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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – February 11 - 18, 2005

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STATE  
Many fewer districts reported budget deficits in 2004 / Chicago Sun-Times
200 state school districts pull finances out of red / Chicago Tribune
VOICE urges support of House Bill 750 / Streator Times-Press
Bill would require drug tests for drivers permits / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
IHSA considering enrollment multiplier / Pantagraph
There's no debating it: Illinois school funding unfair / Chicago Sun-Times
State set to start hacking away at school rules / Chicago Tribune
New law requires more schools to offer breakfast Chicago Tribune
School funding a top priority / Peoria Journal Star
Foul Trouble / Southern Illinoisan
Overturn law that sets up students to fail / Peoria Journal Star
Key ally digs in over funding for schools / Chicago Tribune
Schools rumbling over breakfast law / Daily Herald
Students sign oath to halt prejudice / Belleville News-Democrat
Blagojevich says he'll veto any income tax increase for schools / Belleville News-Democrat
Per-pupil spending hike may be smallest of gov's term / Chicago Sun-Times
SICA realignment heads to mediation / Chicago Sun-Times
Parents' board dissolved / Daily Southtown
Schools ask parents to curb fast-food lunches / Northwest Indiana Times

NATIONAL
Students doing well may pay off for teachers / San Antonio Express-News 
More disabled kids paddled in Union / Charlotte Observer
New U.S. Secretary Showing Flexibility on 'No Child' Act / New York Times
Lack of purpose haunts students / Detroit News
Costs of Education Slope Sharply Upward /
Washington Post
Utah ed bills may rattle D.C. / Deseret Morning News (UT)
Wanted: 30,000 teachers / St. Petersburg Times
U.S. May Force California to Call More School Districts Failures /
Los Angeles Times
Kids skip class - and parents go to jail? / Christian Science Monitor
Wrong answer for schools / USA Today
U.S. May Force California to Call More School Districts Failures /
Los Angeles Times
Voucher plan for schools gaining steam / Indianapolis Star
Teachers may lose jobs in scandal / Houston Chronicle
Schools tied to junk foods / Cincinnati Enquirer
Company pulls out of contract to track students / CNN.com
Odd allies oppose Bush education plan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Students tell what works at smaller high schools / Oregonian
When is a graduate not a graduate? / Cleveland Plain Dealer
Is city mulling a takeover of public schools? /
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Teacher Allegedly Gave Bomb-Making Lesson /
San Jose Mercury News

FROM “EDUCATION WEEK”
Cuts Proposed in Bush Budget Hit Education  
Subject Qualification Vexing for Teachers in Special Education
Groups Tackle Teacher Quality in Needy Schools
Two-Way Language Immersion Grows in Popularity
Report Takes Aim at First Year of D.C. Voucher Program
Common Sense for Sex Education?

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STATE

Many fewer districts reported budget deficits in 2004
Kate N. Grossman,
Chicago Sun-Times
 
The number of
Illinois school districts operating in the red dropped dramatically last year, the state Board of Education announced Thursday.
 
In 2004, 45 percent of districts operated in a deficit, down from 77 percent in 2003, and 70 percent in 2002. This does not include
Chicago, which had a $37 million deficit last year.
 
Citing increases in state funding in 2004, the governor's office took credit for much of the turnaround, but critics immediately pounced, saying academic health in many districts was being compromised to ensure financial health.
 
"I'm sure state money is helping some districts, but I know a lot of districts were forced to make cuts," said Ernest Tonelli, president of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials. "If they're not struggling financially because they have larger class sizes and less programs, is that really an improvement?"
 
Done without raising taxes
Elgin-based District U-46, for example, was able to cut its deficit in half by laying off 600 teachers and scaling back programs, such as fine arts and technical academies for its high schools.It has produced balanced budgets the last two years.
 
By a broader measure, which adds funds for construction, bonds and interest to operational costs, 57 percent of districts were in the red last year, down from 82 percent in 2003.
 
This is exactly what tax watchdog groups, who criticize schools for excessive spending, like to see. And the governor's office says this suggests financial health can be improved without raising taxes.
 
Advocates have been fighting for school finance reform, which could mean a state income tax increase.
Illinois ranks near the bottom of all states in its contribution to local education funding.
 
'We're not saying everything is rosy'
 
They accuse the governor of releasing this data, which does not include all the criteria normally used to assess a district's financial health, to make him look good before his budget address next week.
 
"Having 45 percent [of districts] in deficit is still cause for concern," said Bindu Batchu of A+ Illinois, school finance reform group.
 
The governor's office agrees that the latest deficit news isn't good enough and that's why Gov. Blagojevich intends to push for increased funding, said Elliot Regenstein, the governor's director of education reform.
 
The report included what was lost in the last year: 3,400 fewer teachers in 2004 than in 2003 and spending on buildings and equipment decreased by $274 million.
 
"We're not saying everything is rosy and we're out of the woods," said Regenstein. "The governor's commitment to increasing education funding doesn't stop just because he's proven he's made a difference."

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200 state school districts pull finances out of red
But good news is seen coming at kids' expense
Diane Rado,
Chicago Tribune
 
The number of
Illinois school districts operating in the red fell dramatically in 2004, but the improvement came at a cost to schoolchildren, a new statewide analysis shows.
 
Struggling to balance their books, districts cut spending on school buildings and equipment, supplies and even teachers. In all, 3,400 fewer teachers were employed statewide in 2004 compared with 2003, causing class sizes to increase.
 
At the same time, hundreds of districts looked better on paper, according to preliminary figures released Thursday by the Illinois State Board of Education. The report excludes the Chicago Public Schools district, which has not yet submitted 2004 financial figures.
 
Elsewhere, 502 districts--or 57 percent of districts statewide--spent more money than they collected from federal, state and local government in the 2004 budget year. That forced them to draw down from reserves or borrow to fill the budget hole.
 
That may sound like a lot of districts, but the figure is a substantial improvement over 2003, when an additional 200 districts, more than 700 in all--82 percent of districts statewide--were in the red.
 
In addition, the number of districts running deficits had been rising steeply since 2000, and Thursday's numbers showed a reverse in that trend.
 
Still, the figures brought criticism and suspicion Thursday, as the politically charged debate on school finances continues.
 
Gov. Rod Blagojevich's aides seized on the new numbers as good financial news about schools--just in time for the governor's budget address to the state legislature next week. Under the governor's leadership, lawmakers increased public school funding by more than $380 million in 2004, which aides cite as one reason schools were better able to make ends meet. "The numbers should not say to anybody that the fight has been won. What it says to us is progress has been made, that what we are doing is working, and that we continue to stand strong for education funding," said Elliot Regenstein, the governor's director of education reform.
 
But local officials and advocates of school finance reform said the governor is avoiding the far more difficult discussion of how to fix an inequitable finance system that shortchanges disadvantaged students and puts inordinate pressure on local districts to come up with the cash for schools.
 
The figures released Thursday show no change in the state's overall contribution to K-12 education--about 28 percent of the total budgets for districts excluding
Chicago. Local communities are still picking up the lion's share of the tab, which creates spending inequities between wealthy and poor districts.
 
"The problems are very clear and still there--that we're overrelying on the property tax and we're falling way short of providing adequate school funding," said Bindu Batchu, campaign manager for a statewide initiative to reform school finances by raising state income and sales taxes and lowering property taxes.
 
The governor is adamantly opposed to raising those taxes.
 
As Blagojevich heads into his budget address next week, "I think there is some spinning going on here," Batchu said. "My sense of this is that he's trying to get the public to believe that
Illinois schools are fiscally healthy."
 
Educators also said the decline in the number of districts in deficit isn't necessarily good news.
 
"The fact that we're doing better [financially] begs the question: What are we doing better at? Are we doing better by not replacing staff, by cutting back program offerings? Is that the optimal educational opportunity you want to provide for children in this state?" asked Ernest Tonelli, a school finance official who is president-elect of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials.
 
Tonelli said that the deficit figures are one part of a complicated picture of school finances, and that there could be many explanations for the improved financial portrait released Thursday. Some school districts are paying their bills and balancing their books by borrowing money in anticipation of their tax collections--a troubling practice, he said.
 
Ford Heights School District 169 in Cook County, one of the districts no longer showing an overall deficit in 2004, got $3.5 million in state construction grants in 2003, which pumped up revenues in both 2003 and 2004, district business official Coretta Jackson said.
 
But the district is actually struggling, she said. Last year, six teachers retired and the district didn't replace them, she said, saving money but increasing class sizes from 17 or 18 students to 20 or 21 students.
 
That is disturbing to state Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), who will be leading efforts in the Senate this spring to reform the school finance system.
 
"I am all for increasing efficiency at the administrative level. But what's in the classroom, in terms of class size? Who is teaching? How many teachers are qualified? What does the classroom look like, and what does the rest of the facility look like in terms of its condition?" he asked. Although Blagojevich deserves credit for pushing for more education money, "I want the governor to acknowledge our funding system needs to be changed," del Valle said.

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VOICE urges support of House Bill 750
Melissa Garzanelli, Streator Times-Press
 
LA SALLE — A school lobby group is urging the education community to get on board with education funding reform by supporting House Bill 750, Amendments 1 and 2.
 
“It is time to reform funding and to pay for the education we are giving,” said Wally Marquardt, chairman of Vision On Issues and Choices in Education (VOICE) and superintendent of Grand Ridge Elementary School, during the winter dinner meeting for the Illinois Association of School Boards on Thursday night at Celebrations 150 in La Salle.
 
Local school officials heard a presentation on House Bill 750 from the chief author of the bill, Ralph Martire, director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.
 
The bill promises a reduction in property taxes, while increasing the income tax rate and broadening the sales tax base to include some services. Under the bill, 96 percent of school districts would see an increase in how much money they receive overall. The funding for the other 4 percent will remain constant.
 
Because of the tax increase that is part of the plan, some legislators are gun-shy about the bill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich has already promised to veto the bill because of his pledge to not increase taxes, making it necessary for enough legislators to approve the bill that it would be veto-proof.
 
Supporters of the bill believe public support is the key to winning those votes.
 
“We are close to a super majority, just six or seven votes,” said Martire. “That could become a reality with a grass roots effort.”
 
Marquardt asked the superintendents and school board members in attendance to write to their legislators.
 
“If our legislators won’t support this, we will replace them with people who will,” he said.
 
Karen Fisher, a member of the Ottawa Township High School Board of Education, said she has already been writing letters.
 
“Not just to legislators but also to personal friends. I tell them that if they care about their children’s education, they need to contact their legislators,” she said. “They will not do more until they see the community cares and not just a few superintendents and school board members.”
 
Members of the Sandwich School District Board of Education brought up the topic of funding reform with two of their local legislators at an informal coffee last week, but were unable to garner strong support from them.
 
“We need reform,” said Sandwich Superintendent Rick Schmitt. “The legislature needs to understand that we want legislators to find a way to take the burden off of local property taxes. If (House Bill 750) is the best method we have right now, we need to take a look at it.”
 
Martire explained that the money generated by increasing income and sales taxes would be used to make the state solvent through $2 billion in additional revenue and would add $4.3 billion in funding for education. Money, $900,000, would also be set aside for tax rebates for those making less than $50,000 per year.
 
“The biggest opposition to this bill is ignorance,” said Martire. “I mean that sincerely ... There are a lot of fears and none are actually in this bill.”
 
Marquardt urged school officials to educate themselves on the bill so they can encourage community support and answer questions.
 
“We can’t let the opposition argue just one side of the issue,” he said.
 
Martire agreed.
 
“I’ve had politicians tell me it is a good bill but their voters won’t get it,” he said. “We need a lot of grass roots activity to make this a reality.”
 
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Bill would require drug tests for drivers permits
Kevin McDermott,
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
 
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - A state legislator wants to require all Illinois high school students to take drug tests before they could get their drivers permits, a move he believes could keep teens off methamphetamine by threatening what's most dear to them.
 
It's part of a growing list of bills in
Springfield this year that would tighten restrictions on young drivers, who are responsible for a disproportionate number of the nation's highway accidents. Other pending bills in Illinois would add new restrictions and requirements on young drivers in terms of drivers' education fees, seat belts, cell phones and even car purchases.
 
State Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, says a universal drug test for anyone under 18 applying for a drivers permit would give teenagers a "peer-acceptable" reason to turn down highly addictive methamphetamine and other drugs at an age when addiction often starts.
 
"There's a real methamphetamine problem in rural
Illinois . . . at that age when they're getting their learners permits," said Eddy, who is also a school superintendent in a rural area near the Indiana border. "This (could provide) a reason to give to counter the pressure - 'No, I want to be able to get my permit.'"
 
Critics say the idea could be another infringement on teenagers' rights, an already-murky area of law.
 
"We have some concerns in general about drug testing and targeting young people," said Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union in
Chicago. The ACLU is still studying the bill and hasn't yet taken a formal position on it, but Yohnka said the group does have a continuing concern with legislation that "sends young people the message that they're always suspects."
 
"This sort of singling out of people by age, and suggesting they should have lesser legal protections than other people, is already happening in other areas," Yohnka said.
 
Eddy's bill would make the students themselves responsible for the cost of the drug tests, which can range from $10 to $40 each. Other details - such as what kinds of tests are to be used, and whether they should be coordinated within the schools or if the students have to secure test on their own - would be determined by State Board of Education.
 
Eddy, who is the only school superintendent in the Legislature, said he realizes the bill is "controversial," even among legislators, which could hurt its chances of getting through the legislative system. The bill is currently awaiting a House committee vote.
 
"There are a lot of people who don't want to vote on this," Eddy said.
 
Amanda Clessa, a freshman at
Metro East Lutheran High School in Edwardsville, said she thinks many students would think twice about using drugs if they knew their permits would be in jeopardy.
 
"Everyone looks forward to getting their license, it's such a big deal," she said. "When you get your permit, that means new freedom, so maybe doing that would be an incentive to be more responsible."
 
Alton High School Principal Philip Trapani said testing for drugs before giving out a driving permit makes sense. "I like the idea," he said.
 
But he said he wouldn't want it to become another unfunded mandate from the state. Schools often must pick up the costs for programs that low-income students can't afford, and
Trapani said he wouldn't be surprised if the school ended up bearing the brunt of the cost.
 
It isn't unusual for a crop of new legislation to focus each year on young drivers - a situation young drivers bring on themselves. Statistically, new drivers are by far the most dangerous on the road.
 
"Those two or three years are the most critical in terms of involvement (in accidents)," said Mike Right of the AAA Motor Club in
St. Louis. He said young drivers "are overrepresented in all categories of traffic accidents."
 
"Given that their eyesight and reflexes are the best they're ever going to be, they should be the best drivers on the road. But they lack the maturity and they lack the experience - and unfortunately, there's only one way to get experience."
 
Among other new drivers license restrictions under consideration by
Illinois legislators this year:
 
A House bill would prohibit drivers who are on learners permits from using cell phones while driving. The measure, HB21, has passed the House and is awaiting debate in the Senate.
 
A Senate bill would require 18-year-old passengers to wear seat belts in cars in which the driver is under 18. Currently, passengers 17 and younger must wear seat belts in such circumstances. The measure, SB229, is awaiting a committee vote.
 
A House bill would require parental consent before anyone under 18 could buy a car. The bill, HB38, would change state law to require that car title applications include the buyer's age. The measure is awaiting a committee vote.

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IHSA considering enrollment multiplier
Board aiming to counterbalance dominance of private institutions
Jan Dennis, Associated Press
 
BLOOMINGTON -- Private schools account for fewer than 20 percent of the roughly 750 schools that compete in the Illinois High School Association's annual sports tournaments, but they have claimed more than a third of the championship trophies in the last five years.
 
The last five Class A boys golf titles went to private schools, along with the last two in Class A boys basketball. In girls volleyball, private schools claimed the last five Class A crowns, plus four of the last five in Class AA.
 
Public schools have taken their biggest beating in football, where private schools won five of the IHSA's eight classes last fall. Private schools have now run off seven straight championships in Class 5A, six in Class 4A, four in Class 6A and two of the last three in Class 3A.
 
"I think we do need to look at swinging the pendulum a little bit back toward public schools because I do think it's a bit out of whack now," said Marty Hickman, executive director of the Bloomington-based IHSA.
 
The 10 high school principals who comprise the IHSA board will meet today to discuss ways to do just that.
 
But while the sports success of the private schools has strained relations between public and private school administrators, some public school players don't want change and say bring on the tough competition.
 
"Everybody on the team feels the same way. If you want to be perceived as the best, you have to beat the best," said Bloomington senior Mike Neumann, who played tight end and defensive line for the Purple Raiders football team which has lost the last three 6A title games to private schools.
 
The most frequently discussed solution is a mathematical equation that some think would level the playing field between private schools, which can draw student-athletes from up to 30 miles away, and public schools, with their tighter, locked-in geographic boundaries.
 
Called a multiplier, the formula would inflate private school enrollment figures that the IHSA uses to slot teams into classes based on the number of school districts in their 30-mile territory.
 
Under that concept, private schools -- especially in the densely populated
Chicago area -- could see their enrollment projections rise by 50 percent or even double, which could bump teams up to play against bigger schools come tournament time.
 
For now, the biggest impact would be in football, the only IHSA playoffs with more than two classes. But that could change if the board adopts a proposal in April that would add classes for basketball, volleyball and other sports beginning in 2006-2007.
 
"With more classes, the multiplier starts to have a great effect. With two classes, some schools wouldn't move anywhere," Hickman said.
 
An IHSA task force rejected multipliers last month, fearing an across-the-board plan would hurt small, rural private schools and might swing the balance of power too far toward public schools.
 
"Everyone is struggling with this. It isn't just an
Illinois issue, it's a national issue. If it was easy, someone would have solved it by now," said Joe Schlender, principal at Hoffman Estates Conant and chairman of both the task force and IHSA board.
 
Hickman predicts the board will resurrect multipliers today and could adopt a plan at its March 19 meeting. He said the board may look at multipliers only for densely populated areas or could opt to test the system next fall in football and volleyball.
 
"I think we need to do something that's going to level the playing field a little bit and I think this concept of a multiplier, if we're careful with it and cautious and thoughtful is one that could work," Hickman said.
 
Not surprisingly, public and private schools are deeply divided over multipliers. Fewer than 12 percent of private schools backed the concept in an IHSA survey, compared with 80 percent of public schools.
 
But both sides expect some kind of change to counterbalance private schools' dominance on the field.
 
"I'd like to keep it the way it is, but we understand the issues that are out there. It's going to affect us, we know that," said Curt Christenson, athletic director at University High, a private, state-run school.
 
In
Missouri, multipliers were imposed in 2002-2003 that bumped private school enrollment projections by 35 percent. Since then, private schools have won about 34 percent of the state's titles, up slightly from about 33 percent before.
 
"The overall effect has been minimal, but the membership is generally happy because the problems were addressed," said Rick Kindhart, spokesman for the Missouri State High School Activities Association.
 
Dan Sharp, athletic director at 12-time football champion Joliet Catholic, doubts that multipliers would slow his school, where a tradition for winning helps draw top athletes.
 
"It's a great challenge, and we'd love to accept that challenge," Sharp said.
 
Central Catholic sophomore Josh Brent agrees, even though multipliers would likely move his Saints up a class in football.
 
"If you're good enough, it really doesn't matter what class you're in," the sophomore lineman said.
 
Even if multipliers are approved, Hickman doesn't think they will end the debate.
 
"I think the reality of the situation is there isn't a perfect system," he said.

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There's no debating it:
Illinois school funding unfair
Opinion by Ralph Martire,
Chicago Sun-Times
 
Reforming how
Illinois funds public education has been debated for more than 60 years. Back in the 1940s, the Illinois Farm Bureau contended that the state's over-reliance on local property taxes to fund schools was unfair and unacceptable. Since then, every blue ribbon, nonpartisan commission that has studied Illinois school funding has sounded the same alarm. And there's never been a lack of data supporting the reformers' position.
 
