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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – Feb. 25 – Mar. 4, 2005


The gender gap in the classroom / Daily Herald
SD 230 refuses federal poverty grant / Daily Southtown
Bullying: Four small steps to stop a big problem / Chicago Tribune
State school board offers not stance on school funding to state House committee
Decatur Herald & Review
Schools not living up to desegregation deal, says U.S. / Chicago Sun-Times
School lets parents keep tabs online / Daily Southtown
Bill offers time off for parents / Chicago Tribune
Gov.’s community service plan falls through / Northern Star (NIU)
Bush's budget cuts would impact ag ed in Illinois / FarmWeek
Stop this dangerous bus seat-belt idea / Daily Herald

Graduation rates are lower than reported, study indicates / Boston Globe
13 states eye tougher high school standards / Boston Globe

No Child Left Behind law needs reform / Denver Post
Listen on NCLB protest / Journal News (NY)
Governors take aim at high school / Christian Science Monitor
Detroit schools to get a bailout / Detroit Free Press
LAUSD 'crisis' to cost billions / Los Angeles Daily News
District teachers refuse to give homework /
Doctoring the Report Card? Studying Is Easier / New York Times
Study: Florida schools among worst in nation / St. Petersburg Times (FL)
Texas defies No Child law on special ed / Dallas Morning News
Nutritionists oppose junk-food bill / Lexington Herald Leader (KY)
States Gone Soft / Investor’s Business Daily
What's wrong with American high schools / Chicago Tribune
Sobriety Tests Are Becoming Part of the School Day / New York Times
Survey: Students not taught basic finance / Boston Globe

NCLB Law Needs Work, Legislators Assert
States Take Steps to Put More Rigor Into High Schools
High Court to Decide Who Must Prove Case in Special Ed. Disputes
Officers’ Stun Guns Raising Serious Concerns
Schools Experimenting With Tracking Technologies
Supplementary Text on Arab World Elicits Criticism
Plan Offered on U.S. Aid for High Schools



The gender gap in the classroom
C. L. Waller, Daily Herald
Thirteen years after a national study raised concerns about girls' self-esteem in classrooms, the pendulum may be swinging in the other direction.
Some education experts and local school officials say they see evidence boys are falling behind girls in the classroom both socially and academically.
Mundelein High School is one school sounding an alarm after two consecutive years of scores showing boys failing to meet state standards.
"You can't help but worry about our young men when you see these scores," said Sally Pilcher, assistant superintendent for Mundelein High School District 120.
But just what part does gender play?
Some experts say it may be as simple as boys lagging behind girls because they mature later. Others say boys have needs that differ from their female counterparts, and teachers don't spend enough time trying to understand them.
Either way, educators say, they see growing evidence the gap exists, and it is widening.
"Over time, this can lead to a dislike of school or low academic self-esteem," said Dan Kindlon, a
Wheaton native who is now a Harvard University professor of child psychology.
So real is the concern that an estimated 300 residents and suburban school administrators are expected to attend a daylong workshop on the subject Friday in
Lombard. The seminar is hosted by Kindlon and Christina Hoff Sommers, a former university philosophy professor.
The workshop, "Why Administrators Need to Protect the Social, Emotional and Cognitive Development of Boys," will explore what Kindlon and Hoff Sommers say is a ripple effect of problems boys face in school.
Their message will be that schools need to focus more on development of boys.
Possible solutions range from establishing same-sex classes to retesting boys once diagnosed with attention deficit disorder to the need for a clearer understanding of boys' social development.
The concern mirrors the focus on girls in the early 1990s that grew out of a study by the American Association of University Women.
That 1992 study, "How Schools Shortchange Girls," called for building self-esteem in girls and their interest in subjects such as math and science.
Since then, girls have improved in those subjects.
"If our study has spurred others to think about boys, that's great," said Kim Benziger, state president of the American Association of University Women. She said the study focused on girls because the interests of women and girls is the organization's mission.
Benziger, a former kindergarten teacher and the mother of two sons, said there is little doubt problems exist for boys.
"We still need to learn a lot about how children learn," she said.
Lombard workshop is the brainchild of Jeff Shipko, of the Lake County Regional Office of Education's educational services division. Shipko said he has personally seen a decline in boys' achievement as a teacher, clinical psychologist and school administrator.
"We are looking at the total inequality boys have in schools," he said.
Elgin High School Director of Guidance Richard Wince agrees.
"Girls are outperforming boys in all subject areas," Wince said. The top 10 students in a class are predominantly female, whereas boys used to dominate, he added.
He even noted the need to coax boys to participate in an all-boy chorus for the school's recent production of "South Pacific."
"We really need to walk these guys through," said Wince, who conducted a draft. The girls, he said, typically take the initiative on their own.
Experts say schools need to come to grips with the facts -- boys are naturally more fidgety, mature later than girls and lack fine motor skills when they are young.
Boys usually raise their hands first in class regardless of whether they know the answer, experts say, because they need to move or want attention. Girls, meanwhile, have stronger verbal skills at a young age but tend to sit back in class.
Possible remedies, experts say, include fostering a better understanding of what makes boys tick.
For instance, Shipko said schools could retest boys thought to have attention deficit disorder. Those boys could simply be behind in maturity at their grade levels, he said.
Often in public elementary schools, boys are surrounded by adult women and have no male role models, he said. "That's why kids, particularly boys, love janitors. They are men."
Some studies and experts say boys are falling behind girls because the typically more rambunctious boys are punished more than girls in school.
Just about any educator will tell you there are more boys in special education courses, and more girls go to and graduate from college. The state budget for 2005-06 shows 211,137 boys and 106,016 girls in special education. Statistics on the number of
Illinois college students who earned bachelor degrees in 2002-03, the most recent figures available, show men trailing women 25,801 to 34,205, respectively.
Mundelein Elementary District 75 Superintendent Ray Partridge has watched the widening achievement gap between genders since he worked in another district 12 years ago.
Boys, he said, always seem to lag in writing and language arts. They have kept pace with girls in math and science.
Mundelein elementary and high school districts plan to use the Lombard workshop to launch research into why test scores from their boys are slipping behind girls' scores. District 75 plans to recommend changes in June, while the high school district plans a year of study.
"We have to find a way to make the classrooms friendlier for boys," said Hoff Sommers, who is now with a conservative
Washington, D.C., think tank.
She contends boys were starting to fall behind girls in the early 1990s when the American Association of University Women released its report.
The public bought into that study, Hoff Sommers said, and it has had a negative effect on boys ever since.
Boys are "rowdier, more high-spirited" and they interact using "rough and tumble play," but are punished for that, she said.
"Rough and tumble play is different than aggression," said Hoff Sommers, who explained aggression brings out tears and boys part as enemies.
"As parents and teachers, we are not making a distinction between aggression and rough and tumble play," she said. "That's very harmful for little boys. They are feeling disapproved of."
Teachers, Kindlon says, need to look at boys "through a different set of glasses" and interpret their behavior as "normative rather than pathological."
All children, but particularly boys, need an outlet for their physical energy.
However, with the federal government putting test pressure on schools, that emphasis may push aside activities boys need, such as recess, said Barbara Radner, a
DePaul University professor.
"Test pressure doesn't allow them to grow up the way they should," said Radner, who heads DePaul's Center for Urban Education and Assessment.
Hoff Sommers contends the British have the right idea by developing more single-sex classrooms and emphasizing skills to boys that do not come naturally. For instance, she contends girls have more organizational skills, and there are schools in
Britain working with boys on those skills.
Elgin's Wince said there has been talk in his district of gender-specific homerooms. Chicago's Gregory Elementary School has been separating boys from girls for about five years.
Principal Donella Carter, who piloted that program, said discipline prompted the change in the predominantly black school where many families are impoverished.
There were boyfriend/girlfriend competitions, and students were violating the uniform policy, she said.
Now, it is easier to maintain discipline in all-boy classrooms led by men, and all-girl classrooms led by women. Also, she said being gender-specific means better discussions about issues typical for young black boys and young black girls.
Putting boys and girls in separate classrooms is just one possible solution. Educators at Friday's workshop expect to explore a variety of potential solutions because, as Mundelein High's Pilcher says, "Something is amiss."


SD 230 refuses federal poverty grant
Move allows district to avoid No Child Left Behind sanctions 
By Kati Phillips, Daily Southtown Staff writer, 2/27/05

For the second consecutive year, one of the Southland's top school districts is refusing a federal poverty grant to avoid costly sanctions under No Child Left Behind.
Consolidated High School District 230 school board members voted Thursday to not accept an estimated $115,000 in Title I funds for the 2005-06 school year.

By declining the aid, District 230 can avoid paying for private tutors or school transfers if its students fail to meet learning standards several years in a row.

Such sanctions could cost more than the grant is worth and cut into district funds used to educate students, said Brenda Reynolds, assistant superintendent for instruction.

The lost grant will not mean a reduction in programming. District 230 will use its own money to offer a summer school program for low-income and at-risk freshmen at its campuses in
Orland Park, Tinley Park and Palos Hills, Reynolds said.

District 230 is one of only a handful of districts nationwide that have opted out of No Child Left Behind by rejecting the poverty grant, said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy.

The districts that opt out typically receive a small amount of money and can afford the luxury of turning it down, he said.

District 230 meets that definition. The grant represents less than 1 percent of the district's $99 million budget. It is among the 20 percent of
Illinois schools not operating in a deficit.

Illinois districts that have considered opting out have not met that definition.

Evanston Township High School District 202 considered rejecting its $133,000 Title I grant for this school year because of the negligible amount and concern with No Child Left Behind's emphasis on standardized tests. But administrators decided against it.

"We were in budget reduction mode. The problem really was saying no to money," said Judith Levinson, director of research, evaluation and assessment in

Rejecting the money also can send the wrong message to parents — that districts aren't willing to be held accountable for educating all of its students, regardless of race, disability, income or language.

District 230 schools have had difficulty raising special education scores. The scores of low-income students also are lagging behind.

But Reynolds said the district has not seen any backlash for opting out, nor is it shirking responsibility.

First, the district still is held accountable for progress by the Illinois State Board of Education. All three of its schools landed on the state's early academic warning list in 2004 because of poor special education scores and were required to develop school improvement plans.

Second, administrators are targeting services at the neediest kids, Reynolds said.

The special education curriculum is being updated alongside the regular education curriculum, and officials are making sure disabled students are taking the state tests, she said.

A task force has spent this year retooling the summer school program for low-income students and students at risk of academic failure, said assistant superintendent for student services Mike Mecozzi.

The three-week course will emphasize reading, math and study skills, and target the areas where students have the biggest deficiencies, he said.

During the school year, students will be clustered into freshman homerooms with teachers responsible for working on their academics, Mecozzi said.

Bullying: Four small steps to stop a big problem
Janis Campbell, Chicago Tribune,
It's not a girl thing. It's not a boy thing. It's a mean thing.
Bullying or teasing is something many kids experience firsthand or see happening to someone they know. Chances are you've probably encountered at least a few mean kids at school, whether they were mean to you or one of your friends. Avoiding mean, teasing or bullying kids seems to be nearly impossible.
Social worker and child therapist Patti Kelley Criswell has some advice for dealing with mean kids. Criswell says her job is to help kids learn how to solve problems with all kinds of issues, including friendships and school troubles. She is the author and co-author of several advice books that are part of the American Girl Library.
Criswell, who also is a mom, says she remembers exactly what it was like to deal with bullies. Mean and difficult kids are nothing new, but Criswell thinks kids today are putting up with even more bullying. Our society is much more competitive today, Criswell says. "Winning is the point" to many people, who lose sight of the value of teamwork and playing sports, she adds.
Many people also can be too competitive about material things, she says. That includes kids. Wearing the right labels has become far more important than it should be. Being popular--or being with the cool or popular group--is another kind of competition.
So what can a kid do? Here's what Criswell recommends:
IGNORE Just try to look bored or annoyed by the bullying comments. This is a good short-term solution. (You should even write down the days or comments on your calendar so you have a record in case you need to take action later.) If the person picking on you doesn't stop when you've ignored the behavior--or at least done your best not to show the behavior is making you feel bad--move on to the next step.
TELL First tell a parent what's been going on. At school, tell your teacher; that way he or she can be on the lookout for problems and maybe even catch the bully in action. Also tell your closest friends so they can stick up for you. Criswell says you might be surprised at how well a come-back such as, "Whoa, that was mean," might work in handling a bully.
WARN Tell the bully again that you won't accept his or her behavior if the bullying keeps up. You also can follow up with a teacher about what's going on and what you've done to stop the bullying. (For example, you've told the bully to stop.) It's important to write down the incidents too.
TAKE ACTION This is when you and a parent go to the principal with your written examples of what happened. Because you have records of the incidents, the adults will be able to deal with the problem more effectively. Most schools also have conduct policies that spell out what will happen if a student doesn't follow the rules at school. Be prepared to talk over the bullying and show how the bully broke the rules.


State school board offers not stance on school funding to state House committee
By JENNIFER MILLER, Decatur Herald & Review Springfield Bureau Writer,

SPRINGFIELD - House committee members were unhappy Tuesday after the State Board of Education would not take a stance on education funding reform.

Randy Dunn, the board's interim superintendent, repeatedly was asked what he thought should be done to reform education funding, but he wouldn't give the committee any specific recommendations.

"You'll see us continue to work with the governor," he said.

Unhappy with Dunn's response, state Rep. William Davis, D-Harvey, said, "I would expect that as a board you would have a thought or two."

"The board and the superintendent ought to have a position on that, and it needs to be a greater focus for them I would think; it certainly is in the education community," said committee Chairman Mike Smith, D-Canton.

Committee members were also displeased with the $44 increase in per pupil spending for the next fiscal year, putting it at $5,008 per student.

"I would venture to say that a $100 (foundation level increase) would not even be quite enough," said state Rep. Jerry Mitchell,
R-Rock Falls.

Dunn defended the small increase.

"We did break the $5,000 marker," he said. "At this time, we're waiting for the Education Funding Advisory Board recommendation."

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has identified candidates for advisory board, and the members will be announced soon, said spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch. The board's annual report is expected to be released in late March or early April.

In 2002, the Education Funding Advisory Board recommended the foundation level go to a range of $5,665 to $6,680 per student. Currently, the foundation level is $4,964 per student.

In Blagojevich's first budget address, he pledged to increase the foundation level to $5,665.

Committee members are also awaiting a list of government funds that will be "swept" to fund education, a plan recommended by Blagojevich in his February budget address.

Under the governor's proposal, money would be swept every three years from some of the 650 special government funds, producing $420 million, which would transfer into the recently created School Endowment Fund.

The $420 million would be divided 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.

A list of special funds to be swept is expected to be available Friday, according to administration spokeswoman Ginger Ostro.

