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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – November 5 - 12, 2004


Interim state school chief: Reworked board focused on goals / State Journal-Register
Bill would change school funding by raising income tax / Peoria Journal Star
Going, going, gone: Public schools find auctions raise cash / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Taxpayers aren't gift horses; stop looking in their wallets / Rockford Register Star
Charter high school opens its doors today in Venice / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
School board prioritizes student safety / Northern Star (NIU)
Dist. 204 will oppose state education funding bill / Daily Herald
Gang fears spur white T-shirt ban / Chicago Tribune
House bill would change school funding / Beacon News
Schools pass, but law fails districts / Chicago Tribune
Many Illinois schools remain open on Veterans Day / WLS-TV, Chicago
Year-round school study / News Sun
300 school jobs to be filled in '05 / Rockford Register Star

Former Austin High bookkeeper charged with stealing school funds / Austin American-Statesman
Official objects to 'asexual stealth phrases' /
Wisconsin district to teach more than evolution /
Reading, Writing and Disinfectant Are School Staples in Flu Season /
Washington Post
School district to pay $140,000 to boy who was teased by other kids / Minneapolis Star Tribune
State education officials develop common curriculum / Boston Globe
Candy creates confusion in Arkansas schools /
Few parents switch under NCLB / Los Angeles Times
Evolution disclaimers in science books challenged in court / Chicago Tribune
School bus drivers protest GPS plan / Boston Globe
Philadelphia Shows Progress in Schools Run by Companies /
Washington Post
Boston kindergartners to receive report cards / Boston Globe
Bush’s School Agenda Will Get a 2nd Term / Education Week
Voters Largely Reject Funding, Policy Shifts / Education Week
School unit mandates 'intelligent design' / Boston Globe
High school political debate leads to assault /
Montana High Court Strikes Down State's School Funding System / Education Week




Interim state school chief: Reworked board focused on goals

By ADRIANA COLINDRES, State Capitol Bureau, 11/8/05 (also appeared in Peoria Journal Star)

In his first month and a half on the job, interim state school superintendent Randy Dunn has begun working with the revamped State Board of Education to achieve goals outlined by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The Democratic governor, who blasted the agency as a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" earlier this year, gained more control over the nine-member board this summer under a law that let him appoint seven new people. When Blagojevich made the appointments in September, he said he wanted the reworked board to focus on three tasks: reduce a backlog in teacher certification, reduce the number of rules and regulations for local school districts and develop one "major idea" for a policy initiative to pursue next year.

One of the new board's first moves was to hire Dunn on an interim basis for a salary of $115,000 and to get rid of the previous superintendent, Robert Schiller.

Dunn, 46, has rented a Springfield apartment, and he is on unpaid leave as chairman of the Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He has said he will not seek the superintendent's post on a permanent basis.

During an interview Thursday, Dunn discussed a number of topics, including the agency's plans and his thoughts on the state's school funding problems.

He also revealed that the agency last month canceled a controversial lobbying contract with Barbour, Griffith & Rogers Inc., a step that will result in an estimated savings of $40,000. Shortly after being sworn in as governor in 2003, Blagojevich sent a letter to then-ISBE Chairman Ronald Gidwitz, urging the board to end the contract. But that did not happen.

"Now that the ISBE is not an island unto itself and not kind of working out there on a freelance basis, but now is rather part of a unified leadership structure from the governor's office, it begs the question of whether we need to be in this business of executing independent lobby contracts as a state agency," Dunn said.

Here are other portions of the interview, conducted in Dunn's office at the Illinois State Board of Education in Springfield.

On what he'd like to say to begin the conversation:

"We're trying to make ... good effort on meeting the governor's charges that he's laid out for the agency. Along that line, we've worked very hard. Cleared out the backlog of (teacher) certification applications for Chicago and working with great dispatch to get that done for the remainder of the state.

"(We've) worked with the board to put together a process for our rules review, and that's going to be getting under way very soon. Certainly, we're working with the agency internally to look at what's hampering their work with school systems, their ability to provide good service.

"We're working on wraparound services, interagency collaboration, so for instance, with (the Illinois Department of) Public Aid ... we're trying to do something where we can use free-lunch application eligibility as a means to make sure we're also getting kids in KidCare for health care services and not having kids fall through the cracks in that regard.

"We are also trying to (get) some sort of accountability program put together. We could really look at some significant cost savings within the agency."

- On his goals for the agency:

"I think really the goals that are going to drive us are the ones that were part of the governor's charge to us. Clearly, there was a vision for what the potential of this agency could be.

"These are great, good ideas that ultimately are going to have a payoff in classrooms, and I'm in full agreement with them. I think that's kind of what creates the game plan for us, from here going forward, and certainly the board is also mindful of those same things. They're also pushing on the same things, having this notion of kind of a unified team or alignment. Everybody's kind of working toward this same goal."

- On his assessment of the State Board of Education since he began work there:

"One thing that comes to mind is that there really are just a great number of very good and competent people working for the State Board, and they have passion about what they do. I think, to some degree, the agency had been constrained by maybe not as much attentiveness to the management function that could have been. And I don't mean this as a slam to (former) Supt. (Robert) Schiller or anyone individual."

- On the question of whether the new law that allowed the agency's restructuring also threatens its independence:

"No. You really have to look at what came out of that legislation. The State Board, as an agency, still exists. My contract is with the State Board. I really ... think it is kind of the best of all worlds, from the standpoint that there now is this alignment with the rest of state government that we haven't had.

"Ultimately, education is one of the key, if not the key, function of state government around the nation. To have it be the situation that the governor is certainly being held responsible for it at the polling place, without having the ability to kind of provide leadership and direction and set an agenda is just, really, kind of difficult to fathom."

- On how the average Illinoisan should view the agency and its work, and why the average Illinoisan should care:

"In all of the things that we're doing ... while we clearly have these program areas and focuses that we're trying to address, what drives all of this is to do everything possible to allow teachers to do the best work they can in classrooms.

"I think it's also the case that we can point to the fact that what we're trying to build here is a more cost-efficient agency, one that's more responsive to the citizens of the state of Illinois."

- On the status of the yearly school report cards, which will be issued late because incorrect data is being fixed:

"The report cards are getting close. ... We are doing everything to deal with (data problems on the report cards), to prevent that from happening. We don't want to go through this again. ... Now, I'm not going to bet the farm to say there will be no glitches next year, but we'd be crazy not to try to take advantage of what we're learning here and making sure it doesn't happen again going forward."

- On House Bill 750, proposed legislation that calls for increasing income taxes to fund education:

"I'm not here to take a position at odds with the governor, and the governor's been clear that he'll veto House Bill 750. I'm certainly not at odds with that or think that's an incorrect approach to take. There are problems with that bill. I think it's the case that people understand that funding is an issue of concern in Illinois. Nobody needs to be convinced of that. The question becomes, what's the best vehicle to deal with that? At least from my perspective, I think it's probably safe to say that if this is something that's addressed, it has to be done the right way. And I am absolutely not convinced that (House Bill) 750 is the right way to do that.

"I'm not a political expert, and if the votes are there, I guess it takes place. But to think this is the salvation of funding or the answer to the problems in Illinois - I'm not convinced of that."

- On fixing the school funding problem in Illinois and whether a tax hike is needed:

"I am of the mind of the governor, that until we can show that all the costs have been wrung out of the system, that we've made the education machine as lean and efficient as possible in the state, I think it's a very difficult thing ... to go out and try to advocate for a tax increase."


Bill would change school funding by raising income tax

Lawmakers say measure likely won't be voted on

Karen McDonald, Peoria Journal Star, 11/8/04

Area school officials are keeping their fingers crossed that a bill to increase income taxes to fund education comes up for a vote in this week's veto session of the state's General Assembly.

But legislators say that's not likely.

House Bill 750 and its accompanying Senate amendments, would change the way public schools are funded by increasing income taxes from the current 3 percent to 5 percent. One percent of the increase would help fund schools and 1 percent would be used to reduce property taxes, according to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

"This bill deals with three big problems facing Illinois: the financial mess, higher and higher property taxes, and a failure to properly fund education," Metamora Superintendent Ken Maurer said. "We need a dramatic change in our taxing system and House Bill 750 and Senate amendments is the best choice being offered."

Neither of the bill's amendments, which are the meat of the bill, have been adopted. Although discussion on the bill may come up, it will not be voted on, said co-sponsor Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago.

"We have a serious, serious, problem. That's why superintendents from throughout the

state are wanting us to consider the content of House Bill 750, because everyone's hurting.

There seems to be no movement on the part of the General Assembly to consider this problem," said del Valle, who also chairs the Senate Education Committee.

Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, also reported it is "doubtful" the bill will move during the veto session.

About 80 percent of state schools are deficit spending. To make up the difference in state funding, schools are relying more upon property tax owners to foot the bill, which creates inequities in the amount spent per student in poorer districts.

"We are overly reliant on property tax in Illinois," said El Paso Superintendent Jim Miller. "We need to take a first step. Everybody's talked about it. We're tired of talking. We need to act."

Del Valle said forcing the bill isn't the answer.

"I think it is so big - it's monumental. It's tax reform. It's dealing with deficits. We can't rush something like that through in six days," del Valle said, adding he hopes it will be voted on in the spring session.

No tax increase

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said he would not increase taxes, so if the bill is going to survive an eventual veto, it would have to pass the General Assembly by a three-fifths majority. However, the bill is only required to pass each chamber merely on a majority vote to go before the governor.

"We would have to pass a veto-proof bill. This bill is the answer, but we have a governor who has said no," del Valle said.

If approved, the state would assume 51 percent of the cost of education funding (Illinois currently pays 36 percent). In the proposal, 60 percent of income earners would see no tax increase and the bottom 20 percent of income earners would see a net decrease in taxes.

Even with an income tax increase, Illinois still would remain a low-tax state, tying with Mississippi for the seventh lowest income tax rate nationally, according to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

The bill also would expand the sales tax base, but not the rate, to include personal and consumer services such as home cleaning and entertainment.

Superintendents from Pekin Grade School District 108, McLean County District 5 and Peoria District 150 all have publicly supported the bill, to name a few.

"The system is broken. The easiest thing for a politician to do is point their finger at the school district. The hardest thing is to look at the number and ways to address them. We continue to duck the issue," del Valle said.

Another public hearing on the issue likely will be scheduled in December.


Going, going, gone: Public schools find auctions raise cash

Alexa Aguilar, St. Louis Post Dispatch

The anticipation at the community center in O'Fallon, Ill., had been building all night, and parents knew the next item to be auctioned was going to be one of their most lucrative.

"Can I have $1,000?" the auctioneer yodeled.

A bidder's number went up.

"$1,050?" Another bidder joined the fray.

Back and forth, the two bidders battled until finally the bid rested at $1,800.

"Sold!" the auctioneer exclaimed.

It wasn't a week in the Caribbean or two tickets to next year's World Series. It was a chance for a child to be principal for a day at Moye Elementary School in O'Fallon, Ill., and it was the hottest item at Saturday night's auction.

"My daughter wanted it; she told me she didn't care what it cost," said winner Michelle Wallace, who earlier had purchased front-row seats to the fourth-grade musical for $600.

Those are the kind of coveted items you get at a school auction. Across the area, groups of PTO moms and dads work day and night for months to plan one-night events they hope will raise a year's worth of money for their schools.

Private schools have had auctions for years, and in most cases, have it down to a science. Some private schools in St. Louis raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through auctions that pay for tuition assistance or school projects. Now, some public schools are looking to get in on the profits.

"It's just grown; it's taken on a life of its own," said Jeff Scott, the highly organized dad who volunteered this year to head the Moye school's second attempt at a dinner auction.

"We're in a town that has voted down several referendums," he said. "If you can't get the children the things they need through tax dollars, you have to do what else you can."

Moye Elementary was brand new last year, and a core group of parent volunteers decided to try their hand at sponsoring a dinner auction to buy items that state and local dollars couldn't provide. In 90 days, they rushed around town, solicited donations and threw it together as quickly as they could.

When they raised $33,000, they knew they were onto something.

Last year's auction proceeds bought Moye children playground equipment, science kits and library books to stock their new library.

This year, meetings started in earnest over the summer, but really, planning had started before the final gavel fell last year, Scott said.

More than 60 parents signed up, many of them eager to get fund raising out of the way in one fell swoop, instead of endlessly begging their neighbors and co-workers to buy wrapping paper, candy bars and magazines.

"You can only have so much wrapping paper," one mother said.

For months, Scott's in-box was flooded with e-mails until he opened an account just for auction-related e-mails. He didn't show up to a meeting without his 5-inch binder bulging with pie charts, graphs and lists of every item solicited. He works out of his home, and that allowed him the flexibility to be at school during the day and to work his "day job" at night.

