A state law that takes effect today changes Illinois' high school dropout age from 16 to 17, keeping some
students in the education system for at least one extra year.
Any law that aims to decrease the state's dropout rate "is going
to be nothing but positive," said Greg Gardner, assistant regional
superintendent for SangamonCounty.
Illinois' high school dropout rate last year was 4.6 percent,
according to the 2004 state report card issued by the State Board of
If students stay in school longer, that means a better chance for them
"to be productive in life and in society," Gardner said, citing various reports that link high school dropouts
with poverty and crime.
Randy Dunn, interim state school superintendent, said he also endorses
the idea of raising the high school dropout age.
"It's intuitive," Dunn said. "On its face, it does make
sense. Who would argue with the expanded opportunity to learn"
by having a student in school an extra year?
"There's some details we're going to have to work through as an
education community," he added.
Schools might encounter additional discipline problems from students
who no longer will be allowed to drop out at 16, but alternative programs
are available for those students, Dunn said.
Peoria County Regional Superintendent Jerry Brookhart said he hopes
that schools and curriculums can adapt to the challenge of keeping students
engaged when they'd rather not be in class at all.
"If kids don't want to be there, they're going to put up an awful
lot of obstacles," Brookhart said. "This is going to add another
year of drudgery, from their point of view."
The high school dropout age law, which passed the General Assembly as
Senate Bill 2918, also includes provisions designed to curb chronic
truancy and to encourage students to graduate.
It is one of more than 120 new laws taking effect today.
Today is the effective date for a $1 increase in the state's minimum
wage, bringing the new level to $6.50 an hour. A 35-cent-an-hour minimum
wage increase was instituted on Jan. 1, 2004.
At least three of the new laws target the state's continuing problems
with methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug that can be manufactured
with household ingredients.
One measure establishes two new criminal offenses: controlled substance
manufacturing arson and aggravated controlled substance manufacturing
arson. TazewellCountyState's Attorney Stewart Umholtz testified for the bill as
it made its way through the legislative process.
Aggravated controlled substance manufacturing arson, the more serious
of the two offenses, will apply if the volatile process of making meth
injures another person or if the process damages a building where someone
lives. Someone convicted of that offense could be sentenced to a prison
term of up to 50 years.
Another new law restricts the sale of certain over-the-counter medications,
such as Sudafed and other cold remedies, which can be used to manufacture
Individuals will be barred from buying more than two packages of such
medication during a single purchase. Retailers will have to follow new
rules on how to display medication that contains ephedrine or pseudoephedrine,
an ingredient in meth.
A third new law expands the definition of child abuse or neglect to
include the manufacturing of methamphetamine when children are present.
Other laws taking effect today will:
Create the Agricultural Production Contract Code, which is meant to
ensure clarity and fairness in the language of agricultural production
contracts that are utilized by many grain and livestock farmers. The
measure deals with contract readability, confidentiality and farmer
protection from arbitrary contract cancellation.
Make it the responsibility of the state Department of Human Services,
not county sheriffs, to handle emergency transportation of mentally
ill patients. This law was drafted in the aftermath of the 2002 closure
of ZellerMentalHealthCenter in Peoria. After Zeller closed, the Peoria County Sheriff's Department
and other police agencies had to absorb the cost of transporting the
Toughen criminal penalties for people found guilty of domestic violence
or sexual assault offenses. One new law will increase the mandatory
minimum sentence for repeat domestic batterers from 48 to 72 consecutive
hours of jail time. Another new law will double the fine imposed on
offenders found guilty of domestic violence or sexual assault, with
the fine rising from $100 to $200.
Stiffen penalties for attacking a sports official or coach within a
sports facility or on an outdoor playing field. The offense may be considered
aggravated assault, which is punishable by up to 364 days in jail.
Impose extra restrictions on paroled sex offenders. The restrictions
will vary, depending on the level of risk the offenders pose to potential
victims. The conditions may include requiring an offender to live at
a location approved by the Department of Corrections and generally barring
an offender from any job or volunteer activity that involves contact
Offer discounts for Gold Star license plates to participants in the
state's Circuit Breaker program, which serves low-income elderly and
disabled Illinoisans. A Pawnee couple, Bill and Alvora Sandidge, sought
passage of the new law. Gold Star license plates are available to survivors
of Illinoisans who were killed on active military duty or as a result
of a service-connected disability.
Prohibit anyone from suing a restaurant or other food-seller for injury
claims related to obesity. Supporters of the "Illinois Common Sense
Consumption Act" said it was meant to prevent frivolous lawsuits
and encourage responsible eating habits.
Require college dormitories at public and private schools to install
fire sprinkler systems by the year 2013.
Require anyone involved in a hit-and-run accident to report to authorities
within a half-hour. Previously, state law said that such accidents must
be reported within an hour.
Require motorists who display rotating blue lights on their vehicles
to carry a card that identifies them as a firefighter or another type
of official responding to an emergency.
Crack down on anyone who tries to bribe an employee in a state driver
testing facility. The secretary of state's office will be authorized
to suspend an offender's driving privileges for 120 days. The new law
also makes it a Class 2 felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison,
to offer or give a bribe to a driving examiner, or for an examiner to
solicit or accept a bribe.
Revise the definition of reckless driving to cover anyone who knowingly
uses a roadway incline to cause a vehicle to become airborne - a practice
known as hill jumping. A driver could be charged with reckless homicide
if he or she unintentionally kills someone that way.
As a working mom with a razor-thin budget, Karen Player of Spring Valley doesnt get to indulge her children much, though
once in a while she splurges on a trip to the movies.
A day at the show might get costlier in 2005, however.
Desperate for a way to pay for schools, Illinois lawmakers are calling for a far-reaching service tax
that would, like the sales tax, add 6½ percent to the cost of movie
tickets, haircuts, rounds of golf and trips to the gym.
Itd be kind of rough, Player said, anticipating a
few more trips to the video store instead of the cinema. But Im
all for education; Im all for the kids.
Legislators hope more voters see it Players way because they know
of no alternative to raising taxes or creating new ones not if
they want to pump $7 billion into schools and tax relief, anyway.
The proposed service tax failed to pass in 2004, but it will get a second
look in the upcoming legislative session.
What comes out of Springfield and Capitol Hill has far reaching consequences for childrens
education in the IllinoisValley. The decisions made by senators and representatives
can breathe life into or cripple school districts.
Illinois has been criticized for relying too much on property
taxes, but attempts to change the funding scheme have not worked. The
last serious try was in 1998, when then-Gov. Jim Edgar proposed an income
tax hike, only to watch suburban Republicans in the Senate block the
Things have changed since then.
Legislators have grudgingly reached a consensus that to fix school funding
theyll have to find a new funding source. They spent 2004 trying
to come up with a plan to permanently change how schools are paid for
while giving homeowners a break on their tax bills.
The talks resulted in House Bill 750, better known as the Meeks
bill for primary sponsor James Meeks of Chicago.
If approved, the bill would create $1.8 billion to boost the per-pupil
funding, plus another $2 billion to wipe out the state budget deficit.
Its an ambitious program, and one school official said it could
It would be a huge help to our school district, said Spring Valley elementary superintendent Mark Cross.
It would wipe out our budget deficit, he said. We
would have no need for a referendum if House Bill 750 in its current
form would pass.
Homeowners also could benefit because Meeks would provide $2.4 billion
in property tax relief, saving homeowners up to 25 percent of the schools
share of their property taxes.
The real estate taxes are really hurting people, said state
Sen. Patrick Welch (D-Peru).
Were going to get to a point where were going to have
to cut back on all facets of state government, he said, or
were going to have to raise the income taxes, because were
tried everything and weve cut about everything but education and
Throughout the week, the NewsTribune has chronicled numerous problems
facing IllinoisValley schools, including:
- Declining state funding, increasing the tax burden on homeowners
- The potential loss of Title I funding under the No Child Left Behind
- Disappearing grants for school programs
- Unfunded mandates, such as fingerprinting of substitute teachers,
which the state orders but wont pay for
Most, if not all of these problems could be alleviated if the Meeks
bill passes in its current form.
Meeks would eliminate the need for the failing hold harmless program
and stabilize state funding. It would generate revenue to offset Title
I and grant losses and produce funds to cover unfunded mandates.
But coming up with $7 billion to do all this wont be easy. The
proposed service tax isnt the only change taxpayers would have
The Meeks Bill also calls for a personal income tax increase from 3
percent to 5 percent; senior citizens bringing in more than $75,000
a year also would feel the pinch. Big companies also would get hit,
as the corporate tax rate would climb from 4.8 percent to 8 percent.
Meeks would also repeal a number of tax exemptions and loopholes.
Thats a sweeping change to Illinois tax code. Not surprisingly, the 2004 legislative
session ended with no action because legislators couldnt reach
Some legislators are hopeful the bill could be revived in 2005, but
not before major discussions with the business community to get some
approval for the service tax and income tax hikes. Welch isnt
optimistic this can be done.
Indeed, area business owners dislike the idea of passing along a new
tax to their customers but seem resigned to the fact that the schools
need a major fix.
I guess wed adapt, said Patrice Nimee, owner of a
Peru salon. I suppose if doctors and lawyers and all
those people had to go along with the service tax, wed have to
fit right in.
But other business owners want some clarification on what exactly is
to be taxed. Steve Stout, owner of a La
Salle photo studio,
said finished photographs are currently treated as a good and thus subject
to the sales tax.
The states getting a cut of the action already, how much
do they need? Stout said. I dont believe the state
is spending their money properly. Thats the problem.
One former educator thinks homeowners will mount just as much opposition.
Al Humpage, a retired La Salle School Superintendent, said the problem
would be selling the bill statewide.
Wealthy school districts will not want the system to change for
fear of losing funding because they have lots of property wealth,
Humpage said. What may help one group might be bad for another.
But state Rep. Frank Mautino (D-SpringValley) said even the wealthy schools have as great a stake
in changing the funding formula. While downstate schools need cash to
replace the failing hold harmless system, suburban schools need money
to build new schools for their exploding populations.
Its more than a partisan issue because you have Democrats
and Republicans with districts that fall into each of these areas,
Mautino said. It becomes more of a where-you-live issue.
Even if legislators reach a compromise, there remains the matter of
getting Gov. Rod Blagojevich to sign it.
The Chicago Democrat supports increasing school funding but insists
on making budget cuts to raise the money. He recently ordered layoffs
at the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Human Services.
The governors office is not on board, said Mautino.
So nothing happens until the governors office says, Send
me this and Ill sign it.
Actually, had Meeks come to the statehouse floor for a vote, Mautino
and Welch wouldnt have voted for the Meeks bill, either. Mautino
said he was afraid Illinois would pass the tax relief portion of the bill without
agreeing on a way to pay for it.
Whatever compromise is reached in 2005 is just as unlikely to satisfy
Kay Wallace, a Princeton school board member, isnt crazy about Meeks but
points out, Nobodys offering anything better.
Golf course owner Ron Senica said he would oppose a tax hike because
there are no guarantees the hikes wouldnt continue.
The schools are hurting, Ill grant you, and somethings
got to be cut, Senica said, but with the county and city
wanting to raise taxes, where are we going to stop? TOP OF PAGE
One of the cornerstones of American democracy is having informed, public
debates on important issues. This affords elected officials the opportunity
to weigh the true merits of an initiative. It is an especially important
process on matters such as education, which affects everything from
our children's future to the state's economic competitiveness. Of course,
a public debate that isn't well informed is just rhetorical noise.
Which makes the conversation I had this week with state Sen. Miguel
del Valle (D-Chicago) somewhat curious. Del Valle, chairman of the Senate's
Education Committee, voiced strong concern that the governor hasn't
appointed a new Education Funding Advisory Board, as required by statute.
Under the School Code, the advisory board is supposed to make recommendations
to the General Assembly and governor about crucial school funding issues,
such as the minimum per-pupil foundation level of financial support
for K-12 education.
The concept behind the board is sound. Its members are appointed by
the governor and are to include representatives of education, business
and the general public. Its mission is to identify a minimum per-pupil
foundation funding level, based on two principles. First, the foundation
level must be tied to performance criteria. The current standard is
the cost per child of having at least two-thirds of children pass the
state's standardized tests. Second, when determining the cost of achieving
such measurable results, the statute requires the board to select ''a
methodology which incorporates the basic education expenditures of low-spending
schools exhibiting high academic performance.'' In other words, the
board independently identifies what it costs to have children succeed,
based on the spending habits of very efficient school districts.
This is good. After all, what's the point of having a guaranteed, minimum
foundation level for education spending if it's not tied to some objective
measure of academic performance? That would be an unconscionable way
to fund schools, and a significant disservice to children, taxpayers
and our collective future. It would also be what we currently do. The
state's existing foundation level is not based on anything: not performance,
not actual costs, not any other quantifiable measure.
Hence del Valle's frustration. As chairman of the Senate Education Committee,
he has to determine how much the foundation level for school funding
in Illinois should be. He doesn't want to guess. He noted that,
by statute, the board was required to make its next recommendation to
the General Assembly on Jan. 1, 2005. That would be today. It seems highly unlikely that the board will satisfy
this deadline when the board members haven't been appointed yet.
Having an independent board make objective findings on school costs
is more important now than ever. Consider that the last time the board
convened, it found the state's foundation level was more than $1,000
per child less than what it would cost to have two-thirds of our children
pass standardized tests. On an inflation-adjusted basis, the current
foundation level is still short by the same amount. Under the federal
No Child Left Behind legislation, school districts ultimately are required
to have 100 percent of children pass tests. Illinois doesn't even fund education to a level where highly
efficient school districts can have 67 percent of children pass. So
what's the additional cost of satisfying No Child Left Behind?
That information might be helpful for state legislators. It also could
arm the Illinois Congressional delegation with heavy ammunition to fight
for more federal dollars for education. The whole school funding debate
could benefit from more sound information, like the recommendations
of the Education Funding Advisory Board -- information that is objective
as well as data-based. And until further notice, not available, despite
being required by statute.
Toting clipboards, students gravitated around architect Bill Sturm Monday,
wanting his help with a treasure hunt.
Just what is so special about those squares in the washrooms?
Sturm asked them to take a good look at the tile. It's recycled.
And the handle on the toilet tank, it moves down and up depending on
the amount of water needed to flush the waste.
"The toilets are so cool," said Holly Hansen, a sixth-grader
at PrairieCrossingCharterSchool in Grayslake, where a bell on the oldest school building
at the campus rang out Monday to start the first day in a new classroom
building for first- through fifth-graders.
The 14,000-square-foot building was built for $3 million raised by donors
and with some grants.
Since being chartered in 1999, Prairie Crossing has emphasized the environment,
with students bringing trash-free lunches and working to improve nearby
"The fact they are in an environmentally correct building is going
to teach them," said parent Roz Deigan, who has twin daughters
in the third grade.
Visitors to the new building can feel in the soles of their shoes the
warmth of geothermal heat radiating through the painted cement floors.
Each classroom is equipped with its own thermostat and floors made with
renewable resources of bamboo and cork. The cork is in an open spot
where children can sit on the floor and read as well as see out windows
closer to the ground.
Sturm, of Serena Sturm Architects in Northbrook, said one
of his favorite parts of the school is the windows, placed to allow
a lot of natural light into the building.
"I like the way the daylight comes in," he said. "It's
not that there are more windows in the school. It's just that they are
Staff will learn it is not always necessary to switch on the energy-efficient
fluorescent lights because of the natural light.
"It's a learning curve for everyone," architect John M. Stryker
Fourth-grade teacher Andrea Koeniger pointed out the windows will provide
cross ventilation so air conditioning will not be needed as often.
Before Monday, first-graders were at the Kennicott building, second-
and third-graders in mobile classrooms and fourth- and fifth-graders
at CrossroadsChurch down the road.
"I like that it has brought us all back together," fifth-grade
teacher Catherine Johnson said. "We're in the middle of our learning
Kindergarten will remain at the WrightSchool house while sixth through eighth grades will be at the
At , I literally roll out of bed and manage to wake myself
up by heading outside to do some chores, mainly taking care of my lay-eggs-when-they-feel-like-it
chickens. Then its time for breakfast; my usual is Rice Krispies
cereal crunched together with peanut butter. Its the real breakfast
of champions, whatever Wheaties may claim. By the time Ive finished
my monster cup of hot chocolate, Im fully awake. Mostly.
At any rate, its time for me to officially start my school day
at But, unlike most teens, I dont have to ride a
bus or drive to get to the place where I learn.
I am a home-schooled student in my junior year, and yes, in case youre
like the rest of the world and were wondering, I study science in my
My day doesnt have a set schedule. I know there are certain things
that I have to get done during the day and as long as I complete them
before I start goofing off, then its OK.
Usually I do math first, but my schedule varies from there. Sometimes
I get all of my schoolwork done before ;
sometimes its not finished until
Lunch comes when my family and I get hungry, and I often end up fixing
the meal. Home economics at its best!
In some ways, home school isnt much different from normal
school. I study traditional subjects like math, science, history and
English, along with other subjects such as typing, sign language and
logic. Textbooks, tests and essays are no more foreign to me than they
are to any other high school student.
