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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – September 17 - 24, 2004

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ISBE/STATE  
Governor Tries To Streamline ISBE Bureaucracy
/ Southern Illinoisan
Education and Blagojevich / Belleville News-Democrat
Chester man appointed Interim State School Superintendent / Chester Sun Times
New schools chief comes through 'revolving door' / Daily Herald
Schiller Ouster: SIUC's Dunn Now State's Top Educator / Southern Illinoisan
Temporary school chief named / State Journal-Register
State board follows script from governor / State Journal-Register
Interim school chief starts / Champaign News-Gazette
Governor commends ISBE for appointing Randy Dunn of Chester / Chester Sun Times
New faces on state board, same problems for education / Rockford Register Star
Dunn’s Appointment Bodes Well for Education / Southern Illinoisan
Blagojevich will get credit -- or blame -- on education / State Journal-Register
Perestroika and Illinois Public Schools / Illinois Leader
Gov takes control of school decisions / Daily Southtown
State board shuffle has little to do with classrooms / Peoria Journal Star
ILLINOIS
Some schools drop use of class rank / State Journal-Register
Dist. 203 considers pop ban / Daily Herald
Valley View board: Proposal to allow home-schoolers to take part district's extracurriculars / Herald News
School 'reforms' flunk reality test / Sun-Times
New country, new language / Daily Herald
ETHS to keep 'No Child' funds / Evanston Review
Teen crusades for school sprinklers / Daily Herald
When faith and sports collide / Daily Herald
NATIONAL
Country's top high schools making rank a thing of the past / Naperville Sun
Report: N.Y. charter schools doing well / CNN.com
District is considering ads for school buses / Arizona Republic
Phys ed in school yields significant benefits / Northwest Herald
Overweight, inactive students sapping school finances, study says / USA Today
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ISBE/STATE

Governor Tries To Streamline ISBE Bureaucracy

Southern Illinoisan Editorial

Gov. Rod Blagojevich charged up a mighty hill early this year when he vowed to take on and dismantle the Illinois State Board of Education.

In the summer legislative session, he didn't get all that he wanted - but he got part of it. The governor now has new powers in naming who will serve on the board.

The governor flexed some of his new muscles this week by exercising his new power in appointing seven members of the ISBE.

Among the appointees is Andrea Brown who served as the regional superintendent for Alexander, Johnson, Massac, Pulaski and Union counties from 1994 to 2003. She is a highly regarded, respected educator who has been in the profession for 45 years. Other new appointees include David Fields, an independent from Danville; Ed Geppert of Belleville, former chief of staff for the Illinois Federation of Teachers; Vinni Hall of Chicago; Brenda Holmes of Springfield, the governor's former deputy chief of staff for education; and Chris Ward of Lockport.

In making the appointments, the governor says he is renewing his commitment to make the state board of education "accountable" to him.

"Under the current system, new governors have not been able to appoint the members of the state board of education, meaning there's no relationship, no accountability, no opportunity to move a new administration's education agenda forward," Blagojevich said "Now there is. And that means the state board of education is going to be expected to accomplish more and do better than it ever has."

Of course, this is always part of the danger in political appointments, as the appointees often become entangled in political matters and not focused on sticking to the task at hand.

Though Blagojevich's stance on the state board of education has raised some eyebrows, his basic message appears to be on the mark. The governor argues that while we taxpayers are pouring millions of dollars into the bureaucracy of the state board of education, we don't seem to be getting our money's worth in return.

In essence, the governor and many Illinoisans believe that the board has simply passed down rules and regulations that have shackled local school districts and created unnecessary expense.

For now, Blagojevich and his new board members are embarking on an experimental leg of this journey. The true measure of success will be when they streamline costs and begin to weed out the unnecessary bureaucracy generated at the board level and passed down to local school districts.

For the good of our education system and the hard-working taxpayers who are supporting it, we hope this is a step in the right direction. Too many teachers and principals have become slaves to paperwork and haven't been able to spend all of the time they need to devote to teaching.

Education is about learning, it's not about bureaucracy.

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Education and Blagojevich

Belleville News-Democrat Editorial

Well, Gov. Rod Blagojevich won't have the State Board of Education to kick around anymore. This week he appointed six new members to the nine-member panel, and now the board's majority is a mirror image of him.

Consider Ed Geppert Jr., a new member from Belleville. The long-time official with the Illinois Federation of Teachers wrote a guest view in February calling the state board a "gross failure" and supporting Blagojevich's plan to create a state Department of Education.

The governor didn't get a new department, but lawmakers gave him the power to appoint his own board.

Geppert is now thrilled to be on the board. He said one of his priorities will be to reduce the number of rules and regulations imposed on teachers by "well-meaning people who just don't understand the teachers this affects."

If previous boards had too few people in education, this new one has too many. Ron Gidwitz, the former chairman ousted by Blagojevich, put it succinctly in the Chicago Tribune: "They all come from the fraternity of education. You need that last look by people who are not in the middle of the education process to ask the fundamental hard questions, (such as) 'Does this make sense?"

We'll be surprised if these changes benefit anyone except the governor, who wants control of more jobs for his cronies. Current Superintendent Robert Schiller resisted that, which is why the board's first order of business likely will be to get rid of him.

Whatever happens with schools, good or bad, Blagojevich now has full control and full responsibility.

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Chester man appointed Interim State School Superintendent

Chester Sun Times, 9/20/04

The Illinois State Board of Education today appointed Dr. Randy J. Dunn of Chester, Illinois to the position of Interim State Superintendent of Education. Dunn, a former K-12 educator and faculty member at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, was appointed at the Board’s first meeting since Gov. Blagojevich appointed seven new members last week. Dunn was the Governor’s proposed candidate for the position.

Dunn began his education career as a fourth grade teacher in Gibson City, Illinois. He later moved into administration, serving as principal for two schools in central Illinois and later as Superintendent of the Argenta-Oreana Community and Chester Community School Districts.

Dunn’s education background includes a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with an emphasis on Reading and a Master’s in Education. He began his studies in broadcasting and later switched to elementary education. He has made teaching children to read a focus of his career ever since. Dunn is on leave from SIUC as Chair of the department of Education Administration and Higher Education.

"Education is my passion," said Dunn. "I can’t think of a better way or a better time to serve Illinois school children in yet another capacity. This is a historic time for education in Illinois. I look forward to working with the Governor Blagojevich, the new board and agency staff."

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New schools chief comes through 'revolving door'

By John Patterson, Daily Herald State Government Editor, 9/21/04

SPRINGFIELD - After only two years as the state's top education official, Robert Schiller is out, replaced Monday by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Randy Dunn, an education professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, assumed the state superintendent's post Monday. Schiller officially is on a leave of absence through the end of the month. It's clear he's not coming back.

"Dr. Schiller has requested this two-week leave of absence for personal reasons," said board member Brenda Holmes, formerly Gov. Rod Blagojevich's top education aide. "We do believe his resignation will become permanent at that time."

Schiller's Florida home was destroyed by recent hurricanes, which he cited in a letter requesting the paid time off. He's being offered a severance deal not to exceed $160,000. His annual salary is $225,000.

Contacted after the meeting, Schiller declined to comment.

Schiller's exit and Dunn's entrance marked the latest example of the frequent turnover at the state's education helm. The lack of consistency from this agency regarding policies and testing along with state funding issues remain the subject of routine scorn throughout the state's education community.

"In the grand scheme of things, I think my superintendents are more concerned in a big way with school funding," said Donna Baiocchi, executive director of the suburban education group ED-RED. "As much as there's the perception that suburban schools are doing fine financially, they're not. And that's a much greater concern than who's state superintendent this month."

Dunn becomes the fifth state superintendent since 1999 to oversee an agency whose front doors carry this ironic notice: "Please use revolving door."

"I think it's been a tremendous problem over the years. There's been a tremendous revolving door of superintendents," said Holmes.

Monday marked the first meeting of the state board since Blagojevich wielded a new law last week that let him dump the previous board and name nine new members. However, the governor's office began interviewing candidates to replace Schiller as far back as July and picked Dunn at least a week ago.

Two suburban board members - the only two Blagojevich kept from the previous board - voted against hiring Dunn, saying they'd first received his resume at the 7:30 a.m. meeting. Board Chairman Jesse Ruiz reminded them the governor's aides interviewed candidates and settled on Dunn.

"I understand," responded board member Dean Clark of Glen Ellyn. "But we are the ones responsible for employing, not the governor's office."

The Illinois State Board of Education was created as an independent agency.

Joyce Karon, a board member from Barrington, also voted no.

Dunn started work immediately. He will be paid $115,000 a year. Exactly how long he plans to serve is uncertain. He said there's no strict timeline for the search the governor's staff is conducting for a bona fide state superintendent.

Dunn was announced last month as the new education dean at Governors State University. However, he said the announcement was premature and that he'd withdrawn his name when the state superintendent option arose.

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Schiller Ouster: SIUC's Dunn Now State's Top Educator

BY CALEB HALE, Southern Illinoisan, 9/21/04

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Randy Dunn was officially named interim state school superintendent Monday in Springfield.

Dunn, a Chester resident and chairman of SIUC's Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education, was placed in the post by a 7-2 vote of state board of education members during a special meeting. His appointment was coined an interim position, as the board will be looking for a permanent replacement for Superintendent Robert Schiller.

The board granted Schiller a 10-day leave of absence, and the body is expected to buy out the remaining year left on Schiller's contract for no more than $160,000. Dunn will earn $115,000 annually for his service.

