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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – May 7 - 14, 2004


Education reform still possible / State Journal-Register
New education department? Not yet / Daily Herald
Schools can help kids eat right / Sun-Times
Macomb residents take concerns to Springfield / Macomb Eagle
Teacher certificate backlog may ease / Chicago Tribune
Camera phones now in schools' lenses / Daily Herald
Proposed state budget does no favors for Illinois teachers, students / Chicago Tribune
Blagojevich, Madigan spar on education plan / Rockford Register Star
Study finds little healthy in school vending machines / Sun-Times
New school gets green thumbs up / Chicago Tribune
Illinois celebrates '54 Brown ruling / Chicago Tribune
Governor wants to shake up education / Peoria Journal Star
Education Compromise: Governor, Senate Democrats Agree on New Public School Policy / Southern Illinoisan
Deal would give governor control of school board / Chicago Tribune
Governor backs off of school overhaul / Pantagraph
New education reforms worry some downstate /
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Gov makes deal that keeps education board, but lets him fill it / Sun-Times
Blagojevich won't kill state school board / Daily Herald
A chance at education evolution / Chicago Tribune
Business coalition's plan won't resolve school woes / Pantagraph
Southern Baptist urges homeschooling / Boston Globe
Study faults computer use in Rhode Island schools / Boston Globe
School tests widely flawed / Honolulu Star Bulletin
U.S. education chief assails critics of No Child Left Behind / Pittsburgh Post Gazette
More rules, less money taxing schools / Springfield Sun-Times (OH)
Survey Probes Views On Race / Education Week
Still Separate and Unequal /
Washington Post
Wis. AG: School reforms can't be forced / Boston Globe
Senators approve special-ed changes / Boston Globe
All-day kindergarten fails to clear House hurdle /
Arizona Republic


Education reform still possible  

State Journal-Register Editorial, 5/7/04

Following Gov. Rod Blagojevich's State of the State speech in January, we supported - with some reservations - the governor's call to create a Department of Education to take over most functions of the Illinois State Board of Education.

We supported the idea primarily because we believe the ISBE is not an effective voice for education in Illinois. If something goes awry in Corrections, Public Aid or Children and Family Services, the buck stops at the governor's desk.

The chain of command and responsibility is much more amorphous for educational matters. We understand the wisdom of those who rewrote the state constitution in 1970. They wanted to create an independent state board of education to insulate education officials from the rough-and-tumble world of politics.

Unfortunately, the current system provides so much insulation that the ISBE and the state superintendent of schools, whom the board appoints, has been largely pushed out of the realm of those with any real power. The superintendent goes before the General Assembly each legislative session to let everyone know that education needs more money. Sometimes the superintendent might even say the entire funding system is broken.

Then the superintendent heads back to the ISBE building and waits to see if the General Assembly has any interest in helping. Unfortunately, the ISBE and the superintendent of schools have never really wielded much political clout.

Some critics have charged that Blagojevich's proposal to create the Department of Education is simply a "power grab." By definition, it is a power grab, but we believe the governor should be grabbing the power to champion education in Illinois.

However, Speaker of the House Michael Madigan's announcement this week that he will not allow a vote on the governor's education reform initiative means the Department of Education idea is likely dead. Madigan believes the idea is unconstitutional because it essentially does away with the independent State Board of Education that the 1970 constitution created.

A gubernatorial spokeswoman said the governor will still fight for the idea and noted that "Speaker Madigan is not the entire legislative branch." Regardless of what his media person says, Blagojevich is savvy enough to know that with Madigan's active opposition, the Department of Education legislation is going nowhere.

Madigan has, however, left the door to significant education reform open a crack. He praised a group this week for suggesting a compromise solution that would give the governor more control of education, but would not do away with the ISBE.

Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk and Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, have been negotiating a compromise that might allow Blagojevich to appoint board members of his liking and change the state superintendent's position from a contractual one to an "at will" employee of the board. This should help defuse criticism that Blagojevich is violating the state constitution. It would also mean one less bureaucracy than if a Department of Education was created, as the governor would not have eliminated the ISBE - it would have hung around as a "think tank."

It is likely Blagojevich will not be interested in such a compromise, however, unless he is convinced it will give him real power to reform Illinois' education system. We certainly are comfortable with a compromise that maintains the ISBE while placing leadership responsibility with the governor, where it belongs.


New education department? Not yet  

Daily Herald Editorial, 5/7/04

A tough week for Gov. Rod Blagojevich became a little rougher Wednesday, when House Speaker and fellow Democrat Michael J. Madigan said, in essence, that the governor can kiss his proposed new department of education goodbye.

Back in January, Blagojevich made the centerpiece of his State of the State address a plan to dismantle the Illinois State Board of Education and create, in its stead, a department of education answerable to the governor. This department, the governor said, would not only save $1 billion in tax dollars over four years, it would be far more accountable than the existing board. It would, he said, show the way to significant improvements in public education.

But Madigan has now dismissed the plan as inadequately vetted and perhaps even unconstitutional. A governor's spokesperson says bravely that Madigan represents only one legislative vote. Technically, true. But as a practical matter, if the speaker doesn't want this plan to see the light of day, chances are pretty good it won't.

Our view is that while there might be a case to be made for reorganization, the governor hasn't made it. And in failing to sell his plan, he has demonstrated some of the strategic errors that have created unnecessary problems for him elsewhere.

For openers, the governor came out with rhetorical guns blazing, accusing the board of acting like a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" and saying that while various problems plague Illinois education, the most serious woes can be blamed largely on the state board. One need not be a staunch defender of the state board - and we are not - to find such an assessment to be over-the-top and lacking in the nuance one might expect.

It later emerged that the governor who has made death-to-special-interests his motto - and a good motto it is - had conferred with the state's two majors teachers unions before unveiling his plan. These unions were among the most prominent and generous of Blagojevich's campaign supporters in 2002. Such consultation might not have raised eyebrows quite so much if the governor's staff had not neglected to meet with key legislative leaders.

And as on other issues, the governor seems to have skipped the often-critical step of working with legislators early in an effort to earn their support. Aside from Madigan's opposition, Senate Republicans have been somewhat skeptical. House Republicans are less interested in a battle over control than in adopting a set of guiding principles that they think would improve the state's schools.

Again, the governor might have a case to make. But with everything else lawmakers must achieve before this sessions ends, this is one item better taken off the table until there is sufficient time to determine whether Blagojevich is correct in the claims he makes for a new and improved department of education.


Schools can help kids eat right  

Letter by Camille Reid, school food policy director, Healthy Schools Campaign, May 7, 2004

The decision by Chicago Public Schools to replace junk food and soft drinks with healthier alternatives is no doubt a progressive move by the district, and one to be praised [''Schools banning vending machine junk food,'' metro story, April 21].

At a time when childhood obesity has reached a near crisis, it is great to see school decision makers across the country, including CPS, stepping up to the plate to deal with the unhealthy food that is being offered to students.

While offering healthier alternatives in school vending machines is part of the solution, it is not the only one.

CPS also announced the formation of a task force to deal more comprehensively with the school food environment, which is a revolutionary feat -- especially for a district of its size. Many other large districts across the country have banned the sale of junk food and soft drinks from school vending machines, but none have gone so far to deal with many of the concerns around school food and nutrition education.

This task force plays a critical role in that it will build a partnership between community-based organizations and all members of the public school community, including parents, to promote healthy eating and active lifestyles among its students.

Research continues to show the significance of the school food environment on students' food choices. Many children consume up to 40 percent of their total daily food at school. Schools have the opportunity to provide students with healthy foods through the national school meal programs, teach healthy eating habits in the classroom and model healthy food choices.

Schools are uniquely positioned to foster environments that help students establish healthy lifelong habits. I applaud CPS for its vision and commitment to work on these efforts.


Macomb residents take concerns to Springfield

Macomb Eagle, 5/7/04

The overall message that Macomb representatives heard Wednesday in Springfield was don’t expect too much, “it’s an election year.” Many of the state agencies that the group including over 30 Macomb residents went to see were in budget negotiations at the time.

The loud and clear message was if you want something, then keep up the pressure. State Sen. John Sullivan suggested reviving the campaign from last year to make sure the proposed WIU performing arts center doesn’t fall back on the state’s list of important items. State Rep. Rich Myers said, “We continually keep the issue in front of the governor’s face, but we still need a lot of support of the rank and file back home.”

The trip to the state capitol was sponsored by the Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Development Corporation.

The group first visited the Division of Aeronautics of the Illinois Department of Transportation. Bill Butcher expressed concerns about staff cuts in the department and how that may affect continued funding for Macomb’s airport. Steve Long, acting bureau chief for Airport Engineering, talked about the federal block grant program and how Illinois is recognized as a leader in the nation.

The next stop was a joint meeting with Sullivan and Myers. Items discussed were IL 336, U.S. 67, the performing arts center, the Rushville prison, malpractice insurance problems, “vacation” from OSLAND grants, permit fee increases, creative ideas to raise revenue, sales tax on ag products, cuts in the higher education budget, a change in funding for education, Department of Human Services cuts, the announcement that the CMS will change insurance for state employees this summer and the proposed 50-percent cut in the tourism budget.

“Nobody wants services cut, nobody wants taxes raised,” Sullivan said. He added that the legislature is bringing up these concerns to Gov. Rod Blagojevich. When asked about cuts, Blagojevich and his staff have responded, “Show us some other alternatives.” Some alternatives have been presented, but not accepted.

“The folks in tourism have really done a great job of making their voice heard,” said Sullivan.

The group then heard from Illinois State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Robert Schiller. Blagojevich has targeted the State Board of Education to be eliminated and rolled into a Department of Education, under the governor’s control.

“Education is at a crossroads,” Schiller said. He added that the quality of education can depend on a student’s zip code. Education in Illinois is underfunded, and too much support is pushed to the local level. Most other states have a higher percentage of participation with education funding. Illinois is at 36 percent; the national average is 56 percent.

“Our system needs to be overhauled,” said Schiller. “This is a systemic problem that over time in Illinois – the way in which our entire economic structure has been built and revenues generated – has not kept pace with the changing of time.”

Illinois, Schiller went on to say, has one of the lowest state income tax rates, and the sales tax is not broad-based. He said the legislature must set a budget where demands far exceed resources.

“We’re going to find in the next three to four weeks that decisions that will be made by the legislative level, decisions that will be made by the governor, are going to directly affect the quality of life in Illinois. Are we going to rebuild the infrastructure or do we struggle with what we have?”

Schiller added that there is movement to increase education funding by $250 per student, which is a step toward the EFAB minimum recommendation of $5, 665 per student.

Talking about consolidation, Schiller felt that most consolidation is born by necessity. He said school board members should ask, “Is it in the best interest of the students?”

The group then visited with the Illinois Board of Higher Education and finished with Jack Lavin, director of the Illinois Department of Economic opportunity. Lavin was recently in Macomb for the NTN-Bower groundbreaking.