Because I dont have to worry about classmates, I can excel at
certain subjects and learn at my own pace. Im never held back
when I want to advance in a subject, and when a subject is hard, I can
work at it instead of just trying to make a passing grade and moving
on without really having learned anything.
In home schooling, learning takes precedence over gossip, fights, spirit
weeks and cliques. And I not only am closer to my family, but I can
avoid some of the darker things that go on inside the halls of a high
Call me sheltered, but I certainly have my share of street smarts. Contrary
to popular belief, most home schoolers are anything but hermits. I keep
busy with friends, youth groups, clubs, church, family and other extracurricular
Just like any other school, home schooling does have its downsides.
I dont get to see some of my friends often and its sometimes
hard having my mom as a teacher. I can and do get stir-crazy being with
my family all day.
The biggest problem with being home schooled is that while the awareness
of home schooling has grown, the understanding of it hasnt.
I cant count how many times I get asked about what I do all day.
The answer, of course, is school. Sometimes people act shocked that
I know up from down, Bush from Kerry, Coke from Pepsi, Iraq from Iran or Survivor from The Apprentice.
Home schoolers are as different and diverse as students at any high
school, and studies show that most home schoolers end up excelling in
college and beyond.
The ability to self-learn comes in handy in college, and home-schooled
students know how to put learning before play when suddenly given a
choice. Knowing how to set your own learning pace also is useful.
Regardless, sometimes I wish I could attend a normal high
school. But as I lay sprawled out on the couch studying for a science
test with my feet propped up and a bowl of ice cream in my lap, the
idea is quickly dismissed.
Home schooling works for me. And really, who wants to give up studying
science in their socks?
get a passing grade Study gives Illinois a C- for education funding
By Kati Phillips, Daily Southtown Staff Writer, 1/6/05
After flunking four consecutive years, Illinois has finally earned a passing grade in school spending.
The state received a C- in funding equity from Education Week, a national
education journal that grades states annually on the quality of their
public school systems.
The latest study, released Wednesday, examined the 2001-02 school year
and placed Illinois fifth from the bottom because it depends heavily on
the property tax to finance schools, creating a wide disparity in funding
among its school districts.
The state ranked 33rd in how many students are funded at or above the
national average of and how far the rest fall below that average. Illinois spent just below the national average at $7,710 per
pupil in 2001-02, a 4 percent increase over the previous school year.
Illinois ranked 36th in education spending, allocating 3.6 percent
of its resources to education less than the national average
of 3.8 percent.
Becky Watts, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education,
touted the state's improved grade, but said Education Week's data was
Watts said lawmakers have increased education spending by
$800 million during the past two years, including extras for special-education
and low-income students. Per-pupil spending has risen by $404 in the
same period, she said.
"It's nice to see the improved grade, but because of the fiscal
year used (2001-02) it doesn't even tell the best news we have to tell,"
Advocates for school funding reform in Illinois acknowledged the improvement but warned it resulted
largely from a change in the survey's grade calculation.
The grade no longer includes a "state's equalization effort"
a measure of the state share of school funds and the degree to
which the state targets funds to poorer school districts.
"That said, a C- is not a great grade, it's not something to write
home about," said Bindu Batchu, manager of the A+ Illinois public
education reform campaign.
To continue improvement, the state needs to take bold steps to earn
a higher grade, said Glenn "Max" McGee, former state superintendent
and leader of the Wilmette public schools.
"We've had enough wake-up calls on school funding that it's time
to get out of bed," he said.
Today, almost 80 percent of Illinois districts are in deficit spending, and the school spending
gap is the largest in nearly a decade, even after adjusting for inflation.
For example, taxpayers in Lake Forest
spent $20,173 on each pupil last school year, while those in the Southland's
Summit Hill District 161 paid $4,829. When adjusted for inflation, the
increase in state per-pupil spending last year was just $2.
Many educators say House Bill 750 would solve the equity problem by
shifting school funding from the property tax to the income tax.
Other proposals include capping property taxes according to the employee
cost index instead of the national inflation rate, McGee said. The employee
cost index is a national quarterly measure of the rate of change in
employers' costs for both wages and benefits.
Special-education costs also could be removed from under the tax cap,
Education Week also graded Illinois
on other indicators, earning a C in improving teacher quality and a
B- in school climate.
The highest grade, a B in standards and accountability, was based on
Illinois' accountability system that assigns consequences to
failing schools. The state sanctions predate those under the federal
No Child Left Behind law. TOP OF PAGE
Gay and lesbian students in Bremen High School District 228 want their
own support group.
The gay-straight alliance would promote acceptance and provide a place
to socialize without stigma, said organizer William Reed, a junior at
who is gay.
Reed said the alliance would meet after school, possibly rotating among
the four high schools, and members could participate in gay rights activities
such as the National Day of Silence.
"In education, we hear that we should leave no child behind. Let's
not leave any gay students behind," Reed told school board members
Flanked by a dozen District 228 students and graduates, he presented
the board with a petition supporting the gay-straight alliance that
was signed by more than 400 students and teachers at Oak Forest, Tinley Park, Bremen and Hillcrest high schools.
The supporters want an alliance because they said the general attitude
toward gay students at the schools is "polarizing." Some teachers
ignore students who use derogatory language about gays, Reed said.
Kristofer Wilhelmsen, 19, a freshman at Eastern Illinois University,
said the fear of losing friends or being harassed kept him from coming
out as gay while attending Oak Forest High School last year.
"If this (group) only had been there, I would've been more comfortable,"
The District 228 board typically leaves decisions on student clubs to
the school principals and will not actually vote on the gay-straight
alliance. But board members Ruth Becker and Vita Meyer thought the alliance
was a good idea.
"We are so proud of you," Becker told the students.
Oak Forest Principal David Wilson said he supports all clubs that benefit
students, including the gay-straight alliance.
"Whenever you get kids to talk about issues that are important
to them ... that is a positive thing," he said.
There are many examples of gay students being supported by school faculty
and peers. About 60 gay-straight student alliances are registered with
the Chicago-area Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Still, gay student issues are not without controversy. In 2003, the
Rich Township High School District 227 board voted to remove from classroom
doors rainbow stickers that symbolized gay "safe zones." And
many Southland high schools will not sell dance tickets to same-sex
A 2004 report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network states
that only eight states and the District of Columbia have statewide legal protections for students based
on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
The nationwide group of students, parents and teachers gives Illinois an F when it comes to school climate for lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender students.
Reed plans to ask the District 228 board to provide tolerance training
to faculty before the gay-straight alliance is formed. Now, the faculty
is trained in issues such as sexual harassment that are required by
law, said Geraldine Coleman, assistant superintendent of personnel.
senior Isabel Marquez, who has a gay uncle and lesbian aunt, said she
will join the gay-straight alliance to support her friends.
"It will give them more confidence in knowing there is someone
to talk to," she said. TOP OF PAGE
STRASBURG - The first-grade music class took a break to wave at the
nice men from Springfield.
But state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, and state Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville,
didn't have to go far to shake hands with the Stewardson-Strasburg school
lunch women, who were preparing the meal in the same cafeteria where the music teacher is
obliged to hold her class.
Later in their tour of the building housing grades kindergarten through
12, the Republican legislators saw the narrow, brightly painted room
of the speech teacher. It used to be a storeroom.
The lawmakers and their tour guides - four student council officers
- also had to squeeze single-file past a rack of chairs kept in a cornered
hallway, where the entire vocational agriculture department has to flee
in case of a tornado. There is nowhere else to keep the chairs.
Righter and Eddy got a firsthand look Thursday at the effect of delaying
a $4 million construction grant to the Stewardson-Strasburg School District,
one of two dozen districts statewide that were promised grants in 2001
but have yet to see any money.
"The challenge lies in getting it done politically," Righter
said. "That's the tug of war right now."
Eddy, in particular, can empathize with the district's woes. He doubles
as superintendent of the HutsonvilleSchool District, which is building a new high school.
He and Righter said the problem is not finding $150 million - a pittance
of the overall state budget - to fund the 24 remaining projects in the
now-defunct School Construction Program.
Stewardson-Strasburg is ranked third on the priority list of 24. The
district's voters already approved the borrowing of $2 million to match
the state grant, which officials hope will pay for new classrooms, computer
labs, a media center and gymnasium.
Eddy and Righter said the difficulty is convincing Democrats in the
governor's office and Senate not to use the cramped schools as bargaining
pieces in the battle over the state's capital funding bill.
The lawmakers said Gov. Rod Blagojevich wants the General Assembly to
approve a capital spending package of more than $3 billion, but the
details of those expenditures and the sources of their revenue are still
They said the message from the governor's office has been clear: No
capital bill, no school construction funding.
But the lawmakers are confident Stewardson-Strasburg will eventually
get its grant.
A recent Daily Chronicle article said Huntley and Clinton Rosette middle
schools are among the schools that did not make adequate yearly progress
in regard to student achievement. Such designation underscores the flawed
logic of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation. We have two middle
schools that are typical of schools in similar towns and communities
around the country - located in growing, increasingly diverse regions
and having a mix of socioeconomic and cultural groups - that must now
bear the stigma of failure.
Yet, we are indeed fortunate to have these schools in our city, as they
are led by competent, caring administrators and staffed by many committed,
skilled and highly qualified teachers. And we when look at the relevant
data, we find that most students in these schools are, in fact, doing
quite well - scoring above average in comparison to students at other
middle schools around the state. Still, this achievement matters little
in the new world order of No Child Left Behind. A small minority of
students whose native language is not English have failed to achieve
standards in math and reading, despite the best efforts of their teachers
(and likely due to factors completely out of the control of the teachers
or of the students themselves).
Rather than wisely investing in research, teacher training, professional
development and school infrastructure to ensure that these and other
students have access to state-of-the-art language and literacy instruction,
technology and support services, among the No Child Left Behind solutions
is to turn these "failing" students over to corporate tutoring
services. Have you ever wondered about the qualifications of the tutors
at these for-profit tutoring services? What is the nature of their training?
How are their services necessarily better than the instruction and support
that can be provided by the child's teacher or classroom aide?
Cognitive psychologists recognize the critical role of context in learning.
It is by no means certain that the skills and strategies that students
learn through corporate tutoring programs can be easily transferred
into the classroom.
Wise parents know that among the most powerful ways to positively influence
behavior is to "catch the child being good." In other words,
reward positive behavior in order to reinforce the response and increase
the likelihood that the good behavior will continue to occur. The same
idea applies to organizations such as schools. Yet, the sanctions mandated
by No Child Left Behind contradict completely this simple principle
of human behavior. Rather than rewarding those schools that do so many
things well, No Child Left Behind punishes schools when they are unable
to achieve impossible-to-attain performance benchmarks. In essence,
No Child Left Behind has appropriated into federal law a mythology -
that all children are (or can be) above average (the well-known "LakeWobegon effect") - by mandating that 100 percent of students
must achieve standards in reading and math by the year 2014.
And what are these "standards" that students must achieve?
It is telling that while so much attention is devoted to academic standards,
there is little understanding of what these standards are, how they
are determined and what they actually mean in terms of students' performance,
skills and knowledge. There is no acknowledgment that achievement standards
are merely social constructions, determined by anonymous groups of "experts,"
and largely disconnected from the world outside the classroom. Society,
families, the workplace and economic systems are undergoing rapid change.
The academic standards that children must achieve today are likely to
be irrelevant tomorrow (if indeed they have any relevance now). Among
the unfortunate consequences of No Child Left Behind is a headlong rush
to "teach to the tests," thereby ensuring that - while students
can demonstrate that they are good test-takers - they will be less prepared
for the demands of adult life.
None of this argument is meant to suggest that we should not have high
expectations for our schools, our children's teachers and - above all
- our students. Unfortunately, there are few simple solutions to the
problems of academic failure and underachievement. Even the most well-intentioned
educational legislation (and I am among many observers who have serious
reservations about the intent of No Child Left Behind) cannot force
school improvement and student engagement in learning if the true causes
of academic failure are not suitably addressed. Equitable school funding,
the eradication of poverty, supporting educational opportunities for
all citizens and assuring a living wage for families will have more
meaningful impacts on academic achievement than will designating schools,
teachers and students as "failures." TOP OF PAGE
The State Board of Education and the Illinois Board of Higher Education
have been saying for years that Illinois
should beef up its high school graduation requirements.
Results of a recent survey back up the need for change.
Achieve Inc., a nonprofit, business-led organization created at the
1996 National Education Summit, recently completed a study showing Illinois has among the less stringent graduation requirements
in the country.
Only four states required fewer total credits for graduation. Illinois also fared poorly with specific course requirements.
For example, state law requires only one year of science -- lowest among
42 states that set graduation requirements.
This is appalling, especially when business leaders and college officials
are complaining about how ill prepared high school graduates are for
the working world and post-secondary education.
Individual districts can -- and often do -- set stricter requirements.
But that doesn't alter the need for Illinois
to get more serious about education standards.
Randy Dunn, interim state schools chief, has advocated tougher graduation
State Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, intends to introduce a bill
to raise the state's minimum requirements. Del Valle's proposal would
require four years of English and three years each of math and science.
Similar proposals have been made before and failed to gain passage.
Among complaints are that tougher requirements would cut into students'
ability to take other electives and that some districts might have trouble
finding qualified teachers for math and science, where shortages are
already a problem.
Bloomington District 87 and Normal-based Unit 5 already exceed the minimum
Last year, the District 87 school board approved changes for the Class
of 2009 that would meet the requirements of the proposed legislation.
Unit 5 is slightly behind those levels, currently requiring 3 1/2 years
of English and two years each of math and science -- the same as District
87 before last year's change.
The failure of school districts -- and the state -- to increase graduation
requirements is proving costly for businesses, which have trouble finding
qualified workers; colleges and universities, which have to provide
remedial classes; and for graduates, who may find themselves in lower-paying
jobs if they met only minimal graduation requirements.
If Illinois persists in having only minimal requirements for high
school graduation, it could hurt the state's ability to attract businesses
that desire a well-educated workforce.
Having only minimal graduation requirements is inconsistent with the
state's objective of improving education standards, as reflected in
its achievement exams and school report cards.
Illinois should increase the minimum requirements for high school
graduation. TOP OF PAGE
The NextSchool Reform
Opinion by David S. Broder, Washington Post
Much work remains to be done to bring schools across America to the point where all their students can reach the
goals set forth in the No Child Left Behind Act. That 2002 law focused
on elementary schools. But this year, attention is shifting to that
backwater of learning known as high school.
Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, the chairman of the National Governors Association
(NGA), has made strengthening the high school curriculum the group's
top priority this year.
It's an ambitious project that will inevitably be a long time in reaching
its goals. Warner and his partners want nothing less than a guarantee
that no young men or women will finish the 12th grade without the rigorous
training that equips them for college or the technological proficiency
needed to thrive in this information-based economy.
The formal kickoff of this effort will come at the end of February,
when the NGA joins Achieve Inc., a business-funded education reform
group, the Education Commission of the States and other groups in a
Washington summit on strengthening high schools.
In an interview last week, the Virginia Democrat was brimming with enthusiasm
about the challenge ahead. "The staff was skeptical that this was
something that could get much traction," he said, "but there's
more interest in this than anyone imagined, not just at the state level,
but in Washington, with the White House, Senator Ted Kennedy and many,
The reasons are clear when you look at some of the numbers collected
by Warner and by Achieve. Close to 30 percent of high school freshmen
fail to graduate. More than 25 percent of the high school graduates
who enter four-year colleges fail to return for their sophomore year;
in two-year institutions, the dropout rate is twice that high.
Moreover, more than half of today's college students are placed in at
least one remedial math or English class, learning skills they should
have acquired in high school. And surveys of employers report that far
too many new hires lack the basics in reading, writing and math.
NGA officials say that a few states, notably Texas, Indiana
and Arkansas, have taken major steps to toughen their high school
curriculum and graduation requirements. But much more needs to be done.
At the summit on Feb. 26 and 27, Warner will release a "top 10
list" of relatively easy and inexpensive steps that states can
take to begin the process of improving high schools.
In Virginia, for example, he has negotiated an agreement with virtually
all the private and public institutions of higher learning that certain
college-level courses taken during high school will count toward degrees,
holding out the promise to students and their parents of shortened stays
and lower costs for undergraduate educations.
He also has launched a pilot program to bring added help -- tutoring,
summer school, etc. -- to students at risk of dropping out of high school,
and another program subsidizing post-graduation technical training for
young people who need an extra semester in a community college to meet
industry proficiency standards in technical fields.
But Warner readily acknowledges that much more needs to be done -- in
Virginia and across the country. The Bush administration has
begun to put money into high school curriculum programs, but only one-third
of the states have applied for funds, NGA officials say.
One of the toughest challenges, Warner has found, is simply getting
the officials in different parts of the education system to talk with
each other. Elementary and secondary schools and community colleges
and universities live in different worlds. "That is where governors
can help, in opening up communications," Warner said.
How much global ground does America need to lose before mathematics matters again?
From the results of a new study comparing the math proficiency of 29
mostly industrialized nations, it seems nearly too late for the United States even to ask the question. So it better get cracking.
America ranked 24th in the survey, published by the Organization
for Economic Cooperation and Development. That's well behind a number
of significantly poorer countries, such as Poland, Hungary and the CzechRepublic. Among the few nations that fared worse than the U.S. were Portugal and Mexico.
