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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – August 6 - 13, 2004

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STATE
Schools cope with dropout law / State Journal-Register
Kids' mental health: How much control should state have? / Beacon News

Rich schools recoil from 'No Child' suggestion / Daily Southtown
Increasing dropout age won't improve education / Rockford Register Star
'Jump Start' program gets students ready for classroom / Belleville News-Democrat
District says mental health already in its mission / Daily Herald
Testing cuts draw mixed reactions / Mt. Prospect Times
State funds will improve teaching and learning / Chicago Tribune
Teacher fingerprinting OKd / Chicago Tribune
School financing overhaul sought / Chicago Tribune
Arts director fears signs of reading decline / Quincy Herald-Whig
Troy group helping homeschoolers / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Why neglect the second `R'? / Chicago Tribune
Mayors seek more state school funds / Daily Southtown
Eliminating social studies, writing testing doesn't add up / Galesburg Register-Mail
NATIONAL - NCLB
Judgment Day Nears / Winchester Sun (VA)
Congressman: No Child Left Behind is working / Daily Herald
No Child Left Behind changes educational climate / Stamford Advocate (CT)
State, ACLU Settle Suit on Education / Los Angeles Times
Schools adjust for higher lunch costs / CNN.com
Deal ends California suit over shoddy schools / CNN.com
Critics Float “No Child Revisions” / Education Week
Classroom incentives / Akron Beacon Journal (OH)
Transfer Policy Helps the Wrong Students / Greensboro News & Record (NC)
No Child Left Behind scores are irrelevant / The Lexington Herald Leader
Changing rules gave more Indiana school districts passing grade / AP
Daschle, Thune split on No Child Left Behind / Argus Leader (SD)
More schools making the grade; Kansas students are better-served / The Kansas City Star
Not fully funded / Akron Beacon Journal (OH)
No Child Left Behind gives Arkansas more money while some unused / AP
Trial begins in Texas over school funding / The Star-Ledger (TX)
Charter schools improve, but struggle to meet federal achievement goals / AP
No Child Left Behind / The News Journal (DE)
Star Test Scores? /
San Jose Mercury News (CA)

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STATE

Schools cope with dropout law

Pete Sherman, State Journal-Register, 8/8/04

It's just one year, but some school officials say raising the dropout age in Illinois from 16 to 17 could have far-reaching effects for both the educational and legal systems.

"You're between 16 and 17 and don't want to be in school. What's the ramification?" asked Deanna Sullivan, director of government relations at the Illinois Association of School Boards, which opposed the legislation that was signed into law last week by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"There's a hesitation to label them a truant and make them a part of the legal system," she said. "You're labeling a whole new group of students as truant who were previously not labeled that way."

Sullivan and others, including Springfield School District 186 officials, also are concerned about how the new compulsory stay-in-school age will affect educational funding. Students who were once out of the system and therefore not counted in daily attendance rolls will be considered absent, a factor that plays into the state's funding formula.

"I'm not going to tell you those aren't concerns of a school district, especially during difficult financial times," Sullivan said.

Karen Craven, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education, said districts that find ways to keep more students in class will be rewarded financially because higher enrollments also factor into school financing.

The state board played a key role in writing the legislation that changed the dropout age, as well as three other new laws intended to prevent, in various ways, troubled students from slipping through the cracks.

Of the other laws, one makes it harder for schools to keep a student who has dropped out from re-enrolling. Another requires high school students to take the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE), which includes the ACT test, to graduate. And the fourth requires schools and districts to better differentiate between - and more regularly report - students who drop out and those who transfer.

"By signing these new laws, we will hold schools more accountable to their struggling students, hopefully leading to more students staying in school," Blagojevich said in a prepared statement.

The legislation's main sponsor was state Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago.

Local educators and those who work with truant and at-risk children are trying to sort out the practical and financial implications of the new requirements.

In the Jacksonville School District, all eligible students already are taking the PSAE, said Lee Hovasse, assistant superintendent of instruction .

"But we may have more pressure on our alternative school program if we're requiring students to be here but who may not wish to be in a traditional setting," Hovasse said. "Whether we would have to add staff, I don't know."

Illinois had been one of 28 states with a minimum dropout age of 16 - a number that's been the same since the early 1900s. Now that it's 17, Illinois joins nine other states with the same requirement. Fifteen, including the District of Columbia, won't allow students to drop out until they're 18.

For Springfield, raising the dropout age means possibly adding another classroom.

"We may put in an additional class at Lawrence (Education Center) to make sure," said District 186 spokeswoman Carol Votsmier.

The new laws do come with some confusion. The one that raises the minimum dropout age also suggests that truant officers and regional superintendents of schools find alternative education programs for dropouts. But the language in the law makes this provision optional, and no funding has been provided to implement it.

"There might be supplemental (funding) during the veto session" in November, Craven said.

Donna Ferguson, director of special education for District 186, said dropout prevention at the earliest ages needs to increase and "should start at age 3."

"The earlier we start, the better off they'll be," she said.

Though the state raised the minimum dropout age, it did not lower the starting age required to be in school. In Illinois, it's 7. Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 31 have required starting ages of 5 or 6.

Alternative education schools in the Springfield district, such as Douglas and Lawrence, cater to troubled students. The district also provides after-school programs at all the high schools for students with truancy and other problems. The district partners with the Boys & Girls Clubs, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Youth Service Bureau, as well as other community groups, to keep children in school.

For the Youth Service Bureau, which serves Sangamon, Christian, Mason, Menard and Logan counties, a three-year, $124,600 annual grant couldn't have come at a better time and is "pure prevention money," said director Kathleen Wright.

The "Crossroad" grant, administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services, allows the agency for the first time to work with youth before they enter the juvenile justice system.

Based on referrals from schools, social service agencies, even churches, the bureau plans to help keep 200 children out of court and in the classroom this year, Wright said.

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Kids' mental health: How much control should state have?

Testing students: Proposal suggests all children have screenings

Justina Wang, Beacon News

AURORA — A new proposal by the Illinois Children's Mental Health Partnership has government officials, school representatives and parents discussing how big a role the state should play in children's emotional and social well being.

The Children's Mental Health Partnership, made up of public and private groups, was created under the Children's Mental Health Act of 2003 to address the mental health needs of Illinois youth.

Their preliminary plan, which focuses on working with the Illinois State Board of Education, said that all children should have the opportunity to receive a frequent mental health screening. Some believe the plan suggests all children will eventually be mandated to receive the screening.

One of the plan's "priority recommendations" is to "ensure that all children receive periodic social and emotional developmental screens." It proposes that developmental screenings should be offered as part of required medical exams for schools.

After learning that people were "nervous" about required screenings, Barbara Shaw, chairman of the task force, said the plan should not be taken verbatim.

"We realized that we weren't as explicit as we need to be," she said. "The screenings that we are discussing are voluntary. We would encourage that screenings happen, but we won't require it."

Critics of the plan fear that involving the State Board of Education with children's mental health will force all Illinois schoolchildren to be evaluated.

"They kept telling us at the hearing that it was voluntary," said Karen Hayes, associate director of Concerned Women for America of Illinois, a public policy women's organization. "But the minute you put those health standards into learning standards, you've ceased to make them voluntary."

Hayes participated in a recent public forum to discuss the plan. She fears the screenings will lead to "labeling" and "nosy questions." Parents are capable and want to be responsible for their children's mental health, she said.

Supporters of the plan suggest that mental health problems are prevalent and often untreated among the youth. According to the task force's 2003 report, nearly one in four Illinois children showed signs of depression for more than two weeks in a row that kept them from their normal activities.

The need for psychologists and social workers has increased over the last two years at East Aurora High School's Tomcat Clinic, according to nurse practitioner Pam Taylor, who also served on a committee that gave the task force input. Due to "huge demand," the clinic will increase the number of social workers next school year, Taylor said.

Since 2002, the clinic requires that all children on their third visit to the clinic — regardless of the reason for the visit — take a mental health screening. Students receiving physicals for athletics also receive a screening, which tests for eating behaviors, emotional development and propensity for safety and violence.

"Adolescence is a tough age, and a lot of things are going on in their lives," Taylor said. "We want to make sure we help out not only with their physical health, but also their mental and emotional health."

But some parents are concerned that the preliminary plan's recommendation to develop "social and emotional standards" that would assess students' progress on mastering a set of skills could discriminate against kids based on their personality or background.

Anne Wilson-Dooley, a mother of a Waldo Middle School eighth-grader, said she believes that some children have mental health issues, but sometimes problems are overdiagnosed and overmedicated. Mental health standards, she said, could be "culturally skewed."

Hayes, who has six children, fears that kids like her shy son will be hurt by the plan.

"All kids are different and unique," she said. "What will happen to all kids who are outside of the classified norm?"

As stipulated by the 2003 Children's Mental Health Act, the Task Force will submit a revised preliminary plan to the governor on Sept. 30, and a final plan next summer.

School districts will also have to submit a policy that incorporates children's social and emotional development into the education program by Aug. 31.

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Rich schools recoil from 'No Child' suggestion

Top education official says well-off districts should do more to help poorer neighbors

Linda Lutton, Daily Southtown

A top U.S. Department of Education official says high-performing school districts should take on students from neighboring districts who have the right to transfer under the No Child Left Behind Act — even though the law doesn't require districts to do so.

“If I were a school board member in a district where good things were happening, and next door there were students who were not getting what they should get and I had room, I'd try to make sure I made those seats available," said Eugene Hickok, deputy secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Education.

Hickok, who oversees the No Child Left Behind Act, made his comments in an interview with the Daily Southtown last week.

His idea, however, did not go over well in top-flight local districts.

"Our board policy says that's not even a possibility," said Rosemarie Carroll, superintendent in Palos Community Consolidated School District 118. "This community says they pay taxes here and they do it to support the children who live in the community."

Two of District 118's three schools were among the Southland's top 10 highest scoring schools last year.

Carroll said the district has never received a request to take No Child Left Behind students and is struggling to accommodate its own students.

"There would be a cost to it, and I don't just mean dollars. They'll take a lot of resources, time, energy, materials. … The teacher needs to work with those children. If you have 25 kids to a class and you put in three heavy-duty kids, that means 22 get less, because these three need more."

Carroll invited staff from struggling districts to come to Palos to see how they achieve their results.

Supt. Marion Hoyda in School District 146, with schools in Tinley Park, Oak Forest and Orland Park, echoed those concerns and worried that the transfer students would bring down her schools' scores, possibly leading to sanctions.

"It's not an issue of us not wanting to help out," said Rita Wojtylewski, assistant superintendent in Orland School District 135, which has turned down requests by other districts to accept NCLB transfer students.

"You are taking them out of their own communities. The U.S. has been founded on the idea of the neighborhood school. You'd decimate the existing school district," she said.

Under No Child Left Behind, schools must offer students the right to transfer to a better school if the school fails for two consecutive years to meet targets on standardized tests.

If all of a district's schools must offer choice, districts must arrange for inter-district choice "to the extent practicable." Districts can enter into cooperative agreements so students can transfer, but nothing in the law forces schools to accept students from outside their borders.

The student's home district must reserve a portion of its federal poverty funds to pay for transportation to the transfer district.

To date, no districts in the state have cut the inter-district deals — a fact that has helped to stall No Child Left Behind's choice provision in the south suburbs and around the nation.

Of the thousands of students in the south suburbs eligible to transfer, only a handful did, and none crossed district lines.

Last year, 54 parents from Patton School District 133 in Riverdale told school leaders they wanted transfers for their children. Supt. Frankie Sutherland mailed eight letters asking districts to take the students.

None said yes.

Hazel Crest School District 152, which had all of its schools on the choice list, sent a dozen letters looking for a district to accept some of its children.

It got no takers.

Shelly Marks, board president of Homewood School District 153, one of the districts that turned Hazel Crest down, said she feels no moral imperative to take on kids from neighboring districts.

"The right thing to do is for the federal government to adequately fund the No Child Left Behind Act and for the state to adequately fund education in every district in this state. If they did that, there would be no child left behind. And districts wouldn't be asked to take out-of-district students," said Marks.

Board members in Consolidated High School District 230, with schools in Orland Park, Tinley Park and Palos Hills, refused to summarily dismiss the idea of taking on transfers when they received requests from six districts last summer.

"We need to work with good spirit ... rather than just throwing up our hands and saying it's impractical," board member Frank Grabowski said during one discussion.

"It behooves us to work with our neighbors rather than protecting our own fiefdom. Maybe we can set an example to show how it could work."

