ISBE Banner
State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – January 7 - 14, 2005

TOP OF PAGE

STATE  
Officials seek `kid-free' Election Day at school sites / Chicago Tribune
Pensions panel still courting contention / State Journal-Register
Lessons from life / Chicago Tribune
Flexible or fattening / Daily Herald
Some tactics to help kids over hurdles of homework / Chicago Tribune
A tough initiation: Teach first, learn to be teacher later / Chicago Tribune
If the bar's set too high, try crawling under it / Daily Southtown
District 204 toughens math requirements / Daily Herald
Who Will Pick Up The Tab? / Southern Illinoisan
Clamor for charter schools unaffected by low test scores / Chicago Sun-Times

Teens may trade bed for bus / Pantagraph
Five caught in Web sex sting  / Decatur Herald & Review
Out of the school budget loop / Chicago Tribune
School officials get emergency training / State Journal-Register
State board of education recommending legislature re-evaluate school drivers education fees
                Decatur Herald & Review
Spending Gaps: The Red Herring of Education Politics / Illinois Leader

NATIONAL
New education secretary ought to hear from rural educators / Lahontan Valley News (NV)
Extension of schools act faces resistance / Los Angeles Times
Texas working up plan to catch TAKS cheaters / Houston Chronicle
Teachers Unions Blast Governor's Merit Pay Plan / Los Angeles Times
Tasers going into Duval schools / Florida Times-Union
Boy 'Tribes' On Frontier In Reading / Washington Post
State leaders may decide who will pay for any cut in property taxes / Austin American-Statesman
Schools finding teachers overseas / Baltimore Sun
State's job is to give education chief an earful / Great Falls Tribune (MT)
CPS to study charter schools' effect / Cincinnati Enquirer
Bus driver charged with selling alcohol to student / Boston Globe
Fodder for Reform's Cynics, and a Blot on Bipartisanship / New York Times
Helping high schools? / Baltimore Sun
Good judgment left behind / Seattle Post Intelligencer
Senate has 'bold plan' for schools / Houston Chronicle
Vending industry launches anti-obesity program / CNN.com
In Push for Small Schools, Other Schools Suffer / New York Times
Students told stripping is career choice / Boston Globe
Tenn. school allows Muslim headscarves / Boston Globe

ED REVIEW
NCLB Update
Confirmation Hearing
Technology Plan
E-Rate Funding
School Finance

TOP OF PAGE

STATE

Officials seek `kid-free' Election Day at school sites
William Presecky, Chicago Tribune, 1/10/05
 
Illinois election officials want to keep students safe without trampling the rights of some voters who might pose a threat to children at school polling sites.
 
They are renewing their call for a law that would keep students at home on election days and eliminate potential security threats such as convicted sex offenders being allowed into schools to vote when children are in class.
 
"It just seemed ridiculous to us to do all that [security] and then, twice a year, to let the general public wander around our buildings," said James White, superintendent of Queen Bee School District 16 in Glendale Heights, which held a teacher institute day Nov. 2, Election Day, canceling classes.
 
The proposal, which would mandate that election days become teacher institute days starting in 2006, was spurred by post-Sept. 11 anxiety and fear of lax security at schools during elections. The two state associations of election officials outlining the plan hope to have it introduced in the General Assembly this month.
 
A similar legislative effort four years ago ended with a compromise in which schools were asked--but not required--to be free of children on election days.
 
About half of the polling places in the
Chicago area are in schools. Although no Election Day incidents have been reported, the possibility of problems concerns some school and election officials.
 
"You have parents and other people worried about the schools suddenly stripping out all their security procedures for the day and allowing several hundred people to walk in the building and vote," said "kid-free" advocate Robert Saar, executive director of the DuPage County Election Commission.
 
"We all just hold our breath," said William Young, superintendent of
Homer School District 33C in Will County.
 
The problem, according to
Saar, is that "you can't put a background check on somebody for voting. You can't put voters through a security procedure."
 
More important, using schools as polling places when children are present creates an inherent legal conflict, for example, between a convicted sex offender's right to vote and state law prohibiting him or her from being in or near a school when anyone under 18 is present,
Saar said.
 
Homer District 33C is among the minority of school districts in the Chicago area that has held teacher institute days on selected election days. Young said his district conducts a half-day institute in the afternoon, when most voters are present.
 
In
Glen Ellyn District 41, pairing institute days with election days has "simplified our life and, we think, created a much safer environment," said Supt. Jack Barshinger.
 
Although
Chicago schools were closed Nov. 2, most suburban schools were not. Patrick Bond, legal counsel for the DuPage County Election Commission, said he was disappointed that more schools didn't schedule institute days.
 
"Everybody says, that makes sense; it's a good idea. But we're still having trouble getting it to happen," Bond said.
 
All or some schools in about 20 states are mandated to be closed on election days, according to a listing by the National Association of Secretaries of State.
 
Cook County Clerk David Orr said he prefers that election days be school holidays because that frees up a lot of people, especially teachers and school administrators, to be election judges.
 
"If I could wave a magic wand, I'd do that," he said. "But another alternative ... is the institute day."
 
From a personal point of view, "an institute day may not be a bad idea," said Clem Mejia,
Kane County regional school superintendent. "Ultimately it should be up to the individual districts to make that decision."
 
Mejia said the preference in
Kane County is to move polling places out of schools wherever possible.
 
In most jurisdictions, most notably
Chicago, any wholesale relocation of polling places would be impossible, said Tom Leach, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
 
"We need the schools," Leach said. "Our problem right now is that we've got some precincts where there is no other building available."
 
Although a staunch advocate of local control, the Illinois Association of School Boards might have to take a different stance on the Election Day issue, said Executive Director Michael Johnson.
 
"You try to schedule institutes at the best learning times of the year, which doesn't always match up with the election date," Johnson said.
 
"But this may be a big enough issue that we may need to look at it on a statewide basis and say, if the schools are going to be required to be polling places, where they don't have a choice--and that's being determined at the state level already--then the state needs to take in the safety considerations of the students and make that a non-attendance day."

TOP OF PAGE

Pensions panel still courting contention
Politically sensitive ideas considered
By Mike Ramsey, Copley News Service, 1/8/05

CHICAGO - The Governor's Commission on State Pensions continues to flirt with a half-dozen politically sensitive ideas, including cutting retirement benefits for future government employees and requiring current workers to pay more in pension contributions.
Members of the advisory panel agreed Friday to keep the six suggestions on the table after reviewing projected cost savings they would yield together. Consultant Lance Weiss estimated the state would save $48.7 billion across the three biggest pension funds - covering many state employees, university workers and teachers outside of
Chicago - over the next 40 years.

"It seems like these are the things the commission had an appetite for," said member Bob Molaro, a Democratic state representative from
Chicago.

The panel may take final votes on the measures during its next meeting, on Friday, at the
James R. Thompson Center in Chicago. Members are preparing a final report for Gov. Rod Blagojevich with recommendations on how to offset massive pension deficits that put increasing pressure on the state budget.

Labor unions representing pension members oppose changes that would cut retirement benefits for new hires because it would create a "two-tiered" system separating them from existing workers. In one case, the commission may recommend reducing annual pension raises for future employees from 3 percent to 2 percent.

Today's employees and pensioners appear to be protected from that kind of reduction under the Illinois Constitution, which prohibits retirement benefits from being "diminished." But another of the commission's ideas would raise the retirement contribution that workers pay into the pension funds by 1 percentage point.

Richard Frankenfeld, lobbyist for the Illinois Education Association, called that possibility a "tax on my members."

Commission chairman Roland Burris cautioned, "I cannot stress strongly enough we are now in the process of exploring."

The other proposals before the panel would:

Phase out a "money purchase" plan for university employees that generates interest income for them.

Require school districts, rather than the state, to pay more costs when a retiring superintendent is allowed to inflate his final salary for pension purposes.

Permit only gun-carrying officers to participate in the "alternative" pension formula, which grants greater benefits and an opportunity to retire earlier. In recent years, lawmakers have opened it up to other types of employees who work in high-risk jobs.


Raise the bar for pension members to collect full benefits. They would have to be at least 65 years old - instead of 60 - with eight years of service.
Commission members also are considering a funding mechanism that would require the General Assembly to earmark more revenue for the state's five pension systems when the economy is strong, rather than spend it elsewhere. They will consider recommending another pension bond sale to meet obligations, if market conditions are favorable, as well.

Lawmakers have under-funded pensions for years. The legislature's economic forecasting arm says the state's retirement obligations will grow by $600 million for the next fiscal year that begins July 1, but state tax revenue may grow by only $325 million during that period.

The two other state pension systems cover lawmakers and judges.

TOP OF PAGE

Lessons from life
Career changers bring fresh perspective to teaching
Leslie Mann, Chicago Tribune,
1/9/05
 
Looking back on her transition from corporate
America to the world of education, Renee Clark wishes she had made the change earlier--but not too much earlier.
 
"If I had started teaching in my 20s, I couldn't have offered the kids my life experience," said
Clark, 41. But now she can weave real-world examples into her 6th-grade lessons at San Miguel School in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood.
 
Clark is not alone. Although national educational organizations and the Illinois State Board of Education don't tally the number of second-career teachers, Chicago-area colleges that equip people to make the transition report increases in their programs.
 
Some second-career teachers, such as
Clark, earn master's degrees in education and teaching certificates. She is working on her master's degree in education from Dominican University, River Forest, to supplement the bachelor's degree she received years ago.Others enroll in fast-track, alternative certification programs (known as "alt-cert" in education circles) that allow them to earnteaching certificates while teaching, without another degree--an option that has been available in Illinois since 1997.
 
Obtaining a master's degree is the more popular route, said Cindy Yang, vice president of the Associated Colleges of
Illinois, a consortium of 24 private colleges. Half of the group's colleges offer master's degrees in education, alt-cert programs or both.
 
Compared with their younger colleagues, the second-career teachers are "committed, realistic about what they're getting into and have high expectations of themselves," Yang said.
 
More than half of the master's degree in education students at
Dominican University are career-changers, said Sister Colleen McNicholas, dean of the School of Education. They have included lawyers, salespeople, managers, nurses, government workers, paramedics and a forensic scientist, she said.
 
"It has increased every year since it started in 1992, but we really had an influx after 9/11," McNicholas said. "Then, they said, Life is short--I want a career that's more self-fulfilling."
 
In
Clark's case, she left a telecommunications job that she said "paid well but left me feeling empty."
 
To test the waters, she had taken a leave of absence from her management post in summer 2002 and volunteered at San Miguel. "In the fall, I went back to work and sat in a meeting doodling the kids' names," she recalled. "All I could think about was the kids. I quit my job and asked San Miguel if they would hire me."
 
Chicago resident Felicia Shakespeare, too, decided to switch to teaching after a career in the business world. She is among the dozens of teachers who have joined the Aurora school districts after supplementing their bachelor's degrees with master's in education from Aurora University. A former saleswoman, Shakespeare now teaches at Hermes Elementary School in Aurora.
 
The `alt-cert' option
 
The other route for second-career teachers is to enroll in the alt-cert programs, most of which focus on filling high-need areas (such as high school science and mathematics or special education) or in placing teachers in high-need districts.
 
Illinois is one of 24 states that offered alt-cert programs in 2003, according to the National Center for Education Information in Washington. As more colleges and universities offer these programs, the number of graduates climbs. In 2002-03, 491 Illinois teachers obtained teaching certificates after completing such programs, up from 24 in 1998-99.
 
Kiernan Mack, 46, enrolled in
Benedictine University's Alternative Certification Program in Mathematics and Science after previous careers in chemical sales and missionary training. He spent last summer at Benedictine learning methodology, then became a science teacher at Wheaton Academy in September.
 
While he teaches thisyear, the
Arlington Heights resident continues to attend monthly classes at Benedictine and is observed and advised by mentors from the college.
 
Launched in 2001, Benedictine's program has grown from nine students the first year to 33 in 2004, said its director, John Zigmond. "We've had chemists, veterinarians, attorneys, doctors and engineers, ranging in age from 31 to 64," he said. "They have had successful first careers. Most have done some work with kids--coaching, teaching Sunday school or parenting--enough to know they enjoy working with them."
 
Teach while you train
 
In Illinois, people enrolled in alt-cert programs can obtain provisional teaching certificates during their training. After completing the programs and successfully teaching for one year, they can obtain
Illinois teaching certificates.
 
Teachers also must take the
Illinois basic skills test, which isn't as easy as it used to be. The test recently was changed, and now assesses college-level skills, up from its former 8th-grade level.
 
The rules are different for those who want to teach at the college level. Bachelor's and master's degrees in history qualified
Schaumburg resident Jim Owens, 56, to become an adjunct teacher of history for Oakton Community College and Elgin Community College after a 25-year career in telecommunications.
 
JoBeth Halpin, 54, of
Oak Park, brought a master's degree in architecture and two decades in the field to her job as architecture instructor at Triton College, River Grove. Like many second-career college-level teachers, she still keeps one foot in the field, working as an architect part time, to keep up with trends and practices. "I don't want to be one of those teachers who is out of touch," she said.
 
Preschool level
 
At thepreschool level, minimal additional education is required to teach for those who have at least a bachelor's degree. Former investment analyst Carolyn Palmquist, 43, of
Arlington Heights is working on an early childhood education certificate at Harper College, Palatine, while she begins her second career as a preschool teacher.
 
What motivates people to leave longtime first careers for teaching? Sometimes it's something as pragmatic as health insurance, still a staple in the education field. For others it's a need for more fulfillment. Many echo Mack when he said, "I reached a point where I re-evaluated what I wanted to do the rest of my life."
 
Shakespeare said she appreciates the opportunity to serve as a role model to her students. "I came from a poor neighborhood like theirs, but I made it," she said.
 
Some jump at the chance to educate people about their fields of choice. "I want [my students] to be scientifically literate," said Barb Backley, environmental scientist turned science professor at
Elgin Community College. "I want them to understand medical terms when they talk to a doctor or understand what a candidate means when he talks about `stem-cell research.'"
 
Compared with their younger counterparts, second-career teachers bring a different perspective.
 
Working-world examples
 
Mack might have been speaking for many of the second-career teachers when he said he uses real-world examples in his science lessons. "I try to draw from lots of industries, from cosmetics to automotive to high-tech," he said.
 
These teachers also said they also use work world examples when it comes to behavior. "When kids don't show up on time, I tell them I've fired people for doing that," Backley said.
 
The fact that they have had at least two careers is a lesson in itself, teachers said.
 
"I tell [pupils] so often that they have so many choices to make, they get sick of hearing it," said
Hinsdale resident Peter Dalton, who left machine tool sales to become a cadre (permanent) substitute teacher at Byrne Elementary School in Chicago. "I tell them they'll work 50 to 60 years in their lives and that's a long time to say, `You want fries with that?'"
 
Because they are older, many second-career teachers have raised their own children, so they know what makes kids tick.
 
"A younger teacher sees a kid acting out," said
Clark, whose children are 18 and 24. "I see what's behind the behavior."
 
Maturity helps them work with their students' parents, too, said Kay McElroy of
Naperville, 50, a mother of three teenagers and a former journalist who became a high school journalism/English teacher.
 
"When I was student teaching, I heard a younger teacher say, `These parents think they can tell their kids what to do.' I thought, `Well, yeah, of course,'" she said. "I can sympathize with the other parents who are raising teenagers, too."
 
In addition to adding doses of maturity to the school faculties, second-career teachers are altering the demographics. Especially among math and science teachers, more are male, probably because men dominate these fields, college administrators said. "I don't know why, but this group also includes more minorities," Yang said.
 
Embarking on an academic career can mean making adjustments, second-time teachers said. Some report having bosses who are younger than they are. Some have lower salaries. ("I can't hit every boot sale now like I used to!"
Clark said.) But overall they say the rewards outnumber the sacrifices.
 