Monday's meeting marked the changes Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he's wanted to see in the state board of education for some time. Last week the governor appointed seven new people to the nine-member board, including Goreville resident Andrea Brown, a former regional superintendent.

Blagojevich also selected Dunn as state superintendent for the interim.

"We're very excited about Randy Dunn," Blagojevich said on a visit to Carbondale Monday. "He shares what my values are for education.

"We want to shake things up in the education system; we need to make things better."

Among the changes Blagojevich wants to see -- accountability. The governor said the board is going to be held accountable, not only to him but to the parents of children who attend public schools in Illinois.

Dunn echoed Blagojevich's sentiments during a press conference in Springfield Monday afternoon.

"I'm looking forward to getting a new era under way at this agency," he said. "Clearly this is a watershed change, and I think it's a good one. It's going to be the mark of a different way of doing business in education."

Dunn, a former school superintendent, said he falls in line with Blagojevich's ideas for education in the state. He said he wants to see education thrive under a "unified leadership." Dunn said he is part of the team for that purpose but said the state board remains in tact as an independent agency.

Dunn said concerns have been expressed about the state board working under the governor's thumb, but he added everyone should give the leadership a chance to try something new.

"I will submit to you what we've had in the past...has not gotten us to where we need to be," he said.

Dunn will be getting the state board started on this new era, but he said he doesn't intend to lead the way permanently. He is currently on an indefinite, non-paid leave of absence from SIUC.

"I'm coming on a temporary basis from one of the best jobs you can have -- a full-tenured university professor -- in one of the most beautiful areas of the state," Dunn said.

While he isn't sure about the length of time he will be serving as state superintendent, Dunn said both the board and the governor will be conducting national searches for a permanent replacement to Schiller.

Dunn's introduction Monday didn't come without some dissent. While seven members of the state board, all newly appointed by Blagojevich, approved Dunn for the state superintendent position, two members, Dean Clark, of Glen Ellyn, and Joyce Karon, of Barrington, voted against the appointment. Both Clark and Karon are continuing members from the board's former makeup.

When contacted by phone, Clark said his dissension didn't come from a dislike of Dunn, it came from questions surrounding the legality of the way the board is releasing Schiller from duty.

"I am not one of those people who are opposed to change, because I think change is inherently bad," Clark said. "It's my argument the action that was taken to remove the current superintendent wasn't within the law."

Clark said he has spoken with Dunn and believes he is fully competent to handle the job.

Education officials in Southern Illinois, however, are happy to see someone with Dunn's backdrop in place at the state level.

Dan Anderson, regional superintendent for Union, Massac, Alexander, Pulaski and Johnson counties, said Dunn will bring a great deal of sensitivity to the needs of rural school districts to the posts.

"He has helped train a lot of the administrators who are now at those schools," Anderson said.

He said he wasn't happy with the way the governor removed Schiller but if he had to be replaced, Anderson is happy Dunn is the man.

"I do hope there is just not an automatic effort to change everything, just because it is part of the old system," Anderson said.

Anderson said he has some lingering concerns regarding the state board working so closely to the governor, but he is waiting to see what happens before he complains or praises the efforts.

Keith Hillkirk, an SIUC colleague of Dunn's and dean of the university's college of education and human resources, said Dunn's experience should be considered a valued asset.

"Policymakers and educators are recognizing the need for as much seamlessness as possible from pre-school through graduate school," Hillkirk said. "So the fact that Dunn has the breadth of experience and understanding of education from both a public school and higher education perspective will be invaluable in his new role."

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Temporary school chief named

New ISBE gives Schiller a paid leave of absence

By ADRIANA COLINDRES, State Journal-Register State Capitol Bureau, 9/21/04

The reworked Illinois State Board of Education on Monday named a college professor as interim state superintendent to succeed Robert Schiller, who asked for and got a 10-day paid leave of absence.

Randy Dunn, who started Monday as interim superintendent, said he is "looking forward to getting a new era under way for this agency."

Dunn said he expects the board to have "a unified leadership team, which will get everything pulling in one direction."

"That's something we have not had in this state," he said. "It's time we had it in Illinois and give it a try and see if we can't do something better than what we've had."

At a special meeting Monday morning, the board voted 7-2 to hire Dunn and pay him a salary of $115,000.

All seven board members appointed last week by Gov. Rod Blagojevich voted for the move, while the two holdover members from the previous board opposed it.

One of them, Dean Clark of Glen Ellyn, said he had not had enough time to review Dunn's qualifications, which were presented to him Monday morning.

"The governor's office did conduct the search and did vet candidates," board chairman Jesse Ruiz said.

Clark responded: "I understand, but we are the ones responsible for employing, not the governor's office."

Dunn is on unpaid leave as chairman of the Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

Dunn said the governor's office contacted him about the superintendent's job in early July. About a week ago, he was told he likely would get it.

Dunn said he will live in Springfield while he holds the ISBE post, which he does not intend to seek permanently. He said he would serve on an interim basis as long as needed.

Blagojevich said he plans to recommend a candidate for the superintendent's job after a nationwide search. The board has the authority to make a final decision on hiring.

Dunn, 46, earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education /reading and a master's degree in educational administration from Illinois State University. His doctorate is in educational administration from the University of Illinois.

A native of Aledo, Dunn has served as a teacher and school administrator in several Illinois communities, including a stint as principal of Roanoke-Benson Middle School from 1984-1989. He also has worked at schools in Gibson City, Paw Paw, Argenta-Oreana and Chester.

Dunn appointed Mark Kolaz assistant superintendent for operations at the agency and Jonathan Furr, formerly of the Department of Natural Resources, as the board's general counsel. Eamon Kelly, who has been an aide to Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk, will be interim chief of staff.

A longtime state government employee, Kolaz most recently has been senior adviser to the governor for legislative affairs and deputy director of the Department of Agriculture. His duties have included managing the Illinois State Fair.

Schiller is expected either to resign the superintendent's job or be fired by the end of the month.

The board believes "that we do need to move forward with new leadership," said member Brenda Holmes, who previously was the governor's deputy chief of staff for education. "We believe Superintendent Schiller is of that mind, as well."

In another 7-2 vote Monday, the board authorized Ruiz to enter into a "separation agreement" with Schiller that would pay him no more than $160,000. Schiller's $225,000-a-year contract with the board expires in July 2005.

In a letter dated Monday, Schiller asked the board for a paid leave of absence until Sept. 30. After that, he wrote, he might offer his resignation.

Schiller said he sought the leave of absence to deal with "personal concerns," including damage caused to his and his wife's Florida home by Hurricane Frances.

The board met at 7:30 a.m. Monday by phone, with some members at the board's Chicago office and Holmes in the Springfield office. Schiller phoned into the meeting, but did not say where he was. He couldn't be reached for comment later.

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State board follows script from governor

State Journal-Register Editorial, 9/21/04

Gov. Rod Blagojevich can move agonizingly slow on some matters, but he proved last week that once he makes up his mind, he wastes no time.

Just last week, Blagojevich named seven new members to the Illinois State Board of Education. While Blagojevich had hoped to do away with the state board and create a new education department under his control, this was the best compromise he could get from the General Assembly.

It became vividly clear on Monday that even though Blagojevich did not get everything he wanted in the compromise, he got a lot. And the newly constructed board was quick to show it can march to Blagojevich’s orders.

A meeting was scheduled for Monday to discuss the future of State School Superintendent Robert Schiller. That was the story anyway. Of course, all the discussions had already taken place. What took place Monday was what Blagojevich wanted - a well-rehearsed canning of Schiller, or the beginning of that process anyway.

We weren’t surprised. In fact, people in the governor’s office all but confirmed last week that Schiller would be gone come Monday, and the governor had called for his head months ago. That made the whole phony march up to the firing that much more difficult to swallow.

Jesse Ruiz, the newly appointed state school board chairman, said last week after being sworn in that he had “no preconceived notions” about Schiller. When asked late last week by WMAY’s morning show host, Jim Leach, Ruiz even went as far as to say that Schiller had done a “fine” job as state superintendent.

All the while, Team Blagojevich had the script for Schiller’s sacking ready to go. After a bit of a protest from one of the holdover board members, the seven new team players approved placing Schiller on a leave of absence until the end of the month. Apparently, at that time Schiller’s “resignation” - as in resign so we don’t have to fire you - will take place.

The board also authorized paying Schiller $160,000 to step aside. We toyed with the idea last week of making a public plea for the governor to retain Schiller. We have been impressed with Schiller’s knowledge of what is needed to improve education and with his track record of making improvements in other state’s and school districts.

It was clear, however, that Blagojevich wanted more than a board to control - he also wanted a new superintendent. That is the governor’s prerogative, but why the need to have his people - including his new board chairman - lie about what was about to happen?

We are pretty sure Blagojevich would not tolerate such behavior from his elementary school daughter. Yet, he does not seem bothered by sending his new appointee out to say he has “no preconceived notion” about Schiller’s fate when in fact he already has his marching orders to fire the guy.

If there is good news in this mess, it is that Blagojevich seems to have found a qualified candidate to serve as interim state superintendent - Randy Dunn, a faculty member at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and former schoolteacher. Dunn receives high marks from other educators; he will also receive $115,000 for his undisclosed interim period of service.

For those keeping score, that’s $275,000 to swap one competent guy for another. We have some preconceived notions about that.

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Interim school chief starts

Kate Clements, The News-Gazette

SPRINGFIELD – In his first day as interim state superintendent, former Gibson City teacher and Southern Illinois University Professor Randy J. Dunn quickly named nine new top staff members and said he is ready and eager to implement Gov. Rod Blagojevich's education agenda.