The state will release the list of schools that must offer students choice in the coming weeks.

A number of national organizations, including the national Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights and the Century Foundation, have called on the federal government to create inter-district choice programs under No Child Left Behind. Hickok said it was "too early to talk about changing the law."

There are south suburbanites who support Hickok's call for top-scoring districts to open their doors — the parents of students trapped in sub-par schools.

"It's a child," said District 152 parent Thomas Franklin. "Why would you say no?"

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Increasing dropout age won't improve education

Rockford Register Star Editorial

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation last week that is well-intentioned but will have little effect on graduation and dropout rates in Illinois.

Blagojevich signed a bill that increases the dropout age from 16 years old to 17. The governor is right when he says "the dropout rate in Illinois is alarming," but raising the dropout age will do nothing to solve the problem. Just because a student will have to wait until he or she is 17 to legally drop out doesn't mean the student will do the necessary work to get enough credits to graduate.

The average graduation rate in Illinois is 85.2 percent, but Chicago -- the governor's home -- has a huge problem, especially with black males. More than 25 percent of Chicago's black male students drop out of school.

Rockford has plenty of challenges of its own with dropouts. It has the worst graduation rate in the Rock River Valley at 74.9 percent. Superintendent Dennis Thompson recognizes the problem, but sees raising the dropout age as a "Band-Aid."

"Most students know by the end of 10th grade whether or not they will graduate with their high school class," Thompson said. "If they can't, many get discouraged and eventually drop out of school. Simply raising the age level at which they can drop out does not adequately address the problems which cause them to drop out."

Thompson said it is more important to create alternatives to keep students in school, such as moving them into GED programs when they fall too far behind in credits, or creating credit recovery programs.

"Increasing the age to 17 before students are allowed to drop out of school will mean all school districts will have additional expenses to create programs to motivate some students to achieve in school when they would prefer to drop out," said Hononegah Superintendent Ralph Marshall. Marshall's school is successful in keeping students. Hononegah's dropout rate is only 1.6 percent.

The governor's office says additional expenses should be covered. If students are in school, they are counted in the school's attendance figures, the basis for receiving General State Aid; thus districts would receive support for these students as they would all others in their district. Thompson says the formula does not cover all the costs of educating a student.

The governor's office says if general aid is not enough, a school district can set up a graduation incentive program, which is established in this bill. These programs are eligible for state aid (at the foundation level), consistent with other alternative learning opportunities programs set up in the school code. The programs may be eligible, but the money is not guaranteed to come in.

Illinois educators face huge challenges and keeping kids in school is just one of them. As important as that is, a simple legal maneuver is not the answer.

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'Jump Start' program gets students ready for classroom

BY RAMONA CURTIS, 8/11/04

CAHOKIA - Cahokia District 187 is trying a new type of summer school this year.

The district's new Jump Start program is getting kids back into school for mini-sessions of reading and math instruction the week before school begins Tuesday.

"A lot of kids have summer school right after school's out, but in reality, the best time to have it is right before school starts," said Judy Smith, director of curriculum and instruction-Title I.

Created by the school district's administrators and educators, Jump Start is designed not only to help students hit the ground running, but also to encourage early attendance. It offers lessons in a "fun and engaging way," with students attending classes 2 1 / 2 hours each day this week.

Only 75 percent to 80 percent of students typically show up during the first week of class. According to Smith, students who do not attend the first week of school put a financial strain on the district because state funding is based on student attendance.

Smith said some parents may delay enrolling their children because in the past, many school districts did not begin the school year until after Labor Day. However, the district is not considering starting the school year later.

"When students are out 10 weeks in the summer, that's a long time," Smith said. "They lose a lot academically. With all that's required with regard to No Child Left Behind (federal act) and testing, we need to get our kids going Day One."

This is not the first time District 187 has used innovative programs to address attendance and education. Last school year, students attended Saturday "boot camps" to prepare them for the Illinois Standard Achievement Tests.

On Monday, the school board released preliminary data showing ISAT scores in all elementary schools have increased between 6 and 34 percent from the year before.

Although letters about the new program were sent to parents two weeks ago, participation in the early summer school sessions have been low. At Huffman Elementary School, about 60 students, or seven percent of the student body of 350, participated in the program on Tuesday.

Principal Emma Campbell said students who are attending are motivated and enjoying the program.

"They're excited about getting back into school," she said. "They wanted to meet their teachers and see what's new in the school."

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District says mental health already in its mission

By Lisa Smith, Daily Herald Staff Writer, August 11, 2004

Responding to students' social and emotional needs is part of the St. Charles school district's mission, officials said Monday as the district prepares to put that policy in writing for submission to the Illinois State Board of Education.

A new law, the Children's Mental Health Act, requires school districts across the state to incorporate social and emotional development into their educational programs and implement a response to students with social, emotional or mental health-related problems.

School districts must submit policies to the state board by Aug. 31. The state board by Dec. 31 must incorporate social and emotional development standards into the Illinois Learning Standards, with which all school districts must comply.

St. Charles school district special education Director Ronald Knapik told the school board he is unsure whether the district will have to change its policies in response to the state's direction; it is possible the policies already are in line with the law.

"We have an active response in each building," Knapik said.

The law is intended to ensure each school district includes children's social and emotional development as a critical part of its mission and a necessary part of each child's school readiness, academic success and overall well-being, according to a fact sheet compiled by the 100-member Children's Mental Health Task Force.

Ten percent of Illinois children suffer from mental illnesses severe enough to cause some level of impairment, yet only about one out of every five of those children receive mental health service, according to the task force.

The law mandates that school districts address prevention, early intervention and treatment.

"We'll just keep on doing what we're doing - helping kids," Superintendent Barbara Erwin said.

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Testing cuts draw mixed reactions

Karen Berkowitz, Mt. Prospect Times

Illinois school children will take fewer state-mandated tests next spring following a late-breaking move by lawmakers to scrub the exams in writing and social science - subjects that fall outside the spotlight of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The move to eliminate testing in both subjects comes as the state gears up for a major expansion of the assessment program in the spring of 2006.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, states and local school districts are held accountable for student achievement in reading and mathematics. By the 2005 - 2006 school year, students must be tested in both subjects - every year - between grades three and eight. Students also must be tested in science at three different grade levels between the third and 12th grades.

Subject matter

The changes will likely have no impact on curriculum in several northwest suburban school districts, local school officials said.

"We'll continue our emphasis on writing and socials studies," said Bruce Brown, superintendent of Mount Prospect School District 57.

Brown described the change as a "double-edged sword," saying not testing would give district teachers more time to teach, but would "remove a tool that gives us useful information."

The superintendent of River Trails School District 26 also foresaw no changes in curriculum. "We're going to be teaching writing," Superintendent Terry Barker said, citing how writing helps develop reading and critical thinking skills.

As far as testing is concerned "I think less is more," Barker said. "We've gotten to a point where we're spending a great amount of time on assessments that we don't need to do. Teachers know what their kids are lacking in."

The district is thinking about not giving the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and is continuing to use tests like Assess to Learn and the CoGat aptitude test, Barker said.

"To be honest, it's too soon to say what impact this will have," said Dan Schweers, superintendent of Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59. "A lot of people assume that when something is being tested, that's what drives its worth as far as instruction."

Schweers said standardized testing can drive teaching, and he believes that should not change. He said, though, sometimes teaching to the tests can come at the expense of other teaching other areas in different subjects.

Prospect Heights Elementary District 23 Superintendent Greg Guarrine said that in spite of the testing cuts, the district still must be accountable to the state and the public regarding the education of its students.

Guarrine echoed the sentiments of his colleagues in other districts when he said it is too early at this point to tell whether there will be any adverse impacts on District 23 programs. But teachers can spend more time on instruction because students will not be taking those tests.

"With less testing, we'll have more time for instruction," he said. "All the testing is fine, and in the northwest suburbs, the students and the schools here are wonderful. We're showing that students are meeting and exceeding state standards."

Cuts criticized

The move to eliminate the writing and social studies exams, at a savings of about $6.3 million, drew sharp criticism from Robert Schiller, the state's superintendent of education.

Schiller said dropping the exams from the state's testing program "undermines our education foundation in Illinois, our learning standards.

"Our assessments are broad because our standards are broad," Schiller said, noting that when the state developed its learning standards, "no one thought offering students a well-rounded education equated to simply focusing on reading and math."

Schiller expressed concern that districts strapped for resources might be tempted to cut back on instruction in writing and social studies and concentrate on areas that are tested - a shift he contended would be short-sighted.

"How can we expect a student to do a word problem in math, when they have never learned the critical writing skills required to both comprehend and answer the questions?" he said in a letter to district superintendents. "How can we stop assessing writing ... when we continue to hear from higher-education officials who have to offer remedial courses?"

Des Plaines School District 62 will discuss the issue in committee after school starts Aug. 24, said Melinda Ward, director of the district's community relations.

"There is a tendency of some districts not to stress a subject if there will be no testing on it, but I can't say that will happen here," Ward said.

"Writing and social studies are considered part of the core curriculum, and we try to stay as far away from cutting classes as possible. The subjects could even become part of the extra curriculum, if that was necessary," she added.

State Sen. Jeffrey M. Schoenberg, D-9th, said lawmakers were looking for ways to provide $400 million in new dollars for education as promised by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. In the end, $364 million came from new revenue sources and another $25 million came from reallocating existing funds within the State Board of Education, including the assessment funding, Schoenberg said.

"There was a convergence between those interested in re-evaluating state testing and those looking to scrape up additional dollars for classroom instruction," said Schoenberg, vice chairman of the Appropriations I and II committees in the Senate.

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State funds will improve teaching and learning

Letter by Glenn "Max" McGee, Superintendent, Wilmette District 39, Chairman, Golden Apple Foundation

Wilmette -- Public service can be a thankless job, but on behalf of Illinois schoolchildren, I thank our legislators, legislative leaders and Gov. Rod Blagojevich for doing a good job of crafting a budget compromise that delivers significant new dollars for education. Though the process was lengthy and contentious, the results were well worth the extensive effort, as the generous funding will help us improve teaching and learning in the city, suburbs and rural communities.

Particularly we are appreciative for the following:

- Golden Apple Scholars funding was restored so that our most needy students will continue to have our best prepared teachers.

- The allocation for special education was increased to help local districts meet state and federal requirements for educating this deserving population.

- Early Childhood Education funding grew by $30 million so we can begin closing the achievement gap before it becomes insurmountable.

- The distribution of nearly $400 million was fair--urban, suburban and rural districts all benefited.

To be sure, we still need to find a way to improve school funding in Illinois to assure that all children have the adequate resources they need to become literate, responsible, productive citizens, but the fiscal year 2005 budget is a solid first step in the right direction.

The budget bill also contains a provision that eliminates the state writing assessment. It is about time. Most teachers will tell you the state ISAT writing assessment made teaching writing a burden not a joy, that every year they were perplexed by some of their students' scores and that they spent too much time teaching a very specific formulaic type of writing.

Because "what gets measured gets taught," writing instruction too often focused on helping children score well instead of write well. The legislature and governor have given local districts the opportunity to teach and assess writing the way it should be taught and tested. Boys and girls need to learn how to plan their writing, how to write several drafts finding just the right words and sentence structures to capture the reader, how to develop a voice and the right tone for their audience, and how to prepare a finished document.

Believe it or not, many local districts such as Wilmette District 39--and even some in other states--know how to teach writing well and how to assess it in a way that enables students to flourish as writers. Perhaps the new Illinois State Board of Education will take the time to identify the best practices, share models that work and assist local districts in developing sound assessments rather than defending a deeply flawed test or assuming that local districts will neither teach nor test student writing.

Our legislators and our governor did well by education, and the education community and broader public should be thankful. Having the resources to deliver a quality education is far less costly than paying the long-term expenses that illiteracy produces in terms of crime, prison and welfare. As educators, we will strive to assure that every nickel is wisely invested in improving teaching and learning.

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Teacher fingerprinting OKd

State toughens applicant checks

By Diane Rado, Tribune staff reporter, August 13, 2004

Teachers and other applicants for school jobs will have to undergo more-stringent background checks, including providing their fingerprints to the FBI, under a new law that aims to keep criminals out of the classroom.

"We must do everything we can to provide parents peace of mind when they send their children off to schools," Gov. Rod Blagojevich said in a written statement Thursday, when he signed the law.

"We're giving school officials another tool to check and make sure the people they hire in their schools should be there," the governor said.

The law went into effect immediately, reforming one of weakest systems in the nation for checking the backgrounds of prospective teachers.