Schools not living up to desegregation deal, says
BY ROSALIND ROSSI, Sun-Times Education Reporter,

Chicago Public Schools are doing such a poor job of complying with a desegregation agreement that the system should pay for an independent expert to monitor its efforts, federal attorneys contend.

School attorneys counter that not only does the system not deserve a monitor -- it doesn't have the money to pay for one.

Both arguments are headed for the courtroom of U.S. District Chief Judge Charles P. Kocoras on Thursday, more than two years after Kocoras kicked off the latest legal wrangling by charging that Chicago's 1980 desegregation decree was "passe'' and should be dissolved.

Since then, school attorneys and federal lawyers have crafted a temporary deal that could allow the system to drop its desegregation decree by as early as the end of the 2005-2006 school year.

However, in a motion this month, assistant U.S. attorneys Jeremiah Glassman and Emily McCarthy said Kocoras has been forced to twice "police'' CPS' failures.

In addition, federal attorneys say they have raised some 40 "matters of concern'' with CPS attorneys -- including a dispute over $6.6 million in spending. So many complex issues remain "not fully satisfied'' or unresolved that an outside monitor should be appointed to ensure CPS abides by its temporary deal, federal attorneys say.

'Current relationship is fine'

"We don't believe we need a monitor. We think it's a waste of time and money,'' countered CPS spokesman Peter Cunningham. "We think the current relationship with the Justice Department is fine. . . . We believe we're doing the best we can to meet this challenge of integrating a system like ours.''

Outside "friends of the court'' urged a monitor from the very beginning. One of them, Alonzo Rivas of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said there is no way for "friends of the court'' to verify that CPS' information is accurate.

"There have been increasing questions about the information they are providing and because there are disputes between the clients, there needs to be a monitor who's able to ask for the proper information,'' Rivas said.

Another issue expected to come up Thursday is whether CPS may create spots for 35 minority students in 12 heavily white schools rather than kick out 35 white students from those schools. Federal attorneys say the students took seats that minorities could have filled.

Sauganash School, in an affluent area of the Northwest Side, would have to create the most seats for minority kids -- nine -- under the CPS motion filed this month.

School lets parents keep tabs online
By Daniel Duggan, Daily Southtown Staff writer, 3/2/05
3 p.m., do you know where your child is?

Mary Cerceo does.

Cerceo is one of 50 parents in Oak Lawn Community High School District 229 testing a new software program that lets parents get up-to-the-minute information on their children's' grades, attendance, homework and disciplinary record.

"It's like a 24-7 parent-teacher conference," said Cerceo, who also is president of the District 229 school board.

The program, Parent Portal, will be offered for all 1,700 students in the district by the beginning of April, said Assistant Principal Joseph McCurdy, who is overseeing the project.

During the day, teachers input information into a grading program that is linked to a central system, which puts information onto the online portion of the program.

Parents are then given a password they can use to access information about their child — in some cases within minutes of it being entered, McCurdy said.

If a parent wants to check their child's attendance, for example, the information is updated as each period begins. Parents can click on a link attached to the attendance and send an e-mail to the teacher.

McCurdy said he and other district officials have been impressed with the way parents and teachers can easily share information.

"A lot of times its hard for teachers to get in touch with parents," he said. "

Consolidated School District 230, with schools in
Orland Park, Tinley Park and Palos Hills, implemented a similar system this year after two years of testing, spokesman Jim Sibley said. The communication aspects of the software have brought the biggest benefits, he said.

"It's something that encourages parents to have more conversations about school," Sibley said.

McCurdy said the software will continue to have minor changes. Currently, one password is shared by the parent and the student, he said. Next year, the parents and students will have separate passwords.

"We don't want to have a situation where the student changes the password and doesn't tell the parent," he said.

Cerceo said she has been using the program for the past two weeks and it has reaffirmed what she already knows, that her daughter shows up on-time for class, gets good grades and isn't in trouble.

"High school seems to be the time when you have to step away a little bit," she said. "But it doesn't mean we have to be ignorant to what they're up to."

Bill offers time off for parents
24 hours unpaid for school events
Erika Slife,
Chicago Tribune, 3/3/05
SPRINGFIELD -- Working parents would be entitled to 24 hours of unpaid work leave during a school year to attend their children's school conferences or classroom activities, under a bill that passed the Illinois Senate Wednesday.
The measure, which applies to businesses with 50 or more employees, would allow parents to take off up to four hours in a day to participate in any school function, said Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), the sponsor.
Current law allows parents to take up to eight hours of unpaid leave to tend to school matters each year, but that benefit kicks in only after a worker has exhausted all vacation time.
Martinez's proposal would entitle parents to take the leave without affecting their vacation.
"I was a single parent and it was something for me to take time off work to go and deal with parent-teacher conferences, plus you have report card pickups,"
Martinez said. "You have to miss a lot of time."
The bill passed mostly along party lines, with only two Republicans, Dave Sullivan of
Mt. Prospect and Adeline Geo-Karis of Zion, voting with Democrats in favor of the legislation. Martinez said the provisions emulate those granted to state workers last year by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
"I personally feel that when you have employees, and you are sensitive to their parental needs, you have a happy employee,"
Martinez said. "It shows the employer cares about family. Then you have families involved in education."
Business groups weren't pleased with the bill's passage, saying it would be another reason not to do business in
Illinois. The measure advances to the House.
"We're talking an additional 16 hours of unpaid leave," said Jay Shattuck, of the Illinois Chamber Employment Law Council. "It's just another one of the burdens [for businesses]. I'd liken it to the goose that lays the golden egg, and we're plucking that goose."
Martinez said the legislation provides safeguards so employees don't abuse the privilege. She said employees would have to give advance notice of their absence and would be required to provide employers with certification from an educator upon their return.
"We're making sure the employer doesn't lose any productivity," she said. "There are a lot of safety nets put into place."
In separate action, anti-smoking crusaders logged a victory after a Senate committee advanced a bill to allow most municipalities to enact their own clean indoor-air laws. Current state law prohibits most local governments from implementing more stringent anti-smoking rules than contained in the state's Clean Indoor Air Act.
"The opposition has been trying to create a smoke screen among legislators that, by providing local control, the state will be riddled with smoke-free towns and people are going to lose business and tumbleweeds will go down the middle of downtown of every city," said Janet Williams, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Coalition Against Tobacco. "Nothing could be further from the truth. All we're doing is allowing municipalities to create or not create what is appropriate for their own communities."


Gov.’s community service plan falls through
Blagojevich proposed high schoolers must serve to graduate
Northern Star, 3/4/05
Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposal to require community service for high school graduation has not materialized as proposed because of the state’s current fiscal crisis, officials said.

The proposal, which was part of the governor’s 2004 State of the State address, would have required high school seniors to complete 40 hours of community service to graduate.

Rebecca Watts, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education, said the bill did not make it to the house for a vote.

"I don’t remember there being a bill pushing for it," Illinois State Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Hinckley) said. "It’s like a lot of the governor’s ideas: Where’s the money?"

The governor proposed each high school receive $10,000 to implement the program, costing the state a total of $6 million.

"We’re $2.1 billion in the hole and now you’re going to come out with a new program to be funded, I don’t think so," Pritchard said.

District 428 School Board Member Andy Small said the board has not discussed the issue.

"In this time of fiscal problems throughout the state school systems, you’d have to wonder if that money is well spent when schools are struggling to keep class size down to a manageable level," Small said.

"Ten thousand doesn’t go very far," Small said. "To me, it doesn’t sound like a lot to get a program up and going."

The governor’s address reported a connection between community service requirements and higher grade point averages in 83 percent of high schools.

Small said the correlation did not surprise him as students that participate in extracurriculars are those who do well in class most of the time.

"Right now, we’re really strapped with trying to provide basic math, science and English," said Larry Stinson, principal of
DeKalb High School, 1515 S. Fourth St. "We can’t take the money and spread it somewhere else."

"It’s a great idea on paper, but any mandate like that needs to be fully funded," Stinson said.

Stinson said implementing this program and ensuring accountability would translate to personnel costs for the schools.

"In a small community you don’t have nursing homes and hospitals," Stinson said. "There’s going to be a responsibility to find all those things."

Stinson said he was concerned whether students who met all other graduation requirements would have to be held back for not meeting community service requirements.

DeKalb High School senior Ami Goswami said such a requirement is unfair because a lot of seniors are devoted to other activities, including volunteering.

"Some people don’t want to experience that and they should be free to do that," Goswami said.

Senior Julie McAnly said that most seniors already had a lot on their plate, such as worrying about FAFSA and money for college, and community service should not be tacked on with that.

Bush's budget cuts would impact ag ed in Illinois
FarmWeek, 3/3/05
President George Bush in his budget zeroed out funding for the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act — a potential loss of more than $44.8 million for

The Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act helps fund career and technical education, including agricultural education in

“Losing federal Perkins funding would eliminate the requirement for the State of
Illinois to match those federal career and technical education (CTE) dollars,” said Jay Runner, coordinator of Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education (FCAE).

Runner was concerned that without the federal funds, the state may redirect its “match dollars” away from career and technical education.

For fiscal year 2005,
Illinois received $44.8 million, of which about 85 percent was used for local grants to develop academic, vocational, and technical skills of postsecondary and secondary students in vocational and technical education.

Vocational and technical education includes agriculture, industrial arts, health, home economics, and business education.

“A loss in Perkins funding could be devastating to
Illinois agricultural education and other CTE programs. A reduction in state and federal funding levels to local school districts could result in the elimination of some CTE programs,” said Jess Smithers, FCAE field adviser based in Carlinville.

While there are no “earmarked” federal funds specifically for
Illinois agricultural education, ag ed benefits from Perkins funding. Perkins dollars go directly to local school districts, whose administrators determine how the money will be spent.

Local districts may use Perkins resources for agricultural education on a case-by-case basis, depending on local school needs.

“Availability of these federal funds statewide provides a springboard for supplemental funding for agricultural education above and beyond the scope of federal funding,” said Ron Reische, Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) agricultural education state director,

Perkins funding provides incentive grants for such activities as assisting program development services and improving agricultural education; developing curriculum materials related to the state learning standards; agricultural literacy programs; instructor in-service activities; and new, innovative teacher education programs.

Runner advised agriculture education supporters to contact their congressmen about the need for Carl E. Perkins funding for career and technical education and the potential impact on

Stop this dangerous bus seat-belt idea
Letter by Frank Hyden of
Crystal Lake, Daily Herald, 3/4/05

Illinois politician, Lou Lang of Skokie, is trying to enact a law that will be harmful to the children of Illinois riding in our familiar big, yellow school buses. He wants another unfunded mandate to add lap belts to school buses.

His law would be expensive, probably requiring additional school taxes throughout the state to pay for them, since our current buses were not built to accommodate belts. Bus seats that now hold three students would hold only two after seat belts are installed, thereby requiring one-third more buses, drivers, parking spaces and maintenance facilities. It would be wasteful since all modern school buses have a built-in replacement for seat belts called "compartmentalization," which is protection provided by a protective envelope consisting of strong, closely spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs.

Worst of all, this law would be dangerous to small children.

To understand some of the danger involved, see the pictures of a 1984 Canadian test at

Researchers have said that while lap belts were effective in keeping children in their seats, they have little benefit in reducing severe or fatal injuries in frontal crashes and can instead increase the risk of neck or abdominal injuries. In this country, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Academy of Sciences have all concluded that belts on buses would provide little, if any, added protection in a crash.

The NHTSA agrees with the NAS report that there is insufficient reason for a federal mandate for seat belts on large school buses. Lang, the politician, has been pushing this law for the last 15 years in spite of the facts that tell us it is a dangerous idea.



Graduation rates are lower than reported, study indicates
Eric Ferkenhoff,
Boston Globe
CHICAGO -- As the nation's governors meet this weekend in Washington, D.C., to plan ways to fix America's high schools, a sobering report out of Chicago underscores the crisis: Only about half of the city's public high school students graduated on time.
The 76-page report, released earlier this month by the
University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research, found a graduation rate for 2004 of 54 percent at Chicago's public high schools, with some schools graduating only 20 percent of their students on time.
That rate is far below the 71 percent reported by the
Chicago Public Schools and the state. It underscores a national problem documented in a host of recent studies. Many researchers contend that there is no uniform system for calculating graduation rates and that most states inflate their numbers.
National Center for Education Statistics, for example, reports 85 percent of students nationally graduate. But last week, a study by the nonprofit Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., found that nearly a third of America's high school students fail to graduate, and that the graduation rate -- 70 percent nationally in 2000, compared with 72 percent in 1990 -- fell in all but seven states.
Part of the problem, according to Paul Barton, the ETS study's author, and others is that so much emphasis has been placed on higher standards and testing that educators have lost sight of the graduation problem.
''It hasn't been the focus of education reform," said Governor Mark Warner of Virginia, chairman of the National Governors Association, which is hosting the weekend meeting and made redesigning high schools a priority for 2005. ''The thought was if you get the kid early and the appropriate preschool activities, and get quality teachers in the elementary school, then by the time they're in high school, things would work themselves out. That just hasn't proven to be the case."
Arne Duncan, chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools, does not dispute the
University of Chicago report and agrees that much needs to be done to rescue high school students. ''No matter how you measure it, the number is unacceptably high," said Duncan, who is attending the Washington conference. ''We're still losing far too many children. There used to be a time when you could drop out and get a job at the stockyards. But now, you're basically doomed."
University of Chicago report arrived in the midst of perhaps the most ambitious overhaul of the city's public schools in the 10 years since Mayor Richard M. Daley took control of the schools.
The city is planning to shutter scores of failing schools over the next several years and open 100 new ones, many of them small schools that have been shown to be more effective. Last week, the district shut down four schools, including one high school where only 4.7 percent of students met state exam standards. Based on those tests, 211 of the system's 613 schools are on academic probation, including 45 high schools.
''We know the reality, and we're pushing hard," Duncan said, noting that the University of Chicago study, as well as reviews by the district, also indicated vast improvements in some schools.
It is difficult to compare
Chicago's graduation rate with those of other cities because many states and districts calculate the rate differently.
Illinois, for example, does not count transfers who drop out of their new schools -- which would bring down the rate -- but does include transfers who graduate at their new schools.
Neither the
Boston public schools nor the state of Massachusetts tracks graduation rates, according to Boston school spokesman Jonathan Palumbo. The best estimate for Boston, he said, is to look at the percentage of students who passed both the math and English portions of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test last year; that figure was 85.5 percent.
But another study, done last year by Christopher B. Swanson of the Urban Institute, indicated that
Boston public schools had a graduation rate of 42 percent in 2001.
Palumbo said that rate ''doesn't seem realistic. It's just not accurate as far as I can tell."
13 states eye tougher high school standards
Massachusetts to join national effort
Ben Feller, Associated Press,
Boston Globe

