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News Clips

News Clips – December 10 – 17, 2004

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STATE  
Pension panel backs off on cuts / State Journal-Register
Teaching geometry in kindergarten / Champaign News-Gazette
State: 'No Child' plan needs work / Peoria Journal Star
Don't let politics trump health and education / State Journal-Register
State schools chief gets input from teachers / Champaign News-Gazette

More Illinois schools meet federal achievement guidelines / AP
No Child Left Behind /
Chicago Tribune
Preschooler Left Behind On Bus: School Officials Say the Boy Was Unattended For 10 To 15 Minutes / Southern Illinoisan
Education board cancels meeting after Open Meetings question / Daily Southtown
Federal school standards criticized / State Journal-Register
Report: Minority students often not counted in school test scores / Belleville News-Democrat
Don't let rules hamper learning / Belleville News-Democrat
Punished for protest / Herald News
Lemont will vote to replace 'Injuns' name / Herald News
Year-round school advanced / News Sun
Tutoring resolution would make great gift for kids / Chicago Sun-Times

NATIONAL
Mining Scores for Nuances in Improvement /
Washington Post
We can do better at teaching kids math / Boston Globe
U.S. Gets Better Showing on Latest International Math and Science Exam / Education Week
Is a smaller school always a better school? / Christian Science Monitor
Kansas board again taking up evolution / Kansas City Star
New front in school funding battle / Cleveland Plain Dealer
'No Child Left Behind' misses some / Sacramento Bee
State to ax high school MEAP / Detroit News
New Rules for Teacher Gifts: Apples (but Perhaps No IPods) / New York Times
Charter school's shutdown sought / Boston Globe
School Board Sued on Mandate for Alternative to Evolution / New York Times
Charter vs. Traditional /
Washington Post
Bush, voucher backers appeal ruling / Miami Herald
Lack-of-sleep data spur district to consider change by next fall / San Diego Union-Tribune
No manger, no money, voters tell school / Chicago Sun-Times
Concerns raised over school privacy notice / Honolulu Advertiser
Paddling on hold in DISD / Dallas Morning News

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STATE

Pension panel backs off on cuts
Other ideas likely to be as unpopular
Mike Ramsey, Copley News Service, State Journal-Register
 
CHICAGO - A task force studying state pension obligations backed away Friday from the controversial idea of reducing retirement raises for pensioners and current public employees but pushed to study other suggestions likely to rile labor unions.
 
The Governor's Commission on State Pensions unanimously rejected the notion of cutting the cost-of-living adjustments required by statute for members of state government's five retirement systems. The concept, analyzed in recent weeks, is believed to clash with an
Illinois constitutional provision that protects pension benefits from being "diminished."
 
The panel, however, voted to have a consultant run projections on alternatives that include raising state workers' pension contributions by 1 percentage point. Members also agreed to examine a "second tier" for new hires, who would receive fewer retirement benefits.
 
"We're never going to mess with current employees or current retirees - it's just new hires, so we see where we're at," one of the commission members, state Rep. Bob Molaro, D-Chicago, said during the panel's latest meeting at the
James R. Thompson Center.
 
Representatives of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association told the task force they're against any two-tier systems and said lawmakers should consider another pension-bond sale or a tax increase to meet retirement obligations to workers.
 
The pension commission is working toward a final report for Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The Democratic governor created the panel early this year to examine pension obligations in the tens of billions of dollars that put stress on current and future state budgets.
 
State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, an Evanston Democrat who serves on the panel, envisions giving lawmakers several cost-saving options, some more politically viable than others, with financial estimates.
 
"We'd better know what alternative ingredients can be substituted for the recipe so that it all tastes the same at the end," he said.
 
Also Friday, the commission OK'd a resolution urging lawmakers not to approve any pension enhancements until the group issues its final recommendations in 2005. The resolution exempts an early-retirement plan for teachers because it currently is in negotiations.
 
All pension systems are being reviewed. They are the State Employees Retirement System, the State Universities Retirement System, the Teachers' Retirement System and the pension funds for judges and the General Assembly.

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Teaching geometry in kindergarten
Anne Cook, Champaign News-Gazette
 
 
CHAMPAIGN – Students in Champaign schools next year will take their first look at geometry in kindergarten.
  
"Understanding Geometry" is one of three new books to be purchased for kindergarten students' math studies, accompanied by "Everyday Counts" and "Developing Number Concepts." Students in grades 1 through 5 will learn math from "Everyday Mathematics."
  
The textbook changes took three years to plan, and choices were made by 25 teachers who reviewed math materials, picked favorites and tried them out this fall on their students.
  
Polly Hill, coordinator of district elementary mathematics programs, said the new curriculum replaces books and materials that have been in use since 1999.
  
"Math standards have changed," Hill said. "Technology has changed. I like this curriculum because it helps kids really understand math. They think and have conversations mathematically. They're not just spitting back rote figures. These curriculums are designed to allow kids to think mathematically."
  
Middle and high school students will also get new math books, but those choices haven't been approved by the school board yet.
  
Hill said an "adoption," as a curriculum change is called, is costly because new materials must be purchased, many of them disposable at the elementary level, and also because teachers must be trained to use the new materials. The estimated cost for the curriculum change from kindergarten through 12th grade exceeds $700,000. Some costs are underwritten by the state, and book manufacturers also offer incentives.
  
Hill and 25 "pilot teachers" spent months planning the changes.
  
"We reviewed current research, we developed an analysis tool and we used that to look at a wide variety of materials," she said.
  
She said kindergarten students won't have math books, but teachers will have materials like "manipulatives" to set up math centers in their rooms to help students learn concepts.
  
Starting at first grade, children will have textbooks.
  
"For 1 through 5, this kind of curriculum is new to the district," Hill said. "It's conceptual, blending understanding and procedures. The other way is simply math procedures."
  
Children in some grades will keep math journals. Reference books and manipulatives will also be new to some classrooms. Hill said manipulatives are materials, physical models that help children understand concepts like geometry, making abstract ideas concrete.
 
She said teachers may need help shifting to the new curriculum.
  
"Typically, elementary teachers don't go into elementary teaching because they're great mathematicians," Hill said. "They may not understand the underlying mathematical thinking and they'll struggle with that in the beginning, but we're here to support them."
  
Hill said by fourth grade, students will be introduced to algebraic concepts, and by eighth grade, they'll be actively studying the subject.
  
Deb Foertsch, a Carrie Busey fifth-grade teacher, was one of Hill's pilot teachers, and she endorsed the new curriculum.
  
"I've taught the current math since we adopted it in 1999, and I love this new system," Foertsch said. "I've struggled with math. Everyday math takes longer to prepare, but I'm learning a new method to teach the subject, and I'm a better teacher because of it."

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State: 'No Child' plan needs work
Some officials say
Illinois complies with federal mandate in a way that sets schools up to fail
Molly Parker,
Peoria Journal Star, 12/14/04
 
EAST PEORIA - Education officials will attempt to tweak the state's No Child Left Behind compliance plan in response to statewide complaints that current guidelines set schools up to fail, interim state Superintendent Randy Dunn said Monday.

"It could be rather difficult," Dunn told a group of
East Peoria teachers and administrators at a meeting he requested to gather input on ways to reduce red tape for schools. "But it's worth it given what this is doing to schools."
 
Though a federal mandate, President Bush's massive education law gave states the ability to set individualized plans for meeting the requirements.
Illinois, under the direction of a former superintendent, implemented a plan that was not realistic for most school districts, Dunn said.
 
One of the most common complaints among schools is that even if the majority of their students meet testing standards, the school can still be slapped with the "failing" label if students in certain subgroups do not, such as the poor, minority students or special education students.
 
East Peoria High School, for example, was labeled "failing" this year because the school's poor students did not meet testing standards in math for the second year.
 
Principal Paul Whittington said he is challenging this year's data. But even if successful, Whittington said he is still stuck shaking the stigma of the "failing" label, a task that's particularly frustrating since the majority of his students met or exceeded testing standards.
 
Dunn said the testing of subgroups, and what constitutes a subgroup, is one of the problem areas that will be looked at as the state attempts to rewrite its compliance plan "to prevent our schools from being hit on the head with a failing label."
 
Dunn also wants
Illinois to be part of the national debate on whether student achievement should be measured on how much is learned, rather than only on raw numbers determining what a student knows.
 
"What is being called a failing school is probably quite the opposite if we could look at a value-added approach," he said, adding any changes, which would require federal approval, are not meant to lower standards, but to implement achievable goals.
 
It's also an attempt to reduce administrative rules that can be a paperwork nightmare for administrators, said Dunn, who was appointed interim superintendent of the state board after Gov. Rod Blagojevich labeled it a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" in his January state-of-the-state speech.
 
Dunn's visit to
East Peoria marked his first day of the "less red tape" feedback sessions he's holding in various schools statewide.
 
Dunn also told the group he planned to recommend to the board that the state keep a college entrance exam, currently the ACT, as part of the test all juniors must take, another controversial issue among schools. The ACT was added to the achievement test three years ago, but some schools have complained that a college entrance exam should not be part of a general achievement test, and that some students don't take it seriously because they either don't plan on seeking higher education, or know they will struggle with it.

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Don't let politics trump health and education
Letter by Jan Droegkamp of
Springfield, State Journal-Register, 12/14/04

I am astonished that our school district lacks programs that promote both abstinence and the benefits of certain forms of contraception in preventing HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections.
 
While the people quoted in the paper said it was District 186 policy, I was not able to get a copy of that policy from the district office. Instead I was told that the policy was in line with the Illinois State Board of Education policy. Upon reading the ISBE policy, it does not state that districts must teach abstinence-only programs.
 
Age-appropriate, medically accurate sex education has a proven record of helping teens make responsible reproductive decisions. Effective balanced sex education programs are languishing for lack of funds while our precious community resources go to untested and biased programs that leave our youth in the dark. It is our youth who suffer most when politics is allowed to trump their health and education needs.
 
Unfortunately, those taught abstinence only don't realize that they can get sexually transmitted infections from oral and anal sex and yes, virgins can indeed get STIs. The truth is, parents want their children to have information that will save their lives. What kind of government and school district would deny them that safety and that right?
 
I have seen firsthand what HIV/AIDS does to children and families in
Africa. Let's not go there.
 
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State schools chief gets input from teachers
Anne Cook,
Champaign News-Gazette, 12/14/04
 
CHAMPAIGN – Randy Dunn visited Central High School Monday to ask teachers and administrators how the Springfield office can make their work easier.
 
"The devil's in the details," said Dunn, state school superintendent, of the 2,800-page book of rules that govern the way state schools operate, rules he's vowed to streamline.
 
"We have to maintain accountability, but we have rules on the books for programs that no longer exist, rules that don't do anything to add value to education," Dunn said. "There's an ongoing study to look at the state code, but nothing's been done to the rules and regulations that bring the statutes to life."
 
He said he's making periodic visits to schools all over the state, and Central's the first.
 
"We're trying to hit all parts of the state and schools at all levels as the schedule allows," said Dunn, who succeeded Robert Schiller as the state's top school official in September.
 
In November, he announced priorities for the State Board of Education that include reducing a backlog in teacher certification and reducing regulations for local districts.
 
"We want to clean out what's in the gutter," Dunn said. "We're soliciting guidance, getting information from teachers and principals. Our agency is looking internally at rules, we've created an e-mail address for suggestions and we've received about 200 of them."
 
The address is lessredtape@isbe.net.
 
"But we want to talk face-to-face, too, about what's difficult, interfering with work," he said.
 
At Central, he talked to teachers about certification and recertification, a process that's changed recently and has created confusion. Dunn said teachers also asked about meeting federal No Child Left Behind requirements and truancy rules.
 
"In general, teachers focused on areas near to their hearts," he said.
 
Dunn said the state's going to step up accountability to help schools wrestle with federal requirements. "We're going to make it more workable for schools so they can serve students to the best of what the law intends," he said.
 
Central Principal Don Hansen said it's a "huge positive sign" that the state superintendent's going right to teachers and administrators to get information.
"His whole campaign has been to cut the red tape, and only people who've had to deal with the state board realize how much red tape there is. In the past, you couldn't even talk to someone on the telephone. He's turned that around."
 
Hansen said Dunn made an impression early on by extending deadlines for standardized test scores so they could be rechecked. Those scores, which determine whether schools meet federal and state standards, will be released Wednesday.
 
He said the state office has also made certification procedures much faster and easier by turning the process over to a local committee, in
Champaign, the Champaign Federation of Teachers, instead of handling the paperwork in Springfield.
 
"I asked him about the future for the regional offices," Hansen said. "We use the
Rantoul office for many things. He said his office needs to have a local go-between. He said he's not sure we need 45 regional offices, but we do need them. I was glad to hear that."
 
Gov. Rod Blagojevich has talked in the past about eliminating regional offices.
 