The Tribune reported last November that Illinois was one of only three states that did not require fingerprinting when teachers are licensed or hired, even when applicants are from another state.

For nearly two decades, a typical Illinois check involved only a check for in-state crimes, based on the applicant's name, date of birth and other identifying factors.

Fingerprints allow a more accurate check of a criminal past. They also are used by the FBI to search for offenses committed nationwide.

Flaws in the old system allowed a principal in Elgin-based School District U-46 to work for two years before school officials discovered in 2003 that he had a felony record for financial fraud in Wisconsin and had served time in federal prison. The district's in-state criminal background check didn't reveal the conviction just across the state line.

That incident and the publicity surrounding it spurred U-46 and other school districts to start requiring applicants to undergo national FBI background checks. The Illinois State Police force has repeatedly urged districts to do more-extensive national checks.

The state's largest district, the Chicago Public Schools, began fingerprinting and doing nationwide checks for new employees in January 2001.

With the new law, all applicants for positions at Illinois public schools will be required to submit their fingerprints for state police and FBI checks.

"We're think that's great that the rest of the state is catching up with us," said U-46 spokesman Larry Ascough.

His district pays $46 for state police and FBI checks--more than double the price of checks that search for in-state crimes only.

State lawmakers who pushed for the more-extensive checks say the higher cost is worth it.

"Nothing we can do can guarantee our children's safety in the classroom, but this law will make the classroom safer than it has been in the past," said state Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago), who filed legislation in January to require the FBI checks. He also signed on as a sponsor of the bill. The main sponsors were two Downstate lawmakers, a House member who is a former prosecutor and a senator who had been state's attorney in Madison County.

Officials with the state teachers unions supported the bill, though they had resisted widespread fingerprinting of teachers in the past. The new law does not require fingerprinting of current staff members, only prospective hires.

The law also allows the state to reimburse school districts for the expense of the criminal background checks, though a separate amount for that purpose was not included in the state budget.

However, there was a $12 million increase statewide in a pot of money that school districts can use for the background checks, said Karen Craven, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education.

The board supported the more-stringent system of criminal background checks, she said.

"I think it will provide parents and school board members and communities an added sense of relief," Craven said, "because God forbid you have a teacher in your community who crossed state lines and did something atrocious and we weren't able to catch it."

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School financing overhaul sought

By Gary Washburn, Chicago Tribune staff reporter, August 13, 2004

Mayor Richard Daley and other Chicago-area mayors said Thursday they plan to drum up political and community support for an overhaul of the state's educational funding system, but the leaders could not say when they will put a new funding proposal on the table.

Reduction of local property taxes, a primary revenue source for schools, will be "a beginning point" for any plan, said Elgin Mayor Edward Schock. The cut "has got to be significant ... or we are not going to create the political will" to revamp the current system, he said.

A reduction of property taxes could be more than offset by such things as increases in the state income and sales taxes, but there could be other suggestions that come to the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus as the group arrives at a final proposal, Schock said.

Schock and Daley are among leaders of the group.

"We owe it to our children ... to reform the system in a way that makes increased funding by the state guaranteed from year to year," Daley said. "We owe it to our hard-working property-tax payers to reform the system in a way that takes the burden off their shoulders and holds our schools accountable for their tax dollars, as we've done in Chicago."

Illinois pays 34 percent of the cost of public schools and ranks 49th in the nation in the proportion of state school funding it provides, caucus officials said.

Rising property taxes have been the result of the gap between what Springfield provides and what is needed, the mayors said.

On Tuesday, Chicago Public Schools officials proposed a $40 million property tax increase to help fund operations for 2005. Daley, who contends the increase is the only way to make ends meet, said the dream of homeownership is being threatened by rising taxes statewide.

The mayors' group will seek to build "the political will needed" to change the school-funding system, Schock said. "Today's [mayors'] summit was about beginning a dialogue," he said. "If our efforts are going to be successful, we need to bring as broad a base of support as possible."

"We do little Band-Aid solutions ... but we never look at comprehensive reform," said Barbara Toney, a member of the Hazel Crest School Finance Authority. "Every year we wait, children are losing precious time that can never be replaced."

Cook County Assessor James Houlihan has called for a 25 percent reduction in property taxes statewide in a school-funding reform proposal that also would include an increase in the personal income tax to 4 percent from 3 percent, as well as a 1 percentage point reduction in the state's portion of the sales tax but a broadening of its application to some services now exempt.

The change would generate another $1.5 billion annually for education, according to Houlihan.

The proposal "is a start," Schock said. But a consensus must be reached about what changes are appropriate, he said.

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Arts director fears signs of reading decline

By Edward Husar, Herald-Whig Staff Writer, August 12, 2004

Quincy's arts community plans to help promote literary reading among youths in an effort to counteract a national reading decline.

This effort is being led by Rob Dwyer, executive director of the Quincy Society of Fine Arts, who was inspired to take action after hearing the results of a new study, "Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America."

The study, commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts, showed that literary reading in America has declined rapidly among all groups, but especially among youths.

Dwyer heard about the study last month in Washington, D.C., while attending a joint convention of the Americans for the Arts and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. One of the speakers was Dana Giola, NEA chairman, who warned that the decline in literary reading parallels a larger retreat from participation in civic and cultural life.

That's a concern for Dwyer and others with a stake in maintaining vibrant arts communities. Dwyer said he fears a retreat from civic participation could lead to less support for cultural activities.

"A decline in reading of literature may well result in a decline of community activism, stewardship and philanthropy," he said.

All of those elements are keys to the success of Quincy's arts community, Dwyer said.

"The arts in Quincy are so lucky because of all the volunteers and all the people who have such a tremendous stewardship, which is our strength," he said. "We depend so much on such an active volunteer group."

Dwyer said he hopes to get Quincy's arts community involved in encouraging local youths to take an interest in literary reading.

"Maybe there is some way that the 52 organizations of the Quincy Society of Fine Arts could assist in some fashion," he said.

Dwyer said he intends to contact groups and individuals involved in efforts to promote reading, including the Quincy Public Library, which occasionally offers reading-incentive programs.

Dwyer said he wants "to see what they're doing already" and find out how the QSFA can assist.

Dwyer said he was alarmed to see such a precipitous decline in literary reading among youths.

"These are really dastardly figures," he said. "I pray that it's not as bad in Quincy as it is everywhere else."

For nearly 30 years Dwyer has been involved in educational efforts in Quincy's public and parochial schools. Several times a year he teaches a creative writing program that uses humor to entice youths to take an interest in reading and writing.

Dwyer hopes the arts community will find a similar means to foster literary reading among youths.

"Hopefully we can help," he said.

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Troy group helping homeschoolers

Elizabeth A. Lehnerer Of the Suburban Journals, 8/10/2004

Adults who teach their children at home are getting some help from a local organization.

Across the River Christian Home-educators is a group that offers support to area families who homeschool. For more than 10 years, the group has been working in Troy to aid parents in educating their children.

Michelle Nickerson, this year's coordinator, said the group offers advice about curriculum and programs and offers activities.

"We answer questions parents might have and guide them in a direction where they can get the information they need."

Nickerson said there are many different programs a parent can follow concerning the education of their child, and all of the information available can be overwhelming.

"As a support group, we can give parents information on the curriculum available and help them find what they can use," she said.

The group also offers advice on textbooks and lessons, sharing what worked and what didn't for their children.

Currently, 40 families belong to A.R.C.H., ranging from kindergartners to high-school students. Because of the variety in age groups, parents whose child just finished fifth grade can help a parent whose fourth grader is getting ready for the upcoming year.

"We offer experience, instead of having a parent research all that's out there," Nickerson said.

Nickerson said the program is beneficial to parents who homeschool because members understand their situation.

"If someone has a kid who doesn't want to do their homework, they can't talk to a neighbor who has kids in the public school because they can't relate," she said. "This gives parents the support they need."

A.R.C.H. also has guest speakers who speak on a variety of subjects including different teaching styles, keeping track of lessons and how to stay motivated.

Along with support, A.R.C.H. also offers field trips, science and geography fairs and special get-togethers.

"We are always on the lookout for education opportunities," Nickerson said.

Nickerson said that most field trips start as an idea by a parent who then opens the opportunity to the group. This year A.R.C.H. has already planned a back-to-school picnic, concerts at the symphony and a Lewis and Clark exhibit at the Sheldon in St. Louis. Also, the teen homeschoolers will see a Shakespeare play and Nickerson said there are more activities in the works.

The group is open to anyone in the area and there are groups in Belleville and Alton.

"We will take anyone, but we let people know of other homeschool groups that may be closer to them," she said.

The next A.R.C.H. meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Bethel Baptist Church in Troy. Before each meeting, time is set aside for new members to speak one-on-one with the leadership team at 6:30 p.m. Nickerson said the August kick-off meeting will include an introduction of the group, signup for field trips and a social gathering for new and old members.

A.R.C.H. holds its meetings on the second Thursday of the month during the school year. There are no meetings in December, June and July.

For more information on A.R.C.H., contact Michelle Nickerson at 667-2596.

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Why neglect the second `R'?

Letter by Marvin Hoffman, founding director of the North Kenwood Oakland Charter School in Chicago, Chicago Tribune, August 13, 2004

During my student days in the 1940s and '50s, I was never required to write anything more than an occasional book report. We filled in blanks in workbooks, diagrammed sentences and took exams that rarely called for responses extending beyond a few words or sentences. It wasn't until my freshman year of college that I was introduced to the radical idea that all the grammar and spelling we had learned could be used to express thoughts and ideas that others might actually be interested in reading.

So much for the notion that we are in retreat from a Golden Age of Education. Writing instruction and expectations for student writing have, in fact, advanced in remarkable ways in the last 40 years. Students have opportunities to write stories, poems, memoirs and research papers, which I would have relished. In many classrooms across the country, substantial blocks of time are set aside for what is known as writers' workshop, during which students can draft, revise and publish their work in many genres under the thoughtful direction of teachers. They write daily in their journals and correspond with their teachers about the books they are reading. Many teachers have participated in rich professional development that equips them with a deep understanding of how to engage students in writing.

If you're looking for the newsworthy "hook" in this story (as our writing students are trained to do), it's buried right here. The Illinois State Board of Education, in its infinite lack of wisdom, announced recently that as a cost-cutting measure it is eliminating, effective immediately, the writing section of the ISAT test for the state's 3rd, 5th and 8th graders. What remains are tests in reading, math and science, matching the areas for which students are held accountable under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

I am no fan of mandated standardized tests, but the ISAT writing assessment was a rare bright spot in an otherwise dismal landscape. The existence of the test required teachers to think deeply about what constitutes good writing, to look closely at student work and to craft instruction from the lessons learned. Good writing maintains focus, is organized, contains rich detail and reaches for engaging openings and closings. When you're teaching to the writing test, you are actually teaching meaningful skills.

With the state board's decision, much of this is threatened. A handful of passionate educators will stay the course and retain writing as a centerpiece of their curriculum. Their commitment stems from the belief that writing is a powerful tool to carry into the adult world and that writing and thinking are integrally intertwined. In the words of the British novelist E.M. Forster, "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?"

However, across most of the embattled educational landscape, teachers and administrators are already realigning their priorities in ways that will make writing an also-ran. It is an axiom that teachers will only teach what they are accountable for. The elimination of the writing assessment is a particular setback in Chicago, where the two-headed testing monsters of ISAT and ITBS (the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills) reign. The former's inclusion of a writing component, which allowed students to do something less robotic than bubbling in circles on a machine-scored answer sheet, distinguished it as the more serious and meaningful of the two enterprises.

The state board's plan to eliminate the writing assessment, along with the 4th and 7th grade social studies test, will save a paltry $6.4 million out of a mammoth education budget. The real cost lies in the way it puts Illinois at odds with a number of other significant national trends. We are jettisoning writing just when other states are adding it to their assessment batteries. The SAT and the ACT, the traditional gateways to college admission, are introducing mandatory writing tests in the near future. Last year a national commission issued a report on the state of writing instruction in America called "The Neglected R," which called for significant upgrading in this area.

It is short-sighted for Illinois to be headed south, against the flow of everything we are discovering about the role of writing in supporting intellectual growth.

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Mayors seek more state school funds

Daily Southtown Editorial, 8/12/04

Mayor Richard Daley's schools chief announced this week that Chicago Public Schools will increase property taxes by some $40 million this year — the sixth consecutive year the school system will raise taxes by the maximum amount allowed under state law.

