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News Clips

News Clips – October 15 - 22, 2004

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STATE
Choice options on hold /
Rockford Register Star
Feitshans-Edison evaluates progress since private takeover / State Journal-Register
School district chiefs retiring in River Bend, statewide / Alton Telegraph
Board considers tying administrators’ pay to performance / Telegraph
Parsons School MODEL program pairs mentors, students / Decatur Herald & Review
McHenry students build respect, understanding / Northwest Herald
Schools own the strangest things / Northwest Herald
College kids go back to grade school to teach about health, safety / Beacon News
Beaming up to future / Herald News
State Board of Education begins plotting reduction of 'red tape' / State Journal-Register
State schools in fiscal `crisis' / Chicago Tribune
Education is shouldered out of spotlight in this campaign / St. Louis Post-Dispatch

NATIONAL
Schools let phys ed slip off schedule / Boston Globe
No Child Left Behind drives education debate for Bush, Kerry / AP
Strong relationship between kids academic achievement and fitness / Child Health News

How No Child Left Behind Helps Principals / Washington Post
School funding criticized / San Antonio Express-News
School's Out Too Early for 420 Kids on 2 Charter Campuses / Los Angeles Times
Schools Are Breaking Law on Transfers, Suit Charges / New York Times
State public schools need $1.15 billion more, study says / The Tennessean
Reading, Writing and Corporate Sponsorships / New York Times
At issue in the election: National testing law scores attention / Virginian-Pilot (VA)
Steve Martin, ABC enroll teens for 'Scholar’ / CNN.com
Kerry Competes to Claim Issue of Reform / Washington Post
Charters score below public schools / Dallas Morning News
Schools urge good hygiene to control flu / Boston Globe
Kentucky teachers reconsider planned strike / CNN.com
H.S. Sports Threaten to Undermine Focus on Academics, Report Says /
Education Week
School district bans Halloween festivities / CNN.com

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STATE

Choice options on hold

Quicker turnaround time urged

Carrie Watters, Rockford Register Star

Shelley Bankord of Belvidere opted to not pull her sons from their underperforming elementary school, but she appreciated having the chance to do so.

In Rockford, more than a month past the deadline, parents of about 6,000 students in 15 low-scoring schools still wait.

The No Child Left Behind Act lets parents abandon a school that takes government poverty funds but doesn't improve on one or more areas of state tests two years in a row.

Lincoln was the first school in Belvidere, and the first Rock River Valley school outside Rockford, to feel the law's sting.

Bankord, who volunteers each Wednesday at Lincoln, says teachers work hard. Still, she appreciates the law that keeps her informed. "As a parent, you want to know all your options. You wouldn't want it hidden from you."

Rockford parents haven't heard of options because the State Board of Education has had complications compiling accurate lists of schools that must offer choice. While Belvidere went ahead and acted on the state's preliminary list, Rockford is waiting for an official list.

Illinois isn't alone in its struggle to implement No Child Left Behind, although some states have made progress.

Overall, the story of putting No Child Left Behind into practice has been one of stumbling and sniping: Districts blame states for untimely test results, states blame districts for sending in wrong data, and everyone blames the feds for an impractical timeline.

No official list

Federal law says parents must be notified of transfer options by the first day of school. Rockford Superintendent Dennis Thompson won't notify parents until the state gives him an official list of schools that must offer choice. In August, the state released a preliminary list, which could change.

Letters to Rockford parents -- tickets out of 15 schools -- sit on a desk in the administration building.

"We have enough turmoil in our school system without jerking kids around," Thompson said. "It comes down to data. I do not have the official word."

Interim state Superintendent Randy Dunn, in his first month on the job, said he won't publish an official list until data are correct. Last year, the state incorrectly said 451 schools did not improve enough.

With a superintendent hand-picked by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the state admits that Rockford can't be blamed for not sending out the choice letters.

"Here it is the middle of October, and we don't have an official list this year," state board spokeswoman Becky Watts said.

She expects a final list soon, but it was behind schedule when Dunn came on board. The only option in Dunn's control was to ensure that data are accurate, she said.

Thompson agrees, but he says districts need data before the start of the school year. Every school day that goes by, parents are less likely to want to transfer their children, he said.

Other states make it work

Illinois has no concrete plan to improve the process, Watts said.

"This is one of the things the governor is looking at, the new board and the interim superintendent," Watts said. "We are looking at everything. How can we do this better?"

Boone-Winnebago Regional Superintendent Richard Fairgrieves says test results should be back sooner next summer because students will not take writing tests, a time-consumer to score.

State legislators axed writing and social studies tests for financial reasons and because No Child Left Behind requires only reading, math and, eventually, science tests. Also, students will take the Illinois Standard Achievement Tests in March, more than a month earlier, Fairgrieves said.

In Wisconsin, educators flipped testing from spring to fall so results are back early and reviewed in June. By August, official lists are out.

Ohio has spring testing but gets official lists to districts by Aug. 24 so parents know about transfer options by the first day of school.

"We know they're the right goals," Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman Tammy Ridout said of the work it takes to meet the deadline.

More than a list

Wisconsin, Ohio and Minnesota do more than compile lists before the start of the school year. They get District Report Cards in parents' hands at the same time to offer parents an analysis of a school's performance on state tests.

Illinois' District Report Cards are supposed to be published by Oct. 31. Last month, Dunn said they will probably be delayed. He said it's more important for parents to have the right information, even if it's late in the school year.

Last year, parents did not see District Report Cards until December.

For Bankord, that meant she had no information to explain why Lincoln was on the list or why she had the option of transferring her sons. She warns that parents shouldn't jump to conclusions about a school just because it's on the list.

She called the school to find out why. She wasn't alone.

Principal Melissa Jones-Clarke said questions flew at an ice cream social a few days before school started. She'd like to see Report Card publication bumped up. "Then parents have all the tools."

A Report Card would have told Lincoln parents that third-grade writing scores jumped 23 percent -- to seven in 10 students passing.

More than eight in 10 fifth-grade students passed math, a 5 percent climb.

But two subgroups -- special-education students and students with limited English -- did not meet the mark for a second year, leading the school to offer choice. Lincoln houses the district's elementary bilingual program from third grade up.

After the paperwork

Getting letters and District Report Cards into parents' hands is a battle, but it's just the beginning.

Most parents do not exercise their option to transfer, while others can't get transfers when they do want them.

In Belvidere, about 10 parents asked about transfers; Lincoln has 712 students. One or two seem likely to take up the offer, Jones-Clarke said.

Last year, 5.6 percent of the 6,479 eligible Rockford students requested a transfer. And fewer than half of the parents -- 157 of nearly 364 -- who requested transfers for their children got them.

Last year, Rockford leaders said the district could not accommodate all of the transfer requests because there were not enough seats in receiving schools. The federal law suggests that districts unable to accommodate transfers should try to strike a deal with surrounding districts so students could transfer there.

Rockford didn't do that, although educators in surrounding districts, such as Shirland, said they would be open to discussion.

Thompson, who started on the job in May, said he would consider discussions with nearby districts once he sees how many people want to transfer.

No transfer takers

A half-hour south, DeKalb School District asked surrounding districts to accept middle school students. DeKalb offered to transport students and provide state aid for each pupil, which varies by district but would've been about $6,700 a student for Creston.

All turned them down.

No Child Left Behind says first dibs on transfers must go to poor and academically challenged students, so districts fear that it could be costly to take another district's neediest students.

"Nobody in the state does it is my understanding," Assistant Superintendent Linell Lasswell said.

State board officials knew of no district offering the interdistrict transfers.

Department of Education spokeswoman Jo Ann Webb said schools must look at ways to give options, whether that means transferring out of the district or extra help, such as tutoring or online courses.

"Lack of capacity is not an excuse for not offering choice," Webb said.

The state monitors how each district fulfills its No Child Left Behind requirements. A district that does not follow the law ultimately could lose Title 1 money given to districts based on the number of students in poverty. For Rockford, that's $9.5 million this school year.

Watts stressed that no Illinois district has felt that bite from the federal law.

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Feitshans-Edison evaluates progress since private takeover

Pete Sherman, State Journal-Register

Late last week, Stacy Winston dropped off his daughter Tameeka at Feitshans-Edison Elementary School.

With an enrollment of nearly 550 students, Feitshans is the largest elementary school in the Springfield School District. It's also the only one operated by a private, for-profit company.

New York City-based Edison Schools began operating Feitshans, 1101 S. 15th St., in the fall of 2000, the first year in a five-year contract with the district that ends next summer.

At tonight's school board meeting, members will hear a key student-progress report from Feitshans' principal, Christine Stahly.

Her presentation will influence whether the partnership - which costs the district roughly the same as it would to run Feitshans on its own, but has been a money-loser for Edison - will be extended. The school board is slated to make that decision late this year or early next year.

Feitshans' students attend the school by choice, in contrast to most other Springfield students, whose schools are determined by where they live. Stahly said two-thirds of her students come from the dilapidated neighborhood that surrounds the school. Otherwise, most of the 16 buses that arrive at Feitshans every morning are bringing students from all over the city.

For Winston, sending Tameeka to Feitshans was an easy decision.

"It was the only school in the district offering Spanish and music at the kindergarten level," he said. "It has a disciplinary policy, but discipline isn't a problem. And the uniform code - a must."

Feitshans has other distinctions. Its teachers receive 45 minutes of professional development a day - far more time than at most other district schools.

Families with students in the third to fifth grades are eligible for free home computers that are Internet ready and downloaded with educational software. Students, parents and teachers all have access to the same software that lists everything from homework to birthdays to school events and test results. The package has become so successful that Edison sells it to schools it doesn't run.

Edison provides nearly all of the materials, software and technology for Feitshans. Ironically, the team-centered approach the teachers use is based on the same research used by the district's similar and expanding "Focus on Results" program.

But comparing Feitshans-Edison to other elementary schools in District 186, or even to itself before Edison got involved, gets complicated.

There is no other public elementary school in Springfield whose students attend by choice and share its demographics - 95 percent of Feitshans' students come from low-income families, and 85 percent are black, a racial makeup way out of line with the district's desegregation policies. The disparity is overlooked because of the school's "choice" status.

Before Edison came to Springfield, Feitshans was a fifth- and sixth-grade center. Originally, it was a high school.

What matters most is whether enough Feitshans students are meeting federal and state standards in reading and math.

As of last year, 40 percent of third- and fifth-graders in every demographic group of 40 students or more were required to test at what is considered "grade level." When students are tested this spring, 47.5 percent are expected to reach that level. Schools that continually fail these benchmarks can be forced to close. Feitshans students have been testing below proficiency longer than most of the students in the district. Poor reading scores, a problem districtwide, also continue to plague Feitshans-Edison.

Its first year as an Edison school, its students came nowhere close to grade-level expectations.

Nearly 70 percent failed to meet state learning standards, far below district and state averages. Nearly 80 percent of the school's black students were falling behind in certain subjects.

Feitshans had other problems. During its first year as an Edison school, two out of every five students did not make it through the whole year or transferred in during the middle of it, creating instability in the classrooms.

Edison, whose contract with the district required it to hire its own teachers, was not allowed to draw from the same hiring pool the district used. As a result, Feitshans' staff consisted mostly of inexperienced rookies.

By the end of the year, Stahly said, a third of her teaching staff "either left or were asked to leave."

Eventually, both the student and teacher populations started to stabilize. Last year, more than 80 percent of the students who attended Feitshans and nearly 80 percent of the teachers who taught there stayed.

At tonight's school board meeting, Stahly will have mostly good news about student achievement.

During the 2001-02 school year, fewer than 30 percent of all Feitshans' third-graders met their reading targets and barely more than 30 percent met basic math expectations. As fifth-graders last year, the same group of students did better - nearly 40 percent hit their required reading levels and more than 50 percent did so in math.

Improvement was more dramatic for Feitshans' black students. As third-graders three years ago, less than 20 percent tested proficient in reading, while less than 30 percent tested at grade level in math. As fifth-graders last year, nearly 50 percent of those same African-American students hit their math targets. Those tested as proficient readers climbed to 31.1 percent as fifth-graders.

Stahly, a veteran teacher and school leader with more than 30 years' experience who was chosen by the school board to head Feitshans-Edison, has at least two reasons she'd like Edison to continue in Springfield.

"Nobody has anything close to Edison's assessment program in the district. It's key to helping the children," Stahly said. "Second, I've never seen as much professional development in any public or private school."

Once a closely watched stock on the NASDAQ exchange and profiled by business publications such as Forbes Magazine, Edison has seen its share price plummet from a high of nearly $37 to little more than a few pennies. Late last year, the majority of its shares were purchased by Liberty Partners, the investment firm of Florida's teacher retirement system.

Getting out of the stock market was the best thing for the company, according to Edison spokesman Adam Tucker.

"We were under unbelievable scrutiny, and frankly, everything revolved around our stock price," Tucker said. "That intense public scrutiny is gone, which has given us the ability to absolutely focus efforts on delivering priority programs and services to schools."

Edison operates 157 schools in 20 states and has kept more contracts than it has lost, Tucker said. Last year, it ran a profit for the first time - though not after factoring in depreciation.

Stahly said Edison officials have never pressured her to sacrifice education for profits. Although the company spent more than $683,000 of the taxpayers' money in central-office expenses last year, Stahly said the district provides the company about 87 percent of what it would cost the district to run the school on its own.

As for Edison turning a profit at Feitshans, Tucker said that's still the long-term plan, but it's second in priority to student achievement.

Edison has lost money every year in Springfield.

Some have raised concerns beyond how Feitshans might be influenced by its profit-minded managers.

While Feitshans students have free pre- and after-school programs and tutoring, children in the surrounding neighborhood are bused to four different schools where after-school options are much more limited.

The worry is they're unfairly missing out on what Stahly said Feitshans' parents all are after - something different.