Hansen said he gives Dunn credit for going into unfamiliar territory where people might have some hostility toward his office and trying to find out what the problems are.
 
"Our teachers had a chance to meet with him, and that's good," he said. "Everyone has the perception that the state board's a legalistic institution because of all the rules, but he's breaking them down into simple things."

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More
Illinois schools meet federal achievement guidelines
Associated Press
 
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. The State Board of Education says 150 more Illinois schools made federal achievement guidelines last year.
 
But according to state data released today, nearly 30 percent of public schools still fell short.
 
Education officials report that one-thousand-86 schools failed to make "adequate yearly progress" last school year. That number represents about 29 percent of the three-thousand-801 schools statewide.
 
It also amounts to a 12 percent drop from the one-thousand-237
Illinois schools listed as failing in 2002-2003.
 
State board spokeswoman Becky Watts calls the results very positive.
 
Adequate yearly progress is a requirement of the "No Child Left Behind" law signed by President Bush. The primary gauge is achievement on each state's assessment test.

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No Child Left Behind
School staffs adjusting to additional paperwork
Grace Aduroja,
Chicago Tribune, 12/15/04
 
As assistant superintendent for instruction at
Wheaton Warrenville Unit School District 200, Margo Sorrick typically uses the end of the summer to tweak curriculum and jump-start staff development.
 
Instead, she spent two weeks this summer poring over bubbles on standardized tests, to ensure that each student in the district was properly identified by the subgroups--such as low income, limited-English proficiency and racial minority--required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
 
After an error-filled debacle last year, administrators across the state have devoted long hours making sure that students are identified properly and verifying that state report card data matches other school records.
 
It's an unexpected consequence of the federal mandate that some educators say is consuming valuable time and money that could be spent on teaching.
 
"It does take a lot of manpower and a lot of time to make that happen," Sorrick said. "That's huge."
 
Last year, hundreds of schools were incorrectly labeled as failing because of reporting errors, a tangle that took the Illinois State Board of Education more than six months to unravel.
 
This year, administrators were informed of potentially faulty student identifications in the summer, before the state compiled the report card data--but corrections were still being submitted to the state this week.
 
With schools facing federal sanctions if state achievement goals and test participation weren't met, districts devoted staff members to checking tests in order to prevent incurring penalties for incorrectly classified students.
 
"Those kinds of things are always a concern when you're dealing with a high-stakes test like this," said Supt. Jim Blanche of Lombard Elementary School District 44.
 
This year, principals in the west suburban district were in charge of checking for discrepancies between district records and state figures.
 
The Chicago Public Schools system reallocated administrative positions and built data systems to deal with the painstaking work it takes to make sure each student is properly classified.
 
Principals are expected to check student tests against the district records.
 
"It's distracting to have to spend a great deal of time on compliance instead of instruction," said Xavier Botana, director of NCLB (No Child Left Behind) accountability, whose position didn't exist three years ago.
 
Botana estimates that the
Chicago district has shifted about $3 million a year toward making sure that the federal law is properly administered.
 
"All of those dollars that are spent on administration are dollars that could be spent on instruction," Botana said. "We definitely look at that as the hidden cost of NCLB."

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Preschooler Left Behind On Bus: School Officials Say the Boy Was Unattended For 10 To 15 Minutes
Caleb Hale,
Southern Illinoisan, 12/15/04
 
MURPHYSBORO -- A 4-year-old boy on the way to preschool Tuesday was left on a school bus for a short period of time in the
Murphysboro Middle School parking lot, according to family members and school officials.
 
Cindy Covington, 38, of Murphysboro said she received a call at her workplace in Coulterville Tuesday afternoon about her grandson, Joey Copple-Kane, a pre-K student in the Southern Region Early Childhood Program at
General John A. Logan School. Officials told her a neighbor found him unattended on the bus shortly before 1 p.m. in the middle school parking lot.
 
Murphysboro School Superintendent Lori James-Gross said the boy had fallen asleep on the ride to school, and the bus driver missed the fact he didn't get off the vehicle.
 
James-Gross said the driver parked the bus at the holding garage at the middle school and left without checking the aisle.
 
"The bus driver had generally counted the number of kids when they get on the bus and had apparently miscounted," she said.
 
Murphysboro contracts its bus service through West Bus Service. James-Gross said the company will have to decide what happens to the driver, but the school said employees do walk-through checks of the buses before exiting them.
 
James-Gross estimated the total time the boy was unattended in the bus at 10 to 15 minutes. She said a person who lives next to the middle school saw the child inside the bus Tuesday afternoon, let him out and took him inside the facility.
 
Covington said her grandson generally gets on the bus for school about 11:30 a.m. each day. He is generally home by 2:45 p.m. on the bus' schedule. A teacher in the Southern Region Early Childhood Program took the child home Tuesday afternoon.
 
Covington said she was very upset driving home from work after being told about her grandson.
 
"I started bawling on my way home," she said. "I sped the whole way, and that's just not what grandma does."
 
Copple-Kane was safe in his grandmother's arms Tuesday evening, and
Covington said she is going to have trouble trusting the school to transport him from now on.
 
"You just wonder how many people this has happened to that don't say anything about it,"
Covington said.
 
Barbara Grace, director of the Southern Region Early Childhood Program, whose funding is administered by Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said "unfortunate incidents" like Tuesday's don't happen too often.
 
"Our program is in its 17th year this year, and we've never had a situation like this with West Bus Service or any other service," Grace said.
 
Tuesday's incident recalled an event in September in which two SIUC Head Start children were left inside a school bus after the driver failed to drop them off. SIUC spokeswoman Sue Davis said the university administers the pre-K program at Gen. John A. Logan School but is not connected with the transportation of students there.

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Education board cancels meeting after Open Meetings question
John O'Connor, Associated Press (Daily Southtown)
 
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Rod Blagojevich's top education officials canceled a meeting on policy priorities planned for Thursday after being questioned about an internal memo that suggested the meeting be kept as secret as possible.

The meeting was canceled Wednesday night after The Associated Press also questioned whether the State Board of Education had violated the state Open Meetings Act, which requires that notices of such meetings be publicly posted 48 hours in advance.
 
Board spokeswoman Becky Watts said officials decided to cancel the meeting because of "clerical errors" in posting requirements. She said the memo represented "an error in judgment."
 
Blagojevich has repeatedly described open government and public participation as a hallmark of his administration.
 
Blagojevich's education adviser, his hand-picked Board of Education chairman, the state schools superintendent and a quorum of the board were to meet early Thursday to discuss the Democratic governor's order for the agency to develop a "major policy initiative."
 
In a Dec. 8 internal memo obtained by the AP, board services coordinator Jean Ladage lists that meeting among activities "in addition to the publicly posted meetings" during the board's two-day monthly meeting in Chicago.
 
"This meeting will be posted on the Web as late as possible to conform with the Open Meetings Act," the memo says. It also says that because the law doesn't require it, there would be no telephone connection to allow members of the public to listen in, even though lines are available for five of the board's other six posted sessions during the two-day meeting.
 
The memo,
Watts said, was "an error in judgment that does not reflect the philosophy of this agency." After questions about it, she said officials decided to reschedule the meeting with additional public notice.
 
"We're just not comfortable with moving forward with the meeting when we did not do it to the letter,"
Watts said.
 
Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch had no immediate comment on the memo.
 
The meeting is on the state board's Web site, although in a spot separate from the rest of the board's agenda for the two-day meeting.
Watts said it was posted online Tuesday morning, within the legally required 48 hours prior to a meeting.
 
But state law also requires notice of a meeting be posted at the government body's headquarters, and information about the meeting was not available at either the board's
Springfield or Chicago offices Wednesday.
 
The session was called to discuss Blagojevich's charge to newly appointed board members to develop a "major policy initiative" in education to push in 2005.
Watts said participants would be "brainstorming" and not taking any action.
 
Blagojevich, who attacked the state board as an unnecessarily bureaucratic monolith in his State of the State address last winter, called for a newly created Department of Education under the governor's control. He compromised with the Legislature in a move that gives governors the power to appoint new board members when they take office. Blagojevich appointed seven new members to the nine-member board in September.

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Federal school standards criticized
Dunn: Special needs not considered
Mike Ramsey and Pete Sherman, State Journal-Register, 12/16/04
 
CHICAGO - It's a "moral outrage" that new federal standards for school achievement don't reflect the strides made by special-needs students, the state's top education official said Wednesday while discussing the latest data.
 
Interim State School Superintendent Randy Dunn said federal officials should consider adjusting the No Child Left Behind program to gauge whether special-education students and pupils learning English are making measurable progress, even if they're not collectively meeting the government's benchmarks for testing.
 
Of the 339 school districts in the state that didn't make "adequate yearly progress" requirements last year, 235 were considered sub-par solely because of how they were required to measure outcomes for the challenged students, the Illinois State Board of Education said.
 
"We're seeing this scapegoating effect on these children, and that's where I come to the issue of moral outrage about this," Dunn said at
Chicago news conference. "Anything that leads to this impression that, oh, but for the achievement of these kids, we would be meeting the requirements of (the new law), I think, is an indefensible position."
 
Dunn said a dyslexic student whose reading skills jump two grade levels could still be considered a failure under the "arbitrary" standards of No Child Left Behind, which might set three levels as the goal. He didn't offer specific ideas for reform, saying he hopes federal policymakers revisit the program.
 
In the
Springfield School District, students with disabilities accounted for two of the three categories that caused the district to fail to make "adequate yearly progress" during the 2003-04 school year.
 
Apart from the three failing categories - the third involved substandard reading scores among black students - the Springfield schools met requirements in the other 27 areas that measure progress as determined by No Child Left Behind.
 
Springfield school officials agree with Dunn that expecting students with disabilities to perform as well as others makes little sense.
 
"Children who have diagnosed disabilities don't grow at the same rate as those who don't have disabilities," said Michele Seelbach, the district's director of school improvement. "But unless a child has severe cognitive delay, they are expected to take the state assessment at grade level."
 
For example, Seelbach said high school juniors with disabilities are required to take the Prairie State Achievement Examination, a rigorous test that also includes the ACT college entrance exam. They are expected to do as well as any other student, meaning that at least 40 percent of them had to meet state standards in reading and in math. The percentage is supposed to bump up to 47.5 percent this year.
 
It's a requirement that many educators consider impossible to meet.
 
"There's no way they can make AYP," Seelbach said.
 
Congress in 2001 approved No Child Left Behind, which obligates schools to meet academic-achievement standards that get tougher each year. Consistently failing schools must offer students the option of transferring to another school, and they face potential penalties.
 
Illinois schools fared better in the 2003-04 school year. The number of schools not making "adequate yearly progress" decreased to 1,086 from 1,237 in 2002-03.
 
The data was released with the State Board of Education's latest "School Report Card," which contains information about each school district's academic performance and student makeup.

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Report: Minority students often not counted in school test scores
Associated Press,
Belleville News-Democrat, 12/16/04
 
CHICAGO - When Illinois schools compile test results as required by the No Child Left Behind Act, often poor, minority and disabled students are not counted because they slip through a variety of loopholes and exemptions, according to a published report.
 
In 2004, nearly 72,000 reading and math tests were not counted because
Illinois does not include results for students who skipped major portions of the tests or who enrolled after Sept. 30, according to the Chicago Tribune, which conducted an analysis of public records.
 
The exemption for incomplete tests disproportionately applies to disabled students, according to the Tribune's analysis, published in Thursday's editions. The paper also found the moving exemption disproportionately applies to minority and low-income students, who are most likely to move during a school year.
 
Also, about 56,000 minority students - or one in five tested last spring - were not counted when schools were judged on the performance of separate racial groups, a critical component of the federal law.
 
Illinois policy says there must be at least 40 children of a particular group, such as a racial minority, to consider it a "subgroup" under No Child Left Behind. If a school has 30 low-income students, or 25 Hispanic pupils, those tests are not counted separately when judging the school's progress, the Tribune reported.
 
The Illinois State Board of Education reported that 1,086 schools failed to make "adequate yearly progress" last school year. The number, which represents about 28.5 percent of the 3,801 schools statewide, is a 12 percent drop from the 1,237
Illinois schools listed as failing in 2002-03.
 
The reports are a requirement of the nearly three-year-old No Child Left Behind law signed by President Bush. The primary gauge of progress is achievement on each state's assessment test. A school can also be listed as failing to make progress if too few of its students take that test, if its graduation rate falls below 66 percent or if its attendance rate falls below 89 percent.
 
Schools considered failing two years in a row must offer their students a chance to transfer to a different school. If a school continues to fail, steeper sanctions take effect.

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Don't let rules hamper learning
Belleville News-Democrat Editorial, 12/14/04

But practically speaking, this decision could cause more harm than good for the students involved.