That will raise the school portion of taxes on a $100,000 home to $1,027 a year.

So it is no coincidence that Daley's Metropolitan Mayors Caucus — a group of 272 mayors from the Chicago area — is calling for a change in the way the state pays for public schools. In a nutshell, the mayors want the state to begin paying its fair share of the cost of schools —51 percent by their reckoning.

Parents, teachers and many school board members and administrators have been calling for the same kind of reform for the better part of the past 20 years. But the state's contribution to school funding costs has failed to keep pace with rising expenses, leading to increasingly unfair property tax bills in some parts of the state, particularly in the south suburbs.

School advocates have warned for many years that the state's failure to play its constitutionally mandated role was driving taxpayers out of their homes and businesses out of the state. But until fairly recently, the negative effects were felt primarily in communities with little commercial or industrial development, like the south suburbs. Now the impact is hitting Chicago homeowners like a sledgehammer, and it's affecting homeowners even in wealthy communities where schools have previously had few problems collecting enough money to provide top-flight educational programs.

Now that taxpayers virtually everywhere are feeling the burden, Daley and the mayors caucus are joining with education advocates to call for more state funding to help alleviate growing property tax bills.

This newspaper has been calling for school funding reform for nearly 20 years. The existing system, which is excessively dependent on property taxes, not only is unfair to taxpaying homeowners, it also has been grossly unfair to schoolchildren in middle-class and poorer communities, where schools have been unable to raise adequate revenue to support strong school programs.

The result is not just high property tax bills. We also have a school system that serves the wealthy very well and shortchanges the rest of the state's kids. It comes down to the luck of the draw: If you are born in a wealthy community, you will attend good schools; if not, by and large, you are out of luck.

Few of the mayors in the past have actively supported efforts to boost school funding. Some have even been outspoken opponents of ballot measures intended to provide more support for schools.

That's changing now as the inevitable has occurred, and school districts and property taxpayers across the state are suffering. The mayors are getting the message, and we're glad to hear it.

The problem now, however, is that Illinois has a governor who has made "no new taxes" the central element of his program for the state. Gov. Rod Blagojevich won the election on that pledge, and he's standing by it, regardless, apparently, of the impact on the schools.

As Daily Southtown columnist Phil Kadner wrote Wednesday, "That means no property tax relief and no school funding reform."

Gerald Bennett, mayor of Palos Hills, told Kadner the mayors are hoping to convince the governor of what he must do. "The governor can't continue to talk out of both sides of his mouth." Bennett said. "He can't promise to reform education and then say he will veto any funding reform that includes a tax increase."

The mayors caucus may be providing some political cover for the governor and Legislature by calling for increased "accountability" by schools. That may mean more standardized tests. There's nothing wrong with accountability, although we're no fans of making test after test the top priority for students.

Still, what the schools need is for the Legislature and governor to keep their commitment to public education. Maybe the politicians in Springfield will be more receptive to the arguments if they are being made by mayors, not just parents, teachers and education advocates.

The key, of course, is the governor. If he refuses to listen, legislators won't either. They're not going to support a tax increase that the governor plans to veto, regardless of the fact that it's the right thing to do.

Education 'conversation'

The Metropolitan Mayors Caucus will hold a "Conversation with the Region's Mayors on Education Reform" today from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. in the Winter Garden on the ninth floor of the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State St. in Chicago. The mayors will hear testimony from school board members, administrators, teachers, business leaders, civic organizations and state legislators.

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Eliminating social studies, writing testing doesn't add up

Editorial by Tom Martin, Editor, Galesburg Register-Mail, August 11, 2004

The state of Illinois is telling schools not to worry as much about writing and social studies, or so it seems.

The state decided in this year's marathon budget session to no longer require state testing in writing and social studies.

The move will save $6.3 million for our cash-strapped state. The money saved will be funneled into education mostly through a $154-per-pupil increase in the state aid formula. More money for schools is good. Cutting testing in the critical areas of writing and social studies is not.

Assessments in writing and social studies, along with math and reading, have been used for accountability statewide since the 1992-93 school year.

Schools use the Prairie State Achievement Exam for 11th graders and the Illinois Standards Achievement Test for other grades. Students in grades 3, 5, and 8 take the ISAT in reading, writing and mathematics. Students in grades 4 and 7 take the ISAT in science and social science. Schools may voluntarily administer tests in physical development and health and fine arts to students in grades 9 and/or 10.

Proponents of the cuts in testing argue that schools will won't stop teaching these subjects. Among those is Republican state Rep. Roger Eddy of Hutsonville, who serves on the Education Appropriations Committee.

"I have heard the philosophical argument that if we stop testing it, schools will stop teaching it," Eddy said in recent Associated Press story. "But I believe in professional educators more than that. We have to remember that, long before this standardized (testing) movement, teachers were teaching their students how to write."

But that was before No Child Left Behind required schools to make adequate yearly progress or suffer the consequences, which include losing federal money and allowing students to attend elsewhere. Losing students means losing state funding which is largely based on enrollment.

"I don't think anyone involved in this wants to discount the importance of assessment," Eddy said. "But it boils down to making tough decisions with scarce resources."

And this tough decision by the state is being precipitated by No Child Left Behind, which requires progress through testing in only math and reading. In 2006 science will be added to the testing and progress requirements.

The state now will end its more comprehensive assessment standards and align with the those of No Child Left Behind.

State Superintendent of Education Robert Schiller warns of the possible danger in such a move.

"How can we stop assessing writing, where despite having seen improvement in scores, we continue to hear from higher education officials who have to offer remedial courses?" asks Schiller.

Colleges do have to offer remedial courses in writing to incoming freshmen because enough students are below the required skill levels. And poor writing skills have an effect across all subjects. Writing is an exercise in critical thinking and communication.

Only 58.9 percent of Illinois 11th graders met or exceeded state writing standards, according to the 2003 Prairie State Achievement Exam results. That was down from 59.4 percent the year before.

Seeing test scores change from year to year allows school districts the opportunity to fine tune their programs for progress.

We doubt whether schools will intentionally move emphasis away from writing and social studies, however they will lose these important tools of assessment.

Simply put, if it is worth testing students in reading and math, it is worth testing students in writing and social studies. Even if it costs $6.3 million. -

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NATIONAL

Judgment Day Nears

Virginia Mulls Kicking Feds’ Funds to the Curb

Kelly Cupp, The Winchester Star

Who needs the federal government — at least when it comes to education?

That’s the question Virginia lawmakers plan to ask this fall when House Bill 337 opens for a public hearing. If it becomes a law, the bill would enable Virginia to withdraw from the federal No Child Left Behind Act on July 1, 2005.

The measure is sponsored by Del. Albert Pollard, D-Lancaster, and carried over from this spring’s legislative session.

If the state pulled out of the federal education program, it could lose about $300 million in federal funds that pay for a wide range of programs, according to Margaret Roberts, executive assistant to the State Board of Education.

But the cost of remaining under the federal government’s watch would be more expensive than that, according to Del. James H. Dillard II, R-Fairfax.

The act created unfunded mandates, meaning individual school systems have to pay for the programs to meet the new federal law, Pollard said.

The 678-page No Child Left Behind Act hasn’t lived up to its promises, Pollard added.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s an educational bureaucracy that doesn’t help the child,” he said.

Legislators held the bill over from the spring session in hopes that lawmakers would work with President Bush’s administration on changes to the act over the summer, Dillard said. But that has not happened, he said.

“The core [of the act] needs work,” Dillard said. “This is the most egregious encroachment on states’ rights.”

The concerns surrounding the act aren’t Democratic or Republican, Pollard said.

“This is a problem of a way of thinking north of the Potomac River,” Pollard said.

Through the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal government calls the educational shots in the states, Dillard said.

The act was designed for “people inside the Beltway who don’t have to live with it,” Pollard said. “This is a mess, to put it clearly.”

The spirit of the act is positive, but making it a reality has been difficult, according to Dennis Kellison, superintendent of the Winchester Public Schools.

“The devil is in the details,” Kellison said.

Most of the regulations are clumsy and the federal act lacks the flexibility of the Virginia Standards of Learning, Kellison said.

In small rural school districts with few administrators, wading through the act’s regulations while still conducting business is difficult, Pollard said.

It’s also unrealistic to think 100 percent of students are going to pass federally approved tests, Pollard said. Some students just can’t meet those standards, he said.

Still, even if the bill makes it to a final vote in the General Assembly, it’s doubtful the state will pull away from the federal funding next year, Dillard said.

Like Utah, Virginia’s General Assembly might vote to withdraw from the act, but decide to keep discussing the issue before formally acting, Dillard said.

Pollard said July 1, 2006, is a more realistic date for a potential withdrawal.

In the meantime, the Virginia Department of Education continues abiding by the federal regulations, Roberts said.

“It’s a matter for the General Assembly to decide,” Roberts said.

If the state withdrew from the federal act, educational accountability needs to remain the focus, according to William C. Dean, superintendent of the Frederick County Public Schools.

The federal act is about accountability, but Virginia’s educational accountability has always been impressive, he said.

Attempting to place a federal level of accountability on top of the state’s is a burden on the state and local school systems, Dean said.

Pulling away from the federal government won’t be easy at first because of the loss of funding, but the state will save money in the long run, Pollard said.

“If Virginia was to pull out, I hope the federal government would realize [No Child Left Behind] is broken and try to fix it,” Pollard said.

The hearing on House Bill 337 is set for 2 p.m. Nov. 10 in House Room C in the General Assembly Building, Richmond.

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Congressman: No Child Left Behind is working

Beth Sneller, Daily Herald Staff Writer

U.S. Rep. John Boehner points to rising test scores as proof the federal No Child Left Behind Act was a good idea.

Though some school officials insist the legislation - which requires every child meet state standards by the year 2014 - is flawed, the Ohio Republican says he's convinced it will force schools to give every student a chance.

Boehner, who sponsored the No Child Left Behind Act, spoke Tuesday at a Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

He talked to local business and school leaders about his role as chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, higher education and bringing low-income children up to the academic level of their peers.

"Low-income children aren't exposed to books and other things our kids get to see," he said.

He said 70 percent of inner-city fourth-graders can't read a book, which means most won't find decent jobs when they are older.

"By and large, 90 percent of them we've already lost," he said.

He admitted No Child Left Behind isn't a perfect law, but said he thinks it will bring schools and communities closer together as they work to continue raising test scores.

When asked if he plans on changing the requirement that special education students meet the same standards as their peers, Boehner was short on details. Instead, he talked about how those students still need to improve.

"That's probably the most important component of No Child Left Behind - the special education students," he said. "Children with special needs deserve an education, too. Having a child judged at his grade level is important."

However, he said, legislators are working on "fine-tuning" the Individuals With Disabilities Act. They're trying to develop a different way they can assess special education students.

Boehner also talked about his committee's work to find more money for college student loans.

"It's clear in our society today a high school diploma isn't going to get you far," he said. "If we're going to be competing in a worldwide economy, a college education is of utmost importance."

He said he would like the U.S. Department of Education to pull together data it receives from hundreds of colleges and put it in one big guide.

"Why not take this data and put it in a user-friendly format that we can get out to students and parents?" he said.

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No Child Left Behind changes educational climate

Alison Damast, Stamford Advocate

Teachers, parents and administrators will learn this fall which schools are not making sufficient progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Schools that make the list for a second year in a row could face consequences such as offering school choice and after-school supplemental tutoring, and making curriculum changes.

Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind legislation, educators said they are continuing to grapple with the law's strict requirements and performance benchmarks. Some administrators, parents and teachers said they believe the act has changed the educational landscape and climate in the schools.

"I think that many of my fears and the fears of educators have come to pass," said Karen Lang, Norwalk Public Schools' assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. "There is a climate of fear that is pervasive in the country now as many schools face the prospect of being identified as failing. I think we have just begun to see the tip of the iceberg."

Sally Harrison, deputy superintendent of Stamford's public schools, said it's important for districts to not let No Child Left Behind cloud their missions.

"We want to resist narrowing our curriculum just to teach to areas that are tested," Harrison said. "Parents tell us, 'Don't forget the arts. Don't forget health and fitness.' Those things are important to parents."

No Child Left Behind, enacted in 2001, is a federal law designed to improve the performance of students on standardized tests. The goal is to have 100 percent of students scoring at or above the proficiency level determined by the state in 2014.

A school could make the list because the entire student body or a subgroup of students failed to make "adequate yearly progress" in math or reading, or had inadequate student participation.

Subgroups must consist of 40 or more students and include poor and minority students, students with disabilities and English as a second language learners.