"They were looking for an alternative," she said of the parents of Feitshans students. "Their children weren't learning to read."

Tonight's board meeting is at 1900 W. Monroe St. and begins at 6:45 p.m.

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School district chiefs retiring in River Bend, statewide

John Krupa, The Telegraph   

 School district superintendents in Madison County are turning over rapidly, with three superintendents leaving in the last year and another three planning to retire at the end of the current school year.

The Bethalto, Venice and Highland school districts got new superintendents in 2004, while the superintendents in Alton, Roxana and Wood River-Hartford plan to retire at the end of the school year. The Granite City and Madison school districts also have fresh faces at the helms.

"There are a lot of guys leaving here," said East Alton Elementary superintendent Mike Gray, who will step down in 2007. "We knew it was coming."

The River Bend is not alone in regard to superintendent turnover.

Jim Russell, a spokesman with the Illinois Association of School Boards, said there were 105 superintendent changes out of 880 school districts in Illinois during the past year.

In St. Clair, Randolph and Monroe counties alone, six superintendents have announced they will step down at the end of the school year.

"It’s obvious the numbers are high, and they are going to stay high," said Russell, whose organization does more superintendent searches for school districts than any other group in the state. "We have all the searches we can handle."

And it’s not only superintendents who are turning over, but full-time administrators in general are leaving education at a significantly higher rate than in the past.

Information from the Illinois State Board of Education shows more than 725 full-time administrators left education between 2002 and 2003, an increase of 22 percent over the previous year.

While the position of elementary principal experienced the greatest loss, district superintendent followed right behind, with 92 superintendents leaving education between 2002 and 2003.

And some say the situation is only going to get worse.

The Illinois Association of School Administrators predicts that at least 40 percent of sitting superintendents will retire between 2002 and 2007.

While experts give a myriad of explanations for the nationwide exodus, Madison County Regional Superintendent Cullen Cullen said the reasons behind the local departures are relatively cut-and-dried.

These exiting superintendents all entered education during the same time frame -- either the late 1960s or early 1970s -- and have maxed out their pension benefits after more than 30 years of service.

The retirement system caps annuities at 75 percent of the average of a superintendent’s four highest salaried years, and that percentage can no longer increase with additional service time, no matter how many more years one works.

So essentially, after either 34 or 38 years of service, depending on whether a superintendent exercises an early retirement option, retirees cannot substantially improve their benefits packages.

Consequently, many superintendents prefer to simply retire, continue collecting 75 percent of their salaries and get another job.

"What I think is happening is that for many superintendents, the opportunity to retire and then continue working in some capacity is so great that many of them are exercising this option," said Theodore Kowalski, Kuntz Family chair of educational administration at the University of Dayton.

Gray said it just doesn’t make fiscal sense to keep working, essentially for only 25 percent of his income.

This percentage shrinks even more once one factors in required payments into the Teachers Retirement System, various association dues and taxes.

"I’d be working for pennies on the dollar. I might as well do something else or retire," he said.

Cullen said most of the area’s other exiting superintendents have voiced similar reasons for hanging it up.

In fact, the motivation is so clear-cut that some superintendents concretely plan their exit years in advance.

Alton Superintendent James Baiter knew when he took the job that he’d step down at the end of this school year.

"The timing was right," Baiter said. "I knew that at the end of five years, I wasn’t going to continue."

While financial motivators seem to be the driving force, timing is also important for many superintendents.

Roxana Superintendent Jim Herndon, who has overseen the implementation of full-day kindergarten and block schedules at the high school, as well as $9 million in capital improvements during his tenure, said he wanted to leave his district in better condition than when he started.

"The other part of the piece is you look at and determine when it’s best for you to step aside and do something else," he said. "Now is a time I can leave when the district is in pretty good shape."

But some say increasing pressures are pushing superintendents out at a higher rate than in the past.

A critical public eye, long hours and increased accountability all could be factors that allow superintendents to say "to heck with it."

"The job has changed," Gray said, citing an increased level of public criticism. "I know it’s getting a lot more stressful."

Herndon said the job gets "more and more difficult" with each year, particularly in regard to increased responsibilities and the increased time commitment they require.

"It’s not unusual for a superintendent to be at work early in the morning and stay late into the day, and then they are back again in the evenings five, six days a week to attend activities," he said.

Baiter cited the increased accountability of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, as well as the growing funding cuts, as other "huge factors" that weigh on district top dogs.

"That adds a lot of pressure to the job," he said. "It creates a lot of anxiety."

But in end, many say the job always has been a stressful one and that it really just comes down to pure and simple economics.

"To say that suddenly the position has become conflict-ridden, that’s not true. It’s always been a tough position," Kowalski said. "I think what’s changed is that early-retirement options give people more choices."

"I think I still would be retiring," Baiter said, even if the specter of No Child Left Behind, angry parents and long hours wasn’t hanging over his head.

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Board considers tying administrators’ pay to performance

JOHN KRUPA, The Telegraph, 10/20/2004

ALTON -- School Board members are talking about creating a special committee to hold top-level administrators’ accountable to specific, agreed-upon, yearly goals, by tying performance into salary.

Board Member Dan Nickel threw out the idea of creating a "compensation committee" during a special meeting Tuesday to discuss Alton School District Superintendent James Baiter’s goals for the 2004-2005 school year.

"I don’t think we can continue to play loose with accountability," Nickel said, noting that specific goals would be put into writing, signed off on by the administrator and later compared with actual performance by the committee.

The committee then would make salary increase recommendations to board members before wages are set.

"I think it’s a great idea," said board member Joan Sheppard, a notion seconded by other members in attendance.

The discussion coincided with Tuesday night’s board meeting, in which members met afterward in a lengthy executive session to set 2004-2005 salaries for Baiter and other central office administrators.

Board President Vivian Monckton said before going into closed session that action might or might not be taken Tuesday night. The board remained in closed session at The Telegraph’s press time.

Monckton said talks likely would center on whether the administrators should receive raises equal to the 5.25 percent given the district’s unionized employees last week, or whether to give them a lower amount.

"There are differing opinions on the board," Monckton said, declining to go into more detail.

The decision comes a week after the board successfully negotiated to subcontract the jobs of 47 union custodians as part of a cost-reduction effort.

Although a majority of union members signed off on the deal, union leadership said the savings could have come through other avenues and had suggested cutting administrative salaries.

Union President Glenna Pickett said last week that giving administrators raises equal to the union members would only further alienate an already disgruntled membership.

When presented with the idea at the committee meeting, Baiter said he would research other districts that have instituted performance-based compensation for administrators, but not for teachers.

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Parsons School MODEL program pairs mentors, students

By VALERIE WELLS, Decatur Herald & Review Staff Writer, 10/20/04

DECATUR - Chandler Jones loves the "Henry and Mudge" books.

The series focuses on a little boy and his very large dog and is aimed at kids who have just graduated to reading independently.

Chandler, a second-grader at Parsons School, will be sharing those stories with his new buddy, Corey Bond, through the school's new MODEL (Men On Duty Encouraging Literacy) program.

"We're going to hang out," Bond said to Chandler, grinning.

The program kicked off with a meet-and-greet between the men and the boys at Parsons last week.

"I can't say this is an original idea," Principal Jean Reid said. "It's a spin-off of the 50 African-American Males of Positive Influence at Richland (Community College)."

That ceremony highlighted the accomplishments of black men in Decatur who are good role models. Reid sent letters to all 50 of them, asking them to come to Parsons and be part of MODEL. About 20 have responded so far.

"I got the idea when I was in Austin, Texas," she said. "I was watching '60 Minutes,' and there was this blue ribbon volunteer program and it was called HOSTS - Help One Student to Succeed."

That program encouraged business people to visit schools on their lunch break, even if they could only spare a few minutes, just to let the kids know someone cares about them and their success. MODEL is similar.

African-American men such as Bond, who works at First National Bank, will pop in to visit their young friends when they can and spend a few minutes or half an hour - whatever time they can - reading, talking and building a relationship.

Reid hopes these relationships continue throughout the students' lives. By starting now, she said, she hopes the boys and the men will continue to be close as the kids go on into middle and high school.

"Young kids take ownership of things really quickly," Reid said. "They'll take ownership of these people, and these people will become very special to them." Those relationships, she said, will help develop discipline, improve reading and give the kids encouragement.

Reading is so important, said Jeffrey Perkins, another MODEL participant, that students can't hope to do well in any other subject if their reading is weak. His young friend is Keantre Milan, a fourth-grader who loves the "Harry Potter" books, but admits his reading and comprehension skills could use a boost.

"I just feel that reading is so important in your educational experience," Perkins said. "If you can't read, it's going to lead to troubles down the road."

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McHenry students build respect, understanding

By LEE ANN GILL, Northwest Herald, 10/20/04

WOODSTOCK – McHenry High School West Campus freshmen are getting to know each other better this week.

But instead of chatting in the cafeteria or gossiping in the halls, they are picking up their classmates and pushing them through holes in a web made of rope, playing school-based trivia games, and learning not to make snap judgments.

It is all about helping students feel included, said West Campus Principal Barb Jahnke, who started the program last year.

For one week, freshmen go in groups to Camp Lakota in Woodstock to learn more about each other and themselves.

The students are not in groups with their best friends, so they must get to know other students, Jahnke said.

The camp idea came from St. Paul Central High School in Minnesota.

The mother of a sophomore boy who committed suicide donated $30,000 to the school to develop a program to motivate high school students to understand each other better.

"It's fun for the kids, but they also get to learn a little bit about themselves," said physical education teacher Rob Schader, as he watched students try to squeeze their classmates through small openings in a rope web.

"It takes some trust to get picked up by a group of people that you've only known [a short time]."

Freshman Michelle Graham said she thought the exercise was "cool."

"We get to work on team building," Graham said. "You're not used to people picking you up and pulling you through a little square box."

In another group, upperclassmen helped freshmen learn the dangers of judging others based on looks.

"Let's face it," McHenry West counselor Joan Richter told the group. "We do this every single day in school. Just by their hairstyle, we judge people."

The freshmen wrote down their reactions to pictures of different students, based on appearance alone.

"See what vibes you get just from looking at these people," senior leader Amber Hammond said. "And be honest."

After learning the background on the pictured students, those doing the judging could change their opinion. The exercise breaks down misconceptions, Jahnke said.

Students also made banners and played a West Campus trivia game.

"We want them to take pride in their school and have fun," Jahnke said.

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Schools own the strangest things

By ROB PHILLIPS, Northwest Herald, 10/20/04

When the Woodstock School District 200 director of buildings and grounds attends regional conferences, his ice-breaker is easy.

"I say we own 14 buildings, 240 acres, two farms and a cemetery," Mark Pitcher said.

The 14 schools and other buildings owned by the district are expected, and the farmland likely will be home to future schools.

But a cemetery?

"It's definitely a very unusual thing for a school district to own," Pitcher said.

One student at Woodstock High School has found a way to turn this unusual school-owned property into an education experience.

Will McKay, a Woodstock Eagle Scout candidate, is working to revitalize the historic cemetery.

McKay and a Boy Scout troop he oversees have spent months cleaning up the small cemetery south of Woodstock.

The group plans to engrave the names of the 13 people buried in the cemetery on the back of the cemetery's sign, McKay said.

"I thought it was a way to honor the people that were buried there and give them some recognition," McKay said.

The Wingrove Cemetery, which was founded in 1850, was named after Richard Wingrove, a nearby settler, said Elaine Obenchain, chairman of the McHenry County Genealogical Association's cemetery project.

Obenchain said she spent about 15 years working on the cemetery project, which researched every cemetery in the county. It was completed in 2000.

McKay said he used the genealogical association's project to identify who was buried in the area.

Wingrove sold the land for use as a cemetery to Dorr Township School District 8 for $10 in 1850, said Nancy Fike, director of the McHenry County Historical Society.

The district, and the cemetery, later became part of District 200.

"I think it was a way of making sure that the cemetery was cared for after that individual was gone," Obenchain said.

The cemetery was used to bury people living in the school district, she said.

Obenchain said District 200 officials didn't know the district owned the property until she began working on the cemetery project.

When she first told the district it owned the land, Obenchain said the cemetery was full of overgrown weeds. According to the genealogical project, children used the area as a playground and had moved most of the gravestones to the rear of cemetery.

Pitcher said the district now mows the cemetery's grass regularly and treats it like any other school property.

"We've cleaned it up over the years," Pitcher said. "[McKay] has really done a good job trying to pretty it up."

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College kids go back to grade school to teach about health, safety

By Angela Fornelli, Beacon News Staff Writer, 10/21/04

AURORA — Using a light bulb as a "pretend brain," Dana Martinelli holds out a bicycle helmet, places the light bulb inside and prepares to drop it.

"How many of you think the light bulb is going to break?" the Aurora University student asks the third-graders gathered around her.

Some raise their hands.

Then, she drops it, and the lightbulb stays safe inside the helmet.

She prepares to drop the light bulb again — this time without the helmet — and asks, "How many of you think it's going to break?"

This time, almost all the children raise their hands.

She drops it, and a loud "pop" echoes through the room as the bulb shatters inside the plastic bag holding it.

"See how important it is to wear a helmet?" Martinelli asks the Brady Elementary School youngsters.

"Your brains are going to break!" yelled out third-grader Anabel Sosa.

Bike safety was one of many health-related topics Aurora University students taught the nearly 500 elementary school kids during a health fair at Brady School this week.

The 30 Aurora University science club members, most of whom are studying areas of the health profession, planned the project as part of the university's service-learning initiative.

"They are learning to put things together and present to students at the same time they are serving the students," said John Lloyd, science club advisor and assistant professor of biology at Aurora University.

Francisco de los Santos, principal at Brady Elementary, said the program helps raise awareness for kids in a way that is fun for them, especially because they often relate better to the college students than to adults.

