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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – January 21 - 28, 2005


Social studies getting squeezed / Chicago Sun-Times
Law OKs diplomas for the disabled / Chicago Tribune
Teachers will learn how to use global views in the classroom / Champaign News-Gazette
Blagojevich now willing to consider physical education waivers / Chicago Tribune
Solving school woes will take more than a funding hike / State Journal-Register
SICA set to go forward, but state still may get involved / Chicago Sun-Times
Princeton, Putnan County schools consider suing over No Child Left Behind rule
LaSalle NewsTribune

18 Fremd students cheated, officials say / Daily Herald
Parents, principal may have noise deal / Daily Herald
A milestone for early childhood ed / Chicago Sun-Times
Kids need an earlier start / Chicago Tribune
State must increase funding for schools / Daily Herald
Sub teacher taped eyes, pupils say / Chicago Tribune
Felony charges filed in Woodruff shooting / Peoria Journal Star
Bus driver faces drunken driving charge / State Journal-Register

No Child Left Behind is here to stay / Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Missouri lowers testing goals / Kansas City Star
Dade suit over school funding falters / Miami Herald
'Starving' Schools Need Tax Hikes, O'Connell Says / Los Angeles Times
Bible Breaks at Public Schools Face Challenges in Rural Virginia / Washington Post
Schools chief wants $2.3 billion owed by state / San Francisco Chronicle
School budget forecast: gloomy / The Oregonian
Don’t abandon “No Child Left Behind” / Virginian-Pilot (VA)
Colo. online students have poor grades / Boston Globe
Wis. Fires Back Over Summer Homework Suit /
Boston Globe
School district cancels spelling bee / Wonsocket Call (RI)
Wis. school expelled from voucher program / Boston Globe
Tougher diploma rules may ease a bit / Indianapolis Star
Choice may allow a racial backslide / St. Petersburg Times
No escape from 'helicopter parents' / Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Calls for Revamping High Schools Intensify
Bush Plan Worries the Voc. Ed. Community
Maine Rallies Behind Rules for Athletics
Panel to View Detroit Schools as ‘Blank Canvas’
Fla. Board Seeks Social-Promotion Ban in All Grades
Debate Over Charter Schools Rages in Mass.
An Edmonton Journey
Putting Arts Education Front and Center

NCLB Update
Senate Approval    
Teacher Loan Forgiveness     
School Readiness Report     
Pell Grants      



Social studies getting squeezed
Nicole Ziegler Dizon,
Chicago Sun-Times
Kindergartners at
Hillcrest Elementary School in Elgin sit in a semicircle and discuss ''reading strategies'' with their teacher -- using those words.
A second-grade bilingual class has a bulletin board dedicated to more sophisticated ''estrategias.'' And by third grade, even students in the lowest reading group flip through glossaries and talk about fluency and plans.
The heavy emphasis on reading has paid off for Hillcrest, which last year met all the benchmarks set up by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. But Hillcrest Principal David Wedemeyer says there has been a cost: Hillcrest students don't spend as much time on other subjects like social studies as they have in the past.
It's a trend social studies teachers fear will occur in more schools now that the state has quietly dropped that subject -- along with writing, fine arts and physical development/health -- from the standardized tests used to measure schools.
'Only so many hours in a day'
''We only have so many hours in a day, so many days in a year,'' Wedemeyer said. ''We only have so much time for kids to master certain things, and society emphasizes math and language arts.''
Math and reading are the dual focus of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, which aims to have all
U.S. students performing at or above grade level in those two subjects by 2014. Schools that don't meet an increasingly higher bar each year face sanctions, from allowing students to transfer out to being taken over by the state.
Illinois has long tested students in the social sciences, which include history, politics, economics, social systems and geography. But lawmakers voted in July to eliminate all state assessments not required under No Child Left Behind.
The change, made the same day the state budget passed, got little public notice.
'What you treasure, you measure'
Now that the state has stopped measuring progress in social science, schools struggling to meet the federal law's goals may be less likely to put scarce resources into teaching history or civics, said Hilary Rosenthal, a teacher and co- director at the Glenbrook Academy of International Studies.
''I think the saying is, 'What you treasure, you measure,''' Rosenthal said.
Until this year, fourth-graders and seventh-graders were tested in social science, and the state's high school exam also included the subject. An analysis of State Report Card data since 1998 shows little change in the average time elementary and junior high schools report spending on social science each day. But it also shows some individual schools failing under the federal standards have cut that time by as much as half.
At Hillcrest, the change has been small -- four minutes less a day now than five years ago. But Wedemeyer, who has been principal for seven years, said that, in the past, teachers carved out a specific time each day for social studies. Now, they're more likely to incorporate it into reading or writing lessons.
Last week, a bilingual class was practicing writing in English by completing a timeline of events in Martin Luther King Jr.'s life.
Such integration, if done well, is a great way to teach social studies at the elementary level, said Phyllis Henry, president of the Illinois Council of Social Studies.
Council wants tests back
The problem with dropping the social studies assessment, Henry said, is that it will be hard for schools to determine whether their integrated curriculum is working. And that means students will enter junior high or high school -- where history or economics are separate classes -- with vastly different backgrounds in the subjects.
Other states that have dropped social studies testing have seen the money and time spent on the subject plummet, Henry said. The social studies council is pushing for the Legislature to reinstate the
Illinois tests.
Becky Watts, a spokeswoman for the State Board of Education, said
Illinois schools still are expected to follow the state's standards for the social sciences, which have not changed.
''It's not an area that schools are going to ignore,''
Watts said. ''Schools are going to do the right thing.

Law OKs diplomas for the disabled
Chicago Tribune
Brittany's Law, a bill that allows disabled students to participate in high-school graduation and still have access to state-guaranteed services, was signed into law Friday by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The law was enacted on the heels of a Tribune report in May about Brittany Booth, 18, a
Lyons Township High School student with Down syndrome.
Officials at the
La Grange school initially told her that accepting a diploma would signify the end of her schooling and therefore she would forfeit the right to work-training services guaranteed to disabled students through the age of 21.
Illinois State Board of Education officials previously recommended that schools give students certificates of completion instead of a diploma at graduation. But
Lyons Township officials refused, saying they didn't want to treat disabled students differently.
That changed after state legislators drafted the law in June.


Teachers will learn how to use global views in the classroom
Ernst Lamothe Jr., Champaign News Gazette
Starting Wednesday, the University of Illinois College of Education will begin a new online master's program aimed at current K-12 teachers.
The two-year program in global studies in education, the third online master's degree in the college, will educate teachers on how to integrate global perspectives into their curriculum and lesson plans.
"It is critical given the fact that people are more intertwined than have been across the country and across the world in the past," said Steve Witt, associate director for the UI Center for Global Studies. "It is a world society that has emerged. Students at all levels need to understand the changing political context."
Program coordinator Nicole Lamers said it's essential for teachers to engage in global issues and internationalize their curriculum, especially after the
Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"We're trying to teach in a global perspective rather than looking at things country by country," she said. "It's looking at the relationship between countries. It's trying to understand what is happening."
Lamers said topics such as school vouchers and the increased importance of standardized testing have crossed the
United States borders and become issues in other countries. With the world becoming smaller and more interconnected, educators believe teachers can't afford to lag behind in their awareness.
"The world is changing at such a rapid pace," Lamers said. "Teachers have to be prepared to deal with it because students are facing a different reality than teachers were facing when they were in high school."
The program, which was discussed for two years, grew out of the UI Center for Global Studies, which started last year. Officials decided to make the program online to accommodate teachers from a distance.
"There are a lot of teachers who want to have a master's degree in global studies, but it was hard for them to travel here," Lamers said.
Witt believes that a curriculum change as early as grammar school will have lasting effects throughout students' lives.
"The sooner the students are introduced to the material at an age-appropriate manner, the better," Witt said. "It is perspective that will influence the way they think about other subjects. Hopefully, it increases their engagement in the world around them."
For more information on the Center for Global Studies, go to

Blagojevich now willing to consider physical education waivers
John O'Connor, The Associated Press,
Chicago Tribune, 1/25/05
SPRINGFIELD -- A year after telling lawmakers, "We have to end the practice of giving schools waivers from offering physical education," Gov. Rod Blagojevich is willing to consider a plan that would make it even easier for public schools to skirt the state's daily PE requirement.
In a January 2004 State of the State address that verbally crushed the state's education bureaucracy, the governor pitched childhood fitness, proposing a ban on junk food in schools and an end to the practice of granting PE waivers.
But in a report to the Legislature, the State Board of Education is suggesting ways to make it easier for schools to get around the nation's only daily PE requirement. Seven members of that nine-member board were appointed last fall by Blagojevich.
Blagojevich isn't reversing his position, spokeswoman
Rebecca Rausch said.
"It's a matter of phrasing," Rausch said. "Schools should be required to offer physical activity for the student. That's a practice the governor firmly believes in. What we're willing to discuss is the bureaucracy of that."
In the 10 years since the General Assembly started offering school districts exemptions from state requirements, a quarter of all school districts — 226 — have received PE waivers.
The Board of Education's annual report on waivers, which also includes discussions of other exemptions schools often request, suggests changing state law so schools have more freedom to choose the structure and frequency of gym class without expending time applying for waivers.
"We're not saying, 'Good, bad, or indifferent'," interim state schools Superintendent Randy Dunn said. "We're bringing them up to speed on this issue, that it's used with gusto by some school districts, and here are the issues around it."
The report says schools that offer classes every other day for longer periods could provide PE in the same way, and it suggests that exemptions for students in sports could be expanded to ninth- and 10th-graders and include cheerleading. Crowded schools could eliminate gym without an official waiver if they showed classes would be too crowded and also offered alternatives and limited the amount of time they claimed inadequate facilities.
But there's a big difference between football practice and learning lifelong healthy-living skills, said Ralph Graham, a professor of exercise science at
Western Illinois University in Macomb.
"In view of the epidemic of obesity and with higher rates of diabetes occurring in younger and younger individuals, it's really critical," Graham said of PE in schools.
"It's really important that they are doing things that are specifically geared toward developing lifetime activity habits that are going to be consistent with good health and not focusing just on sports skills," he said.
House Republicans last year backed Blagojevich's ideas and pushed legislation to ban junk food and eliminate PE waivers. Both failed, as did another measure to limit PE waivers to two years.
GOP Leader Tom Cross of
Oswego will give it another try this year, spokesman David Dring said Monday.
"Our goal is for every school to have PE every day," Dring said.

Solving school woes will take more than a funding hike
Opinion by Dave Koltun, a
Springfield consultant and freelance writer, State Journal-Register, 1/22/05

In a world filled with uncertainty, it is comforting to know that a new session of the Illinois General Assembly means that educators and politicians are again talking about school funding reform.

There have been countless studies of school finance since the 1973 adoption of the Resource Equalizer Formula. I even participated directly in one back in 1977. The issues basically are the same today as they were decades ago. There also is an aspect of honesty that is still missing from the debate.

The simple truth is that increasing school funding, whether by a tax "swap" (which invariably involves a token tax break compared to the increase in income taxes) or some other means, is no guarantee that academic achievement will improve. For educational advocates to imply otherwise is a fraud that is being perpetrated by repetition rather than objective analysis.

Much of what needs to be done to improve the quality of education does not involve more state funding. Parental involvement remains a key factor. Property-rich districts tend to have better academic outcomes because parents who pay high property taxes demand academic excellence from their children and their schools. A similar principle long has existed with parents who send their kids to parochial schools.

An essential element of parental involvement is family stability. Yet, more than one third of babies in
Illinois (34.8 percent) are born to single mothers. Among blacks, the figure is a staggering 76.8 percent. The corresponding rate among Hispanics is 42.8 percent and 26.9 percent among white babies. Simply throwing money at public schools is not going to address, let alone solve, this societal problem.

The value people place on education is another vital component. Doing well in school was considered the pathway to achieving the American Dream by countless immigrant families. In numerous instances this standard is still applied within the Asian-American community.

In contrast, we hear leaders like Bill Cosby and Barack Obama exhorting black youth to ignore attempts by peers to equate academic success with "acting white." The desire to achieve must be a given.

School discipline and truancy remain problems in many districts. The very notion that police officers are needed to maintain order is repugnant to many taxpayers. Increased funds may allow districts to hire more personnel, but it will have little impact on the underlying lack of respect for authority that permeates too many of our schools.

There are other policy considerations that have been downplayed by school reform advocates. They want the state to fund the majority of elementary and secondary education (or at least substantially increase state support) while still retaining maximum local control over our schools. This represents an inherent conflict: Funding and control go hand in hand.

If the state assumes greater fiscal responsibility for public education, are there any doubts that the state will try to assume greater policy control as well?

When Gov. Rod Blagojevich attacked the Illinois State Board of Education in January 2004 as a "Soviet-style bureaucracy," he conveniently left out a key part of the picture. With nearly 900 local school districts, the public school system is a bureaucratic morass.

School district boundaries reflect decisions made in the 19th century. Frequently these boundaries do not reflect post-World War II population and economic development patterns. The hodge-podge of elementary districts, high school districts and unit districts adds to the challenge of reforming the system.

Yet, most proposals aimed at consolidating small, inefficient and often academically inadequate districts generate negative reactions.

Florida, with 30 percent more schoolchildren than Illinois, manages to survive with only 67 school districts, one for each county. California, with nearly three times our population and size, only has slightly more districts (1,056) than our state.

As long as Illinois clings to the notion that every town or suburb needs its own local school district, there will be funding inequities, and the prospects for meaningful school finance reform will be limited if non-existent.

The majority of
Illinois residents agree that investing our public dollars in education is a good thing. However, simply adding billions in state tax dollars at schools without a firm commitment to a comprehensive plan for ways to improve academic outcomes will not elicit public support. The taxpayers of Illinois deserve no less.


SICA set to go forward, but state still may get involved
Joe Trost,
Chicago Sun-Times, 1/26/05
The 19 school districts of the South Inter-Conference Association (SICA) held an emergency two-hour meeting Tuesday in
Frankfort to re-examine the 2005-06 realignment amid allegations of segregation.
But despite pleas from District 205 Supt. Kamala Buckner and District 215 Supt. Bob Wilhite to put the plan on hold for further discussion, the SICA decided to move forward.
''Some people in the meeting felt their integrity would be questioned if they were to change things now,'' Buckner said.
The 33-team conference is set to realign into three divisions next fall, but eight schools -- Rich Central, Rich East, Rich South, T.F. North, T.F. South, Thornridge, Thornton and Thornwood -- feel the changes segregate black and white athletes and the rich and the poor.
According to those upset, Interstate 57 represents the
Mason-Dixon Line in this case. The new Southeast division is made up of 68 percent black students. The other two divisions, which are primarily schools west of I-57, are made up of more than 75 percent white students.
''It's obvious they are segregating by tax base,'' said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was making his first public comments about the topic that has simmered throughout the south suburbs over the last three weeks. ''People have acknowledged that there is a problem, or else they wouldn't have met. They are grouping the conferences like
Little Rock in 1957.''
While the emergency session was supposed to be for the 19 superintendents, some administrators sent representatives in their place.
Both Buckner and Wilhite expressed disappointment that the issue had reached this point, but now there is a chance the state government will decide the fate of the SICA.
Melissa Merz, spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, confirmed Tuesday that Madigan's office has received information regarding the issue and is reviewing it before making any statement.
''We have talked to our lawyers, but we'll wait to hear an answer from Lisa Madigan's office before moving further with anything else,'' Wilhite said.
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) also is expected to be involved. An ISBE hearing could be held by the end of February.
''There is an ISBE code that says the state board may get involved if there is exclusion from an activity,'' Buckner said.
The ISBE code is from Chapter 122, Paragraph 22-19, and states, ''There must be the names and addresses of at least 50 residents of a school district alleging that any pupil has been excluded from or segregated in any school.''
Residents in the communities representing the Southeast division also have voiced concerns that property values will be affected by the change. Some believe social economics should have played a role in the changes.
''If this conference realignment happens, it would set us way back,'' said Jenny Conviser, sports psychologist at
Northwestern University Medical School.
''This undermines what people have been fighting for. Sports are supposed to be enjoyable, not a black vs. white issue.''
SICA president Roberta Berry stressed that the conference followed its bylaws and used a democratic process.
"But we will abide if we're instructed to by any higher levels,''
Berry said.


Princeton, Putnan County schools consider suing over No Child Left Behind rule
Craig Sterrett and Ron Bluemer, LaSalle NewsTribune, 1/25/05
Princeton and Putnam County school boards both are considering joining a class-action lawsuit to challenge barely-attainable mandates set up by two federal laws:
One law requires schools to mainstream special-education students or special-needs students, developing individualized education plans for them so they can learn at their own pace. Another law punishes schools if the special-education students don't learn — and perform on tests — at the pace expected of students at their age and grade levels.
IN GRANVILLE — Superintendent Mike Struna described the possibility of joining in a lawsuit with
Ottawa High School and several other area schools to challenge certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act passed by Congress.
According to Struna, Putnam County District is one of 200 schools now on the Early Academic Warning List for failure to improve for the second year in a row in all categories of students on mandated tests.
Putnam County schools actually improved for the last two years, but the subcategory of special-education students failed to improve in reading scores. So, Struna explained, the federal government views the district as failing to meet the federal standards.
If the grades overall and in subgroups fail to meet guidelines in the future, the penalties can become severe. The district now has to develop a school-improvement plan to address the current learning deficiencies. If the subcategories do not reach the specified goals in the next two years, 20 percent of Title funds may be diverted to pay for special education tutors. The money is now earmarked for programs that benefit students from low-income families. In a worse scenario, the state could replace the school board and take over the operation of the school district.

