SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- Three months into the sizable task of serving as
the interim state superintendent for Illinois and Southern Illinois University Carbondale professor
Randy Dunn said there is still a lot of work left to do.
Since Dunn, of Chester, took office in September he has been leading something
of a mandated revolution on the state board of education. Gov. Rod Blagojevich
blasted the agency in January as a "Soviet-style bureaucracy"
in the presence of former State Superintendent Robert Schiller. The
board spent months on the defensive, until the governor signed a Senate
bill aimed at making the body more accountable to him. Schiller abruptly
resigned and Dunn stepped in, charged with creating a more innovative,
inexpensive and inclusive agency.
As the year closes, Blagojevich has gone from spewing fire at the state
board to singing praises of its latest initiative to cut roughly $2.6
million in expenses from the agency.
Dunn said there was no major operation needed to find cost savings in
"In some ways, no one administrative cut is responsible, but added
together they make up a good stewardship of money and resources,"
Dunn said the agency has cut its fleet of eight vehicles by half, it
has canceled its lobbying contract, and it is attempting to renegotiate
its lease at the headquarters in Springfield.
Aside from the operating procedure changes, Dunn said the agency is
trying to change the way it deals with school districts across Illinois, making the state board of education more accessible
The agency got its first chance to show what it could do differently
early in Dunn's tenure, with the school report cards. Dunn said 1,900
schools had mistakes in reporting, and the state board had the option
to either release the results by the federal deadline or wait to help
the schools fix the problem and release corrected but late reports.
"We chose the latter option," Dunn said. "As I think
I said at the time, we can't let a bureaucratic deadline stand in the
way of getting it done right."
Dunn said the staff at the agency took the initiative to help every
school district in the state correct the report cards. He said staffers
were literally offering a "tech support" service with school
administrators by phone, guiding them through the Web sites necessary
to make corrections.
In the end, Dunn said he hopes the extra effort will pay off.If nothing else, he added, the exercise may
have proved the state board is willing to become a more user-friendly
entity for the future.
"The easiest thing to do, working with the staff here has been
a real pleasure," Dunn said. "We've got a number of folks
passionate about Illinois schools."
Dunn said he is trying to create a culture at the agency level where
that passion can be turned into actions that help the board become more
innovative in their approach to education.
Dunn said he is still liking the job just fine, even though his time
on the post is temporary.
"You never know what turns life may take, but I'm not out hunting
for anything," he said.
Dunn was originally scheduled for a sabbatical this semester at SIUC.
His job is still open with the university, and officials are ready to
welcome him back when he is finished at the state level.
SPRINGFIELD -- A program that lets teachers retire early with full
benefits could be overhauled or cut altogether next year as legislators
grapple with the ballooning costs of state-funded pensions.
The Early Retirement Option, a popular perk for senior educators under
60 who work in the suburbs and Downstate, has been in place for nearly
25 years. This year the Illinois Senate voted to extend the program
for five more years.
But House leaders put it on hold as they analyze how--and whether--the
state can afford the extension, expected to cost $870.3 million.
Some legislators have also expressed concern about methods teachers
use to boost pensions, including double-digit pay raises shortly before
retirement and an option to "buy" service time for use in
A Tribune analysis in 2003 showed that such measures, benefiting more
than 70 percent of eligible teachers with little cost to the local boards
that approve them, can add hundreds of millions of dollars to the state
Clout-heavy teacher groups are angry over the possibility of losing
the Early Retirement Option. Union officials understand they will have
to discuss changes to the program, but they worry that teachers are
being unfairly targeted.
"The system would not have the difficulty in terms of the underfunding
had the state funded the system as it should have," said Anne Davis,
president of the Illinois Education Association. "I don't think
that's an issue that ought to be laid at the doorstep of the members
that have contributed to the system."
But at a time when the state is strapped for cash and facing a deteriorating
budget situation, the underfunded retirement program has drawn close
scrutiny from Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago and his fellow House
"It has to be paid for eventually, and the state of Illinois is the one who has to pay for it," said Rep. Robert
Molaro (D-Chicago), an expert on state pensions. "We may not be
able to afford it. After two years of record deficits, we may not be
able to extend it another five years in its present form."
Fiscal problem of pensions
Paying for various pension systems is one of state government's biggest
fiscal problems. For two decades beginning in the 1970s, the state piled
up debt in the funds, paying less than its full share each year.
In the Teachers' Retirement System, the state's largest pension plan,
that means state budget makers start each year with an enormous pension
obligation, an increasingly daunting responsibility that will stand
at a startling $6 billion by fiscal year 2013. If renewed, the early
retirement package would add to that debt.
Yet it is often local officials who hand out costly boosts for teachers.
Under state law, annual pay increases as generous as 20 percent can
be included in pension calculations for most retirees. The big pay hikes,
outlawed in some states, usually burden local taxpayers only for a year
or two. The greater part of the obligation--paying the accompanying
increases in retirement pay, sometimes for decades--falls to the state.
In one instance, the Tribune found that the salary of a SchaumburgHigh
teacher increased from $91,151 to $142,536 during his final years with
the district. The teacher retired at age 55 with nearly $11,000 more
in yearly pension payments than if he had simply gotten 5 percent raises
during the same period.
Other factors also add to the costs. Among other things, teachers currently
have the ability to "buy" time at a discount. This allows
them to retire earlier at a reduced penalty.
They also can cash in unused sick time to speed the date at which they
can retire with full benefits, and sometimes to increase the pay on
which their retirement benefits are calculated.
Under the early retirement program now up for extension, teachers and
districts make a one-time contribution to the Teachers' Retirement System
so that the teacher may avoid reduced benefits for retiring before age
60. For districts, that contribution can be sizable, depending on the
teacher's salary and the number of years the teacher is under the age
Over the years, lawmakers have renewed the early retirement program
to reward teachers, attract recruits and relieve school districts of
the higher salaries of senior educators.
One argument against ending the perquisite is that it could inadvertently
trigger a wave of mass retirements, as teachers who were hanging on
to fulfill the 34 years of service required by the program give up and
In an ominous sign for teachers unions, though, Speaker Madigan recently
mused that maybe that wouldn't be such a bad result.
"If the goal is to get people to retire, why worry about the exodus?"
Madigan said in a recent House committee discussion. As the head of
the chamber, Madigan can end the perk simply by refusing to act to renew
Political power of teachers
But teachers unions are politically powerful, and many lawmakers think
Madigan doesn't really want to do away with the bonus program but hopes
instead to bring the teachers and their employers to the table to reform
Changes now under consideration also include halting or limiting big
pay increases just before retirement and requiring districts for the
first time to help pay for the retirement packages they hand out.
But local school officials say any changes will be difficult, because
educators have grown so used to the retirement perks.
"Imagine the people on the negotiating teams," said Kris Monn,
business manager for Lemont-Bromberek school district in CookCounty, where teachers can get four years in a row of 10 percent
to 20 percent bonuses before retiring. "They're generally nearing
the end of their careers and they've been seeing this golden apple."
School District 54 parents recently urged state education officials
to stop a trend of school districts "dumping" families because
the districts won't provide services for special needs children.
About 75 parents attended a forum with Illinois State Board of Education
officials who were in Schaumburg in early November to gauge the district's special education
programs and needs.
While they praised District 54's services, some parents said they had
to move from other school districts because those districts wouldn't
provide the necessary special education programs, which require hiring
specialized staff and purchasing equipment. The parents called the practice
"district dumping" and want the state to put an end to it.
Austin Walsh moved his family to District 54 to get speech therapy for
his 8-year-old daughter, who has Down syndrome. He said that the district
his daughter formerly attended wouldn't provide speech therapy, even
though she was diagnosed with verbal apraxia.
He took his daughter to a private therapist and sued and won reimbursement
from the district. Fed up, the Walshes moved.
"I'd like to see District 54 send a bill to the other school districts
to show how much they're costing this district," he said.
Paula Stadecker, ISBE principle consultant, said investigating suspected
incidents of district dumping would be difficult because of a lack of
manpower and money.
While she hadn't heard the term before the forum, Assistant Superintendent
Ruth Ann Barnhill knows that parents with special needs children move
to District 54 because of the services they can get there.
"We hear about it every day. We field two or three calls or e-mails
every week from parents in Nebraska, Wyoming,
New York wanting to move here or who are moving here. They move
into this area to get those services," said Barnhill, who oversees
special services in the district.
The district has a total of 2,250 special needs students. Per pupil
cost for special education is $45,412. It costs $8,772 per pupil to
educate a regular education student in the district, Barnhill said.
She added that all 631 of the district's regular education teachers
have some contact with special needs students.
One parent also expressed concern about special education services after
the children graduate from District 54.
Diane Ross, whose daughter has multiple disabilities, praised the transition
services offered by the district.
"District 54 bent over backwards offering recommendations for her
transition, but you can't make the school district take it. You don't
know how fortunate you are in this district," she said.
District 54 had recommended that her daughter continue to be included
in a regular education setting, but Township High School District 211
has resisted doing that, Ross said.
Stadecker said compliance checks like the recent nearly weeklong visit
to District 54 are done to show the federal government that the ISBE
has been monitoring Illinois school districts. The ISBE uses the school districts
for technical assistance, and information gathered during these visits
can be given to other districts to improve or implement programs and
Barnhill said ISBE representatives spent four days in the district,
visiting schools and classrooms and examining administrative records.
As a former medical technician for the Air Force, Belleville resident Kevin Murphy has seen a lot of action.
During his 22-year military career, Murphy helped transport ousted Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos safely out of the country
and he spent five years in Germany treating wounded military personnel.
Now, with the help of McKendreeCollege's Transitions to Teaching program, he's able to use
those experiences as a science teacher at WyvetterYoungeMiddle
in East St. Louis.
Transitions to Teaching is a new program that began last spring at McKendree.
It enables people who already hold bachelor's degrees in science, math,
language arts and music to shift into new teaching careers within months.
On Saturday, McKendreeCollege's Transitions to Teaching Job Fair will be held.
For Murphy, who received medical and nursing training in the Air Force
and holds both a bachelor's and master's degree in work force education
from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the program saved him
four more years of college.
"I was looking for a way to get an Illinois teaching certificate and was ready to go to a four-year
program," said Murphy, 44. "But the advantage of the Transition
program is phenomenal. I'm able to get a provisional certificate, while
able to pursue a regular certificate teaching full-time as well."
Called an alternative certificate program, students in Transitions to
Teaching start the program by taking two evening courses. During the
summer, program participants begin on-the-job training as summer school
teachers. By the fall, they are working full-time as teachers in high-need
districts with the same pay and benefits as any other teacher in the
"We knew that there were people who were midcareer with academic
backgrounds and who decided that they knew they wanted to be teachers,"
said program coordinator Stan Burcham. "This allows them, after
five to six months of being in the classroom, to move into a teaching
Burcham said the federally funded program was initiated as a way to
address teacher shortages, especially in school districts such as East St. Louis, Cahokia, Brooklyn, East
River and Madison.
Students in the program will have obtained 36 hours toward a master's
degree upon completing the program and will be eligible for an Illinois teaching certificate. Once they take an additional research
course, students will have completed course work for a master's of arts
Burcham said that a grant from the Associated Colleges of Illinois allows the program to give stipends of between $2,500
and $5,000 for expenses.
The financial aid department at McKendreeCollege will work with students to help them obtain any additional
grants or loans, according to Burcham, and a portion of any loan a student
receives may be forgiven for teaching in a high-need school. Tuition
for the entire program is $18,000.
Murphy said that he is fortunate as an Air Force retiree to have both
a pension and education benefits to help him out. The husband and father
of four said that switching to a new career has required long hours
of graduate course work in the evenings and that working in a high-need
school district can be challenging.
But he says he wouldn't change a thing.
"I finally get a chance to do something I love," he said.
A few Sundays ago, the Rockford Register Star Editorial Board challenged
local school districts to combine forces and lobby the General Assembly
and the governor for a change in the way schools in Illinois are financed.
Belvidere Superintendent Don Schlomann answered the challenge and issued
one to the Editorial Board as well.
In January, Schlomann plans to host a forum about school financing issues.
The forum should enlighten our local lawmakers, the governor and the
speaker of the House, all of whom will be invited, about how unfair
the current system is. Hopefully, they'll see the light and work to
change a system that has caused 82 percent of school districts to operate
with a deficit.
Schlomann's challenge to the Register Star was to practice what we preach
and get involved in the effort. We will.
The Editorial Board has been harping on the inequities of school financing
for years. The overreliance on property taxes is unfair. Students in
affluent Chicago suburbs go to schools that are virtual palaces while
downstate students cram into old, rickety buildings.
There seems to be plenty of interest in changing the system.
A Chicago-based group, Better Funding For Better Schools, has been pushing
for change along with many residents in the Rock RiverValley. Hundreds of local folks were involved at a rally in
Springfield in March.
The Youth-Centered Grassroots School Funding Campaign is a local group
of students who want people to know that financing equity affects their
prospects for a good education and a bright future.
House Bill 750 would raise the state's personal income tax to 5 percent
from 3 percent, expand the sales tax to cover personal services, entertainment
and other consumer services, and reduce by 20 percent to 25 percent
the part of a property owner's property taxes that is currently used
to fund schools.
HB750 may not be perfect, but it's a good starting point for a discussion
of financing our schools.
Residents are tired of school districts continually asking for more
money, and they routinely vote down tax increase referendums. In November,
only eight of 45 school proposals on Illinois
ballots passed. Harlem failed to pass a referendum for the fifth time.
We're working on the details of the forum, but we hope you will help
us pack whatever meeting place we choose so lawmakers know how serious
the issue is. If you want to get involved, send me an e-mail.
Wally Haas is editorial page editor of the Register Star. His e-mail
address is email@example.com
The federal No Child Left Behind law is intended to guarantee that every
public school student in the United States receives a good education.
In practice, however, it seems that the intent of the law is as much
to label as many schools as possible as failures by setting standards
that schools cannot meet and changing them almost annually just
in case the schools are trying to comply.
About half of Illinois' public school districts failed to meet the No Child
Left Behind standards in the 2002-03 school year, the most recent for
which results are available. If a 50 percent failure rate doesn't raise
warning flags about the intent of the law, or at least about its implementation,
consider this: Among the "failures" in 2002-03 were two high
school districts that are among the strongest academically in the southwest
suburbs: Lincoln-Way High School District 210 and Consolidated School
District 230 (Sandburg, Stagg and Andrew high schools).Under the controversial
law, failing schools are hit with sanctions among them the requirement
that their students must be permitted to transfer to another school
or even another school district. And the sanctions get tougher each
year that students' test scores fall short of the standards set out
in the federal law.
One sanction requires schools to spend a portion of their anti-poverty
funds on tutoring programs for their low-income students. Several Southland
schools fall under that sanction, including ones in Dolton District
148, Community High School District 218, West Harvey District 147 and
all of which were among 11 school districts in Illinois that got permission to run their own tutoring last year.
District 148 last year decided that it could provide after-school tutoring
to more students if it administered the after-school help itself rather
than providing it through a for-profit, private company. And if the
district designed the tutoring, it could be coordinated with its own
curriculum, which a private company might not be able to do.
District 148 officials believe the tutoring programs are working for
the kids involved. But each of the four school districts faces a new
problem: Under No Child Left Behind, if the districts fail to meet federal
academic standards again this school year, they will no longer be eligible
to provide their own tutoring and will have to switch to one of the
more costly private programs.
Local school officials say their tutoring programs work because teachers
work with fewer students at a time than they do in regular classes.
More personalized instruction is more effective. But the feds argue
that if a school district doesn't meet standards with its regular academic
programs, it won't meet them with after-school programs either, regardless
of smaller class groups.
The interim state schools superintendent agrees with local school officials
and has appealed to the U.S. Department of Education to let the local
districts continue the tutoring programs they started last year.