"It's a shot in the arm because you can get a lot done and a lot of information into their hands and then going home to their parents," de los Santos said. "It's a way of tapping into resources that are very local . . . It's an awesome experience for (the kids)."

The elementary students rotated between stations with presentations on dental health, fitness, nutrition, hygiene, sleep, smoking and bicycle safety.

"How many of you like to drink pop?" asks Megan Tracy, an AU sophomore in health science, during her dental health presentation.

Almost all the third and fifth graders raise their hands.

Tracy then shows the students an egg that had been soaked in Pepsi all night — it had turned brown.

"That's why you want to brush your teeth," she tells the children.

Tracy, who hopes to work in pediatric physical therapy, said she thinks teaching the kids and seeing their reactions will help her in her future profession.

"Every experience you have shows you more about yourself," she said. "It reinforces that I like kids, and I like working with kids."

As they rotated through the presentations, the students picked up fruit, bike reflectors, information pamphlets and other materials donated by various local agencies.

Cub Foods donated 500 pieces of fruit; Central DuPage Hospital provided information on bike safety, coloring books and bike ID stickers; and Aurora University provided $250 for two bikes with helmets and games that were raffled. Other donors include Eola Dental, Aurora-Naperville Dental, Wal-Mart in Aurora, Trader Joe's in Naperville, Nabisco, Jewel in Aurora, McDonald's, Illinois Nutrition Education and Training Program and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

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Beaming up to future

Kids go wireless: They transmit work to teachers, get response

By Ted Slowik, Herald News Staff Writer, 10/21/04

JOLIET — In the old days, students assigned to write an essay in class would have to get up from their desks and turn in a paper at the end of class.

Today, pupils are using wireless technology to transmit assignments to the teachers, who can make corrections and send the information back to students.

It's called beaming, and it's one example of how a local agency is using a federal No Child Left Behind grant to study how technology influences students' performance on standardized tests.

"Our belief is that we can use technology to enhance reading comprehension, especially in science and social studies," said Diane Cepela, who administers the grant for the Joliet-based Professional Development Alliance.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded the agency $865,000 a year for three years through a program known as Bridging the Disconnect. Professional Development Alliance is using the money to train 100 teachers and provide equipment to 3,000 students at 30 schools in Will, Grundy and Kendall counties. The recipients include 20 public and 10 parochial schools.

The wireless device used to beam information between students and teachers is called Tungsten C, and it's made by PalmOne, the company that popularized electronic organizers with its Palm Pilots. The Tungsten C sells for about $400, looks like a fancy calculator, and features word processing, graphics and other capabilities.

"(Students) have Internet access right at their desks," Cepela said.

The grant is being used to provide technology to students in fifth and ninth grades. Participants include Plainfield Central and Plainfield South high schools, A.O. Marshall Elementary School in the Joliet Grade School District, and St. Jude and St. Mary Magdalene Catholic schools in Joliet.

Fifth-graders are being provided with Dana devices, which have features similar to the Tungsten C. Each of the 100 participating teachers is provided with 30 devices to distribute to students, and each educator receives a laptop computer, printer and Toshiba projector.

Researchers are comparing how students provided with the technology fare on standardized tests, compared to a control group of peers who are given the same tests without the aid of the new gadgets. This is the second year of testing, and results from the first year are still being analyzed.

"The preliminary results of our testing show that our impact is statistically significant," Cepela said.

Professional Development Alliance technology consultants Christine Tomasino, Kellie Doubek and Meg Ormiston are training teachers and helping to administer the grant. The agency also provides technical support and troubleshooting to fix equipment when problems occur.

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State Board of Education begins plotting reduction of 'red tape'

By ADRIANA COLINDRES, State Journal-Register State Capitol Bureau, 10/22/04

The Illinois State Board of Education on Thursday began mapping out a plan to reduce the amount of "red tape" schools face because of state rules and regulations.

When Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed seven new members to the nine-member board in September, he said one of its priorities would be to streamline the procedures school districts must follow.

In his State of the State speech last January, the governor criticized the State Board of Education as too clunky and bureaucratic. At one point, he lifted a foot- high stack of papers, which he said were 2,800 pages of school rules and regulations.

A Springfield school spokeswoman, Carol Votsmier, said district officials "applaud any efforts to streamline the amount of paperwork that is required of school districts. The sheer number of reports that we do for the State Board (of Education) is astronomical."

The new state board chairman, Jesse Ruiz, said relieving the schools' administrative burden could lead to a reduction in administrative costs.

Interim state school superintendent Randy Dunn said he and his staff have started talking with Illinois educators about how to cut the red tape from rules and regulations.

"We are just such a rules-heavy agency," Dunn said.

The agency has set up a special e-mail address to collect suggestions from the public and educators. That address is: lessredtape@isbe.net.

Specific proposals should be developed in the next three months, said the board's chief counsel, Jonathan Furr. Any proposals will have to go to the legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules before being enacted.

In a news release, Blagojevich praised the board's plans, saying he looks forward "to the process producing real results."

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State schools in fiscal `crisis'

Tribune analysis finds 82 percent of districts in red

By Diane Rado, Tribune staff reporter, 10/22/04

Illinois school districts posted a staggering $2.3 billion budget deficit last year, more than double the statewide deficit just three years earlier, a Tribune analysis has found. It is the latest sign of an escalating fiscal crisis in the state's public schools.

Across Illinois, 82 percent of districts spent more than they took in during the 2003 budget year, compared to fewer than half of districts deficit spending in 2000.

And the statewide deficit is nearly 75 times higher than a $31 million deficit posted by districts in 1995, state financial figures show.

Though outright collapse among school districts remains rare, the list of struggling districts continues to grow. The political pressure continues to grow, too, as local voters tighten pursestrings and Springfield remains opposed to an overhaul of the state's tax structure.

Illinois State Board of Education members urged caution about interpreting deficit numbers during their meeting Thursday in Springfield, saying they don't always reflect the true health of each district.

But educators and some politicians say that it is becoming more and more difficult to ignore the flowing red ink.

"I think that, truly, the state's in a crisis," said Chicago Public Schools Chief Arne Duncan, whose mammoth system spent $419 million more than its revenues in 2003 and expects to spend $600 million more than it takes in this budget year.

Like other districts, Chicago has filled the budget holes by drawing down reserves, borrowing and cutting staff or academic and extracurricular programs to reduce expenses.

Districts can survive that way only temporarily, said Ernest J. Tonelli, president-elect of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials.

"What's happened is that districts that were fortunate to have fund balances have spent those down," leading to a surge in school district deficits, Tonelli said.

Statewide, 731 of 892 school districts reported spending more than they collected in 2003, the most recent year for which statewide figures are available. In 2000, 415 districts posted expenditures exceeding revenues.

Thursday, a newly configured Illinois State Board of Education controlled by Gov. Rod Blagojevich's appointees faced its first major financial decision, and decided not to take any action--at least for another six months--in four financially endangered school districts.

Troubled districts

Interim state superintendent of education Randy Dunn had recommended that Grass Lake School District in Lake County, Fairmont School District 89 in Will County, and two Downstate districts be certified as "in financial difficulty," a designation for deeply troubled districts that run chronic operating deficits and borrow excessively.

The state board delayed action until at least April, after district officials pleaded not to be certified, saying it would hurt them in the eyes of their communities, diminish their chances to get tax increases approved and restrict them from borrowing to stay afloat.

In Antioch's Grass Lake district, Supt. James Beveridge was talking with bankers Thursday about final arrangements to borrow another $1.5 million to keep the district afloat. In Springfield, Grass Lake board president Randy Mathias was outlining cuts the district has made.

"We don't know where to go, we don't know what to do anymore," Mathias told the board.

Board chairman Jesse Ruiz said after the meeting that the board delayed action to give districts and new administrators a chance to get their finances in order..

"Obviously deficit spending is not a good thing," Ruiz said, "but we did want to be fair."

Local educators say they have been struggling to keep up with the rising cost of teacher salaries, health and liability insurance and other expenses.

At the same time, state-mandated caps limit local property-tax increases and voters have been reluctant to approve tax hikes.

Tax watchdog groups insist that out-of-control spending is at the root of schools' fiscal problems, and taxpayers shouldn't have to bail out districts that overspend. Particularly frustrating to the groups are teacher raises that exceed raises given to private-sector employees.

Joseph Wiegand, executive director of the Carpentersville-based Family Taxpayers Network, said that in a tough economy, most districts should give no pay increases to teachers.

Public school spending statewide topped $20 billion for the first time in the 2003 budget year, according to the State Board of Education, which calculates the numbers from district annual financial reports.

Overall, districts spent $20.2 billion, though they collected only $17.9 billion from local, state and federal sources. The numbers include school construction money that flows in and out of district budgets, which state education officials have included consistently across districts for many years, though some local educators say that paints an unfair picture.

Different analysis

At the state board meeting, board member Brenda Holmes, formerly Blagojevich's top education adviser, expressed concern about using deficit numbers without further explanation.

"We need to be very cautious in how we present that information," she said, referring to figures showing about 80 percent of school districts are deficit spending.

Department officials also provided the Tribune with a new analysis--different from the one posted on their own Web site--that they said does not include construction dollars, leaving a smaller $830.7 million deficit statewide in operating accounts for major school expenses in 2003. Officials also said the majority of districts had balances in those operating accounts in that year.

But construction finances can play a role in district budget troubles.

Fairmont 89 district officials told the state board Thursday that they borrowed $1.6 million to match a state construction grant for a new school building. Now they are struggling to pay the money back.

School finance reform advocates say the skyrocketing deficits underscore the need to overhaul the tax system that pays for schools.

"As far as education funding is concerned, I think we know what there is to know, and it's time for change," said state Senate Education Committee Chairman Miguel del Valle, (D-Chicago).

Del Valle is holding public hearings around the state on legislation that would increase the state income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent, nearly double corporate income taxes to 8 percent and broaden the sales tax to a variety of services, from dry cleaning to house cleaning.

The bill would allocate $2.4 billion to lower property-tax bills--the main source of school revenues statewide--and another $900 million for tax credits to low- and moderate-income families. As part of the plan, $1.8 billion would go to schools, increasing base per-pupil funding by about $1,000 from $4,964 this year.

The legislation faces an uphill battle: Blagojevich has pledged not to raise the state's income or sales taxes, and would veto a bill that does so, his staff said.

Nevertheless, del Valle would like to begin legislative debate on the bill as early as next month, though he's not certain that will happen.

Taxpayer watchdog groups are mobilizing to oppose the legislation.

"People are looking at ever-increasing property-tax bills,said Wiegand, of the Family Taxpayers Network. "People are fed up."

- - -------------------------

Illinois school districts in fiscal crisis

A majority of the nearly 900 state school districts spent more than they took in during the 2003 fiscal year. Combined, Illinois districts overspent their budgets by $2.31 billion, more than double the deficit three years earlier.

TOTAL DEFICIT By fiscal year

YEAR     DEFICIT                EXPENDITURE

1999        -$1.02 billion          $16.1 billion

2000        -$885 million          $17.1 billion

2001        -$1.30 billion          $18.4 billion

2002        -$1.99 billion          $19.5 billion

2003        -$2.31 billion          $20.2 billion

DISTRICTS WITH DEFICITS By fiscal year

1999        49%

2000        46%

2001        61%

2002        75%

2003        82%

Source: Illinois State Board of Education & Chicago Tribune

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Education is shouldered out of spotlight in this campaign

By Carolyn Bower of the Post-Dispatch, 10/21/2004

Four years ago, education was front and center in presidential politics. A campaign proposal that every child should read by third grade helped pave the way for the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The issue of how to improve student achievement remains pressing, but education matters have been overshadowed in this election by terrorism, Iraq, health care and the economy.

Not that educators and parents think of education in a supporting role.

"I don't know how they can skirt around the issue of education," said Peggy Lewis LeCompte, head of the East St. Louis Federation of Teachers, vice president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and a 12th-grade language arts teacher. "Education is important. Education is key. A well-educated population makes decisions that make sense, decisions about the war, health care, Social Security."

So why has education received seemingly short shrift in this presidential campaign?

One reason is that more consensus exists than in past years - Democrats and Republicans generally agree that public schools need reform. Both parties signed off on No Child Left Behind.

Another reason has to do with the tough job of how to carry out the major federal initiative, said Ross Wiener, policy director for Education Trust, an organization dedicated to closing achievement gaps among students.

"That's not the kind of debate that easily translates into sound bites," Wiener said. "There's more nuance. It's more difficult."

Although education was an infrequent topic in the recent presidential debates, President George Bush and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, his Democratic opponent, have posted detailed information about their education plans online at georgebush.com and johnkerry.com

Bush promises to build on the reforms of the No Child Left Behind Act, signed a year after he became president. The law calls for schools to ensure that every student scores proficient on reading and math tests by the year 2014. If not, schools that get federal Title I money will face sanctions.

Bush has increased federal spending on education. His budget proposal for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 would increase elementary and secondary education funding to $37 billion, a 49 percent increase from 2001. Title I funding for low-income schools and special education funding also would increase under Bush's proposal for 2005.

Kerry voted for the No Child Left Behind law. He agrees with Bush on the importance of setting high standards for all children and would not repeal the law. That doesn't leave a lot of room for disagreement.

The issue of funding

Yet some exists. One of the biggest differences lies with funding for No Child Left Behind.

Kerry says the law isn't working as it should because it requires a lot more money. Kerry says Bush has provided $27 billion less than was pledged.

Kerry says he would increase education spending over 10 years by $200 billion, paying for full funding of No Child Left Behind, as well as additional funding for special education requirements and for other programs. He would pay for this by reversing the tax cuts for those who make $200,000 or more.

John Lawrence, superintendent of schools in Troy, Mo., and past president of the American Association of School Administrators, said, "Clearly the line of demarcation between these candidates is the funding of No Child Left Behind."

