would like to open schools up to even more advertising possibilities.

Koscielski said he would supply the district with glass cases to display signs and posters throughout stairways, restrooms and locker rooms. He would then sell advertising space to area businesses and give 35 percent of the proceeds to the district.

He said the district would have the option to veto any objectionable advertising and the display cases would not be hung near classrooms.

"When students are in and around a classroom the focus on academics should be the goal and that environment should be preserved," he said. "When people are in and around classrooms, we want them thinking about class."

Koscielski said "the interest is already quite high" among area businesses who specialize in student-oriented or seasonal products, such as prom dresses, sports equipment and back-to-school supplies.

The district's advertising policy states that all ads that will be in place more than 90 days have to be approved by the School Board on an individual basis. Temporary ads are at the discretion of building administrators.

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Reinstate funding for scholarships  

Daily Southtown Editorial, April 30, 2004

We may be starting with a false assumption, but if Illinois lawmakers care at all about what their constituents think, they will find a way to restore funding for the Golden Apple Scholars program.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich provided no funding for the Golden Apple scholarship program in his 2004-05 budget. The governor says the move will save the state $3.8 million this year.

But it also will mean that about 400 college students training to be teachers will lose their $5,000-per-year scholarships.

This is the kind of decision the proverb writers had in mind when they invented "penny wise and pound foolish." The governor is proposing to save the equivalent of a drop in the ocean by eliminating a program that has been a big success. Designed primarily for low-income or minority students, the Golden Apple program has been doing an increasingly better job each year of training young teachers. In return for their scholarships, they commit to teaching for at least five years in schools where test scores are below standards or low-income students make up a high percentage of the enrollment.

The students also get an opportunity to be mentored by winners of the prestigious Golden Apple Foundation awards. On Tuesday, some 80 of those teachers and students traveled to Springfield to appeal to the General Assembly for funds to save the program. Lawmakers also heard from Allison Hilbert, a senior at Hubbard High School on Chicago's Southwest Side who has collected nearly 5,000 signatures on petitions imploring the Legislature to save the program.

Allison said she's hoping the level of support will help Blagojevich "figure out that it is a program that is important." We hope so, too.

And if lawmakers are looking for something else they can cut to save the Golden Apple Scholars program, here's a suggestion: the Illinois General Assembly Legislative scholarship program, which costs more than $8 million a year.

That program allows lawmakers to dole out eight one-year, full-tuition scholarships to people in their districts each year. That's not a bad thing, but the Golden Apple Scholars program provides money that targets a crucial need: committed teachers in high-risk schools.

There's no sound reason to eliminate either program, and the Legislature ought to demand that Blagojevich restore the Golden Apple Scholars funding.

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NATIONAL

Study: schools cutting soda lower obesity  

By Emma Ross, AP Medical Writer, April 22, 2004

LONDON -- School programs discouraging carbonated drinks appear to be effective in reducing obesity among children, a new study suggests -- the first research to document that such programs work.

A high intake of sweetened carbonated drinks probably contributes to childhood obesity, and there is a growing movement against soft drinks in schools. But until now there have been no studies showing that efforts to cut children's soft drink consumption would do any good.

The study, outlined this week on the Web site of the British Medical Journal, found that a one-year "ditch the fizz" campaign discouraging both sweetened and diet soft drinks led to a decrease in the percentage of elementary school children who were overweight or obese.

The improvement occurred after a modest reduction in consumption -- less than a can a day.

Representatives of the soft drink industry contested the implications of the results.

The study "reduced the average daily consumption of carbonated soft drinks by about 150 milliliters, or 35 calories -- half the reduction was in diet carbonated soft drinks. This represents about 2 percent of a child's calorie intake, not a significant amount," the British Soft Drink Association said in a statement.

The group said carbonated drinks provide only a fraction of children's daily calories and therefore should not be blamed for the childhood obesity epidemic.

However, other experts were impressed.

"If a simple targeted message aimed at kids can decrease development of obesity, by whatever means, that's groundbreaking," said Dr. David Ludwig, who runs a pediatric obesity clinic at Children's Hospital in Boston but was not connected with the study.

Previous studies of anti-obesity school programs -- some costing millions of dollars -- have been disappointing. Such programs, which included reducing dietary fat or trying to get kids to exercise more, largely failed to show any meaningful impact.

The investigators studied 644 children, aged 7 to 11, in six primary schools in Christchurch, England, during the 2001-2002 school year. Half the classes participated in a program discouraging both regular and diet sodas and stressing the benefits of a healthy diet, while the other half did not.

All students kept a diary of their soft drink consumption over one Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the beginning of the experiment and again for another three days at the end.

"They were told that by decreasing sugar consumption they would improve overall well-being and that by reducing the consumption of diet carbonated drinks they would benefit dental health," said the scientists, diabetes doctors and nurses at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital in southern England.

The program involved a one-hour session given to each participating class four times during the school year.

The first session focused on good health and the importance of drinking water. The children ate fruit to emphasize the sweetness of natural products and each class received a tooth immersed in cola to show its effects on teeth.

The second and third session involved a music competition in which classes were challenged to produce a song with a healthy message.

The final session involved art presentations and a classroom quiz based on a TV game show.

The percentage of overweight and obese children increased by 7.5 percent in the group that did not participate and dipped by 0.2 percent among those who did.

Consumption of soft drinks dropped by 0.6 glasses a day among the targeted children, but increased by 0.2 glasses a day among the children outside the program.

All the children drank more water than before. They had been told it improves concentration.

It was not possible to prove the weight improvements were linked to the decline in soda consumption because the children may have changed other aspects of their diet.

But experts said the important point was that the program reduced obesity rates through nutrition education.

Soft drink consumption has increased enormously in the United States and in Europe over the last three decades, and children are becoming increasingly overweight around the world.

The World Health Organization said that although the change in obesity in the study was small, the intervention was also modest.

"This is a promising finding," said Derrek Yach, who spearheads the agency's anti-obesity effort. "We would hope to see larger studies with more intensive interventions ... What happens when you combine this with the removal of vending machines? I'm sure you'd see even bigger beneficial effects."

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New federal initiative connects educators  

AP, April 22, 2004 

WASHINGTON -- The Education Department launched a program Wednesday that involves sending top educators around the country to share teaching tips with others in their field.

Called Teacher-to-Teacher, the initiative "will highlight real-world examples of how these teachers translate education research into practice that works in the classroom," said Education Secretary Rod Paige.

Designed also to help educators better understand and meet the standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the program includes workshops this summer in seven states, with teachers and principals meeting with education experts and officials, including Paige, to learn about successful ways to improve student performance.

Assistant Secretary Ray Simon said the department is accepting applications to attend the sessions and anticipates around 200 teachers and principals at each. They are scheduled for Boston, Denver, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, California, Orlando, Florida, Portland, Oregon, and St. Louis, Missouri.

The department, which also plans an education summit in Washington in July, hopes educators will return from the workshops to their school districts and train colleagues, though Simon said resources were limited to assist them in that.

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Failure to Retain Md. Program Pushing Older Teachers Out  

Pr. George's Has Most Retirees in Classrooms

By Nancy Trejos, Washington Post Staff Writer, April 23, 2004 

Brian Hunt was born, raised and educated in Prince George's County. So when he decided to become a teacher 36 years ago, he says, he didn't want to go anywhere else.

Now 57, Hunt teaches math at Langley Park McCormick Elementary School in Hyattsville. It's a job he said he's not ready to leave, yet he might have to do just that.

For the past four years, he's been employed under a state program that allows veteran teachers and principals to "retire" but still keep working. Many collect their full salaries and pensions, an arrangement intended to help fill the state's classrooms amid a national teacher shortage.