It was an endless to-do list, the group said. They rented the Katy Cavins Center, came up with a theme, hired a caterer. Committees hit the streets for donations and sponsorships throughout the metro area. There was a committee for publicity, one for auction management, another for printing the programs. More meetings, more e-mails. One mother took some vacation time from her full-time job to help during the homestretch.

They joked that the event was their baby, and it was almost born.

Friday and Saturday brought a marathon setup: hauling donations to the site, putting them on display, decorating the room. The parents then rushed home to shower and dress, then hurried back to keep the evening moving.

A month earlier, two empty classrooms at Moye held no fewer than eight parent volunteers at 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning. Some were shrink-wrapping the class baskets: items donated by parents from each class, each with a different theme. Others were entering each item for the silent auction into a computer spreadsheet. Scott directed the group.

One enthusiastic mother, Kelly Cooper, was in charge of class projects: items each class of students created to put up for sale. As she showed off the ceramic candlesticks one class had decorated and another's Christmas tree skirt created with handprints, she jumped up and down with excitement.

"They're just so great," she said, clapping.

Her work paid off. The class projects were big sellers. A classroom quilt sold for $600, a chess board with pieces students had decorated went for $500.

"Oh, yeah, in elementary school, those types of things are golden," said Cathy Naunheim of Webster Groves. Naunheim's an old pro at auctions. She's helped organize auctions at her son's preschool, then his elementary school and now at St. Louis Priory School. Last year, Priory's auction netted about $400,000.

It's practically been her full-time job. At Priory, as at some private schools, the development office helps organize the annual auction. But as auction chairwoman, Naunheim worked a 9-to-5 day nearly every day.

"I don't know what I'm going to do when he graduates," Naunheim joked.

When it comes to fund raising, there's no better event than an auction to build a sense of community among volunteers, she said.

Moye Principal Paulette Burns echoed that sentiment. She doesn't want her students peddling items from door to door, and the auction helped form solidarity among parents at the new school. And because an auction needs so many different talents, parents who aren't PTO regulars still can help, such as the mom who can't make it to meetings but is able to design the event's program on her home computer. Scott said his committee was determined that the event not be a highbrow affair, inaccessible to families with average incomes.

For every quilt that sold for $600 or the $700 mayor for a day, there were silent auction items for $25 or $50.

"Parochial schools are used to doing this; they know it can work," said O'Fallon Mayor Gary Graham, who bought a huge wooden American flag with preschool handprints as the stripes. It will hang on a city building's wall. "These people you see here are middle class who are coming out because they don't think that teachers should have to spend $300 out of their pockets to buy construction paper," Graham said.

But not all schools are sold on auctions. Clayton School District spokesman Chris Tennill said Clayton schools scrapped the annual auction and replaced it with family trivia nights.

"It just ended up being such a huge amount of work, it was a pain in the neck," he said. They would put one together every three years and raise about $40,000 for the district, but "it was burning people out."

The family trivia nights build a sense of community, raise about the same amount of money and don't force parents to devote months of their lives to the event, he said.

But parents at Moye seemed pleased with their efforts late Saturday as they put away tables and counted their profit: about $41,000.

"My feet are throbbing," said mother Lois Brasel at 11 p.m. "And I'm tired. But it's all worth it, it really is."


Taxpayers aren't gift horses; stop looking in their wallets

Rockford Register Star Editorial

The defeat of referendums in the Byron and Harlem school districts, and the failure of the vast majority of school initiatives statewide, should be a teaching moment.

Schools should channel their energy into changing Illinois' school funding formula because it is clear residents are fed up. It is clear the governor and lawmakers won't lead reform unless they are forced to.

Voters last week handed Harlem its fifth consecutive defeat on a school referendum. The loss was decisive -- 60 percent of voters said no. The district expects to face a $4 million deficit by the summer.

In Byron, voters also refused, by a similar margin, to provide relief. The district already faces a $3 million deficit. The money troubles will get worse when the assessment for the Exelon nuclear power plant is reduced. The plant provides 80 percent of the School District's tax base.

Their plights may sound dire enough, but voters are saying: Yada yada yada.

Only eight of 45 school proposals on Illinois ballots passed Tuesday, according to Students First Illinois, a nonpartisan coalition that advocates alternative funding for public schools.

Don Schlomann, superintendent in Belvidere, believes he knows the lesson in last week's results. His district, busting at the seams, didn't have a school referendum on the ballot this election. It lost a referendum by a 2-to-1 margin last spring.

Schlomann sees a success in neighboring Huntley, also a growing community, and says that communicating with the public is key.

We wouldn't be so sure.

For the last several years, voters have been sending an increasingly loud message to the schools: Do with what you have, or do without. In a weak economy, when people have been outsourced, when they have to work two and three jobs to make ends meet, the simple argument of "do it for the kids" doesn't resonate.

Take Pekin, for example.

After a referendum for the Pekin schools lost, the Peoria Journal Star quoted a School Board member: "It's just a case where people can't afford it anymore," Dean Bacon said. "The days when education wanted something and we wanted to give it to them are over."

We repeat: Are over.

School officials can do somersaults trying to prove their district is different. They even may have a good case.

Belvidere, for example, has a per-pupil spending rate that is among the lowest in the state. It spent $5,540 a student in 2003, compared with the state average of $8,181. The high school is past capacity; by midmorning, the cafeteria handles the overflow of kids.

But the real solution rests in Springfield. Too much of the responsibility for funding schools rests on the local property taxpayer. Other states have reformed the system, and Illinois must finally do it.

Instead of going back to the well -- again and again -- and coming up dry, school officials need to take their buckets to the Statehouse. Bang on them, in unison. Repeat after us. Fix school funding now.


Charter high school opens its doors today in Venice

By Alexa Aguilar of the Post-Dispatch, 11/08/2004

Today is not only the first day of school for many Venice high school students, but also the first day of a new experiment in education in the Metro East area.

Thirty-three students have signed up to attend Lincoln Charter School, which received last-minute state approval to open this month.

With the school year well under way, Madison County and local officials have been hustling to round up students who enrolled at neighboring schools this fall, or simply didn't go back to class this year after Venice High closed last spring.

Those students begin today at the town's former vocational school, which is cleaned and ready for 30 students - the minimum number the regional office of education said was needed to open the school's doors.

The Madison County Regional Office of Education has been working for months on the charter since area schools refused to take the roughly 55 students left when the high school closed.

The regional office will operate the charter school - a public school that is exempt from many of the mandates that govern traditional public schools.

East St. Louis has a charter high school, but it operates as an alternative to East St. Louis Senior High. Lincoln Charter School will be Venice's only high school - the first district in the state to have such an arrangement.

There won't be freshman, sophomore, junior or senior classes. There won't be electives - such as theater or broadcasting - that other area high schools offer. It's not clear whether there will be any athletic teams. With only 30 students, there's only so much that can be offered - the same predicament school leaders had at tiny Venice High.

But what there will be are three teachers who are determined to teach these students the core subjects - language arts, math and science - and bring the students up to state standards. And because charter schools don't have to follow every state rule, administrators can get creative, said Cullen Cullen, assistant regional superintendent.

Cullen said he had trouble sleeping Sunday night because of the "nerve-racking" task of opening a school they've practically had to build from scratch.

Cullen had thought the charter proposal was dead until next year, until a shake-up at the State Board of Education revived the idea.

It's been a flurry of activity the last few weeks, as they hired a principal and teachers, set up the rooms and prepared the schedules.

On Monday, dozens of students turned up to take a test assessing their current class level. Teachers Ann Hagen-Rapsilber and Rick Huddleston worked Monday to separate the 33 into three groups that will rotate among the three teachers each day.

Huddleston has worked in alternative schools before, and Hagen-Rapsilber has experience teaching remedial reading.

They know this year will be challenging, but their plan is to provide as much coordination among subjects as possible and give the students plenty of individualized attention.

"My plan is to take them on their level, whatever that level that is, and take them as far as they can go," said Hagen-Rapsilber.


School board prioritizes student safety

Mike Neumann, Northern Star Staff Reporter, 11/9/04

DeKalb School District officials are reviewing safety procedures as a result of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s plan to improve school safety in Illinois.

Members of the Illinois State Board of Education, as well as the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal and the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, have been selected as part of Blagojevich’s state-wide attempt to improve safety standards in Illinois schools.

“What the governor has called for is a comprehensive plan for all Illinois schools,” said Becky Watts, spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Education. “They have just begun to discuss safety improvements. Nothing has been established yet.”

After a plan is finalized, it will go through a pilot testing phase, she said.

In the DeKalb School District, safety issues are always a top priority, said Jed Dunbar, assistant superintendent for human resources.

“Safety is always a primary concern with every school district. The DeKalb School District continually looks at safety issues and reviews our school safety plans,” Dunbar said.

Dunbar and Watts said with concerns about terrorism and the recent violence in schools, there is an ongoing focus on keeping schools safe.

“Our administrative team met recently to discuss safety-related issues and to identify areas where additional support might be necessary,” Dunbar said.

MeriAnn Besonen, assistant superintendent for business and finance, also said the district has recently met to discuss safety issues. She said there are procedures in place to ensure safety.

“We do have specific safety plans in place, such as lock-down procedures and evacuations,” Besonen said. “We heard about [Blagojevich’s plan] and we decided it was about time to review [our procedures] as well.”

There are still questions over who will pay for Blagojevich’s new school safety improvements.

If the improvements are state-mandated without federal or state assistance, local school districts could be expected to pick up the tab.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Besonen said. “It could be [our responsibility]. If it’s state-mandated, we’ll just have to make the changes.”


Dist. 204 will oppose state education funding bill

Beth Sneller, Daily Herald

At least one area school district plans to lobby against a proposed state school funding law some administrators have dubbed the "Robin Hood" bill.

Indian Prairie Unit District 204 school board members voted this week to recommend the Illinois Association of School Boards oppose House Bill 750.

The bill proposes to increase state income taxes by $7 billion and expand the sales tax on everyday services, such as haircuts and auto repairs.

In turn, the state would funnel some of that money toward schools to reduce the property tax burden on homeowners.

District 204 school board member Mark Metzger, however, said the legislation would benefit lower-income districts but not schools in the collar counties.

"For the average taxpayer in Indian Prairie, this is a bad, bad deal," he said.

Under the legislation, only 40 percent of taxpayers - those with the highest incomes - would see their state income tax rate rise from 3 percent to 5 percent.

That includes many taxpayers in District 204 and Naperville Unit District 203.

In the first year of the law, the state would issue a rebate for 25 percent of the school portion of property taxes.

But that property tax break wouldn't make up for the increase in income taxes in District 204, Metzger said.

And there's no guarantee the state will continue that rebate in future years, he said.

Though the District 203 school board hasn't yet voted on the matter, board member Gerry Cassioppi said he, like Metzger, thinks the bill would be bad for Naperville taxpayers.

"There's more money going out than coming in," he said.

Next weekend, Cassioppi and Metzger will vote on the issue as delegates at the associaton's annual meeting in Chicago.

They figure there will be many more delegates who share their feelings.

"It's a control issue," Cassioppi said. "I'd rather see the process kept the way it is, where the local districts are responsible for managing their own operations and raising their own funds."


Gang fears spur white T-shirt ban

Joilet school cites concern for safety

Jo Napolitano, Chicago Tribune

The plain, white T-shirt, an innocuous garment found in dresser drawers throughout the nation, was banned from one Joliet high school after officials there determined it might be used as a gang tool.

Some students say the shirt has simply become a fashion mainstay because it is versatile, inexpensive and easily replaceable. Embraced by the hip-hop world in rap songs and music videos, the white T-shirt moved from underwear to outerwear, becoming part of an unofficial uniform for the young and hip.

"Some people can't afford regular clothes, so they buy packages of white T-shirts," said Jillian Glasgow, a 17-year-old junior at Joliet Township Alternate School, which banned the shirts at the beginning of the school year. "It's just a white T-shirt. It's not going to kill us."

The notion that the bland, seemingly harmless T-shirt could represent trendiness and danger may puzzle a large segment of the population. Jake Van Wyk, marketing director for Hanes, said company research shows nine of 10 men in America own a white undershirt. He notes that his company sells tens of millions of them each year.

Made popular by James Dean in the cinema and "The Fonz" on the TV show "Happy Days," Van Wyk said the white T-shirt is an icon that has been inextricably linked to American pop culture for at least 100 years.

"It keeps coming back in slightly different forms," he said. "Now, we're seeing the hip-hop culture picking it up with their oversized, men's T-shirts. It's just another way of wearing a great staple."

As for the ban, Van Wyk thought it odd.

