News Clips – July 30 – August 6, 2004
Poor, minority youths narrow gap
By Tracy Dell'Angela
and Ana Beatriz Cholo, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporter
Grace Aduroja contributed to this report,
Standardized test scores
The statewide scores released Thursday reversed some small losses last year and contributed to a rise in many subjects and grades over the six years the Illinois Standard Achievement Test has been given.
Most encouraging, the results showed a marked narrowing of the achievement gap between poor and minority students and their wealthier white counterparts.
Educators celebrated numbers that suggest their hard-fought efforts to improve performance among their most vulnerable students are finally starting to pay off--especially among Latino grade-school students, most of whom are now passing reading and math tests.
"This is music
to our ears," said
State schools Supt. Robert Schiller said the results are a direct result of the federal reform, which forced schools to be accountable for the achievement of specific groups of students--black, Latino, special-education, low-income and those with limited English skills.
At least part of the gains for Latino children, however, reflect a change in testing policy that allowed about 7,600 students still struggling with English to take the adapted IMAGE test instead of the ISATs.
The news was not as good at the state's high schools, where 11th-grade test scores have stagnated in every subject since 2001 and passing rates for the Prairie State Achievement Exams remain 10 percent lower than those on elementary tests.
Schiller said he is also concerned by flat scores in social studies and a softening of the 8th-grade reading scores. He said he believes middle-school tracking, which puts struggling students in less-demanding courses, eats away at the improvements of minority children.
The final tally of schools considered to be failing under federal law will not be available until next month, after schools review their data, Schiller said. Widespread errors in last year's demographic data led to six months of confusion after 400 schools mistakenly landed on the failing list.
"Our schools are on the move ... although we have a long way to go," Schiller said. "It doesn't matter if [students] are black, Latino or low-income; our schools are making a difference in their lives."
The No Child Left Behind reforms demand better results from low-achieving students and force schools to pour more resources into educating them.
These changes may have paid off for the state's youngest Latino children, who improved over four years in every grade and in every subject on the ISATs.
For Latino 5th graders, the percentage passing math tests jumped a whopping 26 percentage points--from 41 to 67 percent meeting or exceeding standards.
Achievement gap narrows
Even as white students showed incremental improvement on that test, the gap between white and Latino children who met or exceeded standards shrank from 37 percent in 2001 to 15 percent in 2004.
In 4th-grade science, 59 percent of Latino pupils passed, up from 48 percent the year before, with the achievement gap narrowing from a 41 percent difference to 23 percent in five years.
districts with the largest populations of Latino students--from
They said the state's decision to allow students in the fourth and fifth year of bilingual programs to take IMAGE instead of the harder ISATs also boosted scores.
"All of us have been working like crazy. We did after-school programs, summer school ... a variety of interventions," she said, adding that she puts strong teachers in the testing grades. She said the relaxed rules for English learners helped level the playing field and close the achievement gap.
"The ISAT is not an appropriate test for English language learners," she said.
Shelly Leonard, a principal
at Garfield Elementary in
Seeking parental help
"We are asking parents to donate one hour a month in their children's classroom," Leonard said. "It's telling the child that the parents value what they're doing."
That kind of parental connection is rare in the high schools, where educators have been wringing their hands for years over dismal exam scores but can't seem to boost performance or narrow the achievement gap.
Schiller said stagnation isn't surprising, given the difference between the state's standards and what high school students are taught. In some schools, students can advance to 11th grade without taking algebra or geometry--yet these subjects are crucial to passing the state's math exam.
Some students skeptical
Sica said she is not a fan of the exam, and neither are the students. Motivating them to take it seriously is difficult, she said.
"The kids are invested in the ACT [college entrance exam], but the PSAE for them is like nothing," Sica said. "It doesn't do anything for their grades. It doesn't do anything for them to get into college."
State Sen. Miguel del Valle, a Chicago Democrat who has pushed schools to improve academic opportunities for minority children, welcomed the promising scores but warned that the problems facing high-poverty schools remain daunting. He said these schools still don't have enough top-notch teachers, although he has seen an improvement in how much teachers demand from their minority students.
"Expectations are higher today because of all the testing we do," he said. "It's helped create a climate where teachers go into a classroom and know that these kids can achieve."
BY ROSALIND ROSSI, Sun-Times
Almost every grade showed statewide gains this year in reading and math -- the two subjects under increased pressure due to the new federal No Child Left Behind law, new data released Thursday showed.
To a large degree, Hispanics fueled the increases, posting generally bigger gains than blacks or whites on state tests taken in April.
"We are particularly encouraged not only at how well our students are doing, but to the extent that the achievement gap . . . is narrowing,'' state Education Supt. Robert Schiller said in releasing preliminary results of the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests (ISAT) and the Prairie State Achievement Exams (PSAE).
However, Schiller said he was disappointed with paltry high school results and concerned that social science scores were down in two of three grades tested, just as state budget cutbacks are triggering the discontinuation of next year's state social science and writing tests.
"I just hope that schools will put an emphasis on an area that is not showing growth,'' Schiller said. But, he cautioned, "The reality is, in tough fiscal times, what you measure is what you get.''
The increased pressure of the No Child Left Behind law, Schiller theorized, was a "contributing factor'' to this year's gains, along with a statewide call for schools to match their curriculum to the learning standards that are tested on ISAT elementary-grade tests and PSAE high school ones.
For the last two years under the federal law, schools have faced sanctions if their reading and math scores didn't hit a certain level both schoolwide and among a subgroups of students, ranging from blacks and Hispanics to special education and low-income ones.
showed that across
But generally, the trend was sweeping upward from last year among all races. Some Hispanic gains were huge, such as a jump of 11.7 percentage points in fifth-grade math and of 10.7 points in fourth-grade science.
Statewide, among 18 tests taken, the only downturn was in 11th-grade math, which dipped fractionally, and in fourth- and seventh-grade social science.
"I can't remember a year when there's been so many gains,'' said Barbara Radner, director of DePaul University's Center for Urban Education and member of a state No Child Left Behind task force. "The only place where we seem to be slipping is social studies, and they are dumping [tests in] it."
"No Child Left Behind tells schools to do a better job or we'll shut you down,'' said Radner, who has been an NCLB critic. "They got the message.''
However, John Easton, co-director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, was less ready to credit the federal law.
He noted that state
math scores have been going up steadily for years, long before NCLB.
And, he said, in
"I don't think the spotlight of No Child Left Behind is meaningless, but I would be much less willing to attribute one year of improvements to a law where there is no reason to believe there's a direct cause for improvements,'' Easton said.
Chicago Public Schools
CEO Arne Duncan said
"The fact that
the state is up and the achievement gap is closing is music to my ears,''
But statewide, the achievement gap was still a reality, with only 39 percent of African-American students passing state tests in the critical subject of third-grade reading, compared with 46 percent of low-income students, 56 percent of Hispanic ones and 77 percent of whites.
Taking the long view, over the last four to six years, Schiller said he was concerned that high school scores were mostly flat and that the pace of growth in some middle-grade subjects was "soft.'' In middle grades, Schiller said, more schools may be allowing students to choose watered-down versions of some classes, and some kids who are routed into lower-level skill groups may not face enough rigor.
In other news, the state board released final data on more than 800 schools that asked for verification of whether they met adequate yearly progress under the federal law last year. A total of 1,239 schools failed to do so, or 32.4 percent, down from the 1,688, or 43 percent, originally estimated in November. In most cases, schools' coding errors involving subgroups of students had led to initially inaccurate school counts that took $300,000 and six months to straighten out, officials said.
By CARRIE WATTERS, Rockford Register Star, 7/30/04
ROCKFORD -- Illinois students are performing better on state tests, including minorities who are narrowing the gap between them and their white peers, according to 2004 results released Thursday by the State Board of Education.
The reality is, Illinois school personnel will have to take a deep breath and work harder to meet or keep meeting goals set under the No Child Left Behind Act. The federal law forces schools to improve or face sanctions.
By 2014, 100 percent of students are expected to meet the expectations outlined by individual states.
Districts are judged on overall performance and the performance of such individual groups as Hispanic, black and low-income students.
Individual results were sent to districts this week. Local officials have until Aug. 21 to protest any errors. In coming weeks, the state will announce which schools did not make adequate progress in 2004. If a school fails to improve over three consecutive years, it must offer students the option to transfer to a better school.
A district's full report details are shared on report cards issued in the fall.
Belvidere Superintendent Don Schlomann got his first look at his district's results on Wednesday. Belvidere followed the statewide trend of improvement and outpaced statewide results in eighth-grade reading and math.
Schlomann hasn't yet reviewed minority-student performance but said he expects improvement. He said the district has tweaked programs for Hispanic students and, in general, everyone is more aware of the glaring gap. "It's just like everything else. You pay attention to what you measure."
The growing district in Boone County has a 20 percent Hispanic population.
Schlomann said the district has moved away from focusing just on language skills for non-English speakers to a bilingual approach that teaches language in English and content in Spanish.
Statewide, math and reading scores increased for black students, but the biggest jump was among Hispanic students.
"All students can learn at significantly higher levels," state Superintendent Robert Schiller said in a teleconference. "It makes no difference whether they're Latino, white, black or low-income. Our schools are making a difference in their lives dramatically."
The gap between fifth-grade Hispanic and white students narrowed by 10.5 percent in math and nearly 10 percent in reading.
That translates to fewer than six in 10 Hispanic fifth-graders meeting math standards, compared with seven in 10 white fifth-graders.
In reading, fewer than four in 10 Hispanic fifth-graders meet reading standards, compared with six in 10 white fifth-graders.
The gap between black and white students remains strong despite progress this year. Black students narrowed the gap between them and their white peers by 4 percent in third-grade math.
Still, that translates to black third-graders performing half as well as their white counterparts. Four in 10 black students meet third-grade math standards, compared with nearly eight in 10 white students.
Rockford Superintendent Dennis Thompson said that gap would be even more stark if test data separated black females from black males. Thompson said the alarming lag in black males' performance is a top concern.
Thompson and Schlomann say local schools must be sure their curriculum is in line with what the state expects students to know on standardized tests each spring.
Teachers in Belvidere spent much of the past school year looking at what topics are taught and when. "You don't want students taking the test and then teaching something they needed to know the next month," Schlomann said.
Thompson has repeatedly talked in recent weeks of Rockford's "curriculum problem." He says state standards are vague and Rockford teachers are uncertain where to focus.
Martha Hayes, chief instructional officer, has created specific curriculum goals for math, science and reading. Hayes will present a full report on the district's curriculum to the board Aug. 10.
Teachers will be told what to teach, and they decide how to convey the information, Thompson said. Clear expectations of what to teach is how students do better on state tests.
A glitch in Rockford because of an agreement with the teachers union is that administrators cannot require teachers to refer to state standards on their lesson plans unless a committee of teachers agrees. That leaves administrators few tools for ensuring that standards make it into the classroom.
Around the state, Schiller said, districts are "on the move."
Districts will need to be ready for the climb ahead. Schools must have 40 percent of their students pass reading and math standards to make adequate progress and avoid sanctions.
No Child Left Behind is a catalyst for that mark to climb steeply to be at the 100 percent passage mark in 2014.
Next year, 47.5 percent of students must pass the state tests for schools to avoid sanctions.
That leaps to 77.5 percent in 2010.
Daily Southtown Editorial, July 30, 2004
As part of the long-delayed state budget agreement, the General Assembly persuaded Gov. Rod Blagojevich to retain partial funding for the prestigious Golden Apple scholarship program.
Blagojevich had proposed scrapping the entire program in order to save about $4 million next year. The governor wanted to end the program immediately, which would have eliminated the $5,000 annual scholarships for about 400 college students.
In the final budget plan, the lawmakers and the governor agreed to cut funding for the Golden Apple program from $3.8 million to $2.9 million.