Macomb Mayor Mick Wisslead questioned Lavin about the CDAP grant for Colchester’s water project. Lavin said the request has been reviewed and was in the governor’s office for sign-off. He expected some good news for Colchester soon.

When asked about the proposed cuts in tourism, Lavin said, “ It was the toughest choice we had to make. It was a choice between this and education.”

Lavin said he had not yet seen data on what the performing arts center at WIU would do for the area economically.


Teacher certificate backlog may ease

Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, 5/9/04

SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois State Board of Education officials said Friday they can start catching up on a backlog of teacher certifications after the governor restored $1.2 million in funding cuts to the board.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich cut the money last summer. According to state board officials, that forced the education agency to lay off 22 employees last year, causing a backlog of certification applications that spanned more than a year.

The backlog meant some teachers had to wait more than a year to find out whether their teaching certificates would be renewed, according to Board of Education spokeswoman Karen Craven.

Blagojevich reappropriated the money Friday after lawmakers voted to return the funds.

"It's important to clear that backlog so teachers aren't harmed," said Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch. She said the governor restored the money solely to help erase the certification backlog.

The state board hopes to rehire six employees by Monday, Craven said. It will also reopen its Chicago Regional Office of Education, which was closed in December after a portion of its budget was cut last year.

"This puts us in a position to best support teachers again, and we're very excited about it," Craven said.

The governor initially cut the certification fund so more money could be spent in the classroom, according to Becky Carroll, spokeswoman for Blagojevich's budget office. She said the state board could have found other money to pay for the work instead of laying off people who process certifications.

House Speaker Michael Madigan suggested restoring the funds last month during a hearing on the governor's proposal to reshape the State Teacher Certification Board.


Camera phones now in schools' lenses

Russell Lissau, Daily Herald, 5/9/04

They were among the hottest holiday gifts last year, but camera phones are increasingly getting the cold shoulder in the suburbs.

Citing worries about privacy invasions, several area park districts and YMCAs have banned them. Businesses concerned about corporate espionage are considering restrictions, too.

Now many local high schools are putting the kibosh on the palm-sized devices, either by limiting how, when and where they can be activated or flatly prohibiting them.

"We don't want them at school," said Dave Sears, the associate principal of student services at Grayslake High School. "We're not even going to monkey with it. There's no need to have a camera like that at school."

Educators supporting such policies - many of which are being enacted now ahead of the 2004-05 term - don't want revealing, locker-room photographs of their students ending up on the Internet or circulated among students via e-mail. They also want to prevent teens from using the devices to cheat.

Some students, however, said they doubt the policies will stop the proliferation of the high-tech gadgets in school. The rules certainly won't deter cheaters, they say.

"If you're going to cheat, you're going to cheat," said Sara Scherping, a junior at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. "You can find another way to do it."

Booming business

Camera phones take digital photographs that can be transmitted over cellular signals to other phones, e-mail accounts or the Internet. They were introduced in the United States about two years ago, but sales didn't really take off until the 2003 holiday season.

An estimated 21 million camera phones will be sold this year in the United States - about 19 percent of all cell phones to be purchased here, according to the Yankee Group, a Boston-based technology market research firm. Next year, camera-phone sales may reach 48 million, about 42 percent of domestic cellular sales.

"The camera-phone revolution is essentially over," Yankee Group analyst John Jackson said. "The integrated digital camera will become standard fare on mid-tier phones, which most people buy."

That propagation has prompted educators across the nation to consider taking steps to keep the phones from being misused at school.

Officials are particularly concerned that irresponsible students will take photos of classmates in bathrooms or other relatively private settings. They also fear students will use the inconspicuous cameras to cheat by taking photos of tests or other educational materials.

Few local administrators have experienced these types of transgressions, but incidents have occurred. Last fall, a Stevenson student was caught photographing a math test with a phone.

And complaints of people using phones to take indecent photos have cropped up at health clubs and other suburban locations, including the Gurnee Mills mall.

"We need to be more proactive than reactive," said Sean Garrison, director of discipline and attendance at Antioch Community High School.

Starting in August, Antioch will forbid students to possess camera phones on campus. Other types of phones are fine if they're used only before or after school.

According to Antioch's new rules, which will be included in the next student handbook, a teen found with a camera phone will have it confiscated until after school. Repeated violations could result in detentions.

Students caught cheating or taking inappropriate photographs with the phones will face stiffer penalties, including suspension or expulsion.

"How the picture phone is used will determine the consequences," Garrison said.

Such rules are left up to individual school districts, said Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Naomi Greene. No state laws or state-board policies govern mobile phone usage at schools.

Camera phones could be banned at both Grayslake High campuses next year, too. An embargo was proposed earlier this year by a discipline committee consisting of parents, students, board members and administrators, and the board will vote on the matter in June.

The preservation of common decency was more of a concern at Grayslake than cheating, the school's Sears said.

"The companies have done a great job marketing the product, but we're here to protect privacy," he said. "Hopefully, that's what we're going to end up doing."

Other schools with new camera-phone policies take different approaches.

According to rules enacted in March, Stevenson students can carry the controversial handsets but will face harsh penalties if caught using them to cheat or take unsuitable photographic images. Disciplinary options include failing grades, the loss of campus privileges and expulsion.

"There is a right way and a wrong way to use a camera phone," Stevenson spokesman Jim Conrey said. "We believe our students are smart enough to know the difference. For those who aren't, they'll be a whole lot smarter after suffering the consequences."

Industry understands

The telecommunications industry doesn't object to these policies. School rules should be designed by education experts, not outsiders, said Travis Larson, spokesman for the Washington D.C.-based Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.

"The wireless industry respects the decisions of schools and school districts, just as the automotive industry should respect a decision about whether automobiles should be parked on campus," Larson said. "Schools are there primarily to educate students. If phones get in the way of that education, then teachers, administrators and parents need to make whatever decisions are necessary."

Not all suburban educators are rushing to restrict camera phones, however. Officials in many local districts are pleased with existing rules limiting the use of all cellular phones, including those with cameras, to before or after school.

Some administrators think banning the phones could send a bad signal to parents who try to stay in touch with their teens.

"As a parent, I could understand it would be upsetting to purchase such a device only to find out my child couldn't use it to call me and say, 'Practice is over, come pick me up,'æ" said Melea Smith, communications director of Naperville Unit District 203, whose board is considering restricting camera-phone use. "It's going to be a difficult decision to make."

Local students say the camera-phone rules aren't worth the effort. Even though most schools have policies restricting cell phone use, teens regularly sneak calls in a bathroom stall or send text messages to their friends in class, Stevenson High junior Allison Fouts said. Camera phone usage likely will continue, too, she said.

Additionally, effective enforcement of a ban could be difficult - especially since camera phones closely resemble regular mobile phones, Stevenson junior Andrew Sim said.

"Are they going to have a (checkpoint) and make kids take out their phones?" he said.

The new policies may have flaws, but Warren Township High School Superintendent Phil Sobocinski firmly believes rules regarding proper student conduct must keep pace with technology's relentless advancements - as best as possible, anyway.

That's why Sobocinski and his Gurnee-based school board are developing rules that would severely punish students caught using camera phones to cheat or take unseemly pictures.

"Ten years ago we didn't need a policy like that because there wasn't that kind of technology. But as the world changes, schools need to change their policies and procedures," Sobocinski said. "This year, it's the camera phone. Next year, it will be something else."


Proposed state budget does no favors for Illinois teachers, students

By Dan Cronin and Jeff Schoenberg. Dan Cronin (R-Elmhurst) and Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) are members of the Illinois Senate, Chicago Tribune, 5/11/04

Proven success stories in educational reform efforts deserve to be emulated, not eliminated. That is why it is so disappointing to learn that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year fails to include funding for the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois program.

The $3 million slated for the scholarships must be restored. If allowed to stand, this cut would essentially sever a major artery that assures the state's most needy kids get the best teachers. It also runs contrary to the expressed goals of an administration that has strongly advocated for high-quality teachers for poor kids.

The Golden Apple Foundation's advanced teacher-preparation and internship program, active since 1989, has 800 participants currently teaching or on their way to teaching in schools throughout Illinois. The program has proven to be successful in delivering high-quality teachers to schools in need. In addition, Golden Apple's teacher-retention rate is 90 percent compared to the state's 50 percent or less, astonishing especially because these young teachers work in school settings deserving of talented and well-prepared teachers.

Yet, despite admitting the strength and quality of this program, the governor eliminated its funding, mystifying its advocates in the legislature and education community, and crushing the dreams of its participants. The Blagojevich administration claims grants and scholarships could be accessible from other sources. But what makes the scholars program unique is that it is a hybrid of advanced teacher-preparation and internship with a scholarship component. The preparation this program offers greatly increases the odds its participants will be successful, inspiring teachers in challenging schools.

How does this program succeed? Imagine that you want to become a reading teacher. As a Golden Apple Scholar, you spend your first summer after high school learning about teaching from master teachers, including one nationally known and locally honored for her work in recognizing and helping students with dyslexia. By the next summer you far outpace your college peers in knowledge about teaching reading to students, and you learn from a widely published expert on diversity issues to become a teacher who celebrates her students' diversity.

Now imagine being an exhausted first-year reading teacher in a tough school setting and having a distinguished mentor visit your classroom, one who has known you for years, assisting you in meeting your challenges during the extremely difficult first years in the profession.

This is the essence of the Golden Apple Scholars program, which pioneered the now-common practice of giving prospective teachers early involvement in working in schools coupled with teaching and mentoring from award-winning teachers. The mentoring and instruction prospective teachers receive during college continues once scholars enter the profession. A study by the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2001 showed Golden Apple scholars enter teaching with more advanced skills. And the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University named the program one of 15 finalists out of 1,200 programs nationwide for its annual "Innovations in American Government" award, hailing the program as "a sterling example of public funds used for the common good."

This program is more than a sound use of state funds. It is an outstanding investment we are proud to have brought to Illinois. Ideally, funding should be expanded to bring advanced preparation and mentoring to even more teachers. But with the harsh budget realities confronting Gov. Blagojevich and the legislature, restoration of the Golden Apple Scholars funding at this year's level should be made part of a strategy to ensure a sound investment in teaching.


Blagojevich, Madigan spar on education plan  

Aaron Chambers, Rockford Register Star, Springfield Bureau, 5/12/04

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich challenged House Speaker Michael Madigan on Tuesday to permit the full House to vote on the governor's plan to seize control of education.

Blagojevich wants to shift the administration of Illinois public schools from the State Board of Education to a new cabinet-level agency under his command.

But Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who controls the House docket, last week said the governor's plan would violate the Illinois Constitution, which established the Board of Education. Madigan also said shifting education administration would result in "lengthy and unneeded litigation" and create unnecessary bureaucracy.

Blagojevich, another Chicago Democrat, shot back Tuesday. "I can't imagine that he would not call a bill that's all about education reform."

Yet Blagojevich stepped back from his demand for a new state agency and appeared to set the stage for a compromise.

