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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips September 24 – October 1, 2004

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            Funding plan worries school leaders/Register Star
            Bush's No Child Left Behind Education Plan Gets Failing Grades/Bloomberg.com
            Education secretary calls No Child Left Behind start of new era/Macon Telegraph
            Gifted students often left behind/NWI Times

 

Funding plan worries school leaders

Aaron Chambers, Register Star, Springfield Bureau

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich's new state school officials want to speed certification of teachers and reduce bureaucratic red tape, actions that Rock River Valley officials applaud as practical and necessary.

"We have got to have more flexibility from the state in how we carry out programs," Rockford Superintendent Dennis Thompson said.

But school officials around Rockford are concerned about one glaring omission in the newly minted education plan: School funding reform is not among the priorities articulated by state Superintendent Randy Dunn or the State Board of Education.

"The one that's not there is obviously, 'Are we going to have any funding reforms?' " said Richard Fairgrieves, regional superintendent for Winnebago and Boone counties. "Is the state board going to support that, or is the governor going to support anything in terms of funding the public schools in Illinois?"

The school funding remedy most often promoted in Illinois involves an increase in the personal income tax that could be coupled with an increase in the sales tax. Proponents say this would provide adequate resources to schools and simultaneously reduce property taxes.

Blagojevich has stated opposition to such tax increases. The Chicago Democrat and the General Assembly increased state spending on education by $800 million over two years, but many local school officials say such incremental increases are insufficient to cover their rising costs.

They note that 74 percent of school districts in Illinois operate in the red.

Last Monday, Blagojevich's appointees to the State Board of Education -- seven of the nine members -- started work. They quickly appointed Dunn, the governor's choice, to replace Robert Schiller as state superintendent.

Over the past week, Dunn spoke at length about how he hopes to expedite certification of teachers. He said staff members are investigating how to cure a backlog of 7,000 cases and that, in the long term, he'd like to overhaul the certification process.

Hononegah Superintendent Ralph Marshall said the holdup can directly affect schools.

"There are some teachers from out of state who have many years of experience and have been recognized as high-quality teachers that, because of the backup in Springfield, can't get a teaching certificate and thus we can't hire them," he said.

The governor also charged Dunn and the board with cutting rules and regulations covering local schools, as well as jump-starting a statewide procurement program intended to save school districts money when they buy supplies.

But on school funding, Dunn reiterated the governor's opposition to a tax increase. He said the education system must show that it's truly efficient before asking taxpayers for more money -- logic often cited by Blagojevich's political allies.

Local officials are concerned about the long-term implications of that approach.

"That's one of those things that I believe this governor has avoided," said Don Schlomann, Belvidere's superintendent. "The governor has chosen to say no new taxes, and that includes replacement taxes, and that's just not appropriate."

Marshall shares that concern: "I would be very disappointed if there was not a serious discussion about what needs to be done so long-term funding is sufficient for our public schools."

On the other hand, Thompson said local school districts must first tighten their belts and that the state should help with that.

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Bush's No Child Left Behind Education Plan Gets Failing Grades

Bloomberg.com

Michael McGill climbs the terrazzo steps to a balcony above the newest wing of Scarsdale Middle School, part of a $22 million renovation that includes two-story tinted windows, a 31-classroom addition and a light-filled central indoor courtyard overlooking weeping willows.

The freshly tiled walls are lined with awards won by high achievers in the 4,569-student school district in Westchester County, New York, where McGill, 60, has been superintendent for six years. Almost every senior attends college, and one in three is awarded National Merit scholarships or academic honors based on test scores, McGill says.

With all of its honors and accomplishments, Scarsdale Middle School is failing to comply with President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law, which Bush, 58, describes as ``the cornerstone of my administration.''

One-third of the 90,000 U.S. public schools, from affluent suburbs like Scarsdale to poor cities like Reading, Pennsylvania, didn't make adequate yearly progress during the first year of the law, which has the practical effect of labeling them as failures, according to the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union.

In high-achieving Scarsdale, where home prices range from $600,000 to more than $6 million, the middle school failed to meet the New York State Education Department's criteria under the 2002 law because 85 percent of the eighth-graders took the state's math and English exams instead of the required 95 percent participation rate.

Boycotting Tests

Fifteen percent of the students intentionally didn't take the tests because of a boycott organized by parents who believe excessive standardized testing stymies learning and limits creativity.

No Child Left Behind is the most comprehensive national education legislation since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which authorized grants to schools with a high proportion of low-income students.

The Bush law, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 13, 2001, by a vote of 381-41 and the U.S. Senate by a vote of 87-10 five days later, directs states to create grade- level standards on what students should know and to test their progress annually in grades three to eight.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, 60, a four- term U.S. senator from Massachusetts, voted to adopt the law. Educators and politicians hailed the law's mission to improve student performance and teacher quality.

Now, many of those who supported the law say it amounts to government demands without the money necessary to carry them out.

Disagreement on Cost

Funding has become a source of contention. The president says he's increased the federal budget for the poorest school districts by 52 percent since he took office, to $13.3 billion from $8.8 billion. He says his 2005 budget would increase spending by 49 percent for all elementary and secondary school programs, to $37 billion from $24.8 billion.

Kerry and the NEA say the federal government must spend an additional $27 billion to make the law work. Kerry says that if he's elected, he would roll back tax cuts Bush provided to the wealthiest citizens and direct more resources to public schools.

``Thousands of schools are falling short of the law's targets because the president has fallen billions short of his own promises to fund the initiative,'' Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer said in August. ``If George Bush were getting graded for his implementation of No Child Left Behind, he'd get an `F.'''

`Unfunded Mandate'

The bipartisan National Governors Association voted unanimously in 2003 to name No Child Left Behind an ``unfunded mandate,'' which means the federal government isn't supplying the money needed to make the law work. The Washington-based group called on Congress and Bush to fully fund the law.

All students are required by the law to make progress each year in math and reading scores. If they don't, the school district must take steps such as busing students to better schools, tutoring or, after repeated failure, replacing staff and re-opening under private management. The school districts must pay for these measures.

The federal government is supposed to fund the schools; most districts say they're not getting enough money, according to the NEA.

Twenty-nine states are considering resolutions requesting waivers or asking for more money to cover the law's mandates, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. School districts in Connecticut, Illinois and Vermont have refused federal funds rather than comply with the law.

`It's Unrealistic'

Six other states are considering bills or resolutions that would allow them to opt out of the law's provisions. Wisconsin's attorney general issued an opinion that the U.S. government can't force states to follow the law without fully funding it.

In Belleville, Illinois, Superintendent Brent Clark, 35, says the law's punitive measures may unravel public education in the U.S.

He's already sent out 5,000 letters to parents letting them know the two high schools he oversees are failing under the law. Clark, whose district gets $450,000 in federal aid, estimates the cost of additional tutoring, paperwork and reading programs the law requires will be more than $1 million this year.

``It's unrealistic to expect all students to pass annual exams in grades three to eight without money to pay for smaller classes, more individual attention for slow learners and intensive tutoring programs,'' he says.

``The costs are going to explode when the next round of test scores and sanctions come out,'' he says, referring to the end of the 2004-2005 school year.

`Really Insulted'

Joseph O'Brien, 54, superintendent of schools in Springfield, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, says that while he supports the goals of the law, his district lacks the money to carry them out.

