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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – January 28 – February 4, 2005


Governor happy with new role in education / Champaign News-Gazette
Education funding reform again moves to head of class in legislature / Decatur Herald & Review
School tutoring standoff ends / Chicago Tribune
Assistant principal chosen as state's best / Daily Herald
Plan: Double tuition rebate / Beacon News
Preschool pledge near / Daily Herald
Winning $14 Million Ticket Goes Unclaimed / CBS2-Chicago
A Fight Over Reading Instruction in a District Weary of Change / New York Times
Fewer city high school grads than claimed / Chicago Sun-Times
Business plans draw raves; education reactions mixed / Rockford Register Star
Governor sticks to positives / Pantagraph
Let undocumented children into preschool: Blagojevich / Daily Southtown
Area social workers, teachers get lesson on how to deal with poverty / LaSalle NewsTribune
Sophomores get taste of reality at high school / Herald News
Laying the pavement for road to progress / Chicago Sun-Times
Governor's address dodges the tough issues / Chicago Sun-Times
When children level charges / Chicago Tribune

School laptops win hearts and minds / St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)
Decoding Why Few Girls Choose Science, Math / Washington Post
Connecticut, Other States Seek Changes To Federal No Child Left Behind Law / The Day (CT)
Small Schools in City Program to Grow by 52 in September / New York Times
Horne: Schools won't miss junk food / Arizona Republic
Anchorage students learning in Russian / Boston Globe
Will teacher merit pay make the grade? / Dallas Morning News
Nearby school not always best / Honolulu Advertiser
Utah gets chance to replace No Child / Daily Herald (UT)
Pay cuts are asked of Detroit teachers / Detroit Free Press
Dropout's appeal fails in school case / Detroit News
Beyond blocks: Baby preschool may open in '06 / Denver Post
Spellings will 'stay the course' of school reform / Cincinnati Enquirer
Super Bowl parade an issue for schools / Philadelphia Inquirer
Preschool as cash cow / Boston Globe
Public School Stakes Its Future on the Montessori Way / New York Times



Governor happy with new role in education
Kate Clements, The News-Gazette
SPRINGFIELD – A year ago, Gov. Rod Blagojevich delivered a blistering surprise attack on the State Board of Education in his State of the State Address and proposed stripping the board of its duties and creating a new Department of Education under his control.
"Instead of being an independent body that could regulate and support our schools, the Illinois State Board of Education is like an old, Soviet style bureaucracy," Blagojevich said in that speech. "It's clunky and inefficient, it issues mandates, it spends money, it dictates policy, and it isn't accountable to anyone for anything."
The Department of Education never materialized, and the state board retained all of its duties, but legislation was eventually adopted to grant the governor more control over the board's members and budget.
Blagojevich, who will give a new State of the State on Thursday, is generally happy with the results, said Elliot Regenstein, the governor's director of education reform.
"I think he feels like things are really moving in the right direction," Regenstein said. "In a year I think a lot has changed, and we're really moving in the right direction now, and I think he's very excited about that."
State Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, called the final result "a complete and total compromise" compared with what the governor had requested.
Regenstein said that was to be expected.
"It's certainly a situation where, as anyone who is familiar with the legislative process knows, you have to throw in a fair bit of steak just to get a decent sized hamburger," he said.
After backing off the Department of Education idea, which many called unconstitutional, Blagojevich pushed a different proposal. That legislation would have let him replace the entire board at once and remove members at will, rather than only if they displayed malfeasance, neglect or incompetence. Its progress was blocked by lawmakers who worried that it would wipe out the board's sense of independence.
Under the compromise that was finally reached, incoming governors can appoint five members to the State Board of Education upon inauguration, and replace the other four members two years later. Blagojevich, however, was allowed to appoint seven new members immediately, keeping only two from the previous board.
The state board still hires the state superintendent, but now the person's contract cannot extend past the end of the current governor's term. Each new governor's appointees to the state board will hire a new superintendent.
Blagojevich has been quick to take advantage of his increased power.
On the same day he signed the bill into law, the governor appointed his seven new board members. Their first action was to approve a buyout of former state superintendent Robert Schiller's contract and to hire an interim superintendent, Randy Dunn, who was hand-picked by the administration and refers to himself as "a member of the governor's leadership team."
The Illinois Constitution provides that the State Board of Education chooses the chief state education officer, but in engineering Dunn's appointment, the governor showed that he planned to exhibit much more control over the board's selection. Blagojevich said he also intended to propose a permanent state superintendent candidate after conducting a nationwide search. Those duties are usually handled by the board, not the governor.
Blagojevich is also exhibiting much more control over the board's budget, although the administration prefers to call it cooperation.
That has led some to worry that the compromise that was finally reached has effectively silenced what was once an independent voice for public schools.
"In all fairness to the governor, I don't know that six or seven months is enough time to determine if this is a good or a bad thing, but I'm troubled," said state Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet. "What ultimately I'm not happy with is that we don't have an autonomous group giving us a projection of what we need to fund schools."
In previous years, the state board would adopt its own budget proposal, which would be presented to the General Assembly early in the year and become part of the debate over education spending. Last year, for example, the board proposed a $600 million increase in education spending in several specific areas.
"It is a very realistic request with regard to attempting to address what the needs are that the school districts have today," Schiller said of that budget.
In contrast, the governor's budget last year offered a $400 million increase and did not specify how that money should be spent. The final state budget included about $389 million in new education money.
This year, the state board has not released its own budget and does not intend to before the governor's budget address on Feb. 16. Instead, the board has scheduled some public hearings and is working with the governor's office to come to a consensus budget that will be included in Blagojevich's overall spending plan, according to Regenstein. It will be adopted formally by the board some time after the budget address, he said.
"The philosophy of the board's budgeting process has changed for the better and more permanently, and that is that the board wants to work cooperatively with the governor's office on a budget," he said. "And I think what happened in years past was that the board was willing to willfully stick a thumb in the eye of the governor and the General Assembly by proposing budgets with dollar figures that totally ignored the state's overall budget picture. And I think that what this board is doing is trying to be more realistic."
But education advocates have urged the board to preserve an independent budget process.
In written testimony prepared for today's state board budget hearing, Illinois PTA President Gayla Boomer called on the state board to "recognize the real needs of the schools of Illinois and propose a budget that informs the Illinois General Assembly and the governor what those needs are."
“The State Board of Education must be our advocate for the children of Illinois and our public schools," Boomer wrote. "You need to be that voice for excellence and equality, not simply a board that allocates an inadequate amount of funds proposed by someone else."
Regenstein acknowledged that the new approach has sparked criticism.
"I know that there are some in the advocacy community who really sort of liked the board's role as a body that would try to beat up on the governor and General Assembly for whatever level of funding the governor and General Assembly were able to provide, but those days are over," he said. "This I think is a much more realistic approach for the board to take."
State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, said she had not had enough time to evaluate the changes to the state board and is reserving judgment for now.
"I think our priority has to be making sure that our children get the education they need, that they deserve, and whatever they do, those have to be the priorities."


Education funding reform again moves to head of class in legislature
Jennifer Miller, Decatur Herald & Review
SPRINGFIELD - School funding is being thrown into the spotlight again this session, but education experts and lawmakers have yet to agree on a solution.
Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, fired the first shot in this year's debate during his inaugural speech in January.
"We must bring about real change to the terrible, terrible outrageous funding formula that funds the system of our public schools. Inequity in funding results in inequities in education," Jones said.
Education reformers often point to the state's reliance on property taxes as the primary source of school funding. As a result, low-income areas with low property value have less money for schools, whereas wealthy areas have more resources to spend on students.
Remedies brought up by various lawmakers include tax swaps and increases.
"Frankly, I am not crazy about an income tax increase, because I think there are other things you can do first," said Max McGee, former state school superintendent.
Alternatives to tax swaps could include exempting school districts from local property tax caps to allow more money to flow into specific programs such as special education or plowing state dollars into select programs, he said.
"Rather than sprinkle rain on the desert, they should just have a downpour on early childhood education, reading improvement and summer school," McGee said.
The Illinois State Board of Education is not backing any specific solution.
"We want to be part of that conversation. Depending on the will of the General Assembly and where that discussion goes, we'll be part of that work," said Randy Dunn, state schools interim superintendent.
State Sen. James Meeks, I-Chicago, and state Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign, will present versions of "tax swaps" to the General Assembly this session.
Winkel's plan relies on an income tax increase that would generate $5 billion, using $2.4 billion for property tax relief, or a 20 percent drop in the education portion of property taxes, he said.
Barring an overhaul of the state's tax code, past General Assemblies have focused on increasing per-pupil spending as recommended by the Education Funding Advisory Board in 2002. The board suggested increasing per-pupil spending to a range of $5,665 to $6,680.
Winkel's plan would increase per-pupil spending to $5,964.
A former sponsor of Meeks' House Bill 750, Winkel said the proposal has grown beyond simply funding education and includes $2 billion for the state's general revenue fund.
"There's no way of telling exactly how that would be spent," Winkel said. "Actually, more money would go into the unassigned general revenue fund than would go into education."
Winkel also criticized the proposal because it includes a tax on services, businesses and pensions of $75,000 or more.
Jim Nowlan, a proponent of HB 750 and professor of political science at the University of Illinois, said a tax increase is the only way to solve the education problem.
Nowlan prefers Meeks' proposal but suggests the additional tax increases will poison the initiative.
"It appears to be more than legislators who run for re-election can swallow," Nowlan said.
Any tax swap is likely to be doomed because Gov. Rod Blagojevich will not support a sales or income tax increase.
"The governor will look at any proposal members of the General Assembly would like him to consider, but his record has been very clear that he will not support an increase in the sales tax or income tax," said Rebecca Rausch, administration spokeswoman.
Winkel already anticipates the governor's veto and is preparing for a possible override. The governor's budget address will be Feb. 16.

School tutoring standoff ends
City keeps control, forgoes U.S. funds
Tracy Dell'Angela, Chicago Tribune
Chicago Public Schools will continue to run its own tutoring program for 40,000 struggling students through the end of the school year, but it won't use federal No Child Left Behind funds to pay for it.
That means Chicago must find an extra $5 million in an already stretched budget to cover the costs of offering this after-school program at 287 schools. The Illinois Board of Education has agreed to give Chicago a $1 million grant to help offset the cost.

Schools chief Arne Duncan threatened to sue the U.S. Department of Education last month. The agency had barred the district from using federal funds to run its tutoring program because the district is failing academically.
The district's decision, expected to be formally announced Monday, ends what had been a bitter standoff between Chicago and the federal department. The district had been banking on a compromise that would have allowed it to spend the federal money through the end of the year.
Duncan said he would have preferred not to have to dig into the district's budget, but he's happy the program will continue uninterrupted. The district plans to pay for the tutoring with money earmarked for summer school, with the hope the district can find an extra $4 million in the next five months without having to cut any summer programs.
"This is the right outcome for kids," Duncan said.
Under the federal law, schools that fail to meet test standards three years in a row are required to offer free tutoring to low-income students. All districts pay for this academic enrichment from federal grants earmarked under No Child Left Behind, the most sweeping education reform in decades.
Private companies, religious institutions, schools and districts are eligible to run the tutoring programs. But the law bars low-performing districts, such as Chicago, from running a tutoring program. An entire district is identified as low performing if it fails to meet goals two years in a row. This is the first year the sanctions have applied to Illinois districts.
The federal government also targeted nine other low-performing Illinois school districts, which have a total of about 1,000 children in district-run tutoring, state officials said.
Many of these have already figured out a way to continue tutoring. Cicero District 99 will turn over management of its program to a specific school that is allowed to provide tutoring because it is meeting federal goals. Dolton and North Chicago expect private tutoring companies to pick up children now served by district programs.
The battle over Chicago's program began in 2003, when the state board approved Chicago as a tutoring provider even though it was clear the district soon would fall short of federal requirements. Eugene Hickok, U.S. undersecretary of education, warned then that the approval violated the spirit of the law.
Hickok reasoned that allowing Chicago to tutor children was akin to rewarding the district "because they didn't get it right the first time." Despite this warning, Chicago expanded its district-run program this year, which now serves about half of the 80,000 students receiving the federally mandated service.
Chicago said the law is flawed because the district would not be able to reach as many students if forced to rely solely on private companies. The district's program is far cheaper--about $400 per student for about 80 hours of help, compared with the $800 to $1,500 charged by private providers.
But Chicago also tutors students in groups of 15, while outside organizations offer class sizes of 8 to 12 students per tutor. Chicago budgeted $52 million to cover tutoring this year--about $15 million for its own program and $37 million for private providers.
Federal officials were far more conciliatory after learning of Chicago's decision to back off from its threat to file a lawsuit.
"We've always been hopeful of reaching an agreement on this issue that is so vitally important to Chicago's students," Education Department spokeswomen Susan Aspey said.
Randy Dunn, interim state superintendent of education, said he believes Chicago won one concession in its showdown with federal education officials: The district will not have to repay the estimated $10 million in federal funds already spent on its own program. If the district doesn't spend all of its No Child Left Behind money, it would be rolled into next year's allotment.
Although the state board is facing its own budget crisis, it managed to find an extra $1 million in unspent grant money to help Chicago. The money comes from a federal grant targeted for school improvement.
"Our goal in the very beginning was for kids not to have an interruption in service," Dunn said. "From our standpoint, the kids won."


Assistant principal chosen as state's best
By Erin Holmes, Daily Herald Staff Writer, 2/1/05

Trisha Dean has spent 10 years as an assistant principal.

She'll spend her 11th as assistant principal of the year.

