News Clips Ė
Governor's hiring process criticized
Since he gained control of the Illinois State Board of Education, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has wasted no time filling the agency with political insiders and loyalists, some of whom have little or no experience in education.
In the two weeks after his handpicked board members took control, the governor's office orchestrated the hiring of at least nine employees, all but two of whom have ties to the Blagojevich administration.
The new 24-year-old
interim chief of staff drove the press van in the governor's entourage
last year, as Blagojevich toured rural
The agency's new budget chief worked on the governor's campaign and managed the state fair. The 30-year-old chief counsel came from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Though the board's bylaws specify that hiring decisions are to be made within the agency, all the new employees were interviewed and selected by the governor's office. The hires came days--and in some cases, hours--after the governor orchestrated the removal of the old superintendent and replaced him with a handpicked successor.
The hiring process has caused consternation among holdover board members and lawmakers who had expected that the agency would retain some independence from the governor's office, despite the recent legislation that gave Blagojevich more control.
Dean Clark, a current board member appointed by Gov. George Ryan, said he does not have a problem with the newly hired employees, but he objects to the governor's staff making the decisions for the agency.
"It concerns me
if the governor's office is hiring people that the superintendent may
not know, or that the board does not know,"
State Sen. David Luechtefeld (R-Okawville), a former Downstate high school teacher who sits on the Senate Education Committee, said he is not surprised that Blagojevich's office is controlling the hiring at the Board of Education.
"I think this governor, in the past, has shown that he wants to control the jobs in state government and I know many people said when he wanted to do away with the state board it was more of a jobs issue, rather than to make education better," Luechtefeld said.
"He has been ruthless in getting rid of people so they can appoint their own people," he said. "I know that's what is done in politics, but the state board has always been independent. Obviously, it's not going to be anymore."
For decades, the State Board of Education operated free of the governor's direct control. Although the governor appointed the nine board members, the board selected and hired the superintendent and oversaw policy decisions, such as teacher certification and statewide student testing. The superintendent and his staff were in charge of hiring within the agency.
Takeover fought off
Earlier this year, Blagojevich tried to usurp that control when he launched a blistering attack on the board, calling it a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" unresponsive to the public. He proposed creation of a cabinet-level state department of education that answered directly to him. Under the proposal, the state board would have been turned into a think tank.
Lawmakers rebuffed that takeover attempt, but they gave the governor authority to replace seven of the nine board members. The legislation also gave the governor power to "propose" a candidate for state superintendent of education.
The compromise legislation was crafted, in part, to preserve some separation between the governor's office and the education agency, in hopes that education decisions would be less political.
But Blagojevich has
wasted little time in blurring that separation. During their first meeting
two weeks ago, the new board members dumped the superintendent and replaced
him with Randy Dunn, an education professor at Southern Illinois University
Later that day, Dunn appointed the new budget director and a new general counsel, both of whom already worked for the Blagojevich administration.
Rebecca Rausch, a spokeswoman for the governor, said that the legislation establishes a relationship between the board and the governor's office and that consequently, Blagojevich wants to make sure the agency is "running properly."
She added that the governor is so committed to education that he sent some of his best staffers over to the state board.
"It was essential that, when the board appointed a new interim superintendent, that he not go it alone," Rausch said. "He needs people in key positions around him. Philosophically, we are looking for people who can turn this agency around. We wanted him surrounded by good people with proven track records."
Apparently it was all arranged well in advance.
Dunn said that a week before he was hired by the board, some of the governor's top aides asked him to meet the new staff members they had selected for the agency. Dunn said that it was his understanding that he could have said "no" to any of them, but that he was pleased with all the selections.
"Clearly we had to hit the ground running," Dunn said. "We are trying to build an airplane as it is running down the runway. It was the governor's staff who had the expertise to do this--to find these people. I really didn't have the expertise to know where these people were in state government and said, `Hey, if you know where these folks are, let's put it together.'"
Dunn argues that his new staff already has begun to dig in and start making some significant changes, something he could not have done if he were still hunting for new employees.
A week after his new administration took over, Dunn directed agency employees to start combing through the annual School Report Card data to find potential mistakes, hoping to avert a repeat of last year when the data were sent out riddled with errors. Working through the weekend, state board employees detected that nearly half the schools had made mistakes.
Dunn and his staff alerted each school district to the specific mistakes and gave them two weeks to remedy the errors.
"We're already working hard for school districts, teachers and students," Dunn said.
The new hires
Among the new staff members hired:
Eamon Kelly, 24, was hired as the interim chief of staff at an annual salary of $57,300.
Kelly drove the press
van last year as it followed Blagojevich on his tour through rural
Prior to that, Kelly
worked in Gov. George Ryan's office as an intern. He graduated from
Under the old superintendent, the board did not fill the chief of staff's position.
Nicole Wills, who worked as an administrative assistant in Blagojevich's education policy office, moves to the state board as Kelly's assistant, where she will be paid $30,000 a year.
Mark Kolaz was named the agency budget director. Kolaz, who will be paid $110,000 a year, previously lobbied the legislature for the governor's office and served as deputy director of agriculture, where he managed the state fair. In 2002, he oversaw the Blagojevich campaign in several Downstate counties.
Jonathan Furr, 30, who
worked for about 18 months as the general counsel for the state Department
of Natural Resources, is now general counsel for the State Board of
Education. His salary jumps from about $88,000 to $96,600 a year, according
to the state comptroller's office. He previously worked in the governmental
practice group at Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw in
Linda Jamali moves from the governor's office, where she served as a senior education policy adviser, to become the head of teacher certification for the state board. A former high school teacher, Jamali will be paid $65,000 a year.
Jennifer Saba, who also worked in the governor's education office and helped craft his education plan, was hired as Dunn's assistant. She will make an annual salary of $36,000.
"We expected this type of stuff to happen," said Sen. Brad Burzynski (R-Sycamore). "I anticipate that the legislature will watch very closely the types of policies this state board and its administration put into place."
Randy Dunn, interim state schools superintendent, deserves an "A" for his commitment to seeing that information is accurate before report cards for schools are made public. But the board deserves an "I" for incomplete until the problems are cleared up -- permanently.
Last year's report cards were rife with errors. Those errors resulted in 451 schools incorrectly being identified as failing to meet standards under the No Child Left Behind Act. That could have resulted in sanctions if students were deemed not to be making satisfactory progress two years in a row.
Again, errors apparently have found their way into the report cards, which are supposed to be issued at the end of this month. Potential problems were seen in data for more than half of the state's 3,801 schools.
The problem seems to be testing results for small groups or sub-groups or students, such as special education students, that skew results.
But this time the board is taking extra steps to make sure information is correct before the cards are issued.
"We're not going to let a bureaucratic deadline drive our actions anymore," Dunn said.
Problems with the latest data were recognized by staff the week Dunn took over the interim post. The data hadn't been available in its current form when school districts reviewed information in August, according to a board spokeswoman
Perhaps former Superintendent Robert Schiller also would have given school districts another chance to review if he hadn't been pushed out by Gov. Rod Blagojevich's hand-picked Illinois State Board of Education.
