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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – Nov. 26 – Dec. 3, 2004


Dunn Continues To Lead Overhaul At State Board Of Education / Southern Illinoisan
State may retire teacher perk / Chicago Tribune
Parents want to end 'district dumping' / Elk Grove Times
Midcareer adults can enter teaching with greater ease, thanks to program / Belleville News-Democrat
Effort to change how state finances schools is growing / Rockford Register-Star
Schools face new snag in 'No Child' program / Daily Southtown
State won't try to oust E. St. Louis board chief / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Dist. 219 pulls out of special ed consortium / Pioneer Press
School group gives gov bad marks for timeliness / Daily Southtown
Consolidated schools still looking for state funds / State Journal-Register
DCFS turns its attention to education / Chicago Tribune
Yorkville logs on for teacher prospects / Beacon News
There's a lot to learn about schools and money / Rockford Register Star

Schools, gambling opponents: Fold teenage poker games / Peoria Journal Star
Home schooling is attracting mainstream families / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
School's new equipment pushes the right buttons / Sun-Sentinel (FL)
Violent school crime falls over 10 years / Belleville News-Democrat
A city's schools test a new way / Christian Science Monitor
Anti-evolution teachings gain foothold in U.S. schools / San Francisco Chronicle
2005 Budget Drops Below Bush Request / Education Week
Faking It Won’t Make It in Science / Education week
Reauthorized IDEA Could Shift Power to School Districts / Education Week
Federal Report Examines Charter Schools / Education Week
Congress Gets an Incomplete on 3 Major Education Bills / Education Week
Students of National-Board Teachers Gain Slight Edge / Education Week
Writing a wrong / USA Today
Court Panel Says New York Schools Need Billions More / New York Times
Judge sets Oct. 1 deadline to fix school funding / Houston Chronicle
Three teens held in alleged plot at school / Seattle Times
School tax levies rise 7.3% in state / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Every child left behind / Greeley Tribune (CO)
Are Schools Cheating Poor Learners? /
Los Angeles Times
Religion today / Boston Globe
Waxman report: Abstinence courses flawed /



Dunn Continues To Lead Overhaul At State Board Of Education
Caleb Hale, The Southern Illinoisan
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 the agency.
"In some ways, no one administrative cut is responsible, but added together they make up a good stewardship of money and resources," he said.
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
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 to them.
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.

State may retire teacher perk
Early-out option hung up in House
Christi Parsons and Diane Rado,
Chicago Tribune
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 pension calculations.
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 taxpayers' burden.
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 Democrats.
"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
Schaumburg High School 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 of 60.
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 leave.
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 it.
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 it.
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
Cook County, 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."

Parents want to end 'district dumping'
Karen Shoffner, Elk Grove Times
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 services.
Barnhill said ISBE representatives spent four days in the district, visiting schools and classrooms and examining administrative records.


Midcareer adults can enter teaching with greater ease, thanks to program
Ramona Curtis,
Belleville News Democrat
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
McKendree College's Transitions to Teaching program, he's able to use those experiences as a science teacher at Wyvetter Younge Middle School 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,
McKendree College'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 district.
"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 job."
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 in education.
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
McKendree College 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.

Effort to change how state finances schools is growing
Column by Wally Hass 

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 River Valley. 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


Schools face new snag in 'No Child' program
Daily Southtown Editorial,
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
Chicago Public Schools — 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 or two.
If improving the schools truly is the law's goal, the feds should give local school officials a legitimate opportunity to do so.


State won't try to oust
E. St. Louis board chief
Alexa Aguilar, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12/1/04
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. Louis School District's 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 district.
"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.


Dist. 219 pulls out of special ed consortium
Kathy Routliffe, Pioneer Press, 12/2/04
Parents and backers of
Niles Township'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
Niles Township. 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
Julia Molloy School, 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
Fairview School 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,
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 rug."

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 said.

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 board.

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.


Consolidated schools still looking for state funds

ILLIOPOLIS - Recently consolidated school districts, including
Sangamon Valley, 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
Illiopolis City Hall.

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 incentive money.

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 incentives.

Voters in the former Illiopolis and Niantic-Harristown school districts agreed in March to merge the districts into what is now Sangamon Valley District 9.

Area residents, especially those who voted for the merger, have been anxious about not yet receiving the incentive money from the state, Mitchell said.

"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 receive."

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
Sangamon Valley 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 said.

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.


DCFS turns its attention to education
$7 million boost for state wards
By Ofelia Casillas, Tribune staff reporter,

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 has seen."

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 logs on for teacher prospects
Online applications: Grundy-Kendall consortium will help sort educator resumes
By Dan Waitt, Beacon News Staff Writer,

YORKVILLE — Prospective teachers who want to apply for a job in Yorkville and several neighboring school districts will be doing so online.

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 time.

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
Kane County 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 responded favorably.

"We have heard nothing but positive comments from the personnel directors," he said.