Dean, a longtime fixture in Buffalo Grove High's office, will represent Illinois as one of 52 administrators nationwide awarded that title for 2005.

The annual award comes from the National Association of Secondary School Principals to recognize exceptional efforts made by administrators.

"I was thrilled," said Patrice Johannes, Buffalo Grove High's principal and the person who nominated Dean for the honor. "I appreciate what she does. I think it's worth recognition."

Dean is a perfectionist, Johannes said, doing the job well whether it involves handling the registration for hundreds of incoming freshmen or overseeing a 50-person staff team.

"She's a very hard worker and very devoted to what she does," Johannes said. "It's just very impressive. She's there backing you, doing her job."

Before coming to Buffalo Grove as assistant principal for student services, Dean worked in Elgin Area Unit District U-46 and what's now St. Viator High School.

In her role as a Buffalo Grove Bison, she has helped organize an annual series of parent forums, addressing topics such as drug and alcohol use and teens' adjustment to high school, and she helped institute a "Coffee with the Counselors" time for parents to meet with counselors.

Dean also was responsible for writing the application that earned Buffalo Grove High a Blue Ribbon Award of Excellence from the U.S. Department of Education in 2000.

She had to do a lot of writing to get her current award, too -scribing essays that detailed how she has succeeded in three key areas: collaborative leadership, personalization (making school a positive atmosphere for students) and curriculum instruction and assessment.

But "I like writing, so that's not a problem," Dean laughed.

Parents, staff members and Johannes chipped in, writing letters of recommendation on Dean's behalf before she sent in the application this fall.

Dean said she "certainly was very pleasantly surprised" by being named Illinois' assistant principal honoree. She won't be getting a cash prize - a $5,000 pot is reserved for the national assistant principal of the year only - but "I'll probably get some dinners out of it," she joked.

She's right. All state winners will be recognized at the National Association of Secondary School Principals convention later this month in San Francisco. More locally, the school likely will honor Dean, Johannes said, and the school board also may recognize her work.


Plan: Double tuition rebate
Private-school families: Roskam says K-12 tax break should be raised to $1,000
Ed Fanselow, Beacon News
SPRINGFIELD — Families who pay to send their kids to private schools could be getting some more help from the state, thanks to new legislation being proposed in the Illinois Senate.
State Sen. Peter Roskam — a Wheaton Republican whose district also includes Aurora's far East Side and parts of Batavia, Geneva and North Aurora — is asking lawmakers to double the amount of money private-school families can receive under the state's education tax-credit program.
Currently, parents who spend more than $2,250 a year on tuition, books and lab fees for students in kindergarten through 12th grade are eligible for $500 in state tax rebates.
Roskam, though, says those dollar amounts — which were established in 1999 — are outdated, with tuition in the vicinity of $5,000 at many of the private high schools in the Fox Valley, including Aurora Christian, Marmion, Rosary and Aurora Central Catholic.
Under his plan, families spending at least $4,250 would qualify for the new $1,000 maximum.
Parents, he said, "should have the ability, regardless of their income, to chose the schools that best fit the education needs of their child."
"The state benefits greatly when parents choose to accept the lion's share of paying for their kids' educations," he said. "With the rise of educational costs, it seemed that the state should be doing a little more to lighten that burden."
State Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora, who plans to co-sponsor the bill, agrees.
"I'm a huge proponent of public education," said Lauzen, who like Roskam has sent his children to both public and private schools.
"But the decision of where to send your kids to school has to be up to the parents, and we should do all we can to make that decision easier."
Although Lauzen and Roskam say the proposal has support from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, they concede that they are leery of the chances that Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, will agree to call the bill for a vote.
"I'm going to do all I can to see that he does," Roskam said, "because I think this is something that people from both sides of the aisle can get behind."

Preschool pledge near
John Patterson, Daily Herald
SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois State Board of Education is poised to reinforce that all children in Illinois, regardless of immigration status, are guaranteed access to preschool programs.
Board members are expected to vote on a rule change later this month to spell out constitutional guarantees of public education. Gov. Rod Blagojevich will publicly ask the board to do so in his State of the State address Thursday.
Undocumented children have a legal right to public education, but a Blagojevich spokesman said state officials were notified last year by an immigrant rights group of a preschool student being turned away. Because preschool is not a required program, there was some confusion as to whether undocumented students were guaranteed access.
"The law itself is not clear, but if the state board and the governor make it clear, there will be a legal duty by the districts to provide these services to undocumented students," said Alonzo Rivas, the staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund who first brought the situation to the state's attention.
Rivas said a woman contacted him after Summit Hill Elementary District 161 in Will County would not enroll her child. He said the district required Social Security numbers, thereby eliminating undocumented children.
But the school superintendent said that's not true. While the district asks for Social Security numbers, it's not a requirement for enrollment, said Superintendent Keith Pain.
In this case, Pain said the issue was residency and the family could not prove it lived in the district.


Winning $14 Million Ticket Goes Unclaimed
CBS2-Chicago, 2/1/05

SPRINGFIELD - Illinois' education fund is getting a 14 million boost because of an unclaimed Lotto ticket.

The ticket was purchased at a Gas City in Frankfort for the drawing on January 31, 2004.

Lottery winners get one year to claim their prizes. So when no one redeemed the ticket by yesterday's deadline, it became the largest unclaimed jackpot in Illinois lottery history and the money goes toward education.

The money will be given to the state's common school fund. Last year, the lottery contributed $570 million to that fund. It supports education of children from kindergarten through 12th grade.

A lottery spokeswoman says several people called to say they had the winning ticket, but none had the correct serial number to prove their claims. The spokeswoman says one person even forged a ticket with the winning numbers to try to steal the jackpot.

The winning numbers for that drawing were: 14, 23, 24, 36, 37 and 50.


A Fight Over Reading Instruction in a District Weary of Change
By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN, New York Times, 2/2/05

ROCKFORD, Ill. - When Dennis Thompson took over as school superintendent in this struggling factory city last May, he thought he recognized the gravity of its woes. He knew the district had gone through a divisive battle over desegregation in the late 1980's. He knew that a decade under court supervision had resulted in higher taxes and white flight, without educational gains. As it turned out, he didn't know the half of it.

Using the kind of short-term borrowing that nearly brought New York City to bankruptcy, Dr. Thompson's predecessors had rung up a cumulative deficit of $50 million, the equivalent of nearly one-fifth of the annual budget. The State of Illinois had prohibited the district from issuing any more debt and threatened to take over its finances. By the summer of 2004, 30 of the 52 schools had landed in the State Education Department's categories of "warning," "watch" and "corrective action."

Years of poor management and powerful unions had left Mr. Thompson with a work force that included nine full-time grass-cutters and only two curriculum specialists. He laid off about 360 teachers and aides from a total staff of 4,000 to reduce the district deficit and transferred 800 others, largely to comply with seniority provisions in the union contract. He compared it to "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."

One of the only bright spots appeared to be the Lewis Lemon elementary school. With a student body that was 80 percent nonwhite and 85 percent poor, the school recorded some of highest scores in Rockford on statewide tests. On a reading test, Lemon's third graders trailed only those from a school for the gifted.

Lemon's principal, Tiffany Parker, had accomplished all this by embracing a method of teaching reading known as "direct instruction." Intended to address the needs of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, direct instruction provides teachers with scripted lessons, heavy on drilling and repetition, that emphasize phonics - that is, learning words by sounding them out.

Ericton Lewis moved his son Ericton Jr. to Lewis Lemon after three frustrating years at a school that did not use direct instruction. By the end of fifth grade, the boy's second year at Lewis Lemon, he had earned his way onto the honor roll and grown so proficient as a reader that he regularly picked up the music magazine Vibe for pleasure.

In the last several months, however, Ms. Parker and Lewis Lemon have collided with Dr. Thompson and his agenda for reform. Instead of serving as beacons for what is possible, the school and its principal have been portrayed as impediments to progress. The superintendent recently transferred Ms. Parker to a middle school, and has begun phasing out direct instruction in favor of an approach known as balanced literacy.

In that respect, the battle in Rockford is a microcosm of the debate nationally over how to teach reading, particularly to at-risk and minority children. Advocates of balanced literacy - including school officials in New York City who installed it several years ago - insist that it splits the difference between the highly traditional style of direct instruction and the progressive "whole language" method that eschews phonics and spelling. The handful of pupils who actually need intensive drilling in phonics can receive it as an "intervention."

In the academy and the pages of education journals, the dispute can proceed at the level of competing theories and studies. Telescoped down into a school of 400 children in a city of 150,000, the argument cannot help but be personal and emotional.

"Do we teach the same skills with balanced literacy? Yes," said Robin Paschal, the new reading coordinator at Lewis Lemon. "Do we want to bring children to a level of mastery? Yes. But in a brain-based way. Are we addressing that when we use direct instruction? No."

What Ms. Paschal meant became clear in the course of visiting two classes at two schools. In one of the remaining direct-instruction classes at Lewis Lemon, the teacher, Janice Butitta, stood in front of 17 fourth graders, holding a wire-bound manual with a word-by-word script for the morning's lesson. As they read through a story, each pupil reciting a paragraph aloud, they were learning the day's vocabulary words - bathroom, homework, realizing, practicing.

An hour later, across town at the Conklin Elementary School, Kelly Brooks sat with several of her fifth graders at a small U-shaped table, discussing one chapter of the children's novel "The Barn." She asked about the traits and actions of the main characters, and reminded them to write in their "Reader's Journal" notebook about "someone you know well and what qualities that person has." As those pupils moved on to work independently, Ms. Brooks invited another group to the table with their books.

That the activity in Conklin was more interesting to an adult was beyond question. And to Superintendent Thompson, Rockford cannot improve its overall performance without using one reading method for the whole district, so that all teachers can be trained in it. A retired Army lieutenant colonel, he also made it plain that he could not tolerate Ms. Parker's disobeying orders.

"This is not a curriculum issue alone with her," he said. "It is a leadership issue. Good leaders need to be good followers first."

OF her refusal to adopt balanced literacy, Ms. Parker said, "Basically, what you're going to do is sentence a child to a life of poverty because you're never going to give some of the most vulnerable kids the tools to become self-reliant."

After blanket coverage of the controversy in the local paper and a meeting with Dr. Thompson, the Lewis Lemon parents know the arguments against direct instruction. Some, if not all, are aware that Lewis Lemon's scores for fifth graders fall well below those for third graders - something that district administrators attribute to the limitations of direct instruction and that Ms. Parker largely ascribes to an inexperienced teaching corps at the higher grade level. Having seen desegregation fail, magnet schools falter, superintendents come and go, the parents have railed against losing the one thing they have seen succeed.

"I'm shocked," Ericton Lewis said. "It's like now all these kids are going to be lost. I can't understand why they would take a program that was working and get rid of it. Why fix something if it ain't broke?"


Fewer city high school grads than claimed
Rosalind Rossi, Chicago Sun-Times, 2/3/04
Only 54 percent of Chicago public high school students graduate in four years -- an alarmingly low rate that has been masked for years by misleading state calculations, a new study contended Wednesday.
Although Chicago's graduation rate has improved over time, it is far lower than the 70.7 percent state officials claimed this year, the study found. And the true rate for black male students is particularly dismal -- at 39 percent, experts said.
The University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research issued the sobering new statistics Wednesday, challenging the way the Illinois State Board of Education has been reporting its four-year high school graduation rate.
Illinois' method of calculating graduates is so prone to manipulation that "there could be some schools cooking the books'' here, said consortium researcher Elaine Allensworth. Most of the inaccuracy comes from the way the state counts high school transfer students, she said. Transfers who drop out of their new schools are not counted as dropouts anywhere. But transfers who graduate are counted as graduates of their new schools.
Some steps by CPS to cut dropouts:
Evening classes offered at 10 more schools for a total of 40
Department of Dropout Prevention and Recovery was created
Extra math class for low-scoring freshmen and summer classes for lagging freshmen and sophomores
How many enter, how many leave
Currently, Allensworth said, Illinois officials compare the number of kids who enter high school with the number who graduate four years later.
To be accurate, Allensworth recommended tracking kids over time. That method found that 54 percent of Chicago Public Schools freshmen in September 2000 graduated by August 2004.
That's a clear improvement from a U. of C. calculation of 46 percent in 1996, but still far lower than the 2004 rate of 70.7 percent claimed by the state, she said.
Even though Chicago's graduation rate has improved, Allensworth said, it has not improved as much among African-American students as among other ethnic groups. At Manley High, an all-black school where the U. of C. put the graduation rate at around 29 percent, Principal Katherine Flanagan questioned the accuracy of the U. of C. rates. She also cautioned that kids enter her school with a host of underlying problems that schools alone cannot solve. They live in poverty. Many must care for their siblings. Some have terrible home lives.
"They are not thinking about school. They are thinking about survival,'' Flanagan said.
The new study also indicated Chicago bucked a national trend by producing Latino males who graduated at higher rates -- 51 percent -- than black males, at 39 percent.
'A long way to go'
Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan said he started a new Department of Dropout Prevention last year to help schools tackle the dropout problem.
"Whether we use state data or consortium data, it doesn't matter to us,'' Duncan said. "Using both data, the same story is told. One, we're seeing improvement, and two, we have a heck of a long way to go.''
State Board of Education spokeswoman Becky Watts questioned some of Allensworth's calculations but agreed that tracking students longitudinally produces a more accurate picture. However, she said, the state won't have the ability to do that until 2006, when it will get a new student information system.
Don Moore of Designs for Change called Chicago's current state-calculated rate "grossly misleading'' and confusing to local school councils charged with approving school budgets. The Marshall High local school council might think the state-reported rate of 70 percent is "not that bad,'' Moore said, but they would have an entirely different opinion if they knew Allensworth said it was 41 percent.
"This huge discrepancy, it's similar to cheating on a test. That's the way we should view it,'' Moore said.


