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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – June 11 - 18, 2004

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STATE  

Legislators deal with meaty issues / Pantagraph
Statewide turnover creates Dist. 23 turnover / Daily Herald
Lerning to spel is crewshul / Chicago Tribune
Risks to changing school funds system / Daily Herald
Perfect attendance: Is it an honor? / Chicago Tribune
Governor: Budget would help schools / Quincy Herald-Whig
State has a strange way with words / Chicago Tribune
400 schools taken from failure list / Chicago Tribune
Illinois not only state in overtime / Champaign News-Gazette
Madigan, Jones rift puts cloud on budget / Chicago Tribune
Good News for Illinois Schools / WTVO-Rockford
Academic watchlist skyrockets / Sun-Times
Education funding structure needs to be fixed / Courier News
State school funding simply must be fixed / Daily Herald

NATIONAL

Education officials approve new plan for longer instructional day / Boston Globe
Court upholds Bible class ban / CNN.com
Study Finds Senior Exams Are Too Basic / New York Times
GAO: ‘No Child’ Law Is Not an ‘Unfunded Mandate’ / Education Week
Diplomas should reflect level of achievement / Northwest Indiana Times
Schools achieving a dream: Near-universal Net access / USA Today
Schools graded a success by state, a flop by feds / St. Petersburg Times
Wisconsin bucks No Child Left Behind / Minneapolis Star Tribune
Waste and Fraud Besiege U.S. Program to Link Poor Schools to Internet / New York Times
Do the clothes make the student? / Las Vegas Sun
Schools see cellphone cheating / Boston Globe
High Schools Nationwide / Education Week

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STATE

Legislators deal with meaty issues

8 bills address food, nutrition

By Kurt Erickson, Pantagraph, 6/11/04

SPRINGFIELD -- If Illinois lawmakers learned anything this year, it's that they shouldn't get between voters and their food.

Nearly every effort to legislate what people put in their stomachs fell by the wayside during the spring session.

A ban on soda and junk food in schools? Stick a fork in it.

An effort to force schools to hire nutrition experts? Cooked.

A bid to stop the state from regulating potluck dinners? Getting cold.

In fact, of at least eight pieces of legislation targeting Illinois' eating habits, just two are headed to the governor's desk for final approval.

From potlucks to nursing

One bill that found success would allow nursing mothers to breast feed in public. Another would limit the ability of people to sue restaurants for making them obese.

But lawmakers turned up their noses at an initiative by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to ban junk food and soft drinks from school vending machines.

One bill, which would have merely banned soda from schools, received a mere 28 votes in the 118-member House in March.

Similar proposals stalled early and were not called for formal votes.

Blagojevich, nonetheless, says he's not giving up. He said the ban could reverse an increase in the number of obese children.

"We're going to continue to fight hard to get that done," Blagojevich said in a recent interview. "Child nutrition is very important."

The anti-soda effort was bottled up when school districts complained that vending machines are a lucrative source of income for local schools. In many cases, schools have signed multiyear contracts with major soft drink companies in exchange for millions of dollars, scoreboards and outdoor signs.

The governor argues that many of the big companies also produce healthy beverages, meaning they could alter what's sold in schools without jeopardizing their contracts.

"I'm on the side of health and good personal habits for children," said Blagojevich.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Dan Rutherford's plan to stop the state from monitoring potluck dinners has cooled in the Senate.

The measure was prompted by incidents in Central Illinois in which local health departments closed potlucks because of concerns about people eating food prepared in unregulated kitchens.

Senate Bill 2944 won approval in both chambers, but last-minute tweaking left it sitting in the Senate as lawmakers adjourned on May 31.

The proposal could be resurrected in the fall veto session.

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Statewide turnover creates Dist. 23 turnover  

By Kwame Patterson, Daily Herald Staff Writer, June 11, 2004

The end of the school year usually means no homework, staying up late and summer vacations.

This summer, however, means letters of resignations and filling jobs for Prospect Heights Elementary District 23.

District 23 is losing three administrators and a board member because many administrators are retiring elsewhere in the state.

"This is something very unusual to see this type of turnover," Superintendent Greg Guarrine said.

Last year, the district's only administrative loss came when Ronald Bearwald retired as superintendent. Guarrine, who was the assistant superintendent, quickly filled the position.

Board member Jim Perkins is leaving the district in July only because he is moving to Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 and cannot sit on the board as an outside resident.

But the assistant superintendent post will be vacant when Robert DiVirgilio leaves at the end of June to take a superintendent position in Beach Park Elementary District 3 in Lake County next year.

"It's giving us the opportunity to move on," DiVirgilio said of retiring administrators. "And it gives younger people the opportunity to move up."

Director of Technology Brian Engle is leaving this year along with Assistant Principal Mike Keeney. Both are leaving for different positions in other school districts.

Keeney, a member of the Illinois Principals Association, said there is a large educational turnover in Illinois.

"Administrators are in the twilight of their careers and they are often given incentives to retire," he said.

The report "Illinois Principals: Instructional Leaders or Endangered Species?" says that by 2005 approximately 40 percent of public school administrators will be eligible to retire.

By 2006 the state's public schools system will have to fill more than 2,100 principal, assistant principal and other administration positions.

The October 2003 study was conducted by the Institution of Government and Public Affairs under the University of Illinois.

District 23 has filled three out of the four positions left vacant. The hiring of a new assistant superintendent, however, is in the application process.

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Lerning to spel is crewshul

Chicago Tribune Editorial, June 11, 2004

Tho we don't ofen speek ov it anymor, for many years reeders ov the Tribune wuld regularly be amused, enlitened, anoyed or simply befudled by the paper's campane to promote logical, simplified spelings. Begining in 1934, the paper dished out a series ov werds that it decreed wuld theretofor be speled as they sounded, including "tho" for though, "thoro" for thorough, "iland" for island, and many others, including hocky, fantom, calk, burocrat, derth, yern, jaz.

This was a crusade by then-Tribune Publisher Robert R. McCormick, who even sined one ov his colums Micormak--befor his wife reportedly put the kibosh on that simplification. 

The grand experiment ended in 1975. The paper abandoned simplified speling with an editorial headlined "Thru is Through and So is Though." By then, the Tribune had absorbed its share ov ribing and had even ben acused ov confusing children with its simplified spelings.

All ov this was stirred up recently by a bevy ov protesters at the 77th anual National Spelling Bee in Washington. The protesters picketed the bee, complaining that English speling is ilogical and that the national bee only reinforces the spelings that they said leed to dyslexia, hi iliteracy and harder lives for imigrants, the Associated Press reported. "We advocate the modernization of English spelling," said Pete Boardman, 58, a Cornell University bus driver who admited to being a terible speler.

The protesters, members ov the American Literacy Society, are part ov a grand simplified speling movement in American society, reeching bak to the 1700s, and including such luminaries as Ben Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, Noah Webster, H.G. Wells and Theodore Roosevelt. They al decried the absurdities ov English speling. In an 1867 monograf, Tribune Editor Joseph Medill wrote: "Lerning tu spel and red the Inglish langwaj is the grat elementary task ov the pupol."

With the advent ov the modern computer spel-cheking program, many, but certenly not all, ov those problems hav been vanquished. Stil, the programs don't recognize sum words and don't no the difference between they're and their, for instance, or defuse and diffuse or where and wear--al ov wich may be speled correctly but obviously cary diferent meanings. And that's just the easy stuf. Without a computer's help, the chalenged speler faces a universe ov questions about silent leters or wether certen words take duble c's or m's, or wen i comes befor e, or any number ov other idiosyncrasies ov the language.

But the view here is that watching those amazing speling bee contestants agonize thru words like serpiginous, sumpsimus and sophrosyne is not a reminder ov the tortur that the language exacts, but ov its brethtaking beauty. Yes, English is perniciously litered with al sorts ov ilogical spelings, from cough to yacht. But that's what makes it fun. English is fed by scors ov tributaries ov wurld languages, living and ded. It's a rich polyglot ov sounds and tangled leters, sometimes as dificult to decode as the entwined duble helix ov the human DNA. May it always be so.

And so, we promise, tomoro it's bak to regulr speling.

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Risks to changing school funds system  

Letter by William McMahon of Naperville, Daily Herald, 6/11/04

Since the first installment of our property taxes was due June 1, I recently have noted the annual burst of letters to the editor saying the property tax approach to funding schools is unfair.

Many suggest an increase in the Illinois sales tax or Illinois income tax in return for a reduction in property taxes to be the solution.

Having lived through this same scenario in Michigan about 10 years ago, let me remind you of a couple things the voters of Michigan missed:

1. State sales taxes are not deductible from your federal income tax while property taxes are. Hence depending on the increase in sales tax vs. reduction in property tax, this solution most likely will wind up costing you more in taxes overall.

2. While state income taxes are deductible from your federal income taxes, the trade-off between property tax reduction and income increase needs to be carefully measured as, once again, you could wind up paying more taxes overall.

However, the overriding issue is that the more money you let the state collect for the schools, the more power you give away to the state on how to spend that money.

There is a reason the schools in Naperville are as good as they are - and that reason isn't because of what the state does.

And the reputation of the Naperville schools actually increases property value - people want to live in Naperville because of the schools and will pay a premium for houses to do so.

All one has to do is look at the chaos in Springfield over the state budget - do you really want these folks exercising even more control over the funding of our schools?

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Perfect attendance: Is it an honor? / Chicago Tribune

Bonnie Miller Rubin, Chicago Tribune, 6/14/04

In Chicago's public schools, students who haven't missed a day since kindergarten are treated like royalty. Last month, four seniors with perfect attendance were feted at a formal dinner downtown, where they received a laptop computer and other prizes. School board members and local celebrities were on hand to offer personal congratulations.

Stevenson High School, by contrast, gives nothing.

"Why should kids be rewarded for something they are expected to do?" asks Jim Conery, spokesman for the Lincolnshire school. "If you find yourself making a big deal of showing up every day, what kind of message is that?"

Although everyone agrees that making it 12 years without an absence is a rare feat, school districts appear to be conflicted about how--or even if--the endeavor is worthy of recognition.

Some say pins, ribbons and other prizes are back in vogue after falling out of favor. "The pendulum has swung the other way," said Glenn "Max" McGee, the former state superintendent of education who is now at the helm in Wilmette.

If that's so, part of the credit goes to the sweeping No Child Left Behind law, which judges schools on attendance as well as test scores. The federal law has propelled some communities to recognize shorter unbroken streaks, such as a perfect year.

Educators also acknowledge that encouraging kids to go to school can boost a district's bottom line, as state funding is tied to daily attendance rates.

Yet at other schools a flawless attendance record barely elicits a nod at year-end ceremonies. Among the reasons, administrators say, is concern that parents might send sick kids to school when they should be in bed.

Other things important, too

"In the desire to have perfect attendance, you don't want to make bad choices or lose sight of other things that are important," said Steve Griesbach, assistant superintendent for the Burr Ridge Schools, which honor attendance only at the middle-school level. "If you're sick you should be at home. ... If a family member dies, you should be at the funeral."

Others say they dislike the "hair-splitting" with parents over what constitutes an absence--or, like Conery, that honoring kids for just showing up misses the point.

However, Claudine Quinn says such stamina is deserving of the spotlight. Her daughter Teyana has never missed a day of school. Neither flu nor funerals, broken bones nor blizzards, kept her from 12 straight years of perfect attendance.

"If I did get sick, it always seemed to happen during vacation," said the Homewood-Flossmoor High School senior, who graduated last weekend. "The closer I got to the end ... the more determined I was to keep my record going."