But the Maryland General Assembly ended its session this month without renewing the program, which expires June 30. Critics had complained that retired/rehired teachers, as they are known, were being paid too much money and not filling vital needs, such as teaching special education classes or working in troubled schools.

In the final days of its session, the legislature considered a compromise: requiring the teachers to be assigned to core academic subjects in low-performing schools, while being paid 70 percent of their pre-retirement salaries. Time ran out, though, before an agreement was reached -- to the dismay of the program's supporters.

"Did it need to be structured? Yes. But having it all go down? You shouldn't throw out the baby with the bath water," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's).

The state's school districts could lose about 900 of their retired/rehired teachers and principals, a third of them in Prince George's County. State education officials say the program's demise will worsen an acute teacher shortage. Maryland typically has about 8,000 teaching vacancies a year, and its teaching colleges graduate about 2,500 students a year.

"This will, by all measures, exacerbate the situation," said Ronald A. Peiffer, assistant state superintendent of schools. "It creates a lot of pressure."

The pressure falls heavily on Prince George's, which employs 345 public school teachers and 18 principals under the retired/rehired law, the most of any district in the state. Baltimore County is next with 165 teachers and 10 principals.

"At this time, for us to lose such a chunk of veteran certified teachers is a blow to the system," said Carol Kilby, president of the teachers union in Prince George's, where students have consistently struggled on standardized tests.

By law, the teachers can continue to work for their school systems, but their earnings cannot exceed a cap based on their pre-retirement salaries. They also can switch to another school district and continue earning regular salaries and pensions. For Hunt, who has a master's degree in elementary education, that means either leaving the county he has spent his entire career in, or continuing to work for $40,000 less.

"Now I'm left scrambling and trying to find out what to do for a job, which is not the situation I thought I'd be in," Hunt said.

He and other veteran teachers also say they worry about the potential drain of experience. "This is not an easy job. It takes a long time to learn how to do it," said Marilyn Phukan, who retired after more than 30 years and later was rehired to teach third grade at Langley Park McCormick Elementary School.

Steve Ciambor, 56, a physical education teacher at Gladys Noon Spellman Elementary in Cheverly and Templeton Elementary in Riverdale, is reluctant to leave the profession. "I thoroughly would love to teach another five years," he said. But after 33 years, he said, he expects to give up education and run a house-painting business.

Howard Burnett, chief administrator for human resources for the Prince George's school system, said he estimates he will have to hire 900 new teachers for next school year. That number will depend on how many of the retired/rehired educators decide to stay or leave for other districts.

"The loss of 340 highly qualified, experienced teachers would naturally have an effect," he said, "but we've started early with the recruitment cycle."

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Budget cutbacks leading to fewer standardized tests

Associated Press, Portsmouth Herald

MANCHESTER - State budget cutbacks mean New Hampshire students will take only two standardized assessment tests this year - reading and math.

Writing, science and social science tests will fall by the wayside for third-, sixth- and 10th-graders because there’s not enough money to administer them.

Officials say they are doing the bare minimum to satisfy the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Lawmakers required the Department of Education to use federal No Child Left Behind money for this year’s round of tests. When it fell short, tests were dropped.

"This is essentially the smallest amount we could get away with and still satisfy No Child and maintain our data stream somewhat," said Tim Kurtz, the department’s director of assessment. "But it disrupts the idea of following trends in science and social science."

State education officials are discussing moving the tests to the fall, instead of the spring. The May testing now used ends with about four weeks of school left - too little for teachers to launch into a new unit, but too late to start end-of-year review, Kurtz said.

Some educators feel that fall tests could provide a better idea of what students learned the year before.

Kurtz said the test would probably be given to fourth-, seventh- and 11th-graders. Juniors are more motivated than sophomores because they are preparing for SATs and college applications, Kurtz said.

State law says tests must include, but are not limited to, reading, language arts, science, history and geography.

Kurtz said the department worked closely with the Legislature as it approached the testing problem this year. It also worked with federal officials to make sure they approved the use of the No Child money and to be sure theyd be satisfied with the states reports of student progress.

"But when push comes to shove, it is not enough to run a whole assessment system. We ran with the part that is required by No Child Left Behind and what we need to produce adequate yearly progress reports," Kurtz said.

Testing cutbacks will give high schools about a week of instructional time back, said Frank Bass, Manchester assistant superintendent for secondary schools. Students are less likely to get test-fatigue that they developed over the two-weeks of testing, he said.

"We gave social studies last and that was always where we did our worst. The kids are burned out by then," he said.

Bass said the best thing the state could do would be to set a true standardized test.

"They keep changing the tests every year, so how are we supposed to develop a baseline on how our curriculum, our strategies, responses, whether we should add elements or take them out?" he asked.

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Researcher blasts No Child Left Behind and vouchers

Deborah Bach, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter

Educational writer and public schools advocate Gerald Bracey is well-known in some circles as an outspoken critic of charter schools, vouchers and President Bush's sweeping educational reform bill, the No Child Left Behind Act.

An author of numerous books on education, Bracey has held positions at Educational Testing Service, Indiana University, the Virginia Department of Education and Cherry Creek (Colo.) Schools.

The 63-year-old Arlington, Va., resident was here last week for a presentation to the Seattle School Board and offered his thoughts on a few timely issues.

On No Child Left Behind, which requires schools and districts to make "adequate yearly progress" in raising student achievement or face sanctions:

"When it first came out, what struck me so much about it is it was totally unlike anything else coming out of the Bush agenda. This is probably the most anti-regulatory administration since before the Great Depression.

"Everything (Bush has) done except for No Child Left Behind is very obviously aimed at helping corporate America and rolling back regulations. With No Child Left Behind, here comes this 1,100-page law with very strict requirements and hundreds of pages of regulations. I looked for an ulterior motive, and it wasn't very hard to find one.

"In the 2000 election, there were voucher referenda in both Michigan and California, and they both went down in flames, 70/30 in both states, even though the proponents of the vouchers outspent the opponents two to one.

"The original (No Child Left Behind) bill sent to Congress contained voucher provisions. Congress struck those, looking at the results from the 2000 elections. Bush has since brought them back; after five defeats, he finally got a voucher bill through Congress as part of the spending bill to provide $15 million a year for Washington, D.C., kids for vouchers.

"After the 2000 election, there really was an atmosphere that the day of vouchers is pretty much over. But when you bring in this concept of adequate yearly progress and have to have 100 percent of the kids proficient (in state-set academic standards) by 2014, and you have to do this not just with the school as a whole but for all these subgroups, the ethnic groups, the economic groups, the English language learners and the special-ed kids. They all have to be 100 percent proficient.

"This is a way of making people assume that good schools fail, and that's happening all over the country. It's going to get worse.

"To me, that would open the floodgates again for vouchers. Obviously the schools have failed -- vouchers are the answer."

On high-stakes testing:

"I think high-stakes (tests) generally are a bad idea. As soon as you make test scores important, then you introduce all kinds of corrupting influences.

"People start teaching to the test and gaming the system. You retain kids in the grade before they're tested so they'll do better the next year, but you greatly increase the probability that they'll drop out, too. That's become much more common.

"You can see it especially when kids are tested in 10th grade -- a lot of school districts have these huge bubbles of ninth-graders. People consider that a transition year and if you're not ready they'll hold you back. First grade and ninth grade are the big hold-back years.

"High-stakes tests create a great deal of anxiety, and they diminish the idea of learning for learning's sake, which I think is still a viable idea. I don't hear anyone talking these days, by the way, about lifelong learning. It seems to have dropped off.

