News Clips –
February 18 - 25, 2005
TOP OF PAGE
Schools sound alarm over funding proposal / Chicago Tribune
Report: State study may paint rosier picture for
schools than reality
/ Chicago Tribune
Illinois districts feel demand to consolidate
/ St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Gov takes risky road, but it may pay off / Rockford Register Star
Daley takes dig at gov over school funding / Chicago Sun-Times
Pension overhaul called hit to schools / Chicago Tribune
Lawmakers Question State Funding Plan For Education / Southern Illinoisan
Governor to name members to education funding
group / Pantagraph
New law could hit school districts hard / Belleville News-Democrat
overhaul Illinois education funding / Pantagraph
fun in ISAT test preparation / Decatur Herald & Review
sign language / Northwest Indiana Times
boost for pensions needs retiring / Decatur Herald &
Put gloves away,
child not contagious / Peoria Journal Star
challenge part of NCLB law / The Tennessean
/ Boston Globe
'No Child' / Deseret Morning News (UT)
Segregation in Schools / AP
on evolution began trend / Wichita Eagle
looms over state's voucher law / Orlando Sentinel
In Third Grade,
the Pressure to Perform Is On / Washington Post
down in Phila. schools / Philadelphia Inquirer
a growing trend / CNN.com
High Court to
Hear Md. Special-Ed Case / Washington Post
Principals Outline Legislative Recommendations for High School Reform
to Congress / NASSP
Left Behind / Los Angeles City Beat
changes to No Child Left Behind / Washington Times
Bush Initiative on Education / New York Times
accused of assault with rubber band / WKMG-TV (FL)
push for school vouchers in '06 budget / Cleveland Plain
Of 'No Child' Law Backed / Washington Post
School Plan Is Criticized / Los Angeles
FROM “EDUCATION WEEK”
in Limelight for Summit
Vocational Education’s New Job: Defend Thyself
First Lady Embraces Cause of Youths at Risk
Ten Commandments Case Watched Closely by School Community
Teacher Turnover Tracked in City District
Legislatures Hit With Surge in School Choice Plans
Unlearning Bad Science
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Schools sound alarm over funding proposal
Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune
Gov. Rod Blagojevich's state budget proposal for public schools is so
austere that districts would see an increase of about $87 a student
next school year--at the very most.
That would be the smallest increase in three years--basic aid went up
by $250 a student in 2003-04 and $154 this school year. Local school
officials reacted Wednesday with disappointment and alarm.
"This is going to create a huge hole for us," said Peter Cunningham,
spokesman for the Chicago Public
system, which had counted on an increase of $346 a student next year.
He said the governor promised to increase the base level of state aid
per child by $1,000 over four years, or $250 a year. "This clearly
falls short of that commitment," Cunningham said.
The governor's staff defended his budget, saying Blagojevich has continued
pumping money into schools despite massive state deficits.
Facing another deficit for the coming year, the governor on Wednesday
proposed putting $140 million more into the education budget.
However, that increase is only one part of the financial picture for
Budget documents from the Illinois State Board of Education show that
education funding, overall, would decrease under Blagojevich's proposals
for the first time since he took office.
The total budget would be $8.91 billion next year, compared with $9.14
billion this year. That figure represents all state and federal funds
that are sent to school districts, as well as payments into the teacher
Federal funding is expected to decline by about $65 million, and Blagojevich
is proposing reforms to the state's troubled pension systems to cut
For that reason, he proposed putting $588.8 million into the Teachers'
Retirement System for Downstate teachers, the state's largest pension
plan. That figure doesn't include a separate $75 million payment for
retirees' health insurance.
By law, the teachers' pension system should be getting more than $1
billion next year, said TRS executive director Jon Bauman, and Blagojevich
will have to persuade the legislature to change the law to lower that
One of Blagojevich's key pension recommendations would require local
school districts to pay for the big salary hikes often given to retiring
teachers and administrators. The end-of-career hikes, usually 10, 15
or 20 percent raises, pad pensions because high salaries are a key factor
in determining retirement payments. While local districts give the raises,
state taxpayers end up paying for enhanced pensions down the road.
"Taxpayers across Illinois
shouldn't have to pay billions of dollars more in increased pension
costs just to cover those end-of-career raises," Blagojevich said
in his budget address.
Anne Davis, president of the Illinois Education Association, said the
governor's proposal would hurt teachers who depend on the big raises.
Often, teachers accept less-than-generous raises throughout their career
because districts couldn't afford to pay them more, she said.
She also questioned the governor's plan to set up an endowment for public
schools by tapping surpluses in a variety of special-purpose funds in
the state's coffers.
The endowment would provide $140 million in new money for schools every
"At this point, we have a concern because we don't really know
whether those funds are going to be available," Davis said. "There is a question about the legality of
transferring those funds."
In the same vein, the governor has proposed raising the state cigarette
tax for a separate school construction program, which may not pass muster
Of the $140 million in increased spending proposed for schools, the
governor would like $30 million spent on preschool programs, one of
However, that would further decrease the amount that could be spent
on per-student aid, dropping it below $87 a student. Also, the budget
generally shows no increases for other programs that districts have
to offer, such as special education, bilingual and reading improvement.
Because the costs of those programs generally increase every year, a
flat budget will inevitably mean cuts will have to be made, educators
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Report: State study may paint rosier picture for schools
CHICAGO (AP) - A state study that showed many more school districts
operating in the black last year than the year before may paint a rosier
financial picture for schools than really exists, according to a newspaper
Gov. Rod Blagojevich cited the State Board of Education study in his
budget address last week as proof that school funding problems aren’t
as severe as many believe.
But the Chicago Tribune reported Monday that many of the schools that
seemed to have a financial turnaround between 2003 and 2004 actually
got out of the red by borrowing up to their limits and selling bonds
to cover expenses.
The Tribune analyzed the 30 Illinois school districts with the largest 2003 deficits that
operated in the black last year.
60 in Lake County, for example, had to borrow $26.5 million last year
just to continue meeting its payroll. It was among five districts that
went from red to black by borrowing against their future tax collections.
Six districts cited as turnarounds were in such bad shape that they
expect to land on state lists of school districts in the worst financial
The State Board of Education report found that the number of school
districts with budget deficits dropped from 77 percent in 2003 to 45
percent last year. But critics point out that deficits are one of many
factors that determine a district’s financial health.
"I just think it’s misleading," said Sen. Dan Cronin, R-Elmhurst,
co-chairman of a Senate committee on education funding reform."I
would prefer the governor to say: ’Look, times are really tough. I know
there are some very difficult problems facing schools across the state.’
Please acknowledge the problem, rather than try to paint a picture that’s
not really accurate."
Many of the districts the Tribune analyzed used bond issues to increase
their financial health, a move that makes taxpayers responsible for
paying back the money, plus interest. Seventeen of the 30 districts
sold nearly $150 million in bonds in the 2003-2004 budget year, and
another three districts sold bonds in 2002-2003.
Chicago Heights District 170 went beyond its legal borrowing limit when
it sold $11.8 million in bonds last school year.
"We don’t have any borrowing power left," said Anthony Leli,
the assistant superintendent for finance.
Elliot Regenstein, the governor’s director of education reform, said
Blagojevich recognizes that schools have made painful cuts or borrowed
to balance their budgets. But he also said the fact that 220 districts
improved financially from 2003 to 2004 shows dramatic improvement.
TOP OF PAGE
Illinois districts feel
demand to consolidate
Alexa Aguilar and Kavita
Kumar, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
At New Athens High
in rural St. Clair County, Nicole Gansert is just as likely to be teaching
methods of psychology as conjugating verbs in Spanish.
At a high school with just 210 students, every teacher is stretched
as much as possible to offer a college preparatory program.
The staff does what it can, and if students want a solid education,
they can obtain one. There are advanced science and math classes, Spanish
and geography. But there are none of the electives and extras common
at larger high schools - no football or track team, no Advanced Placement
is 10 miles down the road. There, the enrollment is 309 seventh- through
12th-graders. A consolidation of the two districts would result in a
high school enrollment of around 500 students. But there's no effort
to combine the two. The opposite is true; people in both communities
say they would fiercely oppose any such effort.
"The people is this town want their school district," said
New Athens Superintendent Mike Weaver, adding that residents overwhelmingly
voted for a referendum to build a new junior high addition just a few
But in smaller districts, state and local tax dollars are at least three
times as likely to end up in administrative paychecks than in larger
districts. And with schools hungry for money to boost student achievement,
consolidating tiny districts could make sense.
Among the 666 high schools in Illinois, New Athens and Marissa are typical. About half of those
high schools have fewer than 500 students. Moreover, 187 high schools
enroll fewer than 250 students.
District organization is no less striking. Of Illinois' 882 school districts, almost one-third have fewer than
500 students. In many of those, one school is the entire district. In
some places like Belleville, O'Fallon and Freeburg, a town supports one or more
elementary school districts and a separate high school district, each
with its own administration and taxing power.
Only Texas and California, both far more populous than Illinois, have more school districts.
But with most Illinois school districts in deficit spending, state education
leaders are taking a renewed look at consolidation as a way to funnel
the most money into classrooms.
In 2002, a governor-appointed panel recommended that every regional
office conduct studies on consolidation in each of its districts, and
that districts consolidate into kindergarten through 12th-grade units
with high schools of at least 250 students.
Recently, interim State Superintendent Randy Dunn suggested that the
State Board of Education undertake reforming Illinois' small high schools as it develops school improvement
ideas for Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Each school district has its own school board of seven - meaning that
6,174 people oversee school policy in Illinois. Each district usually employs both a superintendent
and principal - even if the district has just a few hundred students.
That can drive up the percentage of a school's budget spent on administration.
According to State Board figures, districts with fewer than 200 students
spend an average of 8.5 percent of their budget on administration, and
it can jump as high as 22 percent.
In districts with more than 500 students, that average drops to 2.5
"There's no question that it makes sense to consolidate. We just
have too many (districts) in this state," said Madison County Regional
Superintendent Harry Briggs. "There has to be savings there, strictly
by looking at the numbers."
As fragmented as Illinois' system is, the number of districts is a fraction of
those a century ago.
In 1942, the state was diced into more than 12,000 school districts
- the majority of those tiny, one or two-room schoolhouses. Later that
decade, Gov. Adlai Stevenson made school consolidation a priority. By
1950, the number of districts had plunged to 4,580. By 1966, Illinois had compressed itself into 1,340 districts.
The scene has been repeated across the nation for a hundred years. In
1925, there were about 127,000 school districts nationwide, said Jim
Guthrie, an education finance professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Today, roughly 14,000 school districts exist.
The rationale for merging has almost always been roughly the same: more
fiscally efficient school districts and better academic options. In
some cases, consolidation has been used to help desegregation efforts.
Julie Bell, director of education programs at the National Conference
of State Legislatures, said school consolidation has been a hot topic
in many states in the past couple of years. And judging from the number
of calls she has received this year, it's shaping up to be an even hotter
issue in this year's legislative sessions, especially in many Great Plains and Midwestern states, she said.
Two main pressures are fueling the latest interest in consolidation,
Bell said. The first is fiscal. The second is the federal
education reform law known as No Child Left Behind. Smaller school districts
find it particularly difficult to comply with the regulations, she said.
Larger districts are seen as a way to better cope.
"You've got more people, more schools available if one school has
to be closed because it is not making adequate yearly progress or if
people want to opt out of that school - you have way more options,"
Guthrie said it's nearly impossible to come up with an ideal school
"It's not rocket science, it's harder," he said. "Education
is not a science. That's the problem. We don't know what produces learning."
There are studies out there that purport to know what an efficient and
adequate school district size is, but forget them, Guthrie said. "They're
all junk science," he said. Still, he said it is "extraordinarily
difficult" to justify small districts under 300 students except
in extraordinary cases such as extremely sparsely populated areas.
"I guess the rule is you have to do the analysis district by district,"
he said. But he added that doesn't mean anyone should change the size
of high-performing districts such as Clayton or Ladue.
Dunn was quick to say in his recent remarks on high school consolidation
that there also has to be sufficient community support.
"You cannot ram this type of thing down people's throats; it never
Illinois legislators learned that lesson the hard way in 1985,
when they passed a law mandating consolidation and required each regional
office of education to form reorganization committees. It looked as
if a massive reorganization was about to begin.
Then, as Phillips said, "people came out of the woodwork"
- from the unions, the rural schools and the suburbs - and so hotly
protested the proposal that the Legislature backed off.
Since then, mandated consolidation hasn't come up. But Illinois does offer financial incentives to sweeten the deal
for any districts considering a merger. For example, the Staunton school district is due to receive $1.8 million in incentives
over the next four years, after it annexed Livingston schools last fall.
The state can offer those "carrots," said William Phillips,
a professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield who studies school consolidation. But most districts
don't consider consolidation until there's no money left to operate
or they feel as though they are shortchanging their students by the
education the district offers, he said.
Pros and cons
In recent years, most consolidations have been slow and painful. Most
school leaders say significant change won't happen without a mandate
from the Legislature. Until then, district mergers will happen on a
Consider Livingston in Madison County. Last year, the Livingston School Board acknowledged
that it simply couldn't operate the 200-student district another year.
Only when the money ran out did the community agree to close the school.
Now students are a part of the Staunton School
The elementary students still attend class in the former Livingston elementary building, but the high schoolers attend Staunton High.
Why do communities hold out so long to preserve a school?
For many, the school is all that is left. Industry may have packed up,
storefronts on Main
may be boarded, young adults may have left for more populated areas.
But if a school remains, the town can hold on to its identity.
"There's this fear that once you give up the school, you're going
to see weeds in the street," Phillips said.
"They think that their property values will go down, that their
Friday night entertainment is gone. They say, 'But then there will be
no more Redbirds.'"
In some ways, consolidation may go against one of the rages in education
reform these days: small schools. Much research extols the virtues of
more intimate settings where students are not lost in a sea of faces
and have a sense of connection to their teachers and school.
But the question is, how small is too small?
A group of senior girls at New Athens High explained simply, "Everyone
knows everything about you."
In a school of 210, it's hard to get lost in the crowd, but it's also
hard to fit in if you're not friends with a certain group. It's also
difficult to escape a less-than-stellar teacher, because in many cases,
he or she is the only one teaching that subject.
"There's no diversity here," the seniors said. "Everyone's
Small school districts also struggle to offer a wide curriculum. While
high schools in Belleville, Edwardsville and Highland are offering everything from architectural drafting
to mystery and science fiction classes to ecology clubs, high schools
of fewer than 500 strive to offer four years of math and science and
two years of foreign language - basic entry requirements to most colleges.
At Venice High, the school's 55 students had no science lab, no foreign
language and practically no electives. The only activities were a boys
basketball team and girls cheerleading. Rather than dissolve the district,
voters agreed to close the high school last spring. Then, no schools
were willing to take the students. Last fall, the regional office of
education opened a charter school for the 55 high schoolers months after
the school year had started.
Meanwhile, Lovejoy Technical Academy in nearby Brooklyn has an enrollment
of about 200. The neighboring Madison district has a K-12 enrollment of about 900.
The three districts - with a combined enrollment of 1,250 students -
spent a total of $642,405 on administration in one year. In contrast,
Dupo, a K-12 district of about 1,250, spent $194,980 on administration.
"You look at the area and what they could offer if they combined,"
Briggs said. "But how do you convince those communities? They say,
'This is my district, this is my community.'"
Last year, lawmakers in Arkansas
made school districts with fewer than 350 students merge with other
districts. The state went from 308 districts to 254.
The impetus was a court order stemming from a lawsuit over state funding
The Arkansas governor first proposed consolidating schools with less
than 1,500 pupils. That number was based on studies about the optimum
size of school districts in Arkansas,
said Raymond Simon, former director of the Arkansas Board of Education
and now a top-ranking official in the U.S. Department of Education.
The studies were not consistent, but 1,500 was a middle ground, he said,
adding that they paid particular attention to the number of students
needed to have a high school with a quality program. Districts of that
size would be relatively efficient in terms of its cost per pupil, he
"The bill never talked about closing schools," he said. Rather,
the districts would merge and schools could also merge if they liked,
or could share campuses, start distance learning, work with community
colleges, and so on.
The governor's plan did not fly well with legislators, especially ones
from rural areas. In a special legislative session, the magic number
was pared down to 350. The governor has been often quoted in news reports
as calling that compromise "embarrassingly lame."
The Nebraska Legislature is debating a bill this session that would
force the state's smallest districts to merge with larger ones.
"People want local control," said Rosella Wamser, regional
superintendent of St. Clair County. "But when the dollars dry up,
then they have to face the situation. That's when emotions take a second
level and they have to face the reality."
"You don't close a high school unless you have to," said Weaver,
the New Athens superintendent.
A lot of people would be devastated if their local school was gone,
Many of the current students are second- or third-generation "Yellow
Jackets." As the students walk the halls, black-and-white class
pictures stretching back to the 1930s hang above on the walls. Consolidation
with nearby Marissa would mean the end of the two schools' sports rivalry.
But the district is in its fifth year of operating in a deficit, and
unless the school funding formula changes, New Athens can't stay open
forever, Weaver said.
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Gov takes risky road, but it may pay off
Column by Chuck Sweeney, Rockford Register Star, 2/22/05
I have to give Gov. Rod Blagojevich credit. He has chosen an agenda
for this spring's session of the General Assembly that is guaranteed
to get him in more hot water with veteran legislators than ever -- and
he's not even calling them drunken sailors anymore!
In a wide-ranging interview Friday with the Rockford Register Star Editorial
Board, Blagojevich held firm to his plan to trim the state's five pension
plans, oppose sales and income tax increases, keep gambling in a box,
avoid changes to the education funding formula and raise the cigarette
tax 75 cents a pack.
All those things are wildly unpopular in Springfield, where legislators want to raise income taxes, expand
gambling and put off pension reform until Halley's comet returns.
Blagojevich is taking a risk, but as we're learning, this governor calculates
his risks carefully and relishes living his political life on the edge.
So far, it's working.
He was blunt on a variety of topics. While his friend, Mayor Doug Scott,
has his hopes set on a casino for Rockford, Blagojevich insisted the state must not rely on a gambling
injection to solve its long-range problems. (Polls show two-thirds of
Illinoisans don't want more gambling in the state.)
"If we had a massive expansion of gambling, and an influx of new
revenue, that's a quick fix that compounds our problems because it prevents
the governor and Legislature from fixing the real, serious structural
problems that need to be changed and reformed," the governor said.
If Rockford really wants a casino, Blagojevich suggested that the
city put in a bid for the disputed 10th license. That one started out
as a casino in East
Dubuque, failed there and was headed to Rosemont. But the license
is ensnared in a legal version of the La Brea Tar Pits, and it may stay
in the glop for years.
We reminded Blagojevich that most school districts in Illinois are running deficits. Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago,
says higher taxes are needed to fund schools properly. Some legislators
and education lobby groups are pushing a plan to raise income taxes
a lot, while reducing property taxes a little.
No way, the governor insisted.
"I support more funding for schools. I believe we have an over-reliance
on property taxes. But I'm not for the income-tax-increase-property-tax-swap
proposal," Blagojevich said.
"I believe there are other ways to do it, and among them is what
we've been doing. And that is, you squeeze the system, you reset priorities,
you find the things that really aren't as important. You take (money)
out of one place, you put it into schools. You free up more money by
reforming pensions and keep moving forward in that direction."
If the state raises general taxes and expands gambling, Blagojevich
says reforms never will be made, and within five years, the state's
growing pension debt will demand attention, "and what's the solution
then? Massive expansion of gambling or another income tax increase."
Blagojevich has been called a lightweight, a "photo-op" governor
and lots of other unkind things -- sometimes by me. But this year, he
seems deadly serious. Clearly, he's banking his re-election chances
on keeping his promise not to raise income and sales taxes, make structural
reforms in state government and keep gambling in check.
If he is successful, look for billboards in 2006 that feature Rod's
mug and the slogan, "He held the line on taxes."
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Daley takes dig at gov over school funding
Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun-Times, 2/23/05
Mayor Daley chided Gov. Blagojevich on Tuesday for a $53 billion state
budget that ignores what the mayor contends should be Illinois' highest priority: a more equitable way to fund public
Daley wants the governor to catch a political hot potato the General
Assembly has been tossing for years: a controversial tax swap that would
shift the burden of public education from property taxes and toward
increased sales and income taxes.
Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) wants the same thing. That's
why the alliance he forged with Blagojevich during last year's budget
marathon is now in jeopardy.
"We should have a discussion on this because, otherwise, it falls
upon the local taxpayers and it's uneven, its unfair," the mayor
said. "If you live in a wealthy area, such as the North Shore, you have all the money you want. But other areas of
the state don't have . . . the financial resources. It's called unfairness.
Until that [tax swap] happens, there's unevenness in the quality of
education in Illinois."
'Can't be done overnight'
"You can't blame it on one person . . . '' said the mayor. ''I'm
not blaming it on Gov. Blagojevich. But this is the issue. . . . It's
time the General Assembly truly looks at this. . . . Otherwise, Illinois keeps falling and falling in regards to state funding
for education. We're 49th out of 50 [states]. . . . The key of any state
will be how well we fund early childhood, elementary, high school, undergraduate
and graduate schools. If we out-fund everybody else in America, we'll be better off in 10 or 15 or 20 years -- or even
a year from now. Investing in education should be the highest priority."
The mayor acknowledged that a tax swap "can't be done overnight."
