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News Clips

News Clips – October 8 - 15, 2004

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STATE  
New Law Will Help Rapidly Growing School Districts /
Chester Sun Times
Venice gets OK for charter high school / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Can small schools make big difference? /
Chicago Sun-Times
Mom sends school check for absence / Peoria Journal Star
Illinois has disparity in student spending / Quad Cities Online
Mandate one kind of school district in Illinois / Peoria Journal Star
Illinois lawmakers weigh plan for funding education / St. Louis Post-Dispatch

NATIONAL/NCLB
Middle School Experiments With Single-Sex Classrooms / Sun News (SC)
Growing Field Fills In Blanks /
USA Today
Supe says NCLB dooms schools / NapaNews.com (CA)
Schools urged to teach about heart disease / State Journal-Register
School Board Considers Censoring Books, Handing Out Bibles, Teaching Creationism /
Washington Post
Palm Beach County schools use soda machines to fill coffers, despite health concerns / Sun-Sentinal (FL)
With suit pending, school aid gets second look / Boston Globe
Kansas Students Show Progress On State Tests /
Kansas City Star
Thousands Of California Schools Could Face Federal Sanctions / AP
U.S. Agency Confirms It Produced 'News' Report PR Firm Created Videos For TV /
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Too Many Teachers Are Left Behind /
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Louisiana lags in funding poor schools / Louisiana Gannett News

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STATE

New Law Will Help Rapidly Growing School Districts

Chester Sun Times, 10/11/04

Governor Rod Blagojevich Friday signed House Bill 766, establishing Fast Growth Grants for Illinois schools. This new grant program helps school districts meet the expense of educating quickly growing student populations.

Sponsored by Rep. Ruth Munson (R-Elgin) and Sen. Larry Walsh (D-Joliet), the new law supports the Governor’s pledge to increase funding for elementary and secondary education. The $10 million appropriated for Fast Growth Grants is a portion of the $389 million increase in targeted education programs in the FY 2005 budget.

Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) data shows 44 school districts in Illinois are currently eligible for the grant funds. School districts are eligible to apply if during the two most recent school years their enrollments have increased by greater than 1.5% for districts with over 10,000 students or greater than 7.5% or more for districts with enrollment under 10,000.

The law is effective immediately. Grant funds will be distributed on a per pupil basis to qualifying districts.

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Venice gets OK for charter high school

By Aisha Sultan of the Post-Dispatch, 10/10/04

Story continues below adHailing it as a new day for students in Venice, State Superintendent Randy Dunn announced a plan Sunday to open a charter high school early next month at the old Lincoln Technical School site - reversing an earlier decision by the previous state board and superintendent.

Supporters of the proposed Lincoln Charter School gathered in the Venice High School gymnasium to hear details about a plan that had been promised for months. When Venice High School shut the doors of its troubled school this year, 55 students were left stranded without a school in Venice.

Dunn acknowledged that a "bad situation got worse before it got better" for these students and offered an apology to residents Sunday afternoon. The only district willing to accept students from Venice was East St. Louis, but its own high school has consistently failed to meet state standards. Only 14 students who formerly attended Venice High enrolled at East St. Louis High School - leaving the remaining 31 students largely unaccounted for.

"To our high school students, we would like to say, 'Welcome home,'" said Janet Wiley, president of the Venice School Board, to loud cheers from the handful of parents in the audience.

Robert Falast, former superintendent of the Livingston School District, will take over as principal of the charter school, which will receive state money but be free from many regulations required of traditional public schools. Falast said the school hoped to enroll at least 30 to 35 Venice students initially and hire four teachers and some part-time support staff. The school will be run through the Madison County Regional Office of Education, which will receive payments from the Venice district for the students who attend.

The curriculum will have a heavy emphasis on the core subject areas, such as math and reading, according to Harry Briggs, Madison County regional superintendent. The school's calendar will begin with the date Venice students were required to begin high school in East St. Louis: Aug. 17. Students will receive credit for time spent in other schools, but those who need extra time will be offered additional hours so they can complete the school year, officials say.

Although state law requires that charter schools be operating by Sept. 17, state officials said the Lincoln Charter School met this requirement because an agreement had been reached with East St. Louis before that date and the original charter school proposal had been submitted before the deadline.

The Illinois State Board of Education plans to help oversee the charter school's operation for at least the first six months to a year, according to Mary Hagan, the Venice School District's superintendent. The charter school's board members include Elliot Lessen, a dean at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville; Starsky Wilson, with the Madison County Urban League; Briggs; and Hagan.

The charter school is billed as a partnership with several other area organizations. The Madison County Urban League will provide some social services for students, and SIUE will help provide instructional support for teachers.

Dunn credited Gov. Rod Blagojevich's intervention last week for the revival of the charter school plan. The governor called on his hand-picked state school board to approve the charter school plan.

"Uprooting kids to send them outside their community to schools facing similar challenges as their hometown school doesn't make sense," Dunn said in a prepared statement.

The state recommended last winter that the troubled Venice School District close its high school, and voters agreed in March. Briggs proposed operating a charter school for the students, but the state board initially refused to approve that proposal and cited numerous problems in the plan.

Since then, however, Blagojevich has replaced seven of the board's nine members. The new board replaced former State Superintendent Robert Schiller with Dunn last month.

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Can small schools make big difference?

BY JULIA SILVERMAN, AP, 10/12/04

LEBANON, Ore. -- Thinking small may be the next big thing at American high schools.

Chicago has attracted attention for its efforts to reduce school size, but they're only a small part of a nationwide trend. From Oregon to New York, schools are scaling down to combat problems that are very big indeed: high dropout rates, sinking test scores and low attendance.

Over the years, plenty of ballyhooed ideas for curing such ills have come and gone. But the ''small schools'' movement has a powerful godfather in Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and is getting some backing from Washington, too.

Schools strategically designed to have no more than 400 students are in place or starting up in at least 41 states. Some urban districts, like Sacramento, Calif., have converted to all small high schools. In some places, the schools are new; others were created by subdividing large high schools.

Watching closely

Now, as the movement expands, educators are watching the outcome closely.

Oregon's Lebanon High School, with about 1,400 students, opened in September with the building divided into four ''learning academies,'' each one specializing in a different academic area, and each with roughly 300 teenagers. The students in each academy will stay together through all four years of high school, with the same corps of teachers.

''We'll get to know more and more about them so we don't lose them down the road,'' said Aaron Cooke, a history teacher.

Lebanon High, along with a few other Oregon schools in Portland, Eugene, Woodburn and the Medford area, got a grant partially backed by the Gates Foundation to go small, a decision administrators made after concluding they had reached a dead end.

