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News Clips

News Clips – August 20-27, 2004


Lean Times for Schools: Local Districts Prepare for Tight Budgets / Southern Illinoisan
Rising costs force schools to milk the lunch money / Sun-Times
State wants to remove East St. Louis school official / Belleville News-Democrat
Rethinking science education / Champaign News-Gazette
Reading, writing, economics / Daily Southtown
Don Lockwood of Sullivan earns Ag Teacher of the Year award / Decatur Herald & Review
Top schools to face 'Left Behind' penalties / Daily Southtown
It's the bureaucrats -- not the budgets -- that hurt schools / Sun-Times
Parents have big impact on school success / Decatur Herald & Review
'No Child Left Behind' standards unreasonable / Peoria Journal Star
Political will to fix school funding as scarce as dollars, experts say / The Star
District 203 e-mail touted, set to grow / Chicago Tribune
IL school mental health screening nears / Illinois Leader
Home schools open all summer / Chicago Tribune

Officials: State policy redundant / Galesburg Register-Mail
Charter schools / Chicago Tribune
Parents' role / Chicago Tribune
Harshness of red marks has students seeing purple / Boston Globe
Librarians say school cuts are shrinking library time / Boston Globe
Academic arms race /
Few states improve rail crossings /
Cyberschools really clicking /
Arizona Republic
Children left behind / San Francisco Examiner
Top official targets abuse by educators / Boston Globe
Small schools' test area districts / Cleveland Plain Dealer
Camden school uniforms on way / Philadelphia Inquirer
From schools to security, a reluctance to fix blame / Christian Science Monitor
Audit criticizes charter schools / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Governor's task force prepares to address gap in school funding / Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Number of single-sex classes grows /
Big increase in number of schools missing No Child goals / Minneapolis Star Tribune
Old-fashioned pencil still school staple / Boston Globe
Internet Gives Teenage Bullies Weapons to Wound From Afar / New York Times
PDK/Gallup Poll
National Preparedness Month
Education Pays

One World
ACT Scores



Lean Times for Schools: Local Districts Prepare for Tight Budgets

BY KRISTEN CATES, Southern Illinoisan, August 22, 2004

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- As students begin settling into their desks and preparing for the school year ahead, many local administrators are worrying how their schools are going to survive the year, financially.

Most school districts in Southern Illinois have heard the preliminary figures on how much state aid each will receive this year (with the final figures to be distributed in September), and it's not a pretty picture for some.

Although Anna- Jonesboro high school got an increase in state aid, Superintendent William Schildknecht said an increase of $13,536 just isn't enough when you consider all the bills.

"It's an insignificant amount," he said.

Back in the spring, he'd heard that Anna-Jonesboro would receive $264,000 more this year and then a month ago, it had dwindled down to $54,000.

"It was all talk and nothing," Schildknecht said. "It's been nothing but promises and promises from the state. I thought this was the year something was going to happen."

For the Murphysboro school district, this year's state aid package is $28,000 less than last year, said district financial manager Jan Bush.

It comes at a time when the district finished the 2004 fiscal year with close to a $1 million deficit. And if the situation stays the same, Bush said she's projecting the district will have a $2.3 million deficit by the end of the 2005 fiscal year.

She said by the end of next year, the district will have to look at working cash bonds and moving some money -- some of its reserve money -- over to the education fund just to make ends meet.

"I'm sure we're not alone," she said.

They're not.

Carbondale elementary school district has received the same amount of state aid since 1998, said Assistant Superintendent John Williams. But with increased costs of running a district -- salary increases, rises in insurance, gasoline and food -- money to run the district has to come from other sources such as property taxes and federal and state funding for low-income students.

But property taxes are being re-assessed and many school districts haven't received tax money yet. So Williams said the district will take out a $1 million line of credit.

"I hope we don't have to use that," he said.

Officials predict the district will finish the year in the black, however.

"We have a balanced budget -- barely," he said. Figures indicate a $20,000 surplus. "But at least it's not a deficit."

Carbondale high school district, meanwhile, is expected to receive $82,858 more in state aid this year, bringing that total to more than $2 million.

District financial officer Steve Kosco said the district is happy to get that increase, but he said many of the districts were told there would be an increase of $250 per student. That figured dropped to $154.

"It was $100 less than what they thought," he said.

As interim superintendent at the Regional Office of Education for Jackson and Perry counties, John Hawkins said districts in both counties received more than $2.37 million more in state aid this year.

"It looks good, that's great," he said. "But what were their costs?"

Hawkins said there are several variables that go into determining how much money a district will get.

Districts have to report average daily attendance and the property tax money received, plus how many low-income students are in the district.

This helps establish the foundation level that goes out to all districts, but things such as assessed values, low-income counts and attendance can determine how much money a district really gets.

The more money a district gets in property taxes, the less it gets in state aid, Hawkins said. Also, the more federal funding a district gets for low-income students, the less state aid it receives. If attendance numbers are down, that affects how much money the district gets per student.

In Jackson and Perry counties, Hawkins said enrollment has steadily decreased. In the 1994-95 school year, there were 11,287 students enrolled. In the 2003-04 year, it was 10,489.

"It's been in a continual decline," he said. "You add the economy, small communities ... it all works together."

All this means more deficit spending in the coming year, or creating working cash bonds and cutting into savings accounts, said many administrators. Plus, there's the dreaded cuts in faculty and staff.

Pinckneyville high school will have to look into layoffs or other budget cuts. Superintendent Sandra Jerrells said an increase in state funding of $38,585 barely covers the salary of one teacher.

Besides that, she said the district has a projected deficit of $500,000 in the coming year.

Schildknecht, of Anna-Jonesboro, said certified and non-certified employees might be cut in the future, but he's preparing a list of options for the district.

Fortunately for the Marion school district, this year proved to be a good year when it came to state aid. The district was allotted an increase in state aid of $205,636, said Pat Brown, chief financial officer.

"Yeah, we're fortunate," he said. "We're growing. We're at least staying even."

He doesn't foresee making any budget cuts in the coming year and he said the district tries to be as conservative with its money as it can and watch class sizes carefully.

While the increase was substantial, Brown said the district is getting ready to put an addition onto one of its schools, but it will be paid for with money the district has in hand.

"We know the kind of shape the state is in," he said. The problem with state aid isn't the increases or decreases, either, most administrators say. It has to do with the figures the Illinois State Board of Education takes into account when dishing out money.

Lori James-Gross, superintendent of Murphysboro schools, said using property taxes as a way to determine funds doesn't work.

Hawkins agrees. He said the property taxes help more of the school districts in the northern part of the state than the south.

"Funding for all schools in Illinois should be equal," he said. "It shouldn't matter where you live in Illinois."

In the meantime, Jerrell said Pinkneyville will have to plan conservatively and work with what it has and maybe hope for more funding in the future.


Rising costs force schools to milk the lunch money

BY LUCIO GUERRERO, Sun-Times Staff Reporter, August 23, 2004 

Many youngsters in the Chicago area are going to have to bring more milk money to school this year -- a potential boon for schoolyard bullies but a bummer for parents.

The soaring cost of wholesale milk is driving school districts throughout the region to jack up the price they charge students for a carton or glass of the white stuff.

"The typical annual food inflation is about 3 percent a year," said Patt Decker, director of support services for Indian Prairie School District 204. "But this year dairy was up 27 percent, and it was necessary to make an increase."

The district, which serves about 26,000 students in Naperville and Aurora, is raising milk prices 50 percent -- from $10 a year to $15. The fee is paid at the start of the school year.

With numerous districts trying to plug holes in their budgets, the recent spike in milk prices has come at a bad time -- especially in Chicago, which is feeling the pinch worse than most places.

In July, a gallon of whole milk in the Chicago area was selling for an average of $4.02 -- about a 40 percent jump from the $2.89 it was selling for a year before. Skim milk in June hit its peak in Chicago, selling for $3.62 a gallon, up about 45 percent from the year before.

Nationally, whole milk hit a record average of $3.64 a gallon. That's up about 30 percent from last year, when a gallon of whole milk was selling for about $2.77.

The national average for skim milk isn't any better. In June 2003, a gallon was $2.70. This June, the price skyrocketed to $3.51.

For school districts, the extra costs have to be recouped one way or another, and it's typically through the kids. Although the increases aren't drastic -- a nickel here or a dime there -- they can add up.

Milton Madison, an agricultural economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said there is a combination of factors that led to a supply shortage earlier this year and sent milk prices to record highs in June.

"We had fairly low milk prices in 2002 and 2003, and that led to a big increase in dairy cow slaughter during 2003," Madison said. "That meant we were going into this year with a smaller herd."

High beef prices have made it more profitable for farmers to slaughter their cattle than to use them for milk production, Madison said. Also, the United States stopped allowing imports of Canadian dairy cattle after a May 2003 mad cow disease scare, further reducing the size of U.S. dairy herds.

Some districts are absorbing the costs.

The Chicago Public Schools system is paying more for milk -- the only food federally mandated for every school meal -- this year but not passing the cost on to kids. Other districts lucked out.

"Our district locked into a bid in March before this big leap took place," said Linda Carlstone, spokeswoman for North Shore School District 112, which has 4,400 students from Highland Park, Highwood and Fort Sheridan. "But our business manager said there could be a big increase next year because of the high prices."

But that may not be necessary. Milk prices could stabilize by the end of the year, analysts say. The price in August was down from June, but still far off from last year's.

Madison said it seems milk prices will continue to decline as domestic production increases.

"The latest milk report was positive," he said. "For the first time since September we had an increase in production."



A snapshot of local school districts that have raised milk prices for students:

*Avoca, Wilmette School District 37, hiked the per-serving price from 30 cents to 35 cents.

*Fox River Grove School District 3 hiked the per-serving price from 25 cents to 35 cents.

*Palatine School District 15 hiked the per-serving price from 30 cents to 35 cents.

*Indian Prairie School District 204 hiked the annual milk fee from $10 to $15 per kid.


State wants to remove East St. Louis school official

Associated Press, 8/23/04

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. - The Illinois State Board of Education plans to persist in efforts to remove Lonzo Greenwood as president of the East St. Louis Board of Education, according to a spokeswoman.

The ouster of Greenwood was initially proposed by the now-disbanded state panel that had once controlled School District 189 spending, which objected to his role in negotiations that led to a secret food services contract for the schools.

The state school board will keep fighting a lawsuit filed by the District 189 school board to keep Greenwood in office.

"We intend to continue that lawsuit," said Craven, noting that the intergovernmental agreement that led to the early demise of the oversight panel on July 1 had also called for the continuation of efforts to remove Greenwood. "And we we're working toward that goal."

Greenwood remains on the board until the lawsuit filed against the oversight panel in St. Clair County Circuit Court is resolved.

Craven said the state school board is still negotiating with Springfield attorney Lorilea Buerkett to represent the state. Buerkett had formerly represented the financial oversight panel in its legal battle with the District 189 school board.

The oversight panel's attempts to remove Greenwood had begun in March, when its three members voted to oust Greenwood for his role in signing a secret letter of understanding with food services company SodexhoUSA that led to a $3.44 million, one-year contract.

In August 2003, the school board rejected a qualified bid that was $171,294 lower than SodexhoUSA's, and Greenwood alone signed the contract. The oversight panel issued letters of reprimand against the six other District 189 board members for failing to inform the panel of Greenwood's letter of understanding.


Rethinking science education

By GREG KLINE, Champaign News-Gazette, August 21, 2004

Eggs are good for you. No, they're bad. No, no, they're good.

Many people – mostly taught science as a set of facts and procedures for revealing "the truth" – are moved to ignore science altogether when confronted by such conflicts.

The dilemma "turns people away from using science for informed decision making," and that may make them less effective citizens at a time when issues ranging from stem cell research to global warming are on the public agenda, University of Illinois Professor Fouad Abd-El-Khalick contends.

"Caring about this is very important," the education professor and science education specialist said recently. "Science is such a big part of both the culture but also everyday life, and scientific knowledge is growing at such a great rate."

"There should be some understanding that allows you to approach science in the media," he added.

Abd-El-Khalick thinks the place to develop understanding is the schools and the way to start doing it is by training teachers to teach science in a different way.

Not as cold hard truth uncovered by lone wolf researchers over long hours at a laboratory grindstone, but rather as a creative, often collaborative, enterprise that asks questions and uses logic, inference and evidence to yield answers. Answers that aren't set in stone but open to change over time, and that may be influenced to some extent by personal values and interests.

Abd-El-Khalick was moved to study science education by his own experience as an undergraduate biology major. Among other things, he couldn't believe learning science was really about memorizing phyla – the divisions of the animal kingdom – and regurgitating the information on a test.

He's spent more than eight years examining how and when students' outlook on the nature of science forms, and when and how it could be changed, working with students and faculty from elementary school to college, including teachers in training.

"The biggest culprits, if you can use culprits, are the schools and the media," Abd-El-Khalick said. "The way to start changing this is in teacher education ... and also in college-level science education as well."

He doesn't say students shouldn't be learning details like phyla. He does say that isn't enough.

"We're missing big components," he said. "Kids do not learn about how we know."

Abd-El-Khalick has developed a number of activities designed to show students how science is done, its power and its limitations.

In one exercise, students work in teams to explain a "water making machine," a sealed shoebox with a funnel on top where a certain amount of water goes in, and a tube emerging from the bottom where 10 times as much water comes out.