The
Madison School District and 10 other districts in Illinois are running in-house supplemental education programs. They set them up with the blessing of the state. But now as a result of this federal decision, they have 30 days to switch to private providers or else lose federal funding.

Logistically, it's going to be difficult to comply in just a few weeks. Even if the schools can find the outside providers, educators worry it will be at a higher cost, which could mean that not all students who want extra help will get it.

No Child Left Behind is admittedly an experiment in improving education in
America. So now that programs in these 11 districts are already in place, why not let them continue as part of that experiment? It may be that superintendents like Madison's Sandra Schroeder are right, and that local districts are in the best position to know what extra help their students need. In Madison's case, the program sounds promising. It was designed by the University of Illinois, and most of the instructors are from outside the district.

If student test scores don't improve as a result of these in-house programs, the U.S. Department of Education can always require the school districts to look outside for tutoring. But at this point, it makes no sense for federal officials to be so inflexible.

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Punished for protest
Holiday play: Content upsets bus driver; she hands out fliers on her route
By
Janet Lundquist, Herald News Staff Writer, 12/17/04

PLAINFIELD — A bus driver for Central School children said she was pulled off her route this week because she objected to a song in the school's holiday program she described as "anti-Christ."

School officials say she was taken off the
Plainfield route because she passed out unauthorized fliers criticizing the program along her route.

Carmen Brown, whose son is a third-grader at Central, said she made up fliers encouraging people to boycott the school's holiday program because it included a song called, "I Hate This Holiday." She handed out the fliers Monday afternoon as she drove her bus route.

Brown said on Tuesday that she was reprimanded by the First Student bus company for handing out unapproved letters. On Tuesday afternoon, her supervisor said Superintendent John Harper requested Brown be taken off the
Plainfield bus route, she said.

"They took my school bus job away from me because I protested my child singing an anti-Christ song," Brown said.

"I'm a churchgoer, I believe in Jesus and believe Christmas is a Christian holiday," she said. "But when they hand my child a piece of paper to learn a song that says, 'I hate the holidays and everything it stands for,' my son is confused."

Central Principal Linda DiLeo said she believes the song makes sense when taken in the context of the holiday program. The song was sung during the play along with a character named "Mr. Crabby," DiLeo said. The character is modeled after Scrooge, who starts out in the play opposing the holidays but eventually changes his mind, she said.

Brown said First Student did not fire her, but offered her a choice of available bus routes. The routes available were too far away for her to be able to get home when her son gets home from school, she said.

"I am furious that they took my job," said Brown, who stood outside the school Thursday handing out protest fliers. "I could maybe squeeze a baby sitter in, but I personally don't want to."

Harper said the decision to pull Brown off the bus route had to do with her handing out fliers that were not approved first.

"In a very general sense, District 202 does not permit our bus drivers to distribute literature of any sort to students without first obtaining administrative approval," he said. "The issue at hand ... focuses more on the distribution of materials than the content of materials."

Harper declined further comment on the situation because Brown is not an employee of the school district.

Holiday precedents

The school district has no overall policy regarding holiday programs, Harper said. There is, however, a legal precedent influencing the decision of many schools to avoid mixing religion and holiday celebrations, he said. It is legal to include Christian songs in a school holiday program, just as it is legal to include songs from other faiths, he said. The school district tries to strike a balance in holiday program selections, Harper said. There are no Christian songs in this year's
Central School program to avoid promoting one religion over another, DiLeo said. That is also why the program is called a "holiday" or "winter" program and not a Christmas program, she said.
"We have Jewish children, we have children who celebrated Ramadan a couple weeks ago," DiLeo said. "We take into account that we aren't all celebrating the same holiday and try to put on programs that everyone can celebrate."

Concerned parents
               
Brown said some parents on her block kept their children out of school Thursday in protest of the program, but DiLeo said only Brown's son was absent for that reason.

DiLeo said she received several calls this week asking about the song. One parent told her that she did not like that the word "hate" was in the song, she said.

"The sad thing is I think it could have been avoided, had someone come in (earlier) and asked about the program," DiLeo said. "No one asked what it was about. The kids were caught in the middle. People were jumping to conclusions."
 
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Lemont will vote to replace 'Injuns' name
High school: Some found old mascot title offensive
By Kati Phillips, SPECIAL TO THE HERALD NEWS, 12/17/04

LEMONT — The community will soon vote on a new nickname for
Lemont High School, replacing the controversial "Injuns" that school teams have had for decades.

Voters will choose from among 127 nominations between Dec. 31 and Jan. 10. The top five selected in the voting, and their corresponding mascot images, will be put to a second community vote later in the year.

A new nickname is being selected because the school board deemed "Injuns" an offensive term to American Indians that does not reflect well on
Lemont High School.

The move has stirred passions, with many residents and alumni viewing "Injuns" as inoffensive and arguing to keep the name to maintain tradition.

District officials declined to identify any of the 127 nominations.

"Unfortunately, we're not going to give out any of the names yet to ensure that the voting remains completely unbiased," district spokeswoman Sue Arvesen said.

The school district received 450 nominations between Nov. 3 and Nov. 15. Eliminating duplicate nominations, the total number of proposed nicknames was 195, Arvesen said.

On Nov. 22, a district committee reviewed the list against criteria set by the school board, including that nominations:

- Not refer to Native Americans;

- Be politically correct; and

- Not be similar to others in
Lemont High School's athletic conference.

The committee determined that 54 nominations did not meet the criteria, and 11 were questionable, Arvesen said.

At its meeting Monday, the school board rejected those 65 nominations and three others that it determined did not meet the criteria.

"The majority of those taken off the list were not due to Native American connotations. Some were, but other considerations were alcohol or sexual connotations, names that presented gender inequity, ethnic issues and religious ideology, to name a few," Arvesen said.

The nickname vote is open to the entire Lemont community, including students, staff and graduates of
Lemont High School.

Ballots will be inserted into a local newspaper Dec. 31 and will be distributed to parochial, elementary and high school students on Jan. 3. Voters also will be able to cast a ballot online at www.lhs210.net.

Individuals can vote only once and must include their name, address and, if no longer living in Lemont, the year they graduated from the high school.
 
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Year-round school advanced
Class cycles of 45 days: Panel says plan could boost capacity by one-third
By Ryan Pagelow, News Sun Staff Writer,
12/16/04

WAUKEGAN — With elementary schools overfilled with students, members of the Year-Round Education Committee presented the School Board some possible scheduling solutions involving year-round instruction that would allow more students to attend class in one building.

Using
Clearview School, the committee split the students into four tracks, each on repeating 45-day sessions followed by a 15-day intercessions. Year-round education would allow 40 classes to be held in a building with capacity for 30 classes.

"Just taking everybody and moving them up a grade, we need four classrooms next year," said Erik Christianson, a member of the committee. "We have 100 less fifth-graders than there are kindergartners."

"We hit the wall next time," Superintendent Richard Olson said. "The lower grades is where the enrollment is the biggest."

Because of holidays, the committee found it would have to schedule 172 days of school for each student, requiring a waiver to add six minutes to each school day to make up for having less than 176 days of school.

The committee estimated that converting to a year-round schedule at Clearview and Glenwood elementary schools would cost $826,000 more in salary, transportation, air conditioning and miscellaneous costs. Some expenses, such as installing air conditioning and extra lockers, would be nonrecurring.

Olson said the committee was considering having five public meetings about year-round education if the board is serious about considering it as a viable solution to overcrowding.

"If you do have these meetings, you're going to have an awful lot of people tell you not to do it. But that's okay," Olson said.

School Board member June Maguire asked, "Well, what's the alternative?"

Board president Patricia Foley said most of the phone calls she received were about what kids would do during the two weeks of intersession every 45 days.

Jeff McBride asked if the kids in large families would be able to be in the same track as their siblings.

Christianson said each track would have one monolingual and one bilingual session so it would be possible to be in the same session as brothers and sisters in the same school.

College incentive

In other business, in an effort to encourage low-income students who have average grades to strive for college,
Waukegan High School is considering implementing a program next year called Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID). About 95 percent of the students who graduate from AVID go on to college, said Valerie Connelly, a teacher who attended a conference about the program in Indianapolis. Of those, 17 percent go to community colleges and 77 percent go to universities.
Waukegan High School Principal Kim Zupec said, "We're thinking about starting it at the nineth-grade center with 25 to 30 students."

The program will cost $2.72 a day per student for 30 students. By the third year the program will cost $0.96 per day per student for 90 students. AVID students would meet together once a day and attend mainstream classes the rest of the day. The goal of the program is to teach students organizational skills and note-taking skills.

Olson said, "At my former district, we were the first district to have it in the
Midwest. I believe in this. In five or six years, it's going to be a shinning star."

Also, just in time for the upcoming winter break for students, Deputy Superintendent Donaldo Batiste asked the board to approve a proposal to have the Boys and Girls Club supervise 300 children while their parents are at work. He said the cost to the district would be 75 cents per pupil, or a total of $5,193 for the remaining year.

Foley said the superintendent has discretionary funds to start the program Dec. 20, the first day of winter break for students. Whether or not to continue that program will be addressed at the January board meeting.

The special education department received a $30,000 grant from the state to pay for a parent mentor for special education parents to coach and mentor them, said Associate Superintendent Karen Carlson.
 
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Tutoring resolution would make great gift for kids
Chicago Sun-Times Editorial, 12/17/04

Arne Duncan knew he was taking a risk. The Chicago Public Schools chief knew the No Child Left Behind law calls for children who need tutoring to get that help from outside agencies, not the local school board. But
Duncan chose to ignore that teensy detail in the law and hoped the feds wouldn't notice. Unfortunately, they did, and they've given Chicago schools until January to make changes.

Or lose the use of $53 million in federal funds slotted for student tutoring.

Duncan is livid about the feds' reaction, and while his sentiments are in the right place, he did have plenty of warning this could happen. Officials from the U.S. Department of Education said just a few months ago that Chicago Public Schools never should have allowed their teachers to tutor kids who needed remedial help. Why? Because the CPS was on the failing list of school districts in 2003, and it's on the list in 2004. Our public school children didn't receive high enough scores on national tests to meet federal standards. Washington argued that if these schools are such poor performers, how can they tutor children?

Half of the 83,000
Chicago students who are getting extra help with reading and math are doing so with private firms in classes of eight to 10. The other half are being tutored by CPS teachers in classes of about 15. (So it's not tutoring as we normally think of it, as one-to-one; it's remedial education.) The students and their parents are allowed to choose which they want. But the U.S. Department of Education says all the kids should be assigned private tutors. And this is where the feds and Duncan parted paths and where Duncan adopted his maverick stance.

He does have compelling reasons. A large proportion of the tutors hired by private agencies are moonlighting
Chicago Public School teachers anyway; it costs $400 per child to tutor kids within the CPS vs. $1,200 with private teachers, so the savings allow more kids to get remedial help. And, most significantly, no one yet knows how effective CPS tutoring is since the program is so new. Duncan argues, "I think we are a model of tutoring for after-school programming." He may be right, but there is that little matter of the law. Other school districts such as New York have obeyed it, although they help fewer students.

Duncan has become a little wild-eyed about the federal threat, intimating he'll sue the Department of Education. And the feds have been equally intransigent. They refuse to wait to see how successful the CPS program is and are sticking to the January deadline. But we can't pull the plug on 83,000 students. Both sides need to figure things out before the kids head back from winter break. It's time to head to the negotiating table. As Duncan himself noted, "We adults have to work together to make things better for the kids."
 
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===========================================================================

NATIONAL

Mining Scores for Nuances in Improvement
Though It Has Critics, New Tool Catches On Among Schools, States
By Jay Mathews,
Washington Post Staff Writer, 12/14/04

Most days, whenever he has a free moment, Mark Twain Elementary School Principal Scott Ebbrecht can be found peering at the screen of the gray computer on his desk, trying to see exactly how well each student at his
Westerville, Ohio, school is doing.

He is using something called value-added assessment, the hottest new tool in the national effort to improve public schools. At 485-student Mark Twain Elementary, a one-story modern brick building on
East Walnut Street, the method has already brought results. Ebbrecht recently discovered that his top students, despite their high scores, were not improving as much as the value-added equations predicted, and he quickly made changes.

Value-added, which uses test scores to compare each child's progress to predictions based on past performance, has its critics. Some experts say that the tests are too narrow and that the analysis ignores differences in subject matter. But 16 state school chiefs have asked U.S. Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige to let them use the system or similar measures to meet federal requirements, and districts in at least 35 states have shown interest in using it.

The data on Ebbrecht's screen are very technical, such as a line showing that his five lowest-performing third-graders are 11.3 points ahead of their predicted progress in reading, with a standard error of 5.6 points. But it works for him. "Without data, you're just another person with an opinion," he said.