Illinois has an unacceptably large and increasing funding disparity between affluent and all other school districts, a growing achievement gap and a teacher shortage. The majority of schools are deficit spending. Even the state's minimum per child foundation level of education spending is inadequate, providing more than $1,000 less than what it would cost a highly efficiently operated school district to have just two-thirds of its children pass the state's standardized tests.
 
Relying heavily on local property taxes to fund schools causes many of these problems. In effect, it ties the quality of the public education the state can afford to provide a child to the property wealth of the community in which that child lives. Kids in affluent communities get world-class public schools, children in other communities get something far less. The resulting inequities have been lambasted by educators, business leaders and prominent politicians from both political parties. Even national organizations, such as Education Week, continually assign
Illinois the failing grade of "F" for school funding fairness. That is, until this year.
 
This year, when Education Week released its state grades for funding fairness,
Illinois received a "C-," barely passing, but still an improvement from the failing grade. Suddenly, opponents of school funding reform thought they had something.
 
Well, as it turns out, the new grade
Illinois received was not based on any improvement at all. It seems Education Week simply dropped one of the four factors it previously used to evaluate school funding fairness. Interestingly enough, the factor Education Week dropped measures two pretty important items. First, it evaluates how much total funding for schools comes from state-based resources rather than local property taxes. Second, it measures how well a state compensates for school funding discrepancies by targeting funding to property poor school districts.
 
Of the remaining three factors still used, only one actually considers discrepancy in school funding from district to district -- the "wealth-neutrality" index. It measures the degree to which school revenue is tied to the property wealth of districts.
Illinois received the third worst grade on the wealth-neutrality index, scoring ahead of only Maryland and Alabama.
 
The other two factors really don't reveal anything about equity. One measures the difference between spending for the bottom 50 percent of school districts and spending at the median. The other factor compares the average range of spending per pupil for all kids, adjusting for at-risk children who have special needs or live in poverty.
 
It's not surprising that
Illinois' grade improves when the factor it is worst at is eliminated. Changing the factors, however, doesn't change the facts. Illinois still has the worst spread in school funding between districts in the nation, and still ranks 49th in the portion of school funding provided from state rather than local resources. Using Education Week's methodology, my organization recomputed the Illinois data to include the dropped factor. Guess what? Illinois gets the same numeric score this year that it did last year. In other words, when you compare apples to apples, Illinois still has the wormy one, and keeps its failing grade of "F."
 
There really isn't anything left to debate.
Illinois, one of the wealthiest states in the nation, ought to do a better job of funding schools fairly and adequately. No more political games, no more rhetoric and no more failing our children. Education Week can change their standards all they want. We shouldn't change ours.

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State set to start hacking away at school rules
Chicago Tribune Editorial
 
The most memorable moment of the State of the State address 13 months ago was when Gov. Rod Blagojevich produced a stack of paper more than five reams high--a copy of the Illinois State Board of Education's rules and regulations--and declared that it represented "a bureaucratic nightmare of biblical proportions."
 
"The crushing amounts of paperwork" at the local level "handcuffs our educators, and, far worse than that, shortchanges our children," he said.
 
Six months later, lawmakers gave Blagojevich control of the state board--though not as much control as he had asked for. Yet by the day of this year's State of the State address this month, as the Tribune story noted, not one page of those regulations had been removed.
 
"I can't begin to tell you how massive this process is," said Jonathan Furr, general counsel for the state board, who came in with Blagojevich's new leadership team in September.
 
The rulebook quite naturally grew and grew over the years as the state added programs, Furr said. But when the programs were discontinued or replaced, no one bothered to go through all the necessary, methodical steps to get rid of the rules.
 
"You can't just mark them off the books with a big red pen," Furr said.
 
Why? Well, because the law calls for a procedure.
 
Notices. Hearings. Votes. More notices, more hearings, more votes. It's amazing the rulebook is only 2,800 pages, really.
 
But on Wednesday and Thursday, the efforts by Furr and six other lawyers to "clear out the regulatory underbrush" will finally show some results, he said, as board members, in their monthly meeting in
Springfield, are scheduled to consider the first raft of deletions.
 
Fully/only/an amazing/a pathetic 150 pages of regulations--many already labeled "inactive"--will begin their ride to the landfill.
 
I obtained a copy of these rules, determined to read them carefully.
 
The first sentence in the first doomed rule read: "School districts; cooperatives or joint agreements with a governing board or board of control; and regional superintendents and administrative agents for educational service centers who are acting on behalf of cooperatives or joint agreements shall conduct staff development programs and may contract with not-for-profit organizations to conduct summer staff development program institutes which specify outcome goals, including the improvement of specific instructional competencies, and which conform to locally developed plans."
 
This put me into a deep, refreshing sleep. Several hours later, I turned to the three-page executive summary of changes prepared for board members.
 
Among the eliminations:
 
The rules that forbid hearing officers who live in Chicago from presiding over Chicago Public Schools teacher dismissals; the rules that require parents to sign for permission for their children to receive free textbooks; and "particularly nonsensical" (their words) rules requiring that school psychologists pass preparatory programs accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists.
 
In addition, the proposal eliminates the requirement that teachers going through a promotion to veteran-teacher status have to seek approval and fill out multiple forms--sometimes more than 100 pages each--for each mandatory professional-development activity, and it consolidates overlapping sets of rules on how to fire Chicago and non-Chicago teachers.
 
Assuming the board approves these and other deletions, they will go to the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which will then--well, never mind. Furr said that with all the formalities, it will be three to four months before the offending rules are officially gone.
 
Meanwhile, the staff will mark other rules for execution.
 
"By the end we expect to find at least 500 pages of rules to repeal," Furr said, "as well as numerous little burdens on districts that we can strike from the language of other regulations."
 
Getting rid of one ream's worth of silly rules is a good start toward ending the bureaucratic nightmare.
 
But the number of more pressing problems in public education--a funding formula that greatly disadvantages low-income students and leaves more than half of all districts running in the red comes to mind--can still make you wake up screaming.

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New law requires more schools to offer breakfast
By Mary Tallon, The Associated Press,
2/15/05

More poor children will be able to eat a free breakfast at school under legislation signed Tuesday by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Advocates for the poor had pushed for expansion of the school breakfast program, arguing that studies show students score better on tests and are more alert when they eat in the morning.

Under the legislation, schools must offer breakfast if 40 percent or more of their students qualify for government-subsidized lunches.

Of the state's 4,200 elementary and secondary schools, more than 2,200 voluntarily participate in school nutrition programs and all but 358 offer breakfast now, said Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Becky Watts. Previously, there had been no requirement for schools to offer breakfast.

``We are extremely delighted that more children, especially low-income children and children of working families, will be afforded the possibility of having breakfast at school,'' said Connie Probst, a community organizer with the Illinois Hunger Coalition.

How much the state's expanded breakfast program will cost is still unclear because administrators have 90 days to determine which schools must participate,
Watts said.

School breakfast programs are funded primarily through federal grants and partially with state dollars.

A sponsor of the legislation said school districts do not need to worry about additional costs because they will be reimbursed for any expenses, such as adjusting bus schedules or lining up cafeteria supervisors.

``It requires them to make some changes, so it requires work. But the bill as it has been signed ensures that we're not talking about costs,'' said Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago.

Del Valle also said schools can appeal to opt out of the program if they can show they are not being reimbursed for all costs.
 
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School funding a top priority
Illinois Senate will tackle issue, Jones says
By Carrie Kepple,
Peoria Journal Star, 2/16/05
    
NORMAL - Illinois Senate President Emil Jones said Tuesday he hopes discussions in Springfield over the next few months will result in legislation changing the way education is funded in Illinois.
Jones, D-Chicago, said the state should end its reliance on property taxes and shift to an increase in income tax, which would be a "more equitable" way to fund schools.

Jones said some
Cook County schools receive between $15,000 and $20,000 per child annually, while many rural communities get less than $5,000 to educate a child for one year.

"Education should not depend on where the child lives. Every child should have equal access to the public dollars we use to fund education," Jones said.

Jones, who spoke to a political science class at
Illinois State University, said he formed a committee of three Democrats and three Republicans to hash out a resolution on the issue.

He said the committee's ideas of tax reform are similar to House Bill 750 of last session that did not pass.

"In
Illinois, our elementary and secondary schools are deplorable," Jones said.

He also predicts debate on federal dollars being spent to build brand new schools in
Iraq will again surface in Springfield as it did last spring.

"If we can do it there, why can't we do it (fund education) here," he said.

"Always take care of home first."

Jones said education funding and tax reform will be a priority of the Illinois Senate.

"I think reasonable minds can come together on this issue," he said.

Beyond education, Jones said, state political leaders continue to look for innovative ways to fill a large gap in the $54 billion budget for the 2005 fiscal year, which began
July 1, 2004.

"We are facing a $1.5 to $2 billion shortfall for the next fiscal year," he said.

Jones said, "We cannot stick our heads in the sand. The budget should not be balanced on the back of the elderly, school children or the poor of this state."

He said other key issues to be addressed this spring will be the No Child Left Behind Act, the future of Amtrak in
Illinois and a bill setting up a special lottery to raise money for breast-cancer research and treatment.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Foul Trouble
Attacher’s Conviction a Warning to Unruly High School Sports Fans
BY JIM MUIR, Southern Illinoisan
 
BENTON -- James Camden, the 43-year-old Murphysboro man accused of attacking a referee during a high school football game nearly 18 months ago, was sentenced Tuesday to 90 days in jail and also barred from attending any athletic events at any level for two years.

Camden pleaded guilty to attacking veteran Southern Illinois official Mike Byrne, of Marion, on Sept. 22, 2003 during a sophomore football game at West Frankfort. He was arrested at the scene and charged with two counts of aggravated battery and a single count of battery. He has been free on $5,000 bond since the arrest.

Franklin County State's Attorney Tom Dinn said the plea agreement  sends a strong message to unruly sports fans.

"This type of behavior is simply not going to be tolerated," Dinn said. "There is absolutely no call for this and also no place for this in athletics or anywhere else. Even though this particular offense was sort of a technical felony in that there were no actual blows struck, it was still asinine and it can't be tolerated."

During a brief hearing in Franklin County Court Tuesday afternoon
Camden entered a negotiated guilty plea to a single count of battery. In exchange for the guilty plea the two counts of aggravated battery, both felony charges, were dismissed.
 
Camden will receive day-for-day credit on the 90-day jail sentence meaning that with good behavior he will actually serve 45 days in the county jail. That time will be served beginning immediately and will be divided into one 30-day stint and then eight consecutive weekends.

Camden also was fined $2,500 and barred from attending any school sporting events or sports camp activities for two years. The judge placed Camden on two years' probation and required him to take anger management classes.

One final stipulation, added by Judge Loren P. Lewis, during the hearing, requires
Camden to write a formal letter of apology to Byrne for his actions.

Lewis questioned
Camden during the court proceeding and asked the Murphysboro man if he had learned anything from the incident.

"I've learned a lot,"
Camden said. "I just want to get this over with and get my life back. This has been a nightmare for me and my family."

Byrne, a veteran
Southern Illinois official who has refereed more than 800 games in a career that spans nearly three decades, has been involved in the discussions and approved the plea agreement. Byrne said he was happy with the sentence.

"The most important thing is that it shows that if you cross the line you are going to go to jail," Byrne said. "This sends a message that if you can't control yourself at a sporting event you probably shouldn't go. This shows that there are consequences for your actions and there is a price to pay. I think they made an example of him (
Camden) and now he's got a long time to sit and think about his actions."

Byrne said he was involved in the details of the plea agreement that was negotiated between Dinn and Carbondale Attorney Brian Roberts, who represents
Camden. Roberts declined to comment following the hearing.

Camden was arrested Sept. 22, 2003, after he attacked Byrne at Johnson Field in West Frankfort. Camden, who had a son playing in the game, ran on to the football field and grabbed Byrne shortly before the end of the first half of the game.

The incident took place with about two minutes left in the first half and with
West Frankfort ahead by three touchdowns. Byrne stopped the game and told fellow referee and crew chief Tony Gualdoni of Herrin that he was ejecting a Murphysboro fan (Camden) for unsportsmanlike behavior that had included a continuous barrage of harassment and vulgar language directed at the officiating crew and the players.

After notifying Gualdoni, Byrne then notified
West Frankfort athletic director Richard Glodich that he wanted Camden removed from the field. According to the police report that was filed, as Glodich approached the Murphysboro bleachers Camden allegedly ran past a restraining wire leading to the field and grabbed Byrne around the neck with both hands.

Glodich on Tuesday also applauded the sentence and said he felt jail time was warranted.

"The judge and the state's attorney handled it well," Glodich said. "As an athletic director it was just a terrible ordeal. I hope it sends a message, not only in athletics, but in any extra-curricular activity. That should be a place to go and enjoy your kids, but don't be disrespectful to the visiting team, the referees or coaches. Just go the games and be a fan, period."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Overturn law that sets up students to fail
Peoria Journal Star Opinion

When it's Goliath vs. Goliath, maybe it really is best to let the courts decide.

That's the situation between the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act and its Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. Because these two offspring of Uncle Sam enforce seemingly contradictory requirements for
U.S. school districts, at least a couple central Illinois school boards are joining a lawsuit they hope will tell them which of the laws applies. Ottawa high and elementary districts have joined the suit, and the Putnam County School Board is considering it.

At issue, of course, is which piece of legislation should trump the other. The disabilities law mandates that school districts provide special education students with individualized learning plans so they may proceed at their own pace. No Child Left Behind says no, those kids are expected to perform on par with their peers, handicap or no handicap. In short, if a school satisfies the one law, it's in violation of the other. What a surprise, Uncle Sam is schizophrenic.

We jest, but it's not really funny, since school districts are being punished with the forfeiture of federal funds under No Child Left Behind if one group of students - say special ed, in this case - doesn't measure up on standardized tests.
Washington does this by reducing the allocation of Title 1 funds, which go to low-income students.

We don't generally endorse lawsuits, but this one is worth it. Purposely setting up kids to fail, or pitting one group of disadvantaged against another, is not only crazy but it's mean, it's beneath the federal government and the courts should put a stop to it.

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Key ally digs in over funding for schools
Senate leader Jones attacks Blagojevich's `paltry sum' for education
Lawmakers balk at plan to cut pensions for new employees
By Ray Long and Christi Parsons,
Chicago Tribune. Tribune staff reporters Rick Pearson and Erika Slife contributed to this report
 
SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich's new $53 billion budget proposal was on shaky ground from the moment he presented it Wednesday, with his key legislative ally threatening a fight over the governor's rejection of sweeping school finance reform.
 
Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago), whose help proved critical to passage of much of Blagojevich's agenda last year, also complained that the governor was now proposing only a "paltry sum" in new school spending.
 
Other lawmakers, meanwhile, dismissed as dead-on-arrival Blagojevich plans to balance his budget by reducing state pension costs, a move that one leading Senate Republican said relied on Enron-style accounting. Many predicted that shortcomings in the governor's fiscal blueprint would reinvigorate attempts to expand casino gambling as a way to raise badly needed revenue for the state.
 
In his 58-minute address to a joint session of the legislature, punctuated for the most part with only tepid applause from both sides of the aisle, Blagojevich asked lawmakers to raise the state portion of the cigarette tax by 75 cents per pack to help pay for school construction. That would bring the total to $1.73 before city and county taxes are added in and shoot the overall cost of a pack to at least $5 and maybe much more depending on where it is bought.
 
He also called on legislators to tax business purchases of software to fund a bailout of the Chicago Transit Authority.
 
Blagojevich called on lawmakers to join him in making tough choices on revenue that risked angering entrenched constituencies. To do otherwise, he said, would lead to a "fiscal train wreck."
 
Despite that warning, Blagojevich steered clear of the kind of slash-and-burn, accusatory rhetoric that had typified much of his first two years in office and had turned off many in the legislature who complained he had sought to vilify them.
 
"We find ourselves at a seminal moment," Blagojevich declared, sounding an inclusive note. "The progress we've made over the last two years couldn't have happened without you. The progress I want to make can only happen with you."
 
His speech kicked off the first season of budget wrangling since a bitter 54-day spending showdown with lawmakers last summer. Hoping to avoid a repeat of that impasse, Blagojevich and legislative leaders quickly convened after the speech to begin formal budget negotiations.

But even as the governor exhorted lawmakers to "put politics aside," his budget proposal may have triggered an immediate shift in the political alliances under the Capitol dome. Last year, Blagojevich and Jones presented a united front in a fight against House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Republican legislative leaders in the House and Senate.
 
Wednesday, Madigan and his lieutenants applauded Blagojevich's chief initiatives, even saying they thought his pension idea could work.
 
Madigan, also the state Democratic Party chairman, has feuded repeatedly with Blagojevich since he was a candidate for governor. But after the budget speech, Madigan expressed support for much of Blagojevich's plan and pledged his support for the governor's re-election in 2006.
 
"I think the governor has given us a good blueprint that we can use," Madigan said during a public television broadcast. He also endorsed Blagojevich's idea of establishing a two-tier plan for state employees that would give new hires smaller pension benefits--a proposal sure to anger state employee unions that are a key Democratic constituency.
 
But while Madigan was finally finding something in Blagojevich to praise, Jones was going in the opposite direction. He pounded his desk in anger over the governor's decision not to take up school reform, which Jones says is badly needed to reduce overreliance on the property tax to fund schools and eliminate wide inequities in per-pupil spending from district to district.
 
"I didn't appreciate what he had to say about education, trying to slap the reform of education," Jones said. "It leads me to believe he doesn't understand it."
 
Jones, who has said education reform would be a key part of his spring strategy, insisted he would push forward with a bipartisan effort.
 
"I'm shocked that the governor does not understand that many of our elderly citizens on fixed incomes are being taxed out of their homes having to pay that educational tax," said Jones, who thinks the state should pick up a much bigger share of school costs.
 
Education advocates also complained about Blagojevich's call for just $140 million in new spending for schools, saying it fell far short of past funding increases Blagojevich sought and did not meet his campaign pledge to steer 51 percent of new state revenues into the classroom. Keeping that commitment would require a near doubling of the amount Blagojevich proposed in new school money.
 
Blagojevich denied ever making such a vow. Asked after the speech if he was breaking a promise to voters, the governor replied, "There was never one."
 
But he did utter such a pledge numerous times during his 2002 campaign, and even went further at times by declaring that the 51 percent commitment was so important it should be written into law to ensure that "there's no option" to spend it any other way but on schools.
 
Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the governor's "budget is going backward."
 
"He is taking a position that, in his mind, helps ensure his re-election," del Valle said. "But in the process of ensuring his re-election, he's also failing to provide leadership on the most critical issue facing
Illinois."
With grumbling over education funding from both Republicans and Democrats, the political elements seemed to be lining up for another prolonged legislative budget battle despite Wednesday's efforts to jumpstart negotiations.
 
At the least, the calculus of
Springfield politics is bound to grow even more complicated. Blagojevich not only had irritated much of the legislature during his first two years in office, but also has managed to feud with virtually every other major player in state government, Democratic and Republican.
 
Jones remained his most solid ally. But on Wednesday, the Senate president said the governor was making a "serious error" at Jones' top legislative priority, school reform.
 
To help fill a $1.1 billion deficit, the governor asked lawmakers to restructure the state's five government employee pension plans in a way that would free up $750 million that otherwise would have had to have been poured into the systems in the fiscal year that begins July 1. The changes, he said, would save the state billions of dollars over the next 40 years as well.
 
Blagojevich's pension overhaul includes, among other items, proposals that would give newly hired workers smaller benefits. It also would end a controversial practice in which many school districts give teachers and other employees big pay raises near the end of their careers to dramatically boost their pensions.
 
Combined with rising costs of Medicaid and employee health-care costs, pension costs are like a "snowball rolling down a mountain," Blagojevich said. "And before long, if that snowball isn't stopped, it will turn into an avalanche, and bury anything in its way."
 
But Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson (R-Greenville) called the budget "totally unrealistic" and said the $750 million represented potentially phantom savings from future years that may never benefit the state treasury.
 
Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin), who may seek the Republican nomination to try to unseat Blagojevich next year, was even blunter. "This is Enron accounting," Rauschenberger complained. "Any chief executive of an American corporation would go to jail for manipulation of the budget that this governor is engaged in."
 
After his speech, Blagojevich said he would talk with legislative leaders about a potential campaign reform package following reports that many state contractors have given him major campaign contributions.
 
He stopped short, however, of saying he would seek to copy at the state level Mayor Richard Daley's executive order banning city contractors from contributing to him.
 
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Schools rumbling over breakfast law
Erin Holmes, Daily Herald
 
It's always been the day's most important meal. Now, it's a full-fledged requirement.
 
A new law signed this week by Gov. Rod Blagojevich will push breakfast onto the plates of dozens of
Illinois schools not already offering that option - making it a necessity in buildings where at least 40 percent of the students meet the free or reduced lunch standards.
 
The law will affect about 360 schools statewide, Illinois State Board of Education officials said, including four in Des Plaines Elementary District 62. Qualifying schools will have three months to start serving.
 
Many area schools, including some that meet the 40 percent threshold, already are filling tummies with breakfast for the same reasons that the new law was enacted: Research has shown students feel and perform better with full bellies.
 
Few disagree with that reasoning, but it's fear of adequate funding for the program that's leaving a sour taste in the mouths of some educators.
 
"I look at this at this point as an unfunded mandate - until such time as I see the money," District 62's Interim Deputy Superintendent Ray Gunn said. "I'm all for kids getting breakfast. ... The problem is, you don't always get what you'd like to get, and it ends up costing."
 
That district already serves breakfast at
South School, giving about 25 kids a day meals that range from a bowl of cereal to fruit and hard-boiled eggs. But the new law means added breakfasts at Algonquin Middle School and North, Orchard Place and Plainfield schools, in a district strapped for cash.
 
There are start-up incentives for the breakfast program: up to $3,500 in state funding and $2,700 in federal grants. But the state funding for next year isn't certain - the budget isn't final - and it's also not a given that the grant funds will fully cover start-up costs in all schools.
 
"If these incentive grants will absolutely cover all the costs in all the districts - we can't speak to that," said Becky Watts, an Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman.
 
Schools will get reimbursed for the free or reduced-price breakfasts they serve, just as is the case with lunches now.
 
"It's a noble idea. Of course we want students to eat a good breakfast before starting a school day," said Terry Barker, superintendent of River Trails Elementary District 26, which has one school - Euclid - that meets the new law's criteria and will have to begin serving breakfast within three months.
 
But without certain cash, the law is just "another case where the
Illinois legislature has decided to impact schools when we're already dealing with inadequate funding," he said.
 
The state for some time has strongly encouraged schools to offer breakfast, awarding start-up funds to make it reality.
 
Schools already offering the breakfast option point out numerous benefits, saying it gets kids going, makes them better learners and provides the nutrients they need for busy days.
 
To that end, they say, the state's new law is a good one - no matter what the price.
 
"We wanted to make sure all students have the opportunity for nutritious breakfasts before the start of the day," said Mike Carmody, principal of
Gray M. Sanborn School in Palatine. "If that's the payoff, I think that's a payoff that's well worth it."
 
The Sanborn breakfast program, begun four years ago, "wasn't costly," he said. About 100 students of the 630 kids there take advantage of it daily.
 
In both Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, breakfast has been a staple for years. About 200 teens at every 214 school eat up daily, Food Services Director Sue MacDonald said, getting a healthy start to the day for no more than $1.
 
That price tag is typical for full-priced breakfasts locally. The reduced price is 30 cents.
 
In many cases, kids qualifying for free or reduced-cost lunches are the ones taking most advantage of the program, educators said, a nod to the criteria in the new law.

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Students sign oath to halt prejudice
700 at East sign Birmingham Pledge
Lisa P. White,
Belleville News-Democrat
 
BELLEVILLE - With the stroke of a pen Wednesday, hundreds of Belleville East High School students promised to stamp out racial prejudice wherever they find it, even in their own minds.
 
Students signed a banner imprinted with the Birmingham Pledge, which reads in part: "I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of race or color ... Therefore, from this day forward I will strive daily to eliminate racial prejudice from my thoughts and actions."
 
The faculty chose the pledge as an innovative way to celebrate diversity during the school's annual Multicultural Awareness Week.
 
"Instead of just hearing an important quote of the day, it gives them an opportunity to sign something and to live by it," said social studies teacher Brian Loehring. "It's a reminder to appreciate all cultures."
 
By the end of the day, more than 700 students had signed the pledge.
 
Junior Elizabeth Gray, 16, was handing out commemorative pledge certificates and buttons to her peers. "I think it's a good cause. I think it's really stupid that because of your skin color you're thought of differently," she said.
 
Birmingham, Ala., attorney Jim Rotch wrote the pledge eight years ago as a way to reclaim the city's reputation, long stained by the memory of the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four girls.
 
"The theory is that
Birmingham is uniquely suited to lead the fight against racial prejudice because people know how bad it was here in the 1960s," Rotch said. "So people say if Birmingham can get its racial house together, anybody should be able to."
 
Rotch said more than 100,000 people have signed the pledge since the campaign began.
 
Between lunch periods Wednesday, students crowded around to sign the banner and chatted with Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert.
 
Students said race relations on campus are mostly positive. But several said they would challenge the attitudes they sometimes hear at home.
 
"I'm not going to judge people by what they look like on the outside and I'm going to stop some of my family members from doing that too," said freshman Denice Holcomb, 14.
 
Rotch said he was thrilled to find out the
Belleville East students had adopted his pledge.
 
" That is absolutely wonderful," he said. "Those 700 kids will have a positive influence on the world that is far greater than they can even imagine right now. It takes real courage to take a stand against racial prejudice."

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Blagojevich says he'll veto any income tax increase for schools
Associated Press, 2/18/05

CHICAGO - Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said he would veto any school-funding reforms if they included increasing income taxes because he's not convinced raising income taxes would solve inequities in state school funding.

"I'll veto any bill that raises the income tax in whatever form," the Democratic governor told the Chicago Tribune's editorial board Thursday.

During his annual budget address to the General Assembly Wednesday, Blagojevich proposed an $8.13 billion education budget for the state, an increase of less than 1 percent from the $8.06 billion appropriated for education in the current fiscal year, which runs through June.

Blagojevich's plan for funding schools during the next budget year relies partly on legislative approval of a plan to siphon money from special state funds while not raising income or sales taxes in the cash-strapped state.

Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, a proponent of ending school-funding reliance on local property taxes in favor of the income tax, last month called funding reform his top priority for the spring legislative session.

Jones, who in last year's budget struggle was Blagojevich's lone ally among the four legislative leaders, has said the governor's dismissal of funding reform indicates the governor does not understand it.

Blagojevich said it's too early to propose the complex overhaul of school funding.

"I'm not convinced that the only answer to school funding and the inequities to the school-funding formulas necessarily mean you have to raise the income tax or the sales tax," he said Thursday.

Reliance on local property taxes to pay for schools has long been seen as a problem for districts in poorer areas that don't have the land wealth to support education and get too little state funding to make up the difference. While districts in more affluent areas have greater property wealth, many are limited in the amount of taxes they can collect from appreciating land value.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Per-pupil spending hike may be smallest of gov's term
BY KATE N. GROSSMAN, Sun-Times Education Reporter, 2/18/05

Gov. Blagojevich's handpicked state Board of Education on Thursday recommended increasing per-pupil spending by just $40 to $45 next year, the smallest amount since Blagojevich took office.

Last year, the Legislature boosted the "foundation level'' by $154, raising it to $4,964. The previous year, it went up $250. This puts the governor behind in his pledge to increase the level by $1,000 over four years, critics said.
Illinois has long ranked near the bottom in its contribution to local education funding.

"It's adding insult to injury in terms of trying to provide adequate school funding," said Bindu Batchu of A+ Illinois, a school finance reform group.

3 years of deficits cited

The governor's office said the $1,000 increase is a goal.

"He's done more than the previous two governors to get there despite three straight years of deficits totaling more than $8 billion," spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said.

The governor on Wednesday proposed a $140 million increase in education, and the board detailed how that should be spent Thursday. It recommended spending the bulk, $80 million, on raising the per-pupil amount, and $20 million for "categorical" funds, such as special education and transportation.

This is the first year the board and the governor worked together to draft the budget, an arrangement that makes some people uneasy, including one of two non-Blagojevich-appointed board members.

"One of the things that this process does not allow for the board, at least not this year, is to establish the real needs of schools," board member Joyce Karon said.

Critics say an independent board would fight harder to increase funding, a critique the governor's office dismisses.

"It may sound constructive in theory" to have the governor's office and the board fighting over the budget, said Elliot Regenstein, the governor's director of education reform. "But it never was in practice."
 
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SICA realignment heads to mediation
BY JOE TROST, Sun-Times, 2/18/05

While the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan waits for the South Inter-Conference Association (SICA) to turn over requested documents and information, the controversial conference realignment issue has gone to mediation.

District 205 Supt. Kamala Buckner and SICA President Roberta Berry agreed late Wednesday to mediation from the Center of Conflict Resolution (CCR) in
Chicago. Tom Roberts, the CCR president-elect and an attorney at Sidley, Austin, Brown and Wood LLP in Chicago, will be the mediator.

''We were contacted by [the Illinois State Board of Education] and asked to work with this situation,'' Roberts said. ''We're doing this pro bono, and hopefully we can help.''

The issue, which has been simmering for the past month, involves a proposed realignment that some believe segregates according to racial and economic factors in the south suburbs and could violate the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003.

''We have been following this issue and have heard from a number of people,'' ISBE spokeswoman Becky Watts said. ''But [the board] has had no official response.''

Buckner said Thursday she has been asked by her legal team to withhold comment for the next couple of days.

Buckner and District 215 Supt. Bob Wilhite have spoken against the realignment plan, as have the Rev. Jesse Jackson, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush and the NAACP. The Pastors Coalition in
Calumet City is the latest group to voice its concerns and has registered its complaints with the SICA.
 
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Parents' board dissolved
SD 161 chief: Only way to fix relations was to oust group 
By Kate McCann, Daily Southtown Staff writer, 2/18/05
 
Citing about two years of conflict with no resolution in sight, Summit Hill School District 161 Supt. Keith Pain has taken the unusual step of dissolving the board of the parents' organization at
Arbury Hills School.
In a letter to parents, Pain says removing the current board of the Arbury Hills School Association is necessary to mend the "negative relationship" that has developed between AHSA and the faculty.

"The school has been dealing the past few years with the deteriorating relationship between the staff and the AHSA board," Pain said. "The teachers' union has increasingly complained about a disrespectful attitude and inappropriate comments made (by AHSA leaders) to staff members."

AHSA board members said they were more saddened than surprised by Pain's move. Board president Ann Jenkins saw it as self-destructive to District 161.

"This is horrible," Jenkins said. "They just keep digging deeper and deeper. It's like give them enough rope, and they hang themselves."

Pain's announcement comes two weeks after he barred the board from meeting at the Mokena school unless it agreed to amend its bylaws to allow the principal and faculty to have more control over AHSA decisions.

Last week, Pain denied that he was trying to purge the AHSA board.

"The situation became increasingly worse," Pain said Thursday. "I felt this was really the only way."

District 161 administrators accused AHSA leaders of refusing to meet with them this week to discuss the bylaws' changes. Arbury Hills principal Dawn Schiro said she was troubled by an e-mail in which board members said they would consider changing the bylaws instead of agreeing to do so.

Jenkins said they wrote a letter, inviting Schiro to meet next week to discuss the bylaws, and reserved a room off school grounds. Schiro said she never received the invitation.

An election for a new AHSA board likely will be held later this year, but nothing has been decided.

In the meantime, Schiro has assumed all of the AHSA board's duties and is coordinating parents' volunteer work. On Thursday, she had to find volunteers for a hot lunch scheduled for today.

"We did have an issue with the hot lunch," Schiro said. "But I contacted Pizza Hut on my own and found staff members to volunteer."

She and Pain said no school activities will be canceled because of the removal of the AHSA board.

Craig Bystrynski, editor in chief of PTO Today, a Massachusetts-based magazine for parents' groups throughout the country, said removing a parents' board is extremely rare and likely not within the authority of the school district.

"It's doubtful the school or the district would be able to do something like that," Bystrynski said. "If (the parents' group has its) own tax ID (number), the school has no authority to get rid of board members."

AHSA does have a tax identification number, and the board was elected by the AHSA membership.

Pain later said it would be more accurate to say that he is no longer recognizing the board, adding that the five women who made up the board can continue to volunteer at Arbury Hills if they adhere to the new rules and leadership.

The women were stunned by Pain's decision last week to bar them from meeting at the school, believing that they were unfairly targeted for a rift they say was caused more by teachers and administrators than parents.

And they view the bylaws order as political because two of their husbands are running for the District 161 school board in April.

"The problem isn't the bylaws," Jenkins said. "The problem is Cathy Casey's husband is running for school board and Lisa Cheval's husband is running for school board. (Pain and the school board) are trying every desperate move to make us look bad."

Chris Casey and Donald Cheval are opposing four incumbents and another candidate for four open board seats.

Tensions between Arbury Hills parents and teachers and school board members stem from June 2003, when some AHSA members circulated a petition to remove former principal Joyce Kleinaitis from her position.

Kleinaitis was accused of twice leaving children alone at school after hours, as well as being antagonistic to parents during conferences. Kleinaitis, who denied the allegations, was promoted to an assistant superintendent post last summer.

District 161 administrators and board members said any controversy at Arbury Hills has been stirred by a few disgruntled parents.

"My kids went to Arbury Hills, and we didn't have the tension we have now" school board member Dee Molinare said. "My kids received a great education."
 
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Schools ask parents to curb fast-food lunches
New program to begin March 1 will provide hot meals for D.158 students
BY JOAN CARREON,
Northwest Indiana Times Correspondent, 2/18/05
 
LANSING, Lansing Elementary District 158 parents are being asked to no longer drop off fast-food lunches at school for their children once the district's new hot lunch program begins.

Superintendent Veronda Cottle updated School Board members Wednesday on plans for the districtwide hot lunch program.

The program is scheduled to begin March 1 for students. The starting date for adult meals for staff is set for April 1.

As schools get ready for the start of hot lunches, the district wants to "gently" tell parents not to bring in fast-food lunches once the program gets under way, Cottle said.

She told board members the number of fast-food lunches being dropped off at schools "by well-meaning parents" has grown and it is a disruption. As an alternative, Cottle suggests parents who want to do something special for their child at lunch can contact the school office and make arrangements to have lunch with their child at school.

Oak Glen Elementary School Principal Rick Miller said such arrangements can be made for once-a-year, special occasions like a child's birthday.

Miller estimates between 10 and 15 parents bring fast-food lunches to Oak Glen each day and a few of them do so on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, electrical work needed in some of the buildings to accommodate the new hot lunch program has been completed, and the installation of equipment will be done next week, Cottle said.

With hopes of getting students "comfortable with the process," practice sessions will be held in the elementary buildings on Feb. 25 and 28, she said.

"We have great anticipation for this program," Cottle said. "We are geared up to go."

Hot lunches will be offered to students at a price of $1.50 each, including milk.

The meals provided by Preferred Meal Systems are to be fresh, not frozen, and will include vegetables, baked goods, fruits and a dessert or snack.

Parents are being encouraged to pay for student meals in advance on a biweekly or monthly basis.
 
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NATIONAL

Students doing well may pay off for teachers  
Jeanne Russell, San Antonio Express-News, 2/11/05

First, state lawmakers and education officials zeroed in on schools with lagging test scores, branding them low-performing.

Next, they zeroed in on students, mandating that high schoolers who failed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills repeatedly couldn't graduate and that third-graders who failed to pass the reading test wouldn't move on to fourth grade.

Now lawmakers want to link test scores to teacher pay, a move House Republican leaders applaud as one way to improve teacher quality and critics say will overburden already stressed teachers.

Even some supporters caution that an incentive pay plan could do more harm than good if improperly implemented. They want lawmakers to raise teacher pay to the national average — as called for in the Senate's plan, unveiled in January — as part of an overall approach that could include incentives.

"Where you have a small pool of money and you use standardized test scores and evaluations as a component you're going to create a divisive and unfair system," said Richard Khouri, of the Texas State Teachers Association.

"The
Texas pay system and particularly the benefits are way below the national average. Incentive pay elements don't work as well when the pay is below average," said Allen Odden, a professor of educational administration at the University of Wisconsin. He nonetheless called the House proposal, "a baby step forward."

Tom Cummins, president of the Bexar County Federation of Teachers, agreed.

"Once the base pay is brought up, then you can talk about incentives," he said. "Are they saying that teachers aren't doing their best right now? If they are, that's an outright lie."

The House plan, released last week, calls for local districts to devote 1 percent of their operating budgets to either incentive pay or mentoring programs.

Under the sweeping plan, education spending would increase by $1.5 billion, slightly more than 5 percent. Local districts would receive a minimum yearly increase of 3 percent. From that, they would have to carve out a performance pay plan expected to cost as much as $270 million annually.

Gov. Rick Perry has also called for annual bonuses of $7,500 to individual teachers.

Ed Fuller, a professor of education at the
University of Texas who specializes in teacher quality issues, said the House plan rightly leaves details of how to carve out incentive pay approaches to individual school districts and requires teacher input.

"You can't force this down people's throats," Fuller said.

State Rep.
Kent Grusendorf, the Arlington Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, said he wants districts to collaborate with teachers in designing their plans.

Incentive pay plans in other states are, in most cases, too young to gauge results.

A
Florida incentive pay plan similar to the one proposed here required a 5 percent set aside. Arizona passed a half-cent sales tax and dedicated some of that money to incentive pay. North Carolina and Iowa have comprehensive programs coupled with competitive teacher pay, Odden said.

In
Florida, the program has been slow to get off the ground, and few teachers have sought performance pay.

In the
Escambia County School District in Pensacola, for example, no teachers have applied for extra pay, although the requirements closely track national board certification, which also comes with extra pay. About 100 teachers are nationally certified and another 95 have applied, said Keith Leonard, the chief negotiator for the school district.

The best programs are well-funded and locally designed with set parameters, experts agree.

"The catch is, the Achilles heel is always, who decides what is meritorious and what's their definition, and that is tricky business," said Richard Ingersoll, an education professor at the
University of Pennsylvania.

One plan that has won national praise, in
Denver, was developed over nine years in collaboration with the teachers union. As a result, it enjoys a high level of teacher support.

Ingersoll predicted that the House's approach of delegating the design of plans to local districts will yield patchwork results.

"What you're probably going to end up with is some good and some bad and some in between," he said.
 
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More disabled kids paddled in Union
County tops N.C. list in corporal punishment study of '99-2000 year
EMILY S. ACHENBAUM, Charlotte Observer Staff Writer, 2/12/05

Union County used corporal punishment on children with disabilities more than any other N.C. school district in the 1999-2000 school year, according to a U.S. Department of Education study.

The nationwide study by the department's Office of Civil Rights examined a year in which 85 children with a range of disabilities received corporal punishment in
Union County.

The numbers are notable because months of parent complaints have led the district to review its corporal punishment policy. Two weeks ago,
Union suspended it, but the issue isn't settled. Opponents say minorities and children with disabilities receive corporal punishment at higher rates than others.

While the superintendent wants it abolished, the board is split, with the chairman and head of the policy committee saying they want to keep it. School officials said they couldn't explain why
Union's numbers were so much higher than other districts in the 1999-2000 study.

"It concerns me our numbers are substantially higher, yes," said Union superintendent Jerry Thomas, who was not superintendent at the time.

The federal civil rights office collects statistics on topics like corporal punishment to "help us get a sense of the level of compliance with our civil rights statutes," said spokesman Jim Bradshaw.