Greg Jung, president of the Missouri National Education Association, said teachers supported the goals of No Child Left Behind but wanted to hear candidates talk about what realistically can be accomplished and what support the federal government will provide.

"Financial support is not enough, it's well below the authorized levels," Jung said, adding that the federal government also had failed to adequately finance special education requirements. As a result, state and local money is being diverted for special education, he said.

But J. Martin Rochester, a professor of political science at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, said Bush and his supporters contend that a lot of money has been spent on education without enough accountability and without adequate results.

LeCompte, the head of the East St. Louis Federation of Teachers, wants to hear exactly how the presidential candidates would get money into the schools and how quickly for the law's reforms.

She wants to hear details about how to improve achievement and close the learning gap between races. She wants more after-school programs. She wants more money to attract and retain quality teachers in inner city schools. She wants money to train parents, to help them understand the value of a good education. She also wants to know what the candidates would do to provide preventive health care for children, proper food in the lunchroom and help in dealing with childhood obesity.

Bayless Superintendent Maureen Clancy-May would like the presidential candidates to talk more about support for students and their families who have recently moved to the United States. A third of Bayless students qualify for English language learning services.

Both candidates have proposed rewards for high-quality teachers, improvements in high schools and broadened access to higher education.

Although both candidates talk of support for quality early childhood programs, neither has committed to a large investment to make quality preschool available to parents unable to afford it.

Both candidates talk about preparing students better for college. Bush wants to use eighth-grade test scores to develop performance plans for high school students. Kerry wants to boost the graduation rate by offering mentors and tutors to help students get the most out of high school.

While both candidates offer plans to help students pay for college, some educators fear that middle-income and high-income students are more likely to get help than low-income students, the ones least likely to attend college.

As for whether money will be available for expanding federal support of education, Lawrence, the superintendent in Troy, said that comes down to the country's involvement in Iraq.

"If it ends with the Iraqi people taking care of their government, their safety and their security needs, then expenditures could be redirected, and there's no better place than in public education," Lawrence said.

Candidates' positions

Here's where the candidates stand on some education issues:

QUALITY TEACHERS

Bush has proposed a $500 million fund to reward teachers whose students show improved achievement.

Kerry has called for raises of at least $5,000 a year to encourage teachers to work in high-need schools and to fill shortages in subjects such as math and science.

HIGH SCHOOL

Bush would phase in two achievement tests in high school, with $250 million a year in federal money to help cover costs. Bush also favors a clearinghouse of online learning opportunities.

Kerry wants to expand mentoring and tutoring to help more students graduate, to develop more rigorous high school courses and to break up large high schools into smaller ones.

EARLY CHILDHOOD

Bush would give priority funding to states with coordinated early childhood plans, including Head Start, prekindergarten and child care.

Kerry has said there must be a combination of government and private investment to expand high-quality preschools.

AFTER SCHOOL

Bush proposed in the 2004 budget cutting after-school funding by 40 percent, but Congress kept the funding.

Kerry wants to offer after-school programs until 6 p.m. for 3.5 million children, with transportation provided for children whose parents work late.

VOUCHERS

Bush has favored them.

Kerry opposes them.

COLLEGE COSTS

Bush has called for $73 billion in financial aid in the budget for this fiscal year to help students attend college. He has raised the Pell grant to a maximum of $4,050, with students who complete a rigorous high school curriculum eligible for an additional $1,000 Enhanced Pell Grant.

Kerry favors a tax credit for up to $4,000 of tuition for four years of college. He would provide $10 billion to states for higher education if states hold down tuition increases at public colleges.

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NATIONAL

Schools let phys ed slip off schedule

Many ignoring state requirement

Peter Schworm, Boston Globe

Most Massachusetts high schools are shrugging off a state law that requires students to take physical education each year.

Schools elbowing aside physical education to cram in more academics is a state and national problem, worrying fitness specialists who say the reduced exercise time is increasing the prevalence of childhood obesity. Many younger students now take less than an hour a week of physical education, teachers say, and even recess has been cut back so students can spend more time on math and English and ideally perform better on high-stakes state tests. In Massachusetts, as in many other states, the problem is the worst at high schools, where students must pass state exams to earn a diploma.

"It's an unintended consequence of education reform," said Kathy Pinkham, director of health and physical education for the Needham schools. "We've learned it's the reality that schools ignore the law."

Nationally, less than 6 percent of high schools now require physical education for juniors and seniors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Massachusetts, 57 percent of high school students last year took at least one physical education class a week, according to the CDC. In 1993, 80 percent did; that same year, the Legislature passed the Education Reform Act, which required higher academic standards in the years ahead.

Until 1996, Massachusetts students had to take at least 90 minutes of physical education each week; the current law requires students in all grades to take physical education annually but does not specify how often. Since the state changed its policy, many schools have progressively reduced or eliminated requirements, educators say. State education officials do not track whether districts are meeting their physical education requirements, but a look at high schools' graduation requirements show that most are defying the law.

Fitness advocates blame the state education department for diminishing physical education's importance by failing to enforce the law. Spokeswoman Heidi Perlman said it's unrealistic to expect the state to monitor districts' compliance.

"We can't be the phys ed police," Perlman said.

At Somerville High School, just one in eight students takes physical education all four years. Officially, Boston schools require students to take physical education each year, said Stacy Johnson, director of physical education for the Boston schools. But few juniors and seniors take physical education, and gym is not currently offered at Dorchester High, South Boston High, and Snowden International School, he said.

"There's definitely the policy, but the school day is only so long," Johnson said. "We're losing ground."

Alice MacInnis holds a big title in the state fitness community -- president of the Massachusetts Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. But she hasn't been able to convince administrators in Melrose, where she directs the physical education program, to require physical education for juniors and seniors.  

“It's extremely frustrating," MacInnis said. "Our discipline needs a stronger voice."

In the Cambridge school system, the battle is ongoing.

Robert McGowan, the physical education director, brandishes the state regulation to keep gym intact.

"They've talked about cutting it," he said. "And I've been right there in the front, handing them the law."

But Dr. Thomas Fowler-Finn, superintendent of the Cambridge public schools, said he believes some students would be better off hitting the books than the weight machines. Cambridge, though, has not made any recent attempts to cut physical education, he said.

"It's important to be physically fit, but there are students who are struggling to pass MCAS," he said. "Part of the reason is that they're taking physical education classes or playing sports."

Christopher Martes, superintendent of Framingham schools, where physical education is elective after sophomore year, said there's little public pressure to bolster fitness offerings when state and federal education agencies are dissecting schools' academic performance.

"I think every district in the state has had a school committee meeting in the last month to discuss test scores," he said. "So we haven't really focused on the fitness side."

While Martes said his school system hasn't focused on fitness, Framingham High's freshmen might disagree. At Framingham High, 22 ninth-graders of all shapes and sizes gather three times a week for a required fitness class in a state-of-the-art wellness center than compares favorably to most private gyms.

They start off with light stretching, then do some stomach crunches before hitting the treadmills and stationary bikes. Within minutes, sweat pours off their brows, and students vie to see who can reach the highest speed or burn more calories in a minute.

Some students say the class isn't their favorite, but most say it's important to have some down time from lectures and books. The brain can handle only so much information at once, they say.

"It's good to take a break," said Elana Shoren, 14. "This gets you pumped, and then you're ready to work."

Ana Landaverde, 14, admits she's a bit overweight. She doesn't walk much or play sports, and she eats fattening foods, she said. She says the required fitness class is her primary exercise.

"I'm not used to working out," she said. "But I need to learn how, and I wouldn't do it on my own."

With childhood obesity rates rising steadily, cutbacks on physical education in schools couldn't come at a worse time, researchers say. In Massachusetts, 24 percent of high school students are overweight or at risk of becoming so, according to a 2003 CDC survey.

"Students are getting heavier and less fit," said Jerry Knight, physical education director for Somerville schools. "One of the things schools should be teaching them is how to be in shape."

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No Child Left Behind drives education debate for Bush, Kerry

Ben Feller, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — President Bush asked for it. Sen. John Kerry voted for it. Both candidates now find their education agendas driven by the No Child Left Behind law.

The most aggressive shake-up to schools in a generation, the law is the top education issue in a presidential race dominated by war, terrorism, jobs, taxes and credibility. The law orders schools to ensure all children achieve regardless of race, ethnicity or income.

For voters, the line dividing Bush and Kerry is subtle. The nominees diverge on how much to spend on the law and how much to tinker with it as schools try to comply.

The Republican incumbent promotes his spending record. He also says it is time to expand the law by requiring two more years of state math and reading tests in the high school grades.

Kerry say schools need much more money to meet high standards. He promises an extra $10 billion a year by erasing Bush's tax cuts on people earning more than $200,000. The Massachusetts senator talks of expanding the way student progress is measured in a law built on testing.

Both candidates have ideas all along the education spectrum, from college aid and teacher pay to high school rigor and math and science classes. Some ideas are modest; others would continue an expanding federal role in schools.

Yet all this is largely unnoticed by voters and lightly mentioned by the candidates, even though the next president will take on a backlog of school matters affecting millions of people

"People are still concerned about education, but terrorism and personal security have significantly increased in concern," said Republican pollster David Winston. "And then you've got a rough economy, made worse by 9-11. People are managing a lot more things."

The result has been a vastly different campaign than the one four years ago. In 2000, Bush was the Texas governor and made education a successful theme of his presidential bid. His focus on schools, traditionally a Democratic issue, helped mold his national image.

In office, he won bipartisan support in 2001 for No Child Left Behind, which calls for all students to reach state standards in reading and math by 2014. Parents get more school choices, but many schools face penalties if even a single subgroup of students falls short.

The law has not been a clear boon for Bush. States have balked at what they call federal intrusion. Some parents are perplexed to see their schools labeled as "needing improvement" under the law even if those same schools get stellar marks from their states.

"He got that law passed and has focused people on the problem of the achievement gap, and that is a big accomplishment," said Diane Stark Rentner, deputy director of the independent Center on Education Policy. But, she said, Bush did not follow through on his spending promises — a point of endless dispute.

Under Bush, spending on the law's programs and on help for disabled children has grown from $24.7 billion to $35.5 billion, a 43 percent increase. Counting his current budget request, the increase during his term would be 49 percent, a number he cites while campaigning. Those figures would not be as high if Congress had not added billions to Bush's requests.

Still, to critics, Bush can fairly make the point, "How big of an increase does it have to be satisfy you guys?" said Tom Loveless, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution.

But Democrats say Bush has shortchanged the law by up to $28 billion. As a result, they say, everything from teaching to testing has suffered.

Democrats make that claim by comparing what has been spent on the law and the maximum allowed, called an authorization. But laws routinely are not funded to maximum levels.

"It's one of those frustrating fights. There's enough evidence for both sides to make a claim that's valid," said Andrew Rotherham, a former adviser to President Clinton. Rotherham now directs education policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, which is tied to centrist Democrats.

As for the law itself, Bush largely talks of staying the course. Kerry has signaled he may try to change how schools are graded.

Reading and math tests are the primary way states must judge student progress. Schools must use at least one other academic factor and may add others. The law says high schools must factor in graduation rates, an area where Kerry is promising more enforcement.

Kerry has raised the possibility of grading schools on such additional factors as teacher attendance and parental satisfaction. That was early this year. The campaign now uses broader terms, saying it is open to changes that ensure schools are fairly measured.

Polls taken in September after the Republican convention showed Bush and Kerry virtually tied on the issue of education, though Kerry has been slightly ahead on it through much of the year. The issue may make the difference for select groups such as married women with children, Catholics and Hispanics, said Winston, the GOP pollster.

Whoever wins will have other education issues waiting for him, including overdue updates of higher education and Head Start laws. Even so, said Loveless: "No Child Left Behind is still going to be the story out of Washington for the next four or five years."

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Strong relationship between kids academic achievement and fitness

News-Medical in Child Health News

The health benefits of exercise – across the lifespan – have been well documented. More recently, scientists have begun to demonstrate that exercise also may improve cognitive functioning in older adults.

But what about children? Are physically fit kids better suited to compete not only on the ball field, but in the classroom as well?

University of Illinois researchers have been exploring these and other related questions in a series of studies during the past two years, and preliminary results indicate a correlation.

“We have found a strong relationship between academic achievement and fitness scores,” said Darla Castelli, a professor of kinesiology whose area of expertise is effective physical education practices. “Those who scored well in academics also did well in physical fitness.

“We’re not suggesting that if we run more laps it will make us smarter,” she said, “but there does appear to be a correlation.”

Castelli noted that teachers who work closely with young and preadolescent children have long suspected a link between physical fitness and cognitive function. Anecdotal evidence is plentiful, she said, but empirical data to back up those assumptions have been harder to come by.

That’s why Castelli jumped at the chance to team with colleague Charles Hillman, also a kinesiology professor at Illinois, to examine possible connections more thoroughly. Hillman’s primary research focus is on executive control and cognitive function in elderly adults, which involves studying the effects of exercise on older individuals’ abilities to process complex mental tasks.

Together, with assistance from graduate student Sarah Buck, Castelli and Hillman conducted a series of studies with school-aged children and control groups of adults. Data were gathered on subjects’ physical attributes (height, weight, body mass), fitness levels and cognitive abilities.

Much of the data was collected first-hand by going into local schools. Working with the cooperation of physical education teachers in Champaign’s Unit 4 school district, the researchers measured the physical fitness of some 500 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. Using the “Fitnessgram,” which Castelli said is widely regarded by physical education researchers as a reliable field assessment tool, they measured subjects’ aerobic capacity, flexibility and muscle fitness. Cognitive function was determined by analyzing scores on standardized academic performance tests (the Illinois Standard Achievement Test) and by observing and measuring neuroelectric and behavioral responses to stimulus discrimination tasks.