It is a lesson in the concepts of atmospheric pressure and the siphon effect that at the same time shows how scientists make and test hypotheses about things they can't see, like the inside of the box, or the inside of atoms.

"What we try to do is construct theories, models, hypotheses," Abd-El-Khalick said. "'This is an answer supported by this and that evidence ... when you weigh things in the balance.' That's what we do in science."

In addition to giving students a more accurate view of the nature of science, and potentially making them better science consumers, the method has the advantage of being more attractive to girls, who generally are less inclined to pursue scientific and technical careers.

That's because girls tend to favor a learning style characterized by subjectivity, creativity and collaboration, a style that gives them a sense of participating in the process of creating knowledge.

One potential impediment to reform: the standardized testing in favor now, which emphasizes memorizing test answers over other kinds of learning, Abd-El-Khalick said.


Reading, writing, economics

U.S. Department of Education wants students to focus on personal finances

By Kati Phillips, Daily Southtown Staff writer, 8/23/04

Move over reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic.

Personal finance is going back to school.

"Our objective is to make economics and personal finance the fourth R — as in the Real World," said Bob Duvall, president and CEO of the National Council on Economic Education.

The council is leading an initiative to give kindergartners through twelfth graders a crash course in financial literacy.

The push for economic education comes at a time when the state has decided to only test students in subjects — reading, math and science — mandated by the federal reform law No Child Left Behind. School districts are focusing on those core areas.

But that doesn't mean economics is merely spare change.

Economics is embedded in the Illinois social science learning standards and is introduced in kindergarten, said Karen Udell, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment at Orland School District 135.

Teachers set up stores and talk to 5- and 6-year-olds about spending money and making choices.

"One of the really important things, even at the kindergarten level, is what is money? What is a penny? What is a dime," Udell said. "They get used to the idea of thinking in terms of the math element."

The national council would like to infuse more personal finance into math classes, and it offers free lesson plans on its Web site, Duvall said.

In one called "Uncle Sam's Paycheck," geared to ages 11 to 13, students are given $10 for working at a fast-food restaurant. They discuss why they must give $3 back to the federal government for national defense, Social Security, medical care and interest on the national debt.

Another lesson directs high school students to counsel a girl who ran up a credit card bill buying clothes. Students then use a Web site to decide what credit card would be best for them.

Such topics are often included in business, consumer economics or social studies courses at the high school level, and rightly so, said Pete Sullivan, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Lockport Township High School District 205.

"When you hear about the number of college-age students going into bankruptcy through credit cards, it certainly is an issue," he said.

Alarming to economists, 60 percent of pre-teens can't make the distinction between check, credit card and cash spending.

"The challenge is that too many people think economics is what you do at MIT or the University of Chicago and not at your kitchen table," Duvall said.

The national council will distribute $1.5 million in federal grants to education and economic agencies at the state and local levels this school year. The grants will require matching funds and will be used for teacher training, materials, assessment and research.

"If our schools don't teach the ABC's of finance and economics, our children are more likely to fall into debt and behind in life, especially in today's global, competitive economy," said U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, (R-Hinsdale), who advocated for the grant.


Don Lockwood of Sullivan earns Ag Teacher of the Year award

By KRISTA LEWIN, Herald & Review Staff Writer, 8/23/04

SULLIVAN - When two of FFA adviser Don Lockwood's former students began firing questions at him to help with his interview for a state award, it made him feel a little uncomfortable to be on the hot seat.

Lockwood of Sullivan was honored at the Illinois State Fair the past week as the 2004 winner of the Illinois Vocational Agriculture Teachers Excellence in Teaching Award, also known as Ag Teacher of the Year.

For former FFA students Ryan Robinson and Zachary Horn, who Lockwood once coached through parliamentary procedure and drilled with questions as they prepared for numerous interviews, Lockwood's nomination prompted them to help prepare Lockwood for his state interview.

Lockwood said he doesn't like to be interviewed, but he was thrilled his former students wanted to help.

"It was nice because they cared enough to do something to help me," Lockwood said. "Actually, some of the questions they asked me were similar to the ones the panel asked me."

Lockwood said the award makes him think less about himself and his accomplishments and more about the accomplishments of all the students he has worked with during his 17-year career at Sullivan High School.

"Seeing Ryan Robinson as the 2003-2004 state FFA president will stick with me forever," Lockwood said. "Seeing Ryan Wildman become an ag teacher and knowing that I may have influenced him ... seeing Zach Horn win two national awards and then seeing somebody like Megan Coy who is just starting college and wants to become an ag teacher ... and knowing that when she first walked through the door of my classroom she had no interest in ag ... will stick with me."

Although Sullivan's FFA program has experienced numerous successes and received community support, it wasn't always that way.

When Lockwood joined Sullivan's FFA program in 1987, Lockwood said then-Principal Rich Voltz bluntly told him, "Look, we just want you to finish out the remainder of the semester from March to May. Don't even buy a house here."

Voltz told Lockwood there were so many problems in the past with the FFA program and its advisers that after the 1987 school year closed, the program would be ended. With barely 90 days, Lockwood knew it would be a challenge to promote the merits of agriculture in the school district.

"I figured the only way to go was up," Lockwood said.

Voltz was impressed with Lockwood's enthusiasm and dedication. He and the district agreed to continue the ag program if Lockwood would stay.

"From the moment he walks into the classroom until he leaves, he always has a smile on his face," wrote Robinson in his letter of recommendation for Lockwood as Ag Teacher of the Year. "He believes, by him having a positive attitude in the classroom, it will rub off on his students."

Sullivan High School Principal Stuart Hott initially nominated Lockwood for the award and also had to attend Lockwood's final interview at the State Fair the past week. Lockwood thanked Hott, the community and the students for their support.

"We are proud of our FFA program, and we are proud of Don," said Terry Pearcy, who is beginning his second year as Sullivan schools superintendent. "His leadership and the adaptations he has made to the program are a few of the many reasons why he would be considered for this award."


Top schools to face 'Left Behind' penalties

Daily Southtown Editorial, August 20, 2004

The number of Illinois public schools facing sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law grew to nearly 700 in a preliminary report released this week by state education officials.

The number of sanctioned schools statewide increased from 555 last year to 694. In the Southland, 88 schools are facing penalties.

Thirty of those are listed at the initial level, which means they're required to let their students transfer to a "better" school, either within the district or without.

Thirty-seven schools were listed at the second penalty level, which requires them to offer the transfers as well as tutoring to students. And 21 schools are at the third level, which requires them to replace staff, change curriculum or reorganize.

Most startling about this year's list was the inclusion of two school districts generally considered to be among the Southland's best: Consolidated High School District 230 and Lincoln-Way High School District 210.

In both, most of their students met the state's requirements on standardized tests, the criteria for determining which schools are to be sanctioned. But in both District 230 and District 210, state officials say special-education students failed to make adequate progress over the past two years, mandating sanctions.

District 230 has decided to opt out of the No Child Left Behind law and avoid penalties by rejecting the $115,000 in annual federal aid it had received. District 230 officials say the cost of complying with the penalties would be greater than the amount of federal aid the district gets.

Lincoln-Way East High School officials say the state's data on the school's special-education students is incorrect, and they are challenging the sanctions.

As we've said before, we believe the stated objective of the No Child Left Behind law is wonderful — to require public schools to give all their students adequate educational opportunities. But it's clear the law as it is now written is not doing that, for a variety of reasons.

For one, the federal government doesn't provide enough funds to enable schools to make the changes the law envisions. For another, the law does not require "successful" schools to accept students who want to transfer from "failing" schools.

As a result, no schools in this region — or anywhere else that we're aware of — are accepting out-of-district students who are eligible to transfer. In addition, very few students who are eligible for transfers have sought to do so, probably because most parents want their children to stay close to home.

In our view, the newest list undercuts the credibility of the entire No Child Left Behind program. To label Lincoln-Way's high schools or District 230's Sandburg, Stagg and Andrew high schools as failures is absurd. The "failing" label is being applied this year to some of the best schools in other parts of the Chicago region, including schools in Hinsdale, Highland Park and Lyons Township.

We continue to have serious reservations about labeling schools as failures based on test scores. We also are disturbed by continuing complaints by educators that data has been recorded incorrectly, leading to schools being incorrectly classified as failing.

As the list of "failing" schools continues to grow, it's beginning to look inevitable that most public schools will face penalties unless they have virtually no minority students, no special-education students and no low-income children.

When some of the best schools in the state cannot comply with the law's academic standards, it suggests that the standards are unrealistic. And we're not willing to accept the idea that bureaucrats in Springfield or Washington always know better than local officials.


It's the bureaucrats -- not the budgets -- that hurt schools

Opinion by Mary Laney, Sun-Times, August 23, 2004

Fair warning: This is going to frost you. If you own a home, or property, or a business, it's going to make your blood boil. If you're on medication, make certain you've taken it before you read further because what I'm about to tell you can raise your blood pressure.

Your property taxes are being spent to hire lawyers to oppose you.

That's right. Now let me explain just what is going on.

You pay your property taxes to support schools and other municipal and county facilities. And when your property taxes go way up, you appeal them to the Cook County Board of Review. If you're unsuccessful with the Board of Review, you have 30 days to appeal them to the Property Tax Appeal Board. But here's what is going to get you fired up. School boards are hiring lawyers to fight your appeals. Without you knowing it, they're voting to use your tax dollars to pay for lawyers who fight against your getting any relief from your high property taxes.

Consider what is happening in north suburban Wilmette. School District 39's Board of Education, under Supt. Max McGee, has voted to hire attorneys to go in and fight tax reductions that homeowners have appealed to get. They're hiring attorneys -- at the expense of Wilmette property owners -- to fight tax reductions requested by those very taxpayers. But that's not all. Wilmette Board of Education President Al Dolinko and board member Greg Polan filed to have their own tax burdens lightened on their homes while hiring attorneys to fight tax appeals of their neighbors.

See what I mean about this making your blood boil?

It's one thing for a board to vote to spend money on classrooms and teachers and buses and security and special education and sports teams, but it's a true overreach to hire attorneys to deny property owners relief from the property taxes they're paying to support education.

The public school bureaucracy has become extremely adept at spending your money to get more of your money so they can spend more money to get more money. Lobbyists are paid to go to Springfield to wine and dine senators and representatives at taxpayers' expense.

Superintendents and assistants get high salaries and car allowances and expenses and paid junkets, all at your expense.

This education bureaucracy has formed front group after front group in an effort to fool legislators into thinking there is a ground swell of support to raise your taxes and pay a bunch more money for school superintendents, assistant superintendents, administrators and assistant administrators. But it's not a budget problem in schools; it's a bureaucratic problem.

At the same time these bureaucrats fight to keep your property taxes high, they're turning down federal money from Washington for fear they'll have to account for just how well they're teaching the students and how well the students are doing on tests.

Take Wilmette School District 39. How well is it teaching the students? How well did it do in the six years from 1994 to 2000? No one knows. The District 39 Board of Education says it lost the data. It says the data isn't available. Parents have asked McGee to re-create the data, but he apparently hasn't had the time.

McGee is paid $200,670 a year as superintendent of kindergarten through eighth-grade schools in Wilmette. He travels to Springfield regularly. He traveled to Europe to bicycle. Surely he should have the time to reconstruct the test scores to show Wilmette how well -- or how poorly -- their students have been doing over the past several years.

Those test scores ought to be made public before the board hires another attorney to block yet another property tax appeal. There must be a way to reconstruct six years of test scores.

It's not just Wilmette. The bureaucracy in education is growing throughout Cook County. School boards in Evanston -- the town with exorbitant taxes -- are also hiring attorneys to fight property tax appeals.

Do we really need superintendents and assistant superintendents paid in the six figures? Could that money be better spent on more teachers, books and tutors? You bet it could.

If your blood is boiling and you're angry about what's happening, don't settle for the status quo, do something about it. Demand that the state finally fund schools correctly, cut down on multiple school districts, cut the fat in the bureaucracy, stop superintendents from increasing their salaries for fat pensions. Tell the state to fund schools properly, set up single-unit districts with one superintendent and reasonable staffs. Demand that your hard-earned tax dollars and property taxes not be used to pit lawyers against you, but be put where it belongs.

Put the money toward the students.


Parents have big impact on school success

Decatur Herald & Review Editorial, 8/21/04

As school begins across Central Illinois this week, we need to salute those parents who take an active role in their children's education.

It appears there aren't enough of them.

For example, take the Decatur Youth Agency Foundation, which offers a behavioral assessment and counseling project for elementary students.

This project is free to students and parents, and its results are outstanding.

The program involves a behavioral assessment and counseling for those students who need it, along with mentoring and tutoring. There also are weekly parental meetings.

Out of 16 people enrolled in the program this past school year, 13 exhibited no behaviors that hurt their grades. Eleven of the students were in the program for the second year. After a pilot year in 2000-01, the program served 15 students in 2001-02 and 14 in 2002-03.

During the past school year, however, only five students enrolled in the program. A total of 54 students were referred to the program by the Decatur School District.

Let's make sure we understand those numbers. Teachers, counselors or principals told 54 students - and their parents - that the students could benefit from the Decatur Youth Agency program. Given the opportunity to help their children succeed, only five parents took advantage of a successful and free program. We don't know why the parents didn't get their children involved. The program's requirements were a commitment by the parents and a weekly meeting.

