News Clips – April 30 to May 7, 2004
Blagojevich shows two sides / Lincoln
Some Democrats see cooperative spirit emerging
By Christopher Wills,
Blagojevich holds news conferences to demand that lawmakers pass his budget. He calls them narrow-minded servants of special interests. He dismisses the importance of meeting with legislative leaders.
hold special hearings to scrutinize the governor's proposals. They reject
his nominees for government jobs. They accuse him of spending too much
But that's the public side of the relationship.
Lawmakers - the Democrats, anyway - say that behind the scenes Blagojevich and his aides are more cooperative than ever. They describe an administration that is working with lawmakers and interest groups on issues ranging from medical malpractice to education reform.
Sen. Denny Jacobs, often a critic of the governor, said he has simply learned to accept that the public Blagojevich is different from the private one.
"He's got a public persona, and his handlers tell him what makes him look good with the public," said Jacobs, D-East Moline. "It makes him appear that he's the only one down here who's standing up for the little guy."
But in private meetings, Blagojevich is "very cordial," Jacobs said. "He doesn't make a lot of decisions in those. He listens. He smiles a lot and tells a few jokes."
Blagojevich, his aides and legislative allies insist that the idea of a feud between the governor and lawmakers is overblown.
Yes, Blagojevich uses
public statements to pressure lawmakers. And, yes, he spends far more
Blagojevich prefers to make his case to the public and then leave the Legislature to approve his idea or come up with alternatives, said Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk.
"We're pretty good at using the bully pulpit," Tusk said.
The approach may also stem from a belief that lawmakers have little choice but to accept the governor's proposals for closing a roughly $1.7 billion budget gap.
Blagojevich has made it clear that he won't raise income or sales taxes. Few lawmakers would support the spending cuts necessary to fill that kind of deficit. And gambling expansion, which might or might not produce the money, would be a risky move in an election year.
That leaves Blagojevich's mix of higher business taxes, fee increases, borrowing and modest cost-cutting.
"If people have other ideas, we'll look at them," Tusk said. "We're not hearing that right now. We're just hearing, 'We don't like this, we don't like that."'
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has ordered a series of hearings to scrutinize details of the governor's $54 billion budget plan, including a hearing expected Thursday on the state's recent reliance on borrowing. He also says lawmakers will be less deferential to Blagojevich this year than they were last year when the governor was just starting out.
Rep. Jay Hoffman, a Collinsville Democrat and the governor's closest ally in the House, said he does not see Madigan's actions as a challenge to Blagojevich.
"We have an obligation to look into the proposals of the governor," Hoffman said. "That's all part of the process."
He acknowledged the administration got off to a rocky start last year and did not give lawmakers all the budget details it should have. But Hoffman said that problem has largely been solved, and other budget negotiators said they are seeing progress.
On other issues, where lawmakers have more options, the administration is more cooperative.
Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said that last year, Blagojevich avoided getting involved in writing a complex bill to overhaul the death penalty system. Then, after the bill had passed, he used his amendatory veto to block the entire bill until a relatively small piece was changed.
This year, Cullerton said, the administration is working closely with lawmakers on the complex issue of rising malpractice insurance costs that threaten to drive some doctors out of business.
Sen. Miguel del Valle, a Chicago Democrat and frequent Blagojevich critic, said the governor also seems willing to compromise on his proposal to gut the State Board of Education.
While complaining that the administration has been slow to provide some details, del Valle said the governor's aides are listening to alternatives.
Blagojevich meets with
lawmakers when he visits
That's not to say there are no problems between Blagojevich and the Legislature, though.
Republicans say they
are still denied information and access. Senate Minority Leader Frank
And some Democrats consider Blagojevich's rhetoric insulting and counterproductive.
"For him to say we're narrow-minded and not working and down here just feeding at the trough with lobbyists is totally unfair," said Sen. Donne Trotter of Chicago, the lead budget negotiator for Senate Democrats.
"Members came down here with the good intent of working together to make this year a little bit easier than it was last year, and he hasn't made it that way."
Teacher academy program targets new
Sun Times, May 4, 2004
In an effort to provide
new teachers with an opportunity to connect and network with their peers,
the Associated Colleges of
The academy provides a forum for young, quality educators to share professional resources, strategies and ideas in an effort to perfect their craft.
The first program in
the series for the 2004-05 school year will take place June 24-25 at
Lake Lawn Lodge in
The two-day program, "Reality Classroom," will offer attendees a variety of dynamic breakout sessions, including "Implementing Standard Based Lesson Plans," "Behavior Management," "Motivating Reluctant Learners," and "Politics in Teaching."
The second day of the program will feature a morning of interactive sessions on how to build a community of learners and working and integrating ESL students into the classroom. In the afternoon session, teachers will discuss "Classroom Management," second-year teachers will discuss "Assessment" and third-year teachers will discuss "Differentiated Instruction."
Registration is free
of charge to attend the
To register, interested parties can call (312) 263-2391, Ext. 21 or visit the ACI Web site at www.acifund.org.
Letter by Angelina Arroyo,
a student at
In the traditional calendar, students have a very long summer vacation. As a 19-year-old, I recommend to the school programs to change the traditional calender to year-round school program.
During the long vacation, the students get behind. Moreover, the teachers need to review for the first few weeks. Finally, in summertime, violence increases because many gang members do not have anything to do because some are too young to work.
Year-round education deserves another look by our community; we really need a change because students are not getting an adequate education.
Funding shortages blamed for eroding quality of education
By KAREN McDONALD of
the Journal Star,
EUREKA - The lack of adequate state funding for schools has prompted huge disparities among programs offered and unequal educational opportunities for children, the state school superintendent said Monday.
"There are disparities concerning us around the state. Some communities can sustain programs and others have to cut back," Superintendent Robert Schiller said. "We as a state have not lived up to our obligations to ensure every community has the resources necessary to offer the higher-quality education we demand."
Schiller spoke to about
200 students, parents and school officials at the Central Illinois Valley
Region Illinois Principals Association student recognition breakfast.
The event, held at
"We need to redefine our commitment to children - find the means necessary that each child can go to school and prepare for the next level and have the ability to be prepared for those challenges," Schiller said.
The cost of educating students is larger than what schools are given by the state. That drives local communities
to rely more heavily on taxpayers to support schools, although many communities don't have the resources to raise money that schools need, Schiller said before the breakfast.
Under-funded schools are being forced to cut programs and sometimes jeopardize students' education, he said. More school districts also are considering consolidation options.
"In some cases, consolidation is in the best interest of schools and students. Some recent consolidations have allowed districts to decrease expenditures and increase services," Schiller said.
Last week, the Illinois Senate sent legislation to Gov. Rod Blagojevich boosting the per-pupil funding level in the state by $250 a year to $5,060. Even if the measure is approved, Schiller said it will not solve education funding problems.
"It was a very important message sent by the Legislature. They realize we need each year to make another down payment on (education) funding," Schiller said. "We have to realize that it is merely a Band-aid."
With the Legislature's adjournment less than three weeks away, Blagojevich and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) differed over how the state should spend its money next year.
In an open letter to legislators, the governor called on them to back his plan to avoid increasing the sales and income taxes and spare education, health care and public safety programs from deep cuts.
"This means having the will to make difficult spending cuts in other areas and the will to close corporate tax loopholes," he wrote. "It all starts with us having the courage to say no to the special interests who have benefited at the taxpayers' expense for far too long."
