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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – January 14 - 21, 2005


Education board has yet to see budget /
Chicago Sun-Times
Will this be the year for school funding reform? / Daily Southtown
Schools chief urges fixes to federal education law /
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
No high school student left untested? / Daily Southtown
Senate president sees light on education funding reform / Rockford Register Star
New School Of Thought: Legislators Explore Initiative Designed To Help Teachers Deal With Discipline Issues / Southern Illinoisan
Textbook operation / Quincy Herald-Whig
Kids learn culture by cuisine / Chicago Sun-Times
AHS students take part in hoopla / Alton Telegraph
Schools dropped as polling places / Chicago Tribune
Free Edison conference raises red flags / Peoria Journal Star
Gov remains in way of school funding fix / Daily Southtown
Small high schools need more help: Supt. Dunn / Daily Southtown
In Chicago Public Schools, every student counts / Chicago Sun-Times
Healthy outlook for P.E. plan / State Journal-Register

So just how bad is your child's gym class? / MSNBC
Spurred by son's addiction, educator pushes drug testing / Boston Globe

The case for longer school days / Boston Globe
Administrators endorse seeking No Child Left Behind waiver / Daily Press
Meaning of 'Proficient' Varies for Schools across Country / New York Times
Analogies are to SATs what babies are to bathwater / Boston Globe
Wis. student sues to end summer homework / Boston Globe
Va. Requesting Exemption From 'No Child' Rules /
Washington Post

Department’s PR Activities Scrutinized
Texas Takes Aim at Tainted Testing Program
Spellings' Resume Brings New Twist to Secretary Post
Judge Orders Removal of Evolution Disclaimers
Universities Team Up With Urban Districts to Run Local Schools
Bush Promotes Plan for High School Tests
HHS Shifts Oversight of Sexual-Abstinence Grants



Education board has yet to see budget
Associated Press
Normally at this time of year, the State Board of Education would have created its annual budget proposal for
Illinois public schools.
But this year, board members have yet to see the budget staff members are writing, causing some lawmakers and education advocates to criticize the new state board and its close relationship with Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
"The governor should not be the sole authority on education funding in
Illinois," said state Sen. Dan Cronin, an Elmhurst Republican. "He is setting it up so his voice is the only one that is heard."
Acting under a new law meant to give the governor more power over the education agency, Blagojevich replaced seven of the board's nine members on Sept. 14.
A week later, the board named Randy Dunn, an education professor at Southern Illinois University at
Carbondale, as interim state superintendent.
For decades, the State Board of Education prepared its own budget for public schools, often asking for the amount of money it said it needed, not necessarily what the state could afford.
That's not as likely this year, said Dean Clark, one of two state board members not appointed by Blagojevich.
"I think there needs to be a level of independence,"
Clark said. "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."
Board staff said Thursday the budget would be completed before Blagojevich's budget address on Feb. 16.
Dunn said his office is working with the governor's office to create a budget.
"It makes no sense for the board to do this in isolation and then spend months fighting with the governor over it," Dunn said. "We're opening an era of cooperation. We need a budget that fits with the governor's overall state budget picture."
A spokeswoman for Blagojevich's budget office said it makes sense for the state board and governor's office to work together to create a budget.
"We are looking to (the state board) for direction and preparing the budget accordingly," spokeswoman Becky Carroll said.
Last year, the state board approved a budget proposal for $7.1 billion-- an increase of about $600 million from the previous year.
But the governor proposed an elementary and secondary education budget of $5.7 billion, a 6.5 percent increase over the previous year.
The General Assembly approved a budget last summer that included $364 million in new spending for elementary and secondary schools.


Will this be the year for school funding reform?
Blagojevich pledges to not raise taxes, but other lawmakers say passing House Bill 750 still possible
Kristen McQueary, Daily Southtown
Gov. Rod Blagojevich began a speech in Matteson on Monday pledging he would "not raise your income taxes."
Some members of the audience, who gathered to hear Blagojevich at a Martin Luther King celebration, applauded — but not Jeff Cohn, a Rich Township High School District 227 board member who is pushing for change in public school funding.
"Don't clap at that," he said, shaking his head. "We want House Bill 750."
Cohn and others who support school funding reform say they will push a bill this spring to raise income taxes from 3 percent to 5 percent and funnel money to schools most in need. Currently, school districts rely heavily on property taxes, which leaves taxpayers in the south suburbs paying some of the highest tax rates in the state.
In Matteson where Blagojevich spoke at Lincoln Mall, Rich Township High School District 227 taxpayers paid between $11 and $12 per $100 of their home's assessed valuation last year in property taxes.
Taxpayers in
Hinsdale paid between $6 and $7 per $100 of assessed valuation.
Blagojevich, a
Chicago resident, paid about $6.50 per $100 of assessed valuation.
Because homes in Matteson are worth less than homes in
Hinsdale, Matteson taxpayers get charged a higher tax rate to make up the difference. Both communities spend almost $13,000 a year per high school student.
The goal of groups like Cohn's is to shift school funding to the state income tax, a flatter, fairer system. That way, schools needing more money would get it from the state, not local homeowners.
Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago), who represents several south suburban school districts, made education funding the focus of his inaugural address last week in
But with Blagojevich's pledge to keep the income tax at 3 percent, any reform bill that includes an income tax increase is likely to be flatly vetoed by Blagojevich. Lawmakers would have to amass a three-fifths majority in the House and Senate to override it.
That's a tall order at any time, let alone the year before statewide elections kick off.
Still, the sponsor of House Bill 750, which would swap higher income taxes for lower property taxes, says it can be done.
"We will be working both sides of the aisle," said state Sen. James Meeks, a Blagojevich ally who said he understands Blagojevich must keep his promise not to raise income taxes. "He would be chastised more for breaking his promise."
Blagojevich can keep his word and veto the bill, and lawmakers can override the veto with a three-fifths majority, Meeks said.
That scenario, however, sets up a delicate power play between the executive and legislative branches. Many legislators already don't trust Blagojevich. Hand-delivering to him a chance to veto an income tax increase could backlash if Blagojevich used the opportunity to bash lawmakers and tax-and-spenders.
Meeks, however, sees it another way.
"I could see (House Speaker Michael) Madigan saying that Blagojevich was too afraid to do what was right," Meeks said. "It's a win-win or a lose-lose, depending on which argument you want to take."
Blagojevich said while he won't raise income taxes for schools, he will continue to pump existing state dollars into the state aid formula. During his past two years in office, schools have received more than $1 billion in new funding, he said.


Schools chief urges fixes to federal education law
Associated Press,
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
CARBONDALE, Ill. - The Illinois superintendent of schools says President George W. Bush's administration needs to fix its No Child Left Behind education law before expanding it, but he says Illinois schools will still respond to the challenge.
Bush last week began a push to require high school students to take the math and reading tests now required of younger students under No Child Left Behind.
Interim State Superintendent Randy Dunn, a Southern Illinois University Carbondale administrator who is temporarily leading the Illinois State Board of Education, told the Southern Illinoisan he was glad to see the president put more focus on the high school grades but worries that there are still too many problems with the law.
No Child Left Behind highlights gaps between different student groups' performances, but it also mistreats some students, particularly those in special education, with a hard line of success or failure based on one standardized test, Dunn said.
"Before we start adding to the portfolio of (No Child Left Behind), we need to address the problems facing it," Dunn said.
But he said that whether those problems are fixed or not,
Illinois' schools will respond.
"It may not be a policy that has legs to carry it over the decades, but it's our charge not to ignore it because it might go away," Dunn said.
Bush wants to require states to test students annually in reading and math in grades 3 through 11. The law he signed in 2002 required those tests in grades 3 through 8, and at least once during grades 10 to 12. He also wants the 12th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress administered in every state in reading and math every two years, just as it is in those subjects in grades 4 and 8.
Bush said last week that the testing would help
U.S. students become more competitive, give more meaning to diplomas and push schools to ensure children are prepared for employment in technologically advanced jobs.
The No Child Left Behind Act was designed to raise achievement among poor and minority children and penalize schools that don't make adequate yearly progress.
Nearly 30 percent of
Illinois' public schools fell short of meeting the federal achievement guidelines during the last school year. The Illinois State Board of Education reported in December that 1,086 schools out of 3,801 statewide failed to make "adequate yearly progress," about 150 fewer than failed the previous year.


No high school student left untested?
Educators balk at Bush plan to extend testing all the way to 12th grade
Kati Phillips, Daily Southtown
Future high school students: Sharpen your No. 2 pencils.
President Bush wants annual state reading and math exams to follow you to high school.
Last week, he touted his second-term agenda to improve the American high school by using the same testing and consequences that his administration has used to shake up the elementary grades.
The White House plans to demand state reading and math tests in grades three through 11. In addition, 12th graders would be required to take the National Assessment of Educational Progress, now a voluntary exam that compares schools across the states.
The changes would broaden the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires one year of state testing during grades 10 to 12. Under the law, students in grades three through eight begin taking annual reading and math tests this spring.
"Testing in high schools will make sure that our children are employable for the jobs of the 21st century," Bush said last week, during his first education speech since being re-elected. "Testing will allow teachers to improve their classes. Testing will enable schools to track. Testing will make sure that the diploma is not merely a sign of endurance, but the mark of a young person ready to succeed."
Improving high schools has become a hot topic, with calls of alarm in recent months from Bush, governors, employers and college professors. The reason: Many high school students aren't ready for college or work after they graduate.
Randy Dunn, interim
Illinois schools superintendent, welcomes the attention to high school reform but is concerned about expanding what he views as an already flawed law.
Under No Child Left Behind, limited-English and special education students are expected to meet the same testing standards as general education students. Dunn calls that unfair.
"I would prefer to see discussions of how to fix the onerous aspects of No Child Left Behind and get that addressed before expanding (its) scope to high schools with the testing requirement," he said.
Expanding standardized tests would not be a huge change for Southland high schools. Many voluntarily give ninth- and 10th-graders ACT-style exams called PLAN and EXPLORE.
"(Those tests) are used entirely to help us do better on the 11th-grade exam," Oak Lawn High School Principal Michael Riordan said.
But tying their results to the No Child law would mean more opportunities for schools to fail to meet the law's targets, triggering expensive sanctions such as mandatory tutoring or school transfers, according to educators.
"We would be under the NCLB hammer if we broaden the scope," Dunn said.
The expanded testing also would exacerbate the debate on whether tests are the best way to judge schools.
"That is a somewhat of a way of life now," Riordan said. "The public judges us on the basis of test scores."
Adding a national 12th-grade exam alarms some educators who worry about the introduction of another set of education standards. School districts have increasingly aligned their curriculums to better achieve state standards.
"It's like we're being sent off in 15 different directions," Evergreen Park High School District 231 Supt. James Gallagher said.
Community High School District 218 Supt. Kevin Burns would rather see an "exit exam" at the eighth-grade level to certify the skills of incoming freshmen. He recently visited a remedial class at a District 218 high school where several students read at the third-grade level.
"Unless we get them from (the) third-grade (level) to ninth grade, we'd be labeled as failing," Burns said.
Bush said his high school plan, a mix of consolidated programs and new money, would cost $1.5 billion. But it may be squeezed quickly, with a record federal budget deficit limiting domestic spending.
Congress, for example, took Bush's $100 million request for his "Striving Readers" program and cut it to $25 million this year. Bush now wants $200 million for the program.
"Many of these ideas are the right thing to do, and they're the right issues — we're probably late getting to them," said Patricia Sullivan, director of the independent Center on Education Policy. "But if we're going down this path, we have to have the resources."
Bush won bipartisan support for No Child Left Behind, the controversial 2002 law that has shaped education nationally by demanding that schools help children regardless of race, wealth, disability or background — and imposing strict penalties for schools that fail to do so.
Democrats say Bush hasn't provided enough money for No Child, making them wary of supporting his new initiative.
"This is more mandates with no more funding, and I'm troubled by that," said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), echoing the position of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a key backer initially of No Child Left Behind.
Federal spending on programs covered under No Child law has increased 40 percent since Bush took office, from $17.38 billion to $24.35 billion. But spending went up only 1.7 percent this year, about the same rate that the entire Education Department received.
Under the No Child law, schools that receive Title I poverty funds and fail to make sufficient academic progress face mounting penalties, such as ensuring students can transfer elsewhere. Holding high schools accountable the same way as elementary schools may be difficult because a smaller number get federal poverty aid.


Senate president sees light on education funding reform
Rockford Register Star Editorial
We like the sound of the talk coming from
Illinois state Senate President Emil Jones about changing the way education is funded statewide to reduce reliance on property taxes.
It is, for now, just talk.
Jones, a Chicago Democrat, restated the obvious when he pointed out that funding inequities result in educational inequities statewide. As the General Assembly prepares for its final action this session, Jones called for fundamental changes in school funding, which might involve reducing property taxes and increasing income taxes and maybe, sales taxes.
Jones' initiative on this issue represents a significant break between him and Gov. Rod Blagojevich. That provides some hope -- slim as it is -- that something will get done.
Ultimately, something must be done.
We wish the legislature would accept this opportunity -- an annual opportunity, we might add -- to tackle school funding reform, study how funding issues relate to quality issues, and then fix our system.
The state keeps putting more money into schools, and local property taxes are high, yet 82 percent of the state's school districts are in deficit spending. In district after district, students are not performing as well as they should be to make their way in the world.
"We must bring about real change to the terrible, terrible, outrageous funding formula that funds the system of our public schools," Jones said.
And virtually everybody agrees with him. Democrats. Republicans. Everyone except the governor, who has insisted that his administration is already working to in-crease funding. Blagojevich represents the major roadblock to Jones' call for change.
Blagojevich seems to have locked himself into a position that he will not raise income taxes. But education funding reform likely can't fly without it.
Besides, the governor seems content to spend his time on superficial, headline-grabbing issues such as banning snack foods from schools instead of taking on substantive issues and trying to make a real difference in Illinois' quality of life.
House Speaker Mike Madigan, also a Chicago Democrat, represents yet another faction in the legislature, and he likely has his own agenda. Asked about school funding reform, Madigan seemed to indicate he was more concerned about budget shortfalls.
Who would have guessed this: We have a Democratic governor, and Democrats control both houses, yet the chances that they can accomplish something significant are slim. The time is right for fundamental change, yet the three top Dems appear to be work-ing at odds with one another.
This bunch seems bent on proving the truth of Will Rogers' assertion: "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat."
This situation doesn't bode well for much of anything getting done in this session. We hope to be proved wrong.