"Used to be, I was happy when sales were up in my district,"
Clark said. "But that doesn't compare to getting a hug from a kid."
 
A plaque on
Clark's classroom wall sums it up, she said:
 
"A hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child."

TOP OF PAGE
 
Flexible or fattening?
Sara Burnett, Daily Herald,
1/11/05
 
Illinois children are too fat.
 
On that fact, pretty much everyone agrees.
 
So physical education instructor Phyllis Pickett can't figure out why the state would be trying to make it easier for kids to miss the daily physical education classes required by state law.
 
"I really think it's the opposite of what we should be doing," said Pickett, a member of the Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
 
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, it's the direction the state has been heading in for some time.
 
Illinois is the only state that requires all students to have physical education each day.
 
But over the past decade, the state has granted 473 waivers of the law to 225 districts. That's slightly more than one quarter of all districts statewide.
 
Many districts request the waivers from the daily requirement because they use "block scheduling," in which students have courses every other day or every two days, for a longer period of time. Others argue they're overcrowded, often using their gymnasium for a lunchroom or lecture hall, so they don't have space to offer constant physical education classes.
 
Each waiver requires paperwork from the district and a review by the state board of education. Hearings often must be held before the House and Senate education committees, and about 75 percent of the requests must go to the General Assembly for a vote.
 
All of that takes time - and money.
 
Considering the General Assembly has rejected only four of the 319 requests it has voted on since 1995, state Rep. Roger Eddy, a member of the House education committee, decided the process needed another look.
 
"We're approving these en masse," said Eddy, a Republican from Hutsonville who is also a former physical education teacher. "If we're trying to use our resources ... let's look at those things we just summarily approve."
 
In November, Eddy asked the state board to do just that.
 
On Thursday, the board will vote on a report that summarizes all waivers issued in the past 10 years and gives suggestions on reducing the number of requests.
 
That report will be forwarded to the General Assembly by Feb. 1.
 
Under existing law, students in grades nine through 12 who participate in marching band or Reserve Officer Training Corps, and 11th- and 12th-graders who are in a sport may be excused from the requirement.
 
In their report, the state board of education says expanding the criteria for those exemptions would reduce the number of waiver applications.
 
The board stops short of making a formal recommendation, but states the General Assembly could add ninth- and 10th-graders to the list excused from class by participating in a sport. It also could add cheerleading and pompons to the list of sports. Those two activities don't qualify right now for the exemption.
 
For districts that have inadequate facilities to offer daily physical education classes, the board states more local control could be given to districts to determine what's a safe class size and location, or to come up with alternatives to daily physical education classes.
 
The board suggested, however, that districts still be required to offer classes a minimum of three days per week. If a district couldn't meet that demand, it would then need to file a waiver.
 
Dr. Anne Swanson, director of curriculum and instruction for Woodland Elementary District 50 in Gurnee, said offering physical education three times each week works well for her district.
 
Woodland requested and received a waiver on the basis that if it offered physical education each day, scheduling would only allow a class 15 minutes long for first- through third-graders. That would be barely enough time to move kids in and out and do warm-ups and cool-downs, Swanson said.
 
The district got permission to hold three, 30-minute classes each week. That setup has been "much more productive," Swanson said.
 
"I applaud wanting to encourage people to be fit," Swanson added. "But I do think sometimes you have to allow schools to make choices."
 
It's those choices that Pickett worries about.
 
Too often, physical education is the sacrificial lamb of budget cuts, the Schaumburg woman said. She also doesn't believe marching band - or even other sports - is a proper substitute for classes that teach students how to take care of their bodies.
 
And she sees what's happening this week as a further "eroding" of a law that, given the nationwide obesity epidemic, should be enforced more strongly.
 
"The rules were put in place, and ever since there's basically been a rubber stamp," Pickett added. "(Lawmakers) are trying to make it easier on themselves by making it more open."
 
Rebecca Rausch, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said Monday the governor is willing to discuss how to reduce "bureaucratic mandates" as long as the goal of getting kids to exercise remains.
 
Last year, Blagojevich fought for a ban on junk food and soft drinks in school vending machines.
 
"The challenge is reducing the burden ... on local schools and keeping kids healthy," Rausch said. "We want to do both."
 
Swanson thinks that's a good goal.
 
She also believes physical education isn't the cure to everything that ails today's children.
 
"If physical education were the solution to child obesity," she said, "Illinois would have the most physically fit kids in the nation."

TOP OF PAGE

Some tactics to help kids over hurdles of homework
Dan Kening, Chicago Tribune, 1/9/05
 
"I lost it."
 
"We didn't have any."
 
And that all-time classic, "The dog ate it."
 
So begins the list of excuses kids give for not doing homework. Parents, rolling their eyes in frustration, know them by heart. After all, they probably used them themselves as children.
 
Kids' attitudes toward homework may not have changed that much, but today's students face additional challenges--most notably an increase in the amount of homework assigned. Then there are all the extracurricular activities--soccer practice, dance lessons--that cut into homework time. And let's not forget the distractions provided by Web surfing, chat rooms, video games and the like.
 
Despite all the roadblocks, a number of strategies can help parents and students navigate the homework blues.
 
First, parents should provide a designated homework space and help set a regular homework time, experts say.
 
"Having a specific place for homework is very important," said
Larry Nucci, professor of education and psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "For elementary and junior high students it works best not to have them do homework in their bedrooms, where they are isolated and may have too many distractions.
 
"A good place to work is the dining room table, where they are away from the television and have other family members nearby."
 
Providing a set homework time is an issue these days with so many kids involved in organized after-school and evening activities.
 
"All these activities are great things, but it's a balancing act," said Lenore Johnson, Naperville Community Unit School District 203 assistant superintendent for instruction. "How much can my kid handle and still have time to do his homework? You . . . have to make those choices."
 
Even for those without extracurricular activities, optimal times for hitting the books may vary. Some do best tackling homework immediately after school, others after dinner or immediately before bedtime. "It's more a question of having a regular time than when that time is," Nucci said.
 
Clearing up assignments
 
Some students frequently have trouble completing their assignments. Educators say that is often because they don't understand what they're being asked to do. "If the child doesn't understand the assignment, they can look at it for an hour and still not accomplish anything," Johnson said.
 
To help parents, an increasing number of teachers are posting homework assignments on school Web sites or leaving detailed voicemail instructions. But there are times even parents don't understand the task at hand. That is why parents shouldn't be afraid to contact teachers if they have questions, experts say.
 
"If your child doesn't understand what they are supposed to do and you don't understand it, you need to stop and contact the teacher for clarification," Johnson said. "If it happens over and over, find a way to work with the teacher. Maybe they can send home more detailed instructions."
 
Though parents should monitor children's academic lives and serve as occasional homework consultants, it's important they don't do their homework for them, educators say.
 
"There's a line you cross once you begin to take on the responsibility for homework and the child becomes less and less responsible," said John Rosemond, a family psychologist and author of "Ending the Homework Hassle" (Andrews and McMeel, $9.95). "More often than not when kids ask for help they're asking to be rescued from a burdensome situation."
 
Help within limits
 
Rosemond recommends that parents place limits on the length and number of help sessions they provide each night. The approach encourages kids to focus on the questions they most need help with, he said.
 
"To me, homework is preparation for life, and this forces a child to understand he can do 90 percent of the problems he didn't think he could do if he applies himself," he said.
 
Johnson takes a less hard-line approach.
 
"Homework is the child's responsibility and the parent is the support for that," she said. "But you don't want to defeat the purpose and make homework punitive."
 
Despite parents' best intentions, it is ultimately up to the student to do the work, experts said. Parents should provide support and encouragement but also know when to back off.
 
"Sometimes parents are so concerned with their kids' success they jeopardize the relationship between them--particularly with junior high or high school students," Nucci said. "Once you've made the point that you expect them to do their homework and you provide them with all the support you can, you have to step back from it, which is a really hard thing to do.
 
"As hard as it is to live with, in the end it's the student getting the `D,' not the parent."

TOP OF PAGE

A tough initiation: Teach first, learn to be teacher later
Diana Strzalka, Chicago Tribune
 
(Diana Strzalka, a reporter for 20 years for magazines and newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, switched gears and entered a graduate-studies program while beginning a second career as a special-education teacher. Here is her story, in her own words.)

When you hear the criticism that some teachers are unprepared to teach, know that it's true. It happened to me.
 
I had absolutely no preparation in the fall of 2002 when I walked into a high school classroom to teach for the first time. I hadn't attended one workshop or class before the day I introduced myself as "Miss S" to a class of teenagers.
 
Why would I do such a thing?
 
The Chicago Public Schools system was short some 400 special-education teachers. The schools needed bodies. They needed dedicated, motivated professionals. I fit the bill, even though my bachelor's degree was in journalism and I had worked for magazines and newspapers for two decades. My only link to teaching was my real-life experience as a parent of three children.
 
I chose to move away from the journalism profession for a mix of reasons.
 
My goal was to make a transition out of my home-based freelance work life, since my kids were older. I explored the job market and found that most writing jobs offered low pay. Even though I had been writing almost daily for the Chicago Tribune for years, employers wanted to know why I had not secured a full-time job earlier. With this question, job interviews spiraled off the topic of my professional accomplishments and onto matters of children and family life.
 
I decided to explore a career in teaching, and even though the First Class Special Education program seemed backward -- working in the classroom before I started training -- it was good to test the waters as soon as possible.
 
Signing up
 
In September 2002 I signed on for an alternative teacher-certification program that immediately put me in the classroom during the day and in graduate-education classes at night.
 
The First Class Special Education program, formerly called FACE (Facilitating Accelerated Certification for Educators), is managed through the
Chicago Public Schools and Northeastern Illinois University.
 
When I applied, I was expecting to take a pay cut while in training for one year, during which I would be classified as a full-time substitute and be paid about $135 per day.
 
But soon after the First Class Special Education program started, CPS told participants that the one-year program would be extended -- I would work and take classes for three years! A three-year program no longer fit the definition of "accelerated," so program coordinators changed the word "accelerated" in the program description to "alternative."
 
About one student
 
With the program I was able to put what I was learning in my evening classes -- the latest social theories, behavior-management plans and educational strategies, for example -- into practice immediately. They were not lessons to be memorized and then forgotten.
 
For instance, Alex was a personable and handsome 16-year-old in my literature class last year. One of his strengths was his conscientious classroom behavior; his weaknesses had to do with the way he perceived and processed information.
 
He painstakingly read by sounding out each letter of each word, and by the time he finished a whole sentence his comprehension was minimal. His writing was the same. With very deliberate and meticulous movements, Alex would labor over his assignments, quizzes or projects.
 
Alex was a creative thinker in small groups or classroom discussions; his strengths were his auditory and verbal skills, so I developed those while continuing to improve his reading and writing work.
 
For him, special education meant that I made sure he received typed notes so he could focus on listening in class. It also meant that I found ways to modify his assignments and tests. He also worked with an adapted word processor that helped him spell.
 
Looking back
 
As I look back, I realize how much teaching was rooted in my childhood, parenting experience and reporter's training. I had come close to missing out on a complete education, so I have an intense appreciation of its value.
 
When I was a high school freshman, I got help from Lettie King, a social worker at
Fenger High School during tough times in my South Side neighborhood. I can still hear her words, the way she would stretch the sound of some syllables, and the way her pitch would rise and fall for emphasis. "Diana, you're so smaaart," she would say.
 
No one had ever said anything like that to me before.
 
I ended up quitting school, but when I applied for my general equivalency diploma and signed up for junior-college classes a few years later, it was her encouraging words I heard. She occupied only a speck of time in my existence, but her voice is still embedded in my memory.
 
Teaching was my job as a parent for the last 19 years and even as a reporter: I loved to be the first to learn something new and teach readers through a story.
 
But when I started work as a teacher in
Chicago, I entered a crowded room with ill-mannered and apathetic teenagers. There were times I was ridiculed, ignored and insulted.
 
Tardiness and absenteeism were excessive; if I had followed the school's attendance policy, nearly every student would have failed. Occasionally a student screamed at me or just stomped out of the room. I called for security often enough to think this was not the job for me.
 
When I fled to the assistant principal's office in tears one day, I was told that my apparent emotional breakdown was common for new teachers.
 
I haven't given up.
 
I have learned so much on the job. It's much like reporting or any other career: Your best training can come from real-life experiences.
 
As a teacher, I know I am doing meaningful work. I can see the changes in my students' learning habits, motivation, personality and behavior. Many of these teens -- learning disabled or not -- are not getting the support, security, direction and training at home. I know what that's like too.
 
Lettie King's encouragement worked on me, so I am passing on those same kinds of warm words and other long-lasting lessons to my students.
 
I hope they, too, will take root.

TOP OF PAGE

If the bar's set too high, try crawling under it / Daily Southtown
Column by Phil Kadner, Daily Southtown, 1/12/05

If you can't reach even minimum standards for adequately funding public schools, you simply eliminate the standard.

That's the way the governor of this state deals with the problem of school funding in
Illinois.

In 1997, the Illinois General Assembly created the Illinois Education Funding Advisory Board, appointed by the governor and approved by the Illinois Senate.

Among the board's duties was to create an objective method for determining a minimum per-pupil foundation level.

But Gov. Rod Blagojevich doesn't like those foundation level figures because the state never comes up with the money to meet even the minimum requirements.

A tax increase is required.

The governor has said he will not increase taxes to fund the public schools.

When the state board of education said a tax increase was needed, the governor replaced all of its members, along with the state schools superintendent who kept whining about the need for more money.

Blagojevich has done basically the same thing with EFAB, in a quieter way.

Two of the five EFAB members, all appointed by the previous governor, have left the board. One of those was the board's chairman.

The terms of two other board members have expired. The term of the fifth board member expires this month.

According to a spokesman for the governor, he is searching for qualified candidates to fill the board seats.

Out of the millions of people in
Illinois — teachers, school officials, college professors and parents — the governor hasn't been able to find anyone to fill a vacancy on the board.

You can believe that, if you want.

Or you can believe that the governor didn't want the board to make a recommendation on the foundation level for public schools because that would make newspaper headlines.

A spokesman for the governor points out that the three remaining members of EFAB could meet and set a foundation level, even without a chairman.

When I suggested that a quorum might be difficult, the governor's spokesman said the board could meet legally even without a quorum.

"The board has no bylaws," she said. "It can do whatever the existing board members want to do."

And the law that creates EFAB does state that members whose terms have expired can continue to serve until the governor replaces them.

"We haven't met because by failing to appoint a chairman it appears the governor has no interest in the board setting a foundation level," said Bert Docter, a South Holland businessman and EFAB board member.

The EFAB foundation level is computed by examining the most cost efficient school districts in the state where at least 67 percent of the students have passed the state's standardized tests.

"You have to realize that means that even if the foundation level is met, you're writing off one-third of the students in this state," said Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

"And the methodology used immediately eliminates the New Triers and other school districts that spend more on public education. And it doesn't take into account at all the at-risk students in impoverished school districts such as Chicago, East St. Louis or Rockford, who require more intensive education and therefore greater funding.

"The foundation level is the very minimum that should be spent on public school students. And the state has never been able to come up with even that amount."

EFAB's last report — in 2001 — recommended a foundation level of $5,665 for the 2003-04 school year.

The state's current foundation level, however, is only $4,964 per student.

A spokesman for the governor said that with the state running record budget deficits, the governor has still found $1 billion more for the public schools and should be given credit for making that his top priority.

But school funding advocates claim that the governor's budget this year effectively increased school funding by only $2 per student once inflation is factored in.

Even if the governor is doing what he can, EFAB was supposed to be an objective source of information about school funding.

Its recommendations were supposed to provoke public debate about the need to adequately fund education.

Maybe the governor doesn't want that debate occurring on his watch.

Blagojevich's Stepford board of education no longer raises the issue of adequate school funding.

EFAB has been silenced.

Problem solved.