WASHINGTON -- A coalition of 13 states, including Massachusetts, confirmed plans yesterday to require tougher high school courses and diploma requirements, changes that could affect about one in three students.
The announcement is the most tangible sign that the nation's governors, gathered in the capital for a summit on improving high schools, want to see that progress quickly.
The participating states have committed to making their core high school classes and tests more rigorous and to match their graduation standards with the expectations of employers and colleges.
The states also pledged to hold colleges more accountable for ensuring students graduate.
Such changes would require time and significant legislative and political work, as teachers unions, school boards, legislatures, and parents would be affected. Governors, state school chiefs, and business executives will lead the efforts in each state.
''This is the biggest step states can take to restore the value of the high school diploma," said Governor Bob Taft of
Ohio, a Republican who is cochairman of Achieve, which is coordinating the effort.
The other states are
Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Texas.
Their network will aim to enforce the American Diploma Project, an effort launched last year to prepare every high school student for college-level work.
It calls for big changes -- requiring every student to take rigorous math and English regardless of career plans, and tying college admissions to high school exit exams, as examples.
States will maintain the option to adopt what they want, but they have agreed to broad points, such as requiring students to take a test of their readiness for college or work.
The weekend session on high schools drew most of the nation's governors, in town for a four-day meeting that includes discussions with President Bush.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings went before the governors to promote Bush's budget proposal and commend the state leaders for making high school achievement a national priority.
''Getting every child to graduate high school with a meaningful diploma in their hands is one of the biggest challenges our country faces," Spellings said yesterday. ''It's never been done. That's why there is push-back from both sides of the political spectrum. In
Washington, like your state capitals, when both sides grumble, it means you're doing something right."
Bush, seeking to expand the No Child Left Behind law he championed, wants Congress to require two years of additional state testing in high schools.
The governors are expected to approve a policy tomorrow that does not endorse or oppose Bush's idea but spells out their conditions: input on the plan, flexibility on how it works, and federal money for any costs.
Michael Casserly, executive director of a coalition of urban school districts known as the Council of the Great City Schools, learned about the 13-state initiative at the meeting. While applauding the goal, he said: ''Much of this conversation is taking place at a very elevated and removed level. At some point, it's going to have to be brought down to the ground, to the local folks."
The participating states serve an estimated 5 million high school students, or roughly 35 percent of the public high school population in the
United States, Achieve spokesmen said.
Achieve president Michael Cohen, a former education adviser to President Clinton, said the group recruited states that seemed most serious about higher standards and poised to act. Other states are expected to join the effort soon, Taft said.
Also yesterday, six foundations announced a $42 million effort to help states pay for their high school policies -- $23 million in private money, with the rest to be matching public grants.
The action comes as the governors deal with what they consider a crisis in American education.
Roughly one-third of students don't graduate on time, just as more jobs are requiring college-level skills and the nation's standing in such fields as math and science is slipping.


No Child Left Behind law needs reform
Guest commentary by Steve Kelley, Minnesota state senator and co-chair of the National Conference of State Legislatures' No Child Left Behind Task Force, Denver Post, 2/27/05
President George W. Bush expended considerable political capital and reached out across party lines to get his education cornerstone, the No Child Left Behind Act, signed in January 2002. Now it's time for the president and Congress to reach out to the states to make necessary changes to meet the act's goals.

Now, students, teachers, administrators and state legislators find the law actually contains provisions that prevent them from meeting the act's goals.

The restrictions, prescriptions and penalties
Washington has sent the states are a burden to schools, and the remedies show no signs of being effective in raising student achievement. It shows the federal government's capacity for exerting maximum effort to accomplish minimal results.

It's easy to understand why the federal government would want a larger say in education policy. With a patchwork of 15,000 local districts in 50 states offering a bewildering array of education goals for the nation's 40 million public school children, comparing student performance and ensuring all schools were providing the best education possible was difficult before No Child Left Behind. Instead of giving states incentives to spur reforms and improvements, the government created mandates that try to punish schools into improvement. These mandates have rolled back the progress many states were making and have detracted attention from the schools and students that need help.

Consequently, the federal government's role has become excessively intrusive in the day-to-day operations of public education. Although the federal government would argue otherwise, states view NCLB as a one-size-fits-all approach to education that places the same requirements on all schools and districts. But Americans know that what is good for one area may not be good for another.

State legislators see an opportunity to work with the administration and Congress to refine NCLB. The National Conference of State Legislatures just completed an exhaustive study of the act, hearing from a wide range of officials, educators and experts about what needs to be changed for states and students to meet the act's goals.

Our recommendations focus on a few key areas:

Allow states more flexibility in charting courses that meet the achievement goals of the act;

Better address contradictions between the Individual with Disabilities Education Act and NCLB; and

Improve the U.S. Department of Education's efforts to provide states more research to promote innovations that in turn will improve education quality.

Specifically, we believe the federal yardstick of the act - the "adequate yearly progress" measurement method - does not effectively gauge the success or failure of students over time. The requirements do not take into account socioeconomic factors, prior levels of educational achievement or other unique challenges that a school or district may face. To say only one measurement can judge every school's effectiveness is not practical.

Ignoring the contradictions between IDEA and NCLB is perhaps the act's worst weakness. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was intended to strengthen academic expectations and accountability for the nation's 5.8 million children with disabilities.

Several provisions of NCLB are in direct conflict with IDEA. For example, NCLB requires students with disabilities to be tested by grade level, while IDEA requires that students be taught based on ability. NCLB requires that 90 percent of all students with disabilities be proficient by the 2013-14 school year. That's unrealistic.

Again, states are in the best position to determine the best programs and goals for their students with disabilities. Instead of more regulations to help these students, the federal government needs to provide adequate fiscal support and greater flexibility.

The task force is greatly concerned about the extent to which the federal government seems indifferent to other unintended consequences of NCLB, including a narrowing of academic instruction to math and reading at the expense of other subjects, increased litigation, a shift of local control of schools to state education agencies and the U.S. Department of Education, and incentives that encourage action contrary to the law's stated goals.

We can cite several instances where NCLB undermined state laws that had gone further than the federal provisions.

When he signed the act, President Bush said, "The federal government will not micromanage how schools are run. "

State legislators share your philosophy, Mr. President. And making these necessary changes to NCLB will only contribute to the act's goals and help schools provide our students with the best education possible.

Listen on NCLB protest
Journal News Editorial,

It has been a week for soul-searching about the state of public education in

State lawmakers collectively blasted the No Child Left Behind law for its coerciveness while promising to work cooperatively with the federal government to fix it.

The nation's governors, backed by business, are frustrated by what they say is a poor high school education in the
United States. In a report released last week for this weekend's National Education Summit in Washington, they demanded it be improved.

And the nonprofit Educational Testing Service bore them out, reporting that the nation's high school completion rate was 70 percent in 2000, down from 72 percent in 1990.

Out of the triple whammy of angst, however, is at least one good sign: agreement that higher education standards can't be rolled back, no matter what it takes to reach them. New Yorkers, at least, can take some comfort that, thanks to an earlier start than the rest of the nation on the issue, their state has had that conversation and long reached the same conclusion.

At the heart of today's state-vs.-federal government debate over education lies the No Child Left Behind law. Signed by President Bush in January 2002, it has been resisted by most states ever since. It requires new annual testing at the third- to eighth-grade levels in all schools, the designation of all teachers as "highly qualified'' by 2006 and sanctions on schools that fail to show "adequate yearly progress."

That's impossible, said the National Conference of State Legislatures last week after studying NCLB for 10 months. Its 77-page report decried obstacles that stifle state innovations and programs that were already working; insufficent federal funding of what it sees as a pervasive classroom mandate; an unrealistic one-size-fits-all method for measuring student performance; and failure to recognize the "special challenges'' many schools face, such as adequately teaching English language learners.

At least nine state legislatures are considering bills that challenge NCLB. And now the national conference is agreeing, insisting on fundamental changes that would give states significantly more power to administer it.

Washington should listen. Not to any recommendations that would lower universal standards or lessen accountability, but to pleas for more flexiblity in implementation, at a more reasonable pace, and to calls for more money. If not, NCLB, due for reauthorization by Congress in 2007, will be so weighted by baggage by then that it, and its good intentions, will be dumped altogether.

Meanwhile, the National Governors Association and its concerns about the insufficiency of an American high school education need to be heard as well. Citing the gulf between high school and adulthood's demands, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, co-chairman of Achieve, a group the governors formed to help states raise academic standards, said, "We must pursue a fundamental redesign of a sacred institution — the American high school."

Indeed, the Educational Testing Service confirmed the need for reform with a new statistic far more sobering than the usual federal data: From 1990 to 2000, it said, about one-third of American high school students failed to graduate high school.

Governors take aim at high school
By Gail Russell Chaddock, Christian Science Monitor Staff writer, 2/28/05

WASHINGTON – In a keynote speech hardwired to be provocative, Bill Gates told the nation's governors that "America's high schools are obsolete."

Some data points: The US has one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world. Only 68 out of every 100 ninth-graders graduate from high school on time, and most need extensive remediation after that. Only 28 of the original ninth-graders make it to their sophomore year in college. "When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm traveling abroad, I am terrified for our workforce of tomorrow," said the Microsoft chairman, who is hiring about half of his new talent overseas.
While President Bush's proposal to expand his signature No Child Left Behind law to the nation's high schools has all but flunked before arrival on Capitol Hill, many of the nation's governors are claiming the mantle of high school reform as their own.

Proposals at this weekend's national education summit include a rigorous college-prep curriculum for all students, more opportunities to earn college credits or industry certification while still in high school, and statewide goals for retention and graduation rates, including at two- and four-year colleges.

For the last quarter century, most of the national reform effort has focused on the pre-K-8 years. Experts and policymakers assumed that if the nation could get all students reading by third grade, the achievement gap between races and classes - and, increasingly, between the performance of US students and those in many other industrialized nations - could be bridged.

While younger students did show improvement, that didn't carry into high school years. "The attention to high school is long overdue, but I don't think there will be additional federal money for it," says Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy in
Washington. "The governors will have to go back to their states and change high schools on their own."

At a historic 1989 education summit, the governors and the elder President Bush launched the movement to set goals for what students should learn in the nation's public schools. Those new standards set a baseline for the 2002 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which uses federal dollars to leverage these goals in Grades 3 through 8.

But three years into the new law, many states are falling short of benchmarks that get tougher every year. Moreover, at a time of tight budgets for nonsecurity spending, federal funding for education is dropping. In a slap at
Washington, Utah's House of Representatives this month voted unanimously to give local education goals priority over NCLB requirements. Twenty-six other states have considered bills to curb NCLB.

"Expanding No Child Left Behind to high schools is going to be an uphill battle, but there's a lot that governors can do to redeploy existing resources now," says Gov. Mark Warner (D) of Virginia, chairman of the National Governors Association.

While many schools are meeting new standards, some 11,008 low-performing public schools face penalties under the new law - up from 5,869 last year, according to a survey by Education Week.

Last week, the National Conference on State Legislatures called for an end to the law's "one size fits all" approach to measuring student performance and asked
Washington to fully fund the law.

Instead, the president's FY 2006 budget calls for deep cuts in federal dollars for schools. The budget calls for eliminating or downsizing $4.2 billion in programs, including $2.17 billion targeted to high schools. With proposed caps on future nondefense discretionary spending, K-12 education funding faces an additional $11 billion in cuts over the next five years.

In such a political and fiscal climate, NCLB supporters on both sides of the aisle worry that expanding the law to US high schools would give opponents an opening to gut it. Many Republicans worry that the law has imposed too strong a federal footprint on a state and local function. Demo crats say it's vastly underfunded.

In a speech to the National Association of Secondary School Principals on Friday, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings urged principals to "finish the job" of education reform by supporting Mr. Bush's high school Initiative. The $1.5 billion plan requires schools to test students three times during the course of high school and help those falling behind. Responding to critics, she said that the Education Department wants to be "as flexible as possible" but that the annual testing required in the law "is a must."

Governors say they can move ahead even if the president's plan falters. At the very least, states can adopt a common definition of a dropout rate, to have an accurate measure of the extent of the problem, says Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R), a member of the NGA Committee on Redesigning the High School.

Until recently, many states claimed a dropout rate of about 5 percent. The national rate is now closer to 30 percent - and even higher in many urban schools. The requirements for a high school diploma should keep pace with the demands of college and the economy, especially in states like Ohio that have been hard hit by a loss of manufacturing jobs, Governor Taft says.

Reformers say that if the governors are successful, the new focus on high schools could give a boost to reform efforts in earlier grades.

"People thought you could do reform up, but almost all the examples we have of change comes when higher levels dictate what happens at lower levels," says Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, a leading advocate for poor children. "It's long overdue that we acknowledge that the standards of high schools are set so low. And the fact that 45 governors are coming to work on this is promising."

Detroit schools to get a bailout
$160 million likely; more teacher and class cutbacks loom 
By Chastity Pratt,
Detroit Free Press Education Writer, 2/26/05

The Detroit Public Schools will not run out of money this school year, thanks to action by the state education department this week.

The Michigan Department of Education approved the school system's deficit elimination plan so the state treasury department could approve a one-year loan of $160 million, district and state officials confirmed Friday.

As the department of education approved the plan, it also set a dozen conditions that the school district must meet to get a long-term fix for its looming $198-million budget problem.

Despite the conditions, the approval was good news, said Robert Moore, senior deputy chief executive officer for the district.

"We got exactly what we hoped for," he said. "This is a plan that was developed and now approved."

The 5-year deficit elimination plan filed earlier this month outlines sweeping budget cuts aimed at eliminating last year's $48-million deficit and this year's $150-million budget shortfall.

The district has until June 1 to meet the education department's conditions -- such as getting its unions to agree to voluntary wage cuts, sending to the education department monthly expenditure reports and detailing the savings from job cuts and 34 school closures that will take effect in June.

If the conditions are met, then a $213-million loan the district took out this school year will be refinanced into a loan repayable for 15 years. That would pull the school budget out of the red for this year.

Not meeting the conditions would open the possibility of state intervention, including a state manager.

In that case, the department would consider the deficit elimination plan to have failed and "take all actions available to it under
Michigan law," acting State Superintendent Jeremy Hughes said in a letter to Kenneth Burnley, chief executive officer for Detroit Public Schools. An education department spokesman said appointing a financial manager would be a last resort.

Detroit is in a budget crisis mostly because it has had three strikes against it in the past few years: losing thousands of students to other districts and the growing number of charter schools; increased health and benefit costs for employees, and state funding that hasn't increased. This year, the district lost 9,300 students and the $7,180 in state aid that each student brings.