Ending public schools' dependency on property taxes would have to take
years to avoid repeating what Daley called "the lottery game."
"Everybody thought the lottery was for education and then we didn't
get any of it,'' said Daley. ''So everybody has to be careful. . . .
You just can't replace it like tomorrow. ... It has to be maybe a five-
or six- or eight-year program . . . where the state assumes more responsibility
each year and lessens the burden of local taxpayers.''
Budget vs. campaign promise
Last week, Blagojevich unveiled a budget with $140 million in new spending
for public schools that critics say runs contrary to his campaign promise
to devote 51 percent of all new state revenues to education.
Jones responded with a promise to push a tax swap over the governor's
objections. The governor fired back by threatening to veto any Jones-sponsored
school funding reform that includes an increase in the state income
tax. Blagojevich said he was not convinced that "you have to raise
the income tax or the sales tax" to solve "inequities"
in the school funding formula.
Blagojevich shied away Tuesday from swiping back at the mayor and repeated
he is against an income tax increase, even if that means forgoing more
operating funds for schools than the modest allocation he made in next
Mayor-governor relations frosty
"The governor feels burdening working people even more is the wrong
way to solve this problem," Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff
said. "He shares the mayor's goal of increasing funding for education,
but not by handing working people a multibillion-dollar income tax increase."
While critics have assailed Blagojevich for going back on the 51 percent
pledge, the administration points to more than $1 billion in additional
revenue he has committed to education since taking office.
Daley and Blagojevich have had a frosty relationship. The low point
was last year, when the governor humiliated Daley by shooting down his
plan for a land-based Chicago casino a day after it was unveiled.
The mayor's education critique is almost certain to add more fuel to
the fire, particularly after Daley went so far as to hold up Indiana's Republican governor Mitch Daniels as an "example
To wipe out a $645 million deficit by June 2006, Daniels proposed a
budget that calls for a one-year, one-percentage-point increase in the
Indiana income tax on those earning more than $100,000 a year.
Unlike Blagojevich, Daniels wants to freeze funding for Indiana's public schools and universities at current levels.
TOP OF PAGE
Pension overhaul called hit to schools
Official estimates cost at $149 million
Ray Long and Diane
SPRINGFIELD -- Local school districts throughout Illinois would be charged an extra $149 million the next school
year to pay for Gov. Rod Blagojevich's proposal to overhaul the state's
pension systems, one top pension official warned Tuesday.
If that estimate is correct, it would mean the added expense would more
than consume the $140 million increase in education funding Blagojevich
included in his budget proposal for next year, an amount criticized
as inadequate by friends and foes of the governor alike.
In his budget address last week, the Democratic governor urged the legislature
to approve a sweeping overhaul of state-run pension systems of judges,
legislators, university workers, regular state employees and teachers
outside of Chicago. Teachers in the city have a separate retirement system.
Contending his plan would save the state billions of dollars over the
next several decades, Blagojevich urged changes ranging from reducing
retirement benefits for future state employees to capping state pension
contributions tied to lucrative end-of-career raises frequently doled
out by school districts.
But school officials say those big raises are written into union contracts
in many districts, so local property-tax payers would be on the hook
for any pension costs tied to those raises that the state no longer
Jon Bauman, executive director of the Teachers Retirement System, estimated
the first year cost of such a change would be $149 million.
Becky Carroll, a spokesman for Blagojevich's budget office, disputed
"That is not a hard number in any way. It's an assumption,"
Carroll said. "If we're to assume that school districts are going
to change these salary-increase practices and live within their means
as outlined in these reforms, then that $149 million actuarial assumption
would drop dramatically."
Illinois lawmakers had long neglected the pension systems, but
a decade ago they committed to an ambitious schedule to pump billions
of dollars into the system over many decades to make them more financially
sound. Blagojevich contended his reforms could enable the state to accomplish
that goal and still save $55 billion over the next 40 years.
Republicans, however, complained the governor's plan pumps too much
of the savings into the short term to help him out of a fiscal crunch
and robs the systems of cash that they would invest to improve their
viability in the long run.
House Republicans contended their estimates show Blagojevich's revisions
could actually add tens of billions of dollars to the state's long-term
pension costs because of his plans to reduce payments to the systems
over the next five years. That, critics said, would rob the systems
of investment income and compounded interest.
Blagojevich's plan "makes no financial sense," said House
Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego). "The treatment is worse than
Cross said Republicans in the House are willing to work with the governor
Carroll disputed the House Republican estimates as well.
Some of the most vocal criticisms of Blagojevich's budget have come
from teacher unions, which have complained about what they contend is
an inadequate amount of new spending set aside for classrooms.
Questions about whether the pension reforms will aggravate the financial
condition of districts only compound the problem, union leaders said.
"We didn't think the governor's proposal provided enough new funding
for schools in the first place," said Steve Preckwinkle, a lobbyist
for the Illinois Federation of Teachers. "The notion that this
could be almost a $150 million hit to the schools is very disconcerting.
Obviously, that would wipe out the ... full effects of the $140 million
increase right off the top."
The practice of giving out big pay raises to retiring teachers dates
back decades and prompted an outcry in the late 1970s, when 40 and 50
percent raises were being dished out to retiring educators.
In response, the state put a cap on the practice, saying pay increases
as high as 20 percent from one year to the next could be included in
pension calculations for most retirees, but nothing over that.
A Tribune investigation in 2003 showed that more than 70 percent of
full-time teachers and staff who retired in the suburbs and Downstate
over the prior decade had gotten at least 10 percent pay increases in
one or more of their last three years. About 55 percent of the retirees
got at least 15 percent raises, and about a third got at least 20 percent
Some districts give as many as three 20 percent raises in a row to retiring
educators, but it is more common to see two years of 20 percent raises,
said Allen Albus, the assistant superintendent over finances in Naperville
While Albus acknowledged that the large raises lead to enhanced pensions
ultimately paid by the state, he said districts would be in for a struggle
if they had to come up with funds to pay the long-term cost of the end-of-career
raises promised in current contracts.
Under Blagojevich's plan, the state would pick up increased pension
costs calculated on the first 3 percent of an end-of-career raise. Anything
above that, the districts themselves would have to pay.
TOP OF PAGE
Lawmakers Question State Funding Plan For
Jennifer Miller, Southern
SPRINGFIELD -- A House committee criticized Gov. Rod Blagojevich's
$140 million fund-sweep for education on Wednesday.
Randy Dunn, interim superintendent for the Illinois State Board of Education,
broke down how the board would fund education with the governor's projected
$140 million in new state funding for education. Lawmakers, however,
were concerned about whether the $140 million for education could even
"Not only is there no guarantee for the funds, but we don't know
where the funds are coming from," said state Rep. Suzanne Bassi,
Dunn acknowledged the projected $140 million for education was not a
"Schools would in turn have to make judgments at the local level
as to what to do (if expected funds did not come through)," Dunn
Under the governor's plan, funds would be swept every three years from
some of the 650 special government funds and transferred into the newly
created School Endowment Fund. The $420 million would be divided up
over three years, providing $140 million for new education spending
in fiscal year 2006. The governor said his proposal does not apply to
road, pension or bond funds.
Committee members asked what specific funds would be tapped for the
endowment fund, yet a list could not be provided by Dunn or Ginger Ostro,
spokeswoman for the Governor's Office of Management and Budget.
Certain fund sweeps have been found unconstitutional in the past. In
December, the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled it was unconstitutional
for state officials to take $125 million from the Illinois Clean Energy
Community Foundation. The court of appeals said that even though state
legislation created the foundation, it was not a state agency and therefore
the government did not have the right to use its funds.
The ISBE budget also adds $30 million to early childhood education funding.
The budget plan increases the foundation level, money spent per student,
The foundation level currently is $4,964 per student in Illinois, which is $401 below the Education Funding Advisory
Board recommendation of 2002. EFAB recommended the foundation level
be raised to a range of $5,665 to $6,680. The ISBE recommendations would
only take the foundation level to $5,008.
The education budget also included an additional $20 million for mandated
The board is working with significantly fewer dollars compared to the
past two years. In Fiscal Year 2004 Blagojevich proposed $400 million
in education funding, and $389 million in Fiscal Year 2005.
TOP OF PAGE
Governor to name members to education funding group
John O'Connor, Associated Press, Bloomington Pantagraph
SPRINGFIELD -- Pressured by lawmakers and an advocacy group's threat
of a lawsuit, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has agreed to resurrect an education
funding group that is synonymous with an income tax increase the governor
says he'll veto.
Blagojevich will name members to the Education Funding Advisory Board
by month's end and promises an updated school-finance report by early
April, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
The decision comes as typical Democratic allies, including Chicago Mayor
Richard Daley and Senate President Emil Jones, assail the budget Blagojevich
proposed last week as shortchanging public schools.
Created by a 1997 law, the advisory board recommended in a 2002 report
that the state should significantly increase the income tax, accompanied
by a reduction in property taxes, to mend what many say is a broken
system of paying for elementary and secondary schools.
The law requires a report from the board on Jan. 1 of each odd-numbered
year, but many of the original board members had resigned or their terms
had expired, and Blagojevich did not replace them.
Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, said he pleaded with the administration
for months to name a new board, to no avail. Finally, the Mexican American
Legal Defense and Education Fund in January wrote Blagojevich, threatening
to sue unless he followed the law, named a board and delivered a report
"The last time they issued a report, it didn't have the impact
we expected, but at least it is something we can use to hold the public
officials accountable with respect to the schools," MALDEF attorney
Alonzo Rivas said.
Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said the administration had not
moved more quickly on forming a new board because of the multibillion-dollar
budget deficits the governor faced in his first three years in office.
"It was not a top priority of this administration because we're
still fighting to increase education funding, and we hadn't achieved
the last EFAB recommendation," Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca
That recommendation was to raise the "foundation level" --
the minimum amount guaranteed for each of the state's two million students
-- by $1,000. Blagojevich promised to do that during his first term
in office. He boosted the level by $250 in his first year, but only
$154 this year.
In the budget he proposed last week, Blagojevich offered only $140 million
in new money for kindergarten-through-12th-grade schools. Even if all
of that went to the foundation level, ignoring other needs such as early
childhood education, special education and transportation, the foundation
level would rise by just $87.50.
Illinois school districts currently get the bulk of their funding
from real estate taxes based on property values that vary widely throughout
the state, creating canyons of disparity in spending between schools
in wealthy areas and those in less-affluent locales.
The advisory board's initial report in the fall of 2002 called for a
massive income tax increase -- as much as $3 billion -- to fund schools
more fairly and sufficiently. It would be accompanied by a similarly
large property tax rebate.
But Blagojevich has repeatedly said he would veto sales or income tax
increases despite growing pressure from the Legislature.
Jones, a Chicago Democrat, has vowed to make the so-called "tax
swap" a legislative priority. Daley, who also backs the swap, complained
Tuesday that Blagojevich's school-spending blueprint didn't go far enough.
With so little time to produce a report, del Valle fears the new board
will be too reliant on staff from the Illinois State Board of Education,
over which Blagojevich now holds considerable sway, thanks to legislation
passed last year that allowed him to name a majority of the members.
Even so, "I'll take that over nothing," del Valle said.
TOP OF PAGE
New law could hit school districts hard
'Unfunded mandate' calls for on-site defibrillators
Jennifer Kapiolani Saxton And Elizabeth Donald, Belleville News-Democrat
A new state law requires school districts to buy a defibrillator for
every school -- a cost, for some local districts, of more than $20,000
"They pass bills that look like they're giving us millions, but
in reality they're killing us. You can't argue against them," Belleville
District 118 Superintendent Jim Rosborg said. Rosborg estimates defibrillators
will cost his district $28,000, ranging from $1,200 to $1,800 per unit,
in what he terms an unfunded mandate.
An automated external defibrillator is a device that administers an
electric shock through the chest wall to the heart, according to the
American College of Emergency Physicians. The device has built-in computers
to assess the patient's heart rhythm, to judge whether the defibrillation
is needed and then administer the appropriate level of shock. The user
also is guided by audible or visual prompts.
In January, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the Colleen O'Sullivan law,
an unfunded bill requiring all fitness centers and schools to have an
automated external defibrillator in places where physical activity occurs.
O'Sullivan, former attorney for the House of Representatives, died from
heart complications after exercising at a health club.
According to the law, fitness centers have until July 1, 2006, to be in compliance, while school districts, depending
on their size, have until 2009 to buy a defibrillator for each school
building where physical activity occurs. Locations include swimming
pools, athletic fields, basketball courts, tennis courts and volleyball
Edwardsville Fire Chief J. Brian Wilson said the machines are needed
in all these types of places, especially in an emergency situation when
the department's response time may be 3 to 4 minutes.
"The earlier the (defibrillator) is applied to a patient, the better
their chance of survival," Wilson
During cardiac arrest, a victim has a 5 percent survival rate with the
use of CPR, as compared to a survival rate of between 70 to 87 percent
when a defibrillator is used, Edwardsville firefighter-paramedic Derek
Huber said. The use of both CPR and the defibrillator together increases
the chance for survival in cardiac arrest victims, according to American
Heart Association. The survival rate drops 10 percent for every minute
defibrillation is not used when a person goes into cardiac arrest, according
to the association.
Granite City District 9 hasn't nailed down how it will purchase the
defibrillators for its 10 locations, but Superintendent Ken Perkins
expects the price tag to be anywhere from $15,000 to $22,000.
"It's always nice to do everything you can do for everybody, but
how much of this is education-related?" he said. "At a time
when we're getting hit hard with other things and cutting our budgets
and not getting very much money back from Springfield, I have a problem with that."
Districts have the option of phasing in the devices over four years,
he said, but the school board is nervous about the liability issues
-- if defibrillators are installed at one school and something happens
at another, there could be problems.
Recently, Lt. Governor Pat Quinn initiated Operation Heartsaver, which
creates a 50 percent matching-grant fund to help public schools, public
universities and public park districts purchase defibrillators.
In Edwardsville, donations are being accepted through the city's Mobile
Intensive Care fund for the purchase of defibrillators in public venues.
Wilson said anyone interested in donating can contact the fire
department at 692-7541. -
In O'Fallon Elementary District 90, the defibrillators will be purchased
through a special grant acquired by the O'Fallon police and fire departments,
Superintendent Nancy Gibson said. Gibson witnessed a man saved through
the use of a defibrillator at a nonschool function at O'Fallon High
School after he suffered a heart attack.
"Anytime you host as many people as we do in a public building,
it not only concerns the children but the public in general," she
TOP OF PAGE
Plans would overhaul
Illinois education funding
Proposals call for shift from property to sales, income
By Kelly Youngblood, Pantagraph, 2/25/05
FARMER CITY -- Advocates for shifting the burden of school funding
away from local property taxes toward income and sales taxes said the
move would benefit the economy.
Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability,
and state Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Urbana, offer similar plans for reforming
how Illinois funds its public schools. They spoke Tuesday night at
a school-funding forum at Blue Ridge High
Martire discussed a proposal introduced in the Illinois General assembly
last year as House Bill 750. The bill aims to raise income taxes and
expand sales taxes to reduce the property tax burden and increase state
revenue for education.
Martire has been promoting the plan for more than a year. But, despite
gaining some legislative support, its passage is far from certain because
of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's often-stated pledge to oppose any increase
in the sales or income tax.
Public schools and universities, taxpayers, and the economy would benefit
from the plan, Martire said.
Shifting the tax burden would stimulate businesses by reducing the direct
taxation on them and create a more sound and sustainable tax system,
Martire said. Such tax system would respond to population growth and
economic changes, such as inflation, more readily that a system tied
to property taxes would, for example, he said.
"We've overtaxed businesses. Businesses leave (the state), shrink,
or close their doors," Winkel said.
Martire's proposal would generate an estimated $7.3 billion by:
• Increasing personal income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent.
• Increasing corporate income tax from 4.8 to 8 percent.
• Expanding the sales tax base to include all consumer services.
• Taxing retirement income for incomes above $75,000.
• Reforming corporate taxation.
Martire said the legislation would allow for a 25 percent reduction
in property taxes and make the state of Illinois responsible for 51 percent of the cost of funding education.
In addition, the state-mandated foundation level for school funding
would increase to $6,092 per child.
He also said taxpayers with annual incomes of $52,000 or less would
see no tax increase after the reforms, and some would even see their
Martire stressed the importance of expanding the sales tax base to include
consumer services, such as car and home repairs, health clubs and salons.
"Every state around (Illinois)
taxes consumer services," Martire said.
Winkel discussed his proposed bill, Senate Bill 1484, which also addresses
school funding reform by increasing income taxes.
Similar to House Bill 750, Winkel's proposal calls for an increase in
personal income taxes from 3 percent to 5 percent and an increase in
corporate income taxes from 4.8 to 8 percent, which would generate about
$5.8 billion in revenue.
However, Senate Bill 1484 would not include any sales taxes on services
or taxes on pension plans.
Winkel said taxpayers would see a 33.3 percent reduction in property
taxes with his proposal.
Winkel noted Martire and hewere not adversaries. "I'm just trying
a different approach for political reasons," Winkel said.
The $5.8 billion generated from income taxes would go into an Education
Assistance Fund and would be disbursed in three ways: property tax relief,
raising the foundation level to about $6,000 per student; and higher
TOP OF PAGE
Schools put fun
in ISAT test preparation
Students, parents get tips on how to get ready for the big day
By THERESA CHURCHILL, Decatur Herald & Review, 2/25/05
DECATUR - The Illinois Standards Achievement Tests aren't as
horrible as Tyler Koltveit sometimes imagines.
"They're just bad," said Tyler, 10, a fifth-grader at Enterprise School.
His mother, Kara Sperry of Decatur,
was among dozens of parents who got to see for themselves Thursday during
an ISAT fun night at Enterprise. Part of the fun was visiting the school's computer
lab, where students could amaze their elders by calling up some challenging
"Sometimes, I freeze when I take a test," Sperry said. "I'm
glad they gave us some Web sites so we can go home and practice."
Enterprise's event was one of several ways Decatur schools are preparing
for next month's Illinois Standards Achievement Tests, which will measure
third-, fifth- and eighth-graders in reading and math and fourth- and
seventh-graders in science.
How well students do in reading and math also determines whether schools
make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind
Act and escape penalties that range from offering students the option
to attend another school to changing the school's administration or
Project Success is providing funding for ISAT nights at Muffley, Durfee
and Franklin schools, as well as Enterprise, but other schools have also scheduled test-preparation
activities. Among them are Johns Hill Magnet
which focused on the extended response portions of the math and reading
tests, and South Shores School, which seasoned a recent bingo night/chili supper with
sample test questions.
"We've done bingo before, but never with ISAT," said Principal
Linda Zinn. "It was a fun way to get parents involved."
Involving parents helps them get their children ready to do their best
on test days, said Leslie Dunkak, family activities coordinator for
"If parents see what their children are going through, they're
more likely to get their kids to bed early the night before, make sure
they have a good breakfast and encourage them," she said.
Other testing tips offered during one of four "classes" parents
and students attended Thursday night at Enterprise included making sure children are dressed comfortably
and arrive at school on time. Parents also were exposed to strategies
for scoring higher on math and reading tests.
On math story problems, fifth-grade teacher Kathy Harris said students
must not forget to clearly indicate their answer in the midst of writing
about how they got there. On the reading test, third-grade teacher Kristina
Sommer recommended students do the extended response question before
the multiple choice and that they read that question before they read
Parents were also asked to do some writing of their own - in the form
of a "good luck" note that will be placed on their child's
desk the first day of testing.
While enjoying pizza with their children to conclude the evening, more
than one parent said they hadn't realized beforehand how important the
Illinois Standards Achievement Tests are. Others continued to marvel
at the trickiness of the questions.
"These tests were developed with very high standards," said
Doug Blakey, whose 9-year-old son, Philip, will be taking the science
test with other fourth-graders. "These kids are learning a lot
more than I learned when I was in school."
TOP OF PAGE
Program helping educators communicate with hearing impaired students
in mainstream classes.
BY PHIL ROCKROHR, Northwest
Indiana Times Correspondent,
CALUMET CITY, Twelve students in the Exceptional Children Have Opportunities
special education cooperative are deaf or hard of hearing.
Because many of those students attend mainstream classes in Thornton
Fractional Township High School District 215, teachers there asked ECHO
to help them learn sign language to improve communication with the students.
Every Wednesday starting last fall, teachers, aides and two hearing-abled
students have gathered at Thornton Fractional Center for Academics and Technology to learn how to sign.
"One student has a deaf or hard-of-hearing sister who knows sign
language in English," ECHO teacher Kristina Prete-Stewart said.
"Their mom only speaks Spanish, so he's learning it to teach his
mom, so she can communicate in (English) sign language with his sister."
Twelve students from ECHO begin each day at TF Center, but starting
this year they ride a bus to Thornton Fractional South High
in Lansing to finish each day, Prete-Stewart said.
"They're shuttled over for mainstreaming in regular classrooms,"
she said. "Some are there all day long, some only for math, science
Learning sign language is easy, Prete-Stewart said. Many of the signs
are "common sense" and easy to understand.
"Does it take practice? Of course," she said. "Just like
anything, whatever you put into it is what you're going to get back."
Students build confidence by signing when they get the opportunity,
"You can see teachers approaching students," she said. "That's
really good. The deaf and hard-of-hearing students are just ecstatic.