This "education" governor's all set to run for re-election.

TOP OF PAGE

District 204 toughens math requirements
Beth Sneller, Daily Herald, 1/12/05
 
Next year's freshmen will have to meet stricter graduation requirements than their older siblings in Indian Prairie Unit District 204.
 
Administrators plan to increase the high school math requirement from two to three years, beginning with the Class of 2009.
 
The increase isn't a major change, officials say. Eighty-six percent of high school students already take three or more years of math, anyway.
 
It's the other 14 percent administrators are worried about.
 
"Those are primarily our students who are not meeting standards," said Kathy Duncan, assistant superintendent for instructional services.
 
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, all students must meet state standards by the 2014-15 school year.
 
According to last year's standardized tests, 26.7 percent of
Neuqua Valley High School juniors and 35.4 percent of Waubonsie Valley High School juniors didn't meet standards in math.
 
Next month,
Duncan said, the Illinois State Board of Education will release frameworks detailing exactly which concepts students need to know to meet standards.
 
"Those frameworks will then help us analyze our curriculum to see if we have any gaps," she said.
 
Currently, students on the most basic high school math track take algebra for two years. They then decide in the spring before their junior year if they want to move on to "geometric survey" or not.
 
Under the new requirements, they all would take geometric survey (or a more advanced math course).
 
Duncan said she and other administrators will work this year to make sure the curriculum for all three years of math is aligned to state standards and ready for next year's freshmen.
 
In the meantime, guidance counselors will encourage older students to add that extra year of math to their schedules, too - even though it's not required.
 
"Logically, if you have a third year of math, and you're continuing with your understanding of different mathematical concepts, you're going to be better prepared for that test,"
Duncan said.

TOP OF PAGE

Who Will Pick Up The Tab?

Officials Support School Breakfast Bill, But Question Funding
Caleb Hale, The Southern Illinoisan, 1/13/05
 
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- Legislators pushing mother's advice that breakfast is the most important meal of the day may not be thinking about the long-term costs associated with forcing some schools to provide the meal, school and state officials say.
 
The Illinois General Assembly sent House Bill 765 to the governor's desk Tuesday, a measure mandating schools provide a daily breakfast in districts where 40 percent or more of the students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Schools are typically reimbursed the costs of providing breakfast food to students by the federal government, but the new legislation allows districts to ask for reimbursements for equipment and personnel needed in the program.
 
However, with an estimated 350
Illinois schools that will now be required to utilize the funding, skeptics say reimbursements may fall short and some districts may be out the money.
 
Rep. Susana Mendoza, D-Chicago, sponsored the bill, which the governor is expected to sign.
 
Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, a former high school teacher, said he was opposed to the bill, because schools already have the option to receive federal funding to provide breakfast to students. He said districts should make such decisions locally, not have them mandated by the state.
 
Although, there have been more stringent mandates for schools proposed in this area, says one official.
 
HB 765 is an extremely watered-down version of previous legislation the Illinois Association of School Boards have been fighting, said Ben Schwarm, the group's associate executive director for government relations.
 
Three years ago, Schwarm said the state wanted to force all schools to provide students with breakfast, as well as breakfast and lunch meals during the summer. That proposal would have taxed many school districts to the extreme, he said.
 
Even this measure is a leap of faith for many, Schwarm said.
 
"It's a very real possibility the state board of education is going to look at this a year from now and say, 'Wait a minute; this is more expensive," he said.
 
Proponents of the bill said
Illinois schools have never fully utilized all the money the federal government provides for districts to implement breakfast programs.
 
Schwarm said he is willing to take believers at their word, but with 300-plus schools now expected to make requests for breakfast program reimbursements, everyone will see how much the feds are willing to provide.
 
Carbondale Elementary School District Superintendent Elizabeth Lewin, whose district already provides breakfast to students but would be required to do so under the new measure, said federal money never covers every penny a school spends on its breakfast program.
 
"They never do, and I can see some districts having problems," she said. "Things like kitchen equipment is really expensive."
 
Trico school district Superintendent Dennis Smith said there are also additional costs in having cooks come in earlier to start breakfast.
 
Trico, like Carbondale Elementary, has provided breakfast to students for the past nine years. It may cost extra, but Smith said it is worth the money.
 
"I'll tell you I'd never go back," Smith said. "I'll be honest with you, for some kids the best two meals they get during the day are at this school."
 
Smith said the district provides meals many students might otherwise miss at home, which, he added, leads to better performance in the kids during the school day.
 
Steeleville school district Interim Superintendent Don Badgley said the idea is good, but legislators often don't look at whether schools can afford to take up every good idea until it is too late.
 
"One of the problems is we have a difficult time keeping our lunch program in the black, as it is," Badgley said.
 
The school employs two cooks, which the superintendent said are overworked already. While the district has been kicking around the idea of starting a breakfast program, Badgley said officials will have to closely examine how it would affect finances and whether there is enough interest among parents to have one.
 
It's a decision the district can take its time in deciding. Badgley said the school currently doesn't have 40 percent of its student population qualifying for the free and reduced lunch program.

TOP OF PAGE

Clamor for charter schools unaffected by low test scores
Maudlyne Ihejirika, Chicago Sun-Times, 1/13/05
 
The city's 17 charter schools continue to be highly sought after by Chicago families, but an annual report finds many charters are battling low test scores, as well as student suspension rates higher than the Chicago Public Schools' average.
 
The Illinois State Board of Education's 2003-04 charter schools report to be released today found that all have fewer slots than applicants clamoring to get in, even though many charters have low test scores and higher suspension rates than the average for CPS.
 
With enrollment subject to lotteries, the chances of getting in to
Chicago's three most sought-after charters were slim. For instance, the Lawndale Educational and Regional Network (LEARN) had 273 applications for only 26 slots, Perspectives had 397 for 43 slots, and Passages had 138 applicants for 22 slots.
 
Least demand was seen at Triumphant, The Academy and Octavio Paz charter schools.
 
Parents back charters
On the whole, "parents clearly like these schools," CPS spokesman Peter Cunningham said, noting that Mayor Daley's controversial Renaissance 2010 plan for 100 new schools calls for a third to be charters. "The reason is because we have some great charters. There is a great demand, so we're interested in creating more of these kinds of schools."
 
Established by the state in 1996, charters are granted flexibility to be creative in educating children.
 
But only seven of the 13 elementary charters in the city can boast that more than half of their students meet or exceed state standards on the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests. The districtwide average was 45.3 percent meeting or exceeding standards.
 
The highest charter ISAT scores were seen at Passages, North Kenwood/Oakland and Octavio Paz schools; the lowest at Triumphant, Choir Academy, and The Academy schools. The highest charter Prairie State scores were at Noble Street and Chicago International high schools; the lowest at Young Women's Leadership and The Academy high school.
 
"We have a disciplined environment and good teachers," said a proud Michael Milkie, principal of
Noble Street.
 
Trying to raise scores
At Perspectives, which failed standards at its middle and high school, "We're trying different things every year to bring the test scores up,'' said Assistant Principal Glennese Ray. "Our students work hard, and we do as much as we can to prepare them. We realize our scores need improvement, but those tests are not direct indications of how our students perform, as 90 percent do go on to college and do well."
 
Ten of the 17 charters had suspension rates higher than the CPS average last year of 6.9 percent. Chicago International, the largest charter with seven sites and 4,302 students, and KIPP Ascend Academy, the smallest charter with 83 students, tied with 28 percent student suspension rates, followed by Perspectives at 20 percent. Experiencing few or no student suspensions were Triumphant, Passages and Youth Connection schools.
 
"It's not that one out of four students were suspended. It's the number of times students were suspended, and the largest percentage are repeat offenders," said Chicago International's executive director, Elizabeth Delaney Purvis. "But I don't want to hide behind that number. We take our CICS code of conduct very seriously."
 
Perspectives' Ray added: "We hold our students to higher standards than what they might find in other schools, so we might have high suspension rates, but it's because of our character development standards, not because we have violent acts, students fighting or bringing weapons and whatnot."

TOP OF PAGE

Teens may trade bed for bus
Unit 5 proposal would start high school earlier
Phyllis Coulter, Bloomington Pantagraph, 1/13/05
 
NORMAL -- Teenagers function best if they sleep later, one Twin City sleep expert said, and some parents want Unit 5 officials to keep that in mind when picking a busing schedule.

Unit 5 is looking for a way to shorten wait and ride times for bused students in a cost-effective manner.
 
One proposal was unveiled last month, and two more were added Wednesday in response to concerns from parents and some board members.
 
All three will be discussed at a public meeting today.
 
None of the three would delay the start of the high school day, however. The teens would have to walk through the schoolhouse doors anywhere from five to 30 minutes before they do now.
 
Dr. David Koh, medical director of the
Midwest Center for Sleep Medicine in Bloomington, said they should start later, not earlier. Elementary and middle school students would start after the older students in every option.
 
"I found it very disappointing the school board decided to do the opposite of what the trend is," Koh said, calling changing bus schedules "a golden opportunity to start (high school students) later."
 
School officials said they take sleep patterns and many other factors into account when they draw up busing schedules. In fact, district officials cited concerns about high school start times Wednesday when they unveiled the two new two options.
 
"There was some concern about a
9 a.m. start for elementary students and an early high school start," said John Pye, assistant superintendent of operations and human resources.
 
Many students arriving by bus early at
Normal Community High School work on homework and visit with friends before classes start.
 
Kasey Doss got off her bus at
Normal Community West High School earlier this week after a 40-minute ride that started at 6:45 a.m. She said she doesn't mind the early hours, despite the fact that statistics say she should.
 
Koh said scheduling should take into account that teenagers have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. That means they have great difficulty waking up in the mornings and are drawn to stay up later at night.
 
He says research in
Minnesota high schools show attendance and tardiness rates improve when later start times are followed.
 
The Connecticut Legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit public schools from starting before
8:30 a.m., and Massachusetts lawmakers are considering the issue.
 
Koh said
9 a.m. could be ideal for the high school students.
 
"Let us at least give more students a chance to engage because they are awake by starting classes later," psychiatrist and Unit 5 parent Virginia Moody said in a letter to the school board.
 
Most students are not fully awake before 9 or
10 a.m., she said, citing research.
 
Pye said sleep patterns of teenagers are among factors considered in making busing decisions.
 
For example, having high school students' day run later could interfere with extracurricular activities.
 
"It's a concern on the other side of the coin," he said. "Some solutions for an existing problem create new and different problems we didn't anticipate."
 
Also, having high school students going home later could prevent them from taking care of their younger siblings after school while parents still are at work, he said.
 
"There's no one solution for all families," he said.
 
Moody asked the board to do what is best and safest for the children. "Please don't make decisions for the convenience of adults," she said.
 
Medical research shows people from puberty through the 20s need more sleep than younger children or adults, Moody said.
 
The board will vote on the issue at its Jan. 26 meeting.
 
Long bus rides have been an ongoing concern for parents in Unit 5.
 
Officials hope most routes will run no more than 30 to 35 minutes under the new plan. Some students ride a Unit 5 bus for an hour.

TOP OF PAGE

Five caught in Web sex sting

Monticello teacher; others accused of soliciting children
Ron Ingram,
Decatur Herald & Review, 1/13/05
 
DECATUR - Decatur police are cracking down on sexual predators who use online chat rooms to contact potential victims.
 
An ongoing investigation by three juvenile investigations unit detectives has snared four men from
Illinois - one of them a 53-year-old Monticello schoolteacher - and one from Texas for indecent solicitation of a child.
 
The
Monticello teacher, Larry T. Albaugh, has been charged in Macon County Circuit Court with one count of indecent solicitation of a child, as have John P. Jasberg, 26, of Peoria and Brandon Bennett, 31, of Williamsville. A 35-year-old Effingham man also was arrested but has not been charged.
 
Albaugh is a physical education and drivers education teacher and a coach. Monticello Superintendent
Larry McNabb said Wednesday that Albaugh has been suspended until the charge against him is resolved. He said Albaugh is barred from school property and cannot have any contact with students.
 
To the best of his knowledge, none of the allegations against Albaugh involved
Monticello students, McNabb said.
 
The fifth suspect is William H. Veazey, 60, of
Lewisville, Texas. He was arrested by Decatur officers last week as he arrived at Decatur Airport from St. Louis. He was being held under $500,000 bond because he had been convicted in Texas of two counts of indecent solicitation of a child and attempted aggravated criminal sexual abuse.
 
Veazey was transferred to the custody of federal authorities for prosecution on numerous federal charges, said
Decatur police Lt. James Chervinko. While Decatur officers were arresting Veazey, federal Customs Service agents were executing a search warrant at his Texas home to seize his computer and other evidence, he said.
 
In a sworn statement filed in Macon County Circuit Court, Detective Jeremy Welker said a
Decatur officer went online Nov. 18 in a chat room titled Sexy High School Hotties posing as a 15-year-old girl. The officer was instantly contacted by someone who claimed to be a 48-year-old man from Texas.
 
The suspect identified himself as Veazey on Dec. 2 during a telephone conversation with a female detective posing as the 15-year-old girl, Welker said.
 
The officers also corresponded online with Veazey numerous times during which he said he wanted to come to
Decatur to engage in sexual activity, Welker said. On Dec. 21, Veazey asked that the girl find a second teenager willing to become involved in sexual activities involving all three of them, he said.
 
The other suspects were caught in a similar manner.
 
Chervinko said
Decatur police received help in the investigations from U.S. Postal Service inspectors, FBI agents and Department of Homeland Security agents. He said forensic examinations of the evidence will be done by a Homeland Security agent.
 
Decatur detectives received special training last year in online detection methods before launching their investigations in November, Chervinko said.

TOP OF PAGE

Out of the school budget loop
With the State Board of Education under the governor's control, board members are not involved in determining funding for
Illinois schools
By Stephanie Banchero, Tribune staff reporter. Tribune staff reporter Diane Rado contributed to this report,
1/14/05
 
Usually by this time of year, the Illinois State Board of Education has created a budget proposal and sent it to lawmakers and the governor. Invariably, it has pushed for more money for public schools.

This year, however, board members haven't even seen the budget being crafted in their name. Instead, it is being written by the agency's staff members, working with--or for--a governor's office that is determined not to raise taxes.

It is a scenario that has outraged education advocates and a number of legislators. Some critics say it is exactly what they feared last year when Gov. Rod Blagojevich took control of the agency.

"The governor should not be the sole authority on education and education funding in
Illinois," said state Sen. Dan Cronin (R-Elmhurst). "He is setting it up so his voice is the only one that is heard."

Since its creation in 1970, the state board had been an unavoidable and independent voice for public schools. But since Blagojevich pushed through legislation allowing him to appoint a majority of the board's members, the agency has devoted itself to doing his bidding.

The new board hired a 24-year-old chief of staff who previously had driven Blagojevich's press van through rural
Illinois. It approved a Downstate charter school at the governor's urging, even though the previous board had denied it four times.

While it remained silent on key education issues, the board loudly publicized Blagojevich's proposed ban on violent video games. The agency's annual roundup of state education issues even appears on letterhead featuring "Rod Blagojevich, Governor" in large type.

Nowhere is the lack of separation more obvious than in the creation of the state education budget.

For decades, the State Board of Education prepared its own budget for funding public elementary and high schools. Educators across the state relied on the board to advocate for the new money they felt their schools needed. The board rarely disappointed.

This year, however, many expect the board to be in lock step with the governor.

"For the first time since the recorded history of man, the state board's budget will probably match exactly what the governor plans to propose," said Dean Clark, one of two state board of education members not appointed by Blagojevich. "I think there needs to be a level of independence. By taking us out of the loop, it takes one more voice away from the table, and I'm not sure that benefits the children of this state."

Clark also complained that the annual "condition of education" report, which the board must send to state legislators by Friday, will, for the first time in recent memory, arrive without a spending plan.Board members haven't seen that report, either.