Although academic, arts and athletic superstars walked off with scholarships at the school's recent awards assembly, Teyana's rewards were relatively anemic, her mother said: a $100 check from the parents' association, a certificate and her name in the program.

"And she only got that because I fought for it," her mother said.

A teacher's aide in Markham, Quinn has waged an unapologetic battle not only on Teyana's behalf, but also for her two other children: David, 26, who also never missed a day, and DeSean, a junior who is on track to keep up the family tradition.

"It wasn't just about my kids getting recognition--but [about] any child who makes the effort, day in and day out, to be in school," she said.

Officials at Homewood-Flossmoor, who also cited two other seniors for four years of unblemished attendance, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Last fall, Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan launched an initiative to boost high school attendance in the Chicago district by creating incentives to emphasize the importance of being in class. Perks doled out this year include a private Kanye West concert for students at schools with stellar attendance records, athletic jerseys and other giveaways, courtesy of corporate sponsorships.

"I want to recognize and reward those kids who have shown a remarkable commitment to education," Duncan said.

Joyce Kenner, principal at Whitney Young Magnet High School, says she usually sees a student with a perfect record only once every couple of years. This year yielded two--Amy Mui and Jamel Franklin. And while she can't say definitively that the current campaign is the reason, it's an "outstanding idea," she said.

"We're not going to get all the kids with these kinds of programs--but we'll get some," Kenner said. "And if it affects just one ... then it's worth it."

Kenner concedes that the accolades may encourage some to attend class in less than robust health. "We sometimes have to tell them, `Go home.'"

But to Franklin, "pushing through" an illness is a source of pride. "Kids are like `Wow.' You've never missed a day? They think I'm superhuman," said the senior, who is headed for Howard University. "I'm not going to let any cough or cold stop me from doing what I have to do."

That kind of attitude is music to Duncan's ears. An increase in attendance of 1 percent brings almost $20 million to the cash-strapped system, he said. "It's the only funding stream that we have any control over," he said. "To leave that kind of money on the table is crazy."

Even without the extra revenue, stressing attendance is just good training for real life, Duncan added.

"It's a no-brainer. I'd take an employee with a good work ethic and commitment any day over someone who is brilliant and lazy," he said. "It's a real indicator for long-term success."

In addition to Franklin and Mui, Daaimah Muhammad-Wright of Morgan Park and Amelia Costello of Juarez soldiered on for 12 years and were honored last month at the Hilton Chicago along with 187 other teens who attained at least a four-year streak.

Said Muhammad-Wright: "When my friends heard about the ceremony and the laptop, they told me they wished they had done the same thing. It was hard ... but now I'm glad that my parents pushed me."

Weary administrators

But rewarding such endurance is not without controversy.

In one Kansas City high school, for example, a parent complained to the school board that its attendance policy--which allows students who have not missed a day to throw out their lowest final exam score--was unfair to students with chronic health problems.

Some administrators say they have grown weary of endless negotiations with parents. Will a doctor's visit count against a student's record? How about a college visit? A family wedding? An academic or athletic competition?

Said Stevenson's Conery: "Sometimes, students miss school for very good reasons. In today's litigious atmosphere, you could find yourself getting sued."

For Principal Troy Hickey of Robinson High School (enrollment: 550) in southern Illinois, the benefits outweigh the potential headaches.

Hickey's approach is two-pronged: procuring a grant to crack down on those with spotty records, while boosting extras for kids "who are here, doing what they should be doing" with gift certificates, special outings and a ceremony.

"Parents were just so appreciative," Hickey said. "The athletes and the honor roll students get their names in the paper all the time, but for the kid who may not get recognized for anything else, this is their one shining moment to take center stage."

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Governor: Budget would help schools

Phil Weber, Herald-Whig, 615/04 Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Quincy Public Schools would receive an additional $1.3 million in state funding and other Adams County schools another $700,000 if the Illinois Legislature approves his proposed budget.

Blagojevich spoke for about 20 minutes this morning in an Irving School classroom in Quincy. He also spent time reading to students attending their first day of summer school.  

Blagojevich and the Democratic-controlled Legislature have been at odds on the state's fiscal budget. Because no budget agreement was reached last month, any new proposal will require a three-fifths majority. 

If lawmakers can't reach an agreement by July 1, it could force state government to shut down. Blagojevich said stalling on a budget compromise is a political tactic to put pressure on him and that shutting down government offices remains a distinct possibility because he will not yield on some issues.

"I don't think the people of Illinois elected us to play those kinds of games," he said, adding that an agreement could be reached "in a couple of days if (lawmakers) are sincere about funding education and health care."  

Blagojevich has been crisscrossing the state for 10 days trying to sell his proposal, which calls for a 2.25 percent across-the-board spending cut in all areas except education and health care. This was the first of many compromises that the governor says legislators need to make before the budget can be finalized. His original budget proposal did not include the spending cuts.  

"We've got to cut spending in areas that don't hurt people," he said today. Blagojevich said his own office would be affected, as would offices of other elected state officials. "All of them should be prepared to lead by example," he said.

Blagojevich said he would save $30 million by closing old prisons and moving prisoners to newer, more efficient facilities that are operating at low or half-capacity. He would also like to pull funds from about 640 different "special interest" line items, but declined to say which projects could be cut or how much he could save.

He vowed to veto any budget proposal that contains an income or sales tax increase "whether it be temporary or permanent." He said such tax increases would be "harsh and cruel."

The governor also reiterated his plan to close corporate loopholes and "use that money to pay for our schools."

Regional Superintendent Ray Scheiter and Quincy Superintendent Tom Leahy attended the press conference, as did most Quincy School Board members and school principals.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has accused the governor of trying "to browbeat" lawmakers into approving a budget built on gimmicks that would leave the state in worse shape a year from now.

Blagojevich, also a Chicago Democrat, spent Sunday visiting a Chicago church and school to promote the additional money for education and health care for the poor that his version of the budget would provide.

"There is the money to pay for these priorities," he said.

Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk said Madigan was "flat-out wrong" in saying Blagojevich's proposed budget is out of balance. He said he stood by the governor's characterization of the budget debate.

"It comes down to what kind of government you want," Tusk said. "The question is, how much do you care about education and health care?"

The governor and legislative leaders are deadlocked over how to fill a roughly $2.3 billion hole in next year's budget.  

Blagojevich's $54 billion proposal would increase spending by about $1 billion. He would pay for this by taking money out of special-purpose funds, ending some tax breaks for business, delaying some pension costs and trimming spending.

Madigan said that plan "rests on a shaky foundation" of revenues that can be used only once.

The speaker has not spelled out exactly what budget he would support.  

He has raised the possibility of approving the current budget again, so that there would be no spending increases. Madigan has also had the House consider a version that would adopt many of the governor's education and health care increases while ignoring proposed spending cuts.

Blagojevich's latest proposal includes almost $750 million in new spending for education, health care and public safety, but detractors say it does not include a realistic plan to pay for it. The governor, however, believes his proposed 2.25 percent spending cut in all areas except education and health care will bring the state $400 million closer to closing the gap.  

He said further legislative action to close tax and business loopholes will bring his plan within reach.

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State has a strange way with words

Tracy Dell'Angela, Chicago Tribune 

At 14, Ulises Gonzales is the kind of writer who makes his English teacher sigh with appreciation. His imagery is vivid, his style fluid and imaginative, his mechanics flawless. 

Ulises' Burr Ridge teacher believes he will be a published writer someday. She also suspects he failed his 8th grade standardized writing test. 

The person who grades that test will be a $10-an-hour temporary worker in a conference room in Tampa who spends about three minutes on each essay. Ulises is likely to lose points because, among other things, his ended without a summary and makes no explicit reference to the test question--a criteria on the checklist given to each grader. 

All children in Illinois public schools, and many elsewhere in the nation, write an essay for a standardized test at some point in their education. Next year, similar writing samples will become part of the ACT and SAT college entrance exams. 

That, in turn, is reshaping the way schools teach this essential skill--for the worse, critics say. 

But Ulises' essay illuminates the difficulty of trying to evaluate the infinitely variable craft of writing in an objective and mechanical way. 

Standardized writing tests measure certain benchmarks of basic competence--complete sentences, well-organized paragraphs, supporting details, correct pronouns.

The tests do not measure the grace and innovation found in the best writing. 

They penalize pupils who struggle to finish in the prescribed 40 minutes, as Ulises did, without necessarily crediting his unconventional uses of dialogue and descriptive passages that have characters "yelling with a surprising ferocity" and "detention slips clenched in tight fists." 

In the end, what these tests evaluate is so formulaic that in Indiana, a machine does the grading. In May, some 50,000 high school juniors there took an online essay test that was evaluated by computers using a form of artificial intelligence designed to mimic human readers. 

Automated scoring 

Indiana launched the experiment to see if automated scoring could save time and money without sacrificing accuracy. If it works, other states could adopt the technology. 

"We didn't build this system to evaluate the Hemingways and Shakespeares," said Richard Swartz, an executive director at Educational Testing Services, which designed Indiana's system and also uses computer programs to grade essays for the GMAT, the business graduate school entrance exam. 

"The [artificial intelligence] is not going to be able to separate creative approaches from mundane approaches, but I would argue that doesn't happen with human readers either," Swartz said. "We're evaluating the kind of writing students are asked to produce, and 90 percent of that writing is pretty mundane."

The Illinois writing exam, administered since 1993, has had a profound impact on the way pupils here learn to write. 

Children write more and at younger ages than ever before, educators say. But too often, their creativity is squelched by instruction that pushes formulaic writing because formulaic essays are enough to pass the state test. 

"Writing is problematic because of the time it takes to teach and evaluate," said Ken Hunter, a Chicago high school principal. Hunter sits on a committee of educators that creates the state writing standards each year, scoring a sample of essays that are used to guide the temporary graders. 

"The test is supposed to enhance instruction, but it really scares people," he said. "I think what happens sometimes is the only writing that gets done [in the classroom] is done for the test." 

Schools making change 

That is starting to change, with an increasing number of schools looking to improve their writing instruction by retraining teachers and beefing up assignments in classrooms across all grades. 

College-educated readers at four sites around the nation, employed by a North Carolina company called Measurement Inc., are in the final stages of grading 1.2 million samples of Illinois writing for 2004. The process will cost the state $6.5 million. 

Unlike other subjects, the writing test proved easy to pass, even for low-performing schools, but difficult to master, even at schools packed with the brightest pupils. 

Only about 3 percent of elementary school pupils statewide exceed standards on the writing, compared to about 20 percent who exceed standards in reading. More than 900 Illinois schools didn't have a single 5th grader exceeding standards in writing, including schools in Hoffman Estates, Downers Grove and Bartlett. 

By contrast, at Drake Elementary in Chicago--where nearly all the kids come from low-income homes--63 percent of 5th graders passed writing, though only 38 percent passed reading. 

Yet in a handful of districts, student writers have been able to reach the highest level. 

Among 3rd graders in River Forest District 90, 91 percent passed, with 30 percent exceeding standards. The district invested money to train teachers in writing instruction, and principals urge teachers to get their kids writing every day, across all subjects, from math to art. 

Hunter said he's seen "extraordinary improvement" in the last five years, when the state changed its writing exam and sought to make its standards less formulaic. 

Five-paragraph formula 

Yet he acknowledged that many teachers still teach "the formula:" the five-paragraph, three-topic essay with lots of repetition and tired paragraph transitions that begin with "first," "second" and "in conclusion." Hunter said this kind of staid essay is enough to pass the test, but not enough to exceed standards, which is why so few pupils rise to the top level. 