Data from the survey, collected every two or three years, is used by social scientists conducting research on discrimination, and by civil rights and other groups, Bradshaw said. Some advocates for children with disabilities say they find using corporal punishment outrageous.

"If I were one of these parents in
Union County, I'd be angry," said Connie Hawkins, director of the Exceptional Children's Assistance Center, a Davidson-based nonprofit center for N.C. families of children with disabilities.

"For some kids with disabilities, that (corporal punishment) isn't going to process. Does the child connect the spanking is related to something they did in the classroom an hour earlier? They may or may not," Hawkins said.

The report defines corporal punishment as "paddling, spanking, or other forms of physical punishment," and tracks it for students who fall under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

That includes children with autism, learning disabilities, speech/language impairment, orthopedic problems, emotional disturbance, and other disabilities.

Data was taken for the 2002-03 school year, but that report hasn't been released.

Behind
Union in the study were McDowell County Schools, which used corporal punishment on 75 children with disabilities; Columbus County, 60; Gaston County, 60; Lenoir County, 55; and Anson County, 50. Most of these have fewer students than Union; Gaston is comparable with 31,285 students.

Seventy of 119 N.C. school districts reported no incidents of corporal punishment on disabled students, but some of those districts may not use it at all. Of the 49 that did report using it, the average was 21 children.

There are no state guidelines on corporal punishment for children with disabilities, said Lynn Smith, an N.C. Education Department consultant for parents of exceptional children.

Isabelle Mims, director of
Union's exceptional children's program, said corporal punishment is "not the discipline of choice."

Mims said she would have to know what type of disability each child had and how far behind they were academically to compare
Union's numbers with other districts. Union school board members asked about the numbers responded the same way.

Union officials say they aren't sure how many children total received corporal punishment in 1999-2000 -- they tracked the number of disabled children that year because of the federal study.

In 2002-03, corporal punishment was used a total of 463 times in
Union's 28,000-student district, a rate that far exceeded other districts in the Charlotte region.

Gaston County's use of corporal punishment has dropped -- from using it on 60 disabled children alone in 1999-2000 to only 42 students of all backgrounds in 2003-04. In addition to waning public acceptance, the district says an annual $10,000 state and federal grant for supporting positive behavior, rather than punishing bad behavior, has led to the decline.

"We're focusing on helping the child maintain good behaviors, rather than waiting until they do something wrong to punish them," said Cathy Boshamer, director of Exceptional Children's Programs for Gaston schools. "It's one way we've dropped corporal punishment," she said.

While the district does still use corporal punishment, "it's discouraged," Boshamer said, and "we haven't seen any evidence of exceptional children being singled out."

In
Union, the school board policy committee is reviewing the corporal punishment policy. It met Friday, and may make a recommendation to the rest of the board in a few weeks.
 
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New U.S. Secretary Showing Flexibility on 'No Child' Act
By SAM DILLON,
New York Times, 2/14/05

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 - Less than a month after taking office, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has shown a willingness to work with state and local officials on what they consider to be some of the toughest requirements of President Bush's signature education law, No Child Left Behind.
 
In her first few days, the Education Department has ended simmering disputes with two states, in one case resolving an uproar in
North Dakota by approving the qualifications of 4,000 teachers who believed federal officials had previously declared them insufficiently qualified.

In another case, Ms. Spellings said that school districts need not always allow students in low-performing schools to transfer to better ones if it caused overcrowding, an issue important to New York.

"They did a complete about-face," said Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, who with his state's governor had requested that the department reconsider its ruling on teacher qualifications.

Ms. Spellings, once a lobbyist with the Texas Association of School Boards, said the
North Dakota dispute was based on a misunderstanding. Still, she appears to be striking a more conciliatory tone than did her predecessor, Rod Paige, whose rigid interpretation of the law led 31 state legislatures last year to offer an array of challenges to it.

But Ms. Spellings said she would not be a pushover.

"I'm not necessarily going to always grant their requests," she said, especially when states ask for waivers from the law's central provision, that all children take standardized tests in grades three to eight and once in high school, as has been done by Connecticut and several other states. "I mean, we'd have everybody down here."

The 670-page law that Mr. Bush signed in January 2002, which holds schools accountable for student scores on standardized tests, is forcing the nation's schools to accept broad changes or lose critical federal money. Corporate leaders have enthusiastically supported its goals, but educators and lawmakers across the nation skirmished frequently with Mr. Paige as the law extended federal influence over a sector traditionally left to states and districts.

Ms. Spellings said that she intended to balance states' rights to control schools with the federal government's responsibility to reduce the achievement gap between suburban white and urban minority students.

"That's the most important thing I'm going to do, to thread the needle of that balance," she said. The president, she said, wants her to "get with the states and the Congress and work the problem."

She is already treading a line between setting a cooperative tone and keeping the lid on demands for change.

One of her first challenges will be to resolve rising tensions with
Utah, the state that voted more overwhelmingly for President Bush than any other but where the Republican governor and legislature and top educators are all demanding more freedom from the federal law's dictates. The legislature is considering a bill that would require Utah's superintendent of public instruction to give state educational goals priority over the federal law. The superintendent, Patti Harrington, urged lawmakers to pass it and predicted in an interview that they would.

"We don't have much regard for No Child Left Behind in
Utah," Ms. Harrington said. "For rigor, yes, for achievement, yes, but this law just gets in our way." She called the law's accountability system "convoluted," its method for defining highly-qualified teachers "faulty," and its requirement that disabled children be tested at their grade level rather than at their ability level "ludicrous."

"But we have great hope with Spellings' appointment," she said. "I'm hopeful that she'll come to
Utah and say, 'You've got everything in place,' and then set us a little more freedom."

Ms. Spellings said that Senator Orrin G. Hatch had invited her to
Utah and she expressed eagerness to visit there. "These are Republicans," she said. "These are our people."

The view that a state's accountability system is more effective than the one mandated by the federal law is an opinion shared by top educators and lawmakers in many states. Nine legislatures this year have begun considering measures challenging the law, and Scott Young, a senior policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said that number was certain to mount.

Connecticut's commissioner of education, Betty J. Sternberg, writing to Ms. Spellings last month, noted Connecticut's "effective 20-year history of testing in alternate years," and requested it be relieved of the federal requirement to test students in every grade three through eight.

Additional tests, Dr. Sternberg wrote, "will cost millions of dollars and tell us nothing that we do not already know about our students' achievement."

In the interview in her seventh-floor office at Education Department headquarters, Ms. Spellings said that she had not seen Dr. Sternberg's letter but that "there's no ability to waive the annual assessment."

"But I'll go talk to them," she said. "We're not having school up here. We're not closing the achievement gap at the Department of Education. The people in
Connecticut are doing that."

Those comments seemed an expression of humility about the federal government's role in education that often appeared lacking under Ms. Spellings's predecessor.

After department officials visited North Dakota in early December, the state authorities there concluded that the federal officials had ruled some 4,000 veteran elementary teachers to be not "highly qualified" under the federal law, meaning that despite their classroom experience, they would have to take a certification test or demonstrate their mastery of their subject matter in some other fashion.

"Our teachers were apoplectic," Senator Dorgan said. "You've taught for 15 years in your major subject, and all of a sudden you've got some bureaucrat saying you're not qualified? That's the sort of thing that makes people furious about government."

On Feb. 2, the department announced that the teachers were qualified to teach after all. Senator Dorgan said the department changed course after he told an assistant secretary of education that the previous ruling was "completely devoid of common sense" and threatened in a speech to the
North Dakota legislature to seek the federal law's repeal.

Gov. John Hoeven, a Republican, said he had worked with his state's two senators and one congressman, all Democrats. "We were all pushing for the same flexibility," he said. But he said minds finally changed at the department only after he asked the White House for help.

Ms. Spellings denied that the department had reversed course. One of her aides said that North Dakota officials had spread word erroneously that the department had ruled the teachers to be insufficiently qualified. In fact, the aide said, the department's Feb. 2 ruling was its first on the matter, and thus not a reversal.

In the interview, Ms. Spellings also laid out what experts said was another policy shift, this one involving the law's school choice provisions.

During Ms. Spellings's confirmation hearing, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, noted that No Child Left Behind regulations prohibited school districts from citing lack of space as an excuse for denying student transfers, with the result that some
New York schools had become overcrowded.

Ms. Spellings said in the interview that disputes between districts and the department over the law's transfer provisions had largely ended, partly because now that the federal law is in its third year, parents in low-performing schools can request that their students receive tutoring at federal expense.

"So that's something that parents are now seeking, as opposed to the public school choice transfer," she said. If districts make a reasonable case that they lack space in high-performing schools, they need not offer transfers, she said.

"The public school choice option, because of capacity issues, has kind of been a dead letter," she said.

Jill Chaifetz, executive director of Advocates for Children, a nonprofit
New York education group, said that the department had not previously announced that overcrowded districts did not have to comply with the transfer provisions.

"That is a major policy shift," Ms. Chaifetz said.

Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said Ms. Spellings had not intended to articulate a change in federal policy, only to acknowledge that classroom shortages had prevented many districts from offering transfers as the law requires. "She's very pragmatic and has signaled her willingness to listen," Ms. Aspey said.
 
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Lack of purpose haunts students
Teachers blame affluence for sapping a sense of urgency from young adults.
Column By Ruben Navarrette, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/13/05

I recently asked a handful of community college instructors if they could identify the No. 1 problem they encounter with the students they teach.

I've asked this question of other college and university professors before, and the answers I get back are usually academic: not enough preparation in high school, too much reliance on remedial courses, poor writing skills or a tendency to avoid classes that require lots of reading.

Not this time. Academic concerns have been replaced by personal ones, the kind that can't be fixed with private tutors and more homework. Without hesitation, the professors agreed, the biggest problem with young people today is that they lack a sense of purpose. And, the professors insisted, this might have something to do with the fact that these kids don't lack for much else.

You see, the community college is in an affluent suburb of
Dallas. Many of these kids have everything, one professor said. They live in 4,000-square-foot homes, and they drive to school in Hummers and BMWs. They spend spring break in Cancun or Aspen. Their parents have given them every advantage in life. And so these kids can't seem to get excited about the future, their career path, or their place in the world.

I relayed that story to Mel Levine, a nationally renowned pediatrician, learning specialist and best-selling author. He wasn't surprised. In fact, he has just written a book on the subject of young people struggling with what he calls "work-life unreadiness."

According to Levine, that's when a young person can't decide what to do with his life, what career path to follow, or whether the path he's on is worth pursuing. He gets stuck between the stages of adolescence and adulthood. Often, he returns home to live with his parents and relies on them to support him. These kids have no sense of responsibility and they feel no sense of urgency about the demands of life.

This is the audience at whom Levine's book is aimed, and he gave it a title that doubles as a warning for these late starters: "Ready or Not, Here Life Comes."

Best known as the founder of the North Carolina-based institute All Kinds of Minds, which advances the study of learning differences in children, Levine says he got the idea from watching parents and teachers who come to him for help. There are, he says, questions they all seem to have but are afraid to ask.

Such as: Is this child going to make it in life? What will their futures hold? What will they be like in their 20s?

Looking for answers, Levine went out and interviewed twenty-somethings. He found that many of them seemed quite happy spinning their wheels, that they often have trouble grasping the concept of long-term planning or paying one's dues, and that they are hooked on instant gratification. They are marrying later, changing jobs more often -- and putting off being a grown-up as long as possible. Of course, try as they might, they can't put it off forever. These young people are headed for a rude awakening.

I know what you're thinking -- that there have always been young people who fit that profile. In my generation of Xers, they were called "late bloomers." In my parent's day, it was said that these kids were just taking a few years to "find themselves."

Don't kid yourself, says Levine. He insists that what our society is facing today is a whole new ballgame. The stage of school-to-career unreadiness lasts longer that it used to, he says, and it affects a larger percentage of the population.

"It's much more common than it was in the past," Levine told me. "It's always been there, but it's really an epidemic at this point."

So what's a parent to do? Levine offers these tips:

Talk to your kids about the future, before they reach adolescence; teach them about goals and how to work toward them; promote delayed gratification; give them tasks to manage; teach them about responsibility, and help them identify what they feel passionate about as early as possible.

Instead of over-scheduling them with soccer matches and ballet recitals, keep an eye out for the one thing they seem to be especially good at and have a desire to do.

And then, with all your might, encourage them to do it.

Sounds like good advice. After all, what good does it do to give your kids everything -- except the tools to become an adult?
 
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Costs of Education Slope Sharply Upward
By Valerie Strauss,
Washington Post, 2/15/05

Numbers tell stories.

This month, President Bush proposed a $56 billion education budget for fiscal 2006, nearly 1 percent less than this year's spending. If approved by Congress, it would represent the first reduction in federal support for education in a decade.

Bush sees in the numbers a strengthened commitment in key places, citing more money for the No Child Left Behind Act and his plan to eliminate the relatively small Perkins Loan Program and add that money -- more than $1 billion a year -- to Pell Grants.Pell Grants are the cornerstone of federal financial aid to college students. Bush wants to increase each grant -- now at a maximum of $4,050 -- by up to $100 a year for the next five years.

Critics, however, see the numbers as a weakening of federal support, largely at the expense of low- and middle-income students. They say that higher education costs are going up at least $500 a year -- far more than the proposed grant increase.

There is less debate about the numbers showing how fast college tuition is rising. Or about how the distribution of state and institutional grant money has, in recent years, benefited middle- and upper-income students more than the poor.

K-12 Schools

• In the budget he released this month, President Bush proposed increasing spending by $1.5 billion, to $13 billion annually, for his signature No Child Left Behind law. Congress, in passing the law, authorized the president to spend nearly $23 billion a year.

• Per-student costs for the 15,000 public school districts across the
United States rise each year, although there are different ways to measure them.

Below is a calculation by Washington Area Boards of Education on how much local school districts spend per student, excluding transportation costs. It did not calculate D.C. figures; these were provided by Mary Levy, budget analyst for the D.C.-based education advocacy group Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, using the same methodology as the boards of education.

• Twenty-two of the 40 states with legal lotteries earmark revenue to support public schools, according to the Education Commission of the States. This year,
California's lottery contributed about $133 per student -- less than 2 percent of the budget, a nonpartisan analysts group said. California law requires that 34 percent of lottery revenue go to education. In Illinois, 100 percent must be spent on kindergarten through 12th grade, although the state's overall education funding has not increased. The total was $570 million last year, or 3 percent of the education budget, the commission said.

• The average tuition at a Catholic parish elementary school this year was $1,787, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.

• Nationally, the median tuition for independent day schools -- private schools without any religious or other affiliation -- in 2004-05 was $12,528 for first grade and $16,250 for 12th grade, according to the National Association of Independent Schools. There are regional differences: In New York and
New Jersey, first grade costs an average of $18,200; in comparable western states, it costs $13,793.

• Cost of tuition, book and lab fees and meals for 2005-06 at Riverdale (N.Y.)
Country Day School: Pre-kindergarten tuition, $24,500; kindergarten through fifth grade, $27,150; sixth through 12th, $29,500. If a family invested $29,500 a year for 16 years at 8 percent annually, the cumulative value in contributions and interest would be $1,067,196.
 
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Utah ed bills may rattle D.C.
By Jennifer Toomer-Cook,
Deseret Morning News, 2/16/05

In a vote expected to rattle chains in Washington, the Utah House quickly and unanimously approved two bills Tuesday that require state officials to give local education goals priority over President Bush's.

The vote is being regarded as another challenge by
Utah to No Child Left Behind, the federal standardized testing and school assessment measure passed by Congress in 2001.

Just having HB135 and HJR3 before lawmakers was already having some noticeable effect before the vote, school administrators said.

"We're just beginning to see flexibility this week" in talks with federal officials, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington said. Until now, federal "flexibility has been through a very tight sieve."

HB135, sponsored by Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, attempts to sort out conflicts between state and federal law. It gives priority to state goals, particularly in terms of spending state dollars and deciding what's best for kids.

HJR3, sponsored by Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, would have
Utah use the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students (U-PASS), which education officials believe fulfills the spirit of NCLB, until the federal law is amended and adequately funded.

Bill sponsors see NCLB as federal intrusion on states' rights to oversee public education. The bills now go to the Senate for debate.

"We want to send a message to those in the federal government that
Utah has a great education system and that we know best how to manage that education system," Holdaway told House members.

NCLB aims to have all children reading and doing math well by 2014.
Utah officials praise its intent but decry its application, particularly for extending to special education students and labeling schools for not meeting academic goals.

Public education officials instead prefer U-PASS's focus on kids' academic growth and have asked the U.S. Department of Education if they can use it to meet NCLB requirements. They also contend
Utah's teacher licensing rules meet NCLB's "highly qualified teacher" benchmarks, which some fear would send experienced teachers back to college.

Tim Bridgewater, the governor's education deputy, says the bill, coupled with Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s relationship with the Bush administration, "has been helpful in opening some dialogue with the Department of Education."

"We feel like we made substantial progress on gaining flexibility . . . (and) reaching our goals and the objectives of No Child Left Behind," said
Bridgewater, who, with the State Office of Education, has negotiated with federal officials for the past week. "To date, we're very optimistic we will succeed in the lion's share of those objectives."

This isn't the first time
Utah lawmakers have confronted Washington.

U.S. Department of Education officials last year paid
Dayton a visit regarding her NCLB opt-out bill. Dayton eased off, and the bill went to interim study because it could have cost the state $106 million in federal funding.

It's uncertain whether giving priority to state goals under HB135 would affect federal money coming to
Utah. The prioritization could pull Utah from NCLB compliance and jeopardize the money, Harrington acknowledges. But she also believes Utah's educational system is on solid ground in meeting NCLB.

Dayton notes the bill actually could save the state $450,000, which Harrington's office would use to outsource preparations for Utah's NCLB review.

Harrington says the review extends into testing and other details under her, not federal, purview. The review will require boxes worth of documentation, and Harrington doesn't want to pull
Utah officials off current duties to gather it all.

"(The time and money) could be used to improve student achievement in our state," Harrington said. "This is federal intrusion. The state runs public schools. My accountability is to the State Board of Education, the state Legislature and the governor. I shouldn't have the additional piece of the federal government on top of that."

The U.S. Department of Education did not return a phone message seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.
 
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Wanted: 30,000 teachers
Florida will address a dire shortage by turning to "a gold mine" - its community colleges.
By RON MATUS,
St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer, 2/16/05

TALLAHASSEE - To stave off an epic teacher shortage, Florida education officials are gearing up a massive alternative certification program that will use the state's community colleges to pump out thousands of new teachers.

The so-called "educator preparation institutes" also will be housed at
Florida universities and private colleges. But overnight, Florida's community colleges will become a driving force in teacher production, a role believed to be unique nationwide.

They are "a gold mine waiting to happen," Board of Education member Donna Callaway said during a presentation Tuesday.

Through the institutes, people with bachelor's degrees and teaching aspirations can go through a yearlong boot camp program designed to give them the skills they need in a fraction of the time required for a traditional education degree.

Details are sketchy, but state lawmakers authorized the plan last spring and the state Department of Education is accepting applications. Community college chancellor David Armstrong said Tuesday that 23 of 28 community colleges are signed on and prepared to begin this summer.

The plan comes as state education leaders face a looming teacher shortage they describe in near-apocalyptic terms.

In fall 2006,
Florida will need 30,000 new teachers to pace a statistical perfect storm: a surge in students, a spike in teacher retirements and the demands of the 2002 constitutional amendment to reduce class sizes. That's almost double the recent hiring rate and 20 percent of the state's existing work force of 150,000 teachers.

And the picture doesn't get much rosier: Beyond 2006, the state will need 20,000 teachers each year for more than a decade.

The scenario is "probably the biggest crisis we've faced in education in a long time," Education Commissioner John Winn told board members. If something dramatic doesn't happen soon, "I see nothing short of a Great Depression in schools."

Tuesday's discussion came a day after other big education news: Gov. Jeb Bush's announcement that he would seek to soften the financial burden of the class-size amendment with another amendment that offers school districts flexibility in meeting class size goals.