They're also a little nervous because their teacher knows what they're
The first session, which ended Wednesday, was so popular that Prete-Stewart
was forced to cap enrollment at 25, leaving some on a waiting list.
The second session starts in two weeks.
Eventually, Prete-Stewart hopes to get deaf and hard-of-hearing students
to teach the class, in particular to hearing students.
"Because then that gives students the opportunity to use the same
communication," she said. "This helps deaf and hard-of-hearing
students develop solid relations with their peers. It creates a positive
environment for hearing students. It exposes them to another culture."
TOP OF PAGE
boost for pensions needs retiring
By Decatur Herald & Review Editorial Staff, 2/24/05
The outcome of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's pension reform efforts remain
to be seen.
But one accomplishment is that he's brought to light an unseemly practice
taxpayers should demand be stopped.
Included in a series of pension reform ideas, Blagojevich is proposing
putting a 3 percent cap on end-of-career pay raises for public employees.
What's come to light is how the system currently works, particularly
in school districts.
Apparently, many districts have a practice where teachers and administrators
receive hefty pay raises at the end of their careers, thus boosting
Currently, school districts can increase end-of-career payments by 20
percent each year for four consecutive years. That means a district
employee receiving $40,000 in pay could be receiving more than $80,000
by retirement time. But the pay increase is just the tip of the iceberg.
Since an employee's pension is determined by their highest earning years,
this increases the pension dramatically.
These pay raises aren't given because teachers or administrators are
taking on extra work or because they excel in the classroom. That isn't
a consideration. These pay raises are a gift - a gift that keeps on
giving as long as the person draws a pension. It beats a gold watch
by a long shot and is all at taxpayers' expense.
To get the problem under control, Blagojevich proposed the 3 percent
cap on these end-of-career increases. While any end-of-career pay raise
is unfair, we understand the governor is trying to get things under
Joe Bauman, executive director of the state's Teacher Retirement System,
said this week that Blagojevich's proposal could pass on costs to local
school districts. He said 82 percent of the state's districts have such
incentives written into their union contracts, and school districts
would be obligated to pay them.
Think about that for a moment. School districts and teachers unions
have negotiated and agreed to end-of-career pay raises that are used
solely to inflate an employee's pension. And we taxpayers are picking
up the bill. Talk about your unfunded mandates.
State Rep. Robert Molaro, D-Chicago, said the state is trying to put
an end to this practice. "You can't inflate your salary for pension
purposes only," Molaro said. "You want to be a coach, if you
want to be an administrator, God bless you. If you take on extra duties,
you are entitled to a raise."
He's right, of course. There's no logical reason for an end-of-career
pay raise unless extra duties are involved. Boosting pay just to increase
a person's pension is wrong in any number of ways, starting with that
it's basically dishonest.
The governor may have to compromise and allow current contracts to expire
before he can put a cap on this practice. But this practice should be
stopped as soon as possible.
TOP OF PAGE
Put gloves away,
child not contagious
Peoria Journal Star Editorial, 2/25/04
Once upon a time in America, it was believed that a fever could be cured
by a good blood-letting, that illness in general was a punishment from
God, that plagues were spread by poisonous clouds. Maybe we haven't
come so far, after all.
Indeed, after reading the story about seven-year-old Dakota Peak, a student in the Midwest Central School
in Manito, one does wonder. For some weird reason, a bus monitor who
was assigned to Dakota felt it necessary to wear latex gloves in his
presence. Dakota has Down Syndrome.
While there are sometimes legitimate reasons for school personnel to
protect themselves - for example, when blood is spilled, or students
exhibit flu symptoms, or maybe a child is a biter - neither school district
nor bus company (First Student Transportation) officials have given
a satisfactory explanation for their policy in regards to Dakota. School
Superintendent Jerry Meyer said state and federal laws regarding the
privacy of student records prevent him from saying much. "We're
doing the best that we can to balance the rights of the student and
his mother and the rights of the employee, and that's about all that
I can say," he said.
All we can say, then, is that storks don't deliver babies, and you can't
catch Down Syndrome because it's not contagious. We would certainly
hope that no 21st century school district would be guilty of such medieval
thinking. If it really is the Down Syndrome that prompted the wearing
of gloves in this situation, both school and transportation officials
should cease and desist and issue an apology to the Peak family.
Beyond that, why would it take two years for this parent to get a bus
monitor? Why is it even the parent's responsibility to do that? Bus
drivers are busy driving. Wouldn't you want a monitor no matter who
was on board?
TOP OF PAGE
part of NCLB law
By CLAUDETTE RILEY, The Tennessean Staff Writer, 2/21/05
If some school board members get their way, fewer Tennessee parents would have the option of yanking their kids
out of failing public schools and having them bused to better ones.
They recently traveled to Washington
to persuade Tennessee members of Congress to work to loosen the grip of the
federal No Child Left Behind law, which forces districts to pick up
the busing tab for any kid who wants to flee a school that isn't making
The law is relatively new, and few struggling schools in Metro — or
elsewhere in Tennessee — have been forced to take the drastic step of
notifying every parent of their transfer right and then paying to bus
any student who opts to go to a better-performing school.
''It could have just potentially wreaked havoc on a number of schools,''
said Pam Garrett, president of Metro's school board.
Garrett was one of 24 school board members belonging to the Tennessee
School Board Association who met with Tennessee members of Congress or their aides, including Sens.
Bill Frist and Lamar Alexander and Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Jim Cooper,
during a federal relations conference put on by the National School
The group may have reason to be optimistic. Recently, new U.S. Education
Secretary Margaret Spellings has relaxed some portions of the law and
signaled that she may be more flexible than her predecessor.
Tennessee school board members said members of Congress listened
but didn't give them any hope that the entire law would be overhauled
before it's scheduled to go before Congress for reauthorization.
''We weren't given any reason to be hopeful that they would change anything
before 2007,'' Garrett said.
NCLB requires each school to make progress in reading and math each
year and in a variety of subgroups including special education, low
income, new immigrants and five ethnic groups. If any subgroup fails
to make the grade or test enough students, the school gets put on notice,
and if it fails to get better, the transfer option kicks in.
The delegation expressed frustration that the transfer opportunity is
offered to all students even if just one or two subgroups stumbled.
They want the law changed so that only those subgroups would get the
chance to go to a better-performing school.
Each district has to set aside part of its Title I funding — federal
dollars earmarked to help educate children from low-income families
— to pay for the busing.
''We're sending a message to all the parents and all the students in
the school that somehow that school is failing every child,'' said Stephen
Smith, director of governmental relations for Tennessee School Board
Association. ''It just doesn't make sense that we would use those funds
to transport students who are doing well to another school.''
Regina Crockett, a Cordova, Tenn., parent with a child in special education,
said that struggling schools might use the change — if it's approved
— to push out kids who aren't doing well.
''If they're sent to another school, it doesn't mean that school is
going to be much better,'' she said. ''You're going to have certain
subgroups sort of pushed out.''
But she's not happy with the system now.
''It's ridiculous because you're spending a lot of money to take the
kids and bus them out,'' she said.
''They need to get the funds into the school before they're penalized.''
David Flynn, principal of the 300-student Westside Elementary in Macon County, said that schools work hard to help every child.
He said giving the transfer option to every student — regardless of
how they're doing academically — doesn't make sense.
''I don't think you should have to mass-blanket notify everyone,'' Flynn
said. ''It's negative, it's backward steps for the school.''
Michael Brittner, 17, a senior at Stewart County High
''I don't see why it should be for all students. If students are doing
fine where they're at, I don't see why they should change. If they're
failing, I can see it.''
Changing the law
About 20 Tennessee school board members recently traveled to Washington to lobby for changes to the federal No Child Left Behind
law. The law requires all schools to make progress — overall and in
multiple student subgroups — every year. If they don't, they face an
escalating ladder of sanctions that could end in state takeover.
In meetings with lawmakers representing Tennessee, the group focused on these three priorities:
• Allow states, such as Tennessee,
that have the proper assessments in place to use value-added or gain
scores, which measure the academic improvement of students from year
to year, to show that they're making enough progress.
• Limit school choice options to just those students in subgroups —
such as low income or special education — that fail to make enough progress
for two or more years. Schools that aren't making progress now must
give every child the option of transferring to better-performing schools
and provide busing to those who opt to go.
• Only apply sanctions to schools or school districts when the same
subgroup of students fails to make enough progress for multiple years
in the same subject.
TOP OF PAGE
By Theodore R. Sizer, founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools
and instructor at Harvard and Brandeis Universities, Boston Globe, 2/20/05
The official Desktop Reference to the 600-plus-page No Child Left Behind
Act of 2001 tells us that the Act ''represents a sweeping overhaul of
federal efforts to support elementary and secondary education in the
United States'' and asserts that the Act's provisions represent ''a
landmark in education reform designed to improve student achievement
and change the culture of America's schools.''
The target of the federal government's concern is proper. There is truth
in the charge that public education is ineffective as currently pursued.
Too many of our schools, stuck in practices going back almost one hundred
years, have failed all too many children, especially those of the poor.
We ''deliver'' our programs; if the kids do not learn, it must be their
fault. Not surprisingly, students in wealthier districts ultimately
perform better than their urban and rural counterparts: Their schools
are better financed; the youngsters get much of their education beyond
their school buildings; and, given their wealth, families can move into
districts that have richer programs, smaller classes, and staff and
While NCLB aims to better the opportunities for the children of needy
Americans, its provisions remain extensions of the existing bureaucratic
system. Along with the compensatory money, it adds to the burdens on
schools and families. Worst of all, it is astonishingly unimaginative.
There is no hint that there may be a better, more interesting way to
school our young citizens within a community's public schools. Inconveniently,
no two children and no two schools are ever quite alike. There is no
obvious quick fix. A mix of state, school-level, and strong parental
influence needs to be braided together.
Few Americans can responsibly disagree with the ends. The rub is in
the means, especially for middle and high schools. How can Americans
assure all families that their children have access to effective public
schools? And just how do we measure whether a school is succeeding?
NCLB and many of its state counterparts, like Massachusetts' own Education
Reform Act of 1993, answer these questions primarily with increased
top-down regulation that leads to standardized practices imposed on
populations that are not themselves standardized; and with assessments
that sharply narrow the goal of a serious education to the ability to
pass common standardized tests at a prescribed level. Not surprisingly,
there has been a howl of legitimate protest-and a dramatic private-sector
increase of test-prep activity.
The system is stuck. If poor children are to benefit from public schooling,
something has to give. However, it does not necessarily follow that
higher government has to take an ever-increasing role. On the contrary,
more power at the lowest level-that of families and individual schools-might
break the logjam.
What if government were to give warrants-commonly called tuition vouchers-to
families, each scaled to the financial needs of the family, to cash
in at a public school of their choice? If a family lived in a thinly
populated area served by a single public school, that school would receive
this added money. In any and all cases, the receiving school would decide
how that money will be deployed.
''Privatization!'' many critics cry. ''The end of public education!
This cannot be a progressive idea!'' Ironically, in fact, it is just
There is a clear precedent here: the so-called GI Bill of Rights program
created after the Second World War to assist men and women leaving active
military duty to pay for their college or technical training. It continues
to this day. The money, in the form of a warrant, goes to the veteran.
He or she takes it to the publicly accredited institution of his or
her choice. It is used to cover all or much of the tuition cost charged
by that institution. Everyone wins, including the American people: Its
educated workforce expands.
Paradoxically, many progressives (as well as the guardians of the bureaucracies)
have been hostile to the idea of applying this logic to the primary
and secondary education system since it was first introduced nationally
in the late 1960s as a ''Poor Children's Bill of Rights'' (a recommendation
of a task force on cities appointed by President Johnson, of which I
was a member and for which I shaped the education policy).
''Poor parents don't know what their kids need,'' the critics within
the system say. ''Poor parents do not have the time to make sound decisions.
We know best. If there is to be more money coming into public education,
we must control it.'' What's more, they curiously argue that the analogy
to the GI Bill is faulty: Choices by the twentysomethings leaving the
military and choosing colleges and trade schools, they claim, are more
likely to be sounder than those made by twentysomething parents on behalf
of their children, especially those who happen to be poor and who may
not speak much English.
But the idea of a Poor Children's Bill of Rights is that choice among
public schools could create an incentive for each school to be sensitive
to the needs and expectations of its constituency. Americans have seen
the good effect of this policy in big cities among enterprises such
as the Pilot schools within the Boston School Committee's and Boston
Teachers Union's contract and in the now citywide small-school choice
programs in New York that had their origins in East Harlem during the 1980s.
Of course, government could allow for school choice and still control
some of the crucial aspects of schooling by means of curriculum frameworks
and high-stakes assessments-as has happened in many states. True ''choice,''
however, implies responsible variety. And yet most systems continue
the well-intentioned but indefensible practice (as a matter of serious
research) of ranking students, schools, and states on the basis of student
scores on a few highly circumscribed standardized tests. States generally
demand strict adherence to the familiar school routines of age grading
(which defy common sense as any parent of two or more offspring knows),
of sharp distinctions between and among subject matters (which fail
to reflect the way that most citizens actually think in the real world),
and of overloading the schools with so many duties beyond academic learning
(from counseling to recreation to arrangements for students with special
needs) that they must struggle to do any one of them well.
All that granted, if the federal government gave its sanction and some
financial support to the primary consumers of free schooling-the affected
families-it would give leverage to a more democratic, more progressive,
system of public schools than that reflected by the status quo.
A truly public-sector Poor Children's Bill of Rights, given supportive
conditions, would be an expression of democracy: It would push authority
down the political hierarchy. It would authorize to the greatest possible
extent legitimate choices among reasonably varied public schools. It
could help to attract professionals who want to shape their work places,
to have authority, and it could hold these precious folk within the
system. It would allow room for schools to progress, to change, to alter
their routines as times and communities change. (Some voucher proposals,
however, set the cash levels so low that they provide no incentive whatever
save, ultimately, for certain non-public schools, thereby becoming a
means for funneling moneys primarily into the private religious and
I know from long experience that this idea provokes instant and furious
opposition from almost every quarter. I also have learned to be warmed
by all that heat: It suggests that the idea hits vulnerable nerves.
It is a shame that NCLB is the extension, indeed the expansion, of the
existing bureaucratic system, now stiffened with imposed rewards and
punishments. Americans deserve better.
TOP OF PAGE
2 measures critical of Bush's program are heading to the Senate
By Stephen Speckman and Jennifer Toomer-Cook, Deseret Morning News, 2/20/05
A bill and a resolution viewed as knocking President Bush's signature
education program are headed to full Senate debate this week.
HJR3, sponsored by Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, and HB135, sponsored
by Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, put Utah's education priorities above the federal No Child Left
Behind Act. Both have gotten unanimous support in the House and unanimous
committee approval in the Senate.
The measures have garnered national attention — and apparently turned
heads in Washington, D.C.
Holdaway calls his HJR3 a message bill about federal intrusion on states'
rights to oversee public education.
"It's not a federal role," Holdaway said.
HJR3 is the "culmination" of Holdaway's work for the past
year with a National Conference of State Legislators task force, which
is expected to release a report on NCLB Wednesday.
Holdaway and committee members agreed that the Utah Performance Assessment
System for Students (U-PASS), a program requiring multiple tests and
public reports to hold schools accountable for student achievement,
fulfills the "spirit" of NCLB.
NCLB aims to have, by 2014, all kids reading and doing math well. Critics
say the goal is laudable but dislike its inflexibility and one-size-fits-all
Friday's approval of HJR3 is part of what State Superintendent of Public
Instruction Patti Harrington called a "full court press" on
getting federal officials to see public education Utah's way.
The risk is that Utah stands to lose about $107 million, 7 percent of its
public education budget, if it doesn't comply with NCLB. Harrington
assured committee members that if it came down to a "standoff"
with the federal government that Utah would
give in rather than risk losing the funds.
It's a change from last legislative session when lawmakers were considering
a bill that would have meant Utah would
simply opt out of NCLB. Dayton pulled that bill for interim study after federal officials
came to Utah's Capitol Hill and talked about monetary consequences.
Now, she's carrying HB135, which gives Utah education goals priority over NCLB's, particularly when
it comes to state resources and doing what's best for children. Dayton reassured committee members her bill does not jeopardize
federal education funds.
Committee chairman Sen. David Thomas, R-South Weber, said he likes language
in HB135 that he believes would create a "PR nightmare" for
the federal government if it were to pull funds from Utah for its stance on NCLB.
Federal officials appear more willing to work with Utah in its desires to use U-PASS to meet NCLB requirements
and state licensing requirements to meet highly qualified teacher rules.
Even if Utah gets the federal OK, lawmakers still should pass the
bills into law, Harrington said.
"Her bill covers the entirety of No Child Left Behind, indeed the
entirety of federal regulations, and asserts state rights and state
priorities," Harrington said. "Hers is a bill of principle."
TOP OF PAGE
Nebraska Fears Segregation in Schools
By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press Writer, 2/18/05
LINCOLN, Neb. - Dick Eisenhauer is tired of watching white families
take their children out of the schools in his Nebraska district and enroll them in smaller, outlying ones where
there are virtually no poor or Hispanic students.
Like many of Nebraska's school systems, the Lexington district where Eisenhauer is superintendent has seen
an influx of Hispanics, largely because of jobs at the meatpacking plants,
and an accompanying exodus of white students to public elementary schools
just outside town.
And there is nothing Eisenhauer can do about it. Nebraska law allows students to switch schools without giving
"It bothers you when people come into your town and make comments
like `You've got lots of Mexican kids,'" Eisenhauer said. "I
feel distressed if they would opt out for that reason."
The situation in Lexington and elsewhere in Nebraska has caught the attention of the state Legislature, which
is considering a bill to thwart what some say amounts to legal segregation
in the schools.
The proposal would force the outlying elementary-only schools to merge
with larger kindergarten-through-12th-grade districts. That could mean
the closing of the smaller schools.
Beginning in the 1960s, white flight to the suburbs left many big-city
school systems across the country predominantly black. But what is happening
in Nebraska is a different phenomenon: The white families are staying
put; they are just sending their kids to school outside town.
This is possible because Nebraska,
unlike many other states and communities, does not require students
to attend the schools in the district in which they live.
As a result, in Lexington, the in-town schools, with an enrollment of 2,500, have
804 students learning English as a second language, and 1,172 who are
getting a free or reduced-price lunch. The six outlying elementary schools
have about 130 students — none of them English learners, none of them
living in poverty, according to the state Education Department.
The situation is similar in and around the small town of Schuyler, which also has seen an influx of Hispanics in recent
years. There are 250 students there who are learning to speak English;
none of them attend the outlying schools. Of 325 students living in
poverty, all but 18 go to school in town.
At the same time, spending per student in the outlying schools is as
much as twice as high as spending in the Schuyler grade schools. All
public schools in Nebraska are primarily funded with local property taxes and state
aid, which is based in part on enrollment.
Cecilia Huerta, director of the state's Mexican-American Commission,
said other Nebraska communities with large numbers of Hispanics are likely
to have the same situation.
"People in Lexington and Schuyler do not want their kids being polluted by
Latin Americans and Hispanics," Huerta said. "They think they're
not going to get the quality of education if they have a diverse classroom."
Many Hispanics are not aware of what is happening, but if they did "they
would be up in arms," said state Sen. Ray Aguilar, the Legislature's
Chris Dvorak, a white parent who has two children who attend a school
outside Schuyler, said she sent her children there to avoid overcrowding
in town, not to get away from Hispanics. "I would have done the
same thing if they were all white kids," Dvorak said.
There are 45 students enrolled at Dvorak's children's school, compared
with more than 850 at Schuyler Grade
State Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler pointed out that anyone can
attend the outlying schools. "It's not an elite group that gets
to option," he said.
But Aguilar said Hispanic students do not go to the schools outside
of town because in many Hispanic households, both parents work and do
not have cars to take their children to class.
Rosa Valerio, a Hispanic mother whose children both attend school in
Schuyler, said she never considered sending them to schools outside
town because they are too far away.
Some senators are afraid the state will face legal challenges if the
Legislature does not stop the trend toward separate white and Hispanic
"It is unconscionable," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ron
TOP OF PAGE
Kansas attack on evolution began trend
BY JOSH FUNK, The Wichita Eagle, 2/20/05
The debate over how evolution should be taught has reached into nearly
every state since Kansas grappled with it in 1999.
Small-town school boards, state boards of education and legislatures
in 43 states have struggled with the argument that evolution is a flawed
theory that must be tempered with criticism in the classroom.
Most eventually reject that argument, but some -- like the Cobb County,
Ga., school board or the state of Ohio -- endorse some version of it.
Several key factors have helped make challenges to evolution more common:
• A small group of scientists set up shop in 1996 at the Discovery Institute,
a conservative think tank in Seattle
to research and promote intelligent design and encourage criticism of
• The Intelligent Design Network -- based in Johnson County, Kan., and led by John Calvert -- helped spread the arguments
for intelligent design and supported grassroots concern about evolution.
Calvert has also advised states and school districts on evolution policies.
• The terms of the current debate over evolution are based partly on
a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that threw out a Louisiana law mandating equal consideration of creationism and
evolution in schools. The court suggested schools might be able to teach
about alternative theories to evolution if they didn't endorse a particular
theory and if the theory weren't based in religion.
• The No Child Left Behind law, passed in 2002, requires states to give
annual science tests by spring 2008. That forces states to adopt or
revise science standards spelling out what should be taught, creating
more opportunities to debate the subject.