Writing isn't difficult for Ulises, but he cares far more about the beauty of his prose than passing the state test. 

Ulises is a soft-spoken boy who sits in the middle of Elizabeth Wheeler's classroom and listens with a shy smile. Before he writes, he thinks--sometimes for 20 minutes before he will commit a single syllable to paper. 

But when he starts, the words flow with a graceful ease. 

"I can't write something just to get it down on paper. I try to make my writing fluid, to vary the structure and the words I choose," said Ulises, who wants to be a scientist. "I do care if I pass, but it's not a priority." 

Scores reflect on teacher 

Wheeler admires Ulises' refusal to compromise his writing quality, but she also knows she will be judged on the passing rate of her pupils. Her school is a diverse one in a neighborhood of million-dollar homes, where parents expect top-notch scores on state exams. She agonizes over how hard to push pupils like Ulises when she's teaching her class how to write for the ISAT, the state exam. 

"The test works for the student who doesn't have any understanding about writing. It gives them a starting point," said Wheeler. "But really great writers don't write that way. They break the rules." 

Burr Ridge Principal Debra LeBlanc said testing exacts a toll in all classrooms, but the writing exam troubles her most because she believes it is too arbitrary for a subject where mastery can take many forms. 

She sees so much sameness in her pupils' writing that "even my thank-you notes read like little ISAT tests. `I really liked having lunch with you. Here are three reasons why.'" 

She also finds it incomprehensible that the workers scoring her kids' essays can do a good job in two or three minutes--Burr Ridge teachers spent hours evaluating the essays of just one classroom of 5th graders. 

Sometimes a bad prompt can doom even the best writers. 

One year the test asked 11-year-olds to explain driving a car to someone from a foreign country. Another year it was about manatees, a sea mammal most Illinois children know nothing about. 

Testing experts say the problem is not with Illinois' writing assessment or its scoring. If the kids are getting bogged down in formula, it's because teachers are not pushing them to write beyond the limits of the tests. 

The test wasn't designed to prepare kids to write beautiful prose, said Samuel Krug, president of MetriTech, the company that develops the writing test for Illinois. Rather, it is intended to measure their ability to do the kind of straightforward writing that will be expected of them in the work world. 

"Some might say the writing is pedestrian," Krug said. "But one thing the writing test does, even though it's only 40 minutes, is determine whether kids can put together ideas coherently, if not elegantly." 

- - - 

The vagaries of scoring 

The two essays below were completed by 5th graders at Burr Ridge Middle School in 2003. The exam gave pupils 40 minutes to write about a teacher whom they admire. The typical writing test was scored in about three minutes by a temporary worker using a checklist and a sample of previously graded tests. 

BELOW STANDARDS 

Length: 1 page 

Score: 20 

(21 points needed to meet standards) 

EXCEEDS STANDARDS 

Length: 2 1/2 pages 

Score: 28 

(28 points needed to exceed standards) 

THE GRADING CRITERIA 

- Focus: The subject is clear and consistent with a logical opening and closing. 

Score range: 1 to 6 

- Support: The statements are specific, detailed and accurate. 

Range: 1 to 6 

- Organization: There is a clear structure with logical paragraphs and varying transitions. 

Range: 1 to 6 

- Conventions: Only minor errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation. 

Range: 1 to 2 

- Integration: Judges whether the essay is "fully developed" as a whole for the grade level. 

Range: 2 to 12 

Sources: Burr Ridge Middle School, Illinois Standards Achievement Test

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400 schools taken from failure list

State concedes flaws in test data

Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune, 6/17/04 

About 400 public schools labeled as failures last fall actually met federal standards in 2003, state officials acknowledged Wednesday, after a six-month appeals process that cost $300,000 and exposed widespread flaws in Illinois' student testing data. 

"I think it's been a learning experience for everyone," said Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Karen Craven. 

As the federal No Child Left Behind Act put stringent new testing standards in place, the state board reported in November that 1,718 of the state's 3,919 public schools--about 44 percent--had failed. 

But a Tribune analysis showed that the board's data were deeply flawed, and local school officials complained loudly. More than 800 schools eventually contested their status, saying errors in testing data, rather than student performance, caused them to fail. 

Wednesday's announcement reduced the number of schools that did not meet federal standards to roughly 1,300, about a third of the state's schools. If those schools show a pattern of failing over several years, a variety of sanctions begin to kick in. In some cases, students would be allowed to transfer to better schools. 

Under the federal reforms, schools are measured on everything from the percentage of students in each minority group who pass state tests to the portion of students who take them. A massive amount of data is collected, and even tiny variances in numbers can influence how a school is judged. 

Most of the errors in the 2003 testing data stemmed from incorrect identification of students' racial backgrounds, Craven said, as well as mistakes in test participation figures. 

As the months went by, the state blamed districts for not turning in correct information, while local school officials blamed the state for not giving them clear instructions and not catching large inconsistencies. 

The error-riddled testing data sparked criticism from Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who chastised the state board in his State of the State address in January and used the controversy as a reason for his attempt to dismantle it. 

The board went through a complex data-verification process that took about six months and should lead to greater vigilance about future data collection, Craven said. 

"We don't want to repeat what happened in 2003," she said. 

The state board did not identify the estimated 400 schools that will be removed from the failing list, saying specific information on individual schools will be released by the end of the month. 

In other revised figures released Wednesday, the state board said 363 schools are on the 2003 academic watch list--up from an earlier figure of 335 released in March. Schools make the watch list if they fail testing standards and other criteria four years in a row. Only 49 schools were on the watch list in 2002. 

However, revised calculations allowed 38 schools to be removed from the state's academic early warning list, for schools that fail standards for two consecutive years. Most of the schools are in the Chicago area, including 20 in the city. 

The state lists use federal standards as benchmarks but involve a separate system of sanctions.

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Illinois not only state in overtime

Kate Clements, Champaign News-Gazette 

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the four legislative leaders were expected to resume negotiations today in hopes of passing a spending plan before the current budget expires June 30. 

The key leaders still can't agree on basic issues, such as how much the state should spend and where to get that money, but they are not entirely alone in their quest. The budget situation is being echoed in a handful of other states, including California, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  

Illinois' constitutional deadline to pass a budget came and went on May 31, making the task significantly more difficult. After that date, the budget needs a three-fifths vote in both the House and the Senate, rather than a simple majority.  

In California, the constitutional deadline for passing a spending plan for the year beginning July 1 was Tuesday, and lawmakers there missed the mark for the 19th consecutive year, according to the Los Angeles Times.  

Unlike here in Illinois, the deadline in California does not include an increase in the number of votes needed to pass a budget. It has been missed so many times that few consider it binding. 

"It's kind of like a snooze alarm," Senate President pro tem John Burton, D-San Francisco told the Sacramento Bee this week. 

The Louisiana Legislature is also still working on a budget for the year beginning July 1. Disagreements in that state are mostly centered on spending for pet projects backed by various members of the House and Senate, which make up a mere fraction of Louisiana's nearly $17.5 billion budget. 

Late-night negotiations in Massachusetts on Monday seem to have resulted in a deal for a $24 billion budget for the year beginning July 1, but the full House and Senate still have to vote on the package before it can be sent to the governor. 

In New Jersey, lawmakers are in the midst of debating a budget for the year beginning July 1. One of the most controversial issues is a proposal championed by Gov. James E. McGreevey to increase income taxes for those earning more than $500,000 a year and use it to provide $800 million in property tax rebates to less-affluent residents. 

Rhode Island House members are preparing for a vote later this week on that state's spending plan for the year beginning July 1, while Pennsylvania's state senators and representatives are still negotiating their budget.According to Arturo Perez, fiscal analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are 39 states that currently have a budget in place for the upcoming fiscal year, leaving 11 states, including Illinois, still at work on a spending plan. 

"The likelihood of some states going beyond (the start of the fiscal year) July 1 is a very real possibility, given some of the difficulties some of these states still face," Perez said. "Others will wrap it up and go home."  

One state, New York, has already missed the beginning of its fiscal year, which is April 1, and is making do for now with a temporary extension of last year's spending levels. 

"They are still trying to hammer out a budget," said Perez, who noted that this is the 20th year in a row New York has begun its fiscal year without a new budget in place. 

In any given year, there will be a few states that are unable for some reason to pass a budget by the start of their fiscal year, but that number has been higher in the last two or three years because of the depressed economy, Perez said.  

Even here in Illinois, overtime budget sessions are not unusual.  

A report from the General Assembly's Legislative Research Unit shows sessions ending as late as July 12 in 1994, July 13 in 1993, and July 19 in 1991. Adjournment in late June and early July is quite common, according to the report. 

While there has been some talk of a potential government shutdown if Illinois cannot pass a budget by the end of the month, history shows that to be unlikely.  

"That has never been a major concern in the past," said Charles N. Wheeler, director of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield. Wheeler has been a close observer of the state budget process for more than three decades.  

"Most of the time, because this was fairly common, nobody panicked about it," Wheeler said. 

In years when budget negotiations stretched into July, there was always an agreement that state employees would continue to get paid and state government would continue to operate at existing levels for the few more weeks it took to iron out a budget deal, he said. 

"Things just continue on, and there are no increases, obviously, but things are kind of spent just the way they were in the prior year," Wheeler said.  

This year, as happened in 1993, Illinois' rank-and-file lawmakers have been sent home for much of June while the leaders try to work out their differences privately.  

The full General Assembly will be called back when there is a budget package ready for them to consider.  

The legislative leaders and the governor, who last met as a group on Friday, were expected to resume talks today.  

Meanwhile, the House appropriations general services and appropriations public safety committees were set to meet at noon today in Springfield, while the House appropriations committees for elementary and secondary education, human services and higher education are scheduled for Thursday in Springfield. The committees are looking at what would be the minimum level of funds required to keep state agencies afloat if the budget impasse lasts beyond the end of the month. 

The Economic and Fiscal Commission is also meeting Thursday in Chicago to address some of the governor's budget proposals relating to the state pension systems and corporate taxes. Those discussions are at the request of House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, D-Chicago, who is seeking an independent evaluation of Blagojevich's revenue estimates and a study of the impact of some of the governor's plans.

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Madigan, Jones rift puts cloud on budget

John Chase and Christi Parsons, ChicagoTribune, 6/17/04

Tribune staff reporter Molly Parker contributed to this report 

With Democrats stalemated and the clock ticking down toward the day when failure to adopt a state budget could trigger the shutdown of some state services, the situation became even more complicated Wednesday as Senate President Emil Jones accused House Speaker Michael Madigan of "deception." 

Meanwhile, Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he was "not philosophically opposed" to raising the state's cigarette tax to help ease the fiscal crisis, though he quickly dismissed that option as being politically unrealistic. Republican negotiators confirmed that a 50-cents per pack cigarette tax, as well as a tax on junk food, had been at least temporarily removed from the table during a later meeting in Springfield among the leaders. 

Jones, who has aligned himself with Blagojevich in the budget battle against fellow Chicago Democrat Madigan and some Republicans, blasted the House speaker for a recent letter that appeared in several newspapers, criticizing the budget passed by the Senate and supported by the governor. Jones said Madigan's contentions that the Senate fiscal plan is unbalanced are inaccurate because he said Madigan excluded across the board cuts that are part of the plan. 

"I read the speaker's letter to the paper. It's wrong. We passed a balanced budget. I went to Chicago Public Schools, I know how to count," Jones said in a joint appearance with Blagojevich at the Chicago Public Schools' Franklin Fine Arts Center in Old Town. "What the speaker did not include in there is ... cuts across the board, so he deliberately left that out to give the impression." 