Hillman and Buck will present results from one of the research group’s studies (“Physical Fitness and Cognitive Function in Healthy Preadolescent Children”) at the annual meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research in Santa Fe, N.M., Oct. 20-24. In that study, the U. of I. researchers examined the relationship between age and physical fitness on attention and working memory among groups of fit and sedentary children, and fit and sedentary adults.

“We looked at the relationship between age and fitness from both a neuroelectric and behavioral perspective,” Hillman said.

The researchers observed and recorded the subjects’ ability to recognize, respond to, and discriminate between different visual stimuli using a “visual oddball” task. In that task, researchers present subjects with two stimuli; in this case, one was a cartoon drawing of a dog; the other, a cat. Both appeared with different probabilities – one was presented more frequently than the other.

When the researchers measured brain activation, “we found that fit children allocated more resources towards identifying stimuli, and also processed stimuli faster,” Hillman said.

“Behaviorally, these effects showed up in that these fit children made fewer errors than sedentary ones,” Hillman said. In terms of response speed, the fit children were still slower than fit and sedentary adults, but were faster than sedentary children, he said.

Hillman – who stressed the preliminary nature of their findings – said the research team is analyzing data for three related studies and plans to present a symposium on their findings next spring in Chicago during the national convention of The American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

“There’s a lot of basic research that needs to go on before we can determine what underlies achievement,” Hillman said.

Nonetheless, if scientists can demonstrate that increased levels of physical activity and exercise can have a positive effect on children’s physical health and their ability to succeed academically, Castelli is hopeful that educators, school administrators, legislators and other policymakers will take note.

“Despite increased incidence of childhood obesity and type II diabetes mellitus, physical education time is being reduced to address academic issues related to federal ‘No Child Left Behind’ legislation,” Castelli said. “If evidence existed that physical education contributed to intellectual development, it may gain credibility and instructional time.”

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How No Child Left Behind Helps Principals

Jay Mathews, Washington Post

Washington Post Metro page columnist Marc Fisher last week used the stories of two excellent elementary schools to trash, once again, the No Child Left Behind Act. I was delighted to read his columns because they were not only well-written, but gave me a chance to expose, once again, Marc's ill-considered bias against giving kids standardized tests and making the results have some consequences for the school.

Marc and I both mourn the passing of that era in journalism when columnists picked fights with each other all the time, if for no other reason than to have easy topics they could type up fast and get to their favorite taverns before noon. So let's start:

Marc's first column was about Bailey's Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences in Fairfax County, a well-run magnet school where 54 percent of the 912 students are poor enough to qualify for federal lunch subsidies and 77 percent are from immigrant families. Marc congratulated the principal, Jean Frey, for sending a letter to parents last spring saying that even if the school failed to meet its No Child Left Behind achievement targets this year, she would not, as Marc puts it, "shutter her science lab, pull the plug on theatrical productions or tell teachers to scrap a literature discussion to drill kids on test facts."

The second column introduced readers to Anthony Fears, the principal of Anne Beers Elementary School in the Hillcrest section of Southeast Washington, who worries that his good program may be swamped by too many students transferring from less successful schools. Under No Child Left Behind, if a school is labeled "needs improvement" for failing to raise test scores sufficiently, it can be forced to provide tutoring to students who ask for it and let students transfer to better-performing public schools.

I spoke to both Frey and Fears and was happy Marc spotlighted such fine educators who are doing so much for their students. Frey is serving not only immigrant families in the school's neighborhood, but 200 out-of-boundary students, mostly from English-speaking middle class families, who have chosen Bailey's because of its good programs, and some middle-class families in the neighborhood who have stayed for the same reason. Fears, who used to be an assistant superintendent in Baltimore before deciding to get closer to kids, has given a once poorly disciplined school new focus and energy with firm rules and lots of love.

Marc is right to point out that No Child Left Behind is a clumsy instrument. Some schools have reduced arts classes to make more time for reading and math. Some schools have been hurt by getting too many transfer students from low-performing neighbors. But Bailey's and Beers are not those schools. Nor do there appear to be many schools in the Washington area suffering from these alleged bureaucratic outrages. If anything, both Bailey's and Beers have been helped by the new federal law because its accountability rules give good principals such as Frey and Fears power they never had before.

Many critics of No Child Left Behind hint darkly of monstrous educational practices about to devour the best schools. But when asked to point them out, they have trouble coming up with examples. Marc says in the Bailey's column that "many schools hack away at the arts to focus on test-taking skills." I am willing to buy him a new Washington Grays baseball cap if he can find any such schools in Fairfax County, a very well-run system whose principals and teachers have been preparing students for the new tests without wringing the joy out of learning.

Frey herself acknowledges that Bailey's teachers would spend time reviewing and assessing with or without the worries of No Child Left Behind, because they know that review is a vital part of the learning process and that a variety of assessments are invaluable to ascertaining what parts of the lesson have or have not been absorbed. All she wants is an assessment system that gets results back to her more quickly, and a reduction in the number of tripwires in the federal law so Bailey's isn't labeled as "needing improvement" just because a few too many of her Spanish-speaking students could not pass their English tests. When Congress tries to revise the law next year, such good suggestions are likely to be heeded.

As for Beers Elementary, the most interesting story there is not transfers flooding in because of the new law. Fears admits there were only 20 of them this year, in a school of 402 students. What has actually happened is a 23 percent reduction in the size of the student body, from 525 to 402 kids, since Fears arrived three years ago.

The Beers principal said he found a school that was not enforcing many rules, including those limiting enrollment by students from outside the neighborhood. Previous principals seemed to think that the more students they had, the better off they were, since that meant they could hire more staff. But Fears thought the crowding was hurting the learning, and began to deny many transfer requests.

How was he able to do that, and why has he been able to keep the number of transfers this year to 20? Part of the answer is No Child Left Behind. Fears was recruited by former D.C. superintendent Paul Vance, who knew from the administrators grapevine what talent Fears had. And Fears, an adept office politician from his years as a headquarters administrator, knew that the emphasis on achievement under the new law meant that if new policy threatened his test scores, he could say no. His math scores are up to 18th place in the District, and he is working on similar progress in reading, where the scores are in 44th place. As long as student achievement gets better, few people are likely to try to mess with him.

When you look at the actual numbers, you discover the threat of massive transfers from the District's many underperforming schools is a non-issue anyway. Post Staff Writer Sewell Chan reported Oct. 10 that "of an estimated 25,000 to 33,000 students eligible to change schools, only 106 applied for transfers, and 68 of them were accepted." People still prefer their neighborhood schools, a phenomenon educators throughout the area have noted.

Frey, for instance, said she had little fear that her immigrant families would transfer out of the school if it did not meet the No Child Left Behind requirements. She just wanted to assure the middle class parents who knew of the law that, no matter what they heard, their kids were doing well. And in the end, Bailey's reached its testing targets after all.

No Child Left Behind is not the best accountability system ever invented. But, most policy makers and educators say, it has the right idea. Learning should be measured with tests. Standardized tests are in many ways better than the teachers' tests that have ruled schools up to now, because teachers can quietly decide not to test concepts that they have failed to teach well. Other forms of assessment, such as collections of work and conversations with teachers, have potential, but nobody has yet shown a way to make them work well with elementary school children from low-income homes.

Good educators such as Frey and Fears need a standard to guide them, a target to shoot for, so they can convince teachers to spend more time helping struggling students, convince parents to make sure homework is done and convince administrators at headquarters not to choke them with red tape.

To borrow an example from the little world Marc and I inhabit, many people at The Post are concerned about the recent drop in circulation. Everyone is talking about finding more subscribers. You may have noticed our new advertising campaign. But what Marc and I don't do is brag about our energetic reporting and deft metaphors and denounce the whole idea of measuring our sophistication as journalists by something so mundane as how many copies of the paper are sold.

Helping kids learn requires knowing each year how much they haven't learned, and using those numbers to do something about it. The educators at Bailey's and Beers know that, and I suspect the skeptics out there, particularly those as smart at Marc Fisher, will figure it out soon enough.

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School funding criticized

W. Gardner Selby, San Antonio Express-News Austin Bureau, 10/15/04

AUSTIN — U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican gubernatorial prospect, called for more spending on public schools Friday and said Texas should have adopted a fairer way to fund schools years ago.

"This has been wrong from the beginning," Hutchison said.

Under court pressure for equity, lawmakers in 1993 adopted a plan including a "Robin Hood" element requiring property-rich districts such as Alamo Heights to share revenue with property-poor districts such as Edgewood, South San Antonio and Harlandale.

Education funding "should have been solved way before you had a Supreme Court looking at it or a lawsuit on it," Hutchison said.

Texas should spend more on schools and ensure every student has a college preparatory curriculum, she said.

"You need more money and I think you need to also work at ways that we can have the reforms that are going to be necessary to achieve" educational quality, she said.

Asked to elaborate, she said, "It's not time for me to be putting out solutions. I'm not going to give you a plan."

A spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry, who might be challenged by Hutchison in 2006, noted that a law supported by Perry requires every high school student, starting with the Class of 2009, to take college preparatory classes, unless parents opt for them not to.

On Hutchison's statement that funding has been "wrong from the beginning," the spokesman, Robert Black, said, "I honestly don't know what that means."

Black said Perry always has believed funding should be resolved by lawmakers, not the courts.

Legislators failed to find a new funding approach during a special session called by Perry last spring.

Hutchison, speaking to the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, didn't mention any gubernatorial ambitions.

But she reaffirmed her opposition to Robin Hood — a position shared by Perry and other GOP leaders who say the Legislature should act on school finance in the regular session that starts in January.

A state district judge last month didn't reject the Robin Hood system. But District Judge John Dietz, ruling in favor of a lawsuit by school districts, said he will soon issue an order giving the state a year to increase school funding or face a court-imposed cutoff of education aid.

The Texas Supreme Court could consider the state's appeal as soon as next spring.

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School's Out Too Early for 420 Kids on 2 Charter Campuses

L.A. County Board of Education cites financial problems caused by rapid growth. For some students, it's the second closure of the year.

By Erika Hayasaki, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 10/16/04

The Los Angeles County Board of Education shut down two charter campuses Friday, leaving 420 students scrambling to find new schools.

For nearly 100 students at the Progressive Education Entrepreneurial Charter Schools in Inglewood and South Los Angeles, it is the second time in three months they have had to find a new campus.

"Here we go again," said parent Angie Garcia, who sighed as she watched several students and parents cry in the main office Friday morning. She transferred her son to the Inglewood campus after his former charter school, two blocks away, abruptly closed in August.

The county board earlier this week decided to close the two campuses because of fiscal problems, among other things.

Such controversies are breeding "mistrust of the whole charter school movement among parents," said Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy and co-director of Policy Analysis of California Education, headquartered at the University of California and Stanford University.

"When the media and parents see that charter schools are collapsing all around them, it's just going to undercut the vitality of the charter movement," he said.

The 12-year-old charter school program continues to battle funding, facilities and oversight issues, acknowledged Caprice Young, president of the nonprofit California Charter Schools Assn., which represents the state's 537 publicly financed but privately run charter schools.

But Young said more parents are fighting for charters because they believe in the concept. She added that 78 charter schools have opened in the last few months in California.

Still, Trina Muhammad, who took a job as a teaching assistant at the Progressive Education Entrepreneurial Charter School in Inglewood after serving as director of the now-defunct charter campus the Village, also in Inglewood, wiped away tears with toilet paper as she struggled to explain her situation.

"It's hard. It's hard," she said. "Three months ago, I was sitting in this same position. It's not fair, it's not."

James Taylor, whose son, Darien, 12, attended the Progressive Education Entrepreneurial Charter School in Inglewood, said: "They told us at the last minute. What are we going to do? It's October, and now we've got to find a new school."

This is the second time this has happened to Taylor, who transferred his son from the Village.

He said does not want to enroll Darien in a regular public school because he believes they are overcrowded and dangerous.

In August, the California Charter Academy, which was not affiliated with Young's group, became the largest operator to dissolve because of fiscal turmoil, pressure from new state laws and an investigation by the state Department of Education. The group ran nearly 60 charter campuses, including the Village.

Such situations are becoming a challenge for parents who are increasingly selecting charter campuses as an alternative to public schools. Some education leaders say the recent school closures are a sign of the instability of the movement.

The Los Angeles County Board of Education revoked the Progressive Education Entrepreneurial Charter Schools' charter during Tuesday's meeting mainly because the year-old school grew unexpectedly, said Rick de la Torre, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

"The school must close as of today," he said. "It was too many students, too fast."

Last year, the sixth- through 10th-grade school enrolled nearly 100 students at its South Los Angeles campus. This year, it expanded to more than 400 students, opening the Inglewood site.

Under state rules, public campuses including charters are funded based on the number of students they enrolled the previous year, said Cindy Chan, education fiscal services administrator for the California Department of Education.

Start-up charters receive extra money, she said, but the law does not allow that for existing charter schools.

"It's a cash flow issue for them," she said. "It has been a struggle, but there is nothing for us to do to give them that extra funding."

The county education board also criticized the school for other management issues, including failing to provide workers' compensation insurance last year, failing to hire a fiscal services manager and not submitting required paperwork for hiring and special education issues.

Young said that the financing issue is serious and that some charters have closed because of it. In response, her organization recently created a loan program to help growing charters. So far, 22 charter schools across the state have split $6 million to cover rapid enrollment. She said her organization is trying to press the state Legislature to change the funding rule because charters often expand faster than regular public campuses.

"In some ways, it's survival of the fittest," Young said. "It's just unfortunate that the survival of the fittest often means who is most capable of dealing with bureaucratic idiosyncrasy."

Principal Doris Sims, a former Cal State Northridge professor, opened the Progressive Education Entrepreneurial Charter Schools last year to teach business skills to mostly at-risk middle and high school students.