The study examined the abilities of 250,000 15-year-olds to apply mathematic
reasoning to solve problems. Students from Finland, Korea, Japan and Canada topped the list
For years, America has taken studies like this in stride. It shouldn't.
The country stands to lose more top-of-the-line engineering and technology
jobs if it continues to fail at teaching math.
There's no benefit in turning out students who can't compete mathematically,
yet screaming at American companies that look elsewhere around the world
for well-trained talent.
The best chance the United States has at advancing is to commit to initiatives such as
getting highly trained math teachers and mathematicians in the nation's
That's one likable component of President George W. Bush's still very
hollow No Child Left Behind Act. The Act has a 2006 deadline to meet
If Bush keeps his promise to find the teachers, it will mark the United States' most positive move in the effort to catch up and be
Maine takes the right
approach to student testing Laconia Citizen (NH) York school officials are to be congratulated on their efforts
to develop a testing regimen that should eventually satisfy both the
requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the educational
needs of local youngsters.
While many in the educational community are complaining about meeting
federal standards or the unfair nature of the tests, Maine schools are doing something about it.
In 2002, York began traveling the road to equitable and effective
testing for each grade level, for all subjects.
In order to document that students are meeting the standards set forth
by Maines State Learning Results testing, students must
demonstrate that they can achieve at high levels in all subjects and
grade levels, something far beyond that demanded by No Child.
In addition, Maine testing lets teachers, parents and taxpayers know if
students and the school system are making progress.
Unlike the statewide pass or fail testing in some states
like Massachusetts and Texas, Maine
has developed a system that allows locally administered assessment of
student learning. Teachers may choose from a variety of assessment types,
including traditional tests, performances, projects and portfolios to
document student growth.
Unfortunately, the federal government has not yet seen fit in
Maines case to see the wisdom of such individualized
testing. There is, however, hope. Nebraska, which measures student progress in a fashion similar
to Maine, has had its testing regimen accepted for No Child use,
according to Rebecca Sausner, writing for "District Administration,"
an educational journal for school administrators.
According to York Curriculum Coordinator Maryann Minard, current standards
employed by Maine to meet No Child requirements only offer a limited look
at the quality of education and the progress of students in the classroom.
Minards dream and the dream of other Maine educators is to have one system of testing that satisfies
the needs of individual students and the federal government.
Current testing like the Maine Educational Assessments used in
grades 3, 5, 6 and 7 is of limited use.
"Big, broad testing helps identify trends," says Minard, but
it doesnt fully address the needs of the individual student.
"And that is what education is all about," concludes Minard.
A sentiment we couldnt agree with more.
One of the criticisms of No Child Left Behind testing is that it is
short-sighted, that is doesnt adequately track the long-term progress
of individual students.
That is not the case with Maines
Learning Results testing.
Under the system employed in York, teachers for each grade level and subject work in teams
to create the assessments taken by students. Students are scored on
a four-point scale that indicates if a student does not meet, partially
meets, meets or exceeds the standards measured.
York has determined that students must pass 70 percent of
all of the assessments given over a four-year grade span to be considered
If students do not meet the assessment standards, teachers must work
with them until they do.
Another striking aspect of Maines
testing regimen is that teachers who score the assessment tests must
work together as a grade-level or subject-area team, practicing the
scoring of the assessments until they find themselves agreeing on their
scores at least 70 percent of the time.
This common scoring process has been required by the state to eliminate
teacher bias in scoring that can occur when only one teacher makes a
judgment about student work.
The result is a system that parents and taxpayers know and can trust.
The credit union tellers are busy counting money and helping a potential
customer open an account. They have to work quickly, though. They still
have homework to do.
These bankers are sophomores at AlbertEinsteinHigh
in Kensington. Their branch, an office of the Montgomery County Teachers
Federal Credit Union, is located in the hallway outside the school cafeteria.
Students can make a deposit and learn how to use a debit card
then sit down for pizza and gossip with their friends.
In the end, both the customers and the tellers will learn basic financial
literacy, a lesson that hopefully will remain with them for years.
Teenagers are spending more money than ever some $175 billion
last year, according to Chicago-based Teenage Research Unlimited. However,
most teens' grasp of financial concepts has not grown along with their
About 15 percent of students nationwide graduate with a course in personal
finance, says Carol Jarvis, executive director for the Maryland Council
for Financial Literacy, an advocacy group aimed at improving economic
and financial education in the schools.
Most teens are also not learning about checkbooks, credit cards and
interest rates from their parents, Ms. Jarvis says.
"Parents either can't do it or won't do it," she says. "I
saw one survey that said parents would rather talk to their kids about
sex than about money. The fastest-growing group of bankruptcies is among
18- to 24-year-olds. Kids today have so many ways to get into financial
Some schools are working to ensure a grasp of money concepts. The credit
union is one of several branches in MontgomeryCounty public high schools. Einstein also has the National
Academy of Finance, a school-within-a-school where students are required
to take courses in accounting, personal finance, banking and credit,
in addition to the regular school curriculum.
Twenty high schools in suburban Maryland, Northern
Virginia and the District
have academies of finance.
"I've learned a lot," says Sylvia Cheng of Wheaton, a sophomore in Einstein's Academy of Finance who also works as a lunchtime teller at the credit union. "I can
do my own accounting instead of relying on someone else. I've saved
up about $700 in Chinese New Year gifts. I need to put it in my bank
Adds Cynthia Rivera, another Einstein sophomore: "I've learned
how to not get ripped off."
When it comes to money, teenagers have a lot to learn, says Lewis Mandell,
professor of finance at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Mr. Mandell created a financial literacy test for the
Washington-based nonprofit JumpStart Coalition for Financial Literacy.
More than 4,000 high school seniors nationwide took the survey in 2004.
The average student answered 52 percent of the questions correctly.
That's up from 50 percent in 2002, but there still is a long way to
go, Mr. Mandell says.
"We're such a consumer-oriented society, but we are not teaching
these kids how to consume," he says.
Survey questions were divided into four categories: income, money management,
saving and spending. The students did a far better job answering questions
about income and spending than they did about money management and saving,
Mr. Mandell says.
He says it is interesting to note that 58 percent of the students said
they learned money skills at home. What they are learning may not be
such a great lesson, though.
"The kids who said they spent a lot of time talking about money
and the kids who said they spent a little time had almost identical
scores," Mr. Mandell says. "So it appears talking to mom and
dad does not do much good. Many families in today's society have to
live on the edge. Parents may feel they are giving excellent advice
on how to obtain an additional line of credit. They may be teaching
them how to balance precariously on a cliff when they should be teaching
them how to save money."
The JumpStart Coalition and other advocacy groups would like to see
more personal finance education in schools. Currently, four states
Kentucky and New York require a personal finance course for graduation.
Many jurisdictions have changed education requirements and lots of schools
offer optional classes and programs. Baltimore County Public Schools
now require a personal finance course. A similar math requirement recently
went into effect in AnneArundelCounty, Ms. Jarvis says.
Students in Virginia learn concepts of economics, including personal finance,
as part of their Standards of Learning Requirement, says Martha Hopkins,
associate director of the Center for Economic Education at JamesMadisonUniversity. Ms. Hopkins' center formulates a curriculum called
Financial Fitness for Life, which teachers from kindergarten through
12th grade can use in the classroom.
"Financial education absolutely needs to be mandated in schools,"
says Laura Levine, executive director of the JumpStart Coalition. "But
we can't wait for that. So many subjects need to get covered at school.
We need to be teaching them in school, after school and at home."
More progress: Congress recently passed the $1.5 million Excellence
in Education Act, an addendum to the No Child Left Behind legislation
that will focus on boosting economic understanding.
However, with the increased attention on technology and SAT scores,
rising competition to get into college and shrinking school budgets,
financial education is unlikely to become a higher priority, many educators
"I don't think it will ever be required," says John Brewer,
head of Einstein High's Academy of Finance and a resource teacher in the business and technology department. "English,
math, SAT scores, that's what the public looks to. It is only natural
that the school systems respond."
Filling in gaps
Bethany Curry has seen her future, and she is sure it won't include
a credit card or a mountain of debt.
Bethany, who lives in Silver
Spring, is a junior
at Einstein's Academy of Finance. She has been saving her money since first grade, when a bank branch
opened at her elementary school.
Less than a decade later, Bethany
is a financially savvy teen.
"My teacher was telling us about how at college, they will pass
out free Frisbees with credit card applications," she says. "I
don't even think I want a credit card. I'll use a debit card instead."
Bethany's mother, Linda, has also taught her a lot about how
to handle money. In fact, the two have bonded over it.
"My mom does some accounting at her job," Bethany says. "So we'll talk about accounting."
They have also talked about savings accounts, certificates of deposit
and how to build equity, says Ms. Curry, who works for the Montgomery
County Office of Health and Human Services.
"I've told Bethany that whenever she gets money, she needs to save some
of it," she says. "She can still have fun with the rest. She
has a lot of money in the bank now, and she opened up a CD earlier this
year. I showed her how her money can earn more interest that way than
in a regular bank account.
"I've also talked to her about the importance of handling credit,"
Ms. Curry says. "Credit cards are convenient, but know that you
should only spend what you can pay."
It is the credit card issue that is the most seductive and destructive
for teenagers and young adults. JumpStart Coalition statistics
show the average family has more than $8,000 in credit card debt. Nearly
50 percent of credit card users pays the just the minimum payment each
Meanwhile, 83 percent of undergraduate students have at least one credit
card, with a median balance of $1,770, according to data from student
loan originator Nellie Mae. The average student today graduates with
an average of $20,402 in combined student loan and credit card debt,
the Nellie Mae statistics show.
"Young people absolutely need education in this more than ever,"
Ms. Levine says. "Credit card companies are marketing to a younger
audience, and kids have to have some kind of education about this before
they get out of high school."
Nathan Dungan, a Minneapolis financial planner and author of the book "Prodigal
Sons & Material Girls: How Not to Be Your Child's ATM," says
that education should actually begin way before high school.
"If you wait until their teens, your child's habits are already
set," he says. "It is so much easier to instill healthy habits
than it is to unravel unhealthy habits."
Exposing children and teens to money is the best way to teach them how
to handle it, Mr. Dungan says.
"You need to put money in their hands," he says. "Just
like we need to teach them to read, we need to teach them to use money
responsibly. You also need to teach as you go. Dropping in with a big
'here's what you need to know' lecture may be too much for a young person
Mr. Mandell agrees that access to money is the best way to learn about
it. Having a part-time job teaches lessons in money management
as well as financial management, he says.
"If you are flipping burgers at McDonald's, you are going to care
more about that money than if mom and dad gave it to you," he says.
Tell 16-year-old high school students they need to stay in school so
they can have a better future and they may roll their eyes.
Tell them they can lose their driver's license if they drop out and
you may get their attention.
That's the hope in the Council BluffsCommunitySchool
where plans have been made to use the state's 10-year-old compulsory
education law to help keep students in school.
A section of the Iowa Code requires the Iowa Department of Transportation
to suspend the driver's license of an individual who drops out of school
before their 18th birthday, but schools are not required to inform the
DOT of dropouts.
State law requires students to attend school until their 16th birthday,
and the law will not affect any student who leaves school after turning
18 years old.
It's been two years since a PottawattamieCounty teenager lost a driver's license through the process,
according to Elizabeth Baird with the DOT. Statewide, 154 licenses were
suspended in 2000, 90 licenses in 2001 and 279 in 2002.
"It's a local responsibility," Baird said.
Students get their licenses back if they return to school. The law includes
provisions for students who attend private schools and qualified home
schools as well as public schools.
The Iowa Department of Education recently e-mailed districts to remind
them that this tool is available as one method to help keep students
Districts that fail to reduce their dropout rate can be subject to sanctions
under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The value of the statute may vary from district to district, school
administrators in PottawattamieCounty said. Smaller communities, where most people know each
other, may not have the dropout problem of larger urban districts where
people have greater anonymity in which to make their decisions.
Council Bluffs Superintendent Dick Christie said the Department of Education's
reminder came at a time when the district was looking at ways to proactively
address keeping kids in school.
Administrators will integrate the practice into existing efforts, Christie
said. That includes contacting students who appear to be on their way
to dropping out, which often is indicated by sporadic attendance.
"What we find is, they don't just decide one day to quit school,"
Students may realize they're behind and feel they might just as well
drop out, Christie said. Some may be homeless, others may be pregnant
and still others have no one to get them up in the morning, just to
mention a few reasons.
The administrator who tracks dropouts for the district was on vacation
so Christie said he didn't have access to the district's dropout numbers,
but said the issue is a concern.
"We consider dropouts to be a problem if we have one or 100,"
Each high school has a system of notices that are used to keep students
attending classes, Christie said. Students will be informed during homeroom
discussions that their driver's license may be at risk if they leave
school, and driver's education classes will remind students that what
they're working so hard for can be taken away if they don't stay in
The district won't wait until a student drops out and then hit them
with a letter telling them their driver's license soon may be gone,
"We're trying to be totally proactive with it," he said.
Students who have dropped out will be told they can re-enroll and keep
their license, he said.
Christie estimated that more than half of the district's 3,000 high
school students might be subject to the practice.
The idea had been considered in the past, but not as a proactive policy,
"It was the time to fully implement it," he said.
Lewis Central Superintendent Mark Schweer said the district has also
recently become aware of the potential use of the statute, especially
in the wake of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Some discussions
about how to use it have begun.
"It may be a lever we can use," Schweer said.
Smaller school districts are aware of the potential practice, but don't
seem to feel they have a need for it.
Underwood Superintendent Ed Hawks said his district hasn't had a dropout
problem and sees a potential drawback to adding such a policy in a smaller
"I think that from a bookkeeping standpoint there certainly would
be some challenges to keep track of all that," Hawks said.
The statute also hasn't been considered in Treynor where Superintendent
Kevin Elwood estimated there may have been one dropout in the past 10
It's the type of rule that may be more useful to some districts than
others, Elwood said.
It is awards time. Soon they will be picking the Golden People's Choice
Academy Primate of the Year, or whatever. So why not have a prize for
the most amusing and instructive educational graphic? We have many fine
charts and maps in The Washington Post that I would be tempted to nominate,
except that I keep thinking about a small, unobtrusive graphic map of
the United States on page S7 of the Dec. 8 issue of Education Week.
I have been a fan of the Bethesda-based weekly newspaper for more than
two decades, so much so that 10 years ago I persuaded them to put me
on the board of directors of Editorial Projects in Education, Inc.,
the non-profit company that owns the paper, so that I could get my subscription
for free. There is no other publication that covers kindergarten to
12th grade public schools with such breadth and depth, and yet it tends
to be a very serious newspaper and I was surprised by the playfulness
inherent in the editors' decision to run this little map entitled "Persistently
As you can see if you study the map, it shows how many public schools
have been defined as "persistently dangerous" by each state
under the rules of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Hmmm. There are just 26 schools in only three states. Pennsylvania has given the designation to 14 schools and New Jersey has done the same with 10. That makes a certain amount
of sense. Those are heavily populated states with large cities where
crime and poverty are rampant and some public schools would likely be
But, uh, where are New
Illinois and Ohio and Michigan and California and a lot of other places with similarly afflicted neighborhoods?
And if all their schools are as safe as Sesame Street, what in the name of all the statistical deities is
SOUTH DAKOTA doing on this map, with two persistently dangerous educational
So I laughed when I saw the map on page S7. Those hard-working friends
of mine at Edweek turned out to have a sense of humor. More importantly,
both the map and that issue's special pullout section, "Taking
Root," conveyed a message about No Child Left Behind that often
The proponents of the law say it is going to make our schools accountable
to parents and taxpayers by forcing the schools annually to report test
scores and teacher qualifications and even crime statistics. This, the
proponents say, will embarrass the schools, school districts and states
that don't look so good on these measures and help them, with some extra
money and school change requirements, get better.
The opponents of the law say it is going to make our schools worse by
forcing teachers to focus on test scores rather than the social, emotional
and intellectual growth of our children. They say the accountability
rules will overwhelm the states and districts with red tape and make
good schools look bad just because one or two third graders in one demographic
subgroup forgot to carry the 5 on a math problem on the state test.
The map on page S7 says something entirely different, which I think
should be a comfort to No Child Left Behind bashers, and a reality check
for supporters of the law like me. It says that this is still America,
with a Constitution that gives states and localities power to slow down
and frustrate whatever the federal government tries to make them do,
and they are using it to turn No Child Left Behind into one more modest
reform that will likely nudge our schools in the right direction, but
not make that much difference and not do much harm either.
I tried to find which two woebegone schools in South Dakota were the only places west of the Ohio River so far forced to become part of the federal government's official Blackboard
Jungle list. Rick Melmer, South Dakota's secretary of education, said they are Cheyenne-EagleButteJunior
in Eagle Butte and the GeorgeS.MickelsonEducationCenter in Redfield. He also told me that he would have to warn
the schools that he had identified them to me, since the state had not
named them yet under rules allowing states to delay public identification.