But Madigan, in a speech before retailers, panned Blagojevich's plan as relying too heavily on borrowing. The speaker said he would take up proposed borrowing restrictions proposed by Senate Republicans and plans to allow votes next week on the governor's revenue proposals.
Some want to ban ads selling alcohol, tobacco products
By JOHN SHARP of the Journal Star, May 5, 2004
PEKIN - A billboard advertising local companies for a high school boosters club got the OK recently from the School Board, despite an ongoing debate on what type of advertising can be displayed at the school.
The board voted 6-1 last week to allow the Pekin Swim & Dive Boosters Club to post a billboard in the natatorium where the swim team competes.
The club has until the 2006-07 school year to feature the billboard, at which time the School Board will review how it's being used.
The approval came about one month after the board voted 4-3 to maintain its policy on advertising. Currently, there is little regulation on what type of advertising can be displayed on school grounds.
Last year, controversy arose when School Board member Gary Lowe questioned the board's policy on advertising. He said District 303 needed to take a stand and prohibit ads from businesses that sell alcohol and tobacco products.
"I wish there was
a policy in place that is more specific on what type of businesses can
be advertised," Lowe, a
But at the time, there were some concerns over how far the School Board was willing to take an advertising ban.
Superintendent Ken Schwab said he was concerned about prohibiting grocery stores from advertising, even though they sell alcohol and tobacco.
Other than the boosters
club's billboard, there is not much advertising allowed at
Only Pepsi Co. products are promoted and advertised at the school and sold at sporting events. No taverns, restaurants or grocery stores advertise on school property.
Ric Munge, vice president of the boosters club, said there will be no taverns or liquor stores featured on the swim team's billboard.
"I think we're fine with the School Board," Munge said.
According to a letter from boosters club secretary Cheryl Miller, the billboard generated $5,000 last year that went to purchasing items like a digital clock, team sweatshirts for all swimmers and divers and a digital camera for training.
"What we want to do (with the billboard) is to provide funds above what the school's budget can cover," Munge said.
For one of the billboard's 30 spots, the boosters club charges $200 a year. Its goal is to raise $6,000 annually.
"I think the majority
of the board at this time thinks … the Swim & Dive Club did a commendable
job," board member
Letter by Jerome Stermer,
President, Voices for
Illinois children could
easily wind up losers in the annual budget battle in
Political pundits are
having a field day with the new tug-of-war between the governor and
legislators. Interested citizens feel powerless as they watch
Though voters approved a new state Constitution in 1970 that embraces the concept of supporting public education primarily through state funds, we have moved dramatically in the wrong direction during the past 34 years. Most financing for public schools falls on local property taxes in Illinois, ranking us dead last among the states on Education Week's report card of school-funding fairness.
Sometimes the best ideas
come out of the most chaotic situations. Now, while they still seem
furthest from agreement, is a perfect time for the governor and General
Assembly to come together around a comprehensive approach to answering
Letter by Careen M. Gordon, State Representative, 75th District, Herald News, 5/5/04
Every May, we take time to honor those people who have helped shape our youth and build our future. Teacher Appreciation Week is an opportunity for students, past and present, to pay tribute to the people who have helped them on their journey to success.
Most people understand the critical role education plays in shaping our community, our economy and our lives, but teachers understand this connection better than anyone. It is their tireless pursuit of perfection that pushes their students to achieve their maximum potential. Teachers are there for all their students, helping those who fall behind and challenging those who speed ahead.
Educators provide students with the tools they need to become productive members of society. They are completely committed to their profession, often bringing their work home and supplementing their classroom supplies with their own money.
Teachers dedicate themselves to improving the future of our youth, and for that we should all be thankful. I know I would not be where I am today if it were not for the dedicated and compassionate teachers I had growing up in the Morris public school system. The teachers from whom I have been fortunate enough to learn have taught me the value of education and that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it.
Whether you are 5 or 50, you can think of at least one educator who has had a positive impact on your life. So please take this week as an opportunity to let them know how much they have meant to you.
I want to thank all our teachers who give so generously of themselves to improve the future of our youth. Please know that the knowledge, values and confidence you help instill in your students last a lifetime.
Board takeover may fall victim to political battle
By Ray Long and Christi
Parsons, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporter Molly Parker
contributed to this report, May 6, 2004
By RYAN KEITH, The Associated Press,
Madigan, in a letter delivered throughout the state Capitol, said for the first time that lawmakers should not approve Blagojevich's proposal to shift the administrative powers of the independent state board of education to a new agency under his control.
Blagojevich has criticized the current board of education system as an inefficient bureaucracy that has not adequately helped students learn, and he has pushed to gain control of the agency, saying he could improve accountability and performance.
Madigan, however, said that creating a new Department of Education would conflict with the state's constitution, lead to unnecessary lawsuits, and create two bureaucracies instead of streamlining educational services. Instead, Madigan said, Blagojevich should get to appoint a majority of board members, and the schools superintendent should serve no longer than the current governor.
The proclamation could effectively kill any chance of Blagojevich's proposal gaining legislative support this spring. As speaker, Madigan, D-Chicago, can keep legislation from reaching the House floor and has the influence to get enough votes to defeat bills that do come up.
The governor's office responded that Madigan's proposal does not go far enough to improve the education system and that Blagojevich is willing to work with lawmakers to make his own proposal acceptable.
"We want to make it very clear that this is a democratic process and the speaker is one man with one vote. He's not the entire legislative branch of government," Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said. "Many members of the General Assembly, including members of his caucus, support the governor's reforms and he'll hear from them in the coming days."
A spokeswoman for Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, said legislators in that chamber may have their own plan ready for consideration next week.
"It opens the door for compromise," Cindy Davidsmeyer said.
Madigan's statement was welcomed at the state board of education, which had bristled under Blagojevich's accusations and contended there are better ways to improve education.
"We're very excited – it respects the Constitution, it's good public policy," board spokeswoman Karen Craven said.
Currently, members of the State Board of Education are appointed by the governor, but their six-year terms do not necessarily coincide with the election of a new governor. Blagojevich has made only one appointment, Janet Steiner as board chairwoman.
Madigan also said Wednesday that teacher tenure should be limited to four years, and no group should control the teacher certification process. Blagojevich has proposed putting teacher certification under a new panel on which union appointees would make up a majority.
"I hope that these
suggestions are helpful and meaningful to the debate concerning the
Madigan's letter comes after weeks of intense legislative scrutiny on Blagojevich's proposal, which was first announced in a scathing State of the State speech in January.
But the Democratic governor was put on the defensive from the outset as critics, many within his own party, questioned whether giving him control of education was a political move and if shifting the administrative duties complied with the state's Constitution.
That issue was the subject of a legislative hearing earlier Wednesday, where Blagojevich's legal counsel and a legislative ally tried to persuade lawmakers that the Constitution did authorize lawmakers to make such administrative changes.
But authors of the 1970 rewrite of the Constitution – which created the independent board to alleviate political pressure on education officials – said they never envisioned the duties of the board and the superintendent being given to someone else.
"What are you if all
of your duties have been taken away from you?" said Betty Bergstrom,
a member of the convention's education committee who now runs a consulting
BY DAVE MCKINNEY AND
LESLIE GRIFFY Sun-Times
While declaring the initiative dead, at least in its current form, Madigan offered a concession that would allow Blagojevich to stock the board with a majority of new appointees. It is now dominated by holdovers appointed by Gov. George Ryan.