"All I can see is deception," Jones added. "Just because one's been there a long time doesn't mean that they are right." 

Madigan has been the House speaker for nearly 20 years. 

But House Democrats maintain their calculations do contain those across-the-board cuts. 

"He's factually wrong in his interpretation," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said. "What more do I have to say? In reality, this ought to be a situation where you say, `The president of the Senate, a wonderful man, is factually wrong.'" 

Following the negotiation session, Madigan was asked if the gap separating his plan from Jones' was greater than the $200 million previously thought. 

"After tonight it is," Madigan said tersely. 

Indeed, lawmakers are starting to talk seriously about the possibility the impasse will continue into July. 

As the state draws closer to the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, House lawmakers began asking the heads of state agencies to present "doomsday" spending plans by Monday that would keep the agencies operating at reduced levels even if the General Assembly does not pass a budget by the deadline. 

Blagojevich plans to sit down with the leaders again Friday morning in Chicago, but he is remaining optimistic. 

"We think we're making progress," he said. "If they're sincere, we're very close, we should be able to finish a budget in the next day or so. If it's gamesmanship, we'll keep working hard." 

Included in the mix is the possibility for the cigarette tax hike, which could pour about $150 million into state coffers. 

"I'm not philosophically opposed to that. I don't know that there's support for that, but I'm not philosophically opposed to that," the governor said. "In fact, I ran commercials when I ran for governor that talked about a cigarette tax to pay for prescription drug coverage. So philosophically I'm comfortable with it. But I don't know if there's support in that room for it." 

Sources said other revenue options on the table include increasing professional regulatory fees by $27 million, avoiding the $50 million annual payment to the state's Rainy Day Fund and using portions of profits created by last year's pension obligation bond transaction, which would add $75 million.

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Good News for Illinois Schools  

by Britten Follett, WTVO-Rockford, 6/17/04

Illinois schools are getting a dose of good financial news. Schools are going to get their final state aid payments a little earlier this year. Governor Rod Blagojevich announced Wednesday he plans to make those payments in June instead of July.

This helps schools balance their budget before the end of the fiscal year and avoid borrowing large sums of money.

"This is a big one. There's two sources, property tax dollars and general state aid, and when you take one-twelfth of major funding sources, it's very helpful," says Regional Superintendent Richard Fairgrieves.

"Clearly 1/12 means it's several hundred thousand dollars for us," says Belvidere Superintendent Donald Schlomann.

But the money is coming at a time when district's are already looking at next year. And since the budget hasn't been approved in Springfield, many local schools are left in financial limbo.

"The good news is that the state is giving us the money they promised us last year. The bad news is that there's no promise for next year," says Schlomann.

"They just aren't going to know their state funding for the following year, until such time," says Fairgrieves.

But the teachers who were laid off still don't know what next school year will bring. On June 25, the governor plans to transfer $277 million into the common school fund.

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Academic watchlist skyrockets

BY ROSALIND ROSSI, Sun-Times Education Reporter, June 17, 2004 

The number of public schools on the state's academic watchlist has skyrocketed sevenfold, to 363, with nearly three-quarters of them in Chicago, final data released six months late showed Wednesday.

The watchlist is based on state tests taken in April 2003 that were plagued with technical errors because of a tough new federal requirement that schools calculate the scores and testing rates of "subgroups'' of students -- such as special education or low-income -- in determining "adequate yearly progress.''

The errors took six extra months to iron out, but the laborious process was "the right thing to do,'' said State Board of Education spokeswoman Karen Craven.

The state released tentative academic watch and warning lists in March, but omitted 69 schools for possible technical errors. Of those, 53 made lists released Wednesday.

The final data put 363 schools on academic watch -- up from 49 in 2002 -- for failing to make adequate yearly progress for at least four years. Of those, 269 schools were in Chicago.

In addition, 305 schools are now on academic early warning, down solidly from 664 in 2002, for failing to make adequate yearly progress for at least two years.

Craven said the new lists are critical to determining the 2004 lists. Plus, the state wants to offer some support to listed schools.

The final list of those schools that missed adequate yearly progress for just one year is expected to be released next month, Craven said.

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Education funding structure needs to be fixed

Letter by Mary Fioretti of Algonquin, Member of District 300 Board of Education, Courier News, 6/18/04

I appreciate the fact that for an entire year, education funding has been on almost every front page in the state of Illinois. More importantly, the reporting of the Illinois budgetary process has really brought the funding problem to the people in regard to the complexities of the funding structures for all public entities.

The budget solutions to help schools vary from each of the three regions — downstate, suburbs and Chicago — because they all need something monetarily different based on needs of the community. Lobbying efforts on the part of educational concerns has truly heated up because each region will realize a different monetary benefit.

This funding structure is not working for any of our public entities, especially education. For those districts that have taken the hard line on spending, cut teachers, staff and administrators, taken the business approach to income and expenses on the backs of students and teachers, there needs to be systemic change at the state level in the way money is dispersed to education. Property owners have said they will no longer bear the burden.

Regionally, with lobbying efforts, a skewed view of what area districts need most is based on who opens the door to the four leaders and who has access to the press. These efforts do not represent the true monetary needs of all school districts.

If every child received the exact amount of money per student from the state, there wouldn't be a need to have this discussion year after year. There wouldn't be flat grants or the need for a foundation equation. The system of funding education must be fixed.

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State school funding simply must be fixed

Letter by Mary Fioretti of Algonquin, Daily Herald, 6/18/04

I appreciate the fact that for an entire year, education funding has been on almost every front page in the state of Illinois.

More importantly, the reporting of the Illinois budgetary process has really brought the funding problem to the people in regard to the complexities of the funding structures for all public entities.

The budget solutions to help schools vary from each of the three regions - downstate, suburbs and Chicago - because they all need something monetarily different based on the needs of their communities.

Lobbying efforts on the part of educational concerns has truly heated up because each region will realize a different monetary benefit. This funding structure is not working for any of our public entities, especially education.

For those districts that have taken the hard line on spending, cut teachers, staff and administrators, taken the business approach to income and put expenses on the backs of students and teachers, there needs to be systemic change at the state level in the way money is dispersed to education. Property owners have said they will no longer bear the burden.

Regionally, with lobbying efforts, a skewed view of what area districts need most is based on who opens the door to the four leaders and who has access to the press.

These efforts do not represent the true monetary needs of all school districts.

If every child received the exact amount of money per student from the state, there wouldn't be a need to have this discussion year after year.

There wouldn't be flat grants or the need for a foundation equation. The system of funding education must be fixed.

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NATIONAL

Education officials approve new plan for longer instructional day  

AP, June 11, 2004

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The Department of Education has approved a longer school day as part of a push to make sure students have more time with their classroom teachers and improve student performance.

Critics said the move to require five and a half hours of instruction is an unfunded mandate and is not proven to close the gaps in education.

"I exhort you to look at reducing class size and providing early childhood education, where there is enormous research that shows these measures close the gaps" between rich and poor students, said Marcia Reback, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers.

Under the new rules, the amount of instruction time required at elementary schools would be increased by 30 minutes, The Providence Journal reported.

High schools are already required to offer five and a half hours of actual school work. But under the new regulations, at all grade levels, lunch, recess, study halls, homeroom, student passing time and common planning time would not count as instructional time.

An earlier proposal would have required all districts to move to a seven-hour school day by the fall of 2007. Districts in need of improvement would have had to get there a year sooner.

That plan immediately came under heavy fire from unions, individual teachers and school superintendents.

Education Commissioner Peter McWalters said the new rules accomplish the same goal, to ensure that urban students get more classroom time while giving schools the flexibility to figure out how to get there.

The new plan has a big impact on districts with a short school day such as Providence and Central Falls, and little to none on those that already provide five and a half hours of actual instruction.

The regents don't know how many districts will have to lengthen their school day because currently each district defines instructional time differently.

In Rhode Island, the elementary school day ranges from six to six and a half hours. The secondary school day runs from six hours in Providence to a maximum of six hours and 50 minutes.

Under the plan, all schools would have to offer five and a half hours of instructional time by 2007-08 or whenever a new contract is adopted, whichever happens first.

However, districts that have failed to meet their academic targets for more than three years would have to get there by 2005-06.

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Court upholds Bible class ban

AP, June 8, 2004

CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee -- A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling that argued weekly Bible classes are unconstitutional in the public schools of Rhea County, the same county where the "Scopes Monkey Trial" pitted creationists against evolutionists 79 years ago.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati agreed Monday with a February 2002 ruling by U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar of Chattanooga.

Edgar ruled that the Bible Education Ministry program in Rhea County violated the First Amendment's clause calling for separation of church and state.

The 30-minute classes were held weekly for about 800 students in kindergarten through fifth grade at the county's three elementary schools. Parental consent was not required and students were allowed to participate in alternative activities if they objected to the classes.

Rhea County superintendent Sue Porter said Monday that school board members would likely discuss whether to appeal the latest ruling at their Thursday night meeting. Bible classes had been offered in Rhea County for 51 years.

"I'm disappointed, not surprised though," Porter said.

The appeals judges ruled that although school officials contended that the classes were value-driven, teaching responsibility and positive morals, they were "also teaching the Bible as religious truth."

The county's city of Dayton, about 35 miles northwest of Chattanooga, is where orator and presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and the lawyer Clarence Darrow squared off in the courtroom during the 1925 prosecution of teacher John T. Scopes for teaching evolution in the public schools instead of the biblical story of creation.

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Study Finds Senior Exams Are Too Basic  

By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO, June 10, 2004

A study of high school graduation exams, rites of passage for more than half the nation's secondary school students, shows that they largely test material taught in the 9th and 10th grades. Such material, the study said, is often taught at the middle school level in other industrialized countries.

 

The study found that the tests measured very basic material and skills, insufficient for success in university courses or in jobs paying salaries higher than the poverty level, currently about $18,000 for a family of four.

The study, by Achieve Inc., a nonprofit organization created by state governors and business leaders, analyzed high school exit tests in mathematics and language arts from six states, and writing tests from four of the states. The states were Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas.

Mike Cohen, president of Achieve, said the report found that the tests were not "not pegged at a very demanding level." He said states should gradually improve instruction and raise the minimum standards for graduation.

The exams have met with opposition, and some states, like Arizona, have been forced to postpone plans to attach consequences to the results of the exams. Testing experts generally warn against making important academic decisions on the basis of a single test. And while the research is inconclusive, some studies have suggested that the tests may contribute to higher dropout rates.

Matthew Gandal, the executive vice president of the organization, noted that exit exams were frequently attacked as unfair. "We think it's the opposite," he said. "It's unfair not to expect students to learn what's on these tests. By the time they graduate, if they haven't learned what's on these tests, they'll be really unprepared, and by then it's too late. They won't be able to go to college or to get jobs with which they can support a family."

The study also compared the material tested with benchmarks from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, concluding that in math, the skills tested on high school exit exams in the United States are taught in middle school in many other countries.

Lisa Graham Keegan, the former commissioner of education in Arizona, said she had begun looking into high school graduation exams, but on the first administration of a test found that 84 percent of the students had failed. Arizona has continued giving the exams, but will not require them for graduation until the spring of 2006.

"Obviously, the biggest barrier is not politics, it's reality," said Ms. Keegan, who now runs a conservative nonprofit organization called the Education Leaders Council. "We don't teach this content well, and any barrier exam you put up right now doesn't mean that kids are going to learn that material."