In South Dakota, a school is designated persistently dangerous if it
has multiple violent criminal offenses in two or more consecutive years,
any time of day or night, on school property or during school-sponsored
As the special section articles and charts provided by Edweek senior
editor Lynn Olson, as well as assistant editor Bess Keller and research
associate Erin Fox, make clear, state governments are not moving very
quickly to align themselves with No Child Left Behind. And the allegedly
harsh punishments in the law, such as closing low-performing schools
in favor of charters or having the state take them over, have mostly
been ignored in favor of lesser penalties that are similar to what districts
have been doing with troubled schools for many years.
In Michigan, for instance, despite having 162 schools that are supposed
to be restructured because of little or no test score improvement, "no
schools were closed and reopened as charters," Olson reported,
"and the state decided not to take over any schools because it
lacked the capacity to do so."
The same thing is happening with No Child Left Behind's insistence that
all teachers achieve "highly qualified" status by 2006. Kate
Walsh and Emma Snyder of the National Council on Teacher Quality have
put out a new "Searching the Attic" report. They say the states
are quietly defining themselves into compliance while leaving many teachers
no more equipped for their jobs than before.
They congratulate Colorado for insisting that veteran teachers either pass a test
in the subject they are teaching or complete coursework that is nearly
the equivalent of a college major. Oregon has set a similar standard, although only for its newer
teachers, and Alabama, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Maryland
and Hawaii are requiring that all teachers hold the equivalent
of a least a college minor in the subjects they teach.
But most of the efforts in the other states to make teachers highly
qualified "are half-hearted, achieving a gossamer-like quality
whereby elaborately crafted state plans reveal themselves to be little
more than an elaborate restatement of the status quo," Walsh and
Snyder said. As a worst case example, they note that seven states grant
"highly qualified teacher status by achieving what all but a tiny
fraction of teachers routinely achieve: a satisfactory mark on their
So those who worry that our schools are being crushed under the heel
of the No Child Left Behind storm troopers should relax. And those,
like me, that think the law's bipartisan supporters in Congress had
mostly the right idea should remember that no matter what we learned
in eighth grade civics class, passing a bill in Congress often doesn't
No Child Left Behind has given states and school districts more legal
tools, and more money, to help more children learn, but those new rules
and programs are likely to gather dust in the basement, like most of
the tools in my house, unless we repeatedly insist to the people in
charge that they be used.
Otherwise, education in America is going to proceed pretty much like it has during the
past few decades, getting a little better but leaving many children
But why should we worry? I just saw in Edweek that there are only 26
persistently dangerous schools in America, and I have a feeling those unfortunate buildings will
soon be relieved of their unattractive labels, without having to change
much of anything at all.
Kansas ordered to spend
more on schools John Milburn, Chicago Sun-Times
TOPEKA, Kan. --
The state must spend more money on public schools to meet the requirements
of the state Constitution, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The court did not say how much additional money would be necessary for
the state to have a constitutional school-finance system, or exactly
what other changes are required.
But it said the Legislature must take action by April 12 to ''fulfill
its constitutional duty'' to improve public education in Kansas or the court could impose steps of its own.
The Kansas Constitution says the Legislature must make ''suitable provision''
for financing its schools.
Kansas currently spends $2.7 billion annually on education
from kindergarten through high school, under a formula that gives districts
extra dollars for special needs, such as programs for poor and minority
children. In addition, Kansas'
301 school districts now raise more than $570 million a year from property
Attorney General Phill Kline described the ruling as a victory for the
state. He said the court left education policy to the Legislature and
governor, preserved local boards' control over schools and upheld the
philosophy behind the formula, whatever its flaws.
But Alan Rupe, the lead attorney for the parents and administrators
who sued the state, called it ''a touchdown-home run.''
''There's no way around the fact that the winners in this case are the
Kansas school kids.''
Report: California's once sterling schools now rank below par Los Angeles Times
In nearly every objective measure of school quality -- including funding
and academic achievement -- California's
public schools trail the nation, painting a grim portrait of the state's
once-sterling school system, according to a Rand Corp. study released
The researchers found that declining per-pupil funding, ballooning enrollments,
relatively flat teacher salaries and large class sizes have undercut
the state's efforts to improve public education.
Even a reform that was meant to boost achievement -- reducing the size
of classes in kindergarten through third grade -- spawned an unintended
consequence of introducing legions of inexperienced teachers to schools,
particularly those serving low-income and minority children.
The report did not offer recommendations to address the problems, but
its lead author said the state should consider systemic solutions rather
than piecemeal remedies -- an approach that would require huge sums
of money at a time when Sacramento is grappling with a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall.
"The system as a whole has problems," said Stephen Carroll,
senior economist who warned against the consequences of inaction.
"The economy in the future is going to depend on the quality of
the workforce," he said. "We're not developing a workforce
that is going to be competitive with other states."
The Rand report underscored that concern, pointing out that:
--California's fourth- and eighth graders have consistently scored lower
on reading and math tests since 1990 than most of their peers across
the country, including Texas, New York and Illinois; during this time,
their average reading and math scores ranked them above only Mississippi
--Teachers without full credentials accounted for 15 percent of California's 287,000 teachers in the 1999-2000 school year. These
inexperienced teachers were concentrated in schools serving low-income
and minority students. --Teacher pay falls below the national average
when salaries are adjusted for the high cost of living in California. The outlook appears more positive when teacher pay
is viewed in raw dollars: in the 1999-2000 school year, for example,
teachers with a bachelor's degree but no experience earned nearly $27,000;
those at the top of the salary schedule earned more than $56,000. Those
figures put the state in the top 10 but fell short when the cost-of-living
adjustments were factored in.
--California spends less per-pupil on school construction than the
nation and such other large industrial states as Texas and Florida. Still, it has made progress over the last decade in
building new schools and repairing old ones; voters, for example, approved
more than $11 billion in state school construction bonds in 2002 and
nearly $10 billion more in local bonds.
--Even though California schools began reducing class sizes in kindergarten through
third grade in 1997, the state still had the second-highest overall
student-teacher ratio in the nation in the 1999-2000 school year; California's classrooms had nearly 21 students per teacher, compared
to 16 per teacher nationally.
California's education leaders acknowledged the problems raised
by the report, saying the state has shortchanged students.
"It is clear that without additional investment in quality instruction
and student support we cannot expect to restore California to its status among the top-achieving states,"
said Jack O'Connell, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction.
"Nor can we expect to close the achievement gap that leaves low-income
students, Latino, and African American students lagging behind their
O'Connell and the head of the state Assembly's Education Committee said
California's school finance system should be overhauled so that
more money reaches the neediest students.
California is home to more than 6 million public school students
- or nearly 13 percent of the nation's school-age children. A growing
portion of these students come from low-income families or are immigrants
who are still learning English.
To improve its schools, California
has adopted tough academic standards in recent years, and schools now
gear classroom instruction and teacher training around these standards.
The state also has spent more money on education -- over $50 billion
annually according to the Rand report -- the biggest single expense in the budget.
The researchers traced many of California's education problems to Proposition 13, the 1978 voter
initiative that set limits on annual property tax increases and fundamentally
altered the way schools were funded.
Since the late 1970s, per-pupil spending has consistently fallen below
the national average, the Rand researchers found.
Paul Goldfinger, vice president of School Services of California, a
private school finance consulting firm in Sacramento, pointed out that "Proposition 13 has been a good
deal for property tax payers but has not been a good deal for schools."
If youre a high school junior or senior, you can expect a call
from the U.S. military sometime before graduation. Chances are, you
already know that.
They called me like 15 times in the past two weeks, said
Jessica Harper, 17, a RockdaleCountyHigh
senior. They said, We see youre doing really good
in school, and we think youll be great in the Army. I dont
think they should have my number. Im not interested in the Army.
Fellow RCHS senior Nicole Paulus, also 17, said, They called me
in the beginning of the year and said theyd pay for college. I
was interested in that. I set up an appointment.
Paulus said her mother later told her not to keep the appointment.
Since the implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act in
2001, public high schools have been required to make student directory
information, home addresses and telephone numbers available to military
recruiters. Recruiters say they make good use of the information by
calling every student listed.
We call them once in their junior year and in their senior year,
said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Pagano, an Army recruiter in Rockdale.
Im responsible for HeritageHigh
so I call students there.
Most people dont know what the Army is about, he said.
We ask them what their plans are and where are they going. Some
want to go to college, others dont. Some dont want to talk
to us. Its hit or miss. We cant push the issue. All the
directory does is give us something to go on.
The act says schools receiving federal funds must give military recruiters
the same access to students as other college and career counselors.
Schools that dont could lose federal money.
Prior to 2002, schools had discretion on whether to release that
information, said Jim Bradshaw, spokesman for the U.S. Department
of Education. If they didnt want to, they didnt have
to. Schools no longer have that option.
Parents, however, do have the option.
Parents can opt out, but they must do so in writing to the
school, Bradshaw said. If the parents do not opt out, the
school must, and its an underlined must, make that information
Pagano, who has recruited at HHS for three years, said he considers
his efforts successful.
Last year, there were six Heritage students who joined the Army,
he said. This year, we have two so far, and were working
with a third. Thats out of a senior class of about 300.
Pagano said he tells students what the military has to offer and about
the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam.
Its a vocational comprehensive test and will tell them if
they qualify for a job in the Army, Pagano said. We also
offer up to $70,000 for college.
Pagano said with a war going on, some students are reluctant to consider
Other than making the list available, recruiting at county schools is
done independent of the school system, said Bonnie Dossey, assistant
superintendent of secondary education.
Its usually done by their representative during a lunch
hour, Dossey said. There the recruiter is available for
any party who comes into the cafeteria and walks up to their table.
The only time we get involved is with those students who have to register.
Miami, FL -- A study released Tuesday shows that education standards
in most states have improved in the three years that the No Child Left
Behind education-reform law has been in effect, but not enough.
The review by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation shows that states have
improved reading standards for lower grades in the nation's schools,
but math standards in most states remain vague and undemanding.
The report, entitled "The State of State Standards 2005: Math and
English," said only California,
Indiana and Massachusetts deserve grades of A in both subjects.
The written standards are required of every state by NCLB, and the study
deals with only those sets of standards and did not evaluate curriculum.
"State academic standards are the foundation of NCLB," said
Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Fordham Foundation, a non-profit
organization that engages in research and public-policy programs in
education. It is not connected to FordhamUniversity.
"If that foundation is sturdy, NCLB's ambitious reforms may succeed;
if it's weak, uneven or cracked, reforms erected atop it will be shaky
and in the end could prove worse than none at all."
He said far too many states are building on an unreliable base but that
he recognized that academic standards aren't everything when it comes
to education reform.
"The other pieces also need to be in place for students to achieve,
including well-aligned tests, appropriate accountability systems, knowledgeable
teachers and well-led schools," he said.
"Getting the standards right, however, is an essential first step,"
Those who doubt the study say if the state sets the standards, but the
individual school districts control the curriculum, it's difficult to
get into specifics. Wyoming and Montana are two of those states.
"Sometimes it's hard to understand where standards leave off and
curriculum begins," Finn conceded.
He said the testing of school children, which is the foundation of NCLB,
has to take the standards mandated by the act into consideration.
"If they do not, what good are they?" he asked.
David Klein, lead author of the math study, was critical of the Wyoming standards regardless of the lack of a linkup with curriculum.
"Wyoming has standards, but they are not very good," he
Klein, a professor of mathematics at California-Northridge, was also
critical of the standards in Ohio where the state Education Department defended them by
saying they were written by experts.
He said some of the standards in Ohio make little sense and are hard to follow and that parts
of it "are really embarrassing."
Klein's criticisms of many of the states for their standards start with
the lower grades, where the use of calculators means some basic components
of arithmetic are not taught.
"The biggest failure in many states is they don't require students
to learn enough arithmetic. A vast majority overemphasize calculators.
They are authorized in kindergarten and even pre-kindergarten,"
"It interferes with computational fluency -- they don't require
memorization of multiplication tables," he said. "Many states
don't require the standard algorithms of math -- adding, subtracting
He also said there was insufficient attention to fractions and too much
emphasis on superficial statistics and probabilities.
He said as a result, state math standards have declined from the last
evaluation, made in 2000 and issued an overall grade of D.
Sandra Stotsky, lead author of the English report for the third time,
said there was improvement in reading in 34 states, while a few states
declined. She gave it an overall C-plus.
She said major gaps remain in the high school years, particularly in
There were not enough specifics such as whether students should read
one Shakespeare play a year or how much American literature should be
read, said Stotsky, a research scholar at NortheasternUniversity.
Stotsky said 49 states have revised or replaced their English standards
in the past five years, most of them in response to NCLB. She said in
2005, 20 states made the honor roll, receiving A or B grades, and eight
states received a D or an F. Eleven states received lower marks in the
2005 review than in 2000.
Stotsky and Klein said states should rely on experts in the subjects
involved rather than bureaucrats and politicians when making up the
standards. Klein said and he and his associates who worked on the report
agreed that experts in math are better at it than education professors.
"All of us were awe struck by the level of ignorance we saw,"
Stotsky and Klein also said states with inadequate standards should
borrow from the best states, rather than starting from scratch. The
District of Columbia has, for instance, recently announced its upcoming standards
revision will rely on the highly regarded Massachusetts framework.
There were states that defended their standards and questioned whether
they should pay attention to the study.
"We're not saying we are right or wrong," Finn said. "We're
saying that on occasion they should have an outside audit. It doesn't
mean anyone in New
has to turn a summersault."
New law gives top
students days off
Giving them 10 days off could free teachers to help struggling students
By Tawnell D. Hobbs, Dallas
Morning News, 1/4/05
Doing well on a test could mean fewer days in school for some Texas students.
A recently revised state bill allows school districts to reduce the
number of school days for students who have performed well or are likely
to perform well on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
Students who qualify could have their school year cut by 10 days.
"Part of the push for this was to give teachers more one-on-one
with the students who are not passing," said Suzanne Marchman,
a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman.
But some parents say the new initiative could result in costly child-care
"That would be a big issue with parents that work and can't have
their children home during the day," said Constance Muhammad, whose
son attends H.S.ThompsonLearningCenter in Dallas. "A lot of parents use school as a baby sitter."
Camile White, who has three children at HarryStoneMontessoriSchool in Dallas, said the program sounds like a Band-Aid for dealing
with overcrowded classrooms.
"They need to be out finding more money so we can build more school
buildings to thin out these classes," Ms. White said. "What
good is 10 days going to do for those kids that are struggling already?"
Some teacher representatives think it's a good idea to give teachers
more time with students who need it.
"It's almost too simple of a solution to a problem that we've been
grappling with," said Aimee Bolender, president of Alliance AFT,
which represents teachers in Dallas. She added that schools could provide group activities
for students who qualify for reduced school days instead of sending
"Overall, it's not a bad idea," said Dale Kaiser, president
of the teacher group NEA Dallas. "It allows the teachers to concentrate
on those students who need the extra help."
Some teachers, however, are less enthusiastic.
Dallas teacher Mary Strickland acknowledges that instructors
do need more time with struggling students, but she doesn't like the
thought of any student being out of class.
"No matter how much they know, you can teach them more," said
Ms. Strickland, who teaches math at KimballHigh
Whether the program will be embraced by the DallasIndependentSchool
remains to be seen. District officials said Tuesday that the issue needs
more study and that they may form a committee.
"You have to consider the parents of a youngster who is doing well,"
said Jim Scales, DISD's deputy superintendent for administrative services.
"How will they feel about shortening that student's school year?
That could be a political nightmare."
Revisions to law
The program was included in a bill authored by state Sen. Steve Ogden,
R-Bryan, that became law in 2003.
However, a very restrictive interpretation of how the program could
be implemented may have discouraged districts from using it. The Texas
Education Agency initially required districts to allow students performing
at acceptable levels time off only if students in need of more instruction
attended classes beyond the 180-day standard school year.
This week, however, the TEA sent out a new interpretation, which allows
districts to reduce instructional days for some students without increasing
the school days for struggling students. Students who qualify cannot
have their school year reduced to fewer than 170 days.
TEA officials said Tuesday that two small school districts Carlisle and PrairieValley school districts in East and north central Texas, respectively have been approved for the program
for this year.
Districts can select which days students can take off during the school
year. School districts, which receive state funding based on the weighted
average daily attendance, will not lose funding under the program, Ms.
Guidelines to come
School districts have to apply in writing for permission to reduce instructional
days, although there is no specific application form, according to the
TEA. It's up to the district to determine which students qualify. The
education agency plans to provide districts with more structure and
guidance on the program, Ms. Marchman said.
Mike Payne, superintendent of the Carlisle school district,
said the program rewards good performance. Students in his district
who do well on the TAKS and have good attendance, he said, will attend
school for 171 days this school year.
"It gives the kids an incentive to continue to do well," Mr.
If parents don't have child care available, Mr. Payne said, they can
send their students to school.
"We're not saying they can't come, we're saying they don't have
to come," he said.
Tragedy Not Just
Immigrant Students Share Tales of Relatives' Suffering From Tsunami
By Ylan Q. Mui and Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post Staff Writers, 1/4/05
The U.S. flag at HarperParkMiddle
in Leesburg was flying at half-staff yesterday as sixth-grade social
studies teacher Jeanette Zellner prepared to begin class as she does
most days -- with a discussion of world events.