The deficit elimination plan calls for cutting additional teachers, some preschool programs and the number of high school tennis matches and track meets nearly in half. It also calls for closing about 60 more schools in addition to 34 already set to close in June. Thousands of the district's 21,000 employees, including teachers, will lose their jobs.

But the exact number to be cut for this year or next school year won't be known until April,
Moore said.

The cuts sound drastic, but there were no other options, said Tom White, executive director of the Michigan School Business Officials' association.

"In the short term, I don't know what else they could've done. I think when you find yourself in that situation your options are limited," he said. "From the perspective of an outsider, this makes sense. You're just hopeful they're able to make it work."

If it is followed, the deficit elimination plan will leave the district with about $40.5 million in savings by June, or about 2.7 percent of the budget. Those savings, called a fund balance, will drop to $10 million next year.

The system would still be teetering on the edge of a deficit again.

Typically, school districts are considered to be in good financial health if they have stashed away an amount equal to 15 percent of their budgets, White said.

Presently, 275 -- or half -- of
Michigan's districts have less than 15 percent in their savings, while 57 districts have less than 6 percent. This year, Detroit was one of 10 districts in a deficit, but in the next three to five years, that number is expected to leap if the state school aid funding system is not revamped, White said.

The loans that the state has approved for
Detroit are no lifesaver, said David Plank, codirector of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University.

"It probably gets them through the end of the year. It just postpones, and only briefly postpones, the day of reckoning." The next day of reckoning is the next student count, he said. "Unless they can get ahead of the spiral, the district is heading to bankruptcy."


LAUSD 'crisis' to cost billions / Los Angeles Daily News
Retiree plans lack funding
By Harrison Sheppard and Jennifer Radcliffe,
Los Angeles Daily News Staff Writers, 2/26/05

Los Angeles Unified School District faces a potential financial crisis that threatens its future because of its unfunded $5 billion liability to provide full medical coverage to retired employees and their families, according to a new state analysis.
The report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office warned that soaring health-care costs, generous employee contracts and the failure to earmark money for the expenses pose a serious danger. It said the LAUSD needs to put away $500 million a year -- about 8 percent of its current budget -- for 30 years to cover a liability that could reach $11 billion under a worst-case scenario.

Citing the LAUSD as a prime example of a problem faced by many other districts, the report said: "The liabilities some districts face are very large -- so large they potentially threaten the district's ability to operate in the future."

While school board and union officials shrug off the seriousness of health care without cost to retirees, Tim Buresh, the LAUSD's chief operating officer, said he's been warning district leaders about the problem for some time.

"In the corporate world, I'd go to jail for this," Buresh said. "Corporations could never do this.
L.A. has a Cadillac free-benefits system and we haven't put any money away to pay for it."

If the LAUSD can't figure out how the benefits can be funded by 2007 when new federally recommended accounting changes take effect, it will have to quit promising benefits to retirees, he said.

About 150 school districts in the state provide substantial health benefits to retirees, with about 80 of those, including the LAUSD, providing lifetime benefits. The LAUSD and
Fresno were cited as facing the most serious problem.

Jerry Solender of the United Teachers Los Angeles union, a member of the district's health-benefits committee, said the report highlights an unrealistic, worst-case scenario, in which all employees would draw their retiree benefits at the same time.

"It's an accounting function. It's not really something that comes out of your pocket," he said. "People die. People say, 'Screw this. I don't want to work here anymore.' ... The reality is, that doesn't just happen."

LAUSD board member David Tokofsky said paying health benefits of retired teachers is not the most pressing problem facing the state. Districts fail to meet all kinds of conservative recommendations for workers' compensation, economic uncertainty and health benefit reserves, he said, adding that retiree health benefits are one of the only perks educators have.

"Things will change. Solutions will be found and we should keep Ducky Lucky, Henny Penny and other Chicken Littles from pushing an extremist agenda in the face of real problems."

The LAUSD expects to pay about $170 million this year for 32,000 retirees to receive health benefits, and the amount is expected to more than double within 10 years.

The LAUSD, like many districts, writes checks out of its general fund each year to pay for that year's benefits. The more fiscally responsible approach, according to the state report, is to treat the benefits like a pension fund and invest money now for each teacher currently in the system.

In accounting terms, the total unfunded liability to the district's general fund over time has a net present value of at least $5 billion, or $11 billion under a worst-case scenario. That means the district would have to invest at least that amount now in order to generate the income over time to relieve the burden from its general fund. The $500 million per year is a recommended way of getting there over time.

"I really feel for these districts because they backed into this, and it's accumulated very quietly over the years," said Paul Warren, a senior policy analyst for the Legislative Analyst's Office. "They're realizing they're in a difficult position and it's not a good fiscal time for them to say, Let's set aside a whole bunch of money. It's going to be a really tough issue to solve."

The analysis came as part of Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill's review of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2005-06 budget. The LAO recommends that the Legislature begin requiring districts to draft plans to address the problem.

Legally, school districts cannot deny benefits to current retirees, but they can negotiate with the unions to stop providing them for new employees.

Dan Basalone, staff member for the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles union, said benefit decisions are made on an annual basis and could be revised.

"(Cutting them) would politically be disastrous, obviously. It isn't something where it's this horrendous unfunded mandate that they're somehow locked into."

Assemblyman Keith Richman, R-Granada Hills, this week wrote to LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer to find out what the district plans to do about the issue. Richman, a member of the Assembly Education committee, said if districts do not start addressing the problem, the state may have to step in.

"The first thing they need to do is stop digging the hole deeper," Richman said. "The school district needs to negotiate with the teachers union and simply say we can no longer afford to continue to give benefits that are going to bankrupt the district."

While the district is expected to announce pay raises for teachers in the next few weeks, there is no indication that talks on reducing health care costs will lead to any changes.

Los Angeles Unified first agreed to pay full health benefits in lieu of raises in the late 1960s. At the time, it saved employees about $1.25 a month. Now, fully paid premiums cost more than $300 a month. The LAUSD currently covers 47,000 teachers and about 32,000 retired employees -- making health care one of the district's major expenses.

To qualify for lifetime benefits, an employee's age at retirement plus the number of years employed must add up to at least 80. Spouses of eligible employees are also covered for no monthly premium, as long as the employee is alive.

California Retired Teachers Association spokesman Ed Ely noted that health care costs are rising in every segment of society, not just for government employees, and said the problem should be dealt with on a greater basis rather than singling out teachers.

"I just don't know if you can frame the debate as a teacher's health care versus a student's textbook. You can't just use these people up and toss them away. I think you have an obligation to them for the service they provided over their careers."

District teachers refuse to give homework
BERKELEY, California -- Students in the Berkeley school district aren't getting written homework assignments because teachers are refusing to grade work on their own time after two years without a pay raise.

So far, a black history event had to be canceled and parents had to staff a middle-school science fair because teachers are sticking strictly to the hours they're contracted to work.

"Teachers do a lot with a little. All of a sudden, a lot of things that they do are just gone. It's demoralizing," said Rachel Baker, who has a son in kindergarten.

Teachers say they don't want to stop volunteering their time.

"It's hard," said Judith Bodenhauser, a high school math teacher. "I have stacks of papers I haven't graded. Parents want to talk to me; I don't call them back."

The action was organized by the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, which wants a cost-of-living increase next year.

District Superintendent Michele Lawrence expressed sympathy for the teachers but said there isn't money for raises. She blamed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for not providing as much money to education as promised.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Vince Sollitto said the governor has promised that the bulk of new funding in next year's budget, $3 billion, will go to education.

Barry Fike, president of the teachers union, said the district will be getting more money next year and that teachers want a share.

But schools spokesman Mark Coplan said the district still faces a deficit for several reasons, including rising health care costs and the governor's plan to shift some big costs from the state to the district.

Fike said teachers are willing to start paying some health care costs, but without a raise that would amount to a pay cut.

The union declared an impasse in negotiations last June and has not had a contract for two years.

Doctoring the Report Card? Studying Is Easier
New York Times, 3/2/05

WASHINGTON, March 1 - Squared-off B's that look suspiciously like F's and report cards that get "lost in the mail" are becoming endangered species as schools go to new lengths to prevent forging of grades and transcripts.

Some schools have switched to high-tech, tamper-resistant paper, and others have set up Internet-based grade books that allow parents to monitor a child's progress.
Precise data about report card forgery is hard to come by, said Gregory J. Cizek, a researcher at the
University of North Carolina who studies cheating. Nonetheless, only one or two cases - or even unconfirmed anecdotes - can be enough to make schools act to thwart cheating.

In interviews with principals across the country, many mentioned the ease of altering report cards and transcripts using desktop publishing software like Adobe Photoshop, which allows students to capture a school's seal off its Web site and paste it into a file to create an official-looking document.

One administrator told of a student who was caught forging his report card when the nearby Kinko's called the school to report that a student had left a copy of his grades on the copier. One principal said he had heard of students forging transcripts with generic-embossed seals to avoid paying for official transcripts.

Don Zeller, assistant principal at
Munster High School in Munster, Ind., for example, said that although he could not quantify it, he knew forgery was a problem. He said he had decided to switch to tamperproof paper from Scrip-Safe, a document security company based in Ohio, after a local printing company could not provide enough safeguards.

Scrip-Safe sells its paper to about 350 high schools that use it for transcripts, report cards and even hall passes, said the company's chief executive officer, Joe Orndorff.

"Our high school business just walked in; it's not something we have salespeople for," he said, adding that most clients had seen the benefits of secure paper at the college level or had been contacted by a college about a fraudulent transcript.

Eric Hicks, the registrar at
Mercersburg Academy, a private high school in Pennsylvania, said the school decided to start using Scrip-Safe's specialized paper for transcripts after discovering that a transfer student's transcript had been forged - by the parents.

"We didn't know until the final transcript came directly from the school," he said, detailing the parents' effort to create an authentic-looking transcript, including buying a machine to create a raised seal.

Mr. Hicks said the added security was worth the cost. "We thought then that people could forge our transcript and that tipped us over the edge," he said. "No one even flinched."

Other schools have taken to the Internet. Sandie Platt, the principal at
Lake Central High School in Indiana, said that this year parents have been able to see their child's grades online through Edline, a service out of Chicago that allows students and parents to monitor grades, attendance, assignments and calendars. The school still sends out printed report cards, even if they are somewhat superfluous.

It's more difficult - and less rewarding - for a student to dramatically alter a grade on a printed card, since parents can monitor progress and no longer rely on a once-a-semester update.

Kent Vermeer, an assistant principal at
Largo High School in Florida, uses the online grade book service ParentConnect, a part of Pearson Education Technologies. Mr. Vermeer said he knew that report cards were being forged by students, especially when they were printed on plain white paper, because he would continually get calls from suspicious parents.

The funniest instance he remembered was when a report card that arrived from
Mexico on an official letterhead was translated. It turned out to be made up, with fake course titles. With the online system, Mr. Vermeer said, parents can now let children know that they are keeping track of their progress.

"It's a quiet way to monitor," he said, although he estimated that with only about 20 percent of all parents registered, use of the system is probably skewed toward better students.

The decision to go digital brings up new questions about hacking. Representatives of both ParentConnect and Edline said they had never heard of anyone hacking onto one of their servers, and since the Web sites are on secure servers maintained by either the companies or the schools, and the parent and student accounts are password protected and read-only, the susceptibility to hacking is minimal.


Florida schools among worst in nation
By Associated Press,

TAMPA - Florida schools rank among the worst in the nation in teacher salaries and college funding, according to a new report aimed at improving the state's education.

The Constitutional Accountability Commission report said state schools are above-average only in third-grade reading and in the number of students returning for a second year at community colleges.

Florida is not competing on a national level. That is pretty obvious," said Steven Shimp, a Fort Myers contractor serving on the panel.

The amount
Florida spends per student is 45th among the nation. Florida is also behind in teacher salary and funding of colleges, the panel members concluded.

The commission was created by the Florida School Boards Association to study the demands of the state constitution. In 1998, voters changed the Florida Constitution to describe education as a "fundamental value" of the state and make it "a paramount duty of the state" to provide for "high-quality" public schools.

The 31-member bipartisan commission includes educators, former lawmakers and business leaders and is chaired by former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat, and former Comptroller Bob Milligan, a Republican.

Gov. Jeb Bush has proposed a $1.1-billion increase in spending on public schools.

Texas defies No Child law on special ed
Officials confirm state failed to show progress, could be sanctioned
Dallas Morning News, 2/26/05
AUSTIN – State education officials said Friday that they are overriding a federal rule on testing of special-education students, preventing more than 40 percent of Texas districts from failing under federal standards that require schools to show annual improvement.

Officials also confirmed that
Texas, for the first time, failed to meet the adequacy benchmark for states because it fell short in one of 29 measures that are evaluated under federal law. The markdown was for reading performance by special-education students – about 12 percent of the state's enrollment.

That failure could put
Texas on the path toward mild sanctions under the No Child Left Behind Act. Individual campuses and districts that repeatedly fail face more serious sanctions and could eventually be forced to replace staff and perhaps close.

Federal education officials could not be reached for comment on possible consequences of the state's defiance over the tests. State officials contend that the No Child law gives them the flexibility to bypass federal standards on special-education tests.

The Texas Education Agency said that nearly 92 percent of the state's 1,037 school districts achieved "adequate yearly progress," the standard required by the federal law. Of the 86 districts that did not meet the standards, a handful were in
North Texas – including Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Duncanville and Lancaster.

But if state Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley had not approved 431 districts' appeals over the special-education tests, the failure rate among districts in
Texas would have been nearly 50 percent.

Among individual campuses, 94 percent satisfied federal standards, with 402 falling short based on test scores, student attendance, graduation rates and other factors. Results on the 2004 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills were the main criteria.

An additional 1,316 campuses appealed initial failures and won a reprieve from Ms. Neeley.

Federal limit

The majority of appeals from school districts and campuses were over a federal limit on how many special-education students taking a test other than the TAKS can be counted as "proficient."

That limit – established to prevent schools from having too many students take easier, alternative exams – is 1 percent of the enrollment for each district and campus.

Last year, nearly 9 percent of all
Texas students in grades three through 10 took an alternative test, the State Developed Alternative Assessment, for special-education children. That meant that about 8 percent of students were supposed to be counted as "artificial failures" in the final results.

State officials battled with the U.S. Department of Education for several months over the rule, but the department decided last year that
Texas would have to comply. TEA officials predicted then that a massive number of districts and schools would fail to make adequate yearly progress.

But Ms. Neeley's action prevented that.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the TEA, said the commissioner has authority under the No Child Left Behind Act to consider appeals by school districts that believe they have been treated unfairly under the requirements.