New School Of Thought: Legislators Explore Initiative Designed To Help Teachers Deal With Discipline Issues
Becky Malkovich, The Southern Illinoisan
WHITTINGTON -- Area legislators got a lesson on good behavior Tuesday as they attended a breakfast with area educators at the Rend Lake Resort conference center.
Sponsored by Southern Illinois Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities/Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, the legislative breakfast gave Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, and Reps. John Bradley, D-Marion, and Brandon Phelps, D-Norris City, the opportunity to learn about the PBIS initiative, a proactive systems approach to preventing and responding to classroom and school discipline problems.
Bradley said he can relate.
"I was awfully hyper when I was in school. I remember thinking I was a big shot when the teacher would send me to the principal's office with a note," he said.
Bradley said he would shoot off to the administrator's office, up a flight of stairs, with the note. Turns out the note read: "John's wild today," Bradley joked. "But I can look back now and see the kinds of things they used to do to teach me good behavior with positive reinforcement."
Chuck Goforth is the assistant principal of Anna Community District 37, which uses the PBIS approach. Goforth has witnessed a variety of approaches to solving discipline problems during his 18 years as an educator, but he said the PBIS approach is different.
"Where a lot of other approaches involved the used of canned programs, this is a systems-based approach that is tailor-made to the needs of your school. Those needs are determined by the specific data collected at your school," he said.
For instance, the Anna school once encountered problems as students were passing through the hallways during congested periods. Using the PBIS approach, the school made changes in logistics, such as staggering hallway times for different grade levels. Another PBIS approach resulted in changes in the schedules so teacher planning times coincided. "That way, the teachers could get together to discuss any problems and how those problems needed to be addressed," Goforth said.
Because of that, he said, decisions can be based on actual, factual information instead of just perceptions or observations.
Dan Anderson is the regional superintendent of schools in the District 2 regional office of education and serves as the Illinois State Board of Education's administrative agent for the PBIS initiative for the southern region, serving the lower 30 counties of the state. He said the PBIS initiative has been in use for six years and is utilized by about 75 schools in
Southern Illinois, with a large degree of success.
He invited legislators to the breakfast to raise their awareness about the initiative.
Forby said he learned a lesson Tuesday. "I always think of education as teachers and students in a classroom, but the education of children takes place in the hallways and outside the schools, too. This approach sounds like a good way to reach those children with discipline problems so that they get the education they deserve," Forby said.


Textbook operation
Adams Telephone Co-op's rebate puts more students in advanced classes — via the television
Kelly Wilson, Quincy Herald-Whig
Aimee Platt says she'll have a leg up when she enters college next fall because she's already taken two college courses through an interactive television system at her high school.
"I'm glad I took them," said Platt, a senior at
West Pike High School who got college credit for taking introductory English and psychology classes last semester. "It's nice having it under your belt going into next year."
Aimee and other students at nine rural schools can earn college credit, while simultaneously earning credit toward high school graduation, through dual-credit courses offered by
John Wood Community College.
And to make the opportunity even sweeter, especially for parents paying the bills, Adams Telephone Co-Operative of Golden provides a 75 percent rebate on the textbooks students need for the courses.
Since 2002,
Adams has donated $11,790 to help cover the textbook costs.
This fall, 42 students received textbook rebates totaling $4,100. The cost of the textbooks ranged from $60 to $114, which meant students had to shell out just $15 to $28.50 per book. Students also must pay JWCC tuition.
"That was helpful. My mom was so excited about that," Aimee said of the textbook rebates.
"The college is very appreciative of
Adams' willingness to step forward and help these dual-enrollment students with textbook costs," said Larry Fischer, vice president for instruction at JWCC.
"And when we learned that we had more students participating this year than last,
Adams donated above and beyond what it had budgeted for this program, to be sure each student received the 75 percent rebate, because Adams sees the importance in investing in the education of young people in our area."
Jim Broemmer, general manager of Adams Telephone Co-Operative, says he's thrilled the number of students in the program continues to increase.
"We appreciate our partnership with JWCC, which allows us to provide this opportunity for our rural students," he said.
Pam Leffringhouse, education coordinator for
Adams, says 418 high school students have taken general education classes over the interactive television system since the fall of 2002.
Interactive television allows students at one or more locations to see and hear other students and the instructor at a different location.
Nine high schools are connected to JWCC through the network:
Liberty, Central, Unity, Barry, Pittsfield, West Pike, Griggsville, Brown County and Southeastern.
Adams provides the technical support necessary to connect the schools.
"We want to encourage the students to use the ITV," Leffringhouse said. "To help with the cost of the textbooks ... that's one way to encourage them to do it. It's a wonderful opportunity."
Doug Bryson, principal at
Unity High School in Mendon, encourages college-bound students to take advantage of the dual-enrollment courses.
"It gives them a head start on college," he said. "They'll have some of their general education courses out of the way so they can focus on some of the career courses they want to take.
"It's always a plus when you can get your textbooks paid for because it's not cheap anymore," Bryson added. "This is an incentive for kids to take these courses and get college credit and high school credit at the same time."
Kim Pulliam, interactive television classroom facilitator at
West Pike High School, says some students are apprehensive about using the distance learning system. But she says students should give it a try.
Those who have taken the dual-enrollment classes are "excited about being that many credits ahead," she said.
Pulliam's daughter took a dual-enrollment English class at West Pike last year and now is a freshman at
Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Mo.
"She says to tell all the kids to take advantage of it."


Kids learn culture by cuisine
Maudlyne Ihejirika,
Chicago Sun-Times
Very carefully, 11-year-old Fatimah Askia rolled the ground beef, onion and garlic mixture into the middle of the grape leaf, meticulously folding it before adding hers to the students' growing bounty of ready-to-cook Greek dolmades.
Shoesmith School sixth-grader was one of 12 Chicago Public Schools students knee-deep in parsley, nutmeg and mint Tuesday. They were learning to cook dishes from around the world, courtesy of Oprah Winfrey's chef, Art Smith.
Through Common Threads, a nonprofit launched by Smith last year to teach children about diversity and cultural differences using cooking and the arts, the students get to spend time in the kitchen under the tutelage of such famed chefs as Paul Kahan of Blackbird, Paula Haney of Pili Pili, and Charlie Trotter of the noted restaurant that bears his name.
"When I grow up, I want to be a chef, so this is good practice," said Fatimah. "I like to cook stir-fry the most, and I like to bake cakes. I really liked making the Indian naan bread, because I'm Muslim, and we eat a lot of similar food."
Geography, history -- even dance
During the eight-week sessions, children ages 8 to 12 spend two hours weekly learning about a different country.
On Tuesday, aprons tied and colorful chef hats perched atop heads, they learned not only to make dolmades, but lots about
Greece: its geography, history and culture. They even learned to do the Hasapiko, a Greek wedding dance.
And what happens when you're at a Greek restaurant, and the waiter brings out the saganaki, or flaming cheese?
"Opah!" the children all shouted at once. But their next question had teacher/food stylist Connie Pikulas stumped.
Oprah chef, partner plan center
"I don't exactly know what 'Opah' means," stammered Pikulas, whose grandparents were Greek immigrants. "I don't know if it has a direct translation. It's just one of those things you hear Greek people say all the time!"
The class is held at
St. Paul & the Redeemer Church, 4945 S. Dorchester in Kenwood while Common Threads' permanent home is completed. Smith and his partner, artist Jesus Salgueiro, last year bought the nearby, 100-year-old Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church with plans to build a community center boasting a world-class kitchen and art gallery.
In the meantime, donors have ponied up funding and supplies to rehab
St. Paul's kitchen to begin the cooking class.
"It's a fun class," said
Ray School fifth-grader Eleanor Cory, 10. "I liked making the apple crepes from France, but my favorite was the chicken thing from India."
"I don't know," said
Pierce School fourth-grader Tommy Sargis, 10. "This dolmades feels a little funny, too squishy."
"What I like most is learning how other people live, what they eat, how they dance -- like that Greek dance was fun!" said
Woodlawn School third-grader Shawn Cox, 8. "I'm going to make one of these dishes soon and surprise my mommy!"


AHS students take part in hoopla
JOHN KRUPA, The Telegraph,

ALTON -- Don’t be surprised if you see a few familiar faces in the crowd as President Bush parades down Pennsylvania Avenue after he is sworn in today.

Thirty-four honors students from
Alton High School trekked to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to attend the 55th presidential inauguration, scheduled to begin at noon.

After the ceremony and parade, past and present students of Carl Day’s American history and international politics classes will attend a 1,200-student inaugural ball, followed by two days of touring historic sites, monuments and museums in the nation’s capital.

Eighteen-year-old senior Laura Cope, a Bush backer, said she jumped at the opportunity to see her candidate kick off his second term.

"I was a first-time voter, and I was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to go see the guy get sworn into office.’ That’ll be awesome," she said. "I’ll probably never see him ever again, except maybe on TV."

This is the second consecutive inauguration for which Alton High has sent a contingent to the banks of the
Potomac River. Day took 12 students to witness Bush’s first big day in 2001.

An organization called WorldStrides, the self-professed largest provider of educational student travel in the nation, offers $1,100-per-student packages, which include tickets to Thursday’s official events, the student ball, airfare, hotel, some meals and the cost of admission to museums.

Laura Mann, a spokeswoman with WorldStrides, said 4,600 students from across the nation signed up for the program this year.

"We’ve had a tremendous response on it. People are really excited to be a part of a moment in history," she said.

Day said he hopes that after the students visit such sites as the
Washington Monument, the Vietnam War Memorial and the Holocaust Museum, history will come more alive for them.

"For instance, one of the places we are going is Ford’s Theater. And I have talked about the assassination of
Lincoln, re-enacted it to a point, and so this time, they’ll just be able to see the place," said Day, a 15-year veteran teacher. "When I talk about Booth going up the stairs, we’ll go up the stairs. They’ll see the stage, and they’ll see the box."

Senior Josh Williamson, 17, looks forward to visiting the National Air and
Space Museum and checking out the original "Star Trek Enterprise" stashed in the building’s basement.

"I’ve always been fascinated with flight," Williamson said. "I’m excited about seeing all the museums and the stuff like that. They don’t’ have (museums) like that around here of that size or proportion."

Cathryn Greenwood, a 16-year-old junior, hopes the experience gives her a better understanding of her grandfather, who served in the presidential honor guard under President Eisenhower.

"I can’t see him doing the kind of things like the changing of the guard. And kind of being where he went is a way to form a better, closer relationship," she said.

But improving her relationship with her grandfather comes with both a financial and academic price.

Some students had to cover the cost of the trip themselves, while all will have to make up missed homework assignments.

"That’s what’s going to really suck," Williamson said.

While the trip was open to any of Day’s current or former honors students who are still at Alton High, a number of students declined.

Three actually backed out because of worries that terrorists might target the ceremony.

None of those making the trip was concerned about an attack, though, going so far as to say they were looking forward to trying to spot snipers on nearby rooftops.

"With all of the security, I mean, they are closing off 100 blocks, we are going to be in the safest place in the world," said 17-year-old senior Jessica Lammers.

The trip is particularly special for 18-year-old senior Laura St. Peters, whose trip is being paid for by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

St. Peters is three years removed from a cancer diagnosis; her rare form of cancer since has gone into remission.

With her mounting medical bills, the family could not afford to send her to
Washington without the foundation’s help.


Schools dropped as polling places
David Sharos, Tribune,

ITASCA -- The Village Board announced this week that security issues raised by school officials has led to Itasca eliminating schools as polling places.

After administrators raised concerns a few months ago about schools being used for elections, Police Chief Scott Heher began working with other municipal sites to offer an alternative.

"[Heher] really took the ball and ran with it," said Village Administrator David Williams. "While we haven't had any incidents at all, Election Day does present problems with so many more people out going to the polls. The schools would rather not face any security issues," he said.

Williams said polling places in
Itasca will be set up at the village's municipal complex, the library and the Park District.

Also, the Village Board this week agreed to place on the April referendum ballot a request to increase sales tax revenue by a half percent, in order to pay for such projects as
Itasca's downtown redevelopment and other infrastructure needs.

A week ago, committee members discussed a possible increase of a quarter to one-half percent in order to offset a lack of revenue from other areas. Sales tax would increase to 7.25 percent from 6.75 percent and would generate more than $2 million in revenue if the measure is approved by voters.


Edison conference raises red flags
But District 150 board members say trip is not unethical
By ELAINE HOPKINS of the Journal Star,

PEORIA - Three District 150 School Board members say there is no conflict of interest in their participation in a New York City conference paid for by The Edison Schools.
The controversial private company is the district's largest vendor of services, operating four schools under a contract that must be approved by the District 150 School Board.

Board members Sean Matheson, Mary Spangler and Garrie Allen left early Wednesday for the
Edison conference and are scheduled to return late today.