Several school board members expressed concern about the potential cost of litigation since only a few schools were asked to participate in the potential lawsuit. The superintendent explained that the cost to the district was impossible to determine at this point because it depended on whether each school would have to pay an equal amount — possibly $7,000-$8,000 — or if school contributions to the legal fees would be based on enrollment. If the latter choice were made,
Putnam County’s costs would be considerably less.
Struna said, “We have to be careful about our maximum contribution.” The board authorized Struna to pursue the matter at a meeting at
Ottawa High School on March 1 and to report back to the board.
Another option discussed by the board was the possibility of opting out of the requirements by not accepting federal grants, which account for about $200,000. Struna commented, “I cannot see this district foregoing these funds.”
Inquiries with federal officials seem to indicate that the federal government has no intention of backing down on the current requirements, and, in fact, may be planning to impose additional stipulations.
PRINCETON — Worries about legal costs have prevented some area school districts from joining Ottawa High School’s lawsuit over the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Princeton grade school board president Steve Bouslog worries about the costs of not taking a stand on the legal issue.
Some neighboring districts put the costs of joining the lawsuit at $10,000.
“But we have at risk the loss of all Title I funding if we are unable to … comply with No Child Left Behind,” Bouslog said, after the board’s meeting Monday.
The district could lose $120,000, by Bouslog’s estimate, in Title I funding as a punishment if elementary school special-education students’ test scores caused the district to fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress under the NCLB. Special education test scores district-wide have caused the school to miss AYP previously.
The NCLB law basically regards special education students or any student with an individualized education plan as a subgroup, like minorities or children from low-income homes.
Contrary to an article Monday in a
Peoria newspaper, the Princeton board did not vote Monday night to join a class-action suit over two conflicting and contradictory federal laws on education. But the Princeton board is not dropping the issue.
“We’ll tackle the financing when we choose to do it (sue the state and federal governments) or not,”
Princeton schools superintendent James Whitmore said.
Ottawa High School and Ottawa Grade School districts are trying to lead a lawsuit against wording in the NCLB law which requires special-education students, basically, to achieve at grade-level expectations for students their age. That flies in the face of the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, which requires public schools to develop individualized education plans for special-education students and to allow the students to achieve at their own pace.
During Monday’s meeting, Whitmore said he and the school board members have had an opportunity to review as much of the information about the lawsuit, and the information has been forwarded to the
Princeton schools’ attorney.
“We do not have the information back and I would suggest to the board we do not have enough information to approve (joining in the lawsuit),” Whitmore told the board.
The board decided to wait for a briefing from the attorney before deciding on the issue.


18 Fremd students cheated, officials say
Chad Brooks, Daily Herald, 1/26/05
Eighteen students at
Fremd High School in Palatine are facing disciplinary action after they were caught cheating on a final exam, district officials said Tuesday.
Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 spokesman Tom Petersen said due to confidentially issues, only a few details could be released. He did confirm that the cheating took place last week while students were taking final exams.
Petersen would not say in what class the incident took place, in an attempt not to imply guilt on all of the students when only 18 were accused of having cheated.
How a student was able to obtain a copy of the test before the exam date and how it was distributed to other members of the class were also details Petersen said he could not release. Those details, he said, could identify the students involved.
Petersen would not give information on what punishment the students are facing. He did say the students will lose credit for the course in which the cheating occurred.
Other punishments the students could face, according to the district's academic integrity policy, include suspension or expulsion.
"It is not like we have a history of this," Petersen said. "But if it does happen, the students will receive the appropriate disciplinary action."
A copy of the policy can be viewed on the district's Web site at

Parents, principal may have noise deal
Gala M. Pierce, Daily Herald, 1/26/05
J.B. Nelson Elementary School parents who petitioned against the use of a noise monitor in the lunchroom may have reached a compromise with Principal Brenda Sand.

Batavia principal agreed to keep it at a consistent level, no additional punishments be rendered other than the one-minute timeouts, and to address it in the student handbook.
"Hopefully, we can put this issue to a rest," Sand said.
Nine parents in the
Batavia school district met with Sand Monday and discussed several issues surrounding the "talk light." The 8-foot-tall device looks like a stoplight and turns from green to yellow and, eventually, red if children are too loud in the lunchroom.
If that happens, students must eat in silence for one minute.
More than 140 parents, who signed a petition, asked that the talk light be removed or its level turned down so it would not turn red so often.
Petitions were dropped off at the school administration offices recently, and parent Jamie Faber was pleased to report at Tuesday's school board meeting that the number of times the talk light was activated has decreased. She also voiced dismay at the school board and administration's indifference to their concerns.
"We want to leave with you tonight a request both as a parent and taxpayer: Please respond to issues that parents bring to you," Faber said.
Since mid-December, Sand had tweaked the talk light to a setting the parents and school appear happy with.
"It seems to address their concerns, and yet it has not allowed the behavior to escalate to the point where it has caused a problem in our lunchroom," Sand said.
Since Christmas break, the talk light has turned red 12 times the first week, 11 times the second and 4 times last week. Parents find the results more reasonable than before, when Sand was still experimenting with the setting.
From reports of students, parents say the talk light has gone off as many as 74 times in a given week, which they found ludicrous. Four times a week is more acceptable, parents said.
If Sand wants to change the setting, she now plans to inform parents ahead of time.
An upcoming project should further reduce the noise and beautify the lunchroom. The school's art teacher plans to create some paint murals on plywood and hopes to finish one or two in the spring.
"Even though plywood also will reflect sound, it will absorb more sound than cinderblock," Sand said.


A milestone for early childhood ed
Opinion by Cindy Richards,
Chicago Sun-Times, 1/26/05
A quick test to determine how much we know about early childhood education:

A quality preschool program
A. Ensures kids are ready to learn when they get to kindergarten.
B. Means a kid is more likely to graduate from high school and get a decent-paying job.
C. Returns as much as $17 for every dollar spent.
D. Makes it less likely a kid will end up on welfare or in prison.
E. All of the above.
The answer, of course, is E. All of those facts have been proven in studies over and over again.
Now there's a new fact: Child care and preschool is big business in
Illinois -- employing the equivalent of 56,000 full-time workers and ringing up $2.1 billion in gross income annually. Those stunning statistics are the highlight of the latest report on the benefits we reap when we take care of our youngest, most vulnerable citizens. The report, "The Economic Impact of the Early Care and Education Industry in Illinois," was published by three Chicago-based advocacy organizations, Chicago Metropolis 2020, Action for Children and the Illinois Facility Fund.
Monday's unveiling drew a crowd of child care advocates -- along with a sprinkling of business leaders. And that, said Maria Whelan, president of Action for Children and a tireless fighter for young children, is the point. "There are not a lot of people who don't get this [that investing in young children is good public policy] anymore," she said. But if the report focused on the benefits of educating kids, rather than the economic muscle of an industry, its release would not have captured the attention of the business community, she said.
And the "early care and education," industry has some muscle. In terms of gross income, it ranks right up there with the state's more politically savvy soybean business. It employs more workers than all of the hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts in the state.
The report noted that those are conservative estimates. Add in the nannies, baby-sitters and relatives who provide informal child care, and the number of employees rises to 77,000. Add in the child care homes, the money spent on supplies and other related expenditures, and the early care and education industry contributes far more than $2.1 billion to the state's economy.
Why is this more important than knowing that investing in a child's preschool development can benefit him -- and therefore, all of us -- for a lifetime? Because some folks need to hear every argument in terms of the economy, market value and return on investment.
"This reframes the argument in business terms," said state Sen. Don Harmon, (
D-Oak Park), a staunch supporter of early childhood education initiatives.
Once early care and education is seen as an industry, it can be included in discussions about economic development issues -- rather than just being seen as an education issue. In addition, the industry can advocate for support for its infrastructure needs -- everything from remodeled classrooms to new buildings -- just as a manufacturer does.
Gov. Blagojevich has long been a supporter of early childhood education. He is expected to keep doing things right next month when he announces his budget plan for yet another revenue-challenged year. Harmon said he expects Blagojevich to find another $30 million for early childhood education, fulfilling a pledge made when he became governor to come up with $90 million in additional preschool money in three years.
But it's never easy. The problem, as Blagojevich's director of education reform, Elliott Regenstein, put it so well, is that when there is no new money, every additional dollar has to come from another program and "there's someone holding on that dollar on the other side."
This study gives legislators a little more leverage for taking away that dollar -- even from recipients who can't claim such high returns on our taxpayer investment. There is no time to waste, Whelan said. "Only once are you 3 years old; only once are you 4. If we miss these critical years, we are going to pay later."

Kids need an earlier start
Chicago Tribune Editorial
For months, advocates of early childhood education have been buzzing that Gov. Rod Blagojevich plans to announce a bold initiative to vastly expand public schooling for preschoolers--provided he finds the funding for it.
In recent years, studies on the brain and how it develops most rapidly in the earliest years of life have forced us to change the way we regard learning. A major state initiative is the appropriate response. Education must begin far sooner than kindergarten. It has to begin at birth.
Here in
Illinois, at least a third of all schoolchildren begin kindergarten unprepared. Why? Because too many parents think all that's needed before kindergarten is baby-sitting. By the time these kids start school, they don't know their numbers or their colors. They arrive using only a handful of words. They don't know how to play constructively, or how to learn. And that makes it harder for them to succeed later.
Around the nation, lawmakers generally have been slow to respond. Only
Georgia and Oklahoma have dipped their big toes into the universal preschool world, theoretically making it available to any 4-year-old who needs it.
In the 1990s,
Illinois legislators ushered in an unprecedented expansion of early childhood education, prompted in part by the work requirements of welfare reform. Other funding also helped improve the quality of existing child care and preschool programs, and expanded the availability of all-day, all-year preschool for low-income working parents. A critical 11 percent portion of the state early childhood block grant money provides state-funded programs for infants, toddlers and their families. That makes advocates in other states view Illinois with envy.
Blagojevich is now in a position to take
Illinois' commitment to an even higher level and make his state the premier model in this nation for how to best prepare children for school.
The Tribune has learned that a special commission assembled by Blagojevich, the Illinois Early Learning Council, is about to recommend that preschool be made available to every 3- and 4-year-old whose family wants it, regardless of income. It's estimated that parents of 60 percent of
Illinois 4-year-olds, and of half of 3-year-olds, would take advantage of such an offer.
The council's hope is that the governor also would continue to allocate a significant--perhaps even larger than the current 11 percent--share to infant and toddler care as well, because, according to the late Irving Harris, a leading thinker and investor in early childhood education, even starting at age 3 is often too late.
The council also will propose to the governor that preschool teachers have at least bachelor's degrees and that program standards be established and enforced to ensure quality.
Blagojevich's staffers acknowledge that this agenda is under discussion, but haven't divulged what, if anything, he will propose.
These are radical ideas that make enormous sense. Copious research shows that perhaps the smartest public investment a state can make, with the loudest bang for the buck, is in quality early childhood programs.
Economist Art Rolnick, director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, argues that $1 invested in early childhood yields a $16 return over time--in lower welfare costs, less special education, less crime, greater likelihood of finishing college, higher lifetime income.
As "big ideas" go, this would be an excellent one for Blagojevich to choose, even if it has to be phased in over time. An agenda this ambitious will require creative funding. But measured by the thousands of lives it would improve, the effort would be well worth it.

State must increase funding for schools
Letter by Bindu Batchu, Campaign Manager, A+ Illinois, Chicago, Daily Herald
Thank you for your recent story on the Blagojevich administration's lack of progress in updating per-pupil funding levels to provide
Illinois students with a quality education.
Your story mentioned that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration increased education funding by $154 per pupil in its fiscal year 2005 budget, but in reality, this $154 is a mere $2 more than the cost of inflation for the year, according to the Consumer Price Index data issued by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Impact.
This "increase" barely covers inflation. What's more, schools still receive nearly $1,000 less per student than the minimum amount recommended by the Education Funding Advisory Board in 2002, when that recommendation is adjusted for increases in inflation.
The failure to update and meet the minimum school funding amount set by the state is a serious detriment to the quality of education schools can deliver to
Illinois' children.
The state of
Illinois is grossly behind in providing adequate school funding.
Right now, we are barely keeping up with rising costs; every day that passes, we are falling further behind.
We must do a better job of funding education in
Illinois, lest we shortchange our children's future, and the future vitality of our state.


Sub teacher taped eyes, pupils say
Verbal abuse is also reported
By Ana Beatriz Cholo, Tribune staff reporter,

Police and school officials are investigating reports that a substitute teacher at an elementary school on the South Side taped shut the eyes and mouths of 2nd graders earlier this week.

Students told the principal at
Esmond Elementary School, 1865 W. Montvale Ave., that the substitute verbally abused at least 10 children and then covered their eyes and mouths with tape early Tuesday afternoon.

The teacher has been temporarily taken off the substitute teacher list, said Michael Vaughn, a school district spokesman.

"She is entitled to an investigatory conference with the labor relations department," he said. "After that, we could discharge her from the substitute [teacher] database."

He said a letter to the substitute teacher was being drafted Thursday afternoon.

As the news continued to spread around the school Thursday, Becky Jenkins, who has a child at the school, asked, "What is wrong with that lady?" She called the alleged behavior "medieval" and said "that is totally unacceptable."

Students traded different stories of what the substitute teacher allegedly did. Several said she told the students to "shut up" and then she taped some of the eyes and mouths of the students. Some students got worse treatment than others, several students said. One child had his mouth taped four times, they said.

On Wednesday morning, students informed their regular teacher about the abuse they had received the day before. She then told the principal, Shirley Chapman.

Chapman reported it to the police and the Department of Children and Family Services. She also sent the substitute teacher home Wednesday when she reported for work at the school.

Vaughn said it was later in the day that the principal found out that the students' mouths and eyes had been taped.

Chapman declined to comment Thursday, but she sent a letter home to parents. In it, she wrote:

"Allegedly, the substitute teacher was unprofessional in the classroom. The substitute teacher was immediately removed from the building after notification of alleged wrongdoing."

She said the school had arranged for counseling services for the children, "to allow an opportunity for those affected to talk about their thoughts and feelings."

Police from a special unit that handles crimes involving children are investigating the incident, according to police spokesman Sgt. Robert Cargie.

No charges have been filed.

DCFS, which has initiated its own investigation, has not had prior contact with the teacher or
Esmond Elementary School, according to agency spokeswoman Diane Jackson.

Like all substitutes, the teacher had gone through the process of having a state and FBI background check and had a clean record, Vaughn said. She went on the active substitute teaching list on Nov. 24 and had about one dozen assignments since then, mostly in high schools, Vaughn said.


Felony charges filed in Woodruff shooting
Judge tells 15-year-old he is being charged as an adult
By ANDY KRAVETZ of the Journal Star, 1/28/05

PEORIA - A day after he allegedly fired three shots in a crowded high-school hallway, a Woodruff High School freshman faced felony charges that could send him to prison for up to 30 years.

Dione D. Alexander, 15, of
816 W. McClure Ave. shuffled into the third-floor courtroom at the Peoria County Courthouse, dressed in the white sweatshirt and blue pants worn by teens at the Juvenile Detention Center.

He sat glumly and quietly as Associate Judge Albert Purham Jr. told him he was being charged as an adult. Specifically, Alexander was charged with aggravated discharge of a firearm in a school, unlawful use of weapons and reckless discharge of a firearm, all felonies.

After hearing a brief recitation of facts by
Assistant State's Attorney David Kenny, the judge ordered Alexander held on $1 million bond. That means he'd have to post 10 percent, or $100,000, to get out of jail.

Alexander allegedly fired a gun at another youth Wednesday morning as classes emptied into the hallway. Kenny told the judge the two had a "verbal altercation."

"The defendant then handed his books to someone else and pulled a gun," Kenny said.

The intended victim then tried to knock the gun away from Alexander, to no avail.

No one was injured in the shooting. The high school and nearby
Lincoln Middle School immediately went into lockdown until authorities gave the all-clear signal.

Police arrested Alexander later at a house that is not in the vicinity of the school after several students and the intended victim identified him as the shooter, court records show. Police did recover some shell casings at the scene.

"To be the best of my knowledge, police are still looking for the gun," Kenny said.

Alexander was on probation for a misdemeanor conviction for attempted unlawful possession of a controlled substance. He had been charged in Peoria County Juvenile Court with felony drug possession charges but pleaded down to a misdemeanor.

As part of that plea, he was ordered to spend 15 months on probation and to take anger management counseling.

He also was found guilty in 2003 of unlawful possession of a stolen motor vehicle, a felony. He also received probation and was ordered to participate in the county's
Drug Court program, where the emphasis is on rehabilitation and treating the problem of addiction rather than punishment.

Alexander's case will now likely be bound over to the grand jury, which convenes every Thursday. If convicted of the more serious offense of aggravated discharge of a firearm, Alexander could face a mandatory prison sentence of not less than six years nor more than 30 years.


Bus driver faces drunken driving charge
By JASON PISCIA, State Journal-Register Staff Writer,

Springfield school bus driver was charged Thursday with driving under the influence.
He was seen driving an empty bus after a bank teller reported smelling alcohol on his breath, police said.

Johnnie E. Eveans, 42, of the 800 block of
South 14th Street was suspended from his job without pay pending completion of an investigation, according to a representative of Laidlaw Education Services, which transports District 186 students.

Police said Eveans had finished his morning route and drove the bus to Marine Bank,
2136 E. Cook St., to make a transaction. After he left at about 9:40 a.m., the teller notified an off-duty police officer working security in the bank that the man had a strong smell of alcohol on his breath.

The officer looked outside and saw the man get into an empty Laidlaw school bus and start to drive away. The officer stopped Eveans before he left the parking lot. After a short investigation, he was arrested on suspicion of DUI.