"I can't imagine that anybody in kindergarten today would, 30 years later, write a book called 'Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.' Today, it would be 'Everything I Needed to Know About Sound-Symbol Correspondence and How To Be a Burned-out Learner by Fourth Grade I Learned in Kindergarten.'

"Because kindergarten is not a fun experience anymore in lots of places. The superintendent in one Maryland district recently eliminated nap time, saying, 'We can't have this kids' stuff anymore.' "

On charter schools and their future in Washington, where legislation allowing for charter schools was passed during the last session:

"When charter schools came along, I was ambivalent. I didn't start reaching firm -- mostly negative -- conclusions until the Florida State University Charter School Accountability Center commissioned this paper on charter school accountability and I started looking at the evaluations.

"The data that emerged, and it was a huge amount of data that came out in 2003, was overwhelmingly negative. There was a large study from RAND (Corp.) about California charters, and at one point it said California charter school students are keeping pace with demographically similar students in (traditional) public schools.

"I looked at the 2003 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) data, and in fourth-grade reading, California was 49th of 50 states. And in eighth grade, they tied Hawaii for last place.

"So to say that charter school kids are keeping pace in California means they're keeping pace with the lowest-scoring kids in the country. I mean, those kids are not doing as well as kids in Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana, and the traditional bottom feeders.

"The original promise, the one thing that all the charter school advocates said in the beginning was there's a trade-off -- you give us autonomy, we'll give you improved achievement. And in fact it has not worked out that way at all.

"What I would watch for here is since you don't have a history of charter schools, who's going to be interested in starting charter schools? My guess is in Washington it's not going to be parents or groups who have some vision of what education ought to look like. It's probably going to be attractive to the profit-making educational management organizations.

"The schools will be public, but they get some percentage of per- pupil expenditures for running the schools. They'll be run for profit and what that does, unless they're home-grown here in Washington, is remove decision-making to some remote place."

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Learning Feels Good 

Chelsey Broadcasting

Indiana Area School District 

Because of a slight decline in graduation rate, the Indiana Area School District is at risk of receiving a warning under the Pennsylvania Accountability System, aligned with the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Dr. Deborah Clawson, the district's coordinator of curriculum and instruction, announced at Monday's meeting that the district's statistics show the graduation rate dropped from 92.3 percent in 2002 to 91.58 percent in 2003.

The expectation under No Child Left Behind is a 95 percent graduation rate, Clawson said, and schools are required to be moving toward that mark.

Although the district's graduation rate is well above the national average, Clawson said, the decline - despite being less than 1 percent - is what counts right now.

"It's strictly a directional judgment," she said. "... The closer we get to 95 percent, the more challenging it is."

The school will submit its data to the state Department of Education by June 21, and a decision will be made this the summer.

Although it doesn't involve a penalty, the warning is "an alert that the district needs to examine its processes," Clawson said.

If the district is placed on the warning list, it will have a year to increase its graduation rate. Failure to do so by summer 2005 would place the district on the school-improvement list, and the district would be required to offer school choice and make a specific plan for improvement, according to the state Department of Education Web site.

Failure to improve the rate by summer 2006 would land the district a second year in school improvement, involving the same requirements as the first year, plus requiring the district to offer supplemental services, such as tutoring.

A fourth year of not meeting the target would bring the district into corrective action, which involves making changes in leadership, curriculum, professional development and other strategies. A fifth year below the target would add changes in governance, such as reconstitution, chartering or privatization.

According to Clawson, the district met all other requirements under the accountability system, including those for testing and attendance.

Also Monday, Clawson shared with board members the results of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment writing tests for grades six and nine taken in October 2003.

Although a target for the writing assessment is not included in No Child Left Behind, the assessment is useful at the local level, Clawson said.

"Writing is a critical piece of communication, so we take that very seriously," she said.

District-wide, about 60 percent of sixth-graders scored at the proficient level or higher and nearly 70 percent of ninth-graders scored proficient or better.

Clawson's announcements followed a presentation by second-graders Patrick Meyer, Helena Dadson, Brandon McGinnis and Isaac Mastalski on the reading program at East Pike Elementary School.

Clawson, along with district resident Guy Haberl and teachers Deb Patterson and Linda Jones of the Act 48 Committee, also gave an update on the Act 48 Professional Education Plan, which mainly involved pre-approval of continuing-education credits for teachers.

Act 48 requires that educators receive 180 hours or six credits of continuing education over a five-year period.

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Q: Are the tests required by No Child Left Behind making schools more accountable?    

By Secretary Rod Paige, Insight On the News, April 29, 2004

Yes: Testing has raised students' expectations, and progress in learning is evident nationwide.

Testing is a part of life. In fact, testing starts at the beginning stages of life: The moment we are born, neonatologists measure our reflexes and responses and give us what is called an Apgar score on a scale of one to 10. As we grow up, our teachers test us in school and we take other standardized tests that compare us with the rest of the nation's students. We are tested if we want to practice a trade - whether it be to get a cosmetology license, a driver's permit or pilot training. And often we are retested and retested again to show that our skills remain at peak level.

In short, tests exist for a reason. In the case of a doctor, they certify that he or she is capable of practicing medicine. In the case of a teacher, they show that he or she has the knowledge to help children learn a given subject. And in the case of a student, they demonstrate whether a child has indeed learned and understood the lesson or the subject.

At their core, tests are simply tools - they subjectively measure things. In education, they are particularly important because they pinpoint where students are doing well and where they need help. In fact, testing has been a part of education since the first child sat behind the first desk. Assessments are an important component of educational accountability; in other words, they tell us whether the system is performing as it should. They diagnose, for the teacher, the parent and the student, any problems so that they can be fixed.

Educational accountability is the cornerstone of the No Child Left Behind Act, President George W. Bush's historic initiative that is designed to raise student performance across America. The law embraces a number of commonsense ways to reach that goal: accountability for results, empowering parents with information about school performance and giving them options, more local control, and flexibility to tailor the law to local circumstances.

No Child Left Behind is a revolutionary change, challenging the current educational system and helping it to improve. It aims to challenge the status quo by pushing the educational system into the 21st century so that American students leave school better prepared for higher education or the workforce.

Educational accountability is not a new concept - several states have been instituting accountability reforms for years. No Child Left Behind builds on the good work of some of these states that were at the forefront of the reform movement. The truth is that this law has one goal: to get all children reading and doing math at grade level. It's that simple. The law itself is a federal law, but it is nothing more than a framework. Elementary and secondary education are the traditional province of state and local governments, which is why the specific standards, tests and most of the other major tenets of the law are designed and implemented by the state departments of education, because they are in the best position to assess local expectations and parental demands.

The federal role in education also is not a new concept. There is a compelling national interest in education, which is why the federal government is involved and has been for some time. The federal government has stepped in to correct overt unfairness or inequality, starting with measures to enforce civil rights and dismantle segregation in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education case (a Supreme Court decision that is now 50 years old). The federal government's first major legislative involvement in education goes back to 1965 with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which marked the first federal aid given to school districts with large percentages of children living in poverty. In 2001 the law was reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which preserves the states' traditional role but asks them to set standards for accountability and teacher quality, thereby improving the quality, inclusivity, fairness and justice of American education.

NCLB focuses on facts, not just feelings and hunches. It is no longer acceptable simply to believe schools are improving without knowing for certain whether they are. As Robert F. Kennedy asked back in 1965 when this federal education law was first debated, "What happened to the children? [How do we know] whether they can read or not?" With new state-accountability systems - and tests - we will have the full picture.