We hope the feds give their approval, and we urge local congressmen
to put in a good word for the local districts. It's unrealistic to expect
dramatic success from programs that have been in place only for a year
If improving the schools truly is the law's goal, the feds should give
local school officials a legitimate opportunity to do so.
The Illinois State Board of Education won't pursue a previously promised
ouster of the East St. Louis School Board president, the state schools
superintendent said Tuesday.
The former financial overseers of the school district had voted to remove
President Lonzo Greenwood from the School Board, on grounds that he
had signed a $3.44 million contract without the School Board's approval.
Then the state dissolved the East St. LouisSchool
financial oversight panel in June, and the State Board of Education
promised to pursue Greenwood's removal in court. At that point, Greenwood had filed a lawsuit challenging his ouster.
Since then, however, a new state superintendent and state board have
been put in place, and Superintendent Randy Dunn says the new leadership
does not plan to follow through on the removal.
Richard Mark, former chairman of the East St. Louis financial oversight panel, said it was depressing to
hear that the state would not follow through with Greenwood and that there would be no outside oversight in the
"It's going to be business as usual," Mark said. "They'll
be financially troubled in a few years. It's just depressing to see
how unconcerned state agencies are about waste and misspending in a
district that receives 78 percent of its funding from the state."
The deal orchestrated this summer by former state Superintendent Robert
Schiller called for the early dissolution of the financial oversight
panel, which had been monitoring the school district's finances for
more than nine years. He replaced it with a "transition team"
that was supposed to monitor the district, appointed a new interim CEO
and assured the panel that the removal of Greenwood would not be dropped.
The transition team has yet to meet. Dunn said it's time for East St. Louis to have "control of its own destiny."
"Time will tell," Dunn said. "We will continue to watch
it closely and offer them the support that they need."
Dunn said the promise to follow through with Greenwood's removal was a promise made by the previous state board.
Mark and the panel voted to remove Greenwood, after alleging that he
signed a $3.44 million contract with Sodexho, a food service provider,
even though Sodexho was not the lowest bidder. He did so without informing
other board members, the panel alleged. Greenwood could not be reached for comment.
Parents and backers of NilesTownship's special education consortium are trying to plan their
next move now that Niles Township High School District 219 has officially
informed them that it will pull out of the group -- and take its annual
financial budget donations with it -- by July 1.
The State Board of Education must approve District 219's exit from the
consortium, which funds education of physically, emotionally and mentally
challenged students who live in NilesTownship. That includes students from the high school district
and from its nine elementary "feeder" districts in Morton Grove, Skokie and Lincolnwood.
A hearing on the request is scheduled for early February said District
Business Manager Gerry Yeggy Monday.
"They will review it, but I am told a request like this has never
been refused by the (Illinois State Board of Education)," he said.
District 219 told special education district officials of their decision
on last month. It does not mean it will pull its students from classes
at JuliaMolloySchool, 8701 N. Menard Ave. in Morton Grove. However it will no longer pay into the consortium's
budget as a member, and will only pay tuition costs for its students.
District 219 board President Robert Silverman said the change would
not affect the education of students, and he emphasized that his board's
decision "was not out of spite, or because we're not happy with
what has been provided ... We believe we can continue to deliver an
excellent special education program at a lower cost."
He said he believed both sides had worked diligently to come to an agreement,
but simply failed to do so.
When District 219 first announced its intention to withdraw, Yeggy estimated
the district could save nearly $7 million over the next five years by
doing so. The district paid the consortium an estimated $1.3 million
in the 2002-03 year, and $1.39 million in 2003-2004.
Representatives and staff of the consortium, officially known as District
807, planned to meet with parents of the students they serve Tuesday
at FairviewSchool in Skokie, said special education district Superintendent Amy
Kruppe last week.
They planned to bring parents up to date on the situation and answer
their questions, Kruppe said.
Julie Higgins, District 807's board president, said Monday, "I've
had a chance to talk to parents of several students. Frankly, I think
they're confused and don't understand what this means to them."
District 219 first gave notice in June of 2003 that it might leave the
consortium. At the time, then-board member Sam Borek said "It doesn't
mean we're not willing to work together or try to find an alternative.
It doesn't mean ... that this isn't reversible."
District 219 has complained for many years about the amount of money
it is required to put into District 807's budget and has asked unsuccessfully
that the figure be reduced.
On Nov. 18, Kruppe said her district had put together a new formula
which she said could save District 219 up to 30 percent of its annual
costs. Higgins said she and Kruppe met with District 219 Superintendent
Neil Codell and Silverman in October to show them the new formula. They
left the meeting feeling hopeful, she said, "and now we're really
disappointed because we thought we had made them an excellent proposal.
We can't for the life of us figure out why it was so summarily rejected."
Fairview District 72 Superintendent Nelson Armour said elementary districts
are disappointed with the decision.
School group gives gov bad marks for timeliness
Wants per-student spending updated, but that can't be done until Blagojevich
fills posts on ed board
By Kati Phillips, Daily Southtown Staff writer, 12/3/04
Supporters of school funding reform Thursday called on Gov. Rod Blagojevich
to update Illinois' minimum per-pupil spending level.
Members of A+ Illinois urged the governor to fill vacancies on the Education
Funding Advisory Board, the body created by lawmakers in 1997 to determine
the actual cost of educating a student.
State law requires the board to recommend to the Legislature a minimum
per-pupil spending figure known as the foundation level
every odd year. But the five-member board is paralyzed because it's
short a chairman and lacks a quorum.
"It's critical that we know what it costs to provide a decent education
for a child in Illinois so we can ensure that schools have sufficient funds
to operate," said Bindu Batchu, manager of A+ Illinois, a statewide
funding and quality reform campaign. "We certainly hope that the
state is not sweeping this fundamental accountability issue under the
In 2001, the advisory board recommended a foundation level of $5,665
per pupil for the 2003-04 school year. The state has never reached that
mark. The current foundation level is $4,964 per pupil.
Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said the governor has researched
and reached out to some potential candidates for the board but has no
timeline for making appointments.
Blagojevich has increased education funding twice despite record budget
deficits, including a foundation-level increase of $154 for the next
school year, she said.
"His commitment to education funding is unwavering," Rausch
Educators are grateful for the spending increase, but school funding
is far from what it needs to be, said Marleis Trover, president of the
Illinois Association of School Administrators and a member of the advisory
Trover said more than 80 percent of Illinois school districts find themselves in deficit spending.
Many are eliminating class offerings and teaching positions to make
ends meet, she said.
Bert Docter, former chairman of the Southland Chamber of Commerce and
an education funding advisory board member, said financing public schools
adequately is vital to the state's economy.
"In an increasingly global economy, Illinois students need a solid education to develop the knowledge
and skills that will enable our businesses to compete, and right now,
Illinois schools do not have the tools and funds they need to
ensure all Illinois children receive a quality education," Docter said.
ILLIOPOLIS - Recently consolidated school districts, including SangamonValley, still await almost $2 million in state incentive money
they expected this year, but Rep. Bill Mitchell thinks lawmakers will
authorize the funds soon.
Mitchell said he understands that the House will consider a supplemental
appropriation bill when lawmakers come back to Springfield in a lame-duck session Jan. 10 and 11. The measure will
include school consolidation incentive money, he said.
"We have an obligation to do that," Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said
at a news conference Thursday in IlliopolisCity
But Steve Brown, spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan,
said he does not think lawmakers have reached a consensus on legislation
concerning a supplemental appropriation that would include the school
money. He said the State Board of Education could transfer some funds
around to ensure the newly consolidated school districts receive their
The money is intended to encourage smaller districts to consolidate.
Supporters say it leads to cost savings, while opponents say it results
in a loss of independence and local control.
During the legislature's six-day veto session in November, the House
and Senate approved different versions of a supplemental appropriation
bill. The House version included only money for security upgrades in
the Capitol and nearby state buildings, while the Senate version included
that money and funds for other things, such as the school consolidation
Voters in the former Illiopolis and Niantic-Harristown school districts
agreed in March to merge the districts into what is now Sangamon Valley
Area residents, especially those who voted for the merger, have been
anxious about not yet receiving the incentive money from the state,
"They stepped to the plate with this school thing," he said.
"Now there's no school money, so they've got a whole bunch of concern."
Sangamon Valley Superintendent Wayne Honeycutt said, "We feel like,
certainly, that this incentive money is money that the district should
The district is slated to get more than $1.2 million in incentive money
from the state over four years, Honeycutt said.
One-time consolidation-related expenses, such as buying new band uniforms
and sports uniforms, will cause SangamonValley to dip into its reserves by as much as $200,000, according
to assistant superintendent Larry Eyre. Those expenses would have been
offset by the nearly $174,000 in consolidation funds the district was
to receive this year, he said.
"If (lawmakers) ever expect to encourage school districts to consolidate
in the future, they need to come through with this money," Eyre
School officials in Pawnee and Divernon, who are in the discussion stage
of possible consolidation, have also expressed concern about the lack
of state incentive money.
Faced with new evidence that state wards perform poorly in school, child
welfare officials said Thursday they intend to reallocate $7 million
once intended to keep youths out of the system to helping them thrive
academically once they are in it.
Officials with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services
commissioned a study showing that many of the state's children attend
about 40 low-achieving city schools, are old for their grade and drop
out more often than regular students.
Problems include children being shuffled through schools and miscommunication
among workers, a high caseload and lost records resulting in absences,
according to the University of Chicago Chapin Hall Center for Children
report, which also was released Thursday.
"We have a responsibility to assure that kids get the proper education
so they can be happy and productive adults," DCFS Director Bryan
Samuels said. "Just keeping a child in a foster home, stable, doesn't
mean that child is making progress."
Samuels plans to create an academic database to track students' progress,
while Chicago Public Schools officials said they will offer tutoring
and transport state wards moved to the DCFS shelter to their same school.
Some 3,500 state wards attend city schools.
While state wards often have high academic aspirations, many fall short,
researchers found. More than half drop out of school.
"The proportion of students in care who are dropping out of school
between ages 13 and 16 is more than double the averages for other students
in the CPS system," the study read.
One caseworker interviewed for the report said: "Kids in foster
care just sometimes kind of get lost--in the cracks--because I've come
out to a school and I might have been the seventh worker that the school
Samuels said the department is considering assigning a state coordinator
to schools with many wards.
The report found that more than two-thirds of youths entering foster
care change schools.
And children relocating multiple times in foster care often are moving
through just as many schools, resulting in "broken peer relations,
weeks of school absences and misplaced education services."
Samuels said the department also is considering keeping children in
the same school when they move to a new home, even if it means transporting
them every day.
The study stated that schools often are classifying youths as learning
disabled when they are just behind.
YORKVILLE Prospective teachers who want to apply for a job in
Yorkville and several neighboring school districts will be doing so
The Yorkville School Board has agreed to join a consortium in which
applicants will file their resume, letter of interest, credentials and
school transcripts with the Grundy-Kendall Regional Office of Education.
The regional office then will scan the information and make it available
online to the participating districts. Principals and other administrators
would be able to review the applications and other information at any
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Doug Trumble said the new system
would help streamline a process that has become somewhat cumbersome
due in part to the large number of applicants. Yorkville received some
2,500 applications last year, Trumble said.
"I don't think it would create more workload," Trumble said.
Information on teacher candidates now is sent to the district office,
where it is compiled, then sent to the individual building principal
on request. Since only one file is created, school officials have to
share that copy.
Participation on the program will cost the school district an annual
fee of $3,600. The prorated amount for this year is $2,882.
Bristol Grade School Principal Jeffery Schafermeyer, who is helping
develop the project here and formerly worked at the regional office,
said the consortium could help generate an even larger pool of qualified
candidates by attracting prospects who otherwise might not apply here.
Success in Kane
The program is similar to one in KaneCounty which has been in use for nearly two years.
In 2002, the Kane County Regional Office of Education started the Kane
County Human Resources Consortium, which allows prospective candidates
the chance to apply online for jobs in the county's nine public school
districts, all at the same time.
"It's been a real win-win situation," Kane County Regional
Superintendent Clem Mejia said. "It's been a plus for the applicants
because before they had to go to nine different districts."
Mejia estimates the county has received between 10,000 and 15,000 applications
at its Web site in the past two years, and the school districts have
"We have heard nothing but positive comments from the personnel
directors," he said.
While all nine public school districts in KaneCounty participate in that program, the Grundy-Kendall program
now includes eight out of a possible 18 districts.
Oswego Schools opted out because the district has its own online application
Other school districts in the Grundy-Kendall consortium are: Plano, Newark,
Kendall County Special Education Coop, Lisbon, MinookaHigh
Gardner-South Wilmington and South
Everyone agrees the way Illinois
finances its schools -- an overreliance on property taxes -- is sick,
but finding the right cure has been a problem.
Last week I mentioned House Bill 750, legislation that would shift some
of the funding for schools from property taxes to sales and income taxes.
I did not endorse HB750, as a few readers who called and wrote thought.
I think it's a good starting point for a discussion on how to fix the
most unfair school-funding system in the nation.
JEFF BEIL OF CherryValley wants to be part of the discussion. Beil wants to see
all children in Illinois get the opportunity for a quality education.
"My business supplies services to middle schools and high schools
throughout northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin," Beil wrote. "I see on a district-by-district
basis, firsthand, how current school funding is inadequate and unfair
based on the current property tax funding system.
"The current system is failing a large portion of districts in
the state and needs to be revised in order to allow all children throughout
Illinois the opportunity for an equal education experience.
"The word public implies equal opportunities for all, regardless
of where you live. That is not being accomplished anymore. We currently
have a funding system where a student receives a better public school
education based on where you live!"
Rockford School Board President Nancy Kalchbrenner has been part of
the discussion. She thinks now is the time to act.
"In March, a group from Rockford met with all the local legislators. One said, 'well,
we CAN move fast if there is a crisis.' Some don't realize yet that
there is one," Kalchbrenner wrote. Kalchbrenner's right. If having
82 percent of school districts in the state operating at a deficit isn't
a crisis, what is?
Kalchbrenner added that HB750 has been discussed by the District 205
operations committee and that the finance department is reviewing the
proposal to see how it would affect Rockford schools.
DENNY WALLACE OF Rockford worries about how much the proposed change would cost
"If I understand your description of the proposal of increasing
income taxes to 5 percent and reducing education- related property taxes
20 percent to 25 percent (plus expansion of sales taxes) nets out to
a pretty big tax increase," Wallace wrote. "For example, take
a household income of $100,000 and $4,000 in property taxes and assuming
60 percent of property taxes are school taxes or $2,400. The 2-percentage-point
income tax increase could mean I pay $2,000 more while the 25 percent
reduction in property taxes only saves me about $600 -- the net tax
increase is $1,400.
"Do the same calculation but cut it in half and say the household
earnings are only $50,000 with $1,200 in school-related property taxes.
"Income taxes go up by $1,000 but my property taxes are only cut
by $300, leaving a net tax increase of $700."
If you're concerned about this issue, there will be opportunities for
you to hear answers for yourself.
RALPH MARTIRE, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability
in Chicago, will be at the HononegahHigh
library at Tuesday, Dec.
14, to explain the theory behind HB750. Martire has been making presentations
about the problems with the school tax system for the past 18 months.
Martire also will be part of the discussion at a forum next year hosted
by Belvidere Superintendent Don Schlomann. Details still are being worked
The goal of all these discussions should not be just about money, but
how we can best educate children in Illinois -- fairly.
Now that his high school football season is over, Zak Coppinger has
been playing poker every chance he can get.
With his mom's blessing, he's turned the family dining room, complete
with green walls and a chandelier, into a poker parlor for himself and
his buddies. He also keeps a deck of cards at school so he can play
impromptu games during class or lunch.
