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News Clips

News Clips – July 9 - 16, 2004

'Home ec' kicks things up a notch / Sun-Times
Brimfield High School will install TeenScreen survey / Peoria Journal Star
Split school boards aren't so rare / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
School choice an idea whose time has come / Decatur Herald & Review
State budget still stuck on education funds / Daily Southtown
Is property tax cap a good thing? / Daily Herald
Education remains sticking point in budget negotiations / Decatur Herald & Review
School violence a still concern nationally, according to FBI / Pantagraph
Elgin won't sue U-46 / Daily Herald
205 board bans cell phones by students / Galesburg Register-Mail
Key budget issue settled / State Journal-Register
D.205 supports school funding reform / Northwest Indiana Times
Dist. 21 leaves 'God' in pledge / Daily Herald
Tenure review tool gets fresh scrutiny / Cincinnati Enquirer
All educators must get English immersion training / Arizona Daily Star
Cuts unfair, say principal trainees / Raleigh News & Observer (NC)
Setting the Record Straight On No Child Left Behind / The Chattanoogan
Setting the Record Straight On No Child Left Behind Part 2 - And A Reply / The Chattanoogan
District adds 10,000 reasons to retire / Buffalo News (NY)
Johnny won't read: Report shows big drop in reading / USA Today
Teacher tenure under scrutiny /
More Schools Turn to Single Track / Los Angeles Times
Law's foes unable to stir change / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Grading Mistakes Caused More Than 4,000 Would-Be Teachers to Fail a Licensing Exam / New York Times
Instant cash - at school? / Christian Science Monitor
Specialty schools open new doors to students / Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Teacher's aides filling growing gap / USA Today
States Dicker Over Changes to AYP Plans / Education Week
New law to alter under-5 schooling / Honolulu Advertiser
Study: States progressing with new school law /
Perfect schools just 10 years away / Palm Beach Post (FL)
How school reform is altering classrooms / Christian Science Monitor
School-law compliance doubles / Fort-Worth Star-Telegram
Teachers say $45,771 isn't enough pay / Sun-Times
First lady applauds impact of No Child Left Behind law / The Tennessean
Education, health of children improve / Chicago Tribune
Western Schools Get Reprieve on Standards / Richmond Times-Dispatch
State bumps two schools in Milwaukee from choice program / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Teacher assault reports rise 20% / Philadelphia Inquirer


'Home ec' kicks things up a notch

BY JIM RITTER, Sun-Times Staff Reporter, July 12, 2004 

Girls used to take home economics classes and join Future Homemakers of America.

Today, they take classes in family and consumer sciences and join the renamed Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

And the group is not just for girls, now. About 35 percent of the members of FCCLA, meeting in Chicago this week, are boys.

Future Homemakers of America was founded in 1946, when "home ec" was little more than cooking and sewing. The organization changed its name in 1999 to eliminate the homemaker stigma and attract boys.

It's much more than stitch-and-stir these days. Subjects include parenting, marriage and family living, child development, interior design, fashion merchandising and consumer economics. Cooking classes have become especially popular with the guys.

"A lot of people are shocked when I say it's mostly boys," said Riverside Brookfield High School teacher Kate Ebner.

Her top student is a boy. Jason Kemper won a state cooking contest and today will lead a three-member Illinois team against other states in an FCCLA competition at Kendall College's Evanston campus. Each team will be given recipes for a main dish, two side dishes and dessert. They'll have 30 minutes to prepare and one hour to cook.

Jason got interested in culinary arts while working as a cook in a summer camp in Wisconsin. Before graduating last month, he hosted a cooking show on the school's TV channel, "Over Easy with Jason Kemper."

Jason recently baked a four-tier cake for 200 wedding guests. And he likes to impress friends with his culinary skills: grilled salmon, fettuccine Alfredo, marinated chicken and homemade pizza (he makes the dough and sauce from scratch).

"He has found a great passion and love for that art," Ebner said. "He's everything that FCCLA stands for."

Future Homemakers of America's membership peaked at 607,000 in 1966, but it has since dropped to about 220,000. When school districts need to cut budgets, family and consumer sciences classes often are among the first to go because the courses typically are elective and not college track.

However, membership has held steady for three years. The organization hopes to increase its numbers by, for example, recruiting more middle school students and boosting participation in urban areas, where membership traditionally has lagged.


Brimfield High School will install TeenScreen survey

Discreet program helps identify students who may have suicidal tendencies

By MATT BUEDEL of the Journal Star, July 11, 2004

PEORIA - Four teenagers have committed suicide in the Peoria area since the beginning of the year, the most recent within the last week.

Their names are Shelby L. Webb, 16, who died Tuesday; Brady A. Threw, 19, who took his own life in May; Andrew Lowe IV, 17, who died in February; and Whitney Grotts, 16, who killed herself in March.

They are more than merely statistics, but their choices point to a troubling trend. Suicide is the third leading cause of death nationally for young people ages 10 to 24. In Illinois, it is ranked second for those ages 15 to 24.

"It's the second leading cause of death," said Katie Jones, director of the Mental Health Association of Illinois Valley. "It's a public health crisis for our kids."

And the current efforts to combat the crisis are limited: a suicide hotline and educational materials scattered in Tri-County high schools. Jones is pushing for a more comprehensive approach with the aid of momentum from Whitney's Walk, a fund-raiser for suicide prevention in memory of Whitney Grotts, a junior at Brimfield High School when she died.

That high school will be the first this fall to implement TeenScreen, a program that combines a survey taken via computer with counselors to identify teenagers possibly suffering from a mental illness that could lead to suicidal tendencies.

Developed at Columbia University more than a decade ago, the program is being used at 148 schools in 36 states. The pilot program at Brimfield High School will be the first in Illinois.

"We're losing kids every year because we're not asking questions as we should be," said Jones, who with the Mental Health Association has developed five-year strategic plan focused on implementing TeenScreen and the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program throughout Central Illinois.

The Yellow Ribbon campaign is a card handed out to students that they can give to an adult if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts. The card states that the student is asking for help without having to say anything.

TeenScreen is more proactive, starting with a computer survey that asks students questions like:

- Have you often felt nervous or uncomfortable when you have been with a group of children or young people, say, like in the lunchroom at school or at a party?

- Has there been a time when nothing was fun for you, and you just weren't interested in anything?

- Has there been a time when you felt you couldn't do anything well or that you weren't as good looking or as smart as other people?

The computer doesn't diagnose potential mental maladies, but if enough symptoms surface during the screening, a follow-up interview is scheduled with a counselor.

"Generally, what we find is the program first identifies a lot of kids who need help," said Leslie McGuire, director of TeenScreen at Columbia University. "How is it these kids are not known? Well, nobody ever asked."

The university provides the computer software and technical assistance for free, but organizing the system and employing a part-time counselor specifically for the program is estimated to cost about $100 per student. That estimate diminishes to around $25 per student when applied to most of the high schools in the Tri-County area. The Brimfield High School program alone will cost around $20,000 for the first semester.

Two bills currently in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives should offset the cost to local school districts. Senate Bill 2175, which passed Thursday, and House of Representatives Bill 4557 amend the Public Health Services Act to support youth suicide intervention and prevention efforts.

"We feel confident that when the bills pass, money will be made available to the states and then allocated to programs like this one," Jones said.

Until then, Jones is relying on grants and grass-roots movements like Whitney's Walk to underwrite TeenScreen, to try to save other teenagers from the same tragic choice Whitney made.

"She might have told a computer what she wouldn't tell anyone else," Jones said.


Split school boards aren't so rare

By Carolyn Bower of the Post-Dispatch, 7/11/2004

School board dissent has become a well-publicized distraction in districts such as St. Louis and Venice.

Yet school boards are not always speaking with one voice in suburban districts, either.

Divisions have appeared as school leaders evaluate issues such as employing superintendents, tightening budgets and continuing the voluntary desegregation program.

The latest example came recently when the Clayton School Board voted 4-3 to extend the contract of Superintendent Don Senti through the 2006-07 school year. Voting against the extension were the board's president, Vic Frankel; vice president, Lilly Canel-Katz; and secretary, Brad Bernstein.

As superintendent first in Parkway and now in Clayton, Senti said he had never had a board member vote against extending his contract. This vote caught him by surprise

"When you don't have the total confidence of a school board, it gives you pause," Senti said. But he said he remains committed to the district. "I love this place," Senti said. "Even though it is disappointing, it will not prevent me from doing a good job."

Senti, 59, is sometimes considered a dean of county superintendents, taking an active role in statewide education meetings and regional ones dealing with issues such as finance, student achievement and desegregation. He served six years as superintendent in the Parkway School District after working 20 years as a teacher and administrator. He has been Clayton's superintendent for nine years.

The vote followed a series of packed public meetings about finances and how long Clayton will continue to accept students from St. Louis under the area's voluntary desegregation program. Frankel, Canel-Katz and Bernstein had all voiced concern about the district's participation in the program. Senti has supported the program.

Finances are not the only issue to divide a board:

The Parkway School Board voted 4-3 two years ago against adding sexual orientation to an anti-discrimination policy. Two weeks later, the board voted against extending the contract of Superintendent Jere Hochman.

In Venice, two board members resigned in October, alleging that the other board members had mismanaged the district.

Two Rockwood board members dissented a year-and-a-half ago in picking the finalist for that district's superintendent.

St. Louis board members have been split for years; the most recent contentions have included decisions to close schools and outsource food and custodial duties.

Ladue's school board split over putting former Superintendent Stewart Weinberg on administrative leave.

Susan Nuetzel, a former Ladue board president, said dissent on a board can be healthy. "It means there is discussion," she said. "It means all sides are being represented. It means all views are being heard."

Jerry Glaub, deputy executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards, agrees on the need for diverse opinions and honest, open discussion.

But after a decision is made, Glaub said, members of the board need to push in the same direction.

"What we typically term 'split boards' are boards that become dysfunctional and hold school districts back," he said. "A school board has a large effect on whether a superintendent is a success or a failure."

A lot of things can divide a school board, said Gary Sharpe, executive director for the Missouri Council of School Administrators.

"It happens all over the state," Sharpe said. "But persistent 4-3 votes on sensitive issues make a difficult work situation."

Issues such as district finances and the loss of funding for the desegregation program put pressure on board-superintendent relationships, said Linda Smith, a former Clayton board president.

"There needs to be a partnership," Smith said of the board and the superintendent. "When you see division on the board to the extent the Clayton vote represents, the community can't feel there is a solid partnership in moving the district forward. That's unfortunate. There should be one agenda, and the agenda is children."

Clayton students routinely have some of the top scores statewide on Missouri achievement tests. The district spends one of the highest amounts per pupil of any district in the state. Senti commands one of the higher superintendent salaries - $185,493 - in the region.

But Clayton will receive about half the money this fall for each desegregation student. The board has decided to allow students already in the program to graduate from Clayton. The board will decide in December whether to continue to accept new transfer students.

Pressed for the reason for the vote against extending Senti's contract, Frankel, the board president, said, "If there's an issue, it's finances. For a long time Clayton had lots of resources and could do whatever we wanted. Lots of districts are having to make do with less. We are now in the position of lots of other districts."

Frankel said the district needs to make do with the money it has and not go back to the community for more money in the near future.

Amy Murphy, another former Clayton board president, saw the split board as motivating the community. People turned out in droves to voice their opinions on the issues.

"By having a split board, the community had to question how they felt, and in that sense it was a good thing," she said.


School choice an idea whose time has come

Decatur Herald & Review Staff Editorial, 7/11/04

The momentum for school choice seems to be growing nationwide.

Although the issue hasn't hit Illinois full force as of yet, it's clear in other states that the idea of giving parents vouchers to send their children to private school is becoming more popular.

Washington, D.C., will add its own voucher program to a list that already includes Cleveland and Milwaukee, Missouri, South Carolina, New Jersey and Utah.

And, in Colorado, a school voucher program has recently been overturned by the state's Supreme Court. Supporters believe, however, they can correct the court's problem in the next legislative session.

Although voucher programs take on many different formats, they basically give parents money in order to enroll their children in private schools. Most of the programs are targeted at low-income parents or parents who have children in low-performing public schools.

The voucher programs are popular. Before Colorado's courts derailed the voucher program, more than 6,000 families had applied for 3,300 spots, according to an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

In fact, the issue is so popular in Colorado that it has become something of a litmus test for candidates. Oppose vouchers and you will draw a primary opponent.

Predictably, the voucher programs draw opposition from teachers unions and the educational bureaucracy. What these groups fail to see is that competition will improve their schools, not harm them. The Colorado Education Association filed the lawsuit that resulted in the Supreme Court stopping implementation of the voucher program. The court ruled the law did not give school districts enough "local control." Voucher supporters say they can fix that by switching the funding for the program to the state level.

But educators in Colorado should be asking themselves why 6,000 parents are willing to pull their children out of neighborhood schools and send them to a private school. If a private school can offer low-income children a better education, why can't the public schools? That's the question that should be answered.

Most of the nation's voucher programs have caps on the number of students involved, and that makes sense. There needs to be an awareness of how many students private schools can handle and how much upheaval should be placed on the system at one time.

There are a lot of excellent public schools and public school educators in Central Illinois, in the state and across the nation. But there are also schools and, in some cases, entire districts that struggle to adequately educate children.

Parents, especially low-income parents, usually are stuck sending their children to a struggling school.

Offering those parents a choice is the backbone of voucher programs. We're glad to see this movement is growing.


State budget still stuck on education funds

By Christopher Wills, The Associated Press, July 13, 2004

SPRINGFIELD — New week, same old results at the state Capitol.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the four legislative leaders resumed their negotiations on the state budget Monday but remained deadlocked, primarily over how to spend a $350 million increase in education funds.

Officials hoped to pass a state budget seven weeks ago, but couldn't reach an agreement. The impasse has lasted so long that the state's new fiscal year began without a budget and lawmakers passed a temporary spending plan to keep government from shutting down.

Originally, the state faced a deficit of roughly $2.3 billion in a $54 billion budget. But negotiators say they've agreed on how to fill most of that gap.

One of the remaining sticking points is education.

Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) is pushing to put all the new money into general state aid to schools, which tends to favor downstate and Chicago schools.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) wants about one-third of the money for specific education programs, known as categoricals, that would help wealthier schools in the Chicago suburbs.

"We've got to try to work through it," Cross said after the latest negotiating session. "People are passionate about their causes. People are passionate about their regions. That's OK. ... We just have to find a happy medium there."

Jones was not so relaxed about the dispute.

"They say their plan is fair, but you're giving the rich districts equal as much as you're giving the poor districts," he said. "You're keeping the gap there."

Rank-and-file lawmakers once again met in a special session ordered by Blagojevich but had nothing to do and soon adjourned.


Is property tax cap a good thing?

By John Patterson, Daily Herald State Government Editor, July 13, 2004

SPRINGFIELD -- Homeowners will see their property tax breaks increase and possible limits put on skyrocketing property assessments, but the savings might not match the hype given the new plan.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Monday signed into law a statewide plan that increases homestead exemptions to $5,000. In Cook County that's a $500 increase and a $1,500 increase in the other 101 counties.

That break goes into place immediately and could begin saving homeowners money on their 2004 property tax bills.

As for the cap on assessments, that debate now moves to county boardrooms across the state, where each of the

102 counties has 60 days to put the issue to a county board vote.

If the measure is approved, property assessments could not increase more than 7 percent per year.

Supporters praise the new law as a savior for senior citizens and others fearful of being priced out of their homes by nothing more than real estate market growth.

"When you think about owning your home, you save for a down payment, you figure out how you're going to meet your mortgage costs and you think about ways you can afford to improve your home," Blagojevich said.

"But the thing you didn't bargain for was that you do all of those things, and then the time comes when you can no longer afford your own home because the property taxes are way too high."