Business plans draw raves; education reactions mixed
Rockford Register News, 2/4/05

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Rod Blagojevich touted his administration Thursday for increasing education and health-care funding while balancing the state budget without raising personal income taxes or the general sales tax.

His third State of the State speech, delivered as the state faces a deficit of as much as $2.1 billion, was light on new policy goals — at least ones that cost money.

After facing two years of criticism for supporting higher business taxes and fees, the governor said Thursday that he is focused on improving the business climate in Illinois by streamlining regulations and reducing the cost of workers’ compensation.

Here’s a look at key points of Blagojevich’s address:

Health insurance

What the governor said: He wants the state to partner with local chambers of commerce to save small businesses money on health-insurance costs. The proposal would help businesses pool their demand and buy into insurance plans at cheaper rates.

Reaction: Chris Agnitsch, vice president of governmental affairs at the Rockford Area Chamber of Commerce, said the plan has potential.

“Obviously, the governor was trying to heal some of the wounds he’s inflicted on business over the last two years,” said Sen. Todd Sieben, R-Geneseo. “That’s a little bit of a salve or an ointment for those wounds.”

Workers’ compensation

What the governor said: The state’s workers’ compensation system needs reform, and he wants to crack down on fraud and require insurance companies to pay doctors directly for claims.

Reaction: “It gives immediate relief to workers,” said Margaret Blackshere, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO. “Now, if you suffer a workers’ comp claim, the doctor comes after you to get payment resolved (requiring the workers to file insurance claims).”

Blackshere said it often takes three to five years for claims to be reimbursed in full, or for workers to agree to a settlement with their insurance company.

She said cracking down on fraud through state investigations will show that most fraud comes from employers and insurance companies, not workers.

Todd Maisch, vice president of government affairs at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said the proposal could help businesses.

“Employers pay 100 percent of the cost,” he said. “So not only are we paying the cost of the injured worker. We’re paying the cost of the hospital and the doctors, who do very well under the system. We’re also paying for lawyers, which are rampant in the system. All three of those people make an awful lot of money off the workers’ compensation system, and all of it comes out of employers’ pockets.”


What the governor said: He called on the Illinois State Board of Education to require public schools to allow children of undocumented immigrants to attend preschool.

The state offers only K-12 education to children of undocumented immigrants, ISBE spokeswoman Becky Watts said.

Reaction: Belvidere Superintendent Don Schlomann said Belvidere schools so far have been able to allow such children into preschool programs if they meet requirements, such as low-income levels. He said he’s concerned about whether there would be space for more.

Watts said the change wouldn’t result in overcrowding at preschools.

She said in schools that have vacancies, children would be able to get in. She acknowledged that there are districts in which students would have to get on a waiting list, but said that even being eligible for a place on the waiting list is an improvement, because there now is no requirement to consider the children at all.
Republican leaders took a mixed view of the proposal.

“The term ‘undocumented,’ what does that actually mean? And to me, it means illegal (immigrants),” Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, was more enthusiastic.

“Shouldn’t every kid in the state be getting an education? I think that’s good,” he said.

Medical malpractice

What the governor said: He called on fellow policy-makers to curb the soaring cost of insurance for doctors, a cost that doctors say is pushing them to leave Illinois or abandon high-risk practices such as neurosurgery.

Reaction: GOP leaders applauded the move. On Tuesday, they joined with Illinois doctors and hospitals and promoted legislation that would cap non-
economic damages in lawsuits against doctors.

They claim that multimillion-dollar jury awards have driven up the cost of malpractice insurance, though trial lawyers counter that insurance companies made poor investments.

What’s next: The governor, a Chicago Democrat, has said that he would veto legislation that caps noneconomic damages. Republicans held out hope that the governor would change his position.

“The fact that he brought it up in a State of the State speech is a good sign,” said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego.


What the governor said: He wants to increase staff at state Department of Veterans Affairs offices by as much as 50 percent. He said it could help veterans collect up to $400 million more in federal benefits each year.

Reaction: “I don’t think we’ve provided (proper) benefits and service for a long time,” said Sen. Todd Sieben, R-Geneseo, who served in the Vietnam War.

Former Loves Park Veterans of Foreign Wars Cmdr. David Myers said he’s pleased that Blagojevich is focusing on the issue, but said the real concern is money, not personnel.

“There’s only so much money allotted at the federal level,” he said. “You can have two people working on your case and that doesn’t mean anything is going to get done.”


Governor sticks to positives
Lawmakers: Address short on key details
By Kurt Erickson, Pantagrapy, 2/4/05
SPRINGFIELD -- After two years of squabbling with the General Assembly and the state's business community, Gov. Rod Blagojevich adopted a more conciliatory tone Thursday as he outlined his vision for the coming year.

In a 47-minute State of the State speech, he avoided bashing state bureaucrats and lawmakers and handed an olive branch to business owners who have been hit hard by tax and fee increases.

"The last two years have been a very good start, but there's still more to do," Blagojevich said.

Observers were struck by Blagojevich's largely positive remarks, but said his speech was devoid of key details that could help guide debate this spring.

"Maybe there is an effort to be more amenable in working with us. I'm hoping that's the case," said Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville.

"The problem was: He talked about all these great things, but he didn't talk about specifics on any of the issues," said state Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield.

Unlike his 2004 State of the State speech, in which the Chicago Democrat focused almost solely on eliminating the Illinois State Board of Education, Blagojevich employed a more shotgun approach to promoting his agenda for the coming year.

The smorgasbord of issues touched upon included:

• Promoting the construction of environmentally friendly wind farms -- including one in McLean County -- to promote energy independence.

• Building a third Chicago-area airport at Peotone.

• Boosting the collection of child support payments, increasing the number of nurses and promoting Illinois' burgeoning wine industry.

Virtually absent from the address was the state's pressing financial woes. Blagojevich is expected to address his latest plan to dig the state out of a $2 billion deficit when he unveils his budget proposal in two weeks.

There also was no mention of changing the way Illinois funds public schools -- a property tax-based system that has resulted in vast disparities in spending between poor and wealthy school districts.

Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, said he intends to push for a plan to fix school funding and wants to push through an expansion of gambling in order to generate cash for the state.

Many of the initiatives outlined in Blagojevich's speech may be put in place without the need for legislative action.

For example, in a nod to businesses, he called for reforms to control the cost of worker's compensation.

He wants to help veterans and is asking for a study that could help identify the best ways to help them secure state services.

His plan to improve the collection of child support in Illinois hinges on improving the way businesses identify employees who owe money.

And his effort to make sure publicly funded preschools admit the children of undocumented immigrants hinges on changing rules at the Illinois State Board of Education.

"There's no substance here," said state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth. "The governor is his own biggest cheerleader."

But the something-for-everybody speech doesn't mean Blagojevich isn't facing a few high-profile fights as he heads into the second half of his term with a re-election bid looming.

Blagojevich acknowledged that Republicans and Democrats remain far apart on the issue of medical malpractice reform.

"I know the lawyers are well represented around here. So is the medical society. And the hospital association. And the insurance industry. All of them wield a lot of influence," he said.

Although lawmakers were dismayed that Blagojevich didn't offer a road map for solving the medical malpractice dilemma, they agreed his attention to the problem was a good sign.

"I think he hit the nail on the head when it comes to medical malpractice," said state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington. "We've got to take some action on it."

Similarly, the governor raised the thorny issue of workers' compensation reform, saying he wants to see more done about fraudulent claims.

State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said he hopes the governor is serious about tackling the two issues.

"If he's sincere in his effort, we're willing to work with him on both medical malpractice reform and worker's compensation," said Bill Brady.


Let undocumented children into preschool: Blagojevich
By Kati Phillips, Daily Southtown Staff writer, 2/4/05
The 4-year-old Mexican girl who was turned away from a Frankfort school this fall was not named in Gov. Rod Blagojevich's speech Thursday, but she is the reason other undocumented immigrant children will have access to state-funded preschool.

Blagojevich called on the Illinois State Board of Education to prohibit preschools from requiring a child's Social Security number for registration. The state already has a rule prohibiting K-12 schools from denying students based on immigration status.

The proposal stems from an incident in October, where officials at Rogus School are accused of denying a girl access to its preschool because she could not provide a Social Security number, said Alonzo Rivas, staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Though state law only requires open access to K-12 grades, most districts had applied the rule to early childhood education. When Rivas reported this incident to the state, officials said this was the first time it had come up, he said.

"I think that the policy was needed," he said. "There needed to be clarification on what students are entitled to receive these services. Now we know these students are entitled to pre-K services."

Summit Hill School District 161 Supt. Keith Pain said no students have been turned away from his schools based on immigration status and that Blagojevich's proposal stems from a misconception.

The girl's family provided a valid lease but failed to show two other documents that are required to prove residency within district boundaries, he said. The other documents can include a gas bill, driver's license or insurance papers.

The district's registration form does ask for an original, county-certified birth certificate and child's Social Security number. Pain said the number is requested so the district can identify students if they are kidnapped and is not required.

"We would not deny an undocumented immigrant from an education in our district," Pain said. "We would not do that."

The district and the legal defense fund have both since lost touch with the girl's family. It is unknown if she registered in another school district.

Over the past two years, the state has funneled $60 million more into state-funded preschool programs which target at-risk students.

Though enrollment has increased by 17,000, waiting lists are long for the services, considered crucial for disadvantaged children to succeed in later grades.

Becky Watts, spokeswoman for the state board of education, said there's no way to know how many undocumented immigrants will take advantage of the rule change. She emphasized undocumented students will not get priority over other students at registration.

The state board is expected to approve Blagojevich's initiative later this month.


Area social workers, teachers get lesson on how to deal with poverty
By Kevin Caufield, Michelle Robbins and Steve Depies, LaSalle NewsTribune, 2/3/04
Area social workers and teachers attended a workshop Wednesday as a step toward alleviating problems associated with poverty.

At a time when Illinois has experienced some of the largest increases in poverty in the nation during the past several years, it is especially important for schools and social services to understand the cultural aspects of poverty, Linda Reabe of the Center for Adult Learning Leadership in Normal told the group.

Reabe presented information Wednesday on the cultural aspects of poverty to about 30 social service agency representatives, with a focus on applying the knowledge to dealing with their clients.

Two other sessions presented by Lynn Reha, co-director of Illinois Center for Specialized Professional Support, focused on helping students in the elementary, secondary and post-secondary grade-levels.

In La Salle County, 9.14 percent of the population lives in poverty, as do 7.26 percent of residents in Bureau County and 5.54 percent in Putnam County, according to U.S. Census statistics and a study conducted by the Heartland Alliance for Human Rights and Human Needs, based in Chicago.

“It’s easy for us to try to instill our comfort level with those who don’t come from that,” Reabe said.

“We need to realize those people we are trying to help maybe don’t have the same hidden rules we do.”

Reabe said in order to best help those who come to the agencies for assistance, social service workers had to understand the different priorities and cultural differences in people from differing economic classes.

For example, “realize the concrete survival type of issues will win out over getting their education or applying for that job,” she said.

Communication is crucial, Reabe said. The workers should be sure to talk to the clients in an adult manner, not as a parent, talking down to the clients.

While Reabe said agencies must respect that those in poverty often tend to speak in a more casual manner, social workers must show clients that there are times when a more formal register is appropriate.

Michelle Nelson of CASA, an Ottawa-based organization which works with abused and neglected children in juvenile court, said one of the most beneficial portions of the meeting was an exercise during which the participants were asked to write out their daily concerns with what they thought were the daily concerns of their clients.

“It really highlights the difference between how you live your life and the people you’re helping,” she said.

In the classroom

Teachers from the La Salle elementary school district learned how to better teach the 55.8 percent of low-income students that are enrolled in the district at the second part of a series of lectures about the framework for understanding poverty.

Reha spoke about implementing techniques for teaching students from poverty. All the teachers attending the second part had participated in a similar lecture Nov. 30.

“I want to further explain how to implement principles and strategies in classrooms for teaching individuals from poverty how to succeed in middle class school,” Reha said.

Schools usually are a middle-class environment, which means that students coming from poverty struggle to learn effectively and then become frustrated.

Julie Michealchuck, a Title One teacher for second and third grades, said she wanted to learn more about teaching students in poverty so she can help them become successful.

“I wanted to help students I work with to the best of my ability,” Michaelchuck said. “I don’t come from a poverty background so I need to learn how to approach students and parents and make them more successful.”

During the workshop, the teachers were given situations that could happen in classrooms and were told how individuals from the poverty culture and individuals from the middle class culture would act.

Amy Halm, coordinator of the attendance advocacy program at La Salle-Peru Township High School, said creating relationships with students and clients is a fundamental necessity to improve their education or meet their particular need.

“Anytime we can learn more about where the students are coming from we stand a better chance of creating a successful relationship with them,” she said.


Sophomores get taste of reality at high school
By Kris Stadalsky, Herald News, 2/04/05

High school students participate in the reality ... or not?

"Welcome to Reality Store," Leslie Stevens welcomed about 220 Minooka High School sophomores recently. "This morning all of you are 25 years old. You have completed your formal education. You have secured the job of your choice and your first paycheck is waiting for you.

"Based on choices you made in December, you are going to see if you can live the lifestyle you are currently used to."