Meanwhile, Blagojevich signed into law last week a bill creating the "Grow Your Own Teacher Act," which is supposed to accomplish some of the same goals as the Golden Apple program. Both are aimed at training new teachers who are committed to working in schools where most students are from low-income families or score below average on standardized tests. The Golden Apple scholars are required to make a five-year commitment to teach at such a school. The new program is designed to train teacher aides or community residents to teach at schools where they currently work or volunteer their time.
One of the biggest problems at poorly performing schools is keeping teachers after they get some experience. The Golden Apple program was designed specifically to address that problem.
As we've said before, we found it peculiar that the governor wanted to eliminate a program that had a good and improving record. Over the past seven years, 94 percent of the Golden Apple scholars had completed their degrees, and 89 percent of them stayed in teaching for at least five years.
We're glad to hear that most of the funding for the program will be retained, but we think the Golden Apple scholarships are money well invested. Expanding the program would have made better public-policy sense.
States roll back licensing rules
Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune
A landmark federal law designed to raise standards for teachers may be having the opposite effect, as Illinois and at least a dozen other states have rolled back teacher licensing requirements.
A little-noticed Illinois law, signed this summer, eliminated mandatory exams for most out-of-state teachers coming here and weakened requirements for novice teachers trying to upgrade their licenses.
At least a half-dozen other states have relaxed rules for out-of-state teachers in the last year. Since 2002 Virginia, Maryland and New Hampshire have made it easier for teachers to pass a basic-skills test. Pennsylvania gave up on requiring a new test for middle school teachers when too many of them flunked.
Education officials say they are simply reducing red tape and addressing teacher shortages. In some states, including Illinois, officials insist standards have not been lowered, despite the reduced requirements.
But as pressure bears down from the federal government to put a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom--a mandate of the landmark No Child Left Behind reforms--the relaxed rules are making it easier for states to meet the letter of the law, if not always the spirit.
Along with the better known provisions of No Child Left Behind related to testing and student choice, the federal legislation requires all English, math, science and other core academic teachers to be "highly qualified" by spring 2006.
But the law left it up to states to set the standards for who is highly qualified, using their own certification processes.
"I think what we're seeing is the fallout of No Child Left Behind, where the pressure is on to have a highly qualified teacher," said Roy Einreinhofer, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification. "Right now it is a matter of getting a warm body that has passed every standard into the classroom."
The federal law says that teachers must hold a bachelor's degree from a four-year institution, be fully certified and demonstrate competency in subject areas through rigorous testing or extensive college work.
By that standard, schools have a long way to go. A rough estimate by the U.S. Department of Education last year showed only 54 percent of the nation's middle and high school teachers were highly qualified during the 1999-2000 school year, the last for which nationwide data were available.
The Illinois State Board of Education last year determined that 76 percent of teachers in Illinois were highly qualified. That success was amplified by the fact that Illinois had created some of the more stringent requirements for teacher certification in recent years.
Illinois' standards high
In 2001 the state raised standards on its basic-skills test, requiring teachers to achieve a college-sophomore level composite score to pass the test. Most basic-skills tests in other states are at the 10th- or 11th-grade level.
Because Illinois has higher standards, it required out-of-state teachers to take the basic-skills test here, even if they had passed tests in their state.
But the law that took effect July 1 eliminates the basic-skills test requirement for the vast majority of out-of-state teachers, as well as a subject-area testing requirement.
The change was nestled inside a bill described as "teacher insurance legislation" when Gov. Rod Blagojevich quietly signed it at the end of June.
Also included in the bill were other changes to teacher certification programs that were quietly negotiated this spring by state schools Supt. Robert Schiller, key lawmakers, the state's teacher unions and several other groups.
The new law eases the requirements new teachers must complete by their fourth year. One of the options for a "standard certificate" was attaining a master's degree; now a teacher can meet that requirement with 12 semester-hours of graduate study. Another option, taking part in a two-year mentoring program, was replaced with one year of mentoring by a veteran teacher, at least until 2007.
Schiller acknowledged that a two-year mentoring program would be better, but districts can't afford it.
"The state has not ponied up any money for the mentoring and that's the reality," he said.
Overall, however, Schiller said he did not consider the new law a lowering of standards.
Pennsylvania is another state struggling to find the right balance between establishing high standards and getting enough teachers certified.
Pennsylvania had been praised by the federal government for raising standards for college-level teacher training in 1999. And in 2002, state officials adopted the federal call for rigorous testing, requiring most middle school teachers to demonstrate expertise in their subject areas. But after many teachers failed, including about half of Philadelphia's 7th- and 8th-grade teachers, state education officials designed a program that will allow teachers to be considered highly qualified this fall without taking a test.
That made the teachers happy, said Kevin Corcoran, who oversees certification for the Pennsylvania Education Department.
"They've been teaching for so long that they feel that it's sort of an insult to require them to take a test," he said.
Still, Philadelphia officials under former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas say they want teachers to continue taking the test "because folks are now thinking this is watering down the requirements," said Tomas Hanna, the city's chief teacher recruiter.
Similarly, federal officials applauded Virginia for setting the highest standard in the country for passing the required Praxis basic-skills tests in reading, writing and math.
But now the state is considering lowering the passing score for those tests, in part because of teacher complaints, said Thomas Elliott, who oversees Virginia teacher licensing.
Since April 2002, Virginia has allowed teachers to pass the tests with a "composite" score across all three exams rather than requiring a passing score for each test. The scoring method can be the difference between passing and flunking for teachers who are weak in a particular subject.
Maryland started using the composite method in July 2002. New Hampshire, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, West Virginia and Missouri reduced the requirements for teachers moving from out of state. And while changes in Illinois teacher certification went almost unnoticed, North Carolina's decision in January to eliminate subject-area testing for many out-of-state teachers sparked public controversy.
A top federal education official was reluctant to judge the changes states are making.
The state actions "might be a way to make the standards more fair," said Ray Simon, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education. "We don't want standards lowered, but we do want fair standards and we want the best teacher in front of every child in the United States."
Risk of lowering bar
But a 2002 report by the U.S. Department of Education warned, "There is a risk, though, that states could meet the letter of the No Child Left Behind Act and keep their academic standards for future teachers quite low."
"Some might even be tempted to lower the academic bar (if that is possible) out of fear of impending teacher shortages," the report continued. "This would be an enormous mistake, with disastrous consequences for children."
Some state certification officials say No Child Left Behind is partly to blame for weakened standards because its requirements are not always as strict as state rules.
For example, West Virginia officials are reconsidering a requirement that reading teachers working mostly with poor children attain a master's degree. The federal law would allow those teachers to be called highly qualified with a bachelor's degree, and lawmakers are loath to impose any additional requirements that would cost the state extra money.
No Child Left Behind also encourages alternate routes to licensing that allow professionals with special expertise -- such as chemists or physicists -- to move into the classroom.
But a new online certification program paid for in part by the U.S. Department of Education has alarmed some educators.
The American Board for Certification Excellence in Washington gives "Passport to Teaching" certification to candidates who pay $500, pass the computer exam, hold a bachelor's degree and pass a criminal background check.
The program would circumvent requirements for teacher training and classroom experience and is designed for nationwide recognition without regard to states' individual requirements.
"That's considered, among people in our profession, pretty shaky," said Mike Lucas, director of educator preparation at the Missouri Department of Education.
Officials in Pennsylvania, Idaho and Florida have approved use of the computer exam, and New Hampshire education officials voted in June to accept it as well.
Randy Thompson, a former Idaho education official who recently joined the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence as a vice president, said the group's testing is rigorous. He said criticism of the program is coming from "existing groups who have a vested interest in the certification process they control."
Illinois state politicians have, once again, proven that there is no link between a campaign promise and a legislative vote.
We say that because we seriously doubt any politician ever conducted an anti-education campaign.
So, assuming that our elected officials are strong supporters of kids and schools, we have to wonder why they would cut state writing and social studies exams.
As part of the $45.5 billion state budget approved last weekend, legislators agreed to save $6.3 million by cutting the two state tests.
That, then, means Illinois students will only be tested in reading, math and science. Those are the only subjects mandated by President Bush's No Child Left Behind program.
We've gone on record before as saying we believe too much attention is paid to standardized tests and their scores.
Politicians, in their effort to be supporters of education, have demanded accountability. And that means test scores.
A pretty sharp focus is placed not only on the subjects students will be tested on, but on preparing those students for the tests themselves.
We know, already, that grammar isn't emphasized the way it once was. Why? It's not part of a standardized test.
Sure, we could kid ourselves and say our schools will still offer the same amount of instruction in reading and social studies as they have in the past, but we know that's not likely to happen.
We have to agree with Urbana principal Becky McCabe who said the emphasis on writing and social studies will wane.
"I hate to say this, but you treasure what you measure," McCabe told the Associated Press.
Remember, politicians want accountability and that means test scores.
In a perfect world, a basic, yet broad, curriculum would be taught and we would judge our schools not on standardized test scores but on what their students are doing five years after graduation.
We can't have our way and the schools, unfortunately, don't have the money to have theirs.
Property taxes only foot so much of the bill and then we become dependent on the state.
Some of us were lucky. We were taught the Three Rs -- reading, 'riting and 'rithmatic.
With last weekend's budget cut, students will eventually be limited to just two.
Zhanda Malone, Edwardsville Intelligencer, 8/02/2004
The Illinois State Board of Education unveiled a new area of its Web site Thursday, providing parents and educators a place to review their school's updated school status.
The new Web site addition follows a six-month data verification process of 2003 State Assessment data.
More than 800 schools applied for verification, and of that amount 720 schools did make changes. In the end, 448 schools saw their Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) status change for the better. The verification process also decreased initial estimates of 1,688 schools failing to make AYP in 2003 to 1,239.
"This was an arduous process," State Superintendent of Education Robert Schiller said. "Last year, we saw the stakes raised because the No Child Left Behind Act required that schools make Adequate Yearly Progress in each student subgroup. Unfortunately, many of the numbers didn't add up and the ramifications could have continued for years to come if the schools didn't check that their data reflected all of their students being both tested and correctly represented."
The process began in January and ended this last month, when the Illinois State Board of Education sent schools their final AYP status and revised the AYP page from their report card. ISBE held off on releasing the Web site, until all affected schools had time to review their revised AYP information.
Several of those schools have contacted the ISBE wanting to make addition corrections to the 2003 assessment information, but the information is now final. Schools that did participate in the data verification process signed assurances that the information was accurate, and that no further revisions would be permitted. Updated Report Cards for the 720 schools will not be available until the 2003 Report cards are completed this fall. The process to date has cost $300,000.
"I think it's fair to say that there have been growing pains along the way," Schiller said. "But with high standards under NCLB there is greater accountability and we have to make sure that the information that schools submit is correct."
The Illinois State Board of Eduction conducted workshops statewide to ensure that all schools file assessment information properly. In 2003, many schools did not have their enrollment information match their test participation data and consequently say their AYP status was negatively affected.
"We are currently working with districts as they continue to review their 2004 assessment information, and will do what we can to make sure that this does not happen again next year."
Rockford Register Star Editorial, 8/3/04
There's an old saying about character being doing the right thing when nobody's looking.
Well, starting next year nobody will be looking over the shoulders of Illinois' public school districts to make sure that they are doing the right thing in teaching writing and social studies.
The Illinois State Board of Education will no longer test children in those areas because of budget constraints. The state will continue to test kids and rate districts based on performance in math, reading and science. Testing in those three areas is required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Considering the punitive measures that are built into the federal law for districts that don't perform, it's easy to see why the state pulled the plug on testing in the other subjects.
There will be a natural temptation for local districts to concentrate their efforts on the tested subjects to boost those scores.