Public school systems already reeling from state budget cuts and taxpayer revolts that curtail education spending now face punishing sanctions if test results don't improve, says Gary Orfield, a Harvard University social policy professor.

Orfield, 62, is a founding co-director of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard Civil Rights Project, which is studying No Child Left Behind. ``People who work in disadvantaged schools and study education reform and testing are really insulted by this law,'' he says.

``It shows an ignorance and arrogance that's stunning,'' Orfield says. ``People who really care about schools being good for poor kids see it is doing damage.''

Give the Law Time

Corporate executives say the sanctions the law prescribes for lagging schools are needed to improve student performance and stem the loss of U.S. jobs to India and China, says Susan Traiman, the director of education and workforce policy for the Business Roundtable, a Washington-based association of chief executive officers of the largest U.S. corporations.

``To be competitive, innovative and at the forefront of research and development, the U.S needs to upgrade the skills and knowledge of our future workforce, and we think this law is an important part of doing that,'' Traiman says. The group has urged Congress to give the law the time it needs to work.

Bush says the law is closing the achievement gap between minority and white students and improving student performance. ``We are already seeing hopeful results,'' Bush said during his weekly radio address on Aug. 21, saying fourth- and eighth-grade math scores across the country were up last year.

In 2003, 77 percent of fourth-graders met U.S. standards in math compared with 69 percent in 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Grades Up Since 1990

Such gains shouldn't be linked to No Child Left Behind, says Dan Kaufman, a spokesman for the 2.7-million-member NEA. He says test scores have been going up for more than a decade because of smaller class sizes, more-focused training and early-childhood programs that preceded the law.

In 1996, 64 percent of fourth-graders met basic standards; in 1992, 59 percent passed; and in 1990, 50 percent met standards, according to the NCES. The law doesn't move education forward in any way, Kaufman says.

``The problem is that now NCLB, despite its praiseworthy goals, is interfering with this progress by adding rigid mandates, additional bureaucracy and standardized testing and narrowing the curriculum without adequate funding,'' he says.

Poor, minority districts can least afford the law's sanctions and remedies, says Richard Guida, 57. The lawyer is representing the schools of Reading, a former textile manufacturing city about 50 miles west of Philadelphia, in its lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

$18 Million Short

Median household income in Reading is $26,698, and 98 percent of the elementary school students are eligible for free lunches, meaning they live at or below the poverty level of $18,810 in yearly income for a family of four.

Two-thirds of Reading's 17,000 students are Hispanic, and in the 2002-2003 school year, 13 of 19 schools failed to make enough progress under the law, Guida says. This year, seven failed.

``We are $18 million short of the money we need to carry out the school improvement plans,'' Guida says of Reading, where tax revenue declined by 34 percent, to $22.3 million, in the eight years from 1995 to 2003. Reading gets $8 million a year from the federal government for such improvements, and Guida says in court papers that its costs are more than $26 million.

Ron Tomalis, counsel to U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, says the role of the federal government in Reading and every school district is to supplement the district's needs, not pay for them. He says Reading received a 60 percent increase in three years of federal government grants.

`Testing, Blaming, Punishing'

The law's requirement that standardized test scores go up each year comes at the expense of original thinking and creative programs such as art, music, poetry and history, says Lisa Guisbond, co-author of a two-year study of the law by FairTest, a Cambridge-based nonprofit group that researches standardized testing.

``The law is based on testing, blaming and punishing,'' Guisbond says. ``Teachers feel threatened that they will lose their jobs if their students' scores don't go up, and then they end up narrowing their focus.''

That's why parents in Scarsdale say they're boycotting standardized tests.

``Testing does not make for good education,'' says Leslie Berkovits, a former corporate securities lawyer at White & Case LLP in New York and a mother of three Scarsdale students. ``This is not just about Scarsdale. This is a philosophical and educational point of view.''

Parents in communities in California, Massachusetts and Michigan have organized similar boycotts.

Law Raising Standards

Under the law, each state must set standards, and schools have to separately report scores of as many as 41 categories of students, including minorities, those for whom English is a second language, disabled pupils and those who are economically disadvantaged.

If scores in every group don't meet state standards for two years in a row, students in schools that receive money for poverty programs might be forced by the federal government to get special tutoring or transfers; the schools would have to pay for both.

Bush says the tests are needed to measure progress and says the law is raising standards and improving accountability in U.S. public school systems. Education Secretary Paige, 71, has softened aspects of the law this year in response to complaints from educators, says Education Department spokeswoman Jo Ann Webb.

Achievement Gap

The department agreed to give school districts greater flexibility in the way they report the scores of special education students, she says.

``Every organization in this nation that is devoted to minority advancement and civil rights should be embracing No Child Left Behind,'' Paige said during a July speech before members of the National Urban League, a New York-based civil rights group.

The law that once seemed full of promise to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the oldest civil rights organization in the U.S., isn't closing the achievement gap, says Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington NAACP office, which has criticized No Child Left Behind.

``We believe schools are being challenged to meet the mandates without the resources,'' he says.

Poor and diverse minority communities where a majority of schools have failed to make progress for two years don't have the classroom space to transfer students to better schools as the law requires, Harvard's Orfield says.

10 School Districts

That's the case in Washington, which has 33,000 public school students, says Carol Jackson, administrative officer for the city's public school system.

Of 15 high schools in the district, only three aren't listed as needing improvement, and students are not eligible to transfer because they have specialized admissions policies.

``You can't transfer them from one public school that isn't making progress to another,'' Jackson says.

The Harvard group studied 10 U.S. school districts -- including those in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York -- in the last school year and found that none of the schools could afford to pay for all of the transfer requirements and that no district was able to approve all transfer requests.

``If the transfers are to be really valuable, they should be to genuinely better schools, and to do that would require including suburbs and providing voluntary transfers across district lines,'' Orfield says.

In New York, where 1,049 schools statewide failed to make adequate progress during the first year of the law, high- performing Scarsdale found its middle school listed with a similar designation again this year.

`All About Excellence'

Berkovits says parents won't be deterred. Superintendent McGill, who says he supports the philosophy behind the parents' boycott, says failure to meet the law's requirements isn't a reflection on the quality of Scarsdale schools.

``This is a very rigorous place academically and a school district that is all about excellence,'' McGill says of the suburb, 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of New York.

Scarsdale, with a tax base of $6.5 billion, spends $21,712 per student compared with an average of $11,500 in the rest of the state. The average SAT score for Scarsdale students is 1,262 (1,600 is a perfect score) compared with the national average of 1,026.

``If this law says that our schools are failing, I think it means the system is broken -- or poorly designed,'' McGill says.

`Kid in a Corner'

Springfield, a community of 23,677 about 12 miles southwest of Philadelphia, is also fighting the law.

At a meeting with his administrative staff in July, Superintendent O'Brien broke the news that while scores rose in every school, the district would be cited as ``in need of improvement,'' a label that would make the district look like it was failing.

The label came because the collective test scores of students with disabilities didn't rise enough during the past three years, O'Brien said.

``This is like putting a kid in a corner for performing poorly,'' says O'Brien, a 30-year veteran of the Springfield school system.

The law has the potential to dismantle public education in the U.S., he says, and he raises his voice to explain how the district's failure under the law would be publicized in local newspapers. ``It's part of the public humiliation part of this law,'' O'Brien says. ``I think it's absolutely wrong.''