Those words were the beginning of a lesson in real life for over 400 MCHS students. Back in December, each student in the sophomore class was asked to choose the job they would like to have at 25 years old. They also had to decide if they were married and how many children they had.

Based on that information, the Business and Professional Women's Club (BPW) of Morris created a Reality Store for Minooka High School recently. The students are handed a one month "paycheck" based on the information they gave. Their check stub includes deductions for taxes and additional funds for their dependents and spouse's job (if they chose them).

Then the students headed into the gymnasium, set up with stores they visit to purchase the necessities and a few options to live their lives. They have to visit each and every store. There are choices at a few stores, but many are fixed costs based on their marital status and family obligations.

They are required to purchase food for a month, pay utilities, buy a car and pay insurance, decide to rent or own a home and then pay for more insurance. At the leisure and recreation store, they chose what they wanted to spend for a month on entertainment. They could pick from economy evenings at $15 all the way up to a $10,000 dream cruise for two.

At the car dealership, many students went for the most expensive, top-of-the-line vehicles. At the real estate office, some went for the bigger homes and others opted for an apartment.

Each student was allowed to return a car and a house one time if they found they could not afford their choice.

Local businessman Terry Danek of Century 21 Danek and Klein was selling houses. Occasionally he would attempt to sell a student more than they could afford. Some students bit, but others were smarter. It's the way the world really is, said Danek, who has been volunteering at Reality Stores in Minooka and Morris for years.

Student Zach Zieter, who chose to be a pharmacist, picked out a Cadillac Deville Silverado truck. He said he wasn't surprised by the cost of insurance for his vehicle. But with a paycheck of more than $4,000 a month and no dependents, Zieter was better off than a lot of students.

Victor Alberico chose to be a physicist. Due to an error in his paycheck, he received the wrong salary and was living on about $2,000 a month; he also had a wife.

"Life is harder than I thought and more expensive," said Alberico. "I realize that if I am going to survive I will have to be very frugal."

That's precisely the kind of lesson that the BPW is hoping for when they organize Reality Stores for area high schools.

Sallie Johnson, a retired teacher, has been organizing Reality Stores for 11 years. In addition to Minooka High School, they are held at Morris and Coal City High schools. Gardener-South Wilmington attends the store in Coal City as well.

"The most important thing they are learning is budgeting," said Johnson. "They don't realize that their parents have so many things to pay for. They don't understand the price of groceries or clothing."

Johnson says that after one Reality Store, a student approached her and said she was going home to tell her parents thank you. She didn't realize the money it took to run a household.

Students also get a chance to spin the Wheel of Fortune. They could get an inheritance from a dead uncle, get a promotion, lose their job or pay an unexpected bill.

Volunteer Norma Hedges, Region 7 Director of the Illinois Retired Teachers' Association, said the best one to land on is a job promotion at $1,200 more a month.

"If they come here (at Wheel of Fortune) in the beginning and get laid off or fired, they realize that next month they are not going to have a paycheck," said Hedges.

Reality Stores are run strictly by volunteers — about 50 to 60 of them for each program. Minooka High has to have two sessions to accommodate all of their sophomores.

Local dignitaries and business people are the volunteers. Grundy County State's Attorney Sheldon Sobol was selling cars and state Rep. Careen Gordon, D-Coal City, was manning the grocery booth. Volunteers also included Minooka Mayor Dick Ellis and MCHS Principal Janice Jack.

Volunteer Anita Young, who was working the leisure store, said that many students came to her first. She tried to advise them to come backwhen they had their other expenses under control.

"I was impressed with the kids," said Young. "Most made pretty good choices. Most of them waited until they knew what the bigger picture was. Some even chose to stay home (instead of going out)."

After about 90 minutes, students were sent into the auditorium to hear Phyllis Skubic, who is the human resources director for Collision Revision and has a background in volunteerism, speak about life choices.

"You are probably thinking about classes for your junior and senior year right now," Skubic said to the students. "The choices you make in those classes will be directly related to where you go after graduation. The choices that you make affect your lives forever."

Carolyn Kinsella, media center director for MCHS, has been the liaison with the BPW since Reality Store came to Minooka seven years ago. Kinsella likes what goes on at Reality Store and she likes the impact it has on the students, even though it's an enormous amount of work to put on.

"It's a lot of work but when I talk to the kids, it's all worth it," said Kinsella.


Laying the pavement for road to progress
Chicago Sun-Times Editorial, 2/4/05

In his State of the State address last year, Gov. Blagojevich came out firing, armed with big ideas and the oversize emotions to go with them. His primary target was the State Board of Education, which he lambasted as an ineffectual, bureaucratically hamstrung agency. Pumped up by his own reform-minded rhetoric, he seemed reluctant to bring his speech to a close.

Back then, the governor wasn't fending off one attack or challenge after another from his own party -- from the likes of House Speaker Mike Madigan, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Comptroller Dan Hynes, not to mention his father-in-law, Ald. Richard Mell. That altered climate perhaps was reflected in Thursday's shorter, milder and more conciliatory State of the State speech.

With his run for re-election looming, the governor appeared to be in a mood to mend fences -- with Democrats and Republicans, members of the business community, Downstaters. Though not lacking in bold themes, the speech came off as a collection of positive proposals salted with praise for government officials -- including Mike Madigan -- compared to last year's resounding, critical oratorio. There were calls for building "the world's largest" wind farm and making it easier for nurses to get training and relocate to Illinois. Blagojevich called for efforts to attract homeland security jobs to the state and to promote the Illinois wine industry. Yes, there is one.

That this State of the State address kept no one on the edge of their seat was reflected in the fact that the only time during it that his audience came out of theirs was when Blagojevich called for "real, meaningful medical malpractice reform" -- without saying what shape that reform would take.

But Blagojevich will have an opportunity to get into the specifics of all his programs -- including those pertaining to health care and education, and state finances, which he barely alluded to (ditto the unsettled casino situation) -- when he presents his budget in a couple of weeks. On this occasion, he was determined to keep things upbeat, whether throwing his full weight behind Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s worthy efforts to make the Peotone airport a reality, championing the $2 billion clean coal power plant being built in Washington County or promising much-needed reforms in the workman's compensation system that costs employers $6.5 billion a year. Setting up a unit to look into phony worker comp claims is a major step in and of itself considering that up until now there's been a reluctance by government to acknowledge, let alone investigate, fraud. He also made sure to cite the success of his education shakeup of last year

However much he has been forced to play political dodgeball, Blagojevich has reason to be optimistic. Job numbers are up, unemployment is down, there are more people with health coverage and more kids in pre-school. With a little less combative stance than in the past, who knows how much he can achieve in the months ahead?


Governor's address dodges the tough issues
Opinion by Carol Marin, Chicago Sun-Times, 2/4/05

Bouquets, brickbats and bragging rights. Those are the building blocks of most political speeches we bother to listen to. Bold ideas and brilliant prose? Much harder to come by as Thursday's State of the State address by Gov. Blagojevich amply demonstrated.

The governor was clearly on a charm offensive this time around, in contrast to last year's speech, when he was just on an offensive offensive.

This speech was loaded with tributes to people and things we were guaranteed to agree with: the valor of our troops, the nobility of our nurses, the love of a mother for her children, not to mention the near universal yearning that those children eat fresh vegetables.

Sign me up.

The governor attacked all the things we all attack: greedy pharmaceutical companies, skyrocketing health care costs, deadbeat dads, fraud, waste, red tape, and of course, sex- and violence-soaked video games.

I'm on board.

And count me in, too, when it comes to some of the things Blagojevich properly bragged about. The minimum wage is up, unemployment is down, and the size of government has been reduced. And he's done some good things regarding health care for children.

The problems with his State of the State address were twofold. What was in it. And what was not.

Among the schemes and dreams Blagojevich outlined were programs to develop the wine industry Downstate, making September "Illinois Wine Month," to build an airport in Peotone and to make Illinois a future hub of the homeland security industry.

With the exception of making September "Illinois Wine Month," just exactly how quickly do any of these other things get done? Not in time for us to address the $2 billion structural deficit we face this year, that's for sure.

"We have moved problems from one year to the next," says Kent Redfield.

Professor Redfield is based in Springfield, where he runs the Institute for Legislative Studies. He knows a lot about state government and the crisis it faces.

"Absent a big bump in the economy," says Redfield, "this is going to be another horrendous budget year."

In fairness to the governor, his budget address doesn't come for another two weeks. Maybe he's waiting until then to deliver the bad news, to explain how we will pay our Medicaid bills, fund our schools, deal with our looming borrowing and pension debt and maintain essential state services.

What are the options? Not an increase in the sales tax, says the governor. And certainly not a hike in the state income tax. Nightmares of former Gov. Dick Ogilvie's failed 1972 re-election bid dance in the head of every politician who even thinks of uttering that most progressive and sensible of solutions.

And let's face it. This governor wants to win re-election and use no new taxes as a big plank in a national platform that takes him down the road to the White House.

That's fine. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be president when you grow up.

But growing up politically means tackling the really hard policy issues that require complex, bipartisan legislative solutions.

What about education? And the gross inequity between schools in richer vs. poorer school districts? Not to mention our abject failure to fund education in this state, period. Depending upon whose survey you cite, Illinois is either well below average or almost rock bottom when it comes to the money we devote to our schools. What about Thursday's news there has been a staggering underestimation by the state when it comes to how many Chicago public high school students actually graduate? A shocking 54 percent?

What about the transportation crisis at the CTA?

What about the continuing issue of ethics or the lack thereof in state government?

The tough stuff of government was not in evidence in Blagojevich's state of the state. A lot of what he suggested didn't even seem to need the Legislature to get accomplished.

Maybe that was the point.

By tossing a medical malpractice olive branch to the Republicans and a verbal bouquet to Speaker Michael Madigan, leader of the House Democrats, the governor did his best to be warm and fuzzy and friendly. Maybe, given the cold, contentious state of relations between Blagojevich and members of both parties, that was the best he could do this time around.

But in two weeks, in his budget address, he needs to do a whole lot better.


When children level charges
Chicago Tribune Editorial, 2/4/05

The case of a suburban Berwyn elementary-school band teacher accused of sexually abusing 16 female pupils between 1998 and 2003 is more than an exercise in criminal justice. It has raised serious questions about two powerful forces: the desire of parents to protect their children and the tendency of institutions to make judgments better trusted to outside professionals.

Before this case goes in toto to Lawyerland, with lawsuits littering 26th Street, it's crucial to note that not all the facts are yet known. School officials and police offer different accounts of what was alleged about Robert J. Sperlik Jr. and when. The 45-year-old teacher, now jailed, allegedly restrained girls and improperly touched them. Some Berwyn parents, though, suspect a witch hunt and have asked whether the charges are exaggerated.

Cops and courts will resolve those clashing views of what occurred. What should rivet officials of every school, every organization and every institution that deals with kids is the question of whether school officials had reason to suspect abuse but didn't aggressively react.

Berwyn Director of Public Safety Frank Marzullo has said school personnel records show that officials of South Berwyn School District 100 had reprimanded Sperlik in 2001 for "inappropriate touching" of pupils, but didn't notify police or the state Department of Children and Family Services as required by law.

That explosive but vague phrase "inappropriate touching" has sparked copious speculation and innuendo that will be easier to evaluate when district records become public. Same for what Berwyn police say is a letter written several years ago by one of Sperlik's pupils, reportedly alleging that Sperlik had abused her. The family of the girl, now 15, has filed a federal lawsuit accusing District 100 officials of inaction after receiving the letter.

Neither school officials nor the police have released the letter, and the girl's family doesn't have a copy. Thomas Melody, the school district's attorney, says the letter doesn't mention alleged sexual abuse and adds that officials didn't believe contact between Sperlik and pupils warranted notification of police or DCFS. "If it appeared to us that something bad was happening to a kid, we would have reported it," Melody says. "We understand when we have to report to DCFS."

School officials may indeed understand a 30-year-old state law that requires them to report suspected child abuse or neglect to police and DCFS. Last year, in Cook County alone, schools made 5,008 such reports, according to DCFS.

As well they should. If the crisis involving abuse by clerics of the Roman Catholic and several other churches teaches anything, it is that superiors who kept quiet created nothing but problems for themselves. Inaction by bishops who ignored serious allegations against clerics set up still more innocents for future attacks by the predators--and invited massive damage awards.

Someone who works with children and is guilty of improper contact should be rooted out. Or, if not guilty, he or she should be exonerated. Sperlik, it appears, wound up with some sort of reprimand--but with no outside judgment of his culpability or innocence.

Police and child-welfare workers frequently field such reports and over the last 15 years have become more adept at distinguishing fact from fiction. Early on, what, exactly, would have been wrong with Berwyn school officials' calling police and DCFS, reporting that they had received some sort of accusation (if those turn out to be the facts), and inviting the designated professionals to decide whether criminal conduct occurred or whether no legal action was required.

Sexual-abuse crises should teach all who work with children that the last thing they want to possess is evidence they haven't shared. Not only because their silence may be illegal, but because those who entrust their children to them expect them to work in the sunshine.

When all the facts and documents become public, the actions of Berwyn school officials will, or won't, be judged legal, responsible and reasonable. Those are three different standards.

But quite apart from the murky Berwyn case:

Anyone, anywhere, who says, "We handle accusations of possible child abuse ourselves" invites public suspicion. That lesson ought to reverberate wherever adults supervise kids.




School laptops win hearts and minds

A five-year, $1.75 million Apples-for-everyone deal met resistance but now is embraced
BY MEGAN BOLDT, Pioneer Press, 1/30/05

Geography has never been Katie Kubacki's favorite subject.