''We were not serving the needs of 100 percent of our students,'' said Leanne Raze, assistant principal of Lebanon High. ''We had a high dropout rate, underperformance on state tests and low attendance rates. We were looking for an upheaval.''

Research had shown that going small can produce higher graduation rates, lower dropout levels and more students attending college. That has been the case in cities such as New York and Chicago.

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Mom sends school check for absence

Column by Phil Luciano, Peoria Journal Star, 10/12/04

Parents, do you value education?

Would you put your money where your mouth is?

Dawn Trompeter did. When she took her daughter out of class for a family vacation, she didn't just send an excuse to the school office. She also sent a check to cover the cost to the school.

You didn't realize schools lose money when students stay home? I didn't either. And I doubt many parents ever think to send a check to cover their kids' absences.

"It's nothing I've had before," says Superintendent Herman Ahlfield of Marseilles School District 150.

Ahlfield has run schools for 27 years, the last two in Marseilles, a town of 4,000 residents east of Ottawa in LaSalle County. The district encompasses 600 students in pre-K to 8th grade.

One of those pupils is Alexis Trompeter, who started second grade this fall. But just as the school year began, a scheduling conflict popped up at home.

Her mom, Dawn Trompeter, had been trying for a long time to arrange an extended-family vacation to Orlando. Alexis was really looking forward to the trip, which would include her parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.

If you've ever tried to align planets like that, you understand the headache. They finally found a time when all could travel: Sept. 16 to 27.

Of course, that runs during the school year. Dawn Trompeter didn't want her kid to miss class. As a former member of the Marseilles School Board, she is sensitive to the need for good attendance.

Still, some family vacations happen just once in a lifetime. So she decided to pull Alexis out of school.

But first she covered her bases. She notified the school. She made Alexis do all of her schoolwork before the trip.

And then she wrote a check.

See, absences factor into the state's school-aid formula. The more absences, the less money a school gets.

Superintendent Ahlfield had pounded district parents on truancy before. In a story that ran in the Ottawa newspaper last year, he estimated that each absence costs the district about $16.55.

To account for inflation in the past year, Dawn Trompeter hiked that figure by 3.5 percent, to $17.14.

Alexis would miss seven days of classes. So, Trompeter wrote a check for $120 and sent it to the School Board.

"We wanted to make sure the school was not going to suffer for the loss," Trompeter says.

The check was the talk of the next School Board meeting.

"Certainly, it was an honorable donation," says Ahlfield.

The check was intended for the district's general fund. Still, at Ahlfield's urging, the board declined to accept the check. Ahlfield was leery of setting the precedent of accepting money for absences - a way for parents to buy their kids out of truancy problems.

"Next time, maybe the reason wouldn't be quite so good," he says.

Still, to honor Trompeter's overture, the board suggested she redirect her offer as a donation to a school program. Trompeter gladly complied, picking the school library.

"My daughter is really interested in reading, so I thought that would be good," Trompeter says.

As a bonus, the kid might learn something else. Sure, she missed a few classes, but some lessons occur outside school - like recognizing consequences and honoring obligations.

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Illinois has disparity in student spending

By Kristina Gleeson, Quad Cities Online, 10/8/04

The per-pupil spending gap between minority and low-income students and their white or well-off counterparts is gaping in Illinois compared to other states, according to a report released this week.

The report, conducted by The Education Trust, found Illinois is second only to New York in the amount its schools shortchange low-income and minority students.

The study shows students in Illinois' highest-poverty districts receive an average of $2,026 less in education funding than students in wealthier districts. In Iowa, students in the poorest districts receive $333 less than those in wealthier districts.

It also found students in the state's highest-minority districts receive $1,595 less in education funding than the lowest-minority districts in Illinois. In Iowa, it is $700 less.

John Flaherty, Rock Island County's interim assistant regional superintendent, had not seen the report but was not surprised by its findings.

"Illinois bases its funding on property taxes," Mr. Flaherty said. "Others are on a state funding level that's more equal."

The state's share of all revenue Illinois school districts get is very small compared to the amount schools collect from local residents, he added. In 2002, only 39 percent of districts' money came from state government. Schools in only four other states get less in state revenues, according to the study.

The state and local funding gaps in Illinois not only are larger than other states, they're growing.

Between 1997 and 2002, state funding declined each year, by a total of $218 per student in Illinois.

"Traditionally, Illinois has always looked at (funding) as more of a local issue," Mr. Flaherty said. "If you went back 75 to 100 years, you didn't have that disparity."

However, the urban population has grown and property taxes vary wildly from place to place. Because districts rely on property taxes for money, property values in the school district make a huge difference.

Hearings have been held around the state on Illinois House Bill 750, which tries to equalize school funding, Mr. Flaherty noted.

The bill proposes increasing the individual income tax from 3 percent of adjusted gross income to 5 percent and using the money to reduce property taxes.

"It would be the best thing toward equalizing education that's been introduced in quite a while," Mr. Flaherty said.

Sean Noble, of Voices for Illinois Children, agreed. "As long as we rely on property taxes to fund about 53 percent of education, the system will remain unfair to students," Mr. Noble said. "They suffer for it, and Illinois' future suffers for it."

What states can do to close funding gaps

-- Devote a greater share of state funding to education.

-- Reduce reliance on local property taxes to fund education and increase support for state sources.

-- Target extra funds specifically to help low-income children.

-- Promote fair budget practices that give each school within a district the same amount of money per student, adjusted to meet the needs of poor students.

(source: The Education Trust)

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Mandate one kind of school district in Illinois

Peoria Journal Star Editorial, October 11, 2004

The Pekin Community High School Board's recent vote against hiring a consultant to analyze consolidation between it and a sister grade school district is unfortunate, especially for taxpayers who deserve the most efficient, affordable and productive classrooms possible.

Pekin High Superintendent Ken Schwab defended the decision on the grounds that consolidation might be more costly, which is an unusual argument. Generally, economies of scale can be found in a consolidation - schools can be closed, administration and other staff can be trimmed, the districts involved can engage in joint purchasing where they don't already. At any rate Schwab can't know for sure whether or not there would be any cost savings until a study has been done. For $8,000, what would be the harm in finding out?

Fact is there are nearly 900 school districts in Illinois, split between three organizational types - unit, or kindergarten-through-12th-grade districts; high school districts; and elementary districts. That's almost twice as many school districts as are needed in a state which has chronic classroom money problems and an unnecessarily complex school funding formula that can't ever quite achieve fairness for all involved.