Doris Shelton,
Springfield branch manager for Laidlaw, said the company has a strict policy pertaining to alcohol use.

“We have zero tolerance,” she said. “Anyone who is found under the influence driving any of our vehicles or coming to work under the influence is automatic termination. That goes for all of our staff and mechanics, too.”

Shelton would not reveal which route Eveans drives.

According to
Sangamon County court records, Eveans’ only other run-ins with the law before Wednesday were traffic tickets for speeding and not wearing a seat belt in March 1996. He received court supervision and a fine for speeding. The seat-belt ticket was dismissed.




No Child Left Behind is here to stay
Opinion by Denis Doyle and Jason Palmer, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 1/23/05
(Denis Doyle is the co-founder and chief academic officer and Jason Palmer is a vice president of SchoolNet Inc. The company provides Web-based instructional management software and support services for school districts.)
Three years ago this month, President Bush signed the most far-reaching education legislation in half a century, felicitously titled the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002. Not since Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society has there been a vision of the federal role so sweeping or bold.

Indeed, it is easy to make the case that NCLB is even more daring than Johnson's original Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which at least paid lip service to local control.

NCLB makes no concessions: If you want Uncle Sam's money, you must play by Uncle Sam's rules. With NCLB, you can run, but you can't hide.

The reality that NCLB is here to stay is doubly ironic. The first irony is that it is brought to you compliments of the conservative ascendancy. The second irony is that most people like it -- which might help explain the first irony. Indeed, how can anyone oppose so high-minded an idea as leaving no child behind?

So what are the results? Three years into NCLB, are fewer children being left behind?

Although critics are numerous, according to one study done by the Education Trust ("Measured Progress: Achievement Rises and Gaps Narrow, But Too Slowly," October 2004) an honest assessment is that "in an overwhelming majority of states … gaps are narrowing while performance is up for all groups of students." That's ed-speak for good news.

The Education Trust studied math and reading results in 24 states and found 23 showing improvement in math and 15 in reading. However, 24,000 schools (or 25 percent of the total) did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in 2004. Even setting aside debates about the quality of tests or whether a value-added metric would be a better indicator. that is a very large number of schools needing improvement.

That said, something phenomenal is happening in the background. We are witnessing a sweeping cultural change in the business of education.

The growth of information technology (IT) in K-12 education is permitting schools to move from anecdotes and hunches to evidence-based decision-making. This cultural shift has even brought about changes in district leadership.

Eduventures, an education market research firm, estimates that 65 percent of large school districts now have CIOs, formerly a business-only role, which is becoming vital to effective education. Armed with data warehousing and instructional management solutions, these CIOs are changing the face of accountability and diagnostics from a personality-driven art to a data-driven enterprise.

Armed with detailed student performance information at the district and campus levels, superintendents and principals can allocate resources more effectively. Armed at the classroom level, teachers can use detailed student portfolios to deliver individualized instruction.

With modern IT, data is no longer a club with which to humiliate schools, teachers and students. Instead, it is a tool to improve performance through measurement.

Measuring student performance is the hot-button issue of NCLB. But there are tests, and there are tests. The best tests are "embedded" in instruction, giving both teacher and student instantaneous, useful and accurate feedback.

Philadelphia is a case in point. Using regular benchmark tests to gauge student achievement, teachers there have raised test scores across the board and are closing the achievement gap. Of Philadelphia's 265 schools, 160 met AYP standards this year vs. only 58 schools the year before.

In school districts large and small, IT is a necessary, if not sufficient, precondition for school improvement.

Although testing is the bane of teachers and students, a "good test" is one that measures what it purports to measure accurately, unobtrusively and rapidly. As every teacher and student knows, there is no better "teachable moment" than the epiphany experienced when a misunderstanding is instantly corrected.

Ambitious, radical and visionary it may be, but NCLB is here to stay. Although fine-tuning is inevitable in the next few years, NCLB will not go away.

The challenge -- and opportunity -- that our schools and students face is making it work. The final jury may still be out, but the trend lines are moving in the right direction.

Missouri lowers testing goals
Mike Sherry, The Kansas City Star
Missouri education officials Friday significantly lowered test-score targets that the state's public school children will be expected to meet this year to comply with a federal law.
The revision, which the U.S. Department of Education has approved at the request of state officials, has major implications for the state's 2,034 public schools, because failure to meet the proficiency standards can trigger federal No Child Left Behind Act penalties.
Under the new 2005 targets announced by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 26.6 percent of students will have to be proficient in communication arts, down from 38.8 percent. The math proficiency standard dropped to 17.5 percent from 31.1 percent.
It is unclear how many schools the change will affect.
The Kansas Board of Education has no plans to change its schedule for the state's proficiency benchmarks, said Kathy Toelkes, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Education.
Missouri educators had worried that the previous 2005 targets were unachievable, especially because they represented significant increases from last year's levels. The targets were established in a plan that the state had to have approved by federal officials.
Mindful of the concerns about meeting the targets, the state sought the revision from the federal government, said state education spokesman Jim Morris.
“We were afraid that teachers and schools would just throw up their hands” and say there was no way to meet the targets that were initially set out, Morris said.
Those comments were echoed by Brent Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards' Association, and several administrators in the metropolitan area.
The new targets, Ghan said, are “considerably more reasonable” and should be reachable for more schools.
Grandview School District Superintendent John Martin agreed.
“Some of our schools were ready (to make the higher leap). Some were going to struggle. I think it is a good thing right now. It will help give more schools an opportunity to win.
“Setting up criteria in which you're predestined to fail is not a good thing.”
The announcement of the revisions came Friday midafternoon, and
Kansas City School District spokesman Edwin Birch said the appropriate district officials were unavailable for comment.
Asked whether he thought administrators were breathing a sigh of relief, Ghan said, “I don't think I would say that. The targets will still be extremely challenging to meet.”
Lee's Summit School District is in a different boat.
It has been shooting for the old 2005 targets for the past couple of years. As a result, in 2004, the district was only two percentage points away, said Pete Muenks, director of testing and assessment.
With the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act three years ago, student test scores on the Missouri Assessment Program took on heightened importance. Under the law, students across the country are required to be proficient in math and reading by 2014.
Schools that fail to progress sufficiently from year to year can be labeled as needing improvement.
In the case of schools that receive Title 1 money for low-income students, repeated failure to make adequate yearly progress can force schools to take a variety of corrective measures, including offering students a chance to transfer to a different school and having to provide “supplemental services” such as tutoring.


Dade suit over school funding falters
A lawsuit challenging how
Florida funds large urban school districts remained alive, although barely, after a judge threw out key provisions.
Miami Herald, 1/25/05

TALLAHASSEE - A bid by the Miami-Dade school district to undo the way the state doles out money for public schools was seriously damaged Monday after a Tallahassee judge threw out most of the district's lawsuit.

The district first went to court over the summer, after the Florida Legislature reduced the amount of money that Miami-Dade and other South Florida counties traditionally received to help pay for higher living costs. The change in the funding method has helped direct millions more to counties such as
Orange, Leon and Duval, the home county of former Senate President Jim King, who was instrumental in altering the formula.

Lawmakers directed that the change take place, but they never actually passed a law spelling out the new way to hand out money to schools. In its lawsuit, Miami-Dade attorneys maintained that by doing it that way, legislators violated the state Constitution and that the state Department of Education lacked the authority to parcel out the state's $15 billion public schools budget differently than it had in years past.

But Circuit Court Judge P. Kevin Davey sided with lawyers hired by the Legislature, throwing out two of the three parts of the lawsuit. Davey ruled that changing the cost-of-living formula did not violate the state's requirement that school funding be done in a uniform way. He also ruled that legislators did not use the state budget to change a stand-alone law, which is also prohibited by the state Constitution.

The judge accepted the premise that lawmakers had simply endorsed a change proposed by economists working on behalf of the Department of Education, even though there was substantial legislative debate about the proposal and plenty of hard-ball politics behind it: King demanded the formula change in exchange for supporting proposals pushed by then-House Speaker Johnnie Byrd to slash gas taxes and boost pay for correctional officers and highway troopers.

The judge, however, kept alive a portion of the lawsuit that questions whether the Department of Education had the authority to alter how it hands out the state money without changing state law first.

Davey said the new formula is a ''major change'' and that it was unclear whether the Legislature intended such a change.

In order to answer that question, Davey said that both sides in the dispute must hold another hearing, complete with witnesses.

One of the lawyers representing the Legislature was pleased with Monday's ruling.

''We're chewing away at it,'' said W.C. Gentry, a
Jacksonville attorney. ``I think we're in good shape.''

Jack McLean, one of the lawyers for the Holland & Knight law firm representing Miami-Dade schools, said the fact that Davey concedes the alteration of the formula is a major change gives the county hope that it can still prevail in the lawsuit.

Both Miami-Dade and Broward school districts received $16 million less this year under the new cost-of-living formula than they would have under the old version.


'Starving' Schools Need Tax Hikes, O'Connell Says
State education chief criticizes governor's proposed withholding of promised funds. High expectations require more money, he says.
By Jean Merl,
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 1/25/05

Stepping up his campaign against the governor's proposal for education spending in the coming budget year,
California's elected schools chief called for higher taxes Monday as the best means to "stop starving our schools."

Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, in his second annual "state of education" speech, painted a dark picture of the state's school-finance system, linking students' poor performance, when measured against those in other states, with its near-bottom ranking in school spending.

"We have created world-class expectations for our students and schools in
California, but we simply aren't funding our schools at the level they need to produce world-class results," O'Connell said. "California is not investing in its future."

O'Connell and other Democratic elected officials have been criticizing Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget plan, which was unveiled earlier this month. They are urging parents, teachers and others to protest the governor's proposal to provide schools with about $2.3 billion less than they are entitled to under Proposition 98, a voter-approved initiative that guarantees a minimum amount of the state budget for education.

To help the then-new governor close a record budget deficit last year, education leaders agreed to forgo about $2 billion in Proposition 98 money. Schwarzenegger promised that he would give schools the full amount due this year but changed his mind when he realized that the state was still facing a large deficit. O'Connell and other Democrats have urged the governor to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Californians, who have benefited most from federal tax cuts.

The governor, however, has stuck by another promise — not to raise taxes — and his aides said he is unwilling to gut healthcare and other social services to the poorest Californians to provide more money to schools in the 2005-06 budget year.

As it is, the governor's budget calls for an increase in education spending but not as much as promised.

"The budget problem the governor has inherited was not caused by Californians being taxed too little," said H.D. Palmer, the governor's spokesman on the budget, "but by a spending system that is driving the state to spend money it doesn't have."

Palmer said the wealthiest Californians pay 73% of the state's personal income taxes. "It's not as if we are not taxing high-income people," he said.

On Monday, O'Connell repeated his call for full Proposition 98 funding and urged voters to back an initiative — now in the planning stages — that would lower the margin of approval for local parcel taxes for schools from two-thirds to 55%. The measure would give school districts a way to raise money for teacher salaries, smaller classes and textbooks.

Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the parcel tax proposal, Palmer said.

Even with a 25% increase in per-pupil spending — significantly less than the governor proposes —
California would remain behind several other states, including New York, New Jersey and Wisconsin, O'Connell said.

By not providing schools with adequate budgets, O'Connell said, "we are setting our students up for failure. I believe Californians will refuse to do that."

In a wide-ranging, 45-minute speech in
Sacramento, O'Connell also reiterated his earlier call for free preschool for all 4-year-olds, at an estimated cost of $2 billion to $2.5 billion.

He also announced that he would form a special advisory council to align instruction from preschool through college, and promised to continue his push for high school reforms and for measures to combat childhood obesity.

Among other measures aimed at improving students' health, O'Connell said, he wants to expand a statewide ban on sodas in public elementary and middle schools to high schools.


Bible Breaks at Public Schools Face Challenges in Rural Virginia
By Carol Morello,
Washington Post Staff Writer, 1/23/05

STAUNTON, Va. -- Lunch is over and some classes already are at recess when a group of schoolchildren at McSwain Elementary stands up, puts on coats, walks 200 feet across the playground and files into Memorial Baptist Church.

Over the next half-hour, the Bible shapes the lesson plan.

The children pray, sing and play games with a Christian theme. In one class, 12 third-graders hear a story and pray to Jesus, repenting for acting "growly." In another, third-graders eagerly offer 24 names for Jesus. They praise the Lord in song: "You're my savior, you're my messiah." They bow their heads and repeat the Lord's Prayer.

Then they don their coats again, leave the church and trek back to rejoin the few classmates whose parents declined to enroll their children in the weekday religious classes.

The scene is repeated with different groups of children four times a day, each Monday and Wednesday, at McSwain and three other public elementary schools in

For 65 years, weekday Bible classes have been part of the fabric of growing up in this town of 24,000 in
Augusta County and in a score of other small towns and hamlets in rural Virginia. It is such an accepted tradition that 80 to 85 percent of the first-, second- and third-graders in Staunton participate.

But now, the practice is being challenged by a group of parents who have asked the School Board to end or modify weekday religious education. Not only do they fear that their children are stigmatized for not attending, but in a decidedly 21st-century twist, they also argue that interrupting class for Bible study hinders efforts to meet state and national standards for test scores.

"I just think a Christian outreach program doesn't belong in the school day," said Beverly Riddell, one of several parents who protested to the School Board. "The bar is being raised on both the [Standards of Learning] and No Child Left Behind. Overall, we're doing great on the SOLs, but there are still children who are failing them. That means we're in some sense failing them."

The issue has stirred passions in this otherwise tranquil town off Interstate 81 that is the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson.

More than 400 people attended a recent School Board meeting that lasted four hours, until everyone had a say. Many said after-school Bible classes would be impractical because they would conflict with the schedules of working parents. More than 1,000 residents signed a petition urging the School Board to continue the weekly Bible classes in the middle of the school day.

"If they flout the will of the people in the community, we'll schedule a recall election, and we'll kick them out," said Jack Hinton, head of a group affiliated with the Virginia Council of Churches that funds and administers the classes. "We have a small core of a group philosophically opposed to any connection between religiosity and schools. They're articulate and persuasive, but they are in the minority."

Bible classes in public schools were once common across the nation. The first proponents in the early years of the last century were liberal Protestant reformers who believed Christianity would mitigate the evils of segregation and war, according to Jonathan Zimmerman, author of "Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools."

Virginia, weekday religious education gained momentum in the 1920s when a majority of high school students flunked a simple Bible test. The first classes were held in the Washington region in 1929 in Arlington and Fairfax counties.

For decades, the lessons were conducted inside public school classrooms. But in its 1948 decision McCollum v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that the lessons violated the principle of separation of church and state. Amid criticism that it was atheistic, the court returned to the issue four years later in Zorach v. Clauson. That decision approved classes held away from school premises, ruling that the practice might be unwise from an educational viewpoint but that to prevent it would be hostile to religious freedom.

Over the years, the classes' popularity dwindled. Today, weekday Bible classes are held in about 20 locations throughout
Virginia. Almost all are in rural communities along the I-81 corridor.

According to the Virginia Council of Churches, 12,073 students are enrolled, including some in
Waynesboro and Natural Bridge and Rockingham County.

Even there, they are coming under increasing pressure as once-homogenous areas grow more diverse, attracting newcomers who come from different countries and traditions, or from urban areas where the practice was abandoned long ago.

At first incredulous, many of those newcomers turn to the American Civil Liberties Union.

"One of the most common calls we receive comes from people who've moved from other states, particularly north of Virginia, into rural communities in southwest Virginia," said Kent Willis, director of the ACLU's Virginia chapter. "They call and ask, 'Is this legal?' They've never experienced it before."

After explaining Zorach, Willis asks for details on how the program is run to ensure that it meets the legal test. Teachers cannot encourage participation, for example. But few ever pursue the issue.

"These are close-knit communities," he said. "Even if they object, they understand they will generate a lot of controversy and be fairly unpopular as a result."

Opponents in
Staunton were emboldened after the School Board in nearby Harrisonburg voted in August to end weekday religious classes that had existed for 75 years.

Citing tougher academic achievement standards, the board said students needed to spend the 30 minutes a week set aside for Bible classes boning up for achievement tests.

In the ensuing weeks, several
Staunton parents contacted School Board members and suggested that they follow suit. A decision is expected in mid-February.

School officials say they are confident that they meet the constitutional requirements.

At the beginning of each school year, students take permission slips home that must be signed by their parents if they wish to attend. Program volunteers escort the children to and from classes -- held in churches or mobile homes adjacent to the schools. Teachers' salaries are paid through contributions from churches, and the curriculum is fashioned to reinforce lessons in SOL guidelines.

"We don't participate or encourage participation," said Harry Lunsford, the superintendent of schools. Children who do not attend stay in their classroom to do artwork or remedial studies, he said.

"Generally, new work is not started, because the majority would fall behind," Lunsford said.

Bible Breaks at Public Schools Face Challenges in Rural Virginia

Some parents say that time is wasted.

"The children left behind in the classroom have nothing meaningful to do," said Heather Ward, who moved to the area from
New York City and has decided not to enroll her young son and daughter when they start attending school. "It's busywork. Coloring or drawing. There are some who choose to send their child simply because the alternative is to be ostracized and just sit there."

Amy Diduch, who teaches economics at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, said she felt fortunate that one-third of the children in her daughter's first-grade class do not attend.

"We happen to be Christians, but we do not want her to be a part of excluding other children," she said. "They get worksheets to do. She tolerates them, but they're not advancing her education. What bothers me is that the ones left behind are at a loss for additional instruction."

Supporters say the classes encourage model behavior that benefits everyone.