The board's travel budget pays for their airfare, but
Edison is picking up the rest of the expenses, the members said.

"Somebody has to pay for it," Matheson said Tuesday. "I don't view it as a conflict. I view it as an opportunity" to learn more about

But Terry Knapp, president of the Peoria Federation of Teachers and a vocal opponent of
Edison, criticized the trip.

Edison "will wine and dine them. It's amazing," Knapp said. "The biggest part of Edison is the marketing."

Matheson acknowledged
Edison has a sales agenda in hosting conferences for

board members. "They're not doing this to be nice to you, but it doesn't mean you can't get educated," he said.

On a 5-2 vote, the board last March approved a second 5-year contract for
Edison to operate four District 150 schools for $1.25 million annually. Matheson and Allen voted for the contract. Spangler, an outspoken Edison supporter, was not yet on the board.

On Wednesday, board attorney Dave Walvoord said the free conference likely would not be considered a gift to the board members under state ethics legislation.

"It's part of the agreement that
Edison is to keep the board updated on what is going on," he said. "It's part of their contract that they give information to the board. This isn't like taking (a junket) to a golf outing. This is strictly business."

Edison officials did not respond to requests for comment or for copies of the conference agenda.

Board member David Gorenz said the conference is not a conflict of interest because the board needs more information on
Edison. "We have a contract but need to re-evaluate whether this is worth the money and the results they're getting."

Board Vice President Alicia Butler also supports the Edison-paid conference. "Generally, these are information and fact-finding conferences," she said.

Knapp also questioned why the trip was not publicly mentioned and voted on.

The School Board has never discussed the
Edison conference at a public meeting and did not vote to send anyone or pay for airfare.

That's not required, Walvoord said, because the airfare will be approved as part of the routine financial report.

Spangler said Tuesday the conference is packed with sessions, even in the evening, and does not leave time for sightseeing or Broadway shows.

"I would like to learn more about successful schools and districts that partner with
Edison," she said.

Allen said board members need to attend conferences to learn the latest information. "I don't think you serve people well when you don't go."


Gov remains in way of school funding fix
Daily Southtown Editorial,

Advocates of a new funding system for
Illinois public schools thought their day had come two years ago. Illinois that year elected Democratic majorities in both the Illinois House and Senate and put a Democrat in the governor's mansion for the first time since the 1970s. The Dems for years had been promising to fix school funding if they won control of state government.

Now, halfway through Gov. Rod Blagojevich's term, proponents of a new formula for funding the schools stand to be disappointed again in 2005.

Blagojevich came to the south suburbs Monday and repeated his promise that he won't raise income taxes — an integral part of every plan we've seen to make funding more equitable and reduce the property tax burden.

That means the governor again intends to block any effort by the Legislature to fix a funding system that hurts the Southland twice, leaving south suburban public school students behind other suburban kids and imposing a grossly unfair property tax burden on residents and business owners here.

Based on what we've seen the last two years, Blagojevich's no-new-taxes vow will be enough to keep the Democratic majorities in the Legislature from tackling the funding issue. The view among lawmakers has been that they won't support a change in the funding system if the governor is going to veto an income tax increase.

Senate President Emil Jones promised last week that this would be the year that the Legislature deals with school funding inequities. So it was significant that Blagojevich came to south suburban Matteson this week to repeat his no-tax vow. It seemed to be a message to Jones, delivered in his own back yard.

Last session, Jones aligned himself with Blagojevich when the governor found himself at odds with House Speaker Michael Madigan over the budget. Last week, when the new Legislature was sworn in, Jones declared, "There's an inequity in the (school) funding, and we must deal with that particular issue."

He characterized the existing funding formula as "terrible, terrible (and) outrageous."

And he's right. For most of the last three decades, the state has failed to comply with its constitutional mandate to be the "primary" funding source for public schools. As a result, school districts have raised property taxes to their legal limits. In some communities, including the Southland, high property tax rates have driven businesses out of the area, toward more tax-friendly areas including
Indiana and Will County.

The exodus of businesses has left homeowners and the remaining businesses with an even greater burden, and school districts with growing deficits.

For years, proposals have been floated in
Springfield to raise the state income tax to increase education funding and allow school districts to roll back property taxes. But opponents successfully have labeled any such tax swap as a tax increase, ignoring the proposed property tax rollback.

That's the perspective Blagojevich apparently has decided to stay with again this session, as he looks forward to a re-election bid in 2006.

Most of the Southland's lawmakers understand the need for property tax relief and increased state funding for public schools. But they also apparently fear that their own governor will hammer them as "tax-and-spenders" if they support a tax swap proposal. Most of the south suburban lawmakers face little or no Republican opposition these days, and the Democrats would like to keep it that way.

So we won't hold our breath waiting for Democratic lawmakers to challenge the governor on school funding, even though it would the right thing for them to do. Getting re-elected is the first priority for everyone in the Legislature, and we haven't seen any signs that anyone in the Southland is willing to jeopardize their re-election by fighting the governor on his no-taxes pledge.

Until they do, the funding system as it affects the Southland will remain "terrible," and property taxes here will continue to rise.


Small high schools need more help: Supt. Dunn
By John O'Connor, The Associated Press, 1/21/05

SPRINGFIELD — Small high schools in Illinois will have increasing difficulty keeping up with academic demands in preparing students for college and the workplace and meeting stringent government guidelines, the state schools chief said Thursday.

Interim state schools Supt. Randy Dunn said he suggested high school reform as one area a largely new State Board of Education tackle as it develops school-improvement ideas for Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"There's a difficulty in providing a comprehensive program in such high schools," Dunn told reporters at an education reporting seminar sponsored by The Illinois Associated Press Editors Association and the AP.

"That's not to say that there's not a benefit that comes from that in terms of a climate and sense of community," Dunn said. "But having that full complement of courses, it's hard for a high school of 100 or 200 kids to be able to offer that standing alone."

The board has yet to decide what initiatives to pursue. A new state law gave Blagojevich more direct authority over the state board last summer and he responded by naming seven of nine members, who hired Dunn, an administrator at Southern Illinois University at

Not only have high schools been under pressure to prepare pupils for college and for more challenging technical careers, but federal accountability demands are turning toward secondary schools, Dunn said. The thrust of the Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind" law is expanding beyond its elementary-school focus, he said.

Dunn hinted that high school reform would include reviewing requirements for graduation and beefing up cooperative programs between schools.

He also did not rule out reviewing incentives for consolidating schools, but said the current package — additional state payments for several years after a merger — is strong.

"It does have to be a local determination that this is something that will be helpful, that there's sufficient community support for," Dunn said. "You cannot ram this type of thing down people's throats; it never works."

Illinois, where the one-room schoolhouse once ruled and there were 12,000 school districts in 1940, consolidation has long been a torturous concept for small communities who rally around the local school. State law first offered financial merger incentives in 1983, when there were 1,008 school districts, and this year there are 882.


In Chicago Public Schools, every student counts
Opinion by Arne Duncan, CEO of Chicago Public Schools,
Chicago Sun-Times, 1/21/05

Next fall, as many as 18 new public schools could open in
Chicago, offering great new educational options to children in communities with underperforming schools. This will be the highest number of new schools launched in a single year and a reflection of Chicago's commitment to ensure that every child in every school gets the best education possible.

Mayor Daley announced Renaissance 2010 last June to turn around underperforming schools by closing and reopening them because he refuses to allow some schools to fail, when most of our schools are steadily improving. In this first round of schools created since the mayor's announcement, Chicago Public Schools received more than 90 separate proposals from local and national educators with proven track records competing for the opportunity to open these new schools.

Parents, community leaders and elected officials were involved in planning these new schools and selecting the education teams, all of which include local educators. The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on 12 of the 18 proposed schools next week, four others have already been approved, and the last two should go to the board next month.

All told,
Chicago could have seven new charter schools and 11 other schools, five of which will have performance contracts outlining specific achievement goals. Ten of the 18 are high schools and the other eight are grade schools. Six are in new buildings; the others are in existing CPS buildings or former private schools that have closed down.

Charter schools in
Chicago are working thanks to our thoughtful, measured approach; we open only a handful each year and we support them and hold them accountable. While many are outperforming the city average, we have closed down two of them that were not performing. Not surprisingly, most of our charter schools have waiting lists, attracting parents with their innovative, no-nonsense approach to educating.

For communities where overcrowding can impede performance, CPS is adding four new small high schools in a brand new building in Little Village, a new charter elementary school in a brand new building in Albany Park run by one of our existing charter operators, Aspira, and a brand new school in Marquette Park on the Southwest Side called Tarkington. Tarkington will be partly staffed with teachers trained through alternative certification programs and run by the same group that now runs the Chicago Academy of Urban School Leadership on the Northwest Side and
Dodge Renaissance Academy on the West Side.

On the Near South Side, in neighborhoods where underperformance has been an ongoing challenge, three new schools are coming into
DuSable High School, one focusing on the field of medicine and two focusing on leadership. A new charter elementary school run by the University of Chicago will open in Donoghue, and a new fourth- through eighth-grade middle school will open at Douglas run by an assistant principal from nearby Pershing magnet school, which will become a K-3 neighborhood school feeding Douglas.

A new charter elementary school is slated for
South Shore run by Chicago International Charter Schools, which already operates seven charter schools in Chicago. Over in West Englewood, a new selective enrollment math and science high school will open at Lindblom, following a $38 million overhaul of the school.

On the
West Side, three new charter schools will serve Humboldt Park/West Town, Austin, and East Garfield Park/North Lawndale. Respectively, they will be run by a leading community group, Erie House, a former private school principal, Michael Lane, and one of Chicago's top law firms, Sonnenschein, Nath and Rosenthal.

On the North Side, a new naval academy is planned for an underutilized wing of
Senn High School in Edgewater, and a new school serving grades 6-12 will open in Arai in Uptown, run by an outstanding group of Chicago public school teachers.

This crop of new schools includes several created under the Renaissance 2010 process as well as several that were in the pipeline already. While these new schools may take different approaches to educating, they all share a common commitment to teaching our children the basics, starting with reading.

Over the next five years, at least 100 new schools will be created under Renaissance 2010 serving neighborhoods where they are needed most, using different school models and cutting-edge educational approaches. No matter what the approach, however, every new school created in
Chicago has the same goal: giving our children the skills they need to succeed in life. As we work together in the coming months to successfully launch these 18 new schools in 2005, let us all keep this goal in mind.


Healthy outlook for P.E. plan
State Journal-Register Editorial,

Only one state in the country mandates that students - kindergarten through 12th grade - attend some form of physical education class on a daily basis. That state is

We are certainly in favor of physical education. And mandating physical education seems like a good idea, but is it getting the job done for young people in
Illinois? And, maybe more importantly, does the lesson that daily physical activity is vital to our health stick with kids as they mature into adults?

The answer to both of those questions seems to be "no."

Despite being the only state to mandate P.E.,
Illinois did not fare so well in a recent nationwide study of physical activity. The 2001 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that nearly 74 percent of Illinois adults do not engage in the recommended level of physical activity.

Actually, about 43 percent of
Illinois adults say they are not regularly active, while a full 31 percent are described as inactive. Only 26.1 percent are considered regularly active. Compared to the national average, Illinois was pretty average with the exception that more Illinoisans actually fell into the inactive category.

Likewise, the obesity rate among
Illinois children is not significantly better than children living in many states that do not mandate daily physical education courses. Does that tell us the mandate is a useless tool? No. That tells us that if we are going to mandate physical education in Illinois, then we should provide physical education classes that benefit a wider range of students.

Fortunate, that seems to be the goal of
Springfield public school physical education teachers, who are reworking the school district's method of providing gym class.

According to a presentation made at this week's school board meeting, less emphasis will be placed on teaching kids how to play competitive sports such as baseball, basketball or even dodge ball.

Certainly there is nothing wrong with those activities, but in the gym class setting, as anyone who ever took gym class knows, it often leads to a few kids working up a good sweat and a lot of other kids feeling frustrated and learning to hate the fact that they weren't very good at basketball, couldn't hit a baseball or couldn't get out of the way of a dodge ball.

The teachers say the new concept is to focus on smaller groups of students and to make sure that all of the students are being active during the class. More important than learning the rules of a particular game is to learn why moving around in that game is important to our health. Stressing healthier eating habits and setting personal fitness goals are also part of the instruction.

This makes a lot of sense to us. Gym class could be a dreaded and sometimes humiliating time for those students who did not naturally excel in athletics. Striving for excellence on the football field or basketball court is a noble endeavor, but mostly for those kids on the competitive team.

A state that mandates physical education for all of its students must make sure the PE. curriculum allows all of those students to succeed in benefiting from physical activity. It should also strive to instill an appreciation for being active that will last well beyond the 12th grade. Gym class should encourage a love of physical activity. Too often in the past it has not succeeded in that goal.

The District 186 physical education teachers deserve praise for embracing changes and concepts that should make future classes beneficial to many more students.