"I'm looking forward to getting a new era under way for this agency," Dunn said. "I think it's an exciting time for the Illinois State Board of Education. Clearly this is a watershed change that's taking place in this state, and I think it's a welcome one."

Dunn was appointed on Monday to replace State Superintendent Robert Schiller, who is on a two-week paid leave of absence while the State Board of Education negotiates a deal to buy out the rest of his $225,000-a-year contract, which expires July 31, 2005.

Schiller, who was hired before Blagojevich took office, requested the leave in a letter faxed to the State Board of Education on Monday morning, saying that he and his wife needed to deal with "personal challenges as a result of the devastation of our Florida home by Hurricane Frances." In the letter, Schiller indicated that he may offer his resignation at the end of the month and wanted the board to have a chance to prepare for that possibility.

Schiller's ouster has been widely anticipated since the start of the year, when Blagojevich spent almost his entire State of the State Address attacking the State Board of Education. After Blagojevich signed legislation granting him the power to replace seven of the board's nine members last week, it was only a matter of time.

The new members, including David Fields of Danville, were sworn in and met for the first time Monday morning. After convening in closed session, the board granted Schiller's leave request and voted to authorize its new chairman, Jesse Ruiz, to enter into a separation agreement with Schiller not to exceed $160,000. Dunn, who was hand-picked by Blagojevich's administration, was then voted in as Schiller's temporary replacement.

The Illinois Constitution provides that the State Board of Education chooses the chief state education officer, but in engineering Schiller's termination and Dunn's appointment, the governor has shown he plans to exhibit much more control over the quasi-independent board's selection.

Dunn even referred to himself on Monday as "a member of the governor's leadership team."

In a statement Monday, Blagojevich said he intends to propose a permanent state superintendent candidate after conducting a nationwide search. Those duties are usually handled by the board, not the governor.

Dean Clark, one of only two members remaining from the old state board, protested the decision to name Dunn the interim schools chief, saying he had only received his resume that morning and "had insufficient time to review" it. Clark and the other remaining board member, Joyce Karon, voted no on Dunn's appointment. Clark and Karon also voted no on a motion to negotiate a buyout for the remainder of Schiller's contract, which ends July 31, 2005.

The seven new members all voted yes on both items.

New board member Brenda Holmes, who recently retired as Blagojevich's deputy chief of staff for education, said Dunn had been chosen from a pool of four candidates the administration interviewed during the months of July and August and that each new board member had had a chance to converse with him.

Chairman Ruiz said he felt comfortable with the decision because the governor's office had conducted a search and vetted candidates.

"As an educator with experience on many levels, Dr. Dunn is the right person to step in immediately to manage the agency," Ruiz said.

Dunn told reporters that he had been in contact with the governor's office since early July, and had known for seven to 10 days that he was likely to be named to the interim position. Dunn said he had been working with the administration to lay the groundwork for significant changes at the state board and had input in choosing the new staff members named Monday.

"It was not the case that I was dictated to or told these people are coming with you or what have you," he said. "I was part of that process."

Dunn appointed Deputy Director of Agriculture Mark Kolaz as assistant superintendent for operations and named Jonathan Furr as the board's new general counsel. Furr had been general counsel for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Eamon Kelly will be interim chief of staff. The names and titles of the six other new staff members were not available on Monday.

Dunn, whose first job was teaching fourth grade in Gibson City, received his doctorate in educational administration from the University of Illinois. The former superintendent of Chester Community Schools and Argenta-Oreana Community Schools is on leave from his job as chairman of the Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

As interim superintendent, he will be paid $115,000 a year, with a benefits package in line with what other state agency directors receive.

Dunn told reporters he would not apply for the permanent position, but is willing to remain interim state superintendent for as long as it takes to select the new state superintendent.

"This is a delicate and exciting time of transition at the Illinois State Board of Education," Blagojevich said in a written release. "I believe Randy Dunn has the right background and experience in both classroom instruction and education administration to mange the agency during this critical time. Working with the state board, Randy can help us achieve our goals of improving the way we educate Illinois children and working with local schools and teachers, instead of against them. I look forward to working with him and the nine members of the State Board of Education."

Blagojevich has asked the new board members to focus on catching up on the teacher certification backlog; reducing the number of rules, regulations and mandates on local school districts; looking for cost savings; and coming up with new policy initiatives that reflect his education priorities of early childhood education, reading and parental involvement.

The board's next meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday.

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Governor commends ISBE for appointing Randy Dunn of Chester

Chester Sun-Times

Governor Blagojevich Monday commended the Illinois State Board of Education for appointing Dr. Randy Dunn as Interim Superintendent of Education.

Dunn, of Chester, was the Governor’s proposed candidate for the interim position and is currently on leave from his position as Chairman of the Education Administration and Higher Education Department at Southern Illinois University - Carbondale.  The State Board took the action at their first board meeting since the Governor appointed seven new members last week.

Dunn will serve in an interim capacity and Gov. Blagojevich expects to propose a candidate to serve as the permanent Superintendent following a nationwide search.

Dunn rose through the education ranks during his twenty-year career – starting out as a fourth grade teacher in Gibson City after graduating from Illinois State University.  He spent three years in the classroom before he transitioned to school administration, serving as principal in two central Illinois schools and later as superintendent in the Agrenta-Oreana Community and Chester Community School districts.  In 1994, Dunn began at the University of Memphis as an Assistant Professor and one year later, he joined the faculty as SIU-Carbondale.

Governor Blagojevich thanked Dunn for accepting ISBE’s appointment, which will be a challenging and exciting opportunity to help move Illinois education forward.  Last week, Governor Blagojevich named seven new members to join two existing members on the Illinois State Board of Education.  He asked the State Board, and now the new interim Superintendent, to focus on three main areas: to immediately work to reduce the backlog in teacher certification, to reduce the number of rules and regulations burdening local school districts and to develop innovative, realistic and affordable strategies to improve Illinois education.

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New faces on state board, same problems for education

Rockford Register Star Editorial 

Gov. Rod Blagojevich didn't get the new education agency he wanted. But he got the next best thing: He appointed a new state board last week and, this week, he picked a new state superintendent of education.

It reminds us of the line, be careful what you wish for. With control comes accountability. The bureaucrats Blagojevich once ridiculed are now all saying, in unison: Good morning, Mr. Governor.

And the governor, if he's been paying attention, should be frightened by the view. Of the 888 school districts in Illinois, 74 percent operate with a deficit. One in four has been in deficit for at least three years. These schools often face an eroding property tax base and a public that has just said no to providing more money via referendum.

Who could blame them? For four decades or more, Illinois has relied too heavily on property taxes for education. The system allows wealthy areas to spend as much as three times more per pupil. Higher per-pupil spending is no guarantee of a good education, of course.

But the level of disparity is shocking.

In places like Deerfield and Highland Park, they spend $17,291 per pupil, while other communities spend less than $5,000 per pupil. Even Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who often gets what he wants for his city's schools, said in June, "Illinois relies far too much on property taxes to fund education and far too little on state sources of revenue."

A study in 2002 by the Education Trust showed that Illinois had the second-largest gap in per-pupil spending between the richest and poorest school districts. The nonpartisan, Washington-based organization surveyed 47 states.

As if the funding situation wasn't enough of a challenge, there's the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal mandate for improving academic performance. In a 2003 Condition of Education report, the state says public schools will fall short of the federal goal of meeting or exceeding standards in reading, math, science, attendance and graduation standards by 2014.

"Illinois education is on a collision course," the state board's report says.

Blagojevich must understand that new pilots alone can't solve intrinsic problems with the machinery. The governor must want change, and he must want it enough to rally citizens and expend political capital for solutions.

Mayor Daley wanted Blagojevich to start searching for solutions to education funding when the legislative session ended. In July.

Now the summer is over, and Blagojevich still doesn't have a game plan. But he has changed his lineup.

Good morning, Mr. Governor. We're still waiting.

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Dunn’s Appointment Bodes Well for Education

Southern Illinoisan Editorial, 9/21/04

News that Randy Dunn was named interim state school superintendent has been greeted with applause from Dunn's hometown of Chester all the way north to Chicago.

Dunn, who has served as chair of Southern Illinois University's Department of Educational Administration, was named to the post in a special meeting Monday of the Illinois State Board of Education.

Many predict Dunn will be a breath of fresh air for the state education agency. He's been a hands-on leader who has seen first hand the challenges our local school districts face. Too many times in Illinois history, we've had state school superintendents who were more focused on theory, ambition or politics and not about the difficulties local school districts across Illinois face day-to-day.

Dunn began his career as an elementary school teacher in Gibson City from 1980 to 1983. Dunn then served a year as grade school principal in the Paw Paw district before becoming principal at the Roanake-Benson district middle school, where he served until 1989. He served as superintendent of the Argenta-Oreana School District from 1989 to 1991, then served as superintendent of the Chester Community School District from 1991 to 1994.

Dunn has obviously embraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich's view that the state board of education has acted like a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" that has become more of a hindrance than a help to local school districts.

"We want to shake things up in the education system," the governor said in making the appointment. "We need to make things better."

A week ago, Blagojevich exercised his new powers of state school board appointments, naming seven individuals to the board, including longtime educator Andrea Brown of Goreville. Like Dunn, Brown is a respected veteran educator who has seen first hand the challenges local school districts face.

Southern Illinoisans should feel proud that we now have strong representation at the state school board level.

Our schools have faced serious challenges in recent years and now we have some understanding ears which will hear our pleas for support.

