ISBE Banner
State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – August 13 - 20, 2004

TOP OF PAGE

STATE  
Districts must submit mental-health policies / Northwest Herald
2 school districts reject funds / Chicago Tribune
Another law without funding / Daily Southtown
Keeping students in school takes more than new law / Pantagraph
Fed-up with waste / Northwest Herald
Illinois right to honor vow to teacher-scholars / Rockford Register Star
More people training to be teachers / Sun-Times
250 show to discuss funding of schools / Pantagraph
Students make gains on ACT / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
More teachers stay in schools / Chicago Tribune
Some schools labeled as failing dispute data / Chicago Tribune
NATIONAL
The Weak link in our education system / Denver Post
Charter Academy Shuts 60 Schools / Los Angeles Times
Schools blame rules for bad marks / Charlotte Observer (NC)
Testing scores lag in charter schools / New York Times
ACT, SAT essays under the red pencil / USA Today
Hustling for teachers / Rocky Mountain News
How to get the most out of our teachers / Rocky Mountain News
Enrichment Courses Let Teachers Be Students / Los Angeles Times
Educators tackle classroom discipline / The Arizona Republic
State lifts limit on size of science classes to 30 / Atlanta Constitution
Schools turn to courts for funding / CNN.com
In the Classroom, Web Logs Are the New Bulletin Boards / New York Times
A Texas District Banks on Wireless Ubiquity / New York Times
Education Secretary Defends Charter Schools / New York Times
Study: Exit exams don't ready high schoolers for college / Salt Lake Tribune
District changes locks on Westport schools / Kansas City Star
Schools take aim at nasty toilets / Honolulu Advertiser

TOP OF PAGE

STATE

Districts must submit mental-health policies

By JAMI KUNZER, Northwest Herald, 8/16/04

New legislation requires school districts to help students emotionally and socially, something school officials say they are doing already.

Districts have until the end of the month to submit new policies to the Illinois State Board of Education as part of an Illinois Senate bill approved last year.

Exactly how those policies will play out and whether parents will notice any difference remains to be seen.

Some argue that the legislation would allow school districts to randomly screen children for mental health problems. But most predict the legislation will not have much of an impact, financially or otherwise.

Like many mandates, the legislation leaves some unanswered questions, said Jerry Glaub, spokesman for the Illinois Association of School Boards.

"People sit around scratching their heads trying to figure out what it means," he said.

The legislation calls for school districts to "develop a policy incorporating social and emotional development into the district's educational program." It also requires districts to have protocols in place to respond to children in need of help.

Most school districts already have those policies, said Ken Arndt, superintendent for Carpentersville's District 300.

"The only difference is we need to inform the state board of education what steps were taken," he said.

As the legislation requires, District 300 has a team of faculty, administrators, social workers and psychologists in place to help children with any social, emotional or mental health problems, he said. That team has been in place for several years, he said.

Arndt does not predict the legislation will require the district to hire any new staff.

But some groups, such as Concerned Women for America of Illinois, call the legislation intrusive. School districts potentially could test children without parental consent, the group's associate director Karen Hayes said.

"However well-meaning, this 26-page plan of vague and subjective rhetoric asks us to go from outcome based education to someone's idea of outcome based mental health," Hayes said in a statement.

The confusion has come in because the legislation is somewhat backward, said Karen Craven, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education. It requires districts to submit the policies, then enact those polices based on the state board's Illinois Learning Standards.

The problem is those standards will not be complete until December, Craven said.

"They're kind of developing plans knowing they'll have to be revised," she said.

Craven said she has heard from parents who were concerned their children would be tested.

"I don't have the answers," she said. "Certainly, school districts wouldn't want to do anything to violate the privacy of a child. I'm sure they're working with parents."

That definitely is the case within Richmond's District 157, Superintendent Wayne Riesen said. Like District 300, District 157 already addressed the issue with its own team of employees. The district never would test students without parental consent, Riesen said.

But he and other school officials said they support the concept behind the legislation, which emphasizes the importance of children's social and mental needs.

"I think it's our duty as educators to pay attention to the needs of students and it may help us do that a little bit better," he said.

School officials agree anything that interferes with a student's ability to learn must be addressed. It is something they have done for years, said Mike Kortemeyer, assistant superintendent for human resources in Huntley's District 158.

"I don't see our parents seeing any big change," he said.

TOP OF PAGE

2 school districts reject funds

`No Child' grants seen as a hassle

By Jodi S. Cohen, Tribune staff reporter, August 15, 2004

Two Chicago-area school districts have rejected more than $100,000 each in poverty grants, saying the money connected to a sweeping federal education reform law comes with too many strings attached.

In declining about $136,000 in federal assistance for the upcoming school year, Consolidated High School District 230 in Orland Park took an unusually public stance against No Child Left Behind, the controversial law that educators frequently grumble about but rarely ignore.

The decision means the district, along with Township High School District 211 in Palatine, won't have to abide by some of the law's more stringent provisions, including the requirement to offer private tutoring and transfers to better-performing schools if they don't meet state academic goals.

"We believe in our schools, and we believe we are doing the right things in our schools for kids," said Brenda Reynolds, District 230 assistant superintendent. "To be in a position to say that we have to offer choice sends a different message, not one we believe in, but one we are held to because of the law."

Community High School District 128 in Libertyville and Evanston Township High School District 202 also are considering turning down the funds. More districts may follow suit to avoid participating in No Child Left Behind, experts say.

"A lot of states and districts are sitting back and waiting to see the rules of NCLB hit the pavement, and then they'll make that decision," said Scott Young, a policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures based in Denver.

Although many states and school districts have complained about No Child Left Behind's arguably onerous record-keeping requirements and stiff penalties, few districts have cited those issues as a reason for turning down the federal money. Those that have taken such a step include three districts each in Vermont and Connecticut and at least the two in Illinois.

In the Palatine district, officials were concerned that complying with the law would cost more than the $238,000 the district would receive. After the district's five high schools failed to meet state testing goals in 2002-03, the district would have faced federal sanctions if any of the schools were unable to meet state testing goals for the second year in a row.

"From a financial viewpoint, in the end, it would have cost us money," said Jeffrey Butzen, assistant superintendent for curriculum in District 211, which has schools in Palatine, Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg.

Enacted in 2002, No Child Left Behind has the goal of having all students perform at grade level in reading and math by 2014. Schools not on track to reach that objective--based on state test scores--are put on academic watch lists and could be taken over by the state.

Districts that receive Title I money--meant to provide extra teachers, summer school and other programs for needy students--are tied to the law's sanctions. More than 90 percent of Illinois districts are eligible for such funding.

Rejecting federal grant money is less realistic for schools that have many low-income students and rely heavily on such funds.

"It is important to remember that the money is designed to provide America's neediest children with programs and services to help them and enrich their educational experience," said Jo Ann Webb, a U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman. "When that money is taken away, the children are the ones that stand to lose the most."

Tracking how many districts have declined Title I funds so they can opt out of No Child Left Behind is difficult in Illinois, because schools don't have to tell the state why they reject the money.

Last year, about a dozen districts turned down $371,000 in Title I money, but none attributed the decision to opposition to No Child Left Behind, according to Illinois State Board of Education records and interviews. Most blamed lengthy paperwork and requirements of the grant.

Schools that decline the funds still are required to test students and are held accountable for their progress. They also face less stringent state penalties, including being required to design a school-improvement plan, if students don't meet goals.

In 2002-03, students in the Orland Park district's three high schools failed to make adequate yearly progress, because special-education students didn't meet state testing goals. Under the provisions of No Child Left Behind, the district could be required to transport them to higher-performing schools in neighboring districts--if those other schools accept them.

Partly to avoid that possibility, the school board voted last month to reject Title I funds, which had been used to help academically and socially at-risk students transition from middle to high school.

"We want to be able to use our funds and resources in the best way we believe we can," Reynolds said. "We have the luxury of this that some districts couldn't have."

Title I funding is a small percentage of District 230's nearly $34 million budget for instruction.

But for Chicago Public Schools, a system eligible for about $210 million in Title I money for low-income students, withdrawing from the No Child Left Behind program is not an option, officials said.

"Districts that have a significant number of schools in need of improvement most likely also receive a fair amount of Title I dollars," said Mary Fulton, a policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States based in Denver. "It is hard for them to decline those funds."

In District 128 in Libertyville, where Libertyville High School didn't meet state standards during the 2002-03 school year, school board members will decide within two months whether to pull out of the program and lose $79,000, said Catherine Finger, associate superintendent.

Officials will have to explain to taxpayers why they are rejecting federal dollars as other districts scramble for all the funds they can get during troubled financial times, Finger said.

"That is a big reason why most districts, even though they share the same reservations about school choice, are keeping even relatively small amounts," she said.

If the Evanston high school district decides not to participate in No Child Left Behind, which it will discuss Monday, it would lose more than $111,000 in federal money.

Evanston Supt. Allan Alson said his staff has been trying to determine the cost of complying with the law for the coming school year.

Even if officials reject the funds, it's important to reassure the community that the school remains committed to high academic achievement, especially closing the test score gap between black and white students, Alson said.

"Since that is a hallmark of our work here, we don't want to send a message that we no longer care about that," he said.

TOP OF PAGE

Another law without funding

Letter by Ronald J. Gidwitz, Member of Illinois State Board of Education, President of Students First Illinois, Daily Southtown, August 16, 2004

In 2000, nearly one-quarter of Illinois high school students dropped out, failing to graduate from high school. Considering that over 70 percent of all people entering state correctional facilities have not finished high school, this is a problem that impacts every citizen in Illinois.

Springfield to the rescue.

A comprehensive dropout prevention package was developed and signed by the governor. The new law increases the compulsory schooling age from 16 to 17 and includes alternative programs to help at-risk children become engaged students.

But there's a catch. The law makes the programs available to our most needy children "subject to available funds." That's right, another law without state funding.

It's one thing to force a child to attend school. But another to provide the education they deserve. Not to mention getting vocational, job training and GED assistance to those who have fallen through the cracks.

In addition to not funding the dropout law, the FY05 budget cut funding for Bridges and truancy prevention - two programs for dropout-prone children. The same budget did, however, give more money to prisons than was initially proposed.

We can keep more children on the school bus and off the prison bus by giving the most vulnerable students the support they need to become educated.

In order to create new quality jobs and grow our economy we must invest in the education of our schoolchildren. Nurturing more productive citizens and taxpayers will make the state's fiscal pie bigger. But headlines won't get this job done.

Please visit www.studentsfirst.us to get Springfield off the special interests and on the best interest - our schoolchildren.

TOP OF PAGE

Keeping students in school takes more than new law

Pantagraph Editorial, 8/16/04

Even though Illinois has a graduation rate that is better than the national average -- 77 percent in Illinois versus 69 percent nationwide -- there is room for improvement, particularly among African-American and Hispanic students, whose graduation rate is 57 percent.

A package of bills recently signed by the governor could attack the problem by finding ways to keep students in school instead of dropping out.

Increasing the minimum age for dropping out from 16 to 17 years old is one strategy.

For some students, it may do little more than delay the inevitable for a year. But during that year, something may "click" that enables the student to find success in school.

The measure raising the drop-out age wisely includes stronger anti-truancy provisions. Otherwise, students under 17 who are determined to drop out might simply quit attending classes without officially dropping out.