So just how bad is your child's gym class?
Lisa Lewis, a health professor, heard her two sons talk about how bad their high school P.E. class was, so she went to see for herself.
“It’s been terrible,” she said. The teacher was a basketball coach, and “that’s basically all they did — play basketball between 40 and 50 kids.” Many students, especially those who weren’t athletic, just stood on the sidelines of the disorganized game.
Physical education experts say there’s little accountability for P.E. teachers in most schools. They say the classes are often poorly run, and students don’t spend much time in them anyway — even as American children grow fatter and more out of shape.
Nearly one-fifth of all high school P.E. teachers don’t have a major and certification in physical education, according to the most recent numbers from the
National Center for Education Statistics.
Focus on winning, not on health
Often the instructor is a coach more interested in winning games than in producing healthy students, experts say.
“That stigma that a coach cares more about the team than his physical education class does exist,” said George Graham, professor of kinesiology at
Penn State University.
“When a teacher or coach is doing that, it’s really up to the principal to get in there and say, 'We want to win ball games, but the kids in P.E. deserve a good education too.'’
The lack of respect for P.E. also appears in the number of students required to take it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2003, only 28 percent of high school students nationwide attended a daily P.E. class, but 38 percent watched television for three hours or more each school night.
While 71 percent of the nation’s freshmen were in P.E. at least one day a week — hardly enough to be effective, experts say — those numbers drop to 40 percent by the students’ senior year.
Participation varies by state
But participation varies widely by state. In
Tennessee, for instance, only 18 percent of seniors were enrolled in a P.E. class, while New York has better than 90 percent participation.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education says
Illinois is the only state that requires daily physical education K-12, while Alabama requires it for K-8.
California, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, New York, South Carolina and Vermont, accountability standards are being developed for health and physical education programs.
“Unless we hold physical education teachers accountable for the fitness of the student ... there’s no way to evaluate who is good or who is bad because we’re more concerned with math and reading,” Lewis said. “There needs to be some sort of minimal national fitness standard — that would be a very easy thing to establish.”
Some schools have done just that — like the
Victor Central School District just outside Rochester in Victor, N.Y.
Superintendent Timothy J. McElheran said his teachers are held to specific goals and judged like any math or science teacher would be.
Teachers innovate to encourage exercise
“It’s no longer the coach with the whistle around his neck,” he said. “Our physical education teachers are highly trained professionals.”
Victor’s nationally recognized program includes rock-climbing, kayaking, cross-country skiing, archery and aerobic dance as options for students.
“They take what they’re doing very seriously,” he said.
More P.E. classes eliminated
But not all do, and a new federal education law doesn’t give schools much incentive.
“The thought in some schools is, 'If we eliminate P.E., then they will have more time to do better educationally,' but there’s nothing to suggest that’s the case,” Graham said.
“Kids — just like adults at work — need breaks and they need time on their own.”
Lewis has seen the poor state of physical education not only in her sons’ school, but also at
Middle Tennessee State University where she works. The school recently dropped requirements for health and P.E. from the core curriculum.
MTSU general education director Bill Badley said the P.E. requirement went from four hours to zero when the school decided to add classes to the core curriculum while lowering the total number of classes needed to graduate.
Lewis wasn’t able to stop the changes at MTSU, but she was able to make a difference at her sons’ school.
“I went to the class and actually helped the physical educator,” Lewis said. “The non-athletes, they’re the ones who need it most.”
NASPE president Dolly Lambdin said the cuts in secondary schools and colleges intensify the problem that begins at a young age.
“Whatever belief we teach (children) in elementary school, middle school and high school, those beliefs will carry over in college,” she said. “We can’t continue the model (that) we have to fix things later. It doesn’t work on your car and it doesn’t work on your body. Physical maintenance is the key.”


Spurred by son's addiction, educator pushes drug testing
Kathleen Burge, Boston Globe
SALEM -- There were hints of trouble, but the father missed them. His affectionate son had transformed into an angry, door-slamming menace. The boy's childhood friends were replaced by a rougher crowd. Police warned that the new friends were dangerous.
For more than a year, the father lived in ignorance.
Salem's school superintendent, Herbert Levine -- guardian of 5,000 students, holder of a doctorate in education, overseer of students for 36 years -- overlooked the powerful drug addiction of the teenager living in his own house.
"I didn't know that my kid was in trouble," Levine said Thursday, still sounding surprised seven months after he discovered his son, Joel, could not get through most days without inhaling the prescription painkiller OxyContin.
Now the father who feared he might lose his son is crusading to save other daughters and sons on the
North Shore, where dozens of people die each year of OxyContin and heroin overdoses. Levine has suggested that Salem schools start randomly testing students for drug use.
The proposal has ignited a firestorm in the city, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has threatened to sue if Levine's idea takes flight. In classrooms and in school hallways, students are debating the merits of drug testing.
"I don't see the point of it," said Christina Davies, a
Salem High School freshman. "Just because the superintendent's son did drugs, everyone in the school shouldn't be [required] to take a drug test."
Other students were less alarmed at the possibility that they would have to submit urine samples for testing. "I have no problem with it," said freshman James Burnes.
Denise Royal, the mother of a Salem High student, said drug testing could be comforting to parents. "I'd rather know than not know," she said.
State education and public health officials say they do not track whether schools test students for drugs, but the ACLU believes Salem High would be the first school to require random tests. Jerry Luster, senior vice president of Calloway Drug Testing Laboratories in
Wakefield, said other schools have expressed interest in random drug testing -- but so far there have been no takers.
"Everyone knows there's a problem out there but I don't think anybody's taken that first step," Luster said.
Levine, who is retiring in June, wants to act quickly. He is creating a task force of school and community leaders to consider ways, including random drug testing, to combat the increasing drug problems in
Salem. Once the task force drafts a proposal, the city's school committee will decide whether to implement it.
"It struck me, almost like an epiphany but over a period of time, that we're just not doing enough," Levine said.
The US Supreme Court has ruled that schools can test students who participate in extracurricular activities for drugs. But the ACLU of Massachusetts argues that the testing would violate the state constitution, which, the
Supreme Judicial Court has ruled, provides even greater protection of individual freedom than the federal constitution.
The ACLU equates random drug testing with illegal search and seizure; it also argues that forcing students to urinate in front of a tester is a violation of privacy. Students could also be required to provide details about any medicine they take that might alter the test results, said Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney for the ACLU. Wunsch questioned the effectiveness of drug testing.
"I think the reality is most kids who participate in extracurricular activities have less of a problem relating to drugs and alcohol than kids who don't participate," she said.
Levine acknowledges that state courts will ultimately have to decide whether random drug testing is unconstitutional in
Massachusetts. "It may be," he said. "We won't know that until someone tests it."
But schools, he argued, must dedicate themselves to protecting students from drug abuse.
"Is the ACLU going to go to the funeral of the next kid on the
North Shore who overdosed on OxyContin or heroin and say, 'Hey, I protected his privacy?' " he asked.
Joel Levine, a soft-spoken 19-year-old, supports his father's call for drug testing. Last week, he gave an emotional speech about his addiction to a packed Salem High auditorium for a drug forum organized by his father.
"I am Joel and I am a recovered drug addict," he began, and when he stopped speaking and hugged his father, the 1,200 parents and students in the audience broke into thunderous applause and rose to their feet.
Joel Levine said he believes random drug testing might save lives. But the Salem State College student expressed doubts about whether testing would have made him kick his own habit.
Joel, who grew up playing baseball and started at second base for the Peabody High School Tanners, said that even if he had failed a drug test in high school and gotten kicked off the baseball team, he would have kept feeding his addiction.
"The drug was too powerful," he said. "It was the only thing I did. At the time, I loved that more than I loved baseball."
OxyContin is sold on the street for about $80 a pill. Users pull off the outer covering and snort the powder inside.
In the Levine household in
Peabody, deliverance came after two of Joel's friends called his parents to tell them bluntly that their son was in trouble. One night last June, when Joel returned home from a class at Salem State, his father was waiting. As soon as Joel walked in the front door, his father turned off the television.
The father confronted his son, asking if he was addicted to OxyContin.
At first, Joel denied that he was using drugs. But finally, he put his head down on the sofa and started crying. "This is so hard," he recalled saying.
The next day, friends drove Joel Levine to a detoxification center, where his parents were waiting. Over the next week, as his body craved OxyContin, he suffered backaches, leg cramps, cold sweats, nausea, and diarrhea. Then he spent weeks in rehabilitation, learning to wean his brain from the drug.
Joel said he has been clean for seven months, and he counsels others trying to overcome their addiction. He is taking classes at
Salem State. His father hopes he can accomplish through his work what he was slow to realize at home.
"We were a textbook case of not reacting immediately," he said. "I was afraid we were going to lose him."


The case for longer school days
By Scot Lehigh, Boston Globe Columnist 
It’s a long-overlooked issue that has finally arrived on the State House agenda: reshaping the day for
Massachusetts students.
In last week's State of the State speech, Governor Mitt Romney embraced the idea of a longer school day, though initially only for failing districts. Also last week, Attorney General Thomas Reilly stressed the importance of after-school programs during an appearance before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. And the legislative leadership has expressed a willingness to consider new approaches.
Indeed, more school time has become a favored nostrum on the television series "The West Wing."
That's all gratifying for Chris Gabrieli, a venture capitalist and past (and possibly future) political candidate, who has been working for years to promote more learning time in his role as chairman of both Boston's After-School for All Partnership and Massachusetts 2020, a nonprofit foundation. His efforts have helped boost the number of
Boston kids in after-school programs from 25,000 to 50,000, which means about half the student population now participates.
"I am really glad Romney has embraced this," Gabrieli says, adding that he hopes the issue won't take on partisan overtones. "This is not something that ought to be politicized."
Educational experts say the current school schedule, long locked in at six hours a day, 180 days a year, no longer makes sense.
"I view offering a longer school day for those who need it as one of the last frontiers of education reform," says Paul Reville, executive director of MassINC's
Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy.
Currently, when you include summer and vacations, American kids spend 80 percent of their waking hours out of school. Even on school days, they actually devote almost as much time to watching TV or playing video games (5.5 hours) as they do to class (6 hours), says Gabrieli.
Meanwhile, the unsupervised time between
2 p.m. and 6 p.m. is a period rife with potential perils for teenagers. "Engaging kids for more hours is the number one way to reduce smoking, drugs, alcohol, teenage pregnancy, and violence," says Gabrieli.
In an era when most mothers work, a more structured day would help parents who have to worry about afternoon child care or activities.
Policy-makers could approach the matter either by offering after-school programs or by extending the actual school day. Either way, educational programming should be part of the effort.
Certainly in most other developed countries, kids spend more of their time in school than do kids in the
United States. In contrast to our 180-day school year, many of our competitors have 200 days or more. And while American students spend an average of 1,460 hours in core academic classes during their high-school years, German and Japanese pupils spend more than double that time.
One explanation for the achievement gap between kids from middle-class families and those from poor families is the difference in what they do after 2; as Gabrieli notes, many kids from upper- and middle-class homes are already in some sort of afternoon program, while fewer less affluent students are.
A longer school day is one tool charter and pilot schools employ; 69 percent of the state's charter schools have at least 15 percent more school time than the traditional public schools. And seven of the nine high schools that the
Rennie Center identified in 2003 as the state's best-performing urban high schools had extended learning time. Even if that extra time were only used for tutoring or helping with homework, it would help improve educational quality.
Meanwhile, both the 1983 "A Nation At Risk" report that raised the alarm about poor educational quality in the
United States and the Commonwealth's 1993 education reform act called for expansions of the school year. "Zero has happened," Gabrieli says.
That's a shame. The time has come for a more structured day and a longer year, and not just in the underperforming districts. There is, of course, a question of resources. But by staggering teaching hours and aggressively enlisting community organizations, college students, and volunteers, much could be done.
"For at most 20 percent more, you could extend every school day to 5 or
6 o'clock and lengthen the school year some," says Gabrieli.
After a decade of hard work,
Massachusetts has boosted most of its kids to a level of minimum competency. As we begin to focus on proficiency, more structure and more learning time should be essential parts of that effort.


Administrators endorse seeking No Child Left Behind waiver
Larry O'Dell, Associated Press, Daily Press
Virginia's school superintendents endorsed legislation Tuesday directing the state Board of Education to seek a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The waiver tops the Virginia Association of School Superintendents' priority list for the 2005 General Assembly.
Loudoun County School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III, president of the association, said the state's own public school accountability program is working well. He noted that 84 percent of schools are fully accredited, up from 2 percent when the Standards of Learning program began eight years ago.
"That is why we should be allowed to stay the course rather than be detoured by the cumbersome and, in many cases, counterproductive federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act," Hatrick said.
The law, which took effect in 2001, requires schools to meet benchmarks in at least 29 of 35 separate categories to make "adequate yearly progress." Those goals also must be met by smaller student subgroups, including those with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency.
As a backup in case the waiver effort fails, the superintendents also endorsed several proposed revisions to the state's plan for implementing No Child Left Behind. The changes include giving students with limited English proficiency more time to take tests used to measure yearly progress and including retaken tests in determining whether a school makes the grade.
The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the revisions Wednesday.
The superintendents' other legislative priorities include measures to address a shortage of school administrators, protecting a school construction fund from being tapped for other expenditures, full funding of the state's share of basic education services, and approval of the 3 percent raise for teachers proposed by Gov. Mark R. Warner.
Prince Edward County School Superintendent Margaret V. Blackmon, president-elect of the association, said Virginia's average teacher salary last year was $2,809 below the national average even though the state ranks 10th nationally in per capita income.
"We therefore have the financial ability to pay our teachers better salaries," she said.
Blackmon said
Virginia has lost ground in recent years. In 1990, Virginia lagged only $423 behind the national average in teacher pay.


Meaning of 'Proficient' Varies for Schools across Country
New York Times, 1/19/05

Judged solely by recent statewide tests, fourth graders in
Mississippi and Colorado would appear to be the best young readers in the nation. In both states, 87 percent of fourth graders passed their exams.

Mississippi came in dead last among the 50 states when fourth-grade reading was examined using a different standard, a newly mandated but decades-old test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or N.A.E.P. On that test, only 18 percent of Mississippi's fourth graders achieved proficiency.

Colorado's proficiency rate fell to 37 percent on the national test, but that score was high enough to rank fifth in the nation.