We hope they don't. Writing and the ability to communicate are essential to success in any field young people choose to enter. So is an understanding of the world and our place in it. Imagine a curriculum without history, government, economics, geography, cultures, current events, holidays, religions, languages, archaeology. It is impossible to imagine a curriculum that does not teach children how to put their thoughts together in a coherent, meaningful way.
Of course, districts will continue to teach writing and social studies because standards are built into state and local curriculum. These subjects won't go out the window, but let us not lower the bar.
Districts need to keep pushing for better student performance in writing and social studies, just as they will in the measured areas.
Meanwhile, efforts to improve student performance seem to be working statewide. According to test results the state board released Thursday, scores are up and minority students are narrowing the gap between themselves and white students.
No local scores have been released yet, but we hope the statewide gains are mirrored in the Rock River Valley.
The state results this year showed gains in writing and a slight decrease in social studies scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. Next year, nobody will be looking.
By Diane Rado, Tribune staff reporter, August 4, 2004
For the first time since the early 1900s, Illinois has extended the number of years students must attend school--to age 17 instead of 16--as part of a package of new laws aimed at reducing dropout rates, particularly for minority students.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the new compulsory-school-attendance law and other dropout-prevention legislation Tuesday, including new truancy-enforcement measures and a better system to track students who drop out.
"The dropout rate in Illinois is alarming," the governor said in a written statement. "By signing these new laws, we will hold schools more accountable to their struggling students, hopefully leading to more students staying in school."
A 2003 analysis of state data showed that more than 25 percent of black male students dropped out of Chicago public high schools in 2001-2002, and the city's overall dropout rate was 17.6 percent.
Critics say the problem had been exacerbated by state law, which allowed high schools to "disenroll" students age 16 or older if they had dropped out and couldn't be expected to graduate by their 21st birthday. The new law, effective Jan. 1, prohibits that practice until the student is at least 17.
"No school will be able to turn away a kid, because he's legally required to be there," said William Leavy, executive director of the Greater West Town Community Development Project, a non-profit group that did the 2003 dropout analysis.
Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, sponsored the compulsory-school legislation and other dropout-prevention measures.
"I think that for too long, it has been just too easy for schools to say to students who had attendance problems or were doing poorly academically or fell behind in their freshman year ..., `You're 16 now, you can always go do something else,'" del Valle said Tuesday.
Under the new law, a student will have to stay in school until at least 17, even if it's an alternative program rather than a traditional classroom. The law outlines acceptable alternatives, called "graduation incentives," such as job training or adult-education courses.
"What this law says is that you cannot give up on these students. They have to be in some kind of program," del Valle said.
Changing the compulsory attendance age to 17 is significant in itself, state education officials said, because Illinois law has allowed students to drop out at 16 since at least 1923, and possibly earlier. The compulsory age was increased to 16 sometime between 1906 and 1923.
State Schools Supt. Robert Schiller said it was time for a change. "What's good for the early 20th Century is not what's good for the 21st Century," he said. Illinois should even consider changing the required starting age for school, which is currently 7, he said.
Twenty-eight states or jurisdictions still allow students to drop out at 16. Nine allow it at 17, and another 17 states have made it 18, according to the Education Commission of the States, which tracks education policy issues across the country. The group's figures include the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.
Under the new Illinois laws, state education officials will be required to set up a more accurate system of tracking students and calculating dropout rates. For example, to ensure that students who transfer between schools are not counted as dropouts, a process will be set up for the students' new school or district to notify the previous school of the transfer.
The new laws also require chronically truant students to do 20 to 40 hours of community service, following a hearing and several notices to the student's parent or guardian. Under truancy laws in effect, whoever has custody or control over a student is responsible for ensuring he or she is in school, and in the worst cases they can be prosecuted for not complying with the law.
Another measure signed into law Tuesday requires most high-school students to take the state's Prairie State Achievement Examination in order to receive their diplomas. The test for juniors includes the ACT college entrance exam.
The Tribune reported late last year that some schools have been restricting some low-performing students from taking the test--an effort, critics said, to boost school test scores. The new law does not require students to pass the test, only to take it.
Pantagraph Editorial, 8/4/04
We often hear school board members complaining about states demanding things of them without providing the money.
But seldom do we hear about the growing unfunded mandate many school districts are placing on taxpayers.
The issue involves up to 20 percent increases many districts, including those in Bloomington-Normal, are giving their teachers in their final year of teaching. The pay increase comes from the districts' pockets. But a one-year, 20 percent increase for a teacher with at least 10 years of service results in approximately a 5 percent increase in that teacher's pension for life, a cost shared by all taxpayers.
As a result, John Bauman, executive director of the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System, said the state's portion of teachers' pension funding has been growing in recent years. "The cost has been greater than we expected. We'll be watching it."
Bauman said the final-year boosts are fairly recent developments. He said they began in the northern part of the state for school superintendents. The trend flowed south through the state for administrators and then began anew in the north with teachers in large school districts . "Now it's migrating south again," said Bauman. "I can't say it is everywhere, but we're seeing it more and more in smaller districts."
Bauman said the final-year boosts are now creeping into teacher contracts.
Teachers pay 9 percent of their salaries into the TRS. State taxes are supposed to match that amount. However, the state's share was about 13 percent in fiscal year 2003 and would have been close to 15 percent this fiscal year if not for extra income from the state's $10 billion, 30-year pension bond issue. Even with money from that bond issue, the state's share of teachers' pensions was 11.76 percent, Bauman said.
Teacher pensions are based on the highest four years of their final 10 years. Therefore, a 20 percent boost the final year means about a 5 percent annual pension increase for a lifetime.
The average pension for the 64,700 teachers on retirement at the end of fiscal year 2003 was $32,000 a year. For teachers who retired during fiscal year 2003, the average pension was $42,000, according to Bauman. Teachers do not receive Social Security pensions from their teaching jobs.
There are two reasons school boards usually cite for giving the final-year bonuses: 1. As an incentive to teachers near retirement to go ahead and retire, which often means the school districts wind up not replacing the teacher or hiring a new teacher for much less money. 2. To correct past under-compensation.
The reasoning is hard to argue, but local generosity should not cost taxpayers throughout the state.
What the school boards are doing is passing future liabilities off on the Teachers Retirement System, which has to be subsidized by state taxes.
If legislators don't want to interfere with local boards' generosity to their administrators and teachers, the least lawmakers should do is amend the law to say such bonuses will not count toward pensions.
Sara Loeb, Winchester Sun
It's not a lot more money, but north suburban school districts will see a slight hike in state funding during the 2004-05 fiscal year.
Most local school districts receive less than 5 percent of their total revenue from state aid.
But administrators said they're grateful Illinois legislators provided more money to fund grants for state-mandated special education programs, as well as bilingual and transportation programs.
"We had expected to get hit some, so it was a pleasant surprise to have the paperwork come out and show we had an increase," said Tim Metling, business manager for Northbrook's School District 28.
Metling's district saw an increase of about $57,000 in state funding, bringing total state aid to just over $1 million for the 2004-05 fiscal year. That's about 2 percent of the district's $27.1 million budget.
Extra money split
The $43 billion Illinois state budget approved July 24 increases education funding by $389 million. That's more than many school district officials expected but less than the $610 million increase proposed in February by Robert Schiller, Illinois superintendent of education.
Schiller also recommended that the General Assembly restore $19 million for gifted education grants, but no money is in the budget for those programs.
After wrangling for nearly two months beyond their constitutional deadline, lawmakers settled on a $237 million increase in general state aid, hiking per-pupil spending by $154, according to estimates by the Illinois State Board of Education.
The bulk of the new money will go to reimburse districts for state-required programs at an average of 96.6 percent of total costs for special education staff and private tuition, as well as general transportation and vocational programs.
State grants for early childhood education will receive an additional $29.6 million in funding for the 2004-05 fiscal year.
But funding for reading improvement programs will drop by about $3.1 million statewide, while technology subsidies are expected to fall by $5.7 million.
And no grants will be made for programs for gifted students.
The per-pupil spending increase doesn't necessarily translate to more money for students in school districts with relatively high property values. General state aid is allocated on a sliding scale, based on a district's enrollment, total equalized assessed valuation and percentage of low-income students.
State aid falls
Some local districts will actually see their general state aid drop slightly for the coming fiscal year. But "hold harmless" funds from the state will bridge the gap to keep districts from actually receiving less money than they did the previous year, said Karen Craven, Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman.
During budget negotiations, Northbrook/Glenview School District 30 Superintendent Harry Rossi appeared at two press conferences with his urban and rural peers to urge legislators to divide the overall funding increase for education between general aid and grants, so affluent as well as less well-heeled districts would stand to benefit.
"The best news that came out of it for suburban schools is that all of the money didn't go into general state aid," Rossi said Tuesday. "We would have hoped to have gotten more, but all in all, given the very, very contentious environment under which this (budget negotiations) took place, we came out as well as we could have."
Rossi credited local legislators -- including Illinois State Reps. Elaine Nekritz, D-57th, of Northbrook and Beth Coulson, R-17th, of Glenview, and state Sen. Susan Garrett, D-29th, of Lake Forest, for urging that some grants be funded, even though Gov. Rod Blagojevich was pushing to dedicate all new money for education to state aid.
Rossi's district is expecting to receive $24,411 more in grant money than it did during the 2003-04 fiscal year.
Several administrators said their main concern was that the state continue funding grants for programs with increasing costs.
"As long as it stays where it is, and doesn't get any worse, we're satisfied," said Craig Schilling, assistant superintendent for business affairs in Glenbrook High School District 225.
Schilling noted that while his district will receive $282,579 more in total state funds, including $166,587 in additional grant money, the district's costs are also on the rise. Special education expenses, for example, are expected to increase by about 9 percent over what was budgeted for the 2003-04 fiscal year.
Teachers chart course for holistic charter school
Virginia Gerst, Chicago Tribune
A year before Mayor Richard Daley announced his Renaissance 2010 plan to improve Chicago's educational system, two young teachers, Allison Slade and Katie Graves, were hammering out details of their own program to boost academic achievement.
Slade, 28, and Graves, 30, are the founders of Namaste, a charter school that takes a holistic approach to education by focusing on physical exercise and diet along with the ABCs. It opens Aug. 30 at 3540 S. Hermitage Ave. in Chicago's McKinley Park neighborhood.
"It's been amazing to watch them," says Brian Hays, an associate attorney at Lord, Bissell and Brook and president of the Namaste board. "They've taken an idea they talked about sitting around in a coffee shop and turned it into professional organization."
In just three months, Slade and Graves formulated a detailed plan for their school, recruited a board of directors, nailed down a location, prepared a proposal, and made a presentation to the Chicago Board of Education's seven-member evaluation team.
They so impressed the group that Namaste (pronounced na-ma-STAY) was one of only two schools--out of 25 applicants--granted charters for 2004-2005. (The Chicago Mathematics and Science Academy Charter School was the other.)
Charter schools are independent public schools organized by outside organizations but monitored by the school district in which they are chartered. They must comply with the same state-mandated regulations as traditional public schools and their students take the same standardized tests, but charter schools have the flexibility to emphasize specific areas of learning and to offer alternative scheduling of the school day and year. Tuition is free.
"We were up against some very organized groups: large non-profit organizations, existing schools--people that had a real infrastructure and multimillion-dollar endowments," Slade said during breakfast recently at a Lincoln Park coffee shop.
Slade is a Northbrook native and graduate of Glenbrook North High School and Washington University in St. Louis. Graves grew up in Mt. Prospect and is an alumna of Prospect High School and Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.
They met in 1993 in Houston, where they were volunteers in Teach for America, an organization that recruits recent college graduates to work in disadvantaged school systems. They reconnected in Chicago after both finished their two-year stints.
"Katie recruited me for her volleyball team," recalled Slade, who was studying for a master's degree in education policy at the University of Chicago as a McCormick Tribune Fellow and working full time for the university's Center for School Improvement (now the Center for Urban School Improvement).