In Stamford, 12 of the city's 20 public schools were placed on the list -- Stamford and Westhill high schools, Cloonan, Scofield Magnet and Turn of River middle schools, and Davenport Ridge, Northeast, Roxbury, The International School at Rogers Magnet, Julia A. Stark and Toquam Magnet elementary schools.

Last year, seven Norwalk schools were placed on the list, including all three high schools.

Brookside, Silvermine and Wolfpit elementary schools and Nathan Hale Middle School also appeared on the list.

Ponus Ridge Middle School was placed in the "safe harbor" category, which allows for schools that have made 10 percent annual improvement in test scores over a two-year period to be exempt from the list. The majority of schools were placed on the list because certain subgroups of students did not meet the state's proficiency benchmarks.

The state-run J.M. Wright Regional Vocational-Technical School in Stamford has appeared on the list twice, meaning it must allow students to transfer to another vocational-technical school or establish a separate academic program within its walls.

"I think No Child Left Behind is critical. The system needs to be fixed and If No Child Left Behind is a start, then I'm all for it," said Greta DeAngelis, the vice-president for administration of the Parent Teacher Organization Council in Norwalk and a Silvermine parent. "It is just unfortunate that there wasn't a stronger support system put in place to help municipalities deal with it, so now we are scrambling."

Educators said they have reservations about many aspects of the law, including how to improve student achievement on standardized tests without sufficient federal funding and the looming possibility of public school choice and administrative changes down the line.

"The consequences become more and more draconian," Lang said.

All Norwalk public schools have developed improvement plans, including the four schools cited on the list last year.

The plans, which were presented to the Norwalk school board last year, include strategies for individualizing student instruction, improving in-school professional training for teachers and involving parents on a broader level in their child's education.

"I think the pressure is still on. The pressure is always on," said Linda Sumpter, Ponus Ridge principal. "It is the whole issue of accountability and connecting and having people look to us, as they well should."

No Child Left Behind has led Stamford to take a new approach with school funding. This fall, instead of distributing grant funds equally among schools, money will be given out based on need.

"This is a first for us, distributing equitably, not equally," Harrison said. "The thought is that we have to anticipate the fact that schools that have a lot of diversity, a lot of poverty, are going to be in more danger of No Child Left behind sanctions."

Parents said they have had time to familiarize themselves with the act and what it means for a school to be cited for not making progress.

"Last year, we spent a lot of time learning about No Child Left Behind and there were a lot of presentations on it," said Greg Burnett, a former PTO Council member who has two children in the Norwalk Public Schools. "Now, we are at a point where we are starting to look at the results of the various tests, how the children scored and teachers' performance. Some tough decisions are going to start to be made in the areas where you are not seeing improvement."

Administrators said they appreciate the spirit of the law, which has motivated staff to spend more time working with students who need additional help in math and reading.

"It makes us focus on what we need to do and you have to prove it. You simply can't say it," said David Hay, Brookside principal. "You have to have proof and evidence. You can't sit back and rest. No matter where your scores are, there is room for improvement."

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State, ACLU Settle Suit on Education

The agreement would set aside up to $1 billion to repair deteriorating schools, many of them in L.A. It requires a judge's approval.

By Duke Helfand and Cara Mia DiMassa, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers, 8/11/04

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration and the American Civil Liberties Union have tentatively settled a major education lawsuit that accused the state of denying poor children adequate textbooks, trained teachers and safe classrooms, lawyers for both sides said Tuesday.

The proposed agreement would require the state to devote as much as $1 billion over a period of several years for 2,400 low-performing schools to repair deteriorating facilities and $50 million to assess such needs. It also would provide nearly $139 million this year for textbooks.

The tentative pact in the Williams vs. California suit, which was reached after five months of negotiations, would provide additional resources and beefed-up oversight for the bottom third of California's schools as ranked by scores on standardized tests.

ACLU attorneys hailed the proposed agreement as a revolution for the education of poor children in California and praised Schwarzenegger's efforts to settle the case, an about-face from his predecessor, Gray Davis, whose administration spent $18 million fighting it.

"It's going to end generations of neglect with respect to these kids," said Mark Rosenbaum, the ACLU's Southern California legal director. "The state is stepping up for the first time in its history to satisfy its constitutional and moral responsibility."

The lawsuit, which was filed in May 2000 in San Francisco Superior Court, alleged that the state deprives tens of thousands of low-income students the necessities for a quality education, such as adequately trained teachers, functioning toilets, modern textbooks, and proper heat and air conditioning.

Named after a San Francisco middle-school student, Eliezer Williams, the suit argued that such conditions violated the California Constitution's requirement that all students receive a free and equal public education.

In addition to the ACLU, the suit was filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the nonprofit San Francisco law firm Public Advocates and the Morrison & Foerster firm.

The deal would establish a process for students, teachers and parents to report complaints, and it would give county education superintendents powers to monitor low-performing campuses to ensure adequate textbooks and other necessities, including qualified teachers.

County officials would report their findings to local school boards and the state.

The two sides were scrambling to reach an agreement so state lawmakers could pass legislation, as expected, to enact many of the agreement's reforms before adjourning Sept. 1. For example, existing education money that is currently unspent must be redirected to fund the $1 billion for school repairs.

A Schwarzenegger spokeswoman said the settlement, which must be approved by a San Francisco Superior Court judge, reflected the governor's desire to resolve the matter.

"The governor believes that we should spend our time, energy and money fixing what is wrong with our schools and not fighting them," said Ashley Snee.

"He wanted to find a settlement that was in the best interest of all California students. That's what we found."

Not everyone was as enthusiastic. Some educators said the proposal offered too little money and too much paper-pushing.

Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, said that he was glad the case was ending but that the settlement "relies heavily on bureaucratic solutions."

Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Roy Romer said he was pleased with the extra funds and support that the agreement would provide. But he echoed O'Connell's concern about increased bureaucracy, and said the district had acted to address some of the problems identified in the settlement. The Los Angeles district's current $14-billion construction program, for example, aims at eliminating an unpopular calendar at crowded schools that shaves 17 days off the school year.

The Los Angeles Board of Education, which oversees a large number of schools involved in the case, on Tuesday approved the agreement, although with some reservations. The settlement did not require the board's support, but state officials wanted it.

Sweetie Williams, the father of the lead plaintiff in the case, said he was thrilled that an agreement had been reached.

"I thank God that it's coming to an end," Williams said. "This has been a great opportunity not only to help my children [but] also to remind parents that we've got to stand up for what is right."

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Schools adjust for higher lunch costs

Higher food, labor, transportation costs to blame

AP, Tuesday, August 10, 2004

SOMERSWORTH, New Hampshire -- Back-to-school checklists will have children scrambling for a new item this year -- more lunch money.

Feeling the pressure of rising food, labor and transportation costs, schools nationwide are hiking the price of breakfast and lunch, in some cases for the first time in more than a decade and by as much as $1.

Duane Ford, business director for Somersworth schools, said this year's 25-cent increase -- the first in 10 years -- is just the start. Staff cuts, eliminating the breakfast program and another increase next year also are being considered.

"What we did in terms of changing our price isn't enough," he said recently. "You start looking at reports saying, 'Oh my God, what are we going to do? This isn't working."'

The increases don't affect the nearly 17 million children who get free or reduced price lunches and who account for more than half of the 29 million children served by the National School Lunch Program this year.

Forty cents is the limit for a reduced price meal. But prices for kids who don't meet the poverty rules are set by local school districts and have no price cap. It is those prices that some schools are raising -- from a few cents to a dollar per meal.

School systems typically get no local money for their lunch programs. They get by on meal sales, vending machine sales and the use of government commodities. But schools complain that the federal system hasn't kept pace with the cost of food. Budgets in the red are routine.

While typical annual food inflation is about 3 percent, dairy prices in June were up 27 percent from a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Meat and cheese were up 11 percent, and poultry 9 percent.

There also is a catch-up factor at play. Schools generally avoid raising prices for as long as possible. That means many communities are just now covering for years of incremental cost increases in addition to the recent spike.

It all added up to a 17 percent food cost increase at the Galt Joint Union High School District in Galt, California, where officials recently relented, raising meal prices to $3 after holding them to $2 for the past 12 years.

The district wanted to hold the increase to 50 cents, but feared having to go back to parents for more money next year.

A reasonable fear, said Barry Sackin, spokesman for the American School Food Service Association. Even tiny price hikes can hurt participation, especially among families that hover above poverty but don't qualify for free or reduced-cost meals.

Gasoline culprit behind price increase

For Carol Rippa, food service director for 72,000 students at Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, gasoline was a major culprit behind a 25-cent increase.

"We have 350 square miles in our school district," she said. "We're busy taking the food to all 75 schools that are scattered throughout the 350 square miles. The fuel cost makes the food cost more."

At schools in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where the cost of milk alone is up $100,000 more than the district anticipated, lunch price increases are expected to cost the average child an additional $17.70 a year.

The recent national push to make school food healthier also comes with a price. Eliminating junk food can hurt income.

School business director Duane Ford: "You start looking at reports saying, 'Oh my God, what are we going to do? This isn't working."'

Texas recently adopted strict new school nutrition standards that include restrictions on fried foods. That's forcing many schools to dump their deep fat fryers and buy pricey new equipment.

In the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District in Bedford, Texas, school officials increased meal and drink prices to help offset an expected $500,000 needed to equip its 27 schools with new ovens.

Labor prices also have crept up, mostly because of health care costs. Sackin said that while salaries have remained steady, more districts now use health benefits to attract workers.

Schools aren't alone in feeling the pressure. The USDA, which runs the National School Lunch Program, spends about $948 million a year to supply schools with roughly 18 percent of the food they serve.

But this year its buying power is reduced. Like families, the agency is watching prices carefully, hoping to avoid spending more to buy the same amount of food.

The blow is softened somewhat for schools that use outside food service companies, most of which cater for thousands of schools and can leverage that purchasing power for better prices -- and creative solutions.

For example, don't be surprised if your child's chicken nuggets are replaced by cheaper chicken-and-soy nuggets this year, said Nancy Quinn of Chartwells School Dining Services, which has contracts with 3,000 schools.

Outlook isn't all bad

And the outlook isn't all bad. Ephraim Leibtag, a food price economist at the USDA, said the price of milk -- the only food federally mandated for every school meal -- already shows signs of moderating.

The agency also has increased the credit it gives schools -- up 11/2 cents to just over 17 cents per meal -- for spending on government food commodities in 2005.

Some schools hope the cost hike is temporary and have put off deciding whether to raise prices. At Rio Linda Union School District in Rio Linda, California, food service director Susan Stewart is finding ways to save money, instead.

She favors turning off the lights.

"It's been like a contest where every time you leave a room you turn off a light," she said. "It's something that's controllable and it doesn't require a cut in staff or a cut in spending."

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Deal ends California suit over shoddy schools

AP, Wednesday, August 11, 2004

SACRAMENTO, California -- The state agreed to improve its worst schools to settle a long-running class-action lawsuit targeting shoddy facilities, outdated textbooks and unqualified teachers, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration said Tuesday.

The proposed settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union is aimed at boosting conditions for students in the state's 2,400 lowest-performing schools, concentrated in inner cities, but provides little funding to carry out those goals.

The ACLU sued four years ago in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of children in 18 different school districts, alleging the state was neglecting its poorest students.

Textbooks are so scarce in some schools that children have to share. Some pupils go through entire school years without a permanent teacher. Leaky roofs, a shortage of desks and rodents plague some schools.

All the plaintiffs and defendants agreed to settle the case, according to state officials and the ACLU. The state Board of Education signed off on the deal last week. School boards in Los Angeles and San Francisco, which have an interest in the case but are not defendants or plaintiffs, were expected to vote Tuesday night on whether to endorse the deal.

An official in Schwarzenegger's office said the deal would give students proper instructional materials, provide clean and safe schools and guarantee qualified teachers.

The budget signed earlier this month by Schwarzenegger contained $188 million to handle expenses related to the settlement this year, including $138 million for textbooks and $50 million to assess and make repairs -- a task that could cost more than $1 billion in years ahead.

Part of the agreement includes legislation the administration has drafted that would make test score results and teacher qualifications easily available to the public and make it easier to file complaints against schools. If the legislation isn't passed, the suit would not be dismissed, said Catherine Lhamon, an ACLU attorney.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, one of the defendants, said he agreed to the deal, but he criticized the lack of specifics and lack of funding, which has been attributed to the state's massive budget deficits in recent years.