"A Department of Education by itself isn't the principal objective of what our education reform plan is," he said. "Instead, it's having accountability in the system. And if there's another vehicle that would give us the same ability to build accountability, we'd be very much for that."

Madigan last week proposed an alternative to the governor's plan: He said the Legislature should give Blagojevich authority to immediately appoint a majority of the Board of Education.

Under state law, governors appoint all nine members of the board. But those members serve terms of six years, two years longer than the term of a governor. So a governor must wait for terms to expire before making appointments.

Two of the nine slots are empty, but Blagojevich has not filled them. The governor Tuesday called the speaker's alternative plan "a nonstarter."

He said an effort to reconstitute the board would be "ripe for politics and gridlock and more bureaucratic morass, not less, and no accountability."


Study finds little healthy in school vending machines

Janet Rausa Fuller, Chicago Sun-Times

Eighty-five percent of snacks and 75 percent of drinks sold in vending machines in middle and high schools are junk food, a study released Tuesday by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found.

The study took stock of vending machine offerings in 251 schools across 24 states, including Illinois, and categorized items as "healthier" or "less healthful."

The findings were "much worse" than expected, said Margo Wootan, the center's director of nutrition policy and the study's lead author.

"I had no idea there was so much candy," Wootan said. "I thought that with communities and schools being more conscious of rising obesity rates that more of the beverage options would be healthful ones."

The survey found that candy, chips and "sweet baked goods" accounted for 80 percent of available snacks, while sugary sodas, juice drinks and sports drinks accounted for 70 percent of beverages. Bottled water made up 12 percent and milk only 5 percent of beverages.

Fruits and vegetables -- and refrigerated vending machines that can stock items like salads and veggie sticks with low-fat dip -- were even harder to find. Of the 9,723 total snack slots surveyed, just 26 offered a fruit or vegetable, and much of that was dried fruit snacks, Wootan said.

"If a child buys lunch out of vending machines, it's almost guaranteed to be high in sugar, salt, calorically dense and virtually devoid of nutrients," she said.

The center is pushing Congress to give the U.S. Department of Agriculture greater authority to regulate vending machine foods, as it already does for cafeteria meals.

The study comes as school districts across the nation, including Chicago, are considering or putting in place bans on junk foods in vending machines to help stem what health experts have called an obesity epidemic.

On May 26, a proposal to ban candy and chewing gum and set restrictions on the sugar and fat content of vending machine snacks in all Chicago public schools goes up for vote before the Chicago Board of Education.

Chicago public school officials are waiting on bids to replace a five-year beverage vending machine contract with Coca-Cola. In the new contract, only water, non-carbonated sports drinks and juice drinks with no less than 50 percent real fruit juice can be sold.

Vending machines are a valuable revenue stream for school districts. But in case studies of 14 schools sites, CSPI found that schools did not lose money after switching to healthier vending machines snacks.

At Mundelein High School, vending machine sales are down a third over last year after the school replaced soda and candy with items like granola bars and baked chips, but officials aren't worried, spokeswoman Kelley Happ said.

"Yes, we've lost revenue, but we're doing the right thing," Happ said.


New school gets green thumbs up

Ana Beatriz Cholo, Chicago Tribune

Chicago will break ground Wednesday for the city's first certified "green" elementary school, an eco-friendly structure featuring drought-resistant plants on the roof, solar panels, harvested rainwater and flooring made of recycled glass.

District officials also say the new Tarkington Elementary in Marquette Park won't be the only school like it for long.

In the future, all city schools will be certified as "green" by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.

The schools will be built following a philosophy of using resources efficiently, making the least impact on the environment and making the health and productivity of the occupants a priority.

Only four public schools in the country--in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Oregon--are currently certified by the council. But it has registered about 76 more public and private primary schools that are being planned or built.

That number includes a new addition for a charter school already open at the environmentally conscious Prairie Crossing development in north suburban Grayslake. The structure is expected to be completed in December.

Tarkington, a kindergarten through 8th-grade school planned to meet demand on the growing Southwest Side, is slated to open in the fall of 2005. The school will be built on park land, and the Chicago Park District will share some of the facilities.

The school will be built using 50 percent certified wood from "responsible" lumberyards, and building occupants will be encouraged to use public transportation to get to work. Twenty percent of the materials used to build the school must come from within a 500-mile radius, to cut down on energy used for transportation.

It will cost $23 million to build, about 8 percent more than the cost of a typical non-green school, said Chicago Public Schools officials. The cost to build an elementary school is approximately $140 to $160 per square foot, versus $168 per square foot for Tarkington.

However, the school district expects to save money on energy, lighting and other operating costs, said Sean Murphy, the district's chief operating officer.

"It should have a positive impact on student learning and a positive impact on the environment," he said.

Environmental experts say students at green schools perform better because of the exposure to natural light and higher air quality. The staff would also benefit, they say.

Mark Bishop, state policy director for the Healthy Schools Campaign in Illinois, said there has been a movement nationwide to build energy-efficient schools, but Chicago is the only district in the state that has pledged to build only green schools.

"I think this really will serve the public and students well," Bishop said. "To do something as broadly as Chicago Public Schools, it really is a great step forward."

City school officials said the new Haugen Elementary School in Albany Park, for which ground was broken about a month ago, is the last Chicago public school to be built without "green" components.

The new Anderson and Ellington Elementary Schools now under construction will include environmentally conscious features, such as rooftop vegetation and infrastructure that will allow solar panels to be installed. But those schools, in the Englewood and South Austin neighborhoods, will not meet all of the many requirements to be certified as green.

The U.S. Green Building Council in 1998 developed a set of stringent measurements that buildings must meet before they can be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified--the gold standard for being green.

The council ranks Illinois as the ninth "greenest" state for its existing and planned environmentally friendly buildings.

A certified building can achieve different levels of "greenness," with the highest level being platinum. There are only five of these sites in the world, including the Chicago Center for Green Technology. That building boasts recycled carpeting, linoleum made of wood flour and linseed oil, and a parking lot paved with crushed gravel and pine tree resin.

In recent years Mayor Richard Daley has encouraged city building designers to add rooftop gardens, which can reduce energy costs by cutting down on the heat generated by dark surfaces. The city planted a 20,300-square-foot garden atop City Hall four years ago.

Sadhu Johnston, whom some call "the green guru," was handpicked by Daley to oversee green initiatives for the city. About 12 buildings in the city are in the process of becoming green or are already certified, he said.

In Grayslake, the new green 10-classroom building for Prairie Crossing Charter School reflects the conservation philosophy of the surrounding Prairie Crossing housing development.

Architects have come into the classroom and explained how and why recycled products are being used during construction, said Linda Brazdil, director of the elementary school, which already has an environmental focus. The school plans to expand, and fundraising efforts are in the works for a second green building.

Brazdil says they are considering adding a geothermal heating system, for which 35 wells, 150 feet deep, would be dug near the school. Water would circulate through the wells, collecting the heat of the earth.

That method cuts energy costs but is expensive to install.

"I would love to be able to use that to teach students" about physical science, Brazdil said. "The more environmental we could be in our building, the more that we could say to our community that we believe in this. ... We are not just teaching this. We really live it."


Illinois celebrates '54 Brown ruling

Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune, 5/13/04

From a re-enactment of historic U.S. Supreme Court arguments to programs discussing the connection between racial integration and the arts, Illinois will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision for the next year.

The non-profit Illinois Humanities Council will launch its free series of events Thursday, hoping to draw diverse audiences across the state into a conversation about the legacy of the May 17, 1954, decision that declared segregated schools are "inherently unequal."

On Monday a state commission formed to commemorate the decision will host a program at Chicago State University that will include a staging of arguments in the case. The event will be broadcast live on public TV stations and be available to schools by satellite and through the Internet.

"We're trying to show the importance of the case to the world," said Ollie McLemore, executive director of the commission.

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Freeman will play U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justices Fred Vinson and Earl Warren in arguments from 1952 and 1953. Chicago attorney James Montgomery will play Thurgood Marshall, the lead civil rights attorney in the Brown case who would go on to become the first black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The yearlong humanities series will look beyond schooling to examine such topics as the role of race in the development of jazz and rhythm and blues. Lectures, films and presentations will feature dancers, playwrights and professors, among others, with events planned in Chicago, Carbondale, Decatur, Jacksonville, Macomb and Springfield.

"We wanted to get as many people involved in the conversation as possible," said Angel Ysaguirre, director of programs for the council. "We tried to create a number of different formats and topics so we could reach a wide audience."

Thursday's event in Chicago, on integration and the arts, is filled. But free tickets are still available for events over the next year. A list of events and information is available on the council's Web site at

Monday's reenactment at Chicago State University has only a limited number of seats left; they must be reserved by calling 773-995-3608.


Governor wants to shake up education  

By ADRIANA COLINDRES of Copley News Service, May 14, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Abandoning an earlier proposal to create a new Department of Education, Gov. Rod Blagojevich unveiled a compromise plan Thursday that would empower him to replace all nine members of the State Board of Education.

The new appointees, if confirmed by the state Senate, would serve "at will." That means "if they don't perform and show results, they can be replaced by the governor at any time," Blagojevich said.

Accompanied at a Statehouse news conference by Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, and Sens. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, and Patrick Welch, D-Peru, Blagojevich outlined the contents of the revised education initiative.

Senate Bill 3000 would "make the State Board of Education accountable to the governor and to the General Assembly in a way that it never has been before," Blagojevich said.

Provisions of the plan would:

- End the terms of the current members of the State Board of Education on July 1.

- Enable the governor to appoint nine new members, subject to state Senate confirmation. Their terms would be staggered, with five expiring in 2007 and four expiring in 2009.

- Give school districts the option to participate in the state's prescription drug-buying plan and in a pooled purchasing program, which would result in "hundreds of millions of dollars" in savings, the governor said.

Another measure, Senate Bill 3001, would authorize $2.2 billion in bonding for the state's popular school construction program, Welch said. The state Capital Development Board would be available to help districts with cost-control, but districts would preserve the power to hire their own contractors.

"This plan represents a major step forward for education in Illinois," Blagojevich said, adding that the proposal was the result of negotiations between his office and del Valle. He also called it "a testament and a tribute" to the late Sen. Vince Demuzio, a Carlinville Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Senate.

Blagojevich said if it becomes law, his new appointees to the State Board of Education would be "the best and the brightest," regardless of their political affiliation or where they live.

"If someone's got somebody that's really talented from France, we'd be willing to look at that, too," he said.

Del Valle, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said he is "very, very excited" about the proposed changes.

Jones intends to ensure passage in the Senate, where his party controls 32 seats.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, had cited constitutional worries recently when he said he opposed Blagojevich's proposal for a Department of Education that largely would replace the State Board of Education.

But on Thursday, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said, "We're closer to being on the same page."

Some rank-and-file lawmakers indicated they could vote for the compromise plan.

Rep. Mike Smith, a Canton Democrat who chairs the House appropriations committee for elementary and secondary education, still prefers the idea of a Department of Education.

But Smith added Thursday's plan "is better than the system we have in terms of giving the governor more involvement."