• Local politics foster the debate, particularly when conservatives
control the decision-making body as they do on the Kansas State Board
Over the past year, evolution battles in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Georgia have attracted the most attention.
But the spotlight will be on Kansas over the next several months as the state board completes
its scheduled review of the science standards.
"At this point, I think everybody is waiting to see what our state
board will do and what will happen to the testing and curriculum program,"
said Paul Getto, a policy specialist with the Kansas Association of
The state board revived the debate in Kansas this year as part of a scheduled review of science standards,
rekindling memories of the 1999 debate when the board voted to de-emphasize
evolution in the standards.
Voters elected a moderate majority to the board in 2000, and evolution
was restored to the standards and the Kansas science test.
The standards describe what students are expected to know at each grade
and what they will be tested on. The standards do not control what is
taught because that is a local decision, said Kathy Toelkes, spokeswoman
for the state Department of Education. The incentive to follow state
standards is that the state tests are based on the standards.
Philosophy professor Barbara Forrest, who has written a book on the
intelligent design movement and its tactics, said Kansas' 1999 debate was important because it marked the first
time the Discovery Institute's scientists played an active role and
because it was when the Intelligent Design Network was founded.
"It's not unique at all," said Forrest, who is a proponent
of evolution and a professor at Southeastern Louisiana University. "Kansas was just the first high-profile case. Ohio was the second."
Calvert influenced both Kansas'
and Ohio's science standards.
He joined the 1999 Kansas debate in the middle of the process. He suggested several
changes to remove what he calls the institutional bias in favor of evolution
and to promote critical discussion.
Most of those changes weren't adopted, but Calvert founded the Intelligent
Design Network in September 1999 and started planning public conferences
The network has sponsored five conferences, titled "Darwin, Design and Democracy," since 2000, each time attracting
people from several states.
Six months after the first conference, one of the attendees from Ohio was appointed to the committee writing that state's
science standards and called Calvert for help.
"We migrated to Ohio and worked with them awhile to great result," Calvert
In spring 2002, Ohio's state board adopted standards that expect students
to explain how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze
aspects of evolutionary theory.
A year ago, Ohio's board also approved a model lesson plan to help teachers
explain the shortcomings of evolution.
The Georgia experience
The Intelligent Design Network now has state chapters in New Mexico and Minnesota, and Calvert has advised parents and boards in several
other parts of the country, including Cobb County, Ga.
He said a parent from that district called him in 2002 for advice on
new science textbooks the district was considering.
Calvert told the parent what to look for: explanations that treat evolution
as fact and don't explain what the theory is based on.
The parent gathered about 3,000 signatures. Ultimately the Cobb County board decided to include a disclaimer sticker in new
science texts stating that evolution is a theory and not a fact.
Last month, a federal judge ruled that those stickers had to be removed
because they represented an establishment of religion.
Officials with the Cobb County district are appealing the ruling and declined to comment
on the stickers. As for Kansas, some change in the way state standards describe evolution
is considered likely with conservatives controlling six of the 10 seats
on the State Board of Education.
Several conservative board members have called for more critical analysis
of evolution in the state's classrooms.
They, and Calvert, say teaching students about some of the criticisms
of evolution would only promote open discussion.
But evolution proponents, such as Glenn Branch with the National Center for Science Education, say that represents a clear challenge
to Darwin's theory, which is the only scientific theory critics
There are gaps and problems in a number of scientific theories, Branch
said. That's why scientists keep doing research and experiments.
Even though Branch and Calvert disagree over what some of the terms
of the debate mean, they'll readily agree on one point: The debate isn't
likely to end any time soon.
TOP OF PAGE
looms over state's voucher law
Florida's high court will weigh whether tuition vouchers breach
the church-state separation.
By Leslie Postal, Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer, 2/21/05
The fate of Gov. Jeb Bush's controversial school-voucher law could hinge
on how the Florida Supreme Court interprets a single sentence in the
The 1999 law created the first statewide voucher program in the nation
and allows students at failing public schools to use state scholarships,
or tuition vouchers, to attend private schools, including religious
ones. It has spurred a long fight about public education, separation
of church and state, and religious freedom.
But does the program constitute an expenditure of public money "in
aid of" religious institutions, which the constitution prohibits?
As lawyers file briefs and prepare for oral arguments, which could be
held this spring in Tallahassee, the case of John Ellis "Jeb"
Bush, et al., v. Ruth D. Holmes, et al., is being watched by legal scholars
and school advocates nationwide.
"This is an incredibly important case," said Mark DeForrest,
a professor at Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane, Wash. Florida's
1st District Court of Appeal cited DeForrest's research when it ruled
in November that the voucher law violated the "in aid of"
Florida's case, in DeForrest's view, could end up at the U.S.
Supreme Court, although others think the Florida Supreme Court will
have final say.
Whatever happens, Florida's case will get "major league" attention,
DeForrest said, because it falls into a "broader argument about
how government should treat religious entities."
The case applies only to the state's smallest voucher program, known
as "opportunity scholarships." Still, some think the court
decision could affect the other two voucher programs, the Bright Futures
college scholarships and the pre-kindergarten program, because they
also let state money be used at private, religious schools.
The voucher law was the centerpiece of Bush's education reforms. Advocates
said it would offer parents with little money an option to get their
children out of failing public schools.
"I think it's been a wonderful opportunity for them," said
Yvonne Toro, principal of St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, which has two voucher students.
The law was challenged in court the day after the Legislature approved
it. Those who sued, including the Florida PTA, the teachers union and
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, argued
it would hurt public education.
"I don't think the public wants public dollars going to private
schools," said Ruth Holmes, a retired teacher from Escambia County who joined the suit.
Judges have let the program continue while the court fight proceeds.
This year, 710 students, including 73 in Orange County, are using vouchers to attend private schools, according
to state and local officials. Nearly 60 percent of those schools are
Students are eligible for the vouchers if their public school earned
two F's in four years on Florida's annual school report card. Last year, 21 public schools
fell into that category, including Evans, Jones and Oak Ridge high schools in Orange County and a charter school in Polk County. No Polk students opted for vouchers.
Mollie Ray Elementary in Orlando
was the region's first double-F school in 2002. Mollie Ray has since
improved to a B, but students who took the vouchers three years ago
still are eligible for them.
Rosanie Vilbrun's son Christomane is one of them. He is in second grade
at Academie Chretienne Haitienne d'Orlando, a Christian-based school
for students of Haitian background. That is fine with Vilbrun.
"I am a Christian," she said
The voucher is worth what the state pays to educate a child at public
school. In kindergarten to third grade, for example, private schools
get $3,400 to $4,000 a year.
Ohio made vouchers a hot and divisive topic with the launch
of Cleveland's program in 1995.
Now, eight other states and Washington, D.C., have voucher programs or similar tax-credit or refund
programs to pay for private education, though most are not statewide,
according to the Education Commission of the States.
Colorado adopted a statewide voucher plan in 2003, but it was
put on hold after a state court declared it violated that state's constitution.
Besides Florida, programs in at least two other states, Arizona and Maine, are in court, according to the Institute for Justice,
which represents voucher advocates.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Cleveland program in 2002, ruling vouchers were constitutional,
even if they paid for education at religious schools.
But Florida's Constitution contains more specific language than
the federal one about aid to religion. The state's justices will focus
on the last sentence of Article 1, Section 3, which forbids taxpayer
money going "directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect,
religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."
According to some historians, that provision, made part of the document
in 1885, is rooted in bigotry. They argue it wasn't meant to separate
church and state -- Protestant teachings were common then in public
schools -- but to keep out the religions of immigrants, particularly
The provision is called a Blaine
amendment, named after U.S. Sen. James Blaine of Maine, who tried to add such language to the U.S. Constitution
in 1875. He failed, but about 30 states adopted similar amendments.
Some legal experts and religious-rights groups think the amendment itself
violates the U.S. Constitution by letting states discriminate against
religion or religious beliefs. Some state leaders have suggested the
amendment be removed from the state constitution.
For voucher opponents, and Florida's
lower courts, however, the provision's history doesn't alter its meaning
because voters approved it in 1968 as part of the modern revision of
the Florida Constitution.
To Ron Meyer, lead attorney for the voucher opponents, that proves "the
people of the state of Florida
have concluded they shouldn't spend general-revenue funds in supporting
Voucher students who enroll in religious schools cannot be compelled
to pray. But they can be expected to take part in religious teachings
and practices. Gov. Bush thinks that's OK because the choice of sending
a child to such a school is up to parents.
Laura Underkuffler, a law professor at Duke University, disagrees, saying the program is bad public policy
because it forces taxpayers to pay for religious teachings with which
they might disagree.
The program, she said, essentially "launders public money through
parent choice" to religious schools.
TOP OF PAGE
In Third Grade,
the Pressure to Perform Is On
Students Pushed To Read, Get Ready for Tests
By Jay Mathews, Washington Post Staff Writer, 2/22/05
One in an occasional series about the grades that provide the building
blocks of a child's education
Journalists almost never know as much as the people they cover. But
one day while watching a frustrated third-grade boy struggle over a
reading passage, education reporter and columnist Mike Bowler noticed
something the boy's teacher and aide had not: The boy had an obscure
reading disability, a failure to distinguish similar-sounding consonants,
which affected his academic achievement and his behavior .
Bowler recognized the problem because he and several other staff members
from the newspaper he worked for at the time, the Baltimore Sun, had immersed themselves in a project called "Reading by 9." For more than four years beginning in 1997,
the paper dedicated itself to helping its readers understand how children
learn to decode words on a page and emphasized repeatedly that if they
didn't do so by age 9, their futures were in jeopardy.
The stories, tutoring by employees of the newspaper and other activities
-- including nearly 200 columns written by Bowler -- were a testament
to the importance everyone involved in education has been putting on
third grade. Research shows that elementary school children who cannot
read proficiently by that point are liable to struggle academically
for the rest of their school days and lives.
The project, since duplicated at several other newspapers, remains controversial
among journalists. Some editors and reporters say newspapers should
inform readers, not try to change the world. But many education leaders
say everyone has a stake in teaching reading.
"If you don't," said U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings
in a recent interview with The Washington Post, "you aren't going
to have anybody who can read your newspaper."
These days, everything starts with third grade. It is the first year
in which states test students in reading and math under the No Child
Left Behind law. Many schools have reorganized to make sure those 8-
and 9-year-olds get all the attention they need.
At Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy, a public elementary school in Alexandria, for instance, the 49 third-graders have been reshuffled
into three different but fluid reading groups -- upper, middle and lower
-- for two hours of language arts each afternoon. Each of the three
third-grade teachers -- Stefan Fisher, Rebecca Kelley and Sandy Sandoz
-- takes a group, including students they do not teach regularly. This
is a sharp departure from one teacher handling different reading groups
in a single class, but the results have been good.
Last year, 83 percent of Lyles-Crouch third-graders passed the state
reading test, at a school where 31 percent of the families have incomes
low enough to qualify for federal lunch subsidies. The principal, reading
expert Patricia Zissios, came from Fairfax County, where the slogan was "Success by 8," an even
more ambitious goal than the Sun's "Reading by 9."
One afternoon last week in Fisher's reading group in Room 213, 16 students
were jotting down ideas for persuasive essays on whether they should
be required to wear their uniforms, which are white tops and dark bottoms.
Fisher chuckled at one student's thought: The school should get rid
of uniforms, the boy said, "so you don't get people mixed up."
While most students worked on their essays, Fisher convened in a corner
a group of six to take turns reading Roald Dahl's "George's Marvelous
"If you have your journal, and you don't understand something,
then it's time to write that down," Fisher said. He looked at the
page before them and pretended ignorance to nudge them along. "Because
I have to tell you I don't understand what 'thrush' means," he
There is no national test result figure for third-grade reading progress
because each state sets its own standards.
But Virginia and Maryland have data that show their schools are doing well. The
portion of Maryland third-graders who scored proficient or advanced on the
Maryland School Assessment reading test went from 58.1 percent in 2003
to 71 percent in 2004. The portion of third-graders who scored proficient
or advanced on Virginia's Standards of Learning English test was 72 percent
in 2003 and 71 percent in 2004.
Eight years ago, when Times Mirror Co. Chairman Mark Willes asked the
Sun's then-Executive Editor John S. Carroll to come up with a project
that would have a positive effect on society, passing rates on state
reading tests were often lower, and such cities as Baltimore, where
the newspaper is based, were in terrible shape.
Carroll, now editor of the Los Angeles Times, said his wife, Lee, then
was working with a foundation trying to improve the city's schools.
He said she came home with "astounding anecdotes," such as
one about a Baltimore elementary school where "not a single third-grader
. . . could read at grade level."
So Carroll decided the Sun's project would be Reading by 9. "A
problem with newspapers' coverage of education is that there are so
many issues -- quality of instruction, physical safety, busing, union
controversies, etc.," he said. "If you try to cover them all,
you'll have no impact. Whether kids are reading by third grade is like
a vital sign of a school system -- is the patient breathing?"
At first, Bowler was not impressed with the idea. He said he thought
"we would never sustain interest in the topic, and it would bore
. . . me."
But he began to think of how important and exciting third grade had
been for him when he plowed through books recommended by an 11-year-old
friend in Helena, Mont. Along with Howard Libit, Robert Benjamin and
other newspaper colleagues, he dove into the research and began looking
for good reading programs, gaining an appreciation of the power of phonics
-- the study of letters and the sounds they make.
"In Oakland, Calif., I watched kids learning to read in a school where no
English was spoken," he said in his last "Reading by 9" column in 2002. "In the West Texas town of El
observed children learning to read in three languages simultaneously."
He consulted with such experts as Kathy Volk, now Maryland state coordinator of reading and English language arts.
She said by the end of third grade, students "should be able to
communicate in writing to express their own ideas -- beyond the word,
sentence and paragraph level -- in short essay form."
Now retired from the newspaper, Bowler works for the Institute of Education Sciences, an independent federal body that oversees research
and evaluation. Reading scores in Baltimore have not risen as much as he had hoped, he said, but
Reading by 9 "did do one thing of which I'm proud: It got reading
off the back burner in Maryland."
TOP OF PAGE
Snacks slim down
in Phila. schools
By Marian Uhlman, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer, 2/22/05
Call it the quiet diet.
Without fanfare, snacks sold in Philadelphia schools have started meeting strict new nutrition standards
for fat, sugar and sodium.
The standards, implemented on a trial basis this academic year, are
considered by some experts to be among the most rigorous in the nation's
public schools. Hundreds of snacks have been axed from the district's
list of approved items, leaving slimmed-down cookies, chips and pastries,
according to district food-service officials. A serving of homemade
chocolate-chip cookies has plummeted from 492 to 164 calories.
Students do not seem to mind. Candy Dorzon, a fifth grader at Stephen Decatur School in the Parkwood Manor section of the Northeast, said
the change had barely registered with her friends. "It still tastes
the same," she said of the baked chips that replaced the fattier
The effort places Philadelphia schools "among the front-runners in the pack of
those implementing healthy snack standards," said Jessica Donze
Black, manager of national nutrition policy for the American Dietetic
Allison Topper, executive director of Pennsylvania Advocates for Nutrition
and Physical Activity, said Philadelphia had become the model in the state in developing its snack and beverage
standards. "Nothing rivals and matches Philadelphia," she said.
In the last year, efforts to shape up schools' nutritional standards
have intensified across the nation as concerns have mounted about the
16 percent of school-age children who are obese, a figure that has climbed
by 45 percent in the last decade. The nutritional trailblazers - including
and Washington, D.C. - are reducing snack portions by setting ceilings for
calories, total weight, the amount of specific ingredients, or some
"The policies are a great start, but not the end point," said
Margo Wootan, nutrition-policy director for the Center for Science in
the Public Interest. "I haven't seen a school system with the ideal
nutrition environment for children. A number of school districts are
on the road to that."
The obesity epidemic needs to be tackled on multiple fronts, experts
say. Efforts also need to extend beyond the school wall to ensure that
children have access to healthy food and ample exercise.
New law requires policies
All school districts will be pressured to evaluate their food by July
2006 to comply with a new federal law that requires them to develop
local wellness policies - including establishing nutrition standards.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education is expected to release nutrition
guidelines next month to help districts develop their wellness policies,
according to a department spokesperson.
New Jersey has already developed a proposed nutrition model - which
includes limits on sugar and fat - that could serve as a foundation
for school wellness policies, said Janet Renk, assistant coordinator
for school nutrition programs at the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
Wayne Grasela, Philadelphia food-service director, said the division was seriously
considering whether to take the next step: cutting out snack foods entirely.
"From an operational perspective, it takes us away from our core
mission of serving wholesome, nutritious breakfast and lunch,"
Students can buy snacks at mealtime and in vending machines. Schools
nationwide have used snacks as revenue generators, and children often
eat them to replace their school meals.
Sweetened drinks banned
The Philadelphia snack standards followed a decision by the district's
School Reform Commission last winter to ban sodas, iced teas, and other
sweetened drinks from vending machines and cafeterias. The beverage
policy and new snack standards went into effect in the fall.
The snack standards, which grew out of years of work by a Philadelphia-based
committee of nutrition professionals, require formal approval by the
School Reform Commission before they can become official policy.
Wendy Shapiro, principal at Jules Mastbaum Area Vocational Technical School in Kensington, said she had not gotten much reaction,
positive or negative, about the new standards.
"We seem to have less litter on the ground these days," she
said. "I don't know if they are shying away from eating snacks.
"The fact is, the kids are eating fruit because they don't have
the option of eating candy."
Brandon Acevedo, a fourth grader at Decatur, said that the snack line offered a mix of healthy (fruit)
and not-so-healthy (chips and pretzels) snacks, but that the line was
not all that different. It's just "new junk food," he said.
At Decatur, the snack line contains such items as a 130-calorie
doughnut, 90-calorie nacho cheese chips, an 80-calorie fruit roll-up,
and a 130-calorie marshmallow treat. Gone are the large chocolate-chip
cookies, funnel cakes, and long bread sticks.
Philadelphia's standards limit each serving to no more than 7 grams
of total fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 15 grams of sugar, and 360 milligrams
of sodium. Most items on the Philadelphia list contain fewer than 150 calories.
By comparison, some schools served large bags of potato chips with 30
grams of fat last year, according to Pamela Gallagher, manager of food-service
Wootan, the nutrition advocate, said the Philadelphia standards were "very strong" and addressed
many of the problems in children's diets. Too much saturated fat can
lead to heart disease and high cholesterol. Too much sodium can contribute
to high blood pressure. And too much sugar and fat load children up
"The next step is to provide incentives requirements to add back
things that are missing from diets, like fruits, vegetables and whole
grains," Wootan said.
The district also does not set a limit on how many snacks a child can
purchase, Gallagher said. Fifth grader Candy Dorzon, for instance, said
she bought two on some days.
Philadelphia school officials said they purposely had introduced
the standards quietly to see what effect the changes would have on eating
"We are feeling our way through this," Grasela said. The data
analysis will continue through the school year "so we know where
to target our energies."
Philadelphia's standards have already been used as a model for the
Montgomery County School
"At this stage in the game, these were good standards to go with,"
said Tracy Fox, chairperson of the Montgomery County School Health Council.
"We have some of strongest in the country."
TOP OF PAGE
a growing trend
AP, 2/22/05 005
WHEATON, Maryland -- The freshmen at Wheaton High often seemed lost, overwhelmed
by new faces and classes that felt disconnected. So the school got its
houses in order.
Wheaton gave ninth-graders their own community -- a separate wing of
the high school and teams called "houses," in which about
100 students share classes and teachers all year.
Now, in a building of 1,470 students, class sizes for freshmen rarely
go above 20 students in the core subjects. Teachers of English, math,
science and social studies meet regularly to coordinate their lessons
and to figure out how to help struggling students.
Since this Ninth Grade Academy began three years ago, the school has seen freshman
attendance improve, advancement to the sophomore year rise, and classroom
"The students are very focused, and calmer than most ninth-graders
I've seen," said assistant principal Virginia de los Santos. "I've seen students turn themselves around."
Wheaton's experiment with the school-within-a-school idea is
part of a trend that keeps growing in popularity more than 30 years
after it first emerged. Roughly 3,000 academies exist in different forms
across the country, an example of how U.S. school leaders are trying to make high schools more
meaningful -- a mission that's suddenly a national priority.
President Bush has put high schools at the top of his second-term education
agenda, and the nation's governors will meet in Washington this weekend to map out high school solutions.
The urgency comes as pressure builds from all sides: colleges that know
students need remedial writing and math, employers who can't find enough
skilled workers, international comparisons that show U.S. students are losing ground to peers in competing nations.
Compared with elementary and middle schools, high schools are harder
to change, educators say. Older students confront social and academic
pressures that lead many to drop out, and teachers work in departments,
rarely an inducement to teamwork.
The size of high schools also makes it tough to turn them around. Almost
half of high school students attend a school with more than 1,500 children,
the federal government says.
That's why leaders are trying to go small.
At Wheaton, a culturally diverse school in the Washington suburbs, teachers began by shrinking the environment
in the pivotal freshman year.
"The students are mainly the same in a lot of my classes, so it's
so much more comfortable," said Karen Smith, a 14-year-old freshman.
"It's easier to talk freely and to understand it all, because it's
easier to be with people you know."
Students also know their classes are linked by more than a bell ring
In Scott Bayer's English class, freshmen are reading about Japanese-American
internment camps during World War II. His lesson connects to a science
class on technology advances during the war and a math class that uses
prisoner totals for lessons on mean, median and mode. Every freshman
unit has such an interdisciplinary project, and bigger ones are planned.