"The basis is definitely Christian, but it's not fire and brimstone," said Andrea Oakes, who has enrolled two of her three children in the classes. "The teachings are more history, geography and character-building. It's about learning to be a good person, a good citizen, even good manners. It teaches children not to lie, steal or cheat, and to abide by the law. It's a program that has worked well for our city."

David Cook, who enjoyed the classes as a child and now has enrolled his son, said the program is not so time-consuming that it hurts academics.

"It equates to six minutes a day of school time," he said. "How that would be detrimental to standards of learning, it's hard for me to fathom."

Charles C. Haynes, a senior scholar at the Freedom Forum's
First Amendment Center in Arlington, said schools attempting to follow the spirit of the law need to ensure that children who opt out are not neglected.

"Parents ought to pressure the school to make sure their kids get the attention they deserve," he said. "It's not time off for teachers. If teachers are doing their job, the parents should be celebrating because their kids get extra academic help."

James Harrington, an education professor at
Mary Baldwin College who is head of the Staunton School Board, said he believes the status quo is not working.

"If we were talking teenagers, it would be less of a concern to me," he said. "The system requires a 6-year-old child to occasionally defend his or her belief system to teachers and classmates. It doesn't happen often, but the system is vulnerable to occasional lapses. We don't have the luxury of leaving it up to our best hopes."

The third-graders just think the lessons are fun.

Most are now attending Bible classes for the third year. They said they never have heard anybody say anything mean to the students who do not attend.

"They're missing a lot of good stuff," said Olivia Pyanoe, who gave a short speech to the School Board in support of the classes. "I told them it's good to go. Some kids don't attend Sunday school classes."


Schools chief wants $2.3 billion owed by state
Carrie Sturrock, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer,

State public schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell urged the governor Monday to pay schools a promised $2.3 billion to avoid further harm to an educational system already challenged by large numbers of impoverished students, many of whom are learning English.

In his state of education address Monday in
Sacramento, O'Connell criticized Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for presenting a fiscal dilemma in next year's budget: a choice between health care programs for the poor and elderly and funding schools.

Really, O'Connell said, it's a choice between tax relief for the wealthiest Californians and funding for health and schools. "Investment in our schools now is the most rational way to improve
California's economy," he said. "Without that investment, our businesses will not have a prepared workforce to hire."

O'Connell also called for lowering the vote threshold for local parcel taxes from a two-thirds majority to 55 percent -- the same threshold for most school construction bond measures -- to make it easier for communities to raise money for school operations.

The governor proposes spending $35.9 billion on schools, up 4.2 percent from this year. But under voter-approved Proposition 98, which establishes funding levels for education, the state owes K-12 public schools $1.1 billion for the current school year and $1.2 billion for next year.

Schools agreed to give up the money last year on the condition that the state repay it this year and next. Over the past four years, schools have lost out on $9.8 billion in Proposition 98 funding.

H.D. Palmer, a budget spokesman for the governor, said that in order to give the schools $2.3 billion, "we would have to make deep and substantial reductions in health and welfare program, things like healthy families and programs for the developmentally disabled. The governor chose not to go there."

O'Connell quoted recent studies stating that Californians invest less in public schools than they did 30 years ago, that the state is eighth from last nationwide in per-pupil spending, that 40 percent of California students are from low-income or impoverished families, that 25 percent are learning English and that 43 school districts are on the brink of fiscal ruin, with seven already taken over by the state.

"Even if we increased per-pupil spending by 25 percent today, we would not come even close to what New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Vermont or even Wyoming spend to educate their students," O'Connell said. "We'd still not be in the top 10 states when it comes to investing in our children."

Although he didn't directly attack the governor's proposal to institute merit pay for teachers and scrap a system based largely on length of service and education level, O'Connell emphasized that California's educational problems had to do with inadequate funding -- not teachers.

After his speech, O'Connell said in a telephone interview that he has never seen a merit-pay system that works and that it creates unhealthy competition among teachers.

"I would much rather see teachers work in collaboration," he said.

On other subjects, O'Connell called for making voluntary preschool available to all and said he planned to establish the "California P-16 council" to coordinate and integrate education for students in pre-school through college.

He applauded Schwarzenegger's efforts to make schools a healthier place by promoting nutrition and fitness and said he intended to support legislation to adopt health education standards for schools.

He repeated his earlier calls to improve high school education in
California: He will lead an effort to develop a state review process to ensure that high school instructional materials are closely aligned with state standards.

California has the most diverse and challenging student population in the nation," he said. "It is past time for our state to examine and identify the true costs of providing an excellent education to every child, regardless of background or challenges brought to the classroom."


School budget forecast: gloomy
A report required of the governor on whether education will get enough money concedes setbacks and sacrifices are all too assured
Betsy Hammond, The Oregonian, 1/25/05

Gov. Ted Kulongoski spelled out Monday what Oregonians should expect from their public schools under his proposed spending plan for the next two years: bigger class sizes, fewer instructional days, stagnating achievement, a narrowed curriculum, less help for students with special needs.

That assessment came in a written report, required by
Oregon voters every two years, on whether the state is giving schools enough money.

Unlike two years ago, when Kulongoski criticized his own education spending plans, the governor this time lauds his plan to spend $5 billion on education as a "first step in stabilizing school funding" and "a solid foundation."

But he also said it probably would spell an end to improving reading and math achievement that marked the state's public schools over the past decade.

He added, "Students will have fewer opportunities to achieve in other academic areas as the curriculum becomes narrower, instructional time is reduced, and schools are less able to meet diverse student needs."

On the bright side, the report says,
Oregon will begin living within its means, teachers and principals do great work, and Kulongoski has a plan to create a rainy-day fund that could begin bolstering schools by 2009.

The governor's report concludes that the $5 billion he proposes to spend on schools in 2005-07 is too little money to do the job but that that's all
Oregon can afford, given sagging income tax revenue.

The governor's proposed school aid is $84 million more than what is being spent this biennium. But it would result in cuts because school salaries, health insurance and pension costs are projected to increase faster than state aid and property taxes during the next two years.

The governor's report also says his spending plan will force
Oregon's universities and community colleges to increase tuition again. And it says the share of needy preschoolers who will receive Head Start will shrink from 60 percent to 53 percent.

"This is an amount of funding we know we can sustain," Kulongoski writes. "The current severe shortfall and revenue structure does not allow us to fund (education) at a level I consider adequate."

James Sager, Kulongoski's education adviser, said the governor deserves credit for his honesty.

"He was committed to building an honest budget, not one built on wishful thinking," Sager said. "And he thinks it is better to be honest about the impact than to gloss over the reality. We cannot continue to ask our schools to do more with less."

What the report tells

Under a measure approved by
Oregon voters in 2000, the governor is required to report on the adequacy of his education spending plans, the reasons for any inadequacy and the way that will impact student achievement in Oregon.

Susan Castillo,
Oregon's schools superintendent, disagreed with the governor, a fellow Democrat. She scoffed at his statement that he does not have "the luxury" to put more money into education.

"Kids who are in school today can't wait until 2009 for help," she said. "This is about what happens in our classrooms today.

"Education is not a luxury. If there's a flood and we run to get sandbags or a forest fire and we as a state take measures to put it out, we don't consider that a luxury.

"Setting our sights low, and talking about more layoffs and a shorter school year and counselors going away -- I think
Oregon is better than that," Castillo said.

Praise for Kulongoski

But Rep. Dan Doyle, R-Salem, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Ways & Means, said Kulongoski is right that $5 billion is the most the state can afford. That's sound fiscal management, Doyle said.

"I share the governor's frustrations that more funds aren't available, but I thought he did a great job making the decisions the way he did."

Doyle said Kulongoski's report is too pessimistic about the impact on schools.

"I am much more optimistic about the work that our teachers and our students and our parents can do together," Doyle said. "I am confident that we as a state will continue to meet our achievement goals."

Sager said the governor would be willing to spend more on education if the Legislature can agree on where to find that money. "If the Legislature can determine additional resources for schools that are stable, ongoing sources, then governor is all ears," he said. "That is clearly a conversation the Legislature can have."


Don’t abandon “No Child Left Behind”
Virginian-Pilot Editorial,

Virginia’s school superintendents would like to be rid of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Who could blame them? NCLB makes demands that are next to impossible to fulfill. Students at poorly performing schools get to transfer elsewhere, even though there may not be an “elsewhere” to send them. Every nook and cranny of the student population gets exposed to scrutiny. All the warts are put out in the open.

It’s not enough that middle-class white students pull up the scores of everyone else. Black students must improve under the law. So must Latinos. So must those who speak English as a second language and those who have special learning needs.

Inconveniently, “No Child” pretty much means “no child.”

Even so, pulling
Virginia out of the program, as the superintendents advocated at a press conference last week, would be a big mistake.

Lawmakers should empathize with the superintendents, but firmly resist. Advocating for realistic amendments, as did the state Board of Education , would better serve the children of

Wise strategists crafting a far-reaching reform start out asking for a full loaf. That’s what the architects of NCLB did. Rather than acknowledge from Day One that not all children may succeed, they wrote a law expecting that all would.

Already, adjustments have been made in those expectations. More need to come. Getting everyone’s attention required uncompromising standards. Now that everyone understands NCLB isn’t a passing fancy, the federal government should make some common-sense changes.

Board of Education recommendations that failing students be allowed to retake the tests and that transfer requirements apply only to failing students make particularly good sense.

But pulling
Virginia out entirely would rob children in some of the state’s worst schools of the benefits of the laws’s toughest sanctions.

Schools that continually fail to make adequate progress may have to revamp staff, adopt a new curriculum, or take steps such as extending the school year.

Those demands will create enormous headaches. But they may also compel school divisions to improve.

The possible reward, better lives for scores of children, is worth the effort and the pain.

School administrators can’t squeeze water out of stone. But they can work with state and federal officials to amend truly impossible requirements, while acknowledging that years of “business as usual” left many children poorly educated.

Every available tool, including an evolving NCLB law, should be exploited to give those children the education they deserve.


Colo. online students have poor grades

DENVER -- Students from kindergarten to 12th grade who take online courses in Colorado are performing worse than statewide averages, according to a state report.
Online students were forced to repeat grades four times more often than the statewide average last year, and a higher percentage were rated "unsatisfactory" on standardized math tests, according to Colorado Department of Education figures.

Online school operators defended their programs, saying they draw a high number of students who have failed in traditional schools or have other problems.

"What makes us look so bad is about 75 percent of our (online) students coming to us are high at-risk," said Bill Hines, superintendent of the Vilas School District in southeast Colorado, which has 350 online students and fewer than 100 traditional students.

State Sen. Sue Windels plans to introduce a bill creating a statewide authority to hold online schools accountable. It would cover both cyberschools and traditional districts that offer online courses.


Wis. Fires Back Over Summer Homework Suit

MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsin's attorney general responded Wednesday to a student's lawsuit to end mandatory summer homework, arguing the state cannot set rules for local school boards.
The response from Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, mailed Wednesday to Milwaukee County Circuit Court and obtained by The Associated Press, asks for dismissal of the suit and demands lawyers' fees for what it called an "unmeritorious complaint."

Limiting homework is beyond the authority of the state superintendent of public instruction, Lautenschlager said.

"It is the local school boards which determine the curriculum and course requirements," she said.

She added that the rule requiring 180 days of school every year for high school students "sets a minimum, not a maximum."

Peer Larson, a 17-year-old junior at Whitnall High School in suburban Hales Corners, and his father, Bruce, filed suit two weeks ago demanding that students be able to decide whether to complete summer homework.

They contended the tasks created an unfair workload and unnecessary stress.

They took the matter to court after the younger Larson was required to complete three pre-calculus assignments for his honors math class last summer, even though he was working at a demanding job as a camp counselor.

Bruce Larson said Wednesday that he had not yet received a copy of the state's response and would not comment.


School district cancels spelling bee
Ronald R. Blais, Wonsocket Call
LINCOLN -- Karen Adams always enjoyed receiving her invitation. The WPRI-TV news anchorwoman and Lincoln resident looked forward to penciling in the school district’s spelling bee in her appointment calendar.
But there’s no note in her calendar this year. The
Lincoln district has decided to eliminate this year’s spelling bee -- a competition involving pupils in grades 4 through 8, with each school district winner advancing to the state competition and a chance to proceed to the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C.
Through the years, it had become a tradition for
Adams to pronounce and define spelling words used in the bee.
"It was just fun," she said last Monday from her office at the television studio.
Assistant Superintendent of Schools Linda Newman said the decision to scuttle the event was reached shortly after the January 2004 bee in a unanimous decision by herself and the district’s elementary school principals.
The administrators decided to eliminate the spelling bee, because they feel it runs afoul of the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
"No Child Left Behind says all kids must reach high standards," Newman said. "It’s our responsibility to find as many ways as possible to accomplish this."
The administrators agreed, Newman said, that a spelling bee doesn’t meet the criteria of all children reaching high standards -- because there can only be one winner, leaving all other students behind.
"It’s about one kid winning, several making it to the top and leaving all others behind. That’s contrary to No Child Left Behind," Newman said.
A spelling bee, she continued, is about "some kids being winners, some kids being losers."
As a result, the spelling bee "sends a message that this isn’t an all-kids movement," Newman said.
Furthermore, professional organizations now frown on competition at the elementary school level and are urging participation in activities that avoid winners, Newman said. That’s why there are no sports teams at the elementary level, she said as an example.
The emphasis today, she said, is on building self-esteem in all students.
"You have to build positive self-esteem for all kids, so they believe they’re all winners," she said. "You want to build positive self-esteem so that all kids can get to where they want to go."
A spelling bee only benefits a few, not all, students, the elementary principals and Newman agreed, so it was canceled.
While she concedes she’s not familiar with the specifics of No Child Left Behind,
Adams, nevertheless, is befuddled by the school department’s decision.
"I don’t see where that (No Child Left Behind) has anything to do with a spelling bee. It was just a fun time,"
Adams said.
Winning a spelling bee, she added, "just meant you were a good speller."
One aspect she enjoyed about participating in her hometown spelling bee was the openness of the competition.
"It’s not always the straight "A" student who wins the spelling bee," she said.
A spelling bee also is a chance for children to shine before their peers, family and friends,
Adams points out.
"It’s a big deal for the kids. It’s a nice recognition for them," she said.
Competing in a spelling bee is also a learning experience, the anchorwoman believes. "It was fun for the kids because it gave them poise and confidence to stand in front of a crowd."
Adams admits she’ll miss the bee.
"I just loved the kids. They were so cute. My heart broke every time a kid missed," she said. "I really enjoyed it."
Adams wasn’t the only one caught off guard by the spelling bee’s cancellation.
"I had no idea this (spelling bee) was called off," School Committee Chairman Jeff Weiss said last Friday.
The chairman reserved further comment until he could get more information. "I have no comment because I don’t know what’s going on," the chairman said.
Canceling the spelling bee is an administrative decision that doesn’t require School Committee approval, Newman said.
Karen Martin, whose daughter, Brianna, won last year’s bee, said she was surprised the bee had been eliminated, describing its cancellation as "strange."
Although her daughter was nervous, Martin believes it was a good experience for Brianna. "It was exciting to go to the state competition," the mother said.
Adams, Martin said she’ll miss the bee.
"I’m disappointed. I thought it was a fun activity," she said.
The administrators’ decision to eliminate the bee wasn’t a difficult one, Newman said.
"There was no debate at all. It was one of the easiest decisions," the assistant superintendent said because "there was no question among the administrators" that a spelling bee was "contrary to the expectations" of No Child Left Behind.


Wis. school expelled from voucher program
AP, 1/27/05  

MILWAUKEE -- The state terminated a school from its Milwaukee voucher program Thursday, after police were called to break up a melee Monday that included an estimated 100 students.
Children told police there were no teachers at the
Academic Solutions Center for Learning when the fighting broke out in a classroom and the melee later developed in a common area while officers were investigating the first fight.

According to the order from the state Department of Public Instruction, children told police that teachers either didn't show up for work or called in sick because they hadn't been paid.

The DPI order, signed by Deputy Superintendent Anthony Evers, said the five to seven school security officers and about two administrators in the common area were unable to control the situation. Police issued several citations to students involved.

Police had been called to the school five other times since mid-November, and the school was not meeting terms of its building occupancy certificate, the DPI said.

DPI officials said they concluded the school posed an imminent threat to the health and safety of students, which violates rules for the program, so they terminated it.

That means the school won't get state aid payments through the program until all requirements are met and administrators show they can safely run the school.

The state previously challenged the school's claims of enrolling 700 students, saying it actually had under 500. The voucher program pays about $5,900 per student, allowing low-income families in
Milwaukee to send their children to private schools at taxpayer expense.

Milwaukee Public Schools scheduled an open house Feb. 3 to give students from the former voucher school and their parents the opportunity to select an MPS school to attend.

Republicans in the Legislature have been working to raise the enrollment cap on the program for next fall, arguing that an additional 1,500 students are likely to seek a spot, which would raise the total over the current cap of 15 percent of MPS enrollment.


Tougher diploma rules may ease a bit
Proposals would relax some new standards; educators ask state officials not to rush plan.
By Staci Hupp,
Indianapolis Star, 1/26/05

State officials have backed away from some parts of a groundbreaking plan to require tougher math and science classes for a high school diploma.

A series of adjustments might delay the plan's adoption but won't stop the effort to transform what has been one of the nation's easiest diplomas to earn.

The changes would:

• Drop the requirement that high school students take math through their senior year, which eases fears that children in special education would founder in pre-calculus classes.

• Protect children who tried the tougher classes but failed by letting them return to the track for a basic, less demanding diploma.

• Expand the selection of optional classes for a basic diploma beyond math, science and career planning to include language arts, social studies, foreign languages and fine arts.