What our students need and what we as taxpayers deserve is a state board of education focused on learning and education and not bureaucracy and red tape.

Naming Dunn as interim superintendent is a very good move, as we see it. Naturally, we'd like to see him advance to the full title and see the "interim" title dropped.

As we offer our congratulations to Dunn, we know that in this case, the schoolchildren of Illinois will be the ones to benefit most from this appointment.

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Blagojevich will get credit -- or blame -- on education

Column by Bernard Schoenburg, State Journal-Register, 9/23/04

Why is there a need for an education department under the governor when he's running the place anyway?

That could be the question after the first moves of the new State Board of Education. Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said he wants to be held responsible for education in Illinois, and the way things are going, he's going to be in a position to get the kudos - or the blame - for whatever happens to schools in Illinois.

As you might recall, Blagojevich ranted and raved about the bad old state board and its "Soviet-style bureaucracy" when he delivered his second State of the State address last winter. He proposed converting the independent board set up by the 1970 Illinois Constitution to a think tank, and leaving day-to-day operations to a department under the governor.

No go, the legislature ended up saying. But a compromise allowed the governor to name seven of the nine members of the board.

It was with great fanfare last week that the governor appointed the new group, including Chairman Jesse Ruiz.  Ruiz told reporters at the time he had "no preconceived notions" about whether state School Superintendent Robert Schiller would stay or go.

The governor also said he hadn't talked about Schiller's future with Ruiz.

Of course, six days later, the new board gave Schiller a leave of absence and hired Randy Dunn, who has been chairman of Southern Illinois University's Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education, as interim state superintendent for $115,000 annually.

It looked pretty well planned, and as it turns out, the governor's staff had done a lot of the work to set this up.

Brenda Holmes, one of the new board members, was an architect of Blagojevich's proposed takeover of the board's functions when she was his deputy chief of staff for education. And, Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said, the new legislation allows the governor's office to search for and propose a candidate for the superintendent's position, and that's just what happened.

Holmes has said the administration conducted interviews for superintendent in July and August.

The only person the board hires directly is the superintendent. He gets to pick the rest of his staff. But so far, the governor's office has had a big imprint there, too.

The assistant superintendent for operations is Mark Kolaz, who has been splitting time running the state fair and lobbying for the governor's office. Kolaz's salary goes to $110,000 from $90,000 previously. Kolaz is a former lobbyist who oversaw the Blagojevich campaign in 17 counties in 2002.

The board's interim chief of staff is Eamon Kelly, 24, an Evanston native who has worked closely with deputy governor Bradley Tusk. He was paid $40,000 as assistant to Tusk and performance management analyst. Kelly graduated from the University of Illinois in 2002. While there, he was elected by fellow students to be a member of the U of I board of trustees. After graduation, he became a Dunn Fellow, working in the governor's office, and he stayed there in the transition from George Ryan to Blagojevich. His new job pays $57,300.

Soon to join the new education team as director of public information is Becky Watts (formerly Becky Garretson), who has been executive director of public information at Lincoln Land Community College for 3 1/2 years. She earlier was in charge of public relations at Memorial Medical Center.

Watts said she was interviewed more than a week ago by Marybeth Johnson, who oversees the state's communications offices in Springfield and Chicago for agencies under the governor, and Elliot Regenstein, who is Blagojevich's director of education reform. Johnson and Regenstein are both on the payroll of the Department of Central Management Services. Watts will make $75,000, up from $74,000 at the community college.

Rausch said the legislation that allowed the governor to name the new board members was intended "to develop a relationship and a level of accountability between the state board of education and the governor and the legislature."

The governor feels so strongly about the mission that "some of his most-qualified staff" are now working at the board, she said.

Rausch disputed the idea that the governor misled reporters by saying the new board would choose its own superintendent and that he hadn't discussed the matter with Ruiz.

That statement was made after Schiller, without invitation, showed up unexpectedly among reporters and staff members in the governor's office.

Ruiz, a Chicago lawyer who was a member of the Chicago Board of Education, told me this week he was aware of the governor's feelings about the need to replace Schiller. The governor's staff had also told him that Dunn was an alternative, Ruiz said.

There was nothing disingenuous about him saying he had no preconceived notions about Schiller's future, Ruiz said, because at the time, he hadn't met Schiller or Dunn. He still needed to study the issues, he said.

"Nobody told me what to do," he said. He also said he doesn't plan to be a rubber stamp for the governor.

"Obviously, the governor's office is a very important constituency," Ruiz said. "Their opinion counts," he said, but so do the opinions of teachers, students and parents.

He said he thinks cooperation with the governor's office, however, will allow the board to "to do more and to do it more expeditiously."

Commentators - including me - noted during the extended legislative session that the governor didn't get the department of education that he wanted. Only time will tell if he got something mighty close to that goal.

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Perestroika and Illinois Public Schools

By John F. Biver, Illinois Leader-Illinois' Conservative News Source, 9/23/04

Biver argues today, "Many will be offended by the comparison of Illinois K-12 public education to communism, but there are fewer apt analogies if you look at the economic parallels and terrible results."

OPINION - Kevin Killion of www.Illinoisloop.org reported it this way: “As expected, Gov. Blagojevich's engineered takeover of the ISBE [Illinois State Board of Education] is now a reality. Robert Schiller is out as the Illinois state superintendent, and little-known Randy J. Dunn is now the ‘interim’ superintendent.”

The report from the Chicago Sun-Times included this: “Schiller has been sparring with the governor since January, when Blagojevich went after the board, likening it to a ‘Soviet-style bureaucracy.’”

The Governor’s comparison is actually a good one, as it fits not just the ISBE, but the entire inefficient and ineffective public K-12 education system in Illinois as well. In fact the change in leadership at the ISBE is reminiscent of when the USSR brought in a new General Secretary almost twenty years ago.

Mikhail Gorbachev took over the reins in the old Soviet Union in 1985 and then set about trying to find a cure for what ailed communism.

“Almost from the start, he strove for significant reforms, so that the system would work more efficiently and more democratically. Hence the two key phrases of the Gorbachev era: "glasnost" (openness) and "perestroika" (reform).”

Gorbachev’s efforts to fix communism were doomed due to one simple fact - a fatally flawed system can’t be fixed.

Many will be offended by the comparison of Illinois K-12 public education to communism, but there are fewer apt analogies if you look at the economic parallels and terrible results.

Like communism, the participation of taxpayers, parents, and students in our public schools is compelled by the power of the state, and all three groups are ill served.

Like communism, government run schools are immune from free market competition, the very thing that produces efficiency and excellence. Command and control rarely works well with human nature.

The huge irony, of course, is that if there’s one word that can be used to describe the global economy in this new century it is competition. The rising generation cannot be adequately taught about the harsh realities of competition by teachers who are insulated from it.

The continued existence of tenure and the protection of politically powerful teachers unions provide this wall of insulation. The unions maintain their monopoly by spending millions in political campaigns every year. This scares off any discussion of real reforms by candidates and legislators impacted by those contributions.

What we do hear from a scattered few is reminiscent of Gorbachev’s “perestroika” - attempts to tweak how the government school system works. We only hear about things like the length of the school year and school day, or complaints about the school funding formula.

Runaway spending is ignored. Taxpayers, however, are becoming ever more familiar with this problem and researching teacher and administrator salaries. They’re also comparing them to real world market-based salaries.

Soon, more will be learning that Illinois public school teachers and administrators enjoy wildly generous pensions.

Fortunately, just as freedom was on the march during the decade leading up to the collapse of the Soviet Union, thousands of reform minded professional educators and education researchers around the world are laying the groundwork for school choice. Even socialist Sweden is now experiencing the benefits of public school choice.

Forget the arrogance of the educationists who treat the rest of us like rubes. The “glasnost” of the No Child Left Behind law is slowly going to unmask their mediocrity. Already the information on how the rest of the industrialized world kicks our butt in math and science is easily found with a point and a click.

And forget the rhetoric of those calling for empty reforms or ever more money; you can’t fix the unfixable, even with more money. The good news is that their failure, like Gorbachev’s, can lead to the coming down of the wall.

Today, Illinois children, parents, and taxpayers are much like those trapped behind the iron curtain of yesterday. They cling to the hope that the current public school system will someday join communism on the ashbin of history.

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Gov takes control of school decisions

Daily Southtown Editorial, 9/23/04

State schools Supt. Robert Schiller read the writing on the wall and asked for a leave of absence Monday before the governor's new state board of education could fire him.

Schiller will be on paid leave until Sept. 30. One of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's new appointees to the board said Schiller will be replaced if he does not resign when the leave is over.

The board named Randy Dunn, former chairman of the Southern Illinois University Department of Education Administration and High Education, as interim superintendent to replace Schiller. Dunn said he does not want to become the permanent superintendent, but he said Blagojevich has asked him to begin overhauling the state education bureaucracy while a search is conducted for Schiller's replacement.

Blagojevich made it clear almost two years ago that he intended to replace Schiller, who became superintendent during George Ryan's term as governor. Schiller has become a vocal advocate for changes in the way the state funds its public schools, calling for increased state funding in order to reduce the dependence on property taxes.

The current system has resulted in a situation in which schools in wealthy communities have far more resources than other communities, enabling them to spend substantially more on the education of their children. Meanwhile, a growing number of school districts are facing deficits as the growth of their expenses outpaces their revenues.

Blagojevich has adamantly opposed any change that would increase state taxes, and Schiller's outspoken advocacy for change put his job at risk.