Kent Phillips, founder of the Decatur Youth Agency Foundation, says the program could help more children. "If we could get more people to follow up, we could be working for 40 or 50 kids," he said. "This free program is a valuable resource in this city, and the results are staggering."

Phillips says he's frustrated by the response his program receives from parents. "This shows just how much parental apathy we have," he said. "And parental involvement is essential for the child to succeed."

We couldn't agree more. Although we still believe public education needs reform to better meet the needs of all students, educators cannot go it alone. Parents are essential to a child's learning, both during early childhood and over the school year.

Consider this. During a typical school day, educators work with children about seven hours a day. The other 17 hours a day belong to the parents. While we would never discount the impact of educators on children's lives, it's the parents and other significant adults who have the greatest influence.

Phillips' program is one of many offered in Decatur and other school districts to help struggling students. But without parental involvement, those programs will never be able to reach enough children to make a significant change.

Imagine if every parent pledged this year to get more involved in their child's education. That would have a greater impact on education than any school board, state or federal program.


'No Child Left Behind' standards unreasonable

Peoria Journal Star Editorial, August 22, 2004

America's Education Secretary Rod Paige said a very curious thing the other day in defending charter schools, which recently have been shown to lag behind their public-school counterparts in reading and math scores.

"It is wrong to think of charter schools as a monolith," Paige said. "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."

OK. But aren't all those things true of public schools, as well? Of course they are. So why doesn't the Bush administration cut them some slack under its "No Child Left Behind" legislation, then?

Indeed, doesn't "No Child Left Behind" punish public school districts for the very kind of diversity Paige says he values and is willing to make certain concessions for in the charter schools? Of course it does.

On the whole your school can have high test scores, but if one demographic sub-group within your building - say special education students, or students who fall below a certain income level, or students with language barriers, or those from certain ethnic groups - doesn't see annual improvement, the whole school gets labeled a failure by the federal government and is tarnished and dealt with accordingly. In some cases that means the feds will help pay for tutoring. In others it means giving students the opportunity to transfer to another school, replacing staff, rewriting curriculum, even closing buildings.

So why not apply the same tough-love standards to charter schools, Dr. Paige? What's more, why would the U.S. Education Department bury this information, not even acknowledging its existence until some enterprising journalist who'd been tipped dug it up? Is this administration so wedded to ideology - privatization is best, the free market has all the answers to what ails public education - that the best interests of the kids in those charter schools come second? Have these guys become apologists for educational mediocrity or worse, too? Why the double standard?

Regarding "No Child," we're no longer talking about just the likes of Peoria Manual High School anymore, or others that serve largely impoverished populations. East Peoria and Pekin high schools fell out of Uncle Sam's good graces this year, too. Not only that, but some affluent, well-regarded Chicago suburban schools also ended up on the wrong side of "No Child," those with Hinsdale, Highland Park, Oak Park, Evanston, Lombard and Lyons Township in front of their names.

"The more sub-groups you have, the more likely you are to not make (the testing goals)," said one suburban superintendent whose school is 66 percent white, 27 percent black and four percent Latino. Said another: "You're sending a letter home, in most cases, to parents whose children are having a wonderful experience, and then you get this letter that there is something profoundly wrong with their child's district." Some researchers believe it will be only the rarest school that won't be dubbed a failure eventually under "No Child," which calls for eliminating all achievement gaps by the year 2014, or else.

No wonder some states are going out of their way to find loopholes in the law - by setting their standards so low that no schools fail, for example - or are considering opting out of "No Child" and telling Uncle Sam he can keep his money. State's rights, you know. Funny thing is, many of the politicians who embraced "No Child" are all too willing to "focus on the family" in just about every area of American life but public education. They're kidding themselves.

"No Child Left Behind" - along with all the rhetoric about the "soft bigotry of low expectations" - is admirable in theory. It's unreasonable in practice, as we're starting to see.


Political will to fix school funding as scarce as dollars, experts say

Juliana Keeping, The Star

State funding for schools in Illinois and its heavy reliance on property taxes must be changed.

Panelists Thursday at a town meeting titled "Solving the Illinois School Crisis: Achieving High-Quality Education for All" agreed on that point.

But they differed on the "how," and on where the political will to do so could be found.

About 125 people attended the forum at Prairie State University, among them lawmakers, community and education leaders, to hear proposed solutions and quiz speakers.

Rob Grossi, Bloom Township school treasurer; Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability; and Ed Schock, chairman of the Education Reform Task Force for the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, spoke at the forum.

The session was moderated by Franklin Shuftan, editor of Star Newspapers.

Grossi highlighted disparities in the funding of public schools across the region and state; Schock explained his group's platform and urged those in attendance to endorse it; and Martire discussed and promoted HB 750, property tax and school funding reform legislation he has proposed.

Schools in areas with wealthy property tax bases have the ability to offer their students far more than those in property tax-poor regions, Grossi pointed out.

Schools are running out of the ability to borrow, he said, and taxpayers are voting down referendum questions for school funding.

As a result, programs are slashed in property-tax poor areas, creating a breeding ground for boredom, troubled youth and crime. How, he asked, can children from these areas possibly compete?

Though school budgets in property-tax poor areas suffer, Grossi said, property tax bills are not necessarily lower in those communities.

He compared a Park Forest home on sale for $219,750 with a yearly property tax bill of $5,563 to a Northbrook home that costs $724,900 with a yearly property tax bill of $5,124.

Schock, the mayor of Elgin who is a former teacher and school administrator, said his group supports a system for better funding of schools that is not as reliant on property taxes. But the mayors do not yet endorse a specific plan, he cautioned.

Schock called for a consensus built around goals outlined in the caucus's position statement.

The statement outlines short-term and long-term goals. Its short-term goals focus heavily on revising fiscal and academic responsibility standards for schools.

"How can we measure how students are really doing if the target is always moving?" Schock asked, noting with exasperation the recent deletion of writing and social studies tests from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.

Third and fifth graders in Illinois schools had been tested under the ISAT program to measure the percentage of students who meet state standards in those disciplines.  Illinois is ranked 49th in its support of public education, Schock said. Yet Illinois ranks second out of all states for its reliance on property taxes to fund schools. Fifty-eight percent of state school funding nationwide flows from local property taxes, according to a handout citing U.S. Department of Education data.  Schock urged municipalities and school districts to pass a resolution distributed Thursday that endorses the caucus's goals and send those resolutions to Gov. Rod Blagojevich and legislative leaders "so we can develop that political will for change that is broad and deep."

The group's long-term goals include boosting state funding to at least 51 percent of the cost of funding education, and raising the per-pupil foundation level to $5,665. The state currently funds 36 percent of education costs, he said.

Martire spoke next, asserting the problem with Illinois school funding isn't about accountability but about money — and the lack of it.

The state has little flexibility in its budget and to properly fund education needs more money, which in turn means a tax hike, he said The kindest, gentlest tax increase would be an increase in the state income tax on individuals from 3 to 5 percent, he said with structured reductions in other taxes.

Martire said "everyone wins" with the bill and highlighted perceived benefits. The bottom 60 percent of income earners would see no tax increase, he said, and the bottom 20 percent of income earners would see a net tax decrease. A $900 million tax credit to low- and moderate-income families would create economic stimulus, with broader benefits to the state.

The bill's biggest income-tax increase would target the wealthiest 1 percent, Martire said.

The bill would accomplish long-term goals outlined by the mayors caucus, although the group has not yet endorsed the plan. Under HB 750, the state would assume 51 percent of the cost of funding education, and the state aid foundation level would increase by more that $1,000 per child.

Martire's comments were clearly favored by the vast majority of those in attendance, and during the question-and-answer session some audience members were pointed in their comments directed toward Schock and the mayors caucus

Sharon Voliva, board president of cash-strapped Thornton High School District 205 and chair of the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition, asked Schock why the caucus won't endorse Martire's plan.

"We agree on some of its points," Schock said. "But it isn't enough to say it's a good idea. Illinois is a complex web of politics."

Schock also pointed to a real-world concern: the bill doesn't have the support of Gov. Blagojevich, who pledged during his campaign not to raise taxes.

Voliva countered, with applause afterward, that the bill has the support of area superintendents and needs the support of the mayors. As for the governor, Voliva said, "We could do it with a veto-proof majority" in the Legislature.

Several audience members expressed frustration at failed plans of the past and said they're growing impatient after years of working on the funding problem without tangible results.

The forum was organized by the Homewood-Flossmoor Area League of Women Voters and co-sponsored by the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition, Bremen Township High School District 228, Homewood-Flossmoor School District 233, Illinois PTA and National Council of Jewish Women-South Cook Section.

Other sponsors were the Park Forest League of Women Voters, Prairie State College, South Suburban Action Conference, South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association and Thornton Township High School District 205.


District 203 e-mail touted, set to grow

Ken O'Brien,  Chicago Tribune

NAPERVILLE -- A Naperville Community Unit School District 203 e-mail communication system, Talk 203, implemented last year has received high marks from its users.

The district sent a survey to the 2,000 users, getting a response from 347 people. Of those, 96 percent offered positive comments about the Talk 203 program.

Melea Smith, the district's director of communications, said the results show that the program is "an effective communication tool." About 100 people have signed up to use the program since the survey was sent, she said.

The district, which serves about 19,000 students at 21 schools, has used the system to send messages about district news, such as emergency alerts, and announcements about coming events.

The program was started last year as a pilot at four schools--Naperville North High School, Lincoln Junior High School and two elementary schools, Prairie and River Woods--with messages also being sent about those buildings. The program will be expanded to the remaining 17 schools this year, Smith said.


IL school mental health screening nears

Rhonda Robinson, Illinois Leader 

SPRINGFIELD -- The deadline is fast approaching when Illinois schools must comply with the new mandates under the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Act, signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich into law last year.

Calling CMHA an “unfunded mandate,” Superintendent of Urbana School District #116 Gene Amberg, also a member of the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership, told, “School districts that are strapped financially and economically will have a tough time."

By August 31, all Illinois school districts must, according to CHMA, “develop a policy for incorporating social and emotional development into the district's educational program. The policy shall address teaching and assessing social and emotional skills and protocols for responding to children with social, emotional, or mental health problems, or a combination of such problems, that impact learning ability.”

But, "there is a difference between policy and administrative regulation,” said Amberg. “How do you translate a board’s policy… and a school district actually doing it in rules and regulations?”

Responding to the scramble and confusion, Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Robert Schiller has posted resources for schools to develop policies on the ISBE website.

The Partnership was given the task of translating the policy into practice but has not yet made public its plans for implementation or standards for screening.

School districts aren’t all that are confused. “There are far too many questions about this proposed policy,” said David Smith, Senior Policy Analyst for Illinois Family Institute. “The proposed policy's language is alarmingly broad and gives the government far too much authority over not only the well-being of our families, but our religious beliefs as well.”

Amberg outlined School District #116’s plans, which call for each building principal to appoint a committee to “look at individual cases and referrals of students who are suspected of having social emotional or mental health problems.”

The committee would determine if referrals or services are offered.

Amberg admitted there could be “a lot of people overworked” for the referrals, testing, counseling, social work, and school psychology services.

Smith said the citizen review process in July was too short, and the task force’s proposed plans are overreaching. “Before they implement this plan, there must be additional forums in every part of the state, to hear public concerns, comments and questions,” said Smith. “The one-week fly through was not enough. The legislators who sponsored and voted for this bill have an obligation to revisit this plan before it is implemented.”

This new initiative makes Illinois the first state to enact policies that embrace President George W. Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, which stated, “Schools are in a key position to identify mental health problems early and to provide a link to appropriate services.”

The NFC explained, ““Every day more than 52 million students attend over 114,000 schools in the U.S. When combined with the six million adults working at those schools, almost one-fifth of the population passes through the Nation’s schools on any given weekday. Clearly, strong school mental health programs can attend to the health and behavioral concerns of students, reduce unnecessary pain and suffering, and help ensure academic achievement.”

The NFC also recommends using the Columbia University TeenScreenŽ Program.


Home schools open all summer

Grace Aduroja, Chicago Tribune

Even in the summer, Zoe Tomassi, 10, begins her day with a music appreciation lesson over breakfast.

"Summer doesn't feel different for me, and that's because Zoe is with me just the same as she is with me during the school year," said her mother, Terry, who has taught her daughter at home since kindergarten.

Like many home-school families, the Tomassis of Batavia don't see the summer hiatus as a reason to halt learning but instead view it as a time to expand education beyond the standard fare. Plus, the routine helps children avoid the typical post-summer sluggishness when school resumes, parents say.

Zoe, who is starting 5th grade, spends her days bouncing from drama class and physical education to English literature and music. A makeshift platform in the basement is the staging area for fanciful plays and daily karate practice. She composes tunes on the family's black lacquer piano. And the cozy green sectional in the living room is her recreational reading area.

Even a July trip to New Orleans was an educational experience. Zoe wedged tours of the historic French Quarter and a live production of "MacBeth" between a national karate contest where she competed against fellow green belts.

A daily regimen can help children maintain a sense of order and responsibility, parents say, but some education experts believe there are physical and social benefits to preserving a laid-back summer of games and outdoor exploration.

"It's a time to utilize imagination and build social skills," said Jean Matthiessen, spokeswoman for the Illinois PTA. "That's the benefits of just playing."