Supporters say higher diploma standards would fall in line with state goals to better prepare students for college and the workplace. Students who can't handle the proposed new standards could opt out and still graduate by meeting minimum requirements.

Nearly two dozen school officials from throughout
Indiana asked members of the State Board of Education at its Tuesday meeting to put off making a decision on the diploma proposal next week. The board is the last stop before the plan is implemented.

"There is no emergency that necessitates imposing these new rules in a rushed fashion," said Mytron Lisby, who oversees secondary education for Vigo County Schools in
Terre Haute.

School officials peppered board members with complaints that the plan would divert money needed for elementary and middle school grades while high schools added classes; set back schools with high rates of poverty in the race to meet federal standards for improvement; and add a layer of red tape.

The proposal still lacks a price tag. Critics say the changes also would encourage middle-schoolers to put off algebra and geometry until high school, because the advanced math classes wouldn't count toward the new diploma unless the students passed them in high school.

"To a sixth-grader, that doesn't make much sense," said Doug Williams, superintendent of Perry Township Schools and past president of the Indiana Urban Schools Association. "We'd have fewer kids taking courses in middle school years, and they'd wait until high school. When they finish, they would accomplish a lower level of mathematics than they would otherwise."

The plan calls for making the decade-old Core 40 diploma program a graduation requirement starting with the Class of 2011. Now it is offered as a more difficult academic option to the state's minimum graduation requirements.

Under the proposal, a student would need three years of math -- two in algebra and one in geometry. The program now requires two years, one of them in algebra and another in an overview class.

Board of Education members hinted that a delay in the Core 40 decision is possible.

"I do understand there were deep concerns about the financial implications of what will be passed," said Daniel Tanoos, a board member from
Terre Haute. "I'm ready to vote on it next week if all the questions are answered. If they're not answered, I think we might have to wait."

Education officials will put the finishing touches on a financial impact report before the Board of Education's meeting Feb. 2.

A key education panel recommended the revamped high school requirements in August in what state leaders called the biggest proposed overhaul of graduation requirements in a decade.

Members of the Indiana Education Roundtable also want to tie college scholarships and admission to the Core 40 diploma, although that decision will come later.

Educators have criticized the Core 40 plan almost from day one. But the state education board's modifications were a relief, some school officials say.

"Had they not made those changes, it would have been far more contentious than it was" Tuesday, Williams said. "I think what they're trying to accomplish is a good thing, but the timing isn't good to propose something that will cost more money."

Timing, however, appears to be a never-ending issue, Tanoos said.

"I think one problem we have in education is, we talk and talk and talk some more," he said. "We need to come up with an answer, get on with it and move forward."


Choice may allow a racial backslide
Judging by parents' applications, some Pinellas schools could become largely resegregated unless something is done to head it off.
WINCHESTER, St. Petersburg Times Staff Writers, 1/23/05

Pinellas County's school choice plan appears likely to fall short of its most important goal: preventing a return to racially segregated schools.

Though the plan is successfully integrating some schools, it has failed to work in many others, a Times analysis shows. Nearly three years into choice, large numbers of Pinellas families - white and black - have ignored the district's call to integrate voluntarily.

"Could we not have predicted this when they came up with the choice plan?" chided School Board member Mary Brown, a critic of choice who was elected after the plan took effect.

The situation is prompting district officials to look for fixes.

"I think we need to start planning, based on these numbers, if we want an integrated school system," said School Board member Jane Gallucci.

If application trends hold true:

Several elementary schools in
St. Petersburg would become predominantly black for the first time in more than 30 years.

More black students would attend Gibbs and
Lakewood high schools, threatening to disrupt racial balances that have taken years to cultivate.

Two middle schools - Bay Point and John Hopkins - would face a similar challenge.

A number of elementary schools in south and mid Pinellas would become far less diverse. Some enrollments would go from majority white to almost exclusively white as black students continue to opt for schools closer to home. More than a dozen mid-county schools already have gone in that direction.

The choice plan prevents those changes from occuring now. A system of race ratios known as "controlled choice" keeps many schools artificially integrated. But those controls expire at the end of the 2006-07 school year.

After that, a powerful social dynamic will continue to work against diversity: Schools that get anywhere close to 50 percent black often become predominantly black because many white parents avoid schools where their children could be in the minority.

The prospect of declining diversity emerges in a Times analysis of choice applications submitted by parents over the past three years. Applications are a gauge of a school's popularity, providing a glimpse of how schools will look when race ratios no longer determine enrollment.

The analysis measured a school's popularity by the number of incoming students who listed it as their first choice.

Under choice, schools try to entice families with "attractors," which are themes that run through the curriculum. Some attractors are proving far more marketable than others.

District officials acknowledge it is probably too late to prevent at least a temporary return to a school system with significant pockets of segregation.

The public's impulse to select schools close to home is simply too ingrained. And the district is approaching the end of a four-year phase-in period that was supposed to condition Pinellas families to look outside their neighborhoods for schools, thereby promoting integration.

The final application cycle under "controlled choice" is this fall.

The School Board plans to explore changes to the choice plan that could bring about a recovery. The board also plans to ask the public for direction.

Choice can work, "but we've got to change what we're doing," said Brown, the School Board member.

"To say we've come up short is true," said board chairwoman Nancy Bostock, "but we have made so much progress and we'll continue to do so."

Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said his staff will begin working on the problem soon in preparation for a School Board summit on choice this year.

He said it is time for Pinellas to ask fundamental questions about what is best for its schools.

Is it so bad for some schools to be nearly all-black if they get the same resources as predominantly white schools? Or is that heresy in a district that has worked for decades to stay racially integrated? What is Pinellas' definition of success when it comes to the racial makeup of schools?

Wilcox, who recently moved to Pinellas from a largely black district in
Louisiana, wants to know.

He said he has talked to black people in Pinellas who say they wouldn't be bothered by segregated schools as long as they are equal in quality. He also has talked to people who insist that separate schools could never be equal.

Others argue that, in a diverse society, integrated schools have a value that goes far beyond ensuring equality.

"What do families want?" Wilcox asked.

Bostock said that will be "the big question" as the board struggles in the coming months to map a future for choice.

Among the focal points will be elementary schools south of
Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, home to most of the county's black community.

At three schools - James B. Sanderlin, Maximo and
Lakewood elementaries - white students make up only 25 percent of the applications for next school year. At Fairmount Park Elementary, the figure is a scant 18 percent.

Of those four schools, only Sanderlin has garnered strong interest from white parents over the past three years, but that appears to have weakened.

None of those numbers bodes well for integration.

On the plus side for choice, three other schools south of Central are drawing substantial numbers of white families.

At Gulfport Elementary, which offers a Montessori program, whites make up nearly 80 percent of the kindergarten applicants who listed the school as their first choice. The school is in a census tract that is 76 percent black.

Campbell Park Elementary, which has a marine science theme, drew a kindergarten applicant pool that is 42 percent white - not a majority but gaining strength. The school, near Tropicana Field, is in a neighborhood that is 93 percent black.

At Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. Elementary, the theme is math and engineering, the teachers are highly qualified and the corporate partners include IBM. The school is just off
34th Street S, in a census tract that is nearly 90 percent black. But a positive buzz is spreading among white families who live miles away.

For next year, the pool of kindergarten applicants who listed Jamerson as their first choice was 62 percent - up from 34 percent in the first year of choice.

One prospective Jamerson parent is
St. Petersburg lawyer Dana Douglas, whose son David will enter kindergarten in the fall. Douglas, who is white and lives in St. Pete Beach, said she was considering private school or one of the district's fundamental schools.

Then a friend told her about Jamerson, which is about 20 minutes from her home.

Douglas said she was impressed with the school's principal and the federal grant the school has received to supplement its programs. She also liked the fact that more than half of the teachers have master's degrees and all are committed to becoming National Board Certified.

"I don't know of a single parent who looked at Jamerson," she said. "I think a lot of people had concerns about the neighborhood. I have concerns, but they're outweighed at this point."

The recipe for a good "attractor" can be elusive.

Both Jamerson and Sanderlin elementaries are new schools in predominantly black neighborhoods. They have seasoned principals, new computers and hand-picked staffs. Yet white parents seem more drawn to Jamerson.

Grasping for reasons, Jamerson principal Bob Poth spoke of the vibrant word-of-mouth from parents like
Douglas. He also spoke of intangibles.

"When parents come and tour, it's very evident the kids have fun, that we value all subject areas," he said. "If you look at our Web site, we have a virtual museum of our kids' art work. We have a band that our music teacher works with free of charge after school. . . . It may sound like a math and engineering school, but the children get to do a lot of things."

Sanderlin principal Denise Miller acknowledged that her school's International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme may be harder to sell. There are few succinct ways to explain what the school is all about.

One of many descriptions from the school's Web site: "Every child will be a motivated learner at Sanderlin, and show responsible citizenship and pride."

Other attractors are so compelling they overcome even the worst publicity. In 2002, Gulfport Elementary became the only Pinellas school ever to get an F from the state. In 2003, it was the first Pinellas school to fail the federal government's standards.

Today, it has a new principal, a B grade and strong interest from white parents. Principal Lisa Grant noted that
Gulfport has the only public Montessori program in the county and that Montessori schools tend to attract white, middle-class families.

Montessori classes put the students in charge of their work and pace. Tuition for private Montessoris in Pinellas runs from $5,000 to $9,300 a year.

While much of the choice plan's emphasis is on attracting white families to black neighborhoods, the other half of the equation is getting more black families to try schools outside their neighborhoods.

That has proved difficult.

After 30 years of being bused to other locales under the old desegregation plan, black families are relishing the idea of schools close to home. Under choice, black enrollment has plummeted at 14 mid-county schools where black students were bused in years past.

The same scenario appears likely at several
St. Petersburg schools.

Race ratios keep black enrollment at 34 percent at Gulf Beaches Elementary. But without the ratios, black enrollment would drop to 3 percent, if application trends continue. A similar fate awaits schools like Shore Acres, Azalea and
74th Street elementaries.

Angel Wade, a black
St. Petersburg parent, said she would have considered sending her daughter Ashley to high school in Clearwater if there had been a program that interested the 14-year-old. But she was happy with her options within a 10-mile radius of home.

Ashley had a seat at Boca Ciega High, thanks to choice's "grandfathering" provisions. But Wade gave up a sure thing and opted to enter the choice lottery last fall because she wanted Ashley to attend either Gibbs or St. Petersburg High.

"I'd like her to be closer to home (at Boca Ciega) because it's better for me," Wade said. "But the most important thing is the programs the school offers."

High schools will be a focus when the School Board tackles choice this year.

Board members Brown and Gallucci already have some ideas. One is to get middle school students thinking about their future before they leave for high school. That might open their eyes to high school career programs in other areas of the county, the board members said.

The other idea is to beef up vocational programs for Pinellas students who don't plan to go to college but need to compete for jobs in local trades. The board members suggest a career high school in an area of the county that would draw black students out of their neighborhoods.

Said Gallucci: "I really think we need to start thinking very creatively."


No escape from 'helicopter parents'
Constant hovering can kick up a cloud of troubles

Excuse me, but you're hovering. You realize that, right?

The media, pediatricians, psychologists and even the college dean, they've all got you figured out -- or so they say. They're calling you a helicopter parent. Get it? Because you hover?

You're a baby boomer, right? OK, then. Listen up, because this is what they're saying about you:

You're too obsessed with your children. You treat them like little princes and princesses -- like they're No. 1, like they're MVPs. You've painstakingly planned their lives from their first play date to their first day of college.

They're your little Renaissance kids. You shuttle them from soccer practice, to clarinet lessons, to karate, and -- because they will be going to a great college -- to SAT prep class. Whoops! Speaking of which: You're late.

You inflate their egos. You give them graduation ceremonies even when it's just from preschool. You give them a trophy at the end of the season even when they lose. And by the time they get to college and are asked who their hero is, your child will say those words you long to hear: My dad. My mom.

Yes, helicopter parent, your intentions are good, but that rotor of yours is causing a din. Bring her down to terra firma. Let's talk.

A report on "60 Minutes" last fall discussed how the so-called echo boomers -- the children of baby boomers, who were born between 1982 and 1995 -- are "overmanaged" and "very pressured" and treated by their parents as pieces of "Baccarat crystal or something that could somehow shatter at any point."

Indeed, Mel Levine, a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina Medical School in
Chapel Hill, says today's children "may well shatter."

He thinks children are being coddled and protected to a degree that threatens their ability later in life to strike off on their own and form healthy relationships and proper job skills.

"These parents are trying to create a really terrific statue of a child rather than a child," says Levine, author of "Ready or Not, Here Comes Life" (Simon and Schuster, 2005).

Beverly Low, dean of the first-year class at
Colgate University, says that where before parents would drop their kids off to college and get out of the way, parents now constantly call her office intervening in a roommate dispute or questioning a professor's grading system.

"A lot of our students tell us, 'Hey, my mom is my best friend. My father is my best friend.' Is that a good thing? It's a different thing," she says.

But why is it happening? Mary Elizabeth Hughes, a sociologist at
Duke University, says helicopter parenting may be an outward sign of economic anxiety, particularly when parents consider the uncertain job market that may await their children.

"They're very concerned that their kids do very well and excel at a lot of things as a result," she says.

Hughes says such parenting may reflect generational changes as well.

Many baby boomer parents came of age during the turbulent '60s where they couldn't help but experience social change and respond by creating new lifestyles including new forms of parenting.

Mark and Cathy Gamsjager of
Greenville, N.Y., are annoyed by parents who turn their loving into hovering. But baby boomers, as a whole, may not be getting the credit they deserve, they say, particularly for some of the improvements they've brought to parenthood.

Mark Gamsjager, 42, fronts the rockabilly band The Lustre Kings. He skateboards and snowboards with his two boys, Austin, 13, and Thomas, 9.

They have a great relationship and have lots to talk about, he says.

But he's still their dad.

"I think there's got to be a line, you know?" he says. "You still have got to be the tough guy."

Indeed, the Gamsjagers say they try to take the best aspects of their parents -- emphasizing education, independence and discipline -- while improving upon their parents' shortcomings.

"I think parents make much more of an effort to be with their kids," says Cathy Gamsjager. "It seems to me that we've gotten away from everybody being an authoritarian. Not that we don't have authority over our kids, but there's more honesty. You spend more time actually talking to your kids about real things."

But being open and honest doesn't mean being a pushover, she says. "I'm not my kids' best friend," she says. "I'm their mom. I love being their mom, and I love being fun, but in the end I totally get that I'm responsible for helping them make good choices. I'm responsible for where their lives head. I can enjoy them, but no, I can't be their friend."




Calls for Revamping High Schools Intensify
By Lynn Olson, Education Week, 1/26/05
From President Bush on down, the pressure is on to fix
America’s high schools. But despite a broad consensus that something is seriously wrong with the institution, deep fault lines remain about the remedies.

“It’s like saying we have to fix global warming or obesity,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. “From 30,000 feet, you can easily agree that there’s a problem, but the closer you get to it, the more you can see that different people’s views of the essence of the problem and the solution are very, very different.”

Part of the reluctance to address high schools has been their complexity. Elementary pupils generally don’t drop out of school. Nor do they hold part-time jobs or often engage in risky social behaviors that interfere with their homework. And the sheer size, departmental structure, mission creep, and other political impediments at the secondary level have made it hard for reformers to gain a toehold.
But now, thanks to a drumbeat of statistics, coupled with a flurry of reports and initiatives, attention once again has focused on grades 9-12.

High school achievement has barely budged over the past decade. Just 36 percent of seniors are “proficient” in reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal testing program, and only 17 percent are proficient in mathematics. Near the end of high school, African-American and Latino students have reading skills virtually the same as those of white 8th graders.

Most troubling, up to 30 percent of high school freshmen never earn a standard diploma—and in some urban districts, more than half of 9th graders leave before the senior year.
Of those who graduate and go on to college, more than half are forced to take remedial courses. And more than one-fourth of those who enter four-year colleges and nearly half of those who enroll in two-year colleges never return for a second year. All those problems are worse for poor and minority students.

Moreover, ask most students about their high school experience and the answer comes back: Boring, boring, boring. A 2003 study by the National Research Council found that by the time many teenagers reach high school, they often lack any sense of purpose or connection with what they are doing in the classroom.

“We knew high schools were a big issue, but nobody knew what to do,” said Michael W. Kirst, a professor of education at
Stanford University. “I think it’s gotten to the point in the last few years that we can no longer ignore this. So we have to go at it in a serious way, but in a way that is somewhat experimental.”

College for All?

At the 30,000-foot level, there’s a growing consensus that high schools need to be more rigorous: preparing all students for postsecondary education, work, and citizenship.

But whether that means “college for all,” in the most narrow interpretation, or “some kind of postsecondary credential by the age of 26,” in the words of Hilary Pennington, the founder of the Boston-based research and advocacy group Jobs for the Future, remains a subject of debate.

“I would argue that the research base says, ‘Damn it, they need to be prepared for postsecondary education because most of them will either go or need the same level of skills to have any chance to succeed in this economy,’ ” argued Kati Haycock, the director of the Education Trust, a Washington-based group that works to close achievement gaps between students of different racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds.

But she added: “When you say out loud, ‘All kids need to be college-ready,’ there are huge parts of both the education and the general population who don’t get that yet.”

In contrast, James E. Rosenbaum, a professor of education and social policy at
Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., asserts that encouraging all teenagers to attend college is “killing students with kindness.”

“It’s giving them excessively high goals without any fallback options,” Mr. Rosenbaum said, noting that fewer than two out of every 10 high school freshmen will complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a timely fashion. At a minimum, he contends, guidelines should warn and advise students to have several alternatives in case their college plans don’t work out.