Now that Blagojevich has the school bureaucracy firmly in his control, the governor is fully responsible for decisions made by the board, the interim superintendent and the next full-time superintendent.

As for what we can expect from them, it's clear they will not be advocating changes in the funding system. The governor has said he wants fewer regulations and less red tape, but the number of regulations actually increased over the past year, so we'll wait and see on that one.

So the cycle continues in Illinois under which every new governor opposes changes in the school funding system, despite study after study that shows the state must increase its contribution to education to guarantee adequate and fair funding for every school district. Without an increase in state funding, most of the school districts in Illinois — and almost every school district in the Southland — will be forced to cut programs or ask voters to increase local property taxes.

The governor has remained consistent throughout his term on his promise not to raise state income taxes. Based on past experience, our guess is lawmakers will be afraid to butt heads with the governor on school funding. If that's the case, homeowners and business owners throughout the state can be confident that their property tax bills will continue to rise.

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State board shuffle has little to do with classrooms

Peoria Journal Star Editorial, 9/24/04

Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

So it goes for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who made dismantling the "Soviet-style bureaucracy" of the Illinois State Board of Education the centerpiece of his legislative agenda this year and who has gotten the control over the agency that he craved. Last week he appointed seven of the board's nine members. This week he effectively ousted State Superintendent Robert Schiller and hired his interim replacement, even though Schiller's departure is not yet official.

So much for the framers of Illinois' Constitution, who thought it would be a good idea if the state's schools operated independently of politics. Not anymore. Indeed, if anyone is still holding to the myth that this new State Board can make decisions with no strings attached to the governor, well, let's just say new board puppet . . . er, Chairman Jesse Ruiz didn't exactly get off to a good start in dispelling it.

Indeed, the interim superintendent, Randy Dunn, an education professor at Southern Illinois University, was hired on a 7-2 vote by the board even though it was the governor's office, not the board, that interviewed and vetted the candidates, said Ruiz. In fact, one of the dissenters to Dunn's employment, leftover board member Dean Clark, said he didn't receive Dunn's resume until immediately before the vote, without being given a chance to review it. Dunn himself indicated that "I am a member of the governor's leadership team, and I didn't come on board to take a position that is at odds with the governor's stated positions."

By the way, Ruiz's Chicago law firm gave the governor's campaign $52,000. Another new board member, Ed Geppert of Belleville, was a top official with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which donated hundreds of thousands to Candidate Blagojevich. Gov. Blagojevich says he was unaware of those connections. Of course he was. A majority of the board is also from the governor's Democratic Party, because as we all know a child's performance in the classroom is a partisan thing.

But don't worry. With this new leadership team, perhaps the state's public schools soon will be good enough for the governor's own children, in a way they apparently are not for his eldest daughter now.

And, of course, you can tell by the tone of this editorial that we're skeptical that this change will do anything to dramatically alter the course of public education in Illinois. From where we sit, Springfield is too far removed from the complicated and entrenched problems in Peoria's classrooms to make much of a difference.

Then again, maybe the governor will make a fool of us. Maybe test scores will skyrocket and the red ink in 80 percent of Illinois' school budgets will disappear now that the Soviet influence at the State Board has been liquidated. We hope so, and we'll be glad to give the governor all the credit if and when that happens. If not, well, Illinois' citizens now know whom to blame. Whether that's Blagojevich with a "B" or an "F," we'll see.

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ILLINOIS

Some schools drop use of class rank

Nicole Ziegler Dizon, The Associated Press (State Journal-Register)

LINCOLNSHIRE - Jessi Gangware worries a lot about numbers these days. There's her grade point average, her ACT and SAT scores, the days until she graduates.

One number the Stevenson High School senior doesn't need to sweat so much, though, is her class rank.

Following a trend in many affluent, competitive high schools across the country, Stevenson is working to downplay the difference between being No. 1 and No. 101. The high school ended the tradition of naming a valedictorian and salutatorian last year and is asking some colleges to accept applications without a student's rank.

"I think you're going to see rank gone by the end of the decade at many schools," said Sue Biemeret, Stevenson's college consultant.

Officials at schools such as Stevenson, where 98 percent of the graduating class goes on to college, say rank can give university admissions staff the wrong impression. Stevenson has 1,035 students in its senior class, so the difference in rank sometimes is measured in hundredths of a percentage point.

Gangware, for example, gets mostly A's and B's, earning her a respectable 3.7 on a 4.0 scale. But because many students fill their schedules with Advanced Placement classes - where an A is awarded a weighted 5.0 - Gangware finds hundreds of classmates above her on the ranking list.

"I'm still smart, and I want to go to a good school, but I have a 3.7 and can't get into half the schools I want to," Gangware said. "It stinks because my class is really smart, and there's not much I can do."

Stevenson launched a pilot program this year with eight universities that take many of its students. Instead of getting a student's numerical rank, those schools will receive percentages, such as top 5 percent or top 20 percent. Other schools will continue to get transcripts with numerical rank.

Michael Barron, admissions director at the University of Iowa - one of the schools participating in the pilot - said he has seen a definite drop in the number of high schools submitting rank or even percentiles over the past several years.

Iowa guarantees admission to out-of-state students who are in the top 30 percent of their class, have a rigorous high school curriculum reviewed by the university and submit applications by Feb. 1. If rank isn't reported or students fall below the 30 percent line, the university takes a holistic approach, considering test scores, GPA, community involvement and other factors.

Barron said the move away from rank might cause some students who would have been accepted automatically to be put on a wait list.

"We're used to it, and we're comfortable with it," Barron said of reviewing applications without rank. "The question is whether the high schools and the populations they serve will be comfortable with our decisions."

Paula Girouard McCann, principal at Hingham High School in Hingham, Mass., is convinced that her decision this year to end rank will only benefit her students.

McCann said she made the decision after discovering that some colleges and universities flatly refused to take students who were in the bottom half of their classes.

"We found that class rank wasn't helping students, and in fact, some students it was hurting," McCann said.

But Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said university admissions workers are sophisticated enough to weigh the reputation of a school against a student's rank at that school. Nassirian said colleges make the best decisions when they are presented with all information available about a student.

Even so, Adra Horn, a Stevenson senior who takes a full load of accelerated classes, would just as soon have colleges concentrate on her grades and test scores than on her rank, which is somewhere close to 120.

"I work hard for my grades and I'm in the top whatever of my class, but all you see is I'm not in the top 10 percent," Horn said.

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Dist. 203 considers pop ban

By Kari Allen, Daily Herald Staff Writer, 9/21/04

Naperville Central and Naperville North students who like to gulp a can of soda pop or two during the school day may have to bring their drinks from home next school year.

Or they could opt for something healthier, such as milk, juice or water.

Naperville Unit District 203 Superintendent Alan Leis recommended Monday the high schools no longer sell beverages that contain high fructose corn syrup - such as pop - during the school day, starting next school year.

High school students currently can purchase soda during the school day from vending machines or in the cafeteria food line. Leis is suggesting high fructose corn syrup beverages only be available next year at the high schools before and after school and on weekends during activities.

The school board is expected to vote on Leis' recommendation later this fall.

The topic is a controversial one in many school circles. As school leaders consider what to offer in vending machines, they weigh nutritional value versus students' freedom of choice.

Leis' recommendation already created a slight stir among school board members.

School board member Suzyn Price said beverage choices are something that should be left up to parents and their children.

"I think it's overbearing for us to make those choices for them," she said.

The recommendation to not sell pop during the school day also received a lukewarm response from District 203's two student ambassadors to the school board.

Allison Funkhouser, a Naperville Central junior, and David Simnick, a Naperville North junior, said many peers already opt for water and juice from school vending machines.

"Teenagers are making healthier choices, but we want that freedom of choice," Simnick said.

But Leis said some staff members and parents on a committee that studied the issue favor offering only healthier beverage choices during the school day. The superintendent agrees.

The committee garnered some student input, as well, Leis said.

If the changes go into effect next school year, high school students still could bring soda or other beverages with high fructose corn syrup from home. Seniors are allowed to eat off campus for lunch and could drink these types of beverages then if they choose, Leis said.

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Valley View board: Proposal to allow home-schoolers to take part district's extracurriculars

By Catherine Ann Velasco, Herald News Staff Writer, 9/21/04

ROMEOVILLE — Just like his cousins, Erick Hillebrand wanted to join the cross country team, but there was one problem — he was a home-schooled student.

Illinois allows each school district to decide whether to allow home-schooled students to participate in extracurricular activities.

At one time the Valley View School Board voted not to allow home-schooled students to participate in after-school activities.

Last week, Superintendent Phillip Schoffstall asked the board to allow for an exception to allow Erick to start running immediately with the new cross country team at A. Vito Martinez Middle School. The board said yes.

The district is drafting a policy that would allow home-schoolers who live in the district to participate in extracurricular activities. The school board plans to vote on the issue at its next meeting, at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the administration center, 755 Luther Drive in Romeoville.

Erick's mom, Laurene Hillebrand, is happy with the results.

"This will be a positive experience for Erick. We are hoping it will open the doors to a variety of extracurricular activities to home-schoolers," she said. "He is very interested in doing track in the spring. We are hoping it will work out well.

"I would love to see it not be an exception to the rule, but the basic policy in Illinois," said Hillebrand, who has six children, ages 1 to 13, with her husband, Donald. The family moved from Germany to Romeoville this year.

School Board President Mark Cothron said he will agree to the policy as long as home-schooled students abide by the same rules students in the district do: You must have good grades to participate.

"Someone has to say they are in good standing and doing their work," Cothron said, adding that he is not sure how that is going to be done yet.