Perhaps even under Schiller, the board's staff would have worked through the weekend to prepare information packets outlining potential problems and mailed them in time for school districts to review them before the correction period that ends Thursday.
But we detect a change in attitude -- even if there is no way of telling whether the motive is to truly help school districts or simply to make Schiller look bad.
Either way, schools and the parents of children attending them will be helped by this extra attention to accuracy.
One noticeable change is that Dunn will be among the people calling some districts to make them aware of the review period and to make sure they get any help they need.
Such a hands-on role is usually not appropriate for a top administrator. However, in this case, it is a good way for Dunn to introduce himself to many of the districts and to send a signal that the Illinois State Board of Education wants to improve its working relationships with school districts.
Meanwhile, the board should be looking at the root cause of data errors showing up at least two years in a row.
Is it a problem with how schools report the information; how the third-party contractor or the board staff compile it; discrepancies in how the local, state and federal government interpret data; or some other factor or combination of factors?
A lot of time could be saved by getting the information right the first time by paying attention to details.
Carmen Greco Jr,
Gloria Yake, school board president, said passage of Illinois House Bill 750 would provide long-awaited property tax relief to residents in the Orland Park-based school district.
"It spreads the burden to all wage earners, not just property owners," Yakes said.
The legislation calls for increasing income taxes from 3 to 5 percent and broadening the reach of the state sales tax.
Officials say the plan could raise millions of additional dollars for education while reducing property tax bills by as much as 25 percent.
The district, which
Students in Illinois' highest-poverty school districts get an average of $2,023 less in education funding than students in the wealthiest districts, according to a report released today, another in a mounting stack that show Illinois is among the worst in the nation when it comes to funding education for its poorest students.
Nationwide, the average gap between revenues available per student in the highest- and lowest-poverty districts was $868. The report found 25 states where the poorest school districts get fewer resources than the wealthiest.
"Once again, we see that the students who need the most get the least," said Kevin Carey, senior policy analyst at the Education Trust and author of the report.
The Education Trust, a national education organization that advocates for higher academic achievement particularly among poor and minority students, has released the funding gap report annually since 2001.
This year's report argues that funding gaps are actually understated because it takes more money ó 40 percent more, the study assumes ó to educate poor students. When analysts took that figure into account, the state's gap grew to $2,465.
That's money that could be spent on teacher training, textbooks or science lab equipment, the report argues.
The Education Trust analyzed revenue data from 2001-02, the most recent year for which data was available, to compare local and state revenue between school districts and states. Calculations are adjusted to account for regional differences in the cost of living and the cost of educating special education students.
The analysis did not take into account federal funding for education because those dollars by law are meant to supplement, rather than replace, state and local resources, Carey argued.
Some states, including
Despite gains made in the late 1990s, the funding gap "is now larger than when we first analyzed school finance trends," the report states.
Under No Child Left Behind, schools have been under increasing pressure to close the so-called achievement gap between poor and non-poor students and between minority students and their white counterparts. Funding gaps "are starkly at odds with our national goals for closing the achievement gap," the report concludes.
Still, money alone will not ensure better results among poor and minority students, the report argues. The Education Trust, a strong supporter of No Child Left Behind, called on districts to embrace education reform that raises performance expectations for students and teachers, make sure what happens in the classroom is in line with state academic standards, and "reform the way teachers are educated assigned, evaluated and paid."
Representatives from Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office and the Illinois State Board of Education tried to soften the report's blow by pointing out that the figures are 2 years old.
"There has been good progress made over the last two years," said Becky Watts, spokeswoman for the state board.
Both offices cited an additional $775 million budgeted for education in the last two years.
The foundation level ó the minimum amount schools must spend on studentsóhas increased $404 in that time, and now stands at $4,964.
Blagojevich recently named seven of the board's nine members and recommended they hire Randy Dunn as interim state schools superintendent.
Former state schools Supt. Robert Schiller and several board members removed by Blagojevich had advocated for the state to increase aid to poor school districts and reduce the state's reliance on property tax to fund education. That plan clashed with Blagojevich's campaign promise not to raise taxes.
The report urges states to reduce their reliance on local property taxes to fund education, increase the share of educator funding paid for by the state, and target extra funds specifically to help low-income children. States should also promote fair distribution of resources among schools within a single district, with more funds going to poor children, the report argues.
Sean Noble, senior policy associate for Voices for Illinois Children, called today's report part of a "trail of evidence that shows we've got the most unfair, inequitable school funding system in the nation."
In January, Education
Week gave the state an "F" in fairness in school funding for
the fourth consecutive year. In that analysis,
Noble said state funding increases fall short of what's needed.
"As long as we
leave our overreliance on property taxes intact ó school funding will
not become truly fair in
Blowin' in the wind at Bureau Valley
Terri Simon, Bureau
MANLIUS -- If Sunday's
windy weather was any indication of the future, the
At on Sunday, about 75 people gathered east of the
The spades-full of dirt
turned over by the Bureau Valley School Board members, the district's
superintendent and secretary was more than just a ceremonial effort.
The district's wind turbine breaks ground in the entire state as the
first school district in
"I'm not sure how much wind we have here, but I think we'll be making money," said Bureau Valley Superintendent Rick Stoecker, as he welcomed the crowd to the event and battled a strong northerly breeze in the open field.
After Stoecker's initial
remarks, several others also spoke to event-goers. Most talked about
the district's insight into the project and how
"Have no doubt
about it. This is a very historic project," said
State Rep. Don Moffitt called the wind turbine "creative and progressive."
Besides the accolades for the district's efforts, several applauded Bureau Valley Board member Keith Bolin, who initially spearheaded the wind turbine project.
Jay Haley, the project engineer, and Jesper Michaelsen, business development manager for Vestas -- the company supplying the turbine and doing the construction, presented Bolin with a desk-sized wind turbine for his insight.
"You need a local champion on these projects, or they don't happen," Haley said, referring to Bolin. "(The Bureau Valley District) is a group of people who know how to get things done."
Construction on the
600-kilowatt turbine is set to begin soon. Michaelsen said he expects
the turbine to be erected, commissioned and on-line by the middle to
the end of December. Michaelsen compared the height of the tower to
At almost 270 feet tall, the tower, according to Michaelsen, could be laid on the football field at the 20-yard line and stretch to the opposite end zone.
The cost of the project is about $1 million. Grants from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation ($331,000) and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity ($150,000) will finance about half the effort. The remainder of the project is being financed on contract through UnionBank over a five-year period.
Michaelsen said his company's name (Vestas) will be on one side of the turbine, and the Bureau Valley Storm's logo will be on the other side.
Superintendents from around the state gathered at a crumbling South Side school Wednesday to appeal to members of the General Assembly and the governor to approve more money for the state's school construction grant program when they return to Springfield next month.
Large, thick chips of
paint are missing from walls of
Other projects could also go, including several on the Southwest Side that would relieve overcrowding.
"You're talking about one-third of the projects either not getting done or being delayed," said Pedro Martinez, city schools budget director.