"We wanted to start where we were losing kids," said Wheaton principal George Arlotto. "The kids are coming
into the big, cold high school, and we wanted to warm that up."
The school went further this year, launching career academies in engineering,
information technology, and biosciences and medicine. Students sign
up for a high-school sequence of courses if those fields interest them,
then get access to mentors, field trips and internships. The academies
are part of a five-high school consortium that lets students choose
which high school they want based on their career interests. Students
are given bus transportation to get to their school of choice.
"This isn't about taking 50, 100, 200 kids and creating an isolated
world for them," said Shauna Brown, a social studies teacher. "It
is about changing the school, and changing the culture of the school
and the community, by providing opportunities. Hopefully, kids will
appreciate what we have to offer. ...Our success will be the school's
Frederick Pubill, a 17-year-old junior, said he and his classmates in
the tech academy often feel as if they have their own school. "It's
a wonderful experience, compared to the classes," he said. "Because
with classes, you just sit there and learn. We are more hands on. We're
actually out there getting the experience that we need to have a profession."
Wheaton seniors have had little contact with the new academies
in their final year of school. Many still took career-themed courses,
but missed out on the small community feel.
"It would have helped me to focus better on what I wanted to study,"
said John Loftus, 17, a senior. "But, I mean, no matter what, you're
learning the same thing in my mind. You're just not getting as personal
with the teachers as the other students do."
Creating a small environment in a big school creates a condition for
success, said Naomi Housman, director of the National High School Alliance.
But restructuring just to go small, she said, "isn't going to make
a difference if you're not focused on the students."
The National Academy Foundation, which oversees the largest network
of career academies in the country, has seen its numbers boom. Over
the last 10 years, the number of NAF academies has grown from 167 to
650. Student enrollment has grown fivefold, to 50,000.
Academies must have at least three traits to work, said foundation president
John Ferrandino: a rigorous college-prep curriculum, a real-world relevance
for students, and a willingness by business leaders to provide support
outside the school, such as mentoring and internships.
At Wheaton, engineering teacher Marcus Lee said the experiment
"The idea is to get the kids interested in what they want to do,
so they take some ownership," Lee said. "Kids have to be exposed
to what's out there in the world -- before they get out there themselves."
TOP OF PAGE
High Court to Hear
Md. Special-Ed Case
Schools Must Prove Adherence to Disabilities Law, Couple's Suit Asserts
By Tim Craig and Miranda S.
Spivack, Washington Post Staff Writers, 2/23/05
The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to hear the case of a Montgomery County couple who contend that school officials, if challenged,
must prove they are meeting their legal obligations to special education
The justices will try to decide whether lower courts should place the
burden of proof on schools or the plaintiff -- presumably the parents
-- when a party sues under the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act. The law requires that public schools grant every disabled child
a "free appropriate special education" tailored to the child's
The case, which has taken a tortuous, seven-year path through the educational
and legal systems, could have a major impact on millions of parents
and their children with special needs. It involves Brian Schaffer, who
in 1997 was a seventh-grader with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
and was attending a private school that offered no special education
When Jocelyn Schaffer, Brian's mother, sought to enroll him at Herbert Hoover Middle
the county offered a specially designed curriculum for Brian called
an Individual Education Program. It called for 15.3 hours of special
education and 45 minutes of speech therapy each week. After the parents
expressed concern about that school's fairly large classes, according
to court filings, the system offered the same individualized program
at Robert Frost Middle
where classes were smaller.
The parents rejected both offers as inadequate and instead enrolled
Brian in the McLean School of Maryland, a private school in Potomac. They subsequently requested a due process hearing, available under the
disabilities act, during which they sought reimbursement for school
An administrative law judge ruled that the Schaffers had to prove that
the school system's plan for their son was lacking. The parents then
filed suit in U.S. District Court, which ruled that the burden of proof
rested with the schools. The case was returned to the administrative
law judge, who ordered the school system to reimburse the parents for
part of their son's private school tuition.
The Montgomery County school system appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the 4th Circuit, which ruled that the burden rests with whatever
party is filing the suit, effectively ruling against the Schaffers,
who appealed to the Supreme Court.
The case is being closely watched by school systems and special education
advocates. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act offers no
clear standard for how such cases should be resolved. Various appellate
courts have come down on different sides of the question.
"We regard this as an important civil rights case," said William
H. Hurd, the Schaffers's attorney. "We believe the implications
are very large."
Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of Montgomery County schools, said the case "demonstrates the overwhelming
litigious nature that has evolved under special education in which school
systems have been presumed at fault until proven otherwise."
Weast said most school districts settle similar cases to avoid litigation.
Montgomery County, which has about 15,000 students enrolled in Individual
Education Programs, is contesting the issue, he said, because "educational
services should be decided in an appropriate way based on the educational
needs of the student, not the whim of a lawyer."
Last year, 26 Montgomery cases were sent to an administrative law judge for mediation,
according to the State Department of Education.
The National School Boards Association, which represents the nation's
15,000 school systems, backs Montgomery's' position that the burden should not rest with the
schools if a parent brings a suit.
"The bottom line is that there are plenty of protections in the
law, and you should follow the general rule that the challenging party
has the burden of proof," said Naomi Gittins a staff attorney for
Attorneys for the Schaffer family argue that it is the school system's
responsibility to prove that it is adhering to federal law.
"This is a case where the school district has an affirmative obligation
to develop a plan for the child," Hurd said. "It ought to
be willing to step up to the plate and explain why it believes it has
met its obligation."
As the case was wending its way to the Supreme Court, the U.S. Department
of Justice under the Clinton administration filed a brief supporting the Schaffers.
Hurd said he was hopeful that the Bush administration would maintain
that position at the high court. Justice Department officials did not
return phone calls yesterday seeking comment.
TOP OF PAGE
Principals Outline Legislative Recommendations for High School Reform
Release from National Association of Secondary School Principals, 2/23/05
RESTON, Va., Feb. 23 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The discussion over reforming and improving
the nation's high schools has quickly heated up. President Bush, in
his recently released FY2006 budget, proposed just over $2 billion for
high school reform. Toward the end of February, the nation's governors
will convene an education summit with the sole purpose of discussing
high school reform.
"This new emphasis on improving high schools is long overdue and
greatly needed," said Gerald N. Tirozzi, NASSP Executive Director.
"There is no question that our nation's high schools need to improve.
There also is no question that high schools will not be able to substantially
improve until policymakers recognize the need to provide adequate resources."
The federal government currently makes the investment at the elementary
level (just over $12 billion alone for Title I in FY2005 with only 5%
of it going to high schools); it's now time to make a significant federal
investment at the high school level as well.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals has outlined
legislative recommendations that focus resources on initiatives that
are greatly needed in order for high schools to improve the academic
outcomes of their students.
NASSP calls for $4.8 billion annually to fund a new high school specific
"While most agree that the mission of high schools is to prepare
the nation's teenagers for postsecondary life, the larger debate when
reforming often comes down to providing schools with the capacity to
improve teaching and learning," said Tirozzi. "NASSP takes
a position that successful high school reform requires a significant
long-term investment for implementing systemic improvement and raising
individual student and school- wide performance levels."
NASSP recommends legislation that (the full recommendations and rationale
can be viewed on our Web site at http://www.principals.org/hsreform
1. Increase academic rigor for all high school students through programs
such as the State Scholars program, Advanced Placement and International
2. Develop Personal Academic and Graduation Plans for each student,
as they enter high school, which correspond to his/her academic and
future employment goals. These personalized plans would rely on diagnostic
assessments and robust data systems- applicable at the school level-for
individual students that reveal each student's academic strengths and
needs upon entrance into high school and serve as indicators of success
and areas in need of improvement as they move from 9th grade toward
graduation. Restructure the federal Smaller Learning Communities program
into a "High School Personalization" program that supports
Personal Academic and Graduation Plans.
3. Expand funding for the Striving Readers program to $1 billion in
order to serve the more than 6 million middle level and high school
students who are not currently able to read or write at grade level
proficiency. Literacy skills (reading and writing) are the foundation
of academic success for every student in every school.
4. Focus on the academic needs of the nation's low-performing high school
students by providing a new and separate funding stream of $3.55 billion
for FY 2006. While high schools educate 28% of the K-12 population,
they receive only 5% of Title I funding under the Elementary & Secondary
Education Act (NCLB). Of the $12.7 billion appropriated in FY2005, approximately
$635 million is being directed to high schools.
5. Develop student growth models, at the state level, that measure individual
student achievement from year to year rather than simply extending NCLB
testing into high schools. Support the use of multiple assessments-that
are aligned with state standards and that include performance-based
measures-to measure academic outcomes. Implement the NAEP Assessment
in the 10th grade (Spring) or 11th grade (Fall) rather than in 12th
grade to get a more accurate assessment on national progress.
6. Build the capacity of principals and other leaders (asst. principal,
teacher and team leaders, and others) to effect meaningful improvement
in their schools by providing a dedicated funding stream of $100 million
for FY 2006 within Title II (professional development) of NCLB.
7. Provide teachers with the subject knowledge and pedagogical skills
they need to be highly qualified professional educators by supporting
pre-service and in-service teacher education programs.
8. Provide technical assistance to all high schools identified as "in
need of improvement" under NCLB.
If these recommendations are fully implemented, NASSP believes the following
outcomes can be expected over time:
Improvements in closing the achievement gap between whites and minorities,
and between high and low-income populations
Increases in the percentage of students passing state exit exams
Increases in the high school graduation rate
Increases in the college going rate
Improvements in NAEP assessment results based on the 10th grade (Spring)
or 11th grade (Fall).
NASSP calls for high school reform legislation that systemically re-cultures
the American high school through collaborative, inclusive leadership
and the strategic use of data, personalized learning that focuses on
the academic needs of students, and increased academic rigor that reflects
the integration of curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
"Significant improvement must be supported by a solid investment
and a long-term commitment on the part of state and federal policymakers,"
stated Tirozzi. "The cost of such efforts may seem high to some,
but it pales in comparison to the human, social and economic costs of
not investing in improving our nation's high schools."
TOP OF PAGE
Behind Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, school officials see a massive
push to privatize education
By BOBBI MURRAY, Los
Angeles City Beat, 2/24/05
When middle school teacher Carl Mumm heard about the Bush administration’s
threatened crackdown on California
public schools, he was hardly fazed. What could Bush’s No Child Left
Behind Act (NCLB) do to kids who have already experienced the worst?
“When you talk with the kids you hear the horror stories,” Mumm says.
His students tell him of family members shot before their eyes, of friends
wounded and killed, and his students themselves shot and stabbed. “They
show me the scars.”
To Mumm, the president of the United States is now trying to punish the poorest school kids – and
those charged with teaching them – just a little bit more.
In January, the Bush administration began a contentious examination
of California’s definition of what constitutes a troubled school under
NCLB and has since suggested that it would potentially cut off funds
for some 314 California school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, if
they do not comply with federal testing standards within two years.
But LAUSD teachers and their students face day-to-day realities that
make test standards imposed by the federal government seem irrelevant.
“NCLB is just a splinter,” Mumm says. Some 76 percent of LAUSD students
come from poverty-level families, with all the two-job, rarely-home
parents, overcrowded housing, and violent neighborhoods those words
The LAUSD Board of Education, however, is preparing for what board chair
David Tokofsky calls “an educational tsunami.” If California school superintendent Jack O’Connell is unable to argue
otherwise with the U.S. Department of Education, California school districts like LAUSD, which have been advancing
in their test scores, will soon lose significant federal funding.
School board members, Superintendent Roy Romer, and a handful of onlookers
pondered the issue at a forum last Thursday where staffers from the
California School Board Association and the Council of Great City Schools
laid out the stakes in a whirl of acronyms and jargon. Under NCLB, schools
are judged by the percentages by which their test scores improve – Annual
Yearly Progress, or AYP. California, where proficiency standards are among the highest in
the nation, uses an “Academic Performance Index” to measure improvement
– API instead of AYP – which allows for advancement at a pace the Bush
administration finds too slow. The federal Department of Education has
threatened sanctions against California districts where student scores in standardized English
and math tests don’t advance swiftly enough two years in a row.
“We end up having about 46 different ways we can fail Annual Yearly
Progress because it has so many different components to it,” Holly Jacobson,
assistant executive director of the California School Board Association,
told the L.A. district officials. There are designated “sub-groups,”
such as special education, which can encompass such academic disadvantages
as hearing impairment, blindness, learning disabilities, or being an
“EL” – English Learner – a district term. Some 41 percent of LAUSD students
come from homes where English is not the primary language. If a single
sub-group falls behind, the district can be considered to be failing.
By contrast, a wealthier school with few special ed. kids or English
Learners has far less opportunity to fail.
School districts placed on a “watch list” could ultimately face sanctions
ranging from loss of funds (federal funds make up $154 million of LAUSD’s
$5.7 billion budget), the sacking of administrators, and even extend
to outside takeover. Just what entity would step in is as yet unclear.
Whether they “would go into church-sponsored or private hands, I don’t
know,” school board member Tokofsky said in an interview after the forum.
We will all find out soon enough. L.A. could be racing the clock by the middle of this school
year, depending on what state school officials are able to work out
with the federal Department of Education. The number of students meeting
federal standards on math and English proficiency tests would have to
increase by a given percentage for two years in a row in order to get
off the list.
If the standards were imposed this school year, the 314 districts would
have two years to meet them or face penalties. And no matter what, NCLB
imposes a deadline of 2014 for all schoolchildren everywhere to be proficient.
“If I’m a new immigrant from Mexico and I come from a rural village where I have limited
schooling, and I come into the United States in 2013 – by definition, in one year, I must be proficient
or advanced in English,” explains Tokofsky. “I don’t think the CIA trains
its guys to learn Arabic that fast.”
Academic standards have been a hot issue in the U.S. for decades, but the Bush administration has finely
honed its ideological edge. The federal Title One program was approved
during the Lyndon Johnson administration to provide educational funds
for impoverished children. The Clinton administration passed the Improving America’s Schools
Act, or IASA, in 1994. Then, NCLB, signed into law in 2002, set out
what Jacobson calls “unprecedented mandates.” At least four states,
including the Bush-supporting, Republican-governed reddest of red states,
Utah, are considering opting out of NCLB, finding the federal goals
and standards too cumbersome. California could not afford to lose the funding.
California Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg was a longtime educator before
serving in elected office – which included a hitch on the LAUSD board
– and is no fan of NCLB. She calls it the product of “a lot of well-meaning
people and a lot of not-so-well-meaning people” who want to raise school
“The biggest reason that poor kids aren’t doing well,” she adds, “is
that it takes a hell of a lot more money to overcome the obstacles of
poverty.” That includes funding for school nurses and counselors and
afterschool programs, she says – all the efforts now under the budget
axe in most states. “The bottom line is that no one wants to spend the
kind of money it takes to close the education gap.”
NCLB tends to benefit private industry, Goldberg observes, as big textbook
companies design the tests and reap the profits. “It’s all about privatization,”
At least some parts of it seem to be. For example, once a district is
designated as failing, the district can no longer administer catch-up
programs independently. They must be carried out by another, private
entity or a nonprofit. For the LAUSD, that could mean $25 million in
federal funds for tutoring services alone.
“I’m really beginning to wonder if the intent of the law is really good
for children,” says board member Julie Korenstein. “I’m beginning to
see that the intent of the law is to privatize public education.”
That is indeed what many see as the sub-text of NCLB. Peggy Barber,
the district’s coordinator of legislation implementation, noted in her
presentation that a voucher system, whereby parents would get a stipend
to spend on education, and reduce the public pool of funding, was only
barely excised from current NCLB legislation. She also warns that the
notion could be resurrected in reauthorization discussions in Congress
in 2006 and 2007.
That leaves California, and other states troubled by NCLB, in a tenuous position.
The National School Board Association and the Council of Great Urban
Schools both want to make changes in NCLB, but are wary of opening a
can of worms.
“We’d like to do modifications,” Barber told the forum. “The initial
NCLB was a major, major fight to keep vouchers out of it, and we’re
afraid that if it’s opened up again, vouchers could become an issue
that’s on the table.”
Barber and district officials hope that new Secretary of Education Margaret
Spelling will be more flexible in her application of NCLB than her predecessor
Rod Paige, who called the National Education Association “terrorists”
for opposing the legislation, and declared that those who don’t support
NCLB are racist. Spelling was an advocate for the Texas School Board
Association. O’Connell is presently in talks with her.
Middle school teacher Mumm is not optimistic. He notes that Governor
Schwarzenegger proposes to put an initiative on the November ballot
that ties teacher merit pay to test scores, another imposition that
has nothing to do with classroom realities, in his view. Teaching under
these conditions, he says, is “untenable. You just can’t do it.”
TOP OF PAGE
States want changes
to No Child Left Behind
By Jason Motlagh, United Press International, 2/23/05
Washington, DC -- A special task force created by the National Conference
of State Legislatures released a bipartisan report Wednesday that recommended
fundamental changes to President Bush's No Child Left Behind education-reform
law to increase its effectiveness.
A panel of government officials and educators serving on the NCSL Task
Force criticized the act as a "one size fits all" system that
stifles innovation at the state level at a news conference in Washington.
"Our bipartisan review shows that in order to reach the No Child
Left Behind Act's lofty expectations, changes need to be made in the
law's foundation," said NCSL President, Del. John Hurson, D-Montgomery County, Md.
The report contains 43 specific recommendations to revise the act, alterations
the NCSL says would improve the quality of education and close troubling
achievement gaps in U.S. schools.
Chief among them is a call to remove obstacles that undermine work at
the state and local level, including state programs that were working
successfully prior to the passage of the act.
New York State Sen. Steve Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, a co-chairman of the
task force, said that although the idea for No Child Left Behind originated
in the states, it is the states that are paying for tighter government
"We believe the federal government's role has become excessively
intrusive in the day-to-day operations of public education," he
said. "States that were once pioneers are now captives of a one-size-fits-all
educational accountability system."
Saland said that federal waivers should be granted and publicized for
innovative state programs.
A second recommendation made in the report called on the federal government
to give full funding to the act. On this point, the New York senator was direct in his indictment of Washington.
"Public education is a $500 billion enterprise in which the federal
government pays less than 8 percent of education costs but wants to
control 100 percent of what goes on in the classroom," Saland said.
He added that states would now ask for a Government Accountability Office
review to determine whether NCLB violates the Unfunded Mandate Reform
Act, legislation designed to make it more difficult for the federal
government to make state and local governments pay for programs and
projects that it refuses to pay for itself.
The report also disputes that a 100-percent proficiency goal, mandated
by the NCLB Act, is not statistically achievable and that struggling
schools need the flexibility to address problems on a case-specific
basis before some parts of student populations opt to leave.
"To say that only one measurement can be used to judge every school's
effectiveness is not practical. Our recommendations continue to hold
schools accountable but provide for a more realistic measurement method
to ensure that they do," said Minnesota State Sen. Steve Kelley,
D-Hopkins, also a task force co-chairman.
Kelley said NCLB's adequate yearly progress provisions, epitomized by
objective measures of student achievement like standardized testing,
have been a "rigid, inaccurate yardstick."
He said they did not take into account socioeconomic factors, previous
development or unique individual circumstances in measuring academic
progress year to year.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act states must issue annual report cards
on school performance and statewide test results. Students must undergo
reading and math testing in third through eighth grades, and at least
once between grades 10 and 12.
Schools that do not show adequate yearly progress after five years must
be restructured, potentially resulting in the loss of staff jobs and
Kelley said he was disturbed by recent talk in Congress to expand NCLB
to high schools, insisting such a move would be "much worse."
One specific educational concern raised in the report was the special
challenges faced by some schools to teach students with disabilities
and English-language deficiencies.
Utah State Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, a task-force member and
special-education teacher, said NCLB conflicts with the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act, the previous law issued to help students
"Ignoring the contradictions between the IDEA and NCLB is one of
the act's most glaring weaknesses," he said. "Because the
special-education population is not uniformly dispersed across the states
and school districts, these decisions should be made in the states."
Holdaway said there are currently 5.8 million children with disabilities
in the United
If NCLB is enforced, 90 percent of children with disabilities must be
proficient in their grade level by 2014.
During questioning, Hurson said the report was the product of numerous
meetings and lengthy consultation with teachers and education experts
across the nation.
He underscored that it represents "a broad spectrum of officials
and backgrounds" who seek to "extend a hand to Congress to
close America's educational gap."
He added that the report was a "consensus document" made up
of recommendations that were intended to start a dialogue, not a confrontation.
The No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law by President Bush in
January 2002. It has subsequently received much criticism from Democrats
and some Republicans who argue that it sets up parents, teachers and
schools districts for failure. They contend the president has forced
schools to meet high standards without providing the necessary resources.
The president has deemed the act "historic because for the first
time the federal government is spending more money and now asking for
His 2006 budget proposal includes a $1.5 billion high school performance
But according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, K-12 education
programs would be cut by $11.5 billion over five years if Bush's 2006
budget is enacted as proposed.
Others are quick to point out that the Department of Education will
still be 40 percent bigger than it was when Bush took office in 2001.
TOP OF PAGE
Report Faults Bush
Initiative on Education
By SAM DILLON, New
Concluding a yearlong study on the effectiveness of President Bush's
sweeping education law, No Child Left Behind, a bipartisan panel of
lawmakers drawn from many states yesterday pronounced it a flawed, convoluted
and unconstitutional education reform initiative that had usurped state
and local control of public schools.