Indeed, some 80 percent of all Illinois school districts are deficit spending. One of them is Pekin Grade School District 108, which has two tax increases on the ballot in November. It is one of six grade school districts that feed Pekin High School. That's just crazy, though not as crazy as in Limestone Township, where eight elementary districts send kids to a separate high school district. That's nine superintendents and nine school boards and nine curriculums in one small area.

Unit districts have time and again been proven to be the most efficient from a cost standpoint, in part because you can eliminate bureaucratic duplication. All these districts already have relationships. Too often one grade school district does fine financially because it has a commercial/industrial tax base, while the one next store struggles. Is one group of kids more deserving than another of having a high quality education even though they both live in essentially the same community? Ultimately, the status quo is wasteful for taxpayers, frequently inconvenient for parents and arguably unfair to schoolchildren in a state that is always counting pennies.

And yet we consistently see resistance to even studying consolidation in these communities. Part of that is the lack of credibility state government has in keeping its promises regarding the payment of consolidation incentives, a valid concern. Beyond that, many school boards still cling to the myth of local control, which effectively disappeared when the state decided to take over testing and George W. Bush went to bat for No Child Left Behind.

The Pekin situation is yet one more indication why the Legislature ought to mandate unit districts as the price Illinois schools have to pay for more state funding. We have become convinced that local school districts will never do this on their own.

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Illinois lawmakers weigh plan for funding education

Alexa Aguilar, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Education advocates hope that the latest proposal to overhaul the way Illinois schools are funded will end the perennial squabbling on how to fix the system.

And they hope that with about 80 percent of the state's school districts in deficit spending, the time is finally right for reform.

For decades, a number of committees, reports and recommendations have withered when faced with the political challenges of changing the state's tax structure. Now, a new piece of legislation would raise income taxes while providing property tax relief to home and business owners.

The bill is the subject of a public meeting at 7 p.m. today at the Katy Cavins Center in O'Fallon, Ill.

"What we're saying is, 'Let's get the discussion going,'" said Rhonda Jenkins, a School Board member in Millstadt and member of the local Coalition for School Funding Reform, the meeting's sponsor. "I don't know if (the bill) is perfect. But we need to make sure that the Legislature takes a true look at reforming our system." Jenkins said.

The proposed legislation would:

Raise the state's personal income tax to 5 percent from 3 percent.

Expand the sales tax to cover personal services, entertainment and other consumer services.

Reduce by 20 percent to 25 percent the part of a property owner's property taxes that is currently used to fund schools.

The bill could generate $7.1 billion, enough to pay for the property tax relief and pump an additional $1.8 billion into increasing base funding levels for schools, according to a bill summary by proponents. There would also be money left over to eliminate the state's structural deficit and provide $900 million in refundable credit to the state's bottom 60 percent of taxpayers, the summary says.

A number of school boards and education groups statewide have endorsed the legislation. They are hoping that with enough vocal support for the legislation, Gov. Rod Blagojevich will support the bill, although he has vowed he won't raise taxes. If the governor continues that pledge, the bill's sponsor, Sen. James Meeks, I-Chicago, will need enough votes in the Legislature to override Blagojevich's veto.

"It's an idea whose time will inevitably come," said Dennis Vercler, a spokesman for the Illinois Farm Bureau, an organization that has lobbied for less reliance on property tax since the 1980s. "We've decided that there is never going to be a 'good year' for this. There's always going to be some political force looming. We're not going to second-guess ourselves though."

School funding in Illinois, as in Missouri, has long been a source of debate and contention. Illinois tried in the 1990s what 250 school districts in Missouri are currently pursuing - relief through the court system. The effort in Illinois failed when the courts ruled that school funding is an issue for the Legislature. Since then, a state-appointed board has recommended that the state should wean itself from relying on local property tax for school funding and pour an additional $2 billion into education to bring up the base level of spending for all schools.

Most agree that the state's reliance on local property taxes to fund schools has created a system in which some districts spend $5,000 a student and others spend more than $18,000. Under this system, if a community wants to raise its taxes, more money goes to schools. In poorer districts, residents can pay higher tax rates without providing enough money for schools because their communities have low property wealth.

Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a nonpartisan think tank based in Chicago, said the time is finally right for reform because "there is almost no alternative." Martire will be in O'Fallon tonight to explain the bill.

"Before, there were significant portions of the state that were doing OK and didn't want to deal with the problem," he said. "Now, 80 percent of schools are operating with deficits. Folks are worried."

Jim Baiter, superintendent of Alton schools, has heard presentations about the bill in other parts of the state this fall. For 20 years, he said, he's heard the debate over school funding, and this is the "best alternative in several years."

This bill "would put into place a mechanism that could do it . . . that could provide for a more level playing field."

Jenkins said she was hopeful a grass-roots effort would finally enact reform.

"I don't think I could put into words how gratifying it would be for the children of this state for the Legislature to recognize that all children need an equal opportunity, an opportunity that is not based on where they live," she said.

The bill is HB750.

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NATIONAL

Middle School Experiments With Single-Sex Classrooms

Allison Barker, Associated Press, 10/11/04

CHARLESTON - Thirteen-year-old Virginia Marker always was the kind of student who wanted to get lost in the crowd, hoping teachers wouldn't call on her.

That was until this year, when Stonewall Jackson Middle School decided to separate its 610 boys and girls into single-sex classes for part of the day. Only weeks into the one-year experiment, Marker has improved her D in math to a C.

"Having an all-girls class is pretty cool because you can do things without the boys there to pick on you," she said.

Stonewall Jackson is the first public school in West Virginia to segregate students by sex in grades sixth through eighth for classes in English, math, science and social studies. Other courses, including art, physical education and band, are mixed.

Principal Carol Thom decided to give single-sex education a try after two years of effort to improve student achievement left Stonewall Jackson still one of 38 low-performing schools in West Virginia. Teachers jumped at the idea, and local officials did not object.

"This is hormone city," Thom said. "Middle school kids are very focused on ... each other. When you take that sexual tension out of the classroom, then they focus on academics."

Stonewall Jackson is among at least 147 out of the nation's 91,000 public schools opting for single-sex classes this year as administrators look for ways to improve student performance under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education in Poolesville, Md.

Supporters say separation reduces distractions and classroom inhibitions. It also allows teachers to cater to different learning styles. Girls, they say, often want to break into small work groups, while boys tend to engage more in debate.

Stonewall Jackson is located in a racially mixed area on Charleston's west side. About 70 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Two years ago, only 46 percent of the students met standards in reading, while only 51 percent met standards in math. Last year, reading competency jumped to 81 percent and math to nearly 59 percent.

"Last year, sometimes I had a hard time because most of the other people were messing with the girls, and the teacher had to tell them to stop," said 12-year-old Michael Brewington. "People listen more because they can't flirt with the girls."