These anti-truancy provisions include mandatory community service for students who are repeatedly truant. But it also includes expanded options for students who are at risk of dropping out because they are not doing well in a traditional school setting.

The latter is a good idea because everyone doesn't learn in the same way. Forcing students to stay in school another year before dropping out will do little to help those who aren't learning in school.

Unfortunately, not every part of the state has alternative schools or training courses. And the "graduation incentives program" described in Senate Bill 2918 -- which would reimburse at least part of the cost for career training, vocational education and similar schooling -- is dependent on money being available. That's a big "if."

While SB 2913 tried to make students and parents more accountable, two other parts of the package -- SB 3109 and 2115 -- try to make school districts more accountable.

SB 3109 requires schools to count students who leave as dropouts until they receive proof of transfer from a new school. A survey indicated that Illinois' graduation rates were inflated because of how transfer students were defined and tracked.

SB 2115 makes it easier for dropouts to re-enter school. Critics say some districts essentially pushed out low-achieving students so they wouldn't drag down a district's test scores.

Supporters are hopeful this package of bills will decrease dropouts and increase graduation rates. It should succeed, if only because compulsory attendance will be extended to age 17 -- thereby legally preventing a large number of students from dropping out.

However, if a lot of districts have been playing statistical games by counting dropouts as "transfers" to other districts, officials might not be pleased with the direction the drop-out figures take. At least then the state will have a more accurate picture of the problem.

In today's society, a high school education is the minimum entry ticket for a decent job.

Money spent to keep students in school to get that basic education should mean money saved on social services for those without high school diplomas who have trouble finding jobs to support themselves or their families.

TOP OF PAGE

Fed-up with waste

Letter by Jim Peschke of Harvard, 8/16/04

How dare you uppity homeowners deny your hard-earned dollars to wasteful school districts by voting no.

Some of these poor teachers aren't even getting 15 percent raises this year. Many area superintendents haven't even hit the $200,000 salary mark, yet selfish taxpayers have the audacity to blow their money on luxuries, such as food, medicine and retirement. Shame on you.

If you recognize the previous paragraph as biting sarcasm, congratulations. You're among the growing number of ordinary citizens fed-up with waste and greed in public school systems.

If it sounded like a valid complaint, then perhaps you're one of the architects of House Bill 0750, the most foul piece of legislation put forth in years.

Teacher union-funded organizations, such as the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and A+ Illinois, have devised a way to get more tax money from people who consistently vote down school referendums.

The bill is an abomination. By the center's own estimates, it would increase state taxes by almost $5 billion annually.

The bill includes a 67 percent increase in the income tax, new sales taxes and higher corporate taxes.

Absent any mention of spending control or accountability, the few positive promises in the bill are just that – empty promises.

One might consider the immense tax increases to be political suicide for the bill's supporters. If the public is unaware, they might get away with it

For the sake of Illinois' future, read the center's own summary of the bill on its Web site (www.ctbaonline.org), then visit the Citizens for Reasonable and Fair Taxes' Web site (www.noreferendum.org), and make up your own mind.

Legislators need to know what the public thinks of this bill, either before they vote or when they're up for re-election.

TOP OF PAGE

Illinois right to honor vow to teacher-scholars

Rockford Register Star Editorial, 8/16/04

The state will keep its promise, after all, to fund scholarships to 346 Golden Apple Scholars. That’s good news for those future teachers and for students in the needy school districts where the college scholars promised to serve after graduation.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich had proposed cutting the $3.8 million program from his 2005 budget. Such a cut would have pulled the proverbial rug out from under the scholars, some of whom gave up other financial aid in order to get into the Golden Apple program.

Some of the money — $2.9 million — was restored in the final budget. That was the right decision about a worthwhile program. Program officials say they will continue to lobby for the rest of the money they need, but they may have to consider trimming scholarship amounts and do the best they can. The program also gets some private and corporate donations.

Qualified Golden Apple scholars, all future teachers, receive $5,000 annually for four years of college. They also get $2,000 stipends to participate in summer training with master teachers.

By the time the scholars graduate from college, they have far more classroom experience and training than the usual college program provides. In addition, the master teachers continue to mentor them through their first few years of teaching. The goal is to give young teachers the skills to do a better job in the state’s most troubled schools, and thereby improve student performance.

The scholars promise when they get into the Golden Apple program that they will teach for five years in a school with a preponderance of low-income and/or poor-performing students. The scholars are expected to keep their word. They have to pay back the money if they don’t.

Yet, this spring, one week after 100 high school seniors were notified they were accepted into the program, they learned that the state might break its promise to them. Some of them scrambled to find less expensive college options, even if that meant lowering their educational expectations.

Meanwhile, scholars who had been in the program one, two or three years also faced the prospect of losing their funding. Many of the Golden Apple scholars are low-income students who might have a hard time coming up with another way to pay for college.

Blagojevich had proposed cutting the program off summarily, with no phaseout or replacement. It is true that Blagojevich started similar scholarship programs last year to train future teachers, but those programs didn’t encompass the Golden Apple students. They would have been left high and dry.

Once in the program, students are expected to keep their promises to the state and to children in troubled schools. It’s only right that the state does the same.

TOP OF PAGE

More people training to be teachers

Kate N. Grossman, Sun-Times, 8/17/04

The number of would-be teachers is on the rise in Illinois and teacher attrition rates have stabilized, a new state report says, offering some hope for educators who have for years been wringing their hands over a looming teacher shortage.

Between 1999 and 2002, enrollment in Illinois training programs jumped by 8,500, or 7 percent, driven mostly by graduate student growth, says an Illinois State Board of Education report to be presented Wednesday. The number of people who earned teacher certificates also increased by 9 percent between 2000 and 2003.

"Students are considering careers that will result in job opportunities," said Susan Fowler, dean of the school of education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and chair of the Illinois Association of Deans of Public Colleges of Education.

At the same time, teacher attrition rates stabilized to about 7.5 percent between 2000 and 2002 after increasing by about 60 percent between 1996 and 2000.

The number of unfilled teaching positions also dropped from 2,600 in 2000 to 1,630 in 2003, and while shortages remain in key areas -- special education, math, science -- they were less severe in 2003 than in 2002. About 75 percent of the unfilled positions were in Chicago.

Read one way, these numbers bode well for the future supply of teachers in Illinois, but numbers can be deceiving, several observers cautioned. These numbers could simply reflect a weak economy where school districts aren't filling jobs because they're struggling financially and adults are looking for secure careers, experts said.

"The question in my mind is what happens when the economy improves?" said Jim Sweeney, who wrote the report for the state. "Is this a crisis that's hidden?"

The state did not consider potential retirements this year, a source of great concern in previous years. In 2002, 39 percent of teachers and 60 percent of administrators were at least 50 years old.

With retirements, attrition and student growth at the high school level, the state predicts Illinois will need 49,000 teachers through 2007. They expect about 29,000 first-time teachers and about 20,000 "re-entries," or teachers returning to teach in Illinois after a leave or after teaching elsewhere, will fill the need.

The state also expects to need about 3,300 administrators. This is driven in part by a growing attrition rate; since 1996, the rate has more than doubled.

TOP OF PAGE

250 show to discuss funding of schools

Rebecca Loda, Pantagraph, 8/18/04

BLOOMINGTON -- Proposed legislation aimed at reforming the way Illinois funds its schools drew more than 250 people to the Interstate Center on Monday.

The Illinois Senate's education committee sponsored the first of several public hearings on House Bill 750, Senate Amendments 1 and 2.

The legislation would mandate a restructuring of the state's tax system that includes an income tax increase, property tax relief and an expansion of the sales tax.

The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, and James T. Meeks, I-Chicago, and co-sponsored by 13 other House and Senate members.

The current funding system is "inadequate, inefficient and inequitable," said state school Superintendent Robert Schiller, who described rising costs, revenue that is not keeping pace with expenses and school districts falling into patterns of deficit spending.

He and others noted the large disparity in spending among districts, which they say is caused by a reliance on local property taxes.

While critics acknowledged the system needs to be reformed, they questioned the mix of tax changes being proposed.

Proponents say the House bill addresses that issue and others while increasing the state's share of the cost and providing additional money to meet needs as academic standards rise.

"It actually solves the school funding problem in a fair and rational way," said Ralph Martire, executive director of the nonpartisan, Chicago-based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. "It helps keep Illinois, believe or not, a low-tax state."

School officials, union representatives and those representing grass-roots groups organized to push for funding reform provided testimony, with many detailing budget cuts and other financial problems in districts throughout the state.

Superintendent Alan Chapman of Normal-based Unit 5, who supports the concepts in the bill, said state funding in the district has been decreasing and fund reserves are being depleted.

"We cannot continue to reduce our expenditures in the face of growing enrollment" without affecting students negatively, he said.

Downs Mayor Jeff Schwartz urged legislators to meet with parents, students, school officials and others.

"Clearly this issue transcends party lines," Schwartz said.

Some testifying had questions and possible alternatives to the bill.

Kim Vail, assistant director of local government for the Illinois Farm Bureau, said the organization supports reform, but does not completely support the proposed bill.

"The way we fund education in Illinois is unfair for children, unjust for taxpayers and unsustainable for our entire state," he said.

But Vail suggested the farm bureau would not support raising the income tax from the current 3 percent to 5 percent, which is a main part of the bill that would generate $5 billion.

The organization advocates a smaller increase and greater property tax relief.

Vail also urged caution regarding the expansion of the sales tax.

Jeffrey Mays, president of the Illinois Business Roundtable, cautioned against relying on income and sales tax revenue. He said property taxes are more stable while the other revenue sources are volatile and have lower growth rates.

TOP OF PAGE

Students make gains on ACT

Kavita Kumar, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8/18/04

Missouri and Illinois students in the class of 2004 did slightly better on the ACT college entrance exam than students from the previous year, matching a national trend.

In Missouri, scores rose to 21.5 from 21.4, and in Illinois scores rose to 20.3 from 20.2. The top score is 36.

Nationwide, scores improved modestly across all subjects and most ethnic groups. The nationwide average composite score rose 0.1 point to 20.9, after two years at 20.8. However, that remains below the average score of 21.0 recorded by every graduating class from 1997 to 2001.

Test administrators and state education officials said the increases were significant, given that a growing number of students who do not plan to attend college are taking the test and likely are weighing down average scores. Since 2002, all high school juniors in Illinois have taken the exam as part of the Prairie State Achievement Exam.

"For Missouri, the most significant result was the increase in the math score," said Quentin Wilson, Missouri's commissioner of higher education. "It went up two-tenths of a point from last year; that's two-tenths higher than the national average."

The math numbers are important because many students are not ready for college-level math and science, he said. , adding: "We're really hoping that the math score, which has fluctuated at the state level, is the beginning of a trend."

Missouri scores in English and reading also increased slightly while science scores remained static.

In Illinois, English, reading and science scores moved up a bit, while math scores were the same. The overall composite score, though, has been on an upward trend.

Illinois state schools Superintendent Robert Schiller cited recent improvements in his state's scores. "We're very proud that the composite score on the ACT is now 20.3, up from 20.2 last year and 20.1 the year before that."