"It's better than homework, I can tell you that," the 18-year-old
from Austin, Texas, says with a chuckle.
He's just one of the many young people who have become avid players
of Texas Hold 'Em and other poker games - a trend sparked, in part,
by TV shows that feature tournaments for celebrities and professional
poker players. But gambling opponents wonder if some teens, and the
adults who let them play, are taking it too far.
"It's fun. It's exciting. It's glamorized on TV and in the media
in a way that other addictions are not," says Keith Whyte, executive
director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. "There's
the impression that through skill you can beat the odds. But randomness
is always going to have a bigger factor in determining the outcome than
"And unfortunately, that's not the message these kids get."
Some parents have heeded the warning, cutting back on casino nights
at after-prom parties and other events. And officials at a growing number
of schools - from NewTrierHigh
north of Chicago, to Apple ValleyHigh
in suburban Minneapolis - have recently started banning poker-playing on their
Dave Smiley, principal at ElginHigh School in suburban Chicago, began enforcing an old ban on card and dice games months
ago: "We're like church - you shouldn't be gambling in school,"
That said, Smiley concedes that his view softens when it comes to teens
playing poker at their friends' homes.
"I'm not going to be hypocritical. I think my own son has participated
in some of these games - and he's in high school," he says, noting
that he likes knowing his son is somewhere safe and supervised.
Teens also argue that, with the standard $10 buy-in to get into a game,
the stakes aren't particularly high.
"You're paying for entertainment," says Eli Goldfarb, a freshman
at ColumbiaUniversity in New York. "The long and the short of it is, I have fun playing
poker, and when I play well, I can buy more burritos.
"What's not to like?"
He started playing Texas Hold 'Em when he was in high school at the
FieldSchool, a private academy in Washington, D.C., where teacher Will Layman says poker's never been a
problem. But Layman also understands that some teens may not be able
to control their betting.
"I would never criticize a parent who felt that poker - which really
isn't much of a game at all if you don't bet in some form - was too
tempting for their kid," says Layman, who plays poker with his
daughter and son, ages 14 and 10. "But it is not the same as, say,
smoking pot because with poker, the activity isn't harmful unless it
becomes an overindulged habit - whereas pot impairs you every time."
Some parents go as far as saying that poker teaches critical-thinking
and math skills.
And Josh Kohnstamm, a father in Mendota Heights, Minn., says it's become the perfect escape for his studious
16-year-old son, Josh, who "takes everything too seriously."
Poker, Kohnstamm says, allows Josh to "whop the school's best athletes
- computer geek that he is - and allows him to come away feeling lucky
when that is a sensation that rarely happens in his everyday life."
But Dan Romer, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, worries about kids who take gambling too far.
"At a minimum, it should be monitored," says Romer, director
of research at the Adolescent Risk Communications Institute at the University of Pennsylvania's AnnenbergPublicPolicyCenter.
He oversaw the 2003 Annenberg National Risk Survey of Youth, which found
that about 8 percent of the young people surveyed showed signs of having
a gambling problem.
Those results led him to conclude that schools should teach about the
dangers of gambling, the same way they teach that alcohol and drugs
can be addictive. He also says that government officials who oversee
public gambling - casinos and lotteries - have a special responsibility
to closely watch young people, who are allowed to gamble legally in
many states as young as age 18.
Romer says Internet gambling is a particular worry because it can be
done on the sly and is often less regulated.
Still, Ross Atteberry, a high school senior in Westfield, Ind., says the poker he plays with friends is not in that
league of gambling.
"Obviously," the 18-year-old says, "cops aren't going
to be kicking in doors to bust in on friendly card games."
Traci Hodges works about 30 hours a week running her own consulting
business and managing a small production company. She recently finished
a master's degree in human development counseling.
On top of it all, she finds time to home-school her oldest daughter.
Make that, she and her husband, Harlan, who is an emergency room doctor
at DePaulHospital. The MarylandHeights couple split the responsibility.
As two working parents, the Hodges are a far cry from the stereotypical
home-schooling family with a stay-at-home mom, ultra-conservative moral
and religious values and a fierce belief in the right to keep government
out of their lives.
Traci Hodges likes that she and her husband can shield 9-year-old Amoree
from exposure to drugs, alcohol and sex - at least while she's young.
But Hodges also likes that she can spend time with her daughter and
that Amoree can learn at her own pace, advancing beyond her grade level
"Everyone has their preconceived notions of what a home-school
parent is like," Hodges said.
Including herself. She stepped gingerly around other home-schooling
families at first, worried that she wouldn't fit in. "But then
you learn that they come from all walks of life," she said.
Indeed, these days, the ranks of home schoolers are becoming so diverse
that few generalizations can be made about the burgeoning movement.
There are as many reasons for home schooling as there are families.
The only thing that truly unites home-schooling families is that they
have decided to take control of their child's education, whatever the
Home-schooled children include gifted students, teenage mothers, Olympic
hopefuls, children with special needs - even people with peanut allergies.
Many are Christians, but people of other religions are involved as well,
including Muslims, Jews and Hindus.
Some of the home-schooled children fell through the cracks in public
schools or move around a lot in military families. Some are children
whose parents are worried about violence or bullying in the schools,
want to instill certain religious or moral values in their children,
get into fights with school districts, and can't or don't want to shell
out money for private schools.
Sometimes, home-schooling parents come from unlikely camps - such as
Nancy Schaaf, executive director of Dayspring Centre for Arts and Education
in MarylandHeights. She was a strong believer in public schools and volunteered
a few days a week at her son's school.
But she says that her son, now 12, who was well-behaved and a quick
learner, didn't get much attention in the classroom.
"The teachers in the public schools are becoming very, very swamped
with a lot of paperwork and dealing with special-needs kids who are
being added to the classroom," she said. "My child was going
to school for seven hours a day and not getting any attention. He was
losing his excitement for learning."
Still, she wasn't sure she could devote herself to home schooling.
"I never really thought I could do it," she said. "I
have graduate degrees and stuff, but I didn't think with my older children
I could really do it."
Hodges also worried that home schooling wouldn't fit into her own career
aspirations. But she found a perfect compromise at Dayspring, where
Amoree attends an academy for home-schooled children two days a week.
Hodges is now on the board at Dayspring.
Schaaf's son also attends the academy, and she home-schools him in her
office and at home at night.
Indeed, as the people who home-school become more diverse, so do the
ways in which they do it. Some teach the old-fashioned way - at home.
Others supplement home lessons with classes, band, choir, bowling leagues,
and sports through home-school associations or community centers or
colleges. The most structured are places such as Dayspring, which mimic
a school setting a day or two a week. At the other end of the spectrum
is "unschooling," an unstructured type of home schooling that
is directed by the child.
Some parents home-school for just a few years, often sending their children
to a traditional high school so they can get a standard diploma, play
on varsity athletic teams and reap other benefits. Some home-school
one child, but not others.
As home schooling moves from the fringes closer to the mainstream, it
is clear it has gained many supporters - but exactly how many is difficult
to measure. Many home-schooling families fiercely resist documentation
and have fought in Illinois and Missouri for laws that do not require such families to notify
their school district or the state where they are teaching their children.
"Looking at the number of calls I get, the amount of interest is
just soaring," said Margaret Porch, who leads the St. Charles Christian Home Educators. She gets about 10 calls a
week during the summer from people thinking about home schooling, she
Estimates from various groups reinforce that home schooling is on the
rise. According to estimates from the NationalCenter for Education Statistics, about 1.1 million students,
or 2.2 percent of school-age children, were home-schooled last year.
That is up from 850,000 students, or 1.7 percent, in 1999.
The National Home Education Research Institute, based in Salem, Ore.,
estimates that 1.7 million to 2.1 million children were home taught
during the 2002-2003 school year, up as much as 13 percent from 2000-2001.
The institute says that home schooling has grown about 7 percent every
year for the past four years.
Whatever the numbers, the movement is fueled in part by the Internet
and the easy access it provides to thousands of resources. Just a decade
ago, parents had to order textbooks through mail-order catalogs. These
days, home educators can find curriculum guides and workbooks at Sam's
Club and Wal-Mart as well as on the Web.
As home schooling has grown, its infrastructure has become more sophisticated.
There are home-schooling magazines, thick newsletters, thousands of
Web sites, class rings, bumper stickers, T-shirts, senior banquets,
graduations, proms and yearbooks.
Outside institutions are beginning to recognize home schoolers as a
consumer group and are reaching out to them and their needs.
LouisScienceCenter holds Homeschool Days - science workshops on different
topics - once a month. The St. Louis Zoo is working on starting its
own series this winter. Six Flags and Silver Dollar City both hold special
days or discounts for home schoolers.
LindenwoodUniversity in St. Charles has advertised in some home-schooling publications.
The school is seen as a good fit for many students who were home- schooled
with its single-sex dormitories and values-centered campus.
John Guffey, Lindenwood's dean of admissions, said he's seen applications
from home-schooled children take off in the past six to seven years.
He receives a couple dozen a year, he said.
"From our end, we see these students as very bright students, very
capable of college work," he said.
At Washington University, the admissions office used to get just a handful
of applications from children who were home-schooled, but now it gets
40 to 50 applications a year, admissions director Nanette Tarbouni said
by e-mail. That's still a small sliver of the 20,000 applications the
university receives, but a growing sliver, she said.
"There have been times when it's a little hard to be different,"
admits 19-year-old Katie Wightman, who is studying nursing at MissouriBaptistUniversity. About 45 of her fellow students are also being home-schooled.
But these days, she gets fewer stares and questions when she tells people
she's been home-schooled, she said. Still, she wouldn't trade being
home-schooled for a traditional school environment, especially given
the stories she hears from her cousins about the public schools.
It's been an adjustment being in class where everyone is the same age,
and where students pass notes to each other and play tricks on teachers
by changing the clocks. She's baffled by one of her fellow students
who brags every time she gets a low grade.
Wightman's mother, Kris, said she never thought she would home-school
when she started 15 years ago.
"I thought it sounded like I fell off the turnip truck," she
But she decided to try it when she was living in a rural area where
she didn't think the schools were up to par. She expected she would
eventually send her children to traditional schools.
Then she got hooked.
Now she and her family run the Homeschool Sampler in downtown Kirkwood, near their home. It is one of about a dozen stores
geared to home-schooling families across the country, she said.
Inside, the bookshelves are filled with curriculum guides and workbooks
- many of which Wightman has tried out over the years. Cheery, popular
Christian music and a strong smell of potpourri infuse the store. The
family's golden retriever, Sam, often lies by the counter.
In the nearly three years the shop has been open, it's had 10,000 customers,
many of them repeat, she said. Some come from remote rural areas in
Missouri and Illinois.
"When I opened, I expected to see a singular type of person walking
through the door," she said. "But I tell you, one person is
not at all like the next."
The store opens at ,
so Wightman can devote the morning to home-schooling her children. The
eight Wightman children, except for the youngest, often help out in
the store. It's part of their education, learning computer skills, accounting,
invoicing and more.
At home, Wightman runs a veritable one-room schoolhouse, teaching children
ages 3, 6, 8, 12 and 13. Her older two take classes at colleges.
"If anyone's looking for the easy road, this isn't it," she
said. "But it is very rewarding."
Wightman loves the flexibility that home schooling provides her family
to take vacations, the quality time she can spend with her children,
the camaraderie built among siblings, the ability for them to learn
at their own pace, and the thousands of dollars saved on private school.
"I am one of those people who are truly sold on it," she said.
And with a 1-year-old, she knows she still has a long way to go.
"So I'm going to be doing this for another 20 years. And I don't
get retirement," she said.
Why do parents home-school?
An analysis released this year by the NationalCenter for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education
gave the following breakdown based on a survey from last year:
31 percent said they home-schooled because of concern about the environment
30 percent said they wanted to provide religious or moral instruction.
16 percent said they were dissatisfied with the academic instruction
of other schools.
9 percent gave other reasons, such as family unity and individualized
7 percent said their child had a physical or mental health problem.
7 percent said their child had other special needs.
Missouri and Illinois have liberal laws regarding home schooling. Neither
state requires parents to notify their school district or the state
if they are home-schooling, and so does not monitor or track home-schooled
students. And neither state has any education requirements nor mandates
any testing of home-schooled students.
Missouri laws say that parents who home-school should offer 1,000
hours of instruction during a school year, with at least 600 hours in
the basics - reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies and
science. At least 400 of the 600 hours should take place in the home.
Statutes say that parents have to maintain a plan book, diary, daily
log or other written record indicating the subjects taught and activities
engaged in with the student, a portfolio containing samples of the student's
academic work, and a record of evaluation of the student's academic
progress, or other equivalent evidence.
In Illinois, no statute exists about home schooling. But according
to the state courts, home schooling falls under the laws governing private
schools. There are no academic requirements for private schools in Illinois, except that children are taught in the branches of
education taught to children of corresponding age and grade in public
schools. And they must teach in the English language.
For more information about home schooling in Missouri, check out http://www.dese.state.mo.us/schoollaw/HomeSch/.
Illinois does not have any information about home schooling on
its state education Web site, but more information is available at these
advocacy sites: www.illinoishouse.org, www.home-school.com/groups/IL.html.
School's new equipment
pushes the right buttons
By Lois K. Solomon, Sun-Sentinel Education Writer, 11/29/04 BOCA RATON · When the math teacher asks a question at DonEstridgeHighTechMiddle
there's no need for students to raise their hands.
They click their remote controls.
Just like the audience on the television show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,
students' electronic responses are connected to a computer, which immediately
shows the class who has answered the question and how many got it right.
Students groan in unison or shout with joy, depending on how many added
their decimals correctly.
"It gives them confidence," said teacher Juanita Rodriguez,
who uses the system to make sure her sixth-graders are prepared for
tests. "They know if they're getting it right."
Don Estridge is the first school in Palm BeachCounty to use the Classroom Performance Systems, which were
introduced in 2000 and are in use in 25,000 classrooms across the country,
according to a company Web site.
Texas-based eInstruction Corp. donated $88,000 in equipment, in part
because the company's president, Darrell Ward, was a friend of Don Estridge,
the IBM executive who died in a plane crash in 1985 and is considered
the father of the personal computer.
"When I saw the name, I said `We want to get involved and make
a donation,'" Ward said. Ward invited Estridge to be the keynote
speaker at a computer conference in 1982 and later got a tour of Boca Raton from Estridge and his wife, Mary Ann, who also died
in the crash.
CPS donated equipment for about 20 classrooms, helping to build the
technological base for the public school, which opened in August on
the former IBM campus where Estridge worked. The school also has gotten
donations of biometric hand scanners, wireless computer access, surround-sound
equipment and wireless microphones.
Each gadget has an educational goal related to Florida's state standards for middle schoolers, Principal Debra
"This is not like a toy factory here," Johnson said. "We
use carefully selected hardware and software to get the desired outcome,"
improved student academic performance.
Students are comfortable with remote controls because they use them
with their television sets, Johnson said. She said she hopes they will
start to enjoy subjects such as math more because they like the technology.
Sixth-grader Gerard Cerease said CPS makes him feel like he is in his
house, playing a computer game.
"You feel like you're not in school," said Cerease, 11.
"It's much better than working on a piece of paper," agreed
Samantha Shumaker, 11. TOP OF PAGE
WASHINGTON - Violent crime against students in schools fell by
50 percent between 1992 and 2002, with young people more often targeted
for violence away from school.
There were about 24 crimes of rape, sexual assault, robbery and physical
assault for every 1,000 students in 2002, down from 48 per 1,000 a decade
earlier, according to a report Monday from the Education and Justice
The reduction mirrored the trend found outside classrooms - overall
crime is at a 30-year low across the nation.