Educational researchers have been experimenting with measuring each child's academic progress for several decades. The best-known recent research was done by William Sanders, a former
University of Tennessee researcher now working for a private company in North Carolina. Ebbrecht had Sanders speak to a group of principals during one of his trips to Ohio.

Value-added assessment has also become a political irritant because some school boards and superintendents want to pay teachers based on how much value they are adding, as measured by individual student test scores, for students in their classes. In
Ohio and most other states, the system is being used only to diagnose student needs, leaving the question of teacher pay for later.

"We use it to improve instruction, not to evaluate teachers," Ebbrecht said. Among his teachers, however, its potential for affecting salaries "is a big fear," he said.

Ebbrecht gets his data from the Web site of Battelle for Kids, a nonprofit group in nearby
Columbus that is supporting a value-added pilot project for 200,000 Ohio third- through eighth-graders in 718 schools. The reaction has been positive enough to persuade state officials to make the method part of the assessment process for all Ohio schools by the 2007-08 school year.

"This puts positive pressure on the system and everyone in it," said Jim Mahoney, a former
Ohio school superintendent who is Battelle for Kids's executive director.

Tom Luce, chairman of the
National Center for Educational Accountability in Texas, applauded that development. "The ability to track students over time is absolutely essential," he said.

Other states working to include value-added or other growth data in their tracking systems include
Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, said Lynn Olson, a senior editor at the Bethesda-based newspaper Education Week. Arkansas, California, Colorado, Louisiana and Minnesota are considering the assessment system.

Some districts in
Maryland and Virginia are experimenting with value-added assessment, but neither state nor any D.C. school has adopted it.

The growth of value-added assessment has been accompanied by scholarly debate over its usefulness and validity. George Mason University educational psychologist Gerald W. Bracey, summarizing several studies in his research column for the December issue of the magazine Phi Delta Kappan, said value-added assessment "rests on what appears to me to be an untested hypothesis: good teachers raise test scores. Given the hysteria about test scores created by the high-stakes testing juggernaut . . . it is easy to see how that hypothesis might be mistakenly taken for an assumption."

David H. Monk, dean of the
College of Education at Penn State University, said that as a former inner-city teacher, he is intrigued by the method's potential but has some doubts.

The value-added model "is entirely dependent on test results and can be only as good as the tests, which can miss important outcomes," Monk said. "The model is also retrospective and reveals more about where past successes occurred than about what needs to be done."

Many educators working with the assessment method said they appreciate its limits but consider it better than the way test scores are used now. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools are judged not by individual student progress, but by the average score attained by all students, and subgroups of students, at each school, compared with the average scores of different groups and subgroups of students the previous year.

Brad Jupp, a teacher-coordinator for a new teacher evaluation system in
Denver that will use some value-added concepts, said he believes the new assessment method will spread because it provides "better measures of what schools and teachers do than simple performance measures."

Karen B. Wolf, principal of
Wickliffe Elementary School in Wickliffe, Ohio, said she has found the value-added system useful in keeping effective teachers from becoming discouraged when they don't quite reach the state and federal test-score targets.

"You don't have control year to year over what kinds of students you are getting in your classroom," Wolf said. When her teachers saw in the value-added data that they were making significant progress with even low-performing children, they stuck with their methods and eventually reached all their targets, as well as won a statewide award for the school.

At Mark Twain Elementary, Ebbrecht met with his third-grade teachers last week to discuss enriched readings and other challenging assignments that he thinks will bring more progress for the high-achieving students that needed help.

With value-added, he said, he was able to ask and answer a vital question: "They are performing at an advanced level, but are they really growing as much as they should be?"

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We can do better at teaching kids math
Opinions by William McCallum and Susan Jo Russell,
Boston Globe
 
For decades the
United States has not been producing a population that is fully competent and confident in mathematics. Recent test data from the Program for International Student Assessment indicate that 15-year-old students in the United States perform below average in mathematics literacy and problem solving compared with teenagers in other developed nations. Why are students not learning to solve math problems like those they might encounter in the workplace or other real-world situations?
 
One view is that we should build on the traditional mathematics curriculum we grew up with, in which we learned a procedure and then practiced it on pages of problems. Yet too often this approach goes no further, giving students skills without the knowledge needed to apply them. When James Stigler of UCLA and and James Hiebert of the University of Delaware studied eighth-grade classrooms in countries such as Hong Kong, Japan, and the Netherlands, where students outperform US students, they concluded that US students rarely spend time on "serious study of mathematical concepts."
 
Another view says that before students practice procedures, they should focus on the ideas behind those procedures: ideas about how numbers are related, how our base 10 number system works, what the arithmetic operations do and how they are related to each other. The National Science Foundation has funded the development of elementary, middle, and high school curriculums grounded in this approach.
 
TERC, a nonprofit research and development organization based in
Cambridge, designed one of the elementary curriculums, "Investigations in Number, Data, and Space." Investigations has been extensively tested, with thousands of hours spent in urban and suburban classrooms documenting student learning to inform the development of the materials.
 
Given the current state of mathematics education, it is worth trying different approaches. But we must monitor them. Student performance on state-mandated tests shows that school systems incorporating curriculums funded by the National Science Foundation into a long-term plan for mathematics -- including
Boston -- can make marked improvement.
 
In
Boston, the percentage of failing students on the MCAS in grade 4 decreased from 46 percent to 30 percent between 2000 and 2004. During the same period, students scoring in the Proficient and Advanced categories increased from 14 percent to 22 percent.
A study by Comap Inc. included more than 100,000 students in
Massachusetts, Illinois, and Washington. About half had studied at one of the three Science Foundation-funded elementary curriculums for at least two years; the other half, from comparison schools, were rigorously matched by reading level, socioeconomic status, and other variables.
 
The average scores in the first group, including scores on all computation subtests, were significantly higher than in the comparison schools. These results hold across different ethnic and income groups, and across the different state-mandated tests, including the MCAS.
 
Should students learn basic facts? Yes. Should they learn to add, subtract, multiply, and divide fluently? Certainly. But too often we lose sight of the fact that we must achieve both good computation skills and a good understanding of the mathematics. Curriculums, new or old, are only tools to improve mathematics in the classroom. Those who advocate a more traditional approach have a responsibility to show how they plan to go beyond the failed implementations of the past.
 
Schools must commit to coherent plans that include establishing learning goals, providing professional development to support teachers in learning more about mathematics and how children learn it, and implementing good assessment tools to evaluate progress. There is no such thing as a low-maintenance mathematics curriculum.
 
We must not succumb to the fantasy that there is an easy way out. Educators must provide --and parents should demand -- a balanced, rigorous curriculum in which all children, not just those in privileged communities, learn serious mathematics in a serious way -- with understanding.
 
William McCallum is a professor of mathematics at the
University of Arizona. Susan Jo Russell, a mathematics educator at the Education Research Collaborative at TERC, directed the development of the Investigations curriculum.

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U.S. Gets Better Showing on Latest International Math and Science Exam
TIMSS Shows Improvement for
U.S. Minorities, But Standing of 4th Graders Declines
By Sean Cavanagh, Education Week, 12/14/04

Washington - Less than a week after a major international study cast doubts on the problem-solving abilities of teenagers in the United States, a second nation-by-nation comparison offers what some regard as a more encouraging view of younger Americans’ grasp of mathematics and science.

Fourth and 8th graders in the
United States scored above international averages in both math and science on the third version of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, which was released here Dec. 14.
 
The TIMSS assessment seeks to measure students’ mastery of specific content they have learned in science and mathematics classes. In doing so, the study contrasts with the goal of a separate international comparison released Dec. 6, the Program for International Student Assessment, or
PISA, which gauges 15-year-olds’ abilities at applying math skills to real-world contexts. U.S. students scored below international averages in mathematical literacy and problem-solving on that test (“U.S. Students Fare Poorly in International Math Comparison,” Dec. 7, 2004.)

Yet the new TIMSS results also show that despite
U.S. students’ beating international averages, relative to other countries, the standing of American 4th grade pupils in mathematics and science declined between 1995 and 2003. The relative standing of U.S. 8th graders compared with their international peers improved during that time.
 
“While their scores are better, the fact is they’re not keeping up with their peers in other nations,” said Eugene W. Hickok, the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, at an event here to announce the results. At the elementary school level, he said, “we need to continue to climb that mountain.”

Pointing to the rise in scores among minority subgroups, Mr. Hickok said he believed that
U.S. reforms such as the No Child Left Behind Act were having an effect. But he also said that U.S. officials need to do much more to improve the quality and consistency of mathematics and science instruction and make the teaching profession an appealing one to young people—a trend that is occurring in many of the top-performing TIMSS countries.

But on the heels of the discouraging
PISA results, some U.S. education and testing officials said they were generally heartened by the findings for TIMSS—particularly those that showed 4th and 8th graders and some minority groups had improved in various categories since the mid-1990s.

“American kids are doing better at the math that’s taught to them in school, and the achievement gap is closing,” said Jack Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington research and policy organization. “The TIMSS findings are good news.”

Mr. Jennings cautioned that education officials in the
United States need to consider the results of both tests, as well as recent trends in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, which focuses solely on students in the United States, to judge the overall progress of American students.

The public’s ability to make sense of the data, he added, will not be helped by the one-two release of
PISA and TIMSS, a sequence that will likely leave many Americans wondering whether their schools are improving or declining. Education leaders in the United States would be wise to acknowledge some progress, Mr. Jennings said, while also using the PISA results to consider whether students need to be taught more of the problem-solving skills that PISA measures.

Others, however, saw little reason for optimism in the TIMSS results. Ross Weiner, the policy director for the Education Trust, a Washington-based organization that focuses on raising achievement for all students, noted that children in the
United States were still being outperformed by students from many industrialized countries in science and math. He attributed that stagnation partly to a lack of consistent standards among states and school districts for what students should know.

Above Average, Below Asia

“It comes down to our unwillingness to get serious about a few systematic problems,” said Mr. Weiner, who also pointed to deficiencies in teachers’ content knowledge in math, particularly in middle schools.

In math,
U.S. 4th graders scored an average of 518 on TIMSS, higher than the international average of 495. The United States ranked 12th out of 25 industrialized and developing countries participating in that portion of the study. Asian countries dominated the mathematics results for that age group, with Singapore taking a top score of 594, followed by Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, then Belgium, the Netherlands, and Latvia.

Eighth graders in the United States also fared well in math, scoring 504, above the international average of 466, making it 20th out of 45 nations in that category.
Singapore, with an average score of 605, again ranked highest at that grade level, followed by South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

But while U.S. 8th graders improved from their results on earlier tests conducted four and eight years ago in mathematics and science, Mr. Weiner noted that scores among 4th grade pupils were stagnant. The
U.S. results for math were also less encouraging when compared only against nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an intergovernmental group representing industrialized countries. American 4th graders ranked sixth out of children in 11 nations in math, while 8th grade students ranked 11th out of 13 countries belonging to the OECD in that subject.

Minority Students’ Scores Rise

The TIMSS results reflect efforts by states and schools to improve the basic mathematical skills of low-performing students, as well as their attempts to introduce subjects such as algebra at earlier grade levels, said Phil Daro, a senior fellow at the
National Center on Education and the Economy, a research organization in Washington. “It’s good to see that investment paying off,” Mr. Daro said. Compared with other industrialized countries, particularly Japan, the U.S. education system spent far more time encouraging students to memorize mathematical concepts through repetitive drills and activities, according to Mr. Daro, who has studied textbooks and curricula in Asian countries. The benefits of Japan’s more streamlined, conceptual approach to instruction were evident in that country’s high scores on both PISA and TIMSS, he said.

“We can’t look to our past [performance] to judge how we should be doing,” Mr. Daro said. “We should be looking at our competition.”

In science,
U.S. 4th graders outperformed an even greater percentage of their global peers, scoring a 536, above the average 489. That placed the United States ninth out of 25 countries participating in that section of the test, and fourth out of 11 industrialized nations. U.S. 8th grade students scored 527, also better than the international average of 473, ranking them 12th out of their peers in 32 nations and eighth out of 13 industrialized nations participating

TIMSS generally puts a greater emphasis on factual knowledge of mathematics and science than does
PISA, which requires more critical thinking by students, according to an analysis provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Department of Education branch that administers both tests in the United States. For 4th grade pupils, TIMSS is a 72-minute assessment, which was given to 248 randomly selected schools and 10,795 pupils; the 8th grade test takes 90 minutes and was administered at 232 schools, to 8,912 students.

Minority students in the
United States showed improvement in several categories. Scores for African-American students in both the 4th and 8th grades increased from the TIMSS results in 1995, two testing cycles ago. Among Hispanic students, 8th graders improved in math, but the younger students did not. In science, black students improved their scores in both grades between 1995 and 2003, while Hispanic 4th graders’ scores declined slightly and 8th grade students’ scores improved.