Appealing the Label

In his national radio speech on Aug. 21, Bush said the law is intended to remedy, not punish. ``We are leaving behind the broken systems that shuffled children from grade to grade even when they were not learning the basics,'' Bush said.

Mack Johnson, a school administrator in Springfield and a parent of children in grades four and 10, says he dislikes both the law and the failure label. ``It's a shame this will tarnish good intentions, good people and a good district,'' Johnson says. ``I am absolutely offended that we are on this list.''

Springfield -- a community where brick homes with landscaped yards bear American flags and the median household income is $75,000 -- is proud of its schools and on top of what needs to be done to improve student performance, O'Brien says.

He estimates he and his staff spent more than 90 hours at the end of the 2003-2004 school year appealing the failure label, only to be told by state officials in July that the district hadn't made adequate progress a second time under the rules of the law.

O'Brien says the law is costing the district $800,000 to $1.6 million for additional staff, tutoring, special education teachers, classroom materials and data management.

Less Science and History

On an 86-degree July day, Springfield third-grade teacher Sandy O'Connor packs up summer school books and describes the stress she and her students feel during the week-long tests that are now mandatory under the law.

``It takes a lot of time away from other subjects,'' O'Connor says. She says she can't work individually with students in small groups and has to cut back in areas such as social studies, geography, science and history. ``The test should not be driving classroom instruction, but it is,'' she says.

Frank McNight, principal of Springfield's middle school, says that the law is a sincere effort to increase student achievement and that he doesn't believe it's aimed at districts like Springfield, where the vast majority of students are doing well.

``What I think is unfair is that students with learning disabilities are held to the same standard as students without disabilities,'' he says.

Not a Failure

Rina Vassallo, director of teaching and learning in Springfield, fears that consecutive ``needs improvement'' labels could shut down Springfield's public schools and open the door to private management. ``This system has been around since the early 1900s; I went to these schools,'' she says.

In March, six Pennsylvania superintendents testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on behalf of 138 of their colleagues, outlining their opposition to the law and their need for more funding. A total of 336 of 501 Pennsylvania superintendents signed a request seeking changes to the law, says James Weaver, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Francis Barnes tried to soften the stigma of a school district's being considered a failure under the law in a news release on Aug. 24.

``It's important to point out that if a school does not meet annual yearly progress, it is not necessarily a failing school,'' he said. Barnes said that in the 2003-2004 school year, there was a 20 percent increase in Pennsylvania schools meeting the No Child Left Behind standards.

Limited English Speakers

Tomalis says educators have misinterpreted what the law says. ``Even our best schools have room to improve,'' he says. ``We are not saying these schools are failing.''

In Reading, most of the buildings are aging and overcrowded, and with so many schools deemed in need of improvement, there is no place to transfer students, says Superintendent Melissa Jamula, 51.

In August, after a three-judge state court panel ruled against the district's appeal of the state's decision to label six schools as ``needing improvement,'' Jamula found herself scrambling to offer parents choices where none exist.

Because the district has just one high school, Jamula instead will try to satisfy the law by offering extra tutoring. ``Neighboring districts are not going to want to take our kids, who are the poorest and scored the lowest,'' she says. ``They'll pull down their scores. The question is, How is this law going to help these kids when they have nowhere to go?''

Smaller Classes

Unless an appeal by the Reading School District to the state Supreme Court is successful, the ruling guarantees years of failure for Reading students, where 15 percent of the students are limited English speakers, Jamula says.

The district had asked the state to allow the newest immigrants to take the exams in Spanish. ``We've had kids taking these tests who are in tears, because they don't understand what is on this test and are barely speaking English,'' Jamula says.

Jamula credits the school system both she and her parents attended with providing an excellent education for her son, a graduate of Pennsylvania State University in College Park, and a daughter, a senior at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

She says she knows what is needed to improve student performance: all-day kindergarten, smaller classes, an extended school year, better technology and money to make teacher salaries more competitive. She says those goals aren't easy to accomplish with a budget of $132 million for 17,000 students.

In Scarsdale, the same students who boycotted the eighth- grade exams are applying to the most-competitive colleges in the U.S., including Brown University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and Yale.

In Belleville, Reading and Springfield, school officials are more concerned with the stigma of failure, along with a sense that the law is undermining public education and hurting the students it's intended to help.

No Child Left Behind Limits Rural Education

Keloland TV

South Dakota is ranked fifth among states needing urgent improvement in schools and a new report points at rural education. Three out of four students in the state attend rural, public schools and they're facing some major challenges when it comes to the No Child Left Behind Act.

Senator Tim Johnson requested the study from the Government Accountability Office. It lists how rural school districts have limited resources, difficulty recruiting teachers, shrinking budgets and that teachers are expected to take on more responsibilities.

While those areas are making it harder for schools to implement No Child Left Behind, school administrators say the problems don't stop there.

The report recommends the U.S. Department of Education give more assistance and be flexible on how rural districts choose to implement NCLB. Senator Tim Johnson said the current restrictions on schools are rigid and don't account for the special needs of rural education.

Sen. Johnson said, "I really think that NCLB, while it's not going to be repealed, it isn't up for re-authorization for a couple more years; it needs to be more flexible, needs to get away form some of this one size fits all, particularly as it pertains to rural schools.

The survey also pinpoints the importance of the Rural Education Achievement Plan. It provides additional funds to rural schools for implementing the law. Superintendent of Centerville Schools, Doug Voss, is faced with these challenges firsthand; 19% of his students have special needs.

Voss said "We've been fortunate enough that, without the Rural Achievement grant, our students would be having some difficulties meeting their needs.

But city schools are also having trouble meeting requirements. With students from forty different countries and diverse socio-economic circumstances, Sioux Falls principals say the challenge is that not all students have a similar starting point.

Principal of Anne Sullivan Elementary, Nancy Duncan said, "We have students who are coming to us from all different backgrounds, at all different starting places, but they all have to hit the end of the race at the same time."

Senator Johnson says he'll now take this report back to Washington to look at whether additional legislation is needed to make No Child Left Behind more flexible.

Bush's No Child Left Behind Education Plan Gets Failing Grades

Bloomberg.com

Michael McGill climbs the terrazzo steps to a balcony above the newest wing of Scarsdale Middle School, part of a $22 million renovation that includes two-story tinted windows, a 31-classroom addition and a light-filled central indoor courtyard overlooking weeping willows.

The freshly tiled walls are lined with awards won by high achievers in the 4,569-student school district in Westchester County, New York, where McGill, 60, has been superintendent for six years. Almost every senior attends college, and one in three is awarded National Merit scholarships or academic honors based on test scores, McGill says.

With all of its honors and accomplishments, Scarsdale Middle School is failing to comply with President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law, which Bush, 58, describes as ``the cornerstone of my administration.''

One-third of the 90,000 U.S. public schools, from affluent suburbs like Scarsdale to poor cities like Reading, Pennsylvania, didn't make adequate yearly progress during the first year of the law, which has the practical effect of labeling them as failures, according to the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union.

In high-achieving Scarsdale, where home prices range from $600,000 to more than $6 million, the middle school failed to meet the New York State Education Department's criteria under the 2002 law because 85 percent of the eighth-graders took the state's math and English exams instead of the required 95 percent participation rate.

Boycotting Tests

Fifteen percent of the students intentionally didn't take the tests because of a boycott organized by parents who believe excessive standardized testing stymies learning and limits creativity.