His proposal, which needs legislative approval to get on the ballot, would boost starting teacher salaries to $35,000 a year - about 25 percent more than current levels and enough to put
Florida on the cusp of the top 10 states nationally.

"That number $35,000 is very compelling" and will make a difference in recruiting new teachers, said Sandra Robinson, dean of the
University of Central Florida's College of Education.

Florida needs all the recruiting help it can get.

It currently imports tens of thousands of teachers from other states because its public education colleges only produce about 4,000 teachers a year. And many of them migrate to better paying districts out of state.

Florida ranks 29th in average teacher pay and 21st in beginning pay, according to the most recent salary survey done by the American Federation of Teachers.

It's unclear how much the institutes will do to retain
Florida teachers, or whether they will produce enough to prevent a crisis.

Armstrong said community colleges expect to crank out 6,000 teachers a year within five years.

The state Department of Education tested the concept in pilot projects at four community colleges. At the first meeting to gauge interest at
Indian River Community College, 600 people showed up, including college baseball players and Green Berets, said Henri Sue Bynum, the school's associate dean of arts and sciences.

Participation in the program is voluntary, but so far, most of the community colleges, all 11 of the state's universities and a number of private colleges have expressed interest.

A hodgepodge of alternative certification routes are availablenow, but the institute initiative is easily the most far reaching.

The requirements for individual students will likely differ from institute to institute, and person to person. Unlike many alternative programs, the institutes will be set up to mold instruction to an individual's strengths and weaknesses.

But once participants complete the program, they must still pass the same exams that traditional-route teachers take to earn certification.

"They're not escaping any of the qualifications," Bynum said.

Board members said they hoped some of the institutes could target the most critical teacher shortages, which are in math, science and special education.

Next month, they will hear more details about program requirements and potential costs.

Tuesday's discussion got a good reception beyond the meeting room.

"We certainly need the teachers," said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, a teachers union. "If this ends up producing high-quality teachers, that's great."

University of Florida special education professor James McLeskey also offered a thumbs up.

Education colleges have long complained that state requirements hamstring their students. But the institutes are "a step toward giving ... a little more flexibility," McLeskey said.

That doesn't mean producing inferior teachers.

Alternative doesn't necessarily mean "less rigorous," McLeskey said. "But certainly different, and faster."
 
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U.S. May Force California to Call More School Districts Failures
By Duke Helfand,
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 2/17/05

The Bush administration is pressing
California to toughen its rules for identifying failing school districts — a change that could add 310 school systems to a watch list this year and eventually threaten the jobs of superintendents and school board members throughout the state.

The U.S. Department of Education warned that it could cut off money to the state if
California did not change the way it classified struggling districts under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The federal law calls for states to place districts on a watch list if the number of students doing well on math and English standardized tests fails to increase enough two years in a row. Such districts can face sanctions if they continue to falter.

California, however, lets districts avoid the list if students from low-income households reach a set score on a separate measure of achievement.

Federal education officials believe the state policy amounts to an escape valve. The policy violates No Child Left Behind by reducing the number of districts identified as needing improvement, the officials have told the state Department of Education.

Only 14 of
California's 1,000 school districts were placed on the state's watch list this year.

But hundreds of districts could be considered failures within two years if
California yielded to Washington's demands, according to state education officials.

The expanded list would feature some of
California's highest-performing school districts, including Santa Monica-Malibu Unified and Cupertino Union near San Jose. Even though these districts are well regarded, they could still find themselves publicly labeled as troubled if certain groups of their students — those in special education, for example — were not making enough progress.

At the extreme, these school systems and the others could be abolished or restructured, or their superintendents and school board members could be replaced by state-appointed trustees.

Leaders of several
California school systems said it would be unfair to identify failing districts in the middle of the school year without any notice or time to respond. The district officials wondered where the money would come from to create new programs aimed at improving student test scores.

"The entire notion of how No Child Left Behind has been enacted is very narrow, very myopic and very draconian," said Santa Monica-Malibu Unified Supt. John Deasy. "It sets up a very negative dynamic for schools that have successfully shown they can raise achievement over time."

No Child Left Behind requires schools to give standardized English and math tests annually in the third through eighth grades, and to increase the numbers of students who score high enough to be labeled proficient. The law calls for states to set annual improvement goals and to identify schools and districts as in need of improvement if they fall short.

State leaders say they have neither the money nor staff to oversee hundreds of districts that could fall under new scrutiny. And they question whether widespread failure would reduce No Child Left Behind to a meaningless federal mandate.

"What kind of an accountability system do you have when most of the school districts need help?" asked California Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. "Frankly, we don't have the resources for that."

He and other state education officials have been lobbying the federal Education Department to ease its demands but have met with little success.

The two sides spoke Wednesday, but the dispute remains unresolved. Federal officials stood firm in their demand that the state ratchet up its system of identifying struggling schools, according to those involved in the conversation.

Federal education officials would not elaborate on the negotiations or say if they had made similar demands of other states.

Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey would say only that "our monitoring turned up some problems with the way the state identifies its districts that need improvement. We're working with
California to resolve this issue."

In the meantime, the state Education Department this week notified 310 school systems, including those in
Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Pomona and San Bernardino, that they could soon join the 14 districts already on the watch list.

Los Angeles Unified officials voiced anger at the prospect of a failure label.

"We're making real progress. We have been moving the ball down the court faster than most schools in
California," said Supt. Roy Romer. "People should be applauding that and assisting us, not saying, 'We're going to cut your legs off.' They ought to give us assistance to improve. This redefinition is just not helpful."

He also objected to federal rules which say that if a district is on the watch list, it cannot provide supplemental tutoring to students who attend low-performing schools.

No Child Left Behind requires districts that are not on the list, but that have low-performing schools, to provide tutoring. L.A. Unified is spending about $25 million of its federal money to offer after-school tutoring to more than 16,000 students.

But if the district were put on the watch list, students would have to go elsewhere for tutoring — to private companies, for example.

Members of the Los Angeles Board of Education will hold a hearing today to discuss that issue and other challenges posed by No Child Left Behind.

Board members said they were concerned that a negative rating for the district would dampen enthusiasm at schools and further erode support for public education.

"It's a stigma that doesn't drive thoughtful change. It's controlling and punitive rather than encouraging," said David Tokofsky, who chairs the board committee holding today's hearing.

Officials in Santa Ana Unified said adding the district to the list of failures would ignore the district's success in recent years in raising test scores of low-performing students.

Redefining
Santa Ana as a failing district in the middle of the year would also put teachers and students in an unfair predicament, officials said.

"It would obviously be very distressing," said Michele LePatner, interim director of research and evaluation for the district of more than 60,000 students. "It is very hard for us to monitor our students' progress when we don't know what the guidelines are and they are shifting as we go."

The controversy surfaced last fall, when federal education officials visited
California to monitor how the state was implementing No Child Left Behind. The officials found several problems with application of the law, but the thorniest issue revolved around the identification of failing school districts.

Since December, the two sides have been negotiating. State Supt. O'Connell and state Board of Education President Ruth Green may travel to
Washington next month in an effort to broker a compromise.

"There are obviously some issues we have to work out," Green said. "We want to approach them in a constructive way to find common ground."
 
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Kids skip class - and parents go to jail?
As federal law spurs schools to curtail truancy, some use a get-tough approach with parents.
By Stacy A. Teicher, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, 2/17/05

The headlines read like a version of "Scared Straight" for adults: "Parents arrested over truant kids." The roundups in the past six weeks - 11 arrests in
Detroit, four in New Mexico, and 19 in Knox County, Tenn. - are the most eye-catching aspect of a get-tough approach to school attendance. But the goal is to get students back to school, not to put their parents behind bars, school and law enforcement officials say. While some parents have served short jail terms for contributing to their children's truancy, most are sentenced to perform community service or pay fines if they fail to respond to less-punitive measures.
Truancy-prevention programs that are considered models tend to have one thing in common - collaboration among schools, parents, and law enforcement to address a range of underlying problems. Some communities have been doing this for decades, responding to research that shows truancy is a gateway to dropping out of school and crimes such as drug use, vandalism, and robbery.
 keep kids in school - other kids' parents
 
But in recent years, the federal accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind have pressured more school districts to try to replicate successful methods.

"NCLB has called attention to the fact that schools can't do all of this alone, and if they are going to be held accountable, they need to form partnerships - they have to go beyond their own walls, to the parents, to the community," says Linda Peterson, interim director of the Institute for Responsive Education, a group in Boston that fosters such partnerships nationwide. "The idea is to look at parent engagement as a strategy toward student success, not as just an add-on program."

Sixty percent of school attendance officers in
Tennessee said parental disengagement and neglect were among the leading causes of truancy, according to a report last year by the state legislature's Office of Education Accountability. But school systems have a way to go, too: More than half the attendance officers reported having excessive caseloads, and they said contact information for families was incorrect nearly 30 percent of the time.

Parents' groups periodically object to truancy crackdowns, accusing schools of not doing enough to inform parents, keep schools safe, and ensure that the process is not influenced by racial bias.

"Quite often parents only hear from a school when it's gotten to a very negative point, instead of having that relationship built up from the beginning," Ms. Peterson says. That's why she winces at the idea of arresting parents, although she acknowledges that in some extreme cases it might be necessary in order to enforce the law.

Prosecutors in
Detroit agree that arrests should be the last resort. When schools refer cases of chronic truancy to them, they try to bring together the family and school officials to find out the circumstances and refer parents or children for help. Out of 1,200 students who went through this truancy program last year, about 75 percent got back into school immediately, says Robert Heimbuch, chief of the Juvenile Court Division in the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.

But a small portion of parents simply don't respond until they are forced into court. "For a lot of these particular parents, what's alarming is you have multiple children in the family ... [who are] out of school for large periods of time," Mr. Heimbuch says.

About 30 parents in
Wayne County recently received letters informing them of warrants for their arrest, and 11 came in for arraignment on Feb. 7. The letters targeted parents of students under age 11 who had more than 33 unexcused absences (older students are generally held responsible for themselves). If the parents plead guilty or are convicted of the misdemeanor charge, a judge can mete out various punishments, including up to 90 days in jail. As far as Heimbuch recalls, only one parent in recent years has ended up serving jail time.

"We've tried to make attendance everybody's business," says Sylvia Hollifield, divisional director for student assistance and intervention programs in the Detroit Public Schools.
 
About 45 attendance officers investigate student absences and visit homes to talk with parents. But she also has started to hear from neighbors who see that parents aren't sending children to school, and she urges businesses to report when kids are loitering during school hours. The goal, she says is to improve students' attendance - and in turn, their achievement and their prospects.

By 1918, all states had compulsory education laws on the books. NCLB includes the first requirement that all public schools report truancy rates, but there is no uniform way to measure them. In some states, three unexcused absences count as truancy, while in others, a student can be out 10 or 15 times. Laws about how to handle truancy also vary widely, with sanctions including everything from revoking a teen's driver's license to reducing a family's welfare payments.

A number of programs have shown impressive results. In Citrus County, Fla., where arresting parents is sometimes used as a last resort, chronic truancy (21 or more unexcused absences) in middle schools dropped from 16.3 percent to 10 percent between 1997 and 2003. For high-schoolers and elementary school students, the truancy rates were cut in half.

At the ACT NOW Truancy Program in Pima County, Ariz., case manager Rosa Robles says she meets a lot of parents who aren't inclined to change. "Some blame everybody but themselves for their problems," she says. Occasionally, that leads them to court.

But the parents who do follow through with education programs or counseling are often thankful for the help, she says. "They learn how to talk to their teen at a different level or in a different tone - just to talk to them instead of screaming at them for doing something wrong."
 
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Wrong answer for schools
Resources and freedom to choose, not national testing, are solution.
Opinion by Mike Pence, R-Ind., chairman of the House Republican Study Committee,
USA Today, 2/17/05

Nobody doubts this president's heart for our kids. As a governor, George W. Bush championed education reform and, upon being elected president, brought his vision for standards and school choice to Capitol Hill.

Unfortunately, the defenders of the status quo in education succeeded in turning the president's original vision for education reform into a huge increase in the federal government's role in our local schools. Regrettably, they are at it again as No Child Left Behind II, with national testing for high school students, comes to Congress. The last thing our local schools need is more national testing from
Washington.

National testing in elementary schools was always presented as a means of identifying persistently failing schools. The president intended schools to be tested so that we could give the parents of students in these failing institutions a way out through educational-choice scholarships, enabling them to attend another public or private school.

In the end, the school-choice scholarships in the president's original vision were eviscerated from No Child Left Behind, and what was left was national testing in grade school and a 52% increase in the federal Department of Education.

So now comes No Child Left Behind II, a complex regimen of curriculum subsidies and national testing for high school students. Sadly, this plan doesn't even make a pretense of increasing competition through school choice but reverts entirely to the educational micromanagement strategy of the
Clinton administration, with federal resources targeted to specific classroom activities.

The American people have always known that government that governs least governs best, especially in those functions of government closest to the family. However well intentioned, one more unfunded mandate from
Washington will not cure what ails our local schools. Resources that promote reform through competition and choice will.

There's nothing that ails our local schools that the parents and teachers of
America can't solve with the resources and freedom to choose. Say no to more national testing. Say no to No Child Left Behind II.
 
TOP OF PAGE

U.S. May Force California to Call More School Districts Failures
Duke Helfand, Los Angeles Times
 
The Bush administration is pressing
California to toughen its rules for identifying failing school districts — a change that could add 310 school systems to a watch list this year and eventually threaten the jobs of superintendents and school board members throughout the state.
 
The U.S. Department of Education warned that it could cut off money to the state if
California did not change the way it classified struggling districts under the No Child Left Behind Act.
 
The federal law calls for states to place districts on a watch list if the number of students doing well on math and English standardized tests fails to increase enough two years in a row. Such districts can face sanctions if they continue to falter.
 
California, however, lets districts avoid the list if students from low-income households reach a set score on a separate measure of achievement.
 
Federal education officials believe the state policy amounts to an escape valve. The policy violates No Child Left Behind by reducing the number of districts identified as needing improvement, the officials have told the state Department of Education.
 
Only 14 of
California's 1,000 school districts were placed on the state's watch list this year.
 
But hundreds of districts could be considered failures within two years if
California yielded to Washington's demands, according to state education officials.
 
The expanded list would feature some of
California's highest-performing school districts, including Santa Monica-Malibu Unified and Cupertino Union near San Jose. Even though these districts are well regarded, they could still find themselves publicly labeled as troubled if certain groups of their students — those in special education, for example — were not making enough progress.
 
At the extreme, these school systems and the others could be abolished or restructured, or their superintendents and school board members could be replaced by state-appointed trustees.
 
Leaders of several
California school systems said it would be unfair to identify failing districts in the middle of the school year without any notice or time to respond. The district officials wondered where the money would come from to create new programs aimed at improving student test scores.
 
"The entire notion of how No Child Left Behind has been enacted is very narrow, very myopic and very draconian," said Santa Monica-Malibu Unified Supt. John Deasy. "It sets up a very negative dynamic for schools that have successfully shown they can raise achievement over time."
 
No Child Left Behind requires schools to give standardized English and math tests annually in the third through eighth grades, and to increase the numbers of students who score high enough to be labeled proficient. The law calls for states to set annual improvement goals and to identify schools and districts as in need of improvement if they fall short.
 
State leaders say they have neither the money nor staff to oversee hundreds of districts that could fall under new scrutiny. And they question whether widespread failure would reduce No Child Left Behind to a meaningless federal mandate.
 
"What kind of an accountability system do you have when most of the school districts need help?" asked California Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. "Frankly, we don't have the resources for that."
 
He and other state education officials have been lobbying the federal Education Department to ease its demands but have met with little success.
 
The two sides spoke Wednesday, but the dispute remains unresolved. Federal officials stood firm in their demand that the state ratchet up its system of identifying struggling schools, according to those involved in the conversation.
 
Federal education officials would not elaborate on the negotiations or say if they had made similar demands of other states.
 
Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey would say only that "our monitoring turned up some problems with the way the state identifies its districts that need improvement. We're working with
California to resolve this issue."
 
In the meantime, the state Education Department this week notified 310 school systems, including those in
Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Pomona and San Bernardino, that they could soon join the 14 districts already on the watch list.
 
Los Angeles Unified officials voiced anger at the prospect of a failure label.
 
"We're making real progress. We have been moving the ball down the court faster than most schools in
California," said Supt. Roy Romer. "People should be applauding that and assisting us, not saying, 'We're going to cut your legs off.' They ought to give us assistance to improve. This redefinition is just not helpful."
 
He also objected to federal rules which say that if a district is on the watch list, it cannot provide supplemental tutoring to students who attend low-performing schools.
 
No Child Left Behind requires districts that are not on the list, but that have low-performing schools, to provide tutoring. L.A. Unified is spending about $25 million of its federal money to offer after-school tutoring to more than 16,000 students.
 
But if the district were put on the watch list, students would have to go elsewhere for tutoring — to private companies, for example.
 
Members of the Los Angeles Board of Education will hold a hearing today to discuss that issue and other challenges posed by No Child Left Behind.
 
Board members said they were concerned that a negative rating for the district would dampen enthusiasm at schools and further erode support for public education.
 
"It's a stigma that doesn't drive thoughtful change. It's controlling and punitive rather than encouraging," said David Tokofsky, who chairs the board committee holding today's hearing.
 
Officials in Santa Ana Unified said adding the district to the list of failures would ignore the district's success in recent years in raising test scores of low-performing students.
 
Redefining
Santa Ana as a failing district in the middle of the year would also put teachers and students in an unfair predicament, officials said.
 
"It would obviously be very distressing," said Michele LePatner, interim director of research and evaluation for the district of more than 60,000 students. "It is very hard for us to monitor our students' progress when we don't know what the guidelines are and they are shifting as we go."
 
The controversy surfaced last fall, when federal education officials visited
California to monitor how the state was implementing No Child Left Behind. The officials found several problems with application of the law, but the thorniest issue revolved around the identification of failing school districts.
 
Since December, the two sides have been negotiating. State Supt. O'Connell and state Board of Education President Ruth Green may travel to
Washington next month in an effort to broker a compromise.
 
"There are obviously some issues we have to work out," Green said. "We want to approach them in a constructive way to find common ground."

TOP OF PAGE

Voucher plan for schools gaining steam
Bill also would give tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools.
By Kim L. Hooper,
Indianapolis Star, 2/18/05
 
A bill that would offer vouchers to help some Hoosier families pay for private schools is gaining momentum in the Statehouse, but has public education leaders worried the proposal would drain students and cash from their districts.

Vouchers would increase the pressure on struggling public schools to improve, backers say, and empower parents to choose where children are educated.

House Bill 1009 would give parents money to transfer their children to other public or private schools if their current public school fails to meet annual academic targets.

Marion County now has 19 such schools whose students would be eligible if the bill passes.

In addition to the voucher provision, the bill would give tax credits to parents who pay private school tuition or pay a fee to send their children to another district.

The bill's success so far -- it cleared the House Education Committee this week -- is a boost to the school choice movement, which in recent years was overshadowed by the legislative debate that launched public charter schools.

The last serious discussion on vouchers came in 1998. This time supporters are not using the term "voucher" to describe the school transfer option, called Freedom to Achieve Scholarships.

Under this plan, parents would receive a voucher to use toward tuition at a private school or a public school outside their district.

"This is not about public versus private, it's about the freedom to choose," said Robert C. Enlow, executive director of the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation, which advocates expanded school options, including vouchers. "People are tired of waiting."

Opponents of the bill say tax dollars should not be turned over to private schools, many of which are operated by religious groups or churches.

Allowing students to change schools at state expense, they say, siphons money away from public schools that need it the most -- urban districts with already shrinking resources.

The new school selected by parents would be paid to teach the child -- about $9,000 per student, according to a recent government efficiency report. That money would come from the budget of the school the student left.

Lori Wright would benefit from an education tax credit but not the transfer option. The
Washington Township parent pays private tuition for two sons who attend Cardinal Ritter Junior-Senior High School. A daughter attends a local charter high school.