Roberta Berry, superintendent
Crete-Monee is constructing
what will be the most expensive public building in the
"Where else can
you create jobs that benefit children, individual homeowners, the morale
of our communities and local economies ó all at the same time?"
The reach of the school construction program, which began in 1997 and has poured $3.1 billion into repairs and new school construction in 497 districts statewide since, makes it unlikely that it will fall victim to budget pressures, said Rep. Renee Kosel (R-Mokena), Republican spokeswoman on the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.
"It's an extremely popular program that's helped school districts across the state," said Kosel. However,legislators will need to weigh other capital needs as well, said Kosel. She characterized the school construction program as "no-frills."
"This isn't a program that builds Taj Mahals," said Kosel.
The capital budget is usually passed in the spring, but legislators delayed discussions this year after it took them two extra months to agree on the state's operating budget.
In their veto session next month, lawmakers will consider authorizing $2.2 billion in bond sales to fund the school construction program for the next four years. They'll have to appropriate the $550 million each year, according to a spokeswoman for the Illinois Capital Development Board, which awards the grants.
Money for school construction and repair should be important enough that school leaders ó who must raise matching funds to pay for projects ó shouldn't have to deal with annual uncertainty about whether the state program will be funded, said Michael Jacoby, superintendent of Geneva School District 304 in Kane County.
"This dance we do every two years or so to try to see if the state commissioned enough bonds to fund this program has got to be changed," said Jacoby. "There needs to be consistent funding."
MAURA KELLY LANNAN,
Keyes argued for less government spending on the current system in favor of alternatives such as home-schooling, while Obama said spending money on schools was important but parents also need to play a greater role in their childrenís education.
The two spoke separately
at a luncheon sponsored by the Metropolitan Planning Council, which
asked them to address education, housing, transportation and economic
opportunity issues facing the
Keyes, a Republican who has centered his campaign on social issues, said alternatives such as home-schooling or giving parents the freedom to send their children to schools that reflect their faith should be considered.
"We are dealing with a problem that government cannot handle," Keyes said. "We have taken the foundation of most moral, cultural education out of our schools, rendering them incompetent to provide the environment absolutely necessary for education to succeed."
Home-schooling children is cost-effective, he said, "because parents donít generally demand high salaries for doing their job."
Obama, a Democrat, said money for schools makes a difference in attracting qualified teachers, creating smaller class sizes and improving facilities. But he said spending more money alone wonít improve the nationís schools.
"No matter how much money we pour into it, itís not going to make a dimeís worth of difference if, when children come home from school, parents donít turn off the television set and find a quiet place for children to do their homework," he said.
Obama said the federal government should fully fund the federal No Child Left Behind law, invest more money in early childhood education, teacher training and charter schools, which get public money but operate free from many state rules.
"It is my strong belief that the more we can foster experimentation, the more we can foster a different set of models that can be franchised across the system, the more successful we can be," Obama said about charter schools.
The core curriculum:
10 schools incorporating health tips into classes to combat obesity
By Alice Hohl, Daily
Southtown Staff writer,
A pilot program involving
eight Chicago Public Schools on the South Side and two
Fifth- and sixth-graders in the schools will count calories and calculate fat percentages in math class; learn about diet and fitness in other countries in social studies; and keep fitness and nutrition journals in language class.
The program, sponsored by Walgreens, was developed by an advisory board of doctors, dietitians and weight-loss counselors.
Yvonne Daily owns Healthy Images in the South Loop, and counsels people facing the same problem she did just five years ago: stubborn weight that wouldn't stay away.
"I had been overweight most of my life," Daily said. "I tried all the weight loss programs, but one of the things I did differently in 1999 was I decided to change my whole life rather than just focusing on my weight."
Daily said her focus on lifestyle and eliminating refined sugars changed everything, and she decided to go into business helping others.
"I never looked back."
Daily was one of eight experts, doctors and educators who together developed the program for students.
"If I had had a program like that when I was young, maybe I wouldn't have had the lifelong problem that I did," she said. "Catching these kids young is very important. It's a lot harder to change once you get older."
Daily said she was not concerned the program was sponsored by a chain of stores that sells very little in the way of fresh, nutritious food.
"We can not be choosy about where the funds for this come from," she said. "We need all the help we can get. Especially in the African-American community, we need a lot of help with this issue."
John Grant, operations
vice president for Walgreens in
"It really is designed to get students information to make healthy lifelong habits," Grant said.
Grant said Walgreens paid for the kickoff rally for students and teachers, which featured the UniverSoul Circus, and will sponsor contest prizes during the year and a two-mile walk to end the school year.
"We're just trying to address this growing epidemic of childhood obesity," he said.
Grant said the program will be continued or expanded next year if results are good.
Administrators at the
Gerald Bennett, principal
"So far I'm very impressed," he said. "If it addresses the problem of obesity in our young people, I would give it a thumbs up."
Diekman Elementary School Principal April Isabelle said the program will "not just be isolated to their gym time."
"The ultimate goal is to teach them to manage their own fitness and how to eat nutritiously and how that goes hand in hand," she said. "They'll learn about how important it is to eat fruits and vegetables and how it affects their energy levels."
By KRISTA LEWIN,
But comic books, once looked at as fun and folly, are now known as graphic novels and have earned respect from educators as a viable reading and learning tool for students.
now have more of a story with them," said Anieta Trame,
Sarah Knobloch's eighth-grade language arts classes are using large encyclopedias specifically written and illustrated about the creation and the history of familiar superheroes including The Hulk, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Superman and Batman. The students work in groups and have to use other sources in research including library materials and the Internet as part of the project.
"The students learn how graphic novels and superheroes tie into the Great Depression and World War II," Knobloch said.
Eighth-grader Liz Dole's group was researching The Incredible Hulk. Dole and her group, including Lori Creek, Zac Purvis and Krissy Patrick, said they found it interesting that over the years, whenever the creators changed the Hulk's IQ, the illustrators also changed the way he looked.
"He has gotten more high tech over the years," said Patrick about the green superhero who changes from a man into a green fighting hero who battles against evil.
Austin Storm's group was studying Wonder Woman. He and his group, including Curtis Royse and Michael West, were impressed that her creator, William Marston, was also the inventor of the lie detector.
"Wonder Woman uses a magic lasso which forces people to tell the truth," Storm said. "Marston created the magic lasso as a connection to the lie detector."
Trame, who helped create the superheroes' project after the school received a grant, said graphic novels are an advantage to students challenged with reading and writing. "Students who have trouble understanding vocabulary can use illustrations to pick up clues about the context of words," Trame said.
"Believe it or not, there are some students who have never seen or read a comic book before," Trame said. "We are hoping to offer a wide selection of the books so students can view all the different genres."
Woodruff could be next school to implement FAME classes
By ELAINE HOPKINS of
the Journal Star,
It's working, teachers
The teens like it, the teachers said of the program, now in its second year at Manual.
"There are no discipline problems. They show up on time. I don't think I had a referral (to the dean) last year," English teacher Marcey Runkle said.
"When you're in a safe environment and working at a level that you feel safe" and are successful, discipline problems don't occur, she said.
More than 100 students are taking the classes, which replace art or a foreign language in their schedules, she said. They also take freshman or sophomore English.