The debate on Illinois' educational governance system was ignited in January, when Blagojevich used his State of the State address to launch a verbal offensive against the State Board of Education. He compared the agency to a clunky, "Soviet-style" bureaucracy that lacks public accountability.

State Superintendent Robert Schiller attended the speech, later calling it a display of "politics and power" that does nothing to help struggling schools.

When the governor was asked Thursday about how the new education plan would affect Schiller, Blagojevich said: "I want to be nice to him. I gave that one speech that one day, and it wasn't about him personally. It was about that position ... But I will say this: There will be a whole new board and there will be a new school superintendent."staggered, with five expiring in 2007 and four expiring in 2009.

- Give school districts the option to participate in the state's prescription drug-buying plan and in a pooled purchasing program, which would result in "hundreds of millions of dollars" in savings, the governor said.

Another measure, Senate Bill 3001, would authorize $2.2 billion in bonding for the state's popular school construction program, Welch said. The state Capital Development Board would be available to help districts with cost-control, but districts would preserve the power to hire their own contractors.

"This plan represents a major step forward for education in Illinois," Blagojevich said, adding that the proposal was the result of negotiations between his office and del Valle. He also called it "a testament and a tribute" to the late Sen. Vince Demuzio, a Carlinville Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Senate.

Blagojevich said if it becomes law, his new appointees to the State Board of Education would be "the best and the brightest," regardless of their political affiliation or where they live.

"If someone's got somebody that's really talented from France, we'd be willing to look at that, too," he said.

Del Valle, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said he is "very, very excited" about the proposed changes.

Jones intends to ensure passage in the Senate, where his party controls 32 seats.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, had cited constitutional worries recently when he said he opposed Blagojevich's proposal for a Department of Education that largely would replace the State Board of Education.

But on Thursday, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said, "We're closer to being on the same page."

Some rank-and-file lawmakers indicated they could vote for the compromise plan.

Rep. Mike Smith, a Canton Democrat who chairs the House appropriations committee for elementary and secondary education, still prefers the idea of a Department of Education.

But Smith added Thursday's plan "is better than the system we have in terms of giving the governor more involvement."

The debate on Illinois' educational governance system was ignited in January, when Blagojevich used his State of the State address to launch a verbal offensive against the State Board of Education. He compared the agency to a clunky, "Soviet-style" bureaucracy that lacks public accountability.

State Superintendent Robert Schiller attended the speech, later calling it a display of "politics and power" that does nothing to help struggling schools.

When the governor was asked Thursday about how the new education plan would affect Schiller, Blagojevich said: "I want to be nice to him. I gave that one speech that one day, and it wasn't about him personally. It was about that position ... But I will say this: There will be a whole new board and there will be a new school superintendent."


Education Compromise: Governor, Senate Democrats Agree on New Public School Policy  

AP, Southern Illinoisan, May 13 2004

SPRINGFIELD -- Giving up his plan to create a new education department under his control, Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Thursday agreed to a compromise that would still give the governor extraordinary new powers over the management of public schools.

Blagojevich and Senate Democrats announced a plan that would let Blagojevich name an entirely new education board on July 1. The members could be dismissed by the governor at any time.

The proposal would give the governor unprecedented power over education policy for elementary and secondary schools, now directed by an independent State Board of Education whose members are appointed by the governor but currently serve six-year terms that often overlap with the terms of new governors.

If approved by the Legislature, Blagojevich said, the compromise would produce "a radical transformation" for an agency that he once compared to "an old, Soviet-style bureaucracy" because of its inefficiency and red tape.

"Today, the Berlin Wall has come down," Blagojevich said.

Blagojevich made clear that he thinks having the ability to remove any board member who displeases him would amount to the same power as having a Cabinet-level agency answering to him.

"Why slow up this reform by fighting for a change that really doesn't make a difference in terms of our ability to execute these reforms better, make this adjustment, avoid any kind of court challenge and get moving?" the Democratic governor said.

The plan includes Blagojevich's ideas for setting up a statewide buying pool for school supplies, though school districts wouldn't be required to participate. Nor would they be required to let the state Capital Development Board oversee construction projects, which Blagojevich says would save them money.

Blagojevich also touted a provision giving him power over State Board of Education budgets so he could restructure the agency. He suggested he would get rid of its legal and public affairs divisions -- "wasteful bureaucracies," in his view.

The plan still requires legislative approval, and there is some question about whether House Speaker Michael Madigan will go along.

Madigan, a powerful Chicago Democrat, was happy that Blagojevich dropped the idea for a new department, which he believes would be unconstitutional, spokesman Steve Brown said. But Brown said House members likely will question whether a governor should be able to appoint or dismiss board members at any time.

"At-will may or may not be a good idea, but I think members would say, 'Don't we need some criteria?'" Brown said. "I'm not sure people would give any governor a blank check in an important area like this."

Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, who appeared with Blagojevich for the announcement, had said the governor's original plan would crush the agency's independence from Capitol politics.

"The governor has indicated he wants to make changes, and perhaps through the independence it has not always been that way. So he can take full responsibility for the policy changes. I relinquish," Jones said Thursday.

Former Gov. Jim Edgar, who in 1998 unsuccessfully proposed a constitutional amendment to create an education department, was skeptical about whether Blagojevich's proposal would make much difference. While an activist executive could find compliant board members to make the changes he wanted, it's never easy to dismiss appointees, and it could become a public-relations debacle in a well-publicized spat, Edgar said.

"This makes the governor more accountable, which is good," Edgar said. "The only reservation, since you're still dealing with the board, you've got to be careful -- you don't want to just have 'musical chairs' there."


Deal would give governor control of school board  

By Ray Long and Christi Parsons, Tribune staff reporters, May 14, 2004

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Thursday backed off his controversial demand to take direct control over the state's education bureaucracy as he unveiled a broad compromise that would still give him unprecedented authority over public schools.

Unveiling a deal with Senate Democrats, Blagojevich abandoned a key element of his plan to gut what he had termed a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" at the independent State Board of Education and replace it with a cabinet-level department of education answering directly to him.

The revamped plan would leave the board structure intact but cede to Blagojevich unlimited power to overhaul its membership and then fire any of the new appointees later. Blagojevich said he would use that authority to purge all nine members currently on the panel as well as state schools Supt. Robert Schiller, who was hired by the board.

Blagojevich had attacked the current board for a lack of accountability but insisted the new structure would correct that. "Accountability is the centerpiece of reform," Blagojevich said. "Without accountability, nothing changes, nothing improves and no one ever has to answer for themselves."

Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) said Thursday that he agreed to relinquish the board's independence in order to give the governor more power to improve schools.

That concept, however, unsettled many local school district officials around the state. They feared that the arrangement would lead to high turnover on the board and in the superintendent's office and make it difficult for occupants of those posts to achieve anything meaningful.

Despite the backing from top Senate Democrats, the plan may encounter trouble with other key lawmakers. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), the biggest potential obstacle, thinks the revised proposal is better than the original but still questions whether a governor should have so-called "at-will" power to hire and fire board members on a whim, a spokesman said.

"There may be questions about what he means by `at-will,'" said Madigan spokesman Steve Brown. "Will there be any criteria for hiring and firing people, or can he do it for any reason?"

Under the proposal, Blagojevich would be able to pick all new members of the board, though they would serve staggered terms that could be ended prematurely by the governor. The proposal also contains a number of provisions the governor contends would save as much as $450 million for schools over the next four years. For instance, the plan would let districts take part in a statewide buying pool to purchase school supplies and also would allow the state's Capital Development Board to oversee local school construction projects for districts that wanted help.

In addition, the new plan would create so-called shared service centers that let districts pool resources to save on administrative costs. To help local schools reduce health costs, districts could participate in the state's prescription drug purchasing plan.

The optional nature of those programs is a concession by Blagojevich, who had originally sought to force districts to cede control over some services when he first unveiled his school overhaul plan during his January State of the State message. Though Blagojevich predicted it would save districts $1 billion over four years, the mandatory consolidation ideas were strongly resisted by local school officials.

Many lawmakers think that added power would help the governor improve the public schools--and the faith people have in them.

"I think what the governor is saying here is that he wants to gain the full confidence of those who depend on our public education system," said Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, who appeared with Blagojevich at his announcement Thursday. "The changes we're proposing here are going to help us do that."

Madigan and many other lawmakers had complained that Blagojevich's original plan to gut the board would violate the state constitution.

Rep. Michael Smith (D-Canton), chairman of aHouse education committee, said the revised plan appears to allay that concern.

"It certainly avoids the constitutional questions that were among the biggest obstacles we had with the department," Smith said. "But it gives the governor a lot of say over what is happening at the state board."

That said, many lawmakers still expressed qualms. In particular, some worried that giving Blagojevich the power to replace the current board en masse would do away with the concept of continuity among its members that was important to crafters of the constitution.

"I don't like this idea that he can summarily dismiss nine board members," said Sen. Dan Cronin (R-Elmhurst), the Republican spokesman on the Senate Education Committee. "If you read the constitutional convention debate and discussions, the whole idea was for continuity. That has to transcend gubernatorial elections and partisan politics."

Many local school officials said they were bothered that all board members under the deal would serve at the whim of the governor, a provision they feared would make a mockery of the board's independence.

"Why do you even have a board then?" asked Kenneth Arndt, superintendent in Carpentersville-based Community Unit School District 300 and president of the Large Unit District Association representing more than 50 districts including Chicago. "Unless you just want a rubber stamp organization to approve every initiative of the governor's office, it certainly doesn't sound independent to me."

Arndt also said the two-year contract for a state school superintendent--which Blagojevich also proposes--is too short. "It's extremely difficult for a new superintendent to make significant changes in two years," said Arndt.

That concern was echoed by Donna Baiocchi , executive director of Ed-Red, a school advocacy group representing more than 100 districts in Cook, DuPage and Lake Counties.

Illinois went through a string of state school superintendents prior to Schiller, she said, and "and nobody ever had a chance to do anything meaningful."

Schiller, whose job would clearly be threatened under the proposal, was least impressed of all. Through an aide, he said he did not want to give credence to the governor's remarks that the superintendent would be fired before his contract is up on July 31, 2005.

"It's an amendment to a bill that still has to go through both houses," said board spokeswoman Karen Craven, "and not everyone is on board with it."


Governor backs off of school overhaul  

By Kurt Erickson, Pantagraph, 5/14/04

SPRINGFIELD -- Four months after announcing a sweeping revamp of Illinois' education bureaucracy, Gov. Rod Blagojevich acknowledged Thursday the cornerstone of his spring legislative agenda was a nonstarter.

Although he intends to keep some elements of his controversial overhaul alive -- including replacing all of the Illinois State Board of Education members and firing state school Superintendent Robert Schiller -- the governor said it was clear his plan to gut the much-maligned system wasn't going to be approved by lawmakers.

"There's always some give and take in this process. You never get 100 percent of what you're asking for," said Blagojevich.

