Illinois election officials want to keep students safe without trampling
the rights of some voters who might pose a threat to children at school
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 HomerSchool District 33C in WillCounty.
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,
HomerDistrict 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
"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, KaneCounty regional school superintendent. "Ultimately it
should be up to the individual districts to make that decision."
Mejia said the preference in KaneCounty 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
"We need the schools," Leach said. "Our problem right
now is that we've got some precincts where there is no other building
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,"
"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."
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
The panel may take final votes on the measures during its next meeting,
on Friday, at the JamesR.ThompsonCenter 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
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.
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 SanMiguelSchool 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
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 DominicanUniversity 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 AuroraUniversity. A former saleswoman, Shakespeare now teaches at HermesElementary School
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 NationalCenter 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 BenedictineUniversity'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 WheatonAcademy in September.
While he teaches thisyear, the Arlington
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
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 OaktonCommunity College
after a 25-year career in telecommunications.
JoBeth Halpin, 54, of Oak
brought a master's degree in architecture and two decades in the field
to her job as architecture instructor at TritonCollege, 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.
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 HarperCollege, 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
"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
Compared with their younger counterparts, second-career teachers bring
a different perspective.
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,
"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 ByrneElementary 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
"Used to be, I was happy when sales were up in my district,"
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
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
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
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
"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,
The district got permission to hold three, 30-minute classes each
week. That setup has been "much more productive," Swanson
"I applaud wanting to encourage people to be fit," Swanson
added. "But I do think sometimes you have to allow schools to
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
"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
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,"
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,"
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."
(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.
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 ChicagoPublic
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.
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 FengerHigh
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
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.
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
A tax increase is required.
The governor has said he will not increase taxes to fund the public
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
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
"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
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
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.
This "education" governor's all set to run for re-election.
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
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
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
"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.
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
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
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
"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
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 MidwestCenter for Sleep Medicine in Bloomington, said they should start later, not earlier. Elementary
and middle school students would start after the older students in
"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)
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
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 NormalCommunityHigh
work on homework and visit with friends before classes start.
Kasey Doss got off her bus at NormalCommunityWestHigh
earlier this week after a 40-minute ride that started at 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 , and Massachusetts lawmakers are considering the issue.
Koh said 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 , 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,"
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.
Monticello teacher; others accused of
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 DecaturAirport 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
The suspect identified himself as Veazey on Dec. 2 during a telephone
conversation with a female detective posing as the 15-year-old girl,
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,
Out of the school
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
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
"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
"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
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."
School officials get emergency training StateJournal-RegisterState 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
Among school districts in the pilot program are those in Bloomington, Decatur
“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
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
"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
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
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, CentralA&MHigh
Simmons noticed some Central A&M students were affected by the
"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
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,
The reimbursement rate is evaluated by the state every year. TOP OF PAGE
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.
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
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,"
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
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
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
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 SandersonElementary
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.
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
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
"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 AnaUnifiedSchool
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 FranciscoUnifiedSchool
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
"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
"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 StanfordUniversity, 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.
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,
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
"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
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
"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
The policy, however, does not mention any limitations on students.
DuvalCounty will follow Clay, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties' trend in equipping school resource officers
Some parents said the weapons are excessive and could easily be misused,
especially with children who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity
"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, ClayCounty 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.
PutnamCounty 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
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
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.
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 MountAiry, the boys are part of a voluntary, two-year experiment
with same-sex education in FrederickCounty's public schools aimed at closing a gender gap in reading
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 FrederickCounty, 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 MontgomeryCounty 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."
FrederickCounty 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
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
"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
"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."
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
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
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."
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
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.
AnneArundelCounty and CarrollCounty 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. MontgomeryCounty 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
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.
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
"The teachers that I bring are all experienced teachers,"
said Avenida, a retired human resources director for the San FranciscoUnifiedSchool
who began recruiting in her native country six years ago. "I
make sure the teachers ... will have no trouble meeting the [state]
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 JointCenter 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.
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.
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
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
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'
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.
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
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
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
• Spends $1 billion on teacher pay raises. TOP OF PAGE
launches anti-obesity program
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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.
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
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
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/
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.)