By ADRIANA COLINDRES,
State Capitol Bureau,
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
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
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
"(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
- 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
"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
- On fixing the school
funding problem in
"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."
Lawmakers say measure likely won't be voted on
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
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
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 (
Even with an income
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.
The anticipation at
the community center in O'Fallon,
"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
"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
"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
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 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
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.
"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 "And I'm tired. But it's all worth it, it really is."
The defeat of referendums
in the Byron and
Schools should channel
their energy into changing
Voters last week handed
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
Their plights may sound dire enough, but voters are saying: Yada yada yada.
Only eight of 45 school
Don Schlomann, superintendent
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.
After a referendum for
We repeat: Are over.
School officials can do somersaults trying to prove their district is different. They even may have a good case.
But the real solution
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.
By Alexa Aguilar of
Today is not only the
first day of school for many
have signed up to attend
With the school year
well under way,
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.
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.
Mike Neumann, Northern
Star Staff Reporter,
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 Blagojevichs state-wide attempt to improve safety standards
What the governor
has called for is a comprehensive plan for all
After a plan is finalized, it will go through a pilot testing phase, she said.
Safety is always
a primary concern with every school district. The
team met recently to discuss safety-related issues and to identify areas
where additional support might be necessary,
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 [Blagojevichs plan] and we decided it was about time to review [our procedures] as well.
There are still questions over who will pay for Blagojevichs 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.
Well just have to wait and see, Besonen said. It could be [our responsibility]. If its state-mandated, well just have to make the changes.
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
"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
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."
Joilet school cites concern for safety
The plain, white T-shirt,
an innocuous garment found in dresser drawers throughout the nation,
was banned from one
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
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
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
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
"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
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.
Irving Spergel, a sociology
professor at the
"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
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
Tax shifting: Plan would increase income taxes, decrease property taxes
By Justina Wang, Beacon
News Staff Writer,
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
"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
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
"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,
Alisa Koch, an
"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 (
School officials from
several local districts, including
"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
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
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 www.ctbaonline.org.
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,
By most measures,
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
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,
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
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.
"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
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.
me when bureaucrats in
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
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
So far, the tough standard
has been applied only to individual schools across
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.
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
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 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
"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
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
"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
"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."
A growing number of
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.
understand it's more than just getting a day off and prancing around,"
said Wayne Miller, commander of the VFW Post in
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
"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.
"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.
By Ryan Pagelow, News
Sun Staff Writer,
"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."
By CARRIE WATTERS,
ROCKFORD -- The
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
Locally, officials are
asking folks to consider the classroom.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
Gemmill gave a dry laugh when asked how soon her job would be complete. "Hopefully, by late August," she said.
Police say she embezzled more than $100,000
By Steven Kreytak, Austin
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
School board member wants clear wording on marriage
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
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."
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
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
"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.
There have been scattered
efforts around the nation for other school boards to adopt similar measures.
Last month the Dover Area School Board in
The state education
In March, the Ohio Board of Education narrowly approved a lesson plan that some critics contended opens the door to teaching creationism.
Teachers Try an Array of Techniques to Combat Germy Students
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Bob Hajek, Neal's attorney, said the jury found the school system failed to protect student information.
jury determined this was a wholesale failure by the
Allen Giles, general
counsel for the
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.
actually came to us," said Colleen Callahan, a member of the Board
of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education and the
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
"I'm looking for
something where everyone opens their book and says, 'Here we all are,'"
said regent Mario Mancieri, a retired superintendent from
Candy creates confusion in
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
Duke Helfand and Joel
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.
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
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.
Some districts have set limits on the numbers of transfers for fear of swamping high-performing campuses.
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.
"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.
"When parents call,
we explain that the programs and the training for teachers is the same
at every school," said Ruben Barron,
"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
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."
"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
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.
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
"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."
Daniel and Dinora Sanchez
jumped at the chance to move their 9-year-old son, Christian, to a better
school outside their east
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
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
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.
"It's money spent
for the wrong purpose," said Agustin Orci, deputy superintendent
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."
Call 'spy' proposal a ploy to cut pay
By Heather Allen,
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 , 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.