"The speaker believes the governor's attempt to diminish the state board and create another bureaucracy would be a violation of the state's constitution. That's not a good way to go about making law," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.
Claiming Madigan's counterproposals do not go far enough, the Blagojevich administration went into damage control after learning of the speaker's position.
"It's important to remember Speaker Madigan is just one vote in this process," Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said.
Earlier this year, Blagojevich implored
lawmakers to rid
The dose of bad news Madigan delivered to the governor wasn't the only body blow Blagojevich experienced at the Capitol.
His cost-cutting plans to close a state
prison in Downstate Vandalia, a mental health facility in
Democrats on the committee threw darts at Blagojevich, who wasn't at the hearing. Rep. Lovana Jones (D-Chicago), warned the legislation approving the closures might be one vote short: hers.
She told prisons chief Roger Walker that he wasn't the target of her wrath. Instead, she said, it was Blagojevich, the infrequent occupant of the Statehouse's most prominent second-floor office suite.
"I know you don't make those decisions,"
In another important legislative development,
the House passed and sent to the Senate newly modified legislation designed
to blunt skyrocketing property tax bills in
takes a hit
Madigan's opposition came in the form of a letter, in which he stated the legislature should not create a department of education under the governor's control and relegate the state board to think tank status.
It came after a hearing in which delegates from the state's 1970 Constitutional Convention testified the move went against their aim in writing it. Madigan, himself a delegate to the convention, agreed.
Madigan, a powerful Chicago Democrat, instead suggested governors be given more power in appointing members to the existing state education board.
Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said despite Madigan's opposition, the plan is not dead.
"This is a democratic process," she said. "The governor has a lot of bipartisan support."
In the special hearing scheduled by Madigan, delegates to the 1970 Constitutional Convention said the governor's shifting of oversight of education violated what they put in the state's constitution.
"Definitely, this is stripping the intent of the people of the state, the intent of the delegates of the convention, of the structure that we felt at that time and still should be the structure of education systems in the state of Illinois," said Betty Howard Bergstrom, a constitutional delegate and member of the original state education board.
Blagojevich and his legal team say the 1970 constitution requires only the existence of the board and he's not violating it by changing the board's duties. Under his plan, the board would become an education think tank while his education department would take over daily responsibility for the state's school systems.
The plan's sponsor, state Rep. Jay Hoffman, a Collinsville Democrat, said the current education system isn't working.
"We believe it's very clear. We believe that the governor has the responsibility to be the chief person looking out for education. We believe that it's very clear that our bill is constitutional," Hoffman said.
His borrowing, spending chided; school bid backed
By Ray Long and Mike Dorning, Tribune staff reporters, May 7, 2004
SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich found himself waging wars on two fronts Thursday as his administration struggled to defend his ambitious borrowing programs and a band of rank-and-file Illinois House Democrats sought to bolster his ailing education proposal.
Appearing before a House committee, Democratic Comptroller Dan Hynes and Republican Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka warned the administration's heavy borrowing practices threatened the state's fiscal stability.
At the hearing, the state's top two fiscal officers got into a rare public debate with Blagojevich budget chief John Filan, who pointedly challenged opponents of the governor's budget to come up with something better.
Filan belittled critical assessments of the administration as "absolute fiction" and "misleading and factually wrong."
The exchange unfolded as part of an elaborately orchestrated drubbing of the administration in a committee overseen by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), who has been challenging Blagojevich on a number of fronts.
On Wednesday, Madigan declared his opposition to Blagojevich's plan to gut the independent State Board of Education and assume responsibility himself for the state's education bureaucracy.
Blagojevich says the school proposal would eliminate red tape, redirect more school spending into classrooms and increase accountability. Madigan said it was inefficient and unconstitutional, and suggested the governor's goals would be better served by some minor tinkering with the terms of board members to give Blagojevich more opportunity to appoint his own people to the nine-member body.
In the U.S. Capitol, where Blagojevich spent Thursday lobbying members of Congress on various issues, the governor dismissed Madigan's analysis of the education plan as "totally wrong" and called the speaker's suggestions "a half measure dressed up as a solution."
"What the speaker is suggesting is a non-starter," Blagojevich said. "It's not reform."
"From my personal standpoint, it's my belief the speaker's proposal does not meet the criteria providing significant reform of the way education is governed in Illinois," said Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville), a close friend of Blagojevich who helped him craft the education takeover plan.
Rep. Calvin Giles (D-Chicago), who chairs the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, said politicians have frequently suggested plans to improve the state's oversight of schools but that the governor's is the first he had seen in more than a decade that achieves real reform.
with the way things are ran," Giles said. "Our children are
not being educated throughout the state of
Blagojevich said in
"When I landed
An aide to the speaker said the members who stood up at the news conference are "entitled to an opinion," but reiterated that Madigan thinks the Blagojevich plan would be illegal.
At the hearing on Blagojevich's
budget, Hynes called the growing state debt "increasingly problematic."
He warned the administration should have slowed spending this fiscal
year while refinancing bonds, pushing major debt repayments into future
years and mortgaging the
Instead, Hynes said, the administration raised spending on day-to-day operations of government by $1 billion.
"It's pushing off debt, and it's not eliminating the budget deficit," Hynes said.
In an angry response, Filan questioned whether education and health-care programs should have gone unfunded or taxes should have been raised.
"If you have a solution, put it on the table," Filan said. "If you don't have a solution, then stick with the responsibilities that you have."
Topinka chided Filan and likened his methodology to "either you do it my way or shut up."
Topinka also railed against the administration's "dangerous borrowing and binging practices" that will end up being paid by "our children, grandchildren and children yet to be conceived."
Blagojevich's budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1 also calls for borrowing billions of dollars for road and school construction but has come under fire because his plan provides no new money to pay off the bonds.
By Scott Miller, Pantagraph,
Just one day after House Speaker Michael Madigan told lawmakers he could not support Blagojevich's education overhaul, 27 House Democrats held a press conference to advocate eliminating the independent agency. They say giving the governor more control is the only way to ensure governmental accountability to the education system.
Meanwhile, some say the rift could put minority Republicans in a better negotiating position as the legislative session heads toward adjournment later this month.
"As time goes on and with what appears to be some division within the Democratic Party on some of these ideas, I think it does put us in more of a prominent position than you would normally be in the minority down here," said state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington.
Brady said he would like a special session of the Legislature devoted entirely to education, an idea that has floated around.
In a letter to lawmakers Wednesday, Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, rejected the idea of replacing the state board with a Department of Education directly under the governor's control, saying the move is unconstitutional.
Instead, he wants the governor to appoint five members to the current nine-member board.
"I think it's a fundamental disagreement on public policy," said state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville, who led Thursday's charge in support of the governor's plan. "The proposal actually would empower us as legislators to oversee the education process where we don't now."
Some lawmakers, however, still have questions on how Blagojevich's education plan would really affect schools.
Blagojevich has criticized the state board as being an inefficient bureaucracy that is not accountable to taxpayers. In addition, the governor says the board's administrative costs strip money from schools, and the system adds mounds of paperwork that restrict the ability to teach.
Madigan's declaration could kill the governor's chances to bring education under his wing, however.