Agency staffers said Thursday they are compiling the budget and will complete it before the governor's budget address on Feb. 16. Board members would have to call a special meeting even to debate the agency's budget before that date.

Randy Dunn, interim state superintendent of education, acknowledged that his office is working closely with the governor's staff to create a budget.

"It makes no sense for the board to do this in isolation and then spend months fighting with the governor over it," Dunn said. "We're opening an era of cooperation. We need a budget that fits with the governor's overall state budget picture."

Becky Carroll, spokesperson for the governor's budget office, also defended the joint budget preparation.

"The State Board of Education relies heavily on state funding, and it only makes sense that they build a budget that takes into account the entire state budget picture and the state revenue picture," Carroll said. "We are looking to [the state board] for direction and preparing the budget accordingly."

Lou Mervis, who served on the state board for 17 years in the 1980s and '90s, recalled a much different atmosphere in those days, including some pitched battles between his board and previous governors. Mervis argued that the state constitution sets up just this kind of scenario, allowing the board to lobby for what it thinks schools need, while giving the governor the power to say what the state can afford.

Ultimately, lawmakers decide how much to put into education.

"It comes down to the central question of whether you want a board of education that says, `This is what we believe is needed to educate the young men and women of this state,' or if you want a state board that says, `This is all the money the governor is going to give us so we'll figure out how to allocate it,' " Mervis said. "I would argue that the people of
Illinois want the former."

Last year's fight over the education budget was one of the nastiest, providing the catalyst for Blagojevich's makeover of the state board.

In January 2004, the state board approved--against the wishes of the governor--a $7.1 billion budget, calling for a $600 million increase over the previous year.

The governor was incensed that the board would suggest such a large increase while he was struggling to plug a $2 billion hole in the state budget.

A few weeks later, Blagojevich launched a blistering attack on the board and proposed creation of a new cabinet-level department of education that would answer directly to him. The board would have been relegated to a think tank under the proposal.

State lawmakers argued that the State Board of Education should maintain some independence from the governor's office. But lawmakers gave the governor the authority to replace seven of nine board members.

Critics charge that Blagojevich also has silenced another voice on education, the Education Funding Advisory Board.

By state law, the five-member board composed of business leaders and educators is supposed to recommend, every two years, a minimum per-pupil spending level. Using state and national research, the group is supposed to send lawmakers a report on Jan. 1 in odd-numbered years.

Since Blagojevich took office two years ago, four members have either resigned or their terms have expired. The governor has not replaced any of them. As a result, no report was sent to lawmakers this year as required by law.

"This report provides an accountability measure that shows how far we are from providing a decent education for our students, and I hope that it is not being swept under the rug by this administration," said Bindu Batchu, spokeswoman for A+ Illinois, a non-profit group that seeks increased school spending. "In a democracy, you expect more voices out there. You can't have one voice making all the decisions."

TOP OF PAGE

School officials get emergency training
State Journal-Register State Capitol Bureau, 1/14/05

Officials from 14 school districts, including some in central
Illinois, are receiving training designed to teach them skills for protecting students and staff in an emergency.

The training sessions are a state pilot program that is part of a school-security plan Gov. Rod Blagojevich is promoting.

The first training session, involving seven school districts, was Thursday at the Illinois Education Association’s professional development center in
Springfield. An additional seven districts are scheduled for training Tuesday.

Among school districts in the pilot program are those in
Bloomington, Decatur and Quincy.

“We need to ensure that schools are prepared for any kind of crisis,” Blagojevich said in a news release.

“Through this pilot program, we’re working hand-in-hand with schools to build upon their existing emergency plans, for such events as fires and tornadoes. We’re giving them the tools they’ll need if they ever are faced with a disaster at their school.”

The 41/2-hour training sessions are intended to help school districts put together “critical response teams” that would respond to an emergency and remain in place until local emergency response workers arrive.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Education recommend that schools be prepared to be self-sustaining for up to 72 hours in case a catastrophic event prevents emergency responders from quickly reaching the school.

The Illinois Terrorism Task Force, Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Education Association are working together to provide the emergency training.
 
TOP OF PAGE

State board of education recommending legislature re-evaluate school drivers education fees
By JENNIFER MILLER, Decatur Herald & Review Springfield Bureau Writer, 1/14/05

SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois State Board of Education is recommending lawmakers consider raising drivers education fees, as school officials claim they need more funds to operate the mandated program.

In a yearly report to the General Assembly, the board of education suggested the $50 maximum drivers education fee, which has not been raised in 20 years, be re-examined due to the growing number of districts seeking increases.

"This is something that we will be looking at over the next year. There is not a firm recommendation on what that (fee) should be raised to, but it should be looked at," said Rebecca Watts, a board spokeswoman.

Currently, individual districts can increase the fee if a waiver is approved by the General Assembly. In November, the legislature approved a $500 per student fee, the highest increase to date for a school district.

Central A&M School District received approval last year to raise its drivers education fee to $150. The fee covers the expenses not reimbursed by the state, said Dotty Simmons, Central A&M High School guidance counselor.

Simmons noticed some Central A&M students were affected by the increase.

"I know there were a couple students who didn't take the course when eligible because they had to save up," Simmons said.

Central A&M has two certified drivers education instructors who also teach physical education. About 90 students are eligible for the program, and about 60 are enrolled. Students unable to afford the $150 fee can have the fee waived.

Central A&M Superintendent Randy Grigg said the fee shouldn't be an issue for parents and students.

"If drivers education is going to be mandated, then it should be paid for by the state and not by local taxpayers and not by parents of students who are enrolled in the program," he said. "It is a burden. At what point does everyone stand up and scream 'It's enough?' "

High schools are required by the state to offer a drivers education course, which must include classroom and behind-the-wheel portions.

Central's drivers education program cost $54,700 last year, which includes salary and benefits for its instructors. The state reimbursed the district $9,200. The rest of the bill was paid by the district, Grigg said.

The reimbursement rate is evaluated by the state every year.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Spending Gaps: The Red Herring of Education Politics
Guest Opinion by Michael Van Winkle, policy analyst for the Springfield-based Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois Leader-Illinois' Conservative News Source, 1/13/04
 
One of the key assumptions made by proponents of H.B.750 (a bill that would raise $3.8 billion in new taxes in the name of education funding reform) is that the discrepancies in school funding across school districts is a major source of achievement gap. This assumption leads naturally to a subsequent one … that the answer is using the state apparatus to equalize school funding. Under scrutiny this assumption fails on both counts. Not only is there no strong correlation between funding equity and successful education, but even if there were, further centralization of education administration would not fix anything.

Spending Gaps

The argument for funding equity has strong emotional appeal. It begins by pointing out per pupil spending ranges from $4,000 to $15,000 or that
Illinois teacher salaries range from $24,000 to more than $83,000. These facts are cited in order to affect a sense of injustice in the audience. How can we expect a school getting $4,000 per student to compete with those getting $15,000?

Of course common sense tells us that this first impression is not necessarily the correct one. After all, the price of real estate differs substantially between the Chicago and Carlinville. Why shouldn’t we expect the price of education to do likewise? In fact, the Chicago Tribune highlighted the limited implications of the funding gap by point out that “in Summit Hill in
Frankfort [the state’s lowest spending district] about 80 percent of students pass state tests. In Rondout in Lake Forest [the state’s highest spending district] about 85 percent of students pass the tests.” Two schools on opposite sides of a spending gap had essentially the same results … success.

We find more counter-evidence to spending gap arguments when we look at the phenomenon nationally. The District of Columbia’s school system is almost always in the top five in terms of per pupil spending (+$12,000) and conversely on the bottom rung in terms educational performance. Other studies have shown that there is no correlation between per pupil spending and success on the SAT.
Illinois’ students actually beat the national average despite the alleged school “funding crisis”.

A spending gap is more often indicative of large states and diverse economies than it is a regressive education system. Looking at spending gaps nationally, it is no surprise that the largest funding gaps occur in states with large metropolitan areas.
New York has a gap of about $2,616, Illinois’ is $2,465, and Michigan $1,085. These states’ schools system tend to be average or slightly above, despite these discrepancies. Some states, like New Mexico for instance, have virtually no funding gap and yet still struggle to keep up with the rest of the nation’s test scores.

All this is not to say that money has nothing to do with it. Affluence is still a strong predictor of educational success, but so is parental involvement … and not surprisingly communities with high levels of poverty often have low parental participation. There is no magic bullet to
Illinois’ education problem, no single cause to explain all failure. The fact of this complexity is itself a key argument for local control of schools.

Skinning the Cat

So far we’ve seen that the relationship between spending gaps and school performance is anything but iron clad. But let us for a moment assume that it is; let us suppose that the secret answer to all our educational problems were bundled neatly in the spending gap. It does not follow automatically that giving
Springfield more power to redistribute state funds for education is the solution. Yet, this is the solution that the H.B. 750 proponent peddles.

If we buy into to their spending gap logic, why should we accept the state’s funding just 50% of education … why not 100%? As long as you have any significant portion of school money coming from local property taxes, there will be inequity. That inequity is then a downward spiral encouraging more and more people to leave low-income areas to escape the horrid schools. But the flip side is allowing
Springfield to divvy up all education dollars according to their abstract formulas. Do we want our teachers beholden to bureaucrats in Springfield rather than parents? After all, the advantage to paying directly to your own district is a more direct sense of propriety.

So … if a spending gap is the problem (hypothetically) and we don’t want to empower bureaucrats any more than we are already … what can be done? The one solution that H.B. 750 proponents are keeping off the table is increasing school choice.

The Bottom Line

Closing Illinois’ spending gap is the red herring of education politics. By keeping us focused on the revenue side of the balance sheet, we get to avoid the hard questions that come with examining expenditures. Is the teacher/student ratio as important as teachers claim? Are school maintenance and property subcontracting regulations diverting vital education dollars into union coffers?

Evidence shows us that there are a number of factors that are as important as state spending in determining education achievement. Moreover, to the extent that funding is a problem, it is not clear how increasing state control over education funding is going to be a real solution. More likely it will simply bring more complicated, more expensive problems-problems out of the public eye. Too often in public policy debates we’re invited to treat symptoms rather than diseases, most often because we have not taken the time to get to the root of the problem. Our future and our children deserve better than a $3.8 billion band aide.
 
TOP OF PAGE

===========================================================================

NATIONAL

New education secretary ought to hear from rural educators
Lahontan Valley News Opinion, 1/7/05

If local educators could sit down with Margaret Spellings, President Bush's nominee for education secretary, they might take the opportunity to fill her in on how No Child Left Behind and other education mandates are going in rural Nevada.

Spellings helped write the NCLB legislation, a sweeping program designed to elevate test scores and achievement among all students. School districts that don't meet the mandate face penalties.

During committee confirmation hearings Thursday Spellings was told "horror" stories about implementing NCLB and she responded that the Bush administration is "committed to make this law workable." We hope she brings flexibility to enforcement of the accountability standards because some aspects of NCLB are difficult to implement in rural
Nevada. We don't dispute that the premise of NCLB is a noble goal. Closing the achievement gap and making sure all students, including the disadvantaged, achieve academically is important.

However, there must be consideration given to how the law impacts educators in rural
Nevada. Here's what we heard in a cursory sampling of educator opinion.

- Local teachers who find themselves falling short of the "highly qualified" provision must find a way to get the additional credentials. The law requires that teachers only teach in their majors, but many smaller districts stretched for staff rely on teachers to teach in their minor subjects as well. As a result, some teachers find themselves headed back to the classroom. That's easier done in a college town than it is in rural
Nevada where there may be great distances to travel. Some additional time has been provided to meet the NCLB mandate, but it's a burden regardless.

- Administrators in rural school districts also say it's getting harder to recruit highly qualified teachers to comply with NCLB. Fewer students are going into education, especially the sciences and math. Plus, urban school districts are snapping up new graduates, often while they are still going to school at places like UNR or UNLV, making it difficult for rural school districts to compete for qualified staff.

- NCLB also requires instructional aides in the classroom have college credits, which puts additional burdens on rural school districts to find qualified staff.

- Teachers feel double-digit increases in test scores to meet annual progress requirements are unrealistic and the product of a "one-size-fits-all" mandate. The result will be fewer elective classes in art and music as schools use faculty to teach remedial classes to meet NCLB mandates.

So when Spellings uses phrases like making the No Child Left Behind law "workable," we hope she is true to her word.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Extension of schools act faces resistance
Bush may be short of support to have his reform initiatives implemented in secondary education.
Nick Anderson, Los Angeles Times
 
WASHINGTON -- At first glance, President Bush seems well positioned to expand his No Child Left Behind Act of academic standards, testing and accountability to 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-Calif., 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.
 
Among Republicans, some grumble that the federal government is meddling too much in school affairs. Days after the Nov. 2 election, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., the 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.
 
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 schoolwide reading and math tests in grades 3-8. 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 September, Bush unveiled a plan to require testing every year in grades 9-11. That would effectively triple the federal testing mandate for high schools that requires one year of high school testing.
 
Many details of Bush's plan need to be worked out, but the president made clear after his re-election 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."

TOP OF PAGE

Texas working up plan to catch TAKS cheaters
Associated Press, 1/10/05
 
AUSTIN, State education officials announced today that they will hire an outside expert to review security measures on the state's standardized assessment test and build a tracking system to monitor test scoring irregularities that could signal cheating.



"We have zero tolerance for cheating," Texas Education Agency commissioner Shirley Neeley said in a statement released before a news conference.

The changes are in response to a Dallas Morning News investigation that found strong evidence that educators at nearly 400 schools statewide helped students cheat on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. The newspaper study identified schools whose test scores swung wildly from poor to stellar.

In November, the Houston Independent School District appointed an independent counsel to investigate "anomalies" in scores in the city's northwest Acres Homes community — Wesley, Highland Heights and Osborne elementaries. HISD also asked the state to look into uncharacteristically high TAKS scores by fifth-graders at
Sanderson Elementary School.

The TEA's announcement today breaks with a previous policy of trusting districts to police themselves. TEA officials have said they investigate cheating allegations only when a district requests it or when they receive credible eyewitness evidence of cheating.

Neeley also reminded educators of the consequences of cheating on the TAKS test, which could lead to the revocation of a teaching license and up to 10 years in prison since falsifying testing documents is a third-degree felony.

"
Texas educators understand that cheating on the test can be a career ending move," Neeley said in the statement.

TOP OF PAGE

Teachers Unions Blast Governor's Merit Pay Plan
Some educators call proposal untenable, costly. Others say it may help attract instructors
By Cara Mia DiMassa and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers,
1/10/05

With only a few sentences in his State of the State speech Wednesday night, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a shockwave through much of the education community.

"I propose that teacher pay be tied to merit, not tenure," Schwarzenegger said. "And I propose that teacher employment be tied to performance, not to just showing up."

That proposal immediately drew harsh criticism from union leaders, who warned that such a plan would trigger an all-out fight between the governor and unions, and from some administrators who consider the plan untenable and far too costly.

Schwarzenegger's merit pay proposal comes as the governor is also seeking a $2-billion cut from public schools in the coming year's budget and suspending a voter-approved initiative that ensured that schools would receive at least 40% of state spending each year.

"It's not going to be easy," said Education Secretary Richard Riordan. "But the governor feels that unless you hold people accountable in the public sector the way you did in the private sector, you're not going to get very far."

Individual school districts — in cooperation with their local collective bargaining units — would have to determine how to gauge teachers' performance, Riordan said. Additional details of the plan will be rolled out soon, he said.

Terry Pesta, president of the San Diego Education Assn., which represents 8,300 teachers, scoffed at the idea of linking pay to performance, saying it would wreak havoc on contracts already in place. "It's a crazy idea … just another blast at teachers," Pesta said.

Pesta and a number of other union leaders in
California questioned what criteria would be used to gauge a teacher's success.