Such comparisons of performance on state tests versus national tests have never been possible before on a nationwide basis. The N.A.E.P., known as the nation's report card, used to be voluntary for states. In 2003, it became mandatory. The comparisons suggest how widely the definition of "proficient" varies from state to state, as each administers its own exams and sets its own performance standards.

And those standards matter more today than ever, because they factor into the federal education law, No Child Left Behind, which requires that all students reach proficiency on state reading and math tests by 2014. States are also judged on yearly progress toward that goal, and harsh penalties, including the loss of federal aid, await those that fail to bring all students to a proficient level.

"No Child Left Behind leaves a fairly crucial decision" about defining proficiency up to the states, said Ronald A. Skinner, research director of Education Week, which published the state and national scores side by side recently in an annual survey of schools. "Certainly those states that have set the bar lower will have an easier time meeting the mark and avoiding federal sanctions for their schools. It's going to be tough on states that have put tough standards on their students."

Researchers and educators say the new data will make it possible to address questions they could not answer before.

"When you compare yourselves using N.A.E.P., you're able to compare yourselves to a much more expansive and comprehensive national base," said Douglas E. Wood, executive director of the National Academy for Excellent Teaching at Teachers College at Columbia University. "It seems to me that offers us additional information by which to make policy decisions."

Mississippi, Kristopher J. Kaase, the director of the Department of Education's office of student assessment, said the state had traditionally used its own definition of the word proficient.

"We call it solid academic performance required for success at the next grade level," Mr. Kaase said. "Step away from that for a moment. Who's ready to move on to the next grade level? At least a C student. I don't think anyone would have any qualms about that. Would they be proficient according to N.A.E.P.? Probably not."

The smallest disparities between results on the state and national tests were found in a variety of states across the country, including
Massachusetts, Maine, Wyoming, South Carolina, Vermont and Missouri.

The largest disparities were in the South. In
Alabama, for instance, 72 percent of fourth graders were proficient on the state's math test, but only 19 percent passed N.A.E.P. at the proficient level.

New York, the gaps between state and N.A.E.P. scores were much smaller, but the state did not fare as well as Connecticut or New Jersey on the national test. Thirty-five percent of eighth graders in New York were proficient on the N.A.E.P. reading test, compared with 45 on the state test. Thirty-three percent of New York fourth graders were proficient on N.A.E.P.'s math test, while 78 percent passed the state math test.

Mr. Kaase said that No Child Left Behind has made
Mississippi wary about raising standards.

"What is already a challenging goal - reaching 100 percent proficient by 2014 - you can make it much more challenging or nearly impossible, depending on what you do," he said. "It becomes a delicate balance. But we do feel we need to continue to press. We're not satisfied."

Colorado's definition of proficient, a state official said, was changed to comply with No Child Left Behind, which requires that results be reported in three categories. The state had for years reported its test results in four categories: unsatisfactory, partially proficient, proficient and advanced.

To meet the new requirements,
Colorado grouped its partially proficient students with the proficient.

"We had a dilemma," said William J. Maloney, the commissioner of education. "We would have had to throw our whole system in the Dumpster just to accommodate the N.C.L.B. So we said: 'Here is
Colorado. For the purposes of the feds, we combined proficient and partially proficient.' "

Mississippi and Colorado, Missouri adheres to a strict definition of proficient that aligns closely with the N.A.E.P., or surpasses it. In 2003, eighth graders in Missouri did better on the N.A.E.P. reading test than on the state's own exam.

"We've tried to look at it as 'How can we best serve our kids?' instead of trying to play some numbers game against federal law," said Bert Shulte, the deputy commissioner of education in

But Mr. Shulte realizes the long-term risks of
Missouri's decision. "It makes it harder for us to achieve a federal numerical goal," he said. "But in terms of what it says to students when they achieve proficiency, it is a better-grounded message."

Some educators and policy makers say that rather than focusing on a state's performance on a single test, the goal should be improvement over time.

"On the one hand, you can say, if there's a huge disparity, if a state is telling parents that 80 percent of students are proficient but on N.A.E.P it's 20 percent, they're lying," said Kati Haycock, the director of the Education Trust, a group that advocates standards. "While that may at some level be true, in order to make progress in education you have to have near-term goals that are achievable. So if you're a state with really low achievement and you say, 'I've got to set my state's bar where N.A.E.P. is, and make it under N.C.L.B.'s timeframe,' I think educators would throw up their hands and say, 'We can't get that far.' "

Ms. Haycock cited
North Carolina and Texas as examples of states that have shown the biggest gains on the N.A.E.P. over the last 10 years while having low-level state assessments.

Mississippi fits into that picture as well. In 2003, for instance, the number of fourth graders scoring at or above the proficient level on the N.A.E.P. math exam more than doubled to 17 percent, from 8 percent in 2000, while 74 percent of fourth graders were deemed at or above the proficient level on the state test.

"And so, where a mismatch as large as you see in some states may be worrisome, considering near-term targets, I think the evidence would not suggest that's a bad thing," Ms. Haycock said.

Mark Musick, the president of the Southern Regional Education Board, an organization that advises 16 states on education policy, said he has been arguing for years that "the states should look to N.A.E.P. and any other information, take it and see if the results are telling them basically the same thing."

Mr. Musick, a former chairman of N.A.E.P.'s governing board, added, "If there's some wild difference, then they should try to figure out why that difference exists."


Analogies are to SATs what babies are to bathwater
By Ted Sutton,
Boston Globe, 1/21/05

8 a.m., several hundred thousand bleary-eyed high school students will pick up their #2 pencils and go down in history, the last generation required to confront the analogy section of the SAT. You remember: "Discard: eviscerate as jettison: heave," or is it "dump: ditch?" Hmm.

In its infinite wisdom, the College Board has decided that it's time for a little nip and tuck. Apparently, the SAT needs some straightening out, and students need less coddling, so there will be harder math problems, an essay, more reading comprehensions, and, gasp, grammar. Try asking your 16-year-old what he would do with a semicolon; that should provide some mirth at the dinner table.

And suddenly the Board has developed a conscience. The old SAT, it seems, is unfair to those unfortunates who can't afford tutors. It's time for a fairer test. This explanation, however, doesn't seem to float. Jon Zeitlin, general manager of SAT programs at Stanley Kaplan suggests: "Like all standardized test questions, the new writing sections are as bland and as predictable as a middle-aged accountant."

The Princeton Review confirms that the new deluxe version is even more coachable and, as if that isn't bad enough, more unfair and a more harmful force to women, minorities, the poor, and education in general. Oh, well.

But could there be even more to the story? Some Draconian, Halliburtonian twist? Is it just a coincidence that in 2003, the
University of California college system announced that it was considering dispensing with the SAT, after research confirmed that the test wasn't doing its job? Hundreds of thousands of College Board consumers -- sorry, applicants -- going down the drain, and the Educational Testing Service, which isn't some pie-in-the sky nest of do-gooders but a serious business, the creators of over 500 tests for everyone from wannabe CIA agents to golf pros and barbers, got nervous.

In order to accommodate the new sections, the analogy will become: (a) dust, (b) history, (c) kaput, and thousands of years of intellectual tradition will go down the drain. So sorry to those Indian scholars who introduced them in their sacred texts; tender regrets to those who later took them to heart: Plato, Aristotle, Aristophanes, and St. Paul -- a none too shabby lot who actually developed a method of thought, a philosophy, a way of understanding the world, all based on analogies.

But if ETS, as they tell us, is only trying to do its job, it doesn't mean I have to continue to do mine. After 30 years of working with hundreds of students on the SAT, I'm considering throwing in the towel. The analogies were the only section of the SAT that suggested thinking could be entertaining, at times like a game or a puzzle, something you could actually figure out if you put your mind to it. They were like juggling, croquet, or billiards: one idea ricocheting off another and, in the process, that great eureka moment when you sunk it.

The analogies suggested a revolutionary concept: Academic performance can be playful, even fun. But, alas, the analogy has come to this: a quaint, dusty notion suggesting relationships between two sets of objects are not as important as completing a few more reading passages, then interpreting them as millions of others do, in the most conventional of manners.

Adios, analogies, but before you vanish, some respectful consideration must be paid. Let us reflect on those days 5,000 years ago in India, when those teachers, known as Enigma Makers, offered puzzles, paradoxes, puns, and analogies to their students to interpret and solve.

They might have taught the Upanishadic notion of God by instructing them to dissolve salt in water and taste it from the surface, the bottom, and the middle. "It is always salty. How are the two connected?" Pause. "The universal being, though invisible in all of us, while invisible like the salt, lives in all of us."

These questions followed the Indian tradition of the philosophical enigma, calling for interpretation. No multiple choice answers allowed. Students were taught to use their ingenuity in the hope that the act of coming up with the solution would be a more transformative and profound experience than merely memorizing texts.

But when you got to go, you got to go. It doesn't seem to matter to the College Board that the study of analogies led to the development of science, ethics, art, and politics; that they taught us about associations, relationships and connections; and that they promoted a new kind of creativity, a new way of understanding the world.

As a matter of fact, the College Board might do well to reflect upon one of the earliest analogies from the Upanishads: "There are many in the world, who, puffed up with intellectual conceit, believe that they are capable of guiding others . . . but they are devoid of deeper understanding; therefore, all that they say merely increases doubt and confusion in the minds who hear them. Hence they are likened to blind men leading the blind."


Wis. student sues to end summer homework
By Ryan Nakashima, Associated Press Writer,

MILWAUKEE -- A student whose vacation plans were spoiled has sued to end summer homework in Wisconsin, claiming it creates an unfair workload and unnecessary stress.

Peer Larson, 17, had lined up a dream camp counselor job last June, but honors pre-calculus homework turned his summer into a headache.

"It didn't completely ruin my summer, but it did give me a lot of undue stress both at home and at work," the high school junior said Thursday. "I just didn't have the energy or the time for it."

Larson and his father sued in Milwaukee County Circuit Court seeking the end of summer homework across the state. They argue that homework shouldn't be required after the required 180-day school year is over.

"These students are still children, yet they are subjected to increasing pressure to perform to ever-higher standards in numerous theaters," the suit said.

School administrators have told the family that honors courses require some summer work.

Whitnall School Superintendent Karen Petric told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the district did its best to address the Larsons' concerns.

"I strongly believe the district acted appropriately and didn't do anything wrong," she said. "Court is not the place to solve it."

While students will probably root for the Larsons, lawyers contacted Thursday questioned the suit's legal grounds. Larson and his son had acted as their own legal counsel.

"This is the sort of thing that has been traditionally handled by school boards," said attorney Thomas R. Schrimpf. Another attorney, Timothy Baldwin, predicted the case would be dismissed.

The Jan. 10 lawsuit names a math teacher, three school administrators and the state's superintendent of public instruction.
Wisconsin's attorney general's office will assign a lawyer to respond to the suit, said spokesman Brian Rieselman.


Va. Requesting Exemption From 'No Child' Rules
State Tests Hindered, Some Say
By Rosalind S. Helderman and
Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post Staff Writers, 1/20/05

RICHMOND, Jan. 19 -- Virginia's Board of Education voted Wednesday to request exemptions from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law to give the state more flexibility in improving student performance.

Republicans in the General Assembly have introduced bills that would direct the board to request such exemptions. The legislators say the federal act disrupts the state's Standards of Learning testing program, put into place in the 1990s.

The board decided Wednesday to request that the U.S. Education Department exempt
Virginia from 10 areas of the law.

Last week, President Bush visited a
Fairfax County school to propose extending his signature education initiative into high schools.

The Education Department had rejected some of
Virginia's requests during earlier negotiations authorized by the board. But since Margaret Spellings, Bush's nominee to be secretary of education, said recently that she was committed to making No Child Left Behind "workable," educators have expressed new hope about fine-tuning the program.

"I am cautiously optimistic that there will be some opportunities to obtain more flexibility," said Thomas M. Jackson Jr., president of the board.

U.S. Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said it would be inappropriate for her to comment before studying
Virginia's proposals. "This law is about every child learning and being able to read and do math at grade level," she said. "We will continue to work with Virginia, as we have all states, on the law's implementation."

Educators and officials in various parts of the country have complained about the impact of the federal law, but leaders in
Virginia have been among the most vocal, said Scott Young, education policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Virginia's action could force the Education Department to clearly lay out how much flexibility it will allow, Young said.

The federal law requires yearly testing of students in grades 3 through 8 and dictates serious consequences for schools that do not meet a formula for progress. Subgroups of students, including minorities, disabled students and students with limited English skills, must show yearly improvement, and all students must pass math and reading tests by 2014.

Virginia's system requires that 70 percent of all students pass state standardized tests and does not hold schools specifically responsible for the progress of groups that have traditionally underperformed.

State education leaders have applauded No Child Left Behind's emphasis on looking at achievement by subgroup. Their exemption requests include greater flexibility in the testing of special education students and children with limited English skills. They would also like to be released from the law's requirement that only a student's first attempt at a test be counted when assessing a school's annual progress.
Jackson said the policy ignores successful efforts to help students pass subsequent tests.

Virginia would also like to be able to modify the pattern of sanctions imposed against schools that have not met the law's standards for progress -- such as offering private tutoring to students before allowing them to change schools instead of the other way around.

The push in the General Assembly for No Child Left Behind exemptions represents an endorsement of the board's action by some of the legislature's most conservative members.

House Republican Caucus leader R. Steven Landes (
Augusta) is sponsoring one of several bills requesting flexibility in areas of the law considered "duplicative" of Virginia's system or "lacking in cost effectiveness."

Virginia, we've already got a system in place that's working, that is well thought out and actually has evolved," he said. "No Child Left Behind just forces another layer which doesn't meld or fit well with our program."