The participants were identified by testing that pinpointed their reading ability before they entered Manual. Some reading beyond the fourth-grade level but below the ninth-grade level were placed in the second year of the program.
Teachers in their other classes were shocked to learn that those students could not read well enough to pass their classes, she said.
Now that the students have been identified, teachers can adapt to their weaknesses in reading, vocabulary and related problems.
"If a child can't read, you don't want the teacher to say, 'Stand up and read the next paragraph.' It's easier to knock over a desk than be humiliated." Or they become truants, Runkle said.
Developed at Girls and Boys Town in Omaha, Neb., the FAME program is part of Manual's plan to improve the school and its low test scores, required by the No Child Left Behind law.
The school has spent about $10,000 on the program, paid for with a grant, and teachers have logged many hours developing materials and undergoing training. The program is highly structured, with all teachers doing the same class work on the same day.
FAME is aimed at teenagers and includes computer use, word games and constant informal testing. By the final semester, students are writing, have learned to take notes and outline, and understand topic sentences, special-education teacher Janine Schumm said.
Classes are small, with only 12 students in the first year's classes, and up to 15 in the second year.
Runkle said 47 students who were supposed to attend Manual as freshmen and who should have been placed in the FAME program instead transferred to other schools under the No Child Left Behind law. They can be tracked to see how they are doing in other schools and offered help if needed.
Woodruff High School Principal Herschel Hannah attended the meeting and expressed interest in the FAME program for his school. If it were at all schools, it could help students who transfer between the schools, he said.
District 150's high rate of students transferring between schools is considered a liability for student learning and achievement. "We need models that will address the transients," Hannah said.
The FAME program is
The program might be just what Manual needs, he said, "because reading is the key."
Students who can read well can succeed and are more likely to develop "a positive attitude toward learning and a sense of belonging" to the school, Maurer said. "If you can get those factors, you've got the kid."
Information on the FAME program can be found at www.girlsandboystown.org under "Education."
Ben Feller, Associated Press/Miami Herald
The report is the latest to raise a warning about the accuracy of school data - an essential underpinning of the No Child Left Behind law - among the states.
"Measuring achievement with inaccurate data is likely to lead to poor measures of school progress, with education officials and parents making decisions about educational options on the basis of faulty information," said the report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' auditing arm.
Under the law, schools that get federal poverty aid and fail to make enough progress for two straight years must allow any of their students to transfer. If the schools fall short three straight years, students from poor families must be provided a tutor of their choice.
But states may be incorrectly triggering the transfer and tutor provisions, the GAO said.
The law demands unprecedented information from schools. They must show yearly progress among all major racial and ethnic groups and others such as children with disabilities.
The Education Department, the GAO said, should expand efforts to help states gather accurate data. Deputy Education Secretary Eugene Hickok said in a written response the agency has provided "strong leadership" in addressing data concerns and would keep helping states.
The review also found almost half the states still have only conditional approval of their plans for complying with the law. The report pointedly states that the Education Department lacks any written process for measuring how or when those states will comply.
The GAO said the education agency should put in writing what steps states must take to comply and spell out what will happen if they don't. But the agency stood by its monitoring.
"The point of the law is every child learning, not adding needless bureaucratic red tape," department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said Friday night.
The status of the states' progress has political implications. The law is the centerpiece of President Bush's domestic agenda and has dominated the national debate on education.
Bush held a Rose Garden ceremony in June 2003 to mark what he called a historic milestone, with "100 percent of accountability plans in place." Yet by July, almost half of those plans had outstanding conditions that kept them from full compliance, the report found.
That finding erodes
Bush's claim, said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif, a key sponsor of the
law. Another Democrat who helped write the law, Sen. Edward Kennedy
Hickok, the Education Department leader, faulted the GAO for narrowly interpreting the word "approval." Some states have conditional approval, he said, because they showed enough detail to make clear they would satisfy the law when they fully put their plans in place.
Aspey said the law is producing tangible results, "and much of it is because of states' efforts to develop fair, reliable and valid plans to get progress for every single child."
The GAO also called on the department to do more in helping states get in place yearly standardized testing in math and reading for students in grades three to eight. Those tests are to be ready by the start of the next school year.
Problems Seen for Expansion Of Testing of
Diana Jean Schemo, New
WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 -- A new federal requirement to sharply expand annual testing of students starting next school year faces serious obstacles, including unreliable data and a lack of clear and timely guidance from federal officials, according to a government report.
The report, by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found wide variation in the rules that states use to measure progress under No Child Left Behind, the federal education law that has been one of President Bush's major domestic initiatives. The variation makes comparisons between states meaningless, the report suggested.
Under No Child Left Behind, schools face a rigorous timetable of academic challenges in the coming years. Starting with the 2005-2006 school year, they must test students in Grades 3 to 8 annually on reading and math, and in 2007, they must also begin testing in science. By 2014, the law demands that all students become proficient in reading and math. Failure to meet the targets brings severe consequences, including, ultimately, possible school closings.
The G.A.O. report, which was released late last week, said that more than half the state and school district officials interviewed said they had been ''hampered by poor and unreliable student data,'' with Illinois, for example, reporting data problems in 300 of its 1,055 school districts. About half of 21 state officials interviewed said the law's tight deadlines impeded their ability to carry out the law's promises.
The report also recalled
that when the federal Education Department said that it had approved
plans from all states for carrying out No Child Left Behind in June
2003, it had in fact completely approved only 11 plans, with the rest
receiving conditional approval. As of July 31, 23 states and the
The investigators said that state officials remained uncertain about how to obtain full approval, and they recommended that the federal Education Department give the states written guidelines and time frames. In a letter to the G.A.O., Eugene W. Hickok, under secretary of education, rejected the recommendation.
''The department already has a process in place to move states toward full approval,'' Mr. Hickok wrote. The existing system, he added, had resulted in an additional 22 states that previously had conditional approval reaching full approval.
Mr. Hickok said the department and the states had made great strides in creating an accountability system from scratch. ''Although the G.A.O. has tried to capture some of this energy and effort in its report, states, school districts and the department have made far more progress than the draft report suggests,'' he wrote.
Coming just a few days before the next presidential debate, which is to focus on domestic policy, the report inevitably became fodder for new attacks on the administration about enacting No Child Left Behind. In February, Congressional Democrats first wrote to Education Secretary Rod Paige to question the handling of the law, saying that the department had been slow to provide states with the necessary guidance.
Representative George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said, ''The report is a surprise only in the sense that it displays such a massive disconnect between what the president and the Education Department have been telling Congress and the public about how well No Child Left Behind is going, and the facts on the ground.''
Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said, ''The administration is working fully with districts to make sure that the kids get the education and the resources they need to get a better education.'' He added, ''There's more resources, there's a record amount, and we want to make sure the accountability is in place, and the data shows that students are improving.''
The rules, outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act, say that if a school misses one or more of its 21 performance targets for two consecutive years, it must allow children to transfer to a better school.
Critics say the act is unfair because it penalizes schools -- especially poor ones -- that face the greatest challenges. Instead of rewarding schools that show steady improvement, they say the law punishes schools for missing just one target, which may involve only a handful of students.