But now the eighth-grader at Lake Elmo's Oak-Land Junior High finds the material more appealing thanks to a school-provided laptop. Instead of just writing a report about Switzerland, she used the laptop to research the country and make a movie for a project.

"It makes class a whole lot more interesting," Kubacki said of her laptop.

Kubacki isn't alone. One year after Oak-Land administrators handed out about 1,200 laptops, students and teachers are still giddy about having a computer they can use in class and at home.

Many residents were angry when the Stillwater school district entered into a five-year, $1.75 million deal with Apple Computer in September 2003, saying they felt the plan was poorly communicated and pushed through too quickly.

"I don't think people thought it was OK the way that it was done," said Lu Shaughnessy, a Stillwater resident and parent of four.

But the public controversy appears to have died down, even among former opponents like Shaughnessy.

"I'm pleasantly surprised," said Lake Elmo resident Julie Bunn, who was skeptical of the proposal at first but now says she's impressed by how well teachers have integrated the equipment into their curricula. "If anything, it's been a significantly positive experience for our daughter."

Now, it's not so much a question of whether the program is worth it. It's a question of whether Stillwater can afford to continue and expand the laptop initiative.

"To be honest, it's going beyond my expectations," said Principal Tom LeCloux. "I'm seeing firsthand that student engagement has significantly increased, behavioral issues have decreased and students' attitude toward school has generally improved."


LeCloux's observations were supported in a study released in November by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, which found students and teachers had positive things to say about the laptop initiative.

But the study did not include any details on academic achievement, saying gains and losses could not be measured in such a short time.

NCREL provides research-based resources to educators and policy-makers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

About three-quarters of Oak-Land students reported a more positive attitude toward school, the study found. Some of the reasons students gave for their excitement were better grades, better preparation for life, more access to information and improvements in teaching and learning.

The 25 percent with negative comments usually gave short answers for their reasoning, something like, "I don't like computers." Others said the laptops were distracting, the money for the machines should have been used for other things or that the laptops should have been placed in the high school.

Teachers also reported that homework completion in most classes was higher, the study found.


Ben Peterson, a ninth-grader, said the laptop helps him take better notes. He can type faster than he can write, and the 14-year-old said it's easier to work with computerized notes.

"I'm more organized," Peterson said. "I don't lose stuff like I used to."

Peterson also likes using it in German class, where students connect headphones to their laptops so they can hear and read German newspapers online. Peterson said it helps him learn the language while learning about international news.

Debbie Drew, the school's video, theater and debate teacher, said "it's a dream come true for me. In video production, we've been using computers from day one. But we only had six computers, so kids were waiting. Now, we can all be doing the same thing at the same time. And they can bring their work home."

Some were concerned that classroom management would be diminished with the machines, but band teacher Robin Vought said that's not the case.

"We're still the adult in the classroom," she said.

Plus, it's helping students prepare for the real world, whether they're college-bound or not, Drew said.

"What office in the country doesn't have computers now?" she said.

The laptops aren't only getting students excited. The staff feels reinvigorated.

"This has given me, personally and professionally, a shot in the arm," Vought said. "We need to stay motivated, otherwise the students won't stay motivated."


The idea of handing laptops over to junior high kids had some concerned the students would damage the machines or misuse their Internet privileges.

LeCloux said five of the 1,250 machines were disabled or lost over the past year. There have been cases of inappropriate use, ranging from downloading games to obtaining questionable material, LeCloux said. Oak-Land administrators download filtering software if a student is caught misusing the machine or if a parent requests it.

At least three reports were made to the Washington County Sheriff's office last year concerning the laptops. Two reported their laptops were stolen, but the machines were later found unharmed.

The third report was made in May after someone found threats against a teacher on a student's laptop. LeCloux met with the parents and dealt with the student accordingly.

"They have ownership with these laptops," Drew said. "I don't think that was the case with the machines in the computer lab. They weren't theirs, so they didn't take as much responsibility for them."


With parents asking if the program can be expanded to Stillwater Junior High and Stillwater Area High School — and if it can continue at Oak-Land after the lease with Apple is done in four years — the big concern for the district is money.

The roughly $340,000 per year it costs to operate the program is being paid with money from a technology levy — not the general fund. But with the school district facing a $4 million budget shortfall for next school year, expanding the program could be a tough sell.

George Thole, chairman of the school board and one of the two board members who voted against the proposal in 2003, said his concern remains the same. He wonders where the money will come from to continue the program.

"I have no problem with laptops, I just want to know how we're going to finance this," Thole said. "If it's good, you definitely want to keep it going. But can you?"


Decoding Why Few Girls Choose Science, Math
By Valerie Strauss, Washington Post Staff Writer, 2/1/05

In Sarah Wise's section of a computer systems laboratory at the elite Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the 18-year-old senior is the only girl.

That's a better ratio, though, than in 17-year-old David Banh's computational physics class at the Fairfax County school. It has only boys.
There aren't any girls in the school's top mathematics class, either, the one with seven students who must be invited to enroll. Senior Rachel Miller, 17, who took algebra in fourth grade, was asked to join, but she decided biology would be more fun.

Ask teachers, administrators and students at Thomas Jefferson -- where about 55 percent of the 1,694 students are boys -- why such discrepancies exist in these classes, and they will say it has nothing to do with ability.

So what explains it?

"It's a fabulous conundrum," said Josh Strong, the school's division manager for science and technology.

The issue has new relevance since Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers roiled the academic world last month by suggesting that the country's shortage of elite female scientists might stem in part from "innate" differences between men and women. Critics accused him of saying that women are not genetically capable of doing math and science as well as men; Summers said he was misunderstood.

The notion that girls and boys cognitively develop differently is hardly rocket science. "Any elementary teacher can tell you that a class with 15 boys and five girls is very different from a class with 15 girls and five boys," wrote Scott Hollinger, principal of McAuliffe Elementary School in McAllen, Tex., in an e-mail response to questions about the issue.

Young boys are more physical and seem more spatially aware at a younger age, while girls are more social and learn language faster, educators say. (Thomas Jefferson once was 65 percent male, and the admissions test was made more verbal, although other factors helped bring in more girls, and the challenge remains to bring in even more, according to Principal Elizabeth Lodal.) But because girls and boys develop differently on average, research suggests that they can be directed to develop in different ways.

"Experience matters," said Susan Levine, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago.

Harvard University Professor Kurt Fischer, who is director of the university's Mind, Brain and Education Program, said none of the developmental differences mean anything about actual abilities.

Teachers and scientists say that there are greater differences in learning styles within each sex than there are between the sexes and that any school or teacher that doesn't approach students as individuals is missing the mark.

At Thomas Jefferson, nobody says girls, in general, can't do what boys in general can do academically -- if they want to. "It's not an issue of innate capability," said physics teacher John Dell.

But in some subjects, it appears they don't want to. Although all Thomas Jefferson students are required to take computer science, the more advanced elective courses are heavily populated with boys, as are advanced physics, engineering and math, teachers and students say; biology and chemistry classes are more attractive to girls, as are the humanities.

Students, teachers and administrators attribute class enrollment to factors including personal interests and personality, levels of exposure at younger ages and the subtle -- and not so subtle -- stereotypical signals sent by adults.

Boys, for example, are more often exposed to computers and blocks at an earlier age than girls -- perhaps because they like them more, perhaps not -- and thus come early to engineering, a subject that requires early interest for proper sequential course enrollment, teachers said.

Girls are usually more social -- something Jan Taylor, an engineer turned school counselor at Thomas Jefferson, believes is "hard-wired" -- and physics and math are commonly seen as more individual pursuits. Biology, on the other hand, is usually seen as more collaborative, students said.

Boys, Dell said, are more generally programmed for conflict, and part of scientific endeavor is to challenge conventional wisdom with an argument. And boys don't mind being wrong as much as girls, both boys and girls said.

"I like to be safe rather than put myself out there," said 16-year-old junior Beth Martin.

Many girls find some classroom environments intimidating. Take, for example, the computer systems labs. All day, nearly all of the chairs are occupied by males. The teachers admit testosterone rules the room. The atmosphere "is intense," and many girls don't see the room as "friendly," said Strong, who is considering moving the computers to the back of the room to make it more welcoming to girls.

One traditionally male-dominated laboratory already has attracted more girls by taking "gender out of the classroom," said Rick Buxton, director of the prototyping laboratory, where students often use heavy equipment to build things.

Buxton stopped making assignments by sex -- "We stopped saying, 'You can't do that because of your size' " -- and banned profanity and off-color jokes. Now enrollment is split evenly.

"The girls began to see it as a safe place," Buxton said. "They like working with their hands as much as anyone else. Give them an environment they are comfortable in, and they will come."

It was one teacher's insistence on calling on boys more often than girls that helped lead to the creation in 2001 of Tomorrow's Women in Science and Technology, aimed at helping empower women at the school.

Now TWIST, along with two other organizations for girls, helps mentor young elementary and middle school girls.

Part of the goal is to help them overcome social pressures, which weigh more on girls. Lisa Marrone, 16, a junior, said in middle school she was torn between academics and not "having a reputation for being a bookworm." When she got to Thomas Jefferson, she realized she could be social and smart.

Dell said that critics might be looking at the whole issue of sex in science wrong. "Physics and math are traditionally lonely pursuits," he said. "Society places value in having a good pool of physicists and mathematicians. But just because the country has a desire to have this pool, that doesn't mean it is a natural choice for an individual."

The natural choice for Rachel Miller this year was to take a break from math. She took AP calculus as a freshman, multivariable calculus and linear algebra as a sophomore and complex analysis and differential equations as a junior.

While the boys on her math level joined the top class, she decided to take a break and have some fun. "High school," she said, "is a time to explore."


Connecticut, Other States Seek Changes To Federal No Child Left Behind Law
Education commissioner calls current testing for special education students 'inappropriate, ineffective and unfair'
By DAN PEARSON, The Day Education Reporter, 2/3/05

Hartford — The state Department of Education has joined other states in asking the new U.S. secretary of education to consider a range of suggestions for improving the No Child Left Behind law.

In a letter sent Jan. 14, state Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg told Education Secretary Margaret Spellings that she was “pleased” that Spellings had told a U.S. Senate committee that individual states need flexibility in carrying out the law.

Spellings, who was confirmed as secretary this month, told the committee that her administration “must engage those closest to children to embed these (NCLB) principles in a sensible and workable way.”

Sternberg said Spellings' remarks were encouraging because the law has “fundamental strengths” but needs improvement.

“This is not one voice crying in the wind; there is a movement across the country,” Sternberg said Wednesday. “We don't want to abandon the law. We want to make it more reasonable.”

Established in 2001, the No Child Left Behind law seeks to increase accountability for student achievement by penalizing schools and districts that fail to meet performance levels on standardized tests. In Connecticut, the tests include the Connecticut Mastery Test, administered to grades four, six and eight, and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, which 10th-graders take.

Many groups have criticized the law, believing it demoralizes students, requires fruitless clerical work and creates arbitrary penalties that ensure poor districts will fail. Several states have asked to change the law, and nine legislatures have introduced bills challenging aspects of it.

In her letter, Sternberg said Connecticut should be allowed to continue to test in alternate years because testing in grades three, five and seven, as is proposed, would cost millions of dollars but provide no new data on student achievement. She said Connecticut would like to base achievement on a group of students' performance over time instead of the year-by-year “snapshots” now used by the federal government. She said this would “convey accountability for the same set of children.”

In the letter, Sternberg said that special education students should be permitted to test outside their grade level, as determined by professional staff. Sternberg said NCLB's current testing procedures for special education students are “inappropriate, ineffective and unfair.”

Currently, NCLB requires states to test English Language Learners in their primary language. Sternberg said the logic and effectiveness of this approach is “questionable,” as there are 160 primary languages and dialects spoken in the state's public school system. Developing tests for these students would cost tens of millions of dollars. Sternberg requested that foreign language students be given three years before they are tested in English.

Sternberg said Spellings' office responded to the Jan. 14 letter by indicating it would try to arrange a meeting. She also said that by April 1 her office must submit a detailed list of NCLB suggestions to the assistant secretary in the U.S. Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.


Small Schools in City Program to Grow by 52 in September
By ELISSA GOOTMAN, New York Times, 2/2/05

Fifty-two new small middle and high schools, many with themes like sports management, coastal studies and "arts, imagination and inquiry," will open in September, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced yesterday.

Among the new schools are 27 high schools, 14 middle schools and 11 schools that combine 6th through 12th grades. They would bring to 157 the number of small public and charter schools the mayor has created in the last two years as a centerpiece of his effort to overhaul the city school system.

"For too long, our high schools did not prepare even a majority of students for graduation," Mr. Bloomberg said, calling the new schools "a crucial part of our strategy to close the achievement gap."

Only seven of the new schools will be placed inside large high school buildings, a practice that has bred tension at schools throughout the city. The small schools-within-schools, each with their own principals, themes and learning philosophies, have struggled to coexist with one another and with the large traditional high schools that are their hosts.

It is not yet clear where 16 of the new schools will be located, which could make it difficult for students to decide whether they want to attend.

Officials have assigned all but one of the schools to particular boroughs. The largest number, 22, will be in the Bronx, while Staten Island will have just one. Still, the fact that some of the school sites have not been announced fed into a common criticism of the mayor's small schools plan: that it has been pushed ahead too quickly.

"They'd have much more credibility if they said, 'We're starting 36 schools,' not 52 schools," said Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

But Ms. Weingarten indicated that she was generally pleased with the effort to place most of the schools in leased buildings, new buildings and middle schools with extra space.