While all nine public school districts in
Kane County 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 procedure.

Other school districts in the Grundy-Kendall consortium are:
Plano, Newark, Kendall County Special Education Coop, Lisbon, Minooka High School, Gardner-South Wilmington and South Wilmington.


There's a lot to learn about schools and money
Column by Wally Haas,
Rockford Register Star, 12/3/04

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.

Cherry Valley 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.

Rockford worries about how much the proposed change would cost taxpayers.

"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 Hononegah High School library at 7 p.m. 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 out.

The goal of all these discussions should not be just about money, but how we can best educate children in
Illinois -- fairly.




Schools, gambling opponents: Fold teenage poker games
Some parents say Texas Hold 'Em teaches critical-thinking and math skills.
Others say teens may not be able to control their betting.
Martha Irvine, AP National Writer,
Peoria Journal-Star
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 your skill.
"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
New Trier High School, north of Chicago, to Apple Valley High School in suburban Minneapolis - have recently started banning poker-playing on their campuses.
Dave Smiley, principal at
Elgin High 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," he says.
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
Columbia University 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
Field School, 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 Annenberg Public Policy Center.
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."

Home schooling is attracting mainstream families
Kavita Kumar,
St. Louis Post Dispatch
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
DePaul Hospital. The Maryland Heights 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 in math.
"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 reason.
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
Maryland Heights. 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.
Growing support
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 said.
Estimates from various groups reinforce that home schooling is on the rise. According to estimates from the
National Center 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.
St. Louis Science Center 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.
Lindenwood University 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.
"Very rewarding"
"There have been times when it's a little hard to be different," admits 19-year-old Katie Wightman, who is studying nursing at
Missouri Baptist University. 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 said.
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
noon, 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
National Center 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 of schools.
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 teaching.
7 percent said their child had a physical or mental health problem.
7 percent said their child had other special needs.
Legal requirements
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.
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 Illinois does not have any information about home schooling on its state education Web site, but more information is available at these advocacy sites:,


School's new equipment pushes the right buttons
By Lois K. Solomon, Sun-Sentinel Education Writer,
BOCA RATON · When the math teacher asks a question at Don Estridge High Tech Middle School, 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 Beach County 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 Johnson said.

"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.

Violent school crime falls over 10 years
Curt Anderson, Associated Press,
Belleville News-Democrat
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 departments.
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
Columbine High School 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, N.C.
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," Cornell said.
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 schools.
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 to 2002.
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 in 1995.
- 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, 11/30/04

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 York, 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
Harvard University. 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
Shaw Middle School.

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.

Philadelphia's worst-achieving schools hold their own is a source of pride to Edison and a confirmation to the district that private management can work.

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 approach.

For all the gains,
Philadelphia's challenges remain daunting. The half-dozen schools on the district's "persistently dangerous" list when assigned to Edison 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.


Anti-evolution teachings gain foothold in
U.S. schools
Evangelicals see flaws in Darwinism
Anna Badkhen, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer, 11/30/04

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."

Not anymore.

The school board has ordered that biology teachers at
Dover Area High School 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 phenomena. "

On an intelligent-design Web site (, 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
National Center 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 religion."

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
Dover High 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 Diego County). "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 "evolution follies."

"Mainstream criticism should be raised in classrooms," West said.

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 month.

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 of evolution."

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 Charles County 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
Thomas More Law Center 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 said.

"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."


2005 Budget Drops Below Bush Request
Congress Appropriates Less for Title I, Special Education
By Erik W. Robelen, Education Week, 12/1/04

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 president’s 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 on spending.

The measure was expected to head to President Bush’s 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 agency’s discretionary budget actually decreased.

Title I received $12.74 billion, about $600 million shy of the president’s 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 chamber’s 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
America’s 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 president’s request for Title I education funding, the prime mover of education reform.”

‘Adequately Funded’

President Bush, however, apparently didn’t 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 won’t 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 Bush’s 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.)

“We’re 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 Districts," this issue.)

“It just goes to show,” Ms. Kusler said, “that the money they ‘promised’ in IDEA is not real money.”


Faking It Won’t Make It in Science
By Sean Cavanagh, Education Week, 12/1/04

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.”

“There’s 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. They’ve 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 they’re expected to have such expertise already?

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, he’s 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 says—not just an ability to recite facts.

“You demand that it makes sense,” Mr. Robertson tells the teachers, in talking about gravity. “That’s when you’re 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, ‘Don’t hum when you’re walking down the hallways—someone 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. “It’s 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 later on.

For Mr. Robertson, that is not simply an abstract belief. To this day, he remembers his embarrassment years ago, as a master’s-degree candidate in physics, when he was handed an exam and forced to admit to his professor that he didn’t know a basic formula—one he should have understood years before.

“He looked at me and said, ‘You’re a physics major?’ ” Mr. Robertson recalled.