The speaker controls the legislative agenda in the House and his influence could garner enough votes to kill the proposal if it does reach debate.
that Speaker Madigan has taken a personal position opposing the education
reform plan that I have initiated. I am, however, very confidant that
we're going to be successful," Blagojevich said at a press conference
By Brian Wallheimer,
"We need a change, and it's clearly evident," said state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville. "We want real accountability, we want real reform and we believe that starts with a Department of Education."
Blagojevich unveiled his plan to transfer power over educational matters from the State Board of Education to a Cabinet-level department in January, calling the board inefficient and a "Soviet-style bureaucracy."
On Wednesday, Madigan, D-Chicago, sent a letter to legislators saying he thinks the governor's plan doesn't work under the state constitution, that it would result in lengthy litigation and that it would create two bureaucracies. He suggested giving incoming governors, including Blagojevich, the authority to appoint five of the state board's nine members and keeping the hiring of the state superintendent under the board's control.
Blagojevich supporters said Thursday that Madigan's plan didn't go far enough and dismissed the idea that the plan is unconstitutional.
"I personally believe that changing five members of a nine-member board, which is the speaker's proposal, doesn't go far enough. We're not going to leave here with half-measures," said Hoffman, who is a close friend and political ally of Blagojevich. "I disagree wholeheartedly that the Department of Education is unconstitutional."
Some said Madigan's plan would not give the governor or the Legislature enough accountability.
"This proposal that the governor has proposed will bring about true reform," said state Rep. Calvin Giles, D-Chicago, chairman of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. "Many proposals we have heard have not gone far enough."
Madigan's disapproval puts a cloud over Blagojevich's proposal since the speaker controls which bills are called in the House.
But proponents of the governor's plan aren't ready to call it quits. They say they want to work out a deal with Madigan and hope to persuade him to rethink his plan.
Madigan's spokesman, Steve Brown, said the speaker was willing to discuss ideas for changing education in the state but said that forming a Department of Education would take an amendment to the constitution.
Adam Leech, The Rockingham News
PLAISTOW - State budget cuts will reduce the number of categories that students are tested in when taking standardized tests to reading and math only.
Third-, sixth- and 10th-graders will no longer be tested in writing, science and social science in the New Hampshire Educational Improvement and Assessment Program (NHEIAP) because there is not enough money to administer the tests. Lawmakers required the Department of Education to use federal money from the No Child Left Behind program for this year’s round of tests. When funds fell short, tests were dropped.
Tim Kurtz, the Department of Education’s director of assessment, said the change meets the minimum standards that still satisfy the No Child Left Behind requirements.
"What it means
is we have less information on how the kids are doing," said Keith
Pfeifer, director of the secondary curriculum in the
The Timberlane School District plans to replace assessments for the excluded categories with a writing sample that is already required for third through eighth grades, and the Terra Nova test, which is taken in fifth-, seventh- and eighth-grades and includes reading, math, science and social science. Pfeifer said the district will rely more on teacher assessments as well.
The Sanborn Regional School District has also administered writing samples, according to Sanborn Superintendent James Weiss, but he said there is no way of comparing results to other schools and identifying where improvements are needed. He said the science and social science curriculums will now rely on teacher assessments to determine when changes are needed.
State law says tests must include, but are not limited to, reading, language arts, science, history and geography. The state Department of Education worked with the Legislature and federal officials to be sure the tests met No Child Left Behind requirements and cost no more than the allotted money.
Weiss said the state set a dollar amount it knew could not be met, and when No Child Left Behind funding fell short, the state was justified in saying there was not enough money.
"For the state to back away because they did not include funding for it is a travesty," said Weiss. "And that sends a horrible message that science, social science and writing are not important."
The third-grade NHEIAP tests are not affected because they include math and reading only.
Testing will now take place over the course of one week instead of two.
In October 2005, the
NHEIAP tests will be replaced by a similar test that will also be taken
Kurtz said by collaborating with two other states, it will give each school a better idea of its students’ development.
The No Child Left Behind act will require the new test be given in third through eighth grades. The NHEIAP tests will continue to be given at the high school level, but there is discussion about the three states possibly collaborating on a high school test as well, according to Kurtz.
No Child Left Behind will also require science be included on the tests in 2007-2008 school year.
Writing prompts will be administered in fifth through eighth grades in the new test, and there will be a larger variety of math problems.
A pilot of the test is planned to be given throughout the state this fall.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
William Raspberry, Syndicated columnist, 5/4/04
WASHINGTON — It is an idea that seems so right you wonder how any decent-minded legislator could oppose it. And so, at the end of 2001, both houses of Congress overwhelmingly approved the president's education program with the fetching moniker of No Child Left Behind.
Schools would no longer be able to mask the miseducation of certain minorities by reporting averages and aggregates. They'd have to make sure every group — virtually every child — was making good academic progress, or there would be penalties to pay.
Perfect — unless you run an indifferent school district with incompetent administrators and unprepared teachers fearing to be found out.
And that may be the fatal flaw with NCLB: its underlying assumption that school failure is willful, and that if you put the fear of God in the people who run the schools, they'll do their jobs a lot better.
A handful might. But
for most educators, the penalties make about as much sense as yelling
at me for using the wrong fork at high tea with the queen of
And though Secretary of Education Rod Paige has modified some of its provisions, NCLB still relies on punishment. Failure to meet the mandated goals for a second straight year gives all children in the failing school the right to transfer to another public school in the same district — with the district paying at least part of the transportation cost.
A third year's failure entitles children to supplemental services such as tutorial help. And a fifth year could result in takeover — by private companies, charter schools or the state.
But what constitutes failure? If any subgroup of the school population — racial minorities, limited-English speakers, the cognitively disabled — fails to meet the mechanically prescribed "adequate yearly progress" standards, the whole school is deemed to have failed. And it's no good suggesting that the slow learners stay home on test day. If fewer than 95 percent of the children are tested, that's failure, too, and the same penalties apply.
How tough is it to meet
The National Education
Association's Joel Packer, who has been lobbying Congress and the Department
of Education to modify the legislation, says a
"The problem is that there are 37 criteria that have to be met for 'adequate yearly progress,' " Packer explains. "If a school meets 36 of the 37, it's deemed as much a failure as the school that got zero of the 37. And even if students are growing academically, they may not be growing at a fast enough pace to avoid failure. Say the goal is the 65th percentile in English, and you bring a group of kids up from the 35th to the 60th, you've still failed."
And sometimes the more improvement you make this year, the smaller the increment of improvement you'll be able to show next year. A desk jockey can increase his stamina by a much larger factor than can, say, a professional marathoner.
There are other objections — aside from the fact that NCLB turns out to be an incredibly intrusive piece of legislation. It looks only at reading and math performance on a single day. It gives a school no credit for superlative performance in some areas, but full penalty of missing the mark in any area. Because it measures cohort against cohort — this year's third grade against last year's — it doesn't even tell you whether any particular child is doing better.
But its main shortcoming as far as I can see is that it overlooks what I believe the problem to be: Many children aren't doing as well as they should because they get less help than they should from home.
Shouldn't we spend at least a part of our resources and energy helping those parents learn how to do their jobs better? Then maybe we could save the threats of punishment for those who know what to do, but refuse to try.