In January, the governor used his State of the State speech to focus on the state Board of Education, which he said operated like a "Soviet-style bureaucracy." He said the independent agency should be placed under the control of the governor in order to boost accountability and improve schools.

Last week, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, blocked the plan, saying it was unconstitutional.

Now, instead of creating a new Department of Education under Blagojevich's control, the new, watered-down version would allow the governor to replace all current members of the state board on July 1. The proposal also would give the governor the ability to fire board members at will.

He also said Schiller would be fired when the new board takes over.

"I want to be nice to him. I just don't want to cloud this about speculating about his future. But I will say this: There will be a whole new board and there will be a new school superintendent," said Blagojevich.

State board Chairwoman Janet Steiner said the compromise "honors the integrity of the Constitution."

And, she said the board would not stand in the way of Blagojevich's plan to replace members.

"Board members remarked in January that if moving education forward in Illinois meant that they should step aside -- they would gladly do so," Steiner noted.

Schiller was not available for comment.

Blagojevich said taxpayers will have to eat the remaining $250,000 left on Schiller's contract if he is fired this summer.

"It's the cost of reform. It's an unfortunate situation," the governor said.

State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, who co-sponsored the original plan, said he was disappointed that Madigan could exert so much control over the legislative process.

"When Mike Madigan said it wasn't going to fly, it showed that Mike Madigan has way too much power," said Brady. "That's not the way it should be. I think it's a black eye on the institution of the House."

"I'm disappointed the governor gave up so quick because I'm not sure this will do everything the original proposal would have done," said Brady.

A Madigan spokesman said the speaker was pleased with Thursday's developments. "I think we're on the same page in terms of revamping the state Board of Education," said Steve Brown.

The new proposal also ends Blagojevich's bid to force school districts to use state services for school construction planning, employee health care and purchasing. Instead, school districts will have the option of participating in the state program.

The new plan also calls for the Legislature to have more scrutiny and control over the state board's budget. Blagojevich said that provision will help eliminate wasteful contracts.

Although the projected savings will be far less than the $1 billion estimate floated by Blagojevich in January, he said school districts could save cash by joining the state's prescription drug buying club. Others could save money by using state to help with construction projects.

"We're going to be able to save hundreds of millions of dollars for the taxpayers," said Blagojevich.

Added Brady, "I hope it works, but I certainly don't think it will be as efficient as it could have been."

The new legislation could be debated in the Senate next week. It is contained in Senate Bill 3000.


New education reforms worry some downstate  

By Brian Wallheimer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Springfield Bureau, 05/13/2004

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Thursday unveiled legislation that would give him more power than any governor in modern times to change Illinois' troubled education system. But downstate officials fear the plan could slight their region, because it gives the Chicago-based governor near-absolute power to pick the people who will lead the school system.

"Knowing what he's done to this point, this administration's been top-heavy in Chicago. We'd like some guarantee that this board won't be that way," said Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville. "He's primarily focused on Chicago interests."

Blagojevich on Thursday announced a plan that would allow him to take over the State Board of Education, which he has said is wasteful and ineffective. The plan would give Blagojevich almost complete power over board membership. The plan was presented as a compromise of Blagojevich's earlier proposal to eliminate the board, transferring its powers to a new Department of Education.

"I'm not satisfied with the state of education in the state of Illinois," Blagojevich said in Springfield, alongside Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago. "After weeks of discussion, we've come up with a plan that paves the way for real education reform."

But board President Janet Steiner, of Carlinville, and others voiced concern that Blagojevich could stack the board with northern Illinois members.

"A downstater always has that concern because there's always been a lot of control from the urban areas of the north," Steiner said. "Let's hope that everything is evenly distributed."

State law says two members of the state board must be from Cook County, two from the counties that surround Cook, two from other counties and three at-large members. Blagojevich's plan would keep those restrictions in place, but would allow him to immediately replace all current board members, which is a power he doesn't have. The concern is that Blagojevich's new appointments could all come from the northern half of the state.

"I think we have been shown by this governor that Southern Illinois has been forgotten," said state Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro. "Just driving through on a bus from time to time doesn't show he remembers."

Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said downstate school districts can be sure that their concern will be addressed by a new board.

"The governor is committed to making sure the state board of education is representative of the interests of all parts of the state," Rausch said. "This is about the betterment of Illinois schoolchildren."

In 2007, the governor would be allowed to replace five members of the board and the other four members two years later. By picking board members, the governor also would control whom the board hires as state superintendent.

Under Blagojevich's new plan:

The board would still choose the state superintendent, but the superintendent would serve a two-year term instead of a three-year term.

The board would begin line-item budgeting, so that the governor and the Legislature could eliminate spending they deem unnecessary.

All school districts would be allowed to opt into the state's prescription drug-buying plan, and allow schools to buy supplies under a state contract if local vendors cannot provide the supplies cheaper.

Schools districts could ask the state Capital Development Board to manage building projects if it would be cheaper than hiring a local contractor.

"I'm saying that today the Berlin Wall has come down," Blagojevich said. "It paves the way for major reform in the state's regulation of its schools. It has the potential to make life easier for all the nearly 900 school districts in our state and help our children learn better."

Blagojevich faced opposition for his original education plan from House Speaker Michael Madigan. Madigan wanted the governor to be able to appoint five of the board's nine members during his term and to keep the hiring of the state superintendent under the control of the board.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker still has some concern about Blagojevich's new plan, including having a lack on continuity on the board if Blagojevich were to replace the members in July and giving the governor power to remove members for any reason.

"I think there needs to be some kind of criteria on how to remove board members," Brown said.

Board member Ronald Gidwitz, of Chicago, called on members of the Legislature to consider Madigan's plan, saying Blagojevich's proposal gives him too much power.

"By giving every governor unilateral control of every board member, turns the board and our entire K-12 education system into another political machine," Gidwitz said in a written statement.


Gov makes deal that keeps education board, but lets him fill it  

BY DAVE MCKINNEY, Sun-Times Springfield Bureau, May 14, 2004

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Blagojevich agreed Thursday to a compromise that would keep the State Board of Education intact but allow him to put a completely new face on it -- an admission that his own plan for a massive state education takeover is dead.

The deal crafted by Senate Democrats would gut the centerpiece of Blagojevich's original proposal, which would have created a new education department under his direct control. That idea had been called unconstitutional by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and other critics.

Under the new plan, the state board would remain. But its nine-member governing body -- now comprising mostly holdovers from Gov. George Ryan's era -- could be replaced by Blagojevich on July 1. The governor would be empowered to replace any of his appointees for any reason.

The board, which doles out $8 billion in state and federal funds, would have to more explicitly detail its expenditures, giving the governor an easier target if he wants to veto specific spending initiatives.

"What we're doing with regard to this reform is fundamentally changing the nature of those who'll be in charge of our schools statewide," Blagojevich said.

If the deal is approved, the governor said, state schools Supt. Robert Schiller's days are numbered. The governor said one of the first directives to his appointees would be to fire Schiller, even if it means having to buy out the remaining year-plus left on his $225,000-a-year contract.

"It's the cost of reform. It's an unfortunate situation. It's one of the vestiges of the previous administration," he said. "It's not unlike, very frankly, the contract the Cubs have to keep paying Don Baylor after they brought Dusty Baker in."

A Schiller spokesman said the superintendent had no comment on the governor's threat.

Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) hailed the plan as a reasonable alternative that still gives Blagojevich control of state education policy. A spokesman for Madigan said the speaker believes he and the governor are "closer to being on the same page" on a schools plan.

However, Republicans questioned whether the state board would have any independence if the governor simply could yank board members at will.


Blagojevich won't kill state school board  

By John Patterson, Daily Herald State Government Editor, May 14, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Rod Blagojevich backed away Thursday from his top legislative priority of abolishing the State Board of Education, accepting a compromise that lets him fire board members at any time for any reason.

The compromise with lawmakers comes just months after Blagojevich labeled the board a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" and demanded it no longer have any control of public education in the state.

But his plans for an education department under his direct control hit constitutional and political hurdles. Faced with potential defeat of his top issue, Blagojevich sided with a plan put forth by Senate Democrats that would keep the state board but dump all current members and let the governor name nine new ones.

Blagojevich said the change was in no way a political defeat.

"I'm saying that today the Berlin Wall has come down," Blagojevich told reporters, sticking with his Cold War-era analogy for the state's education system.

But many questions remain. Ronald Gidwitz, a state board member, said giving the governor unilateral control threatens to turn the entire education system into "another political machine."

Some suburban lawmakers echoed those concerns.

"The fact that he can summarily dismiss nine board members and hire nine new ones based on whatever problem, issue, education trend of the day is very troubling," said state Sen. Dan Cronin, an Elmhurst Republican and member of the Senate Education Committee.

However, state Sen. Susan Garrett, a Lake Forest Democrat, was willing to give the governor a chance to improve the often-maligned state board.

"He's an elected official, like everybody else, and when he makes mistakes that will be highlighted and people will not be silent," said Garrett, also an Education Committee member.

The true test of the new plan Blagojevich is backing could come in the House where Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, had said the original plan was unconstitutional and unlikely to be called for a vote.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker was pleased to see the new version. Brown said House members have some concerns with the Senate's compromise but expects differences can be worked out in the coming weeks.

For example, he suggested there should be some criteria for firing future board members, otherwise it will be difficult to find people willing to serve.

As proposed, all existing board members would be fired July 1, and the governor would name nine new members. All would have to be approved by the Illinois Senate.

Gone too would be state Schools Superintendent Robert Schiller. The new board would name a new superintendent. But the state would have to buy out the remainder of Schiller's contract. He makes $225,000 annually and his contract does not expire until July 31, 2005.

"It's the cost of reform," Blagojevich said, comparing it to the Cubs firing and buying out Don Baylor's contract to bring in Dusty Baker.

Schiller had no comment, saying he did not want to give any credence to the governor's remarks.

Other key provisions in the plan include requiring local schools to buy supplies through the state, unless they can find a cheaper provider on their own, and allowing schools to participate in the state's prescription drug-buying program.

The idea behind both is that the state buys in massive quantities and gets cheaper rates. These and other proposed changes are expected to save schools upward of $450 million during four years.

The state purchasing provision left some suburban officials confused. Blagojevich's news release said local schools would have the option of buying through the state. His aides and the actual proposal say it is a requirement.

"We are confused by the mixed message," said Donna Baiocchi, executive director of the suburban education and research group ED-RED.


A chance at education evolution

Chicago Tribune Editorial, May 14, 2004

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's announcement Thursday that he has reached a compromise with state Senate leaders on how to revamp Illinois' education bureaucracy has a lot of potential, even if it's not quite the revolution the governor promised in January.

Blagojevich has given up on his bid to dismantle the Illinois State Board of Education. Instead, the governor, under this compromise, would get to appoint all new members of the board, with Senate approval, and to remove members whenever he sees fit.

That would create accountability to the governor, and that is good, given that Blagojevich's ideas for improving student achievement generally are on target.