No Child Left Behind is the most comprehensive national education legislation since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which authorized grants to schools with a high proportion of low-income students.

The Bush law, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 13, 2001, by a vote of 381-41 and the U.S. Senate by a vote of 87-10 five days later, directs states to create grade- level standards on what students should know and to test their progress annually in grades three to eight.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, 60, a four- term U.S. senator from Massachusetts, voted to adopt the law. Educators and politicians hailed the law's mission to improve student performance and teacher quality.

Now, many of those who supported the law say it amounts to government demands without the money necessary to carry them out.

Disagreement on Cost

Funding has become a source of contention. The president says he's increased the federal budget for the poorest school districts by 52 percent since he took office, to $13.3 billion from $8.8 billion. He says his 2005 budget would increase spending by 49 percent for all elementary and secondary school programs, to $37 billion from $24.8 billion.

Kerry and the NEA say the federal government must spend an additional $27 billion to make the law work. Kerry says that if he's elected, he would roll back tax cuts Bush provided to the wealthiest citizens and direct more resources to public schools.

``Thousands of schools are falling short of the law's targets because the president has fallen billions short of his own promises to fund the initiative,'' Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer said in August. ``If George Bush were getting graded for his implementation of No Child Left Behind, he'd get an `F.'''

`Unfunded Mandate'

The bipartisan National Governors Association voted unanimously in 2003 to name No Child Left Behind an ``unfunded mandate,'' which means the federal government isn't supplying the money needed to make the law work. The Washington-based group called on Congress and Bush to fully fund the law.

All students are required by the law to make progress each year in math and reading scores. If they don't, the school district must take steps such as busing students to better schools, tutoring or, after repeated failure, replacing staff and re-opening under private management. The school districts must pay for these measures.

The federal government is supposed to fund the schools; most districts say they're not getting enough money, according to the NEA.

Twenty-nine states are considering resolutions requesting waivers or asking for more money to cover the law's mandates, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. School districts in Connecticut, Illinois and Vermont have refused federal funds rather than comply with the law.

`It's Unrealistic'

Six other states are considering bills or resolutions that would allow them to opt out of the law's provisions. Wisconsin's attorney general issued an opinion that the U.S. government can't force states to follow the law without fully funding it.

In Belleville, Illinois, Superintendent Brent Clark, 35, says the law's punitive measures may unravel public education in the U.S.

He's already sent out 5,000 letters to parents letting them know the two high schools he oversees are failing under the law. Clark, whose district gets $450,000 in federal aid, estimates the cost of additional tutoring, paperwork and reading programs the law requires will be more than $1 million this year.

``It's unrealistic to expect all students to pass annual exams in grades three to eight without money to pay for smaller classes, more individual attention for slow learners and intensive tutoring programs,'' he says.

``The costs are going to explode when the next round of test scores and sanctions come out,'' he says, referring to the end of the 2004-2005 school year.

`Really Insulted'

Joseph O'Brien, 54, superintendent of schools in Springfield, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, says that while he supports the goals of the law, his district lacks the money to carry them out.

Public school systems already reeling from state budget cuts and taxpayer revolts that curtail education spending now face punishing sanctions if test results don't improve, says Gary Orfield, a Harvard University social policy professor.

Orfield, 62, is a founding co-director of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard Civil Rights Project, which is studying No Child Left Behind. ``People who work in disadvantaged schools and study education reform and testing are really insulted by this law,'' he says.

``It shows an ignorance and arrogance that's stunning,'' Orfield says. ``People who really care about schools being good for poor kids see it is doing damage.''

Give the Law Time

Corporate executives say the sanctions the law prescribes for lagging schools are needed to improve student performance and stem the loss of U.S. jobs to India and China, says Susan Traiman, the director of education and workforce policy for the Business Roundtable, a Washington-based association of chief executive officers of the largest U.S. corporations.

``To be competitive, innovative and at the forefront of research and development, the U.S needs to upgrade the skills and knowledge of our future workforce, and we think this law is an important part of doing that,'' Traiman says. The group has urged Congress to give the law the time it needs to work.

Bush says the law is closing the achievement gap between minority and white students and improving student performance. ``We are already seeing hopeful results,'' Bush said during his weekly radio address on Aug. 21, saying fourth- and eighth-grade math scores across the country were up last year.

In 2003, 77 percent of fourth-graders met U.S. standards in math compared with 69 percent in 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Grades Up Since 1990

Such gains shouldn't be linked to No Child Left Behind, says Dan Kaufman, a spokesman for the 2.7-million-member NEA. He says test scores have been going up for more than a decade because of smaller class sizes, more-focused training and early-childhood programs that preceded the law.

In 1996, 64 percent of fourth-graders met basic standards; in 1992, 59 percent passed; and in 1990, 50 percent met standards, according to the NCES. The law doesn't move education forward in any way, Kaufman says.

``The problem is that now NCLB, despite its praiseworthy goals, is interfering with this progress by adding rigid mandates, additional bureaucracy and standardized testing and narrowing the curriculum without adequate funding,'' he says.

Poor, minority districts can least afford the law's sanctions and remedies, says Richard Guida, 57. The lawyer is representing the schools of Reading, a former textile manufacturing city about 50 miles west of Philadelphia, in its lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

$18 Million Short

Median household income in Reading is $26,698, and 98 percent of the elementary school students are eligible for free lunches, meaning they live at or below the poverty level of $18,810 in yearly income for a family of four.

Two-thirds of Reading's 17,000 students are Hispanic, and in the 2002-2003 school year, 13 of 19 schools failed to make enough progress under the law, Guida says. This year, seven failed.

``We are $18 million short of the money we need to carry out the school improvement plans,'' Guida says of Reading, where tax revenue declined by 34 percent, to $22.3 million, in the eight years from 1995 to 2003. Reading gets $8 million a year from the federal government for such improvements, and Guida says in court papers that its costs are more than $26 million.

Ron Tomalis, counsel to U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, says the role of the federal government in Reading and every school district is to supplement the district's needs, not pay for them. He says Reading received a 60 percent increase in three years of federal government grants.

`Testing, Blaming, Punishing'

The law's requirement that standardized test scores go up each year comes at the expense of original thinking and creative programs such as art, music, poetry and history, says Lisa Guisbond, co-author of a two-year study of the law by FairTest, a Cambridge-based nonprofit group that researches standardized testing.

``The law is based on testing, blaming and punishing,'' Guisbond says. ``Teachers feel threatened that they will lose their jobs if their students' scores don't go up, and then they end up narrowing their focus.''

That's why parents in Scarsdale say they're boycotting standardized tests.

``Testing does not make for good education,'' says Leslie Berkovits, a former corporate securities lawyer at White & Case LLP in New York and a mother of three Scarsdale students. ``This is not just about Scarsdale. This is a philosophical and educational point of view.''

Parents in communities in California, Massachusetts and Michigan have organized similar boycotts.

Law Raising Standards

Under the law, each state must set standards, and schools have to separately report scores of as many as 41 categories of students, including minorities, those for whom English is a second language, disabled pupils and those who are economically disadvantaged.

If scores in every group don't meet state standards for two years in a row, students in schools that receive money for poverty programs might be forced by the federal government to get special tutoring or transfers; the schools would have to pay for both.