Kathy Wentz of north suburban Johnsburg and her teenage sons forgo school lessons and spend time on the beach, horseback riding and tennis classes. They are exploring interests that aren't centered on books, she said.

"[We] don't compartmentalize learning to when we're in school," she said. "It just kind of flows into your lifestyle."

According to a 2003 National Center for Education Statistics survey, an estimated 1.1 million students nationwide, or about 2.2 percent of kindergarten through 12th graders, are home-schooled.

In Illinois, home schools are not regulated by the state because they are classified similarly to private schools.

Still, state officials encourage home-school families to link up with districts to align their curriculum "in case the parent wants to re-enroll their child into the regular mainstream," said Harry Blackburn, legal counsel for the Illinois State Board of Education. "[But] the state hasn't been given the mandate and the authority to supervise these schools."

Home-school families are expected to meet the 176 minimum class days mandated for state public-school students. That leads some families to maintain a year-round schedule.

Amy Reindl of Hoffman Estates guides her son Erik, 4, through reading and number lessons in the summer. Erik sometimes prefers to play computer games or watch movies rather than read about planets and the human body.

"We're schooling year round and taking longer breaks at other times," said Reindl, who began teaching Erik a year ago when she realized that he was already starting to read.

Elmhurst resident Deborah Harris, mother of six school-age children, finds that maintaining a year-round schedule stabilizes her household.

"It takes them a while to get in the groove again, so we just do a little and that keeps them up," said Harris, who has home-schooled all of her children from kindergarten.

The continual routine enables them to take family trips during off-peak seasons and the children to spend the summer in musical instrument rehearsals and debate camps and with personal tutors.

The five Merry children in Batavia have a more laid-back summer schedule with the family swimming pool being the main congregating spot. Summer recreation gives their mother, Gail Merry, time to clear piles of papers from the house and sift through curriculum for the new school year.

But she launches into the occasional impromptu lesson. When Merry and her children ventured into their back yard one mild afternoon, she discussed the best way to catch fireflies and maintain their glow.

"I read that if you keep them warm they'll stay lit for longer," she advised her two youngest daughters before adding, "I've learned more from teaching them than I ever did in school."


Officials: State policy redundant

Amanda Williams, The Register-Mail

GALESBURG - By the end of the month, all schools in Illinois will have adopted a policy regarding the mental health needs of students.

The Illinois Legislature passed the Children's Mental Health Act of 2003, which requires schools to develop a policy for incorporating social and emotional development into their educational program. The Act also requires schools to have a plan for responding to children with social, emotional or mental health problems that impact learning. The policies must be submitted to the Illinois State Board of Education by Aug. 31.

While districts have been cooperating with the new law, some school officials say it is redundant of what the schools already do.

Clyde Grady, a Knoxville School Board member, is among those who disagree with the new mental health law.

"I just have a problem with a legislative act mandating what we're already doing," Grady said. "I would assume that all of our staff pays attention to our students' mental health."

According to the Act, signed Aug. 8 by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, one in 10 children in Illinois suffers from a mental illness severe enough to cause some level of impairment but only about 20 percent of those children receive mental health services.

The Act also states, "Children's social development and emotional development are essential underpinnings to school readiness and academic success."

A sample policy was provided to school districts by the Illinois Association of School Boards. It outlines such things as student social and emotional development, student support services and a procedure for responding to students with social, emotional, or mental health problems.

It also requires teachers and administrators to refer a student suspected of having social, emotional or mental health problems to the Student Support Committee appointed by the principal. The committee reviews information about a referred student and suggests steps for referral and follow-up.

"Good teachers don't need an act. They don't need a committee to say 'this kid's having problems'," Grady said. "But if our folks down in Springfield want us to sign a policy, let's do it."

Knoxville District 202 approved the policy at its regular meeting last week.

Galesburg Superintendent Neil Sappington said the school district already had policies in place that address the needs of students with mental health problems.

"So it's kind of outlining what we already do," Sappington said.

District 205 first discussed the new mental health policy in July and approved it earlier this month.

Because the new policy repeats existing procedures, Sappington said the district plans to remove two policies at a future board meeting. The school district will keep the new policy in place, as required by law.

Sappington said the district does not see a big change from the way things were done under previous policies.


Charter schools

Letter by Jeanne Allen, President, The Center for Education Reform, Chicago Tribune, August 27, 2004

Washington -- This is regarding "Testing scores lag in charter schools" (News, Aug. 17). More than 10 years of comprehensive research demonstrates that charter schools produce strong student achievement, especially among minority and at-risk students. In Illinois, 30 charters are successfully meeting the needs of nearly 12,000 students.

Unfortunately these students are caught in the middle of a political battle. Opponents of charter schools are threatened by the growth of independent public schools that offer a promise of performance, are held to account by contract and open to parents by choice. The most important test data for all public schools are those that are used by states to measure student achievement. Those data, coupled with national data, reveal that charter students are achieving despite their challenges.

They perform at least as well as their public school counterparts and many achieve at even higher levels.

For example, 4th grade students in Arizona and California outperform their traditional public school counterparts in reading--and those states are home to more than a third of charter schools.

Charter schools are working, here in Illinois and across the country. It is time to stop playing politics with America's kids.


Parents' role

Letter by Jennifer Martin, Chicago Tribune, August 27, 2004

Chicago -- This is regarding the report that 694 Illinois schools that are being sanctioned because of students who are lagging behind academically ("Top suburb schools hit by `No Child' sanctions," Page 1, Aug. 18): Certainly schools should be held accountable if their educational practices are lax.

I suspect, however, that the state is blaming the wrong party for these children's failures.

The only differences between kids who get ahead and kids who don't are parents who insist on good study habits.

Here's a better idea:

If your child gets an F on his report card, the state will fine you $50.

That money will go into escrow, and you don't get it back until your child brings his grade up.


Perhaps, but I am confident we would see children's grades rise dramatically if parents were held accountable for their children's school performance.




Harshness of red marks has students seeing purple

By Naomi Aoki, Boston Globe Staff, August 23, 2004

When it comes to correcting papers and grading tests, purple is emerging as the new red.

"If you see a whole paper of red, it looks pretty frightening," said Sharon Carlson, a health and physical education teacher at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Northampton. "Purple stands out, but it doesn't look as scary as red."

That's the cue pen makers and office supply superstores say they have gotten from teachers as the $15 billion back-to-school retail season kicks off. They say focus groups and conversations with teachers have led them to conclude that a growing number of the nation's educators are switching to purple, a color they perceive as "friendlier" than red.

As a result, Paper Mate introduced purple to its assortment of blue, red, and green X-Tend pens and increased distribution of existing purple pens this school year. Barry Calpino, Paper Mate's vice president and general manager, estimated that the Bellwood, Ill., company boosted production of purple pens by at least 10 percent. He said purple will now be a standard color in all its new product lines.

Office superstores such as Staples and OfficeMax also are making a splash with purple pens, stocking more of them, adding purple to multicolor packs, and selling all-purple packs. By comparison, Staples did not stock any exclusively purple pen packs last year and it hardly had any purple pens in its stores two years ago, said Robert George, the Framingham chain's senior vice president of general merchandise. Now, he said, sales of purple pens are growing at a faster clip than pen sales overall.

A mix of red and blue, the color purple embodies red's sense of authority but also blue's association with serenity, making it a less negative and more constructive color for correcting student papers, color psychologists said. Purple calls attention to itself without being too aggressive. And because the color is linked to creativity and royalty, it is also more encouraging to students.

"The concept of purple as a replacement for red is a pretty good idea," said Leatrice Eiseman, director of the Pantone Color Institute in Carlstadt, N.J., and author of five books on color. "You soften the blow of red. Red is a bit over-the-top in its aggression."

For office supply stores, color and fashion trends spell opportunity and risk. The trends allow them to freshen up staid old categories such as pens and markers, fueling sales. But getting a trend wrong -- betting on purple pens when teachers and students are buying green, for example -- can cost them sales during a critical retail period.

Red's legacy as the color used in correcting papers and marking mistakes goes back to the 1700s, the era of the quill pen. In those days, red ink was used by clerks and accountants to correct ledgers. From there, it found its way into teachers' hands.

But two or three decades ago, an anti-red sentiment began surfacing among teachers. Since then, no one color had emerged as red's replacement.

Is purple here to stay?

"I do not use red," said Robin Slipakoff, who teaches second and third grades at Mirror Lake Elementary School in Plantation, Fla. "Red has a negative connotation, and we want to promote self-confidence. I like purple. I use purple a lot."

Sheila Hanley, who teaches reading and writing to first- and second-graders at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Randolph, said: "Red is definitely a no-no. But I don't know if purple is in."

Hanley said a growing contingent of her colleagues is using purple. They prefer it to green and yellow because it provides more contrast to the black or blue ink students are asked to write in. And they prefer it to orange, which they think is too similar to red.

But aside from avoiding red, Hanley said she is not sure color matters much. At times, she uses sticky notes rather than writing on a child's paper. What's important, she said, is to focus on how an assignment can be improved rather than on what is wrong with it, she said.

Ruslan Nedoruban, who is entering seventh grade at his Belmont school, said red markings on his papers make him feel "uncomfortable."

His mother, Victoria Nedoruban, who is taking classes to improve her English, said she thinks papers should be corrected in red.

"I hate red," she said. "But because I hate it, I want to work harder to make sure there isn't any red on my papers."

Red has other defenders. California high-school teacher Carol Jago, who has been working with students for more than 30 years, said she has no plans to stop using red. She said her students do not seem psychologically scarred by how she wields her pen. And if her students are mixing up "their," "there," and "they're," she wants to shock them into fixing the mistake.

"We need to be honest and forthright with students," Jago said. "Red is honest, direct, and to the point. I'm sending the message, 'I care about you enough to care how you present yourself to the outside world.' "


Librarians say school cuts are shrinking library time

AP, August 23, 2004

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Cutbacks in school funding are leaving school librarians with less time in the library and more time in the classroom pitching in for short-staffed teachers, library staffers said.

At Gilbert Stuart Middle School, books were checked out 2,378 times during the 2002-2003 school year, according to the librarian.

But during the academic year that ended in June, the number dropped to 335, the librarian, Carol Felino, told The Providence Journal.

She and two other middle school librarians, Jim Wynn of Bridgham and Chris Spinelli of Nathan Bishop, said the dramatic decline is a ripple effect of a cutback in the teaching staff.

With fiscal constraints forcing the district to lay off staff, primarily teachers of electives, school librarians, who generally are certified teachers, have been pressed into service to fill the holes in students' schedules, the librarians said.

They've said the shift in their roles runs contrary to their training, the education practice endorsed by the American Association of School Librarians, and basic education requirements of the state.

Frances Gallo, the Providence school district's director of middle-level education, said the situation "certainly reflects the budget and an infringement on what librarians used to do."

The librarians said that while they are teaching, they cannot work with students who want to do research or borrow books. Nor can they work with teachers who want to bring classes to the library to gather information on a subject.

Chris Spinelli, who until now has had no classes, will be teaching 15 hours a week this year--half the school day--leaving only 10 hours of open library time for the school of 900 students. The library is unavailable to the rest of school when a class is in session.

Jim Wynn, the librarian at Bridgham, taught classes for the first time this past year.

Wynn said he gave up his daily free period so that teachers could bring classes into the library. He said he routinely stayed late an hour or two every day to do work that was impossible to do during the school day.


Academic arms race

Are Advanced Placement courses growing too fast?

AP, August 22, 2004 

WASHINGTON -- Melba Munguia is so determined to be a college student that, like hundreds of thousands of other young people, she has practically become one in high school.

She took three college-level Advanced Placement courses as a sophomore and five more as a junior. Having aced them, she begins 12th grade at Miami Senior High School with another five AP courses: English, Spanish language, statistics, U.S. government and world history.

"A lot of people are pushing themselves to take as many AP classes and tests as they can," said Melba, a 17-year-old with eyes on an Ivy League education. "I think it's amazing that people really care, that they want to be pushed. ... They're looking to their future."

The Advanced Placement Program, which began as a tiny experiment for top seniors seeking college courses and credit, has swelled to the point of altering the high school experience.

Over nearly 50 years, the number of students taking annual AP exams has grown from about 1,000 to more than 1.1 million, with a 140 percent increase during the last decade alone.

A few hundred public high schools used to offer AP; now two-thirds of them do. By last year, one out of every three public high school graduates had taken at least one AP test. The subject list has more than tripled, from popular core courses such as history and biology to additions in the arts and social sciences, with more world languages coming soon.

Such growth is widely viewed as an education success story, because more students have been given access to training colleges demand of them.

But some educators see an academic arms race, with students piling up AP courses to impress colleges and schools adding classes without ensuring teachers are prepared for them.

The AP goal remains to challenge students to analyze subjects at the kind of depth found in a college classroom, with a payoff that goes beyond learning. Most U.S. colleges give students who pass AP tests credit or higher placement so they don't repeat ground.

Yet as more sophomores and juniors take AP courses and exams, their motivation has become not to just to prepare for college, but to gain an edge getting in to one.

College admission officers place more importance on grades in college-prep courses such as AP than they do on any other factor -- including SAT scores, grade point average, class rank and student essays, a 2003 survey found. Colleges give less emphasis to AP exam grades in admitting students, in part because such scores may come in too late in the process.