Word spread in the community, and parents "just started coming," Sims said. She decided to open the second site in a community center across from Inglewood High School. When the Village closed, she said, even more parents began asking if she had room for their children.

It has been a learning process, Sims said Friday, sitting at a two-legged table she used as her desk. Nobody guided her through the rules and regulations, she said, but she tried to follow them.

"How do we handle special education? How do we handle expulsions? How do we handle finances?" she said. "This is a new concept."

As she spoke, a staff member knocked on the door. Two students appeared with tears in their eyes. "What's the matter?" Sims asked.

"I don't want this school to close," said Charlecia Cox, 12, who sobbed as Sims hugged her and replied: "I know. It's going to be all right."

Her friend Tekeya Jones, 13, who had transferred from the Village, said, "Everybody is just trying to break us down. It's wrong for them to try and close our school down."

Upstairs, lessons continued. Teachers on the third floor conducted three classes in one large recreational room with spotted brown carpet and folding chairs. Muhammad talked to some ninth- and 10th-grade students, asking how they felt about their school's being closed.

"They keep telling us to stay in school, then they kick us out," said Aaron Crymes, 15.

Her students wrote comments about the campus, which Muhammad read aloud:

"If I have to move, I guess my life will be over," one wrote.

"I learned things I never knew," wrote another.

Just months ago, Marquise Foster, 13, was worrying about finding a new school. Now, it's happening all over again. "This," he said, "was one of our last options."

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Schools Are Breaking Law on Transfers, Suit Charges

By ELISSA GOOTMAN, New York Times, 10/16/04

he New York City Department of Education has violated state law by seeking to limit the number of students allowed to transfer out of failing schools, according to a class-action lawsuit filed yesterday.

The lead plaintiff in the suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, is Jessica Lopez, who is still waiting to see if her 5-year-old twins will get to transfer out of their failing Queens elementary school.

According to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, children who attend schools that receive federal anti-poverty money and are deemed failing should be given the option to transfer elsewhere.

A similar suit challenging the city's compliance with the law was dismissed last year after a judge ruled that the plaintiffs - parents - did not have legal standing to sue. The new lawsuit takes a different tack, hinging on state education regulations that were adapted to conform with the federal law. States are charged with ensuring that their school districts comply with No Child Left Behind.

Last year, 7,000 New York City schoolchildren, in all grades, transferred out of failing schools under the federal law. This year, however, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein is limiting the number of transfers, saying he did not want to overcrowd schools that would receive the transfer students.

To limit the number of students seeking transfers this year, the Department of Education deemed high school students ineligible, saying the high school admissions process had already afforded them the element of choice that the law requires. That decision has been heavily criticized by some parents and public officials.

The suit filed yesterday identifies as members of the class only those children - fewer than 5,000, city education officials said yesterday - who have applied for transfers. But Charlie King, a lawyer in the case, said the class would be expanded to include all of the more than 300,000 children who attend schools labeled failing. Mr. King said he believed parents were discouraged from seeking transfers, partly because they were being offered so late. A month into the school year, the transfers have yet to be granted.

Chancellor Klein said he believed the suit had no merit and observed that Mr. King's earlier suit had been dismissed. He also said that no transfer requests had been rejected this year. Officials have said they hope not to reject any of this year's transfer requests, a hope based on the assumption that two-thirds of those who asked to transfer will decide to stay put.

"There's no purpose whatsoever to take a high-performing school and make it overcrowded, dysfunctional and unsafe," Mr. Klein said. "We're in compliance with No Child Left Behind. We're doing it sensibly, intelligently and doing what's right for our kids."

Ms. Lopez is among the parents who are awaiting word on whether their transfer requests will be accepted. She said she was dismayed that her sons, Christopher and Dylon Parisi, had done little more than play and write their names at Public School 225 in Rockaway Park, saying, "In kindergarten, you're supposed to learn a little bit more than that."

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State public schools need $1.15 billion more, study says

Funding would help reach government goals 

By CLAUDETTE RILEY, Tennessean Staff Writer, 10/18/04

Tennessee public schools need $1.15 billion in new state and local funding to adequately meet the needs of students, according to a study released yesterday.

The report, which was paid for by a coalition of education advocacy groups statewide, shows that financial support for public education falls short of what's needed for schools to put the staffing, training, small class sizes and programs in place to help kids achieve at higher levels and make the yearly progress required to meet state and federal benchmarks.

''For students across the state to be successful, their schools must have access to more resources,'' said Jesse Register, chairman of the Coalition for Tennessee's Future. The group paid $145,000 for the six-month evaluation by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates Inc., a Colorado-based consulting firm that specializes in state education systems and school finance.

The study calls for Tennessee's 136 school systems to boost the minimum amount of funding they earmark to educate each child. During the 2002-03 school year, the state spent an average of $6,648 per student — the specific amount varies by district — compared to the national average of $8,383.

Coalition members said they hope the report provides a springboard for a discussion of funding needs in schools and how they can be met as Gov. Phil Bredesen and lawmakers hammer out a state budget — including the state contribution to public schools — during the next legislative session.

In particular, they hope schools receive enough funding to help low-income and new immigrant students, as well as those with special education needs.

''We hope they use it as a guide,'' said Register, director of Hamilton County schools. ''We know it can't be done overnight. It's not a one-year process.''

In fact, the audit specifically focused on adequate funding necessary to meet students' academic needs in kindergarten through grade 12. It didn't study the cost of providing preschool, busing, food service or school building construction.

Currently, state and local dollars make up about 90% of school funding statewide with the federal government picking up the balance. The state's funding formula, which is called the Basic Education Program, was created in 1992 to make sure every school district has enough money to provide a basic education for students.

The formula was created with the goal of equalizing funding between large, wealthy systems and smaller, rural ones.

Members of the coalition — a group of 16 associations that represent the state's nearly 1 million students, their parents, educators and school boards — support that balance.

However, the purpose of the group is to push for sufficient resources in public schools.

''We prefer to have an adequacy approach and not just an equity,'' said Kip Reel, executive director of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents.

''The approach is success in schools.''

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Reading, Writing and Corporate Sponsorships

By BILL PENNINGTON, New York Times, 10/18/04

ROOKLAWN, N.J. - For 75 years, children in tiny blue-collar Brooklawn have attended the Alice Costello Elementary School, a simple brick building so central to the town that the morning bell can beseech a majority of students to begin their walk in from surrounding neighborhoods. If the scene is something out of the 1950's, then the seven-foot illuminated sign affixed to the outside of the school gymnasium is a clarion call to modern times.

It reads "ShopRite of Brooklawn Center," and it is a $100,000 advertisement. Three years ago, mimicking professional and collegiate sports teams that routinely sell naming rights to stadiums and arenas, the Alice Costello School became what is widely considered the nation's first elementary, middle or high school to sell naming rights for its gym to a corporate sponsor. Similar deals, worth millions of dollars, are being made around the country with companies as large as Nike and as small as a tire shop. Everything from gyms to ticket stubs seems to have a price.

"It's the wave of the future," Bruce Darrow, president of the Brooklawn school board, said. "I'm looking into selling advertising on the children's basketball uniforms."

Brooklawn, which is just south of Camden, has a price list and is waiting for more buyers: $5,000 to sponsor the jump circle at the center of the gym floor; $2,500 for advertising near the baseline; $500 for a banner on the wall.

"Twenty-five years from now, when this is widespread and accepted, people will say it all started here," Dr. John Kellmayer, the school district superintendent, said. "I'm fine with that. I wish we had started earlier and done more of it."

Brooklawn, with a population of about 2,000, appears to be slightly ahead of the curve and may have let ShopRite, which will pay for the $100,000 sign over 20 years, off lightly.

In the last two years, high schools in three Texas towns, Forney, Tyler and Midland, have each sold the naming rights to their football stadiums for more than a million dollars. The sponsors were a bank, a health care provider and a communications company. In Miramar, Fla., a donation of $500,000 will soon yield the Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union Stadium at Everglades High School. A pledge of $100,000 ensured that crowds headed for games at Vernon Hills High outside Chicago will be watching them at Rust-Oleum Field.

The spread of commercial interests in high school athletics is not limited to naming rights. Advertising is appearing increasingly on tickets to high school sports events, scoreboards, billboards in end zones, gym walls, locker rooms and the buses carrying teams to games. All three senior high schools in Plano, Tex., have corporate sponsors for each of their home games, along the lines of college football's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. In this case, it is officially the Golden Chick Plano East vs. Garland game, with the local Golden Chick restaurant receiving promotional opportunities throughout the game.

"Corporate involvement at the high school level is about to explode nationwide," said Judith Thomas, the marketing director for the National Federation of State High School Associations. "It's an unlimited, untapped market and it is in places companies often can't easily reach. But on any given Friday night, in all those middle-American flyover states, sitting in high school football stadiums are millions of people."

School districts are simply following the lead of the rapid escalation of commercialism at major college and professional arenas and stadiums. More than $4 billion is currently being invested in naming rights alone at the college and pro level, according to the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

"Companies desperately want to get into high schools, because they know they are getting a captive audience with disposable income that is about to make decisions of lifelong preference, like Coke versus Pepsi," said David Carter of the Sports Marketing Group, a California company. "So the commercialism is coming to a school near you: the high school cheerleaders will be brought to you by Gatorade, and the football team will be presented by Outback."

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At issue in the election: National testing law scores attention

By PHILIP WALZER, The Virginian-Pilot, 10/20/04

President Bush counts the No Child Left Behind law among his domestic triumphs, rolling together excellence, equality and accountability. “Kids were being shuffled through the school ,” he said at last week’s debate. “ We’ve stopped that practice now by measuring early. And when we find a problem, we spend extra money to correct it.”

Sen. John F. Kerry counts it as another unfulfilled promise from Bush, short nearly $28 billion. “He’ll tell you he’s raised the money, and he has,” Kerry shot back. “But he didn’t put in what he promised, and that makes a difference in the lives of our children.”

 No Child Left Behind has emerged as the major education issue in local and national races – with funding the key point of contention. The law, magnifying the federal role in public schools, mandates annual testing in grades three to eight .

Schools that don’t show “adequate yearly progress” using any one of nearly three dozen measures could be forced to provide tutoring to children or allow them to transfer to other schools.

The presidential split on No Child Left Behind has filtered down to local congressional races, with even sharper distinctions. All three Republican House candidates – U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Thelma Drake and Winsome E. Sears – firmly support No Child Left Behind.

“While it is easy and convenient for critics to argue that we should only pass perfect bills,” Forbes wrote in response to a question from The Virginian-Pilot, “our goal must be to continue moving education forward. NCLB moves us forward.”

Like Kerry, Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, who is running against Sears, thinks the education law needs a little tinkering and a lot more money. But the other two Democrats – David Ashe, who is running against Drake, and Jonathan R. Menefee, who is challenging Forbes – think the law should be repealed.

Ashe said in an interview last week: “I think it was just improper for such a large mandate to be dumped on the states. From a philosophical standpoint, I think there are many areas in our life where the federal government does not belong, and I think education is one of them.”

Menefee wrote in his response: “The law is predicated on unrealistic test standards that pit student against teacher, teacher against administrator and administrator against parent.”

The differences on No Child Left Behind, though, may matter little on Nov. 2.

“Frankly, I don’t see this as one of the key issues in the campaign,” said Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. “Primarily, the voters are concerned about the war in Iraq and the economy. Other issues are just being crowded out.”

A recent education-related survey revealed other factors that diminish the importance of the issue as a vote-getter: Sixty-eight percent of the respondents to the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll said they knew “little or nothing” about No Child Left Behind. And when asked which candidate would be best for public schools, 41 percent said Bush, and 41 percent said Kerry.

Good intentions

The No Child Left Behind law was passed in 2001 with overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats. Among the members of Congress who voted “yea” were Kerry, Scott and Forbes .

The law was intended to build on state testing systems, such as Virginia’s Standards of Learning. The federal results, though, can clash with state rankings.

For instance, a school can meet Virginia’s full accreditation standards but might fail to make “adequate yearly progress” by NCLB’s benchmarks if, for example, not enough low-income students passed SOL tests – or even if not enough students took the tests.

The issue dominating the national debate, though, is money. Federal education spending is about $27 billion less than the amount “authorized” in the law. What that means is under dispute.

The so-called authorization levels are targets that often aren’t met in federal laws. C. Todd Jones, the associate deputy secretary for budget in the U.S. Department of Education, called them “statutory caps on the amount of money that can be spent on programs. There simply was no promise connected to that.”

But “the Democrats said that their understanding was the president was committing himself to the full amount of those targets,” said Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy, a nonprofit Washington group. “Nobody can convincingly prove their case one way or the other.”

As Republicans point out, education funding has risen significantly under Bush, even if it didn’t hit the original targets. The total amount for elementary and secondary schools expanded more than 40 percent, from $24.4 billion to $35.2 billion , according to Jones’ data. Funding for the Title I program, targeting low-income students, shot up roughly 50 percent .

Critics say that’s no thanks to Bush: Congress approved increases larger than Bush had proposed.

And they say school divisions need the amount originally cited in the law to make its title a reality.

Scott figures his district, which runs from Portsmouth to Richmond, is short $20 million to $40 million from the authorized levels. Like several educators, he said the money is needed to hire more teachers to reduce class sizes so every student can be targeted.

“Notwithstanding all the administrative hassles,” Scott said, “if they would have funded it the way it had been when we passed it, I don’t think we’d have much complaints.”

Ross Wiener, the policy director for the Education Trust, a Washington group that focuses on low-income and minority students, noted that federal funding makes up less than 10 percent of a school’s budget. “So an increase in one program of 50 percent translates to a drop in the bucket in what we need to really improve struggling schools all across the country,” he said.