Bush says the tests are needed to measure progress and says the law is raising standards and improving accountability in U.S. public school systems. Education Secretary Paige, 71, has softened aspects of the law this year in response to complaints from educators, says Education Department spokeswoman Jo Ann Webb.

Achievement Gap

The department agreed to give school districts greater flexibility in the way they report the scores of special education students, she says.

``Every organization in this nation that is devoted to minority advancement and civil rights should be embracing No Child Left Behind,'' Paige said during a July speech before members of the National Urban League, a New York-based civil rights group.

The law that once seemed full of promise to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the oldest civil rights organization in the U.S., isn't closing the achievement gap, says Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington NAACP office, which has criticized No Child Left Behind.

``We believe schools are being challenged to meet the mandates without the resources,'' he says.

Poor and diverse minority communities where a majority of schools have failed to make progress for two years don't have the classroom space to transfer students to better schools as the law requires, Harvard's Orfield says.

10 School Districts

That's the case in Washington, which has 33,000 public school students, says Carol Jackson, administrative officer for the city's public school system.

Of 15 high schools in the district, only three aren't listed as needing improvement, and students are not eligible to transfer because they have specialized admissions policies.

``You can't transfer them from one public school that isn't making progress to another,'' Jackson says.

The Harvard group studied 10 U.S. school districts -- including those in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York -- in the last school year and found that none of the schools could afford to pay for all of the transfer requirements and that no district was able to approve all transfer requests.

``If the transfers are to be really valuable, they should be to genuinely better schools, and to do that would require including suburbs and providing voluntary transfers across district lines,'' Orfield says.

In New York, where 1,049 schools statewide failed to make adequate progress during the first year of the law, high- performing Scarsdale found its middle school listed with a similar designation again this year.

`All About Excellence'

Berkovits says parents won't be deterred. Superintendent McGill, who says he supports the philosophy behind the parents' boycott, says failure to meet the law's requirements isn't a reflection on the quality of Scarsdale schools.

``This is a very rigorous place academically and a school district that is all about excellence,'' McGill says of the suburb, 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of New York.

Scarsdale, with a tax base of $6.5 billion, spends $21,712 per student compared with an average of $11,500 in the rest of the state. The average SAT score for Scarsdale students is 1,262 (1,600 is a perfect score) compared with the national average of 1,026.

``If this law says that our schools are failing, I think it means the system is broken -- or poorly designed,'' McGill says.

`Kid in a Corner'

Springfield, a community of 23,677 about 12 miles southwest of Philadelphia, is also fighting the law.

At a meeting with his administrative staff in July, Superintendent O'Brien broke the news that while scores rose in every school, the district would be cited as ``in need of improvement,'' a label that would make the district look like it was failing.

The label came because the collective test scores of students with disabilities didn't rise enough during the past three years, O'Brien said.

``This is like putting a kid in a corner for performing poorly,'' says O'Brien, a 30-year veteran of the Springfield school system.

The law has the potential to dismantle public education in the U.S., he says, and he raises his voice to explain how the district's failure under the law would be publicized in local newspapers. ``It's part of the public humiliation part of this law,'' O'Brien says. ``I think it's absolutely wrong.''

Appealing the Label

In his national radio speech on Aug. 21, Bush said the law is intended to remedy, not punish. ``We are leaving behind the broken systems that shuffled children from grade to grade even when they were not learning the basics,'' Bush said.

Mack Johnson, a school administrator in Springfield and a parent of children in grades four and 10, says he dislikes both the law and the failure label. ``It's a shame this will tarnish good intentions, good people and a good district,'' Johnson says. ``I am absolutely offended that we are on this list.''

Springfield -- a community where brick homes with landscaped yards bear American flags and the median household income is $75,000 -- is proud of its schools and on top of what needs to be done to improve student performance, O'Brien says.

He estimates he and his staff spent more than 90 hours at the end of the 2003-2004 school year appealing the failure label, only to be told by state officials in July that the district hadn't made adequate progress a second time under the rules of the law.

O'Brien says the law is costing the district $800,000 to $1.6 million for additional staff, tutoring, special education teachers, classroom materials and data management.

Less Science and History

On an 86-degree July day, Springfield third-grade teacher Sandy O'Connor packs up summer school books and describes the stress she and her students feel during the week-long tests that are now mandatory under the law.

``It takes a lot of time away from other subjects,'' O'Connor says. She says she can't work individually with students in small groups and has to cut back in areas such as social studies, geography, science and history. ``The test should not be driving classroom instruction, but it is,'' she says.

Frank McNight, principal of Springfield's middle school, says that the law is a sincere effort to increase student achievement and that he doesn't believe it's aimed at districts like Springfield, where the vast majority of students are doing well.

``What I think is unfair is that students with learning disabilities are held to the same standard as students without disabilities,'' he says.

Not a Failure

Rina Vassallo, director of teaching and learning in Springfield, fears that consecutive ``needs improvement'' labels could shut down Springfield's public schools and open the door to private management. ``This system has been around since the early 1900s; I went to these schools,'' she says.

In March, six Pennsylvania superintendents testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on behalf of 138 of their colleagues, outlining their opposition to the law and their need for more funding. A total of 336 of 501 Pennsylvania superintendents signed a request seeking changes to the law, says James Weaver, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Francis Barnes tried to soften the stigma of a school district's being considered a failure under the law in a news release on Aug. 24.

``It's important to point out that if a school does not meet annual yearly progress, it is not necessarily a failing school,'' he said. Barnes said that in the 2003-2004 school year, there was a 20 percent increase in Pennsylvania schools meeting the No Child Left Behind standards.

Limited English Speakers

Tomalis says educators have misinterpreted what the law says. ``Even our best schools have room to improve,'' he says. ``We are not saying these schools are failing.''

In Reading, most of the buildings are aging and overcrowded, and with so many schools deemed in need of improvement, there is no place to transfer students, says Superintendent Melissa Jamula, 51.

In August, after a three-judge state court panel ruled against the district's appeal of the state's decision to label six schools as ``needing improvement,'' Jamula found herself scrambling to offer parents choices where none exist.

Because the district has just one high school, Jamula instead will try to satisfy the law by offering extra tutoring. ``Neighboring districts are not going to want to take our kids, who are the poorest and scored the lowest,'' she says. ``They'll pull down their scores. The question is, How is this law going to help these kids when they have nowhere to go?''

Smaller Classes

Unless an appeal by the Reading School District to the state Supreme Court is successful, the ruling guarantees years of failure for Reading students, where 15 percent of the students are limited English speakers, Jamula says.

The district had asked the state to allow the newest immigrants to take the exams in Spanish. ``We've had kids taking these tests who are in tears, because they don't understand what is on this test and are barely speaking English,'' Jamula says.

Jamula credits the school system both she and her parents attended with providing an excellent education for her son, a graduate of Pennsylvania State University in College Park, and a daughter, a senior at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

She says she knows what is needed to improve student performance: all-day kindergarten, smaller classes, an extended school year, better technology and money to make teacher salaries more competitive. She says those goals aren't easy to accomplish with a budget of $132 million for 17,000 students.

In Scarsdale, the same students who boycotted the eighth- grade exams are applying to the most-competitive colleges in the U.S., including Brown University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and Yale.

In Belleville, Reading and Springfield, school officials are more concerned with the stigma of failure, along with a sense that the law is undermining public education and hurting the students it's intended to help.