But critics warn it will ultimately result in reduced money for suburban schools and won't have a dramatic effect on the typical homeowner.

In Cook County, the 7-percent cap is expected to be approved today. Chicago and Cook officials led the push for the new law.

"Everywhere I go, people tell me how important this legislation is to them," said state Sen. Dave Sullivan, a Park Ridge Republican. "Clearly, there is a need for property tax relief in our area. We have tax caps, which do help keep property tax rates down and now we have this legislation, which should help keep property tax assessments at reasonable levels."

Kane County Board Chairman Mike McCoy also offered initial support for the concept.

"To me, the tax cap is one of the best things Springfield did. But people's tax bills are still rising," McCoy said.

Elsewhere, county leaders were hesitant.

"We don't have a clue what this means yet," said Suzi Schmidt, chairwoman of the Lake County Board. "Whenever you have an assessment freeze or cap, somebody else is going to pay. Somebody has to make up the slack."

DuPage County Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom reacted similarly.

"The revenue will be the same. It rearranges who pays for it," Schillerstrom said. "We want to make sure we balance the benefits and the burden."

In McHenry County, assistant county administrator John Labaj expressed concern that capping assessments would merely shift a larger portion of the county's tax burden onto businesses, putting the county at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to economic development.

"We're in a dogfight already with a lot of states that are coming here looking to take our businesses," Labaj said.

Suburban school officials echo the concerns of assessment caps shifting the tax burden to businesses, but for different reasons. Businesses have proven to be very successful at mounting legal challenges to their assessments in courts and getting refunds from schools.

A recent Daily Herald look at how the tax breaks might affect the suburbs shows the savings are most likely to be a few hundred dollars for the typical homeowner. The increased homeowner exemptions would likely save homeowners between $90 and $125.

The 7-percent assessment cap would save a small group of homeowners $300 to $1,500 assuming their home values were increasing 10 percent annually.


Education remains sticking point in budget negotiations

By MATT ADRIAN, Decatur Herald & Review Springfield Bureau Writer, 7/15/04

SPRINGFIELD - Budget talks moved at a glacial pace Wednesday, with education funding a sticking point in negotiations.

Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, sent a letter to his colleagues urging them to endorse his education plan over a proposal authored by House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego. Both are working with $350 million in new education spending.

Legislative leaders met with Gov. Rod Blagojevich Wednesday afternoon.

Jones' plan would funnel $250 million into the general state aid formula, which distributes funding to local school districts. By the fourth quarter of the next fiscal year, Illinois could increase spending by $250 per pupil.

Jones also puts $70 million into mandated programs such as transportation, $20 million into early childhood education and $10 million for schools that would lose money under his education plan.

Cross wants to see more funding pushed into mandated programs because many affluent schools with plentiful property tax funding are not helped much by increases in the state aid formula.


School violence a still concern nationally, according to FBI

By Rebecca Loda, Pantagraph, 7/15/04

BLOOMINGTON -- The 2003-2004 school year was one of the most violent in U.S. history: 48 violent deaths were reported, more than the previous two years combined.

"That's a very alarming number," Weysan Dun said Tuesday.

Dun is special agent in charge of the FBI's Springfield office. That office, with the Illinois State Board of Education, presented a one-day seminar on school violence earlier this week.

The focus on school violence peaked in April 1999 when two Columbine High School students shot and killed 12 students, a teacher and themselves in Littleton, Colo. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, may have shifted that focus, but the violence still exists, Dun said.

"Countering terrorism is our highest priority," said Dun. "But we have not forgotten about school violence."

Four regional seminars are being offered this week. Tuesday's event was hosted by State Farm Insurance Cos. and was attended by nearly 70 educators, law enforcement officers and juvenile justice officials.

Terri Royster, a supervisory special agent working in the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit based in Quantico, Va., provided an overview of national and state trends.

School violence is still rare, she said, but it is happening.

She said larger schools -- where hallways and stairways are typically crowded -- are more likely to have incidents.

"All the research says if you have a school population over 800, you're going to have problems," she said.

Nationally, the most violent school year was 1992-1993, when 56 violent deaths were reported; most of those took place in inner cities and were gang-related. It wasn't until violence spread to more suburban and rural areas that the larger public began paying more attention.

"That's when it became news," she said. "We had supposedly good kids doing bad things."

Thirteen- and 14-year-olds are most apt -- among those 18 and younger -- to commit crimes, including vandalism and drugs, murder and rape, said Royster.

Juveniles, she said, cannot be profiled because their behavior is unpredictable. By nature, adolescents are impulsive.

What can be predicted, however, is the relationship between guns in schools, gang activity and alcohol and drug use. In one survey, more than half of high school principals responding said they had serious gang issues.

"When you have kids at school with guns, you're going to have gangs and drugs," said Royster. "Those three go hand-in-hand."

This is the first time the Springfield FBI office has organized a seminar on school violence, said training instructor Carol Forestier.

"We've been trying to look at issues that we can provide education on," said Forestier. "Everybody has their mind on terrorism, but there are other things going on."


Elgin won't sue U-46

By Tom O'Konowitz and Tara Malone, Daily Herald Staff Writers, July 15, 2004

Elgin City Council members Wednesday abandoned threats to sue Elgin Area School District U-46, pledging instead to work with the district toward a compromise on the sweeping boundary changes that triggered the unprecedented conflict.

But the group of Elgin parents who partnered with city leaders this month to hire a law firm to investigate the state's second largest school district remain steadfast in their legal charge.

Indeed, their attorneys with Chicago-based Futterman and Howard say the evidence is even clearer today that U-46 will segregate students, creating a separate and unequal system, with its new school boundaries.

The city's sudden move to back away from legal action came as U-46 officials bowed to increased pressure from Elgin and as city council backing for a lawsuit fell apart.

Councilman John Walters last week withdrew his support for the city paying Futterman and Howard up to $44,000 in pre-litigation costs. Four of six council members informally had supported hiring the law firm, and Walter's change of heart meant the official vote set for Wednesday night's city council meeting would have resulted in a rejection by tie.

The issue instead was tabled indefinitely and attorneys were told to stop working on Elgin's behalf.

"I always had difficulty with us telling (U-46 officials) how to do their job, getting involved with their policy decisions," Walters said Wednesday. "It's not time for a lawsuit; it's time to talk. I've got complete trust and confidence we can do something" to reach a compromise.

For months, tension has been mounting between the school district and city officials, who maintain U-46's new boundary plan for elementary and middle schools would group low-income and minority students in schools on Elgin's near-west and near-east sides. City officials fear that will deny those students a fair chance at success and might spark middle-class flight from affected neighborhoods, triggering a drop in property values.

Despite months of repeated pleas from Elgin council members and concerned parents, and even picketing of U-46 offices in March by Mayor Ed Schock and Councilman Juan Figueroa, school board members adopted the boundaries despite attempts by the city to change their minds or delay making a decision.

Finally on Monday, Schock and officials from city hall met with U-46 Superintendent Connie Neale, who invited the city leaders to discuss their differences. That show of good faith, prompted in part by the threat of a lawsuit, and Walter's turnabout, prompted the city to drop potential legal action in exchange for long-awaited negotiations with U-46.

"We are very pleased to have dialogue," Neale said. "We are pleased there has been some initial conversation and we hope there will be more."

Schock echoed Neale's sentiment, saying discussions are preferable, but still he expressed some trepidation.

"I just hope it's fruitful," Schock said. "It is a positive step."

Councilman Robert Gilliam, who objected to Elgin pursuing a lawsuit all along, said results of any negotiations remain to be seen.

"There are no promises, nothing formal, but it's good that we've decided to talk to each other and not talk to our attorneys," Gilliam said. "It's a lot better for the community."

But Figueroa, who's been out front against the boundaries, has lingering concerns about U-46's plan and expects to remain vigilant on the issue.

"I don't know if everyone realizes the impact these changes will have in neighborhoods where we've been working. I don't think they understand, sadly, the financial impact here," said Figueroa, whose children attend U-46 schools. "I think we want to make sure their plan is working, is effective and has no adverse effects on the neighborhoods we're concerned about."

This is not the first time city leaders have voiced their concern about boundary lines based largely on geography with diversity playing no role.

City leaders in February unanimously backed a resolution faulting the haste with which district leaders approved the new map, six months after U-46 hired a demographer to create it.

On July 2, the city council confirmed it informally agreed to hire Futterman and Howard. Gilliam and Councilman Tom Sandor objected, but Schock, Figueroa, Walters and Councilwoman Brenda Rodgers voted in favor.

As the city's battle with U-46 quiets, the stand-off between U-46 and some district parents remains ongoing.

Parents, in fact, and not the city, first contacted Futterman and Howard - the law firm that championed school bias cases in Rockford, Champaign and Freeport.

Parents pledged to raise $89,700 to cover legal fees beyond the $44,000 initially committed by Elgin leaders. And today, some of those parents remain unshaken in their resolve despite the city's retreat.

"It's great if the city is on board, but we're still here if they're not on board," said Elgin resident and U-46 parent Kerry Kelly, who is not a potential litigant but supports the parents' efforts.

Futterman attorney Carol Rose Ashley echoed the determination of her parent clients.

"We are absolutely not going away. We are working diligently toward pursuing our individual client claims," Ashley said.

Although the initial union of parents and city leaders has splintered, Ashley said, concerns that the district's new boundary map essentially segregates students remain valid.

"The claims are the same; the liabilities are the same," Ashley said. "We are no longer representing the city, but I think the issues there are more political than are the central issues of this case."

More and more Latino, black and white parents contend the new boundaries illegally bunch poor minority students, many of whom are Latino and new to English, in schools in the heart of Elgin.

That has sparked concern among a national civil rights group, now entrenched in its own investigation of U-46.

Lawyers with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund said Wednesday they continue to study whether Elgin's Latino students will receive the academic services the law requires when the new boundaries unroll in a few weeks, shuffling nearly 10,000 students to different schools.

"We want to compare the old plan with the new plan and see whether that's correct - that the district, in fact, will put more money into those Elgin schools," said Alonzo Rivas, an attorney with the advocacy group's Chicago office.

Rivas, for one, said the Elgin council stepping away from a legal standoff with U-46 will give the parents a stronger voice in the matter.

"Now, the people being effected by the plan are the ones taking the lead," Rivas said, "which is a positive development."

Still, not all U-46 parents want to see a lawsuit filed. Three of them addressed the Elgin City Council Wednesday, saying a trial would be too costly for all involved and wouldn't necessarily improve children's education.

U-46 parent Laurel Bault, who also is the parent liaison at Elgin's Garfield Elementary School, told the council that Elgin already has three grade schools with many at-risk and low-income students that still are showing improvements in overall student achievement.

"A lawsuit will not be a win-win situation for anybody, except for the lawyers involved," Bault said. "A lawsuit is not the way to better Elgin's image."


205 board bans cell phones by students

By DAVID HOTLE of The Register-Mail, July 14, 2004

GALESBURG - Don't bother calling District 205 students on their cell phones at school in the fall.

The Galesburg School Board voted Monday to ban cellular phones from schools during the academic day.

In addition, the board set guidelines to limit "improper" use of cellular phones at extracurricular activities. A change to the student code of conduct recommended by Superintendent Neil Sappington would have allowed students to check cellular phones at school offices. The board did not approve the measure.

"There are so many ways phones, especially phones with cameras built in, can be used inappropriately, I don't believe we can think of all of them," Sappington said. "We wanted to have something in the code to address issues as they come up."

An example of inappropriate use, he said, is taking pictures in a locker room.

During Monday's meeting Galesburg High School Assistant Principal Steve Eisemann said there were "dozens" of incidents involving discipline for cellular phone use last year, with about three repeat offenders. After allowing students to have phones in school last year, the administration expressed concerns that interruptions in class made the phones a liability. Eisemann said mostly detention is used as a disciplinary measure, but in some cases in-school suspension has been used.

"We have tried the approach of allowing cell phones in school and, frankly, the practice has not worked," Sappington told The Register-Mail. He said interruptions of instructional time, combined with the availability of camera phones, led to the restriction from school buildings during the school day.

The board also learned of an incident last year, when students were allowed to carry phones, but not have them on, where a student on a cellular phone asked a teacher to wait until he was done talking to begin class.

"I went all the way through school without a cell phone," board member Bob Lindstrom said, emphasizing his belief the phones are not necessities. He also objected to the idea of allowing phones to be checked at the office, saying school personnel should not be wasted on the effort.

Galesburg High School Principal Diane Hutchins said, as an educator in Springfield, she encountered several incidents where such things as text massaging and the new option allowing cellular phones to take pictures had been used inappropriately for such things as cheating on tests.

"When anything is disruptive of the education process, as phones have been in this and other districts, a policy like this is necessary," she said.

She said pay phones and adults with cellular phones will always be available to allow students to make calls, if necessary.

"We have to remember students were able to make arrangements they need to for many years before cell phones were available," Sappington said.


Key budget issue settled

Agreement reached on school funds

By DOUG FINKE, State Journal-Register State Capitol Bureau, 7/16/04

Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the four legislative leaders reached tentative agreement Thursday on an education-spending plan, hours after the two Republicans in the room briefly walked out of negotiations they said were going nowhere.

Education funding had been cited as the key stumbling block in achieving a budget compromise.

The governor and four leaders also are considering postponing any new state construction projects until the legislature's fall veto session at the earliest, although projects already under way would be allowed to continue.

But the overtime legislative session may not end even with the leaders' agreement on a budget for the fiscal year that is already 2 weeks old.

Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson of Greenville indicated he may withhold GOP votes from any budget bill until the state's medical malpractice laws are reformed. Because the Democrat-dominated General Assembly missed its May 31 constitutional deadline to enact a budget, passage now requires a three-fifths' majority, meaning Republican votes are needed.

None of the leaders would discuss details of the education-funding package until they've discussed it with rank-and-file lawmakers.

"It's a very good amount, and the allocation is fair," Blagojevich said.

The negotiators earlier agreed to increase spending for grades K-12 education by $350 million this year, $50 million less than Blagojevich originally sought. House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego said the tentative agreement calls for education to get "a little bit" more than $350 million, although he would not be specific.

"There's enough to have a fair and equitable distribution around the state," Cross said.

The sticking point was which education programs should get a spending boost.

Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, wanted virtually all of the additional money put into the school aid formula, which primarily benefits Chicago and downstate schools. Cross, Watson and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, all favored splitting the money between general state aid, which helps poorer school districts, and programs that benefit both rich and poor districts.

Earlier Thursday, Watson and Cross stormed out of the budget talks, saying Jones wasn't being serious about the negotiations. A short time later, Watson and Cross returned after getting a phone call from Blagojevich's office.

"I think (the walkout) helped," Madigan said. "It helped people focus on solving a problem and stop the rhetoric and the posturing."

Blagojevich and the four leaders are now debating whether to postpone a capital budget until the fall. That deferral would include Blagojevich's Opportunity Returns economic development program. The governor wanted $51 million for the initiative, while Watson, who referred to Opportunity Returns as a slush fund, didn't want any money devoted to it.

The deferral apparently would also include any lawmaker pet projects, called member initiatives, that have not yet begun. Madigan said that over the next few weeks, all state capital programs will be subjected to "a real good review."

By deferring the capital spending, Cross said, the leaders might avoid having to deal with rank-and-file lawmakers who want to trade their budget votes for the promise of additional construction projects in their districts.

But while progress was made on the budget, the unresolved medical malpractice issue could prevent the session from ending soon. Watson is insisting that malpractice reforms be addressed now, and he didn't rule out withholding Republican votes from a budget agreement until it is.

"We've talked about this in the caucus, and we're giving that some consideration, but we haven't come to any conclusion yet," he said.