Her out-of-pocket costs for tuition, books and other school fees average, she said, about $10,000 a year for her two sons. That doesn't include money spent on school uniforms.

She has opted for alternatives to regular public schools because she's found smaller classes, sharper educational focus and more personalized relationships between parents and staff. She said she would like the choice of having an education tax credit.

"This is not a Republican or Democratic issue," she said. "It should be a humanitarian issue."

For Indianapolis Public Schools, the measure could pave the way for the loss of thousands of more students in a district that already has had to weather flight to the suburbs and new public charters.

IPS has 14 schools on a statewide improvement list for failing to meet federal standards of the No Child Left Behind law, a sweeping education reform enacted in 2001. Students at schools on that list would be eligible for vouchers under the latest proposal.

Schools on the list that receive Title I funds -- federal money used to help boost achievement of children at risk of failing -- may lose the money if student performance is consistently poor.

Under federal law, parents of students in schools needing improvement are given the option of transferring to better-performing ones in the district. The voucher bill would use vouchers to widen the options even farther.

Before the start of the school year, IPS officials notified the parents of 6,592 students in those 14 low-performing schools to give them other school options within the district. The district has a total enrollment of more than 39,000.

Only 530 student transfers were made, said Barry Olshin, who oversees student assignment for the state's largest school district. Olshin and other officials predict those numbers would rise dramatically if the state school choice option is available.

"Obviously, if they have an opportunity to go to a private school and it's paid for, they're going to take it," he said. "The implications are enormous for us."

Public school advocates say they are frustrated by the new direction of the legislature and administration, an attitude they criticize as increasingly anti-public education. Many of the state's 293 districts would face spending cuts under budget moves made by Gov. Mitch Daniels and proposed by legislators.

The voucher bill underscores their fears.

And critics say the proposal really caters to parents who already have students in private schools, while relegating children who have parents less involved in their education to ever worsening public schools.

"This is an attempt to get money for parents who have already opted out of public schools," said IPS School Board President Kelly E. Bentley. "The kids who are going to suffer are the ones who are left behind."
 
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Teachers may lose jobs in scandal
HISD accuses two at Sanderson of helping pupils cheat on TAKS
By ROBERT CROWE,
Houston Chronicle, 2/17/05
 
Houston school Superintendent Abe Saavedra took steps Thursday to fire two fifth-grade teachers accused of helping pupils cheat on the state TAKS test.

The district also plans to report the case to the Harris County District Attorney's Office and the State Board of Educator Certification, which could revoke the teachers' certificates, spokesman Terry Abbott said Thursday.

The veteran teachers at
Sanderson Elementary School were removed from the campus Thursday and reassigned to the Houston Independent School District's northeast offices. They will remain on the payroll until the termination process has been completed, Abbott said.

"HISD will not tolerate this kind of inappropriate behavior. It deprives children of their right to a good education," Saavedra said in a statement. "It hurts the integrity of the school, and it damages the confidence of the public in our school district."

The principal at Sanderson, identified by Abbott as James Metoyer, also has been demoted and is facing reassignment.

Abbott said the investigation found no evidence Metoyer knew of the teachers' alleged conduct. Investigators, however, found Metoyer failed to exercise strong administrative controls of the process, he said.

Pupils accuse teachers

Metoyer could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The moves follow an investigation by HISD's new Office of Inspector General, which was created to look into irregularities in scores for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test. The inspector general concluded that improved test scores of two classes of fifth-graders at Sanderson last spring were higher than statistically probable.

According to the inspector general's report, investigators interviewed 17 pupils and confirmed inappropriate conduct by the accused teachers.

Fourteen pupils said at least one teacher helped them solve test problems, while 13 said one teacher told them to raise hands to seek help. Three pupils said at least one teacher pointed out correct answers.

They deny wrongdoing

Lawyers for the teachers, who were not identified by district officials, said their clients deny any wrongdoing. They also said the teachers plan to appeal the pending terminations, which are subject to school board approval.

"I'm confident that, at the end of the day, this lady's going to go back to the classroom," said attorney Chris Tritico, who represents one of the accused educators.

While Abbott said the teachers refused to answer questions during the investigation, Tritico said the district did not tell them the specifics of the allegations and does not have faith in its pupils' abilities to progress.

"They accuse people of cheating when all this is just damn good teaching," he said.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said the principal was not adequately disciplined.

"It's business as usual at HISD — dump all the blame on the teacher, and let the administrator walk away with a slap on wrist," she said.

James Fallon, the lawyer for the other teacher facing dismissal, said his client planned to appeal the disciplinary action. Fallon is the son of the union president.

Test scores raise flags

Saavedra requested the investigation in December after an analysis by the Dallas Morning News revealed that 31 of Sanderson Elementary's 38 fifth-graders scored perfect, or near perfect, on the TAKS math exam last spring. Twenty-five of them correctly answered all 44 math questions, and six pupils missed just one. Those results were substantially out of line with the pupils' scores on past TAKS exams and other tests, Saavedra said.

The Morning News analyzed scores from 7,700
Texas schools, searching for unusual gaps in performance between grade levels or subjects.

Other schools questioned

After the Sanderson probe, the school district identified two dozen other schools with scores on last year's TAKS that were substantially higher than expectations.

In 1999, HISD asked a teacher and the principal at
Kashmere Gardens Elementary School to resign and fired a teacher each from Alcott and Frost elementaries after an investigation into accusations that answers on some pupils' Texas Assessment of Academic Skills tests had been changed.
 
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Schools tied to junk foods
Important revenue source, and some kids 'need' it
By Karen Gutiérrez, Cincinnati Enquirer staff writer, 2/18/05

A table full of boys at
Boone County High School recently groused about a proposed ban on junk food in Kentucky schools. The legislature shouldn't meddle in the eating habits of teenagers, they said.

Then they admitted that, personally, they don't eat the snack cakes and chips available at Boone.

Potato chips "don't do anything for me," sophomore Billy Willen said. "They're just fattening."

That's why legislators are considering a ban.

Nationwide, about 14 percent of American youths ages 6 to 19 are seriously overweight, a figure that has almost tripled in 20 years, the
U.S. surgeon general says.

One bill under consideration, HB 56, was approved by the Kentucky House last Friday. It would ban from school vending machines any food or drink items that are more than 40 percent sugar or contain more than 6 grams of fat per serving. A similar restriction would apply to a la carte lines in school cafeterias.

Foods that are part of the federally approved school lunch, such as french fries, would not be affected.

The Senate passed its own school-nutrition bill, SB 172, Thursday. Now the sides will see if they can compromise.

School officials and students have mixed feelings about the prospect of a junk-food ban.

At the elementary level, many districts already have cut back on fatty items for sale. Middle schools and high schools also have moved in that direction, although not as dramatically.

In the
Boone County system, with 15,000 students, officials have added low-fat alternatives such as Baked Lays to the a la carte choices for high-schoolers. The district also serves low-fat "smart pizza," 1 percent milk, turkey ham, reduced-fat ground beef and several varieties of fresh salad at its high schools.

"The children have a lot of choices. There's not too many who go up and buy just a snack cake or an ice cream," food service director Susan Gipson said.

Still, snack cakes, cinnamon buns and regular potato chips are available, both in cafeterias and vending machines accessible before and after school.

Laura Ashley, a senior at
Conner High School, said she doesn't eat the stuff and wouldn't miss it. But her sister Sara, a junior, is a different story. "They make us get up at 6 o'clock to go to school, and they expect us to get through the day without sugar? That's insane," Sara said.

She keeps herself going with a snack from the vending machines in the morning. If they didn't carry junk food anymore, she'd bring something from home, she said.

If a ban passes, Gipson is concerned that the already-slim profit margin for school cafeterias would be reduced even further. At a recent industry conference, she heard other districts talk about losing money when snack items were removed.

That's worrisome because food-service operations are expected to be self-supporting.

In neighboring
Kenton County, however, the opposite appears to have occurred.

In the last two years, Kenton cafeterias have removed all snack cakes and full-fat, salty snacks from its middle schools and high schools. Also gone: candy bars, prepackaged cookies and high-fat doughnuts.

Without so many a la carte items, lunch lines move faster, which seems to entice students, food service director Ginger Gray said.

About 70 percent of high-school students are now buying cafeteria meals, compared with 50 percent five years ago, she said.

India Robinson has an idea why.

The senior at
Scott High School was overjoyed when the cafeteria started offering more fresh vegetables this year.

"There was almost a standing ovation when we got the salad bar. It is so good,"
India said.

She hasn't noticed any students complaining about the absence of snack cakes. And she likes the nutrition bars that replaced them.

Before, "Some people weren't getting lunch, because they couldn't get what they wanted,"
India said.
 
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Company pulls out of contract to track students
AP, 2/17/05

SUTTER,
California -- A grade school that required students to wear radio frequency identification badges that can track their every move has ended the program because the company that developed the technology pulled out.

"I'm disappointed. That's about all I can say at this point," Earnie Graham, the superintendent and principal of
Brittan Elementary School in Sutter, said Tuesday night. "I think I let my staff down. Nobody on this campus knows every student."

The badges, developed by Sutter-based technology company InCom Corp., were introduced January 18. The school board was set to talk about the policy Tuesday night but tabled the discussion after InCom announced it was terminating its agreement.

School district lawyer Paul Nicholas Boylan said InCom cited the intense media attention and concern the badges were being damaged by families opposed to them. "They can go someplace where they wouldn't have any risk of vandalism," he said.

"I'm not convinced it's over," parent Dawn Cantrall, who filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the (Marysville) Appeal-Democrat. "I'm happy for now that kids are not being tagged, but I'm still fighting to keep it out of our school system. It has to stop here."

The system was imposed, without parental input, by the school as a way to simplify attendance-taking, and potentially reduce vandalism and improve student safety. Brittan appeared to be the first
U.S. school district to embrace such a monitoring system.

While many parents criticized the badges for violating privacy and possibly endangering children's health, some parents favored the plan.

"Any kind of new technology has the potential for misuse, but I feel confident the school is not going to misuse it," parent Mary Brower told the newspaper before the meeting.

Students were required to wear an identification card around their necks with their picture, name and grade and a wireless transmitter that beamed their ID number to a teacher's handheld computer when the child passed under an antenna posted above a classroom door.

The school had already disabled the scanners above classroom doors and was not disciplining students who didn't wear the badges.
 
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Odd allies oppose Bush education plan  
By Karen MacPherson,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2/13/05

WASHINGTON -- Opposition from unlikely allies -- Democrats and conservative Republicans -- might already have doomed President Bush's $1.5 billion proposal to expand No Child Left Behind standardized testing in the nation's high schools, lawmakers and education experts say.

Another part of the 2006 education budget proposed by the president on Monday -- saving $4.3 billion by eliminating 48 education programs -- also is receiving a cold reception in Congress, where many of the programs have staunch supporters.

The No Child Left Behind law now requires annual testing of students in grades three through eight and at some point in high school. It sanctions schools where students fail to make adequate progress. The new proposal would mandate testing in grades 9, 10 and 11.

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said the high school initiative is designed to "restore the value of a high school diploma," by expanding programs intended to help struggling readers and other at-risk students.

Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, noted that many lawmakers agree high schools need help but disagree on how to provide it.

"I think the high school proposal is in for some rough sledding," he said. "The politics just don't look promising."

Bush's high school proposal has received lukewarm support -- at best -- from key Republicans in charge of education policy on Capitol Hill, and it has drawn strenuous opposition from both Democrats and conservative Republicans.

Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., chairman of the House education reform subcommittee, said he supports the plan but acknowledges the votes are "not there'' to pass it.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, chairman of the Senate education and early childhood subcommittee, said he wants to look first at how No Child Left Behind is working in lower grade levels "so we can avoid any mistakes when we consider going on into high school."

Given this tepid level of support, Democrats and conservative Republicans who dislike the proposal for very different reasons could act together to block it in Congress.

Democrats and teachers' groups want to see more spending on the current No Child Left Behind law, which they claim has been underfunded by nearly $40 billion since its passage in 2001. Instead of expanding the law, they argue, Bush should first ensure that elementary and middle schools get enough money to fully implement it.

On the other hand, a number of conservative Republicans, heirs to those who fought during the Reagan administration to abolish the Department of Education, adamantly oppose expanding the federal role in education. They didn't like Bush's original No Child Left Behind initiative and would prefer to simply cut the $1.5 billion he now proposes to broaden the program.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., a leader of House conservatives, said "No Child Left Behind-2," is "taking water and listing badly ... There is a great deal of resistance to an expanded federal role in education."

But the president may win one key education battle this year. Education analysts and legislators say an overall reduction in federal education spending, which would be the first in a decade, could win congressional approval due to mounting federal deficits. As a result, Congress likely will focus on how federal dollars should be spent, rather than on new programs like the high school initiative.

"My guess is that the president's bottom line number of $56 billion for the Department of Education will pretty much come to pass. They'll just move the deck chairs around,'' said Bruce Hunter, a veteran policy official with the American Association of School Administrators.

Michael Franc, a political expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation, agreed that the prospects for an overall reduction in education spending are much better than for Bush's high school initiative or his effort to eliminate dozens of programs.

That's especially true if Congress employs a "reconciliation bill,'' which is designed to force budget discipline on congressional committees, Franc said. "Members are getting spooked about the long-term budget trend,'' including a record projected deficit of $427 billion this year, Franc said. "If there is a reconciliation bill, at a minimum the prospects for the president's bottom line number on education goes up.''

Bush has attempted to appease conservatives like Pence by combining his high school initiative with the first overall reduction in federal education funding in a decade. His 2006 budget calls for spending $56 billion, 1 percent less than this year, which represents a major shift from steady increases each year during Bush's first term.

Bush also called for eliminating 48 programs, including vocational, counseling, foreign language and the Safe and
Drug Free Schools programs.

Krista Kafer of the Heritage Foundation argued that it is highly unlikely that most -- if any -- of the 48 programs will be eliminated. She noted that many of them have been put on the chopping block in previous years, only to be saved by powerful congressional constituents.

"In the end, I think there just isn't the kind of courage to make the changes that are necessary," Kafer said
 
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Students tell what works at smaller high schools
Several say they prefer the personal attention and less crowded classes, and find the social world easier to navigate
Steven Carter, Oregonian, 2/14/05

This time, it was the students' turn.
 
Forty
Oregon high schoolers gathered in Portland over the weekend to tell adults what they like and don't like about school, and what teachers and principals can do to make it better.

That was the chief goal of the Small Schools Northwest Conference, which drew more than 400 educators from
Oregon and beyond to the Oregon Convention Center. The conference, sponsored by Lewis & Clark College and the Portland Schools Foundation, gave educators ideas to create smaller, more effective high schools.

Amid all the efforts to restructure high schools, the voices of students are rarely heard, said Kim Feicke, the conference organizer.

The Oregonian interviewed five of the students about their high school experience:

Ashlee Klemperer

and Sadaf Saleem Ashlee, 18, a senior, and Sadaf, 15, a sophomore, attend
Portland's Madison High School, which is planning to break up into several smaller schools next fall.

Ashlee: "I love small schools. I have been an advocate of small schools for a long time. I went to an alternative school for seventh and eighth grade,
Metropolitan Learning Center. It felt like a family. That is what I think small learning communities can do for high schools.

"I run the peer mediation program at my high school. I see students who run into conflict with each other. A lot of the time it comes from rumors -- the 'he said, she said' kind of thing. I think if these students had someone to talk to about their problems, these rumors wouldn't get started."

Sadaf: "We have a lot of English language learners, and some of those students don't get heard. I came here from
Pakistan, and when I was in the English as a Second Language class, we didn't get announcements about what was going on in school. They put me in an algebra class with 30 students, and I failed it. My parents weren't happy. Now I am taking it again.

"I think making
Madison into smaller schools will help. Last year, I was in a freshman academy (which places incoming ninth-graders into smaller units). It really helped me a lot. I really got to know my teachers."

Maria Belen Orozco

Maria, 16, is a junior at 1,200-student
Eagle Point High School in Jackson County.

"There are all kinds of groups. There're the jocks, the punk rockers, the gay and lesbian kids. Everybody's separated by their groups. I don't think I'm in a social group. I talk to everybody.

"My teachers are nice. I have one teacher who is more like my friend. I am a closed person about my personal life. But I can tell her anything.

"I don't know if I would like to go to a small high school. With a bigger group, you get to talk to all kinds of people. You learn from them."

Mikko McCann

Mikko, 16, is a junior at the 150-student
Joseph Meek Professional-Technical High School in Portland, formerly known as Vocational Village. He went to Franklin High for two years before switching to Meek last fall.

"I went to
Franklin for the law program, because I thought I wanted to a lawyer. But I realized I didn't like law. There were some good teachers, and I had a lot of cool friends. But I didn't like school, and I skipped out. My mother knew someone who used to teach math at Meek. I decided to try it.

"I'm glad they changed the name from
Vocational Village, because the name had a stigma. But I totally believe in a small school. You make friends much more easily, and there isn't the gossip. It's hard to have that in a small school, because it gets back to you.

"When I came to Meek, I had 6.5 credits toward graduation. I have 10.5 credits now after five months. The nice thing is that you can work at your own pace. Now, I will be able to graduate on time.""

Katie Penkert

Katie, 17, is a senior in the 44-student Open Meadow CRUE program, an alternative high school that takes Portland students who are failing or don't fit in at regular high schools. She switched to Open Meadow last year from
Grant High School, which has about 1,850 students.

"Grant was so overpopulated. It was so hard for me to handle. I'm a person who likes one-on-one learning. At Grant, teachers had 40 students in their classes. My last year at Grant I went to school, but I didn't go to classes.

"At Open Meadow, we have smaller classes, and we have more time to get into things in-depth. When you get into a small school, you have to deal with everybody. You don't have any cliques."
 
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When is a graduate not a graduate?
Scott Stephens and Angela Townsend, Plain Dealer Reporters, 2/17/05

Schools can count everything from the number of frogs needed for biology class to the number of teachers it takes to chaperone a prom.

But the one thing they can't seem to count accurately is also the most significant measure of success: the percentage of their students who graduate.
 
A national study released today suggests that
Ohio and other states overestimate the number of students who make it through high school and get a diploma.

The Manhattan Institute report found that
Ohio's graduation rate in 2002 was 78 percent -- lower than the 83 percent the state reported for that year.

But
Ohio's graduation rate was closer to reality than many states, the study found. Other states inflate their graduation numbers by as much as 15 percentage points.

"Some states go out of their way to count students as a graduate who we wouldn't consider to be a graduate," said Marcus Winters, co-author of the study.

The state graduation rate is a slippery number because the method of calculating local rates can vary from district to district.

Some districts count GED recipients as graduates; some --including
Ohio districts -- do not. Some count students who drop out and then return; some do not. Some adjust their data for the large number of students typically held back in ninth grade, and some do not.

The study Winters and co-author Jay Greene conducted gets a "true" freshman class by averaging the number of eighth-, ninth- and 10th-graders and adjusting that figure for state population trends during that same three-year period. Then they divide the number of diplomas issued four years later by that adjusted enrollment figure.

J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said last week that the department is constantly exploring ways to refine how it collects data from the state's 612 school districts. But basically, the state takes each district's word that the information is accurate.

By law, "The district treasurer certifies that data to be true," said
Benton.

Red flags were raised, however, when the
Warrensville Heights district submitted data for 2002-03 that added up to a 100 percent graduation rate. The number was surprising considering the district's test scores had put it in "academic watch," one rung from the bottom in the state's academic rankings.

Only one other
Northeast Ohio school district, Amherst, reported a perfect graduation rate, but it had a top ranking of "excellent."

State officials visited
Warrensville Heights to review the data, Benton said. The 2002-03 rate will not be revised, he said, but the district has changed the way it records its graduation numbers. However, Superintendent Marc Gray said Monday that he had no specifics on the changes.