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Education secretary calls No Child Left Behind start of new era

Camille Ricketts, Macon Telegraph

WASHINGTON - (KRT) - Secretary of Education Rod Paige said Friday that the No Child Left Behind Act improved public schools over the last year and helped narrow the achievement gap among students of differing racial and economic backgrounds.

Paige's assessment came even as critics argued that the law is too rigid and provides too little money to reach the goals set for the nation when it was enacted in 2001.

"There is clear evidence of success, noticeable patterns of change and upbeat reports from a variety of sources," he said. "Simply stated, the law is working, and we are at the beginning of a new era in education."

The law marks the largest government involvement in elementary and secondary education to date. It's designed to ensure that U.S. schoolchildren have qualified teachers, are able to pass multiple standardized tests and can attend schools of their choosing.

Since its passage, however, the Bush administration's measure has come under attack from various quarters.

On Friday, a collection of educators and politicians pointed to troubling flaws in the law, including the government's failure to provide $27 billion that was originally promised. Among the law's critics are the Campaign for America's Future, a liberal nonprofit organization that's permitted to lobby Congress under IRS law; the National Education Association; and Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn.

"The act replaces real teaching with hours of test preparation," said Angela Valenzuela, a professor at the University of Texas and editor of the new book "Leaving Children Behind." "Principals are rewarded for delivering high scores even if it means pushing out students who don't perform well."

Robert Borosage, the co-director for Campaign for America's Future, said the law punishes teachers and students but provides no new funding or other resources to bolster education locally.

"The administration is issuing failing grades to schools without providing kids with what they need," he said. "They have declared mission impossible before they have even started."

In contrast, Paige cited improvements in Georgia, New York and Delaware as proof that the law is working.

He said 78 percent of schools in Georgia met the state's testing goals in the last school year, up from 64 percent the year before. In New York, state education officials said that more than 1,000 schools improved on statewide English and math tests. And in Delaware, students performed the "best ever" on the most recent tests, Paige said.

According the education secretary, the law prompted local officials to provide free homework help to 112,000 low-income students nationwide and reading help for 1.4 million students across the country.

Paige said Colorado and Nevada also are making strides in improving performance among less affluent students. In one low-income elementary school in Colorado, tests scores are up. Another such elementary school in Nevada that had been underachieving for years was designated the first "high achievement" school in its county, Paige said.

"The percentage of African-American and Hispanic fourth-graders who know their reading and math basics increased substantially more between 2000 and 2003 than in the previous eight years combined," Paige said.

Effect of No Child Left Behind Act may take some time to calculate

Beth Cohen, The Reporter

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 has been in place for almost two years‚ and some parents of special needs students said they’re already seeing their children progress in their tests and classroom learning.

 

Robert Shields‚ director of curriculum and instruction service at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit‚ said his staff has been swamped since the inception of NCLB because they now have to ensure that school districts are getting all the information they need about the provisions of the federal law.

“There’s so much information coming forward from this and a lot of the reason is because the act took effect so quickly‚” he said.

Besides helping school districts with professional development‚ Shields said the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit also serves students and helps create individual education plans for them.

Shields said he also sees the NCLB Act as being a positive federal initiative.

“I look at it as an opportunity to improve our practice‚” he said.

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Education reform was scheduled to discuss the NCLB legislation at a field hearing on Sept. 21 in Bensalem‚ but it was canceled. It is unclear when the congressional hearing‚ concerning the importance of including students with disabilities in state accountability plans‚ will be rescheduled‚ said Josh Holly‚ media relations director for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Regardless of what federal lawmakers intended with the NCLB Act‚ parent Maureen McGovern said she believes more needs to be done to help special needs students progress.

“President Bush made this wonderful law and it sounds good in print‚ but he didn’t put any money behind it‚” she said.

Now everyone locally is struggling to implement the mandated provisions of NCLB‚ said McGovern‚ whose learning-challenged son attends a state-approved private school.

Previously‚ her son‚ Dan‚ attended public schools in the North Penn School District‚ but he struggled because classes sizes were larger and teachers did not have as much time to give him the individual attention he needed.

“If he reads a book himself‚ he would have a hard time processing it‚” McGovern said. “But if a book is read to him‚ he comprehends it better because he’s an auditory learner.”

After fighting with the school district for two years‚ McGovern said North Penn now pays for her son to attend the Pathways School in Norristown.

“The difference between when he started four years ago and now‚ is like night and day‚” she said.

After the NCLB Act took effect‚ McGovern said she was concerned the school district would stop paying the private-school tuition because the federal government mandated changes under NCLB but didn’t provide funding to support those changes.

“The state came through with funding about a year ago‚” she said.

McGovern said she believes her son has benefited in some ways from the NCLB Act because he now receives more intense attention and there’s more focus placed on helping him with his individual learning disability.

McGovern said she believes the intention of No Child Left Behind is good in that all efforts are made to ensure all children progress.

Dan has an individual-education plan‚ and because of his learning disability‚ the state mandates that certain accommodations be made.

When he takes a standardized test‚ someone will read him the test so he understands what to do‚ and he does get more time than regular education students to complete the test‚ she said.

Barb D’Silva‚ president of the North Penn Special Education Council‚ said it’s going to take time for parents and educators to see true results from changes influenced by the NCLB Act.

“The No Child Left Behind Act is a long-term initiative‚ which requires that all children be academically proficient by 2014‚” she said.

D’Silva‚ whose 13-year-old special needs son attends public school in the North Penn School District‚ said she’s glad that NCLB has prompted more dialog among school officials about how to help special-needs children become more proficient.

“There’s more of a recognition now that there have been low-expectation of these students in the past‚” she said. “Change is coming‚ but change is slow.”

The focus now is on getting children who are entering school for the first time more proficient on standardized tests and other measures of assessment. NCLB likely won’t do much to help children already in the system‚ particularly those who are older and in higher grades. “For kids who are in 10th grade‚ it will be hard in two years for them to be better in PSSAs‚” D’Silva said. “The key now is to be looking at the elementary school students so that by 2014 they become more proficient.”

Since NCLB took effect‚ D’Silva said she’s been able to convince school officials to try a different method for helping her son with reading comprehension. The method outlined in his Individual Education Plan wasn’t working‚ and D’Silva said she spoke with other special-needs parents about an alternative method.

“I’m very hopeful‚” she said.

This year‚ her son’s school created special time to enable teachers to help him with reading comprehension.

“When it comes to reading there’s different components‚” D’Silva said. “One type of kid can’t read the word‚ and then there’s the other kind of kid who can read the word but not understand what it means.”

D’Silva said both types of kids have traditionally been placed in the same class and teachers don’t always have time to deal with both.

D’Silva said her son can read‚ but he doesn’t comprehend it. This year‚ the school set aside special time to help him learn how to imagine and visualize‚ which should improve his reading comprehension skills.

“The teachers mean well‚ and they really do try‚ but there’s so many other issues on a teacher’s plate‚” she said. “The parent is the child’s best advocate.”

Drawing Attention to Schools

'House parties' aim to mobilize guests in cause of education -- and against new federal law.

Duke Helfand, LA Times

The house party in the Hollywood Hills was billed as a nonpartisan "mobilization" to cast attention on the nation's troubled public schools.

Actress Helen Hunt, commentator Arianna Huffington and others chatted about the need to hire more teachers and restore arts education as they sipped Merlot and nibbled potato pancakes with smoked salmon.