"We would have dinner together with other teacher friends and the topic of conversation most frequently would come back to what was missing from our schools," said Graves, a 1st-grade teacher at Fairview Elementary School in Mt. Prospect at the time. "Being young, excited, and committed to kids and education, we thought we could bring together some better ideas and programs to make a difference."
Slade, Graves and C. Allison Jack, another Teach for America veteran who has since joined the Namaste board, met at the end of June 2003 in the kitchen of Jack's North Side apartment to put their ideas in writing. They drafted a proposal outlining their mission in a single night.
Health, fitness and nutrition
Based on their classroom experience, and drawing on research that shows that healthy, active students perform better, they agreed that many of the problems in the Chicago Public Schools are rooted in sugar-loaded diets and a lack of physical exercise during the school day.
Their dream school integrated health, physical fitness, and nutrition into a rigorous academic curriculum and called for on-going teacher training and strong parental involvement. They called it Namaste, a Hindi greeting that translates into "my inner light salutes your inner light."
Slade, who described herself as "decisive, quick-thinking and determined to move ahead despite obstacles," would be Namaste's principal and director of instruction. Graves, ("a processor" who "takes time to look at a situation and evaluate it from different angles," said Slade), was named director of operations, in charge of scheduling, materials, and purchasing.
The proposal was easy. The charter school application was not. It contained a daunting 69 questions. "You have to articulate literally everything you have in place, and are going to have in place," Slade said. "It was overwhelming."
It also was due back at the Board of Education by Oct. 10.
Realizing they needed help, the women spent July and August recruiting a board of directors. They called friends. They called friends of friends. "Everyone you meet has a connection you can use," Slade said.
"We looked for different skill sets," she explained. "We had a core of educators, but we also needed people in the law, finance, real estate, public relations, and fundraising."
Few rejected their requests for help.
"The passion that they have for educating children comes across and garners confidence with both potential board members and funders," said board president Hays, another Teach for America veteran who first worked with Slade and Graves coordinating training seminars for Teach for America recruits in Chicago. "I knew their school would be great, and I wanted to be involved."
The group met Saturday mornings in members' homes to refine the curriculum, set policies, and discuss challenges such as finding a rental site for their school. "People who own buildings are skeptical of people with no [business] background," Slade said.
Slade, at home in Chicago, and Graves, in Massachusetts completing her master's degree in school leadership at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, spoke by telephone for two hours every Sunday night.
One minute under deadline
They decided that the coeducational school would open initially with two kindergarten and two 1st-grade classes, and add kindergartens each year until Namaste reaches its desired K through 8 configuration. Breakfast and lunch would be served, and the school day would last for 6 1/2 hours to provide time for physical activity. Because studies show that students tend to lose knowledge over the summer months, Namaste would run year-round, with one month off in every three. Cultural enrichment programs would be offered during vacations.
The document was due at 5 p.m. They turned in their 350-page proposal at 4:59 p.m.
Two months and two public hearings later, Namaste had its charter.
"They had clear plans and a depth of detail," says Kathleen Clarke, accountability coordinator for Chicago Public Schools Charter Schools Office and a member of the evaluation team that said yes to Namaste and no to groups from the YMCA, the Boys Choir of Harlem, and the Little Black Pearl Workshop, among others. "And they were just a great group, very engaged, very articulate and very inspiring as well."
With Graves in Cambridge until mid-June to complete her master's degree, Slade took on the task of recruiting students to fill the classrooms. She attended neighborhood meetings, posted notices on the library bulletin boards, and approached parents in playgrounds.
"She literally stood on street corners to recruit kids," said Cathy Calhoun, a member of the Namaste board of directors and president of Weber Shandwick Chicago, a public relations agency.
Slade's efforts paid off. By the end of June, all 90 places in the two kindergarten and two 1st-grade classes were filled.
Graves and Slade are now at work raising money. To supplement funds the school receives from the Chicago Public Schools system and the State of Illinois, Namaste must come up with $200,000 by April 1 to meet its $902,000 budget. They also are busy hiring a staff, which will include five classroom teachers and a full-time physical education instructor/social worker, and supervising architects to ensure that renovations to the former Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic School will be completed on time.
They have come a long way since that initial kitchen planning session in June 2003.
"Anything is possible," Slade said. "If you are completely dedicated to something, you can make it work and you will find amazing support.
"We still have a ton of roadblocks, but we have kids, we have teachers, we have a building, and we have families who are interested. We're going to have a school."
BY KATE N. GROSSMAN, Sun-Times Education Reporter, August 6, 2004
For the first time, Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan and volunteers will go door-to-door in areas with low attendance rates to urge parents to get their kids to school for the first day of class, Duncan announced Thursday.
At a time when CPS is contemplating more budget cuts or layoffs on top of 1,600 already announced, Duncan's annual back-to-school campaign is as much about money as it as about getting the year off to a good start.
Each 1 percent attendance increase brings in $20 million more in state money.
"There are few budget areas where we can control our fate -- and this is one of them," Duncan said at an event at Pilsen's Perez School. "We can't afford to leave that money on the table."
CPS officials are still working on this year's budget -- it was delayed because the state was late in passing its budget. They hope to vote on it at a board meeting Aug. 25.
The attendance rate isn't tied to the first day of school, it's the average of the district's best three months. But those months are usually September, October and November, Duncan said. School starts Sept. 7.
This year's campaign will include block parties and festivals across the city and a Get in Shape for School health expo Saturday at Navy Pier where students can get free shots, physicals, dental, vision and hearing screenings.
There also will be tours of three new schools and a Rock for Reading festival, sponsored by the Chicago Sun-Times. Religious leaders have already been asked to urge their congregants to get their children back to school.
NBA stars Antoine Walker and Shawn Marion and the Chicago Fire's Orlando Perez are featured in public service announcements.
First-day attendance rates have been on the rise the last four years, with an all-time high of 89 percent last year.
The uptick started in 2001, the year CPS switched back to a post-Labor Day opening. In 2000, only 76 percent of students showed up.
INDIANAPOLIS — Low-carb diets such as Atkins and South Beach are changing the contents of grocery stores and the orders at fast-food restaurants.
But in school lunch lines — and at the meeting of the American School Food Service Association this week — bread isn't a bad word.
School lunch menus are dictated by recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The department is the creator of the Food Guide Pyramid, which is under review but still recommends six to 11 servings of breads and grain, an amount discouraged by some low-carb diets.
Although food service administrators are looking for choices that are healthier than potato nuggets and fish sticks, low-carb options aren't common in schools.
Some doctors say such diets aren't appropriate for growing children and active teenagers, but as America's struggle with childhood obesity continues, schools might be fielding more requests from parents to add low-carb options.
Dr. Mary Vernon, a member of the Atkins Physicians Council, has several teenage patients on the Atkins diet.
Dr. Vernon, who practices in Kansas and is vice president of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians, said she would like to see more low-carb options — such as nuts and cheeses — available on school a la carte menus or in vending machines. She also would like students going through school lunch lines to be able to request second helpings of protein.
Although Dr. Vernon prefers her clients to snack on fresh, whole fruit, she said low-carb candy bars are better than the regular variety because they contain less sugar. Her clients bring low-carb options to school, tucked away in lockers and backpacks, because they aren't available in vending machines.
Of hundreds of vendor exhibits at the American School Food Service Association conference, few, if any, mention carbohydrates. But vendors promoting healthier foods — including fresh fruit, raisins, turkey and yogurt — dotted the Indiana Convention Center and were quick to point out nutritional information.
Dietitian Dayle Hayes of Billings, Mont., warns against putting children on low-carb diets.
She said that parents in some school districts have requested bunless hamburgers on a la carte menus and that school officials who lose weight on Atkins might think it is wise to incorporate low-carb alternatives without realizing that such diets may not be healthy for growing children.
She said huge portions and lack of exercise are the real causes of American obesity, not an occasional cookie or snack.
Although demand for healthy foods has increased, low-carb items aren't offered or even requested in most schools, said Marcia Smith, a past president of the school food association.
Miss Smith said low-carb foods could pop up on a la carte menus if parents start asking for it, but she doesn't predict a change in the lunch line anytime soon.
Fears of violence up while violent incidents down
AP, July 29, 2004
ATLANTA, Georgia -- The number of U.S. teenagers skipping school for fear of getting hurt climbed over the past decade, even though violence in schools actually declined, the government said Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributed the increase in part to a rise in schoolyard threats and lingering fear from the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 and other school shootings in the 1990s.
More than one out of every 20 high school students -- 5.4 percent -- skipped at least one day of school because of safety concerns in 2003, according to the CDC survey. That is up from 4.4 percent in 1993.
At the same time, CDC statistics indicate an overall drop in school violence over the past decade.
The percentage of students who said they had been in a fight in the preceding year dropped from 42.5 percent in 1991 to 33 percent in 2003. Only a little more than 6 percent of students said they had carried a weapon onto school grounds in 2003, down from 11.8 percent in 1993.
The CDC said students may be reluctant to go to school because of a "heightened sense of vulnerability" tied to the school shootings of the 1990s.
Also, one in 11 students surveyed in 2003 said they were threatened with or injured by a weapon on school property in the preceding year. That was up from about one in 14 students threatened or injured in 1993.
The CDC surveyed more than 10,000 public and private high school students nationwide.
By Maggie Fox, REUTERS, July 30, 2004
WASHINGTON – U.S. immunization rates have hit a record high but one-fifth of American children are not receiving all the vaccinations they need, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday.
"Among U.S. children aged 19 to 35 months, estimated coverage with recommended vaccines was greater in 2003 than in 2002 and represented all-time highs," the CDC said in its report.
However, holes remain in coverage in some areas, especially some big cities, the CDC said.
"A substantial number of children in the United States still aren't adequately protected from vaccine-preventable diseases," CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding told a news conference.
"The suffering or death of even one individual from a vaccine-preventable disease is an unnecessary human tragedy," she said.
The CDC found that 79.4 percent of children had received the full series of recommended vaccines in 2003, compared with 74.8 percent in 2002.
Four million children are born in the United States each year, and start their vaccines right away with a dose to protect them against hepatitis B.
Over the next three years they are supposed to be given a series of vaccines protecting against a variety of diseases.
"In 2003, as in previous years, urban areas reported lower immunization rates than states, mostly due to large concentrations of lower socioeconomically displaced persons," the CDC said.
In Boston, nearly 89 percent of children were fully vaccinated while in Houston 69 percent were.
They say the rule will hurt sales and fund raising
By JO ANN ZUŃIGA, Houston Chronicle, 7/29/04
When school opens across the state next month, Chick-fil-A, Pizza Hut and other popular fast food vendors will no longer be in the cafeterias.
Besides limiting fat content and portion sizes, the state's new nutritional guidelines hope to make it harder for students to buy fast food by keeping it out of reach during meal times.
That change is prompting protests by not only the food vendors but some Parent-Teacher Organizations that relied on fast food sales as major fund-raisers.
"It's a real unfortunate incident. We're a big community supporter and for many years have worked with PTOs, coaching staff and principals to raise money for their schools," said Chick-fil-A area marketing director Tina Boaz.
Lamar and Bellaire high schools and Johnston and Pershing middle schools are just some of the dozens of schools across the Houston area that stand to lose extra income, parents said.
In the past, the PTOs bought the sandwiches at a discount from Chick-fil-A and others. Then they sold them to students at regular cost, using the proceeds to fund school projects.
Last year, Pershing Middle School's PTO made $20,000 in food sales from Chick-fil-A, Pizza Hut and Quiznos, according to PTO President Cathie Bach.
"We used those funds for new band instruments, some athletic uniforms and a whole new computer lab," Bach said.
This summer, she's been on the phone with other PTO members about finding "healthier" fund-raising alternatives.
