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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – February 18 - 25, 2005

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STATE  
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
Plans would overhaul Illinois education funding / Pantagraph
Schools put fun in ISAT test preparation / Decatur Herald & Review
Teachers learning sign language / Northwest Indiana Times
School salary boost for pensions needs retiring / Decatur Herald & Review
Put gloves away, child not contagious / Peoria Journal Star

NATIONAL
Educators challenge part of NCLB law / The Tennessean
Real choice / Boston Globe
Lawmakers knock 'No Child' / Deseret Morning News (UT)
Nebraska Fears Segregation in Schools / AP
Kansas attack on evolution began trend / Wichita Eagle
Legal showdown looms over state's voucher law / Orlando Sentinel
In Third Grade, the Pressure to Perform Is On /
Washington Post
Snacks slim down in Phila. schools / Philadelphia Inquirer
Schools-within-schools a growing trend / CNN.com
High Court to Hear Md. Special-Ed Case /
Washington Post
Secondary School Principals Outline Legislative Recommendations for High School Reform to Congress / NASSP
No Millionaire Left Behind /
Los Angeles City Beat
States want changes to No Child Left Behind / Washington Times
Report Faults Bush Initiative on Education / New York Times
Florida boy accused of assault with rubber band / WKMG-TV (FL)
Bush renews push for school vouchers in '06 budget / Cleveland Plain Dealer
Cost Analysis Of 'No Child' Law Backed /
Washington Post
Governor's School Plan Is Criticized /
Los Angeles Times

FROM “EDUCATION WEEK”
High Schools 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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STATE

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 School 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 public schools.
 
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 pension system.
 
Federal funding is expected to decline by about $65 million, and Blagojevich is proposing reforms to the state's troubled pension systems to cut expenses.
 
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 required contribution.
 
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 year.
 
"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 with lawmakers.
 
Of the $140 million in increased spending proposed for schools, the governor would like $30 million spent on preschool programs, one of his passions.
 
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 say.

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Report: State study may paint rosier picture for schools than reality
Chicago Tribune
 
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 report.
 
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.
 
Waukegan School District 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 trouble.
 
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.

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Illinois districts feel demand to consolidate
Alexa Aguilar and Kavita Kumar, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
 
At
New Athens High School 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 courses.
 
Marissa High School 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 years ago.
 
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 percent.
 
"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."
 
History
 
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," she said.
 
Guthrie said it's nearly impossible to come up with an ideal school district size.
 
"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 works."
 
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 crisis-by-crisis basis.
 
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 District. 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 Street 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 the same."
 
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.'"
 
Elsewhere
 
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 of schools.
 
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 said.
 
"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.
 
Facing reality
 
"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, he said.
 
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 education.
 
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 year's budget.
 
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 of boldness."
 
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.
 
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Pension overhaul called hit to schools
Official estimates cost at $149 million
Ray Long and
Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune, 2/23/05
 
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 picked up.
 
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 Bauman's figures.
 
"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 the disease."
 
Cross said Republicans in the House are willing to work with the governor on reforms.
 
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 increases.
 
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 District 203.
 
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.

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Lawmakers Question State Funding Plan For Education
Jennifer Miller, Southern Illinoisan
 
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 be promised.
 
"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, R-Palatine.
 
Dunn acknowledged the projected $140 million for education was not a guarantee.
 
"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 said.
 
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, by $44.
 
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 areas.
 
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.

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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 by April.
 
"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 Rausch said.
 
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.

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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 each.
 
"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 courts.
 
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 said.
 
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 said.

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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 School.

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 taxes decrease.

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 education.

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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 sample questions.

"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 curriculum.

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 School, 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 Project Success.

"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 the passage.

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."
 
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Teachers learning sign language
Program helping educators communicate with hearing impaired students in mainstream classes.
BY PHIL ROCKROHR,
Northwest Indiana Times Correspondent, 2/25/05
 
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 School 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 or gym."

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, Prete-Stewart said.

"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 saying now."

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."
 
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School salary 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 their pensions.