Ms. Keegan said that before these exams could be fairly imposed on high school students, schools needed to ensure that they were actually teaching the material, an elementary step that she said surprisingly eluded many school systems. She praised the report, however, for highlighting the quality of the exams and grade-level standards.

The report came under attack from FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which opposes what it calls "one size fits all" exit exams. Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the organization, said that Achieve's reports invariably called for raising the academic bar for students.

"It sounds like the latest installment from the 'Chicken Little, the Sky is Falling' crowd," Mr. Schaeffer said, adding that the group frequently tied reports of poor academic performance to dire predictions for the American work force and economy.

"All judgments about where to set the bar, where the cutoffs should be, and how much students should learn at any grade level," he said, "are inherently subjective and political."

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GAO: ‘No Child’ Law Is Not an ‘Unfunded Mandate’  

By David J. Hoff, Education Week, 6/9/04

Department of Education officials are lauding a federal report declaring that the No Child Left Behind Act is not an "unfunded mandate."

But the report from the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, isn’t the definitive answer in the debate over the true costs for states and districts to carry out the federal school improvement law, state officials say.

The GAO report "confirms something that we have said all along: No Child Left Behind is not an unfunded mandate," Ronald J. Tomalis, a counselor to Secretary of Education Rod Paige, said in a conference call with reporters late last month. "It has put a nail in the coffin of that canard."

State leaders say the report analyzes the act under a narrow and technical federal definition of an unfunded mandate and doesn’t take into account future costs of the 2½-year-old measure.

"Nobody can say whether it is an unfunded mandate," said Patricia F. Sullivan, the deputy director of advocacy and strategic alliances for the Council of Chief State School Officers. "It’s too soon, and the expensive part hasn’t come yet."

Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, asked that the GAO examine several recent major federal enactments in light of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act. That 1995 statute establishes procedural barriers to federal bills and proposed regulations if congressional researchers determine that they would cost state and local governments more than the amount Congress appropriates for them.

In a relatively brief discussion in its 97-page analysis of the unfunded-mandates act’s impact, the GAO says that the No Child Left Behind Act is not an unfunded mandate because states and districts participate as a condition of receiving federal aid, and that by definition, under the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, such programs are not considered to fit that label.

But the report also notes that the education law and other measures "appeared to have potential financial impacts," even if they didn’t fit the 1995 law’s definition of an unfunded mandate.

The Education Department seized on the May 25 report as something that would put an end to the debate over whether the school law was an unfunded mandate.

"The chorus of the ‘unfunded mandate’ has now been exposed for exactly what it is—a red herring," Mr. Paige said in a statement late last month. "If states do not want federal support, they are not required to take the funds. It’s that simple."

Also, increased federal funding to implement the law is enough to cover the expenses of complying with the No Child Left Behind Act, said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the department.

Federal spending on K-12 education has increased by 37.5 percent since the 2000-01 school year, according to the Education Department. But even those increases haven’t covered the new requirements facing schools, according to at least one advocate for the states.

In the past, federal programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which the No Child Left Behind Act reauthorized, had "very few rules or strings attached," said David L. Shreve, the education committee director of the National Conference of State Legislatures. "What has happened is the rules have changed, and it has a lot more strings."

Big Dollars?

The debate over the costs of the federal law was especially intense in recent state legislative sessions. Virginia’s Republican-led legislature passed a resolution declaring that the law would cost the state "literally millions of dollars that Virginia does not have." ("Debate Grows on True Costs of School Law," Feb. 4, 2004.) In Utah and other states, lawmakers considered opting out of the No Child Left Behind law because of the belief that compliance would cost too much. None of the bills passed, usually because the states decided that federal funding covers their costs.

But Ms. Sullivan and other state advocates said the ambitious school law’s final tab is still unknown.When all of the law’s requirements kick in, states will have a better idea of whether the federal government is covering all the associated costs, she said.

"We just don’t know what it’s going to cost to restructure hundreds of schools," she said, "and to make sure all teachers are highly qualified."

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Diplomas should reflect level of achievement

The issue: High school graduation standards
Our opinion: Graduated diplomas to reflect different achievement levels is one approach worth exploring
Northwest Indiana Times Editorial 

With a fresh batch of high school graduates, it's worth wondering just what those diplomas mean in terms of each graduate's future. 

The American Diploma Project pointed out in February that 53 percent of high school graduates who go on to college need at least one remedial course in college, an indication of an alarming gap between what's expected by colleges and what high schools produce. 

In Indiana, diplomas come in at least three flavors -- the academic honors diploma, the Core 40 and the regular diploma. 

Academic honors is easy enough to figure out. Core 40 means the graduate has shown proficiency in core classes. The regular diploma goes to everyone else who passes the graduation qualifying exam. 

Even that exam is inadequate. 

Indiana, which is praised for being a leader in requiring students to pass this exam, tests students on 10th-grade material. And even at that, not everyone passes it. 

The federal No Child Left Behind Act sets the bar much higher. Perhaps too high. 

Earlier this month, the Northwest Indiana Quality of Life Council discussed the federal law, which mandates schools attain 100 percent achievement on the ISTEP-Plus exam by 2014. 

That's impossible, of course. 

Tweaking the No Child Left Behind Act to account for special education as a special exception is logical and necessary. And students with limited English proficiency must be brought up to speed before they are promoted. 

Another logical step is the development of a graduated system of diplomas to reflect different achievement levels, much like grades on a report card. 

Indiana's diplomas have begun to reflect this already -- the academic honors diploma is much like an A, the Core 40 could be a B, the regular diploma could be a C or D. 

Graduated, ranked diplomas would be helpful to employers and colleges as they determine which graduates will meet their minimum standards. 

The Indiana Education Roundtable, a group of educators and business leaders who debate public policy, has already started to discuss this idea, although it hasn't been framed in those exact words. It is now time for the entire state to discuss TOP OF PAGE

Schools achieving a dream: Near-universal Net access

Greg Toppo, USA TODAY 

Cameron Independent School District is one of those tiny, rural school systems where the superintendent is named Maxie and he only has four schools to worry about. 

Eighty miles northeast of Austin, Cameron has only 1,682 students. But if you paired up kids and computers, there'd nearly be one for every other student — higher than in most wealthy suburban districts. This fall, every classroom in town will get a 42-inch plasma-screen TV bolted to the wall so teachers can surf the Web with students, show Powerpoint presentations or just watch a DVD. 

The Internet connection in every classroom comes compliments of the federal E-rate program, says Steele Cooley, the district's technology director. And while it can't be used for computers or TVs — just for the infrastructure necessary to get schools wired to the Web — E-rate frees up "tens of thousands of dollars each year," Cooley says, allowing schools to use tax receipts for classroom gear. "It's been an ongoing, driving force in our technology." 

Despite its problems — including waste, fraud and mismanagement, according to federal investigators, who plan a series of hearings on Capitol Hill next week — E-rate has been a dazzling success in thousands of public schools and libraries nationwide, advocates say. (Related item: Fraud, waste mar plan to wire schools to Net) 

"It's helped us to close the digital divide," says Anita Givens, Texas' educational technology director. "We're not there yet, but we've made tremendous progress." 

The program, paid for by a small fee on phone bills, has generated $12.9 billion since 1998. Advocates say E-rate has helped schools and libraries, especially in rural areas, accomplish what might seem an impossible goal: near-universal Internet access. 

Between 1996 and 2002, the percentage of Internet-wired schools rose from 65% to 99%, according to federal statistics. The percentage of wired classrooms rose from 14% to 92%; likewise, the percentage of Internet-connected libraries, from 28% to 95%. 

Educators say the Internet is vital to help young people do homework, conduct research and compete in a global economy. 

"Technology is something you have to have, and poor school districts like us cannot afford it," says Cameron Superintendent Maxie Morgan. 

The program helps schools pay for all telecommunications, including ongoing phone expenses. By reducing these costs, E-rate has allowed schools to upgrade their computer systems and spend what little money they have on things they couldn't otherwise afford. 

"The program, in some respects, has been wildly successful," says Mary Kusler of the American Association of School Administrators. 

Anita Wiseman, principal of North Lewis Elementary School in New Iberia, La., says E-rate helped the school pay its "astronomical" monthly phone charges of $200 to $300.  

"We were always in the red when it came to our phone bill," she says.  

It also has revitalized public libraries, says Carrie Lowe of the American Library Association. "Despite the challenges, E-rate has been a huge success for public libraries." 

Libraries get only 5% of E-rate funds, but she says more people use the facilities now because of the free Internet access many now provide. 

But critics complain that small communities are often at a disadvantage because they don't have trained technology coordinators to write the detailed proposals that E-rate requires. 

"Learning all of the ins and outs of telecommunications and discounts, that's a steep learning curve," says Givens, who adds that when E-rate debuted, many officials in small districts "didn't know the difference between what we call POTS and PANS: Plain Old Telephone Service and the Pretty Awesome Neat Stuff." 

Others complain that E-rate leaves middle-class districts behind, since they're "not poor enough to get the help, but they're not rich enough to get it themselves," says Givens. 

Della Matthis, Alaska's E-rate coordinator, says E-rate allows isolated villages to provide the same courses other students take for granted. 

"It also means that kids do not have to be hauled off to boarding schools to get advanced education," she says. "We bring the education to them." 

E-rate also brought Internet connections to villages themselves, she says. "Suddenly, the demand for not just telephone lines, but for actual, honest-to-God broadband connectivity, has gone up," she says. 

Critics say E-rate's generous subsidies, which pay for as much as 90% of connectivity costs, are too tempting to crooked technology companies, which sell schools fancier equipment than they need. But while vendors in Alaska, at least, may be making a profit, Matthis says, "we don't have any gold-plated servers in place that I know of." 

Congress in 2005 is scheduled to reauthorize E-rate. A few opponents will likely propose revamping it, but few observers think the accounting problems will sink it altogether. 

"It needs changing, it needs tightening," says Dennis Pierce, managing editor of eSchool News. But he says even critics agree that it's a worthy program. 

Ultimately, he says, E-rate "has provided so much benefit, and there would be such an uproar, that the program is safe."

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Schools graded a success by state, a flop by feds

Some schools get an A grade under one system and an F under the other. And the poor marks open the doors for mass student transfers, a demand local districts are ill prepared to meet.

Ron Matus and Matthew Waite, St. Petersburg Times 

Florida schools received a mixed message Tuesday. 

Under the state's grading system, nearly half of the schools earned A's. Under the federal system, nearly 80 percent were deemed in need of improvement. 

The oddity: Hundreds of schools fell into both categories. 

The clash in standards is likely to baffle many parents and shine a brighter political spotlight on the No Child Left Behind Act, the sweeping federal law that anchors President Bush's education agenda. 

Up to 1,000 schools that didn't pass federal muster under No Child must now allow students to transfer to other schools, an option that could leave authorities scrambling to reassign thousands of students by the start of classes in August - and then paying the transportation costs. 

Nobody is predicting chaos, but school officials are wading into uncharted waters. 

"Everybody's kind of learning their way around this," said Walt Bartlett, who oversees federal programs in Hillsborough County. 

The big exception: Pinellas County. Its court-ordered school choice plan sharply limits transfers that could interfere with race ratios at each school. 

In Tallahassee, Gov. Jeb Bush touted the latest round of school grades, which are based on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Nearly 70 percent of schools earned A's or B's this year, up from 21 percent in 1999, when FCAT testing began. 

Bush said the grades are proof that testing and higher standards are making Florida students smarter and better prepared. 

"If you have high expectations for every child . . . and you do not have tolerance for mediocrity, you will get better results," Bush said at a news conference in the Capitol. 