Let's examine what we do know. According to the nation's report card (the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP), only one in six African-Americans and one in five Hispanics are proficient in reading by the time they are high-school seniors. NAEP math scores are even worse: Only 3 percent of blacks and 4 percent of Hispanics are testing at the proficient level. This is the status quo result of a decades-old education system before the NCLB.

Of the 10 fastest-growing occupations in the United States, the top five are computer-related, which are jobs that require high-level skills. High-school dropouts need not apply. We are all concerned about outsourcing jobs overseas, and we should note that the unemployment rate for high-school dropouts is almost twice that of those with high-school diplomas (7.3 percent compared with 4.2 percent) and nearly four times that of college graduates (7.3 percent vs. 2.3 percent). For young black men the unemployment rate is a staggering 26 percent. Even a high-school diploma isn't the cure: A vast majority of employers sadly expect that a high-school graduate will not write clearly or have even fair math skills. No wonder a recent study claimed a high-school diploma has become nothing more than a "certificate of attendance." For millions of children, they were given a seat in the school but not an education of the mind.

It is clear that our system as a whole is not preparing the next generation of workers for the global economy ahead of them. As Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan noted recently: "We need to be forward looking in order to adapt our educational system to the evolving needs of the economy and the realities of our changing society. ... It is an effort that should not be postponed." That's why I am so passionate about making these historic reforms and drawing attention to the issue.

The old system - the status quo - is one that we must fight to change. That's why the president and both parties in Congress understood the urgency of the situation and put NCLB into law. They also ensured that the money would be there to get the job done, providing the means to states fully to implement the law; indeed, there's been 41 percent more federal support for education since President Bush took office.

But some defenders of the status quo have aired complaints about the law, saying its requirements are unreasonable and the tests are arbitrary. The bottom line is, these cynics do not believe in the worth of all children - they have written some of them off. You can guess which ones fall into that category. This pessimism relegates these children to failure. The president aptly refers to this phenomenon as the "soft bigotry of low expectations." But NCLB says the excuses must stop - all children must be given a chance.

NCLB helps us zero in on student needs. With little information about individual students' abilities with different skills, most teachers must rely on a "buckshot" approach to teaching their classes, aiming for the middle and hoping to produce a decent average. With an emphasis on scientifically based research techniques and effective use of information, NCLB helps fund programs that teachers can use to identify specific areas of weakness among their students.

For example, the Granite School District in Utah used Title I funds (support for economically disadvantaged students) to procure the "Yearly Progress Pro" computer program. Now a fourth-grade class at Stansbury Elementary School visits the computer lab for a quick 15-minute test each week; the teacher walks out with a printout identifying changes in performance in specific skill areas over the week.

Child by child, the improvements add up. For example, a study by the Council of Great City Schools examined the recent gains in large metropolitan school systems. The Beating the Odds IV report showed that since NCLB has been implemented, public-school students across the country have shown a marked improvement in reading. The report found that the achievement gap in reading and math between African-Americans and whites, and Hispanics and whites in large cities, is narrowing for fourth- and eighth-grade students. And it appears, according to the report, that our big-city schools are closing the gap at a faster rate than the statewide rate. Not only are the achievement gaps closing, the report states, but also math and reading achievement are improving.

For a concrete example of how the law is working, look at the Cheltenham School District in Pennsylvania, where leaders are disaggregating data to find the cracks they must fill. Drawing on test results, the district provides schools with specific information about each student's abilities and weaknesses in specific academic areas. Schools receive this data in easily accessible electronic formats in July, before the students arrive, giving them time to plan for the year. Now teachers can account for the effectiveness of their strategies and, if they are not working for some students, adapt to alternatives.

These findings are especially significant because research shows that it is often the students in the large-city schools who need the most help and face the greatest odds. Clearly, this report demonstrates that if you challenge students, they will rise to the occasion. This concept is at the fundamental core of NCLB because we can no longer mask our challenges in the aggregate of our successes. We must make sure that all children, regardless of their skin color and Zip codes, have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education.

While the press focuses on the complaints of the unwilling, whole communities are taking on the challenge of accountability and achieving great results. Perhaps my favorite example is in the Peck School in rural Michigan, where I visited in late March and found that the school culture had embraced the accountability treatment. A huge poster hangs in the hallway of the school emblazoned with No Child Left Behind! Showing creativity and commitment, the school launched a tutoring program, began intervening sooner with low-performing students, and even created a peer-counseling program to address the conflicts that often spill into the classroom and distract from learning. Everyone in the Peck School is taking responsibility for the students' education, truly fostering the character of good citizenship.

It is time to think of the children and to give them what they need. It is time to work to make the law successful. We need to create an American public educational system that matches the vision of this law, where we strive for excellence without exclusion, where our children achieve greatness rather than greatly underachieving, and where 10 or 20 years from now a new generation of adults realize that we gave them a better life because we had courage and conviction now.

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Baltimore embraces K-8 schools  

By Wiley Hall, Associated Press Writer, April 29, 2004

BALTIMORE -- Ten years ago, this city embarked upon a quiet but ambitious quest to reshape the school environment for children in the middle grades, 6 through 8.

Those young adolescents and preteens were the children most given to fits of drama. They posed the most daunting discipline problems. They seemed most in need of special nurturing and attention.

And so, Baltimore -- empowered by a rare consensus among parents, educators and politicians -- began combining many elementary and middle schools in single K-8 facilities. It's part of a quiet movement seen in other urban systems across the country.

In the early 1990s, Baltimore had eight such schools. This year, there were 30.

"I'd say the majority of those parents who are knowledgeable prefer to have K-8 schools in their community," says Michael Hamilton, president of the Baltimore Council of PTAs. "Parents who don't want them at first start fighting for them once they learn more about what a K-8 school is."

Parents like K-8 schools because they extend the nurturing atmosphere of elementary school to the difficult early adolescent years.

Educators like them because they seem to improve test scores.

And elected officials like them because K-8 schools appeal to skittish middle-class parents who tend to flee to the suburbs in search of better schools as their children get older.

"The only issue, as far as I can see, is that parents complain that the only communities getting the schools are the ones where the parents know enough to demand them," says Hamilton. "People are wondering, if it's such a good idea, why don't we create them for everyone whether parents demand them or not?"

School board president Patricia Welch says that K-8 schools are popular with both middle-class families and those living in poverty.

Middle-class families feel comfortable with their children attending school with children from the same neighborhood, says Welch. Parents in disadvantaged communities feel there is greater stability and discipline in K-8 schools.

"As an educator, I think a successful school comes down to its leadership, regardless of how it's configured," says Welch, who is dean of the School of Education and Urban Studies at Morgan State University. "But let's face it, we are all very, very conscious of the need to recruit and retain the middle class -- because they expand our tax base and because they add to the diversity of our city. If we can throw K-8 schools into the mix, we should do it."

City Councilman Melvin Stukes, who represents the predominantly black working and middle-class community of Cherry Hill, says K-8 schools "make all the sense in the world for all families. If I had my way, I'd tear down every elementary and middle school in the city and rebuild them along the K-8 model." 

Some cities are coming close to doing just that.

In Philadelphia, schools chief Paul Vallas plans to replace virtually every middle school over the next few years as a key part of his strategy to boost student achievement. He was spurred by research from the nonprofit Philadelphia Education Fund suggesting that eighth graders at K-8 schools score higher than their counterparts at traditional middle schools, which typically are composed of grades 6-8.

"To not do so is the equivalent of educational malpractice since you can't argue with the facts and the facts are that large, high-poverty middle schools simply do not work in an urban environment," says Vallas, who participated in a similar initiative in Chicago.