Landes said his bill is an attempt to work with regulators rather than reject the federal law -- and about $350 million in federal education spending.

"The Republican Party is a diverse party and a big party, and I think we can disagree agreeably about divergent views," he said.

At the same time, said Del. Gary A. Reese (R-Fairfax),
Virginia's leaders are poised to offer critiques of the federal law because they engaged in a long fight to gain credibility for the state's own school accountability rules, the Standards of Learning tests.

"I fought in the trenches for SOLs for 10 longs years and had parents and teacher stand up and tell me SOLs were terrible and horrible; in truth, they turned out to be right for Virginia," he said. "We may easily be heard where others might not."




Department’s PR Activities Scrutinized
Contract with TV Pundit Draws Fire in Congress
By Michelle R. Davis, Education Week, 1/19/05

A series of unsavory revelations about the U.S. Department of Education’s efforts to sway the public in favor of its major school improvement measure could stain the law’s reputation and cast doubt on future information from the agency, say many observers, including supporters of the law.

In the latest disclosure about the department’s public relations efforts, the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams acknowledged this month that he had accepted some $240,000 in federal money for ads on his syndicated television show and for other help in promoting the No Child Left Behind Act in various forums.

Mr. Williams was a subcontractor under a wide-ranging, at least $700,000 contract between the Education Department and Ketchum Inc., a leading public relations firm based in New York City. Mr. Williams’ contract called for the commentator, who is African-American, to help the department’s outreach to minorities about the school law by providing time for Secretary of Education Rod Paige and other officials on his TV show, and for him to influence other members of the media to give favorable attention to the law.

Disclosure of the deal in a Jan. 7 story in USA Today brought down a torrent of criticism on the department and Mr. Williams.

President Bush said in an interview with USA Today late last week that he had “serious concerns” about the matter.

“All of us, the Cabinet, needs to take a good look and make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” he told the newspaper.

Education groups were concerned the controversy would taint public opinion about the education initiative itself.

“It tarnishes the Department of Education’s credibility and the particular program this was aimed at,” said Ross Weiner, the policy director for the Education Trust, a Washington-based organization that promotes raising achievement for all students and strongly supports the law, the centerpiece of President Bush’s education agenda. “This administration knows there are a lot of people who are skeptical of its motivations on No Child Left Behind. All this does is feed that fire of skepticism.”

Secretary Paige called last week for an expedited investigation by the department’s inspector general, but defended the contract in a statement. “All of this has been reviewed and is legal,” the statement said. “However, I am sorry that there are perceptions and allegations of ethical lapses.” The Education Department declined to discuss the matter further.

Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill called for a variety of investigations. Late last week, Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman and ranking minority member, respectively, of the Senate subcommittee that handles education appropriations, asked that the Education Department turn over records of recent public relations contracts.

‘A Con Game’?

The payments to Mr. Williams caused a huge outcry among media-ethics experts, public relations specialists, and education and government groups, among others. But the contract was only the latest example involving the Education Department’s use of questionable public relations tactics to promote the No Child Left Behind Act and other programs.

In 2003, the Ketchum firm produced a “video news release” for the department promoting the federal law. The video package purported to be an independent news report about how many parents give the law “an A-plus, ” with an ersatz news reporter who signed off with, “I’m Karen Ryan reporting.”

An Education Department spokeswoman defended the video news release at the time, saying such packages are “standard PR tools.” Some news shows ran the Ketchum-produced package.

In two recent cases involving video news releases produced elsewhere in the Bush administration, the Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, has concluded that the packages constituted “covert propaganda” and were illegal under federal law.

At least one other video news release featuring the same narrator, Karen Ryan, purporting to be a reporter has been produced for the Education Department.

Debra Silimeo, a senior vice president at the Washington-based public relations firm Hager Sharp said in an interview that her firm has a five-year contract with the
National Center for Education Statistics, the department’s statistical arm, that is worth $700,000 to $800,000 a year. Under that contract, Hager Sharp sent out a video news package regarding math and reading results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress for 2003.

“A few” stations aired the material, but since the GAO first held last year that federal Medicare video news releases were inappropriate, “we will not do that” again, Ms. Silimeo said.

The original proposal submitted by Ketchum to the Education Department for promoting the No Child Left Behind Act discusses the public relations agency’s extensive experience and promises to help the department with a “solid, evidence-based, cost-effective strategic plan” to meet its “business goals.”

What got more attention when the document was released last year, under a Freedom of Information Act request by the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way, was the revelation that as part of the contract, Ketchum was compiling monthly ratings of individual reporters on whether their coverage of the No Child Left Behind Act was favorable or not. ("This Just In: ‘No Child’ Law Works Well, Says Ed. Dept. ‘News’ Video,"
Oct. 20, 2004.)

The department itself spent $500,000 in 2003 to hire a “strike team” of political operatives to work solely on publicity surrounding the K-12 education law. ("Ed. Dept. Invests $500,000 In Team to Tout Its Agenda," May 28, 2003.)

“This just feeds the cynicism that this is all a kind of a con game,” said William L. Taylor, the chairman of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, a private
Washington group that monitors the federal government on civil rights issues. Mr. Taylor is a supporter of the No Child Left Behind Act, which calls for greater public school testing and accountability and mandates penalties for schools that fail to meet achievement goals.

“The real question now is, is there going to be buy-in to the whole notion of education reform by the people in the school systems,” he said.

60-Second Ads

In the case involving Mr. Williams, matters seem to have been clouded by the fact that the one-time Republican aide has both a media-punditry career and a public relations business.

Mr. Williams established himself as a prominent black political conservative largely through his role defending Clarence Thomas during the U.S. Supreme Court justice’s combative Senate confirmation hearings in 1991. Mr. Williams had worked for Mr. Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as for then-Sen. Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina Republican.

His career as a commentator has included a newspaper column, regular appearances on CNN and elsewhere, and his own syndicated TV show, “The Right Side with Armstrong Williams.”

The show, which is produced by Right Side Productions and airs mainly on small stations around the country, is a subsidiary of Mr. Williams’ Washington-based public relations firm, the Graham Williams Group.

Under the Ketchum contract, the $240,000 subcontract to Mr. Williams primarily paid for two 60-second television ads promoting the No Child Left Behind law to be run on “The Right Side.” The show bought its TV time on some outlets, then recouped the money by selling ad time on its own, a not uncommon arrangement.

The contract also called for Mr. Williams to comment on the No Child Left Behind Act, a program in which he says he was a strong believer, in media appearances elsewhere.

After the contract was revealed by USA Today, Mr. Williams did numerous interviews in which he apologized, repeating the mantra “I used bad judgment.” He said he had disclosed the Education Department paid for the advertisements on his TV show, but did not note the payment in his columns or in other media appearances where the school law came up.

Mr. Williams declined to be interviewed about the flap last week.

On his Web site, he penned an apology, saying that in hindsight the payment “represents an obvious conflict of interests.” But Mr. Williams added: “People have used this conflict of interest to portray my column as being paid for by the Bush administration. Nothing could be further from the truth. … People need to know that my column is uncorrupted by any outside influences.”

Since the arrangement was uncovered, Tribune Media Services has dropped distribution of Mr. Williams’ column, and some TV outlets have ended their relationship with him. Politicians, newspaper editorials, and some groups have called for Mr. Williams to return the money.

However, in a online chat last week on The Washington Post’s Web site, Mr. Williams said he would not refund the payment because he had provided the services called for in the contract.

Paige Responds

Both Republicans and Democrats, including Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and its ranking Democrat, Rep. George Miller of
California, have called for investigations by the GAO and the Education Department’s inspector general. Congressional hearings on the matter could surface as well.

In his statement, Mr. Paige said his staff had reviewed the contract and said the money paid to the Graham Williams Group went for the costs of the ads created “and nothing more.” But Mr. Paige did not address the language in the contract calling for Mr. Williams to use his influence in other ways and to make time for officials on his show.

Rep. Miller fired back with a statement calling the deal with Mr. Williams “illegal and unethical.”

“Secretary Paige and President Bush cannot even bring themselves to admit they were wrong, apologize to the taxpayers, and pledge that no such covert propaganda efforts will be conducted again,” the statement said.

Secretary Paige, who is set to leave the department this month to make way for his designated successor, White House policy aide Margaret Spellings, expressed dismay at the furor stemming from the arrangement.

“That a public relations contract has caused the good work of this department to come into question is deeply disturbing to me,” Mr. Paige’s statement said. “And it is certainly not the legacy I wish to leave behind.”

The department did not reply to numerous calls and e-mails last week seeking further comment. Ketchum referred all inquiries to the Education Department.

It remains unclear whether the idea to tap Mr. Williams for a contract to promote the school law originated with Ketchum or with the department. It was also unclear who in the department ultimately gave the go-ahead for it.

Public relations experts say that under such a major contract, Education Department officials would have known the details of the plans to work with Mr. Williams.

“Somebody at the department has to approve it,” said Judith T. Phair, the president of the Public Relations Society of America, a New York City-based organization for the profession. “Certainly, the department would know.”

The Reasonableness Test

Alex S. Jones, the director of the
Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University, called the arrangement “one of the stupidest public relations moves I’ve ever heard in my life.”

“I find it frightening that the government would have no better judgment than this,” he said. The result, he said, is that information on the No Child Left Behind Act is “compromised and discredited.”

Ms. Phair said the Education Department should be doing mea culpas and admitting to any other questionable public relations arrangements.

Some observers said that not only was it disingenuous for Mr. Williams to pass off his opinions as independent when he was being paid by the department, but that it was a bad investment of taxpayer money to underwrite a supporter of the measure.

“This is sort of an ethically challenged, possibly legally dubious use of public money, but it’s also suspect from a point of view of reasonableness,” said Andrew J. Rotherham, the director of education policy at the Washington-based Progressive Policy Institute, which is affiliated with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. “It makes sense that you would try to figure out ways to engage the media, but focusing efforts on the ones already avowedly on your side seems insular.”

But Ms. Phair said the department may have been trying to shore up support. “Much of what Bush did during the election was conserving the base,” she said. “Sometimes you do go after those people who are pretty much on board to make sure they’re solidly behind you.”


Texas Takes Aim at Tainted Testing Program
By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Education Week, 1/19/05

Responding to a potential cheating scandal uncovered by a recent newspaper investigation, Texas officials last week announced a sweeping review of test security and plans for a new monitoring scheme for the state accountability system, which has served as a model for other states as well as the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“We take cheating very seriously in our state, and we will be taking whatever actions are necessary to maintain the integrity of our testing program,” Commissioner of Education Shirley Neeley said at a Jan. 10 press conference called to outline the state’s response. “This whole situation is embarrassing, … but we’re not putting our heads in the sand over this.”

The move came after an analysis of test scores by The Dallas Morning News found that results at as many as 400 schools out of 7,700 statewide—including one celebrated
Houston elementary school—were suspect. The newspaper, which used a regression analysis of all school-level results on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills for 2003 and 2004, outlined unlikely leaps in TAKS scale scores from one year to the next or students’ inability to maintain high levels of achievement as they advanced in school. The analysis compares relationships between variables to gauge or predict consistencies, such as a school’s performance in reading over several grades.

Ms. Neeley said the newspaper’s use of scale scores—the average score a school achieves on a given test, as opposed to passing rates, may not provide the most accurate measure of how a school is performing. The commissioner acknowledged, however, that the state must devise a common formula for identifying questionable results.

Although reports of cheating on standardized tests are not uncommon across the country, the extent of the allegations in
Texas appear to be unprecedented, observers say. The latest claims have renewed appeals from experts for states to institute better oversight of testing systems.

“This is an ethical failure on the part of the
U.S. education system, not just on Texas,” said Daniel Koretz, a testing researcher at Harvard University. “There isn’t an expectation in this country that we will carefully evaluate the impact of holding people accountable for scores.”

Texas has long used test scores to determine whether schools are making enough progress in raising student achievement, and for issuing penalties to those that fail to do so adequately. Under the federal law, state test scores are a central factor in whether schools meet “adequately yearly progress.”

Monitoring Criticized

Texas does not regularly monitor or review school or district results on the statewide assessment, according to Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency. Since it began testing more than two decades ago, the state agency has conducted limited reviews of school data, primarily to find instances in which large numbers of students were exempted from taking the test or absent on test day. It has also investigated specific allegations of cheating or cases of significant statistical anomalies.

Districts are primarily responsible for monitoring their results and investigating any irregularities or allegations of impropriety. They can then refer cases to the state agency for further review or action. The state probes only a handful each year.

Texas’ limited monitoring is standard practice throughout the nation, according to George Madaus, a senior fellow with the National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy, a private body based at Boston College.

“The whole testing situation is almost totally unregulated,” said Mr. Madaus, who, along with other researchers, has pushed for better monitoring for years. “We’re dealing with a very useful, but a very fallible, technology.”

Officials in
Pittsburgh and Indiana, however, recently announced the hiring of independent contractors to monitor their testing programs and make recommendations for detecting potential cheating.

Commissioner Neeley said
Texas, too, would hire an outside expert to review its testing policies and procedures and would craft measures for analyzing test results for the nearly 3 million students in grades 3-11 who participate in TAKS each year.

Educators found to have cheated, or those who failed to report cheating, could face disciplinary measures, ranging from a formal reprimand to suspension of their professional certificates to jail time, she said.

National Model Tainted

The state’s plan followed similar announcements by superintendents in Houston and
Dallas, Texas’ largest school districts. The Dallas Morning News analysis found irregularities in dozens of schools in those districts.

Houston, Wesley Elementary, which gained national acclaim under then-Superintendent Rod Paige for getting nearly all students from the poor neighborhood it serves to grade level in reading, was among those accused, along with two other affiliated schools that form a charter school district known as Acres Homes. Mr. Paige is wrapping up four years as the U.S. secretary of education.