"If it is gang-related, then nine out of 10 men in America is in a gang," he said.

But officials at the school say there is legitimate cause for concern. The school, which serves students who have behavioral or emotional problems, has had issues with gangs and violence in the past. As a result, the school does not tolerate anything that might be construed as a gang symbol.

Francis Ruettiger, a Joliet police detective who works in the school, understands that outsiders might find the ban ironic or unnecessary but the policy is warranted, he said.

"The only kids who wore them are the ones that I had identified as members of a certain gang," he said, adding he noticed the trend on the first day of school. "One kid brought 10 of them under his arm. I asked him why he was bringing them in, and he said they were `for his boys.'"

Ruettiger said he believed white had become an adopted color for one of Chicago's more notorious gangs and that the trend seeped westward to Joliet.

The trend, school officials said, was fueled by a rap group called Dem Franchize Boyz and their hit, "White Tee." According to the song, the rappers do just about everything--go to the mall, go to clubs, impress girls--in their crisp, clean, white T-shirts. The song became popular this summer.

Chicago police spokesman David Bayless said white T-shirts gained some popularity among one street gang after the song was released, but the fad passed quickly.

Irving Spergel, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago who has studied gangs for decades, said it is uncommon for a gang to seize upon such a neutral color.

"It's a little unusual but possible," he said.

Karen Rebhan-Csuk, the school's principal, said students were given three days to comply with the new rule and most did. Those who chose to flout the policy were called into her office and their parents were phoned to bring in an alternative shirt.

"We just want to keep this place neutral and safe so that everybody who walks in here feels safe and wants to learn," she said, adding that most parents have been very supportive.

One woman brought in her son's entire T-shirt collection so that she could learn what was appropriate and what wasn't, the principal said.

In addition to the shirts, the school has banned other items for similar reasons. The school outlawed the elaborately airbrushed, rest-in-peace shirts and dog tags students would wear after a friend or fellow gang member was killed. The alternate school, which installed metal detectors three years ago, banned certain colors of shoelaces because they also were suspected to be gang-related.

"I can't control what they do outside the school, but once they are inside they are going to follow the rules because I'm going to keep it as safe as I can for the staff and students," Ruettiger said.

Edwin Yohnka, a spokesman with the ACLU of Illinois, said state code gives public schools wide latitude in determining what is and is not appropriate attire. Still, he said, schools should use that power carefully.

"While there are certain items of clothing or other things that a school might wish to ban for legitimate security reasons, it ought to have a good reason before it does that," he said. "Young people expressing themselves and engaging in the fashion trends of the day ought not to be confused with being a security threat."

A spokesman for the Chicago Public Schools said individual schools have prohibited certain suspected gang colors in the past, but none has barred white, to his knowledge. Some Chicago schools require students to wear plain white shirts.

Meanwhile, white T-shirts have been one of the hot items at the Foot Locker in Westfield Shoppingtown Louis Joliet. Store manager Al Williams said he sells three to four times as many white T-shirts a day as any other color.

"They're cheap," he said. "You don't have to spend $25 just to get one shirt. You can spend $20 and get five shirts."

Students agree with his assessment. Terrell Hunter, a freshman at Joliet Central High school, said:"You can't go wrong with a white T-shirt."


House bill would change school funding

Tax shifting: Plan would increase income taxes, decrease property taxes

By Justina Wang, Beacon News Staff Writer, 11/12/04

PLANO — Like any good economist, Ralph Martire filled his big, white notepad with a series of numbers.

How Illinois ranks compared to other states in spending on public education: 49th.

How Illinois ranks in reliance on property taxes to fund public schools: 6th.

What percent of school funding the state assumes: 36.

When all the numbers are added up, Martire said Thursday night at a town meeting at Plano High School, it's clear that Illinois' school funding system is in dire need of reform.

"What we do in Illinois is overtax the lower- and middle-income families, and then turn around and underfund their schools," said Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a bipartisan think thank that's written a reform bill to change public school funding in Illinois.

The forum was one in a series of presentations throughout the state on the detriments of the current method of school funding — and more specifically, in support of the House bill.

House Bill 750 hopes to shift the burden of funding public schools away from property taxes — a system Martire says punishes students from poorer areas. Instead, revenue would rely more heavily on personal and corporate income taxes and be redistributed through state aid.

Under the bill, the state would increase its contribution to school districts from 30 to 50 percent. East and West Aurora school districts each would receive about $12 million more from the state if the bill passed.

To fund this boost in school money, personal income taxes would increase from 3 to 5 percent, and corporate income taxes would grow from 4.8 to 8 percent. Seniors with adjusted gross incomes of more than $75,000 each year also would pay taxes on their retirement money.

Martha Price, a former Waubonsee Community College teacher, said that catch may keep many retired teachers from supporting the bill. Her retirement plans were based on her currently untaxed income, she said.

"We all support reform, but this one little aspect will ironically hurt the people that taught education," she said.

In addition, the bill proposes expanding the sales tax base to include other currently non-taxed services, such as haircuts and house cleaning.

However, Martire said a $900 million tax refund would be given to the bottom 60 percent of all taxpayers in order to counteract these additional taxes. Also, Illinois is already one of the lowest-taxing states and would still rank in the bottom 1/3 of the nation if the bill passed.

Alisa Koch, an Aurora resident who drove out to Plano for the meeting, agrees that shifting the tax base from property taxes to income taxes would provide a much more equitable system for schools and residents. Her mother, who is retired and lives in Lisbon, has seen her property taxes jump over the last several years because of new developments.

"It's a much fairer system," she said. "My taxes are going to go up, but I'm for it. It certainly seems tailor-made to so many different needs that (Aurora schools) have."

School officials from several local districts, including Plano, East Aurora, West Aurora and Oswego, already have jumped to endorse the bill.

"This may be the closest thing we've seen over the last several years in real reform for how schools are funded," said Plano Superintendent Bill Woody.

Still, residents raised concerns about the likelihood of passing the bill. Some audience members speculated that many legislators would be afraid of passing a bill that would raise income taxes.

Martire said he understood that "the dirtiest word in the English language is tax," but that voters and legislators would appreciate the fairness of the system. Plus, he added, certain taxes would be raised, but lower- and middle-income families would really save money from the tax refund and property tax decrease. He believes that more than 2/3 of Illinois residents would support the bill.

"Absolutely every region in this state would see an increase in school funding and property tax relief," he said. "That's never happened before. We need to do this in Illinois."

House Bill 750 remains in a General Assembly committee. Martire said the bill may be voted on as early as next spring.

For more information on House Bill 750, visit the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability's Web site at


Schools pass, but law fails districts

More than half the state's systems could face sanctions, such as losing tutoring programs, under changes related to No Child Left Behind Act

By Stephanie Banchero and Darnell Little, Tribune staff reporters, 11/12/04

By most measures, Franklin Park School District 84 in west suburban Cook County is a success.

Roughly 70 percent of its students passed state achievement exams last year. All four of its schools met--and in most cases overwhelmingly surpassed--the testing standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Its class sizes are smaller than average.

But the 1,300-pupil system suddenly finds itself in a peculiar and unenviable position, labeled as a troubled district by the federal government. And if things did not improve on the most recent round of state testing, high-flying Franklin Park--and hundreds of other districts in Illinois--will face a series of sanctions that eventually could lead to state takeover.

Since the No Child Left Behind reform was passed two years ago, the focus has been mainly on individual schools. But this year, for the first time, the state has made public a list of districts that are failing.

According to data recently released, more than half of the state's districts--454 out of 891--failed to measure up last year and will face sanctions if test results do not improve on the soon-to-be released state report card.

The list includes such perennial all-stars as New Trier High School District 203, Lake Forest School District 67 and Hinsdale Elementary District 181--all of which failed to test enough students to meet the federal requirement, according to the state data.

Many districts, including Franklin Park District 84, were tripped up by the performance of special education students.

About 180 districts are in the same boat as Franklin Park: Every one of their schools met the testing standards, but the district did not.

The story is much the same across the nation, where some of the best-regarded school districts are being tripped up by nuances of the complicated and controversial federal education reform. Their inclusion on the list of troubled districts is inflaming the debate already raging over the law, which some educators and lawmakers argue is deeply flawed and focuses too much on testing.

In Illinois, nearly 60 percent of districts either have run afoul of the law or have a school that has done so.

"I don't know if this will be the tipping point, but it presents a strong argument that the law must be reviewed and changed," Jack Jennings, director of the Center for Education Policy, a Washington research group, said about the labeling of districts and the ensuing sanctions. "This might just be where people start drawing the line in the sand."

Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan already has drawn his line. He has threatened to defy the portion of the law that bars troubled districts like his from overseeing federally mandated tutoring programs for children in low-performing schools.

"It infuriates me when bureaucrats in Washington make laws and set rules that make no sense and, in the end, harm kids," Duncan said. "The way this law is being implemented creates disincentives and discourages those who are trying to do the right thing. It is wrong morally and intellectually, and it harms public education."

Doug Mesecar, deputy chief of staff for policy at the U.S. Department of Education, argues that the law is working exactly as intended.

"The whole idea of the law is that no child is left behind," Mesecar said. "For decades, you've had a lot of kids who were shuffled through the system, their scores hidden in group averages. Now we are insisting that someone be held accountable for every student, whether it's the school or the district."

The sweeping No Child Left Behind law requires states to track separately how well minority, low-income, limited-English and special education students perform on state achievement exams. Each subgroup must meet state standards in math and reading, and 95 percent of students in each subgroup must be tested.

The law lays out a series of escalating sanctions for schools that fail to measure up, beginning with a requirement that they allow students to transfer to better schools and ending with possible closure.

Although every school in Illinois is held to the same standard and risks placement on the failure list, the federal sanctions apply only to schools that accept federal poverty money. About 62 percent of Illinois schools get poverty money.

Each state is allowed to decide how large a subgroup must be before it is counted as such. Some states have set the number as low as 20 students, others as high as 100. In Illinois, a subgroup must have at least 40 students. If, for example, a school has only 39 Asian students, the school does not have to ensure that this so-called subgroup meets the testing requirements.

So far, the tough standard has been applied only to individual schools across Illinois.

Now, however, districts are being held to those same standards, and the expansion of the subgroup rule is snaring many of the state's best.

Take the Franklin Park district, for example. All four of its schools have special education students, but no school has 40 or more--the threshold for consideration as a subgroup. As a result, no individual school can be penalized if its special education students don't meet the state goals.

But adding the special education students across the district brings the total to 52, qualifying them as a subgroup within the district.

In 2002-03, about 12 percent of Franklin Park's special education students passed the state reading exam, falling far below the required 37 percent.

If the scores did not improve on the 2003-04 tests, the results of which are expected to be released within the next month or so, Franklin Park will land on the federal "needs improvement" list.

Franklin Park Supt. David Nemec said he was surprised when state officials told him in August that his district had run afoul of the law.

"Mathematically I can see how this would occur, but realistically I am puzzled that they would put our district on a list of districts that are in trouble," Nemec said. "This is going to confuse parents, and I'm not sure that putting us on a list of districts that are in trouble gives a true picture of how well our schools are doing." A Tribune analysis of the state data shows that the biggest stumbling block for districts was the performance of special education students. Of the 400 districts that had enough special education students to total a subgroup, nearly three-quarters of them failed to meet the state testing standards in special education reading.

Howard Butters, superintendent of Manhattan School District 114 in Will County, argues that it is unfair to label districts as subpar when only a small portion of one subgroup failed state exams. Both schools in his district met the testing standards, but the district failed overall, based on the reading scores of special education students.

"For students to receive special education services, they have to at least be performing two years below grade level," Butters said. "And then to expect that those children are going to be able to perform on the state's assessment at grade level, I just find that ludicrous."

Though the federal sanctions apply only to districts that receive federal poverty money, the state has companion rules that basically mirror the federal ones.

A district that fails to meet standards two years in a row must create an improvement plan laying out how the district will fix the problems that led to the student failure. Districts that get federal poverty money--about 90 percent of Illinois' districts have a school that qualifies for poverty money--must set aside a portion of that money for teacher professional development.

Most troubling to some subpar districts, however, is the provision that bars them from overseeing tutoring programs in failing schools.

No Child Left Behind requires districts to offer free tutoring to students who attend schools that repeatedly fail. By law, parents can opt for private tutoring at the expense of the district. But many districts, including Chicago and Cicero, set up tutoring programs last year after the private companies could not handle the flow of students.

Now, officials with the U.S. Department of Education are warning that these districts will have to dismantle their tutoring programs if the upcoming test scores do not show marked improvement.

"If that's what they plan to do then I say, `Fine, give me a better alternative,'" said Edward Aksamit, superintendent of the Cicero school district.