Defining Rigor

Similarly, while most educators and policymakers agree that all students—whether bound for the workplace or college—need a common core of high-level skills, that consensus falls apart when it comes to the specifics. In particular, should a common curriculum extend only to literacy and mathematics, or should it cover all aspects of a traditional college-preparatory curriculum? And just how rigorous is rigorous?

One of the most prominent recommendations of the 1983 report A Nation at Risk was that all students take four years of English, three years of math, science, and social studies, and a half year of computer science, as well as two years of a foreign language for the college-bound.

Although states like Arkansas and Texas have made the traditional college-prep curriculum the default for all students, other experts and policymakers argue for limiting the common core to literacy and math, so that schools have more room to experiment—and to offer students diverse options that are more engaging and appealing. The Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has invested $800 million in high school improvement efforts around the country, advocates a “diverse portfolio of great high schools,” with different emphases, teaching approaches, and philosophies, all of which would prepare every student for college.

Even within the more streamlined parameters of literacy and mathematics, disagreement abounds. The American Diploma Project—which was launched by three national groups to identify the knowledge and skills needed for postsecondary education and well-paid jobs—recommended last year that all students take four years of grade-level English and math, including Algebra 2, as well as data analysis and statistics.

“What makes you think we could teach everyone Algebra 2?” asked Rona C. Wilensky, the principal of the 345-student
New Vista High School in Boulder, Colo. “That’s a Herculean task. I’m in favor of mathematics problem-solving, but very few people in the world need Algebra 2.”

Putting more people through a traditional college-prep curriculum, she maintained, won’t fundamentally change teaching and learning or ensure that youths learn more.

Indeed, most experts acknowledge a need to get away from—or at least look underneath—traditional course titles to examine the actual content, teaching instruction, and expectations for students. One of the most baffling findings of the past few decades, says Mr. Kirst, is that sizable increases in the proportion of students taking a college-preparatory sequence have not resulted in rising achievement levels on national tests.

Michael Cohen, the president of the Washington-based Achieve, the nonprofit group founded by governors and business leaders that co-sponsored the American Diploma Project, said while it’s important to keep the content constant, there may be lots of ways to deliver it. There’s also no escaping the need for good instruction, good teaching, and better teacher preparation, he said.

Whether that “common core” should extend through grade 10 or beyond is also a subject of debate. In addition, there’s concern that ratcheting up academics will simply push more youngsters out of school, particularly those who enter 9th grade far below grade level in reading. On the ground, it’s the gap between the incoming literacy levels of so many students and the increasingly rigorous expectations of them that has paralyzed so many high school educators, according to Ms. Haycock.

According to the
Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based advocacy group focused on high school improvement, only five states—Alabama, Florida, Iowa, New Jersey, and Ohio—have statewide literacy programs for adolescents.

Personal Relationships

From miles up, a consensus has also formed that high schools need to be more personal, fostering an environment in which students feel well-known, supported, and safe. That’s been a persistent theme since educator Theodore R. Sizer wrote Horace’s Compromise back in 1984. Less clear is whether that means all high schools must be small.

“I think there’s nothing more important than for an adolescent to be known by mature, thoughtful, intelligent, kind, respectful adults,” said Ms. Wilensky of
New Vista High School. “While I absolutely advocate and believe in small schools, and I see their power,” she added, “I’m not sure that you can sell small high schools to everybody.”

“Any community that has high-achieving high schools is not going to change those high schools,” Ms. Wilensky cautioned. “Those institutions have a power that we haven’t begun to fathom in terms of their role. They are so much a part of our sense of the American experience that when they seem to perform academically, there is no momentum and, in fact, huge resistance to changing them.”
Similarly, no consensus exists on whether today’s institutions can be improved or whether a better strategy is to focus on the creation of entirely new structures—as well as introducing more competition and choice into the system.

“Our grantees have learned that, at least in very large urban schools, there’s often so far to go on so many dimensions that it either requires a fundamental redesign or replacement,” said Tom Vander
Ark, the executive director of education programs at the Gates Foundation.

Ms. Pennington of Jobs for the Future has proposed three “fast track to college” alternatives to the traditional senior year, all of which would be rigorous enough to prepare young people for college-level work. One option would provide acceleration for academically motivated students, another would stress career and technical education, and a third would provide a “gap year” focused on community service or work experience.

In each instance, high schools, community colleges, four-year colleges, private proprietary schools, and accredited community partnerships would compete for students, with the money following the young person. And additional financial incentives would be available, as would “on ramps,” to encourage institutions to teach harder-to-serve youths.

“I think a piece of what the reforms need to be about is creating space to let us experiment,” Ms. Pennington said. “Traditional high schools work so poorly for so many different kinds of kids.”

A secondary education voucher for 16-year-olds “might encourage a whole bunch of providers to come into being that might bear little or no resemblance to the current crop of institutions we call high school,” said Mr. Finn of the Fordham Foundation.

Making Connections

As evidenced by Ms. Pennington’s proposals, another common theme is to blur the lines between high schools and postsecondary education, in part to build a smoother and more efficient pipeline for students and to increase access and success rates, particularly for underserved groups.

To some extent, that’s already happening. Evidence includes the proliferation of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses that help high school students work toward earning college credit; the expansion of dual-enrollment programs, which permit students to enroll in college courses while still in high school; the establishment of early- or middle-college high schools that give students early exposure to college experiences; and the spread of “tech prep” and other “2+2” programs that combine the last two years of high school with the first two years of postsecondary career and technical education.

But, to date, observes Nancy Hoffman, the vice president for youth transitions at Jobs for the Future, many of those options have focused on “single courses for the enterprising and affluent,” rather than on building more coherent bridges for the majority of young people.

Studies also have found that the knowledge and skills required to graduate from high school often are not the same ones valued for college admissions and placement in credit-bearing courses. “I keep stressing that we can’t change the high school, in many ways, without getting postsecondary involved,” Mr. Kirst of
Stanford University said. “Neither side is willing to sit down and say, ‘Let’s join together and have a sequenced curriculum.’ . . . The two levels like to retain their independence.”

That’s increasingly unacceptable to the nation’s governors, who worry both about the economic competitiveness of their workforces and the cost-efficiency of their education systems.

“There’s not enough money to go around anymore,” said Dane Linn, the director of education policy studies for the National Governors Association, which is co-sponsoring a national summit on high schools with Achieve next month. “Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, governors want to improve the efficiency of the state investments in education. So you can’t just embark on a redesign of the high schools, but it’s the connection between high schools and postsecondary education.”

At the same time, Mr. Linn acknowledged, “that’s going to be the most difficult,” given their fragmented governance and funding structures.

Technical Education

A related battle is over who should own career and technical education. Ms. Pennington, for instance, advocates moving most career and technical education to postsecondary institutions. That shift would give interested high school juniors and seniors a head start on earning transferable college credits from the institutions that most employers hire from anyway.

“I think career and technical education remains incredibly important for large numbers of kids and for the economy,” Ms. Pennington said. “But it’s in a lose-lose situation, the way the current reform movement is playing out in high schools.”

In contrast, Mr. Rosenbaum of Northwestern and Kenneth Gray, a professor of education at
Pennsylvania State University in University Park, favor retaining a strong career and technical option in high schools. Mr. Gray, for instance, points out that a third of graduates still go directly into the workforce, and that career and technical programs have a strong record of keeping students in school through graduation.

About one-fourth of high school students now take at least three career and technical courses in a single area of concentration, he said. Of those who complete an integrated career and academic program, 60 percent go on to college, with more than half enrolling in prebaccalaureate technical programs.

“The real issue is not whether high school or postsecondary technical education is the priority,” Mr. Gray said, “but how the two can be combined into an improved seamless system.”

Conversely, Ms. Haycock argued, “while it’s certainly true that you can do really good things with vocational education, the fact of the matter is that’s not mostly what people are doing with the money, and what they are doing is often really bad.”

Testing and Accountability

One of the most contentious issues is whether accountability in high schools should focus on individual students, institutions, or both, and what form those assessments should take.

President Bush has proposed extending the accountability provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act up to high schools, by requiring annual reading and math tests in grades 9-11 and holding schools accountable for student achievement. States also would have to participate in the state-level National Assessment of Educational Progress in grade 12.

Twenty-one states now require students to pass exit or end-of-course exams to earn a high school diploma, with five more phasing in such requirements by the class of 2008. States such as
Illinois now compel all students to take the ACT or SAT college-admissions tests as part of their state testing systems. Other states give high school students the chance to take college-placement tests, to see whether they are ready for credit-bearing courses, or are considering ways to use the results of high school exit tests for college-placement and -admissions purposes.

“There’s not unanimity on what the best approach to testing students for any of this would be,” Mr. Cohen of Achieve said. “How much testing is necessary? What decisions ought to be made on the basis of those?”

He worries that if Mr. Bush’s proposal becomes law, “that will drive most states to aim low with regard to standards and tests” at the very time they need to be aiming higher.

Rather than spend more money on testing, said Gerald Tirozzi, the executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the focus should be on addressing students’ needs. He noted that only 5 percent of Title I money, the number one source of federal funding for elementary and secondary education, goes to high schools. “When you look at Title I as a driver, NCLB, Goals 2000 [legislation under President Clinton], most of that was focused on K-8 education,” he said.

Despite the lack of consensus on how best to proceed, most educators welcome the new attention on high schools. And they hope that this time around, efforts to redesign the institution will be sustained and serious—as exemplified by efforts taking place in such big-city school systems as
Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York.

“There seems to be some very strong consensus by the practitioner community that there are solutions,” said Cynthia Harlow Sadler, the interim president of the
Alliance for Excellent Education.

“I think there are possibilities for some real breakthroughs,” she said.


Bush Plan Worries the Voc. Ed. Community
President's Call for
More High School Testing Could Mean Shift in Funding
By Sean Cavanagh, Education Week, 1/26/05

The Bush administration’s recent unveiling of its plan to extend accountability and other academic measures into the nation’s high schools has caused backers of vocational education to worry that the proposal may squeeze their programs out of the federal budget.

Advocates for career and technical education in recent weeks have launched a pre-emptive strike to urge members of Congress and other influential parties to help them stave off potential cuts to their funding—even though the administration’s fiscal 2006 budget is not expected to be released until next month.

In particular, their goal is to preserve funding in the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, the federal government’s primary vehicle for career-oriented school programs, which currently receive about $1.3 billion annually.

Concerns about next year’s budget spiked earlier this month, after President Bush spoke publicly about his secondary education proposal—and about changing the way the federal government provides aid for high schools. The plan calls for testing students in 9th, 10th, and 11th grades in reading and mathematics; expanding incentives to teachers working in high-poverty schools; and analyzing the academic records of incoming 9th graders to determine if they need help. The proposal carries an estimated $1.5 billion price tag, though the White House did not specify how much of that money would be new, as opposed to existing funding.

Speaking at a high school in Virginia two weeks ago, the president also called for consolidating some high school programs—though he did not specifically say cuts to vocational programs were on the way.

The Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment on the vocational community’s concerns.

“The problem is they’re like silos,” Mr. Bush said of federal high school programs. “They’re prescriptions that may not meet the needs of the local high school, or the school district—you know, a program to promote vocational education, or to prepare for college, … or to encourage school restructuring.”

Not long after that speech, the Association of Career and Technical Education sent an alert to its 30,000 members, voicing concerns about the proposal’s effect on vocational education. A second organization, the National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical Education Consortium, issued a similar notice around the same time.

“Our greatest fear is that all, or most, of our budget would be cut to fund the president’s high school proposal,” said Christin M. Driscoll, the senior director of public policy for the Alexandria, Va.-based ACTE.

Vocational advocates note that during the past two budget years, the administration has called for bringing higher academic standards to the federal vocational program—while seeking to cut its funding from $1.3 billion to $1 billion. That money was later restored by Congress. In 2002, proponents went public with fears that the White House was planning to eliminate the Perkins program or move its functions into the Department of Labor, speculation that was dismissed by the administration. ("Advocates Warn Voc. Ed. Cuts May Be Afoot,"
Nov. 27, 2002.)

“They’ve dropped enough bread crumbs,” said Kimberly A. Green, the executive director of the Washington-based state consortium, in summing up her concerns.

Congress at Work Again

That budget speculation also emerges as Congress prepares to reauthorize the Perkins Act, a process that federal lawmakers failed to reach agreement on before adjourning last year. Two reauthorization bills were introduced last year, in the House and the Senate. Because this is a new Congress, those proposals would have to be reintroduced if they are to become law.

Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., who led House reauthorization efforts last year, expects new legislation to closely follow last year’s bill, and hopes to have the measure approved by the House education committee by April, said his spokeswoman, Elizabeth B. Wenk. The lawmaker does not favor paying for the president’s high school plan through cuts to other education programs, such as vocational education, she said.

Sen. Michael B. Enzi, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, issued a statement praising the president’s plan, while noting the importance of continued vocational funding “as a critical component of high school education.”

The Perkins legislation introduced last year in both chambers would have established various incentives and mandates for states to improve local vocational programs. The bills also would have created new indicators to judge the effectiveness of high school and college programs.

Yet some critics, such as Ross Wiener, the policy director for the Education Trust, say those bills need “substantial modifications” and lack the teeth necessary to force state and local programs to improve their academic rigor.

Mr. Wiener points to the findings of last year’s congressionally mandated National Assessment of Vocational Education. While that report indicated that the percentage of students taking core academic courses in English, mathematics, and science has risen in recent years, it also concluded that “secondary vocational education itself is not likely to be a widely effective strategy for improving academic achievement or college attendance without substantial changes to policy, curriculum, and teacher training.” ("Vocational Students Lag In Achievement, Report Says,"
July 14, 2004.)

Although the vocational community has fought off significant changes to their federal programs in recent years, that position leaves them vulnerable when federal officials—including the Bush administration—start pushing for changes in high schools, Mr. Wiener said.

“They might have protected their program [into] irrelevance,” said Mr. Wiener, whose Washington-based group promotes higher academic standards. “We have to distinguish between high-quality voc-ed and low-quality programs that don’t prepare students for today’s economy.”


Maine Rallies Behind Rules for Athletics
State Initiative Billed as National Model
By John Gehring, Education Week, 1/26/05

Augusta, Maine - Youth athletes increasingly complain about unruly fans, overbearing coaches, and pressures from elite travel teams. In this state, at least, their concerns have been heard.

Superintendents, sports officials, and parents in
Maine are rallying behind a major initiative billed as a national model for creating more positive athletic experiences for young people.

More than 400 people from around the state gathered in
Augusta earlier this month for the release of “Sports Done Right: A Call to Action on Behalf of Maine’s Student-Athletes.” The report was written by a panel of principals, athletic directors, and coaches who spent a year studying trends in youth sports and looking for better models to guide school athletic programs.

Backed by a federal grant and endorsed by
Maine’s governor and commissioner of education, the effort seeks to provide clear frameworks that define how interscholastic sports should be conducted and monitored. Given the prominent role that sports play in shaping students’ identity and the atmosphere of high schools, the guidance is sorely needed, observers say. Pep rallies and the pursuit of state championships loom large in defining school culture, even as high schools are under increasing pressure to improve their academic results.

Maine effort comes as other national groups have warned about disturbing trends in youth athletics. The National Association of State Boards of Education released a report last fall cautioning that a growing number of high school teams are taking on the trappings of big-time college programs. It called on state boards and athletic associations to be more vigilant about questionable recruiting practices, corporate sponsorships, and other influences that could undermine schools’ educational missions. ("H.S. Athletics Out of Bounds, Report Warns," Oct. 27, 2004.).

“We all know there has been excesses and departures from sound practices,” said Robert Cobb, the dean of the University of Maine’s college of education and a co-director of the university’s Sport and Coaching Education Initiative, which received a $397,000 federal Department of Education grant, secured by U.S. Sen. Susan M. Collins, R-Maine, to lead the project.

“This can slip away from boards and administrators quite easily,” Mr. Cobb said of school sports.


The diverse group here, which includes a past president of the American Medical Association and an Olympic gold medalist in the marathon, met with middle and high school students in small-group discussions during a year of work. The Maine Sports Summit, held last spring as part of the effort, attracted 300 student-athletes from 87 high schools and 24 middle schools.

“We have had hundreds of kids tell us about the good, the bad, and the ugly of their experiences with sports,” said Duke Albanese, a former
Maine commissioner of education who has played a leading role in the effort. “We want this model to be developed so well that people will want to run their program this way.”

Mr. Albanese, a former high school football coach and college athlete, said the sports initiative can be viewed as a complement to Maine’s academic standards and the 1998 “Promising Futures” report, the state’s seminal report on high school reform.

The “Sports Done Right” report, which will be sent to every school district in the state, is built around seven core principles and “supporting practices” that should guide athletic experiences. The standards include promoting sportsmanship over a win-at-all-cost mentality; increasing opportunities for learning through sports; and holding parents and community members to higher standards of behavior.

The document also features “out of bounds” issues that coaches, parents, and school administrators should avoid. They include “pay to play” policies that require students to pay a fee to participate; imposing a professional or collegiate model on youth athletics; and encouraging students to specialize in one sport.

The goal is to have parents, athletes, school boards, superintendents, and coaches meet locally for discussions about the core principles and ultimately sign “compacts” in which they agree to honor the new standards.

“People want to do right by their kids, but they often don’t know how to do it,” said John Wolfgram, an English teacher at
South Portland High School and an assistant football coach at Bowdoin College who sat on the panel. “This provides a model.”

Dan Bowers, the athletic administrator at
Cony High School in Augusta, said he welcomes the effort to foster sports programs that are more balanced. Among other concerns, he said, finding coaches has become more challenging as teachers take on greater workloads, and as coaches are treated with less respect by parents and fans.