A one-tenth of a point increase is an important measure of improvement, Schiller said. However, he said he's still concerned about the gap between those who take more rigorous classes and those who don't, the slow progress for African-American and Hispanic students, and the sluggish improvement in student scores on the higher end.

The latest national figures, released on Wednesday, also reveal no progress in two key, related areas: the number of students taking a core, college-prep curriculum, and the number scoring high enough on the ACT to indicate they will succeed in higher education.

"Unfortunately, the class of 2004 is no better prepared for college than the class of 2003," said Richard L. Ferguson, chief executive of the nonprofit ACT.

Forty percent of 2004 high school graduates, or about 1.2 million students nationwide, took the ACT test. More students take the SAT, but the ACT is the predominant college admissions test in about half of the states and is accepted by most colleges.

Black students again posted the lowest average scores of any ethnic group but saw their average scores increase 0.2 points to 17.1. Hispanics, steady at 18.5, were the only major ethnic group to report no increase, though the number of Hispanic test-takers grew by 4 percent, the most of any ethnic group.

TOP OF PAGE

More teachers stay in schools

Fears of shortage fail to materialize

Stephanie Banchero, Chicago Tribune, Tribune staff reporters Ana Beatriz Cholo and Jodi S. Cohen contributed to this report, 8/19/04

The crippling teacher shortage that state officials predicted a few years ago has not materialized, as more educators are staying in their jobs and more students enter the profession, according to state data released Wednesday.

About 93 percent of Illinois teachers returned to their schools in 2003, reversing a troubling trend that saw them fleeing the classroom at unprecedented rates between 1996 and 2001.

During the last few years, as the economy has made early retirement and other alternatives less attractive, departures have slowed.

Meanwhile, the number of students who completed teacher training programs in Illinois colleges jumped 18 percent between 2000 and 2002, after declining the previous year. And the number of graduates who obtained teaching licenses grew 9 percent in 2002-2003, after dropping the year before.

Though there are still chronic shortages in disciplines such as bilingual and special education, state officials are predicting a surplus of teaching candidates in fields such as English, gym and social science.

In perhaps the single most important snapshot of teacher supply, school districts reported significantly fewer classroom vacancies as school began.

Two years ago, schools opened the year with 2,458 unfilled positions. Last year, that number dropped to 1,630, three-quarters of them in Chicago.

"It looks like we will have enough teachers to--for the most part--fill the needs in coming years," said data analyst Jim Sweeney, who compiled the information. "But there are subject area and geographic concerns. ... Some districts can find more than enough teachers, while other districts can't."

The "big unknown," Sweeney said, is the economy. "If the economy improves and districts find themselves with more money, they might want to start shrinking class sizes," he said. "That could cause problems."

The data released Wednesday come from the Educator Supply and Demand report, issued by the Illinois State Board of Education annually since 2000.

In the mid-1990s and early 2000, educators and politicians across Illinois sounded alarm bells over a pending teacher shortage crisis. The number of students majoring in education was on the decline. Veteran teachers were retiring at a record pace and younger teachers were fleeing.

Now local school officials agree that they are not having as much difficulty filling regular classroom positions but say special education and bilingual teachers are in short supply.

Ed Rafferty, superintendent of Schaumburg Community Consolidated School District 54, said his district hired 90 teachers this summer to fill classroom vacancies. But one week before school starts, he is still trying to find two speech and language pathologists to work with special education students.

"I am crossing my fingers and praying," Rafferty said. "We are begging people to come out of retirement, praying for a late hire, turning over every stone. The only other choices are to increase the caseload on our other people or contract out for private services. Neither of those options has much appeal."

At Community Consolidated School District 15 in Palatine, administrators said they had thousands of applications for some openings. Still, they had a tough time finding qualified bilingual and special education teachers.

"We had to really work hard to find those quality teachers," said Robert Tenczar, spokesman for the district.

Chicago Public Schools officials have hired about 1,700 teachers so far, but are still looking for several hundred more. Bilingual, special education, math, science and reading teachers are in short supply.

Nancy Slavin, the director of recruitment for Chicago schools, said the hiring woes have nothing to do with people not wanting to work in Chicago.

"The universities don't produce enough in those [subject] areas," Slavin said. "We are not just hiring anybody that comes down the street with an endorsement. We're trying to look for quality teachers as well to fill our need."

State officials predict that elementary school enrollments will grow modestly over the next four years but will start declining in 2007.

High school enrollments are expected to increase 7 percent by 2007.

The end result, state education officials predict, is a greater demand for high school teachers in math and science, where some districts already are experiencing shortages.

The report estimates that Illinois districts will need almost 40,000 regular and 9,000 special education teachers through 2007, with the greatest needs in special education, math, science and foreign languages. They predict districts will need to hire 3,300 administrators.

TOP OF PAGE

Some schools labeled as failing dispute data

Suburb districts checking records

Grace Aduroja, Chicago Tribune, 8/19/04

A day after the Illinois State Board of Education released a preliminary list of schools in academic trouble, west suburban school administrators said Wednesday that they had found discrepancies between their student records and the data used by state officials to label them as failing.

At Oak Park and River Forest High School, officials said several students were counted twice, and others were listed in the wrong subgroups, such as minority, low-income or special-education students.

"We're now checking on a student-by-student basis. It's fairly painstaking," said Phil Prale, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for District 200.

Listing students in the correct subgroup is vital because under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, a school is labeled as failing if any student subgroup doesn't meet state standards. A subgroup must have at least 40 students to affect a school's overall results.

State officials said the list of schools released Tuesday could change in coming weeks. Meanwhile, school officials are hurrying to amend their data before Saturday, when corrections are due.

Sanctions kick in after a school fails to meet state achievement-test standards for two years in a row. The first sanctions require schools to offer students the option of attending a better-performing school in the district.

As a result, several well-regarded suburban schools find that they may have to shift students.

The provision is problematic for administrators at Lake Park High School, a one-school district in Roselle. Classes started Wednesday, and if the school remains on the failing list, officials will have to negotiate an agreement with a neighboring district to provide students with a choice.

Lake Park District 108 administrators said they believe they were placed on the list because special-education and Latino students failed to meet state standards in math and science, but "we're still waiting" for official word from the state, said spokeswoman Terry Ryan.

At the north campus of Lyons Township High School in La Grange, officials have found problems with the state numbers. The school was placed on the preliminary list because special-education students didn't meet standards in math and reading.

"We want to be sure that we use this window, this period of time, appropriately," said Margaret Trybus, director of curriculum and instruction at Lyons Township District 204. "We are finding some discrepancies."

Supt. Jim Blanche of Lombard Elementary District 44 said he doesn't plan to contest the state results for Glenn Westlake Middle School, which was placed on the list because special-education students didn't make adequate yearly progress in math.

"Essentially the trapdoor that we fell through is a very small subgroup," Blanche said. "All of that verification of the information has taken place, so we're not going back to do that again."

In Villa Park District 45, the limited English-speaking students at Schafer Elementary School didn't make adequate yearly progress, according to the state. That was the only school in the district on the watch list.

Supt. William Schewe said district records show that every subgroup met the state standard.

Schafer "should be taken off the list...a mistake was made by the state," Schewe said. "Until it's final and until our appeal is heard, we're not going to do anything."

TOP OF PAGE

===========================================================================

NATIONAL

The Weak link in our education system

By Kathy Christie, former middle school teacher, school board member and currently vice president at the Education Commission of the States in Denver, Denver Post, 8/15/04

No stage of a child's development and education is as challenging and unpredictable as the middle-grade years. Parents who worry about flashes of anger, belligerence and unreliability in their adolescent one moment might be reassured by the compassion, intelligence and glimpses of maturity in the next.

But no matter what emotional changes confront parents, many sit down at the dinner table each night facing children who are bored and frustrated during the hours they spend in school.

Although educators have worked diligently to incorporate and apply the principles of good middle-grades education, many parents complain - to principals, school board members and legislators - that middle schools focus too much on the developmental needs of adolescents and not enough on academic achievement.

Parents are not the only critics. The Southern Regional Education Board, which has been researching middle schools for more than a decade, has identified them as the "weak link" in education. Among the major causes are:

An unclear mission for the middle grades;

Insufficient preparation of middle-grades teachers, in terms of both subject matter and knowledge of how to teach young adolescents;

The lack of specific indicators or criteria for determining students' readiness for high school; and

The false belief that young adolescents cannot deal with challenging work because of puberty.

In ad survey of 1,400 middle-school faculty conducted about four years ago, less than 60 percent of teachers reported assigning one hour or more of homework per week, with only one in three consistently requiring students to revise their work. While 50 percent of those surveyed listed "helping students develop socially" as a top priority, just 37 percent rated "helping students prepare for college-prep classes" as important.

States are paying attention. According to a recent report by the Council of Chief State School Officers (the organization that represents each state's K-12 education commissioner), 35 states now grant a middle-grades teacher license, up from 30 states in 1995. At the federal level, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires each state's teachers to be "highly qualified" and to teach only in areas in which they have a subject-matter major, the equivalent of a major or a passing grade on an exam in each subject area taught.

This requirement constitutes a major challenge for states, particularly in terms of middle-school teachers. In Colorado, for example, just 67 percent of middle-school teachers meet the NCLB "highly qualified" requirement, compared with 95 percent for elementary school teachers and 89 percent for high school teachers.

Some communities are experimenting with approaches that call for replacing middle schools with elementary schools that span kindergarten through eighth grade. Such efforts are planned or already are underway in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Baltimore. But while stories abound of successful transitions to K-8 schools, there is little concrete evidence that reorganizing the structure of schools has a positive impact on student achievement. Clearly, more research and objective data are needed.

Today's middle schools are the product of more than a century of changing organizational and philosophical approaches to public education. The original model - eight years of elementary education and four years of secondary education - began to give way in the 1890s to reforms based on the idea that early adolescents could begin mastering high school-level material well before the eighth grade. Over the next several decades, the system was reconfigured, shifting grades seven and eight from elementary schools to create six-year high schools and, eventually, splitting secondary education into junior and senior high schools.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, a growing body of research on the physical, cognitive and emotional development of early adolescents, as well as the large percentage of junior high students leaving school to enter the workforce, gave rise to yet another structural change: the creation of middle schools.

The idea was to create a smaller, more personalized and less rigid learning environment than junior high schools typically offered. The middle school philosophy promotes active, project-based learning and encourages exploration of issues and interests across disciplinary areas. It does not in any way advocate low expectations, lack of rigor or a focus on students' emotional and social development at the expense of academic achievement.

There were good reasons behind the move to middle schools. Simply reverting to earlier models need not be the only solution to frustration with this level of education.

Middle schools do need to present engaging and relevant material to students, but they need to do so while raising the bar, providing students with more challenging material in keeping with the high academic standards adopted by states. Those in the education profession who have disregarded criticisms, rejected suggestions or nodded "yes" while continuing to do business as usual should realize that they risk losing the middle schools they believe in and value.

TOP OF PAGE

Charter Academy Shuts 60 Schools

About 10,000 students around the state must find a place to enroll before the fall term

By Erika Hayasaki, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 8/16/04

California's largest charter school operator has shut down at least 60 campuses amid new state restrictions and an investigation into financial and academic practices — leaving nearly 10,000 students to find new schools just a few weeks before the new semester begins.

Many campus officials and parents learned over the weekend that their schools had been closed.