"Either we provide this tutoring or no one provides it. If the federal government thinks it's better to have no tutoring, then I think it's another example of how ridiculous this law can be."

Angela Frangias, who tutors 2nd graders at Schubert Elementary School in Chicago, said the program is vital.

"We have a lot of special education students, and a lot of students who are simply having a hard time, who really benefit from this extra help," said Frangias, who tutors 13 students. "If they close us down, I'm afraid that these kids won't get the help they need."


Many Illinois schools remain open on Veterans Day

AP, 11/11/04  

A growing number of Illinois districts have received permission to keep schools open Thursday, as teachers and students prepared to observe Veterans Day with assemblies involving presentations by military heroes and lessons on the realities of war.

Schools across the state have invited veterans to join students in flag-raising ceremonies, question-and-answer sessions, the singing of patriotic songs and other activities.

"(Children will) understand it's more than just getting a day off and prancing around," said Wayne Miller, commander of the VFW Post in Wheaton, a Chicago suburb.

This year, 235 of the state's 881 districts sought to waive the federal holiday, compared with about 175 districts five years ago. Illinois State Board of Education officials attributed the shift to district scheduling preferences and educational opportunities.

"It serves as a learning experience for the students," board spokeswoman Becky Watts said. "They're learning aspects of history."

Several veterans groups said they were thrilled with the chance to give students firsthand accounts of their experiences, especially at a time when soldiers are deployed in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We want the students to have a well-rounded education and to understand what the veterans go through, especially the ones who are at war right now," Miller said.

Some schools invited speakers because the presentations also enhance the lives of veterans, officials said.

Iraq veteran Julia Krupiczowicz, 21, spoke Wednesday with students at her alma mater, Guerin College Preparatory High School in River Grove, about being injured and receiving the Purple Heart.

"When we came back, everybody was happy for us, but after a while it died down. So, it's flattering for people to make a big deal," she said.


Year-round school study

For Waukegan schools: Panel considers pilot program

By Ryan Pagelow, News Sun Staff Writer, 11/11/04

WAUKEGAN — A 35-member panel is considering the possibility of a pilot year-round school program for Waukegan Unit School District 60 in order to teach more incoming students in increasingly limited classroom space.

"The committee has a lot of questions and few answers," said Chuck Clement, a member of the panel who spoke at the Waukegan School Board meeting on Tuesday.

He said the panel is looking at a multi-track plan where students would go to school for 45 days and then have 15 days of intercession, which would be repeated four times over a year. The 15-day intercession could be used to tutor kids who need extra help, taking the place of summer school.

"It would give students an opportunity to get help right away instead of waiting until June," Clement said.

A school building that currently serves 702 students could serve 936 students under the panel's multi-track model.

Tiffany Myers, a school psychologist, presented the pros and cons of year-round education to the board, noting research is inconclusive about the effects of year-round education.

"One argument for year-round schools is that students tend to forget a lot over the summer. Other research shows students are going to forget whether out for three weeks or three months. Teachers will have to review four times a year instead of one," Myers said.

She also said year-round education could require air conditioning over the summer months and there's only one building in the district with air conditioning throughout the school.

Other concerns were summer employment for students and staff, day care concerns and how the custodial and maintenance services which are usually done during the summer would be accomplished with students in classrooms all year.

"There are a lot of hidden costs if you make this kind of education," Myers said. "The year-round schools that we've talked to, they've all had to renegotiate contracts."


300 school jobs to be filled in '05

Rockford is banding with Rockford College to encourage noneducators to consider teaching.

By CARRIE WATTERS, Rockford Register Star, 11/12/04

ROCKFORD -- The Rockford School District wants you.

School officials are stepping up recruitment efforts as the district plans to hire 300 teachers and administrators next school year, compared with about 20 new teachers this year.

The hiring spree, at a time of high unemployment, is the result of 245 teachers and administrators opting for a retirement incentive at the end of this school year. The retirements represent the loss of 12 percent of the district's 2,055 teachers, administrators and certified support personnel like guidance counselors.

"It's just a lot of people to leave at one time," said Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Mary Ann Gemmill, whose department is swinging into action.

A district recruiter is at Southern Illinois University this week. Gemmill and others will crisscross the state and country in coming months to encourage college graduates to come to Rockford.

Alternative paths

Locally, officials are asking folks to consider the classroom. Rockford College announced on Thursday that it will team up with the district to offer an alternative path to teacher certification. The college is one of a dozen colleges and universities that the state has authorized to train nontraditional teachers.

The district hopes next fall to bring 30 people into hard-to-fill specialties like bilingual, math and science.

Rockford Superintendent Dennis Thompson praised the experience nontraditional teachers can offer students. As a retired Army officer who entered education as a counselor, then administrator, Thompson is among them.

"I know it's possible to do this," he said.

Rockford teachers union President Molly Phalen was unavailable for comment, but previously questioned putting people into the classroom too quickly. Phalen weighed her hesitation with confidence in the college and the reality that large numbers of teachers will be leaving in June.

The partnership was supposed to kick off last spring, but the district backed down on hiring 30 teachers because it was in the midst of laying off teachers.

Rockford College continued to work with Waukegan and Chicago, along with public schools in Racine, Wis., and private and charter schools in Milwaukee. The college subcontracts with the National Teachers & Educators College of Northbrook, which is a company with exclusive rights to the alternative certification program that was developed in Milwaukee public schools in 1995.

The retention rate for nontraditional teachers through the program stands at about 85 percent, according to Gregory Shrader, a former teacher and president of NTEC.

As part of the partnership, the district will hire 15 people with a bachelor's in math or science, who have worked in their field a minimum of five years. The district and college hope to recruit another 15 people, also with bachelor's degrees, as elementary bilingual teachers.

The 30 candidates will start studying two months this spring and spend two weeks in the classroom. They must pass a test to earn a provisional teaching certificate.

When fall rolls around, candidates will have their own classroom. Starting salary is $28,188.

They will take about 12 night classes throughout the school year and spend two hours each week with a teaching coach in their classroom.

At the end of the school year, they earn an initial teaching certificate.

Mayor Doug Scott was at Thursday's news conference at Rockford College to praise the college for its innovative response to the district's need.

Scott encouraged people to consider a career change. "What better way to give back than to impart your knowledge," he said.

'On the trail'

The alternative program will provide only a handful of the teachers the district will need. "Beginning this month, we're out on the trail," Gemmill said.

She has increased the number of recruiters in the district from one to four, including herself and human resources Director Jim Feldhaber. They have a reputation to dispel that Rockford's not hiring, she said.

Many districts lay off teachers in the spring because state law requires notification by April if teachers can't expect a job in the next school year. For boards, the timing is off because they usually don't know the next school year's funding levels.

In Rockford, budget woes mixed with this state law have meant massive layoffs followed by months of teachers jockeying for jobs based on seniority. Last school year, Gemmill said the district hired fewer than 20 teachers who were new to the district. Most positions were filled by rehiring laid-off teachers.

This year, recruiters offer promissory notes to candidates. The district can't guarantee specific jobs in specific schools because seniority teachers have first dibs. But the district can guarantee that with all the retirements, there will be jobs.

Recruiters are hitting colleges and job fairs and scouring the substitute and student teachers already in the district. Gemmill said emphasis is placed on recruiting minority teachers. Only one in 10 Rockford teachers is a minority, comparable to the national average.

Gemmill gave a dry laugh when asked how soon her job would be complete. "Hopefully, by late August," she said.




Former Austin High bookkeeper charged with stealing school funds

Police say she embezzled more than $100,000

By Steven Kreytak, Austin American-Statesman Staff, 11/5/04

A former Austin High School bookkeeper was arrested Wednesday after she was accused of stealing more than $100,000 from the school, most of it from funds generated from athletic tickets and student fund-raisers.

Angela Cobble, 34, was released Thursday from the Travis County Jail after posting a $20,000 bond.

The Round Rock resident is charged with theft by a public servant greater than $100,000 but less than $200,000, a first-degree felony punishable by five years to life in prison.

She did not return calls for comment.

Cobble started working at the school in October 2002 and resigned Sept. 10. After Cobble left, school district auditors checked the books she was in charge of keeping, a standard procedure. When they saw apparent financial irregularities, they turned the case over to district police.

According to a probable cause affidavit, investigators found that Cobble had skimmed more than $60,000 from the cash receipts from athletic ticket sales and student fund-raisers.

Cobble also wrote checks for more than $40,000 to herself from school funds, the affidavit stated. Cobble forged the signature of Principal Barbara Spelman on the checks, according to the affidavit.

Spelman called the theft "shocking and hurtful" in a letter mailed to students' parents on Wednesday. She also wrote that a district insurance policy would cover 95 percent of any unrecovered loss.

School district Sgt. J.J. Schmidt would not say whether investigators know where the money is or for what it was used. The embezzlement began March 22, 2003, and continued until Cobble resigned, the affidavit stated.


Official objects to 'asexual stealth phrases'

School board member wants clear wording on marriage

AP, 11/5/04

AUSTIN, Texas -- A State Board of Education member called on textbook publishers to change the wording in health books being considered for use in Texas schools to clearly state that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Republican Terri Leo said certain books attempt to nullify a Texas law banning the recognition of same-sex civil unions by using "asexual stealth phrases" such as "individuals who marry" instead of husbands and wives.

"I want the reader, the child to know that marriage is between a man and a woman," Leo said in a written statement released during a board meeting Thursday.

The 15-member board is scheduled to vote Friday on whether to approve the books for middle and high schools. The decision could affect dozens of states because books sold in Texas, the nation's second-largest textbook buyer, often are marketed elsewhere.

Democratic board member Mary Helen Berlanga noted that one textbook showed a picture of a mother and a father and a young girl and her brother.

"We cannot start censoring books because we do not like the terminology," Berlanga said. "I don't see two males or two females holding hands."

The elected board, which has 10 Republicans and five Democrats, is allowed to reject books only because of factual errors or failure to follow state-mandated curriculum.

A spokesman for one of the publishers, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, said it will come up with something it believes is appropriate and bring it to the board Friday.

Randall Ellis, executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, said Leo was asserting a religious right agenda into students' textbooks.

"My bottom line opinion is it's irresponsible," Ellis said. "There comes a time when you need to put your own agenda aside and do what's best for youth."


Wisconsin district to teach more than evolution

AP, 11/6/04 

GRANTSBURG, Wisconsin -- School officials have revised the science curriculum to allow the teaching of creationism, prompting an outcry from more than 300 educators who urged that the decision be reversed.

Members of Grantsburg's school board believed that a state law governing the teaching of evolution was too restrictive. The science curriculum "should not be totally inclusive of just one scientific theory," said Joni Burgin, superintendent of the district of 1,000 students in northwest Wisconsin.

Last month, when the board examined its science curriculum, language was added calling for "various models/theories" of origin to be incorporated.

The decision provoked more than 300 biology and religious studies faculty members to write a letter last week urging the Grantsburg board to reverse the policy. It follows a letter sent previously by 43 deans at Wisconsin public universities.

"Insisting that teachers teach alternative theories of origin in biology classes takes time away from real learning, confuses some students and is a misuse of limited class time and public funds," said Don Waller, a botanist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Wisconsin law mandates that evolution be taught, but school districts are free to create their own curricular standards, said Joe Donovan, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Instruction.

There have been scattered efforts around the nation for other school boards to adopt similar measures. Last month the Dover Area School Board in Pennsylvania voted to require the teaching of alternative theories to evolution, including "intelligent design" -- the idea that life is too complex to have developed without a creator.

The state education board in Kansas was heavily criticized in 1999 when it deleted most references to evolution. The decision was reversed in 2001.

In March, the Ohio Board of Education narrowly approved a lesson plan that some critics contended opens the door to teaching creationism.


Reading, Writing and Disinfectant Are School Staples in Flu Season

Teachers Try an Array of Techniques to Combat Germy Students

By Susan Kinzie, Washington Post Staff Writer, 11/7/04

Carolyn Callaghan has four boxes of tissues in her classroom -- one within easy reach of any sneezy, germy student out there -- and a fifth box on her desk that she doesn't let anyone else touch.

She cleans the doorknobs, washes her hands constantly and occasionally walks through her classroom handing out paper towels, squirting the students' desks with disinfectant and cheering the kids on as they rub the gook away.

Teachers such as Callaghan, whose students at the private Indian Creek School northwest of Annapolis range from second-graders to eighth-graders, had gotten used to getting the influenza vaccine every year. So they had a jolt this fall when they found out supplies were severely limited.

School administrators across the region also are bracing for the coming winter. They wonder if it will be a bad season for flu, and if so, will they have enough substitute teachers? If only they could get kids to stop sneezing on each other.