The picture isn't as rosy through the federal lens. 

While both state and federal standards are based on FCAT scores, the state formula puts great emphasis on improvement. If a school helps struggling students score better on the FCAT, its overall grade gets a boost. 

That's why five Florida schools earned A's this year even though fewer than 50 percent of their students passed the reading test. Five other schools, including Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Elementary in Pinellas County, got A's despite a majority of their students scoring below grade level in math. 

No Child is all about performance. 

The federal law requires schools to improve performance every year, overall and for a long list of subgroups that include minorities, low-income children, students with limited English skills and students with disabilities. 

If one group fails, the entire school fails. 

This year, 77 percent of Florida schools did not make "adequate yearly progress," or AYP, the benchmark by which No Child is based. Last year, 84 percent failed to meet AYP. 

Gov. Bush took that as progress. He went out of his way to downplay discrepancies between state and federal standards, calling them complementary. 

"They measure different things," Bush said. "This will provide teachers and principals and parents a useful tool to be able to say, "Look, my school is doing well, we've had gains . . . but here are the sectors we need to focus on.' " 

State Department of Education spokeswoman Frances Marine offered this analogy: An All-Star basketball player dunks, rebounds and nails 3-pointers with ease, but his free throw shooting is poor. In the same way, an A school may need to focus more attention on its students with limited English skills. 

Of the 1,200 schools that earned A's this year, more than half did not make AYP. 

Not a single high school in the Tampa Bay area made AYP, including the likes of Plant High School in Tampa and Palm Harbor University High School in Pinellas. 

And yet, 32 schools that earned C's did make AYP. 

Critics say those kinds of numbers can't be explained. 

"Parents have good reason to be confused," said state Senate Minority Leader Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, a longtime FCAT critic. "If the students are progressing as well as the governor claims, how is it possible that the overwhelming majority of Florida's schools failed the president's test?" 

The results were particularly painful for the hundreds of Florida schools that met most of No Child's criteria, but still fell short of passing. 

Under No Child, close is not enough. 

The law's goal is for 100 percent of students to be up to snuff by 2014, as measured by each state's standards. Every year a school falls short, new sanctions kick in, including tutors, new administrators and, eventually, a takeover by the state. 

The transfer option is first. Schools that serve poor communities are supposed to allow their students to transfer if the schools fail to meet the federal standard two years in a row. This year, 959 schools statewide fit the bill, including scores of them around the Tampa Bay area.

Potentially, hundreds of thousands of parents can now move their children to a higher-performing school. 

Practically, it's not possible. 

With the vast majority of Florida schools falling short of federal standards, few would seem to offer the alternative a parent would want. At the same time, overcrowding issues effectively limit any mass reshuffling of students. 

And most parents don't want to move their children anyway. 

A survey last year by the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents most of the country's largest urban school districts, found 1.2-million students in 46 cities were eligible to transfer under No Child, but only 44,000 requested a transfer and only 17,000 actually moved. 

Surveys shows many parents have broad worries about public education, "but their feelings about their own school are, "It's a pretty good school,' " said Jeff Simering, the group's legislative director. 

In Florida, expect a continued trickle of transfers, not a flood, he said. 

In Broward County, parents of only 1,600 students requested transfers by a district deadline last week. In Hernando County, 70 students have asked to move. 

In Pasco County, which earned its best report card ever this year, 12 schools must offer a choice. 

Five of them earned A's, six earned B's and one got a C. 

Said Pasco superintendent John Long: "I don't know how many parents are going to want to leave a school that's doing that well." 

But there is no denying No Child's political potency. A group tied to teachers unions formed last month solely to slam it. Communities for Quality Education, a coalition of teachers and parents, has been running critical television ads in a handful of swing states, with a heavy emphasis on Florida. 

And it's not just teachers and Democrats doing the sniping. 

Republicans in conservative states such as Utah and Virginia have been leveling some of the sharpest attacks against No Child requirements. 

Bureaucrats in Washington telling states how to run their schools is "exactly the kind of thing (former President Ronald) Reagan preached against," said David Hedge, a political science professor at the University of Florida. 

Ironically, it was Gov. Bush who decided how stringently No Child would be applied in Florida, which has a far higher percentage of schools failing to meet federal standards than most states. 

The main reason: Florida decided each of the subgroups counted under No Child could be as small as 30 students, which means a few students with poor scores can tip the balance. With most states, the subgroups are bigger, so fewer schools get snared. 

On Tuesday, Gov. Bush said he doesn't regret that decision. "We're not going to lower our standards so we can look good," he said. 

- Ron Matus can be reached at 727 893-8873 or matus@sptimes.com Staff writers Joni James, Stephen Hegarty, Letitia Stein and Jeffrey Solochek contributed to this report.  

WHAT IS "NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND'? The No Child Left Behind Act, approved by Congress in 2001, is shaking up American education. 

he federal law is the first to set strict performance targets, both for schools and specific groups of students. Those groups include minorities, low-income students, students with limited English skills and students with disabilities. 

If even one group fails, the entire school fails. 

Schools with a high percentage of poor children - called Title I schools - face sanctions if they don't meet the federal targets. New sanctions kick in every year. 

If schools fail two years in a row, students could get the option of transferring to another public school in the district. 

After three years in a row, schools must provide tutors. 

After four years, districts must step in and replace staff or change curriculum. 

After five years, the school is identified for restructuring, which could include a state takeover or conversion to a charter school.TOP OF PAGE

Wisconsin bucks No Child Left Behind

Chuck Haga, Star Tribune, 6/17/04 

MADISON, WIS. -- Ellen Akins attended a meeting in Cornucopia, Wis., recently where a school administrator explained No Child Left Behind, the federal government's plan to improve the nation's schools. 

"It was largely a map of progressively rising proficiency levels, ultimately reaching 100 percent," Akins said. "Another mother and I looked at each other and laughed. She said, 'Does this mean that by the time my daughter's 16 she'll never get anything wrong?' " 

School's out, but the halls of Wisconsin's schools still echo with debate over No Child Left Behind. And educators across the country are listening. 

The debate heated up last month when state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager issued an opinion that Wisconsin has no legal obligation to implement the law because it fails to adequately fund the testing and other activities it requires. 

There had been resistance in other states. 

And in March the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) formed a task force to recommend changes. But Lautenschlager's opinion was the first such ruling in the nation by a top state official. 

"We've heard from a lot of people around the country," she said last week. "There's a lot of concern out there." 

Her opinion, a response to an inquiry from a Democratic state senator, holds that states "are entitled to take Congress at its word that it did not intend to require state and local governments to expend their own funds to comply" with the federal mandates. 

In effect, she invited school districts or the state to sue the federal government, which brought cheers from the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), the state's largest teachers union, which believes the law is inflexible, punitive and underfunded. 

The opinion also brought a quick response from the Bush administration. Days after it was issued, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige was in Milwaukee, insisting sharply that Lautenschlager, a Democrat, was wrong.

In a speech June 4 in Detroit, he said critics are motivated by election-year politics. "They are whiners," he said. 

Lautenschlager said she was "amazed" by the negative response, which included a statement by the Republican Party of Wisconsin that her analysis was "an opinion by a Democrat motivated by politics instead of the facts." 

Lautenschlager said she has "strong opinions about the importance of education," but attorneys who researched the issue "were given no instructions except to analyze." For the secretary of education to "come to Milwaukee and comment on this letter was dumbfounding to me. We obviously hit a nerve, the response was so direct and so intense," she said. 

Stan Johnson, WEAC president, wants a court challenge. 

"The attorney general's opinion left the door open for some districts or the state to sue," he said. "I'd like to see some districts get together and do that. 

"Even if the law was fully funded, it doesn't address what schools really need ... to meet the ideals of the law." 

Shortly after the opinion was issued, Johnson attended a meeting in Chicago of nine Midwestern state teachers unions. "There was a lot of interest in the opinion," he said. "Several people said they wanted their attorney general to take a look at it," and at least one other state -- Ohio -- is contemplating legal action. 

But because it will take time to calculate costs required but not covered by the law -- and because the issue has become entangled in politics -- Johnson said he doubts any formal challenge will come until 2005. 

"I would not expect anything before the election because it would be seen as the unions and Democrats trying to get at Bush," he said. "But people need to take a hard look at this law. It's going to sneak up on the public as more and more districts are labeled as 'in need of improvement' and face sanctions." 

Support, evidence 

The law requires testing of all third- through eighth-graders in reading and math, with all students to be performing at their grade level by 2014. It imposes sanctions against schools that don't show improvement, including allowing parents to transfer children from a school "in need of improvement" to another school in the district -- with the weaker school paying the costs. 

According to the NCSL, more than 20 states have considered ways to end their participation in No Child Left Behind, to seek full funding for participation or to propose changes in the law. 

In Pennsylvania, the Reading School District has sued the state education department.  

"That's what the Wisconsin [opinion] has done: give districts like Reading support and a little evidence," said Scott Young, who handles education issues for NCSL. But he doesn't expect to see anyone suing the federal government soon. 

"A lot of states are considering what to do about it, but it may not be in their best interest to challenge this right now," Young said. "Maybe wait until states feel the full force of the federal requirements and know the full costs." 

The bipartisan NCSL task force, co-chaired by state Sens. Steve Kelley of Minnesota and Stephen Saland of New York, has among its goals "to ensure that federal funding is commensurate with the requirements of the law, preventing undue fiscal burdens on states." 

The act has "laudatory purposes," Saland said in an NCSL briefing paper earlier this year, but there is widespread belief that it "imposes a number of unfunded and underfunded mandates" and "some of its requirements are unreasonably ... difficult to attain." 

Ken Cole, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said the association cautioned districts against racing into court with an undocumented case of distress. 

"Down the road, with the hierarchy of sanctions that kick in, they may be required to provide supplemental services to students," Cole said. If those costs aren't supported, "we'd be interested then in looking into [a challenge]. 

"The purpose of the law, that every young person be given every opportunity and have all kinds of effort expended to get them to grade level -- that's not a bad concept. School board members and teachers understand that," he said. 

"The notion of accountability may be rigorous, but that may be where the future's at. The idea of 'You just give us the money and we'll just do our best' -- that's losing momentum." 

Lautenschlager agreed that districts may need more time to document costs. 

"I think that's fair," she said. "But in the past few weeks, many organizations have shown us statistics that make it clear [the] funding is inadequate." 

One study, by the Institute for Wisconsin's Future, a policy research center in Milwaukee, suggests it would cost an additional $2,880 per pupil to provide the smaller classes and remedial programs necessary to achieve 100 percent student proficiency in math and reading. And the General Accounting Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, estimates that nationwide costs of testing alone could exceed $5 billion between 2002 and 2008. 

One student short 

Critics of the law also argue that its testing requirements are inflexible and punitive. They also come at a bad time, said Akins, the Cornucopia parent.

 

"We're losing and cutting programs and teachers, from art and music to French and gifted-and-talented, while the students are subjected to an ever-greater battery of tests that cost plenty but otherwise make no difference whatsoever," she said. "The emphasis is skewed. Kids can't be tested into perfection."

 

Madison's LaFollette High School was placed on the list of schools designated as "in need of improvement" this spring when it fell one black student short on test participation.

 

The law requires that 95 percent of students in each of four ethnic subgroups take the tests. LaFollette improved participation over last year, Principal Michael Meissen said, but only 69 of 74 black students reported for the 2004 test -- 93 percent.

 

"I think there are [many] dimensions to determining the success of a school," Meissen said. "If the model could be geared toward improvement -- that's what I believe in."