Milwaukee, which had 10 K-8 schools three years ago, plans to have at least 60 by December 2005. Four other communities have petitioned to have K-8 schools as well, says Aquine Jackson, director of Milwaukee's Office of Neighborhood Schools.

In the future, the only middle schools in Milwaukee will be magnet schools specializing in subjects such as science or the arts, Jackson said. The majority of the city's preteens will someday attend small, community-based, K-8 schools, he predicts.

Educators in Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Florida, California, Oklahoma and Tennessee have moved toward K-8 schools in varying degrees.

However, some educators warn that K-8 schools also have their drawbacks.

Because they are more likely to be built upon the elementary school model, many K-8 schools lack facilities and programs for middle school courses such as algebra and the sciences.

"There's been very little strong research about their effectiveness," notes Vincent Ferrandino, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

When Baltimore began converting schools in the mid-1990s, the school board asked for a comparison of test scores in Baltimore as well as a review of the available data nationwide.

Administrators reported in November 2001 that students in K-8 schools had significantly higher scores in reading, language arts and mathematics than their counterparts in K-5 and 6-8 schools, were 20 percent more likely to pass the state's standardized tests, and had slightly better attendance. Students in K-8 schools also were significantly more likely to attend one of the city's flagship citywide high schools, educators found.

Mariale Hardiman, principal of Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, says the K-8 model approach even affects parental involvement.

"Normally, as kids move up in grade parental participation drops off," Hardiman says. "We're finding that our elementary school parents are a good influence on our middle school parents. They tend to serve as role models and keep them involved in the school."

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Short on books, Texas school uses laptops  

By David Koenig, AP Business Writer, April 29, 2004

DALLAS -- This fall, all fifth- and sixth-graders at the suburban Forney Independent School District will be hauling all their textbooks around all the time. Oh, and each will also be carrying around 2,000 works of literature.

The texts will be digital, stored on IBM laptop computers.

Mike Smith, superintendent of the fast-growing Forney district, sees technology solving a perennial problem -- a shortage of textbooks and months-long delays getting new ones.

Forney is the nation's first district to sign up with IBM Corp. for notebooks loaded with content from software company Vital Source Technologies Inc. of Raleigh, N.C.

"If the students have all of Shakespeare's works loaded on their notebook, the school doesn't need to go out and buy all of those books," said Will Moore, an executive in IBM's education business. "And the real benefit is that it's all interactive and searchable."

School districts in Maine, Michigan and elsewhere already provide laptops to students, but prepackaged content is often limited.

Smith said he may buy laptops for other grades if this fall's experiment goes well, but added that price is a factor. Smith says Forney paid $1,000 each for 150 prepackaged laptops; IBM says the laptop alone normally costs $1,350.

"A child's set of textbooks costs $350," Smith said. "If they can get these notebooks down to $500, it gets cost-effective in a hurry."

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Fla. Students Turn to Maine for Diplomas  

By Sean Cavanagh, 4/28/04

Frustrated in their attempts to pass the state graduation test and receive high school diplomas, some Florida students are securing the prized credentials by a different route: a private school in Lewiston, Maine.

For many of those students, including recent Haitian immigrants in Miami, the primary roadblock to passing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test has been a lack of skill in written English.

Their unorthodox maneuver is drawing attention among parents around the country—particularly those with children in special education—who have sought ways around state exit exams they believe are unfairly denying their children diplomas.

Even as Florida officials decry such steps, several observers predict more people are likely to seek similar loopholes in state graduation-test policies. Florida is one of 20 states that require students to pass a high school exit exam if they want a traditional diploma.

"As states raise their standards, they’re going to face all sorts of ingenious ways of avoiding those standards," said Jack Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington organization that has studied the graduation tests. "You never know where the holes are in some of these laws until people try it."

For now, the Miami students are able to secure diplomas by making a modest payment to the Maine school and submitting their high school transcript.

"Many of our students who wished to go to college and get an education were being held back through the exit exam," said Jean-Rene Foureau, a high school teacher and advocate in Miami’s Haitian community, who is helping the students work with the Maine school. "We decided to look for an alternative."

$255 Fee

Two years ago, 19-year-old Suze Barthelemy moved from Haiti to join her father in Miami. Her first language is Creole, and though she had studied English off and on since she was 13, she wasn’t fluent upon enrolling at Miami Edison Senior High School.

That weakness showed when Ms. Barthelemy took the FCAT, as the Florida test is known. While the resident of Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood passed the exam’s mathematics section, she failed the reading portion twice. As a result, she left Edison High last year with a certificate of completion, rather than a diploma. Ms. Barthelemy feared that her lack of a diploma would block her path to higher education.

"College is the way to your dreams," she said this month. "If you can’t go to college, you can’t reach that goal."

Mr. Foureau, who is the president of the Haitian Refugee Center in her neighborhood, told her about North Atlantic Regional Schools. Not long after sending an academic transcript to the Maine private school and paying a $255 tuition fee, Ms. Barthelemy received a diploma. Florida students who attend private schools, including those within the state, are not required to pass the FCAT to receive a diploma.

Soon afterward, Ms. Barthelemy enrolled at Miami-Dade College, a two-year institution where she studies nursing. She hopes to attend a four-year college someday.

Ms. Barthelemy is not alone in that ambition, or her strategy in pursuing it.

Public high school seniors in Florida must pass the FCAT or the General Educational Development test to earn a diploma, in addition to meeting requirements for course credits and grade point average. Students begin taking the the FCAT graduation test in 10th grade and can retake it as many times as necessary to pass after 12th grade.

Last year, when the FCAT graduation requirement first took effect, state lawmakers also allowed seniors in the 2003 graduating class to receive diplomas if they had achieved a set score on the SAT or ACT college-entrance exam. Legislation is pending that would extend the same option to this year’s seniors.

Like her classmate Ms. Barthelemy, Edison High alumna Stiphania Fourron, 22, passed the math section of the FCAT, but wasn’t able to pass the English portion. The first time she took the test, the native of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince had been in the United States for only a few weeks.

She picked up a North Atlantic Regional diploma last fall; she says she will encourage others to do the same.

"Rich people go to private schools," she said. "They get their high school diplomas. Why not us?"

That reasoning is shared by Mr. Foureau, who, along with working at the Haitian Refugee Center, teaches social studies at Edison High. Today, the native of Haiti helps students who come to the center prepare for tests such as the FCAT and the SAT and assists them in filling out college financial-aid forms.

Mr. Foureau said he got in touch with North Atlantic Regional Schools last year after seeing several promising students leave Edison High without diplomas. He helped negotiate the reduced price from North Atlantic’s $350 annual tuition for the Miami students. So far, he knows of about 80 students he has been in contact with from Miami who have received diplomas through the Maine school. A North Atlantic official said not all of those students had been referred through Mr. Foureau, or the Haitian center.

Serving Home Schoolers

North Atlantic Regional Schools, which was founded in 1989, serves about 2,000 students, who come from every state, said Steve Moitozo, the school’s administrator and founder. A majority are home-schooled students who are seeking an academic structure for their work and, eventually, a high school diploma, he said.

The school has some 400 students from Florida, about 150 of whom Mr. Moitozo believes have sought out the school because of struggles with the FCAT.

Until recently, the Maine program had provisional accreditation from a group called the National Private Schools Association, which has executive offices in Georgia and Florida. Last week, North Atlantic Regional received full accreditation from the association, the organization confirmed.

Students seeking a diploma from North Atlantic Regional are required to have accumulated 17½ course credits. They do not have to visit the Maine school to graduate. Mr. Moitozo said course transcripts that students submit are evaluated thoroughly.

"This is not a ‘Hello, I need my diploma’ kind of program," Mr. Moitozo said. "This is work. It’s real work, to get real credits."