"It's a fairness issue," Ms. Ratcliffe said. "At the time school districts tested their special-education students [in the spring], the final federal regulations had not been published." The rules were issued in May, several weeks after testing was completed.

Ms. Ratcliffe said school districts were required under state law to administer an alternative exam – not the TAKS – to most special-education students.

"Districts were caught between conflicting state and federal laws," she said.

Nearly 90 percent of appeals from the 431 districts that challenged the 1 percent rule were upheld. For the 50 that were turned down, the most common reason was lack of documentation on how many students took alternative tests.


The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to show how they will close achievement gaps and make sure that all students reach academic proficiency in core subject areas. Improvement is reported through the AYP ratings.

Sanctions kick in for states, districts and schools after they fail to make minimum progress. This is the first year for
Texas to fail, but the sanctions would be mild even if the state misses again in 2005. Technical advisers from the U.S. Department of Education would be appointed to work with state officials in problem areas.

The 86
Texas school districts that failed to meet the standard this year are not subject to sanctions until they fail a second consecutive year. Then, they must revise their improvement plans, spelling out how they intend to boost test scores and meet other benchmarks.

Of the 402 schools that failed to reach AYP, those most affected are the 291 that receive federal Title I funds for disadvantaged students. Of those, 91 are in their second year of not meeting the standards and are now classified as "in need of improvement." The most significant sanction is that students in those schools may transfer to other schools, with the district providing transportation.

Sanctions intensify for lack of progress in additional years. In the fourth year, schools could be required to replace their staffs, and districts could be abolished and merged with other districts. After five consecutive failing years, schools could be closed.

Ms. Ratcliffe said
Texas has joined about a dozen states seeking a halt to the 1 percent rule for testing special-education students.

"We think 1 percent is too low, and 8 to 9 percent may be too high," she said. "The correct level may be in the range of 3 to 4 percent, but we want to do some hard research that the department can consider. ... We agree with the goals of No Child Left Behind, but there needs to be a little more flexibility."

The state also releases its own annual accountability ratings for all school districts and campuses, based on test scores and other criteria that are different from those used under the federal AYP standards. State ratings are generally announced a few months after the end of the school year.

Nutritionists oppose junk-food bill
School Boards & Administrators also voice Unexpected Opposition
By Ryan Alessi,
Lexington Herald Leader, Frankfort Bureau, 2/26/05

FRANKFORT - In an unexpected twist, school nutritionists are opposing a Senate bill aimed at fashioning healthier diets for students.

Administrators and school boards also are lining up against the so-called "junk-food" measure, and the state's leading teachers group has suddenly declared itself neutral even though it backed an earlier House bill that had largely the same objective.

Just a week ago, it seemed almost certain that some type of school food bill would become law, with both chambers voting to limit sales of sugary soft drinks, candy bars and potato chips in school vending machines and cafeteria lines. Rising concerns over childhood obesity have driven the legislation after years of failure.

But now provisions in the Senate bill that are more specific and more demanding on school systems and their employees than those in the House version have triggered an unanticipated outburst of objections.

School officials and employees, particularly food service directors from around the state, have bombarded House lawmakers with calls of opposition to the Senate bill now under consideration. The main complaints are a requirement for 30 minutes of supervised exercise each day for elementary school students and a ban on "deep-fried food" in cafeterias.

"We have worked tirelessly to try to change our products so they're not only nutritious but acceptable to kids," said Janie Thornton, Hardin County Schools' food service director and vice president of the national School Nutrition Association. "If kids won't eat it, we haven't accomplished a thing."

Thornton said she and her colleagues aren't quarreling with the goal or with the extra work that counting calories in school menus brings. But she said she's concerned that the "deep-fried food" provision would wreak havoc on food service directors' menu planning by preventing them from serving food that is "flash fried" by distributors, such as chicken nuggets.

Karen Barden, food service director for Jessamine County Schools, said she's mostly concerned that the bill gives food service directors a bad name by implying that they're not adequately doing their jobs.

Barden noted that a child typically eats only 175 meals out of roughly 1,095 in a year at school. "We will not be the solution to the nation's obesity issues," she said.

The Kentucky Association of School Administrators and the School Board Association, meanwhile, are balking at the exercise provision in the Senate bill, saying that it levies an unfunded mandate on schools.

Wayne Young of the administrators' association said that by specifically requiring a physical education teacher or specialist to "coordinate" students' physical activities, schools might have to hire more staff.

"Does that mean hands on, in person? There are a lot of unanswered questions," he said.

The Kentucky Education Association's board has yet to take a position on the Senate bill, which was authored by Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington.

Jefferson County teacher e-mailed the KEA this week to complain that the Senate's exercise requirement takes away 30 minutes of prime instruction time, said Frances Steenbergen, KEA's president.

"The concern is that if we have to bring our test scores up, how do we fit in 30 minutes of physical activity?" she said. However, the KEA had earlier signed onto a resolution by the state's Healthy Kids Task Force that specifically calls for mandating "thirty minutes of daily physical activity in elementary and middle schools."

Despite the sudden backlash, key advocates say they're still hopeful that a bill can pass this session.

"To me, the kids are what's important," said Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, one of the authors of the House version of the bill. "I've worked on it for about five years. This better be the year."

None of the groups have challenged a key provision in both bills that bans elementary schools from offering soda in vending machines during school days and that requires middle and high schools to offer more "school-day-approved" beverages, such as water, milk and 100 percent juice in their machines. Those had been prickly issues among some lawmakers, which contributed to the demise of past bills.

Rep. Tim Feeley, R-Crestwood, said he hopes to quell the exercise requirement controversy by adding an amendment to the Senate bill that pushes back its implementation until the 2008-09 school year.

And Tonya Chang, director of advocacy for the American Heart Association's Kentucky office, said the "fried foods" provision is modeled after a regulation passed last year in Texas and is meant only to prevent school districts from deep frying foods once they reach cafeterias. She said the state education department can make that clear in later regulations.

States Gone Soft
Opinion in Investor's Business Daily,

Education: Thirteen governors have formed a coalition to raise the bar for high schools. That sounds like long-overdue progress, but what about the other 37?

For that matter, what about the legislatures, school boards, teacher unions and other interests that need to sign off on any plan to shape up public education? It's good to see that at least some leaders among the states are stepping forward. But they need followers, and of those there are far too few.

The action plan for high schools grew out of a summit that most of the nation's governors attended. With dropout rates averaging about one-third and schools widely failing to prepare students for work or college, there was no doubt that something had to be done. And the plan looks sound.

It calls for states to raise high school standards to ensure that graduates have the skills needed for college or work, make courses more rigorous and test students regularly to make sure they measure up.

But a majority of states decided, at least for now, to sit this one out. Only 13 initially signed up for the reform effort:
Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas.

States used to have the reputation as hotbeds of innovation and reform. These days, the leadership is coming from
Washington, embodied in the No Child Left Behind bill enacted in 2001.

A few governors, such as
Ohio's Robert A. Taft, seem to get the point of the federal law and accept its main premises: Schools must educate all students; standardized tests are essential to measure the schools' progress; and schools failing to make the grade should not expect to stay in business. But even the most reform-minded chief executive can expect resistance back home.

State lawmakers are balking, for instance. The National Conference of State Legislatures has issued a report on NCLB that's basically a plea for relief from the tougher parts of that law — just as the president seeks to extend the law's testing regimen to high school.

The report says states need "much more flexibility" in meeting NCLB requirements for schools' yearly progress. It asks for alternatives to standardized tests, such as student portfolios. It says states should be able to adopt special (i.e. lower) requirements for "unique" urban or rural schools and districts. It asks, naturally, for more federal money.

The feds aren't perfect, and they do have a way of writing too many rules. But it's one thing to have flexibility in deciding how to meet standards. It's quite another to demand that the standards themselves be bent. Schools need to be tested against widely accepted benchmarks, ideally national, that do not make allowances for the usual excuses about ill-prepared kids or uncooperative parents.

States have long played the lead role in governing — and setting standards for — public education. This tradition should not be taken lightly. But it's clear from global rankings and local experience that
America's schools aren't yet up to the task.

In other words, the states have not set the bar high enough and have been too prone to excuse failure. They have no right now to complain that
Washington, pushed by the Bush administration, has stepped into the breach and is taking charge.

What's wrong with American high schools
Our schools were conceived decades ago to meet the needs of another age. It's time for a serious redesign
By Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft and co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,
Los Angeles Times, 3/4/05
Our high schools are obsolete.

By obsolete, I don't just mean that they are broken, flawed and underfunded--although I can't argue with any of those descriptions.

What I mean is that they were designed 50 years ago to meet the needs of another age. Today, even when they work exactly as designed, our high schools cannot teach our kids what they need to know.

Until we design high schools to meet the needs of the 21st Century, we will keep limiting--even ruining--the lives of millions of Americans every year. Frankly, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow. The idea behind the old high school system was that you could train an adequate work force by sending only a small fraction of students to college, and that the other kids either couldn't do college work or didn't need to.

Sure enough, today only one-third of our students graduate from high school ready for college, work and citizenship.

The others, most of whom are low-income and minority students, are tracked into courses that won't ever get them ready for any of those things--no matter how well the students learn or how hard the teachers work.

In district after district across the country, wealthy white kids are taught Algebra II, while low-income minority kids are taught how to balance a checkbook.

This is an economic disaster. In the international competition to have the best supply of workers who can communicate clearly, analyze information and solve complex problems, the
United States is falling behind. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world.

In math and science, our 4th-graders rank among the top students in the world, but our 12th-graders are near the bottom.
China has six times as many college graduates in engineering.

As bad as it is for our economy, it's even worse for our students. Today, most jobs that pay enough to support a family require some post-secondary education. Yet only half of all students who enter high school enroll in a post-secondary institution.

High school dropouts have it worst of all. Only 40 percent have jobs. They are nearly four times more likely to be arrested than their friends who stayed in high school. And they die young because of years of poor health care, unsafe living conditions and violence.

We can put a stop to this. We designed these high schools; we can redesign them.

We have to do away with the outdated idea that only some students need to be ready for college and that the others can walk away from higher education and still thrive in our 21st Century society. We need a new design that realizes that all students can do rigorous work.

There is mounting evidence in favor of this approach. Take the
Kansas City, Kan., public school district, where 79 percent of students are minorities and 74 percent live below the poverty line. For years, the district struggled with high dropout rates and low test scores. In 1996, it adopted a school-reform model that, among many other steps, requires all students to take college-prep courses. Since then, the district's graduation rate has climbed more than 30 percentage points.

Kansas City is not an isolated example. Exciting work is under way to improve high schools in such cities as Chicago, Oakland and New York.

All of these schools are organized around three powerful principles: Ensure that all students are given a challenging curriculum that prepares them for college or work; that their courses clearly relate to their lives and goals; and that they are surrounded by adults who push them to achieve.

This kind of change is never easy. But I believe there are three ways that political and business leaders at every level can help build momentum for change in our schools.

First, declare that all students must graduate from high school ready for college, work and citizenship. Every politician and chief executive in the country should speak up for the belief that children need to take courses that prepare them for college.

Second, publish the data that measure our progress toward that goal. We already have some data that show us the extent of the problem. But we need to know more: What percentage of students are dropping out? What percentage are graduating? And this data must be broken down by race and income.

Finally, every state should commit to turning around failing schools and opening new ones. When the students don't learn, the school must change. Every state needs a strong intervention strategy to improve struggling schools.

If we keep the system as it is, millions of children will never get a chance to fulfill their promise because of their ZIP code, their skin color or their parents' income. That is offensive to our values.

Every kid can graduate ready for college. Every kid should have the chance.

Let's redesign our schools to make it happen.

Sobriety Tests Are Becoming Part of the School Day
New York Times, 3/3/05

EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. - For years, schools across the country have deployed breath analyzers at proms, pep rallies and other after-school events to catch students who arrived drunk or smuggled in alcohol.

After some resistance and fevered debate, student advocates and even lawyers gradually came to accept that schools were within their rights to use every means to ensure that students were not toting six-packs and liquor bottles to after-school, night and weekend events.
Quietly though, a few districts around the country, from Indiana to Connecticut to Long Island, have begun to integrate breath-testing devices into the regular school day, a move that adds a new wrinkle to the ongoing struggle between students' privacy rights and a school's duty to limit drug and alcohol abuse.

Schools say they need to ensure that no students are drinking in class. Civil rights lawyers worry that high school students pulled out of class and forced to take a breath-alcohol test could be unfairly stigmatized for goofy or strange behavior.

Manufacturers of breath analyzers say they have sold their devices to thousands of schools across the country, but it is impossible to say how many districts have started using breath-alcohol tests during the school day. Officials with the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the National School Boards Association said they knew of no statistics tracking schools' use of breath analyzers. But lawyers who argue cases involving students' civil liberties said that tests during the school day are rare, and represent untested ground for most districts.

On the East End of Long Island, the
East Hampton School District is venturing into this terrain with a proposal to use breath analyzers on students suspected of being intoxicated in high school.

District officials said they grew concerned after hearing of rampant student drinking. Teenagers were caught drinking on school trips to
Costa Rica and Italy. A drunk student vomited on a bus on the way to a field trip. Then there were students showing up in class drunk, sometimes after having alcohol at lunch.

Things seemed to be getting out of hand, even for East Hampton, a summer oasis for wealthy New Yorkers that reverts to a rural small town in the off-season where teenagers can get away with holding beach bonfire parties where alcohol flows freely, and year-round residents describe 16 as the de facto drinking age.

So, to stop what seemed like a swell of student drinking, school administrators this winter proposed administering breath analyzers to students while high school is in session. Any student suspected of being drunk in class would be tested by a trained staff member, and not a police officer, board officials said. Results showing alcohol consumption would mean suspension. Refusing to take a test would be seen as an admission of guilt.

In central
Connecticut, officials in the Avon School District are writing a plan similar to East Hampton's. A school district near South Bend, Ind. has had the policy in place for several years. Other districts around the country may well use their breath analyzers during the school day, even if their policies were originally intended for events outside of school.

But on
Long Island, only one other school district - the Sayville School District - already has an in-school breath-alcohol test policy, and in that case administrators say they have not tested a single student in the seven years it has been in effect. Still, they say it has merit. "It's really preventative," said Geri Sullivan-Keck, Sayville's assistant superintendent for curriculum.

Prof. Bernard James of
Pepperdine University, who specializes in constitutional law, said such policies easily survive legal challenges, but often crumple under community opposition. "In policy, it's an extraordinarily controversial issue," he said.

News of the plan has roiled
East Hampton. Last month, parents and teachers crowded a school board meeting to cheer the proposal. The op-ed pages of The East Hampton Star overflowed with letters, many of them calling the plan heavy-handed and invasive.