And John Perez, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said this was the wrong time to discuss merit-based pay, given that the governor was also threatening to cut public education funding.

Cutting funding to classrooms further discourages people from joining the teaching profession, said Perez, whose union represents 45,000 teachers.

"Dick Riordan thinks merit-based pay is going to drag people into education?" Perez said. "That's la-la land."

Al Mijares, superintendent of the
Santa Ana Unified School District, said linking teachers' pay to their performance in the classroom may sound "like the right thing to do, because you want to reward teachers for doing a good job. But when you get down to the practical application of it, it falls apart and causes contention.

"What criteria would the state use?" Mijares asked. "What standards would be in place to determine how much a teacher gets paid? It always comes back to questions of fairness."

Still, not everyone is adamantly opposed to the proposal.

Arlene Ackerman, superintendent of the
San Francisco Unified School District and a member of the Teaching Commission, a national organization that supports merit-based pay, said that it may be what is needed to attract highly qualified teachers and reward those who work in impoverished urban schools.

"We have to treat teaching as we do other professions," she said. Administrators and unions, she added, must realize "that there are teachers who work in areas of specialty or in tough schools that require special skills. We should pay them for getting results."

Jose Huizar, president of the Los Angeles Board of Education, also thinks Schwarzenegger's plan is worth considering. "One of the best ways we could close the achievement gap [between white and minority students] is to focus on the quality of teaching in the classroom," he said. "And merit-based pay has the possibility of improving the quality of education for those schools that need to improve."

Districts and states that have switched to merit pay systems have seen varying results. They have tailored their plans to take into account the specifics of their schools, judging teachers by criteria that include — but are not limited to — students' test scores.

Denver voters will decide in November on a plan to increase property taxes in order to fund merit-based pay for teachers. That plan grew out of a 12-school pilot program and requires what district spokesman Mark Stevens called "a conversation" between teachers and their principals, who decide how teachers should be judged.

Six years ago,
Cincinnati public school teachers and district officials agreed, in theory, to a "pay for performance" plan that pegged a teacher's base salary to the results of their evaluations. But teachers balked over concern that evaluations were too subjective, with no clear understanding of what would distinguish one teacher's performance from another's.

"As long as teachers saw subjectivity instead of objectivity, they were not going to trust it," said Sue Taylor, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.

Today, the district offers some financial incentives to veteran teachers who take added responsibilities and prevents under-performing teachers from receiving raises until they have improved.

Michael W. Kirst, a professor of education at
Stanford University, said few districts or states that use merit pay are comparable to California.

"There is no model or existing program in the
U.S. that you could base this on that is widespread," he said. "The states that have done this, like Tennessee and Texas, had it and then abolished it…. Everybody was getting these high merit ratings and getting paid more, and it cost too much."

Some educators believe that California's education code prohibits the state's approximately 310,000 teachers in public schools from being judged strictly on the basis of standardized testing.

Marsha Bedwell, a lawyer for the California Department of Education, said it was too early to say whether Schwarzenegger's compensation proposal would run afoul of the education code.

TOP OF PAGE

Tasers going into Duval schools
On-campus officers will carry the stun guns in middle and high schools
By NIN-HAI TSENG, The Florida Times-Union, 1/7/05

On-campus officers patrolling Duval County's middle and high schools will carry Taser guns soon, prompting surprised reactions from school officials who say the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office never told them the new stun guns were making their way onto campuses.

Sheriff John Rutherford could not say if officers will be allowed to use the devices to break up school fights or take down unruly students -- as done in Putnam and Clay County schools in recent years. That decision will be announced during a news conference Monday, Jan. 17, he said.

However, the Sheriff's Office director who is helping write the policy on Tasers did say resource officers will be authorized to shock anyone -- even students -- if they resist arrest or demonstrate a threat.
 
"It's just another tool," said Rick Lewis, director of personnel and professional standards. He added that the 47 school resource officers carry guns, batons and pepper spray already.

The weapons fire electrified barbs that can shoot up to 21 feet, disabling suspects with a 50,000-volt shock.

Tasers have become known as one of the safest weapons to take down a person without using deadly force, Rutherford said. The sheriff cited various instances where officers and suspects' lives were saved because of the weapon.

Rutherford could not say exactly when resource officers will begin carrying Tasers, only that all officers will be trained in the coming months.

"I'm not sure. Maybe next year," he said.

The Duval County school system pays the Sheriff's Office to patrol its campuses. All middle and high schools, except for Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, have one resource officer. Sandalwood High School has two.

Two of the School Board's seven members said they wish the Sheriff's Office had talked with them about the Tasers before hearing first from the Times-Union.

Brenda Priestly Jackson and Kris Barnes said they already have concerns with the police presence in schools and are opposed to having Tasers around students.

"Can't a couple of adults take down a child?" Barnes said.

Schools Superintendent John Fryer declined to comment because the topic was premature, a spokeswoman for the school district said. Fryer did contact the sheriff Thursday morning to schedule a meeting about Tasers "in the near future," she said.

The Sheriff's Office has signed a $1.8 million contract with Taser International to buy 1,800 of the stun guns over the next two years. The purchases are a slice of Mayor John Peyton's Safety First Initiative, which pumped an additional $43 million to fire and police services.

"We had some very involved meetings in the spring," said Susie Wiles, the mayor's spokeswoman. "We didn't ask him [the sheriff] how they would use the funds. Frankly it would not have been appropriate to ask him that."

The Sheriff's Office draft policy specifies the weapons should not be used on pregnant women or suspects in control of a motor vehicle, in danger of falling from an elevated location or near a pool, lake or flammable liquid or fumes. They also should not be used against animals.

The policy, however, does not mention any limitations on students.

Duval County will follow Clay, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties' trend in equipping school resource officers with Tasers.

Some parents said the weapons are excessive and could easily be misused, especially with children who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

"I have a 9-year-old who refuses to cooperate at times," said Reta Russell-Houghton, whose daughter has been diagnosed with the disorder. "What officers might perceive as a life-threatening situation at school might not be."

Russell-Houghton is the Duval County PTA/PTSA president representing 154 schools and 4,500 members. She said officers patrolling the streets have a dangerous job, but Tasers in schools are inappropriate because children react to situations differently from adults.

State Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, has filed a bill to ban Tasers at all
Florida schools. He said Thursday the bill is waiting to be assigned to a committee.

Since 2001,
Clay County has had to subdue two unarmed 15-year-olds and an unarmed 18-year-old essentially because they did not follow officers' orders. No injuries were reported.

Putnam County approved having the weapons in schools in early 2004. Since then four students -- a 12-year-old, a 14-year-old and two 16-year-olds -- have been shocked by resource officers.

Three happened in October, the same month a 6-year-old Miami-Dade boy was subdued with a Taser in a school office wielding a shard of glass.

School superintendents in Clay and Putnam counties have embraced the weapons. Clay Superintendent David Owens has said Tasers are a safe way to break up fights, particularly between heavier students, and avoid injuries.

Human rights organizations, however, say the weapons are deadly. In the past three years, at least 70 people have died in the
United States and Canada after being struck by the M26 and X26 Tasers, according to a report by Amnesty International released in November. Only one, however, was 18 or younger -- and that person was 18.

Coroners have often attributed the deaths to other factors, such as drugs, but some medical experts think Taser shocks may have contributed to a risk of heart failure in cases where people are agitated or have underlying health problems.

Taser International has refuted the report. The company's president and co-founder, Tom Smith, defended its product with a study by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Smith also traveled from
Arizona to meet with dozens of Palatka parents, school officials and law enforcement officials in December to answer concerns.

TOP OF PAGE

Boy 'Tribes' On Frontier In Reading
Md. School Segregates To Boost Achievement
By Fredrick Kunkle, Washington Post Staff Writer, 1/8/05

As tribes go, this one is small -- and young. Every one of its 23 members is under age 10. And each of Harry Hanna's fourth-graders is, by design, a boy.

Working in teams to sort words by patterns, the boys look more like they are in a noisy clubhouse than a classroom. Here and there are comfy beanbag chairs for reading, and signs dangle overhead for the Cobra Tribe, Panda Tribe and Great White Wa Wa Tribe.
 
Along with a group of fifth-graders at their school, Twin Ridge Elementary in
Mount Airy, the boys are part of a voluntary, two-year experiment with same-sex education in Frederick County's public schools aimed at closing a gender gap in reading scores.

The classes have a casual feel. The boys work alone or in teams, move about the classroom freely or even head outside as a group for an unscheduled recess when they become antsy. Add to that the way the boys use hands-on tools to explore math concepts, play music or sometimes recline on a sofa with their own reading selections -- sports, nonfiction, fantasy and humor figure big here -- and it is no surprise that they like what's happening at Twin Ridge.

"I think the all-boys classes are really cool," said Colt Campbell, 10, a student in Natalie Wirtz's fifth-grade class.

Though same-sex classes have appeared in recent years in other school districts, typically in struggling schools to improve student test scores, the practice is becoming more common in such areas as
Frederick County, where the public schools are generally well regarded.

They have taken their cue from the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, which gave parents and schools more flexibility, including the option of same-sex classes. The Education Department proposed changes last year to update regulations along those lines.

In the current school year, 154 public
U.S. schools are offering same-sex education, compared with four public schools eight years ago, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, a nonprofit group created by Montgomery County physician Leonard Sax. He said the number represents 35 public schools that are completely single sex and 119 that are coeducational but also offer single-sex educational opportunities.

The experiments are part of the biggest change in coeducational public education since Title IX passed in 1972 and barred sex discrimination in federally funded programs.

Critics say that single-sex classes in public schools risk a step backward for civil rights.

"I think that what our country has learned is, it's very dangerous to experiment with segregation to make our society better," said Emily J. Martin, a staff attorney for the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. "I think we have too troubled a history to think that this is okay."

Frederick County would seem to be an unlikely venue to launch a controversial approach to education. Last year, for example, almost 76 percent of its fourth-graders tested at levels of proficiency or above in mathematics on state exams, and more than 79 percent tested at those levels in reading.

On test scores, however, educators discovered a gender gap in reading.

"We noticed our girls were doing fine. Lo and behold, it was the boys who were performing pitifully," Twin Ridge Principal H. Peter Storm said.

Third-grade boys and girls were less than a half-percentage-point apart on reading and mathematics tests. By fifth grade, however, a gap had opened in reading, with 93.5 percent of the girls meeting standards vs. 83.5 percent for the boys.

A committee of parents and educators researched same-sex classes, and the Frederick County Board of Education unanimously approved the experiment in March. Candidates were selected at random; their parents were allowed to opt out.

"Until the No Child Left Behind Act, these programs were seen as illegal," said Sax, who operates a family practice in Poolesville. "Now, they have finally come out of the closet."

Sax argues that same-sex education is justified by a growing body of scientific research showing differences in the structure and cognitive abilities of male and female brains that translate into differences in learning styles.

"We're at the point where we've identified more than 100 differences between the male and female brain," said Michael Gurian, a Spokane, Wash., writer whose book "Boys and Girls Learn Differently" (2001) was instrumental in Frederick County's decision to try same-sex education. He rejects the idea that segregating students by sex and styling their classes differently is a return to sexist practices.

"We're not talking about putting them up on a mountaintop for 12 years," he said.

Sax became an advocate for same-sex education after years of watching boys streaming through his door who were believed to be suffering from attention-deficit disorder and in need of medication. Instead of giving them drugs, Sax believed, society should find better ways to teach them.

But coeducational education makes it more difficult to build teaching strategies based on those innate differences, and it actually reinforces traditional gender stereotypes, Sax said.

Just as girls in same-sex settings are more likely to assert themselves in physics or computer science than those in coeducational classes, boys are more willing to try classical music, art or drama if girls are not around, he said.

"It's fine to play a flute at an all-boys school. I think if we have more single-sex schools, we will have more female fighter pilots," Sax said.

Lisa M. Maatz, public policy director at the American Association of University Women, said there is little research on whether single-sex education has a beneficial impact on students. Furthermore, the government's blessing of such experiments represents an attempt to weaken Title IX's protection against sexual discrimination without basis in scientific study, she said. "Why would you take the risk in imposing a system that could reinforce stereotypes?" she asked.

But parents, teachers and students have welcomed the same-sex classes at Twin Ridge. In Hanna's classroom, desks were covered with such books as "Thresher Sharks," "The Battle of Bull Run" and "Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds)." Perched above their cubbies was a pod-racing helmet from "Star Wars."

The din grew as the boys worked together to map words by consonants and vowels. And then, suddenly, it was time for the Village People. The boys, their shrill preadolescent voices almost drowned out by a boombox, punched out the chorus of the 1970s disco hit "YMCA." Downstairs, the mood was just as loose in Wirtz's all-boys fifth-grade class, where the boys clamor to discuss why they like having class without girls.

"This is all part of the movement and doing things in tribes," said Storm, the principal, stopping by the class. "If there were girls in here, they would probably dominate the conversation."

Wirtz, who has 24 boys in her fifth-grade class, said she had reservations about the program at first. She considers herself a feminist, has a daughter and thinks girls might also benefit from the more open style of education permitted in the boys' classes. She also acknowledged feeling uncomfortable when her class's esprit de corps smacks of sexism.

"I think if you ask the boys why they like the class, they'll say it's because there's no girls in it. It's kind of a slap in the face," she said.

But she also believes the experiment is worthwhile if it makes boys better readers.

"I don't feel I'm emphasizing any stereotypes," she said. "I'm just participating in a program that's targeting certain strategies for helping boys. I don't think I could live with myself if I was contributing to a bigger-picture problem with boys."

TOP OF PAGE

State leaders may decide who will pay for any cut in property taxes
Of all the issues facing lawmakers, biggest is how to pay for education
By Jason Embry, Austion American-Statesman Staff, 1/9/05

Whether the 2005 legislative session is a success or failure will depend, probably more than anything else, on whether lawmakers approve a new system of paying for public schools.

Along the way, they will debate some of the most controversial topics in education, such as whether to tie some teacher pay to student test scores and whether to give private-school vouchers to students at underachieving campuses.

These issues emerge each time the Legislature meets, but now the stakes are particularly high. For one, a state district judge has said the current $31 billion-a-year finance system is unconstitutional for three main reasons: It does not give schools the money they need to meet state and federal mandates; districts have little or no control over their tax rates, effectively making the levy a state-mandated rate, something banned by the constitution; and some districts with small tax bases cannot raise money for construction and renovation the way districts with larger tax bases can.

There is also a primary election in 14 months. Nobody wants to be the candidate who made sure that school property taxes remained at the maximum rate of $1.50 per $100 of assessed value when politicians and voters alike have spent so many years calling for a lower rate.

One reason the fix eluded lawmakers during the past two years was that they were trying to achieve two divergent goals: cutting property taxes and providing a net increase in school spending.

But the debate is more complicated than that. A new system must include numerous formulas to determine, for instance, how much to compensate a school because it is small and rural, or because some of its students speak little English or need special education. Those nooks and crannies in the system force lawmakers to look beyond partisanship and ideology.

"School finance is one of those issues that is very unique from a public policy perspective," said Sherri Greenberg, a former House member from
Austin who now teaches at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. "It's not uniform to party affiliation or rural versus urban or suburban. When members of the Legislature are looking at school finance, they're looking at what is the funding that their school districts receive and what is it that their superintendents and chambers of commerce and PTAs are saying that they need."

Another wrinkle: Legislative candidates often say they want to eliminate the so-called Robin Hood provision that requires some of the districts with the highest levels of property wealth per student to share the money they raise for school operations with the rest of the districts in the state. While lawmakers may try to eliminate the share-the-wealth provision because it is politically unpopular in some areas, Dietz has not ordered them to do so. Instead, he said that type of provision is necessary as long as the system relies so heavily on property taxes.

Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick threw their support behind separate school finance plans in the past two years. All three failed.