Facing mounting financial uncertainty — with pressure from state laws banning long-distance oversight of campuses and restrictions on state funding to schools for adult students — the Victorville-based California Charter Academy announced the closure of 38 campuses several weeks ago. Last week, the remaining campuses found out that they, too, would not reopen this fall.

"I don't know what happened," said Angie Garcia, a parent of three children who attended The Village Elementary School in Inglewood, where she also worked full time as a teachers' assistant. She had planned to enroll her fourth child there next year. She and her husband were notified of the closure by school officials over the weekend. "It's devastating. It's a good school; they like it."

The 450-student K-8 campus was located in a church with 16 classrooms. Its on-site administrators ran the campus with a private school feel, requiring students to wear uniforms.

A message on the school's answering machine over the weekend announced: "It is with great regret at this time that we must inform you of our school's closure. If you are a family currently enrolled, we are here to assist you through this process…. We must advise parents to seek enrollment elsewhere."

School director Trina Muhammad said the closure was a tragedy.

"With public schools going the way they are going, we need opportunities, and good opportunities," she said. "Parents will have to put their children in schools they had chosen not to put them in before."

Charter schools are financed by state taxes but are exempt from numerous state education regulations.

State officials and charter experts said some good schools got caught in California Charter Academy's complicated operations problems, while others were flawed and needed to be closed.

The academy ran its campuses — from San Diego to Northern California — under the auspices of four charter schools sanctioned by three California school districts: Oro Grande Elementary in Victorville, Orange Unified in Orange County and Snowline Joint Unified in San Bernardino County.

That arrangement allowed the organization and districts to receive a portion of tax revenue for those schools. The academy has collected more than $100 million in state funding since 1999.

But the setup put some of the campus oversight responsibilities in the hands of districts that were hundreds of miles away.

A new law, Assembly Bill 1994, sponsored by Assemblywoman Sarah Reyes (D-Fresno), banned such long-distance charter school oversight. It was prompted, in part, by scandals at other charter organizations with far-flung campuses, including a 1999 case in which some of the Fresno Unified School District's distant campuses were accused of teaching religion and exaggerating attendance.

The state withheld $6 million from the California Charter Academy after it illegally opened 10 campuses after the law took effect.

In March, Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, launched an investigation after an advisory panel alleged that the academy was charging some of its campuses millions of dollars in administrative fees and was inadequately overseeing the schools.

O'Connell subpoenaed academic and financial records in recent weeks to ensure that paperwork did not get lost as schools closed.

The academy was founded by C. Steven Cox, who is being investigated by the state for his dual role as California Charter Academy board member and president of a for-profit company that managed the academy's school sites. Cox resigned several weeks ago and has not commented.

Calls to academy board members were not returned over the weekend.

The state is working through county offices of education and local school districts to inform parents about alternative schools, said Department of Education spokeswoman Ann Bancroft.

Some of the schools may be able to reopen by applying to the school district in which they are located and seeking charter status on their own, Bancroft said.

But charter experts and administrators have complained that the process is lengthy and often requires going through layers of bureaucracy.

Gary Larson of the California Charter Schools Assn., an advocacy group for charter schools in the state, said his organization is working to find other charter campuses for the displaced students before the new school year begins.

More than 500 charter schools serve more than 180,000 students in the state, and a lot of them will be able to accept many of the academy students, he said.

Over the next year, Larson's organization, which is headed by former Los Angeles Board of Education member Caprice Young, plans to help many of the "high quality" campuses gain sponsorship from their local school districts as charter schools. Some may be able to reopen by the 2005-06 school year, he said.

"Do not underestimate how frustrated the rest of the charter school community is with this one bad apple who abused the process," Larson said. "For over two years now you've had the charter school community recognize this organization is a problem."

Charlotte Austin-Jordan, director of a California Charter Academy campus named Save Our Future, near downtown Los Angeles, met Saturday with parents, students and teachers to inform them that the school — created to educate troubled teens — would be closed.

"They want to fight," Austin-Jordan said. Her voice was hoarse from calling parents, students, school board members, assemblymen and state officials to ask for help.

Her landlord told her that an $8,000 check sent by California Charter Academy for her school's rent this month had bounced. A check for $11,000 for mandatory fire inspection costs bounced too, Austin-Jordan said.

"I'm very angry with them," she said.

"We are responsible for these children. Families are running all around. There's 10,000 kids in the system that are getting ready to have serious problems. My parents, today, were in tears," she said.

Carlos Mojica, 18, a junior at the school, said he doesn't know where he or his brother, Ruben, 16, will enroll this fall. Both have been successful at the 300-student campus, because of small classes and hard-working teachers, he said.

"It was the first school I liked," said Mojica, who attended three other high schools before enrolling at Save Our Future.

Garcia of The Village Elementary School is trying to remain calm, even though she just lost her job and her children's school.

"It's going to affect them. They were taught well," she said. "Where are they going to get the same kind of education?"

TOP OF PAGE

Schools blame rules for bad marks

Special standards for special students urged after 15 ‘need improvement’ tags in Gaston

KAREN CIMINO, Charlotte Observer, 8/13/04

County and state education officials said Thursday that Gaston County Schools can blame a flaw in the state and federal accountability programs for its status as a district that needs improvement.

The federal No Child Left Behind program requires all students to pass math and

reading exams. Passing means students perform at or above their grade level in those subjects.

But some students enrolled in special education programs who can't meet the standard are required to take the same exams as non-disabled students. That's what happened in Gaston.

The "needs improvement" label means the district has to offer additional staff training. Officials also were required to send a letter home to students and parents informing of the school system's status.

Gaston -- which had about 30,000 students last school year -- has 4,085 students in its exceptional children program, which helps children with learning, mental, physical and emotional disabilities. Of those students, 1,929 took the same test as students without disabilities, but too few made the grade, according to the federal government. All 15 of Gaston's 53 schools that failed to meet federal standards fell short because students with disabilities couldn't pass math and reading exams.

Cathy Boshamer, director of exceptional children programs for Gaston County Schools, said testing children with disabilities under the same standard as other children without disabilities is unfair. The tests determine whether students have made a year's worth of progress from the previous grade level. Boshamer said disabled children might make a year's worth of progress, but at a grade level lower than the one they're in because of their disability.

Elsie Leak, the state's associate superintendent over curriculum and school reform, said Gaston received the "needs improvement" label because No Child Left Behind holds children with disabilities to the same standard as those without disabilities.

Students with severe and profound disabilities such as autism qualify to take an alternative test. But students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia must take the same test as other students, Leak said.

A fifth-grader, for example, who reads on a fourth-grade level because of a learning disability would have to take the fifth-grade end-of-grade exam.

"Children with disabilities are the group that most often causes a school to not meet (federal standards)," Leak said. "Until that disconnect is worked out, some school systems will still have to focus a great deal on this area."

Gaston school officials said they were disappointed last week to learn that Gaston County school system was one of 43 districts statewide and seven Charlotte metro area districts labeled as needing improvement.

Gaston County met 91.8 percent of its federal goals in 2003-04 compared to 73 percent the previous year, outperforming some neighboring districts including Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which was not labeled as needing improvement.

Staff members at 35 of Gaston's 53 schools will receive bonuses this year because of the improvements.

"I'm very much disappointed that we have this label especially in light of the really positive achievements of our students last school year," Superintendent Ed Sadler said.

Gaston has been offering training to help students with reading and math deficiencies catch up to their peers.

"One of the things about No Child Left Behind is that the rules are being written as they go," Sadler said. "You find out after the fact that you have a problem when you didn't even know you were in trouble. I want people to know we have made significant progress (overall)."

TOP OF PAGE

Testing scores lag in charter schools

Diana Jean Schemo, New York Times News Service, 8/17/04

WASHINGTON -- The first national comparison of test scores among children in charter schools and regular public schools shows charter school students often doing worse than comparable public school students.

The findings, buried in data the Education Department released without public announcement, deals a blow to supporters of the charter school movement, including the Bush administration.

The data show 4th graders attending charter schools performing about half a year behind students in other public schools in reading and math. Put another way, only 25 percent of the 4th graders attending charters were proficient in reading and math, against 30 percent who were proficient in reading, and 32 percent in math, at traditional public schools.

Because charter schools are concentrated in cities, often in poor neighborhoods, the researchers also compared urban charters to traditional schools in cities.

They looked at low-income children in both settings, and broke down the results by race and ethnicity as well. In virtually all instances, the charter students did worse than their counterparts in regular public schools.

Charters are expected to grow exponentially under the new federal education law, No Child Left Behind, which holds out conversion to charter schools as one solution for chronically failing traditional schools.

These schools educate more than 600,000 students at 3,000 of the nation's 88,000 public schools. Charter schools are self-governing public schools, sometimes run by private companies, which operate outside the authority of local school boards, and have greater flexibility than traditional public schools in areas of policy, hiring and teaching techniques.

"The scores are low, dismayingly low," said Chester Finn, a supporter of charters and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, who was among those who asked the administration to do the comparison.

Finn, a former assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration, said the quality of charter schools across the country varies widely, and he predicted that the results would make those overseeing charters demand more in the way of performance.

"A little more tough love is needed for these schools," Finn said. "Somebody needs to be watching over their shoulders."

Finn and other backers of charter schools contended, however, that the findings should be considered as "baseline data," and could reflect the predominance of children in these schools who turned to charters after having had severe problems at their neighborhood schools.

The results, based on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as the nation's report card, were unearthed from online data by researchers at the American Federation of Teachers, which has historically supported charter schools but has produced research in recent years raising doubts about the expansion of charter schools, who provided them to The New York Times.

Federal officials said they did not intend to hide the performance of charter schools, and denied any political motivation for failing to publicly disclose that the data were available. Robert Lerner, commissioner of the federal Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, said further analysis was needed to put the data in its proper context.

Amy Stuart Wells, a sociology professor at Columbia University Teachers College, called the new data "really, really important."

"It confirms what a lot of people who study charter schools have been worried about," she said. "There is a lack of accountability. They're really uneven in terms of quality."

But others were skeptical, saying the results proved that such schools were not a cure-all.

TOP OF PAGE

ACT, SAT essays under the red pencil

Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY

Iowa City — Meredith Brand can't say much about what's going on behind closed doors here at ACT Inc. headquarters: Her work deals with the closely guarded essay questions being developed for the testing company's signature product — its ACT college entrance exam.

  Starting next year, the SAT and ACT exams will include essays. Many students will prepare with comprehensive review courses. 

By Winslow Townson, AP

Questions about politics are unlikely. "Kids just aren't interested at that age," says Brand, who is preparing training materials this summer for the hundreds of scorers the company expects to hire each time the test is administered. (Related story: Part I — More students taking ACT)

And students won't be asked to solve problems in the essay. When that type of question was posed in preliminary testing, students "would get so distracted with the solution that they forgot that their real task was to provide a writing sample." Instead, questions will cover subjects that are "very close to a teenager's world." Dress codes, for example, or physical education.

The format will introduce a topic, give two opposing views and ask the student to take a position.

Statistically, researchers found this combination of subject and format has yielded the best range of responses, Brand says.

And she should know. For the past several weeks, Brand and a group of what she calls "range-finders" have been poring over student responses to 42 such questions — about 30,000 essays produced during field tests last year — to figure out which questions are test-ready.