The teachers attending Mr. Robertson’s sessions in
Indianapolis last month arrived with different goals. Lisa Yeager, who teaches biology and earth science at Henderson County High School in Kentucky, attended the writer’s 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 Earth’s 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
Henderson County district, believes many teachers long to improve in different areas within science, but are reluctant to seek help. “I don’t know if it’s that they don’t 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. Robertson’s 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, she’s 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 matter—and put it in understandable language for students—has 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. What’s 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 York University’s 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 master’s students and undergraduates to complete NYU’s 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 don’t find that teachers are embarrassed about it,” the author said. “It’s not a negative. They’re [saying], there’s a resource out there.”


Reauthorized IDEA Could Shift Power to
School Districts
By Christina A. Samuels, Education Week, 12/1/04

The first overhaul of the nation’s main special education law in seven years is getting guarded approval from education officials and advocacy groups.

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, we’re 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 complaint process.

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 bill.

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 CEC’s Mr. Blair said his organization was disappointed by the lack of a funding commitment. “That’s 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 issue.)

Most observers believe the new IDEA would give more power to school districts to determine a child’s 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 organization’s chief lobbyist.

“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, or drugs.

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 state’s “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 test.

The revised IDEA’s provision on teachers has led to a number of objections. The CEC’s Mr. Blair objects to the HOUSSE option because he believes teachers who educate children with disabilities should be specially trained, and a test doesn’t necessarily measure that..

“To us, it’s 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 they’re 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. “It’s 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.

Paperwork Pilot
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.

“I’m 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.

“We’d 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.”


Federal Report Examines Charter Schools
Test Scores in Five States Found to Trail the Results in Regular Public Schools
By Debra Viadero, Education Week, 12/1/04

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 special education.

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 report’s authors, and some independent experts last week downplayed the report’s 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 report’s 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

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
Harvard University researcher Caroline M. Hoxby that came to the opposite conclusion, using different data. ("New Data Fuel Current Charter School 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 report’s 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 five states.

However, in only two of those states—Colorado and Texas—were 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
Duke University in Durham, N.C., who has independently studied charter schools, said the study “doesn’t 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, it’s 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 department’s 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 week.

An article last week on the report in The New York Times said the report’s release had come in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from that newspaper.

Nancy Adelman, SRI’s project director on the report, said the study was submitted to the department in June. Department officials denied sitting on the report.


Congress Gets an Incomplete on 3 Major Education Bills
By Vaishali Honawar, Education Week, 12/1/04

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 didn’t 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 help matters.

“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 year’s election campaigns did not make higher education a priority, and that lack of attention also means that it won’t 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 aren’t 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,’’ he said.

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.

Head Start

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 committee’s 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 children.


Students of National-Board Teachers Gain Slight Edge
By Linda Jacobson, Education Week, 12/1/04

Ninth and 10th graders in the
Miami-Dade County 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 teacher’s 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 successful teachers.

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 the process.

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.


Writing a wrong
By Laura Vanderkam,
USA Today, 11/30/04

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.

Expand testing

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 steps:

• 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.


Court Panel Says New York Schools Need Billions More
New York Times, 12/1/04

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 rulings.

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 York City 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 DeGrasse.

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 city demanded.
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.


Judge sets Oct. 1 deadline to fix school funding
An appeal will be made to state's supreme court, Attorney General Greg Abbott says
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau, 11/30/04

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
Travis County 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
Pierce County — It was with shock, fear and plain old surprise that Spanaway Lake High School students greeted the news yesterday that three classmates had been arrested for allegedly planning to take over and attack their school using weapons and bombs.
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

"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,
Pierce County 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,
Pierce County 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 line.

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," Troyer said.

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 they knew.
"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 Matt Wickens.

Prosecutors are reviewing the case to determine what charges can be filed against the two 18-year-olds, who were booked into
Pierce County Corrections Center, and the 16-year-old, who was booked into a juvenile detention center.

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
Spanaway Lake'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
Ingraham High School student for posting an alleged hit list of 15 fellow students on the Internet.

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."


School tax levies rise 7.3% in state
Increase is biggest in more than a decade
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dec. 1, 2004

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 reported Wednesday.

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 increases.

"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," Gard said.


Every child left behind
Maria Sanchez-Traynor,
Greeley Tribune, 11/28/04

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
Weld County 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.

Weld County 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-Evans School District 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 of December.

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 Weld County 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? No."


Are Schools Cheating Poor Learners?
Officials say federal rules compel them to focus on pupils more likely to raise test scores
By Joel Rubin,
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 11/28/04

At the end of each day, when most pupils at
Remington Elementary School 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
Harvard University 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 impact."

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 years.

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 showed.

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."


Religion today
By Duncan Mansfield, Associated Press Writer, 12/2/04

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 said.

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 education.

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.

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 executive committee.

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.

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 said.

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."


Waxman report: Abstinence courses flawed

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. Henry Waxman.

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."





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