A monthlong legislative session that focused on school finance ended without a solution in May, and lawmakers have not met formally since. But legislative leaders say that they've been working on the issue, and Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said they've made real progress.

"I think we're getting very close to where we want to be," said Shapiro, the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee.

She predicted that lawmakers will put $1.5 billion to $2 billion per year into the system in addition to the spending necessary to keep up with annual enrollment growth. At current levels, that growth costs roughly $535 million a year.

"The issue that is still out there to be resolved is the revenue source," Shapiro said.

While any tax bill is likely to contain a sales tax increase, some type of new business tax appears increasingly likely. Lawmakers hope to find one that is small enough that business owners won't complain too loudly once they remember the property tax cuts that they're getting at work and at home.

Many businesses legally are able to avoid paying franchise taxes by incorporating as partnerships.

In order to avoid hurting any one sector too much as they change the business tax structure, lawmakers may try to craft a system that would allow business leaders to choose which kind of tax they pay.

They could decide, for instance, that they would rather pay a tax on their profits than on their payrolls.

Perry has said he does not want to hurt job creation, which is becoming his signature issue. But he isn't ruling much out.

"Other than an income tax, all of the revenue options are on the table," spokeswoman Kathy Walt said.

Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, said he wants to see a 25-cent cut in property taxes. If lawmakers cut more than that, he said, they're likely to create taxes that will hurt businesses to make up the difference.

He said businesses pay 56 percent of the state and local taxes collected in
Texas, the sixth-highest share in the country, according to the Council on State Taxation.

Yet compared with other states,
Texas has low taxes overall. The conservative Tax Foundation says only four states have a lower state and local per capita tax burden than Texas. The group also says the Texas tax system provides the country's fourth-best climate for businesses.

The absence of a personal income tax also means that low- and middle-income families in
Texas often pay a greater share of their incomes in taxes than the wealthy.

According to the liberal Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy,
Texas families earning between $25,000 and $40,000 pay 8.2 percent of their incomes in local and state taxes, while those who earn between $69,000 and $147,000 pay just 5.8 percent. Of course, wealthier families pay more in actual dollars.

But the upcoming revenue debate may not be entirely about taxes.

Earlier proposals have called for the legalization of video lottery terminals, which are similar to slot machines, at racing tracks and on American Indian reservations, but conservative legislators have threatened to kill plans that rely on gambling for school revenue.

If lawmakers do agree on a new system this time around, they're likely to put it together with scraps of other plans that have failed to catch on so far.

"All the things that we have debated for a year and a half are on the table," Shapiro said. "There are no new ideas."

TOP OF PAGE

Schools finding teachers overseas
City has signed contracts with 45 from Philippines; Foreigners fill gaps across U.S.; Critics say problem stems from poor pay, conditions
By Laura Loh and Liz F. Kay, Baltimore Sun Staff, 1/10/05

Struggling to fill openings for teachers in crucial subjects such as math and science, Baltimore's public schools are turning to overseas recruiting -- joining a growing group of urban school systems across the nation.

City school officials have signed contracts for next fall with 45 teachers from the
Philippines -- and they are planning another trip to Manila this month to try to hire more.

For the past decade, school systems with burgeoning student populations or fluctuating teaching ranks, including districts in New York, California and Florida, have turned to foreign labor to keep classrooms staffed. Although many officials in those districts report great success, critics question whether recruiting internationally ignores the problems in these school systems, including low pay and difficult working conditions.

Baltimore began recruiting in the Philippines after starting this school year with about 200 vacancies, many in science, math and special education.

"We had to do something," said Bill Boden, the system's human resources director. "We know the country, in general, is not producing enough [teachers] to fill the demand, so you've got to go outside the borders."

In their first trip in November, city schools recruiters hired a group for mostly math and science, and nearly all of those hired have master's degrees and teaching experience. The second trip this week will focus on hiring early childhood educators.

Overseas recruitment is feasible even for cash-strapped school systems like
Baltimore's because recruitment firms transfer the cost of searches to successful applicants. The Washington, D.C., school system hired 15 Filipino special-education teachers this school year and is recruiting in Puerto Rico for next year.

No other school systems in the
Baltimore area have traveled to other countries to recruit teachers. Anne Arundel County and Carroll County school officials said they have been solicited by recruitment firms; Anne Arundel officials said they are considering the possibility.

U.S. schools hired about 10,000 teachers from foreign countries during the 2002-2003 school year, according to the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union.

Similar to nursing

The hiring trend parallels a similar movement in the nursing industry. For decades, nursing graduates from the
Philippines, India and elsewhere have been recruited to fill jobs here, experts say, because American nursing programs produce too few candidates to meet the demand.

School systems usually focus recruiting efforts in countries where English is widely spoken, including
England, Canada, India, the Philippines, West Africa and some Caribbean nations. Recruiters and school officials say they give preference to teachers who can speak English without a heavy accent.

Salaries are a major draw for some foreign teachers. In the
Philippines, the average annual pay for a teacher is about $10,000, according to a 2002 UNESCO report. Baltimore teachers, by contrast, earn an average of $47,000 a year. The starting salary for a city teacher is $34,000.

As a result, many foreign teachers are willing to pay large sums to recruiting agencies that connect them to
U.S. school districts. The 45 teachers hired by Baltimore will each pay $5,000 to $8,000 to a California firm working with city school officials.

Critics of overseas recruiting, however, say finding teachers abroad is only a short-term solution to the cyclical problem of teacher shortages. Instead, they say, schools need to focus on improving working conditions and salaries so teachers want to remain in the classroom.

"There's a choice here," said Richard M. Ingersoll, a
University of Pennsylvania associate professor of education who has studied teacher shortages. "You could improve that job and have no trouble recruiting and retaining people here to become a teacher. Well-respected, well-paid jobs do not have shortages."

Ingersoll and other experts question whether there is a real shortage of teachers. Some school officials say the uneven distribution of teachers is the problem, leaving high-performing school districts with waiting lists of applicants and urban or rural districts without candidates to fill vacancies.

Maryland education officials say the state also faces a rising number of teachers nearing retirement and a growing student population in some districts.

The State Department of Education projects school districts will need to hire nearly 6,000 teachers for next fall but will fall short in some areas. They estimate districts will find 409 fewer special-education and 191 fewer math teachers than they need.

Another area of need is early childhood education, because the state has instituted a significant expansion of kindergarten services.

Baltimore is the first school system in Maryland to address its recruitment needs with such a large contingent of foreign teachers, though a few districts have done some overseas recruiting in the past, state officials said. Montgomery County schools have recruited teachers from Spain for some years to run Spanish language immersion programs.

For their part, state officials are studying ways to make it easier for experienced teachers from other countries to become certified in
Maryland. Foreign teachers have to take the Praxis test, which assesses basic skills, knowledge of subject matter and teaching expertise. They also must undergo an assessment by a firm that specializes in evaluating foreign credentials, said Joann Ericson, the state's chief of certification.

City school officials believe the teachers they have hired will be able to easily obtain certification. The men and women have an average of 10 years' teaching experience, and nearly all have at least a master's degree, said George Duque, one of two human resources specialists who traveled to the
Philippines in November.

'All experienced'

Ligaya Avenida, president of a San Mateo, Calif., recruitment firm working with the Baltimore school system, said she screens thousands of candidates in the Philippines before presenting them to school districts.

"The teachers that I bring are all experienced teachers," said Avenida, a retired human resources director for the
San Francisco Unified School District who began recruiting in her native country six years ago. "I make sure the teachers ... will have no trouble meeting the [state] standards."

Avenida and other recruiters say they are providing cash-strapped school systems with a valuable service at no expense, since fees paid by successful job applicants cover the cost of the search. The firm also pays for the travel and lodging of school officials who go on recruitment trips if a school system hires more than 10 people.

Avenida charges successful applicants $5,000 or $8,000, depending on the type of visa they need. The fee includes transportation to the
United States and immigration, certification and housing assistance.

Most of
Baltimore's new Filipino teachers will enter the country on cultural-exchange visas, which are good for three years, because the U.S. government has placed a limit on work visas, known as H1b visas, until October, she said.

Duque, who will be taking a second trip to
Manila this week, said he has been impressed by the credentials of the job candidates.

One of the teachers he hired is a 44-year-old man from the
Manila area who has 11 years of teaching experience, a doctorate in educational management and a master's degree in math education.

The plan, school officials said, is to have the Filipino teachers arrive in June so they will have time to undergo training before the start of school in September. The system is designing a summer orientation session to help them adjust to teaching in
Baltimore.

"Obviously, there's a cultural difference," Duque said. "We'll try to prepare them. Hopefully, it's not going to be that [difficult] a transition for them, at least from a pedagogical standpoint."

TOP OF PAGE

State's job is to give education chief an earful / Great Falls Tribune (MT)
Great Falls Tribune Editorial, 1/11/05

With nothing like the rancor that has accompanied other second-term Bush cabinet nominations, the Senate Education Committee last week unanimously blessed the president's choice of Margaret Spellings to be education secretary.

What's more, the full Senate is expected to confirm the choice with no controversy in the next 10 days.

Considering criticism of Bush's main education initiative — the No Child Left Behind Act — winning the praise of the likes of the panel's ranking Democrat, Edward Kennedy, is no small achievement by Spellings. It's even more remarkable when you consider that she is the NCLB's chief architect and one of its most outspoken defenders.

Her history would seem to be a major concern in rural areas such as
Montana, where some of the act's requirements are at best burdensome and at worst impossible.

But if Spellings delivers on promises to the committee to pay attention to critics of the act and to be flexible in its implementation, then even rural folks might eventually jump on the Spellings bandwagon.

No Child Left Behind is meant to yield yearly gains in knowledge among students and, therefore, improvements in the performance of schools.

The act penalizes schools that get poverty assistance and don't improve, and parents are allowed to move their kids to better-performing schools.

Two of the main difficulties in states such as
Montana are:

Education requirements for specialty teachers. That's especially troublesome in small schools, where attracting fully qualified specialty instructors can be difficult, and many teachers work in more than one discipline.

Allowing students to move to better-performing schools. In much of Montana and the West, the "better" school might be 100 miles away.There are other problems with NCLB, and Spellings got an earful of them during her confirmation hearing last week.

"Obviously there is a theme here," she told the panel. "None of us wants to tip the boat over, if you will, with these horror stories. We in the administration are committed to making this law workable."

At the root of it, Spellings appears to be deeply committed to improving education for
America's youth. And she believes that No Child Left Behind is the right approach.

NCLB comes up for renewal in 2007, and Bush has indicated that when that happens he — and now Spellings — will push to expand its standards and annual tests in high schools, where the current act requires just a single test.

In the meantime, it is good that the president's nominee says she'll be sensitive to concerns raised by parents and educators.

"I am going to do a lot of listening," she said.

It will be up to state officials to do a lot of talking.

TOP OF PAGE

CPS to study charter schools' effect
Telephone survey will begin Jan. 18
By Jennifer Mrozowski, Cincinnati Enquirer staff writer, 1/11/05
 
The Cincinnati Public School District plans to find out why hundreds of students are leaving the district for charter schools - and why many are returning.

The school board Monday approved a $19,000 telephone survey that will be conducted by
University of Cincinnati researchers. The calling is expected to start Jan. 18 and take about a month.

District officials say the loss of students to charter schools contributed to the district's budget problems last year, and the data will be helpful in curbing the population decline.

"We felt this information was very important as we develop and refine strategies to reclaim student enrollment and better understand parents' needs and the decision-making process for their children's education," district spokeswoman Janet Walsh said.

Walsh said researchers intend to survey 1,472 parents of students whose children have left the district for charter schools since last school year, and 823 that have brought their children back.

Walsh said she hopes the district will know the results and analysis of the survey by spring.

District officials also plan to improve marketing of the district's schools and parental outreach as a way to retain parents, Walsh said.

The effects of the population drain became apparent in August when the district acknowledged overspending its 2003-04 budget by nearly $22 million. Officials said payments that the district must make to charter schools have been increasing, and they cited those payments as a big reason for the overspending.

State and local funding for charter school students is funneled through Cincinnati Public Schools' budget. Payments to charter schools are expected to increase from $33 million in 2003-04 to $43 million in 2004-05 because of the increasing charter school enrollment.

This is the first time the district has made a data-driven attempt to find out why parents are removing their children from Cincinnati Public Schools and enrolling them in charter schools.

Board member Sally Warner said the survey should help the district determine how to retain parents.

"We can always guess about why they're leaving the district, but it would help to have the actual data," she said.

TOP OF PAGE

Bus driver charged with selling alcohol to student / Boston Globe
AP, 1/11/05   

Ridgefield, Conn., A school bus driver faces charges she sold alcohol and cigarettes to a student at Ridgefield High School.
 
Cynthia Curtis, who drove a bus in the
Ridgefield school system for six years, is due in Danbury Superior Court on Jan. 21 to face charged including risk of injury to a minor, delivery of alcohol to a minor and delivery of tobacco to a minor.

Kenneth Freeston, the superintendent of schools, told the News-Times of
Danbury that school officials began an investigation in November and found that Curtis had supplied alcohol and cigarettes to one student. He said the school administration is satisfied with the arrest made by Ridgefield Police and would not be taking further action.

Baumann Brothers bus company attorney Murry Portnoi said the bus company has fired Curtis. Curtis' lawyer, Steven Panos, said she has resigned.

"At this time I can't comment on the nature of the allegations against Ms. Curtis," Panos told the News-Times on Monday. "I anticipate a not guilty plea and deny multiplicity of selling or making a profit of any kind.

TOP OF PAGE

Fodder for Reform's Cynics, and a Blot on Bipartisanship
By Samuel G. Freedman, New York Times,
1/12/05

Twice upon a time, or at least twice within the past dozen years, an American president issued the audacious promise to solve a seemingly intractable social problem. To do so, each of those presidents embraced some of the most cherished beliefs and policies of his partisan opposition. A coalition straddling the normal chasm in Congress passed the resulting legislation.
 
The bills that those presidents signed into law were simultaneously utopian and humanly flawed. They promised absolute results. They lacked sufficient money to achieve them, at least in the view of many critics. Yet they served as a kind of enlightened shock therapy, challenging the pervasive, almost blithe acceptance of an entrenched underclass.

One of these measures was the welfare reform act that Bill Clinton called for during his first race for the White House, when he vowed to "end welfare as we know it." That bit of intemperate oratory ultimately took the form of a Democratic president appropriating the traditionally conservative Republican view that welfare had become for too many poor people a permanent condition, and that a variety of financial incentives actually made low-wage work less attractive than the dole. As of last fall, eight years since the law was enacted, welfare rolls had shrunk by more than half.

The other measure, years later, was the No Child Left Behind law that President Bush championed. It, too, represented in many ways a concession to ideological foes, because it acknowledged the longstanding premise of liberals that the quality of public schools varied drastically according to race and class. By uncoupling himself from the Republican orthodoxy that all failure is individual failure, that there is no such thing in
America as structural inequality, President Bush's bill won the co-sponsorship of no less a liberal than Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

How distant, how unreal, that fact seems now, three years almost to the date from the signing of the bill. With last week's report by USA Today that the federal Department of Education had paid the columnist and radio host Armstrong Williams $250,000 to promote No Child Left Behind, particularly among fellow African-Americans, the Bush administration has dealt the latest blow to what looked not so long ago like a welcome example of bipartisan common sense in a fiercely divisive era.

"The Education Department has done so many things to turn would-be allies into opponents," said Andrew J. Rotherham, the director of educational policy for the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington research organization with a neoliberal Clintonian bent. "This has created a golden opportunity for the law's critics."

Let us call the Williams contract by its true name: a bribe. And let us note that it was uncovered only several months after the Department of Education admitted to having poured $700,000 into creating public-relations television segments about the education law that were meant to be slipped on air as if they were genuine journalism.