Although same-sex education has long been available in private schools, it has been virtually unknown in public schools since the 1972 implementation of Title IX, a federal rule prohibiting discrimination based on gender.

That changed when President Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law in 2002. It allows single-sex classrooms if comparable curricula and facilities are available to both sexes.

The move to water down Title IX has drawn criticism from groups such as the National Organization for Women and the American Association of University Women, which argue that segregated classes open the door for inequality.

Although it's too soon to know what effect single-sex classes will have at Stonewall, educators and students hope for positive results when tests are administered in the spring.

"We can't save them from all the hard lessons of life," Thom said. "But I believe this is one way we can help them get through it better."

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Growing Field Fills In Blanks

USA Today, 10/11/04

In the new test-driven world of education, the field of the moment is psychometrics.

Trained in psychology and statistics, psychometricians work for school districts and testing companies; while the jobs require a Ph.D., new psychometricians can often command $100,000 salaries, more than twice as much as in most other academic disciplines and far more than most teachers or principals. Many psychometricians juggle competing offers from testing firms before they've even completed their course work.

To meet the growing demand, the industry is expanding rapidly — some say too rapidly.

“Certainly the need (for tests) has increased, in good part because of No Child Left Behind,” says University of Iowa professor David Frisbie, who oversees the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, one of the nation's oldest standardized skills tests. “I don't think we're coming close to filling that need.”

“It's a hot, hot, hot field,” says Seppy Basili of Kaplan, the test prep firm. “Nobody knows about it and there aren't very many of them, but everybody is looking for them.”

At Educational Testing Service's headquarters near Princeton, N.J., Deanna Morgan, 35, works on California's high school exit exam and other state tests. She taught middle school and high school for seven years before earning her Ph.D. and believes testing is here to stay.

“It's going to happen with me or without me,” she says. “I'd rather have my hand in it.”

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Supe says NCLB dooms schools

NapaNews.com (CA), 10/8/24  

Calistoga Elementary School recently joined a club that has a growing membership: schools facing so-called failure under the president's No Child Left Behind Act.

"Calistoga Elementary School, which as a whole, met growth targets, is doomed to failure because one group of students aren't proficient in English," Calistoga Joint-Unified District Superintendent Jeffrey Johnson said Monday. "If we didn't meet this year's goal, we're almost certain not going to meet next year's. We're being set up to fail."

Last year's goal was to have 10 percent of the school's students proficient in English, according to Johnson. Next year's mandate is that 20 percent reach proficiency. The percentage of students who must be rated proficient in math and English will rise sharply starting in the 2007-08 school year, to 50 percent, making it even more difficult for schools to comply with the largely unfunded law.

"Calistoga Elementary has a student body that is 47 percent English learners who don't have the required proficiency," Johnson said. "While many of our students are proficient, we're being penalized for the ones who aren't."

No Child Left Behind requires states to implement accountability systems for public schools and students. The systems must be based on challenging state standards in reading and mathematics, annual testing for all students in grades 3-8, and annual statewide progress objectives that push all groups of students to reach proficiency within 12 years.

School districts and schools that do not meet adequate yearly progress toward statewide proficiency goals are subject to corrective action measures aimed at getting them back on course to meet state standards.

Although Calistoga Joint-Unified School District is anticipating an application that could mean its high school will be named a California distinguished school, it's scrambling to implement a number of remedial programs that will hopefully improve its elementary school's lot.

"We are not alone in this," Johnson said. "There are thousands of schools in districts across the country facing the same doomed scenario."/John Waters Jr.

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Schools urged to teach about heart disease

By JAMIE STENGLE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 10/12/04

DALLAS - Schools should be more aggressive in teaching children about heart disease and the risks of bad diet and little exercise, the American Heart Association said Monday.

The call for bolder action in schools follows the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations last month calling for a wide-ranging attack on childhood obesity by involving parents, schools, communities and the government.

Estimates are that more than 15 percent of American children are very overweight or obese.

Laura Hayman, a nurse and professor who wrote the heart association statement, said national data show about 80 percent of children aren’t getting the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

She also said that 44 percent of high school students aren’t in physical education classes.

“Through schools, hopefully you can reach the children, teachers and parents,” said Hayman, who teaches at New York University and Lenox Hill Heart and Vascular Institute of New York.

Experts agree that the schools are a good place to start.

Judith Young, of the Virginia-based nonprofit American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, said educating kids on the issue is critical.

“If we don’t teach them how to keep themselves healthy, then all the other things kind of don’t matter,” she said.

The heart association statement, published in the journal Circulation, calls for more physical education classes, heart-healthy meals and a tobacco-free environment from preschools through 12th grade and during after-school programs.

Dr. Catherine L. Webb, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, points out that families are often collectively obese.

“When a child starts to bring home knowledge, then the family I think will jump on the bandwagon,” said Webb, who works on a heart association council focusing on cardiovascular disease among young people

Obesity is linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other problems, and it’s a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, Hayman said.

The heart association recommendations teaching kids the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease and the best ways to avoid it.

The group also recommends that physical education be required at least three times a week from kindergarten through 12th grade - with 150 minutes in school each week for elementary students and at least 225 minutes per week for middle school students.

According to the recommendations, school meals should meet heart-healthy guidelines.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, who issued a school nutrition policy that took effect this year restricting fried and fatty servings and setting other food rules, said that school administrators understand the importance of physical education and nutrition, but they are dealing with limited resources.

More health education, for instance, might cost money for printed materials.

“A lot of (schools) are saying we’d love to do it, but give us the resources,” Combs said.

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School Board Considers Censoring Books, Handing Out Bibles, Teaching Creationism

Some Teachers Decry List of Ideas as Attempt to Inject Christian Values Into Curriculum

By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post Staff Writer, 10/10/04

To Margaret Young, vice chairman of the Charles County Board of Education, the required reading lists in her Southern Maryland school system are teeming with "profanity and pornography, fornication and adultery."

Take, for example, "Dust Tracks on a Road," an autobiography by acclaimed American author Zora Neale Hurston. Young said the book contained "disgusting" scenes of "inappropriate" sexual conduct.

"I think parents would be appalled if they really read the books their kids were reading that were so filled with profanity and pornography," she said. "I rely on the school system to provide good wholesome reading for my children."

So when the Board of Education recently compiled a list of goals and suggestions for improving the school system, Young said she supported the recommendation that calls for "removing anything [from reading lists] that provides a neutral or positive view of immorality or foul language."

But this proposal, and others that recommend distributing Bibles in schools, removing science books "biased towards evolution" and teaching sexual education classes focused exclusively on abstinence, has upset those who fear some board members are attempting to impose personal religious and moral beliefs on the public schools.