Illinois' soaring medical malpractice insurance costs are blamed for driving many doctors from their practices. Watson and others blame the high costs on large verdicts in malpractice lawsuits and want restrictions on what damages can be awarded. Attorneys who file malpractice lawsuits are opposed to such restrictions.


D.205 supports school funding reform

Schools back HB750, Senate amendments

BY JOAN CARREON, Northwest Indiana Times Correspondent, 7/16/04

HARVEY -- Thornton Township High School District 205 is backing legislation that calls for school funding reform and property tax relief.

The School Board on Wednesday unanimously adopted a resolution urging the Illinois Association of School Boards to back House Bill 750 and Senate Amendments 1 and 2. Board member Elizabeth Ware was not in attendance.

The resolution is being sent to school boards across Illinois, inviting them to show support for the legislation.

Under House Bill 750 and the two Senate amendments, the state would assume 51 percent of the cost of funding public education; the per student education funding foundation level would be increased by more than $1,000 per child; more than $2 billion in property tax relief would be provided statewide; $900 million in refundable credit would be given to the bottom 60 percent of all taxpayers; and the state's "structural deficit" would be eliminated.

In addition, the state's personal income tax would be increased to 5 percent, the corporate income tax would be raised to 1.8 percent, the state's sales tax base would be expanded to include "all personal services, entertainment and other consumer services" and corporate tax expenditures would be eliminated.

Critics of the existing school funding method have long argued there is too heavy a reliance on property taxes to fund public education.

District 205 School Board President Sharon Voliva, who also serves as chairman of the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition, described the legislation as being "absolutely everything we (schools) need or want."

She said the legislation is being sponsored by Sen. James Meeks, I-Chicago and that Reps. David E. Miller, D-Dolton, and William Davis, D-Harvey, are co-sponsors. She said House Bill 750 is currently in the Senate but consideration has been postponed.

Meanwhile, the resolution backed by District 205 so far has been adopted by a downstate elementary district and a school district in Lake County, Ill., according to Ben Schwarm, associate executive director of the school board association. He said some school districts have asked for a copy of the resolution and he expects support from other school boards will be forthcoming.

The resolutions are being forwarded to the IASB Resolutions Committee for consideration on Aug. 6. The committee, at that time, is expected to decide whether to send the resolution to the IASB's full assembly of delegates for adoption on Nov. 20, according to Schwarm.


Dist. 21 leaves 'God' in pledge

By Avian Carrasquillo, Daily Herald Staff Writer, July 16, 2004

After asking Wheeling Township elementary school District 21 to remove the "under God" portion of the Pledge of Allegiance last month, Buffalo Grove resident Rob Sherman was denied his request Thursday night.

Sherman, an atheist, was seeking removal of "under God" from the pledge on the grounds that his daughter, a student in the district, was being caused emotional distress over the daily reciting of the pledge by her classmates.

Sherman, who did not attend Thursday night's meeting, said late last week he would seek legal counsel and file legal proceedings against the district in state court if his request were denied.

Sherman took similar action in 1992 on behalf of his son. Sherman's suit against the school board in 1992 made it all the way to the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled "under God" was constitutional.

District 21 Superintendent, Gary Mical stands by the board's decision not to change its policy.

"We've had conversations with our attorney about this. In 1992, the board of education upheld a challenge by Mr. Sherman. That challenge made it to the Seventh Circuit Court, and we're going to live by what the court decided in favor of District 21, which was school districts have the right to say the Pledge of Allegiance. And people that object to participating in the Pledge of Allegiance can dissent from that and not participate," Mical said,

Sherman said at the last meeting that his plea to the board was sparked by the Supreme Court's opinion in the recent Pledge of Allegiance case in California of Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that Michael Newdow, an atheist seeking to challenge the district's use of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance because he felt his daughter should not have to recite it or have to listen to it recited, could not make that decision for his daughter because he did not have legal custody of her.

Sherman said that in his situation he does have custody of his daughter and both his wife and daughter agree with the move.

Rob Boston, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said another lawsuit similar to the one recently considered by the Supreme Court may one day remove the "under God" clause from the Pledge of Allegiance.

But he was skeptical whether Sherman's lawsuit would be that suit.




Tenure review tool gets fresh scrutiny  

By Ben Feller, Associated Press, 7/5/04

WASHINGTON - The decades-old tradition of tenure protects teachers, often frustrates principals and has even surfaced as an issue in the presidential campaign. Now tenure itself is under review.

Tenure guarantees that public school teachers who have this protection cannot be fired without legitimate cause and due process, perhaps even a court hearing. Almost every state provides tenure in some form.

Yet with federal law requiring schools to have a top teacher for every core class, more administrators are questioning whether tenure keeps them from getting rid of even a small number of instructors who just are not good enough in the classroom.

Democrat John Kerry, the presidential candidate favored by education unions, wants to make it easier for schools to act quickly against poor teachers, provided that educators are protected from baseless firings.

To teachers, tenure is a coveted and often misunderstood right - not a lock on a lifetime job, but assurance of fair treatment, including intervention for teachers who may be struggling to reach students.

"It's protection against the false accusations, against politically trumped up charges, against people who insist you must teach a certain way or risk getting fired," said Penny Kotterman, a special education teacher and president of the Arizona affiliate of the National Education Association. She spoke during a group interview Sunday with The Associated Press during the NEA's annual meeting.

Tenure is most associated with colleges and universities, where prospective professors earn it by compiling a rigorous record of research, teaching and service.

In the kindergarten through high school world, it is typically granted to teachers after two to five years of at least solid performance in a district, although debate continues over its value as a sign of quality.

Most principals and superintendents say tenure does not mean teachers have proved themselves to be very good, and many teachers agreed with that point in polls by the nonpartisan Public Agenda research group.

But Kotterman said that is off the mark. Tenure, she said, is meant mainly as an assurance of fair review, while certification and regular evaluation of teachers are indicators of quality.

In the polls, most teachers said tenure protects them from district politics and losing their jobs to newcomers who could be hired for less.

David Sanchez, a kindergarten teacher from Burlingame, Calif., said tenure has helped teachers who were being pushed out of jobs in retaliation for union activity.

Charles Hasse, a fourth-grader teacher and president of the Washington Education Association, said tenure helps because schools have fewer people in supervisory roles than many employers, making "the opportunity for misjudgments much greater."

School administrators, who are often former teachers, say they understand the point of tenure. But they say it can lead to frustrating delays in replacing poor teachers, leading some administrators to give up trying.

In Oklahoma, trying to remove a tenured teacher can lead to a court hearing, said Ruth Ann Carr, superintendent of Ardmore Public Schools. "You have to have people who are willing to go the distance on those type of employment situations," Carr said. "They end up feeling like they're the ones on trial."

Teachers union leaders say they support expedited reviews but they take issue with the argument that tenure protects poor teachers. They say administrators should have no problem making a clear case against those who cannot or will not improve.

States offer legitimate reasons for firing tenured teachers, from immorality to insubordination; not all directly address teaching performance. Typically, the teachers said Sunday, states have a process to speed reviews for tenured teachers accused of a major violation on campus, such as drug use.

The challenge, critics say, is getting rid of mediocre teachers, not the ones who commit egregious conduct violations.

Yet Michael Kramer, who represents teachers as general counsel for the Georgia Association of Educators, says tenure can help the educational mission by protecting strong, outspoken teachers.

"It's the brightest, the risk-taking teachers," he said, "who are most at risk for arbitrary dismissal."


All educators must get English immersion training

State mandate largely praised

By Jennifer Sterba, Arizona Daily Star, 7/6/04

All Arizona teachers and administrators have until August 2006 to complete 15 hours of structured English immersion training.

The state Board of Education - which approved the training at a regular meeting on June 28 based on a proposal from state schools Superintendent Tom Horne - will require an additional 45 hours of training upon recertification, which comes every six years.

Local educators including Harriet Scarborough say the requirement is reasonable and will give non-native-English-speaking students increased access to more teachers - and thereby access to a better education.

Right now, only teachers who work directly with students learning English are required to have some kind of language endorsement, said Scarborough, the Tucson Unified School District's senior officer for professional development and academics. TUSD - Tucson's largest with about 61,000 students - labeled almost one out of every five students as English language learners, or students not sufficiently proficient in English as determined by state guidelines.

Scarborough said that in some schools, there may be only five language-endorsed teachers working with students learning English.

"For me, the ideal would be to make sure everyone is trained," Scarborough said, "so the students have more equitable access to excellent curriculum."

The Catalina Foothills Unified School District is not serving as large a non-English-speaking student population, but its superintendent said she feels the mandate will simply strengthen the district's strong academic record. Fewer than 3 percent of the district's 5,000 students are labeled English language learners.

"It makes sense to me that if our student enrollment is increasing in its diversity, that our teachers and administrators would have to increase their skills in working with that diverse population," said Mary Kamerzell, superintendent for the Foothills district.

More cautious teachers are leery of what they perceive as another attempt to shorten the leash on the teaching profession.

"Even though (structured English immersion) is very important and those kids need to have the best possible teachers with the best possible training, I'm concerned this is yet another requirement that is going to be heaped on teachers," said Paul Karlowicz, president of Tucson Education Association, the bargaining chair for the TUSD teachers union. "I'm not convinced it's going to accomplish the goals that Mr. Horne hopes it will."

Structured English immersion establishes a bare minimum for educators seeking a state endorsement to work with students learning English. Additional hours of training can earn an English as a second language endorsement or the highest level, a bilingual teaching endorsement.

At least half of the teachers at Wakefield Middle School already hold either of the higher endorsements, school Principal Maria Patterson said. About 58 percent of the middle school students are labeled English language learners.

"It's very healthy and exciting, because all schools are going to be prepared to receive ELL (English language learner) students," she said. "We are way ahead."

TUSD's professional development program already has placed an immersion specialist at each school to train other faculty members, Patterson said. Patterson also looks for language-endorsed teachers when recruiting for open teaching positions at her school.

"For us, it's not a big change," she said. "It's part of what we've already been doing."

A state official said the cost of the training could be covered one of three ways.

Teachers already are required to renew their certification every six years, said Margaret Garcia Dugan, state associate superintendent of academic achievement. To recertify, teachers or administrators must complete 180 hours or 12 college credit hours of professional development.

The state's new 60-total hour requirement of language training would just fit into that 180 hours, Garcia Dugan said.

In that scenario, the educator could pick up the cost out of his or her own pocket. If the professional development is provided by the school district, the district would incur the cost in the form of substitute teachers or staff development days, when school is either canceled or students are released early.

"The other piece is we do have money," Garcia Dugan said. "About $14 million. It's not going to last forever, but it can be used for endorsement costs.

"We're not sure yet how we would put that into place," she said.

Garcia Dugan said she believes most school districts are going to pick up the cost on their own.

As for extending the endorsement requirement to administrators, Wakefield Principal Patterson said it's part of her job to learn different ways of helping her diverse student population.

"It's a very inclusive requirement rather than an exclusive requirement," she said.


Cuts unfair, say principal trainees

Teachers in the state's Principal Fellows Program say lawmakers should not have reduced stipends

By Emily Almas, Raleigh News & Observer Staff Writer, 7/6/04

Kim Short of Cary spent 16 years teaching at Morrisville Elementary School. Now, she's getting her own education as an impromptu lobbyist and grass-roots organizer.

Short and 86 others across the state in a principal-training program are upset about changes that have reduced their paychecks by $20,000. They have been sending out hundreds of e-mail messages, making phone calls and even personally pleading their case before state officials.

"This is hitting us personally. This is hitting my pocketbook," Short said. "This is not fair or healthy for the future of our program."

The state-financed North Carolina Principal Fellows Program gives selected teachers two years of training in how to be a school leader.

The program aims to increase the number of administrators in the state who have master's of school administration degrees. Finding highly qualified school principals has been a state priority, because 52 percent of school administrators in North Carolina will be eligible for retirement in the next five years.

The fellows go to school full-time for a year at one of 11 state universities. They then work for a second year as assistant principal interns. The state pays them $20,000 a year in a scholarship loan. In return, each fellow must work as an administrator in North Carolina public schools for four years.

For the past seven years, fellows also received a stipend from the Department of Public Instruction while they were working as full-time interns. The stipend was equal to 10 months of the starting assistant principal pay in the state, or roughly $32,600.

But last year, legislators decided that the $52,600 that fellows were earning during the intern year was excessive and changed the rules so the total compensation did not exceed $32,600, which is what non-fellows would earn during the internship.

"I really understand their concerns," said Sen. A.B. Swindell, a Democrat from Nashville and co-chairman of two committees. "[But] we did this as a legislative act in the last legislature, and people had time to move on and to make those decisions. Notice was given in due time."

But some members of Short's fellows class disagree. They said they were notified May 1, 2003, that they were accepted into the program. They had until May 15, 2003, to accept the award, and the new budget wasn't approved until June 30, 2003. Although the original letter they received from then-director Karen Gerringer stated that the award amounts were subject to change, many thought the money would stay the same or only be slightly reduced.

"Why would the state jeopardize a program like ours?" said Max Nathison, who taught at Apex Middle School for six years and is currently studying at N.C. State.

He and others say their "jaw-dropping realization" that they would only be earning $32,600 instead of $52,600 their second year came too late. In particular, they say it's unfair that they owe the state four years of service and that they had to resign from their previous jobs to become a fellow.

The cuts are not only hurting individual pocketbooks but also the program's vitality, many fellows contend. The number of applicants was down by a quarter this year.

Mike Williams, director of the program, said he has noticed a reduction even in the number of inquiries about the program.

"Our first concern is the long-term health of the program," he said, noting that the $20,000 scholarship amount was determined 10 years ago when the program was first established.

One in eight principals or assistant principals in North Carolina is a program graduate, Williams said.

Amid the stories of fellows' families having to sign up for Medicaid, and fellows taking out other loans or borrowing money from family members, Short said, the group has bonded and learned a lot more about state government than members ever expected. She hopes the 87 of them together can make a difference.

"It shouldn't have to take 6,000 people and a professional lobbyist to be heard," she said.

Fellows say legislators have been slow to respond to their cause, but they remain optimistic. Swindell has listened, but he is careful to point out the current budget will only stretch so far.

"They needed to understand what the program was when they went into the program, but of course hold out for hope," he said.

That, however, is little consolation to some like Karen Wood, a fellow from New Bern.

"I told some of the legislators that I've always believed in the political system and I've always been one to advocate for it working for the people," she said. "Now I want it to work for me."


Setting the Record Straight On No Child Left Behind

By Ken Meyer, U.S. Department of Education, The Chattanoogan

It seems like the saying “don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story” has been liberally applied to the Letters to the Editor in’s coverage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Please allow me to set the record straight.

First, it must be understood that NCLB was the reauthorization of a law that has been on the books since 1965 known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This law created programs for economically disadvantaged students (Title I) thru Title IX programs concerning sexual discrimination that is still in place today. Put in place by President Johnson, these programs benefit disadvantaged students and assist states in closing the achievement gap. This federal involvement in education policy was part of the response to the 1954 Supreme Court Decision of Brown v. Board of Education and was arguably the sister legislation to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Brown and ESEA essentially guaranteed that every child in the country have access to the school house door, regardless of race, creed or national origin. The previous doctrine of “separate but equal” in public education was rightfully struck down as unconstitutional.

NCLB goes a step beyond Brown. Access to the classroom is simply not enough. NCLB gives every child a quality education. The law institutes a high degree of accountability for schools and school systems so that every child counts, regardless of background or heritage. Prior to this sea change in attitude, the only measure of educational success was in dollars spent. Children only seemed to count if they were in the chair the day the headcount was taken. But giving children an education is more than simply about dollars. We already spend $500 billion per year on the federal, state and local level on K-12 education – more than on defense. We spend more per pupil than any other nation save Switzerland, yet we perform in the middle of the pack and continue to slip over time.