No one can benefit from these escapades in spin except for those on the right and left flanks who have reasons of their own for loathing No Child Left Behind - the right because the law increases Washington's role in local education, and the left because the law dares to insist on standards and accountability based on standardized tests, the bête noire of progressive educators.

No one loses more than the centrists and moderates, including the blacks Mr. Williams was supposed to persuade, who saw even in an imperfect law some essential elements of education reform. Chief among these is the law's requirement that schools separate test scores by race, which means shining the harsh light of accountability on the deficient performance of many schools in teaching minority pupils. And regardless of frequent complaints from Democrats during the last presidential campaign that the law remained billions of dollars below "full funding," the federal government has increased aid to education during the Bush years (albeit partly because Congress increased the president's budget requests).

William L. Taylor, a fixture in several major civil rights organizations, said he had listened with chagrin as Democratic critiques of No Child Left Behind, often echoing the platform of the National Education Association, began to sound increasingly like efforts to blunt its impact. The Armstrong Williams bribery report, he went on, only gives aid and comfort to those foes, though they lack a plausible alternative of their own.
 
"It will increase the cynicism," said Mr. Taylor, who chairs the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, a private bipartisan group. "The administration has simply shot itself in the foot, and for no good reason."

He continued, "The thing that worries me most is that this law is only going to work if the people who are in the system - teachers, administrators - can become believers and see the positive side, rather than see it as a law that's out to get them."

The signs are not especially good. Polling last fall by the
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington research group that focuses on African-American issues, found that 23 percent of blacks rated No Child Left Behind as good or excellent, while 67 percent called it fair or poor. (The corresponding figures for all respondents, regardless of race, were 32 and 56.) The last time the center took on a survey on the welfare reform law, in comparison, fewer than one-fifth of blacks deemed it a failure.

"With the welfare law, there was evidence that it was a success," said David Bositis, a senior political analyst at the center. "People aren't seeing the proof that No Child Left Behind is a success."

INDEED, the vaunted reform of public schools in
Houston, which helped propel Rod Paige from superintendent there to federal secretary of education in Mr. Bush's first term, turned out to have been based on cooked books - specifically the number of high school dropouts.

Both the $700,000 campaign of pseudojournalism and the payoff to Mr. Williams reflect at bottom an insecurity in the Bush administration about what real journalists will find in real schools. Which is again self-defeating, because, speaking from experience, I have seen salutary effects from No Child Left Behind in districts as disparate as
Topeka, Kan., and Gainesville, Ga.

"If anything, this makes reporters more suspicious of No Child Left Behind than they were before," said Mary Jane Smetanka, president of the National Education Writers Association. "I mean, if they have to bribe someone to promote it --"

She did not need to complete the sentence for her meaning to be apparent.

TOP OF PAGE

Helping high schools?
Baltimore Sun Editorial,
1/13/05

President Bush went to a high school in northern
Virginia yesterday to promote the next phase of his major education program, No Child Left Behind. The law, which purports to ensure a quality education for every child and hold states accountable, started with elementary and middle grades, and now Mr. Bush wants to extend those lofty goals to high schools. His chances for success, however, are uncertain. Many of the proposals are not new, and it's not clear where the money for the proposal's $1 billion-plus price tag will come from. Other reservations that have been raised about NCLB, particularly its emphasis on mandated tests, apply to high schools as much as they have to elementary and middle schools.

No Child Left Behind has an ambitious agenda: to have a high-quality teacher in every classroom by 2006, to have every child performing on grade level by 2014, and to eliminate achievement gaps among groups, mainly between whites and minorities. The main vehicle for getting there is the phasing in of a series of mandated tests in certain subject areas and at various grade levels. Educators have focused a lot on reading and math, since tests in those subjects from third to eighth grade are to be phased in by 2007.

The White House now wants states to concentrate on high schools - and it seems willing to push for more money to get the job done, even though NCLB's ambitious mandates have been persistently underfunded.

The president's plan calls for a $1.2 billion initiative to "help states hold high schools accountable for teaching all students" and to provide effective and timely intervention for students who are not learning at grade level. Reforming high schools is notoriously difficult, but the administration is basically promising that in exchange for improving academic achievement and graduation rates, states will have more flexibility to pick and choose programs that are most effective for their students. It's unclear, however, that more flexibility in exchange for higher test scores is the right trade-off, especially without a guarantee of adequate financial resources. The plan also offers $250 million to pay for "state assessments," or tests, at a time when states are still trying to implement additional assessments under NCLB for elementary and middle school students.

For high school students who are reading below grade level, the plan seeks $200 million to improve their skills. Mr. Bush sought $100 million for this Striving Readers initiative last year, and Congress gave only $25 million. As worthy as the program might be, there's little reason to think that it will receive significantly more money. Similarly, the administration is asking for $500 million to provide incentives for successful teachers to work in some of the most challenging schools. Again, a worthy goal, but the solutions are more complicated than Mr. Bush's plan envisions.

That's a main theme of the administration's No Child Left Behind efforts - ambitious and laudable in many respects, but often unrealistic and simplistic in execution.

TOP OF PAGE

Good judgment left behind
Column by George F. Will, Seattle Post Intelligencer
 
WASHINGTON -- In communist
East Berlin, one sign of the government's swollen self-regard was the cluttering of public spaces with propaganda banners by which the government praised itself for providing socialism. In Washington today, the Department of Education building is an advertisement for its occupants.
 
Eight entrances are framed by make-believe little red schoolhouses labeled "No Child Left Behind." High on the building's front are two other advertisements for that 2002 law: Large banners hector passers-by to visit NoChildLeftBehind.gov.
 
This building-as-billboard is the workplace of those eager beavers who had this brainstorm: Let's pay a million taxpayer dollars to a public relations firm to manufacture enthusiasm for No Child Left Behind, including a $241,000 payment to columnist and television talk-show host Armstrong Williams for his praise of the legislation. The eager beavers are long on energy but short on judgment.
 
Just 10 years ago
Washington trembled because many Republicans who had won in the cymbal-crash elections of 1994 had vowed to abolish the Education Department. Education, they said, is a quintessentially state and local responsibility. But soon Republicans in Congress and a Republican president were deepening Washington's reach into education. In 1996 Republican appropriators gave the department a 15.7 percent increase in discretionary spending. And No Child Left Behind increased federal education spending more than any increase requested by President Clinton, who was the teachers' unions' poodle. Some of that money went to Williams.
 
When conservatives break with their principles, they seem to become casual about breaking the law, too. Last year the General Accounting Office accused the Department of Health and Human Services of illegal spending when it distributed fake "news" videos that were used by 40 local stations around the country. In them the many benefits of the new Medicare prescription drug entitlement were "reported" by a fake reporter whose actual status -- an employee of an HHS subcontractor -- was not revealed. The English-language version of these "video news releases" concluded, "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting."
 
This scofflaw enterprise was an appropriate coda to the lawless making of this law. Republican leaders traduced House procedures by holding open the vote for three hours, giving them time to pressure sensibly reluctant legislators. And the Justice Department says the Bush administration broke no law when the Medicare program's chief actuary was told he would be fired if he gave Congress his estimate that the program's 10-year cost would be a third more than the $400 billion the administration claimed.
 
The GAO frequently has had occasion to insist that taxpayers' money cannot be used when the "obvious purpose is 'self-aggrandizement' or 'puffery.' " Last week it had another occasion, chastising the Office of National Drug Control Policy for also disseminating fake news videos.
 
It is difficult to calculate how many billions of dollars the government spends on indefensible, if not illegal, self-promotion. Democrats, too, have violated the spirit, and perhaps the letter, of various laws that contain language such as "no part of any appropriation contained in this Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes not authorized by the Congress" and appropriated funds may not be used "in a general propaganda effort designed to aid a political party or candidates." But conservatives should be less aggressive than Democrats in using taxpayers' money to try to mold taxpayers' minds.
 
It is impossible to draw, with statutory language, a bright line between legitimate informing and illegitimate propagandizing by government. What is indispensable is common sense, and that is atrophying as this lawyer-ridden nation sinks deeper into the delusion that sensible behavior can be comprehensively codified.
 
Obviously government leaders must try to lead by persuading the public. But government by the consent of the governed should not mean government by consent produced by government propaganda. Unfortunately, as government's pretensions grow, so does its sense that its glorious ends justify even the tackiest means.
 
Eight decades ago, in a
Washington not progressive enough to think that it could or should superintend primary and secondary education, the president set a tone that today's government -- a Leviathan with attention deficit disorder -- could usefully emulate. "Mr. Coolidge's genius for inactivity," wrote columnist Walter Lippmann, "is developed to a very high point. It is far from being indolent inactivity. It is a grim, determined, alert inactivity." After the debacles of hired and faked journalists, we need a contagion of Coolidgeism, beginning in the Education Department, if it is educable.

TOP OF PAGE

Senate has 'bold plan' for schools
Proposal calls for teacher raises and a statewide property tax
By JANET ELLIOTT, Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau, 1/13/05
 
AUSTIN - The Texas Senate stood united Wednesday behind a plan to cut local school property taxes by a third, raise teacher salaries to the national average and pay for the $7 billion school finance package with a mix of business and consumer taxes.

"This is our best thinking on the second day of the session," said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. "This is a bold plan."

Dewhurst was flanked by senators as he announced the plan. He said all 31 members have signed onto the draft plan, expected to be filed as Senate Bill 2.

Gov. Rick Perry and House Speaker Tom Craddick had praise for the Senate's quick effort but neither commented on its specifics.

The plan outlined by Dewhurst would eliminate the school tax for maintenance and operations — now capped at $1.50 per $100 assessed valuation — and replace it with a $1 statewide property tax. Such a statewide tax would require a change in the Texas Constitution that would have to be approved by voters.

Local districts would be allowed to raise an extra enrichment tax of up to 15 cents. Some property-wealthy districts would still have to share some of the local enrichment with less wealthy districts so that school funding would remain equal.

In the past, school boards have opposed a statewide property tax because they would lose local control.

The new business tax would apply to corporations and partnerships, but not sole proprietorships. Dewhurst said by expanding the base, the 4.5 percent franchise tax rate could be cut in half.

The plan also relies on increases in sales, tobacco and alcohol taxes, and closing a loophole on sales taxes for used cars. The Senate did not specify how much the sales tax would be increased.

Dewhurst said most Texans would not end up paying more taxes because of the offset of lower property taxes.

"This plan, thank God, doesn't raise the net overall tax burden on
Texas," Dewhurst said.

Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said extra money could come from existing state revenues, which have been growing as the economy improves.

The existing corporate franchise tax, which raises about $1.7 billion a year, would be replaced with an expanded tax that partnerships also would pay. It would raise about $3.5 billion in fiscal 2006 and $3.7 billion the second year of the biennium.

Dewhurst said such a plan would better capture tax revenue from the growing service sector of the economy.

Only one out of six businesses pay the existing franchise tax.

Dewhurst said Craddick and Perry told him it would be helpful if the Senate outlined its ideas for school finance reform.

Many aspects of the plan are similar to one the Senate unanimously passed in May 2003. The House did not take up that plan.

Perry called a special session on school finance last spring, but lawmakers and Perry could not reach an agreement on new business taxes.

Since that time, rich and poor school districts have successfully challenged the state's so called "Robin Hood" school finance plan in state district court. Lawmakers are facing an Oct. 1 deadline from a judge to devise a new education funding system.

Although the state is appealing the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, Perry and legislative leaders have vowed to address school finance reform regardless of the lawsuit's outcome.

Craddick said this week that there is not yet a consensus in the 150-member House about how to fund schools. He was noncommittal in his response to the Senate plan.

Perry thanked the Senate, saying the plan "marks a good starting point and shows that legislative leaders are committed to addressing this important issue this session, as am I."

It was unclear whether the pledge to raise teacher salaries to the national level would translate into an across-the-board raise.

Dewhurst said it would cost $1.1 billion to give the state's 276,000 teachers a $4,000 pay raise.

The average pay for a
Texas teacher is $41,000 annually. The national average is $45,891.

Teachers groups were thrilled at the talk of higher pay. They were strongly opposed to Perry's 2004 proposal to tie pay increases and bonuses to student performance on standardized tests.

"Compared to last year's efforts, the plan increases the emphasis on improving teacher compensation, and that's a step in the right direction," said John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers. "However, the plan does not specifically say how a teacher pay raise would be carried out."

RESOURCES:  THE SENATE PLAN
All 31 senators have agreed to a school finance plan that:
• Replaces the local $1.50 per $100 assessed valuation tax for school operations with a $1 statewide property tax.
• Creates a new business tax that would apply to partnerships and corporations.
• Spends $1 billion on teacher pay raises.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Vending industry launches anti-obesity program
AP, 1/13/05   
 
WASHINGTON -- The vending machine trade association is launching an anti-obesity campaign to encourage healthful food choices, hoping to fend off efforts to remove machines from schools and improve the industry's image as concerns grow about the fattening of America.

The program, "Balanced for Life," is being unveiled Thursday at an event featuring pro football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann.

The effort by the National Automatic Merchandising Association includes a color-coded rating system for food sold in vending machines, indicating healthful choices and those that should be eaten in moderation.

The group hopes to influence public opinion by encouraging nutrition education and physical activity programs in schools and through media coverage, the association's Web site says.
 
TOP OF PAGE

In Push for Small Schools, Other Schools Suffer
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, New York Times, 1/14/05

Just two years ago, A. Philip Randolph Campus High School in upper Manhattan had such a strong academic record that it was one of 209 top schools exempt from the curriculum changes that the Bloomberg administration imposed as it began overhauling the city's schools.

But today, Randolph is severely overcrowded, with more students than at any point since it opened on the City College campus in 1979. Misbehavior and violence have surged; suspensions have more than tripled, to 117 so far this school year. The once rigorous academic program is fading, with cuts in honors classes and electives.
 
At a meeting last month, half a dozen Randolph parents stood up before the city's top education officials to demand explanations and beg them to fix their school. "This overcrowding is endangering the lives of our students," said Pam Sporn, whose daughter is a senior.

Evelyn Allston said her daughter, a freshman, was scared in school. "To be afraid means you cannot concentrate," she said.

Randolph is one of many large high schools that are suffering similarly across the city, their troubles largely the fallout from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's efforts to overhaul the school system and create new small high schools. Typically, a big school that might have housed 600 to 1,000 ninth graders is being replaced by four schools with no more than 108 students each, sending hundreds of students spilling into the remaining big schools.

The vast majority of the city's 300,000 high school students still attend large schools, and many of those are far above capacity.

In the last two years, enrollment has soared at big schools like Samuel J. Tilden in Brooklyn, up 22 percent; Norman Thomas in Manhattan, up 26 percent; and DeWitt Clinton in the Bronx, up 21 percent, while high school enrollment citywide has grown only slightly.

But Randolph's case raises particularly uncomfortable questions for the Bloomberg administration, given that the school has a history of success in preparing black and Hispanic children for college - the very children who are supposed to benefit most from the mayor's reforms - and that it was an early model of the "small learning communities" the administration is intent on creating.

Randolph has four programs or "houses" - medicine, engineering, humanities and academic professions - and until this year each program had fewer than 400 students. But last September, administrators lumped more than 400 additional ninth graders into the academic professions, more than doubling the size of the program with students who did not particularly want it. Total enrollment is nearly 1,900, up 48 percent from two years ago. Making things even harder, local police commanders notified the school that 75 incoming students had criminal records.

Educators and parents say the problems at Randolph go beyond overcrowding and behavior issues.

Staff turnover has contributed to the problems. Early last summer, Randolph's principal of five years, Judith Butcher, was promoted, and a successor was not named until late August, just before teachers returned to work. In addition, Randolph lost three assistant principals, and many veteran teachers retired or transferred. About half the teachers are new this year.

Randolph also got an unexpected increase in non-English-speaking students last spring, even though the school did not have a bilingual program to serve them.