Another potentially significant change would encourage local schools to buy through a Web-based "catalog" of items--from glue to student desks to employee benefits--to help the schools lower operating costs. A "central procurement center" created by the state theoretically would offer lower negotiated prices from vendors in exchange for bulk purchases of common supplies.

District officials could make contract purchases of under $10,000 from local vendors if those vendors offer lower prices or come close to the state's.

Blagojevich's estimates of the savings--as much as $550 million over four years--may be exaggerated. Whatever the ultimate savings, though, they're still savings. And that means superintendents would have more money on hand to spend on things like teacher development, rather than on janitor brooms and conference room tables. The key will be whether local districts take full advantage of the savings or opt to pay more because they don't want to lose control over their purchasing.

The state board is not all that ails education in Illinois. Giving the governor more control over a traditionally lumbering, paranoid and reform-phobic bureaucracy will help. But it's just a start.

This is a state that values strong local control over schools, which is why the state board has been little more than a financial pass-through agency rather than a promoter of bold new ideas and best practices.

Blagojevich will now get the chance to change that. And once that's accomplished, perhaps the focus can move to closer scrutiny of the spending, hiring, teaching and business practices of the hundreds of school districts dotting the state.


Business coalition's plan won't resolve school woes  

Pantagraph Editorial, May 14, 2004

Allowing the governor to appoint a new Illinois State Board of Education every four years, as proposed by a coalition of business groups, would not overcome the problems of bureaucratic inertia and limited accountability in the state's school system.

Under the Business Roundtable's plan, the board would still hire -- and fire -- the state school superintendent. A governor would have little authority to determine who the superintendent would be and, therefore, could claim that shortcomings in education are not his fault.

The proposal would be an improvement over the current system, under which board members serve six-year terms, giving an incoming governor even less ability to alter the course of the education system by altering the makeup of the board. However, like so many proposed education "reforms," it attacks the problem piecemeal.

Business Roundtable's plan was offered as an alternative to Gov. Rod Blagojevich's proposal for creating a Department of Education directly under him.

Blagojevich's plan, likewise, doesn't go far enough.

To avoid the constitutional amendment process, Blagojevich would keep the Board of Education, but strip it of nearly all authority. The board would still appoint the superintendent, as required by the Constitution, but the superintendent would be just a figurehead.

House Speaker Michael Madigan has rejected the governor's idea, backing the idea of giving the governor more say in appointing the board.

A better approach would be to change the Constitution to eliminate the board and create a Department of Education on par with other state departments, for which the governor would be responsible.

Some people object to such a change because they think it would inject too much politics into the education process.

The current process isn't devoid of politics; it's devoid of direct accountability.

While some have philosophical objections to the change, others seem to be letting a dislike or distrust of Blagojevich stand in the way of supporting creation of a Department of Education. It is important to look at the bigger picture.

The idea of a Department of Education is nothing new. It goes back at least to the Jim Edgar administration.

The turnaround experienced in the Chicago Public School System after the mayor gained greater authority shows what can be accomplished when accountability and authority are lodged in the same place.

Even accepting the argument that the current system is less partisan and preserves the independence intended under the 1970 Constitution, the inescapable fact is it's not working. Too many schools are failing to educate our children.

Some might argue that inadequate funding is the culprit. But before there can be fundamental changes in how schools are funded, there must be fundamental changes in the education bureaucracy to ensure any additional money goes where it is needed most.




Southern Baptist urges homeschooling  

By John Gerome, Associated Press Writer, May 6, 2004

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A prominent Southern Baptist is asking the national convention to consider a resolution recommending parents remove their children from what he calls "godless" and "anti-Christian" public schools.

The resolution, co-authored by T.C. Pinckney, publisher of a Baptist newsletter in Alexandria, Va., urges parents to homeschool their children or send them to Christian schools.

"God gives the responsibility for education of children to the parents, not to the government," Pinckney said in an interview Thursday. "And parents should be taking responsibility, primarily through homeschooling."

His proposal has been submitted to the convention's 10-member Resolutions Committee, which will decide whether to present it for a vote when the convention meets June 15-16 in Indianapolis.

John Revell, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, declined to comment on the resolution or its chances of passage. But he noted that many resolutions submitted to the Resolutions Committee are not presented to the convention for a vote.

Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptists' public policy arm, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The proposal, which was also written by Texas attorney Bruce Shortt, says the public school system claims to be neutral, but it is actually opposed to Christianity and provides an education that is "godless."

"Just as it would be foolish for the warrior to give his arrows to his enemies, it is foolish for Christians to give their children to be trained in schools run by the enemies of God," the resolution states.

The resolution also says public schools are "adopting curricula and policies teaching that the homosexual lifestyle is acceptable."

Pinckney, a retired Air Force pilot and former second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said public schools are "harmful not just spiritually and worldview-wise, but terrible academically. The U.S. has been going down on the roster of nations around the world in academic achievement of its students for 20 or 30 years now."

If Baptist parents were to comply with the resolution, the public school system probably would collapse, said Pinckney, who publishes "The Baptist Banner."

"I think that would be one of the finest things that can happen for the United States," he said.

With 16.3 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention is the nation's second-largest denomination. But resolutions approved by the convention are nonbinding, and all member churches are autonomous in their ministries.

In some years, the Resolutions Committee receives more than 30 proposals, and it typically presents only eight to 10, Revell said. Last year, the committee presented eight resolutions, and the convention approved all eight.

A resolution that fails to make it out of the committee can be brought up for a convention vote if two-thirds of the "messengers," or qualified members, agree to consider it.

The convention already has passed resolutions supporting homeschooling (1997) and Christian education (1999).

But the Pinckney-Shortt resolution goes much further by making it a Christian duty to abandon public schools, said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, an independent organization that provides ethics resources and services to Baptists.

Parham called the resolution inflammatory and a violation of the Ten Commandments.

"There's a clear commandment that says 'Thou shall not bear false witness,' and this resolution bears false witness about school teachers and schools when it says they have an agenda other than education and that agenda is godless," he said.


Study faults computer use in Rhode Island schools  

AP, May 7, 2004

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Rhode Island exceeds the national average in the percentage of schools with Internet access, yet many children -- especially poor and minority students -- don't use the technology in the classroom, a new study shows.

According to Education Week magazine, which just released a survey on technology in the nation's schools, 97 percent of schools in Rhode Island have Internet access.

Despite this, fourth graders in Rhode Island were found to use computers less than their counterparts in other states. When schools were asked how many fourth graders used a computer at least once or twice a week, less than half said they did.

"Rhode Island has some work to do when it comes to using technology in education," said Kevin Bushweller, project editor of Education Week's Technology Counts 2004. "Based on these figures, it seems that Rhode Island's kids aren't getting as much exposure to technology as the rest of the nation."

But Bill Fiske, technology coordinator for the Rhode Island Department of Education, disputes the numbers.

"I challenge you to walk into any school and not find a dozen classrooms connected to the Internet," Fiske told The Providence Journal. "Those numbers aren't real. It's shameful."

Education Week collected its data using Market Data Retrieval of Shelton, Conn. The company sent surveys to every school in the country, and nearly 25,000 schools responded.

Education Week found that nearly every school in the nation has access to computers and the Internet, and most have computers in their classrooms. The magazine also found that the gap between poor and affluent schools is closing.

In Rhode Island, however, the disparity is still acute.

Statewide, 75 percent of all schools report that at least half of their teachers use the Internet for instruction. In schools with many poor or minority students, however, that number drops to 50 percent.

Compare those figures to Kentucky, where 83 percent of all schools have teachers who use the Internet regularly, and 86 percent of all mainly minority schools do so.

"I don't understand where this data is coming from," Fiske said. "All my teacher training takes place in Providence, Central Falls, West Warwick -- some of the poorest schools in the state."

Fiske said the state runs the most intensive computer-training program for teachers in the country, adding that half of the state's 10,000 teachers have received professional development in this area.


School tests widely flawed

Recent troubles in Hawaii are in line with a pattern of problems nationwide

Susan Essoyan, Honolulu Star Bulletin

The flaws just discovered on tests taken this spring by Hawaii schoolchildren follow foul-ups in the national testing industry, which is working to keep up with federal mandates for more testing than ever before.

A study published last year documented numerous errors by testing companies in recent years, including mistakes that led students to be denied diplomas. The paper, "Errors in Standardized Tests: A Systematic Problem," was issued by the National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy, based at Boston College.

"Over the last few years, all the major test companies have had problems," Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest, an advocacy group based in Cambridge, Mass., said yesterday. "There's more testing, under higher stakes, with quicker turnaround and more complicated tests."

The San Antonio-based company that produced Hawaii's tests, now known as Harcourt Assessment Inc., has been involved in several cases. Among the recent snafus by Harcourt and others on the national testing front:

» In Nevada, 736 sophomores and juniors failed math tests in 2002 that they should have passed because Harcourt Education Management had miscalculated the cut score by one point. The company was fined $425,000. The following year, it used the wrong scoring system to grade third- and fifth-graders, and agreed to provide $435,000 in additional services to make up for it.

» A Minnesota lawyer who demanded to see the math test his daughter had failed in 2000 found several scoring errors by National Computing Systems. It turned out that math scores for 45,700 Minnesota students in grades 8-12 were wrong, and 7,930 students who failed had actually passed because the wrong scoring form was used.

» In Georgia the Board of Education deemed its students' 2002 test results unusable because they were so late and riddled with errors. It withheld payment to Harcourt Brace.

» Earlier this year, CTB/McGraw Hill agreed to rescore the open-ended questions on its tests in Connecticut because the results did not jibe with those of previous years.

While giving the Hawaii State Assessment this spring, teachers and test coordinators discovered several errors, including missing pages and mistakes in instructions. Sample questions that were given to some students had incorrect answers, which could have thrown off the children's confidence and concentration and taken away time from the rest of the test as they puzzled over them.

All students in grades 3, 5, 8 and 10 took the Hawaii State Assessment in math, reading and writing this year, and some students in grades 4, 6 and 7 took new tests that are being evaluated for next year. More than 30 different test forms were used.

Harcourt is working with Hawaii officials to figure out how widespread the errors were, what impact they had and how to remedy them. Every scorable question on the tests has been field-tested, so previous results can be used as a benchmark to gauge whether students appeared to stumble.

"We're going to make sure that Harcourt does this right," said Bob McClelland, acting director of planning and evaluation for the state Department of Education. "That means ensuring that none of these errors will negatively impact any student or any school."

State Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said Thursday that she does not expect any students will have to be retested, although that possibility has not been ruled out.

Unlike states where a single test can spell the difference between graduating or not, scores on the Hawaii State Assessment do not count toward a child's grades or promotion to the next grade. However, they can dramatically affect a school's future. The scores determine which schools fail to meet federal benchmarks and could face sanctions such as replacement of staff.

The No Child Left Behind Act, which became law in 2002, requires testing of all students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 starting next year.

"One of the concerns of educators, given the magnitude and scope of testing across the nation under No Child Left Behind, was whether these testing companies have the capacity to take care of the needs," Hamamoto said.