The report found instances of school violence involving students have
dropped steadily since a string of fatal shootings in the 1990s, notably
the 1999 killings of 13 people at ColumbineHigh
in Colorado by two heavily armed students.
"There has been a drop, and we attribute a lot of that to the fact
that schools are focusing on the issue more," said William Lassiter,
school safety specialist at the Center for the Prevention of School
Violence in Raleigh,
Schools have taken a number of steps, from installing metal detectors
and hiring more security personnel to implementing programs aimed at
curbing bullying, which can lead to more serious crimes. A recent analysis
of more than 200 studies show that school-based violence prevention
programs reduce school violence by up to 50 percent, said Dewey Cornell,
director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia.
"Prevention programs have been quietly successful but tend to get
overlooked. If you have one fight at school, it gets a lot of attention,"
Others say the scope of the problem is underreported by the federal
study, which relies on limited surveys and self-reporting instead of
tracking actual reported crimes. In addition, the data used is already
outdated, said Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and
Security Services, a consulting firm.
"To tell the American public that school crime is dramatically
declining based upon underreported, outdated and limited data is misleading
and creates a false sense of security," Trump said.
The report found students are more apt to be victims of violence outside
In 2002, there were about 659,000 violent crimes involving students
at school and about 720,000 away from school property. For the most
serious nonfatal violent crimes - rape, assault and robbery - the crime
rates were lower in school than away from school every year from 1992
The report also found that, in each school year between 1992 and 2000,
students between 5 and 19 were at least 70 times as likely to be murdered
away from school than on campus. There were 234 homicides at school
during that time span, compared with more than 24,000 away from school.
"There was initially great concern about school violence, but our
report shows that kids are safer at school than they are away from school,"
said the report's co-author, Katrina Baum of the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Overall in 1992 there were more than 3.4 million crimes in school against
students between 12 and 18, the report estimated. That included more
than 2.2 million thefts - by far the most common serious crime in school
- and over 1.1 million violent crimes.
By 2002, the report found the total number had dropped to 1.7 million
crimes: just over 1 million thefts and about 659,000 violent crimes.
Teachers are also targets of schoolhouse crime. The report found that
from 1998 through 2002 teachers were victims of an annual average of
233,900 crimes at school, more than 90,000 of them violent. That translates
to an annual rate of 51 crimes per 1,000 teachers.
The report shows that inner-city teachers are more than twice as likely
to be victims of violent crimes than those in suburban or rural school
districts, and that male teachers are more often attacked that female
teachers. The report does not give year-to-year comparisons because
the sample sizes studied are too small, Baum said.
Other findings in the report:
- In 2003, 22 percent of students in grades 9-12 reported using marijuana
during the preceding 30 days. That compares with 18 percent in 1993
and 27 percent in 1999.
- About 45 percent of high school students in 2003 said they had at
least one alcoholic drink in the 30 days before they were surveyed,
about the same as in 1993 and down from a recent high of 52 percent
- A third of students in grades 9-12 said that someone had offered,
given or sold them an illegal drug on school property in 2003. That
number has essentially remained the same over the past decade.
- About 21 percent of students in 2003 said that street gangs were active
in their schools, most often in urban districts
A city's schools test
a new way
School privatization gets a boost from good results in Philadelphia
By Mary Beth McCauley, Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor,
PHILADELPHIA - When the Philadelphia School District was struggling
several years ago, one of the lifelines tossed to it was thrown by Edison
Schools, Inc., a New York-based for-profit offering a can-do approach
to public education.
Since then, the nation's largest educational management company has
had troubles of its own, ranging from failure to perform successfully
in a number of the public schools it was serving to a virtual collapse
in the value of its stock.
But if privatizing school management has not proven to be the panacea
many in Philadelphia had hoped, neither has Edison been the district's
undoing, as activists and others warned when the firm was brought in
during the rancorous and bitter state takeover of the district in 2002.
On the contrary, test scores are up district-wide, and some of the most
impressive gains have come in 20 of the toughest schools, those turned
over to Edison
in a last-ditch effort to jump-start them into performing.
"They've done a superb job with the most difficult schools,"
said James Nevels, chairman of the state-appointed School Reform Commission,
which took over after the school board was disbanded.
Many thought the company itself wouldn't last. Stock prices had plummeted
by 2003, some districts canceled their contracts, and the company went
private that spring. But Edison spokesman Adam Tucker says the company's slide has been
reversed and it enjoyed its first operating profit in its 12-year history
at the end of last year.
The district, says chairman Nevels, has seen no evidence of financial
troubles, but is free to terminate the contract "at will."
Not everyone has been converted. Barbara Goodman, spokeswoman for the
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which fought the partnership, and
whose members now staff the Edison schools, credits the district workforce with the gains
in performance, and says the PFT favors uniform administration. Lois
Yampolsky, a community activist who also fought privatization, still
believes profitmaking Edison shouldn't be there, rejecting the company's
argument that in public schools everything from transportation to textbooks
comes from the private sector - and that there's no reason management
shouldn't as well.
In the Philadelphia district, the company is the largest player in a network
of independent management partners that includes universities and colleges
as well as other private companies. Such outsourcing exists to various
degrees in Chicago, New
and other large cities, and is a development applauded by some experts.
"Centralized control is not working in American urban education,"
says Paul Peterson, professor of government at HarvardUniversity. One way to find out what does work, he insists, is
to explore a range of options in a Philadelphia-like mix.
Before the state takeover, the school district, with 200,000 students
and 276 schools, seemed badly in need of new solutions. The Reform Commission,
which hired CEO Paul Vallas, formerly head of Chicago schools and credited with positive reforms in that district,
selected Philadelphia's 45 worst-performing schools and divvied them up for
intensive care. Edison got the worst of the lot, including eight middle schools
generally thought to be among the most intractable.
Edison "did a number of things right," said Nevels.
They brought in their curriculum model, high in structure, heavy in
math and reading, and full of opportunities for staff development.
Edison's centerpiece, many believe, is a benchmark assessment
component, in which students are tested every six weeks. Scores are
available immediately. Unlike traditional achievement tests, where results
come well after students have moved on to the next grade, the Edison
model immediately detects strengths and deficiencies in classes as a
whole as well as in individual students. Students are then grouped according
to the precise skills needing more attention.
"We can be more diagnostic in our approach," said Sharif El-Mekki,
principal of ShawMiddle
Because the Edison schools receive an extra $750 more per student, critics
complain the odds are tilted in their favor. But with the least experienced
staff, and thus the lowest payrolls, the underperforming schools face
a budget inequity at the outset, Tucker says. Teachers were allowed
to transfer out of Edison schools before the takeover, and many did.
Among the year's achievement highlights, student scores on the 2003-04
Pennsylvania state tests were up substantially in the district as
a whole, and Edison's gains mirrored the district's. Edison's
average annual gain in the number of students scoring at or above proficiency
level was 10.2 percentage points in fifth- and eighth-grade reading,
and 9.6 percentage points in math. Prior to the partnership, the same
schools' average annual gain in proficiency was less than one-half of
one percentage point.
Having Philadelphia's worst-achieving schools hold their own is a source
of pride to Edison and a confirmation to the district that private management
Both parties gave up some turf in the partnership. To accommodate union
contracts, Edison gave up the longer school days and longer school years
that are part of its educational model. And the Edison
schools made do with a smaller proportion of non-teaching assistants
to free up money for more teachers, in accordance with the Edison
For all the gains, Philadelphia's challenges remain daunting. The half-dozen schools
on the district's "persistently dangerous" list when assigned
have been moved off, but violence continues to be problem. Two weeks
ago, a student at an Edison-run middle school was allegedly raped by
another in a stairwell.
And academic progress, though improving, is still painfully slow. "We're
absolutely euphoric at the progress we've made, but we're nowhere near
where we need to be," says Nevels.
Committed to turning the district around by 2008, he says he is pleased
to have Edison - now in the third year of a five-year contract - help
with the heavy lifting.
Dover, Pa. -- The way they used to teach the origin of the species
to high school students in this sleepy town of 1,800 people in southern
Pennsylvania, said local school board member Angie Yingling disapprovingly,
was that "we come from chimpanzees and apes."
The school board has ordered that biology teachers at DoverAreaHigh
make students "aware of gaps/problems" in the theory of evolution.
Their ninth-grade curriculum now must include the theory of "intelligent
design," which posits that life is so complex and elaborate that
some greater wisdom has to be behind it.
The decision, passed last month by a 6-to-3 vote, makes the 3,600-student
school district about 20 miles south of Harrisburg the first in the
United States to mandate the teaching of "intelligent design"
in public schools, putting it on the front line of the growing national
debate over the role of religion in public life.
The new curriculum, which prompted two school board members to resign,
is expected to take effect in January. The school principal, Joel Riedel,
and teachers contacted by The Chronicle refused to comment on the changes.
The idea of intelligent design was initiated by a small group of scientists
to explain what they believe to be gaps in Charles Darwin's theory of
evolution, which they say is "not adequate to explain all natural
On an intelligent-design Web site (www.intelligentdesignnetwork.org),
the theory is described as "a scientific disagreement with the
claim of evolutionary theory that natural phenomena are not designed.''
Critics such as Eugenie Scott, director of the Oakland-based NationalCenter for Science Education, say the Dover school board's decision is part of a growing trend.
Religious conservatives, critics say, have been waging a war against
Darwin in classrooms since the Scopes "Monkey Trial"
of 1925. Tennessee schoolteacher John Scopes was convicted of illegally
teaching evolution, but his conviction later was thrown out on a technicality
by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
"There's a constant impetus by conservative evangelical Christians
to bring religion back into the public schools," said Witold Walczak,
legal director of the Pennsylvania branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The
end goal is to get rid of evolution. They view it as a threat to their
The intelligent-design theory makes no reference to the Bible, and its
proponents do not say who or what the greater force is behind the design.
But Yingling, 46, who graduated from DoverHigh School in 1976, and other supporters of the new curriculum
in this religiously conservative slice of rural Pennsylvania say they know exactly who the intelligent designer is.
"There's only one creator, and it has to be God," said Rebecca
Cashman, 16, a sophomore at Dover High. She frowned when asked to recollect
what she learned about evolution at school last year.
"Evolution -- is that the Darwin theory?" Cashman shook her head. "I don't
know just what he was thinking!"
Patricia Nason at the Institute for Creation Research, the world leader
in creation science, said her organization and other activist groups
are encouraging people who share conservative religious beliefs to seek
positions on local school boards.
"The movement is to get the truth out," Nason said by telephone
from El Cajon (San DiegoCounty). "We Christians have as much right to be involved
in politics as evolutionists. We've been asleep for two generations,
and it's time for us to come back."
Emboldened by their contribution to President Bush's re-election, conservative
religious activists are using intelligent design as a new strategy of
attacking evolution without mentioning God, Scott said.
"There is a new energy as a result of the last election, and I
anticipate an even busier couple of years coming on," Scott said.
She called intelligent design "creationism lite" masquerading
as science. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 banned the teaching of creationism
-- which holds that God created the world about 6,000 years ago -- in
public schools on the grounds of separation of church and state.
John West of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, the main sponsor and
promoter of intelligent design, defended the theory he says addresses
"Mainstream criticism should be raised in classrooms," West
The Dover school district's challenge to the primacy of evolution
is not isolated. In Cobb County, Ga., parents sued a local school board for mandating that
biology textbooks prominently display disclaimers stating that evolution
is "not a fact." A federal court is expected to rule next
In Grantsburg, Wis., a school board revised its science curriculum to teach
"various scientific models of theories of origin." In Charles
County, Md. , the school board is considering a proposal to eliminate
textbooks "biased toward evolution" from classrooms. Similar
proposals have been considered this year in Missouri, Mississippi and Oklahoma.
"There is nothing random about this," said Barry Lynn, executive
director of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
"You might say it's a planned evolution of an attack on the science
The drive to bring more religion and what have been labeled "moral
values" into the classroom goes beyond challenges to Darwin's theory, Scott said. The CharlesCounty school board also proposed to censor school reading
lists of "immorality" or "foul language" and to
allow the distribution of Bibles in schools. In Texas, the nation's second-biggest school textbook market,
the State Board of Education approved health textbooks that defined
abstinence as the only form of contraception and changed the description
of marriage between "two people" to "a lifelong union
between a husband and a wife."
"The religious right has a list of topics that it wants action
on," Scott said. "Things like abortion, abstinence, gays are
higher up in the food chain of their concern, but evolution is part
of the package."
This drive has found fertile ground in this part of Pennsylvania, where
billboards reading, "Many books inform but only the Bible transforms"
line the road, and family restaurants offer free booklets titled "What
the Bible says about moral purity" and "The Bible is God's
word" at the door.
"These brochures give you an idea where some people in this community
are coming from," said Jeff Brown, 54, who, along with his wife
Carol, 57, resigned from the school board after they voted against changing
the biology curriculum.
Yingling, who voted in favor, said she believes God created the world
in six days and doesn't believe in evolution "at all." Another
board member who supported the measure, William Buckingham, refused
to say what he believes but has identified himself as a born-again Christian.
But religious beliefs or motivations should be beside the point, said
Richard Thompson, an attorney who represents the board members. Thompson
is the president of the ThomasMoreLawCenter in Ann Arbor, Mich., a pro-bono firm whose Web site promises "the sword
and shield for the people of faith."
The decision was "supportive of academic freedom more than anything
else, " Thompson said.
While not talking about his own religious convictions, Thompson added,
"When you look at cell structure and you see the intricacy of the
cell, you can come to the conclusion that it doesn't happen by natural
selection, there has to be intelligent design." Thompson said he
is ready to represent the board in the Supreme Court if it comes to
that. Some parents and teachers in Dover already have asked the Pennsylvania ACLU to sue the
board on their behalf. Walczak said the organization's legal team is
studying the case before deciding whether to go to court.
Brown, the former school board member, says he is not arguing with other
people's religious beliefs.
"Don't get me wrong: I don't have a problem with having these booklets
where people can pick them up. But I do have a problem with people shoving
this down the throats of our children on taxpayers' dollars," Brown
"I happen to believe both in God and evolution," he said,
and his wife nodded: "Hear, hear."
The Browns appear to be in the minority. Although public schools have
been teaching evolution for decades, a national Gallup poll in November
2004 showed that only 35 percent of those asked believed confidently
that Darwin's theory was "supported by the evidence.'' More than
one-third of those polled by CBS News later in November said creationism
should be taught instead of evolution.
"A guy came up to me and said, 'Wait a minute, you believe in God
and evolution at the same time? Evolution isn't in the Bible!' "
said Brown, nibbling on a deep-fried mozzarella stick at the Shiloh
Family Restaurant on Route 74. As he became more agitated, his voice
grew louder, and other customers -- mostly gray-haired women and elderly
men in baseball hats -- turned their heads to look at the couple. Carol
Brown kept putting her index finger to her lips, gesturing for her husband
to be quieter.
After the Browns left the restaurant, a waitress in her 30s slipped
a note to a Chronicle reporter.
"Beware," it read. "God wrote over 2,000 years ago that
there would be false prophets and teachers. If you would like to know
the truth read the Bible."
The U.S. Department of Education will see its smallest budget increase
in nearly a decade under the catchall spending plan approved by the
Republican-controlled Congress in a lame-duck session.
For the first time since President Bush entered office, the budget will
fall short of his overall request for education funding. The final fiscal
2005 spending plan undercut some of the presidents top education
spending priorities, such as the Title I program for disadvantaged students
and special education.
And it rejects altogether a few other proposals Mr. Bush talked up on
the campaign trail this year, such as his plans to create a $40 million
Adjunct Teacher Corps and provide $33 million for Enhanced Pell Grants
for low-income students who take rigorous high school courses.