Wendy Hall, the school board president, said the seven-member board would probably approve the plan at a meeting in early April. She called the plan gutsy and said it was one of several efforts the district had undertaken to restrict student drinking.

The proposal has forced students, teachers and parents to focus on drinking in
East Hampton. The high school is a drab, boxy building set among the town's cedar-shingled homes. It spends $16,000 per student per year, and 80 percent of its 1,000 students graduate with a Regents diploma. Right now, students are preparing for spring break and Advanced Placement Tests, but the breath analyzer plan is what really drives conversation, residents said.

Daniel Otto, a senior at East Hampton High, mulled it over one night in his kitchen, as he sipped Coors Light. It was Thirsty Thursday, the night he and a few friends play poker and drink. Mr. Otto said the plan was ridiculous.

"I think they're trying to fix a problem they can't fix," he said. "Everybody drinks. It's the way
East Hampton kids are."

Claudia Pilato Maietta, the president of the Parent Teacher Student Association, said the breath analyzer proposal had come after a rash of complaints about student drinking. In addition to complaints about drinking at pep rallies and at a beach at lunch, there was one complaint in October from a parent who e-mailed the principal photos of
East Hampton students drinking at parties. Officials alerted the students' parents, and suspended some of the students from extracurricular activities.

Kevin Flaherty, a senior in the pictures who was not among those drinking, said that the incident had helped pave the way for the testing, which he called an over-reaction. "I know the whole senior class," he said, "and no one drinks at school."

He and other students expressed concern that students with past problems would be targeted and those who were zany, tired or rowdy would be misjudged as being drunk.

Indiana, at Penn High School in Mishawaka, which has a similar policy, the principal was forced to apologize to a student who had been pulled out of class by a police officer last year and given three breath tests, all of which were negative.

But school officials in
East Hampton insist they would use the tests fairly and discreetly. Scott Farina, the principal, said the school would call parents before giving the test, and would make sure students were safe if the results came out positive.

"This is just one way that we're trying to be proactive," he said.

One of the few students unfazed by the proposal was James Westfall, a senior, who said he had smuggled alcohol to school in a Gatorade bottle just before Christmas vacation. He was caught that day by school officials, he said, even without a breath analyzer, and said the school should have carte blanche to keep students from drinking.

"They're trying to keep it out of school," he said. "They're right to do that."

Survey: Students not taught basic finance
By Ben Feller, AP Education Writer,

WASHINGTON -- More states are requiring students to learn about managing money, but personal finance remains a fringe topic in schools and a major source of federal concern.
Seven states mandate that students take a course about basic finances to graduate high school, according to 2004 survey results released Thursday by the private National Council on Economic Education. That's up from 2002, when just four states required such courses.

In the standards they set for schools, most states say they want money matters to be taught -- 38 states include the ideas of saving, investing, risk management and other finance themes in their standards or guidelines, an increase from 31 states two years earlier. But the survey found many states don't enforce the standards, let alone require entire courses.

"There is more good economic and financial education being offered in schools than ever," said Robert Duvall, president of the national council, which released its findings during an economic literacy summit. "But as a subject area, it continues to be marginalized as an add-on in an already crowded curriculum. We need to keep pushing to make it part of the core."

Poor understanding of personal finance can cause more than a sloppy checkbook. As young people rack up credit debt or fail to save money, they can later find themselves with bankruptcies, home foreclosures and financial stresses that divide families, experts say.

The problem of bad money management is drawing more national attention as a public education issue. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has prodded schools to help teach kids financial literacy so they are not saddled by poor financial decisions as adults.

The Financial Literacy and Education Commission, which represents 20 federal agencies and commissions, is working on ways to help people navigate complex money decisions.

In a national survey last year, only 52 percent of high school seniors answered correctly questions about personal finance and economics. The students struggled, for example, with questions on income tax, stocks and bonds, credit card liability and retirement plans.

The new report says that the seven states requiring students to take a personal finance course are
Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, New York and Utah.

Relying on colleges to teach students about money is not a good approach, Duvall said, as many kids don't get that far, and college courses are more about theory than daily life.

Duvall's council wants all states to require an economics course, including personal finance. A total of 15 states require an economics course this year, up from 14 two years ago.

States can also reinforce economic themes in other courses, such as a math class on compound interest or a history class on the Boston Tea Party and taxation, Duvall said.

William Walstad, director of the
National Center for Research in Economic Education, said states should unite those varied lessons in a well-defined sequence of courses -- just as they do with math and science. He said advocates need to lobby with more urgency and unity.

"Time can hurt us if we don't keep pressing the case," Walstad said.

The number of states that included personal finance in their curriculum standards dropped from 40 to 31 between 2000 and 2002 before rebounding in the new survey.

Duvall said that was a reaction by states to No Child Left Behind, the 2001 federal education law that put a greater emphasis on state math and reading progress.

"We've had a couple of years to take that in stride and figure out how to not only put a rightful emphasis on language arts and mathematics, but also financial literacy," he said.


NCLB Law Needs Work, Legislators Assert
Report by State Legislatures' Group Urges More Flexibility
By David J. Hoff, 3/1/05

Washington - The federal government has taken control of state education systems, and state leaders want them back, legislators around the country say.

Through the No Child Left Behind Act, Congress and the U.S. Department of Education have forced state lawmakers to expand their testing systems, alter the ways they reward and punish schools, and spend their states' own money on federal mandates, the National Conference of State Legislatures contends in a report issued Wednesday.

To address the situation, the 76-page report says,
Washington should give states broader authority to define student-achievement goals and more latitude to devise the strategies to help students reach those goals.

"States that were once pioneers are now captives of a one-size-fits-all accountability system,"
New York state Sen. Steve Saland, the Republican co-chairman of the task force, said at a press conference held here Feb. 23 to unveil the report.

While the report includes strong rhetoric—including suggestions that the 3-year-old No Child Left Behind law is unconstitutional—NCSL leaders struck a conciliatory tone when releasing it.

"What we have are specific ideas that we would like to bring to the table," said Maryland Delegate John A. Hurson, who is the president of the Denver-based NCSL. "The time is right, and we think Congress will work with us to try to make changes."

Those ideas include granting states greater authority over how to define when a school is making adequate yearly progress, or AYP, a key measure of success under the law. The NCSL also suggests that states be able to reward schools that make progress in improving student achievement even if they haven't reached their AYP goals in every demographic subgroup, as the law now requires.

Other proposals include dramatically increasing federal financing for the federal law, and commissioning studies to determine the costs of implementing it. The law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is President Bush's premier initiative in precollegiate education.

Not Budging

So far, though, federal officials appear unwilling to consider the dramatic changes the state legislators want.

"The report could be interpreted as wanting to reverse the progress we've made," Raymond J. Simon, the Education Department's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said in a statement.

"No Child Left Behind is bringing new hope and new opportunity to families throughout
America," he added, "and we will not reverse course."

U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement that NCSL's report was part of an effort to water down the impact of the law.

"Some lobbying groups … want the funding No Child Left Behind is providing, but they don't want to meet the high standards that come with it," said Mr. Boehner, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. "They want more money and lower standards."

State officials counter that the NCSL report offers a valid critique of the law.

"They're saying exactly what needs to be said," said Betty J. Sternberg, the
Connecticut commissioner of education.

Waivers, Changes Sought
In January, Ms. Sternberg requested waivers from the federal Education Department to allow her state to scale back the amount of testing and other requirements of the law. ("States Revive Efforts to Coax NCLB Changes,"
Feb. 2, 2005.)

With President Bush starting his second term, and a new secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, in office, a host of organizations are seeking changes to help their members meet the law's goals.

The NCSL is the most prominent group thus far to outline so specifically the changes it wants. The panel it convened was a bipartisan group of lawmakers with experience in education. Mr. Saland's co-chairman, for example, was state Sen. Steve Kelley, a Minnesota Democrat.

Yet the group's sway is unlikely to be enough to win major changes in the law or the way it's administered by the Education Department, observers say.

"The [Bush] administration is largely satisfied that it's accomplished a major change, and they would be loath to open up the legislation," said William L. Taylor, the chairman of the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, a Washington-based advocacy group. He supports the law.

Even if the administration were willing to consider legislative changes, it wouldn't endorse several of the NCSL's proposals because the changes would undermine the law's goal of ensuring that all students are achieving at grade level, said one of the law's architects.

To allow states to set a goal of 100 percent student proficiency at one specific grade level only, as Mr. Kelley suggested at the NCSL's press conference, would allow some students to fall too far behind, said Sandy Kress, a former education adviser to President Bush.

"We'd open back up the idea that youngsters can fall behind year after year, and then can magically catch up," Mr. Kress, now an Austin, Texas-based lawyer, said in an interview last week. Mr. Kress was a top negotiator for the White House when the law was being crafted in 2001.

NCSL's Critique

The National Conference of State Legislatures formed a task force last year to recommend changes that would make it easier to carry out the No Child Left Behind Act. The organization issued the resulting report after collecting testimony from school officials, chief state school officers, and others who must comply with the law.

The NCSL's executive committee unanimously approved the task force's report, which offers a long list of recommendations that the state legislators say would improve the law and its implementation.

According to the report, the heart of the problem is the law's prescriptive nature.

The law, it says, has forced several states either to abandon existing accountability systems that reward growth in student achievement, or to issue reports based on two different systems—which sometimes deliver contradictory results.

Provisions on school choice are also seen as flawed. The law requires districts to offer students transfers to higher-performing schools if their own schools fail to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years. After a third year of failing to reach AYP goals, the schools must offer tutoring and other supplementary services.

That sequence is "counterintuitive," the report argues. The law "shuffles many students between schools before providing individual low-performing students with additional remedial options," it adds.

On the testing of special education students, the NCSL report says that states should be allowed to set separate AYP goals for students with severe disabilities.

States also should be allowed to decide the percentage of students with disabilities who should be tested against a standard below their grade level.

Some of the complaints could be remedied by changing the rules that govern the law's implementation, without amending the law itself. The specific requirements for testing, for example, are contained in rules set by the Education Department.

"The focus this year should be on getting the big issues fixed administratively," Mr. Kress said. "There are some very big areas where states and the federal government can make a lot of progress … without legislative change."

Changes to the law itself might have to wait until the law's reauthorization, which is scheduled for 2007.

Constitutional Issues

Although NCSL officials said they hoped the report would open a dialogue with federal officials, the report itself takes a confrontational legal approach.

It speculates that the law is not constitutional, contending that the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly define a role for the federal government in K-12 education.

A 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision requires the federal government to be "unambiguous" and forbids it to be "coercive" when implementing laws in areas where the Constitution doesn't explicitly provide for a federal role, the report says.

The report cites several examples to support its contention that the law is ambiguous. For example, it says, there have been protracted periods of negotiation between states and the Department of Education and ongoing amendments to state plans in response to changing federal guidelines, and few models for states to follow when drafting their own plans to comply with the law.

While Mr. Hurson, the NCSL president, said the organization itself has no plans to sue the federal government, he said states could act on their own to challenge the law in court.

States Take Steps to Put More Rigor Into High Schools
College, Work Readiness Are Focus of Governors
By Lynn Olson, 3/2/05

Even before the nation’s governors convened in
Washington this past weekend for a national summit on high schools, many already had proposed plans to make secondary education more rigorous.

“A high school graduate from
Green Bay isn’t just competing against graduates from Appleton and Oshkosh,” Gov. James E. Doyle of Wisconsin said in his Jan. 12 State of the State Address. “She’s competing against graduates from all over the world.”

Noting that current state graduation requirements do not even meet the basic standards for admission to the University of Wisconsin, Gov. Doyle, a Democrat, proposed legislation requiring a third year of mathematics and science for all the state’s public school students.

Wisconsin is hardly alone.

“The spotlight is definitely on high schools,” said Naomi Housman, the director of the Washington-based National High School Alliance. Policymakers have gotten the message “that everybody needs additional learning beyond high school, and that a high school diploma has to be meaningful,” she said.

More than half of the governors’ state of the state addresses targeted high school improvement, according to the National Governors Association. Hoping to get more students ready for college and prepared for employment, legislators in at least 12 states have introduced bills to make high schools more rigorous. Their proposals range from prescribing a minimum course of study to offering accelerated graduation options and “early-college high school” programs.

Indiana, the state school board last month tightened its graduation requirements for four types of diplomas: a minimum high school diploma, the “Core 40” diploma, and the Core 40 diploma with academic or technical honors. A bill now before the legislature would go further and make the Core 40 requirements the default option for all students. Those requirements include three years of math through Algebra 2, as well as three years of science, including biology and chemistry or physics.

“We really need to look into the future and see where we need to be,” said Suellen Reed, the state superintendent of education. “We very clearly read that the future requires a lot more than what we’ve required before.”

Kansas also is boosting its high school graduation requirements, effective July 1, to include an extra year each of math, science, and fine arts. The new requirements are almost completely aligned with the state’s college admissions standards, said Alexa E. Posny, an assistant commissioner of education, and with the college-preparatory core recommended by the ACT admissions-test program.

“When we only had two math credits, we had kids who may not have taken any math after their freshman year,” she said.

Elsewhere, the Iowa Learns Council, formed by Gov. Tom Vilsack in 2003 to increase pre-K-16 coordination, has set a goal of having at least 90 percent of high school graduates complete at least two years of college. In his Jan. 11 State of the State Address, the Democratic governor endorsed the council’s recommendations for a more rigorous and relevant high school experience, tougher graduation standards, and a tighter relationship between high schools and higher education.

While local districts set graduation requirements in
Iowa, Mr. Vilsack urged districts to make those standards more challenging. He noted that in most Iowa high schools, students can graduate with only two years of math and two years of science.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, is supporting legislation that would require schools to notify parents if their high school children failed to register for a college-preparatory curriculum. “The parents could then ensure that their children are enrolled in the right curriculum,” Gov. Owens said in his State of the State Address in January.

A ‘Win-Win’ Proposal

Oklahoma, Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, recommended requiring a third year of math to graduate from high school in his Feb. 7 State of the State speech.

“In our high schools, we will promote a college-bound curriculum and phase in end-of-course testing that demands results from our students,” he said. “We’ll require three years of high school math, and we’ll make the senior year count by encouraging more of our students to attend college. We will do that by offering to pay full tuition costs for up to six hours of college credit per semester for our high school seniors.”

Mississippi isn’t offering to pay college tuition, but it is working on dual-credit articulation agreements between its state board of education, the state board for community and junior colleges, and the state board for institutions of higher learning. The agreements would ensure that capable students could take college courses in high school and receive both high school and college credit.