On this first day back from winter vacation, that meant leading a classroom
of 11- and 12-year-olds through a lesson on one of the world's worst
Most students had seen the dramatic television footage of waves wiping
out entire villages and of the devastation from Indonesia to Somalia. They had watched the death toll from the Dec. 26 earthquake
and tsunami spiral by the tens of thousands, now reaching nearly 140,000.
"They kept trying to interview this woman who was holding her dead
baby," Kyle Adams, 11, said. "Also, there was this baby that
landed in a tree, and it lived there for four days."
Still, many children have yet to make sense of the disaster. One of
Zellner's students said that the children of the region must be sad,
but they also should be happy -- after all, school was canceled.
At schools across the Washington area yesterday, educators searched for the teachable
moments in a tragedy that occurred thousands of miles away and can seem
far removed from students' daily lives.
"I think it's the school's responsibility to help young people
understand what they can do and not just say, 'That happened over there,'
" Harper Park Principal Claudia Bolen-Sullivan said. "It didn't
just happen over there. This is a global society."
in Bethesda, social studies teachers will meet tomorrow to plan
a class focused on the disaster, acting Principal Christopher Garran
said. Ideas range from a lesson in the geography of South Asia to drawing up an emergency resolution in the school's model United Nations
to a look at politics surrounding U.S. relief efforts.
"They want to build it so that it's not just presenting information
but getting kids to talk about this situation," Garran said. He
also said that the tragedy gives teachers a unique opportunity to discuss
issues outside of the normal curriculum: the infrastructure of public
health in the Third World, global social inequities and even the meaning of life and death.
"We have a sort of sanitized version of world affairs," he
said. "We can turn on and turn off CNN."
But for some students, the disaster is all too personal. Three Walter
Johnson students -- two from Sri Lanka and one from Thailand -- have family members who were affected by the tsunami.
Garran said counselors were at the school yesterday in case students
needed to talk to someone.
in the Falls
Church area of FairfaxCounty, teacher Anita Ensmann told her students -- all of whom
recently immigrated to the United States -- that the earthquake caused waves taller than the
classroom to crash into the shore. She wrote on a white board the names
of countries ravaged by the tsunami: Thailand, Indonesia, India.
Adan Daud, 17, who sat near the back of the classroom, spoke up: "My
country was affected," he said. "Somalia."
Daud said his family members there live far inland and were not in danger.
He had worried for the safety of three close friends from his old home
when he heard about the tsunami while watching CNN. He soon learned
through e-mail that his friends were safe, but mourning.
"They told me that some of their friends are dead," Daud said.
"I tell them that the tsunami is caused by the gods, so there's
nothing they can do but pray for them."
Abhishek Sinha, 18, a sophomore at MontgomeryBlairHigh
in Silver Spring, said his relatives in India survived the flooding but lost their homes and belongings.
His uncle lives near the country's southern tip, he said, and is determined
to rebuild his life there.
"You can't even see there was a house there before," he told
his classmates yesterday afternoon. "There's just garbage."
Teacher Joseph Bellino asked the students to think about what they would
do if their homes were destroyed. What would they eat? What would they
drink? That is the reality the tsunami survivors are facing, he said.
"The next question is: What do you want to do about it?" Bellino
The answer from his class is an effort to raise money for one of his
former students who is now a dentist and headed to Thailand to aid relief efforts. At PaintBranchHigh
in Burtonsville, students and teachers have set up a relief fund.
And the student leadership class at Walter Johnson is making a paper
chain that will be hung in the school hallways to keep track of donations.
"I'm so impressed with the students," Garran said. "At
least they see that as one thing they can try to do to help."
Fifth-grader Jessica White remembers the names of the eight teachers
she's had since kindergarten at High Point Elementary in Southwest Seattle.
Four of them were new to the profession, and two others had fewer than
three years of experience.
"I get this vibe that they meet my class and decide to go away
the next year," says White, 10. "They don't like us or something."
Nearly all of those who taught at High Point the year before White enrolled are now gone. On average,
28 percent of High
teachers left each year for a variety of reasons: better jobs, layoffs,
a new baby or retirement.
All of the nation's urban public schools face the problem of teacher
turnover: In a given year, almost one-third of the 3.4 million K-12
teachers are moving into, between or out of schools. Many are new to
teaching. About one out of every five new teachers abandons the profession
within three years, and almost 40 percent do so within five years.
Contrary to popular belief, most do not leave because of the low pay.
Surveys suggest new teachers aren't prepared for the range of tasks
required of them outside the classroom.
High turnover also places a staggering burden on taxpayers by consuming
resources that otherwise could be devoted to books, tutors and other
The Texas Center for Educational Research pegs a district's total turnover
cost per teacher for paperwork, temporary workers, productivity
losses and hiring and training a replacement at about 150 percent
of the departing employee's annual salary.
Seattle and other urban districts are trying several strategies
to reduce teacher turnover: Philadelphia and New York conduct exit interviews, and Seattle will start exit surveys this month.
Denver and Seattle both signed contracts in 2004 with their teachers that
offer the prospect of bonuses to highly qualified teachers who commit
to working in a high-poverty school.
But because many districts, including Seattle, do not track teacher turnover routinely, it is hard
to demonstrate whether their strategies are addressing the problem.
Many districts also don't regard teacher transfers within a district
as turnover, but education researchers argue that the effect from a
school's perspective is the same as if the teachers left the district.
(All subsequent references to turnover in this story include teacher
transfers within a district.)
"Always starting over"
High Point Principal Cothron McMillian says she's sure the high turnover
has had an impact on student performance.
"If you have people in and out, in and out, in and out, you're
always starting over," McMillian said. "It's not fun."
But McMillian, who is in her fifth year at High Point's helm, also believes that the school now has strong,
committed teachers. A new union contract protects her staff, she says,
from the kind of displacements triggered by four years of declining
Kacey Guin, a researcher at the University of Washington's Center for Reinventing Public Education, says districts may be pouring
money into training teachers without an effective way to keep them in
schools with high needs.
The average Seattle elementary school loses one out of five teachers each
year, Guin found from analyzing state records from 1996 to 2002. (Her
published study didn't identify the district, but The Seattle Times
verified independently that it was Seattle Public Schools.)
That's slightly higher than the national average, said Richard Ingersoll,
a leading expert at the University of
Pennsylvania on teacher turnover.
Though some policymakers believe that retirements largely explain turnover,
7,000 teachers in a national survey pointed far more frequently to job
dissatisfaction or career change as the main reason for their departures.
"And often those are your best people," said Ingersoll, a
former high-school teacher.
Imbalance in experience
The Seattle Times analyzed state and district data and found stark contrasts
In Seattle, the annual turnover rate has ranged from 7 percent
at Whittier Elementary in the North End to 35 percent at Madrona K-8
in the Central Area. Maple and Leschi elementaries, South and Central
Area schools where about two-thirds of students are poor, notably had
below-average turnover rates of about 12 percent.
Pat Sander, an elementary-education director and former principal, says
turnover is not always a bad thing: "You want the idealism that
new teachers bring, and you want the experience level that veterans
In some schools, that balance doesn't exist.
The state's Web site shows at High Point last year the "average years of teacher experience"
was 5.8. That figure fails to show a huge imbalance: About half of High
Point's 14 teachers had three years or less of experience,
district records show. Only one teacher had more than 20 years' experience.
Dissecting teachers' experience levels in this way, as Denver Public
Schools does, is far more useful to parents because the numbers represent
actual teachers rather than an imaginary figure, Ingersoll says.
"We all feel pulled to our ends in meetings, committees and all
the responsibilities we have in our classroom," said High Point's Marian Fink, the teachers-union representative, who
gives the principal high marks. "We know how important it is for
[the kids] to be able to come to school, come into a prepared classroom
and have a consistent adult be there."
It's not just novices who abandon ship. Plenty of seasoned teachers
get burned out by the intensity of their workweeks.
Teresa Alsept had worked for a decade in high-poverty schools when she
transferred from Meany to Eckstein Middle School a Northeast
Seattle school that, by comparison, has about 80 percent fewer poor
At Meany, Alsept says it became wearisome trying to motivate her students
and cover all the material within the year. Many families were hard-pressed
to provide their children with food, clothing and shelter, much less
participate in their education, she acknowledges.
As Alsept learned of the challenges some of her Meany students faced,
she fretted about how to deal with their unruly or apathetic behavior:
Do I give them some slack or do I hold them to the same high standard
as everyone else?
"That's the part that doesn't always get talked about," she
said. "We have awesome parents at Eckstein who have high expectations
for their kids and their kids know it."
The district could enable more parents to get involved by operating
more neighborhood-based schools, Alsept said. While only about half
of Meany's students live in its region, at Eckstein nearly all students
Effect of enrollment, layoffs
While teacher turnover is primarily voluntary, Ingersoll's analysis
shows that sharp declines in enrollment or districtwide layoffs are
also an important contributor.
Both layoffs and enrollment dips trigger union-contract provisions that
hurt teachers with the least seniority. The Seattle district laid off 178 teachers at the end of the 2002-03
year to close a budget deficit.
At the same time, Meany saw its enrollment plunge nearly 20 percent
by the fall of 2003. It was the least-popular choice among entering
sixth-grade students. Eckstein's enrollment dipped 0.8 percent over
the same period, and it was the most-popular choice among middle schools.
Thus Meany's teaching staff began the 2003-04 year with 10 new faces,
compared to eight at Eckstein.
But the turnover represented one-third of Meany's teaching staff, compared
with only 14 percent of Eckstein's. School size accounts for the difference:
Meany, with 467 students this year, is the district's smallest middle
school. Eckstein, the largest middle school, enrolls 1,247.
Alsept said she believes that the district could improve the odds of
teachers in high-poverty schools staying longer by giving them fewer
classes, more planning time or extra pay.
Bonuses and more job security are major features of new contract with
the Seattle Education Association that Superintendent Raj Manhas touts
as an antidote to teacher turnover.
Several national experts like Ingersoll say that improving working conditions
in high-poverty schools, especially for new teachers, would be more
effective than a bonus of a couple thousand dollars. But 42 percent
of 1,942 new Washington public-schools teachers in a 1999 state survey said
salary level would be their main reason for leaving the profession in
the next five years.
And in a Seattle Education Association survey last winter, more than
two-thirds of respondents supported recruitment and retention bonuses,
greater job security and more family-engagement training for those agreeing
to work in high-needs schools. In general, respondents also strongly
supported more planning time and mentoring for those in their first
five years of teaching.
The district employs nine mentors this year, down from 14 in the mid-1990s.
Mentors say they serve as a sounding board, a sympathetic ear and a
master showing the apprentice what good teaching looks like. They also
organize support groups.
Mid-career teachers like Ann Scott, who mentors 16 teachers in 12 schools,
get a bird's-eye view of the system while keeping a toe in the classroom.
"A lot of school reform is on the backs of teachers," Scott
said. "A lot of us feel like, 'When do I have time to manage all
Yesterday's cheaters hid in the back row and spied for answers over
their classmates' shoulders.
Today's top cheaters include teachers who lead entire classes into dishonesty
in a desperate bid to prop up test scores.
A school's money, reputation and even jobs stand at risk when students
do poorly. The pressure nationwide has caused a growing number of teachers
and administrators to try inflating standardized test scores.
The trend is not lost on Indiana
education officials, who will pay a consultant up to $25,000 this year
to determine whether more safeguards are needed against cheating on
the annual state test.
Last week, a popular Muncie teacher was suspended for allegedly pointing out wrong
answers to her third-grade students during the Indiana Statewide Testing
for Educational Progress-Plus. The case marked Indiana's third known incident in as many years.
Parents and education experts fear cheating on the statewide exam is
more rampant than anyone knows and that, without a solid watchdog system,
it is bound to worsen as federal pressure to improve scores piles on
"Some people are bending the rules," said Thomas Haladyna,
an ArizonaStateUniversity education psychology professor who studies the manipulation
of test score data. "I think it's mainly teachers, principals and
superintendents, because of accountability and the need to show the
public you're doing a good job."
A group of former testing experts has turned evidence of cheating nationwide
into a business opportunity. Caveon, a new Utah consulting firm, operates as testing detectives for
hire by schools and health care and other industries.
Indiana and at least six other states are expected to pay thousands
of dollars to the testing security firm before the end of the school
year. Delaware and South Carolina already are on board.
The group reviews state testing policies, analyzes student answer sheets
for patterns of cheating and looks for test questions that have been
leaked in advance.
"Simply announcing to everybody that you're doing something about
security in itself has a beneficial effect," said John Fremer,
Caveon's senior director of test security services. "It's like
putting a sign in your yard that you have a security system. Someone
who comes along is less likely to burglarize your house."
For now, whistle-blowing largely is up to teachers, school administrators
and independent test scorers -- who are not trained to spot cheating,
and who have few incentives to report it.
"We don't really hunt down cheaters," Haladyna said. "Schools
don't want to self-report. They deal with the problem internally. We
don't even hear half of the incidents that happen, but I know they happen."
State tests are the centerpiece of a federal law that holds schools
accountable for student progress. Schools that fail to show improvement
risk losing federal money for programs to help the students most likely
The federal law, known as No Child Left Behind, has changed the landscape
Schools invest millions in consultants to help them prepare children
for the tests. Summer vacations are cut short to give students more
review time, and topics from the test often are at the heart of school
Critics say the testing system stacks the deck against educators, who
believe they have no power to combat student mobility, poverty, tight
school budgets and high numbers of disabled or immigrant children --
all factors that can make it tough for students to succeed.
"I think we all agree that standards are a good thing, but I don't
know any teachers who aren't really angry about this test," said
Alisa Isaacs, an English teacher at CenterGroveMiddle School in Greenwood.
That's how some of them justify cheating, Haladyna said.
The most blatant form of cheating usually involves school officials
who doctor answer sheets, Haladyna said. Even one or two changed answers
per student can dramatically inflate a school's average score, he added.
Teachers or school leaders also have been known to extend testing time
limits, read questions aloud when they're not supposed to and provide
test answers in advance.
Three Gary schools were stripped of their accreditation after complaints
in 2002 that hundreds of 10th-graders received ISTEP-Plus answers in
State officials refer to the scandal as organized test tampering, although
they failed to pinpoint who was behind it.
Last year, Fort
officials lobbied to throw out the scores of a class of third-graders
whose teacher gave away answers by emphasizing certain words on verbal
The teacher was not punished because "I'm not convinced she did
it knowing that she was" cheating, said John Kline, who oversees
testing for Fort Wayne schools.
In the past week, Muncie teacher Kathryn Dawson was suspended with pay because
she and a student teacher tapped children on the shoulder or pointed
at their tests to indicate a wrong answer or a skipped question, school
The scores of 20 third-graders at LongfellowElementary
were thrown out, and Dawson's class will lose state money.
The unusually big leap in scores in Dawson's class -- the percentage of children who appeared to
pass math, for example, was 80 percent this year, up from 47 percent
last year -- triggered suspicion. So did a complaint.
Some parents insist Dawson had good intentions. Her work with school chili suppers,
dances and other activities earned her a plaque from Longfellow's parent-teacher
But even her supporters cringe at the broader lesson Dawson's students might have taken from the experience.
"The kids have been taught not to cheat, but then the teachers
turn around, and they're doing it," said Tereasa Holland, of Muncie, whose son was in Dawson's class. "I'm concerned about this being done in
other schools with other teachers in the past."
Dawson did not return telephone calls.
Punishing cheaters usually is up to school districts, which can fire
or discipline them.
Muncie school officials haven't decided Dawson's professional fate, but her seven-year record entitles
her to a hearing and legal help from the Indiana State Teachers Association,
the state's largest teachers union.
States such as Nevada can revoke the licenses of teachers who are caught cheating,
but Indiana licenses are in jeopardy only if teachers are convicted
of a crime.
The state offers no guidance when it comes to disciplining cheaters,
but that could change if more cases of cheating emerge in schools, said
Rep. Bob Behning, an Indianapolis Republican who will head the House
The state Department of Education gets a handful of cheating reports
a year, but Wes Bruce, head of testing for the department, said most
of them are unfounded.
Holland, the Muncie parent, hopes that bad publicity will stop the cheating.
But education experts fear things will only get worse. Even one student
who fails puts a school's federal money at risk.
"As the stakes get higher on achievement testing, we shouldn't
be surprised that things like this happen," said Jonathan Plucker,
director of IndianaUniversity's Center for Evaluation and Education Policy. "People
Examples of alleged cheating on state tests since 2000:
A Nevada legislative report found teachers provided testing materials
to students nearly a dozen times.
State officials in Mississippi found more than two dozen cases of cheating, mostly
involving school employees. The test scores of nine schools were thrown
out as a result.
Officials in Boston cleared a principal of helping students to cheat on
the Massachusetts test, despite accusations from students.
Officials in Columbus, Ohio, investigated charges of cheating at a school that was
praised for progress on test scores. Some students said teachers gave
them the correct answers.
The Austin, Texas, school district was charged with criminal tampering
for exempting underachievers from state tests, which boosted the district's
overall test scores.
An elementary school principal in Dallas quit less than two weeks after the local newspaper found
overwhelming evidence of organized cheating on state tests.
Teachers and administrators from 30 schools in New York City were accused of encouraging their students to cheat
on standardized tests.