The AP is not intended as an admissions tool, but the connection makes sense, said Trevor Packer, executive director of the AP Program at the not-for-profit College Board.

Research shows students who have taken two or more AP exams have better rates of completing bachelor's degrees. And the College Board itself promotes the admissions angle, telling students AP can dramatically improve their chances of getting in where they want.

In Melba's school in Miami, where most students are Hispanic and many come from poor families, enrollment in AP courses has tripled over the last five years. The school has expanded tutoring and given awards to AP students to keep them encouraged.

"The old philosophy was that only the very best students were sent to AP courses. We've changed that," said Erick Hueck, who oversees the AP program and teaches AP chemistry at Miami Senior High. "We're going to be more inclusive. We're going for the greater good."

Nationwide, minority participation is improving but remains a challenge. Hispanics and blacks make up 31 percent of high school students but only 17 percent of AP test-takers.

Minority students sometimes steered away

Researchers have found schools have steered minority students away from AP courses, and those who make it in sometimes endure the scrutiny of being the only minority in class.

At Edinburg North High School in southern Texas, where many students are just learning English, all of them invited to take AP classes. Eva Torres, the dean of instruction, tells teachers not to worry how students do on AP exams as long as they're engaged in class.

"These students often don't get the credit they're due," she said. "A lot of times people don't understand that it's a language barrier they have, not a lack of a capacity to learn."

Yet Education Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for poor and minority children, says test scores raise questions about whether all AP classes are high quality. In 2003, for example, 69 percent of white students passed one AP calculus course. Only 34 percent of blacks did.

Jeannie Oakes, a UCLA education professor, says giving students access to more AP courses without sufficiently preparing them and their teachers is a "cruel hoax." She served on a National Research Council panel that found AP courses were improperly used to rank schools and that classes lacked the kind of quality standards that the brand name implies.

Each AP class has an outline, not a specific lesson plan. Schools decide whether a teacher is ready for the advanced material. The real check on quality is the AP test, Packer said. College faculty help shape the exams, craft course outlines and review them annually.

The College Board is responding to challenges of access and teacher training, with targeted help in rural areas and subsidized courses for middle and high school teachers.

Taxpayers are chipping in, too. Many states now pay for AP course development and test fees, and, in this election year, President Bush wants to double federal spending on the AP to $51.5 million, to expand course access for poor children and training for their teachers.


Few states improve rail crossings

Vehicles and trains collide average nine times a day

AP, August 21, 2004 

WASHINGTON -- Few states have given high priority to improving safety at railroad crossings used by school buses, despite the federal government's urging that they do so after an accident in Tennessee killed three children and injured three others four years ago.

The National Transportation Safety Board says 12 states have made satisfactory progress since then.

"Children continue to be unnecessarily killed in school bus accidents at grade crossings," NTSB Chairman Ellen Engleman said this week. "Children's lives can and will be saved if state authorities adopt the simple safety measures that the board recommended. With the school year beginning, action is needed."

The accident in Conasauga, Tennessee, happened when a bus driver crossed the railroad tracks as a 33-car CSX freight train, whistle blasting, thundered toward it.

"Hey! Hey!" the engineer shouted when he saw the bus, then slammed on the emergency brakes.

It was too late. The 2,465-ton train smashed into the side of the bus. One witness said the crash sounded like "damn thunder or a bomb blown up."

Two girls, ages 7 and 9, and a 9-year-old boy were killed in that crash in 2000. Three more children were seriously hurt, one of them the bus driver's daughter.

Vehicles and trains collide an average of nine times a day. More than 1,000 people have been killed in the four years since the Tennessee crash. In the first five months of this year, there were 1,205 crashes, including four involving school buses, and 155 deaths.

The 82,000 crossings where there are no gates present the greatest danger -- the accident rate is seven times that for crossings with gates that block vehicles.

A key NTSB recommendation for such crossings was installation of stop signs. That was seen as a far cheaper alternative to other railroad crossing safety measures, such as installing gates at a cost of $150,000 apiece, building bridges or rerouting tracks or roads.

The 12 states that the safety board says have made sufficient progress toward improving safety at railroad tracks crossed by school buses are Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina and Texas.

Seven of the 10 states with the most collisions between trains and all kinds of vehicles at grade crossings have largely ignored the recommendation. They are Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi and Ohio.

Every state requires school buses to stop, turn off noisy equipment, open the doors and look both ways before crossing railroad tracks, according to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, which supports the NTSB's recommendations.

It's a real easy solution. Leaving an ambiguous sign that means different things to different people in different states is not a good answer.

-- NTSB investigator Joseph Osterman on replacing railroad crossing signs with stop signs. 

But that doesn't always happen. The 34-year-old bus driver in the Tennessee crash never stopped at the crossing, even though it was marked with two warning signs and a crossbuck -- a white, X-shaped sign.

Research shows that while some know to "stop, look and listen" when they see a crossbuck, many others think the sign means "slow down" or doesn't require any special action, NTSB investigator Joseph Osterman said. There is no such confusion with a stop sign, which is why installing them at crossings makes sense, he said.

"It's a real easy solution," Osterman said. "Leaving an ambiguous sign that means different things to different people in different states is not a good answer."

Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, agreed crossings present significant danger but said she doesn't believe stop signs will persuade drivers to halt.

"They think, 'I never see a train on this track, so I'm just going to ignore the stop sign,"' Harsha said. She suggested placing video cameras at crossings and issuing tickets to anyone who fails to stop.

Beyond stop signs, the NTSB recommends equipping school buses with "option kill switches," which enable drivers to turn off noisy devices like fans and radios when a bus approaches a rail crossing. Only Florida and Kentucky require the switches.

The NTSB also called for better training and oversight of bus drivers, including using video cameras to help monitor performance.


Cyberschools really clicking

State's virtual classrooms report rise in enrollment

Monica Mendoza, Arizona Republic, Aug. 23, 2004 

An estimated 3,500 Arizona children are expected to log on to education's newest trend of virtual schooling, as the state's cyberschools report increases in enrollment this year over last school year.

Under Arizona law, there is no limit on cyberenrollment in these free public schools and no school district boundaries. Children from Page to Globe and the farthest corner of the Navajo Reservation are enrolling in the long- distance schools.

"As the information has gotten out there, people are saying, 'Wow, there are virtual schools.' They have filled a much-needed gap," said Brad Lester, director of online expansion for Primavera Online High School.

Cyberschool history

Arizona's cyberschools, also called distance learning, were launched in 1998 with just four programs.

Last year, lawmakers expanded the program to allow 14 cyberschools, seven run by charter schools and seven run by traditional school districts.

With virtual schooling still an emerging trend in education, even those involved are split on whether cyberschools are an alternative for a few students or whether it's the future of all schooling.

In its short life, Arizona's cyberschooling has morphed into a variety of programs.

Some children take all their lessons over the Internet from their home computers, touching base with teachers by telephone or e-mail.

Some take half of the courses over the Internet and the rest in a traditional school.

And some take all their courses over the Internet but go to a school building where they have daily face-to-face contact with teachers.

As cyberschooling gains interest, going back to school just isn't what it used to be.

Cheyenne Miller, 8, is taking third-grade courses offered by Arizona Virtual Academy from her Goodyear home.

She went "back to school" last Monday but wasn't worried about her outfit or being tardy.

Instead, she started out her day at the workstation her mom set up, which has all of her supplies, books and her computer. She said the Pledge of Allegiance, had show-and-tell time with her mom, then started her lessons.

Cheyenne spends about one hour a day on the computer and the other four hours reading, doing experiments and studying music.

Arizona Virtual Academy, part of the national K12 Inc. network of virtual schools, supplies everything from maps to art to the dirt Cheyenne might need for a garden experiment.

"It's like I was on a first-name basis with the UPS man," said Debbie Miller, Cheyenne's mom.

Arizona Virtual Academy, a cyberschool for children in Grades K-8, expects enrollment to reach 1,000 children this school year. That's double last year's enrollment, said Mary Gifford, director of the program.

Different approaches

Tucson Unified School District is among the seven districts offering cyberschooling. Tucson, the second-largest district in the state, is partnering with Mesa Public Schools, the largest, to offer cybercourses for high school students.

"Philosophically, we believe the best place for kids is in school," said Robert Mackay, Tucson director of alternative education programs.

"However, we recognize there are niches of students who have difficulty attending school."

Students who are ill or those who have dropped out of traditional schools may be attracted to the more flexible computer-based learning program, he said. Tucson's program is heavy on science and math.

"Bottom line is there is no such thing as a student who wants to drop out," Mackay said. "If you provide the right school, everyone will be successful."

Last school year, 530 students enrolled in Mesa's middle and high school distance-learning programs.

This year, the district added cyberschool programs for children in Grades K-6. Already 125 children have enrolled, Mesa school officials said.

Some cyberschool officials have discovered that children want and need to talk with their teacher and fellow students daily.

Teachers at Kids At Hope Online Academy stepped up their e-mails, telephone calls and letters home to students. Their cyberschool program also includes textbooks and novels that kids take home.

"We have found that being on the computer reading all day long is hard on the eyes, and it confines you," said Arlene Duston, academic director of Kids at Hope Online Academy.

"The students want to go outside and read a book."

At Pinnacle Education online school, teachers wrote the high school lessons based on the Arizona state standards. They have blended cyberschooling with the traditional model of holding classes in a classroom. Pinnacle has six locations where students take their courses, with teachers present to help students.

Some students are just not ready to give up the face-to-face contact with friends, teachers and counselors, said Michael Matwick, president of Pinnacle Education Inc.

But students are ready for technology-based courses, he said. This year, about 1,000 students in Grades 9-12 are taking the computer-based courses from the six sites and about 250 are taking the courses from home, keeping in touch with teachers by telephone or e-mail.

Pinnacle hired more student advisers to help students choose courses and keep tabs on their progress.

"The last thing we want is for a student to drift away," Matwick said.

'Becoming the norm'

School officials at Primavera Online High School say virtual schooling is the wave of the future, and not just for a niche audience.

Primavera sees both high achievers and those struggling in school enrolling in online high school courses, Lester said. As in traditional schools, students move through the lessons at the same pace in a block schedule. They take two courses a day for six weeks. Lester said block schedules allow students to dive into a subject and spend time on it, not rush through six courses in a day.

"We see online education becoming the norm," said Lester, who described Primavera as the high school version of the University of Phoenix online programs.

"I tell students (that) online education is something you will do for rest of life - whether it's research or taking classes. A major part of projects is done online," Lester said.

"To me, it's not realistic to pigeonhole this and say it will only work for a certain crowd."


Children left behind

Schools join state in decrying lack of funding.

By Bonnie Eslinger, San Francisco Examiner Staff Writer, August 24, 2004

Local education leaders are joining a chorus of state officials who say the federal government needs to put up or shut up when it comes to education standards.

California schools are not getting the funding that is needed to meet the federal goals under the No Child Left Behind Act, according to a resolution recently passed in both branches of the state Legislature which criticizes the federal government's education accountability program.

"I believe in accountability and setting high expectations," said San Francisco Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. "We know that in this school district we need more support, and that requires more funding for recruitment, for school resources, and for giving students who fail activities to help them."

The state resolution, which passed in the Senate on Thursday and in the Assembly in June, says that NCLB's mandates are not fully funded.

"It's fine for the federal government to try and raise the bar in terms of expectations and try to get some sort of standardized mechanism," said School Board Commissioner Heather Hiles. "But I think it's harmful to create lots of new expectations and not provide enough funds for the schools to do the work they need to do to get the skills up."

The measure also seeks to exempt California schools in several areas that lawmakers say ignore existing state standards and create difficulties for urban school districts like San Francisco.

A lack of funding for NCLB is a "myth," according to U.S Department of Education Representative Mary Jane Pearson, who said NCLB came with a 36 percent increase in education spending. "We're not talking about underfunding, we're talking about schools funding appropriately."

Under NCLB, all students in a district must take standardized tests in required subjects such as English and math. The scores determine if a school is making Adequate Yearly Progress -- denoted AYP -- towards a national goal of proficiency for all children by 2014. California already measures its progress on a scale called the Academic Performance Index, or API, which was in place before No Child Left Behind.

"The California API is a better measure than the AYP," Ackerman said. "It looks at growth over time, year to year, and it looks at it realistically. They want to have consistency, but you have to also have flexibility for different states to make some of those changes."

Approximately one-third of San Francisco's elementary and middle schools are considered underperforming "Title 1" schools.

"California has a tremendously diverse student population," said Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. "Educating kids does not have a simple uniform solution. You can't teach a variety of children at the same pace."

Title 1 schools must boost all of their students to proficiency by 2014, or face possible restructuring or even a state takeover.

"I don't fear that this will happen because we're working so hard," said Ackerman. "I don't intend for that to happen."

Eric McDonnell, the Chief Investment Officer for Education at the United Way of the Bay Area, said NCLB is strengthening accountability standards for low-income and minority students whose needs are not fully addressed by state standards alone.

"Is it unfunded? Yes," said McDonnell of NCLB. "Is it [the AYP] duplicative? No."

The resolution also asked for a waiver in the NCLB requirement that all teachers working in a Title 1 program hold at least a bachelors degree and have a teaching credential. Teachers with emergency credentials would not meet this standard.

"I think we've been very successful in reducing the number of teachers that are on emergency credentials," said Ackerman. "The areas that we have the most difficulty is the same as with many other districts: in special education, math and science."