“It’s just a win-win,” said Jason S. Dean, the education policy adviser to GOP Gov. Haley Barbour of
Mississippi. “It’s a win for the students, obviously. It’s a win for the colleges because it’s a great recruitment tool. It’s a win for the parents, for financial reasons. And it’s a win for the state.”

As part of the proposed Upgrade Education Reform Act of 2005, the governor also wants to require each of the state’s 152 districts to offer at least one Advanced Placement course in each of the four core subjects of English, math, science, and social studies. The state is banking on federal grant money to help subsidize the costs of taking AP exams for students who need financial help.

“The research is pretty compelling about what a rigorous curriculum will do for a student,” Mr. Dean said. “It gets them to college, then it gets them to stay, and probably from a state perspective, one of the most important things is it gets them out earlier.”

In Georgia, the new Georgia Virtual High School will give students statewide access to more than 60 online courses by this summer, including more than 15 AP courses and preparation for college-admissions exams, GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue said in his State of the State Address on Jan. 12.

On Feb. 18, the state launched Education Go Get It, a statewide initiative to increase
Georgia’s high school graduation and college-enrollment rates. The partnership of community-based nonprofits, private-sector companies, government agencies, and institutions of higher education is believed to be the largest such partnership in the state’s history.

More Testing Mulled

Massachusetts, which already requires high school students to pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System in math and English to graduate, is now considering upping those requirements.

Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, wants to require that students also pass a science exam in order to graduate. “
Massachusetts has a choice,” he told the state board of education in January. “We can provide our kids with a first-rate science education today, or we can learn to live with a second-rate economy tomorrow.”

The governor has asked the state board of education to require students to pass one of four discipline-specific MCAS science tests—in biology, chemistry, physics, or technology and engineering—to earn a diploma. High school students are required to take a science exam, beginning in 2006, but they won’t be required to pass it to earn a diploma until approved by the board.

In addition, Mass Insight Education, a Boston-based nonprofit group that focuses on improving student achievement in the state’s public schools, has recommended raising the passing score on each section of the MCAS required to graduate from 220 to 230 by 2010, and to 240 by 2014, or the equivalent of “proficient.” The tests are scored on a scale from 200 to 280.

Heidi Perlman, a spokeswoman for the state department of education, said that the
Massachusetts education reform law enacted in 1993 specified that students eventually would have to demonstrate competence in subjects beyond math and English to earn a diploma. While nothing has been decided, she said, the proposal is to pilot the science tests over the next few years and make them a diploma requirement for the class of 2010.

In contrast, Ms. Perlman said, state Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll isn’t certain that it’s the right time to raise the passing score required to earn a diploma. “He sees that maybe we should think about raising it, but he’s not ready to do it right now,” she said, “and he’s definitely not ready to raise it to proficient.”

Reversing Course?

Indeed, while it’s easy to talk about raising standards, many states that have sought to toughen graduation requirements and high school exit tests in the past have backed off, typically in the face of high failure rates and opposition from parents. ("States Debate Exam Policies for Diplomas," May 14, 2003.)

Arizona, a Senate committee voted Feb. 16 to drop a policy that required students, beginning with the class of 2006, to pass the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS test, to graduate. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Thayer Verschoor, wants to keep the test as a diagnostic tool. The Senate education committee also voted to endorse a bill to permit special education students to graduate even if they failed the AIMS, as long as they passed their high school classes.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said in a legal opinion last month that districts can exempt special education students from passing the exam to earn a diploma, based on their individualized education plans, which are required under federal law.

High Court to Decide Who Must Prove Case in Special Ed. Disputes
By Caroline Hendrie, 3/2/05

Washington - When it comes to the legal fight over special education that they have waged for the past seven years, Joceyln S. and Martin P. Schaffer and their Maryland school district don’t agree on much.

But the two sides do see eye to eye on this: With the
U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to review the Schaffers’ case, the dispute suddenly has the potential to shape the outcome of clashes over special education between parents and public schools across the nation for years to come.

At issue before the high court in Schaffer v. Weast (Case No. 04-698) is which side bears the legal burden of proof when parents and school districts disagree over the services or placement that children with disabilities require. With the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act silent on that question, judges in federal and state courts repeatedly have come down on opposite sides.

“I never imagined it would go this far,” Ms. Schaffer said after the Supreme Court agreed on Feb. 22 to consider the family’s appeal of a lower-court decision in favor of the Montgomery County, Md., school system. But she and her husband aim to see the case through even though the boy at the center of the case graduated from high school in 2003.

“It really isn’t about Brian right now,” Ms. Schaffer said of her son, who was in 7th grade when the conflict began over what setting was appropriate to accommodate his learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. “What this is about is providing a child who has special needs with the services he needs. It’s the principle.”

Officials with the 139,000-student district say they too are pursuing the case because of the principles at stake.

“We have chosen to defend the public’s interest,” Jerry D. Weast, the superintendent of the suburban
Washington district, said in a statement. “Educational services should be decided in an appropriate way based on the educational needs of the student, not the whim of a lawyer.”

Statutory Silence

Under the IDEA, parents and school officials must be included on teams that craft individualized education programs for children with disabilities. But the law does not specify which side should bear the burden for proving its claims in an administrative hearing when they disagree over the specifics of those federally required plans, known as IEPs.

All but a few of the federal appeals courts around the country have weighed in on the subject. For example, the appellate courts based in
New York City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco, and the District of Columbia have held or recognized that school districts bear the burden of proof.

But the appeals courts based in
New Orleans, Cincinnati, Denver, and Richmond, Va., have held that parents bear the burden of proof when they are the parties challenging IEPs, which is the case in the vast majority of such disputes.

The Schaffers appealed a ruling by that Richmond-based court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. In a 2-1 decision last July, a panel of the court held that the burden of proof fell on whichever party challenged an IEP, which in this case was the Schaffers.

In papers filed with the Supreme Court, the family says the 6.5 million children who receive special education services under the IDEA deserve national uniformity. “Simply put, children and parents in some states have fewer or less effectual rights than their counterparts in other states, even though all were intended to be beneficiaries of the same national law,” their brief argues.

William H. Hurd, a former state solicitor general for
Virginia who now represents the family as a private lawyer, said he hoped the high court would eliminate those disparities.

“We believe that the court took this case in order to establish a uniform national rule on what we regard as an important civil rights issue,” he said. “When parents sit down and negotiate the terms of a child’s educational plan, it is very important to know who will have the burden of proof when they come to an impasse.”

But the
Montgomery County district takes the stance that national uniformity is unnecessary. In court papers urging the high court to let the 4th Circuit court’s decision stand, the district notes that Congress did not address the burden-of-proof issue when it reauthorized the IDEA late last year. That was the case even though that legislation included provisions aimed at reducing legal conflicts between parents and districts.

“Instead, Congress elected to allow the states to decide how the burden of proof should be allocated in administrative hearings,” the district’s brief to the Supreme Court says. “Accordingly, it would be improper for this court to usurp the states’ authority by imposing a blanket rule in this matter.”

13 States’ Brief

But imposing a blanket rule is exactly what 13 states asked the high court to do in a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Schaffers’ bid for Supreme Court review. The states do not express an opinion on how the justices should resolve the confusion among the courts, just that they should do so.

Arguing that the inconsistency “has enormous practical consequences,” the brief says that complying with the IDEA, “both financially and otherwise,” may be easier for states in some federal judicial circuits than others. The issue affects not only the estimated 3,000 administrative hearings held each year under the IDEA, the states argue, but also the process of crafting the IEPs that are at the center of those disputes.

“Knowledge that parents will bear the burden of proof, if no agreement can be reached, gives school districts in some circuits a more advantageous posture than their counterparts in circuits where the school districts must bear that burden,” the states’ brief says. It was submitted by
Virginia, along with the attorneys general of Alabama, Arizona, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, and West Virginia.

In addition to discrepancies between federal courts, the states say, the lack of national uniformity means that state and federal courts within the same states may take opposite stances on which side bears the burden of proof in conflicts over special education.

Going further than the states, the
Clinton administration weighed in on the dispute in 2000 to urge a ruling that school districts bear the burden of proof.

That makes sense, the Department of Justice’s friend-of-the-court brief argued, given that districts are assumed under the IDEA to take the lead in drafting educational plans for children with disabilities. Requiring districts to defend those plans gives school officials “an additional incentive” to propose good plans, argued that brief, which was filed during the first of the case’s two stops before the 4th Circuit court.

The executive branch has not participated in the case since President Bush took office in 2001. But lawyers for the Schaffers said they have received no indication that the government’s position has changed.

Process Called Daunting

In their own brief to the Supreme Court, the Schaffers say many parents find the process of pursuing administrative hearings “too daunting and simply capitulate.” They cite a 2003 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the audit arm of Congress, that said that more than 11,000 hearings were requested in 2000, but that only 3,000 were held.

“Placing the burden on the parents significantly strengthens the hand of often-intransigent school district bureaucracies,” the parents’ brief says.

But the district says people who sue under federal statutes that prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, and age must bear the burden of proof, and it is reasonable for parents of children with disabilities to meet a similar legal standard.

“It is highly unlikely that a parent who believes that his or her child is not receiving sufficient services will forgo a challenge merely because of an evidentiary rule that is common to most litigants,” the district’s brief says.

Montgomery County district also rejects the family’s arguments that low-income parents are especially harmed by having to bear the legal burden of proof. Under the IDEA, the district says, school systems are required to inform parents of any free or low-cost legal services available in their local areas.

In its July ruling, the 4th Circuit panel majority said Congress recognized that districts have advantages over parents in resources and expertise. The majority said the IDEA contains many procedural safeguards designed to offset those advantages.

But the judge who dissented in the 4th Circuit ruling argued that districts should have to prove that the plans they propose are appropriate: “Parents simply do not have, and cannot easily acquire, the cumulative, institutional knowledge gained by representatives of the school district from their experiences with other, similarly disabled children.”

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the
Montgomery County case in its 2005-06 term, which begins in October.

Officers’ Stun Guns Raising Serious Concerns
By Jennifer Fu, 3/2/05

The use of stun guns on unruly students has alarmed school officials and parents, who in some cases had no prior knowledge that police departments had equipped their school-based officers with the shock-delivering devices.

Increasingly popular with law-enforcement agencies nationwide, stun guns—best known under the Taser brand name—are stirring heated debate over whether their use in schools and on minors is appropriate. One
Florida lawmaker has proposed to ban the use of stun guns in schools in his state.

“At this point, there are many unanswered questions about the claims for Tasers’ safety—we do know the manufacturers’ claims are overstated,” said Mark Silverstein, the legal director of the
Denver chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

It is difficult to track the number of school police officers who carry the battery-operated, hand-held devices. But Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International Inc., estimates that school police officers from about 1,700 law-enforcement agencies around the country had been issued Tasers from his company as of last August.

Curtis Lavarello, the executive director of the Osprey, Fla.-based National Association of School Resource Officers, said he had to use a stun gun about three or four times on students when he worked as a school police officer. He believes stun guns, which can emit up to a 50,000-volt electrical shock aimed at immobilizing a person for a few seconds, are useful tools for school police officers.

Denver, Miami Complaints

Recently, though, the use of stun guns has come under increasing scrutiny because of the potentially fatal effects that critics suggest the devices can have on people, especially children and teenagers.

Amnesty International, based in
New York City, has cited at least 93 cases since June 2001 in which people in the United States and Canada died after being shocked with a stun gun. None of those people were under the age of 18.

Taser International maintains that its stun gun, which shoots darts of electricity, is a safe alternative to lethal force. Tasers can shoot a person from a distance of up to 25 feet and cause the target to lose neuromuscular control for about five seconds.

Many police officials add that stun guns are just another nonlethal method of subduing aggressive people and reducing officer injuries.

Yet even though stun guns are promoted as an alternative to the use of deadly force, Mr. Silverstein of the ACLU believes they are used far more in circumstances in which officers wouldn’t dream of using a firearm. He called on
Denver police officials a year ago to tighten their general policy on the use of stun guns in response to complaints about local police using them too often.

In October, parents and school officials in the 360,000-student
Miami-Dade County school district in Florida were alarmed to hear that a county police officer had used a Taser to stun a 6-year-old boy at Kelsey L. Pharr Elementary School. The student apparently was wielding a shard of glass after breaking a picture frame and was threatening to kill himself, according to police.

District Superintendent Rudolph F. Crew expressed serious concerns about the incident in a strongly worded letter to Bobby Parker, the director of Miami-Dade Police Department.

Pharr student was agitated and injured,” Mr. Crew wrote in the Nov. 16 letter. “A dispassionate assessment of the circumstances surrounding this incident only yields serious questions about the reasonableness of the force used and the alternatives to that force that appear to have been overlooked.”

In response, Mr. Parker said in a Dec. 14 letter to the superintendent that, “under these circumstances, there was no reasonable alternative to the use of the Taser.”

Useful Tool?

Madison, Wis., a police officer used a stun gun to subdue a 14-year-old boy in Memorial High School’s parking lot when the student was resisting arrest Jan. 21.

In the wake of the incident, a community forum is scheduled for March 2. The school board, school security staff and the police chief are scheduled to meet April 2 to further discuss the issue. Police have been carrying stun guns for a few years, but the use of them did not become an issue until after the Jan. 21 incident.

“I would like to see a fairly broad discussion of this,” said Ruth Robarts, a
Madison school board member.

“People have to recognize there are gives and takes [regarding the use of stun guns],” said Ted Balistreri, the security coordinator for the
Madison schools.

School officials in
Duval County, Fla., are also trying to sort through the benefits and drawbacks of equipping school-based police officers with stun guns. They were surprised to hear about the Jacksonville sheriff’s decision to equip officers with Tasers when the story broke in The Florida Times-Union newspaper. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office covers Duval County, including the county’s 128,000-student school district.

The Duval County Council held a public meeting Feb. 23 to discuss the use of stun guns with school officials, community members, and Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office signed a $1.8 million contract with Taser International to equip its 1,500 officers with 1,800 Tasers over the next two years. The decision to equip officers, including those patrolling the schools, was made primarily by the sheriff’s office.

School officials had little knowledge about why officers based at schools would carry stun guns next fall and how they would be used.

“The superintendent didn’t know what the policy was, and a lot of parents didn’t know it was going to be in the schools,” said
Florida state Sen. Anthony C. Hill Sr., a Democrat.

The senator is polishing the details of a bill he proposed in December that would prohibit police officers from using stun guns on school property or at school-sponsored events.

Jacksonville sheriff has said publicly that the decision to deploy stun guns is up to the police department, not the schools, according to Brenda English, a spokeswoman for the Duval County schools.

But that doesn’t sit well with many parents.

“They [the police department] didn’t consult the school board” when the sheriff decided to outfit school officers with the devices starting this summer, said Reta Russell-Houghton, the president of the Duval County Council PTA/PTSA, which consists of 158 parent-teacher associations in the county. “The biggest problem was just that [the sheriff] sees it as a valuable tool for the police officer, but he never thought that people would be really upset.”