In Howard County, Doug Pindell, the purchasing officer for the school system, said he tried to argue to a vaccine provider that teachers needed the flu vaccine because they were so likely to be exposed to the virus. "Our teachers are really in a high-risk category because they're dealing with all these sick little kids," he said.

No luck. The clinics he had organized with a medical provider, which drew more than 1,000 teachers last year, had to be canceled.

As in many school systems, Howard officials launched an information campaign instead, sending teachers e-mails and fliers with prevention tips.

In St. Mary's County, administrators asked the maintenance staff to make an extra effort to keep bathrooms and water fountains clean. In Fairfax County, they explained to teachers how those who qualify for the shots, based on eligibility rules set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, might be able to find the vaccine.

In Charles County, teachers hung posters with photographs of children washing their hands. And Indian Creek School, where Callaghan teaches, sent a letter home to parents asking them to please keep sick kids away.

Everywhere, people are reminding one another to use soap.

"I've got the phone away from my ear," said Denise Malinow, the registered nurse at Indian Creek School. "I wipe it down and the door handle. And as soon as anyone walks into my office, the first place I send them is the sink. Every little bit helps."

Some teachers were anxious when they heard about the vaccine shortage. "I've worried about it because I'm used to getting the flu shot every year," said Monica Piern, a first-grade teacher at Mary H. Matula Elementary School in La Plata. She makes sure her students use a hand sanitizer and clean their desks with disinfectant wipes. "I'm just trying to keep the germs down as much as we can, so no one will get sick."

But she, like most teachers, understood that the vaccine had to be limited this year. "I'd rather people that are older and high risk get the flu shots [rather] than me," she said. "Our school nurse talked with the staff about how to stay healthy -- taking extra vitamin C, getting good rest and eating healthy as well."

An illness coming into a school can ripple from desk to desk. "My husband used to say, 'You don't get sick -- but I think you carry it home,' " said Robin Read, a teacher in Calvert County.

Read said she doesn't worry for herself. "My immune system is hard as a rock," she said, "after being around all the kids for so many years."

Callaghan was not so lucky.

She used to get the flu all the time. It would knock her back for a week, keeping her home from her job as a Spanish teacher with a fever, a runny nose, the works.

"It was miserable," she said.

Then she started getting shots, about 10 years ago, and she stopped getting the flu.

She has been teaching for 32 years, and several years ago she developed diabetes. Last year, she had a stroke. So she worried when she heard about the vaccine shortage and that only certain groups of people, such as the elderly and those who work directly with sick patients, could get the vaccine.

Her husband tried a homeopathic remedy, hoping it would keep him well. She and other teachers talked about it at lunch one day, debating whether it would work.

But then the school nurse told Callaghan that with her health risks and at her age, 60, she probably would qualify to get a shot.

Callaghan was delighted and got one straightaway.

Now, feeling shielded from influenza, she worries only about all the other germs swarming around in her classroom.

On Friday morning, she saw a student in the nurse's office who had just thrown up. "I'm thinking, 'Oh, gosh. I'm glad he wasn't in my classroom yet.' "

She went straight to his desk, spritzed disinfectant and scoured the whole area.


School district to pay $140,000 to boy who was teased by other kids

AP, 11/8/04

The Minneapolis School District was ordered to pay $140,000 to a student who was teased by other students after his confidential school records were found in the trash on the playground.

A Hennepin County jury granted the award Thursday for the boy's past and future pain, embarrassment and emotional distress.

Brenda Neal said her son, who is now 15, was teased repeatedly by other students after his records, including data about his IQ, family circumstances and special-education information, were discovered on the playground at Floyd Olson Middle School two years ago.

Bob Hajek, Neal's attorney, said the jury found the school system failed to protect student information.

"Basically, the jury determined this was a wholesale failure by the Minneapolis School District to adopt reasonable procedures for handling educational records of students," Hajek said.

Allen Giles, general counsel for the Minneapolis schools, said the incident was unusual.

Associated Press


State education officials develop common curriculum

AP, 11/8/04  

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- State education officials are developing a curriculum that schools across Rhode Island could use by the fall of 2006.

The common curriculum won't mean that each school has to use the same textbooks, but will spell out what students need to know.

A common curriculum may help address the problem of mobility, one of the most difficult issues facing urban districts.

More than 15 percent of all public school students change schools during the year, and that number is much higher in city schools, according to The Providence Journal.

The new state curriculum will not be mandatory, but union leaders and state educators expect that most districts will embrace it.

That, they say, is because school leaders need help meeting the standards on which students are now tested.

"The districts actually came to us," said Colleen Callahan, a member of the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education and the Rhode Island branch of the American Federation of Teachers. "At forum after forum, we heard teachers say, 'We're being held accountable for meeting these standards. What we need now is some direction on instruction.'"

The American Federation of Teachers sponsored the bill to create a statewide curriculum, which the General Assembly approved and Gov. Don Carcieri signed into law this summer.

One of the prime movers behind the bill was the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires states to test students yearly and to create uniform grade-level expectations or standards.

The measure is strictly voluntary because, according to Rhode Island law, only school districts have the authority to establish curriculum. That worries a couple of regents, who fear that this massive two-year planning effort will wind up being a hollow exercise.

"I'm looking for something where everyone opens their book and says, 'Here we all are,'" said regent Mario Mancieri, a retired superintendent from Portsmouth. "We're a small enough state. We should have a system where if a student transfers from one district to another, he knows where he is."


Candy creates confusion in Arkansas schools

AP, 11/8/04

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas -- Arkansas teachers have been told they can continue to reward students with candy, despite a state battle against childhood obesity in schools.

The Pulaski County School District had told elementary school principals last month that teachers could no longer hand out candy or ice cream as rewards.

But state Education Department director Ken James said no such directive has been approved by the state Board of Education.

"We need to be conscious of what we are doing in terms of sugar content, but we have not dictated to schools that they cannot use those as rewards," James said.

As a result, the district told teachers last week that they could resume handing out candy. The directive was based on a misunderstanding of a new law, officials said.

The law requires schools to calculate the body mass index for each student and bars access to vending machines for elementary school students


Few parents switch under NCLB

Duke Helfand and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times

More than 1 million students in the nation's largest urban school districts have remained at poor-performing campuses despite a federal law that allows them a chance to escape to better schools.

The offer extended by the No Child Left Behind education law is intended to expand school choices for children in low-income communities.

But in Los Angeles, only 215 students switched to better campuses last year out of nearly 204,000 who were eligible.

In Chicago, 1,097 students out of 270,000 transferred.

And in New York, 6,828 out of 230,000 students moved to other campuses.

A lack of interest on the part of parents and a shortage of available seats in good schools have combined to weaken the impact of the law. Still, the Bush administration argues that its signature domestic policy strengthens local campuses by introducing competitive marketplace forces into public school districts.

Administration officials also say they judge the success of the law by whether schools improve, not by the numbers of transfers.

"This is a real culture shift," said Eugene Hickok, deputy secretary in the U.S. Department of Education. "For years, the system did what was best for the system. Now we are arguing that [schools] have to find ways to respond to the needs of their customers. That's what choice is about."

The Bush administration is expected to expand the reforms of No Child Left Behind as the president enters his second term, possibly extending the law's testing requirements from elementary and middle schools into high schools.

That could increase the number of failing campuses — and thus the pool of students eligible for transfers — as more schools struggle to meet the measure's demanding expectations.

Critics say the low numbers of students taking advantage of the offer, however, reveal a significant flaw in the law: Policymakers misunderstand the importance of neighborhood schools to parents.

"The law does give real power to parents. It's just not a power they are willing to use very often," said Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "The choice provision of the law is not … going to revolutionize schools."

Even if children leave their local campuses, some district leaders say they cannot accommodate more transfers because their best campuses already are strapped for space.

And school districts must use valuable federal funds to bus students to schools of their choice, siphoning money away from low-performing campuses.

"In Los Angeles, you're going to move from one overcrowded school to another overcrowded school. I don't think that is much of a solution," said Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer, who believes the law unfairly labels schools as failures.

Some districts have set limits on the numbers of transfers for fear of swamping high-performing campuses.

New York City schools, for example, are not offering high school students the opportunity to transfer this year through No Child Left Behind, saying the city's high school admissions process already allows choices.

And in Chicago, officials have reserved just 438 seats for transfers this year even though 8,000 students have asked to move.

Last year, the district set aside 1,097 seats for 18,000 students who expressed interested.

The district holds a lottery for the available transfer slots.

Chicago officials said an Illinois law barred them from crowding schools to satisfy the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

"I'm not going to put 40 kids in a classroom," said Arne Duncan, Chicago Public Schools' chief executive. "I'm not going to change the fundamental nature of what has made a school successful."

Schools are labeled failures under the federal law if they do not meet strict targets for improving test scores each year; campuses earn no credit for partial gains.

Schools in low-income communities that fail to meet their targets two years in a row are required to offer transfers to their students.

Many districts reluctantly notify parents of their right to better schools as required by No Child Left Behind, even as they promote the benefits of campuses on the federal watch list.

In the Anaheim City School District, officials encourage parents to consider more than just test scores when deciding whether to switch schools.

"When parents call, we explain that the programs and the training for teachers is the same at every school," said Ruben Barron, Anaheim's deputy superintendent.

"It is not about dissuading them — they have a right to transfer if they want — but it is about making an informed decision. We do tell them what their school is doing right," he said.

Last year, 4,439 students at five Anaheim district schools were eligible for transfers. Only three moved to new campuses, the district reported.

None of the 600 students at Abraham Lincoln Elementary transferred last year.

Principal Victoria Knaack interpreted the lack of interest in switching schools as a vote of confidence even as her campus struggled to meet expectations of No Child Left Behind.

"When they don't move, it means we're doing something right," she said. "It's an affirmation for us."

Parents say Lincoln is a good school filled with dedicated teachers. They say the campus, in the middle of a working-class Latino neighborhood, is an integral part of the community.

Lincoln offers an array of parenting and computer classes in the evenings. Nearly 100 parents attended one recent class.

"It wouldn't matter if they told me another school was 100 times better, it wouldn't do as much for [my son] as he gets here," Angela Vela, whose first-grader attends Lincoln, said in Spanish. "It doesn't matter how good the school is if the child isn't motivated and the parents aren't involved."

Federal education officials say more parents don't take advantage of the option to move because they aren't notified until after the start of the school year.

Leaders in several school districts acknowledged the problem but said it was not their fault. State education departments, they said, release the lists of failing campuses only days or weeks before school starts, leaving districts little time to inform parents.

The Los Angeles Unified School District notifies parents twice a year: around the time school starts in the fall and again in December.

But parents cite reasons other than timing in their decisions to have their children stay put. They say federal policymakers fail to appreciate the social and communal roles that schools play in low-income and immigrant neighborhoods. At many campuses, parents get a chance to serve on school committees and take evening classes.

"Here, we are family," said Rosa Villafana, 47, who turned down the chance for her daughter to transfer out of Loreto Street Elementary in the Cypress Park neighborhood of northeast Los Angeles.

"The state and the federal government don't see the sentimental value of a school," Villafana added. "If I thought my child was failing, I would change. But I'm happy."

Loreto Street is one of 178 campuses in the Los Angeles Unified School District considered to be low-achieving under the law. More than 400 students have asked for — and received — transfers from those schools since the start of the 2003-04 school year.

Daniel and Dinora Sanchez jumped at the chance to move their 9-year-old son, Christian, to a better school outside their east San Fernando Valley neighborhood.

Christian now attends Germain Street Elementary in the northwest Valley community of Chatsworth.

The Sanchez family liked the idea of Christian attending a diverse school with more high-achieving students, something they didn't feel he had at their local school, San Fernando Elementary. That campus, where 99% of the students are Latino, rates a 2 on the state's school rankings, which go from 1 to 10. Germain rates a 9.

"I wanted him to interact with different types of students," said Dinora Sanchez, who teaches second grade in Canoga Park. "I always felt that if you surround yourself with kids who are doing better, your expectations go up."

Christian said he was sad to leave his old school but now feels more challenged.

"I kind of felt like I was the smartest kid in the class" at San Fernando, he said. "There are a lot of smart kids in my grade [at Germain]. I like my new school a lot."

The Los Angeles district must use some of its federal poverty funds to pay for the boy's transportation to his new school, as required by No Child Left Behind.

Like L.A. Unified, districts elsewhere must devote up to 20% of their federal poverty funds to pay for transfers and after-school tutoring at campuses identified as failing. Although district leaders see value in the tutoring, they object to the added costs of the transfers.

The Clark County School District in Las Vegas had to use some of its federal money last year to pay for 205 students to switch schools, out of 12,000 who were eligible.