The omnibus measure, which rolled nine uncompleted appropriations bills
into one big package with a price tag approaching $400 million, was
approved by the House Nov. 19 and a day later by the Senate. It passed
the Senate 65-30; in the House, the vote was 344-51.
Republicans insisted on keeping within agreed-upon spending limits that
placed severe constraints on the amount of money available for federal
agencies. Large deficits and increasing costs from the war in Iraq and counterterrorism measures have helped put the squeeze
The measure was expected to head to President Bushs desk soon,
but there has been a slight delay as Congress works to undo a provision
slipped into the bill that would have allowed some lawmakers to examine
Americans income-tax returns.
The final budget provides $56.6 billion in discretionary spending for
the Education Department, an increase of $915 million, or 1.6 percent.
President Bush had asked for about $760 million above that.
The overall increase is the lowest since fiscal 1996, when the agencys
discretionary budget actually decreased.
Title I received $12.74 billion, about $600 million shy of the presidents
request. State grants for special education received roughly $500 million
below his request, at $10.59 billion.
One of the items President Bush promoted on the 2004 campaign trail,
a new Striving Readers initiative for struggling middle and high school
readers, got only about one-quarter of the $100 million he had wanted
this fiscal year.
I am very proud that we held the line and made Congress make choices
and set priorities because it fits our philosophy, the House majority
leader, Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said of the omnibus bill on the chambers
floor the day of its passage. You cut taxes, grow the economy,
more revenue for the government. You hold down spending and let those
revenues catch up; sooner or later we are going to get to balance.
But many Democrats were of another mind.
I am deeply disappointed in the figures for education, Rep.
George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Education
and the Workforce Committee, said on the House floor Nov. 19. From
kindergarten to college, this legislation disappoints Americas children, its families, and its educators.
[P]erhaps the most serious neglect of our responsibilities is
reflected in what this bill does on education, said Rep. David
R. Obey of Wisconsin, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee,
citing cuts in several areas. Unbelievably, it cuts the presidents
request for Title I education funding, the prime mover of education
President Bush, however, apparently didnt mind too much that Congress
failed to meet some of his funding priorities.
This legislation is in keeping with my goal to further strengthen
the economy by cutting the budget deficit in half over five years,
he said in a Nov. 20 statement, in which he pledged to sign the measure.
With resources already provided to continue to fight the war on
terror and to protect the homeland, we have held to the fiscally responsible
limits Congress and I agreed to and still adequately funded our domestic
priorities like education, health care, and veterans programs.
As is so often the case, the fiscal 2005 budget was completed behind
schedule, though it was wrapped up much sooner than the 2004 budget,
which was completed in January of this year. The fiscal year began Oct.
1. But the short delay seemed unlikely to have an adverse effect on
education programs. Most fiscal 2005 aid for schools wont start
going out to states and school districts until next summer.
Some other aspects of the budget were in keeping with tradition. Lawmakers
rejected President Bushs effort to abolish a host of programs,
from money for school leadership and dropout prevention to elementary
and secondary school counseling.
The budget also is rife with so-called earmarks, which critics call
pork-barrel spending, for specific one-time projects in lawmakers
home states and districts. The package contains hundreds of such earmarks
for education spending alone.
Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group in Washington, estimates that the omnibus bill contains nearly $16
billion worth of earmarks overall.
Meanwhile, some education lobbyists worked hard to restore funding for
the Title V block grant program, a flexible spending source for states
and districts to use for a broad array of purposes, ranging from remedial
programs to educational technology. The Senate sought to zero out the
program, which received $297 million last year, while the House provided
just $20 million. ("Educators Lobby Congress to Keep Title V Funding,"
Oct. 27, 2004.)
But the aggressive lobbying appeared to pay off, as the Title V program
ended up with nearly $200 million.
The spending measure also creates a new program, funded at $25 million,
to help states develop statewide data systems to help in complying with
the No Child Left Behind Act.
The amount of money for the Education Department was an unwelcome surprise
to some lobbyists, as the final totals fell below the levels spelled
out earlier in a bill passed by the House, and another passed out of
the Senate Appropriations Committee. (The full Senate never passed the
spending bill for the departments of Labor, Health, and Human Services,
and Education before going to a conference committee with the House
on the omnibus package.)
Were just utterly disappointed, said Mary Kusler,
a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators, based
in Arlington, Va. The funding level does not even come close to
matching the rhetoric that we heard from all members of Congress coming
up to the election.
She noted frustration in particular with the budget figure for state
grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It falls
well below the authorization level set in the renewal of the IDEA that
won final congressional passage one day before the spending package.
("Reauthorized IDEA Would Shift Power to School
It just goes to show, Ms. Kusler said, that the money
they promised in IDEA is not real money.
Indianapolis - The speaker lets a small plastic vial fall to the
floor and tosses out a simple question along with it: What caused the
vial to drop? Gravity, his audience responds instinctively.
And what, he asks them, is gravity? This time, the answers come more
slowly and with less certainty. He singles out one response: Gravity,
the speaker says to laughter from the room, is what pulls objects
to the Earth.
Theres some real circular reasoning here, he adds.
The audience on this day is not an elementary or secondary school class,
but a roomful of science teachers from around the country, who have
gathered here for a meeting of the National Science Teachers Association.
Theyve come to hear Bill Robertson, a writer and one-time curriculum
developer, talk about a familiar topic: How can they improve their understanding
of core science concepts when theyre expected to have such expertise
For years, educators and researchers have seen teachers at all grade
levels attempt to upgrade their grasp of physics, chemistry, and biology,
from basic theories to complex material. Now, the pressure on schools
and instructors to improve science instruction is likely to intensify,
with approaching federal requirements on states to test students in
science and for instructors to become highly qualified in
the subjects they teach.
The sponsors of the conference believe Mr. Robertson is one of those
people who can help. Over the past few years, hes written a series
of books aimed at encouraging K-12 teachers to enhance their understanding
of science, on such basic concepts as sound, light, and energy. This
particular session is on force and motion.
His books, published by the NSTA under the title, Stop Faking It! Finally
Understanding Science So You Can Teach It, ask instructors to divest
themselves of a few myths. One is that science topics are invariably
hard to understand. Not so, if teachers can grasp the underlying concepts
behind them, Mr. Robertson says. A second is that educators can teach
science without understanding it. Teachers need to have a mastery of
the fundamental principles behind the science they cover, the writer
saysnot just an ability to recite facts.
You demand that it makes sense, Mr. Robertson tells the
teachers, in talking about gravity. Thats when youre
going to get a degree of understanding.
Educators and others have decried the lack of subject-matter expertise
among science teachers for years, though opinions vary on what contributes
most to those shortcomings. Many agree that the problem stems partly
from instructors teaching outside their fields because of the budgetary
limits or staffing needs of their districts.
We used to joke, Dont hum when youre walking
down the hallwayssomeone will turn you into a music teacher,
said Gerald F. Wheeler, a former high school science instructor
who is now the executive director of the NSTA, based in Arlington, Va. But there is a consequence to having so many draftees
in teaching science classes, Mr. Wheeler notes, particularly when such
subjects as physics, chemistry, and biology have a lot of dissimilar
material, much of it not easy to master.
Content knowledge is the hole in the dike, Mr. Wheeler said.
Its one of the top issues in succeeding in science reform.
A Major, and Minor, Problem
Teachers, like students, cannot know what they were never taught. Nearly
20 percent of high school science teachers nationwide lack even a minor
in their main teaching field, according to a 2000 report by the National
Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century.
That report, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, also
found that 56 percent of high school students taking physical-science
courses were being taught by out-of-field teachers. Twenty-seven percent
of high school students taking math, by comparison, fell into that category.
Of the teachers who get in touch with Mr. Robertson, a majority are
seeking help in physics, he says. Recent research seems to bear out
that need. According to a 2002 report by Horizon Research Inc., only
56 percent of high school physics teachers have taken six or more college
courses in their subjects, compared with 67 percent of chemistry and
92 percent of biology instructors. Another report by Horizon found that
at the elementary level, fewer than one-third of teachers believed they
were well-qualified to teach each of the science disciplines.
After listening to teachers describe their subject-matter shortcomings,
Mr. Robertson became convinced that many had not been taught scientific
concepts the right way, in high school or college. Too often, precollegiate
teachers and college professors cram in as much complex material as
possible, too quickly, in his view, rather than going slowly enough
so that students can master core content, which will have broad application
For Mr. Robertson, that is not simply an abstract belief. To this day,
he remembers his embarrassment years ago, as a masters-degree
candidate in physics, when he was handed an exam and forced to admit
to his professor that he didnt know a basic formulaone he
should have understood years before.
He looked at me and said, Youre a physics major?
Mr. Robertson recalled.
The teachers attending Mr. Robertsons sessions in Indianapolis last month arrived with different goals. Lisa Yeager,
who teaches biology and earth science at HendersonCountyHigh
in Kentucky, attended the writers second workshop, on understanding
air, water, and weather. She already was familiar with several of the
concepts Mr. Robertson spoke about, such as high- and low-pressure systems
and the Coriolis force, the push caused by the Earths rotation,
which affects winds and the atmosphere.
But she also gained insight into other topics her students routinely
quiz her on, such as why weather systems move in and out of a region.
I feel like my major weakness is in meteorology, she said.
Ms. Yeager, who works in the 7,100-student HendersonCounty district, believes many teachers long to improve in
different areas within science, but are reluctant to seek help. I
dont know if its that they dont know where to look
for information, said Ms. Yeager, who has an undergraduate degrees
in education and biology. So many are so embarrassed to ask.
Going to the Source
Others arrived at Mr. Robertsons sessions with different needs.
Chrissy Terrill taught mostly biology and physical science to 9th graders
during her first three years in the profession. This year, shes
teaching 8th grade science for the first time, which means she has to
cover a broader range of material, including chemistry and physics.
Trying to keep up with that subject matterand put it in understandable
language for studentshas been a challenge.
I had memorized it, but I might not be able to explain it at the
level I needed to, said Ms. Terrill, who teaches in the 16,000-student
Lakota district in Liberty
Township, Ohio. When she needs tutoring on those topics, she sometimes
heads for the library or Internet sites, or consults with chemistry
or physics teachers in the district.
Some education officials say the key to helping teachers like Ms. Terrill
lies in improving the quality of teachers colleges. In a 2002
report to Congress, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige contended
that the teacher-college system was broken, and that greater
emphasis needed to be put on giving future K-12 instructors subject-matter
knowledge, rather than simply training on how to guide a class.
Although many training institutions are making strides, said Carolyn
Snowbarger, a senior policy adviser in the Education Department on teacher-quality
issues, some have been slow to make changes. At the elementary
level, [they] need to make certain teachers are getting adequate content
knowledge, she said.
Beginning in the 2007-08 school year, the federal No Child Left Behind
Act will require states to test students annually in science at least
once in grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12. The law also calls for teachers
of core subjects to be highly qualified by the end of the
2005-06 academic year. The Education Department earlier this year said
that states could allow teachers to attain that status by showing subject-matter
competence in a general science field, or a specific one, such as biology,
chemistry, or physics.
Many teachers apparently are interested in elevating their knowledge
of science, if the seven professional-development workshops the Education
Department staged last year are reliable indicators. Those sessions,
which are expected to continue this year, drew 1,400 teachers, with
a 7,000-person waiting list, Ms. Snowbarger said. Whats more,
the department has set up professional-development links, including
subject-matter training, on its Web site, a feature that is drawing
2,000 hits a day, she said.
How and What to Teach
Some leaders in higher education say colleges are making the right kinds
of changes to help produce teachers who are better-informed.
Mary Brabeck, the dean of New YorkUniversitys Steinhardt school of education, said more institutions
are forming stronger links between their teacher-training programs and
colleges of science. Her own school is bringing together faculty members
from those two academic areas to find ways of helping teachers improve
their science expertise.
Generally, there has to be a better conversation, she said.
Ms. Brabeck, who chairs the board of directors of the American Association
of Colleges for Teaching Education, based in Washington, says that getting knowledgeable college graduates interested
in science teaching is difficult from the outset.
Of 561 masters students and undergraduates to complete NYUs
teaching program in 2003, only 3 percent were planning to teach science.
Students with expertise in that subject tend to head for private-industry
jobs, Ms. Brabeck said, in a familiar lament of teacher-college officials.
You have a lot more options that pay a lot more and have a lot
more prestige, she added.
Not a Negative
Congress took a step toward addressing some financial needs this year
by increasing the amount of federal student-loan forgiveness for teachers
in math, science, and special education from $5,000 to $17,500, if they
work in high-poverty schools for at least five years.
Meanwhile, school districts can do more, Mr. Robertson says, by devoting
time and money to teachers seeking to improve their content skill through
college classes or workshops. Most teachers, he believes, are more than
willing to acknowledge when they need outside help.
I just dont find that teachers are embarrassed about it,
the author said. Its not a negative. Theyre [saying],
theres a resource out there.
The first overhaul of the nations main special education law in
seven years is getting guarded approval from education officials and
As they analyzed the reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act last week, many people in the field said the bill appears to give
school districts a stronger hand in special education disputes. Although
they identified provisions they would change, most analysts said the
measure is an adequate compromise between Senate and House versions.
Overall, were pretty pleased with it, said Daniel
Blair, the senior director for public policy at the Council for Exceptional
Children, an Arlington, Va.-based organization dedicated to improving
education for students with disabilities and gifted students. We
think it will do a lot for children with disabilities.
President Bush has said he looks forward to signing the bill, though
a date has not been set. The measure, which breezed through both houses
of Congress on Nov. 19, would provide the education framework for 6.7
million students with disabilities nationwide. It would bring several
important changes to special education, including in the areas of student
discipline, teacher qualifications, paperwork requirements, and the
Paul Marchand, the staff director for The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy
Disability Policy Collaboration, said the final bill was a vast improvement
over its early incarnation in the House.
The worst thing that could have happened was to have the [original]
House bill pass. That would have been disastrous, he said. That
bill, he said, would have allowed schools to discipline students without
regard for their disability, would have eliminated student rights in
the guise of paperwork reduction, and would have created an arduous
due-process procedure for parents.
In contrast, with the recently approved measure, there is a general
sense that this is fair, said Mr. Marchand, whose Washington-based
organization lobbies both for the Arc, a disability-rights group that
focuses on the mentally retarded, and the United Cerebral Palsy Associations.
Lawmakers praised each other for their bipartisan spirit before passage
of the final bill, which was approved 397-3 in the House and by voice
vote in the Senate. The three House members to vote against the final
bill were Reps. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Scott Garrett of New Jersey, and Ron Paul of Texas, all Republicans.
Power to Districts?
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the outgoing chairman of the Senate Health,
Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he could think of no
finer way to end his chairmanship than to complete work on the
But the reauthorization process was marked by partisan tensions in the
early stages. The Senate bill passed by an overwhelming 95-3 majority
in May 2003. But in the House, the bill passed this past April by a
vote of 251-171, with only 34 Democrats in support.
The final bill does not include any funding commitments, though lawmakers
agreed in principle to pay 40 percent of the average nationwide cost
of educating a student in special education.
The CECs Mr. Blair said his organization was disappointed by the
lack of a funding commitment. Thats been something that
we have always wanted, some mechanism by which they could fully fund
it, he said.
On Nov. 20, Congress approved a $10.7 billion budget for special education
for fiscal 2005, nearly $500 million under the amount President Bush
had requested. ("2005 Budget Gives Schools Modest Jump," this
Most observers believe the new IDEA would give more power to school
districts to determine a childs placement and to limit lawsuits.
Lawyers could be punished for filing complaints eventually deemed frivolous.
This could have a chilling effect on parents who have legitimate
complaints, said Susan Goodman, the director of governmental affairs
for the Atlanta-based National Down Syndrome Congress.
Also, school districts would have the power under the new measure to
move students who have discipline problems not related to their disabilities.