The report, based on hearings in six cities, praised the law's goal
of ending the gap in scholastic achievement between white and minority
students. But most of the 77-page report, which the Education Department
rebutted yesterday, was devoted to a detailed inventory and discussion
of its flaws.
It said the law's accountability system, which punishes schools whose
students fail to improve steadily on standardized tests, undermined
school improvement efforts already under way in many states and relied
on the wrong indicators. The report said that the law's rules for educating
disabled students conflicted with another federal law, and that it presented
bureaucratic requirements that failed to recognize the tapestry of educational
challenges faced by teachers in the nation's 15,000 school districts.
"Under N.C.L.B., the federal government's role has become excessively
intrusive in the day-to-day operations of public education," the
National Conference of State Legislatures said in the report, which
was written by a panel of 16 state legislators and 6 legislative staff
Several education experts said the panel had accurately captured the
views of thousands of state lawmakers, and local educators. If that
is so, the report suggests that the Bush administration could face continuing
friction with states and school districts as the Department of Education
seeks to carry out the law in coming months.
Nine state legislatures are considering various challenges to the law,
and the Utah Senate is about to vote on a bill, already approved by
the House, that would require state education officials to give priority
to Utah's education laws rather than to the federal law. An
Illinois school district filed a lawsuit against the Education
Department this month in federal court, arguing that No Child Left Behind
contradicted provisions of the federal Individuals With Disabilities
Education Act, known as IDEA.
The National Conference, which has criticized the federal law in the
past, represents the nation's 50 state legislatures, with a membership
that includes 3,657 Republicans and 3,656 Democrats, as well as a few
dozen elected from smaller parties, as independents or without any party
The task force worked for 10 months and held public hearings in Washington; Chicago;
City; New York;
Santa Fe, N.M.; and Portland, Ore. It also held deliberations in Savannah, Ga.
"They went out and heard lots of things from different people around
the country, and this report reflects the breadth and depth of what
they heard, and the changes that many people want," said Patricia
Sullivan, director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington group, who attended some of the deliberations.
An assistant secretary of education, Ray Simon, met with members of
the panel in Washington yesterday to discuss the report.
"The department will continue to work with every state to address
their concerns and make this law work for their children," Mr.
Simon said in a statement. "But the report could be interpreted
as wanting to reverse the progress we've made."
He added: "No Child Left Behind is bringing new hope and new opportunity
to families throughout America, and we will not reverse course."
A Republican state senator from New York, Stephen M. Saland, the co-chairman of the task force,
called the meeting with Mr. Simon cordial.
"Everybody was in agreement about the goals of the law, but we
in the states are concerned that the existing structure is very prescriptive,"
Mr. Saland said. "We think there are ways of doing accountability
that recognize differences among states."
The law will come up for reauthorization in Congress in 2007. But Mr.
Saland said he and other task force members hoped to persuade Congress
to change the law before then.
Several groups that strongly support the federal law took issue with
"My big concern is they did a better job of pinpointing problems
than identifying solutions," said Susan Traiman, a director at
the Business Roundtable, a group that represents top corporate executives.
"Most of what they call for would be a reversal that would turn
back the clock on what N.C.L.B. is trying to accomplish, all in the
name of federalism."
One chapter of the report says that the Constitution does not delegate
powers to educate the nation's citizens to the federal government, thereby
leaving education under state control. The report contends that No Child
Left Behind has greatly expanded federal powers to a degree that is
"This assertion of federal authority into an area historically
reserved to the states has had the effect of curtailing additional state
innovations and undermining many that had occurred during the past three
decades," the report said.
"The task force does not believe that N.C.L.B. is constitutional,"
But Steve Kelley, a Democrat who serves in the Minnesota Senate and
a co-chairman of the task force, said the conference had no intention
of going to court.
The report also examined what the task force called conflicts between
the federal law and the disabilities act. Under No Child Left Behind,
a disabled eighth grader whom educators deem to be working at a sixth
grade level must take examinations for eighth graders. The report said
the requirement contradicted provisions in the disabilities act requiring
school authorities to devise a unique program suited to the needs and
abilities of each disabled child.
"N.C.L.B. requires students with disabilities to be tested by grade
level, while IDEA mandates that students be taught according to ability,"
the report said.
A Republican state representative from Utah, Kory M. Holdaway, who is a special education teacher
as well as a task force member, said the federal law's provisions for
educating the disabled were a special irritant in his state.
Mr. Holdaway has long been a critic of the federal law and voiced legislators'
concerns to the White House last year.
"I hope the feds will have an open mind as far as letting us run
our educational system as we feel it should be run," he said.
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Florida boy accused of assault with rubber band / WKMG-TV (FL)
13-year-old suspended 10 days after confrontation with teacher
A 13-year-old student in Orange County, Fla., was suspended for 10 days and could be banned from
school over an alleged assault with a rubber band, according to a WKMG
Local 6 News report.
Robert Gomez, a seventh-grader at Liberty Middle
said he picked up a rubber band at school and slipped it on his wrist.
Gomez said when his science teacher demanded the rubber band, the student
said he tossed it on her desk.
After the incident, Gomez received a 10-day suspension for threatening
his teacher with what administrators say was a weapon, Local 6 News
"They said if he would have aimed it a little more and he would
have gotten it closer to her face he would have hit her in the eye,"
mother Jenette Rojas said.
Rojas said she was shocked to learn that her son was being punished
for a Level 4 offense -- the highest Level at the school. Other violations
that also receive level 4 punishment include arson, assault and battery,
bomb threats and explosives, according to the Code of Student Conduct.
The district said a Level 4 offense includes the use of any object or
instrument used to make a threat or inflict harm, including a rubber
Rojas plans to fight the ruling but her son still faces expulsion.
"It's ridiculous, it's a rubber band," Rojas said.
The school's principal could not comment because the case is still under
A district spokesman said there is still a series of meetings the district
will have before Gomez is officially expelled.
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Bush renews push
for school vouchers in '06 budget
Bruce Alpert, Newhouse News Service, 2/22/05
Washington - Early in his first term, President Bush proposed a
plan to provide federally financed vouchers to give low-income parents
across the nation the option of sending their children to private schools.
Faced with strong opposition from Democrats and teachers unions, Bush
settled for a $13 million pilot program limited to families in Washington, D.C.
That move seemed to sidetrack the voucher issue as the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks, the war in Iraq and political battles took center stage.
But in a little-noticed section of his 2006 budget proposal, Bush is
resurrecting his request for a nationwide $50 million "Choice Incentive
Fund." The idea, aides said, is to give groups across the United States the chance to compete for federal money for programs
that give parents more educational choices.
"This is exactly the time to do this," said Mike Petrilli,
associate assistant secretary of education. "The two big reform
ideas today are parental choice and accountability, and they work together."
With opposition still strong, prospects for Bush's proposal may depend
on the success of the pilot effort: Washington's School Choice Incentive Program, the nation's first
federally financed voucher program.
Washington has long had a troubled public school system on many
It will be some time before the congressionally mandated assessments
of Washington's program are completed for the first 1,023 children
to get vouchers worth as much as $7,500 each. Interviews with parents
and school officials reveal positives as well as potential problem areas.
Some parents said that in the five months since their children entered
private schools using the vouchers, they are reading better and, just
as important, looking at school not as a chore but as a productive and
even enjoyable experience.
Private school principals and administrators said some of their former
public school students were two or three years behind grade level in
reading and math skills when they enrolled.
But they said they have been pleasantly surprised by how fast the students
have responded to classroom and individual instruction.
But it has not all been positive. The dean of a small Christian school
said she admitted five voucher students several months into the academic
year because they were having a hard time adjusting to the first private
school they attended.
People for the American
a voucher opponent, said one of the problems with the Washington program is that the city's top schools are still out
of reach for many poor families because the vouchers cover only a portion
of the tuition, or because of the stringent admission standards.
This, the group said in a report released this month, gives credence
to fear that vouchers will cherry-pick the best students from public
Danny Hollinger, headmaster of the Rock Creek International School, one of the city's elite private schools, with tuition
approaching $18,000 a year, said his school has accepted 29 voucher
students. The school takes the $7,500 voucher as full payment with the
exception of a one-time payment of $250 to show parental "commitment
to the school."
Critics shouldn't fault schools like his for maintaining their admission
standards, Hollinger said, because it would be unfair to accept students
who can't keep up with the rigorous curriculum. Rock Creek features
an instructional day evenly divided between instruction in English and
a foreign language such as French or Arabic.
The People for the American
report said that, even with only sketchy information released so far,
it is clear there are problems with the Washington program. The group said the program has enrolled only
about 75 students from low-achieving public schools, who were supposed
to be given priority for vouchers, and that nearly 20 percent of program
enrollees already were attending private school.
It also complained that it will be impossible to determine how well
voucher students do compared with public school students because Congress
rejected a proposal to subject voucher students to the same testing
regimen required for public school students under the federal No Child
Left Behind Act.
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Of 'No Child' Law Backed
Study in Va. Precedes Weighing Withdrawal
By Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington
Post Staff Writer, 2/25/05
RICHMOND -- Virginia lawmakers want to know how much the state is paying
to implement the No Child Left Behind education law, and how much Virginia would lose in federal funds if it left the law behind.
They need the information, they said, before they can consider the dramatic
step of withdrawing from the federal program next year. It also signals
of how seriously they take the state Board of Education's effort to
win more flexibility on the law from the federal government.
"It's going to cost us a whole lot more to stay in then to get
out," said Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax), chairman of the
House's Education Committee and one of the assembly's most vocal critics
of the law.
The Board of Education voted last month to seek waivers from 10 detailed
requirements of No Child Left Behind, citing a provision of the law
that allows the U.S. education secretary to exempt states from any of its
strictures. State Superintendent Jo Lynne DeMary said that there has
been a meeting with federal regulators since that vote but that they
have yet to comment on the bulk of the request.
Negotiations now occur against a backdrop of escalating rhetoric about
the law's impact on education, nationally and in Virginia. In legislation approved this week by both chambers
of the General Assembly, lawmakers requested that the cost analysis
be completed by Oct. 1. The legislation also directs the Board of Education
to seek waivers from pieces of the law that are "duplicative"
of Virginia's own Standards of Learning testing system or "lacking
The federal law requires yearly testing of students in grades 3 through
8 and dictates serious consequences for schools that do not meet a formula
for progress. Subgroups of students -- including ethnic minorities,
disabled students and students who have limited English skills -- must
show yearly improvement, and all students must pass math and reading
tests by 2014.
Lawmakers and educators in Virginia
have said the complex formula used to determine whether schools are
progressing represents intrusive federal control of public schools.
They also have said the formula interferes with Virginia's
preexisting accountability system, which requires that 70 percent of
students pass Standards of Learning exams in reading, math, history
"We have to stand up and assert our rightful prerogative to control
education in the state," Dillard said. The delegate was one of
16 state legislators who authored a report released Wednesday by the
National Conference of State Legislatures blasting No Child Left Behind
as flawed and potentially unconstitutional. "If we give this up,
we will have as much control over our public school system as we presently
have over health care. Which is basically zilch," he said.
Ellen Qualls, a spokeswoman for Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), said he probably
will sign House Bill 2602, believing that seeking waivers is a good
way to address the state's concerns about the federal law. She said
the governor also supports studying the implications of withdrawing
from the law, but that he is not prepared to endorse doing so.
Virginia receives about $350 million in federal funds to help
low-income students. It is generally agreed that the funding would be
put at risk if the state rejected the federal law's requirements. Studying
the idea, however, leaves the prospect on the table.
"There is no doubt in my mind [lawmakers] are not unwilling to
take that step if in fact they don't feel there has been reasonableness
on the part of the federal government to try to understand our issues,"
On the waivers, U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Susan Aspey
said the department is giving the "additional requests all due
serious consideration and [has] made no promises." Supporters of
the law contend that it is disingenuous for many lawmakers and educators
to claim support for its central goal -- closing the achievement gap
between minorities and other students -- but also threaten to end participation.
"These are Virginia's goals that Virginia has set for all students," said Ross Wiener, policy
director for the Education Trust think tank.
TOP OF PAGE
Plan Is Criticized
Legislative analyst says ending payments to teacher pension fund may
be illegal and urges repeal of Prop. 49, the after-school fund law.
By Evan Halper and Jordan Rau, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers, 2/25/05
SACRAMENTO — Offering withering appraisals of key parts of Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger's schools agenda, the nonpartisan legislative analyst
warned Thursday that the governor's plan to change teacher pensions
was probably illegal and recommended that lawmakers repeal his first
foray into politics, the 2002 initiative expanding after-school programs.
Elizabeth G. Hill, whom lawmakers of both parties look to for advice
on budget matters, said legal problems with the governor's plan to stop
$469 million of teacher retirement payments — leaving schools or teachers
to pick up the tab — made it unlikely that the state would save any
She also urged the Legislature to repeal Proposition 49, Schwarzenegger's
attempt to bolster after-school programs, warning that it creates exactly
what the governor says he opposes: "autopilot" spending that
leaves the state on the hook for programs it can't afford.
"It would require a $428-million general fund augmentation at a
time when the state is still facing a significant budget problem,"
Hill said. Her report calls the measure "autopilot spending badly
Her report further warned that the state would be unlikely to spend
the money effectively. Already, about half of the $136 million in federal
money that is flowing into after-school programs in California isn't being spent and is at risk of being forfeited.
Proposition 49 would add several times that amount for the programs.
The initiative was championed by Schwarzenegger in 2002, before he ran
for governor. Its success marked his first major statewide political
victory. Although the measure remains inactive, it would increase state
spending on after-school programs from $122 million to $550 million
once state revenues reach a certain level.
Hill said that could happen as early as next year, when the state probably
will still face multibillion-dollar budget deficits.
The increased spending on after-school programs, she warned, could take
money from other, more pressing school needs.
"Knowing the fiscal pressures on school districts," she said,
"we thought it was an important issue to put on the table."
Since January, the governor has railed against government programs in
the budget that are, by law, on "autopilot" to expand even
if the state lacks money for them.
Rob Stutzman, communications director for Schwarzenegger, said the governor
still "totally supports" the measure, which would take effect
only when the state has enough money for it — and thus was unlike the
spending formulas the governor has criticized. Stutzman said it "does
not make you spend money you don't have."
Education leaders, most of whom are at odds with the governor over his
proposals to cut school spending, were cautious in their response to
Hill's recommendation on Proposition 49.
Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist for school districts, said that "with
precious few resources you have to begin to set some priorities."
But, he said, "I just don't think that draining resources away
from after-school programs is good when core programs are facing a struggle."
Education groups were much more enthusiastic about Hill's warning against
the governor's plan to cut state payments to the retirement fund for
California teachers. It is a key part of Schwarzenegger's plan
to close a projected $8.6-billion budget gap in the fiscal year that
begins July 1.
Though Hill said the projected budget gap may shrink by as much as $2.4
billion, thanks largely to unanticipated revenue from a recent upturn
in the economy, the proposal was still on the table and was widely despised
by school officials.
"We simply suggest his proposal doesn't work," Robert Manwaring,
director of K-12 education for the analyst's office, said of the governor's
proposal to shift more of the retirement payments for teachers over
to school districts. "Whether you adopt the proposal or not, there
isn't a savings."
Manwaring said the proposal appeared to violate voter-approved formulas
for school spending. If the state stops making its share of retirement
payments, Manwaring said, it would be constitutionally obligated to
make up that money to school districts elsewhere.
Administration officials, however, said the retirement proposal was
sound. They said that before 1970, the state had never made those payments
and that once the state began doing so, there was agreement that they
would stop after 30 years.
Administration spokesman Vince Sollitto said the formulas that voters
later approved for school spending through Proposition 98 did not require
the state to continue the retirement payments, as the analyst suggested.
"The state's contributions to the [retirement fund] have never
been part of the Prop. 98 calculations," he said. "Retirement
compensation for teachers has been the functional responsibility of
But educators and Democratic officials cited the report in warning that
the governor's plan was irresponsible.
"The policy is so shortsighted that the governor has proposed,"
said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. "It will
take money from the classrooms of our state…. This is a poorly thought-out
The analyst's office also disputed Schwarzenegger's contention that
even with the proposal, schools would still receive enough money in
his budget to pay for enrollment growth and cost-of-living adjustments.
Hill said the governor's budget would leave schools about $500 million
short. She suggested that the governor's proposed spending on schools
would be close to adequate if he abandoned the plan to stop making teacher
The analyst's report comes as school groups and the governor are battling
over his refusal to pay schools all they are owed under Proposition
98. Schwarzenegger had pledged last year not to take any more of that
money after schools had agreed to billions of dollars in reductions
in the current budget.
But he later decided not to honor that deal, which would have increased
school spending by $5.2 billion in the upcoming budget. Instead, the
governor is proposing that the increase be limited to $2.9 billion —
slightly more per student than schools received this year.
The California Teachers Assn. has been running radio advertisements
criticizing the governor's plans and rallying parental resistance.
Supporters of the governor launched a radio campaign in response Thursday.
It features a teacher criticizing the information put out by the union
as false and misleading.
"This ad campaign uses real teachers to correct the union's misleading
special interest message," said Martin Wilson, executive director
of the California Recovery Team, one of the governor's fundraising committees.
"The governor is increasing funding for schools and proposing reforms
that will give higher pay to good teachers and put more money in the
TOP OF PAGE
FROM “EDUCATION WEEK”
High Schools in
Limelight for Summit
Governors Are Prepared to Talk About Change
By Lynn Olson and Alan Richard, Education Week, 2/23/05
When the nation’s governors gather in Washington this coming weekend for what is billed as a national
education summit on high schools, many will come prepared to talk about
initiatives already under way back home.
But the summit’s organizers hope that an “action agenda” scheduled to
be released this week—coupled with intensive planning leading up to
the meeting—will encourage state leaders to leave the event ready to
tackle some of the more fundamental challenges in high school improvement.
“This summit is designed to help support the leadership in every state
to be able to take the most important and the most essential actions
that they can to move forward,” said Michael Cohen, the president of
the Washington-based group Achieve, which is co-sponsoring the Feb.
26-27 event with the National Governors Association.
“What we’re hoping will come out the other end is action in the states,”
he added. “We’ve done more to help this summit lead to that than has
been done in previous summits.”
In preparation for the gathering, the NGA organized two planning institutes
for state officials in November and January to help them understand
the issues related to high school redesign and to identify the most
pressing needs and priorities in their own states. Representatives from
more than 30 states attended each institute.
The “Action Agenda for Improving America’s High Schools” was set for
release Feb. 22, along with data profiles for each state that pinpoint
their strengths and weaknesses in helping students graduate from high
school and succeed in work and college.
Each governor has been asked to bring a leader from business, K-12,
higher education, or the state legislature to the summit who could help
advance the high school agenda back home. Achieve and the NGA also have
invited a smaller number of precollegiate, higher education, and business
leaders to help them.
“What I want them to walk away with is an understanding that fixing
our high schools will require more than a silver-bullet approach,” Dane
Linn, the director of education policy studies for the NGA, said of
the governors. “A fundamental redesign of the American high school requires
more than implementing a new program. It’s about changing the system.”
While the conference is likely to include a session with federal officials,
Mr. Cohen said, “the summit is not the place to attempt to bring the
combination of governors, business leaders, K-12, and postsecondary
leaders to some consensus about what the federal government ought to
At the NGA’s annual winter meeting, immediately following the summit,
the governors will consider a resolution on high school reform, as well
as on the need to align education policy from birth through adult education
and training. “That’s the appropriate venue for that to happen,” said
Three comparable previous national education summits have been held.
In 1989, in Charlottesville, Va., then-President George H. W. Bush and the nation’s governors
agreed to adopt a set of national education goals.
At the second summit, in Palisades, N.Y., in 1996, governors, business leaders, and educators
committed themselves to promoting standards-based education in every
state. And in 1999—again in Palisades—governors, business leaders, and educators delved more
deeply into specific actions needed to deepen standards-based education,
such as improving teacher quality, strengthening accountability systems,
and building public support for standards.
Defining ‘College Ready’
The 12-page action agenda encourages states to restore value to the
high school diploma by raising standards for all students and tying
high school graduation tests and requirements to the expectations of
colleges and employers. Colleges and employers must then honor and reward
student achievement on state tests through their admissions, placement,
and hiring policies, it says.
The document also urges states to make high schools both more rigorous
and more personal, to give all students access to excellent teachers
and principals, and to set measurable goals for progress and hold high
schools and postsecondary institutions accountable for results.
Christie Vilsack, the first lady of Iowa and a former teacher, who plans
to attend the summit, said about 83 percent of students graduate from
high school in her state, but only 54 percent of those enter higher
education within a year after graduating, and only 28 percent earn an
associate’s or bachelor’s degree. “And we’re one of the best in the
country,” she noted.
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, hopes to use the gathering to identify
ways to close academic-achievement gaps between black and Hispanic students
and their often more affluent white peers, Ms. Vilsack said.
The action agenda also urges states to anchor high school academic standards
in the real world. Precollegiate and postsecondary education and business
leaders should work together to verify that the standards reflect the
knowledge and skills needed to succeed in entry-level, well-paying jobs
and in credit-bearing courses at any college or university, it recommends.