News to him

Schoffstall said he was surprised when he found out about seven months ago that the school district did not allow home-schooled students to participate in extracurricular activities. Schoffstall is starting his second year as superintendent in the district. In Indiana, where he came from, districts let home-schoolers take part in activities.

Schoffstall found out about the policy about seven months ago during a staff meeting; one principal mentioned there was a home-schooled student on a team and another principal asked if the school board policy was still in effect.

Two weeks ago, staff met with principals and athletic directors at the middle and high schools to discuss the issue. The recommendation was to amend the current policy.

"To me it's pretty easy," Schoffstall said. "We are a helping profession. If we can help a youngster maximize his or her potential, then that's what we should be doing."

A proposal is being written that would allow some kind of assurance that the student is pursuing some kind of study, he said.

Schoffstall said he believes that extracurricular activities are an intricate part of education. He said that home-schooled students will pay any athletic fee that other children pay for participating.

Hillebrand said she was impressed that Schoffstall is leading the initiative to change the school district policy.

"He is a man of vision and that kind of leadership is so valuable to the community," she said. "Instead of having division on where they go to school, it promotes greater diversity into the community and greater understanding."

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School 'reforms' flunk reality test

Opinion by Jesse Jackson, Sun-Times, 9/21/04

Are presidential campaigns now fact-free zones? Listen to George Bush on the stump, talking to pre-screened crowds where only the devoted are allowed. He presents to this fantasy audience a fantasy world: Iraq is moving to democracy; Afghanistan has liberated women; his tax cuts are generating prosperity; the grass is always green, and no clouds interrupt the sun.

It sounds wonderful, but you have to wonder whether the president is kidding himself or just the American people.

For example, the president hails his No Child Left Behind reforms as a great elixir. Our schools are improving, he says; we're testing children and holding schools accountable. Now we just need to extend the tests to high school and to preschoolers and we're on the right track.

In fact, of course, No Child Left Behind has roiled our schools. The best teachers and educators hate the idea of judging kids or grading schools on the basis of one-test snapshots. Kids learn at very different paces, and high-stakes testing can take the joy out of learning. In Texas, similar reforms produced a dramatic increase in dropouts.

But even this dispute misses the challenges that our schools face and that the new reforms don't begin to address. More kids than ever are pouring into our public schools. More than 20 percent of them are raised in poverty. Increasing numbers don't speak English in their homes. Too often, they lack the nutrition, health care and preschooling vital to being ready to learn. We're asking kids to run the same race, but some come to school already trained in track and others come with weights dragging them down.

Organized after-school programs are essential to reduce crime and increase classroom performance because parents work. Yet up to 15 million kids go home alone after school.

College is increasingly a requirement for success. Yet college costs are soaring, and neither family income nor loan and grant programs are keeping pace. For the first time, America does not lead the world in making college available to its children.

This is a big deal. To ensure that the next generation gets the education they need, we've got to ratchet up our support for schools. We need a president who will level with the American people. Lay out the scope of the challenge. Rouse people to make education a greater priority at every level -- from parents turning off the TV at night, to federal, state and local governments combining to ensure that every child gets a real opportunity to be what he or she can be.

But there is no hint of this in Bush's rhetoric or in his plans. Instead, the president paints in rosy colors, bragging on how much he has increased spending on schools already. But increasing spending on Head Start by a modest amount doesn't extend the program to the 40 percent of eligible kids who can't get it. Worse, the president broke his own promise on funding his own reforms -- now by a total of $27 billion over four years. His budget breaks the federal promise to fund special education by more than $10 billion this year alone. He broke his promise to increase scholarship amounts.

The president's own budget calls for cuts in education across the board next year, as soon as the election is over. With deficits soaring, the costs of his tax cuts and war in Iraq rising, our schools are slated to take the hit.

For the country's future, this is just plain dumb.

This week, Rainbow Push will join a coalition of groups sponsoring some 4,000 meetings on public education in homes, schools and church basements across the country. Americans will challenge the president and Congress to keep their promise to America's children. We're testing kids now and grading schools. Now it is time to give them the resources they need to meet the new challenges they face.

Let's hope their voices can pierce Bush's fact-free zone. The president clearly believes that you don't have to address reality if you don't admit it. That may be effective for a candidate, but it is devastating for the country.

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New country, new language

James Fuller, Daily Herald

Every day at Monroe Middle School, myriad cultures flood the halls trying to catch up to their English-speaking peers.

The growing challenge of simultaneously educating and teaching English to non-native speakers is nothing new or unusual for suburban schools.

What's different in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200, though, isn't the number of those students learning English but the sheer variety of native languages those students bring to the classroom.

There are more than 100 students speaking 30 languages other than English as their primary tongue at Monroe.

By contrast, Addison Elementary District 4 has many more non-native, non-English-speaking students - about 730 - but they speak only 18 different languages, said district spokeswoman Diane Junokas. The vast majority of those students speak Spanish.

At Monroe, the multiple languages mean learning must be personalized. All of Monroe's English learners have different needs, school experiences and abilities. As such, there is no single way to teach them.

This year, there are 67 ways.

That's the number of individual program options on teacher Christine Carter's pencil-drawn list of what every English Language Learner is up to each day. She's Monroe's ELL coordinator.

Carter will be increasingly busy if current trends continue.

The district's enrollment of non-English speakers rose by 159 students over the past three years to the current high of 708 students. Among the 10 schools in the district serving non-English speakers, an average of 51 students speak 13 different languages.

In District 200, all non-English speakers are sent to magnet programs at Monroe at the middle school level and Wheaton North for high school.

Like most districts, Spanish is still the largest minority language students speak.

But unlike most school systems, District 200 has within its borders an organization that places refugees in the area. Wheaton-based World Relief can bring any number of new languages and cultures for District 200 to serve depending on where the need is at in the world at the time.

Recently, that's meant a flood of students with no formal schooling whatsoever - so many that Monroe now has two sections of Survival. The class is for students who speak virtually no English and have to learn what school is all about.

Monroe officials are also producing their own Spanish-language welcome-to-school video. District 200 relies on an army of translators to communicate with parents in their native language - everything from French and Polish to Somali-Bantu and Tagalog.

Unlike their parents, English learners are taught in English unless a group of 20 or more students speaking the same foreign language attend the same school. Then they have bilingual classes until the end of second grade. It's all English instruction from there on out.

Students are grouped together not by age or grade-level, but by English proficiency. Those who can't speak any English and have no formal schooling are the furthest behind, but also make the greatest gains, Carter said. Early on that means lots of communicating through gestures and pictures, kind of like a Sesame Street boot camp.

"It's quite easy to acquire social language just being around people and the media," Carter said. "But at the middle school level, you're working on academics."

So the trick is making sure early gains are substantial enough.

It's a daunting process already and one district officials say is compounded by the new federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

If English learners don't progress far enough and fast enough, the loss of thousands of federal dollars for an individual district is a possibility. Once the No Child Left Behind standards label a school as failing, the district must allow students to transfer to other, more successful, schools.

The stakes for the district and its English learners rest primarily on two tests to measure No Child Left Behind requirements

The first test is the Illinois Measure of Anuual Growth in English, or IMAGE. It measures English proficiency, but District 200 spokeswoman Denie Young said it adds up to a Catch-22.

"If they were proficient in English, they wouldn't be taking the IMAGE. They'd be taking the ISATs," Young said. "It's kind of an oxymoron. They're counting and treating it like an achievement test when, actually, it's not."

Nearly 31 percent of Monroe students met or exceed standards on the IMAGE exam for the 2002-03 school year. That's nearly a 6 percent improvement from the previous year.

The second test determines Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives. Until recently, there hasn't been a standard test for this. The district has used its own language assessment survey.

That's a problem when students come in from other districts having taken a different test.

"How can you measure the growth of students?" asked Phyllis Weaver, the district's director of ELL.

So the state developed its own standardized test called Access for ELL that will be tested this year.

The overall problem with both tests is that it's never an apples-to-apples comparison from year to year, according to Young, Weaver and Carter.

For both, it's last year's students being compared to the current year's students.

The results, especially at Monroe, depend greatly on the ability of unknown, incoming students.

"And that," Carter said, "is really nothing you can plan ahead for."

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ETHS to keep 'No Child' funds

Karen Berkowitz, Evanston Review

Rather than reject the federal funding linked to the No Child Left Behind Act, District 202 will use the $131,000 - and then some - to offer summer, Saturday and after-school instruction to students at risk of failing.

Board members had been weighing whether to pass up the Title I funds that will carry some heavy strings next year if the percentage of students passing the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) does not increase dramatically for some subgroups.

As tempting as it was to send a strong message of opposition to the law, board members Sept. 16 threw their support behind an alternative proposal presented by Superintendent Allan Alson.

Under the plan, the district will target incoming ninth-graders whose scores on the Explore test suggest they won't meet standards on the state's high-stakes PSAE that is now given in 11th grade.

Of the 836 ETHS freshmen who took the Explore test in eighth grade, 322 scored below a standard cutoff score in reading, mathematics or both subjects. Of those missing the mark, nearly one-third were within one or two points of the cutoff.

Under the initiative, to be launched during the summer of 2005, incoming freshmen "on the cusp" of meeting the standard would be required to take a reading or math course emphasizing test-taking skills.

Students who are farther behind would participate in book groups, media projects, artistic endeavors and computer-generated programs aimed at exciting them about learning, according to the proposal.

"Since most of the (affected) students are students of color, activities that accentuate culture and historical pride would also be part of these activities," said Alson.