Under the new guidelines, vendors will be able to maintain a limited presence at some schools if their products meet the new fat and sugar standards. But the food must be served outside the cafeteria. And in middle schools, it can be sold only after school.
Chick-fil-A operator Jesse Chaluh used to provide food to several schools.
"When it comes to catering, the schools are very important to our sales," said Chaluh, estimating such sales made up 80 percent of his catering business at his Meyerland location and 40 percent at his West University restaurant.
He said his restaurant business offered kids an option: "The school cafeteria takes its sweet time taking care of these children," Chaluh said. "They walk away either hungry or late to class."
The restaurateur has calculated ways he could reduce fat content, perhaps by selling four chicken nuggets in a pack instead of six.
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Agriculture said his department is aware of concerns from both parents and fast food vendors upset by the policy change.
"We've been talking to just about everybody," said Allen Spelce, who added that PTAs and PTOs were involved in writing the new policy.
He said the goal remains getting kids to eat healthier foods.
"They need to find alternative fund-raising ideas," he said.
"We're encouraging them not to sell fatty foods."
Adriana Villarreal, a spokeswoman for the Houston Independent School District, said the district was suggesting fund-raising alternatives "like selling arts and crafts."
From eSchool News staff and wire service reports, August 2, 2004
As House Republicans and Democrats trade salvos over the federal budget in an election year, advocates of educational technology are rallying supporters to stave off what could amount to a 13-percent cut in technology-specific education funding in 2005.
Amid heated arguments about the size of the education budget and whether it's adequate to meet states' and school systems' needs, the House Appropriations Committee on July 14 issued its markup of the 2005 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill. Though the bill would provide a $2 billion increase in overall education funding from the U.S. government, it would slash the Educational Technology State Grant program--the main source of federal dollars for states to implement school technology projects--by $91 million and would eliminate two other ed-tech programs altogether.
The state block-grant program would receive $605 million in 2005 under the House proposal, down from $696 million in 2004. The Star Schools program, which received $20.5 million in 2004 to help underserved schools deploy advanced telecommunications services, and the Community Technology Centers (CTC) program, which got $10 million this year to provide federally subsidized computer centers for students in low-income areas, both would be eliminated.
However, the House bill does include $30 million for a new program to help states build better solutions for tracking and managing student data.
CTC and Star Schools have been on the chopping block for the last four years, as the Bush administration has adopted the goal of consolidating federal education programs that are considered "duplicative." In each year, the Senate has voted to preserve these programs, and they ultimately have survived. But this marks the first time lawmakers in either the House or the Senate have proposed cutting the Ed Tech State Grant program, which serves as the core funding mechanism for school technology initiatives at the local and national level.
Keith Krueger, chief executive officer of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), called the proposed $91 million cut "a serious hit on the major educational technology programs created under NCLB [the No Child Left Behind Act]."
Among its other requirements, NCLB requires students to be technologically proficient by the eighth grade. It also has prompted states and school systems to invest huge sums of money in sophisticated data tracking, analysis, and reporting software to ensure that all students are achieving at target levels.
Krueger called the state ed-tech grant program "a major source of funding for many states and districts." He added, "We're never going to [meet] the requirements of NCLB if we don't stop nipping away at [these programs]."
The press contact for the House Appropriations Committee did not return telephone calls from an eSchool News reporter seeking comment.
Overall, the House bill would provide $57.7 billion in funding for U.S. Department of Education programs. Special Education Grants ($11.1 billion) and Title I ($13.4 billion) each would receive a $1 billion increase, and the Math and Science Partnerships program--which aims to increase the number of teachers who are trained in these disciplines--would get a $120-million boost, to $269 million.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has not taken up its version of the education spending bill yet but is expected to do so in September.
Jordan Cross, manager of advocacy for the Council of Chief State School Officers, called the new $30 million data infrastructure program for states "a great foot in the door," but he said the proposed measure wouldn't begin to meet the needs of all states. The Hawaii Department of Education alone is about $30 million behind in implementing NCLB, according to an independent analysis.
As for the proposed cuts to the state block-grant program, CoSN's Krueger said they only serve to emphasize a decline in educational technology leadership at the federal level.
Last year, Congress voted to kill the Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program, which at its peak provided $150 million to help train pre-service teachers how to integrate technology into their instruction. The Bush administration, which had been pushing the move to eliminate PT3, said the program was unnecessary because the federal government already provides nearly $3 billion to improve teacher quality.
Krueger said cutting the state block-grant program, however, would contradict what the administration has asserted in the past. Over the course of the last several budget cycles, education officials have attempted to downplay cuts to technology-specific programs by playing up their support of the larger block grant, which was supposed to give schools more flexibility in how they chose to spend their technology dollars under the law.
"We think this is the line in the sand," said Krueger, who encouraged educators and other stakeholders to speak up by attending public meetings, contacting their Congressional representatives, and otherwise making their voices heard.
"The cement is not yet hard," Krueger said. Ed-tech advocates still have time to convince Congress that these funds are essential to meeting the goals of NCLB.
CoSN is recruiting school stakeholders to sign up for its Ed Tech Action Network, an online advocacy campaign to build support for technology funding in schools. Krueger said the organization also will hold a special lobbying day Sept. 9 in Washington, D.C., to push for more ed-tech funding.
By GREG WINTER, New York Times, August 3, 2004
Disabled high school students in Alaska will gain broad accommodations, including the use of dictionaries and computerized spell-checkers, on the state's standardized mandatory graduation exam under a legal settlement announced yesterday.
The agreement, which requires court approval, would conclude one of several legal challenges to the high school exit exams that have been adopted in some form by about half the states.
While the exams have been embraced as a way of ensuring that students master the basics of a high school education before getting a diploma, they have also come under legal attack from parents and advocates for disabled students who say the tests make it nearly impossible for those with disabilities to graduate.
To avoid penalizing students with physical or learning disabilities, Alaskan officials said they would allow for a variety of accommodations during testing, like the selective use of word processors or calculators, as deemed appropriate by experts. Tests may also be read aloud to some students, and severely disabled students may be able to graduate without ever passing the exam, should their other work be deemed adequate by experts.
Gregg D. Renkes, Alaska's attorney general, said the settlement allowed the state to continue pushing for accountability in its schools while treating disabled students fairly.
"Let no one be confused,'' Mr. Renkes said. "That is one of the highest goals. The settlement is all about doing what's right for the kids."
The plaintiffs in the case, which was filed on behalf of disabled students this spring, also described the settlement as unusually far-reaching, establishing a breadth of accommodations that few other state's exams can match.
"This is the most constructive resolution that has ever been reached in a case of this nature," said Sid Wolinsky, director of litigation for Disability Rights Advocates, which has also successfully challenged proposed exit exams in California and Oregon. "It is a win-win for everyone."
Though both sides described the negotiations as amicable, they also acknowledged that the settlement would be difficult to carry out.
Some of the accommodations are controversial, like reading out loud a test that is supposed to measure one's reading ability.
"Not everybody likes every part of the settlement," said Roger Sampson, Alaska's commissioner of education and early development. "But I think they clearly understand the benefits."
Shortage of top execs could hurt student achievement
By Christine MacDonald, Detroit News, 8/3/04
A superintendent shortage in Michigan is forcing school districts to hire top leaders with less experience and pay them more, experts say.
If the trend continues, educators fear a lack of experienced leadership could hurt efforts to raise student achievement at a time when education standards are toughening.
This summer, 49 school districts statewide lost superintendents, almost double last year’s number. And the shortage, blamed primarily on retirement and job stress, is likely to worsen, said Mike Flanagan, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators.
In Oakland County alone, at least five of the 28 school district superintendents are expected to retire or step down by next summer, including those in Farmington, Southfield and Novi.
The stress of budget cutting is one of the reasons James Edoff, 57, decided to retire this summer after 13 years as leader of Fitzgerald Public Schools in Warren.
“I cannot continue to go through another year of reducing staff and cutting programs for kids,” Edoff said.
He had to lay off 53 staffers last year to help trim $2.7 million from the district’s $30 million budget and had to cut another $1.8 million this year. Some of his employees who lost their jobs had to take their children out of college, he said.
“It takes a personal toll,” Edoff said.
Experts say more school leaders are reaching retirement age and deciding not to stay on or are quitting as districts face critical funding cuts and intense scrutiny on improving student achievement. Those issues also are discouraging others from moving up into the position.
In years past, job openings for superintendents attracted 40 to 50 candidates but now are drawing around 15, according to search groups. And some say many of those candidates don’t have the administrative background typically brought to the high-level job.
School officials are quick to say they still have quality applicants, just fewer of them. But they admit that could change if the shortage continues.
“There is going to be a real leadership vacuum for a few years,” Flanagan said. “There’s just not enough people in the pipeline.”
The problem is seen nationally as well. Jobs remain open in large school districts, such as Washington, D.C., where officials have searched for a leader since the district’s chief resigned in November.
In 2000, more than 80 percent of superintendents nationally said they were at retirement age or soon would be leaving their jobs, according to a survey by Bruce S. Cooper, a professor of education administration at New York’s Fordham University.
Flanagan said he is seeing Michigan superintendents stepping down as soon as they reach retirement age, sometimes moving on to teach at universities or go into consulting.
As a result, a growing number of educators are bypassing time spent as a central office administrator and jumping straight from building principal to superintendent, Flanagan said.
“Putting people in that aren’t as experienced, you aren’t going to have gains in student achievement,” said Flanagan, who was a superintendent for 12 years.
To attract experienced leaders, and keep them, many districts are offering more money, experts say.
Michigan superintendent salaries went up 26 percent in five years, according to data from the Michigan Association of School Boards. In 1998, superintendents at schools with more than 10,000 students averaged a salary of $111,000. In 2003, it was $140,000.
The larger the district, the more money leaders tend to make. In Detroit, for example, Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Burnley makes $244,000 to oversee the 148,000-student school district.
Nationwide, some districts are paying exorbitant salaries to lure top leaders.
The new Miami-Dade County school superintendent will make close to $480,000 in salary, bonuses and benefits in his first year, according to the Miami Herald.
Some say there’s an upshot to the shortage in that it will create opportunity to get more women and minorities in what’s traditionally been a white male-dominated position.
“In the old days, these old white guys squatted on these jobs for 25 years,” Cooper said.
In 2003, 14 percent of superintendents nationwide were female, double that of 1992, according to the American Association of School Administrators. In 2000, 5.1 percent were minorities, compared with 3.9 percent in 1992.
Some districts are looking outside education to lure candidates to the job that requires overseeing everything from finances to test scores.
Benton Harbor’s superintendent, Paula Dawning, for example, was a vice president at AT&T before she was hired to lead the district in 2002.
“Some of the superintendents who supposedly know about (raising) achievement aren’t doing it,” said Jim Sandy, executive director for the Michigan Business Leaders for Education Excellence. “Why not take a look” outside education?
Some educators are concerned that teachers and lower-level administrators are becoming less interested in moving into top district spots.
“The best and brightest in increasing numbers are saying ‘no thanks’ to those jobs,” said Tim Quinn, president of the Michigan Leadership Institute, which does searches for school districts. “If the trend continues, nobody is going to want this job.”
Edoff said he’s talked with his staffers about moving up, but many have told him they would rather not. He believes they’re considering the climate: heavy pressure to produce under the new federal No Child Left Behind law without the resources to do it.
“It almost becomes an insurmountable challenge,” Edoff said. “They want to rise to the challenge, but it is so easy to fail for reasons you have no control over.”
Because of the shortage of job candidates, Farmington is starting its search for a superintendent early and is planning to sell the district’s strong points to attract more people. Its superintendent, Robert Maxfield, will retire at the end of the school year.
“So much is expected from a person serving as a superintendent that it becomes more and more difficult to find that unique person to do the job,” said board member Priscilla Brouillette.
Barbara Lott, who took over as Woodhaven-Brownstown’s superintendent in July, said mentoring programs and other workshops are crucial to preparing new leaders.