The federal money will come, said Drake, pointing to rising state funding accompanying the SOLs: “The dollar levels are increasing, and they will continue to increase, just as they have done in Virginia, because people do care a great deal about education.” An imperfect law?

Even active parents voiced hesitation about discussing NCLB. But Cynthia Jones, a Portsmouth parent, appreciates one of the law’s features: the transfer option.

That allows students at schools that don’t meet the federal standards to transfer to other schools designated by administrators. The option is available only in Title I schools, which have a large number of low-income students.

Jones’ son, Zachary, attended Mount Hermon Elementary, which closed in June. He was to have gone to S.H. Clarke Academy this fall. But Jones had doubts about Clarke, one of the schools eligible for transfers out. So she switched him to Churchland Academy Elementary, where she’s been satisfied.

“I think, yes, you should have the option to transfer your child if things are not going right,” Jones said. “It might not necessarily be the school. It might be your child not getting along with the principal or not getting along with the teacher.”

But Karen P. Mallard, a first-grade teacher at First Landing Elementary, saw the dangers of the transfer option earlier this year when Virginia Beach administrators patched together the budget.

To provide money for busing the transferring students, officials proposed ending Title I programs at six elementary schools.

That would have forced them to drop extended-day kindergarten programs, as well as math and reading teachers and teaching aides. “Those are desperately needed programs,” Mallard said.

That never happened: The Beach ended up with no schools eligible for transfers.

But Ashe, Drake’s Democratic opponent, pointed to a $1.5 million budget choice driven by NCLB that went through in Virginia Beach: the hiring of roughly 50 elementary school data analysts who sort through test scores. “I would have liked to have hired more teachers,” he said.

Sears, though, said the law’s demand to break down test scores for low-income, minority and disabled children is crucial.

For schools to earn full accreditation, Virginia generally requires that at least 70 percent of children pass SOL tests. But the NCLB also requires progress among every subgroup of children.

“Where the SOLs tell us whether a school in general is passing, the NCLB gets down to the nitty-gritty,” said Sears, the Republican challenger to Scott. “NCLB gets to the issue of: What about each child? Are they really learning?”

At a larger level looms the question: Is NCLB really working? Kerry said the U.S. high school graduation rate – about two-thirds – is still too low. Bush said the law is narrowing test-score gaps between whites and minorities.

A report last week from the Education Trust found that several states, including Virginia, had narrowed the “achievement gap” since 2000. But Wiener, the policy director, said: “I think it is pretty clear that if we want to come close to meeting our goals for our nation, we are going to have to see accelerated progress in many states.”

Bush has proposed extending the testing requirement to high schools and increasing funding, though not to the $27 billion level.

Kerry said he’d cover the entire gap.

In the debates and recent speeches, Kerry has focused solely on the funding question. But in a magazine interview last month, Kerry said he’d also champion changes in the law’s “adequate yearly progress” requirements and its demands that more teachers get specialized training in the subjects they’re teaching.

“We’re going to empower teachers to teach, and not have to teach to the test,” Kerry said in NEA Today, a publication of the National Education Association, which endorsed him. No matter who wins, NCLB will probably get overhauled, said Suffolk’s school superintendent, Milton R. Liverman.

“I think only one candidate will admit the need to modify NCLB prior to the election,” Liverman wrote in an e-mail, “but that it will become an issue for all Washington legislators after the election.”

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Steve Martin, ABC enroll teens for 'Scholar’

Hollywood Reporter, October 18, 2004 

LOS ANGELES, California -- Steve Martin is teaming with ABC to give bright, ambitious high school students a chance for a free education at a top university of their choice.

Tentatively titled "The Scholar," the series will take place on the campus of a major university. Fifteen qualified high school seniors who might not otherwise have an opportunity to pursue a college education will compete against each other in such challenges as academics, leadership, school spirit and community service.

"Every student in this country should be entitled to a college education," Martin and production partner Joan Stein said in a statement. "With this show, we intend to empower both students and parents with the knowledge that a higher education is realistic and attainable for everyone."

Martin and Stein will serve as executive producers, along with Jon Murray (MTV's "The Real World")", and Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner ("That '70s Show").

The search for high school students to participate in "The Scholar" is under way. Production is slated to begin this year for a premiere next year.

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Kerry Competes to Claim Issue of Reform

Democrat Criticizes Bush Policy for Its Implementation but Not the Law Itself

By Michael Dobbs, Washington Post Staff Writer, 10/20/04

As John F. Kerry barnstorms around the country, the Democratic presidential candidate rarely misses an opportunity to lambaste Republican education policies, trying to reclaim an issue that proved a vote-winner for George W. Bush in 2000.

Kerry has promised to pour an additional $200 billion into education over the next decade, to be financed by rolling back tax cuts for wealthy Americans. In the past, he has also accused the Bush administration of turning U.S. schools into "testing factories" through a "one-size-fits-all" approach that elevates test scores above real achievement.

But what may be most significant about Kerry's education proposals, many experts say, is what they have left unsaid. For all his criticism of Bush's record on education, Kerry has not called for major changes to the administration's controversial No Child Left Behind initiative.

Billed by its supporters as the most broad educational reform in more than a generation, No Child Left Behind relies on a battery of incentives and punitive measures aimed at schools to make every student in the country "proficient" in math and science by 2014. In last week's debate, Bush pointed to the law as one of his major domestic policy achievements.

Whether No Child Left Behind is achieving its goal of raising academic standards, particularly among poor minority students, has been hotly debated. Many teachers and state legislators have criticized the law as a meddlesome intrusion by the federal government in an area that has largely been left to local communities.

But rather than attack the philosophy behind No Child Left Behind, Kerry has focused his criticism on the way the law is being implemented. He has accused Bush of failing to "fully fund" the law and promised bonuses of at least $5,000 for teachers who work in the neediest schools.

"On the fundamental issues of education reform, there is more consensus between the candidates than differences," said Ross Wiener, policy director for the Education Trust, a Washington-based lobbying group that supports No Child Left Behind. "They both favor a robust federal role in setting public policy in education."

Some commentators say it is politically difficult for Kerry to attack No Child Left Behind because he voted for it in 2001, along with many other Democrats.

"No Child Left Behind is a very awkward issue for Kerry," said Chester Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a conservative education think tank based in Washington. "He doesn't want education to become another flip-flop issue for him. It's much safer politically for him to talk about funding levels than to repudiate or profoundly criticize No Child Left Behind."

Over the past few months, the Bush administration has defused a grass-roots rebellion against No Child Left Behind by allowing states greater flexibility in meeting requirements for yearly progress. As a result, fewer schools are being labeled as "failing." But the new policy has also made it very difficult to compare results from year to year, undermining the law's accountability goals.

Little evidence supports the White House contention that No Child Left Behind has significantly narrowed the achievement gap between whites and minority students, said Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He cites recent test results that show a leveling out or decline in fourth-grade reading scores in 11 of the nation's 15 most populous states.

An analysis by the Education Trust, meanwhile, reported a narrowing of the achievement gap in 16 states in reading since 2002, and a widening in three. At the same time, the group reported the pace of progress was generally insufficient to reach the goal of full proficiency by 2014.

Kerry's assertion that the No Child Left Behind law is not being "fully funded" rests on the difference between the amount of money Congress authorized and the amount the administration allocated as federal subsidies to high-risk schools. This year, the shortfall was about $7 billion.

The White House says federal spending on education has risen by more than 40 percent over the past four years, with much of the extra funds being spent on the most deprived schools. A Bush education adviser, Sandy Kress, said it was "doubtful" that Congress would agree to a Kerry request for still more funding, given existing budget constraints.

In addition to extra funding for No Child Left Behind, Kerry has proposed measures to improve teaching in poor schools by paying teachers more in return for holding them more accountable. As a senator, he opposed the Republican-backed plan to establish a private-school voucher program in the District of Columbia, on the grounds that it would drain money from public schools.

Some analysts believe that the No Child Left Behind law is likely to be overhauled no matter who wins the election, because the target of 100 percent proficiency in math and science by 2014 is impossible to meet. If the law is not amended, thousands of schools across the country could eventually be closed down or reorganized.

"The leadership of both parties in Congress have put a lid on substantive changes in the law prior to the election," said David Shreve, education lobbyist for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "After the election, it's going to be difficult to keep the lid on."

Education Proposals

Here are the main provisions of the candidates' education plans:

Bush

• To give states more control over Head Start funds.

• To establish a $500 million Teacher Incentive Fund to reward "effective" teachers and expand standardized testing for students between grades 9 and 11.

• To increase the Pell Grant program for low-income students by 7 percent; to provide $375 million to strengthen the role of community colleges.

Kerry

• To make preschool universal and expand such programs as Head Start; to increase the child-care tax credit from $3,000 to $5,000.

• To establish a $200 billion, 10-year National Education Trust Fund to "fully fund" the No Child Left Behind Act.

• To increase the maximum level of college tuition tax credits from $1,500 to $2,500 over a four-year period, and to establish a $100 million fund to reward colleges for recruiting low-income students.

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Charters score below public schools

Exclusive: At 235 Texas campuses, passing rate was 42 percent

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News, 10/20/04

AUSTIN – More than eight years after they were launched as a bold experiment in education, Texas' charter schools as a whole are performing well below other public schools on state tests, according to a Dallas Morning News review of data.

At the state's 235 independent charter campuses that administer the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, 42 percent of the students passed, according to figures compiled for The News by the Texas Education Agency.

Statewide, the overall passing rate for all public school students was nearly 67 percent. The state passing rate for students classified as low-income was 56 percent; charter school proponents often point out that charter students are more likely to come from poor families.

"It's pretty clear the overall record of charter schools is not as good as regular public schools with comparable student populations," said Ted Melina Raab of the Texas Federation of Teachers.

Mr. Raab's group supported charter schools when they were approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. George W. Bush in 1995.

"A few have done well, but many more have done poorly," he said, referring to TAKS results showing at least three out of four pupils failed at nearly 30 percent of the charter schools in Texas earlier this year.

But supporters of the concept, while acknowledging that some charter schools have not been effective, argue there are enough success stories to justify the program. They add that charters need more time to show they can serve students – many of whom failed in regular public schools.

"Our high-performing charter schools continue to have outstanding student performance, and they are replicating their programs across the state, which is a very healthy sign for the Texas charter school movement," said Patsy O'Neill, executive director of the San Antonio-Charter School Resource Center of Texas.

"We are not there yet, but we are headed in the right direction," she said.

5 schools shut

A spokeswoman for the TEA, which regulates charter schools, said many of the schools serve at-risk children who often come to them with skills that are well below their grade level.

"We try to look at each charter school individually, but there comes a time when those schools should show results – and when they don't, that could be evidence of deep problems," said Debbie Ratcliffe of the education agency. "We've already shut down five schools for poor performance, and it could happen again."

Seven charter schools were notified last week by the TEA that their performance was low enough to warrant the appointment of special campus intervention teams to recommend steps for improving student achievement. Those teams will evaluate the schools and suggest sanctions that range up to staff replacements or eventual closure.

There are bright spots at 32 charter schools – about 14 percent of the total – where at least 70 percent passed the TAKS. That passing rate is one of the main criteria for a campus to be graded "recognized" under the state rating system.

One of those campuses was North Hills School in Irving, where 87 percent of the 711 students tested got a passing score.

Rosemary Perlmeter, executive director of the nonprofit trust that operates the school, attributed its success to careful planning, hiring of teachers and curriculum development.

The school, which offers all grade levels from elementary through high school, typically has a long waiting list of students seeking admission each year. One reason is it is the only charter school offering studies through the International Baccalaureate Organization.

Hoping to use their blueprint for success in a different setting, North Hills officials opened Peak Academy in East Dallas this year to offer an alternative education for students in urban neighborhoods.

For the most part, charter schools struggled with the TAKS, which replaced an easier statewide exam two years ago. At four schools, the passing rate was under 10 percent; the passing rate exceeded 50 percent on less than a third of campuses.

Honors Academy of Dallas was one of the seven charter schools that received warning letters from the TEA last week. TEA action came after the schools had low performance ratings for three years in a row – including this year's rating that was based on poor TAKS scores. The state summary of 2004 TAKS results showed that only 25 percent of Honors Academy students passed.

Jimmye Lou Cockrell, superintendent of Honors Academy, pointed out that many of the academy's 575 students are "extremely high risk" and could not succeed in regular schools. Still, she welcomed the TEA intervention and said it will supplement several improvements that already have been made this year.

"We have really upgraded our campuses this year," she said. "We've hired more highly qualified teachers and have reduced our class sizes. We've also hired our own outside consultants. Our goal is to improve test scores next year."

Criticism from teachers

Teacher groups, who have been critical of the charter movement, say the overall poor results on tests provide proof that such things as class-size limits and teacher certification – requirements from which charters are exempted – are critical for student achievement, especially among disadvantaged children.

"Charter schools already have proven some things, but many of the folks who promoted them don't want to talk about the lessons that have been learned," said Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association.

Texas has one of the largest charter school programs in the country with nearly 275 "open enrollment" campuses across the state that educate more than 70,000 children. (Some of the schools have only children in grades that are not subject to state testing.) The state spent nearly $340 million on charter schools last year.

As governor, Mr. Bush predicted that charter schools would "change the face of American education" if properly done.

Charter schools are publicly funded, but operate independently of regular school districts and are exempt from many state rules. State funding for operating expenses is the same for charter schools as for regular public schools, totaling just over $6,300 per pupil on average last year. However, unlike other schools, charters receive no public money for facilities and can't levy taxes like other school districts.

Currently, there is a state limit of 215 on the number of charters (some charters have multiple campuses) that can be issued in Texas. But charter school proponents are expected to push for lifting the cap during the 2005 legislative session. They also will be seeking facilities aid from the state for the first time.

When the TEA released annual school performance ratings last month, more than half the charter school campuses in the state were not graded because they've been allowed to shift to an alternative education rating system still being developed.