According to the newspaper’s analysis of 2003 reading scores, Wesley’s 5th graders were among the top performers in the state, scoring in the top 10 percent for the grade level. The following year, as 6th graders at
Houston’s M.C. Williams Middle School, they fell to the bottom 10 percent in that subject and on the mathematics test, a trend that was not repeated elsewhere in the state.

“A Dallas Morning News investigation has found strong evidence that at least some of the success at Wesley and two affiliated schools comes from cheating,” the newspaper said in an article dated Dec. 31.

A former Wesley Elementary teacher, Donna Garner, had reported to the
Houston school board 19 months earlier that teachers at the school were encouraged over several years to cheat, according to state and district documents.

In November, the district appointed an independent counsel to investigate Ms. Garner’s claims.

The school attracted considerable attention throughout the 1990s, particularly for its adherence to Direct Instruction, a scripted commercial reading program. Its principal at the time, Thaddeus Lott, was hailed in news stories for helping his students beat the odds.

As governor of
Texas, George W. Bush drew on the district’s purported success to support his educational accountability program, which became a national model and the basis for the No Child Left Behind Act instituted after he became president.

Wesley Elementary’s success prompted accusations of cheating then as well, but the claims were dismissed after a state investigation. In a 1998 interview with Education Week, Mr. Lott chalked up those challenges to “ignorance,” saying “it is racist” to assume that poor minority children can’t learn.

Mr. Lott was not available for comment last week.

‘Highly Questionable’

After the latest charges, Abelardo Saavedra, who recently took over as the superintendent of the 212,000-student
Houston district, said in a statement to The Dallas Morning News that the district agrees that the performance of Wesley and two other schools that form the school system’s Acres Home charter district was “highly questionable.”

Mr. Saavedra announced Jan. 6 that the district would establish an inspector general’s office to institute new controls over test procedures and to investigate any suspected wrongdoing. The district’s internal auditor, Robert Moore, a certified fraud examiner, will head the office.

Houston district is also planning to hire outside monitors to visit schools on test days, some assigned to specific schools and others randomly throughout the district. Commissioner Neeley said the state was considering a similar strategy.

District superintendents in
Dallas and Fort Worth, where the newspaper found a number of cases of questionable test-score trends, have also unveiled plans for stricter monitoring.

But some critics say the measures may be inadequate, given the state’s and districts’ interest in showing that student achievement is improving.

“To think the TEA is going to monitor the quality of data from districts is like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop,” charged Walter M. Haney, a professor of education at Boston College who has worked to debunk what he calls “The Texas Miracle” in raising student achievement. “Even if there’s not outright fraud, where people become so obsessed with raising test scores on one relatively narrow test,” cheating and other improprieties are likely to occur.


Spellings' Resume Brings New Twist to Secretary Post
By Erik W. Robelen, Education Week, 1/19/05

Visiting a high school in suburban
Washington last week, President Bush offered an introduction he’s used many times for his outgoing secretary of education, Rod Paige. Mr. Bush stressed that, four years ago, he decided to pick someone on the “front lines” of education—a district superintendent—for the top federal job in the field.

That contrasts with his choice of Margaret Spellings, whose experience has been behind the scenes, to succeed Secretary Paige. Ms. Spellings, now the president’s chief domestic-policy aide, appears headed for easy confirmation in the Senate, possibly as soon as this week, when President Bush begins his second term.

She has won strong votes of confidence from both sides of the political aisle, as well as from national education groups. And yet, at least some educators outside the
Washington political and policy orbit have misgivings about the background she’ll bring to the job.

“Why would the president select a person who is not a teacher, or a superintendent, or a principal, or someone trained in the education field?” Diane Schroeder, a reading specialist and language arts teacher in
Greenfield, Wis., said last week.

“[T]o understand the workings of schools, especially teachers, parents, and the needs of children, the secretary of education should have had experience as an educator,” said Cheryl F. Blue, an assistant superintendent in Plattsmouth, Neb. “Sitting in an office does not give the individual the perspective of … the challenges facing schools today.”

Ms. Spellings would not be the first education secretary without a professional experience in schools or academe. Take Richard W. Riley, a popular education secretary who served for eight years under President Clinton. He had made a name for himself as an “education governor” in
South Carolina, but had not been an educator.

And by no means is there a consensus even among working educators that Ms. Spellings may not be “highly qualified,” to use the label the No Child Left Behind Act expects the nation’s teachers to merit.

“I have heard that Ms. Spellings is a sharp woman who listens well and has the ability to make informed decisions,” said Carol Kelly, an adjunct education professor at the
University of Denver in Colorado and a former school principal. “It appears she is quite well versed in today’s educational issues. I don’t believe that lack of an advanced degree or experience as an educator should disqualify her from serving as U.S. secretary of education.”

A Department of Education spokeswoman declined an Education Week request to interview Ms. Spellings, saying the president’s nominees would not grant interviews before confirmation.

Veteran Bush Aide

Ms. Spellings, 47, was named in November to replace Secretary Paige, who tendered his resignation shortly after the 2004 election.

She was considered a principal architect of Mr. Bush’s education agenda during his first term, especially the No Child Left Behind Act, his flagship initiative. Ms. Spellings has been the president’s top domestic-policy adviser since he entered the White House, but their work together goes back much further.

When he was the governor of
Texas, Ms. Spellings was his chief education aide, and she worked on his election campaigns, including his 2000 presidential bid. Before that, she was the chief lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Boards. She also worked on education matters as an aide in the Texas legislature.

Ms. Spellings earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the
University of Houston. She would be the first U.S. education secretary without an advanced degree.

The nominee is known to have a close working relationship with the president, and she is expected to have his ear in a way that observers say Secretary Paige never has. That access could be an important plus to her serving in the Cabinet.

Yet, as with several other of President Bush’s second-term Cabinet nominees, moving a White House aide to become an agency head has its downsides. Some analysts have noted that the president won’t benefit from the fresh perspective that might be offered by a new face with new ideas.

When explaining his choice of Ms. Spellings in November, Mr. Bush emphasized his personal experience working with her.

“I’ve known Margaret Spellings for more than a decade,” he said. “I have relied on her intellect and judgment throughout my career in public service.” ("President Picks a Trusted Aide for Secretary,"
Nov. 24, 2004.)

He highlighted her work with him at the White House and the governor’s mansion, as well as her other experience in

Ms. Spellings won unanimous approval on Jan. 6 from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, with enthusiastic backing from key Democrats.

At her confirmation hearing earlier that day, she said: “From parent to policymaker, I have seen education from many angles, and often been in the other person’s shoes.”

Ms. Spellings also stressed that she would pay close attention to the concerns of educators and other stakeholders in education.

But Charles A. Bloomfield, the principal of
Lehigh Valley Christian High School in Allentown, Pa., has expressed dismay about Ms. Spellings’ credentials.

“I have to wonder why the education community isn’t protesting loudly that the new secretary is a person with just a bachelor’s degree, and that in political science, not education,” he wrote in a letter to Education Week, published in the Jan. 5 issue. “Too bad. One would think that the position would require advanced and related academic credentials.”

Two former education secretaries interviewed last week suggested that such degrees and experience are not necessarily a recipe for success.

Shirley M. Hufstedler, who served as the first education secretary, from 1979 to 1981 under President Carter, emphasized the primary importance of political and management skills.

“Part of that includes how much time she has spent to become really savvy on what goes on [Capitol] Hill, or inside the [
Washington] Beltway,” said Ms. Hufstedler, 79, a former federal appellate judge who is now a lawyer in private practice in Los Angeles. “That’s a big help. … She’s not going to be teaching.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander of
Tennessee, a Republican who was education secretary from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush, recalled his experience early on as secretary.

“One of the things I found in my first Cabinet meeting in 1991 was that the education secretary sits at the end of the Cabinet table, and is the last to be evacuated in case of an emergency,” he said. The senator suggested that Ms. Spellings’ long-standing association with Mr. Bush is a major asset that will ensure education “stays on the front burner with the president.”

“I think Margaret will be an excellent education secretary,” said Sen. Alexander, 64. “She knows and understands [the president’s] education policies better than almost anyone. Two, she has had experience on the ground in
Texas with the school boards’ association and with Governor Bush.”

Secretary Paige, despite having been a longtime education administrator, has sometimes ruffled feathers in the education world, such as when he referred to the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, as a “terrorist organization” because of its efforts to resist the No Child Left Behind law. He later apologized for the remark.

Unknown Quantity

Amy Stuart Wells, an education professor at Teachers College,
Columbia University, said that Ms. Spellings “seems like an improvement over Paige, because she’s more conciliatory.” Ms. Wells said she has been impressed, for instance, with the secretary-designate’s language about educators as professionals.

“Based on what she has said, she just has more respect for the complexity of public education,” Ms. Wells said. “I don’t think she’ll be calling the teachers’ association a terrorist group.”

Ms. Spellings’ experience with the
Texas school boards’ group was encouraging to Ms. Wells, who noted that such work requires understanding and responding to a diverse constituency.

“You have to think about the issues from different perspectives,” she said.

To some educators, Ms. Spellings remains something of a mystery.

“Margaret Spellings is an unknown to many in
North Dakota,” said Justin J. Wageman, an education professor at North Dakota State University in Fargo. “From what I read and hear, however, she seems to have a solid reputation as an individual who will reach out to diverse groups, while still maintaining the current administration’s stance on the issues.”

Julie Blaha, a middle school teacher in
Champlin, Minn., said she and her colleagues really haven’t given much thought to the person poised to be the next leader of the federal Department of Education.

“I haven’t heard one colleague comment on [her confirmation]. Not one,” said Ms. Blaha. “When it comes right down to it, as long as George W. Bush is president, I think most teachers expect things to continue down the path blazed” by Secretary Paige.

Ms. Blaha, who was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention last year, added: “I hope Ms. Spellings will take the time to seek out and listen to those of us on the front lines of education, not just those Beltway insiders.”


Judge Orders Removal of Evolution Disclaimers
By Sean Cavanagh, Education Week, 1/19/05

A federal judge in
Georgia has declared that a district’s practice of labeling evolution “a theory, not a fact” on stickers placed on science textbooks amounts to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper last week ordered officials in the
Cobb County school system to remove the stickers immediately. They have been affixed to texts for middle and high school biology classes.

The case has been closely watched, in part because similar legal disputes have arisen recently in at least two other school districts, including one in
Dover, Pa., where a group of teachers has objected to a proposal that they introduce students to the concept of “intelligent design.” That belief holds that an unspecified creator, or designer, played a role in the development of natural phenomena, including human life.

Cobb County stickers stated: “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”

Parent Complaints

That language was approved by the 102,000-student district’s school board in 2002, after parents complained that a new set of science textbooks favored the theory of evolution too heavily over religiously based views. Another group of parents later sued to remove the stickers, saying they amounted to promotion of religion in public schools.

Judge Cooper, sitting in
Atlanta, ruled that, even though the sticker did not specifically advocate or even mention faith, a reasonable person would interpret its message as being supportive of religion. The sticker “conveys an impermissible message of endorsement, and tells some citizens that they are political outsiders while telling others that they are political insiders,” he said. “The school board has effectively improperly entangled itself with religion by appearing to take a position.”

Moreover, the stickers mislead students into thinking that evolution theory is “only a highly questionable ‘opinion’ or ‘hunch,’ ” the judge wrote, rather than the dominant view of life’s origins, widely accepted by the scientific community. The sticker also “plays on the colloquial or popular” definition of a theory, he said. Scientists typically define theories as explanations that have been thoroughly vetted and supported through several lines of evidence. ("
Pa. School Officials, Science Groups Split Over New Biology Curriculum," Dec. 1, 2004.)

In a statement,
Cobb County school officials voiced disappointment with the ruling, calling the stickers a “reasonable and evenhanded” approach. The school board has not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling.

Other Districts Watching

Glenn Branch, the deputy director of the Oakland, Calif.-based
National Center for Science Education, which supports the teaching of evolution, saw the ruling as particularly significant. Unlike previous evolution cases, he noted, the court rejected a statement with language that critics believe indirectly, rather than explicitly, promoted religion. The sticker used what amounted to “code words,” Mr. Branch argued, by attempting to imply that evolution is a flawed theory.

Other districts nationwide would be reluctant to use such disclaimers, as a result of the ruling, Mr. Branch predicted. But, he also noted that the decision was “narrowly worded” and might not directly affect other situations, such as the dispute in
Pennsylvania’s Dover district.

That case stems from the 3,600-student district’s decision last fall to revise its science curriculum to state that students “will be aware of gaps/problems in
Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution, including, but not limited to, intelligent design.”

Dover school leaders also approved an additional, four-paragraph statement, further explaining the district’s position on evolution and intelligent design, which was to be read to students as they were introduced to studies about the origins of life, possibly as soon as last week. In
Dover’s biology classes, that topic is taught in 9th grade.

But after seven science teachers in the district objected to reading the statement, Superintendent Richard Nilsen on Jan. 7 agreed to have administrators read it to students instead, while teachers stepped out of their classrooms. The district also planned to allow students who object to the statement to leave temporarily as well, said Brian Burch, a spokesman for the
Thomas More Law Center, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based nonprofit group representing the district.

The teachers’ objections arose about a month after the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a
Washington advocacy group, filed suit in federal court in Harrisburg, Pa., seeking to halt the use of the intelligent-design language. Witold J. Walczak, a lawyer for the ACLU, said he expects that case to go to trial this spring.