"It clearly appears that they have learned from some of their mistakes," she said.

Kristen Kane, chief executive of the Office of New Schools, said she expected that at least 14 of the undetermined locations would be finalized before March 1, when student applications are due. She also said the decision to place so few schools in large high school buildings did not represent a policy shift, but rather the reality that most of the space in such schools had already been filled.

Ms. Kane said, however, that two large, deeply troubled Bronx high schools, Walton and Evander Childs, will not accept ninth-grade classes next year. Both schools have continued to exist with several small schools inside them; Walton is expected to get a fourth small school next year, but officials did not say which one.

Eva S. Moskowitz, chairwoman of the City Council Education Committee, praised the mayor's efforts to take on the tricky issue of high school reform, saying he deserved credit. But she suggested that his administration had uncritically embraced the idea that new small schools were the answer, although previous efforts to create small schools in New York City had yielded mixed results.

"They have latched onto the small- schools movement as the answer to all of our hopes and fears," Ms. Moskowitz said.

"Why is this movement going to work where the previous movements have had at best uneven results?" she asked.

At the news conference about the new schools yesterday, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein recited statistics that he said showed that small schools were better. Their average attendance rates of 91 percent are above the citywide average of 83 percent, he said, while 93 percent of their ninth graders but only 68 percent citywide are promoted to the 10th grade.

"As the song says, 'We've only just begun,' but that's one heck of a beginning," he said.

But some successful large schools have similarly high, even higher, attendance rates, and promotion to the 10th grade is based not on a standard citywide test but on the number of classes students pass.

Though eighth graders have already selected the high schools they would like to attend next year, they can submit new applications listing the new schools.

The mayor's enthusiasm for small schools is shared by charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave $58 million to create the schools in New York City. Yesterday, that enthusiasm was echoed by principals, students and representatives of nonprofit groups who helped to plan the schools.

Clyde Cole, who will be the principal of the Urban Assembly Academy of Business and Community Development in Brooklyn, said he hoped his all-boys 6th-to-12th-grade school "really speaks to the entrepreneurial spirit of boys of that age."

Antoine Powell, 18, was part of a student-led group that planned the Leadership Institute, a school that he said would "give a sense of how to survive in a community."

Other new schools set to open include the Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies and the High School of Sports Management, both in Brooklyn; the Sports Professions High School and the Theater Arts Production Company School, both in the Bronx; and, in Manhattan, the High School of Arts, Imagination and Inquiry, which the Lincoln Center Institute will help run.


Horne: Schools won't miss junk food
Sales study builds support for ban bill
Anne Ryman, The Arizona Republic, 2/2/05

Schools that made healthy changes to their snack bars and vending machines during a five-month state study saw "no negative financial impacts." The fear of losing money has been the main reason that school districts have resisted banning junk food and soft drinks.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne released the results of an eight-school study on Tuesday that tested a ban on soft drinks and junk food during the school day and threw his weight behind a bill that would halt the sale of junk food in public schools.

"If you sell it, they will buy it," Horne said. "If you sell unhealthy things, they will buy that. But if you sell healthy foods, then they will buy that." advertisement 
Schools and districts make tens of thousands of dollars annually through contracts with soft-drink companies and candy sales. The money pays for field trips, school clubs and athletic events.

Horne's study comes as schools across the United States are under pressure to provide healthier snacks because of rising rates of childhood obesity.

School districts in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York City have banned soft-drink sales along with sales of other junk food over concerns about childhood obesity.

Horne hopes the study will pave the way for the passage of House Bill 2544, a measure introduced last week by Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, that would require schools to ban soft drinks and offer healthier food at snack bars and in vending machines during the school day.

The legislation would prohibit schools from renewing or making new contracts with vendors for foods of "minimal nutritional value" which include soft drinks, candy, chewing gum and licorice. Vending-machine companies oppose the bill, saying schools should make that decision.

Critics in both the vending and soft-drink industry find fault with the school nutrition study, saying it was too short to measure effects on student health.

Stephanie Rimmer, a lobbyist for the food and beverage industry, calls the study's findings "preliminary" and not a good basis for legislation.

Rimmer said some schools in the study may have seen a jump in revenue simply because they increased their snack offerings for students.

Horne said the study was an "apples to apples" comparison. Nine more schools will take part in another similar study, which will begin in the fall.

A principal whose school took part in the study called it a positive experience.

Monte Vista Elementary School in east Phoenix averaged about $500 to $1,000 a month in snack-bar sales before the study. The 900-student school substituted granola and peanuts for candy bars and offered water instead of sugary sports drinks.

Principal Kathi Frankel said the school made $500 more in snack sales over the course of the study. She, like other school officials whose schools participated in the study, plan to continue offering healthy snacks.

Not all schools saw increases.

Stanfield Elementary School,which is west of Casa Grande, saw a dip in sales as did Catalina Magnet High School in Tucson. State Department of Education officials said that was because both schools had fewer vending machines available to students during the study. Stanfield shut vending machines off during mealtimes.

One school that took part in the study, Mountain Trail Middle School, saw its vending-machine sales bring in about the same amount, $230 a month, as last year.

Snack-bar sales from August through December were $12,576, which is about $4,500 behind last year, said Principal Jim Lee. The state excluded the school's snack-bar sales in its final report because state officials said external factors impacted sales. The snack bar was closed for a few days in October and November due to vandalism. This was the only snack bar excluded from the report.

Lee said he supports the change to healthier offerings.

"If it accomplishes the goal of healthier kids, I'm all for it," he said.

Lee does believe some of the revenue dip is due to the different snack choices, but he believes revenues will return in the long run.

Mountain Trail, near Cave Creek and Deer Valley roads in Phoenix, stopped serving anything with sugar or lard as a first ingredient during the school day to its 900 students. Instead of lollipops and candy bars, the snack bar offers crackers, sunflower seeds and Corn Nuts.

While this sounds strict, the campus is not all granola and raisins. The guidelines are loose enough to allow Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies, Rice Krispies Treats and Mini Oreo cookies.

And candy and soft drinks haven't been banned. Students can still buy them after school in the snack bar, which is run by the parent-teacher group.

Mom Carrie Salevitz, who volunteers at the snack bar, has seen a big change in the kids' behavior this year.

Last year, "these kids were wild, and after they were out here 10 minutes, you would not believe the noise level," she said.

This year, students are more courteous and patient, she said. And her eighth-grade son, who last year could make a meal from the snack-bar offerings, now eats in the cafeteria, she said.

Snack bars like the one at Mountain Trail are common at Arizona middle and high schools.

As long as the food is served outside the cafeteria, it doesn't have to meet the federal requirements for fat and calories that school lunches must follow. The snack sales have continued despite a 2001 U.S. Department of Agriculture report that warned that snack foods compete with lunch and may contribute to the trend of unhealthy eating among kids.

Students have mixed opinions about changing school snack bars.

Eighth-grader A.J. Burkett, 14, who attends Mountain Trail, sometimes misses candy and thinks schools should be able to sell sugary sports drinks during lunch.

Carolina Gonzalez,14, isn't concerned. Candy is still available in the snack bar after school, she said.

She went from eating candy bars and Skittles during lunch to munching on Corn Nuts and drinking bottled water.

"People started getting used to this," she said.


Anchorage students learning in Russian
By Rachel D'Oro, Associated Press Writer, February 3, 2005

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The littlest students at one Anchorage school are learning their lessons in Russian, the complex tongue of Alaska's former owner and a language increasingly important for improved international relations.
Kindergartners and first-graders at Turnagain Elementary School attend two three-hour sessions a day -- one in Russian, one in English -- in a program described by foreign language experts as a first for a public school in the United States.

It's serious stuff tackling the 33-letter Cyrillic alphabet and many consonant sounds not found in English. Russian is spoken as a first language by 170 million people; it's a second language for at least 100 million more.

"This language takes so long to learn, so this is a great way to do it," said Janice Gullickson, coordinator of the Anchorage School District's world languages office. "We envision a grand product."

The age of the students is what makes the Alaska program unique, experts say. Many schools nationwide offer Russian as a second language to middle and high school students.

"What Anchorage is doing is indeed new," said Dan Davidson, director of the Washington-based American Council of Teachers of Russian. "I think Alaska has really hit on what we'd like to view as a new model."

The program is being launched with a $490,000 three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education's foreign language assistance program. Officials with the 49,000-student district plan to expand it each year at the 365-student school, ultimately offering it in all grades.

Two Russian natives are among the four teachers assigned to the program. On a recent January morning, Katerina Huelsman held up flash cards before 16 attentive first-graders.

"SLOO-shai-teh mee-NYA," she said. Translation: "Listen to me."

Up went a card showing slumbering children and up went a dozen hands. "Spaht!" called out a girl, correctly pronouncing the word for "to sleep."

Only six of the students come from Russian-speaking homes. About 5,200 people -- less than 1 percent of Alaska's population -- claim Russian as their primary heritage, according to 2000 census figures. Still, the program was born in a state with long ties to its Slavic neighbor.

The link began thousands of years ago with Siberian nomads who are believed to have migrated over the Bering Strait. Eighteenth-century Russians explored the Alaska coast, imparting geographic names and remnants of their culture that remain today. Traders established the earliest modern settlements in the territory purchased by the United States for $7.2 million in 1867, almost a century before Alaska was admitted as the 49th state.

The relationship took on boundless promise with the end of the Cold War, said Elena Farkas, coordinator of the Russian Immersion program. Farkas campaigned for such a program for more than a decade, almost from the time she arrived from Magadan, Anchorage's Russian sister city since 1991.

The way she sees it, the new program is building a corps of future ambassadors.

"The time is right," she said. "People look at Russia differently, not as an enemy anymore. We need to establish a national relationship with Russia -- and one way to establish a relationship is to know the language and culture."

Russian -- along with Arabic, Chinese and Korean -- are identified as the most crucial languages to learn in international relations, said Davidson of the Russian teachers council, a division of the nonprofit American Councils for International Education.

Mastering those languages is critical for improving international relations and the same skills are greatly needed in trade, research, fisheries and oil development, Davidson said.

Aside from the global implications, language immersion exposes students to a rich cultural experience, said Tom and Meg Kibler, who enrolled their 5-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, in one of the two kindergarten classes offered through the program. Their fourth-grader daughter, Haley, also gets brief lessons in Russian through Turnagain's program for non-immersion students.

"I want our girls to know the world is bigger than Anchorage or Alaska or the U.S., for that matter," said Tom Kibler, a former Russian linguist with the Army who now leads language classes for parents of immersion students. "The more we learn about different cultures and people, the more we recognize we have so many similarities."

Kaitlyn just likes Russian.

"It's fun, really fun, to learn a different language," she said.


Will teacher merit pay make the grade?
$5,000 or not, groups hate Perry's proposed incentive plan
By TERRENCE STUTZ, The Dallas Morning News, 2/2/05
AUSTIN – Would the promise of an extra $5,000 a year spur teachers to get more out of their students on testing day?
Gov. Rick Perry and legislative leaders think they know the answer. They're poised to create one of the few state merit pay programs for teachers as part of a big education package to be considered in the next few months. They would make millions of dollars in bonuses available to the state's 300,000 classroom teachers, to be doled out based on students' standardized test scores.

It's an idea without much of a track record – education analysts say no state has a comprehensive merit pay program, though several are exploring the concept. In Texas, less than 4 percent of districts in a recent survey said they have performance-based incentives.

What's more, the few districts and states that have tried it have often scaled back or abandoned it because of cost constraints and mixed results.

The idea is anathema to Texas teacher organizations, which say that all teachers – not just a select few – need a pay raise. They also fear adding a temptation to cheat on standardized tests. But Mr. Perry said the way to encourage strong teachers is to reward their work.

"Excellence should not be rewarded the same as mediocrity," he said in his State of the State address last week. "Otherwise, mediocrity becomes its own incentive. When money follows results, we will get more results for our money."

In Texas and most other states, salaries are based primarily on years of experience. The longer a teacher works, the more he or she is paid.

Legislative leaders haven't fleshed out their plan. But part of the governor's $500 million proposal last year would have allowed teachers to compete for annual bonuses of $5,000, a tidy sum in a state where the average salary is around $41,000. In his State of the State address, he raised that to $7,500.

In fighting merit pay, teacher organizations point to the lack of research showing that bonuses motivate teachers to get more out of their students.

"The assumption is that most teachers are lazy, that if you suddenly offer them extra money, they will teach better," said John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers. "It's a ridiculous assumption."

Mr. Cole said that while his group backs financial incentives to help fill teacher shortages – such as in math and science – and for teachers who agree to work in low-performing schools, the federation draws the line at using test results to distribute bonuses.

"This is just another scheme to deflect attention from the Legislature's failure to provide proper funding for Texas schools," he said.

Mr. Cole also raised concern that linking pay to standardized test results might increase cheating on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Legislative backers of merit pay dismissed the concern. Cheating on the TAKS carries too many risks for teachers, they say, such as loss of their state certification and possible jail sentences.

Checkered past

The idea of incentives, while never widely tested, is not new. California's once heralded merit pay program was discontinued in 2001 after more than $800 million in bonuses were paid out over two years. The program fell victim to the state's budget crisis before it showed any impact on student achievement.

Texas had a "career ladder" for teachers for nearly a decade, allowing them to earn extra pay based on performance appraisals and professional development. Teachers complained, though, that the administrators handing out the funds weren't impartial, and state and local funds fell short. The program was abolished in 1993.