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 control.

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.
 
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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 District 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.

Fair enough.

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?
 
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NATIONAL

Educators challenge 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 grade.

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 Boards Association.

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 School, agrees.

''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.

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Real choice
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 community stability.

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 that.

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 for-profit sectors.)

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.

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Lawmakers knock 'No Child'
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 approach.

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."

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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 a reason.

"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 only Hispanic.

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 School.

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 schools.

"It is unconscionable," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ron Raikes.

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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 evolution.

• 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 of Education.

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 School Boards.

Spreading influence

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 about evolution.

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 said.

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 mention.

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.
 
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Legal showdown 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 state constitution.

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" provision.

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 religious.

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 Catholicism.

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 religious institutions."

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.
  
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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 Medicine."

"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 said.

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 Paso, I 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."
 
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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 version.

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 Association.

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
Texas, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. - are reducing snack portions by setting ceilings for calories, total weight, the amount of specific ingredients, or some combination thereof.

"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," he said.

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 field operations.

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 on calories.

"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 habits.

"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 District in Maryland.

"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."
 
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Schools-within-schools 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 disruptions drop.

"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.

Warmer environments

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 between periods.

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 success."

Real-world relevance

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 is working.

"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."

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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 students.

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 specific needs.
 
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 programs.

When Jocelyn Schaffer, Brian's mother, sought to enroll him at
Herbert Hoover Middle School, 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 School, 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 tuition.

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 the association.

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.

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Secondary School Principals Outline Legislative Recommendations for High School Reform to Congress
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 reform initiative.

"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 Baccalaureate courses.

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."

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No Millionaire Left Behind
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 suggest.

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 performance levels.

“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,” she says.

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.”

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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 restrictions.

"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 institutional privatization.

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 with disabilities.

"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 States. 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 results."

His 2006 budget proposal includes a $1.5 billion high school performance program.

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.
 
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Report Faults Bush Initiative on Education
By SAM DILLON,
New York Times, 2/24/05
 
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 members.

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 affiliation.

The task force worked for 10 months and held public hearings in
Washington; Chicago; Salt Lake 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 the report.

"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 unconstitutional..

"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," it said.

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
WKMG-TV, 2/23/05

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 School, 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 reported.

"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 band.

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 investigation.

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 levels.

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 Way, 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 schools.

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 Way 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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Cost Analysis 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 in effectiveness."

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 and science.

"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," DeMary said.

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.
 
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Governor's School 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 money.

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 timed."

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 school districts."

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 proposal."

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 retirement payments.

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 classroom."
 
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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 do.”

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 Mr. Linn.

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 graduate.

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 averages.

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?’ ”
 
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Vocational Education’s 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 High School.

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 next year.”

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 program.

“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 teacher training.

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 it.”

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 schools.

“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 setting.”
 
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First Lady Embraces Cause of Youths at Risk
Mrs. Bush Emphasizes That Boys, in Particular, Need More Attention
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 up teaching.

“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, especially boys.

“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,” she said.

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 development.

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 stereotype.

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.”

Success Stories

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 School 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 rules.

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, and self-confidence.

“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 a gang?”

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 law enforcement.

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 said.

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 lives.

“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.”
 
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Ten Commandments 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 Sinai.

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 courthouses.

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.
 
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Teacher Turnover 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.”

Dueling Findings
 
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 background characteristics.

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 classroom.”

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 behind.

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 fourth year.

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 money.

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.)
 
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Legislatures Hit With Surge in School Choice Plans
Conservatives Hope for Political Payback With Vouchers, Tax Credits
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 state legislatures.

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 Phoenix.

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.

In
South 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, and Missouri.

In
South 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 Carolina

“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 $4,000.

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 services.

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 tuition.

Gov. Sanford argues that his plan would be a major economic-development boon.

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,” she said.

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.

The
South 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 vouchers.

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 school districts.

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 Blunt.

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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Unlearning Bad Science
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 bad science.

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 learner.”

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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 School 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.

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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 districts.”
 
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 literate.

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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