Neill, of FairTest, said the mistakes that have emerged show they do not and that other errors no doubt go undetected.

"The states are requesting customized tests, and there's a lot of work to be done and it's technically complicated work," he said. "There's a limited supply of qualified people. The testing companies are really in a jam, and they are likely to stay in a jam."

Testing company officials counter that they have hired more staff to keep up with growing demand, and while they strive for perfection, mistakes can happen when millions of students are being tested and time is limited.

"Every testing company has experienced errors," said Mark Slitt, spokesman for Harcourt Assessment Inc., the San Antonio-based company that produced Hawaii's tests. "We are made up of human beings, and human beings sometimes make errors."

"We have a very vigorous quality-assurance department, and clearly something here didn't pass muster," he said. "We don't think there's a capacity issue. As we've gotten more state contracts, we have added new people."

Neill said the pressure could be relieved if the federal government backed off on its mandate that all students in grades 3 through 8 be tested, and instead allowed states to choose selected grades. He also said the government should not mandate high-stakes decisions based on the results of a test.

"If you remove the high stakes, then there may be errors," he said, "but they won't have these kinds of damaging consequences."


U.S. education chief assails critics of No Child Left Behind

Joyce Gannon, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Responding to charges that the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act is underfunded and not adequately addressing problems in poor neighborhoods, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige yesterday called those claims "bogus and unreal."

Secretary of Education Rod Paige defended the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind initiative, saying, "The federal government has supplied sufficient funding."

Click photo for larger image.

"It's an attempt to muddy the water," he said of recent criticism by Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry, that the education reform isn't working.

"The federal government has supplied sufficient funding ... It's an unsubstantiated claim," Paige said in a press briefing following his commencement address at Robert Morris University in Moon.

No Child Left Behind is the 2001 bipartisan legislation that, among other things, holds schools accountable for student performance and identifies schools that don't meet state standards.

While campaigning in California last week, Kerry pledged to invest $30 billion to raise teacher salaries and improve their training. Kerry voted for the law but now says the Bush administration hasn't provided enough funding for its various reforms.

The Bush administration claims that total federal spending on grades K-12 has jumped by $9.7 billion, or 35 percent, since No Child Left Behind was enacted.

Paige, a former dean of education at Texas Southern University and former superintendent of schools in Houston, said the primary focus of his position in the Bush Cabinet is to oversee the reforms. The effort has already succeeded, he said, because "all 50 states have accountability standards in place ... and we will make sure every child has opportunity."

Paige, 70, was a junior at a black college, Jackson State University in Mississippi, in 1954 when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision that desegregated schools, Brown v. Board of Education.

He and his peers were "jubilant" at the ruling, but 50 years later, Paige said, there's still much work to be done to close the "achievement gap" between blacks and whites.

"Just because a child can sit in a classroom doesn't mean he can learn. Brown v. Board of Education just opened the door. No Child Left Behind is the logical next step."

Paige asked Robert Morris' 1,000-plus graduates to pursue service opportunities such as volunteering in after-school programs and becoming mentors.

He singled out graduate Ashley Henry, 22, of the North Side, for volunteer activities during her four years at the school, including work with Project Bundle-Up and the Race for the Cure.

The university also yesterday awarded honorary degrees to Henry and Elsie Hillman for their civic and philanthropic efforts in Pittsburgh. Henry Hillman, a billionaire industrialist, received a doctorate in business administration, and Elsie Hillman, a stalwart of the local Republican Party, was named a doctor of humane letters.


More rules, less money taxing schools

Diane Erwin, Springfield News-Sun

Less funding and higher expectations prevent some schools from meeting the standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, superintendents and other administrators told state and federal education officials Monday.

U.S. Rep. David Hobson, R-Springfield, hosted a meeting attended by about 30 superintendents, school board members, state legislators and other community and school officials from Clark County and the Miami Valley. Many expressed frustration with decreased funding from the state and questioned the testing of students with severe disabilities.

Scott Spears, superintendent of Springfield City Schools, said districts have been aiming at a moving target as educational standards and requirements have changed. No one challenges the intent of No Child Left Behind Act, he said.

“It's not a new ‘ah ha!’ from the federal government,” Spears said. "It's something we've worked on for years and years."

The act is the framework states use to meet testing and educational requirements for students in kindergarten through high school. States created their own plans for testing that were approved by the U.S. Department of Education, said Karen Johnson, the department's assistant secretary for congressional affairs.

Many myths surround the law, she said, including that it is an unfunded mandate. Federal funding for education has increased since 2001.

But state funding has not.

"The law hit Ohio, like in many other states, at a time when the economy was going south," said Mitch Chester, assistant superintendent of the Ohio Department of Education.

The increase in federal funds wasn't enough to overcome the reduction in state money, Hobson said.

Some educators said students are not prepared when they begin school. Several were concerned about the testing of students with learning disabilities. Alternate tests can be given to 1 percent of a schools' students, but that isn't enough for some.

In the Springfield schools, 16 percent of the students have special needs, said Frank Schiraldi, executive director of school improvement. Of those, nearly half have severe cognitive disabilities.

"We clearly have a need and students who warrant a different kind of consideration," Schiraldi said.

The district has applied to the state to raise the percentage of alternate tests it can give to students.

Lois Rapp, assistant superintendent of Greenon Local Schools, said the forum was a good chance to hear from the state education department. Randy Overbeck agreed.

"Those of us in the trenches often feel those making the rules don't have an interest or desire to hear us," said Overbeck, director of instructional services for the Xenia school district.

As the law matures, Ohio will see — and has seen — advances in test scores and children's learning levels, Hobson said.

"The question is, how do we handle the glitches?" he said.


Survey Probes Views On Race

Karla Scoon Reid, Education Week

An overwhelming majority of public school teachers and students believe that racially integrated schooling is important, a national poll commissioned by Education Week suggests.

But when asked what effect racially diverse environments have on achievement, half of teachers and three-quarters of students responded that integrated classes have no impact on student learning.

The survey, which gauges racial attitudes in schools a half-century after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down separate schooling for black and white students, found differences between teachers and students on questions of race and education.

Teachers depicted more positive cultural climates in their schools than did students, who were more likely to report that racial tensions exist and that teachers have lower expectations for black and Hispanic students.

The poll by Harris Interactive of Rochester, N.Y., was conducted online, using self-administered questionnaires, with a nationally representative sample of 2,591 public school teachers and 1,102 students in grades 7-12 in February and March.

Sixty-five percent of all teachers surveyed agreed that the goal of school integration in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, decided 50 years ago next week, has been met. And 60 percent of teachers said they believe that the United States offers equal academic opportunities for students of all races.

But there was a marked divide in responses from teachers of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Majorities of black (67 percent) and Hispanic (54 percent) teachers believed diverse classes would improve student learning, compared with 44 percent of white teachers.

While 69 percent of white teachers and 60 percent of Hispanic teachers said racially integrated schooling has been achieved, only 31 percent of black teachers agreed. When asked whether they thought equal academic opportunities were available to students regardless of race, 63 percent of white teachers and 52 percent of Hispanic teachers agreed, compared with just 28 percent of the black teachers polled.

A separate national online query of 3,698 U.S. adults by Harris Interactive this spring found similar attitudes. While 59 percent of the white respondents polled believed that all students have equal educational opportunities, 39 percent of the Hispanic respondents and only 23 percent of the African-American respondents agreed. The poll had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

Both teachers and students were asked to rank the factors that they believe contribute to the "achievement gap," which finds black and Hispanic students posting lower test scores than their white and Asian counterparts. Teachers were more apt to attribute the gap to family- or student-centered factors. Overwhelming majorities pointed to lack of family support or involvement, challenging family conditions, and lack of student motivation or effort as reasons for the gap.

Black and Hispanic teachers however, were more likely than white teachers to identify low teacher expectations and "injustice or discrimination" as contributing factors. Black teachers also cited unequal access to challenging coursework and good teachers as a reason the gap exists more often than their white and Hispanic colleagues did.

Students were more inclined than teachers to identify school-related causes as explaining a great deal or some of the achievement gap. While 67 percent of students noted unequal access to challenging coursework and good teachers, 55 percent of all teachers selected that factor. But 57 percent of students cited "injustice or discrimination" in society as an explanation, compared with 44 percent of teachers.

When asked how the achievement gap could be closed, a large majority of teachers (85 percent) recommended increased parent involvement. Sixty-three percent argued that boosting student effort and motivation also would eradicate the test-score disparities.

Few teachers said that school remedies, such as giving more money to schools serving greater numbers of disadvantaged students (26 percent) and making sure students at risk of failure have good teachers (20 percent), would bridge the learning gap.

Race Relations

The survey also turned up differences between teachers and students on questions about their perceptions of race relations in their schools.

Overall, students appeared to hold less promising views of racial interactions, with 28 percent of the students surveyed rating relations between students of different races as "excellent," compared with 34 percent of teachers. While 23 percent of teachers reported "often or sometimes" hearing or seeing conflicts between students of different races, including fights, 40 percent of students acknowledged often or sometimes witnessing such behavior.

When it comes to cross-racial relationships, more students (70 percent) than teachers (54 percent) agreed that students who share similar racial backgrounds "stick together" in school. Students reported that interaction between students of various racial backgrounds occurs less often than teachers said it did. For example, 83 percent of teachers said cross- racial interaction occurs "often" during classes, while just 60 percent of the students agreed.

Asked whether teachers have lower expectations for black and Hispanic students, 18 percent of students and 10 percent of teachers said that was the case.

Students were more likely than teachers to say that black and Hispanic students are disciplined more harshly than white students for the same behavior. But just 17 percent of students and 6 percent of teachers said so, meaning that large majorities of both groups responded that minority students aren’t singled out for tougher punishments.

In fact, overwhelming majorities of teachers and students, 91 percent and 81 percent respectively, said that regardless of race or economic background, all students are treated fairly by teachers and administrators.

‘Hard Issues’

Education experts who were asked to comment on the poll’s findings sounded one common theme: the need for better teacher training.

As more white teachers work in schools with racially diverse student populations, cultural barriers can emerge that can lead to "conflicts and disharmony," said Lois Harrison-Jones, an associate clinical professor at Howard University in Washington and a former superintendent of the Boston public schools.

More must be done to prepare teachers—before they enter the classroom—to teach in increasingly heterogeneous environments, she said.

"Teachers need to understand and look at their own practices to make sure they’re not engaging in activities or behaviors that are a detriment to one group of students," agreed Nat LaCour, the executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers.

The differences between teachers’ and students’ perceptions of racial interaction in schools were not surprising to Rossi Ray-Taylor, the executive director of the Minority Student Achievement Network, an Evanston, Ill.-based coalition of districts working to close racial and ethnic gaps in achievement.

Teachers tend to observe superficial interactions—such as whom students talk to in class, she said. But students, she said, are seeking a deeper level of interaction: "Who hangs out with who? Who’s dating who?"