An exhausting schedule,
tough classes and relentless cheerleading bear fruit at
By Karen Brandon, Special to the Tribune, May 4, 2004
His parents, once migrant workers, had toiled in the fields from such an early age that his father never set foot in an elementary school and his mother stayed only through 4th grade. His older brother and sister graduated from high school, but life--jobs, marriages, babies--interfered with their going to college.
Friends of the family, it seemed, never managed to get ahead either, no matter what their talents.
"Some of my sister's friends were really smart," Lopez recalled, "and still they never got anything accomplished."
Now the soft-spoken 17-year-old, who manages to study and sleep despite the deafening squeal of the trolley just beyond his bedroom window, is poised to scale the barrier that once seemed insurmountable. Lopez has been accepted at one of the world's best universities, Stanford.
What changed Lopez's
thinking from "I'll never get to college" to "When I
go to college" was the
This spring's high-stakes college admission season for the school's first graduating class has given Preuss powerful evidence that it is achieving its ambition. Lopez, one of many students who commuted two hours each way from his home to attend the school, is only one example.
About two-thirds of
the first graduating class gained admission to the
Cecil Lytle, the academic
who was the driving force behind the creation of Preuss, fears that
as preliminary word of the school's success spreads, it may elicit "a
`Stand and Deliver' effect." He was referring to the movie about
math teacher Jaime Escalante and his
"It will be interesting
to see the community reaction," said Lytle, an African-American
who grew up in
Preuss (rhymes with choice) promises its 750 students the kind of education that will allow them to succeed in a college admissions process that makes no concessions for race or ethnicity. It also promises to be an example for schools across the state and country struggling to improve the education of poor, minority students.
Demographic trends make
the mission especially crucial. This year, for the first time, as many
Latinos and African-Americans as whites will graduate from
At the same time,
Any controversy over
the school's success would be in keeping with its tortuous beginnings.
In 1995, the 10-campus
The rejection exacerbated
Essentially shamed into action, the university revised its proposal, won approval, and by 1998 brought the first group of 7th-graders, selected by lottery, to campus. Each year, another grade was added.
One word characterizes Preuss: more. The school year is nearly a month longer. The school day is an hour longer. Classes are intense, scheduled in every-other-day blocks that run for 1 hour, 42 minutes, rather than the typical 55 minutes. Some students return for Saturday-morning sessions.
One senior, David Iaea,
who is headed to
Another senior, Eden
Hagos, who will attend the
"They tell me, `I would never go to school there. You'd never have a life,'" she said.
More is expected of virtually everyone connected with Preuss. Parents must "volunteer" at the school 15 hours per year. School starts late on Fridays so teachers may hold two-hour development sessions before classes begin. Teachers' contracts are up for renewal annually.
The idea of college
is everywhere at the school, which is tucked away in a new $14 million
facility on the
Discussion of what it takes to get to college is a daily ritual that extends to minutiae such as what type of snack to bring while taking the SAT.
In a 6th-grade classroom,
posters listing the students' goals cover the walls. Going to college
is on each list, along with other ambitions: traveling the world, becoming
rich, trying to protect the rain forests of
"The idea that
college is important is at the forefront of everything we do,"
said Kelly Kovacic, a
In the pursuit of college, no detail is too small. Counselor Carol Sobek, for instance, prowls the campus to make sure students meet application deadlines, offering reminders, stamps and "I'm going to the post office at 2!"
"I don't leave anything to chance," she said.
The school's expectations
are bearing fruit. Despite long commutes for many, student attendance
is at 98 percent. All of Preuss' high school students take the SAT,
compared with about half of all high school students in
But other results suggest how difficult the mission is. Eighteen students, nearly half of the school's inaugural group of 42, left for various reasons: a family relocation, a chance to play on a better sports team, the long commute, a teen pregnancy.
Teacher turnover is high; just four of the school's founding teachers remain.
Then there is the matter of paying for college for the Preuss graduates. Lytle, a music professor, recently held a concert to raise money for that cause.
Educators say the school's most daunting test lies ahead: Can Preuss export its tools for success and prove they can work outside a university environment?
relatively easy for a university, with its intellectual capital and
resources, to create an effective school," said Timothy Knowles,
executive director of the
Doris Alvarez, who was a national principal of the year at a San Diegohigh school with students from low-income families before being recruited to be principal at Preuss, is confident that many measures that have worked at her school can be replicated.
For instance, she said, the school's extended year could be used elsewhere, in lieu of remedial summer-school programs that she believes are less effective.
"We can take this show on the road," Alvarez said.
Others hope so.
"We perceive the public schools to be in such jeopardy and in such need of assistance that we can no longer stand idly by," said Hugh Mehan, director of the Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence, the campus research organization evaluating Preuss.
"The specter on the horizon is increasing moves to privatize schooling through voucher programs and the rest. Many of us worry that if we don't shore up public schools or shore up shining examples, the move to privatize schools will further stratify education."
Whether Preuss succeeds in its mission will be under scrutiny for years to come. A new map hanging in the school office might well be the measure of Preuss' success. Now bare, the map will soon be covered with pins marking the collegiate destinations of Preuss graduates.
By Cindy Kranz,
While school superintendents are retiring in record numbers, school boards locally and across the country are finding that the pool of applicants to fill those posts has shrunk, and those who do apply often are less qualified.
The pressure and demands of the job, now ramped up by the accountability requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, mean fewer educators want the top post. That is making it tougher for school districts to find an applicant who's just the "right fit" for this crucial position.
Princeton City Schools, a high-profile Tristate district, received only 30 applications to replace retiring Superintendent Don Darby. Twenty years ago, there might have been twice as many, said Al Meloy, a search consultant with the Ohio School Boards Association.
Last year, Wyoming Schools received only 29 applications for superintendent. The low number is surprising, considering that the small, elite district has some of the highest proficiency test scores in the state.
Like principals, superintendents
are in short supply. In fact, at least 30 percent of the superintendent
Sycamore Community Schools Superintendent Karen Mantia in 2001 did her doctorate on the topic of the shrinking pool of superintendent applicants.
"It is frightening the lack of eligible or interested people looking to that position," she said. "The number of superintendents that can retire, or already have retired, is staggering. Baby boomers are leaving with no replacements. The shortage is here and only to get worse."
High stress, low rewards
So why don't more people want to be a superintendent?
"The complexity and time demands, the conditions of the work itself cause some talented people not to enter the profession," Mantia said. "For instance, stress, low pay, increased demands from unfunded mandates, higher student performance requirements, greater public expectations, board turnover, diminishing prestige, fear of poor superintendent/board relationships, and inadequate school funding are just a few of the issues that may be discouraging viable candidates from entering the field."
In 1993, when the Winton Woods City Schools hired Thomas Richey as superintendent, the board sorted through 28 applications. When Camille Nasbe was hired in 2002, there were three fewer. The top five in the pool were superbly qualified, said board President John Pennycuff.
"What was surprising in our search was the absence of truly local people. Ten years ago, we had local people applying," he said.
"Based on my experience and anecdotes from board members in other districts, the pools are getting smaller, not only for superintendents but for high school principals. Those are killer jobs, absolute killer jobs, so there are fewer and fewer people who want them."
Along with changing laws, superintendents and principals must deal with the changing expectations of parents.
"They demand their rights for their kids," Pennycuff said. "Parents are militant, as opposed to assuming that the teacher or principal may be correct in some dispute with the child over grades or how much playing time he has on the basketball team.