“What you are asking people to do is get into the frying pan full blast,” said Lott, who was previously the district’s assistant superintendent. “I thought long and hard about it.”
Many don't want stress of being superintendent; educators fear shortage
BY TERESA MASK AND NATE TRELA, DETROIT FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS, 8/2/04
Gayle Green spent 13 years working her way up in the Willow Run Community Schools in Ypsilanti before becoming superintendent in 1997.
Five years later, she -- like other Michigan superintendents -- was desperate to move down, even though it meant moving out.
"I loved the district, I loved the people, and I loved the kids. I hated the job," said Green, now an assistant superintendent with the Macomb Intermediate School District. "All of a sudden, I was dismantling programs I had built. I had to cut the budget three consecutive years, and I couldn't do it again.
"It dawned on me that I wasn't doing any of the things that brought me to education in the first place."
Educators across the state echo Green's sentiments, as school districts find it increasingly difficult to convince educators to become superintendents -- let alone stay in the jobs once they get there.
In Michigan and throughout the country, educators are concerned about what some call a shortage of candidates because many who would qualify for school districts' top job call the task unappealing.
Vickie Markavitch, president of the Superintendency Institute of America, has heard the arguments about the time commitment and stress related to the job.
"Some say the compensation level is too low for the degree of responsibility," said Markavitch, who also is superintendent of the Oakland Intermediate School District. "And some say that when teachers see the rigors their administrators have to face day-to-day, they choose to stay away from the front-office job."
The move to second-tier administrative positions is more appealing, some say.
Patricia Salemi, for instance, was excited when she made the move from teaching to developing curriculum, but when she was tapped as the interim superintendent for East Detroit Public Schools in Eastpointe, she made it clear that she didn't want the job permanently.
Salemi said she didn't need the stress.
Many are leaving job
Michigan lost nearly 60 superintendents in the 2003-2004 school year -- about double the number who left the top post last school year, said Lisa Rentz, a spokeswoman from the Michigan Association of School Administrators. The salary for Michigan superintendents ranges from about $60,000 to $200,000.
This school year, 49 are retiring; seven -- including Steve Johnson from Madison Public Schools in Madison Heights have resigned. Johnson resigned amid a controversy about whether he had a doctorate degree and from which university it came.
Another three left the state, she said.
Educators expect the number of departures to grow -- 78 percent of the state's 567 superintendents are eligible to retire, according to statistics from the Michigan Association of School Boards.
In Wayne County, Oscar Brown retired in July from Crestwood Community Schools in Dearborn Heights, after 37 years in education.
Since January 2003, seven of the 21 school districts in Macomb County have changed superintendents or have prepared to replace them. Four Oakland County superintendents have announced the 2004-2005 school year will be their last. Another -- Cecil Rice from Southfield Public Schools -- is going on short-term disability.
The Oakland County projection comes close to the total number of metro Detroit superintendents who retired this year.
Not everyone is conceding defeat, however.
Former Dearborn Public Schools Superintendent Thomas McLennan, now a consultant for superintendent searches in Michigan, is optimistic about the number of people interested in leadership. He noted that 26 candidates applied for a recent superintendent post in East Detroit Public Schools in Eastpointe.
"I'm not discounting the fact that districts are having trouble finding people. But there are people out there willing to do this," said McLennan. To combat a potential superintendent shortage, several administrative leadership programs have popped up nationwide.
Tom Quinn, president of the Michigan Leadership Institute, said potential superintendents are trained on how to handle the job.
Some districts shell out tens of thousands of dollars for outside firms to help find a new superintendent, but others develop their own leaders.
Fitzgerald Public Schools in Warren has hired only from within since the state began requiring school districts to have superintendents in the 1930s.
"We bring up our assistant superintendents, looking at them as possible superintendents some day, and it's worked well for us," said Jack Kennedy, president of the Fitzgerald School Board.
Like many teachers-turned-administrators, Green said she misses regular interaction with students.
"People would say to me that instead of 800 kids, I had 3,300 kids. But it's not the same, not the same at all. The 3,300 kids, I can visit. The 800 kids I had as a principal were mine. I never got over seeing 'my' kids on a daily basis."
But the top job isn't all doom and gloom.
Emmett Lippe who will retire in June, said he has no complaints about being superintendent of the Novi Community School District since 1992.
"I have really loved being a school superintendent. I hear all these people complaining, and I can't identify at all," he said, adding that it's simply time for him to move on.
Salemi said sitting at the district's top spot forced her to get involved with facilities issues and parental complaints.
"I'm out of my comfort level," she said. "But the more you do those things, the more comfortable you become."
After much soul-searching, she made an eleventh-hour decision to stay in the job if a great replacement couldn't be found.
Apparently, one was.
The board agreed to hire Bruce Kefgen from the top post at Bentley Community Schools in Burton -- leaving open another superintendent vacancy in Michigan.
FRANKFORT, Ky. - Figures released today in Frankfort indicate a quarter of Kentucky public schools are failing to make "adequate yearly progress."
That's the government's term for the minimum improvement schools and districts are expected to show over the course of a year.
Failure has consequences for schools that get federal funding. Consequences include a transfer option for students. The Department of Education today reported preliminary data. It says there'll be a final report in October when complete test scores are in.
The preliminary report shows 286 of eleven-hundred-76 schools are lagging. That's 24 percent.
Forty percent of schools failed last year. Only a third of those schools received federal funding and thus were subject to consequences.
Preliminary 2004 AYP results are based on the Kentucky Core Content tests' (KCCT) multiple-choice items in reading and mathematics. A final report, based on complete KCCT results, including open-response items, will be published in October 2004.
"Since this is preliminary data, I would encourage schools, districts, parents and citizens to use caution when comparing 2004 results to those of 2003," said Kentucky Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit . "Changes in the implementation of NCLB from 2003 to 2004 cannot be evaluated until the final data is available. Even though the preliminary data looks promising, it is possible that the status of schools or districts could change when final data is released in October."
According to the early data, 890 Kentucky public schools met 100 percent of their NCLB goals for AYP, while 286 schools did not. Schools that are funded by the federal Title I program, which provides funds to ensure that disadvantaged children receive opportunities for high-quality educational services, will be subject to consequences if they do not make AYP in the same content area for two or more consecutive years. Statewide, preliminary data show that 111 Title I schools are in Tier 1 of consequences; 12 Title I schools are in Tier 2; and 7 Title I schools are in Tier 3. Consequences for the tiers are: Tier 1 (2 years not making AYP) - Notify parents - Implement School Choice - Write or revise School Plan Tier 2 (3 years not making AYP) - Notify parents - Continue School Choice - Revise School Plan - Offer Supplemental Services Tier 3 (4 years not making AYP) - Notify parents - Continue School Choice - Revise School Plan - Continue Supplemental Services - Implement Corrective Action In Kentucky, 882 of the 1,205 schools participating in the state's assessment and accountability system are funded by Title I. All of the state's 176 school districts -- with the exception of Anchorage Independent -- receive some Title I funding.
NOTE: Because some schools are designated as "joint" schools for accountability purposes, the combined numbers of those making AYP and those not making AYP only reach 1,176.
"One of the major concerns I have about the preliminary data is in the area of consequences," said Wilhoit. "If preliminary AYP decisions result in NCLB consequences at the school or district level, such as the requirement to offer school choice, then parents must be given the option of school choice, even though the final AYP decisions might indicate that the school had reached its goal.
The opposite is also problematic -- if the early AYP decision indicates that the school or district made its AYP goal, but the final data indicate the contrary, then the NCLB sanctions are to be applied immediately, although the school year has already begun.
This will only be an issue this year, however, since changes in the state's testing window and discussions with our testing contractor will enable earlier data collection next year." School districts also are held to the requirements of AYP under NCLB. Of Kentucky's 176 school districts, 109 -- 61.9 percent -- met 100 percent of their target goals. For NCLB requirements, school districts are gauged on the total student population. This can mean that, even if every school within a district makes AYP, the district may not because of the total size of subpopulations and their performance.
Signed into law in January 2002, NCLB requires states to provide information on schools' and districts' progress toward proficiency by 2014. Each state uses its own standards and assessments to make the annual determinations. Kentucky used data from the 2003 and 2004 administration of the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS) to provide preliminary 2004 AYP information for its schools and districts. The state also adopted a graduation rate formula for its high schools, as required by NCLB. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is the term used in NCLB to refer to the minimum improvement required of each school and district over the course of one year.
It is measured at the school and district levels by: - measuring growth in the percentage of students scoring proficient or above in reading and mathematics. - assessing improvement on one "other academic indicator." - testing at least 95 percent of enrolled students and student subpopulations of sufficient size. NCLB mandates that schools and districts be held accountable for the progress of subgroups -- minority students, low-income students, students with disabilities, students with limited-English proficiency (LEP) -- in reading and mathematics testing in grades 3 through 8 and at least once in each subject in grades 10-12 and rates of participation in testing.
Schools also are held accountable for other academic indicators -- for elementary and middle schools, that indicator is the CATS accountability index; for high schools, the indicator is the graduation rate. If the school, district or one or more subgroups of sufficient size in the school or district do not make progress toward goals in reading and mathematics or achieve the 95 percent participation rate or if schools and districts do not show improvement on the other academic indicators, the school or district may be considered by the U.S. Department of Education to be in need of improvement.
If schools or districts that receive federal Title I funds do not make AYP in the same content area for two consecutive years, they face federal consequences, which include offering school choice and revising school improvement plans. Each Kentucky school and district has a specific number of NCLB goals to meet in order to make AYP. Each grade level -- elementary, middle, high and combined -- has a unique Annual Measurable Objective (AMO) for reading and mathematics that schools and districts must reach in order to achieve AYP. A school or district that does not meet the predetermined AMOs in reading or mathematics can be in "safe harbor" and considered to have met the AMOs if these criteria are satisfied: - reducing the percentage of total students or subpopulation (whichever group did not meet the reading or mathematics AMO) that score below proficient by 10 percent - students in the same population or subpopulation(s) meet the criteria for demonstrating improvement on the CATS academic index The number of goals varies depending on the sizes of subpopulations in each school and district. Subpopulation data is reportable only if it meets a minimum group size of 10 students per grade where NCLB-required assessments are administered and 60 students in those grades combined, or the subpopulation makes up at least 15 percent of the total student enrollment in accountable grades. The maximum number of goals is 25. For school districts, the number of goals to meet ranges from 6 to 25, with only two of the state's most diverse school districts -- Jefferson and Fayette -- required to meet all 25 goals to make AYP. For individual schools, the number of goals to be met ranges from 4 to 20. Of the 286 schools that did not make AYP, 247 made 80 percent or more of their goals. Statewide, 84 percent of the 25 target goals were met.
Parents seek peace of mind, academic control
By Ben Feller, The Associated Press, August 4, 2004
WASHINGTON — Almost 1.1 million students were home-schooled last year, their numbers pushed higher by parents frustrated over school conditions and wanting to include morality and religion with the English and math.
The estimated figure of students taught at home has grown 29 percent since 1999, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Education Department.
In surveys, parents offered two main reasons for choosing home schooling: 31 percent cited concerns about the environment of regular schools, and 30 percent wanted the flexibility to teach religious or moral lessons. Third, at 16 percent, was dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools.
"There's potential for massive growth," said Ian Slatter, spokesman for the National Center for Home Education, which promotes home schooling and tracks laws that govern it.
"Home schooling is just getting started," he said. "We've gotten through the barriers of questioning the academic ability of home schools, now that we have a sizable number of graduates who are not socially isolated or awkward — they are good, high-quality citizens. We're getting that mainstream recognition and challenging the way education has been done."
In perspective, the 1.1 million home-schooled students accounts for a small part — 2.2 percent — of the school-age population in the United States, young people aged five through 17.