In other words, politically, it is easy to spend more money as a means to demonstrate one’s commitment to education. It is much more politically difficult to demand better performance through accountability. It takes courage and will to do the right thing.

Despite the $125 billion expended since 1965 to specifically close the achievement gap, the gap had been widening. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), two out of three fourth graders cannot read proficiently. Seven out of ten rural and inner city fourth graders cannot read at even the most basic level. One third of all college freshmen require remedial classes prior to advancement to further study. Additionally, as one contributor recently pointed out in a letter to the editor, U.S. twelfth graders now rank among the lowest in international test scores in math and science comprehension and literacy, according to the most recent Trends in International Math and Science Studies (TIMSS).

Hamilton County is not immune to these trends. These startling statistics have direct and negative implications for our economic growth and national security.

That’s why the time was ripe for educational reform. In order to obtain a good picture of where students are, NCLB requires, among other things, that all students in grades 3-8 and one time in high school be tested once a year against academic standards established by the state in reading, math and science. The test data is broken down in a number of different ways to clearly identify which children need the most help. It also requires that this information be made available to parents and the public-at-large as a means to provide options for parents to make better decisions for their children.

Contrary to the political rhetoric of the day, this law has been extremely well funded relative to the requirements of NCLB. In Tennessee alone, total NCLB funding is over $345 Million for 2005, which is a 66 percent increase since 2001. The President and Congress have been extremely generous in this effort. To properly put this into perspective in a broader context, consider this; since 1965, average per pupil expenditures have almost tripled, even after adjusting for inflation. Today, the average spent is almost $10,000 per child per year, but the performance remains essentially unchanged.

Unfortunately those with a political agenda ignore these facts. But this law was a result of a national consensus and an evolution of standards-based reforms that began over 20 years ago with the published report of “A Nation at Risk.” NCLB was passed in the U.S. Senate by a vote of 87-10 with Senator Kennedy as one of the major architects and the U.S. House by a margin of 381-41. In a non-election, non-political year, our policymakers came together to pass legislation which benefits our country and its children.

As with any major reform effort, there is strong institutional and political opposition to the reforms of NCLB. Light is now being shone in some of the darkest corners of public education. Subgroups of students in this country who have historically been largely ignored and passed along are now receiving the attention they have always deserved. Most importantly, these children are rising to the occasion and performing beyond previous expectations. We are beginning to see success all over the country and the success is spreading. As President Bush has stated “identifying a problem is not creating a problem.”

NCLB identifies problems and directs resources to solve those problems. The focus is finally on the children rather than the process. It is really just that simple.


Setting The Record Straight On No Child Left Behind Part 2 - And A Reply

The Chattanoogan, July 11, 2004

"Additional Comments from Ken Meyer, U.S. Dept. of Education"

The response to my first post on this subject was intriguing and requires further comment to address more inaccuracies.

First, the difference between the authorized amount for NCLB and the appropriated amount for 2004 is a little more than $8 Billion. Again, this amounts to less than 2% of total K-12 public education funding in this country. Even at $9.4 Billion (2005 request), it is still less than 2% so we are quibbling about pennies on the dollar, literally.

The real issue the writer presents however, drives at the heart of the real problem, which is accountability and measurement of success. We have tripled per pupil expenditures in this country (inflation adjusted) over the past four decades but have seen no improvement in achievement and our twelfth graders have slipped farther down the scale in math and science literacy and comprehension internationally, despite spending more an public education than any other country in the world, but one. This is fact.

For proper perspective on the Title I issue, which is only part of NCLB, here are some other interesting facts. From 1994 until 2000, under the previous administration, Title I funding increased from $6.3 Billion to $7.9 Billion. Since that time and under the current administration, Title I funding has risen to $13.3 Billion…an increase of over $5 Billion in just four years. This President and Congress are tremendously committed to helping disadvantaged students all across the country but in return, they are demanding accountability for results. Very simple. Simply pouring more money into a system without corresponding results or even a measurement of results is no longer acceptable. Hiring more guidance counselors or trying to reduce the dropout rate, while laudable goals, is rather moot if children cannot read and do math at grade level.

Regarding the 38 programs recommended for elimination, total funding for all of the programs combined amounts to $1.4 Billion but more importantly, following is the official explanation along with a link to more information which should help clarify the issue:

“The 2005 request continues the practice of the Bush Administration—also consistent with previous administrations over the past two decades—of proposing to eliminate or consolidate funding for programs that have achieved their original purpose, that duplicate other programs, that may be carried out with flexible State formula grant funds, or that involve activities that are better or more appropriately supported through State, local, or private resources. In addition, the government-wide Program Assessment Rating Tool, or PART, helps target funding to Department of Education programs that generate positive results for students and that meet strong accountability standards. For 2005, PART findings were used to redirect funds from ineffective programs to more effective activities, as well as to identify reforms to help address program weaknesses.”

Under NCLB, there is now much more money and much more flexibility for states to spend the Title I and other monies associated with the program than ever before. If a state can verify significant results for any of the 38 programs or any other programs and believes it is in the interest of the children and can prove that it results in children learning and the closure of the achievement gap, there is now flexibility built in to make those decisions at the state or local level, rather than in Washington, DC. It is called funding flexibility and local control.

The focus is now on the children, rather than on programs or the process. President Bush and the Congress are committed to their success.


"Reply from Mildred Perry Miller"

Ken Meyer uses hundreds of words to try to prop up his weak arguments about the "No child Left Behind Act" but it won't wash. Furthermore, he says I am "driving at the heart of the real problem, accountability and measurement of success."

I am doing no such thing. I am driving at broken promises of the President and the insurmountable demands this act makes on those who would implement it in the schools. Had the President not made tax cuts to benefit the wealthiest people in the country there might be more money in the coffers for schools. It would be desirable if Mr. Meyer would give some concrete examples of how this NCLBA has benefitted children in the classrooms of Hamilton County. I don't believe the schools are failing for lack of money. I think they fail because some schools have lost it.

Take a look at summer reading lists for elementary school children. One book I am helping a second grade child read is about a turnip named Elvis Presley who says that he doesn't want to wind up on the cover of "Enquirer Magazine." Throughout the book, this turnip sings "You ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog." I'm asking you-is that great literature, or what? Three of the books on the list that I have reviewed are filled with slang and poor English.

I am tired of this subject and don't intend to respond to it further. Like most political differences in today's world, nobody seemsto have any answers. We might all take a lesson from the book about the Elvis turnip-his final song is "Love Me Tender." Love would solve everything, properly applied.


District adds 10,000 reasons to retire

Janice L. Habuda, Buffalo News, 7/8/04

The Lackawanna School District has sweetened its retirement incentive for teachers to $20,000, and officials already have had a few nibbles.

School Board members approved the incentive - double the original offer - on the recommendation of School Superintendent Paul G. Hashem. At least five teachers must sign up.

When a $10,000 incentive was offered this winter, only one teacher agreed to it. Others already have come forward to talk about the new offer, Hashem said Wednesday.

Eligibility requires a teacher to have been hired before June 17, 1971, and factors in accumulated sick days. The incentive offer was approved Tuesday by the School Board and is open through Sept. 30 for teachers who will turn 55 before Oct. 1. Teachers are asked to submit letters of intent by July 22.

"There are a few people that fall into that Oct. 1 category that will be 55, so we wanted to make sure we catch the maximum amount that we could," Hashem said.

Retirements are a way for the district to save money - and jobs, officials said.

"If we have the older teachers that have the highest salaries retire, there will be less probability of layoffs and greater class sizes with our younger teachers," Hashem told trustees Tuesday night.

"We figure with a minimum of five people, we will be able to save . . . about $100,000, based on either not replacing (teachers) or replacing on a limited basis," he said Wednesday.

The district's offer was made in the absence of state action on an incentive proposal that would provide up to three years' additional service credit. Even so, the district's incentive compares favorably with the state's in terms of monthly retirement allowance, Hashem said.

"They are coming very, very close for many of our . . . retirees," he said.

Retirement incentives have been offered by several Western New York school districts in recent years, including $30,000 offered by the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District last year.

A contingency budget recently approved by the School Board carries the potential of job cuts. But even more recent revelations, including the news that more children than anticipated are signed up for charter schools, have put the district $660,000 in the hole, Hashem said.

As a result, the staffing situation will be on the forefront when administrators and School Board members meet in special session sometime before Aug. 1, to meet the 30 days' layoff notice required in most contracts.


Johnny won't read: Report shows big drop in reading

USA Today, 7/8/04

NEW YORK  — The reading of books is on the decline in America, despite Harry Potter and the best efforts of Oprah Winfrey.

A report released Thursday by the National Endowment for the Arts says the number of non-reading adults increased by more than 17 million between 1992 and 2002.

Only 47% of American adults read "literature" (poems, plays, narrative fiction) in 2002, a drop of 7 points from a decade earlier. Those reading any book at all in 2002 fell to 57%, down from 61%.

NEA chairman Dana Gioia, himself a poet, called the findings shocking and a reason for grave concern.

"We have a lot of functionally literate people who are no longer engaged readers," Gioia said in an interview with The Associated Press. "This isn't a case of 'Johnny Can't Read,' but 'Johnny Won't Read.'"

The likely culprits, according to the report: television, movies and the Internet.

"I think what we're seeing is an enormous cultural shift from print media to electronic media, and the unintended consequences of that shift," Gioia said.

The decline came despite the creation of Oprah's book club in 1996 and the Harry Potter craze that began in the late 1990s among kids and adults alike. Reading fell even as Barnes & Noble boasted that its superstore empire was expanding the book market.

In 1992, 72.6 million adults in the United States did not read a book. By 2002, that figure had increased to 89.9 million, the NEA said.

"Whenever I hear about something like this, I think of it as a call to arms," said Mitchell Kaplan, president of the American Booksellers Association. "As booksellers, we need to look into what kinds of partnerships we can get into to encourage literacy and the immediacy of the literary experience."

In May, the nonprofit Book Industry Study Group reported that the number of books purchased in the United States in 2003 fell by 23 million from the year before to 2.22 billion.

The NEA study, titled "Reading at Risk," was based on a Census Bureau survey of more than 17,000 adults.

The drop in reading was widespread: among men and women, young and old, black and white, college graduates and high school dropouts. The numbers were especially poor among adult men, of whom only 38% read literature, and Hispanics overall, for whom the percentage was 26.5.

The decline was especially great among the youngest people surveyed, ages 18 to 24. Only 43% had read any literature in 2002, down from 53% in 1992.

Gioia said the electronic media that are contributing to the problem do offer possible remedies. He praised Winfrey's use of television to promote literacy and said he wished for a "thousand variants" of the idea.

"There's a communal aspect to reading that has collapsed and we need to find ways to restore it," Gioia said.

The title "Reading at Risk" is modeled on "A Nation at Risk," a 1983 government study that warned of a "rising tide of mediocrity in elementary and secondary schools" and led to numerous reforms. But Gioia avoided specific proposals in the NEA report.

"I don't believe the NEA should tell the culture what to do," he said. "The reason we are bringing this study out is that we consider it a crisis situation that requires a national conversation."


Teacher tenure under scrutiny, 7/5/04

WASHINGTON -- The decades-old tradition of tenure protects teachers, often frustrates principals and has even surfaced as an issue in the presidential campaign. Now tenure itself is under review.

Tenure guarantees that public school teachers who have this protection cannot be fired without legitimate cause and due process, perhaps even a court hearing. Almost every state provides tenure in some form.

Yet with federal law requiring schools to have a top teacher for every core class, more administrators are questioning whether tenure keeps them from getting rid of even a small number of instructors who just are not good enough in the classroom.

Democrat John Kerry, the presidential candidate favored by education unions, wants to make it easier for schools to act quickly against poor teachers, provided that educators are protected from baseless firings.

To teachers, tenure is a coveted and often misunderstood right -- not a lock on a lifetime job, but assurance of fair treatment, including intervention for teachers who may be struggling to reach students.

"It's protection against the false accusations, against politically trumped up charges, against people who insist you must teach a certain way or risk getting fired," said Penny Kotterman, a special education teacher and president of the Arizona affiliate of the National Education Association. She spoke during a group interview Sunday with The Associated Press during the NEA's annual meeting.

Job security

Tenure is most associated with colleges and universities, where prospective professors earn it by compiling a rigorous record of research, teaching and service.

In the kindergarten through high school world, it is typically granted to teachers after two to five years of at least solid performance in a district, although debate continues over its value as a sign of quality.

Most principals and superintendents say tenure does not mean teachers have proved themselves to be very good, and many teachers agreed with that point in polls by the nonpartisan Public Agenda research group.

 It's protection against the false accusations, against politically trumped up charges, against people who insist you must teach a certain way or risk getting fired.

-- Penny Kotterman, National Education Association's Arizona chapter 

But Kotterman said that is off the mark. Tenure, she said, is meant mainly as an assurance of fair review, while certification and regular evaluation of teachers are indicators of quality.

In the polls, most teachers said tenure protects them from district politics and losing their jobs to newcomers who could be hired for less.

David Sanchez, a kindergarten teacher from Burlingame, California, said tenure has helped teachers who were being pushed out of jobs in retaliation for union activity.

Charles Hasse, a fourth-grader teacher and president of the Washington Education Association, said tenure helps because schools have fewer people in supervisory roles than many employers, making "the opportunity for misjudgments much greater."

Shielding the strong

School administrators, who are often former teachers, say they understand the point of tenure. But they say it can lead to frustrating delays in replacing poor teachers, leading some administrators to give up trying.

In Oklahoma, trying to remove a tenured teacher can lead to a court hearing, said Ruth Ann Carr, superintendent of Ardmore Public Schools. "You have to have people who are willing to go the distance on those type of employment situations," Carr said. "They end up feeling like they're the ones on trial."

Teachers union leaders say they support expedited reviews but they take issue with the argument that tenure protects poor teachers. They say administrators should have no problem making a clear case against those who cannot or will not improve.

 It's the brightest, the risk-taking teachers who are most at risk for arbitrary dismissal.

-- Michael Kramer, Georgia Association of Educators 

States offer legitimate reasons for firing tenured teachers, from immorality to insubordination; not all directly address teaching performance. Typically, the teachers said Sunday, states have a process to speed reviews for tenured teachers accused of a major violation on campus, such as drug use.

The challenge, critics say, is getting rid of mediocre teachers, not the ones who commit egregious conduct violations.

Yet Michael Kramer, who represents teachers as general counsel for the Georgia Association of Educators, says tenure can help the educational mission by protecting strong, outspoken teachers.

"It's the brightest, the risk-taking teachers," he said, "who are most at risk for arbitrary dismissal."


More Schools Turn to Single Track

New construction and slowed enrollment growth make staggered schedules less crucial, but many districts will keep year-round system.

By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 7/11/04

Liberated by slowing enrollment growth and the construction of new campuses, California schools are beginning to turn away from a practice that helps ease crowding but is loathed by teachers, parents and students: overlapping "multitrack" schedules.

But the move, which gained momentum this year, does not necessarily mean a return to the long days of summer fun for students. Among schools reverting to single tracks, many are keeping year-round schedules that some experts say improve learning.

"The traditional calendar is no longer sacrosanct," said Tom Payne, who monitors year-round programs for the state. "People have realized that there are advantages to the year-round schedule."

Used primarily in elementary and middle schools, multitrack schedules make the most of classroom space by running year-round, with students divided into three or four groups that operate on staggered schedules. Because some students and teachers are always on vacation, the convoluted schedule creates logistic nightmares: Administrators struggle to schedule staff training sessions, students become isolated from one another, and teachers find collaboration difficult or impossible.