The superintendent has proposed that the district apply its federal Title I funds and about $91,000 in local dollars to the initiatives. School officials hope to forge partnerships with local community organizations such as Family Focus, Youth Organizations Umbrella, Literature for All of Us, the churches, the city of Evanston and others.

"The same old approaches to student learning at the high school level have not proven successful enough," Alson said.

Though the district plans to accept the funding tied to the No Child Left Behind Act, school officials plan to register their objections to the No Child Left Behind Act through strongly worded statements to the State Board of Education and the U.S. Department of Education.

District 202 officials object to the sanctions that are imposed on schools that do not meet the law's expectations based on a single test that is given each year to a different cohort of students.

Said Alson, "The negative federal consequences for schools are, in my opinion, clearly designed not to reward progress nor offer supports for schools," but in fact "to discredit and undermine" public education.

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Teen crusades for school sprinklers

By Jake Griffin, Daily Herald Staff Writer, 9/24/04

Like Newton under the apple tree, Steve Graff looked up and wondered.

"I was sitting in study hall one day, and I looked up and noticed no sprinkler system," the Naperville Central High School junior said. "It was kind of a random thing."

Thus began Graff's one-man crusade to get Naperville Unit District 203 administrators to consider outfitting the entire 53-year-old school with fire-suppression devices.

"My friends didn't care at all about me talking about it," he said. "They thought I was crazy."

A student liaison to the city's Downtown Plan Implementation Committee, the 16-year-old befriended Councilman Richard Furstenau, who posed a list of safety questions to city officials on Graff's behalf.

But when the answers didn't satisfy him, Graff continued his quest.

"I give him credit for raising the issue and being dogged about it," school board president Dean Reschke said. "I like it when young people raise good questions and run with it."

Reschke doesn't recall ever seeing a proposal to add a sprinkler system to the school.

Outfitting the 450,000-square-foot building could be a costly venture. A recent article in a school building maintenance trade journal listed the average price for such jobs at $2.35 per square foot. Bigger buildings, like Naperville Central, would benefit from bulk buying, according to the article.

City codes require sprinkler systems only if there is significant remodeling or new construction. Central's auditorium, built nearly a decade ago, has such a system.

Principal Jim Caudill said the school always has complied with fire-safety requirements and holds drills three times a year monitored by the fire department.

There are 42 exits for roughly 3,000 students, Caudill said.

"Every five to six classrooms has an exit, so we have no more than 100 people trying to get out one exit," he said. "In a perfect world, every building should have a sprinkler system."

Graff argues the school's population is growing and the people leaving through those exits eventually will exceed 100.

Caudill said he tried to assuage some of Graff's concerns, but doesn't want to discourage him.

"This kind of involvement and experience is invaluable," he said. "I credit him."

Fire Chief John Wu said the school meets all city, county and state fire codes, including placement of fire extinguishers in required areas. Graff suggested each classroom be given one.

Wu understands the school's cost concerns but said he'd like to see a sprinkler system installed, too.

"We take the position that when there are large numbers of people unfamiliar with the building that a sprinkler system is simply the best fire protection you can buy," Wu said.

Graff said he will take the issue to the school board and possibly present more information to the city council in an effort to change some codes.

"It would save lives, and that's the bottom line," he said.

Graff's mother, Mary Jane, described her son as thoughtful and wasn't surprised he's latched onto such an issue.

"He's always taken an interest in buildings and architecture, so this was a natural progression," she said. "He's one of those kids that are very interested in the world around them."

When he and his older sister were pushing their parents to buy them a car, his mother said, the pair did extensive research on used vehicles and presented their parents with the information.

"We were relying on their information," she said. "They had things that I didn't even know about, and he probably has more knowledge of used cars now than most used car salesmen."

The teens got their car.

Reschke said the district is embarking on a wide-ranging study about its building needs. Because of Central's age, it likely will be one of the top priorities in the study.

"They are probably going to make some pretty substantial recommendations," he said, "and I wouldn't be surprised if there is some discussion on sprinklers."

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When faith and sports collide

By Robert Sanchez Daily Herald Staff Writer, 9/24/04

Tonight's start of Yom Kippur won't affect the kickoffs of high school football teams in the DuPage Valley Conference.

But that could be changing soon.

The conference may follow the lead of other suburban high schools by scheduling events around religious holidays - a move that would spare students the angst of having to choose between their faith and sports.

"As a conference, we are attempting to be sensitive to our diverse population," said Bob Quinn, athletic director at Wheaton Warrenville South High School.

DVC athletic directors and activity directors are expected to review a list of holidays during the next months to see if it's possible to rearrange schedules.

That list of holidays includes Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Passover, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Good Friday and Eid al Fitr, an Islamic holiday in November that marks the end of Ramadan.

Generally, high schools let individual players decide whether to participate in an event on the same day as a holiday.

"It's a family's choice," said Doug Smith, the athletic director at Naperville North.

But those choices can be tough on a high school athlete.

John Martin, athletic director at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, says that's one reason the school doesn't schedule sporting events during Jewish holidays.

Stevenson and other schools, including members of the Fox Valley Conference, played football on Thursday in recognition of the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. The Jewish Day of Atonement starts at sunset today and ends at sunset Saturday.

"The problem is that you have a team that will say to the athlete, 'Boy, we really need you to play,' " Martin said. "And the parents will say, 'This is a religious obligation. You don't have a choice.'

"So it's a lose-lose situation," he said. "You put the student in the position where he's either letting his team down or he's going against whatever his religious beliefs are or his parents expectations in terms of celebrating a particular holiday."

Baseball fans are seeing that play out right now as they wait to see what happens with Shawn Green. The Los Angles Dodgers first baseman is expected to miss at least one baseball game in a key three-game series against the San Francisco Giants due to Yo•Kippur.

Quinn said that if schools can avoid having kids make that decision, it works out better for everyone.

"We haven't had any students come forward and request not play (on Yom Kippur)," he said. "That doesn't mean we don't have student athletes that fall in that situation."

While West Aurora belongs to the DuPage Valley Conference, a majority of Tri-Cities area schools play in the Upstate Eight or Suburban Prairie conferences, which are playing on Yom Kippur.

Officials at the Upstate Eight say the issue simply hasn't come up, said Lake Park High School Athletic Director Pete Schauer, who handles the scheduling of games.

However, if a school did want to reschedule a game, it would have to be worked out between the teams scheduled to play each other, he said.

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NATIONAL

Country's top high schools making rank a thing of the past

By Nicole Ziegler Dizon, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 9/20/04

LINCOLNSHIRE — Jessi Gangware worries a lot about numbers these days. There's her grade point average, her ACT and SAT scores, the days until she graduates.

One number the Stevenson High School senior doesn't need to sweat so much, though, is her class rank.

Following a trend in many affluent, competitive high schools across the country, Stevenson is working to downplay the difference between being No. 1 and No. 101. The high school ended the tradition of naming a valedictorian and salutatorian last year and is asking some colleges to accept applications without a student's rank.

"I think you're going to see rank gone by the end of the decade at many schools," said Sue Biemeret, Stevenson's college consultant.

Stevenson is the largest high school in Lake County.

Officials at schools such as Stevenson, where 98 percent of the graduating class goes on to college, say rank can give university admissions staff the wrong impression. Stevenson has 1,035 students in its senior class, so the difference in rank sometimes is measured in hundredths of a percentage point.

Gangware, for example, gets mostly A's and B's, earning her a respectable 3.7 on a 4.0 scale. But since many students fill their schedules with advanced placement classes — where an A is awarded a weighted 5.0 — Gangware finds hundreds of classmates above her on the ranking list.

"I'm still smart, and I want to go to a good school, but I have a 3.7 and can't get into half the schools I want to," Gangware said. "It stinks because my class is really smart, and there's not much I can do."

Stevenson launched a pilot program this year with eight universities that take many of its students. Instead of getting a student's numerical rank, those schools will receive percentages, such as top 5 percent or top 20 percent. Other schools will continue to get transcripts with numerical rank.

Michael Barron, admissions director at the University of Iowa — one of the schools participating in the pilot program — said he has seen a definite drop in the number of high schools submitting rank or even percentiles over the past several years.

Iowa guarantees admission to out-of-state students who are in the top 30 percent of their class, have a rigorous high school curriculum reviewed by the university and submit applications by Feb. 1. If rank isn't reported or students fall below the 30 percent line, the university takes a holistic approach, considering test scores, GPA, community involvement and other factors.

Barron said the move away from rank might cause some students who would have been accepted automatically to be put on a waiting list.

"We're used to it, and we're comfortable with it," Barron said of reviewing applications without rank. "The question is whether the high schools and the populations they serve will be comfortable with our decisions."

Ranking hurts some

Paula Girouard McCann, principal at Hingham High School in Hingham, Mass., is convinced that her decision this year to end rank will only benefit her students.

McCann said she made the decision after discovering that some colleges and universities flatly refused to take students who were in the bottom half of their classes.

"We found that class rank wasn't helping students, and in fact, some students it was hurting," McCann said.

But Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said university admissions workers are sophisticated enough to weigh the reputation of a school against a student's rank at that school. Nassirian said colleges make the best decisions when they are presented with all information available about a student.

Even so, Adra Horn, a Stevenson senior who takes a full load of accelerated classes, would rather have colleges concentrate on her grades and test scores than her rank, which is about 120.

"I work hard for my grades and I'm in the top whatever of my class, but all you see is I'm not in the top 10 percent," Horn said.

