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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – Dec. 31, 2004 to Jan. 7, 2005


Changes to state law take effect / State Journal-Register
Service tax may fund education / LaSalle News Tribune
Objective information missing in school funding decisions / Chicago Sun-Times
School teaches energy efficiency / Daily Herald
Science in my socks: What it’s like to learn at home / State Journal-Register
Schools finally get a passing grade / Daily Southtown
'Let's not leave any gay students behind' / Daily Southtown
Local lawmakers visit Stewardson-Strasburg schools, see need for promised funds
Decatur Herald & Review
The flawed logic of No Child Left Behind / DeKalb Daily Chornicle
State needs to increase graduation requirements / Pantagraph

The Next School Reform /
Washington Post
Ranking behind in math, U.S. can't expect to excel / Detroit Free Press
Maine takes the right approach to student testing / Laconia Citizen (NH)
Financial education / Washington Times
C.B. schools look to 10-year-old statute to keep students enrolled / Daily Nonpariel (IA)
Our 26 Most Dangerous Schools and Other Fables /
Washington Post
Kansas ordered to spend more on schools / Chicago Sun-Times
Report: California's once sterling schools now rank below par / Los Angeles Times
Act leaves student information open to military recruiters / Rockdale Citizen (GA)
Analysis: State school standards assailed / Washington Times
New law gives top students days off / Dallas Morning News
Tragedy Not Just Geography Lesson /
Washington Post
Schools struggle to reduce high teacher turnover / Seattle Times
Amid testing stress, some teachers cheat / Indianapolis Star
Bush's Latest Brainchild Could Be Left Behind /
Los Angeles Times
Some in House look to roll back Bush plans / Boston Globe
Kids in Harlem Savor Food That Isn't Fast / New York Times
White House paid commentator to promote law / USA Today
U.S. schools behind in use of technology / Boston Globe
Tips for schools in using technology / Boston Globe
Houston school chief to probe cheating reports /
Spellings Promises Fixes to No Child Left Behind Law /
Washington Post

K-12 Finance a Top Priority in ’05 Sessions / Education Week
Poor Math Scores on World Stage Trouble U.S. / Education Week
T-Shirts on Gay Issues Spur Lawsuits / Education Week
Chicago Resisting Federal Directive on NCLB Tutoring / Education Week
Report: High Schools Must Demand More / Education Week



Changes to state law take effect
One raises school dropout age to 17
Adriana Colindres, State Journal-Register, 1/1/05
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
Sangamon County.
Illinois' high school dropout rate last year was 4.6 percent, according to the 2004 state report card issued by the State Board of Education.
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.
Tazewell County State'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 methamphetamine.
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
Zeller Mental Health Center in Peoria. After Zeller closed, the Peoria County Sheriff's Department and other police agencies had to absorb the cost of transporting the individuals.
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 with children.
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.

Service tax may fund education
Tom Collins and Sean Thomas, LaSalle News Tribune
As a working mom with a razor-thin budget, Karen Player of
Spring Valley doesn’t 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 6 percent to the cost of movie tickets, haircuts, rounds of golf and trips to the gym.
“It’d be kind of rough,” Player said, anticipating a few more trips to the video store instead of the cinema. “But I’m all for education; I’m all for the kids.”
Legislators hope more voters see it Player’s 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 children’s education in the Illinois Valley. 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 vote.
Things have changed since then.
Legislators have grudgingly reached a consensus that to fix school funding they’ll 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
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.
It’s an ambitious program, and one school official said it could work.
“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).
“We’re going to get to a point where we’re going to have to cut back on all facets of state government,” he said, “or we’re going to have to raise the income taxes, because we’re tried everything and we’ve cut about everything but education and healthcare.”
Throughout the week, the NewsTribune has chronicled numerous problems facing
Illinois Valley schools, including:
- Declining state funding, increasing the tax burden on homeowners
- The potential loss of Title I funding under the No Child Left Behind Act
- Disappearing grants for school programs
- Unfunded mandates, such as fingerprinting of substitute teachers, which the state orders but won’t 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 won’t be easy. The proposed service tax isn’t the only change taxpayers would have to bear.
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.
That’s a sweeping change to
Illinois’ tax code. Not surprisingly, the 2004 legislative session ended with no action because legislators couldn’t reach a consensus.
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 isn’t 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 we’d 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, we’d 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 state’s getting a cut of the action already, how much do they need?” Stout said. “I don’t believe the state is spending their money properly. That’s 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-Spring Valley) 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.
“It’s 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 governor’s office is not on board,” said Mautino. “So nothing happens until the governor’s office says, ‘Send me this and I’ll sign it.’”
Actually, had Meeks come to the statehouse floor for a vote, Mautino and Welch wouldn’t 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 everyone.
Kay Wallace, a
Princeton school board member, isn’t crazy about Meeks but points out, “Nobody’s offering anything better.”
Golf course owner Ron Senica said he would oppose a tax hike because there are no guarantees the hikes wouldn’t continue.
“The schools are hurting, I’ll grant you, and something’s got to be cut,” Senica said, “but with the county and city wanting to raise taxes, where are we going to stop?”