Teachers, parents and students immediately wrote to officials, saying it was unfair to have the students sitting "in a classroom where they cannot understand what is being taught." But it was not until last month that a team of administrators visited Randolph to help with bilingual services, two days after parents complained at a meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy.

At a meeting with parents and teachers at Randolph last week, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein conceded that many of the problems at Randolph were a direct, if unintended, result of his wider efforts to fix the system, especially the focus on creating small theme-based schools.

"You are right; new schools are my baby," Mr. Klein said at the meeting in the school library, after an hour of listening to parents and teachers complain that Randolph was getting short shrift.

But while he acknowledged Randolph's problems, he also urged parents to understand that he was trying to fix a system in which 50 percent of students do not finish high school and where demand for good schools far exceeds supply. "In the process, have we done some things not exactly in the way we should have done them? I'd be the first one to admit it," he said.
 
At the meeting, Lucille Swarns, the regional superintendent, said that officials had a plan to reduce the size of the school, but that it would take three years to get Randolph back to the size it was last June.

In the last two years, the city has opened 99 small high schools designed to have no more than 500 students each, and later this month the administration is expected to announce as many as 50 more to open next September.

A quarter of a century ago, when Randolph opened at City College, things could hardly have been more different. A steering committee had worked to create a real partnership between the college and the high school.

"Teachers came from all over the city; they were outstanding teachers, carefully picked," said Alfred S. Posamentier, now dean of the City College School of Education, who was involved in the planning process.

After a rocky start in which two principals came and went in quick succession, Lottie L. Taylor took over in 1981 and the school developed a gilded reputation. Students from all over the city applied for its programs.

The medicine and engineering programs still admit only the top applicants. Humanities and academic professions are "educational option" programs intended to take certain proportions of students performing above grade-level, at grade and below. But teachers and administrators said many more low-level students were admitted this year.

When Daniel Davidson, nicknamed Doc, started teaching science at Randolph in 1990, so many top-caliber students enrolled in the most challenging courses that the school ran 10 sections of physics each semester. "They called it the Stuyvesant of Harlem," Dr. Davidson said. "It was very true. I would have put it up against any school."

But Dr. Davidson no longer teaches physics. The school is running just five sections this semester. He used to write up to 30 college recommendations a year. This year, he has written only 18.

Attendance, historically more than 90 percent, has fallen below 85 percent this year. Desperate for classroom space, officials reclaimed the room used for the college advising office and moved the office into the library. But that did not work out, and recently the college office was moved again at the height of the college application season.

Student achievement has declined slightly in recent years, according to scores on Regents English and math exams, but there is no test data yet for the new ninth-grade class.

In a brief interview after parents first complained publicly last month, Mr. Klein attributed Randolph's troubles to W. L. Sawyer, the former Manhattan high schools superintendent, who is now superintendent in Topeka, Kan. Mr. Klein said Mr. Sawyer, who left two years ago, had begun closing large high schools "without proper planning."

And some veteran teachers and others familiar with Randolph's history agree that some problems began to crop up before this school year. In the fall of 2003, for example, as most of Mayor Bloomberg's reforms were taking hold, Randolph for the first time created a program called the Academy to serve about 100 failing students.

But parents said they did not sense that the school was declining, or feel that the administration was working against Randolph's interests, until the arrival of the additional non-English-speaking students last spring.

When students complained of the overcrowding in a front-page article in the October issue of the student newspaper, The Cougar Press, Maurice Collins, the new principal, locked up all 1,800 copies.

What teachers find most appalling are administrative mandates that Randolph, as one of the 209 exempt schools, was supposed to be able to ignore. For example, teachers said the superintendent's office was forcing them to use elementary-level teaching methods inappropriate for high school, including minute-by-minute agendas, and dedicating segments of class for students to read aloud. An assistant principal, Virginia Tomlinson, said more scripted teaching techniques were needed for the many new teachers. Ms. Swarns declined to comment.

"You have to have an agenda on the board that specifies every minute of every period and what you are doing with it," said one teacher who insisted on not being identified for fear of retribution. "I am an English teacher. If we get into a really good discussion, I'll shuffle things around because, to me, it's really important that the kids get into the book."

In a brief interview, Mr. Collins, the current principal, was careful not to criticize his superiors. "We have to provide the best possible education for the kids that we have," he said. "I know we are overcrowded, but then again, so are a lot of other schools in the city." He said he believed that the school should have 1,400 students.

But in private meetings with parents and staff members, Mr. Collins and other administrators have acknowledged that the Education Department had put them in an untenable situation. When parents complained that there were not enough lockers for every child to store books and coats, Mr. Collins urged them to have their children share with a friend, adding that the crowding situation was outside his control.

Since last month's panel meeting, officials have been working with the school, trying to make things right. Deputy Chancellor Carmen Fariña is leading efforts to improve the bilingual programs. Rose Albanese-DePinto, who oversees school safety, said that two safety agents removed earlier this year had been restored and that extra police officers had been assigned to the school.

At last week's meeting, the superintendent, Ms. Swarns, said officials were working swiftly to fix the problems and told parents, "I think you'll be pleased." But one parent leader, Aida Morales, countered that once again decisions were being made without giving parents a say.

And in the classrooms and corridors of Randolph, there is skepticism. "They are not talking about more elective courses, more art programs, more enrichment programs," said Richard Williams, a veteran social studies teacher who is the union chapter leader at Randolph. "They are responding to the symptoms, not the causes. I don't think we are going to get much for our investment by putting in more security guards."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Students told stripping is career choice
By Bilen Mesfin, Associated Press Writer, 1/14/05  

SAN FRANCISCO -- School officials in Palo Alto are reconsidering their use of a popular speaker for an annual career day after he advised middle school students that they could earn a good living as strip dancers.
 
William Fried told eighth-graders at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School that stripping and exotic dancing could be lucrative career moves for girls, offering as much as $250,000 or more per year, depending on their bust size.

"It's sick, but it's true," Fried, president of Foster City's Precision Selling, a management consulting firm, told The Associated Press. "The truth of the matter is you can earn a tremendous amount of money as an exotic dancer, if that's your desire."

The school has asked Fried to give his 55-minute presentation, "The Secret of a Happy Life," for the past three years.

A tip sheet he distributes to students includes a list of 140 potential careers and areas of interest they can consider pursuing. Along with professions as accounting and nursing, the list offers such nontraditional suggestions as exotic dancing, stripping and acting as a spiritual medium.

He counsels students to experiment with a variety of interests until they discover their "life's purpose," something they love and excel in. The presentation and handout have been praised by students, school principal Joseph Di Salvo and others said.

Fried's presentation "helped me realize that my career choice should not be influenced by money," one student wrote in a thank-you letter. "It should be influenced by what we like and are good at."

But on Tuesday, some students asked Fried to expand on why he included "exotic dancing" on the list.

Fried spent about a minute answering questions, defining strippers and exotic dancers synonymously. He told students, "For every two inches up there, you should get another $50,000 on your salary," student Jason Garcia, 14, said.

"A couple of students egged him and he took it hook, line and sinker," said Di Salvo, who also said the students took advantage of a substitute teacher overseeing the session.

Di Salvo heard about the exchange when the mother of a student called him the next morning. She said she was outraged when her son announced that he was forgoing college for a career in a field he truly loves -- fishing -- and said she found Fried's handout even more disconcerting.

Di Salvo, who has since heard from another parent, said Fried's overall presentation is a positive one. The mention of exotic dancing and Fried's off-the-cuff remarks, however, have prompted him to consider barring the speaker from next year's career day.


The principal said he would send letters of apology home with students.

"It's totally inappropriate," Di Salvo said. "It's not OK by me. I would want my presenters to kind of understand that coming into a career day for eighth-graders."

School board member Mandy Lowell didn't expect Fried's comment to cause lasting damage but said the speaker didn't adhere to the message of achievement the district is trying to promote.

"I don't think that your natural or implant-inflated bust size is what our schools aim to nurture," she said. "My aspiration is not to have children in this district become exotic dancers."

District superintendent Mary Frances Callan did not immediately return two telephone calls seeking comment.

Despite the uproar, many students said Fried was the most inspiring speaker in a lineup that included a pilot, an attorney, a classical pianist and a journalist.

"He really focused on finding what you really love to do," said Mariah Cannon, 13.

Cannon also said she wouldn't want exotic dancing taken off Fried's list. Although parents might find it hard to hear, it's a legitimate career choice, she said.

Student Tom Marks, 13, said he found some of Fried's comments "weird and unnecessary" but still thinks he should return next year.

"I don't think he should have gone into all the details," he said. "I just got upset that he talked about it so much."

Fried, 64, said he does not think he offended anyone.

"Eighth-grade kids are not dumb," he said. "They are pretty worldly."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Tenn. school allows Muslim headscarves
By Bill Poovey, Associated Press Writer, 1/13/05

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- A public high school changed its dress code to allow religious headscarves after a national civil rights group for Muslims complained to the principal on behalf of a student.
 
A spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Emily Smith, 18, a senior at Chattanooga's East Ridge High School, wore her headscarf, or hijab, on campus for the first time Thursday.

Smith said that although friends and a few teachers offered congratulations, "I wanted to keep it as low-key as possible."

Khadija Athman, civil rights manager for the Washington, D.C.-based council, said the group sent the school principal a letter Jan. 6, three days after the student e-mailed the council asking about her rights.

The letter said that as a Muslim, the student is "required to cover her hair in public. Ms. Smith stated that despite numerous efforts to explain to you the importance of the headscarf in her faith, you always found an excuse to hinder her."

The letter said religious headscarves are protected by the Constitution and laws against discrimination in a public school.

Rick Smith, an assistant superintendent for Hamilton County schools, said the school had banned all head wear, but the principal agreed to allow Emily Smith's hijab after attorneys were consulted.

"This particular item was a little different because it is a religious garment," Rick Smith said.

Emily Smith said she first requested permission to wear the headscarf in August.
 
TOP OF PAGE

===========================================================================

ED REVIEW

...a bi-weekly update on U.S. Department of Education activities relevant to the Intergovernmental and Corporate community and other stakeholders, 1/14/05

________________________________________________________
NCLB Update (http://www.ed.gov/nclb/)

Earlier this week, at J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, Virginia, President Bush outlined his multi-faceted, $1.5 billion initiative to expand the No Child Left Behind Act into high schools.  Among the President's proposals:

- $200 million for schools to use eighth-grade test data to develop individual performance plans for at-risk students entering high school;

- $250 million for states to develop and administer two more years of reading and math tests in high schools (currently, states are only required to test one year in high school);

- $200 million for the Striving Readers literacy program, providing grants to schools to help middle and high school students who have fallen behind in reading;

- $269 million for the Mathematics and Science Partnership program, $120 million of which will be dedicated to improve high school math instruction;

- over $50 million to expand Advanced Placement programs and $45 million to expand the State Scholars program (four years of English, three years of math and science, and 3.5 years of social studies);

·       enhanced Pell Grants ($1,000 in additional aid for the first two years of college) for students who complete the State Scholars program; and

·       $500 million for a new incentive fund to reward teachers who get results.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/01/20050112-5.html

Not convinced No Child Left Behind needs to be expanded?  According to a new report from the Education Trust -- a follow-up to an earlier, much more positive analysis of student achievement at the elementary level -- reading and math achievement lags at the middle and high school level, and too many states are not making progress closing achievement gaps.  Indeed, examining publicly available, comparable state assessment results, researchers found that only 11 of 20 states improved reading achievement and 14 of 21 states improved math achievement in high school between 2002 and 2004.  Moreover, the gap in math achievement between African-American high school students and their white peers remained the same or grew in 10 states, and the Latino-white gap actually grew in 11 states.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www2.edtrust.org/EdTrust/Press+Room/stalled+in+secondary.htm

TOP OF PAGE
________________________________________________________
Confirmation Hearing     


On January 6, Secretary of Education-designate Margaret Spellings appeared before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.  During the two-hour session, she pledged to listen carefully to the concerns of those implementing the No Child Left Behind Act at the state and local levels and take a "workable and sensible" approach to carrying out the law.  "We must listen to states and localities, to parents and reformers, about their experiences with the act," she elaborated.  "We must stay true to the sound principles of leaving no child behind, but we in the administration must engage with those closest to children to embed these principles in a sensible and workable way."  She also promised to bring a "spirit of bipartisanship" to her job if she wins Senate backing.  "The recent enactment of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as well as No Child Left Behind, are proof that education is an area where we can truly come together," she said.  "Do we agree on everything?  Of course we don't, and we won't.  But, if confirmed, I pledge to do all I can on behalf of the president to work with you to continue the spirit of bipartisanship."  Later that same day, the committee unanimously approved her nomination, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.ed.gov/news/staff/bios/spellings-nomination.html

TOP OF PAGE
________________________________________________________
Technology Plan    


Secretary Paige and Susan Patrick, Director of the Office of Educational Technology, recently unveiled the third National Education Technology Plan.  The plan -- reflecting the recommendations of educators, policymakers, technology specialists, and more than 200,000 students from all 50 states -- puts forward seven major action steps:

- Strengthen Leadership.  For public education to benefit from the rapidly evolving development of information and communication technology, leaders at every level (school, district, and state) must not only supervise but provide informed, creative, and ultimately transformative leadership for systematic change.

- Consider Innovative Budgeting.  Needed technology can often be funded through innovative reallocation and restructuring of existing budgets to realize cost savings.  The new focus begins with the educational objective and evaluates funding requests in terms of how they support student learning.

- Improve Teacher Training.  Teachers have more resources available through technology than ever before but have not received sufficient training in the effective use of technology to enhance learning.  Teachers need access to research, examples, and innovations, as well as staff development to learn best practices.

- Support E-Learning and Virtual Schools.  In the past five years, there has been an explosive growth in organized online instruction, making it possible for students at all levels to receive high quality courses of instruction personalized to their needs.  Traditional schools are increasingly turning to these services to expand choices and opportunities for students and professional development for teachers.

- Encourage Broadband Access.  Most public schools have access to high-capacity, high-speed broadband communications.  However, access 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year can help students and teachers realize the full potential of this technology.

- Move Toward Digital Content.  A perennial problem for schools, students, and teachers is that textbooks are more and more expensive, quickly outdated, and physically cumbersome.  A move away from reliance on textbooks to the use of multimedia or online information offers many advantages.

- Integrate Data Systems.  Integrated, interoperable data systems are the key to better allocation of resources, greater management efficiency, and online assessments of student performance that empower educators to truly transform teaching and personalize instruction.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.nationaledtechplan.org/

Note: Speaking of examples, the web site highlights state initiatives and success stories where technology is being used to meet the challenges of education.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.nationaledtechplan.org/stories.asp

TOP OF PAGE
________________________________________________________
E-Rate Funding


Schools and libraries have until 11:59 p.m. ET on February 17 to apply for FY 2005 E-Rate funding, which runs from July 1, 2005, to June 30, 2006.  Applicants qualify for discounts of 20 percent to 90 percent of the cost of eligible products (Internet access, internal connections, and telecommunications services), depending on the number of students they serve eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and whether they are considered urban or rural.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.sl.universalservice.org/

TOP OF PAGE
________________________________________________________
School Finance   


Education Week's ninth-annual "Quality Counts" report focuses on efforts to link funding to educational outcomes.  Well-sourced feature stories discuss, among other themes, the evolution of school finance from "equity" to "adequacy," the weighting of state school finance formulas to provide extra money for students with key characteristics (poverty, fluency in English, disabilities, etc.), and the general lack of agreement on calculating the costs of education.  As is true every year, "Quality Counts" also tracks student achievement across the 50 states and the District of Columbia and charts progress on several other facets of states' education systems: standards and accountability, efforts to improve teacher quality, school climate, and, fittingly, key spending indicators.  States averaged a C+ across the graded categories, the same as last year.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.edweek.org/ew/toc/2005/01/06/
(To view the content, you must register.  Registration is free.)

TOP OF PAGE

 

Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777