Top official targets abuse by educators

Driscoll to urge school vigilance

By Anand Vaishnav, Boston Globe Staff, August 24, 2004

On the eve of a new school year, Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll plans to urge schools today to act more vigilantly to protect students from sexual abuse by educators.

Calling for increased scrutiny, Driscoll said in an interview yesterday that neither the Department of Education nor school districts have paid enough attention to the problem. Sexual misconduct is the primary reason that Massachusetts educators lose or surrender their teaching licenses. Even so, the number of teachers disciplined for sexual misconduct accounts for less than 1 percent of the state's 72,000 public school teachers.

The commissioner said he wants school districts to work harder to make students feel comfortable enough to report a possible sexual offense by a teacher or another adult in school. The state defines sexual misconduct as a range of activities, including verbal harassment, improper correspondence with a student, physical abuse, or inappropriate use of the Internet, such as browsing adult websites or chat rooms.

Worrisome cases involving educators 

In his scheduled remarks at the monthly Board of Education meeting in Malden, Driscoll said, he plans to urge the board to consider hiring more staff to investigate cases. He also wants to push for legislation tightening background checks on applicants. Right now, school systems must conduct criminal background checks of applicants, but they cover only offenses committed in Massachusetts, not out of state. Twice in the last two years and as recently as June, the Department of Education tightened its rules on reporting teacher misconduct.

Driscoll said he was spurred to do more by recent high-profile cases of alleged abuse by teachers. A middle-school teacher in Chelmsford pleaded guilty last week to raping one of her students, and a high school teacher in Dudley was placed on leave earlier this month after pleading not guilty to inducing a minor into having sex. In Florida, a middle-school teacher has been charged with having sex with a 14-year-old boy.

"It doesn't take long to recognize that this is something we have not dealt with as a society, as schools, as an agency, in a way we perhaps should have," Driscoll said. "We're talking about a small number, but I think the time is right to be more diligent. We're seeing more and more instances, so we just have to recognize that they may be there."

In the past six years, the Department of Education has revoked, suspended, or denied 26 teaching certificates, including those a teacher voluntarily surrendered, because of some type of sexual misconduct. Those cases range from suggestive e-mails to a physical relationship, state statistics show.

Last year, the state suspended, denied, or took away 17 teaching certificates, up from five the year before, and as in previous years, the majority of the cases involved sexual misconduct, said Cathleen Cavell, a lawyer whom the Department of Education hired last year to help pursue the cases with its lone investigator. 

Not all of the cases have involved physical abuse, Cavell said. Some involved verbal harassment or improper correspondence with a student, which also can harm a student.

Nationally, a report commissioned by the US Department of Education estimated that as many as one of every 10 public school students faced sexual misconduct by school employees. Teacher unions raised questions about the study's validity because of its broad definition of sexual misconduct; the study allowed inappropriate comments, along with assault, to count as sexual misconduct.

Still, given the national study, Driscoll said he wonders whether the problem has reached similar proportions in Massachusetts.

Principals applauded Driscoll's call for heightened vigilance, but said that background checks do not always solve the problem, because sometimes nothing appears on a check.

In 2003, within a month of each other, two popular Brookline High School teachers faced accusations of abusing students. Geoffrey Dana Hicks pleaded guilty in January to charges of rape of a child, while Waldemar K. Ulich pleaded guilty in March to indecent assault and battery charges, the Norfolk district attorney's office said.

Both lost their teaching licenses, were placed on probation, and had to register as sex offenders. And both, Headmaster Robert J. Weintraub said, had been perceived as "esteemed members of the community."

Ulich had been accused in 1997 of grabbing another student's buttocks repeatedly and was charged with indecent assault and battery. But a judge threw out the case because Brookline police had not turned over evidence that could have worked in the teacher's favor. An arbitrator ordered the school to give him his job back the next year.

Afterward, Weintraub said that he walked into Ulich's office frequently and monitored his behavior, but that the teacher faced similar charges five years later.

"That's one case where if we couldn't tell what was going on after that, doesn't that say something about how tough it is to find out about this stuff?" Weintraub said. "What can you do? You can be aware. Pay attention. Watch interactions. Be visible."

Last year at 4,400-student Brockton High School, a student approached Susan Szachowicz, then the associate principal, saying a teacher had sent another student nude pictures of himself. The teacher, Charles Michael Everett, was fired and lost his license, she said.

"Absolutely, we need to be vigilant, and every time a kid comes in, it can't be passed off," said Szachowicz, now the principal of the state's largest high school. "But it isn't simple. [Perpetrators] are bright, they're articulate. This guy had two lives."

In 2002, the Department of Education began requiring school administrators who fired or obtained the resignation of a teacher for any reason to report those teachers to the agency.

In June, it began requiring administrators to notify the state if damaging information came to light, even after a teacher left the system; administrators who don't turn over such information can lose their own educator credentials. Under law, educators also must report allegations to the Department of Social Services.

Still, Massachusetts laws on reporting teacher misconduct are not as stringent as those in other states. In New Hampshire, for example, superintendents must report any allegation, not just a conviction, to the state Department of Education.

All 50 states and some countries have access to the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification's database of educators who have lost their teaching licenses. States can check a roster of 23,500 names dating back to the 1970s to ensure that applicants have not lied about their records.

However, new applicants who have never had a credential revoked would not appear in that database, and states are just beginning to find ways to share information on applicants' backgrounds, said Roy Einreinhofer, the association's executive director.

"It's never happening fast enough," Einreinhofer said.


Small schools' test area districts

Angela Townsend, Plain Dealer Reporter, 8/22/04

Making schools small can be a big hassle.

Just ask Euclid school officials. They devoted an entire year to breaking up their large high school into six smaller and, they hope, better learning environments.

Then, with opening day just two weeks away, they got an earful from worried parents. Would each school have an honor society? Would all math classes be alike? Could students switch schools?

Some parents still didn't know which schools their children would attend.

"Have some patience," Superintendent Joffrey Jones told the crowd of 150. "Let it unfold."

Over the next three weeks, the highly touted reform movement known as "small schools" will come to five Northeast Ohio school districts, despite questions, anxieties and hurdles.

Euclid kicks off the wave of openings on Thursday. Cleveland, Cleveland Heights-University Heights, East Cleveland and Lorain will follow.

Statewide, 51 small schools will open this fall.

More than two years have passed since the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the effort by giving millions of dollars in grants to be administered by the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, the state's largest public education philanthropy.

The aim is to carve up large, troubled urban high schools into smaller learning communities that encourage stronger relationships among students, teachers, other staff and parents.

At least one district decided it needed more time to create small schools. Earlier this year, Akron decided to continue planning for its transformation of Buchtel High School through the 2004-05 school year.

Akron officials attributed the delay in part to changes in staff, including the loss of people who were involved in the original planning. Officials also felt they needed extra time to work "carefully and completely," said district spokeswoman Karen Ingraham.

How many small schools Buchtel will have and whether they will open next fall remains unclear, Ingraham said.

"When you're in the planning stages, a lot of things can change," she said.

Creating new environments out of existing space also created challenges. None of the local districts had the luxury of building new high schools this year. A new Shaw High School building in East Cleveland is scheduled to open in fall 2006.

Cleveland Heights High School has been reconfigured so that each small school - the district calls them "neighborhoods"-will have its own entrance. This year, only ninth- and 10th-graders will be in small schools.

At Euclid High School, each small school will have its own wing in the three-story building.

East Cleveland has perhaps the biggest challenge. Because Shaw is being torn down, the district is putting four small schools at the new Heritage Middle School.

Middle school students who would have gone to Heritage are instead going to other elementary schools and nearby modular units.

Winning acceptance

Getting teachers, parents and the larger community to embrace small schools has been challenging for most districts.

"Many people - taxpayers, parents, teachers and even some administrators - expect you to fail," Lorain school board member Paul Ramos said last week in a meeting with small schools principals for Lorain Admiral King and Lorain Southview high schools. "But we need change, and support your efforts to really make a difference in these students' lives."

Sandra Brown and Claudia Bolden, two of East Cleveland's small school leaders, said they had to assure students and alumni that Shaw's strong sense of unity would not be diluted with the new format.

"We're making sure that unity still stands," Bolden said. "We can take that unity with us to another building."

Christine Fowler-Mack, deputy director of educational services for Cleveland Heights-University Heights, said some of the biggest concerns have come from parents of academically gifted students.

Their worries are that their children won't benefit as much from the new structure, Fowler-Mack said.

"Our small schools will accommodate everyone," she said. "The misconception is that this is for students who can't achieve. But it really is for all students."

Similarly, not all teachers have been convinced that small schools are the right way to go.

In Cleveland, the lack of immediate teacher support has caused delays at East Technical and James Ford Rhodes high schools.

Cleveland Teachers Union members at Rhodes voted to begin collaborating on a curriculum, but decided they needed another year of planning. East Tech teachers aren't scheduled to take a final vote on the change until after school starts on Thursday.

In Euclid, Jones acknowledged early resistance from teachers. A major sticking point was that teachers felt the district was moving too fast with the changes to meet deadlines set by KnowledgeWorks.

What eventually turned things around, Jones said, was a group of "very motivated teachers who wanted to see this change happen."

When the change finally does happen on Thursday, Renee Sanders, whose daughter will be a sophomore at the Euclid Academy of the Arts, expects "total chaos."

But Sanders, who went to the Aug. 12 meeting to get a better handle on what small schools are all about, said both she and her daughter are excited about the changes.

"I always thought that Euclid was so big of a school," she said. "We'll see what happens."


Camden school uniforms on way

They will be voluntary until Dec. 1. A public hearing on the policy drew little protest from parents.

By Melanie Burney, Inquirer Staff Writer, 8/25/04

Camden public school students will have a choice about what they wear to school when classes begin next month - but not for long.

A voluntary uniform policy will take effect Sept. 7 for the district's nearly 18,000 students, with each of Camden's 33 schools choosing its colors.

But on Dec. 1, the uniform policy will become mandatory, school board member Sara T. Davis said at a public hearing last night.

The policy drew little opposition at the two-hour hearing, attended by a handful of parents. The district was required to hold the hearing before implementing the policy.

Marian Young, 50, said she had already bought uniforms for her 5-year-old grandson, who will begin kindergarten at Forest Hill Elementary in the city's Parkside section.

"It was easy for me financially," said Young, a day-care worker.

Camden - South Jersey's largest public school district - is following in the footsteps of Philadelphia and Willingboro, which have similar policies requiring a uniform look for students.

Jose E. Delgado, a former school board member, expressed mixed feelings about the policy. He also said the public should have more time to weigh in on the issue.

"I come from the generation when what I wore said something about me," Delgado said. "That was my expression of who I was."

Critics contend that uniform policies stifle self-expression.

Community activist Mangaliso Davis said the policy was needed because parents in the impoverished city were under pressure to buy the latest fashions for their children. Some students have been held up at gunpoint and robbed of their sneakers or jackets, he said.

"They're buying things they can't even afford," Davis said.

School Superintendent Annette D. Knox said she believed uniforms would help reduce discipline problems and improve learning and security because students would be easily distinguished from nonstudents. Parents demanded the change, she said.

The policy will not require traditional parochial uniforms. Instead, students will have a "uniform look," such as khakis and a shirt in their school color. Camden High School has selected a purple or gold shirt and a light-tan skirt or pants.

It is unlikely that violators will face disciplinary action, Sara Davis said.

Knox said the district had set aside $10,000 to assist students who cannot afford uniforms. At least 10 Camden schools already had voluntary uniform requirements.

"All of our schools can stand some significant change," Knox said.


From schools to security, a reluctance to fix blame

Accountability is a popular concept, but a poll finds Americans hesitant to punish schools for poor results.

By Gail Russell Chaddock, Christian Science Monitor Staff writer, 8/25/04

WASHINGTON – Americans expect public schools to be more accountable for student progress, but oppose concrete steps in a new federal law to punish or even identify schools that fail to meet that goal.

That's the unlikely conclusion of the 36th annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the public's attitudes toward public schools, released Tuesday.

While critics say that some of the questions are leading and biased, the results fit a larger pattern in American politics and culture: a reluctance to assign blame or hold people accountable for bad results.

The pattern shows up in another election-year anomaly: While only about half of American voters approve of the job Congress is doing, most incumbents face no difficulty getting reelected, according to Congress watchers at the Cook Political Report.

From the 9/11 attacks to the botched Florida vote count in 2000, Americans often like the idea of accountability but shrink from making it personal.

"The US does not have a long tradition of government officials resigning as a result of problems that might have occurred on their watch, as opposed to European countries," says Robert Schmuhl, director of the John W. Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy at the University of Notre Dame.

That's due, at least in part, to a growing tendency in American culture in the 1980s and '90s to frame issues in terms of victims - buffeted by larger forces around them - rather than individual responsibility, he says. "We talk a great deal about accountability, but we never seem to find the people who are directly responsible."

There are obvious exceptions, generally when an issue can't be avoided. Recent prosecutions of corporate malfeasance and of prisoner-abuse in Iraq are examples.

But public views of education offer a good window on the nation's ambivalence on the issue of accountability. President Bush pulled together a bipartisan coalition to pass the "No Child Left Behind Act," which penalizes schools that have sub-par test results.