Leaders in Clark County, which has the nation's sixth-largest school system with more than 280,000 students, say the numbers of transfers could increase if more parents become aware of the option and additional schools land on the federal failure list.

"It's money spent for the wrong purpose," said Agustin Orci, deputy superintendent of the Clark County system. "I'd rather put that money into classrooms than buses."


Evolution disclaimers in science books challenged in court

Chicago Tribune, 11/9/04

ATLANTA, GEORGIA -- A warning sticker in suburban Atlanta science textbooks that says evolution is "a theory, not a fact" was challenged in court Monday as an unlawful promotion of religion.

The case is one of several battles that have been waged in recent years in the Bible Belt over what role evolution should play in science books.

Cobb County schools put the disclaimers in biology texts two years ago after more than 2,000 parents complained the books presented evolution as fact without mentioning rival ideas about the origin of life, namely creationism.

A group of parents and the American Civil Liberties Union then filed a federal lawsuit.

The sticker reads, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things."

A lawyer for the school district, Linwood Gunn, said the sticker was meant to "encourage critical thinking."


School bus drivers protest GPS plan

Call 'spy' proposal a ploy to cut pay

By Heather Allen, Boston Globe Correspondent, November 9, 2004

School bus drivers yesterday attacked a proposal to install GPS tracking equipment on buses, accusing city officials of promoting ''Big Brother" tactics and threatening to reject a labor union contract if the proposal moves forward.

At a heated City Council hearing punctuated by tense exchanges and shouting matches, members of the school bus drivers union said satellite tracking devices would be tools for spying and a means of reducing pay for drivers.

''You are trying to champion safety by imposing spy devices over real safety devices," said Steve Gillis, president of the bus drivers union. ''These devices are antilabor and have nothing to do with safety."

The proposed law, introduced in September by Councilor John M. Tobin Jr., would require the city's 720 privately contracted school buses to be fitted with GPS devices. School administrators and the city's bus contractor, First Student Inc., say the system has helped other districts reduce delays and more effectively deal with problems such as missing children and buses that have broken down.

At yesterday's hearing, emotions overflowed as bus drivers, who are in the midst of contract negotiations, angrily told the council's Education Committee that satellite tracking has few purposes other than scrutinizing drivers' whereabouts. At one point, City Hall security guards were summoned to break up a heated exchange between a union official and Councilor Maureen Feeney.

''There are obviously some bad feelings," said Tobin, who chairs the committee.

Testifying in favor of the law, School Department officials said that without a more precise means of locating buses, administrators are often vexed by scheduling problems caused by traffic or breakdowns.

''From an operational and safety standpoint it would be advantageous for us to have it," Jonathan Palumbo, spokesman for the Boston Public Schools, testified. ''It would be nice to be able to track them all, both from the perspective of running on time and answering parent questions. We would have better and quicker information on breakdowns and be able to scoot there with a replacement."

The mother of a 6-year-old who was missing for several hours this fall testified that GPS could have saved her and authorities a lot of heartache. Susie Reed of Mattapan said a bus driver missed her son's stop and told him it was too late to go back. When the driver finished the route, he asked the child how to get to his house, but the boy didn't know. Meanwhile, authorities tried in vain to radio the driver for several hours. The boy was finally found on the bus at about 7 p.m., in a Readville parking lot.

''That was my son's first time in his life on a bus," said Reed, holding back tears. ''That was the worst day of my life. He was scared to death."

Union members testified that GPS tracking could be used to decrease pay to drivers, who are paid for time on the road. Drivers suspected of taking longer routes than necessary could be unfairly docked because the system doesn't account for judgments, such as taking alternate routes to avoid traffic, they said.

Union members also said that contract negotiations had briefly included language requiring the installation of GPS systems, but that it was pulled.

They accused Tobin and the city of trying to inject the requirement now that a tentative contract has been reached and said that if the City Council votes in favor of GPS systems, the union will reject the contract and refuse further talks.

The union argued yesterday that the two-way radios currently used on the buses are sufficient.


Philadelphia Shows Progress in Schools Run by Companies

By Jay Mathews, Washington Post Staff Writer, 11/9/04

Aaron Starke was a 28-year-old assistant principal at a Philadelphia middle school when he heard that Edison Schools Inc. was looking for educators willing to take part in a daring, and potentially disastrous, experiment.

Philadelphia's School Reform Commission had decided to turn over 45 of the city's 265 public schools to such groups as Edison, a for-profit company, in the hope that outside managers with new ideas would succeed where a succession of school boards and superintendents had failed.

High school students demonstrated against the plan. Teachers union leaders predicted that the approach -- alternately known as a "partnership management model" or "diverse provider model" -- would lead to more disappointment.

But Starke, hired by Edison in 2001 to be principal of the Kenderton School in North Philadelphia, has helped raise reading and math achievement. The school has 650 students, almost all from low-income families, in kindergarten through eighth grade.

At Kenderton, where Edison's program of intensive reading instruction and computerized checks of student progress has been implemented, the portion of students scoring proficient or above on a state test has increased 15 percentage points in reading and 25 percentage points in mathematics in the past year.

Although pleased by the gains, Starke pointed out that most of his students still lag. Only 17 percent have reached proficiency in reading and 37 percent in math. "That has to change," he said.

Overall, Edison's 20 schools in Philadelphia averaged a gain of 10 percentage points in the portion of proficient students last year, compared with an average annual gain of less than half a percentage point in the previous seven years before Edison took over, company officials said.

Starke said Edison's close monitoring of students and training of teachers helped him change the school. Before the takeover by outside groups in Philadelphia, he said, "If the kids were quiet and the school hadn't been in the newspaper for anything bad, we would say, 'Hey, we're doing a good job.' "

Other schools managed by what Philadelphia officials call educational management organizations also have showed gains on standardized tests. Twenty-three of them made adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law, up from seven last year.

James E. Nevels, chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, said this "underscores the promise of the partnership management model, which only two years ago was viewed as controversial and potentially volatile."

But experts say it is far too soon to declare the experiment a success.

Betsey Useem, senior research consultant at the Philadelphia-based Research for Action, a nonprofit organization, said regular Philadelphia public schools also made gains last year, and the private groups might have succeeded in part because the school system "has created one office . . . that clears away the obstacles and bureaucratic barriers" that stymie such efforts.

Gerald W. Bracey, an educational psychologist at George Mason University, cited a recent Philadelphia Inquirer study showing that more than 100 schools in Philadelphia and its suburbs would not have made adequate yearly progress under the federal law if the state had not loosened its rules for reaching that standard.

In the "diverse provider" model, the independent groups take over existing schools with students already in place. This differs from the charter school approach, in which independent groups create schools.

The diverse provider model has the advantage of giving the private groups in Philadelphia -- Edison, Foundations Inc., Victory Schools, Universal Companies, Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania -- a school building. Charter school principals in such cities as the District have struggled to find space.

Several other cities, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, are moving toward similar private takeovers. H. Christopher Whittle, founder and chief executive of Edison, said he thought the model might work in the District, where his company has four charter schools, if the superintendent and school board supported it.

Whittle said the Edison schools in Philadelphia have benefited greatly from the backing of the city schools' chief executive, Paul Vallas, and his school board, after weathering the initial opposition from teacher and community groups who opposed having a profit-making company run public schools.

Leaders of other outside groups running Philadelphia schools say they have resources regular schools rarely see. John DiPaolo, executive director for partnership schools at Temple University, said his group's six schools use the university faculty's expertise and have inspired student involvement, including more than 100 students training to be mentors.

Nancy W. Streim, associate dean for educational practice at the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Graduate School of Education, said all teachers at the three public schools it works with "are expected to participate in 120 hours per year of professional development, with many opportunities designed and provided by Penn."

Paul Hill, a University of Washington research professor, has written about the diverse provider model. "Combining real expertise and new freedom is always a good way to get something new and potentially more effective," he said.

But Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, a coalition of the nation's large urban school systems, said he thinks a key ingredient in Philadelphia is that both the school district and the outside groups adopted effective curriculums, though they differ in many respects.

"It seems more likely that scores went up across the board because everybody . . . [was] doing a better job teaching the city's children," he said.


Boston kindergartners to receive report cards

Opponents call it an overreaction to stricter standards

Tracy Jan and Megan Tench, Boston Globe

As John Zammito III hopscotched down the hallway after school yesterday, the kindergartner chatted excitedly to his parents about what he learned in science: how to make ''wood" out of sawdust. To the 5-year-old and his classmates at Richard J. Murphy K-8 School in Dorchester, school is about fun, not grades.

But come December, the Boston Public Schools will issue report cards on kindergartners for the first time, evaluating pupils on how well they write, count, and follow directions.

The children will be scored on a scale of 1 to 4 in three dozen categories, from whether they can recognize the rhyme and rhythms in poems, chants, songs, and nursery rhymes to how well they combine two-dimensional shapes to make other two-dimensional shapes.

The report cards, to be issued three times a year, will help ensure that kindergartners are on pace with academic standards and update parents on their child's progress, Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant said yesterday. As academic standards become more rigorous and schools are held accountable for achievement, evaluating kindergartners makes sense, he said.

''We have not always done a good job in communication with parents on what the expectations are in school," Payzant said. ''Kindergarten should be preparing them to be 5-year-olds in the real world. We want children to be able to listen to stories that are read to them, to be able to talk about the stories they heard. They need to know their numbers, their letters, their shapes. It's recognizing that readiness in what you do in early-childhood education can make a huge difference with respect to children learning to read successfully."

But few school systems nationwide are using such detailed report cards, education specialists say.

Boston's leap is not being embraced by some teachers and parents. Some call it overreaction to stricter state standards.

''Yes, we need to stress academics, but I think in kindergarten especially it should be an opportunity for creativity and self-expression, not to get all stressed out about grades," said Ann Fonte-Abbott, whose daughter, Kendra, is a kindergartner at Mission Hill K-8 School in Roxbury. ''There is already too much pressure on children to perform for scores. The MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam] will get crammed down their throats soon enough."

Kindergartners should be learning basic social and organizational skills, how to solve puzzles, hold scissors, and stay in line, said Carol Pacheco, the Boston Teachers Union's elementary field representative. But ''the superintendent wants them to be doing reading and writing and math, like everybody else," she said.

Officials and union leaders began discussing kindergarten report cards more than three years ago, Pacheco said, but did not agree on a format until last week.

''I think we finally gave up and just said, 'Fine,' " Pacheco said. ''That is what people are teaching, and parents are looking for it."

Murphy parent Walter Parrish said kindergarten is the right time to start issuing report cards. ''You want to ingrain them in academia, rather than the traditional kindergarten fare: milk and cookies, taking naps, reading stories," he said. ''I want to know how my son is progressing. I want him to get off on the right start, give him the mind-set to get into first grade."

School officials have not determined how the report cards will be distributed, whether at parent-teacher conferences, through the mail, or by sending them home with the children.

Mary Jo Barry, a kindergarten teacher at Murphy, said she has reservations about the formality of the report cards, but she plans to give them to parents during conferences starting Dec. 9 and supplement the marks with a portfolio of the children's work and the results of their diagnostic tests in reading and math.

More than 10 years ago Barry and other kindergarten teachers issued progress reports, short narratives of how individual students were performing, which she said she prefers.

Parents of low-scoring pupils should not panic, Barry said. ''It's the beginning of the year. Parents should tell these students: 'It's OK you don't know all these skills. If you did, Mrs. Barry wouldn't be here to teach you.' "

John Zammito's father, John Zammito Jr., said he looks forward to receiving his son's first report card. ''We ask him every day on the way home: 'How do you like school? What did you do in school?' " he said. ''This way we have it right from the teacher."

The kindergartner, himself, is unfazed. ''They're like a reward for being good," he said.

Elise Henricks -- whose son, Max, is a Murphy kindergartner -- says report cards are not a big deal. ''I don't think this is going to affect whether he goes to Harvard," she said. ''It's just a good way for me to get a sense of how he's doing."

The practice is growing more popular because of stricter standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Springfield is one of the few school systems issuing report cards in kindergarten.

The lengthy report cards help make sure that schools are held accountable for their pupils' progress, and it also lets families know where their children stand academically, said Amy Wilkins, principal partner at The Education Trust, a nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C.

''It is early for parents to be worried about how their children stack up against other children," said Kathleen McCartney, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. ''But I think the framework is very useful."


Bush’s School Agenda Will Get a 2nd Term

President to Push for Expanded Accountability in High School

By Erik W. Robelen and Michelle R. Davis, Education Week, 11/10/04

President Bush will enter his second term with a range of campaign plans on education, from expanded testing demands to new cash awards for effective teachers, only some of which are likely to become law. But one thing is clear: The controversial No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, his signature initiative for schools, is here to stay.