"I don't think
NCLM is a bad law," said Lori Hughes, principal at
"If certain groups of kids are failing, letting kids move isn't the answer," said Linda Cliff, a principal of Northern Lincoln Elementary. "Let's look at why these kids are failing and figure out what to do about it."
Coleman is an example of how the federal accountability system is at odds with what's going on within the school. Coleman met all of its 21 targets this year. In fact, the school outperformed the district and the state in seven performance categories.
Yet Coleman must offer choice because a school must show improvement for two years in a row to come off the "needs improvement" list.
Principal George Nasuti says it makes no sense to bus children to another school when Coleman, because it is a high-poverty school, offers more programs for students struggling with basic reading and writing. If students transfer to another elementary school, they might not be able to get the same kinds of services.
"The law falls down in having absolutely unrealistic expectation," Pawtucket Schools Superintendent Hans Dellith. "It's like asking the automobile industry to build cars that will withstand all accidents all of the time."
As the No Child Left Behind Act phases in, more parents will get notifications.
For the third year in a row, high school principal Bill Dunn is having carefully worded letters typed to notify parents that a few of his teachers don't meet the "highly qualified" designation set out in federal law.
It's a delicate task -- comply with the law on teacher qualifications without offending teachers or alarming parents -- that up until now has been limited primarily to schools in urban areas.
That will change at
the end of next school year, when another part of the No Child Left
Behind law takes effect. At that point, all of
Already, about 2,200 of 55,000 teachers statewide fall short of what the federal law considers highly qualified and will have to prove themselves by 2006.
With four weeks of school
now complete in most Minnesota school districts, the federally required
letters will soon be headed home, but only from schools that have high
concentrations of poverty and receive federal Title I money.
And as school administrators craft those letters each year, they're careful to avoid libeling the teachers who commonly have state licenses -- but not in the specialty that they're teaching.
A notice from the
The state has put together a program that will allow teachers working outside their area of licensure to use tests, portfolios, workshops or classes to show they're "highly qualified" in that area.
"These are all certified teachers," Dunn said. "This is not Jane Doe off the street."
When the law expands to all public schools, it will affect teachers of "core academic subjects," which include English, math, science, foreign languages and others.
US Fed News,
The non-partisan federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in a new report issued today that unless the Bush Department of Education takes specific internal steps outlined by GAO, states may not be able to meet important No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards and assessment systems requirements by the law's 2005-06 deadline.
The GAO is sufficiently concerned that it specifically urges the Department to develop a written plan and internal deadlines in order to increase the likelihood that it will be able to fulfill its responsibilities in helping all states meet upcoming NCLB deadlines. "The Department's role is to help - not hinder - states in implementing this law," said Rep. George Miller (D-CA), senior Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee and a principal author of the NCLB law. "The Department of Education should do everything possible to assist states in meeting their deadlines and get the job done, and I certainly hope the Department will have the good sense to follow the GAO's recommendations," said Miller.
Another GAO finding
contradicts President Bush's assertion in June 2003 that all states
had secured full federal approval for the education plans required under
the 2001 reform law. GAO found that on
Finally, the report also found that many states are still not in compliance with requirements established in 1994 to develop educational standards and assessment systems. As of July of this year, the Department of Education has only approved only 35 States' effort to comply with the 1994 requirements. Without greater assistance from the Department, states will have difficulty meeting NCLB's requirements to assess the proficiency of every student in grades 3-8 starting in the 2005-06 school year.
Miller and others have also faulted the Department of Education for providing states with tardy, confusing and contradictory instructions on the law. Today's GAO report concludes that the Department needs to work harder to provide states with reliable data.
Payson Roundup Editorial
More than two years ago, Congress passed, with bipartisan support, the No Child Left Behind Act creating a sweeping overhaul of the federal government's education policy.
When it was passed, almost no one opposed its so-called reforms. They include putting a qualified teacher in all classrooms, setting standards of achievement for all students, holding public schools accountable and closing the student achievement gap throughout the country.
Even Sen. Edward Kennedy
If only we knew then what we know now.
After two years, we've learned there are many flaws and inconsistencies in the NCLB Act that need to be examined and corrected.
First, for NCLB programs to be effective, schools need to be fully funded. Federal funding for 2003 was $8 billion shy of what had been authorized. In 2004. the budget allocation was $11 billion below what was needed.
States and school districts like Payson already operate under severe budget constraints brought on by a state legislature that refuses to shoulder the burden of financing quality public education.
Finding the money to meet the additional requirements of NCLB adds even more burdens to the districts' budget crisis.
NCLB demands include additional teacher training and recruitment, development of costly tests, new books and building construction.
Then there's the NCLB requirement that all teachers should be "highly qualified" by the end of the 2005-06 school year.
But, who's highly qualified?
The law deems some teachers "highly qualified" who are at charter schools or who are in preparation programs that do not meet state certification standards. Also, teachers providing only supplemental services can be labeled "highly qualified."
But special education teachers who are asked to teach several subjects, but are not certified in each, are not considered "highly qualified.
NCLB also says schools that don't meet their progress targets for two consecutive years will be identified as "needing improvement," and after three failing years will be subject to a takeover or complete overhaul.
The tests that determine whether schools are failing are one-size-fits-all exams that are confusing and only add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to public education.
If a school is deemed failing, the law doesn't offer any problem-solving measures that will help it get on track. Rather NCLB offers only punitive measures.
"There are critical flaws in this law that both Republicans and Democrats have said need to be fixed," said National Education Association President Reg Weaver. "We should be talking about ways to create smaller class sizes, hire and retain high-quality teachers in the classroom, and invest in up-to-date resources for all students, not piling on yet another high stakes test."
More than 30 state legislatures -- even those with Republican majorities -- have either passed or proposed state polices that call for changes in NCLB.
It's time for
School Law a Success
Erik W. Robelen, Education Week
Secretary of Education Rod Paige is declaring the No Child Left Behind Act a success, arguing that there is ample evidence the law is improving student achievement. But linking test scores directly to federal policy is a risky business, and some say the Bush administration is getting way ahead of itself.
"I am pleased to report that the law is making a positive difference in millions of lives," Secretary Paige said on Sept. 24 in his annual back-to- school address at the National Press Club here. "There is clear evidence of success, noticeable patterns of change, and upbeat reports all across the nation from a variety of sources. Simply stated: The law is working."
Mr. Paige cited anecdotal evidence from several school districts, as well as state and national data.
He noted, for example, that 4th grade reading scores on a national test climbed from 2000 to 2003. He said the scores were flat during the 1990s, but are now showing upward movement.
"No Child Left Behind has ended that flat line," he said. "While 4th grade reading scores between 1992 and 2000 remained stagnant, there has been a five-point increase in the last three years nationally."
He highlighted gains for African-American and Hispanic 4th graders.
The scores cited, from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, were for a test administered in early 2003. Given that the federal education law wasnít signed until January 2002, and its implementation really began only in the fall of that year, Secretary Paige appears to be crediting the improvement to barely six months under the law.