Objective information missing in school funding decisions
Ralph Martire,
Chicago Sun-Times
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.


School teaches energy efficiency
C. L. Waller, Daily Herald
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
Prairie Crossing Charter School 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 prairies.
"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 positioned differently."
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 said.
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
Crossroads Church 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 environment now."
Kindergarten will remain at the
Wright School house while sixth through eighth grades will be at the Kennicott building.


Science in my socks: What it’s like to learn at home
By Nathan Atkinson, Student Reporter, State Journal-Register, 1/4/05
Like most teens, I don’t do mornings well.
7 a.m., 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 it’s time for breakfast; my usual is Rice Krispies cereal crunched together with peanut butter. It’s the real breakfast of champions, whatever Wheaties may claim. By the time I’ve finished my monster cup of hot chocolate, I’m fully awake. Mostly.
At any rate, it’s time for me to officially start my school day at
8 a.m. But, unlike most teens, I don’t 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 you’re like the rest of the world and were wondering, I study science in my socks.
My day doesn’t 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 it’s OK.
Usually I do math first, but my schedule varies from there. Sometimes I get all of my schoolwork done before
2 p.m.; sometimes it’s not finished until 5 p.m. 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 isn’t 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 don’t have to worry about classmates, I can excel at certain subjects and learn at my own pace. I’m 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 school.
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 activities.
Just like any other school, home schooling does have its downsides. I don’t get to see some of my friends often and it’s 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 hasn’t.
I can’t 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?


Schools finally get a passing grade
Study gives
Illinois a C- for education funding
By Kati Phillips, Daily Southtown Staff Writer,

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 outdated.

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,"
Watts said.

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, McGee said.

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.


'Let's not leave any gay students behind'
Bremen SD 288 students ask for gay-straight alliance
By Kati Phillips, Daily Southtown Staff writer, 1/6/05

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
Oak Forest High School 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 Tuesday.

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," he said.

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 couples.

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.

Tinley Park High School 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.


Local lawmakers visit Stewardson-Strasburg schools, see need for promised funds
By Nathaniel West, Herald & Review Staff Writer, 1/7/05

STRASBURG - The first-grade music class took a break to wave at the nice men from

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
noon 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
Hutsonville School 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 vague.

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.


The flawed logic of No Child Left Behind
Letter by Cecil Smith, Professor of Educational Psychology, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb Daily Chronicle, 1/6/05

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 "
Lake Wobegon 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."


State needs to increase graduation requirements
Pantagraph Editorial, 1/7/05

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 requirements.

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 state requirements.

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.

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.




Next School 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, many others."
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.
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.
It's a big challenge, but the effort has begun.

Ranking behind in math,
U.S. can't expect to excel
Detroit Free Press Editorial
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 Czech Republic. 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 classrooms.
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 that goal.
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 counted.


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
Maine’s 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
Maine’s 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.
Minard’s 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 doesn’t fully address the needs of the individual student.
"And that is what education is all about," concludes Minard.
A sentiment we couldn’t agree with more.
One of the criticisms of No Child Left Behind testing is that it is short-sighted, that is doesn’t adequately track the long-term progress of individual students.
That is not the case with
Maine’s 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 successful.
If students do not meet the assessment standards, teachers must work with them until they do.
Another striking aspect of
Maine’s 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.