"They're basically trying to skew the curriculum, to teach their own conservative Christian values," said Meg MacDonald, a representative from the Charles County Education Association.

Board members say the list of more than 100 goals and suggestions, compiled without names attached, was simply a brainstorming exercise to generate ideas and encourage discussion. None of the proposals has been approved or even considered for a vote. But some see the document, distributed last month, as evidence of a growing conservatism on the board.

One of the more controversial proposals was to invite Gideons International to hand out Bibles to students. The document recommended being "very specific about where, when and how the Bibles are to be offered" but did not provide any of those details.

"What they're proposing is clearly unconstitutional. It is a violation of separation of church and state under the First Amendment," said Stacey Mink, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. "This is something the ACLU is very concerned about."

The issue of Bible distribution has been litigated repeatedly. A 1993 U.S. Circuit Court case found it unconstitutional for Gideons to give Bibles to fifth-grade students in Indiana. In other states, schools have been allowed to designate a spot on their property where religious materials can be left and students can voluntarily browse them. In general, courts have taken a stronger stand against any religious material going to younger, more impressionable students, said Kevin McDowell, a general counsel with the Indiana Department of Education, who has studied the issue.

"The courts are pretty consistent," McDowell said. "Schools cannot look like they're promoting religion."

Mark Crawford, a Charles County school board member, said he wants to discuss the topic more before making a decision, but he said he believes Bibles could be beneficial for instilling morals and character.

"I think some people have been scared of the idea of separation of church and state to the point they . . . have become overly cautious," he said.

Crawford is part of the majority on the board that supports introducing the theory of creationism into the science curriculum. They argue that students need exposure to all theories about the origin of life so they can make educated decisions.

"I believe that if we are teaching evolution, we should have a section on creationism as well, and any other theory," board Chairman Kathy Levanduski said. "Let's motivate our kids to be creative thinkers."

John Krehbiel, a 10th-grade biology teacher at Westlake High School in Waldorf, said the recommendation to teach creationism in science is absurd.

"Supernatural beliefs simply don't belong in a science class," he said. "We deal with the scientific evidence available. If they bring this in to a science curriculum and want to talk about evidence, I'll rip it to shreds."

The list of moral and religious goals, which the board said it would begin discussing Oct. 12, has left some teachers "absolutely flabbergasted," said Leslie Schroeck, a guidance counselor at La Plata High School.

"Basically these people are telling you how you should be and, if you're not, you're a bad person," said Schroeck, who has two young daughters, one at Berry Elementary School in Waldorf. "If this is what they're going to do, I'll pull my kids out of school and teach them myself."

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Palm Beach County schools use soda machines to fill coffers, despite health concerns

By Lois K. Solomon, Sun-Sentinel Education Writer, 10/11/04

It's the real thing: $500,000 for William T. Dwyer High School during the next seven years.

Administrators just finished negotiating a new contract with Coca-Cola, which will have exclusive rights to sell its Coke, Dasani water, Powerade and other beverages at the Palm Beach Gardens school. The hefty sum includes scholarships for students, weekends at the Breakers for extraordinary teachers, an improved school concession stand and cash for items the school cannot afford, including athletic equipment and band uniforms.

In Palm Beach County, principals negotiate vending machine contracts, which offer a percentage of profits from each machine and other benefits to cash-strapped schools. Broward County principals also arrange their own contracts. The Miami-Dade system negotiates contracts for all its schools.

"I'm all for anything that will give the schools money," a Dwyer parent, Linda Oenbrink, said. "I wish the kids didn't drink soda, but water and juice, that's fine."

Palm Beach County public schools are about evenly split between Pepsi and Coke contracts, according to Michele Holcomb, vice president for public affairs for Florida Coca-Cola Bottling Co.

The race for the student beverage dollar is fierce, although the money provides only a small source of profit for the drink giants, said John Sicher, editor of Beverage Digest, a trade publication.

"No two companies are more competitive than Coke or Pepsi," Sicher said. "They compete fiercely at every single point where they meet."

The companies have had to respond to parents' concerns about their children gaining weight from carbonated drinks and fattening foods they find in school vending machines. Coke requires middle school machines to be locked at certain times during the school day to limit access, while Pepsi, which also offers Gatorade, Dole juices and Aquafina water, directs its vendors not to sell carbonated drinks to elementary schools.

Still, not all parents are pacified.

"Water does not mitigate the problem at all," said Suzy Chevrier, a mother of three from Boca Raton. "They can drink from water fountains. How many kids are going to choose water when they can choose Coke?"

Some schools have instructed their suppliers to leave some unhealthy items out of the machines.Tradewinds Middle School west of Lake Worth chose to limit profits to keep prices down for students. Principal Neal Trafford said he chose Coke, which wanted to charge $1 for a bottle, over Pepsi, which sought to charge $1.25. The school gets 30 percent of every soft drink sold and 20 percent on juices, water and Powerade.

At Dwyer, Principal David Culp said he knows how important it is for teenagers to improve their eating habits. But he said students would buy drinks at the grocery store if schools did not supply them."We are in a severe money crunch, and these contracts are a tremendous, tremendous benefit to the schools," he said. "How am I going to come up with $500,000 in any other method?"

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With suit pending, school aid gets second look

By Scott S. Greenberger, Boston Globe Staff, October 11, 2004

Beacon Hill lawmakers are laying plans to overhaul the way the state hands out education money to cities and towns, launching a politically thorny debate as the Supreme Judicial Court considers a lawsuit filed by poor school districts that say they are struggling because they don't have enough money.

The move to alter the so-called Chapter 70 formula would be the first major change since the state established it as part of the Education Reform Act of 1993. The change would probably take place next year, after the Supreme Judicial Court rules on the pending lawsuit over education funding, called Hancock v. Commissioner of Education.

Legislators have long been wary of wading into the issue. The formula is extraordinarily complex, but giving more money to some districts means that others will get less, unless there is more education aid available. In local campaigns this fall, Democrats are warning that Governor Mitt Romney's proposed income-tax cut is unwise, because it would drain money that could be needed if the SJC orders millions in new spending on schools. Romney says that spending more money on poor districts isn't the answer, and the SJC is unlikely to order the state to do it.

Whatever the political challenges of taking up school spending, the Hancock case is generating momentum for change on Beacon Hill.

''There's no question that as the high court is looking at the issue of education funding, that will have an impact on the Legislature," said Senator Robert A. Antonioni, the Leominster Democrat who chairs the Education Committee. ''It raises the whole question of adequacy: If the court is looking at it, usually where there's smoke there's fire. One way or another, I think Chapter 70 will be before the Legislature in the upcoming session."