Legislative leaders such as Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro say such pitfalls can be avoided. And she insisted the climate has changed.

"It has worked in other states and even in several districts in Texas," the Plano Republican said. "The only people who truly disagree with this concept are the teacher unions themselves. Individual teachers have told me it would be a great opportunity for them."

Senate leaders included incentive pay in the school finance plan they unveiled this month. Initially, they would like to see about $150 million a year earmarked for merit pay.

"We'd like to see a program that is campus-based," Ms. Shapiro said. "If a campus is doing a really great job ... we want to reward the whole teaching team."

A recent survey of school districts in the state found that about 11 percent have some type of incentive pay plan, said Mary Regan of the Texas Association of School Boards. Most are based on teacher attendance.

Just under 4 percent of districts in the survey – 26 districts – indicated they had a group bonus program based on student performance. One of those is the DeSoto district, which pays bonuses to all employees, not just teachers, when students meet certain performance goals.

"Not many districts have true performance pay, linking test scores to bonuses," Ms. Regan said. By contrast, she noted, about half of the 1,040 school districts in Texas offer cash stipends for teachers certified in shortage areas.

DeSoto paid bonuses of nearly 1.5 percent in each of the program's first four years. This year, though, TAKS passing rates fell – as they did in many districts because the test was made more rigorous.

Robyn Rumsey, a science teacher at the DeSoto High School freshman campus, said the program has been very popular among teachers.

"It hasn't been a huge amount of money, but it was a nice check that most of us appreciated," said Ms. Rumsey, who has taught in DeSoto for 12 years.

But one of the keys to that popularity, she said, is that all employees benefit from success, not just a few.

"Everybody on campus contributes to the success of students," she said. "If you give out rewards for individual effort, I think you'd see teachers competing to get the students most likely to succeed. I'm not sure there's a fair way to do that."

Jennifer Azordegan, a policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States, agreed that one of the problems with merit pay is determining how much influence a teacher's style and practices have on student growth. Too many other factors, such as family background and previous educational experiences, are at work, she explained.

"There's no doubt that a teacher has a huge impact on a student's performance. But when you get to defining how much that really is and whether it can be affected by the level of pay – that's where people get a little uncomfortable," said Ms. Azordegan, whose organization is a national clearinghouse for education policy and school reform.

North Carolina has a limited merit pay plan that rewards all teachers in each school rated "exemplary" under the state's accountability system. The $1 million program pays bonuses of $1,500 to those teachers and $750 to teachers in schools that meet projected academic growth, based on test scores.

All eyes on Denver

An incentive pay plan in the Denver public school system is perhaps the most closely watched program of its type in the nation. Voters are being asked this fall to approve a $25 million property tax increase to fund the program.

A pilot program involving 12 campuses resulted in student achievement gains at most of the schools. But the program is voluntary for teachers and was created only after the Denver Classroom Teachers Association signed on.

Texas lawmakers should not expect similar enthusiasm here, said Donna New Haschke, president of the Texas State Teachers Association. Too many teachers would be left out of a merit pay plan that relies mostly on TAKS scores, she said.

More than half of Texas educators teach subjects not measured on the TAKS. That includes groups not tested, such as students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and the first, second and 12th grades. Many subjects – foreign languages, physical education, vocational education, music, art, speech and drivers education – are not tested.

Merit pay supporters said they would include teachers of untested subjects in their program, probably by rewarding all teachers at a campus that shows achievement gains from one year to the next. Senate leaders have also said they would support an across-the-board pay hike for all teachers as part of their school improvement package.


Nearby school not always best  
By Treena Shapiro, Honolulu Advertiser Education Writer, 2/3/05

With two daughters at Royal Elementary near downtown and one daughter at the Education Laboratory in Manoa, the Tokushige family spends few daylight hours during weekdays at their home in Kane'ohe.

But the benefits of having their girls in schools outside of their neighborhood outweigh the advantage of having them attend school closer to home, said their father, Michael Tokushige, a life insurance agent.

Not only is he pleased with Royal Elementary, but its proximity also makes family life easier after school when the girls participate in extracurricular activities at the Nu'uanu YMCA and at the Lab School.

"It would be too hard for us to go to school and pack everybody up and go back to Kane'ohe in time," he said.

The trade-off is that the girls have not formed bonds with other children in the neighborhood. But even without a close neighborhood friend, they are not wanting for friends, Tokushige said. "They're well adjusted, they have friends at school, at aikido, ballet; they just don't have that one close pal that we used to have when they were younger."

As a March 1 deadline nears to apply for a "geographic exception" to get into a public school outside the neighborhood, parents around the state can consider what might be the best fit for their child.

Parents list a variety of reasons for selecting geographic exceptions, such as an interest in programs not offered in every school, such as ROTC, video production or certain foreign languages. They may prefer a school closer to their workplace or to after school caregivers. Sometimes they opt for a school they think will give their child a better chance of academic success.

While students eligible for transfers under the federal No Child Left Behind Act have the highest priority — students are allowed to switch from a poorly performing school to a better one — students who do not qualify can also get into different schools if space is available.

According to Karl Yoshida, the director of the Department of Education's information resource branch, the DOE usually accepts 6,000 to 8,000 applications for geographic exceptions each year, a number that doesn't include those students who were accepted in past years.

Once students are accepted to schools on geographic exceptions, they do not have to reapply.

The number also does not indicate how many children actually use the geographic exceptions, since many parents apply for transfer to several schools, but select only one.

This year, 692 geographic exceptions were given to those transferring from schools that are not meeting the NCLB standards. While still a small fraction of the 55,000 students eligible for the transfers statewide, the number has been steadily rising from the 21 in 2002 and the 147 in 2003.

Yoshida isn't sure why more people are opting for the NCLB transfers. "Maybe the word is getting out. With all the publicity focused on No Child Left Behind and schools meeting 'adequate yearly progress,' more parents are interested," he said.

Patricia Dang, the principal at Kapalama Elementary School in Kalihi, which accepts several geographic exceptions each year, said few of the transfers are related to NCLB. "With the NCLB, we've seen very little change with the flow because they would have come here one way or another," she said.

Situated at the bottom of the Likelike Highway and near downtown, the school is a convenient drop-off point for families coming from the Windward side, and an easy detour for those coming from the Leeward side.

In many cases, the children's grandparents live in the neighborhood, which makes it easy for them to watch the children after school.

But besides convenience, Dang said a lot of parents choose Kapalama because of tradition.

"They came here and they had a good experience, and they want their children to come here," she said. "They have since moved out, but they always come back to roost."


Utah gets chance to replace No Child
Jill Fellow, DAILY HERALD, 2/4/05

The federal government agreed to give the Utah State Office of Education its chance to prove that the state assessment system meets the standards to replace No Child Left Behind as the main student testing and evaluation program in Utah.

State superintendent Patti Harrington received a letter last week from Ray Simon, a deputy in the U. 
S. Department of Education. The letter invited the state to amend its accountability plan by April 1. If the plan is approved and the state receives a No Child Left Behind waiver, the Utah Performance and Assessment System for Students will trump the sometimes cumbersome and frustrating federal system and put local authorities back in control of the state's education.

"It's a huge step," Harrington said. "I hope the secretary (of the U.S. Department of Education) is ready to listen, step back and let us decide the process."

Utah did not have a completed assessment program when the federal assessment laws were passed in 2001, but now that U-PASS in complete and implemented, Laurie Lacy, the state's No Child Left Behind coordinator, said it is time to have only one assessment system.

"Now that we are further down the road, it is time to bring the two systems together and have one," Lacy said. "U-PASS can take that role."

The leaders of local districts and schools are eager to see testing and evaluation of the states kindergarten through 12th-graders back in the hands of local governments.

Darrin Johnson, the principal of Hillcrest Elementary School in Orem, said he supports local control of education because local leaders know what works best for their community.

"Local government allows funding and effort to go toward programs that help the specific local need," he said.

He said he supports U-PASS because it is an example of a locally generated program -- made for Utahns by Utahns.

Harrington said the main difference between NCLB and U-PASS is how test scores are evaluated.

For example, NCLB compares this year's fourth-graders to last year's fourth-graders and expects to see an improvement in scores.

"The federal law compares apples and oranges," Harrington said.

But U-PASS "compares your scores this year against your scores last year," she said.

Ray Morgan, the assistant superintendent of the Provo School District, said when local governments see such a problem in their school systems, they want to have the authority to fix it.

"The assessments that we see valuable are the ones that guide instruction, the ones that are not just pass or fail but actually show us what is missing in the classroom," he said. "We know that is what we want, and the local organizations want to be able to say, "This is the type
of assessment we want to use to measure our students' growth.' "

He also said local governments are able to offer specialized funding for specific needs and programs.

The Utah Legislature is setting a positive precedent for creating an academic program first and then the assessment, he said.

For example, Utah districts were given resources last year to start an intensive reading program from kindergarten through third grade.

Then this year, bills are being presented in the legislative session to create a benchmark exam to test these results in third-graders.

"That makes sense for Utah," he said. "The local government supplied the funding, and now it is testing the results."

Christine Kearl, the state associate superintendent of student achievement and school success, said not only is U-PASS the better of the two systems, but the state has a legal right to use it.

"It is our constitutional right at the state level," she said. "It is the state's right and responsibility to educate its population."


Pay cuts are asked of Detroit teachers
Request comes day before plan is due 

Detroit school officials have asked most of the district's 21,000 workers to agree to a 5- to 10-percent pay cut -- some just a day before the district was supposed to file a plan to eliminate its $200-million budget shortfall.

Heads of most of the unions were told last month that workers needed to approve the cuts to end this year in the black.

In addition, an emergency meeting was called Thursday to tell principals that they would be forced to take a 10-percent wage cut. Principals are not represented by a union and are some of the highest-paid workers in the district. A few months ago, they had to start paying 20 percent of their benefit premiums.

Paraprofessionals, who are among the lowest-paid workers at about $7 to $12 per hour, also met about the requested pay cuts on Thursday.

The district's deficit elimination plan is due to the state today and will include pay cuts. The state Department of Education's approval is required in order for the district to refinance its debt.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers' response Thursday to the wage cuts? "Hell, no," said Janna Garrison, president of the union. "Our salaries are not the reason for this budget deficit."

Whether unions agree to the wage cuts, layoffs are still planned. Regardless, some of the union workers were willing to take the pay cut rather than face threats of larger cuts. All of the district's unions are facing contract negotiations because all pacts have expired, except the DFT's, which expires in June.

The 372 layoff letters that teachers received on Christmas Eve also left employees shaken, union leaders said.

Engineers voted on Sunday to accept a 5-percent wage cut and reductions in benefits, said Gary Lucy, vice president of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 547.

"Once again, the union members have sacrificed to try to maintain the Detroit Public Schools to help deal with the schooling of our children," Lucy said.

District officials did not comment on the requested pay cuts, citing concerns about ongoing or imminent contract negotiations.

Diann Woodard, president of the Organization of School Adminstrators & Supervisors, which represents about 500 administrators, said she was not contacted about a wage cut.

However, Woodard, whose union used to represent principals until they lost union representation in the early part of the state takeover, said that such cuts could push principals and talented workers to leave the district.

"This has so demoralized people," she said.


Dropout's appeal fails in school case
No legal right to attend alternative program, three-judge panel decides.
By David Shepardson, The Detroit News, 2/4/05

NEW BALTIMORE -- Michigan's high school dropouts have no legal right to attend an alternative high school, a federal appeals court ruled.

The ruling came in the case of a teen charged in the October 2000 murder of a 16-year-old killed during the robbery of a New Baltimore pizzeria. The accused teenager, Matthew Daniels, sued Anchor Bay School District for preventing him from attending classes at an alternative high school.

Daniels was one of three men arrested in the murder of Justin Mello. By the time charges against all three were dismissed, Daniels had spent a month in jail.

Daniels dropped out of high school and enrolled in Skill Quest eight months after he turned 16. After his release from jail, Skill Quest refused to allow Daniels to return to reenroll.

"There is no question that Daniels had the right to attend his local public high school," the three-judge appeals court ruled in a Jan. 24 decision. "We conclude, however, that he chose to forgo that right when he dropped out of Anchor Bay high School."

Daniels' previous claims were dismissed by a Detroit federal judge.


Beyond blocks: Baby preschool may open in '06
By Manny Gonzales, Denver Post Staff Writer, 2/3/05

Littleton - Joseph Struessel's little brain is a vacuum of sounds, sights and touch. At 7 months old, he's ready to start his education, says his mother, Stacey Struessel.

Joseph won't have to wait much longer to get his chance in a classroom, as Littleton school officials pursue a new public school for children ages 6 weeks to 3 years.

State officials say it would be the first of its kind in Colorado. School officials hope construction will begin next month.

"Even though they can't verbalize ... I've seen in my own child and in other children that there's a lot going on in their brains - a lot more than we often give them credit for," said Struessel, 31, of Englewood.

The Village 2 & Under would provide schooling and care for 40 infants and toddlers. The concept is based on research that shows a critical period of development in a child's brain occurs in the first three years.
Struessel is one of the parents already on a waiting list for the school, which will be housed in a proposed $900,000 wing of The Village for Early Childhood Education in Littleton - a preschool already serving more than 300 3- to 5-year-olds.

While a variety of programs for infants exists in public schools and day-care centers, The Village 2 & Under would be the first dedicated public school for this age group, according to the Colorado Department of Human Services.

Just over half of The Village 2's infants and toddlers will be from low-income families. If they qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches, they can attend the school at no charge, said Deborah McVeigh, The Village's principal.