Financial education
Karen Goldberg Goff, The
Washington Times
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
Albert Einstein High School 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 spending power.
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 trouble."
Some schools are working to ensure a grasp of money concepts. The credit union is one of several branches in
Montgomery County 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 account."
Adds Cynthia Rivera, another Einstein sophomore: "I've learned how to not get ripped off."
Financial literacy
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 —
Idaho, Illinois, 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
Anne Arundel County, 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 James Madison University. 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 say.
"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 month.
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 to absorb."
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.


C.B. schools look to 10-year-old statute to keep students enrolled
Phil Rooney,The Daily Nonpariel (IA)
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 Bluffs Community School District, 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
Pottawattamie County 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 in school.
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
Pottawattamie County 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," Christie said.
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," he said.
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 school.
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, Christie said.
"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, Christie said.
"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 district.
"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 years.
It's the type of rule that may be more useful to some districts than others, Elwood said.


Our 26 Most Dangerous Schools and Other Fables
By Jay Mathews,
Washington Post Staff Writer, 1/4/05
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 Dangerous Schools."
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 affected.
But, uh, where are
New York and 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 institutions?
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 is overlooked.
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-Eagle Butte Junior High School in Eagle Butte and the George S. Mickelson Education Center 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 events.
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.
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 annual evaluations."
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 mean much.
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 behind.
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.
Who won?
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 taxes.
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.''


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 Monday.
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, a
Rand 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."
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 and Louisiana.
--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 peers."
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."


Act leaves student information open to military recruiters
Roger Barnes, Rockdale Citizen (GA)
If you’re 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
Rockdale County High School senior. “They said, ‘We see you’re doing really good in school, and we think you’ll be great in the Army.’ I don’t think they should have my number. I’m not interested in the Army.”
Fellow RCHS senior Nicole Paulus, also 17, said, “They called me in the beginning of the year and said they’d 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. “I’m responsible for
Heritage High School, so I call students there.
“Most people don’t 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 don’t. Some don’t want to talk to us. It’s hit or miss. We can’t 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 don’t 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 didn’t want to, they didn’t 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 it’s an underlined must, make that information available.”

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 we’re working with a third. That’s 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.
“It’s 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 the military.
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.

“It’s 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.”


Analysis: State school standards assailed
By Les Kjos, United Press International, 1/4/05

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
Fordham University.

"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," Finn said.

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 said.

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," he said.

"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 and multiplying."

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 English literature.

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
Northeastern University.

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," Klein said.

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 Jersey 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 bills.

"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. Thompson Learning Center in Dallas. "A lot of parents use school as a baby sitter."

Mixed reactions

Camile White, who has three children at
Harry Stone Montessori School 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 them home.

"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
Kimball High School.

DISD's stand

Whether the program will be embraced by the
Dallas Independent School District 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 Prairie Valley 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. Marchman said.

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. Payne said.

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 Geography Lesson
Immigrant Students Share Tales of Relatives' Suffering From Tsunami
By Ylan Q. Mui and Rosalind S. Helderman,
Washington Post Staff Writers, 1/4/05

U.S. flag at Harper Park Middle School 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 natural disasters.

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."

Walter Johnson High School 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.

JEB Stuart High School in the Falls Church area of Fairfax County, 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. "

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
Montgomery Blair High School 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 asked them.

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 Paint Branch High School 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."


Schools struggle to reduce high teacher turnover
By Sanjay Bhatt, Seattle Times staff reporter, 1/3/05

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 Point's 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 instructional resources.

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 enrollment.

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 between schools.

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 bring."

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.

Teacher burnout

"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 students.

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 do.

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.

Retention incentives

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 this?' "


Amid testing stress, some teachers cheat
Experts chalk up cases of score-fixing to growing stakes of the state exams.
By Staci Hupp,
Indianapolis Star, 1/2/05

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 each year.

"Some people are bending the rules," said Thomas Haladyna, an
Arizona State University 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."

Pressure grows

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 to fail.

The federal law, known as No Child Left Behind, has changed the landscape of education.

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 lessons.

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
Center Grove Middle 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 advance.

State officials refer to the scandal as organized test tampering, although they failed to pinpoint who was behind it.

• Last year,
Fort Wayne school officials lobbied to throw out the scores of a class of third-graders whose teacher gave away answers by emphasizing certain words on verbal test questions.