Principals and teachers in suburban Potomac, Md., allegedly gave fifth-graders answers and extra time
on their standardized tests.
Sources: List compiled by Caveon and the NationalCenter for Policy Analysis TOP OF PAGE
Bush's Latest Brainchild
Could Be Left Behind
After his Nov. 2 win, all seems in line to expand the academic testing
But analysts say there may be resistance from both sides in Congress
By Nick Anderson, Los
Times Staff Writer, 1/4/05
WASHINGTON At first glance, President Bush seems well-positioned
to expand his No Child Left Behind program of academic standards, testing
and accountability into the nation's high schools.
He has larger Republican majorities in Congress. His nominee for Education
secretary -- a top strategist behind the 2002 legislation creating the
program in grade schools -- is expected to sail through a Senate confirmation
hearing this week.
What's more, the nation's governors are teaming up with education experts
next month for a summit on reducing high school dropout rates and raising
diploma standards. It's just the sort of forum Bush used early in his
first term to build bipartisan momentum for a federal mandate aimed
at lifting student achievement in elementary and middle schools.
Yet education analysts and some lawmakers warn that Bush could encounter
stiff resistance -- from the left and the right -- when he tries to
expand No Child Left Behind.
"I don't know if there's political will on [Capitol] Hill to expand
testing in high school," said Krista Kafer, an education policy
analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "I don't think
the consensus is there."
Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), who sided with Bush to pass the law,
said he wouldn't do so again unless the president agreed to erase what
Democrats said was a multibillion-dollar school funding shortage.
"If you want real education reform, you can't do it on the cheap,"
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), another key backer of the first initiative,
has taken a similar position, aides said.
Among Republicans, some grumble that the federal government already
is meddling too much in school affairs.
Days after the Nov. 2 election, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), incoming leader
of the conservative House Republican Study Committee, wrote that Congress
should "reform the No Child Left Behind Act to reverse the expanding
federal role in primary and secondary education, which is a state and
Pence was in a small minority within his party when he voted against
the measure in 2001. But so was Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who is now
House majority leader. Conservative unrest could grow; a decade ago
many Republicans sought to abolish the Education Department.
Even Bush's allies on Capitol Hill say he will have to win over many
The law Bush signed in January 2002 called for school-wide reading and
math tests in grades three through eight. It also requires states to
spotlight schools that fail to show adequate progress from year to year,
and shake up those that consistently lag.
In some states, educators have struggled to reconcile often-conflicting
federal and state benchmarks.
In Florida, for example, many schools the state rated as "A"
performers were found to be falling short under federal rules. Debates
also flared over how to account for the predictably low marks posted
by schools with high numbers of disabled students or those with limited
In 2003 and early 2004, Democrats made hay out of these controversies.
They also criticized the gap between the amount of education aid Congress
authorized under the law and the amount eventually appropriated. For
example, Congress authorized up to $20.5 billion for the main programs
to help disadvantaged students, but -- as often happens -- it ended
up approving only $12.7 billion in actual spending.
To protest the funding gap, more than half of the Senate's Democrats
voted in September 2003 to suspend key provisions of the law.
Republicans replied that total education spending had soared. And the
issue subsided after Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), a supporter of the
original measure, emerged as Bush's challenger.
In September, Bush unveiled a plan to require testing every year in
grades nine through 11. That would effectively triple the federal testing
mandate for high schools -- a 1994 federal law requires one year of
high school testing.
Some states, including California,
already test students annually through grade 11, but many states do
Many details of Bush's plan remain to be fleshed out, but the president
made clear after his reelection that he would not relent. His plan calls
for $250 million to help pay for the additional tests and $400 million
to boost remedial reading programs and identify students who may need
extra help at the outset of high school.
As he introduced his nominee for Education secretary on Nov. 17, Bush
said: "Margaret Spellings and I are determined to extend the high
standards and accountability measures of the No Child Left Behind Act
to all of America's public high schools. We must ensure that a high school
diploma is a sign of real achievement, so that our young people have
the tools to go to college and to fill the jobs of the 21st century."
Spellings, a longtime Bush policy advisor, has been tapped to replace
outgoing Education Secretary Rod Paige. She has not spoken publicly
on the high school initiative since her nomination. But she is expected
to face questions about it in a confirmation hearing Thursday before
the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
Sandy Kress, another Bush education advisor, predicted the public would
back an expansion of No Child Left Behind as long as the current law
was run in a "savvy and intelligent way." He said: "There
can be action, and there can be bipartisan support for it."
But Kress acknowledged that the law would face renewed scrutiny as more
school systems confronted steeper sanctions. The law requires repeatedly
lagging schools to allow students to transfer to another campus, and
it makes some students eligible for free tutoring. It also threatens
to force some schools to reorganize.
Some groups are lobbying Congress to reconsider the law. In October,
more than 20 education, civil rights and other advocacy groups issued
a joint statement calling for an overhaul to decrease the annual testing
requirements, change what they called "arbitrary" proficiency
targets for schools and increase federal funding.
The alliance included the National Education Assn., which represents
many teachers unions; the National School Boards Assn.; the National
Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People; and the League of United
Latin American Citizens.
But Democrats and Republicans say such broad revisions are unlikely
following Bush's win Nov. 2 over Kerry.
To build his new reform coalition, Bush is likely to consult a group
he got to know as leader of Texas: state governors. As it happens, many of them are also
zeroing in on high schools after years of concentrating on elementary
education and the teaching of basic skills such as reading and math.
They say business executives and colleges report that too many high
school graduates lack crucial English, math and analytical skills.
Gov. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, a Democrat who chairs the National
Governors Assn., has made "redesigning the American high school"
a crusade. The organization will host an "education summit"
at its winter gathering here in February.
Joining Warner will be Republican Govs. Robert A. Taft of Ohio, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Haley Barbour of Mississippi, among others.
"The issue has struck a chord," Warner said. "The one
area that's been the tail of the dog -- that has not received much attention
or focus over the last decade -- has been high schools."
He said secondary education was neglected while reformers lavished attention
on such challenges as reading instruction in elementary schools. Of
Bush's initiative, Warner said: "I don't have a problem with the
notion of expanding accountability and high standards to high schools.
I'd want to sort through the particulars."
But he warned: "I do have a problem with some of the bureaucratic
hoops and lack of flexibility" in the current law.
If Bush is to succeed with No Child Left Behind, Round 2, he may have
to answer that criticism to win over enough centrist Democrats to succeed.
WASHINGTON -- Some conservative Republicans in the House want to roll
back much of the new Medicare drug benefit and the "No Child Left
Behind" education law that President Bush made domestic hallmarks
of his first term, a GOP lawmaker said Wednesday.
While praising Bush's leadership on fighting terrorism and passing tax
cuts, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana said it was important for Republicans to reassert conservative
values that led them to control of Congress.
"The fate of the Republican majority ... will be largely determined
by whether or not we rediscover those principles of limited government
that more than anything else propelled us to majority status,"
said Pence, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of more
than 100 conservative House members.
Pence told National Press Club members at a breakfast briefing that
his stated goal of undoing certain accomplishments of the first Bush
term "makes me the skunk at the garden party."
He described several conservative goals for this term of Congress:
-- Change the prescription drug benefit passed recently by Congress
from a "one-size-fits-all entitlement" to a benefit for those
who need federal help to buy prescription drugs.
-- "Reverse the expanding federal role in primary and secondary
education, which conservatives believe is a state and local function."
-- Begin to steer back to the goal of a balanced budget.
-- Restore the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech by pursuing
changes in new campaign finance laws.
Pence said he was not speaking for all House conservatives but that
many of them had similar concerns.
Republicans gain better results with legislation when they "start
from the right and move to the middle," Pence said. That tactic
was not followed in the case of the education measure requiring tougher
standards for public school students, he said.
"I have no problem with Washington, D.C., finding ways to get resources to the schools, but not
red tape, not mandates -- not turning Washington, D.C., into a national school board," he said.
The House conservatives may run into resistance from their GOP leaders.
Asked about Pence's aims, John Feehery, a spokesman for House Speaker
Dennis Hastert, said of the Medicare drug benefit, "Given a chance
to work, it will save money in the long run. But he wants to take a
look at entitlements -- make them more efficient."
Feehery said Hastert "supported the president's education bill.
He understands schools are controlled locally, but people want improved
Pence said he is not questioning Bush's conservative credentials.
"I think the president is a conservative in his heart," Pence
said, adding that he was "cautiously optimistic" that will
show up more often in Bush's policies.
"There was an awful lot of latitude given to this president in
the wake of the tragic events of Sept. 11," Pence said, noting
the difficulties of starting up the Department of Homeland Security,
fighting the war on terror and conducting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Pence said it's critical for conservatives to reclaim
their principles or "risk electoral disaster." TOP OF PAGE
Kids in Harlem Savor Food That Isn't Fast By SOPHIE MENIN, New York Times, 1/5/05
"Nasty!" said 9-year-old Naja Haynes after tasting a square
of Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate I gave her to try. "Nasty
and what?" asked Liz Solms, who was, like me, a school volunteer.
Naja puckered her mouth, chewed and thought about the vocabulary words
on her tasting sheet. Was it nasty bitter? Nasty earthy? Nasty nutty?
She decided it was all three.
The scene was the cafeteria of the Children's StorefrontSchool, an independent tuition-free school in Harlem
for children of varied academic strengths. Their chocolate curriculum
was courtesy of Harvest Time in Harlem, an education program run by Slow Food USA.
Naja and her classmates had just seen a two-hour presentation developed
for them by Scharffen Berger Chocolate Makers. In the course of the
program the children traced chocolate from the ancient Mayas of Central
America to their classroom, where they later prepared truffles to take
Each month this school year 16 third and fourth graders from the Storefront
School gather in the cafeteria for these workshops, which stress the
joy that comes from preparing and sharing a meal and the importance
of knowing where your food comes from. The goal is to offer an appealing
and wholesome alternative to fast food. This month's program will be
about beans, with students tasting edamame, black-eyed peas, lentils
and string beans and preparing hummus and chili.
Jasmine Aghimien, 8, said she signed up for the program because her
mother told her, "After you go to college and get married, you
are going to have to know how to cook." Her reasoning might make
you cringe, but the end result is all we could have hoped for.
Jasmine said she had no idea that besides learning how to dice onions
and cut tomatoes she would also meet a nutritionist, an organic farmer,
a famous chef and a chocolate maker.
In October, Debbie Kavakos, the owner of Stoneledge Farm in South Cairo,
N.Y., talked to the class about winter squash and brought in a 10-foot
vine with thistles and big fuzzy leaves. When she told the class that
it produced only one pumpkin, Jasmine said, "I was amazed that
it took such a big vine to produce only one." She said it made
her appreciate what it took to make the pumpkin muffins she and her
classmates baked later.
Now she sees cooking as a way to express herself. "If you want
to try something different, you just make a different kind of food,"
she said with the full conviction of an adventurous chef in training.
The star of the November program was Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit and
Riingo's. His story left the students in awe. He stood in front of a
map and recounted how he was born in Ethiopia, lost his parents to tuberculosis and subsequently was
adopted by a couple in Sweden. He spoke lovingly about learning to cook from his new
grandmother and traveling throughout Europe,
Asia and the Americas to study and work until he became the chef at Aquavit
in New York. He later prepared a traditional smorgasbord for the
children and taught them how to make chocolate pancakes.
Mr. Samuelsson was Elmony Johnson's favorite guest teacher. "I
like the way he put juice on his meatballs and how he makes everything
on the plate look beautiful," she said about his lingonberry sauce.
"You never forget when you meet somebody who is really good at
Elmony paused before adding, "We never had a special guest who
was an orphan before, but I know he is O.K. now because he has two restaurants."
Jade Little appreciates how Harvest Time in Harlem
has given her a chance to cook with her friends.
"I get to know them better by being in a different setting,"
Jade, 9, said. When asked what she meant, she giggled and named those
who like to eat a lot and those who don't. She grew serious and said,
"I have one friend who likes to argue a lot, but in cooking class
she just dances around and around because she gets to wear an apron,
use a knife and experience all different kinds of food."
Nutritionists say that when children are involved in preparing a meal
they are far more likely at least to taste it.
Naja is a case in point. She told me, "I love McDonald's and eat
there a lot."
Yet when I asked what she enjoyed most about the class she said, "Discovering
new ingredients like nutmeg and learning how to cook nutritious meals."
Score another point for the pumpkin muffins.
She was very proud to let me know she has learned how to make some dishes
with less sugar.
Judy Joo Allen helped organize Harvest Time in Harlem.
When she told me about it, I leapt at the chance to be a volunteer cooking
instructor. I am a recent graduate of a culinary school. Before that
for two years I ran the Gift of New York, a nonprofit attempt to help
the families of those who died in the WorldTradeCenter attacks through the arts and entertainment and sports
Each month at the StorefrontSchool we see children having a great time preparing and sharing
a real meal while getting the message that fast food is not the only
When the weather turns warm, Naja, Jasmine, Jade and their classmates
look forward to planting a garden behind the cafeteria. There will not
be any giant pumpkins, and they have to worry about what rats and cats
might eat. Despite such challenges they are discovering that knowing
where food comes from can change the way you relate to the world, to
your friends and to yourself.
And it can also result in a mighty good muffin. TOP OF PAGE
Seeking to build support among black families for its education reform
law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000
to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and
to urge other black journalists to do the same.
The campaign, part of an effort to promote No Child Left Behind (NCLB),
required commentator Armstrong Williams "to regularly comment on
NCLB during the course of his broadcasts," and to interview Education
Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show
Williams said Thursday he understands that critics could find the arrangement
unethical, but "I wanted to do it because it's something I believe
The top Democrat on the House Education Committee, Rep. George Miller
of California, called the contract "a very questionable use of
taxpayers' money" that is "probably illegal." He said
he will ask his Republican counterpart to join him in requesting an
The contract, detailed in documents obtained by USA TODAY through a Freedom of Information Act request,
also shows that the Education Department, through the Ketchum public
relations firm, arranged with Williams to use contacts with America's Black Forum, a group of black broadcast journalists,
"to encourage the producers to periodically address" NCLB.
He persuaded radio and TV personality Steve Harvey to invite Paige onto
his show twice. Harvey's manager, Rushion McDonald, confirmed the appearances.
Williams said he does not recall disclosing the contract to audiences
on the air but told colleagues about it when urging them to promote
"I respect Mr. Williams' statement that this is something he believes
in," said Bob Steele, a media ethics expert at The Poynter Institute
for Media Studies. "But I would suggest that his commitment to
that belief is best exercised through his excellent professional work
rather than through contractual obligations with outsiders who are,
quite clearly, trying to influence content."
The contract may be illegal "because Congress has prohibited propaganda,"
or any sort of lobbying for programs funded by the government, said
Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "And it's propaganda."
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said he couldn't comment because the
White House is not involved in departments' contracts.
Ketchum referred questions to the Education Department, whose spokesman,
John Gibbons, said the contract followed standard government procedures.
He said there are no plans to continue with "similar outreach."
Williams' contract was part of a $1 million deal with Ketchum that produced
"video news releases" designed to look like news reports.
The Bush administration used similar releases last year to promote its
Medicare prescription drug plan, prompting a scolding from the Government
Accountability Office, which called them an illegal use of taxpayers'
Williams, 45, a former aide to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas,
is one of the top black conservative voices in the nation. He hosts
The Right Side on TV and radio, and writes op-ed pieces for newspapers,
including USA TODAY, while running a public relations firm, Graham
Williams Group. TOP OF PAGE
U.S. schools behind in use of technology
By Ben Feller, AP Education Writer, 1/7/05
WASHINGTON -- Schools lag behind much of society in using technology,
but students are seeing benefits and clamoring for more access to computers,
the government says.
Virtually all U.S. schools are connected to the Internet, with about one computer for every
five students, according to an Education Department report on school
Overall, more schools are using technology to offer tutoring, track
student performance and increase communication between parents and teachers.
At least 15 states provide some form of "virtual schooling,"
in which young students gain access to individual instruction online.
Yet educators still lack of training and understanding about how computers
can be used to help students, said Education Secretary Rod Paige.
"Education is the only business still debating the usefulness of
technology," Paige said in the National Education Technology Plan,
scheduled for release Friday. "Schools remain unchanged for the
most part despite numerous reforms and increased investments in computers."
Nine in 10 children between age 5 and 17 use computers, and even higher
numbers of online teenagers use the Internet for school-related work,
according to the report sent to Congress. The largest group of new users
of the Internet from 2000 to 2002 were kids age .
Yet students of almost any age are far ahead of their teachers in computer
literacy, according to the report, which is based on comments from thousands
of students, teachers, administrators and education groups. Students
say they see this knowledge gap daily.
"I think that teachers should be required to go to a technology
course," the report quotes one student as saying. Said a second
student: "I think that students should have laptops to do everything
in class. ... We should not have to carry heavy books all day long."
The report calls on states and school districts -- which set curriculum
-- to embrace technology such as broadband Internet access, integrated
data systems and online courses.
Schools often say they lack the money for such technology or training,
but the government report essentially rejects that idea. Money for technology
money can come from reallocating existing budgets and basing all spending
decisions on whether they support learning, the report said.