"The sense of school and community is challenged" with multitrack schedules, said Cheryl Cohen, assistant superintendent at the Orange Unified School District, which is eliminating multitrack at several schools. "It was a solution for certain circumstances, but clearly was not ideal."

In a three-decade battle against persistent overcrowding, California has relied on the strategy far more heavily than any other state, education experts say. Multitrack schedules proliferated in the early 1970s, and then again throughout the 1990s, when enrollments surged.

During the recent wave, the number of the multitrack schools in California soared as the enrollment crunch was compounded by a shortage of money for school construction. State lawmakers encouraged the trend by giving priority for construction funds to districts that agreed to open year-round schools.

Dependence on multitrack programs peaked in 1998, when 1,027 schools used them. More than 1 million California students — about 16% of the state total — were affected.

The tide turned after voters approved a series of bonds for school construction — most recently a $12.3-billion initiative in March — and enrollment growth slowed.

What began as a slow decline in multitrack schedules accelerated dramatically last year, when 142 schools eliminated them. Only 39 schools — 11 from the same the district — added multitrack schedules.

Some districts — especially Los Angeles Unified — continue to struggle with crowding and are unable to drop their multitrack programs. And education officials are quick to point out that future enrollment gains could force districts back onto the plan. But Payne, with the California Department of Education, said he expects the trend to continue at least over the next five years as enrollment in elementary and middle schools declines.

Tiny Magnolia School District in the Anaheim area, for example, has eliminated multitrack calendars at three of its four year-round elementary schools for the coming year. Nearby Orange Unified will do the same at five of seven schools that use multitrack scheduling. Both districts hope to eliminate multitrack schedules at remaining schools as soon as possible.

Carol McGown, a first-grade teacher at Magnolia's Mattie Lou Maxwell Elementary, said she is eager to start on a single schedule in a few weeks.

"When you can collaborate with all the other teachers and everyone is on the same page, it is a big benefit for the children," she said.

But the change does not mean that McGown's students, or those at Orange Unified, are free to frolic until September. Like many districts throughout the state, Magnolia and Orange Unified chose to keep their schools on a year-round schedule, but without the hassle of multiple tracks.

Instead of the typical 10-week summer break, school will start Aug. 9 for the Magnolia schools and July 26 in Orange. Students will have three nearly monthlong vacations in summer, winter and spring.

Year-round supporters said the evenly spaced vacations are better for students. "Kids do forget some of what they've learned over the summer," said Harris Cooper, director of the program in education at Duke University and leading researcher on year-round schooling. Research indicates that students lose about a month of learning during a 10-week summer holiday, Cooper said — twice as much as those on year-round schedules.

Summer's detrimental effect is especially pronounced, educators said, at schools such as Maxwell, where more than two-thirds of the students are English-learners who often spend summer months speaking their native language.

The monthlong winter break in year-round schedules also can accommodate the traditional exodus of Latino pupils to home countries over Christmas, while the short holiday break on traditional calendars leads to absences and the loss of attendance-based funding.

The new schedule "is the best of both worlds," said Maxwell Principal Kristin Lasher. "Everyone is here at the same time … and we don't waste classroom time reteaching what students have already learned."

Year-round calendars, proponents said, also allow more opportunities for teachers to help struggling students without having to wait several months for summer school. Year-round schools typically offer remedial classes and tutoring during vacations.

Joanna Zug, president of the Magnolia PTA, said nearly all parents had embraced the decision to stick with a year-round schedule at the elementary schools.

"I think year-round works best for everybody — teachers and students," Zug said. "There is an element of momentum and routine. The schedule gives everyone a nice rest, but then they're right back, and it is not such a huge deal to gear the kids back up to go to school."

Not everyone agrees. Billee Bussard, who heads a national anti-year-round advocacy group, Summer Matters, said she is skeptical about research on the disadvantages of summer vacation. Summers, she said, give students the chance to pursue extracurricular interests.

"The long break provides opportunities for learning that kids do not get in the classroom," she said.

Indeed, nearly two-thirds of the schools that dropped multitrack schedules this year opted to return to a traditional calendar.

Among districts that favor the traditional school year is Los Angeles Unified — which has by far the largest number of year-round students in California. LAUSD plans to return to a traditional calendar school by school as overcrowding eases enough to drop multitrack schedules.

Ronnie Ephraim, chief instruction officer for the district, said the long summer break provides a needed opportunity for students to repeat failed classes. But more than anything, Ephraim said, echoing several other educators, the preference for the old-style schedule comes from ingrained rites of summer, such as camp, sports leagues and family vacations.

"The whole community prepares itself for the kids in the summer. They will just accept [the traditional schedule] better," Ephraim said. "A lot of it is habit."

Though education officials disagree over whether year-round schedules will ever become the norm, one thing is certain: Few will miss the days of the multitrack.

"No one ever chooses a multitrack program for educational reasons," said Priscilla Wohlstetter, director of the education governance program at USC.

"Districts do it out of necessity."


Law's foes unable to stir change

Fear of losing U.S. funds keeps schools in line on No Child Left Behind

Alan J. Borsuk, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7/12/04

You could think of the money that Milwaukee Public Schools expects to receive in the coming year under the federal No Child Left Behind Act as 76.8 million reasons why vocal criticism of the law hasn't been converted into direct action.

As much as some educators and politicians here and around the country complain about the law being an underfunded federal mandate, the critics generally have pulled their punches when it comes to doing anything about it. In some states, efforts by legislators to withdraw from federal education programs have appeared to be strong only to subside without major result.

In large part, it appears to be a case of money talking -- or at least causing critics in cash-strapped school systems to tone down their complaints.

A prime example: For a year, officials of the National Education Association, the largest teachers organization in the United States, have encouraged states or school districts to file suit against the federal education law. In May, state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager effectively offered to work with school districts that wanted to argue that the federal government was violating the terms of the law by requiring states or school districts to spend more money than the federal government was providing.

No school district has contacted Lautenschlager to pursue the idea.

States, districts reluctant

Bob Chernin, general counsel of the education association, told The Associated Press recently, "I would have thought they (states) would be jumping at this. We have a solid legal theory. We're prepared to do all the work. We just want to enlist them. But for a variety of reasons, we haven't been able to push any state over the hump."

For one thing, states or school districts may be reluctant to take on federal officials.

Patty Sullivan, deputy executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, told the AP, "Maintaining a good relationship with the federal government that oversees your programs and suing them as the same time makes it a very difficult proposition."

Second, the legal theory behind such a suit appears to be challenging to sustain. The U.S. Department of Education disagrees strongly with the "underfunded mandate" claim, saying something isn't a mandate if a school isn't really required to do it -- which is, at least technically, the case with many of the No Child Left Behind provisions.

Finally, it may well be that critics of the law are looking to the presidential election. The education association endorsed Democratic candidate John Kerry at its convention last week, and Kerry has pledged to increase federal education spending substantially.

In the meantime, school systems, including MPS, believe they don't have much choice but to take part in the federal programs because they need the money, even if their participation isn't exactly mandated.

In the case of MPS, the federal money comes to about 7% of the annual budget. While that may not sound like much, the money funds at least part of many of the initiatives under way in Milwaukee, including training of principals and teachers and such things as putting "literacy coaches" on the staffs in almost all schools. The large majority of the money, more than $60 million for next year, comes under what is called Title 1, which pays for an array of services for low-income students.

Critics of the law argue that it is being funded at levels billions of dollars below what Congress agreed to when the education law was passed by overwhelming, bipartisan majorities in 2001. That is an accurate statement.

But it is also accurate to say that spending is up substantially in recent years, as President Bush often says in promoting his education record. The education department says the Bush budget proposal for the next fiscal year calls for spending of $57.3 billion, 36% more than was budgeted for education before Bush became president in 2001.

For Milwaukee, education aid has increased from $46.8 million in 1998-'99 to the $76.8 million expected for next year -- although changes in the law limit the usefulness of the comparison. In addition, not all of the money goes to MPS itself -- millions of dollars go to outside services and private schools that qualify for some programs.

A more direct comparison, involving the three years of funding under the current law, shows that aid to Milwaukee has increased from $71.4 million in 2002-'03 to next year's figure of $5.4 million more.

Supplemental services

That doesn't mean local officials don't have problems with the money they are getting.

Nationwide, even as overall spending has gone up, more than half of school districts will receive less federal money under Title 1 in the coming year than they did in the past year, according to an analysis by the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based non- profit organization.

In Milwaukee, a recent report to the School Board by MPS administrators listed ways in which flexibility in using federal funds has decreased, situations in which local money has to be put up to administer programs that receive federal aid, and other circumstances that cost MPS money that might otherwise go into classrooms. In addition, $6.6 million of the federal aid to Milwaukee has to be set aside in the coming year for "supplemental services" outside school to be offered to students attending schools facing sanctions under the federal law.

But when presented with a report on how much money MPS would get in the coming year under the federal education law, members of a School Board committee -- some of them strong critics of the way No Child Left Behind is playing out -- did not complain.

In fact, there was no discussion at all.


Grading Mistakes Caused More Than 4,000 Would-Be Teachers to Fail a Licensing Exam

By KAREN W. ARENSON, New York Times, July 13, 2004

Mistakes in the scoring of an examination that 18 states use in licensing teachers caused more than 4,000 people who should have passed it to fail instead, the Educational Testing Service said yesterday. The errors may have prevented many from getting full-time jobs as teachers in the last year.

Robert A. Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which looks skeptically on standardized testing, said the grading errors were only the latest instance of quality-control problems in the industry at a time when testing was growing sharply.

"This particular test is being used to determine who is a highly qualified teacher, which is a requirement under the federal No Child Left Behind law," Mr. Schaeffer said. "But there is no equivalent requirement that the test makers be highly qualified. There is more public oversight of the pet-food industry than there is for test makers."

The errors are an embarrassment for E.T.S. at a time when it is aggressively pursuing new business but is also facing increased competition from other testing companies and problems in its long collaboration with the College Board, which oversees the SAT tests, taken by many students to get into college.

The errors occurred from January 2003 to April 2004. During that time, the test - the Praxis Principles of Learning and Teaching for Grades 7 to 12, called the Praxis P.L.T. 7-12 - was given eight times, to a total of about 40,000 people.

The testing service began notifying state education departments last Friday afternoon that many of those scored as failing had in fact passed, and started calling the candidates themselves on Saturday.

It said it would reimburse the candidates the $115 it cost each to take the test and would also pay them for materials they used to prepare. The cost of test reimbursement alone will be close to half a million dollars.

Tom Ewing, a spokesman for the Educational Testing Service, said that it had noticed lower scores than usual on two administrations of the test, but that "we thought there were valid explanations for why the scores were lower."

"But when we investigated further," Mr. Ewing said, "we discovered that the short-essay questions were being graded more stringently than normal."

Mr. Ewing said that he did not know how many points were added once the tests were rescored, but that when the process was finished, about 4,100 test takers had moved from failing to passing. It is impossible to say how many of those had been turned away from teaching jobs in the meantime.

Among larger states that use this Praxis exam are Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland. (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut do not.) Scores range from 100 to 200, and each state has its own passing score.

Besides calling state officials and test takers, the testing service has a toll-free phone line (800-205-2626) for more information. A recording at that number yesterday said that the company was "very sorry that this has occurred" and that it was "committed to addressing any concerns this issue may raise for you."

One person who heard from the testing service on Saturday was Paul Perrea, a 44-year-old electrical engineer in Cincinnati, who wants to teach high school physics. He has already scored well on the Praxis physics exam, as well as on other science exams. But last December he learned that he had failed the Praxis P.L.T. exam.

"I've had a good career in computers, and I thought it was time to give back," Mr. Perrea said. "I wanted to teach in inner-city Cincinnati, where they really need good science teachers."

Mr. Perrea said he was a good test taker and had always had the kind of standardized-test scores "that other people are envious of." So when he got his Praxis scores in December, he was stunned to find that he had not met Ohio's cutoff. Last year he taught high school math as a long-term substitute, but he said he had had trouble finding work as a full-time teacher for next year.

J. C. Benton, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said his agency still viewed the test as useful.

"Certainly there is a teacher shortage," Mr. Benton said. "But E.T.S. has been upfront about contacting us about the error, and we look forward to continuing to work with them."


Instant cash - at school?

By Liz Nakazawa, Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor, 7/13/04

John Sirvaitis had lost his chemistry textbook and needed the money before class to pay for a new one. He didn't have cash, but breathed a sigh of relief when he remembered his school had recently installed an automatic teller machine (ATM).

His high school in West Linn, Ore., joins a growing number of high schools with ATMs. The Illinois-based Teen Research Unlimited surveyed 2,000 youths across the country and found that one in 200 of those ages 12 to 15 had access to a cash machine at school. The number increased to one in 50 among those ages 16 to 17. The survey also found that 17 percent of teens had a debit card, up from 12 percent in 2000.

For schools, installing an ATM can be a lucrative business. At Gresham High School, another Oregon school with an ATM, students conducted 140 transactions last month. At a charge of $1 per transaction, the school will own the machine in two years - and will begin making money on the transactions after that time, estimates principal Paul Boly.

Not all students, parents, and school district personnel, however, approve of the ATMs. Some kids feel that it encourages rampant consumerism. Molly Doyle, an editorial writer at Oregon City High criticized her school's decision to install the machine. "I don't think it belongs in a school setting," wrote Molly, saying that the machine is next to an area where snacks and lattes are purchased. "We're here for an education, not for buying things."

In West Linn, the city with the highest median household income in Oregon, many students at West Linn High School are concerned that they are expected to grow up too fast. "We're only in high school, so why do we need an ATM right now in school?" asks Jane Lyons, a junior. "I feel that too much responsibility is being pushed on us."

Some kids feel that the machines - where transactions cost $1.50 each - are divisive. "There are so many kids that aren't as rich as other kids and the ATM puts barriers between us," says Rebecca Immel, a junior. "It separates us into two groups: the people that get to use the ATM because they have enough money from their parents, or a job, to open an account, and the kids whose mom gives them just enough money for lunch."

School board trustee Carl Simpson, in the West Quebec School District in Canada, has received calls from parents who are worried about how it might be misused. "I agree with parents who feel harassment might increase."

He has other concerns, too. "I don't think we should be taking money from students' pockets."

But at Oregon City High School, principal Carol Kemhus likes the convenience. "Our school is a small city of 2,300 students and staff, and we have a 'closed campus' policy where students can't go off campus at lunchtime," says Ms. Kemhus. "More students than ever, and many staff, have ATM cards. It made sense for people to access their money while at school, since many of them are here from 7 a.m. until late in the evening."

Brent Leong teaches accounting at Oregon City High and argues that the ATM is also a learning experience. Accounting students at the school run and manage the ATM, and are able to learn about ATMs and financial institutions. He also sees numerous other pluses. "Many activities, from wrestling camps to basketball tournaments and school theatrical performances, happen here and having an ATM has benefited those who have needed money and did not want to leave the campus to get cash," says Mr. Leong.

Four of six high schools in the Vancouver School District in Washington have recently installed ATMs, and transactions there are free. Ed Little, principal at Skyview High School in Vancouver, says it helps give his students access to funds if they forget to ask their parents. "I haven't encountered any drawback so far," says Mr. Little.

When Gresham High initially considered the machines, the staff had questions about vandalism. "Nobody knew what to expect," says Daryl Grove of GoodVantage Resources, who sold the machine to Gresham High. "But so far there haven't been any reports of vandalism."

He says it helps that the machine is in full view of a security camera and is bolted to the concrete floor.

Despite concerns about vandalism, consumerism, and divisions between students, most students and staff are positive about the ATMs. "And," says Little, "far fewer students need to borrow money from me."


Specialty schools open new doors to students

By PATTI GHEZZI, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 07/10/04

Just weeks before Ashleigh Forte was to start fifth grade two years ago, a knock at the door of her Buford Highway apartment changed the course of her education.