In recent months, Mr. Moitozo said, the school has been contacted by about 20 public high school students from Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, and Texas who told him they were seeking his program because of worries about their states’ exit exams.

Word of the Maine school has spread quickly. An article published on Wrightslaw, a Deltaville, Va.-based organization that provides online advice to parents and advocates who have or work with children with disabilities, describes the Maine program under the headline "Exit Exams Can Be Optional If You Plan Ahead." In 2003, 1.1 million visitors downloaded files from Wrightslaw’s Web site, the site says.

Not everyone sees North Atlantic Regional’s impact as positive. Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Frances Marine said state officials believe the program offers students a misleading shortcut.

‘Essentially Worthless’

"The concern is, ‘Well, what are students getting for this diploma?’" she said. Giving teenagers that credential without having tested them academically, Ms. Marine added, amounts to "setting them up for failure."

Ms. Marine noted that Florida law already allows students to gain admission to any of the state’s 28 community colleges without a high school diploma, if they meet minimum high school GPA and credit requirements and take placement tests at those institutions. Students who score poorly on the college placement exams must take remedial classes, she said.

"It’s really unfortunate that schools would take [students’] money and offer them credentials that are essentially worthless," Ms. Marine said.

Yet the department spokeswoman acknowledged that Florida officials appear to have no way of preventing the Maine private school option.

Maine Commissioner of Education Susan A. Gendron said North Atlantic Regional had the right to operate under state laws governing private schools. Her department was reviewing the approval process for private schools, she added, and could ask Maine legislators next year to enact stricter rules for such institutions.

"Clearly, all of us are wanting a diploma to reflect what a student knows and is able to do," Ms. Gendron said.

Mr. Moitozo said Florida officials’ concerns with his program were misguided and ultimately hypocritical. He cited provisions of Florida law, some of which he posts on his school’s Web site, granting private schools considerable freedom from state oversight.

"Florida has a clear hands-off approach" to private schools, he said. "How can [Florida officials] make public statements about the internal policy workings of a private school?"

Mr. Jennings, of the Center on Education Policy, called the Miami students’ maneuver around Florida’s exit-test requirement "unfortunate." He also questioned whether schools such as North Atlantic Regional could interpret much about students’ academic strengths, and deem them diploma-worthy, from looking at transcripts.

Although he predicts state lawmakers around the country will scrutinize similar practices as they arise, he doubts they will crack down any time soon.

"Legislatures are very afraid of regulating private schools," Mr. Jennings said.

Special Needs

English-language learners are not the only students to have used the private school route to a high school diploma because of difficulty meeting public school mandates. In at least a few instances, students with disabilities have chosen that option, though some families did so in part because they were seeking more specialized educational services for their children.

After repeatedly failing Indiana’s Graduation Qualifying Exam, Heather Knoblauch enrolled in an alternative education program operated by Ombudsman Educational Services, a company that contracts with school districts nationwide to serve students with nontraditional needs.

Ms. Knoblauch left her public school in Woodburn, Ind., and spent a year taking classes in core academic subjects from Ombudsman staff members working at a satellite facility in New Haven, Ind., a 10-minute bus ride from her hometown. She earned an Ombudsman diploma in 2001.

"After [several] years of searching, it was the only option for us," said Ken Knoblauch, her father. "I can’t think of many stones we didn’t try to turn over."

All Ombudsman students must take tests evaluating their academic skills and be enrolled at least a semester to be eligible for a diploma, said Jim Bryant, the director of district relations for the company, which is based in Libertyville, Ill. Other than Ms. Knoblauch, Mr. Bryant knew of only one other student who had chosen the program because of difficulties with a state exit exam.

A Private Option

Candace Cortiella, a member of the advisory board for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, a New York City-based advocacy organization, believes few families of students with special needs are seeking out such a private school switch—partly because of costs, but also because many state exit exams are relatively new.

"There are all kinds of reasons why parents of students with disabilities would take [children] out of their public schools," Ms. Cortiella said, "and this is not at the top of the list."

One parent, Ann McDonald-Cacho, withdrew her son, Philip, from a public school in Berkeley, Calif., because she worried that he would be denied a diploma because of California’s exit exam. (The state recently delayed the impact of that test until 2006.) Her son, who has cerebral palsy, is now home schooled, though he receives some services through the 9,000-student Berkeley school district. His current academic schedule will not allow him to receive a public high school diploma, Ms. McDonald-Cacho said.

Ms. McDonald-Cacho first learned of the North Atlantic Regional program last year. For now, she’s rejected the idea of seeking out a diploma through that private school.

"There’s something in me that says it’s a crazy thing to do," Ms. McDonald-Cacho said. But she added: "I’ll never say never."

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Rod Paige offers high praise for No Child Left Behind  

Education secretary marks 50th anniversary of Brown decision with Kennedy School keynote address

By Cara Feinberg, Special to the Harvard News Office, 4/29/04

Fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education officially opened the door to  

Secretary of Education Paige answered a series of tough questions after his talk, mostly about high-stakes testing. (Photo by Marc Halevi) 

racial equality in the United States, "education is still the best place to continue pushing for change," U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige told a packed audience at the Kennedy School of Government Thursday (April 22).

In his keynote address for a conference marking the golden anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision to end racial segregation in American schools, the secretary lauded the verdict as one of the finest moments in American judicial history. But a half-century later, there is still much ground to cover, Paige said. "Education is the battlefront; there are islands of true excellence in education ... but millions of children in this country are still being left behind."

Paige's provident opening speech set the tone for the conference, held April 22-24 by the Kennedy School's Program on Education Policy and Governance. Convened at a critical juncture in history - 50 years since Brown and 25 years before the Supreme Court-mandated end of affirmative action in university admission policies - the conference, titled "50 Years After Brown," examined both the impact of the historic Supreme Court decision, and the promises it has yet to fulfill. Panel discussions focused on issues facing elementary and secondary education: the role of preschool programs in closing the achievement gap; the connection between academic funding and student achievement; the effect of education accountability systems; and the impact of school choice.

Formerly the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, Paige came to national attention when, in 2001, President George W. Bush appointed him Paige offers some answers

Following his speech, Paige took questions from the audience, many of whom were students of educational policy at the Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Though he declined to answer any questions about his recent off-the-cuff and admittedly ill-advised characterization of the National Education Association (NEA) as a "terrorist organization" - Paige dismissed one student's query about the incident with the cogent statement: "I've had many opportunities to comment on that and I don't have anything to add to it; my comments stand as they were made" - he did engage in open debate when others raised questions about NCLB. Several questions were raised about NCLB's emphasis on high-stakes tests: Did he worry that such a goal would make educators "teach to the test?" How did he justify linking high school graduation to one single exam? What good will those tests be if teachers are not taught to use the data they provide?

Paige answered each question by reminding the audience that the pace of change is often slow. Indeed it takes time to coordinate all the resources across each state, but "we hope the tests are aligned specifically to the standards states have set," he explained. The tests and standards should be "the same thing." If teachers are "teaching to the test," then that means they are simply teaching important material kids need to know, he said.

Paige again defended the content and design of the test itself when answering questions about its 'high stakes.' "The highest stake of all is a child not getting an education," said Paige, in response to a criticism of its severity. "We should enable success, but I don't object to making decisions based on how a student performs on a valid, reliable, objective assessment tool."