After winning a tight election race with 51 percent of the popular vote, compared with 48 percent for his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the president reiterated his commitment to education in a Nov. 4 press conference.

“We must continue the work of education reform, to bring high standards and accountability not just to our elementary and secondary schools, but to our high schools, as well,” he said.

Mr. Bush put noticeably less emphasis on education during his second campaign for the White House, which came against a backdrop of concerns about terrorism and the war in Iraq. Exit-polling data suggested education was far down the list of voters’ most important issues in choosing a president.

Nonetheless, Mr. Bush invoked the bipartisan No Child Left Behind law often, as he did during several campaign stops the day before the election.

“We passed education reforms, good solid education reforms to bring high standards to our classrooms,” he said in the clincher battleground state of Ohio on Nov. 1. “Math and reading scores are now up in America. We’re closing an achievement gap by helping our minority children.”

The federal law has stirred up a lot of passions, from those such as the president who vigorously defend it, to those who believe it needs substantial changes or should be undone altogether. But love it or hate it, no one disputes that the law’s essence will remain with President Bush retaining the White House, and with Republicans enlarging their slim margins of control in the House and the Senate.

Rep. Michael N. Castle, the Delaware Republican who chairs the House Education Reform Subcommittee, said he would not rule out some congressional tinkering with the law next year—as many analysts have predicted—but he said any such changes would not be as much as the law’s critics would wish for.

“There might be things that are done,” Mr. Castle said in an interview on Nov. 3. “But if anyone believes that No Child Left Behind is going to be swept away, or changed significantly, they’re wrong.”

“The next four years are Bush holding tight to No Child Left Behind,” said Jack Jennings, the director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington think tank, and a former top aide to House Democrats.

It remains unclear whether Secretary of Education Rod Paige will stay on in the president’s next term. Mr. Bush said last week that there would be changes in his Cabinet, but he offered no specifics.

A ‘Blank Canvas’

The future of the federal K-12 law wasn’t always so clear. Signed by President Bush in January 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act reauthorized—and significantly overhauled—the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that was first passed in 1965 at the urging of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

In the heat of the presidential-primary season, the measure—which imposes stiff demands on states and school districts to improve student achievement and upgrade the quality of teachers—became something of a punching bag for the crowded field of Democratic hopefuls. Former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, the early frontrunner, led the charge with his vow to “dismantle” the act. But others who sought the Democratic nomination, including Sen. Kerry and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, his eventual vice presidential running mate, also jumped into the fray.

During a candidates’ debate in January, Sen. Edwards said his 2001 vote in favor of the law was a mistake. Sen. Kerry called the law, which he also voted for, a “one size fits all” approach and vowed to rewrite its accountability measures. ("'No Child' Law Faulted In Democratic Race," Jan. 14, 2004.)

But the Kerry campaign’s rhetoric on the No Child Left Behind Act shifted considerably after the Massachusetts senator clinched the nomination and headed toward the general election. Sen. Kerry continued to argue that President Bush hasn’t supported adequate funding for the law, but backed off explicit calls to rewrite it. Instead, Mr. Kerry said that the president had mismanaged its implementation, and he vowed that, if elected, he would make it “work for our schools.”

Exactly what he meant, however, was subject to much interpretation, and perhaps wishful thinking, by some Kerry backers.

“A presidential candidate is frequently a blank canvas upon which everybody paints their hopes and dreams,” said Andrew J. Rotherham, the director of education policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington think tank aligned with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

But Mr. Rotherham said he believes that those who were hoping Mr. Kerry might make fundamental changes to the law would have been disappointed.

“A Kerry win would not have meant a wild deviation [on education],” he said. “The two campaigns were operating within a fairly narrow bandwidth.”

At the same time, given the strong backing that Sen. Kerry won from the two national teachers’ unions—both of which have been sharply critical of the federal law—he presumably would have faced far more political pressure than President Bush to rethink some of the law’s requirements.

The Bush administration has so far resisted calls to amend the federal statute. The law will come up for reauthorization in 2007, well into his second term.

“It’s as if a tree has been planted that really needs at least another four years of nurture to be secure,” said Sandy Kress, who helped craft the law as a White House education adviser to President Bush and informally advised the re-election campaign. “What No Child Left Behind represents will be continued, will live, will be nurtured, and will be given a chance to make a real difference in the way education works.”

Mr. Kress added: “That’s not to say that administratively and legislatively, there won’t be opportunities to improve and strengthen and make things work smarter and better.”

Reg Weaver, the president of the 2.7 million-member National Education Association, which endorsed Sen. Kerry, said he believes the No Child Left Behind law will see some changes during the next Congress.

“I think the question is no longer shall the law be changed,” Mr. Weaver said last week. “I think the question is how it should be changed. … I do believe there are Republicans and Democrats who see that.”

‘Props for the Campaign’

Meanwhile, President Bush has a set of new plans for education, some of which he says are intended to build upon the No Child Left Behind Act.

For one, he would require more high school testing, with assessments in reading and mathematics each year in grades 9-11. Under the current federal law, high schools must test students only once. Mr. Bush also has proposed creating a program to help struggling middle and high school readers.

In addition, the president has said that he wants to establish a new, $200 million pot of money to encourage schools to use 8th grade test data to devise individual performance plans for entering high schoolers.

Furthermore, he has put forward a plan—similar to one proposed by the Kerry campaign—to set up a $500 million Teacher Incentive Fund for states and districts that reward “effective” teachers. The fund would provide cash awards of as much as $5,000 each to 100,000 teachers a year.

Mr. Jennings of the Center on Education Policy called the president’s proposals “campaign rhetoric just to say he had a program.” He said he believed few, if any, would actually be enacted.

“Those things were just props for the campaign,” Mr. Jennings maintained.

If Mr. Bush, however, makes these initiatives a political priority, his stronger majorities in the House and especially the Senate may well help ensure their passage. The party has added four seats to their majority in the Senate and at least four in the House, with one still undecided late last week. ("Congress' Shift to Right May Be Felt in Schools," this issue.)

During his press conference last week, Mr. Bush cited education as one of the areas where he expected to see action.

“I’ve earned [political] capital in this election, and I’m going to spend it,” he said. “You’ve heard the agenda: Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror.”

But Kathleen Porter-Magee, the associate research director at the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which is generally supportive of the administration’s education agenda, said she thought it would be more difficult for the president to push through some of his new ideas with the kind of strong backing he saw with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act.

“There is more resistance than there was then,” she said. “There was broad bipartisan support, but now when it comes to education, things are a little more polarized.”

Especially as Election Day approached, partisan tensions in Washington had become inflamed.

Leading Democrats have long contended that President Bush broke his “promise” on adequate funding for education, a point he strongly disputes but one that has caused continuing friction. Democrats have also complained about some of the administration’s decisions in implementing the No Child Left Behind law.

But last week, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said now is a time for reconciliation after the divisive election.

“Obviously, the results are disappointing,” he said in a Nov. 3 statement. “But I’m very hopeful that we can work together with President Bush to heal the divisions in America and make real progress for America’s future.”

President Bush, in his Nov. 3 victory speech to supporters after Sen. Kerry conceded defeat, said, “[T]oday I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent: To make this nation stronger and better I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust. A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation.”

Some analysts expect Mr. Bush and Republicans in Congress to press hard to expand federal support for private school vouchers over the next four years. The first such federal program, a pilot plan in the District of Columbia, was enacted earlier this year.

The president for three consecutive years now has proposed a $50 million program for vouchers and other school choice pilot programs across the country, but Congress has never provided money for it.

Another contentious issue in President Bush’s second term will likely be setting federal spending levels for education.

A Responsibility to Govern

During the campaign, Sen. Kerry repeatedly argued that the president was shortchanging the federal education budget.

Sen. Kerry had promised to spend an additional $200 billion over 10 years on education programs. And while that figure may have been overambitious, it seems likely that the Democrat would have pressed for higher levels of spending on education than President Bush has.

Federal education aid has grown dramatically since President Bush entered the White House in 2001, in part because each year Congress has provided more than Mr. Bush’s request.

If the president’s most recent budget request is any indication, he’s hoping to slow the growth rate. His Department of Education budget plan for fiscal 2005, which began Oct. 1, would provide an increase of $1.7 billion, or 3 percent, to a total of $57.3 billion in discretionary spending. Congress has not yet completed work on a 2005 appropriation for education.

Ultimately, when it comes to debates on the budget, education policy, and other matters, the election results—with Mr. Bush’s popular-vote as well as electoral-vote majority and the GOP gains in Congress—handed Republicans both a real opportunity and a heavy responsibility.

“I think that we as a party have a responsibility to govern,” Rep. Castle said. “If things don’t happen now, it’s going to be the fault of Republicans. Our leadership … needs to get together and have an agenda that’s meaningful and is going to help the people.”

“If not,” Mr. Castle said, in coming elections “there’s going to be the normal retribution.”


Voters Largely Reject Funding, Policy Shifts

By David J. Hoff and Andrew Trotter, Education Week, 11/10/04

Voters showed caution about sending more money to public schools or dramatically changing course on education policy, as they decided school-related questions on state ballots last week.

In Washington state, voters killed a nascent charter school law and resoundingly rejected a tax hike designed to yield a major infusion of cash for the education system. And in a closely contested Alabama campaign, it was unclear as of press time whether voters had agreed to delete Jim Crow-era language in the state constitution requiring racially segregated public schools. Critics of the change had argued that removal of some of the language marked for omission would indirectly make the state vulnerable to school finance litigation.

Voters in Oklahoma and North Carolina, meanwhile, approved measures that will open up new revenue sources for schools. But overall, efforts to increase education spending through the ballot box encountered more defeats than victories.

The tax initiative that Washington state voters defeated would have raised an estimated $1 billion a year to expand preschools, reduce K-12 class sizes, and provide new college scholarships. In Nevada, a measure designed to compel the state to spend at the national per-pupil average failed in a close vote.

Nevada voters did give the thumbs-up to a measure requiring the legislature to pass education spending legislation before funding any other area of the biennial state budget. The measure did not have a dollar figure attached to it, however. And for it to be enacted, voters must approve it again in two years.

“It was a bad day for education,” said John G. Matsusaka, the president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California. By contrast, he said, voters in some states proved “perfectly willing to spend” on health care and other areas.

The education measures that succeeded featured ways to raise money without reaching directly into voters’ pocketbooks, according to another expert on the initiative process.

“It requires creative thinking,” said Jennifer D. Bowser, a policy analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, based in Denver.

For example, the ballot question approved in Oklahoma will establish a lottery that proponents estimate will add $150 million a year to the $2 billion that the state spends on schools. In North Carolina, voters approved a constitutional amendment that will distribute revenue from civil penalties to schools, an amount that some observers estimate will be about $75 million a year.

In Maine, voters rejected a property-tax cap that opponents said would have hampered municipalities’ ability to finance schools, public safety, and other functions. But voters’ verdicts on two ballot measures in Arkansas and Missouri were seen as blows to school funding.

Again, No to Charters

Residents of Washington state turned down measures that would have made a sizable impact on schools—by allowing charter schools and by increasing funding for education by an estimated $1 billion a year. ("Education Issues Are Dominant Theme in Washington State," Oct. 13, 2004.)

The 58 percent to 42 percent rejection of the charter school law, which the legislature had enacted last spring, is the third rebuff of the independent public schools by Evergreen State voters. Ballot initiatives to allow charter schools lost at the polls in Washington in 2000 and 1996.

The charter school law became subject to a referendum because the Washington Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, challenged the legislation with a petition drive. The WEA and its supporters argued the case to parents that charter schools would take money away from school districts.

Union officials said that campaigning helped turn the tide on the charter school repeal, which had initially seemed headed for failure.

“We found a big change among parents of school-aged children—those were people our members were talking to on a regular basis,” Charles Hasse, the president of the 77,000-member WEA, said after its victory last week.

Some prominent charter supporters said that voters often hesitate to make major policy changes through the ballot.

“Once again, Americans show they are uncomfortable voting directly on any issue that would dramatically change the way schools do business,” Jeanne Allen, the president of the Center for Education Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy group, wrote in her analysis of Election Day results.

When it comes to adoption of state charter laws, “I think the legislative strategy has historically been a more successful route,” added Howard L. Fuller, the chairman of the Charter School Leadership Council, also based in the nation’s capital.

News of the closing this past summer of a large chain of charter schools in California and reports of mixed student-achievement results for such schools nationally may have played a role in Washington state residents’ resounding vote against the charter law.