“That is encouraging,” Mr. Daro said. “There’s a lot of interest in [improving the skills of struggling students] in mathematics in the same way there has been in the past in reading.”

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Is a smaller school always a better school?
School districts across the
US are seizing on size as the key to reform. But some experts worry that the rush to create smaller schools is happening too fast.
By Teresa Méndez, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, 12/14/04

NEW YORK - Veiled in scaffolding and green netting, the old high school stretches six stories skyward, covering half a city block in Manhattan. High up on the building's facade, the words "Julia Richman High School" are still etched in stone. But a smaller blue-and-white sign near the door identifies its current incarnation as the "Julia Richman Education Complex."

The tale of how, by the early '90s,
Julia Richman High School had devolved into one of New York City's worst, only to later see six successful small schools re-emerge, phoenix-like, within its hulking walls, has served as a national model for the small-schools movement. Today, the schools boast a high school graduation rate of around 90 percent (compared with a citywide rate of closer to 50 percent).

Across the
United States, districts are embracing the small-school movement.

New York City alone has pledged to open 200 new small schools by 2008 with help from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Nationwide, the foundation has worked with more than 1,500 schools in 42 states to reduce large high schools to communities of 400 students or fewer.

Los Angeles and Chicago are also launching ambitious plans to splinter their largest schools into smaller units.

Administrators in all of these districts point to an early body of research suggesting that smaller schools - particularly those in low-income and minority neighborhoods - produce higher graduation rates and test scores, fewer dropouts, and a better, safer sense of community.

Yet even as some small-school advocates insist that reducing size will cure much of what ails
US public education, others are urging more caution. Unless small schools are created thoughtfully and deliberately, they say, reducing size will not solve this country's education crisis.

"Small is not the answer," says Deborah Meier, the education reformer who is sometimes known as "the grandmother of small schools" because of her part in the reorganization of Julia Richman and the creation of some of
New York's first small schools in the 1970s. Small schools are a strategy, she points out - not a panacea.

Proponents like Ms. Meier fear the culture change and approach to education that they originally conceived of may get lost in the headlong rush to downsize American schools. And there have been other unintended side effects to the rapid proliferation of small schools. In some places, increased pressure on existing large schools, where the vast majority of students will continue to go, has led to battles over limited space and funds.

Of course, success stories are easy to find at smaller schools. At the
Urban Academy - one of the six small schools now housed within Julie Richman - students Frenchie Duarte and Taina Camacho talk of their pleasure in finding themselves both academically engaged and personally recognized at their new 120-student high school. Frenchie says he's been transformed from a frequent truant into an enthusiastic learner now planning a career in architecture.

The two students transferred together from
Washington Irving High School two years ago. Like many urban high schools, the school Frenchie and Taina left behind is overcrowded and struggling. Last year, 2,861 students were enrolled at Washington Irving, according to the school's annual report, bumping it to 105 percent capacity. This year, the city's education department website lists enrollment at 3,070 - in part because it absorbed students forced out when nearby large high schools were broken down into smaller schools.

But as much as reformers are eager to see the end of conditions like those at Washington Irving, most agree that while a school's problems may be aggravated by overcrowding, it's not the only challenge failing schools face.

Small schools are absolutely essential to improving education, especially for inner-city students, says Tom Vander
Ark, education director of the Gates Foundation. But he also recognizes that while 'small' creates opportunity for success, it certainly doesn't by itself make success.

Some educators argue that rather than simply mass producing small schools, the entire approach to education must be rethought. Otherwise the result may be what one researcher has called "small schools in drag" - all the problems of a big school reproduced in a smaller package.

"Small was just the door," says Michelle Fine, a professor of psychology and urban education at the City University of New York. "Now I think people are worried that people are just creating smaller versions of what we know to be problematic structures."

Of 145 small schools visited by insideschools.org, an independent group that evaluates
New York City schools, director Clara Hemphill writes that about one-quarter "replicated many of the problems of the large schools they replaced." These problems include low achievement and demoralized students and staff.

Others worry that the current trend toward judging schools based on standardized test scores will work against the individual approach to education of many small schools. "Information retrieval" and "formulaic writing" clash with what the best small schools offer, says
Urban Academy codirector Ann Cook. "Assessment in the end will undo and ruin the promise of small schools," she predicts.

Small schools are not new to the
US. Before the 1950s - when the model of the large, comprehensive high school took hold - small schools were the norm. In the 1990s, the national Annenberg Challenge led to the re-creation of small schools across the country.

In the wake of the 1999 school shootings at Columbine High in
Colorado, the US Department of Education started a grant program to foster the development of smaller communities within large schools. But never has the cause of small schools been taken up with so much gusto and enthusiasm as in the past few years.

For her part, Meier worries that this breathless drive - and unrealistic expectations - may set small schools up for failure. "Every time we have a good [education-reform] idea that we don't do well," she says, "it increases the cynicism."

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Kansas board again taking up evolution
By DIANE CARROLL, The
Kansas City Star, 12/13/04

The debate over evolution will be revived formally in
Kansas on Tuesday. That's when the state Board of Education begins discussing a committee's first draft of proposed changes to science standards.

Also before the board will be a recommendation from some committee members that the theory of evolution be held up to more rigorous analysis.

A committee of 26 educators spent six months reviewing the standards and prepared the first draft. Members agreed on all changes except those regarding evolution, said committee co-chairman Steve Case, an assistant research professor who directs the University of Kansas Center for Science Education.

A minority report on evolution was issued Friday to the education board. Case said he was surprised that the report was issued but not surprised by its concerns.

“They are the well-known areas that we need to finish discussions on,” Case said.

Updating the standards is expected to take months. Public hearings are to be scheduled in January. After they are held, the committee will prepare a second draft, which will be submitted to a review outside the department. Case expects a third draft in April and board action sometime after that.

Kansas received international attention in 1999 when a conservative-led board succeeded in downplaying the teaching of evolution. In 2001, moderates regained control of the board and reversed the earlier vote.

The state board establishes standards for every area of the curriculum and updates them periodically, usually every four years. The standards represent the basic tenets of what every student should know.

In this year's elections, the balance of power on the board swung back to the conservatives. They will have a 6-4 majority in January when the new board is sworn in.

Board Chairwoman Janet Waugh, a Democrat from
Kansas City, Kan., said she would be interested to hear from conservative members of the board on Tuesday. One of them, Steve Abrams, a Republican from Arkansas City, declined to comment Friday. Another, Republican John Bacon of Olathe, did not return a telephone call.

In 1999, the debate was influenced by advocates of young-earth creationism, the idea that God created the universe in six days. This time it is expected to center more on intelligent design, the idea that life and its diversity are the result of planned processes and not chance and necessity. It runs counter to evolution — the theory most scientists accept — which holds that living things share common ancestors but have changed over time.

Case said that most committee members think that “the intelligent design theory is not ready as a developed science theory to be included in the science standards.”

He said he thought those who signed the minority report were pushing for the eventual inclusion of the theory.

The report includes a three-page cover letter to the board signed by committee member William Harris, a medical school professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and 23 pages of proposed revisions. Harris referred questions to John Calvert, a founder of Intelligent Design Network Inc., a nonprofit group that seeks objectivity in origins science.

Calvert issued a statement Friday that said the proposed revisions in the minority report “encourage the teaching of origins science consistent with the nature of scientific inquiry.”

The minority report supports the teaching of evolution and does not advocate the teaching of intelligent design. However, it suggests that teachers be allowed to address scientific alternatives.

Case said that those who signed the minority report “are trying to take little bitty steps to change the nature of science so that their philosophy can be introduced” and that that philosophy is intelligent design.

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New front in school funding battle
Flannery champions radical change 
Scott Stephens, Plain Dealer Reporter, 12/13/04

Bryan Flannery hardly looks like a revolutionary.

At 36, he retains the clean-cut good looks of the tough Irish kid who anchored the defensive line for Lou Holtz' 1988 championship football team at the University of Notre Dame.
 
But in
Columbus, the former Democratic state representative from Lakewood has become a guerrilla fighter in the long, bloody battle over school funding.

Flannery is pushing a plan that he says would radically overhaul the way
Ohio pays for public education by cutting local property taxes, eliminating the unending requests for operating levies and forcing the state to find money for education.

He's waging the war as an outsider who is unwelcome in the halls of the Statehouse or in the meeting rooms of Gov. Bob Taft's commission on school funding, which is expected to issue its own recommendations later this week.

Flannery is taking his battle to the streets, gathering signatures on a petition drive that would force the legislature to address his plan. He has about 70 percent of the 100,000 signatures he needs by Dec. 21, and he is reasonably confident he will get the rest.

That would force the legislature, by law, to vote on the measure. After lawmakers reject the proposal - as Flannery is sure they will - he will launch another petition drive to put his plan on the ballot next November for voters to decide.

"Going down the same path we've been going down won't work," said William Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding. The group, which recently endorsed Flannery's plan, sued the state and secured four Ohio Supreme Court rulings declaring the funding system unconstitutional.

The system - as well as Flannery's proposal - are complex enough to be grist for doctoral dissertations. But boiled down, Flannery proposes to dramatically shift the burden of paying for education from homeowners to the state.

His proposal would:

Establish a commission that would determine what constitutes an adequate education for all children - special needs, vocational, gifted, poor - and what it would cost. The legislature would be required to pay for all of that cost, minus local property taxes equal to 20 mills (or $20 for every $1,000 of property value.) The makeup of the commission is not outlined in the proposal.

Discontinue all local school property taxes over 20 mills, and prohibit districts from going to the ballot to seek tax hikes for operating expenses. For high-wealth districts that lose revenue as a result, the state would be required to make up the difference. Flannery estimates local property taxes would be cut by at least $1.7 billion.

More than double Homestead Exemption benefits for elderly and disabled people.

Prohibit the state from raising sales, income or other taxes to pay for the commission's recommendation.

But if you cut property taxes and don't raise other taxes, critics ask, where does the money come from? From social service programs? Higher education? Shouldn't affluent districts that can afford a greater share pay it? Won't the bill the state gets for their lost revenue be staggering?

"Some districts have the ability to provide ample support for their schools," said Barbara Shaner, director of legislative services for the Ohio Association of School Business Officials. "Under
Bryan's proposal, the state would be picking up the tab."

But Flannery insists that the money is there if the state simply conducts business differently and cuts waste and spending abuses. State officials agree that hundreds of millions of dollars could be saved by Medicaid reform, for example.

Flannery said that if at least $1 billion of the STAR Ohio Fund money were invested in
Ohio instead of out of state, some $7.5 billion would become available to boost the state economy. The fund takes public investment dollars and pools them to attract a higher rate of return.

Some who don't question Flannery's math do question his timing. The Ohio School Boards Association, in concert with other groups, may come up with its own ballot initiative but will first wait for the recommendations from the governor's commission.

Some argue that if Ohioans reject Flannery's proposal, it could invite the broad interpretation that the voting public doesn't really care much about school funding.

"If we need to go to the ballot, we need to get everyone on board - we really can't afford to be running off in different directions," said Ohio Federation of Teachers President Tom Mooney. "We just thought the Flannery petition was premature, although there definitely is some merit to his proposal. And the plan is attracting some grassroots support, because there's really nothing else out there now."

Critics also suggest that Flannery, who now lives in
Strongsville and works as a health-care consultant, is using the issue as a political launching pad. He lost to Secretary of State Ken Blackwell two years ago and is rumored to be considering another run.

Flannery shrugged off the criticism.

"There's a fear of change, a fear of upsetting the apple cart," he said. "As far as the secretary of state job goes, I will look at it, I want to be honest about it. But I've had my name out there before. That's not why I'm doing this."

To many, Flannery and his plan are the only hope in a long battle over school funding. They point out that the Ohio Supreme Court ruled four times that the state's reliance on local property taxes breeds inequities. Even so, the system is more reliant today on property taxes than it was when the case began.

"I think he's the messiah," said John Emery of
Liverpool Township, one of the 2,500 volunteers who is circulating Flannery's petitions. "He is somebody who is actually going ahead and doing something about this problem."

And he's getting noticed. Some 6,000 petitions have been downloaded from his Web site, www.flanneryforohio.com, and he's becoming a ubiquitous presence on local radio and television shows.

But Flannery's most significant - and, to some, surprising - support come from Phillis' coalition, which represents 550 of
Ohio's 613 public school districts.

"The question we ask ourselves now is, 'What's left?' " Phillis said. "If government doesn't serve the people - and government isn't serving them when it comes to school funding - you look for other options."

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'No Child Left Behind' misses some
Law applies to poorer students only if schools get federal grants.
By Michael Kolber,
Sacramento Bee Staff Writer, 12/12/04

A Lake Tahoe-area school district runs two middle schools: one in
Truckee, one in Tahoe City. Both are failing to meet federal education standards, but only the Tahoe City school is being pressured by the federal government to improve.
The
Truckee school isn't poor enough.