"This is too quick,"
said Timothy Shanahan, a professor of urban education at the
The increase in the average score, to 218 on a 500- point scale, returned the average to about the 1992 level.
Mr. Shanahan, who served on the congressionally mandated National Reading Panel and describes himself as a "big supporter" of several of the Bush administrationís key education policies, said itís too soon to "declare victory."
"Theyíre claiming that these 4th graders changed so much in those few months," he said. "Thereís no way."
Mr. Shanahan said that the recent rise in NAEP scores was a hopeful sign, but not especially striking, as those scores have seen minor shifts up and down over time. The big question, he said, is whether the gains will persist in future years.
Susan Aspey, Mr. Paigeís spokeswoman, said the NAEP gains, particularly for minorities, "are signs of substantial progress following a long period of stagnation."
Mr. Paige also pointed
to improved state test scores, such as in
"We were already about accountability for our schools and districts before No Child Left Behind," said Valerie A. Woodruff, noting the state has seen steady improvement in test scores for several years now. "Without No Child Left Behind, we would have seen a similar pattern of growth."
She added, "If I were in [Mr. Paigeís] shoes, Iíd be more cautious about saying these things."
Mr. Paige also noted
that more of
Even there, the numbers
donít tell the whole story.
Just before Mr. Paigeís address, critics of President Bushís education policies, including the National Education Association and the Washington-based Campaign for Americaís Future, held a press conference nearby where they took aim at the the secretaryís expected comments.
"I voted against No Child Left Behind because its focus was on failure," said Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who was one of 41 House members to vote against the federal school law. "This is a huge intrusion that is failing our children, failing our schools."
In his speech, Secretary Paige said he wasnít surprised to see the law facing so much criticism.
"[T]here has always been a chattering of teeth and then a recoiling anytime there has been an attempt to change things," he said. "So, the pushback on No Child Left Behind is not new, nor unexpected. But the debate is over. No Child Left Behind is here. Itís here to stay."
Matt Richtel, New York Times News Service
"Why are you answering the phone in class?" his mother asked. He whispered back, "You're the one who called me." His mother said she had intended to leave a message on Gray's voice mail.
Such scenes are playing out across the country, as hundreds of high schools have reluctantly agreed to relax rules about cell phones. Rather than banning the phones outright, as many once did, they are capitulating to parent demands and market realities, and allowing students to carry phones in school--though not to use them in class.
The reversal is a significant
change from policies of the 1980s and 1990s, when school administrators
around the country viewed cell phones as the tools of drug dealers.
But the phones have become tools used by parents to keep in touch with, and keep track of, their children. And schools are facing a more basic reality: It is no longer possible to enforce such bans.
Thanks to the falling prices of mobile phones, and efforts by carriers to market family plans to parents and teenagers, the phones have become so commonplace that trying to keep them out of schools would be like trying to enforce a ban on lip gloss or combs.
Over the last two years, more than half a dozen states, including Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan and Nevada, and numerous individual school districts, have abolished or relaxed their bans. In June, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed a law, based on a proposal forwarded to the Legislature by a group of high school students, to no longer make possession of a phone in school a felony.
About half of Americans aged 13 to 17 are expected to have a cell phone by the end of 2004, according to the research firm Yankee Group. And in many high schools, including poor urban ones, administrators say the figure is closer to 90 percent.
The new policies vary widely, and in many cases they indicate a grudging capitulation by school administrators. While some schools permit phones to be displayed in plain sight, others require the phones to be stowed in purses, pants or backpacks. Some still ban certain kinds of phones, like those with cameras, fearing locker-room high jinks.
Most schools continue to forbid the use of phones and other electronics during class. The gadgets are seen as offering too much temptation to stray from schoolwork or cheat, not just because they can be used for calls but because they can be used to check the Internet, play games or send messages to other students with phones.
"The cell phone is not for her convenience," Teremi said. "It's for her security. It's for my peace of mind."
Sarah says she likes being able to stay in touch, too. "I'm always checking in with my mom to make sure I'm not running too late," she said.
But some other parents say they wish Eastern High, a school of 1,500 students largely from poor neighborhoods, had never lifted the ban. The school did last year, even while the statewide prohibition was still in place.
At first, the school adopted an informal policy of letting students carry phones. This year the school decided to tighten its policy, by adhering to the state's law allowing cell phones to be in students' possession, but not openly displayed.
Students at Eastern High said that the new, tougher guidelines have not stopped the frequent use of cell phones at school.
Alicia Barajas, 17, the senior class president, said she was in class recently when a student received a call--and ignored the substitute teacher's request to end it. "He was like, `I've got to take this,"' Alicia said.
By Megan Tench,
In a post-Columbine
world, where student threats are taken more seriously, schools in
Many districts added school resource officers -- police officers who roam hallways, parking lots, and other student gathering spots -- to get to know students and build trust, while keeping classrooms safe.
Tobin Kerns, a 16-year-old
Marshfield High student, was arrested last month after the officers
heard about the plan, which police said was timed for next April, near
the anniversary of the shooting rampage at
''There have been some people who have questioned the use of officers in the schools, and I think this is a great example of the value of having school resource officers in the schools," said Jim Fitzgerald, chairman of the Marshfield Board of Selectman.
Officer Robert Quigley has been a constant presence at the school for 12 years, Fitzgerald said. Helen Gray, the other resource officer who thwarted the alleged plot, has been at the school for about four years, he said.
Recently, Quigley has become more involved in the high school and has morphed from a DARE officer to an all-purpose resource officer at the high school.
''His interaction with the kids is phenomenal," said Fitzgerald, who said he found out about the case yesterday, when the police contacted him.
Neither officer could be reached for comment yesterday.
''It's good to hear that the efforts regarding school resource officers worked in this case," said Ron Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, a California-based advocacy group.
The center trains thousands of school resource officers from across the country each year on school safety, the law, and how to engage students, Stephens said. Students are key to stopping potential disasters, he said, because they tend to know more about what's going on inside their hallways and classrooms.
Since Columbine -- where
two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 12 students
and one teacher and then killed themselves on
In November 2001, five
By Rhea R. Borja, Education
A freeze on $3.28 billion in requests for aid under the federal E-rate program has left hundreds of school districts scrambling to pay for their technology needsóand, in some cases, crippled classroom instruction.
The Universal Service Administrative Co., which oversees the "education rate" program for the Federal Communications Commission, halted funding in August, pending adoption of new accounting procedures. The FCC told USAC to change its procedures by Oct. 1 in response to E-rate audits and congressional charges of waste, fraud, and abuse.
USAC officials may decide as soon as this week to resume funding, but they have not set an exact date. Some of the accounting changes still need to be figured out, Mel Blackwell, the vice president for external communications for USAC, said last week.
"Itís not as simple as a flip of a switch," he said.
The E-rate program, which has disbursed more than $8 billion since its inception in 1997, helps link public and private schools as well as public libraries to the Internet by paying up to 90 percent of technology costs such as wiring and connection fees. Consumers pay for the program through a "universal service" fee on their monthly telephone bills.