For teachers to point to more parental participation in schools as the solution to the achievement gap, she cautioned, is looking at education too narrowly. To Ms. Ray-Taylor, "parent involvement" has become a cliché.

"We’re avoiding the hard issues of what we can do differently in classrooms and schools," she said. "Not that we should ignore poverty or segregated housing. But those realities cannot get in the way of what schools have to do."

Eric J. Cooper, the president of the Washington-based National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, which focuses on training teachers to improve urban schools, said teachers are "often unaware of the stereotypes they place on students."

"Inadvertently, [teachers] are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that gets [minority] students to believe that they’re not really capable," he said.

The rejection by majorities of teachers and students of the idea that racially diverse classes positively affect student achievement seems to conflict with their support for integrated schools, though teachers were only narrowly divided on the question.

Willis D. Hawley, a professor emeritus of education at the University of Maryland College Park, said the responses discounting such an effect could be an adverse reaction to a seemingly inappropriate statement.

Few people would espouse the belief that minority students get smarter simply by sitting next to white students, he said. Instead, one of the ways people learn is by comparing different perspectives on a given problem. In a classroom mixing students from different racial backgrounds, in Mr. Hawley’s view, learning is more nuanced.

"So much of our learning is impeded by stereotypes about race and class," he added.

The attitude that diverse classes don’t help student achievement dismayed Raul Gonzalez, the legislative director for the National Council of La Raza, a Washington-based advocacy group for Hispanics.

"We’ve given up on the idea that diversity is valuable," he said. "We tried busing. We tried magnet schools. Now we’ve run out of ideas. The value of diversity is not measured necessarily by reading and math scores. It’s part of creating the strongest citizenry we can possibly have."

But Todd F. Gaziano, the director of the center for legal and judicial studies at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, argued that as long as legally sanctioned discrimination is eliminated, few people are concerned with school integration.

"Too much time is wasted on calculating the metrics of racial balance in the classroom," he said, "when what really matters is whether the schools are any good that parents without independent means have to send their kids to."

Wendy D. Puriefoy, the president of the Public Education Network, a Washington-based coalition of local education funds, argued that the Brown decision was not about integration, but about ending legal segregation.

Schools were asked to pick up the charge of integration, she said, "without the rest of society doing anything at all. I think it’s an undue burden."


Still Separate and Unequal

Column by David S. Broder, May 13, 2004

In his "two Americas" stump speech -- the single most powerful message anyone delivered in the Democratic primaries this winter -- Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina talked bluntly about the differences between the education, health care, housing and other basics available to the well-off and the working poor in this country.

"We have two different school systems," Edwards said in countless appearances, "one for people in the most affluent communities and another for everyone else." That message -- largely dismissed by the Bush White House and de-emphasized by John Kerry in his reach for middle-class votes -- is of special relevance as the nation prepares to note the 50th anniversary on Monday of the Supreme Court decision that formally ended racial segregation in our schools.

Brown v. Board of Education was a legal landmark, but the reason that the anniversary is being observed, rather than celebrated, is what Edwards had the courage to point out. In far too many places, the notion of equal opportunity in education is still far from reality.

In "Beyond Brown v. Board: The Final Battle for Excellence in American Education," written for the Rockefeller Foundation and published this week, Ellis Cose of Newsweek cites example after example of the holes that remain in the system. "[B]lacks (and Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans) do not, for the most part, go to the same schools, or even the same types of schools, as do the majority of non-Hispanic whites," Cose wrote. "They are more likely to go to schools such as those found in parts of rural South Carolina; schools that, were it not for the American flags proudly flying over the roofs, might have been plucked out of some impoverished country that sees education as a luxury it can barely afford."

The law firm headed by Richard Riley, the former secretary of education in the Clinton Cabinet, represents parents and school officials in several of those poor South Carolina counties in a lawsuit seeking to force the state to provide more funds for those schools. With integration -- the original goal of the Brown decision -- thwarted in many places by residential segregation, resistance to busing and the growing reluctance of federal courts to impose their orders, Cose points out that the new legal battleground has become state court lawsuits seeking "adequacy" in school funding.

The suits, which have begun to win scattered success in states as diverse as New York, North Carolina, Arizona and Idaho since the first breakthrough in Kentucky in 1989, ask the courts to require that the state determine what it takes to educate a child adequately -- in staff, facilities, books and equipment -- and come up with the money to provide it.

The movement fits logically with the standards set in President Bush's No Child Left Behind education reform. The 2002 law aims at either rescuing or shuttering low-performing schools and especially at helping students who have been shuffled through grades without really getting an education.

By measuring youngsters' competence in basic skills at regular intervals and requiring adequate progress for all parts of the school population -- not just the bright students -- NCLB pressures states and districts to take steps to eliminate education failures. And that in turn sets up a demand for better principals and teachers and materials.

But standards by themselves will not end the two-track education system. Resources have to flow to the schools and districts that lack the tools they need. A recently published "Look Inside 33 School Districts" by the Center on Education Policy, an independent advocate for more effective public schools, draws the contrast.

The Romulus, N.Y., school system, a small suburban district between Rochester and Syracuse, has found no difficulty meeting the first two years of NCLB requirements. "The district has taken steps to not only recruit well-qualified teachers for any vacancies that arise, but also retain them," the report says. "Romulus has established an extensive mentoring program that taps the expertise of retired teachers by matching them in mentor relationships with new teachers" that continue for a full year. No surprise, then, that "Romulus students perform at high levels."

A few pages later in the report one finds the Cleveland Municipal School District, whose officials "applaud the spirit of NCLB and agree that schools should be held accountable" but where "implementation has been rocky." The district could not reach its mandated improvement goals, with 27 schools on a watch list for failing to meet standards. Officials cannot say how many Cleveland teachers rate as "highly qualified." And state budget cuts cost Cleveland schools $33 million in the current biennium.

The Romulus schools are 97 percent white; the Cleveland schools, 80 percent non-white. Fifty years after Brown, John Edwards's description still applies.


Wis. AG: School reforms can't be forced  

By Todd Richmond, Associated Press Writer, May 14, 2004

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin's attorney general has issued an opinion that the federal government can't force states to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act without fully funding it. The opinion released Thursday was the first in the country from a state attorney general on the education reform measure, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager said "clear and compelling" language in the law itself says the federal government can't make states or school districts pay the law's mandated costs for improved education.

The opinion could be the first step toward a lawsuit challenging the law, said Scott Young, NCSL education policy associate.

State education officials did not immediately return messages from The Associated Press Thursday evening.

No Child Left Behind is the centerpiece of President Bush's domestic agenda. Teachers and lawmakers nationwide have criticized the measure, saying it costs too much and its requirements are too strict.

The law mandates that all school children be proficient in math and reading by 2014. It requires districts to identify schools with weak reading and math test scores and begin applying sanctions if the scores do not improve.

Penalties range from making schools implement tutoring programs to letting students transfer to higher-achieving schools.

Non-failing schools might have to expand to take in more students, which could drive up property taxes, the attorney general's opinion said.

The law "doesn't really help education," said state Sen. Fred Risser, who asked Lautenschlager for the opinion. "Education needs smaller class sizes and well-paid teachers. This bill doesn't give any of these items. The law could cost taxpayers millions of dollars."

U.S. Department of Education officials didn't immediately return a message left at their offices Thursday evening.


Senators approve special-ed changes  

Bill aims to help children earlier

By Ben Feller, Associated Press, May 14, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted yesterday to make the first major changes in special education law in seven years, aiming to get help earlier to struggling children, to give teachers more freedom to discipline students, and to reduce tensions between parents and schools.

The main point of contention was money, as senators overwhelmingly agreed to allow accelerated spending in coming years, but rejected an attempt to make the increases mandatory.

The Senate voted 95-3 to renew and update the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the 1975 law guaranteeing equal education to children with disabilities, who numbered 6.7 million at last count.

''It's our statement as a nation that these children matter and that we will do our part to help their parents and teachers and communities meet their education goals," said Senator Edward M. nedy, Democrat of Massachusetts.

The Senate rode a smooth path in renewing the popular education law, as bill leaders worked out a deal last year and avoided issues that divided the House, such as private-school vouchers. Parent, education, and disability advocacy groups largely supported the Senate bill, despite concerns over some of its key provisions and what they saw as a limited chance to get the bill amended.

''The fact that this is something we've been able to accomplish through a bipartisan effort is very positive, especially in today's climate around here," said Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire.

The House version, approved more than a year ago, differs from the Senate plan in student discipline, measuring of student progress, lawyers' fees, and other areas.

It is not clear when talks over a final bill will begin, though, as Democrats have opposed the appointment of negotiators until they gain more assurances that their views will be considered.

The Senate bill strives to improve the early identification of children with special needs, reducing the number of students, particularly members of minority groups, who are improperly labeled as disabled..

The bill tries to give teachers more classroom control by allowing children with special needs to be disciplined like other students, provided their misconduct is not a result of their disability. The House bill goes further, freeing schools from considering a disability in determining discipline.

Critics say the bill leaves key issues unresolved, including the definition of a ''highly qualified" special-education teacher and a longstanding funding shortfall.

Senators Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont; Jim Jeffords, Independent of Vermont; and Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, voted against the bill.


All-day kindergarten fails to clear House hurdle  

Chip Scutari, The Arizona Republic, May, 14, 2004 

Gov. Janet Napolitano's dream of statewide full-day kindergarten hit a snag Thursday when a Republican-controlled House panel shot down her plan that would provide the state's poorest school districts with the program next year.

Despite the setback, the battle over full-day kindergarten is still in the early stages. The House's proposed budget still has to be voted on, approved by the state Senate and eventually signed by Napolitano. Backers of full-day kindergarten are confident they can get the $25 million needed to launch the program in the budget before it makes it to Napolitano's desk.

"We don't want this budget to do damage to the moms and dads out there whose money we are spending," said Rep. Russell Pearce, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "There is not enough money for this."

Impassioned debate over all-day kindergarten lasted for more than two hours in the House Appropriations Committee, with both sides weighing in on the pros and cons of the program. The House had planned on pushing its budget to a floor vote, but negotiations broke down late in the evening.

The cost of the all-day kindergarten program would be $25.5 million this year but would grow to about $208 million a year when it's phased in over the next five years.

Napolitano is flying across Arizona selling her strategy to provide children with full-day kindergarten.

The extra time in the classroom, she says, would improve literacy, boost test scores in later grades and reduce dropout rates.

Some Republican legislative leaders have called the plan "all-day baby-sitting" and say the benefits of all-day kindergarten wear off by fourth grade. Supporters say all-day kindergarten would have long-range benefits for Arizona's economy.

"The dollars spent on the front end of the educational pipeline is the best investment we can make in early learning," said Jim Zaharis, a former school superintendent speaking on behalf of the Greater Phoenix Leadership, a prominent group of business leaders.

House Republican leaders have proposed cutting more than $100 million from a budget approved last week by the state Senate.

The House's plan reduces money for child-care subsidies, welfare programs, aid to the disabled and support for community colleges and universities to help balance the state budget.





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