Even in name, the No Child Left Behind education law, which President Bush signed in 2002, promised to apply tough standards universally, but parents and teachers are discovering a huge loophole in it.
Sanctions for failing schools - starting with offering tutoring and transferring students to better schools and eventually closing the failing ones - apply only to those getting specific federal grants.

Because the grants are offered only to high-poverty schools, those in wealthier districts don't face federal penalties for not meeting standards. But because many schools eligible for federal money don't accept it, even some of the students supposedly targeted by the law - poorly performing students from low-income homes - are being left behind.

At least 13 schools in the
Sacramento region would be facing penalties if they were receiving the grants. Statewide, at least 445 schools fall into that category, according to a Bee analysis of state education data.

"There is a general idea out there that it applies to every student at every school," said Scott Loehr, assistant superintendent for instruction at
Center Unified School District in Antelope. "The sanctions obviously do not."

Districts are free to assign the funds to schools with two constraints: Those with more than 75 percent of students in poverty must receive a grant, and those with less than 35 percent cannot.

And so
Sierra Mountain Middle School in Truckee, where a quarter of students were in poverty last year, faced no sanctions even though it failed to pass federal standards the last two years. North Tahoe Middle School in Tahoe City has the same academic record but nearly half of its children live in poverty. It is in its third year of federal scrutiny.

The disparities between
California schools forced to comply with the federal law and those that aren't will become even more stark next year.

For the schools that face sanctions, 2005 is the first year they could be shut down. And even more schools are expected to be labeled as failing next year, because twice as many students will be expected to be proficient in English and math for a school to meet standards.

By 2014, the state Department of Education expects nearly all the state's 9,000 schools to be labeled failing because the federal law will require all students to be proficient in math and English, which many education officials believe is an unrealistically high bar.

But even then there will be formal consequences only for those schools that receive federal grants, known as Title I funds.

That makes George Griffin one of the lucky ones, in his eyes.

He's principal of
Winters High School, where about 50 percent of students are poor. Last year, his school met 21 of its 22 No Child Left Behind criteria.

Because of the one he missed - too few of his school's English learners were judged proficient in English - the school is considered failing.

Four years ago,
Griffin was given the option of accepting Title I money. He declined - believing that the $12,000 his school would receive each year wouldn't be worth the added red tape and that the money could be better spent on younger grades.

That decision means
Griffin won't be penalized now for being one measure short of perfect.

"After No Child Left Behind came out, am I thrilled to death that I said no? You bet," he said.

Many districts favor younger grades for Title I grants.

Nationwide, about two-thirds of elementary schools, but only one-third of high schools, receive Title I funds, said Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy in
Washington, D.C.

In
Elk Grove Unified School District, the largest in Northern California, no Title I schools are failing. The district directs those federal funds only to its elementary schools. So, federal sanctions aren't a threat for three of its high schools and a middle school that are below standards.

Elk Grove has decided to concentrate all its Title I money on the younger grades, because that's where the district believes the cash can make the biggest difference, said Nancy Lucia, Elk Grove's director of learning support services.

Still, that means omitting Valley and
Florin high schools from the strictest provisions of No Child Left Behind. At both south Sacramento schools, test scores aren't meeting federal standards and a majority of students last year were poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, the most common measure of poverty.

Both Lucia and
Griffin emphasized that the schools are diligently trying to improve student achievement, even if they don't face federal sanctions.

Indeed, many schools not in Title I are in a state program for low-performing schools that also includes a system of grants and penalties. But unlike the more rigid federal standards for achievement, the state's accountability system is individually tailored, requiring only that schools show a certain percentage of growth from year to year.

Other provisions of No Child Left Behind, including the requirement that teachers be "highly qualified" in the subjects they teach, apply to all schools.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education said the department requires sanctions only for Title I schools because that is how the law was written.

A spokeswoman for Judd Gregg, the Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said it "hardly seemed fair to apply the federal accountability system to schools that do not receive federal education dollars."

The law passed Congress with bipartisan support in 2001, but has since been attacked by Democrats who believe the Bush administration has not provided the program enough money.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the committee's ranking Democrat, said through a spokeswoman that even without consequences for low performance, non-Title I schools benefit from No Child Left Behind.

"The evidence is clear - high standards, good teachers, and accountability for results are the right reforms for every public school," Kennedy said.

Frank Ramos, whose five children have attended Winters High, said he agreed with the school's decision to opt out of Title I. He's deeply involved with the school and believes that
Griffin, the principal, is doing what he can to improve scores for English learners. If the school had accepted Title I money, it could have been penalized.

"The strings that would have been attached to it would have made it very difficult for us," Ramos said.

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State to ax high school MEAP
Legislature replaces controversial test with college entrance-type exam, effective in '07.
By Mark Hornbeck,
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

LANSING -- Michigan's high school MEAP test soon will be permanently expelled, after a controversial run that spanned three decades.

Lawmakers on Thursday gave final passage to a package of bills that will replace the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) tests in the spring of 2007 with the Michigan Merit Exam, a new battery of tests for 11th-graders that can be used for college admission.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm is expected to sign the bills after she receives a report next week from her higher education panel. A draft of the report includes a recommendation to swap the high school MEAP for a college entrance-type test, according to members of the commission.

The MEAP was never intended to measure a student's ability to succeed in college. It was originally crafted to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in the local curriculum. A college entrance exam not only tests what a student has learned, but also is intended to be an indicator of future success.

Paula Steiger of
Shelby Township was pleased to hear that the old test almost certainly will be scrapped and her 11-year-old son won't have to take it.

"I find it hypocritical that my child has to practice and study for things they're supposed to have known already," said Steiger, whose son, Dirk, attends
Crissman Elementary School in Utica.

"The MEAP is a big waste of taxpayer money and time."

The reworked high school test will be used to mete out the $2,500 merit scholarships awarded to qualifying students to help pay their college tuition. The MEAP exams will continue to be given in elementary and middle school grades.

The chief selling point of the new exam, proponents say, is that it will be taken more seriously by students because state legislators expect colleges will use it as an entrance requirement, like the ACT or SAT. The state will work with an outfit that designs college admissions tests to develop its new exam.

"No university used the MEAP as an admission test, so what use was it?" asked James McCann, superintendent of Lamphere Schools in
Madison Heights. "When you're testing high school students they have to see a reason to take the test."

Bloomfield Hills mom Cindy Stevens supports eliminating the MEAP.

"If they take the MEAP in the 11th grade and they don't do well, it's kind of too late for the school to do anything about it anyway," said Stevens, whose son, Michael, 15, is a freshman at
Lahser High School.

"They take the ACTs and SATs anyway, so for the state to look at those things isn't a bad thing," Stevens added. "The ACTs and SATs are good for all colleges, and the MEAP is just for our state."

Discarding the MEAP initially ran into resistance from educators who feared that years of effort spent aligning school courses with the state tests would be wasted. But the final version of the legislation, rather than adopting the ACT wholesale, calls for the revamped exam to line up with the state's existing curriculum standards.

"What we've done is take the best from the MEAP and college entrance exams and blended them together in a test that will help better prepare all our children for the 21st-century knowledge economy," said schools Supt. Tom Watkins.

The bills passed overwhelmingly in the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday. But some lawmakers remain concerned that the new test may be a step backward for education in the state.

"I'm not comfortable tossing out the MEAP and replacing it with a brand new test without first deciding exactly where we want to go in education in this state," said Rep. John Stakoe, R-Highland. "We spend 10 years teaching to the MEAP, and now we're going to change the test? Couldn't we just adjust the MEAP to test what we want?"

The Michigan Merit Exam will be given in three parts, two of them resembling the ACT college entrance test.
Reading, writing, math, science and social studies will be tested. A work skills test also will be part of the new exam.

"The social studies and science components will be similar to MEAP, the reading and math will be more aligned with the ACT or SAT," said Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, a sponsor of the package.

"This test will be great for students and parents. We'll be giving a meaningful test to students, we'll get results in a timely fashion and in a way that will help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and schools to better arrange their curriculum."

The MEAP, which has been given to high schoolers since 1978, has often been criticized as irrelevant; large groups of students in high-achieving districts such as
Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills refused to take it because low scores could possibly hurt them -- but not help them -- in getting into college. Test participation increased a few years ago when the state started giving out $2,500 scholarships to those who passed all parts of the test.

"I hate the MEAP test -- it's just a big waste of time," said Andrew Galante, 18, a senior at Birmingham Seaholm. "All the students I know hate it, too. They just blow it off. And circle the "A's" on every question. It's just not worth it to spend too much time studying for this remedial test."

About 119,000 students take the MEAP each year and 38,000 take a re-test. Currently, students can take the test three times in an attempt to qualify for the scholarships. The new exam allows only one re-test.

Students have to pay a $25 to $45 fee to take college entrance tests, but the cost of the new test will be picked up by the state when the new exam is put in place. The state now spends $8.5 million to administer the high school MEAP, and that cost will rise to at least $10 million when the revamped exam is launched, according to one legislative analysis.

The MEAP also has been slammed because it takes five days out of the school year. The Michigan Merit Exam is supposed to be a streamlined version that requires less time. Exactly how much time won't be known until 2006 when the new test is given in some pilot districts.

"We're hoping the new test is less disruptive," said Bob Freehan, spokesman for the
Warren Consolidated Schools. "Shutting down a high school for five days has been extremely problematic."

Supt. McCann at Lamphere said he's somewhat concerned that low-achieving students who have no plans to attend college will be required to take a college entrance-style test.

"These students who struggle in school and are not college-bound will not take the test seriously," McCann said.

Dearborn Height mom Peggy Lenart said the MEAP Scholarship program favors kids who are good test-takers. Amanda Lenart, 17, will take her 11th grade MEAP at
Crestwood High School this school year, but she probably won't score well enough for a scholarship.

"She'll study for it the whole week, and then go in the day of the test and study with the teacher," Lenart said. "Some of these kids really try, but they don't get (the scholarship) because they're not good test takers."

Lenart would prefer the state to require that each student complete an ACT or SAT test.

"These kids need to know what they're up against, and if they do good on an ACT or an SAT, it might encourage them to go to college," Lenart said. "That would have more value than the MEAP."

Justin King, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, said the experience in
Illinois has shown that many students who thought they weren't college material have fared well on the test given there and they've reconsidered their post-high school plans.

"The evidence on this absolutely weighed on the side of the change," King said.

Several months ago, the State Board of Education voted against replacing the high school MEAP. But board members now say they support the move.

"It's not a complete replacement of the MEAP, so I'm more comfortable with it," said board President Kathleen Straus, D-Detroit.

"Getting rid of the MEAP seemed to take on a life of its own and you have to face political realities sometimes."

Granholm is "open to doing the test a different way," said her spokeswoman, Liz Boyd. But the governor won't commit to signing the package until she receives the report from Lt. Gov. John Cherry's Commission on Higher Education next Wednesday.

Besides needing Granholm's approval, the new exam must be OK'd by the U.S. Department of Education.

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New Rules for Teacher Gifts: Apples (but Perhaps No IPods)
By SUSAN SAULNY,
New York Times, 12/14/04

ast year, when it came time to give a holiday gift to his son's kindergarten teacher at Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Adam Klein and other parents donated about $20 each, and together they bought the teacher a digital camera.

This year, teachers should not count on such lavish gifts.

New York City parents who want to buy holiday gifts for teachers have a new $5 per student spending limit, according to a rule Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein imposed earlier this year.

The rule falls under the conflict-of-interest section of the Chancellor's Regulations, and was intended to help students who could not afford to contribute money to class gifts, officials said. The regulations also state that individual gifts from students or parents to school employees should be "principally sentimental in nature and of insignificant financial value."

Some parents and teachers are arguing that the rules are examples of micromanagement by the Department of Education and send a message to teachers that they are underappreciated.

"I don't quite see the rationale to denying teachers a gift," said Mr. Klein, whose son is now in first grade. "We're not trying to curry favor with the teacher."

Sandra Arnold, a baby sitter with a daughter in high school, objected to the $5 limit."That's too cheap for a teacher. You can't get anything good for $5, especially for a good teacher. I don't think it's right."

Some teachers said a holiday gift was one of the few perks they could count on.

One teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she wanted students to "give as much as they want to give."

"At lunch, when I was talking to other teachers, some of them were saying things about how nice it is when kids make them something," the teacher said. "I was like, 'Give me the big gift certificate.' "

She said she was worth more than a $5 gift, adding "there's been no raise. I'm broke all the time." The teachers' contract expired at the end of May 2003.

Chancellor Klein disagreed.

"A number of parents had some concerns," he said when asked about the gift cap, which was described in The Daily News yesterday. "They were feeling that they were under pressure and they wanted to know what was expected of them."

Mr. Klein said he "wanted to support the recognition of teachers" while not pressuring parents and students to give more than they comfortably could.