The report was ordered under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, the
heart of President Bush's domestic agenda. Coming from Bush's Education
Department, the report praises the law as a chief reason why schools
are looking to technology to help kids.
In the PowayUnifiedSchool
in northern San
DiegoCounty, for example, teachers have computer access to student
profiles, including historical data, parent contacts and links to other
teachers. Teachers can filter the data the way federal law requires
-- such as by ethnicity or limited-English ability -- to compare achievement
and identify weaknesses.
in St. Louis, teachers assign online reading lessons and tutoring
based on each student's mastery of the curriculum. Students work on
desktop computers and proceed at their own pace, the report said in
highlighting success stories. TOP OF PAGE
Recommendations from the National Education Technology Plan for states,
school districts and schools:
--Leadership: Invest in programs to develop technology-savvy leaders.
Create partnerships with the business community. Empower students in
the planning process.
--Budget: Evaluate all spending requests based on how they support student
learning. Create a technology fund to carry funds over yearly budget
--Training: Ensure every teacher has the opportunity to take online
learning courses and that teachers know how to use data to personalize
--E-learning: Provide students access to online learning so they can
supplement and expand their courses. Set course standards that mirror
those of courses required for credit.
--Broadband access: Explore providing high-speed communications content
for all those who manage data and use online courses at school.
--Digital content: Get away from a reliance on textbooks in favor of
multimedia content, which is less cumbersome and can be updated more
--Data systems: Coordinate data from administrative and instructional
systems so there are clearer relationships among management decisions
and student achievement. TOP OF PAGE
Houston school chief to probe cheating reports AP, 1/7/05
HOUSTON -- The Houston school district's new superintendent wants to create
an inspector general office to investigate reports of rampant cheating
on the state's standardized achievement test.
Abe Saavedra, who was named to the top post last month, also said Thursday
that hundreds of monitors will be sent to schools for the February and
April cycles of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
The moves come after an investigation by The Dallas Morning News found
strong evidence that educators were helping students cheat at dozens
of Houston schools and nearly 400 schools statewide.
The newspaper investigation said teachers and administrators were giving
students answers or altering test documents to improve student scores.
Saavedra said the Houston district is investigating irregularities at more than
a dozen schools where students had shown "growth so excessive that
it's hard to explain."
Many of the schools are among the state's most lauded, including Wesley
Elementary, which had been held up by President Bush and many conservative
education activists as a model for urban schools nationwide.
Saavedra said he will ask the school board next week to approve creation
of the inspector general office, which would be led by Robert Moore,
district assistant superintendent for internal audit.
Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon said she's seen
Saavedra's plan and is encouraged that he will make it easier for teachers
to report administrators who encourage cheating.
"Most teachers, if left alone, are not going to cheat," she
said. TOP OF PAGE
Margaret Spellings, who served as chief domestic policy adviser to President
Bush during his first term, promised yesterday to iron out problems
with the No Child Left Behind education law if she is confirmed as education
Spellings, 47, appeared headed for swift and painless Senate confirmation
as she answered questions from members of the education committee on
the president's second-term education agenda. Democrats joined Republicans
in praising the nominee's experience and competence while criticizing
the shortage of federal funding for the landmark education legislation.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the ranking Democrat on the committee,
joked that his endorsement of Spellings could represent the "kiss
of death" for her with the right wing. And while he chided the
Bush administration for what he called its "tin-cup education budget,"
he told Spellings with a smile, "You knew you were going to hear
Spellings has the reputation of being more flexible than the current
education secretary, Roderick R. Paige, who oversaw the first phase
of implementation of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which aims to
bring all children up to proficiency in reading and math by 2014. Teachers
unions and some state legislatures have depicted the law as an underfunded
federal mandate, overly cumbersome and bureaucratic.
In her testimony yesterday, Spellings made it clear that she is willing
to implement the legislation pragmatically in order to avoid what she
called "horror stories." In the first two years of the law's
implementation, more than half the schools in some states failed to
meet federal requirements, putting them on a path to eventual reorganization
and closure. The standards they must meet are due to become more onerous
this year, which could result in larger numbers of "failing"
schools unless changes are made.
Spellings promised to work with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.),
who complained that highly regarded schools in New York were becoming overcrowded because of a provision in
the law that allows parents to transfer their children from unsuccessful
schools to thriving ones. As a result, Clinton said, standards were also declining at the successful
A former education lobbyist in Texas, Spellings helped draft the No Child Left Behind Act
and worked behind the scenes at the White House on implementation issues.
She noted yesterday that she is both an advocate and a consumer of education,
with two school-age children. Her older daughter, Mary, 17, attends
a Catholic high school, and her younger daughter, Grace, 12, goes to
a public middle school in Virginia.
"We must stay true to the sound principles of leaving no child
behind," Spellings told the senators. "But we in the administration
must engage with those closest to children to embed these principles
in a sensible and workable way."
Outlining Bush's second-term education agenda, Spellings said that the
practice of regular standardized testing that underpins No Child Left
Behind would be extended into high school from elementary and middle
schools. She also promised to reshape college aid to help older and
disadvantaged students and overhaul the Pell Grant program, whose payments
to students have been lagging behind the ever-rising cost of higher
The committee, whose formal name is the Committee on Health, Education,
Labor and Pensions, voted unanimously to recommend Spellings for Senate
confirmation, which is expected soon. If confirmed, Spellings will preside
over an agency with 4,400 workers and a discretionary budget of $56.6
billion. TOP OF PAGE
Good fiscal news is arriving in state capitals: Tax revenues are finally
starting to recover from their four-year swoon.
The bad news: States face pressure to meet increasing health-care costs
and to replenish rainy-day and other funds legislatures tapped in recent
The bottom line? Schools will have to fight for significant increases
in next fiscal years budgets, according to lawmakers and analysts
preparing for the 2005 legislative sessions, some of which begin this
In education, youd be lucky to get [increases equal to]
inflation, said Wisconsin state Sen. Robert Jauch, a Democrat.
Every state is facing this challenge, Mr. Jauch said in
an interview last month at the National Conference of State Legislatures
fall conference in Savannah, Ga. The question is: Will local funding go up and
to what degree?
In a separate survey conducted late last year by the EducationWeekResearchCenter, state education officials in 31 states said their states
were considering major changes to the way they finance schools.
Legislatures in several of those states face court orders to revamp
their school aid systems. Montana, New York,
and Texas are among the states that will debate revising their
funding formulas to comply with court orders. ("States on Ropes
in Finance Lawsuits," Dec. 8, 2004.)
In Arkansas, the legislature must establish a capital-improvement
program under a 2002 decision by the state supreme court. A recent estimate
put the cost of the improvements to school facilities as high as $2.3
billion. ("Arkansas Facilities Study Sees $2.3 Billion in Needs," Dec. 8, 2004.)
Others states face questions over how to keep the promises to increase
Read the "State Budget Update: November 2004," from the National
Conference of State Legislatures." () In California and Florida,
legislators will seek money to pay for voter-approved educational improvementsthe
most costly of which will likely be Floridas class-size-reduction
and pre-K programs. ("Florida Special Session Yields Preschool
Plan," this issue.)
Marylands legislature faces the challenge of financing
the fourth year of a six-year commitment to add $1.3 billion to K-12
And a panel appointed by Ohio Gov. Bob Taft will soon recommend major
changes in the way the BuckeyeState financially supports its schools.
For the first time since fiscal 2001, nearly all state lawmakers will
arrive for their legislative sessions and receive favorable revenue
In its survey, the NCSL found that only four states expect to face revenue
shortfalls for the current fiscal year.
By comparison, 15 states had to cut their budgets in the middle of fiscal
2004, according to a separate report by the National Governors Association
and the National Association of State Budget Officers, also released
In fiscal 2003, 40 states had to trim their budgets in the middle of
the fiscal year, the report by the two Washington-based groups says.
Still, analysts agree that legislators will need to be stingy as they
spend money for fiscal 2006, which begins July 1 for all but four states.
Even though the overall fiscal situation seems to be getting better
in many states, most are still keeping expenditures reined in, especially
considering pent-up demand that resulted from the recent fiscal crisis,
the NGA and NASBO say in The Fiscal Survey of the States: December
The biggest budget dilemma for states is Medicaid. Spending for the
health-insurance program serving people with low incomes continues to
outpace other costs in state budgets, both reports say.
Although Medicaid is a federal program, states are required to pay some
of its costs, and state officials are complaining that the federal government
has been paying a smaller share in recent years. States Medicaid
costs will increase an estimated 12 percent in fiscal year 2005, compared
with fiscal 2004, the NGA and NASBO estimate. Of the budget officials
surveyed by the NCSL, 30 said Medicaid would be one of the top three
priorities in their upcoming budget debates.
Indeed, an earlier report by NASBO projected that Medicaid spending
in the current fiscal year would, for the first time, become a larger
component of total state spendingwhich includes federal fundsthan
elementary and secondary education.
For school leaders, the situation is likely to present big challenges
in the months ahead.
The districts have done all the cutting they can, said Scott
Croonquist, the executive director of the Association of Metropolitan
School Districts, a group that represents 26 school districts in and
around Minnesotas Twin Cities. The districts enroll about a third
of the states 847,000 pre-K-12 students.
They feel like they are at the end of the line without
gutting core programs, he added.
Elsewhere, California school officials are lobbying state legislators to appropriate
money in compliance with a 1988 ballot measure that promises schools
funding hikes equal to inflation and enrollment increases.
After several years of massive budget deficits, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger,
a Republican, negotiated a deal with school groups and state leaders
last summer that cut more than $2 billion from the guaranteed minimum
funding level in the fiscal 2005 education budget, which totaled $49.2
billion. The agreement stipulated that education would receive a portion
of any new or increased revenues in the coming year.
With the states revenue picture improving, California schools expect a significant increase in funding during
revisions this fiscal year and in fiscal 2006, says a coalition of groups
representing teachers, school districts, and school boards.
Were reminding the governor of the promise he made and making
sure the public is aware of the situation, said Hilary McLean,
the spokeswoman for state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack
OConnell. It puts the big picture in perspective.
In other states, meanwhile, lawmakers are committing to long-term fixes
to school finances.
Kansas is expected to collect about $80 million above its fiscal
2005 revenue projections, said Sen. John Vratil. And revenue forecasts
for fiscal 2006 are $200 million higher than previously expected, he
Legislators will need all of thatand probably moreif the
state supreme court requires them to increase school funding.
The expected additional revenue is probably not enough to rectify
the school finance problem, even if every dime of it is spent
on schools, said Sen. Vratil, a Republican and the vice chairman of
the Senate education committee.
Maryland faces a similar situation. Revenues are increasing,
but not quickly enough to keep up with both health costs and K-12 needs.
Under a 2002 law, the state is scheduled to increase K-12 funding by
$382 million for fiscal 2006an 11 percent increase over the current
Meanwhile, the states costs for Medicaid expenses and health-insurance
costs for state employees are growing, leaving Maryland with a projected $500 million shortfall in fiscal 2005,
said Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Democrat.
Those things are putting incredible pressures on the budget,
said Mr. Hogan, the vice chairman of the Senate budget committee.
To raise the money, the Maryland
legislature will once again debate Gov. Robert Ehrlichs plan to
install slot machines at horse-racing tracks. The proposal by the first-term
GOP governor passed the Senate each of the past two years but died in
In other states, legislatures face debates over raising taxes or imposing
Theres heavy pressure for no new taxes, Mr. Vratil
said, but theres also heavy pressure for additional services
In Minnesota, if the state is unwilling to increase taxes, school
districts will seek authority from the legislature to do so on their
own. Right now, voters must approve property-tax rates. School boards,
though, would like the power to raise taxes on their own, Mr. Croonquist
Although the funding picture is improving, states revenue still
hasnt reached the level of its peak at the start of the decade.
Fiscal 2005 revenue will be about 94 percent of that in fiscal 2000,
an expert in state revenues told the attendees at the NCSLs conference
Were still a couple years away from getting back to where
we were, Nicholas W. Jenny, a senior policy analyst at the Nelson
A. Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, N.Y., said at the NCSL meeting in Savannah.
This is part of the reason states are having so much trouble getting
their budgets to work, he said. Revenues just arent
what they were.
Washington - The task seemed straightforward enough: Students taking
part in a recent international test were asked to review drawings of
five triangles with varying angles and midpoints. Then those teenagers
were to read over a paragraph describing the characteristics of a particular
triangle and, finally, choose the triangle that fit the description.
Of the students from industrialized nations who took that exam, the
Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, 62 percent received full credit for answering the question
Yet the assignment befuddled a greater percentage of test-takers from
the United States, of whom only 46 percent received full credit. That
poor showing repeated itself throughout the problem-solving and mathematics-literacy
sections of PISA, whose results were released here and in other locations
around the world last month. The exam showed U.S. 15-year-olds lagging behind their peers from other industrialized
nations in those areas.
By some measures, American students fared better on a second, equally
scrutinized international test released a week later: the Trends in
International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS. That exam showed
U.S. 4th and 8th graders scoring above international averages
in math and science, and minority groups improving.
To some education experts, though, the U.S. performance on the two international exams reinforced
their belief that American students suffer from an inability to perform
complex reasoning and mathematical assignmentsthe kind they are
likely to encounter in college and the workplace.
Were not doing as much problem-solving of that type as we
need to be, said Cathy L. Seeley, the president of the National
Council of Teachers of Mathematics, based in Arlington, Va.
In other countriesincluding several Asian ones that outperformed
the United States on both PISA and TIMSSacademic work is far more likely to be
presented through exercises that students encounter every day, Ms. Seeley
and others say. In those nations, a lesson is presented through a real-world
situation in a textbook, and students are asked to use a specific skill
they are being taughtsuch as multiplicationto solve the
problem. Students later move on to more complicated tests of that mathematic
skill, all the while maintaining an understanding of its application
in everyday problems, Ms. Seeley said.
In the United
by contrast, the approach is Heres the rule, heres
how you do it, and here are some word problems, said Ms. Seeley,
a former director of mathematics for the state of Texas, who is a research associate at the CharlesA.DanaCenter at the University of Texas,
The shortcomings of that approach were evident in U.S. students performance on PISA, she suggested. American students scored 477 on the
problem-solving section of the test, and 483 in mathematics literacythe
two main subjects the 2003 PISA measured in depthbelow the international average
of industrialized nations of 500 in both areas, ranking the United States 24th out of 29 nations in each category. The results
were released Dec. 7.
The Asian countries strong showing did not surprise Phil Daro,
a senior fellow at the NationalCenter on Education and the Economy who has studied differences
between textbooks used in that region and in the United States. The Washington-based center studies the impact of educationparticularly
higher standardson the American economy and its workforce.
Mathematics textbooks in countries such as Japan are in many cases only one-third as long as those used
in the United
where textbooks tend to be bloated with repetitive drills covering a
relatively modest amount of material, Mr. Daro said. Japanese textbooks
are not about activities, but about concepts, he said. Each
problem builds on the previous one, he said.
When U.S. students were asked on PISA to demonstrate skills beyond the relatively narrow set
of questions on which they had been drilled, Mr. Daro said, they were
lost. Japanese students, by contrast, learn to solve unrehearsed
In recent years, Mr. Daro and others say, U.S. mathematics instruction has been scorched in the pedagogical
blaze known as the math warsa divide between those
who see a need for a greater emphasis on basic skills in math and others
who say students lack a broader, conceptual understanding of the subject.
That debate has proven distracting and destructive, Mr.
Daro said, pointing out that Asian nations outscoring the United States on international tests had shown an ability to nurture
both aspects of mathematics skills among students.
The TIMSS exam, in contrast to PISA, evaluates 4th and 8th grade students on the material
theyve covered in school, testing them on curricula that are shared
by the participating nations. U.S. students beat the international averages in both science
and mathematics on TIMSS.
Minority students showed improvement in several categories at the 4th
and 8th grade levels. But while U.S. officials found those results encouraging, they also
noted that this countrys relative performance among 4th grade
students declined, compared with that of other nations, between 1995
and 2003. The relative standing of 8th graders improved during that
While their scores are better, the fact is theyre not keeping
up with their peers in other nations, U.S. Deputy Secretary of
Education Eugene W. Hickok said of the 4th grade scores. He spoke at
a Dec. 14 press event in Washington on the TIMSS results.
A Basic-Skills Problem
Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based
think tank, said TIMSS exposed U.S. students weaknesses in basic arithmetic skills.
Mr. Loveless probed that issue in depth in a study released earlier
in 2004, in which he concluded that the National Assessment of Educational
Progress, the premier domestic test of students academic skills,
was too easy. ("Study Finds NAEP Math Questions Extraordinarily
Easy," Nov. 24, 2004.)
TIMSS, by comparison, evaluates those skills more thoroughly, he said,
particularly through more decimal and fractions problems, and found
American students wanting. Overall, Mr. Loveless argued, the international
tests show we have a basic-skills problem.
Some federal education officials, such as Grover J. Whitehurst, the
director of the Institute of Education Sciences within the U.S. Department of Education, interpreted
the TIMSS results as showing a need for better alignment in states and
school districts between standards for what students should be learning
and the curricula guiding what they are actually taught.