Slatter said the new figures accurately reflect the growth of home schooling but underestimate the number of children involved; his group says it is 2 million.
In the government's view, home schooling means students who spend at least part of their education at home and no more than 25 hours a week in public or private schools. Overall, more than four out of five home-schooled students spend no time at traditional schools.
A separate federal report showed a rising number of teenagers are skipping school for fear of getting hurt, even though reported school violence is down.
That sense of anxiety — fueled by terrorism warnings, high-profile school shootings and a desire to keep children out of harm's way — probably has helped home schooling grow, said Ted Feinberg, assistant executive director of the National Association of School Psychologists.
Home schooling presents several questions that must be considered, he said. Among them: Do parents with no formal training as teachers know how to handle a variety of subjects or to tailor instruction for children of different ages? Do students get the same materials they would have at schools, from books to science labs? Are families with two working parents prepared to go to a single income so that one parent can teach at home?
Also, Feinberg said, parents must consider whether their children will emerge from home schooling with limited exposure to other children and various cultures. More federal research is needed to help resolve such questions about home schooling, he said.
"At some point, children are going to have to interact with the rest of the world," he said. "If they haven't had the opportunity to build their emotional muscles so they have that capacity to interact, how effective are they going to be outside their cloistered environment?"
Ten close, others fear shutdown as state law bars sponsorship by faraway districts.
By Erika Hayasaki, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 8/4/04
At least 10 California charter schools have been shut and nearly 100 others are scrambling to avoid closure under a new state law that bans campuses from being operated by out-of-town sponsors, who are sometimes hundreds of miles away.
The restrictions were put in place earlier this year after several high-profile investigations of charter schools that were sponsored by far-flung public school districts. Over the last decade, several districts had authorized multiple charters for campuses outside their boundaries to gain some of the state revenue earmarked for charter schools.
The state's largest charter organization, Victorville-based California Charter Academy, is the target of a California Department of Education probe into alleged misuse of funds and now faces added pressure from the law that bans long-distance sponsors. Under the auspices of mainly small public school districts in San Bernardino and Orange counties, it has operated more than 60 campuses that enroll between 7,000 to 10,000 students in California.
Last week, partly in response to the new law and other financial troubles, California Charter Academy ended a contract with the Snowline Joint Unified School District in San Bernardino County. The contract had authorized five small schools, including ones in Bakersfield and Century City. A letter this week notified the 700 students in those schools to enroll elsewhere, said Snowline district Supt. Art Golden. Additional California Charter Academy closings could occur later this week, Golden said.
Separate from the California Charter Academy chain, about 3,000 additional students who are enrolled in two dozen other campuses that are authorized by long-distance districts will be affected over the next three years. Two in South Los Angeles closed last semester, and many face imminent closure if their local school districts do not adopt them.
Charter schools are financed by state taxes and are exempted from numerous state education regulations. But they must be authorized by local school districts, counties or the state. State officials said the law was needed because many of the small districts with long-distance charters did not adequately monitor them.
Marta Reyes, a charter school official at the state Department of Education, said those districts "did not have the capacity to do oversight and work to make sure kids were performing well. After all, the money that comes to these public schools was supposed to benefit children."
Caprice Young, president of the California Charter Schools Assn., an advocacy group for charter schools in California, said the law is needed for the few schools that have problems. But, she said, the state created a "sledgehammer" solution that will force many well-functioning schools through too many bureaucratic hurdles to survive.
Her organization is supporting a bill that would allow colleges and universities to authorize charter schools. "What's needed," she said, "are responsible authorizers, organizations that take the job seriously."
Meanwhile, many students, parents and school staff members are worried.
"We're on a week-to-week basis," said Charlotte Austin-Jordan, principal of a 300-student campus in Los Angeles. "I'm so scared. These kids really, really need this program. None of these kids did well in regular schools."
Austin-Jordan started the school for troubled students four years ago after she had lost a daughter, son and nephew to street violence. It is part of the California Charter Academy chain and was authorized by the Oro Grande Elementary School District in San Bernardino County. Now she is considering applying to the Los Angeles Unified School District for a charter. She is wary of enrolling more students amid such uncertainty.
The campus, Save Our Future, is in a warehouse near downtown Los Angeles with a rainbow painted on a front sign.
Most students enrolled there because they were kicked out of or were flunking at regular campuses. Some are on probation.
"I like this school, because I feel like I really can make it here," said Ruben Mojica, 16, a former gangbanger who was kicked out of school. At Save Our Future, staff helped him seek jobs and avoid fights. If the school closes, Mojica said, "a lot of students will end up failing or dropping out."
Assembly Bill 1994, which is sponsored by Assemblywoman Sarah Reyes (D-Fresno), requires charter schools to comply with fiscal and academic reforms, including the ban on long-distance authorization.
It was prompted in part by scandals such as the one in the Fresno Unified School District, which began opening schools across the state in 1999. Some of those campuses taught Islam, failed to do criminal background checks on employees, violated fire safety codes or exaggerated attendance. The district revoked its charter, and some of the campuses were closed.
In March, California Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell launched an investigation into California Charter Academy. A state charter school advisory panel had alleged that the organization was charging some of its campuses millions of dollars in administrative fees and was inadequately overseeing the schools.
California Charter Academy is facing pressure from several sides, and some educators believe that it may shut all of its state operations.
The state has withheld funding for some California Charter Academy schools that opened after Reyes' bill had taken effect. Another law that bans reimbursement for charter students age 19 and older pushed the organization this week to cut ties with Orange Unified School District, which sponsored seven campuses in Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego counties that served 1,260 students. Those campuses are being closed.
Patricia Mark, president of the California Charter Academy, did not return calls for comment. Teachers and administrators at some of the affected campuses could not be located.
Kenneth Larson, superintendent of the Oro Grande Elementary School District, which also had partnered with California Charter Academy, sponsors 24 schools.
"I perceive that a number of the sites will close," he said, "and I'm sorry for that because the great majority of these students are attending those schools because they want to. They, perhaps, have not been successful in other public school settings and are going to charter schools as an alternative."
Most schools have up to three years to seek charter approval from the district in which they are located, said Keith Edwards of the California Department of Education. Already, he said, applications from some of the affected schools are arriving at districts.
The Westwood Unified School District, an hour north of Chico, has more than a dozen charter schools across the state — with most in Southern California — under the name "Westwood Charter School."
Westwood Supt. Henry Bietz said most of his schools took students who had failed or been rejected elsewhere and taught them in small groups or one on one. This year, the district closed five sites, partly in response to the new state rules.
"We have about 1,000 kids who want to continue receiving the services we provide them," Bietz said. "Where do they go?"
Westwood had criticized the 100-student Jah's World school in South Los Angeles for not turning in student records on time and not requiring students to take the California High School Exit Exam. The ban on long-distance oversight pushed the school to close at the end of the spring semester.
Westwood charter officials recommended that the displaced students enroll in another district charter school nearby, Spark Community Outreach Program for Empowerment, or SCOPE.
But the closure caused a community uproar because many students didn't want to attend SCOPE. They worried about crossing gang territory lines and endangering themselves. Then, a few months later, the 120-student SCOPE campus closed.
Most of the displaced students from Jah's World have been directed to enroll in a continuation program run by the Inglewood Unified School District, Bietz said. SCOPE students are expected to transfer to public schools in Los Angeles, Inglewood and elsewhere.
The No Child Left Behind Act is supposed to ensure that all children are successful learners. But as long as kids are required to learn material they are not ready for or that is being taught in a way that is counter to their learning styles, more and more students will continue to be left behind.
The No Child Left Behind Act is supposed to ensure that all children are successful learners. So what's the problem?
Intention of the No Child Left Behind Act: Make sure all kids learn.
Problem: All kids are being required to learn the same things at the same time in the same way. The requirements for each grade level are getting stricter and testing is being emphasized more and more.
Results: Because children learn differently and are at different developmental stages, "one-size-fits-all" education does not work. Kids feel more and more pressure from teachers and parents to learn material they are either not ready for or that is being taught in a way that is counter to their learning styles. Then they are tested on material they were not able to learn. These kids are being set up for failure—and so are their teachers!
1. Teach reading, writing, and other skills at appropriate developmental stages. Most kids are not ready for reading or writing until they are 8 or 9 years old—forcing them before they are ready then labeling them with a learning disability label is not only counterproductive but damaging to these children.
2. Teach the way kids learn. In any classroom, 50% to 60% of all students are hands-on/movement learners; another 20% are picture learners. Textbooks and traditional testing don't work for the majority of students!
America's Learning-Success™ Coaches, Victoria Kindle Hodson and Mariaemma Willis want to make sure that ALL kids are successful learners. Here is what they have to say:
"There is no reason why all students can't learn effectively. We know too much from brain research NOT to apply the strategies that help ALL kids learn, not just a handful in each classroom. The present strategies—strict grade level requirements and more and more testing—aren't working. It's time to start focusing on each child's learning success, rather than school and district testing success. This is the only way to truly ensure that no child is left behind."
By George Archibald, Washington Times, 8/5/04
The Bush administration has issued a booklet declaring that U.S. taxpayers spent more than $500 billion for public schools in the 2003-04 school year, after months of attacks by Democrats and teachers unions who say that federal requirements for school improvement are underfunded.
State and local spending for kindergarten through 12th grade education more than doubled since 1990, while federal taxpayers' share rose by more than a third to $41.1 billion, or 8.2 percent of total spending in President Bush's fiscal 2004 budget, according to the booklet being distributed across the country by officials of the Education Department.
Total public-school spending was $501.3 billion, according to the eight-page publication titled "10 Facts About K-12 Education Funding," which rejects claims of the National Education Association (NEA) in a pending lawsuit that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is an unfunded federal mandate.
"There are no federal education 'mandates.' Every federal education law is conditioned on a state's decision to accept federal program funds," the publication states. "Any state that does not want to abide by these requirements need not accept the federal grant money."
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) reauthorized the $25 billion Elementary and Secondary Education Act, whose Title I program this year provided $12.4 billion to local districts to improve academic achievement in high-poverty schools.
"The law's express purpose is to close the achievement gap through accountability, research-based instruction, flexibility and options for parents so that no child is left behind," the booklet says.
At last month's NEA convention, the nation's largest teachers union launched a national grass-roots campaign to rally public opposition to NCLB and Mr. Bush's re-election.
Susan Aspey, spokeswoman for Education Secretary Rod Paige, said the department initially printed about 20,000 copies of the booklet at a cost of about $8,400.
"We did it because we had a lot of questions about education funding, both here in D.C. as well as when our folks traveled the country," she said.
This week, 16 department officials are attending conferences and awarding grants in 15 states.
Criticism of the Bush administration's spending levels for education programs has been a staple of Democratic rhetoric since the enactment of NCLB.
Rep. George Miller of California, ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee and a supporter of the law, says the administration and Republican majority in Congress should spend an additional $27 billion to fully fund NCLB, while the NEA calls for an additional $81 billion.
Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and committee chairman, says Title I spending has increased $3.6 billion, or 42 percent, since January 2002.
"We are pumping gas into a flooded engine," he said.
"The federal government has increased federal education spending so rapidly that many states haven't even been able to spend down the money we appropriated for them two years ago."
At the beginning of this year, according to a House committee report, states were "sitting on $5.75 billion in federal education funding, including nearly $2 billion in Title I aid from fiscal years 2000 through 2002."
Political fighting over the size of federal school-funding increases has drawn strong criticism from conservative education-policy analysts.
"Despite the huge infusion of federal cash and the near tripling of overall per-pupil funding since 1965, national academic performance has not improved," said Neal McCluskey of the libertarian Cato Institute.
"Math and reading scores have stagnated, graduation rates have flat-lined, and researchers have shown numerous billion-dollar federal programs to be failures," Mr. McCluskey wrote in a Cato report last month titled "A Lesson in Waste: Where Does All the Federal Education Money Go?"