It is this information that will change the face of American education, Paige argued. Once student performance data is disaggregated and made visible, he said, teachers will get feedback about the true state of education for every ethnic group. They must use that data to inform their lessons, said Paige, and to directly address the achievement gap. "Dissatisfaction is a powerful motivator for action," he reasoned. "The reasons to assess is to get more information." 

the seventh U.S. secretary of education. Bush cited Houston as a model school district; under Paige's leadership, test scores rose 20 percent and the dropout rate decreased by half, even as the district's proportion of low-income students increased by 13 percent. Paige's emphasis on accountability, high-stakes testing, and high expectations for all students were commended by the president, and are now central components of his sweeping educational reform plan, No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

In his speech, titled, "Beyond Brown: Unfinished Business," Paige repeatedly praised the NCLB plan, calling it the next logical step to Brown. "Brown opened the door to equality," Paige said. "Now NCLB can provide something of substance inside the building."

The most sweeping federal educational legislation to date, NCLB was passed in 2002 with strong bipartisan support. It has since become a lightning rod of controversy for educators, parents, administrators, and policy-makers. Aimed at narrowing the achievement gap that exists among different ethnic groups, the policy requires states to implement accountability systems for all students in the public schools. Both students and teachers must meet standards; states must develop progress goals and annual tests to ensure that all students reach proficiency within 12 years. School districts and schools that fail to show adequate yearly progress will be subject to improvement, corrective action, and restructuring measures aimed at helping the school and its students meet the standards.

According to Paige, despite the years of effort since Brown to equalize education, the achievement gap persists as our most pressing social problem. "It is the civil rights issue of our time," he asserted. Despite some recent improvement, studies show that by the time students reach the 12th grade, only 1 in 6 black students, and 1 in 5 Hispanic students can read at grade level, Paige said. Math scores are even more shocking: only 3 percent of blacks and 4 percent of Hispanics test at proficient levels by their senior year.

"It is devastating for a child to be provided no intellectual tools, and to be set adrift with no means of finding his way back," said Paige. "When a child is left behind, it is not just a problem for that child, it is a problem for the rest of the nation."

Although Paige cited evidence from a recent report by the Council of Great City Schools that indicated students in the largest urban school districts had shown improvement under NCLB, he cautioned educators and policy-makers not to rest on their laurels. There are profound consequences for our children and our nation if we don't build on this progress, he cautioned.

With so much work ahead, legislators must strive for common goals that can be championed by members of both political parties, said Paige. Without bipartisan support, there will be no meaningful, lasting reform. Resistance to Brown was massive and was sustained over generations, Paige explained. "We can't afford to have that long an argument over this. Those who fought against Brown were on the wrong side of history. I believe those who fight against NCLB will be judged so as well."

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Advocates work to save vocational ed  

By Michael Gormley, Associated Press Writer, April 30, 2004

ALBANY, N.Y. -- At a time when states and the nation are emphasizing math, languages and sciences, industries are encouraging vocational education, even going as far as offering one of the richest scholarships in North America for starting a dead sedan.

The National Automotive Technology Competition sponsored by auto makers and tool companies earlier this month offered $3 million in prizes.

Matt Bushnell and Todd Clark, both from Albany suburbs, beat nearly 40 teams from as far away as Los Angeles and Toronto in the two-day competition in New York City. The test was to find as many bugs as they could in a modern car with 36 or more onboard computers -- more than the Apollo lunar module.

They walked away with full scholarships to two-year automotive colleges, new cars upon graduation and thousands of dollars worth of tools. The prize also included $35,000 in tools and equipment and a 2004 Toyota Camry to work on in class for their school, the Capital Region Career & Technical School of the Capital Region BOCES.

As academic standards rise, some fear a decline in the vocational education that for decades has produced the nation's entry-level craftsmen.

Preliminary studies suggest fewer students are majoring in vocational education as states and the federal No Child Left Behind Act demand better performance in core academic subjects, said James Stone III, director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education at the University of Minnesota.

"What I worry about is how we are turning a lot of kids off," Stone said. "The impact is if you tell a principal or a school district or a state, `Your funding is contingent on how many students show up every day and pass a test,' that's what you pay attention to."

He said the center is studying how to better integrate core lessons in math, science and languages into vocational education. New York, Massachusetts and Michigan are leading such efforts, he said.

Vocational education students increasingly have to pass college prep math, science and language standardized tests required for all students, plus standardized tests in their vocations.

"In a very odd juxtaposition of education policy, we are now requiring an even higher standard for graduation for youngsters who go to a vocational school," said Steven Sanders, chairman of the New York Assembly's Education Committee. "I am told by people in vocational technical schools that it is really discouraging youngsters from attending these schools and in some cases, that means students drop out."

In Washington and deficit-riddled statehouses, some education aid long reserved for vocational studies is being shifted to core academic instruction. The Association for Career and Technical Education based in Alexandria, Va., is now lobbying against cuts in aid for vocational education under No Child Left Behind.

"When we try to establish a one-size-fits-all approach, it invariably results in neglecting a whole cohort of students who were very well-served and society was very well-served by," Sanders said.

Jonathan Burman of the state Education Department says students in technical fields need strong math and reading skills.

"People typically pursue many jobs and careers throughout their lives, and they need the ability to adapt to a complex and changing economy," he said.

The state has 585 programs merging tech classes with core lessons. The number of New York students in vocation and technical programs declined from 319,705 in 1992 to 216,042 in 2001. Last year, it rose to 272,679.

Bushnell and Clark, who also had to fill out efficient work orders and diagnose specific problems as part of the test earlier this month, agree.

"I've seen mechanics who couldn't write, but I think it's a very important part of it," said Clark.

"They do a pretty good job of integrating all our classes," Bushnell said. "I think math and English are pretty important, too."

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Absentee Rate Has LAUSD Worried  

A new report on the problem raises concerns over the cost of hiring replacement teachers

By Cara Mia DiMassa, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 4/30/04

About 7% of Los Angeles Unified School District employees are absent from work on any given day, a number that is much higher than national averages and is triggering concern about the $172 million spent last year to hire substitute teachers and other replacements, according to a report released Thursday.

As a result, officials are calling for changes in the ways the district discourages — or inadvertently encourages — employee absenteeism. But that could take a lot of negotiating with unions and possible changes in state law to prevent abuses.

The district study represents the first time the nation's second-largest school system has seriously considered its absentee rate, said L.A. Unified Chief Operating Officer Tim Buresh, who presented it to a school board committee.

"There is cause for great pause here," Buresh said. "I am concerned with our absolute level. I am concerned with the fact that it is increasing. That has a potentially huge impact on the education of the children and a huge cost impact for us."

The absence rate for employees such as principals and teachers, labeled "certificated" in education-speak, was 6.9% in 2002-03. The rate for classified employees, a broad term that includes everyone from office clerks to cafeteria workers to bus drivers, was 7.6% that same year. While most of the district's nearly 97,000 employees have good attendance records, about 11,000 have been absent more than 20 days in each of the last five years, according to Buresh.

Federal statistics in the report put the lost work-time rate for employees in education services at 1.6% nationwide and 2.3% for state employees in California. But other big-city school districts with strong unions have rates similar to those in Los Angeles: New York City's teacher absentee rate is 6.2% and Chicago's is 5%, according to published accounts of other studies.

Buresh said he didn't consider the differences between Los Angeles and other large districts significant because they might involve different reporting methods. But he did suggest that Los Angeles' climate sometimes makes the absentee rate climb as people take advantage of the sunshine to play hooky. Last Friday, 3,500 teachers called in sick and the district ran out of substitute teachers.

The district estimates that in the 2002-03 school year, it spent $172 million for overtime and substitute teachers and other replacements. Including lost work time, absenteeism cost the district about $432 million, the study found.

State law grants school employees about one sick day per month at full pay, or about 10 days a year for most teachers. They receive an additional 90 days sick time at half pay before they have to switch to long-term leave.