Suttiwan Cox, a former Gwinnett County teacher of the year, told Ashleigh and her mother, Denise, that she wanted them to try the new charter school she was starting.

"I thought, 'Why is she coming to my house and why does she want me to come to her school?' " recalled Ashleigh, now going into seventh grade.

By the end of Cox's hourlong visit, Ashleigh and her mother had heard answers they liked, and Ashleigh was on her way to enrolling at KIPP: PATH Academy.

Today, Ashleigh is an example of how Georgia's fledgling charter school movement is supposed to work.

Denise Forte had wanted her daughter to be challenged, and she worried that the teachers at DeKalb County's Woodward Elementary "could only go as fast as the slowest child." Cox promised to deliver challenges at a more rapid pace.

Still, Forte was anxious: "To take Ashleigh from an established school and give her to this lady who knocks on my door with an idea . . . it caused a lot of sleepless nights."

Today, Forte credits the charter school with teaching Ashleigh to solve problems and instilling in her a love of learning.

A charter school is funded with tax dollars, but it operates separately from the district's central office and is held accountable through terms spelled out in a charter. The philosophy: Give the reins to willing parents, educators and other professionals and let them try to run a school with appropriate oversight. Parents may choose the charter school over a traditional public school, creating competition and spurring improvement in noncharter schools.

Slow start-up

The United States has about 3,000 charter schools serving nearly 750,000 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Yet Georgia's charter school movement has had a hard time getting started.

Six years after Georgia's charter school law was changed to allow companies, community groups and entrepreneurs to start schools, about 25 are start-ups operating across the state serving about 5,500 students. Another 11 are traditional public schools that converted to charters so they could get exemptions from some rules.

Georgia recently received a $3.3 million federal grant to help more charter schools get started and to replicate successful charter school models.

Those interested in starting charter schools have found resistance from local school boards and difficulty coming up with enough money to supplement tax dollars, which do not cover the cost of the school building. Also, leaders at some traditional public schools have reacted defensively to the competition.

Some start-up charter schools didn't make it. Last spring, Fulton County Charter High School of Mathematics and Science shut down because of financial problems. In 2002, Stone Mountain Charter School closed when leaders, in an apparent miscommunication, failed to seek renewal of the school's charter.

Cox understands parents' anxiety.

"With charter schools, you must have faith," she said.

Cox's school has faced obstacles, including high teacher turnover. Some teachers couldn't handle the long hours, Cox said. Her school is open from 7 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. during the week and a half-day on Saturdays. As a concession to the exhausted teachers, Cox dismisses on Fridays at 3 p.m.

Students and teachers also must attend two weeks of full-day summer school.

In January, Cox cut ties with KIPP, the national nonprofit Knowledge Is Power Program that trained her to run a charter school. Neither side will comment on the split, citing a confidentiality agreement. Cox's school, located next to Oglethorpe University, is now known as PATH Academy.

'Decent growth'

Forte watched the teacher turnover and other bumps with concern, but she didn't pull her daughter out. "Ashleigh has blossomed into an independent young lady," she said. "You give her a problem and she's very resourceful as far as getting the information."

Metro Atlanta has several other successful start-up charter schools including: Neighborhood Charter School in Atlanta's Grant Park, International Community School in DeKalb County's Avondale Estates and Fulton Science Academy in Alpharetta.

Phil Andrews, executive director of the Georgia Charter School Association, said he's seeing "decent growth" with start-up charters. The Fulton and Atlanta school districts are especially receptive, he said.

Seeking simplicity

Some potential organizers give up because the funding process is so convoluted.

"If we could simplify how charter schools are funded, it would make it more fair not just for the charter schools but for the school systems," he said.

Interpretation of the charter school law has varied from one district to another, creating inconsistency in how they are funded.

PATH Academy has 222 students in fifth through seventh grades and will add eighth grade next year. The school is modeled after KIPP Academy, a highly praised program that started in Texas with an emphasis on getting every student into college.

Every morning, PATH Academy students recite a chant that goes: "Good Morning!/Where are you going?/I'm going to college!/Why?/To get an education!/Why?/To create opportunities in our lives and make a difference in our community!"

Denise Forte is still anxious about Ashleigh's education. PATH Academy is chartered only for fifth through eighth grades. In two years, Ashleigh will be ready for high school.

Ashleigh's high test scores qualify her for a middle school magnet program, which would guarantee her a slot in Chamblee High School's reputable magnet program. A magnet program brings bright students from around the district to one site for tailored, high-level instruction.

Forte said she doesn't want to make a mistake in choosing the right school for her only child.

"I don't want to look back and say that I made the wrong choice," she said. "Then it would be my fault."


Teacher's aides filling growing gap

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY. 7/13/04

LINTHICUM, Md. — Gather a group of teacher's aides together and ask if they've ever had to take over a classroom. Then stand back.

One had to fill in for an ill colleague for six weeks. Another for six months. One for most of a year.

With little or no training, they say, they're often responsible for teaching poor, troubled or disabled kids and communicating with parents who often speak little English.

As academic demands arise for kids as early as kindergarten, so do the stakes for teacher's aides, now commonly called "paraeducators," or "paras" for short.

"The paras are not here to babysit," says Sheila Walker, a paraeducator at Harry Stone Montessori Academy, a Dallas public school.

President Bush's No Child Left Behind education reform law raised the bar for paras, who historically have been moms with part-time jobs at school. By 2006, the law says, most paras must have either an associate's degree, 30 hours of college credit or proof that they've passed a state assessment in basic teaching and academic skills.

Critics say it's unfair to demand that workers who earn as little as $12,000 a year pay for college. So districts and unions are training paras themselves.

The 1.3-million-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has been doing it for 21 years, and the 2.7-million-member National Education Association (NEA) has been funding similar training for four years. But now it's taking on a new urgency, officials say.

"They've been a very underserved group of people who are important in the functioning of the school," says AFT's Diane Airhart.

In a week-long session here last month, paras got intensive training in one of five areas: math, reading, student discipline, parental involvement or foundations of teaching. Participants will return to their school districts to train others.

The training is essential, participants say. Many "are weaker in math than some of their kids," says B.C. Kindred, a para at Eagle River Elementary School in Anchorage. Some, she says, have been teaching for years "with absolutely no training. The teachers don't have time to train you."

The week's classes are grounded in educational theory, but they also stress hands-on skills.

In the math session, paras learn, for instance, how to help kids add two difficult-to-add numbers, such as 49+27, in their heads:

1) Add 1 to 49.

2) Subtract 1 from 27.

3) 50+26=76.

Since many paras have children in school, they usually live in the neighborhood and know families well — often better than teachers do. They get more face time with parents, whether greeting them at the bus stop, translating at parent-teacher conferences or calling home when a child is ill.

"You're there when the teachers are not there," Walker says.

Both unions see paras as an important new source of membership — and revenue. "Support staff" is the fastest-growing group of active members, which also includes "education support professionals" (ESPs), which includes nurses, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and technical support.

And as more baby-boomer teachers retire, officials say, they'll rely more on ESPs as new members.

But since dues are based on salary, ESPs pay about 56% of what teachers pay. (NEA says the average teacher earns $46,758, ESPs $25,116.)

Raising salaries likely will be a tough fight. Most districts automatically give teachers raises for a master's degree or other college coursework, but not to paras.

"If the law is demanding more rigorous (preparation), there should be compensation," says Karen Mahurin, president of the National Council for Education Support Professionals, an NEA advocacy group. "For the majority of our ESPs, that does not happen."


States Dicker Over Changes to AYP Plans

By Lynn Olson, Education Week, 7/14/04

Just weeks before states release their lists of schools that have not met "adequate yearly progress" targets under the main federal K-12 law, many states are still negotiating with federal officials over changes to their accountability plans designed to reduce those numbers.

But whether the proposed changes are common-sense measures that would better and more reliably identify needy schools or attempts to duck accountability is largely in the eye of the beholder. Moreover, the sheer volume of last-minute revisions could make it harder to tell if schools have really improved, or if the rules of the game have simply changed.

"It is going to be important to watch this process very carefully," said Ross Wiener, the policy director for the Education Trust, a nonprofit group in Washington that works to raise student achievement. "It would be a concern if it appears that there has been improvement, when in fact student achievement has not improved."

Raymond Simon, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education in the U.S. Department of Education, said in an interview last week: "I have to believe that any state’s requests for amendments are done for the purpose of making a plan better and more defensible. I don’t see any state trying to avoid accountability."

He said the department had denied some requests either because they could not be accommodated under the law or because states had not provided the data to support their proposals.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, a 2½-year-old revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, requires states to determine whether schools and districts have made adequate yearly progress. AYP is based on whether they have met annual performance targets and tested at least 95 percent of both their overall student enrollments and individual groups of children who are poor, speak limited English, come from racial- or ethnic-minority backgrounds, or have disabilities.

Education Department officials promised that if states submitted requests to change their accountability plans by April 1, the agency would get back to them within 30 days, in time to make those changes based on 2003-04 test results. But while department officials have been in constant contact with states, by late last week they had given final, written approval to only 20 of the approximately 45 that submitted requests by April.

"We’re certainly aware that they need to make those decisions pretty quick, and that’s why we’re struggling very hard to get some final answers out," said Mr. Simon. "We want to be sure, before we release any information for any state, … that we have everybody on board and feel good about it."

The most common amendments sought by states, and approved by federal officials, take advantage of expanded flexibility announced earlier this year on calculating test- participation rates and including students with disabilities or limited English proficiency in AYP decisions. (The proposed rule changes for LEP students were published in the June 24 Federal Register.)

In addition, many states requested changes in the statistics they use to calculate adequate progress. More than a half-dozen states, for example, have asked to raise the minimum number of special education or LEP students who must be tested before those groups count in determining whether a school has met its performance targets.

Such changes were denounced last week by advocates for special education and LEP students, who fear that many schools will escape accountability for teaching those youngsters.

"I think it sends a big, wrong message," said Martha L. Thurlow, the director of the National Center on Educational Outcomes, located at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. "It seems to me, at this time, we should be holding the numbers steady and really looking at our data to figure out what we need to be doing to provide the instructional supports that those students need."

Last year, for example, 65 schools in Alaska failed to make adequate progress solely because they missed the targets for their students with disabilities. This year, the state will publicly report results when schools test as few as five students with disabilities or limited English proficiency. But schools will no longer have to meet annual performance targets for those groups if they include fewer than 40 children.

Les Morse, the director of assessment and accountability for the Alaska education department, said that change excludes about 85 percent of the state’s schools from having to meet AYP targets for their special education students, up from about 65 percent last year.

Mr. Morse said the measure would give schools time to put more programs in place for those children. "We don’t want to let those schools off the hook," he said, noting that the state will closely examine the data and perhaps revisit its decision in 2007.

Federal officials, meanwhile, rejected a request by Tennessee to include its gifted and talented students in its special education subgroup.

"I don’t think we actually expected that one to be approved," said Kim Karesh, the communications director for the Tennessee education department. State law, she said, places gifted students under the special education umbrella, "so we were trying to match our state definitions with the federal requirements."

Tennessee also sought unsuccessfully to increase the minimum subgroup size for special education and LEP students from 45 to 55, said Julie P. McCargar, the director of federal programs for the state education department. "We had to provide data, and we couldn’t support it," she said. No Tennessee school or district with at least 45 special education students made adequate yearly progress last year, she said.

Sizable Shift?

Schools and districts that do not meet their annual performance targets can still make AYP under a provision known as "safe harbor." But to do so, the percent of students who score below the "proficient" level on state tests must drop by 10 percent from the previous year. That’s often a substantial difference for schools or subgroups that start well below state targets.

At least five states have received approval to give schools more leeway in meeting the safe-harbor requirements by adding a 75 percent "confidence interval" within which their performance could fall and still meet the safe-harbor provisions.

Sheila Barron, an assistant professor of education at the University of Iowa, warned that adding a confidence interval "represents a sizable shift in the accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind."

That’s because the confidence band can be so wide, particularly for small schools or subgroups, that schools could meet the safe-harbor requirements even if they showed little, if any, improvement.

While such a gradual rate of improvement may be a more reasonable expectation, Ms. Barron said, it does not coincide with the law’s goal that all students will be proficient by 2013-14. Federal officials said they plan to review state data annually to see what effect the confidence interval is having on safe-harbor decisions.

Observers also note that most of the proposed changes mean that larger, more diverse schools and districts—such as those in urban areas—will continue to be subject to the law’s more stringent accountability provisions, while smaller, more homogeneous ones will not.

"If that’s what people want, they ought to say it," said Brian Gong, the associate director of the Center for Assessment, a nonprofit research and consulting group based in Dover, N.H. "But it doesn’t fit very well for probably 60 percent of the schools in this nation, which are in rural or suburban or small districts."

District Flexibility

A number of states also are asking for more flexibility in determining whether districts make adequate progress. Without such leeway, they say, all or almost all their districts will end up identified as needing improvement.

"The problem is we’ve got 24 districts and they’re all huge," said Ronald A. Peiffer, the deputy state superintendent for academic policy in Maryland. When the state applied the same minimum group size to both schools and districts last year, not a single district made adequate progress. "It’s like having a smoke detector that goes off when you burn toast," Mr. Peiffer said. "It’s senseless."

Maryland requested that, at the district level, a subgroup would have to represent 15 percent of the total student population before it counted for making AYP determinations. At least five other states have sought increases in the subgroup size at the district level, according to an analysis conducted for the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers. So far, federal officials have rejected that approach.

In Tennessee, where 92 percent of districts did not make adequate progress last year, "we felt that it was not a good representation of what was really happening in our school system," said Ms. McCargar. The state unsuccessfully asked to increase the minimum group size to 200 at the district level.

But federal officials did approve another change: Tennessee will identify districts as needing improvement only if they miss their AYP targets for both elementary/middle and high schools for two years in a row. That would have dropped the proportion of districts identified last year to 65 percent. Other states are waiting to hear whether the additional flexibility will apply to all states.

More than a dozen states also want to make it easier for schools to meet the "other academic indicator" required to make adequate progress—graduation rates for high schools—either by using a confidence interval or by giving schools credit for making progress from the previous year, even if they have not met an absolute target.

Ellen Forte-Fast, a Washington-based consultant who is analyzing the accountability plans for the CCSSO, said states want to cut the number of schools and districts identified for improvement because of legitimate concerns that they won’t be able to help them all. But, she said, it’s not clear whether the proposed changes will improve states’ ability to identify the schools and districts most in need of help.

States, agreed Mr. Gong of the Center for Assessment, "are afraid of overidentifying schools that shouldn’t be identified. But many of the things they’re doing are taking schools off the radar screen; they’re not paying as much attention to that."

Still others question whether federal and state efforts to soften the edges of various requirements of the law address the more fundamental issue: whether the law’s targets are realistic.

"People are becoming increasingly desperate when faced with untenable demands for improvements in performance," Daniel M. Koretz, a professor of education at Harvard University, said at the CCSSO’s annual conference on large-scale assessment, held in Boston last month. "The fundamental issue is not how states should respond to this. It’s whether we should be doing this."


New law to alter under-5 schooling

By Lynda Arakawa, Honolulu Advertiser, Capitol Bureau, 7/14/04

Beginning in 2006, children who turn 5 after Aug. 1 will attend a junior kindergarten for a year before entering regular kindergarten, under a bill Gov. Linda Lingle signed into law yesterday.

The new law allows for some flexibility to move the children into whichever level is most appropriate and allows children to be promoted directly from junior kindergarten to the first grade. Supporters of the bill have pointed to recent studies that show younger students in kindergarten classes are more likely to have discipline problems and need remedial services because they lag behind their older classmates developmentally.