Observers inside and outside the state downplayed the national significance of the vote. That hadn’t stopped money from pouring in, however, on both sides of the charter school campaign. Pro-charter forces raised some $4 million for their side, including $1 million from Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates. The National Education Association gave $500,000 to the $1 million drive against the charter law.

“I would have loved to have won,” said Jim Spady, the president of the Washington Charter School Resource Center in Seattle. A champion of charter schools in Washington state for more than a decade, he spearheaded the two previous ballot measures and was a member of the coalition advocating voter approval of the 2004 law.

The state’s high dropout rate signals “a crisis that needs to be addressed,” Mr. Spady said. “We just don’t agree on the solution.”

Sales-Tax Hike Scuttled

Washington state’s school aid measure, which lost by 61 percent to 39 percent, may have been doomed by its funding vehicle—a hike in the sales tax, which already is at 8 percent in some cities.

“I have to think the revenue source is a problem,” said Lisa McFarlane, the president of the League of Education Voters, which led the campaign for the proposed education trust fund.

“I think the [funding] initiative was viewed as a sales-tax increase rather than money for education ... in tough economic times,” said Jennifer Vranek, the executive director of Partnerships for Learning, a nonpartisan business group in the state.

Anti-tax conservatives were joined by liberals who criticized the sales tax as disproportionately burdensome to the poor, Ms. Vranek said.

The anti-tax sentiment may not be the only reason the initiative failed, said Ms. Bowser of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Another factor that may have worked against the Washington initiative was a controversy over the initiative’s title on the ballot. The title said the measure would have raised the sales tax by 1 percent. In fact, it would have increased the state sales tax by 1 percentage point, from 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent. That amounts to a 15 percent increase.

Such confusion often makes undecided voters reluctant to vote yes, Ms. Bowser said. “Voters who don’t understand it or are confused tend to vote no, because that’s the safe vote,” she said.

More uncertainty may have been sown by the proposed trust fund’s broad range of beneficiaries—including preschools, public K-12 schools, and community colleges—as well as the fact that two of its purposes, to lower class sizes and raise teacher salaries, were also the goals of initiatives that were passed in 2000 but that subsequently were not funded by the legislature.

Segregation Language

In Alabama, the proposed change to the 1901 state constitution would remove obsolete language requiring segregated schools and poll taxes to pay for education. Both sections have long been legally unenforceable.

But opponents campaigned against the proposed amendment because it would remove a passage saying, in part, that nothing in the state constitution creates “any right to education or training at public expense.” That deletion might make the state vulnerable to a school finance lawsuit, the foes said.

“When you swing that door open, there is unlimited opportunity for mischief,” John Giles, the president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, said in a statement on the group’s Web site. “It’s a trial lawyer’s dream.” Advocates of the amendment were surprised that the opposition mounted enough support to produce a virtual tie in voting on Nov. 2.

“This was a symbolic vote,” said Mark Berte, the project director for the constitution-reform education campaign at the Greater Birmingham Ministries, an interfaith group. The segregation language, he noted, “has already been rendered moot by federal courts.”

Of the nearly 1.4 million votes counted on Election Day, 690,155 were against the proposed change and 687,594 were in favor—close enough to trigger an automatic recount under state law, said Judy Wagnon, a staff member in the Alabama secretary of state’s office.

The state was scheduled to count provisional and absentee ballots this week. It will conduct a recount if the difference remains less than half of 1 percent of the total, Ms. Wagnon said.

Ups and Downs for Funding

Voters in Oklahoma and North Carolina were comfortable approving plans to aid schools that wouldn’t reach into their pockets.

In addition to creating the lottery, Oklahoma voters approved ballot questions to tax Native American casinos, with the money going for schools. They also endorsed an increase in tobacco taxes to pay for health care.

“The initiatives certainly won’t address all of our funding challenges, but they are a great step forward,” Gov. Brad Henry of Oklahoma said in a statement. The Democrat had endorsed all of the initiatives.

In North Carolina, voters approved a constitutional amendment that clarifies how money from civil penalties will be distributed to schools. The state supreme court ruled earlier this year that the revenue should go to schools, but said it would go to the county where the violation occurred. Under the measure that voters approved, the money will be spread throughout the state on a per-pupil basis.

But voters in other states took significant action that could limit school funding.

Arkansas rejected the state legislature’s proposal to increase the minimum rate at which districts tax property. The rate would have risen by 3 mills—or 3 cents for every $100 in value. Advocates said the new revenue would have been important in helping the state comply with a supreme court order to improve the quality of school buildings.

In Missouri, voters decided that all money from vehicle-sales and fuel taxes should be spent on roads, a decision that educators argue will shift money away from schools. The measure will move about $190 million away from the state’s general fund, according to estimates by the Missouri National Education Association. Because education and social services total about two-thirds of state spending, those two areas will likely be hit hardest, according to the 32,000-member union.

“On the heels of three bad budget years and billions of dollars in painful cuts,” the union’s president, Greg Jung, said in a statement, “passage of Amendment 3 will deal a devastating blow.”


School unit mandates 'intelligent design'

By Martha Raffaele, Associated Press Writer, November 12, 2004

DOVER, Pa. -- When talk at the high school here turns to evolution, biology teachers have to make time for Charles Darwin as well as his detractors. With a vote last month, the school board in rural south-central Pennsylvania community is believed to have become the first in the nation to mandate the teaching of "intelligent design," which holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by an unspecified higher power.

Critics call the change in the ninth-grade biology curriculum a veiled attempt to require public schoolchildren to learn creationism, a biblical-based view that credits the origin of species to God. Schools typically teach evolution, the theory that Earth is billions of years old and that life forms developed over millions of years.

The state American Civil Liberties Union chapter is reviewing the Dover Area School District case. Its Georgia counterpart, meanwhile, is fighting a suburban Atlanta district's decision to include a warning sticker in biology textbooks that says evolution is "a theory, not a fact."

"What Dover has done goes much further than what's happened in Georgia," said Witold Walczak, legal director of the Pennsylvania ACLU. "As far as we can tell, Dover is the first school district that has actually mandated intelligent design."

The district enrolls about 2,800 students. It encompasses the small, rural community of Dover borough, about 20 miles south of Harrisburg, and a patchwork of farmland and newer suburban developments in several surrounding townships.

The revision was spearheaded by school board member William Buckingham, who heads the board's curriculum committee.

"I think it's a downright fraud to perpetrate on the students of this district, to portray one theory over and over," said Buckingham. "What we wanted was a balanced presentation."

Buckingham wanted the board to adopt an intelligent-design textbook, "Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins," as a supplement to the traditional biology book, but no vote was ever taken. A few weeks before the new science curriculum was approved, 50 copies were anonymously donated to the high school.

Although Buckingham describes himself as a born-again Christian and believes in creationism, "This is not an attempt to impose my views on anyone else," he said.

Two of the dissenting board members, Carol Brown and her husband, Jeff, were so upset that they resigned after the 6-3 vote on Oct. 18.

"We have a vocal group within the community who feel very strongly in an evangelical Christian way that there is no separation of church and state," Carol Brown said. "Our responsibility to is to represent the viewpoints of all members of the community."

Statewide science-curriculum standards approved by Pennsylvania's state Education Board merely ask students to "analyze data ... that are relevant to the theory of evolution."

When the standards were revised three years ago, the board considered language that would have required students to consider evidence that did not support evolution, but the board dropped the idea after critics alleged it would have led to the widespread teaching of creationism in public schools.

Critics of intelligent design contend it is creationism repackaged in more secular-sounding language.

"Creationism in a cheap tuxedo," said Nicholas Matzke, project information specialist for the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., which advocates for the teaching of evolution.

Even the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports scientists studying intelligent-design theory, opposes mandating it in schools because it is a relatively new concept, said John West, associate director of the institute's Center for Science and Culture.

"We're completely against anyone who says you should downgrade or limit the teaching of evolution," West said.

Dover biology teacher Jennifer Miller said the curriculum changes have left her uncertain about how to approach her evolution lesson.

"If you put the words 'intelligent design' into my curriculum, then I have to teach it," said Miller, a 12-year veteran. "I'm not sure what that means as to how in-depth we have to go. ... I'm looking for more direction from the school board."

Neither Assistant Superintendent Michael Baksa, who oversees the district's curriculum, nor Superintendent Richard Nilsen responded to telephone calls and e-mail messages.

Jonathan Tome, whose three sons attend Dover schools, applauded the measure.

"You can't be hypocritical with these kids, teaching them one thing but not another," said Tome, 43.

But sophomore Courtney Lawton said she didn't have a problem learning only about evolution in biology class last year.

"I just think they should keep it the way it is, and they shouldn't add anything about a higher power," said Lawton, 15. "People who believe differently, they might feel like they're being segregated."


High school political debate leads to assault

AP, 11/11/04   

APPLE VALLEY, Minnesota  -- Three high school students, one allegedly armed with a bat, were charged with attacking a pro-President Bush classmate after he reportedly said only gays would support Sen. John Kerry.

"It's a good thing to see young people interested and excited about politics," said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom. "It's obviously very disturbing to see this kind of violence over it."

The 17-year-old was assaulted last Thursday in the high school parking lot following a class discussion about the election, authorities said. He was treated for cuts and bruises and released.

The alleged assailants have all been charged: one with felony assault -- because he allegedly went to his car to get a bat during the assault, prosecutors said -- one with misdemeanor assault and one with disorderly conduct.


Montana High Court Strikes Down State's School Funding System

By Mary Ann Zehr, Education Week, 11/11/04

The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that Montana's public schools aren't adequately financed because the current funding system isn't based on "educationally relevant factors."

In a unanimous decision on Nov. 9, Montana's highest court upheld the ruling in April of Helena District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock that state funding for public schools is not sufficient. The three-page preliminary order also upheld Judge Sherlock's finding that the state's public education system is violating a mandate in the state constitution for schools to teach children about the heritage of American Indians.

The supreme court gave the Montana legislature until Oct. 1 of next year to come up with a better system for financing public education. Having rushed to issue a preliminary order on the matter so the legislature could address it in its upcoming session, the court will issue a full opinion at an unspecified, later date. State legislators are set to resume work Jan. 3 for a session expected to last 90 days.

The decision marked the second time the state's funding formula has been struck down since 1989.

Following the latest ruling, Montanans need to take a much closer look at the needs and true cost of public schooling, said Jack Copps, the executive director of the Helena-based Montana Quality Education Coalition, which filed the lawsuit in 2002. "We've only speculated in Montana the amount of resources our schools need. That's created great problems in our state."

He noted, for instance, that Montana's schools have difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers because they don't pay them as much as other states do.

But Brian Morris, the state solicitor who defended Montana in the case, said he's disappointed in the ruling. "We had urged the court to look at output measures such as graduation rates and what students are learning," he said.

Montana's schools measure up well, he said, in providing a high-quality education when compared with public schools in other states. He noted that Montana students perform well above average on standardized tests, their graduation rates are higher than for students in many states, and they are less likely to drop out of school than their peers in many states.

Low Teacher Salaries

Linda H. McCulloch, Montana's superintendent of public instruction, said she hopes the court decision will result in more money to pay teachers better salaries. Many Montana school districts offer a starting salary of less than $20,000 per year, and about 60 percent don't provide health insurance to their faculty, she said.

Both Republicans and Democrats who served on the state Senate's education committee in the most recent legislative session surmised that revamping the public funding system to meet the demands of the court would mean coming up with more dollars for schools.

"It probably will cost more money," said state Sen. William E. Glaser, a Republican who is the chairman of the Senate education committee. "That doesn't necessarily mean that on a given piece of property the taxes will go up. We've actually done quite well in our economy, when everyone else was struggling."

"I'd be surprised if everyone isn't resigned to the fact that we'll have to put more money into education," added state Sen. Mike Cooney, a Democrat on the same committee. The difficulty of resolving the issue, he said, will be agreeing on what level of funding is appropriate.

Robert R. Story Jr., a Republican member of the Senate education committee, said the state's formula for funding public schools is based on the number of pupils in a school, and places caps on what local school districts can spend in addition to what they receive from the state.

The system reflects revisions made more than a decade ago in response to a court ruling that the system wasn't equitable, he noted. Mr. Story said the existing system worked adequately when student enrollment was growing. But now that it has been declining, he said, school districts haven't been able to keep up with their fixed costs.

Montana provided $555 million for K-12 education in fiscal 2004, or 60 percent of the local and state money spent on public schooling.

Joyce Silverthorne, the head of the tribal education department for the Salish/Kootenai tribes of Montana and a former state school board member, said she was pleased the supreme court recognized the need for schools to carry out the state's constitutional mandate to teach all Montanans about their state's 12 American Indian tribes. "It requires funding to bring us together and develop a curriculum that incorporates the elements from each tribal group," she said.




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