Universities Team Up With
Urban Districts to Run Local Schools
Partnerships Seen as Growing Trend
By Debra Viadero, Education Week, 1/19/05

Baltimore - Amid a sea of teenagers in baggy pants, denim jackets, and white T-shirts, it’s easy to pick out the students from Baltimore Talent Development High School. They’re the ones in the intense yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the name of their school.

What really sets them apart, though, are the words underneath the school name. They read: “A Partnership with
Johns Hopkins University.”

That’s because this public high school, which opened in September, is the product of an unusual collaboration between the city’s school system and its premier private university.

For most universities, running a public school is as foreign an enterprise as operating a gas station. Yet it’s happening in a growing number of cities—including
Philadelphia; Chicago; New York City; Worcester, Mass.; and East Palo Alto, Calif.—where universities are venturing out of their ivory towers and into the messy real world of public schools.

“For some period of time—at least since the 1960s—getting involved in K-12 schools was not at the forefront of universities’ missions,” said Nancy W. Streim, the associate dean for educational practice at the
University of Pennsylvania’s graduate school of education. “It’s still not, but I think that began to break down when universities began to find students not coming to them as prepared as they would like them to be.”

The private
University of Pennsylvania, which runs the Penn Alexander School, a public pre-K-8 school in its own back yard in Philadelphia, last year hosted what is widely considered to be the first national conference on these new school-university partnerships that run precollegiate schools. It drew 150 participants from 35 universities and school districts.

Shaping a School
For Johns Hopkins, the attraction in getting more deeply involved in school operations was a chance to help shape a school from scratch and use it to try out its own nationally known program for educational improvement.
Hopkins researchers developed the program, known as the Talent Development model, more than a decade ago. They had tried it out in Baltimore-area public high schools, but never before in a brand-new school and never with the kind of control they have now over school operations.

Baltimore Talent Development High, one of four schools that the 88,400-student district has opened up to outside operators over the past two years, is not a charter school in the sense that it operates free of city school rules. But the university still has considerable leeway under the terms of its four-year contract with the school system.

“We use
Baltimore city public school teachers, but we get to select them,” said Robert Balfanz, the Hopkins education researcher who is co-leading the project. “We use Baltimore principals, but we select them; we can have our own curriculum, and we don’t have to use district professional development. This gives us a chance to marry a whole-school reform model with being able to get a highly motivated faculty.”

The school opened with 150 9th graders. Taking all comers on a first-come, first-served basis, the school will add a grade a year for the next three years, ending up with a small school of no more than 600 students in grades 9-12. The school is housed in a wing of
Harlem Park Middle School, a sprawling building constructed in the 1960s that is on the city’s west side, and has seen steadily declining enrollments.

Neighborhood Connections
Colleges and universities elsewhere give different reasons for entering the K-12 arena. The
University of Pennsylvania and Clark University in Worcester, Mass., for example, figured that establishing outstanding public schools could revitalize the deteriorating urban neighborhoods that surround them.

As Thomas Del Prete, the director of the
Hiatt Center for Urban Education at Clark, put it: “The university recognized some 12 to 15 years ago that its vitality and possibly its future depended on the vitality of the surrounding neighborhood.”

According to Mr. Del Prete, the Main South neighborhood, near where
Clark sits, was one of the city’s most impoverished communities, a place plagued by absentee landlords, drug problems, prostitution, and severe housing shortages for families.

Clark began its campaign to improve the area by first promising free tuition to attend Clark for residents who had lived there at least five years. Then, in 1996, it launched a partnership with the Worcester city schools to establish the University Park Campus School, a grade 7-12 public school that now enrolls 215 students.

Across the country at
Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., Linda Darling-Hammond said university educators had two reasons for applying for a charter to open East Palo Alto High School. First, the university felt a moral obligation to replace a public high school that the East Palo Alto community lost when the school system became desegregated 25 years ago. And second, the university was seeking a “teaching hospital” environment where student teachers could observe best practices while getting exposure to the real-world problems of urban schools serving ethnically diverse, mostly poor students.

“Unless you want to prepare students to, in many cases, teach in ways that are less effective than what we know how to do, there aren’t a lot of schools you can turn to,” said Ms. Darling-Hammond, a Stanford education professor.

The growth of opportunities for charter schooling has also fueled some of the universities’ interest, observers say, as has increasing public pressure on urban higher education institutions to show they are good neighbors.

The University Cachet
For public school systems, university involvement offers a way to tap into desperately needed resources and expertise.

“When I went for the interview, they told me I would have supplies, so that was exciting,” said Edward Bryant Jr. a mathematics teacher at
Baltimore Talent Development High School. Mr. Bryant, who is working toward a doctoral degree in math education, also said he believed the new administrators selected by Johns Hopkins “would allow me to be the expert in my subject that I am,” rather than prescribe lessons for him.

Hopkins also pays for facilitators to work at the school and provides professional development that teachers receive in the summer and during the school year. As in many such efforts across the country, the school also gets start-up funds. In the case of Talent Development High, the additional infusion amounts to $400,000 over four years that comes from local and national foundations.

Students say the university’s presence also lends a certain cachet that other public schools lack. Some of the 9th graders travel as much as 1 hours by city bus to attend the school, which is in a very poor part of

“The kids understand there’s a certain expectation when a college is involved,” said Cheree Davis, a social studies teacher at the school. “They came in with huge expectations of us which we just have to keep up.”

“We already feel like we are in college, anyway,” echoed 9th grader Aleah Stinson, who is hoping the school will give her a foot in the door toward earning a scholarship to attend

But students also pay a price for the choice they make in coming to Talent Development High. With their vivid yellow shirts, they sometimes get singled out for harassment by the regular middle school students who share the building with them.

Still, said Ms. Stinson, “I tell them, getting an education in a uniform is better than getting no education at all in your regular clothes.”

‘A Frightening Thing’
Universities, for their part, are putting their reputations on the line in taking on the responsibility of operating public schools.

“It’s a frightening thing for a university to find itself running schools,” said C. Kent McGuire, the dean of
Temple University’s education school and a former assistant U.S. secretary of education in the Clinton administration. “And I can’t suggest that an education school has all the knowledge and skills it needs to pull that off.”

Temple University is providing support to six public schools in its Philadelphia neighborhood. Two years into a contract between the university and the city school district, the Temple-managed public schools are so far keeping pace with the district at large in students’ achievement growth.

Clark University’s 8-year-old University Park Campus School in 2003 was ranked as the only high-performing urban high school in Massachusetts.

Yet for many such efforts, including Baltimore’s, it may be too soon to tell whether universities can do any better job managing public schools than local districts can.

Philadelphia, district officials said Temple and the University of Pennsylvania have already shown that “they can do this at the same level we are doing,” said Ellen K. Savitz, the district’s chief development officer. But the next question, she said, is “Can they, in fact, do better on the same amount of money we get?”

“If not,” Ms. Savitz said, “why not give the additional money to our own schools?”


Bush Promotes Plan for High School Tests
President Indicates That Education Is Still High on His Agenda
By Christina A. Samuels, Education Week, 1/19/05

Falls Church, Va. - President Bush last week renewed his pledge to expand educational accountability in U.S. high schools, promising to seek as much as $1.5 billion in his next budget for improvement in those grades.

Barely more than a week before his second inauguration, Mr. Bush used a visit to a suburban
Washington high school to show that the education proposals he outlined at the Republican National Convention last summer remained high on the domestic agenda for his new term that begins Jan. 20.

“This is one of the first stops in the year 2005 for me,” the president said on Jan. 12 to students, teachers, and invited guests in the gymnasium here of
J.E.B. Stuart High School, which has 1,400 pupils from more than 70 different countries. “And there’s a reason it’s one of the first stops. ... [w]e are dedicated to doing everything we can at the federal level to improve public education.”

The backbone of his “high school initiative” is a plan to require reading and mathematics tests in 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. The federal No Child Left Behind Act, the signature education initiative of President Bush’s first term, requires testing in those subjects predominantly in the elementary and middle grades. The law currently requires testing only once at the high school level, and states are allowed to pick which grade is to be tested.

During his 40-minute speech, Mr. Bush spoke with passion at times about his administration’s refusal to retreat from the accountability demands of the 3-year-old federal law.

“Listen, I’ve heard every excuse in the book not to test,” he said. “My answer is, how do you know if a child is learning if you don’t test?”

The White House said the president’s fiscal 2006 federal budget proposal, which is likely to be released in early February, would contain the request for $1.5 billion for the high school initiative. Not all of that money would be new, as the initiative would roll some existing programs in with the proposals Mr. Bush announced last year and campaigned on in the fall.

The president said the plan would provide $250 million in the next fiscal year to the states for the additional testing, which aides to Mr. Bush have had to clarify in the past would be neither an exit test nor a federally designed test. ("Bush Test Proposal for High Schoolers Joins Wider Trend,"
Sept. 15, 2004.)

The initiative also proposes funding for teachers to analyze the grades of incoming 9th graders so that an individual learning plan could be created for students at risk of falling behind their peers.

Focused Instruction
In addition, the initiative includes the president’s request to increase funding for his Striving Readers program, an adolescent-literacy program, to $200 million. The money would be used to help more than 100 school districts train teachers in methods to teach literacy to middle and high school students. Mr. Bush requested $100 million for that program for the current fiscal year, but Congress approved only $24.8 million.

Another $120 million will be proposed to improve high school math by training math teachers in methods that Mr. Bush said in his speech were “proven to succeed.”

In his speech, Mr. Bush frequently referred to his host school, Stuart High, which is in the 166,000-student
Fairfax County, Va., school district. The school struggled with low test scores and poor achievement several years ago, but now is meeting all state and federal education standards.

“By focusing on results and stressing the importance of reading, by making sure that the measurement systems focus on each individual child, by not tolerating excuses for failure, this school has been turned around,” Mr. Bush said, to applause. “And how do we know? … I know because you measure.”

He added, “I want other schools who have got a student population as diverse as a
Stuart High School to know that success and excellence is possible.”

Education advocates said last week that they supported a focus on improving high schools.

More Bureaucracy?

“Even if we give kids a strong start, we need to continue with good teaching and rigorous content through middle and high school,” said Susan Traiman, the director of education and workforce policy for the Washington-based Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of many of the nation’s largest corporations.

“We are encouraged by the fact that he has turned his attention to secondary education,” Michael Carr, the associate director of public affairs for the Reston, Va.-based National Association of Secondary School Principals, said of the president. The literacy program and individualized plans for students who have below-grade-level skills are also positive initiatives, Mr. Carr said.

However, Mr. Carr and Reg Weaver, the president of the National Education Association, said last week that more testing along the lines required by the No Child Left Behind Act was problematic.

“All it does is put in place more paper and more bureaucracy,” said Mr. Weaver in an interview.

Mr. Carr said that measuring students in the same grade from year to year does not help teachers improve, because the same group of students is not being measured.

“That is where No Child Left Behind has not gone far enough,” he said. “I would have to guess this initiative isn’t going to be much different, so I’m not sure it’s going to be far enough.”


HHS Shifts Oversight of Sexual-Abstinence Grants
By Vaishali Honawar, Education Week, 1/19/05

Two federal education grant programs promoting sexual abstinence have been shifted to an agency now led by a strong supporter of abstinence education, a move that is raising concerns in some quarters.

The Administration for Children and Families within the Department of Health and Human Services will now oversee the $50 million Title V grant program and the $104 million Special Projects of Regional and National Significance Community-based Abstinence Education grant program. The ACF is headed by Wade F. Horn, an assistant secretary of the department who is known for his advocacy of abstinence programs for students.

Harry Wilson, the associate commissioner of the ACF’s Family and Youth Services Bureau, said the programs would be more effective under the ACF because the agency already deals with youth problems.

“It seems like a natural fit when we are already dealing with children in vulnerable situations,” he said, adding that the decision was made by outgoing Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson along with other administration officials. The Title V program was moved under ACF in June last year, while the SPRANS grant program was transferred in December.

But Marcella Howell, the public-policy director for Advocates for Youth, a Washington-based group that supports comprehensive education on sexuality, said she was worried about moving the programs to an agency “that is by nature more political” than the one that previously administered the grants. The Health and Human Services Department’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau had administered the two programs.

Supporters of an abstinence-only approach to sex education believe that the bureau did not administer the programs as narrowly as Congress had defined them. For instance, the Maternal and Child Health Bureau sometimes gave grants to groups that also promote the use of condoms.

Defining Abstinence
Mr. Horn has often been quoted saying that he believes sexual abstinence is the only effective way for a teenager to avoid becoming a parent or getting a sexually transmitted disease. Before taking over the ACF, he headed the National Fatherhood Initiative, a conservative nonprofit organization that seeks to confront the problem of father absence.

Ms. Howell said several concerns have been raised recently about abstinence programs funded by the federal government. A report released in December by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., said that curricula used by several such programs blur science and religion and feed students erroneous information, such as that touching another person’s genitals can result in pregnancy. ("Abstinence-Only Curricula Misleading, Report Says,"
Dec. 8, 2004.)

“You are taking two programs that were administered by public-health entities who at least addressed some of our concerns and now shifting them to an agency where the head has already made clear statements about his views on marriage and sexually transmitted diseases,” Ms. Howell said. She added that the shift in supervision could result in the award of grants to programs that were not designed around research or based on science.

Mr. Wilson of the Family and Youth Services Bureau said ideology would not interfere with the agency’s decisions on awarding grants. “Our job at the federal government is to run programs the way Congress intends them to be run,” he said, adding that the competition for the grants would be “fair and open to all.”

Under the grant programs’ eight-point definition of abstinence education, grantees have to teach, among other principles, that abstinence is the “expected standard” for school-age children, that a “mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage” is the expected standard of sexual activity, and that nonmarital sexual activity could have “harmful psychological and physical effects.”





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