Currently, students can stay in the classroom after an incident, unless
the school makes the case in an administrative hearing that the child
needs to be moved.
Ms. Goodman believes the new provision is taking an important protection
away from children. However, the American Association of School Administrators
supported the change, said Bruce Hunter, the Arlington, Va.-based organizations
Where teachers are concerned for themselves or for other children,
the student is gone from their classroom until a new placement is worked
out, he said.
The new measure would also add language authorizing students to be removed
from the classroom for committing serious bodily injury.
The current language already allows removal for bringing in guns, bombs,
The serious-bodily-injury standard is way too high, Mr.
Hunter said. Under this, a student has to actually hurt the teacher.
Another major provision in the bill would clarify what makes a special
education teacher highly qualified under the provisions
of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Such teachers would have to
meet state licensing standards, and those who teach multiple subjects
must meet their states highly qualified standard in
every subject they teach.
Highly Qualified Teachers
But the measure would give new special education teachers who teach
multiple subjects and who are already highly qualified in math, language
arts, or science two years to show competency in their additional subjects.
The bill would also permit new special education teachers to become
highly qualified under the high, objective, uniform state standard
of evaluation, or HOUSSE. That option allows teachers to show
competence without re-enrolling in college or passing a subject-level
The revised IDEAs provision on teachers has led to a number of
objections. The CECs Mr. Blair objects to the HOUSSE option because
he believes teachers who educate children with disabilities should be
specially trained, and a test doesnt necessarily measure that..
To us, its a slap in the face of the notion of highly
qualified, he said.
Mr. Hunter said the teacher-quality provision does not reflect the fact
that special education teachers who are teaching multiple subjects are
doing so at a very low level.
If they were actually teaching physics and chemistry, this would
make a difference, but theyre not, he said of most special
education teachers. Certification should be similar to that for elementary
school teachers, who also teach multiple subjects, Mr. Hunter said.
Nancy D. Reder, the deputy executive director of the National Association
of State Directors of Special Education, raised another concern: If
teachers go through the state process to become highly qualified, what
would stop them from just going on to teach regular education students
in that subject?
I mean, why not? she said. Its less paperwork.
At the district level, educators are waiting for regulations that would
explain further some of the provisions in the revised IDEA. However,
some have already seen provisions they welcome.
Patricia Addison, the director of special education for the 163,000-student
Fairfax County, Va., school district, said she liked that the measure lays
out a plan for funding 40 percent of special education costs by 2011.
Im especially encouraged to see at least 15 states will
have the opportunity to pilot paperwork reduction, said Ms. Addison,
who is also the president of the Virginia Council of Administrators
of Special Education. New teachers in particular find themselves overwhelmed
by paperwork, she said.
Wed like to train those teachers so that they can implement
a successful training program, Ms. Addison said, not focus so
strongly on making sure paperwork is completed correctly.
Jerry Sjolander, the executive director of special education for the
50,000-student Anchorage, Alaska, school district, said the measure would provide an
opportunity to identify and possibly solve parents concerns before
due-process hearings. Under the final bill, parents and a school district
must meet before a due-process hearing can be scheduled.
The time we spend wrapped up in those issues is an incredible
amount, said Mr. Sjolander, who oversees about 7,000 special education
students. It saps district resources.
A new federal study, drawing on data from five states, found that the
charter school students there were less likely to meet state achievement
targets than children in regular public schools.
The study also found that charter schools, across the nation, were increasingly
more likely to serve minority and low-income students than traditional
public schools. However, they were less likely to serve students in
Part of a broad examination of charter schools called for by Congress
in 1998, the study is at least the fourth report this fall to stoke
a growing national debate over whether such schools on the whole improve
achievement. The report draws on data from the late 1990s up to the
2001-02 school year.
Favored by both the Clinton and Bush administrations, charter schools
are public schools that are allowed to operate free of many of the rules
that govern traditional public schools, often in exchange for pledges
to improve student achievement. More than 3,300 such schools now operate
across the country, according to the Center for Education Reform, a
Washington-based group that promotes them.
Released on Nov. 19, the report was conducted for the U.S. Department
of Education by SRI International, a research firm based in Menlo Park, Calif.
Officials with the Education Department, one of the reports authors,
and some independent experts last week downplayed the reports
findings on student achievement, noting that they stemmed from just
one year in five states.
The study is a snapshot and it is impossible to know from one
picture whether charter school students are catching up or falling behind,
Eugene W. Hickok, the deputy secretary of education, said in a statement.
The new reports student-achievement findings were part of a more
comprehensive study intended to monitor the federal grant program begun
in 1995 to seed the charter school movement.
The study found, for example, that 68 percent of charter school students
in Texas met state learning standards during the 2001-02 school
year, compared with 98 percent of their peers in regular public schools.
Poor and Minority Students
In Colorado, charter school pupils lagged behind their public school
counterparts by 9 percentage points that school year, the report said.
In most cases, those differences held up even after researchers adjusted
the numbers to account for the higher percentages of poor and minority
students attending charter schools.
The American Federation of Teachers was quick to point out that the
new findings echo its own national analysis finding that charter school
students lag behind those in regular public schools.
That analysis, made public in August, touched off the current debate
over achievement in charter schools. It was followed days later by a
report from HarvardUniversity researcher Caroline M. Hoxby that came to the opposite
conclusion, using different data. ("New DataFuelCurrentCharterSchool Debate," Sept. 8, 2004.)
According to the new federal study, the percentage of charter school
students who are white declined from 48 percent in 1998-99 to 37 percent
in 2001-02. Also, 9 percent of charter school students had disabilities,
compared with 12 percent of the regular school population.
The report says that charter schools rarely closed, and that more than
half of charter school authorizers reported having trouble shutting
failing schools. More than one-third of charter schools served students
in grades K-8 or K-12, compared with 8 percent of traditional schools.
Attention is more likely to focus on the reports findings on student
achievement, which are drawn from five states where researchers conducted
case studies: Colorado, Illinois,
Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Texas. Charter school pupils trailed behind their counterparts
in traditionally run public schools to one degree or another in all
However, in only two of those statesColorado and Texaswere
researchers able to simultaneously control for differences among schools
that can affect test results, such as their racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic
makeups or mobility rates.
Helen F. Ladd, a public-policy professor at DukeUniversity in Durham,
N.C., who has independently studied charter schools, said
the study doesnt end the debate on student performance and
whether charter schools are more effective than public schools, and
the report is straightforward about that.
Both Ms. Ladd and federal Education Department officials said the achievement
findings would be more meaningful if researchers were able to track
students progress in charter schools over time.
If anything, its simply telling you that the students attending
charter schools tend to be worse off academically than the students
who attend traditional public schools, said Nina Shokraii Rees,
the deputy undersecretary who heads the departments office of
innovation and improvement.
Several experts suggested that the Education Department was trying to
downplay the findings by releasing them the Friday before Thanksgiving
An article last week on the report in The New York Times said the reports
release had come in response to a Freedom of Information Act request
from that newspaper.
Nancy Adelman, SRIs project director on the report, said the study
was submitted to the department in June. Department officials denied
sitting on the report.
With the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act out of the way, Congress in its next term is expected to finally
get around to renewing three other major education measures: the Higher
Education Act, the Head Start preschool program, and the main federal
law on vocational education.
All three were scheduled for reauthorization in the just-ended two-year
term of Congress, but lawmakers did not finish them.
In January, the new 109th Congress will start from scratch on crafting
a revision of the Higher Education Act, which authorizes $70 billion
in federal student-aid programs, among other provisions.
The higher education reauthorization had made significant headway in
the House in this session. Alexa Marrero, a spokeswoman for Republicans
on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the panel split
up the reauthorization into seven separate bills, of which four passed
on the House floor during the 108th Congress. Lawmakers will have to
start from scratch in the next Congress.
The way the House approached the reauthorization was to move the
bills separately to give action to a variety of issues involved,
Ms. Marrero said. The four bills that passed would have created stricter
accountability requirements for teacher education programs, increased
student-loan forgiveness for some teachers, revamped foreign-language
programs, and renewed graduate education programs.
One proposal that didnt get far but nonetheless provoked debate
would have stripped federal financial aid from institutions that continued
to increase tuition by more than twice the rate of inflation. That measure
was sponsored by Rep. Howard P. Buck McKeon, R-Calif.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee failed to
even come up with its version of the HEA during the two-year congressional
term. Becky Timmons, the director of government relations at the American
Council on Education, said that the Senate had too many other issues
on its plate.
Ms. Timmons said the House was also not under any particular pressure
to bring remaining aspects of the Higher Education Act to the floor
this year. And intense partisanship in the congressional term did not
The past history has been that this bill has been remarkably bipartisan,
but this time around there were very few staff meetings that
involved representatives from both parties, Ms. Timmons said.
One observer predicted that even next year could be too early for Congress
to reach agreement on reauthorizing the law. Jamie P. Merisotis, the
president of the Washington-based Institute for Higher Education Policy,
said it could be 2006 before Congress passes an HEA reauthorization.
It will be very difficult to do it in the first year, because
there will be so many issues in the jurisdiction of the committees that
it will be difficult for them to get to it, he said. The
bill could have a better chance in the second year of the 109th Congress.
Mr. Merisotis also noted that this years election campaigns did
not make higher education a priority, and that lack of attention also
means that it wont be a priority next year.
But he cautioned against Congress failure to act on a renewal
of the HEA, which sends a message that the programs arent
a priority. On the other hand, he said, most of the debate
around the Higher Education Act has seemed to be about accountability
rather than student access to college.
If the reauthorization would result in changes that would negatively
impact student access, it would be better not to reauthorize it,
There was more bipartisan cooperation on the bills to renew the Carl
D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, which also, however,
failed to make the final cut at this session.
The Perkins Act authorizes funding for career and technical education,
and seeks to improve such programs. It is considered one of the largest
federal investments in high schools.
Updated versions of the law passed the House and Senate education committees
this year, but they never made it to the floor of either chamber. It
was really just a time issue; they ran out of time, said
Alisha Hyslop, the assistant director of public policy at the Association
for Career and Technical Education, an Alexandria, Va.-based group that
works to advance career education.
Meanwhile, the reauthorization of Head Start, the main federal early-education
program for poor children, was approved by the full House and by the
Senate education committee, but failed to reach the Senate floor.
The program provides comprehensive health, family-support, and education
services to children from birth to 5 years of age.
In the House, where the Head Start bill passed by a single vote in July
2003, Democrats opposed a provision in the reauthorization that would
have allowed eight states to take Head Start funding as a block grant.
Democrats also expressed concern that states operating with those block
grants would be allowed to set their own standards and evaluate their
progress, avoiding federal monitoring reviews that are currently undertaken
on each Head Start program every three years.
In the Senate, some members had other ideas for the program. The
approach that the Senate took was considerably different than that of
the House, said Maureen Thompson, a legislative consultant for
the National Head Start Association. The Senate committees version
of the bill did not incorporate the eight-state block grant, and it
included an academic-testing mandate that was not in the House bill.
Work on the reauthorization of the Head Start law will begin from scratch
next year. Ms. Thompson said she hoped any new legislation would strengthen
existing programs and make the program available to more vulnerable
Ninth and 10th graders in the Miami-DadeCounty school district whose math teachers were certified by
the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards scored slightly
higher than other students on a Florida
mathematics exam, a study finds.
The study by the CNA Corp., a research organization in Alexandria, Va., was conducted by reviewing roughly 108,000 student
records from the district from the 1999-2000 and 2002-03 school years.
In this study, [national-board certification] proved to be an
effective signal of teacher quality, writes Linda C. Cavalluzzo,
the author and chief investigator for the study. To increase student
outcomes in the nearer term, the challenge for school systems will be
to implement professional-development programs or strategies that change
practices so more teachers will adopt methods used by those who have
already earned [board certification].
Student records were linked to students subject-area teachers,
and that information was used to set up a vast database of teacher and
student characteristics. A teachers number of years in the classroom,
whether he or she had an advanced degree, whether a student was identified
as gifted, and if a student was repeating a grade were among the pieces
of information included.
When the researcher looked at students scores on the Florida Comprehensive
Assessment Test, she found that teachers who had earned NBPTS certification
were more effective at raising achievement than teachers with other
attributes. Specifically, the effect size for a national-board-certified
teacher was .07, which is statistically significant. For comparison,
the effect size for a teacher with a graduate degree was .017, and for
a teacher with a state high school certification, it was .06.
Black and Hispanic students appeared particularly to benefit from having
board-certified teachers, according to the study. With those students,
the effect sizes were about .15.
The most effective teachers had a combination of characteristics: national-board
certification, a state certificate in mathematics instruction, and teaching
assignments in math alone.
In an interview, Ms. Cavalluzzo called NBPTS certification a nice,
new important signal that officials can use to identify and reward
Of the 2,000-some Miami-Dade teachers examined, 61 had already earned
the credential, 101 were in the application process, eight had failed,
and 10 had withdrawn from the program. The others had not engaged in
Worth the Cost?
But some scholars question whether the credential is making a big enough
difference in the classroom.
Is this what policymakers thought they would be getting when they
committed to a 10 percent salary increase and a $5,000 bonus?
said John E. Stone, an education professor at East Tennessee State University
in Johnson City, who has conducted his own research on national-board
certification. Plainly, having all [board-certified] teachers
would make little difference relative to the magnitude of the problem.
The new study, underwritten by the National Science Foundation, is the
latest in a series of research projects that the Washington-based national
board has commissioned in an effort to determine whether nationally
certified teachers are helping to raise student achievement.
Previous research has shown more significant gains for students with
such teachers. ("First Major Study Suggests Worth of National 'Seal',"
March 17 and "Ariz. Study Sees Benefits in National-Board Certification,"
Sept. 15, 2004.)
The CNA study, however, is the first to focus on the effects of the
credential on high school students.
Ariel Horn is reaping praise these days for her first novel, Help Wanted,
Desperately. But the writing feedback she remembers most wasn't a review.
It was a letter, "B+" specifically, on a paper her junior
year in high school.
"I was indignant!" she says. "How could my teacher not
recognize my literary genius?"
Perhaps, the teacher noted, it was because her genius lay buried beneath
grammatical woes. Horn rewrote the essay and to this day cannot
write in the passive voice.
"I have flashbacks of that B+ paper," she says.
Horn now teaches English in a Manhattan public school. Her students, too, revise papers multiple
times as Horn advises their grammar and style. With 100-plus students,
"I am personally in grading hell," she says. But her charges
do learn to write.
Unfortunately, studies suggest that they're part of a small, lucky crew.
As high school seniors race to meet December college-application deadlines,
most face the oft-required "personal statement" with understandable
dread. Only a quarter of America's 12th-graders, the 2002 National Assessment of Educational
Progress found, can write tolerable essays. Only about 2% create the
kind of zesty prose that makes reading worthwhile.
The well-financed among the rest hire editing services such as Essay
Edge or Kaplan and zoom to the top of the college admissions pile. Meanwhile,
schools that fail to teach writing face few consequences. For three
years, the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has held schools
to strict reading and arithmetic standards. But the law is strangely
quiet about the third "R" of the trio.
Education Secretary Rod Paige, who ushered NCLB into the schools, resigned
Nov. 15. President Bush wants his new Education secretary, Margaret
Spellings, to expand NCLB's math and reading testing in high schools.
Why stop at two of three R's? Holding schools accountable for teaching
kids to write will both level the college playing field and give students
a job skill they deserve.
A recent survey of corporate America by the National Commission on Writing found clear prose
is a résumé must. "In most cases, writing ability could be your
ticket in or it could be your ticket out," one human resources
(HR) director notes. Yet, "people's writing skills are not where
they need to be," another says. Cover letters sag with needless
words, fuzzy logic and grammatical mistakes. Ask college admissions
counselors about application essays, and they list the same sins.