In Rhode Island, Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican, has formed a
working group that includes representatives from the boards governing
K-12 and higher education to define what it means to be “college ready,”
said Janet Durfee- Hidalgo, an education policy analyst in his office.
Encouraged by the summit, she said, the governor plans to issue an executive
order to build a more formal, structural relationship between precollegiate
and higher education. “We’d also like to have an outside group come
in and take a look at how we define ‘college ready,’ to see where we
may or may not be on target,” Ms. Durfee-Hidalgo added, “and that will
be one of the charges that the governor probably will give to the group
as a follow-up to the summit.”
Other states are following the action agenda’s advice to consider how
they might use tests given in high school to judge students’ readiness
for work and college and to identify those who need help before they
Gene Wilhoit, Kentucky’s commissioner of education, said that in the future,
state-sponsored academic scholarships might be linked to how students
perform on end-of-course or diagnostic exams, rather than to grade point
His colleague Virginia G. Fox, the state education secretary, said Kentucky officials hope to sign a pact with a handful of other
states to devise a diagnostic test or test items that would help identify
and remediate high school students’ academic weaknesses early in their
high school careers.
Kentucky already has a pre- K-16 council working to forge stronger
ties between precollegiate and higher education, she said. “We’ve been
working very hard on the issue of alignment,” added Ms. Fox, who was
appointed by Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a Republican. “That’s a track we’re
on, and we’ll continue aggressively—and, in fact, probably accelerate.”
Redesign High Schools
The action agenda also calls for redesigning high schools to address
the needs of all students better.
“There is no one-size-fits-all model for the high schools we need,”
it says. “In some large communities, large comprehensive high schools
already offer rigorous college- and work-ready courses. In other locations,
large high schools need to be broken up into small learning communities.”
With the help of an $11 million grant from the Seattle-based Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, North Carolina has been working
on a New Schools Project designed to set up about 50 new, small high
schools across the state, most focused on a career theme tied to the
state’s emerging economic needs.
Democratic Gov. Michael F. Easley also secured $2.2 million during North Carolina’s last legislative session for a Learn and Earn initiative
that promotes the establishment of early-college high schools statewide.
Fifteen of those are now in the pipeline. Such schools, located on university
or community college campuses, provide students with an accelerated
path toward a college degree by enabling them to take college courses
while still in high school.
“We have an interesting set of data” in North Carolina, said J.B. Buxton, a senior education adviser to the
governor. While the state ranks fifth nationally in the percent of high
school graduates who go on to college, he said, only about 63 percent
of teenagers graduate from high school.
“Our Achilles’ heel right now, in this economy, is our graduation rate,”
Mr. Buxton lamented. Given the state’s transition from a manufacturing
to a knowledge-based economy, he said, stepping up that graduation rate
“is a really critical issue for the governor.”
A Sense of Urgency
In another of the recommendations in the action agenda, the document
urges states to “dramatically improve their ability to collect, coordinate,
and use secondary and postsecondary data” to track students’ progress
from high school into college and the workforce.
Fewer than 10 states have data linking K-12 student records with college
enrollment, it notes, and only eight states make information about student
remediation in college available.
Like many other states, Rhode Island just started using a student-identification system to track outcomes
for individual students through high school graduation. Now, Ms. Durfee-Hidalgo
said, the state wants to set up an integrated data-collection system
across K-12 and higher education.
Mr. Wilhoit echoed the same need in Kentucky. Such data, he said, could help state leaders make better
use of resources and reach out to students who might fall through the
cracks in education.
Barbara S. Nielsen, a former state superintendent of education in South Carolina, said that in preparation for the summit, Gov. Mark
Warner of Virginia, a Democrat and the NGA chairman, and others have been
urging state leaders to craft specific policy changes and timelines
for carrying them out, or for making recommendations to their legislatures
and state boards of education.
“We’ve got to agree on what it is that you need to be successful when
you go on [after high school], and there doesn’t seem to be a common
definition of that,” said Ms. Nielsen, who is advising Gov. Mark Sanford,
a Republican, on South Carolina’s high schools.
“This is an effort that requires the best thinking of all shareholders
in public education,” said Mary O’Malley, the vice president for local
initiatives at the Newark, N.J.-based Prudential Financial Inc., in
explaining why business leaders are attending the meeting. Arthur F.
Ryan, the chief executive officer of Prudential, co-chairs Achieve’s
board of directors.
By bringing business leaders and other stakeholders to the summit, Ms.
O’Malley and others hope, governors will generate a greater sense of
urgency in the broader community.
And it always helps to share ideas. Said Jason Dean, the education policy
adviser to Republican Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi: “The real utility is just to sit with someone from
Wyoming or Wisconsin or Montana or Massachusetts and to ask, ‘What are y’all doing?’ ”
TOP OF PAGE
New Job: Defend Thyself
Supporters Hope Congress Will Deflect Budget Knife
By Sean Cavanagh, Education Week, 2/23/05
Georgetown, Del. - When educators from across the country, and even
other nations, are looking for ideas on how to blend career and technical
training with demanding academics, their search often takes them to
this rural pocket of southern Delaware, the home of Sussex Technical
Fifteen years after overhauling its mission, this school framed by fields
and farmhouses has seen its test scores rise, its enrollment climb,
and the local businesses that once lamented its poorly skilled graduates
help shape its classes.
Like many other vocational-themed programs, the school relies primarily
on state and local money to operate, but it also receives federal funding
under the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act—about
$250,000 a year.
Now that flow of federal cash, and similar aid to career-oriented schools
nationwide, is in doubt. President Bush is proposing to eliminate the
entire $1.3 billion federal vocational program in his fiscal 2006 budget.
Aid’s Impact Debated
At Sussex Tech, which serves 1,200 students in grades 9-12, those federal
resources are vital, school officials say. The funding pays for state-of-the-art
machinery, such as the automotive-alignment machines and diagnostic
computers that local and national industries say students need to know
how to operate. It pays for professional development for teachers and
safety upgrades to facilities and the campus.
“It has a ripple effect,” Principal A.J. Lathbury said of the money
from Washington. “We just do not have the sort of tax base that would
be able to support the type of equipment we need to deliver industry
standards. If you cannot operate with what business and industry needs,
you’re doing a disservice to the students and the community.”
Yet critics say that not every vocational program has the successful
track record of Sussex Tech. In the president’s proposed budget, the
Bush administration argues that the federal vocational education program
has yielded “little or no evidence of improved outcomes,” despite decades
of federal spending.
With those alleged shortcomings in mind, the administration has proposed
using the money spent on such programs to pay for Mr. Bush’s $1.5 billion
plan to expand the No Child Left Behind Act’s mandates to include more
testing and academic programs in the nation’s high schools. Under the
plan, states would decide whether local vocational programs should still
get some of that federal money aimed at improving high schools.
In many ways, career and technical education was a natural target for
that shift in funding priorities, several observers say. The billion-dollar-plus
program is the largest single source of U.S. Department of Education
spending on high schools, according to a 2004 federal study.
Some federal lawmakers have already voiced doubts about whether Congress
will agree to Mr. Bush’s high school proposals or to the vocational
cuts. ("Cuts Proposed in Bush Budget Hit Education," Feb. 16, 2005.) Support for the Perkins Act is obvious, they say,
given the recent re-introduction of bipartisan legislation in both the
House and the Senate to reauthorize the program. But others in Congress
say they expect a fight for every dollar of vocational spending.
“We believe in the Perkins program,” U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews, D-N.J.,
said at a Feb. 15 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Education Reform,
which is considering the reauthorization proposal. “But the reality
is, we have a burden of proof to meet, or we’re not going to be around
Polish or Purge It?
Proponents of vocational education have survived similar battles before.
For the two previous years, the Bush administration proposed reductions
of about one-quarter of Perkins’ funding, only to see Congress restore
it in the final budget for that year.
As recently as last year, President Bush seemed committed to overhauling
Perkins, not eliminating it. In May 2004, his administration unveiled
a detailed blueprint of changes it hoped Congress would approve to the
“I’m going to ask Congress to reform the Perkins vocational program,”
the president said in a speech at an Arkansas community college last April. “That’s not to cut back
on the money. It’s quite the contrary. It’s to make sure the money we
are spending prepares these youngsters for the jobs of the 21st century.”
But this year, after taking a “good, hard look” at vocational spending,
the administration has decided that its high school improvement plan
would be a more effective strategy to encourage schools to prepare all
students for college and the workforce, said C. Todd Jones, the Education
Department’s associate deputy secretary for the budget.
The high school strategy, Mr. Jones argued, would give school district
leaders the flexibility to choose among several different federally
funded approaches to helping students academically—with vocational training
being one option. The strategy would also ensure that federally financed
vocational programs were integrated with other high school reforms,
rather than isolated from those improvements, he said.
“The administration believes we have a mixed collection of vocational
education programs in this country,” Mr. Jones said. While some are
“exceptional,” he said, “we don’t think all programs are like that.
We know some programs are not effective.”
Federal aid amounts to only about 10 percent of overall spending on
vocational education nationwide. Yet critics say the flaws in the federal
commitment were laid bare in the 2004 National Assessment of Vocational
Education, an independent, congressionally chartered study of career
and technical efforts.
While vocational students have improved their academic performance and
were taking more rigorous courses than ever, career-oriented courses
were not likely to spark even greater academic gains, or college attendance,
without “substantial modifications to policy, curriculum, and teacher
training,” the report said.
Backers of vocational programs say that many of those conclusions are
outdated and undersell the benefits that trade-oriented classes offer
students at risk of dropping out of high school.
They point to findings such as a 2001 study conducted by Stephen B.
Plank, an assistant professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Students who took the equivalent of roughly nine career-
or technically-oriented courses during high school were less likely
to drop out of school than their peers who took fewer, if any such courses,
his report found.
Arizona officials last month said that students who took career-oriented
courses outperformed the general population in reading, writing, and
mathematics on a statewide test known as Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards.
Delaware Associate Secretary of Education Lewis L. Atkinson told last
week’s House education committee hearing that students in the state’s
comprehensive vocational schools scored as well as or better than their
non-career- focused peers in reading and math—and that those schools’
dropout rates were roughly half the statewide average.
Without vocational education, “you lose the context for a lot of students
for [why they need] those academic requirements,” Mr. Atkinson said.
“It’s the glue that holds that student to the school every day.”
Basic Skills at Work
At Sussex Tech, those connections are well-established. After struggling
with lackluster test scores and enrollment through the 1980s, the school
in 1991 revamped its program. With the help of community and business
leaders, the Delaware school upgraded its curriculum, course scheduling, and
Today, its students take four years of mathematics and English and three
years of science, with a college-preparatory emphasis in each subject.
Along with those basics, students must choose from one of four career
“clusters”: automotive; communications and information; health and human
services; or industrial and engineering.
Money under the Perkins Act arrives at Sussex Tech through the federal
program’s two major funding streams: state grants, which pay for a host
of academic improvement and technical efforts; and a lesser amount through
Tech-Prep, a program which supports links between K-12 and college.
The school’s students must complete projects at different grade levels
that blend trade skills with academics. Teachers of both trade and academic
courses coordinate their lessons.
Those links were evident in a precalculus lesson led by mathematics
teacher Donna Johnson on a Friday morning earlier this month. After
guiding her class through a stream of equations on a whiteboard, she
offered them a real-world link.
Some of you have a health and human-service focus, she told her students.
If you’re a nurse giving intravenous fluid to a patient, she asked,
how might a rational equation help you set fluid levels, when you have
to be accurate to the millimeter? (In an upcoming project, Ms. Johnson
and others plan to ask students to investigate a car crash, using equations
to gauge the angle of impact, speed, and other factors.)
“Whenever you’re teaching math, the first thing students always ask
is, ‘When am I ever going to use it?’ ” Ms. Johnson explained later.
“That’s one of the great things about this school—they actually do use
Jessica Marviel, a 17-year-old who attends another math class taught
by Ms. Johnson, appreciates those school-to-work links. The senior plans
to attend a professional program next year to seek certification as
a registered nurse. Through Sussex Tech, she is already certified as
a nurse’s assistant. The student recalls that for her and her parents,
Sussex Tech offered clear educational advantages over traditional high
“They thought I’d get a better education here,” she said.
Critics of the federal Perkins program don’t dispute the merits of career
programs like Sussex Tech. But the existing system does little to distinguish
between top-end models and others that provide students with outdated
skills, said Ross Wiener, the policy director for the Education Trust.
The Washington policy organization supports strong accountability measures
for schools and high academic expectations for disadvantaged students.
Too many vocational programs today “take advantage of a belief system
that some students can’t achieve at certain levels,” said Mr. Wiener,
who supports overhauling, but not eliminating, the Perkins program.
In high schools today, “the opportunities for students have changed
a lot,” he said. “Voc ed has changed less, and federal policy has changed
not much at all.”
Vocational programs around the country have already faced budget cuts
because of local district pressures to pay for other remedial courses,
tutoring, and other academic services under the No Child Left Behind
Act, said Jim Stone, the director of the National Resource Center for Career and Technical Education, in St. Paul, Minn.
If the Perkins program were eliminated, states and districts “wouldn’t
necessarily go out Monday and shut down their auto programs,” said Mr.
Stone, whose center receives Perkins funding. But “you would see states
scrambling to [make up] those dollars.”
Mr. Lathbury, the Sussex Tech principal, believes that many vocational
programs would thrive under the sort of changes his school embraced
years ago. A self-described “car-head” who once owned his own shop that
souped up autos before he moved into education, said he understands
what lures students to his program, and what keeps them there.
“Are we an exception? Maybe. But we’re not doing anything that anybody
else can’t do,” he said. “I believe we’ve been the lifeboat in the middle
of the ocean for kids who don’t see themselves fitting in the traditional
TOP OF PAGE
First Lady Embraces
Cause of Youths at Risk
Mrs. Bush Emphasizes That Boys, in Particular, Need More
By Vaishali Honawar, Education Week, 2/23/05
Washington - First lady Laura Bush says schools can incorporate
simple, inexpensive programs to help boys develop academically and socially,
such as using well-researched curricula and recruiting more men to take
“The number of men in schools is decreasing, and as more and more boys
live in single-parent families and because of mobility in current American
life, there is no guarantee they will have a male father figure at all
in their lives,” Mrs. Bush said in an interview with Education Week
at the White House last week. “So it is important for us to encourage
more men to get into teaching, particularly in inner-city, underserved
areas where boys are more likely to need a mentor as a role model.”
Mrs. Bush recently launched an initiative, called Helping America’s
Youth, that will focus on the development of the country’s children,
“It seemed to me that we neglected boys over the past several decades,
and I wanted to see what we could do to help them build successful lives,”
In his State of the Union Address last month, President Bush proposed
$150 million for the initiative over three years. The initiative, targeted
at young people ages 8 to 17, is also intended to focus on helping youths
at risk of becoming gang members, especially boys. As part of the initiative,
Mrs. Bush hopes to spotlight successful prevention and intervention
programs by focusing on the efforts of coaches, clergy members, and
mentors around the country, particularly those with programs tailored
to boys. She also aims to educate parents and communities on the importance
of programs that help steer boys away from trouble and toward academic
Mrs. Bush said her awareness of the problems facing boys was heightened
by an article that she read in The New York Times Magazine in August
2004, titled “Raising Kevion,” about a young African-American ex-con
fighting the odds to stay out of trouble as he raised his son near Milwaukee.
“I started thinking about how we have bought into the stereotype about
boys and men,” she said. Mrs. Bush noted that more boys than girls drop
out of school, fewer males graduate from college, and most gang members
are male, as are most of the young people who end up in prison. She
hopes her initiative can change those patterns and help end the harmful
During the Feb. 17 interview in the Map Room of the White House, Mrs.
Bush said middle schools and high schools can play a major role in helping
boys’ advancement by incorporating programs that help them grow academically
and get them to stay out of trouble.
“There is very helpful new research that shows how you can intercede
in a young person’s life to make sure they learn to read in middle school
and high school,” she said. “The good news is children can be brought
to grade level pretty quickly if you teach reading systematically at
that age, because they already have a good vocabulary as compared to,
say, a 1st grader. But it would take very systematic teaching.”
Her emphasis on middle schools and high schools, she said, also ties
in with her husband’s efforts to expand the No Child Left Behind Act’s
provisions at the high school level. President Bush proposes to expand
mandatory testing in English and mathematics in high schools and provide
$1.2 billion in fiscal 2006 for a High School Intervention program.
("Bush’s High School Agenda Faces Obstacles," Feb. 9, 2005.)
“A lot of the problems associated with boys are because they are not
successful at school,” Mrs. Bush said. “As they mature, they can’t find
a good job because they are not educated. If we make sure middle schools
and high schools produce well-educated students, a lot of problems boys
have will disappear.”
The first lady’s deep interest in helping boys may seem unusual, given
that she is the mother of two daughters. But Mrs. Bush said that as
a former teacher and school librarian, she had a chance to work with
both boys and girls.
“My whole life, that’s what I’ve been interested in,” she said, adding
it was that interest and the “alarming statistics” about boys that made
her decide to direct her attention to them.
Mrs. Bush has begun visiting school and community programs that she
believes can serve as models. At George Washington Elementary
in Baltimore, which she visited earlier this month, the Good Behavior
program has served as a way of keeping children in school. Students
are divided into teams, and anyone who acts out while the class completes
an exercise will cause the entire team to get a check mark for bad behavior.
The practice motivates the children to encourage one another to follow
Mrs. Bush also recently visited a Boys and Girls Club in suburban Philadelphia and a community center in Detroit to spotlight the work they are doing to help boys. She
said that evidence suggests that whenever there is a Boys and Girls
Club in a neighborhood, crime goes down.
In the Detroit program, which Mrs. Bush extolled as a national example
for steering young people away from gangs, youths are counseled in five
sports by coaches who serve as models for teaching respect, discipline,
“We could prevent boys from even wanting to join gangs, and the need
to be cool,” she said. “But what can we present them as an alternative
that would be more attractive so that they wouldn’t be tempted to join
Some Question Cuts
The $150 million initiative announced by President Bush would also focus
on helping at-risk youths keep out of gangs. The money, which still
must be appropriated by Congress, would provide grants to community
and religious groups that provide a positive model for young people,
“one that respects women and rejects violence.”
Michael Kharfen, a spokesman for Fight Crime, Invest in Kids, a Washington-based
national anti-crime organization, said that while any money was welcome
in the effort to keep young people out of gangs, his group was concerned
because Mr. Bush has put on the chopping block funding for existing
intervention programs that have been successful.
Those include a $56 million block grant that pays for programs such
as the Youth Violence Reduction Partnership, an anti-gang program that,
Mr. Kharfen said, has helped reduce gang violence significantly in Philadelphia.
Mr. Kharfen said that his group had seen effective approaches that involve
community groups that are faith-based, working in collaboration with
However, the proposed federal money is “not a significant amount of
funding,” he said, especially if it comes from reductions in other areas
of the budget for fiscal 2006.
“It is not going to make a huge difference from what we see about gang
violence on the rise,” Mr. Kharfen said. “For us to be truly effective,
we need more resources.”
While details of the youth initiative are yet to be worked out, Mrs.
Bush said grants would go only to programs that have a proven record
of success. “The American taxpayers want to know that their money is
being used on really effective programs that will really help,” she
For now, Mrs. Bush will continue to turn her high-powered spotlight
as the first lady on the programs she believes have helped change children’s
“I am going to talk about the different programs that we know have been
effective,” she said. “That way I can spotlight them so people around
country can know about them and hear about them.”
TOP OF PAGE
Case Watched Closely by School Community
By Caroline Hendrie, Education Week, 2/23/05
Washington - When the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments next
week in two disputes over government displays of the Ten Commandments,
some school law experts will be listening almost as closely as if the
words were rolling down from Mount
What they’re hoping to hear, moreover, extends well beyond the issue
of religious texts or symbols on public property. In the view of some
education groups, the cases offer a chance for the justices to dispel
widespread confusion on the full panoply of church-state controversies
that regularly bedevil the nation’s public schools.
“The crux of it is we need some clear and consistent authority,” said
Julie Underwood, the general counsel of the National School Boards Association,
which submitted a friend-of-the-court brief along with two other public
school groups in one of the Ten Commandments cases. “If they continue
to waffle on their analysis, the confusion is going to continue.”
The cases in question, which are slated for back-to-back, one-hour arguments
on March 2, involve appeals of a pair of conflicting lower court decisions.
McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky (Case
No. 03-1693) seeks the reversal of a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, that struck down displays of the Decalogue in two county
Van Orden v. Perry (No. 03-1500) concerns a decision by the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, which found that a granite monument featuring the Ten
Commandments on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol was constitutional.
In both cases, the Bush administration has weighed in on the side of
keeping the displays. Acting Solicitor General Paul D. Clement is expected
to help argue the case of Kentucky’s McCreary and Pulaski counties, both of which had commandments
displays that were challenged by the ACLU.
Meanwhile, lawsuits over displays of the Ten Commandments on school
grounds have percolated through the lower federal courts, including
one that formerly was consolidated with the McCreary case at the 6th
Circuit appellate level. That case and another from Ohio are
awaiting action by the high court, which has delayed acting on them
for months as it considers the appeals in McCreary and Van Orden. ("Justices
Accept Two Cases on Ten Commandments," Oct. 20, 2004.)
With next week’s arguments, the Supreme Court is revisiting a subject
it hasn’t dealt with directly since 1980, when the court struck down
a Kentucky law requiring that copies of the commandments be posted
in all public school classrooms.