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Critics Float ‘No Child’ Revisions

By Lynn Olson, Education Week, Washington, 8/11/04

Critics of the No Child Left Behind Act have begun to circulate proposals for fixing what they view as major flaws in its accountability provisions.

Although the law is not slated for reauthorization until 2007, they are hoping for amendments as early as next year, in part to address the large number of schools and districts that may not meet its performance targets.

Many of the proposed changes were discussed at a recent meeting here sponsored by the Center on Education Policy, a Washington think tank. "We want to push the debate beyond criticism to discussing alternatives," said Jack Jennings, the group’s director and a former top Democratic congressional aide on education, "and to subject those alternatives to criticism."

But Ross Wiener, the policy director for the Washington-based Education Trust, which strongly supports the law, maintained that the papers "presented no compelling evidence" that its accountability requirements need big changes. In large measure, Mr. Wiener said, he came to that conclusion because many of the projections that large number of schools will be identified for improvement in the future presume that schools will perform as they always have.

In general, the alternatives put forward focus on addressing what many describe as the law’s unrealistic expectations for schools. A number of models also would give schools credit for growth, rather than just the percent of students at or above the "proficient" level on state tests. Some also urge the federal government to move beyond a concentration on test scores to include other measures of school and student performance.

The federal law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, requires that 100 percent of students score at state-defined proficiency levels on reading and math tests by 2013-14. To make "adequate yearly progress," or AYP, schools and districts must meet annual targets for the percent of students at or above the proficient level, with those targets rising over time. They also must test at least 95 percent of their students and do well on at least one other academic indicator—graduation rates for high schools and, typically, attendance rates at the elementary and middle levels.

Schools and districts must meet the annual targets both for their total student populations and for subgroups of students who are poor, speak limited English, have disabilities, or come from racial- or ethnic-minority backgrounds.

Critics have charged that the rate of improvement expected of schools is unreasonable and sets them up for failure, particularly given the large number of subgroup targets. Projections from states such as California and Connecticut, for instance, indicate that, eventually, most schools will fail to make AYP unless the targets are changed. State definitions of "proficient" also vary widely, making it hard to compare results across states.

Rethinking Targets

"The most important modification is to set performance targets for judging adequate yearly progress that are more reasonable and for which there is a realistic hope that they might be achieved given sufficient effort," argues Robert L. Linn, a professor of education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, in a paper presented at the Center on Education Policy meeting, held July 28.

One alternative, he suggested, is to use the median score on state tests in 2002—the year President Bush signed the measure into law—as a state’s baseline. The expected annual increase for schools could be based on the rate of improvement in the state’s best-performing schools averaged over the past five years. Some experts countered that assuming schools can make only the same rate of improvement that they’ve made in the past presumes they won’t do anything differently. But Mr. Linn said evidence would have to be available that the amount of change expected was possible.

W. James Popham, the author of America’s ‘Failing’ Schools: How Parents and Teachers Can Cope With No Child Left Behind, also advocates abandoning the use of "proficiency" as a target. Instead, he suggests, states should set more realistic "grade level" expectations for students. Schools and districts would then have to make annual improvements in the percent of students at or above grade level, but those targets would vary based on where the school started, and they would "reek of realism," he said in an interview.

For the system to work, he added, states would need to select tests that were more sensitive to instruction; for example, by focusing on fewer and more fundamental content standards and reporting results in ways that inform classroom practice.

Growth and Absolute Goals

Detractors of the law also suggest that focusing only on the percent of students at or above the proficient level ignores the growth of students well below or above that bar. For that reason, some states, such as Massachusetts and New York, are using a performance index to evaluate schools that gives them credit for moving student achievement up, even when youngsters do not yet score at the proficient level.

A number of the alternatives recommend taking that method one step further by tracking the growth of individual students over time.

A "hybrid success model," proposed by the Northwest Evaluation Association, based in Portland, Ore., would identify an annual-growth target for each student in a school based on where the student began, so that he or she reached proficiency within a specified time. Schools would be judged by the extent to which each child met his or her growth target. Schools in which students continued to progress after reaching the proficient level would be rewarded.

Similarly, Harold C. Doran, a senior research scientist at the Washington-based American Institutes of Research, has suggested a model known as REACH, for Rate of Expected Academic Change, that would judge schools based on whether individual students were making enough progress annually to reach the proficient level on state tests by the time they finished the highest grade in a school.

"The addition of an individual-growth approach to current AYP models is the important factor," argued Allan Olson, the president of the Northwest association, a nonprofit group that provides assessment services to districts, "not the particular approach that is added."

In a March letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, 16 chief state school officers championed the use of growth models to meet the law’s AYP requirements.

But Lauress L. Wise, the president of the Human Resources Research Organization, in Alexandria, Va., cautioned that psychometric issues are involved in building such value-added systems. Linking results across grades is difficult, he said, because each grade tests and teaches a different set of knowledge and skills. Others pointed out that many states now lack the data systems and assessments needed to do such value-added analyses.

Gavin Payne, the chief deputy superintendent of the California education department, said one solution would be to empower states to devise their own accountability systems as long as they could show significant improvement in the percent of students at the proficient level and in closing achievement gaps between various subgroups. What constitutes "significant improvement" and "closing the gap" in a particular state should be informed by the best research in educational measurement, he contended, not by federal mandate.

"What has occurred is the de facto federal pre-emption of what were once state prerogatives in the area of educational accountability," Mr. Payne said.

But others cautioned that Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, in part, because states had been lax in their own accountability efforts under the previous reauthorization of the ESEA, passed in 1994.

"There’s almost no reference to the massive failure of the states," said William L. Taylor, the chairman of the Washington-based Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, arguing that the papers presented at the conference lacked historic context.

Statistical Hurdles

While agreeing on the importance of closing achievement gaps, critics charge that requiring schools to meet multiple targets for each subgroup results in a "statistical gauntlet that penalizes schools serving the most diverse populations," in the words of Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University.

Mr. Linn suggests that states could reduce the instability in disaggregated results by averaging scores across a number of years.

The National Education Association has proposed that schools be identified for improvement or corrective action only when the same subgroup fails to meet performance targets in the same subject for two or more consecutive years, a proposal that so far has been rejected by federal officials as contrary to the law. The union also would limit the provision of tutoring and school choice to the particular subgroup that fails to make adequate progress, rather than providing such options to all students in a school, as the law now requires.

Mr. Popham supports basing the status of schools and districts on the performance of their overall student populations, while continuing to report disaggregated results publicly. To ensure that educators maintain their focus on subgroup performance, he recommends that local citizen-review panels scrutinize test scores and other relevant data on each school and release public evaluation reports yearly.

But Mr. Wiener of the Education Trust contends that "accountability based on disaggregated data is here to stay." His organization has highlighted numerous examples of schools that appear to be successful based on schoolwide averages that mask the poor performance of individual subgroups.

The strongest critics of the No Child Left Behind Act are pushing to broaden the evaluation of schools far beyond test scores. The NEA, for example, wants to permit states to incorporate additional measures—such as the percent of students taking honors or Advanced Placement courses—into an accountability index to evaluate school performance.

And in a book published this summer, Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act Is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools, Ms. Darling-Hammond and others outline alternatives to test-based accountability that rely on multiple measures.

For instance, Monty Neill, the executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, a watchdog group based in Cambridge, Mass., proposes that teachers gather evidence of students’ progress in the classroom that could then be aggregated up to the school, district, and even state levels.

Limited standardized testing in reading and mathematics would be used solely to check up on school-level information and investigate discrepancies. In addition, each school would report annually to the public on a range of quantitative and qualitative data. On-site reviews of a school’s teaching and learning environment every five years would supplement those efforts.

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Classroom incentives / Akron Beacon Journal (OH)

George Bush has No Child Left Behind. John Kerry has a focus on teachers

Akron Beacon Journal, August 9, 2004

Education qualifies as a ``battleground'' issue in this presidential campaign. The relationship among education, a strong economy and stable communities has grown clearer than ever. The challenge is fashioning an equitable and effective system, ensuring no one Is denied educational opportunity.

President Bush offered his answer for public education in the No Child Left Behind Act. The law rightly stresses a high quality of education, regardless who the students may be or their circumstances. The approach focuses on teaching, testing and intervention but lacks the funds to put -- and keep -- enough highly qualified teachers in classrooms.

Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic challenger, responded this spring with a plan he calls a ``new bargain,'' pledging ``a great teacher for every child.'' Kerry proposes a $30 billion investment over 10 years to recruit and retain teachers. Research findings are clear that superb teaching is the single most consistent predictor of student success -- in high-poverty urban and rural schools as well as in wealthy suburban schools.

Providing an excellent teacher for every child thus goes to the heart of the goal of an equitable system that guarantees quality and opportunities for all. The question is how to keep the system stoked with great teachers, particularly in poverty- or violence-ridden schools that are hard to staff and in subjects such as math and science that are chronically lack a sufficient number of qualified teachers.

In Kerry's great-teacher initiative are ideas that are not exactly popular with teachers unions: financial incentives beyond current bargaining agreements. Kerry proposes raises of at least $5,000 and annual bonuses for teachers in schools and classrooms with high needs and teachers in understaffed subjects such as math and science. He wants higher pay for teachers who show measurable improvements in their students or exceptional skills. He also calls for a defined career path to expand the professional prospects for those who excel in teaching. In addition, his plan includes procedures that would dismiss teachers quickly for lack of performance.

Opponents of incentives like merit pay complain that they are arbitrary and subjective, even punitive, in implementation. Yet Tennessee's value-added assessment system has demonstrated in Chattanooga schools that an objective and effective means of measuring student achievement is possible.

Kerry offers a challenge to raise the profile of teaching, to give excellence commensurate reward and draw the best candidates into the profession. In the end, what makes the difference is the will and the money to see sound ideas through to reality.

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Transfer Policy Helps the Wrong Students

The Parents Of Children Who Are Doing Fine Are More Likely To Choose The Transfer Option. Struggling Pupils Are Often The Ones Left Behind.

Greensboro News & Record, 8/8/04

The students who transfer from one school to another under provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act may not be the ones who need to go.

The federal law allows parents to move their children from a school that fails to meet "adequate yearly progress" standards two years in a row. About 160 students from five Guilford County schools will shift this year as a result. The number represents about 8 percent of the children who were eligible for transfers.

Nationally, about 6 percent of eligible students apply for transfers, Education Week reported in its May 19 edition. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools this year, the number is 17 percent.

The transfer option is good in theory because it gives parents who believe a school isn't serving their children's needs an alternative. It has allowed low-income, minority students to move to schools with less poverty and greater diversity, according to a study by the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights in Washington. It also sends the message to school administrators that their customers aren't happy and they'd better address shortcomings. If transfers continue year after year, a school could be forced to shut down.

The problem is that all students at a so-called failing school are given the transfer option, even if only one or two subgroups don't meet the assigned standard. Children who are doing just fine are allowed to move out - and they may be the first ones to go.

"That's exactly what's happening," Guilford County Superintendent Terry Grier said. His office hasn't made that determination statistically yet, Grier added, but initial observations indicate that most of the students moving are already successful. It's likely that their parents think they'll do better in a school with stronger overall academic performances.

Meanwhile, parents of children who are struggling may be less inclined to request transfers. Many of those parents - for reasons of poverty, English deficiency or other problems - are not engaged enough in their children's education to exercise their options.

Schools that lose their best students will be left with higher concentrations of children who present greater challenges for teachers, making it that much more difficult to recruit and retain top educators. That could send those schools into further decline.

"We worry we will be creating more of an impoverished school," Grier said.

The No Child Left Behind Act seems to let successful students leave behind those who aren't doing as well. That wasn't its purpose. It should be modified so that only the children who have a compelling reason to transfer do.

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No Child Left Behind scores are irrelevant

The Lexington Herald Leader, 8/8/04

By No Child Left Behind standards, I should crawl into a corner and weep. My little corner of Lexington has some of the hardest-hit schools in our district: Deep Springs Elementary, Bryan Station Middle and Bryan Station Senior.

Yet I'm not planning on losing any sleep over the No Child Left Behind scores that were reported last week. Nor should you.

Much of the appeal of No Child Left Behind is that it's designed to be (1) alarming to schools and (2) soothing to parents: Your school is failing! (But none of it is your fault!) Take your kids, and run for sanctuary! (But don't make any effort to pinpoint just why your school is failing, or what you, as a parent, can do about it.)