Antonioni's House counterpart, Representative Marie P. St. Fleur, agreed that ''momentum is building" for altering the formula, and state Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll predicted that ''there will be a lot of activity around Chapter 70 in the upcoming debate about the budget."

Romney is also interested in adjusting the formula, according to his spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom. But the administration opposes a major increase in education spending, because additional dollars will not fix troubled schools, Fehrnstrom said. He pointed to a study released last week by the Education Trust, a Washington-based group devoted to closing the so-called achievement gap between white and minority students, which suggested that the spending gap between rich and poor districts in Massachusetts is narrower than it is in most other states.

''The way we create excellent schools is not by throwing more money on top of the billions of dollars we've already pumped into the system," Fehrnstrom said. ''The way we create excellent schools is by introducing more accountability, such as giving principals the management tools they need to run their schools."

Fehrnstrom pointed out that after hearing arguments in the Hancock case Oct. 4, several SJC justices expressed skepticism that more money would improve the low test scores and high drop-out rates in the poorer districts that filed the lawsuit. Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, for example, said, ''What . . . comes through to me loud and clear is that there are real problems in these districts that have nothing to do with money."

Driscoll agreed that a lack of money isn't the primary problem in some troubled districts. Nevertheless, he said: ''Money is part of the issue. It's always part of the issue. If there are big inequities, we need to look at those."

This year, the Chapter 70 budget is $3.183 billion, up from $3.111 billion last year, but down from $3.258 billion the year before. Under the current formula, the state aid a community receives is tied to its property values.

Antonioni said the current approach hurts areas such as Cape Cod, where property values have soared, while incomes have remained stagnant. Last summer, the Senate approved a measure that would have added personal income to the funding formula and provided an immediate infusion of $175 million to districts that are being squeezed. Over seven years, the Senate plan would cost more than $1.2 billion.

St. Fleur said the House declined to take up the bill, because it wanted more time to examine the issue and because the SJC ruling was still pending.

St. Fleur and Antonioni said that it may be unrealistic to expect lawmakers to approve a change in how school money is distributed without increasing the overall amount of money in the pot. Simply put, Antonioni said, a plan would have to produce more winners than losers in order to attract enough votes. ''You're not going to get legislators to vote for something, unless there is something there for their districts," he said.

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Kansas Students Show Progress On State Tests

Melodee Hall Blobaum, Kansas City Star, 10/13/04

Kansas raised the bar this year for achieving adequate yearly progress under the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, and more schools than ever cleared it.

Students continue to raise their scores on the Kansas Assessment Tests that are used to measure progress in reading and math, a state education official told the Kansas Board of Education at its meeting Tuesday in Overland Park.

"Results are up for everyone, and the gap between students who are advantaged and those who are disadvantaged is closing," said Alexa Pochowski-Posny, assistant commissioner for learning services.

But in some cases, the gains are not enough to meet the state benchmark for progress under the federal law, enacted in 2002. In all, 16 districts and 102 schools were labeled as failing to make "adequate yearly progress."

Locally, the Turner and Kansas City, Kan., districts did not meet the mark for adequate yearly progress. Nine high schools also got the tag: Turner, Bonner Springs, Olathe South, Leavenworth, Shawnee Mission West and four of the five Kansas City, Kan., high schools.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act calls for all students to be academically proficient by 2013-2014. States determine proficiency and set their own annual benchmarks for scores in reading and math.

In Kansas, students who get 48 percent of the questions correct on the state math test are considered proficient. A score of 80 percent or higher on the reading assessment is considered proficient.

This year, the state raised the percentage of students who needed to score at the proficient level for a school to make adequate yearly progress. In fourth- and seventh-grade math, the benchmark rose to 53.5 from 46.8 percent; in fifth- and eighth-grade reading, the mark was 57.3 percent, up from 51.2 percent. The benchmark also rose for high school students: to 38 percent for 10th-grade math from 29.1 percent; and to 51 percent for 11th-grade reading from 44 percent.

Title I schools -- those serving a high percentage of poor students -- that fail to made adequate progress two years in a row are placed on a list of schools needing improvement. They must offer students the option of attending a better-performing school in the district. If a school remains on the needs-improvement list a second year, the school must offer school choice or supplemental services, such as free tutoring. In the third, fourth and fifth years on the list, the state can initiate corrective actions, including a plan to restructure the school.

Non-Title I schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress currently are not subject to the same sanctions as the Title I schools.

State board members were pleased with the results but expressed concern about reaching 100 percent proficiency by 2013-2014.

"The trends are excellent, but the difficulty will be getting past 90 percent proficiency," said John Bacon of Olathe. "Reaching 100 percent may be unreasonable."

Board member Sue Gamble of Shawnee questioned whether more funding would be needed to reach the higher levels of proficiency.

"In 2001, this board made some projections that if the Legislature would provide the funds, we would show this growth," she said. "We have met or exceeded those goals with no significant infusion of money into the process. So we are hearing from many of our critics that, ‘Why do you need any more money? "You're doing fine without it.'

Pochowski-Posny said districts have made the moderate gains that are possible without additional funds by taking such steps as aligning curricula with state standards. However, helping the remaining students become more proficient probably will take more money.

"We're talking about doing those things that require significant resources," she said. "Extended time and catching them before they get to school."

The state saw a marked increased in the number of schools attaining the standard of excellence designation in reading or math. The rating goes to schools with a certain percentage of students in the two highest achievement levels that also show significant movement of students out of the two lowest achievement levels.

In all, 13 local high schools joined 77 of their counterparts across the state in achieving the standard of excellence in math, and 11 were among the 64 that earned the excellence rank in reading.

Pochowski-Posny credited gains to changes in school curricula and a focus on reading and math.

"The most significant thing we're seeing is for the first time, schools are very clearly aligning what they're teaching with the state standards," she said. "Very clearly, they're focusing. Teachers are focused on reading and math, and what they need to ensure that students know."

Some local administrators are concerned that labeling a school or district as failing to make adequate yearly progress hides the academic gains such districts might make.

"Just because you didn't make AYP doesn't mean you're failing," said Ray Daniels, superintendent of the Kansas City, Kan., district.

Daniels' district failed to make adequate yearly progress, as did seven of eight middle schools and four of five high schools within the district. "But if you look at the results, most of the schools did make progress, they just didn't make enough to make AYP," he said.

Besides meeting the benchmarks overall, subgroups of students also must meet the benchmarks for a school to make adequate progress. That proved a stumbling block for the state overall, for the Kansas City, Kan., and Turner school districts, and for Olathe South, Shawnee Mission West and Leavenworth high schools.