By NOREEN GILLESPIE , Associated Press Writer, 08/06/2004
HARTFORD -- The state Department of Education says its annual report detailing how elementary and middle schools are faring under the federal No Child Left Behind law will be delayed, in large part because of scoring errors on last year’s Connecticut Mastery Tests.
The department has asked federal education officials for an extension of their August deadline. Connecticut’s report will be ready before the end of October, associate commissioner Frances Rabinowitz wrote in a July 26 letter to Raymond Simon, assistant secretary for the federal department’s office of elementary and secondary education.
The state uses results from the Connecticut Mastery Tests, which are given to fourth, sixth and eighth graders, to gauge how elementary and middle schools are performing.
The results are normally released in January, but scoring errors made by contractor CTB/McGraw Hill delayed complete delivery of the test results to the state until June.
"Given the scoring difficulties with our new test contractors as well as the new flexibility in NCLB requirements, we will need this extended timeline," Rabinowitz wrote.
The annual state report identifies which schools are having trouble meeting the requirements of the federal education reform law. Schools can be placed on the list for deficiencies in math and reading, or inadequate participation on the tests.
Schools that repeatedly fail to meet the law’s requirements can face sanctions such as loss of federal funding. They can also be required to offer extra services such as tutoring, or offer students the chance to attend another school.
Federal officials are working with the state, though a final decision on the extension had not been made, Jo Ann Webb, the U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman, said Thursday.
"They had a really bad problem with the contractor, and we have been talking with them and working on it," she said.
Last year, 149 elementary and middle schools were placed on a list for not making enough progress toward meeting the law’s requirements. Just under half of the state’s high schools also made the list.
The report on high schools, which is based on the results of the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, is expected to be ready on time, the department said.
In a report released by the nonpartisan Education Commission of the States last month, Connecticut was identified as one of five states -- along with New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Kentucky -- that had met or was on track to meeting all of the law’s requirements.
By Corey Murray, Assistant Editor, eSchool News, August 6, 2004
More than two and a half years since President Bush signed the landmark No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), only a handful of states--Connecticut, Kentucky, New York, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania--are on track to fully implementing the law, according to a report from the Education Commission of the States (ECS).
Though most states have raised the bar in terms of student achievement, the Denver-based nonprofit says few are keeping pace in terms of improving teacher quality, among other demands.
Billed as the most comprehensive measure of where states stand in meeting the requirements of NCLB, "ECS Report to the Nation: State Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act" derives its findings from ECS's one-of-a-kind national database, built with a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education (ED).
The study was released just as the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the 2005 education budget. Critics of the legislation, including proponents of educational technology, lambasted the bill for failing to provide states with enough money to implement the law's many requirements (see "House bill would slash ed-tech funding").
The report compares state progress from March 2003 through March 2004. It focuses on states' progress related to seven major categories of the law: standards and assessment, adequate yearly progress (AYP), school improvement, supplemental services, safe schools, report cards, and teacher quality.
"There has been and continues to be a great deal of discussion around NCLB on many levels," said Ted Sanders, president of ECS. "But this is the first chance the nation has had to view the issues in terms of what states are actually doing."
Despite the fact that just five states are on task to meet every major aspect of the law, Kathy Christie, vice president of the ECS clearinghouse, said a majority of states have demonstrated remarkable progress since the bill was inked in 2001.
"States are taking NCLB very seriously, and we think the way they have evolved is very encouraging," Christie said.
The landmark legislation requires every state and the District of Columbia to collect and report data on individual student performance, including mandatory testing in reading and math for all students in grades 3-8.
Schools that fail to demonstrate AYP for two consecutive years are labeled "in need of improvement" and must give students the option of transferring to a better-performing school. Schools that fail to meet AYP standards for three years in a row must offer tutoring services to students whose parents request them, and the sanctions get progressively worse as schools on the "needs improvement" list continue to fall short of the law's goals.
Education leaders, for the most part, have praised the law for its good intentions but have protested its ballooning costs. In many cases, critics say, the law has pushed state and local coffers to the brink.
According to the report, all 50 states had met or were partially on track toward meeting half of the 40 key requirements of NCLB, an 11-percent increase over March 2003. What's more, all but two states and the District of Columbia had met or were partially on track to meet at least 75 percent of the requirements--an impressive 109-percent increase over the progress achieved one year ago, the report said.
When it comes to technology, states have adopted several innovative approaches to collecting and using student data as required under the law.
Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Ohio all have enacted policies that encourage schools to integrate assessment systems designed to collect data and "generate reports" to help meet the demands of the law, according to the report.
In Utah, new legislation allows districts to have tests administered and scored electronically "to accelerate the review of test scores and their usefulness to parents and educators," the report said.
In Virginia, a law was enacted requiring the state education department to create a web site enabling educators to suggest improvement to the state's Standards of Learning.
In fact, according to the survey, all 50 states are at least partially on their way to constructing a plan for disaggregating student data. And 46 states either have or are in the process of developing statewide accountability plans to measure how close students are to reaching prescribed benchmarks.
Though the law doesn't require states to integrate large-scale student information systems to sort and collect student data, Christie said nearly all states have invested in some type of technology to help monitor their progress. Without a good data infrastructure, she said, keeping track of all the provisions would be difficult.
U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige was encouraged by the strides schools have made. "The commission's analysis shows that states have indeed made considerable progress implementing No Child Left Behind, particularly in the areas of standards, assessments, and accountability," Paige said in a statement.
But the outlook is less rosy when it comes to other aspects of the law, especially in terms of teacher quality.
According to the survey, few states are on track to implementing high-quality professional development for all teachers. Further, only 10 states are in a position to ensure that both new and veteran teachers are qualified to teach in their dedicated subject areas, and fewer than half are on track to making sure that scientifically based technical assistance is provided to low-performing schools.
It's also notable that, despite widespread willingness to beef up statewide data infrastructures, just 19 states are thus far fully capable of providing report cards as defined by the provisions of NCLB--although 31 states are at least partially on track.
ECS's Christie attributed some of the sluggishness to the timing of the report. When NCLB first was unveiled, she said, states primarily were focused on making sure the student assessment and data management pieces were in place. Now that the majority of those elements are intact, she added, states are beginning to turn their attention to other aspects of the law.
Kentucky, for instance, employed its Education Professional Standards Board to develop an innovative web tool that invited teachers to take a step-by-step assessment to determine whether they meet the state's definition of "highly qualified," according to the report.
Other states, such as Iowa and Kansas, have linked their respective university programs to their K-12 academic standards to ensure that all new teachers enter the classroom with their qualifications already in order.
ECS makes a few recommendations that states and the federal government might want to consider in an effort to speed up NCLB compliance.
Educators and other stakeholders first must embrace NCLB as a civil-rights issue, the report said. The goal, according to Christie, is to ensure equity across all student groups, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or disability. Under the law, all students are required to perform at or above grade level by the 2013-14 school year, which means that every student must be held to the same high standards--no matter what.
The same goes for performance growth, she said. Too often, educators become focused solely on improving the status of low-performing students. Though the law requires that traditional underachievers begin to show noticeable gains, it doesn't make excuses for average and above-average learners. All students must continue to excel to avoid being left behind, Christie said.
ECS also has asked the federal government to consider reassessing its definition of AYP. As it stands, Christie said, the current definition is too vague and does not account for the fact that states use different benchmarks to gauge success. Rather, ECS would prefer that ED use some sort of statistical model to define AYP. This would help standardize the definition and ensure that schools aren't unfairly lumped into the "needs improvement" category, she said.
What's more, the report suggests that states look for ways to strengthen their requirements for highly qualified teachers. Though most states have requirements in place to ensure that all new hires are highly qualified, Christie said, questions remain about the types of evaluations used to give veteran teachers that distinction.
"We need to make sure there are no trap doors for [veteran teachers] to fall through," she said, adding that the majority of states are not as vigilant as they should be in terms of monitoring professional development.
Finally, school systems need to continue to build state and local capacity to handle the many demands of NCLB, the report said. Amid thinning staffs and constricting budgets, schools must look for the most efficient means of handling data and implementing change.
Even at that, however, reaching the promise of NCLB won't be easy, according to ECS.
"It will be far easier [for states] to meet the requirements of the law than to meet its goals," Christie said. Whether states do their part to comply or not, she said, the real test is translating those efforts into improved student achievement. "That's where the rubber really hits the road," she added.
Second-largest buyer could influence rest of U.S.
Reuters, August 5, 2004
DALLAS -- The lesson for Texas teens is that the only safe sex is no sex, and that may be a lesson that heads nationwide.
Texas educators are debating what will be taught in new sexual education textbooks for its high school students. The 15-member Texas Board of Education is considering and will likely approve four books, all of which extol the virtues of abstinence. Three make no mention of contraceptives at all while one makes passing reference to condoms.
Critics are crying foul, saying that a lesson of abstinence alone is dangerous because it could lead to more teen pregnancies and more teens becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases.
The battle in Texas has national implications because the state is the second-biggest market for textbooks in the United States. Books approved by the state's school board are typically marketed nationally.
According to Centers for Disease Control figures, Texas has been among the top five states in the country for teenage pregnancies for several years.
When he was governor of Texas, George W. Bush pushed for an abstinence-based sexual education curriculum. He raised his concerns to a national level when he said in this year's State of the Union address: "We will double federal funding for abstinence programs, so schools can teach this fact of life: Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases."
National surveys indicate that a wide majority of parents support a strong abstinence message to teens in sexual education.
The Texas Freedom Network, a group that regularly battles social and religious conservatives in the state, along with Planned Parenthood and others are asking the board not to approve the four textbooks under consideration.
Book tells teens rest prevents STDs
They say the books are lacking. For example, one textbook under review advises that a good way a teen-ager can prevent a sexually transmitted disease is to get plenty of rest so he or she can have a clear head about sex and choose abstinence.
"The key thing here is that the textbooks do not contain a trace of information about family planning and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases other than through abstinence," said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network.
Critics want the board to ask the publishers to revise the books to include more information on contraceptives, but the board is expected to approve the books without changes since officials say discussion of contraceptives in their teachers' supplements is enough to meet state curriculum requirements
"There are other contraceptive methods in addition to abstinence and you are just not going to find it in these textbooks," Quinn said. He charged the textbook publishers have engaged in self-censorship to appease social conservatives in the state at the expense of the health of Texas teen-agers.
The board will meet in September to discuss the books and will vote on whether to approve them in November. If approved, the texts are likely to appear in classrooms in August 2005 -- where they could be the standard text for about 10 years.
Local school districts are not required to use one of the new books but they receive state funding to buy them if they do.
The publishers of the books are Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Glencoe/McGraw Hill and Thomson Delmar Learning.
Some of the books currently in use in the state have more information about contraceptives than the books up for consideration, but once the new books are approved, they will for the most part replace all the current texts.
Board at center of religious and political battles
The education board has been at the center of many political and religious battles over the years including a recent proposal by evangelical Christian groups to have the state's textbooks include items debunking evolution.
Despite opposition, the sex education textbooks under consideration are likely to get approval. State Education Agency officials said mention of condoms and contraceptives in the teacher's editions or in supplements to the books enable them to meet Texas curriculum standards.
Texas standards require sexual education books to "analyze the effectiveness of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods, including the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, keeping in mind the effectiveness of remaining abstinent until marriage."
Richard Blake, a spokesman for Holt, Rinehart and Winston said his company offers a supplement for students that goes into comprehensive detail about forms of contraceptives.
The supplement for students is free with the purchase of the textbooks. It is excluded from the main text in order to offer flexibility and meet the needs of school boards across the United States that have differing views on how to treat a subject many see as highly sensitive.
"Teachers and educators across the country, and not just in Texas, have told us they wanted it this way," Blake said.
Illinois State Board of Education