School officials are still trying to determine what to charge parents who don't qualify for assistance.

"We've looked around to see how much some day cares have charged for infants, and it's around $250 a week," McVeigh said. "That's really expensive. ... I'm not sure if we'll go that high."

The Village 2 would expose infants and toddlers to a variety of approaches, including language development and social interaction, McVeigh said.

"A lot of it will involve highly trained staff talking to the infants and toddlers, stimulating the thought process, using open-ended questions and helping children understand," McVeigh said.

Social interaction plays a role in how infants learn language, according to a recent study completed by the University of Washington's Center for Mind, Brain & Learning. There, neuroscientists had 9-month-old American infants listen for less than five hours to Mandarin spoken by native Chinese. The infants were then able to distinguish phonetic elements of the language.

But a second group of American infants who heard the same language while watching a DVD or listening to an audiotape did not recognize phonetic elements.

The Village 2 & Under has not yet raised enough money to begin construction, McVeigh said. School officials have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.

The city of Centennial, which is home to a third of The Village's current students, pitched in $100,000. And the cash-strapped city of Littleton has provided more than $275,000 for the school.

The funding from both cities comes from Community Development Block Grants provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Greater Littleton Youth Initiative ponied up $50,000, and Littleton Public Schools gave $150,000 from a soft-drink company contract.

Arapahoe County commissioners will consider adding $200,000 in block-grant funding on Tuesday. The county's community services division has already recommended the funding.

"The Village has done far more than just run a head- start program," Community Services Division Director Jim Taylor said. "They have worked with parents of low-income families, taken food to them on Thanksgiving and reached out to them, helping them with life skills."

McVeigh is seeking donations to pay for the school's operating budget, which she has been doing since The Village opened 10 years ago. While the school operates under Littleton Public Schools, it receives no operating funds from the district.

If Arapahoe County approves the $200,000 grant, construction costs would be covered, and The Village 2 could be operational in 2006, McVeigh said.


Spellings will 'stay the course' of school reform
By Ben Feller, Associated Press, 2/1/05

WASHINGTON - Margaret Spellings said Monday her role as a parent of school-age children will help guide her views in her new job as secretary of education.

"In carrying out my duties to the American people, I will be carrying out my duties as a mom," Spellings said in her first public comments as secretary. "And there is none more important than to provide a quality education to our children."

As Bush's domestic policy chief in his first term, Spellings helped write the demanding education law known as the No Child Left Behind Act. The law requires yearly gains among all students.

Many education leaders say they struggle with the law, from getting top qualified teachers in every class to finding room for students who are promised transfers.

Spellings said the law has been a success.

"When you signed No Child Left Behind into law three years ago, it was more than an act - it was an attitude," Spellings told the president after she took the oath of office. "An attitude that says it's right to measure our children's progress from year to year so we can help them before it's too late. An attitude that says asking children to read and do math at grade level or better is not too much to ask.

"We've learned a new equation - accountability plus high expectations plus resources equals results," she said. "We must stay the course."

Bush said Spellings was "instrumental" in helping to get his signature education reform passed and will help extend accountability standards to high schools.


Super Bowl parade an issue for schools
One Phila. official says canceling classes is not an option. Flexibility was hinted at, though.
By Susan Snyder and Martha Woodall, Inquirer Staff Writers, 1/31/05

In 1983, the last time Philadelphia had a championship team in one of the major professional sports, the city held a celebratory parade during school hours - and a lot of students attended.

One news account noted that only 300 of South Philadelphia High's 3,000 students went to class that June 2. Some schools, such as St. Maria Goretti High, closed a few hours early so that students could watch the parade for the NBA's 76ers.

Today the city is expected to announce how it will celebrate if the Eagles defeat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

But just how schools would handle such a victory is uncertain. Most districts, including Philadelphia, seemed to be taking a hard line on school attendance.

"There's been no discussion of school closings," said Debra Kahn, the city's education secretary. "It's really not under consideration."

But Paul Vallas, the Philadelphia district's chief executive officer, threw out this bone: The dress code will be relaxed Wednesday and next Monday (Thursday and Friday are staff development days, with no classes) so that students can wear shirts, hats and other items bearing the Eagles logo or colors.

Last week, Vallas said no decision had been made on whether the district would allow parents to take their children out of school for a parade without risk of academic penalty: "I'm not prepared to say. We'll make a final decision on that next week."

Roman Catholic schools in the five-county Archdiocese of Philadelphia also would remain open, spokeswoman Donna M. Farrell said. But those schools, too, might allow students to wear Eagles garb, she said.

"Our schools will be open - for safety reasons and because we respect the fact that our school families make sacrifices to pay tuition to send their children to school, not to attend parades," Farrell said.

In Cherry Hill, spokeswoman Susan Bastnagel said canceling classes for an Eagles rally wasn't on the radar screen.

Not all school systems have ruled out closing. Bensalem Superintendent Victoria Gehrt planned to ask school board members and administrators whether a day off would be in order.

Parents also are discussing the issue.

Just the other day, Villanova resident Esther McGill asked her daughter's vice principal whether Waldron Mercy Academy would close for an Eagles celebration.

"He just laughed and said he hadn't thought about it yet," she said.

McGill, whose husband is going to the Super Bowl and whose family are major Eagles fans, has been thinking about it, although she has not reached a decision.

McGill said she would wait to find out the school's policy and whether her children would be penalized if she kept them out.

Karen D'Amore, parent of two children in the city school system, including one at the High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), said she wished the district would close.

"I think if there were a parade, it would be unfair if the kids were in school," she said. "It would go right by CAPA" on Broad Street. "It would be kind of a tease."

Dottie Polsz, whose children attend Patterson School in Philadelphia, remembered when her father took her out of school to attend a parade for the Flyers; they won the NHL's Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975. She loved it, but she would not advocate closing the district.

"Leave them in school. Education is important," Polsz said.

At Benjamin Franklin High in Philadelphia, senior Hassan Johnson said an Eagles celebration been a hot topic in his school.

"It's the first time in 24 years. We should not have school. We should march," said Johnson, 18. "That's what people are saying."

Albert Kruco, 15, a ninth grader, was a bit more circumspect: "Who would say no? I want them to [close], but I don't think they will, and I don't think they should. It's not that monumental."

School systems in several cities that have had Super Bowl winners, including Boston (2002 and 2004), Tampa Bay (2003), Baltimore (1971 and 2001), Denver (1998 and 1999), Pittsburgh (1975, 1976, 1979 and 1980) and St. Louis (2000), said they had not closed schools, though some faced community pressure.

"A lot of people asked us to, especially with the first Super Bowl victory," said Jonathan Palumbo, a spokesman for the Boston Public Schools. "We're in a climate where you get snow days, too. We just couldn't take the chance of giving kids an extra day off."

The public schools in Denver allowed parents to take their children out of school for parades without penalty.

In Hillsborough County, one of the home districts to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the parade was held in the late afternoon and school officials felt that students would be able to catch most of it after classes, spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

The Monday after the Buccaneers' 2003 victory, area school districts reported high absenteeism among teachers and students, according to published reports.


Preschool as cash cow
Boston Globe, 1/31/05
Massachusette taxpayers could get a lot out of preschool. A new study finds that for every $1 spent on two years of preschool for 3-year-olds, the state would recoup $1.18 in savings and additional revenue.

Study coauthor Clive Belfield, an economics professor at Queens College in New York, says send children to preschool now and they'll cost less later.

Belfield created an economic model for Strategies for Children, a local advocacy group. In this plan, the state would create 43,000 new preschool spots and upgrade the quality of 13,000 existing spots. Access would be universal, not just for low-income children. The total cost: $578 million. The total benefit: $680 million, yielding what the study calls "positive economic returns."

One can almost hear Mark Twain sputtering his famous quotation about lies, damned lies, and statistics. But Belfield's thoughtful analysis relies on conservative estimates.

Take special education. Belfield estimates that providing these K-12 services has a present value of $5 billion for one entering class of children going from kindergarten through the 12th grade. Various studies show that a high-quality preschool program could steer some children away from special education, resulting in a savings of $35 million to $49 million over time.

Other money would be saved because fewer students would repeat grades and because they would be less likely to incur health, welfare, and criminal justice costs over time. Tax revenues would increase because some parents would work while their children were at preschool, and eventually many preschoolers will go on to earn more than they would have without preschool attendance.

Preschool is not a magic pill. But it can shield children from early academic failures that snowball into later underachievement.

The focus on preschool's benefits has mostly been on disadvantaged children. But other children also gain. And a critical mass of preschoolers amplifies the positive effects. Belfield notes that administrators from schools with more former preschoolers report fewer discipline problems. Belfield's model is smaller and less expensive than the plan proposed by Strategies for Children, which includes spending on an early education department plus professional development and higher salaries for preschool teachers. But as even the most skeptical legislators plan for the state's new department of early education and care, which was approved last year, they should ask Belfield's question: Could universal early education save the state money?

Ultimately, an investment in high quality early education could pay off for children and for the state's economy.


Public School Stakes Its Future on the Montessori Way
By Richard Courage, New York Times, 2/2/05

PRINGFIELD, Mass. - The old brick public school is sandwiched between Interstate 91 and the Western Massachusetts Correctional Alcohol Center. The surrounding neighborhood is run-down and starkly commercial. The available playground space is filled with parked cars.

Yet the Alfred G. Zanetti School consistently has one of the longest waiting lists under Springfield's districtwide program of school choice.

Zanetti owes its popularity not to some new approach to education, but to the methods developed by the Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori almost 100 years ago. It is one of only 245 public Montessori schools in the nation, most of them charter or magnet schools.

Dr. Montessori believed that learning is a natural process. Montessori teachers see their primary role as creating rich environments where children teach themselves by manipulating specially designed materials and interacting in mixed age groups.

John Vazquez is thrilled at how articulate and independent his children - Johnny, 3, and Katia, 4 - are becoming.

"Everything you see on those 'practical life' shelves you could find in your home," he says, pointing to neatly arranged trays displaying tweezers, dried beans, cutting boards, apples, plates and pitchers. "When Johnny gets home now, he wants to pour his own juice. I learned the hard way not to help, to let him do it himself."

It wasn't always this way at Zanetti. Until 1999, it exhibited "the classic symptoms of a failing urban school," said Josh Bogin, director of the city's magnet school program. It had low test scores, high absenteeism and a student turnover rate of almost 50 percent a year.

To reverse things, Peter Negroni, the superintendent at the time, decided to turn it into a Montessori school.

The school's transformation entailed retraining teachers and equipping classrooms with special materials, thanks in part to a grant for magnet schools.

Most teachers transferred or retired rather than take additional preparation, and the incoming principal, Analida Munera, had to hire 41 new teachers. After only eight weeks of a multiyear training program, they faced rooms full of pupils.

In the first year, 1999, only prekindergarten through second grade students were in Montessori classrooms, so the school operated with two very different educational philosophies. The strain of transition caused some teachers to leave. Others quit as a result of temporary layoffs faced each year by the district's teachers lowest in seniority.

Today, Zanetti's Montessori program extends from prekindergarten through eighth grade, and the school's turnaround is evident. Its demographics have begun to approach those of the city as a whole. Of 478 pupils, 41 percent are Latino, 37 percent African-American, 19 percent white, and 3 percent Asian or American Indian. Seventy-three percent come from low-income families, a drop from 98 percent in earlier days.

Ms. Munera reports steady academic progress.

"Assessment, all the way down to the youngest classrooms, exhibits a record of success," she says, citing improvements in scores on city and state tests, especially in English language arts. The turnover rate has dropped to 5 percent.

A visitor to Siobhan Conz's Elementary 1 classroom, for 6- to 9-year-olds, observes A'kala pensively locating New York on a United States puzzle map. Joseph and Rosa kneel at low tables nearby, matching sound-alike words. Alexander reads "Lyle the Crocodile." Sheyla works with a square grid of tiles numbered 1 to 100. Periodically, without prompting, a child puts one activity away and selects another. The visitor goes unnoticed.

Ms. Conz moves purposefully from area to area. At one table, she shows Chris, an 8-year-old, how to demonstrate "word dominoes," a language game, to Monique and Elizabeth, both 7. "You present like I usually do, so pull your chair to this side of the table," she tells Chris.

Anitra Ruth, one of the teachers in the "Children's House" for 3- to 6-year-olds, said: "Multi-age classrooms are a huge benefit as older and younger children help and learn from each other. The experienced ones are my role models."

Some older students remember the transition.

"We used to all have our own desks," said Virginia Leonor, 13, an eighth grader. "Teachers wrote stuff on the boards, and we copied it in our notebooks." She prefers the new system but, with a shy grin, acknowledged that 10 years is a very long time to stay in any school.

Tamonique Johnson, also 13, recalled seeing the new materials for the first time. She especially liked doing long division with test tubes and colored beads. "It was easier to find the answer, but it was a longer process," she said. "You really got it after that."

The school's academic successes have not insulated it from broader problems in the district. Drastic budget cuts have led to increased class sizes, reduced benefits and two years of frozen salaries, which in turn have driven more trained teachers away.

These problems are not likely to go away soon. Springfield entered financial receivership last summer, a result of its worst fiscal crisis since the Depression.

Ms. Munera worries about replacing the trained teachers. Her vision of the school's future rests largely on establishing a Montessori training center at a local college.

Teachers also resent curriculum and testing mandates that undercut their professional judgments about children's individual needs. Rebecca Lauterbach calls standardized testing "a dark cloud" creating pressure to "force-feed facts instead of inspiring love of learning."





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