The College Board, maker of the SAT, similarly has been preparing to roll out its essay section next March.

There is a key difference between the two: The ACT writing portion is optional, and the SAT essay is required. But they share a number of characteristics.

Like the ACT, the SAT will pose a question, or "prompt," and students are asked to take a position. But the SAT's questions will be based on one or two quotations. Sample subjects tend to be broader, touching on issues such as secrecy, or success and failure.

Also like the ACT, each question must survive a rigorous screening process. "It sounds funny, but it's not easy to write one of these prompts," says Photo Anagnostopoulos, a College Board senior vice president. "You have to make sure you're not just playing to people who know about current events, that students who may not be interested in literature but are interested in science and math can answer the question."

   Colleges lean toward writing test   

To date, nearly 350 colleges have told the College Board that they plan to require students to take a writing test as part of their college entrance exam.

When 351 admissions officers from 330 four-year colleges were asked to assess how they would use the writing essay, 68% said they would download and print the student's essay. Of that group, 35% would read all of the essays, and 19% would read most of them. They gave these reasons for reading the essay:

 78% "to provide additional information about a candidate's writing skills."

 46% to "compare and verify" with the essay(s) that students are asked to submit as part of the application.

 32% "to use as an additional placement essay."

 19% to replace an application essay(s).

 16% to replace an essay currently used for placement.

Other similarities between the tests:

• Students will have a deadline: 25 minutes for the SAT and 30 minutes for the ACT.

• Tests will be scored in the same way: Each essay will be read by two scorers who will assign a number on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 the lowest score.

In what SAT officials call a "holistic" scoring method, trainees will be instructed to read the essay quickly — perhaps spending just two or three minutes — to get an overall impression and then to take "everything" into account, including organization, sentence structure and facility with language.

Pulling together such a project is no small undertaking. Both companies have experience with smaller-scale essay questions such as those on the College Board's AP exams or the Medical College Admission Test, which is administered and scored by ACT Inc.

But the SATs and ACTs are given more than 2 million times a year each. The previous method of readers coming together under one roof to go over papers would be unwieldy and expensive. So the companies will scan and distribute the essays electronically to scorers nationwide.

It's not just the volume of work that has increased. The stakes are higher, too. (Related story: Average ACT score rises)

"The accuracy of that first testing is going to be so crucial," says Bernie Phelan, a member of an SAT writing committee and an English teacher at Illinois' Homewood-Flossmoor High School.

And not everyone is convinced an essay is necessary. Though admissions directors at more than 350 colleges have told the College Board that they plan to require the writing test, many also plan to do in-house research on results before deciding whether to factor scores into admissions decisions. A few, including Georgetown University and the University of Chicago, will not require it.

The test "is a bold undertaking, but is it going to really add something of value?" Georgetown admissions dean Charles Deacon asks. "Maybe it will. We have our doubts."

Origin of the essay

Plans to include a standardized essay test were set in motion in 2001 when, in a national speech to college and university presidents, Richard Atkinson, then president of the University of California system, proposed dropping the SAT as an admissions requirement for the nine-campus system. He said it failed to emphasize what is taught in the high school curriculum and recommended, among other things, that students be required to produce a writing sample. (Related story: Sample essay questions from SAT and ACT)

Today, Atkinson lauds the changes. He said in a speech recently that the SAT essay will "send a clear message to K-12 students, their teachers and parents that learning to write ... is of critical importance."

Few educators would disagree. Still, some question whether the writing tests are the right way to do that.

One concern is whether the essays are coachable. Test-prep companies already are promoting essay-writing courses, and some SAT programs are encouraging students to develop in advance a response that, with a little fine-tuning on testing day, could be applied to multiple questions.

Test developers insist that scorers will be able to detect such attempts. And Becky Hoffbauer, an Iowa artist who has been scoring essays for ACT and another Iowa City-based testing firm for about four years, says the "canned" essays tend to stand out.

"It's usually quite easy to spot," she says. "You cringe a little bit."

Another concern is the nature of the exercise. The test is supposed to help admissions officials determine a student's readiness for college, but doing so under conditions set by the ACT and SAT tests is like "judging the ability to play basketball by saying how well you can shoot a jump shot," says Douglas Hesse, an Illinois State University English professor who chairs a composition group in the National Council of Teachers of English. "There is some writing in college that occurs in timed, one-draft settings, but ... in most cases, students are asked to produce lengthier pieces over time, with the opportunity to revise."

Formulaic writing

Hesse also worries that the essay test might inadvertently promote what he calls the "the much-denigrated five-paragraph theme," a format in which students follow a lockstep formula: state a position in the first paragraph, support it with three examples and conclude in a final paragraph. And "the chances of that getting an A or a B in a college course are almost nil."

For their part, ACT and SAT test developers agree — kind of. Both companies advise scorers to neither reward nor penalize essays that are written in a five-paragraph format. But they also acknowledge that it's a tried-and-true formula.

"We recognize that in a timed essay with an unfamiliar prompt, students are going to need something they can fall back on, that will help them organize their thoughts and convey their ideas," Brand says. But "if we did have a preference, it would be to not have a formulaic essay."

Consider one of the essays Brand and eight range-finders examined during a recent session.

One reader noticed that the author didn't state a position until the last sentence — exactly the opposite of the five-paragraph formula. Yet most agreed that the piece showed a good facility with language and a high level of detail. In the end, they decided that the essay deserved a 5 out of 6.

"The question to ask yourself at the end is, 'Is their position clear?' " Brand says.

Yes, it was, she says, and it was made "in a much more sophisticated way" than most.

TOP OF PAGE

Hustling for teachers

Hiring goes down to wire at schools around Colorado

By Nancy Mitchell, Rocky Mountain News, August 13, 2004

Denver North High School Principal Darlene LeDoux hired her last classroom teacher less than 48 hours ago, and only days before students start filling classrooms.

"We will be fully staffed when school starts," LeDoux said after 6 p.m. Wednesday, sounding tired but happy. "That is a great thing."

Across Denver Public Schools, and in schools statewide, the last few weeks and days before students return to classes often become a last-minute hiring scramble.

Even this fall, with most school districts reporting plenty of applicants, some classes will be fronted by substitutes as districts wind up their attempts to match what's open with who's available.

In DPS, where 292 new teachers had signed contracts as of early Thursday, officials were looking to fill another 25 slots before Monday's opening day of classes. Robin Kane, DPS human resources executive director, said new hires were signing contracts at an average rate of 10 per day.

"We anticipate by Monday we'll have at least two-thirds, if not all, of those positions filled," Kane said.

In Jefferson County, the state's largest district, fewer than 10 teaching spots were still open. That's out of 350 new hires for the district's 87,000 students.

"And we're seeing that number - 10 - go down today," Assistant Superintendent Barb Hosler said Thursday. "We are very close to having just what we need."

In Adams 12 Five-Star Schools, 15 to 18 spots were still open, out of an expected 250 new hires. In Adams 14 Commerce City schools, 65 new teachers were hired, with another 11 to go. In Aurora Public Schools, 24 of 329 vacancies were still open.

And in Douglas County, a rapidly growing district with top test scores, officials were still looking for 25 teachers to round out an expected 425 new hires.

Bill Hodges, the district's human resources chief, said he received nearly 6,000 applicants for those positions, or roughly double that turned in just a year ago.

"We have so many people who want to teach in our school district," Hodges said. "We're in the cat bird's seat, as I like to say."

School human resources officials say it's common in a lagging economy for the teacher supply pool to swell. Company layoffs often prompt former teachers to consider a return to education.

Mark Hinson, human resources chief in Adams 12, said his district "easily averaged 60 to 70 applicants" for every single elementary teacher opening.

But the growing number of applicants doesn't necessarily meet the demand for those jobs long considered hard to fill by school districts: special education; math; science; music; and foreign language.

"It's 6,000 applicants," Hodges said, "but not in those hard-to-fill positions."

So many districts are turning to Internet recruiting to pull in applicants from across the country for those jobs. Nearly all of Colorado's 178 school districts have posted jobs on a statewide job site, www.teachincolorado.org, launched a year ago by the Colorado Department of Education. Nearly 13,000 candidates, from as far away as Peru and England, have checked out the site, said Web master Amy Spruce. For small school districts, particularly those without a Web site, the site has been a boon.

Nancy Sanger, director of instruction for the 1,200-student Salida school district, said the site has sparked national interest in her small mountain town.

"In fact, if we get the response we're hoping to get today," she said on Wednesday, "we will have hired someone from the site."

Internet recruiting is now so common - and popular - with school districts that some human resources officials said they're cutting back on travel to teacher job fairs.

School officials say they'll call on long-term substitutes, who are often retired teachers, to staff any remaining empty classrooms until permanent hires are made.

LeDoux, the North High principal, is pretty sure she won't need to call on any of them.

Her last couple of classroom hires on Wednesday were in tough-to-fill subjects, such as an arts/ceramic teacher. She was waiting for a reference check on one of those hires, and on Thursday, had interviews scheduled for a school literacy coach.

"It always is a challenge this time of year," she said. "We've been very lucky."

TOP OF PAGE

How to get the most out of our teachers

Opinion by Jay P. Greene, Special to the Rocky Mountain News, August 12, 2004

One of the dangers of teachers who are around for a long time is that they may begin to get burned out and lose the enthusiasm that they once had - and the faith that they once had - in the ability of all children to learn to read. Our teacher compensation system rewards people for staying around longer and that may not be a smart thing. We need to use incentives to get better outcomes and so we need to reward the things that actually are associated with better outcomes. Teachers who've been around for a longer time aren't necessarily better at getting better outcomes. So why are we rewarding them?

Similarly teachers who go get master's degrees get compensated more in the traditional pay scale. Well, it's not quite clear to me why, when there's no evidence to suggest that that is associated with better student outcomes. Why don't we just pay teachers for getting better student outcomes?

The reason our spending on education has been going up over the last 30 years is not because we're paying teachers a whole lot more. We're not. The average teacher salary adjusting for inflation has been fairly flat over a long period of time. Now, benefits have gone up a lot, health care has gotten a lot more expensive, and their retirement packages are very nice too. But the actual cash they get has not been going up a lot in inflation-adjusted terms. The reason why we're spending a whole lot more money than we used to is we've hired a lot more teachers, but we're putting them in the classroom fewer hours.

We know that this strategy is not working very well. We need to figure out a way to work the teachers we have more, that is, put them in the classroom more hours. If we did that we could lower class size without having to spend more. On the margin it does help to have fewer students in the classroom. We can also try to provide incentives to those teachers in the classrooms to improve their student outcomes. And we could do that either by establishing benchmarks for performance on tests and providing rewards to teachers who achieve those benchmarks or we can provide market incentives to those teachers where their students might leave if they don't serve their students well. And if their students leave and the money that those students generate leave they can recognize that there may be fewer jobs around and one of those fewer jobs would be theirs. And that's quite motivational.

TOP OF PAGE

Enrichment Courses Let Teachers Be Students / Los Angeles Times

Classes as varied as gang awareness and stress management help instructors keep credentials or get raises.

By Cynthia Daniels, Times Staff Writer, 8/11/04

For a week, Sara Telona learned the choreography for Mexican folklore dances, mastered the words to folk songs and took a crash course in marimba and xylophone playing — all part of classes that can help her renew her teaching credential.