"Parents come to board meetings, calling everybody racist because their child got a D instead of an A. The bus doesn't stop in front of their house. It stops two doors down."
All of that and more sums up why superintendents and principals are said to carry a roll of Tums in each pocket, he said.
Not all districts have experienced a decline in applicants or quality.
Finneytown's recent search to replace retiring Sam Martin yielded 36 candidates. More than 20 applied when Martin was hired four years ago.
"What did hit us this time is that it seemed like, from top to bottom, the overall quality of applicants was better this time than last time," said board member Gary Metzger. "
why the job takes its toll on superintendents. Along with other factors,
he said, it doesn't help that the current school funding system in
"The levy campaigns are very strenuous and very stressful for administrators and the boards of education," he said. "Superintendents are the point person for those campaigns. They are the lightning rod for the community."
Meanwhile, the unfunded mandates of No Child Left Behind have increased the pressure of accountability for superintendents.
Board members and superintendents alike say districts are being judged by proficiency test results and Local Report Cards, which may not accurately reflect what's happening in their districts. And the only name that appears on that Local Report Card is the superintendent's.
"There will be some good superintendents that are going to be sacrificed because the boards won't be able to stand the heat," said Winton Woods' Pennycuff.
Tom Durbin at
"If my children were still at home, I don't think I'd even consider a superintendent's position," he said.
As superintendent of
"You also feel
the pressure of doing well on the state of
Pressures and problems aside, Durbin is right where he wants to be.
"I like what I am doing in my role as a superintendent. I learn something new every day and I hope that somehow I am making a difference in the life of a child."
been a huge decline in educators applying for superintendent and principal
jobs, said Michael Jazzar, an assistant professor at the
There are no empirical studies, he said, but conventional wisdom in following these kinds of vacancies reveals there might be 20 to 30 applicants for a huge district when typically 10 or 15 years ago there might have been more than 100.
"Slim supply means little choice in appointment. What's so important is the fit, the academics, the personality, the type of leadership style. When you have a limited pool, you get whatever is available," he said.
Jazzar has some theories about the shortage.
"At one time, when one went into education and educational leadership, it was to do very special things for children, for students. Today the positions are so political, there's hardly any direct contact with children.
"There are boards of education that micromanage to the point of candidates not being interested in those districts. That micromanaging is very harmful. It sends incorrect messages throughout the district and community in terms of educational, instructional and curricular leadership," Jazzar said.
In her research, Mantia learned that salary is another reason educators steer clear of the top job. The salary gap between administrators and teachers is closing, and in some cases a teacher may make more than a superintendent on a per diem basis.
"For the headache of being a superintendent, some folks choose not to take the job because the pay for a year's work is not worth it when compared to lower level positions in administration or in teaching," Mantia said.
Many superintendents are retiring and coming back in another district to fill the void.
At the end of the last
Waple retired as superintendent
"The thing that's changed is all the federal requirements that have come down through No Child Left Behind, state proficiency tests and extreme demand on classroom time," Waple said.
Those demands, he said, are taking away from teaching problem-solving and critical thinking. Creative teaching is diminished by a regimen aligned to state content standards.
Waple has signed on for another year while the school board searches for a permanent superintendent. He agreed to return if the board hired an assistant superintendent.
"That's what they heard from many candidates, why they didn't get an exceptionally strong pool of candidates. The pool of candidates was kind of weak here because of lack of central office help."
The board is completing a search for an assistant superintendent.
Some educators don't seek the top job because they don't like the politics and public criticism that superintendents sometimes have to endure. And a marriage between a school board and a superintendent can end in a messy divorce.
"Education is about people," said Meloy, a former school superintendent. "Every decision we make touches someone's life personally. When that happens, and you're in the key leadership position, those political winds can shift hourly. It becomes a high risk job."
On the flip side, he said, there are still those who have a desire to lead, who bring some extraordinary skills to school districts and believe they can make a difference.
"They are not driven by the downside of the job, but by the potential of the job," Meloy said. "There are still those quality people out there."
•Average superintendent salary nationally: $126,268
•Superintendents in districts of 25,000 or more students: $170,024
•Superintendents in districts of 10,000 - 24,999: $138,537
•Superintendents in districts of 2,500 - 9,999: $121,853
•Superintendents in districts of 300 - 2,499: $98,302
Source: Educational Research Service
Schoolhouse Beat, 5/4/04
A judge has ruled that
Obese kids rate quality of life as low as cancer patients
CHICAGO, Illinois -- Overweight adolescents are more likely than normal-weight children to be victims of bullying, or bullies themselves, a study found, bolstering evidence that being fat endangers emotional as well as physical health.
The results in a study of 5,749 Canadian youngsters echo data from British research and follow a U.S. study published last year in which obese children rated their quality of life as low as young cancer patients' because of teasing and weight-related health problems.
While not surprising
given the stigma of being overweight, the new findings underscore the
importance of enlisting teachers and schools in the fight to prevent
and treat obesity in children, said lead author Ian Janssen, an obesity
"Anybody's who's ever been on a playground would know" that overweight children are among those who get picked on, Janssen said, adding that in some cases, that may lead the youngsters to become bullies themselves.
The study appears in the May edition of Pediatrics, released Monday.
Janssen said obesity rates in Canadian children tripled from the 1980s to 1990s and show no signs of slowing down, similar to rising rates in other developed nations and in the United States, where 15 percent of school-age youngsters are obese and increasingly plagued by related health problems. Nearly one-third of American children are overweight.
The toll on emotional health is just as worrisome, the researchers said.
"The social and psychological ramifications induced by the bullying-victimization process may hinder the social development of overweight and obese youth, because adolescents are extremely reliant on peers for social support, identity and self-esteem," the researchers said.
Their data is based on a national survey of Canadian youngsters, ages 11 to 16, conducted in 2002.
Among normal-weight youngsters, almost 11 percent said they were victims of bullying, compared with 14 percent of overweight youngsters and nearly 19 percent of obese youngsters.
About 8 percent of normal-weight children said they were perpetrators, compared with 11 percent of overweight youngsters and 9 percent of the obese children.
Obese boys and girls were more than two times more likely than normal-weight youngsters to be victims of "relational" bullying -- being intentionally left out of social activities. Obese girls were about twice as likely to be physically bullied on a weekly basis than normal-weight girls; among obese boys the risk was slightly lower but still substantially higher than for normal-weight boys.
Obese girls were more than five times more likely than normal-weight girls to physically bully other youngsters at least once weekly. Among boys the risk of being physically aggressive was only slightly increased, but they were more than twice as likely to make fun of others and spread lies and rumors than normal-weight boys.
Rimm said reducing bullying could help youngsters overcome their weight problems. Bullying perpetuates those problems because it isolates them, and "the only thing left for overweight kids is food and television," she said.
ATLANTA -- A middle-school
math teacher in
While it sounds prestigious, Saint Regis is considered a diploma mill, an institution that sells college degrees for little or no coursework.
In one of the biggest
scandals of its kind, 11
Around the country, the problem of diploma-mill degrees may be getting worse, since the Internet has made it easier for such businesses to operate and the federal No Child Left Behind Act has put a higher premium on advanced degrees for teachers.
''This is an area of increasing concern on the federal level,'' said John Barth, director of postsecondary accreditation for the U.S. Education Department.