Determining how many graduate in districts like
Warrensville Heights is more than a matter of vanity.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, districts and individual schools can face sanctions if their students don't meet state graduation targets. Dismal graduation rates can also be held against districts when they ask voters to hike taxes.

"There is definitely an incentive for schools to cheat," said Russell Rumberger, a professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara who served on a national commission that studied dropout- and graduation rates.

When it comes to graduation rates, researchers for years have struggled with the gap between fantasy and reality. Definitions of the graduation rate - or its close cousin, the dropout rate - differ from state to state.

Some calculations have bordered on the bizarre.

Take
Texas, for instance. It used to be that a dropout could still be considered a graduate simply by telling the school that he planned to get a GED some day.

Until recently, the state of
Washington did not count a student as a dropout unless she took the time to come to school and fill out paperwork declaring that she had quit.

"You can imagine how many times that happened," Winters said with a chuckle. "The reason we calculate a graduation rate is to gauge how well a school is doing. Why would you want to credit the school for an individual who goes back and gets a GED?"

Larger school districts like
Cleveland face extra challenges in getting a handle on the graduation rate.

"It's not like a small community, where everybody knows what people are doing," said Joyce Hicks, the
Cleveland school district's director of data quality. "It's a little more difficult to follow up if the student withdraws."

In the past couple of years,
Cleveland has been better able to track students who have withdrawn by getting data from charter schools geared to dropouts, who then enroll those students, and from the Ohio Department of Youth Services.

The state made things easier in 2003 by providing for the first time a separate code for "stopouts" or students who previously were reported to have dropped out but who returned to the district.

When this year's academic report cards are released,
Cleveland's graduation rate will be close to 50 percent, up from 39 percent in 2002-03, Hicks said. The improved number is a function not only of more accurate tracking but also of more programs to help students stay in school and graduate, she said.
 
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Is city mulling a takeover of public schools?
Rumblings are 'bizarre,' say officials of beleaguered district
By KATHY MULADY,
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/12/05

Lackluster test scores, low graduation rates, deep money woes and threats of school closures in the
Seattle Public School District have led to discussions of a city takeover of the struggling system.

School officials say they have heard rumblings before and call the talk "bizarre."

The city is already taking steps to play a bigger role in the school district, and is providing advice and resources to help stabilize it.

But Seattle City Council President Jan Drago said the city should do more.

"Maybe it is time to do another educational summit and draw the entire community into a conversation about the future of education in
Seattle and the future of Seattle Public Schools," Drago said.

Drago told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial board this week that theoretically, the school district could become a city agency with its own superintendent, something like City Light, the electrical utility operated by the city.

Some city and school officials say even publicly talking about a takeover plan is premature.

"I haven't heard about that or initiated a discussion about that," said City Councilman David Della. "We have a growing partnership. We continue to watch what is going on with the school district budget with concern; it is troublesome to say the least."

District spokesman Peter Daniels said speculation about a city takeover comes as a surprise.

"We don't have the context on that comment to speculate on its purpose or intent," Daniels said. "We are working through some very tough issues right now with our parents. ... The city and the mayor have expressed interest in helping us."

The city is already taking steps to play a bigger role in the school district, and is providing advice and resources to help stabilize the school district.

Yesterday the City Council said it is facilitating an agreement between the city and Seattle Public Schools to provide staff assistance to the district as it faces the effect of possible school consolidations.

"The City Council is more than willing to work together with the schools on this," Richard McIver, chair of the Finance and Budget Committee, said in a statement. "With our combined resources we can break down the barriers that impede progress in addressing these important funding issues."

Last year, the city worked closely with the school district and community representatives to craft the $116 million Families and Education levy renewal that was approved by voters in the fall.

The first families and education levy was approved by voters in 1990. It was developed through an education summit held by former Mayor Norm Rice when he was in office.

The levy provides money for social service programs related to education, such as preschool, health clinics, after-school programs, school nurses and support for high-risk students.

The struggling school district has far-reaching implications for the city. In his state of the city speech last week, Mayor Greg Nickels underscored his concern about
Seattle's public schools and said more needs to be done.

Nickels said he was troubled to learn that in the north end of the city, fewer than half of school-aged children attend public schools, and many families leave the city during their children's school years.

"We cannot allow our public schools to be only for the kids whose families don't have the money to make other choices," he said.

"We can't turn a blind eye to our schools and say, 'It's not our problem.' It's everyone's problem. We all have a stake in making sure our public schools are successful."

But Nickels' office stressed yesterday that they are not suggesting that Seattle Public Schools become part of
Seattle city government.

"What the city and the mayor can do is bring together community leaders and others to help the school district. The mayor is exploring that idea, not as a summit, but as interest in using the mayor's office to see how we can help support the school district," said Marianne Bichsel, a spokeswoman for Nickels.

Lisa Bond, president of the Seattle Council PTSA, said she's heard rumblings about the idea and thought they were "bizarre."

Current school board members and administrators can at least focus on one thing, rather than be distracted by an array of competing priorities, she said.

Bond said the city could better help schoolchildren by providing improved services so they're healthy and ready to learn once they get to school.

"We ask teachers to educate kids, but social service needs aren't being met elsewhere. Let's see the city first take care of those ... before they take on the classroom," she said.

Wendy Kimball, president of the Seattle Education Association that represents local teachers, questioned the need for a drastic change that would take years to sort out.

Brita Butler-Wall, president of the Seattle School Board, said the issue did not come up at the Jan. 28 meeting of the joint city-schools committee. "It sounds like April Fool's."

In fact, she said of city officials at that meeting, "they were actually very supportive and complimentary of the direction the district is going."

Larry Davis, executive director of the State Board of Education, said any takeover would require legislation. Current state law vests authority over school districts in a district board of directors and specifies how members are to be elected. In recent years, city governments in several big cities have gained control over previously independent school systems, including in
New York, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Washington, D.C.

Typically, the mayor appoints some or all members of the school board (in
New York, he picks the chancellor or superintendent). In other cities, mayors have named school board members for years.

In terms of student achievement, results in mayor-controlled school districts are mixed.
 
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Teacher Allegedly Gave Bomb-Making Lesson
Associated Press, 2/16/05

ORLANDO, Fla. - A high school chemistry teacher was arrested after students claimed he taught his class how to make a bomb, authorities said.

David Pieski, 42, used an overhead projector in class to give instructions in making explosives to students at
Freedom High School, including advising them to use an electric detonator to stay clear from the blast, an Orange County sheriff's arrest report said.

In Pieski's classroom in
Orlando, authorities found a book labeled "Demo," which includes the chemical breakdown for a powerful explosive, the arrest report said.

One student said he set off an explosive device at a golf course on Jan. 6 and videotaped it, an arrest warrant said. The videotape shows an explosion, and the voice of a young man can be heard shouting, authorities said.

Pieski was charged with possessing or discharging a destructive device and culpable negligence. Pieski, who was booked into the Orange County Jail on Monday and released on $1,000 bail, declined to comment.

School Superintendent Judy Cunningham said Pieski was reassigned to a desk job after he was interviewed by authorities. He is still earning his salary.

Pieski told investigators he detonated chemicals in a coffee can by a ball field four times for his students, the sheriff's office said. He said he did this as a chemistry project to show a reaction rate, the arrest report said.

"Pieski admitted to me that he observed (the student's) video and approved of his successful results," the arresting officer said in the warrant. "Pieski disagreed with the project being an explosion."

Pieski guided investigators to an unlocked metal cabinet in the back of a classroom, where there was "a can of black powder stored next to other chemicals," the sheriff's office said.

School officials told investigators that Pieski previously had been told he was not allowed to have any form of explosive on campus.
 
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FROM “EDUCATION WEEK”

Cuts Proposed in Bush Budget Hit Education 
Plan Would End 48 Programs; High School Effort Is Funded
By Erik W. Robelen, 2/16/05

Washington - It’s really a matter of simple math.

President Bush wants to fashion several new education programs this year, including pricey items central to his oft-touted high school agenda. But he also is proposing for the first time since he entered the White House to cut the overall budget of the U.S. Department of Education.

So, if Mr. Bush is serious about reining in the agency’s spending, something’s got to give.

And he’s asking Congress to give up a lot—48 line items, to be exact. That’s how many of the department’s programs the president wants to put out of business to make room for his priorities. This is not the first time Mr. Bush has sought to abolish a raft of education programs; he’s tried repeatedly, but lawmakers from both parties have largely foiled those efforts.

Among the items on the chopping block this time are funds for education technology, vocational and technical education, arts education, and state grants under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program.

Overall, the president’s fiscal 2006 budget request would reduce the Education Department’s discretionary budget by $530 million, or about 1 percent, to $56 billion. The last time the agency’s budget actually shrank was a decade ago, during President Clinton’s administration.

Some lawmakers, including key Republicans, have made clear they’re not interested in Mr. Bush’s idea of shifting $1.3 billion in vocational and technical education aid to his high school agenda.

“I would hate to see the high school program sort of built on the funding back of vocational education,” Rep. Michael N. Castle, the Delaware Republican who chairs the House Education Reform Subcommittee, said last week. “And I don’t think I’m alone in this.”

He predicted that federal lawmakers—as they have before—were likely to substantially rearrange the figures in Mr. Bush’s request before it finally reaches his desk. Indeed, Mr. Castle expressed skepticism last week that the cornerstone of President Bush’s second-term education agenda, expanding high school testing and accountability, would become law this year.

A ‘Disciplined Budget’

The Education Department was one of numerous federal agencies whose budgets were slated for cuts in the budget request that President Bush forwarded to Capitol Hill on Feb. 7. The White House has emphasized that the $2.5 trillion budget package comes in tight fiscal times, as the war in
Iraq, homeland security issues, and the president’s stated intention to gradually decrease budget deficits make trade-offs necessary.

“I would call it a disciplined budget,” Mr. Bush said during a
Detroit speech a day after announcing his budget plan for fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1. “My budget reduces spending—reduces spending—on nonsecurity discretionary programs by 1 percent, the most disciplined proposal since Ronald Reagan was in office.”

The budget, Mr. Bush’s fifth, represents the first time he’s sought to cut the Education Department’s overall discretionary spending, which has grown steadily—and in some years rapidly—since the mid-1990s.

But the big hikes of a few years ago have tapered off. In fact, Congress, which typically had raised the final budget above Mr. Bush’s request, last year for the first time provided less than he asked for. The final discretionary number for the Education Department in fiscal 2005, $56.6 billion, was an increase of almost $1 billion over the previous year, or 1.6 percent.

This year, Mr. Bush has especially set his sights on high schools for added focus, and money.

He is asking Congress to provide $250 million to help states meet his plan to require expanded high school testing. He also wants to create a flexible $1.2 billion pot of money for intervening with high schoolers at risk of academic failure. Beyond that, he wants to boost by eightfold the budget for Striving Readers, a middle and high school reading program, to name a few of the biggest-ticket high school items.

Further, he’s called for a new, $500 million Teacher Incentive Fund to help pay incentives to teachers in high-need schools and high-need subjects, such as math and science. And, he’s seeking to carve out an extra $1 billion to increase the budgets for the Title I program for disadvantaged students—the centerpiece of the No Child Left Behind Act—and special education state grants.

“The budget focuses on key priorities of this department and of the president and on getting results,” Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said in a Feb. 7 conference call with reporters.

She argued that many of the programs the president wants to shut down have been proved ineffective or are too small to make much of a difference.

“I will tell you that 15 of those are $5 million or less,” Ms. Spellings said of the programs targeted for extinction. “It’s hard to get a critical mass for a national program . . . with small amounts.”

But big or small, members of Congress rarely seem inclined to say farewell to programs.

At a Feb. 7 rally in
Philadelphia, Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Pennsylvania Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, vowed to fight Mr. Bush’s plans to eliminate the $307 million GEAR UP program. An acronym for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, the program helps low-income elementary and secondary students prepare for college.

“We have seen it work in every state,” Mr. Fattah said. “President Bush . . . should be ashamed to submit this budget to the United States Congress.”

‘Stay and Fight’
In an interview last week, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of
Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, expressed dismay with Mr. Bush’s request. He and other Democrats have long argued that with the ambitious demands of the No Child Left Behind Act to improve student achievement, the federal government must provide much more aid.

“The fact is, the education budget of the administration is just inadequate to meet the education needs of this nation,” Mr. Kennedy said. “This nation, with a $2.5 trillion budget, ought to be able to afford the kinds of investments in the No Child Left Behind Act, vocational education, and in higher education which are absolutely essential.”

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he has decided to remain as the chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee for labor, health and human services, and education this year to protect social spending from the president’s proposed cuts. He had been contemplating a shift to a new spending panel on intelligence matters.

“Strong advocacy for education, health care, and worker safety will be indispensable if they are to get their fair share of President Bush’s austere budget,” he wrote in a Feb. 8 op-ed piece in The Washington Post. “Fiscal 2006 looks like an especially tough year, so I’ve decided to stay and fight rather than switch.”

But some members of Congress were more welcoming of the president’s plan.

“I commend President Bush for proposing a fiscally responsible budget that will rein in federal spending and protect our top priorities, such as national defense, homeland security, and job creation,” Rep. Virginia Foxx, a freshman Republican from North Carolina who serves on the education committee, said on the House floor last week.

Although she suggested that lawmakers may differ with the president on some details, Ms. Foxx called the plan a “good first step in the right direction.”

“I am encouraged that he wants to hold federal programs to a firm test of accountability and eliminate programs that no longer serve their intended purpose or perform a vital function,” she said.

Rep. Castle said in an interview that while he opposes some of the president’s proposed cuts, he foresees little, if any, growth in the education budget total beyond Mr. Bush’s request.

“This White House is serious about the numbers,” he said, “so I think if you want to come back and say, ‘Hey look, we’ve got to fund this on education,’ we’ve got to be ready to show what we’re not going to fund this year, unlike a lot of other years.”

One of the most controversial targets in the plan is vocational and technical education.

Mr. Bush wants to redirect the $1.3 billion currently spent on those activities to his new High School Intervention program. The Education Department notes in its detailed budget proposal that the vocational state grants, which account for most of that money, have been rated “ineffective” by the White House Office of Management and Budget for having “produced little or no evidence of improved outcomes for students despite decades of federal investment.”

And yet, many department programs not targeted for elimination haven’t exactly received a thumbs-up. The OMB analysis rated many programs as “results not demonstrated.” For instance, the OMB said of the nearly $11 billion special education state grants that “there is no evidence that this program improves outcomes.”

The new high school program, the Education Department says, would support targeted interventions that raise the achievement of high schoolers, especially those at risk of not meeting state standards. States could still choose to fund vocational programs with that money, though vocational education advocates argue that support for their programs would likely get squeezed out.

Hanging the high school plans on cuts elsewhere may be risky.

Last year, the president tried to cut the vocational and technical education grants by some $300 million, but Congress refused to go along. Vocational programs have some influential friends, from Rep. Castle to Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., the chairman of the Senate education committee, and Rep. John E. Peterson, R-Pa., who serves on the House appropriations panel.

“This is one of my top issues, and I find it very disappointing that we have to go through the . . . battle again,” Rep. Peterson said in an interview last week.

“We’re trying to send everybody down this academic trail,” he said, arguing that many jobs require technical training.

“We beat it back last year,” Mr. Peterson said of the president’s previous effort to trim vocational aid. “I don’t think they’re going to win that battle.”
 
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Subject Qualification Vexing for Teachers in Special Education
By Christina A. Samuels, 2/16/05

Over her 26-year career, Mary Binegar has taught math, science, social studies, and English to special education students at
Urbana High School in Urbana, Ohio.

This year, she’s teaching only social studies to her classes, which mix students with learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, and cognitive disabilities.

Under state and federal rules, Ms. Binegar knows she’s highly qualified in that subject because her college major was social studies education, along with a certification in special education. But her four colleagues in the school’s special education department are still working to meet the “highly qualified” standard in at least one of the subject areas they teach. Right now, meeting that standard in
Ohio requires 45 hours of training in each subject.

The requirement comes from the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the reauthorized Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Both laws require states to define what makes a highly qualified teacher.

But meeting the standard may be a particular challenge for special education teachers, who might not have majored in a discipline such as English, science, or math before entering the classroom. Under the federal special education law, teachers must be highly qualified in special education as well as every subject they teach.

“These are people who have experience trying to help students, and yet suddenly, they are not ‘highly qualified,’ ” said Ms. Binegar, the chairwoman of the special education department at the 750-student school in the
Urbana City School District. “I just think it’s sad that there’s one of the five of us that this works out for.”

Ellen Dunn, the work-experience educator for students with disabilities in the 11,000-student
Fargo, N.D., school district, doesn’t teach academic subjects in her position. But should her district decide to return her to the classroom, she worries, “I would not be highly qualified because I don’t have math and English” and other core-subject knowledge. Her bachelor’s degree was in elementary education and her master’s degree was in special education.

“The thing I find so frustrating is that people say, ‘Well, test them all—plumbers have to take tests,’ ” Ms. Dunn said. “Well, plumbers don’t have master’s degrees. It’s constant education for us.”

Law Prompts Questions

When Congress reauthorized the IDEA in November, lawmakers said their goal was to align the main federal special education law, which affects more than 6.5 million students, with the No Child Left Behind law, which spells out accountability requirements for all public schools. The NCLB mandates include ensuring that a school’s teachers are “highly qualified.”

The reauthorized IDEA requires that teachers of special education students must meet the same standards of quality as teachers of general education students. And the deadline is the same for all teachers—the end of the 2005-06 school year.

But many teachers and special education advocates maintain that the law’s requirement that special education teachers be highly qualified in subject areas has caused more confusion than clarity.

Some states have yet to establish a way to meet the federal standard for special education teachers responsible for more than one subject. Some advocates are concerned that the law creates a loophole that could allow people who have no experience in special education classrooms to become recognized as highly qualified as special education teachers after taking a state-created test.

Others say that teacher-preparation programs may have to restructure themselves so that graduates finish the program highly qualified.

“Overall, it’s going to be very challenging for most states,” said H. Douglas Cox, the president of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Association of State Directors of Special Education. “It has taken a lot of reading and rereading to understand.”

Under the reauthorized IDEA special education teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and a state-issued special education certification, or a degree and a passing score on a state special education licensing exam.

Teachers who work solely in consultation with other highly qualified teachers, for instance as team teachers, need meet only the certification and bachelor’s degree requirements.

But for others, especially secondary school teachers, the process becomes much more complicated.

One option for new and veteran teachers, provided under the No Child Left Behind law, is called HOUSSE, for “high, objective, uniform state standard of evaluation.” Every state is developing its own evaluation standard, which is intended to offer an alternative for teachers other than taking a test or going back to school. Many of the HOUSSE procedures around the country use a combination of experience, professional training and leadership activities to evaluate teachers.

With the deadline to become highly qualified just a year away, not all states have a HOUSSE in place for teachers of multiple subjects. That has led to much worry among educators, said Patti Ralabate, the National Education Association’s senior professional associate for special education.

“Many teachers are not terribly familiar with the state HOUSSE plans, and they’re confused about what that will mean,” she said.

Confusion Over Definition

Ed Amundson, who teaches students with learning disabilities at the 2,500-student C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento, Calif., finds it ironic that he is qualified to instruct special education teachers-in-training, but that he’s not currently considered competent to teach high school classes in English, U.S. history, government, and economics, as he does now. His bachelor’s degree was in liberal studies, with credentials in K-6 elementary education and kindergarten through adult education for those with learning disabilities. He has a master’s degree in special education.

As a 30-year teaching veteran, Mr. Amundson believes the HOUSSE that
California has set will give him credit for his experience. California is among the 30 states that have a menu-system approach to HOUSSE. In that state, years of teaching experience, professional training, school leadership, direct observation or assessment of lesson plans are all assigned point values. Experience, for example, counts for up to 50 points; 20 hours of professional development is worth five points.