While skeptics may wonder what all that has to do with her duties as a third-grade, dual-language teacher at Grand View Boulevard Elementary School in Los Angeles, Telona sees a strong connection.

She said the workshops, taken earlier this year at the California Assn. of Bilingual Education Conference held in San Jose, helped her connect to her students, many of whom are from Oaxaca, Mexico.

"Our instruction is not just limited to the classroom, it expands outside the classroom," Telona, 30, said. "To deal with certain types of students, you really have to extend yourself as a teacher into their lives, because you want to improve their education, and you can't just do that in six hours of instruction."

Such professional development courses and workshops are part of many teachers' lives long after they finish their regular degrees and credential programs. Classes like these help educators keep their licenses or get raises — even if some class topics seem unconventional.

In addition to standard courses such as classroom management and reading fundamentals, teachers are studying such things as: how to recognize gang signs and graffiti; the world of sharks; the science of insect infestations; and how to fumigate classrooms.

The classes are offered by colleges and universities, school districts, teachers unions and private companies. Some are taken online and many are independent study, with material and work sent back and forth by mail. Tuition can be as low as $45 and as high as $725.

Although the courses are offered throughout the year, summer is the busiest season.

"There's a lot of stuff out there that's not necessarily beneficial," Mary Bergan, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said of some of the unusual courses. "But the best teacher is the best learner who sees new things and looks for new ways to do things and present his or her material."

A California teacher who earned a credential after August 1985 must take 150 hours of these classes every five years to renew it. And many school districts also give salary boosts for course completions. For example, teachers can get a raise in the Los Angeles Unified School District after 14 units of study, which can range from five to 14 courses.

But not all the classes win approval from principals and district officials.

Justo Avila, administrative coordinator for personnel services and research branch of human resources for Los Angeles Unified, said that in the 2002-03 school year, the district sent out 6,000 letters informing teachers that they were denied part or all of a course's credits. Some of the courses denied included yoga for educators, stress management and improving finances. Teachers can appeal in their efforts to earn raises between $50 and $2,500 a year.

The classes must be directly related to a teacher's assignment and meet such district priorities as improving student reading and writing, and educating students with disabilities.

"If you're a math teacher, you can't go out and take art," Avila said. "We only give credit for work you did improving your skills."

The gang course, offered by the Enhancement Courses firm in Costa Mesa in affiliation with Loyola Marymount University, has been accepted for credit by several school districts because it directly relates to students.

Teachers watch videotaped lectures from Orange County gang experts, read one of three books exploring the culture of specific gangs, and learn common street terms and hand signs.

For their final project, teachers must create a gang awareness presentation for their students, school or community.

"It's not simply enough to know one's content area," said Shane Martin, acting dean of the school of education at Loyola, which offers its own variety of classes for teachers, and about 200 independent study topics in partnership with Enhancement Courses. "It's not even enough to know one's pedagogy. But teachers need to know how to work with the very culturally diverse community we live in, and this requires another set of skills."

Other course topics include animal behavior, baseball and sharks.

"I just don't pull [these courses] out of the hat," said Enhancement Courses Director Don Jacobs when asked how he develops the courses. "With each course there's an evaluation sheet, and [the teachers] suggest courses. They're one of our biggest sources of ideas."

To complete the course "Sharks: Myth and Facts," the teachers must watch a National Geographic video about the great white shark and read three books. Then, they answer several fill-in-the-blank sheets and write an essay on how their lives would be affected if sharks became extinct.

"If you teach long enough, everything you've ever learned, you'll use," Jacobs said. "We use nothing [in our courses] that teachers cannot use in the classroom."

First-grade teacher Christy Davidson has taken six independent study courses at the University of La Verne's Professional Development Course Program, including one about dolphins and whales, and another about understanding moods of students and teachers. She wants to use them for salary advancement but says her love for learning prompted her continual enrollment.

"If I can use this and learn from it, of course I'm going to take it," said Davidson, who teaches at Agnes Baptist Elementary School in Modesto.

She said the "I'm So Stressed I Could Scream" course taught her stress reduction techniques and helped with classroom management. Instead of disciplining her slightly rowdy class after lunch, Davidson started reading a book to calm students and herself.

While some educators might say the course helped Davidson more on a personal level than in the classroom, Davidson doesn't see it that way.

"It's not just about the students," Davidson said. "If you can't open up and learn more about yourself, how are you going to help your students?"

TOP OF PAGE

Educators tackle classroom discipline

Karina Bland, The Arizona Republic, Aug. 13, 2004 

Schools have a grip on the most serious discipline problems like drugs and guns, what with police officers on many campuses and nearly universal zero-tolerance policies.

What's harder to handle are the minor distractions in class - the pencil tappers, hair pullers, loudmouths and latecomers, according to a report released in May just as most schools were letting out for the summer.

Smart-mouthed kids are quick to remind teachers that their parents can sue them.

Teachers complain that parents don't discipline their kids at home, yet expect them to do it in the classroom.

Administrators and school board members don't always back up teachers, giving in to loud and angry parents.

Now, with renewed vigor, Arizona schools are tackling the daily distractions that can disrupt an entire class, divert a teacher's attention, even drive them from the profession.

High-stakes testing and new national educational standards mean teachers can't afford to waste time trying to make one or two unruly students behave when the rest of the class has so much to learn.

In a first for Arizona, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne has appointed a deputy associate superintendent for discipline. And he has created a committee to study how to restore discipline to classrooms.

The Arizona Education Association, the state's teachers group, has gotten involved, launching a training program in classroom management. The AEA hopes to update teachers' arsenals for handling disruptive students.

Children's misbehavior hasn't changed so much over the years, AEA President Tom Wright said, though their attitudes toward teachers have. They are less respectful. He said he thinks the problem lies with parents.

"If you are a kid and you hear your parents at home questioning your teachers and the standards they expect, what on Earth is leading you to the understanding that you should respect that teacher?" Wright asked.

In the May 2004 report, "Teaching Interrupted," by Public Agenda, a New York-based non-profit, 82 percent of teachers and 74 percent of parents said parents' failure to discipline their children at home is part of the problem.

A third of teachers in the national report said they have seriously considered quitting or know a colleague who has left because student discipline has become intolerable.

"If the parents don't support the school, they convey the message to the kids that their actions at school don't have consequences," Horne said.

In April, Elizabeth Moore, a teacher at Trevor G. Browne High in west Phoenix, created a national stir by filing court papers accusing a student of unruly behavior. A Peoria justice of the peace barred the boy, 15, from having contact with Moore, in or out of school.

Kids in charge at home

Ken Freed, a teacher at Secrest Middle School in the south end of Tucson, has worked with at-risk kids for 15 years. He assumed they would be from split families, turbulent households, or poor.

That's sometimes true, but not always. He has had the children of school administrators and vice presidents of banks. Half are boys; half are girls. They all have one thing in common: They are in charge at home.

"They have no expectation that there are any consequences for their behavior," Freed said. "In their houses, they are the boss."

Nearly eight in 10 teachers in the Public Agenda report said students or parents have threatened legal action, making it hard for administrators to support teachers' efforts to crack down on bad behavior.

More than half of teachers in the report said discipline is undermined when school districts back down from aggressive parents, reversing suspensions or expulsions.

In his 24 years as a Paradise Valley school board member, Horne never overruled a teacher in a discipline matter.

"School boards have to be strong and not cave into that," he said, except in cases when it's clear a poor decision has been made.

The majority of parents want discipline in their kids' classrooms, Horne said. They see how one disruptive student can draw the teacher's attention from the rest of the class.

"Strong discipline in the classroom is crucial for academic achievement," he said.

Horne's new deputy associate superintendent for discipline is Ann Hart, formerly in health and nutrition services and dean of students at North High in Phoenix. She'll work to identify best practices for maintaining discipline.

Bring baggage to class

While the unruly behaviors have stayed much the same, children are coming to school with more complex problems than they did a decade ago, said Rosemary Gaona, a second-grade teacher at Tempe's Evans Elementary School and co-president of the district's teachers group.

"These children bring a lot of baggage with them to school, things that you wouldn't even realize that a little one is exposed to," said Gaona, a 30-year veteran.

She is one of 35 teachers who attended AEA's classroom management training. In turn, those teachers will train other teachers about how to handle disruptive students.

Gaona said the hardest part is trying to figure out why students are behaving badly. There's always a reason.

Their worries go beyond making new friends or finding their way to the cafeteria. "You have to be a little more receptive and understand that not every child has a perfect home," she said.

Gaona holds what she calls a "community circle," where she and her students share information about their lives. They get to know each other that way and then, when a problem does arise, a bond has already been established.

Across the state, schools are revising discipline policies and trying new strategies to get the kind of behavior they expect.

This year at Greenway High School in Phoenix, for example, students who don't make it to class on time find themselves locked out.

The tardy students then are "swept" into a classroom where they work quietly on subjects covered by state testing until their next class. They have to make up any missed work.

The goal is to get students to class on time.

Students bursting in late can throw off an entire class, said Jack Burton, Greenway's assistant principal for discipline and attendance. For teachers, "it's difficult to have to reteach what you just taught, and if the student missed 10 minutes, the teacher may have already set out the day's work," he said.

He said kids caught up in "sweeps" hurry to make sure it doesn't happen again, and schools have found that tardies drop dramatically.

That's because students rise to the expectations set for them, said Tucson's Freed, who teaches a small group of at-risk kids and supervises students given in-school suspension.

Freed requires his students score 80 percent to pass. If they don't, he returns their work and they redo it.

"Why should they choose to do anything but their best?" Freed asked.

About 80 percent of his students make honor roll while in his class.

TOP OF PAGE

State lifts limit on size of science classes to 30

Mary MacDonald, Atlanta Constitution Staff Writer, August 13, 2004

Public school systems were given the OK by the state Thursday to put as many as 30 students in high school science classes.

The increase in class sizes --- from a maximum of 28 --- was approved by the state Board of Education a month after it adopted a new curriculum designed to improve the quality of science education.

The National Science Teachers Association recommends no more than 24 students in high school classes.

The decision to allow expanded class sizes was prompted by pressure from school superintendents for more flexibility in a tight budget year. But the action came over the opposition of teacher organizations and state Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox.

Some board members also questioned whether allowing larger classes would undercut the new science teaching standards, which encourage a more hands-on approach.

Cox argued that science classes should be made smaller, not larger, to encourage teachers to rely less on textbooks and more on experiments that help students learn.

"We've got a real problem with science education," Cox said. "This just flies in the face of everything we're trying to do."

Science achievement remains a nagging problem in Georgia schools, and some advocates argue students need smaller classes to succeed.

Last spring, 29 percent of high school juniors failed the science portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test, which they must pass by their senior year to get a diploma.

Science classes for advanced students generally are smaller. Some school systems argued they might have to end the small classes, such as Advanced Placement physics, unless they are given some latitude to increase class size in more basic courses.

Restrictions on class sizes can force school systems to add teachers and classrooms.

Even a seemingly small increase in class size can have a big fiscal impact, particularly for a large school system. Cobb County, for example, will save about $4 million this school year by allowing one more student in each class, officials projected.

The state board should have considered factors other than financial savings, however, including student safety, said Stephen Pruitt, the state Education Department's science coordinator.