By Jay Mathews,
Aaron Starke was a 28-year-old
assistant principal at a
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
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.
Other schools managed
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
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
Several other cities,
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
Nancy W. Streim, associate
dean for educational practice at the
Paul Hill, a
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.
Opponents call it an overreaction to stricter standards
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
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.
''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.
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."
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
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
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
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 laws 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 yearas many analysts have predictedbut he said any such changes would not be as much as the laws 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, theyre 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
It remains unclear whether Secretary of Education Rod Paige will stay on in the presidents 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 wasnt always so clear. Signed by President Bush in January 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act reauthorizedand significantly overhauledthe 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 measurewhich imposes stiff demands on states and school
districts to improve student achievement and upgrade the quality of
teachersbecame something of a punching bag for the crowded field
of Democratic hopefuls. Former Gov. Howard Dean of
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,"
But the Kerry campaigns
rhetoric on the No Child Left Behind Act shifted considerably after
Exactly what he meant, however, was subject to much interpretation, and perhaps wishful thinking, by some Kerry backers.
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
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 unionsboth of which have been sharply critical of the federal lawhe presumably would have faced far more political pressure than President Bush to rethink some of the laws 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.
Its 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: Thats not to say that administratively and legislatively, there wont 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 plansimilar to one proposed by the Kerry campaignto 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 presidents 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.
Ive earned [political] capital in this election, and Im going to spend it, he said. Youve 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 administrations 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
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 administrations decisions in implementing the No Child Left Behind law.
But last week, Sen.
Edward M. Kennedy of
results are disappointing, he said in a Nov. 3 statement. But
Im very hopeful that we can work together with President Bush
to heal the divisions in
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
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 Bushs 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. Bushs request.
If the presidents most recent budget request is any indication, hes 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 resultswith Mr. Bushs popular-vote as well as electoral-vote majority and the GOP gains in Congresshanded 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 dont happen now, its going to be the fault of Republicans. Our leadership needs to get together and have an agenda thats meaningful and is going to help the people.
If not, Mr. Castle said, in coming elections theres going to be the normal retribution.
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.
The tax initiative that
It was a bad day
for education, said John G. Matsusaka, the president of the Initiative
and Referendum Institute at the
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
For example, the ballot
question approved in
Again, No to Charters
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
The charter school law became subject to a referendum because the Washington Education Association, the states 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 childrenthose 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 nations capital.
News of the closing
this past summer of a large chain of charter schools in
Observers inside and outside the state downplayed the national significance of the vote. That hadnt 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
The states high dropout rate signals a crisis that needs to be addressed, Mr. Spady said. We just dont agree on the solution.
Sales-Tax Hike Scuttled
Washington states school aid measure, which lost by 61 percent to 39 percent, may have been doomed by its funding vehiclea 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
Such confusion often makes undecided voters reluctant to vote yes, Ms. Bowser said. Voters who dont understand it or are confused tend to vote no, because thats the safe vote, she said.
More uncertainty may have been sown by the proposed trust funds broad range of beneficiariesincluding preschools, public K-12 schools, and community collegesas 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.
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
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 favorclose enough to trigger an automatic
recount under state law, said Judy Wagnon, a staff member in the
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
In addition to creating
certainly wont address all of our funding challenges, but they
are a great step forward, Gov. Brad Henry of
But voters in other states took significant action that could limit school funding.
On the heels of three bad budget years and billions of dollars in painful cuts, the unions president, Greg Jung, said in a statement, passage of Amendment 3 will deal a devastating blow.
By Martha Raffaele, Associated Press Writer, November 12, 2004
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
The district enrolls
about 2,800 students. It encompasses the small, rural community of
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."
standards approved by
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.
a cheap tuxedo," said Nicholas Matzke, project information specialist
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.
"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
"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
"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.
By Mary Ann Zehr, Education Week, 11/11/04
The Montana Supreme
Court has ruled that
In a unanimous decision
on Nov. 9,
The supreme court gave
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
He noted, for instance,
But Brian Morris, the
state solicitor who defended
Low Teacher Salaries
Linda H. McCulloch,
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.
the head of the tribal education department for the Salish/Kootenai
Illinois State Board of Education