"They pleaded with us to come up with a dollar value," a spokeswoman for the school system, Margie Feinberg, said of parents who contacted the education agency. "And in January, the Department of Education proposed a change in the policy."

Other school districts in the region have similar guidelines. In
White Plains, school policy suggests homemade gifts of minimal value. In Scarsdale, individual gifts should be worth no more than $15, a school official said.

When asked how the city schools might go about enforcing the spending limit, Mr. Klein said: "We should try to do this in a way that's sensible. I think we leave it to the judgment of parents."

Mr. Klein said that if everyone used common sense, the holiday gift-giving tradition would "not become some sort of flow of cash or other gifts that could be misconstrued."

Lindsay Hershenhorn, a teacher at P.S. 321, said, "Teachers should be paid enough so that parents don't feel they need to give gifts to teachers and teachers don't feel they need to accept them."

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Charter school's shutdown sought
Roxbury facility nearly bankrupt
Tracy Jan and Maria Sacchetti, Boston Globe, 12/15/04
 
State education officials want to shut down a nearly bankrupt Roxbury charter school next week, marking the first time one of the experimental schools has been closed mid-year since the charter school movement started in
Massachusetts in 1993.
 
Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll said yesterday he will ask the state Board of Education to revoke the school's charter next week. If the board agrees, the two-year-old
Roxbury Charter High School for Business, Finance and Entrepreneurship will not reopen after winter break starts next week and the 107 students will be forced to go to other Boston public schools.
 
Driscoll said the school is plagued by a $113,000 deficit and bad financial management, and has no plan for a home after its lease on a former parochial school expires at the end of next year.
 
''They're not going to be able to survive financially," Driscoll said. ''I sympathize with them. They've worked hard. I feel terrible about having to do it."
 
He said it would be less disruptive to close the school between semesters than in the middle of the spring, when the school is projected to run out of money.
 
Officials at the school -- which was created to point poor students to careers in business and finance and which board members say is the only charter school in Boston founded by black educators -- vowed to fight to stay open.
 
Judy Burnette, one of the school's founders and its chief executive officer, said yesterday that the school should be given more time to fix its problems.
 
''They think we're not going to fight back but we certainly are," Burnette said. ''Shut down? That's not going to happen."
 
Closing the Roxbury school would come at an awkward time for charter school advocates, who just filed legislation to expand the number of charters in lowest-performing districts, including
Boston.
 
''We obviously regret seeing a school in trouble," said Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter School Association. ''Charter schools are held to a very high level of accountability and the difference between charter schools and district schools is when a charter school doesn't do well, it's closed. District schools, we just throw more money at it."
 
But Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman, whose group opposes expanding charter schools, said yesterday the problems with the Roxbury school show that more charter schools aren't the solution to improving public education.
 
The state has 56 charter schools, with three more to open next fall, according to the Massachusetts Charter School Association. State law limits how much each school district can spend on charter schools, and some, including
Boston, are at or near the cap.
 
Driscoll said the situation in Roxbury does not reflect on other charter schools. ''There are going to be some that aren't going to make it," Driscoll said. ''I don't think anybody should draw any big conclusion from this one instance."    
 
While no other school's charter has been revoked, the state declined in 2002 to renew the
Lynn Community Charter School because of low test scores. The school was allowed to finish the academic year. Three other charters closed on their own.
 
Charter schools are publicly funded, but they are run by an independent governing board. All are overseen by the state Board of Education, which grants or revokes the charters. Charter schools are required to file annual reports with the state on student achievement and other measures.
 
The state Board of Education has been friendly to charter schools. The board chairman, James Peyser, is a partner in New Schools Venture Fund, a nonprofit that funds charter schools across the nation but did not give any money to the Roxbury school.
 
Peyser said yesterday he would take a hard look at shutting down the Roxbury school.
 
In late November, after state officials visited the school, the department of education asked the school's seven-member board to voluntarily give up its charter, but the board voted not to do so, Burnette said. Instead, it submitted a previously planned reorganization and fund-raising plan to the state's charter school office, as well as budgets for this school year and the next one, Burnette said.
 
The school, whose five-year charter expires in June 2007, opened in September 2003 with 70 freshmen. It now enrolls 107 freshmen and sophomores, but had projected 175 students this year, said Curtis Wells, the school's director. By 2007 when the first senior class was scheduled to graduate, enrollment was supposed to reach 400.
 
Driscoll said he sent a letter with his closure recommendation to school leaders Monday night. Rumors about the school's potential closure began circulating throughout the brick building early yesterday as administrators debated whether to tell students.
 
At
3 p.m., instead of attending their usual one-hour sessions with tutors, about 100 students crowded into the school's basement cafeteria. Wells looked out into the sea of pressed khakis and light blue shirts and delivered the news.
 
''The commissioner recommends immediate closure of
Roxbury High School," he said. ''It's not like you're going to be in the street come the first of January. You will have a place to go, but it may not be here."
 
Students clamored to ask questions. Some clapped. Others just sat and stared. Wells raised two fingers in a peace sign until they calmed down. ''You will continue coming to this school until you're told you don't come," he told them.
 
He urged them to mobilize their parents to attend an emergency meeting at the school last evening, as well as next week's state board of education meeting where the closing will be decided.
 
Freshman Djenaba Williams said she is reluctant to leave a school that has felt like a family to her in just four months.
 
''I've grown attached to it," said Williams, 15. ''We get our education. Yeah, we have some things we need to fix but I love this school."
 
Students, who come from
Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxbury and other Boston neighborhoods attend classes from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., longer than most public schools. Any scores they get below 75 count as an F, a tougher standard than public schools.
 
Cynthia Brown, co-chairwoman of the school's parent advisory committee, said the school's closure would disrupt her daughter's life.
 
''We're still new," said Brown, who said she chose the school because it is small and encourages minority teenagers to take care of their own. ''It's going to have its bumps and its hills to get over."
 
State officials completed a regularly scheduled visit on Nov. 16 and 17. On Dec. 8, they issued a 13-page report that criticized charter school board members for not raising enough money to supplement the $9,800-per-student tuition that comes from the state. The report also complained about the school's high administrative costs, including paying $90,000 last year for an outside business manager.
 
Tiffany Roach, the school's current in-house business manager, said she is being paid $50,000 for doing the same job.
 
The state report also said that the school building, housed in the former
St. Joseph's Elementary School on Hulbert Street, is not accessible to the disabled nor big enough to accommodate future enrollment growth.
 
Wells said that rather than spend thousands of dollars renovating the building, the school planned to install a handicap-accessible modular unit.

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School Board Sued on Mandate for Alternative to Evolution
By NEELA BANERJEE,
New York Times, 12/15/04

The American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit yesterday in
Federal District Court in Harrisburg, Pa., against the school board of Dover, Pa., saying the board violated the religious rights of several parents and students by requiring the teaching of an alternative theory to evolution in public schools.

Situated 20 miles south of
Harrisburg, Dover is apparently the first school district in the United States to require high school biology teachers to introduce students to the alternate theory, known as intelligent design. The theory says the development of the universe and earth was guided at each step by an "intelligent agent."

Proponents say it provides scientific answers for gaps and inconsistencies in the theory of evolution.

Critics, including the groups suing, say intelligent design is a watered-down version of creationism, which the Supreme Court has repudiated in public school curriculums.

Initiatives to introduce intelligent design in curriculums are percolating nationally, and this case could test how far opponents of evolution can go in shaping the teaching of science, said advocates and critics of intelligent design.

"There is reason that the eyes of the nation will be on this," the assistant legal director at Americans United, Richard B. Katskee, said, "because these kind of efforts are going on in other places or are imminent there."

Recent surveys have shown that a majority of Americans favor teaching alternatives in school, and local boards have stepped up efforts to challenge the teaching of evolution. In
Cobb County, Ga., the civil liberties group has sued the school district over a disclaimer about evolution inserted into textbooks. In Kansas, conservatives who favor challenging the teaching of evolution recently won a majority on the state school board, and they are generally expected to change the state science curriculum as early as the spring.

The two groups in
Pennsylvania say teaching intelligent design violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which calls for the separation of church and state.

The
Dover district said in a statement on its Web site that it was reviewing the case.

A major proponent of intelligent design, the Discovery Institute in
Seattle, said that the Dover policy was misguided because it was unclear and that it should be withdrawn and rewritten.

Other proponents said the theory was not based on any religion's holdings about creation but on science.

"Students will be made aware of gaps and problems in evolution," said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the
Thomas More Law Center, a public interest law firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., that promotes Christian values. "What's wrong with that? What gets the A.C.L.U. and others all upset is that those alternatives to evolution might include intelligent design, which might lead to God."

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Charter vs. Traditional
Two Types of
D.C. Public School Are Not Easy to Compare
By Michael
Dobbs, Washington Post Staff Writer, 12/15/04

Caroline Hoxby, a Harvard economics professor, has data showing that District charter schools do a better job of teaching students than regular public schools. Nonsense, says Howard Nelson of the American Federation of Teachers. His research suggests the opposite.

With more students attending charter schools than any other city in the country,
Washington has become ground zero in a heated nationwide debate about the effects of school choice. To prove its case, each side has drawn on rival teams of researchers armed with complicated statistical models.
 
Independent researchers and many teachers believe that it is far too early to reach grand conclusions about which kind of education is better.

"There are some charter schools that are doing fabulously and some that aren't doing a good job at all," said Mary Levy, an attorney for the education advocacy group D.C. Parents United, who has tried to remain neutral. "The same is true of public schools."

The debate is likely to intensify todaywhen the National Assessment for Education Progress, an independent body that styles itself "the nation's report card," publishes results from the first nationwide comparison of charter schools and regular public schools. Its data are likely to provide fresh ammunition for both charter supporters and skeptics.

Visits to two neighboring District schools that have become part of the debate --
Meridian Public Charter School and Garrison Elementary School -- and conversations with researchers on both sides of the argument bring to mind Winston Churchill's dictum about three kinds of lies: "lies, damn lies and statistics."

The number of students attending Garrison is shrinking, while the number going to
Meridian is growing rapidly. On the other hand, Garrison students are doing better on standardized tests than their charter school counterparts. The student-teacher ratio is lower at the charter school, but the regular school has more teachers rated "highly qualified." And so on.

Other school matchups in the District and across the country produce similarly confusing results.

Since the first charter school was founded in
Massachusetts in 1991, almost 3,300 have opened across the country, serving nearly 1 million children nationwide. They have proved particularly popular in the District, where nearly 20 percent of all students attend charter schools. The alternative schools are part of the school district but operate with a high degree of managerial and educational autonomy.

Arguments over which type of school is superior heated up over the summer when Nelson published preliminary National Assessment for Education Progress data indicating that charter school students lagged behind their traditional school counterparts by roughly a half year on standardized test scores . The study caused a furor among school choice advocates who argued that it was based on highly selective data. Hoxby struck back with a paper claiming a huge academic gap in favor of charter schools in
Washington.

It turns out that Hoxby's rebuttal to the American Federation of Teachers study was based on faulty statistics. In a telephone interview last week, the Harvard researcher acknowledged that she had used misleading data to measure the proficiency of public school students in the District, resulting in an unfair comparison with the charters. She attributed the mix-up to the difficulty of downloading data from different Web sites. New data provided by Hoxby showed a 7.4 percent advantage for the charter schools in math proficiency rather than a 40 percent advantage.

Nelson also acknowledged that he had mistakenly provided faulty data to The Washington Post, underestimating the proportion of low-income students in some District charter schools, which affects the comparison with regular schools. He stood by the data in his original report.

Jeffrey Henig, a
Columbia University professor of education, bemoaned "a rush to print" by researchers who want to be part of a topical debate. Henig said his own research into District charter schools showed "what anybody would find if they are being honest -- a mixed picture."

The academic feuding seems oddly detached from the ground-level reality at Meridian, which is housed in a converted laundry at 14th Street and Florida Avenue NW. Administrators and parents concede that the school has experienced significant growing pains in the last five years, as enrollment grew from 84 students in 1999 to 585 today.

During that period, the for-profit school has gone through three principals and two management companies. It introduced an entirely new math and reading curriculum this year, in an effort to raise disappointing test scores. Despite the turmoil, parents have remained remarkably loyal, viewing the school as safer and more welcoming than many of its traditional competitors.

"
Meridian's test scores may not be as high as Garrison's, but the school is newer," said Frank Padgett, who heads the parent-teacher association. "Things are getting better every year." Padgett said he decided to enroll his two children at Meridian because he was impressed by Principal Robinette Breedlove, who had "a passion I didn't see in a lot of other principals I met."