It's an easy sell for parents who think they're just too busy to worry about their kids' schooling. Take your kid out of a "bad" school; put her in a "better" one. But don't let your concern lead you to attend site-based council meetings and ask tough questions. Don't haunt the counseling offices and ask for details about what courses your kid is taking, why more advanced courses aren't available, and which teachers are best. Don't become a thorn in the side of administrators.

The fallacy of NCLB is that it lets parents assume education will improve without their lifting a finger. It allows parents of children who are failing in one setting to simply pick up their problems and take them to another. But is a high school student who can't read well enough to follow an elementary text "fixed" by a simple change in scenery?

What NCLB should remind parents is that they have to know their schools down to the last molecule. Know what courses your kid needs, and raise Cain until she gets them. Go to teacher conferences. Drop in on classes. And don't be deterred when some school employees groan when they see you coming. When you're an advocate for your kids, you're not going to be everybody's best pal.

A school that's blowing No Child Left Behind mandates might have teachers who routinely change students' lives. No matter what the figures say, there's a teacher at Bryan Station Middle who is simply the best teacher and mentor I've ever met. There's a teacher at Bryan Station High who routinely smashes bureaucratic barriers to make sure my son gets the best education opportunities possible.

Are such people reflected in NCLB evaluations? No.

Have they made all the difference in my children's ability to achieve at high levels? Yes.

No Child Left Behind is the education version of national terror-alert levels: A tool of passing interest, a fine bit of propaganda. But should you use the No Child Left Behind brouhaha to make decisions about where your kids go to school?

Absolutely not.

Every kid deserves an advocate, someone who sees him or her as an individual with unique needs and gifts. NCLB doesn't guarantee that for any child. That's why NCLB is only a paper tiger.

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Changing rules gave more Indiana school districts passing grade

Associated Press Newswires, 8/7/04

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Almost two-thirds of Indiana's school districts looked to be in trouble in April, when the Indiana State Department of Education announced they had not made "adequate yearly progress" in 2002.

But when the 2003 progress results came out last week, only a handful of districts were placed on what is called "improvement status."

In a move that surprised some school officials, the 2003 results were based on the performance of students only in schools that receive federal Title I funds, which are targeted to schools with significant numbers of poor students.

The 2002 rankings, based on students in all schools in a school districts, showed nearly 200 districts with bad marks.

State officials say the new way of computing progress reports is the way it should be done under No Child Left Behind, the school accountability law passed by Congress in 2001.

"The law is very specific that you use Title I schools to determine the improvement status of corporations," said Mary Tiede Wilhelmus, a spokeswoman for the education department.

But Lowell Rose of Bloomington, a retired education administrator and a consultant to the Indiana Urban Schools Association, said school officials expected to be judged on the performance of all their schools.

They first heard otherwise in a June 16 memo from the education department, which said only Title I schools would count toward accountability, he said.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, districts that do not make adequate progress for two consecutive years must draw up improvement plans and use federal funds to make changes.

Twenty-three school districts will be in improvement status in 2004-05 because students in their Title I schools did not make adequate progress for two years.

If the determination had been based on all schools, rather than just Title I schools, about 120 districts would have been in improvement status, Rose said.

Rose, a critic of No Child Left Behind, said he's glad the state reduced the number of school districts that could be labeled as failing.

Under No Child Left Behind, schools and districts must show progress in meeting standards set by the states. In Indiana, that's done through ISTEP-Plus test scores and attendance and graduation rates.

Schools that get Title I assistance and don't make adequate progress for two years are put in improvement status. They must let students transfer to other schools and may face restructuring and staff changes.

Schools and districts are expected to make adequate yearly progress for all students and for certain subgroups, including minority, limited-English, poor and special-education students.

State officials said 161 of Indiana's 297 school districts didn't make adequate progress in 2003, when all of their schools were counted.

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Daschle, Thune split on No Child Left Behind

Terry Woster, Argus Leader, 8/6/04

PIERRE - As schools across South Dakota find out whether they meet critical standards for math and reading, the two candidates for the state's seat in the U.S. Senate disagree on whether the federal law works.

Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle says the No Child Left Behind law that demands all students meet certain standards should be fully funded or suspended.

Republican challenger John Thune says local flexibility, not more money, would improve the act, a major initiative of the Bush administration's education policy. There will never be enough money to satisfy all schools, says Thune, but federal funding for education has increased 46 percent under President Bush.

But Daschle said the law is underfunded by about $29 billion - $9.4 billion this year alone.

"That means we have serious questions that confront every school about where these resources must come from," Daschle said. "It amounts to an unfunded mandate on these schools that they just can't handle, so other things give. They're shifting resources to accommodate this new requirement of the federal government. If we can't find funding, then we ought to suspend the regulations.''

Thune agrees that when additional requirements are imposed, those must be funded. But he said that, while the act might not yet be funded at the level authorized by Congress, federal money to schools has increased.

"A number of people in education tell me money isn't the biggest issue, the real issue is not enough flexibility,'' he said. "Schools need to be able to respond to local conditions and local needs.''

A study by the National Conference of State Legislatures released in May found that the 2004 appropriation from Congress for the provision was $9.6 billion less than the amount authorized in the act for the activities required of states.

The Senate candidates made their comments in recent interviews as South Dakota education officials prepared to make public results of standard tests that are part of the NCLB requirements. The law requires that all public school students in the nation be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

Daschle was scheduled to talk about the federal act today with Sioux Falls Superintendent Pam Homan and others at a meeting at Kilian Community College.

Last year, the state Education Department released report cards that showed 71 percent of students were proficient or advanced in reading and 59 percent were proficient or advanced in math. The report also showed 33 schools in need of improvement.

Daschle and Thune agree that the act was passed as members of Congress tried to respond to a national demand for greater accountability and better performances in schools. They disagree on whether they act is meeting that goal.

People in South Dakota also want school accountability, Daschle said. But "they view No Child Left Behind as a high price to pay, probably too high a price to pay.''

Need for flexibility

The law doesn't offer enough flexibility for differences in schools and students, he said. It also provides too little money, forces teachers to "teach to the test'' and holds some students, especially those with disabilities, to unrealistically high standards, he said.

Teachers have complained about the emphasis on test scores, Daschle said.

"I think that's a real problem,'' he said. "I think there's a real concern that we're getting away from probably one of the most fundamental tenets of good education, to teach children to learn once they've left schools rather than to teach them to test well.''

Thune said flexibility is an issue. But that's to be expected in a law written at the national level and intended to apply to all schools in all states, he said.

"I think No Child Left Behind was primarily directed … at inner city schools,'' Thune said. "We're doing well in South Dakota. We're seeing some schools struggle, and there's always room for improvement, but I think this was largely intended for other areas of the country.''

Thune said the law may pressure schools to teach to the test, but he said that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"If teaching to the test gives students the skill sets and the knowledge necessary, what's wrong with that?'' he asked. "The key is to make sure we're testing in a way that measures what we want them to learn.''

Avon Superintendent Tom Oster said the law has forced schools to focus on what they are teaching students.

"I don't see that as a problem if the tests show whether students are learning what we want them to know,'' Oster said. "If I'm going to take a driving test, I read the driving manual, I don't read Greek.''

Oster said the federal law has caused his district to shift some funds but hasn't greatly increased costs.

Special education

Expectations of how special education students should perform is one of the major concerns among educators, he said.

"What I hear is that there's a severe problem with special education, with expecting all students with disabilities to meet uniform standards,'' Oster said. "There are more than 40 different ways your school can not meet the standards or the bar, but the primary concern is with special education. You need to be careful about that, because we want students to be challenged and to do as well as any other student. But with some disabilities, they'll never be able to achieve at a certain level. I think we have an unrealistic bar for that.''

Thune said it's likely the law will see some changes in response to criticisms about the one-size-fits-all approach. That concern exists within South Dakota just as much as between states, he said.

"We have some big differences between Sioux Falls and my hometown of Murdo,'' he said. "I characterize the act as a work in progress. It's going to have some growing pains. It isn't finished.''

Daschle isn't optimistic that the law will be changed in any fundamental way in the near future.

"We've had various proposals to amend it, but so far because of administration opposition, they haven't passed,'' he said.

Oster said he thinks the law will change over time as Congress sees how some schools struggle, especially with the requirement for 100 percent proficiency in the next decade.

"I don't think that's possible,'' he said. "And if rural America can't meet these standards, nobody will.''

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More schools making the grade; Kansas students are better-served

DIANE CARROLL, The Kansas City Star, 8/11/04

TOPEKA -- Kansas schools that serve a high percentage of poor students did a better job last year of meeting federal goals, preliminary data released Tuesday showed.

Fifteen Title I schools landed on the list of schools in need of improvement, compared with 30 the year before, Assistant Education Commissioner Alexa Pochowski told the state Board of Education. Among them are seven schools in the Kansas City, Kan., School District and two in the Leavenworth School District.

The number of school districts needing improvement dropped from seven to six. On this list are Kansas City, Kan., and Turner, which is also in Kansas City, Kan.

Kansas has 1,400 schools, and 665 of them are Title I schools. They receive extra federal dollars because they serve a high percentage of students from low-income families.

The state plans to release information on how non-Title I schools fared under No Child Left Behind in October.

The list declined partly because the U.S. Department of Education allowed states to be more flexible in determining whether schools met the goals, Pochowski said. In addition, she and Education Commissioner Andy Tompkins said, teachers have stepped up to help every student learn.

"Our faculty have really responded, and you're going to see that in the results," Tompkins said.

The state is still evaluating Wichita schools. It hopes to have that information within two weeks.

President Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law in 2002. The federal education law states that all children must be proficient in math and reading by the year 2014. States define proficiency and determine their own annual benchmarks. Each school must meet the benchmarks as a whole. Ten subgroups of students, such as English-language learners and African-Americans, also must meet the marks.

If even one subgroup in a school misses the mark, the whole school can be labeled as failing to make "adequate yearly progress." Failure to make progress two years in a row could place the school on a needs-improvement list.

Title 1 schools on that list must offer students the option of attending a better-performing school in the district. If the school remains on the list a second year, it must offer either school choice or supplemental services, such as free tutoring. In the third, fourth and fifth years on the list, the state can initiate corrective actions that could include shutting down a school.

Under the law, non-Title I schools are not eligible for school choice or tutoring. They are not subject to the sanctions either. Kansas, however, plans to offer help to all schools that miss the mark, to the extent that it can afford to do so.

The Kansas City, Kan., schools in need of improvement are Caruthers Elementary, Quindaro Elementary, Whittier Elementary, Central Middle School, Rosedale Middle School, Coronado Middle School and Pearson Elementary.

The Leavenworth Schools are Earl M. Lawson Elementary and Nettie Hartnett Elementary. The Turner district has no schools on the list. The district is on the list because of a districtwide reading score that missed the mark.

Kansas City, Kan., Superintendent Ray Daniels encouraged residents to look at the district's progress. Of the district's 26 schools only seven are on the list, he said.

"I want the community to clearly understand that when a school is on improvement (the list), it doesn't mean that the school is falling short on improving student achievement," Daniels said. "For the fourth consecutive year, student achievement results in both math and reading have risen in our district."

On other matters Tuesday, the state board resolved its disagreement over whether the standards for history/government instruction in Kansas schools should have less of a global focus. The board voted 9-1 to send compromise language to the committee rewriting the standards. The language said students should learn about Kansas, the United States and the world.

Conservative Republican Steve Abrams of Arkansas City had proposed in June that the wording be changed to emphasize Kansas and the United States. Moderates on the board later objected and said a global view was necessary in the world today.

Bruce Wyatt, a moderate Republican from Salina, said the compromise wording looked much the same as it was before Abrams offered his proposal. Abrams said afterward that he got what he wanted -- emphasis on the study of Kansas and the United States.

Also, the board voted 7-3 to recommend that the state increase the education budget by 6 percent. Voting against it were Sue Gamble, Bill Wagnon and Janet Waugh. Gamble has said the schools needed a bigger boost than that.

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Not fully funded

Rod Paige passionately defends No Child Left Behind. He also overlooks the reality of the federal mandate

Akron Beacon Journal, 8/11/04

Rod Paige is nothing if not passionate about doing right, educationally speaking, by all students. On a visit to Akron on Monday, the secretary of education mounted a spirited defense of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, confronting the charge that the law is underfunded.

Paige offered a most credible rationale for the federal role in education, which he says has become ``a national security issue of the first order,'' with Washington positioned as the one player capable of seeing the picture whole. The bipartisan consensus behind the NCLB legislation reflected the thinking that in an information economy, the country cannot sustain, morally or in any other way, the wide disparities in academic achievement between minority and low-income students and their white peers.