Kansas has 10 subgroups: six by race (white, African-American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islanders, American Indian and multiethnic) along with subgroups for income, English-language learners, children with disabilities, and all students. For a school to have a subgroup, at least 30 students must fit into the category.

Statewide, high school English language learners taking the reading test were the only subgroup to show a decline in progress.

The African-American subgroup, on the other hand, showed the greatest gains in reading, with the percentage of students scoring at the proficient level or above growing by 8.6 percent at fifth grade, 7.6 percent at eighth grade and 1.2 percent at 11th grade.

Pochowski-Posny said the continuing achievement gap in reading between white students and black and Hispanic students had narrowed. She said that the continuing difference was less a matter of ethnicity than of poverty.

Daniels criticized identifying particular groups of students as the cause of a district or school's failure to make the grade.

"Often, the groups of kids identified are those who have historically been identified as not achieving," he said. "This just reaffirms another message to these kids and their families. It's not a good thing for those kids to continue to be identified as the reason the school is not making adequate yearly progress."Olathe South demonstrates the pitfalls of the subgroups. Students there scored sufficiently high marks in both math and reading for the school to earn the "Standard of Excellence" rating. However, one subgroup did not make the grade in reading, and so the school failed to make adequate yearly progress.

Mary Matthew, the district's director of school improvement and assessment, said the district already was working on strategies to bring up the subgroup's scores. The district took a similar approach last year with a different subgroup.

No Child Left Behind "has focused schools to do the right things for all kids," Matthew said. "The stretch AYP has put on all schools is that we have to worry about all the kids, and that's a good thing."

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Thousands Of California Schools Could Face Federal Sanctions

Associated Press Newswires, 10/13/04

LOS ANGELES - More than one thousand California schools could face federal sanctions under the No Child Left Behind act, despite continuous improvements in test scores, according to a newspaper report.

Based on current test scores, more than 1,200 schools will likely to be labeled failures under the federal law by the end of the year. When the last two years of scores are included, 3,500 schools -- 39 percent of California's public campuses -- will likely fail by 2008, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

The state Education Department on Wednesday was set to release a list of an additional 500 other schools that have failed to meet their federal targets two years in a row.

The problem stems in part from California's tough academic standards. When No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001, it required states to use annual English and math exams to determine school improvement but allowed them to determine their own annual improvement targets. Schools that failed to reach the targets and received federal funding for low-income students would face sanctions.

California had some of the nation's toughest proficiency standards and unlike some states, did not lower them after the law was enacted. It did permit schools to ease into the targets, and this year the target jumps significantly for the first time -- nearly 11 percentage points.

Schools that do not meet their target two years in a row must use some federal funds to offer students transfers to higher performing schools or provide after-school tutoring. If schools still do not reach their targets for improvement, the federal sanctions, which include dismissal of principals or even the closure of schools, come into play.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, 72 campuses could face such sanctions. Superintendent Roy Romer said he will evaluate the schools individually and make recommendations early next year.

"When we find one that isn't working, we've got to change, even if it means closing it down and reconstituting it. We mean business," Romer said.

State superintendent of public schools Jack O'Connell and superintendents from 20 other states have lobbied the federal government to relax the rules so that schools are judged by their test-score growth, not their ability to meet the targets.

But supporters of the law says it is already flexible enough. with less stringent rules for schools that have high numbers of English-learners.

"Now is not the time to back off, when we see it working," Assistant education Secretary Ray Simon said.

Still, Principal Mary Harris, of Graham Elementary in South Los Angeles, believes her school's improvements are not being recognized. She has offered tutoring, analyzed school data and researched ways to improve student performance, and the school made sizable gains toward its state and federal targets -- but not sizable enough.

"It's not realistic, it's not attainable," she said. "There are no baby steps. You're supposed to leap off and do it."

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U.S. Agency Confirms It Produced 'News' Report PR Firm Created Videos For TV

Andrew Mollison, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/13/04

Washington --- Television news shows in more than 20 cities this year included a pre-packaged, favorable story about the federal student loan program that wasn't identified as government-financed, the U.S. Department of Education confirmed Tuesday.

The story was prepared as a ''video news release'' for the department by Ketchum Inc., among the 10 largest public relations firms in the world. The firm also prepared a similar story urging parents to ask local school officials whether their child qualified for free tutoring under the No Child Left Behind Act. Ketchum's spokeswoman in New York said she didn't know enough to comment and three partners in the firm's Washington office did not return calls.

Under a $700,000 contract, Ketchum created the two videos, and also sent the department monthly scorecards that rated print and television articles about No Child Left Behind from the Factiva database on a scale that ranged from plus 100 to minus 100.

The top score of plus 95 was awarded to Education Secretary Rod Paige, whose op-ed column in a Seattle newspaper lost five points because it did not appear in a nationally circulated publication or on a television station of any size. One of the lowest scores (minus 60) went to an opinion article in a newsletter of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union.

The student-loan TV snippet opens with praise of the federal financial aid program by Paige, includes advice and comments from a student aid officer at Howard University and some students outside a local high school, and ends 86 seconds later with the narrator stating, ''In Washington, I'm Jane Watrel, reporting.''

''I haven't done one since, and I don't do them anymore,'' said Watrel, a freelance reporter whose sign-off didn't mention it was a government-financed video. The video was prepared in March.

She said Tuesday that she stopped doing voice-overs for the government's pre-packaged videos after the General Accounting Office ruled in May that Ketchum's similar feature on Medicare, prepared for the Department of Health and Human Services, violated federal laws against taxpayer financing of ''covert propaganda.''

''Video news releases are standard PR practice,'' said Susan Aspey, the Education Department's press secretary. She stressed that the stations knew that the satellite feed came from her department.

She said the student-loan story ''had better pick-up'' than the story on No Child Left Behind, which she said ran in about 20 markets. She added, ''After the GAO report came out, the department stopped using'' the tactic.

The ''most troubling'' aspect of the controversy is that so many TV news operations used the story without checking for any contrasting points of view, said Keith Woods, dean of faculty at the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based school for working journalists. He compared it to a newspaper printing a news release word-for-word without informing its readers.

''If nothing else, [viewers] assume a story has gone through the news judgments that produce everything else on the news that night,'' Woods said. ''That's a pipe dream when it is coming from a private organization or branch of government that has no interest in providing a different side to the story.''

The department's involvement was revealed in documents and cassettes obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by People for the American Way, a Washington-based advocacy group opposed to privatization of any aspect of public education.