Teachers at
Meridian say that test results are only one imperfect measure of how a school is doing. "There's a lot more parent involvement here than there," said Ola Bailey, a Meridian preschool teacher who previously worked at Garrison. At Garrison, a half-dozen blocks away at 1200 S St. NW, enrollment has been dropping steadily for two decades. Administrators cite flight to the suburbs, the gentrification of the area and competition from charter schools. Just 316 students remain in a building designed for almost twice that number, down from 356 when Geneva Williams took over as principal two years ago.

The 40-year-old building seems in better repair than many District public schools. Even so, it is beginning to show its age.

Williams insists that the students go to the restroom in pairs because it is impossible to know for sure who is walking around the cavernous building, despite the guard at the entrance. She has instituted a strict school uniform policy and is proud that teacher turnover is low. Many veteran teachers prefer regular public schools to the charter schools, citing better benefits and job security.

In contrast to
Meridian, Garrison has met its "adequate yearly progress" target on standardized tests for the last two years, placing it in a select group of District schools that are in compliance with requirements of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. As a regular public school, it is also obliged to pay more attention to special education students. Some children with special education needs have switched back to Garrison after trying nearby charter schools.

"The charter schools persuade parents to enroll their children by saying everything is going to be better, but that's not always the case," said Gwendolyn Brown, a special education teacher who withdrew her child from a District charter school because she believed he was not receiving enough individual attention.

For all the heat generated by the school choice debate, researchers agree that much depends on parents' preferences and the quality of individual teachers and principals. "I would never claim that every charter school is better than every regular public school," said Hoxby, the Harvard economist.

As he attempts to make sense of an ever-growing pile of data, Nelson goes somewhat further. "In the end," the AFT researcher said, "it's a draw."

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Bush, voucher backers appeal ruling
The governor has appealed to the Florida Supreme Court a ruling that the school voucher law is unconstitutional.
AP, 12/15/04

TALLAHASSEE -- The latest ruling that Florida's original school voucher law is unconstitutional has been appealed to the Florida Supreme Court by Gov. Jeb Bush and other voucher supporters.

The Supreme Court announced Tuesday it had received the appeal notices late Monday. Because the issue is the status of a state law that has been found unconstitutional by a lower court, the court is required to take the case.

The state has been allowed to issue vouchers since the first ruling, nearly five years ago, that the law was unconstitutional.

Last month, the 1st District Court of Appeal agreed with a trial judge who said the 1999 law violates the state constitution because it lets tax dollars be spent on religious schools.

That decision was the third against the law, which lets students attending public schools that earn failing grades two years out of four attend private schools on state vouchers.

The program is the centerpiece of Bush's education program and is the first and smallest of
Florida's three school voucher laws.

This school year, about 700 students in seven districts filed to attend private schools under the law, up about 100 from last year. More than half will attend a religious school, according to the state.

Under the law, voucher students can be taught about religion but cannot be made to pray, worship or profess a religious belief.

Opponents, including the state's teacher union, the Florida PTA, the Florida League of Women Voters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, challenged the law in court the day after Bush signed it.

Florida's other voucher programs are larger than the 1999 law. One offers vouchers for children with disabilities, the other is a corporate income tax credit program that funds private scholarships for poor children.

Both are open to religious schools, but neither was added to the lawsuit against the original.

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Lack-of-sleep data spur district to consider change by next fall
By Helen Gao, Union-Tribune Staff Writer,
12/15/04

Not getting enough sleep is an age-old complaint among adolescents, who struggle to stay awake, much less learn, during the early hours of school.

Backed by plenty of research showing how a lack of sleep negatively affects learning and even behavior, the
San Diego Unified School District is considering later start times. Other districts in the nation also are having that discussion and some have already pushed back start times.

San Diego schools are soliciting input from students, teachers and district employees through three online surveys, which are being conducted through Friday. The district has received more than 500 responses on each of the three surveys.

A fourth survey designed for parents will be conducted next month. The goal is for the board of education to consider changes in April and implement them next fall.

A work group of principals, district union representatives, teachers and parents meets regularly to discuss the implications of changing start times.

Michael Price, who heads the office of school support and financial operations division, said this is the first time the district is considering changing school start times based on research about adolescent achievement, brain functions and their biological clock.

Changes are being considered as the district continues to struggle with high school students' low achievement. This fall, the district experimented with breaking three large high schools into small academies to create more personalized environments for learning.

At the same time, the district is also trying to find more efficient ways to operate school buses and elementary and middle schools, which in the past rotated every five years to a new start time.

School schedule changes can have enormous consequences for the community. Parents might have to rearrange their day to accommodate pickups and drop-offs of their children, as well as child care.

Elementary and middle school schedules would have to be tweaked, too, to accommodate school bus transportation and other aspects of school operations.

And with school ending later in the day, students may be forced to cut back on after-school athletics and club activities in order to get home before dark.

Generally, high schools begin at
7:30 a.m. For the 22,000 students who ride school buses across town for magnet or racial integration programs, it means getting up at 6 a.m. or earlier to get ready for school.

The district's student survey lists a number of late-start options ranging from
7:45 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., the latter of which would put the end of school at 4:10 p.m.

Michael Thompson, student body president at
La Jolla High School who chaired a recent meeting of student leaders on start times, said making a change is appealing and unappealing at the same time.

Thompson, who confesses to falling asleep during the first three periods of school, would like to get more sleep, but he said "way too many problems would come along with it."

For example, he said, if school ends past
4 p.m., parents and school buses would be fighting rush-hour traffic to get students home. He also wondered what would happen to parents who need to get to work before school starts.

But Thompson is concerned that some students chug high-caffeine soft drinks or take caffeine pills to stay awake. Robin Stern, principal at Hearst Elementary School in Del Cerro and a member of the start-times working group, said the committee has made a lengthy list of issues that would have to be addressed if start times are pushed back.

One concern, she said, is the safety of young children going home late in the afternoon. They are more suited to the current early starts and leaving early because young children tend to naturally go to bed early, unlike adolescents whose biological clock favors going to bed later and getting up later.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, which published a report summarizing research on sleep and young people, adolescents need 8½ to 9¼ hours of sleep each night. A 1997
Brown University study found that teens don't generally fall asleep until 11 p.m. or later, even if they go to bed earlier.

The report also says a lack of sleep not only affects achievement, but it can cause negative moods, such as anger and sadness, and increase the likelihood of stimulant use, such as coffee and cigarettes.

Studies cited in the foundation's report show some schools have seen higher student attendance, a decrease in tardiness and an increase in student alertness after implementing a later start.

But later starts also have resulted in fewer students participating in extracurricular activities and impacted students' ability to work after school.

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No manger, no money, voters tell school
Julie E. Bisbee, AP/Chicago Sun-Times
 
MUSTANG,
Okla. -- Voters incensed over a superintendent's decision to remove a Nativity scene from an elementary school Christmas program took out their anger at the ballot box, helping to defeat bond measures worth nearly $11 million.
 
Tuesday's rejection of the two measures -- one of which would have paid for construction of an elementary school -- marked the first time in more than a decade that voters in this bedroom community west of Oklahoma City denied additional money for their school district.
 
The day before the election, dozens of parents at a school board meeting expressed outrage at Superintendent Karl Springer's decision to end the school's tradition of closing the Christmas play with a manger scene.
 
''You've got to tell them you're not going to sit by and let them take away your rights,'' said Tim Pope, a former Republican legislator.
 
Concerned over the issue of separation of church and state, Springer had sought advice from the school board attorney, who recommended that the Nativity scene be removed. The children still got to sing ''Silent Night,'' but Springer took out the manger scene.
 
''Probably in my life I've never had to make a decision as difficult as this,'' said Springer, who added that he thinks his choice hurt support for the bond measures. ''But I had two strong legal opinions that said something we had planned could be illegal.''

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Concerns raised over school privacy notice  
Privacy notice allows a choice
By Treena Shapiro,
Honolulu Advertiser Education Writer, 12/17/04

Sybil Arum's eighth-grade granddaughter came home this week worried that she was on the verge of being drafted by the military and sent off to war.

The reason for her fear was the Department of Education's annual privacy notice, which says contact information for secondary students as young as sixth-graders may be released to military recruiters unless the student, parent or legal guardian requests otherwise.

Arum, who is the child's guardian, quickly determined that her granddaughter was not being shipped off to
Iraq, but became alarmed anyway.

"I'm very upset with the age level that this policy encompasses," she said.

DOE and U.S. Department of Defense officials, however, stress that the military is only interested in students who are 17 and older and will not be following up with students as young as sixth-graders.

"We don't just automatically release (the information to recruiters); it would have to be on request," said DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen. "Recruiters have told us that their interest is in juniors and seniors."

The privacy form, which also includes other disclosure information, goes to all public school students across the state. Many schools have sent the form out; at others, it is making its way to homes this week.

The form has been sent out for years as part of routine DOE information gathering to be used in the release of such things as honors and awards.

But this is only the second year that it has included the notice of potential disclosure to the military.

The release of information is part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires all school systems receiving NCLB money to make the contact information available to military recruiters or risk losing federal money. The law also requires schools to give military recruiters the same on-campus access they would give to prospective employers, colleges and other post-secondary education institutions.

Because private schools are not affected by NCLB, Arum is concerned that only public school students will be included in the recruiters' databases.

"Who are the military going to call on first?" she asked. "The kids that are going to be in that file are public school kids, not the private school kids."

Middle-school principals reached yesterday declined to comment on the issue, but said no recruiters had ever requested information on their students in sixth through eighth grade.

"In some way, this (form) might be needlessly alarming people," DOE's Knudsen acknowledged. However, he noted that there have not been widespread complaints.

Maj. Chuck Anthony, spokesman for the state Department of Defense, confirmed that no one under the age of 17 should receive recruitment materials.

In fact, he added that if younger students request information about enlisting, the recruiters tell them to come back when they turn 17.

Further, even if students' information is released to recruiters, this does not obligate them to do anything.

"If the mother is that concerned or the daughter is uninterested, all they have to do is say no," Anthony said. "It's not like a sheriff comes with a summons and says, 'You've been served.' "

Paul Vierling, the Hawai'i Parent Teacher Student Association's community relations specialist, said concern over having information released to the military is unfounded. "I don't see any problem with it," he said.

Countries that require military service have seen positive outcomes on their society because the military teaches the importance of community service, giving back and making contributions, Vierling said.

But parents who don't agree can just request that their children's information be kept private. "If people don't want their information shared, I think that's fine, as long as they have the choice," said Vierling.

Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the DOE is required to send home a notice every year that includes several types of disclosures, including that student contact information could be given to military recruiters.

Knudsen said the notice sent home this year was similar to the one last year, when the notice about release of information to military recruiters was more prominent.

Arum said she regularly requests that her child's information be withheld, but does not remember the military recruiter part from last year. She suspects that other parents could miss it as well, unless they carefully read the form.

"It can be very intimidating and confusing for someone who is not going to read the whole thing," she said.

She said kids are confused because they think if they do not allow their information to be disclosed, they won't be able to appear in the yearbook.

Lois Perrin, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the issue came up last year when it turned out that information was released to recruiters about students who specifically asked that it be withheld.

She said the DOE has since rectified the problem and is adjusting the way nondisclosure statements are handled.

By next year, in addition to the annual disclosure notice, a separate notice will be mailed to secondary students and their parents or guardians specifically on releasing information to military recruiters and how to opt out.

School administrators will be asked for written verification that both notices were distributed.

In addition, the nondisclosure requests from the previous year will be retained until this school year's requests are processed.

Perrin, who is concerned about privacy issues for public school students, said the ideal process would be to have student opt in if they want their contact information released.

However, Knudsen said NCLB stipulates that the parents or students must initiate the request to restrict disclosure.
 
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Paddling on hold in DISD
School board approves 2-month moratorium to study discipline issue
By TAWNELL D.
HOBBS, The Dallas Morning News, 12/17/04
 
The
Dallas school board banned paddling in schools at Thursday night's meeting – at least temporarily.

Trustees voted to implement a two-month moratorium on corporal punishment to allow administrators to come up with a proposal to ban paddling and provide alternatives to discipline students. Such a proposal would still require broad approval.

Trustee Ron Price, who supports paddling, suggested the moratorium that took the place of a recommendation to immediately ban paddling in the district.

"This gives our administration the opportunity to go back and study these issues ... and bring forth a legitimate plan," he said.

The moratorium passed in a 6-2 vote. Trustees Hollis Brashear and Lew Blackburn abstained, and Joe May was absent.

The issue has split the board. Mr. Brashear, who supports paddling, accused his colleagues of not properly posting the corporal punishment item on the agenda. An attorney for the district disagreed.

The number of parents in the district who have signed forms allowing their children to be paddled has dwindled. As of last week, 453 parents had given consent, compared with 3,335 last year.
 
Trustee Ken Zornes, who opposes corporal punishment, said it has had permanent harmful effects on children. He said even one child harmed is too many.

"How can we take that risk?" Mr. Zornes said.
 
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