TOP OF PAGE

Waste and Fraud Besiege U.S. Program to Link Poor Schools to Internet

By SAM DILLON, New York Times, June 17, 2004

WASHINGTON, June 16 - When the El Paso school system wanted to upgrade its Internet connections three years ago, it tapped into a federal program that offers assistance for such projects.

The program paid the International Business Machines Corporation $35 million to build a network powerful enough to serve a small city. But the network would be so sophisticated that the 90-school district could not run it without help.

Foreseeing the problem, I.B.M. charged the district an additional $27 million, paid by the federal program, to build a lavish maintenance call-in center to keep the network running. The center operated for nine months. Then, with no more money to support it, I.B.M. dismantled it and left town.

The federal effort to help poor schools connect to the Internet, the E-rate program, which collects a fee from all American phone users to distribute $2.25 billion a year to such schools and libraries, wasted enormous sums as El Paso built its extravagant network in the 2001-2 school year, according to documents and federal lawmakers.

But the problems have not been there alone. In Brevard County, Fla., school officials used E-rate money to install a $1 million network server, a powerful device more suited to the needs of a multinational corporation, in a 650-pupil elementary school. And just three weeks ago in San Francisco, a subsidiary of the computer giant NEC agreed to plead guilty to two federal felony counts related to the program.

Across the nation in recent months - in El Paso and in New York and Pennsylvania, in Puerto Rico and Atlanta, in Milwaukee and Chicago - investigations or audits of the program have turned up not only waste but also bid-rigging and other fraud, according to lawmakers and investigators. A report issued last week by the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the E-rate program, said 42 criminal investigations were under way.

On Thursday, Congress is to open hearings on all that has gone wrong. The hearings will be held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, whose chairman, Representative James C. Greenwood of Pennsylvania, says the F.C.C.'s supervision was weak.

Mr. Greenwood said that since schools often must pay only 10 percent of the cost of equipment and services while E-rate picks up the rest, "contractors have mastered the art of coming into these districts, recommending gold-plated architecture, and school officials, buying at 10 cents on the dollar, take everything they recommend.''

"You couldn't invent a way to throw money down the drain that would work any better than this," he added.

The Universal Service Administrative Company, a nonprofit government corporation overseen by the communications commission and known to school administrators as USAC (pronounced YOU- sack), is in charge of the E-rate program, which has many enthusiastic backers.

"Every mammoth government program has problems," said Gregg Downey, editor of eSchool News, a paper that covers educational technology. "The sloth, the waste and the cases of outright fraud shouldn't be a reason to get rid of a program that's doing a lot of good. This is a program that helps schools serve students better through technology."

Michael Balmoris, a spokesman for the communications commission, said that E-rate was not "waste- and fraud-free" but that abuses were not "endemic."

Narda M. Jones, an acting chief in the F.C.C. division that oversees the program, said it was designed to give schools "maximum flexibility" to build technology systems that suited their needs.

"But as the system has grown, we've seen that that design has given people an opportunity to push at the margins of the program," Ms. Jones said.

In the last year, she said, the commission has adopted rules that "significantly tighten" the wiggle room for abuse. One such rule bars people found guilty of crimes from participation, she said.

But Thomas D. Bennett, an assistant inspector general at the commission, remains concerned about oversight. He pointed to evaluations of 122 E-rate beneficiaries carried out or overseen by F.C.C. and USAC auditors in the last year or so. The auditors characterized 62 beneficiaries as "compliant" with E-rate rules, 21 as "generally compliant," and 39 - nearly a third of the total - as "not compliant," Mr. Bennett said.

"That doesn't give us much comfort that beneficiaries are complying with our rules," he said.

In the case of the $1 million server, installed for the Endeavour Elementary School in Cocoa, Fla., Mr. Bennett's auditors are midway through an examination of documents relating to the Brevard County school district's purchase of it. He declined to characterize the interim findings.

Lee A. Berry, the Brevard district's deputy superintendent, defended the purchase. 

"We violated no rules," Mr. Berry said. "Was that server appropriate for that school? In our mind it was. It allowed each teacher and child to have a Web site."

In El Paso, school authorities applied for a total of $10.6 million in the first three years of the E-rate program, which got under way in 1998. They used the money they received to wire classrooms and offices.

Then El Paso formed a strategic alliance with I.B.M. and in December 2000 filed an application for $77 million, at least 20 times as much as in any previous year. Of that total, the E-rate agency ultimately disbursed about $62 million.

The I.B.M.-El Paso plan called for creation of a fiber-optic network with videoconferencing capabilities, managed by top-of-the-line switches, routers and other hardware. The project was so sophisticated, and so much money had to be spent so fast, that the district's in-house technology staff was quickly overwhelmed.

After financing was approved, I.B.M moved immediately to roll out the new network. But it took until April 18, 2002, to commence operations at the $27 million maintenance support center, Andrew Kendzie, an I.B.M. spokesman, said by e-mail in response to questions. Eleven weeks later, the budget year ended, and since I.B.M. was only renting the center to the district, its continued operation required new E-rate money.

Hoping that El Paso would gain approval of a $46 million request for the new budget year - approval that never came -I.B.M. operated the maintenance center at its own expense, of $3 million, through December 2002, Mr. Kendzie said.

"We informed the district that we could no longer continue to provide these services for free," he said, and in January of last year the company dismantled the maintenance center and left El Paso.

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Do the clothes make the student?

Board trying to come up with a uniform policy

By Emily Richmond, LAS VEGAS SUN, 6/16/04

If Clark County School Board Vice President Larry Mason has his way Thursday, a pilot study requiring students at five Henderson elementary schools to wear uniforms may come to an end.

Mason will ask his fellow School Board members to vote in favor of removing the word "mandatory" from the district regulation that allowed schools to adopt the uniform policies two years ago, a move that would essentially dissolve the study.

Also at Thursday's meeting, four additional Henderson elementary schools -- Bennett, Harmon, Hummel and Taylor -- will ask permission to join the pilot study. The request comes two weeks after a split board vote killed a proposal to allow any school in the district to adopt a uniform policy, provided a majority of parents responded to a survey with at least 70 percent showing support.

"I'm not convinced that uniforms have anything to do with how students learn," Mason said following the last School Board vote. "Saying no bandannas or hats or low-cut pants, that I can understand. But we already have a district dress code that says all that without making uniforms something mandatory."

Each of the four elementary schools met the survey requirements, with approval ratings ranging from 74 percent at Hummel to 81 percent at Taylor.

Mike Rolands, assistant principal at Taylor, said participation in the school's voluntary uniform policy has dropped from 85 percent in August to 60 percent with the campus in its final week of classes.

"It's hard to create a consistent school environment without all of your policies following through," Rolands said. "At the start of the year we have a great response, but then it falls off. Parents don't want to fight that battle (over uniforms) at home when it's not backed up by the school's expectations."

Bobi Fuentes, whose two sons attend Taylor, said she has mixed feelings about the proposed policy. Her first grader, Chase, wears the voluntary uniform, while his older brother, fourth grader Trevor, "hates it," Fuentes said.

Supporters of uniform policies say the outfits are economical because students can mix and match pieces without needing complete separate outfits. But Fuentes said most kids like to change out of their uniforms after school.

"I don't think it saves money because you end up buying twice the wardrobe," Fuentes said.

However, Fuentes said, school uniforms would probably improve the overall learning environment and fewer children would be picked on for not keeping up with the latest fashions and fads.

Cathy Sodaro, who has 8-year-old twin girls attending Taylor, said uniforms are cheaper than brand-name clothes. She also didn't believe uniforms interfered with her daughters' freedom to express themselves.

"It definitely doesn't restrict their individuality at all," Sodaro said. "They (her daughters) are totally different."

Board President Susan Brager-Wellman said she voted against turning the pilot study into a district-wide regulation because only schools in the southeast region had expressed an interest in adopting mandatory uniform policies. She encouraged proponents of the policy to look for supporters in other regions or to come back to the board with a proposal limited to southeast schools.

While the School Board hashes out its uniform policy, seven schools in the district's northeast region plan to adopt "school wardrobe" policies for the 2004-05 academic year. "School wardrobe" policies place strict limits on the colors, fabrics and styles of clothing that students may wear.

Following the lead of Liberty High School, which opened last year, two new high schools opening in August will also have "school wardrobes" -- Canyon Springs in the northeast region and Del Sol in the southeast region.

Regulations already exist giving principals the authority to set such requirements without first going to the School Board for approval, said Agustin Orci, deputy superintendent of instruction for the district.

Some parents have expressed concern that they were not given a say in whether or not their children's school would adopt wardrobe policies. Mary McDaniel, whose son will attend the new Findlay Middle School in August, said she's opposed to the proposed "Dress for Success" school wardrobe.

"How can you say this isn't a uniform when you're telling kids exactly what colors and types of clothing they can wear?" McDaniel asked. "There should have been community meetings about this, and parents should have some say. This is still a public school district, isn't it?"

The only difference between a "school wardrobe" and a uniform is semantics, said Gary Peck, executive director of the Nevada ACLU. The district should be focusing on matters directly related to student achievement -- such as test scores and curriculum -- rather than wasting time on unnecessary dress codes, Peck said.

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Schools see cellphone cheating

By Megan Tench, Boston Globe Staff, June 16, 2004

A high-tech trend has put local school and state officials on high alert: students using cellphones to cheat on tests. 

The digital industry's latest features -- such as instant text messaging, email, and Internet access -- have proven troublesome for teachers. Some educators say that students have been using the features to look up and send test answers to their friends or even take photographs of exams for future use.

''I can understand why they would want to get rid of phones, but for some students, it's the only way they can pass," April Gordon, a senior from Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, said with a giggle. ''A lot of students were using them during finals."

Concern about high-tech cheating has prompted state education officials to consider banning the use of cellphones during the MCAS exam, a graduation requirement for 10th graders.

''It's not a situation that we've run into with MCAS, but we do know that nationally this has become an issue," said Heidi Perlman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

The department is considering amending test guidelines to prohibit cellphones, she said.

''It's unclear if they are going to be taken away or just turned off during testing," said Perlman, adding that the new measure would be in place before the July retest.

In Boston, cellphones are already banned from classrooms, said school system spokesman Jonathan Palumbo.

''We have not heard a lot about cyber-cheating in our schools," said Palumbo. ''But if the state does set a regulation, we will add that to our checklist to make sure it's enforced."

Cellphones and pagers are also banned from Braintree schools, said school officials. In Brockton, students may have cellphones, but they must be turned off during classes, said district spokeswoman Jocelyn Meek.

Other South Shore school systems are considering similar policies, while, at the opposite end of the state, Springfield school leaders are one step ahead. During MCAS exams last summer, students were required to leave their phones at a particular location away from their reach, said Springfield Superintendent Joseph P. Burke.

''We labeled them, and we had students pick them up after the test," Burke said.

During school, he added, students must register their cellphones with school administrators and they also must have permission from their parents to carry them.

Cellphone cheating is not just a problem in this country. In Shanghai more than 20 high school students suspected of using cellphone text messages to cheat on a university admissions exam were arrested, the Chinese newspaper Beijing Youth Daily reported Monday.

Still, Boston students say that high-tech cheating is not as widespread as school officials may think.

''Not everyone uses their phones to cheat," Madison Park senior Jadirah Ortiz said as she stuffed her credit card-sized cell in her pocket. ''Instead of banning cellphones, they need to have better monitoring in class."

''We need them," added her classmate, Tanisha Brown. ''There could be an emergency. We've got girls here who have kids. We got people here who take care of people at home. For a lot of people, it's their parents who give them cellphones in the first place."