This is simple cause and effect. Grown-up Johnny can't write because
young Johnny writes little beyond short book reports or haiku
and he rarely revises his work.
"The way we learn to write is to write and to make errors
and to correct them," says Marilyn Whirry, a former National
Teacher of the Year, who taught writing in California for three decades. Like Horn, young writers need teachers
who circle weak verbs and the passive voice. But if a teacher has 100
students, a mere five minutes per paper per week is eight hours of Saturday
work. A second draft doubles the load.
So even good teachers rarely bother. The results show. One national
writing exam prompt asked 11th-graders to concoct a newspaper article
on a haunted house. Almost half flunked; half gave "adequate"
responses. That sounds OK until you read part of an "adequate"
sample: "Man builds strange house to scare ghosts. He says that
he did it to confuse the ghosts. But why may we ask would he want to
spend 10 years building a house."
Flat. Poorly punctuated. Unlikely in an admissions essay or job
cover letter to merit a second read.
Getting into college is tough enough without the handicap of poor writing
skills. The essay-editing industry grows roughly 20% a year because,
in a world where SAT prep classes coach board scores to oblivion and
grade inflation runs rampant, colleges believe essays allow a glimpse
of the real applicant.
The percentage of schools where essays carry "considerable importance"
in admissions has grown from 14% in 1993 to 23% in 2003, and 37% among
schools that admit fewer than 50% of applicants. Editors note the shoddiness
of the essays they see; a few hundred dollars spent on prose polishing
is the best admissions investment families can make.
Ways to improve writing
But not everyone has the cash. We pay taxes to support schools, so schools
should teach kids to write their own essays. And as the HR directors
note, writing is a skill that workers need and too few of them have.
NCLB reforms can help schools improve writing with two carrot-and-stick
Require schools to boost volume. Since writing is learned by
writing, as Marilyn Whirry says, all subjects should require papers.
History, science and health all benefit from the intensity writing requires.
So, incidentally, do English classes. Too many English teachers give
tests "What color was Hester Prynne's 'A'?"
rather than assign papers requiring original ideas.
They've got an excuse. The standards movement covers reading comprehension,
not thesis statements. But as the SAT expands this spring to cover essay
writing, states can test this skill and make schools face the
same consequences for failure as they do when kids can't read.
Pay to make grading fly. Students learn grammar, mechanics and
grace when teachers demand and correct three or more drafts
of each paper. NCLB can cool teachers' "grading hell" by giving
schools grants to outsource grading not to India, but to freelance writers or grad students looking for cash.
Whirry placed an ad in her town's paper seeking folks with college English
degrees. She trained her new graders, then supervised the process. She
saved time and could still assign 30 essays a year.
Not every classroom can be like Horn's, where students learn grammar
by day and hear the teacher read her fiction at Barnes & Noble by
night. But all students deserve the tools to make their ideas understood.
As one HR director told the National Commission on Writing, "Applicants
who provide poorly written letters likely wouldn't get an interview."
Schools fail students headed to college and the job market when they
let poor writing slide.
In a report that could transform New York City's public schools, a court-appointed
panel has found that an additional $5.6 billion must be spent on the
city's schoolchildren every year to provide the opportunity for a sound,
basic education that they are guaranteed by the State Constitution.
Beyond that, the panel found that $9.2 billion worth of new classrooms,
laboratories, libraries and other facilities were needed to relieve
overcrowding, reduce class sizes and give the city's 1.1 million public
school students adequate places to learn.
The report is a major turning point in a lawsuit that could reshape
the way education is financed in the state, and is being watched closely
by politicians and educators around the nation. Nearly every state has
battled over school spending in court, but the case in New York is one of the country's biggest, both in terms of the
money at stake and the number of children affected.
Justice Leland DeGrasse, the judge overseeing the case in State Supreme
Court, appointed the panel this summer after lawmakers in Albany missed a one-year deadline imposed by the state's highest
court to stop shortchanging the city and fix what it called the "systemic
failure" of New York's schools.
It is widely assumed that Justice DeGrasse will now draw heavily from
the panel's findings as he decides how much more money the city's schools
are owed. The state could then appeal, though New York's highest court largely upheld Justice DeGrasse's earlier
The figure the panel recommended - a 43 percent increase to the city's
$12.9 billion school budget - came very close to what the city said
it needed. It was almost identical to the amount sought by the plaintiffs
in the case and nearly tripled what Gov. George E. Pataki's lawyers
had proposed in court. But how much of the money should come from the
state or from the city itself the panel did not say, leaving unanswered
one of the most daunting and contentious questions facing the lawmakers
responsible for coming up with the money. [News analysis, Page B4.]
"We're ecstatic," said Michael A. Rebell, executive director
of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the group that brought the case on
the ground that the city's lack of money, especially in light of the
poverty of its students, deprived children of an adequate education.
In the 1999-2000 school year, for instance, New
spent an average of $10,469 per student, state records show, compared
with the $13,760 per student spent in the wealthier surrounding suburbs.
"Now," Mr. Rebell said, "we need to roll up our sleeves
and make sure the Legislature enacts this reform so that the children
can get what they need." The report is a significant step toward
a court takeover of what has traditionally been a legislative role:
deciding exactly how much money should be spent on schools.
Throughout the 11 years that the case has wended its way through the
state's courts, judges have taken pains not to dictate exactly how much
extra money should be spent on the city's schoolchildren. But the Legislature
essentially forfeited that prerogative by its own inaction, the panel
said. "It therefore falls, by default, to the judiciary to fashion
an appropriate remedy to ensure that the sound basic education constitutional
mandate is honored," wrote the panel of referees, selected by Justice
Its members are E. Leo Milonas, a former state appellate judge and past
president of the City Bar Association; William C. Thompson, a former
New York City Council member, state senator and appellate judge, who
is the father of the city's comptroller; and John D. Feerick, the former
dean of Fordham University School of Law, who was also a president of
the City Bar Association.
In its report, the panel called for an unusually aggressive timetable,
giving the state no more than 90 days to devise and begin enacting a
plan that would eventually put an extra $5.6 billion every year toward
running the city's schools. It gave the state four years to reach the
full amount, starting with $1.4 billion in the first year, $2.8 billion
in the second, and $4.2 billion in the third. The governor has said
that the state can eventually raise as much as $2 billion a year from
video lottery terminals. How the rest - which would have amounted to
an average of an extra $339 on every state income tax return in 2001
- would be raised remains an open question.
The panel also gave the state only 90 days to figure out how to put
an extra $9.2 billion towards school construction and repairs, but allowed
that money to be phased in over five years. The plan calls for about
$1.8 billion in each of the five years.
On virtually every major issue, the panel - which sought dozens of opinions
during three months of public hearings - sided with the plaintiffs and
dismissed the state's arguments. On the question of running the schools,
the state argued that an extra $1.93 billion would suffice, but the
panel chose a figure that exceeded what either the plaintiffs or the
In fact, the referees said that the governor's methodology was so flawed
that when they corrected it, they came up with a number that looked
remarkably similar to what the plaintiffs were requesting.
As for school construction, the state argued that it did not need to
spend any more than it had been spending. In response, the panel said
the state was "refusing to squarely address" the issue and
essentially adopted the plaintiffs' proposals whole.
And while the state argued that more layers of oversight would be necessary
to ensure that any additional money was well spent, the panel rejected
the state's idea to set up a new statewide office that would monitor
spending and wield the power to shut down failing schools.
The governor's office called that aspect a particular failure of the
report. "We are particularly concerned that the recommendations
appear to reject any type of real reform and fail to overhaul the current
accountability system, while recommending a substantial infusion of
new spending," said Kevin Quinn, a spokesman for Governor Pataki.
Mindful that the report was coming, the governor pushed for a settlement
of the case in recent days, but the question of where the extra money
should come from continued to be one of the biggest obstacles to a resolution.
Just this week, as settlement talks proceeded, the issue surfaced again.
Both the plaintiffs and the governor's lawyers had tentatively agreed
to an extra $5 billion a year for the city's schools, according to those
involved in the negotiations, but the talks stalled when the state insisted
that 40 percent of the money come from city taxpayers.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg refused, arguing that the city should not
have to contribute anything more, a position that even the plaintiffs
think is untenable. They have argued that the city should pay about
23 percent of the increase.
But the mayor repeated his stance after the report was issued.
"For the city to fund even a portion of this $5.63 billion would
require us to cut after-school programs, close libraries and make severe
cuts to essential city services, even in the area of public safety,"
Mr. Bloomberg said. "Such actions would harm the very children
this lawsuit is designed to help."
The plaintiffs and the governor's office said that they were eager to
continue negotiations. Both parties have repeatedly stated that they
want a solution that applies to the entire state, not just to the city's
schools, which the courts have focused on. A settlement may be the surest
way of achieving that, they say.
AUSTIN - A state district judge issued his much-anticipated
final judgment on the deficiencies of the Texas school finance system, clearing the way for an immediate
appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.
Judge John Dietz of TravisCounty ruled Tuesday that the funding system is operating as
an unconstitutional state property tax and is inadequate to meet the
high standards lawmakers have set for students.
He gave lawmakers until Oct. 1 to fix the system. If they fail to come
up with a plan, he said he would halt state funding.
The written ruling followed the outlines of the landmark decision Dietz
delivered orally from the bench Sept. 15. His remarks at the conclusion
of a 26-day trial of a lawsuit brought by more than 330 school districts
including property-wealthy and property-poor districts
set the stage for sweeping changes to Texas' tax structure when the Legislature convenes Jan. 11.
Attorney General Greg Abbott said his office will appeal directly to
the Texas Supreme Court, bypassing the intermediate appeals court where
previous school finance cases were first reviewed.
"Because this is a critical matter of statewide importance, and
because the students, parents, school districts and taxpayers need closure
on this matter, we will urge the Texas Supreme Court to hear the school
finance case at the earliest possible date," Abbott said.
David Thompson, who represented Houston and 47 other districts in the litigation, said he supports
the direct appeal to the Supreme Court. "We need to get resolution
on this issue as promptly as we can."
Thompson praised Dietz for his detailed, 125-page ruling.
"Judge Dietz's sweeping ruling recognized that there is a disconnect
between the higher standards that the Legislature has put in place for
our schools and the resources that the state has made available to achieve
them," Thompson said.
Dietz said a constitutional cap of $1.50 per $100 assessed valuation
for school maintenance and operations "has become both a floor
and a ceiling, denying schools districts 'meaningful discretion' in
setting their tax rates."
The judge ruled that the Legislature's failure to sufficiently fund
a program to help low-wealth districts build and renovate schools "means
that property-poor districts do not have substantially equal access
to facilities funding."
Finally, he declared that the state is inadequately funding the education
of bilingual, economically disadvantaged and special-needs students.
In September, Dietz expressed alarm about the widening gap in educational
achievement between "the haves and the have-nots" and said
the state faces a bleak future if it fails to spend more on public education.
Dietz rejected the state's position that it is providing an adequate
education because most districts are rated as academically acceptable
based on student test scores. He said it is "untenable" that
under the 2003-04 accountability system, a district is considered academically
acceptable if only 25 percent of its students pass the science test
and only 35 percent pass the math test.
Three teens held in
alleged plot at school
By Christine Clarridge, Seattle Times staff reporter, 12/1/04
SPANAWAY, PierceCounty It was with shock, fear and plain old surprise
students greeted the news yesterday that three classmates had been arrested
for allegedly planning to take over and attack their school using weapons
No weapons were found in the alleged plot, planned for years from now,
but it still sent a chill through the school.
"I know it sounds like a cliché, but it just never seemed like
it could happen here," said Jessica Bloodsaw, a senior at the large
school south of Tacoma.
"It changes the way you think about, and look at, people,"
Bloodsaw said. "It makes you wonder about the people who are sitting
apart and makes you want to ask them, 'Are you sitting there because
you want to or because you don't feel accepted?' "
Monday night, PierceCounty sheriff's deputies arrested three members of the school's
Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program on investigation of threatening
to bomb and injure people after a parent tipped off a school official.
The three suspects a 16-year-old boy, an 18-year-old boy and
an 18-year-old girl allegedly planned the attack, police said,
in retaliation for years of teasing by other students and because at
least one of them harbored anti-government views. The Seattle Times
generally does not name criminal suspects before they are formally charged.
Investigators found hand-drawn floor plans of the school, notebooks
and other documentation of an alleged plan to take over and attack the
school with weapons and bomb-type items, PierceCounty sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said.
The three students did not have weapons or access to weapons, and the
alleged plot appears to have been scheduled for several years down the
Initial reports that the three may have been part of a larger anti-government
group do not appear to be true, Troyer said yesterday afternoon.
"The suspects asked kids to be in the anti-government group, and,
if they didn't say no, they were added to the list. There has been no
meeting, and the other kids did not even know they were on the list,"
Students at the school said they were surprised, and a little frightened,
that anyone would feel so alienated in their school, which they described
as more diverse, more tolerant and less clique-ish than other schools
"I think those kids are crazy," said junior Brandon Orchard,
who was hanging out with a group of students. "It's shocking and
not representative of our school," said student-body President
Prosecutors are reviewing the case to determine what charges can be
filed against the two 18-year-olds, who were booked into PierceCountyCorrectionsCenter, and the 16-year-old, who was booked into a juvenile
The arrests underscore the seriousness with which school officials and
educators nationwide view threats and rumors of threats in the wake
of the 1999 Columbine school shootings in Colorado in which two disenfranchised
teens shot and killed 12 schoolmates and a teacher before turning the
guns on themselves.
Spanaway school officials yesterday said that it was in that spirit
of vigilance that they contacted police as soon as they heard reports
about the alleged threat.
"This is the sort of thing that has been very much on the minds
of every school district in the state," said Mark Wenzel, communications
director for SpanawayLake's school district, Bethel Public Schools.
There have been other arrests in the state in the past few years for
alleged threats made by students against their schools and classmates,
including the arrest in October of an IngrahamHigh
student for posting an alleged hit list of 15 fellow students on the
Spanaway Lake High School Principal Greg Eisnaugle said he told students
in an announcement yesterday morning that the alleged plan had not been
imminent or particularly well thought out, but that school administrators
and police had taken it seriously.
A letter sent home to parents encouraged people to tell school officials
when they "hear about a threat, harassment of a student or any
other case where a member of our community could be hurt."
In the halls of the spacious single-level school yesterday, few of the
nearly 2,000 students seemed to know details about the arrests beyond
what had been broadcast earlier over the public-announcement system.
Senior Savannah Ross said she was frightened by the initial rumors that
there were kids involved in the alleged plot.
"I was scared and wanted to go home," she said.
Her friend, Tamika Riley, agreed.
"I really think they should have called off school. And it would
be good if they called it off tomorrow, too."
The amount of money to be collected in property taxes to support schools
across Wisconsin is increasing this year by 7.3%, the largest increase
in more than a decade, figures released Wednesday by the state show.
Though property tax increases vary widely from school district to school
district and even from home to home, the overall message is clear: Taxes
will be up when it comes to paying for schools, at a pace more than
twice the current inflation rate.
And in many cases, the property tax increases are being coupled with
cuts in services at schools - fewer teachers in areas such as art, larger
classes and other belt-tightening measures.
The 7.3% statewide school levy increase is the largest since 1992-'93
- right about the time the state government increased its commitment
to providing local schools with money, which led to a period of declining
property taxes for schools. And the increase comes as the state has
backed away from that commitment, shifting the balance of paying for
schools a few notches back toward the property tax.
Wisconsin's 426 school districts levied a total of $3.61 billion
that will show up on tax bills being sent out this month, up from $3.37
billion the previous year, the state Department of Public Instruction
Likely to add to debate
The boost is certain to fuel advocacy in the next legislative session
both for some increases in state spending on schools and for putting
strict limits on property taxes.