The law, said Buresh, creates problems for the district. "A lot of people can live quite well on half pay. It lends itself to abuse."

Employees are considered absent when they take time off from work for illness, personal necessity, bereavement or jury duty. Vacation and holidays are not counted.

District officials said there is a direct link between the number of days a teacher is absent and student performance. Students of the most frequently absent teachers score notably worse on standardized tests, according to the report.

Principals say they are looking for ways to reduce teacher absenteeism.

Thomas G. Delgado, principal at Albion Street School, just north of downtown Los Angeles, said absenteeism "is a big disruption to the education program of students. It does affect students' learning if they don't have the same teacher over and over again."

The report was welcomed by school board member Marlene Canter, who heads the district's Human Resources Committee, which reviewed it Thursday. She said school employees must serve as role models for children and show up at work. "I feel that the human-relations part of our business … directly impacts the classroom, and everything we do," she said.

Buresh said he hoped to reduce the cost of absenteeism by half.

Among the proposals being considered by the district is a reexamination of its incentive plan. L.A. Unified spends about $2 million a year to encourage teachers to show up, partly with pay bonuses and partly with retirement accounts. Other school employees receive extra vacation days for not using sick days.

Sam Kresner, executive assistant to the president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, said the $2 million in incentives "is peanuts." But he stressed that the union is open to changes. "We want to talk about what are the underlying causes of absenteeism. We are trying to see if we can sit down with the district and find out what is causing illness," he said.

Connie Moreno, labor relations representative for the California School Employees Assn., a union that represents office workers and other support staff, said she wasn't surprised by the report and thought the Los Angeles district could do a better job of cutting absenteeism. "The district is so lax, there is no single policy," she said.

In a year when the district has cut almost $500 million from its budget and is headed into what is expected to be contentious negotiations over benefits and compensation for employees, unions may be agreeable to finding ways to reduce absenteeism, Moreno said.

"If there could be savings that could definitely be applied to the increased cost of health benefits, I honestly believe you could get buy-in from every union in the district," she said.

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KC board takes over Westport Charter School  

Audit alleges mismanagement

By DEANN SMITH, Kansas City Star, 4/29/04

The Kansas City school board voted Wednesday night to retake control of the largest charter school in the city after an audit alleged financial and academic mismanagement.

A financial audit of the Westport Community Secondary Charter School found apparent conflicts of interest for eight of 12 board members. The audit, conducted by the independent accounting firm KPMG, says the Westport board kept poor business records, issued contracts without taking bids and voted without having enough members for a quorum. Also, auditors were unable to account for $1.6 million in school funding, but further details about that were unavailable Wednesday night.

Duane Fox, the president of Westport's board, disputed the allegations, saying in a statement earlier in the day that the report contained “glaring inaccuracies.”

The Kansas City Board of Education voted 7-1 to deny Westport's request to renew its charter and to let the contract lapse after June 30. Westport officials vowed to fight the rejection in court.

Westport is one of 18 charter schools in Kansas City. It is the only one sponsored by the Kansas City School District.

Charter schools operate with public money within the boundaries of the Kansas City and St. Louis school districts, but are run by their boards independent of the district boards.

This is the first time Westport had to apply for renewal of its charter.

District officials said the transition from a charter school would be smooth with little disruption to students. About half of the 101 teachers already are district employees, and they could remain at Westport or seek assignment to another school. The other teachers would have to apply for jobs with the district.

The district's report was presented Wednesday evening to the Kansas City school board.

Kansas City Superintendent Bernard Taylor Jr. said Westport recently had made some academic strides, but he said the financial management and governance issues made it necessary to recommend the district resume control of the two campuses in the 300 block of East 39th Street.

Citing apparent conflicts of interest, the audit said three board members were teachers at Westport and four board members were either paid directly for contractual services or work for a company that was. Another board member works for a nonprofit organization that provided counseling services to students, but no records of payment or a contract was found, the audit said.

The district's report did not name the board members.

Fox defended having Westport teachers on the board. In a statement, he said the school “strongly believes teachers are valuable members of the board.”

State law prohibits district employees from serving as school board members for their employers. However, no such prohibition exists for charter school employees.

Fox also said board members who provided services to Westport did so “at a cost below market cost, full disclosure was made, and the affected board members did not vote on issues involving their services.”

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, who received the report on Tuesday, said in a statement that the allegations of “conflicts of interest and self-dealing” were significant and that his office would review the claims.

KPMG auditors also said they found that Westport's financial records were “inconsistent and disorganized,” including piles of unorganized paid purchase orders and invoices.

Westport, the auditors said, had no system for tracking expenses, made large purchases without board approval, bought items such as air conditioners without taking bids, had no approved annual budget, paid a teacher for eight hours of work when she worked just five hours, and gave extra pay to teachers with no apparent explanation.

The auditors said Westport's business office employees were insufficiently trained.

Westport is “at risk of making unsound financial decisions,” the KPMG audit said.

The district's Westport Middle School and Westport High School became a charter school in July 1999, with the Kansas City school board agreeing to serve as its sponsor.

Westport contracted with Edison Schools Inc., a for-profit management company, to oversee its operations but ended that arrangement last year.

Westport officials said any problems were the result of the transition from Edison control to local control, and they denied the school was on unsound financial footing.

Fox blasted the school district Wednesday afternoon for dumping the audit on charter school officials just nine hours before the meeting.

“This report we received at 9:30 this morning is very slanted and inaccurate,” he said.

He also contended that the district had ignored its responsibilities in overseeing Westport's middle and high school campuses for the past five years.

School district officials said they did adequately monitor Westport. They said Westport's academic achievement problems were serious, but with extra help possibly could have been fixed. However, they said, the financial problems were too serious to overcome.

“The district does not have the statutory authority or the resources necessary to implement the kinds of drastic financial management and governance reforms needed to put the school back on a solid footing,” said Maurice Watson, an attorney for the Kansas City school board.

Harriett Plowman, a Kansas City board member who cast the only dissenting vote, argued for more time. She said the charter school had deserved more support and attention from the school district.

“We have been a lousy sponsor,” Plowman said.

Joel Pelofsky, another board member, supported the recommendation to reject the charter's renewal. But he urged administrators to keep talking with Westport leaders to see whether a solution could still be found.

But board President David A. Smith said the school district had made enough academic strides in the past five years to justify taking over Westport.

“I see no upside for the children to continue in this arrangement (as a charter),” Smith said.

District officials said Westport's academic scores in every area but one were lower than the district average. However, that average includes Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, whose students must meet minimum academic qualifications to enroll and stay enrolled. Several of the other district high schools have worse state reading and math scores than Westport.

Westport, which used a curriculum provided by Edison until last year, now is using the Kansas City district's 2002 curriculum.

Westport leaders were smarting over the way the Kansas City school district handled the vote. The charter school first saw the audit early Wednesday and raced to write a rebuttal — one that Kansas City Board of Education members couldn't have reviewed before the vote. Moreover, Westport leaders complained they were given only seven and a half minutes to make their case during the meeting Wednesday night.

“We believe the administration is doing this to get the revenue from the students,” Fox said.

David Coale said he has been happy with the attention his younger brother Jeremy, 13, has gotten as a student at Westport. The older Coale said his brother's scores have improved since he started there.

“I don't see any reason for him to move,” David Coale said. “It's a safe school.”

Kenneth Cloud, a counselor at Westport Middle, has been at the building since before the charter school started. There is more discipline now and more structure, he said. But he criticized the Kansas City School District for failing to assist Westport enough.

“We're set up to fail,” Cloud said.

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