Most coaches at Cony High and around the state are not teachers—a departure from years past, when student-athletes were more likely to have coaches they saw every day in the classroom.

“I’m constantly filling coaching positions,” Mr. Bowers said during a break from the event held to release the report at the
Augusta Civic Center. “Teachers’ time is limited, and the pay isn’t equitable.”

Paul Vachon has become one of the state’s most successful and well-known girls’ varsity basketball coaches over his three-decade coaching career. The Cony High coach also teaches 8th grade English.

“I don’t think we’re hiring enough teachers who coach,” he said. “They go hand and hand. You really have to know the students on both sides of the fence, as students and athletes.”

Mr. Vachon also worries about the influence of teams that are organized outside of school. The Amateur Athletic Union, for example, has become one of the nation’s most competitive and popular venues for athletes on travel teams looking to showcase their skills to college recruiters in national tournaments.

“I have players now being recruited by AAU coaches,” Mr. Vachon said. “Girls will pay as much as $4,000 to be on AAU teams, and if a coach has 10 players, that’s $40,000. That’s more than I make as a teacher. I guess I’m in the wrong profession.”

More athletes, he added, feel the pressure to specialize in just one sport year round, a trend he doesn’t understand.

“My best team had the field hockey player of the year, the soccer player of the year, and the basketball player of the year,” he said. “Give me athletes, and let’s go have fun.”

Quoting Thoreau

Whether players have fun depends in large part on the attitude of coaches, argues Karen Brown, the director of the
Maine Center for Sport and Coaching, which trains coaches in the state and serves as a clearinghouse for resources on coaching.

“One of the major problems students face are the unrealistic pressures coaches put on them,” said Ms. Brown, 24, who was a high school and college athlete in
Maine. “Kids are so worried about making mistakes they can’t enjoy competition. Coaches feel the pressure of the community, and the kids get the brunt of that.”

Greely High School in Cumberland, Maine, about 70 percent of the 687 students play a sport. Last year, the school won three state championships. That was also the year the school held its first sports pep rally—which opened with a student-athlete quoting Henry David Thoreau.

“That symbolizes the way we maintain a healthy balance here,” said Chris Mosca, the principal. “Sports doesn’t drive what we do.”

Wayne Fordham, the assistant principal, used to work in a
Nebraska high school where the football team defined the school’s sense of identity. By contrast, he said, Greely High has worked hard to make sports blend in with other extracurricular activities, such as drama. Administrators also take pains to highlight academic achievement.

“We don’t have your football jocks parading around like kings,” Mr. Fordham said.

Rachelle Doucette and Greg Frost, both 17-year-old juniors at Greely, agree that their involvement in school sports is becoming more intense as they distinguish themselves on the school’s basketball and soccer teams. They also play “premier soccer” outside of school and hope to win college scholarships for athletics.

Mr. Frost said his travel-team coach told him he had to choose between the travel team and his school team. But Mr. Frost, who still plays some travel sports, chose to compete on his school team because he enjoys playing with his school friends. He has resisted pressures to specialize in just soccer.

For her part, Ms. Doucette says that despite the pressures, she can’t imagine school without playing sports.

“The team bonding is great,” she said. ‘The relationships you build are awesome.”


Panel to View Detroit Schools as ‘Blank Canvas’
Michigan Governor Names Group to Help Troubled District on Governance, Finances
By Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, 1/26/05

Michigan’s governor has named a panel of 120 citizens to help the Detroit school district improve its governance, but some skeptics worry that the group’s size and broad mission might hamper its effectiveness.

The task force’s mission is to help the district make the transition from an appointed school board to an elected one late this year, and to monitor its deficit-elimination plans. But in remarks to the news media on Jan. 11, Gov. Jennifer Granholm suggested the panel could take on much more than that.

The Democratic governor said the group would view the 140,000-student district as a “blank canvas,” coming up with educational, financial, and even structural improvements, including possibly breaking the system into subdistricts and creating smaller, specialized high schools.

Three days later, Ms. Granholm formally named the transition task force members, who are leaders from education, business, government, civic groups, and the clergy. They were nominated by the Rev. Wendell Anthony, a
Detroit minister who will serve as the panel’s leader.

The governor believes that the size of the panel reflects a much-needed dedication to help the
Detroit schools get on track, spokeswoman Liz Boyd said.

“We had so many people express an interest in wanting to serve on this team,” said Ms. Boyd. “It’s a beautiful thing. And we are an administration that values inclusiveness.”

Two Teams

A separate team of state leaders—including
Michigan’s state treasurer, budget director, and superintendent of public instruction—has been examining the Detroit district’s financial situation since November, and is working with district leaders to make sure its deficit-elimination plan is workable, she said.
Detroit faces a two-year, accumulated deficit of $198 million in its $1.5 billion fiscal 2005 budget. Chief Executive Officer Kenneth S. Burnley is to submit his deficit-elimination plan to the state by Feb. 4, outlining several measures by which the debt can be reduced, said district spokesman Kenneth Coleman.

The district, which has been suffering in recent years from plummeting enrollment, sent layoff notices to more than 300 teachers two days before Christmas. The new plan likely will call for program cuts, union concessions, closings of as many as 40 of 255 district schools, and elimination of 5,400 more of its 23,000 staff positions, either through retirement or layoffs, Mr. Coleman said.

The district is hoping that Gov. Granholm will allow the district to repay its debt over a 12- to 15-year period, he said. Mr. Burnley also hopes to “negotiate significant concessions” from
Detroit’s teachers and other labor unions in the district, Mr. Coleman said.

Janna K. Garrison, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, who was named to the transition task force, said the district on Jan. 5 proposed a 10 percent cut in wages and benefits, a request the American Federation of Teachers affiliate rejected.

She said the task force has yet to set a meeting schedule. But she hopes the 120,000-member union’s presence on the panel can help the district focus on putting more dollars into the classroom and fewer into administration and ineffective programs. A higher priority must be set on smaller classes, each headed by a certified teacher, she said.

The fact that Gov. Granholm made the task force so large and gave it such a broad charge is causing concern in some quarters.

Ari Adler, the spokesman for Republican Sen. Ken R. Sikkema, the majority leader of the state Senate, said he feared the group would be unable to keep attention where the district most needs it: on how to get itself out of debt.

“What they need is immediate action, and the governor sent in a debate team,” Mr. Adler said. “You get together such a large group, with no deadline, no clear-cut direction, and it makes us wonder how effective they are going to be.”

But Ms. Boyd, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the state-appointed finance team, not the transition task force, would have primary responsibility for overseeing
Detroit’s deficit-reduction plan. The 120-member panel wishes to focus more on helping shape the district for the long term, she said.

“They will certainly be monitoring [the deficit-elimination plan]. But they won’t be hands-on in terms of resolving it,” she said. She dismissed concerns that the group is too large or has too broad a task to be effective.

“We have every confidence that team will come together and structure itself and accomplish a great deal,” Ms. Boyd said.


Fla. Board Seeks Social-Promotion Ban in All Grades
By Alan Richard, Education Week, 1/26/05

Florida could become the first state to require students to pass a reading test to advance at every grade level, under a plan approved by the state school board last week.

The plan requires lawmakers’ approval, but support for limited bans on “social promotion” has been strong for years in the Republican-controlled legislature.

 Commissioner of Education John Winn said in an interview that the plan would take hold only gradually if passed into law.

The state already requires most 3rd graders to pass a reading test—normally the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test—before they advance to 4th grade. High school students similarly must pass an FCAT reading test or an alternative before they can graduate. Low-scoring 3rd graders must attend three-week summer reading classes, which enable some students to escape retention.

Florida board of education voted unanimously on Jan. 18 to ask the legislature for the authority to expand the social-promotion ban into other grades. In social promotion, students who have fallen short academically are advanced to the next grade to keep them with their peers.

Mr. Winn said last week that he would recommend the ban start with 4th and 5th graders—students who already have been subject to the 3rd grade requirements. State board members then could determine how swiftly the program would reach other grades.

“This could take 10 years” to implement, the commissioner said.

Catalyst or Quick Fix?

The existing policy against social promotion has improved reading skills among 3rd graders and has been a catalyst for higher student achievement in the elementary grades, Mr. Winn said. Expanding the program to all grades would keep students with poor literacy skills from advancing through school without the preparation they need, he added.

Florida would be the first state to link student retention to standardized-test scores at all grade levels, if the plan proceeds. Eight states now link retention to test scores at some grade levels, typically in grades 3, 5 and 8, according to the Education Week Research Center.

But critics warn that the plan may need more thought.

Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, said the union was surprised by the state board’s plan.

The union, a merged affiliate of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, favors leaving the decision to retain or promote students in the hands of teachers and parents, rather than judging pupils by a test score.

“When you have a child that’s behind in a particular grade, then I think you need to launch all kinds of special attention on the kids. That’s something that’s lacking,” Mr. Pudlow said.

School district leaders may also be skeptical of the plan to end social promotion in all grades.

“We’ve never been a big proponent of social promotion, but keeping a student back a grade level isn’t the only way to address a student’s shortcomings” on tests, said Connie M. Milito, the director of government relations for the 183,000-student Hillsborough County schools.

Commissioner Winn said the state board’s plan fits into
Florida’s other strategies for improving public schools. “Social promotion is just the symptom” of the problems that exist in teaching children to read, he said. “What we need to work on is better teaching and learning.”

Chance for Approval

It’s not yet clear how the legislature will respond to the state board’s plan.

Towson Fraser, a spokesman for Speaker of the House Allen Bense, a Republican, said the speaker had not reviewed the state board’s plan. But the speaker backed the 3rd grade program when it was approved in 2002, he said.

“The idea that you just keep pushing kids along when they’re not prepared to be better students is not something he agrees with,” Mr. Fraser said on behalf of the speaker.

Mr. Winn and other supporters of expanding the social-promotion ban cited recent test data as proof that the 3rd grade program is something to build on. Sixty-six percent of the state’s 3rd graders scored at acceptable levels in reading in 2004, while only 57 percent did in 2001, according to the state.

Most 3rd graders who have been retained under the social-promotion ban were able to improve their reading scores enough to move on to 4th grade the following year. The program exempts some students who are learning English, or who do not take state tests because of disabilities.

Also, some students are allowed to show progress using portfolios or tests other than the FCAT. Still other low-scoring 3rd graders can advance after taking three weeks of remedial-reading classes and passing a test during the summer.

Now in its second year, the 3rd grade policy resulted in about 28,000 retentions in the 2003-04 school year. Fewer than half that number of pupils were retained in the other elementary grades.

Mr. Winn said that retaining more students would not result in more high school dropouts, as critics claim, because more children would improve their basic skills at earlier ages. School leaders should not panic over the proposed changes, he said.

“You will not see the governor or me proposing massive retention in grades that we already know that we haven’t experienced success in,” the commissioner said.


Debate Over Charter Schools Rages in Mass.
By John Gehring, Education Week, 1/26/05

The heated debate over the growth of charter schools in
Massachusetts continues to escalate, as advocates and opponents wrangle in legal suits and wage aggressive public relation campaigns to sway parents’ opinions.

Leaders of the
Cambridge school district took the unusual step earlier this month of mailing letters to about 4,000 parents, touting the advantages of the city’s regular public schools and warning that students who attend a new charter school opening there in the fall can’t participate on sports teams or other district extracurricular activities.

The Jan. 3 letter also cited a recent U.S. Department of Education study that found students’ test scores in several states were better in regular public schools than in charter schools, which are publicly financed but operate independently. The letter went on to note that the planned Cambridge charter school did not yet have a location and would offer a more limited array of course offerings than the city’s own public schools.

Other districts have challenged the opening of new charter schools by filing lawsuits against the
Massachusetts state board of education. Critics say the panel has been too aggressive in approving new charters, even in the face of intense community opposition.

School committees in the Hudson, Marlborough, and Maynard school districts—in suburbs west of
Boston—sued the state board last spring, after the board approved a new Advanced Math and Science Academy charter school that will draw students from the region.

The districts have argued, among other contentions, that the state board failed to follow its own policies when it approved the application without allowing district leaders and the public to see a revised application plan for the school.

Last month, a superior-court judge rejected the state board’s request for dismissal of the case.

‘White-Hot Issue’

Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, is a staunch supporter of charter schools. Last summer, he vetoed a legislative effort to impose a moratorium on the opening of new charter schools in

The chasm between local communities and public school districts, on the one hand, and Mr. Romney and state education officials, on the other, has made for a testy atmosphere, according to Glenn Koocher, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

“It’s a white-hot issue here,” said Mr. Koocher, whose group represents local school boards. “There is a clear perception that community leaders are not being heard.”

David P. Driscoll, the state commissioner of education, acknowledged that the department of education and state board could do a better job of being more responsive at public hearings on proposed charters, but said that the debate comes down to a fundamental difference.

“There is a disconnect between the critics who see [charter approvals] as a debate on charter schools in general, and the real intent of the law, which is to have charter schools,” he said. “We will never be able to satisfy our critics, because they don’t want charter schools.”

Cambridge, the Community Charter School of Cambridge is scheduled to open next fall, despite fierce opposition by the City Council, the school committee, the mayor, and many community groups. The school, which will eventually house grades 7-12, is being launched by a former principal of the public Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

Josie Patterson, the public-information director for the 6,750-student
Cambridge district, said the charter school’s leaders have been aggressively recruiting public school students through personal phone calls and letters.

In the district’s own letter, she said,
Cambridge school administrators wanted to make sure families had as much information as possible about the benefits of the district.

Marc Kenen, the executive director of the Massachusetts Charter School Association, said that criticism of a particular charter school that hasn’t even opened yet reflects the skepticism that officials of regular public schools have toward charters.

Mr. Kenen noted there are now 56 charter schools in
Massachusetts and a waiting list statewide of some 15,000 students—a sign of growing demand.

But Paul Dunphy, a policy analyst with the Boston-based Citizens for Public Schools, said those numbers are suspect, given Massachusetts Department of Education figures that show 34 charter schools have fewer students than they reported they would have on reports filed with the state last spring.


Edmonton Journey
Educators from the United States flock to the Edmonton, Alberta, district in Canada to learn about its experience with site-based management, an idea that is gaining new traction here.
By Jeff Archer, Education Week, 1/26/05

Edmonton, Alberta - They just keep coming. Education leaders from Chicago, Colorado, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Oakland, Calif., and the District of Columbia have all flocked to the Edmonton public schools. Among the visitors have been district superintendents, state schools chiefs, organization heads, and a governor.

And that’s only in the past 12 months. For more than two decades,
U.S. officials have come here to import ideas from what many regard as the most innovative school system in North America. So many, in fact, that Edmonton officials, in the Canadian province of Alberta, are giving serious thought to charging fees as a way to compensate for the time the visits take away from their work.
For the most part, these pilgrims come to learn about site-based management. Here, schools control 80 percent of the district’s total budget. They pick their own reading programs and their own staff training. They decide how many people to employ, and in what jobs. If they don’t like services the district’s central office is offering, they can take their money elsewhere.

“This really is not the ‘flavor of the month’ for them,” says Christina Warden, a program director at the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, located in Chicago, who estimates that she’s made at least 10 trips to Edmonton since the early 1990s.

“They really do work very hard, in very practical ways, to make these things happen.”

Adding to the interest of late is a book by William G. Ouchi, a professor of management at the
University of California, Los Angeles. In Making Schools Work: A Revolutionary Plan to Get Your Children the Education They Need, he touts the Edmonton model, and retells how it’s been copied by the school systems in Houston and Seattle.

Angus McBeath, who became the superintendent of the 81,000-student Canadian district in 2001, is conflicted about all the attention. He’s flattered that the system is still seen as a pioneer. But he fears that many visitors come looking for a silver bullet, when the reality is more complex. If anything, he says,
Edmonton has found that site-based management, by itself, doesn’t ensure success.
“There is no pill, or bullet, or quick fix for school systems,” says McBeath. “There are some sensible things that districts can do, and I think site-based has a lot of power. But I think even its authors would tell you it’s not a solution to raising achievement results.”

Indeed, in the past four years, the district has taken a different tack. After long focusing on ways to decentralize its governance,
Edmonton has embarked on a decidedly district-led push to raise student performance. All schools now follow a common approach in managing instructional improvement. And all building leaders get heavy doses of professional development.

But rather than abandon site-based decisionmaking—as some U.S. school systems have done—Edmonton has tried to channel the process more toward the core business of teaching and learning. School leaders are under orders to analyze data, collaborate with their staffs, and use research-based instructional techniques. But each site still decides how that plays out.

The strategy has its challenges. Already shouldering more budget and operational responsibilities than their peers in other districts, school-level leaders in
Edmonton now must also devote more time to planning for instructional improvement. But ask them if they’d rather have district officials make all the calls, and their answer is emphatic.

“I think we would have a huge problem if they tried to make decisions differently,” says Karen Beaton, a principal and the president of Edmonton Public Teachers, a union that includes teachers and administrators. “It is so much a part of our culture and the way we think and act.”


With its history as a trading post, gold rush town, and oil city, the provincial capital of
Edmonton has thrived on market forces. Its school district is no exception: Parents here can pick any school they want for their children.

To market themselves to families, some 80 of the district’s 200 schools have created special programs, such as concentrations in the performing arts, virtual instruction for the home-schooled, and foreign-language immersion.

With no government ban here on public support for religious education, the system includes three Christian schools and a Jewish school, all of which were founded independently, but later opted to join the district.