The department's story about the No Child Left Behind Act ''definitely gives the viewer the false impression that it is news coverage, rather than partisan political propaganda'' said Nancy Keegan, the group's education director. Photo Education Secretary Rod Paige appears in an Education Department video. The video fails to make clear the reporter involved was paid with taxpayer money.

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Too Many Teachers Are Left Behind

Editorial by Jonathan Zimmerman, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/12/04

Last month, I flew to the Midwest to address future history teachers at a small state university. As I warned the audience, most high school students describe history with a single adjective: boring. We make kids memorize dull facts - names, dates and deeds - when we should be asking them tough questions about these facts.

"We have a holiday named after George Washington, because he fought for liberty," I said, by way of example. "Why not a holiday named after Nat Turner?"

Blank stares. Glazed eyes.

"Does anyone know who Nat Turner is?"

Nobody did. In a class of 20 future American history instructors, not a single person could identify the leader of the most famous slave revolt in American history.

Why not? The problem lies in the ways we prepare public school teachers. And it also lies in President Bush's No Child Left Behind law, which pretends to address the issue, but really doesn't.

Under the 2001 law, new middle and high school teachers must pass a test or possess a degree in subjects they teach. Most white- collar professions require academic courses and a test of knowledge before they will certify a new member of the guild. For novice teachers, though, it's typically one or the other.

So 12 states and the District of Columbia still don't require teachers to have a bachelor's degree in the subject they teach. And 19 states do not assess prospective teachers in their subject- matter knowledge.

What about veteran teachers? All they need to do is show they're "highly qualified" in their subject, under rules set by each state. So in Arkansas, a teacher who has five years' experience is deemed "highly qualified" on those grounds alone. Other states base the determination on classroom observations by school administrators, who may not have the relevant content-area knowledge themselves.

Most of the debate surrounding No Child Left Behind has centered on the provision that mandates student testing and hinges federal funds on the results. Led by teacher unions, some Democrats have denounced the testing requirement for promoting rote instruction and imposing draconian penalties. Other critics - including presidential challenger John Kerry - have endorsed the basic outlines of the law but have condemned the Bush administration for failing to fund it adequately.

Politically, that's a non-starter. Kerry happens to be correct on the issue of funding: No Child Left Behind requirements will cost the states $9.6 billion in fiscal year 2004 and much of that won't be picked up by Congress. But in a contest between "standards" and "money," standards are going to win out every time.

Rather than simply berating Bush for underfunding new mandates, Kerry should condemn the mandates as not strict enough. To his credit, Kerry has called for "rigorous testing" of all new teachers and for states to develop procedures for "improving or replacing teachers who do not perform." But the devil is in the details, as No Child Left Behind has taught us. If Kerry has a plan to accomplish these goals, he needs to spell it out right away.

Most of all, he needs to shift the focus of our educational debate away from students and toward the place it really belongs: their teachers. And he must demand higher standards, not just higher funding. That's the only way to ensure that teachers know about Nat Turner, and everything else.

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University's Steinhardt School of Education. He is the author of "Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools" (Harvard, 2002).

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Louisiana lags in funding poor schools

Mike Hasten / Louisiana Gannett News/Baton Rouge

BATON ROUGE - A national survey of school funding shows Louisiana is gradually closing the funding gap between schools in wealthy and poor parishes, but it still has a long way to go.

In a 17-page report, Education Trust targets Louisiana as being among the worst 10 states for equitable funding between the richest and poorest school districts. The premise is based on a formula that says schools with large numbers of poverty-stricken students should receive 40 percent more state aid than schools in wealthy districts.

In Education Trust's calculated figures for the 2001-02 school year, the average gap of $1,348 per student between rich and poor schools. The average is distorted by New York and Illinois having gaps of $2,616 and $2,465 per student, and five other states having gaps topping $1,000.

Using the 40 percent adjustment, Louisiana had a $963 per student gap in funding between the state's richest and poorest school districts, down $123 from a similar study five years ago.

"Louisiana has made relatively modest progress but it's still one of the largest gaps in the country," said Kevin Carey, Education Trust senior policy analyst that compiled the report. "When you go from $1,000 to $900 in five years, that puts you on a long schedule toward closing the gap."

"It's slow but it's steady," said Beth Scionneaux, division director for education finance in the Louisiana Department of Education. "Louisiana has done some of the things Education Trust suggests to close the gap," such as beefing up state funding.

"Overall, this research shows that Louisiana has made progress towards closing the funding gap using a multifaceted approach," Scionneaux said. "The Legislature and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have acknowledged these differences over the years and have made decisions on funding which allow steady progress towards closing the gap. However, there are still improvements to be made."

Scionneaux said the study is valid but the one table cited by Carey doesn't tell the whole story that the rest of the report does. For example, the state ranked 19th in the nation in 2002 in allotting extra funding for students living below the poverty line.

The report says that in 2002, the Louisiana state school funding formula added $1,232 for each child that lives in poverty - about 17 percent more than funding for average-income students. If Education Trust's 40 percent figure were adopted, schools would have received $2,195 extra to educate low-income students.

Scionneaux said a commission appointed to review school funding has discussed raising the percentage for low-income students and a consultant's report this month to BESE is expected to raise the same issue.

The Education Trust report also points out that Louisiana's funding of schools, compared to average personal income in Louisiana, ranks 21st in the nation.

"This basically says that we are spending a higher portion of our available resources on education," Scionneaux said.

The study points out that the spending difference is due to economics more than race, even though most of the poorer school districts have higher minority populations. The revenue gap between the wealthiest and poorest school systems is $725 per student. The gap between school systems with high and low minority enrollment is $143 per student.

Education Trust combined local and state funding of school systems.

Freddie Whitford, executive director of the Louisiana School Board Association, said school districts have been fighting an equity problem for years.

"Within the immediate future, I think we're going to be seeing litigation on equity and adequacy issues," Whitford said. "It's just a matter of time. Equity has to be addressed."

One of the major problems with school funding is that the state grants industrial tax exemptions that apply to school tax assessments, so even though the tax is on the books, nothing is collected, Whitford said. "That's why there's inequity."

Carey said Louisiana is not the only state that grants industrial tax exemptions but he said it's rare that the exemptions apply to school taxes. In other states, school districts either get to collect the tax or the state reimburses them for the tax that would be collected.

"If state policy is eroding the local tax base," he said, it might not be good policy.

"Some states have established an overall funding level for all schools," Carey said, and if a school system tries but can't raise the same amount as other systems, the state equalizes funding.

Scionneaux said that in some of Louisiana's less wealthy districts, "no matter how much the rates or millages are raised, there is not enough capacity to generate higher amounts of money to offset these disparities. Some school districts are taxed to the maximum."

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