"For a child to learn science, they have to experience it," said Pruitt, a former chemistry teacher in Fayette County. "Children have to be hands-on. A teacher has to feel comfortable allowing that to happen. The thought of having 30 children in my class, with hydrochloric acid, makes me nervous."

The state board approved the class size increase in a 7-6 vote. The Georgia School Superintendents Association argued for the change, while the 57,000-member Professional Association of Georgia Educators and the Georgia Science Teachers Association argued against it.

"We fully support class sizes of 24 students in science," said Herb Garrett, executive director of the superintendents association. "But if the state's going to mandate it, they ought to pay for it."

TOP OF PAGE

Schools turn to courts for funding

15 states fight funding lawsuits; 10 more threatened

Reuters, August 17, 2004 

OVERLAND PARK, Kansas -- The Spanish teachers are gone along with the guidance counselors and intramural basketball games. Teachers have been fired and classrooms closed.

But as the bell rings in a new school year, U.S. public schools from rural Kansas to New York City are still suffering significant funding shortfalls despite the cutbacks.

So while the kids gather up their backpacks, a wave of fed-up parents, teachers and administrators are turning to the courts to demand that states find new and better ways to pay.

At least 15 states are fighting lawsuits over school funding problems and another 10 states are threatened with litigation, according to the American Association of School Administrators.

"There is a problem with school funding across the country," said Education Commission of the States policy analyst Mike Griffith. "People are really upset. They're saying 'The only way we can get the money we need is to sue the state."'

Funding problems are nothing new for public schools, but an economic downturn coupled with costly new mandates tied to the federal "No Child Left Behind" legislation, which set new educational benchmarks, have stretched finances thin.

Add to that the fact that estimated enrollment has hit a record 48 million students this fall, and that a growing number of students don't speak English or have other educational challenges, and it's a formula for a funding nightmare.

"If we're going to make sure that those kids succeed, meeting the new mission will be costly," said Bruce Hunter, public policy analyst for the American Association of School Administrators.

Polls ahead of this year's presidential election show that education ranks high as a voter concern, and policy and economic experts, including Federal Reserve Chief Alan Greenspan, have warned of a marked decline in the quality of the U.S. educational system.

Most of the funding burden for public schools is borne by state and local taxpayers while federal aid makes up on average about 8 percent.

How the money is distributed varies widely by state and even by district, depending on how much in property taxes is generated, whether taxpayers are willing to pay additional local taxes earmarked for schools and the size and demographic of the student populations.

Further complicating funding formulas is the fact that money generated by taxes in wealthier areas is often diverted to poor districts to try to equalize resources.

Critics say money distributed unfairly

As costs outrun revenues, critics charge the money is distributed unfairly and that it simply is not enough.

Some small, rural and inner-city districts complain they can't afford textbooks or air conditioning, while some suburban districts are laying off librarians and art teachers.

In Kansas, a frustrated district court judge sought this summer to scare legislators into action by ordering a halt to all state funding of schools until lawmakers come up with a funding formula that is fair and adequate.

The judge, who was hearing a case brought by several small districts, said undisputed studies show the Kansas system is underfunded by more than $1 billion. The ruling was appealed and the Kansas Supreme Court takes up the matter Aug. 30.

"By and large, all districts are feeling squeezed by the funding that is available," said Ann Kindling, one of the attorneys involved in the Kansas case.

A similar lawsuit went to trial last week in Texas where more than 300 school districts are claiming the system there is not providing children with an adequate education.

In New York, a State Supreme Court judge has ordered the state to revamp its funding system and come up with an additional $4 billion to $10 billion in school aid over the next three to five years. The judge on Aug. 3 named a panel of special "referees" to come up with a plan.

Further funding lawsuits are being waged in Maryland, Ohio, and Alaska. In Alaska, parents, school districts and the teachers' union filed a lawsuit Aug. 9 against the state alleging its education funding is inadequate.

Back in Kansas, the Shawnee Mission school district is perhaps a textbook case. Once considered one of the highest-achieving and wealthiest districts in the state, it has seen declining enrollment in recent years, and elementary school children there no longer have Spanish teachers or full-time guidance counselors.

With those and other cuts, the district reduced core spending by $23 million over a four-year period. But when the district presented its 2004/05 budget to its board Aug. 9, the shortfall still totaled more than $3.3 million.

"It just becomes very frustrating," Shawnee Mission budget manager Tim Rooney said from his office in Overland Park, Kansas. "Our goal is to try to reduce as much as we can as far away from the classroom as we can. But we're running out of options."

TOP OF PAGE

In the Classroom, Web Logs Are the New Bulletin Boards

By JEFFREY SELINGO, New York Times, August 19, 2004

Last spring, when Marisa L. Dudiak's second-grade class in Frederick County, Md., returned from a field trip to a Native American farm, all the students wanted to do was talk about what they saw. But instead of leading a discussion about the trip, Mrs. Dudiak had the students sign on to their classroom Web log.

There they wrote about learning to use a bow and arrow, sitting inside a tepee and petting a buffalo. The short entries were typical of second-grade writing, with misspelled words and simple sentences. Still, for Mrs. Dudiak, the exercise proved more fruitful than a group discussion or a handwritten entry in a personal journal.

"It allowed them to interact with their peers more quickly than a journal," she said, "and it evened the playing field." Mrs. Dudiak said she found that those who were quiet in class usually came alive online.

Classroom Web logs, or blogs, many of which got their start in the last school year, are becoming increasingly popular with teachers like Mrs. Dudiak as a forum for expression for students as young as the second-grade level and in almost any subject. In the blogs, students write about how they attacked a tough math problem, post observations about their science experiments or display their latest art projects.

For teachers, blogs are attractive because they require little effort to maintain, unlike more elaborate classroom Web sites, which were once heralded as a boon for teaching. Helped by templates found at sites like tblog.com and movabletype.org, teachers can build a blog or start a new topic in an existing blog by simply typing text into a box and clicking a button.

Such ease of use is the primary reason that Peter Grunwald, an education consultant, predicts that blogs will eventually become a more successful teaching tool than Web sites.

"School Web sites are labor-intensive and are left up to administrators and teachers," said Mr. Grunwald, whose consulting firm in Washington focuses on the technology link between home and school. "With blogging intended to be a vehicle for students, the labor is built in. The work that is required to refresh and maintain an interesting blog is being provided by students."

One way teachers say they use blogs is to continue spirited discussions that were cut short or to prolong question-and-answer periods with guest speakers.

"With blogs, class doesn't have to end when the bell rings," said Will Richardson, supervisor of instructional technology and communications at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, N.J., who maintained blogs for two journalism classes he taught last year.

Teachers say that the interactivity of blogs allowed them to give students feedback much more quickly than before.

"I used to have this stack of hard-copy journals on my desk waiting to be read," said Catherine Poling, an assistant principal at Kemptown Elementary School, also in Frederick County, Md., who ran a blog last year when she taught third grade at a nearby school. "Now I can react to what they say immediately, and students can respond to each other."

In one blog entry, for instance, Ms. Poling asked her students what qualities they looked for when rating books for a statewide award. When several students responded that a book has to be creative and grab their attention, she posted a follow-up question asking them if they used the same criteria for both fiction and nonfiction books.

While such a question could have just as easily been posed during a classroom conversation, teachers who use blogs say that students put a lot more thought and effort into their blog writing, knowing that parents and others may read their work on the Web.

"They want to make sure that it's good enough to be read by more than just their teacher," said Christopher S. Wright, a third grade teacher at Wyman Elementary School in Rolla, Mo.

Sometimes, the long reach of the Web has turned bloggers into modern-day pen pals, allowing students to collaborate easily with their peers in other classes or even other countries. Some social studies classes at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, for instance, are using a blog to study the Holocaust with high school students in Krakow, Poland.

One of the goals of classroom blogs, advocates say, is to get students to write more often. Even so, according to the time stamps on classroom blogs, they are most heavily used during the school day. Few entries seem to come after school hours, and some teachers who have tried to keep their blogs going during the summer say they have been disappointed by the results. "I'm not getting a huge response," said Mrs. Dudiak, the second grade teacher in Frederick County.

That has led some teachers who are critical of blogs to question wonder the technology has actually done anything to interest students in writing. Critics also worry that the casual nature of writing on the Web may encourage bad habits that are hard to break, like e-mail-style abbreviations, bad grammar and poor spelling.

While some teachers who run blogs encourage students to write out their entries on paper first and then post them online as if they were publishing the work, others view blog writing as more free-flowing.

"Blogging is a different form of writing," Mrs. Dudiak said. "They should proofread, but we are more concerned about the content, not grammar."

It is unclear exactly how many teachers maintain blogs. Mr. Richardson estimates their numbers in the thousands. The Educational Bloggers Network, a loosely organized clearinghouse, lists only about 130 members at its Web site, www.ebn .weblogger.com. Whatever the number, the ranks of bloggers are likely to grow in the coming school year.

In some cases, teachers may not have much of a choice. The Little Miami School District near Cincinnati plans to require teachers to maintain blogs for their classes once they are trained on the technology, which should be completed sometime in the 2005-6 school year.

Debbi Contner, an assistant principal at one of the district's six schools, Hamilton-Maineville Elementary, who used a blog when she taught fourth grade at the school last year, said that teachers become receptive to blogs once they see how easy it is to set one up.

"If it gets kids excited about learning," Mrs. Contner said, "we might as well try it."

TOP OF PAGE

A Texas District Banks on Wireless Ubiquity

By MATT RICHTEL, New York Times, August 19, 2004

HOUSTON - Hunting for the Loch Ness monster, Erik Latin stumbled onto a different imagination-bending subject: an advertisement promising to teach him how to cure ills with organic remedies.

Erik, 12, sensed trouble. "There's something wrong with my computer," he said to a fellow summer school student at Bammel Middle School. He pointed to the ad for the Herbal Healer Academy that had overtaken the Web browser and interrupted his online research project.

The convergence of schools and the Internet has created promise and pitfalls by opening students to a vast pool of instantly accessible - and sometimes questionable - information. Now some schools are taking the technology further, deploying wireless networks to make the Internet an even more integral part of day-to-day learning.

Bammel Middle School is one of a small but growing number of public schools that are equipped with the kind of wireless infrastructure typically seen in offices, airport lounges and coffee shops. These wireless networks are providing Web access in the cafeteria, in other common rooms and under trees in the quad, as well as in all classrooms, through laptop computers and other mobile devices.

At Bammel, students can use the Internet without being tethered to a lab or a few wired computers at the back of a classroom. Erik and six other students in Kim McCoy's reading class, for example, were doing their Loch Ness research on wireless laptops in an ordinary classroom at the school, one of 25 in the Spring Independent School District on the outskirts of Houston.

The wireless system at Bammel is part of an ambitious multiyear effort throughout the district. As part of the project, 2,000 teachers and other staff members are receiving their own wireless laptops.

Schools and districts like Spring say the technology motivates students by putting Internet-enabled devices in their hands and lets teachers more easily call upon the resources of the Internet. Additionally, the schools say, the cost is ultimately far less than running wires to every desk.

But some critics argue that the fascination with wireless technology sometimes puts bells and whistles ahead of reading, writing, arithmetic and analytical skills.

"There is no evidence that shows that large commitments of money invested in Wi-Fi will create better academic achievement," said Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University and author of "Oversold and Underused: Computers in Classrooms" (Harvard University Press, 2001).