The law rightly holds states and school districts to the responsibility of closing the achievement gap. It applies pressure to do so through requirements such as the call for ``adequate yearly progress,'' asking schools to show the advances made annually by all students -- minorities, low-income, new speakers of English and special education students included.

Paige contends that in NCLB, the White House and Congress have provided a framework and funding that is ``perfectly sufficient'' to produce the necessary progress. To critics who charge the law is severely underfunded (for instance, John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate), Paige points to the increases in federal money for primary and secondary education the past three years.

There is no question the federal outlay has increased substantially. The critical concern is that the NCLB requirements generate additional implementation costs that the Bush team too easily describes as strictly state and local responsibilities.

Take one aspect of the adequate yearly progress requirement. It demands that all student groups be tested and reach annual state proficiency targets. Parents can request a transfer if their schools fail three years in a row to meet the targets. School districts must honor the request, whether there is room in the preferred buildings or not.

The Department of Education argues conveniently that it is not in the business of accommodating students, paying for utilities, buying gasoline or transporting students, that these are state and local concerns. Yet these are some of the extra costs that can accrue as a result of the federal requirements. A study commissioned by the Ohio Department of Education last year to project the cost of implementing the law concluded that meeting the goal would require nearly $1.5 billion a year more than the feds provide Ohio.

The No Child Left Behind Act is undeniably a serious effort to address a major shortcoming in public education. If education, indeed, is a national security issue, it is essential that the federal government assume its full responsibility to target the necessary resources where the needs are the greatest.

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No Child Left Behind gives Arkansas more money while some unused

DAVID HAMMER, Associated Press Newswires, 8/10/04

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - An official from the U.S. Department of Education has come to Arkansas to present a grant for migrant students, but also warned of a looming deadline for spending other federal money under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Kathleen Leos, the federal associate deputy undersecretary of education, visited Arkansas on Monday and presented the state's migrant program director, William Cosme, with a $120,657 grant.

The money was added to the $5.2 million the migrant program already received this year through the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Cosme said it should help Arkansas train teachers for English-as-second-language classes and link student records with those of other states where migrant families work and enroll their children in public schools.

But Leos said several states are dangerously close to losing large portions of their federal funding because money is sitting unused. A recent letter from Education Secretary Rod Paige warns that if all No Child Left Behind funds for 2004 aren't obligated by Sept. 30 or used by Dec. 31, the unused portion goes back to the U.S. Treasury.

"We're telling the states, we don't want your money back," Leos said.

Leos said Arkansas is one of the best states at using its funds, but still has some outstanding. In two specific grants totaling $1.15 million, more than $520,000 hasn't been used yet, she said.

Charles Watson, program manager for the Arkansas education department, said he isn't worried about losing any of the money because "we intend to have it obligated by the end of September."

Still, the unused money could be an issue in an election-year battle over No Child Left Behind, which provides a total of $206 million for Arkansas education programs this year.

John Emekli, spokesman for Democrat John Kerry's presidential campaign in Arkansas, says $120 million of the Arkansas share hasn't been properly funded. Kerry and the Democrats have attacked President Bush for turning No Child Left Behind into an "unfunded mandate" for states and local school districts.

Emekli said that Kerry, if elected, plans to increase Arkansas' federal education funding by $68 million a year and monitor its use more closely.

Leos says that's a misinterpretation and it's the states, not the Bush administration, that have failed to use all of the money.

"Don't talk about unfunded mandates when you're not spending your funds," Leos said Monday.

For the state's part, Watson said it's not always as simple as just spending what the federal government gives. He says restrictions on how the money can be used cause funding shortfalls in mandated parts of No Child Left Behind, like assessments of classroom performance.

"One of the amounts of money we get is a discretionary grant to support community service projects for students who are wards of the court, juvenile delinquents," Watson said. "We can't use that money to support our assessment system. No Child Left Behind has given us $5 million for assessment, but we're spending close to $10 million."

The increase Monday for the migrant program was regarded as much-needed relief. Arkansas is the only state that is part of two different regional systems for tracking migrant students -- one for reading and one for math.

Arkansas has received about $5.2 million each of the last three years for the whole migrant program, and is expected to get about the same next year, even though the number of children enrolled increases yearly and now totals 12,500.

The children, most of whom speak Spanish, constantly move around the country while their parents take seasonal jobs in agriculture and food processing. If they are not American citizens they are even more susceptible to record-keeping problems and, therefore, to dropping out of school, Cosme said.

The schools are prohibited by law from identifying undocumented immigrants or informing immigration officials.

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Trial begins in Texas over school funding

ASSOCIATED PRESS, 8/10/04

The state's share-the-wealth school finance system went on trial yesterday as lawyers for more than 300 districts argued the system's dependence on local property taxes is flawed and unconstitutional.

Texas' education funding system is nicknamed "Robin Hood" by some because it takes money from rich schools and gives it to poorer ones. The system has been under fire for years, and some school districts turned to the courts after struggling to get the changes they wanted from the Legislature.

The dispute highlights a dilemma states across the country are experiencing: how to adequately educate students in an era of new curriculum standards, mandates under the federal No Child Left Behind act and growing student populations.

"Texas can and must do better; that's why we're here," David Thompson, an attorney for the districts, told state District Judge John Dietz in opening statements.

The trial could last up to six weeks, and it is almost certain the judge's ruling will be appealed.

The state contends that the current system, devised after another lawsuit a decade ago, meets constitutional requirements for providing for the state's 4.3 million students, pumping nearly $30 billion a year into more than 1,000 districts.

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Charter schools improve, but struggle to meet federal achievement goals

TIM MARTIN, Associated Press Newswires, 8/10/04

LANSING, Mich. - Michigan's charter schools appear more likely than traditional public schools statewide to struggle under federal No Child Left Behind standards, according to a report released Tuesday by the state Department of Education.

But there also are positive signs for charter schools in the report, requested by the state Board of Education. State education officials declined to draw broad conclusions from the data, primarily based on results from last school year's Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests taken by elementary and middle school students.

"There is a wide variety of performance for charter schools," board member John Austin said. "We have some excellent charter schools, and some that are not making headway."

Michigan has about 75,000 students in 200 charter schools, which are public academies offered as alternatives to traditional public K-12 schools. Charter schools are typically authorized by universities or colleges and run by management companies. They receive state money, but have more flexibility than traditional schools.

Michigan's annual Department of Education report card included status reports on about 120 elementary and middle school charter schools.

About 34 percent of charter schools reported on face some sort of sanction for not making adequate progress under the law's guidelines. That compares with about 16 percent of public schools statewide that face sanctions. The most typical sanction allows students to transfer to better-performing schools within a district.

Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, said that charter schools are closing the gap and in have some cases have exceeded their traditional K-12 urban peers on MEAP scores.

"The gains that are being made are huge," Quisenberry said. "Year after year, our schools are improving quickly."

Jim Goenner, director of the charter school office at Central Michigan University, said comparing charter schools to statewide public school averages is not the best measurement. He said a better comparison would be to urban districts where many charter schools are located.

Charter schools targeted for improvement in the last school year performed fairly well compared to traditional schools. About 40 percent of schools in both groups improved enough to meet adequate yearly progress goals, either escaping further No Child Left Behind sanctions or getting off the sanctions list altogether.

A school must meet standards for two consecutive years to be removed from the sanctions list.

State Board of Education members expressed concern about the percentage of certified teachers at Michigan's charter schools. No Child Left Behind requires that highly qualified teachers be in every classroom by the end of the 2005-06 school year.

About 76 percent of charter school teachers are certified, compared to 98 percent in traditional K-12 public schools.

The percentage of certified teachers varies widely by the charter schools' authorizing organization.

More than 90 percent of the teachers in charters authorized by Grand Valley State University are certified. But only about 51 percent of teachers are certified in schools authorized by Bay Mills Community College, according to the state report.

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No Child Left Behind

States like Delaware that reform schools deserve federal credit

Opinion, The News Journal, 8/8/04

The goal of the federal No Child Left Behind Law is admirable. Every student in the United States should meet high educational standards. Achieving that is more difficult than simply saying so, as educators across the country have found out.

Delaware's U.S. Rep. Michael Castle co-authored the bill that President Bush considers a signature piece of legislation. We support its thrust and salute the president for insisting that every child, no matter his or her family background, is capable of learning.

Children who are bright and eager, who come to school well fed with their homework finished are a teacher's ideal. Poor and minority students or those who don't learn so readily too often are subject to low expectations.

Delaware Secretary of Education Valerie Woodruff and several predecessors have shepherded higher academic standards and new curricula in public schools here. Delaware assessments of student progress also must include all children, including those in special education, and that yearly gains must be shown.

Delaware was one of about a dozen states already imposing school reforms before the No Child Left Behind law. That has put these states at a disadvantage. The law gives federal education officials the power to direct state action. The intention is to push states whose practices do not meet goals. But the law has forced Delaware and some other progressive states to adapt to regulations and bureaucracy that detracts from their ongoing work.

Federal officials have eased regulations for many states because so many failed to meet standards - a political liability as elections loom.

Because of unrealistic federal regulations, Delaware's scores for yearly progress were less than satisfactory under the No Child Left Behind law. The law sets several specific categories for student progress. Unless all students progress in all categories, schools are deemed not in compliance. Some schools have as many as 21 categories for race, economic or ethnic background and special education. One school had only nine.

The lowest rating, academic watch, is for schools who fail to meet standards for two or more years. Superior schools meet all the most rigorous criteria. Failing schools can lose money or be subject to state takeover under the No Child Left Behind law.

Secretary Woodruff has been unfairly criticized by some district superintendents for not keeping federal officials at bay. It wasn't for lack of trying. She fought to allow Delaware to use its own standards to comply with the federal law. When that failed she negotiated a better deal for Delaware. After she saw that other states got more leeway to determine their compliance scores, she got breaks for Delaware public schools.

The aim of No Child Left Behind is worthwhile. There should be no retreat from insistence that all children are capable of learning. But just as Delaware has had to find alternatives to testing as the sole measure of success, the federal government should adjust its narrow rules for state success in the No Child Left Behind law.

When Michael Castle was governor, he saw state educators' resistance to change. He has insisted that the federal law he helped draft be strictly followed. Now he should be willing to adjust the law, without giving an inch on its underlying principle of fairness for all students.

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Star Test Scores?

They're Meaningless; But With Different Motivation, It Doesn't Have To Be That Way

Matt Johanson, San Jose Mercury News, 8/11/04

School officials across the state will rejoice or anguish Monday when the California Department of Education releases Academic Performance Index scores. That's because high-scoring schools are rewarded with grant money, while low-performing schools are punished with threats to fire their principals or take over their campuses.

Compiled from Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) results, API scores serve as a report card for public schools. But I won't get excited no matter what kind of scores my school receives. That's because as a teacher who has proctored STAR for six years, I've seen something that the general public hasn't seen: countless students bubbling in answers without even reading the test questions. I know the lack of student motivation destroys the program's validity.

Teachers strive to motivate students for STAR every year. Perhaps this works in second grade, when 7-year-olds test for the first of 10 straight years. But by high school, students know STAR has no effect on their grades. They know they don't need to pass to graduate or attend college. They certainly don't worry about their schools' API ratings. When you were a teenager, would you have?

At one time, the state awarded $1,000 scholarships to the top 10 percent of high school test takers. But as the economy went south, the Legislature canceled the awards. Most students were informed long after the week-long barrage of tests. Those who sweated over STAR in hopes of scholarship money had every right to feel cheated. Last school year, schools had to push the test without the only enticement the program ever had. For this reason, lower scores statewide wouldn't surprise me a bit. Nor would they concern me. STAR scores have no meaning to high school students. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Connect STAR scores to graduation, or to grade point average, or to college admission. Consider consolidating STAR with the high school exit exam. The state can no longer afford $100 million a year in award money, but we don't need to if we motivate students another way. STAR will be a farce until all students have an individual stake in the outcome.

In addition, schools should not be penalized because some families exempt their children from testing. Under requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools automatically flunk unless 95 percent of their students test. But students don't have to test if their parents excuse them. When kids learn this, they jump at the chance to skip out, and who can blame them? This does not indicate a failing school.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires testing based on state standards. However, STAR tests much more extensively than the act requires and wipes out an entire week of instruction each spring for 4.5 million students. Scale back the program's bulk. This would restore teaching time and cut STAR's expense.

California's students, parents and educators deserve better from their state government.

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