To complicate matters, the funding suspension came on top of another delay. Earlier this year, USACís schools and libraries division, which directly operates the $2.25 billion-a-year E-rate program, reviewed funding applications from the largest school districts before reviewing those from the many smaller and mid-sized districts. For some smaller districts, that step has resulted in a slowdown or reduction in student access to the Internet, continued aging of technology networks, and, in some rural districts, no Internet access at all.
ĎTired and Frustratedí
Consequently, many state
E-rate coordinators are steaming, and district officials are sounding
alarms. For instance, 75 percent of
On Sept. 23, the State E-Rate Coordinators Alliance sent a strongly worded letter to USACís schools and libraries division to urge a lifting of the funding freeze.
The letter said the situation "has reached a boiling point in the applicant community as schools and libraries are suffering cash flow issues, losing valuable services, and having needed projects delayed as a result of these massive delays and suspension of funding."
One case in point is the remote 416-student Kuspuk school district in the Alaskan bush, which is waiting to hear about the fate of at least $700,000 in approved E-rate funds. It is one of more than half of Alaskaís districts that were approved for fiscal 2004 funding, but havenít received it, said Della Mathis, the E-rate coordinator for the state education department.
Kuspuk is "a typical bush school district thatís totally dependent on communications to stay anywhere close to the world," she said.
Kuspukís nine schools
are spread out over 1,200 miles, accessible only by plane or, in the
summer months, by boat on the
Thus, Kuspuk teachers have relied on the Internet to conduct research and gather classroom materials. About 300 computers were connected to the Internet via broadband until Aug. 15. Thatís when the Internet connection was turned off, because E-rate money the district planned to use to pay the broadband fees was unavailable. Now, some teachers are calling the district office, which has slow Internet access, to look up and download materials for them.
"As much as half of our classroom instruction is tied to the Internet," said Marge Randlett, a teacher and the technology director for the Kuspuk schools. "Now, with that being cut off and not having enough textbooks, weíre in a pretty bad way."
District Superintendent Kim Langton added that if the Kuspuk schools donít get the E- rate money soon, bad weather will force his district to further delay mounting equipment for Internet connections until next spring.
"I am so tired and frustrated," he said over a staticky phone line. "We were looking to enhance our broadband and distance learning. Weíre extremely grateful for E-rate, but everybodyís being punished for the waste and fraud going on."
Safeguarding the Program
Examples of alleged or proven abuses in the E-rate program abound.
NEC Business Network
Solutions Inc., an Irving, Texas-based subsidiary of NEC America Inc.,
for instance, pleaded guilty in May to abusing the federal program,
and agreed to pay the federal government $20.6 million in criminal and
civil penalties. ("Company Pleads Guilty To E-Rate Abuses,"
Last year, two executives of New York City-based Connect2 Internet Networks Inc. were convicted of fraud and have been prohibited from participating in the program for three years.
In addition, the 51,000-student
In response to charges about E- rate problems, the FCC passed measures in August designed to safeguard the program. It made schools, libraries, and service providers more accountable and set a framework for how USAC can recover E-rate money that has been used improperly.
The "Fifth Order and Report" requires schools and libraries to keep E-rate documents for five years; states that USAC and the FCC will conduct audits or investigations of beneficiaries within five years of receipt of funding; bars schools, libraries, and service providers from receiving funds from the program if they owe any debts to it; and directs applicants to devise technology plans that follow U.S. Department of Education and USAC guidelines.
"The FCC has had requirements since the start of this program that, for whatever reason, people did not take seriously," said Sara Fitzgerald, the vice president of communications for Funds for Learning, an educational technology consulting firm based in Arlington, Va., that specializes in E-rate issues. "So the FCC is getting frustrated. If youíre receiving money from ratepayers, and if you want to get this benefit, thereís responsibility that goes along with it."
Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive officer, said the panel could help with tutoring, mentoring, counseling and organizing faith-based clubs.
"As long as our children are falling victim to violence in our streets, as long as we have problems of student behavior in schools, as long as we have disrespect and bullying in our schools, we'll continue to promote partnerships and close working relationships with faith-based organizations," Vallas said.
The task force of rabbis, ministers and other clergy could become one of the largest collaborations of its kind, according to national experts.
But opponents say the collaboration is inappropriate and could be illegal.
"For the school CEO to ask religious leaders to take an active role in sponsoring religious activities runs against the spirit of the Constitution and court rulings, if not the letter of the law itself," said Barry Morrison, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
In May, Vallas invited churches to start gospel choirs and prayer clubs. Last year, the district sponsored a back-to-school meeting with speeches and prayers by clergy.
"This is a man who seems to get dangerously close to crossing, and now may be crossing, the line between government neutrality and government promotion of religion," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Task force members said they plan to keep their activities as secular as possible.
"I am happy to be able to say that the members of this task force are very, very clear about it being crucial that everything we do is legal and secular," Rabbi George Stern said. "We are not preaching anything."
By GREG WINTER,
After narrowing in better economic times, the financial gap between poor and wealthy school districts has widened, a new report has found.
State and local money account for more than 90 percent of all education spending, but high poverty districts typically received $868 less per student from those sources than their counterparts with relatively few poor children did in 2002, the latest year for which data is available, the report found. As recently as 2000, the gap was down to $728.
The disparities were
significantly more stark in some of the nation's more populous states.
The findings, released today by the Education Trust, a research group that supports the federal No Child Left Behind law, showed that whatever momentum had gathered to close the monetary gap between districts in recent years quickly dispersed as state budgets started facing serious challenges.
By 2000, tax receipts were hearty and schools of all kinds reaped the benefits. Districts with high concentrations of poor students often received slightly bigger increases in state aid than wealthier ones. Though parity was still elusive, the report found, the gap between districts with large numbers of poor students and those without them had begun to narrow.
But as a recession took hold, states slowed their education spending, leaving local governments to take on more of the burden, the report found. Wealthier districts made up for much of the slowdown by raising property taxes, a response few high poverty areas could manage. As a consequence, the gap started expanding again and now stands at its widest point in at least five years, the report found.
"A time like this is when the states would really like to be able to look to the federal government to help lessen that gap," said Scott Young, senior policy specialist at National Conference of State Legislatures, adding that the report's findings seemed accurate. "But now states have to use their federal money to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind."
Though it is a small piece of the entire puzzle, federal aid helps districts educate poor students nationwide. Moreover, the group says, federal assistance is not supposed to substitute for state efforts.
"The law is not designed so that states could just shortchange high poverty districts and the federal government would make up the difference," said Kevin Carey, the report's author. "It's to provide additional money, on top of what the states are already doing."
Part of the reason, Mr. Carey contends, is that it costs more to educate poor students. In fact, after factoring in the extra costs of overcoming the effects of poverty, districts with large proportions of poor students would have needed $1,350 more per child than they received in 2002 to achieve parity, the report found.
Not all states have
widened the gap. In
Disks found in
The FBI is examining the materials, but a Department of Homeland Security official said the intelligence community determined there was no threat.
The military retrieved
the disks in
"There is no threat associated with this," another government official said.
The schools are in
The Department of Homeland
Security official said the material was associated with a person in
Officials said that they are taking the matter seriously though there has been no specific threat related to the recovered material.