Officials said the percentage of educators passing off bogus degrees is probably small, but hard to measure because not all schools diligently check credentials.
John Bear, a former consultant to an FBI task force on diploma mills during the 1980s, estimated the industry takes in more than $300 million a year, and it is growing.
Diploma mills have become increasingly savvy at posing as legitimate schools, creating impressive Web sites and providing fake transcripts for their ''alumni.''
Teachers are in one of the few fields where salary is explicitly tied to education level. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, most teachers have until the 2005-06 school year to meet federal standards for being ''highly qualified,'' which can include holding an advanced degree in the subject they teach.
''If you're in a smaller town and not near a major university, then you try to find options, and it doesn't surprise me that people try to find ways for an easier way out,'' said Terry Schwartzbeck, policy analyst for the American Association of School Administrators.
Using a bogus degree
to get a job or promotion is illegal only in
Ofelia Madrid, The
NORTHEAST VALLEY - The days of passing out home-baked cupcakes and brownies in the classroom are over.
That's the message Kathy
Glindmeier, director of food services for the
"Classroom parties are going to have to be reworked," Glindmeier said.
Glindmeier wants to
be sure that parents know
Glindmeier has been
going to parent-teacher meetings throughout the
Glindmeier is recommending that parent groups dish out $300 for a food handler's card if they plan to sell or distribute food such as packaged food heated in a microwave, popcorn and cookies. Those passing out food must use non-latex gloves and an apron.
For some events, parent groups may want to hire a licensed caterer.
Other school districts also are following the county rules.
Cathy Getz, nutrition
"The parent groups use prepackaged foods," Getz said.
In the 17 years Glindmeier
has worked for the
we try to do everything we're supposed to do," she said, adding
that after the
Glindmeier also told parents that an alternative is to purchase the food directly from the district to guarantee food safety. There's also a potential savings for parent groups and student clubs because they'll be buying the food at district cost.
By Lynn Olson, Education
After a rapid rise, test scores for 11-year-olds have hit a plateau. One of the national teachers’ unions has threatened to boycott exams. And critics charge that high-stakes accountability has narrowed the curriculum.
Sound familiar? Perhaps.
But the country where all that is occurring is
As Tony Blair’s Labor
government tries to reinvigorate that agenda and restore its momentum,
the lessons learned here may prove a harbinger for the
Until the 1980s, the United Kingdom—England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland—had one of the most decentralized education systems in the world, according to Harry Torrance, a professor of education at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Local education authorities were responsible for providing education in their communities, but there were no generally agreed-upon curriculum goals nor any general system of assessment for primary schools. At the secondary level, national school-leaving exams taken at ages 16 and 18 determined which students qualified for further education or employment, but the tests were not primarily used to judge schools.
All that changed when
the Conservative government crafted the Education Reform Act of 1988,
which mandates a national curriculum for England, Wales, and Northern
Ireland, as well as national- curriculum tests at ages 7, 11, and 14.
The law also permitted
As envisioned by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the changes would combine much greater control from the central government with the use of market forces to improve schools by permitting parents to choose among schools, in part on the basis of test results.
The national government released the first set of results in 1992, and the information appeared in newspapers in the form of school rankings, or "league tables." That same year, the government also set up the Office for Standards in Education, or OFSTED, which regularly inspects schools and produces high-stakes reports on their performance that are published in print and online.
When the Labor government came to power in 1997, it built on that framework, pursuing a strategy that embraces both pressure and support for individual schools. Most notably, the government has provided about 5 percent real growth in education spending, over and above the rate of inflation, every year since. In return, it has demanded results: national achievement targets that help determine goals for individual schools and the local education authorities, or LEAs.
"No government would spend this much money without demanding something in return," observed Michael Barber, the head of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, which was formed in 2001 to help ensure that the government meets its targeted outcomes in education and other public services. Mr. Barber, who formerly directed the standards and effectiveness unit in the Department for Education and Skills, was one of the principal architects of Prime Minister Blair’s education strategy.
"The accountability system," Mr. Barber said, "is the way we prove, collectively, to the public that the system is improving."
In a heady political moment, the government pledged that 80 percent of 11-year-olds would pass national English tests by 2002—achieving a "level 4" or higher on the exams—and that 75 percent would pass national math exams.
The government also launched national literacy and numeracy strategies for primary schools that included detailed teaching programs for ages , extensive professional development for teachers, and extra help for children who fell behind. It also further devolved budgetary decisions to individual schools.
Michael Fullan, dean
emeritus of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the
Last year, for the first
time, the government produced performance tables for every primary and
secondary school in
"This is a government
committed to education, and they sometimes drive you up the wall,"
said Alan Steer, the head teacher of the 1,360-student
‘Moment of Truth’
From 1997 to 2000, those
efforts appeared to be working. In 2000, 75 percent of 11-year-olds
reached the expected level 4 in English, up from just 57 percent in
1996, before Mr. Blair took office. In mathematics, the figure jumped
from 54 percent to 73 percent. Moreover, some of
"So we got something quite rare," said Mr. Barber, "which is, across a whole system, to get rising average standards and a narrowing of the [achievement] gap."
But since 2000, progress for 11-year-olds has hit a standstill, although test scores for 14-year-olds have continued a slow, steady drift upward.
Trying to figure out the reasons for that plateau, and how to move off it, has become the driving force behind the government’s recent education initiatives.
"I would make no apology for what Michael et al. did in 1997," said David Hopkins, a university academic who succeeded Mr. Barber as head of the standards and effectiveness unit at the national education department. "For the first time in 50 years, [primary] standards increased."
In 1998, Mr. Hopkins noted, only two local education authorities had at least 75 percent of 11-year-olds at level 4 in English; by 2003, a majority did. "If there’s any justification for doing what Michael Barber and Tony Blair did, it’s that, in my mind," he said. "It has to be a stunning achievement."
"But," added the amiable professor, who has spent 25 years working on school improvement issues, "and this is a big but, that was only the first stage in a long-term, large-scale reform. And one of the reasons why we’ve stalled is that more of the same will not work."
Few deny that the government’s efforts to date have had an impact. Although the strategies for primary school have been criticized by some as too prescriptive and centralized, particularly in their initial version, most admit that standards and teaching in the early grades have improved.
"Overall, I think
it dragged up the bottom layer," said Susan Scarsbrook, the head
But it’s harder to gauge the effects on achievement. Critics point out that much of the increase in English and math scores at age 11 occurred before the introduction of the literacy strategy in 1998 and the numeracy strategy in 1999. Moreover, the sharpest gains have been in science, where the government had no intervention plan. Some studies also suggest that the gains in literacy, in particular, have been overstated.
"When you ask for
corroborating evidence for rising standards, you see something sort
of like the
report that examined the comparability of national tests between 1996
and 2001 also questioned the extent of the improvements in reading,
based on giving comparable groups of children in
For his part, Mr. Barber points to the fact that English 10-year-olds scored third in a 35-nation study of reading achievement released last year as proof that the gains are real.
Far more contentious than the literacy and numeracy strategies has been the impact of testing, school league tables, and performance targets.
"There’s a big debate over here about the league tables, which were introduced in the early 1990s, and I’m quite ambivalent about that," acknowledged Mr. Steer of Seven Kings secondary school. "It’s terribly crude, and sometimes it’s quite unfair," he said, noting that the raw scores compare schools with vastly different student populations and circumstances.