"As we're pulling together the next budget, we certainly hope to
provide more aid to education to hold down property taxes," said
Melanie Fonder, spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.
But state Assembly Speaker John Gard, a Republican from Peshtigo, said
the levy increases showed that "people can't control spending"
and that "job number one for my team when we (the Legislature)
come back in January" will be passing a property tax freeze law
and pushing for a state constitutional amendment to limit property tax
"Right before Christmas, the government is going to send taxpayers
a really lousy Christmas card, and they can expect another next year
if the governor doesn't agree to sign the property tax freeze into law,"
Gard said. Doyle has vetoed such legislation in the past.
On the other side of the debate, Karen Royster, executive director of
the Institute for Wisconsin's Future, a group that has been strongly
associated with advocacy to increase state spending on education, said
if property tax increases had been kept as low as some legislators wanted,
"we would be seeing probably a string of school closings (in rural
areas) and, in the suburban and urban districts, just a growing erosion
of educational quality."
Tony Evers, the deputy state superintendent of schools, said while property
taxes for schools were going up, school spending overall was increasing
a more modest amount, about 3%.
He said the DPI's proposals for the next state budget include plans
for helping with some of the problems local schools are facing financially,
but for state spending increases for schools in the 3% to 4% range each
year and no return to the state covering the percentage of school spending
it covered prior to 2004.
No more two-thirds funding
Many involved in the school finance scene point to the decision by the
governor and state Legislature two years ago to back away from the decade-old
commitment to providing, on average, two-thirds of the money for general
local school spending as the cause of the property tax increases now.
State Sen. Michael Ellis (R-Neenah) said: "As the state goes south
on participating (in paying for schools), the levy has to go north."
He predicted that, if nothing changes, levies in the next years will
increase by 10% or more annually.
School officials also note that not only are they getting squeezed by
a drop in the level of state aid, but they also have to cope with rising
expenses, particularly the cost of health insurance for employees.
Stan Johnson, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council,
the state teachers union, said leaders need to have "some kind
of discussion very soon" about how to fund schools in ways that
maintain their quality.
He called the property tax freeze ideas that Republicans advocate "gimmicks,"
and said issues such as the declining portion of tax revenue in Wisconsin coming from businesses need to be addressed.
But Gard said Republicans had advocated ways to save money in running
schools, such as revamping the way teacher health insurance is handled,
that the teachers union and Doyle had stopped.
"You can't continue to stick it to property-tax payers in Wisconsin every year and then expect our economy to grow,"
Imagine a world 10 years from now where every single K-12 student is
performing proficiently on state tests.
It's a nice thought, but is it possible?
Unfortunately, no, say many WeldCounty school district administrators who are working toward
that goal but ultimately failing to get there. That failure means the
districts aren't meeting the requirements of the federal No Child Left
Behind Act, which aims to have every student scoring proficiently on
state tests by 2014.
Many WeldCounty school officials say 100 percent proficiency for every
student is a goal that every district should strive for. But in reality,
it's impossible to meet.
"We are getting better, but are we going to get to 100 percent?
Not likely," said Linda Gleckler, deputy superintendent for Greeley-EvansSchool
6. "We believe it's statistical impossibility to get there."
Most Weld districts have not met the requirements for two years, meaning
they have to send a letter to every parent in the district child explaining
which areas students did not perform proficiently. Those letters are
expected to go to district parents at the end of November or beginning
In Weld, eight of the 12 school districts failed to improve test scores
enough to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind. The districts
that met the requirements were the four smallest in the county.
Platte Valley Re-7, Briggsdale Re-10J, Prairie Re-11J and Pawnee Re-12
districts reached their goals.
This is the same trend happening in Colorado where no district with more than 5,400 students has
met the requirements. The districts that are behind educate about 80
percent of the state's schoolchildren. Some of the districts such as
Denver's Cherry Creek boast some of the highest test scores
in the state. Even Windsor Re-4, which consistently tops WeldCounty in test scores, failed to meet the requirements.
"If we were the only district that hadn't met the requirements,
then I would be discouraged," said Laura Richardson, the district's
director of instruction. "But there are many who didn't. ... You
can't miss one target. There is no room for error."
The problem many larger districts are facing in the state is the number
of subgroups enrolled. Subgroups are groups of students identified by
certain characteristics such as special education students, English
language learners, poor children or Latinos. Many of these children
have historically performed poorly on tests and have to make more progress
than the rest of the students to meet the same standards. A district
must have at least 30 students to make a subgroup.
The problem becomes even bigger when groups are continually changing.
In the Fort Lupton Re-8 school district, 38 percent of the students
are English language learners. That group seems destined to fail under
the law's requirements because each time a student does become proficient,
he or she is moved out of the group, said Ranelle Lang executive director
of learning services for the district.
"You can't show improvement. When they improve, they're not in
the group anymore," she said. "It's like you're always looking
at the milk and not the cream."
Gleckler said District 6 will continue to work toward the goal but doesn't
think it will ever get there.
"I don't think we're ever going to be a grade level for every kid,"
Gleckler said. "We can get really really close. But every kid?
Are Schools Cheating
Officials say federal rules compel them to focus on pupils more likely
to raise test scores
By Joel Rubin, Los
Times Staff Writer, 11/28/04
At the end of each day, when most pupils at RemingtonElementary
in Santa Ana head home, about 100 children stay behind for more work
on their reading, writing and math skills.
For Principal Edna Velado, deciding which of her nearly 600 pupils would
attend the after-school program was difficult.
Last year, she filled those seats with her poorest-performing students
many of whom spoke little English or were years behind in learning.
This year, confronted with a federal law that requires her to dramatically
increase the number of children passing standardized tests, Velado made
a different call.
Students who had nearly made the mark on last year's tests, she reasoned,
stood the best chance of clearing the hurdle this year. Those kids,
she told her teachers, would receive the additional 90 minutes of instruction
even though they weren't the ones most needing help.
"Our job is to educate all students, and we do that," Velado
said. "But in order to avoid the sanctions of this law, we need
to [make choices] that will make the most impact for the school. There
are numbers we have to reach."
In her decision and her frustration, Velado is hardly alone.
As teachers and principals throughout California and the country struggle to satisfy the increasing demands
of the federal No Child Left Behind law, education experts and school
officials say they are paying increasing attention to the middle-of-the-road
students who have fallen just short of test requirements.
This new focus on so-called "cusp" or "bubble" students,
many experts say, is an unintended consequence of a law that emphasizes
test scores and defines success in narrow terms.
The 2-year-old federal law a centerpiece of President Bush's
domestic policy aims to improve schools by requiring states to
administer annual math and English exams to all students.
The law mandates that by the 2013-14 school year, all students must
at least score at a "proficient" level.
States were left to set the incremental targets that schools would have
to reach each year to meet the law's ultimate goal.
Under the federal law, schools get no credit for improving test scores
and can be designated as failing unless they meet the
strict annual improvement targets set by each state.
"There are a lot of perverse incentives built into this law,"
said Gary Orfield, a HarvardUniversity education professor. "It has put tremendous pressure
on people to find what shortcuts they can . Because there is only
one data point that determines how a school is doing, there is no incentive
to work with the kids who are on the top or on the bottom."
Eugene Hickok, deputy secretary in the U.S. Department of Education,
acknowledged that "as a fact of human nature, [teachers and principals]
will focus on the margins where they have the chance to make the most
But he disputed the claim by Orfield and others that the law leaves
school leaders no choice but to work with cusp students over others.
Schools, Hickok said, must attend to all students equally in order to
ensure that the worst-performing students are steadily improving and
eventually are able to pass the tests.
"The law is forcing schools to get kids to proficiency. It does
not tell them how to get there," he said.
Schools that receive federal funding for serving a large percentage
of underprivileged students have the most at stake. If such a school
falls short of the improvement targets two years in a row, a series
of increasingly serious interventions and sanctions kick in that can
culminate with principals and teachers being replaced or control of
a school handed over to outside managers.
This year, the bar is rising sharply in California. About one quarter of each school's students must be
proficient by year-end an increase of nearly 11% from previous
A recent Los Angeles Times analysis showed that more than 1,200 schools
about 13% of the state's 9,000 public campuses are unlikely
to hit the target this year. And based on the last two years of scores,
3,500 schools would probably be deemed as failing in 2008, the analysis
Teachers and principals say that in the face of the sanctions, they
have no choice but to try to meet the federal standards. For many, that
has meant poring over test data to identify the students approaching
proficiency in hopes of raising their scores.
Like Velado at Remington in Santa Ana, Principal David Diaz of Independence
Elementary in South Gate set aside funds this year in his case
about $80,000 in overtime so teachers could work an hour after
class each day with their cusp students.
Tony Delgado, principal at Van Nuys Middle School, said he is well aware
of the importance of raising his cusp students so his school can make
the grade. He said that in the weeks before the standardized tests,
he, along with vice principals and counselors, plan to meet with them
in small groups to review test-taking strategies.
"These key students if they make the jump [to proficiency]
can really carry a school," Delgado said. "They're
crucial to a school making its target."
It is impossible to determine how many schools are employing the strategy
or to what extent they are, education experts said, although they expect
it to become an increasingly common response to the law in coming years
as schools scramble to meet its demands.
Bruce Fuller, a UC Berkeley professor and director of the Policy Analysis
for California Education research center, said several teachers and
school administrators mentioned the idea of targeting students on the
cusp while being interviewed as part of a recent study by the center
on how teachers are responding to the federal law.
Like other teachers and principals, Denise Dennis, a fifth-grade teacher
at Remington, said she tries not to let the focus on cusp students come
at the expense of other students. But with school resources and budgets
limited, they said, something often has to give.
"We could give a huge amount of help to our lowest performing students,
but they're not going to make a big [impact on the school's score],"
Dennis said. "It's an impossible situation. Our hands are tied."
SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. -- Frustration with public education seems to be growing
among the nation's Southern Baptists, with supporters of Christian schools
and home schooling arguing that if God is absent from the classroom
then their children should leave, too.
"What has happened is not so much that the Christians are leaving
the public schools as that the public schools have left the Christians,"
advocate Ed Gamble said.
Gamble is executive director of the Southern Baptist Association of
Christian Schools, an Orlando, Fla.-based group that supports the more
than 600 Southern Baptist schools created in the past eight years.
"As the public schools have become increasingly secular and increasingly
intolerant of things Christian, people who are openly Christian have
said, 'I guess they are not part of our team anymore,'" Gamble
The number of conservative Christian schools grew by nearly 11 percent
between 1999-2000 and 2001-2002, to 5,527, according to the U.S. Department
of Education's latest statistics.
At that rate, Christian schools are growing faster than private schools
as a whole, and have increased their share to nearly 1 in 5 private
schools in the country.
Earlier this year, a resolution proposed at the national meeting of
the Southern Baptist Convention -- which guides the nation's largest
Protestant denomination -- urged parents to withdraw their children
from "officially Godless" "government schools" in
favor of religious education.
While the measure was rejected, interest in faith-based schools has
continued to spread among Baptists at the state level, particularly
in Tennessee, Missouri, Florida, South Carolina, Illinois, Texas, Virginia,
North Carolina, California and New England, according to Exodus Mandate,
a Columbia, S.C., group that promotes private, Christian and home-school
A recent resolution promoting Christian schooling easily passed the
Missouri Baptist Convention but was quashed in committee at the Tennessee
Baptist Convention meeting in Sevierville last month.
The Missouri resolution talked about the "inherent dangers of
secular educational philosophies that now permeates America's public education system" and affirmed "the
importance of systematically training ourselves and our children in
the ways of authentic, biblical Christianity."
"What we are saying is that God has given us some very specific
commands that we are to train our children in the ways of the Lord,
not in the ways of the world," said the Rev. Roger Moran, of Troy,
Mo., the resolution's author and a member of the Southern Baptist Convention's
That means teaching creationism over evolution, that life begins at
conception, and that homosexuality is immoral, as is sex outside of
marriage. But it is more.
"It hits everything, when you realize the reality of life is (that)
life was created by God and the entire universe is his creation. Therefore,
everything has meaning and reflection on his nature, whether it is math
or history or science. Two plus two equals four because God created
them that way," said Glen Schultz, who heads the Baptists' LifeWay
curriculum program for church-based schools and homeschoolers.
The Tennessee resolution came one step short of asking Baptist parents
to pull their children from public schools.
"I wanted to be positive in promoting Christian education. I didn't
want the resolution to be portrayed as attacking public education,"
said the Rev. Larry Reagan, of Dresden, who wrote the measure.
But the Rev. Mike Boyd of Knoxville,
outgoing president of the 1 million-member Tennessee Baptist Convention,
worried about the divisiveness of the issue.
"It was not wise, is all I am saying," added the Rev. Grover
Westover, of Whiteville, chairman of the resolutions committee.
Reagan's resolution would have promoted more "Kingdom education"
schools following LifeWay's lead. Schultz said the program has reached
some 150 churches since 1996.
"We encourage our members to pray for this ministry and we encourage
the promotion of an adequate system of Christian schools," Reagan
Boyd agreed there were "some serious issues in the public schools"
to resolve but said the focus should be on supporting the teachers working
in them, including many Baptists, and parents.
"Historically, Baptists have been pretty staunch supporters of
the public school system, and they still are," said Gamble, who
was not surprised to see the convention resolutions fail.
"But this is a bottom-up movement, as it is a bottom-up denomination.
This is not a movement that is being led so much by pastors as it is
being led by moms and dads who are frustrated."
"And some day, I don't know how long it will be, most of the kids
will be educated in Southern Baptist schools or in their homes."
WASHINGTON -- Federally funded abstinence education programs that
are used in 25 states contain false and misleading information about
contraception, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases, said Rep.
A report Wednesday from the California Democrat said 11 of the 13 most
widely used programs underestimate the effectiveness of condoms in preventing
pregnancy and the spread of disease, exaggerate the prevalence of emotional
and physical distress following abortion, blur science and religion
or get fundamental scientific facts wrong.
Alma Golden, deputy assistant Health and Human Services Secretary for
population affairs, said the Waxman report took statements out of context
to present the programs in the worst possible light.
"These issues have been raised before and discredited," Golden
said. "One thing is very clear for our children, abstaining from
sex is the most effective means of preventing the sexual transmission
of HIV, STDs and preventing pregnancy."
The abstinence programs, which have been embraced by President Bush,
will receive $170 million in the current government spending year, more
than double what the government was spending when Bush took office in
2001. The abstinence curriculum may not include instruction in contraceptive
use as a condition of federal funding.
Waxman said, "It is absolutely vital that the health education
provided to America's youth be scientifically and medically accurate. The
abstinence-only programs reviewed in this report fail to meet this standard."
Questions about curriculums
A.C. Green's Game Plan, named for the professional basketball player
who said he would not have sex before he was married, raises question
about whether condoms can stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases,
Waxman's report said. "The popular claim that condoms help prevent
the spread of STDs, is not supported by the data," the program's
teacher's manual says.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other researchers
have found that consistent and correct condom use does protect against
transmissions of many STDs, the report said.
Other programs asserted as fact sharply contested claims, the report
said. The FACTS middle school program, developed by Northwest Family
Services, says, "Conception, also known as fertilization, occurs
when one sperm unites with one egg in the upper third of the fallopian
tube. This is when life begins."
In another instance, the Why kNOw curriculum asserts "twenty-four
chromosomes from the mother and twenty-four chromosomes from the father
join to create this new individual," the report said. The correct
number is 23 each.
Some curriculums also rely on what Waxman called damaging stereotypes
about boys and girls, including that girls care less about achievement
and their futures.
The Why kNOw curriculum teaches: "Women gauge their happiness and
judge their success by their relationships. Men's happiness and success
hinge on their accomplishments."