While large majorities of Americans say that public schools nationally need improvement, most assign their own local school much higher grades. An example from the Phi Delta Kappan poll: 47 percent grade their own public schools an A or B, while only 26 percent give such high marks to public schools nationally.

This conclusion fits a report by the Education Testing Service last month that concludes that American parents offer fairly upbeat assessments of their children's own schools, but say that public schools overall must improve.

Moreover, the public is not in favor of measures that appear to punish schools for poor performance, according to this poll and 10 years of surveys by the Public Agenda, a nonpartisan polling group. Such measures in the new federal law include: allowing students to exit low-performing schools and the shift of public funds from local schools to parents to purchase supplementary educational services for their children.

On one level, this reflects specific concerns about how "No Child Left Behind" is designed - whether it will harm school districts rather than help them. But it reflects also society's wider ambivalence about the idea of accountability.

The mixed feelings have been on display, prominently, in the 9/11 investigation. Nearly three years after the worst attack ever on US territory, no one has resigned or accepted responsibility for errors that allowed attacks to occur. The 9/11 commission describes missed opportunities, but scrupulously avoids assigning blame to particular administrations or individuals.

Again, in one sense that's not surprising. President Bush - who came into office with an MBA and determination to run government based on measured outcomes - has said the person to blame for the attacks is Osama bin Laden.

But if the reluctance to probe the wounds of 9/11 is understandable, it has also stirred controversy. Last week a senior CIA officer who led the agency's effort to track Osama bin Laden criticized the 9/11 commission for failing to hold anyone directly accountable for failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. "The report seems to deliberately ignore those who were clearly culpable of negligence or dereliction," says the officer in a reported e-mail to the commission. That, he argues, will allow such failures to persist.

Before 9/11, there was the Florida recount. But Theresa LePore, the elections supervisor in Palm Beach County who approved the 2000 butterfly ballot, is still in office. On Sunday she unveiled a new ballot that critics say is even more confusing.

The issue of personal accountability runs from education and politics through recent the corporate accountability scandals. "I'm concerned that in very broad segments of our society there has been a decline in the willingness to accept responsibility for action," says Robert Pfaltzgraff, a professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. "It comes down to a feeling that if something goes wrong, I am the victim of forces in society that operate against me, instead of the consequences of decisions I have taken for better or worse," he adds.

Last fall's anti-Islamic remarks by a senior military leader, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, stirred controversy. But the Pentagon investigation into the matter settled on issues of procedure (Did he clear the speeches with proper Pentagon authorities? Did he "preface his remarks with a disclaimer?" Did he report travel reimbursement exceeding $260 on his financial disclosure forms?), not whether he must resign.

"There is a growing, very pernicious sense in the United States that has been around for several decades and is still growing: the overemphasis on the individual which carries with it the notion that I am not responsible for what I do. If my conduct is wrong, it's not really my fault," says Robert Barker, a law professor at Duquesne University.

Yet no notion is more current in Washington than accountability. Last month, the General Accounting Office, the 83-year-old investigative arm of Congress, changed its name to the Government Accountability Office. The move signals an intent to make federal agencies more accountable, said GAO head David Walker.

"As a strong advocate for truth and transparency in government operations, GAO is committed to ensuring that recent accountability failures, such as Enron and WorldCom, are not repeated in the public sector," he added.

Yet there have been no conspicuous firings or cutting of programs as a result of the new focus, say GAO spokesmen.


Audit criticizes charter schools

Lax accountability is problem, it says

By Kavita Kumar of the Post-Dispatch, 8/26/2004

An audit released Wednesday asserted what many have been saying for years about charter schools: There needs to be a stronger accountability system.

The report says Missouri's education officials and charter school sponsors must take a more active role in checking up on the schools.

It says a lack of oversight has contributed to the hiring of too many teachers without certification; missed deadlines for annual financial audit reports; and fiscal irresponsibility.

State Auditor Claire McCaskill, whose office issued the report, said that if charter schools cannot be held to basic standards of accountability, "then we need to take a look at this public experiment."

The audit singled out four of the state's eight charter school sponsors for inconsistent oversight - characterized by not visiting the schools regularly and not attending school meetings.

Those sponsors, including Harris-Stowe State College, the University of Missouri at Rolla and the University of Missouri at St. Louis, balked at the notion that they are not doing enough.

Bob Samples, a spokesman for UMSL, said the auditors "have their own subjective criteria and they felt that going and sitting at a board meeting was important, whereas we put more of an emphasis on making sure that they were adhering to charter laws and state regulations."

Samples said the university sent letters Tuesday notifying the St. Louis Charter School and Thurgood Marshall Academy that UMSL will not renew its sponsorship at the end of the academic year. Both schools' charters expire then.

"In general, neither school performed to the level that was satisfactory to the university," he said.

A spokesman for the University of Missouri at Rolla, Andrew Careaga, said the university was in the process of revoking the charter of St. Louis Charter Academies.

And Charles Gooden, a member of Harris-Stowe's charter school task force team, disputed the audit's assertion that it has not conducted the required performance evaluations of Ethel Hedgeman Lyle Academy.

Gooden said the state had not provided money for oversight - a common complaint from charter school sponsors.

Missouri has allowed charter schools to operate in St. Louis and Kansas City since 1998. Eight of the schools are in St. Louis. Charter schools are independent, publicly funded schools. Sponsors of the schools can be colleges, universities or school districts.

The audit found that many charter schools were failing to meet the state requirement that 80 percent of their teachers (compared with 95 percent of public school teachers) be certified. Only half of the state's charter schools were at that benchmark in September. Those rates fluctuate as teachers come and go. For example, only about 39 percent of teachers at Lift for Life Academy in St. Louis were certified as of March.

Yet, since September 2003, only four schools have been placed on probation by sponsors or notified that their charter renewal was in jeopardy, the audit said.

Most sponsoring organizations agreed that the state's charter school laws need beefing up to delineate the level of supervision and the standards of accountability.

The audit also points a finger at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for not taking an active role in ensuring that charter schools are fully accountable and in compliance with state laws.

Bert Schulte, the state deputy commissioner of education, said he thought the audit was "pretty accurate," but said that the state charter school laws do not give the department the authority to provide that oversight.

Dave Camden, director of the Missouri Charter Schools Information Center, said he was not surprised with the audit's findings.

"I'm very frustrated with the sponsors," he said, but added, "The schools have to take the first responsibility for what is going on."


Governor's task force prepares to address gap in school funding

By NANCY BADERTSCHER, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8/25/04

Gov. Sonny Perdue intends to charge a task force of educators, legislators and business people today with determining how to overhaul Georgia's almost 20-year-old system of funding public education.

"It's time," Perdue said in an interview this week. "Twenty years ago, quality basic education was a great goal. Today, we can't afford just basic education. We need excellence in education."

The 23-member task force will focus on reforming the school funding formula established in 1985 as part of then-Gov. Joe Frank Harris' Quality Basic Education Act.

Its members also will be asked to help develop a new approach to funding education that considers not only year-to-year but also long-term investment, Perdue said.

"That's a sea change in the way we think about education," said the governor, who has promised to involve a national expert on school funding.

Dean Alford, chairman of the task force and a member of the state Board of Education, said the group initially might recommend some adjustments to the QBE formula and, ultimately, a replacement.

"I don't think, in any way, that QBE has delivered a level of achievement we're happy with," said Alford, who was in the Legislature when QBE became law.

Rural school officials have been pushing for years to change the school funding formula, which is based on student enrollment. They argue that it is much tougher for them to raise money locally to supplement the funds they receive from the state.

Lawmakers have responded by providing extra money to poorer districts through equity grants and a low-wealth construction fund. The rural systems — after two years of state budget cuts and increases in local property taxes — also have picked up sympathy and allies, even in some of the wealthier school districts.

Even so, about 50 of the state's 180 school systems have organized as the Consortium for Adequate School Funding, and their leaders say a lawsuit that has been threatened for at least two years should be filed in September.

Alford said the task force was not formed "in response to a threat of a suit and was in no way influenced by it."

"We want every child in this state to have an opportunity for an excellent education," he said.

Al Hunter, superintendent of southeast Georgia's Brantley County Schools and president of the consortium, will sit on the governor's task force. Hunter said he thinks its work and the lawsuit can move in tandem.

"Even if we succeed in the lawsuit and the funding is determined to be inadequate, you would still have the process of determining what should be done and what amount," Hunter said. "We've been asking that the [funding] gap be closed, and instead it's widened."

Similar lawsuits

The lawsuit would be similar to others filed across the country since the California Supreme Court ruled about 30 years ago that that state's method of funding schools was unconstitutional.

"The [Georgia] Constitution says that an adequate education will be provided by the state," Hunter said. "Our contention is there is not adequate funding to do what the constitution says."

Perdue, who has been receptive to the consortium, said he thinks the lawsuit is "lawyer-driven."

"I think most of [the consortium members] ultimately understand they are going to get a lot more equity and parity from being a part of the process, part of this task force, rather than part of litigation," the governor said.

The task force, which includes state School Superintendent Kathy Cox, Gwinnett County Schools Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks and three legislators, will be watched closely across the state by people like Ralph Noble, a teacher in North Georgia's Whitfield County and a former president of the Georgia Association of Educators.

"The needs across the state are very apparent," Noble said. The disparities are equally obvious, he said.

"Cobb County is talking about giving laptops to their kids, and we're trying to find qualified teachers," Noble said.

Legislators would have to agree to any changes in law proposed by the task force, and Speaker Pro Tem DuBose Porter (D-Dublin) said no consensus exists on the best course of action.

"The good part of QBE is, for the first time, it funded the formula based on student counts," Porter said. "One of the problems is the lapse of time between the student count and when the money is allocated to the system — sometimes almost a year and a half."

That lag makes it difficult for school systems to plan for extra classroom space or teachers, he said.

Changing the funding formula to send more money to the rural systems means taking money from the medium-size and larger systems, Porter said. "And you can imagine the politics of that."


Number of single-sex classes grows /

States experimenting with single-sex schools

AP, August 25, 2004

DALLAS, Texas -- For an increasing number of public schools, the formula for a better education requires a little arithmetic: Divide the girls from the boys.

That's just fine with Kristielle Pedraza, a 13-year-old who says she will not miss the boys while she attends the Irma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School, Dallas' first all-girls public school and one of a growing number of such schools nationally.

"Usually it's the guys that distract all the whole class. They're usually the class clowns," said Kristielle, who entered the seventh grade last week. "With no guys in the school, I can know we will really get busy without much distraction."

At least 10 single-sex public schools were to open this fall in five states -- Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and South Carolina.

Advocates say separating the sexes can improve learning by easing the peer pressure that can lead to misbehavior as well as low self-esteem among girls.

"John Kerry, George W. Bush, his father and Al Gore all went to all-boys schools. We don't think that's a coincidence," said Dr. Leonard Sax, a Maryland physician and psychologist who founded a nonprofit group that advocates single-sex public education. "We think single-sex education really empowers girls and boys from very diverse backgrounds to achieve."

Some women's groups and the American Civil Liberties Union say segregation of any kind is wrong.

"We think segregation has historically always resulted in second-class citizens," said Terry O'Neill, a National Organization for Women vice president.

The number of U.S. public schools offering single-sex classes jumped from four to 140 in the past eight years, Sax said. At 36 of those schools, at least one grade will have only single-sex classes this year.

Advocates said they expect the number to increase now that the U.S. Education Department has announced plans to change its enforcement of the landmark discrimination law Title IX, which bars sex discrimination in schools.

"Many school districts wanted to offer this option, but they feared being sued by interest groups," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican who fought for an amendment in the No Child Left Behind Act that encouraged districts to experiment with single-sex education.

The 126 seventh- and eighth-graders at the Dallas school will take pre-honors classes with a heavy emphasis on math, science and technology courses, which traditionally enroll fewer girls than boys.

Focusing on different ways boys, girls learn

Sax said separating the sexes allows teachers and administrators to focus on the different ways boys and girls learn. Girls, he said, learn better in quiet classrooms and intimate schools where they are on a first-name basis with their teachers. Boys learn better when teachers challenge them to answer rapid-fire questions and address them by their last names.

Single-sex schools also reduce the pressure to preen for boyfriends or girlfriends, Sax said.

"Single-sex schools, in ways that matter, are much more like the real world. Because unless you are a model or an actress, how you look is not the most important thing in your life," Sax said.

Roy Young, a former defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles, founded Texas' first all-male public school in Houston four years ago. Today, Pro-Vision Charter School has about 100 students in grades five through eight. It combines aspects of the Boy Scouts, fraternities and the military.

One former student who was enrolled in special education when he came to the Pro-Vision Center in fifth grade is now taking college prep courses at his high school, Young said.

"If you added other dynamics to it, say male-female, I don't know if this kid would've ever came clean and came to us and said, 'Look, this is the problem I'm having. I can't read,"' Young said.

The new all-girls school in Dallas plans to add a grade every year until it becomes a seventh-through-12th-grade campus.

Kristielle's mother, Amy Pedraza, who has a clerical job with the district, was particularly impressed with the admissions process. Kristielle had to submit her grades and test scores, write an essay and go through an interview.

"She's getting all this experience," Pedraza said. "It's just awesome. I wish I could have been her age and doing the things that she's already doing."


Big increase in number of schools missing No Child goals

Norman Draper, Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 26, 2004 

The number of underperforming schools in Minnesota more than tripled on the list released today by the state Department of Education.