"The positive side is, it was a moment of truth," he added. "It forced schools to raise the profile on achievement and to contemplate what their basic function was, which is helping children learn and achieve, in a way they’d never done before."
When Mr. Steer began as a head teacher in the 1980s, he recalled, "I couldn’t get hold of comparative data on my school’s performance with others’. It wasn’t something that you did. It was considered an unprofessional action."
But national tests, tables, and targets also have had some unintended, negative consequences. In particular, critics charge, they have encouraged schools to focus their efforts on those students just below the bar—a level 4 at age 11, and a grade of C on the General Certificate of Secondary Education exams at age 16.
In a recent study of more than a dozen local education authorities and 50 schools, for example, researchers at Cambridge University found that 82 percent of head teachers acknowledged the regular use of "practice" tests in classes for students at age 11. And 74 percent provided "booster" classes to help children at or near the bar. A majority also concentrated their more experienced teachers in classes for 11-year-olds and reduced the scope of the curriculum to focus on what’s tested.
"In the primary
schools, in particular, there’s been a very definite narrowing of the
curriculum," said John M. Gray, a professor of education at
In his most recent annual report to Parliament, David Bell, Her Majesty’s chief school inspector, said that the gap in standards and quality between English, math, and science and other subjects had widened. "We cannot afford, and our children do not deserve, a two-tier curriculum," he said.
Such concerns, and the perceived stress on pupils, have led to growing pressure on the government to abolish national tests for 7-year-olds and end the publication of league tables based on raw results.
The National Union of
Teachers, the biggest of
A survey of 30,500 teachers, conducted for the union, found more than eight in 10 believed that the tests were stressful to children, and more than half agreed the tests undermined professional judgment. While 90 percent said the tests diminished students’ access to a balanced curriculum, only 5 percent agreed that the tests raised standards. The vast majority also agreed that the national-curriculum tests placed an additional workload on teachers.
"I think it’s fair to say that it was a setback," John Bangs, an assistant secretary of the union, said of the failed boycott. "On the positive side, the effect was that we put testing and assessment bang in the center of the agenda again."
At its annual conference last month, union delegates voted overwhelmingly to continue campaigning against national tests for 7-year-olds, as well as teacher profiles for even younger students. Meanwhile, the two unions representing head teachers, the equivalent of U.S. principals—the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers—also are prodding the government to stop publishing performance tables based on test results, and to focus more on school self-evaluation and assessments by teachers.
National targets, in particular, have come under heavy fire as setting unrealistic expectations that are too centrally driven. In some cases, local education authorities, under pressure to meet government benchmarks, drove individual schools to revise their school targets upward, regardless of the needs of their students.
"My overall view
of targets is they’ve been counterproductive," said Harvey Goldstein,
a professor of education at the
In 2002, the government failed to hit its targets for 11-year-olds. A year ago, in a major concession, officials announced they still hoped to have 85 percent of 11-year-olds achieve a level 4 or better in English and math "as soon as possible," preferably by 2006. But they agreed to change the local target-setting procedure, accepting that "schools must be able to set targets that they own and believe in."
Starting this school year, primary schools set their own targets, based on the performance of individual children, with local targets set afterward. And although local authorities can cajole schools to raise their sights, the ultimate responsibility for setting targets will rest with the schools.
At the same time, the government announced it would invite about one-fourth of the LEAs to take part in a pilot effort that would give greater emphasis to teacher-crafted assessment and less emphasis to national-curriculum tests for 7-year-olds. The government’s strategy for ages 11 to 14 also includes a heavy emphasis on "assessment for learning," or improving teachers’ use of classroom assessments, questioning, and marking to inform and adjust what they do day to day.
Open to Refinements
Some observers hope
that, in the long term, national targets and tables will wither away.
As evidence, they point to
"So, in a sense,
it’s sort of crumbling at the edges," said Wynne Harlen. A professor
of education at the
For his part, Charles
Clarke, the secretary of state for education and skills—who sits at
the top of the education hierarchy in
Moreover, the government recently signaled that it is interested in what Mr. Barber calls a "sharper, clearer, less burdensome, and more precise" accountability framework.
The most detailed description of what that framework might look like came in a Jan. 8 speech by David Miliband, the minister of state for school standards.
"I believe parents have a right to information about the performance of individual schools, in a form which allows them readily to make comparisons with other schools," said the Labor MP. "We cannot return to a world where ministers, officials, and probably teachers know the performance of schools, but the public do not."
Nonetheless, he proposed a greater emphasis on school self-evaluation; sharper, more focused OFSTED inspections; and the provision of better quantitative and qualitative data to schools and parents as the way forward.
In particular, Mr. Miliband outlined the idea for an annual "school profile" that would provide parents with comparative data about a school’s achievement coupled with information from the school itself about its priorities and performance.
Mr. Miliband’s speech was followed, in February, by plans for a revised OFSTED inspection system, based on "shorter, sharper inspections."
Since its inception,
the Office for Standards in Education has played a pivotal and controversial
"What they get are what are called amongst teachers ‘OFSTED lessons,’ specially prepared having tried to figure out the mind of the inspectorate, and totally false," said Carol Taylor Fitz-Gibbon, a professor emerita at the University of Durham, who has criticized the inspections for lacking scientific rigor. "If you were looking for cockroaches as a safety inspector, you wouldn’t find any if you told people you were coming."
Added Professor Gray
Under the February proposal, put forth by Mr. Bell, the chief inspector of schools, OFSTED would inspect schools on a more regular basis—at least once every three years. But inspections would last no more than a week, occur with minimal advance notice, and focus on core areas of learning.
Such visits, designed to provide a "warts and all" picture, would result in brief, six-page summaries of schools’ performance, in contrast to the current reports, which can run upwards of 40 pages. The inspections also would rest more on school self-evaluation and on students’ learning gains than has been true previously.
"We’ve come a very long way in the last 12 months, mainly because of David Miliband’s speech in January," said John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association. "I think it’s moving in the right direction."
One of the biggest challenges
is regaining the trust of teachers, who have been bombarded over the
past 16 years with what many here refer to as "initiative overload."
were almost certainly desirable, in that they have over the years drawn
very close attention to the question of standards," said David
H. Hargreaves, a former professor of education at
"The price that’s been paid for it," he continued, "as always when you have a very strong centralized intervention, is it has created a climate of relatively low trust between ministers and the profession. And a lot of people feel that the levers that have been used—which are a highly prescriptive curriculum, teaching methods, accountability through standardized tests—these have discouraged professional innovation and commitment.
"And I think that policy will now have to seek to restore a trustful partnership between the politicians and the profession."
Government officials describe the challenge as twofold. One, to deepen the reforms, schools and educators will have to assume ownership of the changes at a more fundamental level. As the education department’s standards chief Mr. Hopkins put it: "How do we actually move from a phase of reform predicated on national prescription to a phase predicated on schools’ leading reform?"
And, two, the focus must be put on the remaining "underperformance" within the system, both the variation in progress across schools with similar starting points and the within-school variation across teachers, student groups, and subject departments.
"It will get harder," conceded Mr. Barber, the prime minister’s chief adviser on the delivery of public services."You can’t get the kinds of steep changes that we got from 1998 to 2000. But what you can do," he said, is "get continuous improvement, if the system learns."
Illinois State Board of Education