A teacher with at least 100 points among the various categories is highly qualified. Professional development and other learning experiences can make up the other points Mr. Amundson needs, he said, but he believes he would have to file paperwork for every subject he teaches. And newer teachers who can’t get credit for years of experience may have to earn their points in other ways, such as by going back to college to take more courses, he said.

“It puts an incredible burden on the new teachers to actually have to go back and take coursework,” Mr. Amundson said.

Some states have devised a multisubject HOUSSE, and their teachers are already receiving classifications as highly qualified.

Julie Mokhtee, who teaches social studies, reading, and personal development to special education students at
Topeka High School in Kansas, filled out a questionnaire in early 2004 listing her service, professional development courses, and school leadership activities. That summer, she received a certificate in the mail that stated she was highly qualified. Kansas has written a standard that can be used for teachers who instruct students in multiple subjects.

“We didn’t really have to do anything extra,” said Ms. Mokhtee, who has spent almost all her career at the 2,000-student school in the
Topeka Public School District.

But she worries that the “highly qualified” standards stress academic-content knowledge at the expense of knowing how to deal with challenging students.

“You better not just be well versed in content. You’ve got to know how to deal with these kids,” Ms. Mokhtee said. “Some days, we don’t even get to the content.”

Regulations Coming

Another challenge of the IDEA requirement is that teacher training will have to reflect the new standards.

“What can we do to get people who have the skills to meet the ‘highly qualified’ standards when they come out?” said Mr. Cox of the state directors’ association. He has started talking with colleges and universities in
Virginia, where he serves as the assistant state superintendent for special education and student services.

Jane West, the governmental relations consultant for the Higher Education Consortium for Special Education, a group of colleges and universities that have doctoral programs in special education, said that colleges will have to examine their programs in partnership with individual states, which certify teachers.

“Universities really cannot do that independently,” Ms. West said. “It’s a procedure that is clearly beginning to take place.”

The NEA had proposed that state certification be proof enough that a teacher is highly qualified in special education.

“Trying to make a federal definition for people who are prepared in such different ways at the state level is very, very difficult,” said Ms. Ralabate, the union official.

Under the reauthorized IDEA, there’s a way teachers can become highly qualified without any special education teaching experience at all. States may administer licensing exams that can work in place of a special education certification. Such teachers would still have to demonstrate subject-area mastery.

“We’re not really happy that you can take a test to become highly qualified,” said Daniel Blair, the senior director of public policy for the Arlington, Va.-based Council for Exceptional Children, an organization dedicated to improving education for students with disabilities and gifted students.

The U.S. Department of Education has started on a monthlong effort to gather public input on what should be included in regulations to carry out the reauthorized IDEA. “Hopefully, the regs will help clarify some of this confusion, but they’re not going to change the law,” said Mr. Cox.

And teachers are waiting. Said
Fargo’s Ms. Dunn: “We’re in limbo.”
 
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Groups Tackle Teacher Quality in Needy Schools
Coalition Wants More Attention Focused on Hiring and Retaining Good Teachers
By Alan Richard, 2/16/05

Washington - Representatives of three education organizations announced last week they will work together to focus more national attention, research, and resources on the problem of hiring and keeping good teachers in traditionally low-performing schools.

The National Partnership for Teaching in At-Risk Schools was officially launched here on Feb. 9. Leading the initiative are the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, the Educational Testing Service, of
Princeton, N.J., and Learning Point Associates, a nonprofit education consulting group in Naperville, Ill.

The partnership will develop a Web site and a home for data-gathering, research, and public-policy work with the goal of providing better-trained teachers for students who often need the most help. Staff members from each partnering organization will contribute time to the new project.

American education provides “a perverse, reverse-incentive system” that pays teachers more and provides better work environments in more affluent neighborhoods, when children in poor communities often need great teachers the most, said Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, a former ECS chairman who also is chairing the new partnership.

Gov. Warner said the partnership, which he helped unveil, would seek additional partners in focusing attention on the problem of hard-to-staff schools.

The Democrat added he wants to draw the interest of the public, policymakers, and private foundations. “If we’re going to elevate the discussion on hard-to-staff schools to a national level, no organization can do it alone,” he said.

Michael Nettles, the ETS vice president who oversees the testing organization’s Policy Evaluation and
Research Center, said providing an excellent teacher for every student in the nation is an achievable as well as important goal. If it’s reached, he said, “we could truly change the world, couldn’t we?”

The partnership released its inaugural report last week: “Qualified Teachers for At-Risk Schools: A National Imperative.” It cites studies showing that inexperienced teachers are more likely to teach in high-poverty schools, and that high-poverty schools traditionally have had far fewer teachers with subject-area expertise than low-poverty schools.

Trickling Down

Panelists at last week’s announcement held up
Virginia as an example of a state that hopes to curb staffing problems in traditionally struggling schools.
 
Jo Lynne DeMary, the state’s education superintendent, spoke of Gov. Warner’s pilot program that pays bonuses for teachers who accept jobs or agree to stay in two participating school systems that have struggled to find and hire qualified teachers.

Ms. DeMary said that the districts often have had dozens of teacher openings each year, but that this year’s incentives have cut the turnover rate dramatically.

“So, it’s working,” said Stanley Jones, the superintendent of the 3,800-student Caroline County, Va., school district, about 75 miles south of Washington. It is one of the pilot districts.

Virginia’s program, which Mr. Warner acknowledged is in its “infancy,” offers teachers with at least five years’ experience and a record of improving student achievement hiring bonuses of $15,000. The teachers must stay in the hard-to-staff schools for three years.

Also, teachers in the pilot districts who have five years’ experience and academic degrees in the subjects they teach receive annual $3,000 bonuses just for staying. The schools themselves can earn extra state money if they reach test-score goals.

The program is bolstering teachers’ morale, said Walter Clemmons, the assistant superintendent of the other pilot district, the 1,400-student
Franklin, Va., schools, southwest of Norfolk.
 
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Two-Way Language Immersion Grows in Popularity
But Some Experts Say the Approach Needs More Solid Research
By Mary Ann Zehr, 2/16/05

San Antonio - Promising results from research on two-way language-immersion programs have pumped up the popularity of such programs in recent years.

But some experts say that the three large-scale studies that compare two-way immersion with other kinds of instructional methods for English-language learners aren’t conclusive in showing that the programs are better than other options.

In two-way immersion, native speakers of English and native speakers of another language—usually Spanish—learn both languages in the same classroom. The two-way programs have a growing level of political clout, especially in comparison with transitional bilingual education, in which children are taught some subjects in their native language while learning English with the goal of moving into regular classes as quickly as possible.

Transitional bilingual education programs took a beating after voters in
Arizona, California, and Massachusetts passed state ballot initiatives to replace that method with English-only programs.

“I like two-way—I would recommend it for my grandson,” Stephen D. Krashen, an emeritus professor of education at the
University of Southern California and a language expert, said in an e-mail message this month.

Still, he cautioned: “The research has not shown it is the best option for English-language development. We don’t have the data yet. So some claims made by advocates are exaggerated.”

Scholars at Odds

Wayne P. Thomas and Virginia P. Collier, both emeritus professors of education at
George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., are the co-authors of two of the three large-scale studies that compare two-way immersion programs with other English-acquisition programs.

They gave a presentation about their studies at a Jan. 19 institute here on two-way immersion programs that was sponsored by the Washington-based National Association for Bilingual Education, or NABE. Their studies, published in 1997 and 2002, were based on more than 2 million student records from 23 school districts. They grouped student records into cohorts according to the students’ English proficiency, grade, and other kinds of characteristics, and then followed them over several years.

Mr. Thomas and Ms. Collier concluded that not only is two-way immersion better than the English-only approach, but it’s better than all other kinds of bilingual education as well, such as transitional bilingual education.

“We’re not saying that transitional bilingual education is bad,” Mr. Thomas said. “We’re saying it needs an upgrade.”

In a paper written in 2004, Mr. Krashen questions Mr. Thomas and Ms. Collier’s assertion that two-way immersion is the best choice for English-language learners.

To begin with, he points out that some of the English-language learners the
George Mason University researchers studied in two-way immersion programs had high scores in English in 1st grade, which suggests that many of the children already knew a lot of English before starting school. He also speculates that two-way immersion programs looked more effective than other kinds of English-acquisition programs because higher-scoring students tend to stay in two-way programs longer than in other kinds of programs.

But Ms. Collier said the English scores were high in 1st grade only in one school system, the
Houston Independent School District. And those scores were high because the English-language learners there had already been in school since prekindergarten, which wasn’t the case in most other districts, and also because the 1st grade test used in Texas is relatively easy.

Kathyrn Lindholm-Leary, a professor of child and adolescent development at
San Jose State University in California, is the author of the other large-scale study that compares students in two-way immersion with students in other kinds of programs. Her 2001 study of 8,000 students in 16 two-way immersion programs and four transitional-bilingual-education programs found that both English-language learners and native speakers of English in two-way immersion programs achieved at least as well as their peers who weren’t in such programs.

By the 6th and 7th grades, students in two-way immersion, on average, could perform at least at grade level—at the 50th percentile—on achievement tests of reading, language, and content areas, her research found. Experts consider those scores high for English-language learners.

“You’re only going to see those kinds of outcomes if you have a high-quality program,” she said in an interview.

The trouble is that research on two-way immersion programs has some methodological problems, according to Donna Christian, the director of the Center for Applied Linguistics, a Washington-based language research organization. Self-selection in the programs is one of them, she writes in a 2003 review of 113 studies on two-way immersion.

“If students in two-way immersion are found to do better than their peers in other programs,” she points out in the review, “it is difficult to know if this is because of the effects of the two-way immersion program itself, or due at least in part to inherent differences among the student populations and their families.”

James Crawford, the executive director of NABE, echoed that note of caution about research on two-way immersion. “We’re not promoting only this model even though we are gratified by its growing popularity, especially among English-speaking parents,” he said.

Mr. Crawford added that two-way immersion can be harder to carry out than some other kinds of English-acquisition programs, because teachers must be prepared to serve children who have very different linguistic needs in the same classroom.

Programs Expanding

What everyone does agree on is that each school year brings more two-way immersion programs.

As of December, the Center for Applied Linguistics had found 309 two-way immersion programs in schools in the
United States, up from 30 in 1987, when the concept really took off. Most of the two-way immersion programs—292—teach Spanish and English.

The center counts only programs that have a balanced proportion of native speakers of English and the non-English language. A third of the two-way programs are in
California. By far, most two-way programs are operated by elementary schools, with only 41 middle or high schools running such programs, according to the center.

Some educators at the NABE institute said their school districts have expanded their programs, or plan to extend them from elementary to middle or high schools.

Rodnie Barbosa, an ESL teacher at
Lincoln Middle School in Washington, said he hopes to help launch next fall at his school the first two-way immersion program for middle school students in the District of Columbia public schools. The program will teach in English and Spanish.

For 32 years, the 64,000-student district has run a schoolwide two-way immersion program in English and Spanish at the
Oyster Bilingual Elementary School. Oyster School students have done well on standardized tests, and the school has a long waiting list for children who want to attend the school.

“Parents have been putting a lot of pressure on the district to develop a middle and high school bilingual program,” Mr. Barbosa said.

Virginia Hansen, an English-for-speakers-of-other-languages resource teacher for the 173,000-student
Palm Beach County public schools in Florida, said her district is expanding its two-way language immersion program to serve more middle and high school students.

The programs help native speakers of Spanish to be proud of their culture, she said.

What’s more, she said, “I’ve seen children who are English-dominant just zoom with it. Their accent is almost nonexistent.”

Charles Stallcup, the owner of the Beckman Inn and Carriage House here in San Antonio and the father of two sons, a kindergartner and a 5th grader, in a two-way immersion program at the 345-student Bonham Elementary School, said he wishes he could have participated in a similar program when he attended school in the city.

Mr. Stallcup said the two-way immersion program at Bonham, located a few blocks from his home, has been successful for both of his sons. The benefit of the program is not just that his children learn Spanish, he said, but also that they learn about another culture.

“There’s a sense of romance in having a second language,” he said. “It makes you so much more in touch with the world.”
 
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Report Takes Aim at First Year of D.C. Voucher Program
By Christina A. Samuels, 2/16/05

Only 6 percent of the students participating in the first year of the federally financed private-school-voucher program for the
District of Columbia came from public schools designated as being in need of improvement, according to a report released last week by the People for the American Way Foundation.

The liberal watchdog group, which opposes private school vouchers, said fewer than 80 of the 1,300 children in the 8-month-old program came from such low-performing schools, though Congress said enrollment of those students was a priority when it created the program. The remaining vouchers, worth up to $7,500 a year, went to students who were attending other public schools in
Washington or who were already enrolled in private schools.

Judith E. Schaeffer, the deputy legal director for the Washington-based organization, said the low participation by students who were supposed to be targeted by the federal voucher experiment was a surprise “and quite a disturbing fact.”
 
The 22-page report was drawn from a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the PFAW Foundation, as well as previously published information. The report describes a program it claims was desperate to enroll students and to keep the low participation figures out of the public eye.

The report cites e-mails between Sally J. Sachar, the president and chief executive officer of the Washington Scholarship Fund, which administers the $12.1 million voucher program, and Nina S. Rees, who oversees the program as a deputy undersecretary in charge of the U.S. Department of Education’s office of innovation and improvement.

When the program began, 15 public schools in
Washington were designated as being in need of improvement, based on 2002-03 test data. In a June 2004 e-mail to Ms. Rees and others about the wording of a press release about the student demographics, Ms. Sachar wrote: “Can/ should we say anything about how many are from the 15 needs improvement. Pretty sure we do not want to say this, but just wondering.”

The pair also worried via e-mail about the relatively large number of voucher recipients who were already enrolled in private schools. Though public school students were given priority, private school students received 208 vouchers.

Another e-mail from Ms. Rees to Ms. Sachar asked for enrollment numbers before they were publicly released, so she could notify members of Congress, including Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee for education. Mr. Specter “wants it and while I hate the guy, we need to be nice to him I am told,” Ms. Rees said in her e-mail.

More Outreach Planned

In response to the criticism, Ms. Rees and Ms. Sachar said last week that the report was coming from a group that clearly wants to damage the voucher program. There was no attempt to hide or distort participation in the program, they said. The foundation also made no attempt to contact them, they said.

Ms. Rees said the PFAW report twisted the e-mails to make them appear as damaging as possible.

“I think they’ve selectively picked the quotes to make it look like we’re hiding everything,” she said. The e-mails were the normal back-and-forth between the department and a group administering a federal program under a tight schedule, she said.

Ms. Rees said that she regretted her comment about Sen. Specter, adding that she has “the utmost respect for the senator. I hope he’ll let us brief him on the status of this program soon.”

Ms. Sachar said the scholarship fund has much more time to reach students this year than it did last year. Currently, 68
District of Columbia schools are designated as being in need of improvement based on 2003-04 data, compared with the 15 that had that designation when the voucher program started. So the program now has a larger base of schools on which to focus its efforts, Ms. Sachar said.

Ms. Sachar noted that every voucher recipient had to meet the income-eligibility rules. For a family of four, annual income could be no more than $34,873.

“All students who receive scholarships are in fact very low- income—by definition. All are needy, whether they come from [schools in need of improvement], other public schools or private schools,” Ms. Sachar said.

The PFAW Foundation, in a follow-up statement, said the voucher program is still flawed.

“The answer to this problem is not to lift a few children” out of schools in need of improvement, the foundation said. “The answer is to fix public schools for all children.”

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Common Sense for Sex Education?
Commentary by Gilbert T. Sewall, Director of the American Textbook Council, 2/16/05
 
In late 2004, the state of
Texas approved health textbooks for the first time in 11 years, omitting birth-control information and promoting an “abstinence only” approach to sex education. This decision is likely to affect textbook content nationally for years to come. It is a dramatic move to shrink the subject’s scope.

Three of the four high school health textbooks approved by the powerful
Texas state school board are abstinence-only. This means that they contain no other information about birth control. The textbooks also define marriage singularly as between a man and woman. This change infuriated gay activists. But caught in a no-win, potentially catastrophic financial bind, publishers, unlike in 1993, decided to obey the Texas board.

In the case of Texas, activists of two stripes battled over the adoption of health textbooks, using the hot rhetoric that marks sex education as it does no other curriculum.

Late in the selection process, members of the
Texas legislature and board sprang demands for changes on publishers. These provisions reflected the educational idées fixes of Christian pressure groups that oppose any sex education other than abstinence. This position is a grave error, I think. Yet these religion-inspired advocates are convinced of the efficacy—and virtue—of their curriculum.

Abstinence-only sex education is naive and wishful. It spectacularly misunderstands adolescence and eros. It confuses sex and moral education, twisting human sexuality and reproduction into the foundation of character.

Unfortunately, leaders of broad-based Christian pressure groups such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council are making “abstinence only” a nonnegotiable educational demand nationwide. They are trying to use state and federal power to get their way, using laws, grants, and textbook guidelines as means.

Mandated by states, sex education has been the most controversial part of the health curriculum for years. The problem begins here, with a minefield of nonacademic lessons that involve mores and private matters forced into the classroom.

Health education may involve “education” about nutrition, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, physical abuse, sexual harassment, “lifestyle health choices,” birth control and parenting, handling stress, strengthening family relationships, acting to prevent violence, dealing with feelings, doing the right thing, and “asking for help.” A lot of this goes no deeper than media-fanned worries and preys on parental fears that parents themselves feel incapable of managing.

Much of the health lobby tacitly green-lights sexual activity. They’re all for “choice.” The prescribed view is laissez faire. Premises about teenage life—always couched in the dreary language of realism—sometimes verge on the wayward.

For its part, the health lobby is as zealous as any organized Christian group. Employing the rhetoric of fear, it claims that if children are deprived of full-service sex education, sexually transmitted diseases, high teenage-pregnancy rates, homophobia, and general social misery are on the way.

What is lost in all of this shouting and hand-wringing is the most important fact of all. While sex education is popular—a large majority of Americans want instruction in schools—aggressive sex education bothers many different groups and individuals. Resistance does not begin or end with the Christian right. Its lifestyle assumptions offend many liberal Protestants, Latinos and other Roman Catholics, Jews and Muslims, as well as plenty of nonreligious Americans.

When it comes to sex education, can there be a middle way? Or is the nation doomed to perennial battles over the subject waged in the name of virtue and vice? Common sense would be a great help, but there’s no organized lobby for it.

Parents of most political views oppose condom distribution in schools. They expect their children to learn how to read and write at school, not how to behave sexually from an early age. Discussions among 13-year-olds or 16-year-olds—especially coed discussions—of fellatio, masturbation, anal intercourse, condom use, and sexually transmitted diseases disturb them.

In
California, for example, aggressive sex education has been the first reason San Francisco and Los Angeles parents have deserted public schools since 1990, historian Kevin Starr reports in his recent book on contemporary California, Coast of Dreams (Knopf, 2004). When the Los Angeles Unified School District decided to pass out condoms in schools on the suspect claim that it would prevent the spread of AIDS, he notes, parents of all races and classes bolted.

Schools are not meant to be clinics or all-purpose social-service centers. Some health educators would have it otherwise, wanting to turn their concerns into a curriculum centerpiece.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Some propositions deserve a new look. Sex education should be “abstinence plus.” It should not deny what is on most every child’s mind from puberty. It should be age- and gender-appropriate. Its content should differ for boys and girls. Sex education does not do well in mixed classrooms. Instead, it can become a stage for tension, awkwardness, and violations of privacy.

In the future as in the past, much sex education will rely on siblings and friends. When it comes to formal instruction, an overwhelming number of communities will no doubt rely on schools. Churches, YMCAs, and community centers can also do the job. They may run abstinence-only programs or quite the opposite.

But these programs are voluntarily chosen outside of school by parents. They are not lessons and agendas imposed by the Christian right or the health lobby, wedged into classrooms and textbooks.

Sex education cries out for localism in content choice. The federal government should get out of the abstinence-only business. State legislatures should ink out sex education mandates. Turn sex education back to districts and schools, one by one. Everybody will be a winner.
  
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Illinois State Board of Education
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