"State and local law enforcement personnel have informed us of the need to increase our school security during this election season," said Jones County School Superintendent William Mathews Jr. in a letter sent last month to parents of students in the Middle Georgia community.
"It is important
to know that no threat of any type has been directed or is suspected
The FBI sent an advisory to terrorism task forces across the nation to inform them about the material, a Department of Homeland Security official said. No public notification or other action associated with a heightened state of alert was taken, the official said, because it did not seem necessary to "elevate it to that level based on the assessment of the intelligence community."
The Department of Homeland Security official said the information included a Department of Education guide on how to plan for a crisis in schools. A senior government official said there is no indication anyone was on the ground casing the schools.
One official said the retrieved information is "all of relatively recent vintage."
Authorities said this
information is not related to a bulletin that the FBI and Department
of Homeland Security issued Wednesday to schools and law enforcement
about school safety in the wake of the Beslan,
A senior official said analysts are going over the information and are examining all possible scenarios. As the official put it, schools have been mentioned as possible terror targets in previous intercepted conversations between alleged operatives and in interrogations of detainees, but nothing has emerged recently.
"There is no analysis by the intelligence community that the Iraqi information or Beslan information or any other information indicates there is any plot to attack a school in the United States," said Brian Roehrkasse, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman.
The Department of Education destroys 300,000 parent guides to remove references to national standards.
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
and Jean Merl,
WASHINGTON ó The Education Department this summer destroyed more than 300,000 copies of a booklet designed for parents to help their children learn history after the office of Vice President Dick Cheney's wife complained that it mentioned the National Standards for History, which she has long opposed.
In June, during a routine update, the Education Department began distributing a new edition of a 10-year-old how-to guide called "Helping Your Child Learn History." Aimed at parents of children from preschool through fifth grade, the 73-page booklet presented an assortment of advice, including taking children to museums and visiting historical sites.
The booklet included several brief references to the National Standards for History, which were developed at UCLA in the mid-1990s with federal support. Created by scholars and educators to help school officials design better history courses, they are voluntary benchmarks, not mandatory requirements.
At the time, Lynne Cheney,
the wife of now-Vice President Cheney, led a vociferous campaign complaining
that the standards were not positive enough about
At one point in the initial controversy, Cheney denounced the standards as "politicized history."
In response to the criticism, the UCLA standards were heavily revised, most critics were mollified and the controversy faded ó but not for Cheney and her staff.
"Helping Your Child Learn History" is not unique. The Education Department produces a series of similar booklets on topics such as science, geography, reading and math. The booklets are designed to encourage parents to get involved in their children's education. Often, they contain passing references to the kinds of curriculum standards that scholars and educators have developed in recent years to improve school courses. More than 9 million copies of such booklets have been distributed.
Seldom have the booklets sparked controversy. That changed this summer.
As the wife of the vice president, Cheney has no executive position in the federal government. But when her office spotted the references to the National Standards for History in the new edition of the history booklet, her staff communicated its displeasure to the Education Department.
Subsequently, the department decided it was necessary to kill the new edition and reprint it with references to the standards removed. Though about 61,000 copies of "Helping Your Child Learn History" had been distributed, the remaining 300,000-plus copies were destroyed. Asked about the decision, one department official said they had been "recycled."
The Times obtained a copy of the booklet as originally printed.
A new version of the booklet, the basis for the version that is being printed, is on the Education Department's website. It has been edited to remove references to the standards.
For example, a clause in the foreword was removed that suggested President Bush supported instruction based on teaching standards that had been developed for various academic subjects.
Also missing from the department's Internet version is a suggestion that parents ask whether their children's curriculum incorporates the National Standards for History. An Internet address for the standards in a list of more than a dozen websites for parents was also removed, as well as a footnote elsewhere in the text that shows where to find more information about the history standards.
When The Times initially approached the Education Department to inquire about the booklets, the department issued a statement saying it had taken the unusual action because of "mistakes, including typos and incomplete information."
Later, Susan Aspey, the department's press secretary, admitted that typographical errors were not the reason. Asked about the role of Cheney's office, Aspey responded:
"The decision was ours to stop distribution and reprint. Both offices were on parallel tracks and obviously neither of us were pleased that the final document was not the accurate reflection of policy that was approved originally."
A representative for Cheney said her office did not order the destruction of the booklets. "Unequivocally, [neither] Mrs. Cheney nor her staff insisted on having the history publication recalled," said spokeswoman Maria Miller. "And that's just the bottom line."
However, neither department officials nor Cheney's office would discuss the episode in detail. Both refused to allow interviews with the staffers involved.
Individuals with knowledge of the events said complaints from Cheney's office moved the Education Department to act. The individuals spoke on condition of anonymity.
Retired UCLA professor Gary Nash, co-chairman of the effort to develop the National Standards for History, said he found the decision to destroy the booklets after Cheney's office complained "extremely troubling."
"That's a pretty god-awful example of spending the taxpayers' money and also a pretty god-awful example of interference ó intellectual interference," Nash said. "If that's not Big Brother or Big Sister, I don't know what is."
According to Michelle M. Herczog, a consultant in history and social sciences for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the standards have become a resource for many states in developing curriculum guidelines. They are also used to develop textbooks.
"Why the U.S. Department of Education would take that out of a federal document for parents is just beyond me," said Herczog, who was not involved in the development of the standards.
The answer is that, from their inception, the American history guidelines have been caught in an ideological feud.
Cheney led the charge on the original UCLA draft. In a widely read opinion piece published in 1994, she complained that "We are a better people than the National Standards indicate, and our children deserve to know it."
The standards contained repeated references to the Ku Klux Klan and to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the anti-Communist demagogue of the 1950s, she said. And she noted that Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave who helped run the Underground Railroad, was mentioned six times.
Such complaints led to revision of the standards.
Recently, when the department decided to update "Helping Your Child Learn History," Cheney's office became involved because of her long-standing interest in American history.
Cheney is prominently quoted in the booklet as a "noted author and wife of the vice president." Two books on history that she wrote for children are mentioned in the booklet.
The acknowledgments also credit her office for helping with the guide, which cost $110,360 to print, Aspey said.
As head of the National Endowment for the Humanities under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Cheney approved some of the funding for the National Standards for History project, but she also issued a blistering critique of social science education, which is listed as a resource in the booklet.
The history booklet was first published in 1993. Having made education reform a centerpiece of its domestic agenda, the current administration decided to update the series.
As the Education Department prepared the new edition, Cheney's office reviewed drafts and provided materials but the second lady was not personally involved, an aide said.
The references to the National History Standards were added at the Education Department after Cheney's office signed off on an initial draft that did not mention them. Aspey said it was apparently done for consistency, because such standards were referred to in the department's other guidebooks for parents.
Aspey said mention of the standards implied official approval. "We don't endorse National Standards for History, and the document that was printed is not an accurate reflection of the policy of the government right now," she said.
Nonetheless, Ravitch said, "I would have had a hard time recalling [the booklet], because I think the recall makes a big issue of something nobody would have paid attention to otherwise."
Illinois State Board of Education