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 officials said.

The scores of 20 third-graders at
Longfellow Elementary School 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 organization.

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.

Few consequences

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 Education Committee.

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
Indiana University's Center for Evaluation and Education Policy. "People panic."

Test incidents

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
National Center for Policy Analysis


Bush's Latest Brainchild Could Be Left Behind
After his Nov. 2 win, all seems in line to expand the academic testing law
But analysts say there may be resistance from both sides in Congress
By Nick Anderson,
Los Angeles 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," Miller said.

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 local function."

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 GOP skeptics.

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.

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 English.

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 not.

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.


Some in House look to roll back Bush plans
By Will Lester, Associated Press Writer, January 6, 2005

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 schools."

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."


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
Storefront School, 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 home.

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 something."

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 World Trade Center attacks through the arts and entertainment and sports events.

Each month at the
Storefront School we see children having a great time preparing and sharing a real meal while getting the message that fast food is not the only food.

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.


White House paid commentator to promote law
By Greg Toppo,
USA Today, 1/7/05

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 in 2004.

Williams said Thursday he understands that critics could find the arrangement unethical, but "I wanted to do it because it's something I believe in."

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 investigation.

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 NCLB.

"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' dollars.

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.


U.S. schools behind in use of technology
By Ben Feller, AP Education Writer,

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 technology.

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
2 to 5.

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
Poway Unified School District in northern San Diego County, 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.

Peabody Elementary School 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.


Tips for schools in using technology
By The Associated Press,

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 cycles.

--Training: Ensure every teacher has the opportunity to take online learning courses and that teachers know how to use data to personalize instruction.

--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 quickly.

--Data systems: Coordinate data from administrative and instructional systems so there are clearer relationships among management decisions and student achievement.


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.


Spellings Promises Fixes to No Child Left Behind Law
By Michael
Dobbs, Washington Post Staff Writer, 1/7/05

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 secretary.

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 that."

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 schools.

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 education.

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.




K-12 Finance a Top Priority in ’05 Sessions
States Feeling Pressure From Competing Needs
By David J. Hoff, Education Week, 1/5/05

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 years.

The bottom line? Schools will have to fight for significant increases in next fiscal year’s budgets, according to lawmakers and analysts preparing for the 2005 legislative sessions, some of which begin this week.

“In education, you’d 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
Education Week Research Center, 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.)

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 school spending.

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 improvements—the most costly of which will likely be Florida’s class-size-reduction and pre-K programs. ("Florida Special Session Yields Preschool Plan," this issue.)

Maryland’s legislature faces the challenge of financing the fourth year of a six-year commitment to add $1.3 billion to K-12 education.

And a panel appointed by Ohio Gov. Bob Taft will soon recommend major changes in the way the
Buckeye State financially supports its schools.

Fiscal Rebound

For the first time since fiscal 2001, nearly all state lawmakers will arrive for their legislative sessions and receive favorable revenue forecasts.

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 December.

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 2004.”

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 spending—which includes federal funds—than 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
Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The districts enroll about a third of the state’s 847,000 pre-K-12 students.

“They feel like they are at the end of the line … without gutting core programs,” he added.

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.

Long-Term Remedies

With the state’s 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.

“We’re 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 O’Connell. “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 added.

Legislators will need all of that—and probably more—if 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 2006—an 11 percent increase over the current budget.

Meanwhile, the state’s 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 Ehrlich’s 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 the House.

In other states, legislatures face debates over raising taxes or imposing new ones.

“There’s heavy pressure for no new taxes,” Mr. Vratil said, “but there’s also heavy pressure for additional services and programs.”

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 said.

Although the funding picture is improving, states’ revenue still hasn’t 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 NCSL’s conference last month.

“We’re 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 aren’t what they were.”


Poor Math Scores on World Stage Trouble
By Sean Cavanagh, Education Week, 1/5/05

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 correctly.

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 assignments—the kind they are likely to encounter in college and the workplace.

“We’re 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 countries—including several Asian ones that outperformed the
United States on both PISA and TIMSS—academic 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 taught—such as multiplication—to 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 States, by contrast, the approach is “Here’s the rule, here’s 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 Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas, Austin.