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High Schools Nationwide

Paring Down

By Caroline Hendrie, Education Week, 6/16/04

As a strategy for reforming secondary education in America, small schools have gotten big.

Prodded by an outpouring of philanthropic and federal largess, school districts and even some states are downsizing public high schools to combat high dropout rates and low levels of student achievement, especially in big- city school systems. For longtime proponents of small schools, the upswell in support for their ideas is making for heady times.

Despite the concept’s unprecedented popularity, however, evidence is mounting that "scaling up" scaled-down schooling is extraordinarily complex. A sometimes confusing array of approaches is unfolding under the banner of small high schools, contributing to concerns that much of the flurry of activity may be destined for disappointing results.

"It’s very, very difficult to do this well," said Tom Vander Ark, who heads the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s mammoth initiative to create small high schools. "Small is not a panacea. It’s a platform that helps you do the things you need to do to help kids succeed."

Whether that platform becomes a springboard to higher student achievement on a broad scale and for a sustained period remains an open question. Even in places where small schools have won strong support, educators are being hard pressed to take what has been essentially a succession of experiments and move them to the mainstream.

"Whenever you have a reform that has been successful in some places and then it’s scaled up quickly, with a lot of people who only understand it superficially, there’s a lot of danger that some people will do it poorly and that the idea will go down in flames," said Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University who is an expert in small-school design.

‘Culture Change'

Well aware of that risk, advocates of scaled-down schooling have been working overtime to put supports in place for educators to combat a host of emerging challenges. At the same time, they are scrambling to put their ideas into practice before the interest and money run out.

"We’re talking about a culture change, not just an institution change," said Deborah Meier, the progressive educator and author who has founded small public schools in New York City and Boston. "The trick is how to sustain interest in a reform that requires a generation to complete."

For the moment, that interest is running high.

During the past few years, calls have intensified for reinventing what many education leaders see as an outmoded institution: comprehensive high schools that do a better job of sorting students into academic tracks than of educating all students to the levels needed in today’s knowledge-driven economy.

Pressure to act on those calls has mounted as new demands for higher graduation rates and test-score gains have kicked in, thanks to the federal No Child Left Behind Act and state accountability systems. School safety concerns, heightened by the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, have contributed to a sense that the contemporary high school is in crisis.

Against this backdrop, more educators are buying into the notion that less may be more. Private foundations and the federal government are offering aid to spur the downsizing of public high schools. Across the country, educators are taking the bait.

In the 1.1 million- student New York City school system, city leaders have launched a major initiative to phase out the lowest-performing high schools and replace them with small schools. Poised to open 60 more small schools this year on top of the 42 that opened last fall, officials see those new schools as central to a broader push to ratchet up performance systemwide.

Statewide efforts are taking root from Maine and Rhode Island to Oregon and Washington state. Some districts, such as Houston, Kansas City, Kan., and Sacramento, Calif., have committed to districtwide strategies of small high schools and learning communities. In many others, including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, San Diego, and Oakland, Calif., district leaders are in the midst of major efforts to start new small high schools and restructure existing ones.

Influx of Funding

In some places, early indications are that efforts to rapidly scale up smaller, more personalized learning environments are meeting with success. In others, though, ambitions for widespread change seem to be outstripping results. And that reality has some small-school proponents asking themselves questions:

Is the movement growing too fast? Are people jumping on the small-schools bandwagon for the wrong reasons? Was it wise to pour so many resources into scaling up small schools before a consensus emerged on how to do it right?

Two major funders, often working with local and regional foundations, have been helping to spread the small-schools approach over the past four years at the national level: the federal government’s Smaller Learning Communities Program and the Seattle-based Gates Foundation.

Since 2000, the foundation started by the Microsoft founder and his wife has pumped nearly $650 million into efforts to establish small high schools that embody a set of attributes it believes are conducive to high achievement. (See chart below.) The foundation stresses that small size is necessary, but not sufficient, to create such schools, and that structural innovations must be accompanied by instructional ones. To serve students well, foundation officials say, small high schools must offer what they call the new "three R’s": rigor, relevance, and relationships.

Headed by Mr. Vander Ark, the Gates initiative has fostered the start-up of a potpourri of small schools as well as the conversion of large high schools into complexes of compact campuses. The foundation has poured millions of dollars into small-schools efforts in two dozen large cities, as well as into statewide initiatives in a half-dozen states. It has also financed more than two dozen organizations that are working on building networks of schools based on existing models at a regional or even national level.

By its calculations, the foundation has so far helped support the start-up of more than 740 new small high schools— typically defined as no larger than 400 students—and the redesign of 460 existing large high schools.

"Our goal is not to create more small schools, although that has certainly been an outcome of our early grantmaking," said Mr. Vander Ark. "Our goal is to help more students graduate with the skills they need for work and citizenship."

While the Gates initiative has garnered widespread attention, the U.S. Department of Education has been quietly running a Clinton-era program that the Bush administration has consistently urged Congress to eliminate, so far without success.

With funding that climbed from $45 million annually in fiscal 2000 to $174 million this fiscal year, the Smaller Learning Communities Program has doled out 542 grants worth nearly $275 million to hundreds of districts since 2000. The program is now reviewing applications for its fourth grant cycle, which is expected to yield another 140 one-year planning grants and 144 three-year awards for implementation. The grants are targeted to high schools with at least 1,000 students.

Projects that qualify for the federal grants can fall far short of breaking up large campuses into independent or semiautonomous schools, usually the minimum degree of restructuring that is required under the Gates Foundation’s grants for existing schools. Opening career academies, assigning students to advisory groups, and even revamping the schedule to allow for longer class periods are among the changes that can qualify.

Given the expansive criteria, some critics see the federal program as contributing to a fuzzy sense of just what the small-schools movement is or should be about. Mr. Vander Ark, for one, thinks the Bush administration is right to question the program’s effectiveness.

"Schools need very clear guidance, quality outside assistance, sufficient multiyear resources, and a support network to draw on," he said. "The federal Small Learning Communities Program’s insufficient in all four of those areas."

Still, the program has defenders, including Michael Klonsky, a co-director of the Small Schools Workshop at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Mr. Klonsky, who provides technical assistance to many schools that have received the federal grants, said the program’s lack of stringent criteria is preferable to the approach taken by some private funders who, in his view, seek to micromanage the change process when they "dictate a certain model—a certain degree of autonomy, a certain governance structure."

"At least the [Department of Education] grant is a public grant," he said. "It’s not like 12 rich people sitting in a room and saying, ‘This is how we do it in our business … and if anybody gets in our way, we’ll fire them.’ "

Staying Power Questioned

Mr. Klonsky is among a group of small-schools proponents who are concerned that the boom in the approach’s popularity is driven primarily by the availability of funding, particularly from the Gates Foundation.

"You really have to ask yourself whether these big districts would be doing this without the Gates money coming in," said Jon Schroeder, the coordinator of Education Evolving, a nonprofit organization based in St. Paul, Minn., that promotes new forms of schooling. "It remains to be seen how genuine this is, and whether it’s really something that’s emerging from the system itself … or whether it’s funder-driven and just sort of the ‘in’ thing to do."

Whatever the impetus, it’s clear that policymakers are taking the small-schools idea seriously. A recent report synthesizing the themes to emerge from seven national conferences last fall on redesigning secondary education concludes that "the concept of smaller, more personalized high school learning environments has moved from the sidelines of high school reform to center stage."

But the report by the National High School Alliance, a partnership of more than 40 national organizations interested in high school redesign, also argues that education leaders have yet to devote enough attention to the many practical problems "of bringing innovation to scale."

Among the most pressing of those systemic challenges is finding enough principals and teachers with a deep understanding of the complex features of successful small schools. Researchers studying the Gates Foundation initiative have found, for example, that many small schools are struggling to put into place strong curricula and instructional practices, in part because their "detracked" classrooms include youngsters of widely varying skill levels.

"To really use this money wisely, we really need people who understand why small is better," said Bill Klann, who teaches 11th grade humanities at the 340-student Vanguard High School in New York. "It can’t be because it’s a fad. It can’t be because there’s money. It can’t be because there’s less kids to get to know in a small school. It must be to significantly change how people interact and how learning takes place."

Retrofitting old buildings and securing new ones at a time of overcrowding and tight budgets pose other serious roadblocks in many places. Altering district practices to support small schools is a heavy lift. Ensuring that successful small schools will thrive after their founders and funders move on is yet another problem, particularly because of the hard time many small schools have in making ends meet on per-pupil funding allocations in some states.

Beyond those and other systemic challenges is the often-fierce resistance that arises from teachers and administrators, and sometimes from students and parents, when districts set out to convert big high schools into smaller units or separate schools.

Amid such difficulties, a split has emerged between those who see value in creating smaller learning communities within jumbo schools, and those who see such efforts as largely pointless.

"There’s a big debate in the reform community on whether it’s even worth the effort to try to convert large high schools as they are, or whether the only useful strategy is to go to new, small, completely autonomous schools," Ms. Darling-Hammond said. "Those are very different approaches to the change process that seem in many cases to be producing very different results."

To date, no one has conducted a major comparative study on the benefits of converting existing schools versus starting new ones, she said.

Even anecdotally, examples are scarce of large high schools that have seen dramatic learning gains after restructuring into smaller learning communities or schools-within-schools, Ms. Darling-Hammond said. That has led some veteran small-schools proponents to conclude that the approach may be misguided.

"Too many people are saying, in Wizard of Oz fashion, to a bunch of teachers, ‘You are now School A, you are School B,’ " said Ms. Meier. "The odds are it won’t work. I think it’s a waste of energy."

Bush administration officials, for their part, regard the smaller-learning- communities approach skeptically. When it comes to raising student achievement, said Susan Sclafani, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, whose office oversees the Smaller Learning Communities Program, the technique of "taking a large school and turning it into small learning communities … has almost no research behind it."

Yet other veterans see breaking down big schools as a critical element in the scaling-up equation. Questions about which approach is better are at best premature, some say.

One Best Way?

"I don’t think one way is easier or better. I think there are trade-offs," said Joe Nathan, a University of Minnesota-Twin Cities professor who is helping both to start new schools and restructure large ones under a grant from the Gates Foundation.

Although he’s seen efforts to break up big schools go bad, Mr. Klonsky says they can succeed, provided that the impulse for reform comes from those most affected. For that reason, he regards much of the debate among elite observers over the best way to downsize as beside the point.

"I don’t think all these great ideas about small schools, including my own, are sustainable without community engagement," he said. "It’s got to be rooted in people’s prior experience and concrete conditions."

In Los Angeles, where top school officials are drawing up plans for smaller learning communities, Superintendent Roy Romer has yet to publicly weigh in on the debate over how downsizing should proceed. But as he reviews five-year plans for high school restructuring drafted by the heads of the system’s 11 subdistricts, admonitions about community engagement are being taken to heart.

"It has to start at the school, and it has to involve the school community, because if Superintendent Romer said, ‘OK everybody, we have to do this,’ it wouldn’t work," said Rosa Maria Hernandez, the director for small learning communities in Local District F, a subdistrict of the 775,000-student school district. With help from a federal grant, the subdistrict is planning the redesign of three large high schools, including one with more than 5,000 students.

As debate continues over whether and how to scale up scaled-down schooling, Mr. Vander Ark of the Gates Foundation urges decisionmakers to keep their eyes on the big picture.

"What we’re doing today is a disaster, particularly for low- income and minority kids," he said. "We need to come to grips with that."

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