Currently, children who turn 5 by Dec. 31 are allowed to enter kindergarten.

Liz Chun, executive director of Good Beginnings Alliance, said children who don't receive early childhood education can start school up to two years behind and often never catch up. She called the additional year in junior kindergarten "a gift of time.

"Changing the kindergarten age is the first step to addressing the educational needs of our young children," she said. "It provides Hawai'i an opportunity to create learning environments that will improve student achievement."

Lingle also signed a bill that revises the Democrats' education reform package passed this year, but she promised to push for more changes next year.

"The bill wasn't what we had hoped to achieve in this session, but it does bring about certain improvements," Lingle said.

Under the new law, schools in the 2006-07 academic year will be financed by a weighted student formula that bases spending on student need, with priorities for low-income or special-education students, instead of enrollment. The intent is to steer money to students who need the most attention.

Other changes under the law include giving principals control of 70 percent of school operating budgets, up from about 15 percent today.

Schools will also have elected school community councils in the 2005-06 year, comprising the principal, teachers, school staff, students, parents and other community representatives. Principals would have the power to draft a school's budget and curriculum — with the councils able to offer revisions — before the plans are sent to complex-area superintendents.

Lingle, who has pushed for locally elected school boards, said she wanted the new weighted student formula to begin a year earlier and for principals to control 90 percent of their school budgets.


Study: States progressing with new school law

AP, July 14, 2004 

WASHINGTON -- As report cards go, it is a spotty mix of promising and abysmal grades. But an independent review praises the states for progress given the scope of their assignment -- putting in place the most sweeping education law in decades.

Most states have met or are at least on the way to meeting 75 percent of the major requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, according to the nonpartisan Education Commission of the States. That level of compliance has more than doubled over the last year.

Every state and the District of Columbia, for example, have a policy to ensure that students with disabilities are included when their schools test reading, math and science.

But not a single state is on pace to fulfill the law's requirement of having a measurable way to ensure a highly qualified teacher will be in every core academic class in 2005-06.

Overall, the states are doing well in areas of testing students and measuring yearly progress, but they're struggling with requirements designed to improve the teaching corps.

"The hardest work is yet to come," said Kathy Christie, vice president of the ECS Clearinghouse, the commission's research and information arm. "The toughest thing in all of this is going to be getting better at actually raising student achievement."

The 2001 law requires expanded standardized testing, more information and choices for parents, and public reporting of progress for every demographic group so the scores of struggling students aren't masked by school averages. Schools that get federal poverty aid but don't make enough yearly progress get help but also face mounting sanctions.

ECS, a Denver-based group that advises state leaders, graded states on 40 elements of the law, from how well parents get information to how well struggling schools get help.

The determination of whether a state is on track varies by topic. Some changes under the law were supposed to have happened already, while some have deadlines in coming years.

Among the findings:

- 98 percent of states are on track to define what a "persistently dangerous" school means, a designation that allows students in such schools to transfer. But many states are revamping their definitions after criticisms that their standards were far too low.

- 92 percent are on track to publicly report achievement data for all major groups of students, such as minority, poor, disabled and limited-English students.

- 65 percent are on track to set clear, substantial expectations for students so that all of them are at grade level in reading and math no later than 2013-14.

- 53 percent are on track to identify which schools are in need of improvement before the next school year begins so that parents have time to understand their options.

- 45 percent are on track to provide the promised "scientifically based" help to schools that have been targeted for improvement or more serious corrective action.

- 22 percent are on track to make new and current elementary, middle and secondary teachers of core subjects demonstrate that they are competent in their subjects.

In perspective, Christie said, the effort by the states is encouraging. Not since the 1970s, when the government passed landmark acts to help disabled children and prevent sexual discrimination, have states gotten so active in response to a federal law, the report says.

State progress is also clear in the way the debate is shifting, said Ray Simon, assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education. School leaders are focusing less on forms and funding and more on getting students up to grade level, he said.

The report's recommendations include redefining how progress is measured so schools and districts can track the success of the same students over time, not just different students each year. ECS also calls for states to get rid of systems that allow veteran teachers to be deemed highly qualified under standards that aren't rigorous.


Perfect schools just 10 years away

By Jac Wilder VerSteeg, Palm Beach Post Editorial Writer, July 15, 2004

There are at least two ways George W. Bush still could be president in 2014.

1) He loses in 2004, sits out 2008 but wins when he tries again in 2012. Such a split term would be unusual, but it's happened once before. Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and the 24th president.

2) After a coup, George W. Bush becomes President For Life. (Note to Michael Moore: If that happens, you might want to move in with Osama bin Laden.)

In some ways, it will be a shame if Mr. Bush isn't still president in 2014, because that year is shaping up as a moment of educational nirvana. That is the year when No Child Left Behind comes to fruition. Most people might not be aware of it, but No Child Left Behind means what it says. No Child. Every child must be able to read and do math on grade level.

Not now, of course. It's OK now to leave children behind for the time being. Can't expect to have every child with the program right away. But that slack is temporary.

I quote from the Florida NCLB Accountability Workbook: The Department of Education "has prepared a schedule for improvements in academic achievement in reading/language arts and mathematics that begins with the 'starting point' and concludes with 100% of the students being 'Proficient or Above' at the end of the 2013-14 academic year."

All the other states have similar provisions. They can mess around or dither, but the game's up at the end of the 2013-2014 academic year.

Unless there's some state version of Option 2 above, Jeb Bush won't be Florida's governor in 2014. He might, however, be president (or crown prince). Although NCLB is a federal law, Gov. Bush is largely responsible for its implementation in Florida. That's because the feds have left nearly all details and setting of standards up to the states. Kids have to make "adequate yearly progress," but each state can adopt its own definition of "adequate yearly progress."

But if every state can have different standards, doesn't that mean some will have higher standards than others, that kids considered to be with the program in some states will be deemed "left behind" in others? That's actually a strength, if you believe Education Secretary Rod Paige, who explained Tuesday in Orlando that No Child Left Behind "is a collection of state decisions." Mr. Paige's Web site offers an explanatory document titled "Stronger Accountability: The Facts About State Standards." That lengthy document boils down to this single line: "There are no national standards."

Roll those two concepts around in your brain for a minute. Stronger accountability. No national standards. Stronger accountability. No national standards. Except one. Whatever happens in the states has to happen by 2014. What's magical about 2014? For one thing, most people responsible for setting the deadline for educational perfection won't be around to live with the consequences. It is amazing how often politicians and bureaucrats set idealistic goals that somebody else will have to achieve and/or pay for.

And what about that 100 percent goal? Is there anybody anywhere who really thinks that 100 percent of children ever will be able to read and calculate on grade level? When I was in seventh grade, there was a guy named Boo-Boo who was promoted to eighth grade only because the science teacher accidentally knocked out one of his front teeth with a broken fishing rod. It wouldn't have happened except the guy sitting in front of Boo-Boo ducked when the teacher swung at him with the rod. (That's how we enforced discipline in the rural South where I grew up.) Boo-Boo didn't have the sense to duck. If the Boo-Boos of the world can't duck on grade level, how are they going to read and do sums on grade level?

Some states, as implicitly allowed by the no-national-standards law, simply will dumb down their grade-level expectations so that even toothless Boo-Boo can handle them.

Gov. Bush has pioneered a different way. In Florida right now, third-graders who can't pass the reading FCAT are retained in the third grade. Presumably, something similar will have to happen by 2014 to all children who can't meet the No Child Left Behind standards. Jeb's FCAT solution provides the perfect answer. The students are not left behind, they are kept behind. A semantic trick? A linguistic game? Of course. That's what "No Child Left Behind" always has been.


How school reform is altering classrooms

New data on the No Child Left Behind act reveals better record-keeping but a shortage of qualified teachers.

By Gail Russell Chaddock, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor. 7/15/04

WASHINGTON – Despite a tide of resistance in school districts all over the country, federal education reforms now in their third year are beginning to do what few such efforts ever achieve: change what goes on in American classrooms.

For the first time in US history, an overwhelming majority of states now test new teachers. They also test nearly all students, including those deemed learning disabled. And they are publicly reporting information on the safety conditions in public schools that either hadn't been collected or was locked away in file drawers, according to a study on the state implementation of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act released Wednesday by the Education Commission of the States.

But the report also concludes that few states are on track for ensuring a qualified teacher in every classroom. Fewer than half of states, for instance, are providing high-quality help to failing schools. And many states don't have systems to collect the massive amount of data required to meet the new law's standards.

More than 20 states have asked for relief from the new law, which has become the butt of jokes on late-night television and the leading teachers' union website. Backers say it's a sign that the new law is taking hold.

"I'm glad that there is consternation with it," says Sandy Cress, senior adviser to President Bush on education and a consultant with school districts on NCLB. "It means that people are wrestling with it. Like Job wrestling with the angel, there's good at the end of it."

Teachers in Pueblo, Colo., thought they were doing a good job educating mostly poor and Hispanic kids - until they started seeing statewide test results.

"We called it 'CSAT shock,' " says school superintendent Joyce Bales of Colorado's student assessment program. "People thought they were doing a lot better than they were."

But the poor results on the 1997 program - a precursor to the NCLB Act - spurred Pueblo schools to teach, and reteach, all students until they could read.

"I fully support No Child Left Behind," says Ms. Bales, who calls her district "the most data-driven district in the state." In a recent study of Colorado schools that "beat the odds" in educating poor students, six of the 20 were in her district.

Bales and other educators across the nation don't want to give NCLB all the credit for this. Colorado and states such as Texas and North Carolina began requiring schools to test all students and report results by race, poverty level, and disability status prior to the federal requirement.

But the potential sanctions in the new law, including loss of federal funding, have become an incentive to do more.

Educators are calling this new push for achievement a new civil right for the 21st century. The battles of the latter half of the 20th century, they say, were over access to public schools - especially for minority students. The battle of the 21st century will be to make sure that all students achieve in public schools.

It's a goal that has created unlikely political partnerships. President Bush and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts worked together on the NCLB Act. Despite strong opposition from teachers unions, a key Democratic constituency, Kennedy still backs the principles of the new law - especially the mandate that all students be tested.

Meanwhile, many conservatives who once campaigned on ending a federal role in education now back the most muscular Department of Education ever, in the hope that it will lead to greater school choice.

"To many, NCLB embodies the nation's recognition of and commitment to two imperatives, one moral and the other economic; namely, that education is a civil right, and that a high-quality, high-performing education system is vital to maintaining America's competitiveness in the world economy," concludes the ECS Report to the Nation.

The report, produced by a 50-state education consortium but funded by a $2 million grant from the US Education Department, urges Washington to "not allow the nation to retreat on the promises or possibilities of NCLB."

One of the surprises of the new act has been its impact on suburban districts. Bolstered by above-average aggregate test scores, these schools had been viewed as doing a good job, until disaggregated results revealed weaknesses.

"Suburban school districts ... didn't expect to have schools on watch lists," says Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington. "[NCLB] made them realize they are accountable for all groups."

African-American parents in Lower Merion, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, were shocked to learn that 60 percent of black students score below proficient levels in a district known for its high performance.

"NCLB has uncovered data that had been previously buried in our district and other districts as well," says Linda Heller, a member of Concerned Black Parents, a new local advocacy group that is using NCLB data to lobby for more help for low-performing students. One result: Special programs this summer to build skills for children who are below proficiency.

Progress is still "frustratingly slow," she says. "But now the information is so public it's impossible to look the other way."


School-law compliance doubles

Associated Press, 7/15/04

Washington - Most states have met or are at least on the way to meeting 75 percent of the major requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, according to the nonpartisan Education Commission of the States. The level of compliance has more than doubled over the last year.

Every state and the District of Columbia, for example, have a policy to ensure that students with disabilities are included when their schools test reading, math and science.

But no state is on pace to fulfill another requirement of the law: having a measurable way to ensure that a highly qualified teacher will be in every core academic class in 2005-06.

Overall, the states are doing well in areas of testing students and measuring yearly progress, but they're struggling with requirements designed to improve the teaching corps.

"The hardest work is yet to come," said Kathy Christie, vice president of the ECS Clearinghouse, the commission's research and information arm. "The toughest thing in all of this is going to be getting better at actually raising student achievement."

The 2001 law requires expanded standardized testing, more information and choices for parents, and public reporting of progress for every demographic group so the scores of struggling students aren't masked by school averages. Schools that get federal poverty aid but don't make enough yearly progress get help but also face mounting sanctions.

ECS, a Denver-based group that advises state leaders, graded states on 40 elements of the law, from how well parents get information to how well struggling schools get help.

The law has become a campaign issue. President Bush made the law his first domestic priority and won overwhelming support for it but has since seen opposition grow.


Teachers say $45,771 isn't enough pay

BY BEN FELLER, AP, 7/15/04 

WASHINGTON -- Teachers were paid an average of $45,771 last year, a figure not keeping pace with educators' expenses, says a teachers union survey.

The typical teacher's salary went up 3.3 percent in 2002-03, the last year for which figures are available, according to an annual report by the American Federation of Teachers. The 1.3-million member union gets its financial data from state education departments.

The pay range varies significantly by state, accounting for differences in cost of living and the way salary packages are set up.

California paid the highest average salary, $55,693. South Dakota had the lowest, $32,414. Illinois was ninth at $51,496.

Concerns about competitive pay often are raised by business and government leaders as well as teachers. Salaries are seen as a chief reason that schools struggle to recruit and retain top educators in math, science and other fields.

For the second straight year, union leaders say, double-digit increases in health insurance expenses eroded teachers' ability to make a living. Teachers, like many workers, are being told to pay more for standard insurance, doctor's visits and prescription drugs.

Given those increases and other out-of-pocket expenses, ''compensation packages are nothing short of insulting,'' said Edward McElroy, the union's secretary-treasurer. The union is helping many districts review health expenses to reduce costs without weakening care.

The actual pay increase last year for teachers was closer to 2.5 percent, said Jewell Gould, director of research for the union.

The higher figure of 3.3 percent reflects that there were more senior teachers moving to the top of the pay scale -- driving up the average salary -- while fewer new teachers were hired during a lean economic time, he said.

New teachers were paid an average of $29,564 last year, an increase of 3.2 percent. Twenty states and the District of Columbia now pay first-time teachers more than $30,000, a sign of improvement, Gould said.

Salaries are usually based on a teacher's education and seniority.

The union also took a shot at the salaries paid to superintendents, the top officials at the school district level. The union says some superintendents make as much as four times the amount that teachers do.

Bruce Hunter, lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators, said that comparison is unfair.

Superintendents have much different duties from teachers and have longer work years, he said. Administrators' pay varies significantly, with many rural superintendents getting around $50,000 a year and big city leaders getting much more.

''Superintendents get whatever the school boards think leadership is worth,'' he said, adding: ''We all wished teachers were paid commensurate with their responsibility and value.'' AP


First lady applauds impact of No Child Left Behind law

Ability to read the 'new civil right,' she says

By DIANE LONG, Tennessean Staff Writer, 7/16/04

The nation's No Child Left Behind law got a solid endorsement from first lady Laura Bush and U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige yesterday at the national conference of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in Nashville.

In back-to-back speeches, both credited the 2001 federal education law championed by President Bush with improving education, although the law has been a flash point for educational debate.

''Through the No Child Left Behind Act, historic levels of funding have been combined with unprecedented commitment to using proven methods of instruction,'' Laura Bush said. ''We see the impact that education reform is having in our classrooms.''

Calling the ability to read the ''new civil right,'' she championed the NCLB premise that all children must be proficient in reading, math and science and must graduate from high school.

''Teaching our children to read is the most critical educational priority facing our country,'' the first lady said. ''It's unconscionable to leave any child behind, especially when we know that every child can learn.''

Paige drew on his African-American heritage to include the 10,000 minority sorority sisters in the audience.