When their next ratings come out in the summer of 2005, it will have been three years since they were last evaluated by the state. That is way too long, according to Mr. Kouri and others who contend that charter schools should be scrutinized the same as other public schools.

Of the 129 schools that were rated last time, 22 percent were deemed "unacceptable" and more than half received an "acceptable" rating, equivalent to a grade of "C." The other 29 were rated either "exemplary" or "recognized" – the top two marks that schools can receive.

Financial problems have doomed some charter schools as 26 of the original charters issued by the state have either been canceled or returned. Five other charters have been revoked by the state for financial or administrative improprieties.

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Schools urge good hygiene to control flu

By Ben Feller, AP Education Writer, October 21, 2004

WASHINGTON -- For millions of students and school workers who will miss flu shots this year, the advice is elementary: Wash your hands and stay home if you are sick.

Only children with chronic medical problems or who take aspirin daily for health reasons should get a flu shot during the current shortage, federal officials say.

Healthy adults are encouraged to skip the shots to extend the U.S. vaccine, which has been almost cut in half because of contamination at the British plant where it was made.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reminding schools that good hygiene can help keep them from turning into germ factories.

At Luther Jones Elementary in Corpus Christi, Texas, a school annually hit hard by the flu, the 650 students have been told to wash their hands with soap for 10 seconds -- about the time it takes them to sing "Happy Birthday," they were told.

"You can watch some of them timing themselves while standing in the bathroom, singing 'Happy Birthday to me,'" said principal Galen Hoffstadt. "It's working."

In Philadelphia, the district is working with city and state health officials to present a calm, focused message to parents about preventing the flu, said Nancy Erskine, who oversees the school system's 300 nurses. Part of that message, she said, is encouraging parents not to send ill children to school, a point endorsed by federal health officials.

Schools have ways to help students catch up on missed work, from homework hot lines to e-mail from teachers, said Llelwyn Grant, a CDC spokesman and father of two children.

"There are parents who are concerned about their kids staying on course," he said. "But I would not allow those concerns to put your child at risk or others at risk" for the flu.

Yet staying home is not always easy to manage.

Parents missed almost one day of work for every three days of school missed by a child with the flu, according to a 2002 study published by the American Medical Association.

An estimated 48 million children are attending public schools this year, and they often are in settings that make them vulnerable to infection, said Julia Graham Lear, director of The Center for Health and Health Care in Schools at George Washington University.

"Have you been in a school cafeteria recently?" she said. "Just imagine all those kids and all their germy little hands on the cafeteria tables. Maybe they're at a school where there are three sittings of lunch, and you know the school staff may not have time to disinfect the tables in between. That's what makes the school setting unusual."

Depending on the severity of the season, the public health system may have to mobilize school workers as "a front-line defense in reducing the spread of flu," she said.

About 20 percent of the U.S. population attends or works in schools, according to the CDC, citing Education Department figures. The CDC also says research shows students miss fewer days of school when they practice good hygiene.

The CDC had no estimate of the school-age children who typically receive flu shots. Typically, it is a family's doctor, not the school, providing the flu vaccine to children. But school nurses are increasingly relied upon to keep kids healthy and in class.

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Kentucky teachers reconsider planned strike

AP, 10/20/04  

FRANKFORT, Kentucky -- The state teachers union was to reconsider a threatened strike after the Kentucky General Assembly met its insurance demands Tuesday.

Both chambers signed off on changes to the 2005 state plan, capping more than two weeks of a special session Gov. Ernie Fletcher called to deal with the matter. Fletcher planned to sign the proposal, which covers about 229,000 retired and active public school employees and state workers.

Kentucky Education Association officials summoned board members to Frankfort for a Tuesday evening meeting. KEA president Frances Steenbergen said she would tell the board that the legislature's plan "does the things that the board wanted" and was sufficient to call off the strike.

Fletcher proposed cuts in health benefits earlier this month, saying the state does not have the money for its current plan. But he also promised to work with lawmakers to consider alternatives.

Teachers threatened to strike on October 27 if their current benefits were not restored.

Among other things, the new proposal lowers premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. Employee premiums would be standardized across the state and would not be based on salary. Rates are higher for smokers.

The plan also includes raises for teachers, state employees, retirees and judges.

The plan -- estimated to cost the state about $172 million -- also approved a change that would lock in $2.4 billion in basic school funding.

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H.S. Sports Threaten to Undermine Focus on Academics, Report Says

By John Gehring, Education Week, 10/21/04

The Valdosta High School football team plays in a 10,000-seat stadium, raised close to $500,000 in revenue last year, and provides its coach with a free Dodge truck to drive around the Georgia town. Local residents can watch a cable TV show devoted to the Wildcats’ exploits and join the Touchdown Club to get first crack at coveted playoff tickets.

“We’re one of the biggest businesses in Valdosta,” said Kevin Weldon, the media director for the Touchdown Club. “You have a lot of visitors who stop off the interstate to make sure they see a game. All these people aren’t coming for academics or SAT scores.”

As in Valdosta, a growing number of high school athletic programs have taken on the trappings of university-level sports. But a report released today by the National Association of State Boards of Education warns that the trend threatens to undermine high schools’ academic missions.

The problems that have plagued college athletics are now becoming more frequent at the high school and even the middle school level, the report says, citing “unscrupulous agents, mercenary coaches, questionable recruiting practices, and extravagant benefits bestowed upon players.”

“These practices compromise the school’s educational mission and undermine the public’s confidence in the education system,’’ it says. “While colleges have taken steps to address these issues over the past two decades, there has been little discussion or even acknowledgment among state education policymakers of the increasingly troubling situation.”

The report, “Athletics and Achievement: The Report of the NASBE Commission on High School Athletics in An Era of Reform,” is the product of a yearlong study group that broadly examined the state of high school athletics. Commission members included state education leaders who gathered information from national sports experts, ethicists, high school athletic directors, and others who explored topics from inequities in athletic funding to the role coaches play in students’ lives.

As corporate sponsorship of high school teams increases, nationally televised high school games become more common, and students often specialize in one sport year-round, the 44-page report warns of a culture where academic priorities can easily slip through the cracks.

State board members and other education leaders are failing “to guarantee that interscholastic athletics do not take precedence over student academic performance,” the report concludes.

“We decided we couldn’t look at high school reform without looking at the total high school experience, which includes athletics, particularly in smaller communities and other places where the football or basketball team are an integral part of the community,” said Brenda Lilienthal Welburn, the executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based NASBE.

“We’re not anti-athletics,” Ms. Welborn said. “It’s an integral part of a lot of kids’ high school experience, but clearly if we don’t look at all aspects of a student’s life, we will fall short of reaching our goals.”

Information Lacking

In many cases, education leaders lack even the most basic information on athletics and student achievement, the report says. Also lacking are data on schools’ expenditures for athletic programs. State board members should take a more active role in working with the state athletic associations that govern high school sports to set high standards for athletic eligibility, it recommends, and to conduct more research on the impact of athletic participation on academics.

Robert Gardner, the chief operating officer of the Indianapolis-based National Federation of State High School Associations, said he hoped the report would spark more discussion about the proper relationship between athletics and academics.

“The academic mission should come first,” he said. “We need to pay attention to what is going on and bring some balance to our programs.”

The NASBE report comes as the movie “Friday Night Lights” is showing in theaters. The film, based on a widely discussed 1990 book by H.G. Bissinger, a reporter who chronicled a West Texas high school team’s pursuit of a state championship, highlights the obsession in Odessa for the Permian High School Panthers.

Raymond Perryman, an economist who has studied the financial impact of high school football in Texas, found in a study last month for The Dallas Morning News that interscholastic football in the state is a $900 million-a-year business. In most cases, he said, money generated by the football team helps pay for other athletic programs, such as soccer, tennis, and golf.

“Football is a significant piece of the economy, and a significant part of the culture,” Mr. Perryman, who lives three blocks from the 19,300-seat stadium where Permian High plays its home games, said in a recent interview. “Communities gather around the teams.”

Mr. Perryman’s analysis found that Texas high school football fans spend at least $275 million a season on tickets, concessions, travel, and lodging. Advertising revenues from game-day programs alone, he found, can top $50,000 a year at large high schools.

Vernon Reeves, the principal of the 2,300-student Denton Ryan High School north of Dallas, said his school enjoys the national exposure the football team brings. The team plays in a $20 million football complex it shares with another high school. Earlier this month, Denton played the nation’s No. 1 ranked Southlake Carroll (Texas) High School in a nationally televised game on ESPN.

Mr. Reeves doesn’t worry that the high profile could send the wrong message to youth athletes and other students about the respect given to football compared to algebra class or the debate team.

“Sports a lot of the time get the spotlight,” Mr. Reeves acknowledged. “But in everything we do, we make a commitment to excellence.”

For Brett Stanton, the principal of Valdosta High in southern Georgia, where football players take the field on Friday nights in a newly renovated, $7.5 million stadium, it’s all about maintaining perspective.

While football is “the big dog as far as generating revenue,” he said, he insisted it doesn’t skew scholastic priorities. The school recently opened a $5 million fine arts center, and this fall began implementing the High Schools That Work reform model developed by the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta.

“We make a very conscious effort to make sure there is a strong balance between academics and athletics,” Mr. Stanton said, “especially in this day of accountability.”

But Kevin McDowell, the general counsel for the Indiana Department of Education and a member of the NASBE commission, laments how hard that message is to convey to some student athletes in his state. The athletic-footwear maker Reebok and other companies are sponsoring teams, some Indiana high school basketball games will be televised nationally, and summer league camps have become breeding grounds for agents and recruiters.

“People are filling kids’ heads with all kinds of stuff,” Mr. McDowell said. “You want kids to maintain their amateur status, and you don’t want kids thinking sports is their job. It’s not. Their job is to get their butts in school, and it’s hard to teach kids important life lessons when people are talking about shoe endorsements and going to the [National Basketball Association].”

That’s overheated talk, according to John Johnson, the communications director for the Michigan High School Athletic Association, who says most high school athletes’ experience is not so exalted.

“For your typical high school, the high school stadium with 20,000 seats and video boards are a pipe dream,” he said. “So much, the media wants to make high school sports what it’s not. A few years ago it was the LeBron James phenomenon. That’s not the rank and file, and it never will be.”

LeBron James, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a sophomore at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, bypassed college and was the first pick in the 2003 NBA draft.

But a vigilant mind-set is needed, Mr. Johnson said: “We have to be on guard because there will always be a trickle-down effect with high schools, whether it’s the plays you call, how you paint the end zone, or how you build facilities. We have to remember we are not football factories. We’re here to educate kids.”

Duke Albanese, a former Maine commissioner of education, is trying to reinforce that message as the director of the Coaching and Sports Education Initiative at the University of Maine. Started with a $397,000 grant from Congress, the project will devise a national model for sports programs that complement state academic standards.

“State boards of education need to think anew about athletics,” Mr. Albanese said. “Is there someone taking the time to describe what it means to do sports the right way? Is there a common vision about what sports need to look like? That’s what standards are.”

The Maine initiative has convened a panel of state leaders to begin shaping core principles that can guide interscholastic sports. Last March, 300 student athletes from 87 high schools and 24 middle schools from around the state met to explore students’ ideas about what positive athletic experiences look like.

“Our schools are hungry for this,” Mr. Albanese said. “Our school boards and superintendents have said this is exactly what we need. Everybody is looking to do this right.”

------------

Here is the list of recommendations for state boards of education from the National Commission on High School Athletics in an Era of Reform:

1. State boards should obtain more data and information than is currently available on athletics and student achievement.

2. Athletic programs need to support and monitor academic progress throughout a student’s high school career.

3. Athletic eligibility should be dependent on a student’s progress toward the successful completion of high school as defined by the state.

4. Communities need to examine the relationship between secondary athletic programs and commu-nity athletic programs beyond the halls of high school.

5. State boards need to carefully consider policies that allow all students, particularly those in voca-tional education, the opportunity to participate in athletics.

6. State boards need to consider programs that will encourage all students to engage in daily physical activity.

7. State boards need to consider policies that test and monitor the use of performance-enhancing drugs by high school athletes.

8. State boards need to consider policies and programs designed to educate students, particularly minority students, as to the limitations of viewing athletics as an end without equal consideration of academics.

9. State boards need to develop and encourage professional-development programs for coaches to communicate the benefits of multisports athletics and the disadvantages of sports specialization.

10. State boards should review certification and professional-development requirements for coaches and establish them if absent.

11. States should conduct extensive research to quantify the revenue and expenses attributed to high school sports, including revenue not typically revealed in individual school budgets.

12. State boards should consider the impact of fiscal inequities due to the capacity of communities to differentially support fund-raising activities.

13. States should consider the creation of after-school programs specifically targeted toward special education students.

14. State boards should review current state statutes concerning cyber- and home-schooled students to clarify access issues.

15. State boards should develop guidelines designed to assist those schools and districts that allow the involvement of cyber- and home-schooled students.

16. State boards should review existing charter school legislation for content specific to high school athletics.

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School district bans Halloween festivities

Reuters, 10/22/04

SEATTLE, Washington -- A Washington state school district has banned Halloween parties during the school day because it says children dressed up as goblins and witches take time away from learning, officials said Thursday.

"Our number one priority is protecting the instructional day," said Puyallup School District Superintendent Tony Apostle after the district canceled observance of the October 31 celebration.

Apostle said the 20,000-student district, located about 30 miles south of Seattle, doesn't have enough time in the day as it is to teach students everything they need to know.

District spokeswoman Karen Hansen said most Puyallup schools haven't had Halloween celebrations or observations for years.

Schools that want to have Halloween parties are welcome to have them, she said, but only after the school day ends.

Other U.S. schools have banned Halloween festivities because some families don't celebrate it for religious reasons and other cannot afford costumes.

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Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777