Still, she said, parents appear to be split on the issue.

“There’s parents that are really concerned about it and don’t want it in schools, and there are parents that say this is a really useful tool,” Ms. Russell-Houghton said.

Officer’s Judgment
Miami-Dade County incident in which the 6-year-old boy was stunned with a Taser has caught the attention of police across the country.

“If someone’s cutting on themselves, what do you do?” said Paul Schnell, a spokesman for the St. Paul Police Department in
Minnesota. “I don’t condone using a Taser on a 6-year-old—obviously, I would expect our officers to use every single option available. But if someone was going to take their own life, of course, those become the difficult questions.”

St. Paul’s school police officers added Tasers to their equipment belts on Jan. 31. The department’s decision to equip all of its officers with the weapon was a “natural progression,” Mr. Schnell said.

Schools Experimenting With Tracking Technologies
Critics Fear That GPS, Other Systems Could Violate Privacy Rights
By Marianne D. Hurst, 3/2/05

Many school districts are turning to global-positioning-satellite and radio-frequency tracking systems to follow the movements of their buses. But while the systems have strong boosters, the potential abuses of such technologies—especially when they are used to monitor individual students—are raising serious concerns.

Schools in as many as 35 states are outfitting their bus fleets with GPS and radio-frequency identification devices in order to construct better busing routes, track where and when students enter and exit buses, and respond more quickly to accidents and breakdowns.

“It’s a helpful tool when you’re busing 17,000 students,” said Teddi Barra, the director of transportation for the 20,000-student New Haven, Conn., public schools. She noted that the district’s new GPS system has been helpful in reassuring parents about the exact times buses arrive at each stop and when they get to school. The district has a $10 million contract with Cincinnati-based First Student, one of the largest school bus companies in the country, which began providing the technology to
New Haven in the 2003-04 school year.

The use of such technologies is fraught with controversy, however, drawing objections from some parents, bus drivers’ unions, and privacy advocates. They worry that GPS and radio-frequency technologies could potentially be abused and ultimately lead to more invasive student-tracking systems. For instance, one California elementary school attempted to make student badges, tracked by radio frequency, mandatory for all its pupils.

Privacy Concerns

“You have to see this story in a larger context,” said Jay Stanley, the communications director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Technology and Liberty Project. “We’re living in a surveillance society, where everything we do is logged and stored by computers. It might seem banal, but it adds up to having someone follow you around and writing down everything you do.”

Global-positioning devices receive signals via satellite and then transmit data—including location, speed, miles traveled, whether the engine is on or off, and the time the vehicle arrives at each stop—back to schools over a radio frequency or by piggybacking along a cellular network. Radio-frequency identification works in a similar manner, with low-frequency badges emitting signals that are read by a reader with a limited range—from five feet to a few hundred feet.
Mr. Stanley does not consider tracking school buses at the vehicle level an invasion of privacy, but he expressed concern over the ability of GPS and radio-frequency technologies to track individual students on and off the buses and through schools.

“We’re to the point where if you assemble these data trails, you can create a high-resolution image of how someone lives their life,” he said.

The type of student-tracking system privacy advocates are concerned about was recently piloted at the 600-student Brittan Elementary School in Sutter, Calif.

A Sutter-based technology company called InCom Corp. approached the district last year about using student radio-frequency-technology badges to help keep track of attendance. The badges contained small passive antennas, which can be read by a reader that acts like a motion detector, sensing when students enter or leave classrooms. InCom paid the school district $2,500 to run a 20-day summer pilot program, outfitted the school with seven readers at no cost, and asked the school board for permission to test the system last fall.

While skeptical at first, Brittan Elementary’s principal, Earnie Graham, saw benefits from using the system, particularly as a tool to provide the state with accurate school attendance numbers. InCom also offered to pay the school royalties—money which would go toward the school’s general fund and help pay for textbooks, facilities, and technology—if the program successfully spread to other districts, according to Mr. Graham.

But when the school in January began requiring pupils to wear the badges during school hours, some parents—fearing that their children’s personal information and activities would be tracked—objected and began protesting at school board meetings.

“This is not a direct invasion of privacy,” said Mr. Graham, who said the school has no interest in tracking and sharing a student’s personal information. “It’s a closed-loop system that’s not connected to the Internet or any data system with personal information. All it does is take attendance.”

But in mid-February, overwhelmed by parent objections, InCom announced that it was pulling its pilot program out of the school, according to Mr. Graham.

Mr. Graham said he was disappointed, because the district, in his view, had lost out on an opportunity to provide critical safety information in the event of emergencies.

But many privacy advocates argue that, as the technology becomes more available, students may become vulnerable to criminals or commercial companies that could start developing universal readers. Plus, they question the message that the use of such badges sends to students about their rights as individuals.

“School is a staging ground for life,” said Mr. Stanley of the ACLU. “We have to ask what kind of citizens we’re creating if we tag them like cattle.”

Boston’s Buses

Boston public school system also ran into heated controversy last fall when City Council member John M. Tobin proposed placing GPS systems on all of the city’s 720 school buses. The proposal was a response to complaints from parents and community members about unreliable school bus service.

When school officials checked into the complaints, they found that some buses were habitually late picking up students from after-school sports, resulting in students who were stranded and parents who spent up to four hours searching for them. In addition, some buses were found to be using residential streets as shortcuts, and some drivers allegedly traversed them at high speeds.

The Boston Bus Drivers Union—which was in the process of renewing a contract with the district—objected to the idea of installing GPS devices, arguing that city leaders and school officials were trying to spy on drivers.

But installing the devices would give the 59,000-student school district the ability to review and improve busing routes, Mr. Tobin said, which would lower fuel consumption and improve arrival and departure times. In addition, he said the GPS systems the city was considering could increase the longevity of the fleet by tracking the miles driven and providing better estimates of when buses needed to be serviced.

As it is, the status of putting GPS in the city’s school buses remains uncertain, according to Jonathan Palumbo, a spokesman for the
Boston district. He said that some money had been set aside to purchase GPS technology for buses, but that the school board still must approve that funding.

Experts say GPS, depending on the system, costs about $700 to $3,500 per bus for the hardware, and more than $10,000 for the software used to track the buses from a central location.

‘Peace of Mind’

Meanwhile, in rural
Spotsylvania County, Va., school leaders see the benefits of GPS systems. The 24,000-student district piloted a GPS program in 2003-04 and has budgeted for installing the devices in 50 of its 281 buses, at a cost of $41,250, by the 2005-06 school year.

“We really want to start edging toward being more accountable,” said Kermit Shaffer, the district’s director of transportation. “It seems we are constantly held more accountable for where students are … and if they continue to hold us more accountable, then we have to have tools that allow us to be accountable.”

Such accountability is becoming a crucial issue, said Robert Siciliano, a Boston-based independent safety and security consultant for companies and schools. “What it boils down to,” he said, “is peace of mind and liability.”

Some experts agree, pointing out that GPS technologies would have been valuable during an incident in 2002 when a bus driver from the 2,100-student Oley Valley school district near Philadelphia drove his bus to Landover, Hills, Md., with students ages 7 to 15 on board. The bus driver had a loaded rifle on the bus, but nobody was injured, according to
Prince George’s County, Md., police officials.

For several hours “no one had a clue where that bus was,” said Charlie Gauthier, the executive director of the Plains, Va.-based National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation.

Mr. Gauthier said that having a school bus seized or hijacked was unlikely. Still, with nearly 500,000 school buses on the road each day, he said, many do break down, and GPS technology is a good way to let schools know when there’s a problem.

Supplementary Text on Arab World Elicits Criticism
By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, 3/2/05

Education officials in
Anchorage, Alaska, have prohibited teachers from using a guide to teaching about the Arab world—the same guide that a national Jewish advocacy organization is now urging districts across the country to ban.

Anchorage officials cited inaccuracies in the materials, the American Jewish Committee claims the guide also contains anti-Semitic messages.

The “Arab World Studies Notebook” is produced by Arab World and Islamic Resources, a Berkeley, Calif.-based publisher of supplementary instructional materials. The 540-page ringed binder provides historical summaries, religious and cultural information, primary documents, lesson plans, and recommended readings that promote “the Arab’s point of view,” according to Audrey Shabbas, the editor of the guide.

Ms. Shabbas has led workshops around the country—including in
Anchorage—to help teachers incorporate the information in their classes. She said the guide has a disclaimer stating that it represents one point of view, and an advisory to teachers to balance the information with perspectives from Jewish organizations and other history texts.

“In this notebook, they are only being given the Arab viewpoint,” said Ms. Shabbas. “The first thing students have to do is get all those [other] viewpoints.”

Whose Agenda?

The 50,000-student Anchorage district took action last month after a review committee found that while information on Arab art, music, and literature was of high quality, “a substantial amount of historical, political, and content-area information in the notebook was determined to be inaccurate,” according to district documents.

A recent review of the guide by the American Jewish Committee, a New York City-based organization that works “to safeguard the welfare and security of Jews” around the world, described the guide as “propaganda.”

“The ‘Arab World Studies Notebook,’ attempting to redress a perceived deficit in sympathetic views of the Arabs and Muslim religion in the American classroom, veers … toward historical distortion as well as uncritical praise, whitewashing, and practically proselytizing,” says the critique, “Propaganda, Proselytizing, and Public Education.”

The report argues that the text whitewashes the problems of Islamic extremism, presents religious beliefs as facts, and implies that Islam is superior to Judaism and Christianity.

Ms. Shabbas said the guide represents the diversity of the Arab world, including information on the various languages spoken, as well as the various forms of religion practiced in the region.

First published in 1990 and last revised in 1998, the guide is the primary reference for workshops sponsored by the Middle East Policy Council, a moderate Washington-based organization that works to promote discussion and understanding of
U.S. policies in the Middle East. The workshops have been presented to more than 16,000 teachers in 43 states, according to the council.

A small section of the guide that outlined research showing Muslims’ pre-Columbian presence in
North America was removed several years ago after the Algonquin tribe in Canada disputed the claim.

Critics, Ms. Shabbas said, simply have opposing viewpoints.

“I suspect the overarching thing is that this notebook and teacher workshops are dispelling the negative stereotypes about Arabs and of Muslims,” she said, “and that probably doesn’t fit [critics’] agenda.”

Plan Offered on
U.S. Aid for High Schools
Principals’ Group Has Pricey Agenda, But More Tests Not on It
By Erik W. Robelen, 3/2/05

The National Association of Secondary School Principals has outlined a detailed, and expensive, agenda for ways the federal government can help improve high schools—from dramatically boosting federal aid for adolescent literacy to establishing a big, flexible spending pot to help low-performing high school students.

While some of the agenda has echoes, if much costlier ones, of President Bush’s plans for high schools, notably absent is any support for his call to mandate more testing in the high school grades.

In all, the plan issued by the
Reston, Va.-based NASSP would involve about $5 billion annually in new federal spending for high schools. The group notes that high schools currently receive less federal aid than middle schools and far less than elementary ones.

But the hefty price tag on the organization’s proposal is likely to be a tough sell in
Washington’s current fiscal climate, with high budget deficits and added demands for military and homeland-security spending putting the squeeze on domestic programs. The entire Department of Education discretionary budget increased by less than $1 billion for fiscal 2005, and President Bush, while calling for new spending for high schools, has requested a slight dip in the department’s overall budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Gerald N. Tirozzi, the executive director of the NASSP, said in an interview last week that the impetus for his group’s legislative plan was to respond to the president’s high school agenda, especially its emphasis on expanding federal testing requirements at the secondary level.

“It starts really with a significant concern we have that the administration … is making some very strong statements to push forward with No Child Left Behind into the high schools,” said Mr. Tirozzi, who was an assistant secretary of education under President Clinton.

“I personally think that defies logic,” he said of the president’s testing proposal. “We have to stop this business of taking [students’] temperature over and over again to find that they’re ill. … We never provide the intervention strategy.”

‘Long Overdue’

The NASSP proposal, which the group discussed in special briefings for Congress on Feb. 15, seeks to channel far more federal aid into high schools than is currently provided. “To date, federal resources in support of school improvement have mainly been targeted at the elementary level and to some extent the middle level,” says the NASSP plan. “The next and long-overdue stage in the evolution of school reform must be the improvement of the nation’s high schools.”

The group notes that high schools receive only about 5 percent of federal aid under the Title I program for disadvantaged students, the centerpiece of the No Child Left Behind Act, even though they enroll about 28 percent of K-12 students nationwide.

President Bush in his budget request for fiscal 2006 outlined a series of high school plans. He wants to spend $250 million to help states meet his proposal to mandate two more years of high school testing. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states currently must test students each year in grades 3-8 in mathematics and reading, and once in high school in both those subjects. ("Bush’s High School Agenda Faces Obstacles,"
Feb. 9, 2005.)

Mr. Bush also wants to set up a $1.2 billion High School Intervention program that would offer states and districts considerable flexibility in devising means to help low-performing students. And he has called for more spending on other items, such as providing $52 million for making Advanced Placement courses more available to disadvantaged high schoolers, and dramatically increasing the Striving Readers program—an intervention for struggling middle and high school students—to $200 million.

Not to be outdone, the NASSP would give the Striving Readers program a much more robust boost, bringing its funding to $1 billion, an amount more on par with federal aid for elementary school reading. Congress provided $25 million for Striving Readers this year.

“Striving Readers comes out to like $4.50 per kid,” Mr. Tirozzi said. “It’s disgraceful.”

The costliest recommendation in the NASSP proposal is the creation of a separate funding stream of $3.6 billion to address the academic needs of low-performing high school students.

That money would help states, districts, and high schools meet the accountability and teacher-quality demands of the No Child Left Behind law, the group says. It arrived at the $3.6 billion figure by calculating how much high schoolers would currently receive if Title I aid were “accurately distributed on the basis of student populations and student need.”

Mr. Tirozzi argues that a big problem with President Bush’s High School Intervention fund is that the money would come from abolishing the $1.3 billion now spent for federal vocational education programs.

“The answer is not to borrow from Peter to pay Paul,” he said.

Wrong Venue?

Krista Kafer, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a
Washington think tank, said the NASSP package contains some sound ideas. But she argued that Capitol Hill was the wrong place to pursue them.

“There’s no reason why these should be necessarily federally funded,” Ms. Kafer said. “Every single one of these recommendations could be achieved at the local, state, or private level.”

She also doubted, given the current fiscal realities in
Washington, that lawmakers are likely to heed the pricey suggestions.

“Are we ever surprised when special interest groups call for more money?” she said. “It’s kind of what they do. … The money is just not there.”




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