But behind the house party, and scores of others around the country organized last week by the National Education Assn., was a not-so-subtle message: President Bush and his signature education law, the No Child Left Behind Act, are failing the nation's schools.

Leaders of the nation's largest teachers union made no effort to hide their disdain for the 2-year-old education law, which has come under fire from liberals and conservatives alike for its reliance on testing and its sometimes rigid rules about teacher qualifications, among other things.

"This law is practically impossible to implement. We told them it's not going to work," NEA President Reg Weaver told about 100 producers, screenwriters, directors and others assembled Wednesday night on a backyard patio in the Hollywood Hills.

Bush's reelection campaign fired back, accusing the NEA and other organizations involved in the effort — including the liberal online advocacy group MoveOn.org — of politicizing education.

"We wish the NEA would commit itself to improving student achievement rather than hosting political rallies," said Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for Bush's reelection campaign.

Organizers of the National Mobilization for Great Public Schools staged about 3,700 house parties in all 50 states.

The organizers — including the NAACP National Voter Fund, the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute, the Campaign for America's Future and the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now — described themselves as "a coalition of pro-public education groups." They referred to the house parties as "nonpartisan issue-based events."

The idea, they said, was to reengage teachers, parents and others in public education in hopes of elevating the issue in the minds of voters and politicians.

The house parties were a first step. At the events, guests were urged to sign petitions calling on Congress and the president to increase school funding. They were encouraged to call members of Congress later this month to demand the same. And they were advised to register friends to vote.

The idea of greater involvement in education made for lively conversation at Karen and Rodolfo Cancino's home in San Francisco, where 15 people — most of them current or former teachers — gathered.

"I'm very concerned about making sure everyone is educated and about the social issues that relate to education — not just test scores but diversity itself," said Cathy Kornblith, a former private investigator who volunteers at a nearby high school.

Some of the partygoers assailed the No Child Left Behind Act.

"I think it's a farce," said Rodolfo Cancino, who taught middle and high school for 35 years. "They have certain expectations … and yet they aren't funding [the schools] anywhere near to adequately."

In Los Angeles, teachers union leaders also pounded away at No Child Left Behind.

Barbara Kerr, president of the California Teachers Assn., rephrased the law into a joke, to the delight of the guests.

"California schools need help from No Child Left Untested," she told the crowd, which erupted in applause. "All of us know that No Child Left Behind is hurting our children's self-esteem. It's making our next generation one-dimensional."

The state and national teachers unions have waged a sometimes vitriolic campaign against the education law since it went into effect in 2002. They have argued that the Bush administration has underfunded the reform, also complaining that the measure takes a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching students with myriad abilities — accusations the Bush camp denies.

Education analysts saw much of the same rhetoric in last week's mobilization, even as union leaders insisted that their effort was merely designed to foster greater public input into one of the nation's most pressing domestic policy matters.

"The idea that it's nonpartisan doesn't pass the laugh test," Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said of the house parties.

"If they really wanted it to be nonpartisan, they would have scheduled it in December," after the presidential election. The NEA has endorsed Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee.

For some guests, particularly at the Hollywood Hills get-together, the union message about No Child Left Behind rang true. Many said that federal and state policymakers must make public schools their top priority and ensure that teachers and classrooms receive adequate resources to get the job done.

Even so, most people seemed less focused on politics and more interested in the plight of schools, especially after hearing from one speaker, a Los Angeles mother, who told of the decrepit conditions in her children's school.

David Silverman, an animation director on "The Simpsons" television show, said he was moved by the school stories — and that he planned to find his own way to contribute. "It seems obvious the more you have uneducated people, the more you'll have crime," he said. "And crime is an expensive operation."

As the evening wound down, satisfied union leaders declared victory — at least initially.

Weaver, the NEA president, said he was proud to have brought so many people together to talk about "something actually important." And that, he said, was education.

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Gifted students often left behind

EDUCATION: Lake County group works to create awareness.

Olivia Clarke, NWI Times

 

Like many 11-year-old boys, Jason Kalbac likes video games and dislikes homework.

But unlike most fifth-graders, he's learning at higher academic levels.

Jason is enrolled in Lake Central Community School Corp.'s Merit Program. Fourth- and fifth-graders in the program study at a grade or two above their level. Jason, for example, studies sixth- and seventh-grade material.

"I actually learn things instead of waiting for everyone to catch up," he said. "All my friends in the merit program understand where I'm coming from."

In education today, much focus gets placed on students who do not meet state standards and are classified as falling behind under the federal No Child Left Behind law. But many people question where this law and education as a whole leaves gifted students.

High-achieving students often have as many needs as struggling students. Yet the money, legislation and respect do not always exist to help them.

Nationally, talk of gifted and talented education recently reached the pages of the Sept. 27 issue of Time magazine and in a study released Sept. 20 called "A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students." Both discuss whether gifted students should receive more opportunities to skip ahead to a more challenging grade.

About 87,000 Indiana students in 2002-03 were identified with high abilities, according to the Indiana Department of Education's latest numbers. While Indiana offers more support for gifted programs than other states, it does not mandate districts offer gifted education. Indiana funds gifted programs through state dollars, and only about $4.8 million in grant money is available for districts to use.

With his slightly disheveled hair and strong opinions, Jason sat recently with a glass of milk and described what school is like for him.

He got bored in a regular class. The good teachers challenge him with creative in-class projects instead of worksheets, he said. He and his classmates try to ignore the teasing from other students.

"We need the challenges. We can't just be left behind," Jason said.

His mother, Diana Kalbac, said gifted children may be extremely intelligent, but emotionally they are still kids.

"I love when he's engaged and asking questions," said Kalbac, co-founder of the Lake County Alliance for the Gifted. "I like the fact that he is a kid first."

Some gifted children get wrongly labeled as having learning or emotional disabilities when they instead may need more attention, she said. On the flip side, they may have disabilities that get overshadowed by their intellect.

Students in special education and students in gifted and talented programs may represent different sides of the educational spectrum, but their needs can be similar, Kalbac said. Both groups need extra help excelling.

They may experience similar emotional problems and trouble relating to other kids.

"We are leaving behind our brightest learners," she said. "It's time to take a stand, and I do take a strong stand."

Ten-year-old Collin Henson takes classes with other fifth-grade gifted students at Munster's Eads Elementary School. He said he likes this year much better because he feels more challenged.

"It is an OK amount of homework," Collin said. "Last year the work was too easy and I was getting bored."

One myth is that gifted students do not need extra help because they will learn on their own, said Cheryll Adams, board president of the Indiana Association for the Gifted. Teachers do not always have the resources available to help, Adams said.

Jerry Schecter, a clinical psychologist in Skokie, Ill., will speak at a local event Tuesday about gifted students. Schecter, also a school psychologist for the gifted, said No Child Left Behind does not pressure schools to help gifted students.

In a regular classroom, gifted students can spend at least 80 percent of their day waiting for something new to be taught, Schecter said.

"Socially, there is a lot of pressure to be average," he said. "The higher up on the IQ scale, the more difficult it is for kids to fit in."

Teachers in Duneland School Corp. can help their gifted third- through sixth-graders feel engaged by offering them extra enrichment activities, said Claudia Trzeciak, gifted and talented director. A gifted child doesn't necessarily want to work as a teacher's helper or accelerate to the next grade, Trzeciak said. They want to be challenged, she said.