This year's numbers showed 472 schools not meeting federal and state testing goals, compared to 143 last year. Much of that increase comes from new listings of high schools and middle schools, which were judged on test scores for the first time.

This year's underperforming schools list includes 144 high schools, 94 middle schools, 124 elementary schools and 106 alternative schools. Forty-nine charter schools are included in those numbers.

In addition, 150 school districts did not meet their goals for "adequate yearly progress."

Fifty-five schools improved enough to get off the list.

Low test scores posted by special education and non-English-speaking students were factors that pushed many schools on to the list, said new state Education Commissioner Alice Seagren. Seagren announced the results this morning at a press conference at the State Fair with Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

She pledged to work with the federal government to give schools more flexibility. The law now requires schools to meet testing goals not just for the whole student body but also for specific subgroups: students in specific racial groups, poor students, special education students and those not fluent in English. Schools must meet their test score goals for students as a whole and in each subgroup, or they wind up on the list.

Star ratings, too

The state is required to identify underperforming schools under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The law also requires states to issue report cards for all schools.

Those report cards were also released at the fair for the second year. They feature star ratings that award schools up to five stars for academic quality.

This year, said Seagren, an error in the mockup of the new report card released in July led at least one school district to calculate its own star ratings incorrectly. The district, Stillwater, went public with its ratings before today's official release.

The error on the mockup had no bearing on the star ratings released today. But a clearly vexed Pawlenty noted that the state Legislature created a waiting period specifically so such errors could be corrected before the ratings go public.

So why care?

The list of underperforming schools was expected to balloon this year. Last year, high schools were judged to be underperforming only if their graduation rates were too low. Middle schools got tagged as underperforming if their attendance was too low. But, this year, those schools are also graded on test scores.

Because secondary schools are so much larger than elementary schools, more of them have enough students to require counting in the specific subgroups.

Schools put on the list this year face no immediate consequences. And schools that aren't designated as Title 1 schools face no federal sanctions. Only 5 to 10 percent of Minnesota high schools are considered Title 1 schools.

So why should they care?

"I think the incentive is the public information out there telling the public that some student groups are not doing well," Seagren said.

But schools that do receive Title 1 funds and have been on the list before face a series of steps that range from providing extra services to a complete restructuring of the school if they continue to struggle.

This year, for the first time, eight chronically underperforming schools will be subject to what's called Phase 3 sanctions. School districts must work with Phase 3 schools to devise a plan to improve test scores. In addition, they must continue using Title 1 money to transport students who want to go to other schools and provide additional study services for students.

Opponents of the list also showed up in force at the fair today. They include representatives of teacher, parent and school administrator organizations. They charge that the tests used to identify underperforming schools measure information that students might no longer be learning. That is because the tests are not completely in sync with the new academic standards schools are supposed to adopt this year.


Old-fashioned pencil still school staple

By Kata Kertesz, Associated Press Writer, August 27, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Back-to-school shopping lists are constantly evolving to keep up with technological advancements, many even including cell phones, laptops, Blackberrys and iPods. But one clear staple remains -- the pencil.

As 5-year-old children opt to play computer learning games instead of using traditional learning toys, and middle schoolers would not even think to research a school project with a physical encyclopedia, the staying power of the little wooden pencil -- like the ones George Washington used -- seems remarkable.

Not only are pencils still used in classes like art and math, the good old No. 2 pencil is the key to the multiple-choice, computer-graded tests that open doors to the nation's universities and graduate programs.

Tom Ewing, spokesman for the Educational Testing Service, which administers tests like the SAT, GRE and GMAT, said that while the number of people taking them on computers is increasing, the paper and pencil versions still predominate.

Ewing said that in fiscal 2004 the number of people who took the tests on computers was only a fraction of those using pencils -- only about 1.6 million people on computers, compared with about 23.7 million using paper and pencil.

Ewing cited several reasons for this difference: "Wider use of computers is hampered somewhat by availability -- where can you find computers for 25 million people? Sometimes it is security, the need to have a proctor, and sometimes it is cost."

He said ETS would like to increase the number of computer tests, though a major shift is far down the road. "For the foreseeable future paper and pencils remains the reliable workhorse of educational measurement," Ewing said.

Lack of access to computers is one of the major reasons computer testing is still far behind traditional pencil tests, said Tim Loomer, president of testing and assessment and Scantron Corp. Scantron provides many of the multiple-choice tests in K-12 education.

Though there is a trend toward online testing, there has not been a real drop-off in paper and pencil testing, Loomer said. "Not everyone has a computer, but I guarantee you can get everyone a pencil," Loomer said.

Technological initiatives, such as Duke University's plan to hand out free iPods to incoming freshman, have not reduced demand for pencils. The university is giving out the small electronic devices to allow students to listen to lectures, browse course bulletins or practice pronunciation for language classes.

Mike Finn, spokesman for PaperMate, which says it is the biggest producer of pencils in the United States, said pencils are still popular and necessary. Demand for pencils is strong, he said, but children are interested in more modern pencil options, not just the simple yellow wooden pencil. An increasing number of children are opting for mechanical pencils or color pencils, but PaperMate's general sales of pencils have not waned as technology increasingly enters classrooms and children's homes, he said.

Musgrave Pencil Co. in Shelbyville, Tenn., has seen an increase in preference for fancy pencils in recent years. Lynn Hulan of Musgrave said the pencils preferred today tend to have bright colors and often include slogans such as "I Love to Read" and "Honor Roll."

At Burning Tree Elementary School in Bethesda. Md., No. 2 pencils are always on the school supplies list, Principal Helen Chaset said. In Judy Shapiro's math classes at Burning Tree, pens are not allowed, and she does not know of many teachers who allow pens in math. "Kids that try to use pens tend to not want to check to see if they have made an error" because they know they have to cross out a mistake and then it can be seen, she said.

As for calculators, Shapiro said they may be used to check over work, but most work is done with paper and pencil. If students rely only on calculators, they will not be able to do basic tasks like adding and subtracting, she said, leaving them unable to "do simple things like balancing a checkbook."


Internet Gives Teenage Bullies Weapons to Wound From Afar

By AMY HARMON, New York Times, August 26, 2004

The fight started at school, when some eighth-grade girls stole a pencil case filled with makeup that belonged to a new classmate, Amanda Marcuson, and she reported them.

But it did not end there. As soon as Amanda got home, the instant messages started popping up on her computer screen. She was a tattletale and a liar, they said. Shaken, she typed back, "You stole my stuff!" She was a "stuck-up bitch," came the instant response in the box on the screen, followed by a series of increasingly ugly epithets.

That evening, Amanda's mother tore her away from the computer to go to a basketball game with her family. But the barrage of electronic insults did not stop. Like a lot of other teenagers, Amanda has her Internet messages automatically forwarded to her cellphone, and by the end of the game she had received 50 - the limit of its capacity.

"It seems like people can say a lot worse things to someone online than when they're actually talking to them," said Amanda, 14, of Birmingham, Mich., who transferred to the school last year. The girls never said another word to her in person, she said.

The episode reflects one of many ways that the technology lubricating the social lives of teenagers is amplifying standard adolescent cruelty. No longer confined to school grounds or daytime hours, "cyberbullies" are pursuing their quarries into their own bedrooms. Tools like e-mail messages and Web logs enable the harassment to be both less obvious to adults and more publicly humiliating, as gossip, put-downs and embarrassing pictures are circulated among a wide audience of peers with a few clicks.

The technology, which allows its users to inflict pain without being forced to see its effect, also seems to incite a deeper level of meanness. Psychologists say the distance between bully and victim on the Internet is leading to an unprecedented - and often unintentional - degree of brutality, especially when combined with a typical adolescent's lack of impulse control and underdeveloped empathy skills.

"We're always talking about protecting kids on the Internet from adults and bad people," said Parry Aftab, executive director of, a nonprofit group that has been fielding a growing number of calls from parents and school administrators worried about bullying. "We forget that we sometimes need to protect kids from kids."

For many teenagers, online harassment has become a part of everyday life. But schools, which tend to focus on problems that arise on their property, and parents, who tend to assume that their children know better than they do when it comes to computers, have long overlooked it. Only recently has it become pervasive enough that even the adults have started paying attention.

Like many other guidance counselors, Susan Yuratovac, a school psychologist at Hilltop Elementary School in Beachwood, Ohio, has for years worked with a wide spectrum of teenage aggression, including physical bullying and sexual harassment. This summer, Ms. Yuratovac said, she is devising a new curriculum to address the shift to electronic taunting.

"I have kids coming into school upset daily because of what happened on the Internet the night before," Ms. Yuratovac said. "’'We were online last night and somebody said I was fat,' or 'They asked me why I wear the same pair of jeans every day,' or 'They say I have Wal-Mart clothes.' "

Recently, Ms. Yuratovac intervened when a 12-year-old girl showed her an instant message exchange in which a boy in her class wrote, "My brother says you have really good boobs." Boys make many more explicit sexual comments online than off, counselors say.

"I don't think the girl is fearful the boy is going to accost her, but I do think she is embarrassed," Ms. Yuratovac said. "They know it's mean, it's risky, it's nasty. I worry what it does to them inside. It's the kind of thing you carry with you for a lot of years."

The new weapons in the teenage arsenal of social cruelty include stealing each others' screen names and sending inflammatory messages to friends or crush-objects, forwarding private material to people for whom it was never intended and anonymously posting derogatory comments about fellow students on Web journals called blogs.


ED REVIEW for August 27, 2004

Ed Reviews is a bi-weekly update on U.S. Department of Education activities relevant to the Intergovernmental and Corporate community and other stakeholders.

PDK/Gallup Poll

This week, Phi Delta Kappa International and Gallup unveiled its 2004 "Public Attitudes Toward the Public Schools" poll, which documents significant trends in public opinion and explores the latest approaches to school improvement (  While the poll found only one-third of the public considers itself well informed about No Child Left Behind, the percentage of public school parents saying they know "a great deal" or "a fair amount" has increased from 22 to 37 percent in the past year.  Plus, the more the public knows about the law, the more likely they are to favor it.  Regarding specific No Child Left Behind provisions, 56 percent believe the goal of having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom by 2006 will be met; 62 percent say there is "not enough" or "about the right amount" of emphasis on testing; and 86 percent say it is important the academic gap be closed (with 56 percent stating it is the responsibility of schools to close it).  Overall, 51 percent believe the law will improve student achievement in their schools.  On the other hand, the public is concerned about using a single test to evaluate a school or student; emphasizing English and math, exclusively; disaggregating data by race/ethnicity; and expecting special needs students to meet the same standards as other students.

Other findings: (1) local schools continue to be regarded favorably, with 70 percent of public school parents giving the school their oldest child attends either a grade of A or B; (2) the public supports adding rigor to the high school curriculum, with 78 percent favoring at least four years of English, math, and science in order to receive a diploma; and (3) while 54 percent of those surveyed oppose vouchers, given a full-tuition voucher, 56 percent of respondents would choose a private school for their child.


National Preparedness Month

Throughout September 2004, the Department and more than 50 national organizations will host a series of events to highlight the importance of emergency preparedness.  Schools and communities are encouraged to get involved by learning how to prepare for emergencies (try, offering volunteer opportunities in preparedness efforts, and receiving training on first aid and CPR.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO   or call 1-800-BE-READY.


Education Pays

During this week's "Ask the White House" chat (, a parent asked Secretary Paige what could be done to increase children's awareness of the importance of a "great education."  As part of his answer, the Secretary recommended the "Education Pays: Stay in School" web site at  Here, parties can access a calculator that allows them to select (1) an occupation they would like to pursue and (2) how much school they plan to have when they enter the workforce.  The result is a fact sheet providing information about expected income and unemployment for different educational attainment levels.  To really accentuate the point, earnings may be converted into CDs or movie tickets.  For example, compared to physical therapists with a two-year college degree, those with a four-year degree could buy 1,201 more CDs or 2,644 more movie tickets every year.


One World

Created through the support and vision of the NFL and the NFL Players Association and developed in collaboration with Scholastic, One World is an interdisciplinary, multi-tiered program for teachers, students, and their families in grades 4-6 that "tackles" prejudice and stereotyping and teaches diversity and understanding.  The program builds upon ten key lessons; the lessons (from "Understanding Who We are Through Identity" to "Roots of Stereotypes and Prejudice" and "Choices and Consequences of our Actions") may be taught in the days preceding or immediately after a 9/11 commemorative event or at any time during the school year where there is a need to build community.  And, the lessons are designed to be taught individually as well as in sequence, allowing teachers to incorporate single lessons into their lesson plans as needed.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO

 (Note: The web site will go live Monday, August 30.)


ACT Scores

For the first time since 1997, the national average score for the ACT exam increased, from 20.8 (on a scale of 1 through 36), the average each of the past two years, to 20.9, a statistically significant gain.  English, math, reading, and science scores also rose one-tenth of a point over last year.  At the same time, the scores indicate that an "alarming number" of graduates are not ready for college math and science courses.  In fact, only 26 percent earned a score of 24 or higher on the science test, while just four in 10 earned a score of 22 or higher on the math test.  (Students who reach these scores have a high probability -- 75 percent -- of earning a "C" or better and an even chance of earning a "B" or higher in college biology and algebra courses, respectively.)  This data is unchanged from 2003.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO

(Secretary Paige's statement is available at





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