The debate over whether schools overspend on technology is not new. But Mr. Cuban said wireless Internet access adds a wrinkle by making more widely available a technology that has yet to prove itself as a cost-effective teaching tool.

For now, only a small percentage of schools have wireless Internet access, according to educators and education consultants who follow the trend. Jon Green, who markets wireless systems to schools for Aruba Networks, a startup company in Silicon Valley, said there were fewer than 1,000 elementary and secondary schools that had wireless access throughout the campus.

Many of them are in Maine. Starting in 2002, the state outfitted 240 middle schools with wireless access. Seventh- and eighth-grade students, some 34,000 in all, each have a laptop computer leased by the state from Apple.

The project, which is paid for at least through mid-2006, cost the state department of education $37 million.

Tony Sprague, the manager of the project, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, said the investment was paying off. Mr. Sprague said that ubiquity has enabled students to tap into the Internet whenever and wherever they want to learn.

He said students doing research no longer must go to computer labs or cluster in the back of a classroom around a single computer connected to the Internet.

He said the network was intended to be available in classrooms and other instructional areas, but that sometimes students tap into it on the fringes. "I've heard stories of students on the weekend sitting in their parents' car just outside school, accessing the network," Mr. Sprague said. Wireless access, he said, "enables learning to happen when it is convenient for the student and teacher."

In class, he said, students often have their laptops nearby. Sometimes teachers ask the students to stop using the computers and focus on a lecture. At other times, teachers ask students to integrate the Internet into a lesson by researching information that is part of a lecture, Mr. Sprague said.

Kim McCoy, the Houston reading teacher, also finds that pervasive Web access helps with her work. Erik and his classmates, for instance, had been reading a short story about the legend of the Loch Ness monster. Ms. McCoy asked them to go online and look for concrete evidence that the creature was real.

Instead of telling the students all the information, she said, "I'm telling them to research."

The effort seemed to meet with mixed results. Some students wound up at sites unrelated to Loch Ness or at others containing outlandish information about the topic. But, urged by Ms. McCoy, they were able to find more serious news and analysis.

Down the hall, the students in Lynn Hagemier's sixth-grade math class were using laptops, too. Their assignment was to answer multiple-choice problems on their computers while Ms. Hagemier discussed the solutions in front of the class.

In the Spring district, which serves 27,500 students, not every student has a computer. Nor do all the schools have wireless Internet access, although that is the long-term goal. Meanwhile, the district is creating mobile computer labs.

The labs, which are at Bammel and nine other schools, are carts that contain dozens of Dell laptops and that can be wheeled from one classroom to another. The carts are outfitted with wireless access points so that students can connect to the Internet.

All of the schools in the district are outfitted with wired Internet access, and each classroom has a minimum of four network outlets for plugging computers into the Web. But Mary Ann Beseda, the director of management information services for the district, said the current infrastructure still tied students to individual work stations or appointed computer areas.

The district's plan to go wireless will happen in stages, she said. The district is putting wireless access points in all common areas, like cafeterias, libraries and conference rooms. Then, starting in 2008, the schools intend to roll out wireless access to every classroom and to give every student a wireless device.

To finance Internet technology, the district raised $19.6 million in a bond measure in September 2003 and $15.5 million in a bond measure in 1998. Ms. Beseda said the district planned to go to voters with a third measure in 2008.

She said the investment would pay off, though her evidence was mostly anecdotal at this point. "We want concrete data," she said, explaining that the district would look for test score improvement.

"We're all believers," she added of the wireless technology. "It's the way kids learn today."

TOP OF PAGE

Education Secretary Defends Charter Schools

By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO, New York Times, August 18, 2004

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 - The federal secretary of education issued a statement Tuesday saying he stood by charter schools and challenged the conclusion of recent test data that their performance largely trailed that of regular public schools.

The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, reported in The New York Times on Tuesday, were extracted by researchers at the American Federation of Teachers from reams of data the Education Department released in November without public announcement. It was the first national comparison of test scores between students in charter schools and those in regular public schools.

In the statement, Education Secretary Rod Paige took issue with the article.

"The Times made no distinction between students falling behind and students climbing out of the hole in which they found themselves," Mr. Paige said.

"It is wrong to think of charter schools as a monolith,'' he added. "There are schools for dropouts, schools for students who've been expelled, schools serving the most economically disadvantaged families. Charters are as diverse as the children they educate."

Mr. Paige declined to address questions directly.

Charters are self-governing public schools, sometimes run by private companies, which operate outside the authority of local school boards.

The Bush administration has strongly supported charters, running a special Web site promoting them and earmarking about $220 million for them this year.

The data showed that fourth graders at charter schools were about a half year behind students in other public schools in reading and math. Since most children attending charter schools are from poor areas, researchers looked at low-income students in both settings and still found those in charters doing significantly worse.

The secretary's reaction prompted surprise from Darvin Winnick, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the national test for the federal government. Mr. Winnick said that while he would interpret the scores with caution, he did not see much cause for arguing with the outcomes themselves.

"The data is probably what it is,'' Mr. Winnick said. "N.A.E.P. is pretty accurate. There shouldn't be any question about the results.''

TOP OF PAGE

Study: Exit exams don't ready high schoolers for college

Purpose? Only Georgia ensures its students are set for the challenges of higher ed or work

By Ben Feller, The Associated Press, 8/19/04

WASHINGTON - Many high school graduation tests don't measure whether students are ready for college or work, and some states haven't even made clear what the purpose of their test is, a study has found.

Of the 25 states that have or plan graduation exams, only one, Georgia, says its test ensures students are prepared for higher education or work. Most of the states gear their tests toward 10th- or 11th-grade learning, and some gauge pre-ninth grade skills, according to a study released Wednesday by the Center on Education Policy, a nonprofit research group.

With 20 states now withholding diplomas from students who don't pass tests in Eng

lish and math, if not other subjects, the common assumption is that the tests measure college readiness, said Keith Gayler, the lead author of the report. That's wrong, he said.

The center found some states had little clarity about the purpose of their tests, which makes the exams harder to explain and defend politically, said director Jack Jennings.

''If they're not clear, then they can't write an exam that's legitimate,'' Jennings said of state leaders. ''We're urging states to re-examine their policies.''

High-school graduation now hinges on exit exams for more than half of all public school students, and that number is expected to grow to seven in 10 students by 2009.

Meanwhile, colleges and employers continue to warn that schools are graduating students who cannot   communicate, analyze or reason well enough to succeed without remediation. High school exit exams have been promoted as a way to ensure students leave with quality skills.

The graduation exams appear to be encouraging schools to cover more content and to add remedial courses or other help for students at risk of failing the tests, the report said.

But there are drawbacks to the tests, too, it said, such as a narrowing of curriculum and the steering of some students away from a traditional diploma.

The center takes no position on the tests, aiming instead to highlight what is working and what is not as state leaders weigh decisions. For its annual report, the center collected data from the states, reviewed research and convened a national panel on the tests' impacts.

Many state officials said their high schools and colleges have not discussed tying the exit exams to what students need to know in college. Maryland and Washington were exceptions, and several states have moved toward more challenging tests.

With the debate over the exams quieting somewhat, states have a chance to close gaps in achievement for blacks, Latinos and poor kids, Gayler said. To move right to high school tests that measure college readiness, he said, would yield ''so few students passing at this point that the reforms would crumble under their own weight.''

Typically, 65 percent to 85 percent of students pass   their test on their first try. Comparisons between states are inappropriate because tests are different, the report said.

Thousands of students did not graduate this year because they failed exit tests, but the total number is not available because of appeals and a lack of data tracking, the report said.

Earlier this year, an alliance of education groups called the American Diploma Project warned that high school graduation has lost its meaning.

In calling for more rigor, the alliance said that exit exams should be broad enough to test years of high school content and colleges should use the tests in determining where to place new students.

Few higher education systems do that now.

Among   the 25 states with current or planned exit exams, only New Mexico, New York and Texas reported that some of their public colleges and universities consider high school exit tests in admitting or placing students.

TOP OF PAGE

District changes locks on Westport schools

By DEANN SMITH, Kansas City Star, 8/18/04

A few hours before dawn today, as police looked on, Kansas City School District employees entered the Westport charter school buildings to seize control from the charter school board.

District officials had notified police about their plans to go into the two buildings. District employees and attorneys broke in about 4 a.m. and changed the locks.

The buildings, the former Westport High School and Westport Middle School, have been operated as a charter school for the past five years. The district owns the buildings and continues to employ some of the teachers, but the school has been run by an independent charter board.

Later in the morning, outraged employees of the charter schools tried to enter the buildings on 39th Street near Main Street but were stopped by district security officers. Police again were called, but no arrests were made. Students and employees demonstrated outside the buildings.

The district's action followed an appeals court decision Tuesday that reaffirmed an appellate panel's decision to allow the district to regain control of the two buildings.

The charter school board had changed the locks after the first ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals panel earlier this month.

School district officials think Tuesday's ruling gave the district the right to retake control of the buildings; the charter school board had maintained it could remain in the building pending a decision on an appeal filed Tuesday afternoon with the Missouri Supreme Court.

“They had absolutely no right to do what they did,” said Jim Wyrsch, an attorney for the charter school board. “This is contrary to Missouri statutes and case law.”

But Maurice Watson, an attorney for the school district, said the Board of Education was well within its rights to retake control of two buildings that the charter school had used rent-free.

“The board of Westport community schools has refused steadfastly to leave the building, so the district this morning went in and secured the building,” he said.

Watson said the district was trying to work out arrangements to allow Westport employees to retrieve their personal belongings and the charter board to retrieve its property.

About half the teachers are already district employees. The remainder of Westport employees can apply for positions with the district, according to Superintendent Bernard Taylor.

The charter school planned to start classes on Monday. The district plans to open Westport along with the rest of its schools on Aug. 30.

TOP OF PAGE

Schools take aim at nasty toilets

By Derrick DePledge, Honolulu Advertiser Education Writer, 8/19/04

Students who have complained about foul restrooms at Hawai'i's public schools may soon get some relief.

The state Department of Education plans a pilot project at four schools to find out how best to restore restrooms and hopefully keep them clean.

The project will start small. One boys' restroom and one girls' restroom at Kaimuki High School, Aliamanu Middle School, Kailua Intermediate School and Waiau Elementary School will be targeted. After initial cleaning and restoration, the schools will form teams responsible for making sure the restrooms remain clean and well-stocked.

Students have acknowledged that their sloppiness plays a significant part, but the DOE also wants administrators and custodians to be more accountable.

If the pilot project works this fall, it will be expanded to other restrooms at the schools, and possibly to schools statewide.

"I think this is extremely important," said Troy Hashimoto, a senior at King Kekaulike High School on Maui and the student member of the state Board of Education.

Students have told of broken fixtures, missing doors on stalls and no soap and toilet paper. The state Legislature approved an additional $1 million this year for restroom supplies, and better restrooms are part of the DOE's broader repair and maintenance and classroom renovation plans.

A school board committee was briefed on the pilot project yesterday, and some members wondered if it would be like previous attempts at restroom improvement that largely failed.

"We all know this has been a chronic problem," said board member Karen Knudsen.

TOP OF PAGE

 

Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777