Tellingly, the central office is called Central Services. More than half the people who work there are in departments that live or die based on the demand by schools for their expertise. If a site needs help on an instructional or administrative matter, it contracts with the office to provide the assistance, often charged on an hourly basis.
At the heart of these arrangements is the premise that organizations run best when decisions are made closest to the customer.
Edmonton first put that idea into practice in the 1970s, when it began to give schools control over their budgets under Superintendent Michael A. Strembitsky, who has since risen to legendary status and continues to advise policymakers in the United States.

The customer-driven model resonates with people like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The first-term Republican, who would like more districts in
Minnesota to adopt site-based management, brought 12 state and local education officials here last month for a two-day visit. Edmonton, he says, has an “entrepreneurial” culture that’s rare in public education.

“You need to have educators work in systems that encourage them to be empowered, to be dynamic, and to be innovative,” Pawlenty said in an interview during the tour. “And this perhaps does that.”

McBeath, a 29-year veteran of the school system and only the third person to hold its superintendency since 1972, is a true believer in the site-based approach. He makes an analogy to an apartment complex where the renters are asked to conserve electricity: If each unit doesn’t pay its own bill, chances are that few will heed the call.

“When you give people the money and the authority, they behave like owners, and boy, do they do that in our system,” McBeath says. “And that is really powerful. Our principals really believe the buck stops with them.”

For many years, student performance in the district has tracked close to the averages for
Alberta as a whole. That’s impressive for an urban system. When the results of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, were released last month, a breakdown of the 41-nation comparison showed Alberta neck and neck with the top-performing countries in mathematics, reading, and science.

Graduation rates tell a different story. Four years ago, when
Alberta’s ministry of education began computing the data in a new way, Edmonton discovered that only 63 percent of its students finished their secondary education within five years of starting high school. In other words, about four out of 10 high school students were failing to complete their studies as expected.
“What we had focused on was: ‘Gee, look what a great job we’re doing with the students who are graduating,’ ” says Corrie Ziegler, who heads the division of Central Services that plans improvement initiatives. “We weren’t paying attention to the students who had actually dropped out, or did not complete high school. That’s when we decided we needed to do something different.”

To figure out what,
Edmonton has relied heavily on Focus on Results, an education consulting company based in Huntington Beach, Calif. The decision to use money from a new professional-development fund created by the province to hire the outside group initially prompted internal grumbling about “the Americans.”

But the group proved a good fit. What it came up with was a process, not a program. Each school was required to form a leadership team of staff members, who led their school in analyzing performance data and identifying weaknesses. From that, schools picked priorities for improvement, or “instructional focus,” as the district calls them.

Many sites chose literacy. But some decided their students had mastered the basics, and so focused on critical-thinking skills—the kind that students use in making their own informed judgments, based on evidence. In allowing such differences, the district contrasts with systems such as the
Los Angeles Unified School District, which requires all buildings to use the same instructional programs.

“We would never presume to say: This is the best practice,” says Zeigler.


That approach, however, is not to say anything goes. The provincial government has long mandated a highly specific curriculum, often credited for
Alberta’s strong standing in international comparisons.

The district has set clear expectations as well, including a new decree that principals attend monthly training meetings with members of their staffs on such topics as how to design their own student assessments, how to plan collaboratively, and how to recognize strategies that work. Principals are now required to spend 50 percent of their time on instructional issues.

Those demands might seem in conflict with site-based management. But McBeath says it’s a mistake to assume that individual schools know everything they need to about what to do with the authority they’ve been given.

“All I’ve said is: ‘OK, now that we have all this under way, the moral purpose of schooling is success from all students,’ ” the superintendent explains. “So we need to take site-based to where I think it was originally intended, which is a vehicle to get us to superb results.”

The adjustment hasn’t been without struggles. With the monthly training and other professional development that they receive, principals are out of their schools more than ever before. Many admit they don’t yet spend half their time on classroom matters. What’s important, says McBeath, is that they’re trying.

John Edey, who until this month was the principal of
Edmonton’s McKernan School, said he never got near meeting that goal. Instead, he strived to spend time in three classrooms each day—but even that objective he thinks he missed about four out of every 10 days.

Still, he valued the effort, which helped him link up teachers facing similar challenges. “I think it does have an impact in your school,” says Edey, now an official in Central Services. “It has a huge impact.”

Located near the
University of Alberta, McKernan School reflects the past and present of site-based decisionmaking in Edmonton. Since the 1980s, the school has run a French-immersion program. From kindergarten through grade 9—a grade span found in many schools here—the 630-student school teaches students every subject in French.

When asked to adopt an instructional focus four years ago, the high-performing school zeroed in on the teaching of critical thinking, complex problem-solving, and organizational skills. The latter is clear in even a glimpse of its classrooms, where most students keep their notes in the same kind of spiral notebooks with zippers.

For their training, educators at the school chose a popular trade book. In regular discussions, they’ve worked through the text, which describes the application and effects of nine distinctly different teaching methods.

“The one thing that I am absolutely certain about all of this is, that when you can get teachers talking to each other about what they’re doing, student achievement will improve,” Edey says.


Many educators here echo that sentiment. One downside of site-based management, they say, is that it can exacerbate the professional isolation that already plagues those who work in schools. As a result, they’ve tried to open up new lines of communication within and among buildings.

A key strategy stressed in the new training is the “instructional walk-through,” in which teachers and administrators observe others engaged in teaching. Many
U.S. districts use a similar technique. In Edmonton, the practice is strictly a learning tool, not part of any evaluation. It’s now commonplace for educators here to do walk-throughs in their own schools, and to visit others.

“We had teachers who said: ‘I haven’t been in somebody else’s classroom in 15 years,’ ” says Tanni Parker, a Central Services official who organizes staff training. “The sharing and problem-solving wasn’t happening, and so we gave them a license to be able to open up the classroom door.”

In a district that already scores well, the best hope for
Edmonton has been to nudge past its previous performance. That seems to be happening. Since 2000, the district has edged out in front of Alberta overall in the percentage of 6th and 9th graders scoring at the “acceptable” level on provincewide exams. On 3rd grade exams, Edmonton still is behind, but gaining.

The latest graduation rate reported for
Edmonton is 68 percent, up from the 63 percent that sounded the alarm four years ago. District leaders are especially encouraged by the improvement last year in the percentage of high school students completing individual courses, a predictor of future graduation rates.

Michael Fullan, an expert on standards-based school improvement in
North America and Europe, thinks Edmonton is right to marry site-based management with a districtwide focus on instruction. Systems that adopt a purely top-down approach often see a quick boost in scores, followed by a leveling off, he says.

“The reason they plateau is that a centrally driven system, even with an investment in capacity building, doesn’t really get at ownership deeply enough,” says Fullan, a dean emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the
University of Toronto. Of Edmonton’s strategy, he says: “This is kind of having your cake and eating it, too.”

When American policymakers come here, they usually ask about the nuts and bolts of site-based management. They want to know how the money is divided among schools, and how much discretion principals really have in budget and personnel decisions. McBeath believes a bigger lesson is about how to stick with an idea while at the same time adapting it.

As he told the group of visitors that came here last month from
Minnesota: “We’ve been in an endless system of reform. We’re not finished yet.”


Putting Arts Education Front and Center
Commentary by Rod Paige & Mike Huckabee, Education Week, 1/26/05
(Rod Paige has served for the past four years as the
U.S. secretary of education. Mike Huckabee is the governor of Arkansas and the current chairman of the Education Commission of the States). 
Since the time when humans drew figures on the walls of the caves of
Lascaux, the arts have been our means of recording human experience and making meaning in the world. They are a sign of a thoughtful, inventive, and creative citizenry. As the global economy becomes faster and more competitive, these qualities are increasingly important. As such, the arts are an integral part of a complete, successful, and high-quality education.

Study of the arts enhances young people’s intellectual, personal, and social development. The arts provide a rich and engaging curriculum that develops students’ abilities to think, reason, and understand the world and its cultures. A comprehensive arts education encompasses such areas as the history of the arts, the honing of critical-analysis skills, the re-creation of classic as well as contemporary works of art, and the expression of students’ ideas and feelings through the creation of their own works. In other words, students should have opportunities to respond, perform, and create in the arts.

Research has shown that those who study the arts improve their achievement in other subjects, including mathematics, reading, and writing. In math, for example, studies point to a direct connection between music and spatial reasoning and spatial temporal skills, which are important to understanding and using mathematical concepts. For high school students, coursetaking data collected by the College Board indicate that students of the arts annually outperform their nonarts peers on the SAT. In 2004, for example, students who studied music scored 40 points higher on the math portion of the test than students reporting no arts coursework. Similarly, students who studied acting and play production outscored their nonarts peers on the verbal portion of the SAT by an average of 66 points.

The effect of arts study on reading is similar. Because reading is the educational skill upon which all others in our lives are based, the No Child Left Behind Act focuses on literacy and sets the goal that all students read by the 3rd grade. We know from research that the arts can help achieve this goal, and that certain forms of arts instruction enhance and complement reading instruction. Studies have shown, for example, that when creative dramatics are a component of reading with preschool-age children, skills in comprehension and vocabulary increase.

The academic benefits of arts education also go beyond math and reading. An analysis of U.S. Department of Education data on 25,000 middle and high school students found that students who were highly involved in the arts performed better on a variety of academic measures than other students. They earned better grades, did better on exams, performed more community service, and watched fewer hours of television. And a growing amount of evidence shows that the arts can be particularly beneficial to students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and can even keep some potential dropouts in school.

Most Americans recognize the importance of this early engagement in the arts. A recent Harris Poll found that 90 percent of respondents considered the arts vital to a well-rounded education for all students. The same poll also revealed that nine in 10 parents of school-age children oppose subjecting arts programs to budget cutbacks.

To put it simply, we need to keep the arts in education because they instill in students the habits of mind that last a lifetime: critical analysis skills, the ability to deal with ambiguity and to solve problems, perseverance and a drive for excellence. Moreover, the creative skills children develop through the arts carry them toward new ideas, new experiences, and new challenges, not to mention personal satisfaction. This is the intrinsic value of the arts, and it cannot be overestimated.

President Bush and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress recognized that the arts have this intrinsic value, are a necessary component of preparation for life in our democracy, and have a positive impact on student achievement and motivation. They understood that dance, drama, music, and the visual arts provide important skills and are educationally powerful tools for reaching all learners—that the arts can engage a child in ways that defy imagination. That’s why the arts are considered a core academic subject under the No Child Left Behind law: They can and should play a central role in fulfilling the law’s goal of improved student achievement, as well as similar goals of states, districts, schools, and parents. And that’s why the Department of Education included the arts, in addition to math, science, and reading, in its Research-to-Practice summit, a component of its Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative, this past summer.


The state of the arts varies from state to state and district to district, but we are beginning to see recognition of their importance in education across the country. Using the state of Arkansas as an example, we can see this in more than a dozen school, community, and governmental efforts to bring the arts to students.

• Every public school elementary student in the state now receives instruction in music or the visual arts.

• The Future Art and Music Teachers pilot program gives 11th and 12th grade students in at least six schools the opportunity to offer music and visual-arts instruction to K-6 students.

• The Arkansas School for Mathematics and Sciences has been expanded to include the arts, making the state one of only a handful offering a year-round, rigorous program for students gifted in the arts.

• The A+ Schools Program, begun in North Carolina and operating in Arkansas and Oklahoma as well, incorporates the arts into every subject in the curriculum of a number of schools.


Other states are at work in this area as well. In Arizona, state Superintendent Tom Horne’s “content-rich curriculum” initiative is investing $4 million in comprehensive-school-reform funds under the No Child Left Behind Act to support arts education improvement efforts at 43 schools throughout the state. The initiative is based on the success of Tucson’s Opening Minds Through the Arts program, which received federal support from the Department of Education’s Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination program. Again this year, the department’s office of innovation and improvement will solicit applications for both the models program and professional-development projects for K-12 arts educators.

The Education Commission of the States is undertaking a two-year focus on ensuring access to high-quality arts education in our schools. The goal of the ECS initiative—The Arts: A Lifetime of Learning—is to put the arts front and center on the education agenda. Its work plan is centered on four interrelated areas—awareness, research, tools, and state leadership—that, together, form the word “arts” and provide a set of objectives vital to increasing the arts’ stature in education:

• Raise levels of public awareness and deepen understanding among state policymakers about the educational, social, and civic benefits of student involvement in the arts.

• Call for and contribute to the development of better state-level research and data on which to base policy decisions.

• Equip state policymakers with the tools to analyze and interpret state-level information related to the status and condition of arts education and instruction in schools.

• Support state leadership in efforts to develop policies and practices designed to improve educational outcomes for all students through school-based integration of the arts.

As a nation, we must develop children who are productive, happy, well-adjusted citizens, rather than kids who can just pass a test and get through school. We must ensure that our children can compete in the 21st-century economy by preparing a workforce and a citizenry that can think creatively, skillfully, and “outside the box.” The arts are a vital part of doing this—and of ensuring that every student can achieve his or her potential and contribute fully to our society.

We know our nation is up to the challenge, but we must mobilize, inform, educate, and inspire education and policy leaders to recognize the vast potential returns that can be realized by investing now in arts education. Because of their primary responsibility in setting policy and in determining funding levels for public education, these leaders play a critical role in helping to make and keep the arts strong in schools.

By working together to bring the arts to every child in America, not only will we change attitudes about the curriculum, but we also will change the future of our country.



A bi-weekly update on U.S. Department of Education activities relevant to the Intergovernmental and Corporate community and other stakeholders - 1/28/05
NCLB Update (

According to the College Board's first-ever "Advanced Placement Report to the Nation," 13.2 percent of the graduating class of 2004 demonstrated mastery (at least a 3 on a 5-point scale) of one or more Advanced Placement (AP) exams, up from 10.2 percent from the 2000 class.  Moreover, over the past five years, all 50 states and the
District of Columbia reported an increase in the percentage of students succeeding on AP exams.  For example, New York is the first state in the nation to see more than 20 percent of its students achieve a grade of 3 or higher on an AP exam, and California, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Utah are close to this level of achievement, with between 18 and 20 percent of students earning a 3 or higher.  On the other hand, the success of ethnic minorities is mixed.  Since 1996, there have been significant increases in African-American (+164%), Hispanic (+197%), and American Indian (+115%) students scoring 3 or higher on AP exams, and the proportion of Hispanic students taking AP exams (13.1%) is, today, about the same as the proportion of Hispanic students in public schools (12.8%).  But African-American students remain significantly underrepresented in AP; African-American students make up 13.2 percent of the student population but only 6.0 percent of AP test takers.  Research shows that students who succeed on one or more AP exams are more likely than their peers to complete a bachelor's degree in four years.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO
 (Secretary Spelling's statement is available at
President Bush has proposed a 73 percent increase in the Department's AP initiatives.)

Interested in becoming a supplemental service provider?  The American Institutes for Research is offering a free "Providers' Toolkit for Supplemental Educational Services" (
The toolkit includes step-by-step tips, tools, and resources on designing, delivering, marketing, managing, and evaluating a quality program.  Currently, under the No Child Left Behind Act, over 2,700 Title I schools are required to offer supplemental services.

Senate Approval    

Hours after President Bush was sworn in last week for his second term, the Senate unanimously confirmed Margaret Spellings as the eighth U.S. Secretary of Education.  Below are excerpts from her first message to Department staff.

"As I indicated in my confirmation hearing, there is no more critical obligation each of us has to the American people than to educate our citizens.  In our diverse country, we share the belief that education is the great equalizer.  It is the key to success for individual Americans and the key to success of our nation -- not just economic success but civic and democratic success.  In our country, we believe that a great education must be available to each and every American."

"Our schools are, right now, preparing the individuals who will succeed each of us....  I have been involved in our public schools for more than two decades in many different ways.  I am a parent of school-aged children.  I have worked in both legislative and executive branches of government, as well as at the local, state, and federal levels.  We have a lot of work ahead of us, work that will affect our nation's future in a most fundamental way."

Teacher Loan Forgiveness     

Attention teachers!  The Taxpayer-Teacher Protection Act, signed into law last year, authorizes up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness for eligible, highly qualified math, science, and special education teachers.  This dramatic increase -- $12,500 above the previous limit of $5,000 -- is meant to ease the shortage of teachers in important subject areas.  To be eligible, teachers (with no outstanding loan balances before October 1, 1998, and who have borrowed before October 1, 2005) must be highly qualified, as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act; must have taught full-time, for five consecutive years, in a Title I school; and must have taught secondary math or science or elementary or secondary special education to students with disabilities.  Also, an eligible teacher who has already received loan forgiveness may receive further loan forgiveness -- "up to the difference between $17,500 and the amount previously forgiven."  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO

School Readiness Report

This week, the National Governors Association (NGA) released "Building the Foundation for Bright Futures: Final Report of the NGA Task Force on School Readiness" (  Two years of work from the task force and more than a decade's worth of research has gone into the list of recommendations, sorted into "Ready States," "Ready Schools," "Ready Communities," "Ready Families," and "Ready Children."  Then, a companion piece, "A Governor's Guide to School Readiness" (,  ties the policy recommendations to concrete examples.

Pell Grants      

On January 14, at
Florida Community College in Jacksonville, President Bush announced he will ask lawmakers to increase the maximum Pell Grant award by $100 per year for the next five years, to $4,550.  The President also reiterated his support for enhanced Pell Grants, which would give an additional $1,000 for the first two years of college to students from low-income families who complete the rigorous State Scholars program.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO

Note: In a recent national survey commissioned by the Job Shadow Coalition and sponsored by the Departments of Education and Labor, over 60 percent of teenagers said they would need higher education to accomplish the American Dream.  Specifically, 12 percent of teenagers said "some college or postsecondary trade school" was necessary to succeed; 31 percent said a bachelor's degree; and 27 percent said a graduate degree or Ph.D.  FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO





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