In its 5-4 decision in Stone v. Graham a quarter-century ago, the majority
rejected arguments that the law had a valid secular purpose because
of the commandments’ purported role as “the fundamental legal code of
Western civilization” and the U.S. legal system. Without holding arguments in the case,
the court summarily reversed a lower-court decision upholding the statute.
The high court ruled that the law violated the First Amendment’s prohibition
against a government establishment of religion.
‘Endorsement Test’ Sought
In the current cases, the NSBA and its allies argue that what’s at stake
is more than the Ten Commandments.
“Questions regarding the role of religion in public schools are pervasive
and frequent across the nation,” says the brief, one of dozens filed
in the two cases. “How much religious music can be included in a school
concert? How may schools recognize religious holidays? Can students
distribute religious fliers in school? How far can teachers go in professing
their personal religious beliefs within the school?”
To give schools clearer guidance on those and other questions, the groups
urge the justices to articulate a single test for deciding conflicts
involving claims that government has violated the First Amendment’s
religion clauses. That test, they say, should hinge on judicial analysis
of whether government entities have effectively endorsed religion by
the actions at issue.
Without that kind of consistent standard, the brief argues, schools
will keep getting dragged into court.
“There are few contexts where the appropriate role of religion in public
life has engendered more divisiveness among citizens than in the public
schools, making it virtually impossible for education officials to take
any action that is not viewed by one side or the other as crossing the
constitutional line,” says the brief, which the NSBA, located in Alexandria,
Va., submitted along with the Reston, Va.-based National Association
of Secondary School Principals and the Horace Mann League, a national
membership group that aims to perpetuate the ideals of the 19th-century
public education crusader Horace Mann.
The groups submitted their brief in the McCreary case in support of
neither party. While the three organizations have long supported the
principle that church and state should remain separate, their court
papers say, “public schools are not of one mind” when it comes to in-school
displays of the Ten Commandments.
“Some believe that displaying the document adds an appropriate historical
context to the study of American law and government,” the brief says.
“Others believe that any such posting would cross the line, introducing
a clearly religious document into the public arena.”
One lawyer who has defended Ten Commandments displays said he doubts
adopting an “endorsement test,” as the NSBA brief urges, would be much
help to schools.
“It still comes down to a subjective judgment by one person, namely
the U.S. District Court judge in whatever jurisdiction you happen to
live in, about whether a display sends an impermissible message of endorsement
of religion,” said Francis J. Manion, a senior lawyer with the Washington-based
American Center for Law and Justice.
Mr. Manion, who is based in New Hope, Ky., represents an Ohio school district in its appeal to the Supreme Court of
a decision by the 6th Circuit appeals court striking down Ten Commandments
displays on the grounds of four high schools. The high court has not
acted on that appeal in Adams County/Ohio Valley School Board v. Baker
(No. 04-65), just as it has held off on the Kentucky
schools case, Harlan County v. ACLU of Kentucky (No. 03-1698).
“We’re assuming they’re just holding them till they decide McCreary,
and then we’ll have to figure it all out,” Mr. Manion said.
TOP OF PAGE
Tracked in City District
Educators Who Move On Are Not Necessarily the Best and Brightest
By Debra Viadero, Education Week, 2/23/05
A new Texas study punctures the commonly held notion that high levels
of teacher turnover in poor, urban schools result from an exodus of
the profession’s “best and brightest.”
The study, scheduled to be posted online this week by the Cambridge,
Mass.-based National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit research
organization, draws on data on thousands of teachers and 4th through
8th grade students in an unidentified big-city Texas district that researchers call “Lone Star.”
Rather than measure teachers’ quality by whether they had passed certification
exams or had earned advanced degrees, the researchers looked at the
test-score gains students made from year to year on state mathematics
tests to determine which teachers were effective.
For the most part, they found, the teachers who left inner-city schools
between the 1989-90 school year and the 2001-02 school year were no
better at raising their students’ scores than those who stayed behind.
In some cases, the analysis showed, the departing teachers may have
even been worse.
The problem for urban schools, though, is that the resulting vacancies
tended to be filled by brand-new teachers—a group the study shows to
be less effective in producing student learning gains than many of the
teachers who left. As a result, the researchers said, disadvantaged
inner-city schools are still left with a disproportionate share of lower-quality
teachers, even though most are novices who might one day turn out to
be good at their jobs.
“This reinforces the idea that we ought to pay a lot more attention
to retention issues and other decisions made after the point of hiring,”
said Eric A. Hanushek, the lead author of the paper and a senior fellow
at the Hoover Institution, a think tank based on Stanford University’s campus. “We haven’t pushed very hard on trying to
find a way to keep teachers we know are good and helping poorer teachers
find something else to do.”
Susanna Loeb, a Stanford researcher who has conducted similar studies
using New York state data, said Mr. Hanushek’s study may be an “important
first step” in understanding how teacher-mobility patterns contribute
to student achievement in urban schools.
Her own research, however, suggests a pattern somewhat different from
what Mr. Hanushek found. It suggests that the teachers who leave city
schools for higher-achieving suburban schools tend to be more, not less,
qualified than those who stay behind.
The difference is that Ms. Loeb and her colleagues measure teacher quality
by looking at teachers’ general-knowledge scores from certification
exams, whether they have a master’s or bachelor’s degree, and other
On the other hand, in his study, Mr. Hanushek said, “it turns out not
many of those things are systematically related to what happens in the
He found, for instance, that while new hires at higher-achieving schools
and schools with larger minority enrollments tended to be teachers with
master’s degrees, those teachers, in their previous, inner-city school
assignments, had not been more effective than the colleagues they left
Overall, Mr. Hanushek said, the departing teachers deemed to do a worse
job than their colleagues tended to fall into two categories—those who
moved to another school in the district and those who left the Texas
public school system altogether.
But he noted an important finding: The teachers’ poorest classroom performance
tended to come in the final year before they made their move.
“They either had a bad experience or, once they decided to leave, they
didn’t work as hard,” he said.
The Value of Experience
As with similar “value added” studies, the Texas study also found that good teachers matter. Spending
a year in a classroom with an experienced teacher who ranks at the 85th
percentile in terms of effectiveness can translate to an average 9-percentile-point
learning gain for students, according to the study.
On the other hand, having a brand-new
teacher can negatively affect a student’s test scores. For instance,
even the experienced teacher ranking at the 85th percentile would have
produced only half as much average learning gain for students—around
5 percentile points—in the first year on the job.
Among teachers with four or fewer years on the job, Mr. Hanushek found,
fourth-year teachers tended to be the most effective. Yet the statistics
also show that many teachers leave the district before reaching their
The analysis also indicates that students tended to learn more, as measured
by their test scores, during years when they had teachers from the same
racial backgrounds as themselves.
In addition, the report echoed his own previous findings that the draw
for departing teachers did not appear to be the promise of making more
Teachers who switched districts boosted their salaries the following
year by an average of $2,087, compared with the average $2,137 salary
increase received by teachers who remained in the same schools. ("Study:
Teachers Seek Better Working Conditions," Jan. 9, 2002.)
TOP OF PAGE
With Surge in School Choice Plans
Conservatives Hope for Political Payback With Vouchers,
By Alan Richard and Christina A. Samuels, Education Week, 2/23/05
Mark it down: 2005 may be a banner year for private school choice in
Citing the success of President Bush and other Republicans in the November
elections, along with years of grassroots organizing and struggles to
break into the political mainstream, conservatives are hoping it’s time
for some payoffs on the school choice front.
And there are signs that their hopes are warranted, particularly as
the movement is reaching states where few signs of deep political interest
in vouchers, tuition tax breaks, and similar programs were present just
a year ago.
“This was the first year that school choice forces weighed heavily in
state legislative elections,” said Clint Bolick, the president and general
counsel of the Alliance for School Choice, a national advocacy group based in
Mr. Bolick said political action groups that support school choice stepped
up their donations of time and money to the campaigns of many legislative
candidates. That help, in his view, likely gave new incentives to some
legislators to push for measures to increase parents’ educational options—and
boosted support for choice among others. “There’s no question that they
elevated the issue of school choice in a number of states,” he said
of the political action groups.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act also may be helping to fuel school
choice proposals. The law requires states to give options to students
in persistently low-rated schools, and some choice proposals are aimed
at those schools, said Julie Bell, who follows education policy for
the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.
While school choice legislation is getting serious looks from lawmakers
in several places, analysts said last week it was too early in the legislative
year to predict which bills would pass.
Carolina, Republican Gov. Mark Sanford and members of the GOP-controlled
legislature want to open public schools to private-sector competition.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin and Ohio lawmakers are studying expansions of their well-known
school voucher programs. The Texas legislature is considering a limited voucher proposal.
Other plans are brewing in Indiana, Minnesota,
Carolina last week, Gov. Sanford spoke at a rally on the Statehouse
steps, championing his proposed “Put Parents in Charge” Act. He argued
that it would help struggling students through its mix of competition
and income-tax credits.
Rally in South
“It has a pretty good chance of passing,” said Barbara S. Nielsen, a
Republican and former state education superintendent in South Carolina who has advised Gov. Sanford on education and backs
his choice plan. “It was a bill that was uniquely designed for South Carolina.”
Mr. Sanford addressed thousands of people at the Feb. 15 rally, most
of whom represented private schools and home schoolers, according to
local news reports.
The governor’s plan would give families earning up to $75,000 in taxable
income—covering almost everyone in the state—a credit on their state
income taxes for the cost of public or private school tuition of up
to 80 percent of the state’s average per-pupil cost. The amount would
increase with the child’s age, and initially would be capped at about
Public school districts would receive the local and federal dollars
for students who left, while the state per-pupil aid would follow the
student, Ms. Nielsen said.
Home schoolers would not be eligible for the tax credits, but parents
would be allowed to deduct textbooks costs, membership dues, and online
The plan also would create South Carolina’s first corporate tax-credit scholarships. Unlike similar programs in
Arizona and Florida, the South Carolina plan would allow businesses to make virtually unlimited
contributions to nonprofit scholarship groups in lieu of paying state
corporate taxes. Those groups would then provide scholarships for school
Gov. Sanford argues that his plan would be a major economic-development
But opposition is mobilizing.
The South Carolina School Boards Association and other education groups
say the tax credits could cost the state huge amounts of money and would
undermine the institution of public education.
Debbie Elmore, a spokeswoman for the school boards’ association, said
that tens of thousands of students could leave public schools under
the programs within a few years—disabling a system that works for many
students, she said. “This proposal is unaffordable, unproven, and unaccountable,”
Through the tax-credit scholarships, Ms. Elmore contended, private and
religious schools would be able, in effect, to divert massive amounts
of public money with little oversight. “It’s too wide-open,” she added.
Carolina debate could be a prologue to showdowns over private
school choice in other states, as policymakers weigh the value of employing
competition to spur overhauls of their K-12 public education systems.
Buckeyes and Bucks
“We have made progress [in public education], but it isn’t fast enough,
and it isn’t for all kids,” argued Ms. Nielsen, now a policy fellow
at Clemson University’s Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public
Affairs. “Whose children are these? Are they the parents’ children or
the government’s children? And that’s not a far-right comment.”
Academic progress, indeed, is one of the themes being sounded in Ohio, where Gov. Bob Taft has proposed expanding the state’s
8-year-old, $17.9 million voucher program currently operating in Cleveland.
The Republican’s proposed fiscal 2006 budget, presented on Feb. 10,
would set aside $9 million for the new scholarships.
The Cleveland voucher program now provides up to $2,700 for private
school tuition. The new “Ohio Choice Scholarships” would offer up to
$3,500 per student from specific elementary and middle schools in the
state—those in which two-thirds of students have failed both mathematics
and reading tests for three consecutive years.
Currently, 70 Ohio elementary and middle schools fall into that category,
based on data collected from the 2001-02 through 2003-04 school years.
If approved, the new program would begin in the fall of 2006, said Mark
Rickel, the governor’s press secretary. Some 2,600 students could receive
The delay is intended to give the targeted schools a chance to improve,
and to allow private schools a chance to prepare for voucher recipients,
he said. Gov. Taft “has lost patience with the schools that were persistently
failing,” Mr. Rickel said.
The program would provide full tuition for participating private schools,
which must agree to limit tuition to the voucher amount. In contrast,
the existing Cleveland program allows the participating schools to charge additional
tuition on top of the value of the voucher.
Also, students in the new program would be required to take the state
assessment, like students in public schools, and would have to show
progress in order to continue receiving the scholarships. Students in
the Cleveland voucher program must also take tests, but test scores
showing progress are not a requirement.
The Ohio School Boards Association is “adamantly” opposed to Gov. Taft’s
voucher proposal, said Fred Pausch, the group’s director of legislative
services. “We need to allocate more money to failing schools before
we start allocating money to a whole new program,” he said.
He noted that the Ohio legislature is just beginning to review the governor’s
budget. “We’re basically in the first inning of the baseball game,”
Mr. Pausch said.
Another Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, has proposed a $4 million tax-credit scholarship plan
that would allow 1,500 low-income students in low-rated schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul to attend private schools. The scholarships would come
from corporate donations made to nonprofit organizations in exchange
for tax breaks.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, also a Republican, has proposed a pilot voucher
program for students in low-rated schools in some of the state’s largest
Other programs are on the table in Indiana and Missouri. An Indiana voucher bill has gained support in the largely Republican
state legislature, and the Missouri program would offer tax-credit scholarships for families
with moderate incomes, and has backing from new Republican Gov. Matt
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin House and Senate have passed bills that would
lift an enrollment cap on Milwaukee’s voucher program, though Democratic Gov. James E. Doyle
has threatened to veto the legislation.
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Commentary by John Merrow, Education Week
The news of the so-so performance in science by American students on
the latest TIMSS assessment will be used by some to accelerate the expansion
of the No Child Left Behind Act. But that federal law’s mandate for
more science testing may actually make matters worse. It could lead
to more rote teaching of material that’s easy to test on multiple-choice
exams. It could lead to “dumbing down” the science curriculum, which
will drive competent teachers either to distraction or to other occupations.
The larger picture isn’t much brighter. Congress has slashed funds that
the National Science Foundation uses to improve science teaching, ever
larger numbers of school districts are embracing “creation science”
(typically under the guise of “intelligent design”), and, in the name
of national security, the Bush administration is turning away bright
foreign students who want to study science at our universities.
All of this is obscuring what may be a greater challenge—unlearning
Teacher Scott Byington likes to ask his science students at Cary Academy in North Carolina which organism has the most chromosomes per cell: mosquitoes,
corn, broad beans, cats, or humans? The kids always pick humans, and
they are correct, because we have 46 chromosomes, while cats have 38
and mosquitoes only 6. Then Byington expands the list to include horses,
chickens, goldfish, and potatoes. Once again, his students confidently
choose their own species. At that point, he tells them that even potatoes,
with 48 chromosomes, beat us humans, and goldfish have 104 chromosomes,
more than twice as many as humans.
Invariably, the students are stunned. How can they be less evolved than
a potato? Or a horse? What Byington wants them to do is confront their
assumptions, because he knows that in order for students to learn science,
they first have to unlearn what they have assumed (in this case, the
more chromosomes the better).
As children, we make all sorts of “common sense” assumptions about the
ways the world works, which is a loose definition of science. “We have
more brains than horses or potatoes do, so we must have more chromosomes,”
or, “The sun makes us warm, it’s warm in summer, so the sun must be
closer.” All too often we never unlearn these; instead, “book learning”
gets layered on top long enough for us to pass exams. Then we revert.
Filmmakers at a Harvard graduation provided powerful evidence of this
more than 15 years ago, when they asked new graduates why it’s colder
in New England in the winter and warmer in the summer. In the 1988 film, “A Private
Universe,” each young man and woman explains with perfect confidence
that the sun is closer to Earth in the summer and farther away in winter.
Of course, the opposite is true. Earth’s orbit is elliptical, and New
Englanders are actually closer to the sun in winter. Earth is tilted
away, however, and it is the tilt of its axis that determines the climate.
We can assume that nobody taught those Harvard seniors bad science.
Instead, they probably intuited that “fact” when they were young and
never unlearned it. Since they were admitted to Harvard, they must have
learned enough classroom science to get high grades on tests, but without
dislodging or unlearning what they thought they knew from observation.
As Lee Shulman, the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement
of Teaching, has noted, “The first influence on learning is not what
teachers do pedagogically, but the learning that’s already inside the
How do teachers help their students unlearn? Cary Academy’s Scott Byington forces students to confront their assumptions
(we have more chromosomes than potatoes) because he knows that mere
rote learning of scientific facts doesn’t do the trick.
Melanie Krieger, the director of research at Plainview-Old Bethpage J.F.K. High
on New York’s Long
Island, believes that
hands-on, project-based science helps students unlearn. Her students
in grades 9-12 must develop and carry out research projects, usually
with the help of real scientists working at nearby labs, hospitals,
and technology companies. I watched Samuel John and Omar Ghani catch
carpenter ants for their project a couple of years ago: developing ways
to kill the ants using only biological controls and natural enemies;
in other words, with no pesticides.
Projects like these take months, often including summer vacations, and
demand intense work, but the kids don’t mind the work. As Samuel John
described it, “Science is hands-on stuff: You learn it, and then you
apply it, and the applying part is where the fun comes in.” John’s and
Ghani’s carpenter-ant project did not win any awards, but the following
year Samuel John scored a clean sweep, winning the Siemens/ Westinghouse,
Intel Science Talent Search, and Intel International Science and Engineering
Fair competitions. He is now at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Although Melanie Krieger’s students enter their projects in prestigious
science fairs like Intel’s (and sometimes win!), her class is open to
all interested students, not merely honors students. She notes that,
while about 60 percent of the 100 school districts in her region use
the project-based approach to science, only two or three are open to
all interested students. “All the other programs have strict entry criteria
and quite often seem to look for ways to ‘weed out’ kids,” she says.
If only the elite enjoy the liveliest approaches to science teaching,
scientific illiteracy will only increase. That worries Leon Lederman,
the Nobel Prize-winning physicist. “Our populations have never been
more ignorant of science,” he says, “and yet their lives are being influenced
ever more by technological developments: cellphones, implants, and revolutions
in molecular biology, genetics, and surgery. There’s so much fake science,
junk science, out there, and people have to be able to recognize it.”
Lederman says science teaching can’t be elitist because, as he puts
it, “All kids are born scientists. A scientist is someone who asks questions,
and kids ask questions. They have those embers of curiosity. You blow
on the embers, they get hotter and hotter, until finally they erupt
into a flame of passionate interest in the world.”
But too often science class for “regular” students is rote memorization,
particularly with today’s emphasis on multiple-choice testing. For example,
Maryland’s state department of education was replacing bubble
tests with performance-based tests that required students to show how
they arrived at their answers. With the advent of the federal No Child
Left Behind law’s requirement for testing in grades 3-8 every year,
Maryland scrapped its Maryland School Performance Assessment
Program and has returned to cheaper, more traditional methods of testing.
High-stakes tests and multiple-choice testing often determine how science
is taught, says Leon Lederman, who deplores what he calls a winner-take-all
mentality: “Too many kids are having their curiosity stomped out by
insensitive teaching in the schools.” Ray Bacchetti, an education veteran
who is now at the Carnegie Foundation, shares Lederman’s concern. “I’ve
been in too many elementary schools where the reading and math emphasis
was sucking the oxygen out of just about everything else,” he says.
“Teachers would try to work on bits of science ... but seldom with strong
curricular strategies, and hardly ever with useful support from their
PhysicistTextbooks are another problem. Jonathan Cole of Columbia University found that the outstanding works of history, including
textbooks, were apt to contain more references to Madonna, the singer,
than to Watson and Crick and DNA. He notes, “College students who don’t
major in science probably conclude that scientific developments and
accomplishments sprang from whole cloth, because they’re not covered
in the books they read.”
Lederman believes a crisis is upon us. “If we don’t fix our science
and math educational system,” he warns, “the nation is really in deep
trouble. Our economy has been surviving on immigration, but that’s not
going to last, because country after country is getting wise and is
keeping its scientists at home.”
But despite superficial textbooks, rote teaching, and a shortage of
project-based learning, there is hope for science education. Robert
Ballard, the scientist and underwater explorer who discovered the wreckage
of the Titanic, is one source of inspiration.
Ballard first realized that all of his graduate students were foreign-born.
Where, he wondered, were the young American scientists? Then, spurred
by the outpouring of letters (16,000 in two weeks) from children after
he found the Titanic, he created the Jason Project (www.jasonproject.org)
to allow middle school students to go on “virtual explorations.” Like
Leon Lederman, Ballard believes most children are natural scientists.
“Any parent can tell you kids are fired up with curiosity,” he says.
“The first question they ask is why? Our job is to capture that natural
curiosity and turn it into a lifelong passion for learning.”
Because of the Jason Project (now celebrating its 15th anniversary),
more than 12 million kids have explored the ocean floor, mapped wetlands,
and discovered sunken ships and treasures, thanks to the power of technology.
Some of these middle-schoolers have grown up and become scientists in
their own right, but that’s not Ballard’s goal. Like Lederman, he wants
all American citizens, regardless of their occupations, to be scientifically
Another ray of hope, albeit a faint one, emerged when high school seniors
were asked pretty much the same question the Harvard graduates got wrong
in 1988. The question was on last year’s National Assessment of Educational
Progress science test, and 40 percent got it right. That’s not good
enough, but it’s better than Harvard did.
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