‘Destructive’ Debate

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 literacy—the two main subjects the 2003 PISA measured in depth—below 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
National Center 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 education—particularly higher standards—on 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 States, 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.

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 problems.”

In recent years, Mr. Daro and others say,
U.S. mathematics instruction has been scorched in the pedagogical blaze known as the “math wars”—a 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 they’ve 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 country’s 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 period.

“While their scores are better, the fact is they’re 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 United State 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 United States.

Mr. Gordon pointed out that his former district,
California’s 58,000-student Elk Grove Unified School District, served students who spoke 85 different languages. “We’re trying to do something extraordinary, in raising every student to a certain level,” Mr. Gordon said of U.S. schools. “That’s not the goal in some other countries.”

Unwarranted Confidence?

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 American-born students.

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.

“We’re number one,” Mr. Gordon said, “in self-esteem.”


T-Shirts on Gay Issues Spur Lawsuits
By Caroline Hendrie, Education Week, 1/5/05

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 California, Tyler 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 they’d 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

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 other places.

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
First Amendment Center 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 marriage—has 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 the mix.

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 Webb City school district after administrators ordered him to stop wearing T-shirts supporting gay rights, including one proclaiming, “I’m gay and I’m proud.”

Webb City High School 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 “weren’t even really noticed until the school drew attention to them.”

A lawyer for the 3,750-student
Webb City 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 is shameful.”

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 they’re 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. Harper’s motion that the district be ordered to let him to wear his shirt. But the judge also held that the boy’s 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 from harassment.

“The high school is pretty much trapped between the forces of what is essentially a political fight,” Mr. Sleeth said. “They’re trying to do the right thing, and they’re not sure what the right thing is.”

Mixed Messages

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 Moines Independent Community School District 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 or discipline.”

Since then, the high court has given schools the go-ahead for some types of censorship.
Bethel School District v. Fraser, a 1986 ruling, established that school officials can discipline students for lewd or indecent speech, and the 1988 decision in Hazelwood School District 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 it’s going to cause a disruption, and the word ‘predicting’ implies that sometimes you’re going to get it wrong,” he said.

Mr. Gilbert’s advice is that administrators stop and think before telling a student not to wear something. “It’s way too easy to make spur-of-the- moment decisions and say that doesn’t need to be worn,” he said. “That’s 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 aren’t “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 can’t condemn certain behavior that we think is wrong?” said Mr. Crampton, the chief counsel for the
American Family Association Center for Law & Policy, based in Tupelo, Miss.

Given the deep social divisions over homosexuality, Mr. Haynes of the
First Amendment Center 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 we’re going to deal with this issue.”

“Let the debate go on in public school as long as it doesn’t 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 country’s 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 can’t 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 district’s academic progress last school year as a sign that it is qualified to provide tutoring for struggling students.

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.

“It’s very important not just for the department, but for the nation, to stand firm,” Mr. Hickok said. “If districts aren’t 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 law’s phrasing. The law allows tutoring by entities with a “demonstrated record of effectiveness,” a definition he believes applies to
Chicago’s 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.

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
Chicago’s 434,000 students are receiving supplemental services this school year. About 40,000 chose Chicago’s own program. The rest opted for private providers.

Mr. Hickok’s 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 state’s $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 Chicago’s 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 city’s 28 private providers, Ms. Swanson said a recent parent-satisfaction survey ranked the district’s own programs first or second in relation to those run by private vendors. “We’ve got to be doing something right,” she said.

Private Capacity

Some question whether private-sector tutors could absorb enough displaced students. Gene Wade, the chief executive officer of New York City-based Platform Learning,
Chicago’s 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, isn’t 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.


Report: High Schools Must Demand More
Achieve Urges States to Prepare Students for College, Work
By Vaishali Honawar, Education Week, 1/5/05

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 Gap—A 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 skills.

The authors reviewed high school course requirements in all the states and the
District of Columbia. They found that only five states—Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia—require students to take four years of math. Only six states—Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia—require four years of grade-level English.

In the past two decades, states haven’t 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 won’t 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 '
Early College' 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 college—how many students are required to take remedial courses, and how many are successful in earning a degree,” he said.

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 later life.

“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 them.

“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.

Achieve’s 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 curricula.

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.





Illinois State Board of Education
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