''African-Americans have a proud history in education,'' Paige said. ''We were told by our foremothers and forefathers that education was emancipation, that education was freedom itself. Now, we need to continue to live those values.''

NCLB is the best way to close the achievement gap between white, middle-class children and those with a different ''ZIP code, income or accent,'' he said.

''This is a law that's designed to close the achievement gap,'' Paige said. ''It is a civil rights manifesto. It is a promise that no child will be ignored, and no child will be left behind. I know that you want our education program to improve as much as anyone. So we solicit your help.''


Education, health of children improve

But poverty rises, government finds

By Siobhan McDonough, Associated Press, July 16, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The family life, education and health of America's children are generally improving, though child poverty has risen for the first time in a decade, according to the government's broadest measure of children's well-being.

The report, to be released Friday by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, finds that children are doing better, for the most part. The teenage birthrate is down, young people are less likely to be involved in violent crimes and the death rate has declined.

Still, children are more likely to be overweight nowadays and child poverty has inched up after several years of decline, according to the report, which draws together findings from many federal agencies.

The teenage birthrate--steadily declining since 1991--hit a record low in 2002.

Teenagers who give birth are less likely to finish high school or to graduate from college than other girls their age, said Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health.

Also, infants born to teenage mothers are more likely to be of low birth weight, which increases their chances of blindness, deafness, mental retardation, mental illness and cerebral palsy.

In school, more children are taking advanced courses and studying a second language. At home, more parents are reading to their children.

"We know that education is key," Education Secretary Rod Paige said.

The report pointed to progress in the area of crime. Young people were less likely to be victimized in a serious violent crime--murder, rape, robbery or aggravated assault--or to commit one. In 2002, there were 11 serious violent crimes per 1,000 people age 12 to 17, down from 15 per 1,000 youths in 2001, the report said.

Child mortality declined too. In 2000, there were 18 deaths for every 100,000 children age 5 to 14; a year later, there were 17 deaths for every 100,000 children in this age group.

The infant mortality rate increased slightly. Seven of every 1,000 infants died before their first birthday in 2002, compared with a record low of 6.8 per 1,000 in 2001. Most of the increase in deaths occurred among infants younger than 28 days.

The number of overweight children increased to 16 percent between 1999 and 2000, compared with 11 percent in the early 1990s and 6 percent in the late 1970s.

That development "jeopardizes our children's future, making them vulnerable to chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension previously associated more with adults than with children," said Edward Sondik, director of the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics.

The report said Mexican-American boys were at the highest risk, with 27 percent overweight, followed by black, non-Hispanic girls at 23 percent.

The child obesity issue is a major cause for concern, Alexander said. "This is a trend that's been at work since 1980 ... and as a trend, it shows no sign of reversing."

Child poverty also grew, reaching 11.6 million in 2002, compared with 11.2 million a year earlier.

Looking just at "related children"--those related to the head of the household by birth, marriage or adoption--this rate rose from 15.8 percent in 2001 to 16.3 percent in 2002, the report said. Although this was the first significant annual increase in the poverty rate for related children since 1991, this increase followed a period of decline from a recent peak of 22 percent in 1993.

Children living with single females continued to experience a higher poverty rate in 2002 than their counterparts in married-couple families--40 percent compared with 9 percent.

In 2002, 73 million children under 18 lived in the United States, making up 25 percent of the population.


Western Schools Get Reprieve on Standards

By JULIA SILVERMAN, Associated Press Writer, 7/16/04

ADEL, Ore. -- There was a sigh of relief from Colorado to California after the Education Department announced that teachers in rural schools would have more time to meet strict federal qualifications.

But in the South, there was confusion. Although the region is home to hundreds of the country's most rural and poor areas, few schools there were granted the same reprieve.

"There are a lot of people that are very frustrated, that for reasons that are arbitrary, their schools are not qualified," said Robin Lambert, a Kentucky-based researcher for the Rural Education and Community Trust, a nonprofit that studies rural issues. "There are schools that are small, isolated and poor, but they don't qualify."

Under federal requirements, all teachers must be "highly qualified" in every subject they teach, with a bachelor's degree or state certification in the topic.

The mandates are part of No Child Left Behind law, a centerpiece of the Bush administration's education policy.

Small school districts in the rural West and Great Plains, where educators often teach several subjects to several different grades, had been struggling with the requirement until western lawmakers successfully lobbied on their behalf.

In March, it was announced that rural teachers would be allowed an extra year to prove that they met the "highly qualified" threshold, until 2007. New teachers would get three years from the date of their hire.

But outside the West and the Great Plains, far fewer schools will benefit from the changes.

That's because the federal government used criteria favoring small, self-contained districts like those in the West, instead of countywide districts like those in the South.

Collectively, that makes districts throughout the South too large to get the break extended to rural teachers, which the federal government made available only to schools that are enrolled in the Small Rural School Achievement program.

That program - which gives extra money to districts with fewer than 600 students, in communities with fewer than 2,500 people - serves about 5,000 schools, mostly in the West and the Midwest.

The upshot is that while 440 districts in Nebraska, 375 districts in Montana and 80 districts in Oregon qualified for the extra time, no districts in South Carolina or Alabama qualified. Only one district each qualified in Florida and West Virginia.

Janice Poda, who directs teacher quality for South Carolina's education department, said it came as a shock to learn that none of the schools in her state were being classified as rural.

"It has kind of become a joke," she said.

Doug Mesecar, deputy chief of staff for policy at the Education Department, said the agency set its criteria after meeting with educators in all 50 states. At those meetings, he said the changes seemed particularly pressing for districts that were extremely isolated, with big cities three or more hours away.

"It is those districts that are particularly impacted by trying to get teachers qualified in multiple subjects," he said. "If we just said flexibility was available to anyone without parameters, it would be changing things dramatically."

But in a recent interview, Ray Simon, the assistant secretary for secondary and elementary education, said the criteria were being re-examined.

And Mesecar said, "If we have requests to look at providing this flexibility for a slightly larger district, we would be open to considering that, as long as it's not flexibility for its own sake, but flexibility where it is needed."

The change has been good news for Larry Ferguson, who teaches four subjects to five different grades at the tiny Adel middle school in south-central Oregon, often staying just two pages ahead of his students.

"You've got the same kids for five years, so you can't repeat anything - you've got to come up with new stuff," Ferguson said. "It's as much an education for me as anything."


State bumps two schools in Milwaukee from choice program  

By SARAH CARR, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 14, 2004

In an unprecedented move, the state Department of Public Instruction used newly acquired powers over school choice to expel two schools from the Milwaukee voucher program this week.

Department officials sent letters to leaders of Mandella School of Science and Math and Alex's Academics of Excellence notifying them that they cannot participate in the program during the coming school year.

The decision marks what appears to be the closing chapter in the stories of two of Milwaukee's more troubled schools.

Mandella was ordered closed by a judge in February, and earlier this month, the district attorney's office charged its founder, David A. Seppeh, with stealing about $330,000 from the state.

Leaders of Alex's say they kept the school open throughout the year, even though they received no voucher payments. The choice program allows low-income parents to send their children to private schools using state tuition vouchers.

A lawyer for Seppeh did not return phone calls on Wednesday, and James Mitchell, founder of Alex's Academics, could not be reached for comment. However, during an interview earlier this month, Mitchell said he used his own money to keep the school open throughout the school year and felt persecuted by the both the DPI and the media.

"We have done everything that has been required of us at the school," Mitchell said.

DPI uses new clout

Officials at the DPI said they used new policing powers over the voucher program to crack down on Mandella and Alex's. Partly in response to the situation at the two schools, the DPI worked with others to push legislation through this winter that requires voucher schools to follow more detailed and extensive financial requirements.

The new rules also allow the DPI to end a school's participation in the program if conditions "present an imminent threat to the health and safety of pupils."

"The state superintendent has long called for increased accountability in the choice program," said DPI Spokesman Joe Donovan. "We believe taxpayers and parents should have the same kind of accountability measures that are in place for public schools."

Throughout the winter, DPI officials maintained that they could not expel Mandella and Alex's without the new accountability rules, although some voucher advocates argued that DPI officials were not as powerless as they claimed.

In the case of Mandella, the DPI cited provisions in the new rules that allow the state superintendent to expel schools that owe the state money. Mandella owes about $330,000 for checks school officials have acknowledged they should not have cashed.

In the case of Alex's, the DPI alleges that the school failed to follow certain financial reporting requirements.

Schools can appeal their expulsion in circuit court.

On Monday, state Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster also sent letters to parents of students listed on the rolls of Mandella and Alex's, advising them of their options.

About the schools

Alex's has made the news since it first opened a few years ago.

Mitchell, the founder, is a convicted rapist. He said he did not work at the school throughout the spring. The school has been investigated by the district attorney and evicted in the past. Former employees said they witnessed illegal drug use on school grounds.

In an interview two weeks ago, Mitchell said he strove to keep the school open even without the voucher money.

"We used our own money, our own savings," he said. "We pawned things, took out mortgages, stuff like that. Every day we transported these students . . . and provided them with learning materials and food."

Mitchell maintained that the school was open and accessible to outsiders, although two reporters who tried to visit in September were physically threatened.

"It is all political," Mitchell said. "We don't get into that. Our objective is to teach the children."

Mandella, which was open for a year and a half, made news in December when employees complained that they had not been paid. Over the next two months, the Journal Sentinel found that school officials sent in voucher applications for families that did not realize the school would be applying for money on their behalf. Seppeh, the principal, used proceeds from state voucher payments to buy two Mercedes cars.

When a reporter visited the school in February, teachers and formal lesson plans were both in short supply.

Seppeh has consistently maintained that he earned the Mercedes through time and money he invested in the school. When contacted about the district attorney's theft charge two weeks ago, Seppeh said: "I didn't steal. Why did they give me the money? Can you answer that?"

Advocates react

Stan Johnson, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state teachers union, said "the public should be outraged that these abuses continued for as long as they did."

"There may be other abuses," he said in a statement. "But we do not know about them because the schools are not accountable to the public."

Brother Bob Smith, the voucher advocate who was recently appointed to head the Milwaukee Archdiocese's education efforts, said while he suspects the decision to close the two schools was justified, he still questions whether the DPI should be able to do so.

"As long as (the DPI) remains silent and other people are sitting back bashing the program, it is not honest," Smith said. "I am not going to war with them, but I'm not going to turn my back on them, either."

"I do have a fight with poor people not having alternatives," he said. "Because I know what happens when there is no hope."


Teacher assault reports rise 20%  

The Phila. School District chief said stricter behavior policy caused more conflict between students and adults.

By Susan Snyder, Inquirer Staff Writer, 7/15/04

Two years after the Philadelphia School District initiated a "zero-tolerance" discipline policy, reports of assaults on teachers and administrators are up more than 20 percent, district numbers released this week show.

Educators reported more than 1,120 assaults during the 2003-04 school year, ranging from a push by a kindergartner to teachers being pummeled. About a third of the incidents were listed as nonviolent and did not result in injury or arrest.

"There have been times when teachers have had to literally cover themselves up, because they were being beaten with fists," said Richard L. Smith, an English teacher and union leader at Olney High School, which reported 23 assaults - the third highest of the district's 264 schools.

The district's crackdown on misbehavior inevitably led to more conflicts between students and adults, driving up assault rates, said Paul Vallas, district chief executive officer. Teachers also increasingly have been encouraged to report assaults, he said.

At the same time, other measures of school safety have improved, Vallas said. Assaults on students, fires, and morals offenses, such as indecent exposure and indecent assault, are all down.

And while weapons confiscated in and around schools rose about 20 percent, Vallas attributed virtually all of that increase to new hand-held metal detectors at the elementary schools and the start of weapons sweeps at middle schools.

Despite the divergent statistics, Vallas said the latest crime report shows overall that the get-tough approach started in September 2002 is working.

But others, while acknowledging improvement since Vallas took over, aren't so sure. Some say the district is too tough; others say it's not tough enough.

"The teachers that I've spoken to, many of them say there has been no change in the order in the classroom and the level of violence in school," said Harvey Rice, the state's safe-schools advocate, who helps victims of school violence in Philadelphia. "We're not at zero tolerance yet."

Rice also maintained that disruptive and violent students are not removed from schools as quickly as they should be - a charge that Vallas bristled at and sharply disputed.

Len Rieser, codirector of the Education Law Center, a Philadelphia-based advocacy group for parents and students, credited the district with developing more varied alternative programs for disruptive students but said some cases persist in which minor infractions are treated as a "serious threat to the school."

Nationally, some critics have charged that zero tolerance has led to a boom in arrests for offenses that once were dealt with by principals and parents.

Rieser said: "I hope in Philadelphia we will avoid what is a national trend to overcriminalize kids."

Vallas said that violence and unruly students were the most entrenched problem the district faces and that it is only halfway toward its goal to improve. He promised another round of stricter rules for the fall.

"We're getting at the more serious behavioral problems, but now we've got to get at that underlying environment that makes schools conducive to disruptive behavior," he said. "Rather then back off, we're going to take steps to toughen our policies even more, focusing on things such as bad language, disrespectful behavior, chronic disruptive activity, tardiness, and violations of the uniform policy."

More disciplinary schools, separate classes for young troublemakers, additional staff training, and a reorganization of how disruption is handled in schools - with just about every employee taking a role - are among changes planned.

About 2,000 parents also will be recruited to staff help desks, patrol in and out of schools, and develop stronger ties between school and home, Vallas said.

Students who report to school late might even find themselves locked out, although the district has not made a decision on the handling of chronic tardiness.

The district also plans to confiscate cell phones more aggressively, he said.

Vallas acknowledged that educators may face more assaults as they enforce the tougher rules. That worries the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

"I don't want to have my members in the position of being assaulted because someone is angry over a cell phone being confiscated," said Jerry Jordan, union vice president.

Yet the approach has merit, he said.

"The concept is good, but how do we get the buy-in? The district will need to really communicate a lot with parents and the general community about these rules," he said.

Patricia Raymond, president of the Philadelphia Home and School Council, said the new rules seemed to be clearer and could lessen discrepancies in enforcement among schools.

Nearly a third of teacher assaults were committed by the district's youngest students: kindergartners through fourth graders. Sixth, seventh and ninth graders committed the highest numbers of assaults, while assaults by high school juniors and seniors were minimal.

Only 171 of the incidents were classified by police as "aggravated assault," indicating they were more severe.

Vallas also surmised that teachers, who were under pressure to teach a new curriculum, might have reacted more to bad student behavior, yielding more reported assaults.

Jordan of the teachers' union countered: "I don't see it that way. If you get hit, you know you've been hit. It doesn't matter if you've been teaching from a new curriculum or not."

Smith, the Olney High teacher, said that in addition to teachers who were pummeled by students, some teachers had books thrown at them; others were pushed down stairs. One was squirted with a fire extinguisher.

The schools, he said, need more security officers and a larger after-hours alternative program for disruptive students so that only "the vast majority who do well in school" would attend during the regular day.

Lisa Haver, a teacher at Harding Middle School, which had 18 teacher assaults - the district's eighth highest - said some students who committed assaults remained at Harding. Two were moved into her sixth-grade class, she said.

"We haven't seen zero tolerance applied for assaults on teachers," she said.

But she also asserted that students should not be removed in every case. She cited a student who pushed her: "She was a good student, a nice girl. She was just on a downhill slide."

Pat O'Hara, a teacher and union leader at West Philadelphia High, voiced concern that a student who was accused of putting an unknown substance in a pregnant substitute teacher's drink in March was never removed from the school.

Dexter Green, the district's chief safety executive, said a district investigation did not find evidence that the student initially accused committed the offense.

O'Hara countered that a proper investigation was not done, adding that staff members he talked with were not interviewed.





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