"I think there is sometimes a tendency to assume they will manage," she said. "We have tried very hard to not forget them. Funding forgets them."

Ailing school eyed for state takeover

Megan Tench, The Boston Globe

State Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll plans today to recommend the first state takeover of a school, the harshest action possible against academically struggling schools.

   

The Matthew J. Kuss Middle School in Fall River was one of four schools labeled underperforming in 2000 for lagging test scores and management problems. Under the state's Education Reform Act of 1993, schools that don't improve risk being taken over by the state.

If the state Board of Education goes along with Driscoll, it would be the most dramatic step yet in Massachusetts' school accountability push.

The state would appoint a principal who would have complete control of the Kuss Middle School, including deciding whether to dismiss teachers or change the curriculum. The Fall River superintendent and School Committee would have no say in running the school and would have to carry out all the state's orders. The state would stay in charge until the school improves.

"This is very serious," Heidi B. Perlman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said yesterday. "Things at the Fall River school have progressed to the point where the state has to step in."

In a written recommendation to be presented to the state education board today, Driscoll said Kuss Middle School deserves the "chronically underperforming" label because it has failed to boost MCAS test scores in math and English, has not followed a state-approved plan to improve student performance, and has not developed a sound plan to guide needed changes for this school year. The board plans to discuss the recommendation today and vote on it next month.

Fall River Mayor Edward Lambert yesterday said he hopes to persuade the education board to let him and his staff make changes at the school, starting with firing the principal, before any state takeover.

The school's principal for the past two years, Richard Cochran, declined to comment. He replaced Darlene Devaney after she left the city for personal reasons.

The Fall River school superintendent, Richard D. Pavao, said he agrees with Driscoll that Kuss Middle School has not improved, but said plans to turn the school around are already in the works, including an application to make it a Horace Mann Charter School. Such a change would give the school's staff greater control over the curriculum and the school's budget would be monitored by a governing board.

Pavao said he met with Cochran yesterday to discuss the upcoming changes at the school.

The Kuss Middle School is one of four on the underperforming watch list up for review by the state Board of Education. The others are Roosevelt Middle School in New Bedford, the Arlington K-8 School in Lawrence, and the John J. Lynch Middle School in Holyoke. They were targeted in 2000 because more than 60 percent of eighth-graders failed the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System in math, English, and science in 1998 and 1999. To graduate from high school, 10th graders are required to pass the tests.

After the schools were put on the list, state intervention teams of business people and educators were sent to evaluate each school and its plans to improve test scores. In addition, each school received an additional $25,000 a year to revamp its curriculum.

After two years, a school's status is reviewed by state officials, who decide whether to keep the school on the underperforming list, or take it off the list. Schools remaining on the list get another review every two years and can be declared chronically underperforming if significant improvements are not made.

Driscoll said the Roosevelt was the only school that made enough progress in math and English to be removed from the warning list this year. Attendance exceeded the state's target of 92 percent and school leaders have provided a clear and specific set of expectations for staff and students, he said.

Both Lynch Middle in Holyoke and Arlington in Lawrence will remain on the underperforming list. While both schools made some improvement on MCAS and attendance, it wasn't enough. They also landed on a separate federal government list of low-performing schools in math and English.

Driscoll will recommend to the education board today that the state continue to work with school leaders in Holyoke and Lawrence on a plan to accelerate student progress.

Holyoke School Superintendent Eduardo Carballo said plans are underway to improve test scores, including the hiring of three additional math teachers and expanding math classes to 70 minutes a day, with an additional 30 minutes daily to address struggling students individually.

There are 24 schools on the warning list. In November, the education board also put two school districts -- Holyoke and Winchendon -- on the underperforming list. At today's meeting, Driscoll plans to recommend that the Southbridge school system be added to the list.

Education Entrepreneurs Gather in Evanston

Paul H. Seibert,  School Reform News

With a theme of "Education for Tomorrow: Entrepreneurs Transforming K-16 Education," the 14th annual EDVentures Conference of the Education Industry Association (EIA) was held on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Illinois on August 4-6, 2004. A range of general session speakers included top education policymakers, leaders in school reform, and advocates for tutoring practitioners.

Dr. Gene Hickok, deputy secretary of education for the U.S. Department of Education, who spoke at last year's conference in Boston, was welcomed back as the keynote speaker. Hickok is a long-time advocate of education reform and a strong supporter of education entrepreneurs. He brought accolades and encouragement for EIA from Education Secretary Rod Paige and President George W. Bush.

"The principles behind No Child Left Behind are beginning to challenge the education industry as we have known it," said Hickok, noting the law "makes it difficult to close your eyes to a problem."

The school board in St. Louis knew they had a problem but didn't know how big it was when they brought in corporate turn-around specialist William Roberti from Alvarez and Marsal, Inc. to act as CEO of the district's operations. As Roberti recounted to the conference audience, he quickly found the district was on the verge of bankruptcy, facing a $75 million year-end deficit and a near-term cash shortfall of $99 million out of a $450 million budget.

Roberti spent a year leading a team of private managers in reforming the management systems of the St. Louis Public Schools, saving the district from bankruptcy, putting it on a sound financial footing, rationalizing operations in its 113 schools, and creating a framework for long-term success for its 37,000 students. The turn-around effort may well be the most dramatic example to date of a public-private partnership in American education.

"While St. Louis may be somewhat unique in terms of the severity of the crisis, there are ... hundreds of school districts across the country that are struggling to cope with many of the same issues," said Roberti.

A subsequent general session speaker, Dr. Michael Bakalis, agreed with Roberti's assessment, saying, "This kind of mismanagement is rampant in public education."

Bakalis is president and CEO of American Quality Schools, a nonprofit organization that operates charter schools in Chicago. He is also a professor at the Keller School of Business Management at Northwestern University and a former Illinois state superintendent of education.

Steve Cony, president of Communications Counselors LLC, brought a change of pace to the conference with a humor-laced presentation on promoting educational services. If you want to be a successful educational entrepreneur, he noted, you need clients. He then gave an account of "How to Get Heard, How to Get Believed, and How to Get Chosen," delivering thousands of dollars' worth of promotional consultation in a 45-minute session.

A pre-conference session also provided four hours of free legal advice from Fisher and Phillips LLC, one of the country's foremost legal firms specializing in school and business law. Attorneys Suzanne Bogdan and Jane McFetridge reviewed the "Ten Major Legal Concerns for the Education Executive."

EIA was founded by Chris Yelich, Wayne Jennings, Senn Brown, and the late James Boyle in 1990 as the American Association of Education Practitioners and Providers. The group's mission was "private ventures for the public good," and its aim was for members "to put the needs of students at the center of the business plan." The first EDVentures Conference was in 1991, when 16 people attended. This year, there were 350 attendees.

With more than 800 corporate and individual members, EIA is now the leading professional association for private providers of education services, suppliers, and other private organizations who are stakeholders in education. While about 10 percent of EIA's members are large, multi-national corporations like Edison Schools, most are small business owners, with some 60 percent operating local tutoring services.

The growth and transformation of EIA over the past 15 years has been due in no small measure to its executive director during that period, Chris Yelich. This year's conference marked a transition of leadership for EIA as she stepped down and ceremonially delivered the "keys to the office" to Steve Pines, who was named executive director-elect in January after a national search for Yelich's replacement. Another transition for EIA is the move of its headquarters from Watertown, Wisconsin to the Washington, DC area.

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