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Report: N.Y. charter schools doing well

Think tank recommends more funding

AP, September 21, 2004 

NEW YORK -- Charter schools in New York state have succeeded in providing an alternative to traditional public schools and should receive more resources, according to a report released Tuesday.

The charter schools, publicly funded but run by private organizations, were studied by the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

The institute, affiliated with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, had particularly high praise for the charter schools in New York City, the nation's largest public school system with 1.1 million pupils.

Democrats in the New York legislature along with the teachers' union had opposed the state law, which was passed in 1998. Today, there is no organized opposition to the state's 50 charter schools, most of which are in Buffalo, Rochester and New York City.

"Beyond improving student learning in individual schools, New York City charter schools act as 'seeds of change' for the entire school system in a variety of ways, some planned by school officials and some unexpected," the report said.

For example, the report said, charter school accountability requirements "push schools to analyze student achievement data to expose weaknesses in instruction and governance."

Even the decision this past year by the State University of New York to close a charter school in Harlem can be seen in a positive light because it sent a message that charter schools must meet high standards, the report said.

But the report found that in New York, as in many other states, charter schools receive less state funding than other public schools.

On average, New York City charter schools receive $8,452 per pupil annually -- with no funding to pay for facilities -- compared with a non-charter average of $9,057 per pupil, with facilities provided.

The sources of the disparity are complex, having to do with charter schools' ineligibility for state categorical funds and special education funds, the report said, citing a New York University study.

The report's authors recommended New York state "level the financial playing field" through legislative and regulatory changes that would allow charter schools to receive more funding.

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District is considering ads for school buses

Anne Ryman, The Arizona Republic, 9/23/04

SCOTTSDALE - The Scottsdale Unified School District could make $1.5 million over five years if the School Board decides to put ads on the outside of school buses, a district official said.

The Scottsdale School Board is expected to decide in late November whether to put ads on the sides of its 150 buses. The campaign could be the largest of its kind among public school buses in Arizona.

A school district committee has chosen a California-based firm, Media Advertising in Motion, to handle the ads. But the choice is contingent on School Board approval. The firm would receive 40 percent commission on sales.

"We will have control over the content of ads," said Dan Shearer, the Scottsdale district's transportation director.

Arizona allows ads on school buses with some limitations. Ads hawking tobacco, alcohol, drugs or gambling are prohibited. Ads can appear only on bus sides and cannot interfere with safety features.

Ads on the outside of school buses are rare in the state, although they are common on city-owned buses.

The neighboring Paradise Valley Unified School District has used public-service ads on school buses for years. The School Board recently hired an outside firm at 40 percent commission to sell bus ads in hopes of getting more money. The district makes less than $50,000 a year off the ads, said Walter "Skip" Brown, an assistant superintendent. About 25 buses, one-eighth of the bus fleet, carry ads, he said. The district allows only public-service ads and prohibits ads for products.

School bus ads have been controversial in other parts of the United States.

The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services opposes ads on the outside of school buses because the group believes ads can distract other drivers.

Scottsdale district officials floated the idea at community meetings early this year, and parents seemed supportive as long as the district limits the types of ads.

Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, an Oregon-based group that opposes commercialism to children, said school bus ads are a bad idea, even if there are restrictions.

"Our children should not be for sale. Not their time, and not their minds," Ruskin said.

Scottsdale School Board member Christine Schild said she would prefer "non-product" ads such as public service announcements.

"I think our community would find that more palatable," she said.

Board member Joel Feldman wants district officials to consider handling ads in-house rather than paying an outside company. Paying a 40 percent commission "is a hefty slice," of the profits, he said.

Shearer said the offer from the California company was better than others the district received. Some wanted 75 percent commission, he said.

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Phys ed in school yields significant benefits

By SHARI ROAN, Los Angeles Times, 9/24/04

Physical education class has long suffered from an image problem. Children often deem jumping jacks and chin-ups boring or goofy; parents wonder if the time would be better spent on reading skills.

But a new study makes a strong case that physical education may be the single best strategy for curbing the United States' growing child obesity problem – at least among girls. In the first study to evaluate the effect of P.E. programs on kindergartners and first-graders, researchers found that increasing P.E. time by one hour per week could lead to a significant decline in body mass index, a measure of body fat, among girls. They projected that providing five hours of P.E. per week to kindergartners – close to the recommended amount – would produce a 43 percent reduction in the prevalence of girls that age who are overweight. About 10 percent of kindergarten girls are overweight now, but that would decline to about 5.8 percent with at least five hours of P.E. per week.

The same effect on body mass index was not observed in boys, possibly because more boys are active at that age and a larger percentage of 5- and 6-year-old girls are sedentary. The effects of P.E. on boys' weight might be observed at later ages, suggested Rand Corp. researchers who conducted the study.

Wide variations in P.E. time were found among schools participating in the study, with kindergartners averaging only 57 minutes per week of P.E. and first-graders receiving about 65 minutes per week.

"What is exciting about this study is that P.E. works for a large number of children," said Nancy Chockley, president of the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation, a nonprofit group that funded the study. "Helping these kids manage their weight from an early age is so important."

The research was conducted from U.S. Department of Education data as part of a broader, long-term study of 11,192 children from 1,000 public and private schools who entered kindergarten in 1998. Results from the study are published in three medical journals; the P.E. arm of the study appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Physical education has become a low priority in many schools as administrators struggle to raise test scores and meet minimum standards for academic achievement. But schools are one of the few places where child obesity can be addressed on a large scale, Chockley says. According to the federal government, the prevalence of obesity among children has doubled since 1980, and it has tripled in teens. More than 15 percent of children ages 6 to 19 were overweight in 2000.

"Schools are clearly burdened, and we can't leave (the obesity problem) all to the schools," she said. "But schools are where the children are, and they have to be part of the solution."

The study also examined whether obesity affects behavior and academic performance. Kindergarten girls who are overweight were found to be significantly more likely to have behavior problems such as anxiety, low self-esteem and acting out. Overweight children were also more likely to score lower on reading and math tests.

But more research is needed to determine whether obesity affects school performance and behavior or whether other factors are at work, says Ashlesha Datar, an associate economist at Rand and lead author of the studies. "Our research suggests it's the quality of the home environment that is the most important predictor of school outcomes," she said.

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Overweight, inactive students sapping school finances, study says

AP, 9/23/04

WASHINGTON (AP) — Expanding waistlines are squeezing the bottom line of the nation's schools, as poor eating and exercise subtly strip money from education, a new study suggests.

"It's too risky not to call attention to this," said David Satcher, former U.S. surgeon general and founding chairman of Action for Healthy Kids, a coalition of more than 40 health and education agencies behind the study.

With 9 million overweight schoolchildren, a number that has tripled since 1980, the new findings aim to give education leaders a traditional motivation for making changes: money.

At least nine states that get state money based on student attendance, for example, are losing an estimated tens of millions of dollars because of absenteeism, a problem caused in part by the poor nutrition and inactivity of those missing school, the study says.

Unhealthy lifestyles by students and faculty lead to other hidden costs, from lower worker productivity to the added expenses of helping students who have fallen behind, says the study.

Through their courses, menus and vending-machine sales of soda and candy, schools have huge influence and responsibility, the report says. Children spend 2,000 hours a year in school.

The findings are part of a flurry of efforts aimed at the nation's weight problem.

Next week, leaders of the federal education, health and agriculture departments will visit schools, announce grants and promote a national drive for healthy eating and exercise.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, says the nation has not made progress since 1991 in its goals to significantly increase exercise by students. Last year, only 56% of high school students were enrolled in a physical education class.

And Atkins Nutritionals, known for its low-carbohydrate diet plan, on Thursday announced a partnership with the nation's largest teachers union and other groups to reduce obesity. (Related story: Atkins' low-carb approach makes way into schools)

Schools, which increasingly rely on vending sales to raise money for basic operations, often undermine themselves by offering high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, Satcher said. Sacrificing gym classes to allow more lesson time in reading and math backfires too, he said, as studies suggest built-in time for exercise helps children focus and be less disruptive.

Satcher's group is promoting schools that have made healthy choices without losing money.

In the McComb School District in southwestern Mississippi, for example, leaders banned sodas from vending machines and steered students toward meals featuring fruit and vegetables. The district required 30 minutes of organized exercise each day in grades kindergarten to eight and made physical education courses a high school requirement. These changes, among others, boosted student attendance and school revenues, superintendent Pat Cooper said.

"Surprisingly, the kids have really acclimated well," Cooper said. "They're going to eat whatever's available. We have to teach them this, just like we teach math and English."

Satcher, the former surgeon general, said he views with caution the partnership between Atkins and the education groups. "Obviously, it helps provide funding to the schools," he said. "But we must make sure that what happens is in the best interest of children, not the advocacy group."

Atkins is giving money to the National Education Association, the teachers union, to develop a Web site, and is underwriting a guide for state boards of education. It would not name the amount, but the figure is "well into the low- to mid-six figures," a spokesman said.

Atkins says it is targeting obesity, not marketing to kids.

"Simple steps like making sandwiches on whole grain bread, scaling back on sugary snacks and soda and encouraging a half-hour of exercise a day can keep children healthy," said Stuart Trager, Atkins' medical director.

But Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, accused the NEA of "selling out" to the private company.

Atkins will get credit for supporting the Web site but will have no say over its content, which will promote schools with model health programs, said Gerald Newberry, who oversees the NEA health division.

"I think they're being a good corporate neighbor," he said. "If we were promoting any diet, whether its Weight Watchers or Atkins, then I think that would be a problem."

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