But Mr. Whitehurst and others noted that foreign countries with more
centralized, nationally driven education systems were able to make across-the-board
changes to schools based on PISA and TIMSS results in ways that the UnitedState could not. For instance, a European nation displeased
with its results, he said, could align a national curriculum toward
meeting that need.
David W. Gordon, a superintendent in California and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board,
which sets policy for the NAEP test, added that few of the top-performing
nations on PISA and
TIMSS face as many challenges in educating a diverse population as the
Mr. Gordon pointed out that his former district, Californias 58,000-student ElkGroveUnifiedSchool
served students who spoke 85 different languages. Were trying
to do something extraordinary, in raising every student to a certain
level, Mr. Gordon said of U.S. schools. Thats not the goal in some other
But Mr. Gordon, now the superintendent of the Sacramento County Office
of Education, also observed that students from immigrant families displayed
a strong work ethic, a diligence he believes was lacking in too many
The superintendent also saw an irony in one of the PISA findings: In a survey of 15-year-olds attitudes
toward studying mathematics, American students showed some of the greatest
confidence in their abilities of any group from any country. Students
from the United States, for example, were far more likely to say they were
good at mathematics and received strong grades in that subject than
their peers in Japan and South Korea, whose teenagers easily outperformed them in problem-solving
and mathematics literacy on PISA.
Were number one, Mr. Gordon said, in self-esteem.
When Brad E. Mathewson enrolled in a Missouri high school last fall, he saw no reason to keep his
sexual orientation in the closet. School officials, though, said that
was just where his gay-pride T-shirts belonged.
Halfway across the country in Southern
Chase Harper also got in trouble for wearing T-shirts about gays. An
evangelical Christian who views homosexuality as a sin, he was told
that his anti-gay T-shirts had no place at his public high school.
Despite their dueling viewpoints, Mr. Mathewson and Mr. Harper both
thought they had every right to wear their T-shirts. And when administrators
tried to censor them, both took their complaints to court.
Young people have long sported T-shirts that schools wish theyd
leave at home. Legal fights have been waged in recent years, for example,
over shirts about guns, abortion, the Confederate battle flag, and the
war in Iraq.
But at a time when gay rights remains a divisive and unsettled issue
nationally, a recent spate of disputes over T-shirts on the subject
has presented educators with particularly vexing problems. Besides the
Missouri and California cases, disputes over such shirts have cropped
up in Minnesota, New York state, North Carolina, Ohio, and Utah, among
The messages on T-shirts are symbolic of the larger battle over how
to treat homosexuality in a public school, said Charles C. Haynes,
a senior scholar at the FirstAmendmentCenter in Arlington, Va. Like so many other times in our history, the public
school has become a battleground for an important culture-war fight.
The battle over gay rights including the increasingly high-profile
issue of same-sex marriagehas a strong religious component. That
aspect further complicates matters for schools at a time when courts
have sent conflicting messages on the extent of students rights
to free speech and religious expression. And the debate is playing out
amid mounting concern about harassment of students because of their
sexual orientation, injecting emotional issues of student safety into
Little wonder, then, that once schools get caught up in the fray over
T-shirts about gays, many are finding it hard to emerge unscathed.
Schools Seen as Trapped
One of several recent skirmishes in the T-shirt wars erupted in November
in a rural area of southwestern Missouri,
where Mr. Mathewson attended high school until dropping out last month.
Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri, he sued the WebbCity school district after administrators ordered him to
stop wearing T-shirts supporting gay rights, including one proclaiming,
Im gay and Im proud.
is trying to deny my rights by silencing me, Mr. Mathewson, 16,
said at a Nov. 23 news conference announcing the federal suit. Contending
that he was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation,
he alleged that students came to school with bumper stickers denouncing
gay marriage, and that his shirts werent even really noticed
until the school drew attention to them.
A lawyer for the 3,750-student WebbCity district said school leaders took action against Mr.
Mathewson only after other students complained about harassment from
students wearing gay-pride shirts. And Superintendent Ronald L. Lankford
said in an interview that high school students should not have to serve
as a captive audience for societal arguments over homosexuality.
If you have no governance of messages that a student might be
wearing, then what happens when somebody comes in with a shirt saying
I hate gays, he said.
Meanwhile, in Southern
California, Mr. Harper
sued the 33,000-student Poway district last June after administrators there barred
him from wearing a shirt with such hand-lettered messages as Homosexuality
Mr. Harper, 16, wore his shirt to protest his schoolmates participation
last April in the annual Day of Silence, a national event coordinated
by the New York City-based Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network
in which students mark their support for gay rights by not talking for
a day. One of his shirts featured the message, Be ashamed: Our
school embraced what God has condemned.
We have a school district that aggressively supported the pushing
of the homosexual agenda within the public schools, said Robert
H. Tyler, a lawyer with the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense
Fund, who is representing Mr. Harper. If theyre going to
open it up to allow the homosexual agenda to be pushed in schools, then
they have to allow the mainstream view to be expressed as well.
In November, a judge in the U.S. District Court in San Diego denied Mr. Harpers motion that the district be
ordered to let him to wear his shirt. But the judge also held that the
boys contention that the district had violated his First Amendment
rights deserved to go forward. Appeals of that ruling are pending.
Jack M. Sleeth Jr., a lawyer representing the Poway
district, said the school system is also being sued in state court by
gay students who maintain that officials have failed to protect them
The high school is pretty much trapped between the forces of what
is essentially a political fight, Mr. Sleeth said. Theyre
trying to do the right thing, and theyre not sure what the right
School officials confusion is well founded, some legal experts
say, given the mixed messages courts have given in disputes over students
rights to free speech.
In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des MoinesIndependentCommunitySchool
that school officials had violated students rights by punishing
them for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. A school
should not squelch students expression of a particular opinion,
that landmark ruling held, at least without evidence that it is
necessary to avoid material and substantial interference with schoolwork
Since then, the high court has given schools the go-ahead for some types
of censorship. BethelSchool
v. Fraser, a 1986 ruling, established that school officials can discipline
students for lewd or indecent speech, and the 1988 decision in HazelwoodSchool
v. Kuhlmeier authorized educators to supervise the content of official
high school newspapers.
Against that backdrop, a recent guide titled Dealing With Legal
Matters Surrounding Students Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
urged educators to tread lightly when faced with students wearing pro-gay
and anti-gay messages on T-shirts.
The fact that other students, teachers, or school administrators
may disagree with, dislike, or object to a message conveyed on student
clothing does not constitute sufficient disruption of the learning environment
or interference with other students rights, says the guide,
which was produced by a consortium of national organizations, with leadership
from the National School Boards Association.
On the other hand, the guide says, [t]his does not mean that school
officials must wait for disruption before they can act. But they must
be able to demonstrate that their concerns are well founded.
For educators, making on-the-spot judgment calls can be tricky, said
Christopher B. Gilbert, a Houston
lawyer who has represented school districts in student-speech cases.
You are predicting that its going to cause a disruption,
and the word predicting implies that sometimes youre
going to get it wrong, he said.
Mr. Gilberts advice is that administrators stop and think before
telling a student not to wear something. Its way too easy
to make spur-of-the- moment decisions and say that doesnt need
to be worn, he said. Thats where people get in trouble.
Open Debate Urged
James D. Esseks, the litigation director for the ACLU Lesbian and Gay
Rights Project, based in New York City, said schools should let students
wear T-shirts with messages on different sides of the gay-rights debate,
as long as they arent badgering other kids about that message,
or harassing people about that message, or raising that message in class
during instructional time.
Stephen M. Crampton, a lawyer who represented a Minnesota high school student who successfully sued his district
in 2001 after being barred from wearing a Straight Pride
T-shirt, essentially agrees. While criticizing schools for promoting
what he called the homosexual agenda, he said students should
be free to express their views even if their messages are perceived
as negative attacks rather than as positive affirmations of beliefs.
What are we left with when we cant condemn certain behavior
that we think is wrong? said Mr. Crampton, the chief counsel for
the AmericanFamilyAssociationCenter for Law & Policy, based in Tupelo, Miss.
Given the deep social divisions over homosexuality, Mr. Haynes of the
FirstAmendmentCenter recommends that schools avoid censorship that drives
students views on the subject underground, where speech can really
get ugly. Instead, he argued, educators need to give kids
a way to talk about these issues responsibly, in part because
sometimes these young people are really cutting a path in terms
of thinking about how were going to deal with this issue.
Let the debate go on in public school as long as it doesnt
go into hate speech, he said. Let the voices be heard.
Chicago Resisting Federal Directive on NCLB Tutoring
By Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, 1/5/05
Federal authorities have told the low-performing Chicago school district that it must stop providing tutoring
under the No Child Left Behind Act. But the district has refused, producing
a standoff between U.S. education officials and the countrys third-largest school system.
Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the Chicago schools, said that his district would continue to serve
as a provider of tutoring services. Stopping would disrupt tutoring
for tens of thousands of children, he said, an outcome he views as absurd
and contrary to the intent of the No Child Left Behind Act.
The authors of the law had the best of intentions for kids,
he said in a December interview. But you cant blindly follow
rules that hurt kids, that are absent of logic.
The U.S. Department of Education responded by suggesting that Mr. Duncan
was engaging in political gamesmanship. Federal officials gave Illinois education leaders until early this month to ensure that
the district follows regulations that bar districts that fall short
of state performance goals from using federal funds to serve as tutors.
Under the No Child Left Behind law, Title I schools that fail to make
sufficient progress for three consecutive years must offer free tutoring
to low-income students, through private vendors or the school district,
using a portion of their Title I funds. Districts that fall short of
their states academic goals may still provide the tutoring, but
cannot use the federal money to do so.
Regulations prohibit districts from serving as providers of supplemental
educational services, or tutoring, if they have failed to meet
their states benchmarks for adequate progress under the law.
State and federal officials were discussing the Chicago situation, but by last week, no agreement had been reached.
Too Strict a View?
Chicago officials believe the law should be applied with greater
flexibility. They view the districts academic progress last school
year as a sign that it is qualified to provide tutoring for struggling
Eugene W. Hickok, the outgoing U.S. deputy secretary of education, acknowledged in an interview
that the district has made strides, but said that it still falls short
of being qualified to provide tutoring. Granting exceptions to the law,
he said, would only undermine its intent to ensure that underprivileged
children secure high-quality academic help if their school districts
have failed them.
Its very important not just for the department, but for
the nation, to stand firm, Mr. Hickok said. If districts
arent able to get the job done, why should they be eligible for
more money to not get the job done again?
Jeff Simering, the director of legislative services for the Council
of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based advocacy group for large
urban districts, said the regulations are overly restrictive, given
the laws phrasing. The law allows tutoring by entities with a
demonstrated record of effectiveness, a definition he believes
applies to Chicagos after-school programs.
Illinois education officials had asked the federal Department of Education
to allow Chicago and 10 other districts to continue serving as tutoring
providers, even though preliminary data suggested they could be deemed
in need of improvement under the federal law.
But in a Dec. 2 response, Mr. Hickok refused to grant the exceptions.
To enforce the regulations, he said, the state may withhold federal
funding or force districts to repay federal funds.
Final Illinois test data were issued Dec. 15, showing that one of the
11 districts had met state benchmarks and so was free to continue serving
as a tutor, said Becky Watts, a spokeswoman for the state education
department. Chicago and nine others were formally notified that they
had fallen short of the requirements.
About 82,000 of Chicagos 434,000 students are receiving supplemental services
this school year. About 40,000 chose Chicagos own program. The rest opted for private providers.
Mr. Hickoks letter said Chicago
must stop imposing a $1,500-per-student cap on the reimbursement that
private tutoring vendors may receive from the district under the program,
and abide instead by the states $2,200 cap. That change means
Chicago would be able to afford to offer private-sector tutoring
for only 24,000 children, said Beth Swanson, the director of Chicagos after-school programs.
If Chicago stopped its own program, the district would have to halt
tutoring services for those served by private providers as well, while
it re-evaluated which children should get priority, as required by the
No Child Left Behind law, she said.
Though its own tutoring programs average about 15 students per teacher,
compared with eight or 10 in programs run by the citys 28 private
providers, Ms. Swanson said a recent parent-satisfaction survey ranked
the districts own programs first or second in relation to those
run by private vendors. Weve got to be doing something right,
Some question whether private-sector tutors could absorb enough displaced
students. Gene Wade, the chief executive officer of New York City-based
Platform Learning, Chicagos largest such provider with 13,500 students in
76 schools, said it would take time to expand programming.
Any provider who says, I can ramp up overnight and take on tens
of thousands of kids, isnt being honest, Mr. Wade said.
It will be weeks. It could end up being months.
Mr. Duncan said he felt caught in a double bind. Waiting for final test
data would have delayed tutoring until winter and rendered it difficult
to serve large numbers of children, but choosing to enroll children
last spring, as he did, not knowing the final data, is now forcing him
to choose between cutting back or resisting federal mandates.
Mr. Hickok said he warned Mr. Duncan by telephone in September that
there would be problems with the tutoring program if his district failed
to meet state benchmarks.
States desperately need to raise the bar on high school graduation requirements
to better prepare students for college and the workforce, a report says,
contending that a wide gap exists between graduating students
skills and the challenges of the postsecondary world.
In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, students can earn a high school diploma without acquiring
the knowledge and skills needed for higher education and jobs, according
to The Expectations GapA 50-State Review of High School
Graduation Requirements. Achieve, a Washington-based group formed
by governors and business leaders that advocates strong academic standards,
released the report Dec. 21.
At least one expert blamed the conclusion partly on states refusal
to focus on high school reform. So far, most of the reform energy
and resources have been poured into elementary schools under the misguided
idea that if we get students on a good start, high schools can fix themselves,
said Kati Haycock, the executive director of Education Trust, a Washington-based
group that seeks to improve academic opportunity.
The Achieve report recommends a rigorous diet of four years of grade-level
mathematics and English for high school students. It says that should
include Algebra 1, geometry, Algebra 2, data analysis and statistics,
as well as literature, writing, reasoning, logic, and communications
The authors reviewed high school course requirements in all the states
and the District of Columbia. They found that only five statesAlabama, Arkansas,
Mississippi, South Carolina, and West
students to take four years of math. Only six statesAlabama, Arkansas,
Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, and West Virginiarequire four years of grade-level English.
In the past two decades, states havent made significant efforts
to boost high school course requirements, said Michael Cohen, the president
of Achieve and a former assistant U.S. secretary of education under President Clinton. But it has become
very clear in the time since that students who graduate from high school
need to have a common set of knowledge and skills needed in the workplace
and for college, he said.
Acknowledging that the job wont be easy, he urged state leaders
to work with postsecondary officials and employers to define the learning
required for graduates to succeed after high school, and without a need
for remedial study.
The report recommends that states take a hard look at the core content
of required high school courses to ensure that educators have a common
understanding of what students need to learn.
Set Up to Fail?
States also should encourage all students, particularly those who are
low-performing, to pursue accelerated options for earning postsecondary
credit in high school. Those options could include Advanced Placement
courses or early-college high schools, which allow students to earn
two years of college credits while earning a high school diploma. ("Gates
Foundation Expands Support of 'EarlyCollege' High Schools," and "Study: AP Classes Alone
Don't Aid College Work," both in this issue).
Matthew Gandal, the executive vice president of Achieve and a senior
editor of the study, said states would benefit from monitoring the progress
of individual students from kindergarten through college to collect
data that could then be used to strengthen high school course offerings.
There should be a data system to track how students do once they
graduate and go to collegehow many students are required to take
remedial courses, and how many are successful in earning a degree,
The American Diploma Project, established by Achieve, the Education
Trust, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation last year, found that states
and employers each year spend millions of dollars on remedial courses
to cover what students should already have learned in high school. As
many as 28 percent of college freshmen are placed in remedial courses,
and roughly half of all college students do not graduate at all, according
to American Diploma Project data.
Mr. Gandal noted concerns that raising high school graduation requirements
could hurt students and increase dropout rates. But the real disservice,
he said, is to hand students diplomas that set them up for failure in
It is a lot more fair to give them rigorous standards in high
schools to ensure they succeed later on, he said.
The report adds that employers say that most high school graduates are
inadequately prepared to succeed in an increasingly competitive economy.
It cites a 2002 study in which more than 60 percent of employers reported
that recent graduates had poor math skills, and 75 percent pointed to
poor grammar and writing skills.
Poor Work Skills
Nancy Hoffman, the vice president of transitions for the Boston-based
group Jobs for the Future, which works to improve job opportunities
for young people, said many studies show employers are dissatisfied
with the skills of the young people they interview and thus do not hire
Many young people end up in what we call dead-end McJobs,
where only limited reading, writing, math, and critical-thinking skills
are needed, she said.
Achieves report also says that the absence of a rigorous high
school curriculum hurts minority students and those from low-income
families the most.
Taking a rigorous high school curriculum that includes math at least
through Algebra 2, the report says, cuts in half the gap in college-completion
rates between African-American and Latino students, at the lower end
of the achievement scale, and white students, at the upper end. But,
it points out, black and Hispanic youngsters are significantly less
likely than Asian and white students to take rigorous college- and work-preparatory
The report also holds out hope for change: Arkansas, Indiana,
and Texas, it says, will soon make a rigorous college- and work-prep
curriculum the norm.